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Descent

Jeremy Schaeffer had spent many a long night working his way up to this middle-management nightmare. Normally, it didn’t bother him much, but tonight, on the eve of the Christmas doldrums, with the latest products shipped and the reports dwindled to projections, he had time to reflect. Years of school, data-entry, writing reports, collecting data and doing analyses had culminated in him being the one who read the reports. Even though he knew he was better off here, something about producing the reports, making something, gave him a sense of satisfaction. Here… well, at least he had a view.

Working on the thirty-seventh floor of the headquarters of one of the city’s largest tech firms meant that he was perched above the next tallest structure on the block. His middle-management paper-processing afforded him the office and the window from which to appreciate it. The horizon reminded him of the wide-open skies of his youth. Though, those horizons had been dotted with trees instead of monolithic Lite-Brites.

Watching the dull, gray clouds shake loose a flurry of snow of almost record proportions was enjoyable, but it wrinkled his face into a frown. His years on the coast let him appreciate a good blizzard, but that didn’t change what the snow signified.

“Christmas…”

It would be his first year spending the season on his own since the divorce. He knew that Miss Rebound would be gathering around a booze-ridden cake with her “new” family right about now.

“The more things change…”

He sighed deeply, chin in his hand, trying to focus on the report that he wanted desperately to care about. Well, at least the office had free coffee; it was hard to argue with that. Looking at his watch, he counted the hours since the last employee should have left the building. The ones that had a reason to leave. He didn’t count among them.

Three hours had passed since he’d peeked into the hallways and saw Frederick gathering up his tablet and folders for a quick get-away. Yet, here he was comparing the merits of lukewarm coffee and browser games, in an empty office; and cold beer and an hour-long wait for pizza, at home.

Normally, pizza would have easily won, but, between the hastily decorated tree and the hours of holiday specials he knew he’d slump into watching, home wasn’t the least bit tempting. Besides, compared to last year, it felt like a haunted place. If a place could leave a lingering apparition after death, then he was fairly certain that it would feel like his home. Dead inside.

Maybe he was being melodramatic. Then again, melodrama has its place, and he felt like it belonged here, among the heavy sighs and furtive glances to Facebook pages he should have long-since ignored. Ceased visiting. The idea, though, the ability to look, to see, kept intruding on him in his moments of revelry. It wasn’t his fault, really.

By and large, he blamed social networking for his inability to rest easy. Before, he could have put Her out of sight and out of mind. Now, though… well, there was always Peggle. His mind nimbly side-stepped the second account he’d made to be able to see Her page. That wouldn’t really fit the tone of tonight’s line of thinking.

Coffee only works for so long, and he was in the kind of mood where a nice helping of grease was tempting. Hell, he could just go to a restaurant and eat there. Then, he could get so liquored up that he didn’t notice the emptiness. He knew a bar near his place that would be open late; it could still be a good night. Maybe Chevy Chase got funnier after three martinis. His parents had certainly seemed to think so. Days gone by… He almost smiled.

He swirled the coffee in his cup, downed the last of it, and set it on the table with a decisive “clunk.” It was time to go. He slipped his suit-jacket on and his tablet into his briefcase. No files, no folders, no secretaries. Technology: it cut both ways.

He took one last look at the snow blanketing the rooftops outside, the sheer volume of the falling stuff obscuring buildings in the distance, grabbed his coat and coffee, and left his office, locking the door behind him with a “click.”

Walking down the darkened hallway let the building’s silence ooze out of the walls and sink into his chest. It was an exemplarily deserted office. There might be a couple of security personnel covering the entire building and a skeleton staff of maintenance workers making sure it didn’t fall to shambles, but, other than them, he was probably alone in its carpeted halls. Everyone above him was on vacation. Everyone below him had taken off at the first sign of five o’clock. Even his footsteps seemed to have deserted him preemptively, their sound sinking into the worn, gray short-fibers.

