11 May The Elevator
“The Elevator”Written by D.J. Montaño Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 32 minutes
– Tucker Max
Chapter 1: The Penthouse
Thomas stared out over New York from the 34th floor of Manhattan Dynamics Corporate Center, amused at how he could look down on the world. It had taken a lot of hard work to become the youngest CEO in the company’s history. Sipping his wonderfully aged scotch, he stood before the full-length windows and admired the city at night. Feeling as though a king must feel when he stares down from his tower over his kingdom.
“Good night, Mr. Birkhoff,” Jillian said as she finished buttoning her shirt and fluffing her silky blonde hair before exiting the office.
Thomas gave a slight nod of acknowledgment. Entering the private bathroom in his office to catch a shower before heading home, he wondered how his son, Thomas II, was doing. Home life had become boring to him. He carried on with the farce of his marriage to maintain the other half of his assets. Besides, she was probably getting her own side action anyways.
Thomas would spend two or three days at the office before coming home for a day. The penthouse suite they resided in was well decorated and furnished. The walls contained more art than family memories. Thomas Sr. was far more interested in grooming a future CEO than being a caring father. Thomas II had learned the benefits of charisma and ruthlessness from his father. High school had been his training ground to hone his skills for the business world after college. When Thomas Sr. would come home the conversation focused more on lessons of self-advancement at all costs than real bonding time with his son.
Thomas was proud of what his son was becoming. The conversations they had when he was home made his time away from the office bearable, if not almost worth it. Success demands sacrifice he had once told his son. The acceptance letters from Ivy League colleges should be arriving in the mail soon. Thomas expected nothing less.
After the shower, Thomas dressed in a handsome Giorgio Armani suit, impeccably pressed white Turnbull and Asser collared shirt, and Cole Haan wingtips in a beautiful burnt honey color. Thomas rarely existed outside of a well-tailored suit. His suits were his armor, and in them he felt invincible.
Thomas polished off the last of his scotch and approached the elevator, illuminating the down button with a touch. As he stood waiting, he scrolled through tomorrow’s calendar. Meeting at 10 am with the board. Meeting with the lawyers about a lawsuit pertaining to a company they purchased at 11 am. On and on and on. A soft ding caused Thomas to slide his phone into the inner breast pocket of his suit. The stainless steel double doors parted to allow him entrance. The cool glow of the florescent bulbs flickered for a mere instant and then steadied. Thomas entered the elevator and pressed the button for the first floor.
The elevator began its smooth descent until a light squeal caught Thomas’s ear. The sound became more pronounced and took on a grinding tone. Thomas scanned the ceiling of the aluminum tomb. The elevator started to vibrate and jerk. The sudden realization that he was suspended twenty-nine floors above the ground in a box sent his heart into a quick jog. There are emergency brakes and backups, he thought. I’ll be fine, just perhaps stuck for an hour or two. The elevator made a large jolt as it freefell momentarily, then jerked to a stop. Thomas’s heart was in a full-blown sprint now, hands wrapped so tightly around the railings it made them ache.
Struggling to regain control of his breath and his wandering mind, Thomas slowly moved from the far corner towards the emergency button near the doors. The elevator moaned and creaked under the shifting weight of each slow step. As he reached the middle, the tracks moaned louder and Thomas paused. His breathing more controlled now but his jugular was proof that his heart wasn’t slowing down for anything. A calmness and silence took hold of everything. Thomas seized this moment and took one more step and pressed the emergency button with a slight panic.
For a second nothing happened. Suddenly the alarm screamed blocking out all other sounds. After what seemed like an eternity of the electronic howling, a voice crackled through the speaker on the wall.
“Elevator 1, are you in trouble? What seems to be the emergency?” a light feminine voice metallically tweaked through the speaker.
“Hello, this is Thomas Birkhoff, and I’m stuck in here!” Cracking a nervous smile, he was relieved that he had reached someone.
“Sir, it’s… going… to… be,” the voice over the speaker began to crack and fade.
“No! Wait! You’re breaking up!” Thomas said in a higher voice then he knew he had.
A piercing sound like amplifier feedback shot out of the speaker. “Don’t worry, Thomas. I have everything well in hand,” came a deep, gravelly voice. “I’ll do my best to make you comfortable down here,” the voice sneered with a hollow, sinister laugh that echoed from everywhere.
Thomas’s eyes shot around, looking for the source of the laughter. His stomach jumped into his throat before he could comprehend what happened. The sound of the metallic cable snapping pierced the silence like a gunshot. Thomas’s heart seized, and the elevator plummeted into the dark.
Thomas awoke not to the sight of crumpled metal, electrical sparks, or even pain. There was just nothingness. A blackness that seemed to have darker shades of black the harder he tried to look into it.
“Welcome Thomas,” a strong, rasping voice came from directly behind him.
Spinning quickly, he found a mirror image of himself. A striking man of forty-five. Strong jawline with olive skin and freshly shaven face. Icy blue eyes that would rival the clearest bluest sky. Dark brown hair that bordered on black. Impeccably maintained and dressed to exude power. “Who are you? I know you’re not me,” Thomas croaked.
“Oh, but I am. I am you, the dark in you. There is so much dark in you too.”
Buttoning his suit jacket, trying to regain the calm, cool control that allowed him to thrive and close massive deals, Thomas breathed deeply. “I asked you a question. Who are you?” he said, the confidence returning to his voice.
“Over the millennia I have been given many names: Lucifer, the Devil, Satan, Beelzebub… Shall I keep going?”
“The Devil, really?” Thomas’s voice oozed condescension.
“That’s quite okay. You don’t need to believe. We’re here to discuss you anyways,” Lucifer said, buttoning his coat as well. “Shall we get on with it then?”
