No, this isn’t my regular update. That’s not scheduled until the 29th, and I’ve been working on that one since my dreams laid the foundation for it a few nights ago. This is a revision of one of my earlier stories. These won’t be so regular as they will come as I feel like tackling them. Remember that a lot of these are simply raw writing exercises. From time to time, I may decide there’s something there to flesh out. Or I may decide that I just want a more polished version of what I already wrote.
In any event, this story is a revision of my earlier story, Elevator. It’s shorter, a little more to the point, and hopefully more entertaining. Writing isn’t just about putting stuff to paper… there is a bit of revision required. And I suspect there will be more rounds of revision required on this and any given story.
So enjoy, possibly again or possibly for the first time.
Danielle rode the elevator from the fifth-floor, her laptop tucked into her messenger bag. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, hoping that the elevator didn’t make any stops. Stops would give her more time to think. She didn’t want to sabotage her presentation to the C-levels by overthinking. For a business analyst with barely three years at the company, this was almost unheard of. So much so that her boss had given her an awkward pep-talk before she headed off.
“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 team might lose you after this, but what is the world of business without sacrifice?” He’d tried to downplay it, but the mix of emotions was clear. If this went well, she could have passed him. She was also aware of his crush (not at all returned on her part) even though he thought he’d managed to hide it. She was looking to transition off the team, it was true, but not solely because of his unrequited feelings. He was content to be a middle manager. He wasn’t going anywhere, and if he didn’t go anywhere, she wasn’t going anywhere.
She was moving up, literally and—fingers crossed—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 slow climb, she ran through her presentation. After some extra work in the evenings and weekends from her studio apartment, she’d managed to find something the company’s army of data scientists had overlooked. There had been a subtle and unique pattern that resolved into a perfect picture of behavioral trends. What the complex interactions between the sea of numbers meant (as she wouldn’t bore the executives with the minute details) was that she had found an entirely new way to target customers. Thanks to the company’s “Brain-icane” 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.
She opened her eyes, hoping to see the floor indicator close to twenty-six, unable to contain her nerves for too much longer. She was surprised to see that she was only passing the sixth floor. How was it that time always went sideways under stress?
“Time is constant my ass,” she said to the empty elevator car.
She leaned her head back against the wall.
This is fine, she thought. Like Stewart said, this is just a small sacrifice. Her presentation was immaculate. Not too much text on each slide, no 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 (Toastmasters approved). 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; every second. Likely, she would be giving them back five to ten minutes. Her efficiency and conscientiousness would be noted. Things like that always were at that level.
The elevator chimed, and she re-opened her eyes (she hadn’t realized she’s closed them again), expecting to be at least close to the twenty-sixth floor. The number on the display suggested otherwise.
Six? She thought. That can’t be right. She stared into an empty elevator lobby, waiting for another rider. No one boarded with her. The floor was deserted. Just as a shadow shifted in the hallway, betrayed by the washed-out fluorescent lights, the doors slid closed.
The elevator lurched again, her stomach pressing down as she went up. Not wanting to obsess over her presentation again, she stared down at the ugly 1970s pattern in the carpet. She tried to let her mind wander.
When she checked again, the elevator display still showed six.
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 fifties. She tapped it, not sure how that would help but conditioned to do just that. It didn’t budge. Well, she thought, I can feel the elevator moving, so I’m not stuck. 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 attention. It would be embarrassing, but she was skilled enough at speaking to spin it into a humorous anecdote. Furthermore, there were three elevators in the building. If the elevator stopped again, she could either take the stairs or wait for a different one.
Take some calming breaths, she told herself. Practice “mindful meditation” like your therapist taught you. You have got this. Those execs will be floored. At that, she opened her eyes, convinced she felt a slow-down in the elevator’s momentum, ready to razzle and even dazz-
The display flipped from six to seven. 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,” she had a moment of clarity.
“Right,” she said aloud. “Duh.”
Right where she expected it to be, on the wall under the buttons, was a panel. She popped it open easily enough and picked up a telephone handset wired into the elevator via a corkscrew cord. She placed it to her ear. She heard the ringtone. After three rings, there was a click and a tired man’s voice.
“Hi, yes, this is Danielle Anderson. I’m on elevator number… uh…” She looked and saw the appropriate number. “Number four,” she finished.
“Um… are you sure about that?”
“Well, yes. I mean, it is the number listed 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 floor thingy isn’t changing, 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.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Are you in the Waverly building?”
“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-” The man’s voice was cut off.
“Hello?” she asked. No response.
“Hello?” she asked again, an edge there.
“Hell-” and then she trailed off. The line wasn’t dead, as she thought. She could hear—or thought she could hear—ambient noises. Quiet hums, or the steady whooshing of a fan or air conditioning from a ceiling vent.
“Are you… is anyone there?” she asked. She was certain she heard something in the background. Voices engaged in a lively discussion far away? A child crying somewhere? With effort and strain, she latched onto a rhythmic sound. It started quietly but grew in pitch and volume. She imagined that this was what it felt like to stand on train tracks as a freight train bore down. As it intensified, she found herself pressing the hand-set so hard into her ear that the sound of her blood rushing with each increasingly frantic heartbeat first covered, then merged with, and was soon drown out by the noise. Something larger than even a train; a horrific mix of mechanical parts and fused flesh was rushing toward her. When it reached her, it would drag her screaming into the darkness of some other world, where elevators ran on forever. Just as her mind was about to snap, right when she was about to begin to scream and scream and scream, a vibration at her wrist shattered the spell.
She dropped the phone and gasped for breath as she slumped to a sitting position and pressed against the wall. The vibration at her wrist persisted, and she looked down to the cause of the disturbance.
