An Unusual Incident
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Robert Baxter was a punctual man. At 9:00 o’clock every morning his butt was in his undersized office chair. At 11:00 he would replenish his coffee. Lunch was at 1:30 sharp, no exceptions. A tuna and croissant sandwich with chips. At 3:00 he walks around the office on his way to the coffee machine, stopping to chat with whoever looked like they were receptive to it. Usually Julia, God bless her. At 5:00, with all his work done for the day, Robert is out the door, no, he wouldn’t like to go for a drink after. He prided himself on his sobriety. Fifteen years strong, starting the day he got this job.

If you asked his coworkers what they thought about him, the answers are pretty much all the same. Oh, Robert is a good worker. Always here on time, never misses a day. Good for a joke too, isn’t that right Julia? Sure, sometimes he’s a bit of a straight edge, but hey, you can’t blame the guy. Not after the car accident.

His ex-wife has something a little different to say. If you can get past the ranting about his self-destructive and indulgent nature, she might admit that he was a total sweetheart when they first met. No, she isn’t mad at the new Robert, just the old one, the Robert who got behind the wheel of an SUV while blasted out of his mind and ended up fighting for his life in a Massachusetts hospital. She’s happy that he got his life back, but makes it clear she is finished with him, thank you very much.

On an ordinary Friday morning, Robert drove down to the office, located in a well-hidden business park. He maneuvered into his favorite spot – no assigned parking here- and headed into the building. The elevator was on the top floor, so he had no choice but to wait. Robert hated waiting, especially for anything out of his control. Time, he had once theorized to his soon to be ex-wife, was mankind’s greatest enemy. We either have too much of it, or too little, and once it’s gone it never comes back. Life is a struggle against the constant advancement of time; deadlines, age, even relaxation. All people, he told her, despise Sundays, because we know in the back of our minds that it comes to an end sooner than we want. His words were slurring together at that point, but he was still proud of his attempt at philosophy. Not bad for a business grad, he’d thought while slamming down another shot.

Arriving at the fifth floor, Robert met his first obstacle; the lights were off. He had seen some of his co-worker’s cars, so he figured the whole floor must be having trouble. Navigating his way through the darkened hallway he grappled at the door to the office he worked in.

“Hello?” There was no response as he peered into the room. The blinds were down, so only a small amount of light was seeping through. He was groping around for the switch when he remembered: today was the fourteenth of September. It was his birthday on Sunday.

Of course he had forgotten, he had been working too hard on the Peterson presentation to even think about celebrating. Despite his insistence to the contrary, his co-workers always threw him a surprise party. No doubt they were all hiding around the office now, waiting for him to walk in. There would be a cake (chocolate) and drinks (non-alcoholic). Susan probably brought in her famous salsa, she knew how much he liked it.

Steeling himself for a non-productive workday, Robert flipped up the light switch and braced for the explosive cheer. There was nothing. In fact, there wasn’t anybody at all. The office was deserted, with chairs strewn about the floor. A half hung “Happy Birthday” banner fluttered next to the AC unit’s vent. On the floor next to the cubicles he could see the demolished remains of a once delicious looking chocolate cake –a large footprint impressed on the moist lump- and beside that a single shoe. There was a large splatter of what appeared to be seedless strawberry jam on the boss’s office door.

“Guys, come on.” Motioning to the mess, “I hope you don’t expect me to help clean that up.”

Silence.

“If this is a joke, I very much don’t appreciate it.” He paused. Time to appeal to authority. “Henderson is going to flip when he comes in.” Still nothing.

He left his coat on the rack but kept a firm grip on his briefcase as he moved towards the reminder of the office. If I can reach my desk, he thought, I can get some work done. These clowns can wish me happy birthday like normal people.

He never got that far. Turning the corner at the cubicles he encountered his second obstacle: Julia. Or rather, what was left of her.

Robert didn’t scream, but rather let loose a sort of guttural moan. One half of his brain yelled at him, turn the hell around, get your ass out of there, whatever did this to her will be back to get you, and the other half of his brain demanded he make sure she wasn’t actually dead. Robert thought this was a stupid notion, since she was thoroughly torn in half. So, he turned around and headed for the door. He didn’t get very far.

The third obstacle looked like a man. That’s as far as the similarities got. Instead of clothing or even skin, the thing was pitch black. It was blocking the exit, and sensing Robert approach, lifted its head, revealing a swirling chaos of shifting features. Eyes would appear and disappear; a nose might expose itself only to be replaced by the black void. It stretched a hand out as a mouth appeared on its head. The hand grew longer and more distorted as the mouth opened, revealing a set of gums but not teeth.

