Claustrophobia (A Fear of being closed in)


The gray dust of the building slowly crept within the crack of the elevator door. The air was starting to become heavy and the four people who were trapped in the elevator were feeling various emotions. One slightly heavy-set woman was in a corner on her bended knees silently praying; a man, who looked like an investor, leaned calmly against a panel and, occasionally pushed a button, hoping that this would solve the problem; another

woman, in her mid-thirties, stood away from the other occupants in the elevator, trying to see if she could get an answer on her cell phone; the final occupant of the elevator, one Alexander Green, a young man of 26, with green eyes and straw-colored hair, stood stiffly apart from the other people with his eyes closed. He had come to New York City from a small town in Kansas. He had grown up on a farm which was dedicated mostly to growing wheat. As much as he loved his family, he did not feel that his destiny was to continue the family tradition, and so, when he was 17 years old, he decided to join the Drama Club. The director of the club, Miss Nelson, told him that he had great potential and that he should get a job, save his money and go to New York City or Los Angeles, and try to get noticed. Alexander dreamed more of going to New York City, since it seemed to hold the most promise for him, but because of his father’s objections, Alexander put his dream on hold. He managed to get a job at the local gas station in an effort to save money to make his dream a reality. Unfortunately, his big opportunity to get out of the town came about at his father’s sudden death from a heart attack. Alexander’s mother only asked him to stay long enough to make sure that she and Alexander’s two sisters were cared for by their father’s will. When all of the paperwork was settled to the family’s relief, Alexander packed his two suitcases, kissed his mother and sisters good-bye and got on board the Greyhound bus to New York City.

When he finally arrived in New York City, Alexander got off of the bus, caught a cab and went to the address of a friend that Miss Nelson had given him. During the ride over, Alexander sat in the taxi staring at all of the tall buildings and the swarm of people and vehicles everywhere. He felt as if he had been suddenly dropped into a giant pot of stew. For a while, the swirling mass of people and vehicles frightened him. He had never imagined anything like this in Kansas. Eventually, he would get use to it, but for now he pushed the fear to the back of his mind. The taxi stopped and he saw that the building that he had been dropped off in front of had a stoop and a red brick facade. He went up the steps, rang the doorbell, and waited until a middle-aged woman with sandy hair peeked out from behind the door.

“Yes, what do you want?”

“Hello, my name is Alexander Green and I…”

“I don’t need any of what ever you’re selling.”

“No, you don’t understand. I have a recommendation from Miss Alma Nelson. I’m here to see Miss Doris Clover about a room.”

“Alma? You know Alma Nelson?”

“Yes, I was a drama student of hers. Are you Miss Clover?”

“Yes, yes I am. What did you say your name was?”

“Alexander Green, ma’am.”

“Oh, well Alexander Green, come in.”

Alexander and Doris got along fine. She had a spare bedroom to rent and the price, as far as Alexander was concerned, was reasonable. Miss Nelson had recommended Doris Clover to Alexander because they had had some minor roles in some plays together. Even though it had been awhile since Doris had been in a play, she still managed to stay friends with other actors and directors she had worked with. Of course, Alexander was grateful for her help, and was overjoyed when she told him that she had arranged for him to go on an audition for his favorite playwright, Harold Briston. He made sure, the night before, of knowing the most direct route to the theater, laid out a stylish outfit for the audition, and set his alarm clock so he would not oversleep. He had nothing to worry about and managed to get to the theater with fifteen minutes to spare. He used the time to calm his mind and his nerves and study some lines that he had prepared, with Doris’ help. By the time that his name was called, he was relaxed and well-prepared. He went out onto the stage, answered the few questions that he was asked, and did his lines without any mistakes. When he had finished the scene, he stood waiting for Harold Briston’s decision. Instead, he received a “very nice” from the great man and exited the stage. He waited a minute backstage and took a deep breathe and left the theater. He grabbed a taxi back to his apartment and waited by the phone hoping to receive the call telling him that they wanted him to come back for a second try-out. He received the call-back the next day.

He arrived at the theater the next morning on time. He had read the lines that the director had messaged him and felt ready to go, confident about getting the part. Any fears that he might have had instantly vanished when he heard his name called. By the end of his audition, Alexander knew that he had nailed the character. After the director had had a discussion with the producer, it was decided. Alexander got the part. When Alexander returned to his apartment and told Doris that he had gotten the part, she was excited and impressed with him. She managed to sit him down and told him how rare it was that a first time actor got a role on his first audition and that he should not let it go to his head. Alexander assured her that he would not let it change him and that he was very grateful for her help in his getting the audition in the first place. The only thing that he had to do before being allowed to fulfill his commitment was to get an agent. Doris gave him the names and addresses of a couple of good agents and told him that he should go talk to them. She suggested that he call first and make appointments as opposed to just walking in cold. Alexander agreed and called the offices of the two agents that Doris gave him. With this taken care of, Alexander decided that he would take Doris out for dinner that night in celebration.

