Short Story – “Floor 44”

This is the single most important day of my life so far. That initial thought is entirely hyperbolic, but it certainly cracks the top five. If I had the time to think about it, which given that the bus replacement service has broken down I probably do, I’d say that the birth of my son comes in at number one. That’s been the only singular day in my life where I’ve felt a deep and spiritual change. Any number of other crucial life moments, that I now find myself ruminating on, seem to fall flat compared to that morning in the maternity ward. I thought it would be total bollocks; the idea that a child of your own can completely change the fabric of who you are as an individual, and maybe it still is for some, but it punched me right in the gut.

I suppose if I’m being fair, today probably ranks at three or four. Somewhere behind the second and possibly first wedding day. It’s very typical, this listing of births and unions as the key moments in my life, it’s as though we’re all preprogrammed to work and build towards the same events. I’m glad it’s just my thoughts and I, on this dingey bus, I’d hate to be considered this conformist by the masses, even though that’s exactly who and what I am.

Anyway, it’s hard to know if I should rank the first marriage higher than this upcoming interview. Those were still genuine feelings I felt at the time, whether I still feel them now or not. Twelve years down the line I remember the screaming, lying and the bad blood boiling over the rim of the pan, but on that single day at the beginning of the end, I was happy. I cannot deny that.

The second time has been the charm, that’s not the saying but I’ve gone with it now so it’s there. Jess calmed me down a little and taught me to not take life so seriously, and she’s the mother of my son, so she has that going for her. I think even if I lost my love for her, the fact that she has saved me will be enough to never leave. A morbid thought at eight AM on a beat-up bus within inner-city London, but when else am I going to have these? I think I was probably happier on wedding day number one, but as only one of those led me to an actual marriage, I’m going to rank them appropriately.

Okay, so maybe this is the fourth most important day of my life so far. Still, in this moment it feels like the most crucial. If I succeed today I will possess something that most covet yet only some achieve; total and complete financial security. I’ll be able to pay for my son’s entire education, take those trips we’ve always wanted to take and not worry about the eventual impending costs of death. What a time we live in, where an inner-peace can be achieved through a series of ever-increasing numbers on a screen. I don’t care if it’s normal or boring, if it means I can take care of myself and those I care about, then fine, let it be the way.

Finally! I was starting to think that we’d have to catch a bus replacement service for our bus replacement service. A replacement bus replacement bus service, if you will, which I won’t, because I’m too tired. Coffee. I must grab a coffee before I go in. I just feel more myself after that buzz, which is probably a line of thinking that people much more worldly than I apply to stronger stimulants. I’ll stick with that hot lava java, yessir it keeps me buzzing with the best of them. I’m listening to myself and realising that I need coffee now more than ever.

I wasn’t happy with the smile that I flicked in the direction of the barista as she handed me my tall, black cup. The more I think about it, the less happy I am with how those few seconds went. As I turned away from her, I saw her grimace in my peripherals. Had the smile really been that leering? I thought it to be friendly or polite, but I think it was taken as something else entirely. If I had been in her position and interpreted my smile in a similar way, I would’ve also fashioned a similar expression. A forty-six year-old man smiling at someone only just outside of their teenage years? I’m repulsed at myself for even thinking that was appropriate. It’s a new world for us middle-aged men, do excuse us whilst we learn all the rules.

I’m surprised to have a lift to myself, a busy office building like this, I would’ve thought these metal boxes would be as cramped as any other part of the commute. Still, I suppose a touch of solitude before the interview will do me some good. Just me and my ever-increasing thoughts. Who knows, maybe we’ll stop at floor twenty-one and pick up a cargo of international investors or internal buyers. Nope, it wasn’t to be. On to floor forty-seven, and step on it.

JESUS! FUCK! WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?! Am I dead? I don’t think I’m dead. I’m having these thoughts, so I can’t be I suppose. Still, something’s gone wrong. The natural line of thinking to follow here would be that the lift has broken down between floors and that someone will come along shortly to rescue me from this predicament. Of course, I’m not about to follow some logical thought process when I’m trapped in a tiny metal box, forty-four stories above the safety of the ground. Nope. This is it, this is probably how I die.

This is the last thing I needed before the interview. Actually, let’s scratch that thought and address this situation with a smidgen of logic. Plenty worse things could’ve happened, I could’ve been killed on the bus replacement service by some maniac with an ideology that’s been bent out of all recognition. I’m still here, I’m still breathing. Albeit in dramatic hyperventilation.

