Note: This short was featured on the podcast: Night Fears Horror Fiction Podcast on Nov. 6 2015. Check it out, along with other great stories by Jethro Arola at http://www.nightfearspodcast.com/
I am nothing special, just your average office rat that spends forty hours a week staring at a computer monitor for a living. I’m not one to go out looking for danger or hunt the paranormal. The normal was bad enough. There was no need for anything new. I enjoy the regular, average, day-to-day life. I want to be safe and secure with the knowledge that the world is just... well, normal. However I think it would be sufficient to say that belief was utterly destroyed for me. Now whenever I look into a darkened room, or when the sun has set and the blinds are open, I am terrified that something is waiting for me. It’s in those brief moments when a light blinks out or a flash of lightning in a storm, that I think I can still see them. They are watching and waiting for me in the shadows just out of sight. However, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you a little story about what led me to fear a flickering light or how a dark shadow can chill me to my very core.
I worked for a brokerage firm that handles millions of dollars on a daily basis. Our clients ranged from your Average Joe to A-List celebrities. I was getting paid a decent wage but definitely outside of the 1%. My work consisted of answering calls and emails from clients wanting information regarding their accounts. It’s nothing special, just a paycheck for me. Unlike most office environments, our desks lacked the same walls of your standard cubicles. So, rather than a box, there were rows of desks, each with their own computer. It was an open floor layout so you could see from one end of the room to the other if you just stood up.
Each day I woke up, ate breakfast, got dressed and went to work. The same old song and dance I have done for years. Then one day I got an email regarding potential overtime that I couldn’t ignore. According to management, there was an influx of requests from our big clients that were looking for information regarding account holdings and activity. They wanted a massive amount of data in a very short amount of time. Believe it or not, this was not uncommon. Probably once every few months, we received those requests. There was so much to research and gather for the clients, that it was impossible to do both your daily duties and this work, so the higher ups offered us some overtime to make up for it. With my car on its last legs, I figured I could use the extra cash. So, I signed up without question.
During that time my routine was like this: I got to work at my normal time and then stayed late, not leaving until ten or eleven in the evening most nights. I have to say, there’s something eerie about being in an office building after hours. By that time of night almost everyone was gone, save for some of the cleaning crew and a security guard who spent most of his time reading or playing on his phone. To be in a twenty-story office building alone was definitely unsettling. I’m not an easily frightened man. I was never the daredevil looking for danger, but I also didn’t really jump during horror movies or even when someone tried to scare me. I usually just shrugged it off as if nothing happened, much to the prankster’s dismay. It was on Friday when things took a horrific turn for me.
That day was like any other. I did my daily duties: answering emails and phone calls. The workload was fairly light, so I was able to relax a bit during the day before I started my overtime. I could have started my projects sooner, but that greedy side of me said no. After all, what was the point of overtime if you did it during normal work hours? On previous days there were about four or five of us working on our projects, but illness and previous plans, left only me to do the work that night. This was fine since we were almost done anyway. We hit things hard early on, so that we could have everything done by the weekend.
Well into the evening, I had just finished sending another packet of information out, and checked the department inbox for the next request. While each employee had their own personal email, there was a group mailbox for our department where generic requests went so anyone can access them. It was around seven when the last person in the office and perhaps in the whole building, left for the weekend. I worked on the fourteenth floor, which technically was the thirteenth floor but it was not labeled as such due to superstition. If you don’t believe me, just take a look next time you are in an elevator with more than twelve floors.
I opened the mailbox to start on the next project when I saw that there was a new email. Out of habit I clicked it open, not really paying attention to the sender. What came up wasn’t a request for figures or files, but instead contained a hyperlink. The web address was complete nonsense, lacking any of the normal website info. There was no .com or even http. It was a link of complete gibberish. I looked at the sender and saw that the ‘FROM’ line simply stated: Sender Unknown. I rolled my eyes and deleted the email before going back to work. Just another item for the spam folder.
About twenty minutes later, I got another email. Again I didn’t think much of it and opened it up without any forethought. I actually groaned aloud when I saw the same words: Sender Unknown. Like before I sent it to the trash and this time for good measure, I emptied folder to completely wipe it out of my life.
