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By David Barton

Jim Potter arrived at the grey stone building where his new position awaited him. The interview for the job had been conducted at the local jobcentre, so he’d never actually visited the place before. In fact, he didn’t even remember noticing it at all when on the many, numerous occasions he’d travelled through town.

And he would have remembered it.

As it towered above him, the cold, characterless, modern building looked somehow menacing.

There it loomed, blocking out the sun and casting a gloomy shadow over him and the surrounding area.

Once inside, he approached the reception desk and was met with the fixed smile of the female clerk stood behind it. Like the wind has once changed and the expression had froze on her face forever.

‘Can I help you?’ she asked

He leaned over the desk towards her. ‘Yes, I’m the new boy,’ he announced.

‘I’m sorry?’ The smile remained fixed, but he could tell that she didn’t clock he was trying to make a light-hearted comment. Not bad, he thought, as he gazed at her. Nice eyes, blonde, nice tits.

‘I’m new here, I start today.’ he explained. God, this one was either dim or didn’t have a sense of humour at all. With the vacant expression she wore, he guessed the former. Or maybe she was an android? This was supposed to be a modern, advanced, efficient company after all. No need for humans at all in some of the more menial positions.

But no, this was a bona fide superficial receptionist, good for presenting the face of the company but with no real depth of character. Pity, because from her outward appearance he could have well seen himself maybe asking her out for a drink sometime. But he wouldn’t, he now realised, have had much chance of engaging her in any kind of stimulating conversation had he done so.

‘Oh, yes.’ She looked at a piece of paper in front of her and then the smile met with him again. ‘We’ve been expecting you.’

The android receptionist picked up the phone on her desk and Jim assumed she was ringing up to inform his new boss that he had arrived. ‘Mr Potter is here, shall I send him up?’ she said into it.

She nodded in agreement at something that was said at the other end, then placed the phone back on the receiver, and her smile came at him again. ‘You can go up, you’ll be working in Sector Z, on the third floor.’

‘Thank you,’ he said to her.

‘Be happy in your work,’ she called after him as he made his way towards the lift.

She was still smiling in his direction when he’d entered it and had turned to face her, before he reached forward to press the request button for the third floor.

When the doors swished shut and he couldn’t see her anymore, he wondered whether she still kept the smile on her face when no one was around? Or whether she went back to doing her nails or reading a fashion magazine until the next person came along, then adopted it again.

When the doors opened for the third floor and Jim strolled out, he was instantly greeted by the isght of he presumed his new work colleagues. One woman looked up to him and smiled. Another attractive blonde. Another woman, a redhead, and a man also acknowledged his arrival. But the rest of the workers in the office he’d just entered, carried on with their work as if he wasn’t there, without so much as a casual, inquisitive glance towards him. He approached the nearest man. ‘Excuse me?’ The man carried on working as if deaf to him. ‘I’m new here today, can you tell me where to find Roger Hamilton?’

He was still ignored.

The blonde who’d first smiled at him, wandered over. ‘Can I help you?’ she asked.

‘This is my first day, I’m looking for … Roger Hamilton?’

‘Ah, yes,’ she said,’ would you like to follow me?’

He followed her and couldn’t resist gazing at her arse, shifting from side to side as she walked ahead of him. Tasty, he thought to himself.

‘I’m Samantha, Sam most people call me,’ she said, as she stopped to let him catch up with her.

‘Jim.’ he said.

They reached a door that said MANAGER on it, and Sam knocked, then she turned to him and smiled politely again.

‘Yes?’ asked the man, who came to the door.

‘Jim Potter,’ Jim announced holding out his hand.

The man ignored him and looked to Sam. ‘Well, what are you waiting for, back to work, I don’t pay you to idle in my doorway, do I?’

‘Sorry, Mr Hamilton,’ she said.

She went back to her desk, trying hard to hide the annoyance at the way she’d been spoken to.

