The 7th Floor

Nigel worked in the appliances store on Main. The store, Empardo Appliances, was an institution in Avalon. It was where everyone went to buy appliances, or at least, everyone who didn’t realise they could get a better deal elsewhere.

After work it was only a short drive (three blocks) across ice-slick roads, past O’Halloran’s pub where some of his workmates (Joe and David) would be spending half their pay checks on beer, until he pulled up somewhere in the vicinity of the ailing apartment building where he lived and hoped that he wouldn’t have to walk too far.

Nigel had debts. These came to him in three separate envelopes each month. He was a diligent man and so he paid these debts before everything else, which left him exactly enough money to rent his apartment and feed himself, as well as putting a little something away for a rainy day; though plenty of rainy days had come and gone without Nigel touching his little nest egg. Occasionally, he’d treat himself to a gourmet sausage.

Nigel wore a musty jacket and musty pants and these were qualities that seemed to have absorbed into the very being of the suit itself, because it remained musty no matter how many times he had the suit dry-cleaned. The dry cleaners down on Promenade wouldn’t even clean his suit any more. They said if he bought a new suit that they’d be more than happy to help him. But Nigel didn’t want to buy a new suit; he thought this suit was just fine (although it did smell a little musty).

So it was that on this wintry night he pulled into a park on the side of the road not too far from his usual spot and shut off the engine. He opened the door and stepped onto the sidewalk and right at that moment a car careened past: horn blaring, tires screaming as they struggled to maintain their grip on the icy road. For a moment Nigel thought he was witnessing his death, but then the car was red taillights fading into the distance and there was only the sound of the wind and his own panting breath.

Thankfully he didn’t have far to walk. But when he entered the building’s lobby (via a non-descript brown door) he found that the lobby was full of people. Nigel didn’t particularly dislike people, but found most of those that he shared a building with intolerable.

Voices rose from the crowd, people largely unknown to Nigel except by their hair or their faces or their manner of dress. To them, he supposed, he was probably “the man in the musty suit”.

“…problem with the elevator…”

“…there’s something upstairs…”

“…there’s always a problem in this place…”

And then as they noticed that Nigel had entered the lobby they began reciting their lines over again in full, as though the whole thing was a play that needed to be started again from the beginning if someone new arrived.

“…problem with the elevator…”

“…why not take the stairs…”

“…this place is falling apart…”

One of the elevators was out of commission and as a result the crowd in the foyer were waiting impatiently for the second to arrive. Nigel considered ignoring the sign strung across the doorway that lead to the stairs. CAUTION, it read: STAIRS SLIPPERY.

In the end, perhaps because he’d already had one brush with death this evening, Nigel decided to wait for the elevator. When it finally arrived he was the last to crowd in and hastily struck at the button for the seventh floor as he was quickly enveloped by the bodies and scents of those who rode with him: a mixture of sauce and cigarettes and sweat and potpourri.

The elevator stopped at the third and fourth floors and people got off, which was when Nigel realised that he had hit the button for the sixth floor instead of the seventh. Pressing the correct button would mean moving uncomfortably close to the woman who smelled like sauce so Nigel decided that he would simply take the stairs—carefully—from the sixth to the seventh.

The elevator chimed and the doors opened. But instead of shuffling out as is customary the crowd in the elevator simply remained frozen in place. It seemed that a man was blocking their path and not just any man, but a security guard.

Since when does this building have security? Thought Nigel, but he did not spend overlong dwelling on the question. Indeed he could not for the security guard was now, rather rapidly, ushering them out of the elevator.

“I’m sorry,” he was saying as he furiously thumbed the DOOR OPEN button. “The elevator’s not safe and we have to evacuate the building.”

The woman who smelled like sauce lingered in the elevator until the last and simply smiled sardonically as the doors closed and the elevator began its descent to the lower floors.

“There’s nothing we can do for her,” said the security guard melodramatically. “We’ll have to take the stairs—careful, mind, for they can get mighty slippery in this weather.”

So the four of them that remained bustled out onto the stairs, generally used only IN CASE OF EMERGENCY or by young people with energy to burn. The security guard was helping one of Nigel’s elderly neighbours down the stairs one agonising step at a time, such that Nigel quickly fell behind and, like usual, was quickly forgotten about.

There on the stairs with only the wind and his own panting breath for company, Nigel briefly considered turning and dashing up the stairs to the seventh floor and into his apartment. He could be in bed in no more than five minutes, he considered. What a peculiar act of defiance that would be.

In the end he plodded along after the security guard and the elderly person and the two others who shuffled ahead of them. An increasing number of residents were now appearing on the stairs from the lower floors, having been similarly evacuated and the descent crawled to a snail’s pace.

Nigel ruminated on how helpful such a set of stairs would be were there to actually be a fire in the building; but he could see no flames and smell no smoke.

Voices rose up from below as the other residents discussed the night’s events:

“…problem with the elevator…” Nigel heard.

 “…always something going wrong in this building…”

And: “…there’s something upstairs…”

Interestingly there had been no sign of anyone appearing on the stairs from above, so maybe there was something upstairs. A gas leak, maybe, or the discovery of a new and prolific type of mould. That last wouldn’t particularly surprise Nigel at all.

At the fourth floor landing somebody finally slipped and it caused such a hub-bub that you would have thought somebody had been shot.

After a moment, the lady beside her helped the woman up and the shuffle to the ground floor continued. A true act of camaraderie, Nigel thought. They were sisters in arms, those two, linked now and forever by this night of unthinkable horror.

It was not until they reached the third floor that Nigel finally gave up on his idea of returning to his apartment. At this point it seemed like simply too much effort. It was also the time he began to wonder where he was going to sleep tonight and evidently he was not alone, for he heard the jangle of voices beneath him pondering similar sentiments:

“…nowhere to stay…”

“…somebody said there’s plenty of rooms available at motel 45…”

“…there’s something upstairs…”

“…called my son…”

“…heard it scratching…”

“…I wouldn’t stay in motel 45 if you paid me…”

And so on.

Until, at last, they began to spill out onto the sidewalk, where they stood arranged in small groups (although the building’s younger residents seemed to all be standing in the shadow of the stairs and smoking cigarettes).

It was mere moments before the security guards who had ushered out of the building were swarmed by people demanding answers.

“…I’m sorry…” Nigel heard one of them say.

“…just doing our job…”

“…we can’t let you back inside…”

“…there’s something upstairs…”

Nigel did not join the crowd but headed directly for his car. Once inside he sat back in his chair and sighed. What now? Maybe he’d go to O’Halloran’s for a beer. After that, Motel 45 would have to do.

In the apartment building, on the seventh floor, something unspeakable slathered and gibbered. It scraped its long nails along the hallway as it passed by each door. Its eyes were small, its hinged jaw was wide and full of teeth, its back was hunched and…

Trust me when I tell you that it is better not to describe the thing further.

“Nigel…” the creature garbled. “Nigel…”