Welcome to January 2017
#freewritechallenge #mondayblogs January 2
Richard lived over the river from the small town. The railroad paralleled the river, so he also lived on the wrong side of the tracks. He enjoyed walking between the tracks and the river on moonlit nights. The rails were twin ribbons of silver stretching into the distance when he walked. Imagining that they stretched into the stars hanging on the horizon helped him deal with his day job.
Richard was an eligibility examiner for the state health and welfare department. Between budget cuts, funding shortfalls and federal regulations, he spent most of his time not helping people make their lives better.
When he was thirteen he had spent a rainy weekend cleaning out his grandfather’s basement. Under a stack of flower seed catalogs, he found a collection of pulp science fiction magazines from the 1950s. A full decade of magazines, ten large cardboard boxes full of them. He took them home(after asking permission) hoping that they might be worth something. He wanted a new gaming system and hoped that he could sell them online.
He started reading them instead.
They were still among his most cherished possessions. It was on peaceful nights like these that he let go of the days problems. He found a star and imagined traveling there. Sometimes the journey was the adventure, sometimes the destination with its talking plants or bug-eyed monsters was the adventure. Sometimes just listening to the crickets, the water flowing in the river and the occasional silvery sound from the rails relaxed his thoughts.
He smiled to himself and looked along the tracks as they disappeared toward the horizon. He frowned. There was a really bright star just above the railroad tracks. “Must be a planet.” He said to himself. He pulled out his phone and took pictures of it. When he looked up from checking how they turned out, the star was bigger. “It’s still in the sky so it’s not a train.”
He had just enough time to think about running and jumping in the river some thirty feet away but not enough time to do it. The small bit of nickel-iron meteorite hurtled overhead following the tracks for another hundred yards before it exploded.
Richard had reacted instinctively and fell flat between the rails. Since he did it with his usual grace he managed to momentarily stun himself. He sat up and looked around. Everything seemed normal. Except for the ringing in his ears. “Hello? What’s up?” He said. Hearing himself speak, he decided that he wasn’t deaf even though he couldn’t hear the crickets or the river any longer. He went home, had a cup of tea and went to bed.
When he got up the next morning the ringing had stopped. He thought it odd that the news made no mention of the meteorite but the state legislature was in town. That always took precedence over anything else. He asked a few people at the bus stop and none of them had noticed anything. When the bus pulled up to the ten story building that housed the state offices he got off. Staring up at the building, he wondered why he settled for this mind-numbing work and dead end job.
Shaking his head, he followed others inside. Stepping into the elevator, he ended up in front of the button filled panel. “Floors?” He called out.
“Eight. Six. Three. Ten.”
He waited a beat, then pressed the floors. When his finger pressed ten, the panel went dark and the overhead lights went out.
“Shit.” Nine voices said.
Richard pressed the door open button and wasn’t surprised when nothing happened. He pulled the telephone handset out of the box below the panel. “Nothing.” He sighed.
“State probably hasn’t paid the bill.” Someone muttered. Everyone gave a half-hearted huff.
“Let me try pulling the doors open.” Richard said. He stepped and stuck his fingers in the door crack. He pulled. “Nope.” He leaned one hand on the right edge of where the door disappeared into when it was working.
Richard frowned and tried the door again. The right hand door slid back into its socket.
“Way to go.” Someone said. Everyone let out a sigh of relief.
Richard kept his hand on the door as everyone filed out. He stepped out and the door stayed open. A large crowd was lined up in front of the other three elevators. He went over to the stairs. One of the building’s maintenance personal was just coming up from the basement.
“Hey, Judy. Number three is out.”
She shook her head. “Figures. I just replaced the panel last night.” She smiled. “Thanks, Richard. You got time for lunch today?”
“Sounds good. Your place?” He smiled.
“Nah. HVAC work today. How about the fountain?”
She nodded. “See you them.” She pulled out her phone as she walked toward the elevator.
