From: Scott Ellis <>
Newsgroups: talk.bizarre
Subject: In the Shaft (Excerpt)
Date: Mon, 1 Dec 1997 23:52:34 -0600
Organization: MBnet - Manitoba's Connection To The Internet
Lines: 159
Message-ID: <>

      I open my eyes and I am back in the long, narrow hole I have dreamed of
every night in my room far away.  Outside, nattering afternoon crowds
saunter, jostle, curse, rollerblade and drive over sun-softened asphalt. 
But here in the catacomb dimness, the world's sounds can only worm their
way in, lost among the low moan of electric motors.  
      I wonder, while I lie here on top of the elevator, rushing down through
the dark, fossil air of the Carmichael building's elevator shaft, if the two
suits in the car I'm riding can hear Stair's boombox blaring out DOA from
beside the hoist motors in the roof, rabid skronk seeping in like thin poison
under the Prozac bounce of muzak.  The elevators here have metal grid false
ceilings over their fluorescent lights, fans and wiring, so I can keep the
maintenance hatch on top open a little and check out the citizens.  Jeffers,
Lee and Culhane have the whole 33rd floor, where these two got on, and I'm
trying to catch whatever it is real lawyers talk about when they don't have
anyone else to bullshit.  After all, I could be articling there in a few years.
      These two just ride, staring down at their wingtips.  Then, just as
they're about to get off, one gives the other a little squeeze on the butt.
      I turn away and watch Stair race through the huge, dim vault of the
elevator shaft, lit only by what seeps through the cracks between the
sliding doors.  He seems to glow in the dark, lit by an invisible green
spotlight.  He's got on his leather jacket, the one with our school's
basketball team decals.  The way he moves would set my stomach to flip-
flops, even if I weren't feeling leftover queasiness from the plane trip in. 
Deking, juking, head-faking, dribbling an imaginary ball between his long legs
as he skips lightly, down, up and way down, across the tops of three cars as
they pass each other around the 23rd floor.  
      It reminds me of something.  Suddenly I remember grade nine Social
Studies, watching a movie about an Eskimo hunter leaping from floe to floe,
out on the bobbing pack ice.  I don't really remember much of the film, but I
imagine a man in his kayak, trapped in dense, choking fog, cold sea air
pinning him in its great dim fist.  He can hear the ice around him, creaking,
roaring, crashing in the ocean swells.  Then, like an immense flock of birds
summoned across the world, the fog lifts.  He looks around and sees there
is no passage, that he's penned in by growling, jostling ice, huge, cliffed
bergs and mobs of brawling shards, as far as he can see.  Moving carefully,
he pulls his small skin boat up onto the nearest small berg, hoping his
weight won't flip it over, knowing he'll die in seconds if he falls into the
gelid water.  He's hungry and he knows the pack is drifting out to sea, away
from his village and everything that remembers him.  He hears a tiny sigh
over the muttering ice.  Grabbing his short bone spear, he races to where
he thinks the seal has surfaced.  As he runs and leaps over the slewing,
tilting floes, dodging rotten ice, skirting sudden holes gasping at his feet,
he thinks about falling forever through dark, heavy brine.  The ravenous
white bear that could be stalking behind any ice cliff.  
      In the water, a gray blur, sinking, vanishing.  He hurls the harpoon,
grabs his line.  Sets himself.  And is wrenched almost off his feet. 
Something huge down there.  Something wrong.  The line goes slack.  Broken? 
He pulls it in.  This time the massive yank snaps him face down on the ice,
shoulder dislocated, twisted from the socket.  The line's looped around his
wrist.  The floe tips forward as he's hauled toward the dark water, grainy
ice squeaking against his sealskin parka, brine puddle reaching for his face. 
He can't feel his hand.  Cut the line?  His knife pinned under his body. 
Scrabbling for it with his good hand, he almost misses the white flash.  Then
the thud, the tearing pain.  Mouth full of vomit and blood.  Slowly turning
his head, so heavy now, a boulder, he sees the twisted horn, glowing in the
dim, green borealis light.  Dripping with dark belly blood, punched through
his spine.  His fur clothes soggy with blood.  The narwhal's dark eye,
unblinking, as it crowbars itself free, tusk smashing the rotten ice, great
flukes straining, swamping the floe with icy brine.  The man's eyes frozen
open, before he is battered loose.
      Then Stair rises past me, a phosphorescent deep-sea carnivore
coming up to feed, arm hooked around a cable pulling a counterweight
smoothly up the wall-mounted trestle as its car goes down to the main
floor.  He's got one sneaker braced on the iron counterweight, the other
dangling out over empty space.  At the last moment, he jumps six feet down
and three across, onto the car I'm crouched on.  As always, he hits
perfectly, avoiding the two-inch metal lip sticking up around the car's edge,
landing light and flexed.  Quiet.  You'd never guess he weighs 210.  
      I shiver.  Maybe I shouldn't have come here today.  My folks wondered
why I was in such a big rush to go downtown on my first day home.  But
somehow, I just had to get down here.  
