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Cat Memes and Floor Thirteen: Horror in Time for Halloween
Shia LaRue was very excited. It was Monday, the first day of the week and her first day on job. She sat nervously on the D-train crammed between a gossipy woman chatting incessantly on her cell phone and a lanky teenager with his ear buds stuck so deeply into his ears he was oblivious to world. Shia was no one in particular here on the subway, but at work that was something different. Today, she was going to be a star.
Two months ago, a recruiter showed up out of the blue pitching a phenomenal opportunity to work at one of the most renowned publishing houses in New York City. Shia thought she was being punk'd when he offered her a six figure salary, expense account and use of the company car just for agreeing to take the job. The requirements were just as laughable. All they wanted from her was a basic college degree, enthusiasm and cheerful demeanor. If she applied herself this job, he promised, she would be financially set for life.
Shia’s mother was unsurprisingly skeptical when she told her the good news. Her mother foresaw as a huge scam. She wondered why a company would offer so many benefits in exchange for practically nothing. It baffled her as to why Shia was taking the subway to work. Shouldn't they be sending the company car? She must be mishugina to take such a job without checking it out first. Better to sleep on it for a few weeks. If only her mother had known sleeping on it wasn't even an option at that point. Shia had already signed the memorandum of agreement. There was no turning back even if her mother’s concerns were legitimate.
The short subway ride to be almost tolerable. It stopped at an underground station just beneath her building. Strangely enough, no one exited the train but her. She rushed for the stairway leading to the street level worrying she may be late on her first day. At street level, her office building gleamed like a giant jewel in the morning sun almost blinding her. It was an immense bluish, stainless steel and glass wonder stretching high into the clouds. This beautiful building stood as a symbol of all of her dreams coming true. It didn't matter that she lacked the talent or exceptional academic background that would have made her worthy of the company inside it.
The doorman held open a door while tipping his hat just before she reached the expansive gallery of glass doors.
“Good morning Ma'am. May I help you find your way?”
“Uh, yes thank you. I work for Phillips and Minor Associates. Today is my first day. Can you tell me which floor they are on?”
“That’s easy…every floor. They own this entire building.”
“No kidding? I hadn't realized they were such a large company.”
“Not really. It’s pretty much a trick to fool investors. Most of the floors are well furnished to look like business is conducted there, but no employee has ever set foot further than the thirteenth floor.”
“No further than the thirteenth floor? I thought most architects were superstitious about the thirteenth floor and deliberately excluded it from the floor count?”
“Well, this one has a thirteenth floor. At Phillips and Minor we don’t pay heed to such tales of voodoo. The company has always done quite well, except when she died.” He spoke the latter so softly that Shia couldn't quite make it out.
“Pardon me? I didn't catch that last bit.”
“Oh, it’s nothing. Rest assured this is a very profitable company. You'll do well here if you just work hard.”
Shia remembered the recruiter giving her the exact same advice. “That’s good to know. Thanks for the tip and here’s one for you.” She handed the doorman a shiny Susan B. Anthony dollar.
He grimaced at the gesture and begrudgingly stuffed it into his left breast pocket. “Thank you, Ma'am.”
The doorman tipped his hat and allowed the door to rapidly close behind her. Shia was too immersed in thought to realize it almost struck her. He glared at her as she walked away, following her hourglass figure all the way to the elevators. Every dainty step taken in her houndstooth Prada shoes incrementally deepened his irritation with her act of stinginess.
Shia took the elevator up to floor thirteen. When the doors flung open a ultra modern and tastefully decorated reception area greeted her. Upon the wall just behind the arched reception desk was the name of the firm spelled out in golden, large block letters. They shone brilliantly under the overhead track lighting above. The receptionist couldn't have been much older than she. When she spotted Shia she beamed a bright, cheery smile and behaved as if she they were long lost friends. Shia worried that she was about to spring out from behind the desk to embrace her.
Shia bristled. “Uh…Excuse me? Um, I’m Shia LaRue. I’m a new employee.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I must have unnerved you with that greeting. It’s just the company’s way of greeting new employees. Don’t worry, I don’t bite. This is your new home now and it’s my duty to make you feel like you just walked into your parents’ house.”
“Okay, if you say so.”
