What If…?

“PASSWORD INCORRECT”

Inserting his card again, he typed the password he had always used. He was bewildered. He needed lunch money. He tried once again but it never came back. Instead the digital display flashed:

“SEE TELLER”

“Ma’am, I need forty dollars but my card got swallowed up!”

“Sure your password’s correct?”

“Yes, I’ve never changed it!”

“Let’s take a look. May I see a photo ID?”

He displayed his driver’s license. She glanced up then typed in his name.

“Mr Merrill, you no longer have an account here. You closed it yesterday, withdrawing $20,000.”

“What?? Closed my account? How can this be? I’m here every Wednesday, for my forty. Had no reason to close the account.”

“But you did, sir! Says so right here!”

“You’re not making any sense, why would I try withdrawing money, knowing I’d closed the account?”

“You tell me! I’m wondering about that myself!”

“I’m suing this goddamn bank!”

He stalked out, shouting profanities, masking considerable worry and confusion He was bankrupt, had no other savings. He lived from paycheck to paycheck. Now all his savings were gone! He walked along the sidewalk, numb, the magnitude of the discovery hadn’t quite sunk in. He was incredulous, in denial. There must be a rational explanation. He walked back to his desk at SCENARIOS GAMING Inc., and tried checking his balances online, giving up after several attempts. He logged into his retirement account, thinking he’d solve his immediate problem by borrowing from his future – only to feel the cold terror at the flashing message:

“EMPLOYEE TERMINATED”

What a living nightmare!

He walked into his boss’ cabin.

“Merrill! What happened? Forgot something?”

“What’re you doing back here? Left something behind while clearing your desk?”

“Clearing my desk? Just stopped by to ask if there’s a problem accessing Fidelity. Got a funny message trying to log in, said I’d been terminated.”

“Everything OK Merrill? I know the board’s decision to let you go, on your birthday, seems harsh, but I’m just a purveyor of bad news, equally vulnerable. They’ve offered a healthy severance. They’ll even help rework your resume. I can’t help, can’t do a thing Merrill, think of it as a new adventure, as I told you yesterday. And yes, you can’t access Fidelity, you’re no longer an employee.”

He felt the ground give way. He couldn’t believe it, the horror was unimaginable, beyond comprehension.

He stammered out a response, “W-w-what did you tell me yesterday? You weren’t in yesterday. Worked on the “WHAT IF” project this morning until I decided to go grab a bite to eat. What lay-offs are you talking about, what severance?”

“Merrill, you alright? Need a doctor?”

“No thanks Sean, I’ll be alright!”

“Good luck!”

Dejected, he walked back to his apartment. Carlos, the doorman, wished him a happy birthday and said, “Back so soon, Mr Merrill? I thought you’d be gone for three months!”

“What do you mean, Carlos? I’m just getting in from work, a little early. It happens!”

“But I loaded all your bags in the limousine this morning, you were headed to Ladakh!”

“Ladakh!! You’ve got to lay off the sauce this early in the day, Carlos!”

He walked into the elevator as Carlos stared after him, open-mouthed.

The doors to the ancient elevator slammed shut. Hitting the button for the 25th floor, like an automaton, trying to make some sense of the events of the day, he travelled up. Suddenly a jarring, clanging sound! His eyes flew to the display above as he noted the numbers counting down 24, 23, 22…. the elevator descending with amazing speed! He was trapped, helpless, in a metal box and falling fast. He hit the alarm button, hammering on the walls, the descent showed signs of finality, certain death…darkness.

He woke up with a start, cold sweat running down his forehead, clothes drenched. He looked around the room. His surroundings seemed familiar, down to his Tweety Bird night-light. He was awake, alive! He breathed a sigh of relief. Walking over to the windows, he gazed out, smelling the unmistakable aroma of coffee.

Coffee? Who made the coffee? He lived alone!

He turned around and saw her walking in with a tray.

“Happy Birthday, dear!

Good Morning America did a piece on Ladakh this morning. It was awesome. What if… we were to take a trip to Ladakh? I think we really need the time away. You’ve been too absorbed in work!”

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