Acrophobia and Claustrophobia
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Rhy (acrophobic) and Alexei (claustrophobic) get stuck in an elevator with a transparent window while visiting their new employer's apartment
ristina;color:#000080;">Acrophobia and Claustrophobia
Rhy checked his new employer’s address as he and his roommate neared the apartment complex she lived in.
“Where should we park?” Alexei asked as he turned into the parking lot.
“Right there looks good.” Rhy indicated a spot near the front door. Alexei nodded and pulled into the space. He shut the engine off and got out of the car, waiting for Rhy to join him.
“Which apartment does she live in?” Alexei asked, brushing his wavy brown hair out of his face and leaning over Rhy’s shoulder to see the paper. His mother had recommended them to her friend, Anne Miller, after discovering she needed someone to do a few chores for her for two weeks. The college students had volunteered their services and they’d be watching the woman’s cats, watering her plants, and taking care of her apartment while she was in England with her sister.
“817,” Rhy replied, frowning at the number. Reaching the eighth floor would involve taking the stairs of an elevator. He hated staircases since they tended to have windows. And when he was on a high floor, he didn’t want to see the far away ground. Alexei was the exact opposite. He was claustrophobic and hated elevators with the same intensity Rhy reserved for heights.
“High up,” Alexei commented, opening the door and holding it for him.
“Yeah. We should take the el-”
“Stairs,” his roommate interrupted. “We’re young and healthy. We can easily climb up eight flights of stairs. Besides, it’s good exercise.”
“Can’t we just take the elevator?” Rhy sighed.
“No,” Alexei replied cheerfully. He grabbed Rhy’s wrist and pulled him towards the stairs before he could protest again. Reluctantly, he followed his roommate but recoiled as he saw a window. If there was one here there would be more on the other staircases.
“I’ll just take the elevator and meet you there.” He turned away but Alexei seized his hand and yanked him back towards the stairs.
“No you don’t. I’m not climbing up eight flights of stairs all by myself. Think of how boring that would be,” he said, blue eyes pleading for Rhy to come with him.
“You’re nineteen years old. I think you can handle being alone for awhile.”
“How about we make a deal. If you go up the stairs with me, I’ll take the elevator with you the next time we leave. Alright?”
Rhy considered it. Alexei had done a lot for him in the months they’d known each other. If he refused now, he’d feel guilty later. “Deal,” he sighed, shaking on it before pulling his hand back.
* * *
Eight flights of stairs later, Rhy’s nerves were shattered and he wished he’d never made the bargain. Each stairwell had had an enormous window. Each window had shown the nasty drop to the ground. Alexei had had to forcibly drag the acrophobic up the last two flights when he’d tried to turn back.
“There, Rhy. We made it,” his friend said, sounding pleased as he pulled Rhy up the last step.
“This would have been so much easier if we’d taken the elevator,” he grumbled, starting down the hallway.
“Maybe. But no matter how horrible it is, we’ll take the elevator on the way back.”
Rhy didn’t point out that they would have to use it anyway. He refused to carry their art supplies, luggage, and entertainment up eight flights of stairs. He said nothing though and stopped in front of 817.
He knocked loudly. “Mrs. Miller? It’s Rhy and Alexei.”
“I’ll be there in a minute.” The door opened and their employer, a dark-haired woman in her late forties, stepped back to let them enter. Her apartment was about the same size as their two bedroom/one bath, but her kitchen and living room were larger.
“Hello,” she said warmly, moving a suitcase out of the way. “I was starting to wonder if you two were going to show up before I left.”
“That’s my fault. I made him use the stairs since elevators drive me crazy,” Alexei apologized.
“Oh, I understand. My niece is claustrophobic too,” Mrs. Miller replied. “Could you two stop by Meijer and pick up some things for Cloud and Roxas? I would have bought them myself but I ran out of time. There’s a list on the counter.”
“Sure,” Rhy replied.
“Why don’t you get them some catnip too. I’m sure they’d like a treat.” She handed him a few bills.
“I’m sure they would,” he agreed, glancing down as a white cat – Cloud – brushed against his legs. Roxas – an orange tabby – jumped onto a chair and meowed, eyeing the two strangers who’d invaded his home.
“Thank you for watching the cats while I’m gone,” Mrs. Miller said gratefully.
