A Story by piccolodian

During a Friday night showing of the school play, the director and two actors get trapped in an elevator.


It’s a Friday night and we have better things to do than sneak away to some party or watch a football game for the sake of being somewhere. Tonight there’s show going on within the pride and joy of our high school: the newly built performing arts building with the rising orchestra pit and dressing rooms with big mirrors and bright light bulbs. The actual stage is closed off, of course. There was no way the district would risk a bunch of high school students prancing around on the still-shining stage floor, so we make do with the black box theater hidden away in a small upstairs corner of the magnificent building.

In long lines they come-- parents following behind their kids, teachers entering out of obligation, students dragged by the promise of extra credit.  They sit together on red plastic chairs inside our fancy black box theater, complete with lights, music, and sound proof walls that make your voice stop short after it leaves your lips. It startles them at first how unnatural it feels to speak, and so they whisper. It’s a small comfort for those who wait backstage.

Backstage. That’s what we call the room attached to the black box theater. In reality, it’s the band room jam-packed with actors, props, and costumes. They lie in perfect precision, awaiting their time to be used. The main actors with the long paragraphs of speech mouth the words quietly to themselves with small gesticulations for emphasis. The others mull around, nonchalant. They’ve repeated their one or two lines enough times to take a quick nap or shove each other around a bit with jokes and stories. Not the director, oh not me. I pace around frantically instead, reassuring myself that my actors can still speak and remember their lines accurately enough. I can do nothing more than watch the months of our work come into fruition for the two hours the actors take the stage and wow the somewhat attentive audience. Idle directors are a source of stress for themselves and the waiting actors I am often told, and so I find myself pulled away to man the concessions stand during intermission.

The cast is large and so it isn’t hard to find two actors willing to accompany me at the bottom where the tables and food are being set up. I don’t think too much about Aaron volunteering to help, after all, his role is minor and doesn’t make an appearance until the end of the final act.

Jessica, however, is a different story. I can see the way she delicately sits down on her chair, her slender fingers intertwined, nails perfectly manicured. Her long, straight brunette hair sits atop her head without a hair out of place. A Barbie doll, that’s what she is. She knows it too and lets it go to her head. If she weren’t such a damn good actress, she would have never landed such an important role in the final act. Her ego is big enough as it is and I take no pleasure in being the cause of its recent growth when I gave her the role. Jessica is definitely a girl I am surprised to see alongside me feeding the crowds as they surge from upstairs like a tidal wave. I would have thought this was beneath her.

Intermission is over after what seems like hours, though it’s scarcely ten minutes since the first of the crowd arrived. As Jessica and I pack away the left over snacks, Aaron opens the elevator with one of the two keys handed to him, the other being for the money box. We take in the boxes of food before carrying the large white table, still unfolded, and drop it in the only corner it would fit in. We sigh with annoyance as we go back, once again, this time to drag the large buckets, now full of icy water, into the elevator. It’s a private elevator meant for staff use with silver walls covered by blue padding. It’s small, as it wasn’t intended for student use, so it’s a tight fit with large black cases filling the back wall and the ice buckets and table crowding us in the front.

Aaron and Jessica enter the elevator carrying the final chairs, laughing and talking about life and mutual friends. It’s a strange thing to witness them interact. Two bodies, side by side, a girl and a boy, long straight hair and short curly hair, light skin next to dark skin, tall against short, elegance speaking to goofiness. It’s a weird mix, but they make their friendship work from what I know.

Aaron walks into the elevator last, twirling the elevator key in his finger. Jessica makes sure to kick him off his high horse effectively enough, warning him to be careful with it. She tries snatching the key, but his small body moves out of the way quickly enough. She huffs and sets down the money box on the table while the elevator door remains open. Aaron fumbled with the keys as he and Jessica resume their talk about some man with the red shirt. I automatically find myself in the back as I wait for our ascension to the top floor.

The elevator doors began to close when we hear a small clink. Our eyes shoot to floor to look for the key that may have dropped until we hear the grating scritch of metal against metal. The elevator doors close and Aaron presses the button to open them again. They refuse to open. He presses the button and again the elevator doors groan but are evidently stopped by the tiny force of the fallen key with a heavy clunk.

