“How are you doing this morning?”
”What did you eat for dinner last night?”
”Noted. Do you require a briefing? I have the papers here if necessary.”
”…No. I think I’m starting to remember.”
”Good. Let me know if you need anything. Have a good day, agent.”
”You too. Happy holidays.”
“You gotta check out this pumpkin pie!”
“Oh yeah, and it’s not mass-produced this time, even,” Jane from Accounting and Finance tells you with a white-toothed grin. “I made it!”
"You always do pull through with these pies, Jane!" someone says.
You force yourself to snap out of your daze for the sake of social decency. “Oh! That’s great, Jane.” You reach with a heavy arm for the plastic red cup full of forks and sporks as you eye the pie. You gulp. Its texture is far from appealing, and the shimmery wetness of its orange gunk reminds you of roaches for some reason. You put the fork down. “Uh… I’ve been nauseous all day, guys,” you say. It’s not like you’re lying, though it’s more of a tense feeling in your abdomen rather than outright nausea. “Would you mind if I cut a piece and took it home with me?”
“Of course not!” Jane says, her bouncy red curls mirroring her chipper demeanor. “Take as much as you like! I made ten of them.”
You pause. “Oh. Wow.” You only missed the window of normal response time by under three seconds that time, you estimate. That’s not that bad. “Anyway, yeah, I’ll just… uh…” You stand and look around the break room. There aren’t exactly ample amounts of clean Tupperware containers lying around. You bite your lip, hoping Jane and the others don’t see you stressing. You don’t want to come off as detached, after all. Maybe if you can just-
Jane’s husband says your name, interrupting your train of thought with a jolt. You immediately smile to cover it up. “Oh, yeah, just looking for- containers-”
The array of coworkers at the table collectively give you a sympathetic look, though you swear you see a few eyerolls mixed in. “It’s okay, sweetie, the holiday spirit isn’t for everyone. Go get some rest, huh?”
You swallow and nod, forcing in a smile and a halfhearted “have a good night,” repeated a few times while you put your phone in your pocket and grab your jacket. It takes more iterations than usual for you to remind yourself that Jane never intends to sound condescending.
Your phone rings as you walk across the complex. You ignore it, letting its shrill beeps ring out across the empty, snow-covered site grounds.
“It’s okay, sweetie, the holiday spirit isn’t for everyone. Go get some rest, huh?” You scoff, repeating the sentence in your head over and over again until you’ve restructured it at least eight times and given yourself a dull ache above your ears. “It’s okay, sweetie, the holiday spirit isn’t for everyone. Go get some rest, huh?” “It’s okay, sweetie, you never get any rest.” “It’s okay, sweetie, we can tell you don’t want to be here with us.” “It’s okay, sweetie, we don’t really like you anyway.” “It’s okay, sweetie, just go home.”
You slam the door to your apartment. It smells terrible, and the warmth isn’t the pleasant type. It’s more like a stagnant, sweaty stench, characteristic of your unit’s ageing infrastructure. Maybe you should call maintenance, you think as you yank your dull, snow-covered work shoes off - but then again, you watched them replace the air filter only two weeks ago. Perhaps your sink is clogged again. You throw your laptop bag on the couch and watch today’s SCP documents scatter out of it and onto the floor. You ignore them as you walk over to the sink, reaching underneath and pulling out a gallon of bleach. You run the water and turn the garbage disposal on. The noise makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end.
When you pour the soap and bleach into the disposal side, filthy brown bubbles pile up out of the opposite side. You sigh and start scrubbing the aluminum with the dirtiest of your three dish brushes while the grinding noises get worse and the documents on the floor start rattling from the currents of the ceiling fan’s air flow. When the sink is clean and you don’t think you can manage to hold your breath anymore, you turn the disposal off and face the stove. It’ll be oatmeal tonight. That’s the best your stomach can handle right now, you reason. It’s better than nothing.
