Several weeks ago, when the lovely Smithereens suggested a group writing project – namely, a collaborative ghost story – I jumped at the chance to participate. It seemed like a great opportunity to write something – anything – when I’ve been so stagnate lately, and a ghost story for Halloween? What could be better? Of course, I didn’t anticipate (a.) the difficulty of collaborative writing or (b.) the difficulty of writing something scary or (c.) that I would have to write the conclusion. Here is the final chapter in our ghostly collaborative project – you can find chapter one here, chapter two here, chapter three here, chapter four here and chapter five here. Now it’s time for a nap and then some pumpkin carving – happy Halloween!
“Look, sir, I don’t mean to be rude,” I said, mentally cursing my innate politeness since I intended to be just that, “but I don’t give a shit what happened in this building. What I want is to get out, now, so if you could kindly do your job and take me to the floor with the goddamn exit, I would greatly appreciate it.”
Maybe it was my imagination – hell, possibly everything tonight was my imagination – but his expression faltered, transformed for a moment and he looked taken aback, almost vulnerable. I saw him glance through the elevator bars and catch eyes with Angel, who was lurking down the corridor, demon dog in his arms, snapping and growling.
“Look, miss,” the man whispered, the movement of his lips imperceptible. “It’s going to be much, much harder for you if you leave tonight. Becoming an undecided instead of a return or even a no return has much worse consequences. It’s in everybody’s best interest – yours, mine, even Angel’s, if you get off the elevator now.”
I stared at him. He seemed, however momentarily, frightened instead of frightening. I had stood up to him and instead of attacking me or trying to physically force me into something, he had tried coersion. I considered the possibility that perhaps he couldn’t make me get off the elevator – that perhaps his power only extended so far. With my heart continuing its drum solo in my chest, I tried standing as tall as possible and looked him in his haunted, empty eyes.
“I want to leave. Now,” I said.
He didn’t respond for several seconds. Just when I was about to start crying, a go-to reaction I had thus far been able to hold off, he raised his hand to the lever and pulled it. The elevator creaked and groaned its way up the shaft until it came to a halt. The door lifted and I bolted, not caring what floor I was on as long as I could get away from the basement, the elevator operator, Angel and his dog.
I felt momentarily relieved when I found myself on the recognizable ground floor of the building. I headed for the exit.
“Miss, miss!” Without thinking, I turned toward the sound of the voice. The man from the elevator had one foot and one arm out of the elevator door. ” I may not be able to make you stay in the elevator or get off on the floor you should right now, but you should know something. It’s just a matter of time for you, and undecideds never fair well here. You’ll be back.”
“Like hell,” I muttered under my breath. I pushed through the exit door and stumbled into the night. Sometime during the course of the evening it had started to rain – a hard, unrelenting downpour that sliced through my coat and stung my skin. I lowered my head and walked as quickly as possible toward my apartment building, the events of the past hour playing themselves over and over again in my head. I was quickly beginning to doubt my own sanity as I kept thinking about the elevator operator, Angel, the working drones chained to their desks. Could someone have slipped something in my tea? Or maybe I had a brain tumor, a fast-growing, deadly brain tumor and I would be dead before morning. A brain tumor, I thought, would be preferable to the alternatives – losing my sanity or a haunted office building determined to capture my soul.
I unlocked my apartment door and slammed it closed behind me, frantically securing the deadbolt. I managed a few deep breaths as I tried to order my thoughts. Firstly, I should shower. Secondly, make a cup of tea or – scratch that – pour myself a double of the Jameson that was left over from a dinner party I had thrown several weeks ago. Thirdly, I should find out everything I could about the building I worked in.
Between the scalding heat of the shower and the soothing power of the whiskey, I found myself, while not in a calm state, at least a percentage less terrified than I had been an hour ago by the time I sat in front of my computer and brought up google search.
