Other Things: Thing Under the Bus That Came Trick or Treating
At the end of a long bartending shift, I caught the concierge standing on a chair inside the elevator, opening the trapdoor in the ceiling, and tossing raw meat through it.
He had no idea I was watching. I had gone to the basement to change a keg inside the big cooler, and I guess he walked right past without noticing. It freaked me out a little, so I ducked back in, and waited until I felt he had gone.
Was he using poisoned meat to exterminate rats? This old place had been built a hundred years ago. I had never seen any rats, but maybe this was the reason why.
The Hotel Louis, once luxurious, had become rundown in recent decades, its rooms turned into cheap apartments.
Hoping Pete, the concierge, had left, I poked my head out. No sign of him. The closed elevator still sat on the basement floor. I guess Pete had decided to take the stairs. Good idea.
I trudged the stairs myself to the fifth floor, where I rented a room in the thirty story tower. Everything inside my room belonged to the hotel except what few clothes I had and what little food I kept. Drifting into the city a few months ago without a plan, and still in shock from my wife’s recent death, I took a job bartending at Le Bar de Louis on the first floor, a once-elegant, now aging dive of warped pine floors and graffiti-scratched tables. The place didn’t do much business, and before long I was the only bartender. The kitchen only had one cook, Rodrigo, so if you wanted something to eat, he had to be working. Likewise, if you wanted something to drink, I had to be behind the bar. Which I usually was. I had nothing else to do.
In the morning, I got back on the elevator to head down to open the bar, and was met by my only friend in the building, Lindsey, a seven year old girl who lived across from me.
“Good day, Mr. Bartender,” she said from under an oversized ship captain’s hat, “what floor will it be?”
“The usual,” I replied. “And take the long way.”
She giggled, a running joke between us. She knew I was in no hurry to get to work.
Lindsey had short, dark hair that curled to her shoulder, a pixie face, and a fearless, inquisitive personality. She seemed like the only fully alive creature in this dusty old place. She liked to pretend the elevator was her ship and that it could take her anywhere. No one minded, except of course Pete, the persnickety concierge, who chased her off whenever he caught her. She hid behind the control panel as we reached the ground floor so Pete wouldn’t catch her.
I glanced up at the large trap door in the ceiling. Had I really seen Pete throw raw meat up there? Pete always took steaks from the kitchen at the end of the night, but I had assumed he cooked them at home for a late supper.
“Thanks for riding the Lindsey Shuttle,” the girl whispered as the door opened to the lobby. “Hope you enjoyed the trip.”
“As always,” I replied, slipping a folded dollar bill into her hand.
It didn’t take long for Pete to spot me, his face screwed with worry over the headaches of running the place, which he did do, concierge being an outdated title for his job.
I worried over whether he had seen me last night, but if so, he didn’t let on.
“If it’s not too much trouble,” he sneered, “there are customers awaiting your service.”
I nodded. And good morning to you, fussy pants. Pete was in his 50s, not a hair ever out of place, his clothing as neatly pressed as that of a West Point officer. And I knew by “customers” he meant Mrs. Downing, an old widow who had about as much life outside this place as me and Pete did. Every morning she waited for me to open. If I started opening at 10 instead of 11, she’d no doubt be here waiting at 9:30 instead of 10:30.
I poured her a draft, adding a splash of tomato juice and a shot of bourbon in a glass on the side. Halfway through the beer, maybe an hour from now if she was feeling rowdy, she’d down the shot with a grimace. While making small talk with Mrs. Downing, I set up the bar for the day. Nothing much different ever happened around here, every day Groundhog Day.
Until I saw a team of medics hurrying through the lobby. I hurried from the bar to follow.
And found Pete slumped over in a chair by the elevator, a couple of residents huddled nervously around him.
A short time later, they took him out on a stretcher. In some pain, he looked for me, trying to tell me something, finally spitting it out.
“On my desk, there’s a bag. The old man’s medicine.”
Then they took him away. We learned a while later that his appendix had burst, but that they had gotten it in time, and he’d only be in the hospital about a week.
As much as I couldn’t stand the anal prick, his loss was immediately felt. Now it fell on me to order the liquor, and Rodrigo, whose only English consisted of a handful of curses, had to order the food. Packages for residents immediately began piling up in the lobby, maids began milling around chatting, and the janitors loitered smoking joints in the alley by the dumpster.