I continued working for another ten minutes before deciding that it was a good time to take a break. I needed to stretch my legs, having spent all day sitting down and my back slowly becoming more hunched by the minute. I was glad I had a desk job but even I had my limits. I entered the break room and bought myself an over priced energy drink. I was feeling pretty drained, but at the same time really antsy. I was ready to get out of the office and finally start my weekend, but there was still more work waiting for me. Sure, I could have finished it tomorrow, but what normal person wants to work during the weekend? Not this guy.
When I got back to my desk, waiting for the caffeine and liquefied plant matter to do their magic I saw that I had another email waiting for me. I literally banged my head on the desk when I saw those same two magic words: Sender Unknown. This time I didn’t even bother to open it. If out security system couldn’t bother to deal with it, I certainly wasn’t going to. A call to IT was definitely in order on Monday. If we were getting hit by this SPAM bot this much, who knew how many other people were as well. The email went right into the trash and I went on with my work.
Barely a minute later there was another email. Sender Unknown. As I went to delete it yet again, another email was delivered. Sender Unknown. Now, this unknown sender had my attention. Staring at the new emails, I could not help but wonder how were these emails even getting through our SPAM filter in the first place? There was no email address that I could see or even subject line, so how was it getting through to the inbox?
This wasn’t a standard email address that some bot could blast. These messages were going through a security filter designed to catch malware and junk mailings. It was not only busting through these barriers but doing it in spades. As I moved the curser to delete the new arrivals, four more appeared. Sender Unknown. It’s possible that the hacker was trying to break into our network to steal information. After all we handled a lot of financial transactions for both individual clients and major businesses. If anyone got their hands on even one account, they could do some major financial damage. I deleted the emails, but just as the trash emptied, three more arrived. The same words: Sender Unknown.
Again I deleted them, but like before. More arrived. I didn’t feeling like I was making any progress now. I was swimming up a virtual stream and losing poorly. This hacker or Spammer or whatever he or she was, was getting on my nervous. I wasn’t sure if it was my adrenaline or the energy drink that was fueling this mad desire to compete against this computer but I couldn’t stop myself. Sender Unknown. Delete. Sender Unknown. Delete. Sender Unknown. Delete. No matter how many I tried to stop. I just couldn’t win.
It was during this that I decided that enough was enough. Going into the settings I decided I would work offline and when I was done with the emails I had. I would go back, delete whatever spam there was and then repeat the process over and over again until I was done. With a few clicks of the mouse, I would be done with all of this Sender Unknown business. I never thought I would be so happy to see the word “Offline”. Smiling, finding a weird sense of pride in outsmarting a computer, I went back to work. Of course that pride lasted only a second before ten more emails arrived in my inbox. Sender Unknown.
Now this was impossible. The network connection to our mail server had been cut. Perhaps it was just some residual data that was yet the clear the digital pipeline. I deleted the emails thinking my problems were solved. With that, four more emails appeared. Then another four. And then another five. Within seconds, twenty emails had appeared on my computer with it being connected to the network. How was this even possible?
It was when four more emails appeared, I decided that I was done for the night. I would just go home and come in tomorrow morning to finish up. It wasn’t that I was worried or scared, there was just something unnerving about those emails. I couldn’t explain it but something was off about the whole situation. I closed the mail program and was just about to shut down my computer when the inbox reopened with ten more emails were waiting for me. Annoyed by my computer or mouse or whatever the piece of crap tech that I worked on, I closed the program again. I even went into the task manager and checked to see any processes were still on.
Just as I popped open the window, the program was back with even more emails. Anger was tickling my mind, my computer testing my patience. I knew I turned off the program. I had done it a million times before. When I click that stupid little “X” the application shuts down. I knew the program was off, I was certain of that. There was no margin of error there. If you clicked on end, it ended. That was how it worked. I had done it a million times before without issue. So, I closed down the program once more, but the second it went away, the inbox reappeared with fifteen new emails all saying the same thing: Sender Unknown.
