The Visitor, Part II

I couldn’t leave without an answer. My legs wouldn’t let me. You might know the feeling; It’s like butterflies, but so strong that your body won’t let your mind override it. Something was telling me that I couldn’t, shouldn’t, just write this jump off too.

So I called him.

It didn’t even ring.

His voicemail was a generic message, but still it filled me with dread. What if…

I wonder how many rash decisions have been made because of a ‘what if?’ I could think of at least one, as I went back up the stairs to my office. If Ward thought he could just ignore me, I would make it as difficult as possible for him. I logged into my computer and opened My HR.

I typed in his name.

I copied his address onto my phone

Then I booked an Uber.

Ward and I spent the whole evening, that first time, trying to figure out what had happened. He asked me to go over everything, from the beginning of my day to the bizarre end. He even wrote a transcript of the whole exchange and asked me to perform it with him. It was weird that he never doubted me, and that I never doubted him. I remember thinking that at the time. For my part, I felt guilty about the whole thing. If I hadn’t looked so distressed, Ward wouldn’t have got involved. He was just being a nice guy. A nice, nosy guy. But I should have been more suspicious of him. Never trust anyone who appears just when you need them.

But that night, a mixture of unease and guilt got the better of me, and I let him lead our investigation. I performed the exchange with him and he timed it. At most, with as many gratuitous pauses as we could fit, the whole thing was just under seven minutes. Seven minutes.

‘Let’s record it again.’  I said.

Ward started the recording. We said the words as we remembered them. 7 minutes again.

‘We must be doing something wrong.’ I pushed, ‘How long does Openscape take to search a name?’

We played out the scenario again with the appropriate props. Six and half minutes.

‘I don’t understand.’ I pressed, frustration getting the better of me, ‘We must be doing something wrong. How does ‘7 minutes’ turn into ‘3 hours’?’

Ward leant against the Reception desk.

‘When you try to remember 4 o’clock, what happens?’ He asked.


‘How about 5’ o’clock?’

‘Nothing. When I think back, It’s just the man, and then us talking about the man. Nothing else. What about you?’

Ward closesd his eyes.

‘I come out of those doors. I see the man. I speak to you. I speak to him. He leaves and then, this. That’s it. But I can remember 4pm yesterday. I can remember 4pm the day before. Today is just…It’s like the time didn’t happen at all. I can only see that man.’

‘Well if you can’t remember any time, then maybe we just have the start time wrong.’

‘We can’t have.’ Ward said, ‘And if we do, then that means…’

He shook his head.

‘What makes more sense: that we both lost part of our day for two different reasons and then met that man, or that we both lost part of our day while we were talking to that man, together?’

‘Neither of them makes sense.’ I said.

‘True, but one is much more terrifying than the other.’ He said, quietly.

I didn’t ask him which one. I knew the former was more farfetched, and the latter meant- Well, it meant that we were in this together. Which, even though we didn’t know each other that well, was so much better than tackling this alone.

‘We need proof of the start time.’ I said. He nodded.

‘Someone must have seen something.’

In an ordinary period of three hours, people would pass the reception between 30-40 times. I know this because, well, I’d counted before. I have a lot of free time on reception and I spend it…wallowing in the mundane, I guess. Granted, this was a quiet period, but at least one person would have walked by, or gone into the post room to talk to Ward.  All we needed was someone else who could say ‘Yes, I saw that man.’ Or ‘Yes, I spoke to you on the phone at 4.’ Then we would at least know what we were dealing with.

But in my gut, deep down in the shadowy depths of my consciousness, I knew that something unfathomable had happened, that it was linked to our visitor, and I was just trying my best to block it out. I think Ward knew it too, but we went through the motions anyway. It made us feel like we were in control.

Ward and I did a lap of the office. No one else was around. In the fading afternoon light, the place looked like it had been abandoned. It gave me chills.

‘Ground floor.’ Ward suggested.

Before anyone could get to our floor, floor 3 of the office building, they had to pass through the main reception. The receptionists, Aidy and Kate, would have greeted our visitor, asked him why he was here, who he was here to see, and then opened the security barriers. If they hadn’t, he would have had to jump them. Someone would have noticed a middle aged man trying to jump over a barrier.

But when Ward asked, no one seemed to know who or what he was talking about.

‘He was tall, slim. Well dressed. Clean.’ Ward suggested, trying to jog a memory.

‘Very clean.’ I chimed in. ‘Very odd’

‘Clean?’ Aidy repeated.

‘Oddly so.’ Ward emphasised.