A few hours after they’d taken poor Pete, I remembered about the medicine, and found the paper pharmacy bag on his desk.
So...I was finally going to meet the “old man”.
The old man occupied the top floor, and no one ever saw or heard from him, other than Pete. The old man owned the building and supposedly never left it, had been up on the Presidential Suite as long as anyone who could remember, including Mrs. Downing, who had been here since Kennedy was in the White House.
I left Mrs. Downing in charge of the bar, which simply meant if anyone happened to show up, she would tell them I’d be back in ten minutes.
While waiting for the elevator, I glanced inside the bag. Inside was a small vial, marked with a word I couldn’t pronounce, alongside one I could: anti-venom.
Lindsey again piloted the elevator.
“Where to, Mr. Bartender?”
“Five. So you can get off.”
Lindsey’s young brain worked fast, and seeing the pharmacy bag in my hand, she understood.
Her voice an excited whisper: “You’re going to see the old man?”
“Can I come? Please! I want to know what he looks like.”
“You know it’s not allowed, Lindsey.”
“Come on, I’ll stay on the elevator.”.
“I don’t make the rules, captain, but I promise to tell you everything on the way back down.”
That satisfied her. She got off on our floor, where I knew she would wait watching the old dial above the elevator door.
When the elevator began speeding up again, my nerves became jittery. The old man. Only Pete knew anything about him, and Pete wasn’t much for chatting. The elevator didn’t even go to the top floor unless the old man released it, and Lindsey had sure tried. Of course, I did know one thing about him now: for some reason he needed anti-venom.
The elevator stopped on the 29th floor, but the door didn’t open. It just sat there for what felt like an interminably long time. Not knowing what else to do, I hit the top-floor number on the console again.
A frail voice came through the speaker. “Pete?”
“No, sir, Pete’s in the hospital. I work in the bar. I have your medicine, sir.”
The elevator started rising again. Another long moment passed. Then the door opened into a massive room, dimly lit, like a forest dripping with blue moonlight. I stepped out into what I now call the Silver Suite, an ornate palace adorned everywhere with silver, but apparently inhabited by a hoarder. My description won’t do it justice: silver curtains that allowed practically no light from outside, silver wallpaper, silver chandeliers, antique wood tables mounded with silver bowls, teapots and vases. Piled on the floor around it all were stacks of newspapers blurting headlines from decades ago.
I took a few hesitant steps into the Silver Suite. My eye soon went to a long, silver tub which had steam rising from it. Adjacent the tub, with its back to it, sat the only chair in the room.
My skin crawled. I wanted no part of anything near that tub.
Guessing someone might be listening, I cleared my throat, and spoke into the empty room. “I’ll just leave this on the floor, sir.”
A voice crackled over a speaker. “Sit, young man, sit in the chair.”
I edged over to that chair beside the tub. In the dim light and under the hot steam, the bath water was dark, but I could see enough to realize nothing was inside it.
Sitting down on the chair, my back to the tub, I looked around. Across the room, I noticed what looked like large, dried skins, the color of charcoal, hanging on silver hooks along a wall. What animal I couldn’t tell from here.
The lights began to dim even more until the room reached the level of a silver twilight right before full night.
Then I heard water stirring behind me. Glancing again at the tub, I noticed now that it actually extended through the wall into the adjacent room. And someone was now sliding under the water onto this side. A lump formed in my throat, but I quickly turned straight forward, sensing whoever was entering, presumably the old man, didn’t want to be seen.
Shivering, I irrationally worried he might reach out of the water and touch me from behind.
A gravelly whisper came from behind me: “Pete is not well?”
“Appendicitis,” I replied. “Will be at the hospital for some days.”
Afraid to look over my shoulder, I sought out reflections in the various silver bowls and teapots on the tables, and made out, sitting in the tub, a figure so drenched in shadow that I could see nothing but silhouette.
“You run the bar,” the old voice said. “Pete approves of you, so I wanted to see you for myself. If anything should happen to Pete, I would need a replacement.”
I wanted no part of that job. In fact, already I was thinking it might be time to start planning another bus ride, another beginning, maybe Pittsburgh.
