by Katrina Autem

First Place, ST "Eat Me" contest

D I S C U S S I O N  F O R U M  |  R E T U R N  T O  S T  O N L I N E



The elevator stopped between the seventh and eighth floors; Cindy and William locked eyes, affirming what had just happened.

"I knew it," she barked. "We're stuck. This is your fault. Why do you constantly refuse to listen to me?" Her face turned a pale shade of pink; her eyes bulged.

William held Lulu up to his face and let her lick his cheek. The miniature dachshund tail wagging furiously, her back feet balanced the long body in a steady, familiar stance on William's protruding stomach, letting her front legs hang stiffly through his supporting hands. Her tongue was warm and her nose cold, giving William the same thrilling sensation of squishing his bare feet into muddy piles as a boy; he grinned accordingly.

"We're stuck, Lulu. We're stuck," he said, speaking in the voice of an excited child as Lulu proceeded to lick his chin.

Cindy's face began to turn a deeper pink, eliminating the telling wrinkles and complementing the blonde curls that fell upon her narrow, bronzed shoulders.

"How do you always manage to screw everything up, huh? You said it was okay to take the elevator today. You said it was Sunday. Wrong! I told you to check the calendar. You don't even know what day of the week it is."

Brushing over a Swiss Army knife, a half-eaten bag of sunflower seeds and two dollars in coins, William pulled a digital timepiece out of his pocket: 7:27 am, Sunday, March 5, 2023. Since congress had passed the Conservation of Urban Energy Act, or CUE, the city shut off all access to power deemed extraneous, dictated by an alternating monthly schedule. Since staircases appeared in all buildings, originally built to meet fire codes, elevators became opportunities to conserve power.

Gently pushing his oversized hands against the reflective metal panels, William searched for a lever, a call button—anything that might indicate a means for outside communication. Nothing. Lulu waited patiently, cradled inside the length of his arm, pressed tightly against his body. He continued, certain there must be an emergency telephone.

Cindy crossed her arms, snapping, "What the hell are you doing? We're stuck in an elevator and you're rubbing your hand against the wall like a blind man on Braille. What the hell is wrong with you? You said it was Sunday. Didn't you? Didn't you say that today was Sunday? If today is Sunday, why doesn't the elevator have power? Today is obviously a CUE day; it must be Monday. I can't believe this. That dog has a higher IQ than you. There has to be a phone in here."

"Well, if today isn't Sunday, then how did we have power supply to the seventh floor?" William asked simply. Confident, he continued with a natural calmness, "March allows full energy privileges on Sundays. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are CUE days. Today is Sunday."

She pushed toward him, making her body seem larger than its five-foot stature. Her eyes narrowed and her chest widened, dwarfing the abnormally large princess-cut diamond hanging from her neck.

"Oh, you always have to be right, don't you? It's been ten minutes now, and you haven't done a damn thing to get us out of here. You don't care. You never care about anything but yourself, not even on our anniversary. Since day one, it's been all about you. You never keep your promises. You said that I'd always get what I wanted, that you'd always give me what I wanted. When this stupid Conservation… energy-urban-whatever was passed, you stopped letting me do everything. Now I have to take the stairs when my legs hurt and buy my clothes from solar-only stores in the summer. How stupid." She continued in a tone, mocking William's voice, "You can't drive here, you can't drive there. It's illegal. We can't do anything for fear of getting fined."

William stopped searching and sat on the floor, his legs stretching the length of the tiny space. His back ached and his head throbbed. He pulled the sunflower seeds out of his pocket and began alternating helpings between himself and Lulu.

"Salty and delicious, aren't they, Lulu? You sure do love sunflower seeds. I do too, Lulu. I do too," he said softly as he chewed a mouthful.

Married for twenty-one years, the couple's appearance had evolved over time. The more weight William gained, the thinner Cindy became. The more hair he lost, the longer hers grew. The more his skin sagged, the more she had surgically lifted. The more he accepted his age, her denial swelled. Becoming unrecognizable from two decades ago, they had never looked so starkly opposite as in that moment, forced into close proximity. Upon meeting, their physiques seemed so well-suited for one another, even with his six-foot build. As she stood over his large, seated body, Cindy now felt superior in every way.

