As the office murmured and rumbled on behind him, Martin stared out the windows, unable to prevent his thoughts from returning to that night. Daddy, I’m scared, she had said. He shook his head, swore, and walked back over to the box of pastries. Twelve thousand, twelve thousand more, and then she wouldn’t be scared anymore.
“There he goes again.” Pete’s normally wide grin widened even further. “What’s it going to be now?”
Martin eyed up the remaining pastry, a bear claw, but instead reached for the coffee.
Pete stepped up beside him. “Yep, you have to watch yourself.” He patted him on the stomach and caused Martin to pour some of the coffee onto the counter. Pete didn’t seem to notice.
Martin cleared his throat. “I really appreciate the concern.”
“So, what are you getting into this weekend?”
“You know that hot little bartender at the Portside?”
Martin wiped up the coffee. “No.”
Pete whistled, drawing a few glances from the surrounding cubicles. “Well, she and her friends are coming out on the boat this weekend. What do you think? Can I convince you to come out this time?”
“I have too much to get done this weekend.” How many times had he told this lie now?
“Listen, Marty, this isn’t something you want to miss out on.”
“You never come out anymore.”
“What can I say? Life just gets busier all the time.” And, more complicated.
“And, if you don’ take a break here and there, it’ll drive you nuts.”
“I can’t,” Martin said, somewhat sharply.
Pete looked somewhat taken aback.
“Thank you, though,” Martin added, softer, stepping away.
“You’re missing out,” Pete called, already grinning again.
I probably am, Martin thought as he passed through a row of cubicles.
The new receptionist, whose name maybe was Susan, was browsing lingerie on the internet again. She didn’t bother to even look up as Martin clearly stopped and examined the lovely satin and lace number she was zoomed up on.
At the end of the row, Mary sat facing away from him chatting on her phone. As if his desire for her not to notice him had in fact alerted her of his presence, she spun around. Her eyes caught his, and each time they did in these wordless past two weeks, he felt as if those punks at that house party back in college had pantsed him again, revealing his shameful tattoo of Tweety Bird straddling his penis like that guy with the bomb from Dr. Strangelove. Her eyes moved to the receptionist, then back to him. Mary looked disgusted. Martin swiveled on his heels, sped across the room, and returned to his desk.
He took a gulp of coffee and pulled back one of the balls on the Newton’s Cradle his daughter had given him for his birthday. She had told him that she picked it out because it would help drive him crazy; his love of office life obvious even to an eleven-year-old. As the ball clacked into the others, he laughed, then promptly stopped it. The night returned again.
She had called crying.
“Gabby, what’s wrong?”
“Mommy and Rob are fighting.” Her voice had been low, barely audible.
“What do you mean fighting? Are they yelling?”
“Yeah. And, he grabbed mommy and mommy pushed him away, and now they’re yelling louder.”
“Where are they?”
“In the kitchen.”
“And, where are you?”
“In my room.”
“Okay, honey, lock the door and stay in your room. I’m coming, okay?” Martin had spilled his beer on the couch as he stood and had left it there as he ran out the door. “Daddy has to call the police first, okay? I’m going to call you right back.”
She hadn’t said a word but only sobbed.
“I’m going to call you right back, I promise, okay?”
“No, please. Daddy, I’m scared.”
“It’s going to be okay.” Then, he had hung up and felt his heart drop into his stomach.
It had been quite a scene. He had lost his temper and had hit Rob. His wife had been screaming at him. And, the cops had arrested him, but worst of all his daughter had watched from the open doorway as he was put into the cop car.
How many more months would it take? Would that night stop replaying itself when he finally got his daughter? He doubted her mom would have made a deal for full custody if she hadn’t–
He broke from his thoughts as the computer and overhead fluorescents went dark; the bur of the large printer and the drone of the air conditioner came to a halt. A few employees groaned and mumbled; there were a few “Come on”s, “You have got to be kidding me”s, and one almost content “Huh.” Martin stood up. Pete was grinning, of course, as if this were just fantastic. Mary was tapping at her phone with an annoyed expression.
Garrett stepped out of his office. “Can someone go see if next door lost power?”
“I’m on it,” Vick said, always a kiss-up.
From somewhere, there was a rending sound like creaking, bending metal, and then the walls and half the office, including Garrett’s office, disappeared. Just plain gone, leaving the office exposed to the outside. Oddly, the bright day didn’t seem to fill the dim office with any more light than had been pouring in previously.
Martin stared into the parking lot. There was his ’06 Kia Forte. There were the neighboring office buildings, the road leading down to the town with the market they bought lunch from almost every day, the gas station that always charged ten cents more per gallon than everyone else, the bars most of them frequented after work. And there were the trees stretching around the lake and into the horizon. A desk, with its computer and files and pens and stapler and whatever, slid off the edge of the exposed office and crashed against the asphalt. The office floor and walls and ceiling just ended as if they had been torn off like a ragged piece of paper; even right through computer screens and cubicles and desks.
Before anyone could react, there was another creaking metal sound, then the parking lot—cars, street lights, asphalt, smashed desk and computer–vanished, leaving just plain blackness in its place. Then the buildings and road and town were gone, leaving just the lake and trees and bright sky. Then everything went dark.
Everyone gasped and yelled and screamed. “Garrett? Garrett?” someone was calling. Someone else nearby was taking rapid, hard breaths. Somewhere farther away asked with a trembling voice, “What is going on?”
Martin shivered and noticed the temperature had dropped. Slowly, his eyes adjusted to what seemed like dim moonlight, and the surrounding cubicles and other employees started to appear.
Mary caught his eyes. She was still holding on to her phone. They shared a silent exchange that was far different than the one just moments earlier.
A wind fluttered papers around the room, and he caught a strange, chalky smell. All that remained of the office was the immediate area around him: the floor, ceiling, and a bunch of cubicles. Beyond this, a rocky terrain spilled out into the distance, and the sky seemed to be a near-perfect black. From somewhere distant came a strong howl of wind.
“What is this?” someone said.
The receptionist was coming out from behind her desk. An older man, Steve, and two other women, Beth and one whom he didn’t know, were sitting at their stations, staring off into the darkness as if trying to solve the most difficult Sudoku puzzle they had ever come across. About ten others were exchanging confused looks and jumbled questions.
“Marty!” shouted Pete, his voice echoing out over the dark land.
Martin wove around a row of cubicles and a few people shuffling around, and stepped up to the jagged edge of the office beside Pete, who was not grinning now.
“Marty, what the hell? Where is everything?”
“I don’t… Um…”
Martin turned. On the counter sat the pastry box. He reached over and took the bear claw. He took a bite. Pete didn’t seem to notice. The two stood there, silent and staring out at the dark, rocky landscape.
© Michael DeCesaris