“I know, I know… but what do you expect me to do about it?”
Sophie notes the frustration in the maintenance engineer’s voice. Taking a deep breath, she eases off on the barrage of questions with which she started the moment she entered the control room.
“Okay, just take me through what we do know at this point, then.”
Finding an unclaimed chair nearby, Sophie pulls it towards the engineer’s desk, sits down and watches as the engineer calls up some information on the screens in front of them.
The engineer takes a deep breath before starting her summary.
“The first call came in at 8:50 AM this morning. The second ten minutes later, at 9 AM. Both cases are essentially the same, with people entering an elevator, but seemingly vanishing after that.
“We looked at the logs for the elevators in question, and we can see that they were instructed to pick up people at multiple floors, then had a target floor picked from inside the elevator. Yet somehow none of those people can be found again at this point.”
“I assume people have tried to call their cellphones?” Sophie asks.
“Yes, the police even had the providers trace their cellphones. According to them, the tower lost contact with their phones shortly after they entered the elevator. That was the primary reason why they contacted us. I also looked at the exact timestamps which they gave us, and the loss of signal occurred seconds after they selected a destination floor and the elevator began to move.”
Sophie cradles her head in both her hands for a moment as she considers their options.
Glancing up, her eyes catch the name badge on the front of the engineer’s uniform.
“So, what do you think happened, Rachel?”
“Honestly? I don’t have a clue. Jamming field covering the elevator after which the people inside are kidnapped? Everyone turning off their cellphones after entering the elevator before sneaking away, never to be heard from again? Pick your favorite conspiracy theory, I guess.”
Leaning back in her chair, Sophie counts the seconds of silence after Rachel finishes talking. Letting her eyes dart over the information displayed on the screen, she can feel the pressure increasing every moment that they are drawing a blank.
“Those theories sound as good as anything, I guess. Since it happened in the same building and same elevator, maybe it was something as outlandish like that.” Sophie reasons.
“Yes ma’am, except for one additional detail.”
“According to our logs, the elevators didn’t stop on the selected floors, or open their doors, except to let in new people.”
Feeling a chill travel down her spine, Sophie considers the consequences of this new information.
“That seems like a rather major detail, I would say. Any possibility of interference with our sensors or logs?”
Rachel gives her a sympathetic look before answering.
“Okay, I guess that’s all we have got for the police at any rate. Hopefully it is something as outlandish as we just conjured out of thin air. Got the phone number for the police contact? I’ll let them know immediately what we got.”
Rachel sits back while Sophie dials the number on her cellphone, trying to not make a sound while Sophie waits for the other end to pick up. Although this case so far has been one of the strangest things to have happened in her career, she reckons it’s bound to be something much simpler than either of them think. That’s how it usually works, after all.
Her thoughts are interrupted as Sophie responds to a voice at the other end of the line, stating her name and confirming her position as manager for this branch of the company. Internally, Rachel smirks as she imagines what the police contact’s response will be to these wild theories the two of them just created.
Suddenly, she notices Sophie’s hand trembling before she ends the call with a strangely choked voice. As Sophie lowers her cellphone to her lap, Rachel gives Sophie a questioning look.
“What did he just say? Something new?”
As Sophie looks up from the cellphone which she is still cradling in her hands, Rachel instinctively feels the urge to back away at the sudden glimmer of madness which she saw in those eyes.
“More people have begun to vanish. Not in the elevators. They put them out of service. Now this darn building is making people vanish when they go up or down the stairs.”
* * * * *
“Do you believe anything of what they’re saying, Peter?”
Peter looks up from his lunch to see James sauntering over to his spot at the table before sliding his lunch tray onto the table and taking up a seat opposite of Peter.
“You mean the thing with people vanishing, which had them closing the stupid elevators, even though this office is on the twenty-sixth floor? Sounds like absolute nonsense to me.”
James nods approvingly before digging into his lunch. After clearing his mouth, he responds.
“I have no idea what they’re going on about. Supposedly we had a couple of our people never arriving at this floor this morning, even though they swear they took the elevator. I bet they’re at home right now, or at a coffee shop somewhere, having a good laugh at us fools.”
Looking around as if expecting hidden cameras to cover the two of them from every side, he continues.
“I bet they’ll be closing the stairs next, to keep us here overnight or something.”