“My skin is very sensitive,” the old man said, “but you mustn’t think me a monster. I’m just old and peculiar. Pete no doubt felt uncomfortable at first too.”
“Well, I’m not one for prying, sir.”
“Excellent! We might work very well together. Like Pete, you would be richly rewarded.”
I felt the water stirring again. In the reflection on a teapot, a caught sight of a freakishly long, slender hand emerging from the tub and unfolding by an old Victrola record player. Did the teapot distort the image? Those fingers seemed impossibly long, as though they might have four or five joints. It had to be a trick of the reflected light.
A moment later, soft jazz came from the record player.
“A man like me,” he said, “depends on a handful of others, but can trust so few. Are you trustworthy?”
I thought of my poor dying wife, who I had stayed with almost to the very end, before I panicked and fled, leaving her to take her last breaths alone.
“I try to be,” I told the old man. “But I’ve also failed.”
“A good answer!” the old man squealed. “None of us is perfect. Compromises must be made in order to live, remember that. Next time we shall visit longer. Leave the medicine on the seat.”
Without hesitation, I hurried to my feet, and without turning toward the tub, placed the bag in the chair. I walked back to the elevator on legs like a shaky stool.
“Have a good day, sir,” I said punching the down button.
But I had to wait for the elevator to return. While I did, I finally turned back to look directly at the tub, but the old man was no longer on this side of the wall.
A ding sounded the elevator’s opening doors, and I hopped in, pressing the ground-floor button about eight times as if it would make it go faster. I didn’t start breathing again until the door closed and the elevator was on its way down.
Of course, it stopped at the fifth floor first. Lindsey.
Jumping on board, she demanded answers. “Did you see him? What was he like? What is the top floor like?”
Before I could attempt a reply, the elevator ground to a sudden halt between floors.
The lights flickered.
The car rattled and creaked.
Remembering Pete’s weird actions last night, I looked up nervously at the unusually large trap door.
Lindsey looked scared at first, then recovered, saying: “Don’t worry, sir, we’ll have this fixed in a jiffy.”
But her eyes went to the ceiling too. A sound came from above, something like pattering little feet.
Then the elevator started moving again. We both exhaled.
“Well?” she asked as the door opened on the lobby.
“We’ll talk later, captain. Right now I have to find out how we get this elevator checked out. In the meantime, you stay off it.”
She crossed her arms defiantly. “Don’t you know a captain never abandons her ship?”
“Consider it shore leave,” I said hurrying through the lobby.
“Just stay off the elevator!”
I’d only spoken to her mom a few times, but the situation was very troubled. A single-mother, two other kids besides Lindsey, a baby and a toddler. Word was the mom had a monkey on her back, which I suspected had something to do with the girl spending so much time hanging around the old place.
I swept into Pete’s office for his list of services. Plumbing, HVAC, electrical...a long list. But nothing for the elevator.
I stormed off to the bar, where naturally only Mrs. Downing waited.
I topped off her beer, asking: “I’ve been looking through Pete’s contacts, and I can’t find anything for elevator repair.”
Here face went dark. She actually looked frightened.
“Can’t it wait til he comes back?”
“No,” I explained, “I just got stuck for a few seconds coming down.”
“Trust me,” she warned, “you don’t wanna get THEM involved if you don’t absolutely have to.” She made ‘them’ sound like the secret police or something.
“Are we talking about the same thing?”
She leaned over, glancing nervously around as though worried someone might be listening. “My advice is don’t call them, but if you do, let me know so I won’t be around.”
She stared uncomfortably into her beer as though wishing I’d never brought it up.
This is ridiculous, I thought, grabbing the phone book and looking through the yellow pages. But Rodrigo, who at some point had come from the kitchen and stood behind me, shook his head.
“What?” I asked.
“You no call them, senor. Por favor.”
The look on his face became so grave that I closed the phone book, deciding it could wait.
The rest of the day was uneventful. Here and there someone came in for a drink. Once, I caught Lindsey playfully poking her head in from the bar’s entrance, knowing it was off limits to her. As always, I made a show of chasing her away, and she ran toward the stairs, laughing and pointing to make sure I knew she was avoiding the elevator.
