by Andrew J. Müller
There was something vaguely eerie about the hospital during the middle of the night as Derek Stephens walked the corridors and passages in his capacity as night watchman. After a week in the job he still found the cold, painted walls reflecting in his torchlight a bit unnatural. It certainly hadn't helped listening to all the stories told by his new work colleagues, ghostly nurses offering patients cups of tea the day before they died, strange noises and the general warning to stay away from the lift shaft in Block C.
It was just as well he didn't believe in all that kind of nonsense, at least that was what he kept telling himself. He glanced down at his watch. 1:30 a.m., just 4 hours left to go. Thank God.
He turned the corner out of B Wing and there in front of him was the lift shaft, a vast metal cage stretching up into the darkness of the upper floors, the stairs curling around and around it. The lift itself was not to be seen, despite himself Derek moved over and shone his light up the shaft, some floors above the lift sat unmoving and definitely normal looking.
Derek spun around starting and shone his light towards the source of the sound. Nothing. After a suspended moment Derek breathed again and cursed his jumpiness. This was no good, he had to cure this stupidness. There was only one cure he could think of. He had to use the lift, confront the fear and it is conquered, that was what they said, wasn't it.
He turned back to the lift shaft. Then he stopped again. The lift was waiting there already, doors open and the light from inside it blazing out into the darkened corridor. He must have pressed against the call button, yes, that was it.
After a moments hesitation Derek screwed up his courage and stepped into the lift, and pressed the UP button to the 2nd floor. The door clanked shut and for a moment the lift didn't move. Then with a jerk it started going down. Damn it, thought Derek and waited for the lift to reach the basement. It was this ancient old machine, nearly 100 years old and bound to be a little erratic. The lift stopped and the lights flickered. Impatiently Derek jabbed the UP button again, but the lights just flickered once more and then went out completely. Derek jabbed the UP button again, and again. Nothing.
For a minute or so he stood in the dark and then a little nervously he turned on his torch and shone it outside the lift. He was down in the basement area, hardly ever used now except for storing tools and equipment. He would have to open the lift doors himself and walk up. The doors opened surprisingly easily and Derek lost no time to run up the stairwell, it was cold in the basement and he shivered involuntarily.
It took very little time to reach the ground floor level again, but when he got there Derek froze and stared open mouthed at the lift shaft. There was the lift, waiting for him, its doors open like the maw of some animal and the light shining brightly, invitingly, from within it. He was sure it hadn't passed him on the way up.
After a few moment, with panic slowly rising inside him, Derek ignored the lift and began to walk quickly up the stairs.
Clank ... clank ... clank ...
The chains inside the lift shaft began to move and otherwise soundlessly the lift began to head upward. Derek stopped and stared down at it, and as he stopped so did the lift. For a moment neither moved, and then Derek took a few more steps, the lift moved. Derek stopped. The lift stopped. Derek moved again and the lift shadowed his movement.
Now panic set in and Derek began to run up the steps two or three at a time, trying to ignore the swiftly moving chains to his right. Without looking down he knew the lift was following him, a cold breeze like the one you get in the Underground when the train approaches came from below and the torch slipped out of his cold fingers and bounced away down the stairs. There was no way Derek was about to stop and retrieve it so he just continued running, quickening his pace until he couldn't tell the pounding of his feet from the thump of his heart.
Something deep inside his psyche told him that if he kept going up he was going to get trapped, but logic had long since abandoned him and it wasn't until he reached the small room at the top of the lift shaft that he suddenly realised he was cornered. The door to the stairs thumped shut and an unnaturally bright light shone from the lift shaft. Hysterically, Derek began to rattle the door to the stairs, but it refused to budge. Then he heard a hiss and clatter from behind him and he knew what he would see when he turned.
There it was, waiting for him, doors open and inviting, looking innocent and normal. Despite himself Derek took a step forward and he realised that he had only one way of escape from this room and it was sitting across the room from him, almost watching him with a grin on its face.
Swallowing bile Derek stepped forward, one step, two steps. Now he stood on the very brink of the lift. He paused. He waited for something to happen, but knew he really had no choice. He gritted his teeth and closed his eyes and stepped forward.
Had he kept his eyes open he would have seen the lift shimmer and vanish. As it was by the time he opened his eyes three out of eight floors had already gone past. The next thing to go through his mind was the lift ceiling waiting for him in the basement where he had left it.
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