Bring on the Sudden Silence
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"Hey, Margaret, I've got a project for you." My boss, Hank, hands me a basket of old keys. "Take these around the school building and see what they fit." By the way, Hank is a woman. Her real name is Henrietta, but don't call her that, or it might be a while before the authorities locate your body.

Anyway, back to the keys.

What could I possibly foul up with keys to scare a few months off everyone's remaining years? If you don't know, you've never met anyone from the Lackey branch of the tree.

I carry the keys back to my desk, sort through them, and find several labeled for switch boxes and doors in the gym. Deciding that's where I'll start, I pick up the basket and head down the hall, my low-heeled dress shoes clomping on the hardwood flooring. No sneaking up on anyone in this building. You can hear ghosts floating on this floor.

After sticking keys in every hole in the gym, I found out that none of them fit anything worth a dime, but I did manage to lock a switch box and couldn't get it unlocked again. Oh, well, maybe someone who knows what they're doing will come along and open it. Of course, knowing my luck, someone will need the gymnasium lights on in a great big hurry, and I'll be the only employee in the office.

I pick up a key labeled Fire Alarm Box. I look from the key to one of the many red boxes on the wall spaced around the gym's perimeter, and head for the closest one. And that's when all heck breaks loose.

I shove in the key. So far, so good. Turn it. Still good. Then I decide to lower the panel a few inches. Nothing's in there. Shouldn't there be wires or something? I lower it a little more. Suddenly, the entire building erupts into blaring sirens and flashing silver lights.

Oh shoot!

Oh darn!

Now, you've done it!

Okay, okay. Don't panic!

Maybe I can turn this thing off before anyone hears it. I let out a hysterical little laugh. A castaway on a deserted island in the South Pacific has probably crawled out of his bamboo hut by now and waits on the beach for the all clear signal. Nevertheless, I stab at the keyhole a few times before getting the key in and frantically turning it. Nope! Still ear-splitting loud.

I twist the key back and forth. The evil noise still doesn't stop. My hands start shaking, and I jerk the box open while trying to pull the key out. It takes several attempts to push it closed again. This time I succeed in locking it and back away, holding up my hands as if warding off the demon of loud, annoying noises.

"Shhhhhhh," I hiss at it. That doesn't work. "Be quiet, dang it!" That doesn't work either.

Okay, I need help now.

I run half way across the gym, turn and run back, shove the key in, and give it a few more twists. "Oh, please, please turn off." Nada. Zip. Still blasting loud enough for Bin Laden to hear it way over yonder in one of them "stan" countries in whatever cave he's hiding in.

Defeated, I sigh and trudge out of the gym. Do I have to tell anyone I accidentally set off the fire alarm?

Everyone from the office is walking down the hall toward me with grins on their faces, and I can read their thoughts.

Harley, the janitor - Margaret's set something on fire.

Keith, the Business & Industry guy - What's she done now?

Carolyn, the Administrative Assistant - Oh, dear. I wonder what's happened.

Hank, the Director - This is gonna be good.

Keith comes through the automatic locking hallway fire door first, and I shout into his ear what happened. He laughs and shakes his head. Harley continues on down the hall. "I think Harley knows how to turn it off," I holler. Hank tells us to follow protocol because I doubt she heard what I told Keith.

Students and faculty stream out onto the lawn with their hands over their ears. I trail behind everyone. No sense in being in a hurry. At this point, Keith and I alone know we're in no danger - at least not from fire. I wonder if he'll keep a secret? There's time to make up a good story - well, one that might raise a few eyebrows, but hopefully no questions.

Outside Hank says, "What happened?"

I glance at Keith, and he's still grinning and shaking his head. No way will he keep something that funny to himself. I find my voice and say, "Well, I stuck a key into one of the fire alarm boxes to see if it worked, and I sort of set off the alarm system."

Hank tries to swallow a laugh but isn't successful.

Carolyn laughs right out loud and touches my arm. "Bless your heart."

We head back into the building and join Harley at the fire alarm control panel. Everyone stares at over a hundred little silver switches, none labeled with anything useful.

"How do you turn this thing off?" someone yells above the blaring siren.

Finally, Hank steps forward and starts flipping switches until the building goes quiet. "System reset, everybody!" Hank shouts into the sudden silence.

After a moment of blessed peace, I say, "Well, the fire alarm box key works."

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