I wasn’t looking forward to this meeting. We’ve been having so many of them lately. Our boss was out of town, so I thought we’d have a break from these time-wasting afternoons, but I was wrong.
Our new secretary was named Mary. She was non-descript, but an ambitious lady. She struck me as being a little odd, but we all got used to her, and she turned out to be fine. Except for this. Mary arranged a meeting for when the boss was on vacation. And this seemed like it was going to be a boring meeting to end all boring meetings.
We audibly groaned when she announced it. A guest speaker was going to help us find ways of being more efficient with our time. I joked with a co-worker that we should all develop the flu that afternoon, but it didn’t happen. We were expected to go, and Mary told us she’d be reporting to the boss on who didn’t show.
She had on a huge smile as she ushered us in, as though she enjoyed our discomfort. I was extra uncomfortable for a number of reasons. I have social anxiety, and being in a group of people makes me tense. I have to focus my attention with mental exercises and distraction just to get through it. I have a whole series of tricks and silly mental games to keep the anxiety at bay. This only worked for so long though, and the longer I was around others, the worse it got. I asked the secretary how long the meeting would take, and she told me that it was only a half hour. I weighed my options and decided I could probably go that long today, but it would be difficult.
My co-workers and I filed toward the chairs and tables set out for us and got as comfortable as we were allowed at work. The secretary counted each of us, then looking pleased, announced the speaker. I didn’t really catch his name, nor did I care. When Mary was done, she nodded toward the front of the room and closed the door as she left.
I wouldn’t have noticed the man if she hadn’t just acknowledged him. He was very non-descript. He was middle aged, not attractive but not ugly, and just seemed… beige, almost blank. Somehow he made the brown carpet look interesting. I was hoping that it would get more exciting once he started speaking, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
When he spoke, it all came out in dull monotone. By the end of the welcome, I knew that I would have to use all my skill to stay awake in this one. And I was really hoping for a raise, so staying awake was important to me. After two minutes, I found that I had already lost focus. I looked around the room. Sam was doodling on some paper. Janine was tapping her pen to some imaginary song in her head. Kara was picking lint off of her skirt. I wasn’t alone in suffering, but the more I realized that, the more trapped I felt.
I started to do some of my anxiety-reducing mental gymnastics to stay focused. I recited everything I had ever memorized, from song lyrics to names of animals. I tried making up stories about my coworkers. I tried making up stories about the presenter, but nothing kept me alert for long.
I glanced at the clock. Only ten minutes had passed. I looked around, and noticed that many colleagues had put their heads down, or were resting them on their hands. One seemed perfectly asleep sitting straight up. I looked up at the speaker, but he seemed not to notice anything. He turned on the projector, and dimmed the lights. I think this was the moment that a few drifted off for good.
I re-focused and started a new mental game. “Things in the room beginning with the letter A: argyle socks, air vents, air, alarm for fires, aluminum chair legs, athlete’s foot…” I started going into strange territories… “appendix scar, apathy, anxiety, angst…” The game kept me going for a little while. The presentation slides had the opposite effect. There were no pictures, and the text seemed to be grey writing on a slightly darker grey background. I fought to stay focused, but my blinks were growing longer... and... longer.
In my mind, I was thinking through all of the places I’d visited... when I realized my thoughts were resembling dreams. I forced myself to open my eyes.
My head was down, but I couldn’t remember lowering it. Janine had stopped tapping. I could see that Sam’s arm was hanging limply at his side. I couldn’t see the clock or Kara from this angle, but I didn’t want to move and draw attention to myself. The speaker was still speaking, but it seemed as though his voice had slowed and softened. It was really more of a quiet hum, with only a few hints at words. My face was turned so he couldn’t see my eyes, so I’d hoped he hadn’t noticed that I drifted off. I started playing a few more mind games.
“In my pocket is a paperclip. Things I could build out of paperclips: Train tracks, braces, electric wiring, staples, tiny swords…”
It wasn’t working. If anything, my own words started matching his droning hum. My eyes grew heavy and started closing again. Now in darkness, images danced in my mind to match my game.
“(yawn) … jail, a cage for insects, springs, tiny bedframe, … (yawn)”
Just then, I heard a soft click behind me. A whisper came from the door.
