Gary had been an elevator repairman for thirty years. He was loyal to the work, though it proved to be indifferent to him. He worked for dozens of different companies on contract with little to no benefits. At this point in his life, it didn’t bother him. He had plenty of projects with overtime pay that he was just squirreling away. It was just him now. He lost Flo six years prior and there wasn’t anybody else’s wellbeing he worried about.
Other than losing Flo, Gary was a man with few complaints about life. He had mild ailments that were creeping up on him with more fervor each year, but he just considered it “all the regular bells and whistles”. The arthritis in his hands gave him less grief than his damn fingernails. He only had a handful of bad habits; biting his nails was one of them. He chewed them to the nubs. He winced when he saw the black dust caked in old hydraulic lubricant outline his tiny fingernails. Pinching end caps closed and gripping down hard on tools caused him to regret indulging in his bad habit the previous evening.
A typical evening would include a simple but satisfying meal and a willful television binge. Gary felt the most relaxed when he was in the sitting position in a chair. That is how he was relaxing when he watched three episodes of The Twilight Zone, while biting his nails the entire time.
He laughed to himself wistfully as a memory of Flo graced his mind. Contrary to Gary’s upright way of relaxing, Flo’s preferred relaxed position was lying down on the couch or in bed. She would withhold lying down from herself until she was in her pajamas and fully ready to appreciate the first stretch while all laid out. It was one of the biggest treats of her day. “Nothing’s better than that first stretch after a long day. You only get one, gotta do it right.”
Gary tried to mimic her stretches for a week or so after she died, but realized what made him comfortable was different from what made Flo comfortable. To each his own, nothing wrong with that.
“Hey, Gary! We’re gonna test the doors!” Leroy, a friend and frequent coworker, yelled from above.
Roused out of his thoughts, he capped off the wires he was working on before they turned on the electricity. “Okay!”
The elevator dinged and the doors subsequently closed. Gary always thought of this as his private time, even if it was just for a few seconds. It was like his very own world; probably how a kid feels in their fort when they snap the sheet closed.
The elevator dinged and the doors opened. Gary heard Leroy and the other repairman, Slim, chat about something that sounded like lunch. The elevator car was stopped halfway between floors so Slim crouched down to include Gary in the conversation. His face looked labored as the blood rushed to his head. “We’re going to bring the car back up to level and get some chow. You interested?”
Gary shook his head and patted a metal lunchbox. “Got my lunch right here.”
Leroy and Slim razzed Gary about being boring as they got the car level. They made sure all the electricity was shut off for that one elevator and left the doors open. After putting up a CAUTION sign in front of the car Gary was in, they went down the adjacent elevator.
An elevator car is as good of a place as any to have lunch. Gary sat down with his back against the wall, the handrail just clearing the top of his head. He stretched out his legs, but not too far as to strain his knees, and crossed his ankles. He opened his lunchbox and took out a sandwich.
As he took a big bite, two office employees opened the hallway door leading to the elevators. They were startled to see Gary sitting there in the dark and everybody had an uncomfortable laugh. With his mouth full, Gary pushed the bite he just took to the side of his mouth and pointed, “Other two are operational!”
The office employees stood quietly as they waited for either of the other elevators to arrive and Gary felt like his presence interrupted a conversation. He shuffled around in his lunchbox to break the silence and eventually decided to turn on a small portable radio. He kept it at the lowest volume and preceded to eat his sandwich.
He took off his baseball cap and looked up towards the ceiling. Exhaling through his nose, he rested the crown of his head on the wall. The recessed lighting was nice. He pondered that the light cans were nicer than the ones he had in his house. Chewing slowly, he put his cap back on.
He heard a ding from the elevator and assumed it was from the adjacent car, but instead the doors of the car he was sitting in closed. In complete darkness, he waited for a moment and thought maybe Slim and Leroy were back from lunch to start work again. “Guys, are you out there?”
No response. Gary carefully laid his sandwich back into where his memory told him his metal lunchbox was. Then he reached back to the handrail while simultaneously tucking his foot under his weight to hoist himself up.
“Guys? Leroy! Slim!”
He turned on his flashlight and pointed it towards the controls. He hurriedly closed the panel he had been working on. Forcing his hand to be calm, he pressed each of the buttons. Nothing.