Richard started up the stairs. When he reached his office on the tenth floor he briefly wondered why he wasn’t out of breath. Putting his shoulder bag under his desk, he hit the button on his computer. Crossing the room he began making coffee. Hitting the on button, he went back to his desk to log in.
His computer screen was still black. The green light around the on button wasn’t on. He frowned as he pressed it again. Still nothing. He checked the plugs and saw the red light was still registering on the surge protector. He looked across the room at the coffee maker. It wasn’t working either and he could see the plug from here. “Becky?” He called to the only other person that arrived early. “You log in?”
“Yes. Can’t you?”
“Won’t even turn on. Coffee maker neither.”
“Strange. We haven’t had any breakers blow in a long time.” She got up and turned on a computer halfway between them. “This one is okay.” She crossed to the coffeemaker, looked at it. Shaking her head, she opened the microwave. “This is okay.” She came over, glanced at his computer, then stepped to the desk behind him. “This on came on. Delbert is out the rest of the week, try logging on with his. You can at least send a IT request.” She gave him a half smile. “I don’t know what you guys will do without coffee.”
“Probably the same as always. Type stuff in and save it to god knows where.” Richard shook his head and sat down in front of the computer. Resting his fingers on the keyboard he watched the screen turn black. “Okay. It’s me.”
He looked across the room at Becky. “It’s me. This one just quit. I just touched the keys and poof, no more computer.”
“Okay.” She frowned.
“Elevator. Computer. Coffeemaker. Computer.” He ticked them off on his fingers.
“You broke an elevator?”
“I touched a button. The same thing happened. Everything went black. Emergency lights didn’t even come on, phone didn’t work.” He frowned. “I tried to open the doors.” He flexed his arms in a muscleman pose and Becky smirked. “Nothing.” He wiggled his right hand at her. “I leaned against the edge. You know, where it goes into the side?”
“It clicked and I could slide that side open.”
She looked thoughtful. “Paperclip. Will one stick to your fingers?”
He frowned and opened a desk drawer. He shuffled around then pulled his hand out. “No, they don’t stick. Ah.” He pulled out a magnetic paperclip holder. Holding it by the plastic bottom he turned it over. “They stay in, so it’s working.” He stuck his finger in.
“What’s wrong?” She asked as he frowned.
“They fell back down.” He picked it up and turned it until paperclips poured into his hand. He looked at Becky. “I demagnetized it?”
“Well, the only advice I can offer is to stay away from …things. I’ll send in IT requests and we’ll see what they blame it on.
Richard nodded and looked up as their three other co-workers arrived. He shook his head. Five out of the twelve that had been over-worked just a year ago, had survived budget cuts. He sighed, wishing he’d taken Spanish in high school and college. He would at least be able to help his clients fill out their paperwork, then tell them there was nothing he could do for them.
He walked over to Becky and whispered. “Should I risk trying the phones? They’re still old school.”
She frowned. “Try the one on Delbert’s desk. He’s the only one left with that number. The rest of us are on 45 and 46.”
Richard nodded and tried. He nodded and gave Becky a thumbs up when it worked. “Hey, Judy. You got a minute?” He listened. “Okay. I’ll be right down.” Hanging up, he called across the room to Becky. “I’m going to take some personal time. I’ll check back in an hour to see what IT decides. Okay?”
“Not much you can do without your magic box. Might as well take personal time.” She smiled as she looked back at her computer. They had worked together for five years. Richard often brought Judy along to her rather large family gatherings. He loved telling stories to kids. She had seen two dozen children ranging in age from five to sixteen enthralled as he told stories. Most of his stories were of how one ordinary person took a chance and changed the world.
And she remembered that Judy was the electrical engineer who had been in charge of installing the new computer system last year. The one that the legislature and elected officials used in the statehouse.
The system that was paid for by eliminating fifty state jobs.
She smiled as she got the acknowledgement of her IT request.