Monthly Archives: July 2018

26 Stories

26 Stories: Elevator

My arbitrary deadline almost bit me on my ass this time (you may even find more than the usual typos in here). As such, while I’m mostly happy with this addition to the growing collection of stories, I am almost certain that I’ll want to come back to this someday and explore some of the ideas that popped up late in the process (no spoilers, but I didn’t know until the end that I would be getting into more… esoteric aspects of corporate America), and I’d really like to make a stronger connection to our poor heroine’s anxiety and depression issues. As it’s something I struggle with myself, exploring it in extreme ways is a damn good track to some sort of catharsis.

As a side note, tomorrow, I head down to Houston to participate in the Spontaneous Smattering XII: Nine Past Midnight. The Smatterings are 24-hour play contests (festivals?) where a number of writers–myself included–will receive random and/or previously unknown parameters and have just over 12 hours to write a brand-new short play. The next morning, actors will randomly receive scripts, get their own parameters, and then have 12 hours to wangle a handful of actors  to perform said play that night. It’s a wild time, always fun, and well worth checking out if you happen to be in the Houston area Saturday night (July 28th). There are free shots at the door and the proceeds go to the Houston Food Bank. I will likely use this space to write about the experience, provided I’m not having an anxiety attack at 2:00 in the morning.

And speaking of anxiety attacks, without further ado, I give you the uninspiringly titled “Elevator…”

Elevator

Fifth Floor

Danielle got into the elevator from the fifth-floor, her laptop tucked into her messenger bag, held securely under her arm. After a moment, she pulled the bag out, checking that her armpit wasn’t sweating, risking both an embarrassing stain on her blouse and potentially on her computer, but despite her racing heart and nerves, she was dry. She took a deep breath, straightened her blouse, and pressed the button for the twenty-sixth floor. She closed her eyes, trying to calm her nerves and hoping that the elevator didn’t make any stops on the way up. Any pause in her ascent would give her more time to think about her situation. The more she thought about it, the more she would risk sabotaging her big presentation to the C-level executives. For a business analyst with barely three years under her belt at the company, a presentation with the top brass was huge. She could tell from how awkwardly her boss had tried to give her a pep-talk before she headed off for it.

“Well, Danni,” he’d said, calling her by the nickname she’d grown tired of insisting he not use, “this is a big step for you. I’d hate to think,” he continued, “that the end result of this is that I might not have you on my team anymore, but what is the world of business without a little sacrifice?” He’d laughed after that, and while he tried to be genuine, she could sense the mixed emotions in it. Yes, if this went well, even if it resulted in her moving up past him, it would still look good for his team in the long run. Additionally, she’d seen how he looked at her from time to time (especially at the team happy hours) and she knew that he had a not insignificant crush on her, which was completely inappropriate and not at all returned on her part. She was looking to get out from working for Stewart, but not solely for his unrequited feelings (which, to his credit, he’d never acted upon and had done a fine job trying to contain). He was content to be a middle manager. He wasn’t going anywhere, and if he didn’t go anywhere, without hopping over his head, she wasn’t going anywhere.

And now? Now, she was moving up, literally and—if everything went well—figuratively. Her insights into the data processing the company used to precisely target potential customers were groundbreaking. As the old building’s quaint elevator jolted to a start and began its predictably slow climb, she thought about how much she’d hated statistics in college. She got the calculations, but the more abstract concepts behind them had been foreign to her. Yes, she could plug numbers into equations easily enough. Hell, most statistical computations were handled by computers, anyway. Any analyst could plug in the relevant data and get a result that, in turn, fed into a decisioning engine. The engine then performed some amount of magic and told the business owners where to focus their efforts for maximum efficiency and scalability and whatever Agile bullshit corpspeak was popular.

Humans, though, had to program those algorithms at some point. She had always assumed that there were some geniuses with PhDs somewhere in the shadows who saw the correct patterns in the data and found ways to extract the much sought-after pathways to profitability. What she hadn’t counted on was how so much of the greatest advancements in sciences, math, and engineering were almost all accidents. Somehow, she’d stumbled into one of those accidents, and after some extra work in the evenings and weekends from her lonely studio apartment, she’d managed to find something the data scientists had overlooked. She’d seen a subtle and unique pattern. On her own time, she extrapolated on the pattern to come to a quantifiable result. In the end, she’d found an entirely new way to target customers based on more factors than the current trends of “Big Data” considered. It was quite simple, really, and thanks to one of her company’s “Brain-hurricane” sessions where even the most “out there” ideas were considered, she was now on her way to a one-on-six meeting at the very top level of the organization. If everything went well, Danielle might be looking at a director-level position, and her mountain of collage debt would suddenly seem less insurmountable.

She opened her eyes, hoping to see the floor indicator close to twenty-six, unable to contain her nerves for too much longer, and was surprised to see that she was still only on the sixth floor. It was amusing, she thought, at how time went sideways under stress. Despite the fact that time was supposed to be constant, the perception of its passage was subjective. Young people felt that time was dragging, yet the older you got, the faster it seemed to progress. Good things came and went too fast, and those things that one dreaded took far longer to get past than they should. The mind was powerful in its manipulation of reality.

She leaned her head back against the wall of the elevator and closed her eyes again, trying not to let anxiety overtake her.

This is fine, she thought. Like Stewart said, this is just one of the small sacrifices in business. She ran over her presentation again in her mind. By now, she was intimately familiar with it. Thanks to her five-year stint in Toastmasters (yes, she was that kind of nerd), she had practiced it until she knew the material back and forth. Not too much text on each slide, no over use of animations, and plenty of room for further explanation. She’d timed herself last night and the entirety of the initial presentation came to just around seven minutes. She would be able to communicate the salient points and have more than enough time to entertain questions. The C-levels were too important to spend more than half an hour on any given topic—time being an immense amount of money when you factored how much each one made every minute—and if all went well, she would be giving them back five to ten minutes. Her efficiency and conciseness would reflect well on her.

There was a ding, and she opened her eyes, expecting to be on the twenty-sixth floor, or close enough, but a quick glance over to the display showed that she was only on the sixth floor as the doors slid open.