“Wow!” her fitness watch told her, “Exercise Goal Achieved!” It showed her current heart rate, blasting at 175 (well into the “Cardio” zone, it cheerfully displayed). She stared incredulously for a moment, then laughed. Her panic attack had caused her fitness tracker to log her rapid heart rate as a workout. Already short of breath, she gasped between uproarious guffaws, aware that if the elevator doors opened right now, she would seem completely unhinged. Imagining the look on some poor schmuck’s face made her laugh harder. She laughed until tears streamed down her cheeks, which she wiped with the back of her smartly pressed jacket. After a few minutes of laughing, followed by the occasional aftershock of chuckles between deep breaths, she reassessed.
“Still floor seven,” she said, the display taunting her. She put her head back, grateful for the wall’s tangibility. She looked at the handset she’d dropped, 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.
The bulbous ends of the old-style handset stared at her, either curiously or maliciously, from the floor. The honeycomb of holes in the plastic bulbs made her skin crawl. She opted to leave it there for now.
It’s just a matter of time, she thought, before someone figures out that something is wrong with the elevator. 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, she would end up sleeping for hours after. 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, the fog in her mind lifting. Waking from a nap was too much like a hangover without the fun of getting drunk. 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 was scheduled for 2:30 pm, and while she’d suspected that the malfunctioning elevator would make her miss the meeting, her watch claimed that it was 6:23 pm. She ached from her awkward position on the floor. If she’d been here for four hours, surely someone would have come to find her. Standing, her knees popping in protest, she checked it again. It must be 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. She pressed her index finger to the sensor on her phone 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.
Her phone was silent. No dial tone. No connection. No nothing, despite a full set of signal bars. Wondering if it would make a difference, she sent a text to Nathan briefly detailing her situation, explaining that she had no service, and that he needed to call or text her “ASAP.”
She retrieved her laptop and powered it on. 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 occasionally claimed to make a connection only to disconnect before she could even open her email. She slammed the lid down.
“Fuck!” she yelled, pressing both hands to her forehead. People didn’t just lose time on elevators that refused to move above a snail’s pace. There had to be a reasonable explanation as to why she wasn’t getting anywhere, and why she was confused as to how long she’d been here. Was there a gas leak in the building? Was she dreaming? 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 would wake up and be back in her apartment—or in Nate’s bed. They could laugh about it over breakfast.
She slept again.
* * * *
She woke at 4:35 am, still in the elevator, and had a second panic attack.
* * * *
At 12:45 pm the next day—or someday—her fitness watch informed her its battery was low on charge. 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 was worried about that now. The humor turned from a roughly five-minute session of uncontrolled laughter into at least half an hour of uncontrollable sobbing.
* * * *
It was dead the next time she woke up.
Her phone was on 4%, with no signal, and said it was 1:15 am. As to what day, she wasn’t certain. The phone was showing 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.
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.
* * * *
She woke again. If she’d been lucky, she wouldn’t have done so. If she’d been lucky, she would have slipped away, into catatonia, a coma, or death. Any option was better. By rights, she should have been dead. 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 waste to go out.
Why up? The thought crossed her mind that at some point she’d died. Up didn’t make any sense. If she’d gone down, this never-ending ride might have made sense. She was a lapsed Catholic, after all, and damnation would fit (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. “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, no matter how shitty she’d been to him behind his back. “Up” was good. “Down” was when she had hurt herself, before her therapy and the Zoloft. Back when she was cutting on herself. But now, here, 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’d just pass out and wake again), it wouldn’t stop.
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 saw that the floor listed was “26.”
She stood, tugged at her suit jacket, and hefted her messenger bag over her shoulder. She ignored the dried streaks of shit that ran down her thighs. She ran a hand over her hair, pushing a filthy errant strand into place over her right ear. It was time for her meeting. It might not go well, given the delays, but they would understand.
* * * *
Wind howled around Dannielle. Even after so much time ascending, she exited on the ground floor of a ruined building. Its skeletal remains reached up toward a starless yellow sky as if in supplication. Wind-born dust raced in spirals and twisted around half destroyed walls and supporting iron beams.
She felt the presence of strange things pressing in on her, watching her with a hunger she could feel. She didn’t fear the shadows, though. 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 if time was money, then it had infinite value. 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 just past the elevators. She stopped there, taking a final moment to confirm that everything was in order, cleared her throat, and entered, confident that her sacrifice would be appreciated.
She was going places, after all.
* * * *
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 were somehow intimately close. They turned to her in unison, their faces nothing but vast, 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 entirety of the universe, and many universes beyond. There was a moment of vertigo, but Danielle composed herself admirably. A giant obsidian rectangle appeared above the table. Danielle powered on her laptop, which screamed to life, drawing a fresh charge from an unknown source. 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…”
* * * *
Danni’s presentation killed.
Keeping a public stock option, as Danni’s boss had rightly implied, did require some amount of sacrifice, and she would have the glorious role of providing it. 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. She performed her part to the letter, laying out the sacred numbers of the data and cryptic diagrams of the occult process flows, all in the proper sequences designed to maximize ROI. As the C-level executives, in unison, chanted back to her the proper verses of “synergy,” “paradigm shifts,” and “scalable solutioning,” Danni 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 it wasn’t in the cards. Still, she would contribute to the overall success of the organization. She was a valuable member of the team, and as the presentation wrapped up and the executives finished summoning 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 opened like a dilating 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 covered in the fluids of its afterbirth. Danni held her arms out; while she wasn’t the mother, she would be the nursemaid. 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 worth it. With a little dedication and—yes—a lot of sacrifice, she was sure to retire early, if she wanted to.
The thing suckled from her, this twisted abortion of the American Dream, and she was content.