Hamilton turned to Jim and produced a broad smile, presenting him with two rows of perfect white teeth. ‘Jim Potter? Nice to meet you again.’

Now he did shake his hand.

Hamilton had a round, pale face, like the life had been drained from it, and piercing eyes, almost hypnotic, and short black hair, slicked back severely over his head.

Jim was shown to his desk, Sam raised her head again as he crossed the room with his new boss, and once more none of the other employees, apart from the redhead and the man who’d acknowledged his presence earlier, looked up from their work.

Jim couldn’t resist looking over to Sam as he got on with his work, pausing momentarily. She was something, very attractive, could have been a model he thought instead of stuck in this lousy job.

‘Yes, Mr Potter, she is indeed a bit of eye candy, but can we have some work out of you please?’

Jim didn’t know where the voice had come from. It seemed a bit like Hamilton’s, but he had returned to his office. He looked around but there was no one within close proximity who could have spoken. Then he got the feeling that someone had walked away from his desk, even though there was no one to be seen.

Morning break came, and everyone rose and made their way over to the coffee machine at the far side of the room. Sam made her way over to him. ‘How you finding it so far?’ she asked, sliding herself onto the edge of his desk.

He looked over to the coffee machine at the expressionless souls congregated around it, patiently waiting their turn.

‘What’s the deal with everyone around here?’ he asked her.

Sam glanced over to them. ‘I don’t know, I’ve not been here long,’ she told him. She looked back to Jim. ‘Neither has Mel and Pete.’ She nodded over to the redhead and the man as she said this. They had also made their way over to the coffee machine now.

‘I don’t think I want to be here long, if I’m going to end up like these lot,’ Jim told her.

‘They are a bit odd, aren’t they?’

‘Odd? They’re like zombies!’

She gave a laugh. ‘Have you seen Dawn of the Dead?’ she asked him widening her eyes.

‘The remake or the original?’ he wanted to know.

‘The remake,’ she said.

‘No, I haven’t, sorry.’

‘I saw if at the cinema when it first came out, with my boyfriend.’

‘You have a boyfriend?’

Had a boyfriend,’ she informed him.

He smiled at this. ‘So, are you seeing anyone at the moment?’

‘No.’ Now it was her turn to present him with a smile.

‘Are there any zombie movies playing at the moment you’d like to go and see?’

‘Is that an offer of a date?’

‘I think it might be.’

‘And you’ve not got a wife at home or anything?’

‘No, I haven’t a wife, or an anything.’

‘Miss Forester, what are you doing sat on the desk?’ It was Hamilton, approaching them

Sam eased herself off Jim’s desk. ‘Just welcoming the new lamb into the fold,’ she told her boss.

‘Didn’t you do enough of welcoming the little lamb this morning?’ asked Hamilton, and added: ‘I don’t pay you to sit around on the desks eyeing up the new staff.’

‘I’m on my break.’

‘Well kindly use your break in the way it was intended.’ He waved a hand over to the coffee machine.

‘I’m not thirsty,’ she said to Hamilton.

‘You say that now, but in a few minutes you’ll be wandering over to the water dispenser and wasting valuable working time. If it’s not that it’s the lavatory.’

‘I don’t need the bathroom either.’

‘Well in that case, would you mind retuning to your workstation?’

As lunchtime arrived, it was pretty much the same story. Everyone made their way to the canteen in a similar manner. Jim sat with Sam, Mel and Pete, the only other human employees as far as he was concerned.

‘Things are certainly strange around here,’ he said to his new colleagues, ‘I’ve never worked anywhere quite like it.’

They peered around at the other diners, staring straight ahead, eating. No one was talking to anyone.

‘It’s like a morgue in here.’

Jim had had enough of the silence of the other co-workers. ‘Did anyone see the match last night?’ he called over to some of the men sat at a nearby table. He was met with blank stares; most of them didn’t even look in his direction. ‘Great goal by Owen, eh?’