Six? She thought. That can’t be right. She waited, staring into an empty elevator lobby, waiting for someone else to get onto the elevator. No one did. She realized that, in all likelihood, someone had pressed both the main elevator call button and the service elevator call button. She waited, her view of the floor limited to the rectangle of the doorway. Even though it was early afternoon, the elevator bank was still. For a moment, she entertained the notion that the floor was deserted, even though every floor of the building had been filled out in her tenure there. Just as a shadow shifted out in the hallway, the doors closed. She sighed; the main call buttons called both the primary elevators and the service elevators. Pressing both just meant that if you got on one, the other would still stop even after you got on the first. This invariable led to passengers in the second elevator waiting. She supposed it was a minor inconvenience, and even though her time wasn’t as valuable as the executives, it still had a quantifiable money value reflected on the books. The rest of the building didn’t seem to get that small yet obvious fact of the elevator functions. She’d thought about putting up a sign, but even that felt more confrontational than she was comfortable with. She would have to get over her timidity if she was looking at high-level management positions.

The elevator lurched again, her stomach pressing downward to tell her that she was heading back up. And again, she ran over her presentation in her mind, at least two more times, assured that when she glanced up at the floor display, she would see major progress had been made, even with the ancient elevator.

When she checked again, the display was still showing six.

Okay, it has to be broken, she thought. The display is malfunctioning, which wasn’t surprising. The building that housed her office was at least a hundred years old. The elevator was likely added sometime in the nineteen-fifties. The display worked like an older alarm clock where each number flipped over as the minutes and hours passed. She tapped the display, hoping that the jolt would cause the ancient mechanism to flip past whatever hitch was keeping it in place. It didn’t budge. Well, she thought, that’s fine. The elevator is still moving up so it’s not like I’m trapped. She wasn’t claustrophobic, and the steady upward motion told her that, one way or the other, she’d reach the top floor where the doors would either open, or—failing that—she could call for help. There was an executive assistant (Tammy, she seemed to remember) right outside the doors, so it wouldn’t be hard to get her the attention she needed to get out. It would be slightly embarrassing, but she was skilled enough at speaking to spin it into a humorous anecdote for the executives. In any event, there were three elevators in the building. If the elevator stopped again, she would use that opportunity to get out and, depending on what floor she was on, either take the stairs or wait for a different cab.

She closed her eyes and waited. Tension nibbled at her fragile calm, as her heart began to feel much more forceful in her chest.

Breathe, she told herself. Take some calming breaths, practice the “mindful meditation” your therapist taught you, and be ready. You have got this. Those execs on twenty-six will be floored. At that, she opened her eyes, convinced he felt a slow-down in the elevator’s momentum, ready to razzle and even dazz-

The display flipped from six to seven as she watched with a click that was far too loud. As it did, the elevator picked up speed again (speed being relative to the near-stop she’d perceived moments ago).

Okay, she thought, not only is this taking too long, but there’s something wrong with the elevator. She felt her recently calmed pulse pick up speed again. Its rhythm matched the cadence of the elevator’s barely perceptible “clack-clack-clack” as its mechanics slid upward on whatever tracks held the elevator in place (Lord, she hoped something was holding the elevator in place). She became aware of a slight spot of sweat forming in her left armpit, breaching from whatever sweat gland was there, releasing, and running down the skin of her side. Don’t panic, she thought, but she was already heading in that direction. Somewhere I the back of her mind, she felt the familiar tug of an anxiety attack. Mindful meditation, she thought. Mindful meditation.

As she wrangled her anxiety back down for storage in what her therapist called her “emotional quarantine” for later processing, she had a moment of clarity.

“Right,” she said aloud. “Duh.”

Right where she expected it to be, under the floor buttons, was a panel. She popped it open easily enough and was comforted to see classic style handset with its slender handgrip and bulbous ends. It was wired into the elevator via a corkscrew cord. She picked it up and placed it to her ear. She heard the ring tone as a connection was opened. After three rings, there was a click and a tired man’s voice.

“Building maintenance” he said.

“Hi, yes, this is Danielle Anderson. I’m on elevator number… uh…” She looked and saw the number four above the phone. “Number four,” she finished.

“Um… are you sure about that?”

“Well, yes. I mean, it is the number plate right above this phone, right?”

“It should be,” he said.

“Then that’s the one. Can you figure out what’s going on? It’s taking a long time to get to the top, the number thingy showing the floor is sticking, and—”

“Ma’am,” he cut her off, “I’d like to help, but if you’re in elevator number four, then a line got crossed somewhere. Or the number is wrong.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“You’re in an elevator in the Waverly building, right?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, yeah, me too. But ma’am, there are only three elevators in this building.”

“Well,” she said, annoyed, “then the wrong number is on the panel. It’s the elevator furthest from the main door. Can’t you look on a status panel or something and see which one I’m in?”

“I can, and I am, but everything is showing up just fi-”

“Hello?” she asked, after a pause. No response.

“Hello?” she asked again, with a newly formed edge.

“Hell-” and then she trailed off. The line wasn’t dead, like she was beginning to think, because there was a quality to the silence on the other side that suggested the phone was off the hook in a quiet room. Faintly, she could hear—or think she could hear—ambient noises. Quiet hums, or the steady whooshing of a fan or air conditioning flow from a ceiling vent.

“Are you… is anyone there?” she asked the open line. She listened, now certain that she was hearing something in the background. Voices engaged in a lively discussion far away? A child crying somewhere? With effort and strain, she managed to latch onto a rhythmic sound over the phone. It started quietly enough, but as she pressed the receiver closer and more painfully to her ear, it increase in pitch and volume. It was a steady thumping, getting louder with each beat. She imagined that this might be what it felt like to stand on train tracks as a freight train laden down with cargo thundered closer to you. The thrumming that started over the phone in her ear moved to a feeling in her feet. She was certain that the elevator creaked in response to the oncoming noise. As it got louder and louder, she found herself pressing the phono so hard into her ear that the sound of her blood rushing with each increasingly frantic heartbeat first covered, then merged with, and was drown out by the rhythmic pulses now blaring from the receiver. In her mind’s eye, back on the train tracks, she saw the rushing train morph into something else. Something larger than even a train; a horrific mix of mechanical parts and fused flesh and it was rushing toward her. When it got to her, it was sure to plow into her, dragging her screaming into the darkness of the elevator shaft in a building that was too tall to be real. The sound was deafening in her ears and she felt something warm and wet drip off her earlobe and onto the handset. Her mind began to snap irreparably, but at the very moment that she was about to begin to scream, screaming that would have never ended, a vibration at her wrist caused her to drop the phone, shattering the spell she had fallen under as her panic attack began to crescendo.