“You’re welcome. Thanks for letting us stay here while our building gets remodeled,” Alexei added.
“It’ll be nice for the cats to have some company while I’m gone. I’ll give you a call once I board my flight, and when I’m on the way home. Here’s the key,” she gave it to Rhy. “If you get locked out, just go to the front desk and explain the situation. They’ll give you a spare.”
“I’ll try not to lose the key.”
“Have a safe trip and enjoy yourself,” Alexei said. Mrs. Miller thanked him and they helped carry her luggage down the hallway and towards the elevator.
“Do you need any help getting this outside?” Rhy asked.
“Oh, no thank you. I can manage two suitcases and a carryon,” the woman replied as she hit the down arrow. She picked up her luggage and entered the elevator, setting a suitcase down to wave goodbye.
Once the elevator had taken her out of sight, Alexei turned to his friend. “Want to get the cat stuff now?”
“Sure,” Rhy agreed. He unlocked the door and went back inside to grab the list.
“Then we can get Chinese for dinner.”
The acrophobic nodded absently and locked the door behind him. He returned to the elevator and pressed the down arrow, giving Alexei a sharp look as he glanced at a sign pointing towards the stairs. “You promised,” he warned.
“I know, I know. I’m going to keep it,” his roommate replied. He still looked nervous though and acted like he was walking towards the guillotine as the doors opened. Rhy followed him, stiffening as he caught sight of the transparent back wall.
“What… what is this?” he asked, backing up and staring at the Plexiglas in alarm. Instead of revealing the elevator shaft it had a similar view to the windows in the stairwell.
Alexei grinned and grabbed his hand, dragging him into the elevator. “Oh relax. If I can deal with my claustrophobia, you can deal with your acrophobia.”
“But this is different!” Rhy protested, trying to escape. He’d thought the elevator would spare him from his acrophobia but it was just going to make it worse.
His roommate hit floor one and let him go. “Calm down. Maybe this is the only floor with a-” he stopped as the elevator slid down the shaft, revealing more windows with a perfect view of the ground. Rhy blanched and shut his eyes. “…window.”
“Let’s just get off at the seventh floor and take the stairs the rest of the way.”
“And this comes from the one who complained about taking eight flights of stairs to get here in the first place,” Alexei muttered, coming up to him. “Maybe this will help.” Curious, Rhy opened his eyes and the other boy raked his fingers through his hair, pulling his bangs into his green eyes so the world was veiled by a curtain of silver. He must have been an amusing sight since Alexei laughed. “Wow. You look like an emo.”
“Very funny,” Rhy replied crossly, raising a hand to flip his hair out of his face.
Alexei stopped him. “I know it’s a pain, but you won’t be so jumpy if you can’t see outside. It’s too bad you’re not wearing a sweatshirt. You could just pull the hood over your face. But who wears sweatshirts in June?”
“Not many,” Rhy replied. His friend was right. Now that he could barely see, he felt calmer. Alexei was starting to get twitchy though. He always thought he could handle his claustrophobia but ended up having a panic attack every time.
“So what all is on that list?” Alexei asked.
Rhy dug the paper out of his pocket and pushed his hair out of his eyes so he could read. “The orange bag of Iams cat food, Fresh Step litter, toy mice, and a bag of catnip.”
“Okay. We’ll go to Meijer first, then get Chinese. Once we’ve taken care of all that, we’ll unload my car and get settled in. Maybe watch a movie or play some games after.”
“Sure.” Rhy pocketed the paper again and ducked his head as his gaze strayed towards the awful window. He started to pull his bangs back down but stopped as a hand covered his eyes.
“There. How about we just do this?” Alexei suggested.
“I figured it would be. Emo hair is a pain,” his roommate chuckled. “We’re on the fifth floor now. Almost halfway done.”
“Good,” Rhy muttered.
* * *
Alexei kept his hand over his roommate’s eyes, focusing on the silver-haired figure in front of him in an attempt to ignore his surroundings. He’d tried to act normal for Rhy’s sake but now he felt like the walls were closing in on them.
“Alexei, are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” he lied.
“You sound like you’re about to start hyperventilating.”
He became aware of how rapidly he was breathing and looked down at his blue converses to distract himself. He forced himself to breathe slowly and deeply. The walls were not sliding towards him and Rhy. It was just the claustrophobia putting images in his head.