Enough was enough. I was done with all of this. The computer obviously had a virus. That was the only way this could be happening. I thumbed the power switch on my tower and five long seconds later, I heard the fan slow, as the screen went black. Once I heard the computer wind down, I smiled, satisfied with myself. I defeated the hacker once and for all. You can’t hack a system if the computer was off. Now, it would be IT's problem. Not mine.
I was just about to take a victory chug from my drink when my computer sprang back to life, the blank monitor now filled with the image of the company mailbox and over a hundred emails just waiting to be read. Each one stated the same two words over and over again: Sender Unknown. It was at that point I shifted from angry to freaked out. Something strange was going on and I wasn’t having any of it. I reached underneath my desk and yanked the power strip from the outlet. I didn't care what I unplugged as long as my computer was cut off at the source. I peered up at the monitor expecting to see nothing but dull black plastic, but instead I saw more and more emails pouring in to the inbox. Within that brief moment, two hundred additional emails appeared making the grand total at just over three hundred in less than five minutes.
How was this even possible? I unplugged the damned thing. There was no power, yet it was still on. I dove back underneath my desk and unplugged every cord I could find: speakers, monitor, mouse, keyboard, Ethernet cable. I even went as far as removing the power cord from the tower itself. There was nothing left to unplug. For all intents and purposes the tower was nothing more than a box of plastic and metal. I crawled out from underneath the desk hoping, praying, to see a blank monitor. Five hundred additional emails had been delivered.
An icy fear stabbed at my heart as my sense of reality shifted ever so slightly. I made one last desperate attempt to convince myself this was nothing more than some techno prank by some bored colleagues. I snatched up the monitor and lifted it up from my desk. I expected that as I pulled, the monitor would stop short, proof that it was still plugged in and that I simply unplugged the wrong computer. I was wrong. It rose freely from the desk and as I stared at the inbox that continued to fill with more and more emails, the power and coaxial cable dangled from the base like an excised spinal column. The computer was not plugged in, not powered, not connected to anything, but it still continued to show me those two words: Sender Unknown.
Seeing those two words appear over and over again I could only think of one final thing to end all of this. With every ounce of energy I could muster, I slammed the monitor down against the hard floor, shattering it into tiny fragments. It was only then that the screen finally went black and remained as such. I stomped on the remains of my shattered screen, turning my heel on it again and again.
When I was done I felt surprisingly tired and lightheaded, but ultimately better. I reached for my energy drink and took a long pull from it in victory. The carbonation burned as it travelled down my throat, but I didn't care. I was so thirsty. I tossed the can into the wastebasket by my desk and grabbed my jacket. I didn't care if my boss chewed me out for not finishing the project or for destroying company property. I just wanted to get out of that place and go home to my cat. I had every intention on watching the first thing I could find on cable, chick-flick be damned.
I made it halfway across the office, feeling proud that I had endured the unknown and survived, when without any warning, the power went out. Darkness consumed the floor, swallowing up every ounce of light, any ambient source. I worked in a city, on the upper floors of a high rise. The windows, that should have revealed the lights of the city, were completely black. It was as if someone had painted them with the ink. This darkness was only momentary as every computer in the entire office flashed on, each showing the same image. Our inbox with emails pouring in. Sender Unknown. Sender Unknown. Sender Unknown. One thousand emails; all of them from Sender Unknown. My heart was racing, icy fear encompassing my entire body. I trembled so much that the keys in my coat actually jingled. I should have left. I should have run down the stairs and out of that building. I was way out of my element, but I didn't. Instead, my curiosity overtook my fear as I approached the closest desk and looked at the screen. Two thousand emails from Sender Unknown.
I’m don’t know what possessed me to do what I did next, but the next thing I knew was that I had grabbed the mouse and clicked on the first email the cursor touched. A window opened, displaying that cryptic link from Sender Unknown. I knew I shouldn't touch it, but at that point it was far too late. I had to know. What did Sender Unknown want? With a deep, unsteady breath, I clicked the mouse.
All of the computers went black, leaving me alone in the darkness once again. AllI could hear was the hushed sound of the building’s heaters and my own erratic heartbeat. There was no light, nothing to guide me to the elevator. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my phone with shaking hands. The built in flashlight app would have been perfect for taking me out of this place, but as I tried to wake my phone, nothing happened. I clicked the home button over and over again, but the blank screen only mocked me with its silent refusal. Frustrated, I clenched my hands so hard that I almost crushed the fragile device.
