Brett arrived late to work. “Why rush?” he thought as he parked in the furthest spot from the building. Looking down he saw that only four minutes remained of his podcast. He decided to stay in his car and enjoy four more minutes of his day as he took a slow sip of his coffee, the reason he was late.
He hated his job and felt strongly that most everyone at his company hated their jobs too. Brett breathed heavily from his nose at the thought of the robots loving their jobs. Half of the warehouse workers had been laid off in the past year as the robots took their place. He considered them the lucky ones.
Brett lit a cigarette and began his stroll across the parking lot, looking at the array of cars he passed. As he approached the building the crappy beaters turned into shiny new electric vehicles, and the worn out asphalt transformed into new concrete. He scoffed inwardly as the fresh yellow paint lines shone back at him. “Wouldn’t want your cars to park in the wrong spot” he said to his boss’s shiny new sports car.
Brett let a big sigh out as he approached the doors. Slowly he pushed the doors in and braced himself for a tongue lashing. Of all the people in his office Brett doubted anyone hated their job more than his boss; Julie. The only thing she hated more than her work was people, especially those she managed. Brett was often the target of her abuse, though he couldn’t blame her.
Approaching the elevators he saw his co-worker Cindy coming from the other direction. Brett groaned quietly, he quickly reached for his headphones and put them in his ears. With nothing playing in his ear but his own heartbeat he hoped it would be enough to stave her off. He reached the elevator before her and pressed the button. He riveted his eyes on the unilluminated arrow above him.
Cindy walked up next to him. He held his breath. She had been gone yesterday, with no announcement. Which is incredible, because if something was happening with Cindy-if ANYTHING was happening with Cindy-she’d be the first to tell you. He prepared for some ridiculous story as to why Cindy was gone. Maybe one of her cats looked sadder than usual? Perhaps SHE had gotten stuck in a tree and the cats saved her? He had hoped she had quit. There was no shortage of that. People getting fed up and just not coming back.
The elevator dinged and he turned towards the door. There was no more pretending he didn’t see her. Brett smiled the unenthusiastic smile of a person who doesn't want to be greeting you. He made no moves towards his headphones. Cindy looked at him blankly, and with no greeting she turned to face the now closing doors.
Brett was perplexed. Everyday for the past three years he had his ear molested by this woman. For her to not say something after being gone for a day.. Brett’s better nature kicked in. He removed his silent headphones and lied “Hey Cindy, we all missed you yesterday.” She turned until she was standing perfectly square with Brett. Her blank look transformed into a peculiar smile. “Why, thank you.” She stated. Her brown eyes stared into Bretts. He looked back at her. Unable to maintain eye contact, he looked at the elevator buttons. Four more floors.. He was getting uncomfortable. Normally they stood facing the doors and he hardly had to talk. He had no clue how to steer a conversation normally, and why was she facing him like that?
He muttered “How are the cats?” Surely the cats would get her to take over. “The cats?” Cindy questioned with no expression. Brett was bewildered, three years of having cat photos and videos shoved in his face and she seemed to have forgotten about them! “Yeah, you know, the cats.. Furry things you’re always talking about?” Brett said, holding back as much sarcasm as he could. “Oh yes. The cats. I have given the cats away.”
The elevator dinged and Cindy turned ninety degrees and stepped off the second the doors were wide enough for her small frame. Brett's jaw sat slightly open as he watched her walk off towards her cubicle. He had no idea what to make of the interaction, so he turned his attention toward bigger problems. Where was Julie, and where did she want to reprimand him?
He decided to save her the trip and walked towards her office, the only fully enclosed space on the floor. To his surprise he found her usually open door, closed. Her lights were off and the blinds were shut. “Must be my lucky day,” Brett said with false optimism. He turned towards his desk.
He rounded the corner where Cindy’s desk was. As he passed he saw the walls of her cubicle were empty. Two days ago every inch had been covered with photos of cats, or some kind of cat memorabilia. Maybe Julie had thought she quit too and had her cube cleaned out? Brett pondered this thought. If the office had thrown away anything of Cindy’s she’d be in HR lamenting her mistreatment. But instead she sat in her blank cube, happily chatting with a customer on the phone. Brett crept in for a closer look. There was nothing on her desk, not even a pen. Was her monitor off? He was trying to look around Cindy’s head when someone grabbed his shoulder.
“What are we doing!?” Brett jumped, and turned to see his friend Juan. “Oh, uh, I was, uh.. you scared me.” Explained Brett. “Are you creeping on Cindy? I always knew you had the hots for her,” joked Juan. Juan had been hired at the same time as Brett. Though they worked in different departments, fate had them in the same orientation group and their general disdain for their company had made them fast friends.
In a hushed voice Brett gave a quick account of his weird interaction this morning. “People are strange, who knows?” offered Juan. Brett shook his head at his friend and turned towards his desk “I got to at least pretend I’m working today, if you see Julie, tell her my late arrival has left me newly rejuvenated and ready to make our overlords more money.”
