It’s an ordinary Tuesday afternoon at an ordinary office building. Grace, an intern, gets on the elevator in the garage. She’s bound for the Ceo’s office on the 10th floor. Just as the doors close, Rob, a junior sales agent hops in. Previously, Grace has been a victim of one of Rob’s little pranks: pressing all the buttons right before he gets off on the 1st floor. This made the elevator stop on every floor and caused Grace to be lectured for returning from break a few minutes late. Today she’s ready.
First floor. The elevator doors open. Rob steps out and turns back to run his hand down the button panel. In a move worthy of a ninja, Grace maneuvers around him and lightly shoves his shoulder. Surprised, Rob stumbles back into the elevator. Grace tosses him a smug grin as the doors close. Sure, she has to wait for another elevator, but it’s worth it.
Annoyed, Rob repeatedly mashes the ‘doors open’ button. The lights in the elevator flicker and it pauses for an almost imperceptible second before it continues to rise. Rob doesn’t yet know it, but he’s just clipped out of reality.
The elevator beeps for the 2nd floor. The doors open. Rob leaps out. He looks around in sudden confusion. On either side of him are long hallways. In front of him is a large empty office space. He can’t remember what color the walls in his office are, but he’s sure that they weren’t a dingy sunshine yellow. He turns around to go back in the elevator…but the wall behind him is solid, no elevator. Disbelieving, Rob feels the wall, it’s cold, almost damp, but smooth with no cracks.
Rob doesn’t know how they did it, but he’s sure it’s a joke. He turns back to the empty office and walks forward. ‘You got me, guys’ he says, fully expecting a bunch of co-workers to pop out with their cell phones, recording their amazing prank. His voice echos slightly in the vastness of the empty space. There’s no answer. The room is still except for the loud hum of the fluorescent lights. It smells quite unpleasantly of old paper, stale coffee and mildew.
The annoying buzz from the lights is making Rob’s head throb–if it keeps up, he’ll have a migraine. He takes out his cell phone. His fingers are slippery with perspiration as he texts. The message icon just spins, it can’t send his message.
Rob tries calling, but the line is dead…his phone doesn’t have any bars. He walks all over the office space holding his phone up, trying to see if he can get better reception. Squish. His expensive leather loafer sinks into the soggy tan carpet in the right corner of the room. In fact, a patch of carpet is so wet, tiny toadstools are sprouting.
A sudden odd grunting, growling noise makes Rob spin around. A chill skitters down his spine. Across the room is…something. It looks like a human crawling on its hands and feet, but the elbow and knees joints are bent the other way. Its face is surrounded by shaggy, matted dark hair. The creature tilts its head up and sniffs the air before making the grunting growl again.
At first Rob is frozen, but he gets a hold of himself. Hugging the wall at his back, he begins to sidestep towards the entrance to the next room.
The creature hangs back, it seems to be intimidated by eye contact. Its cold black eyes stare back at Rob; it has a weird aggressive smile on its face, but it’s not coming closer. Rob is almost to the entrance when disaster strikes. The moist, mildew smell wafting from the carpet makes him sneeze. He breaks eye contact.
The creature grunt-growls and charges toward him. It has a strange, quick gait. Rob turns and runs.
The next room is the same. Overly cheerful yet dingy yellow walls, moist tan carpet and buzzy, glaring fluorescent lights. Rob dashes across the room, the creature’s gaining on him. This room ends in a t-shaped hallway. Rob zags right. He slips, barely managing to stay on his feet. His loafers weren’t made for running on moist carpet.
Rob runs down the hallway passing several rooms. They are all the same. Yellow and tan. There’s a loud growl behind him. Rob looks back. The creature has been joined by a second beast. They’re gaining on Rob, they can’t be more than 20 feet away. Their toothy grins are terrifying.
Up ahead the hallway dead ends. Rob barely has time to turn around before they attack. He kicks one in the face, its head snaps back and it whimpers. The other creature claws at Rob’s chest. He pushes it away and kicks it too. The creature gloms onto his shoe, sinking its teeth into the leather and yanking it free. It chews on its prize while the other creature growls at Rob menacingly, but doesn’t come any closer as Rob stares at it. Without breaking eye contact, Rob reaches down, takes his other shoe off and tosses it. The creature springs after it. Rob manages to sidle past the first creature who’s engrossed in ripping apart Rob’s hand-stitched loafer. He ducks into a room.
