Aphelion Issue 245, Volume 23
November 2019
 
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Red Lights

by George Rosas




“Damn it! Again? This can’t be happening.”

The bright red light of the elevator floods the floor, it blinks on and off, it informs all who glimpse it that its master is out of order.

“What a piece of junk. It breaks down every week I swear.”

For some reason it seems to only break down when I come home. And always when I arrive home late at night. I move closer to the elevator door and press its button repeatedly. My eyes wander to a poster by the elevator button. A young woman, smiling gaily in the picture, looks back at me. It reads:

HAS ANYONE SEEN ME? IF SOMEONE HAS ANY INFORMATION ON EMMA PLEASE CALL 702 325 8297

She’s beautiful. I wonder if she’s okay and where could she have gone? A memory surges my brain of a time, not so long ago, when she rode the elevator down to the lobby with me. I remember her young, and delicate. She took one pretty finger and tucked a strand of lose hair behind her ear. She turned towards me and caught me in the act of staring at her. I looked down, embarrassed and guilty, and heard a giggle from her corner.

I press the elevator button again. The call button that is of no use tonight. Guess I’ll have to take the long stairs up to my apartment. I walk to the right side of the hallway. I stop and look up towards the end of the first set of stairs. For each floor, and there are sixteen of them, three long stairways wind, like a clock, towards each apartment floor. I sigh and brace myself for the torment ahead.

As I ascend the first set of winding stairs my phone vibrates through my pocket. It complains and claims for my attention. I reach for it as my left foot hits a tread of the stairs.

Did you get home safe? The text across the bright screen reads. It’s Chris, my boyfriend. I had forgotten to reply to Chris once I arrived due to the disappointment of seeing the stupid elevator out of order. It had already been a rough night as Chris and I cannot seem to stir out of the turbulence our relationship has hit. It’s been weeks since we’ve enjoyed each other’s company without voicing a fight over any petty reason our brains can unearth.

Yes babe. I’m fine, my fingers type.

I’m climbing the stairs. Again. My fingers automatically tap the correct keyboard touch keys as my eyes keep straight on the steps ahead of me.

I reach the second floor. I stop and text Chris.

I’m really sorry about tonight and that we’ve been going through this shit.

I sigh and grasp the heavy phone in my left hand. I feel it’s weight on my hand. I cross the corridor and climb the second group of stairs. I should have taken Chris’s offer to stay at his place tonight. I could have tried to make things right with him. We could have talked things through. Not to mention, it would have saved me the pain of climbing this cursed edifice. I look up from the ground and see, in black cast iron, the number three.

I’ve reached the third floor.

Again? When are they going to fix that damn elevator? I read.

The lights flicker on and off on the third floor. For a second, I look up from my phone screen towards the lights on the ceiling. And it vibrates again.

I’m sorry too. We’ll get through this. I’m going to bed, I’m really tired. Talk to you tomorrow?

The lights flicker once more. This time they remain off longer than before. Within the dark space of that moment, I hear… rain? Something feels wrong. I put my phone in my back pocket and pick up my step up the stairs.

I reach the fourth floor.

Goodnight, sleep tight.

I scroll through a list of never ending emojis, settling in one blowing a kiss and, with my right thumb, press send. A loud noise echoes from, what I calculate to be, the first floor. It sounds as if something has toppled hard against the cold floor. Something heavy and wet. I take some steps back and look at the flight of stairs I have just climbed. I’m not sure what I expect to see but imagination has rooted me to the cold ground. Tunnel vision sets in my view as I stare down into the well-lit quarter space landing. I can hear my slow breaths in my head as I wait for something to take shape in front of me. I shake my head and shake the troubling feeling that is trying to nest between my bones. I pass the fourth-floor apartments and climb the stairs.

I reach the fifth floor.

