Narrated by Bob Eccles
The elevator bell rings and we step inside, the door sliding closed behind us. Each of the four of us punches our floors, six, seven, eleven and nineteen. I’m going the highest. Just a thought and one I have often when on an elevator.
The elderly lady directly to the left of me stares straight ahead, her eyes on the mirrored door. She clutches a purple handbag that doesn’t match her light blue dress and black shoes. It is clear she went for comfort, not style. She is slightly hunched over, her spine curved just enough so that she would never be able to stand straight again. Not in this lifetime. Her eyes are a dim gray and her face holds the wrinkles of a life near spent. Yet she goes to work each day as if she were in her early thirties. She’s alone in this world, husband gone, no children to speak of, just a couple of cats waiting for her at home.
The man in the left corner, closest to the door, wears a pressed blue pin-striped suit, matching shoes, matching tie. His hair is near perfect and he brushes an invisible strand out of his face. Fake-baked skin rounds off his false good looks. He holds a briefcase and stares down at an iPhone, punching keys with a little pen. Self-assured. Important. Everyone else revolves around him.
A pretty blonde stands to my right, her hair full of waves, her eyes shimmering, lips a perfect red. Her dress hugs her figure, and I can’t imagine her ever wearing clothes like the elderly lady to my left. Too much pride in that body, in those features. She pushes her chest out a little, probably to get the suit’s attention. I want to smile but refrain. Blondie is a woman who knows how to use her assets to get what she wants.
As the elevator lurches upward I glance at each of them, notice their flaws, their ages, their lifelines stretched across their faces. Then, one by one, they file off on their respective floors and I can see what they are, what they could have been and what they long to be. But the only thing I wish to see is what they were.
The Suit is first to depart on the sixth floor, his briefcase traded for a baseball glove, his suit for a pair of dirty jeans and a t-shirt, his hair poking in all directions, gum smacking and the hopes of every little boy who ever played a sport still carried in his heart. I notice the old sneakers he wears—Converse scrolled across the back. He has written the number 3 on the sides, possibly the jersey number of his favorite player. Gone is the iPhone and the perfect hair and the baked-on tan. Gone is the self-importance he carried with him when he got on the elevator. There is a field waiting for him and other boys with gloves and bats in hand. The door slides shut and I see him being greeted by old friends and family.
On the seventh floor, the door opens and the elderly lady shuffles toward it. As she crosses through the threshold I see the drab blue dress is gone, replaced by a frilly white one—her Sunday best. She is standing straight, that curve in her spine gone. Her hair shines red and soft brown freckles dot her nose. She holds a basket in her hand instead of a purse. I can see eggs in the basket. She skips off and looks under a bush.
“I found one! I found one!” Her joyous proclamation fills my heart and I smile. Two adults kneel beside her, a man and a woman. They hug and congratulate her. The man kisses her on the head.
The door hisses shut and we ascend.
On the eleventh floor, Blondie gets off and her head is full of precious ringlets that bounce with each step. She wears socks with frilly laces and slip-on shoes. Her dress is yellow and there is a bandage on one knee. The room before her holds a dollhouse. She picks up one of them and hugs it tight. She sits on the floor and cradles the doll like a baby. I hear the toy coo and realize the baby is real. Blondie tickles beneath the child’s chin and giggles. A woman’s voice comes from somewhere in the room and Blondie looks up, her smile radiant, teeth a little crooked.
The door closes, leaving me alone as the elevator continues upward. It reaches the nineteenth floor and the doors open. I look out into the white puffs of cloud that await me. I step off and see other elevators, other Shepherds like me. Some of them wipe tears from their eyes. Others smile with the joy of delivering the children to their destinations, to their happiest times, times before life took over and changed them into the adults they became. Before decisions and indecisions, wrong and right moves, love and heartbreak ruled their lives and skewed their views. Before the downward spiral.
The door remains open and I look back to it. I think of Mommy’s baked apple pies, of Daddy holding my hand as we walked the trails in the woods, of that forever peace and forever joy of childhood.
I sigh and move back onto the elevator. There are more children who need to be taken home. I can already feel their presence and taste their sorrows, still feel and taste my own. The doors close and the elevator descends.
Then, it stops on the ninth floor. The doors remain closed for several long moments, then finally open. I stare into a familiar room. One tentative step is followed by another one and then I am inside. Dark black hardwood is beneath my feet and a handcrafted bed sits off to my left. The window is covered by a dark blue curtain and there are Star Wars posters on the wall, all of them some variation of Princes Leia. I hear my name and I exit the room. I don’t look back as I hear the doors close and the sound of the elevator moving on. I run down the steps, hand on the guardrail, heart in my throat and tears in my eyes. The fresh smell of apple pie drifts through the air. I hear my name and I turn to see a man standing there, his strong hands held out to me.
“Come on, son,” he says. “Let’s go for a walk.”
AUTHOR BIO: A.J. Brown is a southern-born writer who pens mostly dark fiction. He thinks too much, drinks too much coffee and writes too little. He’s a firm believer that if there are no readers, then there would be no reason to write.