THE WHITE • by J.L. Smith

I’ve always thought elevators were magic rooms.  Doors close on one place and, supernaturally, open on another. I’ve laughed, cried, sung, danced, kissed in an elevator. I met my love in this same car. Spent twelve years riding inside these stainless steel walls as I’ve struggled to complete my doctorate.

Bleary-eyed from six hours rewriting again my long-overdue thesis, I stepped through those brushed chrome doors looking for fresh air and coffee. Tony and Emma were already inside, and when the doors closed we followed proper protocol: each of us took a wall and looked at anything but each other, waiting to be teleported.

Emma almost fell over when the elevator lurched to a stop. “These damned lifts,” she said. Tony pushed the call button. No response. He pressed again. And again. And again.

The lights shut off; silence fell. It’s hard to describe a silence like that. At any given moment a white noise, which our brains filter into what we call silence, surrounds us. This was different because there was no background noise to filter out: no drone of fluorescent lighting, no hum of a motor nor distant whine of traffic or airplane roaring. The silence and the darkness were complete, like the world had evanesced.

Then like a blink there was light again, a gray lambency that came from everywhere and nowhere. As though the air itself were phosphorescent. We searched for a source but found none.

Tony bit a finger. “I normally don’t ride,” he said. He paced as the car seemed to grow smaller around him. “There must be an emergency hatch or something. Help me up.”

Stepping on my laced fingers, he clambered onto my shoulders. Emma put her hands in the air as though she’d be able to catch him if he fell. He scratched above the drop ceiling that housed the fluorescent light box. “There’s something,” he said. “I can feel an edge, like a latch. I need to get higher.” Tony was a small man, little more than five feet, weighed about a hundred pounds. Though I’m tall, I’d never lifted anyone onto my shoulders. It wasn’t easy. “Yeah, I’ve almost got it,” he said. My legs shook. “Little more.” He reached and in the grayness his arm vanished through a hole that wasn’t there. Then, ever so briefly, he floated off my shoulders. I grabbed his ankles. Emma put her hands on my chest and I concealed an illicit arousal.

“Shit,” Tony said. I felt his full weight again before he jumped down, arms intact. “No door. Just some electrical panel.”

“What do we do now?” Emma said

Tony paced. “There’s got to be a way out.” He pressed the call button again. “Why don’t they answer?”

Emma put her hand on his arm. I suppressed jealousy. “Someone will come,” she said.

How much faith she had! Her touch and her words were not soothing to Tony, though, whose scalp began to sweat, his curly black hair like a wet sponge. Panting, he darted unfocused eyes. If he collapsed the only medical expertise I had was sacrificing mice to extract their livers. I tried to think of something soothing to say but when I saw the powder I began to worry, too.

“What’s that?” I said.

He slapped his neck like he was killing a mosquito and pulled away a hand covered with a white powder. Panic flooded him. “Get it off,” he said. I moved to one corner, Emma to another, both of us watching with fear and fascination. I covered my nose and mouth with my shirt and breathed slowly.

Powder clouded the air as he brushed frantically. Like a baker kneading dough, the more he rubbed the more the dust permeated. He slapped white coated palms against the brushed steel door, cried for help, kicked. Finally, he drew a breath. The gray not-light blinked off. This stunned Tony to silence. An hour seemed to pass in a blink and just as quickly as it was dark it was light again and Tony was gone. I checked the car as though he could have slipped between cracks in the wall.

Emma shivered and as I reached out to her I saw her hands covered with the powder. It expanded up her arms, across her shoulders, like a new skin forming. Her eyes bulged and she held her breath. The white spread down her abdomen and over her thighs. She pounded white fists against the doors futilely. The white spread up her neck. She dug fingers into the seam between the doors and pried. “Help me, for God’s sake,” she said.

I squeezed into the corner, out of reach of the cloud, frozen. The white cocooned her face but I could still see her dark eyes through the milky film and her mouth open trying to scream but I couldn’t hear anything except that silence ringing in my ears like a whistle. Seconds later I was relieved when the lights blinked and she was gone. I didn’t have to see her terrified face anymore.

Now I am alone.

The powder still falls, fogs the car. It’s gypsiferous, smooth, coarse-less; it coats me like fur. My skin is numb. Like my body isn’t mine anymore. I know I’m clawing at my arms — I can see my fingers scraping at the white film — but knowing is by sight not by feel. I’ve got my mouth covered because I don’t want it sliding down my throat and choking off my breath. Shortly the white will envelop me the way it did Emma. I’m not scared, though. Curious more than anything. What happens after? Where will I go? I’m getting a little tired of waiting, really, tired of wondering. I’d like this experiment to end. I just want to know already.

J.L. Smith lives and works in New York City. His short fiction has appeared in “Halfway Down the Stairs” and “The Cynic Online Magazine.”

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