I kept my eyes closed. This seemed like a strange addition to my dream. I started thinking again; to realize that I was dreaming before, and was semi-dreaming now. I focused the last of my energy to listen The speaker responded in the same relentless monotone, only slightly louder and faster.
“I told you to wait 30 minutes. It has only been twenty-seven. I cannot guarantee 100% success.”
For the first time since the meeting began, there was a silence, and I could hear the clock ticking and deep breathing around me. It made me tense up. In a voice that barely registered, the speaker said, “Someone may still be awake.”
There was a sharp intake of breath from Mary, and the whisper that followed had a touch of anxiousness behind it. “What must we do? Start again?”
“It’s too late for that. We finish, and hope for the best. If there is any resistance, we deal with it when it comes.”
My heart began to race. What was happening? I tried to open my eyes, but they had grown uncommonly heavy, so I listened. It felt like I was in a waking nightmare. In the room around me, a shuffling noise had replaced the monotonous lecture. I began screaming at myself in my mind.
Wake up! WAKE UP!
I managed to get one eyelid open, just a crack. I saw the legs of the secretary and the speaker dimly through my eyelashes. They were carrying something white between them. They shuffled out of the room. I closed my eyes tight, to the point of causing pain, and then with difficulty opened them, and looked toward the front of the room…
ALL OF THEM. Every single one of my co-workers was asleep. But some of them had been moved. The seats closest to the speaker were empty, and on the tables before them were long white bags. My mind was still shaking off the grogginess, but my thoughts started playing a mental game on their own.
“White things: Trash bags, tarps, cocoons, body bags…”
(Gasp) My heart skipped a beat.
At that moment, I heard two pair of footsteps in the hall, along with more whispers. I dropped my head, hoping it was in the same position as it was before. “Please,” I prayed, “Please let no one notice.”
The voices grew loud enough to hear words as they entered the door.
“…bundle up the rest. That will keep them in stasis until we finish loading… “
Mary stopped short, as though someone had silenced her. The pair began to walk around the tables, silently. I tried to slow my breathing. I tried to slow my heart.
The silence may only have lasted a minute, but it was an eternity. They walked past, almost sniffing to check on each of us. I could feel breath on my cheek.
I heard their footsteps pass. A rush of relief came over me. I stayed focused enough to not let out a sigh. There were more shuffling noises, and then a large thump.
It was the presenter’s voice I heard, “Get a second one. We don’t have much time.”
Again, the sound of a thump, and the sound of dragging across the floor. Two things. Two large, heavy objects dragged toward the open door. The presenter spoke,
“Don’t bruise this one.”
I felt faint, and the footsteps grew quieter. Shaking, I arose from my chair.
I looked around. They chose this room well. There was only one door.
I tried, but the first window was locked. I ran toward the other one and tried prying it open. Frantically, I clawed at it.
A voice behind me spoke. “I sealed that one too.”
I turned to see Mary. Her hands were dark and dripping.
I thought of charging past her through the open door. I clenched my fists.
A soft male voice spoke, “You can’t get past both of us.”
The presenter appeared. It was not just his hands that were wet, but he had blood all over him. Something in his hand dripped.
Instinctively, I backed up as fast as I could.
Mary spoke, but not to me. “You were right. We missed one.”
The speaker grinned at Mary. With the blood spattered across his face, a wave of nausea passed over me. I nearly doubled over.
The speaker asked, “You took care of everything?”
She smiled back. “Everything.”
He looked back at me. “Then there is only one thing left to do.”
The two were coming forward, and I had nowhere to go.
My mind raced. “I’m trapped. No way out.”
The two were on me. I braced myself for the final blow…
... but instead, I found hands on my face. They focused on the mouth. Wet, dripping hands forced my jaws open, and something warm and wet was shoved against my teeth. I remember the smell. I remember how it felt.
Panic set in. Out of habit, I tried to quiet my mind.
“Things that start with a: abduction, anesthesia, animals, annihilation, air vents…”
I was suddenly very alert: the air vent was close by, nearly overhead. Struggling, I pulled myself away and scrambled onto the table.
The two in front of me were still smiling. No, not smiling… laughing silently.
My fingers shook as I removed the screws. The hands of Mary and the speaker grabbed at my clothes, I got the vent cover off and threw it at them. The metal edges of the duct cut into my fingers as I lifted myself up and out of site.
