Five people got on that elevator with me. A woman with a shy little kid hiding behind her coat. A business guy with a cool three-D holographic tie. A teenage girl with a portfolio and a couple of poster tubes strapped to her back. And the older man in the back with a bag of delicious-smelling takeout.
So there were six of us altogether, and unbeknownst to any of us, we were riding on the elevator designated “6F.” I didn’t even know elevators had designations. I never paid attention to that. I only ever paid attention to which elevator was free when I needed it.
Once onboard, I noticed that elevator 6F had mirrors along the top halves of two walls, and on the third, a still-life painting of picked wildflowers lying on their side in a loose bunch.
I’d never been in any kind of elevator emergency before. Although, I’ve seen plenty of shows or movies where people get trapped in an elevator and stuff happens while they’re waiting for rescue.
So when the elevator stopped and the doors didn’t open, and the buttons didn’t respond when the woman with the kid pressed them, I had an inkling that I might be experiencing my very first elevator emergency.
For about ten minutes, we were alone on that elevator. We couldn’t reach anyone on the elevator phone, and there was no reception on own phones. The teenage girl put her things down and said she’d be willing to climb up and out of the elevator to see if she could get a signal, or reach a floor where she could report what was going on. But not enough time had passed for anyone to panic yet. The older man with the food said they should wait a bit longer. Someone was probably aware of the issue and working on it already.
Sure enough, we tried the elevator phone one more time and managed to reach someone, who told us that they were indeed aware of the situation. The elevator had experienced some kind of power disruption, probably having to do with ongoing construction on some of the floors. It would be repaired within fifteen to twenty minutes. The person on the other end asked if any of us were experiencing a dire emergency that required rescue workers to get us out sooner. Or could we all sit tight.
We glanced at each other and agreed that everyone was fine. We could wait.
The older man lifted his bag of food and joked that he had enough to feed us all if it came to it, which made the teenage girl mention bathroom breaks. She was glad she’d decided to go one last time before getting on the elevator. She sighed and shook her head. She hadn’t needed to go, but she was nervous. She was interviewing for a position as an architectural intern at one of the firms on the top levels of the building. Luckily, she’d arrived very early. We all wished her good luck.
The woman who had become our point-of-contact with the outside world, by virtue of standing closest to the elevator’s control panel and phone, asked the little boy who was with her if he needed to pee or anything. He shook his head and retreated further into the folds of her coat. She asked if anyone minded if she hummed a tune to calm the boy. She got the okay from all of us and started humming a lovely tune. It sounded like a lullaby and a classical piece at the same time. But I couldn’t tell if it was something classical or her own composition. Not my genre. I wondered if the boy had some kind of condition, social anxiety or something, but I didn’t want to be rude, so I didn’t ask.
The business guy seemed nice. He slumped down to sit against the wall with the still-life painting. He said he was sorry the rest of us were delayed, but said that it worked for him. He would have an excuse for being late to a meeting on the eight floor that he didn’t want to attend in the first place. He asked the older man where he got the food—it smelled like Peruvian food, like that one particular green sauce.
I chimed in. “I was hungry getting onto the elevator. I really hope that repair estimate is close, or you’ll all be treated to the symphony of my stomach.” I patted my stomach.
The older man raised his brow and pointed to the bag of food that he’d now placed on the floor. I smiled at him and mouthed a silent “thank you” for the offer.
He introduced himself first. His name was Saul and he was taking the food up to his wife, who was an executive at a firm on the ninth floor, and to her two assistants. They were working on some deal and they’d all forget to eat if he didn’t shove the food right under their noses.
The teenage girl and aspiring architect was Reesa. The friendly business guy with the cool tie was Oscar, and the meeting he was trying to avoid had something nominally to do with city construction contracts.
“As long as you guys aren’t responsible for elevator repair in this building,” I quipped, and then basked in the few chuckles I received.
Oscar held up a hand and insisted he was not responsible for sabotaging the elevator just to make him late for the dreaded meeting.
Our elevator point-of-contact was Max. She was bringing her nephew, Tony, to a speech therapist appointment on the eleventh floor. She only said that he was shy. Tony waved weakly at everyone after a few of us proclaimed that it was nice to meet him. Max then pointed her thumb at the elevator phone and joked that she was a communications major in college.
