1. Mr. and Mrs. Adams [5]

Mr. Adams walked briskly up to Acorn, walking around the building so he could enter from the front instead of walk through the dank halls that led upstairs from the parking lot. When the semester was underway, he didn’t mind going through the back door; there were often students standing around it and smoking and usually he’d know a couple and would exchange pleasantries as well as a covert and rare cigarette with them.

Even so, it was always nice to enter from the main entrance to Acorn – the impressive double doors were thrown open, and all the carvings and metalwork on them was visible to those who passed. The doors had been donated to the university when a rich family who lived on the outskirts of Hartscreek had decided to tear down the private chapel they had on their property and build a large pool to replace it. Mr. Adams was always curious as to who put the idea in those people’s heads to give the university the doors instead of trashing them. Whoever it was, Mr. Adams was thankful. The doors seemed to him to be just right for the kind of building that Acorn was; imposing, ivy climbing up the walls and a couple of gargoyles leering from the eaves.

His office was on the top floor. He joked with his wife that he didn’t join her morning walks because he had enough exercise just climbing the stairs up and down from his office all day long. The building had an elevator, but it was only used by the cleaning staff and any students or faculty with disabilities. Everyone else was expected to walk. Mr. Adams supposed that one day his knees would pain him enough that he wouldn’t feel guilty applying to get a key for it, but meanwhile he took the stairs two at a time up to his office, hardly puffing at all.

When he got up to the third floor, he walked down the hallway and entered the last door on the left. His name was there on a little plaque, and as he unlocked the door for the first time since summer term ended, he breathed in the slightly musty air and felt right at home. He’d had this room ever since he’d been given tenure, and over the years it had become a sort of embodiment of his tastes. Two walls were lined with bookshelves, crammed with what he called the tools of his trade – everything from books by his favorite authors to literary magazines to anthologies. His desk held the old computer (which he never used) that the university provided him with as well as two cupfuls of pens and a stack of notepads and notebooks almost toppling over. There were also framed pictures of Mrs. Adams, Susan, and a family photo of Susan, Marty and Claire.

Mr. Adams sat down at the desk, laying his briefcase, which held his laptop, daily planner and another bulk of notebooks and pens. He sighed and took the picture of his daughter and her family and gazed at it.

“Marty,” he murmured to himself. “When are we going to hear from you again, my boy? And when can I see my little Claire again?”

Shaking himself, he put the photo back down and pulled out his laptop, ready to get to work on the various syllabi he had yet to complete.

2. Amanda

On this same late August evening, Amanda left the office of admissions at Valley University and made her way to Oakwood, the only dormitory left open during the summer break. She cursed herself for the umpteenth time for taking the summer job of shuffling paper and answering phones in the office. She had to admit, though, that it had been better at the beginning of the summer when the office was busy with the applications of transfer students. The phones had been ringing off the hook, there’d been lots of envelopes to open and sort through and her days, although tedious, had been full. The flurry of activity had ended by midsummer, though, and there weren’t any deadlines during August, so the only phone calls Amanda was getting in the office were the occasional prospective student or parent and some pranksters trying to make their own lazy summer days more interesting.

The campus was absolutely deserted, and as always the quiet and solitude depressed Amanda. It wasn’t that she was an overly social person – she wasn’t. In fact, she enjoyed being alone more often than not. But she liked being alone in the midst of life, and the quiet and emptiness around her made her feel like she was the only person living and breathing within a mile radius. There were the squirrels, of course, but at this evening hour they all seemed to be chasing each other around the trees, making the leaves rustle. Amanda couldn’t see them at it, so she always felt a sort of creepy feeling, as if there were ghosts whispering among the leaves.

She wasn’t, of course, the only person left on campus. There were others who worked at the various offices, as well as the ever-present cleaning staff and some eternal graduate students that haunted the library and the computer labs. It didn’t matter, though, that Amanda knew of the others’ presence. The walk across campus was still always unnerving after having spent freshmen year making the same walk while being surrounded by chattering multitudes.

