I ran to the light switch, clawed at it, and shut the office into darkness. The after-flash of the fluorescents left a slight, flickering blueprint of the room in my brain. I opened Elizabeth’s dad’s door and, on tiptoes, ran to the outer door leading to the hallway. When I peered through the float glass, I saw a flashlight’s beam bouncing up and down the hallway, vanishing and suddenly reappearing. Slow, labored footsteps shuffled across the hallway floor. Doorknobs rattled, growing louder. The security guard. Elizabeth gave me no indication he’d be so thorough as to check for unlocked doors. Crap! The only way to relock it was with a key from the outside. Hadn’t they ever heard of modern innovations?
I raced blindly through the office, bumping my shin on the receptionist’s desk. Stifling a howl, I opened Mr. Blackmer’s door, shut it with a nearly imperceptible click. Six minutes left and the guard was closing in. I took a risk, turned on the flashlight. Yanking back curtains, I saw that the windows unclasped and pushed up, providing enough room for me to climb out. The window opened with surprising ease. Below the double stacked windows sat a brick ledge, extending no more than eight inches in length. It would have to do.
The doorknob shaking grew louder, a ghost dragging his chains down a haunted house stairway. Then the guard started whistling. The Carpenters, I think. Ugh. But it helped me pinpoint his location. By my reckoning, just one office away. With one foot out the window, I noticed the computer screen glowing. I tumbled back in, rolling with a gymnast’s skill, and flicked the screen off.
I levered one leg over the windowsill. Carefully digging my toes onto the ledge, I secured solid footing. I tossed my arms above me, wedging my hands against the overhanging sill. Then I brought my other leg across and out, just as the outer doorknob rattled. The whistling stopped. The door opened, creaking.
My arms shook. If muscles could scream, mine surely would. They strained, pressing against the upper sill. Forced into a half-squat, my shaking knees extended out into the open sky, twenty-one floors off the ground.
Then I realized I had left the window open. Carefully releasing my right hand, I brought the window down slowly to not upset my balance. My back protested with pain as I forced my arm behind me. The window shut just as the inner office door opened. Fluorescent lights sprayed out next to me. I huddled into the corner like a crab. All four limbs trembled from fear and exertion.
The curtains were pulled back, no way to close them behind me. A beam of light splashed across the window, its arc falling dead across the skyline. I shut my eyes and held on tight. From inside the office, the lights turned off, the sound of the door closing following it.
Tiny green and yellow specks of light crawled from the corner of my vision line like a deadly fungus. A vortex of dizziness made my head spin. Sweat oozed from nowhere, soaking me head to foot. My fingers slipped from the moisture, and I clawed blindly at the cornice.
The lightshow completely overtook my vision.
Dear God, not now!Not another drug flashback! Not now!
Then blackness swam around me…
* * * *
My eyes blinked open. I felt tired, dizzy. My arms ached, my legs shook. Intense pressure. Weird. I looked straight ahead of me and saw nothing but night sky, the sound of traffic eerie and far away. Dreaming. I relaxed. Until I looked down.
Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!
Far below me, cars looked like mere toys. Elspeth’s wig slipped off my head, flapping through the sky like a bat. I snapped my head back, cracking it hard against concrete. I let the pain wake me up. Daring a glimpse upward, I saw I was jammed into a window frame, the sill the only thing keeping me from plummeting to my death. I forced my arms and legs even stiffer, hoping to bond my position. My muscles felt unwilling, ready to give out.
A sudden grinding sound erupted to my right.
I would’ve screamed if my voice had not dried up.
The mechanical sound grew louder then settled into a steady, whizzing sound. Daddy’s old-fashioned window air-conditioner unit. I felt my fingers slipping above me. I dug in deeper until they hurt.
Don’t look down, don’t look down!
I did look down and nearly fainted. A cool breeze brushed my face, giving me momentary relief. I snapped my eyes shut.
Please, God, I won’t ever be selfish again! Just help me out of this!
* * * *
Total darkness, nothing around. I pulled myself off the floor (assuming that was what it was), and turned, looking for a hint of light. Nothing but inky, unforgiving blackness. I slapped myself, trying to wake up.
That’s when I remembered. Elizabeth out on the window ledge. I freaked. Scurrying back and forth, I looked for something, anything, a wall to guide me toward light and cognizance. Still an infinite maze of night.
I sat down. Shut my eyes. Concentrated.
“Don’t panic, Elizabeth. Just stay put. I’m coming back.” I kept repeating the mantra over and over, hoping it’d pull me back and save both our asses.