The elevator opens reluctantly to reveal the dingy fourteenth floor. What carpeting is left is stained; what hall lights work, flicker. You knew this apartment was shit when the smell hit you a block away.
But your little brother wanted his independence so bad. Probably packed in secret, if at all. He called you last night to tell you he’d just moved in.
“Where is it?” you’d asked. He named an intersection. “There aren’t any apartments there,” you’d said. (You’ve always known better than him.)
He’d told you to come and see for yourself.
So you do.
There weren’t any other residential buildings on the block. Just this one, brown and dirty and smelling like an old fish tank. When you were in the lobby, the janitor asked how much you cost for an hour. He tried to follow you into the elevator but you spat on him and he backed off.
Fourteenth floor. A little girl in pyjamas is standing just outside the elevator. She glares at you and says, “You don’t belong here.”
“I’m visiting my brother,” you tell her.
“Bet you a dollar?”
Your brother’s door is locked. You knock, wait, then call his cell.
“Guess you better leave,” says the girl.
“Go play in traffic,” you tell her. Your phone beeps. A voicemail you didn’t hear the call for wants your attention. It’s from your brother.
Probably telling me he’s off getting snacks or something, you think. You thumb the keypad and listen.
“Don’t come in,” says the voicemail. “Don’t come in.”
There’s an odd echoey background noise, like water splashing onto water. His voice is whispery and scared. Like he doesn’t want you to hear it.
Like he doesn’t want anyone else to hear it.
You eyeball the door. It looks like crappy plywood. You back up a little.
“Guess you better leave,” the girl repeats.
You put up your fists like in your Muay Thai class and land a good solid kick right under the knob.
As you expected, it was a cheap job and the lock practically explodes under your foot.
Like a nightmare, the janitor is at your side. “That’ll be costly to repair. If you come to my office, I’m sure we can work something out.”
He’s talking to nobody. You’re already deep into the apartment, yelling for your brother. Threatening whoever made him sound like that. There’s practically nothing in the place, just a couple of boxes at random intervals. And the sound of running water behind a closed door.
You try the knob and it glides freely under your hand. With a fresh threat in your lungs, you fling open the door.
Bathroom: Sink. Toilet. Bathtub.
Only six inches of water.
You haul him up by the shirt and wrestle him onto the floor. You pound his stomach. His chest. You slap him and shout at him. When that doesn’t work, you call 911.
No one picks up.
You run out to the hall. “Somebody help me!” you shout. You’re hoping for anyone, even the sleazy janitor, but–
There’s a lot of people out here. A lot of them are in pyjamas, too, even though it’s barely dark out. And they’re all baring their teeth.
The janitor and the little girl are at the forefront. “I said you should leave,” says the little girl.
“We do our best,” says the janitor.
You shove at him, but he effortlessly slides away before you can touch him. “What do you want from me?” you scream.
“We want you out of here,” says a woman with her hair in curlers.
“We want you to run,” says a teenager with his headphones around his neck.
“We want you to make it,” says the janitor.
“Fuck all of you!” You race back to get your brother’s body. Dead or alive, no way you’re leaving him here with these psychos.
You grab him under the armpits. “Don’t be stupid,” he gurgles. “You can’t make it better.”
“Fuck you, too,” you grunt and get him cradled in your arms. You stagger back to the hallway. You expect to force your way through, but everyone steps aside, clearing a path to the elevator.
“You’re all murderers,” you yell. “None of you even tried to help!”
“Bet you a dollar?” says the little girl.
None of these people are looking so hot any more. His legs are broken. Her face is caved in. Everyone’s covered in white plaster dust.
“You shouldn’t use the elevator,” says a man with rebar through his chest. “This building is haunted.”
“No shit,” you say and punch the down arrow.
“Not by us,” says a woman in her underwear. “The original building. The one that collapsed.”
“I don’t think it likes having this other building on top of it,” says the little girl.
The elevator doors open. You go in.
“Bad idea,” says your brother.
You snort. “What’s the building going to do, drown me too?” You hit the button for the lobby with one of his dangling feet.
As the doors close, everyone disappears. Poof.
“It’ll be okay,” you say through gritted teeth. “I can do this.”
The little girl isn’t there, but you hear her anyway:
Bet you a dollar?
The elevator seems to inhale. And then it rises.
You hit the lobby button again. It’s still going up.
Your brother sighs wetly against your shoulder. “It was almost worth it,” he says soupily, “to get to say ‘I told you so’.”
The elevator rises to the top floor. You brace yourself for a slowdown, for a stop, but it keeps moving — up and up and up.
Your ears pop. Water starts bubbling out of your brother’s nose. It’s hard to breathe.
— for a second —
— the elevator stops.
There’s no ding. The doors stay shut.
But the lobby button is still illuminated.
There’s a distant snap, like a cable breaking. The elevator is moving again, going down this time.
It’s going very fas
Laura DeHaan is a healthcare practitioner in Toronto. You can read some of her other fiction for free in The Sockdolager, The Colored Lens and Body Parts Magazine. She can be found on Twitter @WritInRooster, if you’re quiet and leave some cheese out.
Image by Abe Novy