The elevator doors slid open with a ding and a quiet screech, revealing the freshly waxed surface of the lobby floor. Payphones inside small half-cylinder booths that looked to be fashioned from bone rose from the glassy surface like strange plant life. The lights had changed to their night cycle, only one out of every four were turned on now. It was one thing to visit someone else in this place, because you were a visitor. An outsider. It was something else entirely being on the inside.
He stepped from the elevator, dragging his IV pole behind him, his footsteps echoing from the unforgiving hard floors and walls. Using one of the phones was an elderly woman in a wheelchair, her voice so sickly he could barely even hear it. She made him feel slightly more alive, slightly healthier given that he was walking and she could barely hold her head up.
That feeling he had almost all of the time now had temporarily faded. The feeling of being watched, or rather the feeling that something was always behind him, following him with some unknowable purpose. Something always looking over his shoulder, or perhaps staring vehemently at the back of his head. For now it was gone anyway.
To his left was a sterile gray hallway lined with dull oil paintings of boring landscapes which led to the emergency ward. To his right was the gift shop which was where he intended to go. He could see from here that it was indeed still open, but the shop owner was counting cash. He had made it in time, but barely. His footsteps increased in frequency and the wheels of his IV pole squeaked more urgently.
"Too late to buy something?" He said, sounding exhausted as if he'd sprinted here from down the road.
"It's five after" The shop owner looked him up and down and, as if sensing the severity of his illness, added "but I'll make an exception."
"What'll it be?"
"You still have your scratch-and-lose tickets out?"
"I'm feeling lucky already." he said with a smile that betrayed his health. An effort to smile was really what it was.
"I'll take two tic-tac-toes, two poker express, and a set for life please."
"Set for life, huh? You always do things last minute?"
"We stop selling those tomorrow. The contest will be over." The man replied quickly, though managing to sound nonchalant. He could tell the shop owner realized his mistake. He could see it in the man's eyes, a sort of false sincerity betrayed by his newly emerged overzealous smile.
"Well, as long as there's tickets to buy I'm supposed to have a chance to win. That's the law, right?"
"Right you are, sir. Nine dollars, please."
He handed over a five and coin, slid his tickets off the counter, and then turned back toward the elevators. The ambient buzz and hums of the gift shop faded and was replaced by the deathly quiet of the vacant lobby. The woman in the wheelchair was gone.
"Thank you, sir!" the shop owner hollared, his echoing voice sounding intrusive. He didn't give the man an answer, and not because of the accidental rudeness of his comment but because of the truth of it. Long ago he stopped being able to afford life insurance and his family deserved something after he was gone. Lottery was all that was left to try for. He didn't want to think of that, though.
He thought briefly of sitting in one of the lobby chairs to scratch his tickets, but it was so empty, dark, and quiet. At least on his floor there was some sign of life. The moaning and coughing were more like signs of death than life, but at least the people the sounds came from were still alive. He came to the conclusion to head back to his room even as the elevator dinged and that feeling began to return. It was vague at first, a feeling like when you know there's a security camera pointed at you.
The elevator doors slid open, projecting an ever-widening line of yellow-orange light across the granite floor of the lobby. He stared into the elevator expecting someone to step out from a corner he couldn't see from his vantage point, but the elevators here were small. No one emerged. The elevator was empty, and the feeling was back in full force now. Something breathing down his neck. And there was another sensation now, too. He had the strangest feeling that something had been decided. What he didn't know and by who he knew even less, but some decision had been made and the elevator was waiting for him.