Upper G by Maya Djurisic
There is no such thing as Upper G. It’s impossible, if you look at the school from the outside. There’s nothing there—just a single floor of the G wing. If there was an upper wing, it would be visible from the outside, like upper J or B or C. By any rules of physics or space-time or logic, Upper G is a place that shouldn’t exist.
That doesn’t stop people—you think they’re people—from disappearing just before they go down the stairs at the end of upper B. Or stop them from reappearing at the other end, in the empty space at the end of upper J, unharmed but a little… different.
Sometimes, when you walk through G wing after school, you can hear faint music that isn’t coming from any of the classrooms in the wing. It comes from above, music drifting into the rafters from the open sky. And as long as you’ve tried to listen, you’ve never quite been able to place what kind of instrument it is, the sound high and chiming, enough to put you off a little, the chords a half step too far past eerie.
When you ask, nobody says anything about it. All you’ve been met with is odd stares and half-laughs that sound strained under tired eyes. You’ve stopped asking.
It’s an hour past the end of a long day, filled with tests and static and butterfly wings. The hall is achingly empty, stretching on before you as you make your way to the other end. You pass the bathrooms and pause, looking at the stairs that create the juncture between the G and B wings.
There’s no hallway on top. No Upper G. Just the stairs down and a ceiling with no access point.
You walk into the railing just next to the stairs anyways.
For a moment it feels like you’re floating, the floor turning to air beneath your feet while the school around you melts into nothing before you find your bearings again.
When you do, everything around you looks like a normal hallway, wide enough for the waves of students that should be there in place of the icy silence. But the sign at the front reads ‘Upper G’ and you know that Upper G doesn’t exist. You turn, but there’s a wall behind you, and it feels very, very solid under your fingertips.
The faint, haunting music you heard on the floor below is closer now, louder. You still can’t tell where it’s coming from, but you take a step toward the nearest room anyway. It’s a blank wooden door, just like the one downstairs. You reach for the handle.
Something screams, bloodcurdling and distinctly human, loud enough to make you jump away from the door and into the other wall. The music stops.
Did the hallway get narrower? You reach out and press your palm to the wall opposite the door, your other hand inches from the wood when stretched out. Claustrophobia threatens to choke you, but you try to shove it down. It’s a narrow hall. It was always a narrow hall.
Tentatively, you shift your body enough that you can press your hand to the wood, shoulders coiled with the anticipation of another scream. It never comes, but after a moment a pulse shakes through the door, rattling up your arm and causing you to try to jump away, stopped by the wall again.
The pulse comes again, this time rattling the handle, but only enough to notice if you’re paying attention. A heartbeat. The thought was unbidden and unwanted, but it quickly becomes the only thing you can think about, watching the door shake on its hinges with every interval. You reach forward to press your hand against the wood again, this time keeping it pressed there through every beat.
It beats in time with yours.
Your hand drags down the wood, pulse thudding ominously under your fingertips as you wonder if it would be worth it to try to open the door again. Your hand moves farther down the wood anyway.
The door is warm. You hadn’t noticed that the first time you touched it. It shouldn’t be that warm, not with how cold the air in the hallway is, cold enough to send goosebumps racing across your skin and tremors traveling down your spine.
Your hand finds the doorknob on beat two, but the final thump never comes, leaving you suspended between heartbeats, waiting for the go-ahead. A part of you wants to say fuck it and open the door, regardless of what the heartbeat was telling you, but another part makes you wait, wanting to stay in this suspended state.
As if heeding your call, the tiniest thread of noise reaches your ears, the same eerie music crescendoing until it’s all you can hear. It calls to you more than it frightens you this time, words slipping between the notes telling you open the door, open the door open the door open the door open thedoor openthedoor openthedoor openthedooropenthedooropenthedooropenthe—
The voice sounds like yours, and so you obey.
There’s a gap in your memory from when you decided to open the door to actually standing on the other side of it. Your hand was on the knob, and you blinked, only to find yourself standing on a dais overlooking a ballroom—or at least, part of one.
It’s crowded, filled with swirling bodies in technicolor gowns, making everything in the room seem too sharp, too bright. A few degrees south from what would seem normal. The whole room spirals around the edge of whatever is sunk into the floor, a galaxy spinning around its black hole. Curious, you step off the dais and walk toward the crowd.
As soon as your shoes—white, you notice, just like the rest of your ensemble, stark and clinical against the dark marble and jewel tones of the rest of the crowd—touch the floor, something tugs you forward, gravity taking control of your feet and drawing you into the neverending flow of the crowd. Almost immediately, you’re swept downstream and into someone’s arms, leading you through masses of people—people?—as they move. You’re not sure if they’re people, mostly since you can’t tell if any of them are actually individuals, save for the figure whose arms you landed in.