My only hope was to get as far as I could, as fast as I could. The vent was dusty and small, but I managed to get several feet down the tube before I heard it.
Behind me… footsteps.
Quieter. Then more thuds and dragging.
I crawled deeper into the vent. It was dark, and I was feeling my way forward blindly. I reached the intersection where the vent split into two. That way, I could choose where to go if they followed me.
The footsteps returned, and the horrible sounds were repeated again and again. For what seemed like hours, the thuds and dragging continued. Twenty times or more. I cringed every time I heard a body drop. And then it stopped.
And then one... unmistakable... whisper.
“We’ll be waiting... when you get out.”
I shuddered in the tiny vent. I didn’t dare move, even when it grew dark. I stayed out of reach, out of sight, as the night grew colder. I fell into a fitful sleep, full of horrible dreams. Even when I saw a glimpse of light through the vent, I didn’t want to move. I waited until I heard the sirens. “Finally… finally” I thought.
I only moved when the sirens stopped very nearby. I wondered who had called.
The police came in with guns drawn. I screamed “Don’t shoot,” and made my way out the vent.
I was thrown to the floor and cuffed. It didn’t matter. I was alive and out.
They took me to the station. They refused to look at me. They searched me, took my clothes and gave me a jumpsuit. They read me my rights. Eventually, I found myself locked in a small room, opposite a mirror, and an officer in a tie.
He sat a distance away from me, staring. He waited for me to speak.
I managed, “How did you find me?”
“We went to your work after the body of a young woman was found a few hundred feet away. The corpse was drained of blood, and mutilated with strange cut marks. She looked as though she was butchered for meat. Her face was untouched. Her purse was nearby, still with money and cards in it. Her husband said she was last seen headed to work. Your work.”
I gulped. “Who was it?”
He looked me over and finally said, “Why?”
“You have to find the others! Mary… the secretary... and the guest speaker took them. They put them to sleep and took them.”
The detective was quiet for a long time. He took out a file and thumbed through it. “Your workplace has no secretary. “
“She started two weeks ago. She arranged the speaker.”
“There was no record of a speaker either. And no one else seems to have walked away. We find you with the woman’s blood on you. You... the only person found alive.”
“What do you mean that I was the ‘only person’?”
“We found the others early this morning. All of them. They were stripped of flesh and butchered in the same manner. And...
He paused choking a bit.
“And there were bite marks. Human.”
I finally understood why I was there.
“I didn’t! I couldn’t have! I was in the vent all night.”
The detective looked at the ground.
“How did the blood get on your clothing and face?”
I reached up and touched my face. A few dried flecks fell off onto the table in front of me .
He arose angrily. “I have no doubt you’ll try to plead insanity. But I won’t rest until you’re locked up for life.”
“But I had nothing to do with this!”
He reached across the table and grabbed the front of my shirt. He looked at me with a level intensity.
“You expect me to believe that you had nothing to do with these murders? What about all the other times?”
“Others?” I said (choking on the word).
The detective let go, and dropped into his chair. His features hardened.
“We know about that office last month, and the two schools the month before that. Last year, there were ten such incidences. After all this time, you’re the only “survivor” ever found. To top it all off, we found some human flesh with your teeth marks not far from the body.”
His eyes closed, as though trying to block out the image. I had nothing to say.
He announced, “I’m done.” and left the room
That was years ago. Everything afterwards has been a blur. There was a trial, and my lawyer managed to get me declared insane, in part because I was already being treated for anxiety. I also seem to have developed strange sleeping habits.
Strange eating habits too.
I know how this will sound, but I now prefer my meat a little more... underdone. In my mind, I still play back the moment that warm mass was forced in my mouth. I remember the smell, the feel against my teeth, the taste. (big breath) I can think of little else. That thought has replaced all of my other anxiety games, and it calms me more than anything.
I’m so calm, they’re thinking of re-evaluating my case. I could be pronounced sane and be out of here… at least part of the time.
Whenever I get stressed, I think of the flesh. I now know what Mary and the speaker meant when they whispered into the air vent, “We’ll be waiting... when you get out.”
It wasn’t a threat. It was an invitation.
Credited to Professor Z