Eric and his wife exchanged weary glances as they waited for the elevator in the beachy, bright lobby of their Key West resort hotel. They were about twenty minutes away from the kids’ nap time but the two youngsters showed no signs of slowing. They were locked in a rambunctious battle using a pool noodle and an inflatable shark as swords with their soggy flip flops thwacking loudly on the floor.
“How old?” A man waiting near them asked nodding his head to indicate the laughing children. He looked out of place in his slightly wrinkled suit and tie next to Eric who was shirtless in long blue Bermuda trunks.
“My daughter is nine and my son is seven,” Eric replied.
“Good ages.” The man in the suit told him.
“It depends on the time of day.” Eric quipped and they chuckled together.
“Carl Trumble.” The man announced and Eric introduced himself and his wife Cherise with a firm handshake.
Carl’s highly personable demeanor gave his profession away well before he could tell Eric he was a traveling salesman. Before the elevator could ding they knew where he lived, his hometown and about the client he’d flown into Florida to meet with. Carl stepped into the elevator first and held the door while Cherise shepherded the kids in passed him. Eric entered last, he turned to press their floor number but his son slipped in front of him and ran his small hand down both columns of buttons illuminating them all.
“Damn it, Ryan.” Cherise hissed and pulled the boy back from the control panel.
“Nice going idiot.” His sister told him with a disgusted look.
“Mom, Melody called me an idiot,” Ryan whined loudly filling the seven by six-foot space with his echo.
“I’m really sorry about this, he does it all the time,” Eric told Carl. The man’s thick neck was reddening beneath the starched white collar of his shirt and his brow was clammy with sweat.
“I think I can fix it. I learned a little trick on the internet.” Eric continued. He turned and began to punch a sporadic pattern of buttons on the panel.
“Are you okay?” Cherise asked Carl whose face was now closer to a shade of maroon.
“I’m uh, a little claustrophobic.” He replied as he tugged on the Windsor knot at his neck. His concerned eyes were locked on Eric’s fingers working at the controls.
“Well, don’t worry we’ll be off soon enough.” The kids were bickering loudly back and forth so she had to yell a bit to be heard.
“I don’t know why it’s not working,” Eric said over his shoulder. He slammed the heel of his hand into the ‘Close Door’ button and the light over their head flickered for a few seconds. All of their faces turned to the ceiling waiting for it to stop when they heard something grinding above the car. The elevator shuddered and came to a full stop between the lobby and the first floor. Both kids pointed at Eric drawing out an accusatory, “Ooooh”.
“Well, that’s unfortunate,” Eric mumbled to himself.
The light went out completely and scared everyone silent. Eric instinctively grabbed for his kids and wife drawing them close.
“Carl? You alright, brother?” He asked the pitch dark elevator car. His question was greeted by a labored wheezing.
“Carl?” Eric asked again. The lights flashed back on abruptly and they could see carl had pressed his doughy body into a corner. His arms were splayed out and plastered to the walls like he was attempting to brace himself for impact.
“I have to get off of this elevator.” He wheezed quietly.
“What’s wrong with him?” Melody asked her mom. Cherise didn’t answer. She moved both children slowly behind her body and moved closer to Eric in one fluid move.
Cherise didn’t answer. She moved both children slowly behind her body and moved closer to Eric in one fluid move.
“Calm down man. We’re all here together, alright?” Eric said calmly. He raised his hands and stepped closer to Carl.
“You don’t understand,” Carl said desperately. Saliva bubbled and foamed at the corners of his mouth making him look rabid and crazed.
“A lot of people are claustrophobic, Carl. I know this is scary but I’m sure they’ll have us out soon.” Cherise said matching her husband’s tone.
“It’s not just claustrophobia.” Carl moved away from the wall of the elevator and the entire family backed away at once.
“I have a condition. A mental condition.” He told them. His embarrassment was almost tangible. It was obvious he didn’t provide this information to people often.
Cherise pressed the red emergency call button deliberately and kept the now silent children still sandwiched between her body and the elevator wall.
“What kind of mental condition, brother?” Eric asked with a sympathetic stare.
“It’s called stress-induced schizophrenia,” Carl explained sympathetically. “High-pressure situations can trigger psychosis for me and this is…”
His head suddenly snapped away from Eric and he stared intently at a spot of nothing on the elevator door. Eric reached back and pressed the emergency button as well but a bit more frantically than his wife.
Carl’s screeches began low in his throat and exploded from his mouth like a dozen monkeys screaming in a zoo habitat.
“Emergency! Emergency! Emergency!” He yelled with spittle flying from his mouth. He never broke his concentrated gaze at the elevator doors. Melody began to cry and clutched her father’s hand tightly as Carl continued screaming. He stopped and turned his head slowly in the direction of the scared family huddled opposite from him.
“The sweetest taste in the world is fresh blood.” He told them in a chilling matter of fact voice. He dropped his chin to his chest and twisted his face into a sinister grin showing his top row of teeth.
“Eric,” Cherise whispered in a shaky, watery voice. Tears began to fall from her eyes and Ryan whimpered and burrowed behind her.
“Emergency!” Carl began to scream again and he lunged across the car gripping Eric firmly around the neck with pink thick fingers that were white with pressure as he squeezed. Cherise and the children began to scream and cry and Cherise jumped into the fray trying in vain to pry the large man off of her husband. She climbed onto Carl’s back and clawed at his eyes until he lifted one hand from Eric’s neck to swat her away.
Eric took the opportunity to wiggle from beneath Carl and landed a heavy kick to his genitals causing the man to collapse. Eric jumped to his feet taking grateful breaths and snatched his wife over to his side. He looked around but there was nothing remotely close to a weapon on the elevator to use against the violent salesman. He smashed the emergency button again as Carl began to regain his balance.
“I was put here to stamp out evil like you.” Carl hissed his incoherent threat as he finally stood on shaky legs still completely in the throes of his psychotic break.
The man let out another terrifying shriek but before he could lunge again the elevator doors dinged open and distracted him.
A team of four firemen, a hotel staff member, and an EMT duo stood in the lobby staring at the bizarre scene inside the elevator. Eric hadn’t even felt the car move back down to the ground floor. He pushed Cherise and the kids out of the elevator to safety as Carl let out another squeal. Eric slipped past the firemen as they rushed in to subdue Carl.
Carl left the hotel sedated in the back of an ambulance as Eric and his wife explained the details to the officers called to the scene. Despite his wife’s protests, they remained at the hotel for the remaining four days of their vacation. The hotel even picked up the tab for their stay because of the unpleasant event.
On the last day of their trip, the desk clerk passed Eric an envelope as he checked them out of the resort. The letter was a handwritten heartfelt apology from Carl. He explained his condition in detail trying to help Eric understand why he attacked his family but the damage was already done. Eric certainly sympathized with the man but he and his family would never take a ride on an elevator with a stranger without fear ever again.