After the garish lights, incessant muzak and crushing crowds of the Westview Street Mall, I was actually glad to return to my apartment block. Of course, I hadn’t emerged unscathed. The two reflective red bags in my hands and the pamphlet advertising “X-MAS SPECTACULAR ’97” that had remained stuck to my shoe like a piece of gum were proof of that.
Although the lobby was thankfully empty, the rancid stench of last night’s drunks and a rotting hot dog still hovered in the air. As I pressed a scuffed button and waited for the deathtrap to descend to the lobby, I also detected a subtle note of spray paint chemicals too. Yet, there didn’t seem to be a single new piece of graffiti on the tiled walls. How odd.
Finally, with an unsettling clatter, the dented metal doors of the deathtrap creaked open and I stepped into the dim streetlight-amber chamber. It must have been because I was carrying bags, but I actually looked at the buttons this time. Normally, I’d just reflexively jab the “32” button with the speed of a roadhouse knife-man, but the effort of putting one of my shiny bags down totally threw my reflexes off. So, I looked at the buttons.
And, just like realising that the videotape you’ve been looking for for the past two weeks was inside the VCR the whole damn time, I realised that the “7” button was still covered with tape. It had been one of those things that I’d seen every day ever since I moved into this crapheap six years ago. Yet, now, it seemed odd. Surely someone living on that floor would have complained by now? Was anyone living on that floor?
It could have been because the prospect of sitting back on my bed-of-nails couch, sipping rotgut whiskey from a paint-spattered glass and admiring the beautiful view of smog-darkened bricks from my lounge window had lost some of it’s appeal. It could have been that the idea of working out where I was going to store all of my newfound festive bounty in my match-box apartment seemed like too much of a stress. It could even have been because there was nothing but commercials on TV at this hour. But, whatever the reason, I found myself pressing the button.
I’d expected nothing to happen. The button was probably broken. But, a second later, the deathtrap squealed. The doors began to creak shut and, for a pulse-pounding second, I thought about making a jump for it. The moment passed. Slowly, I felt the floor rise beneath me as the air was filled with the soothing howls of gears and cables. Like a cabaret line of drunken fireflies, the buttons lit up one…. two.. three.four.five… six… Then nothing.
For a second, I’d worried that the doors wouldn’t open. That the deathtrap might have jammed on this floor. That the tape was actually there for a good reason. But then I remembered that it had sailed past this floor many times on many days before. No, it was just the usual “will it won’t it?” delay. I let out a sigh of relief half a second before the doors reluctantly parted.
Above, the strip lights flickered like red carpet paparazzi in the middle of a thunderstorm. The walls were a floral pattern of flaking green paint. Looking down, I noticed that the floor wasn’t even carpeted. It was just pitted concrete covered in scraps of paper and alleyway trash. As another flicker lit up the hall, I saw what looked like a rusting bed frame propped up against one of the walls. Then something touched my foot.
I flinched. But, it wasn’t a rat. It was just a ball of faded yellow paper. Kneeling down, I picked it up and unfolded it. In the dim light of the carriage, I squinted at it. It was the front page of the City Post & Courier. The faded date read “198-“. Below it, in surprisingly fresh ink, the headline read FLOOR OF DEATH. Against my better judgement, I read on.
‘Police were greeted by a scene of unprecedented carnage at the Brite Fields Apartments this morning. It began when the janitor had noticed an unusual lack of complaints from the seventh floor….‘ I stopped reading for a second. We actually had a janitor once? ‘…When authorities entered via the stairwell, they found themselves in the middle of a grotesque charnel….‘
Plod! Plod! Plod!
The footsteps got louder. I didn’t even pause to drop the paper. I heard it tear with a deafening rip as I watched my finger punch the “32” button repeatedly. The deathtrap didn’t even bother squealing or groaning. With eerie efficiency, the doors slid shut and I felt the reassuring rising feeling beneath my feet. As the buttons lit up erratically, I let out a long sigh. I’d obviously been imagining things. The “footsteps” were probably just the frantic pounding of my heart or something like that.
By the time I saw the threadbare carpet of my floor, I was practically laughing. At the very least, I was smarter than every dumb schmuck I’d ever seen in a horror movie. I hadn’t even set foot outside the carriage for the whole time I was on the seventh floor. No doubt that this would make for a funny story to tell the guys tomorrow night. Maybe I could even start an urban legend? I’ve always wondered how they got started.
As I turned the key in my apartment door, I noticed that someone had slipped junk mail under the door again. It was the third time this week. If I wasn’t used to it, I’d have probably done a Charlie Chaplin pratfall on top of the shiny leaflets. Dodging them and chuckling to myself, I squeezed into the narrow hallway and nudged the door shut with my heel.
The laughter died in my throat. The bathroom door was closed. It hadn’t been closed when I’d left.
Plod! Plod! Plod!