Harry sat alone in the main office of The Brag newspaper, the glow from his desk lamp amplified the darkness surrounding him. He gazed out the window at the neon city below, his eyelids feeling heavier by the minute. Knowing another strong cup of coffee was not an antidote for lack of sleep he decided it was time to pack up and leave. He gathered together the files he’d been working on and with his forearm brushed them into his bag, zipped it up, put on his jacket and headed for home.
Each bulb in the long corridor leading to the elevator automatically turned on and off as he passed beneath it. The absence of night-time cleaning staff and security, due to company cutbacks added to the eeriness the low lights created.
Harry pushed the elevator down arrow and waited. The doors clanked open, he stepped inside relieved to finally be leaving the building after what had been a long exhausting week. Spending the weekend recuperating and catching up on odd jobs in the garden were now high on his agenda.
Harry leaned against the cold metal wall stared at the floor and waited for the elevator to move. It gave a few shudders, the main lights flickered, then the burring sounds told him he was going downwards.
Harry rubbed his eyes, closed them and waited. The elevator, being as old as the dilapidated building in which it sat, was generally slow and would take a while to go from the thirty fourth floor to the basement level where his car was parked.
Suddenly there was a grinding noise, the main lighting was extinguished. For a few seconds he was surrounded by complete darkness then the emergency strip bulb lit up.
“What the bloody hell. That’s all I need.”
Harry pressed the ground floor button and as the elevator did not respond he pressed all the buttons and then kicked the doors. After the sounds of metal against metal had subsided there was silence. He took out his mobile phone but there was no signal. He tried the elevator emergency alarm button, which was not lit, and nothing happened when he touched it.
He looked up at the flickering secondary lighting, “Now don’t you dare give way on me.” He said.
Harry put his ear to the elevator doors in the hope of hearing signs of life outside. There were none. Neither were there any mechanical noises that might indicate the elevator was about to start up again. The only sound was the air conditioning and that appeared to be labouring somewhat. Harry tried his mobile phone again, pressing the buttons for 911 but there was no response. He slowly slid down to the floor placed his head in his hands and looked at the time on his phone.
“Ten minutes. Ten bloody minutes I’ve been in this shitty hole. I could be halfway home by now.”
He sighed, stood up, went over to the doors and tried to get his fingers into the slit between them in order to pull them apart but to no avail. Feeling powerless he kicked the doors and then pressed all the buttons several times.
“Move, dam you, move.” He shouted.
Harry was beginning to feel hot, he undid his tie, took off his jacket and threw it on the floor. He stood in the silence, listening, realising the air-conditioning was no longer working he began to panic. Once again, he tried putting his fingers into the tiny gap between the metal doors. He took out his car keys and managed to wedge one into the slit, but the key twisted out of shape and did little to help open the doors. He threw the bunch of keys at the wall; they made a sharp cracking sound as metal hit metal. Crouching down he ran his hands through his hair wondering what on earth he was going to do to get himself out of such a mess. No-one would come to the office now until about six o’clock Monday morning when the cleaners began working. He wouldn’t survive till then, not with the air-conditioning out of action, he felt as if he were being stifled and just longed for some fresh air.
After a few minutes Harry bent over, reached out to the corner of the floor and yanked at the carpet. He pulled the carpet away and felt for a trap door but there was none. He looked around the walls, the air-conditioning vent was small, no use in trying to escape through that unless he could shrink to the size of a mouse, he thought.
Harry stretched up on tip toes to the corner of the ceiling. He could just reach the shiny mirrored panelling. He pulled at the corner and it came away along with a ton of dust that got in his eyes and started him coughing. Better be careful, he thought as he exposed a number of wire cables. Luckily the emergency bulb was still working, and he could see what he was doing. Harry was elated to find what he supposed was a trap door, big enough for a man to fit through, in the roof of the elevator.
“It’s got to be an exit.” He said as the seriousness of his situation hit him. He was becoming very thirsty and began coughing again as he felt as if a lump was developing in his throat.
Jumping up several times and stretching as high as he could, he managed to turn each lever. With the final jump he pushed the trap door and it flew up in the air and landed with a clank on the elevator roof. Immediately fresh air whooshed inside. Harry stood still, looked up and breathed in the delightful blast of freshness.
He looked around the elevator as if expecting a chair or ladder to appear from no-where. He grabbed his bag, placed it beneath the opening, stood on it and reached up as high as he could. He felt a tiny lip around one edge and clung onto it with his fingertips, but he could not get enough leverage in order to pull all his weight up through the escape hatch.
He tried again only this time he put one foot on the small ledge afforded by the framed poster of someone enjoying a skiing holiday in the Alps. This tiny ledge allowed him to push up further and then swing one leg up and into the hole. It reminded him of the move he made when pole vaulting for the team at University. He then swung the other leg up and managed to wriggle his whole body through the gap.
Although he was tired, he felt a rush of adrenalin. There was a metal ladder on the exterior wall. He placed his hands on it as he looked up and saw a tiny speck of light in the distance. He began to climb. Nearer and nearer the speck of daylight came as his lungs heaved with the strain of climbing.
Suddenly there were noises so loud he had to wrap his arms around the ladder and block up his ears. The ladder began to vibrate. Harry looked down and could see the elevator was moving, although slowly. He watched for a while wondering if it would come right up to him, but it appeared to go up and then down and back up again. It was then that he realised the internal computer had probably registered all the buttons he’d pressed earlier and was carrying out the requests. Then the elevator finally went down and seemed to disappear from view.
Harry began to climb again toward the speck of light that was now much brighter. He was getting closer to it. Maybe it was a way out, he thought, and this thought spurred him on faster.
Finally, he reached the light, exhausted. There was a tiny platform, big enough to get his feet onto. He stood on it and peeped through the small square of glass to the outside world. In the distance he could just make out the backs of two fire officers who were standing near an open door. Realising that he too was standing at a door he looked for a handle but there was none.
“Dam it, the bloody thing opens from the outside.”
Then he began to shout and bang on the window. He kicked the door and screamed.
“Hey, hey, help, let me out of here.” His cries went unheard and the two firemen disappeared into the dark doorway.
Harry hung onto a metal pole near the top of the ladder and flopped down onto the step and began to cry. Thoughts of ending his days locked in this hell hole and people finding a dead body, rushed through his mind.
As weary as he was, he decided to climb back down. Maybe an elevator door would open as he reached a floor. Maybe the elevator would come back up. Maybe… He couldn’t think of any more maybe’s, he just continued to climb slowly back down the cold metal ladder.
A beam of light shone on his head.
A voice above shouted, “Hey you mister, what are you doing in here?”
Harry looked up but was blinded by the light, never-the-less he gained new momentum and began climbing back up the ladder. Someone reached out a hand and he grabbed it and felt the strength of the person pulling him to safety.
“You’re all right now mate. You’re safe.”
Harry collapsed in a heap.
“Can someone call for the Air Ambulance?” Shouted the fire officer.
“What time is it?” Asked Harry as he shielded his eyes from the bright sunlight.
“Ten AM. How long have you been in that elevator shaft?”
“That makes it about twelve hours then, since Friday night.”
“It’s Sunday mate. You’ve been in there a lot longer than twelve hours. We’re getting you help now. The Air Ambulance is on its way.”
“Thank you, thank you. I’ve always wanted to go in an Air Ambulance but preferably as a pilot and not as a patient. Said Harry as he lay back on the stretcher provided by the two firemen and went unconscious.