There is a moment of silence. A nervous chuckle passes through Aaron’s lips, a higher pitch than his normally light voice. Jessica soon follows and the nervous giggles sound as tight as the fists clenched at my sides

“Oh man, the producer is going to kill us,” said Aaron.

We look at him with eyebrows raised. It’s Aaron’s fault, we decide, and there is no way he is arguing with his director and explosive fellow actress, so he gets on his knees and tries to pull the key out from beneath the elevator door. As small as his hands are, even without trying we knew it could be an impossible fit. We search the elevator, which I’m certain was much bigger just a moment ago, for something thin to slip beneath the large metal door. It’s then when we become aware of how difficult it is to navigate through the small area, yet we still we manage to squeeze towards the back and look for anything other than giant black boxes. We can’t and we find our eyes wander to the large red button with the firefighter helmet printed on it in bright, fresh white. We shake our heads. No, outside our temporary prison, a show is going on. A show we spent long hours and many months working on. Me, a director, bashing my head in as I learned to find music and twist people like an artist twists visions to life. They, two actors who spent their time under the rule of the director who demanded perfection. They, the actors whose scene is last and yet they find themselves trapped in an elevator while everyone laughed and cried behind the sound proof walls of the black box theater that lays upstairs in its corner.

Aaron, Jessica, and I check our pockets for our phones. Aaron carried his, but it has no signal. It’s the same with mine, but Jessica’s phone struggles to cling onto the faint signal and her face lights up as it begins to ring after her attempt at calling. It rings and it rings as she taps her foot impatiently and flexes her fingers, yet no one answers. With worried looks, Aaron presses the button to travel to the top floor where the audience should have migrated back to. We rise back to the top and strain our ears to see if we can hear anyone out there but we can only hear the faint reactions from the audience as they watch the resumed play. Jessica knocks on the door in a steady, hard beat, her hand only trembling slightly. No one answers, and Aaron pushes her aside as he bangs his fist on elevator door. Jessica yells for someone, anyone would do.

“Hello? Anyone there? Can anyone hear us?”

“Hello! Hey!” joins in Aaron, their fists banging in discord.

There is a knock. A quick, stern rap in return. They look surprised for a moment before Jessica decides to speak up.

“Who’s out there?” asks Jessica.

There is no answer. They call out again, and there is still no answer. I stay behind in my spot and watch them as they try to figure out what to do. I shrug my shoulders and decide to head back to the ground floor to see if someone could hear us there. We feel the familiar lurch as we sink back to the first floor. They bang against the door once more and again we hear a knock. They shout, but again no one answered. Our eyes meet each other with wonder. We heard a knock on the bottom floor and we heard a knock on the top floor. Was it the same knock? Did we really not move at all? Was the elevator broken and that lurch we felt in our stomachs as we moved a lie? We press the button to return to the top floor again and by luck, the assistant director, Alex, is walking by. He rushes towards us quickly as he answers their muffled calls. Aaron and Jessica’s faces are pressed against the door as they speak.

“Alex! The door is stuck, we can’t get out. Why didn’t you answer us before?”

“I wasn’t here before,” he says.

“No, there was someone there. We heard someone knocking back.”

“There’s no one here.”

We look at each other with wide eyes and disbelief. We can feel it, the confusion and stress starting to get to us. Jessica especially. It isn’t hard to see the slow increase of trembling within her body. Alex runs back to get help from the producer while we wait in silence until his return. Our breaths are loud and heavy.

“I’m sorry, Jessica,” I say suddenly. “I should have brought someone else along instead of you. We can’t afford to miss your scene.”

Aaron stands up abruptly. I pay him no attention as Jessica pushes an invisible strand of hair behind her ear, looking both humble yet coy. That’s right, she can have expressions like that. A picture perfect look for a picture perfect Barbie. The trembling stops for that moment, I notice.

            “What about my scene?” asks Aaron.

            “It’s just a line, dude. They’re smart enough to work around it if needed,” I say.

            “It wouldn’t be just a line if you gave me the part I deserved.”

            “You choked in the audition. Not my fault. You’ve still got next year to try for a bigger role.”