Juan laughed. “You didn’t hear? No sign of her today, there must be something going around. Lots of people have been missing work, though it never seems to be that long. Can’t wait for my turn, everyone seems to be more relaxed when they get back.” Brett laughed. Pushing the thought of Julie’s car out his mind, he talked Juan into starting the morning by eating whatever was left out in the break room.
In the break room they found no snacks. Three employees stood together around the water cooler. Brett noted how rigid they looked. Two of them faced directly towards the other with their feet shoulder width apart and their hands at their sides . The other held the same square stance facing the water cooler. It all seemed bizarrely organized. Juan greeted one of them, an older man with thick glasses. The man broke formation, he turned to face Juan. After a seemingly long pause the man said “Hello, Juan.” Then returned to facing the water cooler. Brett exchanged a look with Juan as they backed out of the break room. Looking over his shoulder as they walked out, Brett saw the three silently square up to the door as they exited.
“Everyone is being weird today” Remarked Brett as they parted ways. He spent most of his day deleting old emails and pretending to work.
The next morning Brett made sure to arrive on time. He had gotten lucky yesterday. If his luck continued Julie wouldn’t notice his late login the day before. He found a spot right where the asphalt turned to concrete. He grabbed his travel mug and did a fast walk to the doors. He drew his lips in and sighed out his nose at the sight of Julie’s car. Parked in the same spot at the front of the building. “Well, at least I’m not late” thought Brett.
He ascended the building, thankful Cindy had not chosen to arrive early. Leaving the elevator he walked towards Julie’s office. What's the point of arriving early if the boss doesn’t notice? The door was open, and the light was on. He leaned inside and saw Julie with her head down on her desk. “Uh..” he knocked twice on the open door next to him “Julie?”
“Julie? Are you okay?” He walked towards his unresponsive superior, coffee in one hand, the other outstretched towards her shoulder. “Julie?” He asked again as he touched her shoulder. Brett heard a small whirring noise and suddenly she lurched upwards into her, sitting perfectly upright she swiveled her office chair to face Brett. He fell back in surprise, spilling his coffee over himself and Julie’s desk. His face was flush, he sputtered a pathetic apology, and searched for something to clean up with. Julie watched him intently.
“I am so sorry” Brett apologized again. His face gathered more blood cells as he noticed that despite being at her desk Julie was facing him squarely. Her normally angry face was calm. “This must be cleaned.” Julie stated calmly. “Of course, I’m on it boss.”
Brett jogged to the breakroom and found there weren't any cleaning supplies. “I don’t even do my job and now I’m supposed to clean the place?” he grunted at the empty paper towel roll. He had no clue where cleaning supplies were. He had no ambition to move up in the company so he had only ever been on the floor where he worked. He studied the buttons of the elevator, but they gave away nothing. He hit the B.
The elevator ride to the basement took a few minutes. Julie had been surprisingly calm, usually she would still be scolding him. Brett was thankful for her reaction, but couldn’t get the whirring noise out his head. Was there actually a noise, or had he imagined it? Brett pulled out his phone to check the time. 7:04, there was no way he wouldn’t run into someone heading in. The elevator arrived at the first floor and the doors opened. Revealing Cindy, standing oddly close to the doors. She entered as soon as the doors were wide enough.
“Oh, uh, hi Cindy.” Brett stammered and then explained the situation. She stood facing him and announced “I will go to the basement with you.” Brett gave an awkward thanks and they rode the elevator downwards.
The doors opened. Brett stepped out of the elevator, and Cindy took two steps forward. Standing in the doors she announced “I will hold the doors.” Brett didn’t know what to say, so he started down the poorly lit hallway, pulling on door handles as he went. To his frustration none of them opened. He was nearing the end of the hallway when finally one opened. “Please be paper towels” he pleaded to no one.
On the other side of the door it was dark. In the back of the room he saw four small red lights that appeared to indicate something was charging. He reached for a light switch but couldn’t find one. Groping at the wall, he made his way across the room on the opposite of the red lights. As he reached the corner, he noticed one of the lights switch to green. From across the room, he could barely make it out, but he knew he had heard it again. The small whirring noise.. then a small creaking sound.. something was moving on the other side of the room!
Panicking, the search for the light switch was abandoned. Brett whipped his phone out. Just before he turned on the flashlight the lights turned on. Brett looked in horror as the left eye of three of his coworkers switched from red to green. In the middle standing squarely a few feet in front of him, staring intently at him, was him! There was a small whirring noise and the green light faded from their eyes. Brett’s coworkers rose behind his electronic doppelganger. He heard the door slam behind him. He turned and saw the blank face of Cindy. No one heard Brett’s cries as the robots descended upon him…
“Hey man! Where were you yesterday? I thought you quit!” Juan was happy that his friend had returned. He knew Brett hated his job and truly expected him to up and leave any day. Brett turned away from the square he stood in with three of their other coworkers. Juan thought it was odd Brett was interacting with other coworkers on his own accord, but maybe he had relaxed on his day off.
“Hello Juan, we are out of paper towels,” he gestured one arm towards the paper towel roll without breaking his gaze from Juan, “Would you accompany me to the basement?”