Thursday, July 26, 2012

Part 3

Continued from Part 2

What’s that click? How long have I been sitting here? Did I imagine it? No. I definitely hear footsteps.

“Hey! Where have you guys-” I am cut off midsentence as I spin around to find myself staring down the barrel of an assault rifle. At the other end of the weapon is a man, distinguishable as male only by his bulk, clad in black tactical gear complete with body armor, a helmet, and a face shielding balaclava.

“On your knees. Put your hands behind your head,” he barks.

I’m not inclined to argue with the gentleman and I drop to the floor. My eyes drift to the door, where I see a doppelganger securing the hallway.

“Eyes forward.” He is forceful and authoritative, but he does not yell. “Ma’am, do you have any weapons on you?”

I shake my head. What the hell is going on here?

“Ma’am, do you have any weapons on you? Yes or no.”

“No.” My voice is not my own. It is weak. Had the word been longer, I’m sure it would have cracked.

“Squirrel, get in here. Check her.”

“Yes sir,” a female voice calls from the hall.

Squirrel appears before me.  “Ma’am, stand up, spread your legs, and spread your arms with your palms down.” She is slight, shorter than me, but the weapon slung on her back tells me that she is no less deadly than her boss. I do as I am told.

She pats me down and when she is satisfied that there is nothing to be found she steps back. “Clear.”

The man nods approvingly. “Ma’am, please lower your arms and take a seat.”

I sit, folding my hands neatly in my lap. It’s all I can manage to keep my breath even. My mind is racing. So much for there not being any sign of cops or evacuation teams. These guys are clearly SWAT or some sort of special ops. There are at least three of them and who knows how many more are hiding out in the passageway or outside the building. These guys look like they are hunting hostiles, not survivors or victims. What the hell is going on?

He lowers his rifle and his eyes soften. “Thank you for your cooperation, Ma’am.”

Like I had a choice.

“It would be appreciated if you could answer a few questions for me.” His voice is smooth and rehearsed.

“I’ll do my best. I . . . I don’t suppose you have any identification  . . . or anything that would let me know that you are legitimate law enforcement and not just terrorists?”

“No Ma’am.”

I nod, not liking my options. At least they have the wrong girl if they are looking to get anything technical. I’m just a finance weenie.

“What’s your name? Do you have any identification?”

Easy enough. “Leigh Fischer. In there,” I say as I point to my purse hanging next to the door.

He nods to Squirrel and she pulls it from the hook and begins rummaging through.

“What are you doing here?”

“What? I work here. What else would I be doing here?”

He ignores my confusion and pushes on. “What time did you arrive?”


“And you live outside the city?”

“What? How did you know that?”

“She lives in Iron Cross, Sir.” Squirrel had located my driver’s license.

“So you probably take Route 121 and miss most of the morning rush hour,” the man continues.

“Yes.” What does this have to do with anything? How did this guy know I live in the boondocks? Why does he even care?

“Have you seen anyone else since you arrived?”

“No.” Finally some questioning that might be relevant.

“You didn’t find that odd?”

“Well . . . not at first. I showed up late. I was trying to lay low. It took me a while to notice that everyone in this block was missing. I was in the process of starting to freak out when you guys showed up to confirm my suspicions that something is messed up.” I pause, fealing a little more daring now that there is no longer a gun pointed at me. “What’s going on?”

His silence seems to indicate that he is debating what he should do with me or how much he should tell me. Hopefully, whatever he decides, doesn’t involve a body bag.

He cocks his head to one side. “Dragon to base . . . . . Red team has located a friendly native. She is unaffected. I repeat she is unaffected . . . Sir, shall we extract her or proceed? She could help us gain access to the Dungeon . . . . . . . . . . . .Roger. Dragon out.”

The vague one-way conversation between Dragon and some unknown entity about me helping them get into the Dungeon was enough to raise my hackles and before I knew it, I was standing up with my arms crossed in front of my chest, staring him down.

“Look, Mr. Dragon, I don’t know who the hell you guys are, but you had better extract me or put a bullet in me or cough up some ID, because you are off your rocker if you think I’m gonna let you into the Dungeon without it. You guys are real scary with your guns and all, but letting you into the Dungeon would be tantamount to treason and I’m not really interested in a life sentence or a trip to the gallows.”

“Aren’t you a feisty one? Glad you’re on our side,” Dragon says with a hint of shock in his voice.

“Our side?” I am skeptical and fired up. My patriotism, adrenaline, and training have gone into overdrive, overshadowing my fear or need for self-preservation.

“Our side,” he confirms. “Will this provide adequate clearance?” he asks as he retrieves an object from a pocket on his arm and hands it to me.

It is a plastic ID badge with a vertical orientation. There is a bar code and an identification number across the top of the badge. In the middle, where his picture and name should be, there is a blacked-out square. And on the bottom there are three gold stars and the Defense Ministry’s seal.

