Standing in the lobby, I jabbed the elevator call button again. It had been a long day. I was tired and all I wanted was to get up to my apartment, put on my PJs and hang out on the couch with my cat. This ridiculously slow elevator was interfering with my plans. As I contemplated making the trek up eleven flights of stairs, the elevator finally arrived. I stepped inside and pressed the button for my floor, then leaned my back against the wall for the ride.
The doors slid open and I walked out onto my floor. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something wasn’t quite right. The hallway lighting seemed a little different. I shrugged to myself. Maybe they’d finally upgraded the bulbs to those energy-efficient ones. I made my way down the hall to my apartment. It was only when I tried to open the door with my key that I realized it was more than just the lighting that was different. My door no longer had a keyhole. Some fancy electronic lock graced it instead.
Now I was angry. Why hadn’t they informed me about the upgrades? I cursed under my breath. The idea of waiting for that elevator to take me back down to the lobby was grossly unappealing, but I didn’t see any other way to get inside. But as I turned to head back to the elevator, my apartment door opened.
A woman stared at me, “What are you doing loitering in the hallway?” she asked.
“I didn’t get a key for the new lock,” I started to explain, and then stopped. “Hold on, what are you doing in my apartment?”
The woman raised her eyebrows, “I live here.”
I checked the number on the door. It was definitely my apartment. I was too tired for this. I pushed past the woman, assuming one of my friends was playing a joke on me. But my apartment was all wrong. All my stuff was gone. I spun around to confront the invader.
“Okay, this isn’t funny. What did you do with all my stuff? Where are my plants? Where’s my cat?”
The woman was looking at me like I was completely nuts. “I told you. I live here. And people haven’t kept plants or animals inside for almost a century.” She backed away from me, “You haven’t been in contact with any plants, have you?”
I decided that I must have fallen asleep while waiting for the elevator. Surely this was just a weird dream. I ignored the woman and walked over to look out the window. The view that greeted me was unbelievable.
In the light of the setting sun was a cityscape I had never seen before — and yet I recognized parts of it. Buildings I had walked past on my way home were long gone, replaced with piles of stone and dust. Entire sections of the city were missing, as if the earth had opened up and swallowed them. All the parks were gone too, reduced to blackened earth. Black and grey everywhere. I turned to the woman in my apartment. Our apartment.
“What happened?” I asked.
“You don’t remember?” She was clearly puzzled, but was no longer looking at me like I was totally crazy.
I shook my head.
“It started in the labs. Controlled environments, to ensure safety. But labs are sterile and they really had no idea what would happen once they moved into the fields.” She came and stood beside me, staring out the window, and then continued. “Genetically modified crops were supposed to end hunger on a global scale. Instead they nearly wiped us out.”
“I don’t understand,” I pointed at the scene outside, “how did GMOs do that?”
“We underestimated the plants. Not the genetically modified ones — the ones that were here first. They fought back. They infected the water supply, poisoned the genetically modified crops, and infiltrated buildings through their root systems. Most of the animals joined them. It was all out war. We fought back by burning them out of the city and destroying any animals we could catch. An electrified fence around the perimeter keeps them at bay, usually.”
Stunned, I stared out the window. “But how have humans survived without plants and animals?”
“We still have the genetically modified ones. We grow them in labs, along with our meat.” She looked at me, “You really aren’t from here, are you?”
Silently, I shook my head.
“Well, wherever you’re from, maybe you can persuade your people to do things differently. We picked the wrong path. The air quality in the city gets worse every year and life expectancy keeps declining.” She smiled sadly, “We’re under siege and we’re going to lose. We should have found another way.”
I reached out and touched her arm. “You could come back with me,” I said.
“I can’t. I belong here,” she replied. “Besides, this apartment’s only big enough for one of us at a time.”
With a final look out the window, I left the apartment, heading back down the hallway to the elevator.
“Try to find another way,” she said as I stepped inside.
I nodded and pushed the button marked eleven, then held down the button to close the doors. I looked at my anachronistic flatmate one last time. When the doors opened back up, she was gone.
I walked slowly back down the hallway to my apartment door. With great relief, I saw a keyhole. With greater relief, my key turned in the lock and the door swung open. Lola, my cat, rushed to greet me, insisting that she was starving to death. I made my way to the kitchen to feed her, and then wandered over to look out the window. Buildings were where they should be and I could see people in the park, jogging, walking their dogs and sitting on benches, enjoying the sunset. I took a deep breath and turned to address my plants.
“Just want you all to know I’m on your side,” I announced. “From now on, this home will be GMO-free.”
I couldn’t say for sure, but I think the fern smiled.
“Oh,” I added, “and I’m never taking the elevator again.”
I wrote this story for the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge: Through the Door.
Here’s the prompt:
The door to your house/flat/apartment/abode has come unstuck in time. The next time you walk through it, you find yourself in the same place, but a different time entirely. Where are you, and what happens next?