Monday, October 12, 2009

Chapter One: The Storm

The following is the first chapter of a project I have been working on.  I welcome comments.  Please let me know if you like it and I will continue to post chapters.  And, trust me, this is about Persephone...after a fashion. 

The Storm

The sun's fire blazed across the sky; a chariot with six golden horses. Not a cloud in the sky. It was a normal summer day in New York City as Demi walked to work. She hated walking in these heals and wasn't sure she would ever get use to the pace here. It had been her stupid dream, and now she was here and gainfully employed so it was better than going home to her parents and hearing "I Told You So". She came upon the high-rise, a palace of shiny brass and smooth red-veined stone. The gilded sign above the door read "Tempest Enterprises". Acquire Staffing Services placed her in this temporary job. She had only been at Tempest for about a week so far, but it seemed to be going as well as any soul crushing administrative job could go. She pushed her way though the golden revolving door that wasn't at all a metaphor for the company environment and was confronted with an energy she hadn't experienced before. There were more people in the lobby than she had seen in the week she had been working there. The noise was deafening as she tried to make out even individual words that people might be saying. The only one she caught was "President". She walked up to Kieran, the security guy. He was a large jolly man who was always nice to her. Usually he had a big smile on his face as he greeted the people entering the lobby, but today he looked a little stressed. He ran a fat-fingered hand over the dark skin of his bald head. Demi approached him cautiously.

"Kieran?" she said. He looked at her, his brown eyes full of a panic she never expected.

"Oh, hi Miss Demetra. How are you today?" He tried to sound like his usual self, but it wasn't working.

"What is going on?" Demi asked.

"I think you might just want to go up to your desk and pretend like it is a normal day." Kieran responded. "Mr. Gray is coming in this afternoon and everyone is pretty stressed out about it. The good news is he doesn't do it very often. But when he does it is like a hurricane sweeping through."

Of course, people had told her about Gus Gray; the founder, president and CEO of Tempest Enterprises. They said he was a difficult man. She figured it made sense that the president of the company would seek perfection out of his own staff, even if that was a staff of a couple thousand. New York was the corporate office, but the business was nationwide and Mr. Gray apparently traveled frequently. He also spent a lot of time out of the country, but when you are rich and powerful, vacations are a birthright. She had also heard that his wife, Hannah, was very well taken care of but she put up with a lot of philandering to live in her own golden palace. For all the stories, the Grays might as well have been the Trumps. Demi guessed that the truth wasn't quite like the myths, but she would just go up to her desk and do her paperwork. "Thanks, Kieran. And don't worry. Things will be just fine." She smiled warmly at him.

Her heels clicked as she crossed the inlaid marble floor. She had always admired the Greek-key design. She stepped into the elevator and pressed the button for the 16th floor. She was part of an administrative pool for Tempest Enterprises. There were about 10 people on her floor; she had met a few of them. She was the newest temp, but there were a mix of temporaries from Acquire as well as permanent Tempest employees. Everyone she had met was really nice. She crossed the green speckled carpet to her small office. The building was pretty traditional and conservative in decoration. The walls were painted a light tan. She was grateful that the desks weren't in cubes. Everyone had their own space, but people rarely closed their doors unless they were on a call. There was a large conference room that took up one entire wall of the 16th floor that looked out over Manhattan. The interior wall was glass as well, so you could see the meetings there as well as the skyline as you walked past. Her office was just down that hallway and also had a nice view of the other skyscrapers in the city. She knew she had a long way to go if she was really going to make it in New York, but when she looked out her window she felt a little better about the decision.

The floor was relatively quiet. It seemed as if only the temps were in their offices working away. For all she knew, the Tempest Employees were in some sort of pre-Gus meeting. Just as she was settling down at her desk, a shadow appeared at her door. It was her boss, Bobbie. Bobbie was a perky little older woman who had been working at Tempest since she was Demi's age. She smiled.

"Hey Demetra," she began. Having only been there a week, no one had picked up on her nickname yet. Demetra had always sounded so formal to her. Plus, it was long, especially with her last name: Spyropoulos. She actually felt she got out of the Greek last name game pretty easy. Demi smiled back at Bobbie. "I need your help," Bobbie continued. "As you may have heard, Mr. Gray is coming in today. The admin pool is hosting a meeting for him this afternoon." Demi swallowed hard. "Can you help by calling the catering and getting the conference room set up?"

Demi was surprised she was being asked, she hadn't done anything like that before. She nodded yes, suddenly feeling the panic that Kieran had displayed. "Good," Bobbie said handing her a list with the phone numbers and materials she needed. The supply room, in the basement, would have everything she needed. After Bobbie's shadow had left her doorstep, Demi sat down to collect herself. She looked at the clock hanging over her door. The roman numerals swam in her vision and it took her a moment to figure out what direction the hands were pointing. It was about twenty minutes past nine. The memo she held said that lunch was at noon. Prompt. She knew when it came to Gus Gray, if someone said prompt they meant prompt. In fact, to cover her own ass she would make sure everything was ready by 11:30. She smoothed the paper out on her desk and sighed heavily as she reached for her phone. She may as well start making the calls.

