Rachel Thomas swept her long, tousled brown bangs out of her eyes. She steadied her hands on the steering column as she raced away from the haunted house where she had grown up. Plagued by the spirits of an unknown entity that had dwelled in her home for more than ten years, she had managed to accept her paranormal existence in a world where most people had never heard of such things. Or maybe they just didn’t tell anybody about their experiences. Maybe there were many more people just like her who were afraid to talk about real life hauntings. But this was a time of new beginnings, the beginning of the rest of her life when the hopes and dreams of the past could become the realities of the future. If she could put the hauntings to rest, she could concentrate on what was before her. In just two weeks, she would be starting classes as a freshman at Riverside Community College.
Riverside was a small town college nestled near a centuries old river where Indigenous people once lived and played. Riverboats filled its waters, and the Spanish explorer, Hernando De Soto once crossed its shores. The river had a history that seemed to stretch as far as its 200 mile long waters, but it was a history of prosperity, tragedy, and death that still lived on in legendary ghost tales.
Rachel drove her silver 1983 Buick Regal into the front parking lot that faced her future home. Kendall Hall was one of eight dormitories for housing students. Although Rachel had been unable to secure her first choice of living arrangements in the college’s most updated facilities, she was excited and anticipating the arrival of her new suite mate whom she had never met.
She turned the ignition off, pushed the door open with her foot, and got out of the car. She stretched her hands above her head and stood still for a moment as she surveyed the empty parking lot and vacant grounds surrounding her. She thought about the first day of classes and how congested the campus would become. Year after year, the college’s Fall enrollment had grown. With more than 3,500 students attending college at Riverside, the odds of finding an empty space close to classrooms would be next to impossible.
Rachel sighed and quickly turned her thoughts back to the car crammed full of clothes and personal décor taken from her room back home. Moving in would take a couple of hours. She slammed the car door shut and turned to look at the building’s second floor windows. She contemplated the number of trips it would take to haul several loads of her personal belongings up the stairs. And although the housing department had already guaranteed that the room would be ready to move in, she hesitated to unload anything before checking it out.
Rachel walked toward the glass front entrance and opened the door. The stone gray building smelled like pine sol as she entered an empty foyer with two closet-like doors to the left and an apartment to the right that served as a residence for the Dorm Parent who oversaw the needs and security of the dormitory’s students.
Rachel slowly walked straight ahead to the stairwell entrance that led to the second floor. The air near the stairwell was stuffy and hot causing her to cough, and the smell of fresh paint stung her nose. The building was eerily silent, and it reminded her of the late nights at the nursing home when she had gone to her mother’s workplace after the old people had gone to bed.
She stepped forward onto the bottom steps and began to climb the stairs. First the bottom steps and then a turn to climb the last stairwell to the top. She stopped at the last step and pulled another door open that led to the second floor hallway. The steel door was heavy and creaked loudly as she opened it. The bottom of the doorplate slid across the floor, creating a long and creepy noise that echoed down an empty hall.
For a minute, Rachel felt an unease that she had often known before, but for reasons she couldn’t explain. She glanced into the hallway before her and stepped forward letting her fingers slowly release the door as it closed shut, its spring mechanisms creating the sound of metal on metal.
Rachel stood still, her body rigid but fully aware of her surroundings. Her bare arms were covered in goosebumps as she tried to rub them away, but just then a loud bang echoed from the right end of the hall. She jerked around and faced the source of the noise only to observe an empty space. Her eyes were wide as she stared down the dimly lit hall now filled with an eeriness that she couldn’t dismiss. It never failed. If there was an otherworldly spirit present wherever she went, it always seemed to find her.
Her breath seemed to hang in her throat, and she had to remind herself to breathe. She took a long, deep breath and closed her eyes for a moment. She then turned back around, brushed off her fears as best as she could and walked straight toward the left end of the hall where her dorm room was located.
She stopped in front of the door and reached for the silver doorknob. She twisted it to the left and pushed the door open, eager to get inside and settle in. The room was painted a blinding white with white mini-blinds, two dull, steel gray bunk beds, and a white tile floor. Inside the double closet was a small chest of drawers also painted white. And against the inside wall and facing the hallway was a built-in desk with shelves. Painted white.
Rachel let out a sigh. The place felt like a hospital room or worse a morgue minus the cold air. She walked over to the window beside the two bunkbeds and noticed that it was locked tight. She fidgeted with the locks, snapping them back and forth. She then inspected the bathroom that she would be sharing with her suitemates and found that it included a half tub/shower combination and one toilet. Four girls with one bathroom. That should be interesting.
Rachel’s eyes roamed the room again as she considered what it would take to liven up the place. Color, décor, girl stuff. As she became swept away with the thought of college life and living in a dorm with her closest friends, she forgot about her unease just minutes before. And although her dorm room offered anything but a cozy feeling, she relished in the idea of college living.
She surveyed the room, deciding which bunkbed would be hers. Which side of the room would be hers for decorating? Closet space and desk space? She was silently considering it all when the abrupt sound of a door slamming shut brought her back to the present.
“Hello.” The raspy and friendly voice of Josie Norton echoed in the empty room, bouncing off the white cinder block walls. She stood just inside the door that Rachel had left standing open.
Rachel whirled around and faced her new roommate who stared back at her with a bright, toothy smile and crystal blue eyes. Her messy, dark brown hair was hanging partially out of the ponytail she had fastened earlier that morning, and her extra-large AC/DC t-shirt hung loosely over a pair of faded blue gym shorts.
Rachel smiled with a slightly startled look and responded. “Hi, you must be Josie!” She offered a handshake.
Josie accepted Rachel’s hand with a firm and gregarious grip after sitting her guitar case down on the floor.
“Are you getting settled in early too? I’ve got a car full of stuff from home.” Rachel asked with a light-hearted tone.
Josie let out a boisterous, nasal laugh and nodded. “Yeah, I’ve got a couple of trips to make to get it all here. Oh, this is the closet space, huh?” She pointed to the two closets, each containing a small chest and barely enough room to hang a week’s worth of clothes and a couple of coats.
“Yes, that’s it. I can take the one on the right if that’s okay.” Rachel did not hesitate to designate ownership of personal space since she had to get started unloading her car.
“Oh, yeah, that works for me. Are you a heavy sleeper? How do you like the room temperature? I sleep like a bear and love a cool room.” Josie asked wanting to get to know her roommate’s compatibility.
Rachel smiled. “We’ll get along beautifully. I’m a light sleeper, but the cooler, the better for me.” Rachel shoved her hands in her Calvin Klein size 5 pants pockets.
Josie gave Rachel a thumbs up. “Cool. I’m gonna go grab a few things.”
Rachel nodded. “Okay, I guess I should get started too.” She started for the door and stopped as Josie paused in the doorway.
“Hey– You ever played Ouija?” Josie asked.
Her eyes had a mischievous twinkle, but Rachel didn’t respond with a lighthearted demur. Instead, her face turned pale. She felt as if the blood had just drained out of her body as her legs became weak. A strange silence lingered as she stared into the eyes of Josie Norton. Pale blue eyes that now seemed to flicker with a curiosity destined for danger. Then without warning, the same dreadful unease that slapped Rachel Thomas in the face as she entered the upstairs hall returned. And a premonition materialized before her, seizing her in a vision of horror.