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Week #36: Creative Writing Challenge – The Case of the Sticky Elevator

October 7, 2021

Write a story about a character who’s stuck in an elevator when the power goes out.

The sky was overcast as the delivery boat pulled up to the elevator. It was marked by a floating platform in the middle of the Cuzcos Channel 15 miles from the nearest land. The weather was mild, but I was chilly thinking about the job I had ahead of me.

I’d been contacted for a service call. This in itself is not weird. My job entails traveling for service calls, in particular, those hard to diagnose ones. Usually those calls entail travel to luxurious destinations where the problems are actually fairly easy to troubleshoot and fix once I’m on site. When the call came two mornings ago, I had the person on the phone repeat all the information to make sure I hadn’t misheard. The phrase that made me question the caller was “Submarine elevator”. I was familiar with schematics for freight elevators, cargo elevators, grain elevators, regular elevators, even the concept of the space elevator. I was not, however, familiar with a submarine elevator.

With additional research, I found the schematics of said submarine elevator. Sure enough, my parent company had designed, tested, and constructed a submarine elevator in the Cuzcos Channel. The elevator was essential for access to an underwater habitation where scientists from anywhere in the world could participate in deep water research. One thousand feet to be specific. The elevator ensured quick and easy access for the researchers and crews, and it was malfunctioning.

The plans indicated specialized construction materials able to withstand more than 500 psi and a lot of design plans to make sure the car stayed water tight. The floating platform contained the motor to operate the car which was attached to the hoist ropes. Unlike a normal elevator on land, this elevator was not contained by a shaft. Instead, it was in direct contact with the ocean water. It was like a submarine attached to ropes at the floating platform and at the habitation, and could move in between the two. It was written in the margins of the schematics that the trip down to the habitation was twice as fast as the trip to the surface, helped along by the weight of the car no doubt.

The caller had indicated that occasionally the elevator would just stop in the middle and then start again, sometimes as many as five times during a trip. It was starting to worry the researchers and crew, so they called me.

There were several manual on/off switches, so those were my first priority to check. There were two on top of the floating platform, one in the car itself, and another two inside the habitation.

Everything looked fine up top. My delivery vessel would stay docked to the floating platform until I was done with my assessment, and then take me the 15 miles back to dry land. It was time to take a trip to the habitation. As someone who works on elevators, I’m not claustrophobic, but I’ve also never been in a submarine.

I was nervous to say the least, so when the elevator stopped at about 400 ft I had to calm myself with deep breathing exercises before I could even begin an assessment. The power was still on and based on all my measurements, the car should still be moving, but it wasn’t. I was moving again about 30 seconds later, like nothing had happened. I radioed to the floating platform to make sure everything was right as rain up top.

The same thing happened twice more before I made it to the habitation. The air lock sealed with the bottom of the car and I was able to climb a ladder down into the habitation itself. It took a few seconds to adjust to the bright LED lights, but I was quickly greeted by the head engineer and ushered to the control panel for the elevator without much fanfare. Everything looked fine there.

“Do you have any way to illuminate and see the elevator pulley here at the habitation?” I asked the head engineer.

He looked puzzled. “Well, we could re-purpose Research Camera 2 and I think we could get a clear angle. I’ll go find Dr. Betiav and see what we can do. Would you like to come and get a tour of the habitation on the way?”

I accepted his offer and quickly found I’d lost my sense of direction through the identical corridors. There weren’t many people in the hallways, but the labs looked crowded because of the tight spaces. I found myself in one of these lab spaces explaining to a rotund man with coke bottle glasses what I needed from the video camera and lighting. He begrudgingly re-purposed his camera, settling me in front of a joystick and control panel.

The screen above me showed the outside of the habitation. Everything looked dark with snow floating magically through the light. I made some joke about it being winter, to which Dr. Betiav told me in a dour voice that it was in fact called marine snow and it was an important part of the food web in deep sea ecosystems. I shut my mouth after that, despite a snicker from the chief engineer.

As the lights panned across the side of the habitation and onto the pulley system, I saw a shadow flash across the screen and under the car. Dr. Betiav immediately wrested the controls from me to play a replay of the shadow in slow motion on another screen. As he set it up, I scanned the pulley system. It looked just like it should. Except for something right next to the gears. I couldn’t quite tell what it was so I zoomed in, but it just looked like a pile of rocks.

When the replay of the shadow was ready, Dr. Betiav played it for us. It was very clear in slow motion that our shadowy figure was just an octopus, but Dr. Betiav was beside himself with excitement. He was going on and on about deep sea octopuses. I wasn’t an expert on the organism myself, but octopuses held a lot of my attention as a child after I touched one at an aquarium once. It suctioned itself to one of my hands and wound its tentacles through my fingers. I knew they were amazing contortionists, as well as being one of the smartest invertebrates in the ocean.

I thought about the pile of rocks. I thought about the octopus. And I had an idea.

Turning to Dr. Betiav, I asked if there was some way to switch out the lights to a softer red that the octopus wouldn’t be able to see. When that was done, I sent the chief engineer to call the elevator back to the surface while we watched on the video screen.

Sure enough, in the red glow of the lights, our octopus friend could be seen placing his pile of rocks into the pulley and stopping the ascent of the elevator. I was surprised the motor hadn’t burned out trying to get free, but the rocks weren’t big and the elevator never stopped for long. We had only been watching for about 20 seconds before the rock was crushed between the cables and the pulley.

The octopus then swooped below the pulley in a frenzy, grabbing things out of the water with its tentacles. It was only then that I realized it wasn’t a pile of rocks, but a pile of snails. The octopus was using the pulley to break apart the snail shells and get a meal.

This was no where in my elevator repair manual, so I turned to Dr. Betiav and said with a grin, “I think I’ll head home now, but let me know when you have your scientific paper written. I’d love to read it!”

I spent the whole stuttering ride back to the surface thinking about how fat that octopus was going to get and smiling to myself.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Yael Kisel permalink
    December 17, 2021 4:09 pm


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