Jeremy wasn’t a fan of stairs, but he felt like it was good for his health to take them when he could. So, he always rode the express elevator as high it would go, the thirtieth floor, and walked the rest of the way up. He didn’t feel like he was getting much exercise going down the same way, but there was a neat symmetry to it.

On his way, he stopped and used the bathroom, washing the taste of coffee from his mouth with a handful of water and using the facilities. He checked himself in the mirror. He’d dropped a little weight lately; he wasn’t eating as much. His business-casual uniform, coat and tie, looked pretty good on him now. Having bought it a few years before, he’d grown into a snugger fit. So, he was probably better off now. Washing away a day of keyboard grease and eye-grime did wonders for his mood. He swung the bathroom door open and crunched through the door to the stairs.

They were your standard cement steps: always a little narrower and more claustrophobic than Jeremy appreciated. At least, the ceiling wasn’t too low. That would have given him the distinct impression of being squeezed down a cement tube. Occasionally, he had brief, wince-worthy flashes of what might happen were he to be tripped down them. Less occasionally, he imagined that same thing happening to one or two of his co-workers, with him playing the role of “trip.” It was just the season. He knew he’d feel better about work after the company’s primary down-time was over.

In the mean-time, he was determined to enjoy the coming week. It would be over faster than he realized or wanted.

Stepping into another worn, gray hallway, he trotted down to the south-side elevator bank and hit the button for the express elevator. If luck was on his side, the elevator would already be on this floor. Otherwise, he’d have the wait for it to come all the way up. His luck popped open with a sly “ding” and a grin. He stepped inside and hit the “P” button. Noiselessly, he began his descent to the parkade.

Without warning, the small, mirrored room ground to a halt as the magnetic brakes kicked in. His stomach fell into his knees and he slumped, upright, against the wall.

He stood, half-leaning on the hand-rail, waiting for something to happen: for the room to plummet down the shaft, or the lights to flicker out. Thankfully, neither of those things happened. Then, for a long stretch, nothing happened at all.

It came upon him slowly, like a jungle cat stalking its prey. It built in his nerves first. His fingers began to twitch slightly. His lips pursed themselves against the rising panic. His eyes widened as the shock began to wake his brain up. Finally, it hit him. He was stuck.

“No. Nope. No. No. No. No, I’m not trapped in a fucking elevator. Not now! Not today. This isn’t a bloody Christmas special.”

Unfortunately for him, the more time passed without the car starting itself again, the more likely it seemed that his fear was reality. He’d thumbed the “Door Open” and “P” buttons over and over again. Nothing.

Five minutes in the glare of the fluorescent lights of a tiny box, hanging by iron threads over a long, dark, narrow pit of metal was enough for him. He thumbed the “Call” button; it dialed out to maintenance. Well, presumably it did. He didn’t hear a tone or a click, but he’d never used the “Call” button before, so he figured that was just how it worked.

“Hello? Hello! Hey!? Anyone Listening?!”

The intercom waited patiently for him to quiet down and maintained its reserved silence.

“How can this possibly be? How is there NO ONE watching the emergency line?!”

Of course, he knew the answer to that. There were barely any maintenance staff on and there wouldn’t be many for a while, at least, until they tromped in to get the office back in working order for the next quarter. What he didn’t know was that it wasn’t an emergency line. It was just a line and, apparently, no one was attending it.

He tried again. He got the same result. Finally, he decided that it was time to hit the “Alarm” button. The red and white button seemed oddly innocuous compared to the purpose it served and the din it unleashed.

Klaxons blared overhead. Jeremy clapped his hands over his ears. The cacophony stopped.

“Oh, that’s handy. So, I have to hold it down?! Should I just rescue MYSELF, then?!” he shouted at nothing.

There was one positive development. After he pressed the button, a small red light began to blink on the control panel. Next to it, three lines of text read, “In case of emergency – Flashing red light indicates – Rescue operation has begun.”