            He advances, his small stature trying to be as imposing as it can be with shoulders back and eyes locked onto mine. I straighten up and match his glare

            “You know I can act. You’ve seen me act last year. I could have gotten the part.”

            I take a step further with my knuckles white at my sides. I stare him down with the eyes I’ve used to direct the play in the moments the actors remembered they’re only kids.

            “You. Messed. Up. Don’t you dare pull the ‘we were cast members together’ card. Just ‘cause I’m the director now doesn’t mean you have any leverage,” I hissed out.

            A rumble is heard, then muffled laughter from the theater.

            “They’re at the storm scene,” Aaron mumbles.

We hear a quick rap at the door and it’s Alex with the producer in tow. We give a secret sigh of relief as the tension seeps out the elevator. They order us to go back down to the ground floor in order to avoid any disturbance to the play.

They meet us at the bottom and I can just make out the producer speaking to Alex.

“Why would they lock themselves like that?” he wonders aloud.

Does he think Aaron purposely dropped the key and we purposely locked ourselves in when they have yet to perform their scene? A scene they worked on for months. A scene in which Aaron has to wear a cape and Jessica has to yell at men wearing tights with a straight face. It makes us angry, irrationally so when we here this. The nerve of the guy to suggest such things! Still, the anger fades fast and only serves to fuel our anxiety. If we weren’t nervous before, we are now. Here we are, trapped on a Friday night within a small, crowded room with padded walls. It is slowly driving us mad, but we don’t break. Not when they still have to perform. We hold on to our slowly fading sanity until Alex speaks to us.

“Are you feeling stuffy in there?” he asks.

Jessica’s breaths become quicker. We can’t ignore it anymore. Jessica is not her normal self with her piercing glare and don’t-mess-with-me-attitude. She’s losing her mind and we witness it growing as the little bits inside her mind begin to fall apart.

“What does he mean?” she asks nervously while wringing her wrists.

“You know, like in the movies,” I say, stupidly adding fuel to the fire. She looks at me with wide eyes that show her cracking.

“What’s like in the movies?”

Aaron and I say nothing. Nothing we say could mend those cracks on her surface. Then she shatters.

“I can’t, I can’t, you guys, you don’t understand. I can’t stay in small places for a long time. We have to go! I need to leave. I can’t!”

Yes, like in the movies, I had said. And much like a movie she jumps on top of the table we have inside with us, her hands raised towards the ceiling as if she is praying, but I know better.

“We can leave through the top.”

“What, like Mission Impossible?” I laugh.

 There are mumbles outside, but it doesn’t matter anymore. That is just a background buzz to the sounds of Jessica trying to escape through the top like in a goddamn movie. Aaron runs to her, pulling her down, holding her close as she rants and raves about how she just can’t. And the voices, the ones outside, well, they don’t help at all. They only remind us of this…padded room we are in. Padded like some sort of coffin, except blue, and who ever has blue in their coffin? Maybe a mental hospital would have been a better comparison. Blue is supposed to be calming after all, and yet it makes me feel like we’re drowning.

“I can’t, I can’t, I can’t stay in small places for a long time.”

The pitch of her voice goes higher and higher the more she repeats it. She fans herself frantically with her thin, delicate hands that hold those perfectly manicured nails. Tears spring to her eyes as her mouth moves at the same speed as the hands that keep waving against her face. Aaron tries to hold her as best as he can, but her eyes can’t see anything past those tears and she doesn’t notice he’s there. He turns to get a water bottle from one of the water-filled buckets and hands it to her. Her sips are slow and careful, though her hands shake uncontrollably.

“Take deep breaths,” he reassures as her eyes lock on to him for what seems like the first time.

I can see that wild look in her eyes while Aaron continues to speak in his soothing, childlike voice.

“It’ll be okay, just stay still. Take deep breaths.”

She nods her head and takes deep, wobbly breaths just as he instructed.

I stare at the ceiling, taking in slow breaths. I can see my reflection, dark brown eyes and shaggy long hair. I stare at myself, looking bored and unaware. I suppose that’s what Jessica and Aaron see me as. Bored and unaware. After all, I’m useless here. This isn’t the smooth, tape lined floor of a theater. I don’t know what I’m doing here.