With the exception of the missing photograph and name, his badge looks just like mine. Well that and the stars. I have one gold star and two black ones. Long story short, my stars indicate that I can access my office space and lower security blocks whenever I want to with no questions asked.  I can access high and top security blocks during working hours or with written direction from a senior manager. Dragon’s three gold stars mean he can go wherever, whenever. Just like his gun and uniform, his badge says don’t fuck with me.

“So . . . you want to go to the Dungeon?” I say, trying to be more casual after my outburst.

“Yes. Where have you been today?”

“Just this block. The offices along this hallway, that stairway, and the bathroom.”

“And you saw no one?”


He nods toward the doorway and I lead him a Squirrel into the hall.

“I’m Dragon,” he says putting his thumb to his chest. “Squirrel,” he points to the female. “Ox.” The guy I had seen from the office grunts. “And Otter.”Another figure in black is standing guard at the door to the stairway.

“Ox, take point. Otter, left flank. Squirrel, right flank. I’ll take up the rear. Ms. Fischer, if you would be so kind as to give directions from the center. Under no circumstances should you leave Squirrel’s side.”

“Can I just go home instead?”


“Didn’t think so. Well, since you guys are all animals, you might as well call me Fish, my friends all do.”  

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Part 2

Continued from Part 1

Before I open the door to the hallway, I glance down at my watch. 7:45. Shit. Closer, but still fifteen minutes late. Fifty bucks says he’s in there leaned up against the wall, just waiting to give me a hard time. I take a deep breath, put on a grin, and push through the door. He is nowhere in sight. Maybe he is busy and hasn't noticed that I am late. I can hope. I stroll into my office and flick my computer on, willing it to boot quickly so that it won’t betray my absence.
After about an hour of making myself appear busy, I decide that I am in the clear. I stand up, stretch, and head down the hall to check on Fred. He’s not bugging me. That must mean that he is up to his eyeballs in something and if he has something that hot, I’m sure he will need my help. His door is open and his office is empty. I check my watch. Almost 9 o’clock. I scroll through my mental calendar, coming up blank for any recurring meetings or other plans of which I had been informed.

As I wander back to my seat, it hits me that Fred isn’t the only one missing. The entire office is quiet. There is no one at the photocopier or the water cooler. There is no sound of hushed chit chat and gossiping. There are no overly loud speakers indicative of a telecon.

I knock quietly on Kimberley’s door. When I get no answer, I cautiously crack the door. I find an empty room, silent but for the groaning of the AC unit. I do the same with Richard’s office and then Steph’s. Both are empty. I eye the door across from my office. The Den. That’s what we call it. It’s a group office with a half a dozen cubicles installed. It’s where we keep the interns and the most junior team members. I was in there up until a year ago when an office opened up after an encouraged retirement.

I am met with more silence as I barge through the door. Not a single prairie dog pokes its head up over the fabric dividers. I wander through the cubes. All are empty. My brain floods with confusion. It’s one thing for the senior team to be missing, but for all of the prairie dogs to be hiding? What the hell?

Crossing the hall, I sit back down at my desk and look through my calendar and double and triple check my email to ensure that I am not missing an assembly. Anxiety has settled in my stomach and paranoia has set in. A million impossible scenarios begin playing in my head. Nothing fits. Any kind of a group evacuation would entail alarms; security guards; the police; or the fire department, none of which are apparent.

Sitting at my desk and starring at my computer, I strain to hear the sound of a door opening or a co-worker laughing, signaling the return of my colleagues. Anything.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Part 1

“Leigh, come see me in my office.” Fred is standing halfway down the hall, leaning against the whitewashed cement block walls. With his cup of tar in hand, he is trying to look relaxed and at ease. He is failing. He looks ominous and imposing. That’s the way he always looks. His shoulders are too broad; he is too tall; the clenched muscles in his jaw are too severe; and his eyes are too sharp, always ready to catch the slightest indiscretion.  

“Sure boss. Lemme get my computer cranked up and I’ll be right down.” I am much better at pretending to be relaxed. I duck into my office away from his gaze and fall into my chair. What does he want? Man, that guy knows how to put me on edge first thing in the morning. Can’t he give me a couple of minutes to ease into the day? No, my work day usually starts with blunt force trauma and a blood pressure spike.

I push the start button on my tower and lean back in my chair, letting the beeps, clicks and whirs of the booting computer wash over me. I scan through my email quickly to see if there is anything there that might warn me about what’s on his mind. It’s all inconsequential. Hell, this whole trip to his office could be inconsequential. It’s normal for me to arrive to find him stalking around waiting for me, looking like the world is going to end, all to tell me that the staff meeting has been cancelled or he needs my help planning the company picnic.

Whatever, let’s get this over with.  

I push away from my desk and trudge down the hall. The doors to the offices that I pass are all closed. We are in the heat of the summer, the whole two weeks of it, and my colleagues are hording their precious AC, unwilling to see it wasted on a common space or a hallway. The temperature isn’t too bad now, but by noon the stark passageway will be in the low 80’s.

