Clouds of smoke drift from Garret’s apartment building. Two men in black and yellow stripes block the staircase. No one can enter. Garret’s dog, Pele, is not a priority. She will be sacrificed to the fire Gods on the fifteenth floor.
As firemen rush a woman out of the elevator, Garret sees his chance: they’d left the key. It hangs from the cylinder inside. Garret doesn’t know what to do. He’s scared of elevators. Always has been. He’d sweated his way to the top of the staircase for the last three years. He’d tried therapy. He’d tried everything. He never got past the third floor without getting off and puking. But facing the glowing metal casket—he knows this is his only chance.
Biting his lip, he scurries inside, pushes the button to the 15th floor. A neighbor spots him.
“Wait! You can’t go in there.”
The doors close like steel jaws, swallowing him whole.
Knees, teeth, knuckles, toes—every part of him tightens as the machine propels him upwards. The elevator bleeps as he passes the fourth floor. He thinks of Pele. This prevents him from passing out. Every night, Garret curls up with her in bed and rubs her soft fur. He still has hairs on his clothes from the previous evening: all he has left of his only friend. He picks one off his sweater. It slides between his fingers like a piece of silk.
Smoke drifts in through the vent, and the elevator shudders, knocking Garret to the floor. He stands and holds his breath as the elevator rises past the eighth floor. The space feels smaller. Picking himself up, the wall seems to close in on him, ready to crush him like a tin can in a compactor. He pushes the “open” button.
The doors slide open and reveal strips of yellow fire blazing down a hallway and up onto the opposing wall. A fireman shivers on a pile of broken glass. Blood drips from his forehead as he looks at Garret. “Get out of here,” he says, before passing out.
Garrets walks up to him but then dashes back in the elevator and hits the button for the 15th floor.
He crouches on the ground, searching for clean air.
He covers his mouth and waits as the elevator clicks: 11… 12… 13…
He distracts his thoughts from death. Eyes closed, he thinks of his dog. This isn’t the worst way to die, he tells himself. At least in this smoke he’s away from blaring cars and the horrifying people who drive them—the torturous words they say to him. At least he has a purpose. Something.
The elevator chimes and the doors open.
Garret crawls out into the corridor, struggles to his feet, and wrenches his keys from his pocket. He runs to his apartment and bursts inside. An inferno awaits. His furniture is ash. The air burns his lungs. The kitchen is engulfed in flames.
“Pele,” he cries into the firestorm. “Pele, where are you?”
Only the crackles of splintering wood answer him. Maybe he’s too late. He considers lying down and going to sleep. Dying in a fire is too horrible a concept for him to grasp, and the smoke makes him dizzy. Besides, he reasons, life will be even more unbearable without Pele.
Digging deep within, he staggers through the smoke to his room. “Are you here, girl?” His bookshelf crashes to the floor. He falls on top of it, giving up hope. As he turns his head, he spots a furry dog cowering under his bed.
“There you are, girl.” He snatches his pooch from beneath the smoldering bed. Wrapping his arms around her, he darts to the door. He runs to the staircase, but it’s bright red. There’s only one option. He pushes the elevator button.
He’s both depressed and relieved. At least he won’t have to brave it again.
The doors open, expelling plumes of smoke. He bolts in and jabs at different buttons. The smoke’s too much for him, so he lies down with his dog, hoping he pushed the button to the bottom floor. They descend. The elevator quakes, tossing him against the wall. He holds his dog tight.
Vibrations continue, and he resigns himself to death once more. It’s okay, he thinks. At least he’d done something. He can’t hold his breath any longer and inhales the fumes. Everything’s pink, blue, and then, black.
He opens his eyes. The air’s clear, but he can’t move his body. He’s strapped to stretcher. An oxygen mask covers his mouth. He reaches to his face and removes it.
“Where is my dog? I refuse to leave without my dog.”
A bald man dressed in scrubs hovers over him. “Take it easy, pal,” the man says. “You need to rest.”
Garret balls his fists. “Let me go. I need to find my dog.”
“Come on. Take it easy,” the man replies.
Garret continues to protest, but then he hears barking, very familiar barking.
Bio: Brett Pribble resides in Orlando where he works in education. His writing has previously appeared in Saw Palm. He received his B.A. in English from the University of Central Florida and his M.F.A. in creative writing from Full Sail University.