Waiting to Exhale

The elevator buttons lit up one by one, as if touched by a child’s ghostly index finger, the display sparked like a Christmas tree finally dressed in its finery. Craig and Lindsay stood side by side at the rear of the car. They were headed to the fifth floor for a meeting, but, even though they knew each other, they did not interact. Neither did they react to the sudden illumination, one by one, of the floor numbers.

On four, Allison stepped on without even glancing at the display. She nodded at Craig but completely ignored Lindsay. It was rare for Allison not to speak, though it seemed customary for the other two, but she simply eased herself next to Craig as the doors slid shut once more. She was preoccupied by other things at that moment anyway.

At eight that morning, when she arrived for work, the fountain out front had sometime in the night begun spouting black water. She glanced at the strange color, but it didn’t slow her down. It wasn’t her problem, though she hoped it would be remedied by close of business. Not because she was afraid, of course.

“It’s probably just a prank,” they said around the water cooler on four. Delightful Décor had spread downward two floors from the fifth, which meant five more water coolers, and more chances to hear office gossip.

She stopped breathing at noon, a sudden shift that left her slumped over on her office floor. It lasted for four beats, but they were the longest beats of her life. Some would have even said she died and came back, but she wasn’t one of those people. Shooting a glance at the artificial lung on her wall, she thought she noticed a shading that hadn’t previously been there, a grey pallor that matched her own as she gasped for air.

By two-thirty things were mostly back to normal, so as she stepped onto that elevator and nodded to Craig, she was almost back to her typical self, a simple flip of the switch once she had dusted off the artificial lung after incident fifteen. She called it incident fifteen so as to separate it from the other times she had stopped breathing in her office.

They stepped off on five, as the number re-lit itself and the elevator continued its journey to the top of the building.

“I think this meeting’s about the fourteen mysterious deaths,” Craig told Allison, conspiratorially. Lindsay stood behind the pair and frowned slightly. It wasn’t like Allison to ignore her; after all, they shared an office wall between them. She was the fifteenth person to share that office wall since Allison had arrived, and life had not been kind to the other fourteen occupants.

“Did you feel a rustling in the air?” Allison asked Craig. They continued on to the meeting. In Lindsay’s office down on four, the body had begun its decomposition, and the artificial lung on Allison’s wall looked entirely healthy again.

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