Later, I overheard a middle-aged couple whispering something about the elevator, but other than that, no problems. At the end of my shift, late at night and long after I’d seen or heard anyone go through the lobby, I decided I should ride the elevator. Not because I wanted to, but because I felt some responsibility.
When those doors closed, my heart rate increased. And when the elevator started up, I barely breathed. If this thing got stuck now, who would hear the alarm?
My eyes went to the trap door above. The cables creaked within the shaft, making the elevator feel like the hold of an old sailing ship.
When the doors opened on my floor, I practically jumped through them. Passing Lindsey’s door, I heard a baby crying and a TV turned up.
Life at Hotel Louis remained chaotic without Pete, but mostly things remained routine. Mrs. Downing drank beer and tomato, Rodrigo cursed in at least two languages, and Lindsey adventured on the high seas of the elevator shaft. Hearing of no further problems with it, I refrained from having to call the apparently dreaded elevator repair people. It had become Groundhog Day again.
Until one afternoon a scream echoed through the lobby. Everyone ran to where the screaming resident stood before the open elevator. Inside the car a young man who lived on the 11th floor lay butchered.
I quickly scanned the lobby for signs of a wild animal. Something had torn through and filleted the man’s ribcage. But there were no signs of any animal. No bloody paw prints on the faded-marble floor, and no one had seen anything.
The police came and did their thing. They examined the body, questioned those that found it, and questioned those of us on the ground floor as to whether we had seen anything unusual. They asked if anyone living here might have a wild animal as a pet, but were informed that no pets were allowed.
After most of them had left and the body had been removed, Lindsey broke the rule and came into the bar to see me. She was scared.
I gave her a Shirley Temple and reassured the cops would catch whatever animal had gotten loose. But she shook her head under the big captain’s hat.
“It wasn’t an animal,” she said.
I came out from behind the bar and sat down beside her.
Her look gravely serious, she said: “His girlfriend did it.”
“What do you mean?”
She slurped her drink before answering. “I was with them...until we got to my floor.”
“Lindsey...” I said, but cut myself off.
For at that moment a fearsome crew stormed in from the lobby: the Elevator Repairmen.
Eight of them, wearing blue jeans and work boots, black work gloves, some carrying toolboxes. But they also wore dark polyester jackets, like something you might see on an FBI response team, and tinted glasses, like proverbial men in black. And they had tactical radios with ear and mouthpieces. Everything about them looked government, except their jackets said “Elevator Repair”.
“Don’t say a word,” I whispered to Lindsey.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Lindsey had possibly seen the killer, the only clue anyone had, and here I was keeping her quiet. But my reason was simple: I was terrified for her. I sensed these men were a threat and she would be in danger. My original plan was to keep her quiet until they left, then bring her to the police, but something about the way the remaining cops deferred to these elevator repairmen changed that plan too. I told her to hurry home, using the stairs of course, and stay quiet about everything.
The repairmen cleaned the mess in the elevator, of course, but seemed more focused on looking for witnesses to anything unusual. They found few people to talk to. Residents and staff steered well clear of them. I noticed that, before leaving, a few of them rode the elevator to the top floor. Were they visiting the old man?
Over the next several days, I didn’t see anything of Lindsey. I guessed maybe she had told her mother, who had made her stay inside.
During that first night, when the building grew deathly quiet, weak cries occasionally echoed through the elevator shaft. Mrs. Downing muttered that it was just people on another floor. Once, someone heard a scream, but we argued imaginations were starting to run wild.
Then Pete returned, a bit thinner and grayer, but otherwise back to his old self. Though he did seem quite troubled by what he learned had happened.
More days went by and then things returned to normal. Even Lindsey’s mom apparently liberated her, so once again she took command of her ship. She met me with a grin when I hopped on to head for work.
“Good morning, Mr. Bartender, where to?”
Her mouth half opened in surprise, but she hit the button. We started up.
“A little sightseeing?” she asked.
“I thought we could talk.”
Her expression grew slightly dark.
“OK,” she said.
“Did you tell anyone else about what you saw?”
She shook her head.
“Good,” I said.
We arrived at nineteen and the door opened to an empty hallway. It always feels weird when the doors open and there’s no one there, like time seems to slow while you wait.
“It had to be the girlfriend,” Lindsey began when the doors closed. “Because when I got off on my floor, it was just those two.”
