I like writing short stories – it’s always a challenge trying to fit as much detail into as little space as possible. Today’s excerpt is one of the four flash pieces in No Hazard Pay, a little sampler I put together a few years ago. Enjoy!
Janice stared at the spreadsheet on the screen in front of her. Black numbers blurred together on a white background, and she blinked, coaxing her tired eyes to cooperate. She just had to finish this last budget sheet, and then she could go home and curl up with a glass of wine and a movie.
She scrolled down the columns, trying to find the line that was throwing off her calculations. Not seeing anything, she sighed, and went to the top again, scrolling through one more time, slowly.
Janice jumped. She frowned, looking up at the window in the door. The hallway was dark, and her heart beat faster. Everyone else had gone home several hours ago. Had someone forgotten something? She waited, expecting someone to appear at her door any second. But no one came.
Maybe it had been her imagination. She sat still for several moments, listening. Hearing nothing, she shook her arms and hands briefly, trying to rid herself of the tension that had frozen her muscles. It was nothing. She turned back to her screen, and stared at the numbers again.
Janice froze. It sounded closer now, just to the left of her door. Adrenaline raced through her veins, and she couldn’t seem to breathe. There was definitely something out there.
She thought about all those women in horror flicks, and how they always did the wrong thing. And sometimes they died. Horribly. She reached for the phone, carefully picking it up and dialing 9-1-1 before sliding off her chair to the floor. She heard the ring tones in her ear, and felt marginally better. Phones never worked in a horror film.
Thump. Thump thump.
Janice crawled under her desk, pulling her knees up to her chest as she whispered her fears to the operator. It was at the door now, rattling the glass. A deep moan came from the other side, and then a click as the knob turned.
Frantic breathing filled the room, with groans and little high-pitched noises as someone stumbled into the office. Trembling, Janice peeked under the modesty panel of her desk. Two pairs of feet, one in black dress shoes and the other in beige high heels stepped into view, and she closed her eyes, the breath she’d been holding rushing out of her lungs in relief.
She couldn’t help it. She laughed.
The noises stopped abruptly, and she crawled out from under the desk, hoisting herself back into her chair. Samantha and Mr. Harlun stood just inside the door, just staring at her as she laughed until the tears came.
“Janice?” Samantha was holding the two sides of her shirt together, a blush creeping over her face. “I-we thought-what are you still doing here?”
Janice wiped the tears off her face, taking deep breaths to steady her nerves. “I was just finishing up a few spreadsheets,” she said. “You guys scared me – I thought there was something in the hall!”
Mr. Harlun ran a hand through his hair, clearly upset. Obviously he and Samantha had been working on another one of her promotions. “I’ll, uh…expect your discretion in this matter, Janice.”
“Of course Sir.” She opened a bottom drawer, and got her purse. “I’ll just…” Sirens drew closer, and she glanced over at the phone, the receiver still hanging off the edge of her desk. “Uh, I’m afraid I called the police, Sir. I was scared, and –”
“Just go. I’ll deal with it.”
His voice was calm, and Janice nodded, hurrying past them out into the still dark hall. Her heels clicked on the tiled floors as she rounded one corner, then the next. The front door was just 10 yards or so away when she thought she heard footsteps behind her.
She shook her head, trying to shake off the excess adrenaline that seemed to be making her paranoid. Just a few more steps, and she’d be out in the brightly lit parking lot, where emergency vehicles were pulling up to the building.
Something grabbed her hair, pulling her head back violently. She felt a sharp sting across her neck, then a deep, burning pain soothed by liquid warmth as she fell to the ground, unable to move or draw breath. Someone screamed, and Janice heard the front doors open as her mind grew foggy.
The last thing she saw was Mr. Harlun standing over her. He winked.
If you’d like your own copy of No Hazard Pay, it’s available in ebook format from these online retailers: