|It took ages to arrive, clanking and whirring. One woman inside. Gordon
hardly glanced at her. He stepped inside, pressed button 28. The doors
closed and the lift began its descent.
“Aw no! Did you press for the basement?”
The other occupant squeezed herself into the corner, silently shook her head.
“We jist have to sit tight. What goes doon must come up.”
The lift passed the lower ground floor and arrived at the basement where it
settled for a moment. The doors opened into the empty space, all pipes and
shadowy corners. Bare floorboards, dusty walls, ventilation shaft near the
ceiling letting in weak light. They waited. No one entered. The doors closed
and the lift started up again.
Gordon felt eyes at the back of his neck. The woman was still staring at him,
trembling slightly. Gordon pictured himself as he must appear to her. Six foot
two, pecs he was proud of, baldy cut to disguise the receding line. Small,
relatively tasteful tattoo on his forearm dating from when he’d been a bit of a
lad. Right enough.
Between floor 18 and floor 19, the lift juddered to a halt.
“Whit noo?” muttered Gordon. He pressed button 28 again. Nothing. He
turned to the woman. “Ye reckon we should press the alarm?”
The woman kept her eyes fixed on him. “Maybe.”
“Look.” He flashed her the smile his mother had called winning. He held out
his hand. “How ye daen? I’m Gordon.”
The woman ignored his hand, pressed back further. “Just stay where you
“Sure thing, missus. But honest,” he treated her to the beam his girlfriend had
called boyish. “I’m no as rough as I look.”
“Just…you stay in your corner and I’ll stay in mine.”
“I’m a …chartered accountant, for Christ’s sake. Whit’s there to be feart o in
“It’s not you I’m scared of. It’s me.”
Gordon took a proper look at the woman. Five foot nothing, grey hair dyed
yellow, a complexion that would never see fifty again.
“How d’you mean?”
The woman closed world-weary eyes. “You’d never believe me.”
“Please. Just press the …press the button, would you?”
“Whatever ye say.” Gordon pushed the red alarm button and the lights went
Facing the door, pushing the button again and again, Gordon felt a frisson
down his spine. He whipped round. He could see nothing at all, but out of the
blackness the woman murmured “What if you try shouting?”
“Help!” yelled Gordon. “Help! Help!”
“No use. No use.” The woman hissed her ‘Ss’ like a snake.
“They’ll notice eventually the lift’s stuck. They’ve got to.” Angrily Gordon
repressed the hint of a tremor in his voice.
Was she really hissing like that? Was it a speech impediment? Why hadn’t he
noticed it before?
“Would you want to tell me what you meant there? Boot being scared o
yoursel?” Again that annoying shake in his voice.
“Maybe. It would be a relief to tell…not that you’d believe me…”
“Give us a chance….whit’s your name?”
“Isobel.” Gordon wasted on the blackness the lopsided grin his social worker
had called charming.
“It began last Monday evening. I was down the college library studying for this
course I’m doing in Shiatsu. You know, it’s a kind of Japanese massage…”
“There’s quite a lot to it, actually. You have to know all about anatomy, all the
names for the different bones…”
“So ye were doon the libry…?”
“It got quite late and suddenly I realised all the other students had gone home.
There was nobody there except the librarian sitting away up at her desk
beside the entrance. So I gathered my things together and made for off. I
walked up past all the aisles of books, but as I got close to the front desk I
noticed …well…it struck me ….”
“…It struck you…?”
“….well, that the librarian was very sort of still, and as I drew alongside her it
dawned on me that she was dead.”
“So I raised the alarm and the police came.” Isobel no longer hissed, but her
voice now had a whining element, like a siren – the car sort, not the mermaid.
“It wasn’t clear how she’d died, I mean she wasn’t very old, just in her late
twenties or maybe early thirties. Anyway, the police took a statement from me
and then I went home.”
“Whew!” Gordon slithered his back down the wall to hunker in the corner.
“That’s some story.”
“If that had only been the end of it!” Isobel drew breath, a great sucking noise
in the blackness; at the end of it there seemed to be less air in the place. “You
know what this lift reminds me of? A poem I got at school. There was a bit
went…’Once in a night as black as pitch, Isobel met a wicked old…'”
“So there’s mair to yer story?”
“On Tuesday I travelled over to Cardross on the train. I was going for a job
interview. Wasn’t a great job, less money than I’m making now, but I thought it
could lead on to something better. Where I’m working just now we’re all under
permanent threat of redundancy…”
“So what happened?”
“I was checking over my CV and thinking about what I’d say at the interview.
Then I raised my eyes and saw there was only one person left in the
compartment. It was the open-plan kind of compartment, you know, where
you walk down…”
“And there wis only one person left…?”
“An elderly man. Maybe about seventy. At first I thought he was asleep…”
Gordon’s heart lurched.
“…but something about him looked a bit unnatural and when I went over to
Gordon closed his eyes, which made no difference at all.