My eyes begin to lose the focus I had and I stare at nothingness. How will I get out if the door won’t open? My eyes refocus momentarily to glance at the bright red button. Maybe the firefighters will come, but what if they’re too late? Alex’s earlier comment comes to mind. Stuffy. Is the air stuffy in here? I can hear the slow hum of the air conditioner, and the small logical side of my brain tells me that it means we are getting air. Of course, we’re getting air. We’re getting oxygen and I know this as a fact. Yet with Jessica’s constant chants, she lulls me into a spell of false danger. Recycling. It didn’t matter how ridiculous this conclusion is. Yes, the air conditioner is recycling our breaths, our carbon dioxide, and we’re going to die.

“Try not to breathe in too deeply,” comes the voice of Alex once more.

I seal my lips tightly to trap any comment that could possibly worsen the situation. I can feel the urge to tell Alex to shut up radiating from Aaron as he holds Jessica even tighter.

“Don’t listen to him. Take deep breaths, you’ll be fine,” he says.

He doesn’t believe his own words because he takes smaller puffs of air and I find myself doing the same while Jessica continues to gulp it down like it’s some sort of buffet and not our last possible gift of life.

I sink into the floor, back pressing against the padded wall. Eyes drift towards the floor where Aaron and Jessica’s shoes can be seen huddled together as he held her. I didn’t have to look up to see his figure slowly slumping, his embrace less firm. I could see it all, the way his shoes melt into the floor with the growing burden of apprehension and the realization that maybe Jessica’s hysterical cries made some sense after all. How will they get us out if they door won’t open?

That button, that damned red button with the firefighter helmet etched on. All of our eyes drift to it constantly. We ask the Outside people if we could push it. The show must go on, they say. We nodded our heads, eyes still on the button. The show must go on and nothing can stop it.

Death comes to mind. I open my mouth to speak, to say something, though I’m not sure what. Instead my gaze continues to look towards nothing but the shoes of Aaron and Jessica as they part. Only Jessica’s flats remain in my vision. They quiver alone, while Aaron’s Nike’s fade into some oblivion of lost thoughts and thousand mile looks. I think of death and I think of God and how this is the point in my life, if any, to pray to the God I believe in. I try, eyes gently closing in prayer. I try to think of my sins and to ask for forgiveness, or at least a painless death. I can’t, not when Jessica’s quivering feet are imprinted in my mind and her quiet cries invade my ears. Instead I think of girls, and how much nicer it would be to die in the arms of a pretty girl.

My eyes open and I can’t pray because it would be so much better if I die in the arms of a pretty girl and I doubt God wants to hear about that. I look up at Jessica’s crying face and Aaron’s unseeing eyes. Jessica is a pretty girl and I’m going to die. Let me be selfish one last time. I stand up, hesitant. I’ve never held a crying girl, not my mother when my father left or my ex-girlfriend when she told me I didn’t care enough. I can feel myself pausing at my inexperience before shaking the doubts from my head. Heck, I am going to die, and I am going to do so with a pretty girl and Jessica is a pretty girl, even with her smudging make up, but well-kept waterproof mascara. This must be common for her.

With an awkward grunt, I wrap my arms around Jessica and hold her tight, mumbling words that were along the lines of “everything will be okay,” but I can’t be sure. I fade in and out of Jessica’s cries to the sound of constant humming from the air conditioner. I strain my ears, waiting to hear that pause in the mechanism. That slight rumble that would indicate that something was going wrong and even this recycled air would stop. I listen hard enough that it is no longer a hum I hear, but the fast beat of my own heart. All I know is that it isn’t what an air conditioner is supposed to sound like. They should hum constant tunes, not belt out drum solos like it did now. The hand that rubs Jessica’s back in a soothing manner takes on the same rhythm and I live it. The room was beating loud and fast like a dying heart in its final hours. Hard, fast, and loud it thrums, the walls, the air, the damn machine that is recycling our own air so that we can suffocate in it. Aaron is somewhere, off in a corner I didn’t bother to look at. Surely he hears it too? Can Jessica hear it over her fears?