The next morning, Alexander went to his meeting with Duncan Aldwyn and Associates. He was directed by the secretary to have a seat while she let Mr. Aldwyn know that he was there. He had been waiting five minutes when the secretary’s phone rang and she rose to escort him into Mr. Aldwyn’s office. When he walked into the office, he was impressed with the size and modernity of the room. At the mahogany desk, rose a man who was at least three inches taller, 15 years older, and fitter than Alexander had expected. He shook Mr. Aldwyn’s hand and sat down in the seat that was offered to him.

“So, if I understand your situation correctly, you have been offered a part in the new Harold Briston production. May I ask why you have applied with our firm, Mr. Green?”

“Yes sir. My landlady, Ms Doris Clover, recommended me to you.”

“Doris Clover? Oh my, I haven’t heard from her in at least…five years. You say that she is now your landlady? How amazing! Be sure to give her my regards. Now, to business. First off, do you have an Equity card?”

“No sir, I’m afraid that I don’t.”

“Well, if you expect to keep your role in this play of Mr. Briston’s, you will definitely need an Equity card. Did you bring your list of credits?”

“Yes sir. Here they are.”

Mr. Aldwyn looked over the two pages that Alexander had handed to him. At one point, one of the man’s eyebrows lifted slightly, but he still did not say a word. When he had finished reading the resume, Aldwyn returned them to Alexander, looked at him for a minute, then pressed a button on his intercom.

“Callista, could you call Jerry and have him come to my office?”

“Right away, sir.”

After a few minutes, a man with red hair and a designer black suit entered the office. He stood alongside Alexander and said,

“You wished to see me, sir?”

“Yes, Jerry. It seems that we are taking on a new client. Mr. Alexander Green, this is our lawyer, Jerry Harriman. He will go over the terms of your contract with you and set you up with your Equity card. It was a pleasure meeting you Mr. Green.” With this said, Alexander rose from his seat and followed the lawyer out of the office.

“When are you scheduled to start the play?”

“Mr. Briston told me that rehearsals will begin next Monday.”

“Hmmm, that is cutting it close, but not entirely impossible.”

An hour later, Alexander Green, agentless actor, was signed up with an agent. The terms of the contract were not exactly fantastic, but Alexander had not expected to be raking in the dough since this would be a minor part in a play, and he would be getting his Equity card; he had mentioned that back home, he had had a minor speaking role in a commercial for a local car dealer. Despite his excitement, he had remembered to call off the other appointment as a courtesy. Everything seemed to be going Alexander Green’s way.

On Monday, when Alexander arrived at the theater to get set up in makeup and costume, he was walking backstage, looking for the costume designer, and ran into a woman who turned out to be the script girl. She had just been in Harold Briston’s dressing room taking down notes for changes in the script. When they collided, pages went flying everywhere but Alexander was quick to regain his composure and bent down to help the girl pick them up. After organizing the pages, the woman thanked Alexander and left. He didn’t get her name because she seemed to be the quiet type and, despite her having a pretty face, Alexander thought that she could afford to lose twenty pounds. Alexander soon found the costumer and forgot all about the script girl. Once he was in costume and makeup, he had to present himself to Briston for approval. Fortunately, Briston approved of everything and he was told that he should wait by the stage where Briston would appear to play the scene that Alexander had with him. The rehearsal went off without a hitch and Alexander was given the rest of the day off.

With the rest of the day off, Alexander decided that he would get in some sightseeing. He had been in New York City for a month and had not really gotten to know the city. The first place that he decided that he would go to was the Empire State Building. He went to the famous landmark, waited in line for the elevator, and when it finally arrived, he got in. The elevator had at least fifteen people in it and when it got halfway up, he realized that he would have to get off and take another elevator to the top. When the elevator finally got to the top, Alexander got out, walked over to the safety cage which prevented people from jumping, and looked out over the concrete forest which he now called home. He went over to one of the telescopes, put in his coins, and tried to find the theater. Unfortunately, the theater was not within sight and, after walking around for a while, he went back to take the elevator down. On the second elevator, the car was only carrying four people. The light which indicated the floors had just lit up 35 when there was a huge jolt and the lights in the car flickered. One of the women screamed. The man who dressed like he worked for an investment company, kept pressing the button thinking that this would help. The emergency lights came on and a voice was heard coming from the grill, trying to reassure the people who were trapped that help was on the way. Five minutes had passed and the first smell of smoke came into the car.

When Alexander saw the first tendril of smoke coming into the car, he started shaking. He could not believe that with all of the good things happening in his life, that he would die in a burning elevator. He closed his eyes and thought back to his life in Kansas and how he had got his wish to be in New York City. Now, all he wanted was to be back in his warm bed at his family’s farm and away from this hellish inferno that seemed to grow smaller and smaller as the seconds ticked away. Suddenly, there was a crush as the grate at the top of the car fell to the floor. Alexander and the others looked up and saw a black smudged face looking down at them.

“Don’t panic, everyone! The fire is out and we will soon have the doors open.” The fireman’s face then disappeared and, thanks to the open grate, the smoke went with it. There was a sudden scrapping metallic sound and the elevator lights came back on. A minute later, the elevator doors opened and the frightened people made their way quickly out of that unpredictable machine. The firemen who had rescued them, asked them if they needed any medical attention and then led them down the stairs to the bottom of the building. None of the rescued people were willing to get into another elevator.