      "Wool-gathering again, dude?  Swear-to-God, Pudge, you could be hilt
deep, not that that's very far, in some of that fine California pussy and
you'd be worrying about your grade point average or some dumb thing."  
      I smile and hunch my shoulders.  Was it always this cold and damp? 
Ever since I got off the plane, I can't seem to get warm.  And there's
something in the air, a sweetish reek I catch now and then.  I'm spoiled by
California, I guess.  All that sunshine.  "Shows what you know.  My hilt and my
tip are in two different time zones."
      "Which is why they never get around to doing anything together."  
      "Ah, Stair, my boy, if only you knew...  Compared to here, Stanford is
Pussy Central."
      "Yeah, well, that only helps if you've got the nerve to climb onboard. 
Seriously, though, how you doin' out there?  You a long way from home, boy."
      I sigh.  "You got that right.  Stanford's huge, Stair.  I got intro
classes half as big as our whole school."  
      "You gonna get into Law, like you wanted?"  
      "Well, my grades are good enough, I think.  If you think I'm a keener,
you should see some of the kids there.  They don't do anything but study. 
They'd hook themselves up to an IV drip, so they wouldn't have to stop
reading to eat."  
      He glances significantly at my gut.  How does the guy do it?  Eats like
a horse, sits on his butt all day driving forklift at the Plant, goes through
a six or so every day between quitting time and bed.  And look at him--lean
and quick as a rattlesnake.  His long, pale face almost gaunt over jutting
bones, glowing, like he's lit from within.  Standing hipshot, thumbs hooked on
his wide, handtooled belt, fingers trailing down to the heavy crotch of his
tight jeans.  Hasn't changed a bit since the last time I saw him here.  
      "How's Chrissy and the kid?"
      He gets a distant look.  "Bobby's good.  Got all his first teeth
already.  Regular little hellraiser.  And Chrissy - well, you know.  Same old
same old.  How 'bout you?  Gettin' any?"  
      "Well, there is someone."
      "Hey, awright!  The Pudge is comin' along!  And not just any old girl,
but 'someone'.  What's her name?"  
      "Kim, huh?  Maybe I'll come get some sunshine and scope out what my
buddy's into."  He winks.  "Show her what she's missing."
      I dig into my pocket for some tissue to clean my glasses.  They always
tell you that California's polluted, but it doesn't have patch on this place,
for dust.  And the chill--How can he stand it, just that tight, thin tee
under his open jacket?  "That'd be great, Stair."
      "Well, looks like pretty soon, I ain't gonna have nothin' but time. 
Layoffs comin' down."
      "Aw shit, man.  What are you going to do?"  
      "Don't you worry about old Stair.  I got something coming up real soon. 
Gonna take care of business.  But you know, Pudge, you did the right thing,
gettin' out.  This whole town is dyin', man.  The Plant's shutting down, all the
farms going bankrupt.  Even this place--Fatcat HQ--half empty.  It's all
goin' down and takin' us with it."
      "Hell, Stair.  Why don't you move?  Guy like you can land a job
somewhere else."
      "What?" he says in mock shock.  "And leave all this?"  Sweeping his hand
out to encompass the dark catacomb, elevators rising and falling in the
      "You know, believe it or not, there are other office buildings in other
cities.  Some even taller, with more elevators."
      Suddenly, he yanks me close, up on my toes.  "Don't you talk down to
me, you little dickweed."
      Can't breathe--cold and that putrid reek, worse than ever.  "C'mon,
Stair... "
      Then, just as abruptly, he relaxes.  A cockeyed grin.  "Aw, you're just
bullshittin' to make me feel good."
      "No really, man, you could get out of here.  Find yourself a place with
a future."
      Momentarily, he looks as tired and sorrowful as I've ever seen him. 
"Pudge, you know as well as I do: All my future's in the past."
      "Jeez, Stair, don't talk that way.  You and me, we put our heads
together, we can figure out how to get you out of this burgh.  You wait and
see.  We'll be together.  Just like old times."
      Then it's back: that secret, dark glow in his eyes.  "I'll consider it,
buddy.  But until I get this piece of business cleared up, it's the Carmichael
for me."
      We're sitting on with our legs dangling off the back of the car,
watching the elevators on the other side of the shaft rise and fall.  The
Carmichael Building is the newest, tallest office tower in town, 35 stories
up.  It's got eight elevators, two rows of four, back to back in a central
shaft.  Even though it's only four years old, there's mouse shit on top of
some of the cars, which pleases me somehow.  
      And there's that stink I get a whiff of every so often.  Like that
summer we shot a badger and the dog dug it out two days later.  Did the
place always smell like this?  Poor venting, I decide.
      Stair lights up and passes me a jay.  Sinsemilla, cut with angeldust,
like old times.  Long afternoons, his old man sawing logs on the couch after
coming home from one of his caretaking jobs, which is how Stair got the
elevator keys.  We'd be sitting out on his front porch steps, the overgrown
lilac hedge half-hiding us from the street, sneak-passing a joint or a
mickey, talking about the big things we'd do when we got the fuck out of this
town.  We had it all figured out.