“Well, that’s reassuring. At least, I don’t have to hold down that god-forsaken button and lose my hearing.”

He checked his cellphone. Zero bars. It’s not like he thought he was going to get service in the large, concrete-metal shaft. He could barely make calls from his office. He swore to himself that, when he got out, he was switching providers. He’d said that a lot, but contracts were expensive to buy your way out of. No, he’d always decided, his virtue was patience.

Not so much so that he was willing to hunker down in here, though. He’d begun to think about where he was sitting – the black void inches below his feet. The room felt an awful lot smaller.

Pushing it from his mind, he opened his briefcase and pulled out his tablet. It was simple; he would just pull up Facebook and tell someone where he was. Maybe post a funny status about “getting shafted.” Someone would get it; then, someone would get him.

He pulled up the list of wireless routers in range. They’re all going to be locked, he realized with a sense of dread, as the list loaded. The company had cracked down on superfluous internet usage and relegated a password-protected router code to each block of floors. His wasn’t in range. Nothing was in range, except a service router from the hotel next door, but that had the same problem.

His lips twitched. Covering his left ear with one hand and burying his right ear into his shoulder, he pressed the alarm. The silence of the elevator shaft shattered. It rang with the revolving rhythm of the klaxons. They inundated Jeremy’s mind but brought no relief. It was all he could think of. He sniveled quietly. The red light on the panel blinked at him.

He turned off his phone and his tablet to save power. He didn’t know what, but he might think of some use for them later, and he didn’t want to be caught short. Next meeting, he’d bring up power sockets in the elevators, and maybe signal boosters, but, for now, he could only wait. Wait and pace.

Once in a while, he’d get fed up and press the alarm again. Buzz the intercom. Bang on the bloody door. The hollow raps of his knuckles echoed into the black pit above him. It was useless, but it wasn’t about utility. He knew that.

Why the hell was this happening to him? There are systems in place specifically to prevent things like this. Then again, he hadn’t had much luck with systems lately.

He swayed on his feet. He was getting thirsty. Tired. How many hours had he been in here? Minutes? Days? No one had come for him. No one had even noticed he was missing?! Well, how could they? He was a cog. A bloody GEAR! If the machine wasn’t running, then no one would notice it was missing, until they replaced him with a spare part. He beat on the door. He was infinitely replaceable. His fist impacted the metal polymer. His wife. The skin on his knuckles started to crack. His job. Clutching his head in his hand, he leaned into the door, working his fist harder and harder against the wall of metal. His house. Blood began welling up between the cracks. His kids. And smear down the door. His car. He grimaced against the pain, anger pulsing through his temples. When he was gone, they’d just replace him! How would anyone even know he’d been there?!

He collapsed into tears, his hand leaving red streaks on the side of his his head as he cradled it. The anger had burnt itself out. Now, he just felt empty. Despair wrangled his mind, but he did his best to focus on the throbbing of his hand. He could only hope he hadn’t broken it, like some petulant child, but the pain might help distract him from the empty well he’d uncovered. He had to stay alert and think of a way out. He had no time for petty indulgences.

Time wasn’t watching, though. It ticked away in ideas instead of hours. Each one that came up was immediately rejected. The service hatches were always locked. The door, recessed into one side, was much harder to pry open than movies suggested. Starting a fire might work, but he wasn’t a smoker or an electrician. Trying to knock the elevator down the shaft seemed suicidal, at worst, and impossible, at best.

He turned on his phone and looked at the empty signal bars again. One bar. That would be all it took. One text. Switching on his tablet, he stared blankly at the locks beside the routers. He could try guessing the passwords, but the chances of him guessing right were infinitesimal. He had to copy-paste the one for his section’s router, a hodgepodge of numbers and letters,  from the weekly e-mail.