After this adventure, Alexander decided that he had had enough sightseeing for the day. He caught a taxi and went home. Doris asked him about the smoke smudges on his face and, not realizing that they were there, he went into the bathroom and washed them off. When he was finished, he told Doris what had happened and she had him sit down at the kitchen table while she made him a cup of camomile tea. Alexander tried to assure Doris that he was alright, but she would have none of it. After finishing his tea, Alexander told Doris that he was going to his room to take a nap. She told him that she would wake him up for dinner.

Alexander closed his bedroom door, got out of his sooty clothes, and went and took a shower. Once he was dried off, he put on his pajamas and laid down on his bed. He was soon fast asleep, but his sleep was not uneventful. In his dream, Alexander found himself on the stage of the theater, but all of the lights were off. The only thing that let him know that he was in the theater was the lit EXIT lights. Alexander called out to see if there were any other people in the darkened theater. He heard no one. But, he did smell something. He quickly turned his head around, looking to see if he could find where the smoke was originating from but he didn’t see anything. At that moment, Alexander decided that the best thing that he could do was to get off the stage and head for one of the EXITs. He started to panic when he realized that he couldn’t move his feet. It was like he was caught in drying cement but he couldn’t get out. The smoke began to get thicker and he started choking. He awkwardly fell to the stage floor hoping to find some fresh air. The next thing he knew, he was being shaken by the script girl telling him to get up. Alexander opened his eyes and there was Doris, shaking him and telling him to get up. He jumped off of the bed and said, “Where’s the fire?”

“What fire? You must have been having a nightmare. Now, c’mon, dinner’s ready”.

Alexander went over to his closet and put on a sweater and jeans and joined Doris for dinner. As they ate, Alexander told her about his nightmare. Doris told him that it wasn’t surprising considering what he had been through, but he would get over it soon enough. Alexander wasn’t so sure.

The next morning, Alexander went to the theater trying not to remember his terrifying experience. When he got inside, the first person to meet him was the script girl. Only saying “New scene” to him and handing him three pages, she left. Alexander took the pages and sat down in one of the seats. When he read the scene, he started to sweat. It was a scene with him and one of the actresses being trapped in a burning elevator! His hands started to violently shake and then he stood up to see if he could get it changed and he fell to the floor. The next thing he knew was the script girl was sprinkling water on his face to waken him.

“What happened?”

“I guess you fainted. I found you laying in the aisle and got some water to revive you. Are you alright?”

“Ah, yes and no. This scene, who requested the change?”

“Mr. Briston did, of course.”

“But why?”

“He said that he read about something similar in the newspaper and thought that it would liven up the scene.”

“But I was in that elevator in the Empire State Building! I have to talk to him and try to get him to change his mind. Where is he?”

“He’s in his dressing room, but I doubt that he will change it.”

“I have to try to change his mind.” Alexander got up from the floor and headed for Briston’s dressing room with the script girl in tow. The door was closed, so Alexander knocked and called out Briston’s name. The door finally opened and Briston stood there, looked Alexander up and down and said, “Yes? What is it?”

“I’m sorry to interrupt you, Mr. Briston, but I just received the new pages and I need to talk to you about them.”

Briston, with a touch of annoyance in his voice, said, “What about it?”

Alexander took a deep breathe and said, “I was one of those people trapped in that elevator yesterday, and I was hoping that you might consider changing the scene. I don’t know if I would feel comfortable in that scene.”

“Mr. Green is it? Yes, well, I happen to like it and I say what stays and what goes. If you feel that you would be unable to perform the scene, I will be more than willing to find someone to replace you. Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir. Perfectly.”

“Good. Now leave me alone. We shall rehearse the scene in twenty minutes.”

Briston closed the door and Alexander’s thoughts tumbled all around. He went back to the theater seats and sat down. The script girl followed behind him and said, “I told you”. Alexander looked at her and said, “So you did.”

“Alright, people, let’s get set up. I need Mr. Green and Ms. Little on stage.”

Alexander walked up on the stage and saw the prop elevator. He thought to himself, “At least it won’t be closed off; he’ll need to leave the doors to stay open so the audience can see us.”

“Check the cameras and the monitor!” Briston called out.

“Cameras? Monitor? What is he talking about?” Alexander asked his co-star.

“Didn’t you know? Briston is experimenting to see if this play could be made into a movie, so he’s setting it up as if this were a film shoot.”

“But, but, that would mean that we would actually be enclosed in this elevator. Is that what you’re telling me?”

“Yes.”

And at that instance, the elevator door closed and the two actors smelled smoke. Ms. Little spoke her first line but when she turned around for Alexander’s line, she gasped. Alexander was lying in the corner in a fetal position, muttering “I can’t. I can’t.”

Alexander returned to the farm in Kansas. After the scene he created at the theater, Harold Briston fired him. Alexander never went back to his agent to get his Equity Card.

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