It has been a long time since I wrote a ghost story, but the idea came to me this morning and wouldn’t go away until I’d written it. Let me know what you think.
Alfie was not sleeping. It didn’t matter, not really. If his Mum came in and saw that he wasn’t sleeping, she’d be cross, but that wouldn’t happen. She was sleeping. It didn’t matter because it was only a few minutes before Alfie would be woken up by the lift anyway. It was impossible, it could not happen, and yet Alfie had been woken up by the lift every night since they’d moved there. He wasn’t even surprised anymore. Startled, maybe. If he managed to drop off a little before, if he forgot the time and thought the night had passed without it happening… Well he was shaken awake anyway. By the grinding noise and the vibrations in the walls as it climbed the three floors of the house. Then it clanged to a stop and the gate opened. That was impossible too.
“It’s just your imagination,” his Mum said. She had said that nearly two months ago when they first moved in. He had been captivated by the old lift from the minute he saw it. He had found it on the first day, locked away on the third floor. It was old, like the lifts you saw on old films. Teenagers in red suits pulled levers and rode them up and down all day. The lever was in there, Alfie could see it through the cage, it looked like it was made of gold. And old red carpet lined the floor. “This used to be a dancehall,” said Mum as they stood on the ground floor. “Up above was a fancy club.”
“What is it now?” asked Alfie.
“Just a couple of houses, old rooms split down the middle.” And that was true, mostly it was just like their old house except all the rooms were somewhere else, and on the top floor there was the lift. And it was locked away.
It felt colder in his bedroom, just thinking about it. He hadn’t drawn his curtains, he let the moonlight keep him awake so he was ready for it. It was locked up for safety, they had said. If it wasn’t, anyone could climb in. The lift didn’t work anymore, which meant nobody came to fix it anymore, and if nobody came to fix it then you couldn’t be sure it was safe. So you couldn’t ride it. Alfie didn’t mind, the first day he just looked at it, taking in all the details.
The first night, he heard it. A little after midnight according to his little clock, the screeching and groaning of the lift came from down the corridor. It was unmistakable, and he went out to see it. By the time he got there, it was like nothing had happened. He wanted to go tell his Mum and Dad, but he wasn’t supposed to be out of bed. He waited until morning to ask them who was in the lift.
Alfie pulled the covers in around his neck. He knew the lift was coming soon, and it always felt colder when it did. They told him it was just his imagination, that he didn’t even know what an old lift like that sounded like. For the first few days he insisted, but they didn’t like to hear it. They started fighting among themselves, said things were no better here, and so Alfie stopped telling them. He felt like he’d been waiting all night, and it couldn’t be long now, but Alfie still wondered if perhaps he had imagined it all. Nothing really felt real at that time of night, perhaps he had never heard it. But he was wrong, because he could hear the lift again now.
The noise started two floors down, even though the lift was on the third floor when he had gone to bed. It started quietly at first, if he hadn’t been awake, he might not had heard it. Like someone rattling in the kitchen. Then the squeal started, and Alfie wanted to retreat under the blankets. He shouldn’t be scared, he told himself, after all the lift had done the same thing every night and he always been safe. He had stayed up for a reason, he knew that, he needed to be brave. And so, through the din of the lift, Alfie stuck a bare foot out of the bed. His other foot followed, and before he knew what he was doing he had left his room.
He paced slowly along the corridor, he daren’t wake his parents up. They were in the room next to his, he could see a sliver of light escaping from their door. As he got closer he could hear voices, they must have fallen asleep with the TV on again. They were always doing that, or maybe they were awake, but that was impossible because the sound of the old lift was so loud now that it even hurt Alfie’s ears a little bit.
He missed that first day when the lift was exciting and fun. He had sat in the corridor outside for the whole day, and when they’d brought out the first of his boxes to unpack, he’d done it right there by the gate. The box had all his most important things. His comics, his Star Wars guys and the best toy cars. He took out one of the cars, the little Ferrari with the yellow spoiler and raced it across the bars of the gate. A sudden crash meant disaster for the driver, however, when he lost control of the car and it flew into the lift. The gate was not to be opened, Dad didn’t even think he had a key, and so the little Ferrari had sat in there ever since. Each night he was sure the screeching, moaning lift was gloating about it.
He was passed the big bedroom door now. The lift was only a floor beneath them. It worked its way up slowly, the screeching and grinding of machinery was worse than ever and he had to cover both his ears to keep moving forward. He hated the lift. He hadn’t slept in weeks because of it. He would do anything. He’d feed it a thousand cars if he thought it would just shut up for one night. It would be over soon, but he had to see it. All he wanted to do was scream, to take his hands from his ears and run back to bed. To hide under the covers. But that wouldn’t achieve anything.
Just a few steps until he turned the corner. His heart was thumping a mile a minute, he could feel it in his chest and hear it through the palms of his hands. It was loud, but not as loud as the noise. He thought he would never hear anything again, worse still the sound didn’t seem to be in his ears anymore, but bouncing around inside his head. He was forgetting things, it was so loud he couldn’t he remember why he was walking towards it anymore. And then he was at the corner. The lift was about to reach him, then he would hear the gate rattle open and see the occupant. He didn’t know what he would do then. But it was better than carrying on like this, better than pretending everything would be ok for another day.
He put the last of his strength to his legs, dropped his hands so the noise bombarded his ears and he lunged around the corner. The noise was gone, the pain was gone, all sensation of the lift was gone so completely he couldn’t be sure it had ever been there. And he made a noise of his own. Not the scream he had been holding back, but the first strained sob of a real cry. It was over as soon as it began but he felt like he’d cried all night. He stared at the locked cage of the old lift on the top floor.
It was there just as it had always been, illuminated by the moonlight through the slats of the blind. He went over to the landing window and pulled the cord, nightime lights flooded in and brought out all the fine metal details of the lift’s workings. The fittings that seemed so warm and golden in the day looked a hard, cold green at night. He couldn’t bare to look at it. He closed his eyes and tried to hear the noise again, but it was gone so far he couldn’t even remember it. Still, he knew it would be back at the same time tomorrow night, and the night after that, and on and on forever.
And he couldn’t do anything about it except go back to bed. He turned his back on the lift, and the cold feeling fell on him like the noise knew it had defeated him. He tiptoed back along the carpet, and stood on something. He held his mouth closed and clutched his foot, and felt the car. The little red Ferrari with the yellow spoiler, no more than three feet from the cage. He picked it up, held it in his hands. The die cast metal was warm, like someone had been playing with it.