The metallic doors slide open, moving to the chime's cadence, signaling the arrival of my transport. My reflection is distorted by the steel as it's pulled apart, allowing me to step inside. I hold my hand at the edge of the cold metal frame, waiting for someone else to enter. No one follows. The doors are slow to close, perpetuating a forced maneuver, an onus task. I always get the feeling I should be anticipating someone—or something. The vessel craves more than one soul, but it only gets me. I move my finger towards the terminal of buttons and hover over them. I imagine myself as a child looking at the massive amount of circular lights, taunting me, begging me to press all of them at once. Would I have pressed them? Perhaps.
Getting from the twentieth floor shouldn't take long, which may seem bizarre working in a high-rise in New York City that is home to about fifty different businesses. I can only guess that many of these organizations use the space more for a show, a placeholder used to make clients feel safe. Whatever the reason, it doesn't matter to me. This vertical city is the escape I need to get away from my apartment, to get away from the suffocating feeling of being alone. I'm not used to this unsettling disposition, but I haven't been myself lately after what transpired with Jessica.
I press the button to go to the lobby.
The hydraulic machine wakes, shaking its nerves out. We begin our slow descent. I stare at my warped self because there is nothing else to do. The phone service is for shit in the elevator. For some ungodly reason, no matter how many complaints have been expressed, the service has not improved. I might as well be in a cave. I shift my body towards the back and lean against the wall of the elevator. Thoughts come and go as I continue to stare at an image of myself. What shall I get for lunch today? Where did I leave that flash drive? Why did things with Jessica spiral out of control?
The elevator groans as it slows down at the sixteenth floor and snaps me out of my mundane thinking. I guess someone will be joining me after all. I keep myself pressured against the back of the elevator. I don't like having to move out of the way for people. I brace myself for the suspensions to pull and stop. The ring of the elevator bell begins but is cut off abruptly. An electrical whir resonates throughout the cart and then dies. The lights above me flicker, then burn out. Typical. I'm not worried, though, having worked in this building for over six years, I've experienced at least a dozen instances where I was stuck in the elevator, most not lasting more than twenty minutes.
I wait for a minute or so, hoping for the emergency lights to kick in, but they don't. Of course, they wouldn't. I pull out my phone—no service as usual—and turn on the flashlight. The darkness backs away. I shine my light on the terminal, look for the emergency phone button, and press it. There's no dial tone or ring. Odd.
Maybe, I should start worrying. Perhaps, this is a sign things in my life are out of balance. I shake my head and purge myself of these melancholic musings. I'm confident there is a rational explanation for what is happening. The emergency generator is just taking a while, that's all. I move back to my corner and lean against the elevator's wall and switch off my phone's flashlight to conserve the battery. Blindness strikes as the darkness envelopes me. I try to focus on the sounds around me, listening for a sign that the electricity is coming back on. But all I hear are the whispering voices in my head.
Go ahead and panic. You know you want to.
How could you have let Jessica go?
You're not afraid of the dark, are you?
A mighty clamor reverberates throughout the building, causing the elevator to shake, tossing my thoughts and body around. I regain my composure, placing my hands on the side of the walls. The building shifts as if it were losing balance. What the hell was that? More rumbles and convulsions. The cables tethered to the elevator rattle above and below me, echoing their pain.
A thunderous sound pierces from the other side of the elevator doors. Stammering feet rush towards my direction. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I know I shouldn't, but I put my ear to the metal doors. Silence.
Maybe, this is all in my—
Hands and feet clash against the metal doors, pounding rhythmically as if they were a chorus of drummers in a heavy metal band. Shouts and moans beckon, begging for help, praying for God. I stammer backward and squat down, gasping for air. What the fuck is going on out there? I take my phone out. My hands tremble as I try to turn on the flashlight. I just need to see the light. My phone is powered off. I'm sure I had enough battery left. Damn it. The space around me starts to shrink.
Enclosed dark spaces—something I dreaded as a child. I realized this fear when playing hide-and-seek as a kid with my siblings. I wanted to do my best to not be found, so I looked for the smallest, tightest space. I wedged myself between two dressers in my parents' room, concealing myself in the dark. As I sat waiting, I could hear my older brother counting down and then calling out. I could hear him searching throughout the house. He found my other siblings, but he didn't find me. At first, I felt a rush. I was finally going to win at something. But the excitement soon turned to fear. The darkness consumed me. Every noise became a whisper in my ear, telling me to be afraid, calling out for my soul. I cried until my parents found me. I don't remember exactly when it happened, but the fear eventually left as I grew older.
That same suffocating feeling and those whispers are starting to return. I shake my head, trying to pull myself out of the void. My chest tightens, and terror slithers from my gut to my brain like tentacles grasping around prey. I can't do this. I have no idea how long I've been in here. Will I suffocate in here?
A whir of electricity echoes throughout the elevator, throughout my coffin, bringing me some relief. The emergency lights flicker on. Oh, thank God! The metallic doors creak and slowly open. Joy becomes panic at the speed of light (or the lack of it). The elevator doors open up to a pitch-black room and silence. The shouting voices and hammering fists are nowhere to be found. I squint my eyes and try to adjust them to the dark. I move closer to the entryway.
A screech wails through the darkness, an inhuman death cry. I try to take a step backward, but I am frozen in place. Every muscle in my body refuses to act. Something moves in the darkness; the air moves towards me.
A hand grabs my shirt.
"Help me," the voice says, guttural, desperate.
Something grabs the body in front of me and yanks it away. The force knocks me down, and I scramble back on all fours like a wounded dog, towards the corner of the elevator. I cower with my head tucked between my legs. A deafening boom penetrates throughout the building. The sound of falling debris resonates around me. Light starts to peer through the darkness as the walls of the floor I am on start to fall apart.
Blue skies. Hope.
The elevator doors start to close. I leap forward to catch them before they shut, but my reflexes are slow, paralyzed by the horror taking place around me. The elevator shifts, and I hear a cable snap. Gravity pulls the elevator down to one side, and I roll backward, colliding with the wall of my cage. Blood spews from the fissure on my forehead. Pain punctures my body like a thousand stinging needles. I try to stand up, but my strength has left me.
Darkness is omnipresent—a beast we must learn to contend with. I can feel it around me like a shadow. Its presence is unwanted, unwilled, nostalgic. It arrives as fast as the light, but there isn't a sense of relief when it does. No. There is only a nervous internal tick, searching for a strand of hope, searching for a ray of light. In those moments, staring into the abyss, we have to confront the terrors that have plagued us since childhood: the creeping shadows, the abnormal noises, the intrusive thoughts. Every moment spent in this perpetual darkness sends my mind down a spiral of panic as if I was stuck in a cavern without a torch to guide me.
Every fiber in my body has given into the darkness. The intrusive thoughts snuck in, fighting for control. The whispers become shouts. I hear my name. Jessica? There's no way out, and there's nothing I can do. My gut is pulled up as the elevator starts to fall, crashing against the shaft walls. It won't be long now. I don't know if I have my eyes closed, but I can see the dark as clear as day.