Chapter Description: A complicated affair.
A worried expression formed on Sara’s face. "You mean?" She seldom looked so serious.
"Well, let’s think about this. We stopped on what, the 14th floor, and we guessed my age at sixteen. Estimated, anyway. Oh, no..." Daniel’s face turned sour. "You’re thirty-three, right, Sara?"
Daniel slumped onto the floor like a sandbag. "Oh, no." All the hope had drained from his voice, so much so, he reminded Sara of the mechanical elevator voice. "I just turned thirty-five last November and you’re only thirty-three. You know what this means..."
In the confusion of the moment, Sara’s basic math skills failed her. She ran the numbers through her head one more time.
"Oh my God, you’re right! If we had kept going..."
"Logically - we’re assuming anyway - we would have gotten younger still," Daniel explained.
The reality was just now digging its claws into the both of them.
"I would be a three-year-old," Daniel sighed.
"And I - I’d be a baby!" Sara realized.
"On the 14th floor, my watch said it was 1984. If we rode the elevator down to the first floor, mathematically, it would be 1970," Daniel worked out the figures, "meaning neither of us would even be old enough to even communicate, much less drive a car."
Sara followed suit and slumped hopelessly down to the floor. Another bout of silence followed as the two lovebirds began rethinking their situation. Neither of them had worked on a logic puzzle since high school and clearly, no easy solution would present itself in this case.
"Maybe if we found a way around taking the elevator or the stairs, like a window -" Sara said.
"Well, for starters, it may be tough convincing the fire department we need a lift down from the 33rd floor. But I highly doubt that would help," Daniel snorted.
"Call it a hunch. Clearly, Ms. Madhat and this poem are complicit in this... somehow. And right here it says, ’You may think the window an escape, but the trap is your creation, and the slightest elevation informs your fate,’" Daniel started to understand the meaning behind its enigmatic phrases.
"Well, what is that supposed to mean?" Sara seemed frustrated her idea wasn’t viable.
"Going on what we’ve witnessed so far, I’d say this is some kind of... I don’t know," Daniel paused, "curse."
"A curse? How scientific of you, Daniel. First, the Holy Spirit and now a curse," Sara said, crossing her arms and turning away. "Maybe we should bang some drums, pray to the Sun God Ra, and sacrifice a coffeemaker."
"Well, what else is there, Sara? Like you said, people just don’t ride down elevators and find themselves getting younger!" Daniel yelled, already growing hoarse.
"Then there’s only one other way to go," Sara said. "Up."
"I don’t know if that’s a good idea," Daniel started to object. That uneasy feeling began rising in his chest once again.
"I know what you’re thinking. We’re both thinking it, but what other choice do we have?" Sara spoke the painfully obvious. "Unless you want to end up in diapers."
"But how many floors does this building have?" Daniel asked, thinking how odd it was that he never noticed in his three years working at Fairfax.
Sara thought to herself for a moment. "Sixty-two."
"Sixty-two?!" Daniel sputtered. "You know how old we would be?"
"We won’t know for sure until we try, so come on, Daniel," Sara stood up and tugged at his sweat-stained shirt collar. "Who knows? Maybe the curse stops at this floor."
The weary lawyer and his assistant walked limply toward the elevator. Amazing how ominous it looks now, Daniel thought. With its massive steel doors clamped shut, it resembled a monster waiting to devour the both of them should they come any closer. Sara leaned over and gently pressed the "Up" arrow. The cheery "ding" sounded and its doors opened almost immediately. They both stepped slowly over the threshold, tip-toeing like wary children trying not to wake their slumbering parents. Neither of them knew why they acted so cautious; it wasn’t as if the elevator would suddenly drop to the first floor. Still, it seemed strangely appropriate. Daniel pressed "45."
"That should be enough, don’t you think?"
"Surely," Sara said, clenching Daniel’s right hand like a vice. They nervously looked at one another as the doors closed. Soon, the familiar rising feeling began deep in the pit of their stomachs. The electronic voice began ticking off the floor numbers with its usual lack of enthusiasm. They continued to lock their eyes on each other’s faces, ready to detect the slightest hint of aging.
