All the other contestants were gone—blueberries to be juiced or rotten eggs to be fired in the furnace. Danny was the only one left. He walked down the long corridor just as he had been instructed. Pop limped along behind him, groaning and cursing like a man passing a kidney stone in secret.
“You alright, Pop?”
“Why wouldn’t I be alright?” He bent over with his hands on his knees, muttering to himself, “Inconsiderate bastard . . . . argh ugh argh arrhhhhh!”
“What’s that, Pop?”
“Go on without me,” Pop waved the young man on. “Dancing idiot he is . . . . argh ugh argh arrrrhhhhh!”
“Sure thing, Pop!” And Danny did dance down the hallway, moonwalking into a split. He rose as if his spine were on a puppet string.
“Effin’ Pinochio,” garbled Pop, the distance between the two growing larger by the second.
“What’s that, Pop?”
“I said you’re the real deal . . . you effin’ bastard.”
“Oh, thanks, Pop! That’s such an awesome thing to say!” said Danny as he entered into a smooth criminal lean.
When Danny reached the end of the hall, he came to a sliding glass door, frosted so he could not see what awaited him. Above the door was a golden half circle. A rod with a horse on the end moved back and forth, measuring the time or the distance of something and somewhere. A ding sounded and the frosted glass panes slid open. A man with a face that tried too hard at everything leaned out under a mop of charcoal hair.
“You must be Danny . . . Danny Green.”
“I sure am,” said Danny, spinning on his heels.
“Welcome to the start of your journey! After all, you’re the big winner!” The man extended a hand and bowed.
“Awesome!” said Danny. He did not take the man’s hand, but he did step across the threshold and into the glass elevator. “Holy cow!” he said.
“Glad to see you are excited. Are you ready to go?”
“Well, I’m almost ready. We need Pop.”
The man peered down the corridor. “You sure? Looks like it might take him a while.”
“You comin’, Pop? It smells like popcorn and cotton candy in here! It’s going to be awesome! What? I can’t hear you, Pop?”
“I said get on the damn thing without me!” yelled Pop, waving Danny off and turning towards his cellphone. “What’s that, Kawhi? Danny effin’ Green’s yelling about candy corn or some shit. You know he spit out that cabaret I bought him. Didn’t even have the courtesy to swish it ‘round. Uh huh. Was that Aldridge or Gasol? Okay got it. Yeah, just go ahead, Danny. I’ll be here. Just going to catch my breath.”
“Sounds like he’s not coming, kid,” said the man with charcoal hair as he closed the glass doors.
“Yeah, that’s a bummer.”
“Well, these things happen.”
“I know his name’s Pop, but he was a real pop to me. If not for him, I sure wouldn’t be here.”
“Don’t be so humble. You’re a talented kid.”
“You’re probably right, so what do you call this thing?”
“I call it . . . drumroll please . . . the Cubavator.”
“I don’t get it.”
“It’s like my name, Danny, plus the word elevator.”
“Okay, but how’s it different than a normal elevator?”
“Can you not smell the snozzberries?”
“Do I want to smell the snozzberries?”
“Why wouldn’t you?”
“Well, sir, I’m looking up what a snozzberry is online and—“
“Okay, forget the damn snozzberries, Danny, just press a button . . . any button.”
Danny looked at the panel of brass buttons. “Can I press two?”
“Of course you can, Danny, this is your day.”
Danny hovered his finger over the panel and then he made his choices: 3 and D.
“Great choice, Danny! But I should tell you that the floor you selected doesn’t exist yet.”
“What does that mean?”
“No idea, but we’re about to find out.” The man braced himself in a corner of the Cubavator, which was now rumbling and tremoring as possessed by a thousand tiny earthquakes.
“Is this thing safe, sir?”
“It’s not dangerous.”
The Cubavator began rattling up the elevator shaft. Danny looked up towards the ceiling. Then he stared beyond the ceiling. Everything was flawless, not even a thumbprint on the glass. But then Danny noticed a speck in the heavenly distance. After a while, the speck grew larger and larger. “What’s that?”
“Oh, that’s nothing.”
But Danny was not so sure. The speck spread into a blob. Then the speck added colors, not just black now but red and brown and dripping blue threads. “Are we getting closer to it?”
“We sure are, Danny,” said the man with his eyes open wide. “We’re getting closer and closer. No one knows where we’re going. But we’re going faster and faster. Quicker than we are slower.”
“You’re not making a lot of sense, sir.”
The Cubavator rocketed fast as a bullet in a silo. Danny could not take his eyes off the fleshy blob above and then a blue flag landed on the roof of the Cubavator. Then Danny realized the flag was no flag but a shredded jersey with the number eleven on it.
“Poor Monta,” said the man who was always trying too hard, and then he commenced to humming once again.
“Who’s Monta, sir?”
“Hm hmmmmm hm hm hmmmm hm.”
“Sir, who’s Monta?”
“Hm hmmmmm hm hm hmmmm hm.”
“OH POP! WHERE ARE WE HEADED?!?”
The man with charcoal hair grinned like a sheepish wolf. “Why your glass ceiling, Danny. Where else would we be headed?” The humming continued, wicked and self-obsessed, as if it were the source of the glass cage’s cruel velocity—the world entire.
Danny looked up and all he could see was the blue of the jersey—the blue of the sky. Glass seemed to be breaking, but he did not know where.