You’re sitting at the table with your phone in your hand. Your blood is boiling. No, your pot of water is boiling. As you fiddle with your missed call log, the boiling increases in intensity until your kitchen smells of burnt bread and meat. What had been in that water?
No, not the water. You’d just forgotten to clean the stove after you spilled soup on it the night before last. Or was it yesterday night?
You’re interrupted by a sharp, splitting headache, and in turn you remind yourself to stop thinking about things like that. Which day was it that you spilled soup, you repeat to yourself with internal laughter. It doesn’t matter.
You have a missed call from your mother. She’s probably with your grandparents at the nursing home for Christmas Eve. Your thumb hovers over the call button until you can’t bear the sound of water boiling any longer, and then you dial her and stand up out of your barstool simultaneously.
“So glad to hear from you! I know you’re busy with work, but I always love hearing from you. What are you doing for Christmas?”
You try to recall this evening in the break room while you dig through your filing cabinet. “Oh, well, today I was with some of my coworkers for dinner.” You clear your throat. Your voice sounds a little hoarse, you realize. You hope you don’t have a cold.
“Oh, well that’s nice. Do you still like your job?”
Where is that fucking notebook? “Oh. Yeah, I mean, paperwork’s paperwork, but it’s alright.”
“All I want is for you to be happy.”
“I know, mom.”
“Are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine!”
“Okay, okay. I’m not trying to be annoying. I’ll let you go, but have a good night, okay, honey? We wish you were home with us.”
That line is what triggers the onset of the paranoid pulse-quickening, and you say “thanks, love you, goodbye, merry Christmas” at least three times before your mother finally reciprocates and you can hang up. You sit down on your couch with your head in your hands, staring at the SCP documents on the floor through the cracks in your fingers. Should you just get them out of the way before eating? No, that will just stress you out. You might as well multitask. You pick up the first document with shaking hands and stumble over to the kitchen table, throwing it down with a crisp smack.
You’re not mentally ready to read yet, you realize. You go into your bedroom and grab your home laptop, turning it on and setting your music library to shuffle. It plays instrumental electronic. You clear your throat in hopes that doing so will clear your head as well, but only the former does anything of use. You pour the boiling water into your oatmeal. Almost all of it has boiled away by this point, but there’s enough. You turn the burner off, grab a spoon and paper towel, and sit down at the kitchen table to read.
You forgot your binder. You wiggle out of the topheavy barstool and go over to the computer bag again. You start trembling again at the sight of all the documents you have to go through tonight. Maybe you should save them for the morning so that you can get some sleep tonight.
You focus on your oatmeal again and take a bite. It’s only 8:30 PM. You don’t need to go to sleep yet.
The first article is a draft from the memetics department, as usual. They sure do love torturing you, you think with a scoff. Hopefully this one won’t trigger an unavoidable panic attack like last week’s did- was that last week or the week before? It was the week that your mom first took her parents to the nursing home. You remember her telling you. Maybe you should call her and ask.
Your headache cuts into your thoughts again. You sigh and stare into the oatmeal. Don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about it. You know better.
SCP-XXXX is the placeholder designation for a potential Type II memetic symbol found in a major metropolitan area on December 20, 2016. SCP-XXXX’s location and all investigation dates should be redacted. The name of SCP-XXXX’s primary investigator should be redacted. The content of Exploration Log A2 should be expunged completely following the line “Agent Rogers is seen entering the right-side door of the building.”
Site-12 Memetics Department
You gulp down an unchewed mouthful of oats and start reading, clicking your sharpie and preparing to start blackboxing. “Los Angeles.” That’s the first one. You nervously eat another bite without chewing. You start scanning the document for other instances of the city’s mention, and black out four more. Then you look for dates. Eight of them. You put the document away, not wanting to read the exploration log right now. You’ll do it in the office in the morning, after scanning this version and opening it on your work computer. You’ll need text editing for that anyway.