The receptionist seemed relieved the girl had not run screaming back into the elevator. Having cleared up the preliminaries, the receptionist decided to stop holding back. She jumped at the opportunity passionately hugging Shia in an awkward embrace. Shia not wanting to offend her, tentatively hugged her back; patting her back for good measure. She tried to hide her anxiety, but the receptionist could sense it by the stiffness of her body.
“Hey, you’d better get used to getting hugs around here. It’s all we do, regardless of things going good or bad.”
“You mean I could cause the firm to lose a ton of money and still be rewarded with a hug?” Shia meant it as a quip, but her nervousness made it sound more like a stated fact. She bit her lip hoping she hadn't been taken seriously.
“Ha! You betcha! I know YOU would never do anything like that, but in the likelihood it did happen, we would all give you a giant hug to cheer you up!
Help yourself to the coffee while I let Mr. Minor know you have arrived.” The receptionist skipped through the golden double-doors eerily poking her smiling head back once more before the doors shut.
Shia sat down on one of the round sectionals in the waiting area. She was comforted by the tweed upholstery that complemented the earthen tones chosen for the room’s interior design. By the time her supervisor walked in to greet her, she was feeling more at ease.
Just like the receptionist, Steven Minor bellowed his salutations with arms open wide. “Welcome home, Shia! It’s good to finally make your acquaintance. I feel like I've known you for years. Is there anything I can get you before we get started?”
Shia was so overwhelmed by this man that her words failed her. Part of her wanted to extend her regrets and make a dash for stairway. Then she considered the money and the perks. This was enough to force her to remain firmly in place. Instead, she smiled broadly shaking her head “no” and they proceeded through the double-doors into the vast office area.
Inside hundreds of cubicles were arranged in neat rows spanning the entire length of the building. They echoed the same earthen hues as the reception area. Mr. Minor led her down a long corridor situated between the last row of cubicles and a tall bay of windows. As they walked they passed a window washer perched outside high on a wooden seat that was rigged to a crane on the roof. He nosily ran his a squeegee up and down creating a high pitched squeal as he dragged it along the glass. Shia looked past his precariously dangling body to look out on to the street below. He tapped on the glass to draw her attention and mouthed something, but she couldn't make it out. Whatever he was trying to say didn't matter anyhow. She had a more pressing concern. To her dismay, her office space was at the very end of this long line of cubicles and was landlocked in the corner. This was only the access to and from her desk. She hoped this vast panoramic view wouldn’t be the only positive aspect of being stuck in this location. A trip to the bathroom was probably going to be the worst.
A heavy-set, Beckie Daniels stood in the entranceway of the cubicle as they approached. Beckie was a pitiful sight. Although it was seventy-two degrees outside, she wore a brown wool cardigan and pleated wool skirt indistinguishable from the earthen tones of the office décor. Her skin showed signs of a recent illness that caused her pale complexion to seem almost translucent enough to reveal the tell-tale olive undertones of malnutrition. At the tip of her nose hung a strange pair of vintage cat eye glasses embellished with an eccentric pattern of inlaid rhinestones encircled by flourishes. Her hair was a shamble of mousy tufts and wisps that crawled along her hairline in an unruly fashion tempting Shia to boldly whip out her brush in an effort to try and tame it.
Beckie pounced, holding Shia tightly and squeezing until all of the air had gone out of her lungs. “Welcome home, Shia! Hello, I’m Beckie! I spell it with a “K-I-E”, so I can put a happy face on the “I”! I love to be happy! I love to make eeeeeeveryone happy!”
In spite of himself, Mr. Minor scowled in disdain as he witnessed his company’s adage being innocently lampooned by Beckie. Seeing her excessive and animated practice of the ritual made the whole idea appear almost ridiculous. He held up a cautionary hand and waived Beckie down to her chair. Shia thought she could almost hear him whisper, “Take it down a notch!”
“Well, Shia you will share this cubicle with Beckie just for today while she shows you the ropes. I’ll be in my office. If you need anything at all, please feel free to stop in.”
