Behind Closed Elevator Doors
I have a fear of taking elevators alone. Something about being swallowed into a strong metal cage and either lifted or lowered with nothing but empty space beneath, putting all trust in the cables above puts me on edge. I do alright if I have company. Someone to distract me from the fear building up in the back of my head. But when I am the only one, when all I hear is the clang and rumble of unsure lifting equipment muffled poorly by the tunes inside, I can’t stand it.
I was in Korea last week and my roommate wanted me to grab something for her from downstairs before the evening curfew.
“You want what?” I called back uncertainly as I crossed the threshold of our room.
“Just some chromium oxide,” she trilled back, “for my health.”
Suzanne was a weak little thing. Poor dear. Turned up at a street corner in Tokyo claiming to have discovered the key to “marked existence”, whatever that was. Probably just the result of trauma from tabooed childhood experiences. A few days in the psychiatric ward of the city hospital and unworldly doses of complicated medicines brought her back to herself. Yet there was no undoing the mischievous dreamy gleam in her eyes, like she knew far more than she let loose. I shook my head as I shut the door to our hotel room and walked away.
There were no stairs in the building, so I plodded slowly to the elevator. Though every inch of me was screaming to turn around, I walked into the horrible empty box and doors clanged shut. Six floors had never felt so long. I scrambled out as soon as the cage set me free, gulping for fresh open air, at least air that was not stuffed inside that horrifying elevator. I had some trouble finding the chromium oxide Susanne requested. After a fruitless scan of the aisles and a rather awkward conversation with the man behind the counter, I purchased a small vial containing a lime green powder. How could this help with health? Oh well, Suzanne is Suzanne and there is nothing anyone could do about that. I cautiously stepped in the elevator again and focused on an extremely interesting gnat as the doors closed, locking me inside.
My anxiety once more mounted through the roof. But I was only going up six floors.
Elevator music was so stress-relieving! Of course, soap operas were never interesting on TV or the radio, but this particularly boring one soothed my nerves for the first four floors. I closed my eyes and let myself drift back and forth to the sway of the drowsy tune. Then suddenly it clicked off. At the same time, there was a screeching, then a jolt. I lost both my footing and my presence of mind. I had stopped moving.
The doors remained shut. I was trapped. I was alone. Alone. Trapped. Trapped in an elevator. Alone. My breathing quickened. All was silent now but for my anxious breaths and racking heartbeat. I waited for years. Maybe it was only a few seconds. Either way, the suspense rapidly increased my terror. I could not bear this! This waiting! This impending doom! The cable would snap and I would plummet! But the nothing, the waiting, it was just too much! Something, ANYTHING, had to happen and had to happen now!! NOW, before I completely lost my sanity! It could NOT have been worse.
I was wrong.
A slow creaking—I jerked around, searching frantically for the source. It stopped. I felt helpless, like some wild animal caught in a trap, already given in to the fact that it was already dead.
A clang—I gripped the handrail and tried in vain to slow my breathing. I was in fight or flight and neither could work right then, so I was stuck with the unending anxiety for what was to come.
A smashing crash—I lost myself completely. Eyes blacked over with fear, brain swathed in terror, I heard myself screaming from far away. Again, and again, and again I heard my screams. I was completely unaware of anything else that was happening, the single sound of crash imprinted firmly in my mind’s eye.
“Stop,” I heard myself say, and, miraculously, I obeyed. Something about hearing my own voice, calm and unconcerned, brought me slamming back from horror into reality. The silence had returned. The source of the crash became evident immediately: a ceiling panel had fallen in, leaving a cloud of dust around where it had landed.
But that wasn’t the only unwelcome guest.
There was a figure clothed all in shiny black, face covered in a mask of the same color, standing to its feet and brushing the dust off its clothes. A black utility belt, fully stocked, was strung around its hips. But I only had eyes for one thing—the thing that rattled slowly and gleamed in the eerie light: the gun slung in its holster.
It was like living a nightmare. I lost myself again. Never before had anything frightened me to this level. I would not have dreamed it possible that I would lose myself to insanity in the face of such monstrous terror. I was entirely unaware of anything, everything, except the thoughts that vainly chased the visions of my poor mangled bloody body out of my head. From out of the dark fog, I heard my voice again. It brought me back to myself. I gulped and stared. My mind cleared and I saw the elevator button panel in front of me, and my hands were frantically pounding the floor numbers in the vain hope that the shaft would continue moving or the doors would open.
