Area 54 - This article is part of a series.
“Is this thing safe?” Thomas asked, watching with discomfort as the elevator cage lowered, and the edge of the floor slid upwards until it was replaced with grey concrete wall.
Gus smiled, and said, “Just try not to think about how everything around you was built on low bid.”
“Lovely,” Thomas replied with a frown.
After what seemed like an eternity, though couldn’t have been more than half a minute, Thomas asked, “How far down does this thing go?”
He didn’t think of himself as claustrophobic, but being suspended in mid air by a metal cage surrounded by concrete walls was making him feel a little short of breath. At least real elevators had the decency to hide the reality of their operation.
“Not too much longer. There’s a lot of ground between the top and the first level. The other floors have about ten feet separating each one, and I’m not really sure how far down this shaft goes beyond that.”
“Right … bottomless pit. Awesome.”
“Could be worse, you know,” Gus said with a smirk. It was a disconcerting look, his face illuminated only by slow blinking yellow bulbs at the corners of the metal cage.
To Thomas’ relief bright light spilled into the bottom of the cage as the ceiling of the first floor crested. Intellectually he knew his situation was no different than it was moments before, but the tension that had been building up within him seemed to release and fade.
The cage’s descent slowed, and it’s bottom bobbed an inch or two below the level of the floor. Through the mesh, Thomas could see a brightly lit hallway with fluorescent lighting running along the ceiling at regular intervals. The walls were covered with the same institutional eggshell white that seemed to be a requirement for covering stone and cinderblock. He wondered if it might just be primer that no one ever bothered to paint over. The grey floor had that strange shine that only smooth concrete could produce.
“And, we’re here!” Gus said. Flipping a latch on the inside of the metal mesh door, he slid it to one side, and stepped out into the hallway. “Welcome to Hotel ….”
His sentence was cut off as a deep rumble shuddered everything around them. Gus reached out and steadied himself against the wall. The elevator cage rattled, and Thomas instinctively took a step back, instantly realizing that was not the right direction.
“What was that?” Thomas asked, already moving towards the cage door.
Gus began to speak, but Thomas never heard what he said.
A roaring sound, like an angry leopard made of molten iron, filled the air. Thomas felt the sound pummel his body. The metal cage lurched forward, then up, and then down. The thick cable holding it aloft twanged as if plucked by a giant hand. He made eye contact with Gus as his world seemed to turn sideways. But it wasn’t him, it was Gus. The hallway was rotating. Rock dust burst forth from the walls as massive cracks fissured in all directions. Thomas was thrown backwards. A sickening metal moan howled like a tortured banshee. The piercing shriek was punctuated by a sharp bang so loud that he felt it in his teeth. As if a light switch had been thrown, the hallway and Gus vanished from sight, and Thomas felt himself falling.
The metal cage twisted as it fell. The corners dug into the concrete walls. Sparks showered over and around him, like he was falling through fireworks. The acrid sour odor of hot metal mixed with rock dust pressed against him as his body bounced, almost weightless. One side of the cage would wedge against the wall only to be kicked away. Then the other side would follow suit. He saw a quick flash of light. With the second flash he realized it was the hallways of the other floors. He didn’t know how many floors there were, but judging by the speed of his descent he didn’t think it mattered.
Through the cacophony of metal grinding he felt another deep low frequency rumble. Another flash of light. Then a loud crash as the cage seemed to tilt sideways. He felt himself fly upward, smashing against the top. A moment later he was falling again, landing hard in the corner of the cage, which was now facing down into the well of the shaft. When he struck, he felt the metal of the structure give, and it took a few moments for him to realize that he was no longer falling.
Breathing hard, his ears ringing like whistles, he heard another sound. It was a strange hiss. A snake? His brain couldn’t resolve into reality all of the disjointed information flooding his senses. The hissing continued. It had a stranger tone now, more metallic, like a chain.
Thomas’ eyes flew open just long enough for him to yell and pull himself into a ball. The sound had been the elevator’s cable catching up to the cage. It had only been visible for a moment, but he had seen the large shape of the elevator’s motor sail past the hallway just above him. Seconds later the metal structure of the elevator raged as the motor smashed into the top edge, ripping into the mesh, and dislodging the elevator from it’s perch.
He was falling again, but the descent was slower. He saw a flashing light. It was another hallway. This time the lights were flickering on and off in rapid succession. As the edges of the cage scratched into the walls, like a cartoon cat, some part of his brain kept urging him to move, but there was no where to go. It was an internal scream now, like a freight train was right at his back. That’s when his vision focussed on the motor that was hanging, barely supported by the mesh of the cage, directly above him.
“Oh shit!” he croaked, and tried to scramble out of the way. Looking down, there was only darkness. The air was getting cooler, and a dank gritty humidity filled his nose. The scraping of the cage against the walls of the shaft suddenly stopped. The silence was eerie, filled only with ringing in his ears. He was still falling, and starting to accelerate.
Latching his fingers to the side of the cage, he pulled himself towards it. Moments later he felt his body bouncing, slapping, against the side of the cage. A sharp pain knifed down the side of his back as the motor flew past him, crashing into the corner of the cage where he had been only moments before. The elevator teetered on what was left of it’s corner, and he felt it veer to the side. An unconscious reflex released his fingers from the mesh before the side slammed into cold water, sour and oily. He felt it rising all around him.
Scrambling, he got to his feet, every muscle on fire. The pain felt distant, and far away. Groping in the darkness, he searched for an opening in the cage. He quickly found one, and pulled himself up and out. Taking a deep breath, he let go his grip, and blindly pushed himself away.
He struck the water, sinking until he hit rocky ground. Turning, he splashed, trying to keep his head upright. His hands slapped against smooth rounded stones. Crawling, he took deep breaths. His head drooped forward until it touched the water’s surface. The far away nature of his pain was starting to drive hard into all of his senses.
Thomas continued to crawl, not knowing what direction he was going, but knowing he had to find some higher ground. As he moved, he could feel the water inching down from his upper arms, to his elbows, to his forearms, and finally it was just his hands and knees dragging through a shallow puddle. He tried to keep moving, but the weight of the pain combined with post adrenaline exhaustion crushed him like a wave crashing onto a beach. He barely noticed the cool stone pressing hard against his cheek before losing consciousness.