Nobody Ever Leaves Here

A Halloween tale, a day late due to busyness.

*****

The young woman had been job hunting for a month.  Job hunting was expected of her, that much she knew.  You didn’t finish two degrees and then sit around wishing you could take early retirement, did you?  Her parents had made it very clear that in life there must be purpose; preferably one which came with a reasonable salary attached.  Lucy’s (for that was her name) parents had died four years ago in a car crash on the M1. This really, gobsmackingly awful fact had not prevented them from issuing further instructions on life, the universe and everything, from across the void that separated them from their daughter.   For they remained as very clear voices inside Lucy’s head.

Lucy had no siblings.  Both sets of grandparents were dead.  Her only family was a childless uncle who had taken her in, but their personalities had clashed, as familial personalities so often do.  The uncle had overseen the sale of Lucy’s quite substantial family home, the proceeds of which had been invested in Lucy’s name. Financial advisors had made it clear that the most sensible thing to do would be to leave this money where it was. Investments were a long-term commitment. Lucy had been assured that her money would go up but would also, periodically, go down, but there would be no need to panic for the pay-off would come in roughly thirty years, when she would find herself financially secure. In the meantime, she would unfortunately have to find herself a job.

Lucy had decided, come the end of her final stint in education (during which she had barely seen her uncle) that a job in admin, paying just enough to rent a room (quite a long way away from her uncle) would be just the thing. But oh, how she would mourn the loss of her meagre academic timetable and all that extended academic time off. This grief would not, of course, approach the loss of her parents but Lucy, to some degree, had here been protected by her youth, and the brain’s capacity to delay the full onset of grief; sometimes years into the future. There was little else she would miss about higher education. She’d managed to make a couple of friends at university but was under no illusion that those friendships would last beyond graduation.

Lucy had begun her job search during the last month of her final degree. Job hunting was a pain in the neck and Lucy was job hunting alone with no-one to guide her, for she had neglected to tell her uncle.  She had felt a calling to work in administration (in something behind the scenes) because perhaps those were the kinds of jobs with minimal stress; the kinds of jobs which wouldn’t require much people interaction; the kinds of jobs where you could probably get away with tapping away on a keyboard in something the size of a box room, which had been given over entirely to yourself.  She wanted nothing customer-facing. She wanted as little to do with the telephone as was possible, in a world built on communication.  Some might see ‘something in admin’ as the alternative dictionary definition for ‘boredom,’ but not Lucy. She thrived on routine. Occurrences of an unexpected nature, however small, tended to ‘throw her’ completely. Not for her the wanderlust of a gap year. Besides, she had no clear career goal. Well, there was one career goal. She’d quite like to fall in love, maybe have a sprog or two (to replicate the family she no longer had) and settle down into domesticity, without ever having to job hunt again. But this was an internalised and very private career goal, never to be published on Linkedin, or included in any graduate personal statement.

On day thirty two of Lucy’s job search (which she had now named ‘The Hunting of the Elusive Job,’ for her dream admin job seemed to be as elusive as the Snark) an advert appeared on Indeed, Reed and any other job site you can think of, with the word ‘new’ against the job title and ‘posted just now,’ to further clarify its shiny new status.  The job advert ran like this:

General Administrative Assistant

Due to recent significant expansion we now offer the above position. Are you passionate about admin?  Does the thought of spending eight hours a day typing words and numbers into a computer, and moving other words and numbers from one computer to another, fill you not with ennui, but with a warm, contented glow?  Do you yearn for order, both in the workplace and in life?  Are you a whizz with Word?  Excellent at Excel?  Do you email with ease and never procrastinate over a purchase order?

Essential Requirements:

A love of routine.
A preference for quiet surroundings.
Methodical and detailed approach to work.
Ability to work independently, probably in a small room, possibly all by yourself.
Excellent typing speed.
Good grammer (oops ‘grammar’ but you’ll have noticed that because you’ll also be a proficient speller)

Desirable Skills:

Educated to bachelor’s degree level (or above)
Excellent written and oral communication skills (not to worry, telephone work will be minimal)

Salary negotiable but probably a lot more than you think.
If this sounds like you then apply today!

