Stranded on the Twelfth

© Eric Gauthier 1993

They were to be pioneers, but they did not know it yet. On this typical September morning, they simply stood there, in front of the elevator doors on the twelfth floor of the Thompson residence.There were only three of them, in the beginning.

After a short while an elevator arrived, but seeing it was going up they ignored it, and waited for the next one. Had they taken it instead, things might have stayed the same, but as it is their gesture would prove decisive.

The wait went on, in silence. Sometimes one of them would start pacing up and down the hall, thinking of waiting friends, hamburgers or imminent classes. Sometimes another would walk over to the grey steel doors and press the button again, just in case it might help…

Eventually one of the girls from France arrived, soon to be joined by two of her friends. Greetings were expressed, in both languages, and then the silence fell again. It was a silence heavy with expectation, a silence made of the shuffling of feet, the rustling of clothes and the sighs of the impatient. In order to break it, trivial comments were made at irregular intervals, but always the silence quickly returned.

As the waiting crowd grew in numbers, the students began to worry. Elevators are a fact, a comforting reality: they are tangible, solid, reliable and easy to use. They take people from one floor to the other, quickly and effortlessly – quite unlike stairs, which are tiring and go on forever. Elevators, in short, are one of man’s greatest innovations. But what could people do if the elevator never showed up? It was a question they could not answer. Classes outside started, and ended without them. As the sky slowly darkened, they became nervous; one of the first year students had to be led back to her room, as her soft sobbing only made matters worse.

Out of necessity, they came to accept their predicament and tried to make the most of it. People went back to their rooms for food, and settled into the lounge to watch TV. Volunteers were divided into small groups and took turns watching the doors. On and on it
went, and in the mornings everyone would gather in front of the doors again. Even the mysterious foreign girl could be seen there, she whom almost no one had ever met before and whose actual existence had previously been a subject of much speculation.

With time the students felt a growing sense of community, as many friendships developped and everybody found a purpose. Confronted with the imminent lack of food, some took to luring birds to their windows, catching them for other people to cook them, while others provided counseling or entertainment. A small council was formed, led by the floor counselor: it established an inventory of all available goods and devised ways of renewing the supplies. Life settled into a steady, comfortable routine; when the students received phone calls, they simply said everything was fine, and as time went on the calls came less and less frequently. The Twelfth Floor Tribe could take care of itself.

Of course there were some incidents: food stealing, fights and near-fights, two nervous breakdowns (one of which led to the destruction of the TV, a great blow to the Tribe) and a severe allergic reaction (which was dealt with rather efficiently, thanks to the Nursing student and her apprentice). Some often went to sleep only to dream of hissing steel doors, imitation wood panelling, lit-up floor numbers and the rumbling sound of ascensions and descents. Hope never completely left them: it just found itself a cozy corner at the back of their minds, the better to torment them.

Still, most of them found peace, and later came many occasions to rejoice. Foremost amongst them was the first wedding, a day of great celebration and an inspiration to all. But even that was soon overshadowed by this new event, which would mark the beginning of a new era: the birth of the first child.

The example thus set, others followed. Years passed as the new generation grew, carefully nursed and educated by the Tribe. Trained by the Ancients, they learned the art of bird breeding, the science of computers, the crafts of weaving and tool-forging, the mysteries of the Laundry and the legends of the Outside. And when they were judged mature enough, the aging Ancients bestowed unto them the sacred duties of Watching for the Elevator.

***

And so it was that the Twelfth Floor Tribe was founded; and so it prospered, and so was born the second generation, to uphold the Tradition. And later there would be a third, and then a fourth, and with the fourth would come a hero, to be swallowed by the Elevator and be brought to the Outside, and to bring back to the Tribe many treasures most needed. But that is another story…

As reported by Eric Gauthier, humble chronicler from room 1203A
October 1993