01 Feb My Boss Made me Go into the Office: I’m never Going Back
So, my boss is a dick.
He called me up on the phone and told me he ‘needed someone to check on the office space’.
That someone was me because I live closest and I’m also the key holder if the alarm goes off.
I told him if he thought we’d had a break in he should call the police and he said ‘he can’t have plod clomping about all over the place, not with all the sensitive material the office deals with’. Just to be clear we deal in personal finance, not state secrets.
Sensitive material in this case meant something not kosher is at the office.
Knowing Dominic, that was likely cocaine in his desk.
I told him, we have the shelter in place rules and it’s essential trips only, but is he having any of that? Of course not. Like I said, he’s a dick. Apparently it’s ‘essential’ that I go check the office. Never mind the fact that we have a damn quarantine at the moment, or that me being stopped and questioned getting there is a real possibility.
I don’t even know what he expected me to DO at the office. I’m not a secret ninja-skilled office worker able to take down intruders with a few flying kicks, nor am I qualified to check the in-house server for ‘problems’. He did say that my NOT doing this might result in him ‘thinking about my position in the company’ when this is all over.
Not just a dick then, but a blackmailing dick. I said I’d go but I wasn’t bringing drugs out so I could get pinched for carrying, and he said, that was fine, it wasn’t about the drugs (I knew it! I knew he had crap in his desk), but about the fact he was getting some odd video on his feed from the office cameras. Which meant someone was probably on site and doing god knows what. He hadn’t seen people per se, but shadows and movement on the footage.
We did have some expensive equipment so I guess I could understand his insistence but I was still not happy I had to go check it out because his stash meant he wasn’t about to call the cops.
It took me about 10 minutes to get down there. It was odd walking almost alone in the normally busy street. Very few cars and buses too, it would have been creepy if it hadn’t been daylight hours.
Our office was on the High Street, above what started out as a travel agent and was now an upmarket handbag shop.
At the side of the storefront was an ordinary front door, which opened to a long steep staircase, currently dark. We had the two storeys above the shop. The main floor was our offices, mostly open plan, and above that, Dominic’s office and the onsite server room.
I opened the door, keyed in the alarm code to turn it off (noting that it was still showing ‘secure’), and turned on the light.
In and out was the plan. Check if there was a burglar, or damage, check the fire escape, any lock boxes and skidaddle. Of course if there WAS a burglar I was noping out and calling the police myself – screw Dominic and his shady desk contents.
Up the stairs, to the first floor. So far, nothing hinky. No masked stranger tip-toeing around the edge of the door, or indeed any sign of disturbance that I noticed. No papers on the floor, no drawers opened, all the PCs and laptops still on the desks, none missing that I could see.
One of the overheads was flickering annoyingly though – not new, it had been doing that since before the lockdown, but now, in the relative silence, it was slightly disquieting. I went around checking around corners, and opening storage cabinets, now feeling slightly foolish.
No doubt Dominic was watching all this through the CCTV and laughing at me, the office monkey, skulking around inspecting everything like a good little soldier.
I sighed, thought about flipping the bird at the camera, decided against it and went upstairs to Dom’s big suite. There’d been no odd noises so far, no ‘shadows’ or ‘shapes’ that he’d said he’d seen on the security feed. I was starting to get fed up with this. I deliberately banged open his office door and started loudly opening and closing things I didn’t need to open – unless a 5 year old child burglar was suspected of breaking in and hiding in the liquor cabinet.
The desk phone rang.
I groaned inwardly. This was my own fault for being annoyed and showing it. Now Dominic was calling to rip me a new one. I rested one hand on my forehead, rubbed it, and picked up the phone.
“At the third stroke, the time will be 6:30 pm precisely..beep beep BEEP..at the third stroke the time..”
I hung up. Didn’t you have to call the speaking clock directly in order to use it? Did Dominic have it pre-programmed to call him back at a certain time of day, every day? Was it even a thing to have it call you? I picked the phone handset up again and listened.
OK so that was weird. Maybe Dominic had called it from his house and had it forwarded to the office to mess with me. Yeah, that sounded about right.
I found myself getting annoyed all over again.
The desk phone rang.
I picked it up slowly.
This time it was Dominic.
“Tim, what the hell are you doing?” I waved at the camera, “How effin’ long does it take to search the office?”
I frowned at the handset.
“Dom, there’s no-one here mate, I’m ready to leave. Wait, what do you mean how long does it take? You wanted me to look on both floors right? I just got to your office like 5 minutes ago. Downstairs is fine, nothing missing.”
“Tim, you were down on the main floor for like 2 hours just staring into space. Do I need to drug test you when we get back to work?” He barked out a laugh,
“Better stay out of my top drawer, seems you can’t handle it” I could hear the amusement in his voice “I’m heading out now anyway, going off for the weekend to the in-laws now this is sorted.”