“But there were people waiting in the lobby,” I reminded her, “and there was no one on it when it arrived except the victim.”
“So she must have jumped off on two,” Lindsey told me, her face suggesting she thought I was dense. “Then she took the stairs. She didn’t live here, you know. She was his girlfriend.”
The cables groaned as we slowly descended. We both shot a nervous glance at the ceiling.
“What did she look like?” I asked.
“Oh, very pleasant. And pretty. I liked her, she always talked to me, like you.”
We arrived on one, and she hid behind the console so Pete wouldn’t spot her. I tucked a five spot behind her ear as the door opened, saying softly: “Let me know later if you remember any more details.”
Later that night I learned that Lindsey had gone missing.
The long, interminable day dragged on much the same as most of them did. Mrs. Downing made ‘back in my day’ smalltalk, Rodrigo cursed with improving English, and I caught Pete practicing his sneer in a mirror. He sneered at me when I caught him.
I was a little surprised, even disappointed, that not once all day did Lindsey make me chase her giggling from the bar entrance. Her smile was the surest way to know this place wasn’t entirely infested by zombies, including my own undead self. But I wasn’t actually worried until the elevator took me home at the end of my shift and the door opened to my floor.
Instead of the usual empty hallway, I found several Elevator Repairmen escorting Lindsey’s mom from her apartment. She carried the baby and held the hand of the toddler, while some of the men carried overnight bags. Her eyes were red, clearly from crying. Right away I knew something terrible had happened.
I tried to grab her arm, but the Elevator Men, like the Secret Service guarding a president, kept me away.
“Where’s Lindsey,” I demanded, but they hurried her off toward the elevator.
Was she sick?
My instincts told me something truly terrible had happened. I walked in a daze to my room, stood there a long moment with the key.
The elevator closed, leaving me alone in the hallway.
No, I had to know more. I hurried back to the elevator and pressed the down button. It remained unmoving on the first floor. So I ran down the stairs.
By the time I got down, the lobby was empty. I ran to the street in time to see black SUVs emblazoned with Elevator Repair Service on their doors speeding from the curb.
Should I call the police?
Suspecting that in this case the police would not help, might not even show up, I stood there helpless, running over useless ideas in my mind, determined to do something.
The lobby showed no sign of activity. Pete’s office was of course empty. Rodrigo had gone home. All the lights were off in the bar, of course.
Someone was sitting there in the dark, a bottle on the bar in front.
I charged into the room to find Pete, sitting there distraught, drinking right from the bottle. Whatever had happened to Lindsey, he knew, that son of a bitch knew.
I spun him around and shoved him against the bar.
“Where is she!”
He didn’t even pretend not to know. Couldn’t bring himself to look at me.
“There’s nothing we can do,” he croaked.
Had Lindsey seen something about the murder and talked?
“Listen to me, you sniveling weasel...”
He finally looked at me, tears forming in his eyes.
“I told her not to ride that elevator,” he said, “I told her.”
“What does that have to do with anything? Spit it up, all of it.”
“She’s in the elevator shaft.”
“She’s in the shaft, damn it. So is the kid’s girlfriend. But you saw what it did to him, it’s too late.”
I dragged him into the lobby. What he was saying sounded absurd, but every single one of us has at some point in our life seen something totally, horribly impossible to believe. Sure, your mind tricks you into forgetting it, but take it from me, someday it will all flood back, and you’ll wonder if you had just dreamed it.
Before we got to the elevator, it dinged. We stopped in our tracks, staring at the door, waiting breathlessly for it to open, wondering who or what might be coming off at this late hour.
When it finally opened, Rodrigo spilled out, fury in his eyes.
“The bastardos took her!” he shouted. “La nina.”
Rumors were probably spreading through the building.
“No,” Pete said, “she’s still here.”
He gestured toward the elevator. Rodrigo’s face went pale and he made the sign of the cross.
“Wait here,” Pete told us, and went into a janitor’s closet. He returned with a ladder and a tool bag.
I was about to pull the emergency stop on the elevator to make sure it didn’t move, but Pete stopped me.
“We don’t want to send any alarms,” he explained.
We let the doors close us inside.