Gasping for breath, she dropped to a sitting position and pressed herself back against the elevator wall. The vibration at her wrist persisted, and she looked down to see what was causing the disturbance. She half expected to see a swarm of insects, roaches perhaps, engulfing her arm.

“Wow!” her fitness watch told her, “Exercise Goal Achieved!” It showed her current heart rate, blasting at 175 (well into her “Cardio” zone, it cheerfully displayed). She stared incredulously for a moment, then began to laugh. The thought that her panic attack at what had to be a stress-induced hallucination caused her fitness tracker to log her rapid heart rate as a workout resulted in her collapsing into fits of laughter. Already short of breath, she gasped between uproarious guffaws, aware that if the elevator doors opened right now and someone else was there on the other side, she would seem completely unhinged. Imagining the look on some poor schmuck’s face only made her laugh harder. She laughed until tears streamed down her cheeks, which she wiped with the back of her smartly pressed jacket she’d purchased just for today. After a few minutes of laughing, followed by the occasional aftershock of chuckles between deep breaths, she reassessed her current predicament.

“Still seven,” she said, the display taunting her even as she continued upward. She put her head back against the cool elevator wall, grateful for its tangibility. She wasn’t getting anywhere fast, which still left her on a malfunctioning elevator. She looked at the phone handset, contemplating putting it back on the receiver and trying again. After all, the person she spoke to seemed to think there might be a crossed line somewhere, and the abrupt change to some other connection seemed to suggest the wiring was faulty. She could try again, and either get someone who could help or at least try to work out what was going on with the person she spoke to before. Also, she thought, it would be nice to talk to someone.

She couldn’t bring herself to pick up the handset yet, though. The old-style speaker and microphone circles stared at her, either curiously or maliciously, from the floor where she dropped it. The honeycomb of holes in the plastic bulbs made her skin crawl. She was also fairly certain that there was blood on the speaker.

It’s just a matter of time, she thought, before someone figures out something is wrong with the elevator and that I’m missing. The execs are sure to understand, since this is outside of my control. Still seated on the floor, she brought her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. The panic attack had made her tired; back when she had them regularly, they often did. Up on the opposite wall, next to the doors of the elevator, the display still read “7” as the gentle vibration of the elevator lulled her to sleep.

 

*             *             *             *

 

Danielle was jolted awake, disoriented. It took her a second to remember where she was, the fog in her mind lifting painfully. She hated the mental fog and disorientation she experienced when waking from a nap; it was too much like a hangover without the fun of a wild night before. When she saw the elevator display, now turned to nine, she sighed with relief. I just dozed for a second, and the elevator moved up two floors, she thought. Good… good, I only lost…

She checked her watch and frowned. Her meeting with the executives had been scheduled for 2:30 pm, and while she’d known that the malfunctioning elevator would make her miss the meeting (a transgression for which she would have to explain after apologizing profusely), she momentarily thought that something was wrong with her watch. It claimed that it was 6:23 pm, which shouldn’t have been possible. She ached from sleeping in an awkward position on the floor against a hard wall, so it was possible that she’d done more than doze for a minute, but surely someone would have come to find her or fix the elevator in almost four hours, right? She stood, her knees popping in protest, and checked it again. It must have gotten out of sync with my phone, she thought, and then practically smacked herself.

“My phone! Holy shit!” She reached into the pocket of her bag and retrieved her phone. She nearly dropped it as she pressed her index finger to the sensor and it came to life showing her… 6:23 pm.

“Doesn’t matter,” she said aloud, “whatever time it is, I can call someone to get me out.” She opened her contacts and swiped the screen down as quickly as she could to Nathan’s number and pressed the call icon. She held the phone up to her head, still mad at herself for not thinking of this earlier. The old elevator had clearly made her forget that she lived in the twenty-first century and had her own, modern means of communication.

A phone that, after a quick check to make sure she’d actually pressed the call icon, was silent. No dial tone. No connection. No nothing. It showed a solid connection, but when she tried to make a call, there was nothing. Wondering if it would make a difference, she decided to send a text to Nathan briefly detailing her situation, explaining that she had no service, and that he needed to call her “ASAP” or text her if he couldn’t get through. After a thought, she turned it off, reasoning that she could turn it on to check again in a few minutes, and that she should conserve as much battery as possible.

She reached back into her messenger bag and pulled out her laptop. Maybe she could connect to the company wireless and get a message out that way. As she waited for her laptop to come out of sleep mode, she watched the floor display and was only slightly surprised to see that it hadn’t switched up from nine yet.

She watched as her laptop, curiously down to about 17% power, struggled to connect with the office network. She was sure, given how paranoid she’d been about the impending presentation, that she had fully charged the computer. It had drained more than it should have, even in four hours.  She watched as it attempted to connect, with limited success (occasionally claiming to be connected only to disconnect before she could even open her email), before she slammed the lid down.

“Fuck!” she yelled, pressing both hands to her forehead. She slipped the laptop back into her bag, dismissing it as a waste of time and effort. This wasn’t working, and she was fighting against a groggy sense of time and space and surely this wasn’t as bad as it seemed. People didn’t just lose time on elevators that refused to move faster than her elderly grandmother drove into town? There had to be a reasonable explanation as to why she wasn’t getting any closer to a destination, and to why she was confused as to how long she’d been here. Maybe there was a gas leak in the building, or maybe she was stuck in some terrible dream resulting from too much pressure and too high an expectation. After all, it wasn’t like she didn’t have anxiety dreams about college, her relationship with her parents, or with the fact that she felt like she was an imposter in her job. Yes, she reasoned, this was all some intense nightmare. By letting herself slip into a semblance of sleep, she might indeed wake from it and be back in her apartment—or in Nate’s bed—the morning of her meeting. They could laugh about it over breakfast.

With that, she decided to sleep once again, leaning against the elevator wall that felt too firm for a dream.

 

*             *             *             *

 

She woke at 4:35 am, still in the elevator, and had a second (third?) panic attack.

