This song again? Archimedes thought as he mashed the button for the forty-second floor and took a deep breath. Even though he had heard the song probably a hundred times, the nameless tune that seemed to play on repeat in every elevator across the city for the last year wasn’t actually that bad. Rather, he was grumpy because of all the people that had gotten on the elevator after him.
He had rushed ahead and gotten on the same elevator as Chedderfield, Lucy in tow, thinking that it’d just be the three of them, and the forty-plus-floor climb would give him a chance to at least start clearing the air before Chedderfield huffed off and avoided him the entire night. Unfortunately, as soon as he got in the elevator, he noticed it wasn’t just Chedderfield. Rather, Brad, who’d been a general rich asshole bully and Archimedes’ rival on their soccer team, was already there doing his best to chat up another person: Stephanie. She was the preppy goody two shoes who had signed her name twice on every volunteer list back in the day.
Just as soon as he told himself that two extra people wasn’t too bad, he could stand a little embarrassment, and that Brad wouldn’t even pay attention to them anyway, Jeff, the short wannabe musician that used to play guitar in the cafeteria every day, threw his hand between the closing elevator doors and forced them open again.
“Got room for three more?” Nguyen, the old high school gossip asked as she walked in behind Jeff. Archimedes could see Maryam, a girl he couldn’t remember ever talking to for more than a sentence, sitting at the entrance of the elevator, hesitating for a moment.
“They got room. Stop taking your time and either get on or get off,” a short rotund man that Archimedes didn’t recognize at all said as he pushed past Maryam into the elevator, giggling at something on his phone with one of the most dirty-old-man smiles Archimedes had ever seen. The guy put away his phone and leaned against an elevator wall. “What? You getting in or not? I got places to be.”
“Oh . . . y-yes,” Maryam mumbled as she pushed her way into the now tightly packed box.
“You wanna hit the damn close-door button before anyone else decides to get on this clown car of a damn elevator? I swear . . .” Brad huffed as he made a point of moving his hand in just the right way to show off his incredibly expensive—like more than most people on the elevator might make in a year expensive—brand name watch to everyone in the elevator.
Yeah, so much for getting a chance to clear things up with Chedderfield . . . Archimedes sighed as he leaned his head back and listened to the unknown song for the thousandth time this year. He could see exactly how mad Chedderfield was getting thanks to Brad and knew it wouldn’t be the right time.
“What’s with that look, Oil Spill?” Brad demanded indignantly as the elevator finally began to head upward.
Oil Spill. Archimedes couldn’t help but grit his teeth tightly and force a smile as he did his best not to show how much that nickname Brad had given him in high school bothered him. While everyone else except Chedderfield and two other kids in their high school had come from money, Archimedes had toiled night and day at the family garage like a dying workhorse to help pay for their fancy, snobbish school and put money away for college—yet for some reason, that was something everyone mocked, calling him names to belittle his hard work.
“No need to go there, pendejo,” Chedderfield said, using the Spanglish insult that he and Archimedes would call Brad, who never took the time to google what it meant but knew it was a foreign word, which was enough to still make him turn red when he heard it.
“Oh my god, did you guys hear about those four million trees planted by the BluTubers?” Stephanie cut in, trying to diffuse the situation by changing the subject. “I mean, isn’t that amazing? I can’t imagine having such a large impact, can you?”
Jeff sighed. Archimedes already knew why too. That half-Indonesian musician wannabe had always hated Stephanie’s type, the BluTubers, and anything charitable at all.
Before Jeff even began to open his mouth, Archimedes already knew what he was going to say too. If those people down there would just yada yada . . . He began formulating a way to stop that when, all of a sudden, the elevator started to vibrate before it lurched to a halt.
The elevator shook, and the lights flickered as if something had hit the building. Even the repetitive song skipped a note and restarted.
“What in the—” The words fell out of Archimedes’ mouth as he looked over at Jeff, the five-foot-three pineapple-pizza-loving, turkey-bacon-eating monster that had ruined the cafeteria’s menu more times than he could count.
“I mean, if those freaking people down there would just stop burning the . . .” Jeff began, the elevator blip only delaying his rant. He was oblivious to the fact that the elevator lights were flickering like a monitor with a graphics card trying to render faulty code, but then the whole elevator shifted, falling an inch and locking for a moment as everyone tried to recover their balance. For a brief second, it felt like the elevator was going to drop, and they were about to be sent falling toward their deaths.
