by Eoin Moore
You are trapped in your boss’s office, with no way out, and you have begun to regret the series of decisions that led you here. The door is locked firmly behind you. Inside the room you can see a plain, unassuming window, a desk supporting a computer, and a pale, fluorescent light overhead. Your options appear to be severely limited.
You start to pace back and forth across the downy, velvet carpet. You hear your mother whispering in your ear that this is not pragmatic behaviour, and it’s likely to stress you out even further. If nothing else the motion serves as an outlet for your pent-up, anxious energy and the oxygen it sends to your brain helps you to arrange your thoughts a little bit.
Your goals are to (1) escape and (2) locate the folder. Now that the situation has escalated, the second goal seems less urgent. Rationally, since the doorway is firmly closed and you can see no other exits, going out the window is your only choice. This route had seemed fairly rash when you first considered it, about five minutes ago, but the more you think about how awful being discovered in this situation would be, the more you’ve warmed to the idea.
It’s a fine window, the kind you might have in your own office one day if you play your cards right. You have not been playing the right cards at all, today. You thought you were on top of your game when you pulled off the first part of your plan without a hitch. The self-locking door was a major obstacle, but with a bit of Googling you learned that such locks can easily be compromised by placing a piece of tape over the bolt-hole.
You theorised that, upon leaving the office for a power lunch, or a stress-relieving smoke break, your boss would fail to notice the innocent, transparent square of sellotape that you subtly placed over the bolt-hole when you popped your head in, to say you were heading out for lunch, and did he want anything – and by God you were right. He left in a hurry, trusting that the self-closing, self-locking door would take care of itself, not noticing that the door closed over without the signature “click” of the automatic locking mechanism.
You calmly walked over to the office, casually pushed the unlocked door open, and found yourself in the boss’s private place, his sanctum sanctorum, entirely by yourself. It was in this moment of short-sighted ecstasy that you had the brainwave to remove the sellotape, and lock the door properly behind you, to prevent anyone else from similarly strolling right in and catching you in the act. And it was only after you peeled off the tape, and as you heard the signature “click” of the automatic locking mechanism, that you realised, to your profound horror, that the door required a key to be opened from the inside, too.
You are pressed up against a respectable office window, considering just how terrible dropping thirty storeys to your death would be. At the moment, getting caught snooping around your boss’s office seems at least as bad. You feel that you can’t fully discount the window option until you pop your head out and take a look at what kind of footholds, if any, you might shimmy across once you get out there, hypothetically. You discover that the window, much like the door, is rigidly stuck in place. You shake the horizontal, white handle along the bottom of the frame. You look for a keyhole, or some kind of switch or button, but there is none. You give the handle a second, much more violent shake to no avail.
You resume pacing back and forth across the tasteful grey carpet. You decide that you might as well look around for the folder, as you’re getting nowhere on the escape front. This is not a rational prioritisation of tasks, as finding a way out of the office is much more immediately pressing than finding the employee evaluations, but rationality levels are low and fading fast.
It started with some news from upstairs: Michael was moving to an overseas branch, and Paula was retiring. Their absences created windows for advancement, for those with the determination to seek them out. With this news, word of the boss’s employee evaluations spread fast. These personally annotated documents went above and beyond the corporate standard and at times of reshuffles and promotions they were considered an invaluable resource in the selection of candidates.
Somewhere in that impenetrable office, there lay a folder in which your personal value, and the value of all of your coworkers, was laid bare. This information festered in your mind. At some point, it developed into an obsession. Deep, insecure impulses that had lain dormant since your college days bloomed back into life, and you began subscribing to lock-picking blogs.
You are rifling through your boss’s workspace on what’s probably going to be your last day working for him. Aside from the computer, there is a fancy pen-holder, stocked with fancy pens, a photograph of your boss’s adoring family, and a large paperweight in the shape of the Washington Monument. The desk itself is magnificent: hand-carved and adorned with intricate designs. It crosses your mind that the desk definitely costs a lot more than the high-end computer sitting on it.
The desk has five drawers: two built into the table and three more in a column, along the inside of the right-hand leg. Each drawer has an ornate metal handle built into it, and each handle boasts a large, antiquated keyhole. You shouldn’t be surprised to find each drawer securely locked. You wonder whether your boss is a bit paranoid, with his automatically-locked-from-both-sides office door, and his unopenable window, and his individually locked desk drawers, but you can hardly blame him when these measures have proven so effective at hindering you, the intruder.
You check beneath the pen holder, behind the chair leg, anywhere that a spare key or some other means of escape might be hidden, but nothing turns up. You can’t think of a next step, having failed in both of your objectives and exhausted every option. The walls of the office start to close around you, compressing you from every angle, squeezing the air out of your lungs.