Shia took a quick, but telling glance around the cubicle. It was just as queer/perky as Beckie and looked like something ripped straight out of a novelty shop. Rather than echo the tweed upholstery decor of the other cubicles, its walls had its own fabric covering consisting of yellow smiley faces floating on a backdrop of neon pink. Centered in the middle of this fanatical cheerfulness was a vintage poster of a kitten hanging precariously from a branch. The caption beneath it warned, “Hang in There Baby!”
A sizeable population of troll dolls and kitsch of all sorts were carefully posed along the thin cubicle walls. They seemed to be staring down at the desk where two little “Precious Moments” angels sang an inaudible, yet neverending hymn to the captive audience of bric-a-brac above. The angels shared their living space with what looked to be an antique Kewpie doll. Its sly expression caused Shia to wonder if the mischief it contemplated was either impending or had already been accomplished.
Aligned on top of the overhead shelf sat several original Cabbage Patch dolls in a row. Each one dressed in its holiday ambassador outfit spanning from “Baby New Year” to a pilgrim. The most elaborate was a Christmas doll with golden sausage curls donned in a white fur coat and red velveteen boots.
A ceramic mug sat on the file cabinet displaying a comic of “Cathy” expounding how she “Hates Mondays”, as well as various travel postcards depicting areas along Route 66 and an array of snow globes. Finally, she noticed a large potted vine healthily thriving in the corner. It was excessively overgrown and stretched around the cubicle in a creeping sprawl of wine-colored leaves.
Mr. Minor turned to Shia and smiled warmly, but refrained from attempting a final hug after she instinctively took a step back from his outstretched arms. He mentally recalibrated and extended a hand shake instead. Taking in a deep breath, he exhaled his frustration before he spoke. “Remember young lady, we brought you are here to brighten up the place. If you want to be successful here, you’ll need to be a real team player. I'll forgive this time, but next time I'll be expecting that hug.”
With that being said he briskly walked off. Shia wasn't sure if this had been an official admonition by him or a joke. His tone was somewhat whimsical, but she was sure she could detect a nuance of hostility as well. Shia decided to tread lightly going forward.
“Shia, would you like to start with a company tour?”
Shia quietly sat down in the vacant seat at the opposite end of the cubicle, behaving as if she hadn't heard Beckie’s question. She wanted to take a moment to gather her composure. As she looked around she noticed there weren't any office supplies. There didn't seem to be one tape dispenser, paper clip or pencil sharpener in the entire place. It also dawned on her that there weren't any framed photographs of Beckie’s family or friends sitting on the desk. This really unnerved her.
“How long have you been working here Beckie?”
“Oh, now that you mention it, today is my one year anniversary.”
“You have so many nice things decorating this cubicle, why aren't there any pictures of your family?”
Beckie momentarily frowned and then her smile instantly renewed itself. Shia couldn't tell for sure, but thought she seemed slightly annoyed.
“Oh, that. Well, if you check your employee manual located in the bottom drawer, you'll learn that sort of personal expression is not tolerated here.”
“Not tolerated? Come on! There’s an fortune-telling “Eight Ball” sitting on a ladybug clock radio. How can that be acceptable and photographs not be?”
Beckie’s eyes dimmed and her voice grew hollow. Her mouth formed a gruesome snarl bearing a jumbled mouthful of metallic bolts and wires. Shia was certain Beckie hadn't been wearing braces and a retainer when they approached her.
“Just get out the manual. It will clear things up.”
“Look, I don’t know what’s going on here, but I smell a rat. Why are hugs mandated? Hasn't anyone ever read the sexual harassment laws for this state?”
The blood in Beckie’s cheeks rose up coloring her pale face to an almost attractive hue. She reached in her desk and pulled out an inhaler, then drew in a deep gulp of medicine. She gave it a few seconds to infiltrate her lungs she before decided to respond.
“Hey, keep your voice down. If Mr. Minor ever heard you say that he would have us both ushered out of here by security. Now relax and let me explain.
A few years back the company lost a truly devoted employee who used to occupy our position. She was fantastic at her job and everyone loved her. Then one day she had some kind of accident and died. No one knows exactly what happened.
The entire staff took it quite hard. I was told the day of her funeral was one of the few times this entire office has ever closed. They actually had to bring in grievance counselors because some employees were so distraught. That includes Mr. Minor. ”
“Wow, she was really popular, huh?”