And I, of course, was on the job, delivering the contents of a thick cylindrical shaped package to an office on the fourteenth floor.
We chatted a little about superficial things, the types of things you’d chat about when you knew you were only speaking to someone for about fifteen minutes before you parted, most probably forever. So…the weather. Recent news events—though nothing potentially controversial. Saul’s lunch order. The contents of Reesa’s portfolio. The contents of the package I was delivering.
And then, we heard a ding. Max reached over to the phone, but there was no need. A voice came from the speaker and declared that the elevator was fixed and should begin moving shortly.
There was a collective exhalation of relief and a few subdued hoorays. Oscar picked himself up off the floor. Saul retrieved his food.
The elevator rose again, and in two seconds, it stopped. Whatever buttons we had pushed had gotten cancelled. The doors opened to the very next floor above where we’d gotten stuck, the sixth floor.
It wasn’t where any of us wanted to go, but we all stepped off the elevator as if by some instinct to escape the place where we’d been trapped, even if it had just been less than an hour.
At a glance, we could see that the sixth floor was empty. No one was there. Nothing was there. Aside from the support pillars, it was an open empty space.
I took in a quick breath as I felt the hairs of my neck stand up.
But Oscar, the business guy, was confident that we’d just ended up on a floor where construction was ongoing, and it was empty because everyone had dashed off to lunch as soon as they could. That made sense. It didn’t seem as if the ventilation was hooked up on that floor. The air felt warm and stuffy. Oscar said the elevators could be programmed to bypass any floors where construction was happening, so people didn’t accidentally get off. That too explained why no one was there.
So the next order of business was deciding what to do. I figured I’d get onto one of the other elevators. But a few of the others, who were closer to their destination floors, were debating whether or not to take the stairs, just in case.
Max, the communications major, declared that Tony needed to go to the bathroom. She figured there must be one on that floor, and if not, they would take the stairs down to the fifth floor. They disappeared around the corner.
I pressed the up arrow and waited, glancing around to gauge the progress of the other elevators. The only doors that opened, opened onto the elevator we’d just “escaped.”
I hesitated, considering what to do. I blinked and it suddenly turned dim and then dark, within the span of several seconds. I turned around and saw that the overhead lights were off.
I glanced back at the elevator bank. The doors to our favorite elevator were still open, but the lights above the other elevators had stopped.
I heard someone ask quietly if the building had just lost power.
There was still light, filtering through the glass windows, even though they were all covered with opaque plastic sheets.
But that light started to dim too, as I pulled my phone out of my pocket and began convincing myself that it would be good exercise to walk up eight flights of stairs.
It darkened so quickly that if I didn’t know any better, I would have thought it was evening and the sun had set—the quickest sunset I’d ever experienced. Reesa and Oscar discussed if they should go search for Max and Tony, to make sure they could see their way in the dark. Oscar pulled out his phone and turned on the flashlight function. Reesa had an actual flashlight in her bag. She clicked it on and turned back to me.
I glanced back at Saul. He was standing at the threshold of the elevator, holding the doors open. He said that we should stay and hold the elevator for everyone. Reesa insisted that the rest of them were going to take the stairs. She glanced at me and raised her brows.
“If the elevator’s working, I should take it,” I said with a slight wince of apology. I patted the messenger bag at my side. “I need to get this delivered.” I pulled out my phone. “But one of you text me to let me know you found them and you all got off the floor okay.”
Reesa nodded. We exchanged numbers.
Then she and Oscar turned the corner, just as Max and Tony had.
Even as they did, it darkened even more, so much so that we couldn’t see more than a few feet past the threshold of the elevator that Saul was holding open. The flashlight on my own phone couldn’t cut past a few steps ahead of me.
I frowned at the darkness, keeping my back to the now bright and inviting confines of the elevator. “This isn’t…” Natural. I was going to say that it wasn’t natural. But I didn’t say it.
Saul said it was bad business. I couldn’t wait. I texted Reesa. My message went through, which comforted me a little. At least there was reception on the floor. I didn’t know if there would be if I got back on that elevator.
My first text just asked for a response. I began to compose a second one.
