There’s one too many. And of course I’m the one.
I step back out of the elevator. The passengers stare out at me, haughty annoyance riddling their expressions. As far as I’m concerned, I would have fit, but they thought otherwise.
The doors clamp shut. Now I’m alone in the hallway, probably the last employee left on the floor. And since it’s the 25th floor, I’m sure I’ll be here a while waiting for the elevator to return. There’s usually more than one elevator, but somehow they’d all taken their last breath on the same hour: noon.
Taking just one step back, I lean my shoulders against the wall behind me. If this doesn’t describe my everyday, then nothing would. The arrogance, the selfish need to be first, the unforgiving sheep effect. Everyday.
Click. In the eerie silence, my otherwise dulled senses are on high alert. My head whips to meet the noise, eyes surveying the empty hallway. After a thorough investigation, I attempt to convince myself that it was just the air conditioning.
Click. Hiss. Air conditioning. It’s just the air conditioning. Now I’m drumming my fingers on my briefcase, anxiety rushing through me. It doesn’t matter how many times I say the words to myself. I’m stubborn. I even struggle to change my mind.
The elevator begins to chime. It’s finally coming back up to this floor. I can’t help but huddle closer to it, gazing from one side of the hallway to the other. On most days, I can handle my paranoia. Today is not one of those days.
It’s only ten floors away now. Just breathe. There’s nothing there. I feel both of my fists tighten around the handle of my briefcase. It rattles with my quivering fingers. Five. Four. Three. Two. The doors pull open as it chimes. I practically dive onto the elevator. My left hand slaps down on the railing at the back, calming my nerves enough to take in a deep breath.
“Okay,” I sigh. Standing from my hunched position, I straighten my suit and turn to the front. I lift my right hand, briefcase and all, and press the first floor button. As the doors of the elevator close, I hear that noise again. Click. Click. Hiss. But it’s followed by a more menacing sound this time. Just as the doors close, I hear the 25th floor explode. The force is enough to burst through the small gap in the doors and knock me back.
The elevator swings just slightly, before holding still. But the lights above me have flickered away, and I’m left in the darkness. Finally, my paranoia is justified.
I start by touching a tentative hand against the back of my head. There’s a bit of blood in my hair, but nothing severe. That’s a good sign. Holding onto that small bit of hope, I feel around for my briefcase. It’s nowhere near me, but I’m not against crawling around on the floor to find it.
“There you are!” I shout at it, tugging it to my chest. I’m quick to unfasten the clasps. They snap open with a satisfying pop. When it drops open on my lap, I paw through the different compartments. The one on the lid, to the left should have my phone. My fingers slip into the compartment but find it empty. No. No, no, no.
Dumping the briefcase on the floor, I frantically sort the contents. No! It’s not here. Now I’m diving towards the glowing red light above the floor buttons. If there’s just enough backup energy for the button to register through, then maybe they’ll hear me. I jam my fist against it. But nothing happens.
“Hello?!” I exclaim, pressing it again. No one responds. The button doesn’t even respond. “Is there anyone there? I’m stuck in the elevator!” My volume is rising, fear directing my actions now. Any button on the wall is a target, my thumbs thrusting them down in turn. But there’s still no answer, no reaction.
Shoving myself away from the wall with a grunt, I slide my way to the doors. It’s said that you should just stay in place when the power goes out on an elevator. I’d read it in some safety manual. But this seems like a desperate situation. Pressing my fingers into the gap, I begin to tug and then stop myself. I’m still on the 25th floor. Will that floor even exist anymore?
Panting, I stumble backwards a few steps. My heel hits my briefcase and it scrapes across the floor. To say I jumped two feet in reaction is probably only a small exaggeration. My nerves are officially frayed. I can’t help the cry of frustration that bursts from deep in my diaphragm.
Snap! I glance up as the floor beneath me sways. The entire elevator swings just sharply enough to prove to me the cables are tearing–or being cut. Someone’s trying to kill me. If they’re not trying to kill me, then they’re trying to kill someone from our floor. And they believe that someone to be me.
Am I going to plummet to my death? No. There are mechanisms in place to stop that from happening: multiple sets of brakes, a shock absorber, the cables above my…head…My heart rate accelerates again, almost drowning my senses completely. All I can hear is the consistent pound. And then the elevator swings the opposite direction. I grab the hand railing, trying to ride the imbalance. My legs wobble beneath me, but I manage to stay standing.