Mobile! Praise be to the advent of digital technologies. We all have a life jacket in our pockets and- no signal. Of course. Typical. It could be the metallic walls, but I would’ve thought that forty-four floors above the ground would allow for excellent network coverage. Best not think about that; how high up I am. Let’s keep that thought from my mind, to keep the fear away. If I get too scared in this little space, I’ll boil over.

Shit. I was pushing it time-wise before this massive hiccup. If they don’t get me out of this box in the next five minutes then I’m going to be late for the fourth most important moment of my life so far. I’ve tried the emergency button, but it doesn’t quite click in the way that the other, now useless, buttons do. Brilliant, the one time I actually need the emergency buzzer-thing in a lift, and it’s entirely broken. I’ll just wave and gesture at the camera for a bit, they’ll know, they’ll come for me.

As long as I don’t think about how high up I am then I’ll be absolutely fine. Heights don’t normally affect me in quite this way, I’ve stood on the edges of cliffs and laughed in the face of whatever feelings arose at the time. This is different though, it’s the box, this big metal box that’s only getting smaller by the second. I could always leap backwards from the cliff-edges and land on the safety of my arse. If I leap backwards now I might just nudge this broken machine out of whack, and plummet a hundred and fifty metres to my gruesome death. That wasn’t a great tangent that I just took myself on, the thought of my guts splattered to the sides of this glorified biscuit tin just aren’t making me feel at ease for some reason.

I need to reason with myself because I could be here all day. Realistically, there could be no one manning this particular grid of cameras at this moment in time. It could be a half hour before they (the all-powerful “they”) realise that a crucial element of their clockwork building has broken down with a living person trapped inside. Then they’d have to call out the fire brigade, which will be this whole thing. If it’s a slow news day I might make the ten-o’clock bulletins; “Regular man idiotically traps self in metal box”. I’ll certainly be trending. Hell, students will probably be drunkenly turning me into a meme before the day is out.

Wait a second, I’m not so sure that camera is even recording. The wires are all frayed around the back, did that happen during the sudden halt? Or was this already an incredibly poorly kept lift for a multi-million pound office development? I suppose the cause doesn’t really matter. I’m here now, unseen by those who I need to be seen by. I probably shouldn’t have glugged down by coffee so fast, the reasons for this thought are obviously twofold; I could’ve rationed it out and I’ll need to use the bathroom fairly shortly.

I just want some kind of a sign, some signal that this lift won’t also be my tomb. If I knew for certain that I’d only have to spend six hours inside of this place, then I wouldn’t be panicking. As I can’t know that for sure, I’m starting to be a little pessimistic about my ever-decreasing lifespan. What worries me is the thought that I could be here forever, unaided by the proper authorities, and left to rot inside an elevator that the maintenance crew have completely forgotten about the existence of. I suppose this lift was around the corner from the other four, I knew I should’ve followed the huddled crowd of suits. That, of course, is a thought made by the same studio that brought you hindsight.

My jaw is starting to crack and pop away, it sounds like a packet of popping candy and feels satisfyingly unsatisfying. It hasn’t flared up like this in some time, but then again I haven’t spent a lot of time in confined spaces without a hope of a rescue. I’ll desperately attempt to pry the doors open with my bare hands, because that sounds like the sort of thing a man of action would do.

No use, I can’t get my fingers between the seemingly glued slabs of metal. What would I have done anyway? Pushed the doors open, fashioned a sturdy rope out of my own hair and spelunked my way down the elevator shaft? I don’t think so. No, if I’d opened the door between floors, then I would’ve only made my situation more terrifying, revealing the views of one of my potential causes of death. I really hope this thing is properly ventilated, I don’t want to succumb to any of my possible demises, but I fear suffocation most of all. Is it getting harder to breathe in here? Or has my respiratory system shifted gears to a manual setting?

I’m asking myself too many questions. Too many questions that I can’t and won’t know the answers to. I’m already late for the interview now. This job was a lock-in, a sure-fire way of advancing my career and saving myself another decade of toiling away in the small leagues. The small leagues of what? You know, maybe it’s the panic but I can’t quite recall what it is that I came here to interview for. A job, obviously, but what job was it? There’s the questions coming back again. Too many of those and not enough answers, as my non-existent father probably would’ve said if he hadn’t died when I was three.

