This story is part of a collection based on phobias called Foe Be Us and was published in The Write City Magazine
They laughed at me and my fear; mocked my desire- no need to switch apartments with the superintendent. They felt the cramped dwelling was undesirable in its location. The room was on the main floor, at the back of the lobby, past the mailboxes. But most importantly to me, far from the elevator I would no longer need.
The tenants thought me foolish for paying the same for the dank shithole as for the two bedroom apartment I had occupied on the fourth floor of the Chicago Rise Apartments. They did not understand how desperate I was to avoid the elevator. They did not understand the shortness of breath compounded by rising gorge, or the knocking of my knees despite legs that refused to move.
It was an ancient building in an up and coming neighborhood. Just a matter of time before it was knocked down and rebuilt in sleek new fashion. The only building I had found within walking distance of my job that even offered housing, objectionable as it was, on the first floor.
I’d always been afraid of elevators despite having been assured time and again of their safety. People liked to show me how the safety mechanisms worked by shoving their hands between closing doors which always reopened. I had a little heart attack each time. Guaranteed by many a well-meaning do-gooder on the security and back-up systems of modern lifts, I tried my best to internalize my dread and minimize my drama. I don’t know exactly when I could no longer do it, I just knew I couldn’t.
Stairs would be a logical option. In these old residences they seemed to be no option at all. Decrepit and thick with years of stench, the stairs were crumbling and the railings were loose. Neither safe nor inviting, I believed them to be for emergency situations only.
It’s not the size or enclosure that freaks me out. It’s not the height or drop that steals the breath from my lungs. It’s neither the proximity of strangers nor fear of being in another’s control that brings me to the brink of a faint.
It is the doors. The closing, sucking, sealing doors. The crushing, crunching, biting doors.
The building manager, and I use the title loosely, that fat bastard Wirtz, not only got the deal-end of my anxiety, but he didn’t even clean his place before lugging his crap up to my pristine abode. He chuckled and offered German condolences for my stupidity.
I was less than distraught when he was the first victim.
I alone heard the horrifying validation of my phobia. It was very late one Tuesday evening. The residents were tucked safely in bed, dreams coddling them from the drowse of the 10 o’clock news to the rouse of the next work day.
Like a punch to my gut, I experienced the realization of my horror—the vicious cracking sound and a short but tremulous scream that were followed by my instantly sweaty palms. I donned a robe and bolted from my apartment. The sight that greeted me was both revolting and perfectly expected.
Wirtz had stumbled home from the corner pub, stinking and swaying as usual. He’d pressed the call button and when the doors parted, he’d stepped inside. Almost. The gates had closed on his rotund body, bisecting him with a snap, a squish and a splat. As I stared, the doors opened again and I heard a grinding of metal as jagged triangles emerged from the vertical edge, bits of cloth and flesh clinging fresh and wet. With a clank and a buzz, the teeth extended and began rotating, grabbing the remnants of the body and dragging it inside. The doors closed.
I don’t know how long I stood there, my legs leaden, urine pooling on the foyer tile around rooted feet. Panic had glazed my eyes. Any sense of vindication was swallowed by the veracity that my fear… was real.
Eventually the doors opened with a ding and exposed a clean interior. The linoleum was worn, but bloodstain free. The walls were buckled but unsoiled. When I noticed the splatters and gore that had littered the entry had blended in with the discolorations of age and use, I took a step back, stumbling with the freedom of loosened appendages. I believe I heard the cubicle chuckle. Faintly I could hear music, “Up, up and Away” by the 5th Dimension. It was inviting me, but I would never go. I lumbered off to my dingy apartment and showered in scalding water and tears before cocooning myself in blankets till morn.
I avoided the elevator, arcing wide, ever fearful of those crushing mandibles. My eyes watered, my hands shook when I tried to wipe them whenever I heard that damn ding. I drew excessive derision from my fellow renters. Even those who had previously been considerate of my condition made fun of me. How could they be so foolish as to invite themselves into danger like lambs to slaughter? Couldn’t they feel its hunger?
The next ‘feeding’ involved the cranky old bat from the 2nd floor. Her demise was dry and powdery compared to the squelch of Wirtz. I felt no pleasure from her suffering, but also no remorse. Those smacking doors gave my fear credence.
Again I wondered how the Chicago Rise occupants could continue the safety charade. I refused to look any closer, but I swear I saw a wiry gray tuft caught in the track of the door.
The missing occupant of 38D, an aspiring actress, brought the lobby gossips out. Say what they would about her drug induced underworld porn related disappearance, I knew her breasts exploded like jelly donuts when the doors bit. Patches of saline splatters could be seen crusting on the wall above the buttons.
Then one inclement evening, I stumbled upon a transient unconscious outside the front doors of the building. I kindly dragged him into the lobby for shelter and safety. The elevator doors dinged open and a cable slithered out through the crack where the box didn’t quite meet the ground floor, wrapped itself around the foot of the hobo and hauled him lithely into its maw. Over the sounds of my dry heaving, I heard an acoustical version of the Sam & Dave classic, “Thank You,” just as the jaws came together in that familiar collision of flesh and metal.
I live at the institution now, a sprawling one-story facility. I still hear that grinding metal and staccato whine in my nightmares.
They laughed at me and my fear. Who’s laughing now?