What the fuck is that. Robert wasn’t exactly the worlds quickest thinker, but he could recognize a bad situation when he saw it. He chucked his briefcase at the creature but watched as it sailed past and crashed into the door. The thing turned and reached for the briefcase. Robert could only watch as it pawed at the clasp. Finding purchase it ripped the two sides apart and the contents spilled to the floor.

Robert didn’t stick around to join the briefcase. He booked it towards the back end of the office. Almost immediately his chest began to burn, and his legs threatened to spill out from under him. He hadn’t been in shape before the car accident, and the injuries had left their mark on his physical abilities. He kept going, balancing his longing to stop with his desire to not die. Passing the conference room, he didn’t pause to look inside. He could see the blood on the walls.

He ducked inside the closest bathroom door, which happened to be the women’s and locked the door. Hiding inside the last stall, Robert lifted his feet up and huddled on the toilet. Taking a few moments to inhale he was struck by the absurdity of the situation. I’m an office man goddammit, he thought, this isn’t supposed to happen to people like me.

The image of Julia, mother of three, all ripped up sent him diving for the toilet. It was now that the tears began to flow. I’m going to die here. Oh God in heaven I’m going to die here.

For the next half hour Robert alternated between shrill crying and silent weeping. Every time he thought he had run out of tears, his body proved him wrong. Maybe it left, maybe that thing decided to le- a slam on the bathroom door interrupted him, followed by a piercing screech like nails on a chalkboard. Remembering Julia and the briefcase, Robert braced himself. But the door never opened. He could hear the door handle jingle a little, then silence.

Now that the tears had stopped flowing, Robert decided to think about the position he was in. You are a natural problem solver, he remembered Henderson telling him after an enormous client pitch went south. I have no doubt you’ll rise to the occasion. And Robert was mad. He clenched his fists in a somewhat dramatic fashion. He was an obese man in his late 40’s, reduced to hiding in a women’s restroom. But he was alive, and safe for now. Not only that, but the creature outside hadn’t displayed any clear signs of intelligence. Maybe I’ve got a chance after all. He had no idea how fast it could move, but the fact that it hadn’t caught him during his escape was a source of hope. Calling for help on the phone would be too risky. The bathroom had no windows, so there was no chance of getting assistance that way. The front door is my only way out, he thought. He stood up and stepped out the stall.

There was a knock on the bathroom door. The door handle shook a little, but the lock held tight. Then a voice.

“Can I help you… there’s something…wrong.” Robert almost screamed. That was Susan the receptionists voice. It sounded stilted and unnatural, but there was no mistaking. “Robert… please…she’s dead.”

All his earlier bravado vanished. The corner floor of the restroom suddenly felt very comfortable. The thing that sounded like Susan moaned behind the door. Then fell quiet.

Robert’s wristwatch displayed the time: 11:00a.m. He stayed in the corner for the rest of the afternoon, only getting up to drink out of the sink. His thoughts flipped from hyperactive rambling to shocked silence. And as time went on his mind began to drift…


Agent Calverez tossed the ball. It hit his small office wall and fell straight to the floor.

“Goddamit.”

A bald head peeked inside the open door. “No bounce huh?”

“Of course not. These are pieces of shit.”

“Don’t let Donsley hear you say that. She submitted the idea for the stress ball distribution.”

Calverez sighed and rubbed the back of his head. “Of course she did.”

Agent Alexi stepped into the office proper. “Look, this may be premature, but I’ve got something interesting. One of our boys picked up a local security guy. Says he works for an office complex in the sticks. He’s been ranting about some weird shit going on.”

Calverez leaned forward. “Are you serious? That’s the best you’ve got?”

Alexi smiled. “It’s a little more interesting than that. According to the guard, the employees of one of the offices have locked themselves in. He can’t open the door with his key, almost like its jammed from the other side. Nobody replied when he knocked on the door, and from the parking lot it looks like the lights are off too. But he swears he can see something moving around in there.”

“So? Maybe they went home.”

The smile got bigger. “While leaving their cars at the office?”


…until he awoke with a start. His wristwatch was beeping at him. It was 4:55. Time to start packing up and go home.

“This is my new home now.” He muttered to himself. “I get to live where I work, and work where I live!” This caused him to laugh out loud. Oh God I’m losing it.

A knock on the door.

“Go away.” Robert managed to croak out.