I hear the click and the spark of a light turn off in one of the lower floors. My skin crawls as a discouraging chill settles in the air around me. I stop moving, I try to catch a sound, but only notes of silence ring. What the hell is going on down there? I hear another light break off. The sound comes from a floor closer to mine. The lights on the fifth floor start to flicker on and off, on and off. Whoever, or whatever, is making the lights disappear seems to be edging closer. Darkness creeps closer.

I run across the hallway. I jump two steps at a time up the fifth’s floor stairway. My heart beats to the hurried, uneven cadence set by my feet. My home seems so distant, forever away. I take my phone out of my pocket and text Chris.

Are you up?

I hope for a swift response as I put it back into my left front pocket.

I reach the sixth floor.

Wet, rapid noises, resembling the sound of a fish being smacked against a plastic chopping board, reverberate from below. With every step and every breath, the dreaded steps pick up the pace. They chase me up this tower. Its steps desire to outmatch my own.

I reach the seventh floor.

“Is anyone there!? Hello?! This isn’t funny!” I yell.

The desperation in my soul cracks the sounds emitted by my vocal chords. My words are lost gasps of air. My cry, a feeblish attempt to seek any help, any attention, any sign of humanity is met by a gurgled, cry from the depths of the tower. A horrible, underwater-like cry, that stifles all logic out of my being. I run. I run, faster. There is no time to think what made that sound. I must get home. Safety, and reason will be found inside of my apartment. Home will be my respite from this nightmare. From the palpable insanity I’m in.

I reach the eight floor.

Another blood-curling cry comes from a floor below me. A floor too close for comfort. I do not linger around in this floor. Time is running out, for my escape, from whatever is here, locked in this mad tower with me. Whatever thing my very essence fiercely rejects exists.

I reach the ninth floor.

I can feel pearls of water cling to my skin and clothes. The tiles are sleek with the moisture that now seeps the air. My blue denim jeans are heavier, they’re soaked with water and sweat. Each step taxes my body more than the last.

I reach the tenth floor.

I run, I climb, I do not despair.

I reach the eleventh floor.

Almost there. I know I can make it; I can feel it. Rationality only a couple floors above me. The lights flicker off on this floor before I make it to the next set of stairs. I listen to high water cascade down from the steps of the stairs I’ve just climbed. I hear tiny aqueducts guide gushing water through the walls and down the ceiling. I can hear… it. It’s close behind me. It’s huge. I can hear its inflated body moving through the floor beneath mine, its limbs caress the wet walls and splash the drowned steps. Doom encroaches. I am afraid.

I reach the twelfth floor.

There is no light on the twelfth floor. I run between the darkness. I fumble up the steps in absolute blindness. Each step splashes water on my shoes and on my edges of my jeans. I feel a million, tiny droplets drag my body down. Water seems to fall from the sky. I hug the right wall to not lose my balance or my sense of direction. My lungs struggle for oxygen, I seem to breathe in precipitation instead of air. I turn the last corner before the next floor. I miscalculate one of the steps and slide to ruin. I slam the right side of my hip and of my head on the steps. I see tiny, white stars bloom in the dark, stars born from pain. The tiny stars light my way forward. A ring is heard in the dark. It’s my phone. In a hurry, I take it out of my airtight pocket. Chris’s name flashes across the now broken screen. I slide a wet finger across the screen to answer the call. I bring the phone up to my left ear.

“Marco? What’s going on? Are you okay?” Chris says.

The last light in this dark tower fades away. The last drop of sand has fallen. I cannot answer. The phone is dead. I feel how it slides from my fingers and onto the floor. I listen to it smack against each step down as the frigid rapids drag it away. I crawl upwards, off the last step. Water keeps falling from above. From a ceiling, without an end. I am left without time.

We reach the thirteenth floor.



THE END


2019 George Rosas

Bio: George Rosas is a short fiction writer, Business Administration graduate, retired Marine, travel enthusiast and soccer fanatic. He currently resides in Panama City, Panama.

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