He then reached into the bag, pulled out a hammer and handed it to me. My weapon. He gave Rodrigo a long screwdriver, adding an apologetic shrug, producing a round of multilingual cursing. He took out a hatchet for himself. I made him trade it for my hammer.
Lastly, he pulled out a pair of heavy electrical gloves.
“Give me one of those.”
I put one of the gloves on.
Pete inserted a key into the control panel and the trap door on the ceiling opened with a whoosh of pneumatic air. The door was almost as big as the whole ceiling. He placed the ladder and led us up.
There was no lighting inside the shaft, so we opened flash apps on our phones. On the roof, we stopped to scan the walls with our beams
Jesus, what a horror!
Everything in the shaft, as far as our light could reach, was covered with spider web. The cinder-block walls, the guiding rails, the pulling chains, the electrical cables. However, this was not normal spider web. I grabbed a fistful. It looked to be made of pure, finely spun silver.
“This whole pace,” Pete explained, “all of these places, were built on silver wealth.”
“All of them?”
Ignoring my question, Pete stepped on a huge button, and the trapdoor closed with another whoosh. While he examined the rooftop control console, brushing web off it, I spotted something on the floor: Lindsey’s captain hat.
“Mio dios,” Roderick whispered in horror at this.
My voice trembling with anger, I ordered Pete to get this thing moving. Up we went, but slowly. The rooftop console operates the car at reduced speed.
I white knuckled the hatchet, exploring the shaft with my beam, all of it covered with silver webs. Pete had to stay crouched with his finger on the ‘up’ button. Where the walls were visible beneath the web, it looked like nothing I’d ever seen, built of honeycombed concrete blocks with strangely deep cracks between them.
“Stop,” I commanded. An area between floors where the web stuff was extra thick caught my attention. I cleared it with the hatchet, revealing an opening wide enough for someone to crawl through. The beam from my phone revealed a dark tunnel covered in silver web.
“What the hell is this,” I asked, “an air vent?”
“I don’t think so,” Pete replied. “This building was built for her.”
“Her?” I asked, turning back to him.
He just nodded gravely.
It looked empty, so I said: “Bring us up.”
The elevator car lifted slowly into the dark shaft.
“A couple weeks ago I saw you throwing meat up onto the elevator roof.”
Pete closed his eyes a moment. “Been doing it for years,” he said. “I hoped it would be enough.”
Coming to another horizontal passageway, we again stopped so I could clear the web and inspect inside. God, the idea of having to crawl into one of those was enough to bring me to the edge of panic.
Again I probed its length with my beam of light, but it came nowhere near reaching the end, and she could be deep inside, beyond the reach of my light.
Then a muffled sound of crying came from higher up.
We stopped and listened. Nothing.
I signaled Pete to bring us up. Agonizingly slow, foot by foot, nervously looking around for any sign of something moving, we ascended.
Then I spotted something coming down toward us.
My heart thundered and my lungs locked.
I tried to hit it with my light.
“What’s that?” I shouted.
“Just the counterweight,” Pete explained.
And I noticed it was moving down at the same speed we were moving up. Of course, the counterweight, part of the elevator system.
I went back to shining my light on the shaft walls. But as the counterweight was about to pass us, luckily Pete hit it with his phone beam just as a spider the size of a man uncurled from behind it and leaped onto Rodrigo.
He had time only to gasp as the ungodly thing shot its mouth into his shoulder, injecting poison with its fangs.
I swung at its black body with the hatchet, feeling some of it’s eight eyes on me, my hand stinging as the hatchet struck sold mass, barely penetrating its shell-like armor.
The elevator had stopped rising when Pete jumped away from the console.
I raised the hatchet to strike again, but the spider jumped back onto the counterweights.
Rodrigo slumped convulsing to the roof.
Pete returned to the console and started lowering us, raising the counterweight and the spider higher, but I yanked his hand off the console to stop our ascent.
“Are you crazy?” he screamed.
Keeping an eye on the spider, which had black liquid oozing from where I had struck it, I examined Rodrigo.
“Let’s get him inside.”
We rolled him toward the wall so we could open the trapdoor. I kicked the button and the hydraulic door opened. The ladder lay fallen inside. Holding Rodrigo by the arms, we lowered him as far as we could before dropping him to the elevator floor. Drool streamed down his face, and he had become essentially paralyzed.