Aidy and Kate rolled their eyes in unison.

‘We get a lot of people coming through here. That description could fit 50% of them.’ Kate replied.

‘Could we look at the visitor log?’ Ward asked.

‘I’m looking at the log. No one came through here for your floor. No one came through this afternoon at all, actually.’

Kate looked surprised by this news herself. Ward and I looked at each other.

‘Do you remember what you were doing at 4pm?’ I asked.

‘What?’ Aidy asked.

‘What were you doing today at 4?’ Ward repeated firmly.

‘I went to Starbucks to get some coffee for the two of us.’ Aidy said.

‘Yeah, and there was a paper delivery that I had to sort out.’ Kate said, ‘Not that it’s any of your business.’

‘Maybe he followed someone in.’ Ward suggested, when we were back on our floor.

It was a possibility. The barriers were slow. If you were directly behind someone, you could sneak through without using your pass. But you would have to be really close to the person you were following. So close that they would notice.

‘There’s 700 people in this building, where would we even start to ask?’

‘And when? Everyone’s fucked off home.’ Ward said, rubbing his forehead.

Then, it occurred to me that there was one thing left to consult.

‘What about the CCTV?’ I asked.

‘What about the CCTV- Oh.’

‘We couldn’t…could we?’

‘I mean, that’s really IT’s domain.’ Ward said, putting his hands in his pockets. ‘Maybe we could ask-‘

‘We could ask someone.’

‘We could, I guess, ask someone tomorrow.’

‘We could wait until tomorrow.’

‘What’s 14 hours?’ Ward asked, hesitantly.

‘So…I guess we’ll just go home now.’ I said, searching his face.

‘Yup. Go home and…wait.’

He wouldn’t look at me.

‘It’ll probably be nothing.’  He said, eventually.

‘We’re going to feel so silly tomorrow, I know it, when we check the CCTV and find out it was…What was it, do you think?’

‘I don’t know. It was…We’ll laugh about it, though. I’m sure.’

But neither of us moved. We just stood on opposite sides of the reception desk, rooted to the spot.

‘I’m scared.’

The words came out without me meaning them to. Ward nodded.

‘Yeah. Yeah, me too.’

He reached over and squeezed my hand. It was obviously something he wasn’t used to doing. His hands were clammy and he still wouldn’t look at me. After a few seconds, he let go. He began to walk back to the post room. But then he turned back, hesitated, put his hand to his mouth as if he was trying to stop himself saying something and then clenched his fist.

‘Okay, look.’

He walked over to my side of the desk and stood close to me, speaking quietly.

‘I’m about to do something, and I need you to promise not to ask me about it and not to talk about it to anyone, not even to me. Do you understand?’

‘What is it?’

‘Wrong answer.’ Ward said. He dropped his voice an octave.

‘Do you need me to repeat the question or are you incapable of following instructions?

His face was grave. I didn’t know what to say. For moment, I think I was scared of him.

‘No, I understand.’

He nodded and walked towards the post room without a word. He tapped his pass against the reader and pushed the door open with his shoulder. He was about to disappear inside when he doubled back and caught the door.

‘Come in.’ He said.

I hesitated for a second. I think that was my gut telling me that I was about to walk into a ‘lesser of two evils’ type of situation, and I should really just go home and bury my head in the sand. But the thought of being alone in the reception, even for a second, while I packed my thing up to leave, made tears well up in my eyes.

So I hesitated for a second. Then I grabbed my things and followed him inside.


