“In or not?” A grumpy old man in a suit asked Andy. The young, blonde man, barely 18, took too long to enter the elevator making the old man grumpier by the second. He sighed and let the man’s impatience pressure him into the elevator. Once Andy hefted his bulging, black backpack over his shoulder and stepped forward the old man’s scowl disappeared. He pressed the top button, 50th floor, then asked Andy. “Floor?”
“Uh,..” After some hesitation, Andy shook his head. “Just taking a ride.” The old man surprised him with a large smile. “I can appreciate that.” The man reached forward and pressed a handful of buttons at random. “It’s been a long time since I rode the elevator just for fun.”
“Uh, aren’t you in a hurry, Sir?” Andy asked. He needed the elevator to be empty to reach his destination, wherever that might be. The old man shook his head.
“Not one bit,” he cast a stern gaze at Andy. “I don’t like indecision. For ‘just taking a ride’, you sure hesitated a fair amount.” The stranger nodded at Andy’s backpack. “‘Lotta gear for an elevator ride.” It might have been the old man’s comment, but Andy decided something there and then. He was not planning to return this time and he wanted someone to know. Even if he did not believe a word Andy said, at least someone would know.
“I was nervous,” Andy said. He still felt nervous and fidgeted with the straps on his shoulders. “I don’t know where I’m going,” he said truthfully.
“Right now we’re going to the 12th floor,” the man replied. The number 12 was the first button lit up on the panel. Andy shook his head.
“If I’m alone in an elevator, it takes me somewhere else. Usually, I can find my way home in another elevator but I don’t think I’m coming back this time.”
“Running away isn’t a solution,” the man said. Andy nodded.
“I know. I’m not running away, I’m running to something. Does that make sense?” The elevator slowed to a stop at the 12th floor then dinged open. Andy saw no one waiting for the elevator and continued talking to the man. “The first time it happened I was scared out of my mind, but I found my way home. The second time it happened I was less scared and the third time I realized it was going to keep happening,” he smiled. “This is the first time I’ve been in an elevator in four years.” The elevator closed and started upward again toward the 23rd floor. After a moment of silence, the old man finally spoke.
“You’re serious? This is really happening to you?”
“You believe me!?” Andy asked. The old man gave a gentle nod.
“What’s your favorite number?” he asked suddenly.
“35” He nodded, then reached for the panel of buttons and pressed the number 34. It was lit, but he held it down until it went dim again; then, he pressed the button marked 35. The elevator came to a stop on the 23rd floor and the doors opened. He turned to face Andy.
“I’ll get off here. You go up to the 35th floor alone and get off there. A piece of advice: ask around until you find someone named Mundo. They’ll get you sorted.” The old man stepped out of the elevator and smiled.”
“Thanks!” Andy filled with relief that someone not only believed him but was actively trying to help. The door began to close.
“What does Mundo look like?” Andy asked as the doors slid shut. The old man smiled. “Any of them will help you out.” Once the elevator began traveling again Andy felt a sense of peace. He enjoyed the quiet ride to the 35th floor then the elevator slowed.
“Here we go,” Andy mumbled to himself. Before the elevator stopped completely everything went black, the way it always did. Then, the door dinged and he could see the light again. The doors slid open to a gleaming white marble floor and a large open hall with marble pillars. Andy heard echoing footsteps approach, then two people stepped into view. A pink-haired young woman and a dark-haired young man, both about Andy’s age. The woman smiled at Andy and stepped forward.
“I’m Jessie, this is Mark. Welcome to Star Academy.”