His eyes widened as he wrinkled his nose. The one bloody time he wanted them to work, they weren’t. He could play Angry Birds until he got hemorrhoids or Tweet until his thumb fell off, but now. Right now. He couldn’t send a text message to save his life. The muscles in his shoulder tightened as his lips curled and he imagined smashing the techno-junk against the bloody mess of a door. He checked the impulse. He couldn’t afford to lose them, especially if he got out of here. They were expensive toys.

He got a better idea. He steadied one foot on a railing and took a deep breath. Grunting, he lunged upwards to use the railing on the adjoining wall to brace himself against the ceiling. His mandatory dress shoes slipped as he tried to catch himself, and he tumbled down, smashing his head on the railing.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAUUUUUGHHH!”

A primal scream of frustration broke the seam of his lips.

“You fu… I can’t… god-fu….”

He couldn’t form the words through the dazed clouds of anger and blunt-force trauma. He stood up. His leg had weathered most of the fall. It felt like the bone was revolting against the flesh, but it didn’t seem broken. At least, if he’d been stuck in a stairwell, he could have explained that he fell down them.

With a snort of indignation, he took his shoes and socks off. He would be kicking himself about now, if it wouldn’t have hurt so much to do so. He steadied his undamaged leg on the railing, toes gripping the wood-laminated, and lunged upwards. Pain spiked in his body, but he growled against it. The sweat on his feet slipped and, then, adhered. The tension in his arms wavered slightly as he sighed with relief.

He pulled the phone out of his coat with his sluggish, aching hand, while the undamaged one held him in place, and prayed that the screen wasn’t damaged by the fall. Thankfully, no, but his thumb left a thin, crimson streak on it. With another grateful sigh, he held his phone up as high as he could. He slipped it around in his bloody hand to see the screen. Hope blossomed in his chest, as he waited for the machine to register a signal. Any signal. Nothing.

Of course! Why had he thought that would work?! He let the phone slip from his hand and bounce off the panel over the pit. He couldn’t even jump if he wanted to. The stupid floor would stop him. Jeremy stopped for a moment and checked himself. That was by far the silliest thing he had ever thought.

He let himself down, slowly. His leg winced at him. It had been for nothing. At least, now he knew. Now, he knew nothing. He was the Descartes of escaping elevators. That piece of trivia rattled around inside his mind, reminding him of how trite he was becoming.

“Big picture, Jeremy.”

He pressed the call-button again, waited, and growled, “I’m still STUCK in the south-side express elevator. AnyTIME you’d like to help me, I’ll be here!”

The light blinked.

“Ugh…”

He curled up under the panel of buttons and decided to wait. Wrapping his winter-coat around his back afforded him some comfort, but there wasn’t really enough room to lay down. Either, his head was going to be cricked uncomfortably against one wall, or his legs wouldn’t be able to stretch out. He shifted back and forth between the two positions, wishing he’d gotten stuck in a larger, possibly rectangular, elevator.

Now and again, he’d curl up in the corner under the buttons, reach up, and hold the alarm down until his ears couldn’t take it anymore. The sound seemed to be getting louder, higher-pitched. More obnoxious.

He sat up, thumbed the intercom, and tried to keep his voice from cracking “Is anyone… there?”

Exasperated, he laid down, head bent slightly, and stared up at the bright lights of the ceiling. The walls stretched away before him, almost leaning over to look at the beleaguered fool. He tried not to think about the tiny box, dangling. The mighty pit, yawning. He put his ear against the floor and closed his eyes. He breathed in and tried to extend the darkness of his vision down, down, down into the shaft, to the dusty, greasy, unkempt bottom, but he couldn’t. It just went on. And on and on and on and on and on and on and on… Into darkness he fell. Black, pure oblivion.

He woke up slowly in the glare of the sun, pulling at his coat. He sighed and decided that there was no use throwing his sleep schedule off anymore than it already was. Stretching, his neck strained against the wall. He blinked, opened his eyes into the fluorescent glare of the lights, and remembered. He grimaced into reality.

