It could be any elevator in any large office building in any medium sized city in any state in the country. It is unremarkable and unspectacular in every conceivable way. Describing it would be like trying to explain the exterior of a strip mall or bowling alley. Everybody can picture those without having to be told how they look in exactly the same way that this elevator looks like any elevator in any large office building in any medium sized city in any state in the country. The devil is in the details, and this is going to be ugly enough, so let’s not get that bastard involved.
The elevator is doing normal elevator stuff, taking itself as much for granted as its three passengers are, when the power goes out. The cause of the outage is unclear, and elevator shafts are notoriously restrictive when it comes to investigating events happening in the world around them. Understanding why the power went out is not going make anything any clearer, in fact it would just muddy up the story with excessive data, so try to keep your curiosity within the limits of the narration being provided. Don’t try to make this something it isn’t, or you’ll just be disappointed.
I will tell you this. There is an emergency light. It is battery powered and can last for almost twenty four hours. I don’t want you wondering the whole time how the characters are interacting in a pitch black box, so that I will give you. You happy?
As for the three people, it would probably be easiest if I just give you a rundown on each of them before we get started. I don’t usually like to do it this way. A person’s character should be revealed by their ideas and actions, but because of the particular circumstances of how things are about to play out, having some basic demographic knowledge is a bittersweet necessity.
First there is Reyauna, a 26 year old black woman who is visiting the office building as a consultant for a social media company that leases the entire seventh floor.
Next there is Kristen, a 47 year old white woman who works as a paralegal at a medium sized law firm located on floor number six.
Finally there is David, a 33 year old man whose mother is white and whose father is Hispanic, who works as a janitor in the building.
Just moments after the power goes out, Reyauna tells the group not to panic, which is unnecessary since nobody is even close to doing so. For several minutes they all stand silently, exchanging occasional friendly glances, but not wanting to make this any more awkward than it already is with small talk. After about fifteen minutes of this, the tension starts to build, and Kristen jabs at the Emergency Call button several times in a row.
“The phones in these are powered by the phone lines themselves, which are supposed to still work when the electricity goes out. Whatever happened must have also affected the phone lines,” David announces calmly.
“How do you know all of this?” Reyauna asks suspiciously.
“I don’t know. I just do. I work here,” he pulls an ID badge out of his pocket and holds it out for the women to inspect. “But that’s not how I know. I must have seen it on tv or read it online.”
“Well I am going to give it another fifteen minutes, then I am going to start making some noise,” Reyauna informs the others.
“That’s fine, if that’s what you got to do, but it won’t do you any good,” David tells her. “The maintenance staff have instructions to check the elevators in situations like this, but there are half a dozen elevators in this building, not to mention things like back-up generators they are probably messing with.”
“How long could it take?” Kristen asks nervously.
“I dunno. Five minutes. An hour or two. Depending on what is going on out there, maybe even longer,” he says casually.
His fellow passengers react badly to the news, their anxiety becoming palpable in their expressions and body language. He decides this is probably a good time for a comforting lie, since he might be stuck in here with them for awhile.
“But we’ll probably be out in no time. Don’t worry,” he reassures.
“I’ll decide when and to what degree I want to worry, thank you very much,” Reyuana unexpectedly snarks back at him. Even the mostly silent Kristen is startled by the tone of her admonishment.
“Okey dokey,” David responds as non-menacingly as he can.
Fifteen more minutes pass in silence, and nobody has started screaming yet. Kristen reaches into her purse and pulls out a half-eaten protein bar, and takes a small nibble from a corner of it.
“What are you doing?” Reyauna asks Kristen angrily. “We don’t know how long we are going to be stuck here. If there is food or water, we need to plan for the long haul.”
“What are you even talking about?” David interrupts. “It’s her damn food, let her eat it in peace. Nobody put you in charge.”
This upsets Reyauna greatly, and a moment later she is on her toes staring David eye-to-eye in the most threatening posture she can muster.
“Well maybe I should be.” she inadvertently punctuates with a small spray of furious spittle.
“I don’t think anybody needs to be in charge,” Kristen says in her best let’s-be-reasonable voice, but nobody acknowledges her contribution to the peacekeeping effort, and the conflict escalates.
“Yeah, and why do you think that? Do you have a degree in elevator emergency management that makes you some kind of expert in this situation? What are your credentials for running this elevator?” David snarks off at Reyauna.
“Well first of all, if you think I am going to be bossed around by some white man, you’re out of your mind,” she manages to avoid emissions of oral moisture this time. “I am black and I am a woman, and both of these groups have historically been oppressed by white men, so you need to defer to me in any power dynamic as an act of reparation for systematic inequality.”
“Let me tell you a few things, lady,” David parlays icily. “My father is from Costa Rica, I am probably of lower socioeconomic status than you, and I am a homosexual. If you want to play a game of competitive historical inequality, you might not be as high in the rankings as you think you are.”
“Listen,” I know I am just a white, hetero-normative cis-woman,” Kristen tries to defuse the situation again, “but I don’t think anybody needs to be in charge. Let’s just be…”
“Shut up,” Reyauna and David interrupt her in unison.
“If anybody here should be in charge, it is obviously me, since my job gives me more knowledge of this building than either of you.”
“Over my dead body,” Reyauna cries out, balling up her fist and readying for an attack.
“As the captain of this vessel, and commander of its inhabitants, I hereby decree that everybody minds their own business until we get out of here,” David states with hyperbolic mock authority.
The two combatants stare at one another with violent intensity, but David eventually breaks into laughter, which infuriates his opponent. Reyauna no longer cares where any of them stand on the intersectional scale of privilege and oppression, she just knows she is not going to let this guy get away with his smugness and laughter, and decides to employ a little preemptive self-defense. Planning to finally use some moves that she learned in a women’s safety seminar last summer, she winds up to deliver a sideways hack to David’s throat. Halfway through this maneuver, the lights flicker back on and the elevator makes a lurching movement, but it is too late. By the time she realizes the change in circumstances which make this attack an even more terrible idea, David is laying on the floor, coughing and struggling to deliver air to his lungs.
“Okay,” Kristen says, looking at Reyauna with genuine fear. “You can be in charge.”
Anyhow, that’s the story. You can interpret it however you wish. I’m just the messenger. It’s not my story, and I wasn’t even the one who decided it had to be told. I’m just following orders. Somebody has to be in charge, I’m just sure glad as hell it isn’t me.