Millie spent her day pulling samples and gathering data for a field report that she owed the home office. She felt eyes on her everywhere she walked around the mine. When she had first started working there, groups of men, dusty-faced and hard-hatted, would stop their work or conversations as she walked by and watch her. She’d heard enough wolf whistles and “hey darlin’s” in her first few weeks on the job to last a lifetime. At first, the sheer brazenness of the men’s behavior startled her, but she learned to tune it out and go about her work as if the men weren’t there.
Now, they would simply steal glances of her as she walked by, and some even ignored her since they had realized she wasn’t going to engage them. Occasionally, she’d hear a roar of laughter from a group of them, which she knew was probably not good, but it was better than being openly objectified as if she were performing on a stage for them. Musk was a long way from Princeton, and in some ways she missed the sterile academic setting, but she preferred the excitement of the field. She wanted to get her hands dirty in a real world lab.
Millie returned to her truck near the edge of the pit and hopped into the cab. She nosed the truck around the precarious, makeshift track that hugged the circumference of the mine and bounced back down one side to Pit Road. Other vehicles meandered past her as she headed back to the office trailer. Some of the drivers flipped up their hand in a friendly gesture and she’d return the favor trying her best to feel like she belonged.
When she nudged the truck into her parking spot, she saw that Carl was at the office. She felt a sense of relief that Carl was there because he served as a barrier between her and the feral mine. When one of the mine supervisors had made a habit of visiting her desk every single day after she first started working there, Carl had pulled him aside and told him that he was making the new girl uncomfortable. The supervisor backed off and barely even glanced at her during the weekly manager meetings now.
Inside the trailer, Carl stood by his desk. He stared at the laptop in front of him, and it took a moment before he acknowledged her.
“There’s my girl. How’re you doin’ today?”
“Good. Finished gathering all of the data for the monthly report.”
Carl nodded and returned his focus to the laptop.
“I didn’t know if you were in today.”
He gave her a confused look.
“You’re usually here before me,” she explained.
“Oh, I had to take care of some business this morning.”
He seemed distracted, which was out of character. Carl was a gregarious bear of a man with a large mustache and a balding pate. His gut swelled against his dull, gray work shirt, which had a patch with his name on it stenciled in bright red. He reminded Millie of a youngish, grandfather type with his eyeglasses perched low on his nose and his deep, engaging laugh. He had a way of making her feel like she was part of a family, but he made everyone feel that way, even the gruff men at the mine. When Carl stood up at meetings and talked, it wasn’t uncommon for him to elicit laughs and cheers from the same creepy men who leered at her in the mine.
She sat down at her desk and noticed that the red message light glared on her phone. No one ever called her desk phone. Even the chief geologist back at the corporate office preferred email and only spoke to her on the phone when she called him. She could barely recall the pass code to her voicemail since she hadn’t used it after she set it up on her first day. She checked the code on a note app on her phone and dialed into her voicemail.
Millie, sorry to bother you at work, but can you please call me when you get this message. It’s important. I love you. Bye.
A chill ran down Millie’s spine. Her mom’s voice sounded fraught and uncertain. If anything, her mother often downplayed things, so for her to leave such a message, something had to be wrong.
Carl looked up from his laptop. “Yes?”
“Can I use the phone to call my mom? My cell phone doesn’t have service here, and my mom just left me a message asking me to call her. She said it’s important.”
“Of course. I hope everything’s okay.”
“I’m sure it is, but I want to make sure. Thank you.”
She quickly dialed her mom’s cell phone. It rang several times before it dumped her into voicemail. She left a message. Then, she dialed her dad’s cell phone, but it immediately went into voicemail. She called her brother next but met the same result. Frustrated, she put the handset down a little too hard.
“Everything okay?” Carl asked.
“I can’t get in touch with anyone. Of course that happens after you get an urgent voicemail.”
Carl straightened his back. He hadn’t sat down since she arrived. “I’m sure everything is okay. You know how moms are.” He flashed her a wan smile as if he didn’t believe it himself.
Millie nodded and rested her chin on her hand as she returned her attention to the phone on her desk. In her mind she pleaded for it to ring.
The tension felt beyond bearable, so she tried to focus on the report. She cracked open her laptop and opened the nearly finished document. She filled in the data she had spent the day collecting and checked the flow of her report, but her heart wasn’t really into it. The report was due by the end of the day, and once she was finished she could head home. At least there, she’d have cell service and could text her family to get some sort of response.
She gleaned the report one last time, saved the document, and fired it off the chief geologist in email. She slapped the lid to the laptop shut and tucked it under her arm.
“I’m heading out. See you tomorrow.”
She had almost let the door shut behind her when she heard Carl say something. She caught the door with her hand. “What?”
“Don’t forget that Gordon is having an early morning meeting tomorrow.”
