I will assume that you have no knowledge of UK insolvency law. I would be surprised if you did. Most people think that when a company runs out of money it goes bankrupt, this is true from a terminology point of view but the formal procedures for corporate entities is not called bankruptcy. Unlike in America, only people can go bankrupt in the UK. Typically when a company cannot pay its creditors it is liquidated. The liquidator winds down the affairs of the Company and sells what assets the Company has and then shares that money out to the Company’s creditors, after paying themselves of course.
My job as a licenced insolvency practitioner was to act as the liquidator for companies like this. I have been doing it for a while, I enjoy it. My job helps the economy and redistributes wealth from inefficient businesses to more efficient businesses. I’ve had some interesting cases over the years. IT companies, car manufacturers, high street shops, factories, all sorts, there was one case though that haunts me still. I have never spoken to anyone about that day in June last year. Even my colleague who was with me on that day knows nothing of what happened.
I should tell you, Insolvency Practitioners in the UK are regulated, like lawyers, doctors and accountants. Despite public perception, we have an ethical code that punishes lies and encourages honesty. When I tell you the events that took place, you should believe me. Then again, why would you, I hardly believe it myself.
Without boring you with details a company is put into liquidation either by the directors initiating the procedure or by a creditor applying to the court to have a liquidator appointed. The Liquidator takes over and the directors lose their powers. Insolvencies happen year-round but they usually pick up around Christmas time and the end of the tax year. One winter I was appointed liquidator of a company through the court. A business that manufactured notebooks, being the creditor, had not been paid for several months and decided to call on the court to have the debtor company wound up. The company being wound up was called Dabria Limited.
It turned out that the notebooks my client manufactured were high-quality luxury notebooks. They had received orders from Dabria for several years. The books that were ordered were bound in red leather with lined accounting paper inside. They were similar to accounting journals in fact with a lined margin on the left and right-hand side of the page.
The directors of the Company did not appear in court, in fact when I spoke to the creditor they told me that they had never spoken with anyone at Dabria but this wasn’t through lack of trying. On several occasions, they had tried to phone Dabria and find out why they hadn’t been paid and to negotiate some kind of repayment schedule. When I asked how they had dealt with them in the past it turned out that their orders were simply being received online and these were delivered as normal through their delivery drivers. When I spoke to the delivery drivers some weeks later I found out that none of them had actually been to the company’s premises, they had left the deliveries with the communal office building’s reception as instructed on the online order. There was nothing particularly unusual about this although it did seem odd that the directors and staff would not take any calls but such things are not unheard of. What did strike me as odd at the time was the sheer number of notebooks Dabria were ordering. There was enough to fill an entire office from floor to ceiling by my reckoning.
Usually, in the modern world, an insolvency practitioner would not attend the premises personally and instead would ask some administrator or junior member of staff to go along and box up the records. They would hang around for agents to come and look over the equipment that was left behind and stick a value on it so it could be sold at auction or abandoned for the landlord to take of. As we had no contact with the directors or any of the staff I decided to go along with one of my colleagues, a younger junior manager at the firm.
We arrived at the office building located at the corner of a busy junction in London. It was a modern office building, covered in glass and reeked of the sort of place that would attract some computer company. We told the reception staff who we were and showed them the court documents that gave us the rights and powers over the company.
“I am the liquidator,” I told her.
The secretary was surprised. We were the first people she had spoken to who were going upstairs to the Company’s office floor for some months. She joked that she thought the only person who worked there was a quiet miserable pale-looking young man who would collect deliveries and ask for the building’s mailing team to send out the occasional box somewhere.
“Oh, they’re on the top floor. We don’t see much of them,” she said. “Let me just speak with my manager and see if I can find the spare set of keys to let you in.”
After some phone calls with her manager, we were given a set of keys and told how to find Dabria’s office on the top floor. It was quite a nice office by the secretary’s account. We entered the lift and pressed the top floor button. At the top, there was a small corridor that linked up to the steps down to the remaining floors of the office and a locked fire door that opened into Dabria’s office. The horizontal glass window in the door was black. At first, I assumed they had blocked it off but when the door was opened I realised it was because it was so dark in their office.
