Issue #60

Fall 2016

Up or Down

by Hernán Ortiz

A guy in a suit stumbles towards the elevator, hand covering his mouth, tottering. He grips the elevator handrail. He doesn’t press any buttons. The door closes before him.

The guy drops the suitcase.

Puckers his lips.

Throws up.

I throw up. It’s hard to recognize myself in the mirror.

There’s green vomit on the carpeted floor. I haven’t eaten anything green. The color could be explained in terms of bile or liver-related diseases. Rational thinking stops making sense as soon as the vomit emits an electric shine. Groups of translucent threads surf through the vomit.

Drops leaking from the elevator ceiling crash and burn against the vomit. There’s a short circuit smell. The threads get together in the shape of diamonds and the diamonds built up as a mass of blazing sparks. The green electric mass slides by my feet, drops falling to the carpeted floor.

The droplet becomes a puddle becomes a lake.

Water reaches up my ankles. My body surrounded by the thick, slimy mass. Teeth buried deep inside my arm.

What I see in the mirror doesn’t make any sense.

I should stay quiet, relax, close my eyes. A primal survival instinct spurs me to do the opposite: fight, breathe, not die.

I try to focus on my breathing, but if there’s no breathing, what should I focus on?

Things are happening to me: my muscles contract, the colors around me change to a darker shade, I feel pain in untraceable body parts. Everything sounds like a far away echo. Water rises up my knees. I see and feel things that shouldn’t be there. Droplets leaking from the elevator ceiling shouldn’t be filling up this lake. Air coming from the elevator vent shouldn’t be smelling like this forest. An anaconda shouldn’t be choking me.

I’m a life insurance agent, not a NatGeo explorer facing wild animals. In my work there are Excel files with macros, not huge boas sneaking out of a bush to swallow me and my cameraman. I don’t have a cameraman. I’m in the elevator of an office building. I’m alone. The only person who can keep me company is the security guard through the CCTV.

All of this – the anaconda, the lake, the vomit – can be just a metaphor. My brain could be generating symbolic representations on the asphyxiation of life. The way people demand your attention until you run out of air. How you cannot exist in the world without people expecting things from you: to admire them, to entertain them, to wave them back. The fact that you have to create value constantly. If alive, to people. If dead, to vultures.

Droplets keep leaking from the elevator ceiling. It’s gotta do with the antennas they mounted to include network coverage. Even when I’m being choked by an anaconda, my cell phone vibrates in my pocket. I struggle to take it out before the water reaches up to my waist, not to call anyone – it’s too late for help – just to read the new messages. Even in the last moment of my life, my boss sends me requests, clients ask questions, banks notify me. People expect me to share their posts, accept invitations, write birthday messages.

With the slobbery anaconda squeezing me, deeply submerged in water, I stop fighting for air. I stop fighting for meaning. I drop my cell phone.

My mind enters an unconscious state in which two visions of my future are revealed.

If the security guard opens the door, the anaconda would dim its glow, the ceiling leak would absorb the water and the forest smell would disappear. The security guard would put in practice the first aid mandatory course. The next day he’d show me the video footage: a vomit that’s not green, an anaconda that’s my own tie, a water that’s my own sweat. My boss would think I was trying to commit suicide to get a considerable sum of money for my family, given the extra-benefits I have as an employee. He’d think I have money issues. He’d give me a raise. He’d find me a shrink.

The next option is my favorite:

If the security guard doesn’t open the door, the elevator would turn into my coffin. The shaft cable would lift me up like an exhumation until I reach heaven (forest evaporating in clouds) or it would drop me down like a burial until I reach hell (forest burning on fire). But today I’m not lucky. The door opens up.

Author Bio

Insect Pattern

Hernán Ortiz is a writer and editor from Medellín, Colombia. His fiction and non-fiction work has appeared in publications such as Columbia Journal, The Barcelona Review, Lazy Fascist Review, Rolling Stone (Latin America), and OMNI. His first collection of short stories, Indistinguible de la Magia, won the Medellín Short Fiction Award and will be published this year by Penguin Random House. For more information, visit