I had no idea what he was talking about. 2 hours? I’d been here all of 30 minutes, maybe 40. I’d arrived at 4 pm. I used my fingers to make a gap in the blinds on his big window. It was dark outside. Not full-on night time dark but for sure ‘sun’s just going down’ dark. This didn’t make any sense. I’d been here 40 minutes!
“Yeah sorry Dom..I guess I let time get away from me. I’m going to go lock up again and leave. Have a great weekend”
I hung up and ran downstairs to the main office.
The door to the photocopier room was slightly open.
I KNEW I’d closed it. I had closed ALL the doors to the peripheral rooms as I’d gone along. Maybe it just hadn’t caught and I’d not noticed it.
I opened it more fully and peeked inside. Nothing – well a photocopier and paper and a shelf full of stationery. Nothing else.
I closed the door and made sure the latchbolt had engaged to keep the door shut.
The wall phone rang.
I sighed. Fucking Dom, I told him already I was leaving.
I picked up the handset.
“At the third stroke, the time will be 9:14 pm and 10 seconds…”
I slammed the phone down. What the actual hell was going on? I knew I hadn’t called the speaking clock myself, and now I was pretty sure Dom wasn’t doing it either.
My mind suddenly went to the time it was quoting at me. 9 pm?! How? I ran over to the window on the main floor and yanked up the blind forcefully.
It was pitch black outside. The moon was out. The street was quiet, empty, not even traffic now.
Alright, there was seriously something wrong with me if I was losing time like this. Maybe I was sick. I wasn’t spending another minute in this damn place. I went to the end of the office to go down the stairs and leave. I ran.
The stairs weren’t there.
The office just.. went on. It looked like the same floor plan as the part I’d just walked through, but no there was no exit door.
I turned around. Obviously I’d missed the door, got confused, taken a wrong turn. I slowly retraced my steps back to the photocopier room.
The door was slightly open.
I kicked it closed. Then I pushed hard against it making sure it was properly shut.
I leaned my back on the door, trying not to breathe too hard, irritated and confused, attempting to re-orient myself.
The copier room was here which meant the stairs must be.. I looked down the corridor. The door definitely wasn’t where I remembered it being.
I placed two fingers on my wrist, feeling my pulse race, trying to slow it down “I feel like I’m having a bloody stroke..”
It was supposed to be a lighthearted remark, self-deprecating, but my voice sounded really, terribly, loud in the stillness.
The flickering overhead started to buzz intermittently.
I looked up briefly and then sighed. Again, it sounded much too loud.
What was I supposed to do? How could an entire staircase move?
I moved away back into the main office, trying to ignore the strip light’s blinking and fizzing and went into the break room.
I sat down at the table and remembered my mobile phone was in my back pocket. I pulled it out. It came on but said there was no signal. I shook it. Don’t ask me why I shook it but I did.
The zero bars didn’t change at all.
I tried to connect to the wifi but it said there was no connection available. That was odd too. The office definitely had wifi because Dominic had it put in for his own convenience. I supposed it was possible he’d turned everything off due to the lock down, as no-one would be here to use it.
That seemed like a reasonable explanation. Except I still had an uneasy feeling.
By now I can’t honestly tell you what else I was thinking, or if I was still thinking rationally. I was hoping I was asleep and dreaming – that I’d wake up at any moment, finding I’d nodded off while checking the rooms and this was just fantasy. Yes, I know that someone falling asleep in what still felt like the afternoon while casually walking around seemed unlikely – about as unlikely as a set of stairs going missing – but what else could it be?
As a test I hit my arm against the table top and then swore loudly. That really hurt. I don’t recall ever having a dream where pain seemed so real.
I shook the cell phone again. Nothing. No bars.
I opened the blinds in the break room, looked outside. Still dark.
I couldn’t believe I’d been in here this long. I wasn’t hungry or thirsty but I picked a can of coke out of the fridge in there and drank some just to have something to do. I sat for a few more moments, drumming my fingers on the table.
I didn’t want to talk out loud again – although I didn’t want to admit it, hearing myself in the echoing quiet was starting to disturb me.
I decided to call Dominic, accept that he’d never let me forget this ever and get him to send someone else over. If he wasn’t at home, I was going to call the police and have them come get me and live with the shame that I was ‘lost’ inside my own office.
I went back outside, looking for the nearest landline.
The copier room door was open slightly.
I know I made some sort of noise – it was somewhere between a faint scream and a wail.
God, this was ridiculous. I glared at the door, and went back into the break room, grabbed a chair, and dragged it outside.