Then, he made a startling and terrifying realization: he had to pee. Through the hunger and thirst, his bladder called out to him. Scowling, he looked around for his coffee cup. Yesterd… his activities in the last stretch of time had knocked it over, spilling its contents, but it was still there.

He held his cup and penis steady with the hand covered in dried blood and braced himself against the wall with the other. Using every bit of concentration he could muster, he slowly emptied his bladder into the cup. Up to this point, anger and fear had held the caffeine diuretic at bay, but sleep had relaxed him. With great effort, he managed to avoid spilling on himself.

Breathing deeply, from the effort and relaxation, he replaced the cup’s lid. He hoped that he was rescued soon; otherwise, that cup was going to start to stink.

“Oh, shit,” he realized, but that, he decided, was going to wait as long as it could.

He had no idea why, but he stayed awake. The lights hummed slightly, but they couldn’t penetrate far into the overwhelming silence. Nothing had changed.

Pacing in circles, he felt the pang of hunger in his stomach and the burn of thirst on his lips.

“Help,” he croaked, halfheartedly, into the intercom, “You know, I should be home right now. Honestly. Not at that house. Not that “home.” It’s just a shell. I should be… with my kids. For all I know, it’s Christmas. They’re going to notice if I don’t call.”

The intercom waited patiently for him to continue.

“That is, of course, if that Woman doesn’t fob it off on some sort of drinking binge. You know, she blamed everything on that. ‘That’s why you’re stuck in middle-management. That’s why your friends don’t call. That’s why I’m leaving you!’” he smirked, “Well, maybe my friends would call if I could ever leave the bloody house! One pair of kids and, suddenly, I’m not allowed out of house! It’s office to pay for the kids and house to take care of the kids. One, then the other. She can flounce around and get her NAILS done whenever she pleases, bump the kids off on a sitter, but, if I want an evening off, then I’m the bloody devil!”

The light blinked.

He sneered, “’Oh, you’re never home! You never see the kids!’ Of course not! I’m working almost every day to keep this stupid position. Does she think it’s easy? Do you know how fast you fall without a job? How utterly fucking fragile our life was?! We were making ends meet, but just barely. Just. Barely. It all adds up! Car, mortgage, television, electronics of every stupid variety and subscriptions to things I never had time to use! All so, what? She could enjoy her time sitting at home with my beautiful, little, fucking angels?! I see them more now than I ever did then, and I’m still paying for them! ha. Ha. HA! Thank god I don’t have to feed her bloated hide anymore, or I’d be out on my ass, scraping dimes out of hats.”

The intercom didn’t know how to feel about any of this. Didn’t know, in fact.

His frenzy had worked itself out, but the words kept dribbling out, “Yeah, okay, so maybe I drank, but it wasn’t much! It was just enough to get me through the next day. The next week. The next year! It made it all tolerable, okay? That’s why. Call me an addict all you want, and I’ll fully admit I had a disease, but it wasn’t ‘alcoholism.’ It was life! Okay?! It was just… it was just life.”

His mouth broke into a pitiful sob.

“No. No, no, no. I’m not fucking crying again. Everyone goes through it, and everyone deals with it in its own way. And, even though it sucks the shit from my body, I’m going to get out of this stupid. Bloody. BOX!” he punched the wall, “And get back to it. Because, that’s just how it is, comprende?

He stopped and blinked at the light. He fell to his hands and knees, great gales of hysterical laughter rushing out of his body,

“Yoo-hoo!” he tapped on the light, “HAL, you in there?”

Laughs shook him between sobs. He had no idea what he was feeling, but he was feeling it with greater force than anything he could conjure in his mind. He choked out air, body heaving with the effort, shaking from his shoulders to his feet, head a mindless whiplash of escaping emotions.

Once again, he was empty. And thirsty. He looked up, still trembling slightly, at the cup in the corner.

“No. That’s not happening.”

“You can drink it if it’s only been through your system once.”

