The tirade lasted for less than a minute, but damaged her reputation far more than she could have guessed. Instead, she paced her empty office for the last time, thinking hard about that tirade, that one minute, that lead her here.
As she stretched back, further and further in her own mind, thoughts whizzed by at breakneck speed. She frowned. Had it all lead to this? Was all of it for nothing? She thought back to the very beginning, and winced. What she had come into was nothing like what she was leaving. She had done some good here, hadn’t she?
She hefted the last box and left the room, leaving the door wide open. She tried to pretend she didn’t really care about the office after she left, but she had spent so many hours of her life there. So many hours she could have spent in a sunny spot somewhere else.
The grief rushed in later, when her girls were in bed, and it was just the quiet of the house. It was then that she realized she had been sitting on her couch, in front of a black television set. “Well, shit.” She muttered, standing up. A plate that had been on her lap fell to the floor, bouncing gently on the plush carpeting. She watched it bounce in surprise. She didn’t remember eating anything.
Sighing she bent over and picked it up, carrying it to the kitchen. She placed the plate in the sink and glanced out the window into the darkness of her backyard. She could see the faint outlines of trees, swaying in the breeze.
They seemed to be whispering to her. “You can’t stop now, you’ve got more to accomplish.”
Sighing, she nodded. “I know. More to accomplish.”
“Infest those minds,” it whispered. “We need you to brainwash them with desire.”
“Must brainwash. My team.”
Then the clock above the stove clicked as it changed from 10:59 to 11:00, and she shook her head, removed from her trance.
“No, no! This is bullshit.” She screeched. “Something is going on here. I know it.”
Crying erupted from upstairs, and she quickly left the kitchen up to her baby’s room.
The sounds of crying grew louder, and were mixed with sounds of thrashing. A lamp hit the wall with a crash. There was cursing and the screaming started. “Mama!”
She flung open the door. Before her the room was perfect. The lamp was still on the dresser, dark. The room was filled with silence, her baby sleeping in her crib. She closed the door half expecting to hear screaming and the sounds of thrashing. Instead, there was nothing but silence.
She went into her own bedroom and looked at herself in the mirror. Her eye was bruised and purple. She had scratches across her face. Her hair was torn and matted, clumps missing. Her hands flew to her face. She could feel no scratches, feel no sore spots. She felt her hair, tied neatly in a bun on top of her head. Nothing was amiss.
She looked in the mirror again and was relieved to see her own reflection staring back at her. Then a branch tapped on her bedroom window, and the leaves whispered. “If you fail, the consequences will be dire.”
She nodded, though she could see no one.
The next morning she woke and dressed, getting her girls ready for their school days. She hummed as she frittered around the kitchen, packing lunches and writing notes. Then she picked up her briefcase and out the door they all went.
When she arrived at the office, she was given strange looks and her office was mostly empty. Mike, another manager, was sitting at her desk, his feet up. He was reading the newspaper from that morning. When he saw her, he jumped up.
“Do I have to call security?” He asked, his face in complete disbelief.
She stared at him, her mouth wide. “Security? What for? And what are you doing in my office, Mike?”
Silence descended on the room. A cough from the doorway broke the trance. It was two security guards. “Excuse me, ma’am. We have to escort you out.”
She pushed past them. “What is going on around here? First, he’s in my office. Then you both show up. I just want to get to work.”
The taller of the two guards looked at her. “There is no more work for you. You were let go yesterday.”
“Yesterday?” She asked, then her eyes went wide and she crumbled to the floor.
Before their eyes, she started to transform. Her blonde hair turned brownish gray. Her cheeks shriveled in, covered in scratches. Her eyes bruised and her skin began to wrinkle. Within minutes she looked like someone else completely.
The security guards exchanged glances with Mike but no one spoke for several long moments.
“We should pick her up off the floor.” Mike muttered.
“And do what with her?”
“I don’t know, you are supposed to be the experts. Who is this woman?” Mike shook his head. “Call the police? Call 911? Something? Is she dead?”
The smallest security guard was nudged gently so he bent over and checked for a pulse. “Can’t feel nothin’, except she’s real cold.”
He put his hand in front of her mouth to feel if she was breathing. “I don’t think she’s breathing, boss.”
The “boss” grunted, but said nothing, still staring at the woman on the floor. Finally he reached for his radio and called for an ambulance.
When the ambulance hefted the body onto the gurney, there was the softest escape of air from between her lips. Mike could have sworn she said “I’ve failed,” but no one else said they heard anything.
When they lifted the gurney into the ambulance, there was a gusty wind that suddenly kicked up, and when everyone looked down, there was nothing left but a plain white sheet.