 

*             *             *             *

 

At 12:45 pm the next day, or someday, her fitness watch informed her than the battery was running low on charge. It was also fully charged. How did it drain in one day, she wondered, and cursed herself for not bringing her portable charger from its spot on her desk, and then found it funny that she should worry about such things. The humor turned from a roughly five-minute session of uncontrolled laughter into at least half an hour of uncontrollable sobbing.

 

*             *             *             *

 

The fitness watch was dead the next time she woke up.

Her phone was on 4%, now with no signal, and told her that it was 1:15 am. As to what day, she wasn’t certain. There was a date on the phone, yes, but she couldn’t remember what day she’d gotten on the elevator. Besides, it was clearly broken too, showing some gibberish where the date would normally be. Sometime in her delirium, she had taken to using the far corner of the elevator as a restroom. She didn’t remember making the decision to shit and piss on the floor, so in a strange way, she accepted it as a decision made by someone else.

Her work laptop was presumably long dead.

After trying a few more times to get a call out, she resorted to playing one of those stupid color-matching games on her phone until it finally died on her. That even this small lifeline to anchor her to something normal was gone was in and of itself a relief. She didn’t find it odd that she wasn’t at all hungry, but really, the only feeling she still felt in her stomach was the ever-present downward push of maddeningly steady upward motion. Absent any other option, she curled up on the floor and slept again.

 

*             *             *             *

 

She woke from a fevered nightmare in which she had been trapped on an elevator, forever moving upward. In the first instant of her awakening, she was content in knowing that the nightmare was finally over. The anxiety of her meeting with the c-level executives had transformed into the completely insane dream she’d had. It made sense, in those moments of waking, that the symbolism of working her way “up” in the organization would translate into a never-ending trip upwards to no particular end. Maybe this was her subtle way of saying that she’d made a bad career choice. Her therapist would surely have something to say about it, but for now, she sat up, stretching out the aches and pains in her body.

Aches and pains that, she quickly realized, had come from sleeping on the floor of the office elevator.

Her subsequent screams were heard by no one.

 

*             *             *             *

 

Lucidity came eventually.

If she’d been lucky, it would not have come. If she’d been lucky, she would have slipped into catatonic madness with no end. She might have spent an eternity gibbering in the corner of that elevator, wasting away in a pool of her own excretion until, eventually, she died of dehydration and hunger. Dehydration and hunger that, if her then current state was any indication, would never come. Surely, she’d been in the elevator for days, if not weeks. She hadn’t had anything to eat or drink, and while she wasn’t completely up on her biology, she was fairly certain that you had to have food and drink coming in for shit and piss to go out and be deposited in the corner. It didn’t make sense. Nothing made sense in this place, this small cell traveling up without end.

And why up? The thought crossed her mind that at some point she’d died, and this was the afterlife. But up didn’t make any sense. If she’d gone down, the never-ending ride might have made sense, corresponding to some sort of infernal punishment. She was a lapsed Catholic, after all, and damnation might have made some sense (she’d fucked a couple of other people on the side when Nathan was off on business trips; and Hell, hadn’t they been living in sin, anyway?). Damnation was down, not up. And down had an end, right? Granted, down on Earth ended at the core, which at a physical and metaphysical level didn’t square, but even if she passed through in some long tunnel, there would have been a change from down to up when she passed the center of the earth. She’d started by going up anyway, so it was moot. The worst part of going up was that she might keep going up for eternity, depending on how infinite the universe was.

“Up” was supposed to be good. “Up” was how she felt when the anti-depressants were working. Up was what it was like to wake in the morning with Nathan next to her (despite her own transgressions, Nathan was where she wanted to be). “Up” was good. “Down” was when she had wanted to hurt herself, before her therapy and the Zoloft. Back when she was cutting on herself like an emo teenager. But now, up was madness and up was never ending. Salvation wasn’t up. Relief wasn’t up. Even death wasn’t up, because even if she’d had some means to end her own life (she thought about bashing her head against the elevator walls but knew that she just pass out and wake again, later), it wouldn’t stop her trip.

What is the world of business, a familiar but long forgotten voice whispered in her ear, without a little sacrifice?

“Sacrifice,” she said out loud, half laughing.

At that, the elevator dinged, and the doors opened. She looked up and saw that the floor listed was twenty-six.

She stood, tugging at her suit jacket, and hefting her messenger bag over her shoulder, despite the dried streaks of shit that ran down her thighs. She ran a hand over her hair, pushing and filthy errant strand into place over her right ear. It was time, she thought, for her meeting with the higher ups. It might not go well, given the delays, but, after all, what was the world of business without a little sacrifice?

 

*             *             *             *

 

Danielle exited the elevator into an empty lobby. Wind howled around, and as she looked up, the noticed that even after her eternal trip upward, she seemed to be on the ground floor of a ruined building. Above her, the skeletal remains of the building she’d spent the past five years working in reached up toward a starless, yellow-tinted night sky in supplication to the dark gods of nothing. Dust kicked up from a blasted wasteland and raced in spirals and twists around half destroyed walls and supporting beams. Regardless, Danielle knew where she needed to go, and despite being somewhat put off by the strange, alien sounds that echoed from the ruined metropolis surrounding her, she had a presentation to make.

After I impress the higher ups, she thought, maybe I can sit among them as an equal.

She walked out of the perimeter of the building, which made little sense, and heading down deserted streets. She felt the presence of other things—things that were beyond her comprehension—pressing in on her from surrounding buildings. They watched her with a hunger that she could feel, but she kept on. She had, after all, a well-prepared PowerPoint and a scheduled meeting to make. The things in the dark—the trundling, oozing things—wouldn’t dare inconvenience the executives. Their time was infinite and had infinite value. While she could feel the oppressive hatred of things beyond her perception, they didn’t matter. What mattered was what she could bring to the table. What she had to contribute to the company.

The two oak conference room doors stood before her on the street. She stopped at the doors, taking a final moment to confirm that everything was in order, cleared her throat, and entered the room with more confidence than an unwashed woman with shit and piss trails down her legs should have had.