After spending a very frustrating hour on the phone with the caterer making sure the orders were just right and the timing would work out fine, Demi got up from her desk and walked back to the elevator. This time, the spring in her step was a little less springy and she wasn't sure if it was the heels or her spirits. As she waited for the elevator, she looked out the windows at the New York skyline. The topaz sky was so beautiful she could almost cry. But they would have been tears of pure panic. The sun was still blinding without a blanket of clouds to soften its edges. The ding of the elevator sounded behind her. She stepped on and pushed the button for the basement. A guy named Syd worked in the supply room. He had a couple of assistants but it always seemed dark and gloomy down there. She had to deal with him on her first day while she got all the supplies she needed for her desk and he always sounded like he was miserable. She wasn't looking forward to this encounter either. Syd was, as she expected, depressing when she got there. She asked him for the list of things - plates, cups, plastic forks all the things that you might need for a luncheon. She wondered why someone as powerful as Gus Gray would have a deli lunch with his admin pool, but it wasn't her job to question. If people hadn't been so frazzled about the idea of him even coming into the office, she might be flattered. As she listened to Syd moan on about the dreariness of his day, she stacked the items on her cart to take back up to the 16th floor. She politely thanked him and hurried back to the elevators for the third time today. The elevator stopped at the lobby and a couple more of the admins got on. They gave her half smiles and she nodded at them. Russell, a flamboyant gay man, sighed heavily.

"I guess we have to put on our happy face" he said. "Mr. Gray isn't going to want to see us all freaked when he is around" he waved his hands dramatically at the word "freaked".

"I'm noticing the common theme," Demi said boldly. Russell smirked. "What is it that Mr. Gray does that deserves all of this panic?"

"Oh honey," Russell said, "You'll see for yourself at lunch time. He wants to make sure that his admin pool is up to his very high standards. I'm guessing if we're not it curtains for us". He ran his finger along his throat. Demi gulped.

"Has anything happened recently to make him think we're not?" she asked.

Russell just shook his head. The elevator stopped at our floor and the three admins exited and walked in separate directions. The clock on the wall now read 10:45 and Demi wheeled her cart into the conference room to start packing things up. She squinted out the window expecting to see the same weather as when she had left, but the sky was different. Thick black clouds had rolled in hanging very low in the sky. Demi had never seen anything like it. She stood paralyzed in the door way of the conference room. It looked like a hell of a storm, and she had nowhere to hide. She slowly started setting up the table where the plates and food was going to go. She adjusted the napkins in a jaunty way hoping that might give her some extra style points. She set up the cups so the pitchers of tea and lemonade could be placed near them. And then she saw the flash of lightening out of the corner of her eye. As she started to turn toward the window, the crack of thunder was so loud it made her jump. That had to have hit right next to their building. She heard some of the other employees on the floor squeal and what she guessed had been most of them hurried to the elevators to go downstairs. It was safer and easier to wait out a bad storm in the lobby than in their offices. She heard someone say it was a "pop up" and shouldn't last long. She figured she would get the rest of the plates and things set up before going down there herself. She realized she was alone very quickly. The low rolling clouds did seem to be moving very fast. As she stared in awe at the crazy weather, she saw something she hadn't quite expected. In the distance, as a loud thunderclap echoed in the sky, she saw what looked like a tornado. Or like a finger. A finger of cloud reached out of the sky and touched the ground but only for a split moment. She couldn't see where it touched or if anything had been damaged but it wasn't like any tornado she had ever seen. She suddenly began to feel as though she had missed her window of opportunity to get down to the lobby. Just as she had that though, the lights went out and the emergency lights in the hallway buzzed on. Yep, she thought, it was too late. The elevators wouldn't work now and she would have to take the stairs. Another clap of thunder and another cloud finger reached down, this one just a little closer. Demi ran to the stairway door and pushed it open. The stairs were lit by only the dim emergency lights. Thunder rang in her ears as she started to run down the deserted stairs. She missed the last step with her heel and feel onto the landing. Her palms grated the rough concrete of the landing. They burned. "Great, now what?" she hollered into the darkness. She heard another clap of thunder. She pulled her shoes off. As her brain scrambled with the thoughts of what she should do, she found herself limping back up the stairs to the door she had just passed. She knew it wasn't the right thing to do, but something was pulling her there. She wiped the droplets of blood from her palm onto her black pencil skirt. As she stumbled out into the hallway, thunder sounded again. She looked at the window just to see another finger reaching down to the ground. Her brown eyes widened and she limped as fast as she could to her own office. She did the only thing she could think to do; hide under her own desk. She heard the pelt of heavy rain, start to hit the windows. Another clap of thunder tore through her ears followed by the bells of breaking glass. It wasn't in her office, thank God, she thought. She couldn't see anything from under her desk. She hugged her knees close to her. She started to pray. She counted the time between thunder claps like she did when she was a kid. One, two, three, four….CRACK. She shivered. Her mom use to sing Greek lullabies to her and her brothers and sisters during thunderstorms. She started to sing softly to herself.

The sun sleeps on the mountains
and the partridge in the woods
let also my baby sleep
to get enough of sleep.

Whisper to her
Don’t wake her up.

The sun sleeps on the mountains
and the partridge in the snow
let also my baby sleep
on clean sheets.

She could sing it in Greek too, but didn't. As she sang, she heard the thunder start to taper off and get further away. Just as she was thinking about getting out from under her desk, the lights came back on. She heard a voice from the hallway. "You can come out now," a deep voice said. She figured he had to be talking to her. Demi crawled out from under her desk, straightened her skirt as best she could and stood up. As she turned to her doorway she saw the figure there.

A man, about 6 feet tall, took up most of the door frame. He wasn't fat, just very broad. His body was very well built, in fact. He had curly gray hair that was a little long and a well trimmed gray beard. His eyes were deep blue, the same color as the sky had been before the storm. His features were strong and handsome like he had been carved out of marble. She glance over her shoulder to see the sky completely cloudless again as it had been in the morning. The sun was back right in the place where she had left it, and just as blinding. She looked back at the man. She knew she was a little disheveled. She looked down at her skinned palms that were covered in very tiny scabs. No time like the present, she thought. She stepped around her desk, reached out her damaged hand. "My name is Demetra Spyropoulos." she said.

He took her hand in a very strong grip and smiled warmly. "I'm Gus Gray; it is very nice to meet you."

To Be Continued

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