More blank stares.

‘Football not your thing, eh?’ He looked back to the others and made a face. ‘How long have you been here?’ he asked Pete.

‘Four weeks,’ he said.

‘Me too,’ said Mel, and added: ‘we started on the same day.’

‘I’ve been here a fortnight,’ Sam told him.

After Pete and Mel had eaten their lunch and had left the canteen, Jim bent towards Sam. ’Well, how about tonight?’

‘How about tonight for what?’

‘Do you fancy the flicks?’

‘All right then, you’ve twisted my arm,’ she said.

Jim smiled triumphantly, and then watched as all the other employees rose, almost in unison, and filed their way out of the canteen.

‘I suppose we better get back to work?’ He looked at his watch it was almost half past one.

‘Yeah, otherwise Hamilton will have our hides,’ Sam said.

‘I can well believe that.’

‘He’s a bastard.’

‘I second that.’

At that moment Jim noticed Hamilton stood at the door, when he saw Jim looking, he glanced at his watch. ‘Almost half past, people,’ he said to them. ‘Every minute lost is work going undone.’

That night the couple went to watch a horror film, though Jim didn’t take in too much of it. He was too busy giving Sam sideways glances all night, and was met with Sam’s cute smile. She had the kind of face that looked to be always smiling, full of fun and mischief. I bet she’s a great lay, he was thinking. Her eyes were her best feature, wide and excited, permanently.

They went back to hers and Jim stayed the night. They fucked. It was great; Sam was as good in bed as she was company, and later they lay there side by side, staring up at the ceiling.

‘What do you think’s with everyone at work?’ Jim asked her after he’d got his breath back from their exhaustive lovemaking.

‘I dunno,’ Sam said, between breaths, ‘perhaps there’s something in the air-conditioning that blows out a gas, which controls everyone. You know, like in a science fiction film?

Jim looked towards Sam.

‘I am joking,’ she said.

‘You mean like controlled zombies,’ he said, ‘and it’s only a matter of time before we become like them?’

‘You’re beginning to frighten me now,’ she said.

‘There’s certainly something wrong,’ Jim said to her.

‘Hamilton is such a slave driver though,’ Sam said, ’I’m sure it’s just that, I think they’re just keeping their heads down, that’s all.’

‘I hope you’re right,’ Jim said, ‘being a zombie wouldn’t suit me.’

‘Nor me,’ Sam laughed, ‘eating all those brains, ugh!’

‘Although, Hamilton does have a look of Bela Lugosi,’ noted Jim, ‘ever seen White Zombie?’

Sam gave him a look, and then laughed to herself. ‘Now that I come to think of it, he does,’ she said.

Next day at work, as everyone was busy at their desks, there was a cry from the other side of the room, from Pete‘s desk. Jim looked over. Pete was clutching at his tie, which looked to be too tight around his neck; he was tugging at it frantically as if trying to loosen it.

Sam rushed over, Jim followed, and the pair were soon joined by Mel.

‘It’s tightening,’ Pete said.

Apart from himself, Sam and Mel, none of his other fellow workers appeared too concerned about Pete and merely carried on working.

Sam tried to help him undo his tie, she couldn’t understand how it had got so tight, and it did appear to be tightening even more, as Pete had said it had.

Then Pete dropped to the floor, Sam continued to fight to pull the tie slack, but to no avail. Pete gave one last gasp and then passed out.

Hamilton appeared behind the three of them, who were still the only ones showing any concern for Pete.

‘What on earth is going on?’ he asked.

‘Can’t you see,’ said Sam, ‘Pete‘s passed out.’

‘Does it really need the three of you to help him?’ Hamilton enquired. Then he picked up the nearest phone and punched some numbers, then waited with the headset to his ear. ‘Hello, Frank?’ he said, after a couple of seconds, ‘could you get up here, one of them’s passed out.’

He slammed the phone down, obviously irritated that the incident was interfering with his workforce’s routine.

