The Elevator is a scary short story about a young boy who has a morbid fear of elevators, especially the creaky old elevator in his apartment building. It is based on a horror tale by William Sleator.
There was a 12-year old boy named Martin who lived in an old apartment building. The elevator in the building was also very old and very small. A sign on the wall read: “Maximum capacity: 3 persons”. Ever since his family moved into the apartment building, Martin had been nervous about using the elevator. Something about it scared him.
Maybe it was the dim, flickering flourescent light in the ceiling. Maybe it was the dirty brown walls. Maybe it was the door which opened slowly with an ominous screech and slammed shut with a loud clang. Maybe it was the way it shuddered and creaked as it ascended, making a dull bang as it passed each floor.
Martin was always afraid that something would go wrong. He imagined the elevator cord suddenly snapping and causing him to plunge to his death or the elevator getting stuck between floors, trapping him inside and causing him to starve to death before anyone noticed.
Martin usually took the stairs. They were safer. The only problem was that he lived on the 17th floor. By the time he got home from school in the evening, he was completely exhausted.
“Why didn’t you take the elevator?” his father would ask.
Martin never answered. He was embarrassed to let his father know he was scared.
Sometimes, he would force himself to take the elevator. He just had to get used to it, he told himself. But it was no use.
He didn’t get used to it. He hated being alone on the elevator. He had an irrational dread of being trapped in it for hours by himself. But it wasn’t much better when there were other passengers. The elevator was so small that it felt unbearably crowded and claustrophobic.
One day, as he was taking the elevator, it stopped at the fourteenth floor. The doors opened with a metallic screech and a fat woman was standing there. She was enormous. As she waddled on, Martin was sure he felt the elevator groaning under her weight. She was so fat that she pinned him into the corner and he couldn’t move. He folds of flab pressed up against his face. He felt like he couldn’t breathe.
The fat woman stared down at him with beady eyes. Martin tried to avoid eye contact, but she kept glaring at him. It made him very uneasy.
The elevator creaked and banged as it slowly made its way down… Twelve… Eleven… Ten…
Martin looked at his watch and wondered how much longer he could stand it.
Nine… Eight… Seven…
The fat woman was still staring at him.
Eventually, they reached the lobby. The doors opened with a screech. Martin squeezed past the fat woman and got out. Finally he could breathe again. He was so relieved, he ran all the way to school.
He thought about her all day. Did she live in the building? He had never seen her before, and the building wasn’t very big – only four apartments on each floor. It seemed likely that she didn’t live there, and had only been visiting somebody.
But if she were only visiting somebody, why was she leaving the building at seven thirty in the morning? People didn’t make visits at that time of day. Did that mean she did live in the building? Of so, it was likely – it was certainty – that sometime he would be riding with her on the elevator again.
He was apprehensive as he approached the building after school. Why should he be afraid of an old lady? If he was afraid of her, if he let it control him, then he was worse than all the names they called him at school. He pressed the button; he stepped into the empty elevator. He stared at the lights, urging the elevator on. It stopped at three.
At least it’s not fourteen, he told himself; the person she was visiting lives on fourteen. He watched the door slide open – revealing a green coat, a piggish face, blue eyes already fixed on him as though she knew he’d be there.
It wasn’t possible. It was like a nightmare. But there she was, massively real. “Going up!” he said, his voice a humiliating squeak.
She nodded, her flesh quivering, and stepped on. The door slammed. He watched her pudgy hand move toward the buttons. She pressed, not fourteen, but eighteen, the top floor, one floor above his own. The elevator trembled and began its ascent. The fat lady watched him.
He knew she had gotten on at fourteen this morning. So why was she on three, going up to eighteen now? The only floors he ever went to were seventeen and one. What was she doing? Had she been waiting for him? Was she riding with him on purpose?
