Thursday, 1 October 2015

Acrophobia - OctoboPhobia Short Story


I looked down.

Standing in the elevator, I looked at the floor, not at the buttons, not at the door, and not at the display telling me how many floors we’d climbed. I tried not to think about the cable holding us up, and I tried not to think about what would happen if the cable snapped, and I tried not to think about that moment where gravity suddenly decides to reassert its claim.

A double-booking. I gripped the handle of my suitcase and, not for the first time since I’d walked into this hotel, inwardly cursed the asshole that booked my room at the travel company my employers use.
I was desperate to sit in the bar for a bit. Sit and read a book for an hour or two with a glass of good whiskey and watch life go by. Or, hell, bad whiskey, for that matter.  But that would mean getting back into the lift and feeling my stomach slowly rise as it descended.

As it slowly (hesitatingly and grindingly) made its way to the top floor, I kept looking down.

It finally stopped and the doors, with a whine that called desperately for oil, opened. I pulled my luggage behind me, and walked down, looking for my room number. It was unusual, in this day and age to have a key rather than a card, but that was an unusual thing that I had no issues with.

When I found the room, I opened the door, switched on the light and looked around. The lights were on a low setting, and most of the room looked welcoming. But the sight out of the window made me immediately feel nauseated. I could see out over the buildings across a lot of the city. I let go of my luggage and dashed across to it, and felt at the curtains to close them, when I saw something that made me feel even more uneasy.

An old fire escape. The kind that zig zagged and stepped up the entire building. The ones that ended somewhere with a ladder dangling onto the pavement below.

I pulled the curtains together and frantically looked around the room, looking for the safety card, which was on the wall next to the door. I read over it, looking for their fire regulations, and slowly let out a sigh of relief.

There was an indoor fire escape down the end of the corridor, just past the elevator. One made of thick concrete, that would take hours for fire to even touch, allowing for safe exit. And, more importantly, safe indoor exit.

The rest of the evening passed smoothly. I didn’t leave the room. I worked for a while, then made my way into the slightly stocked minibar, and had a drink while I read a bit of the novel I’d been trying to finish for the last month.

The next morning, I would make my way across town to the meeting, and then I’d get back on the train home. Tired, I decided to shower in the morning, and concentrated on reading for a bit, so I turned the lights up a bit more. I settled back onto the bed, on top of the blankets, and, for a while, was peaceful.

That peace was shattered by a shout and some scuffling in the room across from me. There was the sound of some fighting, and then the beginning of a scream, which was cut off, almost before it got started properly. It was cut off by some sharp, strange sounding smacks. Which went on for a while.

I didn’t know what to do. Should I call reception? I walked quietly over to the door and looked through the spyhole.

It gave a fishbowl view of the part of the corridor in front of me as I could feel my eyelashes against the small metal and glass hole.

I watched as the man with the fire axe walked out of the room across from mine.

He was tall and powerfully built. He had dark hair and his light coloured shirt was sprayed with blood. He looked around carefully, and was clearly listening as well.

He looked back into the room, and while I strained, I couldn’t see anything beyond the door, and then he took one final look around the corridor before he turned and began to close the door behind him.

Then, briefly, he froze.

He looked back carefully, looking around the corridor one more time, looking for something that had evidently caught his attention, as he tried to work out what it was.

He was staring right at my door.

I didn’t move. Didn’t breathe.  I just watched as he looked down towards the bottom of the door. For what felt like long, long moments that stretched out like a yawning chasm, he just looked.

Carefully, slowly, I looked down towards my feet. And it felt like the floor had been ripped away from underneath my when I realised what he saw.

The light from the room was visible underneath the door. A little strip of light, interrupted by the shadows of two feet.

I looked back to the spyhole, just as he walked right up to it, face first. I could see that he had specks of blood on his face, including a spray down his right eyelid and cheek.. Tiny, almost imperceptible, but definitely there. I couldn’t help it, but I stepped back, recoiling.

The moment I did so, the door vibrated and shook. He was clearly trying to get in.

I forgot about subtlety and ran for the phone. Grabbing the receiver with one hand, I tried to dial with my other. My hands were shaking, so it took me a moment, as the door continued to shake.

