Day 1 in the Elevator
I grab at my blanket a few more times before I realize the bed is unusually hard today. Also no blanket. Also no bed.
I open my eyes fully, mentally preparing for the dry, dull prick of my hard contacts, but I feel nothing. I see nothing. Well, nothing familiar at least.
Struggling to make sense of this empty, bathroom-sized room with stainless steel walls, a security camera, handrails, and abstractly-patterned floor, I attemptto ease the panic: Yes, my parents will be worried. Yes, the production of the Nutcracker premiering tonight will probably be canceled without their Nutcracker. Yes, I may miss the SAT on Saturda—
Wait. Have I been kidnapped? Is this some sort of reality tv-show?
I focus on the subtle rumble coming from the floor of this… elevator? The sound lulls me into a hazy stupor until my mind accepts the impossible: The elevator is heading somewhere, and it doesn’t seem to be stopping.
I stare at the polished double doors of the elevator and see my mouth scrunched up in disbelief—even my own reflection doesn’t believe what’s happening. I can’t assume anything about this situation. For all I know, I’m somewhere unnatural… maybe even supernatural. If my parents can’t help me, then I have to do something. This elevator is my only clue, so I should inventory the heck out of it.
I start with the button stuck to the left wall where half of the door extends out. It’s a typical “door open” button, but there’s a warning. The bold, gold text surrounding it like an onigiri states: If you press this button, you WILL leave the elevator. There’s no going back.
I sigh a lot. I’m surveying the room, and the only thing that stands out is the aforementioned “door open” button. What a fruitful search. I think the smartest move is to play it safe for now and wait.
How to pass the time…
I have my phone. It’s how I’ve been typing this journal entry. I don’t have any signal, but for some reason my phone isn’t losing battery, so that’s good. I have the t-shirt, underwear, and shorts I wore to sleep—nothing else. I’ll be playing a lot of mindless phone games then. It’s better than thinking about all the things I know are going to go wrong: my parents worrying about my disappearance, never turning in the AP Bio homework that I spent a disgustingly long time on, my parents searching, my parents failing…
I wonder why I’m in this elevator. I could understand if someone kidnapped me while I was strolling through a dark alleyway, but in my own house? Where’s the opportunity, the motive? Why would they go through all this trouble to get me, the son of a middle-class family that can’t pay nearly enough ransom to justify the risks of stealing a person away?
And if this entire situation is steeped in the supernatural, then have I been sent here to learn a lesson? But what else do I need to know? I understand that my exhausting life has been carefully crafted to reward me with the promised connection-forming embrace of college. It’s hard work, sure, but it will pay off. There has to be someone who needs their life redirected more than mine, right? Why have I been chosen to move up instead of forward?
—Izaac Taylor, 16 Years Young
Day 2 in the Elevator
It’s like a drug, and I’m going through withdrawals—productivity withdrawals. It makes me pace to know I have all this time to work on… what? Is being stuck on an elevator not a good enough excuse to slack off? Something tells me “no.” Every second I spend staring at elevator walls makes my brain whisper, “You know who’s at fault here. You could be writing a college essay—or leaving.”
Am I dead? Because it’s been a little more than a day according to my phone, and I don’t feel hungry at all. I don’t even crave my morning tea, which is a bit worrying since a HUMAN WILL DIE IN FOUR DAYS WITHOUT WATER!
Sorry. Got a bit panicky there. The point is, I don’t sweat. I don’t need sleep. I feel pain, but I’m not brave enough to check if I bleed. It’s like my body is a perfectly contained ecosystem that only requires the air I breathe, which is coming from a vent leading to whatever is outside. If only I could see through that vent.
Sigh. Very frustrated sigh.
Calm down, Isaac; being in this elevator isn’t all bad. At least no one is here to lecture me on my questionable work ethic. Even my parents can’t judge me if I’ve been kidnapped. Honestly, the only person who knows whether I’m making the best of my time is me, and my workaholic impulses can be tricked or simply ignored. I am very good at lying to myself.
But there’s still the guilt of procrastinating.
No one would blame me for staying if they didn’t know I could leave, but I know I can.
Earlier, the elevator jolted to a halt. The “door open” button shone as gold and bold as the text around it, and, I gotta say, I was really tempted to press it. My hands trembled, but just as my fingertip grazed the plastic, my metal box started to rise again. It only stopped for a minute! I guess it doesn’t like indecision.
And I can’t decide.
My mom freaks out easily; she’s probably hiring private investigators right now, after alerting the police, of course. That’s a lot of money and nerves spent on someone who could help himself for free.
