Jan 22, 2013
Anthony Elmore

Terrible Minds Flash Fiction Challenge: Photos of Impossible Places

This week’s Terrible Minds Flash Challenge was to chose a photo from this site, and then write a story inspired by it. The first one caught my eye. In American culture, you’re either going up or down, but the goal is go up. Like Buddhist incarnations, everyone strives for the next level, believing their ascension has been paid with their righteousness and hard work. We move up a grade, get promoted, drop the old model for the latest model. This why heaven is above us, Hell below us. The mailroom below, the executive bathroom above.

But what if Hell is neither above or below and either direction takes you nowhere?

“Today, I quit. I just shut down my computer, and walk out,” Taggart whispered to Lee, his cubicle mate. He glanced over the cubicle wall to make sure no management types skulked about.

Lee did the same, leaned over to Taggart. “It’s because the restroom, right?”

“That was the piano that broke the camel’s back. It’s like everything else here. Never gets fixed until it doesn’t matter.” Taggart logged out of his PC and stood. “Now I have to go to the 10th floor to take a leak, again.”

Taggart waded through the cubicle farm, and moved through office exit. “Who am I kidding,” he thought to himself as he walked down the beige-tan hallway. “Quit and go where? Same job, same doldrums, different building.”

He passed the men’s restroom. A water stain seeped onto the carpet and a sign written in Sharpie stating “Out of Order” was taped to the restroom door.

Too impatient to wait for the elevator, he opened the stairwell door. The door hinges groaned, its lamentations bounced infinitely against the walls. Walls painted dull beige, like his office, his pants, his whole life.

Letting the door close itself, he trucked up the stairs. He reached the 10th floor landing and was proud that he wasn’t out of breath and had beaten the door’s slam. He pulled the door’s handle and his shoulder jerked as it remained shut. He yanked two more times, but the door was locked shut.

“That figures,” His bladder was ready to burst through his gut. He ran up another flight and tried the 11th floor door. It was locked as well.  “You’ve got to be kidding me,’ he said. The elevator was his best bet. He descended back to the 9th floor, his floor, and found it locked.

He kicked the door and swore. “I’m locked in the stairs. Great.” He trotted down to the 8th floor – locked, each pump of his legs jostling his bladder. Locked as well, he pounded on the door. “Hello?” The thick steel door absorbed the thudding. He pounded harder, and then beat the door with both of his fists. “Somebody, please, open the door!”

Someone had to hear him. Someone had to be in the hallway. His only choice was either try all the 25 doors on each of the building’s floors or descend to the lobby, eight floors down. The deal was, if it wouldn’t open, he would be entitled to pissing in the stairwell.

Down he went, letting gravity work for him. Reading off the numbers stenciled in red ink beside the doorway– 7-6-5-4-

It seemed the stairs went on forever, his exertions never ending and taking him nowhere. Finally, one last fight, and then relief. “Yes. Finally.” Careful, he pulled down the door lever which gave easily, a reassuring semicircular scratch in the paint where it had been turned hundreds of times. The latch gave and he pulled. His shoulder popped as the door stayed shut as if painted on the wall. “Nooooo!”

He beat on the door with both his fists. “Somebody, let me out!” His pleads echoed back at him like mocking children.

The door was next to the security guard station and the main lobby. Someone had to be there. Or maybe they were ignoring him, jabbering on Blackberries, too busy winning at life to help a loser who can’t find himself out of a stairwell.

“Hell with it.” He dashed to a corner under the stairwell. “I did my due diligence.”

He unzipped his fly, pulled out his member. If he gets in trouble, so be it. He had to grunt to get things going, but a warm stream issued onto the bare concrete. Relief swelled inside him to almost orgasmic heights. She sound of water descended to a trickle, then a few uneven drops. He looked at the puddle, the ammonia redolent scent crawling into his nostrils. “I had to. I’d get an infection or something.”

With unwashed hands, he tried the door again. Still shut and no one answered. He slid down the door and sat on the floor. After a brief rest, he believed the surest strategy was to go back to the eight floor, wait for the lunch rush and pound like hell on the door and hope one of his coworkers would hear.

The first three floors were easy, but his feet grew heavy with each step. He rested for a minute at the sixth floor, thirsty, tired and legs stiff as sandbags. “We’ll break camp here,” He joked. “And try for the summit in the morning.”

He ascended the last two floors and arrived at eight floor landing. “Made it.”  He closed his eyes, yanked the door lever and expected it to be locked. It gave easy and the door swung open revealing the hallway. “What, the…”

He stepped forward and glanced into the hallway and its familiar beige hues. The door slipped closed. He turned around and opened it again without any resistance. Hoping no one knew what he did in the hallway, he opened the office door. The rows of empty cubicles went on for infinity.

“Have I missed a meeting?” Not only were the cubicles empty, but every computer monitor was turned off. He found the path to his cubicle, or where it supposed to be. Its walls were bare of the pictures of his cat and his fiancé. The desk was clear of everything except a keyboard. Even Lee’s desk was clear. Every desk and cubicle was voided of people, belongings, life.

“Wrong floor,” he said. He walked back to the office door, but it wouldn’t open. He pulled again. “I need out.”

He pulled at the handle until he strained his arm muscles. “I need out.”

The door didn’t budge, and then the lights flickered out.


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