'Wha's happenin'?' 'Nothing. Go back to sleep.'
A Ramblin' Gamblin' Willie story by Greg Swann
Rule 1: I will not take elevators.
Rule 2: Where I violate Rule 1, I will do so alone.
Oh, well, I was late. Is that an excuse?
I was late and running for the elevators and I slid in just as the doors were closing. The car was crowded, or maybe it was just small. As it began to race upward, I reached to push the button for my floor.
We made a few stops, and the crowding eased some, but after one of them the doors closed, but the car did not move. A harried-looking young man by the door began to push the buttons on the panel in front of him. He pushed all of them at least twice. Nothing happened. He was looking reluctantly at the alarm button, looking like a man who didn't like to think he'd ever want to push it, when the lumpy old woman with the cottony white hair said:
"This isn't happening."
"It is happening," said Harried-Looking, with the expression of a man who has studied up on just that subject.
"No. It is not," replied Frau Lumpy. "It is not happening. It's only a dream. Just a bad dream."
In the other corner was Mrs. Thirtyish, complete with five-year-old-of-no-discernable-gender and a thick magazine at which she was staring with vigor. The little one squeaked, "What are they saying, Mommy?"
"Nothing." She snapped to a new page. "Mommy wants you to think about something else, honey. Okay?" She read the page sternly, vehemently. If eyes could burn, we'd have choked on that magazine. The child clung to her legs.
"Just a bad dream, huh?" Harried-Looking was looking more harried. "Well, rise and shine, lady. Rise and shine. Because we're stuck in this elevator."
"Just a bad dream," the Cottony Lump soothed in grandmotherly tones.
"Lady, I wish it was a dream. You think I like being stuck in an elevator?"
"But you're not!" The Lumpy Grandmother beamed. "You're not stuck, I am. I'm stuck in a bad dream. In a while I'll wake up and laugh."
The Harried Harrier turned to the Senior Partner, a very expensive-looking, very reserved gentleman. He said: "Do you say this is happening?" The Senior Partner did not even look at Harrier. Instead, he began to poke at the elevator's controls with his umbrella. But the elevator had heat-sensitive buttons, the kind that won't even work through gloves. With a slightly sheepish look, he strode over to the control panel. He pushed door open twice, saw that it did not work, then pushed the alarm button. He held it down a long time, the loud ringing causing the child to cower and Grandmother Lump to gasp. The Senior Partner gave two more long rings, then resumed his place with a look of confidence.
"Just a bad, bad dream." The Cottony Lump contemplated Harrier with a look of compassion.
"I'm going to prove to you that this is happening!" Snarl! He turned to me. He said, "What about you... Is this happening?"
Deep breath. "I know this is happening. My evidence is that I am watching it happen. Will you please leave me alone to watch it?"
"...yeah, okay." He turned to Mrs. Stern Reader. "What do you say? Is this happening?"
Mrs. Stern was very stern. She stared at her magazine with even greater violence.
Little Genderless looked disturbed. It whined, "Mommy. The man asked you a question."
"Shush, honey. Just pretend it isn't happening."
"But Mom. Answer him."
Mrs. Stern Reader spoke through her teeth: "When Mommy says be quiet, Mommy means be quiet. I told you to think about something else." She stared at her magazine, plainly ignoring the Exasperated Harrier.
"But what does he mean?"
She growled. "I said don't think about it!"
"All a bad, bad dream," the Lump crooned. "When I wake up, I'll just laugh and laugh."
Exasperated pulled at his necktie. It was getting stuffy in the car. He looked to the only person left, a punky bike-messenger-type who had been slumbering quietly in the far corner. Losing His Cool poked at the bony youth. "Wake up!" He shook the Punkster.
"Leave him alone!" I said that. Mrs. Stern Reader read sternly. The Senior Partner studied the ceiling. Lumpy looked inward. "He's not hurting you."
"I want to prove that this is happening!" said Belligerent Edging Toward Violent.
"Just a bad, bad dream..."
Deep breath. "Look, if you want to do something useful, go ring the bell. We all want to get out of here, whether we believe we're here or not."
He looked convinced. He made an effort to change his mein from Thundering Thug to Responsible Bell Ringer. The sound was of every wail for help ever, condensed and amplified.
Just then the Punkster stirred. "Wha's happenin'?" he slurred.
"Nothing," I said. "Go back to sleep."
"Just a bad, bad dream..."