Maybe I’ll compromise with myself, then. I’m past the second “floor,” so I’ll wait a few more stops. I’m not going to stay in this elevator forever, of course, but I need to know more or it’s too risky. The “no going back” message in this elevator wants me to hunker down and push through the uncomfortable suspense, and that’s what I’m good at, isn’t it? In fact, it’ll probably be easy since the only thing I really have to do is… nothing. Nothing at all.
—Izaac Taylor, “Famous Last Words”
Day 3 in the Elevator
There should be clock sounds. The constant ticking of a grandfather clock would be much better than this electric hum… or maybe it would drive me mad.
Crap. This is not fun. I hate waiting. Why won’t I just leave?
That’s a dumb question. I can’t say my fears of the unknown are the only reason I’m staying. When you have countless hours to think, it’s hard to avoid the truth.
—Izaac Taylor, Huddled
Day 4 in the Elevator
I hear a roar.
It’s… midnight, I guess, but I don’t think in day-night cycles anymore. For me, it’s the beginning of another twenty-four hours of ascension—the one minute when the elevator slides to a halt and the “door open” button explodes with golden light and curling shadows.
And that’s when I hear it. A deep, rumbling draconian growl from a distance impossible to judge. An unstoppable wave that echoes through my elevator and insignificant self before sweeping on till the end of time.
Yeah, I’m not pressing the button after that.
—Izaac Taylor, Burned
Day 5 in the Elevator
Is my curiosity stronger than my fear? I want to explore outside this elevator, but I can’t bear the thought of opening the doors to find my death staring back in the form of a primordial beast’s jaws.
There is that air vent. Nothing’s stopping me from sticking my head out and assessing my surroundings. Maybe that’ll help me guess where that ominous button leads.
Imagine if it brings me home. Imagine if I just get back and nothing has changed, the way Alice’s life resumes after she gets back from Wonderland. Except I’ll return to an endless loop of college-hunting, late nights, early mornings, and soul-gouging responsibilities that never kill but leave wounds I’m afraid I can’t heal. My parents—my dad, especially—have all these arguments whenever I cry out to them. They already don’t think I’m doing enough. They look at all the prodigies and say they’re who I’m competing against; that unless I get into an elite college, I won’t make the connections so “essential to success.”
Insert pitiful sigh.
It’s not like their demands are totally impossible. I know I can squeeze everything into my schedule, but lately—well, before the elevator—I’ve been finding it harder to focus on anything without getting a headache. I don’t really know what I’m working toward, and I’m too weak to stand my ground and say “no.” I’m afraid of their disappointment, and I’m too scared to make choices about my future.
Well, I’m making a decision now. I’m not leaving until I know what the heck is going on.
Wish me luck.
—Izaac Taylor, Self-Therapist
Day 5 in the Elevator
It’s still day 5? Whatever. I know I can’t get tired, but I’m… emotionally exhausted? I don’t feel like analyzing what I saw, but I’ll try to describe my experience. I just wish the writing process was more cathartic; I really need someone to lend an ear right now.
I had just managed to balance my feet on two of the handrails when I found the solution to a problem I hadn’t even considered: the vent—it wasn’t screwed in.
So I lowered my head and shoved. A draft immediately flattened my hair, but I didn’t feel cold despite how the air rushed into the room with the gusto of the elevator shooting into the darkness above. I squinted into the gloom, stuck my head out of the opening, and waited for my eyes to adjust.
Something moved: a light in the unfathomable depths of this elevator shaft. I blinked and stared harder but saw nothing. I wasn’t joking when I said “unfathomable.” In order to see distance, there needs to be something to compare it to, right? If everything is darkness, you can’t judge how far it stretches. Well, the area around me was dark, but that glint of light… it was an universe away. For a moment, my vision seemed to bend space and time as I realized there were no boundaries—no walls to block the sides of my vision.
I had to see more. I jumped for the opening, gripping the metal sides to hoist myself through. I swung my legs up and out—instinctively pointing my feet (ballet training at its finest)—then relaxed with an exhale as I made my landing.
Only, I choked, coughing a bit at the sight of… other elevators. They were the same as mine: stainless steel and spacious. But more than that, they were moving at the same speed and at the same height, propelled by some invisible force that needed no motor. The line of elevators stretched toward infinity. The ones further out became less and less visible in the murky nothingness, and even the two closest to me were too far to jump to. But no doubt about it: I was not alone.
I couldn’t believe it. I had grown so sure that I was unique, that I’d been chosen somehow to live this fate, but my elevator was only one among so many steel cages. The mystery of the elevator, the magical way it had separated me from everyone in my life, faded as I looked at the silent row of plain, identical transportation devices.
“Hey!” I shouted, my voice whirled away by the wind.
I didn’t care. There were people in these elevators, and I was talking to them.
“Do you guys know why we’re here? Are you still here?” I yelled again, increasingly desperate.
