In cosmic terms, humans exist for no more than a blink of an eye, if that. They are born, they live, and they die, all in a fraction of a millisecond. As many have bluntly observed over the years, "life is short." This fleeting lifespan, however, is what gives life meaning: it gives the humans the drive to get out of bed in the morning. It makes them kiss their children goodbye when the school bus comes, because they know they might not get that chance again. It makes them worship the sunrise, bask in its radiance, and remember that although life is short, it is infinitely beautiful.
Olivia Callahan had no time for sunrises, or radiance, or any other inane bullshit. Not today.
She strode vigorously through the pristine lobby, briefcase tucked under her arm as if to shield it from the sheer velocity at which she was moving. Her night had been... stressful, and in the midst of it all she had forgotten to set her alarm. The meeting began in seven minutes, and if she was late again...
Shut up. Don't think about being late, because it's not happening. If you can catch the elevator, you'll be fine. Everything will be fine.
She quickly approached the elevator door, which, as if by an act of divine cruelty, was beginning to close.
"No, no," she mumbled to herself as the metal doors slid closer and closer together. She was moving fast, but she knew she wouldn't reach it in time. Suddenly, a hand shot out from within the elevator, prompting the doors to slide apart. Olivia breathed a sigh of relief as she faced the open doors.
The man who opened the door looked to be in his early 30s, with subtle gray hairs dotting his chin and sides. This sign of aging was betrayed by jet black hair, neatly gelled and styled. He wore a black suit that was seemingly ironed recently. If Olivia weren't in such a hurry, perhaps she would have picked up on his handsome features.
"Where you headed?" he asked politely, flashing an earnest smile.
"Oh, uh, 22nd floor, please." she responded, stepping into the elevator as the doors closed behind her. It was only the two of them in the elevator; the man tapped his foot gently and idly hummed to himself as the elevator began its ascent, while Olivia stood in silence. This man was clearly a morning person, and there was nothing she hated more than morning people.
At around the 17th floor, the elevator stopped.
"Are you getting off?" Olivia asked the man, who had ceased his humming. His concerned expression answered for him.
"...No, I was planning on getting off at 22 and taking the stairs up to 28," he answered softly, "trying this new healthy lifestyle plan, y'know?"
Olivia didn't answer. Her mind was too busy racing with solutions.
"Maybe... maybe someone is getting on at floor 17."
The two waited for the doors to swing open. They waited to see the relieved face of the worker who had hoped to catch the elevator at the 17th floor. They waited for the machine to keep chugging, to bring them to the 22nd floor like it was supposed to.
The man pushed the emergency button, seemingly to no avail. Olivia frantically checked her watch. The meeting began in four minutes. The man looked over, noticing her worried expression.
"I wouldn't worry about it." he said simply, placing his hands in his pockets.
"Worry about what?" Olivia asked, taking her attention away from the digital watch.
"Oh, I don't know. The elevator, the meeting you're clearly late to. Life's too short to worry."
"It's really that obvious, huh?"
He smiled. "I've been working here a long time; nobody's that interested in their watch unless it's about to show them something they don't want to see."
"Huh, I haven't seen you in the building before. Where do you work?"
"Oh, I'm a bit of an everyman. Haven't settled down to any particular branch yet, though I've got my eye on mergers and acquisitions. Boring as shit, but I hear it pays well."
"Yeah, I can imagine."
The man looked away, and the two stood in silence as the elevator remained unmoving. The emergency light blinked, but no help had arrived yet. It felt like hours had passed in utter silence. Out of the corner of her eye, Olivia noticed the man's lips moving; he was getting ready to break the silence.
"Do you watch the news at all?" he asked nonchalantly.
"Umm, no, not regularly at least. Why, did something happen?"
"Just recently, a woman was suspected of murdering her boyfriend. Real gruesome stuff, I hear."
Olivia's blood ran cold. The walls of the elevator seemed to close in.
"R-Really? I... I hadn't heard."
"Oh, yes," the man said as he turned to face her. There was something behind his eyes that she hadn't noticed earlier; something hungry. "The police aren't sure why, but she took to him with a hammer. Caved his skull in like it was a rotting pumpkin. Can you imagine the hatred it must take for a human being to do something like that to a loved one?"
"No!" she yelled suddenly, her voice echoing off the cold metal walls. "No. I can't imagine what it would take to... to do something like that."
He smiled his toothy smile once more. There was something off about his smile. His teeth seemed... abnormal, but Olivia couldn't place her finger on it.
