A girl picked up the final jack, cheeks pursed in a smile of closed lips. She looked at him with a mischievous glint in her eyes, "I win. A deal is a deal. You're coming with me."
"No fair, Betty!" Sam protested, "You're nine--"
"-- and a half," she finished, blushing. Betty pulled her gray floral dress out across her lap, dropping the ball in beside the jacks. "And you're only eight."
Sam's eyes fogged over, dreamily, as he clutched the key around his neck, "At least I have my key."
"Half of us kids in Great Hall came out of the womb with keys," she said. "You're nothing special."
"Womb? What's a womb?"
She stood, holding out the front of her dress to basket the jacks. With even strides, she led him to the open door. She chose not to answer him.
"Betty, yours ain't not a key."
A shiny emerald ribbon hung from her neck. On its end, upon her back, was a glassy button with a 'fourteen' on it. She pulled sideways on the ribbon, so that the button moved up her shoulder and down the front of her chest, hanging properly.
"It's just an unlucky button."
"How do you figure, Sammy?" she was defensive in tone.
"It's the elevator button for the thirteenth floor. The greatest elevator we know only has twelve buttons. Four basement floors, the Downstairs, and; the eight of the Great Hall's floor and its Upstairs. And if that doesn't make it unlucky, there's the superstitious bit."
"I'm not four," she repeated his chiding of Ron back to him.
They passed through the door frame, into a long and narrow hall.
"It's the key to a thirteenth floor."
"Can't you read, Sam? Look. One - four. Four-teen."
They kept walking down the hall, passing closed doors and plain white walls. The stucco ceiling and bright lighting was harsh on Betty's eyes. She was unaccustomed to the First Floor. The spatious Great Hall had already given her the urge to vomit.
"In all the old legends, of before the Lock Change, there's never a button for the thirteenth floor. And they don't leave it empty. They just assign it the next number," he tried to condescend her in return with a slow pronunciation, "like thir-teen."
"At least I know what mine's for," said Betty. She stopped and pressed a button on the wall to summon the elevator. It was an arrow, pointing down.
Sam did not notice, nor did he care. Yet, a deal was a deal. Thus, he'd go where she wanted. It was all part of the game. Even if his parents would be impatient, and he might miss lunch.
"Argh!" she flustered, tapper her long fingernails along the wall in a grating rhythm. This place is stark, like the mines of Basement Four.
While she was looking away, Sam took the necklace off. And from his pocket, he withdrew a seemingly identical key on an identical string. Betty doesn't need to know that Mommy's the Moldmaker. She'd just make fun of me, 'cause duplicates don't work.
And the duplicate, the fake, hung now from Samuel's neck.
The ceramic white doors opened, and the elevator hung a foot above the floor. They climbed up, onto the off-height chamber. It was metallic inside. Every surface gleaned silvery gray. And a light above remained dim. Once in a while, it flickered unkindly.
Betty was humming a nursery rhyme.
The panel in front of her lit up as the door closed. In two rows, and a half dozen rows, the buttons gleamed. Below 1, to the right of B1 and above B4, was an empty socket where B2 was supposed to be.
She snickered, and looked down at the pliers that someone had left on the floor, "Darn button-yankers! I guess we're going to take a long way."
The button for B3, below B1 and to the left of B4, turned dark as she pressed it. And the elevator began to move. down.
Sam felt a sensation, as of libraryflies fluttering within his stomach. He loved the elevator, but preferred ascending over descending. Then, a knot of dread formed in his gut.
"I better remember where those stairs are," Betty muttered under her breath as the doors slid open. She walked out under a stony ceiling, arching into the walls. Pipes ran along the walls, and occasionally dripped. It was murky and ominous. Below her feet, was a shaggy red carpet. "You coming, Sam?"
The doors began to slid closed.
Betty thrust out a hand. Her dress fell, and the jacks clattered to the floor. The ball bounced into the elevator. The doors stopped gently upon her wrist, and paused briefly, before opening again. She grinned, "Eight? You're acting like you're six."
"You're acting," Samuel answered in a foul tone, "just like Ron."