Zander was tired. His shift was over and he was beyond ready to go home. He could barely keep his eyes open. This was probably the reason that he ignored all the warning signs until it was far too late. He just didn’t see them.
The lobby was empty, unusual for a Friday evening. There wasn’t anybody at the front desk. That caught his attention. He assumed the receptionist stepped away for a moment while things were quiet and dismissed any further thought about it.
There were no other cars in the parking garage. Hours earlier, he drove around for twenty minutes to find a spot on the employee levels. Now all the spots were empty, and somehow he didn’t notice.
Zander didn’t notice that there weren’t any other cars on the road. He still didn’t notice when all the lights blinked out one by one as he passed. Instead, he listened to an audio book on his phone and yawned, fighting to stay awake.
Then the narration stopped, just as the boy was bit trying to kill the giant snake. Zander glanced down at his phone. His battery died already? It should have made it all the way home.
The screen was black. It was dead then. Zander looked back up with a sigh. How was he supposed to stay awake for the drive home now?
A light blinked out, ten miles down the road ahead. And then the next one, just a little closer. No light was visible beyond that. Zander still hadn’t noticed.
He didn’t notice when the only lights on anywhere were those in the mile-long stretch of road ahead of his car. He didn’t notice when a dark cloud passed in front of the moon and the sky went dark. He didn’t even notice the sudden chill in the air.
But when the ground began to shake and all the remaining lights went off at once and his car suddenly stopped, he noticed. Unfortunately, he couldn’t do much at that point. He tried fumbling with his seat belt, but it wouldn’t unbuckle.
There was a grinding, rumbling, roaring sound just below his car. The ground rolled his car around like a marble going down a drain. Zander suddenly wasn’t at all sleepy.
And then, with a popping sound like a million soap bubbles all meeting their doom at the same time on the same microphone, Zander’s car was sucked into the middle of the road and disappeared.
The road smoothed out to its normal level of driveable wear and tear. Moments later, the lights were back on. The dark cloud faded into a light evening fog. Traffic resumed as if there had been no pause.
But for Zander, life was anything but normal. His car plummeted faster and faster through the darkness. He was pressed against his seat belt, no longer touching the seat below him.
He couldn’t even hear himself scream. He had never been so frightened. It was impossible to tell how long he fell.
And suddenly the car was gone. At least, he assumed that’s why he no longer gripped the steering wheel or pressed against the seat belt. He no longer felt like he was falling, either. Instead, he was suspended in darkness. He felt it pressing in on him from all sides.
“I didn’t think we’d find one this easily,” a voice said. It was a perfectly normal voice, and it spoke in a conversational tone, as though someone was standing nearby, including him in a conversation that began before he arrived.
“Usually it takes years longer. Perhaps it’s the economy? I find that’s often to blame for things you wouldn’t expect.” The voice seemed a little louder. “Well, let’s see what we got.”
A light shined in his eyes. Ouch. Zander squeezed his eyes closed.
“I have an assignment for you.” The voice spoke in his ear. It sounded soothing, persuasive, perfectly reasonable. “Your name is now Mike and you sell extended warranties. You are our newest telemarketer. Welcome to the team.”
Mike opened his eyes. He sat at a shabby desk in a little cubicle. For a moment, he remembered somewhere else, a different job, a different name… But then his headset beeped. He had a call. He hit the button and checked his script, old life completely forgotten.
“Hi, this is Mike. Have you ever considered purchasing an extended warranty for your vehicle?”