Chapter Description: No way out.
”It’s your imagination,” Sara said, tugging her beau back down to the floor.
”What if it’s a security guard or something?” Daniel said in between breaths. He swore he recognized the rumble of the elevator car heading up. But Sara started working his virtually hairless stomach, pressing her hands against his young flesh. Daniel took the hint and dove in for another kiss, this time a prolonged stint that sent him all over her neck, shoulders and breasts. He slid the oversized bra cups slowly off, while she unbuttoned the rest of his dangling shirt and easily peeled it from his shoulders.
He stared in astonishment down at his sixteen-year-old lover, so bright, perky, and... underage. But no amount of guilt could distract him from his new love as she smiled back at him - the smile of a girl who had just garnered her driver’s license or a first boyfriend. In this state, she was undeniably powerful; he would do anything she asked. Now, he knew he must be dreaming.
”You make a handsome high school senior,” Sara whispered into his ear before she started to nibble it. Daniel had never felt so invigorated; making love to a girl as feisty as Sara had been out of the question in high school. Their pulses raced. Their bodies tangled. He felt a phenomenal relief, as if he had finally dumped Devra forever. He and his new bride could begin again, as young as Daniel had been when he met Devra - or even younger. What was stopping them? In her eyes, he saw a new life, free from the trappings of his stale, depleted marriage.
”Sara...“ Daniel started to say something but forgot it the instant she ran her hands down his baggy underwear. A renewed energy, a throbbing vitality, and an almost unreal stamina possessed him. And the thought struck him... I could be happy on this one floor with her forever.
A muffled grumble came from the elevator shaft.
”Shit!” Daniel said. “It’s coming!”
”The elevator, Sara. I think someone else is in the building!” Daniel, now wearing only a perilously loose pair of BVDs, quickly gathered his shirt, pants, and coat. Sara scrambled to bunch up her dress while keeping her panties somewhat useful. In a haze, they both surveyed the area, trying to retrieve any hints of what had just happened. They succeeded in at least clearing the floor of any obvious articles of clothing just before...
A “ding” echoed around the vacant floor.
”We’ve got to hide,” Daniel said, pulling Sara into a nearby cubicle, both of them desperately clinging to their belongings. Huddled underneath some nondescript accountant’s desk and office chair, the excited pair waited silently and timidly until the elevator doors finally opened. They could hear the dull crunch of footsteps.
”Why this floor? You told me he works on the 33rd,” a deep male voice said.
”Oh, just curiosity. Before we rode up, I noticed the display downstairs said the elevator had stopped on this floor,” a female voice replied. “And there can’t be many other people in this building at one o’clock in the morning. Look at it. It looks practically abandoned...”
”Oh, no. No, no, no, no,” Daniel spoke in hushed tones.
”What is it?” Sara asked, still gingerly adjusting her troublesome panties.
”Oh god, this can’t be happening,” Daniel whispered like a prayer.
”Shhhhhhhh,” Sara said, hearing the voices grow slightly louder. They both held their breath. A floorboard on the other side of the cubicle wall let out a slow creak.
”Well, if they were here, it looks like they left,” the man said, his voice indicating he was no further than two feet from the scared couple. Stephen?! Sara thought to herself. I told him I wouldn’t be home until three!
”Hey,” Devra called out. “This is strange.”
”What is it?” Stephen said, walking away from the cubicle and back toward the elevator.
”A wallet. I think this is Daniel’s...” Devra noted, examining the floor right by the water cooler. “Yep, it’s his all right. Driver’s license and all. Daniel never leaves his wallet anywhere.”
”Damn,” Daniel said.
”We need to get out of here, right now,” Sara said emphatically. “If it’s identical to the other floors, I think we could make our way over to that far exit.”
”Yeah, just beyond main office...” she said. Daniel peeked over the edge of the cubicle and spied the glowing red exit light.
