December 19, 7:47 AM Eastern
Jim cursed as he got to the parking lot at work and found it packed full. He glanced at his watch and shook his head ruefully. “Should have left earlier,” he muttered as he drank down the last of his coffee and scanned the lot for an empty space.
He spotted one of the night shift people walking toward the back of the lot and followed her at a respectful distance. She turned and waved, then continued trudging against the breeze toward her car. As she climbed into her beat-up sedan and started letting its tired engine crank, Jim’s phone chimed with a message. He picked it up and saw it was from Jeanine. He kept one eye on the woman trying to start her car in the cold while he poked at the phone’s screen to bring the message up.
“have u heard the news?”
Jim’s eyebrows shot up at that. Jeanine normally timed an “I love you” coupled with reminders of the day’s appointments, practices, and anniversaries so that he got them when he got to work. This time, it was a little more direct. He typed his answer in.
Her answer was almost immediate.
“turn on the radio and call me!”
Jim saw that the woman was pulling out of her parking spot, with white condensation leaving a billowing cloud behind her as she pulled out. He waved to her and backed into the now-open spot. After he put the truck into park and shut off the engine, he punched the “AM/FM” button on the dashboard. The voice of one of the local newscasters came over the speakers.
“…. six schools so far on in the east, with more reports coming in every few minutes. Authorities in Maryland report several dead at an elementary school in Silver Springs, with an unknown number of injured. Other incidents in Atlanta, Charleston, Pittsburgh, Albany, and Bangor are being investigated, but no details have been released. Stay tuned to your Louisville news station for further updates.”
A musical interlude of violins and piano came on, with no commentary from the DJ.
Jim turned down the stereo and hit the “Call” button on his phone. It took three tries to get through, but Jeanine picked up on the first ring when his phone succeeded in making the call.
“Did you hear?” she asked. He could hear the fear and stress in her voice.
“Yeah,” Jim replied, “You heard anything from the school?”
“Got a text that everything was fine, but parents should stay close to their phones,” she answered, “Should I go get him?”
“Nah, let’s sit tight for now and see what happens,” he said, “They probably don’t want a bunch of people descending on the schools right now.”
They chatted for a few more minutes, with Jim doing everything he could to calm his wife. When he heard her voice return to normal, he told her he loved her and he needed to get to work. They ended the conversation with a promise to keep in touch all day and to call if either one learned anything useful.
Jim grabbed his stuff and walked quickly along the fence to the security checkpoint. The guards gave him and his laptop bag extra scrutiny as he went through, but other than that, everything seemed normal. As he walked through the break room to put his lunch in the refrigerator, he found it packed with people. Everyone was watching the television, looking at their phones, or talking in hushed whispers.
Jim looked up at the screen and was floored by what he saw. The news was showing what looked like cell-phone video of a foreign war zone, except he could make out the remnants of a sign, which had once read “Lourdes Elementary School”, with shattered bricks and pieces of metal strewn around it. He turned away when the video switched to showing small bodies lying on the sidewalk and snow-frosted grass as people, some of them obviously wounded, tried to comfort or revive them.
“Bastards,” he muttered as he slammed the door to the refrigerator closed and stalked to his cubicle. The office was a ghost town, and his in-box was full of “Out of Office” emails as his co-workers either decided to leave work or never left their homes in the first place.
There was also an email from corporate networking asking employees to stay off the Internet for the day due to the increased number of connections to news sites.
Wonderful, he thought as he checked his work queue for the day, can’t even keep an eye on what’s going on. He started on his first task with his mind on anything but work.