No agencies. Applications via our company website only.

Lucy couldn’t believe her luck, or the very peculiar nature of this very particular job advert. It didn’t matter. Lucy clicked the apply button immediately, to be taken to the company’s website. The company was called Messrs H&G Solicitors, specialists in Property, Finance and Tax. Their website featured a building described as a 16th Century manor house, which had been converted to offices in such a way as not to lose any of its period charm. The manor was set in beautiful parkland, just outside the delightfully small parish town of Uppingham in Rutland.  ‘Aahh,’ Lucy sighed, her pupils dilating.  She was a lover of period drama.

Lucy spent about an hour filling in the very basic application form. Name. Address. Contact details. Education. And a very brief (no more than 170 words) personal statement.  And then she pressed the submit button.  An hour later the job advert, along with the company’s website, disappeared.

Lucy’s application was successful. Amazingly so, as she received an interview request the morning after submitting her application.  Perhaps this instantaneous response had been due to her academic successes, but this also begged the question (in her own mind) – was she overqualified for admin?  Would there be difficult questions to be answered in this regard?  A worrying lack of ambition and commitment perhaps?  No, the nature of the job advert quietened these anxieties.

Despite the personality clash, Lucy’s uncle had lent Lucy his car for the duration of her university career.  It was in this much-loved car that Lucy made her way, a week later, to Uppingham.  Rutland, to the first-time visitor, was not looking its best at 8 am on a rainy Tuesday in mid-October, as Lucy entered the smallest county in Britain. A mist hung low above flat fields that stretched far away into the distance.  Were she not on edge about her upcoming interview, she may have found this mist (which hung like a bridal veil just below the tops of the trees) to be an enticing and mystical phenomenon.  Instead the surrounding countryside seemed slightly menacing, in the way that an entirely flat landscape will, when it seems to go on forever, with absolutely nowhere to take cover. She opened the driver’s window slightly, to try and clear fogging on the window (her car’s ventilation system had long been below par) and her ears were met by a quite deathly silence.

Lucy drove on down the road.  Suddenly, the screen on her Sat Nav blinked to black.  She checked, but the device was still plugged in. The mist had now turned to thick fog. Lucy could barely see several yards in front of, or around her. The fog seemed to be bearing down on her and her little car. Lucy felt sudden, rising panic.  Should she keep driving or pull over and wait the fog out?  But how long would this fog last and would she miss her interview at 9.30?  She would call Messrs H&G Solicitors, explaining the circumstances and inform them that she was likely to be very late.  But surely, they too would be fogged in and make allowances. Her Sat Nav had shown that Messrs H&G were just a few miles away.  ‘I’ll keep going for a while,’ Lucy said to herself, ‘maybe I’ll come to a place where I can pull over.’

She crawled along an increasingly narrowing road, tall hedgerows occasionally looming in to view through the fog. She watched for any ghostly headlights advancing towards her, or coming up from behind, but the road appeared to be deserted. Five minutes later the extremely unpleasant sensation, that she was the only remaining living thing in existence, caused a shiver to run down her spine. ‘You should have told your uncle about this interview,’ her mother said , breaking through the fog and the silence. ‘Yes, I’ll call my uncle,’ Lucy replied, ‘I should have told him about the interview and everything really (Lucy was in the habit of not telling her uncle anything.)  He’d have probably come with me if he’d known and I wouldn’t be stuck out here alone.’  Lucy reached for her phone to find there was no signal. Looking back up at the road she could now see a road sign, just visible in the glow of the car’s headlights. Messrs H&G Solicitors it said, with an arrow pointing to the left.  Lucy began to turn her wheel to the left and suddenly, almost miraculously, the fog disappeared.