“Quit slamming buttons,” the mask snarled patiently, “You know it’s not going to work.”
Funny enough, I did know. I stopped, still sobbing, still shivering, my eyes rooted to the floor. I was never going to use the elevator again.
“Hand it over,” and I felt the figure extend its arm in my direction.
I looked up past the outstretched hand and stared past it as if into the face through the mask. I was stunned. I felt my fingers fumbling mechanically for the flask of chromium oxide tucked in my jacket pocket. I felt my arm trembling as it reached the figure’s ringent gloved hand and dumped the vial into it. My mind was elsewhere. I knew that voice. But no, it couldn’t be….
“I know what you’re thinking, and yes, it can be—because it is.”
I shut my eyes and turned away with my hands over my ears. I could not bear the presence of this mind-reading psychopath. I must be hallucinating out of sheer terror. This wasn’t real. I could not believe it. Yet a small voice in my head told me there was no denying it.
A big voice outside my head told me too:
“I am not a hallucination, nor am I something to deny. No matter how much you dislike it, this is how it is. I would tell you everything here and now, but time is short. Ready?”
All of a sudden, I knew what was coming. I couldn’t pretend any longer. I desperately wanted to say no, but by then I realized I had no choice. I nodded, eyes still glued shut. I shifted my hands and peered through my fingers as the figure removed its mask. Though I had already known, the shock of seeing it in reality reconfirmed my horror. It also somehow added to it. The figure was me.
A dead me, a demented me, a changed me, a me that did not exist in my memory, but still me.
A horrible me. Her expressionless face shone pale and waxy, dark circles under her baggy eyes. There were minimal lashes and her eyebrows were scant. Her staring eyes shown glassy cold, like a demon’s, but devoid of all fiery zeal. Her lips were the same pale as her skin, but maybe touched with blue—lips like those of a corpse. Her mangy hair ran thick and wild, but grayed and sparse. She looked altogether like a cadaver in a black jumpsuit, dead for years, somehow untouched, and fresh out of the coffin.
“Now I’m really sorry about this,” she said cooly, “but it will all be over soon and you will be on my side of it.”
What did she mean? I asked myself in a frenzy, I mean, what did I mean? I was horrified, shocked, and confused, and desperately wishing that I had refused Suzanne her cursed chromium oxide. But a part of me was curious as to how this had happened.
Almost in response to my thoughts—something told me it was—,“Let me tell you briefly,” she said in icy tones that were probably meant to be kind.
“I know you. I know what it’s like to be you. Heck, I WAS you. Until that fateful day when I met my future self in the elevator. I was on your side of this, and now I’m on mine. You are young, you are afraid. Afraid of what you did, what you became, what you are. I am not a serial killer in the modern sense of the term. I am a creation born of your essence. I have your history, your physical traits, your likes and dislikes, but I do not have your weakness. Instead, I am instilled with invulnerable strength. I am the you you have always dreamed of becoming.”
She raised her head slightly as she said this, as if proud of her dilapidated, lifeless body. A cold shiver tingled down my spine. I broke down and cried tears of pain, horror, and longing. I never dreamed of becoming the monster standing so proudly across from me. I almost felt sorry for her—I mean me…then what particles of color remained in my face disappeared.
“Thanks to a nameless woman you will soon have the pleasure” (she scoffed) “of working with, that dream is now a reality. She will change you to unlock your full potential. She will gift you with her trust and benevolence. Or so you must believe,” the future me spat bitterly. “She is not what she appears to be. She is not a congenial scientist interested in you for your own good. What she is, you will discover for yourself in due time. I cannot explain it here. But it is important that as soon as you ascertain her secret, you flee for your life. You must leave the…place where she has you stay and come straight here. Come here to this elevator. Stop it, break in, then tell this story to the past you standing on the other side. Do you understand me?”
Still shivering, still moaning and heaving, I slowly, slowly lowered my head, then raised it again ever so slightly. I understood nothing of what she said, but I did understand that our engagement was coming to an end. I thought if I just kept nodding in agreement, she would leave.
I had never been so mistaken in my life.
She looked at me intently, expressionless as usual but with a trace of sadness etched in her brow. She continued speaking, slowly this time. Every word fell like a blow. “Then you will arrive at the most difficult part of all,” and she suddenly drew and raised the gleaming gun from her holster. “Shooting yourself.”