"How do you feel?" Daniel asked, seeing Sara’s queasy expression.
"OK, so far," she said, still holding his hand firmly.
The voice announced, "Floor 35."
A kind of dull ache spread through Daniel’s body, beginning with his feet, then his ankles, and on upward through his torso. Sara noticed a similar pain winding around her body, one that felt quite contrary to the increasingly gratifying tingle that accompanied her trip down. Instead, this time, a vague sickness began to take hold, zapping their energy as the elevator sped up toward the 45th floor. Unlike the renewed vigor they received heading down, this new feeling felt more like the onset of the flu, only neither of them could really describe it.
"Daniel, I feel sick," Sara said, massaging her stomach.
"Do I look any different to you?" he asked, impatiently.
She took her mind off the distracting aches and gazed at an anxious Daniel. The wrinkles across his forehead seemed deeper and more pronounced, but she didn’t know whether that might just be his nerves. Moving closer, she thought she spotted a small patch of gray hair forming next to his right ear. And was his belly growing too? She noticed his belt becoming a bit more strained.
"I think so," Sara said. "What about me?"
Daniel watched as the hints of tiny crow’s feet started to form besides Sara’s gorgeous blue eyes. He could feel her hand becoming bonier as the floors ticked by. Her hair grew thinner and less full of body, while her breasts seemed to sag.
"Floor 43," the voice chanted, sounding like Stephen Hawking.
Both seemed caught in a trance, watched each other grow a year older with each passing level. Daniel’s gut continued to creep ever farther outward and Sara could feel her thighs gaining a little unwanted weight. Finally, the elevator car reached 45, and the doors parted, revealing another lifeless floor. Daniel and Sara didn’t even flinch; instead, they stood an arm’s length away from each other, marveling at their midlife selves.
Daniel spied his watch. December 23, 2015.
"I can’t believe it," he said in a throaty tone. "This is what I’ll look like when I’m forty-seven years old."
"I’m forty-five," Sara added disbelievingly, detecting a slight change in her voice as well. "Quick. Get me off of this floor."
"I second that," Daniel said, pushing good ol’ number "33" again.
As the car dropped back down the floors, they both watched their bodies return. Once again, an indescribable pleasure overtook them, although mentally, both remained taxed. While physically, they enjoyed the almost orgasmic sensation that accompanied a ride down, they both started to grapple with the hard facts that now faced them.
"I think we’re up shit creek," Daniel said plainly.
"Not necessarily," Sara replied.
"You have another idea?"
"Well," she admitted, "not really."
"I didn’t think so. See, it’s impossible," he banged his fists against the elevator wall.
"Well, what are you saying? We either stay on the 33rd floor for the rest of our lives, or make a choice between being senior citizens or little kids again?"
"Do you see any other options?"
"There’s got to be another way out of here. There has to be," Sara said, as they reached the 33rd floor and rejoined their offices for the second time that night. "Just keep thinking."
"Should we call someone?" Sara asked.
"Who would we call?" Daniel said, with a growing despair. "I doubt the fire department would consider this a routine call."
"Read that letter from Ms. Madhat again. Maybe a clue--" Sara began.
"I’ve read it enough already. ’The slightest elevation informs your fate.’ I think it’s clear what that crazy old bat has done to us," Daniel explained. "We picked a great time to fool around... in front of some vengeful witch of all things." Daniel’s clothes were oddly situated, undoubtedly the result of having changed sizes a few times in one night. With his shirt half tucked in and his tie loosened, he looked more like a haggard newspaper reporter in some noir movie than a successful law partner.
"Then let’s look at the facts," Sara began again. "We think Ms. Madhat has put some kind of spell on this office building, presumably as punishment... punishment for flirting in front of her..."
"Yes, that much we know."
Sara paced like a detective all the sudden. "All right, now Ms. Madhat wrote you a poem of sorts detailing this curse, and it says--"
Daniel quoted her the rest with little fanfare.
