Written By Micah Edwards
Ivan stretched, his back popping in a quick tap-tap-tap as he released the day’s tension and stress. He glanced down at his desk, sighing. He was still behind on work, but it was late enough that the office was almost empty. At this point, he was going to be in the custodial staff’s way soon. He could already hear the floor waxers going in another part of the building.
Collecting his briefcase, Ivan headed toward the elevator. He was surprised to see the secretary still at the front desk, her long nails busy over the computer keyboard.
“Gloria? What are you still doing here?”
“You’re not the only one with business to keep you late, Mr. Samuels,” smiled Gloria. Even as she turned to talk to him her fingers never stopped moving over the keys, tap-tap-tap. “If I didn’t keep these schedules organized, this company would fall apart.”
“You’re invaluable, Gloria,” Ivan agreed.
“Yes. It’s nice to be appreciated.”
Ivan gave her an odd glance. Her smile hadn’t slipped at all, but there had been a slight bitter tone to her voice. Hadn’t there? He couldn’t see any trace of it in her manner. It was late. He was tired. Perhaps he’d imagined it. Probably he had.
“Well, I’ll see you tomorrow, Gloria,” he said, dismissing his concern.
Ivan thumbed the elevator button, the glass office doors closing behind him even as the elevator doors opened. He stepped inside and, as the doors closed, turned back to wave a last goodbye to Gloria. When his eyes found her desk, he let out a strangled grunt and physically recoiled, staggering backward deeper into the elevator.
A trick of the light on the glass, Ivan told himself desperately, staring at his panicked reflection in the now-closed elevator doors. A weird distortion, maybe a stress hallucination.
He had fixed his eyes on the desk only a split-second before the doors had closed, but in that brief instant of time, what he had seen had burned itself into the primal depths of his brain. Where his coiffed blonde receptionist should have been had instead sat a terrible thing, a saw-edged assemblage of metal and bone. It had hulked in its chair, sharp limbs spilling forth into jagged hands that gripped the desk’s edges, sinking its fingers into the desktop like putty. Teeth lined up like soldiers inside a wicked mouth. Eyes clustered across its skin like black pustules. And in that shattered moment of horror, Ivan was certain that every one of them had been focused on him.
Ivan’s heart beat in a furious rhythm, clashing with the soothing music of the elevator. He squeezed his eyes shut and scrubbed at them with the heels of his hands—then found himself in freefall as the elevator floor dropped away.
As Ivan’s feet left the floor, a frightened scream tore from his throat. This was answered moments later by a metallic shriek from outside as the brakes locked, halting the elevator’s uncontrolled plummet. Gravity reasserted itself and Ivan dropped to the floor in a heap. His briefcase sprang open at the impact, spraying papers wildly across the elevator.
“We are experiencing some temporary difficulties,” announced a soothing robotic voice. “Please remain calm for your safety.”
Ivan curled up against the wall, sobbing. His heart beat against his ribs like a bird trapped in a cage. Its pulse was a physical assault that he could feel throughout his entire body.
“We are experiencing,” the voice repeated, slowing to a halt. The elevator lights dimmed. Ivan looked up, fearful.
“Experience. Please. Calm,” the elevator’s voice attempted, skipping around in its recorded speech. “Pleaaaase. We. Weeee…experience. Your. Remains.”
Something began to drip from the ceiling, splatting against Ivan’s leg with a quiet tap-tap-tap. At first, it was just a slight pressure, but within seconds it began to burn. Ivan shrieked, scrambling to his feet and brushing frantically at the hole in his pants leg. His skin beneath it felt as if it were on fire.
“Caaaaaalm,” drawled the elevator’s voice. The drops of liquid intensified to a steady rivulet, eating away at the papers scattered across the elevator floor. Ivan hammered desperately on the elevator buttons as the acidic puddle behind him grew larger. Nothing responded.
“Please-cing,” said the elevator. “Experrrrrience.”
Abandoning the buttons, Ivan forced his hands into the crack between the doors. He pulled with a strength born of mortal terror, and inch by inch the doors reluctantly opened.
The elevator was partly between floors, the shiny tile of the hallway visible just above Ivan’s eye level. As he eyed it, wondering whether he could pull himself up and wriggle out, a sudden pain struck his heel. Ivan gasped as he realized that the caustic puddle was eating through his shoe. He leapt at the narrow gap in the door, flinging his arms into the hallway. His palms slid against the slick tile, finding no grip.
The whirr of a floor waxer echoed down the hallway. Ivan felt relief pour through him like a flood of ice water.
“Help!” he cried. “Help me! Qui–”
His voice choked off as the waxer came into view around the corner. Its handles were being carefully held in the spider-like fingers of the thing he’d seen upstairs, the monstrosity sitting at Gloria’s desk. He froze, staring.
When it saw that Ivan had noticed it, the nightmare abandoned the waxer and capered down the hallway. It knelt down in front of him, its rank breath tumbling over his body, and delicately wrapped its long fingers around his head. Its nails dug into his shoulders, fixing him in place.
From behind Ivan, the elevator spoke up again. “Remain.”
Slowly, it began to descend.
Ivan screamed and thrashed in the monster’s grip, but its fingers were like iron bars. The monster twisted its grip, forcing Ivan’s body to rotate until he was bent painfully backward, feet dangling, neck pressed awkwardly against the hard corner of the floor. The elevator’s ceiling grew steadily, inexorably closer. All Ivan could do was scream.
Suddenly, he sat bolt upright in his bed, panting. His skin was soaked in sweat, his chest heaving, every muscle tense. He turned on the bedside lamp and stared frantically at his wall, his eyes wide. He moved his mouth as if to make words, but no sounds emerged.
At her home, Gloria also sat up in bed. By contrast, she was calm, collected, and even had a small smile on her face. She took a sip of the water by her beside and laid back down, steepling her hands together on her chest. She tapped her nails together, tap-tap-tap. Ivan would have to go back to sleep again soon. There would be no escape.
If you liked this story a second story by this author in the same setting is available to supporting members.