The angry beeping of car horns filled the air as Ethan weaved through the bustling crowds of pedestrians that clogged the sidewalk, the sea of gridlocked vehicles peppered with the signature yellow of New York taxi cabs. It was early in the morning, but the city was already waking up. Its inhabitants were pouring into the streets, clutching coffee cups and briefcases in their hands. The sunrise stained the sky in shades of red and orange, its light reflected in the innumerable windows of the towering buildings, rising up to either side of him like monoliths of glass and steel. Wisps of steam rose from manhole covers and subway vents, flocks of fluttering pigeons cooing as they scattered at his approach. The familiar chorus of a thousand muddled conversations was oddly relaxing to him, like a kind of white noise.

He was glad that he didn’t have to brave the heavy traffic, his new job was within walking distance of his apartment, only a couple of blocks away. The pristine, modern architecture slowly gave way to older, more traditional styles as he proceeded deeper into the city’s old financial district. Red brick and Romanesque pillars dominated, the stonework stained by ages of weathering and wear. He might have thought that he was taking a step backwards in time, was it not for the abundance of people talking on cellphones as they passed him by.

Unlike many of his fellow citizens, Ethan was not on his way to a cubicle. He wasn’t a businessman or a financier, nor was he a lawyer or a stockbroker. He was a facility manager, or perhaps caretaker would be a more fitting title. He specialized in maintaining old buildings of historical value. He had recently aced an interview with the owners of the Abbott and Schutzman building, a high-rise that had been erected by a now-defunct law firm in the late nineteen-twenties, during the age of Swing music and prohibition. These days, the building was leased to many different tenants, the seventy-seven floors occupied by everything from upscale loft apartments to office spaces.

Ethan’s new position would see him at the head of a team of janitors and repairmen, he would be responsible for coordinating with the staff and keeping the aged structure from falling into disrepair. He had a lot of experience in the field, and rather than seeing the work as a simple paycheck, he felt an almost sacred duty to keep these historic buildings intact. They were a piece of the city’s cultural heritage, a window into the past.

Before long, he found himself standing in front of the grand old building, shielding his eyes from the sun as he craned his neck to see its towering spire a thousand feet above him. It was very much a product of its time. Construction had begun when Art Deco was all the rage, its architecture acting as a kind of timestamp. It was made from grey stone and steel, the decorative, metal cladding on the upper floors catching the sunlight to make it gleam. There were two wings to the building that extended to either side of the central tower, which got progressively slimmer as it reached high into the air, before tapering into a sharp needle that almost made it seem to dissolve into the sky above. The innumerable window frames were decorated with stainless steel, and the facades of the building were adorned with bands of white marble, stone gargoyles peering down at him from its corners.

He made his way through one of the revolving glass doors, emerging into a spacious and finely furnished lobby. Massive slabs of red marble covered the walls, and the floor was made up of interlocking, wooden panels that had been varnished to a sheen. There were a series of support pillars hewn from the same red stone, inlaid with vertical bars that emitted fluorescent light, softened and diffused by a covering of amber onyx that gave the room a subdued feel. As he gazed up at the ceiling, easily twenty feet above his head, he noted that it was decorated with the overlapping, geometric patterns in shades of red and gold that were typical of the era.

His shoes squeaking on the varnished floor, Ethan made his way over to the main desk, the wall above it adorned with an ornate sunburst pattern cast from bronze. Behind it was standing a security guard and a concierge, the latter of which was looking him up and down as he adjusted a pair of glasses with round frames that were perched on the end of his crooked nose. Age had hunched the man, and what hair he had left was greying, but the perfect fit of his suit gave him an air of dignity. The security guard was an especially large African-American man with broad shoulders and a neatly-trimmed beard, his hands clasped in front of him as he scrutinized the newcomer. His clothing gave away his profession. He wore a checkered tie over a baby-blue shirt with epaulets, a name badge pinned to his breast, and a black cap on his head. Ethan was starting to feel a little under-dressed in his simple shirt and slacks.