It rang, and every time it did so, it felt like an hour had passed. Eventually, it was picked up by the man on reception.

“Please, I…”

“How can I help you, sir?”

“Help me," I whispered, my breath feeling icy cold and making it painful to breathe in. "Send help… I’m on the top floor, and there’s a man…”

A heavy crack sounded from the door.

“I’m sorry, sir, the line appears to be bad.”

The door shook with the weight and violence of the crack the second time, and this time, the dull thudding sound in the middle of the crack meant that I understood what he was doing.

“Help me!” I screamed at him. “He’s outside, oh God, he’s outside.”

Another cracking thud came from the door as he swung the axe into it again.

I left the phone for a moment, and moved back so I could see the door. As heavy and thick as the wood was, it was beginning to splinter and bend in the middle. It would take him time to get in, but probably not as long as it would take the police to get here.

I picked the phone back up. “There’s someone with an axe,” I said, somehow sounding so much more calm than I felt. “He’s killed people and he’s trying to kill me. I’m on the top floor. You have to send help and then get the police here.”

Another smash at the door, and this time, I saw the very tip of the axe break through.

“Sir, I’ll… I’ll call them now. Then I’ll ring you right back.”

I put the phone down and climbed over the bed towards the window. I didn’t look out, but instead looked right down at the catch, flipping it before lifting the frame up as high as it would go.

A blast of cold, vicious air whipped against me as another crash, this time with not so much a thud as a breaking noise, came from behind me.

I lifted my foot across the window until I was straddling it. And then I put my foot down onto the fire escape.

It shifted the second I did so. It obviously hadn’t been used in years. I grabbed the window frame as my stomach dropped and I stared at the wood. I clutched it so hard I could feel my nails digging into it.

I glanced back at the door and could now see a larger crack, and through it, the colour of the wall beyond. And then I could see a blood stippled shoulder barging against the crack, as it then lengthened and widened further up the height of the door.

There was no choice. No other option.

Without looking, I shifted all of my weight onto the metal lattice platform, and the entire thing swayed a bit, and I nearly lost my balance, but it held. I leaned across and felt the railing against my hand, noticing that it was a lot more slick with sweat against the flaked, thick and sharp paint.

I could barely breathe. The wind was like being hit with thick wet, cold blankets, and I could only take air in through the shallowest of gasps. I couldn’t turn back to the room, but I couldn’t bear to look around. I couldn’t bear to see the tops of buildings around me. It was a view I could hardly stand from the ground while looking up. From here…

The railing. That was what I could concentrate on. The paint and rust as I moved, hand over hand, and shuffled across to the steps…

As I found the corner, and could feel the end of the platform with my foot, I could hear what had to be one of the final cracks from the door in my room. It wouldn’t take him long to get through now.

I had to move faster. I couldn’t slowly grasp my way down the entire length of the escape. I had to move faster.

That’s why I moved down the steps faster, not carefully feeling my way down each step, but letting myself move down as if it were a normal staircase, a regular starcase, each one just a step from the front door onto the sidewalk.

It was only four steps down when I slipped. I don’t know what it was on. But one of the metallic steps was slick, and my foot skid against it, no purchase at all.

I tried to stick out my other foot to regain my balance, but I felt it twist and snap underneath my weight, and I crashed down hard.

There weren’t too many steps, but it was enough for me to gain momentum as I slammed into the railings at the end of them.

One of the railings was eaten through with rust. It gave immediately, and I barrelled through it.

The only thing that stopped me from falling was that I’d somehow managed to grab the latticed platform. The muscles in my shoulders screamed out in pain, as gravity took hold of my ankles and pulled with all of its might.

I could hear sirens in the background. Looking up, I could see his head looking out of the window, looking down and then looking right at me.

In movies, falling always looks graceful. It looks like swimming in air. But I’ve always known that it happens so much faster. You’re not moving through something with resistance. You’re whipping down, landing before you can even take it in. It's faster than you can possibly imagine. And then it's all over.

The wind slapped me, and the rusted metal stabbed into my fingers.

I couldn’t help it.

I looked down.


  1. Great start. Chilling, but simple and subtle.

    Looking forward to reading more.

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