It started off in the distance, a low drone of whispering. I’ve heard this sound since I was a child. I would point it out and my mother would pat my head and tell me “don’t worry Jenny, it’s probably something outside” and tuck me in before leaving me in darkness. This low whispering, just beyond my ear, behind me, just down the hall. I woke up that night and I could swear I understood a handful of words being said. A jumble of words that made no sense to me, individually. “House, light, need, outside, water,” they could have been talking about anything from needing fresh air, light and outside to swim in my pool. I chuckled at my assumption and fell asleep again.
My mother would smooth my brunette hair and pinch my cheeks with a smile, “it’s just the wind,” she’d say softly. Part of me wanted to believe that but a trickle of fear would drain from the back of my neck to the bottom of my toes at that age, no matter how sweet my mother would console me. My father happily joined in the pleasantries but I merely assumed that was for my mother’s sake.
The years have passed since then, since it began, now it drones softly behind the noises of life. It drones like a whisper behind passing cars and barking orders from management about marketing projections and clients moaning about their projects not looking right to them. The night, it was the first night I never heard the droning sound of whispering in the distant drawing closer.
It became apart of me throughout my life. A hum only I could hear, just beyond my peripheral vision. On my twenty-second birthday it became louder. Instead of forty kilometers away, it was thirty. That’s a rough guess, I never saw the source of this annoyance.
The sun tickled my eyes, waking me gently like the touch of a sweet lover’s hand. I rose to my feet with a groaning stretch. A quick shower shocked my senses to start the day, a soft summer dress and coffee to endure to the mid afternoon. A bagel with cream cheese, and half of a game show later; I was ready for work. I was made aware of the strange silence but was so relieved, I brushed it off quickly enough to be on my way to the office.
Traffic was awful yet I was not phased by the annoyance. I was forced to endure the stop and go traffic that made the morning commute more repugnant, yet I was smiling and singing to the music without discretion. Even the atrocious parking situation was a breeze this fine morning.
“Good morning,” I said as I walked through the reception area toward the administration hallway. It was at the very end where a large glass door stood with a passkey reader that floated by the handle, so employees could enter -only if they have a passkey. Managers, executives, and even one of our biggest clients greeted me as I walked toward my office. The usual nervousness even left me upon their greeting.
I slid my passkey in the groove, with a dance, as I entered the empty office and scanned, as usual I was embarrassingly early. I sat in my chair and gave it a quick spin before turning on my computer. First to fluff my brunette hair to fall in a more playful manner.
I was alone at my cube, as usual, and the silence was music to my ears. The chatty bunch never hesitated, even in the early morning to gossip or discuss personal matters but I enjoyed escaping into my headphones as I checked emails and designed marketing techniques for our client.
“Hey” a low whisper beckoned from just outside my cube. I assumed it was Jenny, so I placed my headphones in before picking my music.
“Do I feel like rock and roll,” I pretended to play air guitar, “or something more playful” I swirled in my chair, dancing to the idea.
“Hey” the disembodied voice repeated. I whipped around before slowly rising to look over the partition. If I weren’t so cynical I’d be more afraid but there was nothing when I checked. I was starting to become frustrated when I checked the other cubes but I was still alone in the office.
Bang! The sound echoed from a manager’s office. I thought it could be possible a manager being in their office this early but the lights were off still. Click, and a light flicked on in the far office to the left. “What the…” I said, removing my headphones. I approached slowly, feeling the anxiety pulsing in my veins as it ran cold. When I opened the door, I saw nothing again. I shrugged in relief. I’m just tired still.
I returned to my desk, logged in and began with the emails first. The nightmare of opening and replying to emails was the absolute bane — and I mean bane- of my existence, but part of my job still. One email struck me as odd, probably spam but I opened it absentmindedly. It had no subject but the body said “hey”… It was from less than a minute ago…it was sent from my email address…with a photograph attachment of me standing by the manager’s office from behind.
“That can’t be,” I said almost under my breath as I felt my chest tighten and knees lock. I placed a hand over my mouth in shear shock.
“Here as usual,” a voice coolly drifted into my ears, calming yet condescending, “I had a feeling. I need you to look for the email from Charles Brandison. He has a special project for you and I want you to come into my office when you’ve read it.” I knew that voice, Brad Marshall, a stern even tempered man with rambunctiously wild eyes and tamed eyebrows and every hair on his body was tiger striped with grey tendrils of vitality.
I settled my nerves, breathing into my lap slowly. I looked up to close the email and the email was seemingly gone, but how? I ignored the growing paranoia, the email from Brad first. I found the email and opened it as I watched Brad in my peripherals. He unlocked his office, the same office that the light flicked on, and watched as the cold nothingness filled to the corners with light. A chill tickled my spine but I read the email to myself.
“Dear Jenny, you’ve been wonderful the past two years,” it began, sounding more like a break up then whatever it was about to be, “that’s why I want to invite you to our office in New York. There is a great opportunity I would like to open up you and hope you can grace us with your appearance. Thank you” it was signed by none other than Charles Brandison. I bolted into the office with the slightest bit of resignation when I passed the threshold. I quickly shook it off as I sat across from Brad.
“What do you think?” He asked mildly.