Luckily, Oakwood wasn’t too far from the office of admissions, and Amanda pushed the door open into the front hall gratefully. The only dining hall still open during the summer was the one here, and at five o’clock, when Amanda got off from work every day, people were arriving from their various jobs and activities to make use of it for dinner. Entering Oakwood’s spacious front hall always made Amanda feel better, and she walked towards the not-so-alluring smell of cafeteria food, ears happily drinking up the chatter echoing around her.

Silas

Silas was crouching in the alleyway, hidden deep in the shadows. The streetlight that stood at the far end of the alley was flickering on and off, accompanied by a buzzing sound; it was driving Silas mad. He shifted his weight a little, careful not to disturb the loose stones in the corner between the sidewalk and the building he was leaning against. His boots made a slight scuffing sound as he moved, and he froze. The last thing he wanted was to be heard.
It seemed like he’d been there for hours, and upon reflection, Silas decided he probably had. The stars in the sky were definitely in a different position now than when he’d taken up his post. At the very least, he decided, he must have been in the alley for three hours. The thought didn’t comfort him. This was supposed to have been a quick job, easy money, child’s play. But something had gone wrong, or else he’d simply received faulty information.
Two days before, Silas had been sitting in, for lack of a better work, his office. It was the place where he took on jobs, at any rate. His so-called office consisted of a grimy table at Mick’s Burgers & Beer, a popular hangout for bikers and shady businessmen. Silas had his very own table, courtesy of Mick himself. Mick had been his most appreciative client by far, and Silas still got free burgers and greasy fries whenever he wanted them – which wasn’t very often. Silas liked to eat well, and usually ate at Mick’s only when his cash was running low. Lately, this had happened more than usual, and it made Silas very cranky.
Two days ago, Silas had dipped his last French-fry into an oozing paper cup of ketchup, grimacing. He chewed it slowly, and washed it down with his dark brown stout. He wiped his hands slowly and methodically on his already stained paper napkin and threw it into the trash-can behind him. He’d perfected this throw over many a long-afternoon, and never missed anymore.
He took another sip of his beer when he realized someone was standing off to his right, staring at him. He looked over and saw a tall man, his limbs long and gangly, wearing grey slacks and a white shirt. He held a briefcase in one long arm and had a Cashmere sweater tucked under the other. His hair was dark brown and slicked back from his forehead, a couple strands jumping loose and sticking up comically. Silas took the man in and discarded him. This was obviously some lost corporate drone, or perhaps he wasn’t so lost and was simply looking to avail himself of the services of Madame Etoile’s Entertainment Parlor, the whorehouse that had for time out of mind sat across from Mick’s.
The man in the slacks, however, didn’t even glance over at the pink neon sign for Madame’s. Instead, he walked over to Silas’s table and sat down across from him. Silas gave him a stony look.
“You lost?” he grunted.
“No,” said the man softly. “I’m here to hire you, Magician.”
“Well, well,” Silas smiled slowly, “I’m all ears then, Mr. Suit.”

Victoria’s Secret [Part III]

“…And then,” Debbie concluded, “he said he knew I didn’t aprove of his art and that I was ashamed of him. Since then, it’s been hard convincing him to see me at all.”

“But it sounds to me like you’re proud of him!” Victoria exclaimed. She’d just listened to Debbie describing her son’s rollercoaster-style life for the last ten minutes, and Debbie’s eyes had shown in the faint glow of the cellphone screen with a deep love and admiration of her scattered boy.

“I am. I think his sculptures are beautiful. He thinks I’m full of it, though,” Debbie’s eyes filled again with tears. “I don’t know how to convince him differently. But,” she collected herself. “I do the best I can, as often as I can. I hope he’ll understand about today.”

Victoria nodded somberly. The man in the corner of the elevator gave a sudden phlegm-based cough and both Victoria and Debbie jumped. They’d almost forgotten he was there; he’d been utterly silent while Debbie spoke. Now, Debbie looked up at him with a half smile.

“Rob, sit down, Hun,” She said. “They’ll get us out of here eventually, but there’s no use standing like a lump in the corner. It isn’t going to make anything go any faster.” Victoria smiled inwardly at the motherly tone that Debbie used with this stout, stuffy little man. Rob wore an impeccable suit, obviously expensive, in charcoal grey, and his hair, so obviously oiled, had a little spike standing up out of it, as if he’d begun to run his hand through it before remembering that he mustn’t ruin his exquisite hairstyle.