“Let’s get this over with. I’m a very busy man.”
Instantly the footing beneath Thomas dissolved. As he plummeted down, the acrid smell of rotten eggs filled his nostrils. The darkness began to illuminate with a faint glow. Then, all at once, they were standing on a rocky cliff surrounded by flames leaping fifty stories in the air. Waves of wailing bombarded him, the sounds of agony continually crashing against his eardrums. The heat in the air was stifling and burned with every inhalation. Thomas looked back at the mirror image of himself and saw a glossy blackness spread across Lucifer’s eyes.
“Welcome again to my… I’m sorry, our home,” Lucifer stated with a sneer.
“I don’t belong down here with you… you… monster!” Thomas lashed out.
“No, of course you don’t belong here. This is only the first level of Hell. You belong much further below. This place is reserved for those with petty crimes. The entry level to Hell, one might say.” Lucifer’s gravelly voice began to take on a metallic tinge. “I have much more planned for you.”
“Why the fuck do I belong down here? I’ve given money to charities, helped build orphanages, donated to food shelters. I’m a philanthropist, damn it!” Thomas retorted, choking on the heavy air and smoke.
“Didn’t you receive tax credits for each of those acts? You didn’t actually give anything that wasn’t made back during tax season, and you know it.” Lucifer smirked.
“Of course I did, but that’s what makes it a win-win. The destitute get the money they need to help them, and I don’t technically lose any money. How is that worth all this?” Thomas’s eyes opened wide searching for the answer.
“It’s not. Tell me, Thomas. With the number of souls damned to this place, do you think I greet each one personally?” The question hung in the air while Thomas thought. “Let me help you out. No, I don’t! You are a special case Thomas, and the number of souls you have sent me and will be sending me in the future deserves a reward. You have been one of my best agents. Depending on how our meeting goes, I may reward you with 100 years out of every millennium during your eternal stay when all is said and done,” Lucifer said coolly and plunged his hands into his pant pockets.
“Two hundred and fifty years seem like a more appropriate reward if I am in fact that valuable…” barked Thomas, ever the businessman.
“One hundred twenty-five years, and I suggest you take that because there will not be an alternative offer.” Lucifer’s gaze never left Thomas’s eyes.
“Before I agree to any sort of deal, what proof is there that I belong here with the rabble of humanity?”
A wicked grin fell over Lucifer’s face. “This is the part I love the most, shattering the illusions you humans have of your perfect lives.” Suddenly the two were walking on a rocky path in another part of Hell amidst a cacophony of agony so thick it was almost tangible. Seeing the torment in one man’s eyes, Thomas tried to avert his gaze. “Take this monster that once walked the streets of Russia preying on the weak. This here is Andrei Chikatilo. He was known as the Butcher of Rostov. Andrei was a serial killer in Russia, preying on women and children. In his relatively short time on earth, he brought terror, torment, and death to 56 poor souls. He was only convicted of 52.”
Andrei was strapped down to a stone table on his stomach. Thomas’s mouth gaped as he witnessed the flesh being filleted from his back in long strips. It was like seeing the skin of an apple removed in a bright red ribbon, except this apple screamed. Just when the demon ran out of strips of flesh, the table turned red hot, scorching his front. While the front of him burned, the skin on his back grew back almost instantly. Then the process started all over again.
Thomas turned and vomited off the edge of the path into a river of lava ten feet below. Staggering back to his feet and using his pocket square to wipe his mouth, he walked on. Lucifer just smiled and strode forward.
“Now, where should we begin? Like most children, you had your arguments and schoolyard brawls, but those don’t concern me. Your dad always expected top marks of you. There was no settling for second best.”
“What’s wrong with that? I don’t see the harm in a man wanting his child to excel in life and make something of himself.” Thomas’s voice fell flat as his eyes scanned the surrounding suffering. Seeing the torment in one man’s eyes, Thomas tried to avert his gaze.
“Your dad would lash you with a belt when things weren’t done to his satisfaction, correct?” Lucifer probed, already knowing the answer.
“My father instilled discipline in me and taught me that actions had consequences,” Thomas retorted defensively.
“Ahh, I see, simply educating you in the ways of the world?” Lucifer questioned.
“Of course. My dad was just trying to prepare me.” Wait, did I just say ‘dad’? What am I, ten years old? Thomas did not like feeling like he was losing control. Is this what it’s like for people talking to me every day?
Lucifer just walked, a smug look painted on his face. “Did your dad feel as if your mother hadn’t learned that lesson as a child?”
Thomas knew Lucifer had used dad on purpose to highlight Thomas’s insecurity. Thomas had used that very tactic countless times on members of the board he wanted to undermine. Thomas was missing the point of the question though. Distracted like a child again, focused on the item meant to anger him.
“What are you talking about?” Thomas looked with caution at Lucifer.
Thomas heard a scream increasing in volume until it felt like the audible anguish was going to plow into him. Instead there was a huge splat that hit the lava river beside them.
The two looked up and saw the forms of men and women falling from the sky in balls of blue-orange fire, each comet producing its own resonance of suffering. The combined measure created a harmony of horror. Some careened into the sides of mountains, some into more lava lakes, and some into other souls already in the middle of torture like Andrei.
“I call these little soul storms unfortunate showers,” sneered Lucifer.
At first Thomas missed the pun, and then it hit him. Unfortunate being a synonym for damned. He knew the Devil wasn’t supposed to be nice but man, what an asshole! All around them ethereal bodies blew apart in high-speed collisions. There were parts of arms, legs, intestines. Thomas saw more than one eyeball separated from its socket, frantically looking around as it lay on the ground. Thomas had never experienced the kind of fracturing that was now taking place in his mind.
