Janette Miller closes the door softly behind her, careful not to slosh the dirty chai in her left hand. She steps across her office on the twenty-third floor of the magazine’s sky-rise in New York City. Her Manolos click crisply on the spotless marble-tiled floor. She pauses for a look at the surrounding city beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows behind her desk. It is loud and busy on the street but no sounds can disturb her here. She turns away from the view, thankful for the silence and cleanliness of the office. She sets her chai on the corner of her desk and places her Hermes handbag on the little round table beside her chair. That’s when she notices what is wrong.
Her desk is laid out to perfection. With a stainless steel frame and a glass top, any dirt, dust, or spots will stand out sickeningly. It is spotless. The nineteen inch widescreen monitor stands perched where it should be, on the right side of the desk at a perfect forty-five degree angle and tilted to center on her eye-line as she types. Beside it on each side are the small speakers, spaced exactly one inch away from and aligned with the front of the monitor. Her phone stands one inch to the left of the left speaker, its light blinking beside an illuminated number “16.” Centered on the desk and aligned with the far side sits a stack of the last twelve monthly issues of the magazine. To the left of those and on the very corner of the desk rest the hand-made wooden “In Box” and “Out Box.”
Front and center, however, is what infuriates her. Instead of in the “In Box” where it should be, the folder containing the layout for this month’s pending issue lies crookedly in the center of her desk. Some of the pages are sliding out of the folder. Did her assistant come in over lunch and simply plop it down? She will have some words with her about this. This is a problem. She tucks the pages more snuggly into the folder and straightens it before sitting down. Collecting herself, she opens the folder to review its contents.
The cover is missing. Again. Who are these people? Do they not realize the importance of deadlines? She will speak with the personnel manager later. What type of people are they hiring? She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath to settle herself. She listens to the ticking of her wall-clock, and then opens her eyes again. It appears that the rest of the magazine layout is in the folder. If the team members who put it together are as incompetent as everyone else around here, it will certainly be crap. She will need all of her resolve to focus and critique each page so she can send them back for corrections this afternoon. The magazine must go to print in two days!
Suddenly a bright light illuminates her office, so bright that she closes her eyes. When she opens them again, the light is quickly fading. It seems to be coming from behind her, from the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the city. She turns in her chair to look but the light is gone as she stands and walks to the windows. She looks out over the city expecting to find the source of the light but she sees nothing out of the ordinary. The nearby buildings stand as they have before. Nothing flickers in the sky. There are no great smoke plumes or fireballs. Everything seems normal.
Then she looks down at the street. Cars are stopped at the intersection and appear to be waiting for traffic to clear. Has there been an accident? People mill about on the sidewalks or stand talking. They are too far below for Janette to see very many details about them.
She turns back to her office and sees that her monitor is off. She pushes the power button but it doesn’t turn on. Below her desk, she opens the door to the compartment that holds her computer and sees that it is off, as well. She pushes its power button but it doesn’t turn on, either. It’s then that she realizes the lights are off. A power outage? Today? This will not deter her. The magazine must go into print!
She seats herself at her desk. Enough light comes through the windows for her to critique the magazine layout. The first few pages are advertisements. These are fine. Then she reaches the table of contents. The layout is all wrong. The sections are broken up and spread haphazardly across the page, making it all but impossible to understand. She imagines herself looking at the table of contents as a reader, trying to ascertain which page the article she is interested in can be found on. It gives her a headache looking at this chaotic list of articles. A reader will be turned away from the magazine before she finds the article she wants.
She reaches for her phone to call her assistant in for a reprimand but sees that the blinking light and the number “16” are no longer illuminated. The power is out, she remembers. Growing more annoyed, she pulls her cell phone from the Hermes handbag. She’ll be damned before she gets up and tracks down her team herself. Her cell phone is off, too. The screen is black, and it remains black when she holds down the power button to turn it on. Now what’s wrong with her phone?
With no other options, she resorts to the most primitive means of communication known to mankind. She will be damned, she realizes, and she stands to find her team and confront them face to face. As she approaches the door, she pauses and looks at her wall clock. It is silent. No ticking. The second hand doesn’t move. It’s stopped at one o’clock, four minutes, and twenty-five seconds. She takes the clock from where it hangs and turns it around to look at the back. Battery-operated. Strange.
She opens the door and steps into the usually bustling hallway beyond. Instead of seeing team members, assistants, and interns hurrying about, there are small groups standing in clusters and conversing in low tones. Everyone looks confused. There is worry on some faces.
Janette’s assistant perks up at seeing her. She hurries over, but before she can speak, Janette asks, “What’s going on here?”
“The power’s out.”
“I know the power is out. Is that any reason to stop work?”
“Our computers are down, our phones are down, and even our cell phones won’t work. What can we possibly do?”
“You better find something to do,” Janette says. She dismisses her assistant with a wave of her hand and steps away down the hall. The clusters of people move quickly out of her way and shoot fearful glances in her direction.
The maintenance office is on the first floor but there is a satellite office on the twentieth where she can get some answers. She will have to use the stairwell if she goes herself but by now she is beyond trusting her assistant to do anything correctly. So she opens the door to the stairs and looks into the blackness before her. Shouldn’t there be an emergency generator or at least emergency lighting in the stairwell? This is a safety hazard. She steps forward and grasps the railing before the door swings closed behind her and leaves her in the dark. She can’t see anything.
Feeling carefully with her toe and holding tightly to the railing, she finds the first step and relaxes. Only six short flights of stairs, she thinks. Her foot twists on the step and the heel of her Manolo catches. Her ankle twists and rolls to the outside, sending shooting pain up her leg. Janette calls out in surprise as her ankle refuses to support her weight and she topples forward into the empty blackness. Another flash of light comes when her head connects with the steps. The flash of light and an almost painless cracking in her neck are the last things she knows.