”All right, follow me,” Sara said, quickly exiting the cubicle in the opposite direction they came. Ducking all the way, the partially clothed duo maneuvered through the labyrinthine office space deliberately, so as to keep a strong grip on their garments. Tiptoeing stealthily under cover of cubicle walls, they could hear Devra and Stephen discussing the wallet. Sara’s bra hung by one strap and slowly but surely her panties had inched down her thighs. Now, she had to modify her walk just to keep them from cascading down to her ankles. Daniel’s underwear covered none of his backside and hardly any of the front, but continued to hang on just barely. By the time they reached the exit door, they were a comfortable distance from Devra and Stephen. Still, they pushed the exit door ajar with the utmost care and precision while crouching down below the handle.
Squatting all the way, Daniel and Sara made their way into the stairwell. They cautiously closed the door behind them, praying no noticeable squeaks might escape the hinges. Once the door had safely shut, they both let out an audible sigh.
”We can’t let them find us,” Daniel said, leaning her head against the cold concrete wall.
”Not like this,” Sara said, feeling a chilly draft blow up her back. She finagled her distraught panties back up into position. “I have an idea.”
Daniel was all ears.
”We should go down.”
”What?!” Daniel said, trying to temper his reaction. Still, his voice reverberated in the hollow stairwell. “Are you crazy?”
”It’s the only way,” Sara said, determined. “I know what will happen, but we’ve got to try.”
”Are you kidding me? It’s obvious what will happen. We can’t escape that way without... you know... so what’s the point?” Daniel argued. He threaded his arms back into his coat, as it was nothing short of freezing.
”They’re going to head upstairs. You heard them talking.”
”Yeah, them. Why is your husband here?” Daniel asked, fighting off a case of goosebumps.
”I don’t know. He knew I would be late.”
”Well, that’s just perfect, isn’t it?”
”Calm down. There’s a way out of this,” Sara spoke with surprising reassurance in her voice. “We go down.”
”If we stay here, they will find us. This stairway echoes like an auditorium. Eventually, one of them will open the door and hear us chatting away.”
”But... but...” Daniel ran out of buts, so he resigned to the most childish one of all. “But I don’t want to.”
”It’s your choice, but I think the only option is to head down to a lower floor where they wouldn’t think to look, and maybe...“
”I was going to say, we’ll be,” Sara hesitated a moment herself, “littler, so we can hide someplace they wouldn’t guess we could fit.”
”That’s ridiculous,” Daniel said. “I’m staying right here.” He let his butt slide to the icy floor.
”Well, I’m going down,” Sara said, standing up and marching to the stairs. “This may not be how I wanted to spend Christmas break, but I don’t think we have much of a choice.” Daniel watched his girlfriend take the first step and turn back. “Sure you don’t want to come with me?”
Daniel didn’t answer. He just kept his eyes on Sara, who proceeded to descend, dress in hand and hair in a mess. He watched the back of her head bob as she began her trek down into still younger days. He wondered, Why am I in this place? Were my sins that bad? He remembered the annoying sound Ms. Madhat tacked onto the end of her sentences; that arrogant little cackle stuck in his head. The words of the poem ran through his brain again and again, as he sat blank-faced between Scilla and Charybdis.
The stairs were fashioned such that he could see Sara’s hands on the rails when he peered down below. He could see them, growing smaller... or was it just the distance? Her footsteps echoed softly up the stairs. But he heard something else.
Devra’s chatting was getting closer, he thought. Oh, no. There was nowhere to hide.
With some trepidation, he hung his head over the edge of the rails and called out. “Sara, are you OK?”
”I’m OK,” a girlish voice yelled back.
”I’m OK,” the high-pitched voice repeated.
Daniel took a deep breath. This is crazy, this is crazy... With that, he started down. It seemed like an almost polar wind suddenly blew up the stairs. He guardedly made his way halfway down to the fifteen floor. The changes were subtle, but the feeling was still there. He winced, thinking of Sara’s voice just a few moments ago. How old was she? Daniel wondered. And how old would she become? He couldn’t get that soprano sound of his mind as he continued to climb down. Another tight knot formed in his stomach, this one worse than before. It was all well and fine to be young again, but not too young.