Your kitchen still smells like hell. You stand up and walk over to grab a stack of documents. You figure you can plow through at least ten before you have to go to bed, and there can’t be more than twenty. You remind yourself that you’re lucky you were even approved to take them home; you could be stuck in your office right now. Remember what you have, you remind yourself.
SCP-835 needs a thorough scan for potential overlooked details, as its last readthrough by Redaction Dept. personnel was carried out in 2013. Please have at least three personnel read through both the redacted and unredacted versions and cross-reference them with each other at least thrice.
Site-██ Information Security Department
You shove another bite of oatmeal down your throat. It’s not hot anymore. Maybe you should get some water. You grimace at the article picture and start reading. “SCP-835 is to be monitored and checked daily for new growth.” It crosses your mind that perhaps you shouldn’t read this one while eating. You set it to the side and move on to the next printout.
Warning: The attached document contains potential cognitohazardous stimuli, the effects of which are not yet fully understood. If you feel the onset of the following symptoms, please stop reading and contact medical personnel within three hours: Increased libido, increased lethargy, onset of headaches, onset of nausea, visual hallucinations of unknown entities, visual hallucinations of humans.
Please review for any mentions of the name “Adam Leeward” and please review Figure A for at least ninety seconds. If Figure A induces the symptoms in the aforementioned paragraph, please stop reading for an hour and begin again with more of Figure A redacted. Repeat self-exposure until Figure A does not induce symptoms.
Site-81 Cognitohazards & Infohazards Department
You try to roll your eyes, but you just get goosebumps and a feeling of being watched instead. You really shouldn’t have chosen to live alone when you have this position, you think, but that thought is old news. You put SCP-2708 in the ever-growing ‘do not read’ pile and move on to the next document, but it’s no better.
It’s 1:20 AM when you’re finally in bed - all your work for the day filed away - and your dreams are filled with images of dangerous symbols plaguing the streets of Los Angeles and unknown entities watching you from your open closet. You bolt upright, pulse pounding. You gasp and sob on initial reaction, but your mind chooses to focus on your aging grandparents and your stressed mother rather than the horrors of your articles.
You want to climb out of bed and take a blowtorch to the pile of documents on your kitchen table. You want to reach over to the bedside table and call your mother to make sure she’s okay, or maybe to make sure she’s really herself. You want to curl up under the covers and shake uncontrollably until your body forces itself into unconsciousness, but you’re reminded that SCP-072 might pull them off of you; after all, its project managers needed redactions added years later just in case reading the article is what draws it to a subject.
…There’s still some oatmeal left over from dinner, and your stomach is growling. You force yourself out of bed, but you keep your eyes closed until you reach the light switch, on the off-chance that there’s a hallucination staring at you from the doorway or the corner or the porch.
You’re fixing a bowl of cereal and sucking on a candy cane when you find your phone in your hand and your thumb dialing a number. Is it your mother, or is Jane calling you to tell you that you forgot to take any pumpkin pie home?
”Redactions Department, this is Jones speaking.”
You mumble your name and credentials absentmindedly and hear him shuffling papers around.
“Okay. Are you safe?
You slur the best summary of the thoughts you had while sitting in bed that you can muster up.
Do you need an agent to come there? You only have two emergency procedures left, by your record-”
“Oh, I’m right here.” You frown at your odd phrasing, but don’t give it a second thought as you pour a little too much milk into the bowl of store-brand Honey Bunches of Oats. “Oh. I mean, yeah, I know. Please just send someone.” Your voice cracks and you feel fluid running out of your eyes and down your cheeks again. Should you get blueberries? This would be good with blueberries. You hadn’t gotten a new bag of frozen blueberries since last week, actually. Or was it the week before?
”Are you there? I’m sending Williamson over right now. Please remain calm.”
”Sorry, Director.” You stab flakes of cereal with your spoon before hanging up. You repeat that action until there’s a knock at your door, and then a tired sigh and the sound of a key in the lock. You avoid Williamson’s face when he rushes over and starts talking at you, your mind on other, more important things. When he escorts you over to the couch to push all the papers off and lay you down, you grip his hand a little too hard.