“…well, he was dead too, you know. So I pulled the communication cord, and
the police came – different police from last time – and took my statement, and
what with everything I was very late for my job interview.”
To fill the silence Gordon asked “Did you tell them what happened?”
“I told them about the old man, but not about the librarian. Didn’t want them to
think I was jinxed.”
“Jinxed, or cursed or whatever. Anyway, on Wednesday evening after work I
was jogging in the park. Do you know Alexandra Park at all?”
“Naw,” said Gordon faintly.
“In Dennistoun, you know.”
“Aye, I know wherr ye ur.”
“Well, there are two ponds. There’s one big empty one that sometimes has
boats on it in summer, and there’s an ornamental one with an island in the
middle, and swans and ducks…”
“Could you mebbe get to the point?”
“Excuse me!” Damn, now she sounded offended. “I’m telling the story in my
“Right ye are. On you go.”
“There are benches at the back of the ornamental pond. I sat down beside a
teenage boy. A sort of plump boy, with a baseball cap. I didn’t look at him that
Gordon began to feel sick.
“I watched the ducks and the swans and counted them. There seemed to be
more of them than I’d ever seen before. I turned to the boy to say as much
Gordon realised he himself was pressing into the wall. Cold aluminium on his
bare arms. “You’re telling me the boy wis …” This was ridiculous. “You’re
saying the boy wis deid too?”
“I knew you wouldn’t believe me.”
A voice from above, faint and far away.
“Hello! Hello!” Both Gordon and the woman scrambled to their feet and
shouted for all they were worth.
“Are you stuck down there?”
“Yes! Yes! Yes!” Oh, relief beyond belief!
“Stay there! I’ll get help!”
Stay there! Gordon giggled hysterically.
“I didn’t get the police that time. Or anybody.” The woman was still telling her
doleful tale. Gordon resisted an urge to smash her face in. He couldn’t see her
face anyway. He would probably hit the wall.
“I thought they might start getting suspicious, me always discovering bodies.
You must admit, it is strange.”
“Strange. Hmmm. You’re tellin me.”
“So I just jumped up and hurried on home. Somebody must have found him.”
“Wonder what he died of. Young boy like that.”
“I almost began to wonder if…”
“Nothing. Anyway, on Thursday morning I was out of milk for my cereal. The
milk in the fridge had gone off. You remember it was kind of thundery
Was it? Who cares? Let me out of here.
“So I rushed round to the corner shop. When I went in at first the place
seemed empty. I thought maybe Mr Ahmed had gone out for a message.
Then something made me look on the floor behind the counter…”
“Stop it noo. I can guess the rest.”
“You understand now why I said I was scared of myself.”
“Do you think it’s possible I had anything to do with all these deaths? Without
remembering anything about them?”
He heard her step towards him. One step, two steps. The floor underneath
swayed slightly. He struggled frantically to his feet.
“I feel so terrible. You know these fairies that prophesied death. Banshees.
That’s me. The Harbinger of Doom.”
“Look, could it no be a coincidence?”
“The Angel of Death.”
She was so close to him he could smell her breath. Sour, warm, a hint of
“It seems to me, recently, every time I’m alone with somebody…”
“You say that was Thursday.”
“And today’s Friday.”
“Today is Friday. I haven’t come across any dead bodies today.”
“No deid bodies.”
“Not yet, no.”
In the days when he was no angel he used to carry a chib. Now, respectable
and all, what he had in his pocket was a … ballpoint pen. A stylish enough
pen, rolled gold, with his name on it; a present from the girlfriend. Inside his
pocket his fingers closed round it tightly.
“Wish they’d get a move on up there!”
“Are you scared?”
“Scared? Whit of?”
“A bit tense?”
“Am Ah fuck!” He wiped beads of sweat from his brow.
Black as Egypt’s night.
Stillness in the groove, not a rustling sound…
“Would you like me to give you a Japanese massage?”
“No the noo!”
“It really would help you.”
A touch on his shoulder, light as a shadow, on his bare neck, cool as a
“I said no!” In panic he shoved her off him. She fell away with a thud.
At that moment the lift lurched, sending him staggering again. By the time he
found his balance it was pulling up steadily out of limbo. They reached a floor
and the doors opened. Gordon screwed his eyes against the dazzle of light,
blundered blindly out amongst the rescuers.
“Ye okay, mister?”
“Must’ve been a power failure.”
“I’m fine, I’m fine.”
“Oh God, look at that!”
As Gordon’s eyes grew more accustomed to the daylight he saw the faces
around him fixed on something behind him.
“Is she deid?”
“Look at aw the blood!”
“Must’ve bashed her heid.”
“Broke her neck.”
Gordon turned and looked into the lift. In the mixture of relief, panic and horror
he failed to check his tongue.
“She cannae…I hardly pusht her at aw.”
Now they were looking at him.
A man in a caretaker’s overall said “Better come to my office till the polis
arrive. They’ll likely waant to take a statement.”
Mary McCabe (Published in the Edinburgh Review # 107 – 2001)