E is for Exercise
Word count: 1940
Sherrie just needed 125 more steps to make her hourly goal. If she used the bathroom on the third floor instead of the second where she was now, she could make her step-count goal and add another flight of stairs to her daily total.
Yes, that’s what she’d do.
She glanced at the clock on her monitor. Six minutes until the hour. Plenty of time. She grabbed her purse, slung it over her shoulder and weaved her way through a labyrinth of cubicles. She could follow outside the outer edge and add to her step total but it might take too long–it was too close to the top of the hour. She’d take the long way back to her desk instead, add more steps on the other side of the hour.
Best to loop around to Janice’s group–she didn’t know a soul over there. No one would try to stop her to chat. She rotated her arm lighting the display on her Fitbit–four minutes left to the hour.
There was the door to the stairs. She slipped through, taking the stairs two at a time then knocking the door open on the third floor, and heading directly to the bathrooms near the west elevators.
Almost there. She checked her watch one more time. One minute to spare.
She’d forgotten her phone at her desk but surely she’d reached her hourly goal–maybe even doubled it. She settled down onto the toilet seat with a sigh of contentment.
The bathroom was empty, silent except for the heat rushing through the vents over her head. Silent except for the shuffling of her feet, then the twang of the toilet paper unrolling into her hand.
Shattering the silence–a loud hollow bang, then a scream. She froze in her spot. Another scream, blood curdling this time, then cut off.
Sherrie felt all the blood in her limbs rush to her torso, leaving her ice cold.
What was going on out there?
She could hear voices, getting louder, along with thundering steps. Someone was coming closer, and fast.
Another bang, a thud, then murmured voices.
Fear so sharp it tasted like acid rushed through her. She trembled, her eyes watering. Should she get off the toilet? Try to hide? What if the toilet flushed? What if they heard and came into the room? What if they came in the room anyways and she was sitting here like an idiot on the toilet?
Further away she heard another scream, someone was crying. The footsteps outside of the bathroom faded away heading toward the noise.
It was now or never. She stood up, begging the toilet not to flush–it flushed anyways. The one in the stall next to her did as well. She held her breath, expecting the worst, listening.
No one entered the bathroom.
She pulled her purse off the coat hook, slipped it onto one shoulder and pushed the stall door open. It creaked hollowly.
Her rapid-fire breathing was the only sound in the room. Out of habit she glanced at her Fitbit–noting the time. Six minutes after the hour.
Could she get to the stairs unseen? Escape that way? She edged out of the room, looking around. The hallway was empty.
How many–who?– were there? Where were they now? She shuddered, slipped out of her shoe accidentally. Fought fiercely to put it back on, scraping the back of her heel, listening all the while.
She was almost there. This side of the building was deathly quiet. No voices, no cries, there was barely a hum of computers.
She crossed the hall to the stairwell door, slammed through it, suddenly unable to contain her energy anymore. Her feet stomped down the stairs, one slick hand on the rail. Exhilaration shot through her veins– she’d made it, she was safe just a few more steps–.
She rounded a corner stopping suddenly in front of a bearded man with a gun who looked, if anything, more startled than she was.
“Oh god,” she said the air whooshing out of her, terror freezing her in mid-motion.
“Stay where you are,” he said, but she wasn’t moving, couldn’t move, could barely breath.
“I’ll shoot you where you stand.”
She nodded mutely unsure what to do now. He looked like he didn’t know either. He looked scared. And despite his beard, very young.
So he wasn’t one of the shooters then. A lookout, maybe? She cursed her luck.
He looked nervously at the door, then back at her. “What floor are you supposed to be on?” he said.
“Two,” she whispered, then unsure he had heard her, she cleared her throat and pointed at the door.
He looked even more unsure. “Okay, you aren’t one of those floor three bitches. That’s good.” He let out a breath of air, leaned against the wall, arms crossed on his chest, the gun dangling. “What department are you in?”
“Sales. Sales support,” she said and her face burned with embarrassment. Was she really having a conversation with a– well, what was he? Some kind of domestic terrorist?
Yes, he was. He and whoever he was with. But why?
She found herself babbling. “Mitchell’s group. You know Mitchell? Tall, curly hair, kinda pudgy? Nice enough guy.” The terrorist shook his head at her and she said, “You work here?”
He narrowed his eyes at her. Why had she asked that? It was the wrong thing to say. What would he do now?
He shrugged his shoulders, maybe figuring it didn’t matter at this point. “Yeah, I used to be up on three. I remember you, now. I saw you around sometimes. You used to use the bathroom on our floor–” a light dawned on his face. “That’s what you’re doing, wasn’t it? Just now.”
