Alex Greer was ready for a change. His job in Baltimore was directionless and his relationships were stale and more and more he felt himself pulled back to Providence, where everything had been fresh and everyone had been alive with passionate intention. On slow afternoons, Alex looked up maps of old streets he half remembered. He perused job listings, applied to a few. He didn’t seriously consider that he might get an offer until he got one, and then it was all scrambling and panic. He was sixty miles out from Rhode Island with a U-Haul full of furniture before he found an apartment ad that seemed all right. Nine hundred square feet on a street he thought he could remember, a nice street, with personable old buildings and a lot of brick.
The ad was completely misleading, and the building manager seemed to know it. The apartment was a studio, barely five hundred square feet. “New floor,” the building manager said as they stepped inside. “New moldings.”
“This is small,” said Alex.
“Oh no,” said the building manager. “No, it’s big.”
“It’s not. Look at it.”
She looked. An apology flickered in her expression, but she didn’t say anything. She looked and looked. She was an older woman, and small, and she was wearing a huge, gauzy scarf, like something from another century. It would have taken a lot of work for Alex to be mad at her, and he was exhausted.
“I can see how it would seem small,” she said.
“But there’s more.”
The building manager walked Alex to the near corner of the east wall. She gestured, fingers together, to a gap between the east wall and the south wall that stretched from the floor to the ceiling and couldn’t have been more than six inches wide. Alex sighed. The building manager continued to gesture, stabbing toward the gap until Alex came over to look at it more closely.
The gap was, in fact, a corridor maybe twenty-five feet long and never wider than about six inches. It had no lights, and so after the first few feet it was dim, nearly dark at the halfway point. At the far end, it opened into another room, only a sliver of which was visible. Alex could see sunlight on a hardwood floor. He leaned into the corridor. His ears brushed the walls. The sharp smell of fresh paint tickled his brain. “How do I get over there?”
“However you like.”
“Is there another door, or—?”
“No. Just this hallway.”
Alex furrowed. “This isn’t a hallway. You can walk through a hallway.”
“It connects two rooms. Look at it. It looks like a hallway.”
“But how am I supposed to get through?”
“You’re not supposed to. You can do it or you can not do it. Whatever you like. Personally, I think it’s nice to have a little extra space, even if you don’t end up using it.”
Alex stepped back from the corridor. He was dizzy and tired and he wanted very badly for this transaction to somehow be acceptable so that he could unpack the van and be done moving. “Why is it this way?” he asked. “Why did they do this?”
“Before all the renovations, this used to be the middle of the building. And this,” the building manager said, reaching toward the east wall but not touching it, “used to be the elevator. Maybe you can imagine it.”
Alex could. Now that he knew to look for it, the apartment had very clearly once been the hallway near an elevator. The east wall dimpled slightly where the door had been covered over.
“That elevator was no good. Dingy. And small. The new elevators are beautiful. You saw them. They’re beautiful. You should have seen the party when we opened them. And we freed up all this space. Of course, you can’t get rid of an elevator shaft, not really.”
“But why not just extend the wall?”
The building manager shifted. “People like to hear nine hundred square feet. They don’t need to see it, but they like to hear it. And once you’re in here, it’s really very nice. Very cozy. And it would be a shame to lose the room at the end of the hall. It gets so much light.”
Alex sagged. The apartment was cozy. He could see exactly where his furniture would go. He didn’t mind a cozy apartment. His first apartment in Providence had been cozy, and he’d loved it.
“We’ve already rented a few of these units. The tenants are very happy.”
“You have other apartments like this?”
“Of course. All the way up the elevator.”
Alex thought about that.
“New windows,” the building manager said. “New baseboards.”
“The corridor,” Alex said, “how would I clean it?”
“We have a long mop you can borrow,” said the building manager.
“It’s a very long mop,” she said. “It’s the longest mop they make.”
With the help of two maintenance guys, Alex filled his apartment in half an hour. He was surprised how quickly it went. Most of his stuff, he’d left behind in Baltimore. His exercise bike, his stained glass grinder, his pizza stone, his miniature gin still. It was a bittersweet relief to take these things he’d been guiltily neglecting and abandon them all with one bold, decisive act. He hefted his big, fake fig tree around his new apartment, trying a few different spots before setting it near the window, where it could get some sunlight.