I took a deep breath as I struggled to ease my growing tension. It was only darkness, after all. I've been in the dark before. This was no different. Darkness was only the absence of light. It's simple science. This tenuous grip on reality lasted only a moment when I heard something in that darkness. It was faint, barely audible. At first, I thought it was just blood rushing in my ears, but I quickly realized that it was something else. Whispers. It was very low, very light whispers. I called out for anyone around me, thinking it may be the masterminds to this overly elaborate hoax, but my voice carried only inches from my lips. There was no echo, no distance to my voice. It was like screaming into a blanket. As I stood in the dark, the whispers grew not only in volume but also in quantity. At first, it was only a few voices but in only a matter of moments, there had to be dozens speaking all at once, the words unclear. I felt so smothered by both the darkness and the voices that I swept my arms wildly, trying to shoo them away but I felt nothing except cold air. Cold air. All day I was very warm, hot even. That morning the heater was cranked up so high that many of us complained about working in a sauna, but at that moment I felt like I was in a deep freeze.
I tried to push through my mounting fearsas I attempted to regain my bearings, unsure of how close I was to the elevators. I had to get out, no matter what I had to escape that nightmare. In the light I knew I was about halfway to the elevators so I was confident that if I kept walking I would run right into them. I pushed through the darkness, but even that proved to be a challenge as each movement felt labored, like trying to walk through knee high water. It was as if the darkness, the cold, the whispers, all of it was trying to keep from escaping. I could see nothing but darkness, feel nothing but the cold, hear nothing but the voices.
I don't know how long I walked, how far I travelled. All I know is that the only reason I stopped was because suddenly, and without any warning, my phone rang. I screamed as I felt my hand vibrate, my fear at an all time high, but that terror was surpassed by the joy I felt as I welcomed the light. Seeing that call and being bathed in that light was the first feeling or relief I had all night. Things were finally turning around. I accepted the call without question, hoping that whoever was on the other line could help me.
"Hello?" I said, my voice shaky. The usual boisterous and confident tone was gone, replaced by one of a terrified child.
From both surprise and pain, I dropped my phone and jacket as the other end of the receiver erupted with an ear-piercing shriek of a woman. I gripped my ears, trying to block out the horrible sound, but it did little to muffle the noise. The scream was so shrill and sharp that it cut through my hands and stabbed my eardrums. I looked down at my phone to see who was on the line and gasped. On the display were just two words: Sender Unknown. And that was when my entire world fell apart.
The overhead lights flickered off and on, in erratic bursts of pale white, but in those moments I saw that I was no longer in the office I had spent so much time in. The clean windows were replaced by filth-covered brick. The carpeting was torn, revealing nothing but stained and cracked concrete. Most ceiling panels were missing, exposing frayed and torn electrical cables. A dark and viscous substance soiled the panels that remained. The computers were gone, but the desks were not vacant. Instead of the cold, lifeless monitors that I was so familiar with, there were human bodies. Each was completely naked and were laid across from head to toe across the expanse of the desks. They possessed a sickly pallor underneath that flickering light. While the bodies appeared to be dead, that was not what terrified me.
Sitting at each desk, was a man or a woman, who appeared just as cold and pale as the ones on the desks. They each wore either suits or dresses, but the clothes were ragged and soiled. Underneath the shorn fabric, I saw mutilated flesh: ripped muscle and splintered bone. Then there was their faces. Their faces were the worst. Each had a mouth that was far too large for their heads. The edges of the split and shredded lips extended beyond their ears, almost to the back of their head like some gruesome Pez dispenser. They sat staring at nothing, their fingers moving vigorously as they typed. But they didn't type on any keyboards. Instead, their long, sharp fingers stabbed into the soft flesh of the bodies in front of them. With each jab they pierced the skin, eliciting a painful shriek from the body before them. Blood oozed from the wounds, coating everything it touched as it spilled over the edge of the desk onto those hellish typists. It was at that point that I lost it and finally found my voice. That was when I screamed. It was not some macho yell or shout. This was a full on scream.