Sitting. Sitting on the metallic floor with my back against a second metal surface will do the trick, that’ll calm me right down. Besides, if I’m sat down, at least I’ll be comfortable when the wires and harnesses holding this box snap. Okay, that’s it, back on my feet again. Standing is the action position anyway, and now is the time for action. I should think.

Maybe it’s this bad everywhere? Maybe there’s been a city-wide terror attack where all of the lifts in all of the office buildings just suddenly stopped, and now everyone in London is trapped inside a metal box, unable to help their fellow urban-dwellers. I suppose that wouldn’t be a terrible idea for an attack. Although the intricacies of hacking and rewiring every lift in the entire city probably goes beyond the capabilities of a type of person known for uncontrolled chaos. Smash and bang, that’s the 21st century approach, the days of the criminal mastermind remain in the past.

I suppose it could just be a generalised terror attack. Maybe the entire building is on fire and about to make a dramatic disintegration into rubble that’ll leave the world scarred, until they decide to build one even bigger. The metal floor beneath my feet feels as though it’s getting hotter, but that heat could just as easily be my perceived body temperature. No harm in undoing some of the upper-buttons on my shirt, the camera doesn’t seem to be working anyway.

Great, now I look like one of those perverted bosses. I feel like the man who the barista thought I appeared to be. Why did this lift have to be the kind with a wall mirror? I know it’s to give the illusion of a bigger space, but instead I’m just seeing the physical symptoms of my flaring anxieties. When I catch a glimpse of myself during a bout, I usually look about ten years older. This mess of a situation has me looking haggard and ready for an early release. I just want some fresh air, I need to be inhaling something that I haven’t already exhaled.

Fifteen minutes late for the interview, so they’ll surely come looking for me. Although, the ground-floor reception didn’t have a station to sign-in at, and the offices I needed were clearly signposted, so I just made straight for the lift. Hell, I didn’t even tell my wife which specific building I was heading to. The only way someone could find my exact location at this precise moment in time, is with a lot of research and a large handful of deductive reasoning.

“Have you seen this man?” They’ll ask. “No” They’ll honestly answer after a brief search of the local area. We checked all of his old haunts and usual commutes, but we didn’t check back-building lifts so I’m afraid we’re going to have to call off the search and pronounce this one dead. There’ll be no body, so in his place we’ll be burying an empty coffin, which ironically is not too dissimilar to the shape and size of his actual final resting place. Scavengers will sell his shoes for bottle-caps, after the end of it all.

Fuck. Where did that come from? I need to get out of my own head, out of this space. What if I never see my wife and son again? Good start. You lasted all of three seconds there before moving on to something equally as morbid. Of course you’ll see them again, someone will be along in no time. Only that lie is starting to feel tired and used, to the point where I don’t really believe it myself anymore. Who am I even talking to?

I’m not talking, I’m thinking. Except, did I just say that out loud? MORE QUESTIONS! It’s almost easier thinking about the fact that I’ll never see my family again, rather than this intense back and forth between myself and I. They’d manage on without me I think, financially things would be a little trickier, but I’m sure they could get a good internet campaign going. Maybe one of the tabloids will pay for my funeral in exchange for a few snaps from inside the lift. That’ll take the burden off Jess and- my son.

Why can’t I remember my son’s name? That’s got to be normal, given the amount of stress I’m under. If I start to lose grip, I can feel the walls and ceiling of the great metal box collapsing in on me. That’s what happens if I let the panic take over, I become a tiny man, crushed by his physical and psychological walls of anxiety. They can’t just leave people here like this, to suffer. They probably know what they’re doing, maybe there’s a hidden camera that I can’t see and this will all be on Channel 4 by the springtime. Well, if it’s a breakdown they want then you better believe that’s what they’re going to get, yessir.

Shit. Did the lift just move? I’m sure I just felt a tilt. Yep, I’m at a different angle now, there’s a slight slope. I can’t hear any voices, I should call out, say something like ‘Hey! I’m trapped in this lift!’ Something that describes my situation accurately, in order to receive assistance as quick as possible. Of course, that would be rational, so I’m just going to hurl guttural shouts and screams from the opening in my face, and hope that somehow solves the mess.

