The elevator jammed between the third and fourth floor. The walls shuddered as the cables ground to a halt, and there was a brief flash of darkness before the emergency lights came on, bathing them in a dim red glow.
“Oh,” James said. He couldn’t think of anything else to say.
Carter snorted. James could just see the thin bead of sweat rolling down Carter’s cheek. “Oh?” Carter said, his voice weak and rasping. He wrapped his arms around himself as shivers wracked his body. “Are we stuck?”
James pushed some buttons on the wall – pressing a little harder than necessary – but there was no reaction. Even the emergency button, the one that was meant to call for help, wasn’t working. “Um,” he said.
“Don’t you um at me, you outdated meme,” Carter said. Even in the red light, his cheeks looked pallid and waxy, and his eyes had a manic gleam to them as they darted around the tiny compartment. He ran his hands through his hair, which was damp with sweat, and leant heavily against the wall.
“It’ll be OK,” James said, fishing his phone out of his pocket and checking the reception. There wasn’t any. Naturally.
“I’m turning into a zombie, goddamit – I’m turning, and you’re stuck in an elevator with me – this is the opposite of OK!”
James waved his phone in the air, trying to catch some bars, and didn’t dignify Carter with a response. He was just agitated, that was all. Carter was never his best self when he felt under the weather.
Carter put on a high falsetto voice: “Let’s go to the hospital,” he said, “it’s probably just a cold, maybe they can treat you before you get any worse.”
He shoved James’s chest, but it was a weak gesture. He was losing strength much faster than their internet searches had said he would. James tried to run a hand over Carter’s forehead, but Carter knocked it away.
“You should’ve just shot me when I asked you to.”
“I don’t even own a gun –”
“And that is just goddam un-American!” Carter shouted.
His breathing was laboured as he let his head fall back against the wall with a soft thump. He looked so much worse than he had that morning. He’d woken up with a fever, and he’d refused to eat anything. James had put it down to one of those 24-hour bugs he’d read about. But then they’d turned on the news.
“Look, I know it looks bad,” James said, shoving his phone back into his pocket, “but really, the odds of you catching it –”
“I was at ground zero yesterday,” Carter replied. His whole body trembled. He slid down the wall and sat heavily on the filthy carpet. “Of course I caught it.” Carter closed his eyes and sank his teeth into his lip. “I feel sick,” he said, so softly that James almost didn’t hear him. He wiped his mouth and his hand came away black like he’d dipped it in oil.
James jammed his finger into the emergency button, holding it down, trying to keep his face calm even as he could feel the sweat pooling on the back of his neck. He felt the adrenaline building in his muscles, tightening them, getting ready to – what? Run? Fight? The elevator was too small for either.
He heard Carter groaning, getting louder each second. He knelt and put his hand on Carter’s shoulder, but Carter reeled back.
“Get away from me,” he said, and his teeth were black.
James backed up against the opposite wall, pushing into it until his entire spine was pressed so hard against the wood that he could feel each groove and bump through his shirt. Carter rolled onto his back. He clutched his gut like he thought it might burst if he didn’t hold it together, and his face was twisted into something entirely terrifying.
James felt his body recoil as if it knew something his mind couldn’t. He wanted to reach out – to help – but the noises Carter made paralysed him. He felt his own lungs quaking, gasping for air, and his muscles had tensed so hard that he thought he could feel his bones creaking under the strain. His eyes darted around – searching for something, anything that would help.
But there was nothing. Nothing to help and no way out. As soon as that thought crossed his mind, another chased it; there was a way out. He looked up. The emergency exit was there, illuminated in the dull red light. He was moving before he’d even made up his mind to go, ignoring the ache in his chest when Carter started writhing on the floor. James couldn’t help him. He could only get away.
He pulled on the hatch to release the door. It fell open with a soft thunk. James glanced down to see Carter, his back contorted and his arms at odd angles, watching James with bloodshot eyes.
“Go,” he said. His voice was dull and husky. His vocal chords sounded like they were ripping themselves apart.
James put both hands on either side of the opening and hoisted himself up. He’d never done a pull-up in his life, but his body must have known the stakes because he slid through that hole like he’d been doing it for years. He didn’t look back.
Once he was through and on the dusty roof of the elevator, he took a long, deep breath. He was really doing this. He was really leaving Carter down there. He heard his best friend screaming down in the compartment and, without pausing to think, James reached through the hole and pulled the emergency door closed, sealing Carter inside.
He scrambled away from the door, pressing his back against the cable. He listened as the screams grew louder. Then stopped. Then turned into growls.
Author’s note: My two greatest fears; getting stuck in an elevator and zombies
PS – I love writing and I love eating! If you want to help with the latter (and ONLY if you want) you can maybe buy me a coffee? 🙂