High Rise

Matt Meneghello

Dust puffed up as she scrambled under the close-linked wire fence, wriggling under the last few sharp-ended points.  She cleared the fence and turned, standing up, to look at the young boy following her. 

    "Come on,” she said, with ill-disguised impatience, “you can fit under.” The boy squeezed under the fence behind her, brushing himself off as he gazed up at their destination: an old crumbling tower block, framed by the sun straining to break through the dark clouds.  She started walking purposefully towards the building, beckoning him to follow.  “You know,” she started, “no one’s lived here for years.  They say that it’s haunted!”

    He followed closely behind raising a sceptical eyebrow at her; she always had some tall story to accompany their adventures. He had no doubt that no one had lived here for a while though.  The wire fences they’d squeezed under had been erected after the last person was evicted, and yet it too looked old, dilapidated. 

    They reached the building, and stood side by side gazing at the boarded up windows and the litter strewn around the floor that was drifting slowly in a lazy wind.  It was not a sight to inspire interest.  However, their destination was inside. 

    “I bet there’s loads of cool stuff in there.  Things people have left behind.”  She pulled aside a piece of black sacking, and vanished into the gloomy interior.  Her companion stood outside for a moment longer, letting his gaze brush over the dust-covered signs.  He peeked into the gap in which she had disappeared, and stepped after her.


    A short way south of the building, a car trundled along the dusty road, carrying two men in tattered overalls, covered in faded orange high-visibility jackets.  They travelled in relative silence, neither speaking as they listened to early-afternoon jazz on the crackly radio. 

    The car pulled up outside the close-linked fence, and the passenger got out, fumbling in his pocket for a large bronze key.  He inserted the key into the rusty lock and wiggled it back and forth, trying to loosen the locking mechanism.  Eventually, with a grinding click, the lock yielded and the passenger pulled the gates back to allow the car entry.  The driver nodded to his passenger and piloted the car through and into an empty parking space. 

    He got out of the car and pulled a battered pack of cigarettes out of his trouser pocket, offering one to his passenger.  They stood in silence, the car radio still emitting the easy jazz, as they slowly smoked.  The driver eyed the building ahead, dropping his eyes every now and then to a stack of papers stuck to a clipboard he’d pulled out of the car, as if checking something, or comparing notes.  He nodded his satisfaction, and passed the clipboard to his passenger who took it, mimicking his movements almost perfectly: look ar the building.  Look at the clipboard.  Slow nod. 

     “So how long do we have?” the passenger asked, checking his watch. “I give it 10 minutes.”  The driver looked at his watch, and grunted agreement. 

     “I’ll set up the trigger – it’ll take me a few minutes.”

     “I guess I’ll check out the building,” the passenger suggested, pointing his chin towards the tall, crumbling tower block. The driver kept his eyes on the clipboard for a moment before tutting.

     “Why bother?” he asked, “No one’s been here for years; that’s why it’s being demolished.” His mouth curled into a slow, sly smile.  “But, if you want to traipse up and down those stairs, be my guest.”  The passenger looked up again, gauging the height of the building, noting the dynamite placed in a black band around the ground floor.  

     “I’ll have a look around,” he muttered, knuckling the small of his back. “But I’m not going to waste my time; it would take forever to check that.”


    It seemed like hours they’d been walking around the building, but he knew it couldn’t have been that long: the sun still hung quite high in the sky.  They’d walked up numerous flights of stairs throughout the early afternoon, and hadn’t really found anything interesting.  He looked up and saw a faded sign saying 9th floor.  No wonder his legs were aching.

    “I just had a look out of the window – we’re so high up!” she said, springing out from a dusty doorway. “Let’s keep going.” He watched her walk confidently towards the next flight of steps.  Dust covered her clothes, so that she looked to have a deathly pallor; she had bits of spider-web caught in her once-golden hair; and her jeans had a rip on the left knee from where she had fallen over.  A small trickle of blood had dried just below it.  He lost sight of her as she turned the corner of the stairs and he heard the banging of doors above. He sighed and walked slowly up after her, trying to place his feet in the footsteps she had created in the dust. 

    He looked up sharply at a sound above; she had shouted, but her voice was muffled by a series of closed doors.  He pounded up the stairs, now ignoring her delicate footprints.  She always had been reckless.

He flung open the doors and stepped into a dusty corridor.  He glanced down and saw her footprints leading up and to the right.  He charged into the room, his feet slipping as they obscured the sign of her passing, and looked around wildly.  She stood in the middle of a cloud of dust, coughing as it danced around her. A crumpled sheet lay on the floor beside her, where she had yanked it off a tall, full-height mirror. She had her hands clasped together in front of her as if in prayer, gazing at either her reflection or the mirror itself.

    "Isn't it beautiful?" She whispered, running her hand almost reverently along the gilt work running the length of the mirror. He wasn't so sure; the mirror was cracked at the top, but she wouldn't be too concerned about that; she was too short for it to affect her. The gilt, which at first seemed impressive in its intricacy, to him appeared cracked and faded; a dim hint of its former grandeur.

    She sat in the dust, crossing her legs neatly under her. "I just want to sit here a bit," she muttered, "it's so beautiful." He wasn't impressed. He wanted to go home. She turned her head toward him, seeming to catch his mood. "If you want to go, please do." She said softly, "I'll be a bit longer." He considered it, but decided it would be rude to leave without her. He walked forward and plonked himself down beside her, heaving up a new cohort of dust which swarmed around them both. She gently lowered her head onto his shoulder as they sat in the gloom of a room long abandoned, gazing at the old mirror.


    The passenger sat on the hood of the car, taking an uneasy pull on yet another cigarette. His job was done. Or rather, not done. He considered telling the driver what he’d seen. Or thought he’d seen.  Surely it had been a trick of the light?  It was hard to see anything clearly that high up.

    He watched as the driver walked backwards from the building, feeding out a black line as he went. He shivered; it seemed much colder than it had been earlier. He looked up and saw large black clouds battling the sun.  He checked his watch apprehensively; he wanted to be done before the storm hit.

    The driver stopped near the car and bent over the trigger, a big square block with a T-shaped plunger jutting up from the middle.

    "All set." The driver called over, knuckling his back as he straightened. "She's good to go."  He squinted at the decaying structure, and eyed the passenger. The passenger finished his cigarette and ground it under his heel. He cleared his throat, looked at the driver, up at the block, then slowly nodded.



    After what seemed an age, she lifted her head from his shoulder and stifled a yawn.       "We should be getting back,' she murmured. They both stood slowly. "I'll come back," she whispered, still gazing at the mirror. Her small hand found his and held on tightly. He gave her hand a squeeze, and she turned slightly and smiled at him. They left the mirror hand in hand, walking slowly back together.


    The driver gave a flick of his wrist in salute, and leant his whole weight over the plunger. For a second, nothing happened. Then, with a wave of dust and an ear-splitting roar, the base of the building vanished and the block plunged straight down, as if a hole in the earth had swallowed it, sending it straight to hell.

The driver and passenger stood side by side, a safe distance from the demolition zone, watching the building fall as the clouds finally opened and started singing their melancholy song.


    In no time at all, all the remained was a giant heap of rubble being beaten by the downpour. The driver consulted his clipboard, scratched a tick in a water-blotched box, and tucked it under his arm.  He climbed into the driver's seat as the passenger climbed into his, and turned the ignition. The car rumbled to life, and they slowly pulled away, leaving a few faint notes of crackly jazz which were quickly washed away by the storm's fury.

2020 A Chance to Write publications.