The sound of the jackhammer seemed a bit off to Jillian. Oh, it was loud alright…very loud…and the closer she got to it, the louder it got. But it wasn’t the decibel that was different. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it. As she turned the corner at the light she shook her head. “No matter,” she thought to herself. “I’m turning the other way…away from it. Not going to get caught in that construction zone today, so I guess I won’t be figuring out what it is exactly about it that’s so…” But wait. There it was, louder than ever. She could have sworn the clamor had been on her right. And she had turned left…away from the obnoxious hammering, not toward it. Maybe it was just bouncing off the walls of the buildings downtown, she reasoned. That had to be it. Funny how when there were so many towering walls of concrete and glass and stone and metal at every which way angle, one just really couldn’t be sure from which direction the sound…any sound…was coming from.

She signaled to take another left at the next corner, waiting for the red light to change, and glanced anxiously at the clock glaring in the dashboard of her new Lexus…a recent birthday gift from Daddy. Crap, she was going to be late to her meeting with…who was she meeting? She couldn’t remember. Damn that jackhammer! It was really distracting…messing with her head. Would it never stop? How could it be that she hadn’t passed it, left it far behind by now? It seemed to be following her…and getting louder and…she covered her ears while she banged her head on the steering wheel. They must be hammering on a steel beam in the road because it was starting to sound almost like a bell, the incessant piercing irritation that was metal hitting metal over and over and over again bouncing around her skull as to make her crazy. But they didn’t make roads with steel beams in them…did they? Skyscrapers, yes…but city streets?

The light changed and Jillian swung left into the far right lane, getting ready to take the next right so she could get on the express lanes toward the university. She was really going to have to hurry if she was going to make it to her interview on time. Wait. Was it a meeting or an interview? What was wrong with her! And she suddenly felt awfully warm…too warm for the season and the day’s weather. She flicked on the air conditioning and choked as a waft of hot, smoky, dusty breeze hit her in the face. What the…?! Had it been that long since she used the air conditioning? She apparently needed to have the vents cleaned! But wait…this was a new car. It wasn’t even two months old yet…

Suddenly the jack hammering was impossibly loud…and damn it, it WAS a bell it was hitting! A dull flat-sounding bell being hit with a huge motorized mallet on high speed. She coughed again, couldn’t seem to get her breath. All of a sudden a crash through her passenger side window made her jump from her skin…and as she glanced at the clock on the dash again she realized it still said exactly the same time it had all those blocks ago. No way. No fucking way. The green digits of her dashboard clock were frozen at four twenty-three…four twenty-three…A.M.! Somebody large and strong grabbed her and lifted her bodily out of the smoke and broken glass and into the fresh, very cold air of the dark night that was very early morning. Everywhere were flashing lights and men shouting to each other and people standing in clusters or just milling about. Had she been in an accident? How could she? She didn’t remember hitting anything or anyone coming out of nowhere to hit her. She was always such a careful driver, that’s why Daddy had gotten her the new Lexus…kind of a reward, you know?…and…

Jill rubbed at her eyes, choking and coughing. She felt that her lungs were on fire and there was ground glass in her eyes. One of the men put a plastic cup over her mouth and nose…wait, it was an oxygen mask, wasn’t it?…while another laid her on something firm and pulled a thin flimsy blanket over her to her chin. Whole lot of good that did…she felt frozen, and slightly numb. Jill marveled at how quickly the EMTs had gotten to the crash scene. Something not quite right with that either. Oh Hell! Daddy was going to really give it to her for crashing the car after less than two months! She struggled against the EMTs to sit up to look back at the car, hoping against hope it wasn’t too badly damaged. “Oh my god,” she thought to herself. “It better not be totaled!”

What she saw floored her more than a thoroughly crumpled Lexus ever could. Some of what she had assumed to be flashing lights of the ambulance and police cars weren’t lights at all. It was fire…lots of fire…tearing though a building on the other side of the street. She blinked. HER building. HER condo. With dawning realization, the accompanying overwhelming anxiety threatened to suffocate her more than the smoke billowing out her bedroom window like fluffy grey clouds of dryer lint. Suddenly Jillian realized that the jackhammer…the downtown buildings…the flashing green numbers of the clock in her Lexus dashboard…all of it…had all been a dream. She tried to call out to the EMTs assisting her but all she could manage was a whimpering moan as she sank back onto the gurney as she lost consciousness again.

And still that jackhammer fire alarm on the outside wall of her condominium…right outside the window of what used to be her bedroom…continued its call to Hell.

© 2011 D. Kessler