Peter Cavendish was starting to suffer from ‘jet-lag’ as he emerged from the taxi and entered the hotel. Although he was to be in London for several days, he didn’t relish the prospect of flying back to Seattle where he had been working for the past three years. He was hoping that he might get a transfer back to a reasonable position in the UK. He’d had a failed brief relationship while he had been away, and besides, his family and roots remained on this side of ‘The Pond’.
He took the lift up to Reception, signed in and the staff member at the desk gave him his room key.
‘Number 411. The lift is on the right through those doors. The restaurant is through there on the right, and breakfast is available from 8.00 a.m.’
He wheeled his case through the doors and stood by the lift. There was an elderly couple already there, the lady being confined to a wheel-chair. He opted to give them first use of the lift and waited for it to return. He got in and pressed the button for floor 4. The lift passed floor 2 and then stuttered to a halt short of 3. He was puzzled by this, and even more so when the doors opened to reveal a dimly lit corridor. Then a man with a maniacal facial expression got into the lift. He behaved as if he hadn’t seen Peter Cavendish, staring as he did straight ahead of him and saying nothing in response to a polite ‘Hello!’ The lift then juddered into life and proceeded upwards, arriving at floor 4, where Peter exited the lift and turned the corner towards his room, leaving the stranger behind. But why did there seem to be an un-numbered floor between 2 and 3? For a while, he put it out of his mind, unpacked, and lay on the bed playing ‘Words with Friends’ on his mobile.
The next morning, he thought he would pop out and buy a newspaper since he had forgotten to order one at reception the previous evening. He thought of taking the stairs, but curiosity made him decide to take the lift to see if it stopped again between floors 2 and 3. And it did. The doors opened, and the same grim-faced individual entered the lift, staring straight ahead of him as before. Peter made a point of saying quite loudly.
‘You staying here long? I’m here for just a few days myself.’ Absolutely no response. Was this person deaf or just plain rude and antisocial? The lift reached the ground floor, and Peter stepped out making for the door on to the street. He happened to look back behind him. There was the lift, standing open. But there was no sign of the surly stranger from between the floors. Peter looked again. There was no way the man could have passed him, and no other obvious exit from the building. Where could he have gone? Naturally, one might wonder whether this was some sort of weird hallucination, but there was no obvious reason. Surely this could not be a side-effect of jet-lag?
He was out for most of the day, returning for dinner and a relaxing evening. He entered the lift and wondered how he might raise the matter of the lift with someone in Reception without appearing to be either mad or stupid. He told staff that the lift had stopped between floors several times. He was told that there should not be a problem because the lifts had been recently serviced, and there was always the alarm button if the lift was really stuck. He omitted all mention of the strange man who emerged from an un-numbered floor.
He thought he would just go up to his room to freshen up before going back down to the restaurant. He used the lift and pressed the button for floor 4. Once again, the lift stopped between 2 and 3. The doors opened. There was the dimly lit corridor, but no sign of the lugubrious stranger. Peter decided to get out and explore. The lift doors closed behind him. He looked left. He looked right. The corridor stretched in both directions, with the same subdued light for its entire length. He was expecting to see the doors of rooms, but all there was was blank white painted walls, not a door or suggestion of rooms anywhere. He walked along the corridor in one direction, then in the opposite direction. Nothing distinctive. Not even carpet on the floor. He returned expecting to find the recess by the lift, but now all that greeted him was an unbroken expanse of white wall. The lift – or at least the lift doors, had vanished completely. He had found no stairs at either end of the corridor. It seemed there was no exit from this un-numbered floor. In desperation, he started hammering on the part of the wall where the lift had been. After a few minutes, he slumped to the floor exhausted and feeling dazed. As he lay with his back resting against the wall, the lights dimmed further. He began to make out a shape at one end of the corridor. It moved slowly forwards and he realised that he was seeing the malign stranger he had been encountering in the lift. The individual appeared to stare directly at him and then turned and seemed to walk through the part of the wall where the lift had been. Within a matter of seconds, the lift re-appeared, it doors wide open. He could not believe what he was seeing. He expected to find the stranger standing there, but instead he was looking at someone who looked like himself! This lookalike stared at him with a malevolent grin, and the lift closed and vanished once more, leaving a plain area of blank wall as before. The dim light flickered. Then the walls of the corridor started to contract and the ceiling and floor began to converge slowly so that the total space was shrinking leaving him scarcely any room to move. It was as if the entire floor was disappearing, taking him with it.
‘Thank you, Mr.Cavendish. I hope you have enjoyed your stay with us. Would you like us to order a taxi for you? It should arrive in ten minutes or so if you would like to go down and wait.’ The receptionist smiled as the person she assumed was Peter Cavendish went through the doors in the direction of the lift. She found it a little curious that he had no luggage with him. But no individual answering to his description was seen by other lift users, and a case and shoulder bag were found by cleaners, left behind in room 411.
Published in Issue #26