And then typists stopped all at once, the screaming victims ceasing their cries. The room fell deathly silent and all I heard was the heavy thudding of my heart. Then, slowly, almost
methodically, all of the workers turned to stare at me. But they did not swivel in their chairs. No, no that would have been fine. I would have relished that iota of normalcy. No, while their bodies remained unmoved, fingers frozen in place, their heads inched around towards me. All around me I heard a sickly orchestra of grinding bones as the vertebrae rubbed against one another. The flesh of their neck twisted and ripped as their heads turned to face me like human owls.
I have never been more terrified in my life than at the moment. Those eyes, so lifeless, so cold, bore into me, into my soul. I took a step away from those things as they watched me, fearful of what may happen next. And I had every right to be afraid. As I stepped, they pushed away from their desks in unison. I took another step and they snapped their chairs to face me. Like rubber bands regaining their shape, they snapped to face me with that same speed. A sickening crunch ripped through the quiet as their bodies joined their heads. I wretched at the sound as greasy bile lay thick on my tongue. One more step, and they were on their feet. Blood dripped from their fingers, the droplets tapping audibly against the cold concrete. It didn’t take long to realize that they only moved when I moved. But if that were the case, then how would I escape?
I thought about the layout of my office. There was an elevator at the other end of the floor, but l didn't know if it was even working. What would happen if I got there and the elevator doors wouldn’t open? What would happen to me? Would I wind up on a desk with some... thing using me as their keyboard? Thinking of the layout I remembered the stairs. The stairs. I had to take the stairs. The door was right next to the elevator. I would have to run down thirteen stories but I didn't care. I would run a marathon if it meant getting away from this nightmare. I had only once chance, because the moment I ran, they would as well.
I mustered up what little courage I had left, and spoke in a loud voice, trying to force my body into action. “One.” I clenched my fists but only managed feeble, trembling masses of bone and flesh. “Two.” This was it. This was my only chance to escape. There was no turning back. My survival depended on the next few moments. “THREE!”
What happened next was a blur of motion. It took almost an entire day before I could really remember what happened. From what I can remember, I burst into the stairwell and heard thunder behind me as dozens of feet followed in pursuit. The stairwell was black as pitch. Under normal circumstances the lights shined like miniature stars, but at that moment, darkness devoured everything. If you don't know what true darkness is, pray that you never do. You can feel your body move, interact with the world around it, but you can't see anything. You don’t know if you are miles from safety or inches from danger. I imagine that's what it feels like to be blind and it is something I never want to experience again.
I used the handrail to guide me down the steps. I took steps two, three, four at a time. I know one point I lost my footing and tumbled down several flights. I know this because I saw the bruises all over my body later on. The heavy black and blue was difficult to ignore under the bright lights of my apartment. I don't remember feeling any pain though. I guess my adrenaline was at an all-time high . No pun intended. I fell down, but I'm not sure how for I tumbled. It could have been a single floor but it was so dark that I could have fallen down ten floors, twenty, fifty. All I know is that at some point, I rolled to a stop. I paused for only a moment, just enough time to scramble to my feet and run . Above me I heard the sound of dozens, maybe hundreds of feet coming down after the stairs. They were so close, so near.
Now I know I must have gone down at least thirteen floors, but I never reached the bottom. The muscles in my legs burned and a painful cramp stabbed at my side. Pain erupted from my ankles, my feet, but I kept moving. Beads of sweat fell like rain, my shirt clinging to my skin, but I didn't stop running. My stomach roiled as the urge to vomit gripped me but I was afraid that if I stopped, they would catch me. The image of being at that desk, their fingers stabbing into my flesh drove my flight. I ignored everything except running, because my life literally depended on it.
The next thing I could remember with absolute clarity was bursting into the lobby and seeing the building security guard jump to his feet. I guess I must have scared him but I didn't stop to apologize. I sprinted through the brightly lit lobby and out the front doors without so much as a word. There were only a few cars in the parking lot and I went straight to mine. I grabbed the door handle but nothing happened. I yanked again with more force, but the door refused to open. I screamed, “Come on,” pulling as hard as I could.