“Your mother wore a lot of modest clothes, right? High necklines, long sleeves, pants or long skirts? Dresses that were full length with long sleeve cover-ups?” Lucifer inquired in a leading manner.
“What does my mom’s… I mean, my mother’s, clothing have to do with–” Before he could finish the sentence, Thomas realized what Lucifer meant. When his father left a mark on him that could be visible to someone at school, Thomas had to wear clothes that would conceal it. A lead brick dropped into his stomach. “Did my dad hit my mom?” Seeing the surprise in his face, Lucifer couldn’t contain his fang-toothed grin. “That is bullshit!” exclaimed Thomas, but he knew that wasn’t true. His father had been an abusive husband, his mother a battered wife, and Thomas could never deny it again.
“Did you know they’re both down here?” Lucifer probed.
“I understand why my father would be, but why the fuck would my mom be down here?” He had removed the personal title of dad but doubled down on the swell of emotions by saying ‘mom’. That quickly, Thomas thought. Just like that, I can emotionally alienate my father. Screw it, the bastard deserves it, was his next thought.
Lucifer’s gaze hung on Thomas as he leaned against an obsidian pillar. The pillar was carved in the form of a cowardly looking man being crushed while holding up a large bowl that contained a naked woman with sheer ecstasy in her features. Men being crushed by lust or desires.
“Your mom killed your father in an act of premeditated and cold-blooded murder. For that act, she has been sent here.”
“My mother isn’t some criminal mastermind. How could she have killed my father and got away with it?”
“Sux,” Lucifer replied, his smile gleaming.
“I know it sucks, but tell me, damn it!” Thomas roared.
“You misunderstand me. Sux. It’s a paralytic medication, usually used to relax tense muscles during surgery. The full name is Succinylcholine, or Sux, for short. The beauty of Sux as a murder weapon is it leaves barely any trace in a toxicology report. A clinical dose would have killed your father in five to ten minutes, but it could have just left him brain dead. Your mom made sure she went past the clinical dosage.” The explanation from Lucifer bore almost no inflection. It was like he was describing people walking across the street in Manhattan.
“Wouldn’t the drug make it look like my father overdosed?” Thomas questioned. “That would raise suspicion since my father didn’t have any other drugs around the house.”
“True, you would think Sux produces some tell-tale sign, but it doesn’t. Your father spent the last moments of his life looking up at the woman he had beaten into submission, paralyzed. He felt the chilling sensation of losing the use of his fingers, then arms, then legs, then head and neck. Slowly, he felt the paralytic start to seize control of his lungs. Straining with every bit of his mind to draw breath in and out, knowing that it wasn’t working. Looking at the needle in your mother’s hand and laboring with all the force he could muster to scream out yet not making so much as a peep. Your father drowned in a room full of air.” Lucifer paused to allow his words to sink in.
“How did she get it?” Thomas squeaked out.
“A pharmacy tech that was a battered woman as well. The tech noticed a bruise on your mother’s back when she dropped her driver’s license on the floor. Her shirt pulled up and exposed the bruise for a split second. The tech took her to a small exam room next to the pharmacy and was able to finally coax it out of her. She grabbed the vial out of a box that had been delivered to the pharmacy by mistake. The tech told her the inventory was always off a little and no one would raise an eyebrow. The tech explained how much she would need to use to get the job done and to make sure she discarded it well, and then left the room.” A confident look rested on Lucifer’s face as he concluded the tale.
Tears streamed down Thomas’s cheeks but evaporated before they even hit the ground.
“I never knew my mother had been abused.” Lips and voice quivering as he spoke. A deep red rage filled Thomas suddenly. “Why in the fuck do you have her down here to spend an eternity being tormented when her life was already full of torment?”
“Hey don’t blame me,” he shrugged nonchalantly. “Blame the ever merciful God you mortals love to pin your hopes on. She broke His rule and despite the good reason she had to erase your father from the planet, He punished her for it.”
Thomas could feel the rage building behind his eyes. He grabbed Lucifer by the suit jacket and was already in motion to punch him when Lucifer’s eyes became pits of smoldering pitch-black fire.
“How dare you!” The voice resounded from every direction in an inhuman tone.
Thomas crumbled to the floor, instantly remembering who was in front of him and just where he was again. The crackling, flaming eye sockets cooled and returned to the glossy pitch-black orbs they had been.
“Now, where were we?” Lucifer said merrily as if the whole thing hadn’t happened.
Slowly Thomas returned to his feet and dusted himself off. “My parents,” said Thomas, voice trembling.
“Ahh, yes. Enough about them though. You now know their fate, but what of your life’s deeds that have earned you your place down here? I think it’s time for a change of scenery before we start on your life though.” Lucifer snapped his finger and with a brilliant and violent flash, they were gone.
Thomas heard the growls, so much yelling that he was terrified to open his eyes. Slowly, one eye cracked to let in a sliver of his surroundings. Lucifer and Thomas were standing on a stone cliff that was perched about thirty feet above a vast dirt and rock plain. At regular intervals stood mountains of food inside cages. Crowds were gathered around every possible inch of the ground, reaching through the iron bars for any scrap of food they could grab. The food sat mere inches out of reach.
From beneath the cliff, Thomas heard what sounded like large doors creaking their way open. From out of the doors came thousands, no millions of small babies. Something appeared off though. Thomas opened his eyes fully and saw the babies had small horns protruding from their heads and tails of varying shades from bright red to the darkest crimson. These babies were demon children. The huddled masses were so fixated on the food that they didn’t notice the flurry of activity behind them until teeth started sinking into their flesh. A torrent of screams rose up in the vast cavern and moved across the plain in a wave as the demon spawns reached the souls farther away. Looking out over the waves of carnage a cold sweat formed on Thomas’s head. His legs turned into wet noodles instead of bones and muscles. The gnashing of teeth and wailing had to stop.