 

*             *             *             *

 

The doors opened into a vast conference room. The table was impossibly large and built at odd angles, but the six figures in severely pressed suits all seemed to be intimately close to her. They turned to her, the faces nothing but fast, black holes that gave the appearance that someone had cut into them and scooped out the insides of their skulls like pumpkins on Halloween. Inside the holes, she could see the very same empty gulf of space that she also occupied even as she stood separate from it. There was a moment of vertigo, but Danielle composed herself admirably. A giant obsidian rectangle appeared above the table. Danielle powered on her computer, which screamed to life, drawing a fresh charge from some other source. On the rectangle, the glassy blackness reflecting nothing of what was in the room, flared with blinding light, dimming back down until it showed the first slide of her presentation.

“Business,” she said, “requires some degree of sacrifice…”

 

*             *             *             *

 

Her presentation killed.

Keeping a public stock option, Danielle’s boss had rightly stated, did require some amount of sacrifice, and she would have the glorious role of providing that sacrifice. Shareholders had to be continually assured that there were no uncalculated deviations in the direction of the company, yet they also had to see that continuous change was in the cards. After all, business didn’t move forward without big, hairy, audacious goals, so they said.  “BHAG,” one of those acronyms that corporate America was always coming up with as part of the secret, ancient language of corporations. She hadn’t realized just how ritualistic the repetition and overuse of the lingo was her presentation. She performed her part of the ritual perfectly, laying out the sacred numbers of the data and cryptic diagrams of the occultic process flows, all in the proper sequences to maximize the return on investment. As the C-level executives, in unison, chanted back to her the proper verses of “synergy,” “paradigm shifts,” and “scalable solutioning,” Danielle felt the real power of what it meant to be one of the highest of the executive priests. She envied their power, wanted so much to join their ranks, but the truth was, she was never cut out to be one of them. Still, she would contribute to the overall success of the organization in other ways. She was a valuable member of the family, and as the presentation wrapped up and the executives finished the summoning for the big, hairy, abomination of a god (B’HAG! B’HAG! B’HAG!), she welcomed it. It pushed its way through the obsidian screen, which split and tore around it like a black cervix. She was there—it was, in fact, her accidental discovery that made it possible to move the timetables up as much as they did with minimal risk acceptance—as the organization birthed its greatest solution (infinite scalability that positioned the business to organically maximize market share in all demographics), still an infant covered in the fluids of its afterbirth. Danielle held her arms out; while she wasn’t the mother, she would be the nursemaid to this new life. It would feed off of her until it was fully grown. Thanks to her status as an exempt employee, she would be “on call” twenty-four seven, which was a little severe, sure, but the health benefits were more than worth the extra time. With a little dedication and—yes—a lot of sacrifice, she was sure to retire early, if she wanted to.

As the thing began to suckle from her, she smiled. Surely, she had achieved the American Dream.

THE END

26 Stories

26 Stories: Regarding the Misattribution of the Provenance of the Titans in Greek Mythology

While this is a little close to my self-set deadline, I’m happy to post this story, even if it isn’t completely perfect (this exercise is more about getting stuff posted rather than getting perfect stuff posted). It is, in fact, my first take at solidifying my “mythos.”

What’s a “mythos,” you ask? Well, if you’re asking, you’re likely not familiar with Lovecraft and his Cthulhu Mythos. It’s the idea that there is a greater cosmology beyond what we as pathetic humans know. Christianity is a mythos. So is Islam. So is Hinduism. Anything that tries to quantify the metaphysical is a mythos. In this case, this story takes a look at the (primarily) Greco-Roman mythos and apply it to something much more horrific than petty gods and goddesses like Zeus or Apollo or Aphrodite. I wanted to differentiate my mythos from others, and this seemed like a logical place to work from. Look for these horrors that we conveniently call “Titans” to show in in other works (and maybe they already have).

Regarding the Misattribution of the Provenance of the Titans in Greek Mythology

Fourth Floor

“Jesus, Detective, are we sure you guys in Homicide should be brought in, or is this maybe something for Homeland Security?” Detective Tsai didn’t register the beat cop’s comment immediately, which prompted the young officer to continue. “Because, you know… it’s like he’s been turned inside out? Would a person really be able to do that?”

“Huh?” Tsai asked, then she tore herself away from the grisly scene long enough to respond appropriately. “No,” she said. “No, if this were something biological, there would be other collateral damage. Or,” she reversed thoughts, “it wouldn’t matter anyway, because you and I would already be dead.”

The young officer blanched and, without saying another word, backed out of the room. Detective Tsai was perfectly fine with that, as she hated someone looking over her shoulder while she went over a crime scene. Everyone always had their own opinions about what had happened, and their incessant prattle was more than enough to distract her from the experience of absorbing the scene of a homicide without prejudice. These first moments, she’d maintained, were the moment when the case could be solved or resigned to the file cabinets on the fourth floor of the precinct. Where the unsolved cases would remain, likely never to be solved. They said it was the first forty-eight hours, but she hadn’t solved a case that hadn’t come down to that first look at the crime scene yet. Even if she didn’t see the answer now, it was here, and there was just as much of a chance that she would see it immediately as she would in waking from a two-o’clock in the morning dream tomorrow.

Scratch that, she thought, looking at her watch. Two-o’clock in the morning today. It was later than usual, as she’d been roused from a fitful sleep, because Davis had been in the hospital with his dying mother and Hunter was sleeping off a hangover from a forty-eight-hour shift doing work for one of the smaller counties nearby that had been hit hard recently by meth-related activity, resulting in a string of murders of low-level pushers and one single mom that still needed to be investigated regardless of the staffing of the local PD. So, she’d been called in to the small apartment over the used bookstore in one of the lesser traveled parts of Austin. She pulled two blue latex gloves over her hands, aware of the possibility of contamination of a scene (and on at least a few occasions, the forensic DNA Analysts up in Fort Worth had picked up the DNA of her officers, driving home the need for care when going over the scene of the murder). She stood in the entryway of the small apartment, taking in the heat from the hallway mixing with the artificially cool air from the window unit, and just looked.