It was during this struggled that it occurred to me that the car wouldn't open because I always locked it when I got out. And so I needed the keys. And the keys were in my coat, which I had dropped back inside my office. I swallowed back the acrid taste of stomach acid as I stopped pulling at the door and allowed my gaze to drift back towards the office building. I noticed the security guard standing at the lobby doors watching me, but he was not what drew my attention. The building was completely dark; every floor, every window black. The building was even darker than that of the night sky behind it, like some black hole pulling in light from all around it, hiding it, consuming it. Except for the lobby, the only other floor that was lit was my floor. And what I saw made me scream. Outlined by cold, pale light were those hellish monsters. Each one stared at me, as if to tell me that they were waiting for me. They had a spot just for me and I had to hurry because they had a lot of work to do. I didn't bother with my car. I just ran, leaving behind my phone, my coat and my car. I didn't care. I just didn't care.
I made my way to the closest bus stop but before I did anything else, I threw up in a nearby trashcan. I had been fighting the urge for a very long time and finally couldn’t hold it back any longer. Given my appearance, I'm sure that the other people at the bus stop probably thought I was on drugs or something, but I ignored them. After vomiting I felt slightly better, but extremely weak. A few minutes later, I hopped on the first bus and let it take me to wherever it went. It could have taken me to a different state for all I cared.
I didn’t take me to another state, but I did I get off at the first brightly lit 24-hour diner I could find. I bought cup after cup of coffee and stared at the TV on the wall until well after sunrise. When I finally gathered enough courage and caught a cab to go home, I had to go to my landlord to have him let me in my apartment. It was the best $30 I've ever spent. Once inside, I opened all of the blinds and turned on all of the lights despite the sun.
I spent the next couple days watching nothing but lighthearted movies and TV shows. I didn't care what it was as long as it looked remotely happy. Kid's movie? Sure. Sappy romantic-comedy? Perfect. Cartoons? Thank you. I ate nothing but frozen pizza and junk food for days, since I wasn't ready to leave my apartment. I could control my apartment, I couldn't control everything else. When the sun went down, I closed the blinds. When the sun came up, I opened them back up. I slept on the couch and kept every door open and the lights on. Even the coat closet that didn’t have a light got a lantern, which had a fresh supply of batteries.
I didn’t realize exactly how long I had spent locked away in my apartment until my best friend, Tim, stopped by to check on me. Before opening the door I made sure to check the peephole. Though distorted I knew it was him. The first thing I noticed about him was the complete look of relief on his face when he saw me. I know I looked like shit, not having shaved or even really bathed since the day before the incident. The idea of being in an enclosed space like a shower sent a wave of fear and nausea through me. I even used the toilet with the door open. In spite of my obvious state, he looked happy. And then pissed .
“Dude, where have you been?” Tim asked. I closed the door behind him, locking it. Before following him, I peered through the peephole to make sure no one else was waiting for me.
“I've been here. Why?” I asked.
“Why didn't you pick up your phone? I called you like a dozen times this morning.” Tim said. I could tell he was treading a fine line between happiness and anger. I guess the best way to put it was that it was extreme frustration.
It was when he mentioned my phone that I remembered where it was. My cell phone was the only way to get a hold of me. Like the rest of the modern world, I didn't have a landline. I didn't use much social media but given what happened, even if I did, I didn't want to spend even a second in front of my computer.
“I forgot my phone... at work.” I said trying not to sound scared at the thought of the previous night. Tim sighed. I guess my answer was acceptable but certainly not a good one.
“We thought you were dead!” He shouted. This stunned me. I mean I had no idea not having my phone would cause such trouble.
“I just forgot my phone. I mean what's the big deal?” I tried to speak without my voice trembling but failed. Fortunately, my friend ignored it. I could tell he was scared as well.
“And your car?” He asked. “Did you forget your car too?” I nodded. “Seriously?” He shouted. I nodded again, feeling like a child that just got scolded for losing his shoes. Seeing my discomfort, his demeanor shifted to something slightly less confrontational. With a deep sigh, he regained his faltering composure. “We thought you died in the fire.”
Hearing this, my stomach dropped. “Fire? What fire?” I asked. He looked at me utterly confused.