Once out of sight of the creatures, he runs on socked feet through one room, and then another and another. Several rooms later Rob collapses in a heap on the floor. His heart’s galloping a mile a minute. What were those things? Where is he?
The room he’s in is the same as all the others except for one difference. In a corner is a five-drawer file cabinet. Once Rob catches his breath, he wanders over and tries opening each of the drawers, sadly they’re all locked.
Rob walks into another room. He feels gross, he has wet patches on his slacks from when he sat down. His socks are clammy. His cell phone is missing, he lost it while escaping the creatures. He doesn’t know what to do so he keeps walking.
He goes into the next room and the next. It’s a veritable maze of yellow offices with tan carpets. Suddenly he hears something. The sound is faint, but somehow familiar. Rob strains to hear, but the sound stops. He walks in the direction he thinks the sound is coming from. Two rooms later, hee hears it again. It’s a telephone. It’s ringing. The ringing is echoing.
A ringing phone means communication. It means other people. Perhaps it even means a way out here, wherever this place is. But first Rob has to find the phone.
Rob takes off his socks. He’d rather walk barefoot on the gross carpet, moist socks freak him out. He also takes off his belt. He wants to be prepared in case those horrible creatures show up again.
The next room, of course, is the same as the others, but has a lone desk. The desk drawers are not locked. One has paperclips, several ballpoint pens, and a highlighter. Rob tries writing on the wall, but the chartreuse highlighter can’t be seen against the yellow. The other drawer is empty except for a crumpled half-full bag of stale tortilla chips.
Rob suddenly realizes that he’s not hungry. Or tired. In fact he’s lost all sense of time. He looks at his watch, it’s stopped. How long ago it’s hard to say. Rob walks on. Sometimes the rooms have an item or two, but most times they don’t.
As he walks he has conversations in his head with his coworkers. The kind of chat one has when they find themselves in the breakroom waiting for their coffee to brew. How about those Dodgers last night? You’re gonna surprise the wife with a 20th anniversary trip to Tahiti? That sounds amazing. It sucks that little Kaitlynn needs braces, our dental plan isn’t that great. Rob also talks to Grace in his head. Sorry about the elevator. I was just blowing off some steam. You’re pretty, I wish I knew how to talk to you instead of resorting to juvenile pranks to get your attention. He wonders what magic Grace did to transport him to this desolate yellow hellscape.
Rob can hear the phone ringing loud and clear now, although it’s still hard to know where exactly it’s coming from. He sees the creatures a few more times, he stares them down and cracks his belt at them. They reluctantly slink away. He also sees a lady in a power suit with a shell-shocked expression, but she scurries away before he can say anything to her.
Then, almost unexpectedly, he steps into a room just like all the others, except there’s a black business phone on a desk in the center of the room.
Rob sits down to wait. It’s not long before the phone rings.
His hand trembling, Rob picks it up. “Hello?” He’s surprised to find that his voice is rusty from disuse. He clears his throat and tries again. “Hello.” The line is buzzy, the connection not the greatest.
It takes a moment for Rob to process what the woman on the phone is yelling about, it’s been a long time since anyone has spoken to him. A technician was supposed to come to her house between 9-4. It is now 4:17 and no one has shown up, what is he going to do about it?
Rob sets down the phone. He gets under the desk and lays there in the fetal position. He doesn’t care that his button-up shirt is getting wet.
The Backrooms Explained
Depending on whom you ask, there are over a hundred levels of backrooms. Each simply waiting for some poor, unsuspecting soul to somehow glitch out of reality and get stuck in a horrific maze. Some levels have horrible humanoid monsters, some levels are gaily decorated with balloons and bunting that says ‘Happy Birthday’. Of course were you to show up for a birthday party in the backrooms, chances are you would not survive the killer clowns.
Some purists insist there’s only three levels to the backrooms. I’m inclined to believe that only a single level exists. When the image of an empty office with cheap tan stain resistant carpet, fluorescent lighting and yellow walls was posted in a paranormal forum it resonated with so many because it spoke of our existential nightmares.
It’s a metaphor for the horrors of modern life. That for many of us our job is meaningless, unfilling and rife with endless bureaucracy. The ultimate horror isn’t a werewolf who wants to use your left shin bone as a chew toy or a vampire that wants to drain you of your blood or any other made up horror, but a soul sucking job.
But what do I know? I’m just an overworked, caffeinated, underpaid writer sitting in a drab cubicle with nothing except for my laptop surrounded by other overworked, caffeinated, underpaid writers sitting in their drab cubicles, each of us manically typing away striving to meet deadlines.