26th Mission, a short story by Rico.Viejo. Date added: 2012-05-09. Times viewed: 1088.
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- Intro: The USAFE vet.
- "Oh, that's an elevator. But it doesn't work. You have to see the woodwork in the dining room! It was originally varnished and kept up. It's never been painted. It'll come up beautifully.""It's a lot of house," said Henry."You'll see. The stairs go up and around at the landing. A wall and a door were put at the top. You can close off the upper floors. Most people set up the parlor as a bedroom and use the maid's bath off the kitchen and live, here, on the first floor."He could walk to work. And it had a small barn to keep his coupé in."You have to know. There's no electricity—only the kind for doorbells," the agent went on."This looks like a light switch," said Henry, moving to a plate on the wall."Oh, yes. Forgot. Press the big button and hold it."There was a hiss and four pops as the four gas fixtures lit."It's awfully bright," said Henry—and this was with bright sunlight coming in the huge windows."No one's figured out how to adjust them. And they mustn't be tampered with. Strict orders. Get yourself some sunglasses. The little button shuts them off."Henry pushed it."Water? Toilets?""There's a little steam engine in the cellar that runs a pump to keep the pressure up. Maybe the street pressure was poor, originally. There's another engine to keep the batteries charged. I suppose there's another for the elevator. Boiler for the steam heat. Gas bill in the winter is pretty high. But you won't be here."Henry took it. The place was cheap—he understood he'd have to put up with potential buyers' visits and he'd have to move in a hurry if it was sold.The furniture abandoned in the house was adequate for Henry's simple needs: a bed to sleep on, a table and chair for eating, a big, broken-spring armchair to read in. The house had a hall closet and a pantry with cabinets and drawers—that did for his clothes and books.Henry had fudged his qualifications on his job application—his military experience was almost relevant, and it was tough getting a job with tens of thousands of men being discharged at the same time—he had to learn on the job without his employer being aware. He'd work himself to exhaustion every day. In the evening, he'd work until groggy, then turn off the bright lights and go to bed for dreamless sleep. Weekends, too, he'd be making up, by working. So he didn't explore the house until the night, while working at the table, he heard a steady drip. It was raining hard. No drips downstairs. He found his flashlight and went upstairs.The wall at the top of the stairs was free-standing, like a stage backdrop. The door was just a hinged 2x4 frame with a piece of compo board nailed to it. From what he could see with his light, it was very nice up there. There was a large central hall. The four rooms were large and there was a tile bath with a clawfoot tub. Behind a pair of doors next to the elevator, there were two narrow staircases, one leading down to the kitchen, one leading to the third floor. Up on the third, there was a small bath, off a hallway. The other doors off the hallway were all locked. Henry assumed they held the owner's furniture and things. There was an elevator entrance on the third floor, too. A handicapped servant?There was no sound of the drip up there, nor down on the second floor. He heard it again when he returned to the table in the kitchen. He decided further search was a waste of his time—he'd mention it to the rental agent. He was worn out again, so he put lights out and turned in. He fell asleep to the steady drip.He woke the next morning to bright sunlight and no drip.He took a few minutes to become acquainted with the old house in daylight.He liked the front room on the second floor. It looked out into pretty trees. A uniformed nurse walked by, on the sidewalk below, to or from a hospital or on a house visit. And the bath was closer. It had a shower ring. There was a bed frame up there, but no mattress. If the elevator worked—. Why didn't it?Henry expected to find a swinging lever to control the elevator's upward and downward movements but found, instead, three wheel-handled valves—two small, one large. He went down to the cellar with its dirt floor—except for a concrete pad with washtubs on it under a dirty, but bright, rough-screened cellar window—and its crumbling-plaster walls. He found the elevator shaft and a tangle of pipes running to it—including pipes that led from a large steam boiler to where he presumed the elevator's engine to be. Next to the boiler, on a post, was a varnished oak box with three empty screw terminals with knurled knobs and three, unconnected, eyed wires hanging nearby.With a second try at connecting the wires, there was a chuffing sound combined with the sound of running water. Water soon came out of a faucet at the bottom of the boiler; Henry closed it. Back upstairs, he could hear the water running. Then it stopped. He went down to check. The floor under the boiler was flame-lit. The needle hadn't moved off the pin in the pressure gage.When Henry checked it before going to bed, the needle was just off the pin. By the next morning, it was two-thirds of the way to the chartreuse paint-mark on the gage glass. By late afternoon, the needle was centered under the mark and the fire was out.Henry went back upstairs and into the elevator and turned the small right-hand valve slightly to open it. Nothing. Then a knocking noise and a jolt and slow movement downward. Henry closed that valve and opened the other small valve. After another delay, the cage started slowly upward. He opened the valve further. When he reached the second floor he closed the valve and got out and looked around. He moved the bed frame to the front room, then took the elevator back down with the first valve he'd tried.He wrestled the extremely bulky and heavy mattress out of the bed frame, dragged it to the elevator, forced it in, took the elevator up, dragged and pushed the mattress to the front room, shoved with all his strength to get the mattress settled, then collapsed on the bed, exhausted, half-dead.When he recovered some of his strength, he got up, started down the stairs to the kitchen, then returned to the elevator and got in. He opened the small up-valve. As the elevator crept upwards, he inspected the car. It was made of neatly riveted metal, painted a dull yellowish green, and had a skid-proof deck. When he reached the third, locked-up, floor, the elevator continued upwards. He rode with it until it stopped. He got out into a white-enamelled, square room about twelve feet on a side, with windows filling all sides. The tops of a few trees were visible above the flattish roof, but what he could see, out two sides, was the sea. There was the dark silhouette of a ship steaming on the horizon.Someone had put two aircraft seats up there, screwed to the polished bare floor. They had parachutes in them for cushions. Henry sat down in one for a pleasant view of the clouds in the surrounding sky. As he relaxed, small black clouds started appearing and vanishing among the large, white, drifting ones. Henry panicked and rushed to the elevator. The down-valve did nothing, nor did the small up-valve. He turned the large-wheel valve.With a roar of releasing steam, the elevator car accelerated so quickly that Henry was pushed to the deck. The acceleration continued so strong he could not get his hand up to close the valve. His chin on the rough rubber, he watched floor after floor flash by. Upward and upward he went, like Icarus into the sun. Far higher than he ever flew his B-17.The car eventually reached the apex of the parabola it was describing and started down toward the Channel, miles and miles below.
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