“'What do you mean, 'what fire'?” He asked. “Haven 't you seen the news?” I shook my head.
My friendsnatched up my remote and turned it to the first news station he could find.
The cartoons were replaced by a towering inferno. The fire raged through shattered windows, the flames licking at anything it could touch. Firefighters struggled against the blaze and were losing badly. I saw there were at least five trucks in the parking lot, the hoses at full stream. However, seeing the building as it was I wasn't sure why they were even trying anymore. There was nothing left. Even the trees in front of the lobby were scorched, the once green vibrant leaves now a charred black.
“When did this happen?” I asked, staring at the fire.
“This morning.” My friend said. “They managed to get most of the people out, but…” His voice trailed off and I quickly understood. With a fire that intense, I wasn’t surprised that everyone didn't get out before the flames engulfed the entire building. If it weren’t for what happened days before, I would have been there, sitting at my desk just like everyone else. I would have considered it a blessing in disguise but God had no hand in anything that happened.
A day later, after having gotten a new phone and finding my spare set of car keys, I learned more about what happened by a fellow coworker who made it out before the fire got out of control. Her name is Denise and she worked on the same floor as me. She is very attractive, someone I never would have approached outside of work. In fact, I only really talked to her in passing and usually about the weather. She was reluctant to talk about it at first, but after a little bit of prodding and free lunch, she finally relented.
Denise said that it started on the fourteenth floor. My floor. They didn't know what caused it but they knew that it spread quickly. It took only a few minutes before it spread to other floors. Denise said that it had gotten so out of control because the sprinklers didn't go off.
Somehow the valves were shutoff for the entire building. I shuddered as I imagined bloody fingers wrapping around those values, a placid expression never wavering. She told me that, as strange as it sounded , that this was not the only fire that day. Three more fires claimed numerous lives at three different firms just like ours. The fire department was looking into arson, since it was unlikely that this was just a random occurrence. They thought perhaps a disgruntled worker or an angry client were out for blood against those who mistreated him or her. I agreed that it was possible, but secretly knew that it was not the reason.
As she told me all of this I noticed that she looked uncomfortable. I understood that not only did we lose our jobs, we lost friends as well. The fires were horrible but I saw something in her eyes that told me there was something else she was hiding. I knew this, because it was the
same thing I saw when I looked in the mirror. It took some effort but eventually she shared her secret, a secret we have kept between only us.
“I was working on the usual files and emails when I saw an email appear in the department inbox.” She said. I nodded and urged her to go on. I could tell that she was uncomfortable but told her that it was fine and that she could trust me. She sighed and eventually continued.
“I clicked on the email to see whom it was from… and…” Her words trailed off as the memory came back. Without even thinking, I placed a hand on her leg to comfort her. In hindsight it wasn't appropriate of me since it was such an intimate gesture for a work friend. Rather than be angry or upset, however, she looked relieved and continued her story.
“I swear to you, I am not lying. It was just for a second but I swear I saw the room change.” She said.
“What do you mean change?” I asked. Even though it was a bright sunny day, I
suddenly felt that it wasn't bright enough. I felt darkness creeping just around the corner.
“The room... changed. It was dark. The windows were gone. I think they bricked up and covered with… filth. And the overhead lights looked… different. I mean they were on but they looked, cold. You know?” She asked. I nodded, feeling very cold myself.
“But that wasn't the worst part.” She said with a shudder.
“What was?” I asked.
“When I looked at my desk, there was a body where my computer was and blood was pouring from these holes in its skin. At first I thought it was a corpse but then I heard it scream. My god there was so much blood. It was everywhere. It was on my fingers and clothes. I screamed and that's when everything went back to normal. Then the fire started.” After her story, Denise looked tired, but slightly relieved. The weight of her secret was now a shared with colleague, a friend.
Before she and I had parted ways that day, I asked her one more question. I didn't want her to relive anymore of that nightmare, and I certainly didn't want to either but I needed to know. It took a great deal of effort from the both of us, but I asked about the email that arrivedjust before the fire. I asked who sent the email. She looked at me a little confused by the question. I guess the seriousness of my tone was convincing enough that she told me.
“It was weird,” she said with a grimace, “All it said was: Sender Unknown.”