‘See, sorted,’ he said to them. ‘Now could you all go back to your workstations?’ He turned to Sam. ‘Everything’s taken care off, I’ve asked Frank to come up and take him to the first aid room.’

‘Do you want me to go with him?’ Sam asked.

‘And have two employees out of action? We’re dealing with it Samantha, you just get back to work, and let’s see those sales figures rise through the roof, or I might consider docking some of your money.’

‘Do you think he’ll be all right? I mean …’ She looked at Pete, all the colour had drained from his face, and as Jim looked too he feared the worse.

‘It’s all in hand, all being taken care of,’ said Hamilton.

Later that afternoon, Jim was sat at his desk when he suddenly felt as if someone was stood behind him, watching over him. He hadn’t noticed Hamilton come out of his office, but then he’d been busy working. Then he noticed a shadow cast over his desk and realised that it probably was Hamilton stood behind him, checking up on him. He turned round, but there was no one there. Jim looked back to the shadow but that had disappeared too now.

He shook his head to himself, and carried on with his work.

‘Strangest thing earlier,’ he told Sam later, ‘I had the feeling of someone being stood behind me, like that bastard Hamilton was checking up on me. Then when I turned round, there was no one there.’

‘You’ve felt it too?’ she said. ‘Ever since the first day I started here, I’ve felt like someone was around, watching me.’

Pete never returned from the first aid room the previous day, and when either Jim or Sam, or Mel had asked Hamilton about him, they had been met with a response of, ‘Everything’s being taken care of,’ and nothing more.

Then Mel suffered a similar fate.

She was sat at her desk, when suddenly she started sweating and loosening her clothing. It wasn’t a particular hot day, and anyway the office was fairly well ventilated, but nevertheless she looked like she was suffering from the effects of a sweltering heat.

‘You all right, love?’ Sam called over to her.

‘It’s so damned hot,’ she answered.

‘Maybe you’re coming down with something?’

Then Mel did an odd thing, she tore her blouse off, not merely unbuttoning it, but ripping it from her.

Then she took her skirt off, and in doing so lost her balance and toppled to the floor. And there the poor woman was, writhing on the floor, shouting: ‘The heat, the heat!’ You’d expect her co-workers to have noticed, thought Jim, but as he looked around they were all still busy working, completely ignorant to her extraordinary behaviour.

Sam rushed over again, as she had done with Pete.

Then Mel started clutching at her neck and after emitting a gasp passed out.

Sam looked at Jim, whose jaw was on the floor.

Hamilton appeared. ‘Well it can’t be that I’m working you lot too hard,’ he said upon observing that another employee was now lying unconscious on the office floor, this time wearing nothing but their underwear.

Thursday, Jim and Sam worked in silence, Jim thought he felt the presence behind him again, but this time didn’t observe any shadow. He also thought he saw someone approach Hamilton’s office from the corner of his eye, and when he looked up could have sworn he saw a large figure walk through Hamilton’s solid office door.

Then Friday came along, and with it, another shock. Mel and Pete, normally the bubbliest and liveliest of people, mysteriously arrived back at work and assumed their positions at their workstations, and seemed to have now become identical in behaviour to the others.

Jim and Sam exchanged puzzled glances.

At morning break, Jim approached Pete, who was waiting in the queue for the coffee machine with the others. ‘See that film last night? Channel Four?’ he asked him.

Pete half turned towards him, but then resumed his vacant expression, looking ahead.

‘Come on, mate, is this some kind of wind up?’ Jim gave a nervous laugh. ‘Funny, that business the other day, what happened?’

‘Something the matter, Jim?’ It was Hamilton.

He joined the back of the queue, passing Mel on the way, who had the same fixed expression on her face too now. What the hell had happened to them?

Jim wandered over to Sam’s desk. ‘Have you seen what’s happened?’ He hadn’t been able to spy the chance to talk to her before, being always under the ever-watchful eye of Hamilton.

