Flash Fic: Crickets

This story was inspired by a Facebook post a friend of mine posted this summer.

“Do you hear crickets?” I had asked as I washed my hands.

“Yeah, I do,” she had replied.

We should have gotten out then. Walked out the door and never come back. But we went back to work, another day at the office.

As the day wore on, the chirping spread out, creeping out from the resonant echoes of the bathroom to the hallways. It permeated the air, a droning soundtrack to the monotony of corporate life.

One cricket does not chirp constantly, but many crickets will blend into a never-ceasing chorus. That the sound soon began to grate would be an understatement.

At three o’clock in the afternoon, Marcia in my cube group stood up and cried, “I can’t take this anymore! I’m going home early!” It was Friday, and we agreed it was getting unpleasant. We gathered our belongings and walked to the elevators. Someone pushed the button.

There was a sound like a hundred tiny lightbulbs shattering, and a grinding noise, and then the smell of smoke, and the elevator indicator light went out. It looked like the elevator wasn’t coming.

“I guess we’ll have to take the stairs,” someone said. It wasn’t me, I’m almost sure of that.

I was the one who got to the stairwell door first and pushed against the handle. It felt oddly padded, and I looked down to see arthopod limbs brushing my hands as they stuck out from the useless pusher. There were more limbs twitching from under the door and around the edges. I jumped back.

“They’re blocking the doors,” I gasped.

By five o’clock, it became apparent that we were not getting out that evening.

“Maybe we should call security,” one of the guys from HR suggested. Someone picked up a phone, but I don’t remember who. It doesn’t matter anymore.

“The phone is dead,” the person said.

“They must have chewed through the wires!” someone cried, hysterical.

“Do crickets even chew?” I asked. “I don’t think they have any teeth.” No one was listening to me by then.

We had some food in the fridge. Bagels leftover from the weekly meeting. A water cooler. We would be fine. Someone would come find us eventually.

What I didn’t count on was the effect of the constant chirping on our minds. It was grating at first, a bit annoying, but I think we figured we’d get used to it. But instead of dulling, it intensified. People put on their noise-canceling headphones and plugged into their computers, dozens of online playlists blocking out the horror. I watched them retreat into personal worlds, oblivious to the office around them, staring at screens and willing the rest of it to go away.

And then the lights went out. I thought I smelled something burning. The crickets must have gotten into the electrical panel and shorted something. I had a flashlight in my drawer. And beef jerky, but that I would keep to myself. I began to realize I might be here a while.

Just for fun, look around your office and try to imagine who would be the first to crack in a crisis. It’s never who you think it will be. The level-headed HR guy who had tried to call security found himself unable to control his surroundings and lost it. The screaming was an interesting way to blot out the chirping, for a while, but it devolved into whimpering, until he huddled in a corner, and eventually stopped. I tell myself he fell asleep.

Someone figured out how to get a window open. I thought that one or two jumpers might alert the authorities to our predicament, but the loneliness of a business district on a weekend morning is not to be underestimated.

We were stuck in that building for two days, dwindling. I camped out under my desk and listened to my coworkers lose their minds one by one, as I bided my time and rationed my beef jerky.

And, finally, when the sounds of saws rose above the incessant chirping, I saw cracks of light through the doors as they parted under a rescuers blade. I think I was the only one who remained.