I jammed the back of the chair under the copier door handle. I could feel my temper rising as I did so. There! That would sort out this stupidity.
Open now, you motherfucker.
I went to one of the desks in the open plan room and grabbed the phone.
No dial tone.
I threw it at the wall.
Another phone – still no dial tone. What the hell?
I marched back towards the end of the corridor where the stairs SHOULD be and started banging on the wall. The wall sounded solid, like the rest of the walls. I had a thought that maybe Dom had played some evil prank on me by having someone put up a false wall over the stairs to make me crazy but these walls all seemed like plaster covered brick. None of them sounded hollow.
I laughed but I stopped suddenly as I didn’t like the sound of it at all. There was an edge of hysteria to it.
My next idea was the window. We were only two storeys up, I could jump. Even if I hurt myself a bit I wasn’t likely to kill myself at 25 or 30 feet up. Of course, I smacked my head with the heel of my hand, I was an idiot – the window was a great idea.
The break room window had been painted shut from the looks of it, against the fire regs but, there were other windows. I did try opening it, rattling it like a champion, but it wouldn’t budge.
OK there were other windows – I tried the one at the front office next. The one over the handbag shop awning. It should have opened. It didn’t.
I know it should have opened because I’d seen it open during the previous summer. The office didn’t have AC – we’re in South London not South LA – most offices in older buildings didn’t have AC. I tried the window again. Nothing. It wasn’t painted shut, it was just..not opening. I could feel a headache starting.
I picked up one of the useless desk phones and threw it at the stubborn window.
It bounced off.
The stapler had no effect either. It didn’t even chip the glass.
This wasn’t happening.
I don’t remember the next few minutes because I think I went a little bit crazy. I must have thrown everything at that window, including a stool and a small printer table. Nothing made even the smallest crack or chip in the glass. It wasn’t even scratched.
I trudged back towards the break room.
The wall phone rang. I stared at it.
It kept ringing.
I picked up the handset, “At the third stroke, the time will…” I cut the call off before it could tell me. It was still dark outside. I didn’t care what the damn time was. Whatever time it said it was, it was wrong. Or I was wrong. Everything about this day was wrong.
I took a deep breath, let it out, somewhat shakily I’ll admit, but it did calm me a little.
As I headed back to the break room I noticed the door to the copier room was slightly open.
“No….” It came out as a whisper.
The chair was gone.
I dashed into the break room. The chair I’d taken from there to put under the door was still not there.
I slumped into one of the remaining chairs and put my head on the table. I’d lost a flight of stairs AND a chair now. I wanted to laugh but I didn’t. I was going to ignore that door from now on.
From the corner of my eye I saw..something. A shadow, maybe from the moonlight now shining in through the indestructible window. It was nothing. Just a tree branch shadow I told myself. A tree branch shadow from the non existent trees in the High Street.
I laid my head down on the table again. I think I slept for a few minutes, it could have been longer, I had no way of telling. I seemed to lose time again. I wanted to go check the copier room door but I didn’t move. I’d left it open this time. It couldn’t scare me now.
I drank some of the coke, grabbed some chocolate out of the snack drawer in there too. Wolfed it down.
Something definitely passed by outside the door. It wasn’t a branch shadow. It moved as if someone was walking past but there was no accompanying sound.
“Footfalls” I said out loud and grinned “foot” I drew in a breath “falls”
I started crying.
The phone in the break room rang.
I stopped my tears abruptly and wiped my eyes on my sleeve. Since when was there a phone in the break room? I’d been in and out of here for, what was apparently hours, and there hadn’t been a phone. Why would there be? I looked around the room until I saw it. It was sitting on a chair. The chair that had been under the handle of the copier room door. The phone wasn’t plugged in.
It continued to ring.
“I don’t give a shit what time it is” I said glaring at it. It kept ringing.
I bit my lip and picked it up, answered it.
“What..” I could hear breathing on the line. It sounded heavy but not like someone panting. It was much more..intense. It sounded purposeful.
“Hello..who’s there?” I tried to keep the tremor out of my voice. More breathing.
“I need help..I’m stuck here. ” At this point I threw caution to the wind. I needed out of this craziness. I just wanted to go home.
The breathing intensified, and seemed to become lower pitched. “Please stop this, I want to leave” My own voice had sunk to a pleading whisper. I didn’t care.
Dial tone. One second of hope to call out. Then, dead line.
Outside the break room I heard a door creak open. I knew immediately which door it was. I tried to ignore it but it creaked again.
I got up, now suddenly, shockingly, furious, ran out to the copier room, grabbed that god damned door and slammed it over and over and over again.
I know I must have yelled because my throat was hoarse after I stopped taking out my frustrations and came back to my senses. I bent over, my hands on my thighs, trying to control myself, breathing as heavily as whoever, or whatever, had made the last phone call.