And I heard an unexpected sound that made me freeze.
It was a low rumbling.
And it was coming from beyond the darkness.
A sudden deep bark sounded, and a tremor passed through my skin and my bones.
I’d known some small dogs with big deep barks. But I’d also known some very big dogs with big deep barks.
I peered into the darkness. But I couldn’t see past it.
There were a few of them at least, growling, and only growling. There were no more barks. And the growling seemed to be coming closer.
“Saul,” I said quietly, “you should get on that elevator and go find help. Tell them we’re trapped on the sixth floor.”
I had decided I could turn that same corner everyone else had, find the others, tell them there were potentially vicious dogs in the dark, and we could all scramble toward the stairs together, in a pack, for safety.
Saul said he wouldn’t leave me and the others now.
“You should go,” I insisted. “We need to get rid of that food. I’m sure they can smell it.”
Saul suggested we might use the food as a distraction.
He was right. I took the bag of food from him. I told him to get on the elevator and get help as I said. And I threw the bag into the dark as far as I could, before I slammed again the far wall and felt my way to that corner, and turned it.
My cell phone battery was almost full. The flashlight was bright. But beyond the tiny pool of dim light, there was only darkness.
I didn’t want to call out. That might attract the attention of whatever was growling. I’d expected to hear a frenzy as they fell on the food I’d tossed out to them as a sacrificial offering. But nothing changed. The growling continued.
The only comforting sound I heard was the sound of the elevator ding. That meant Saul was off to safety at least.
As I came upon the bathrooms, I checked and saw that the toilets had not yet been installed. I checked my phone. There was still no response from Reesa.
Since they didn’t return to the elevator bank, they must have headed to the stairs. I followed an “exit” sign I found.
The growling continued.
But it seemed a bit farther away now.
I found the exit to the stairs. I tried the door, hesitating, afraid it would be locked. But it swung open.
I passed through and onto the landing of the stairwell. The door closed and I huffed out a breath.
It was dim in the stairwell, but dim was bright compared to the darkness I’d just come from. I checked my phone again, sent a quick message to Reesa, realized I couldn’t do the same for Saul, since I hadn’t gotten his number, and I started down the stairs. Max had said they would go down.
I reached the landing for the fifth floor. I tried the door. It was unlocked. I took a breath, and narrowed my eyes, hoping that I’d swing the door open to a floor that was overly bright and bustling.
But when I opened the door, the floor beyond was dim and dark and empty, and somewhere in that darkness a dog barked.
I shook my head, gulped, and closed the door. I backed away.
“What the hell?” I said out loud.
Nothing and no one answered.
Restraining dread for the sake of escape, I started running up the stairs, running past the landing to the sixth floor, or what I was certain should have been the sixth floor—I didn’t stop to check—and I ran past the landing to the seventh floor, and past that to what should have been the eighth floor.
I gripped the door handle and took a moment. I was breathing hard, both from the exertion of running, and from trying to hold back that bad feeling that was coiled at the bottom of my stomach.
If someone had happened to rush out onto the stairwell at that very moment, the door would have slammed me in the face, maybe given me a bloody nose.
The person would have apologized profusely and been mortified.
I probably would have given that person a hug.
So I waited a moment, willing someone’s frazzled assistant, or another rushed courier like me to barge through the door.
I adjusted my bag, moving the strap from my right shoulder to my left. The package was heavy. It felt heavier now.
I checked my phone for a response from Reesa.
I opened the door onto a carpeted hallway. I held my breath. There were doors to different room or suites, but no windows on most. An occasional chair or pair of chairs sat outside some of the rooms. They were all empty. The doors had room numbers. I still didn’t see anyone.
I turned a corner and the carpeting stopped. There was a sign that warned a laboratory area was beyond. A sign stated that there should be no laboratory coats worn in the hallways.
I searched for some sign of a reception desk, or a security guard, or someone who worked in the building. The laboratory suite had rooms with small windows. I caught movement across one window. Not creepy movement. The normal movement of someone just walking by.
I pulled out my phone, wiped the sweat from my forehead, and quickly set the phone to “silent,” wondering why I hadn’t done that already.