By the 14th floor, Daniel knew what was coming. His shoes, already spacious, started to become less and less wearable. He looked at his arms and saw they had grown rather bare during the last flight. The underwear needed permanent assistance now, as it became more and more airy with each step. By the 12th floor, Daniel had lost some more adolescent baggage. His limbs had grown skinny and clumsy, prompting him to tighten his watch. Finally, he gave up and carried his shoes.
Click. He stopped midstep when he heard a sound above him - a door opening suddenly. Unintelligible words followed. Daniel strained but he couldn’t make them out. He recognized Devra, but he could only guess what she might be saying. He could imagine. Then, as quickly as it opened, the door closed, sending a loud thud up and down the stairwell. All was quiet again.
Daniel continued his journey. He dreaded the next several floor most of all. Part of him would not accept the fact that he had regressed to middle school age. Floor 11 - his pubic hair started to disappear in a strange kind of reverse puberty. He warily felt under his arms. Yeah, I’m thirteen all right, he conceded. Floor 10 - his body lost still more mass, leaving him more boyish in appearance. Running his hands across his face, Daniel felt the smooth, downy face of a twelve-year-old. As he had anticipated, the reinvigoration that complemented his trip down grew even stronger, though the sexual overtones were fading fast. Floor 9 - he was, in all ways, a child again. He counted down. Only eleven years old, he marveled. This time, regretfully, he probed his crotch and found, not unsurprisingly, that he had left puberty on the last flight of stairs. Even with some help, his underpants eventually tumbled to the ground. Though no one watched him, Daniel still turned a deep shade of red. On Floor 8, he found Sara, waiting patiently beside the door.
They momentarily stared at each other in half denial and half bewildered amusement.
”Sara, I don’t know what to say,” Daniel said in his girly ten-year-old voice, as he studied the second-grader standing before him. Sara had chucked the bra. Her little nipples were as flat as Daniel’s. With the dress wrapped messily around her waist and tied in a makeshift knot, she looked frighteningly innocent. Hints of baby fat graced her angelic face, her sex appeal wholly erased and forgotten.
”You make a cute little girl,” he offered an awkward compliment.
”You make a cute little boy,” she said, reminding him he hadn’t faired much better. Still, for once, Daniel was glad to be older than Sara, even if it meant he was only a fourth-grader. His sport coat dangled just above his kneecaps and served as his protection, but he still felt mostly naked with his bare penis rubbing up against it.
”We need to find a place to hide,” Sara said, pushing open the 8th floor door. Significantly shorter than before, she was shocked how heavy the door seemed all the sudden. Though, minutes ago, they were having the best sex of their lives, Daniel felt dirty just looking at a shirtless Sara now.
“I don’t want to stay like this for very long,” she said.
”Well, neither do I,” Daniel said.
”But we’ve got make sure they leave before we go back up,” Sara explained, scanning the floor for a decent hiding place, one thirty-three-year-old Sara could not have squeezed herself into.
”Here,” Daniel said, pulling off his jacket and tucking it around her shoulders, “take this.”
”Thank you,” Sara said, almost blushing at the gesture. Daniel covered his manhood with one hand as he reapplied his shirt. He thought he heard a brief giggle from Sara’s direction, but he pretended to ignore it. Strange how much had changed in the last ten minutes.
As they squirmed their way under a nearby table, Daniel was startled by a sudden realization, one that had escaped him in the confusion before.
”Hey, did you notice anything strange about Devra and your husband?”
”Not really, no.”
”They weren’t any different,” Daniel said. “That means the curse is not on the building - it’s on us! Otherwise, they would have aged on the way up.”
”You’re right,” Sara said, with the dourest expression a girl her age could marshal.