She nodded, and then realized she was sweating. Profusely, in fact. She lifted one arm and released a pungent fear sweat smell. Red bloomed up her cheeks and she shifted around in her shirt to allow the air to dry her out. Sweat dripped from her hairline. Self consciously she swiped at it with her sleeve. She needed to get ahold of herself.
She took a deep breath, letting it out slow, slower, trying to steady her fiercely beating heart. After a moment it cooperated, slowing to a more steady beat.
There. That was nominally better. She looked closer at the youngman. Did she recognize him? Maybe, maybe not.
His face. Oh no. He wasn’t wearing a mask or doing anything to protect his identity. Her heart sped up again. Did that mean he was planning to kill her?
“What– what do you want?” she whispered.
“To shake things up.” He shrugged his shoulders again. “Say, why do you always use the bathroom on the third floor?”
She squeezed her eyes shut, feeling briefly dizzy, and suddenly very tired. She raised one arm to hold the rail, then her knees gave out and she sat on the stairs with a solid thunk.
“You all right?” he asked and he looked so genuinely concerned she almost laughed. Then she did, because the whole thing was so ridiculous. Why did she use the bathroom on the third floor?
It was so stupid, she grinned expectantly, earning her a grin from him as well. She raised her arm indicating the Fitbit.
“Hey, isn’t that one of the exercise things?”
She nodded, still giggling.
“How does it work?”
“I have no idea,” she said, and now her voice was strong. “I just wear the fucking thing everyday and it counts my steps. Yay me, I get 10,000 steps today.” Slowly, her giggles subsided to silence.
His face looked thoughtful. “Can I see it?” he asked.
“I’ve never seen one up close.” He pointed at it with his gun and at first she tensed, but then she realized that he wasn’t threatening her. He’d forgotten it was in his hand.
“Come on, let me see it?”
She shook her head, unsure why she was being so stubborn.
“There’s nothing to see. Just a black band. It’s basically a watch.” She showed him the display and the clock flashed briefly– 3:48.
How about that? she thought. Just passing the time with a terrorist discussing her exercise routine.
“How much’d that set you back?”
“I got it free through my job.”
“But it’s expensive, right? A couple hundred?”
“I guess so.”
“Man, I’d like one of those.”
She nodded absently, suddenly tired. Sad.
He gave her a sly look. “Give me yours.”
“I said, give me yours.”
He definitely remembered the gun now. He waved it at her. “Now,” he said.
“No.” It was out of her mouth before she’d even realized it. Too late to take it back now.
“I heard you.” She stared him down. “This one’s calibrated for me. Get your own.”
He was so taken aback he stepped away from her and leaned against the wall. “Fine,” he muttered under his breath.
The door banged open beside him and three other young men crowded the landing.
“Jesus, Jonathan. Where’s your mask?” one of them said.
Jonathan shrugged, reached into his back pocket and pulled out a ski mask that matched his friends’. “I didn’t need it,” he said. “No cameras in here.”
“What the hell?” The same guy pointed to Sherrie, noting her for the first time. “What about her?”
“No, she’s cool. She’s from two.”
Sherrie’s heart raced to the top of her throat strangling her voice. Her knees knocked. Her purse fell off her shoulder, landing on the concrete with a thud.
“We gotta go,” the first guy said. His shoes slapped down the stair next to Sherrie. She leaned away from him pressing as far into the wall as she could. The others followed him including the young man she’d been conversing with for the last half hour. She watched him guiltily slide the mask on over his head, his eyes cutting over to her, then slip past her.
One of the others stopped on the next landing. “What about the chick?” he said.
Sherrie heard the leader say something under his breath, then he stomped back over to her.
“Yeah, sorry,” he said and before Sherrie could cry out ‘no’, his gun swept up and he pulled the trigger in her face.
She heard a click, her limbs turning to liquid, her mouth opening to scream mutely.
“Dammit,” he said, “Give me your piece.”
Jonathan handed his gun up and the leader raised it and shot Sherrie in the chest. She watched him hand the gun back to Jonathon then say “Let’s get out of here.” He turned on his heel, pushing past Jonathan, and raced to the final landing, disappearing around the corner.
Sherrie was lost in pain, buried in it. Her breathing sounded like a hiccuping machine to her ears and she knew she was probably going into shock. She hoped that would make the pain go away.
Jonathan was still standing in front of her. His lips were trembling uncontrollably. He leaned down, being careful to not look her in the eye, instead he looked at her shoulder, her arm, her forehead, but not her chest where blood welled across the silky fabric looking like a macabre tie dye flower.
His eyes were sad, his vision blurry, and his hands shook gently as he grabbed her Fitbit and yanked it off of her wrist.
He slid it onto his own wrist, snapping it in place, sighing resignedly, then stood up and followed his friends down the stairwell and into the bright sunlit parking lot.