I did wonder if I was just losing my mind, but the stairs leading to the outside door were still missing. I wasn’t hallucinating that. They were just not there any more. Of course, if I had lost my mind, maybe they were there and I was hallucinating them being missing.
I took in a deep breath. My sanity seemed to be hanging by a thread, but I couldn’t succumb to madness. I stood up, trying to form some coherent thoughts. I needed to get out. I needed to get out NOW, before whatever it was got worse, before I lost more time.
I wondered if I should explore the ‘extra’ part of the office. The part that had replaced the exit door and just kept on going. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really want to go walking into an area that could very well be part of my hallucination. If I HAD gone mental, and the stairs were actually present, I’d just fall straight down them. On the other hand, I probably wouldn’t die from tumbling down one, albeit steep, flight of stairs, and as a plus, I’d be out of the office at last. A plan with few drawbacks then, so why did I still feel so uneasy about it all? What could be worse than just sitting here?
I started moving forward, very slowly, still unsure about the decision.
At the edge of my vision something moved. A shadow, again. I turned but there was nothing. I began to walk, just a few steps at at time, and with my senses all on full alert, towards the ‘new’ part of the floor. A slight creak behind me told me the door of the copier room had opened. I ignored it, gritting my teeth, and wiping the tears that had welled up in my eyes. It didn’t matter. It was just a crap door. It could stay open or creak or whatever it was going to do and I was going to take no notice of it this time. None.
I had to resist the urge to turn back and look at it. I clenched both fists at my sides. Not looking. Not caring about the door.
The copier room door that refused to stay shut. Nope. Not going to think about it either.
I moved forward a little more. A little further into the ‘new’ office. A couple of hesitant steps. I stopped and listened intently. Nothing. No noises. No shadows. I looked up ahead. There was a big window at the end of the office. Bigger than the one I’d tried to smash open in the ‘real’ part.
What did this window even overlook? The building didn’t go in this direction and if it did, if it was possible, it would be hanging over the the corner of the next street.
I was suddenly really really reluctant to get close enough to look out of it.
I could feel myself starting to sweat, even though it wasn’t hot. I felt slightly nauseous too. A couple more steps.
A phone in the large faux office began to ring.
I swallowed audibly. I wasn’t going to speed up to get to it. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to get to it at all. I could only see one phone in the big space, and it was very close to the large dark window. Not right under it, but dead center on a desk a little ways in front.
A few more steps, still hesitant. The phone continued to ring, and it looked almost like it was glowing now. I don’t think it was, I was just staring so hard at it that I had lost peripheral vision.
Something outside the window moved from left to right. It was dark out, nighttime still, but whatever moved seemed just as dark; like dark water against dark sky.
My eyes snapped up to track it.
The phone stopped ringing. We were at least 30 foot off the ground here, what the heck could be moving outside that I would see from here? What?
‘Nothing good’ I thought to myself.
Another step forward. Closer now to the window, the desk, the phone. Another liquid ripple across the blackness. I could hear my heart hammering against my ribs.
It sounded so loud to me that I wasn’t sure if it was actually audible.
One more step.
The phone started ringing once more. My breath was coming hard and fast now, and I felt dizzy.
A creak far behind me. I didn’t turn, but I did flinch, couldn’t help it.
Rippling at the window. Faster now, almost..closer.
The ringing sounded louder.
I wanted to scream, and run, and set fire to the entire office.
The fire escape.
It was as if a light went on in my head. The fire escape. I hadn’t checked it as I’d planned. It couldn’t be locked as it only opened from the push bar on the inside.
THE FIRE ESCAPE.
I turned around sharply as I heard breaking glass. Then a swishing noise, and on the back of my neck, breathing, hot and intense.. and wet.
My nerve broke.
Yelling I ran full tilt, down past the open copier door, (fuck that door), past the break room, down the hallway, up some stairs to the mezzanine where the fire door, the fire ESCAPE door, stood closed. I hit the bar at speed, pressing down on it with all of my weight and it shot open into the chilly night.
The metal stairs were gone though. I barely noted it as I flew past, still picking up speed.
I sailed through it, out and down, into the darkness.
I landed hard. Really hard. It seemed that I fell a lot further than 30 feet. Something broke inside me as I smashed into the dirt and then I passed out and knew no more.
I woke up here. In hospital. My leg is broken and I have crushed ribs. I tried telling them what happened but inspecting the building the police found no ‘absence’ of stairs or any evidence to support what I’d said, and I’ve been referred for ‘mental health assistance’. I’ve quit my job obviously, there’s no way I’m ever going back to that office.
I have to go now. The phone in my room is ringing.