Immediately opening the door I was filled with dread. There were filing cabinets in almost every possible square inch of the office space. Both my colleague and I walked in and scanned the area. There was nothing but filing cabinets. My colleague tried to turn the light on for a better view but nothing happened. I pushed into the officer further using the light on my phone as guidance until I reached a window. Green wall partitions had been hammered into the window frames to block the light. After struggling for some moment my colleague helped me pull one of the walls off the window. We continued pulling the partitions off the wall one by one until the office was properly illuminated.
The office was stacked with filing cabinets, so much so that it was a struggle to move with my colleague and I having to push past each other if we wanted to move from one side of the office to the other. Every room, such as the small corner offices were filled with filing cabinets. We tried to open one of them but surprisingly it was looked.
My first thought was that we were dealing with some sort of criminal enterprise or possibly some sort of fraud company. My second thought was that there was nothing of value here to sell and depending on what was in the filing cabinets were stuck with dealing with a load of personal data and the associated costs of destruction.
I quickly sent my colleague out to buy some tools from a nearby shop so we could pry open a cabinet and see what we were dealing with. He left me alone while I continued to try various cabinets and explore the office further. I looked in one of the last corner offices and found a few unopened boxes. I quickly tore them open in an effort to relieve the boredom. Inside were pristine unused notebooks from the creditor who had put Dabria into liquidation through the court. I assumed the other boxes were more of their stock. There were a few more notebooks scattered around the room here and there. I picked one up and read the scribbles.
Inside the notebook down the left side of the page was a list of names, to their right appeared a date to the right of that another date and a time. On the very right-hand side of the page was a description of something. I thought the handwriting was unintelligible at first, then I realised it was written in cursive, in a fine black pen that I now realised was sat atop the filing cabinet. What I had first thought was messy was actually extremely well-written handwriting. I flicked through the book until I found a blank page and then looked at the last entry, the date was a few days from now, a future date. All the right-hand dates were in the future starting from tomorrow. Then I began to read the descriptions.
Car accident, A31,
The list went on. Some were mundane but the descriptions were clearly descriptions of deaths. I put dropped the notebook on the floor and opened the filing cabinet that had the black pen on top of it. Inside were rows of notebooks filed with their binder pointing upwards, date and time wrote on them.
I pulled one of the notebooks out and read the names and deaths. It was clear that these were dates and times of people’s deaths. I flicked through the book to find one that could be newsworthy and in an attempt to satisfy my own morbid curiosity and quickly accelerating heart rate, I googled the person’s name.
Jill Hargeaves 12/04/85 17/05/22 8:54:23 Impaled by metal pole.
A report appeared in the search results. It read ‘A car accident on the 17 May leaves 1 dead and 1 critical.’ The name of the deceased, Jill Hargreaves. I shuddered. How could this notebook have her details written down, seemingly predicting her death? I scrambled to look at more notebooks and frantically googled for news articles to confirm the grisly notebook reports. Eventually, I grew tired of reading the deaths that had filled the cabinets. I slumped on the floor and pulled over one of the yet filled notebooks.
I flicked through the book to see who was next on the list. I couldn’t believe it but somehow I thought that if I saw the names now and read about their deaths tomorrow then my entire existence, my religion and everything I thought I knew about the world would change. For all, I knew this could have been some crazy person’s fetish for logging deaths. That was until I saw my name.
My skin went cold and warm all at the same time. A gut curdling feeling in my stomach. The date, tomorrow, in the morning, hit by a bus. It was definitely me. How did I know? The second date on the page was my birthday. My birthday and my death day. Hit by a bus. A bus.
I just stared at the page for a while before standing up and pacing the room slightly. I was confused and tried to think about what these notebooks could be. After a few turns in the room, I turned my attention to the top of the filing cabinet and the black pen. I picked it up and studied it. It was no ordinary pen. The grip and bulk of the pen looked normal enough but the nib was white, almost like a feather tip, with dried black ink on the tip. I picked it up and tried scribbling with it, but nothing happened.
I stood there holding the strange pen, twisting and turning it back and forth. On the side was written in gold letters the word Ankou. By this point, the room had fallen silent except for the noticeable sound of my own breathing. This silence was broken by a rattle coming from the main office.
