Eight inches of snow are on their way, and I finally have the excuse I need. I watch through the office window as Mr. Peterson gets up from his desk, grabs his coat, turns off the light, and closes the door behind him. He realizes that I’m still here.
“Going home soon, Matt?” he asks.
“Yeah.” I heave a sigh and look at my screen. “I just have a few more things to take care of.”
“You know that there’s a blizzard coming, right?” Mr. Peterson points out the window where heavy snowflakes are already falling.
“Yes, sir. I just don’t want to leave these for tomorrow. I’m a little OCD, you know?” I answer. He looks at me as if he knows. As if he can see all the thoughts swirling in my head: the fear, the excitement, the anxiety.
“Well, if you’re sure.” He smiles, and for some reason I shiver. “I wouldn’t want you to be stuck here,” he says with finality. Then he turns his back and slides his arms through the sleeves of his coat and exits our office suite. And now my last obstacle is gone.
Our workday ends at 5:00, but Mr. Peterson always stays until 6:20 to catch his bus. He cut it a little close today. Maybe because he wanted to let me finish up so I could leave with him. I’m not really sure why he takes the bus. I don’t know what managers are paid around here, but I make enough to own a vehicle (even if it is a crappy Civic) so I know that he could probably afford one. Who knows?
I take out the backpack I brought in this morning. No one thought anything of it when I came in. I unzip it to pull out a sleeping bag, and underneath that two (squished) granola bars and a flashlight.
I think back to the look that Mr. Peterson gave me before he left. Did he know that being snowed in at the office was exactly what I wanted? No, there’s no way he could have known.
Now is my chance to investigate. I’ve spoken to people in other suites in this building, and none of them have reported anything out of the ordinary. Except for here. Here in this suite.
Here, we leave for the night and come back to a work area that has been rearranged. It’s not the cleaning crew. They only come in over the weekend. The most eerie instance of this was when I came in to work in the morning and my supplies were stacked on my desk. Two boxes of paper clips on top of a thick pad of sticky notes. I know I didn’t leave it like that. Here, we wear jackets even during summer because for some reason, our suite is just cold. Here, after hours, there are noises we can’t explain.
I needed a chance to stay and find out what is going on. I have to know. There are places I want to check without anyone watching. Reports to investigate. And I need the time to do it with no distractions. A blizzard is perfect. I can stay and explain it away in the morning. I’ll tell everyone that I stayed a little too late and got stuck here. And by morning, I’ll have answers.
I’ve thought this through. There are a few places I’ve never been, and they match up with the suspicious reports from my coworkers. The first? A spot in the back corner of the suite, where Jason’s desk is situated. He complains about it being the coldest area in the entire place, which is saying something. I decide to turn the lights off and move about with the help of my flashlight. If someone is sneaking in during the night, which I have contemplated as a possibility, perhaps they will see the darkness and come right in like usual.
I swing the beam over Jason’s desk. It’s cluttered with paper and folders. But it’s not any colder. I’m not afraid of the dark, but being alone in it is still unsettling. I think about going around and looking in Jason’s desk, but I have the urge to check my surroundings. Probably some sort of instinct.
I start to turn, and there’s a slamming sound behind me. I hit the floor and start to crawl away, clutching the flashlight. I can hear my breath sweeping in and out, my chest pumping with panic. I turn the light back toward the desk, and the papers on Jason’s desk are fluttering. They’re moving. I back away and try to stumble to my feet. And I feel the cold. He was right. I’m about to turn and run, try to get to my car and get out. I shouldn’t have done this by myself. But then I remember that I came for this, and if I leave, I won’t know. Besides, I realize, I’m stuck here. I can’t leave.
But I’m shaking, and I’m alone. And I don’t know what caused that inexplicable noise. Until I notice snowflakes drifting down onto the carpeted floor, and I move the flashlight to the wall. I aim higher, and there, close to the ceiling, is an open window. Much too small for a person to fit through. Why is it even there? But the icy wind is whistling through it, and it’s welcoming in snow like it’s a long-lost friend. That explains it. The moving papers, the cold. Jason was nervous about a window. And, honestly, so was I. What a waste, though! I came here for nothing! And now I’m stuck here all night!
I’m actually kind of disappointed. Maybe it was naive to think so, but I kind of hoped for a break-in or even something paranormal. But it’s just a window letting in cold air and moving papers around. Boring.
The tension built up in my shoulders lets go and I whistle on my way back to my desk. I might as well eat my granola and get settled in for a long, dull night. But when I reach my desk, I stop short. In the middle, my supplies, my sticky notes, my paper clips, and a box of staples are built into a little leaning tower. And I know I didn’t leave it that way. Someone is playing with me.
And now I think I know where they’ve gone. Mr. Pederson’s office is now standing open. Someone is hiding. Mr. Pederson closed it on his way out. I saw him shut it. I inch toward the office, flashlight held ahead of me. I should have brought a weapon. I have nothing but my fists.
The door is just ever so slightly cracked, as if someone tried to haphazardly close it behind them. Or it was left open purposely for a quick escape. My heart pounds. I hold my breath and grasp the door handle. Yank it like a Band-Aid or ease it open? I don’t know which is best. I take the middle ground and swing it open like I’m just walking in to speak to my boss. My flashlight beam invades. Nothing stirs.
The only possible hiding place is under the desk. I give myself some distance from the edge of it as I walk around. Maybe I expect to be tripped. Or yanked underneath. I swallow as I turn the corner. What do I expect? A dumb kid? Or something from my nightmares.
It’s nothing. Again. Just nothing. I say it out loud to comfort myself. “Nothing, it’s nothing,” I say to the empty office.
This is the first time I’ve seen my boss’s desk from this side. In fact, it’s the only time I’ve cleared the doorway. There’s his computer. I wiggle the mouse, but it’s shut down. Even if I turn it on, I won’t know the password. I’m not normally this nosy, but I’m already here and I can’t resist. There’s a pencil cup, but it’s just full of writing utensils. There’s a picture there. It’s him for sure. The light complexion, dark hair, tall. And a wife that’s the perfect contrast. Petite, blond, tan. Then a little boy forcing a smile that looks more like her than him.
I’ve heard my coworkers wonder aloud (though quietly) about Mr. Pederson’s family. They’ve never seen them, and he doesn’t talk about them. But here in front of me is evidence. Had my coworkers really not seen this picture? Some of them have worked here for years.
In fact, I realize now that they know extremely little about him. They say that he keeps to himself. He’s a workaholic. They never see him stop to eat, and he stays late. It makes me wonder why they haven’t just asked. Because he comes off as cold, I suppose.
I turn my sights on the next thing on the desk, a bunch of folders in an organizer. I thumb through them. Mostly reports. Nothing interesting. But something sticks out. A folder with a bright red label.
Inside I find newspaper clippings. Lots of them. I see more pictures of his family. One is the same as the one on his desk, but the caption claims it was from 1972. That was years ago. The Mr. Pederson from the picture would be an old man. Something’s not adding up. There’s so much here to go through, but I guess I’m here all night anyway. Still, something tells me it’s time to leave. I feel cold. I return the folder, and this time I read the label. “Unfinished Business.”
I make for the door. I need some light. I’m suffocating in this darkness with nothing but a flashlight. It flicks on before I can reach it.
We stand nose to nose, and it’s ice cold. “You should have gone home, Matt,” said Mr. Peterson.