“Please stop!” I beg. I might just be addressing a figment of my imagination, but I’m willing to try anything right now. “I’m not who you think I am. I don’t know who you think I am, to be fair, but I’m almost positive I’m not it.” Silence. Then, snap, snap. The pressure balances itself out, jaunting me from side to side. That’s deliberate. They’re cutting cables from each side, not just one. They don’t believe me.
I lower myself to the ground. In all my research, from paranoia-induced insomnia, I’ve learned about surviving an elevator fall. That’s not the only thing I’ve learned, but it’s what’s relevant. Lie on your back. Or try jumping. I don’t trust myself to be able to time my jump well enough, so I choose the former. There’s supposed to be shock absorption in place. Blind trust isn’t so difficult. Really, it’s not.
I lie there. The anticipation of the plummet is planting every seed of doubt it can. What happens if there really is no shock absorption at the bottom? What happens if I plummet through the ground? How fast will I be going? I’m on the 25th floor, there’s no reason for me to survive the drop.
“Shut up,” I hiss at myself, slapping my own forehead. This is the decision I’ve made, I don’t need to think of the consequences of it right now. Snap. I roll with the movement, a rag doll. There’s anywhere from one to three left. I’ve never taken the time to inventory our elevator system. Maybe I should.
Was it lying or sitting? The thought suddenly strikes me. If I’m lying down my head will be crushed. I scramble to a seated position just as another snapping sound fills the air. And then I’m falling. Brakes immediately kick in, slowing the plummet. They screech until everything is still. What will my killer do now? I must have fallen a full floor down, at the least.
My instincts tell me to enact the stupid. Jumping up from the floor, I delve my fingers in the door gap once more. With a surprising amount of exertion, I force the doors open several inches. It’s dark. I should have known. It’s too dark to see where I am relative to the next floor. But just how stupid am I feeling? I reach a hand out of the door, feeling around for contact. When my hand slaps sleek metal, I pause. Doors.
I scramble to push my elevator’s doors wider. The doors outside aren’t perfectly aligned with mine, but they’re close. I’m close enough to them to be able to pull myself through. Pressing my fingers through the next gap, I shove. I’m not at a good angle to get these doors open, but it doesn’t stop me. They groan with my weight, and then the mouth parts.
With every anxiety ridden bone in my body, I throw myself up onto the platform. My legs scramble beneath me, flailing for support. Times like these make me wish I had an inclination towards exercise. I’m thin. Weak and thin. Which, for some reason, had convinced me that I wouldn’t also be heavy. But my arms are quaking under the strain of lifting my substantial body.
As I pass the threshold of the floor, a powerful rumble echoes through the elevator shaft. My elevator roars in response, and then it plunges. I watch in horror as it speeds down into the darkness below. It’s only minutes before it impacts. The sound reverberates up the shaft, rendering me numb.
“Hello?” The voice behind me almost startles me into the pit. But I grip the metal doors on either side of me tight enough to stay put. I turn to meet the voice and sigh in relief. It’s a firefighter.
“I’m here,” I gasp, pushing back on the doors. I use them to leverage up onto my knees. The firefighter helps me onto two feet. And, curses be to social anxiety, I turn to face him before barking, “some ungracious maniac just tried to crumple my body at the base of that shaft after blowing my entire floor to smithereens. I’m not even worth killing.” The firefighter seems stunned by my words. But then he cracks a smile.
“Sounds exhausting,” he offers, lifting my arm around his shoulders. He forcibly leads me towards the emergency stairwell. There’s a flashlight hooked to his helmet, a giant camera in his free hand. So as we pass, I can just barely see overhead that the structure is holding but crumbling. There are cracks in the ceiling, which seem to be expanding slowly.
“Found one,” he suddenly announces at the mouth of the stairwell, handing his camera to another. That firefighter simply nods and steps aside for us to pass. We descend the stairs with surprising speed. I want to continue speaking, because my anxiety is begging for it, but I keep my mouth clamped shut. Even as we round the stairs to the next floor, I keep quiet. That is, until I hear a gunshot from above.
My firefighter releases me, radio already in hand. “Shots fired.” He growls into the radio. There’s a crackled response, and I hear the door beneath us slam open. But the door above us opens with similar force.
“Come on,” my firefighter leads me down the stairs, practically running. But our assailant is gaining on us. I can hear his footfalls closing in. And then he cocks his gun. I immediately duck, prepared for him to fire without hesitation. But he doesn’t.
“Release him,” our assailant orders the firefighter. I squint up at him, but his raised gun is obscuring my view from this angle. Against my better judgment, I stand. Now I see him clearly. Now I know him. My paranoia was right all along. He wants one target. And of course I’m the one.