A story of unhappy accidents
Jordan Hagedon enjoys oxygen and wood floors. Find more of her work at jordanhagedon.com. Follow her on Twitter @jeimask.
The morning is bright, and the sun is beaming across the green ocean. A whale somewhere very far off, thousands of miles away, dives deep into the dark water. Yet you are here driving along the highway coast, late for work. You feel the sinking of your heart mirrored by the thought of the deep-diving whale, and it is somewhat reassuring. This is your fate, to be late for work, on this day of all days, because there is a whale that wants to sink like a stone to the bottom of the ocean.
“Onward, onward,” you think, and press your foot down to the gas pedal. Your car responds with a roar. The weighty scent of saltwater is everywhere. It presses on your skin. The pollution is sinking in, foully corrupting the complexion you have worked so hard to maintain. “Fuck it!” you shriek and press harder down on the gas pedal. Twenty miles per hour faster!
Whose fault is it that you are late to work? Was it the air unit, which, despite you programming it to the tropics, chose instead to blast chill air in the night while you slept? When you awakened, the room was freezing, and you stayed in bed too long waiting for the room to warm up, barking orders to Bot-But, who reprogrammed the unit as you shivered.
Or was it D’s fault for the fight that kept you both up horribly late? The fight over the broken sink had escalated to a boiling point, beginning with you forgetting to order a sink program for Bot-But and D doing the washing under the assumption that the sink had been fixed, which inevitably ended with the kitchen flooding and D swearing so violently that the blue vein over his temple was engorged and pulsing.
But, really, it was not your fault that you had forgotten to order the program! Your mother had called three times about your father’s dementia and the little girl across the street had been loudly weeping over a freshly dead cat splattered in the street by a passing garbage barge (a brown and black tabby cat with crushed back legs and a tongue that lolled laughably from its teeth. Mittens! Not Mittens! Mom! Momma! Mittens!).
And, too, you had to focus on preparing for today’s meeting. If you fuck up, Caroline will slit your tires again. Or, worse, you will be demoted back down to office rat.
Ultimately, it really was D’s fault. There had been no reason for his freaking out. By the time the fight was over, you were red-eyed and choking on hiccups, bruising your knees on the floor with soaked towels trying to mop up the sudsy mess. You slept on the very edge of the bed, D stretched one million miles away from you on the opposite side, the blankets stretched so tight between the two of you that you felt as if you, too, were being stretched.
If only he had realized how ashamed you were of the mess! If only he had just sighed and gotten another batch of towels. Or if only he had called in the sink program. The update only takes a couple of hours to download; you could’ve had a fixed, sparkling sink waiting in the morning. But, no, he instead went right to bed, leaving the mess for you. You sobbed quietly all night, stretched and spread thin, like a pat of butter on a dry piece of toast. Now here you are, barreling along the highway, late for work and shaky with nerves.
“Mental note,” you say, “remember to order program.”
“Check, check, check!” the car’s dashboard answers cheerily.
The highway you are driving along is next to a beach, a yellow and rock-studded beach, which gives way to the ocean, itself studded with rocks. There are some people out, mostly drifters and fish grubbers. The last three pollution storms have cleared out the tourists and, besides, it’s near the end of the warm period, anyways.
As you round a corner, you get a whiff of stench wafting in from the beach. Something is dead or is dying. You look to your right out the window. An enormous fish has beached itself and is rotting in the sun. Two men poke at it with sticks. The fish wriggles its tail suddenly, and the men jump back, shocked and yelping. You wrinkle your nose and make a silent prayer that they don’t grub that fish to the market. The thought of eating half-rotted fish makes you gag. But, with the shortage and the increasing desperation of the grubbers, the likelihood is pretty great.
“Mental note,” you say, accelerating the car slightly, “don’t eat fish.”
“Check, check, check!” the car’s dashboard answers.
You reach the parking garage twenty minutes after 9:00. Twenty minutes late to the meeting. You pull your ticket, which, of course, sticks in the machine and has to be wrenched out. “Fuck! Me!” you hiss before winding the car up to the floors of the parking garage. There are no open parking spots. Every floor you pass is filled, every spot is taken up by a vehicle. You start to get seriously angry. Why would the ticket machine allow you to take a ticket if there are no open spots? Is being late seriously going to cost you parking? “Fuck! ME!” you hiss between gritted teeth. Then, just as your eyes begin to fill up with tears, a spot reveals itself in a poorly lit corner.