“You must be the new facility manager,” the concierge said.

“Ethan Lewis is the name,” he replied jovially. He extended a hand in greeting but soon retracted it when the concierge didn’t reciprocate.

“We’ve been expecting you,” the man continued, stepping out from behind the mahogany counter. “You may refer to me as Mister Spencer, and this is our head of security, Mister West.”

The security guard gave him a silent nod, Ethan glancing between the two men in a state of mild confusion. This wasn’t the kind of reception that he was accustomed to.

“Uh…pleased to meet you,” he mumbled.

“Mister Lewis, was it? Walk with me, the owners have tasked me with making sure that you understand the full scope of your duties here.”

Ethan followed behind Spencer as he made his way over to one of the elevators, the concierge pushing a button and waiting patiently as the dial on the antique floor indicator ticked down. Ethan glanced over his shoulder, noting that Mister West was still watching him like a hawk.

“Have you much experience working with buildings this old?” the man asked, keeping his eyes fixed on the dial.

“I have, yes,” Ethan replied. “I specialize in maintaining historic buildings, in fact. I’ve worked in colleges, museums, I was even responsible for an old prison for a few years. Each one poses different challenges, but they also have a lot in common. I read up on the Abbott and Schutzman building before applying for the position, and I have to say, I’m very excited to work here. I’ve always been fond of Art Deco, and as I understand it, the building has undergone relatively few renovations compared to most structures of its era. It almost seems to be frozen in time.”

“The owners place a great deal of value in its authenticity,” Spencer continued dryly. “If they can avoid renovations, they do. I will expect you and your staff to adhere to the same standards, Mister Lewis.”

“Absolutely. If you don’t mind my asking, what happened to my predecessor? It’s unusual to find such a position on the open job market.”

The arrival of the elevator was announced by the ringing of a bell, and the two stepped inside as the doors parted. It was an antique model, manually operated, Spencer pressing one of the many numbered buttons with a bony finger as he moved a lever. The doors slid shut, Ethan feeling a sensation of upward motion as they began to climb.

“The previous manager was with us for many years,” Spencer finally replied, “but his failing mental health resulted in him being let go at a rather inopportune time. There are several systems in the building that need urgent maintenance, and truth be told, we’ve been having trouble holding onto contractors lately.”

“Why’s that?” Ethan asked, giving him a frown.

“The building has a rather…storied history,” Spencer admitted, shifting his weight as though the subject made him uncomfortable. “It’s not unusual, many old buildings do. The Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles, for example, is plagued by superstitions surrounding its checkered past. Of course, over the many decades that the Abbott and Schutzman has stood, it stands to reason that a few unfortunate events would have taken place on the premises.”

“I read about a few murders and suicides,” Ethan suggested, “but nothing that stood out as unusual. Then again, I’m not a believer in the supernatural. If ghosts were real, I think I would have seen a few by now, considering my line of work.”

“Indeed,” Spencer replied. “The contractors complain of hearing noises on the upper floors, and no amount of explaining seems to assuage their fears. Old buildings creak and groan, and that high up, the very structure can sway as the wind buffets it. They don’t want to hear it. Your predecessor’s declining mental state was the straw that broke the camel’s back, as it were.”

“How so?”

“Hallucinations,” the concierge replied solemnly. “The man claimed to see demons and apparitions stalking the upper levels, likely inspired by the rumors that were circulating among the staff. I’m not sure which came first, but it resulted in a lot of people quitting, and the former facility manager being admitted to a psychiatric hospital.”

“And here I was thinking that he might have opted for an early retirement,” Ethan muttered.

“There are several different branches that see to the upkeep of the building,” Spencer added, ignoring his comment. “You’ll be tasked with coordinating the different staff members and assigning them to the most pertinent tasks. Janitorial, maintenance, plumbers, electricians. I won’t beat around the bush, many of the Abbott and Schutzman’s older systems are close to failure. We have an elevator that has been out of service for weeks, the ventilation and air conditioning systems on several floors are in dire need of repairs, and the water treatment plant in the basement has been acting up lately. We need someone to take charge and get everything running smoothly again.”