“No, thank you, Debra, I’d rather stand,” he answered. Despite his look of calm snootiness, his voice sounded strained. His hands were stuffed in his pockets, and Victoria could tell that he was playing with something in his right hand, twisting something around and around in the pocket.

“What have you got there – Rob, is it?” she asked.

“It’s Robert. And it’s nothing.”

“Seems like something,” Victoria smiled at him. She had a way of smiling which she’d used on her younger brother when they were young – she still remembered how to do it. It had made her brother tremble with fear and then submission, and it did the same thing to Mr. It’s-Robert. He looked at her strangely, not sure of what her smile meant, and broke eye contact. He took his hand out of his pocket and showed Victoria a smooth, round stone, the kind that’s abundant on riverbanks. It was, Victoria noted, the perfect skipping stone, because it was smooth and rather flat. But then Rob held it out and the light caught it, and she saw that the stone wasn’t grey, as she’d thought at first, but rather a deep green. Then she saw that through the green were thick veins of a very dark red.

“What is it?” she asked wonderingly. It was beautiful.

“It’s a bloodstone,” Rob answered. “It’s the birthstone for March, and it’s very rare to find such fine specimans as this one. My wife and I went to India for our second honeymoon, and she bought me this as a surprise. It’s actually a funny story – we’d been in the market, and this old man without a word of English tried to sell it to us…” Rob’s voice trailed off. Victoria stared at him in wonder. Here was a man who she would never guess would have gone to India. For a second honeymoon, no less! People only have second honeymoons if they’re married for a while, right? Her thoughts were in a whirl at the image of this stuffy, haughty little man galavanting around Indian markets.

Vicky! she chided herself. You mean thing. As if you know anything about people by looking at them… If the world worked quite so simply you’d never have gotten to where you are. So say something nice now, and close your mouth.

“It’s a beautiful stone,” she murmered.

“Yes,” Rob seemed about to smile but then rearranged his facial expression into a frown. “When will they come to get us the hell out of here?”

“Soon, Hun,” Debbie answered wearily, pulling a bottle of water out of her purse. It was really getting hot in the small space. “I hope. Want some water, folks?”

Victoria’s Secret [Part II]

Victoria stood stock still in the dark of the elevator. She felt one of the people with her fumble towards the door, brushing her sleeve as he or she went. The unmistakable sound of buttons being frantically pushed followed, until the man [for, apparently, it had been the man] swore loudly again.

“What do we do?” asked the woman.

“Call someone – do either of you have your cellphone with you?” the man sounded hopeful.

“No,” said the woman, just as Victoria said “Yes,” and whipped her cellphone out of the pocket of her coat. She flipped it open, and the screen lit up, suddenly illuminated the scene. The woman was leaning against the wall opposite Victoria and looked, for all the world, bored. The man was still standing by the door and trying to press the elevator buttons. He finally found the alarm button and rang it – a tinny bell sounded, but not very loudly.

“Damn cheap alarms,” he grumbled angrily. He pressed the button a few more times, and then gave up. “If anyone heard that, I’ll eat your cellphone,” he muttered at Victoria. She saw that beads of sweat were standing out on the man’s forehead. She looked back at the screen of her cellphone and her heart sank.

“No reception here – look,” and she showed the man the little symbol on the screen showing that they were in a zero reception area.

“Damn it!” the man barked. “What the hell are we supposed to do?”

“Wait, I guess,” said the woman. Then, surprisingly, she burst into tears. Victoria shuffled over to her and awkwardly patted her arm.

“Don’t worry,” she said in what she hoped was a reassuring voice. “They’ll figure out the elevator’s stuck even if they didn’t hear the alarm and someone will get us out of here.” She continued to pat the woman’s arm in a there-there gesture and then realized she didn’t know the woman’s name, although she recognized her as someone who worked on the floor above her in a different department. “What’s your name?” she asked, in an effort to distract the woman from her distress.

