The winter cold had settled in as many had predicted. It was going to be a cold winter, one of the coldest. There was even talk about possible snow in the lower elevations.
Sara and Alice were safe from the cold inside of the small café, their winter coats on the back of their chairs. Alice stared out the window at the people walking by, wrapped up in coats, scarves, and hats to guard against the cold.
Alice looked at Sara. “What?”
“Were you even listening to me?”
“No, sorry. What were you saying?”
Sara sighed. “I was telling you about that jerk off bartender who wouldn’t give me the time of day! I swear, I’m glad I didn’t give him a tip. With his attitude he’d be lucky to serve a girl like me!”
“What did he say?”
“Nothing! That’s the point! He asked me for my order and then nothing! I sat there an extra twenty minutes trying to get his attention so we could talk!”
“Was his manager there?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Well, it would explain why he didn’t spend too much time with you. He didn’t want to get fired.”
“That’s no excuse to ignore a gorgeous, single woman!” Sara exclaimed.
Two men walked into the coffee shop in heated discussion.
“Can you believe what they’re saying on the news? Those people must be reading too many conspiracy websites. Storms with freak lightning causing massive power outages? Did you see anything like that last week?”
“No, they’re probably getting confused with Nevada weather. They always have freak storms like that.”
Alice laughed to herself. “Can you believe some people? I thought I was bad about missing things.”
Sara nodded. “Yeah, those people on the news have made mistakes before, but nothing of this scale. They’re saying it was one of the worst black outs in years. I thought news channels had people check the stories before they went on the air.”
Alice stared at Sara confused. “What? No, I mean those guys missing the storm last week. They must have been out of town or under a rock.”
“Alice, what are you talking about? There wasn’t any storm last week.”
“Yeah, there was. Are you making fun of me for finally being aware of what happened around me? I know I can be a little out of it sometimes, but I remember the storm last week. Our house was without power for seven hours. We had to light each room with candles. I nearly burned my curtains down. Remember?”
Sara raised an eyebrow. “Alice, don’t tell me you believe what those reporters were saying. Are you trying to impress me by acting like you know what they’re talking about? Well, I caught you in the act.”
“I’m not acting anything! Why don’t you remember?” Alice asked, standing.
“Alice, don’t make a scene!”
Alice looked around and saw eyes staring at her. They were eyes people used to stare at crazy people. She sat down in her chair, her face flushing red.
Sara rested her hand on Alice’s shoulder, reaching across the table. “It’s okay, Alice. Maybe you dreamed about the storm because you heard it on the news.”
Alice stood and put her coat on. “I’m going home. I need to pick something up before I head back to work.”
Sara stood. “Do you want me to come with you?”
“No. I need some time to think.”
“Don’t think too hard, Alice. When you do you start to get all weird and sci fi nerdy on me.”
Alice grabbed her purse. She threw her empty coffee cup away and waved to Sara. She opened the door and was greeted by a rush of cold air. She zipped her coat up and headed for her car. As she drove she turned on the radio and listened as the DJs joked about the “bogus news story” and asked listeners to call in if they had a comment. All the callers said the same. There was no storm. Alice even changed to the news station and listened as they broadcasted an apology to the morning’s news saying the story must have been tampered with just before airing.
As soon as she walked through the door of her house she ran to the pile of newspapers by the back door. She searched through them, throwing paper all around her.
She stopped, scanning the paper in her hands. It was dated the second of November, last Wednesday. On the front page in large letters the headline read:
Freak Lightning Storms Black Out Southern California For Nearly Ten Hours
There it was in black and white text. There was even a photo of darkened houses and the lightning.
Alice lowered the paper. Why was she the only one who remembered it? Had she just read it in the paper and made it all up in her head?
She looked at her watch. She had to get to work. She was going to barely make it as it was. She cleaned the newspapers up and ran out the door.
* * *
It was a slow day, one of the few of the month. Glori’s Department Store was one of the biggest department stores in the country, beaten only by Macy’s and Sears. Thanksgiving and Christmas were coming. That also meant sales and crowds. Alice hated working when there were large crowds, but those were the days with better pay. She would work every sale day. She was lucky since Harlequin Insurance gave her Thanksgiving and Christmas off. She worked all day at Glori’s and made one of her largest paychecks.
