Okey-dokey, here we go. Thanks to Andrew for “malaise”, rabbit1080 for “marketing plan”, and David for “free climbing”
(c) Martin Livings 16-9-2010
Another day, another day less to live. That’s about the only comfort I have at the moment. I sit in my office alone, dealing with thirty thousand tiny problems every day, a never-ending stream of malaise-inducing minutiae which passes through me like a double-chili burrito, leaving me feeling empty and sore and sickened. I don’t know why I’m here, apart from the obvious; work equals money, money equals security, security equals… what, exactly? Nobody ever seems to follow the equation through, expand it to its logical conclusion.
We all know what the conclusion is. Death. So what’s the point exactly?
My phone rings. There’s a student computer out of order in one of the upstairs labs in building ten, seems a bright spark spilled Coca Cola all over it, creating another bright spark then a whole lot of smoke. I sigh, grab the trolley from the storeroom, and head out of my office, all open space and exposed, nothing to offer solace of shelter to the soul. This place I spend over a third of my life, and it has all the vitality and comfort and humanity of a block of black perspex, one by four by nine. All the creativity and artistry of a corporate marketing plan, designed by committee and implemented by faceless drones to create more faceless drones. I hate it.
My office is on the second floor of a building with no elevator. It was clearly built back when the university didn’t give a damn about accessibility. You can’t handle stairs? it seems to ask. Up yours. Try free climbing the goddamn walls instead, retard. But there’s a walkway to the next building, which does have a lift. I cross it, the wan spring sunshine doing nothing to remove the chill from my heart. It’s Thursday. Not the worst day of the week, not Monday, and not the second worst either, Wednesday, that awful half-way mark where you can no longer remember the previous weekend nor imagine the next. But Thursday is pretty awful, the cock-tease day, dangling Friday in front of your nose, still out of reach though. The walkway is mercifully short, and I’m plunged back into the gloomy half-light of the building opposite mine. There’s the lift, which looks old enough to be steam powered. Thankfully it’s already on this floor, as it’s possibly the slowest lift in the universe. I climb in and press the button for the ground floor.
I wait. The “1″ light disappears, but it moves so slowly that I can barely tell that it’s moving at all. Then the “G” lights up, and I prepare to leave the lift.
It doesn’t stop.
I frown as the “G” light turns off again. I can still feel it moving, almost imperceptible, but definitely still descending. It rumbles and trembles, and more time passes. I press the “G” button a few more times, uselessly but irresistibly. The lift keeps on falling.
Then finally it stops. The doors don’t open. I can hear noises from beyond them, though. Voices crying out. At first I think maybe I’ve gone to one of the performance studios by accident, that maybe there’s a secret basement area used by the drama academy for practicing their choir pieces. But if this is a choir piece, it’s like none I’ve ever heard before. Discordant and arrhythmic, it’s less like music, and more like…
Like torture. Like souls crying out in torment. My blood freezes in my veins. There’s a smell in the lift, seeping through the tiny cracks in its walls and door, a smell of sulfur and pain. I get closer to the metal doors and sniff. It’s much stronger, and the wailing voices louder. I put my ear to the doors…
Pain! I stagger backwards, and clap one hand to my burnt ear. The doors are red hot. I look at them warily. They start to open, and I flinch from the inevitable inferno that must lie beyond them.
There’s a puff of smoke that enters the lift, stinking of brimstone and pus, but apart from that, all I see is a beige corridor stretching out before me. There are no doors on either side. I hesitate, press the “G” button a couple more times, but nothing happens. So I step out of the elevator, leaving the trolley behind.
The doors immediately close behind me, sharply, viciously, like metal teeth clacking shut. I spin, and notice that there’s no call button here. No way back.
I walk down the corridor for what seems like hours. I check my iPhone to see what time it is, but it doesn’t seem to want to turn on. Its screen isn’t black, though, it’s beige, like the walls around me. I sigh and continue. My legs are aching, but more than that, my soul itself hurts. I look back, to see the exact same thing as I see before me, an endless putty-coloured corridor. I continue. My eyes are watering and sore, from the lack of detail. It’s as if I’m blind.
Then, ahead, something new. As I approach, I see it’s the end of the corridor, and a door, a slightly darker brown than the walls around it. It gets larger and larger, until I’m standing before it. It has a tiny sign on it.
welcome to hell
I don’t hesitate. I open the door and step through.
It’s my fucking office. The open plan layout, my desk facing the door, the others arranged around the large room. I blink, and look back over my shoulder. The beige corridor is gone. Instead it’s the ordinary hallway outside my office. I’m back where I started.
My phone is ringing on my desk. I walk over unsteadily and answer it. It demands to know why I haven’t been to get the broken computer in the student lab yet, the person’s been waiting there for almost half an hour.
Half an hour? I look at my iPhone. It’s working again, and yes, it’s been just over thirty minutes since I stepped into the elevator. I shake my head, apologise to the irate voice on the phone, and hang up. I’ve clearly been working too hard. I pull myself together, try to shake the visions from my head, and get ready to collect the computer. One more tiny job in an unending series of tiny jobs. Like an infinite beige corridor.
But for the life of me, I can’t find the trolley.