Monday, a day I always wish could be postponed. Entering the office, I switch on the light, turn on the computer network, stash my coat in the closet, then go make coffee.
The warehouse is empty, vacuous-feeling, and dark–no sounds other than the soft whirring of machines. I am alone. It’s early, just five past five in the morning. I like getting a jump on Mondays.
Cold water splashes as I fill the coffee pot. The sound of the spray is loud in my ears. My brain is reordering priorities, re-listing to-dos, as I watch the water level rise to full, then turn off the tap:
- Payroll has to be processed.
- Call the bank to correct an error in their bookkeeping (I hate the new bank we’re using—always errors.).
- AR and AP comes next.
- And there’s the meeting with department heads at ten.
A lot to do.
Ten scoops of grounds go into the filter, each one a leveled measure. I make the coffee so it’s drinkable…hate the ugly way that Newburg makes it—thick enough to stick a fork in. It’s his only fault. He claims mine is caring. I think he’ right. But it’s my job to care. It’s my job to keep this place running in the black.
Chelsea Cat comes meowing. “Hungry?” I asked, and she rubs against my legs. She’s the founder’s kitty—slinky, soft-coated, blue-gray—a Russian Blue, he says. I get her bowl out of the cupboard, crack a can of Kit Gourmet—Chick-n-Cheese today. She purrs, digs in.
Back in my office, I sink into my chair and take a sip of breakfast—triple shot espresso, no flavor, no sweetening, please—as I watch the system finish its self-checks. Once it’s finally ready, I set the cup aside and open up the interface to start my day, but, instead of Excel spreadsheets, I get a pop window that says, “Hi.”
I stare. What in the world…!
“Today, I’m going to be your pal.”
Frowning, I push away from my desk, go over to the security monitor—no other users, no other terminals up…not online.
I turn back to my monitor, think, boot to safe mode, start a scan. Newburg will be livid.
I whirl. That was audio…. From where?
“It’s just me.”
Prickles run up my back to congregate at the base of my neck. My legs turn leaden. A pulse starts pounding at my temples. I inch away toward the door.
I feel my hair tingle, my breath catching in short gasps. I bolt.
A thumping starts somewhere in the ceiling…climbs down the wall…comes toward me as, fleeing terror, I race to the back door, keying in my release code.
The door stays locked, ‘system failure’ blinking on the tiny LED.
I turn, gasping, toward a sound behind me, searching darkness for some sign of the intruder.
“You can’t flee me,” it chants in child-like sing-song.
I dash for the breakroom, slam the door.
From the counter where she’s not supposed to be, Chelsea Cat stares. Her eyes are riveted on something, and it isn’t me.
I turn to look…see nothing anywhere.
“It’s alive! It’s alive!” taunts something tittering.
I grab a mug from the rack of them, fill it with hot coffee, my brain a whirl of panic, yet oddly, eerily still and calculating.
I feel a brush of wind along my neck.
The cat spits, rears up and claws the air.
I fling the contents of the cup where Chelsea’s fighting phantoms and watch in horror as a form of something globular takes shape.
I smash the cup upon it, bat it to the floor.
It turns its eyes—five in all—up toward me, giggles once, then dissolves to nothing.
Then, in my ear, a whisper: “See ya tomorrow, Alison.”