Three paths merged, which was not unlikely in the bustling Manhattan city. Many of these merging paths gave birth to other exciting events such as friendship, marriage, or criminal activity. This one, however, gave birth to not really anything exciting. Jules, Kay, and Ry were both oblivious to their upcoming, shared predicament.
Jules, a struggling self-made businesswoman, walked to work with a folder of charts and a home-made coffee in hand. Kay, the victim of a scam, took a bus to his scheduled meeting in a suit snagged from Goodwill. Ry, the scammer, drove to meet his future “employee.”
They were all heading for the same destination: a four-story building that looked as if it were built by the first colonizers of England. It stood in one of the quieter neighborhoods of Manhattan. Cracked, interweaving maroon bricks gave the building an appearance of a large Jenga game. One missing brick could possibly mean the end of its entire structural integrity. Cobblestone ledges lined the windows and a teetering, sun-bleached awning covered the doorway. People would walk by and remark, “How is that not a safety hazard?” However, this building was like the elderly who had no business being so strong. Those elderly who look like a stray breeze would mean absolute death, but instead, they bend the iron bars of age and defy the laws of the land. The building was a physical manifestation of those old people. Although it would not win any fashion shows, it was a survivor, indeed.
Over the years, its multiple owners attempted to modernize it. All the projects met dead ends or were left abandoned. This building stood to spite history. And so, an elevator remained long after the stairwell fell out of use. It literally fell out. There were no more steps. Odd mixtures of new and old trends could be seen in wallpapers, flooring, and furniture. The current owner was a remote man. He rented the building to desperate individuals with a dream or desperate individuals with a criminal background. Whatever happened in the building was no concern of his, as he had bought the building at rock-bottom prices hoping for an extra source of income. After the sale, any concerns or complaints went ignored as the owner disappeared off the face of our planet Earth.
And thus, these three characters entered the building. Jules who had rented the fourth floor in hopes to start her own business. Ry, who ran a slow but steady pyramid scheme of weight-loss miracle pills, occupied the third floor. Kay stepped through the doorway and thought, “Maybe I should leave.” Such was the enormous power of the building’s hazardous appearance. They bid good morning to one another as they stepped into the dinghy elevator.
Jules watched Ry through her peripheral vision. She recently learned of his pyramid scheme targeting desperate individuals and had yet to confront him about it. She sipped her coffee with furrowed brows. Ry was in a great mood. He knew he was hiring a new employee, but he did not realize that his future employee was in the same elevator. He hummed a little tune that sounded a lot like Britney Spears’s Toxic. Kay peeked at Ry, waiting for Ry to acknowledge him.
“Did I get the wrong building?” thought Kay with considerable worry. Maybe the man in the elevator was just a lookalike. He shook the thought away as he had checked the building address more than twenty times. He hyped himself for the meeting and reassured his nerves. Things were going smoothly.
The elevator staggered to a stop. The lights flickered off.
Silence perforated the air. No one dared to breathe. A single thought raced through all of their minds: What was that? No way…" Indeed, it was yes way. The elevator had stopped, old age, and years of cheap maintenance had finally caught up with the hunkering machine. It was a wonder the emergency brakes were still in working order.
Kay was the first to speak. “Huh, seems like the elevator is broken.”
Ry scoffed. “Yeah, thanks Sherlock.”
Jules, bless her kind soul, stuck up for Kay, partly because Kay looked like a poor child and partly because she bore a simmering animosity for Ry’s scamming business. “Hey, calm down, Jesus Christ. That won’t help anything. Let me just call for hel-”
As she was speaking, she pulled out her phone to call for help. To her crippling dismay, there was no signal. “How is there no signal? There’s always been a signal here, albeit a weak one.” thought Jules.
“Alright, it seems there’s no signal so we just have to hunker down until we can get help or help comes to us. Someone’s bound to notice our absence.”
For a few seconds, the three characters tried their signal in different parts of the elevator to no avail. Ray grumbled about the wait time but succumbed to her suggestion. To pass the time, he played Candy Crush Soda Saga on his phone.
Kay was not about to take this unused time for granted. He was a college student; work needed to be done. He sat down and opened his laptop to continue his research paper. For a while, the only sounds were Kay’s typing and Ry’s Candy Crush audio.
Jules hoped the three of them would get to know each other but it seemed Ry and Kay preferred to keep to themselves. She sighed as she slid down the wall of the elevator to sit on the floor. Then she was struck with a bright idea. For weeks and weeks, she wanted for a time to confront Ry about his pyramid business. Now was a perfect time. She was going to expose the man.
“So, Ry, what do you do here exactly?”
Ry did not look up from his phone. “Hold up, let me finish this level. I'm so close… Hell yeah, new score. Alright, what’s up?”
Jules looked him in the eye and repeated herself.
Judging from her tone, Ry knew something was up. He became wary of the question. “I manage a business to help people feel their best.” He silently congratulated himself for the great answer.
Jules was not about to back down. “I know about your machinations. You’re running a pyramid scheme, aren’t you?
Ry wasn’t sure what he was expecting, but Jules’s accusation was unexpected. “What’s a pyramid scheme?” Surprisingly, Ry was not joking. He was wholly unaware of the very idea of a pyramid scheme. He was running an accidental pyramid scheme.