“Popular is to say the least. She had a sort of je ne c'est quoi about her that the company has been trying to replicate ever since. I am the twelfth person to serve in this position since she died.”
“So why am I replacing you? Are you being fired?”
“Boy, you do get right to the point. No. I’m leaving to take a position somewhere else that’s more suited to my skill-set. That’s all. You'll do fine once you choose to start fitting in.” Beckie threw in the snarky remark as punishment for Shia’s boorish behavior.
“I guess I am being a bit stand-offish. I’m sorry.”
“Never mind worrying about that now. Just do your job and work hard. It is essential to always be cheerful and give lots of hugs to staff and visitors. You will be responsible for celebrating everybody’s anniversaries/birthdays and decorating on holidays. That includes Columbus Day. It will be your duty to arrange company parties and social retreats. Finally, keep the coffee fresh and the break room clean. If you do that much you’ll be home free. Now, if you haven’t any further questions, I think we should proceed on our tour.”
Although Beckie said she was ready to leave out, she didn't move. For a time she seemed to forget all about Shia. Shia helplessly watched as Beckie put on a pair of rubber surgical gloves and then proceeded to wipe down both desk areas with Clorox cleansing cloths. As she wiped, Beckie carefully picked up each figurine to gently wipe it free of dust. When her task was complete, she reached in the drawer to retrieve a can of air to dust in between the keyboard keys. It was sometime later before Beckie finally spoke.
“Okay, now that that’s done, let’s head for the break room.”
They back tracked their steps down the long corridor of cubicles and bay windows heading for the break room located on the opposite side of the building. Once again they passed the window cleaner still cleaning the same window. This time instead of trying to speak, he held up a sign that read, “ Don't get her angry!” Shia being ignorant to what it meant just shrugged her shoulders and kept walking. Beckie continued to lead her out of the office area and down a long hallway to break room. Oddly enough, the hallway walls were plastered in that same peculiar wallpaper of happy faces swimming in a sea of neon pink. Hung along the walls were several more cat meme posters displaying cats and kittens with sayings like, “CEILING CAT IS WATCHING YOU” and “I CAN'T WAIT FOR CATURDAY”. Reading the queer sentiments sent a shiver down Shia’s neck.
Upon reaching the break room, Shia was shocked to find it completely normal. She was glad it was free of kitsch, dolls or any other cheap crappola being showcased in order to illicit gaiety. Instead the room was sanely furnished with lackluster tables, chairs and vending machines. She let out a sigh of relief and started to feel a little more at ease until Beckie began rummaging through the refrigerator. The longer she stood rambling through the molded and long forgotten entrées, the more agitated Beckie got.
“Where is my salad?! These people know I am on a diet! Who would eat my salad?!”
Beckie’s voice went up an octave higher each time she repeated her question. As she spoke a fine dusting of cat hair suddenly appeared on her skirt and sweater. Whenever she shifted her weight a dust cloud of cat hair and sand became airborne and wafted an odor of dirty cat litter in the direction of Shia’s nose. She trembled and plugged her nose while considering this new phenomenon. She was sure Beckie hadn't smelled this way before. She definitely would've noticed it back in the cramped quarters of their cubicle.
“Gosh darn it! I WANT MY SALAD!!”
Just as Beckie was about to hit Mac 9, another employee entered the break room. Beckie noticed him first and tried to save face by turning down the volume on her tantrum. Shia marveled at Beckie’s ability to instantly dial it up or down as she pleased.
“Oh, Thomas! Sorry, I didn't see you there. Shia this is Thomas. Thomas, meet Shia. She’ll be taking my place.”
“Yeah, that’s cool.”
Thomas seemed to be floating on air. His eyes were blood shot and his clothing reeked of a pungent marijuana odor. This aroma intermingled with the cat box stench producing an offspring so toxic smelling that Shia began to feel nauseated.
“Shia, Thomas is “Employee of the Week”. Isn't that just wonderful?!”
Beckie’s eyes narrowed and a witch-like grin curled across her face as the sarcasm dripped from her lips.
“I’m still not sure why they picked him over me. I work really hard and Thomas takes too many breaks!”
As she spoke, Beckie’s manner again went from zero to sixty. She glared accusingly at the unsuspecting man. Shia sat silently, choosing to remain neutral. She quietly thanked her lucky stars that today was this mad woman’s last day.