‘I noticed it as soon as they both walked in,’ she said. She couldn’t say too much as their boss was lurking in his doorway, looking over.

That night the couple went out again, and ended up back at Sam’s flat once more. Sex was just as good as the last time.

‘I’m glad it’s Friday,‘ said Jim afterwards as they lay in bed, ‘no work tomorrow.’

‘I have to go in.’

‘On a Saturday?’

‘I forgot to tell you, I work Saturday mornings.’

I’ll lie in, if you don’t mind.’

‘Okay,‘ she said, ‘if you’re not awake in the morning, I’ll try not to wake you, I mean you need your beauty sleep, lets face it.’

Jim hit her with a pillow. She retaliated with her own pillow, and a pillow fight ensued between them, until they eventually collapsed out of breath on the bed.

Next morning, Jim woke and Sam had gone, but she’d left a note. It read: SEE YOU MONDAY, ANGEL, I hope we’re going to do it again soon!

Jim didn’t know whether she meant the night out or the sex. He wouldn’t be seeing her Saturday night, he went out with his mates Saturday, and Sunday he visited his parents. So the next time he would see her would be the Monday morning in work. He wondered if he could wait that long. She really was something special, and not just between the sheets.

Monday morning came. Jim made his way up in the lift as usual after passing the permanently smiling android at reception. He shared the lift with one of his colleagues.

‘Nice weather we’re having recently?’ he said to him.

His co-worker ignored him, as usual, and just kept staring ahead.

‘Not a bad weekend too, eh? What did you get up to?’

Still nothing.

‘I screwed your wife,’ he said to him. Jim had seen the photo on the man’s desk of his wife, and their two children a boy and a girl and had wondered what life was like at home with a zombie for a husband and father. Or did these people behave normally once they got home? The wife was quite tasty too, not bad at all.

‘Yeah I really gave her a good seeing to, and at then end of it she was begging for more, couldn’t get enough of me!’

The lift doors parted and the man stepped out; Jim followed laughing to himself.

His laughter soon diminished when he saw Sam. She walked past him on her way to her desk, he called out to her, but she just ignored him. Something was wrong; she looked miles away. He didn’t want to admit it, not then, that she’d become like the others, but it was in the back of his mind.

He followed her over to her desk, where as immediately as she sat down, she was busy working. ‘Sam?’ he said. She merely stared ahead. ‘Great night Friday, wasn’t it?’

Still no response. No, not Sam as well, please god no, he thought to himself.

‘Jim?’ He looked up; it was Hamilton. As soon as Jim looked at him, Hamilton pointed to his watch. ‘There is work to be done, no time for idle chat.’

He wanted to say something, punch Hamilton, but he daren’t. Whatever they’d done to Sam and the others, they could do to him. So he’d wait until morning break, then he’d make his exit, away from there. Try to find someone to tell. But, who? And who’d believe him anyway? A company where all the employees are manipulated by some kind of mind control? It was like something – as Sam had commented – out of a science fiction film.

Morning break arrived, and Jim watched helplessly as Sam rose and made her way over to the coffee machine with the others. Mel and Pete, the other newest recruits, were also there, patiently waiting in line as usual. What did they do to these people? What was their secret?

No time to stand there mulling this over. Now was his chance. He made his way over to the lift, checking first that Hamilton was in his office, and nowhere about to see him. He pressed the request button for the ground floor, but nothing happened. It didn’t illuminate as it usually did. He pressed it again, more forcefully this time, but it was still the same story. At that moment Hamilton emerged from his office. Jim pretended to be making his way over to join the queue for the coffee machine, but then made a diversion to the toilets instead. There was an emergency exit next to the Gents’ door, and that was out of sight of Hamilton.

He pulled at the door, but it was locked. Not very good Health and Safety, he thought to himself, the emergency door locked. He could see the stairs leading down, just yards away at the other side of the door, but it was no use, it was locked.

