I am oddly reminded of an office structure similar to Bob Cratchet and Ebineezer Scrooge when I think about this setting. I imagine the whole story of Scrooge might have had a different outcome if this were to happen.
A slight breeze blew through the office, dank and wet. It fit the mood of the place lost in the basement at the bottom of rotted stairs that led to the street. The architects hadn’t designed an interior entrance into the basement of the building, intending it to always be used as a rentable office. It wasn’t a large space, three rooms that covered about 150 square feet in total. Well the three main rooms and a bathroom. Nothing in place for living but it was a serviceable office at any rate.
Hanz had worked the front desk of the place for a while now. He answered the phones and set appointments for the Honorable Mr. Priest. Johan Priest of the Middleberry Priests. He had it on a business card. Hanz hated him.
The man went on and on, Hanz’s ear was near talked off with the stories the man told about his life in the old country and travel to this point in time. He said the same story so many times that Hanz had taken to repeating it with him, mouthing the words as Mr. Priest said them. The same tone the same level, a dry monotone that could peal paint if given a chance. Or maybe the paint would commit suicide to save itself from the same stories over and over again.
He kept going. His voiced droned over a register that would make dogs cry. Hanz learned to tune it out a while back. Even when he took dictation he ignored most of what was said and then wrote his own paper to replace anything he might have missed. The man never noticed. Hanz figured at some point he could probably set a blank sheet in front of the man and he would sign it anyway. Mr. Priest didn’t really pay too much attention to what Hanz did in the office. At one point he referred to him by his predecessors name. She was a blonde with large breasts.
That actually troubled him from time to time. What is it the blonde did to get fired? From what Hanz could see so far it didn’t really matter what he did. Mr. Priest ignored most of what he did anyway. On the surface, the perfect position. The boss didn’t notice and didn’t care what he did. Paid him well for it too. But as time wore on he noticed the little things. His boss didn’t really do anything either. The man had access to millions of dollars. He was an accountant for one of the crime families. But he didn’t really do anything.
Every now and then a car would park outside the entrance to their cave. A man in a nice suit would trundle down the stairs with a couple heavy bags, drop them beside Hanz’s desk, then hand him a starched white envelope. The back was sealed and he didn’t want to risk breaking into the letter. The bags were locked shut as well. He felt doomed to live in the dark when it came to figuring out what was in the packages. Mr. Priest would take the bags and the envelope a while after the courier left. Usually about an hour after the man left. They never saw each other through all of the exchanges.
This went on for some time. The drop off without words and then the retrieval. And every time it was always the same. Hanz would learn nothing from the exchange and he was too afraid to open either the bags or the envelope to see what was happening that way. But there was one day. He hadn’t expected this at all.
One of the bags moved. Right there, on the ground, the bag, it moved. And it wasn’t anything like it had settled after it had sat there in an awkward position. No, the bag moved. It squirmed even. The whole thing was uncharacteristic for the bags. They never moved. Hanz had never seen it anyway. Even the times that Mr. Priest would come to get them, they lay there, unmoving. So what was up with this one?
He poked the bag with he tip of a pencil. Nothing, not even a budge. He had to have been seeing things. Hanz made a mental note to get his eyes examined. He turned his focus back to his desk and shuffled some papers back and forth without reading them. And then it moved, again.
He looked at the bag from the side of his vision, afraid that a direct look might stop it. Sure enough, the bag squirmed. But when he looked at it directly it stopped. A trick of the mind? His eyes shot from too long in the dark office? Mr. Priest was out to lunch, what harm could a peek do?
He fought the urge and shuffled the papers in front of him again. They did little to hold his interest other than to pass some time, a minute or two, before his eyes wandered back to the bag again.
The squirming didn’t stop with his eyes directly on the bag. A taunt, a jibe without words. He couldn’t stand this direct assault to his sanity. He pointedly ignored the bag, though it pulled at and teased his mind. “Damn you,” he said. The bag ignored his plea. And then shook and rattled at him.
“Just a peek,” he said. “What could it hurt?” Hanz picked up the bag and placed it atop his desk. It ceased its struggle and returned to ignoring him. “What are you?”
The bag, a sturdy burlap had been secured with leather straps. Their design required two hands to work with ease, though if need be they could be undone with a single hand. Dark and dirty, the leather appeared old but well cared for, perchance from a time of pride in workmanship. Hanz inhaled deep into his lungs and held the breath as he grasped the end of the first strap. He ripped it open like a band aid, the wound hidden deep inside the dark burlap.