“Why did they PICKED YOU Thomas?!
“Hey chill out, dude. I’m just the most awesome computer tech. Maybe they like the way I keep the viruses out. I don’t know. Go ask Mr. Minor.”
“Forget it. I don’t care. By the way, I had a salad in here. Did you see it?”
“Dude, did it have fruit and nuts on it?”
“Yeah, that’s it.”
“Sorry dude, I got the munchies and ate it.”
The hair on Beckie’s neck stood visibly on end. Her face turned purple and her eyeballs strained, bulging from their sockets. Beckie snatched Thomas up by his shirt elevating him a few inches off the floor. She peered into his eyes snarling that ferocious sneer at him. For his part, Thomas’ face and hair became as white as snow. His features contorted and locked into a horrified grimace.
“HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU TO STOP EATING MY LUNCHES!!!!”
Beckie shook his limp body in time with each syllable spoken. Her bellowing voice drifted out into the hallway and coveted the ears of the other employees snug inside their cubicles. Shia was sure someone would come running at any moment. No one ever did, not even Mr. Minor. It was left up to her to soothe the savage beast.
“Hey Beckie, I brought my lunch. How about sharing half a sandwich with me?”
“Is it tuna?”
“Okay. Tuna is my favorite.”
Beckie’s face returned to its usual pale façade as she calmed and dropped Thomas to the floor. He sped off on all fours, still whimpering.
“Hey Beckie, you really shouldn't get yourself so worked up. You’ll have high blood pressure before you’re forty.”
Beckie’s lack of response told Shia her half joke had fallen with a flop. She thought it best to keep quiet on the way back to their cubicle. Beckie took her seat and stared vacantly at the wall, appearing to be distracted by the cat poster. This went on for several minutes. Bored, Shia decided to read the employee manual, but forgot where Beckie had directed her to look. She opened and closed several drawers finding them all empty except for the bottom file drawer. This was locked; however the key was illogically stuck in the keyhole. She gave it a twist causing the drawer to finally reveal its contents of a spotted, taxidermy cat stuffed with sawdust and newspaper. Its green-yellow glass eyes glowed eerily under the recessed lighting and totally freaked Shia out. She yelled and retreated at the gruesome sight.
Becky retorted matter-of-factly, “Oh, that’s just Mr. Whiskers. I take him everywhere I go.”
This was too much. Shia ran off making a beeline towards Mr. Minor’s office and barged in without knocking.
“Sir, I’m sorry, but I have changed my mind. I don’t believe I will be a good fit for this position.”
“Now Shia, you signed a contract. You are legally obligated to fulfill it.”
“What if I refuse?”
“Well then, I'll drag you into court. Look Shia, I don't want to fight. We need you here, because you were chosen. No one else is as qualified as you. You see, when Mandy is happy, our company is happy. When she is sad, well…bad things happen. Our stocks drop; employees get laid off…people die…you know the usual stuff.”
“What are you talking about?! Mandy IS dead...isn't she?!”
“I’m just telling you like it is. Take it or leave it.”
“ I'm leaving it!”
“It’s your right to walk away if you like, but you should know twenty-two other “Mandys” before you have tried to renege on their contracts. They all found themselves permanently housed at the local cemetery before we could bring one case to court. It’s only for one year. Just go with it. Once it is up, a replacement will be chosen and then you can leave. Look, it’s quitting time. Go home and take some time to think about it.”
Shia was distraught and sobbed all the way back to her desk. When she entered the cubicle she found no one there except the figurines staring intently at her. Their eyes glowed, burning hot with fire.
“Alright, I give up. I’ll do it.” She said softly out loud as she reached for her mouse to shutdown the computer. The burning eyes extinguished and returned to their former vacant stares. As Shia manipulated the mouse, she noticed a plump hand resting in the place where her thin, manicured hand had once been. Looking down at her feet she found two blubbery “cankles” stuffed in a pair of brown orthopedic shoes. The hounds tooth Prada high-heels somehow had mysteriously vanished. Shia waddled off, shrieking madly as she departed the office for the day. “I love to be happy! Next week, I WILL be Employee of the Week!”