But now that he was standing at the window, it seemed like the room wouldn’t get all that much light, at least not in the afternoon. The building was shaped like an H and Alex’s window was in an inside corner. It was three o’clock and the sun had already sunk below the neighboring apartments. The street four floors below looked just like Alex remembered, maybe, or maybe his memory was so fuzzy that this view had already replaced it. There were two Italian restaurants, a hardware store. Alex’s heart swelled. He had missed Providence terribly, and now look at those Italian restaurants, look at that hardware store, look at this apartment, this new floor, these new baseboards.
It didn’t take long for Alex to settle into his new job. He edited statistics reports for The Public Research Trust. The work was about the same as it had been in Baltimore for The Institute for Public Research. He figured it would be the same pretty much anywhere. It wasn’t a bad job. He took suspect documents and he made them reliable. The people were friendly. The building had warm lighting and a brick façade that Alex thought was pretty charming.
Five years ago, the city had been full of friends. They’d emerged from universities or moved down from hometowns out in the suburbs, throwing house parties in studio apartments and falling asleep at the feet of park statues. They were trying to build momentum, toward some specific future or toward any future. Most of them had left, which was why Alex had left. You had to be willing to leave. If you tried to stay in one place your whole life, you left a lot of money on the table, and it’s not like other people would stay there with you. Alex kept in touch with people all over the country, but he wasn’t sure he knew anyone still in Providence. Well, he could make more friends. Everybody wanted friends.
He met people at clubs and museums and newcomers’ get-togethers. He took them to restaurants he remembered and new ones that had popped up in his absence. He invited co-workers to bars and bowling alleys and his apartment. He courted friends with an eagerness that felt like dating, dated with a conviviality that felt like courting friendship. He got close to some people, sort of close. When the weather got warm, he’d go to the park.
Someone slipped a flyer under his apartment door. They’d renovated the fifth floor and now they were having a renovation party. Only the denizens of the fifth floor were invited. The flyer instructed Alex to expect noise.
The long mop had a telescoping handle. Alex checked it out of Facilities and brought it upstairs in a canvas carrying case. He worked the collapsed bundle out of the case and spent fifteen minutes on his apartment floor unspooling and tightening, unspooling and tightening. The fully extended mop was so unwieldy, he had to hold it over his head like a boom mic. The mop head fit the corridor perfectly and slid across the hardwood like a curling stone over fresh ice. It was among the most satisfying sensations in Alex’s week. He checked the long mop out every Monday and made an evening of it.
The corridor had worried Alex at first. It was unusual. It made the wall seem incomplete. What if there was a draft? What if bugs got into the far room? He’d be stuck shuffleboarding roach traps into corners he couldn’t see, imagining gyres of infestation just past his line of sight.
But the far room grew on him. It had character. He liked to show it off to guests, and to explain about the elevator shaft. The guests were thrilled and enchanted. They gawped at the dimple where the elevator door had once been, how the elevator wall seemed colder than the rest of the apartment, how it echoed when they knocked on it. Alex liked to stick his head into the corridor and see how warm and sunny it looked over there in the far room. His tropical second home.
Barring one incident when his grocery bag tore and a navel orange rolled all the way to the far room, the corridor caused Alex no trouble. And once he did get his head stuck, but only for a few minutes, and only because he was wearing a beanie.
The thought kept creeping into Alex’s mind that he could probably get through the corridor if he really tried. It wasn’t all that narrow. Just under eight inches—he’d measured it. He could fit his head, and that was probably the biggest, least compressible part of his body if he shuffled sideways. He tried to imagine the posture it would take. He’d make himself as flat as possible and sort of skirt along the wall. Or maybe he could do it lying down on his side, toes pointed, wriggling forward an inch at a time. There were all kinds of videos online of people contorting themselves through clothes hangers and unstrung tennis rackets. He could make it through, and then he’d have all that space to enjoy. He was already paying for it.
One Saturday morning, he tried it. He wedged in an arm and a leg with no trouble. His shoulder was problematic. He hesitated to put too much pressure against the elevator wall, like he might break through and fall down the shaft. With a lot of thumping and scraping, he eventually found an angle that would accept his shoulder. It was clear that he wouldn’t get much further, but he kept trying. He experimented with different postures, hips way forward, shoulders way back, until he’d stuffed a good couple inches of himself into the gap. Clothes and skin and fat bunched. He shifted his weight and speculated about new angles, but the walls were a clamp.
All right, not so good. He ground his free leg into the floor and pressed his free arm into the wall and exhaled all the air from his lungs and after a few minutes, he was out.
Well, that was that. What was he going to do with the rest of his Saturday?
But maybe if he lost some weight. He wasn’t sure where that thought bubbled up from. Alex had never worried about his weight. His weight was fine. But it’s true that the corridor wasn’t that tight, really, not impossibly tight.
