The Fifth Floor

When I got in the elevator at work this morning, I guess I was not paying attention when I pressed a button. When the door opened, the indicator said I was on the fifth floor. The sign on the side of the elevator door and the sign on the hallway wall both said ‘five’. Big red ‘fives’. 5. The red was unsettling.

I had not been aware that our building even had a fifth floor. I had never gone higher than the second floor. Well, that was not entirely true. I went up to the third floor the one time to steal toilet paper when our floor ran out. I had truly never ventured to the fourth floor but I had heard the echoes of peoples’ footsteps descending from it in the stairwell.

There I was, halfway out of the elevator on the fifth floor. I did not know what to do. I mean naturally, I had to get back on the elevator and ride down to my floor. But did I not have a duty to explore? I certainly had the opportunity and might never get it again. Work would always be there but this mystery might be fleeting. This was my opportunity.

I stepped into the hallway and the door closed behind me. The decision was made. I walked slowly down the hallway. I do not know why I was so cautious. There was no need to fear anything in an office building. Was there? The carpet seemed like our carpet, the walls seemed like our walls. It is always in moments like these that we realize how little we observe.

All of the signs were that disturbing shade of crimson red. The names were all foreign to me. I could not pronounce half of them. Nothing on the signs indicated what the offices were for. No “Dr.” prefixes and no hint of an “Esq.” or “CPA”. There was a definite dearth of evidence in plain sight. I would have to go deeper to figure things out. I was not sure if I wanted to do that. This was getting strange.

I headed back to the elevator but there was no button there on the wall. There was no indicator of what floor the elevator was on. I stood there and waited as if I could mentally summon the elevator. Obviously, nothing happened although I would not have been surprised by it with how weird the events of the day had been. Still, nothing happened. I could almost hear my heartbeat in the silence. I had to give up. My anxiety rose as I realized that I would have to go into one of the offices and ask somebody.

But which one would I try? I walked back down the hallway and stared hard at the office signs. I walked toward one door and at the last moment, I thought better of it. I thought about it a little longer and picked the sign that was the most comprehensible to me. I thought about knocking but you don’t knock on office doors, right? I tried to be as confident as possible as I opened the door. I put on a smile but I did not get a word out.

“Great,” the lady at the desk said, rising to her feet. “You’re finally here.”

“I’m sorry?” I asked. “I’m a little lost.”

“Are you thirsty?” she asked. “Do you want some water?”

“Actually,” I said. “Yes. Water would be great.”

The lady stood up and began to pour into a mug. “Once you drink this, we can begin,” she said.

“Begin?” I asked. “I don’t even know where I am.”

The lady tilted her head back and laughed. She stopped abruptly and held out the full mug. “How true,” she said. “I often feel like that too.” She handed me the mug.

I swished the liquid around in the mug and it made a strange bubbling, hissing sound.

“Is this blue?” I asked. “I don’t think this is water.”

“Oh dear,” she said. “It’s time.”

I felt a sudden strike to the back of my head and I lost consciousness.

* * *

I turned to the other bird on the branch. “So,” I said. “That’s basically how I got here.”

The other bird continued to ignore me.

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