It’s a little late, but I’m still on track to finish off this project in a few more stories. I wanted to get this one right because it touches–tangentially–on issues that I am tying to touch on. You can learn a little about me and my particular chemical imbalances based on this, so long as you don’t take this literally (and more metaphorically).
A Misunderstanding of Geometry
It may have been a trope of horror stories, but if you measured one a certain way, buildings were bigger on the inside than the outside. On the outside, a building was surface area. Four (or more or fewer) sides, a top, and a bottom. They were black boxes, their insides mostly concealed; windows only let outside observers see a fraction of a percentage of the inside, if any at all. The full inside was volume. Cubic feet. Rooms and access-ways and crawlspaces taking up space in three dimensions instead of two. Buildings’ meager outsides hid their depth.
Edward’s building was certainly bigger on the inside, but not because of a misunderstanding of geometry. On its face (literally), it was a twenty-four-story building. Twenty-five if you counted the basement, and twenty-six with the roof, which was a floor itself. He never left his apartment, so it was difficult to judge the scope of it. It was easier, hiding away, nested in his bed, in his room, in his apartment, on his floor, in the building. He’d been a programmer once; nested statements made sense. Each more general or more specific, depending on which direction one moved. The world, the continent, the country, the state, the city, the building, and son on, down to his body, his mind, the cells therein, atoms, subatomic particles, and quarks. He wondered at the upper and lower limits until it raised questions for which he didn’t have answers.
He wondered about a lot of things, especially when he didn’t feel compelled to leave his bed. Why, for example, if he hadn’t left his apartment in days or weeks or months (he’d lost track) hadn’t he been evicted? Why were the lights still on? Why wasn’t he hungry or thirsty? He didn’t remember eating or drinking anything, but here he still was. He’d heard of people who had stayed on a couch or in a chair so long that their flesh grew into the fabric. They would eventually be found and had to be cut out of the fabric, indelibly becoming one with their surroundings.
Would there even be any rescue workers if I grew into my bed? Worse still, he wondered if it wouldn’t be better if he did just become part of the furniture.
And so, each morning when he woke wherever he had fallen asleep, he would experience a moment of… something… when he first raised his arm, expecting some resistance. A slight stickiness that said he’d been there too long; that he’d become the bed, or that the bed had become him.
He considered leaving his apartment. It was always easier not to, though. There were people out there, in the world, that he would have to see. People and problems. Or he assumed there were. No one called him. No one checked in on him. He heard noises around in the building; footsteps above, the occasional TV somewhere reverberating in the bones of his walls. The periodic sounds of footsteps in the hall, of doors opening and closing. He knew that people existed. He knew he wasn’t alone, and yet he was very much alone. That was what drew him to the city; always alone and yet never alone.
The building took care of him. It provided him with walls to guard against the outside. The building never changed, even as it changed around him, and it did change. Sometimes, the view out of his window was close to the ground, obstructed by a cold brick alley. Sometimes he could see several blocks ahead, his view unbroken. But never any other people. Never anyone on a rooftop nearby or in a neighboring building.
Never, until a matte-gray morning in what he guessed was fall.
His view that morning was of a brick wall with a single window. It was something new, and as such, immediately stood out. From his position, it looked like there was someone standing in that window, staring back. He peeled himself from his bed to sit up. He placed his feet on the cold floor and wobbled when he put his weight down. How long was I in the bed, he wondered. There was someone across the alley, there. The feeling of familiarity was odd only for a moment until he realized that the figure staring at him was, in fact, himself.
It’s just a reflection, he thought, but had to dismiss it because the figure had been standing while he had been lying down. As if to further contradict him, his doppelganger waved, while he distinctly did not. The person across the way then pointed past Edward, and when he turned to look, he saw the door out of his apartment.
When he looked back, the wall was solely brick. No window marred its surface. The message was clear, however. It was time to leave.
Edward pulled on his tattered bathrobe and slid his feet into his slippers. He didn’t know if he would have to go far, but there was no point arguing with himself. He walked to and stared at his door for what seemed like hours, but could only have been minutes, before he opened it.
The smell of the hallway was unfamiliar. There was no foul stench. No mold or musk. Just the regular (as assumed) smell of wood and plaster and ancient paint covering drywall. The odor of people who had walked down this hallway at least a few times, leaving the trail of their essential selves in the air. Behind the other doors that lined the hallway (that stretched too far in either direction, by his estimation), he heard the muffled chatter of TVs, someone snoring, and he was fairly certain that a dog barked behind some wall. Where was he supposed to go, now that he was outside of his apartment, he wondered?
As if in answer, the elevator at the end of the hallway chimed.
Edward went the other way. There might, after all, have been other people in the elevator he would have to interact with.
The stairs were down this hallway, he knew (or thought he knew) and he headed that way. Stairways were much better than elevators. In an elevator, you might be placed in a small, confined space with someone else. People who might want to know how his day was going. He might be expected to tell them that his day was one spent in quiet and total isolation. Or to lie. So, he headed for the stairs where he could choose to go in the opposite direction if he wished or walk faster than anyone else and escape the mundanity of conversation.