He stood there a while, shifting his weight and thinking it through. What, would he diet? Jog? Watch videos about how to contort? Maybe he could find some low-friction clothes. It all seemed possible. He’d never been much good at projects. He didn’t have the follow-through. But this was right in his apartment. And just imagine the sense of accomplishment. It was good to make plans. Providence had always been a good place for plans.
At the office, he told his new friends about his new project. They were astonished. They didn’t think it was possible to get through the corridor, or desirable. They weren’t sure how seriously to take Alex. They’d only known him a month or two. Everyone told him something different, but the collective message was, “Please be careful.”
On social media, he documented his new, lean meals. He took before and after pictures, transcribing his weight down to the decimal. His scattered friends filled his comments with, “Wait, what are you doing? Alex, you don’t need to lose weight.” Alex took that as a double compliment, to his figure and to his drive.
The building was renovating the third floor now. Alex asked the building manager about it one day when he was checking out the mop. “Oh, we have to,” she said, wide eyed. “The new elevator makes everything else look so shabby. And the neighborhood is changing so fast.”
It didn’t seem to Alex like it was changing at all. Or maybe he was the change, he was part of the change, and so he couldn’t see it.
Standing outside with his neck craned, Alex could see his windows, the ones he could reach and the ones he could not. He squinted up through the window of the inaccessible room. It was a bad angle: a stretch of ceiling, a few inches of wall. He wondered if the hardware store across the street would let him onto their roof with binoculars to get a more direct view. He looked up and down at his vertical neighbors, the column of six inaccessible rooms. In one of the windows, he saw a potted plant.
Alex stared for a while at the potted plant. He tried to picture the person who must live in that apartment, paper thin and forever smiling in the sun. Or maybe they had a different floorplan. He thought about knocking on the door, but he couldn’t imagine explaining himself.
Alex’s clothes didn’t fit right. He wore his belt on the fourth notch and still worried about keeping his pants up. His shirts billowed. It hadn’t been that long, really, a couple months. The pounds fell off of him like he’d been slow cooked. Alex guessed he was lucky.
They refurbished the sixth floor and the second floor. Alex got flyers. They hung a banner down the front of the building to celebrate their fortieth anniversary, the ongoing renovation, plenty of spacious units available at low rates. The banner clipped a few inches from Alex’s window. The room felt dimmer, but he knew it probably wasn’t.
Once, when Alex put his head in the corridor, he heard footsteps. He walked all around his apartment, listening in different places. The footsteps were coming from directly above the corridor. They were sporadic, unsteady. When he held his breath and pressed his ear to the elevator wall, he could hear someone vocalizing effort. He carried a chair in from the kitchen and sat with his head in the corridor. The person upstairs made slow progress. They stopped and started, grunted and strained. It was almost evening by the time Alex heard them thump out of the corridor and into the far room. He listened to this person, his neighbor, laugh and drum on the walls, ecstatic. Alex’s heart raced and his face felt stiff from smiling. He waited for his neighbor to start the return trip. He wanted to run upstairs and congratulate them as soon as they made it through. And at the same time, he cringed away from that thought, awed at this person’s achievement, shamed to imagine himself saying, “Well, no, I haven’t done it myself, not yet. But someday.” He waited until nightfall, but his neighbor didn’t leave the far room. Alex turned on some loud music and made dinner.
Alex was at a rock climbing gym four nights a week. He wanted to get wiry. On his first day there, a trainer with a carabiner on a hemp necklace asked him about his fitness goals and Alex said, “To get through a very tight hallway in my apartment.” The trainer loved that. He dragged a portable barricade fence over near a bouldering wall so Alex could practice shimmying. It didn’t really capture the experience. The fence only came up to Alex’s waist.
“What we need is to build a replica,” said the trainer. “Get some plywood in here. I’ll talk to management. Maybe shimmying’s good for you, I don’t know.”
They never built a replica, but some evenings, the trainer would push Alex into the wall with a big foam pad and Alex would try to move in spite of it.
Alex asked to check out the mop and the building manager told him it was being used. He contemplated that. After a moment, he asked, “Who’s using it?”
“I can’t tell you,” said the building manager, and she hid the check-out sheet beneath her day planner.
“Could I wait here to see who brings it back?”
“I can’t stop you. But if that’s what you’re planning, I wish you hadn’t told me.”
“Sorry,” said Alex.
