She cursed under her breath as she worked to regain her balance. The last thing she needed was a sprained ankle, after all, but with her luck lately it was just as well. She leaned against her car and stared at the broken heel that now barely clung onto her shoe, completely ruined. It had been her favorite pair, the last pair she bought guilt-free a lifetime ago, and she’d only wore them twice before. She was very tempted to scream at the top of her lungs, if for no other reason than to keep from crying. There was no one around to hear her, no one to see, but she still considered crying a sign of weakness, and she refused to be reduced to tears.
Screaming was better.This was just another thing in a long line of misfortunes, and she was reaching her limit.
She stood in her parent’s driveway, feeling the dry summer wind move her hair. It was barely sunrise, and she could see signs of yellows and pinks color the horizon. It made her wonder about the last time she had seen the sunrise. There had been many nights when she had stayed up long enough to see the sun, though she didn’t remember any of them. She had been drunk and stoned, she was sure, and probably didn’t want to remember what she had done in her drunken stupor. Focus on today, she thought. She didn’t want to get caught thinking about the past.
Amy was notorious for breaking heels. It was enough for her mother to joke that she should get her shoes cast in iron to help them last longer. It didn’t matter how much she paid or what style they were. If they rose off the ground, she eventually broke them. It hadn’t mattered before. She remembered the days when she would just kick them off and laugh, and walk into the nearest store barefoot, and bought shoes twice as expensive as the ones she had just broken, knowing full well she would break these too. Back then she believed she could go on breaking shoes for all eternity. But these days it only reminded her of how far she had fallen.
And usually, a broken heel meant she was going to have a bad day.
She yawned widely, debating whether she should go back inside and change her shoes. She had barely slept the night before, and she knew that going back inside was a bad idea. She was already tired and nervous beyond belief, and she knew that if she went back inside she’d crawl into bed and never leave.
A couple of years ago she would’ve laughed at herself. She only missed sleep if there was alcohol involved, and she only worried about where her next hit was coming from. And as far as tossing and turning was concerned, she only did it with someone who gave as good as he could take. These days her life was a lot more chaste.
With a last pout, she opened her car and got in.
Amy drove, rolling her windows down the moment she started her car, a silver BMW that she was wholly proud of, because it had been one of the few smart investments she had made in college.
It had been a very hot summer, the type that, if you weren’t careful, had you seeing ghosts in the desert.
But she loved the warm desert air, and couldn’t get enough of it lately. New England weather had not suited her. The first few times she got to see it, she had enjoyed snow, but once the novelty wore off she quickly learned that New England winters were cold and harsh. She had covered herself from head to toe whenever she stepped outside, but that didn’t help much. The winter air seeped into her bones. She thought she’d be cold forever.
These days, she was grateful for the small things she could still appreciate. It had been humiliating enough having to move back home at the beginning of the summer. In the same month, she had become a college graduate and a homeless woman, and though her parents were being as supportive as they knew how, she could feel the disappointment rolling off them in waves.
Being in what used to be her old bedroom didn’t help, she thought. It didn’t look like the same room anymore. After she moved out for college her mother had redecorated it and turned it into an upstairs office. Now it was as if she’d never lived there. Like she was the stranger.
Instead of her old bed, she was now sleeping on a leather couch that was starting to give her back problems.
She felt more like a stray cat rather than family.
She wondered how soon it would be before she finally got a job, pending a miracle happened. It was already late August and until a week ago she hadn’t heard as much as a whisper from all the places she had applied to. Aside from her diploma, she didn’t have any marketable skills or job experience. She never really had a job; anything would do at this point. The sooner she started earning money, the sooner she could get her own place and move out again. Her parents were being as understanding as they possibly could, but she knew that her being back home was… inconvenient.
She missed having her own space.
The longer she drove, the more nervous Amy got. She worked hard at not being alone with her thoughts. Too much thinking led to bad memories, and she had enough to fill an ocean. Amy had been the typical rich bitch back in high school. She cringed every time she remembered how horrible she had been, how many people she had hurt just because she thought she could.