“Debbie,” she sniffled. “And I’m not scared or anything, I mean I’ve been stuck in elevators before and someone always comes eventually. It’s just that it always takes so long! My son is waiting for me downstairs and we were supposed to have lunch together. And now he’ll think I’ve forgotten about him, and he’ll get mad and go back home and I won’t manage to see him a-a-again!” Debbie broke into a fresh wave of sobs.

“But you’ll explain you were stuck in an elevator and he’ll understand, won’t he?” Victoria said kindly.

“No!” Debbie wailed. “He thinks that every time I’ve had to cancel with him I’ve just been making excuses not to see him! He’s an artist, my sweet talented boy, and he doesn’t understand the pressures and last minute things in a job like mine.” Debbie leaned against the wall and let her body sink down until she was sitting awkwardly on the floor, her knees bent strangely because of the tight suit-skirt she was wearing.

Victoria closed her cell and opened it again to light the screen up once more. She sat down on the floor beside Debbie, silently blessing her fashion sense that made her wear pant-suits with wide and airy pants that were comfortable to sit in, and put the cellphone in the center of the elevator so it softly illuminated the whole space.

“Well,” she said. “It seems we’re going to be here a while. Why don’t you tell me a bit about your son, Debbie?”

Victoria’s Secret [Part I]

Victoria stood at the window of her big corner office and gazed out at the view. It was days like these that made working in an office like this worth it – the sky was full of white, fluffy clouds that changed shape constantly, and the city gleamed in the rays of sunlight coming through the gaps between the clouds. A crow flew perilously close to the window and Victoria marveled at the way the bird stretched its wings and glided on the wind, seemingly without effort. She closed her eyes and imagined what it would be like to be that crow, free to fly on the currents and soar through the sky. The crow gave a loud caw and jerked Victoria out of her daydream.

She sighed, turned her back on the window, and picked up the cup of tea on her desk. Gulping some, she choked and spit it back out into the cup – it was stone cold. She sat down heavily in the big leather office chair that came with the big corner office and glanced at the open notebook on the desk. It was her daily planner, full of ink blots and cross-outs and arrows pointing to other dates and times. Being head of department was no easy job, Victoria had found out, and the useless secretary she had been given was more interested in fighting with his girlfriend on the phone than in doing his job, so Victoria found herself needing to check and double check all her appointments. Not to mention, of course, the constant changes caused to her schedule just because of last minute things that tended to crop up in the department.

Shaking her head to clear the haze that was settling over her, Victoria got up and pushed open the door to her office.

“Patrick!” she snapped. “I’m going out to lunch. Please make sure to answer the calls I get in the meantime, all right? And I beg of you,” she added as an afterthought, “to write them down and not try to remember them. That’s how I missed Michelle’s message yesterday.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” grinned the twenty-something year old. He looked like he could have been an underwear model, with his blond hair, blue eyes and the muscles bulging under his slightly too sheer white button-down shirt. Victoria had almost laughed outright when she’d first seen him, a few weeks ago when she’d started her new and improved position. Talk about a blast from the past, she’d thought then, as she tried to keep a straight face. Ever since, she’d felt a strange mixture of humor and exasperation towards him. The one person who didn’t seem to think of her as The Big Scary Boss was also the same person she needed most to help her out on a day to day basis, and his lack of fear or respect towards her or the office as a whole wasn’t helping his job performance.

“I mean it, Patrick,” Victoria yelled back over her shoulder as she walked down the corridor towards the elevators. “No forgotten messages, okay?”

“Totally, Ma’am!” he answered in his surfer-dude voice.

Better make it a quick lunch, then, thought Victoria as she heard the unmistakable sound of Patrick’s cellphone go off and the subsequent beginning of an argument with his girlfriend. She pressed the elevator’s DOWN button a few times impatiently, knowing it wouldn’t make it come any faster. There’s another annoying thing about working up in one of these big, cold offices – the damn elevators never seem to come all the way up here.

The elevator finally arrived with a loud “ding-ding” and Victoria entered, nodding politely to the man and woman already in there. The doors shuddered to a close after her and the elevator began to descend. All of a sudden, with an ominous thump and a disturbing creak, the elevator stopped jarringly and the lights abruptly went off.

The three in the elevator simultaneously cursed.