The service elevator was close, right next to Jon’s room. The doors were twice as wide as the passenger elevator door, so gurneys could slide easily in with their cargo of the dead, transport them down to the cold dark sub-basement and secret them away in the ‘meat locker’. Mrs. Chin would be there.
Jon clutched the syringe tube tightly, leaned his head out his room door and surveyed the long hallway. Nobody there to see him. He slipped from his room toward the service elevator, pressed the large blue button and cringed when the loud high pitched whine of the lift began.
‘Gawd, somebody will hear that.’
Nobody saw him.
The large metal doors groaned open. It was like a cavern inside, three or four times as large as the passenger elevator. There was movement inside. Nurse Shirley stepped forward from the back corner into the light.
“Mr. Magnusson. Is everything alright?”
Jon gasped. “No, yes. I was just looking for someone.”
“Who are you looking for?”
“That lady, the Chinese lady, Mrs. Chin.”
“The Chinese lady has left us.” Nurse Shirley exited the elevator and made her way down the hall towards the Hub.
The door remained open. Jon’s thin legs trembled, he didn’t want to go in there again, but there was no choice. He wondered if he should have taken a pee first just in case he got stuck in there.
‘Gawd, you could fit half a dozen gurneys with their corpses in here.’
He squeezed inside, his back against the wall of the elevator. The pounding in his chest vibrated all the way to his throat, he clutched the syringe tube tighter, his legs trembled even more and began to weaken, he wished he had brought his walking stick. The light was dim, it reminded him of the 40 watt bulb that hung from a braided cord in the kitchen of the old farmhouse, when he was a child. He checked the ceiling for sticky fly strips with insect corpses stuck to them, where the house flies would trap themselves and languish until finally dead. No quick merciful death for them. Served them right for coming inside the house. He was inside the service elevator, trapped like an unwanted fly, willing himself not to have a heart attack.
He leaned close to the button panel, squinted in the dim light and found the SB button, pressed it and cringed again when the steel doors rolled shut and the elevator’s hydraulic lift screamed into slow action as it began the descent to that grim icy place beneath The Lodge. His heart pounded in his ears, so loud he thought his ear drums would burst.
“He steals their last few days instead of leaving them to go on their own. Turns them into cadavers. I don’t understand why he does it, but bet your dam last dollar that I will get to the bottom of this.”
He thought Harriet was in there with him, then realized he was alone, except perhaps for the ghosts that refused to leave the safety of the elevator for the cold airless ‘meat locker’. He clenched the needleless syringe in his fist, shaking it in the air like the weapon he would use to slay the dragon, Karl Homesman. He imagined Karl’s face on the golden dragon on Mrs. Chin’s abandoned waste basket. Jon Magnusson was not an especially brave man, but he decided that at his age what did it matter if he could go down saving the world from a brutal killer of harmless old people. Perhaps he would be remembered for more than just his book about Snorri Sturluson. Perhaps he could be remembered for doing something useful for someone else.
“I’ll get to the bottom of this,” he croaked.
His courage waned as the elevator continued its descent. He thought of Snorri with his large cohort coming face to face with Gissur and his larger cohort. How he was brave one moment then shrunk away from a conflict that might harm him.
‘Only engage in conflict that you are certain to win’, he recalled a lesson he’d read in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.
Was this a war? Did that mean he was a coward? He thought he didn’t care.
‘Why am I such a coward? Afraid of a stupid elevator. A coffin.’
The elevator was too slow and took too long, the oxygen vanished and the dim light grew even fainter. He inhaled the odor of hanging meat, the same smell he recalled as a young boy visiting the abattoir where they slaughtered the cows and pigs, slit their bellies open and stripped them of their guts then hung them by their feet to bleed out so they could be butchered. The sickly sweet smell covered him like a blanket of flesh. It smelled like Marta’s death. He wanted to flee but the elevator walls shrunk in around him like a sarcophagus, he couldn’t move his limbs, his body grew heavy from the weight of the sweat soaking his clothing. Like Snorri, he was no warrior, never was. At the best of times he was a fierce advocate arguing an academic point to a student or an objectionable colleague.
‘What am I even doing here?’
Jon tried to suck in air again but there was not enough strength in his lungs to draw a breath. An invisible vice tightened around his chest, his legs tingled and weakened as the muscle turned to jelly and he slid down the wall to the floor, he sensed his consciousness on the verge of letting go.
“Gawd, not like this. It’s not time yet,” Jon spoke though there was no sound from his voice.
The elevator jerked, made a small bounce then settled to a stop. The door did not open. He was trapped in this tomb; his life was ebbing away, like Marta’s had ebbed away onto the bloody floor beneath her. He wanted to cry, to scream, to plead for just a few more weeks, until his birthday. When would that be? Was it soon, was it far away, did it happen already and he missed it? His sense of time was lost.
The sharp pain returned to Jon’s chest, stabbing him like a giant syringe.
‘I won’t make it this time.’
As Jon’s slow gazed drifted through the cloudy airless space of the elevator he saw Marta’s eyes pleading to him to save her. It was her time to go and this must be his. To die alone ignominiously, like a spent useless husk whose years of life meant nothing now. He collapsed with no drop of strength to keep himself upright. He drifted in and out of awareness, disconnected from the passage of time. He waited now for his imminent death, resigned.
‘I’ve been here waiting for such a long time. Maybe it has only been a moment or two.’
“Don’t worry.” A voice spoke from a dark corner of the elevator. A shadow became a shape as it moved forward.
There was a cleft on the top of Snorri’s head, split open from the middle of his skull to just above his eye. The wound was wide, wet matted hair stuck to the scalp on either side, small clumps of brain matter hung loosely, but there was no blood. A deep rent in Snorri’s left forearm exposed torn muscle and shattered bone.
“Perhaps we deserved it. Got what was due. But there was no choice, we wanted it all and had no thought about the consequence. Desire is not a strategy; hope is not a good tactic. There is no justice or revenge without consequence. We can see that now. Life is a dream.”
‘Snorri?’ Jon wondered. ‘Am I dreaming? Am I dying? Am I already dead?’
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