by Kathleen Weisgerber
“Will you step inside and take a ride?”
The invitation came from the elevator across the corridor. Emily looked around, confused that no one else seemed to have heard the funny little voice. Tentatively moving closer, Emily peered in to get a better look at the owner of the voice. She gasped when her eyes fell on a dwarfed and disfigured man in the far corner. Smoothing the pleats of her skirt with thin, white hands, Emily tried to regain composure.
“Ahem… were you addressing me?” she timidly inquired.
“Will you step inside and take a ride?” he asked, again.
Confused, Emily politely answered, “No,thank you.” Then, after a moment she asked, “When did this building hire elevator operators?”
"Oh, I’ve always been around,” answered the odd little man. “You just never noticed me because you never ride the elevator.”
Not totally satisfied with the explanation offered, Emily shrugged her shoulders. Walking away she said, “Well, like you say, I never ride the elevator. I always take the stairs.”
"Come, come,” called the little man. “Don’t you know it’s tedious to walk the stairs? You’re six stories up! Step inside and take a ride, I guarantee satisfaction! My elevator will take you on a wonderful trip to any place you need to be. But more than that, my elevator will take you to places you didn’t even know you wanted to see.”
Emily studied her queer inviter. “What kind of strange talk is that? An elevator taking me any place I need to be? An elevator taking me to places I didn’t know I wanted to see? No thank you. I know the stairs will take me exactly where I need to be.”
She turned her flat bottomed soles and started to walk towards the door that enclosed the staircase. But the funny little voice called after her.
“Emily … won’t you please come back and take a ride? I know you won’t be disappointed.”
Emily stopped. She looked around. Again, she wondered why no one else seemed to have heard the odd little elevator operator. But more importantly, she wondered how he knew her name. She walked back to the elevator.
“See here,” Emily said. “I don’t know how you know my name and I don’t know why you are bothering me. I only know that I wish you would leave me alone! I don’t do elevators. I take the stairs.”
“No, no,” the operator responded. “You don’t take the stairs. The stairs take you. They take you to their drab, cold, interiors where there is no color and no life. There is only the empty echo of your footsteps bouncing off the cemented walls.” And the odd little man smiled, making him almost attractive.
Emily shook her head. “The stairs are safe,” she said. “I know they will lead me where I want to go.”
But Emily did not go. There seemed to be some invisible force holding her before the elevator. As if sensing her ambiguous feelings, the operator tried again to persuade Emily.
“If you walk away from my elevator now, you will be disappointed. Yes, Emily, you will have walked the colorless stairs safely to your destination, but you will wonder if what I said was true. You will wonder if my elevator really could have taken you on a magical ride.”
Annoyed that this grotesque creature should be trying to change her mind about something of which she was so sure, Emily became frustrated. She pointed her finger at the odd little man and demanded,
“Who told you my name? Why do you think you know me so well? Who told you anything about me?”
“No one needed to tell me, Emily. I know you well. I think I know you better than you know yourself,” and the operator smiled.
Again, Emily thought she saw something very attractive in that smile. She felt herself being drawn toward the little man and into the elevator. But, just as her foot crossed the threshold, Emily panicked and jumped back out. The operator’s attractive smile was gone now. He appeared grotesque to Emily again.
She shouted angrily, “Who are you? Why are you doing this to me?”
Calmly, the operator responded, “I think you know who I am, Emily. But let me formally introduce myself, I am fear.” The operator extended his hands. “Do you have the courage to embrace me?”
Emily stared at the two arthritically misshapen limbs which beckoned her. Tears of indecision filled her eyes.
“I was perfectly happy taking the stairs, before you came along,” she scolded.
“Ahh,” smiled the operator. “But now you know there’s something more. You will never be wholly happy again, until you step inside and take a ride.”
With these words, Emily closed her eyes, crossed the threshold and embraced the grotesque operator as the doors closed behind her. Moments later, a ding and Emily opened her eyes to find that she was hugging herself. She smiled and thanked an elevator operator who no longer existed as she stepped out onto the ground floor.
Kathleen has poetry and short stories published in small presses such as Tickled by Thunder, The New Author's Journal, The Writer's Post Journal's LBF Books, St. Xavier University's literary magazine Opus, and a promise of intent to publish in Penwomanship. Contact Kathleen.