“The situation does sound rather dire,” Ethan said with a nod. “I see now why you needed a new manager so urgently.”

“You seem like a level-headed fellow,” Spencer added as he spared Ethan a glance, “perhaps you can talk some sense into these people.”

They arrived at the right floor, and the doors once again parted, Ethan following the concierge out into a carpeted hallway. This area almost resembled a hotel, and Spencer hadn’t been exaggerating when he had said that the owners valued authenticity above all else. The same dull, yellow lighting that had been present in the lobby illuminated the long corridor, cast from stylized lamps that hung from the ceiling at intervals like miniature chandeliers. The carpet beneath his feet was appropriate for the period, the same red and brown motif present in its geometric patterns.

The concierge led him up to a nondescript door, inlaid with brass numbers that read two-six-five. Spencer fished in the pocket of his jacket for a large key ring, leafing through the keys that were attached to it as one might leaf through the pages of a book. He seemed to find the correct one, inserting it into the lock and turning it, Ethan hearing a mechanical clunk from the aged mechanism.

The door swung open, and they stepped inside, emerging into what looked like an old hotel suite that had been converted into an office. It was rather spacious, with an adjoining bedroom and bathroom, the main living area occupied by a large bank of black and white CRT monitors that were showing various views from what must be security cameras. There was also a desk nearby with a more modern computer setup, a generic, flat LCD display with one of those pre-built slim PCs. Ethan could even see the discoloration in the carpet where couches and coffee tables had once been. There were windows towards the back of the room that must have looked out over the city in ages past, but they were boarded up now. The only light in the room came from the monitors, along with a solitary chandelier hanging from the ceiling above, the bulbs dusty and dim.

“This will be your nerve center, if you will,” Spencer said as he waved a liver-spotted hand at the bank of CRTs. “You’re hooked up to the building’s security system, it’s a little dated, but it works well enough. This way, you’ll be able to keep an eye on things and coordinate with Mister West if you need to. To your left is a computer terminal that lets you monitor many of the building’s systems, and which you can use to keep track of the different staff. You will be doing most of your work from inside this room.”

“It’s…a little unusual, to say the least,” Ethan muttered as he wandered over to the flickering monitors. There was a shallow desk in front of them, upon which was an old rotary telephone that had seen better days. He lifted it experimentally, turning to Spencer and raising an eyebrow as if to ask if he was really expected to use it.

“I’m assuming that you have a cellphone?” the concierge asked, as if it should have been obvious. “This floor and several others were leased out as part of a hotel for a short time, but these suites are largely unoccupied now. You will find all of the amenities that you need here, should you need to stay overnight, or make use of the facilities.”

“I only live a couple of blocks away,” Ethan said, but he quickly stopped himself. It wouldn’t do to show any reservations about working long hours on his first day on the job. “But I can stay as long as is required of me,” he added. That seemed to satisfy the concierge, and he nodded approvingly.

“You will find many things about this building unusual,” Spencer continued. “Over the years, the different floors have been leased out to a variety of individuals and companies. There are seventy-seven levels, seventy of which are accessible, including several mechanical floors that can only be reached via the service elevator. Each one has been used for radically different purposes at one point or another, and if said floor was never leased again, then it has likely remained in the same state in which it was left when the prior tenants moved out.”

“So, you have seven mechanical levels?” Ethan asked. “That sounds about right, there’s usually one every ten floors or so.”

Mechanical levels were sections of a high-rise building dedicated solely to utilities, such as plumbing or central heating, usually sectioned off behind their own elevator shafts so as not to be accessible to the public.

“We have six mechanical floors, and I included those in the count,” Spencer replied. “The seven unused floors are the highest in the building, located in the crown, just beneath the spire. They have been closed off for some time, as years of neglect has made them rather unsafe. They mostly consist of a bar area known as the Sky Lounge that was sectioned off after a patron was killed there, the observation deck, and loft areas with a lot of exposed structural supports.”