I worked for a large pharmaceutical company that manufactured drugs designed to cure the natural ills of aging – erectile dysfunction and impotence, arthritis, constipation. Nearly all of our drugs came with horrible side effects, like crippling stomach pains and incontinence, but that didn’t seem to matter to patients or the physicians who prescribed them. A couple of years ago, we purchased a landmark building in town and relocated all of our offices, placing our name prominently at the top of the building, much to the consternation of the rest of the town, who always had and always would refer to the building as the Coal & Trust, despite the fact there was no longer any coal or, really, any trust to be had in the region.
I tried a variety of search terms – Coal & Trust haunted, Coal & Trust ghosts, old Coal& Trust building, Coal & Trust elevator, Angel Herrera, Coal&Trust secret basement. None of the search terms brought up much of anything – in fact, for such an old and once-prominent building, Coal & Trust had an oddly limited internet history, lacking even the basic items like a wikipedia entry. No history of the building or even of the business aspects of Coal& Trust popped up. I typed in the name of my company and the first four pages were nothing but patient testimonials – some positive, most of them vitriolic. Oddly, our old address was still listed on our website, a mistake someone in systems would surely pay for.
Instead of continuing my fruitless internet searches, I typed up a short resignation letter. I could not – would not – work in that building one more day. Perhaps I was ruining my future, burning bridges by not putting in my two-week notice, but I didn’t care.
After perhaps a grand total of one hour of fitful sleep on the couch, I awoke to sun streaming through my windows and the early morning sounds of a normal work day. I absorbed the empty whiskey glass near my computer and thought momentarily about reconsidering my decision to so hastily quit my job. Before allowing myself the chance to reason, I pulled a long sweater on over my pajamas, shoved my feet into my rain boots, grabbed my letter of resignation and made for the office. My plan was to simply slide it under the door, come home and consider my options, which ranged from checking myself into a psych ward to moving somewhere entirely new.
I made it to the office before most of my colleagues and was already breathing more easily as I slipped the letter under the door when the door swung open and I found myself, crouched as I was, staring up at Angel.
“What in the world are you doing down there?” He asked. “And by the way, while we participate in casual Fridays, I think you might be taking it a bit too far.”
“I’m…I’m just, here!” I handed him the letter. “I’m quitting.”
“What? No, no, no, no, no no – you are one of the best we’ve got in marketing. We can’t lose you. Come on – come in and talk about it. I’m sure we can work out something appealing enough to keep you here.”
“It’s not about perks and you know it,” I said, feeling more foolish by the minute. Two of my colleagues had already squeezed by me, giving me quizzical looks as they tried to avoid stepping on me.
“I most certainly don’t know it. Come on in and let’s talk. Get up off the ground, for God’s sake – do you want people to think you’re a beggar?”
Already two more co-workers I knew had walked past me, and I was beginning to feel more foolish by the second. The events of the previous evening seemed more and more ludicrous the longer I sat crouched at Angel’s feet.
“I – I’m sorry,” I said, taking the hand he proffered. “I just had a really bad night’s sleep last night.”
“Happens to the best of us!” Angel said cheerfully, pulling me up and inside the building. “We’ll rectify this resigning nonsense and then you take the day off, come back next week with a fresh perspective. Hey, there, Jerry!” Angel greeted the chief financial officer. “Hold the elevator, will you?”
I smiled at Jerry while hoping he wouldn’t recognize me as anything more than a nameless creative doof from the marketing department. I followed them both into the elevator. Maybe my company made a drug I could take to calm my imagination – last night was surely some sort of psychotic break – I’d heard about single women having them after living alone for so many years. I began running through the list of drugs we made as the elevator door closed and Angel turned to Jerry.
“Elevator all the way down, Jerry. We’ve got an undecided to take care of.”
I turned toward Jerry and Angel, my stomach sinking as fast as the elevator.
“I told you last night,” Jerry said, his eyes suddenly red, his teeth sharper by the second, “You should have remained in returns.”