*****

Lucy found herself driving through a tiny village, passing the most charming, thatched limestone cottages.  She felt entirely safe again; no need to call her uncle.  A washed-out sun appeared in the sky, as heavy grey clouds began to disperse. Ten minutes later she was driving through an open gateway that led to the imposing offices of Messrs H&G.  After parking in what she took to be the company car park (a large patch of gravel and as deserted as the road she’d just left) she made her way to the company’s entrance.  Here she spoke through an intercom. A buzzing sounded and double doors slid apart.  She walked through to reception.  ‘Lucy Bainbridge?’ the receptionist enquired. ‘Yes, I’m early I know,’ Lucy answered. ‘My Sat Nav must have been wrong. It told me I still had a few miles to go when I was stuck in the fog; that is, before it broke down, but here I am almost half an hour early’ (‘I’m rambling,’ she thought, ‘not giving a very good impression.’)  ‘The fog?’ the receptionist asked, ‘we’ve had no fog, it’s always sunny here,’ and she smiled a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. ‘Well that can’t be true,’ thought Lucy. Lucy noted that the receptionist looked as washed out as the sun that had latterly appeared in the sky, but which now shone brightly.  Her skin had an extraordinary pallor, which made her brown eyes all the more striking. Lucy couldn’t help but look into those eyes and there found a deep well of what she could only describe as ‘nothingness.’ ‘I’ll let Mr Heme know you’re here,’ the receptionist said. She picked up her phone and a moment later said, ‘he’ll see you now, follow me please.’

The receptionist rose from her seat slowly, using her desk as a support, and began walking down a long corridor, limping very slightly.  Lucy followed. They arrived at an impressively large oak office door. The receptionist knocked and entered. ‘Lucy Bainbridge Sir,’ and she motioned Lucy to enter the room, before walking out.

Mr Heme was sitting behind an oak desk, as impressive as the door through which she’d entered.  He got to his feet, walked round the desk and extended a hand. ‘Lucy! Welcome. The early bird catches the worm eh?  Or in this case the job.’  Her eyes took him in at a glance. Tall, midnight blue suit, white shirt, no tie and amazingly thick black hair, layered in a deeply attractive way. He looked nothing like the solicitor who’d handled the sale of her family home. ‘I’m sorry I’m so early,’ she said. ‘Nonsense,’ said Mr Heme, ‘punctuality is a virtue, even when premature. Take a seat please.’ Lucy sat on a chair directly opposite the large oak desk, whilst Mr Heme returned to his desk.  She clasped her hands together in her lap to stop them shaking. Mr Heme introduced himself. ‘My name is Ian Heme. I’m the CEO of the company. My partner, Jeff Globin, is away at the moment on business, which is a shame as he usually likes to take part in the interview process (Lucy inwardly sighed with relief, at least this wasn’t going to be a panel interview.)

‘Right, tell me how you got here’

‘Well, I used my uncle’s car. I don’t have a car but I’m sure he’d let me keep it for work purposes, if there’s any driving involved with the job… is there?  (Lucy hoped there wasn’t.)  Not that I’m saying I’ll definitely get the job (Lucy inwardly winced.)

Mr Heme laughed. The laugh displayed the straightest, whitest, most dazzling set of teeth Lucy had ever seen; the kind of teeth which would cut through a steak with ease, and which  made quite a contrast to the jet-black hair.  ‘Oh, how literal.’ Mr Heme continued. ‘I meant what made you apply for this job?’

Lucy blushed and Mr Heme leaned forward, rather intently. ‘Well, I’ve spent a significant amount of time in education and realised I’ve got absolutely no work experience. Not that I don’t know how to work. There’s a lot of work involved in getting a degree you know, believe me. But it’s not the kind of work experience that looks good on a CV.’  Lucy stopped, realising she was saying entirely all the wrong things.  That’s what happened when your parents weren’t around, or when the voices in your head were silent.

‘I see. You have no real passion for admin. You just need a job. A job which comes with as little hassle as possible?  Something relatively simple, so you can get through the day and then live your ‘real’ life?  Something you can put on your CV, which will hopefully increase your chances of getting something better in the near or distant future.’

