The Visitor, Part IV

I didn’t get much sleep that night.

I’m being generous. I didn’t get any sleep that night. I didn’t do the traditional thing of tossing and turning. I just lay in my bed, poker straight, staring into the dark. It was like I didn’t want to sleep, and wouldn’t want to even if I could. I kept thinking about the old man.

The old man that wasn’t that old.

I’d given up on trying to recollect the hours I’d forgotten. They were lost now, that much I understood. But there was something in that exchange, there had to be. Some sort of clue. Something to show us how and when, maybe even why, that time was taken from us.

The old man. At first I thought he was unsettling because of how he spoke. How he seemed to not understand our answers or be able to follow the conversation. But now…his face. His face wasn’t right. His skin was taut, youthful, healthy looking. His hair was a solid mass of black. He was tall and, in his trendy suit, he cut a broad, toned figure. There was nothing to suggest he was old at all. But I’d been so sure of it. Maybe it was his slow, deliberate walk. Or maybe it was his shadowy eyes. Or maybe it was that he looked too youthful. Too artificial. Studied. Like he was an old man masquerading as something young.

I was pissed at myself for not getting his name. I was pissed at myself for not pressing him further. A man doesn’t just walk into an office by accident. He came for something and it seemed as though he didn’t get it.

Chaim Woodbine and Bethan Hardy.

Who or what did he want with them?

If they were his friends, why didn’t he ask for a forwarding address? If he was a client, why didn’t he ask for their replacements? He seemed sure that he’d gleamed all the information he needed from Ward and I. Had he come to make sure they were no longer there? Was he some kind of…hitman?

By the time first light streamed through my window, I had completely given in to the idea that the old man was an FBI agent undercover, who’s sole mission was to seek and destroy Woodbine and Hardy, who had used Ward and I to get information and then made us forget, Men in Black style. It wasn’t entirely implausible. But what had he possibly gathered from three hours of us seemingly going about our daily routine?

The next day was probably the most haggard I’d ever looked at work. I waited semi anxiously, semi excitedly for Ward to walk through the foyer so that I could tell him my theory.

But he never did. From my desk I could see shadows moving about in the post room. At times the door would swing open as someone else left or entered, and I would hear his muffled tones. By mid afternoon, I had figured out that he was avoiding me.

I could see where he was coming from. I was his only real link to the bizarre and random events of the day before. Avoid me and he could avoid it. But that didn’t suit my needs at all. I’m a talker. I need to talk things through. I’ve got an overactive imagination and the only time I can quiet it is when I’m talking, when someone else is talking to me and making sense.

So I opened my draw, chose a random item of stationery and shoved it in an envelope addressed to me. Totally out of company guidelines, but so was a weird man erasing my memories. That’s how I justified it anyway.

I called the post room. Much like I expected, it wasn’t Ward that picked up.

‘Hello, Post Room.’

‘Hi, I have a courier to go down.’

Ward’s supervisor, Mike, groaned.

‘I’ll be out in a second.’

I rolled my eyes at the hiccup in my plan but I was not disheartened. As soon as he took the parcel, I created another one.

‘Hi, I have a courier to go down.’

‘Another one?’ Ward’s desk mate, Fletcher, asked.

‘You know what the secretaries are like. Any excuse.’

He came out and took the package. So I made a third.

I called the post room. No one picked up. When the line cut off, I called again. No answer. I was calling a third time, when the phone was abruptly answered. There was a pause. And then Ward’s exasperated voice.

‘What?’

‘I have a courier to go down.’

‘I know what you’re doing.’ He said, quietly.

‘I’m trying to get a courier sent down.’ I replied, firmly.

There was another pause and then Ward sighed deeply and hung up the phone. An agonizing minute later, he stepped into the foyer.

He did not look haggard, like I did. More rugged, if anything. Like the stubble was a style choice rather then a drowsy oversight. If I hadn’t been up the night before myself, I wouldn’t have guessed he had.

‘Where’s this parcel then?’ He asked. He wouldn’t meet my gaze.

‘Why are you avoiding me?’ I asked, gripping the parcel in my hands.