And her voice broke.
I screamed. I would have swooned clean away if I had the time. My future self seemed to know that, so she shot me then and there. I felt the pain, felt the blood. It hurt, and I was frightened beyond anything I had ever dreamed. I crumpled to the ground, my own blood pooling around me, trapping me in a sticky red mass. I felt myself dying…slipping away. I looked up at my murderer helplessly, terrified for what was to come. I fell unconscious.
The elevator dinged and the number 7 gleamed brightly in the poorly lit halls. The doors to the shaft opened to admit the horrendous sound of the music, continuing to play its dreamy melody. I stepped out onto the carpeted floor, completely fearless: completely knowing. I proceeded calmly to room 718, where Suzanne lay expecting me to walk in with her chromium oxide. I flicked the key card across the locking monitor, which flashed green and clicked open. My hand closed on the handle. I opened the door silently and strode calmly in.
There she lay, lounging unconcernedly on the closer of the two beds. She had been writing in her “diary” when I entered. Her sparkly little-girl journal rested open on the bed in front of her and she was sucking the end of a pink pen strung with feathers and bits of fluff. She was unaware of my presence.
My deranged dead eyes wandered for only a couple seconds, then fixed upon hers, which were turned downwards at her journal. I shot a message through the sky, just as she had taught me, and “Suzanne” looked up and met my eyes.
They locked for several long moments. For a split second, there was nonchalance. Then uncertainty. Then a look of utmost terror. She knew I knew. She tumbled from her bed, streaked like a demon to the window and was just ready to spring through it, glass and all, when a loud and smoky bang issued from just in front of me. Before she had the chance to slip through my fingers yet again, I pulled my gun, still hot, and shot her.
She collapsed on the sill.
I walked slowly over to where she lay dying, hatred burning from her fiery eyes so quickly losing their vivacity. Killing was my job. I was used to it by now, but I had never dreamed my targets would change direction. I peered down at my victim. Our eyes locked yet again. She attempted to say something but it came only a gargle, for a flood of clotted blood came pouring from her mouth. She was choking, drifting fast. If only I could make her pain last longer…
Her life ebbed away all too quickly, her eyes turned glassy and cold. Quid pro quo. The blood issuing from her mouth lapsed to a trickle. She had a few seconds at most.
“You will ruin no more lives, no more helpless souls,” I said in a cold voice barely above a whisper, “Your selfish cruel career is ended. If only I could change the past.”
Too Much Like Mother
It‘s always unnerving when the elevator stops on the thirteenth floor of the building where my Amy works, but this guy seemed alright, though his bow tie and bowler were comically old fashioned. About 5’7”, he stepped jauntily to the back of the elevator with military precision while affording me neither nod, nor smile. At the back wall he turned on his heel to face the door, his posture perfectly erect, his hands dangling loosely at his sides. This last bit I found exceedingly odd, as there was not even a fidget from his fingers. I am one to notice such things, as I take an interest in hands, and what one does with them. In fact, hands (or rather my obsession with them) were our primary subject today, I having just been to visit my lovely and talented friend Dr. Amy Piersall, Head of Psychology here at the Periwinkle Psychiatric Institute.
Hands are a fascination to me. Never knowing what to do with my own hands, I have developed my interest in them from observing what others do with theirs. Take this gentleman riding the elevator with me for instance, he with the straight hanging, non-fidgeting hands. Now, most people would be doing something with their hands on an elevator. I have watched a billion hands on elevators in my time and rarely have I seen a pair hanging so perfectly still while on one. Elevators are tight, close, nervous places, so a man will often subconsciously slip one hand into a pocket as he steps inside, while a younger boy will stuff both hands into his pockets once the door closes, feeling himself trapped within. A woman will clasp a bag, or check her phone, and a girl will fiddle with her hair, or her mother’s skirt, or her father’s trouser leg, but few will let their hands hang so confidently loose and still as this man did, so I was intrigued.
I leaned what I hoped was casually against the elevator wall before speaking, one hand flapping the end of my unaccustomed tie, the other resting back-handed upon my protruding hip. ”May I ask which branch, sir?” When they looked my way I noticed a cold, flatness to his eyes which very nearly disconcerted me, but I was not so easily put off. “I asked, which branch of the military was it that you were in?”
”No?” I questioned his response, sure that he was wrong, and must certainly have been in one branch or the other. “Policeman, then? Or perhaps Scout Leader?”
