Desertion. Short Story.

Coffee. Coffee first, that was the important thing. Janice checked her phone, the emails were already building up. There was no point in reading any of them, not when she was only half awake. Of course today would be the day that her damn coffee machine breaks and all she had in the house were those annoying capsules. Why did she ever buy the damn thing? Sure it was supposed to be easy, but she should have taken Mary’s advice and gotten a French press. Even if that broke she could have done something with the beans. The line was moving, but it was doing so so slowly that it may as well not be moving at all. While she waited she scanned the menu, it had been a long time since she had been in a coffee shop, was this one of those places that used different words for the sizes?

Finally it was her turn. “Good morning, what can I get you?”
“Can I have a large coffee, black.”
“ok, anything else?”
“No, that’s it.”

“Do you want room for milk?”
Janice paid then moved out of the way, going towards the counter where everyone else was waiting. This part shouldn’t take too long, everyone here looked like they were in a rush, she hoped that meant none of them had gotten anything complicated. When her order was called she moved to the front and grabbed the cup, then moved over to a little station with milk, she added some to her drink and left, pleased that the entire thing had been fairly simple, even if it had been expensive. As she walked she sipped her coffee, it was starting to wake her up a little, maybe she’d be fully functional by the time she arrived at the office.

When she reached the large glass doors she pushed through them and continued to the lifts. The reception desks were empty. Janice glanced at her watch, it was almost 9, they should be manned by now, and it was far too early for a cigarette break. Even if one of them had gone off someone should have stayed behind. It wasn’t like all three of them would be out sick. They’d have someone covering if that was the case. She shook her head, sloppy, they were reasonable receptionists, not amazing but not terrible, still she’d have to have a talk with Tony, let him know that’s unacceptable. What if a client walked in right now? They could be left standing around for god knows how long. She took another drink of her coffee and stepped into the elevator, pressing the button to her floor. The doors closed and she took a deep breath. At least something was going right. She loved that small golden window in the office where there were no people scurrying in and out of the lifts, clogging everything up. As the lift ascended she ran through a mental checklist of the things she had to do, then started sorting them out into groups of importance. The elevator stopped on her floor and the doors opened, Janice stepped out, then stopped. The office was silent. There was no sound of phones ringing, people talking, people typing. Nothing. She frowned, was there a meeting she didn’t know about? She looked around the room, there was no sign of anyone at all. She took another stepped forward, then stopped. Was it a Saturday? Though she would never admit it, it wouldn’t be the first time it had happened to her. Though she had always found the door locked on those days. No, that wasn’t right, today was Friday, people should be here. Janice started walking towards her office, she’d check her planner. Maybe she missed something. Were people starting late this morning?

Janice let herself into her office, she set her coffee down on the desk and went to her drawers, she pulled open her planner and flipped to the day. No, nothing listed. Had something happened? She felt a sinking feeling in her stomach, had there been some kind of terrorist attack somewhere? She pulled out her phone, she’d check the news, if something happened it’d be all over it. She took out her phone and opened the browser. Page not found. She checked the signal, there was none. Something really bad must have happened if the phones were out, she always had perfect signal in her office. Feeling shaky, Janice sat down on her desk. The Wi-Fi, it wasn’t connected, sometimes that happened. She went into her settings and opened the list of networks. None were found. Her heart started beating faster, what could have taken out the Wi-Fi? Some kind of EMP? But then the lights were still on. She stood and went to her window, she looked down at the streets. She could see people streaming passed the office, no one seemed to be in any kind of rush or panic. If something happened there would be panic, right? Maybe it was something strange with the building? Some kind of maintenance on the floor that no one told her about. Janice took a few deep breaths to compose herself then went back to the lifts. She went to the floor above, then the floor below. Both were empty and there were no signs of workmen. It almost felt as though she was being watched. It was eerie being in the office while it was so empty and sunlight was streaming in.

Back in the lobby there was still no one at the desks. It seemed that the stream of people had died off while she was upstairs, there was no one walking by the office now. Janice had been checking her phone periodically and there was still no signal. She stepped outside and shivered as a cold breeze swept past her. It had been warm earlier. She was staring at her phone screen, waiting for the moment when the signal would return, but there was no change. She looked up, the street was empty. Another gust of wind blew past, tugging at her skirt. She shivered in the cold. She had never seen this street empty before. There was always someone, she thought back to the crowd of people, were they walking faster than usual? Janice hadn’t thought so at the time but now she wasn’t as sure. She took another breath, she was just freaking out, that was all, nothing was wrong. She just needed to stay calm. Keep herself collected. She’d find that there was some reasonable and mundane answer to all this and then she and whoever she told about it would laugh at how silly she was being. Janice started to walk back towards the coffee shop, there would be people there, she remembered seeing a guy that had claimed a corner for himself with his laptop, he looked like he was going to be there for the day. Maybe there was some kind of event on that she had missed somehow.

The streets remained empty as she walked to the coffee shop, her phone still didn’t work and there was no sign of anyone inside the buildings, though Janice didn’t go into any of them. The only place she could think of getting to was the coffee shop.

The coffee shop was empty. There was still a strong smell of coffee in the air, but it had a slightly stale quality to it. There was a laptop sitting on the table that the man had been at, along with a back pack, there were a few purses and bags around the floor, as though the owners had put them down and just forgotten to pick them up again. The place didn’t look like people had ran from the room, nothing was knocked over or too far out of place. She looked back at the counter, the baked goods were still in the display cabinet, but they were mouldy, she couldn’t remember if they were fresh or not this morning. Surely they wouldn’t put out stuff like that, it would have to violate some kind of health and safety codes. These places usually had Wi-Fi, didn’t they? She checked on her phone, again there was nothing. She went over to the laptop, it was still on. The lights in the place were still on too, she spotted the charger, it had been plugged in when the man left. She looked at the internet pages already open, there was nothing to suggest that there had been any breaking news or attack. She tried to refresh a few, but again she was told there was no connection. There was a TV placed on one wall, it had been off this morning and it was still off. She dragged a chair over to it and using the chair as a ladder, reached up and pressed the on button. The TV turned on and Janice let out a sigh of relief, she could flick to the news and find out what was going on. The first channel was nothing but static, same with the second, she flicked through ten before she gave up. Perhaps the TV was just broken, after all it had been off this morning. Janice stepped off the chair and looked around again, not sure what to do. There were no signs of any kind of panic, nothing to tell her which was she should be going. After a moment of indecisiveness, Janice started walking to the right, it was towards her home and if she met someone on the way they might know what happened.

The walk took her a half an hour, but during that time she saw no one. Once she thought she saw someone in the distance, but what ever, or who ever it was was gone when she got there. In her apartment she took the stairs for fear that the electricity could cut out any moment. She changed into some comfortable and warm clothes, then threw on a pair of runners and packed a bag. She brought a few changes of clothes, a few bottles of water and some cans of food. Janice paused in the sitting room and turned on the TV, again there was nothing but static on every channel, she checked every one, then she turned it off. She settled the backpack securely onto her back and left, locking the door behind herself. She felt a little silly doing it, but it helped her feel a little normal.

Outside she checked her phone once more, still nothing, and after a moments hesitation she scribbled an arrow and a brief message onto the wall. If someone else did come along and see it, they might go after her. Once she had finished her message, Janice started to walk, she didn’t know how long it would take her to find someone, but given how utterly deserted the city seemed, she thought it might take a good while.

About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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