But, of course, this is not the bit of luck to turn your day around. There is a line in the lobby. Along the gray floor, against the glass walls, a line of perhaps twelve people is stretched. Check-in-Bot is down; there have been electrical problems all day. Each person has to be checked in via their personalized ID card. Your eyes begin to well up; you feel as if you might cry. The meeting has already started, you are fucked, and everything is against you. You have no idea how an entire building could fuck up like this. It’s not just a civilian problem! Big companies can fuck it up, too! As you move slowly towards the front desk and other grumbling people begin to line up behind you, you begin arranging an argument.
“D,” you will say, “D, it is your fault. Everything is your fault. From the very beginning, you have been selfish and shortsighted. Can’t you see I’m overworked? Can’t you see that every day is dragging me further and further down? YOU should have ordered the program for Bot-But. How can I be expected to take care of EVERYTHING? Don’t you remember, back in the day, back in college, when we first met, when I paid for everything? When your car broke down and instead of making you take the floater, I picked you up every day? I drove you to school, to work, to Paul’s, to the Bender, and you told me that one day you would take care of ME? Did you forget? You always forget! You’re selfish! You’re a dog! And now I’m LATE –”
You realize suddenly that, while you hollered and railed in your mind, the line had crept along, snaking along the glimmering floors, to bring you here to the front of the line, face to face with Ian, the receptionist. Ian is olive-skinned, brown-haired, and has a skinny nose that he often thrusts forward, jabbing-like. He sits directly in the center of the C-shaped reception console, the ID scanner clenched tightly in his left hand, while behind him, murmuring, the electrical modems flitter, checking, re-checking, glimmering. All are alive but one, which sits at the very end. It is the largest one, and it is dead, dark, and silent.
You hand your ID to Ian, who smiles enthusiastically. He takes your proffered badge with a flourish, brandishing the scanner expertly, like it’s an extension of him, like a cowboy from the Westerns, like he has been practicing. “I bet,” you think, as a scowl tugs at your lips, “he relishes this opportunity to show off, to feel USEFUL for once. The electricity isn’t even down. I bet it’s just him turning things off so that he has something to DO. Instead of sitting around on his ass while the modems take care of anything. He’s nothing but a FALLBACK, an obligatory SAFEGUARD. This whole system is FUCKED –”
“Have a nice day!” chirps Ian, handing you the ID.
You snort in return. Fuck Ian.
Your watch vibrates on your wrist. Buzz, buzz, buzzzzzzzzz. The meeting has begun.
A growl rises from your stomach to your throat. Then, a whimper.
You turn from the line and head towards the elevators. Your high heels (the abominable, pinching THINGS) clack loudly, drawing the looks of several passersby. To ease the sound, you aim for the corners of the tiled floors, the points where each tile meets. Your heel sticks slightly in a corner and twists your ankle (FUCK heels and FUCK floors). But, at last, here you are at the elevator. You press the call button, and the elevator doors spring open immediately.
This surprises you. After such a fucking morning, you really had almost expected all of the elevators to be broken down, forcing you to take the stairs all the way up to the 34th floor. You move into the elevator, into the comfort of its dark panels, and press the 34 button. You breathe a deep sigh of relief. You made it. There is nothing more to do, but ride up to the 34th floor and then go to your office to await your fate. There is nothing more to do.
As you wait for the doors to shut, a woman comes into sight. She is elderly, with a round face and pink cheeks and silver hair pulled back into a neat bun. Her sweater is navy, and her slacks are black and don’t fit well. Her suitcase rolls along behind her, trailing at her heels like a doting dog. She is moving towards the elevator, towards you, and her face is lit up expectantly. You take a step backwards and lean into the wall behind you. You are immovable. “If she doesn’t move quicker,” you think, “she will miss the elevator.” A smile begins somewhere deep in your bones. It’s comforting to think that someone else is having a bad day.
The woman is two feet away when the doors begin to close. With a small cry, she springs forward and waves her right arm between them to keep them from closing.
The doors shut firmly on her arm.
For one horrific moment, time stands still. You stare at the arm caught between the doors. The hand is wriggling frantically, and you can hear the woman screaming. She is screaming and screaming, and the hand shakes and grasps wildly. You leap towards the elevator control panel, your finger pushing at the Open Doors button. Nothing happens. You click the Emergency button, the Call button, every button. Nothing happens. The woman screams, and the hand makes horrible, loathsome sounds as it grasps and twitches. Suddenly, with a lurch of your stomach, you realize that the elevator is beginning to move upwards.