I shut the trapdoor and faced the spider, showing it the hatchet and hoping it understood.
I held a finger up for Pete to be quiet. We listened.
Again, barely audible, came crying from high above.
“Take it up,” I whispered.
We slowly ascended, keeping a wary eye on the spider as the counterweights passed us. I leaned over the edge of the roof and kept my light on the thing, which made it shrivel into a defensive posture. The counterweight descended beyond the reach of my light, and the spider remained perched on it as far as I could watch it.
We went back to scanning the walls above. It was hard to shake the feeling that somehow that thing had scurried back up and might attack from beneath the elevator car.
“There,” Pete whispered hoarsely. “Right there.” He shined his flash at a spot on the wall where the web was long and thick, and as we lifted towards it, we could see it wrapped tightly around something.
My heart raced and my blood ran cold. I couldn’t stand the thought of that thing doing this to her.
Before Pete even stopped the elevator, I started feverishly brushing silver web from her. Pete joined me, and while he began clearing her body, I frantically rubbed the the stuff from her face. As I pulled the threads from her mouth, then her nose, I cleared the eyes and almost screamed.
Pete kept pulling at the silver threads on her stomach and chest.
So horrified and terrified was I that only now did I realize this was not a seven-year old girl. We had found the dead young woman Lindsey had seen on the elevator that day when the young man who lived in the building was butchered. Blood still trailed from her eyes down her face. She had not been dead long.
Pete, perhaps still not understanding, kept reflexively clearing web from her body.
“Come on,” I said, but he gave her one last sweep of the hand, and it opened a hole in her stomach.
He jumped back.
I hit the hole with the light and saw baby spiders the size of tarantulas scurrying out, already jumping to the roof of the elevator.
We stomped on them like Irish river dancers. One of them jumped from the dead girl onto my arm. I flung it off, but then another landed on my shoulder and bit me.
I swiped it off.
Moved away from the nest as much as I could.
We kept stomping, spiders still jumping onto the car, while I hit the ‘up’ button on the console. Slowly we lifted past the body.
I felt the whole shaft begin to spin, my legs growing rubbery as the poison hit my system, my brain still digesting what I had learned.
“That huge button for the trapdoor...” I struggled to say.
Pete kept searching the walls above us with his beam. “I told you, this whole thing was built for her.”
I stood there fighting the cobwebs, losing all sense of time, aware only that we were still ascending, unable to direct the light from my phone, unsure how many floors up we were, whether we were nearing the old man’s floor. I worried my wobbly legs would fail me and I’d fall into the shaft.
Pete remained silent. After what felt like a long time, my head started to clear. I was able to move my flash beam around those dark walls covered in threads of pure silver.
And then my beam hit it. A little wrapped body wrapped hanging on the wall. A muffled cry came from within.
As soon as we reached her, I ripped threads from her face, pulling them from her mouth. She gasped for air. I was clearing her eyes...
...when the mother spider climbed back onto the elevator roof from below.
I broke away from the girl to swing the hatchet at the thing.
Pete went back to freeing her.
I swiped at the spider, but it was so fast, and it now understood the weapon in my hand. I couldn’t get close to its body with any of my swings. It parried me with its legs, jabbing and blocking.
A spider leg thrust forward and pulled Pete’s legs out from under him, and he fell clinging to the roof, his legs hanging off it.
I reached down and pulled Pete back up. I picked up the hammer, which Pete had dropped, and right as the spider dived toward me, I threw the hammer at its face.
The claw lodged into one of its eight eyes. It hissed in anger, trying to shake it out.
I finished freeing Lindsey, pulling her into my arms a moment before handing her to Pete so I could focus on the spider, now trying to pull at the lodged hammer with its legs.
My first thought was to throw the hatchet, but if it didn’t kill it we would be left defenseless.
Then a crazy idea. I switched the hatchet to my left hand, the one with the rubber glove, and hacked at a power cable running along the wall, showering us with electrical sparks. One more strike severed it. Holding the cable in one hand, I reached to the console. But the spider jabbed at my hand. I pulled away. Tried again. Managed to hit the down button. We slowly descended.
The power cable pulled free of the wall little by little as I held it. When I had enough slack, I held it forward toward the spider. It snapped at the cable with its jaws, closing around the end, and drawing a huge charge of current, which jolted it right off the roof.