“Don’t worry,” Lucy said while putting a hand on Archimedes’ shoulder as if reading his mind and answering a question he hadn’t even asked. “The elevator has a secure locking system. It’s not going to—”
Lucy couldn’t even finish her sentence before a giant pipe crashed through the wall of the elevator and impaled Jeff, transfixing him to the wall behind him as it punched right through his sternum, exploded out his back, and continued for several inches before eventually coming to a stop.
For a brief second, no one moved. No one breathed. No one even blinked as they stared at Jeff, his upper torso ripped to shreds, his eyes strained. His whole face looked like it was about to pop like a stress ball that had the middle squeezed too tightly. “I always hated you all,” he managed to sputter.
“AHHH!!!!” Stephanie screamed as the light left Jeff’s eyes and he died. She wasn’t the only one. Every girl except Lucy screamed as well, and Archimedes had to admit that he had the urge to do so too. He might have if his ears hadn’t been left ringing by the shrill shrieking because the elevator acted as a sound-insulating box of horror.
Maryam, who had been hiding in the corner of the elevator until that point, put a hand to her mouth as she retched, small driblets of vomit escaping between her fingers as she did her best to hunch forward and not get any on her dress.
“Breathe. Breathe,” Nguyen said as she put a hand on Maryam’s back. She then produced a wet wipe from her bag.
“Don’t you dare get that shit on me,” Brad warned despite not being anywhere close to Maryam.
Chedderfield stared at what was left of the mutilated body of the pineapple-pizza-loving musician. “Oh my god.”
“I don’t think he did it, but if he did, maybe I’ll have to consider going to church,” Lucy snorted, seemingly immune to the horrendous act in front of them.
“Fuck, this suit cost more than he did,” Brad said as he looked at his overly expensive, brand-name suit and tried to wipe the blood off. “What the hell? Someone is going to have to pay for this. I am not going to be out a few grand because some cheap, corner-cutting immigrant couldn’t do their fucking job right!”
“Calm down, Brad. I’m sure you have more shirts in your bridal suite,” Chedderfield said with a scowl.
“Yeah, I bet you’ll just use it as an excuse to take off your shirt anyways,” Lucy added loudly.
The elevator shook, and everyone stumbled as the lights in the elevator flickered and went out. There were curses from the dark as people tried to get to their feet and regain their composure. There was a snick sound and a brief flash of sparks, which repeated until a single flame gave some light to the suddenly confining metal box. The short, barely five-foot-eight ball of dough, who had sat in the corner of the elevator quietly until now, held his lighter in his hand, the flame illuminating the worn Led Zeppelin T-shirt he was wearing even as its light struggled to reach the walls and ceiling of the tiny space.
While everyone else was stuck staring at the light, Archimedes watched as Stephanie’s eyes went from the hole in the elevator to the still shaking walls, back to the hole, and then to Brad. He could see her mouth moving without words for a moment before something finally came out, once more breaking the persistent silence: “The doors! We . . . We need to get those doors open!” she exclaimed, grabbing Brad’s bicep with both of her hands.
You little . . . Archimedes thought, looking over to Chedderfield to see if he had noticed it too.
Brad’s lips pulled upward, his eyes lighting up as if Jeff hadn’t just been turned into a human shish kabob right in front of him, and he beamed a full-toothed grin at Stephanie. “I got it, babe,” he boasted, pushing past the stunned Archimedes and Chedderfield as he made his way to the door.
It didn’t take him long to get his fingers in and begin pulling the doors apart, centimeter by centimeter. His muscles strained, and the veins on his neck started to look like the cables on a suspension bridge as they bulged outward. After half a minute of looking like a constipated version of the Hulk, his efforts were rewarded as the crack became just wide enough for everyone to see the T-shaped junction in the hotel hallway in front of them, the room numbers all in the 3800s.
“Give me a second, and I’ll get the rest,” Brad assured them as he paused to take a breather, supporting his tired upper body on his knees as he bent over, winded from the exertion. “I didn’t spend all those damn days in the gym for nothing.”
Lucy, who had been watching the whole show with a rather peculiar expression, waited for Brad to expend himself before remarking, “Real smooth there, Brad . . . real smooth-brain, that is.” Then, turning to Chedderfield, she said, “Give me a boost, and I’ll show you how a real woman can do this.”
Chedderfield looked to Archimedes, who smirked and nodded. The two shared an unspoken desire to make Brad look bad. Chedderfield squatted down a little, placing one meaty hand under each of Lucy’s armpits and slowly lifting her up and she reached between the slightly open doors, doing his best not to drop his classmate.