“Alice, would you mind restocking these clothes from the fitting rooms?” Alice’s floor manager asked.
Alice stared at her. “That’s Megan’s job, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, but she still hasn’t come back from her break.”
She took the clothes from her manager. “Right, just these?”
Her manager nodded her head to a rack of clothes. “Those as well. Thank you, Alice!”
Alice began to restock the clothes. It was the third time in the past week she had to pick up on Megan’s slack. She finished the pile of clothes in her hand and moved to the rack of clothes. She stared at the clothes in disbelief. All were men’s clothes. She would have to take the rack all the way to the other side of the store and then take the elevator down to the first floor. That meant she wouldn’t be able to ring any customers up while she was restocking, which meant she would probably not meet her quota for the day and would have to work twice as hard tomorrow.
“Thanks, Megan,” she said under her breath.
She began her long trek across the store. She hated the sound the wheels of the rack made on the hard floor. Anyone inside of the store could hear the racket and they stared at her as though she were making it harder for them to decide whether to buy a size smaller than they actually wore or accept they weren’t their ideal size.
“Hey, Alice. Don’t tell me, Megan’s late from break again?” a worker said as she walked past.
Alice smiled. “How could you have possibly guessed that?”
“It’s a gift.”
She reached the elevator and didn’t have to wait long before the doors opened. She pulled the rack in behind her and pushed the button with the number one on it. The doors opened on the first floor and Alice was greeted with the sound of screaming from across the store. She could hear Jerry, the security for the store yelling angrily. He had probably found a couple of teenagers shoplifting.
She pulled the rack out of the elevator. As soon as she started walking down the main aisle a man nearly crashed into her.
“Sorry!” he yelled back as he exited out the main doors.
Jerry appeared from behind a display with male mannequins wearing suits. His uniform was rumpled and sweat stains were growing under his arms. “Alice! Did a guy just run through here?”
She pointed to the doors.
“Shit! He’s quick!” Jerry rested his hands on his knees and struggled to catch his breath.
“I don’t even know. Megan just started screaming and told me to stop him.”
“Megan? What was she doing down here?”
Jerry laughed. “She claimed that guy tried to kidnap her.”
“And you believe her?”
“It doesn’t matter if I did, he took off running as soon as she started screaming. My instinct took over.”
Alice raised an eyebrow. “Did she say anything else before your instincts told you to run after a random person that Megan claimed was trying to kidnap her?”
“She did mention something about seeing him attack a family while she was walking back from break, but the family in question denied that…At least, I think they did. I sort of caught bits and pieces as I jogged past.”
Alice looked out the doors, but the man was gone. “Well, guess we’ll never know without the actual culprit. I’ve got to restock these clothes since Megan is busy getting kidnapped.”
Jerry waved at her as she passed. “See you later, Alice.”
Alice tried to restock as quickly as she could, but an occasional shopper would distract her, asking where they could find the restroom, a specific type of clothing, or even the nearest Starbucks. She finally finished restocking and headed back to the elevator. Before she could reach it her manager appeared.
“Thanks again, Alice. Jerry and Megan told me what happened and I made sure Megan got points for her lateness. Since you were down here I appointed her to the register upstairs. If you wouldn’t mind, could you stay down here and just be on the floor? Jerry said you got a look at the man who supposedly attacked Megan and it would be helpful if you could keep an eye out for him. Is that alright?”
Alice squeezed the rack. “Yeah, that’s no problem. I assume my quota for the day won’t be changed, however?”
Her manager grimaced. “I’m afraid not, but don’t worry. They’re hoping for a busy day tomorrow so I’m sure you’ll have no trouble making it up.”
Alice’s manager took the rack and left her standing in the middle of the main walkway. She sighed and walked the floor.
It was true the man had nearly crashed into her, but as she thought about it she couldn’t remember what he had looked like. She couldn’t even remember his hair color. Even his voice had sounded so common she wouldn’t be able to pick it out again. It was just an excuse. Megan had probably been hysterical when she finally made it back upstairs. She probably argued that if she worked the floor there would be a chance for the man to attack her again.
Alice wouldn’t complain though. It was fine. It wouldn’t be the first time she would suffer because of someone else. She just had to work twice as hard tomorrow and make up for today.