“But, it’s disgusting. It’ll taste horrible!”

“So would whiskey, but you’ll be fine if you just swig it down.”

He nodded grimly to himself. There wasn’t much choice. Still, he couldn’t just gulp it all down. He had to save some in case he needed it later.

He stepped over, bent down and picked up the cup. The aroma of ammonia burned inside his nostrils. He swilled the liquid around, judging its volume. Screwing up his face, he held his nose and gulped down what he judged to be half of it as fast as he could. Luke-warm and salty were all he registered. That, and a shudder of distaste.

“Crossed that line pretty quickly. I think,” he said aloud, grimacing, “It wasn’t quite so bad as I thought it would be.”

He put the cup back.

“Back to it, I guess?”

He gave up on banging on the door. Instead, he just flitted between pouring his heart out to the intercom and the screech of klaxons. The inside of the elevator began to feel damp, humid. He took off his jacket and undid a few buttons. Yeah, the smell of ammonia was starting to mingle with sweat and stale air. Had the fans stopped working?

Jeremy looked up at the lights. It wasn’t a power problem. Maybe it was related to the elevator stopping in the first place? It seemed likely, but it wasn’t like the thing was old.

“Unless the new building was built around an old one. An old building, gutted by fire, perhaps. This section might have been fine, but the smoke. The smoke could have found someone in the shaft and snuffed them out. This could be… revenge?”

That wasn’t particularly helpful. Besides, if an old building had burned down, then it would have had to have been way over thirty stories tall to justify an express elevator.

“Unless, it was for the penthouse. The Boss.”

He looked around. It was too tiny to be dedicated to someone of particular note. Tinier still, it seemed, now that he’d been stuck in it a while. Wait, was it? He paced around the room, carefully measuring his steps.

No, by his paces, it was just as big as it had been yesterday. Yet, undeniably, as he sat, huddled, in the corner, it looked smaller. He stood up. And smaller still. He put his hands against one wall and one of his feet against another, and pushed. The pressure held him rigidly in place. No fluctuations occurred. Nothing pushed back. He was imagining things.

But the moisture. The heat! Could he be imagining that?

“It’s the heat… from the fire.”

He twitched.

“Even if that was possible, how could the elevator for a building that large have been spared as all the rest crumbled around it? There’s no way a responsible contractor would build anything attached to that. It would have been cleared away before building could begin. There’s no way. It wouldn’t even cut costs.”

Yet…

“Undeniably, it almost seems possible, doesn’t it?”

Jeremy started.

“I mean, do you really feel like the company would think twice about its employees if it could save a buck?”

Jeremy stared. The red light blinked at him. He blinked back.

“I don’t think they would do something like that, but part of you feels that way, doesn’t it? That’s almost scarier than the idea itself.”

“What the fu…”

Wait, he realized that he was being utterly delusional. It was the intercom! Someone had finally answered.

“Hello! Hello?!”

“Hey! How are you doing in there?”

“What the hell, man! I’m stuck in here. Get me out!”

“Yeah, ‘can see you! Wave to the camera!”

Jeremy looked at the camera in the corner that he’d barely registered before and made a not-so-subtle signal of disapproval.

Laughter echoed through the tiny chamber, “Dooon’t worry, I’ve sent someone down to check it out. You’ve been making quite a ruckus in the vents. Harry’s been running all over the building trying to figure out which elevator it’s comin’ from.”

“Oh, thank god! I’m in the south-side elevator banks, stuck in the express elevator. I have no idea how long.”

“Yeah, sorry, we had to do a shake-down of the upper floors. The crew they expect us to maintain this place on is ridiculous! Anything to save a buck, amiright?”

Jeremy laughed into the speaker, leaning against the wall, relieved, “Yeah, they just might.”

“Frankie! You there?” the intercom squeaked, “I’m tryin’ to raise Frank on his walkie, but the damn things don’t span the building. Listen, you sit tight. I’ll go find him an’ we’ll have you out of there in time to phone the kids.”

