So, last week my work laptop quit working. While I was waiting for a loaner laptop, I commandeered a hotel cubicle so I could get at least a couple things done. Boss ‘O Me, who sits across the aisle from said hotel cube, saw me and said, “I don’t mean to be particular, but do you want some Clorox wipes for the desk?” Yes. Yes, I did. It was filthy and gross, and the crud in the keyboard was likely going to develop a heartbeat any second. But there wasn’t another empty cube open, so I was sort of stuck with it.
The thing with the hotel cube, too, is that the computer was really slow. Like, not a whole lot faster than mine that died. So I was supernaturally bored, and had a lot of time to daydream. It isn’t always safe for me to daydream. Strange things happen. Like this. The New Person at Work
The walk into work that day was the same as most other days. Living in a desert city, by the time I got inside from the parking garage, I was hot and sweaty and gross. Yay. Stopping at the restroom to hose down was par for the course. No one even batted an eye anymore to come in and see half naked people bathing in the tiny hand-washing sinks.
Grunge-free once more from my second morning ablutions, I thoughtlessly tossed my paper towel in the general direction of the garbage bin, not checking to see if it went in or not, and headed out. Rounding the corner towards my midget-sized cubicle, I stopped short. Someone was sitting on the floor of my cube.
“Hello?” I said, tentatively approaching. While it wasn’t uncommon to see random tech people wandering about, invading our cube space, it didn’t usually happen at 6:00 in the morning. Nor did even the grungiest of the tech people appear as frighteningly unbathed as the creature which was currently occupying my desk. “Can I help you with something?”
“I just got here,” said the creature. It was completely androgynous, being neither short nor tall, neither voluptuous nor broad shouldered. The voice was exactly pitched to be a light tenor if it was male and low alto if it was female. It was the epitome of a non-entity, a cipher. I was at a loss. I had never actually encountered a being whose soul had literally evaporated by working in a cubicle environment, but here it was. In the filthy flesh.
“Well, I just got here, too. Do you work here?” I tried again. I certainly hoped it worked here. Otherwise, the building had apparently become a residence for the local homeless population. I could understand the confusion. Half the people in the bathrooms are stripped down to bathe in the sinks, and we all seem not to have a home outside of the building.
“I just got here,” it repeated. It looked about, taking a peek at the underside of my desk. Movement set off a puff of dust, and a couple chunks of what I could only hope was simple mud fell to the floor. I backed away a step.
“You said that.” I tried not to breathe as the creature’s aroma made itself known. Dank and musty, it was, with a sharp top note of cat piss, and mellowed by a base of backed up sewer and petting zoo. Actually, it smells exactly like the hall outside the elevators, I thought to myself. They really ought to change the air filters in here.
“I tried to get here a few times before, but then I always went back again.” Large, mournful eyes turned toward me, their color an indeterminate shade of dust-bunny grey and mold green.
“I don’t understand. Went back where?” My eyes roamed across the floor. The mud that the thing had deposited a moment ago had been reabsorbed into the grungy carpet. God only knows the last time it had been vacuumed, but even so, the rapidity of dirt dispersal in the building was truly astonishing.
This ripped it. I was definitely changing to a later shift, if for no other reason than so that there would be other people in the office to tell me if I was hallucinating a creature who appeared to be created out of pure filth. Maybe this is the thing everyone keeps seeing out of the corner of their eyes when they have been at work too long.
“I am,” it said. I looked sharply at the creature, who shuffled its feet at me.
“What the fuck?”
“I am the thing you see out of the corner of your eye when you’ve been at work too long,” it said. I almost yelped.
Holy shit, a telepathic pile of dirt!
“But every time, the janitors chase me off, and I have to go back,” it continued. It shuffled toward me again. “There’s a lot to eat underneath desks and in the keyboards. I do all right for the most part.”
“You don’t work here. You look like you’re homeless. Of course they run you off, you’re a freak! I mean, goddamn, I can’t even.” Fear made me run off at the mouth. One of these days, it was going to get me in trouble. I scrambled backward, cursing when my messenger bag got hung up on the arm of my ergonomically designed torture device of a chair.
“No, I don’t work here. But I’m not homeless!” it said with surprising indignation for something as filthy as it was. “I can’t help it that I’m dirty. I can’t make them clean around here more often than they do, even if I wanted to, which I don’t. I’m from right here. I’ve always been here. No one ever talks to me, and if I try, the janitors come and run me off. Sometimes, though, I manage it and I get to talk to someone. I’m usually ok to be run off for a while after that.”
My heart started a slow thump of dread as it shuffled closer. I suddenly knew what happened to Jenny, who everyone said had been fired but really she’d just disappeared. My last thought was Oh shit, I really don’t want to die at work…