The young officer—Officer Travis, she remembered—hadn’t been completely off base about the condition of the body. It lay on the desk contorted on its back with a clearly snapped spine. The spinal injuries hadn’t been the end for the victim, though; she remembered enough from conversations with her sister about where a break in the spine would kill you as opposed to merely rendering you paraplegic. Her sister had followed her parents’ desire for doctors and lawyers whereas she had opted to buck their Tiger Mom’s insistence on stereotypical Chinese-American paths of study and had gone into law enforcement, only going back to college to finish off a bachelor’s and pursue her master’s in criminology when it suited her drive to climb ranks in Austin PD. She’d thought that a master’s degree in anything would have placated their demanding parents, but this particular field didn’t come with enough prestige to satisfy their dream of bragging on both of their daughters’ achievements back to the family in Guangdong province. She supposed she should probably keep the fact that she was in a committed relationship to another woman that was already in the marriage planning phase a secret, too.

Regardless, this wasn’t the place to reflect on her life choices (and non-choices), even though most of these observations seemed to start with self-reflection. It was the price of opening up her mind and quieting the usual defenses that kept her from experiencing a lot of anxieties, both those that came from the unpleasant task of taking in the scene of a horrible murder and those that kept her from thinking too much on the pressures put on her from family and friends.

The spinal break was too low to have killed the vic, but enough to paralyze him while whatever it was that opened him up like a duffle bag went to work. Maybe he’d been numbed to the pain, though that was a conclusion that only the M.E. would be able to make after a thorough autopsy. It was in that grey area, and given how the face was contorted, it seemed that there was a great deal of pain involved when death finally set in. The victim’s chest cavity had been sliced open, perhaps imprecisely based on the raggedness of the cuts on the flesh that still hung from the rib cage. The cage itself had been pried open brutally at the sternum, several of the ribs cracked in uneven spots suggesting that surgical care wasn’t involved in this fatal operation. Blood still pooled in the open chest cavity, as the lower half of the body was upright enough that, aside from the flow from the initial cuts and tears (which had still pooled impressively enough on the floor), the rest of it was still inside the body where the digestive organs—having been removed and arranged on the floor in an odd pattern—had once been. The heart was also removed and stuffed into the mouth, giving the scene the appearance of a demented luau.

She took in the room from her perspective. It was small enough, this efficiency apartment above the book store of which, presumably, the victim was the owner (ownership records said the book store was owned by Jonas E. Dover, who also resided on the property, and the positioning of the body at the desk suggested familiarity as opposed to a botched robbery in which the owner would have defended himself). The door hadn’t been forced open or kicked in. The deadbolt had been locked, the built-in knob on the lock was still thrown, and the chain was in place, making the entry method troublesome. Possibly by jimmying the lock? Though surely the late Professor Dover (again, working off the assumption the body belonged to the owner of the property, was a professor of Classics at the University of Texas) would have heard an attempt to open the door with enough time to rise up from his Yoga ball where he was currently bent across the hard oak of his desk. The intruder wasn’t invited in, then, but was able to bypass the lock (leaving it locked after the deed was done) without alerting the professor until the last moment. Or the intruder was already here, but the forensics team hadn’t seen any initial signs that there had been another person in the apartment. Still, she would wait for the analysts in Fort Worth to weigh in, as DNA evidence wasn’t something you could eyeball. Those women up at UNT’s Health Science Center had helped Detective Tsai on more than a few occasions, and they would come through again, even if it took a while (CSI was extremely wrong on how long DNA analysis took). Still, she didn’t see any signs of a second person in the apartment prior to the entry (why lock a guest in?), and she felt sure that further analysis would bear that theory out.

So, summing up the scene, complete surprise; no defensive wounds or signs of a struggle (the snapping of the back had happened fast); a brutal attack but with some odd ritualistic trappings; and… a whole lot of nothing else. Detective Tsai walked around the apartment in a circle, confirming what little she had to go on. She stopped at the desk, facing the window that, with enough contorting of the view, put that damnable pink granite capital building in view. She barely noticed the body, its skin flayed from it and its entrails open to the humid air, as she considered what might have happened. She was, at the moment, drawing a blank, which wasn’t necessarily odd. She might find clarity later, but for now, nothing. She looked down at the body, finally, taking it in. Aside from the obvious—the broken back, pried open chest—it looked for all the world like a person, surprised by a forceful attack, broken backward over the hard, oak desk. Nothing strange there.

She noticed, however, the body’s left arm, draped over the desk and covering a drawer. The fingers were wrapped around the handle tightly, which might have been attributed to a fear reaction, but looking at how the pressure was applied, might also suggest that the victim wasn’t clutching the drawer in fear, but actively hoping to keep the drawer closed. Interesting. That signified that something in the drawer was more valuable than, what, fighting back? Granted, the savagery of the attack suggested that the vic wouldn’t have stood a chance at a confrontation. Maybe he knew that. What was in the drawer likely wasn’t a firearm or other weapon, of he would have pulled the drawer open instead of trying to keep it shut. She scanned the room again, this time with an eye for anything clearly missing. The TV was still there, as were several small items that even the pettiest of thieves would know could earn some money at disreputable pawn shops. The usual items of opportunity were there, so the motive didn’t seem to be robbery. She was already certain of that, however, at the condition of the body. This hadn’t been a botched breaking and entering attempt. This wasn’t a simple revenge killing, either, carried out by a jilted lover or an unhinged student unhappy with a grade. The killing itself was a message, and whoever disemboweled the professor here came with only that purpose in mind. Or, at least, killing the professor was the point, with a message for anyone who might come looking after the killer later as a secondary objective. That seemed more likely.

Whatever it was that was protected in the drawer, it wasn’t a consideration of the killer. Quick in, fast kill with more time spent on the arrangement of the body, quick out. Locked door, locked windows (from the inside only; they were the second thing she checked in the small apartment when she got on the scene, after the locked door). As to other entrances or egresses, and without an orangutan hiding in the bathroom, she didn’t have an immediate idea as to the identity or nature of the murderer. There had to be one, though, as the vic himself couldn’t have carried this out like an elaborate suicide.

All things considered, it was basic as to what she needed to do first, and that was to open the drawer and see what was inside. It may have been nothing, but it may be the key clue to why this murder had taken place. She took out her phone and snapped several pictures at different angles of the hand on the drawer, in case there was something that the forensic team could piece together later. After that task was done, gingerly, she took a gloved hand and began to work at the vic’s hand, releasing its death grip from the handle and slowly sliding the drawer open.

