Friday night. Thomas had been working hard all day. He had just a few more things to do, and then he was free for the day. He put all the files away and locked them up before tidying up his desk. He reached to turn off his computer when a head poked over the cube wall.
“Thomas! Just the man I wanted to see. I need you to stay and do the Mitchell account presentation for me. Okay? And can you print out the Lautner file from today? I shut my computer off already and forgot.”
“Sure, Ben. Just a second.” Cursing to himself, he quickly located the file and printed it. “It will be on the printer.”
“Thanks. I owe-”
Thomas looked, but there was no one there. The only sound he heard was the file printing down the aisle. Chalking it up to working so late, he sighed. He went to the restroom to relieve himself, but at the most inopportune moment, the lights went out. He finished as best he could and washed his hands, then walked out as the lights came back on. Heck with this, he thought. He would work on Mitchell, but not tonight. He’d come in tomorrow. He again reached for the computer at his desk to shut it off.
“Hi, Thomas. How’s it going?”
“Oh, uh… pretty good, Sarah. I was just about to go.”
“Me too, but have you seen these pictures from my trip?”
“No, but I could-”
“Good! This will only take a second. Now this one’s where we went to the beach, right on the water, and this one is about 10 feet from the other one, and…”
Twenty minutes later, Sarah left his cube, but he didn’t hear her footsteps as she walked away. He did some jumping jacks to wake himself up. It was clear that he had to work less, and leaving was fresh on his mind. He had been thinking of leaving this position for weeks because of the long thankless hours. He was pretty sure he could get on with the new investment firm up the highway, with its new buildings and fancy courtyard. That would be nice to look at, even if the hours were the same. Plus, the money would be good.
Still, this building had character. He remembered discussing leaving the job with Jim down in the basement near the furnace, so no one would overhear. The basement was the oldest part of the building, over a hundred years old, and he admired the woodwork, the ceilings, the floors. It was not like being in a basement at all. If this floor had windows instead of a furnace, it could have easily been home to executive offices. But it did have the furnace, and the upper floors had been destroyed by a tornado 15 years earlier and replaced, so it was newer and brighter. It was the basement, though, that was impressive. Like a cozy trip to the past. Ben loved being down there, and often sat by the furnace and admired the craftwork when he needed a short break. A shame, really, that it had been destroyed.
He finally reached the computer to turn it off. Just then, the tornado warning siren came on, and he swore again and reluctantly headed for the basement. It hadn’t been cloudy earlier, but now there was a tornado? He reached the basement in the furnace room to find a woman there. She was attractive, but her age was hard to pin down. She has aspects of both youth and maturity, but he noticed two things right away. The first was that she was dressed in strange clothes, like a 1920s flapper, including all the accessories. The second was that he had never seen her before. She was sitting at the tiny card table that he and Jim had set up. Not knowing what else to do, he sat down.
The woman took his hand, and suddenly his head was flooded with images. He tried to let go, but he couldn’t. Sadness and shock. A corpse ten feet from where he was sitting. Pain and terror. The tornado ripping through the building, tearing off the top floor. Aching. Drips and leaks from pipes and vents, cracks in the foundation, the broken glass in walled up offices. Melancholy. The pelting of rain and snow, sun and wind, chemicals and paint, vandalism and in one case, arson. But underlying all of that was an enormous loneliness. The building had been abandoned for 7 years before the tornado, and for 3 years afterwards, with only the intricate basement craftsmanship surviving. The rebuilt upper floors were awkward and uncomfortable, not quite right. Happiness. The time when it was first built, and full of happy people working in a beautiful environment.
He finally pulled away – or the woman let go. He looked at her in astonishment, but she just nodded at him, as if to indicate she knew he understood. He wasn’t sure he did, but there was one way to find out.
“I don’t know how you did that, but you seem to know a lot about this building. How? Who are you? Did you just start here?” She looked at him as a teacher to a student, and shook her head. “You’ve been here for a while, but I’ve just never seen you before?” She looked at him as though this was obvious – but not quite. “I’ve seen you before?” She nodded, then encouraged him to continue. “You’re a ghost? You were killed here? A long time ago?”
She shook her head, but then it hit him. “You’re not the ghost of a person…you’re not a person at all. You’re… this place. You’re the spirit of the building!”
She nodded enthusiastically and took his hand again. A single image – the new building, full of happy people. He looked at her, somehow seeing her image and her at the same time now that he knew what to expect. He sent an image of his own – a restored building, the same style as the original but with new materials, and with modern people working inside. She smiled and let go. She shimmered and faded, and before she disappeared, he heard a faint whisper.
“Don’t leave me.”
The tornado warning siren stopped, and all the lights came back on. He walked to his desk and finally shut off the computer. He went home and had a restful sleep full of dreams of the building.
Over the course of the next few weeks, disaster after disaster struck again and again – but avoided him entirely. He noticed that the people it happened to were the most annoying, antagonistic or lazy people in the office, including the bosses. Eventually, some of them left, which enabled him to work his way up quickly. In time, even the owners were annoyed, and he was able to buy them out. He was now in charge, and hired the people he needed to make the vision reality. Work came pouring in because his company was able to do more, and he hired a construction company to restore the building the way it had been before the tornado, but with modern materials. The town residents, especially the older ones, constantly remarked how much they loved the improvements Thomas had made to the building. He no longer minded the long hours, and often stayed late just to visit the basement. He never saw the spirit again, but felt happy whenever he was there.
One day, a woman came in for an interview, who looked very familiar…