At this, Peter looks rather disturbed.
“They couldn’t do that, could they? Even if it’s a prank, that’s taking it a bit too far.”
“Well, what do you think, Peter? If this building’s elevators are making people vanish, then why not the stairs?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
Finishing his lunch, Peter pushes his chair back and gets up before James can get another word in.
After returning his lunch tray, he can still feel fear and doubt gnawing at him. On his way to the restroom, he can’t help but glance at the doors to the stairwell. Not far from them are the doors of the elevators, now blocked with red tape and multiple signs declaring them to be out of order.
While washing his hands, Peter looks at his reflection in the mirror and is startled by his own appearance. It seems this whole situation is getting to him worse than he had thought.
No, he can’t think like that.
Shaking his head, he leaves the restroom. Suddenly he sees Caroline, one of the junior new hires, opening the door to the stairwell. His curiosity piqued, he makes his way over to the door and opens it before it has a chance to fully close. The stairwell looks normal so far. Just the same concrete monstrosity this building has always featured, lit by the same fluorescent lights as always.
He can hear footsteps heading down the stairwell. Presumably Caroline’s. Feeling oddly relieved, he begins to let go of the door, to head back to his desk, when all of a sudden Caroline’s footsteps just stop.
As cold fear rises up in him, Peter listens intently whether he can hear another stairwell door being opened or closed. Maybe he just missed something.
Still standing there in the door opening to the stairwell, he feels indecision pulling him both back to the assumed safety of the office and the need to confront his fears. Rationally, he just missed some noise and is now making wild assumptions based on the things James just told him.
Angry with himself for just standing there, Peter walks into the stairwell and lets the door close behind him. Walking downstairs he makes up his mind to just walk down a few floors, then up again to prove to himself that there is nothing weird going on. That this is just a boring, ugly stairwell. Not a people-eating monster.
He notes each gray concrete stair as they pass by, with his footsteps ringing through the strangely empty stairwell. If they have shut down the elevators completely, shouldn’t the stairwell be ringing with the sound of footsteps and frustrated voices from the many people who work in this office building?
Feeling cold sweat begin to trickle down his back, his foot stops half-way down another stair. He’s nearly at the first landing down, half-way between floors. Anxiously, he makes his way down the flight of stairs, onto the landing. Turning around the corner, he can see the next flight of stairs down, with the door of the office below his office right there.
Laughing to himself, he realizes what he’s doing. That damn James. It’s lunch time, everyone is of course either taking their lunch in the city or in a canteen. Chiding himself for being such a fool, he turns around to walk back up the stairs and make his way to his desk before any of his colleagues begin to miss him.
When he’s nearly at the top of the flight of stairs, he looks up, before freezing in horror. In front of him is not the door to the office, but a blank wall, just like there are for the intermediate landings. Looking behind him, down the stairs, he can only see the landing where he was at before, with the blank wall.
Rushing the last few steps up to the landing, his hands touch the wall where the door should have been. The door to the office, his desk and colleagues. The canteen where he was taking his lunch only moments earlier.
Feeling reality slipping away from him, he decides to walk down the stairs until he finds a door, or ends up at the lobby on the ground floor. This stairwell has to end somewhere.
* * * * *
That evening, as Rachel is doing some tidying up after dinner, she hears her husband call from the living room where he put on the evening news earlier.
As she enters the living room, she sees a familiar building on the TV. While she snuggles onto the couch next to her husband, she looks on as the journalist who is standing in front of the building explains the tragedy that has happened there today.
Apparently, after an initial set of reports of people having gone missing after using the elevators, panicked calls from people inside the building then reported that people who had tried to go down the stairs had also vanished. Although a police investigation is still ongoing, they are all presumed to have vanished without apparent cause or trace.
With many emotions swirling through her mind, Rachel watches on as the camera zooms in on the people who can be seen behind the windows of the building. It’s explained that while this mystery is being investigated, people inside the building are advised not to use the elevators or stairwell, but stay put. Meanwhile ladder trucks, helicopters and other means of supplying and rescuing the trapped people are arriving at the scene.
“Wasn’t that the building you mentioned during dinner?” Her husband asks, as the evening news has moved on to the next topic.
Rachel is now certain that this event tops everything she has experienced in her career. So far.