October 19

The Rattlesnake (Part 2)


[…continued from October 18 entry…]


Graham had to transfer twice on the way to the interview.  The day was unseasonably warm, and by some cruel coincidence all three busses lacked air conditioning.  He tugged sometimes at his collar, tempted to undo the top button of his shirt.

But that might defeat the purpose of wearing the tie, in addition to his other formal attire.  As Carla mentioned in her final pep talk, it’s all about mindset:  separating yourself from everyday casual, asserting that you belong in a better work environment.

Dress for the job you want, she’d said.  Believe in yourself, and others will believe in you, too.

The third bus was fifteen minutes late.  In addition to heat, anxiety about being late to the interview added nervous sweat to the mix.  He thought maybe a rash was developing around his neck.  If he put his finger beneath his collar, he’d likely find a constellation of red welts.

But there really wasn’t room to slide his finger there:  his fancy dress shirt was too tight when buttoned.

Graham looked out the window, squinting at the nearest street sign.  He realized he’d gotten preoccupied, and the bus had gone several blocks past his destination.

He pressed the “stop request” button and squirmed through a tight crowd to get to the side exit doors.  Then he had to race-walk several blocks, backtracking toward the Noble Industries building.

Their headquarters occupied the top floors of a massive skyscraper, so easy to spot in the distance that he marveled that he could have let the bus drive past.  Self-sabotage, maybe.  Graham was good at that.

As he hurried, the building almost seemed to recede in the distance.  It was much farther away than he thought, and he knew he’d be late.  Only five minutes to go, and as many blocks.  The sidewalks were almost as crowded as the bus.

Heat.  Nervous sweat.  Now the sweat of self-conscous rudeness, too, as he pushed past dog walkers and baby strollers, actually shouting “coming through” at a few points to encourage others to let him pass.

Finally he reached the same block as the Noble Building, and he had an odd physical reaction:  a moment of vertigo, his head light as if he might faint, legs unsteady beneath him.

Then he noticed other people’s reactions, their arms out, grabbing at each other or a street post or leaning against a nearby car.  And the rumble.

Graham wasn’t losing his mind, after all.  It was simply one of those small aftershocks his city was known for.

A lucky break.  Just severe enough to provide a plausible excuse for being late.

He hurried past the security desk, heading straight for the bank of elevators.  If you look like you know what you’re doing, nobody will stop you.

With a ding, a set of copper-plated doors slid open.  He stepped into the elevator.

The car was empty.  Sometimes people waited a bit, after a tremor — in case another one followed on its heels.  But Graham was late, and already sweating.  No way he was going to attempt the stairwell.

He pulled out a folded paper from his jacket pocket, to confirm the suite number.  He pressed button “33” on the elevator panel.

The doors shut with an inelegant clang, almost like the bars of a prison cell, and the elevator began to lurch upwards.  Numbers flashed on the display, and finally Graham was on an express, heading directly to his interview.

Perhaps the elevator travelled too fast, since a fresh bout of vertigo came over him.  The car was still moving, but Graham also felt himself tilting to the side.

Then the whole elevator was shaking violently, its gears grinding in protest, and the floor-indicator stopped at 28.  The elevator kept moving, in that strange sideways tilt — as if the building were listing to one side and continuing to fall.

A terrible jolt occurred next, as if striking something on the way down.  The accompanying sound was terrible:  a crash of brick and cinderblock and steel, and the facing wall of the elevator split down the side, opening into a black, empty space.  Earth and the Noble Building, shaking themselves into pieces, and a continuous rumble growing louder and louder.  And beneath that chaos, the faint sound of people screaming.

Graham didn’t know which way was up anymore, which way he was falling.

And in those long minutes, he imagined himself setting aside his own safety, rising to the occasion.  The rift in the elevator wall opened into a hellish darkness, and anguished shouts echoed as people fell past.  A pair of hands caught hold, grabbing each side of the torn wall as someone clung desperately to the rift, hoping to climb inside.  Graham rushed to help, one hand wrapped firm around a wrist, leaning back to pull.

The rift was just wide enough, and he hoped he could lift the person through — possibly from one hell into another as the world continued shaking, but in desperate times we take one crisis at a time.  Graham anchored his legs against the intact portions of wall and began guiding the stranger into relative safety.  The top of the person’s head tilted up, and he saw a man’s face grimacing with the struggle.

The man’s other arm lunged forward.  Instead of propelling himself into the elevator, his hand latched onto the end of Graham’s tie and tugged.  The man wrenched his other arm free and grabbed the knot of Graham’s tie, pushing it violently into his throat.

In that stranger’s face, Graham recognized the worst of the bullies from his prep school — a teenager’s malicious face on an adult’s stronger body, muscled arms peanutting the knot, the rattlesnake more like a boa constrictor now, tightening its coils around Graham’s throat.

Around the world, buildings fell into newly formed chasms and the earth continued to shake.  In a battered, overturned elevator, a man lay alone in the dark, somehow strangled by his own unaccustomed necktie.