I walked to the end of the hallway, deciding that if I didn’t find some kind of reception desk or clerical staff area, and if no one stopped me and asked what I was doing there, I would walk back and knock on the door where I saw someone.
The end of the hallway divided into two. I one direction, it was clear. In the other…
I felt a flutter in my gut.
I felt cold, but I was sweating.
In the other direction, something red was spattered along the wall.
It looked like blood. It had to be blood. I backed away and stepped toward the opposite wall, glancing around. The hallway was quiet. No one was passing down the hall. There was no music, no announcements coming from the speakers I saw mounted along the ceiling.
I pull out my phone and pressed the “9,” and a “1.” I heard footsteps coming from the bloody hallway. I hesitated. I couldn’t see anyone yet. I pressed the final “1” and held the phone to my ear.
As the phone rang, I heard another sound join the ringing and the footsteps. A watery thumping sound, and a squishing. I started edging along the wall, back the way I’d come. I heard a wet squawk. I heard the footsteps. I strained to hear voices, whispers even, but I heard only footsteps.
And the phone just kept ringing.
My hands were so sweaty now, I almost dropped my phone. The strap of my messenger bag was digging into the skin of my neck and shoulder. I wanted to put the bag down, or maybe just leave it. I kept scooting along, with my back against the wall. I passed the door with the small window, where I’d seen some movement.
I thought I saw a shadow moving around in there. But now I didn’t want to knock on the door. The footsteps were getting louder. The wet thumps were getting louder.
I’d decided I was going to get back to the stairwell and going down, all the way down to the first floor. I’d already been on the first floor. I’d come from the first floor. I knew that the first floor was normal. And safe.
I reached the edge of the hallway and bumped into something.
This time, I did drop my phone. I could hear it still ringing after it clattered to the ground.
I spun around with a gasp.
Reesa was standing there. She held her hands out to me in that “I’m not going to hurt you” gesture. Oscar stood behind her.
“We have to get off this floor,” I whispered.
They nodded, but said nothing. Reesa glanced behind me. I picked up my phone and we rushed toward the stairwell.
When we were out on the stairwell, I told them about the blood spattered on the walls. I asked them if they’d found Max and Tony. They hadn’t. They’d been doing what I was doing, trying different floors.
My 9-1-1 call had gotten disconnected. I dialed again. “What the hell is going on in this building?” I slipped my bag off my shoulder.
Reesa and Oscar exchanged a glance.
I shook my head. “It’s not connecting.” I looked at Reesa. “Did you get my text?”
She had gotten it. And she had replied a few times. The messages seemed to have gotten through, but I’d never answered.
“We just have to get down to the first floor,” I said. “We can figure things out from there.” I started down the stairs and Reesa stopped me. She reminded me about my bag.
I shook my head. “I’m too tired. It feels so heavy.”
Reesa said she would carry it for me, but she was already loaded down with her own stuff. She was still carrying her portfolio and poster tubes. Oscar lifted the strap of my messenger bag and held it out to me.
I frowned. “Whatever it is, it’s not as important as finding Max and the kid, and getting back to the lobby.”
Oscar suggested that it might be some rare artifact for all I knew, something priceless, and if I lost it, I’d be on the hook.
He was probably right.
Reesa suggested that I open it. If it looked important, I could always reseal it, and deliver it. But if didn’t, then I could leave it.
I shook my head. “There’s no time.” I recovered my bag and we started down the stairs.
We went down to the fifth floor landing, then the fourth, the third. We announced the floors as we went, so we could be sure no one was miscounting. But when we got to the second floor landing, there was no door leading to the floor. Just brick wall painted a shiny burnt sienna color. We continued down to the first floor landing. Again, there was no door. But the stairs kept leading down, maybe to a basement level. I’d never been to the building before. I didn’t know if it had basement level parking. The others didn’t either.
True to the theme of that day, I heard a sound. And I couldn’t tell if it scared me or comforted me.
It was humming. It echoed, as if the sound was bouncing off hard surfaces. The tune was familiar. Like a lullaby or a classical piece. The voice was familiar.
It was Max.
Oscar glanced over the railing to the floor below. He thought it was coming from below. I couldn’t tell. It seemed to be coming from different directions depending on how I turned my head.