Alexei abruptly stumbled against his roommate as the elevator rocked. Both of them went crashing to the floor in a tangle of limbs. Rhy extricated himself first, sitting up and looking alarmed. “What was that?” he asked.
“I…” the nineteen-year-old trailed off as he noticed the elevator had stopped moving. “No,” he whispered. He scrambled to his feet and bolted over to the doors. The lights on the button pad had all dimmed except for a faintly lit five. “Rhy… I think we’re stuck somewhere between the fifth and fourth floor.”
“What?” Rhy echoed, green eyes widening.
“I don’t know how. The elevator worked fine for Mrs. Miller,” Alexei said, sitting down next to his roommate. Was it just his imagination or did the walls look a few inches closer than they had before?
Rhy reached into his pocket and took out his phone. “We should call management,” he said, trying to act calm.
“We don’t know the number,” Alexei pointed out. “Call Mrs. Miller and get it from her.”
“Alright.” Rhy punched in the number and held the phone to his ear, waiting for the woman to pick up. “Hello. It’s Rhy. Could you give me the phone number for management? The elevator’s stuck between floors. Yes, Alexei’s here with me. We aren’t injured; all it did was knock us down.” He was quiet for a few moments before moving the phone. “Type in the number,” he said.
Alexei took out his cell phone and punched in the number Rhy recited. He checked to make sure he had the correct digits as his roommate repeated the number twice for Mrs. Miller. “Thank you. Okay, I’ll call you once we’re out.” Rhy hung up and tucked the phone away.
The blue-eyed teenager pressed call and explained the problem to the manager, trying not to start hyperventilating. Panicking wouldn’t get them out of here any sooner.
He hung up when the other man did and glanced at his friend. “He’s sending a repairman to fix the elevator.”
“How soon can they be here?” Rhy asked, looking tense.
“…About twenty minutes,” Alexei admitted, shuddering slightly.
Rhy flinched. “We’ll just have to find a way to distract ourselves from our phobias,” he said, looking at the floor.
“How are we supposed to do that?” the nineteen-year-old grumbled, trying not to look at the walls. It was easy for Rhy to say that. All he had to do was avoid looking at the window. It was different for him. He knew he was trapped in a small, confined area. He shut his eyes to try to make a difference, but it was worse. He kept seeing the walls sliding towards him and Rhy.
“The walls are not closing in on you. The walls are not closing in on you,” he chanted. His imagination didn’t agree and his eyes snapped open. The walls hadn’t moved but that could just be an illusion too…
Without warning, Alexei leaned over and threw his arms around Rhy’s waist. He buried his face into his startled roommate’s shoulder, inhaling shakily. Rhy was not the most comfortable person to hug. He was all bones and angles, but Alexei didn’t care.
Rhy stiffened and the teenager clutched him tighter as he started to pull away. Rhy didn’t mind light contact but this was going too far into his personal space bubble. Normally, Alexei would move away once he knew his friend was deeply uncomfortable, but not now. His proximity to Rhy was the only thing keeping him sane.
He pressed his face deeper into his friend’s shoulder, listening to his heartbeat and his breathing. This close to Rhy, he couldn’t see the walls around him –even in his mind’s eye – and he could pretend they weren’t trapped in a box.
“Alexei, let go of me,” the other boy said sharply, trying to twist out of his grasp.
“Because if I let go of you I won’t be able to distract myself and I’ll see the walls, and I’ll start panicking since I’m going to think they’re closing in on us and they’ll keep coming closer and closer until they crush us, and we’ll never get out of this elevator and we’ll always be known as the college kids who were too lazy to take the stairs so they got stuck in an elevator and died!”
“Breathe, Alexei,” Rhy said, awkwardly patting his back. “You’re going to hyperventilate.”
Alexei took several deep breaths, surprised he’d managed to talk that long in one breath. He was even more surprised that Rhy had understood what he was saying. “Our English professor would have a fit,” he said, laughing nervously.
“I’m sure she would. That was quite the run-on sentence.”
Alexei laughed shakily. “Yeah… are the heights still bothering you?”
“You’re distracting me.”
“You did suggest we find a way to distract ourselves from our phobias,” Alexei reminded.
“It’d be better if your method didn’t involve latching onto me. And could you loosen your grip? You’re holding me so tight it’s hard to breathe.”