But that was crazy. Maybe she had lots of friends in the building. Or else she was a cleaning lady who worked in different apartments. That had to be it. He felt her eyes on him as he stared at the numbers slowly blinking on and off – slower than usual, it seemed to him. Maybe the elevator was having trouble because of how heavy she was. It was supposed to carry three adults, but it was old. What if it got stuck between floors? What if it fell?
There were on five now, It occurred to him to press seven, get off there and walk the rest of the way. And he would have done it, if he could reached the buttons. But there was no room to get past her without squeezing against her, and he could not bear the thought of any physical contact with her. He concentrated on being in his room. He would be home soon, only another minute or so. He could stand anything for a minute, even this crazy lady watching him.
Unless the elevator got stuck between floors. Then what would he do? He tried to push the thought away, but it kept coming back. He looked at her. She was till staring at him, no expression at all on her squashed little features.
When the elevator stopped on his floor, she barely moved out of the way. He had to inch past her, rubbing against her horrible scratch coat, terrified the door would close before he made it through. She quickly turned and watch him as the door slammed shut. And he thought, Now she knows I live on seventeen.
“Did you ever notice a strange fat lady on the elevator?” he asked his father that evening. “Can’t say as I have,” he said, not looking away from the television.
He knew he was probably making a mistake, but he had to tell somebody. “Well, she was on the elevator with me twice today. And the funny thing was, she just kept staring at me, she never stopped looking at me for a minute. You think… you know of anybody who had a weird cleaning lady or anything?”
“What are you so worked up about now?” his father said, turning impatiently away from the television. “I’m not worked up. It was just funny the way she kept staring at me. You know how people never look at each other in the elevator. Well, she just kept staring at me.”
“What am I going to do with you, Martin?” is father said. He sighed and shook his head. “Honestly, now you’re afraid of some poor old lady.”
“I’m not afraid.”
“You’re afraid,” said his father, with total assurance. “When are you going to grow up and act like a man? Are you going to be timid all your life?”
He managed not to cry until he got to his room – but his father probably knew he was crying anyway. He slept very little.
And in the morning, the elevator door opened, the fat lady was waiting for him.
She was expecting him. She knew he lived on seventeen. He stood there, unable to move, and then backed away. And as he did so, her expression changed. She smiled as the door slammed.
He ran for the stairs. Luckily, the unlit flight on which he fell was between sixteen and fifteen. He only had to drag himself up one and a half flights with the terrible pain in his leg. His father was silent on he way to the hospital, disappointed and annoyed at him for being such a coward and a fool.
It was a simple fracture. He didn’t need a wheelchair, only a cast and crutches. But he was condemned to the elevator now. Was that why the fat lady had smiled? Has she known it would happen this way?
At least his father was with him on the elevator on the way up back from the hospital. There was no room for the fat lady to get on. And even if she did, his father would see her, he would realize how peculiar she was, and then maybe he would understand. And once they got home, he could stay in the apartment for a few days – the doctor had said he should use his leg as little as possible. A week, maybe – a whole week without going on the elevator. Riding up with his father, leaning on his crutches, he looked around the cubicle and felt a kind of triumph. He has beaten the elevator, and the fat lady, for the time being. And the end of the week was very far away.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” his father reached out his hand and pressed nine.
“What are you doing? You’re not getting off, are you?” he asked him, trying not to sound panicky.
“I promised Terry Ullman I’d drop in on her,” his father said, looking at his watch as he stepped off.
“Let me go with you. I want to visit her, too,” Martin pleaded, struggling forward on his crutches.
But the door was already closing. “Afraid to be on the elevator alone?” his father said, with a look of total scorn. “Grow up, Martin.” The door slammed shut.
Martin hobbled to the buttons and pressed nine, but it didn’t do any good. The elevator stopped at ten, where the fat lady was waiting for him. She moved in quickly; he was too slow, too unsteady on his crutches to work his way past her in time. The door sealed them in; the elevator started up.
“Hello, Martin,” she said, and laughed, and pushed the Stop button.