This is NOT a drill!
Glen Dion did not know for sure what had happened. He had been having trouble sleeping over the past few weeks and thought that he must have fallen asleep at his desk. All he knew for sure was that the fire alarm in the office was going off and the rest of the employees on the tenth floor of the building were gone. He hurriedly went to the first of the two stairwells to begin his descent to the first floor in order to leave the building.
The company held annual fire drills which always made Glen feel like he was back in the fourth grade. With that fourth grade feeling came the same mentality that he was going to be in trouble for not having evacuated with everyone else. By now, he should be standing at the far end of the parking lot waiting for the “All Clear” order to reenter the building. The thought of just hiding away and waiting until everyone was coming back up crossed his mind. But knowing that the supervisor of the tenth floor would be taking count, he figured that would not work.
He pushed the door to the stairwell open while at a trot. The door had nearly closed behind him before he realized that the emergency lights were off and heavy smoke had filled the stairwell. He grabbed the door and went back into the office area pulling the door shut behind him.
The voice of Ms. Dunlop, his fourth grade teacher, echoed in his head. “You never did take a fire drill seriously, Glen. I told you it would save your life someday. You always liked hiding in the janitor’s closet during our drills, didn’t you?”
Glen looked around, trying to figure out where the voice came from. Her voice sounded just like he remembered it from so many years ago. Rationalizing that it was not possible for so many reasons, the first being that she was so old back then, he darted toward the other stairwell at the opposite end of the floor. Ms. Dunlop barked at Glen, “Answer me!”
Glen immediately stopped and looked around. This time, the voice seemed to be less in his head, and more in the office space. He could not see any heads peeking over the short cubicle walls that comprised most of the office space, like the workspaces of many people in a newsroom. The voice rang out sharply again, “I said ‘Answer me’!”
“I-I-I d-did t-too.” He said. All at once, the memories of the old teacher and the class that he attended nearly forty years prior came rushing back into the forefront of his mind. He was afraid of Ms. Dunlop back then. From his sudden stuttering, he guessed he was still afraid of her now. He recalled her hitting his hand with a ruler and telling him that he was possessed by a demon because he wrote with his left hand. As hard as he tried to write with his right hand, he just could not do it. She would make him stay in the classroom while the rest went to recess. While Ms. Dunlop was alone with Glen, she would bend his arm behind his back, bend his fingers back, or pull hard on his ears until tears flowed down his cheeks. She would threaten to do the same things to his little sister if he told anyone about what she did to him. It occurred to Glen at that moment that he had never told anyone over the forty years since he had seen Ms. Dunlop about the things that she had done to him. No one would have believed him back then, and it did not matter now.
He snapped back to the reality of the moment, tears flowing down his cheeks as they had done so long ago in Ms. Dunlop’s classroom. Her voice snapped again. “You always were worthless because of the demon in you. God is finally punishing you for your sins! He’s going to let your body burn before you soul does!”
Looking around as she spoke, Glen again tried to figure out where Ms. Dunlop was hiding. All at once, he thought of the fire in the stairwell behind him and darted for the other one at the far end of the office. Ms. Dunlop yelled from behind him, “You’re going to burn Glen! Burn in Hell!”
Glen had run so fast that when he reached the heavy metal door separating him from the second stairwell, he stopped himself by putting his hands against it. The instant sizzling sound was followed by acute pain in the palms of his hands and fingers. He quickly pulled them away and looked at the door. The handle was beginning to turn red and smoke slowly wafted from under the door.
The movement of a shadow from one of the nearby cubicles caught his attention from the corner of his eye. He called out. “Hello? Ms. D-D-Dun-lop?”
The response came back, “D-D-D-Dummy!”
He slowly walked toward the cubicle where he had seen the shadow move. As he neared it, he spoke again, “M-Ms. D-Dunlop… The fire.”
She responded, but not from behind the cubicle wall. She seemed to have moved a few cubicles down the main aisle. “You were a stupid kid, and you’re not any smarter now! Come here! I know you still write with the incorrect hand. I’m going to beat that devil out of you!”
He responded, “The f-f-fire. It’s coming…”
She chuckled before saying, “God is coming to get you!”
Pausing to look out of a window as he slowly walked toward the cubicle that the voice seemed to emit from, he saw fire trucks through the heavy black smoke rising from somewhere on a floor below him.
For a moment, he thought that he would try to escape the fire by going down the first stairwell. If he held his breath, maybe he could make it down and just leave Ms. Dunlop to die in the inferno that surely was burning below them. He darted toward the stairwell and suddenly remembered that there was a freight elevator that would be kept operational in the event of an emergency for people that are handicapped. After changing directions and heading for the hallway that would lead to the elevator, he stopped and turned to face the cubicle that Ms. Dunlop’s voice came from.
