ESCAPE CLAUSE

Scott Shepherd


By the time Susan hit the Escape Key it was too late.


The sentence that she feared more than any other in the English Language

suddenly appeared in the middle of her computer screen.


Safari cannot open the page because you are no longer connected to the

internet.


“Aarrrghhh!”


She screamed so loud that she was sure she was going to wake Old Man

Lyons in the apartment next door – even if he wasn’t wearing his extra-strength

hearing aids.


But at that point Susan didn’t care. She felt her world crashing all around

her and all she could think to do was push the Escape key over and over.

To no avail and the same result.


Same fucking message. On the same path to Tech-No-Where.


How many times had a friend or colleague told her not to place all her faith in

The Almighty Internet? And how many times had she told them that having

everything at her fingertips was the only way to go?


The message on the screen was practically goading her.


We’ll Show You.


So, now her work was floating out there somewhere in the computer

EtherLand – and she couldn’t access it because the backup copy was on her server

and that was down now as well.


She had slaved over the tag lines for the movie campaign for over a month –

having compiled more than five hundred of them. Yeah, sure it was your basic B

(okay, make that D) horror movie with a girl locked in the bowels of a zoo’s reptile

house with every creepy-crawly-thing imaginable surrounding her; but Susan also

knew that tag-lines like In Space No One Can Hear You Scream and Just When You

Thought It Was Safe To Go Back In The Water had sent movie-goers flocking by the

millions into the theaters and made Spielberg and Ridley Scott into gazillionaires.

And now she’d gone and emailed the file to her boss Mike but had no way to

know if it even reached him because the network had crashed at that very moment

and all Susan kept seeing was that Spinning Wheel of Death and the message that

kept refreshing every time she hit the Escape button.


Fucking Internet.


What had she been thinking? Why hadn’t she at least printed the damn list

out?? And the only catch phrase she could remember was the lousiest of all – It’s a

Zoo Out There -- no way that one was going to fly.


She stared at the clock. Half past one-in-the-morning. Couldn’t very well

go and call Mike right now. And he’d made it clear in no uncertain terms that the

project was due no later than eight a.m. sharp. The client had finally already given

them one extra day after a ton of kicking and screaming.


Susan’s index finger was already beginning to ache from punching the Escape

button over and over.


So, she grabbed her cell-phone and started to dial the computer help line and

then realized that she didn’t have it in her Contacts.


Fine. She’d look it up on the damn internet.


Except.


Shit.


She turned back to look at the computer and saw the message on the screen

mocking her like a Joker in a deck of cards.


Safari cannot open the page because you are no longer connected to the

internet.


“Fuck you!”


If the iMac wasn’t already a practical life-line-extension of her body and soul,

she would have smashed the thing right then and there.


When her iPhone’s server (the same one) gave her the identical Message of

Doom she had to do everything in her power not to throw it out her window.


“Aarrrgghhhh!!!!”


Still no response from next door. Old Man Lyons definitely must’ve slept

without his hearing aids.


Somehow, she forced herself to calm down, then wondered if there even was

anything such as 411 anymore.


Not really, she soon found out.


It took over forty-five minutes of voice mails, recorded messages, and

operators located in places like China and the farthest reaches of India to finally get

a person on the phone who could give her a website she could access for help to get

back online.


“But I can’t get on a fucking website, don’t you get it?!”


That person hung up on her.


An hour and fifteen minutes later she got an actual phone number.


That resulted in her having to wade through at least half a dozen voice mail

menus (their servers seemed to be working perfectly fuckin’ fine thank you very

much) and by the time she got someone on the line to help her she was practically in

tears.


“Please. Please help me,” she blubbered.


A calm voice with an accent from some faraway place she couldn’t quite place

(or give a shit about) listened to her tale of woe and then made a suggestion.

“Did you try the Escape Key?”


Susan didn’t curse this time. Or even scream.


She just broke down and sobbed.


The technician took her through a series of steps.


Unplug the computer and reboot.


The idea of this scared Susan shitless but she went and did it.


Within seconds of rebooting, the computer went through its normal

progression of start-up menus – and came up with the very same message.


Safari cannot open the page because you are no longer connected to the

internet.


Susan let out a whimper.


“Don’t despair,” said the technician. “Let’s give the modem a try.”