"I can't imagine it either," he went on, "but what's worse is that she escaped justice. In the segment I saw, they interviewed a psychologist about what she did. After she killed him, she just... went on living as if it hadn't happened; that psychologist, his theory is that she didn't fully process what she had done. That she wasn't ready to accept it. That's how they caught her in the end, you know: she was trying to go to work."
"I-I thought you said she escaped justice." Olivia responded. Her breath wove through the air in front of her as the temperature dropped drastically. The man didn't seem to mind. His breath gave off no fog.
"Oh, she did- at first. She had gotten away in the elevator, tried to catch a meeting like nothing was wrong. I guess in the end, she did evade justice. The police were on their way to open the doors, when the cable just... snapped. No warning, no signs of stress, nothing. It just gave in, like it knew her time was up. They said she was alive for hours under all the rubble; they say she suffered in agonizing pain, that every minute must've been torture. In the end, her body just gave up. In a way, I guess she got off scot free."
Olivia's heart felt as if it was about to explode. She could feel the tears begin to trickle down her face.
"Who are you?" she croaked. "Answer me, who are you?!"
"You know who I am," he responded casually, "it's all just a matter of which variation scares you the least. The stories you believe and the stories that you don't, they make up who I am. People have called me a lot of things over the years: Arnold Friend, Applegate, Mr. Cadwallader, just to name some of the nicer names. But you see, I'm not here to harm you. In fact, I want to help you."
"Help me? How?"
"That... woman in my story, I'm sure you know her. And what saddens me so much about her story is that she never got the chance to clear her name. I'm a big believer in second chances, and I think that given another chance at life, she could have negotiated something with the law. She didn't deserve to die, and that's where I come in. Olivia Callahan, you didn't get a fair chance to defend yourself, to tell your side of the story; consider this your elevator pitch."
"My elevator pitch?"
"Go on, make your case. Tell me about what you did and why you did it. Maybe I can cut you a deal. I'm known for it, after all."
He let out a hearty laugh, causing Olivia to cry harder.
This isn't happening, this isn't happening, this isn't happening.
She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and began to speak.
"A couple months ago, I gave my boyfriend access to my bank account," she whispered shakily as tears continued down her cheeks, "it was a trust thing. He would withdraw what he needed and deposit what he earned. It was supposed to be our first step towards a life together. That's why I didn't pay attention to the money disappearing; he was withdrawing what he needed, that was all."
"Something tells me this isn't a happy story."
"What he... what he 'needed' that money for was whores! Every night he was working late, or playing poker at a friend's house, he was actually out in a motel, spending my... our money on cheap skanks. Because, why, I wasn't good enough for him?! I wasn't trying hard enough to keep us together?!"
The man nodded slowly. Olivia struggled not to break down completely.
"I regret what I did to him. I had caught him at it and I just... I saw red. I knew in that moment I was either going to dump him or kill him, and for some fucked up reason the latter was the easier of the two. I'm not a bad person, I'm not. I need another chance to set things right, to make up for what I've done. You have to believe me."
The man nodded, removing a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbing his eye with it.
"That's an awful sad story, I mean that. Every day I think I've got you humans all figured out, and every day you manage to prove me wrong."
Olivia watched him in silence. He seemed to be deep in thought. She quietly uttered a prayer to herself, knowing that it would do her no good in his presence.
"You know," he said out loud, seemingly to himself, "you humans seem to think that the greatest trick I ever pulled was convincing the world I didn't exist, and I'd have to agree with you. However, I think this is easily number two."
Olivia's heart stopped beating. She clasped her hands tighter together, hoping that something out there would hear her silent plea. Finally, she spoke.
"What... what trick?"
He smiled his smile again, and that's when she put her finger on his unnerving teeth: they weren't teeth at all, but pearly white fangs.
"The one where you thought you could redeem yourself. That trick."
The elevator began to lurch; the clanging of metal against metal was almost enough to drown out the tense sound of a cable giving way.
"Thank you for riding all this way with me, but in the future, I'd work on your elevator pitch. I need to take the elevator back down- way, way, down. I'll see you at the bottom."
Olivia sank into the corner of the elevator as it continued its metallic screeching. She wailed and cried, covering her ears with her hands as her briefcase dropped to the floor.
"Oh, I wouldn't worry about it," the man yelled over the cacophony, "life's too short to worry, remember? Look on the bright side, Olivia Callahan- you're going to be on the nightly news for a long, long time."
Written by Parlour