It clicked off.

“Wait! How did you…”

Did it matter? Maybe, the guy knew him; he might have recognized him over the camera. It was Christmas, so he could have just been a presumptuous bastard. Whatever! He didn’t care whether it was Frank, Harry or Santa that came down the chimney and saved him. The point was that someone was coming.

He looked at the light and grinned, “Right?”

It blinked.

So, he waited. He chewed his lips nervously. He made a game of pooling spit in his mouth so he’d have something to swallow.

“Right…?”

He thumbed the intercom again and again. Of course, no click sounded again. It could have been his imagination, but he was pretty sure he’d heard one before.

The air was sweltering. It had gotten worse while he’d waited for rescue. He wished he’d gotten the irresponsible bastard’s name. Why hadn’t he asked how long he’d been there? If he was okay? How long had he been watching? Had he watched him drink his own piss? Wait, or had he encouraged it?

He couldn’t hold things straight in his mind. They were shifting around, like the ground beneath his feet.

Wait! Did that mean there was someone on the roof?!

No, he was just dizzy. He sat down in the middle of the room, gasping for space. He could feel the walls on each side of him, like he could lean against them. But he didn’t. He just sat. And rocked. And waited.

Was he watching now? Was this a game?! The only way he had of recognizing the guy was by his accent, but, even that, he was having a hard time remembering. Had it changed while he was talking? Had he changed it to make it harder for Jeremy to recognize him?

A click filled the silence.

“Hey, so Frankie says you’re stuck in there.”

“No shit!”

“No, like, you’re really stuck in there. It’s a poorly-designed express. There’s no nearby floor to get to you from, so we’re going to have to call the fire department.”

“Then. Fucking. DO. THAT!”

“Here’s a twist. How about no?”

Jeremy grew very still and very quiet.

“You see, I’ve been working at this company for years. Years. You see me every day, but I’m pretty sure you have no idea who I am. You can hear me now, but I’d put money up that you don’t recognize my voice. You sit up there, stories above it all, looking down on the city, not giving a shit. You can’t even look down AT me, because you can’t even see me.”

Jeremy’s lips quivered. He didn’t have the strength to get angry.

“Now, here we are, the roles reversed. You’re stuck, stuck, in a tiny box over a big, old pit, and I’m up here, looking down at you. Yoo-hoo!”

The camera swiveled.

“Now, since you couldn’t give a shit before, you’re going to give one now. I spend every day cleaning the muck and filth you guys in management trail around, sterilizing and mopping, so that you can have a clean place to work. End of it all? I’m grimy, tired and broke. I’m a mess.”

There was nothing to say. He was beyond indignation.

“Soh. You’re going to mess up that nice, clean, little bag of yours. Then, I’m going to call the fire department and you’re going to go home.”

“You want me to… WHAT?! No. Fuck that. I’m calling the police as soon as I’m out of here.”

“Ooh, calm down. Poor negotiation strategy. What are you going to tell them? A voice in the wall told you to crap in your briefcase? After drinking your own piss and covering the door in blood, do you really think they’ll believe you? Even if they do, who are you going to accuse? Do you even know if there IS a Frankie? Maybe I’m Frankie. I’ve got tape of you doing all of this yourself. No audio. You’re just… sitting there, on tape, in the middle of the room, talking to yourself.”

A ball of impotent rage burned in his chest. Eyes welled red with tears that dripped over clenched teeth. Every part of him shook with sobs and anger.

He couldn’t… what could he do? Get angry and lash out at nothing? Prove the psycho’s point? His credibility. His existence. They meant nothing next to the camera’s cold eye. It’s cold, blinking, red eye.

He had nothing left to gain here. Less to lose.

