Ralph was beginning to think that his desk wasn't made of real wood. It looked like wood, but he thought it might be a piece of plastic with a wood grain pattern stuck to some cheap particle board. Now that he thought about it, everything on his desk was made with plastic. His computer monitor, the speakerphone, his latest "ship-it" trophy, and the picture frame of his --
Someone knocked on his door.
Without windows in his office, Ralph had no idea who this could be. No one was supposed to come by today. He needed to submit his expense reports and couldn't be bothered anyway.
"Go away," said Ralph.
He felt the "grain" of wood on his desk. It was definitely plastic. Pretty cool, when he thought about it. The company must have saved tons of money on --
Well now this was starting to really annoy Ralph. He felt, well, he felt ticked off!
Ralph stood up, his (plastic) office chair squeaking at the release of his weight. He walked to the door.
"I told you to go away," said Ralph.
He opened the door and two technicians in blue jump suits stood on the other side.
"What's this about?" asked Ralph.
"Work order," said the technician on the left, stepping past Ralph and entering his office. He unzipped a canvas bag.
"Filed by whom?" asked Ralph, darting his gaze between both technicians. The man still standing in the hall gave Ralph a small shrug. The man inside his office ignored him.
Well, then. This was going nowhere.
Ralph returned to his desk, his chair squeaking as he sat back down. If they were going to ignore him, well, two could play that game. He turned on his computer monitor and a bright screensaver of rolling clouds illuminated Ralph, casting a shadow on the white wall behind him.
"We're gonna need more shims, Joe," said the technician inside Ralph's office.
"Roger that," said the other.
Ralph peeked up. This Joe guy had disappeared from the doorway. The first technician was examining the hinges of the office door.
Ralph sighed, loud enough for him to hear. For God's sake, he had expense reports due by the end of the day!
"Here ya go," said Joe, returning.
The technicians left and slammed the door shut. Ralph jumped in his seat. His chair squeaked.
He was alone in his office now.
Then a piece of wood wedged itself between the top of the door and the frame. As it wiggled in place, Ralph heard muffled sounds from outside.
Then a thump. A moment of silence. Then thump, thump, thump.
Ralph stood up. Squeak.
"Hey," said Ralph, mostly to himself.
He walked to the door again and paused, not sure what to do next.
After a moment longer he knocked.
Ralph twisted the door handle, but it didn't budge.
He twisted again and yanked. Nothing.
Another slice of wood slid next to his feet, between the door and the floor. Ralph got on his knees as the light from the hallway went out.
Thump thump thump thump thump.
He stood up and knocked again, pressing his ear to the door.
Well, shit. Ralph was grafted in here! He returned to his desk and picked up the phone.
"Hi, Ralph. What's up?"
"Have any...technicians stopped by your office today?"
"You mean that thing with the door?" said Sarah.
"Yeah," said Ralph, his face brightening.
"Can you...can you open your door? I can't seem to budge mine myself. I can't leave!"
He laughed lightly. Another pause.
"I dunno, Ralph," said Sarah.
Ralph hung up and thought for a second, again staring at his picture frame. Then he picked up the phone without taking his eyes off the picture.
Maybe he could call them. He rang, but this time no one picked up.
Ralph sighed and glanced at the door. He couldn't see any light from the outside and there were no muffled voices in the hall.
Well, shoot. Maybe he was overreacting, calling Sarah. Then he tried to call them, for God's sake. That was definitely an overreaction.
Right, then. The company must have put the work order in for a reason. No sense in fretting about it. Besides, Ralph had his expense reports due tonight.
So he set to work. He had to submit every receipt for all purchases over ten dollars, but Ralph had a nifty system for that, thank you very much. See, he took a picture of all his receipts. Right on his phone! That way he didn't have to hold ontothem... hejusthadto... pulluphisphone...
The walls in his office seemed to get darker. The plastic edges on his desk started to get fuzzier.
Youjust... pullup... yourphone...
Ralph turned off his monitor and set his head on his desk.
A light summer breeze tickled Ralph's face. When he opened his eyes, sunlight blinded him before a stunning landscape formed in his field of vision. He was sitting on a boulder at the top of a cliff, looking down into a green valley of enormous fir trees swaying in the wind. The air was as crisp as an apple.
Ralph noticed he was joined by his old dog, Douglas.
"Hey, boy." He gave Douglas a pat. The graying dog wagged his tail.
If Douglas were here, did that mean they were, too? Ralph hoped so, but he couldn't see them anywhere.
That's OK, it was mighty peaceful either way. But, hell, it sure would be nice if they were here.
Ralph closed his eyes and breathed deeply, taking in the fresh air.
When he opened them again, he was back in his office.
The door wasn't grafted any more. The wood shims had disappeared.
In fact, everything had disappeared. His desk was empty.
Ralph got up. His chair was silent.
He opened the door and peered down the hallway. The other office doors were open. Ralph peeked inside Sarah's, the office next to his. It was empty. They were all empty.
Ralph went back into his own office and grabbed his coat.
He made his way to the stairs, poking his head into a doorway every so often. The whole place was barren.
When he reached the lobby, sunlight tiptoed between the blinds and onto the marble floor.
Ralph smiled and felt himself breathe before he opened the lobby door, stepped over a small pile of sawdust, and walked outside.