Reesa wasn’t sure either. So we all followed Oscar’s lead. He took the steps down carefully. With each step we took, my bag felt heavier and heavier. I couldn’t bear its weight now without holding it against my body.
At the bottom of the stairs, I asked Reesa and Oscar to stop for a moment. I put the bag down. The strap had been digging into my shoulder. I was sure my skin must be bruised. I shifted my shirt to the side to check and I winced at what I saw.
A bloody welt lay over my skin. Some of the blood had soaked through my shirt. I checked the strap of the bag, and there were spots and blotches of blood along the edges.
“What the hell,” I whispered.
Reesa was right. Something was up with the package I was carrying. I should open it and look. But first, I wanted to find Max and Tony.
The humming was louder, but just like the few floors above us, there was no door. There were just shadows.
It was a dead end.
Reesa went back up a few steps and turned on her flashlight. She swept the light across the shadows. She gasped when the light hit a woman huddled in the far corner.
“Max,” I said.
She was sitting on the ground, her back against the wall. Her eyes were wide, so wide I could see white all the way around her iris. In her lap and wrapped in her arms was Tony. He appeared to be sleeping, or I hoped he was sleeping. Max was staring ahead at the opposite corner, the corner just in front of where I stood at the foot of the stairs. She was rocking Tony’s still body.
And she was humming.
I followed her gaze to another shadow in the corner. I pulled out my phone and turned the flashlight on. I gulped and raised the light to the corner.
I saw it then. Before what happened next, before I blinked. I saw a pulsing, throbbing, pale, wormy thing latched to the wall.
It flew at me and I thought I was dead, that we were all dead. I felt something snap against my wrist and my phone went flying.
Reesa swept her light toward the thing, following it, while Oscar rushed over to Max and Tony. He got them up and rushed them back to the stairs. They passed by me and started up. Reesa and I told them to keep going. Reesa was five steps above me. Her flashlight followed the worm-thing as it wrapped itself around my pack and started pulsing and sliding back into the shadows.
I’d been ready to abandon that bag and whatever was inside. And it looked as if we would have time to get away if the worm-thing was occupied by the bag.
But now, a feeling came over me. A certainty.
I couldn’t let the worm-thing take that bag. I couldn’t let it take what was inside that bag.
I reached over and grabbed the strap.
I pulled, and I gasped when I managed to slip the bag free from the worm-thing’s coils. But then one end of it whipped around and opened its mouth.
It was like one of those fluke-worms, with a circular mouth. I didn’t see any teeth, but its mouth fell on the bag and I heard a sucking sound.
I pulled again, and now there was no give.
I felt how strong the worm-thing’s grip was. The more I pulled, the stronger its grip became.
I heard myself whimper just before I let go of the strap. I knelt down on the floor. I put my hands on the bag, just next to the thing’s mouth. I zipped open the bag. I reached in and grabbed the package. I yanked at it. I fell back.
The package was in my hands.
The worm-thing released the bag right away.
It didn’t have any eyes.
But it knew I had the package.
I felt hands under my armpits. And I saw something go flying over my head.
And sheets and sheets of paper, paper marked with blueprints.
The worm-thing recoiled. Its mouth darted forward and whipped around, trying to get the trash out of the way.
And those hands got me to my feet, and dragged me backward. I turned and started up the stairs, nodding to Oscar and Reesa as I passed them, trusting they were not in danger. The thing was after the package.
And I had the package.
I didn’t know what it was. But I was guarding it with my life.
It noticed that it wasn’t heavy anymore.
I kept running up and up. I heard steps behind me. And I heard the sounds of watery thumps and squishing behind the steps.
I tried to open the package as I ran, but it was sealed too well.
I thought if the worm-thing wanted it so badly, maybe it was something that could hurt it. Or maybe it was something we could hold for ransom to make it let us go.
When we reached the fourth floor landing, where Max was waiting with a now-awake and thankfully alive Tony, Oscar and Reesa yelled at us to get inside the door. The fourth floor was dusty and creepy, but they hadn’t seen anything dangerous there.
I started to slow down, but then a notion occurred to me.
“No, keep going,” I said. “To the sixth floor. Follow me.”
And I kept running up, not waiting for them to follow. Either they would follow me. Or the worm would follow.