In the first month of her freshman year alone, she had gotten a girl expelled after hiding drugs in her book bag, just so Amy could date the guy they had both been crushing over. She humiliated underclassmen daily and broke up relationships for sport. If anyone ever said that high school relationships never last, it was because they had witnessed Amy ruin even the happiest relationship in minutes flat. Any prank you could pull, any rumor you could spread, and mean spirited, bitchy thing you could say to humiliate a person, Amy had done it, and she had done it with pleasure, simply because she could.
She had learned her lesson in college though. She had always been the most beautiful and the richest girl in her small town, but in college girls like her came a dime a dozen. Guys didn’t worship her like they had back home, and she only knew how to stand out by the way she spent her money. So she made sure to throw the biggest and hottest parties, and catered to total strangers just so she could continue to be the center of attention. But once the booze and cash stopped flowing, once Amy realized how much trouble she was in, no one could be bothered.
She had tried to find a friend to lean on, to talk to someone about her problems, but whenever she attempted to have a conversation deeper than, “Do you want another drink?” it was as if she had started talking in Chinese, and no one could understand, or care.
It was a hard lesson she had been taught. In the end, every single one of her “friends” moved on and left her lying in the dust. Back then, she was sure she ruled the world. But now she knew the world was much bigger than she previously thought. She was insignificant.
Her trust, which should have lasted her three lifetimes, was almost completely gone within two years. By her senior year she was completely broke and had to serve tables part time just to pay for her graduation robes. What was worse, she worked at a restaurant that catered to women such as herself. She had been wholly humiliated, and she had no one to blame but herself.
These days, she tried to make amends the best way she could, but it was hard to atone for all the vindictive ways she had hurt others. Sometimes, she wasn’t sure she deserved anyone’s forgiveness. She had been cruel and spoiled, and at the time she knew full well that she was hurting others, but she didn’t care. Did she deserve to be forgiven for the cruelties she had willfully committed?
Amy took a deep breath and counted to ten, something she had gotten into the habit of doing lately. This job interview couldn’t have come at a better time. She didn’t even remember filling out the application, but she wouldn’t be surprised if she had simply forgotten. She was just grateful for the simple email that confirmed her appointment for today, and crossed her fingers. She had gotten so desperate lately that she had taken to staying up until past sunrise filling out applications and sending out resumes. She had reached a level of desperation so high that she kept forgetting meals and losing sleep.
She reached the city in record time, even more nervous now so that her hands shook on the steering wheel while she drove around the company building looking for a parking spot. It was one of those beautiful corporate buildings that you could see off the highway, the type her father loved to own. She drove around the corner and saw that the side of the building looked like it was being demolished. For a second she was afraid she was at the wrong place, but that was impossible. She grew up here, and thanks to her father she knew the names of all the big companies that owned the large sky scrapers.
She realized that the building wasn’t under construction. It looked more like there had been an accident. She wholeheartedly hoped that everyone was ok. She couldn’t count how many times she had gotten in some guy’s car, sometimes a complete stranger, knowing full well that he was either drunk or high. She had risked her life enough times to know she was lucky to be alive. The last thing she needed to know was that a more deserving person was dead instead of her.
After finding a parking spot, she stepped into the lobby with a deep breath, and almost stopped dead in her tracks. It was a space so large and luxurious that for a second she wondered if anyone had ever gotten lost in here.
The lobby was designed like a Roman temple, and she found herself staring at the moldings in the ceiling, wondering if such beauty could put a god to shame. If she had been smarter, she would have wanted to own such beauty, instead of having to atone for such an ugly past.
“You’re Amy,” she heard a voice say, distracting her. The voice belonged to a girl standing in front of her, an expectant look in her face. The comment surprised Amy. It wasn’t a question, and that struck her as an odd introduction, but she dismissed the thought.
Instead she just smiled at the girl and nodded.
The girl looked familiar. She had short dark hair, and looked much too young. Maybe she’s an intern, Amy thought.
The girl held out her hand. “I’m Sarah. I’m walking you up to your interview.”
Amy shook her hand and followed the girl to the elevators.
“Just finished school?” Sarah asked.
“Yeah, Central. East coast.”
“Must be great to be back home, huh?”