He waited for a few minutes. He was not sure what he’d do when the person got here. Maybe he’d talk to them, make some joke that only a long mop enthusiast would get. Maybe he’d hang back and take stock from a distance.
“It could be a while,” said the building manager.
“Could I bring a chair over from the lobby?” asked Alex. The lobby was about fifteen feet away.
“No,” said the building manager. And then, when she saw Alex’s frustration, added, “It would be a fire hazard.”
Alex went into the lobby and angled a chair so that he could see anyone walking to Facilities. The lobby chair was plush, but it wasn’t comfortable. He did some tension exercises, flexing his abs and counting to ten. Whenever someone came into view, he sat up and looked for the mop carrying case. Two or three people noticed Alex investigating them and gave him weird looks. He waved.
Alex was slumped in the chair with his elbows on his knees when the person who had the the carrying case walked by. She wasn’t alone. There were five people walking together, smiling and joking, buoyant as soap bubbles.
When Alex thought it through after the fact, he understood rationally that the other people might have been his neighbor’s friends, people from outside the building, anyone really. But in the moment, he was certain it was his five vertical neighbors, corridor-walkers all. He couldn’t meet them all at once, could not possibly face these people when he had made it barely six inches into his corridor.
They were walking away from the Facilities desk. Alex didn’t know what to do. They passed the lobby and Alex stared in silence. After a moment, he leapt from the chair and into the hall in time to see them turn the corner, perfect bodies bent toward one another in perfect camaraderie.
After a few months at the climbing gym, Alex invited the climbing trainer to his apartment to examine the corridor firsthand and eat bruschetta. The building was renovating the lobby, so Alex had to lead the trainer up the back staircase. The trainer looked at the corridor for a long time, munching on toast with his hand cupped beneath his mouth for crumbs. When he’d finished chewing, the trainer asked, “What do you think is over there?”
“What do you mean?” said Alex.
“I mean, what do you think is over there? In that room?”
Alex struggled to wrap his head around this. “Why would there be anything over there? It’s an unfurnished apartment.”
“Why do you want to get over there so bad?”
Alex shrugged. “Why do people climb things?”
The climbing instructor shrugged back amiably. He brushed off his hands, stretched his head into the corridor, and slowly turned it until his nose bumped drywall. “That’s severe,” he said. “That’s professional.”
Alex did not love seeing the climbing instructor breach the corridor. The climbing instructor had a narrower frame than Alex and a more symbiotic relationship with the physical world. He could probably make it through right now, in street clothes.
The trainer pulled himself out and looked Alex hard in the eye. “You need a spotter.”
Alex thought of his body, wadded and tugged, and the trainer watching it with unblinking focus. “I’ll be fine,” he said. “I mean, I live here.”
Alex caught himself waiting, he wasn’t sure what for. He was in the best shape of his life, or at least the most specific shape. His body was like a knotted rope. He sat in his office coiled tight, typing so hard he thought his fingers might punch through his keyboard.
His co-workers asked for updates. They commented on his newly complicated forearms, his newly prominent cheekbones. They offered him a lot of food. He wanted very much to be able to say, “Oh that? Yeah, I already did that. Onto the next thing. Pass me some of that birthday cake.”
His fear, although he could never quite look at it straight, was that after all this grueling work, he would realize that he still had a vast distance left to cross. He would get another two or three inches into the corridor and that would be the sum total of his progress. And then what would he have to try? He could all too easily imagine a wild descent into starvation rations, industrial lubricants, tactical joint dislocation, experimental bone reduction procedures. Or he would have to give up, release all claim to ambition and drive, melt into his office chair, and spend fifty undistinguished years there until at last he was buried, chair and all, in an unmarked pauper’s grave.
His climbing trainer offered, courteously and guilelessly, to try squeezing through the corridor himself so that he could better know what Alex was up against. Alex couldn’t think of a rational reason to say no, but he also couldn’t bear the thought of the climbing trainer skirting easily through the passage and waving back from the far room. It was Alex’s room, it was Alex’s project. And that’s what finally shoved Alex into the corridor.
He dressed in his slipperiest athleticwear. He attached a water bottle to a length of paracord so he could drag it behind him. He took a shot of vodka. The vodka was strategic—this was going to be uncomfortable and Alex wanted to be a little numb. Still, it felt like a rough start, ice cold vodka at ten in the morning. He squared up to the corridor in the stance he’d practiced with his trainer: body pointed like a fencer’s, both feet turned toward the corridor, arms spread, breath high in his chest.