“And ta-da!” Lucy exclaimed proudly as she flipped a latch. The two doors shot open as much as they could, stopping halfway on one side as the beam stuck through it prevented it from opening any further.
The moment the plan was complete, Chedderfield quickly and unceremoniously plopped her back down, leaned back, and wiped his forehead.
“I don’t have my own orbit, you ass,” Lucy quipped, smacking Chedderfield’s gut.
“What?” He looked confused and wronged.
Archimedes didn’t know whether he wanted to explain that the way Chedderfield had set her down and the motion he had done after had made it look less like the years had gotten to him and more like the pounds had gotten to her.
Brad, for his part, looked even more wronged than Chedderfield as he stared maliciously at Lucy. “You couldn’t have done that earlier? Like, before I spent all that effort trying to pull apart the doors?”
“And deny you the chance to flex those arms for the ladies?” Lucy snickered back.
“Umm, I’m just gonna . . .” the guy with the lighter muttered as he scooted past the petty squabbling of old classmates. He hobbled to the elevator door, making a big scene of having to lift his knees up high enough to reach the hotel floor as he climbed out of the elevator while everyone watched. “There we go. That wench is on her own if she still wants to see the damn meteor shower at 9:00. I am not walking up the damn, freaking stupid, freaking stairs or taking a damn elevator again tonight,” he grumbled before starting down the hallway.
“Welp, it’s a new age. I suppose we should get used to saying, ‘gentlemen first,’” Nguyen remarked, extending a hand to usher Archimedes out of the elevator as if she were a man opening a car door for a lady.
Archimedes, not being one to argue with any situation that got him off the death trap faster, just shrugged. “Don’t mind if I do,” he said, stepping up and out of the elevator only to turn around and offer a hand to Nguyen.
“Don’t mind you do either,” Nguyen replied as she took Archimedes’ hand. He pulled her out of the elevator just as it shook ominously again.
“It’s falling! Let me through, plebeians!” Brad yelled as he pushed his way past the women, knocking down Stephanie and Maryam as he tried to pry the elevator doors open further.
The elevator shook again and dropped another foot. “Move it!” Chedderfield yelled as he helped the two fallen ladies to their feet. The rest of the elevator passengers scrambled for the exit, and, between Nguyen and Archimedes, they were pulled out of the death trap. Chedderfield was the last out, and, just as his feet cleared the elevator doors, there was a loud snap, and the elevator dropped down its shaft with a deafening clatter.
“That was close,” Chedderfield said, still lying prone on the carpeted hotel hallway.
“Closer than you know.” Archimedes had a wide-eyed look on his face as he pointed to the bottom of Chedderfield’s shoes.
Chedderfield turned and sat up to examine what Archimedes pointed at to find the entire sole of one of his newly bought dress shoes missing. The dropping elevator had shaved off the layer of shoe as it fell.
“Damn, I just bought these too,” Chedderfield griped as he poked his feet through the sole-less shoe with his finger.
“I-I-I-t could have been worse if you hadn’t moved faster,” Maryam said as Chedderfield got to his feet.
Brad nodded and added, “Yeah, you could have been that stupid guitar freak.”
The reminder of Jeff’s gruesome demise sobered the mood immediately. They’d joked in the grim moment, and Archimedes had played along as a way to deal with the immediate threat to his life, but once the threat passed, the death hit him with grisly realism.
“Someone should t-t-t-ell management about their elevator and Jeff’s death,” Maryam said, staring at the dark hole where the elevator had once been. She then looked up at the rest of the group with saucer eyes that reminded Archimedes of a child who had broken something valuable and didn’t know what to do more than a person who had just seen someone die. After a few moments of silence, she added, “We should . . . We should wait for someone, right? For his mom? Or his dad? Or . . .”
Brad shrugged. “It’s not my problem.”
“I thought this was your family’s hotel. How is it not?” Chedderfield said.
“Whatever. That’s a construction worker’s mistake, not mine, and I think they’ll have noticed the elevator issue since the thing crashed into the ground,” Brad remarked sarcastically. “Since, as you pointed out, my family owns this hotel, I can assure you the day manager will be hearing from me about the faulty upkeep of the elevator.” He looked at the people around him, smiled, and continued, “But that doesn’t have to stop us from having a good time at our reunion, does it?”
Archimedes blinked in shock as he tried to process how nonchalant Brad was about Jeff’s death. Even if Brad didn’t care about Jeff and probably never thought of him as being in the same social stratosphere, Jeff was still a person. A person had just died, and Brad was worried about whether his high school reunion would be ruined and whether they were going to have a good time.