Flash Fic Challenge – Construction Zone
“You’re gonna hafta come look at it, Steve,” Russ said, pushing his hard hat up higher on his head. Steve rubbed his eyes and sighed. This was supposed to be a simple building demolition, but at some point it had turned into a nightmare.
Steve stepped out of the trailer and followed Russ, who stopped barely twenty feet away. Steve waited, not sure what he was supposed to see, and then, when he started examining it, he thought maybe it was a prank. What did they call it? A “tromp loll” or something? A realistic picture of something painted on something else?
“There’s another building inside the building,” Russ said, in case Steve hadn’t figured it out yet.
Steve shook his head, rejecting the reality even as he struggled to accept it. Part of the exterior wall had been peeled away, crumbling bricks turned pink with age and constant exposure to the sun. Underneath it was new bright red brick and intact windows.
“This is a joke, right?” Steve asked, even though he knew Russ’s idea of a joke was almost entirely fart based.
Steve pulled out his phone, and quickly went to the gallery, where he started paging through the exterior photos they took before demolition began. There were huge holes in the exterior walls, and the interior kept up this state of decay, with huge, gaping holes in the floor. He’d lost count of the number of dead birds he found, and they were unable to go any farther than the second floor, because the upper staircases had all collapsed.
Steve looked at the pictures, looked at the building in front of him, and couldn’t figure it out. “There were no air conditioners,” he said, finally pointing out the most obvious problem. “There were no intact walls. How …” Steve found his words completely failed him, so he gestured violently to the building in front of them. “How?!”
Russ scratched his head. “I was kinda hopin’ you’d know.”
He glared at him, and wished, not for the first time, that this was a different era, and he could get away with smacking an employee.
“Found a door,” Joni shouted.
They walked around to where she was, and found that she had indeed uncovered a door. They stepped carefully around the broken brick, and all three of them stood shoulder to shoulder, staring at the new looking gray metal door. After a moment, Steve asked, “Have you opened it?”
Joni stared at him like he was crazy. “Fuck no.”
Damn it. Sometimes he hated being the boss.
He steeled himself, and reached for the door handle. He expected his hand to pass right through it, like a mirage, but he did indeed grab it, and the metal felt as solid and real as everything else. If it was a hallucination, a mass delusion, he would have found it easier to accept. He pulled on it, assuming it wouldn’t open. Maybe it was bolted to wall, a bizarre prank by someone a lot more sophisticated than Russ. But no, the worst thing possible happened.
It opened on a brightly lit, clean, intact hallway, with air conditioned coolness. It could have been the entryway of an apartment building or an office park. As soon as his eyes took in enough details to convince him he was indeed looking at something, not imagining it, he closed the door.
“What the fuck?” Joni exclaimed. Russ was just standing there with a slack jaw, like the dumbass he was.
“Are we a hundred percent sure we’re not being pranked?” Steve asked, desperately hoping this was the case. He hated those fucking prank TV shows, but he’d have given anything to be on one now.
Looking around for the emcee, he saw none, and was forced to open the door again, hoping that he’d see the broken remnants of a former hallway in front of him.
Nope. The door opened on that same clean, intact hallway. Joni leaned in, and said, “Hello?”
There was no response, but they could hear the hum of electricity, and maybe some noise deeper in the building? Steve took a tentative step over the threshold, expecting his foot to crunch down on an unseen bird corpse, but he stepped on nothing more than adequate business carpeting. Joni followed, and Russ brought up the rear. He shuddered involuntarily at the twenty degree temperature drop, and decided to speak up and not look any weaker. “Hello? Is anyone here?”
The first two rooms they looked into were empty of people, but the third door they came to had a woman sitting behind a desk, working on a computer. “Hello?” Steve asked, looking past the doorway but not daring to step in. He had no idea why.
The woman looked up, over small reading glasses. “Yes, can I help you?”
Steve almost laughed. “What … um, what building is this?”
“The Spangler Building.”
“Right.” Yes, that was the name of the condemned building he was supposed to tear down. “Is there, uh, another Spangler Building?”
Steve decided to go at it another way, trying to sound a little less crazy. “This is the Spangler Building on Oak and 34th?”
“Has this building ever been condemned or torn down?”
The woman smirked, in a way that suggested she knew she was talking to someone off their very necessary medication. “No. Why are you asking these questions? Are you lost?”
“Kind of,” Steve admitted, deciding now was the time to leave. He doubled back, returning the way they entered the building … or so he thought. It did occur to him that this landscape was so new and yet so bland, he wasn’t one hundred percent sure he was going the right way.
“Chief, what’s happening?” Russ asked.
“I don’t know. And don’t call me Chief.”
He eventually came to an exit that looked a lot like the door they came in. Steve rested his hand on the knob, and took a deep breath. What if the outside world was different? What if it was the same? Steve really didn’t know what he would do either case. He’d been in construction for ten years, and had never come upon anything like this. Nothing in his experience gave him the slightest hint on his next move. What did this even mean?
Doubts and fear gnawing at his stomach, he opened the door.