“Welcome to Gluttony!” Lucifer said with a flourish. “Where the souls of those who gorged themselves in life become the very thing they pursued with such passion and conviction in life. Food. The gluttonous feed the young demons of Hell. Help them to grow big and strong so that one day I can send them Above.” Lucifer stood surveying the carnage and beamed proudly.
“This is disgusting!” Thomas said, fighting a rising urge to vomit. Turning his back on the demonic banquet, Thomas steeled his nerves. “Why are we here, Lucifer?”
“Because you are a glutton, Tom. You don’t mind if I call you Tom, right?”
“How am I a glutton?” Thomas asked, chuckling and looking at his toned body.
“True, you’re not a glutton of food. You are however a glutton of power and sadness. You enjoy imposing your will upon people and feasting on their sadness when they leave dissatisfied. Let’s talk about your childhood and your brother.” Lucifer said as he paced the edge of the cliff looking down.
“No! Don’t go there, Lucifer!”
“Day after day you would convince your little brother to do what you wanted to do. He would play the games you wanted to play. Play by the rules you set. Say, what kind of fun things were there to do in the Steel City?”
“Don’t what?!” Lucifer cut Thomas off. “What do you think you are here for Thomas, a stroll down happy memory lane? A look at all the positive things you’ve done with your life? You’re in Hell! For a CEO, you’re a pretty slow learner.”
The low flames building in Lucifer’s eyes began to cool again. “Now as I was saying, you grew up in Pittsburgh, and when kids get bored, they tend to do dumb things. Don’t worry. That’s not just a Pittsburgh thing; that’s an everywhere thing.” Lucifer chuckled. “So do you remember the morning of Johnny’s tenth birthday? You told him as a rite of passage he had to sneak onto a train and off without being caught.”
Thomas covered his ears and paced back and forth muttering curses trying to drown out Lucifer’s voice.
“Do you really think covering your ears will help you? I can talk straight into your mind in this place, Thomas. Your brother did exactly what you asked of him. He snuck aboard an empty train. You and your friends stood a couple of tracks away mocking him for choosing an empty train. As he got to the ladder to get down, the engineer came out of nowhere.”
Thomas pinched his eyes closed, but the memory played on the back of his eyelids like a movie screen. “Ey, get back here, ya hoodlum!” the engineer barked. The engineer reached for Johnny’s hand to pull him back up. In a panic, Johnny let go of the ladder and pushed himself away from the train. Minutes seemed to pass as he fell. Johnny came crashing down and cracked the back of his head on the steel rail of the track.
“Your friends ran towards him and you ran away… like a coward!”
Thomas wept on his knees. “I was running to get my parents,” Thomas choked out between sobs.
“Bullshit! You and I both know that is complete and utter bullshit. You ran and hid behind an abandoned building. Not at the loss of your brother, but because you told him to do something and he did it. You had the power to convince someone to do something and they obeyed you. Yeah, you eventually got to your feet and had someone call 911. You were grounded for a month and spanked with a belt, but the rush you felt has never left you. Now you just assume people have no choice but to listen to you.”
Thomas sprang up from the ground and closed the distance between them with speed unknown to him. Anger, rage, and guilt drove him forward. With one tremendous push, Thomas freed Lucifer from his spot on the cliff and sent him falling into the valley of teeth and blood. Lucifer screamed as he fell and hit the ground in a cloud of dust. Thomas looked for signs of Lucifer’s body but saw nothing.
With a crack of thunder, Lucifer appeared behind Thomas. Whirling around to defend himself, Thomas reached to grab Lucifer by the jacket, but Lucifer already had a hand around Thomas’s throat. Thick, gnarled nails extended from Lucifer’s now crimson red hand. Thomas got a small glimpse at what Lucifer’s real form looked like in the demonic hand.
“Thomas, I am trying but you are really testing my patience,” Lucifer said as he walked Thomas to the edge of the cliff. Lucifer stood at the edge as Thomas’s full body weight hung from Lucifer’s clutch. He clawed at Lucifer’s arm and whimpered for his life. Lucifer’s face contorted, sprouting two large curved horns, his eyes pits of black fire in strong chiseled features. “I could cast you down and let the younglings devour you. Find new and creative ways to torment your soul. That’s not why I brought you here though.” Lucifer stepped off the cliff lowering them both down to the floor below. “As punishment for your actions, you will have three bites taken from you.”
Thomas fought to free himself. Lucifer’s clutch on his throat was unwavering. Picking three demonic toddlers at random, Lucifer called them over. “Now each of you gets one bite, that’s it.” Lucifer informed them in a fatherly tone.
The first satanic spawn bit down on Thomas’s forearm, taking clothing and flesh without discrimination. Thomas shrieked as muscle was ripped from bone. Blood oozed from every severed blood vessel in the bite. Thomas strained to keep his mind from shredding with the pain.
The second vile looking gremlin had blood still dripping from its mouth with scratches all over from fighting over the souls they had torn apart. The gremlin sprung to his arm like a perch and bit into the side of his neck, shaking his head as he ripped a crescent of flesh from Thomas and leapt back to the ground chewing. The hellion had missed his jugular on purpose. Lightning shot through his body with the second bite, and Thomas felt as though he was going to pass out. Lucifer slapped his face firmly to keep Thomas awake.
The last one barely waited for the second wicked creature to clear before it leapt at the right calf muscle. Stretching its jaw as wide as possible, half of Thomas’s calf had now been volunteered as a snack. With so much pain already bombarding his body, Thomas’s brain barely registered the bite. His body fell limp in Lucifer’s hand and crumpled to the floor as his throat was freed from the demonic grip. Everything went black.
