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John never took any real notice of the people around him until the elevator suddenly came to a stop. The jolt snapped him out of the trance that overtook most people when they entered the cramped, metal boxes. A trance composed of long moments of staring at a door until it opened, revealing the bustling world outside – a stark contrast to the cold isolation within the elevator. A small compartment dangling several stories high by only a handful of cords and pulleys. Countless numbers of people placed their lives in the hands of these contraptions every day without giving it a second thought, never dwelling on the thin floor that stood between their feet and a perilous drop.
Being the closest to the elevator controls, John was the first to reach out and press the circular button labeled “26”, the floor number of his destination. Nothing happened. He tried twice more, each attempt followed by the same result.
“Press the emergency button,” someone said quietly from near the back of the compartment. John glanced over his shoulder. There were four people in the elevator. A woman in tight jeans and an olive green jacket repeated her suggestion. “The emergency button,” she said. “You’re supposed to press it if the elevator stops.”
John did as he was told and used the red button to activate the elevator phone.
“Hello?” he said quickly. He had no idea what to say. His wife, Lindsay, would often read up on the proper procedures to follow in such emergencies, but John was caught unprepared for the situation. “Uh, the elevator up here has stopped and we’re stuck in here.” John waited for a reply, but none came. He glanced back over his shoulder for encouragement. The other two people in the elevator were both men; one was dressed in a dark business suit, and the other wore a brown corduroy jacket and a well-worn pair of jeans. His face was speckled with stubble, as opposed to the clean-shaven skin of the businessman.
“Hello, we’re trapped up here in the elevator. Is anybody there?” John called into the speaker. Again, no reply. The businessman shuffled his feet impatiently, glancing down at his watch.
“Maybe… maybe we could go out through the emergency hatch,” the man in the corduroy jacket said, indicating the hatch above their heads.
“You’re supposed to wait until they send people up to fix the elevator,” the woman said, sitting herself down in the corner. “It might be a while.”
“I have a business meeting!” the well-dressed man exclaimed, jabbing a finger at his watch.
“Hey, clam down, okay?” the other man said, though his voice was quaking on the verge of panic. He tried to lighten the mood and make for pleasant conversation, holding out his hand. “I’m David.” The businessman sighed heavily, and shook David’s hand.
“Earl,” he said.
“I’m Felicia,” the woman said, waving slightly.
“John,” John said, returning to the control panel. He tried to make contact a few times more, but his efforts were in vain. Eventually he slumped to the floor and rested his head on his knees, waiting.
It was a while before the speaker crackled to life, and when it did, the passengers stood, gathering around the phone.
“One of you is a murderer,” an authoritative voice said simply. “In one hour, the elevator will be reactivated, and the murderer will be arrested.”
“Hey!” John called, jamming the button. “We need help!” But the speaker went dead again. The four passengers slowly turned to look at each other.
“Let’s just wait it out,” Earl said. “We probably just picked up a stray radio frequency or something.”
“I don’t think so,” Felicia said hesitantly. “It sounded pretty direct to me.”
“Are you saying I’m a murderer?” Earl boomed.
“No! It’s just – I’m just saying that I think that message was meant for us.”
“And how would you know?”
“Yeah,” David added. “How do you know that there really is a murderer in here?”
“Guys, stop!” John shouted. “We probably just heard the message wrong.”
“Covering up for her now, are you?” Earl said, advancing on John.
“Listen! Let’s just do like you said and wait it out,” John advised, trying to keep his cool. To his surprise, Earl backed down, and each person retreated to their own corner of the compartment.
John was counting the stitches in his shirt out of boredom when the lights went out. Without a sound, the compartment was plunged into an infinite darkness.
“What was that?” David said through the black.
“They’re probably just restarting the system or something,” Felicia said shakily.
“Yeah, just keep calm,” John agreed. The silence soon became more engulfing than the darkness, and John could almost feel it crawling down his throat and through his body. Through the silence, John began to hear breathing. Very feint, but just loud enough for his ears to pick up. He couldn’t tell where it was coming from, but he could tell that it was gradually getting closer.
“Earl?” he said cautiously.
“What?” the businessman replied from John’s right. That wasn’t where the breathing was coming from. Each breath he heard grew heavier and gravelly, and John assumed that it couldn’t be Felicia.
“David?” he called out into the darkness, but was answered only by the breathing, still growing closer. “David!” John called again. Without warning, the lights flickered back to life, and John scanned the compartment, shielding his eyes from the sudden brightness. Each passenger was in their corner, quiet and terrified. David looked John directly in the eyes, as someone would look into the eyes of a friend to whom they had just confessed a terrible secret.
For a moment, John considered telling the others what he had heard, but he resolved not to contribute anything more to their fears. They didn’t need to be scared any more than they already had.
But the elevator thought they did.
The four passengers felt momentary weightlessness as the elevator dropped out from under them, dropping almost five feet before grinding to a halt. John massaged the back of his head to dull the pain from the impact, and withdrew his hand to find blood on his palm.
David stood defiantly and stormed over to the elevator controls to call for help again. But when he raised his arm to press the button, John saw a glint of black metal in the man’s waistband. It took a moment for his body to register what he was seeing, and a surge of adrenaline forced him to take action.
“Gun!” he shouted as he lunged forward, ripping the weapon out from under David’s jacket. David made an incomprehensible grunt as he dove for John. The gun seemed to fire itself. There was a deafening bang and a flash of light, followed by David collapsing on the floor as limp as a rag doll.
Shaking, John looked down at the object in his hand. The barrel was red-hot from the discharge, and the handgrip was coated in the blood from his hand. Earl and Felicia looked across the compartment in horror at the dead man lying in front of them. John tried to open his hand to let the gun slip out of his palm, but his fingers were rigid and beyond his control.
Then the lights went out again, followed by a second sudden drop. Felicia shrieked in the darkness and there was a sickening thud of flesh against metal. Her cry was cut short by the impact, leaving her last breath reverberating throughout the compartment.
“You’re the murderer!” Earl roared and hurled himself towards the corner where he thought John was. The sounds of a brutal scuffle ensued, shattering the silence like a hammer to glass. Within seconds, another gunshot rang out, and the flash of light from the muzzle illuminated the cabin for the fraction of a second that it took to see Earl begin to fall to the floor.
The lights soon reactivated, revealing a terrified man surrounded by three dead bodies. John crawled over to Felicia and discovered that she had hit her head against the wall, and had been killed by the blow. Earl and David lay in growing pools of blood, their eyes staring into the cramped confines of the elevator.
It wasn’t long before the elevator doors were pulled open by two burly men with crowbars. The police were waiting outside and, upon seeing the three corpses in the elevator, promptly arrested John for triple-homicide.