Observation 148A


Subject 2227

  • Subject has reached stage 3 of observation: a study in solitary.
  •  Subject becomes tense when shown into the room. Asks how long he will be in there for. Becomes even more agitated when met with silence.
  • Lack of information is definitely a trigger for Subject. Breaks free from guards twice before being restrained and wheeled into room on a stretcher.
  • Mutters incoherently (find transcript below) for 45 minutes before becoming silent. Released from restraints soon after.
  • Walks the perimeter of the room as if sizing place up. Finds the concealed observation window in less than a minute.
  • Stands and stares at/through the window for the next 4 hours.
  • Subject’s discipline is unprecedented. Lack of formal schooling should have affected concentration/compliance. Subject, however, seems determined. Unimpressed, even.
  • Subject’s legs give way at about 17:00 hours. Subject then moves the desk chair across room to the window and sits down. Continues to stare at the glass for the next 6 hours.
  • Subject struggling to stay upright. Moves to the bed at 23:00 hours. Continues to stare at the window.
  • Sleep, as observed in previous occasions, is not a need for the Subject. We are unsure as to whether this is an involuntary result of his condition, or if Subject is actively staying awake.
  • Supervisor visits at 00:30 hours. All concurrent Observations have been scaled down. All Subjects but one have fallen asleep. 2227 shows no signs of conforming.
  • Subject has not moved for 4 hours. Eyes remain open and blinking. Breathing is barely visible. Similar to the state his brother Subject 2223 was in before passing.
  • At 3:00 hours, Supervisor intervenes in observation to check Subject’s vitals. Subject is seemingly comatose when Supervisor enters. Is unresponsive when his name is called.
  • When Supervisor turns his wrist over to check pulse, Subject grabs her by the throat. Manifests ability in 4 seconds. A record?
  • When he hears the Security coming, Subject pushes Supervisor’s face against the window to mock us.
  • Sadist?
  • Complies with Security when they finally enter room.
  • Calls Supervisor by her maiden name as she is carried out. Asks her if her father would be proud of her work.
  • The Observation is paused to record Supervisor’s account of incident (See Index 2227 8A).
  • One thing to note, Supervisor closed eyes during altercation but Subject’s connection was not broken. Eye contact can be ruled out as a way he creates a bond.
  • There are also questions about ability’s accuracy. The memories Subject mined from supervisor have no coherent link. All relatively recent though – wedding, how to access Records Room, a trip to the vet – This is what we can gleam so far. Investigation is still underway.
  • The observation is resumed.
  • Subject is sitting in the chair with his head in his hands. Perhaps he has spent the last of his energy reserves.
  • At 4:00 hours, Subject stirs. Appears to be shielding his eyes from something.
  • He moves the desk and the bed and boxes himself in a far corner of the room. He pulls the mattress over the top. He is now entirely obscured.
  • After two hours of this, and further information from Supervisor interrogation, the observation is suspended. The Subject has discovered the nature of the observation from his data mining and is resisting the only way he can.
  • He will be left in the room while we consider ways to adjust Part B and avoid any further incidents.

The Visitor, Part I

It happened again.

I was heading out for lunch like I usually do. I know it was lunch time, because I passed Chris with his Pret bag. I checked my phone before I put my headphones in and it said 12:58. I went down the stairs. That’s 3 fights max.  When I got to the foyer the security guard gave me a startled smile. ‘You’re here late.’ he said. At first I thought he was trying to make a joke. But the clock behind him said 18:03. I look at the window and it’s pitch black outside.

5 hours this time. 5 whole hours.

I need to see you. I need to know if it’s happening to you too. Please please contact me.

My  hands were shaking as I typed the message. I was still in the foyer, telling the security guard that my tears were due to hay fever.

A month ago something had happened. It was mid summer, the office was quiet. I had spent much of the morning shopping. At about 3 o’clock the lift chimed. I checked the calendar, like I would usually, but it had been empty for weeks. No visitors expected. I assumed then, that this is was a member of staff coming in from a late lunch and went back to my browsing. But when the lift opened, someone stepped out that I did not recognise. He was immaculately dressed. Slicked back dark hair, a full beard, at least 6’3. He looked like he was in his late 50s with pallid grey eyes deeply set in the shadow of his dark brows. A memorable face. The kind you’d use the word striking to describe.

He walked out of the lifts and headed towards me. He smiled but didn’t say anything. For some reason, that I cannot recall, I didn’t say anything either. I couldn’t. My mind was blank. I just remember feeling suddenly very uneasy, and I could not take my eyes off his. Under the table, in reception, there is a panic button. I’ve never used it. I’ve joked about it, but I’ve never needed to. At that moment, though, my hand was edging towards it. Of its own accord.

Then the phone rang, bringing me back into the room. I apologised and picked up the handset, but the line went dead when I answered it. Then following exchange occurred. I’ve been replaying it over and over in my head, trying to find something I missed but time doesn’t give it any more coherence. Here it is:

Me: Good afternoon, how can I-

Him: Yes.

me: – can I help you?

There’s a pause. His interruption throws me off. I wait a while to see if he has anything else to add. He says nothing. Just as I’m about to say something, he cuts me off again.

Him: I am looking for someone.

Another pause. At this point I think he might be a cold caller in the flesh, trying to get me to reveal some information to him. I smile.

Me: Do you-

Him: Chaim Woodbine.

Me: I’m sorry?

Him: Chaim Woodbine. I’m looking for him.

me: And he works here?

The name means nothing to me.

Him: Yes.

I pull up the switchboard and type the first three letters of the surname, as I would usually do. Nothing comes up.

