's 2014 Horror Write-off:

"The Laundry Room"

Submitted by Alexis Feynman

It wasn't simply a box, he decided. The room was a machine, a living thing that churned and clunked and breathed. The floor hummed and the washing machines perspired. The light was a sort of halfhearted apology, an unspoken understanding that no one who needed their laundry done would be harmed. When the room was dark...

Isaiah did not enter the room when it was dark.

He didn't spend that much time thinking about the laundry room, really. Usually he had something more important on his mind - like his daily job at the pet store, where he spent most of his time explaining the differences between brands of dog food that he didn't actually know anything about, or a phone call from his mother keeping him up-to-date on the health of her rhododendrons. Other times he'd be distracted by some irritating mail, or the appearance of a new stain on his kitchen floor, or the simple fact that he was a tired and busy man who had better things to think about than the community laundry room. In any case, although he thought about it almost daily, it was a fairly brief highlight of his usual day.

One particular Wednesday, though, it was brought directly to the forefront of his attention. Physically, in fact, as a large crowd of his neighbors had clustered in front of the door, several of them carrying laundry baskets. He tried to sidle by, preferring to avoid whatever communal disaster was taking place, but the hallway was thoroughly packed, so he found himself standing there and growing rather irritated.

"I don't see what the big deal is," Mrs. Reynolds was saying. "It's just some flickering lights. They do that all the time, and that never stops anybody! So what if they go out for a couple of seconds? Bring a flashlight if you're that worried about it!"

Brie, who did not have a laundry basket, answered. "It's not the lights, Kate. They said the whole wiring system's messed up. Someone could get hurt in there."

"Well, if they're stupid enough, let 'em! There's no reason to keep the door locked, just so us sane people can't get our laundry done."

Isaiah cleared his throat. Mrs. Reynolds fixed him with a death stare, to which he gave a smile and a polite nod. "Excuse me, ma'am. I can't get through."

"Well, I can't get my laundry done, but you don't see me standing here complaining about it!"

Brie snickered, but ushered the older woman out of the way. Isaiah nodded gratefully and continued down the hallway. Before leaving earshot, he heard Brie telling Mrs. Reynolds that maintenance would be in the next morning to correct the issue, and he put it out of his mind.

The room was still locked Thursday morning, but by afternoon it was open again. He decided to forego his usual laundry, however - the room was already full of people who should have been done Wednesday, and he had little interest in trying to wrestle a washing machine from one of them. On his way to mail a letter, however, he was treated to an earful of Mrs. Reynolds grumbling that "I thought they said they fixed the damn lights!"

On his way back, he stole a glance at the crowd of laundry-doers, and for a moment the lights flickered and went out completely. The room became a void, as if everyone inside had vanished - even the noise had quieted. A second or so later, it was back on, and everyone went about their business as if nothing had happened.

By Friday, things had settled back to normal, apart from the fact that Isaiah had needed to re-wear Monday's socks. There was the usual flurry of weekend activity, as people got ready for dates and clubbing and quiet nights in, and by eight things had settled into relative silence. Isaiah washed a handful of dishes, took a few minutes to scrub at the stain on the kitchen floor, and when he was satisfied that people were finished for the evening, he collected his dirty clothes and headed out into the hall.

The door to the laundry room was ajar when he arrived. The lights flickered a little more strongly than usual, but were not, to his relief, going out altogether. He did, however, notice that the room seemed damper than usual, and when he'd filled the washer and went to close the lid, it slipped from his fingers and landed with a sharp, metallic bang. A click sounded across the room, and he realized the impact had knocked the door shut, but the lights were on so he thought little of it.

As the machine whirred and churned, he leaned on one of the walls and thought about the customer from this afternoon who had insisted that turtles were vegetarian. Of course now that he was home he could think of all sorts of witty comebacks - things, of course, that he wasn't allowed to say to customers but were nice to think about anyway. In either case, he sincerely hoped that the man never had the opportunity to own an actual turtle, because if he did, it was sure to be a very miserable animal. He hated to think of what a turtle might think of the laundry room. It was an uncomfortable enough place for a human, hot and damp and always humming, but maybe that was the kind of place turtles liked.

The lights stuttered suddenly, and all thoughts of turtles fled his mind - as did thoughts of breathing, and of not running to the door in a panic. He gripped the nearest washing machine tightly, staring at the bulbs as they came in and out, panic rising in his throat as he sternly told himself that there was nothing to be afraid of. It was just the wiring, he told himself. Though why would they let people in if it was still having problems? The thought occurred to him that he shouldn't be here - that no one should be here, ever, regardless of how useful or well-lit the room was.

He noted, with slight hysteria, a flat and mechanical grinding noise coming from the wall. That was new; maybe something the electricians had added? But it hadn't been going on when he'd come into the room, and it seemed to be getting louder. He had a vague image of the walls exploding, and decided that perhaps this wasn't the best time to invest in clean socks. He opened the washing machine, ignoring the grinding shriek that emitted from somewhere in the pipes, and went to pull out his clothes.

The lights went out.

His hand once again dropped the lid, and the machine went right back to work, its fervent churning noises almost completely smothered by the shrieking and grinding coming from the walls. The room was pitch-dark, smotheringly so; the only visible shapes were the swirling busts of color created by his own mind in an effort to have something to see. It was cold, suddenly - cold and very damp, and one of the dryers was roaring to life, and when he took a step his shoe landed in a puddle of water he could not remember noticing on his way in.

The grinding from the walls grew louder. A drop of frigid water fell onto Isaiah's shoulder. He swatted at it for a moment, thought better of it, and decided that his laundry didn't matter so much. He made for where he thought the door would be, splashing through shallow water, ignoring the vague shapes that played at his peripheral vision and the heavy presence of the darkness. An outstretched hand touched sheetrock wall, impossibly dry but somehow sweating with moisture, and swept over it until his fingers found the edge of the thick metal door. He grasped the knob, hesitating to turn it, telling himself that he was being completely irrational and the lights would come on at any minute.

Then a screech came from the running dryer, and he was twisting the knob open and shoving himself out the door into freedom. He slammed it behind himself, not bothering to look back, hands trembling as he stared, blinded by the hall lights, gasping for the cool, dry air.

He heard a voice, but he couldn't make it out, so he closed his eyes, forced himself to take a deep, measured breath, and tried again.

"You okay there?"

He looked. It was Brie, standing pert and cheerful as always, a laundry basket on her hip. He realized he was still plastered over the door, and pulled himself away cautiously, glancing back at it to confirm that there was nothing sneaking out, nothing trying to follow him. Nothing there at all. Even the machines had gone quiet.

He nodded. "I'm fine." When Brie raised her eyebrows, he added, "The lights just went out, and I - well, I get claustrophobic. It's always a little uncomfortable in there."

Understanding on her face. She, too, nodded, and reached for the door. He let out an involuntary shout, nearly clamping his hand over hers, but stopped and smiled sheepishly before pulling himself away.

Brie opened the door. The lights were on, and his washing machine was humming peacefully. "Looks like it's OK," she said. "Want me to hold your hand just to be safe?"

"Uh - I - no," Isaiah muttered. "Thank you. I think I'll stay out here for a while longer. Get some air."

She nodded, and went inside, closing the door behind her. Isaiah leaned against the wall once again, eyes closed, telling himself that it was all right.

Then he heard a pop, and a grinding, high-pitched shriek, and a series of cracks and screams that weren't metallic or mechanical at all.