I’m sure you’ve heard of the show, “I Shouldn’t Be Alive,” where people survive shark attacks, avalanches, parachute accidents, and other horrendous events the would kill most people. Their tales of survival are ofttimes terrifying. Well, let me tell you, I had an experience today that made those incidents pale in comparison.
It started out as an ordinary Monday. I was at work and things were going smoothly, but then the Men’s Room on the second floor, my floor, was closed. A sign on it said, “Out of Order.” This meant we had to take the elevator up to other floors to use those bathrooms.
Now I need to explain something. Our building is secure. Pedestrians can only enter at street level where there is a guard. The elevators for them only go to the second floor. All other floors, an electronic passkey is needed to access. There are two stairwells. One that exits out by the guard, near the elevators. You can’t access them by the guard, but you can take them down. I’ve never gone up, so I don’t know anything about them.
Then there is the stairway back by our offices. I’ve seen people come and go through them, but I’ve never taken them.
Another strange feature of our building is the floors are metal, covered in carpeting, and all the ventilation and electrical wiring run underneath. You can’t get a cellphone signal inside the building. My phone rings, but when I answer it, nothing. The signal is lost.
Well, I had to use the bathroom. The elevators and first stairwell are far down the hall. The back stairs, in contrast, are only a dozen steps from our office doors. I decided to take those stairs. I figured, having seen people go up and down, that maybe they were accessible to anyone, or at the very least, you used your passkey like we did to enter through the mall entrance to our building.
I stepped into the stairwell, took a few steps, turned and looked and realized the doors have a security code device on them. I tried to grab the door, but it shut on me. The metal door slammed with a hollow boom that echoed throughout the stairwell. I turned the latch, but nothing happened. I pushed the combination to our office space, hoping it might be the same… nothing.
I went up a flight. Same thing. Security code device. Metal door. The 4th floor was the same. So I went down. Hoping maybe the 1st floor let out into a hallway near the guard like the other set of stairs did.
No. This door was locked and didn’t even have a key code device. Down to the basement produced similar results. I came back up to the 1st floor and noticed a doorway to 2nd Street. But it had a sign on it. “Emergency Use Only. Alarm Will Sound.” Essentially, a dead end. Freedom teased me through the glass doors. So close to the outside world and yet so far.
Wait. I had my cell phone. I tried to call my manager to tell her I was trapped, but there was no signal. I tried to call the secretary. Similar results. Panic set in. I called those numbers a few more times, hoping to get through, but no. I was cut off from all human contact.
I returned to the 2nd floor and noticed on the door a sign that read, “In Case of Emergency, Call such and such number.”
“Noooo! Why must you torture me so?”
I got out my pocket knife and contemplated cutting off my arm, but realized I wasn’t trapped in such a fashion. That would just hurt. So I again ran up the flight of metal stairs, my feet booming as I ran. I was getting hot and sweaty. Breathing became labored. How much air did I have left? The stairwell was sealed. I’d probably suffocate soon if I kept running.
I had to remain calm.
“Help! Help! Oh, help me please! I don’t want to die!”
I ran back down to the 2nd Floor and took up my pounding with earnest. Surely someone would hear me? I kept pounding, and pounding until my knuckles became red and sore, but to no avail. I was trapped. Doomed. Images of my desiccated body being found lying on the floor, brown stains on the door from where my hands became bloodied pounding on it, flashed before my eyes.
“He must not have known the combo. What a horrible way to go!”
I thought of my family. What would they do when I didn’t return home? Would my wife remarry? Would my children call the new guy, “Dad?” The thought made me queasy. I had to get out! With renewed vigor I launched myself at the door, pounding savagely, the noise reverberating in my ears.
Then, when I thought all hope was lost, I heard footsteps coming down the stairs. An angel appeared, or so she seemed. She worked in the building and had heard the pounding. I wanted to hug her, to tell her my terrifying story, as I’d been without human companionship now for nearly 10 minutes, but I maintained my composure and merely said, “I locked myself out.”
She showed me the combo, but I didn’t pay attention because I was anticipating the first rush of fresh, clean building air. The door opened and I ran out, laughing, “I’m free. Thank you, kind person. I am free.”
I returned to my office and waved at everyone. “I’m back. I made it.”
“Where were you?” they asked.
“I… I was trapped in the Death Stairwell. Do not, I repeat, do not go in there!”
I returned to my cubical and collapsed in my chair. I was lucky to be alive.