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          Maxine Scates and Joseph Millar
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          Bagley Wright Lecture Series: “Is That A Real Poem Or Did You Just Make It Up?”
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WITS Anthology Student Short Story: “Elevation” by Lucia Weisberg

The short story featured below was written by a student in Matt Smith’s Science Fiction residency at Franklin High School in the spring of 2021 and is being published in the 2020-21 Literary Arts Writers in the Schools anthology, Curiosity in Ones and Zeros. Sign up for Matt Smith’s World Building: Science Fiction Workshop for high school students at the 2021 Portland Book Festival here. Learn more about other youth workshops at PBF here.


by Lucia Weisberg

“I can’t believe they got another one.” 

“I can. God, you think they’d learn by now. Lazy, selfish beasts.” 

“You think they deserve it?” 

“I mean, they know what they’re doing. You mess with that, you end up with a knife in your gut. Or poison in your bloodstream. Or strangled. Better safe than sorry, right?” “I guess…” 

“You’d dare consider taking an elevator these days? Really?” 

“Oh, no, of course not.” 

Before the sirens, before the pooling blood on the cold pseudo-metal floor, before she collapsed, before the knife slid between her ribs, before the doors scraped shut and the stranger turned to her with a smug smile, she was thinking about the music of the elevator. 

Calming. Simple. A way to separate her from the outside world. Her life had gone so far downhill. 

If she died, well, then she died, she’d reasoned when she’d walked into the elevator. Ignored the whispers of the people clustered in the lobby. And if she lived, she got the euphoria of knowing that she’d survived a scrape with death. 

Later, she discovered that she very much wanted to go on living, but by then it was red blood spilling out of her and burning pain as she gasped for breath and much, much too late to go back. 

She scrolled through her phone. A clunky old piece of machinery, inefficient as all hell but still somehow capable of her needs. She’d given up on her search for job listings at the moment and was instead fixated on the spray of murders in the news. Indeed, there was something uncanny about them- the culprit was never found, even though every single recent murder was carried out inside an elevator in a busy public building. Even with this predictability, the authorities had caught exactly zero culprits. Maybe the police didn’t have enough time to patrol all the elevators, she reasoned. 

She sighed as her phone flashed an alert- red, low battery, plug in your phone you monster, she imagined it saying. It was already plugged into the halfway broken charger in her dusty apartment. It just wasn’t charging fast enough. It was at least ten years outdated, and it showed. 

The phone blinked its warning at her again and she powered it down with a blink, then stood, wiping her hands on her well-worn jeans. One good thing to come out of this era- housing for everyone, as apartments vacated after the horrific disease that had killed almost two-thirds of the world’s population. She was secure here, a security she hadn’t had before. Food was another matter; she was running low, again, and she still hadn’t managed to find a new job. A smaller population means less consumers, after all, and most of the menial tasks- customer service, taking orders- were now held by either robots or kids just out of middle school. The last few jobs she’d been turned away for being ‘overqualified’, which was code for ‘too old’. 

A nagging pain in her gut reminded her, yet again, of how desperately hungry she was. There wasn’t much of anything she could do about it. 

She woke before the sun, her whole body aching with hunger and the strain of being slept on all wrong. 

“Fine,” she whispered to herself, discovering with no small amount of surprise that her voice was still in working condition. And then surprised herself again with a short laugh. 

There was a portion of a stale loaf of bread in the cupboard, and the end of a block of cheese in the fridge. At least dairy and meat prices had dropped after the disease. Small consolation to all those that, like her, had been forced out of their jobs for various reasons. 

Her hunger abated, and she dressed hastily, tugging a pair of faded jeans over her hips without unbuttoning them, replacing the shirt she’d slept in with a clean one. Maybe she’d have more luck finding a job if she went door to door. Or at least, that’s what she told herself. 

The crackly radio installed in one corner of her apartment fell silent. She paused mid-chew, waiting for the music to come back on. Please just be dead air. 

Three beeps, and her heart sank. 

“Hello citizens of East Aurora, it has been brought to the attention of your local authorities that another murder has occurred. Do not be alarmed. The murder is under investigation and we are taking all precautions available to us at this time. For safety, please travel in groups of two or more at all times.” 

“Hello citizens of East Aurora, it has been brought to the attention of your local authorities that another murder has occurred. Do not be alarmed.”

Another beep, and the music came softly back on, fuzzily blanketing her fear. It had been months since the first reported murder, and still- there was little to no information. There was a rumor going around that the killer attacked citizens who took elevators alone- for what reason, no one could say. 

There was another rumor going around that it wasn’t just one killer, it was an organization, and it had tied the hands of the authorities. Now that was laughable. Crazy, the things that she heard while doing her odd jobs, that she heard just walking down the streets every day. Even through the flimsy walls of her apartment. Complaints about the price of commodities (it used to be so much worse! she always wanted to tell them), details about the newest killings, whispered transactions, small talk. 

The song stopped, and another one started, jolting her out of her reverie. She stood, shakily her left foot tingling painfully as it woke- and set the disposable dishes carefully in the sink. 

She lasted all of four days before she was too hungry, too lethargic, to even search for a job. It was all she could do to drag herself from room to room, to the kitchen to get a glass of water, to the bedroom to sleep, to her tiny living room to listen to the music on the radio, calming and simple. It distracted her from her hunger, temporarily. 

She was sitting on the floor of her apartment, staring blankly at the wall, when she heard a knock on the door. She couldn’t bring herself to move, until she heard the scrape of a key turning in the lock, and then desperation brought her to her feet. 

The door swung open creakily, revealing a figure silhouetted in the doorway. She blinked against the bright light. Am I dying? Maybe she was. She’d been so hungry… 

The figure spoke. 

“We have a proposition for you.” 

Not dying, then. Not yet. She lifted her chin just slightly, adjusting to the brightness of the hallway. The figure’s eyes were a startling gold. 

“And that would be?” She asked, shocking herself in her boldness. The figure shifted, adjusting its balance. She could make out the shadow of a smile on its face. 

“What would you do for a full meal every day? A warm shower? Never having to worry about money, as long as you live?” 

She didn’t miss a beat. “For that, I’d kill.”

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