Elation as Alex cleared his leading foot, his leading shoulder, his head, his trailing shoulder. A perfect fit, like he was slipping himself into an envelope. He marveled at his progress. In just five months, he’d transformed. He pulled in his trailing leg and his trailing arm. He was enclosed.
One shuffling step and another until his trailing arm could no longer reach out of the corridor. Anxiety drained out of him, leaving pure, euphoric energy behind. He wanted to gallop to the far room, but of course he could only move in methodical, shuffling steps. The energy welled up in his limbs and demanded action. Alex slapped his hands against the wall and whooped. Where his chest pressed into the wall, he could feel his heartbeat. He thought he could almost hear it reverberating through the drywall and down the vast, sealed chamber of the elevator shaft. The smell of paint, this close, was dizzying.
Alex paused. How far was he? A third? Half? The far room felt close, uncannily close. Alex could make out dust motes in the flooding sunlight.
He heard a deep, arrhythmic thumping from the elevator and for a moment he thought it was his heart and that he was dying. And then came a voice. The words took a long, circuitous route down the elevator shaft and through the wall, shedding letters as they went and arriving at Alex as just a few bruised vowels. Still, he could hear the enthusiasm, the warmth, the empathy. Alex thumped and yelled back. And then a third person joined in and the wall was filled with sound. Maybe more joined in after that—Alex couldn’t tell. He closed his eyes and stopped moving to savor the moment.
He rested the side of his head against the wall in front of him, then his cheek, then his ear. Nothing was really comfortable. He couldn’t lean far enough to take the weight off his feet, just enough to pile extra weight onto his shoulder blades or the edge of his pelvis. If he held his breath, he could feel his neighbors’ voices reverberating through the wall. He tensed and relaxed, tensed and relaxed. Gradually, his neighbors quieted.
It wasn’t until he tried to resume his passage that Alex realized he was stuck. Somewhere in all that shifting and breathing, he had sunk and settled like putty in a toaster. He was compressed, compacted. Pressure at the shoulder, the pelvis, the knee, along the chest, the thigh. He could shift his leading foot a few inches, but he couldn’t muster any force to follow it. Through the elevator shaft, his heart boomed. He peeled shallow breaths from the paint. Lights flickered and sputtered in his eyes. He worked harder. Pressed against the walls. Wrenched himself back and forth. His neighbors thumped at the wall. He didn’t want to answer. He could feel his skin slipping across his muscles, his muscles contorting and shifting over his bones, the parts of him with give and the parts of him with none. He pressed with his shoulder and his cheek and he thought he could feel collagen popping in his face. He imagined emerging with his whole face slack, aged forty years in an hour. He imagined not emerging. He dragged the water bottle toward himself with the paracord, but he couldn’t figure out how to work it to the front side of his body to take a drink. He nudged it back toward the entrance with his heel.
He waited a while. That probably wasn’t smart. It was exhausting just to stay on his feet, but he worried about how much deeper he might sink if he let himself go slack. He tried to slow his heart. The neighbors weren’t making much noise anymore. Alex hoped they’d stopped listening. Every once in a while, he tried to move. He waited. He tried to move.
His back foot found some traction and his body budged. It was awkward. His back foot was twisted inward and his hip had almost no range of motion, but he was moving backward. The walls were running with sweat. He kept backing up until the light began to brighten and he could feel the cooler air of the apartment on his neck. His heel came down on the water bottle and his foot slid and he fell backward, arms windmilling, thrilled at the freedom to fall.
Wheezing on the floor, he looked at his phone. It was after one.
A while later, when he’d finally gotten himself upright, he looked back into the corridor to where he’d scraped and scuffed the wall. The sweat chilled on his neck. He hadn’t made it six feet. He stood and stared and let the air conditioning dry him. And slowly, one trembling synapse at a time, that revelation was replaced by a worse one: if he could scrape his way into the corridor and back, then he could scrape his way through.
At work, everyone asked in low voices about the vivid chafing all over Alex’s cheeks and forehead. He tried very hard to think, “That means they care about me. What a joy.” But his mind was shaky and in every concerned face he saw disgust, loathing, disdain, veiled amusement. He said, “Just clumsy,” and hunched closer to his monitor.
When he tried to decide how to move forward, he began with the firm conviction that he had to get through the corridor. His brain wouldn’t offer any wider perspective. He tried to pin down why it was so important to get through the corridor, but he couldn’t. This frustrated him, because he was sure it was important, it was obviously important. He’d put in so much work. It was in his home and if he gave up, he’d be reminded every day. He needed to impress a handful of strangers with similar floorplans. None of his arguments stood up to scrutiny. He considered seeing a therapist, but he worried they’d try to talk him out of going through the corridor, maybe try to convince him to move. There was no clever solution. He had to go through, that was all.