“Oh yeah. I had forgotten about that, but it’s on my calendar.”
Carl smirked. Millie knew he hated the regional manager meetings because they disrupted the flow of the mine. He had complained about them before, but Millie couldn’t afford to engage him in another rant session, so she let the door shut between them and bounded down the stairs to her truck. She had several miles to go before her cell service would return.
The clouds overhead had thickened and threatened rain. The wind kicked up dust across Pit Road, and Millie’s truck left wisps of dust in its wake as she sped toward home. She didn’t make it a mile before she came up to one of the lumbering mine trucks as it hauled it’s payload toward the rail terminal, but she quickly passed it, accelerating above the speed limit.
The giant truck hadn’t faded from her rear-view mirror when a hard, steady rain started to fall. The initial gush of water had temporarily blocked her view of the road. She slowed down and flipped on her wipers, which scraped and squeaked across the windshield smearing the layer of dust that almost made the glass opaque. She cursed under her breath and tapped her brakes to slow the truck to a crawl.
Once the film of mud cleared from her windshield, Millie saw a traffic jam on both sides of the road up ahead as the truckloads moved out of the mine and empty trucks returned. The giant vehicles crawled through the sheets of rain.
“Damn it,” she said striking her steering wheel with the heel of her hand as she slowly came up behind the last truck in the convoy. She grabbed her phone from her bag and looked at the screen. No service.
She’d been stuck in these lines on occasion when she was on her way home, but she didn’t need this stress today. She needed cell service. She needed to get in touch with her mom. She drummed on the steering wheel as she crawled closer to the outer reaches of her cell service.
The traffic jam almost lulled her into a trance, so when the other side of the road opened up and offered her a chance to pass the trucks in front of her, she did nothing at first, but then, she veered to the left to check the lane and floored it to pass the trucks in front of her. She could feel the tires skittering on the wet road. Her pulse quickened as the engine roared and the rain seemed to fall harder on her windshield. She couldn’t see too far ahead of her, and for a moment she hoped that nothing emerged from the curtain of rain in front of her or she’d be dead.
One of the trucks blared its horn and it scared her. She punched the gas a little harder to get past the nose of the front truck and pulled into the right lane. Just as she did a black SUV roared past her going the opposite direction. She hadn’t seen it in the downpour, and the fact that she just missed colliding with it took her breath away. Her heart thumped in her chest as if it were trying to escape. When she peeled one of her hands off the steering wheel, it shook uncontrollably. It took her a few minutes to regain her composure.
She slowed down and tried to concentrate on the road ahead of her in the endless downpour. She hadn’t experienced a rain storm so violent since she had moved to Musk. Swirls of rain and mud rushed across the roadway forcing her to slow down even more. She exhausted her mental energy just keeping the truck on the road when the rain began to fall even harder.
The sound of the pounding rain filled the cab of the truck, but in a moment it was punctuated by a loud ding. In her intense concentration, it took Millie a second to recognize that a text had reached her phone. She grabbed it from her bag and flipped up the home screen with her thumb. A text notification hovered at the bottom of her screen.
Please call me when you can.
It was a text from her mom earlier in the day probably right before she called Millie’s office phone.
Millie finally had cell service, but she was just on the fringe of her service area. She knew if she tried to call at that moment, she’d likely have problems making a connection. She kept driving and glancing at her phone. The relentless rain forced her to concentrate on the road, but she pushed the gas just a little harder.
When she looked at her phone again, she had two bars of service. She thumbed her mom’s number and let it ring. No answer. She left another impatient message and quickly called her dad and her brother, but neither of them answered his phone. She kept driving with her phone glued to her hand as she steered her truck through the downpour.
The rain didn’t let up once she reached her house and pulled the truck into the parking spot next to the porch. The relentless shower veiled the house making it look blurred and imprecise like an impressionist painting. She dashed off a quick text message to her family practically begging someone to call her ASAP. She sat back for a moment until she realized she’d forgotten all about the Ring app notification she had received on her way to work.
She squinted through the sheets of rain to her front porch. She couldn’t see anything amiss in the blurry picture, nor could she see that any deliveries had been made. She opened the Ring app and clicked on the last movement detected at her door. It took a moment for the video to load, but once it did, Millie froze in her seat. She looked back toward her front door. Everything looked okay, but she knew it wasn’t. Far from it.
The short video showed someone in a mask approaching her front door and blocking the camera as the video went black. She watched it again to the same chilling effect. She couldn’t determine anything about the person in the short time he was visible. She checked the door to her truck to make sure it was locked. She clicked to the live view of the camera, but it was completely dark. The camera was still blocked.
Full-fledged panic consumed her as she backed the truck into the yard and headed back toward the road. She turned left and drove toward the mine. She didn’t know if whoever had approached her house was inside or not, but she wasn’t going to find out by herself.