‘What are you doing?’

He spun round; it was Sam.

‘Nothing,’ he said, ‘Sam …’

‘Why are you hanging around near the emergency exit?’

‘Just … Sam, listen to me …’

‘If you don’t come away from there I will report you to Mr Hamilton.’

‘Sam? It’s me, Jim, we’ve got to get out of here, you don’t know it but you’re being controlled in some kind of way …’

‘If you don’t come away from the emergency exit immediately, I shall have no option but to report you to Mr Hamilton.’

‘They got you good and proper didn’t they Sam? They really did. Well and truly brainwashed. How do they do it? Put you in a room with a lot of flashing lights and images? Like in the films? What?’

She smiled and reached out her hand. ‘Why don’t you just give in, Jim, let them take you? You don’t have to go the same way as Pete and Mel, I didn’t. It was painless, and afterwards you feel so good about yourself. You feel so good about yourself because your whole life will have a true purpose, you live your life for the good of the company.’

Take me?’

‘Yes, and if you let them, it’s painless, trust me, you do trust me don’t you, angel?’

‘I did before they got you under their control.’

‘Take my hand, I’ll take you to the room where they do it, we can be together then.’

‘And if I refuse?’

‘They’ll get you eventually, better if you give in now.’

Jim looked around and saw a fire extinguisher; he made his way over to it, heaved it up, and threw it through the glass of the emergency exit door, shattering it on impact.

Immediately an alarm sounded. Jim made his way through the door, and hurriedly began his descent down the stairs.

Then the sound of Hamilton’s voice sounded out over the intercom. ‘You can’t escape, Jim, might as well join the others. Every worker gets a bonus when they go through the transition.’

‘I have no intention of ending up a fucking zombie!’

‘Just imagine, you’ll never have to think about anything again. We’ll do your thinking for you. It doesn’t do for employees to think for themselves. It’s not efficient for their mind, such a distraction. This way your mind is on your job the whole time. Your work is the reason you live.’

‘Bollocks to that!’

‘You’re co-workers are much the same as they were before.’

‘Except that they have no emotions!’

‘Emotions only get in the way of business. Success is an empty mind, empty of everything except the work ethic.’

‘Bollocks to your work ethic!’

‘Mr Nelson will take your soul now,’ Hamilton announced.

Jim halted his descent. ‘Mr Nelson?’

‘Your boss. You may have felt his presence before, observing your progress, making sure you were efficient. You’re lacking in efficiency, Jim, so you have to be altered. It needs to be done, for the good of the company’

Suddenly, Jim felt like he wasn’t alone in the stairwell, like someone was stood behind him. He turned, but there was no one there, at least not physically standing there, and yet he felt someone’s presence.

Then it seemed as if someone had placed their hands around his neck, and were squeezing tightly. He could also feel someone’s body pressing up against his from behind, someone large.

‘Just think of it as a new beginning,’ Hamilton continued. ‘Once your soul has been removed, you’ll feel much better about everything, be much more content in your work.’

‘Who is this Mr Nelson, the fucking Devil?’ choked Jim.

‘No, just someone with good business sense,’ Hamilton told him.

When Jim came to, he was sat at his desk. He looked around at his co-workers busy with their work. Hamilton was stood at the door to his office, staring straight at him. Better get on with his work, Jim thought, it didn’t do to spend too much time idling.

He looked over to Sam. She glanced towards him momentarily, then got on with her own work. He knew that’s exactly what he ought to do. After all, it was for the good of the company, and he didn’t want to let the company down, did he? Not after they’d been so good to him.

Copyright David Barton 2005

David Barton is the editor of Lost Souls Magazine, his fiction has appeared in the "fan fiction" section of the website for American horror author, Nicholas Grabowsky  http://www.downwarden.com and in the now defunct 31 Eyes ezine.  More info can be found at: http://chainsawhell.tripod.com/homepage

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