But I knew what I meant to do.
When we reached the sixth floor landing, I noticed that the wet, squishing sounds were gone. They weren’t following us anymore.
Reesa thought the worm-thing must just be very slow.
But we’d all seen how quickly it had moved in the basement.
Max, whose eyes were no longer wide but alert, glanced down the stairs with a dark frown. She said that the thing was probably counting on the hounds to get us.
Oscar asked me what we were doing back at the sixth floor, what my plan was. I had a plan. But it made more sense when we were running. Now that we had stopped, I’d had just enough time to doubt.
I said nothing.
Reesa put her hand on my shoulder, the one that wasn’t all cut up. She rubbed and patted a few times. It actually helped. I felt calmer.
“I figure we need to backtrack,” I said. The others looked at me. “I don’t know what’s really going on, but it seems as if this place is a…a terrifying maze. We go through one door on one floor and end up on a different floor. There are…things lurking around, chasing us. We know there is one way back to the first floor, and that is exactly the way we got here from the first floor.” I looked straight ahead at the door that led to the sixth floor. “We have to get back to the sixth floor, and get back on that same elevator that brought us here.”
Reesa shook her head. She proclaimed that Saul was right all along.
Max wondered aloud what we would do if we encountered those hounds we’d heard. It was the reason why she hadn’t returned to the others. The dark and the growling. It had driven her out onto the stairwell, and all the way down to that basement.
“I’ll go first,” I said. “And…and if they come for us. I’ll throw this at them.” I lifted the package. “I don’t know what it is. I know I don’t want them to have it. But I will let them have it, if it means we all get back down alive and in one piece.”
Reesa suggested opening the package. If need be, I could toss the empty delivery box at the hounds. She was hoping the scent would fool them, long enough for us to get away, with the contents of the package. She too agreed that we shouldn’t let the worm-thing have the package.
But the package was sealed too well, in layers and layers of tape. And none of us had anything left that might help open it, not a knife, not a pen, nothing.
And I could have sworn, I started hearing a wet thumping again.
“We have to go now,” I said, and opened to the door to the sixth floor.
There they were, waiting for us. They were robed in darkness, but we could see them now despite that. They weren’t dogs or wolves. But some perverse version of the natural animals we knew by those names. Their dull fur bristled. Their eyes glowed black and red. Their mouths were all pulled back in sneers that revealed two rows of razor teeth dripping with greenish spit. They were lined along the hallway, all facing us.
And they growled.
I didn’t know what to do.
So I didn’t do anything.
Someone stepped in front of me. Someone small.
I heard a voice behind me, Max’s voice, command us all to cover our ears. She began to hum that lovely tune, and the growling stopped.
I covered my ears. I gasped as Tony stepped into the hallway.
But the creatures didn’t turn toward him. They kept staring ahead at the rest of us.
Through my covered ears, I could still hear Max humming, and I could hear that the humming was wavering.
One of the hound-like creatures turned his head toward Tony.
That’s when Tony turned around to face us, just as the hound-like things were facing us. And he took a deep breath, and Max stopped humming and told us again to cover our ears.
I saw Tony’s mouth move. I watched his lips to see if I could read the words he was saying. I couldn’t.
He stopped talking, and the hound-like creatures closed their glowing eyes, and collapsed.
Tony turned and walked ahead.
I followed. And the rest followed.
I couldn’t tell if Tony was still talking, so his voice could reach any hound-like creatures that lurked along our way. I kept my ears covered, and I walked slowly, keeping the boy in sight.
I saw the light before we turned the corner to the elevator bank. The light of the elevator.
The same one we had ridden up.
The same one we’d gotten stuck in.
It had brought us into this nightmare. I hoped it would take us out of it.
That hope rose when Saul stepped out of the elevator.
His eyes widened when he saw us. He smiled and gestured for us to get into the elevator. Oscar was the last one in, and as soon as he stepped into the elevator, we heard the growls.
The doors closed. They closed so slowly that I was afraid something would come leaping at us from the dark at the last minute. I braced myself. And I saw that Reesa and Oscar did too.
But the doors closed.
And all six of our fingers reached for the button marked “1.”
