Thirty Days on the Fourth Floor – Chapter Two

Chapter Two

There was almost nothing to do. There was a television but it only picked up home shopping channels, and the picture was so fuzzy as to be unwatchable. By the afternoon of that second day they were all tetchy and bored. Just like a real prison, Roxx thought with a sense of irony. He was worried about the Druggie. She had barely moved out of the bathroom, having spent the last three hours crouched over the toilet vomiting or lying on the floor in the foetal position. So much for the day and night surveillance–either it didn’t exist or the authorities didn’t care enough to intervene and take the Druggie out to some hospital ward where she could get help.

And there was no food. No one knew what had happened to the abundant supply of cereal, bread and fruit that had been on the table at breakfast-time. Or at least, no one said they knew. There was nothing to drink apart from water. Mrs Mum was weeping silently all the afternoon, Boss Man had finally given up telling everyone what he was going to do when he got out, who he was going to complain to, how many legal suits he was going to order his secretary to set in motion. Now he, like all of them, was just sitting there gazing into space, helpless.

At 6.20 precisely, one of the locked doors slowly opened itself with a soft creak. Everyone sat, gaping. The Kid, and a woman who said her name was Ange, got to their feet and wandered over to look through the doorway, keeping their feet firmly on the carpet of the dining-room.

‘It’s a wood,’ Ange called over her shoulder, her voice pitched high with disbelief. ‘I mean, it looks empty, and it’s like–really beautiful–like something out of a fairy tale.’

Boss Man and Mrs Mum went over to take a look.

‘It’s like a woodland glade,’ she said, ‘the sun’s just shining through the trees. There’s just a big pile of wood, then this big space, then the trees and undergrowth and everything, thick and you know, you couldn’t get through without a big knife or something to hack it all down. But it’s really green and sunny and pretty. It’s like a little woodland paradise.’

Boss Man, guessing what was in her mind, put out a hand to pull her back but she evaded his grasp and went through the door and into the clearing of the storybook forest. Roxx, on his feet now and approaching, was holding his breath, watching to see if anything happened. Nothing did. She walked on several more steps and stood there with one hand out, stroking the ground, the bark of a tree. She touched the fronds of a green fern gently with her fingers. She looked back and said to them, ‘How is this possible? It’s like something from the movies.’

Up to now they had all been watching, but when nothing adverse occurred, they too began to drift through the doorway and into the clearing, looking up at a clear blue sky.

‘Hey look,’ called the Kid. Turning, Roxx saw a tree stump, and on it, an axe.  Ange and Boss Man both let out a scream.

‘Oh My God Oh My God Oh My God!’ Ange said, and Mrs Mum was retreating towards the door, her hands reaching  out to clutch the doorjamb.

Roxx shook his head, irritated. ‘Relax people, it’s just an axe.  This is not the Twilight Zone, okay?’

‘How do you know? You think this is in any way normal?’ the Kid yelled at him.

‘No, but I’m just saying, there’s no need to freak out.  It’s just a tool, it’s just something to chop wood.’

The two Enforcers didn’t look convinced. Roxx went over to the axe. As he picked it up, he could feel the tension peak in the people around him. Ignoring them, he looked at the axe. The handle looked new, clean. The blade was shiny.  He tested the edge, and his thumb showed a thin line of blood. The little glimmer of red sent further shock waves through the others. He went over to the wood heap, selected a lump of wood, and taking it with him, placed it in the centre of the tree stump. He swung the axe above his head and brought it down, bisecting the lump of wood neatly.  He swung the axe twice more and the wood was kindling.

‘Hmm.  It’s really sharp,’ he said, turning to look at the others. Their faces showed disbelief, amazement. He felt impatient. ‘What, you never seen a man chop wood before?’

‘It’s gone back,’ Mrs Mum said, and he looked to see where her shaking hand was pointing. On the tree stump, his kindling had somehow reformed into the one original lump.

‘Wha …?’

He chopped it again, and again, and once more, the separate pieces, as if drawn together by a magnetic force, joined back into one.

Boss Man pushed everyone aside. ‘Let me try.’ As if he had a special way of chopping wood no one else would know about. The result was the same.

They all stood and gaped at the wood. At the axe. Gradually in ones and twos, they drifted back into the dining-room just in time to see the gold chain specials come onto the shopping channel. For some time, the soft glow of the filtered sunlight shone in through the door from the forest and lit up the dining-room, but then those rays faded, and it was night in the forest just as it was night in the apartment, and still they had had no food, no drink apart from water and still there had been no contact from the outside world.

Day three didn’t look like much of an improvement on day two when it finally arrived to the resentful and angry inhabitants of the apartment.

‘What are we going to do?’ Ange asked no one in particular. ‘Is this supposed to push us to the limits, see how long we can go before we start eating each other or something?’

Roxx said nothing. His mind was still on the wood. And he was thinking about the situation. The Druggie was lying in a chair, too weak to move. Ange and Mrs Mum were huddled at one end of the long table in the centre of the dining-room, Boss Man and the two Enforcers taking up the rest of the table. The Kid was sitting–childlike–on the carpet in front of the television watching a sales pitch for muscle building formulas.

Rehabilitation, Roxx thought. Really? He just couldn’t figure out what they were supposed to do. And it wasn’t just the wood thing that was bugging him–he couldn’t forget the fact that behind one of the other doors, one of the detainees was lying dead on a bombsite, struck down by falling masonry.

What was it they were missing? What were they supposed to be doing?

He watched almost lazily as the two Enforcers got up and went over to the door into the apartment. After experimentally tugging on the handle, they decided to try ramming the door with their bodies, and for several minutes repeatedly threw themselves against the wood. But it made no difference. The door was solid, immovable.  The Enforcers gave up and went back to sit at the table to work on another plan.

Roxx had had enough.  It seemed like he had nothing to lose.  So he went over to the door, tugged it open, and ignoring the shouts behind him, he stepped through the door and onto the bombsite.