Sarena Ulibarri is an MFA student at University of Colorado-Boulder, where she is also on the fiction editorial staff of Timber Journal. Her fiction has recently appeared in Flashquake, With Painted Words and Zahir.
I always complain about the night shift. I’ll tell the other students, yeah, I got the mid-to-four shift again, my boss must hate me, but the truth is I ask for it because I don’t sleep so well anyway. It’s an easy job. I sit at a big L-shaped desk behind a glass window in the dorm lobby. I have access to all these dorm room keys, and the record book of who lives in what room. There’s a fire alarm on the back wall of the office, a bulky red box beside the light switch, and if someone says there’s a fire, I’m supposed to call the fire station and then pull the alarm.
I check out a few spare keys per night, more on weekends. Student ID, sign on this line, bring it back by midnight tomorrow. Sometimes kids are so drunk they just scribble diagonally across the page and drop their spare key twice before they get to the elevator. It’s a seventy-five dollar fine if you lose it, which is a lot of money for most college kids. I don’t have many friends, but if someone I know, someone who doesn’t live on campus, comes in and needs a place to stay, I’ll go through the records, find an empty room and give them the spare key, don’t ask them to sign anything. So far, they’ve all brought it back. If they didn’t, I’d have to work five mid-to-four shifts just to pay for that stupid key.
On quiet nights I don’t see anybody until the poor sap who gets the four-to-eight shift drags in. No bored security guards, no drunk key-losers. No one calling to ask which pizza places deliver after midnight, or to complain about freshmen using fire extinguishers to shoot themselves down the hallway in computer chairs. Sometimes the late-night cartoons are all reruns and my eyes hurt from staring at the computer. Then I’ll think about all the other students in the dorms, all the ones whose room number and home address and student ID number I have access to, all of them snoozing away so easily, or breaking dorm rules with their girlfriends or their coolers of beer.
When there’s no one around and it’s too damn quiet, I think about pulling the fire alarm. Pull it and wake everyone up, make them rush to hide their beers, make them run barefoot out into the parking lot with their clothes on crooked, pissed because they have tests in the morning, because now that girl will never stay the night again. I could tell my boss I was cleaning cobwebs from the ceiling and fell on it. Or something. I might get fired, but I doubt it because no one else wants the mid-to-fours.
Tonight is one of those lonely nights. I haven’t seen a soul, and it’s so quiet I can hear myself breathing. Three nights in a row it’s been like this, so damn peaceful like everyone took sleeping pills—but the good ones, not those cheap things the student pharmacy gives me that don’t work. It’s 3:30, only half an hour left in my mid-to-four shift, but I can’t wait half an hour, I feel like I’m stranded on the moon. So I walk around the office a couple times, eye the red box with the thick handle and the words EMERGENCY USE ONLY. I mutter something about the word “emergency” and on the third circle, I don’t even think, I just do it, pull the damn thing and then run across the office like it’s going to chase me.
It’s louder than I thought it would be, and I’m immediately back over at the box, smacking it and trying to turn it off. I get it to shut off right as the doors open, and here they come, with their bare feet and backwards shirts and beer breath, but they don’t run out to the parking lot, they all surround the office, yelling through the glass windows, hey what’s going on, and is this a drill or the real thing, and dammit I’ve got a test in the morning. And I open the sliding window and hold my hands up and say, okay, okay people, I can’t talk to everybody at once.