But not soon. At least there was that. Not too soon, because he could still barely turn his left foot the right way, his lower back still felt like he’d slept on a pyramid. He took a handful of Advil and told the climbing trainer not to expect him for a while.
When he could lift a folding chair above his head without discomfort, Alex trudged down to Facilities to check out the long mop. It would help his psychic recovery, he felt, if he scrubbed the scuff marks off the corridor walls. As the building manager handed him the carrying case, she asked, “Have you seen the flyer?”
Alex had stepped over the flyer when he left his apartment. He did not want to read that he was excluded from something. “I guess I missed it.”
“Do you have a tuxedo?” she asked.
“For the anniversary ball. In the new lobby.”
“It’s black tie?”
The building manager sighed. “Black tie optional. It’s still the lobby. We have to let people through.”
He didn’t own a tuxedo and his face, while much improved, was still visibly marred by friction burns. A jacket would be fine.
Alex had been in Providence for seven months. The top of his armoire had a patina of dust. He had a barber, a dry cleaner, a grocery store and a back-up grocery store. He’d memorized the bus schedule. He always got his zip code right. And he didn’t know any of his neighbors more than to nod at them when they came and went. He stood at the top of the new, swooping grand staircase, blinking against the new, radiant chandelier, trying to find a familiar face in the shuffling mass below. He looked for the old lobby under the new one and he couldn’t find it. Along the walls, art deco statuary celebrated Art and Sport. There was a fountain, backlit water burbling across slate. It all seemed like kind of a mess, but Alex didn’t know anything about design. Someone put a champagne glass into his hand. He descended.
There were tuxedos, a few, and sweatshirts, a few, and bathrobes, and ballgowns from each of the last ten or eleven decades, and office clothes wrinkled from the day. They had a string octet sawing away in the corner and anyone who wasn’t silent was shouting. Caterers entered from the loading dock with trays of canapés that were picked clean in seconds. They spun on their heels and walked back through the swinging doors.
Alex moved with the tide. So these were his neighbors, his ordinary neighbors. Beneath his pain and his shame, excitement stirred. People talked, people laughed. Alex wanted to meet them all. Just off the top of his head, he had three good stories he could tell, six questions to keep things moving. He loved a party. It had been a while.
Alex swept his gaze across the party. Heads ducked and lifted, people leaned into intimate conversations and away from startling ones, and just for a moment he made eye contact with a woman standing clear across the room. The crowd closed up and she was gone. It was another moment before the too-late alert came tripping down from his brain. The woman had familiar chafing burns across her cheeks and forehead.
Alex stood on his toes. He hopped. He couldn’t see her. He pressed his way back through the crowd and up the staircase. Both hands grasping the railing, head and shoulders and chest craning out into open air, Alex searched for her. He found her near the statue of Poetry. He recognized her billowing clothes, her complicated forearms. She stood in a small cluster of partygoers, all of them with narrow frames and steely gazes. They didn’t speak to one another, but the way they stood suggested, to Alex, supreme affection and respect. Cellos droned and violins soared. Alex stared, more and more of his body over the railing, until the cluster noticed him and turned as one to face him. He ducked behind the railing.
It would be so easy to walk out and meet them. He could introduce himself, show off his burns. But they wouldn’t be meeting as equals. He would have nothing to offer them.
He scurried up the stairs, back to the elevator, back to his apartment, pulling his clothes off as he went.
Naked in his kitchen, Alex doused himself in peanut oil. He struggled to open a cabinet with frictionless hands, struggled to lift a case of protein bars. Wiped his hands on a dish towel. Hauled a gallon bottle of water out from under the sink, and another. He had no idea how long it would take. This looked like enough food and water for three or four days.
The case of protein bars was too wide for the corridor, so he threw them in loose. He’d pick them up as he went. He tied the bottles to a length of paracord and the paracord to his belt. He couldn’t push the bottles down the corridor, not with his tiny, shuffling steps. He’d have to drag them, which meant that if he wanted to be able reach the bottles to drink, he’d have to face the main apartment and walk backward. He wouldn’t see the far room until he got there, just the walls of the corridor stretching longer and longer.
The sun had already set in the main apartment, but the far room had a pale rose haze. Alex turned on every light he owned. They only lit the first few feet of the corridor. Soon it would be dark. Alex squared his hips, turned away, and breached.