“Someone was killed in the Sky Lounge?” Ethan asked. “I didn’t read anything about that. I know that the observation deck was shut down after someone fell over the railings.”

“During prohibition in the twenties and thirties, a lot of these buildings were designed with a hidden speakeasy,” Spencer explained. “The Cloud Club in the Chrysler Building or the Mystery Room in the Arizona Baltimore Hotel being prime examples. Executives and other high-society types would gather to partake in illegal drinking and gambling, out of sight of the authorities. There’s a wall in the Sky Lounge that opens up when a hidden lever is pulled to reveal shelves that would have been stocked with bottles of liquor and wine. Someone tipped off the police, and they raided the building. This was back in…thirty-three, I believe. One of the patrons resisted arrest and was severely beaten, the NYPD was rather ruthless at the time. He succumbed to his injuries before help could arrive, and the lounge has been closed to the public ever since.”

“Grizzly,” Ethan muttered.

“I’ll call the heads of staff and have them come up here,” Spencer said, “you’ll need to meet them before your first shift starts.”

He moved over to the rotary phone and picked it up, holding the receiver to his ear as he began to dial in a number, Ethan watching with mild amusement.


A short while later, three people entered the converted suite. One of them was Mister West, the man so tall and wide that Ethan could have sworn that his shoulders had scuffed the door frame on his way in. Following behind him was a man wearing a blue boiler suit, a tool belt hanging around his waist, and a middle-aged woman wearing a grey jumpsuit with several pairs of latex gloves dangling from one of the breast pockets. They lined up in front of Spencer like soldiers standing to attention, the old man gesturing to them.

“You’ve met Mister West already, he’s our head of security. We place a great deal of trust in him, and as such, he’ll be responsible for many of the security concerns that you may have become accustomed to dealing with personally in your prior positions. Please allow him a certain degree of independence.”

Next, he waved to the man in the boiler suit. He was in his forties at least, with a weatherbeaten face and a mop of black hair that protruded from beneath a beanie that had seen better days. He was a little overweight, but he carried himself with confidence.

“This is Mister Rodriguez, he’s our head engineer. His department is responsible for hiring the contractors who deal with repairs and maintenance. He’s worked in the building long enough to know it inside and out. You’ll be relying on him a great deal, as many of the systems in the Abbott and Schutzman are poorly documented at best, and arcane at worst. When you need something fixed, you go through him.”

Rodriguez gave Ethan a nod as Spencer moved on to the last person in the line. She was a stout woman with chiseled features, her lack of makeup informing him that she was focused on her job above all else. She had unkempt, brown hair was tied back in a tight bun to keep it out of her face.

“This is Miss Nelson, she’s our head custodian. It’s her department’s job to coordinate the janitorial staff. She directs the cleaners, window washers, sanitation. This building is full of antiques, some of the carpets and pieces of furniture haven’t been replaced since it was constructed, and she’s one of the few people alive who knows how to maintain them.”

“Pleased to meet you all,” Ethan said.

“This is Mister Lewis,” Spencer continued, addressing the three department heads. “He’s replacing Mister Fairfax as the new facility manager. We all grew accustomed to working with Mister Fairfax over the years, and I realize that the…distress caused by his recent departure may still be fresh in your minds. His replacement comes highly recommended, and his employment history is impressive, so I would ask that you afford him the same respect that you would his predecessor.”

There was a chorus of murmured affirmations, but the mere mention of Fairfax’s name seemed to make everyone uncomfortable. Ethan couldn’t help but wonder what exactly had happened to the man. Had he tried to throw himself out of a window or something?

“I look forward to working with you all,” Ethan said, glancing at Spencer as he waited for further instructions.

“Very well,” the concierge continued with a clap of his hands. “Now that the introductions are out of the way, things can finally start returning to normal around here. I’ll leave the building in your capable hands, Mister Lewis. Mister West, would you accompany me back to the lobby?”