It won’t. It never does. Only once in my life have I been in a situation remotely similar to this one, other than being in the fucking womb. I remember backpacking in some European forest, it doesn’t really matter that I can’t recall the exact location at this point. I fell into a ravine that was small enough to be difficult to find, yet large enough for me to walk around a little without being able to climb the sheer rock-face. I’ve always been a hiker, not a climber. I guess that’s always been my problem, continuing on in the same direction with steely determination, without having the forethought to travel upwards.

No! That’s what today was all about. Today was supposed to be about becoming a climber, climbing my way to the top of a business in- something. The ravine back in Europe at least had fresh air, this right here is suffocating. I’m certain that this entire ordeal would be much more bearable if I only had a fresh oxygen supply. Have I thought that already? That sounds familiar.

I eventually made it out of the ravine when two of my friends came back for me. They gave me a hard time for being so clumsy, but I was just thankful to see them. I’d strip down, wear my trousers on my head and be viewed by the entire world if it meant that I made it out of here alive. This is no right way for a human to be, it’s directly the wrong way. If I were only partially claustrophobic before, I think this will push me over the edge. I’ll apply the self-diagnoses without any professional assistance, I feel like if I recall this anecdote then they’ll believe me.

You know, I can’t even remember the name of this building that I’m stuck in. Oak House? No, that was my first office job. Maple House? I don’t think it had anything to do with trees now that I think about it. Unless of course it did. It shouldn’t be one of my concerns right now, the rescue team aren’t going to leave me unless I can answer the question; “What’s the name of the building you’re currently in sir?”

Well, “they” might.

I’m not sure why but gently banging my head against this mirrored wall acts as a kind of catharsis. It’s probably because I’m reminding myself that I’m still here, that sting of my own flesh against a cold, hard surface. Shit, I think the lift just rocked again. I should stop pushing my own skull against the glass, no matter how softly. I could be down to the last cable, I could have six more. Either way, they’re coming loose and before I can even think of the worst possible outcome, I’ll be re-decorating the bottom of this building.

My wife- whatsername- Jess! At the very least, if I’m not home by seven she’ll know that something’s wrong. How long have I even been here? Shit! Now my phone’s dead, I could swear that it had a full charge. Have I really been inside here that long? Maybe the battery just drained because it was constantly searching for signal. Maybe everyone’s batteries have drained constantly searching for me. If I apply an ounce of my ever-depleting logic, then I’ve only been trapped here for an hour or two. Except, it could easily have been much longer. Why did we get rid of the watch? I stopped wearing one a few years back when I realised them to be a redundant fashion statement with little modern, practical use. What an arsehole of a worldly ponderer I am. If only I could stop listening to myself.

She should’ve found me by now. I really think that she should’ve come looking. Hell, I gave her number two billing, after the birth of our own son. The least she can do is send out the search parties for the father of her child. I might not be her meal ticket, but I’m certainly his. What’s marriage about anyway, if you’re not rescuing each other from broken-down lifts, what’re you even doing? AND WHERE ARE THE GOD-DAMNED FIRST RESPONDERS?!?!

I’m getting sick of my own madness, sick of the sound of my own thoughts. If I don’t hear a voice other than my own internal monologue soon, I’m going to have to empty it all out. Empty all of the thoughts from my mind and decant the pain onto the floor. I can feel the blood boiling and the sweat dripping. I need to undo the last few buttons on my shirt, to really complete the feral look.

There’s no reasoning left to any of this, I should’ve been found and rescued by now. As I haven’t even heard someone call out to check if I’m okay, I can only assume that everyone else is already dead anyway. Maybe this is it, our extinction event happened and all that’s left is a crazed man trapped in a lift in the sky. If that’s the case then I don’t want to be a part of this world anymore. I want to join the rest of my species and I want to join my family, whoever they might be.

I’m going to sit down, I need to sit down. I don’t care how much danger that puts my life in, I really don’t care anymore. What’s the difference of a few feet when you could plummet to your death at any given moment. I actually welcome that now. I want that last cable to give and for this thing to fall to the bottom of the earth, burying me with it. At least then I’ll be rid of this waking nightmare.


What if this-? No, I’m fucking real. If I stand up and thrust my skull into this reflective wall- FUCK! It shatters alright. Oh yessir does it shatter. Yes officer, that is blood emanating from my crown and trickling onto the elevator floor. And it appears as though I’ve cracked the mirror and left a part of myself within the spider-web splinter. I believe that’s some of my hair, skin and blood. They can rebuild me if they want, they can make me stronger. I’m DN-A-okay officer.

