“Project’s due by midnight Zac. I expect results.” My boss had vacated the office hours ago, but his words still hung in the air like poison. I knew the report wouldn’t be seen until tomorrow morning at the earliest, but if the send receipt was any later than midnight, he would make me regret it. It was technically due this morning, but it’s not like I could do anything about it when clients needed my attention. Now that everyone was gone, this was the only time to get it done.
My fingers clicked and clacked rampantly across the keyboard. It was 11:30pm and I was almost done. Once I put the finishing touches on this thing, I could get out of here and go home. All it needed was a couple numbers in the final paragraph to make it sound complete.
My phone vibrated on the desk and interrupted my thoughts. I sighed and flipped it over to peek at the screen. It was Kiersten: I’m done waiting Zac. Going 2 bed. Dinner’s in the fridge. Hope w/e ur doing is more important than our weekend.
“Goddammit babe.” I flipped the phone over. She knew damn well I was working late for a reason. Once this report was done, I could take some paid time off and we could get away for a little vacation. Interruptions didn’t help though.
I returned to my work. In the background a heavy thumping noise erupted, threatening to take me away from my report. “What now?” I wondered aloud.
I swiveled my chair around and looked at the office door, where the sound had come from. Nothing looked out of place.
Looking back at the report, I examined the final paragraph. It was lacking something, but what? I read through it again and pored over the words. I could insert a number at the end for extra effect. Numbers equal results, and executives love to see results.
I wasn’t going to look at it. I couldn’t risk it. Kiersten was going to have to wait.
Clicking to another tab, I copied the results from our last sales report and pasted it into my document. Then I added the new numbers and wrote a few words comparing the two items. That looked better.
I sighed and clicked save, then looked at the time. It was 11:45pm. I picked up my phone and looked at the message: Not even a “goodnight babe,” or just a heart emoji? Nothing?
I slammed the phone down on the desk. This shit was really bothering me. Kiersten had been bugging me all day, but she was just going to have to get used to it. I was tired of apologizing.
An acrid odor tickled my nostrils. I looked up from my phone and realized there was a problem. The curtains had caught fire.
I jumped up from my seat and grabbed my water bottle. The report was due in less than 15 minutes, but they’d have to understand a fire was more important than a deadline.
The fire had started behind my desk when a frayed wire managed to touch the curtains. I hadn’t peeked in that dusty corner for a long time. There was a pile of dust bunnies next to the surge protector and one of the plugs had been bent back and forth so many times a few of the metal wires had cut through the rubber coating.
I set down the water bottle on the desk and turned to the door. I knew one thing for certain: never throw water on an electrical fire. There was a fire extinguisher just outside in the hall. I could put the fire out real quick, send the report, and then put in a request with IT to get the situation behind my desk taken care of.
I jiggled the doorknob, but it wouldn't budge. I twisted the handle again and pushed hard. The door refused to open.
I looked back at the desk. The fire was crawling quickly up the curtains and licking at the papers on my desk. I backed away from the door and slammed into it, trying to force it open. It was jammed shut. Whatever had made that thumping noise earlier had probably blocked the door.
Moving into instinct mode, I shoved my hand in my pocket, grabbed my phone, and dialed 911. One ring later, and a lady’s voice answered, “911. What is your emergency?”
“Hello, yes. My name is Zachary and I’m at 245 Main St. on the 15th floor and there’s a fire in my office. I’m trapped inside. Please send someone quick!” I felt more panicked as I spoke, as if giving words to the emergency made it all the more real and present.
“Alright sir, I have your address and have notified the fire department. They are on their way. Now, is there anything you can use to put out the fire?”
I looked over to my desk, where the fire had spread, engulfing the mess of papers and slowly catching on the wood paneling of my desk. “Just a water bottle.”
“Okay… how did the fire start?”
“I think it was in the outlet.”
“Alright. Do you have access to a fire extinguisher?”
“No.” The fire was moving quick. I knew I should have cleaned things up sooner, but there just wasn’t enough time in the day. All that paperwork was just kindling now.
“Have the sprinklers gone off?”
“No!” I started to panic. I could feel the heat from the fire as I hovered by the door. I slammed my body against it and kicked it with my heel, but it wouldn’t budge. “Please help!”
“Help is on their way sir. I will guide you through this until emergency services arrive.”
I felt warm. The fire had found its way to a stack of papers next to my desk and flames roared to life. The room filled with smoke and my eyes burned. “I don’t even hear sirens yet.”
“They’re on their way, sir. Please remain calm and use a piece of cloth to cover your mouth. It will - ”
“Tell them to hurry up!” I cut her off and coughed again, trying to clear my lungs of smoke. The flames crept closer. I backed up against the office door and hit it again and again. “Help!”
I put my phone on speaker mode so I could still talk to the operator and then opened my messages. The last message from Kiersten was still up: Not even a “goodnight babe,” or just a heart emoji? Nothing?
I felt awful. I could have called her earlier or sent her a message, but she was probably asleep by now. I ended the call with the 911 operator and then dialed Kiersten’s number, waiting for her to pick up, but it just went straight to voicemail. I cleared my throat and left her a message, “I’m sorry babe. I love you. I never meant for this to happen. I’m so sorry…” I hung up.
The room was filled with smoke now and I couldn’t see a thing. I was getting dizzy and could barely breathe. I needed air.
I headed for the window as the flames around me burned hot, and tongues of fire pricked at my skin. I grabbed the window and opened it. The metal lining was hot and sizzled my fingertips. If I could just air the place out, maybe I could survive.
Cool air rushed in and fanned the flames. I took a deep breath of oxygen and looked behind me. The fire had nearly doubled in size as soon as I opened the window. My pant legs had caught and the fire was lashing at my skin.
I thought of Kiersten lying in bed. She was probably angry with me and there was nothing I could do about it.
The fire ate at me, whipping my back with a righteous fury and melting my shirt into my skin. The fresh air outside invited me to escape the fire. “I’m dying one way or the other…” I said.
The wind rushed against me, cooling my burning skin immediately. I’ve always hated heights, but this time instead of looking away, I kept my eyes open. I wasn’t scared anymore. I only felt regret that I had to die like this. That report wasn’t going anywhere now. None of it mattered.
Sires blared in the distance. I looked down and watched as a man walking his dog looked up at me with wide eyes, suddenly recognizing I was about to die in front of him.
The pavement leapt towards me and I closed my eyes.