“Hey buddy, I’m just checking up on you. Its closing time you know.” Robert sat up alert. That was Mike, the accountant. He was still alive! A thousand thoughts bounced around in his skull. Maybe he had come in late, and the monster had left; maybe he had survived and come back with help; maybe this was all just a horrific nightmare he had just woken up from…

He reached for the door handle but stopped. There was a sound coming from behind the door. It was wet.

“Hey Mike, are you okay?” He asked through the door.

There was a laugh. It lasted too long to be comfortable. “Of course I’m okay Robert. What, do you think I’m lying to you?” More laughter.

“No, it’s just that there’s been some stran-” Robert wasn’t able to finish before Mike’s voice started to scream at him.

“WHAT, DO YOU THINK I’M ACTUALLY A DISMEMBERED HEAD BEING PUPPETTED AROUND? ROBERT THAT IS JUST SILLY!”

Blood was beginning to seep in under the door. Robert was already back in his stall. Despite his best effort, the tears would not come.

Outside the door, the thing that sounded like Mike began to count. It reached 4,000 before stopping.


The four agents met in the briefing room. Agent Levi brought snacks. Finishing his donut, Alexi laid out the info they had so far. Donsley looked over everything with extreme scrutiny. Finally, she nodded. “It’s at least worth checking out.”

“Not like we got anything better to do” Calverez muttered.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.”

“Nothing ma’am. Are local police incapable of handling this?”

“Alexi and I both agreed that if we suspect anomalous activity, we are obligated to check it out.”

They laid out their plan. Agents Levi and Alexi would sweep up to the fifth floor, checking the other stories as they went. Agents Donsley and Calverez would remain to secure the parking lot until backup was needed.

After the briefing, Donsley set out to gain final approval from the director. The others began gearing up. And then they waited. She wasn’t back for another hour. No one asked what took so long. They were used to glacial efficiency.

God bless the American tax dollar, Calverez thought. Then they hit the road.


It was Saturday afternoon when the voices started up again. There would be a knock on the door, followed by another one of Robert’s co-workers.

“Hey sweetie, why don’t you come out here with us?” It sounded like Julia.

“It’s lonely out here without you. I’m so cold inside.” Offered Alex from HR.

Even Henderson joined in. “Robert, I’m disappointed in you. You were always such a team player. Do you not care about us anymore?”


Calverez and Donsley argued the entire trip there. It started when she asked him why he kept checking his rear-view mirror.

“Spooks” Uncomfortable shuffling.

“Does that happen often?” Donsley regretted not going for two vans.

“Sure. Just ask Alexi. He lost three Carts to them last month alone.”

Alexi’s voice drifted out from the back. “It’s true.”

Levi’s voice followed. “Anybody want some trail mix?”

Calverez slammed his hands on the wheel. “For the last time, nobody wants your fucking snacks!”

Donsley almost slapped him. “Don’t talk to your fellow agents like that!”

He turned around, taking his eyes off the road for what Donsley thought was a dangerous amount of time. “You do not get to tell me what to do. I’m the senior agent here, not you.”

“Then what the hell is your problem?”

His eyes darted back to the road. When he spoke, his voice was low. “We are driving, in the middle of the night, to do an office check. Sure, we might find something, but I’m willing to bet the entire office just drank the Kool-Aid. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled to be out in the field. But an office locked from the inside? How am I supposed to take any of this seriously? And for that matter, why do you?”

Donsley sensed there was more to it than that, but she let it go. They sat in awkward silence for a while.

“Hey, Levi…” Calverez’s voice was soft. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that.”

“It’s okay. I’m sure you were just hungry.”


Overnight the voices began working. They pretended to hear a phone ringing, and Susan would answer. Papers were shuffled, and the copy machine even went off a few times. Henderson would call random employees into his office and praise them while disparaging Robert. They all did this as loud as possible, for Robert’s benefit. But he was done listening at this point.

At midnight, blackened fingers could be seen pushing chocolate cake under the bathroom door. There was a loud knock, and in unison all the voices began to sing.

“Happy Birthday to you.”

“Happy Birthday to you.”

“Happy Birthday dear Robert.”

“Happy Birthday to you.”

There was an applause, followed by cries for an encore. The singing began again. This time Robert joined in.


Agent Calverez lit another cigarette. It was his second since pulling into the lot. He spoke into his walkie.

“For the love of God please tell me you aren’t still waiting for the elevator.”