He pulled the case over, emptying it of its contents. Keys. Tablet. A file. An actual file. It amazed him how much, in spite of all of this, that caught him off guard. Having something physically there. He placed them safely in the corner by the cup. He ran his hands over the finished leather, still shining after years of use. It had been a very important gift. He’d cared for it. Cleaned the embossment. Kept it gleaming with a damp cloth and polish. Now…

Now, he would do what he needed to do to survive. Survive and hunt that psychopath down.

He squatted and cried. He shook, knees wobbling, uncontrollably. Tears streamed down his face as he swore into the camera, cursing through it all. Ripping off his shirt, he cleaned what he could and did his best to protect the inside of the case. But, it still wreaked. And, it still happened.

Looking down, his abdomen heaved once more; this time it was his stomach, not his heart. A thin line of slime oozed out of his mouth. He had nothing to give. He sat there for a time, desperately gasping between retches, over the case. Until, finally, his body was his own again.

He did his best to contain more of the mess with his socks and scarf and sealed the case, tossing it in an empty corner. He was done. He was ready for the ordeal to just be over. He thumbed the call-button.

“There. You Fucking bastard! There! It’s done! Now, get me the HELL OUT OF HERE!”

There was no click. There was nothing.

“HELLO?! I KNOW YOU CAN HEAR ME, YOU SICK BASTARD!! I DID IT!!!”

His voice was hoarse. It wracked him with pain to shout. It felt like he’d been doing it for so long.

“I did… I just did what you said. Just, please… save me. Just save me.”

The lights winked out. Beyond terror. Beyond shaking. Just shivering now. Shivering in the heat.

“What are you…?” he looked at the light, the camera, the eye, “What the HELL ARE YOU PLAYING AT?!”

The red light blinked.

It bathed the room in blood and sex. The mirrored walls reflected red, suffusing the space. He backed into a corner. Looking up from the floor, he saw the walls closing in, slowly, with each blink. He pushed against the left wall. Nothing. He pushed against the right wall. It wouldn’t budge. He tried backing up. Nowhere. He was stuck. Stuck being assaulted by the red light. He curled up and buried his face in himself. His sweaty, bloated body a stern testament to the life he’d lived in front of the monitor. His hands: wrinkled. His arms: flabby.

All he had left were pants and regret.

The tinge of red invaded his vision. He closed his eyes tighter, desperately, against the static color.

No more blinking. It was staring at him.

“There’s no use,” it seemed to say, “There’s no one coming.”

“But, what about…” he returned pitifully, whimpering.

“It’s a light. It’s a blinking, red light, and you think it’s the key to your freedom. You think I means anything? It’s just a thing. It doesn’t mean shit if there’s no one doing anything about it. Well, maybe it means that.”

“You think you’re funny…”

“You trust so much in that light, because you’ve got nothing else to trust in. Nothing to hope for. You’re pathetic, and ‘I’m’ saying that. You deserve this.”

“Did you put me here?”

“No, you put yourself here. I just kept you busy. Hopeful. Waiting. Or, maybe you did that, too.”

The small, red room teetered over the maw, disappearing in the emptiness above and below.

“Face it. There’s nothing here for you. Nothing. Just… just go.”

“I’ve been trying to… oh.”

“Yeah.”

Clarity. Raw, devastating clarity.

Jeremy reached for his tablet. Switching it on, he pulled up an album with practiced ease. His children blazed to life before him. Laughter pushed back the encroaching red shadow. Him, his kids, and even his ex-wife, tottered across the screen. They played in the water. Took baths. Opened presents. Blew out candles. Hugged. Kissed. Loved.

His heart rose to his throat.

“Yet, you can be replaced. Just. Like. That.”

But, he’d need replacing. He’d made something. He is something.

Jeremy looked into the eye. He nodded imperceptibly. It blinked.

A day or so later, the rescue crew managed to recover the elevator, after a member of the maintenance crew noticed that it was malfunctioning. They found what remained of the Jeremy that had walked in there, curled up in a corner, bloody hand cradling his head, dead tablet in his lap.

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