I don’t like lifts. Or elevators as Americans call them. Those little metal boxes that go up and down at frightening speeds. I hate them. And deep down, I think they hate me.
I’ve been stuck in a lift four times. It’s never been a pleasant experience. But once was truly nerve-wracking and it put me off lifts for ever.
It was in Budapest, the capital of Hungary, about fifteen years ago. I was on a tour of the old Communist Budapest with eight other tourists. We’d been taken to see all the old statues that had been pulled down and taken to a park. We spent an hour looking at the relics, then the highlight of the tour was to visit an apartment that had been kept exactly as it had been in 1960’s communist Hungary.
We went up in two lifts. One held six people, standing shoulder to shoulder. The other held four. It wasn’t much bigger than a phone box. You got in, stood up straight, then closed a wooden door. Then a collapsible metal gate had to be pulled across. Then the button was pressed, for the ninth floor.
The lift crawled up. You saw the roof go by, then all the pipes, then the floor, then a door, then the roof, then more pipes, then a floor, then another door. You got to see a complete cross-section of the building. Back then I wasn’t as scared as I am now, but it was unnerving. In a modern lift you only see wood paneling or brushed stainless steel, in this lift you saw all the guts of the building pass by which meant you knew exactly how high you were.
I was in the larger of the two lifts. The lift eventually stopped and we got out and rejoined the other members of the group. We went into the apartment with the Hungarian tour guide. We spent an hour there and it was fascinating seeing the way people had to live under Communism. The block was one of twelve identical towers built around a steel mill for the workers. Every flat was the same. Same flat, same sofa, same fridge, same clock on the wall. The colour of the sofa was changed very few years, but it was still an identical model. There was almost no theft back in those days because everyone had the same stuff. There was nothing to steal.
Then it was time to go. We went back to the lift lobby. The first lift to arrive was the larger of the two, and when it stopped at the floor it did so quite heavily and rattled a lot. I said I wouldn’t get into it. So six other people did and four of us waited for the second, smaller, lift. There was me, the Hungarian tour guide, and two Americans. (I have to say here that if ever you get stuck in a lift, Americans are the best people to be trapped with. Always enthusiastic, always optimistic, always chatty).
So we get into the lift which was truly the size of a phone box. We were standing literally shoulder to shoulder. We go down. All good. Nice and slowly. Floor. Pipes. Ceiling. Door. Floor. Pipes. Ceiling. Door. We get down to the ground floor. All good. But we don’t stop. We go down to the basement. And stop.
The Hungarian tour guide presses the button for the ground floor. We start to go up. We pass the ground floor. We don’t stop. We pick up speed. Ceiling. Pipes. Floor. Door. Ceiling. Pipes. Flash, flash, flash. Faster and faster. I mean, really fast. The floors whizz by. We get to the top – the 16th I think – and we keep going. We slam into the roof. Hard. The whole lift shakes. I am terrified and I look over at the Hungarian tour guide. She is terrified too. The American couple –bless them - are totally unfazed. I found at later that when these old lifts fail, the counterweights fall to the bottom and the lift goes up to the top. That was the design back then. These days when they fail they tend to lock in place. Much safer, I’m told.
The Hungarian tour guide starts pressing the alarm button. We hear a faint buzzing in the distance. After about fifteen minutes a door opens and a woman shouts out in Hungarian. The Hungarian tour guide answers. They shout at each other for a minute or so then the door slams.
‘What happened?” I ask.
‘She wants us to stop pressing the bell,’ says the Hungarian tour guide. ‘She says the noise is annoying.’
‘Is she going to get us help?’ I ask.
‘No,’ says the Hungarian tour guide.
Back then mobile phones weren’t common in Hungary, but I had mine and it was set for roaming. I gave it to the Hungarian tour guide and as we were at the top of the building we had a good signal. She phoned the fire brigade. She spoke to them for about five minutes. I heard the word ‘turista’ a lot, Hungarian for tourist. Eventually she ends the call and hands the phone back to me.
‘What did they say?’ I asked.
‘They asked me if there was a fire and when I said there wasn’t, they said it wasn’t their problem.’
So that was that. The fire brigade wouldn’t help. The neighbours didn’t want to know. All we could do was to keep pressing the alarm button. I was so scared, all I could think of was the hundreds of feet below me and the fact that all that was holding us up was a thin cable. And who knew how much of that cable had been stolen pre- and post-Communism?