Amy shrugged. “I guess.”
“Oh come on, something tells me you were the queen in high school.”
Amy felt uncomfortable with the comment. Did this girl know her? She wasn’t sure, and she wasn’t about to ask. She didn’t want to lose this job for something she did more than five years ago. Besides, the girl looked like she was still in high school herself.
Amy didn’t know what to think, so she answered the best way she could.
“Yeah, I guess you could say that, but high school is long over. I have to face the real world now.”
Sarah gave her a strange look, and after a long time, Amy heard her say quietly, “You’re telling me.”
The elevator walls were made completely of glass. Once the doors closed and they began to move, Amy was struck with such an overwhelming sense of vertigo that she braced herself on the glass and closed her eyes. The glass felt cool against her skin, and though she didn’t want to think of the outside that moved on the other side of it, it felt good to hold on to something stationary.
“You don’t remember me, do you?” Sarah asked.
Amy looked into her eyes. Sarah’s eyes were a flat black color that could give a person
nightmares. The pupils were much larger than normal, and they made Amy think of a cat that was ready to pounce. She wanted to look away, but found that she could, so she shook her head silently instead.
“What is that hissing sound,” someone whispered behind her.
“Of course you wouldn’t,” Sarah said with a small sigh. “Back in high school, you and your friends thought it would be hilarious to leave me stranded in the desert after a concert.”
Amy remembered immediately. The night of the concert was something she forced herself not to think about. It was the night of her high school graduation, a day she felt she could rule the world. She and her friends were headed to a secret concert in the desert, and in a moment of intrusion, her mother had forced her to bring the quiet junior with her. She hadn’t even bothered to ask her name, and made sure to ditch her the moment they stepped out of the car.
The next day she had hopped on the next plane out of the desert and hadn’t looked back since. She never thought about Sarah again.
Every fiber of her being vibrated with shame. “It was a stupid prank, I’m so sorry.”
“Kind of late for that, don’t you think?”
Amy didn’t know what to say. “Did you get home ok?” She asked.
“No I didn’t. This guy offered me a ride. He saw me crying, and he was so sweet. I was sure I had seen him at school before, but he,” Sarah’s eyes turned into hard stone. “There are no words for what he did to me.”
Amy was speechless.
“It’s getting louder,” Someone else said. From some part far way, she could hear the hissing they were talking about, but she didn’t dare look. She couldn’t turn her eyes away from Sarah.
“My parents couldn’t even recognize me”, Sarah continued. “They had to use dental records to identify my body. It’s my mother’s last memory of me. It still haunts her dreams.”
“I’m sorry,” Amy said again, knowing it didn’t matter. But Sarah only nodded. “You soon will be.”
Her mouth felt like sandpaper. “What do you mean?”
Sarah smiled. “Listen.”
Amy snapped out of her trance. She realized that everyone else had started to panic. They were clawing at the door, pounding on it, shouting for help. The hissing sound was louder now.
The elevator had not stopped on the way up. Instead, they were at the top floor, not moving an inch.
Amy looked around. Something was obviously wrong. The hissing was so loud she could barely hear herself think. She looked out the window, hoping someone had noticed that they were stuck, but she noticed something else. The accident wasn’t outside any more. Not like it had been cleaned up, but like it had never existed. Amy tried to think hard. She was sure that she was looking at the same side of the building because she could see her car parked down the street. But the accident had completely disappeared.
Amy felt like she was having a heart attack. In a second she realized that the interview was a fake, that the accident wasn’t outside because it hadn’t happened yet. She was lured here, to her death. She was the accident.
She turned to Sarah, who hadn’t vanished like Amy half expected. Sarah just stood there, smiling sadly.
“There are innocent people in here, Sarah.” She pleaded.
Sarah only shrugged. “Is anyone ever really innocent?”
Amy closed her eyes and exhaled slowly, pressing her face to the glass. This was it, she knew it.
These are the consequences we all must face. Her stomach felt like she was on a rollercoaster, and she knew from the screams that they were coming down, fast.
At least she’d die pretty, she thought ruefully, bracing herself.
She was dead before the elevator hit the concrete below.