On Saturday they asked to do some overtime at work, so I got up early (even though I hate doing that on weekends) and bussed down to the International District. It was early enough that most of the stores weren’t opened yet; even the Starbucks in the little plaza looked mostly dead. But I could see a few people moving around inside, so I made the decision to go back after I’d logged in for the day. Maybe they could make me give up my Saturday for them, but I could at least get food on their time!
After hours — and that includes the weekends — the building’s mostly locked. In order to get in, you have to have a key card, which is the same one that you use to buzz to your floor on the elevator. I let myself in and crossed the lobby. No one was there, but I didn’t really expect anything else: there was usually a security guard in the mornings during the week, but they were always gone by the time I left in the evening. And seriously, if you didn’t have to come on a weekend, would you? I know I wouldn’t! Hell, I was already regretting saying yes to this in the first place. (Let’s be honest, I was regretting it from the moment I woke up that morning.)
The lights were dim in the lobby. That’s not too weird either; they usually start turning off things in the afternoon, so by the time I leave (usually around six), it’s mostly just ambient lights. Most of the elevators had dashes instead of numbers in their displays, but one of them had the first floor in flickering numbers. When I hit the button, the doors swung open.
It was full of people.
I guess maybe that’s not the weirdest thing; most of our department had been asked to do overtime — we had a huge project that was due at the end of the month, and they were really pushing us to go that extra mile. It was part of some really big contract that the company was negotiating for; if we pulled through, we would pretty much be golden, as far as I understood it.
But there wasn’t enough room for me in that elevator. And none of them moved, just staring at me as I stared at them. I recognized one of the faces in the back; he and I used to work together, before he transferred to another team.
What was he doing here?
But before I could do more than start to lift my hand, the doors closed again. The numbers above the elevator began to flicker again. I hadn’t even noticed that they’d stopped, once the elevator doors had opened. And I was still stuck. My office was on the sixth floor, and I didn’t really want to take the stairs. I would if I had to, but I was already fantasizing about calling in and apologizing for not making it, oops, couldn’t get in somehow, maybe my card’s not authorized to work on weekends or something.
(That’s bullshit, and I knew I would be called on it, but boy did I really think hard about it.)
I pushed the button again. The elevator with the flickering numbers was the one to open again, and this time, it was completely empty.
Well, that was definitely kind of weird, but hell, I was tired. Maybe I was just hallucinating things while I was half asleep. I stepped into the elevator and swiped my card over the keypad, then jammed my finger for the sixth floor. Of course it didn’t take; all of the elevators had a bad habit of not really liking when you pushed the button the first time, so I did it again. This time I got the ring of red light to show that my floor had been accepted, and the doors closed. I leaned against the railing and stared at the numbers going slowly up, and part of me regretted not going into that Starbucks before I’d gotten into the elevator. A mocha sounded really good right now.
But after it passed the fifth floor, it went straight to the seventh. I mean, it completely skipped over six completely — I was watching it, and it’s not like our elevator’s that fast! I didn’t just blink and miss it; it just went from five to seven like that was the natural progression of things. When I looked at the numbers for the elevator, the 6 was still lit, but the elevator was still going: eight … nine … ten … eleven … twelve … thirteen … on fourteen, it stopped and the doors opened.
My building only has nine floors. The number six was still lit on the number pad.
I stepped to the edge of the elevator and peered out. It looked like some kind of normal office lobby, with the alternating walls painted red and pale yellow. (It was sort of like the colorscheme that the office on the third floor uses, except for it was a much darker red and a much brighter yellow up here.) I could see someone sitting at a long receptionist’s desk, mostly hidden by a computer monitor.
In the lobby, I saw my old coworker. He was sitting in one of the big plush chairs that they set up for waiting interviewees, and he was actually dressed pretty nicely — a whole fancy suit and everything, with a portfolio on his knees. I’ve never seen him wear anything but various hoodies and shorts, so that was definitely kind of weird.
I started to call his name, since hey, if I was going to be having weird dreams, I might as well, right? But the doors began to close and he looked at me as they did.
Have you ever looked at something that seems completely normal, and just felt like it was wrong, somehow? Like there’s something that’s just a bit off and you can’t tell what it is, and then you notice that in the nice pastoral scene there’s some crazy ax murderer in the background waving a bloody knife?
Well, if you ever have, it was like that. His face looked completely normal, just like it always did, but there was something about it that made my heart start to race and my stomach clench up. I thought I was going to be sick right there in the elevator. I had to put both of my hands over my mouth and breath very slowly as the numbers started going down.
This time, going past seven, the doors stopped on six and they opened. I could see the dumb motivational poster on the opposite wall that I knew by heart (I had read it over idly so many times, waiting for the elevators). Everything seemed normal. I could hear the voices of people talking and I recognized most of them: that’d be my team, I thought, and I was already late.
As I stepped off the elevator, a weird chill went through me. It was like stepping right under and through an air conditioning vent, completely unexpected. I turned around and watched as the elevator door closed behind me, and part of me wanted to immediately smash my hand against the button again, to call it back and just leave before things got weirder.
Instead, I walked over to my desk and sat down. Most of the desks around me were full; we had nearly the entire team here today for the so-called “overtime party” that management was throwing. I took out my work laptop and logged in and got started for a couple of hours, before I remembered how much I’d wanted Starbucks.
This time, though, I was sure to take the stairs. After I got my order and came back to the building’s main lobby, I looked and saw that the elevators were still weird — it was still only the one out of four that still had a number showing, and it was still a flickering 1. I paused without actually hitting the button to call the elevator, and the doors slid open.
My old coworker was there, still in his nice suit, holding his portfolio. Looking at his face still gave me a weird sick feeling. He smiled at me, and then the doors closed.
I ended up taking the stairs back to the office, six floors or no. By the time I got back, though, no one was working: everyone was gathered around our teammate J—‘s desk, staring at his computer. I put my stuff down and wandered over, curious as to what was going on.
“What happened?” I asked, and one of the girls looked at me.
“There was an accident,” she whispered, glancing from me to the crowd. “An elevator cord snapped. Everyone on it was killed.”
“What?” It wasn’t the smartest thing I could’ve said, but who really expects to hear something like that on a Saturday morning? “Wait, what?”
She nodded. “It looks like maybe E- was on it.”
E- was the name of our old teammate. I looked at her and she nodded, and we crept away a little form the desk. J— was friends with E-, so it made sense that he would have heard about it first. We kept our heads bent close together, and she said, still in a whisper, “They’re still trying to figure out who all was in it, but it was in E-‘s apartment building, so …”
I thought about what I’d seen, both times in the lobby, and then at the top of the fourteenth floor that didn’t exist in this building. There wasn’t much I could say to that, though, so I just nodded. The manager on duty came over to talk to J—, and he got up and left shortly after that. We all ended up going back to work, but J— didn’t come back for the rest of that day.
On Monday there was an email confirming what had happened to E-, including details about the funeral and wake arrangements. I took the stairs that day. I’ve taken the stairs every day since.
I’ve never told anyone about what I saw that day, either. Part of me wonders why me, how come I’d seen it — it’s not like I’ve ever had encounters with ghosts or anything before. I’m pretty sure I have all the spiritual sensitivity of a rock. Supernatural encounters might happen to other people, but they never, ever happen to me. (When I was a kid I used to wish they would. When I was a kid, I was more stupid than I am now.)
But at the same time … I know what I saw. And I know that he saw me. He probably saw me on that nonexistent fourteenth floor, and that was the worst part of it.
I never take the elevator any more. Just in case.