You close your eyes, and breathe in, and breathe out, but it doesn’t work. You don’t know how long you’ve been here: anywhere from fifteen minutes to half an hour. You forgot your phone. It occurs to you that you have no idea how long your boss will be out for. If it’s a lunch break he could be gone for the hour. If it’s a smoke break he might already be on his way back up.
A pang of terror reinvigorates your fight-or-flight response system. You are getting out. Now. You return to the window and firmly grip the handle with both your hands and pull. And then you pull again. And then you squat down, and lean back, and really start heaving the bastard. Your neck creaks, your lower back screams in protest, and then, just as you think you’re starting to get somewhere, you hear a sickening pop.
You look at the plastic handle in your hands, and then at the torn stumps jutting out of the now permanently unopenable window. You audibly say the word “Shit.” You clap your hand over your mouth, dropping the useless handle onto the floor as you do so. You realise that you have crossed a fundamental line.
A flood of good reasons for being here suddenly rush to mind: you came in to ask a question, or to get a signature, or to give him an update on a client, and you accidentally locked yourself in. These perfectly valid excuses seem so obvious, now that you’ve made them irrelevant by tearing the place apart. Your mouth goes dry. Hot and cold needles pierce into your neck and torso. The room takes on surreal proportions, as in a dream, after you’ve realised you’re dreaming but can’t wake up. Every time your heart beats, you feel an impact in your chest, and it hurts.
Amidst this chaos, you attain a certain resolve. You walk over to the desk and seize the Washington Monument paperweight by its rotund base. You raise the Monument in an arc above the drawer on the left hand side, and you bring it down once, twice, three times, stabbing hard into the point where wood meets metal. With a fourth jab, the handle splinters free of the wood, and the tip of the paperweight shatters, leaving a thin, jagged point.
Planting the Monument back on the desk, you wrench the drawer open and find a manila folder labeled “Employee Evaluations”. Dumping the contents across the desk, you instantly see your name typed in a reserved sans-serif font. The document consists of three stapled pages, offering a detailed account of your various qualities, achievements, and flaws, personal and professional. You skip to the end, and see your mark: “Very Good”.
In a torrent of excitement, you dig through the other evaluations. You know all too well that a single grade in isolation means nothing, unless it is contrasted with the rest of the class. You flip through file after file, each as meticulously detailed as the last: “Good”, “Good”, “Adequate”, “Needs Improvement”, “Good”, “Lacklustre”. Electricity runs across your skin as you see a leaderboard developing, with you at the top.
And then you reach the bottom of the pile: Gerard Collins: “Excellent”. You know him to see, but you’ve never spoken. Skimming through his impeccable evaluation, you can’t really disagree with the score. You step back from the desk, and lie down on the soft, Febreze-scented carpet, and look up into the light. The realisation that this has all been for nothing passes through you in nauseating, cleansing waves. All you found out was that you’re not the best at your job, and you’ve probably lost that job in the process.
The light burns into your retinas, leaving dark patches of purple and green. You notice something funny. One of the beige ceiling tiles beside the light has come slightly loose, exposing a dark space above. As your fatigued brain processes this fact, you hear footsteps approaching the door, and the unmistakeable sound of your boss’s voice, asking someone about quarterly reports.
You scramble to your feet, life once again bursting with hope and purpose. You hear the tinkling of your boss’s massive keyring, and in an adrenaline-induced surge of energy you shove the desk across the room, blocking the door. While your boss ineffectually shakes the door handle, you mount the desk and jump up at the loose tile, your fingers falling just short. You hear your boss calling out for help, someone’s barricaded his door shut, but you are totally focused on the task at hand.
You jump again, this time tapping against the synthetic polymer material, feeling it give ever so slightly. You prime yourself, and propel your body into the air for one final thrust. Your fist soars through the panel, dislodging it from the ceiling and revealing a sizeable crawlspace. In that moment, you get a glimpse of salvation, and you think you might get out of this one after all.
Unfortunately, as you return to earth, the door shudders with the combined force of three shoulders all ramming at once. Just as your foot makes contact with the desk, it shifts about an inch. You struggle to find purchase, but your shoes skid on the employee evaluation forms littering the desk’s burnished wood surface. Your left leg shoots behind you, and your right leg follows suit, and your head plunges down, straight towards a Washington Monument paperweight that has been cracked into a sharp and brutal point. You close your eyes and reflect on your decisions.
Eoin Moore is a graduate of English Literature from Dublin. He won the UNESCO Dublin City of Literature Prize, and served as head editor of TN2 Magazine. He currently writes in his spare time, and dreams of some day getting a real job.