The elevator started down. We could feel that it was going down. And I prayed that it wouldn’t stop at floor five, or four, or three, or two. I prayed that it wouldn’t blow past the first floor and take us to the basement…or lower.
I watched the floors light up at we passed them. I glanced at that familiar still-life painting. I saw myself in the mirror and then glanced away, frowning. And I couldn’t help it, a wave of drowsiness overcame me. I wasn’t out of danger yet, but my body obviously thought I was. It could no longer hold so many muscles taut, so much tension. I slumped against the wall, and I let myself close my eyes.
“…whole thing collapsed. Good thing that elevator worked. You would have been worse off.”
I blinked and glanced around. I was lying down. I propped myself up on my elbows and felt a sharp pain along my left shoulder.
“Take it easy.”
I glanced at the person speaking to me. She was a paramedic. The sun was shining on her face.
I was outside.
I glanced ahead, at the building I had entered. I was outside of it.
For one horrible moment, I wondered if it was a delusion. Not what I’d seen inside the building. But what I was seeing presently, being outside. I swept away the thought.
“What about the others?” I said. “Did they get out?”
“Others?” The paramedic smiled. She patted my hand. “Yes, everyone else in the building got out. Was there someone else with you?”
“Yes—I mean, they weren’t with me. I don’t know them. I didn’t know them before we got on the elevator. But after we…the five other people on the…I know their names. Their first names.”
“Well, yes, we got all the people on all the elevators off. But you were the only one riding your elevator.”
I frowned. I reached for my phone. I could text Reesa to check on her.
But I couldn’t find my phone. I remembered then that I’d lost it.
I’d lost it.
It didn’t take me long to recover from the physical wounds. In addition to my shoulder, an injury my doctors couldn’t figure out based on other people’s reports of what had happened to me, I had a few welts on both legs below the knees.
The official story is that there was a roof collapse on the sixth floor, where construction had just begun after they tore down some offices. No one had made any mistakes according to preliminary investigations. It seemed to be a fluke accident. Construction had been halted for a few days because someone found an urn full of ashes hidden in a wall. Law enforcement had to make sure it wasn’t a case of foul play. It turned out they were the ashes of one of the people who’d spear-headed the construction of the building. It was in the guy’s will that his ashes would be a part of the building. Morbid, people thought, but not sinister.
Further investigations were ongoing, but I didn’t feel the need to follow them.
The elevator I’d been riding, elevator 6F, had stopped between floors because of a power disruption or something. When power was restored, the elevator dropped me off on the sixth floor, which it normally would have bypassed. I arrived just when the roof collapse began. They did find my phone in the basement and my bag. They think I reached the stairwell and dropped my stuff while trying to call for help. They’re not sure why I got back on the elevator if I’d reached the stairwell. Panic, they thought. Nothing to be ashamed of. I got lucky. I managed to get back into the elevator, and it worked long enough to get me back down.
I thought I’d lost the package I’d been carrying, or that it had gotten stolen. I thought I’d get fired, but when I called in to work to notify them that I needed a few days off, my boss told me that the package had been delivered, signed for, and even thumb-printed by the designated individual.
Part of me did feel the urge to follow up on the package. But it wasn’t a strong urge.
The only strong urge I had was figuring out who those people were who’d gotten on that elevator with me, who’d faced horrors with me that I couldn’t explain to anyone else, who’d help me escape those horrors.
I looked for them. I didn’t go back inside the building. But I lingered outside of it, to check for Reesa. Did she get that internship? Or did she forsake that building the way I had? Would I catch Saul bringing food to his wife and her assistants? Would I catch a glimpse of a stunning tie and the friendly business man attached to that tie? Would I ever see Max and Tony coming down after a speech therapy session and treating themselves to popsicles from the cart outside?
I wanted to see them outside the building. Out in the sunlight.
But I knew, deep down, I feared, deep down, that I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t see them again.
Five people got on that elevator with me. A woman with a shy little kid hiding behind her coat. A business guy with a cool three-D holographic tie. A teenage girl with a portfolio and a couple of poster tubes strapped to her back. And the older man in the back with a bag of delicious-smelling takeout.
But it wasn’t six of us on that elevator.
It was just me.
It was just me all along.
Copyright © 2019 Nila L. Patel