Descent Into Panic

Chapter 4

Even in the dim lighting of the emergency power, Sam could see that the other passengers were starting to feel his own sense of panic. A person didn't need to be claustrophobic to want to get out of an elevator that was stuck, but lurching randomly. He figured that the time had come for them to be receptive to the idea of self-help.

"Drew," he turned to the attendant, "I really think we should all get out of here. Will you help me organize these folks? No, please, don't tell me it's just the claustrophobia talking," he put a hand up to forestall the protest that seemed to be hovering on the young man's lips. "There's a real problem, and nobody seems to know we're here."

Drew looked around him, and looked back at the unresponsive telephone. Mr. Quincey needed to get out before his claustrophobia totally overwhelmed him. Drew was surprised that he'd recovered from his panic attack as fast as he had. He was even more surprised that the old man had not yet suffered another one. The others, Drew cared less about, but they were all angry and impatient, and the longer they remained here, the more vociferously they were liable to complain to the management once they did get to reception. He wasn't concerned about getting in trouble for not doing his job, though. If Mr. Quincey was right, and there was a fire, or some other reason the lift hadn't yet been fixed, then the longer he waited to help his passengers, the worse things could get. He genuinely wanted to do what was best for everyone. With each passing moment, getting them out seemed more and more like the most sensible thing to do.

Drew nodded to Mr. Quincey. He then turned to the door control and tested it to see if they would open at all. If they were even close to the13th level exit, it may be fairly simple to get everyone out if he could pry the outer doors apart.

Pressing the button to open the doors, Drew was not entirely surprised that they didn't slide apart with their accustomed ease. They creaked and shuddered until finally a gap of four inches or so appeared. Drew pressed the button a few more times, but the doors refused to budge any further. He then moved across and tried to pull them apart with his white-gloved hands.

Sam saw what Drew was doing, and went to help. As he did so, he told the rest of the group, "There may be a problem outside; we need to try to get out ourselves. Please try to stay calm and do as Mr. Stoppard and I tell you."

The young man shot him a pleading look, "Please, sir. Drew. I'm staff. These people--"

"--Should show you respect no matter what your rank," Sam cut in, loud enough for all to hear, even over their renewed mumbles of complaint. He hated pretentiousness. He hated people being treated badly even more. From what he'd seen so far, Drew was worth ten of any of the others, except perhaps Miss Kingston, who had smiled at the young man sympathetically when the others had been castigating him.

Drew was horrified, "Sir, please," he begged, "Drew's fine, honestly."

"Then only because you wish it," Sam responded firmly, with a glare at the muttering passengers. Then he turned his attention back to the doors. Sam quickly rammed the cane into the aperture, using it as a lever to enlarge the hole. Miraculously, it didn't snap. Even so, fearing they may need it again, as soon as the gap was wide enough to get his shoulder through, Sam threw the cane back inside onto the thick pile carpet.

"'A little help here?" Sam requested, as they struggled to maintain the gap they had won, and even improve upon it. The men obviously thought such manual labor beneath them.

Wayneforth folded his arms in open refusal. "Who says we have to take orders from you?"

Attenborough looked for a moment as if he would help, then decided it looked too much like hard work and stayed where he was, muttering about a bad back.

McFarlane looked like a strong breeze could knock him over, and was equally disinclined to lend assistance. Then, still reluctantly, as Sam and Drew strained to get enough of an opening to see through clearly, he finally decided to step forward.

The doors continued to resist, trying to force their way shut again, but with much heaving and perspiring and tensing of muscles, the three of them eventually got enough of a gap for Sam to force himself into sideways. Pressing his back against one door, he strained against the powerful attractive force of the heavy metal doors. They retreated a little further.

Leaning in, Drew mirrored his position and they both pushed with their backs, knees slightly bent and feet pressing firmly into the floor for stability. Soon the doors were more open than shut. McFarlane stuck his head into the gap and looked up and down. He reported that the floor of level thirteen was there, a little over a third of the way up.

"How are we supposed to open the outer doors?" the young man enquired, looking at the attendant condescendingly.

"Try my cane again," Sam suggested, nodding towards where it lay. The quicker this was done, the better. Holding the door open was really starting to hurt his back muscles.

Miss Kingston bent down and picked it up, passing it to Jerome McFarlane.

Leaning across the two human doorstops, McFarlane nervously stretched forwards over the gap between the car and the wall. With much poking and prodding and wheedling, he managed to force the tip of the cane between the doors to level 13. More wriggling and levering and the doors went their separate ways, at which point they managed to use the cane to wedge them apart.

"Will it hold?" Wayneforth asked dubiously, stepping forward to get a better overview of the arrangement. His initial thought had been to make sure he was the first one out, but on reflection, he decided to let someone else test it first.

"It should," Drew assured him. "Those doors are designed to detect if anything is passing between them and stay open, so that nobody gets their fingers caught or anything."

Sam wished the inner doors had the same imperative. The strain on his lower back muscles was becoming unbearable, and he could feel a burning, tightening pain between his shoulder blades. He was perspiring again, from the effort this time.

"I think I can get through," McFarlane declared "I'll fetch help."

McFarlane reached up, put his hands on the floor and began to haul himself up, his head and shoulders fully through the gap.

Suddenly, the elevator lurched again even more violently than before and it was only Sam's quick reflexes that enabled them to pull McFarlane and themselves back inside a split second before the descending car crushed the young man. The inner doors snapped shut like the jaws on an alligator.

All three ended up on the floor in a tangled heap. Sam was panting breathlessly, amazed to be alive. The other four had instinctively retreated and then formed a semi circle where they stood, simply staring at the trio in stunned silence; the grim reality of what had just been averted taking a while to sink in.

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