13th Floor

Audience: [“middle-grade”]

Genre: [“fantasy”]


In the maintenance office in the basement of the Woodson hotel, an old man hunched over his workbench. A screen saver scrolled on the old-fashioned computer display. The EXIT sign over the doors to the loading dock flickered with a high-pitched whine.

And a glowing, blue-green spot appeared on the concrete floor near the elevator, faint as a firefly. Instead of flickering out, the glow strengthened. It traced a small arc on the floor. The edges still glowed blue-green as darkness puddled in the space, now the size of a saucer.

The old man stayed bent over his desk, pen moving across the paper in his clipboard. He reached into a bag of white cheddar popcorn and tossed the handful into his mouth, noisily chewing.

A piece of popcorn fell to the floor, skittering to the edge of the opening.

Slowly, a single, silver claw emerged. It speared the popcorn and pulled it into the hole. A faint crunching sound floated up from beneath the floor. The claw reappeared and began to explore the edges of the opening, tapping softly against the concrete floor.

The man worked on. Without looking up, he reached beside him, and opened a small red toolbox in a corner of the desk.

The claw stilled.

He pulled the toolbox closer, finally looking up from the clipboard long enough to dig through the box. He lifted a roll of tape out, then shook his head. A measuring tape. Another shake.

After a moment, the claw continued to explore the edges of the opening. The opening stretched, just a little. Two massive silver claws now extended into the room.

The man lifted a tray out of the toolbox and retrieved a dusty garage door opener. He hung the clipboard on its hook on the wall, pressed his hand to the small of his back and stretched, groaning as his back popped.

Then he moved so fast it seemed like he’d simply appeared beside the glowing hole. He landed square on the claws. “Get back, get back, you silver beast!”

A howl rose up, eerily distant, and the claws swiped up and to the side, tearing his overall pant.

“Oh. No. You. Did. NOT.” He stomped with each word. “And you ate my popcorn, too! There’s honest Woodson roaches who needed that!”

He stomped a few more times, heavy boots grinding against the floor. After a moment, a claw broke and skittered across the floor. The edges of the empty hole wavered.

He pointed the garage opener at it and pressed the button. The hole quivered but didn’t close.

“Takin’ longer and longer to close, now.” He mashed the button again. A howl echoed as the hole narrowed and disappeared, leaving behind a gouge in the concrete.

He stared at the scarred floor. “Third time this week. They want the key, alright.”