As she nearly expected, there was nothing in the drawer at first. Standard desk accoutrements, to be sure, were haphazardly arranged there. A stapler. A dozen pens of different colors. Loose rubber bands, paperclips, binder clips, and at least four sets of post-it flags. Tape, a staple remover, an older white-out strip, and a solar-powered calculator seemed less like something that one would protect from an intruder. Which is why Detective Tsai instinctively felt for a false bottom. With a quick eye-balling, she saw that the bottom of the drawer that she could see was at least an inch from the actual bottom of the drawer. A tap here and a well-placed finger pry there quickly uncovered the poorly hidden false bottom to the drawer. Detective Tsai removed that with the practiced experience of a professional who had seen more than a few amateur attempts at hiding files and other sensitive documents before. The fact that it was so easy to find cemented the fact that the killer wasn’t at all interested in what might be held here as opposed to silencing the professor himself.

What she found didn’t make sense to her, but in her experience, there were more than a few occasions where a murder or burglary had targets that didn’t seems sensible. She preferred not to judge until she was looking at the connections on the large whiteboard that was the “murder board” in her squad’s room later. For now, everything made perfect sense and was worthy of collection until later evidence proved otherwise. At the moment of discovery, she catalogued what she found in a neatly bulleted list in her mind, in descending importance:

  • A Glock 9mm pistol (further adding questions as to why the drawer had been held fast instead of opened)
  • A manila file folder labeled “Research” with about two inches of printed pages
  • What appeared to be a full-length stage play titled The Invoked King
  • A USB drive
  • A stack of bound photographs depicting what appeared to be a dig site of some kind
  • A CD or DVD disk

Detective Tsai carefully packed together the contents of the drawer, assuming those to be the most important items from the crime scene, given the circumstances. The USB and DVD drive would have to be checked by the IT team for viruses before she could look at their contents, but she assumed that those files would be critical to solving the case itself. The notes and polaroid would also be important, but she certain that once the computer guys cleared the drive and disk, she might find some answers.

The day after she brought her evidence back to the station, she got her all-clear to examine the digital evidence.

 

*             *             *             *

 

Notes of Professor J. Edward Dover Regarding the Misattribution of the Provenance of the Titans in Greek Mythology

 

Twenty years ago, as a professor of classical mythology at the University of Texas, I didn’t see myself advancing much beyond the level of associate professor. Greco Roman mythology was not advancing much beyond what was already known to classical scholars. The gods were the gods; the demigods the same; and the mythological entities known as the Titans were as static as they had been for decades, if not centuries. Homer, Hesiod, Polybius, and others had been the authorities of the legends and history of the time. They were undisputed, and as was to be expected of modern day researchers, infallible in their understanding of modern interpretations of the classics as anyone could be of information that hadn’t changed in thousands of years. Of course, we in the academic fields all knew that the oral tradition was subject to a number of misattributions, to say nothing of the likelihood that only a small fraction of classical myth and history was known to us. However, given that what we’d been working off for hundreds of years was by and large everything we knew to be recorded (with the occasional surfacing here and there of minor alterations to the known body of material), there was no reason to believe that any major shifts in understanding would come. Absent a means of time travel or the appearance of alien beings that had been cataloguing all of human history since the dawn of man, there was little groundbreaking left in the world.

Thus it was that, with a large degree of trepidation, I endeavored to break down and dispute information provided to me by a colleague in the Mediterranean as of a recent date that suggested that everything that we knew of classical mythology was, in fact, incorrect.

It began with a discovery by a dig team in Cyprus. It was, initially, no more interesting than any other dig team. Some sherds and some unidentified pieces of period appropriate art that didn’t make any dent in the known history of the period. Initial finds merely cataloging grain harvesting or cattle raising that did nothing to change our understanding of human development from some time before Judeo-Christian history. When the workers sent over the scans of their photographs, I didn’t think much of it. Though the images were quire clear, the subtext present was so against what made logical sense—so against what I had spent so much of my life pursuing—that I didn’t even register the abnormalities. There is, I suppose, a certain amount of inherent bias that has to be overcome with academics before they can see past their nose, so to speak. We pride ourselves on critical thinking, but in truth, we spend so much time either positively or negatively aligning with the scholars of our choices, shaped by the beginnings of our academic studies.

Even with the prodding of my colleague and with the promise of more enlightening material to come, I only first noticed the discrepancies in the art on the last batch of pictures of sherds that I received from the dig team after a night of excessive drinking and, I must admit, some amount of self-loathing. What I had presupposed to be yet another fragment of an urn depicting the agricultural blessings of Demeter as her daughter was returned to her for the Spring and Summer months began to take on a different perspective. The image depicted Demeter, her daughter Persephone at her side, appearing to drive off what I first took to be impish representations of winter, clearing aside fresh earth for the planting of grain. It was a somewhat novel perspective, as “winter” was never personified as anything, much less twisted homunculi, but what else could it have represented? I happened, however, to notice that a section of the sky was dotted with stars. Again, this was nothing groundbreaking in and of itself, but for some heretofore unknown reason, my mind made the connection that the constellations of stars were not correct for late winter. They were, in fact, quite correct for the middle of summer. So then, I reasoned, this was a depiction of some other action of Demeter and Persephone, driving off some more malignant forces. There weren’t any known stories that supported such an offensive action, but again, small changes occasionally popped up in our studies. Persephone was, after all, the queen of the underworld; would it be such a stretch to assume that some stories of her being chased by creatures therefrom be so out of place?

I tried to impress upon my colleague that very same interpretation, but he promised me one final transmission of images that would put a new perspective to the images.

That was the last email that I received from him. I have since learned that he and his dig team had all perished. The Grecian authorities placed the blame on terrorist factions operating in the area, but new details have come to light that suggest to me this was not the case. In fact, I am now convinced that I am at risk of suffering a similar fate, which is why I intend to keep these notes and subsequent research safely stowed. Not to sound too dramatic, but if you are reading this, I am either dead, or have determined that it is safe enough for me to publish my findings. I sincerely hope it is the latter.

While I did not receive any further email correspondence from my colleague, about a month after hearing of the tragedy at his site, I received a package in the mail purportedly sent from him. The package arrived directly to my home address, a location I have abandoned since, as opposed to my fourth-floor office on campus. It was a heavy box for its size, densely packed. Years of working in my field made it abundantly clear to me that what I had was a box of clay fragments; more sherds or, as it turned out to be the case, two stone tablets.