Me: Do you know what department he works for?

Him: The top.

This is what he said. It sounds wrong. At the time,  it sounded wrong but I don’t say anything. I thought maybe the man might have been unwell. Dementia or something. I type in the first 3 letters of his first name. I get a bunch of Charlies.

Me: I can’t find-

When I look up, the man’s looming over my computer, fixed smile, unwavering gaze.

Him: Bethan Hardy

He pronounces every word slowly, deliberately. It is unnerving.

Him: She works here.

I’ve never met a Chaim Woodbine or a Bethan Hardy, but I’ve been working here for a year. I type her in. Again, nothing comes up. Only now, I’m too embarassed to say so.

Before the pause can go from awkward to tense, one of post room assistants, a guy by the name of Ward, comes out of the main office. We’re friendly, in a ‘hi’ and ‘bye’ kind of way, and I know he’s worked for the company much longer than me. He smiles as he walks past, notices the man leaning in intensely and stops.

Ward: (To the man) Good afternoon.

The man turns to him, but says nothing. Still smiling the same smile. Ward walks over to my side of the desk.

Ward: (To Me) You alright?

Me: Yeah, yeah. I’m having a bit of trouble finding someone. I typed them into Openscape, maybe you recognise them: Bethan Hardy?

Ward: Bethany?

Him: Bethan Hardy.

Ward shakes his head.

Ward: and she works here?

Him: To my knowledge.

Ward: When was the last time you saw her?

The man is silent, studying Ward’s face.

Him: Chaim Woodbine. Are you familiar?

Ward thinks for a second.

Ward: Um…actually, yeah. yeah. he worked in accounts a couple of years back. He left not long after I started. Tall, kinda slim. Thinning hair?

The man takes a step back. Looks at Ward, looks at me.

Him: I see. Thank you for your time.

Me: What did you need them for? If you don’t mind me asking. It’s just that, maybe I could direct you to someone else who can-

Him: I don’t. Not anymore.

He presses the button for the lift. It comes immediately, which is highly uncommon in our building. He gets in.

Him: Thank you for your service.

The doors close. The lift slips down and he’s gone.

Ward and I don’t speak until the display says 0, indicating the lift is on the ground floor. Then we turn to each other. This is the second part of the exchange. You’ll understand later why I have separated the two.

Ward: What the fuck was that?

Me: I think that might be the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to me out here.

Ward: Did he tell you his name?

Me: No.

Ward: So so weird. who were the people he was looking for again?

Me: Chaim Woodbine, Bethan Hardy.

Ward takes the mouse of my computer and opens our company’s HR software.

Ward: You know on MyHR, there’s a list of all the employess. Leavers and new starters too.

He begins to log in and then stops.

Ward: Wait, what?

Me: What?

Ward: Is this computer broken?

Me: No, I’ve been using it all day.

He looks at his wristwatch.

Ward: Wait. Seriously, what the fuck?

He takes a step away from me.

Me: What is it? Say something.

Ward: It’s six o’clock.

I check the time on my computer. It says 6:11. I check my phone. It says 6:11.

Me: That’s not possible.

I get up and check the time on the TV. I feel like I’m going to throw up. A member of staff comes out of the main office, carrying her bag, her jacket. She says goodnight and heads out. Ward and I stand in disbelief as another and another comes out, bags, coats wishing us a good evening.

That’s how it started. The jumps, as I’ve been calling it. 3 hours of the day had gone. disappeared. There is no way my entire exchange with that man took 3 hours. There is no way that my exchange with Ward afterwards took three hours. There is no way this exchange could have happened after 3. Ward does the post everyday at 4 o’clock. He goes home straight after he drops the post bag downstairs. I finish at half five. always on the dot, because that’s how long I’m paid until. I know it was three when he came in. I know, Ward knows. So what happened to three hours of my life?

The weirdest thing is that, technically, the time is accounted for. When I checked the switchboard history, it said that I had received 27 calls during the hours of 3 and 6, of varying durations, which means I took the calls. Or someone did under my login, at my terminal, without me seeing them come or go, as I never left my desk, except to look at the TV which was about a foot away. When Ward went back into the post room, there was no post.When he checked the trays, everything had been collected, the franking machine had been switched on, and the post bag was sitting downstairs when we went down to see. He was on his own that day, so it had to be him. The franking machine was switched on using his passcode. We had, in all the ways that counted, been working for those 3 hours. We just both have no recollection of it.

That’s how it started. And if we’d left it alone, maybe that’s all it would gave been.