The Second Floor
A man grabs me from the waiting room and takes me through a bare corridor. He coughs, hacking up a trail of spittle that lingers in his rust coloured beard. He doesn’t make any effort to get rid of it, just wipes his hands on his stained, grey suit. He ushers me into a small office.
A woman looks up from behind her desk. “Thanks, Karen.”
The man, Karen, waves a hand at the woman, mumbling something under his breath as he walks away.
“Come in and take a seat, Alex,” she says, pointing at a row of chairs.
I take the second in the line. The plaque on her desk reads ‘Simon’. Weird names for people in this place.
Simon gathers a few papers from her desk and attaches them to a clipboard. She turns in her chair and looks at me. “Do you know why you’ve been called in today?”
She puts on a pair of glasses, flips through her papers and removes them, keeping them in her hand and looks at me. “There have been some concerns raised about your conduct.”
“What kinds of concerns?”
Simon looks through the papers again. The room’s remarkably stark; I expected something different. Grey walls, dull furniture and everything’s bare. The only personal touch is a photo of Simon’s pet snake on her desk. I hope it’s her pet, anyway.
“Seventeen women have presented their accounts of the sexual harassment that you’ve been directing at them.”
How did she find out about that? I start to say something but Simon holds up her hands and stops me.
“I’m not here to debate or argue about this, Alex. All I’m doing is telling you what we’ve been told. You have a meeting scheduled on the second floor when you’re done here with me.”
“Who am I seeing, and why?”
“You’ll find that out when you get there.”
“Is there nothing I can say in my defence?” Might as well try something.
“We’re past that stage now, Alex.”
Simon pushes herself to her feet, drops her glasses and her clipboard onto the desk and motions for me to follow. She walks ahead, the clinking of her heels echoing throughout the room. She opens a door that leads to a long, empty corridor. I follow behind her.
When we reach the end, Simon presses the button to call the lift. The doors slide open and she holds her arm in the gap.
“Head up to the second floor,” Simon says. Her tone gives me the impression that she’s not asking me; she’s ordering me.
I step inside, Simon withdraws her hand and I press the ‘2’ on the wall. The doors close and the lift starts moving.
Within moments the lift grinds to a halt and the doors shudder open. I step out. It’s an empty concert hall. It looks like it hasn’t been touched in a couple of years; cobwebs hang between the rows of chairs; dust cakes everything else. A woman sits on the stage, a spotlight raining down on her. I walk towards her, each step kicking up a cloud of dust.
She doesn’t move until I reach the stage. Then the woman stands and points at the front row. I take a seat.
“Betty again, not that you need to be told. You know who I am.” Betty starts pacing the stage, throwing her hands in the air with every word she shouts. “You know what I’m talking about. You know what it all means. You were there, and it was great. Great.”
I have no idea what she’s going on about.
“We were all there when it happened. The great fire of 2017, the fire that claimed the lives of nineteen billion souls. A burn that was felt throughout the world. Everyone knew it and everyone knew that I would be the one to save you all. Betty can save everyone. It’ll be great again.”
What the hell is she talking about?
“It’s going to be good again, you see. France and the leprechauns will be united once again, and they’ll be proven to be the greatest friends in the history of ever. It’ll be glorious. Fabulous even. It’ll be so good that Santa himself will rejoice.”
What is this? Do I have to stay here? Is this my appointment? To sit here and listen to some random woman named Betty rambling on? To see her spout nothing but nonsense and blow hot air? She’s still going on. I think she mentioned something about a stegosaurus marching on Downing Street. I’m done. I can’t do this anymore. This can’t be right.
I stand up in a cloud of dust. Betty doesn’t stop. The further I get away from her, the louder she gets. She’s practically screaming at me as I make it back to the lift. The door opens almost instantly after I press the button. I get in and I’m enclosed without pressing a thing. There isn’t a button for the ground floor, and I keep slamming the first floor but we’re not moving. I start to press all the buttons, slamming them with the palm of my hand. The light for the ninth floor finally comes on and the lift starts chugging.
With every second in the lift the temperature plummets. I’m beginning to think I should have stayed where I was. The lights shut off and the doors open an inch, letting an icy wind through the small gap. I get my fingers into the gap and pry the doors open the rest of the way.
The wind hits me with its full force now. My vision adjusts to the darkness and I can see what’s beyond the doors. I should have stayed up on the second floor.
It’s a lake of ice. There are people protruding, half stuck, some buried completely. I step forward. The bodies around me are all locking their gaze on me. No part of them moves, other than their eyes. I keep going. The cavern around me doesn’t seem to have an end. Neither does the frozen lake under me. The wind gets stronger the further I go. I must be getting closer to the source of it.
I really should have stayed on the second floor.
Standing at the edge of a precipice, there isn’t anything that could have prepared me for this. Something is sticking out of the ice. Whatever it is, it’s trapped in the frozen lake at the waist. Its torso is bigger than a bus, six leathery wings frantically slap the air, spreading the icy wind throughout whatever this place is. It has three faces, each of them gnawing on a human inside. The thing looks up and notices me. There’s a sadness in all six of its eyes as it locks gaze with me. It looks to the left of me.
“You really should have stayed where you belong.” Simon steps up to the edge of the crevice and looks down at the creature below. “There’s an order. We can’t let this betrayal slide, unfortunately.” She sighs and pulls her phone out of her pocket. “I need to pull soul number 7-8-1-3-2-5-8-6-2-0-1 and pull them from ring two to nine.” Simon listens to the response, turns away from me and starts walking away. “And get the fucking renovations on the ninth circle sorted out already! We can’t have Satan sitting down here scaring the stiffs anymore. Sort it out.”
© 2017 David Chitty
David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.