The office was empty when Jack came back from the archives. He could not hear any sounds or see anyone around. Jack frowned, then went into his private office and dropped the pile of files he had pulled on his desk. The clock on Jack’s desk phone showed eight-thirty. He found it odd that no one seemed to be in yet. Then again, most of his co-workers arrived between eight-thirty and nine so maybe that would change soon.
Jack sat down and began pouring through the top file of those he had pulled. He had a report due on a complaint from a major customer and needed to review some history.
“Damn it, where is Jack?” Paul Wright rumbled shortly past nine.
The executive was standing in the doorway of the office belonging to Jack Lawlor, his customer service manager. Jack’s office was empty, though there was a half-full coffee mug on the table and the computer was on. His car had been in the parking lot when Paul drove in and Adrienne, Paul’s assistant, said she believed Jack had been in quite early.
“The alarm was off when I arrived at eight-fifteen. The only other car here was Jack’s so he must have turned it off,” she had explained.
Paul pulled out the cell phone on his hip and dialed Jack’s cell number. It rang twice, then Jack picked up.
“Hi, Paul. What’s up? Why are you calling my cell instead of my extension?”
Paul cocked an eyebrow.
“Because I am standing in your office and you are not at your desk. Where are you? I need to discuss the Heathcliffe file.”
“Huh? I am at my desk. Got back from ransacking the archives for records on that issue half an hour ago.”
“But I am standing in your office and you’re not here.”
Jack was silent for a moment, then quietly said, “I don’t see you, Paul, but I swear that I am sitting at my desk with a pile of files working on the Heathcliffe account.”
Paul stared at the empty office. Jack was a solid, reliable manager. He was not given to stupid pranks or jokes.
“Okay Jack, let’s say I believe you. Then why don’t I see you?”
“No idea. Something is weird here, though. I haven’t heard or seen any activity in the office yet this morning.”
“It’s past nine, Jack. Most of us are here, save a couple who are on vacation.”
Jack felt the blood rushing from his face. He got up and left his office, walking quickly out to the open area where most of the accounting and admin staff had cubicles. It was empty.
“Jesus Christ, Paul. There’s no one here.”
“We’re all here, Jack.”
“I’m in the main office area and it’s as empty as it was before eight when I came in. I am heading to your office.”
“I’ll meet you there.”
Jack almost ran to his boss’ office, only to find it closed and locked. He started at the darkened office, heart pounding.
“Your office is locked up, Paul.”
“No, I left it open when I went to see you.”
Paul reached his office, which was open as he expected, and looked around. There was no sign of Jack in the hall or the office.
“I don’t see you, man. This is getting spooky.”
“Paul, look out the window in your hall. What do you see?”
Jack’s voice sounded tense. Paul turned and looked out the window.
“Sunny day with a few clouds in the sky. Parking lot is still a bit wet from last night’s rain. Six cars parked on this side of the building including mine.”
“Paul, when I look out, it’s like night. No cars. I can’t even see past the edge of the parking lot. It’s like … it’s like the world ends at the edge of the lot.”
“Jack, where are you standing?”
“Right outside your office, looking out the window opposite your door.”
“I am looking out that same window.”
Both fell silent.
“I am going outside, Paul. I need to see what is happening out there.”
“Stay on the phone, Jack. You’re scaring me.”
Jack walked down the hall to an emergency exit by the next block of offices. There was a brick there to wedge the door open when needed. Jack took a deep breath, then opened the door and used his foot to move the brick into place to hold it open.
“I’m out, Paul. Walking across the parking lot. Crap, is it ever dark. Not quite like night. More like during a really heavy daytime storm.”
When Jack reached the edge of the parking lot, he found himself on the lip of a precipice. To step further would mean a fall into darkness. A light wind blew up from below, carrying a vague, unpleasant odour.
“Paul, there’s nothing out there.”
“What do you mean, Jack?”
“It’s like the parking lot ends at … nothing. Just a dark abyss that goes on forever.”
Jack began to walk towards the front of the building. Eventually, the edge of the abyss curved around to the front. It ran right through where Jack’s car should be.
As he walked, Jack noted that the wind from below seemed to get stronger. The odour was more obvious, too, though he could not quite place it.
“You still there, Jack?” came Paul’s worried voice.
“I’m at the front now. This goes all around the building. It’s like I’m on an island floating in space or something.”
“Come inside, man. This sounds dangerous.”
Jack started towards the staff door. He keyed in his code. It failed with a plaintive beep.
“My code isn’t working, Paul.”
“Try again. I mis-key mine all the time.”
Jack typed his code in carefully, making sure to hit each button exactly. Again, the plaintive beep.
“It failed again. Heading back to the emergency door. I put the brick in so it should still be open.”
Paul was on edge, heart pounding. What was happening to Jack? Where was he?
“Jack, keep talking to me.”
“The brick is out. The door is closed.”
The emergency door could only be opened from the inside. Paul walked quickly to the door and pushed it open, then realized that probably would not help Jack.
“Heading to the shipping entrance, Paul. Sometimes that door is unlocked. It’s the same around the back as elsewhere. A strip of parking lot, then a drop into nothingness.”
There was a truck parked at the shipping dock. Jack paused and wondered about that. Then he realized it was probably parked there overnight, so would have been there when he came in.
“Paul, I think the building I am seeing is in the state that it was in when I arrived. It’s like … like I am stuck in that moment.”
Jack tried the shipping entrance, but it was locked. He entered his code on the door’s panel, but it did not work at this door either. Jack slammed his fist against the unyielding door.
“Fuck, Paul, what is going on?”
“Wish I knew, Jack. I want to help but I don’t understand this any better than you.”
The wind from the abyss beyond the precipice was growing stronger. The odour was more distinct and identifiable, too. It was the smell of something burning mixed with the stench of decay. And now Jack could hear faint sounds; screams, cries of pain and anguish, and deep, sinister laughter. He stared towards the sound.
A deformed human hand appeared on the edge of the precipice. Then another. Something was climbing out.
“Jack? What is happening out there?”
More hands appeared. A head with no clear face rose over the edge.
“Something is climbing out of the abyss. And I hear screaming from down there,” Jack said in a weak voice that sounded close to weeping, “Paul, I think this is Hell. Or something like it.”
Paul stared at the phone. Then he noticed Adrienne approaching. Her face was pale and bore a shocked expression. He muted the phone.
“What’s wrong, Adrienne?”
“Michael found him in the archives. He’s dead, Paul.”
“Jack. Looks like a bin he was pulling from the top shelf fell on his head. The blood is already drying and his body is cold so Mike thinks he’s been dead for a while. We called 9-1-1 and are just waiting for emergency services to arrive.”
The blood drained from Paul’s face.
“Adrienne ... I am talking to Jack on the phone.”
Adrienne slumped against the wall. She looked like she was about to faint.
“Paul,” Jack screamed, “They’re coming for me.”
He looked frantically to both sides. More faceless figures were emerging. They moaned as they surged towards him.
“Jack,” Paul said, fighting back tears, “I don’t think I can help you.”
“Nor do I.”
Taking a deep breath, Jack walked to the edge of the precipice, passing the moaning things. They turned to follow. He looked down to see a horde of the faceless horrors climbing up towards him.
“Bye, Paul. Thanks for everything,” Jack said.
Taking a deep breath, he let out a final scream. Then he jumped.
Paul stared at his phone. There was a burst of what sounded like wails and screams. Then the call went dead.