“I vacuumed yesterday,” you say while staring at the ceiling. “I hate popcorn ceilings. Is the floor clean to you? Do you think it looks clean?”
“I forgot to take my shoes off,” he says with a half-assed smirk while he tourniquets your upper arm and starts digging in his bag.
“How is your mother, Williamson? My mom’s with my grandma and grandpa for the holidays. Are you doing anything for the holidays?”
He sighs and wipes his forehead before he snaps on his latex gloves. “I’ll be with the crew at a Christmas Eve party. And please don’t think about past events right now. You know the headache it causes.”
Yes, you do. You swallow and try not to stare at Williamson’s beard. You aren’t successful.
“Okay, now please don’t jab me in the throat this time,” he says quietly, wiping your arm with an isopropyl alcohol-doused swab and readying the syringe.
“Why don’t they make you shave?” you wonder aloud.
“Because there’s no rule about it,” he says with a sigh, puncturing your vein.
“Today’s code is B-thirty-five.”
“Today’s code is B-thirty-five.”
“Oh. Okay. B-thirty-five.”
His mouth is a straight line while he finishes draining the syringe. When it’s empty, he pulls it out of you and says, “do you need me to stay here with you?”
You’re not sure what he means by that. “Why?”
"In case of panic or adverse reactions to-"
"I'm fine, really."
He sighs. “Look, this is your third emergency amnesticization in the past two months. I know this department is taxing on your mental health, but if you want my advice as a coworker, I’d advise you to transfer. There’s no reason to keep doing this to yourself if you can’t handle the content of the work.”
You laugh while you rub your arm. “I’ll talk to Jones.”
He opens his mouth, but closes it. “Alright. Are you good?”
“I’m always good.”
He nods, says something under his breath, packs up his bag, and leaves. You hear him relock the door for you.
“By the way, merry Christmas!” you call out with a smile before closing your eyes.
How are you doing this morning?
Jones stares solemnly over his glasses at you. ”What did you eat for dinner last night?”
He nods and puts his papers down. You think you see him roll his eyes. “B-thirty-five.”
Your eyes widen. “…Oh.” You clench your hand and look at your lap.
“No one will hold anything against you if you transfer, you know. This position is not for everyone, even in this organization.”
You pull your mind back from the fragmented memories of last night. “I-”
“I’m just saying that-”
“It’s so important, though. Arguably the most important department in each site. You heard what the O5s wrote about last month-”
“Yes. Look, you’re only allowed so many emergency procedures, you know.”
“You’re really on the upper limit of them.”
“I have- nightmares.”
“B-but what’s the problem, logically speaking, if I don’t remember anything a day later?”
“Sleeping. Paranoia issues. Depression and anxiety. Chemical addiction to amnes-”
“Okay, look, I know the Foundation has my drug record, but that was a different part of my life-”
“Calm down. This isn’t about you doing weed and shrooms in college, this is about well-known and widely documented biochemical obstacles in this work field,” he says in a more sarcastic tone than usual. “You’re a good employee. But you’re not a good employee in the Redactions Department.”
“Okay.” You let silence fall over the office.
You nod and open your mouth once Jones starts cleaning up his desk.
You look up at him. “…One more chance.”
He stares past you for several seconds. You assume he’s staring at the wall clock. He always seemed to like staring at it. He was definitely the type to be obsessed with time, you thought. Always counting it, even though his job was dedicated to losing it.
“One more chance,” he says quietly, without making eye contact.
You stand up. “Okay. I mean- thank you.”
“Have a good day, agent.”
”You too. Happy holidays.”
You close the door and start toward the break room. You look at your watch. It’s only 9:30 AM. Maybe, if you’re lucky, a few of the staff will already be setting up a Christmas Eve party in the break room, and you can snag one of those infamous pumpkin pies that Jane from Accounting and Finance always makes this time of year. You smile and walk down the hallway without looking back.