She’s a friend, in the way that you befriend people that sit at your lab tables and assigned groups in class. Sometimes there’s more, and you can say for almost certain that she wasn’t one of those cases. You can remember every grade she got in freshman chemistry—she’s the type to say she did so badly until she looked at other people’s scores—but you don’t know her name. To be fair, though, you don’t think she ever knew yours. Very nice, though. You think.
“That’s not my—”
“So weird to run into you here,” chemistry girl says, smiling at you brightly. It would almost seem real, but her eyes are just a little too green for you to be comfortable, matching the emerald of her dress. “I feel like I’ve barely seen you since freshman year. How’ve you been? We should really meet up for lunch sometime.”
Once, she said that seventeen times in one class period. Never so much as asked for a phone number, but you voted for her for homecoming court that year, since she asked the day after.
“That would be fun,” you say blandly, because that’s what you always say. You sat with this girl for a year, and yet you can’t seem to remember a conversation, or even stir a single strong feeling toward her, good or bad. It’s almost sad, more so since you remember thinking of her as one of your closest friends for a time. But isn’t that more on you?
“Oh, it is,” she says, her smile unmoving. “Don’t worry, though. I never really cared. I only really offered because you looked so alone all the time. Figured it was on purpose, since you never took the hint to set anything up.”
“I didn’t think that I was supposed to…”
“You never do.” Her smile turns a little sad, before twirling you and letting you go, releasing you into the crowd and down a ramp that curls along the edge of the hole in the middle of the floor.
You drift for a moment, falling along in the tide of bodies, faces blurring together before you manage to break free, the same gravity pulling you toward the next platform, a little smaller and still full of people. You’re swept up in the arms of another dancer as soon as you merge with the next branch, the colors on this next level of people darkening just a little. Everything is darker, actually, even the light coming from the level above. That’s not what you’re thinking about, though, is it?
Why couldn’t you remember chemistry girl’s name? It upsets you more than it would normally. She had at least tried, and what did you do? Nothing. But she was right—you hardly see her anymore, so what’s the point of trying to remember? Forgetting someone’s name isn’t a crime. Right?
Your new partner coughs pointedly, and you look up.
The face is familiar but unrecognizable, with eyes holding memories that settle uncomfortably in your stomach and a smile that feels sickly sweet. Your eyes can’t seem to settle on a color for their not-quite-a-dress, only that it’s just as saturated as everything else in the room before it, standing out like a beacon in the newly dimmed platform.
They lead you in an unfamiliar dance through this next platform of dancers, their grip on your hands vicelike.
“Do I know you?” you ask, the nausea in your gut growing. Maybe it’s the spinning that’s doing this to you, combining with the gravity to make you nauseous. You’ve lost all sense of direction, and the only thing grounding you is your new, jewel-toned partner and the sizable hole in the floor mirroring the one above you.
“You don’t recognize us?” they say, a mix of disappointment and anger coming from three different voices, none of which you can place.
You try to jump back, but their grip on your hands is too strong, keeping you in place as the two of you spin in time with the music. “I—I’m sorry, I don’t—”
Their face fragments, the tears of one running along the side of an angry flush of another. “We were best friends for so long,” a boy’s voice says, echoed by the two female voices that accompany him. He’s somewhere on the edge between crying and yelling, and you’re not sure which would be worse. “And then we moved and you just… ignored us. Never answered a single text. Pretty shitty, you know that?”
“Look, I’m sorry, all right?” you say, feet moving frantically to keep up with their hurried steps. They’re starting to hurt a bit, you note idly, but there’s nothing you can do about that. You’re starting to remember them, vaguely, but your memory is foggy. “But we were kids, Chris, and—”
“Alex,” he says, and their face crumples into anger at that. “My name is Alex. One of my sister’s names is Chris. Maybe if you’d put any sort of effort into any relationship you’ve ever had, you might have remembered it. Or even Hannah’s name—sorry, chemistry girl.”
You scramble for something, anything to say, but they stop and dip you low over the next ramp, leaning toward you with as much hatred in their eyes as you’ve ever seen a person muster up. “It’s a wonder you’re not completely alone yet.”
Their final sentence is punctuated with a fall, leaving you to tumble down the ramp and onto the next platform of the crowd, still on your feet only by the miracle of nausea-inducing gravity. You slip between bodies, too caught up in your own thoughts to notice when someone takes your hands in the next dance.
You, Alex, Chris, and Ella. The four of you were close friends when you were younger, but the three of them—triplets, you remember—moved when you were twelve. You never made any contact with them after that, despite their efforts, and ultimately, forgot about them. The guilt of the fact sits like a stone in your stomach, mixed with the ever-increasing strength of the ballroom gravity nearly toppling you over. But familiar—familial—hands steady you, and you nearly cry with relief.