(‘I’ve completely cocked it up,’ thought the beleaguered Lucy.)  ‘No, I wanted an administrative job,’ Lucy almost pleaded (‘what am I doing,’ she wondered, ‘just digging myself a bigger hole.’)  I like order, and peace and quiet, and typing things into computers, and all the other things in the advert.’  She realised that she was beginning to sound like a whining child.

‘Honesty is a deeply attractive quality Lucy. I myself sometimes tire of soliciting (just a solicitor’s joke Lucy, pay it no heed) when there are many other pursuits I’d..ahem…rather be pursuing.’  Again, he leaned forward, his gaze dropping to Lucy’s favourite necklace.  ‘But we are a happy company here.  Everyone thoroughly enjoys their work. I can say with utter conviction that no member of the Messrs H&G team has ever left us.’

Mr Heme was now standing in front of the oak desk. For the first time Lucy noticed her surroundings.  A cavernous office, every wall lined with books. To her right, olive green leather armchairs, placed either side of a fireplace big enough to stand in. A log fire was burning in a wrought iron grate.  Lucy began to feel very warm but daren’t remove her jacket. ‘I’m unusually cold-blooded,’ Mr Heme remarked, ‘hence the rather extravagant fire.’  And he smiled directly at her. The smile reached his eyes, causing Lucy to unconsciously look up, and into those eyes.

Such a striking blue. ‘Blue eyes and black hair, what an unusual combination,’ Lucy was thinking. But wait, they weren’t blue, they were green and glittering like emeralds; no, that couldn’t be right. ‘Be careful of those eyes,’ her father whispered from somewhere deep inside her brain. Now the eyes were black, so black that Lucy was falling into a black hole.  ‘Tell me about your parents,’ Mr Heme murmured.

*****

Lucy got the job. She moved back in with her uncle, who was mightily pleased that Lucy had secured gainful employment and who readily gave Lucy his car, as a kind of congratulatory gift.  A month later she was driving back to Rutland. The job came with free accommodation, in a sectioned off part of the company building. This was an entirely unexpected perk, but apparently all the staff lived onsite. There was no sense of disquiet in Lucy’s mind as she drove, once again, through the gateway to Messrs H&G. The fact that she had no memory of her interview, beyond a certain point, had not caused alarm. She put this curious fact down to interview nerves, despite her mother’s niggling voice to the contrary.  She had secured her first job within a month, and in quite magnificent surroundings, that was enough.

The receptionist had been replaced with a young girl displaying a much healthier complexion. ‘I wonder if the old receptionist got promoted,’ thought Lucy. She showed Lucy to her desk, situated in a small office alongside one other desk. Things were looking promising already. Lucy thanked the receptionist, who informed her that somebody would be along shortly to show her the ropes and give her an ID card.  She paused in the doorway before leaving, as though about to add something further, but evidently thought better of it and left. Another young woman appeared; pale and very sullen.  ‘I’m to give you a tour of the company,’ she said, ‘oh, and here’s your ID card, you can use that to get in and out of the main entrance,’ and off they went.  Lucy had never worn an ID card and lanyard before and felt a quite ridiculous sense of importance.

She was introduced to young financial experts, tax professionals and a support team.  Nobody spoke.  All appeared to be hard at work, heads down, but in a curiously slow and painful manner. In the support team’s office, one young woman (even younger than Lucy) looked up briefly as Lucy passed her desk.  The dark circles under her eyes caused Lucy to gasp audibly.  No-one appeared to be over thirty years old. A curiosity, considering nobody ever left the company.

Mr Heme himself came to see her, when Lucy was back at her desk.  He informed her that Mr Globin was in the building and that they would both like to learn more about her at a little social event that evening.  Would she mind meeting in Mr Heme’s office at around 7 pm?  Lucy felt even more ridiculously important.

