...Connecting by Minita L., 18+ category, from the Bothell Library.
Meghan yawned and set her coffee mug down on her desk, staring at her screen as the Face-To-Face app downloaded. She really shouldn’t have left the preparations for her first socially-distanced meeting until the last minute but she was just so tired. This pandemic had really taken a toll on her as it had on everyone she imagined. After what seemed like an eternity, she was able to connect. Meghan let out a sigh of relief as she saw only four other faces on the screen. So she hadn’t been the last one.
“Good morning Meghan,” Serena Ross, the manager of their division called out. Meghan smiled and said hi to the other three members of their team. Carter Davis, Trisha Marks and David Fields.
Serena pointed to her badge that was pinned on her coat. “Please wear your badge for today’s meeting,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Corporate rules. We’re just waiting for Jim to arrive, so if you’ll all just wait another minute or so…” she trailed off, eyes darting to the edge of her screen. “This must be him.”
A small box popped up at the bottom of Meghan’s screen. It was completely black and had no name below it like the others. It simply said “...connecting”
For some reason, a burst of unease went through Meghan’s stomach. Her eyes stayed on the black box a second too long before she was able to tear her gaze away and back onto Serena.
“Serena?” Trisha’s box lit up and they all turned to look at her. “Are you sure that’s Jim? Shouldn’t his name have popped up or something?”
“He’s probably just having technical problems,” Serena said dismissively. “Anyway, let's get started.” Meghan felt herself almost nodding off twice in the ten minutes that Serena droned on about new procedures and protocols. The whole time, her gaze kept flickering over to Jim’s box in the corner of her screen, which still read ...connecting.
“Jim must be having really bad WiFi today,” she said, unable to stop herself from saying something. Serena, who was in the middle of talking about a new hospital policy, stopped and glared at her.
“Listen, I know this is new for all of us, but we have to-” she broke off, turning around in her seat.
“Serena,” Trisha asked nervously. “What’s wrong?”
“There was just a knock on my bedroom door,” Serena said slowly.
“It was probably just your husband,” Carter said with a yawn.
“Stephan left this morning, maybe he forgot something.” Serena got up and stepped towards her door. “Hang on just one moment, I’ll just-” her video suddenly turned off, a black screen replacing it. A message flashed across Serena’s black box.
“”...connecting is in charge of the meeting now”
For a moment, there was silence. Then, Carter let out a bark of laughter. “This is great,” he said. “Free period everyone!”
Trisha rolled her eyes. “This isn’t high school, Carter,” she said. “Lets just continue with the meeting. We all have the agenda.”
They kept talking for several minutes. “Hey Jim,” Carter said, grinning. “How bad is your WiFi?”
There was no response. Meghan stared at the black square and blinked several times. She really had to start going to bed earlier.
“Carter,” Trisha said but Carter had turned around.
“Hey, I think my pizza’s here,” he said, walking to the door. As he opened it, his screen went black.
Meghan, Trisha and David stared at each other for a long moment. “The WiFi’s really bad today,” Meghan said nervously. Something felt very off. But whatever she was feeling was nothing compared to the look on Trisha’s face.
“Something’s wrong,” she breathed.
“Trish, calm down,” David said slowly. “They’re just having technical difficulties.”
But Trisha was shaking her head. “I’m getting off this meeting,” she said, voice shaking. “It's… cursed or something.”
“Trisha-” Meghan started in slight exasperation, but Trisha’s face drained of color before she could finish the sentence.
“Trisha, what’s wrong?”
“I-I can’t-” she took a shaky breath. “I can’t leave the meeting.”
“What on earth do you mean?”
“I pushed the button,” Trisha said, voice strained. “And nothing happened.”
Frowning, Meghan pushed the LEAVE button on her own screen. To her shock, it was as Trisha had said. Nothing happened. She tried again, feeling her breath catch. Nothing.
“What is this?” David said nervously. He was peering at the corner of his screen. “This function has been disabled by ...connecting?”
Meghan looked up; sure enough, the same message was flashing at the top of her own screen. “That’s not possible,” she said slowly. “You shouldn't be able to prevent people from leaving the meeting.”
“Maybe it's-” Trisha’s screen went black. It startled Meghan so much that she almost knocked over her coffee mug. There was a long silence. “Jim? Meghan said finally, looking over at the ...connecting box. “Jim, this is not funny.”
All of a sudden there was a small ding. Meghan looked over to see another box appearing in the corner of her screen. A pang of relief went through her. Surely it was Serena, coming back to restore order and confirm that there was just a spat of technical difficulties going around. But her stomach plummeted as a face filled the screen.
“Hey guys!” Jim Gomalez said brightly. “Sorry I’m late, I missed my alarm. What did I miss?”
“Jim?” Meghan felt suddenly faint. She looked over at the ...connecting box. The box that hid the face of the person they had all thought was Jim.
“If you’re here, Jim,” David said slowly. “Then who is that?” They all fell silent, looking at the ...connecting box.
“I don’t understand-” Jim started but stopped, turning around in his seat. A sharp rapping sound was audible through the microphone. Someone was knocking at Jim’s door.
“Jim, don’t answer that-” Meghan said frantically but it was too late. Jim’s screen went black. Meghan looked at David with wide eyes.
“Meghan, call 911-” David called as his screen went black as well. Meghan could barely hear anything over the sound of her heart beating. She reached for her phone but her hands were slippery with sweat and it slipped out of her grasp, landing on the floor with a thud. For some reason this was what set her over the edge.
“What’s going on?” she whimpered. “Who are you? What’s happening?” The last two questions were directed at the blank ...connecting box. Meghan felt her heart race faster and her voice pitched higher in desperation.
“WHO ARE YOU! Show yourself!” Her voice shook despite herself. Almost as if whoever was behind the screen had heard her, the video flickered on. Meghan let out a yelp, closing her eyes involuntarily. After a moment, she forced herself to open her eyes and look at the screen in front of her. At first, all she saw was an ordinary room, flowered curtains fluttering cheerfully in the window. Then, her eyes dropped to the view of the desk directly in front of the camera.
Five corporate badges lay side by side, the photos of her colleagues smiling up at her. Serena. Trisha. David. Carter. Jim. There was something on the badges, a sort of… stain? Meghan leaned closer, and she could make out bright red blood staining the plastic covers of each badge. Meghan let out a scream. She pushed her chair back violently, nearly sending herself sprawling to the ground.
“No no no no no,” she muttered, groping for her phone and freezing. Her bedroom door was shut but she could hear the telltale creak of the stairs, as if someone was walking up towards her room. Meghan’s breaths were coming out in gasps and she fumbled for her phone. With shaking hands, she punched in the numbers.
“911, what is your emergency?” A cool female voice said in her ear.
“Th-the…” Meghan could barely get the words out. “There’s someone… in my house.”
“What’s your address Ma'am? We’ll dispatch a patrol car.”
“I-I…” the footsteps were more pronounced. “It’s too late…” she whispered.
“They’ve already gotten to my colleagues… and they’re here for me now…”
“Ma’am, stay calm,” but the voice in Meghan’s ear sounded very far away as she took a shaky breath.
“It’s too late,” she breathed as the sounds of footsteps were right outside her door. The doorknob turned and Meghan let out one last scream.
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