You look up and are greeted with your mother’s eyes and smile, with your father’s hair and nose perched on the body of your uncle Frank. It’s darker still, but you don’t really notice, too caught up in the flow of bodies and confusing, shifting family members that you instead ask:
“Who are you?”
The voice that answers is your dead grandmother’s thickly accented English, coming off the forked tongue of your cousin. “You know who I am, child.”
You nod, only sure that you know the answer, not so much what it is. The two of you separate briefly to make room for another pair of dancers to pass, and when you reunite, it’s no longer with the familial amalgamation of a person, but with just your grandmother. “There’s something you wanted to tell me?”
The question travels down your throat to settle as guilt in your gut, and you find yourself blinking back tears. “I—No? What do you mean?”
“There’s nothing you never said? Nothing you wish you told me?”
One thing crosses your mind, a flash of an idea you quickly shake away. She’s dead. It doesn’t really matter if she knows or not. “Nothing, Grandma.”
“You lie,” she says, more angry than hurt. “How do you expect to be happy when you cannot tell people things?”
Her words hit you square in the chest, and she twirls you away, only to be brought back to your sister’s eyes and aunt’s scowl. You sit on her words, the rock of guilt from your conversation with the triplets sinking farther and farther, twisting your insides. Why was she so angry? Why were you so upset that she was angry with you? Are you even upset? You know you should be, but—
“Can I talk to Grandma again?” you ask, desperate to ease your own internal confusion, but whoever’s listening doesn’t let the others know what they heard.
“There’s more to do,” your father says, twisting your aunt’s lips into her rarely-seen smile. “You’re almost at the bottom. It’s just the level below.”
Hands are starting to let you go, caught between people. “Wait, please, there’s something I need to tell her.”
“She’s not taking messages right now,” your aunt snaps, turning her nose up at you. “Try the next century, you brat.”
Your eyes start to fill with tears, blurring your already darkened vision. “Dad, please, I…”
“Don’t worry, sweetheart,” he says, kind and bland and everything he shouldn’t be right now. “We’ll still love you. We kind of have to, no matter how hard you try to stop us. Now, the end is almost here. Anything else you want to say?”
You shake your head, sniffling. No point now, right? “Is that where I’m supposed to go? The bottom?” You don’t want to, the gravity pulling you to the center starting to make you sick to your stomach. But you’re not sure if you have a choice.
A nod, and it’s your brother’s hands that let you go, leaving you to break through the crowd and slip down the final ramp into almost complete darkness.
There is a lone dancer in the single pool of light on this empty floor, a stark image of an all-black suit against a completely white background. You step onto the final platform, stepping up and falling into their arms like they were expecting you. The two of you freeze in place, long enough for you to glimpse a blank white mask staring back at you in the single, harsh spotlight.
“Did you have a fun trip down?” they ask mildly. “Very informative, I hope.”
You glare, pursing your lips as the two of you dance in a wide arc, the steps more complicated than anything you should know how to do, but coming to your tired feet easily. “Could’ve been more useful. Everyone was being so cryptic about everything.”
“I forgot that you didn’t know yet,” they say, laughing. “Might’ve set it up differently if I remembered. About your near-complete disregard for pretty much anything, that is. Apathy.”
“I—” you stutter, letting yourself be twirled. “I’m not apathetic! I care about people, my friends, my family, my… my…”
“I’m sure you do,” they nod, mocking. “You don’t think it’s easier to not care about anyone but yourself? Less complicated?”
“Well, of course it is!” Your response is almost immediate, taking even you aback with the sincerity behind your voice. “But that doesn’t mean that I…”
“Doesn’t it?” they say, cocking their head slightly to the side with a grin in their voice. “Welcome to apathy, my dear.” You can’t see your partner’s face, but you can almost feel the smile they’re wearing, wide and unsettling enough to show back molars, to make your skin crawl.
You stop dancing abruptly, looking into that blank mask that seems to have read you so quickly and so easily, throwing what you didn’t even realize was your biggest flaw in your face like it was nothing. Part of you is offended, but a part of you—the part you’re only just starting to learn exists—can’t really be bothered.
“I don’t think I like you very much,” you say, slowly pulling away from your partner in black. There’s a pause, a couple beats of silence where you wonder if there is going to be any response at all. Slowly, carefully, you watch hands reach up and pull the mask away, revealing a face you know too well, a face that instills something you’re starting to recognize as fear because—
“Why not?” I say. “I’m you.”
Maya Djurisic is an eighteen-year-old college student who has been writing recreationally for eight years. She’s been published previously in The Dillydoun Review and several school publications since she began, and lives in LaGrange, Illinois with her family and dog. When not reading or writing, she enjoys playing violin and working on projects for school.