After a few minutes of fervent discussion and a lot of exasperation on Jules’s end, Ry realized that his business was illegal and became determined to change things. His Candy Crush game no longer interested him. He was ready to turn things around.
Throughout the entire conversation between Jules and Ry, Kay grew increasingly certain that the man standing before him had tried to recruit him to the pyramid scheme. So he spoke up.
“Dude, I think I’m the person you hired. I was supposed to have a meeting this morning with Ry Manning. My name’s Kay.”
Ry looked closer at Kay and realized he was right. “Oh my gosh, you are. Sorry about that. You don’t have to take the job, but the offer still stands. Just let me fix the business first.”
“Wow really thanks man,” beamed Kay.
Refilled with a purpose, Ry couldn’t stand staying in the elevator for another minute.
“Let’s try to escape the elevator. There’s got to be some sort of door to go outside the elevator.”
And thus began the search for an escape hatch. They decided that Kay would sit on Ry’s shoulders to inspect the ceiling. To reach higher, Kay unstraightened his knees while Ry held his feet in place.
“I’m not sure if you want to know this, but your butt is literally on my face right now.” expressed Ry in a calm and level voice.
From up above, Kay inspected the ceiling while responding. “Yeah, well, it’s not like there’s anything I can do about it! Stop looking up then. Ah, I found it.”
The safety hatch was pried open with numerous tools including fingernails, pencil tips, and rulers. Ultimately, their combined effort proved worthwhile. The hatch popped open and no one could believe their eyes. Surely, it must’ve been a trick.
The opening revealed a teal and foggy sky. Strange floating, golden lights hovered, illuminating the fog in an eerie way. It smelled like the community pool’s chlorine. The three of them stood inspecting the strange environment. Out of absolutely nowhere, a large BOOM BOOM BOOM shook the entire elevator. Shocked, Kay dropped the hatch and left it open. It sounded like a large dinosaur was sprinting in their direction, each BOOM becoming stronger and louder.
“Close the door! Close the door!” screamed Jules from below.
Ry, shaken by the sound, fell, and Kay fell right on top of his face. Jules’s commands spurred them into action. Quickly, they detangled themselves and rushed to close the hatch. It closed and the BOOM BOOM’s softened to silence.
“Whew, what was that?” thought all three of them simultaneously.
Kay was the first to speak. “So that was probably a dinosaur.”
“What’re you talking about? Dinosaurs died like a million years ago. That’s literally not possible. Maybe some freak gas accident.” suggested Ry.
“You think a freak gas accident is gonna cause floating lanterns and repeating earthquakes? Unlikely. But I also don’t think it’s dinosaurs.” exclaimed Jules.
With that, they settled into silence. Jules analyzed her charts and sipped her remaining coffee. Ry beat the 100th level in Candy Crush Soda Saga. Kay finished his research report. Going by Ry’s watch, they opened the hatch each hour and were greeted by a new, eerie environment each time.
Ry broke the silence.
“I need to pee.”
Jules was flabbergasted. “What? You didn’t even drink anything. I finished this entire coffee and I don’t even need to go anytime soon.”
“Yeah, well, I drank a lot of water before coming here. People are saying it’ll help clear your skin,” remarked Ry dejectedly, pointing to his acne-scarred chin.
“Jules, you have your coffee cup right? He can go in there,” suggested Kay, sitting crisscrossed on the floor.
With no better idea, Jules surrendered her coffee cup while Ry turned to face the corner. For a few seconds, the only sound was trickling.
“Uhhh guys I don’t think this cup is enough. Guys, oh my gosh, get me another container!”
“WHAT HOW’D YOU FILL THE ENTIRE CUP AND STILL HAVE MORE!” screamed. Kay, frantically searching his backpack for a container. At the bottom, he uncovered his reusable bento box. Silently bidding his box farewell, Kay surrendered his beloved bento box to Ry’s calling of nature. They disposed of the bento box and cup in a world with a blood-orange sky, constant buzzing noises from every direction, and intolerable cold.
After the fiasco, they resumed their silence. Once in a while, a small conversation would strike up about their lives and themselves. They continued to check the outside each hour. Eventually, sleep consumed them and they huddled together in a corner for warmth because the elevator had gotten unbearably cold since nighttime. In the morning, they opened the hatch with little hope.
Hallelujah! If there was a God, He had answered. The hatch revealed a darkened elevator shaft with brickwork familiar to Jules and Ry. Ry helped them both up before pushing himself up onto the elevator top. They climbed the horizontal iron bars embedded into the wall and pried the elevator door open. Sunlight pooled on the wooden floorboards through half blurred windows. Jules, Kay, and Ry simultaneously released a long-held sigh. Immediately, they looked to one another and laughed. They had made it, a full 24 hours later. They agreed to seal off the elevator and renovate the stairs, with or without the remote owner’s permission.
Kay began his work with Ry, fixing his fraudulent business and Jules’s business grew slowly but surely. Connected by their shared struggle, they became friends: not close friends, but friends. Ry purchased a new coffee cup for Jules and a new bento box for Kay. Back in the red, icy dimension, the tainted coffee cup and bento box remained unmoved.