Thomas slowly awoke to his body’s uncontrolled shivering and snow crystals stinging his face. He quickly glanced down at his arm and calf while simultaneously reaching for his neck. The wounds were gone, but a sharp tinge of pain remained in each spot. Had Lucifer tired of him and left him here to freeze to death? Thomas scoffed at the thought. How can you die again if you’re already dead? Flashes of the tortures he had seen and felt here proved you could. Over and over again you could, and would die… forever. Thomas heard something like the hiss of water hitting a scalding hot pan only to see the Devil standing behind him.
“Feeling better after our beauty rest are we, Thomas?”
Whipping his head around, Thomas saw Lucifer standing there with all the snow in a five-foot radius melted around him. Despite the fear he felt, Thomas rushed over to gain some warmth from Lucifer.
“Where are we and why is it so cold here?” Thomas asked through chattering teeth.
“This is the Circle of Treachery, and it is the very lowest level of Hell,” Lucifer said with a grim look.
“What’s the matter, Lucifer? You don’t seem to delight in this circle as much as the others.” Thomas said with a smirk.
“Watch it! I can go back to letting you freeze if you prefer.”
Thomas just shook his head, casting his eyes downward.
“I despise this circle because it is the circle I am condemned to by my Creator. I disagreed with his opinion, which started a fight, then a war.” Lucifer said as he began to walk up a snow-covered ridge.
Thomas stuck close to Lucifer trying to keep his soul from freezing. “That doesn’t explain the cold though, Lucifer.” Thomas threw the verbal jab out.
Lucifer clenched his teeth, so the punch landed. “This place is a frozen wasteland for two reasons. First, it keeps my physical form sealed in ice. The second is because the souls that come here betray people without any caring or warmth in their hearts. They actually make this place colder!”
The snow liquefied and evaporated in front of Lucifer with each step he took. Meanwhile, the wind howled around them, snow blew across the vast expanse with strange-looking trees dotting the landscape. Thomas couldn’t make out why they looked strange, only that he had never seen them before. As they were approaching the crest of the ridge, Thomas could hear voices on the wind. Unable to make them out either because of the distance or the sheer number of people, Thomas strained to hear any of them individually.
As they crested the hill, Thomas saw a mass of humanity all gathered around a perfectly circular chasm. The chasm had a large island in the middle with a roaring fire. Planks stretched horizontally across the chasm. People were at various stages of crossing the planks when the masses would turn the planks on their sides and drop those crossing into the pit below.
Thomas spotted three people working as a team. Two were fending off several others attempting to reach the makeshift bridge. Just before making it across, the individual traversing the plank was thrown off by his protectors. They lifted the board, causing him to lose his footing and fall into the pit. One of the protectors seized the opportunity to push the other into the pit but was pulled in by the falling protector. They both fell into the dark and let out horrific screams seconds later.
“They could all be warm if they worked together to cross, but they are all traitors and turn on each other as soon as they’re given the chance,” Lucifer said, his calm and confidence both back in place.
“What’s in the bottom of the pit and what is with these weird-looking trees?” Thomas questioned warily.
“The bottom of the pit is filled with thousands and thousands of razor-sharp stalagmites of ice. The trees are twisted monuments of treachery. Groups of people trying to reach the fires from further out on the ice lake. They all tried to rob each other of body heat and use each other as shelter from the driving winds. As a result, their bodies were frozen together in unnatural patterns which oddly enough emulate nature.” Lucifer gave a chuckle and a shrug as he said it. Hands sunk in his pants pockets.
“Why are we down in this circle, Lucifer?”
Lucifer turned to Thomas, head cocked to the side like a dog. “Surely you’re joking, right? What about the numerous women you’ve betrayed by claiming they were the only one or the wife you haven’t been faithful to in years?”
Defensively, Thomas lashed back, “Hey, I am 100% sure my wife is cheating on me as well. Plus all the other girls were just during dating. I only told them the things they wanted to hear to keep them around until I was done with them. They weren’t serious about me like I wasn’t about them. Those relationships were that of a couple of teenagers having fun.” Thomas laughed it off. “Everyone does that when they’re young.”
Lucifer’s mouth twisted into a knowing smirk. “Three of your ex-girlfriends were so in love with you that they committed suicide after you dumped them. Does that sound like kids that weren’t serious having fun?”
It was a punch that knocked the breath out of Thomas. Lucifer let the aching silence stretch on for a minute.
“That’s three souls you have placed in my care. However, that’s not all.” Thomas’s eyes flashed at Lucifer, half angered and half terrified to hear more. “You look at me as if you haven’t lived the life yourself. You’ve seen the movie; you already know what’s coming.” With a blinding light and the smell of sulfur that accompanies a match being lit, they were transported again.
They stood before a man whose feet were frozen in place and had just had a searing hot bucket of water poured over him. Any ice that clung to his skin was promptly melted and flesh almost glowed red from the burns. Six demons began pummeling him, each wielding a different weapon fashioned from ice. A sledgehammer, a mace, a whip, a scythe, a chain, and a samurai sword: each leaving their own unique mark of pain on his flesh.
“What in the hell are we looking at?” Thomas groaned feeling queasy.
“You mean who, don’t you?” Lucifer cocked an eyebrow up. Thomas turned and gave a look of are you serious? “This is H. H. Holmes. He created a murder mystery mansion in Chicago, Illinois, during the time of the World’s Fair. He lured helpless, innocent women with the promise of employment during the event. They were each tormented or tortured in varying rooms of the house and were eventually murdered. Betraying the trust of others for his own devious pleasures landed him in this place. Now he is made to feel the cold sting of betrayers’ commonly used tools.” Lucifer gestured with a sweeping palm up motion.
