It certainly isn’t unexpected. The initial memo arrived a good week in advance, followed by a memo confirming the memo, and finally an email repeating both memos and sealing the deal. An annual building-wide fire drill is to be taken seriously. Well, I had intended to. But as it turns out, the week has already gone in all kinds of deviant and stressful directions, and today, 30 minutes from the bell, I am feeling very strangely disconnected from this plane of reality. My temperature is fine but I might be having visions. There are fevers a thermometer cannot detect.
Earlier, I crossed over to officeland from my outpost, feeling like a peasant who leaves the countryside to walk into a busy and dangerous city. There were armed officeguards walking around with grim faces, applying the law. I recognized Rules, with his round glasses, Policy, boring but ever-watchful, and Etiquette, stiff and always so proper. I was there to inquire of who was the Floor Warden on this 20th floor that is now my den, but having found out and about to retreat, I noticed that the massive officephotocopier was looking at me with menacing intensity. A few seconds of distraction on my part caused an officelemming to interpret my lasting presence as a sign of interest and the Book of Answers was laid flat on a table. "Let’s see, she said, who is the Floor Warden on your floor." She meant the Deck. It was my floor but it no longer is, since I now hibernate on the 20th.
"Ah, she added, you and M. are the floor wardens, good." She was about to close the Book when I raised an eyebrow. "That’s interesting, I said. M. no longer works for us, and I am now here on the 20th." She looked puzzled. The Book had become one of Questions. "Well, then, she hesitated, who would..?" "That would be the supervisor on duty, I answered. I’m probably still technically the warden, but the odds of me being present on the deck in case of a fire are microscopically thin." "Ah, she said again, that’s good. We’ll have to update the book." She slammed it closed with satisfaction. Things had been rectified, in her mind at the very least. I could have sworn the photocopier had crawled an inch closer to me.
So I left officeland behind and climbed up here to the Deck. It was 9:00 am and I had a half hour before the drill, which I intended to use wisely by briefing the troops like I’d seen in movies. We had elected to stay closed to the unsuspecting public until after the exercise to avoid having to force people to walk down 40 flights of emergency stairs, or leaving them behind alone with my favorite teddy bears, which would have been even worse. But the troops had been summoned early so that we could prepare and rehearse.
I clear my throat. "The whole purpose of a fire drill, I begin in my best speech tone, is to prepare for the real thing by removing improvisation from the future situation and ironing the kinks. We are going to pretend this is real and…" I have to stop in the middle of a brilliant sentence, having caught a movement from the corner of my eye, over by the north windows. But the three troopers on duty and I are supposed to be alone on the deck. I make a mental note to drink more water later. Fighting to reconnect with my train of thoughts, I finish the briefing. That motion again, just over there, to the right, it was blurry but I saw it.
K. and A. head downstairs to set up the ticket desk. Hurry back up, I silently press K. I want out of here. It’s 9:15. I discuss a few more things with J, orange vests, PA system, different alarms, coconut buns. Then I decide to head down myself. I opt for the freight elevator, press the button and wait. It’s 9:20. I’m cutting it close. Suddenly feeling a presence behind me in the otherwise empty kitchen, I slowly swing around and find myself face to face with a semi-transparent green smile. A ghost. A thing. Floating in mid-air. I knew we weren’t alone! Bloody fever. I think I’m sweating a bit.
The ghost is rather funny looking, reminding me of the little guys in Ghostbusters. It points to its watch – yes, it has one – and waves a finger at the elevator. I nod, this is taking forever. I glance at the call button. It’s no longer lit up. I press it a half-dozen times. Nothing. The elevator has been turned off. Rats.
Sprinting around the perimeter to the glass elevators, I push the call button. Nothing. These are off too. Then I realize the obvious: they have cheated! They, the building security, have turned off all elevators 10 minutes early. The little green blob has followed me and giggles. He thinks it’s very funny. But my carefully conceived plan is unraveling. K. will be stuck downstairs and will not witness the evacuation procedure. I, on the other hand, have no desire to witness anything and just want to get it over with, I have a paperwork nightmare to attend.
I go back to find J. and we wait for the alarm while I discover that the ghost has many friends. As I rub my tired eyes, they are appearing from everywhere as if gathering for the drill. They seem excited and completely lack discipline, bullying each other around, which because of their lack of substance results in rather gooey exchanges. And the funniest thing is that J. never seems to notice them. He is oblivious to their presence, looking right through them at me and talking seriously about leaving the wounded behind.
The alarm rings. An unearthly voice advises us to stand by for evacuation. The specters around us boo and cheer, enjoying themselves tremendously. J. makes an announcement of his own and leaves to sweep the deck as I man my station by the empty exit. When he comes back, unaware that he has three green ghosts holding on to his legs in a comical attempt to slow him down, fighting with each other along the way, we discuss politics and agree that the alarm bells haven’t been what we expected, then we head down. The ghosts swarm the staircase with us, rushing through every door they find, counting the floors in a chorus as we pass them. I figure we won’t have done all this for nothing after all. We will have entertained Vancouver’s afterworld.
40 stories lower, we emerge into the street and cross to the rallying point where people are standing, talking about the weather and sports. My reality is still unphased. I have a headache. But the funny green things are gone. They trickled out one by one as we were getting closer to the ground. Maybe they can only live up high. Maybe it’s a sign that my fever is receding. I need an aspirin. I have to get out of here. I have to move forward. Now. This is not a drill.