When the strap broke free, a flash of pale flesh burst free of the bag and landed on the desk in front of him. A disembodied hand upraised on its fingertips scanned the room with an index finger. Quite odd of course, it was a hand, no eyes or other sensory organs were visible. It spun and stopped with the finger pointing directly at Hanz. Without a sound it jumped into the air as if surprised to see him and then scurried from the desktop and into a dark recess under the bookshelves on the other side of the desk.
Hanz fell back in his chair and lost his thoughts to what he just saw. A hand, no body, it moved. Six words that replayed through his mind with the images now burned into his brain. “But… but… but…” he said. A snap and a thud broke through his thoughts and he jumped out of his chair.
The hand stumbled out from under the bookshelf, its ring finger caught in a mousetrap. Already the tip had turned blue from the assault of the spring loaded bar. The hand shook and jumped but the trap remained steadfast in its hold. Hanz rushed around the side of the desk and reached for the hand. The trap slowed it down and he had little trouble in its capture. He pinned it to the desk with one hand and then pried the mouse trap free with the other.
Though it was injured, it fought against his efforts to return it to the bag. He would shove it in and then attempt to strap it closed again and the hand would pry the top free and push itself out of the bag. Hanz would snagged it several times before it finally resigned itself to the bag again. After he secured the bag he set it down where he found it and proceeded to ignore its movements.
Mr. Priest entered the office after lunch in a torrent of wind and leaves at the front door to the office. He said nothing to Hanz when he collected the bag and stepped into his office. The door slammed closed and Hanz released the air from his lungs. He had made it a point to focus on the papers on his desk when Mr. Priest came in. Indifference would save him he was sure.
Without a word Mr. Priest picked up the bag and marched into his office. The papers on Hanz’s desk rustled when the door slammed shut behind him. Hanz collected them then shuffled and straightened them. After a brief scan of the room he returned his focus to the papers in his hands. It didn’t help. His mind had slipped, his focus gone. The disembodied hand returned to his mind unbidden.
Were these the kind of things that Mr. Priest had been receiving all this time? Hanz worked the books. He would have noticed something like this in the receipts. But nothing, never. How the hell did it work? He dropped the papers and scanned the room again.
The room hadn’t changed but it still looked different. The wood of the bookcases, not quite as solid, the carpet, not quite as fresh. His eyes had been opened, opened in a way he had never expected. If a disembodied hand could exist what did this mean for anything and everything else he suspected in the world.
This is when he heard the crash in Mr. Priest’s office. Not the crash of maybe a few books falling to the floor. This was bigger, much bigger. But it happened only once and then stopped. The silence around him, that filled the office, had a weight to it. It pressed down on his shoulders, held him tight to his chair.
The red light on his office phone blinked at him. Mr. Priest didn’t yell, didn’t leave his office during business hours except for his lunch. He preferred the office phone to give Hanz orders. Short, to the point, never took much time from his day when he could yell into a phone. Three blinks was the longest he could ignore the call. He only let it go to four, once, that was enough. Lost a day’s wages that day.
Hanz lifted the receiver and held it a couple inches from his ear, cut down on the piercing tone a bit if he had a buffer. “Mr. Priest?” he said into the phone. No response. “Hello? How can I be of service?” He pressed the phone to his ear.
Soft grunting worked through the phone line and stopped at Hanz’s ear. He pulled the receiver away and examined it before he pressed it to his ear again. The grunting stopped and heavy breathing replaced it. Hanz placed the phone back on the cradle and stepped over to the door to Mr. Priest’s office. He knocked twice and announced, “Sir?” Before he opened the door.
The first thing he saw in the room was the overturned desk and the bookshelves that had fallen toward the center of the room. Just beyond the desk he noticed a pair of legs extending out toward the near wall. One leg twitched back and forth. “Mr. Priest?” The leg stopped twitching but he was not answered. Hanz leaned over the desk.
Mr. Priest lay on the ground, flat on his back. His eyes had gown blank and his chest didn’t rise and fall. His phone rested loosely at his ear and his left hand lay across his throat. Red ichor covered his hand and neck. Mr. Priest’s other hand gripped the disembodied hand, held it in the air above his face. The disembodied hand held a fountain pen that dripped blood onto Mr. Priest’s face. Both the hand and Mr. Priest had stopped moving the purpose and life gone from both.
“Righto,” Hanz said. He pushed away from the desk and walked out of the room. He didn’t run, didn’t rush, but he didn’t look back. He collected his coat and hat and locked the door behind him when he stepped out into the stairwell.