“I fail to see how those weapons are tools of deceit,” Thomas scoffed.
“The sledgehammer is a blunt but powerful betrayal. The mace represents a heavy betrayal that was barbed with the intent to inflict pain. The whip and the chain are both meant to cause more acute betrayals, but the chain is one that the lies are built link upon link. The sword represents betrayals that are meant to take pieces of you or kill the light inside you. Finally, the scythe is meant to sever you from your connection with people, places, or things.” Lucifer grinned widely at the beauty of it.
Thomas nodded as the man slowly refroze to start the process again. He could see how each was meant to inflict a certain kind of pain.
“Let’s talk about your business partner, Andy Schultz.”
Thomas gave Lucifer a solemn look and began a well-rehearsed speech. “It was a terrible tragedy. We had warned him about drinking on the roof and that he could fall. His poor parents and fiancé, the loss they must have felt. Unbearable.” Thomas bowed his head.
A slow clap began. “Bravo… just incredible. You know that almost looked and sounded sincere. Seriously, Thomas. You are a professional.”
Thomas looked up deflated.
“Now, let’s discuss what really happened. You met Andy Schultz in an Intro to Business class in your first year at Stanford. You thought he was a bit quirky, but you guys became fast friends. The two of you swore that you would help each other to not only pass, but that you would be valedictorian and salutatorian. Incredibly, you were, for your associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees. You both applied to Manhattan Dynamics and took upper-mid level positions as a reward for your hard work. If all of this wasn’t impressive enough, you both buckled down even harder and put in some grueling nights. Thirty-six-hour shifts! I gotta tell you, Thomas, if you had focused your efforts toward cancer research or some noble cause, you could have done some real good in the world. Not that it makes a difference now.”
Thomas looked irked and over it. “Can we just skip to the end, Lucifer?”
“Oh no, we can’t do that! The best part is just around the corner.” Pure joy painted across Lucifer’s face. “Your teamwork rewarded you guys yet again by moving you up the ranks very quickly. You managed to do it the fastest in company history, as a matter of fact. The problem was Andy was starting to drift a little. You noticed he didn’t want to stay late into the night as often. Coming up with excuses for why he needed to leave. Doing your research, you found out he met a girl and was quite smitten. Andy’s work began to slack, and you were picking up more of his responsibilities to help. You became jealous of his relationship and his beautiful girlfriend. You became jealous that he had a life outside of work. You, your goals, and your priorities were no longer at the top of his priority list. After a couple of years of hard work, you finally made it onto the Board of Directors. Do you remember who wasn’t there to congratulate you?” Lucifer probed, inquiring.
“Of course, I remember!” Thomas hissed. “Andy!”
Lucifer nodded. “Do you remember what was so important that he wasn’t there for you on your big day?”
Thomas shot Lucifer a glare. “The asshole was getting engaged! Can you believe it? After all of our hard work to make it to the top, he was willing to throw it away for a woman!”
Lucifer grinned from ear to ear. “This next part is my favorite. The beauty behind it just fills me with joy. You called him in a calm voice, told him about your promotion, and said he should come up to your new office on the 33rd floor for a mandatory celebration drink. He came straight to your office, embraced you, and sincerely congratulated you. Andy excitingly revealed the reason for his absence the day before and that it was cause for celebration as well. Forcing a smile and feigning happiness for Andy, you led him to the rooftop. Finally, after getting him good and drunk, Andy stood at the edge of the rooftop looking out over the city. You shoved your best friend from the rooftop! Watched him fall to the concrete waiting below before removing your prints from the glass and bottle of liquor and setting them on the ledge.”
“You’re damn right I did!” Thomas cut in, his voice wild and full of rage. “I got his fiancé to fall in love with me, marry me, and give me a son!”
Again, Lucifer clapped. “You killed your best friend, stole his woman, and produced a son to carry on your name.”
“Serves that asshole right for kicking me to the curb like he did. I would gladly do it again.” Thomas said in a strangled voice that was growing hoarse from the strain. There was a long pause, the tension so thick it was almost a physical obstruction between them.
Watching more savage and selfish souls condemning one another to pain and misery, Lucifer wore a grin. Looking at Thomas out of his peripheral view, “Thomas, how much do you love your son?” With a quick flash, they vanished from the frozen wasteland.
Plumes of smoke billowed forth as they made their re-entry to the fire laden prison. It was a jarring transition. Thomas wondered if this was how frozen dinners felt. Being near Lucifer in the Circle of Treachery, his body could still feel and had absorbed some of the bitter cold there. Then he remembered. No not my body, my soul. This bodily form is just for show. Every inch of me in this place is my soul and right now my soul feels like I’m standing in the middle of a huge campfire.
“Yoo-hoo, Hell to Thomas?” Lucifer interrupted Thomas’s train of thought.
With flaming souls falling all around them, they stood looking over a lake of fire. The wailing and howling of souls in agony was present all around, but Thomas found that it was becoming white noise to him.
“Thomas!” a desperate scream came from somewhere behind the pair.
Thomas spun around to see Dave Jorguson, a former employee of Manhattan Dynamics.
“Hey, Dave, I didn’t know you were dead. Can’t say I am surprised to see you here, though.”
Dave stood between two high rock walls with his hands shackled and arms spread wide. The iron shackles hanging from the walls did not allow much slack in them, making the outstretched arms hang awkwardly. Thomas followed the tormented figure down to see that his balls were literally in a vice. Nausea rose up quickly in Thomas’s stomach. The screw turned with a slow squeak while the two plates neared each other.
“What the hell did you do to be tormented like this?” Thomas asked in disbelief.