"She makes reference to the ’sweet bird of youth’ and ’moving up in the world’ - do those mean anything to you?"
Daniel thought for a moment. "Well, maybe somehow she knew about - well, our affair. She probably saw my wedding ring, come to think of it. If that’s the case, she may think, by having an affair, I was trying to recapture my youth somehow..."
Sara stopped him. "Now, if she is punishing us for having an affair, then what did she hope to achieve by trapping us here?"
"Hell if I know."
"Did the note say anything else?" Sara asked.
"Only on the back. It says, ’From number two,’" Daniel read the flipside aloud.
"I don’t have a clue, Sara. None of this makes any sense!" Daniel said, crumpling the paper in his palm and throwing it to the floor.
With that, a crazy thought entered Sara’s head. It, too, made no sense, but that hadn’t stopped any of this from happening so far. "Dan," she said, picking the ball of notebook paper from the ground.
"As long as we’re stuck here--"
Daniel trudged over to his desk and fell into his swivel chair like an old man. He ran his fingers across the drawers in his desk, counting down to his secret stash.
"--we might as well take advantage of the situation." Sara sat down on Daniel’s desk next to the lamp.
"What in the hell are you talking about?"
"Well, I mean... we don’t know how long this might last. It might be days or just an hour, you know?"
"What are you getting at?" Daniel unscrewed the top of his liquor and took a swig straight from the bottle.
"Daniel," Sara said, grabbing his shoulders abruptly, "we can be any age we want! You’re right... we may be stuck like this. We can cross that bridge when we come to it, but right now, we don’t know for sure."
He nearly spit up his drink. "You can’t be serious."
"Of course, I’m serious!" Sara sat, saucer-eyed, on the edge of his desk. "Maybe Ms. Madhat wants us to confront ourselves."
"We’ve never made a commitment to this relationship, Daniel. We’ve both been pretending our wives and husbands just don’t exist; we need to make a decision. Which way are we going?"
"Not this conversation now, Sara, please. Anything but this..."
She grabbed his shoulders again, only much tighter this time. "Why not, Daniel? You know how it felt going down. Let’s do it again!" He could almost hear her heart beating from where he sat. "We could get in that elevator right now, Daniel, and become teenagers again - just for a little while. We could have each other before we even knew each other!"
"I can’t believe you want to toy around with this. For godsakes, Sara, we’re stranded in this building with no way out and you want to fool around!" Daniel downed another swig of whiskey. The smell of it crept across the room.
"Well, what else can we do?" Sara was adamant. "You said it yourself; this just doesn’t happen! Daniel, no one will be watching! What do we lose?"
"I’m not really in the mood right now, darling," Daniel snapped, tugging himself away from Sara’s grip.
"But that’s just it. We both know what will get us in the mood--" Sara insisted. She pointed to the elevator doors. "A ride down."
"I don’t know," Daniel said, propping his legs up on his desk (a practice he usually forbade). He screwed the top back on his whiskey and set it back inside the drawer. He looked put out, beaten, and lifeless reclining in his leather chair. It squeaked beneath him. What the hell is happening to my life? he wondered. A half hour before, his existence had merely been mildly depressing - now it had turned into an impossible Outer Limits episode or else a really funky dream. Did I eat Mexican last night? he asked himself.
In a few minutes, the whiskey began working its magic. The worries seem to take their place in the background. Oddly enough, Sara’s argument started to make sense. What can I lose after all? Certainly life had thrown him a lemon; now, would he make the proverbial lemonade? He eyed Sara, who had retired to the seat across the desk, and weighed the pros and the cons. Dreading another elevator trip, he hesitated. One miraculous event had already occurred that evening. What else might be in store for them? Daniel, at least, felt safe on the 33rd floor: his office, his desk, his correct age. But the offer was tempting, he admitted.
"All right," Daniel said suddenly.
Sara raised her head, apparently waking from a short nap.
"Let’s try it," he said, sounding definitive.
"You want to? You really want to?"
Daniel grew a crafty smile. "Absolutely. What the hell. We’ve got nothing more to lose."
