CW: Body horror.
The elevator in my building had been broken since I moved in.
It didn’t say out of service, not even some scrawled note on a piece of paper. It just sat in the basement, door open, single light bright like a lure. It’s not that it had been turned off, because when I walked by it to drag myself up the stairs I could hear it humming.
I’d never noticed how loud elevators can be, when there’s no music to hide behind.
Sometimes I’d be so tired that I’d get into it anyway. The light hit the bare walls in such a way that it looked larger from the outside, but once you’re in there, there was barely enough space for you and your own elbows.
Spaces that small shouldn’t echo so clearly, but when my cane hit the side of the door, I could hear the clang of metal on metal following me all the way down the hall.
(That’s just my paranoia, of course. The door was open, there was nothing for my cane to hit.)
I sent a lot of emails about it. My mother always called me a rather impolite child, but I like to think I’ve rather grown into it, like a kid grows into their ears and their weird childhood obsessions. Now, I’m ‘tenacious.’ Now, I ‘speak my mind.’ Now, I let my personality fall just to one side of unkind, and I don’t feel bad about it.
No one answered my emails, but I knew they were going somewhere. Yesterday, one was printed out and taped up in the elevator. The words seemed to crawl, and I would have had to lean inside to see which one of the dozen I’ve sent it was, but I recognized my signature at the bottom. Someone was hearing me. It was just a matter of time.
It’s strange how so many people don’t really notice elevators. They’re in between places, you know? Purely to get from one place to another. Convenience, for most people. Most people could walk right out of one and not be able to describe where they were just standing. It’s different, for me. Maybe because they decide whether it’s going to be a good day or a bad one, how heavy my bones will feel by the time I’m getting home from work and doing my best not to fall down the stairs to get to my little basement apartment. Some are faster, some jerk up or down in ways that make my stomach twist, some play the same one song on loop because they think no one is paying attention.
I’m not sure if this is a cane-user thing or just a me thing, noticing.
Or maybe it’s something else entirely, the same thing that made me pause in front of my broken elevator, itching to go in and try one more time. An interest in places that are neither here nor there, in spaces that don’t quite exist. How much of our time do we leave behind in places that we barely register? How much of us is left like fingerprints on metal, breath on glass, rubbed off on strangers as we go about our days?
When I was a kid, one of my weird obsessions was rocks. Not necessarily even cool-looking rocks. Just rocks. I’d pick up pebbles and want to know more about them. I’d look up gravel in my little encyclopedia like I was just going to happen to stumble on something special. For Christmas, my uncle got me one of those toy rock tumblers, one year. I must have been about nine? My mother was quietly furious with him, for giving her loudest child the loudest possible toy, but I loved it. I would throw my rocks in and spin and spin and spin. They’d come out so smooth, and I’d run my fingers over them and wonder if that’s what people were like too, all the loud kids thrown into a tumbler and spun, spun, spun, until they learned how to be quiet, and pleasant, and not ask so many questions.
When I step into elevators, on my way to and from work, I have taken to making sure I don’t touch the sides.
The reason I moved in the first place was because of my job. It was more corporate than anything I pictured myself doing when I was growing up, but I didn’t hate it, and the pay’s alright. Hard to make a living spinning rocks, and school and I didn’t always get along, so I got out of there as soon as I could. But being the new person in the office, you’re sometimes tagged to do the more menial stuff, so today I was sent down to the basement to go looking for a spare kettle, because the one in the break room had up and broke on us.
Going down was fine. It’s a nice building, and the elevator has railings and chipper music that always gets stuck in my head, no matter what I do. I found the spare kettle right where my coworker said it would be, and went to go back upstairs.
The first thing I heard was the humming. No chipper earworms here, just that low drone of belts and gears, waiting to take you from one place to the next. By the time I turned the corner, I already knew what was going to be waiting for me. Something inside me, in that space between your ribs and your logic, the thing that tells you when to leave the light on and when to not look that stranger too closely in the eye, it knew, even though my brain hadn’t quite caught on. And I turned the corner, and there it was, waiting for me. Door sitting open, pleasant glow of my posh work elevator replaced with that bare, too bright bulb.
The rest of the basement felt suddenly altogether too big, too unknown, and in front of me was something familiar. I was walking inside before I really made the conscious decision to.
There were too many buttons for it to be my apartment’s elevator. I pressed the one that should lead up to the floor I worked on, and waited. I could hear my own breathing, echoed back at me by the bare, cold walls. There was no framed stock photo of people smiling at their computers, here. No letter with my name at the bottom. Nothing but the slightest darkening of the metal, something that took me a moment to realize was my own warped reflection.