”Marching band? Secret Service? Merchant Marine?”
”None of the above. And please mind your own business... Friend.”
The way he said the word “friend” did not sound as if he meant it, but I took it as being just his stiff, stand-offish style that made it sound that way. Surely he was not being purposely unsociable, as we were the only two on the elevator. I was just starting to delve deeper when the elevator took a resounding jolt before lurching to a complete stop. I nearly went down when it did, my leisurely lean against the elevator’s wall leaving me so vulnerable that the reeling of the car pitched me directly into my new friend, whom I found to be much stouter than he first appeared. Standing perfectly balanced with his feet shoulder width apart the shorter man was able, even in the careening elevator, to remain perfectly in position even as I slammed face-first into his shoulder, breaking my nose and sending a shower of blood onto my brand new, 40% off suit and tie bought wholesale. My fidgety hands stopped their fidgeting to grab at my nose even as the stalwart little man shoved me back to my corner, where I stood whimpering with neck craned back and nose lifted high, my fingers tightly compressing either side of it in a futile attempt to staunch the flow of blood.
”I say, Friend!" I stammered into the sudden pitch-blackness of the elevator. "Mightn’t you have moved when I was thrown your way, rather than aiming your shoulder in my direction?”
”I am not your friend.”
I found this rebuff much more painful than the broken nose and sought to settle whatever bitterness he had developed for me. “Well! Didn’t you call me one only a minute ago? Have I done something to create antipathy between us? I was only trying to be cordial, and to compliment your martial bearing.”
”You are annoying.”
“So my father always said, that I was annoying that is, being too much like Mother." My pinching fingers added a nasally texture to my voice. “But Amy is helping me with that.” I paused here, expecting a question from him, such as, “Amy who?” But I received no response from out the darkness, forcing me to continue on myself if conversation was to be kept alive. “The Dr. Amy Piersall, that is. Head of Psychology.” I said this last bit with some smugness. “We are engaged.”
”Hmmm.” I detected disbelief in his hum.
”Do you doubt it?” My back was up now. "She said it herself!"
”There is more than one meaning of "being engaged." Just how long have you been seeing this 'Good' Dr. Piersall?”
I was back on solid “conversational” ground now, as Amy and I were long-time loves. “Three years, now.” With that I removed my fingers from my nose and crossed my arms sanctimoniously across my breast, though it would be impossible for him to see my posture through the blackness inside the elevator.
”Let me guess,” he replied. “One date a week, and always here in her office?”
I could feel the blood trickling again, down my upper lip. I wiped it with my sleeve and re-pinched my nostrils for safety’s sake. “She is a very busy woman.” I squeaked.
”And you are the fool I took you for.”
”Oh yea? Well, your fingernails need trimmed. They are long and dirty.” Take that, I thought!
”It isn’t dirt beneath them.”
”No? Then what is it?”
”It’s blood. It turns black, over time.”
”Oh, are you also prone to nose bleeds?”
”It is not my blood, you idiot.”
”No? Then whose blood is it?”
”Didn’t catch his name. Just some guy who annoyed me.”
”Say, can I borrow a handkerchief, Friend? This nose bleed is getting out of hand.”
”You know… you are annoying.”
”So says my father… too much like Mother.”
"Twenty-seventh floor please"
The clean cut young man nearest the buttons quietly pushes my floor.
"Sorry my hands are full. Thank you."
He is the kind of guy neighbors say was polite withdrawn. One who never caused trouble but would wave when they said hi. He was white, maybe 20 and had that look that is everywhere nowadays like he never got laid. I noticed something that looked like dried sperm rubbed on the side of his clean pressed jeans. Like he'd just finished jerking off to violent snuff porn.
His nose twitches and he turns towards me, "Smells good. What's in the sack?"
"Buffalo chicken wings."
"Funny, I prefer organ meats myself."
I step back and decide to stay silent.
He continues, "You know hearts, livers, lungs."
"That's nice." I force conversation then see he had a knife and an erection.
He leans back and pushes the stop button.
The elevator jerks and goes dark.
All My Work
It was one of those Tuesday afternoons where nothing seems to be going right and you feel convinced that nothing you do will make it a better day, so you just begrudgingly shlog through the rest of the day. Late to wake up, late catching the train, and late coming back at the office after lunch. I was sure that my boss would lecture me jeering, "Alex! Next time, might you have the decency to skip lunch after such a lazy morning? Or better yet, skip showing up at all next time," leering as only a spoiled twenty-something-year-old brat can.