Daniel again observed his watch, which read 1:15 AM, December 23, 1978. His mind raced back to Pendleton Elementary School and Mrs. Hawkins’ inimitable glare. The woman used to give poor Daniel nightmares. He remembered running away from cootie-ridden girls as if they carried the plague. And here he was, thirty-five and back in his old body.
Sara was still situating herself, trying desperately to find the least embarrassing position. Daniel sat with his legs crossed, dress shirt covering his privates.
”What happens when they leave?” he asked. “Someone will find us eventually, even if we manage to subsist on coffee and vending machine food.”
”I don’t know,” Sara replied. “Hopefully, by then, the curse will wear off or something.”
”You really think this will just up and stop? Look at us, Sara. We’re children, for godsakes!”
”I know what we look like, Daniel,” Sara exclaimed. “But we’re not stuck this way - only on this floor.”
”Yeah, it only gets worse the farther down we go.”
”It’s no time for pessimism.”
”Pessimism? I don’t know. It seems like the perfect time to me.” Daniel crossed his arms. It was difficult sounding authoritative or even earnest with the vocal chords of a pre-adolescent.
Floor 8 was as quiet as the rest. Daniel and Sara couldn’t help feeling as if the whole world had long been deserted. After all, the Fairfax building had become their world in the last hour. A seemingly forgotten, eerie place. The little light that came from the windows lent every floor a weird bluish tint as the snow fell outside. All they heard was each other’s breath - in and out, in and out. Neither one knew what to say, so they just thought. The poem, the trap, Ms. Madhat... Surely, some bargain could be made.
”I’ve got an idea.” Sara’s face lit up. “Hear me out...”
Meanwhile, On the 33rd Floor...
”Well, where are they?” Devra vented her frustration in Daniel’s empty office. It had recently been inhabited, as evidenced by open drawer at his desk.
”How much do you think they know?” Stephen asked, digging through a stack of papers on a nearby chair.
”I’m sure it’s sinking in,” Devra said, grinning. “We know they can’t go too far...”
”Here’s his briefcase,” Stephen added, “over here in the corner.”
”I have to admit this is rather... fun,” Devra said with an uncharacteristic giggle. “Looking for them, I mean. I can just picture my husband right now...“
”With my wife.”
“They’re having the time of their lives, I’m sure. I think we should split up. You go up. I’ll go down.”
”If you find them, give me a call on the cell phone. I’ve got it right here,” Devra explained. “Oh, and remember what we planned.”
”Of course,” Stephen said with a smirk.
Daniel pressed the power button. Within seconds, the computer tower was warming up. He flipped on the monitor. “Starting Windows...” the screen read. Soon, a picturesque ocean-view desktop appeared and the familiar musical startup cue played. Daniel quickly pointed and clicked the Explorer icon.
”I highly doubt this woman has a website,” he chided.
”What should I type in?”
”I don’t know. Try ?Madhat’ and ?curse.’ Can’t hurt to try...” Sara said, pointing to the screen with her sleeve. Daniel did as she suggested. The search scored only a two pages worth of returns, nothing official looking among them. “Open the first one.”
Daniel complied. A messageboard appeared - one apparently dedicated to magic enthusiasts. He scrolled down through the threads, scanning for the word “Madhat.” After three pages, he located a post entitled, “Maximilian Madhat: RIP” and clicked on it right away. Though the thread made no mention of a Ms. Madhat, it offered a short biography of the magician. From what Daniel could tell, Maximilian Madhat was an illusionist not well known in the US, but popular overseas. A master at sleight-of-hand routines, Mr. Madhat played small venues mostly. Some of his tricks still baffled magicians today - and he took those secrets with him to his grave.
”There’s nothing here,” Daniel said, scrolling back up the page. “Just some dead magician guy.”
”Well, he has the same last name. Maybe they’re connected,” Sara suggested.
”Somebody else has to have heard of her. A woman can’t go around putting hexes on people without attracting some attention.”
Daniel sighed. ”Or maybe her curses just take care of themselves.”