This is Jessica, raw, and unlike I’ve seen her before. She was untouchable just outside this elevator. Held herself like some otherworldly being. Now she digs her nails into my arms and cries as she buries her face into me. We fall together like a puzzle, my arms no longer awkward. They hold her tightly and with reassurance. Aaron is there, behind me. I can hear the lick of his lips as he tries to speak.

“I’m not really mad at you for not giving me the part,” he says.

Confessions. Aaron is not the kind of guy who talks about things. Sure, he’ll complain a lot and make some noise, but it never means anything. I step back from Jessica to look at him. His gaze is off to the side, momentarily snapped out of the trance he was in earlier. Confessions. He thinks we’re going to die.

I don’t reply. I wait until he looks at me and I give him a nod. Recognition. Forgiveness. Acceptance. This is the end. The thumping resumes.

Outside there is a voice I don’t recognize. Eddie, I hear them say. From what I can make out, he carries within his hands our savior, a crow bar. They tell us to stand back and I pull my body in front of Jessica as if to protect her. The thumping stopped so that I may hear it: the screeching sound of the crow bar missing its mark for proper leverage. Jessica begins to scream again.

“They won’t be able to get us out!”

“Yes they will,” I reassure while continuing to hold her tight, “Don’t look.”

I press her face against my shoulder, forcing her eyes to close as she clutches back in desperation. With every sound she screams and I hold tighter. The lights flicker and I find my own eyes shutting tight. I can’t tell if they flickered off, but I’m sure they have because I can feel the suffocating blanket of dark wrap around us. All there is are screams and a screeching crowbar held by a janitor named Eddie who didn’t live here with us. He was Outside and we were Inside where they lights have probably flickered off and the blazing red button was now cloaked in darkness. What would be the difference then whether my eyes were open or not? Only to confirm that I was indeed surrounded by darkness and Jessica’s screams at a failed rescue? I almost wished for the thumping sound to return. That was dying. This is death.

The doors then open. Eddie pulls with all his strength against the crow bar that frees us from the metal jaws that trapped us. The key, the one who fell and trapped us, lies on the ground between the door edge and where we thought it was jammed. It was there, perfectly fine and unharmed, mocking us with its pristine condition while we stand cracked.

I heard the producer explain how the key must have triggered a failsafe, one we had no idea about. The grating noise of the door sliding over the key could have somehow simulated an earthquake and caused us to be shut in. The key to the elevator that Aaron twirled in his hand earlier. If he chose to twirl the money box key instead…if Jessica managed to snatch the key away…

Jessica rushes out, hugging Eddie the Janitor in thanks. Aaron follows along, slaps on the back jolting him out of his blank eyes. I slip out unnoticed.

“Get ready you guys, your scene is almost up,” says the producer.

Just like that, with the wave of some sort of invisible wand, everything resumes and the show must go on. Jessica wipes her eyes and nodded along with Aaron. They run up to the second floor, using the stairs, and find themselves greeted by the worried cast and crew backstage. Jessica is hugged and prodded with questions as she quickly changes into costume. Some lecture, the others to give her space, but the curiosity burned in all their eyes. Aaron told his account, how he saw his life flash before his eyes, while the boys who surrounded him hung on every word of his epic tale of impending doom. Their transformation back is a gradual thing, starting with the light returning to their eyes and the smiles that threaten to grace their lips. A few quick touches of make up later and their time came. It seems to surprise the three of us how little time had passed outside the elevator. We thought the whole thing would have been over and canceled based on the amount of time we thought we spent in there, but we should have known better. The show must go on, after all.

Faces dry, hands with a barely visible tremble, they walk toward their designated areas for their upcoming scene. Jessica pauses mid step and turns to look me straight in the eyes, acknowledging me when no one else knew I was in the elevator. She hugs me quick and hard with a whisper only I hear in regards to the incident only she, Aaron, and I really know about. A soft whisper before she leaves to give what will probably be her best performance yet.

“Thank you.”


© 2014 piccolodian

Author's Note

Based on a true story that happened to me and two others, but I had to twist it a bit in order to make it slightly more interesting for class.

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Added on December 23, 2014
Last Updated on December 23, 2014
Tags: claustrophobia, elevator, drama, play, romance, agender, genderqueer, nonbinary




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