At 5 pm Lucy finished typing up a document to do with the transference of property and went to her room in a far-off wing of the building.  ‘I must empty my car,’ she suddenly thought. Her clothes and a few prized possessions had been stashed in the boot and on the back seats. But no. On inspecting the wardrobe and chest of drawers in the room, she found that someone had beaten her to it. There were her dresses hanging neatly in a row. The rest of her clothes were folded just as neatly in the drawers.  But how had this someone gained access to her car?  ‘Where are your car keys?’ her father asked.  Yes, her car keys had been in her coat pocket, and her coat had been draped across the back of her chair at her newly acquired office desk.  Lucy picked up her coat, from where she’d slung it on the bed, and felt around in its pockets. They were empty. The keys were nowhere in the room. She would take a walk outside, just to clear her head a little. Her car keys would no doubt be back in her room when she returned.

She swiped her ID card across a silver metal box on the wall to the left of the main entrance. The double doors slid apart and she walked out into a dark winter’s evening, the cool air instantly made her feel alert and fully alive.  The dimly lit car park was empty. Her car had disappeared. ‘I think you should run away dear,’ her mother suggested. ‘But I don’t have a car mum,’ Lucy said aloud, ‘and I’m not really sure where I am due to all that fog.  I came upon the place so much sooner than I expected to. My phone was in the car too, I completely forgot to take it out.’  She was getting cold. She would go back inside and change for her meeting with Mr Heme and Mr Globin.

At 9.00 pm Lucy was ensconced in one of the leather chairs in Mr Heme’s office. A half-drunk glass of wine was in her hand and she was feeling comfortable and mellow in the fire light’s glow. Mr Heme was sitting opposite her, cradling a whiskey.  Mr Globin was seated at the oak desk, working late on a document and didn’t seem at all in the mood to socialise. Jeff Globin was a direct contrast to Ian Heme. He was short, balding, squinty-eyed (behind owl rimmed glasses) and deeply unpleasant. Lucy had inwardly shuddered at the touch of his sweaty, plump hand, when he had greeted her arrival.  Mr Heme had talked to Lucy the entire evening, but she was now tired and wanted to go back to her room.  ‘Of course,’ said Mr Heme, ‘starting a new job can be such a draining experience.’ And he licked his lips in a most alarmingly lascivious manner.

Lying in bed, Lucy found that she couldn’t remember a single word Mr Heme had said. Perhaps she’d drunk far too much, but she was sure she’d only asked for one glass of wine. In a matter of minutes, she was fast asleep.

Her alarm went off at 7.00 am. Lucy didn’t hear it. The alarm continued to beep incessantly. ‘Uurghh,’ Lucy moaned from beneath her duvet. One arm reached out and shut off the alarm. She was so tired; beyond tired; exhausted. Getting out of bed seemed to take a monumental effort on her part. She dragged her feet to the small en suite bathroom and showered, shivering in the hot water. ‘I must be coming down with something,’ she thought after her shower, as she viewed her mirror image. She was so pale and so cold. ‘I’ll tell them I’m sick and stay in bed.’  ‘Try to get to the nearest village,’ her mother interjected. ‘You passed one on your way here remember. It’s daylight now, you’ll make it. There may be a village doctor.’  Lucy dressed warmly, donning a pair of walking boots she’d planned to use for weekend hiking. She placed her ID card in her coat pocket, and made her way down to the main entrance. She took out the ID card and swiped across the silver metal unit, moving towards the doors as she did so. The doors remained shut. She swiped again. ‘It’s no good,’ a voice broke the silence behind her. The young woman from the support team was standing behind her, the dark circles under her eyes even more pronounced in full daylight.  ‘Nobody ever leaves here.’

A five-page letter lay on Mr Heme’s oak desk. Mr Globin had finished it just as Lucy had retired to bed the evening before. Lucy’s investments were to be transferred to the safe keeping of Messrs H&G Solicitors forthwith.  Lucy’s signature graced the last page.  The vampiric duo of Heme and Globin made a very good living (in more ways than one) from the lonely, young, naive souls who found their way to the secluded estate.

One might even say they were the original blood sucking lawyers.

 

 

 

 

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