I hurried over to Lindsey, who Pete was still holding, and brushed more web off, inspecting her up and down.
“You came,” she said, choking tears.
I held her close.
“Let’s get her inside,” I said.
Nodding, Pete started for the trapdoor, when suddenly the elevator shot downward.
I dropped to my knees, hugging Lindsey protectively.
A panicked thought: that thing had severed the cables!
Pete hugged the roof.
The elevator fell, each floor zipping by.
But at some point my mind was able to recognize that the acceleration had stopped and the descent was even. And then it hit me: Rodrigo!
I risked a glance down over into the shaft, aiming my phone while holding Lindsey. The bottom was rapidly coming toward us...but we were not falling.
The elevator slowed as we approached the lower levels.
But then I saw three black, spiked legs clinging to the bottom of the elevator. Somehow she held on underneath!
As the elevator stopped, Pete opened the trapdoor and waited while I jumped through with Lindsey in my arms. I landed with a safety roll, keeping her shielded.
Pete dropped down right after me.
Rodrigo was sitting on the floor by the console, completely out of it, the ‘G’ button lit up. In his confusion, he had sent us down.
The door opened into the lobby.
I scooted to my feet, still holding the girl, punched the “B” button, and bolted out the door. Pete helped Rodrigo out.
We stood there a few feet away as the door closed and the elevator went down to the basement.
The ungodly screech of a wounded creature reached us through the elevator.
Then an alarm went off, and the “B” light started blinking. I suspected the Elevator Repairmen would soon be on the way.
“Quickly, now,” Pete ordered us.
We dashed out the door to the street, Rodrigo leaning on Pete like a man just awoken from anesthesia.
It only took a moment for Pete to hail a cab.
He helped Rodrigo into it on one side while I climbed in with Lindsey on the other.
But Pete did not get in.
“Her mother is at the Marriot,” he said, his assertive self returning. “Take him to the hospital first.”
I nodded, exhausted. “What will you do?”
“There are no cameras in this building, for obvious reasons. I can clean most of this up before they get here.”
He pulled out his wallet and handed me all the cash he had, several hundred dollars.
“After you drop the girl off, just go. Anywhere.”
He started to pull away from the door, then stopped to make sure I understood.
“Don’t ever say anything to anyone,” he said. “Don’t think you can do something, you can’t. There are buildings like this all over, hundreds of them, maybe thousands. Hospitals, office towers...anyplace. Somewhere inside each is an old man, or maybe an old woman, who’s been there an impossibly long time, who trusts very few people. Could be a doctor, a broker, anything. That’s a lot of power, and they know how to protect it. Forget about what you saw, convince yourself it was a bad dream...and who would believe it anyway?”
With that, he shut the door and ran back inside.
I took Rodrigo to the hospital, his mind slowly coming out of its fog. He’d be OK.
At first, my plan was to have the doctors check out Lindsey too. But I decided against it. She too seemed OK, asking me where her mom was. In a perfect world, I’d have the doctors clear her, but there would be questions, the police would get involved, and remembering what Pete said...They have a lot of power, and they know how to protect it...I didn’t trust the system would protect her. So I took her to the Marriot. We visited the desk, then, after making sure there were no Elevator Repairmen lurking around, I knocked on the door, holding Lindsey by the hand.
Her mother, eyes still rubbed red, opened the door and clutched her daughter with indescribable relief.
I didn’t stay with them more than a few minutes. Her mother didn’t ask me anything, and I didn’t offer much. When it was time to leave, I took out the cash Pete had given me, and tried to press it into the mother’s hands. But she refused it. I understood that the elevator repairmen had paid her off with a large sum.
With much sadness, I left them. What kind of life would Lindsey have with a mother who had allowed herself to be bought off? But then, I guess she had made a rational choice to save her other children. Who knew what she’d been told. Hopefully the whole thing would have the effect of helping her get her priorities right.
An hour later, I was on a bus out of town, running again, I guess, and convincing myself I wasn’t. Pete was right. I needed to trick myself into thinking it was all a nightmare, something cooked up by a tired and distraught mind. I suspected I would eventually succeed.
But one thing I knew: if I was ever again in a tall building, I would be sure to take the stairs.