His eyes squinted and brow furrowed as the memories from so many years ago came back to him. Feelings of resentment, fear, and hatred burned in him as hot as the fire engulfing the floors below him. Ms. Dunlop scared him so badly that he was afraid to tell his parents about the things she did to humiliate him when no one else was looking, since leaving her class. He knew that his father would be furious, if he believed Glen. He also knew that he would be alone with her again and the torment would be horrific. The many days that she made him stay after school in detention for things he did not do would just get worse. Glen was a good kid, but everyone around him thought he was a problem child. Ms. Dunlop saw to that.
Memories of her hurting him in such ways that no marks would show up, putting him in a dark closet for hours at a time, and belittling him had been buried deep in his mind. Tears began to well up in his eyes and run down his cheeks as the memories began to become more vivid. Anger soon took over as he remembered the reactions of his parents and the principle as Ms. Dunlop told her lies about Glen. He had forgotten about the hatred that he had for is father as the harsh disciplines were issued and how much it burned for Ms. Dunlop as he recalled her smirks.
Glen’s decision to let her burn in the building seemed too easy. He wanted more than that. He wanted her to suffer at his hand before the fire consumed her. He had to do it quickly in order to have time to escape himself. He walked back to the cubicle where he was sure he had last heard her voice. “Ms. Dunlop? We have to go now.”
The response came from another cubicle down the main aisle, “Don’t tell me what we have to do, Glen! Remember what I will do to you. And your father will beat you for it.” The laughter that followed reminded Glen of the cackling of an old, green witch on the television. He walked to down the aisle as she did it to try to locate her.
“I don’t want you to burn up.” He said. As he did, his voice raised slightly as he tried to hold back his own giggling. “We have to go now.”
“I know how to get out because I didn’t hide during the fire drills. You did!” Her voice was cold as she said it matter-of-factly. Glen recalled her shoving him in the closet and locking him in before leaving the room for the drills and blaming him for hiding. He recalled his father spanking him right there in front of her after the third time she accused him. Glen remembered her laughing in his face about it later.
He quickly entered the cubicle that the voice seemed to come from, but she was not there. With his burned hands on the desk, he knelt down to look under it. The loud smack and sharp pain of the wooden ruler on his left hand took him off guard. He hit his head on the desk as he tried to look up.
From his knees, the old woman seemed just as big as she did so many years ago. She had not changed. She still looked as he recalled as he looked up at her. In her eyes, he saw the hatred for him that he never understood. Grabbing him by his right ear and pulling him hurt more as he recalled her doing that to put him in the dark closet. He began walking on his knees as she pulled him toward the supply closet. The pain of his ear hurt almost as badly as the memory of being in the dark.
At once, he grabbed her arm and squeezed her knuckles to make her let go of his ear. She winced at the pain and hit him across the face with the old wooden ruler. The metal strip from the edge cut his cheek. As he stood, he snatched the ruler from her other hand and hit her with it.
She pulled the ruler from Glen’s hand and screamed out, “Your father will beat the hell out of you for this! You know he believes me more than you. You’re a problem kid!”
Glen punched her in the face, busting her nose. Blood ran down her lips and chin. “Shut up you old bitch!”
He held her by the throat. She wrestled with him to try to get free. Only gurgling noises escaped her when she tried to speak out. She hit him hard in the groin with her knee. The pain caused him to let go of her and step back. She swung the ruler at him again. The fear from forty years ago took over him, causing him to step back again. She continued to swing the ruler at him like it was a sword and he continued to step back until his back hit the window. The next swing connected with his face, leaving a gash over his left eye, leaving him blinded on that side as blood flowed down.
Again he grabbed her by the throat as she dropped the ruler and took him by his own. He swung her around. She hit the window, shattering the glass as she went through it. Smoke from the floors below entered the smashed window. Ms. Dunlop dangled out the window. Glen let go of her to let her make the ten story drop to the pavement below. She kept her grip on his throat and pulled him out with her. The fall seemed to take a long time and the memories of all the pain caused by the old woman again entered his head as the pavement below grew closer.
. . .
George Wilcox had been Glen’s supervisor for the last five years. He told the police that Glen was a strange individual, but an excellent accountant. No one in the office that day could explain why Glen had been working so hard that morning, as he did every day, before suddenly getting up from his desk and literally running through the window, killing himself without a word to anyone. The police determined that Glen’s death was a suicide.