I kept looking at the Hungarian tour guide. I could she was as scared as I was. But I had a plan. If we should go into free-fall I could kick her legs from underneath her and sit on her, which might break my fall, a bit. But I could see from the look in her eyes that could read my mind and it looked as if she was planning to put up a fight.
Eventually, an hour or so later, another resident came to talk to us. The only way to get us out was to use a key to open the door, she said.
Who had the key?
Can you get him, please?
No. He is on holiday and won’t be back until next week.
I am not making this up! After about an hour another resident went to the block next door and persuaded the caretaker there to come around with his key. All the blocks had the same lift keys, thank goodness. He opened the door. I was the first to jump out, followed by the Hungarian tour guide and the two Americans.
They called for the other lift and went down in it. I walked down the stairs, and have avoided lifts ever since.
So I guess you can understand why I’m so wary of lifts. I hardly use them these days, and when I do the first thing I look for on getting in is the brand name. I’m always happy to see a Schindler or an Otis or a Kone. If there’s no manufacturer’s plate I tend to get out immediately. The second thing I look for is a service history. No service history and I’m out of there. But even in a lift made by a reputable firm and serviced properly, I’m always counting the seconds until the doors open.
Why am I telling you this? Because I have given the aversion to lifts to my character Jack Nightingale. He’s a supernatural detective and New York Night is number seven in the series. And in all those books, Nightingale never uses a lift unless he can avoid it. Just like me!
Teenagers are being possessed and turning into sadistic murderers. Priests can’t help, nor can psychiatrists. So who is behind the demonic possessions? Jack Nightingale is called in to investigate, and finds his own soul is on the line. New York Night is the seventh novel in the Jack Nightingale supernatural detective series.
Sara could see that he was afraid so she smiled what she hoped was a comforting smile. ‘It’s a game,’ she said. ‘It’s just a game.’
‘If you want to play a game, let’s play Grand Theft Auto,’ said her brother. Luke was ten, six years younger than she was. They rarely played together but she needed another pair of hands for the Ouija board and Luke could be relied on to do as he was told.
‘Because I want to play this,’ she said.
‘It’s stupid,’ he said. ‘I’ve never heard of a game like this before.’ He sat back on his heels. They were in her bedroom. He was rarely allowed into her room and had looked at her suspiciously when she had first suggested they play a game together.
‘You liked Charlie Charlie didn’t you? Well this is the same. You can ask it question and it’ll answer.’
‘Charlie Charlie is for fun,’ said the boy.
‘So is this. But with Charlie Charlie you can only pick one of four answers, right? This way the spirits can talk to us.’
‘Spirits? You mean ghosts?’
‘It’s all the same. Look, it’s a game. Just a game. Do you want to play or shall I tell mom you haven’t done your homework?’
Okay, okay,’ mumbled Luke. ‘Don’t give me a hard time.’
About the Author
Stephen Leather is one of the UK's most successful thriller writers, an eBook and Sunday Times bestseller and author of the critically acclaimed Dan "Spider' Shepherd series and the Jack Nightingale supernatural detective novels.
Before becoming a novelist he was a journalist for more than ten years on newspapers such as The Times, the Daily Mirror, the Glasgow Herald, the Daily Mail and the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. He is one of the country's most successful eBook authors and his eBooks have topped the Amazon Kindle charts in the UK and the US. In 2011 alone he sold more than 500,000 eBooks and was voted by The Bookseller magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the UK publishing world.
Born in Manchester, he began writing full time in 1992. His bestsellers have been translated into fifteen languages. He has also written for television shows such as London's Burning, The Knock and the BBC's Murder in Mind series and two of his books, The Stretch and The Bombmaker, were filmed for TV. You can find out more from his website www.stephenleather.com and you can follow him on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/stephenleather
Jack Nightingale has his own website at www.jacknightingale.com
You can buy New York Night on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/New-York-Night-Nightingale-Supernatural-ebook/dp/B017T03500/
You can buy New York Night on Kobo at https://store.kobobooks.com/en-ca/ebook/new-york-night-the-7th-jack-nightingale-novel
You can buy New York Night on iBooks at https://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/new-york-night-7th-jack-nightingale/id1057762247
You can buy New York Night at Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/591862