The vice was growing ever tighter, and cries of agony leapt from Dave’s throat.
“He was a very resentful and jealous man,” Lucifer started. “He always took more than his share, questioning anyone getting more than he received, and bold-face lying about others when all else failed. Out of anger he followed a coworker home one night and beat him badly. He tied the coworker’s wife up and proceeded to rape her in full view of her husband. Battered, bruised, and feeling more violated than ever in her life, she wished this punishment upon him when he died.”
Thomas turned back to see Dave’s penis removed with scissors and his eyes burned out with red hot iron pokers, right at the very moment the vice crushed his balls.
“As fucked up as this torture is, you deserve every bit of it. I hope you rot down here.” Thomas spit at him then turned away.
Lucifer grinned and clapped a hand to his shoulder. “How much do you love your son, I asked?” Lucifer raised an eyebrow.
Thomas flushed red and realized much too late that his face had already betrayed his thoughts. “Lucifer, my son is off limits! You can’t have him as part of any deal!” Thomas barked as spittle flew.
Lucifer’s grin was ear to ear again. “Don’t you understand? You have already delivered him to me. All the things you tried teaching him about how to manipulate people to gain the best possible advantage for himself. All the lessons on how to make your feelings look convincing. He is shaping up to be a better prospect of delivering souls to me than you.”
Lashing out, Thomas’s voice took on a threatening tone. “You stay the hell away from my son!”
Lucifer’s laugh came from deep down in his gut. “Oh, was that not supposed to be a Hell pun? The fact of the matter is I can sit back and watch him leave scars that drive people to me and wait for him to arrive.”
Pure panic had overcome Thomas. His eyes darted around as though there was a solution before him that he just wasn’t seeing. Lucifer buttoned the jacket on the hand-tailored suit and began walking away.
“You weren’t totally behaved during our time together, trying to throw me off a cliff in my own home and all. So the terms of our earlier negotiations have been altered. You will get a reprieve for 80 years out of every millennium of suffering instead of 125 years, as we previously agreed. I will send you video clips of the deeds your son does that send other souls to join us. Whether it’s corrupting individuals, committing adultery, theft, or hundreds of other sins, you’ll bear witness to all of them. I will, as a special treat, give you a glimpse of the torture that he earns with each one. Should be a fun way to spend eternity, don’t you think? I’ll continue the process with all of your descendants. Undoubtedly, you’ll feel less and less attached to them over time, but you will still know they are some extension of your bloodline.”
The terrifying details of everything Lucifer promised poured into Thomas’s head faster than he could process. The light of his world that once fit in the crook of his arm. The infant who had stumbled and scraped his knee, crying out for his daddy when learning to walk. Comforting the young boy when he struck out in the little league championship, losing the game for his team. Thomas had not realized how quickly the years had gone. His son was a young man now, on the verge of being out in the world on his own. He had not realized until this moment what his son meant to him.
As Lucifer stood laughing about the demise and torture of his son, Thomas’s heart felt like it shattered into a million pieces and each of those splintered into a million more.
“I can’t wait for your son to join us,” Lucifer said chuckling.
“WAAAIIITTT!” Thomas saw Lucifer snap his fingers, then nothing.
Thomas stood locking his eyelids down against the vision of horrors that surely awaited him. For the first time in what seemed an eternity, it was silent all around him. Apprehensive of his surroundings, Thomas slowly released the locks on his eyelids to peer at his fate.
He stood before the elevator in his office. The down arrow lit in red on a digital board above the open doorway. Thomas stood in disbelief. Had everything been a nightmare? His inner self creating the layers of Hell to spark a change before his fate was permanent? He barely had time to ponder the thought before the wounds of the bites stung sharp and fresh. No, it had been real, every miserable second of it. A whisper caressed his ear.
“If you enter the elevator, you will join me forever. However, your son will change his ways and live a happy normal life. Or, you can take the stairwell to your right and save yourself, but everything I have said will come to pass.”
The now-familiar hiss of Lucifer’s voice left him to ponder. Thomas calmly turned around, walked over to his office, and poured himself a scotch on the rocks. The Johnnie Walker Blue slid down his throat, giving the familiar warmth in his chest of high-quality scotch.
Thomas stood looking out over the city, wondering why it had taken so long for him to figure out the truth. The truth was that he was an asshole and a murderer. He had always told himself the lies and had even got to the point of believing them. His son’s life and future eternal road now rested upon his decision.
“Why have I been such a bastard?” Thomas questioned the empty room, sipping his scotch. Mind cycling through some of the horrible events of his life that Lucifer hadn’t brought to light. Exposing an affair that one of the board members was having with his secretary so he could move up the chain. God, how long would it be before someone did the same to him? He deserved that and so much more. He deserved to be pushed off the roof. So many lives, so many souls had been ruined or corrupted by him. Now it was finally going to come to an end. Or would it? Would he really be able to be that selfless? His whole life was an exercise in self-advancement. Finishing his scotch, Thomas strolled back to the bar and poured himself another drink. Suddenly, an omnipresent voice boomed.
“If you are going to sit here and waste my time, then I shall make the decision for you and remove the hope of any rewards.” Lucifer’s voice was flat but unrest was growing.
“Just one more drink, please. You’ve waited this long for my choice; try not to let the suspense kill me.” Thomas said with his arrogant boss tone.
“You have five minutes to pick a way down; otherwise, your son dies tonight and is mine forever!” A haunting laugh echoed into nothing.
Panic washed over Thomas’s face. He didn’t even feel the high-ball glass slip from his hand and shatter on the floor. He shook his head, regaining his composure or so he thought. Thomas reached for another crystal high-ball glass and dropped a couple of ice cubes in it. As he brought the neck of the decanter to the glass, they chattered off each other with light clinking. Thomas tried to steady his shaking hands, but it was useless.