My scuffing feet are muffled by the dirty brown carpet that I am sure is older than me. Most things in this building are. I’m 26 and have been here for just over five years. This place? I think it used to be a bomb shelter in the 50’s or something like that. Most days I consider myself lucky to not be using a typewriter or sending correspondence via snail mail, though we do that for some stuff.

Fred’s door is open and I slide into my usual spot, leaning up against his filing cabinet, and I knock my knuckles lightly on the metal to announce my arrival. He spins around, away from his computer, to face me. He doesn’t offer me a seat. He doesn’t have one to give me, even if he wanted to. He’s a miserable middle manager, crammed into a shoebox of an office. The room is just big enough for his small desk pushed into the corner; a bookshelf with Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and a few other self-help management books; and the gunmetal grey industrial filing cabinet that I am leaning up against. At least he has a window. It is a prized and rare commodity.

“Fletcher called,” he starts. Inconsequential dribble. I tune him out, nodding and answering on autopilot. He tells me stuff I already know. He just wants to hear himself talk.

After a few minutes of ramble, he pauses and any modicum of ease disappears. Here is comes, the real reason he has me in his office.

“There was a memo that went out last week about time and attendance.”

I nod. I was well aware.

“You didn’t get in until 8 o’clock this morning.”

“Yep, you know I’m not much of a morning person.”

“Well . . . are you going to change your schedule in TAL? You are currently scheduled for 7:30 to 4:00.”

My blood begins to simmer. What exactly are you insinuating? I’m your most productive employee. I have cancelled vacations for you. I am a non-smoker. I don’t drink coffee. I work through lunch. I’m rarely found at the water cooler. I practically live at my desk and in your office.

“You know . . . I just have to make sure I’m getting my full eight hours.”

Really? Did he really just say that? I feel my jaw tighten and my blood goes from a simmer to a boil. Cool it, Fish. This guy isn’t worth it. My jaw aches as I force a smile and tame my temper. Despite my attempt to mask my frustrations it must have been too little too late, because he stiffens and leans back into his chair. Another failed attempt to look relaxed.

“It’s not that big of a deal.”

No, it’s not. It’s just an excuse for you to flex what little authority you have.

“It’s just . . .”

It’s just what?

“There have been times, lately, that I have needed you and you weren’t here.”

Needed me? Like that blonde I saw you with last month down at the dive on the other side of town? I know why I was there. I was picking up my drunk-ass cousin. But what were you doing there? I know that wasn’t your wife. I’ve met your wife. Maybe she could pass for your daughter, but that would make you even more of a creep than I thought you were.

He’s never actually hit on me, but there have been times when he has been so awkward and his words have come out so jumbled that they could have been easily misconstrued. He has danced precariously close to that undefined line. Don’t get me wrong. I’m single and he is fairly attractive, even if he is almost twice my age. There was a time when I would have been flattered, even welcomed it. But then he opened his mouth and I got to know him for the douche he is.

I feel a switch flick in my brain and all the tension melts away. My sneer morphs into a toothy grin and I shrug. “Yea, sure. No problem. I’ll work on getting in at 7:30.”

He looks relived as I back out of his office. I return to my desk and spend every minute of my eight hour day being as unproductive as possible.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Now don't get me wrong; I'm not suicidal or psychopathic. I'm not interested in going out looking for trouble or trying to bring down the world as we know it. God knows things are messed up enough as it is without me  stirring the pot. I'm just bored. Real life has exceeded my attention span and I could use a good excuse to do something different.

The dead rising or a hostile alien invasion would most definitely rip me from my perfectly adequate suburban lifestyle. I doubt I would survive. I have no real skills to speak of, unless a zombie horde can be stopped in it's tracks by bullshit. But surviving isn't the point or at least it's not the point of my interest in an apocalypse.

With cyborg overlords pointing a laser at your head, your 401(k) ceases to matter. You don't really need to think about that car payment or a mortgage on a house you're not even sure you like. Even without the cyborg and the laser gun, I try to tell myself that none of that really matters. I try to tell myself that I should go out and take chances and push the limits and live like tomorrow is the apocalypse. But the reality is, it does matter. Society has ingrained in me this drive to succeed. Not survive. Succeed.

I don't even know what success is. Do you? I think it has something to do with that convertible sitting in my driveway and the path that I chose that has thus far led to an exceptionally dull but secure career. But I am really not sure.

I would love to say screw it all and walk away, to go try something new and exciting. But for me to let go and let life take me where it leads, it would take me either winning the lottery or being forced into it by some extreme turn of events. I think we all know what the odds are.

So I dream of the apocalypse.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Do you ever wish for the apocalypse? Not the end of the human race kind of apocalypse . . . just the kind of  huge game changer that would completely alter your life as you know it. The kind of event that would keep you from having to go back to your fuzzy, grey cubicle in the middle of a cube farm. The kind of event that would make all the niceties and strained smiles pointless and unnecessary. The kind of event that would let you be who you want to be, rather than who you have to be.

Yea? Me too.