The door closed, and I knew I had made a terrible mistake.
The elevator groaned as it laboured upwards, jerked and slipped backwards like the only thing making it move was a set of very tired, almost-human arms, pulling it skyward. I stood in the middle, cane in one hand, kettle in the other, and tried not to notice how the breathing had doubled, since the door had closed. Probably just my own, speeding up, I told myself, but I’ve never been good at lying. Too blunt for my own good.
It didn’t matter, I decided. The minute those doors opened, I would leave the elevator. I’d walk up the six flights to my office floor. Didn’t matter how much that would make my knees scream. It would be worth it.
When the door finally opened, I surged towards it, but there was a crowd waiting, and in the shuffling of them entering, I didn’t manage to make it to the door. The faces were people I vaguely recognized, but no one I worked with, and my voice had gotten caught in my throat somewhere, buried by my own dread. I ended up pressed into a corner as the elevator filled to capacity, the kettle a barrier from the press of people, but nothing protecting me from the walls of the elevator. I swear, the humming was loud enough that I could feel them vibrating with it, even without me having to touch them.
No one spoke. The door closed. The elevator resumed its lurching journey upwards.
We should have hit the first floor, but no ding came. I stared at the numbers, begging them to move, but nothing changed. When I looked away, to see if anyone else was noticing, that’s when I really started to panic.
The man next to me worked on the same floor as me. Tall man, always smiling as if he’s conscious of the effort he needs to make to come off as less intimidating. He was smiling then too, but his face looked strange. Too smooth, like his features were being worn away. He was leaning against the elevator’s wall, and I could see that the skin touching it had started to go… off. No arm hair, just unblemished skin. I had the horrible thought that if he tried to pull away, the skin would tear away, and everything inside him would spill out onto the bare, unremarkable floor.
“Excuse me,” I said, although the doors were still closed, and we were not at a floor. “I need to get out.”
“Oh, excuse me,” said the man next to me, but he didn’t move. His smile was still in place, but his lips were gone.
“Excuse me,” said the woman next to me, her curls going flat. Her feet were sinking into the floor.
“Excuse me,” said the person whose back was blocking me in. His hand, wrapped around his briefcase, no longer had distinct fingers, just a hook of skin. As I watched, his fingernails fell off, one by one.
“I need to leave,” I said, louder. No one looked at me. My fingers, all five of them, readjusted themselves on the grip of my cane, just to make sure they were all still there.
“I have to get out.” I was almost yelling, at that point.
Somewhere, someone was humming along to the drone of the elevator.
My mother had always called me a rather impolite child.
“Move!” I shouted, and began to push. The man in front of me’s body gave way easier than it should, and I didn’t look down, half-afraid that if I did I would see bits of him clinging to me. His suit felt like wet cardboard, and the humming had turned to hissing. Everyone was looking, now. Everyone whose eyes were still in their sockets, not smoothed out into dots of colour on otherwise featureless faces.
If I stopped, I wouldn’t be able to start moving again. I knew this. So I pushed, and I opened my mouth, desperate to hear something other than the gears and the belts and the droning of many voices all making the same note.
“Let me out!”
They picked up my voice like a chorus. Let it out, they said. Let it out.
I don’t know how I got to the door. It was just me, pushing and pushing until I hit something hard. I hit the ‘door open’ button, the one that’s supposed to be for when you’re being nice and holding the elevator for someone. I held it, and I hoped it was enough.
The door opened. Of course it did. I’m here, aren’t I?
I’m going to quit my job. I think I might have already. The trip home is… fuzzy. Like I wasn’t all there.
Going to move out, too. I’ve got a friend I can stay with, for a bit. Ground floor. I asked.
I got home to an email, isn’t that funny? They finally answered me. Know what it said? Said my apartment building ‘never had an elevator.’
I’m too afraid to go and check.
I’ve never been good at lying to myself, and I think if I have to tell the truth, I’ll lose everything I just worked so hard to keep.
I can still hear it humming.
Ziggy Schutz (she/her/he/him) is a queer, disabled writer who is at all times looking for ways to make his favourite fairy tales and horror tropes reflect people who look a little more like her.
When he’s not writing, she’s spending his time exploring haunted houses and chatting up the ghosts who live there. This is not a bit.
You can find more about her writing (and the ghosts) here.