If he simply sat and did nothing, his son would die, but he would live. It completely removed the need for him to make a choice. If I just do nothing, then the responsibility isn’t mine to bear he thought. He knew that was simple and childish. Action through inaction is rarely the hallmark of a great man, he thought. He looked down at the chair opposite of him, at his massive redwood desk. He remembered his 13-year-old son sitting there while Thomas chewed someone’s ass about poor quarterly numbers. The Young Prince, as his dad referred to him, had questions about how to handle a bully.
Slamming the phone, Thomas turned to his son and immediately started his lesson. “First, son, you find out what this kid’s vulnerabilities are, then his fears, and finally you leverage both against him publicly. This should shame him so greatly he never wants to mess with you again. If he does, you can exploit his fears even further. Show him that you are willing to go to a far crazier place than he is and you’ll never be bothered by him or anyone else again. After that be charismatic and accepting to people; they will understand you’re not to be crossed but are someone they want to befriend.”
Thomas sat back and crossed his legs and tented his interlocked fingers simultaneously. Just like that his heir understood what he had to do. Thomas II stood to leave. As he opened the door, his father’s voice halted him. “Remember son, information is the lifeblood of society. How detailed and accurate your information will make all the difference. Make this bully pay, son.” His son gave a nod and strolled to the elevator, pushed the button, and went down the elevator.
The elevator! Thomas thought.
“Three minutes!” a gravelly voice barked.
Thomas sat down in his Italian leather chair when the next memory forced its way in. Thomas awoke from sleeping on the couch in his living room, the baby monitor casting a soft glow on his face. Thomas sat up trying to blink and rub the blurred vision of his sleepy eyes away. After blinking a few more times, his vision crystallized and immediate dread flooded his whole body. There was his son lying face down in the crib, motionless.
Before he was even aware of it, his feet had carried him over the side of the couch and he leapt to the second… no, the third step of the staircase. His long stride was devouring huge sections of the staircase in a controlled sprint. At the top of the stairs, he took the half-right turn to the hallway of the nursery. If some distances seemed to stretch during times of stress, Thomas noticed this was the opposite. He was clearing huge sections of the house effortlessly. Thomas was aware that the only sound present was the rapid thudding of his own heart. The hospital video about SIDs and babies sleeping facedown playing on a constant loop in his mind. Thomas burst through the door with crazed concern for his young son. Thomas got to the edge of the crib only to find that the Young Prince was fine.
The monitor had given the appearance that his face was straight down but his head was cocked to the side slightly. Standing there in the sound of his son’s slow rhythmic breathing. Looking down, Thomas realized just how much this little guy meant to him. He slipped out of the nursery and sobbed.
“One minute left!” Lucifer’s voice jolted Thomas back to his office.
The announcement came much louder this time. A flurry of memories flew past Thomas’s eyes. First bike ride, little league games, school plays, and a dizzying number of others. Leaning over his desk, tears flowed freely. Sobbing again as he had the day he ran to the crib. For all the memories seen, how many have I missed being here in my office? The tears flowed like never before. How could I have taken that little baby and walked him to the gates of hell? I brought his soul an eternity of suffering and damnation. Choking on his emotions, snot, and tears, the pedestal of lies that held him high now crumbling.
“Thirty seconds” Lucifer’s voice assaulted Thomas.
“Fuck you, Lucifer! You can’t have my son!”
Thomas’s feet reached a full sprint but brought him to the doorway of the stairwell. Standing before it he weighed his life and so many thousands of lives in his hands. The future of his descendants rested on his next action. I can change my son if I get down from here, he thought. We will move out of the city and never look back. The amusement of that simple thought made him smile. Tears streamed down Thomas’s face. Even knowing all the horrible things I’ve done, I am still trying to save myself! Son of a bitch, I’m an asshole! Eyes bloodshot and face lined with tears, Thomas slammed the door.
“Five… four… three… two…”
Thomas hurled himself into the elevator in a full sprint. Only moments after hitting the back wall, the doors slammed shut. It began its descent, the cable snapped with the sound of a bullwhip, and the steel box plummeted until it hit the foundation. A crater was the final mark Thomas left on the world.
Manhattan Dynamics conducted an investigation into the faulty elevator following the death of its CEO. Several building codes were found to be out of compliance. Thomas had been informed of the necessary upgrades that were going to be quite expensive. Not wanting to spend so much on the building, he found it was cheaper to pay off inspectors for false reports. He knew the elevators were out of code yet he allowed everyone to ride them every day. People who worked for him and trusted that he was making the best choices for them; mothers, fathers, young men and women, single and in love or lust. People at all different stages of their lives, with their own things they held dear, rode the elevators every day never knowing how close they were to death.
Employees of the company raised a class action lawsuit for hazardous work conditions. Manhattan Dynamics paid out millions. Thomas’s corruption and attempt to give Manhattan Dynamics a healthier bank account cost the company millions.
Thomas paid with his life… and his soul.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
🔔 More stories from author: D.J. MontañoPublisher's Notes: N/A Author's Notes: “The Elevator” was inspired by the first part of the Divine Comedy, Dante’s Inferno. Ever since the animated epic was released in 2010, I have been captivated by the story and its vision for the layers of Hell. I felt inspired to put a modern spin on the character and use my writing to immerse people in some of my thoughts on what the layers of Hell would be like if it exists. We see so many powerful or influential people fall from grace through one scandal or another that it has become commonplace. I hope you enjoyed the journey through Hell with Thomas and Lucifer. Thank you also to my fantastic editor, Samantha Milam. Her expertise and approach not only helped improve the story but helped me grow as a writer.
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