The tablets themselves must have been from two different dig sites, I immediately reasoned, as one was adorned with ancient Greek writing with which I was quite familiar, and the other was, I supposed, Sumerian, though I would have to confirm that at a later date back in my office on campus. My focus had been on Greco-Roman history, and not Sumerian, but I was familiar enough with pre-Grecian history to identify the distinctive cuneiform on the second tablet. I would have to consult with my colleagues at the University for a proper translation, but by then, I had a suspicion that both tablets recounted the same, yet radically different take on human pre-history.

I intend to put together a proper paper that corroborates all that I have discovered, that cross-references the known history and mythology that has been the staple of classical studies long before I took an interest in the topic, and that provides with little doubt the authenticity of the tablets I received. I have since pursued this to many obscure ends; several rare volumes from a handful of unhinged scholars, a supposedly cursed stage play (of which I obtained a copy and will keep with these notes), the self-immolation of an entire sect of nuns in France in the late 1800s, a silent film that has achieved a cult-like status, and even a video game distributed on the “dark web” with no clear ties to any named individual.

In short, the revelations on the tablets that I have pursued for the last few years as discretely as possible can be summed up as follows: The gods and goddesses were fictional representations of mortal men and women who sacrificed everything to drive back beings that I can only conclude became the Titans in the Greek pantheon. Though placing the center of these events squarely on the Greeks only comes because, as I have mentioned, that is my particular area of scholarly focus. The Sumerian tablet and further research has convinced me that the events mythologized by the Greeks happened well before their civilization arose. However, I will continue to refer to them primarily as the Titans, even though parallels can be seen in most human mythology. The Norse had the Aesir and the Vanir. The Mesopotamians had the Anunnaki. Even the Judeo-Christians had dark gods battling against light gods (look to the Apocryphal depictions of the Nephilim as opposed to the God vs. Satan dynamic, though I have no doubt that both come from the same source).

Our understanding of the Titans, at least in the generally accepted mythology of old gods opposing younger gods, is completely, unequivocally, wrong. The Titans were not just earlier versions of the da Vincian depiction of chiseled versions of Zeus and Athene that we’re used to. The Titans, by whatever moniker they were referred to by any given culture, were not human at all. They were beasts of unfathomable horror, creatures that defied description and could not properly be compared to humans in any capacity. They were less this representation of Chronos (Saturn, by way of the Romans):

And more this version (“Saturn Devouring his Son” by Francisco Goya):

Even Goya’s depiction, I fear, gives too much humanity to the Titan and its ilk. For one thing, it appears to possess bilateral symmetry, recognizable features such as a mouth, nose, and eyes (no matter how haunting), and opposable thumbs. This is a generous depiction of the beings I refer to as Titans. The truth is much, much more alien.

Let me be perfectly clear, here: The Titans are something beyond the scope of human understanding, and I believe the regular attempts to pigeonhole them into an acceptable format—something that your average human with his or her fragile mind can accept—has masked a greater threat to humanity than has ever been imagined at the hands of Judeo-Christian demons, Muslim djinn, Lovecraftian Great Old Ones, Hindu Rakshasa, or Chinese Yaoguai.

I have found reference to beings whose flesh is comprised of honeycombed holes, beasts that are more akin to deep-sea anglerfish, abstract planes of unfathomably deep water, and other horrors that have, I suspect, informed much of the odder phobias of the human condition.

I have gathered some material toward cataloging these threats as I see them. And yes, to clarify, I do not believe that this is merely a mythological representation of unknown forces; I believe the Titans are real. I believe that ancient humans, now depicted as god and goddesses, managed to beat back at least one incursion by the Titans into our reality, if not more. I believe that a concerted effort has been made, for reasons unknown, to bury this information. It may have killed my colleague in Cyprus, and it may well kill me as well.

Be warned: the information contained herein—in electronic and physical format—may bring the wrong type of attention to you. Again, if you are reading this, then it’s either being included in my papers as a way of showing the eccentricities of academics as we descend into self-importance, or it means I have met an untimely fate. Continue reading the files herein at your own risk, though if I am right, understanding what is here may be the last salvation of humanity.

We were not the first intelligent life on this planet.

We will almost assuredly not be the last.

 

*             *             *             *

 

Detective Tsai finished reading the initial “readmefirst.txt” file in the thumb drive and scanned through the remaining tree of folders. There was a great deal of information here, and all of it, she suspected, was as unhinged as this initial file.  Still, she was troubled by the seemingly ritualistic murder that at least tangentially seemed to be related to this thumb drive and the pieces of physical data contained in the drawer. No stone tablets, she noted, were found, so at least some piece of the professor’s story was missing (or fabricated). There was, however, at least 200+ more gigabytes to go through before she could dismiss this piece of evidence as mere crackpottery, no matter how much she wanted to do so.

Still, some sections of the professor’s notes gave her chills, specifically the mention of the Yaoguai. Her grandmother had talked about such things when she was young, but even as a child, she’d dismissed her ramblings as superstitious nonsense. Of course, these notes shouldn’t, on their face, have done anything to call that into question, but they did nonetheless. She looked at the screen and then to the file folder with its notes, pictures, and the copy of the script of a play called The Invoked King that had come with them.

Detective Tsai sighed. It was late, she’d been at the station too long, and she needed very much to get back to her fiancé. She closed her laptop, undocked it from her docking station, and shoved it into her messenger bag. She stood up, clicking off the light to her desk lamp, and froze.

Before her stood what she was unflinchingly certain was Professor Dover, his pale face gazing deeply into hers, contorted in pain and fear. Simultaneously, driven by training and human nature, she both drew her sidearm and turned her lamp back on.

As the light snapped on, she found herself pointing her gun into an empty precinct bullpen, the apparition suddenly gone. She scanned the room, but it was clearly just as empty as it had been when she turned off her light. She stood there for a good long while, her heart pounding in her ears and her gun leveled at the center of mass of a five-foot, ten-inch male suspect. After a time, she slowly put her sidearm back into her hip holster.

She did not, however, turn her desk lamp off as she left the precinct.

TO BE CONTINUED