“Sorry,” Alexei replied, loosening his death grip. He shifted a little and turned his face so Rhy’s shoulder wasn’t jabbing into his cheek. “You’re so bony! I feel like I’m hugging a skeleton.”
Rhy made an annoyed sound. “If you’re going to complain then let go of me.”
“I’m just saying you need to eat more.”
Alexei felt him draw breath to reply, but paused as they heard movement from above. He released his roommate and glanced up, noticing a small door at the top of the elevator open.
A balding repairman in blue coveralls leaned over. “Are you two alright?”
“We’re not injured,” Alexei replied. Mentally, they were still shaken at being stuck with their mutual phobias for the past half hour.
“That’s good. Now, I just need you two to back up so I don’t hit you with my ladder.” The teenagers got to their feet and backed away. The repairman then heaved a silver ladder into the elevator, steadying the top against the entryway. “I need one of you to hold the base for me while the other climbs up.
“You should go first,” Alexei told Rhy, going over to steady the ladder. He wanted desperately to get out of here but felt his friend deserved to escape first after being treated like a living teddy bear.
Rhy nodded and started climbing up the ladder. The repairman helped him out once he reached the top and glanced at Alexei. “Be careful climbing up, kid. Don’t try to rush it.”
“Okay,” the teenager replied. He forced himself to climb up slowly, ignoring his body’s desire to sprint up the ladder and get as far away from the elevator as he could. He breathed a sigh of relief as the repairman grasped his wrists and pulled him out. He stood, glancing around and studying the nest of cables and wires snaking all along the walls. One of the cables seemed to have snapped and it led to a door far above his head. He assumed it entrance to the fifth floor and his heart started pounding again. What if the repairman couldn’t get him and Rhy out of here? How much longer could he stand to be trapped in this horrible, closed-in shaft?
Rhy. He spun around, feeling guilty that his first concern had been escape rather than his roommate’s well-being.
Rhy was standing off to the side. His face was paler than his hair and the source of the problem was the large window showing the nasty drop to the ground five stories below. He cringed and a stab of pity tore through Alexei. This apartment was a terrible place for an acrophobic to live.
“Don’t look at it,” he said, covering Rhy’s eyes. Fortunately their lodgings were only temporary.
“Are you sure you two are alright?” the repairman asked, casting them a concerned look.
“We’ll feel better once we get out of here. He’s claustrophobic and I’m acrophobic,” Rhy said, removing Alexei’s hand and giving him a stern look. “Calm down. The walls are not closing in on you and you are not allowed to treat me like a teddy bear again if you start panicking.”
The repairman winced in sympathy. “I’m sorry. This must have been a miserable experience for you two,” he said, pulling the ladder up and carrying it over to them. He leaned it against the wall so the top brushed against the bottom of the sliding door. “I’ll hold the base of the ladder while you climb up. The first person out will have to hold onto the top and help your friend get out of the shaft. Once you two are out, I’ll start fixing this.”
“I’ll go last,” Rhy volunteered.
Alexei clambered up the ladder and breathed a sigh of relief as he escaped out into the hallway. Some of the tension left his muscles as he took in the open space around him, but he’d only be able to fully relax once he and Rhy were outside.
He turned back to the elevator shaft. “Your turn, Rhy,” he said, leaning over and gripping the top part of the ladder. His friend put his foot on the last rung and started up, tension etched into his features. “Don’t look down. Concentrate on me and keep climbing,” he instructed. He stretched out his hand once Rhy was close enough. The other boy took it and Alexei pulled him out of the shaft.
Immediately, they backed away from the elevator as if it were a poisonous snake.
“You two okay up there?” the repairman called.
“We’re much better,” Rhy replied.
“Good. One of the cables came loose… just need to tighten it and this elevator will be good as new. I’m not sure how it could have happened. Usually a weight issue causes problems with the cables, but there’s no way you two could have been responsible. Anyway, the next time you want to use the elevator it’ll work fine.”
Alexei met Rhy’s eyes, positive that their faces were identical expressions of alarm. He wasn’t sure about him, but there was no way in hell that he would set foot in that death trap ever again.
“We’ll just take the stairs,” Rhy said, looking pale.
The nineteen-year-old forced a smile. “That’s what I tried to tell you the first time.”
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