While reaching in his tool belt, the lights turned back on and the elevator car jolted upwards. Still not knowing fully what has happening, he exhaled with relief.
No answer. At least the lights were on. Gary regained his balance and looked up towards the lights. They were shaking despite being recessed into the brackets. He tried to get his eyes to focus but the lights and everything around him were vibrating.
The elevator seemed to have been moving upwards for quite some time. There were only eight floors in the building and he and the guys were working between floors five and six. He should have hit the top by now. The elevator car continued to vibrate and climb up what seemed to be a hundred floors.
Gary was frightened. He figured he must have fallen asleep and was having a dream. He closed his eyes and put his closed fists up to his temples.
The elevator stopped. Gary slowly opened his eyes and took his hands away from his face. The shaking ceased and the lights remained on. He felt a moment of calm before hearing a familiar ding from the elevator doors.
The doors opened to an unfamiliar place. It was a vast meadow with tall pale green blades of grass, speckled with lavender wild flowers.
It took a moment for Gary’s eyes to adjust. He poked his head out of the elevator and looked down. It was the same pale green grass that was spread as far as the eye could see. He stood facing and hugging the side of the elevator and slightly squatted on his left haunch. He extended his right foot and quickly tapped the ground to test its reality.
It was real. He loosened the grip of his bear hug on the elevator and took one step outside. His work boots made a hefty thump. The land was solid and there was a slight breeze. The air was fresh but he found it difficult to breathe.
He took off his cap and bent over slightly to catch his breath. Bowing his head down, he took three deep breaths. It felt like he only took one shallow breath. With both his hands resting on either knee, he looked forward into the horizon. The way that the light was illuminating the meadow was piercingly beautiful. The view changed his panic to a temporary calm.
Along with the pale green grass and lavender flowers, there were trees unlike any he had seen before. They had wooden trunks with intricate branches, akin to an oak tree. Instead of oak leaves, they had more of a succulent-like leaf filling the branches. The trees were sporadically placed throughout the meadow and provided ample shade as far as they could reach.
He heard a rustle in the grass behind him. He whipped around to see what it was only to notice the elevator car was gone. The panic set back in quickly. He frivolously ran to the empty area where he thought he remembered the elevator was and did a full three-sixty.
A dog was staring at him from a distance. From Gary’s point of view, she was backlit and equidistant between two cactus trees. He could not tell whether she was a real dog or a statue until her tail made a slow wag from left to right.
His breathing was short and he started to feel faint. Seeping out of the grass was some sort of green ooze that started to create suction around his boots. He ran away from the ooze puddle, but he could not rid it from his shoes. The ooze grew and climbed up his legs. He fell in the tall grass and tried to kick and swat it away to no avail. The swatting helped the ooze travel to his hands. He tried to wipe it off by raking his hands across his chest.
By now, Gary was covered up to his neck in a thin layer of the ooze. It took only moments for it to cover his face and head. He tried to scream but nothing came out. The entirety of his body was now enveloped.
To his surprise, he could breathe more easily than he had for the first time since he landed in this strange meadow. His heart rate was steady and he was lying on his back.
The originally translucent ooze started to turn opaque until the sky and the surrounding meadow disappeared and everything was black.
When his vision snapped back, he was lying on the floor in his kitchen at home, looking up at the recessed lighting that the elevator’s lights had put to shame.
“What the hell?”
He turned his head and saw a broken glass and realized he was wet from the spilled water. Confused and relieved at the same time, he swept up the broken glass and wiped up the water. He took off his shirt and went to the bedroom to put it in the hamper. Then he beelined it to the bathroom to turn on the shower.
“Why are you taking a shower now, Gary? It’s so late. Just come to bed.”
Gary’s hand froze over the shower knob. He slowly turned his head to look towards the source of the voice. There was Flo. In her pajamas. All stretched out on the bed, looking at him with a sweet smile.
Leroy and Slim came back from lunch and saw the elevator door was closed. Puzzled, they called out.
“Hey, Gary? Gary! You in there?”
They had to turn the electricity back on for the door controls to work. The elevator dinged and the doors opened to an elevator car with its sole contents being a portable radio, a metal lunchbox, and an unfinished sandwich.