I stood up and walked to the door to call out my colleague’s name. No response. A dark shadow-like figure, hunched over and seemingly covered in a black cloth rose from behind some filing cabinets.
“Yesssssssss,” it whispered. Its voice was croaky and dry.
“Who are you?” I demanded.
“You know who I am. I am the liquidator.” This time its voice was clear.
I would have sworn someone was playing a joke on me. I was of course the court appointed liquidator of this company.
“Simon, is that you? If you are playing some kind of joke I’m not amused. This is definitely an HR issue.”
The hunched over apparition seem to glide over to a cabinet and pulled it open. Every second I looked at the figure I could feel myself becoming colder, sadder as though everything that made me feel alive was being taken from me. It’s not a feeling I can accurately describe.
The figure pulled a file from the cabinet. I had checked the cabinets earlier when we came into the office and they were without any doubt locked. Somehow it had opened them without any sort of key or effort.
“No games,” it whispered once more. “I am the liquidator.”
“Liquidator of what? I was appointed by the court.”
“And I was appointed by beings far beyond your comprehension.”
“What? Who… what are you?”
“The liquidator of what?”
The figure seemed to turn towards me, a pale redness almost reflected back at me from where its eyes should have been.
The air turned cold as it opened its mouth to speak. “Life,” it said elongating the e at the end of the word.
My body tensed up, and my heart raced but my body was frozen. I could feel my neck going warm as my hands turned cold. I stared at the shadowy figure and I could feel my soul being contemplated by the abyss staring back at me.
“My name,” I said, “it’s in a book.”
“All names go into a book sooner or later,” it croaked.
“Does this mean… am I going to…” I couldn’t believe the words coming out of my mouth. I was still holding the notebook with my name.
“Yes Mark,” again elongating the s. “Your name has been written. It will soon be time to file it where it belongs.”
The darkness around the groaning figure seemed to get larger, engulfing the office once more in blackness, almost creeping towards me as though it was trying to take the notebook back from me. I dug my nails into the leather cover and closed my eyes.
There was another rattle and a metallic slamming noise. My colleague had returned with some tools to open the filing cabinets.
“Everything ok? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
I thought I must have been having a mental episode of some sort and shook myself out of it. I told my colleague we were leaving and we quickly abandoned the office for the day. Once I was back at my desk I called chattel agents to get them to attend the premises and remove the filing cabinets in order to safely destroy the material kept inside, citing data protection as the reason.
I left my work and hurried home. I hardly slept that night, I just stared at the notebook with my name in it. When I awoke I refused to leave my home, I called work and told them that I was ill and would not be in that day. My wife probed at me trying to find out what was wrong, there was no way I could explain, how could I? I gave her a hug and told her I was ok, if I was going to die that morning then I didn’t want her last memory of me to be a bad one. We kissed and she left for work.
I did nothing all that morning. I sat in my dressing gown at the end of my bed and waited and waited until my death time approached. I stood up and walked towards the window watching the end of the driveway. The time came. Then it passed. Nothing happened. I breathed a sigh of relief, the feeling in my body returning and my muscles relaxed.
I laughed to myself and then opened the notebook rechecking the date and time. It had passed. I immediately called my office to say I was feeling better and that I would be in soon. My good mood was short-lived as my colleague told me that agents had been to the office. They had found the filing cabinets in the office. They were open when they arrived and every one of them was empty.
If I was supposed to die that die, what does this mean for me now? Over time I checked the internet for the names of the people in the notebook, none of them had died as far as I could tell. I did birth and death registry searches on all of them and I could find no deaths, no mentions at all. Every name in the notebook appeared to have survived. If my name in this notebook was not filed, what does this mean for me and all the others?
My experience with the Liquidator has left me with nothing but dark questions. What was that figure I saw? Why was my name in a notebook? What happened to the other notebooks that were filed? Did I escape death? Am I somehow immortal now because my name has not been filed and I hold the notebook? To name just a few among an endless stream of questions.
Every time I ask a question I can hear the same haunting voice in my head answering it. But when I ask the question I need to know the answer to it the most I hear it the loudest, like it is being whispered directly into my ear.
When I ask ‘Was my name supposed to be filed?’ I hear the groaning, croaky voice answer “Yessss.”
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