It was late on Sunday evening when Carla was first conscious of a peculiar thing about the lift and its doors. At that point she did not have long to live, but her powers of imagination could not let her see what would happen to her that night.
She sat in her flat, somewhat puzzled, because suddenly she was certain about what had been going on for a few days now. The lift would come up to her eighth floor, stop, the doors would open automatically, but then nothing further would happen. No one got out; she would have heard their footsteps in the corridor. Nor did anyone get in; she would have heard footsteps beforehand. She was sure there had been none. If there had been, she would have registered them on some level of consciousness. The building was not good at muffling sounds. It was a seventies tower block, a rather unadorned block with long corridors and many flats. Families lived in the larger flats and the smaller flats were inhabited by singles who worked the whole time and were almost never home. Hackney was one of the poorer boroughs of London, but the area where Carla lived was not all that bad.
She tried to remember when she had first heard the lift come up without hearing anyone step out of it. Of course that happened occasionally, and had happened since she moved there. If someone pressed the wrong button, realised their mistake and got out at a lower floor, the lift would still make the journey to the top floor, open its doors, then close them again and wait until it was called to another floor. But recently it had been happening more often. Unusually often.
Perhaps in the last week? Perhaps in the last fortnight?
She turned the television off. The talk show on TV right now did not interest her anyway.
She went to the flat's front door and opened it. She pressed the light switch right beside her doorbell, bathing the corridor in a harsh white light. Who had decided on these lights? They gave your skin a deathly pallor.
She looked down the long quiet corridor. Nothing and no one in sight. The lift doors had closed again.
Perhaps some joker in the block who had taken to pressing '8' before he got out. Although quite what someone would get out of that was a mystery to Carla. But many of the things that drove people, that people did or wanted to do, were a mystery to her. When all was said and done, she thought, she was fairly isolated from society. Alone, abandoned and living on her pension for the last five years. If you got up on your own, spent the day reading or watching television in a small flat, only occasionally making the effort to go for a walk, and then ate alone again in the evening before sitting down in front of the television, you ended up distancing yourself from normal life. You lost contact with people whose daily life was made up of their job, colleagues, spouses, children and all the related worries, tasks and, of course, joys. Perhaps she seemed much stranger to other people than she realised.
She closed her front door again and leant against it from the inside, breathing heavily. When she had moved into the block, she had at first thought that she would have a better life there. She had hoped that in the block full of people she would feel less lonely, but the opposite was the case. Everyone here slaved away with their own lives, no one seemed to really know any of the others, and everyone lived as anonymously as possible. Some flats were also empty. For some time now no one but Carla had lived up on the eighth floor.
She went back into the living room, wondering whether to turn the television on again. She left it. Instead she poured herself some more wine. She drank every evening, but she had imposed a rule on herself that she was not to start before eight. Until now she had managed to stick to that.
She jumped when she heard the noise of the lift again. It was going down. Someone must have called it. At least that was normal life. People coming and going in the block. She was not alone.
Excerpted from The Watcher by Charlotte Link. Copyright © 2014 by Charlotte Link. Excerpted by permission of Pegasus Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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