“NO!” You scream and jam in the Stop button with both hands. The elevator ignores you. With a crunch, the elevator moves upwards. The hand twitches a moment more and then stops moving. You back into the corner of the elevator, your eyes stuck, horrified, on the hand. It is caught sideways, the palm facing you. “Don’t look at the hand,” you think, “anywhere but the hand.” But your eyes do not obey. You stare at the hand, hoping with every inch of your body that the elevator will stop at the next floor, or the next floor, and then you will get out of the elevator and it will all be a dream.
The elevator does not stop. 21 – 22 – 23 – 24 – 25 – 26… The numbers light up and fade. The elevator passes each floor seamlessly. You see the control panel flash from the corner of your eye, but you cannot drag your eyes away from the arm. The sweater is pulled slightly back from the wrist, which extends out from the navy blossom like a fleshy stem. The wrist has lightly purpled veins. The palm is surprisingly smooth, especially in contrast to the wrinkled fingers. The pinky finger is bent inwards, showing a long nail polished in a pinkish nude.
Your stomach churns. It seems fitting, somehow, that the hand would be lady-like, clean, and polished. “The time it takes,” you think, “to paint your nails, to keep them polished without chipping–” and your thoughts trail off. You are acutely aware that it has been weeks since you painted your own nails, and you are certainly aware, without even glancing down, that your own pinky nail is ragged and raw from nights of biting and nibbling at it.
The elevator is now nearing the 32nd floor. Suppose the elevator does not stop on the 34th floor. Suppose you shoot through the roof of the building. “Or,” you think desperately, “suppose the elevator stops for a moment and then plunges in a free-fall towards the basement!” They will find you in a pile of rubble, with an extra arm (three arms! Stan, look! Three arms!). And this is the outfit you will die in. You begin to hysterically chuckle. As if it matters whether you wore a matching jacket or a bra. You will be dead, buried amongst the ruins, and it will not be you that makes the news, but the arm.
The elevator passes the 32nd floor. Then the 33rd floor. Then, slowing, the elevator slides up to the 34th floor and stops. You hold your breath, waiting. Nothing happens. The doors do not open. There is no frantic clawing from the other side of the doors as if someone is there to rescue you. You reach out and press the Open Door button. Nothing. Call button. Nothing. Stop button. Nothing. Emergency button. Nothing. You begin to cry in earnest now, your heart beating dully. The elevator begins to move downwards, back towards the lobby. You and the arm are trapped in the elevator.
As the elevator descends, you begin to wonder. Does anyone realize what is happening? Do they know you are captive in a defective elevator? Are they capable of fixing it, when they clearly are incapable of fixing the electrical outage that no doubt caused this? Do they know who you are? Has someone called D? Is he sick with fear? Is he weeping on the bed, regret coursing through his body, as the phone spins slow circles on the floor (Sir? Sir? Your girlfriend is trapped in an elevator!) But, most of all, you wonder if the woman is still attached to the arm.
The arm has stopped twitching and is still. But, what if the woman is still there? Is her body being pulled up and down through floors and walls and plaster and carpet? Is the elevator strong enough? Is the human body strong enough? Or is she half attached and half not? Is half of her body slouched along the wall, a pile of blood, muscle and guts, and the other half whirring along with the elevator, shedding its skin and hair and clothing as the elevator moves on and on? Or had it been a clean tear? Is she still screaming down there, clutching at the stump with her other arm, surrounded by panicked witnesses?
The elevator reaches the lobby. You jump to your feet and then towards the doors, blindly pulling at them. “HELP! HELP!” you shriek, and the arm pushes horribly against your side. “The hand! The arm! The doors! My fingers! Doors! HELP!” Nothing happens. The elevator doors remain intact and immovable, and the elevator begins to slowly rise. You push back from the door and slide down the elevator wall to pool on the floor, a hopeless puddle. Your side burns where the arm and hand have touched you.
The elevator passes the 25th floor, the 28th floor, the 30th floor, and then, as the elevator reaches the 34th floor, the hand moves minutely, delicately crooking its fingers, as if beckoning to you for help. You close your eyes and wish to die as the elevator descends again, dropping you into an endless up and down, where you will remain forever, to rot, to blur, and to die with the hand and arm shut within the elevator doors.
“There is nothing more to do,” you say aloud. The words bounce and echo. The sound shatters and morphs. “I have made it to the elevator, and there is nothing more to do, but wait.”
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What’s more terrifying: someone’s disembodied arm riding the elevator with you, or being stuck on a malfunctioning elevator forever, with no help and no end in sight? What a haunting story!