He closed his eyes and drifted off. She did the same after a short time, curling into the opposite corner of the elevator. Hours passed. Neither one of them had realized how exhausted they were, even after their usual triple-shot espresso drinks.

Cindy's eyes opened, showing exaggerated dark circles.

"Wake up," she said loudly, kicking him with a force that was just soft enough to be accidental.

"I'm hungry," she mumbled, thinking maybe he would hear. She sat and stared at him, disgusted by his heaving belly as the breath lurched in and out, disgusted by his slumbering bliss.

"Wake up!" she yelled, this time kicking with an energy that was most certainly abusive.

Moaning softly, William woke when Lulu began growling at Cindy's display. His stomach churned hopefully; he realized they hadn't eaten breakfast that morning, only dinner the previous night. Cindy pulled a full bottle of water out from her luggage-like purse. She drank and handed the bottle to William. "Don't drink too much of it. My skin has to be completely hydrated for my luncheon this Wednesday. Sixty-four ounces a day diminishes my wrinkles. Plus, I'm hungry. Where are those sunflower seeds?"

William looked at Lulu, who also hadn't eaten anything substantial since evening-time yesterday, and realized that she had gulped down the last small handful of seeds. He glanced back at Cindy.

"Oh, that figures," she began. "You love your ugly little dog more than me—even my sister has noticed that you pay more attention to that mutt than your own wife. And what the hell kind of name is Lulu anyways? Lulu? Seriously? All my friends are positive you're a homosexual just waiting to happen. I'm surprised you don't just confess it right now. What else do you have in your pockets? I know you carry chocolate bars everywhere with you. Give me a piece."

William heard Lulu's stomach growl, and she began spinning her body in quick circles, over and over. She always did that when her bowl needed filling, when mealtime arrived. Lulu was hungry.

"Poor girl," he started in his child voice as he offered Lulu an empty hand. "You want a treat, don't you? Don't you, pretty girl? I bet you want fried eggs and bacon, huh? That's your favorite."

The elevator sat silent for hours again, no one speaking a word.

* * *

William knew that no one would come today; this building sat barren for weeks at a time. Only contractors and demolition men came out at the beginning of each month to survey. And if by some miracle a person did arrive—it would not be soon. The next three days were CUE days: no power. Cindy knew it too. William did the math, arriving at an estimation of over one hundred hours before anyone could possibly turn on the power. His stomach growled again. Lulu continued spinning in circles, licking her tiny, leathery nose. William poured some water into his hand and let Lulu drink, admiring her gentle manner.

"Oh my God," Cindy shrieked. "How will we live? We have to eat Lulu," she determined, certain in her conclusion. "It could easily be a month before we're found. Nobody knows we're in here. This is your fault; you read the calendar wrong. What else are we going to do? You won't do anything to get us out of here, and we're going to starve. Oh my God. You're going to have to kill Lulu."

William's eyes focused on something far off, something not in the elevator. He began nodding his head.

Cindy sat silent, shimmering in expensive make-up and jewels he had worked to earn. Her face looked irritated; she took long blinks and deep breaths as she stared at her reflection in the shiny paneling.

William patted Lulu's head and gave her the command to sit. She obeyed, returning a loving glare to her master. He pushed himself up, standing on his knees, putting one in front of the other until Cindy was within arms' reach. He stared at her as she turned toward him, squinting her eyes in inquiry. Slowly, he lifted his arm and wrapped his powerful hand around her neck, squeezing, squeezing.

With one small effort of his energy, Cindy succumbed quickly, quietly. William looked at Lulu. He removed the army knife from his pocket and rolled his dead wife onto her stomach. Still balanced on both knees, he pulled the small blade from its case.

"It'll be mealtime soon, Lulu. Very soon."

She began spinning in circles again; Lulu was hungry.




Copyright © 2008 Katrina Autem

A B O U T   T H E   A U T H O R:

KATRINA AUTEM: Between spending time with my dog and baking in the kitchen, I find time to work as a writer and editor for a Dallas book publishing company. I was born in Kansas and graduated from the University of North Texas with an anthropology degree. I love big cities, chocolate cupcakes and old movies. My life-time mission is to travel the world.

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