He walked her through the steps to disconnect and restart it.


Susan was holding her breath when she flicked the modem back on and kept

on doing so until the computer kicked back to life.


Same fucking message.


She let go of her breath with a wail.


“Nooooooo.”


The technician sent out a signal to reboot the modem from whatever shithole

he was located in.


Nothing changed.


“Maybe we need to try and attack it from the server side. Do you have your

password?” asked the technician.


Susan gave it to him and within seconds the technician had more bad news.


“Didn’t work. You’re sure that’s right?”


“Of course I am. It’s my last name and birthday backwards. You have to try

it again.”


The technician did – twice more “Hmmm. Now you’re locked out.”


Susan groaned. “My work. Gone."


“That one you told me? It’s a Zoo Out There ? It isn’t that bad,” said the

technician.


“Are you out of your fucking mind?” Susan practically screeched.


“Any other way I can be of service?” asked the technician.


Susan just hung up on him.


Even that didn’t feel good.


She turned to look at the clock.


It was 5:30 in the morning.


Desperate beyond words, she opened a desk drawer and did the unthinkable.

She dug through the dusty contents and came up a sheet of paper and a pen

last used back when there was a Bush in office.


Then, she sat at her desk and stared through tears while trying to come up

with all those great ideas she had put in a file that was lost somewhere in a cyber

universe far, far away.


When she woke up it was half-past nine.


When she called him on the phone, Mike didn’t even let her get half the story

out. He fired her right then and there.


Susan’s day only went downhill from there.


Along with the rest of her life.


Her first clue should have been when she tried to Uber downtown to Mike’s

office to argue her case and she was immediately rejected because her credit card

had been declined.


A couple of phone calls and a trip to the bank later – her worst fears had been

confirmed. Not only had her credit cards been canceled, someone had gained

access to them the night before and run up totals approaching six figures. Right

around the exact same time, an untraceable cash transaction from her bank wiped

out all her accounts – basically her life savings.


With no money to her name and a credit rating that a transient wouldn’t even

claim, Susan soon found herself booted from her apartment. She crashed on

friend’s couches as long as she could – but wore out her welcome really fast.


Without any disposable income and the ability to land a new job because her credit

check came back non-existent (not to mention endless liens because she owed so

much); Susan finally decided to pack it all in.


She borrowed fifty dollars from her last friend, just enough for a one-way

ticket back to Pittsburgh to move back in with her matronly mother.


She was passing through Times Square on her way to Port Authority when

she saw the huge billboard advertising the movie.


The film’s title, Reptile House, was surrounded by every menacing snake and

lizard known to man with the tag line practically flashing in neon.


It’s a Zoo Out There.


She stepped off the curb to get a better look she screamed.


“Are you fucking kidding me?!”


Her cry was swallowed up by the prolonged blast of a horn and screeching

wheels.


Susan whirled to see the US Postal truck hurtling directly toward her and

threw up her arms.


SMASH.

* * * * *

“Susan! Jesus!”


Mike stood in the doorway, unable to move at first. He turned to the old man

(his last name was apparently Lyons) who lived next door and had let him into the

apartment.


Susan was leaning over her desk; pounding rhythmically on it.


Mumbling over and over.


“No. No. No. No. No.”


“When did this start?” asked Mike.


“I heard her screaming right after the power outage.” replied the old man.


“But that only lasted a minute or so. The blackout, I mean. She kept screaming

after that – most of the night. I got worried when I didn’t hear her moving around

this morning and got the super to open the door. She was doing this when I found

her. I couldn’t get her to stop.”


Mike took a few steps forward until he came up behind Susan and put a

soothing hand on her quivering shoulder.


“It’s going to be okay, Susan.”


But Susan paid him no attention.


She was too busy punching the computer keyboard.


Specifically, the Escape Key.


Her hand, the index finger in particular, was a gnarled and bloody mess.

That was when the piece of paper caught Mike’s eye.


At first, he thought it was just covered in splashes of blood from the carnage

Susan had caused at the computer.


But then he realized that words had been scribbled on it – in blood.

Like a finger had traced them there.


It’s a Zoo Out There.


Mike could barely make out the phrase; but once he did – he had to admit

that it was rather catchy.




Scott Shepherd is a writer living in California.


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