“It sounds amazing but what about my position here?” I throttled myself internally screaming whereas my external was so cool, I could have made a quick buck working with air conditioning units.
“Actually we’ve been working on it for about a month now, and we’re waiting for a response at this point.” Brad folded his hands, giving the impression that he secretly hoped I would decline.
“New York, huh” I stuttered nervously, “it’s so close yet I’ve never been. Do you know what I’ll be doing?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know exactly but he’s a partner of our biggest client.”
“Wow, and in the ‘Big Apple’ to boot. I’ll do it.” I announced while Brad’s head dropped to stare at the desk.
“I had a feeling,” he said quietly, “I knew you would. Well with your yes, I’ll get in touch with Charles and have more information later today.”
I beamed on the way to my desk. The small crowd of people, the gossip crew I call them, stood over my desk. Did everyone know but me?
“Did you really get offered that position in New York?” One woman asked.
“Yeah, what will you be doing?” A man chimed in, I stood stunned for a moment.
“I don’t know” I said, more like stammered.
“How cool is that? I’m a touch envious.” The woman said playfully.
The flurry of questions was overwhelming, but the one person that made the situation awkward was Heidi. With the “why would they choose you over me, I’m more qualified” sob story that happens at least once in cut throat industries.
“I find out the full story tomorrow.” I said, knowing it could be sooner, but they don’t need to know that. I can be sweet, chatty, and bubbly. I was no doubt very private.
The experience this morning was nearly pushed out of my mind, forgetting about it by lunch. I didn’t forget about the whispering in the distance. It was almost disturbing when I realized for a second time it was gone. I couldn’t tell if I was afraid of what it meant, if I was afraid of it would return.
My food was settling as I ran my typical report, watching at the spreadsheet of five thousand items appeared, populated in numbers and letters on the screen. The report was a list of authors for the magazine we were designing. For the time being, I had to sift through and only approve a thirty possible authors to be picked through. I stretched and adjusted my hand on the mouse . Our resume for writers included their best article in any subject as long as it was approximately 5,000–12,000 words and most included photographs or drawings.
The specific instructions I was given always led me to a difficult decision, some of these writers were delightful but I had to follow my instructions and omit the writers that didn’t follow our guidelines for them. There was one writer I enjoyed the narration and story but it sounded so rushed and was so short, the story was completely lost. “Oh you poor fool,” I whispered as I deleted and highlighted, deleted and highlighted; it seemed like an hour but I was wrong. It was two solid hours of editing.
“My office please,” Brad said softly as he crouched near the mouth of the cube. I scurried behind him, excitedly.
“You’re good to go.” Brad said after he closed the door behind him. I was so happy I could cry.
I threw myself into seat so it spun. How could I possibly sleep tonight? I had one last day in my office, tomorrow, and by Friday afternoon I would be on a two hour flight into New York.
I couldn’t run fast enough to my car when the day was over. I had my keys clenched between my fingers, my bag slung around my shoulder, and eyes glued to the door. The moment I placed the key into the ignition, I felt tension while the engine kicked on then failed. I took a deep breath as I brought my hand away to attempt to start the car again, but a sound rattled in my ears. I sat stick still, waiting for a thump or crash: waiting for another sound to valid my hearing. I turned to check my backseat, I didn’t see anything suspicious. I made a risky decision by jumping out of the car. I checked the trunk and didn’t see anything there either. My heart was racing as I realized the only other place to look is under the car.
I took a deep breath before crouching only to be stopped in my tracks by something or someone in all black crawling from underneath my car. It moved like a shadow stretching toward me, a slow moving absence of light in the glaring afternoon sun. I gripped my keys between each finger as I stepped back slowly, praying someone would walk out to help me, but the door didn’t so much as creak open from the wind. I ran, I ran all the way up the stairs and to the lobby where reception stood to leave.
“Jenny, are you ok?” Morgan asked, concern drowning out the joy of leaving. I was breathless, heaving as much air as I could gulp into my lungs before responding.
“My…car….” I choked between gasps, my hands searching for the desk to lean against.
“what happened? Can I walk you there?” she rounded toward me and grabbed my arm as we walked through the lobby and to the stairs.
“I think someone messed with my car while I was working.” I said as my breathing evened out.
“Oh my,” she said, placing her hand on her chest, “I’d be glad to walk you to your car.”
“Thank you.” I said. She smiled sweetly as she released her grip. I searched all around my car and even popped the hood to check the engine but nothing looked tampered, and the thing under my car was no longer there. Morgan said goodnight and walked to her car which was only a couple yards away and I returned the sentiment.
The engine growled then sputtered as it came alive, I couldn’t have been more relieved as I navigated through the parking lot. The turn was smooth onto the street and traffic was light on the way to my apartment, but about half way the relentless grumble from my car returned as it died. I struggled to turn the wheel to pull off to the shoulder, I didn’t realize I turned too sharply and the shock of force as the car made contact with the guardrail to prevent people from falling down the cliff, yet all I could see is the bottom of the gully. Time stood dangerously still. My stomach dropped while the inertia sliced through me. My last vision before the blackness enveloped me was the shadow stretching the full view of my windshield, smiling at me as I fell to my death.
Some might say whatever stalked her as a child returned that night. She ignored the voice, but the voice never ignored her.