‘Can I have the parcel or not?’

‘You’re going to have to talk to me eventually.’

‘If you won’t give me the parcel, I’m going to go back to my desk.’ He said and began walking away

‘I think I know what happened-‘ I started, l

Suddenly, Ward spun around and leaned over my computer screen.

‘No, you don’t!’ He spat. ‘If you did know, you wouldn’t be talking about it here!’

His fingers gripped the screen so hard his knuckles were white. I just stared at him.

‘Do you know something?’ I whispered. His eyes darted around the room.

‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’

‘You do know something. Don’t you?’ I pressed. Ward opened his mouth.

A member of finance came stumbling through the foyer, with a tray of coffees. She glanced in our direction. Ward let go of the screen and straightened up.

‘Can I have the parcel, please?’ He asked.

I handed Ward the parcel and he walked away. For a while I sat stewing. How dare he freeze me out of his investigation? How dare he let me fester here, alone in the dark, while he had all the answers?

I had begun to type a strongly worded email when he came back, parcel in hand.

‘The address is wrong.’ He said.

‘What?’

‘The address is wrong.’

‘It can’t be. It’s my own-‘

He shoved the envelope at me. In between the lines that I had written was another message so small it was almost illegible. It read: Something happened to Woodbine and Hardy, and I think the company is involved. Unless you want something to happen to us, we have to stop looking for answers.

I looked up at Ward. He looked from me to the camera above us.

‘Oh right.’ I said, eventually. ‘I’ll get a new envelope.’

I tore the envelope apart and shoved the shreds in my bag instead of the bin. Ward saw the large roll of cellotape that had been inside and rolled his eyes, but he didn’t leave. I put it in a new envelope, wrote the address and handed it over. Ward took it with a slight nod and walked away.

I went back to my work. But every so often, I’d glance at the camera above me.

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The Visitor, Part III

The first thing I noticed about the post room was that it was the only part of the office without any natural light. The wall lamps were dim and not far reaching. Parts of the room were completely dark.

‘Watch your step.’ Ward said, leading the way.

Parcels were neatly stacked in tottering piles. Despite his warning, I still managed to knock one over.

‘I’m sorry.’ I said, kneeling down to pick up one of many ASOS packages. My hands were shaking.

‘Leave it. I’ll worry about it tomorrow.’

So I stood up again, squinting to make him out across the room.

‘You can take Fletch’s chair.’ He muttered, sitting down at his desk.

I pulled the chair from the desk I was standing next to and pushed it towards Ward, taking care to avoid the stacks. I knocked at least 3 over.

‘Are you trying to make a mess?’

‘I can’t see anything!’ I snapped, frustrated. ‘And you’re no bloody help.’

Ward looked up in surprise.

‘I’m sorry.’ He said eventually. ‘I didn’t mean to snap at you. I guess I’m a bit…on edge.’

He helped me wheel the chair the beside him.

‘And you get used to the dark. We call each other moles in here, for jokes.’ Ward shrugged, suddenly embarrassed, ‘It’s stupid.’

An awkward silence followed. I was still annoyed at Ward for being so short with me. I didn’t want to be around him anymore. I just wanted to go home and, well, forget. As if that wasn’t already the source of my problems.

Ward logged into his account, drumming his fingers on the table as he waited.

‘I’m going to need you to close your eyes for this part.’

‘What?’

‘Hazel,’ He said, firmly. ‘I need you to trust me.’

I just stared at him.

‘This is really important. I could get in a lot of trouble. The less you know about it the better.’

‘What is it?’

‘I can’t tell you. To protect me and you both. Please. Just do this for me.’

His eyes pleaded with mine. I didn’t have the energy to fight him, and in a day of strange occurances, what was one more, really?

‘And this will help us get the CCTV footage?’ I asked, defeated.

‘Yes. This is how we get it.’

I closed my eyes. Soon after, I could hear furious tapping.

‘Okay. You can open them.’

On Ward’s computer was a live feed of a couple of the security cameras on our floor. Ward switched on his second monitor. More camera feeds.

‘Holy shit.’ I said in amazement.

‘Yeah.’

