Thirty Days on the Fourth Floor – chapter three
Carefully he stepped over to the doorway of the building, and planning his moves cautiously, he made his way inside, into what was a devastated hallway. Holding his breath, he inched open a broken door drunkenly hanging from one hinge.
‘Hello?’ he called softly, afraid too much sound might trigger some kind of shower of rubble. ‘Hello?’ he called again, a little louder. He heard some kind of sound, maybe a voice, not too far away. He saw from the corner of his eye a movement, and turning, saw a hand waving from under some debris.
‘I’m coming,’ he said, and began to move. A shower of dust and small particles fell onto his head and he had to wipe his eyes on his sleeve to be able to see.
Approaching the corner, he called softly to the trapped person. He saw part of a head, straining in an attempt to see over a piece of some kind of heavy wooden frame, he could see a blue eye, and fair dusty hair hanging down. A woman. Young. Her skin was taut and white with pain.
‘Hi,’ he said. ‘I’m gonna try to get you out.’ The eyebrow slanted over the eye, the eye watered.
‘Really?’ she responded, her voice harsh, and desperately hopeful.
‘Yeah, really. Are you okay under there? I’m thinking of starting to move some of this stuff off you.’
There was the slightest of movements and he heard a soft exhalation, a sigh. Her voice was a whisper when she replied.
‘I think my leg is broken. I mean, they both hurt, but the right one I can’t move, it’s too much. The pain…’
‘Okay. Well, don’t you go anywhere, I’m gonna start moving stuff over here. If anything shifts, if anything slips, you tell me, okay?’
She gave a tiny nod, groaned in pain. He looked around him, trying to decide where to begin. He bit his lip as he took in the scene—this was going to take hours. He picked up a couple of small bricks that were at his feet, and carried them a few feet away to where he planned to create the new heap. He turned back, picked up a few more, piled them on the new heap, repeated the action ten more times and looking back, the mound of debris over the woman didn’t seem any smaller. Already he began to feel he was wasting his time, and hard on that thought came a question in his head—was the heap growing back each time like the chopped wood? He considered for a few seconds and had to put it out of his mind—he didn’t know, he could only hope not, he could only carry on trying to clear the rubble and free the woman.
When he took a break, an hour later, he went closer to where she lay and called to her, ‘Hey, lady, you still okay in there?’
‘I’m—all—right,’ she said, but the dust from her throat made her croak. ‘I’m Sarah.’
‘I’m R—I’m Jeremiah,’ he said.
‘Thank you, Jeremiah, you don’t know what this means to me. But I don’t want you to put yourself in any danger…’
‘Don’t you worry about that. I’m getting back to work now.’
He grabbed a few more lumps of stone and brick, and headed over to the new heap, depositing it, and wondering how best to shift the mounds of cement and plaster dust—all he had were his hands. A sound caught his attention, and he whirled around. The Enforcers stood in the doorway.
‘Still trying to be a Samaritan?’ one said. Roxx hesitated. Then he nodded,
‘Yeah, actually, I am. There’s a woman trapped under there. I can’t just do nothing.’
There was a long pause. The two men looked at one another. Then with a shrug, they turned to Roxx. ‘What d’you want us to do?’
Hiding his surprise, he dispatched one to find something to shovel the brick dust with, and the other one stood halfway between the new heap and the old heap, the first link in a very short chain. When number two came back with the plastic bin from the bathroom, he was followed by Ange, the Kid and Boss Man. Mrs Mum was peeking around the door frame, debating what to do. Then she joined them too. They formed a chain and began to really shift the wreckage. In less than an hour, Sarah was being carefully lifted clear, seated in one of the armchairs from the apartment, her legs were bloodied and bruised.
‘Hey, look!’ Ange said as they all began to move back into the apartment. They turned to see where she was pointing. On the table was a stack of pizza boxes.
‘Those weren’t there a moment ago!’ Ange said.
‘So how did they get there?’ one of the Enforcers asked. They all gaped at one another. Roxx was the last person to come back through the doorway and into the apartment, and as soon as he stepped onto the carpet, the door to the bombsite slammed shut. He gave the handle an experimental tug. It was locked.
They all stood in the middle of the room, looking from door to pizza and back again. Roxx turned to ask Sarah if she was hungry. The chair was empty, she had vanished.
‘Oh my God!’ Mrs Mum wailed. ‘What the hell is happening? It’s like the bloody Twilight Zone in this place! Things like this just can’t happen!’
‘I’ll pinch you if you like.’ Boss Man offered. She swore at him, then burst out laughing. The tension of the last two days broke, and everyone relaxed. They began to talk, laugh, and share out the pizza. Ange realised the Druggie hadn’t said anything for a while and took some pizza over to her only to return a moment later, shaken, upset.
‘Roxx! I think—I—I’m not sure—but I think—she’s dead.’
Several of them looked on, shocked, whilst Roxx and Ange and the Kid ran to check on her. Roxx reached out his hand. There was no pulse in her rigid wrist, her skin was grey, she was chilled to the touch. turned back to the others. He nodded, swallowing hard on his emotion.
‘She is. She’s dead.’
The mood immediately changed, the tension returned. They exchanged fearful looks. No one wanted any more food. They sat wondering what to do. She didn’t disappear like Sarah had. The Druggie was all too real, slumped in her corner of one of the chairs, her wasted frame barely occupying half the space. Mrs Mum brought a blanket from a bunk and draped it over the Druggie.
‘Helen,’ said Mrs Mum. Everyone stared at her, uncomprehending, and she elaborated. ‘That’s what her name was. Helen. I’ve always liked that name.’
‘I had an Auntie Helen when I was little. Nice lady. She always gave me chocolate buttons,’ said Enforcer number one. Everyone nodded, as if this was relevant. ‘I’m Matthew,’ he added. The group took a moment to digest this. Matthew was a nice, respectable, but somewhat un-enforcerlike name.
‘And I’m Philip,’ said Enforcer number two.
‘Jeremiah,’ said Roxx.
‘Ange’ said Ange.
‘I’m Felicity,’ said Mrs Mum, and no one was surprised she had a fussy name.
‘Edward,’ said the Kid.
‘Trenton,’ said Boss Man. ‘That’s my first name,’ he explained to their puzzled looks. ‘Trenton Kelly. Usually I’m just called Trent.’ He reached for a slice of pizza, took a bite, chewed, swallowed and said, ‘I think the appearance of the food was triggered by us completing the task—we were supposed to free the lady in the wrecked house. You,’ and he nodded towards Roxx, ‘you wanted to do that anyway, just because you’re a good person—I’m sorry I made you stop. I feel ashamed of myself. I told myself it didn’t matter, that she couldn’t possibly be real. I wouldn’t have lifted a finger to help that woman. But I think we got the food as a reward. We’re meant to do good, make the right decisions, learn our lesson. That is the key.’
Roxx was looking at his hands. He felt a wave of conflicting emotions. ‘I don’t believe we should do stuff just so’s we can get rewarded,’ he said, and everyone hastily agreed with him. He shook his head, only one thing on his mind now. ‘I can’t believe they let Helen die like that. What good did she get out of all this?’ His anger was beginning to spill over. ‘Why couldn’t we help her then, if that’s what this is about? I spent all that fucking time helping someone who wasn’t real, and I should have been helping someone that was real! How is that even fucking fair?’ He slammed his fist into the wall, anything to keep the tears in his eyes from spilling down his face.
They all looked away. No one knew what to say.
The evening dragged by, one by one they all drifted off to bed. Some slept well, some didn’t. And in the morning they got up, wondering what would be in store for them.