AUSTIN – Office worker Tom Maidlawnds experienced a rare, fleeting moment of hope last Tuesday, but it was short-lived. Around 2:20 pm at Alltech Solutions, a shrill bell rang out across the office, causing Tom to jump to his feet. The IT staff came out from their caves to look around. Tom darted into the hall and sniffed the air, searching for the sweet aroma of smoke. He dashed to the breakroom, almost certain he’d see the grease-stained microwave engulfed in flames. But there was not even a hint of burnt toast, let alone smoldering drywall.
A supervisor walking by the break room saw Tom staring at the toaster and said, “Fire alarm. Everybody outside.”
Tom’s dreams were then completely extinguished. Any hopes he’d had, his longing for freedom from those suffocating office walls, were put out by a cold blast of reality. Alltech Solutions was still standing and would continue to stand, leaving Tom no escape from its claustrophobic cubicles, its unnatural, buzzing fluorescent lights, and incessant, mind-numbing busywork.
In a daze Tom stumbled through the hallway as the alarms blared, and he made it out the front door, the last to leave the building. As supervisors were calling for employees to line up at the edge of the parking lot, Tom’s gaze hung down to the cracked pavement where he spotted a red lighter lying near the trashcan. He picked it up, flicked on its flame, and for another moment rekindled his dreams of fiery possibility…