I’m glad I puked in the corner, no idea how much longer I’ll be here for, so it’s best to establish a dirty corner of the lift. Although given that my tomb is getting smaller and smaller, the miasmas of my vomit, piss and blood will reach my nostrils no matter where I stand. My head is spinning in a way that’s hard to understand. I can see specks of white light flickering around my vision, these give the illusion of motion despite the fact that I’m standing completely still. Am I though? Am I standing still or am I spinning around in both directions at the same time? I need to throw-up again.

This is it. I should’ve heard something by now, so I can only assume that everyone’s gone. There’s someone out there, someone who gave me my two favourite moments of my entire life, they should be looking for me but they’re not. Nobody is coming now, I know it. I don’t want to believe it but I know it within myself. I’m bleeding and the box is all I have, so I may as well finish the job.

Why am I here? I don’t even remember what I came here for. This is a big building, to have at least forty-four floors, so it must’ve been something fairly important. Was I going to get married? No. That couldn’t have been it. I think I was here to buy some coffee. Yeah- that was it. The best coffee is on the forty-fourth floor, everyone knows that. Here I come a-rolling round the mountain, here to get that hot lava java.

My head hurts.

I think I can make it stop if I push it against the shattered mirror. Everything seemed to get fuzzier last time, and that somehow made it all better. Yeah, that’s it. All I have to do is stand up, press both my hands against the wall and- BLAMMO. Woah, that one was harsh, and there’s a bit more of me in the mirror now, yessir. Increase the immediate pain and the long-term feelings float away like a balloon. A red balloon, as red as the blood that’s seeping from my mind, spilling out onto the floor. One more for the road!

Is that? Can I see you there? There’s a piece of a mirror on the floor now, that must’ve been me, nobody else here to knock it loose. I can see you in that long, narrow mirror. I can see myself but I am no longer the me that I set out to be. That’s why I’m here, I think. I must’ve come here to find myself in this fragile shard. This was the only box in the world that could provide me with such an insight and I’ve found it. I’m going to take a closer look, hold my reflection in my hand like the delicate, fleeting life it is. It’s an image of something bigger than a galaxy but smaller than the universe.

My head really hurts.

I can stop the screaming and the clawing and biting. I can do it using this fragment of myself, one quick motion and this can be the end of it all. A cut across here and we can really add to the red mural we’ve been making. Yep. That’s definitely sharp and can I just- what was that!? That was a tone, the numbers are moving upward. Forty-four, forty-five, forty-six and onwards! And upwards! What do the numbers mean? Questions! No more questions, time to slice and dice and see the surprise.

Fifty-three now. We’re moving. This metal box is really flying, the space feels bigger. I think I’m going to make it out. Make it out to what? I guess we can only find out, together, just me and myself.

The numbers are gone now, the lights are still blinking away but I can’t tell one digit from the next. I can make out the colour, but then everything is red right now isn’t it? It’s stopped. The lift has finished its’ ascension. I don’t think I’m ready to face a world again, not in my current state-

Gods forgive me. It’s beautiful, it’s a mountain and an ocean. I need to stand, I have to get to my feet and explore this place I see. I don’t think any of the chords snapped, I think we- it just started working again. There’s a chill in the air, I should fasten the buttons on my shirt. Solid ground. I haven’t stepped out onto a man-made office floor, this is earth; fresh upturned soil. I’ve made it out of the boxed hell and the earth has never looked so inviting.

I’m weeping, I’m genuinely tearful at the sights. There’s a mountain in the distance, it’s as wide as an entire range. There’s an ocean at my feet, a couple of steps away, and it stretches on and on, right to the mountain. The water is warm, there’s no sun but I can feel the warmth. What a deep, rich liquidity. I can’t even comprehend the shimmering beauty of it all.

I think I can dream here. I have this overwhelming feeling that I’m allowed to sit, float or climb this place for an eternity. Here, I will be allowed to dream. All of the moments that once were, no longer are, and any turmoil within, is now only peace. Yessir, now I only dream.


Written transcription from NewsVibe London, digital radio station, 02/01/2018 – 11:16am

Tragedy in the city as a malfunctioning lift plummeted forty-four floors at Evergreen House. One man, still unnamed, was pronounced dead at the scene when emergency services arrived. There are no reports of any further casualties and the victim’s family has been notified. And now, the weather. Yessir, it’s time for the weather, Jess?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s