Checking my watch I curse and pick up my pace as I scurry through the main lobby. I pause between the entrance to the stairway and the one elevator in the building, briefly deliberating. Then I heard a ding as the elevator doors opened and there were only two other people waiting. I turned away from the stairs and sprinted the last dozen feet onto the lift.
Wheezing slightly, I smiled a bit at the others to reassure them that I wasn't a weirdo. A young blonde woman returned my smile with a polite nod, and the old lady who held on to her arm smiled warmly. I pressed the button for the 32nd floor and the close button. After what felt like a full minute, I was about to throw my arms up and go back to the stairs when the ugly metal doors finally creaked shut.
I sighed and turned to say, "I really hope they fix this piece of junk soon."
It's funny what you notice about other people on a long elevator ride. I noticed them bickering under their breath and what kind of shoes they were wearing. I was beginning to make up a little story in my head about them when the lights flickered to black. I couldn't help but curse again. The red emergency lights switched on mercifully not long after. The sudden complete darkness had been unsettling, to say the least. Then I heard a thud behind me. Whipping around I saw the old lady crumpled on the ground breathing heavily.
"Gran!" her companion cried out. We both immediately knelt beside her, though it was abundantly clear that neither of us knew what to do in a situation like this.
"Should we call an ambulance?" I asked.
She nodded vigorously but had her eyes concernedly fixed on her grandmother's face. So I pulled out my phone and dialed 911. I told the dispatcher all the relevant information I could think of and hung up. Then I took off my jacket and covered the poor woman as her granddaughter maneuvered her to rest more comfortably in her lap. I explained that help was on the way, but it might take a while. The old woman's breathing slowed down enough for her to speak a minute or so later.
"I knew it would end like this, eventually." She mused.
"What are you talking about, Gran?" her granddaughter responded.
"All my work comes back to haunt me. I knew it would."
"You'll be fine. Don't worry, Gran."
"You don't understand, child." The grandmother blinked in confusion, "They've found me." She pried away from the younger woman whose gentle protests were brushed aside and she sat up against the wall. "I have to tell you," she wheezed., "Have to set the record straight." I shifted uncomfortably. A few minutes ago, I was just late for work. Now I'm about to hear this random lady's last will and testament. I Fucking hate Tuesdays.
"You remember, I told you I worked for the newspaper when I was young. Well, I only got the job because I had to after I killed Earl. And - "
"You what?" I blurted.
"Killed my husband, honey, keep up! Anyway, I only - "
"Gran you killed him? You said Grandad got hit by the mob!"
"Look, I'll die before I finish the story at this rate, so unless you want me to haunt you with this you better let me speak. I killed Earl because he hurt me and he tried to hurt my baby! I told them it was self-defense, but they didn't believe or didn't care. Domestic Abuse didn't count as assault at the time. So I went to prison until I won an appeal two years later. Your mother was living in foster care, already 10 years old. The social worker said that there was a chance I could regain custody if I could find a job that could sustain us both."
"I sent out applications right and left, but no one would give me the time of day. A woman? A convict? No chance! That's when I realized I would never win if I kept playing by their rules. So I made my own. I went to the foster parent's house and took my daughter back and we ran like hell, changed our names and I got a job cleaning at some little publication in Texas. That's where I got the letters."
"You see, the paper had an advice column called Dear Chelsea, and readers wrote in their problems in these letters. There was a team of people who read them deciding what they could use and what was scrap. Some letters were responded to publicly in the column, others were handled privately, but many were just thrown out and sent generic apology letters. I found them in the trash one evening, and once I started reading them. I couldn't stop."
"They were mostly sent from women and children. Some of them were crazy threats and gibberish, but most were cries for help from desperate people... and they just threw them out. It wasn't right, women have the right to live unharassed. I thought about Earl, and how miserable he made our family. After a while, I couldn't contain my anger. So I made a new rule. I would never turn my back on a desperate woman again. So I used the letters to track down their demons and slay them, just like I did with mine."
"I had to move and change our names a few more times, but eventually I figured out a different way to cover my tracks, and I never gave up until your mother had you. I wanted to keep an eye on you, to protect you, that was all that mattered. But they've finally found me. It's over. I'm sorry..."
She drifted off then. I sat in stilted silence in a box bathed in red. Haunted by a stranger's past.