Only, the stairs he expected to be there weren’t. The hallway turned, and he was faced with an equally long hallway, lined by the same anonymous doors. Since he knew the building was bigger on the inside, it didn’t surprise him—per se—that this hallway should have been longer than the building was deep, but it was disconcerting, nonetheless. Still, the stairs had to be this way. He looked back at the corner before advancing and was hardly surprised to see that the hallway behind him had changed. It was no longer his own.
Turning back, he saw the elevator bank ahead of him.
Clearly, the building had plans.
He walked toward the elevators. Surprisingly, one of the hallway doors opened, and a man walked out. The man was dark skinned, with his hair in tight dreadlocks. They seemed to stare at each other for a moment. The man spoke, his voice distorted by some unknown interference, but Edward dismissed him with a wave of his hand, and the man vanished. Edward moved toward the elevator, an older style cab with a movable gate. Someone was coming out of it, he saw, but before he could turn and walk the other way, the man—who looked like he’d emerged from a nineteen-forties movie complete with a tumbler of whiskey—he was gone with only the mutter of someone named “Cali.” Edward walked into the elevator.
He looked at the buttons and saw that he was currently on the twenty-fourth floor, which he didn’t think was his, but that he accepted without thinking. He pressed the first-floor button, even though he knew it wasn’t going to stop there. The only way to get to the next building over, to see if he was over there as well, was to go to the street and walk across it, to the next building. He didn’t know if he could do it—didn’t know if he wanted to do it—but he was compelled to.
Stupid brain, he thought. Not doing what you were supposed to. That seemed like something that he should say. Take a breath. See nature. Go outside and everything will be okay. He repeated these mantras as the elevator stopped somewhere mid descent. The doors opened. A woman entered, ignoring him completely. She was tall and pretty. Asian, he though, and he entertained certain fantasies that he and just about every other straight white male had, until he saw the badge flash under her jacket. Without acknowledging him in the slightest, she took out her phone and spoke into it, using it like a recorder. He didn’t hear what she said, despite being right next to her, but did catch the odd word. “Murder,” he was sure she said, followed by “play.” “Titans” was another word, but that one made him nervous. The elevator stopped on a different floor, and she stepped off, vanishing off to whatever floor this was, shimmering like the periphery of an oasis in a desert.
The elevator continued. The ride seemed longer than it should have taken, but over the years, he had learned to quickly accept anything he didn’t have control over. Anything else would have him breaking down at every unexpected complication. It stopped again, opening into a strange hallway. It felt empty on the other side, except for the row of faceless creatures. Not faceless—like they had no eyes or mouths—but with gaping, empty holes in their heads. Edward was glad that they didn’t get on the elevator with him as the doors closed.
It made one last stop before reaching the bottom. A strikingly beautiful woman slinked on and Edward was overcome with feelings that he had long forgotten about while isolated from the world. He blinked at her, a momentary pang of regret that he had stopped venturing out into a world with this kind of beauty.
“Oh,” she said, “looks like I’m riding this thing down with you, honey.”
Edward balked at the sound of her voice. It was the first clear voice that he’d heard in days (weeks (months (years (centuries?)))). He tried to talk but found that his voice had been stolen from his throat.
“It’s okay, sugar,” she said. “Words just get in the way.” He was relieved at the opportunity to not have to talk; to be able to just listen. It was easier that way.
“Eddie,” she continued, “your big day is here at last. All the worry and sadness, the confinement, the embarrassment… it all goes away today.” His brow furrowed at everything she seemed to know about him, and he’d never met her. She put a hand on his shoulder. “I hope you didn’t take that the wrong way. All those characteristics that some see as shortcomings? As diseases? Mental illnesses? Edward, they are what makes you so very special. It chose you because of who you are.”
“It?” He croaked around vocal cords that had atrophied.
“The building. It saw you and it needed you. It kept you safe. Kept you healthy. Kept you, you.” Edward was aware that the elevator had gone well past the ground floor; past the basement levels. It had gone deep into the Earth, past the Earth and into an empty nothingness where only the building’s foundation was rooted. A foundation he knew wasn’t made of concrete, but something akin to a thick, tube of flesh. He should have been afraid. The things this woman said to him should have filled him with dread. When he looked close enough at her skin, he saw that it wasn’t flawless, but a honeycomb of tiny holes. Even when what appeared to be a small eye poked out of one of the holes in her face, he wasn’t afraid.
He had purpose.
“Yes,” she said. “Purpose.” The elevator dinged and he felt it slow. “Well, sweetheart, this is your stop.”
“You,” he asked, scratchily, “aren’t coming with me?”
She smiled, genuinely sad. “There are some things that we must all do alone, Edward.” She pulled out a pair of dark sunglasses from a purse he hadn’t seen her carrying.
The doors opened, and Edward turned to face his purpose.
He started screaming, because now… now he was afraid.
* * * *
Outside the building, on the front door, a sign appeared.
“Room for rent. Inquire within.”