In response, a curtain moved aside from a third story window. A man in a blue suit appeared, then promptly gave him the finger. Calverez chuckled.

“I gotcha, I gotcha. Keep searching.” He told the walkie. “Asshole”.

His cigarette was snatched from his mouth. A polished shoe stamped it out.

“Do you think this is a joke, Agent?” Donsley asked.

Of course I do, Agent Hardass, he thought. “Um, no ma’am. I’m taking this very seriously.”

“Oh? Because you are making it easy assume the opposite.”

Calverez sighed, perhaps too loudly. Donsley opened her mouth to retort, but he was saved by the squawking of the walkie.

“Ground team, ground team, come in ground team.”

Donsley grabbed his walkie. “Report, away team.”

“Hey, we’ve got some shit on the fifth floor. Blood all over, right outside an office called Henderson and Co.”

She raised a sharp eyebrow at Calverez. “Hold your position, we are coming up.” The walkie barked affirmative. “Looks like our lead paid off.”

Our lead is the building security guard you dipshit, Calverez thought. But only to himself.

The two agents pulled free their handguns and moved into the lobby. Donsley motioned towards the stairs and pulled the door open. Calverez swept in and took the lead. They moved up the stairs in silence, up to the fifth floor. Right before Calverez could open the stairwell door, he felt a hand on his arm. He turned to face Donsley.

She came right out and said it. “What’s your problem Tony, huh? Is it me? I know we haven’t worked together long, but I don’t think I’ve been that much of a bitch to warrant this attitude.”

“Are you serious? Is now really the best time for this?”

“I’m not going in there until we hash this out. Otherwise we might as well be on opposite teams.”

Calverez felt his hands ball up. It took restraint to not shout in the cramped stairwell.

“You wanna know my problem? Fine, I’ll tell you. This is a joke. This mission, this job, its all a fucking act. We literally exist as the butt of someone else’s joke. When it comes to this paranormal shit, we aren’t even the fucking b-team. Most of our job is to sit on our asses and wait for the fucking goon squad to show up and solve our problems for us.” He inhaled. “I could give less of a shit what you think of me, since I know we only work here because we pissed someone else off enough for them to kick us into the ground. This isn’t a job. It’s not even an assignment. It’s a fucking punishment.”

He didn’t expect the smile. Her reply was soft. “Have you considered I act the way I do because I want us to do better? I know our reputation. But I also know you aren’t a screw up. Nor am I. At some point in our careers, we cared. About this country, about the Bureau, hell, even each other. We’re a joke because someone told us we were, and we believed it. Sure, we can mope around all day waiting for the men in black to kick us out, or we can do something ourselves.” She pointed at the door. “In there, we’ve got some kind of fucked up freak doing God knows what. There might even be survivors. They are counting on us.”

Calverez felt his defenses weaken. How long had it been since someone had actually expressed hope, had believed in their mission? At some point or another he must have cared. Why else would he have wrapped himself in this cloak of skepticism if not to pretend otherwise. His eyes began to tear up, so he wiped them on his sleeve.

He tried to open his mouth to speak, but no words came to him. Donsley continued. “You wanna know what else? I didn’t ask the director for permission.” Calverez started at this one. “We are all on our own for this one. No one to tell us what to do or how to do it. We have the initiative here. We can make the difference.”

Donsley grabbed Calverez by the hand. “They need you, Agent Calverez.”

God, I needed to hear this, he thought. This was real. Not that shit back at the office, the little trinkets and gadgets that no one else had cared to collect. Not the miserable briefings back in D.C. Years of constant humiliation had rendered him cynical. But no one had ever talked like this to him. If a man can’t take pride in his own work, his father had told him, then the man’s the problem, not the job. He remembered how proud he felt at his graduation ceremony. No one had taken that pride from him.

Calverez found himself nodding. “Aye ma’am. I’m ready to be a hero.”


Robert was sure he was dead. He hadn’t eaten since Friday morning, refusing to touch the cake that clogged the gap in the door. The water in the sink tasted foul to him. And outside the masquerade continued. His mind was blank. The thing outside seemed content to let him waste away in the bathroom, and Robert didn’t mind obliging it.

There was a loud crack. He raised his head in response. Outside the restroom door he could hear yelling, then a cry as a gunshot rang out. There was more yelling, followed by a cascade of gunfire. He swore he could hear Julia scream.

Silence. Robert stood up and approached the bathroom door that had become a prison. He could hear voices, ones he didn’t recognize. There was laughter.

Robert unlocked the handle, turned it, and stepped outside.

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