I was supposed to be working or studying, or something else equally mundane and demanding, but I had been distracted by the power outage. My computer was still glowing on battery back-up, but the room had settled into an uncomfortable, dark silence. I realized then that I had no idea how long it had been that way. I had been so immersed in my studies, I hadn't bothered to acknowledge the world around me. I grabbed my giant, silver flashlight and headed toward the front of the building.
The regular noises were gone. The fans overhead had stopped their roars; bones did not screech against the power of the saw blade; knives did not thunk against the chopping block with each slice of meaty flesh. The silence had grown so loud, the only noise I could hear was the trickle of blood pooling from the cutting board onto the slippery floor.
My co-workers had disappeared. They weren't prowling around, using their cellphones as flashlights as they had done before. Nobody cheered for the break in labor. It seemed that I'd been abandoned, but that extra sense I sometimes get told me the others were simply hiding. From what, I had no idea.
I was determined to find them. Why wouldn't they have warned me of the impending doom? Did nobody think I was important enough to save?
I flicked my light into corners and crevices, searching for familiar faces, but none were found. I moved through the building alone. It had changed since I had sat down at the desk. The sales floor was gone, replaced by more work tables, more machines, more storage shelves. The customers had disappeared as well, I suppose because there was nothing set up on display for them to buy.
I was in the bakery when I heard the first murmurs from the women. I followed the sounds past the big mixers, around the walk-in ovens, beyond the freezer. All things here were covered with a thin coat of flour. My fingers reached out to the baker's block and etched the algebra problem I'd been working on before. Find f(g(-3)) if f(x)=4x-9 and g(x)=3x^2. It looked simple enough, but it might as well have been written in Chinese, because the numbers and letters were just swirling together in one big doughy mess. I grunted and smeared the problem away with a swipe of my hand. It was silly to be standing there working out math problems when I should have been looking for the others.
I found them in a bigger storage room I had never known was there. All the women from all the departments had gathered here. I saw Deadra from Bakery holding hands with Angie the POS clerk. Linda from Fuel was halfway hidden by Dominique from Deli. Janet from the Hot Bar sat in a chair in the center of the room, glaring at me. Each of them cringed away from my beam of light like scared children, except for Janet.
Sweet Janet with the long blond braid and the big smile was hissing at me. She reached forward and knocked the torch from my grasp. My light bounced and rolled into a corner, where it flickered and died. I felt the hot sting of a flesh wound on the back of my hand. I pressed it into my shirt and blinked into the darkness.
We were now shrouded, not just by the darkness, but by a heavy, frightening presence that we could not see. I felt it move past me, an invisible, slippery creature that preys on fear. And it had us. We were frightened. I must have screamed or made some kind of demand for explanation because Janet swung her claw at me again, this time across the face. She told me to shut up, and I was getting pissed at her. When the lights came back on, I was going to kick her ass!
I dropped to the cold concrete floor and began to feel around for the flashlight. The creature, which I couldn't have seen even in the light, ripped me away from myself. It had my body pressed up against the wall, about to tear me to bits, but my spirit remained on the floor looking up. Now that I was no longer confined to the physical laws, I could see the hollow, ugly thing shredding me to pieces, and I knew that the same fate awaited the other women there. I was powerless to stop it. I wondered briefly what had happened to all the men?
I searched the faces of the women, and all I could see was fear and hopelessness. I felt the pain of heartache, although I had no heart. It was then I decided I didn't like being dead. I pulled my body back around me, pushed my fear away and told myself to ...