"...except a few years," Sara said, winking.
Argents Park - Two Blocks from Fairfax Towers...
A full moon lit the falling snowflakes as they glided down to earth. In this peaceful scene, an old woman traveled, with the aid of a knotty cane, on a dimly lit pathway that ran the length of the park. Meanwhile, a man and a woman waited quietly on a bench for their midnight visitor. The faint sound of traffic could be heard with the occasional police siren wailing past the edge of the park. In the distance, Fairfax Towers stood like a tall, dark monolith, except for one or two windows where office lights remained. The winter air blew what was left of the leaves into miniature cyclones around their bench.
"Right on time," Devra announced, seeing Ms. Madhat’s silhouette.
"It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance," Stephen said, standing up and holding out his hand.
"Likewise," Ms. Madhat giggled. "I’m sure you’ll both be pleased to know that everything went perfectly according to plan."
"Wonderful," Devra said, relieved. "I can’t thank you enough."
"And now there was the matter of payment..." Ms. Madhat wasted no time with chit chat. "I believe we agreed upon a sum at our last meeting."
"Yes, and I’ve got it right here in my purse. Just a second." Devra fished through her purse, sifting through credit cards, tissues, and car keys, and finally emerged with a thick roll of cash. Without a second thought, she handed the money over to Ms. Madhat, who looked it over briefly before accepting. The old lady hastily tucked away the bills into one of the many folds of her coat. Her eyes glinted with the blue glow of a winter night. She looked simultaneously grandmotherly and sinister - an odd combination, but she fit both roles perfectly.
"They’ll be waiting whenever you’re ready," Ms. Madhat said.
"Thank you again," Devra said, starting to shiver a bit.
Ms. Madhat tipped her hat and turned to leave without another word. Devra and Stephen looked at each other and smiled. The night had just begun.
Inside the Fairfax Elevator...
A surge of desire ran through Daniel and Sara’s bodies as the elevator glided downward, the floors ticking off one by one. Daniel shed his jacket while Sara peeled the straps of her dress off her shoulders. They fell into each other’s arms and locked lips. They could feel the vibrant flow of returning youth, the dynamic currents of renewed cells flooding their bodies with each passing floor. Daniel could feel the strength of his twenties slowly restored, while Sara sensed her rock hard physique returning. With every "ding," the couple lost another year and Sara was now a college senior again. Daniel’s age hovered around twenty-four. Both were in heaven.
"I love you, Sara," Daniel said in the heat of the moment.
"I love you too," Sara replied between kisses.
They wished the ride might last forever, but the floors were quickly counting down.
"Floor 21... Floor 20." Finally, the elevator came to a jarring stop. They pulled their faces away from one another, both wearing exasperated expressions. For a moment, they stood there, breathing heavily.
"Well, looks like this is our stop," Daniel said.
Sara only grinned a girlish grin. Without warning, she reached over and pressed another number. The doors closed again.
"What are you doing? I thought we agreed--" Daniel said.
Sara raced over and nearly jumped onto him. She planted another passionate kiss on his lips. "Didn’t you have any high school fantasies, Danny?" She wrapped her arms around his waist and kneaded his butt. The twenty-year-old couldn’t resist. He ran his hands down Sara’s sides, sides that grew firmer with every new floor. Her breasts also rose to the occasion, slightly smaller perhaps but no less enticing to a teenaged Daniel.
The elevator reached level 16 in a matter of seconds, and the much younger couple spilled out onto the floor. They felt like first-timers again feeling the thrill of rounding the bases with their high school crushes. There, on the carpet, surrounded by boring desk calendars, bulletin boards, and water coolers, Daniel and Sara romped and played like naughty kids, fooling around against their parents wishes. The high school sophomore and senior again enjoyed that carefree high known as youth - it all seemed new and exhilarating.
Their clothing scattered on the floor, the two lovers forgot all about their dilemma and the building no longer seemed like a trap... but more like paradise. Daniel suddenly lifted his head.
"Did you hear something?"
"No," Sara said. A creaking came from somewhere.
"The elevator is moving again."