Chapter 7: Suite 423

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The lift shaft smelled like death. Fae stood on top of the lift car, breathing through her sweatshirt, trying to stop herself from retching. The side of the lift car opposite Fae was a pale, bloated body slowly decomposing in the darkness. She heard the others talking amongst themselves outside the open lift doors, some rifling through the garbage, others angrily yelling. It was only a matter of time until they looked into the open lift shaft—Fae had to move.

She searched in the darkness for any handholds in the shaft. Finding some exposed beams and rivets, she began to free climb her way up the shaft, relying on the months of beginner climbing classes she had taken for the Social points. Picking handholds was difficult in the darkness and her hands slick with sweat. She was out of practice, but each small gain in height meant she was further from being seen by those chasing her.

Just reaching the third level door, she heard the vagabonds pull the body in the lift car out of the shaft. A few cursed, one vomited. One looked up the shaft. She held her breath, muscles tensing up, palms sweating. Her forearms burned with the strain and she gritted her teeth, fighting back the pain. He whistled a tune she recognized from childhood. His dry and cracked lips tripped on the melody, but Fae knew it well. Scottie Tully and Fae had played hide and seek plenty in Container Town, but chills still ran down her spine when the hollow voice of the man below croaked, “come out, come out, wherever you are, beautiful.”
He kept whistling as another poked their head into the shaft looking up, trying to pierce the darkness. Fae repositioned her foot so she could reduce the pull on her forearms gripping the rivets. Reaching up for another handhold to relieve stress on the other arm, she found the top of a beam. She tested it for strength, running her fingers along the top to get the best grip. The heads disappeared below, continuing their search of the rooms on the first floor. Fae let out the strained breath she had been holding, and started climb to the fourth floor again.

Reaching the door to the fourth floor proved easy for Fae. Opening the fourth floor door was much more difficult. The release mechanism was above the door, but to get through the door she had to depress an actuator, then apply force to the door panels to open them manually - all while dangling three stories above a crashed lift car. Applying force to the actuator was simple, Fae could apply enough pressure by hanging from it, however, she needed both hands to pry open the doors.

Carefully, Fae took her sweatshirt off, tied the sleeves together in a simple knot and wrapped it around her chest.  Fae tested the tension on the cable running up the center of the shaft and, mostly confident it would hold, she put her full weight on it and swung free of the shaft’s wall. Climbing level to the actuator, she swung forward and hoped the thick steel cable wouldn’t cause too much noise. 

She caught the actuator in one hand and looped the hood of her sweatshirt over it with the other. Sliding down the cable a few feet, the sweatshirt pulled taut as the hood stayed on the actuator and the tied sleeves held her in a tight embrace. Fae swung forward again and grabbed the fourth floor doors, her fingernails catching them on the third try. She strained with effort as the doors began to slide open slowly at first. As they spread further, the rusted wheels squealed. 

She reached to the inside of the door and pulled herself forward, letting go of the cable and launching herself into the fourth floor. The sweatshirt pulled taut and yanked her backward as the rusted doors slammed shut behind her. Her head bounced off the doors with a hollow echo traveling down the shaft. With the shirt lodged in the door, the knot in the sleeves pressed into Fae’s chest, crushing the air from her lungs. She struggled to breathe as her arms were forced above her head by the still climbing actuator. She kicked at the door, trying to get her shoes’ grip to catch on the door or doorframe.

As darkness seeped into her vision, her shoes caught on the doorframe and she was able to slowly walk herself up the frame, releasing pressure on her chest. Oxygen began to flow into her lungs and the added height released pressure on the knot. It had pulled so tight Fae couldn’t undo it, but she managed to slip her chest through the loosened sleeve loop and fall to the ground. She landed hard on her knees, gulping down air. Her chest burned and she felt bruises already forming under her armpits, but she was alive. She was breathing. She was on the fourth floor. 

Fae took stock of herself and looked at her grease stained trembling fingers, slowly flexing them. The backs of her hands had minor cuts on them. Her palms pulsed from holding the cable so tightly. Her pants were dusty and a large swath of dead pixels crossed around her torso and legs. Her hair hung around her face, sticking with sweat and grime to her cheeks.

Taking a deep breath and brushing her hair back as well as she could, Fae took a look around the fourth floor. The main decor and construction remained mostly the same as the other floors, but the doors were all shut tightly and the hallways clear of debris. Paintings were still on the wall and glass panels remained intact. The floor wasn’t cracked anywhere, only slightly dusty. However, a well-traveled track of footprints cleared a path through the dust between the lift shaft and a door further down the hallway. Judging from the doors nearest Fae, the dust led to Suite 423, the home of Ms. Vera Lark.

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