Friday, 16 March 2012

Free Short Stories

My short story Written in the Stars is now free on Amazon!

Since I'm feeling generous today, here's another freebie, which is based on my experiences as an office temp. Bizarrely I did not even realize that the main character in both stories is called Melanie.  (Not being one to toot my own horn I won't bother to tell you that this story was Highly Commended in the 2011 Inaugural Indie Writer's Festival in Australia!).

Permanently Yours

“Hi, I’m Melanie. The temp agency sent me to start the data entry job today.”

“Oh yes, we’ve been expecting you. I’m Estelle,” said the friendly young woman behind the reception desk. “Come this way and I’ll show you to your cubicle.”

The day passed quickly. The job was straightforward, the people seemed nice and there was a cake at morning tea for Tania’s birthday. Melanie had no idea who Tania was but she dutifully signed the card and scoffed down icing sugar and cream along with everyone else. The next few days passed by in a haze and by Thursday she had settled into a comfortable routine. It was not the most interesting job in the world but it would do for now, and maybe a little further down the track she might be given some additional responsibilities. Who knew, maybe this would turn out to the “the one”, the elusive job she had been searching for her whole adult life. When she found “the one” she could finally stop looking for something better and feel as though her life had some purpose.

            It was on Friday that she got her first inkling things might not be quite as straightforward as they seemed. She had emerged from the elevator in a fabulous mood because the sun was shining and the weekend was only a day away. As soon as she stepped into the office she knew immediately that something was up. No one else was wearing jeans. Not one single person. Having worked in dozens of offices across the city Melanie had assumed that casual Friday was an established institution, but apparently not here. No one said anything directly to her about her attire but Melanie noticed a few disapproving looks cast in her direction. She decided to ask her supervisor what the policy was on casual Friday.

            “Well it’s not officially banned, but it’s not officially condoned either.” Big help that was, she thought to herself as she made her way back to her desk. Since jeans were not “officially banned” on Fridays she decided to continue wearing them until otherwise instructed. Later she realized this decision might have saved her life.

            Over the next few weeks she began to notice other subtle signs that this was not a normal workplace. For starters everyone was allotted the standard thirty-minute lunch break. There was nothing unusual in this, most offices officially allowed thirty minutes for lunch. The difference here was that people actually took thirty minutes. Even worse, they actively monitored each other to make sure that no one went over time. Melanie had assumed that every sane person on the planet recognized that thirty minutes was not long enough for lunch. No one could realistically walk to the nearest sandwich bar, line up, wait for their order, eat it and walk back to the office all within thirty minutes. Every other office she had worked in operated under LET (Lunch Equivalency Time) whereby thirty minutes of real time equated to at least forty-five minutes of lunch time.

No one ever said anything directly to her about her extended lunch breaks but after her timesheet mysteriously disappeared on a couple of occasions she got the hint and began bringing leftovers from home like everyone else. She heated them up in the microwave, being very careful to cover her food so as not to assault the delicate nostrils of her fellow workers. Estelle had sent her an email when she started outlining the lunchroom rules in detail and Melanie did her best to comply with kitchen etiquette.

She had been there for just over a month when the CEO, who was based overseas, made an unexpected visit to the branch. It was a Friday morning and to Melanie’s joy he told everyone they could pack up after lunch and go home early. Melanie had returned from the lunchroom and was about to turn off her computer when she noticed that nobody else was making a move to leave.

“What’s going on?” she said to the other temp who had started a couple of weeks before her.

            Brent cast her a frightened look. “Estelle said we can’t leave.”

            “What? But the CEO told us we could.” She wasn’t sure exactly what Estelle’s role in the company was as she seemed to be involved in everything, but surely she couldn’t override the CEO? “You’re not seriously going to stay?” she said in disbelief.

            “I have to,” whispered Brent. “There’s a permanent position coming up and they’ve asked me if I’m interested. I don’t want to rock the boat.” Melanie wondered why they hadn’t asked her if she was interested in the permanent role as she walked out the door, trying to ignore the dirty look Estelle shot in her direction. She didn’t like her chances of advancing any further in the company now, but she didn’t think leaving early was a big deal either. She was only following the CEO’s instructions after all, but when she arrived on Monday morning it was clear she had made an enemy

            Estelle was waiting for her at her desk and as Melanie approached she glanced meaningfully at her watch to draw attention to the fact that Melanie was six minutes late.

            “Hi Melanie,” she said in her super nice way. “The rest of us will be doing team-building activities for most of the day so you’ll be on your own in here. It’s only for permanent staff.” Melanie noticed how she stressed the word “permanent.”

            “That’s okay,” she said, returning Estelle’s fake smile. Estelle clearly expected her to be upset she was excluded but she quite relished the prospect of having the office to herself. At precisely ten o’clock everyone filed past her desk and out the door in an orderly line, including Brent.

            “Hey, where are you going? You’re not permanent yet.” Brent didn’t answer but stared straight ahead with a glassy-eyed expression. The morning passed by pleasantly enough. Melanie finished her work, and had a cup of coffee as she read the paper online. After checking her inbox she realized no more work had been left for her. This was becoming a regular occurrence and she often sat at her desk idly while Brent was given a wide variety of tasks. She’d thought about raising it with her supervisor but he had made it abundantly clear he had a care factor of zero. To fill the time she read a couple of chapters of Twilight: Breaking Dawn then decided to go for a walk past the meeting room and maybe take a little peek to find out exactly what “team building activities” entailed.

 Meeting Room three was down a long dark corridor and as she walked towards it her footsteps echoed loudly through the building. She had expected to hear a lot of noise and laughter coming from behind the door, but it was eerily silent.

“I must have the wrong room,” she said to herself, and was about to turn away when the silence was broken by what sounded like a muffled scream. Intrigued she put her hand on the doorknob and then pulled it back in surprise. The handle was freezing cold. Something told her to turn around and go back to the office immediately, but Melanie couldn’t help herself. Slowly she turned the handle and eased the door open just a little so she could peer through the crack. The light was very dim in the room and at first she thought it was empty. It took her eyes a moment to adjust and then she stifled a scream as she took in the scene at the far end.

Everyone from the office was there and they were arranged in two circles. The outer circle consisted of her co-workers, while the inner circle was made up of management. Right in the middle of it all stood Estelle and lying on a table in front of her was Brent. He seemed to be unconscious. His head was flung back and his throat was bared. Estelle was lowering her head towards his throat when the door slipped from Melanie’s hand and made a loud creaking sound. Estelle looked up sharply. For one split second Melanie saw the exposed fangs and blood red eyes, then they were gone.

“Melanie, what are you doing here?” We’re just going through a first aid refresher. Brent volunteered to be our victim.” Everyone laughed in unison. “Now that you’re here you might as well join us.”

“No thanks,” said Melanie, stumbling as she backed out the door and bolted along the corridor. She didn’t wait around till the end of the day to put in her notice, but before she left she took a long lunch break, heating up her leftover dinner in the microwave. She didn’t cover it over but let the fumes pervade the entire office. As she walked out the door for the last time she gave thanks that she’d gone extra heavy on the garlic the night before.


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