A sort of helpless panic gripped me as I realized that everyone else might have pushed the exit button already. What if they had returned to their lives on Day 1? Then I would be behind after all. Not because I wasn’t smart, but because I had let my guard down as soon as my parents weren’t there to prod me.
I prepared to jump down through the opening and wait for a new day, when the elevator would stop and the door-open option would reappear. I needed to seize the moment and salvage wasted time. But I stopped, looking back to that line of cold steel.
“How can you guys just… leave?” I said, and found it hard to hear my own words. I spoke louder, a brittle edge creeping into my voice. “Don’t you care about the roar? And the… the message around the button? Am I the only one who doesn’t want to rush back?”
Maybe they haven’t all left, I thought, grabbing onto the idea because, of course, I wanted it to be true. Maybe they just can’t hear me.
But I couldn’t be sure of that either. I couldn’t be sure of anything; there were too many variables. My fears about leaving the elevator surged as I realized nothing I’d discovered truly mattered. These new revelations weren’t going to make my decision to leave any easier.
“Answer me!” I screamed, standing up fully, my feet digging into the metal ceiling.
I continued to shout, waiting for exhaustion to take my resentment away, but my voice never grew hoarse and my energy never dimmed. Eventually, I lowered myself back through the opening in the elevator, refusing to spend another moment on those unresponsive passengers. Then I felt completely alone—
Maybe I had been from the start.
—Isaac Taylor, Signing Off
Day 6 in the Elevator
I’m back, lying down on the smooth steel of the ceiling, staring at a sky without stars. I know I said I didn’t want to acknowledge those elevators again, but it’s hard to sit in a bathroom-sized space after experiencing limitless… well, whatever this void is.
I’m typing this in the darkness, by the way. Mom would say it’s bad for my vision if she were here, in this boundless, inky chasm.
Look, I’ve done some thinking, and the truth is that I feel homesick, okay? That doesn’t equal disregarding all risks and leaving, but well, I’ll try to explain.
When I first woke up in the elevator, I was afraid to press the exit button because I didn’t want to go back to a life that always left me feeling helpless. But just look at the world around me. It contains more mysteries than either me or my parents can comprehend. The elevator itself proves that. So if I let myself be petrified by something as mundane as colleges, how will I face the rest of my life?
As for my parents… If I’m willing to hide out for a week just to avoid them, then I really need to change things. I don’t know how, but I am going to do it.
I push myself up to a sitting position, closing my eyes for a moment to savor the satisfaction that comes with decisiveness. When I get home, I’m going to make sure I taste it a lot more.
—Izaac Taylor, “Home Sweet Home”
Day 7 in the Elevator
So many cycles, so many punches in the gut. It seems like a small thing—and, sure, it is—to press a button. So small that delaying by a day wouldn’t matter. The button will always be there for me to press, but why should I wait? I won’t.
I’m scared. The fear will always be there, but so is the hope. As the numbers on my phone screen shift from 11:58 to 11:59, I imagine what awaits me: the promise of home, the promise of making things better. Who cares if I don’t know exactly how my life will turn out? There’s always the good and the bad.
Like how there might be a dragon waiting for me.
I can just imagine the double doors sliding open to reveal needle-thin teeth and a gaping hole of a mouth, ready to inhale me like my dad eating an oyster. Or maybe the dragon is one of more epic proportions, for what else could have made that universe-rocking roar? Almost unwillingly, I picture fusing stars ranging from cool red to nuclear blue, chaotic nebulas that pull entrancing colors from nothing but dust and gas, and a dragon that dwarfs them all.
The door-open button is beating back the shadows now, the elevator sliding to a halt, but I can’t shut out the image of that dragon hurtling toward a line of elevators. My line of elevators. It unfurls its four rocky wings, scales bound together by lines of magma, and—
I experience the roar at the same time my imaginary dragon opens its mouth in defiance of the stars. I tremble, but not from fear. The bellow tears through the elevator, sending metal-warping reverberations through me.
And I make the decision. I press.
In my mind’s eye, the dragon streaks up into the open universe above, spinning faster and faster like a gyroscope until it has wrapped all the stars and nebulas around it in a galaxy of color, leaving behind a creeping darkness that suddenly seems too small.
The next part is a blur. I feel my finger lifting from the pressed button. My eyes are overloaded with light, but I don’t resist when I walk forward and the doors are gone. Weirdly enough, I find a pang of regret. I will never know the origins of my elevator. I also wish I’d read that book I forgot I downloaded onto my phone a year ago.
But who am I kidding? Life doesn’t stop, and if I spend too long scrutinizing every detail, I’ll miss out on the stuff that truly matters. Home may only be a step away. I’ve already made my decision.
And I’m going to live with it.
—Izaac Taylor, Writing from Safety