I had several questions. How and when and why did he have access to them, things like that. But I also knew Ward would flip his lid if I said even one of them.

‘That’s the foyer!’ I said, pointing at the second monitor.

Ward clicked on the camera and went through the log.

‘3 pm.’ He announced, when he found it. His finger hovered nervously over the button.

‘Play it.’ I urged, my voice wavering a little.

He clicked and I braced myself.

There was nothing but static.

‘Fast forward.’ I said, a little relieved.

More static. Static at 3:30. Static at 4. Static 5.

‘Go back to just before 3’

Ward rewound the footage. At 2:45, I was clearly visible, sat at the reception desk, typing at my computer. At 2:50, the same. At 2:55, I put my hair up in a ponytail and fanned myself. At 2:58 I looked towards the lifts. At 2:59, the picture gave way to static.

‘What the fuck?’ I said, almost in a whimper, mostly in a whisper.

Ward went back to 11 am, to 9 am, to the day before, to the week before. Everything was above board. The camera was working fine. Ward returned to 3 pm that day again. Static.

‘I’m going to be sick.’ I said.

Ward skipped ahead to 6. There was static for a few seconds and then the image cut to us. Looking at each other. After a short exchange, Ward typed on my computer and then-

‘Look,’ Ward said, pointing at the screen ‘I’m about to realise the time.’

‘And there’s me getting up to check the TV.’ I replied.

We turned to each, just as our past selves turned to each other on the screen.

‘So…we can’t remember the hours of 3-6. No one else can tell us that they saw us. The CCTV is fucked during that time period in particular and…we’re no closer to an explanation. I think we need to stop looking.’ Ward said.

‘What?’

‘We are going down a weird and baffling road and I don’t think either of us is equipped to.’

He stood up and hastily pulled on his jacket.

‘So- What? We’re just supposed to act like nothing happened?’

‘Well, how do we know something happened? We don’t actually know anything.’

‘We know we can’t remember the time passing and we know that no one, and nothing, has any proof of us even being around during that time! So the only logical explanation-

‘There is no logical explanation!’

‘What if something happened to us? Ward! What if something bad happened to us?’

‘Something like what?’

‘I don’t know. But don’t you want to find out?’

Ward picked up his satchel.

‘Ward, please.’ I pleaded, ‘Let’s just look at the other cameras.’

Ward looked around the room, shook his head and then sat back down.

‘We’re going to regret this.’ He said, ‘There is no way this ends well.’

He clicked on the post room camera. Everything seemed to be working order. It was mostly Ward eating alone.

‘We can fast forward through this.’ He said, embarrassed.

‘Is that an entire box of Krispy Kremes that you bought for yourself?’ I asked, even more puzzled.

‘I- My girlfriend is on a diet. This is the only- I don’t have to explain myself to you.’

He sped through. At 3 pm, the camera was working fine.

‘So maybe it’s just the Foyer.’ Ward mumbled.

He skipped to 3:10, to 3:20. Then at 3:30-

‘No. Please, no.’

Static. For the duration of 5 minutes. Then the camera cut back to an empty post room.

‘Maybe it’s a glitch.’ I said, a little reassured. But Ward has his hand to his mouth, holding his breath.

‘I collect the post at 3:30.’ He whispered, ‘I come back in at about-’

3:40. The camera jolted slightly this time and then the picture was replaced by static. Ward shook his head.

‘It’s us. We’re making the cameras glitch.’

The static lasted for another 20 minutes and then the camera cut back to an empty post room. Ward hurriedly clicked on the camera on the far side of the office. He skipped to 3:30. We held our breaths.

Nothing happened. The camera was fine. We watched our colleagues mill about.

‘You’re wrong.’ I said. ‘You must have-’

Static. Ward buried his face in his hands. After about five minutes, the camera cut back to the office. Nothing was noticeably different. Other than the fact all the post trays were all empty.

So, we had been there. Or at least, something had been there, doing our jobs. But we had no idea who, we had no idea why, and it felt like someone or something was deliberately trying to keep us in the dark.

 

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.

‘Nothing.’

‘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.

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.