Estimated reading time — 11 minutes
I was referred by a temp agency. I had no idea who I would be working for, or what the job would entail. I only knew that the pay was good. A week-long excursion at $725 a night. More than enough to pay off a couple of credit card bills and a good chunk of next month’s rent. For that price, I would have done almost anything. I only wish I knew at the time what I was getting myself into.
When I arrived at the address, I was surprised. It was a large facility at the end of a dirt road in the woods, two towns over. The large sign outside read SynthetiCorp. It was a plain, white, three-story building, void of identifying markings. Its appearance gave me no clues to its purpose. Its location was even more baffling. Going off of the name alone, I had to assume it was some sort of biotech company. I was probably needed to clean up radioactive waste, or something to that end. For what they were paying me, I would happily risk my health.
Upon entering the building and meeting with the receptionist, I was directed to Room 371 on the second floor, where I would wait for Al, my new boss. It was your standard office setting, albeit more quaint than usual. Red carpet, white walls, and no windows. Only six desks in three rows of two, each with their own computer. At the back of the room was a large wall covered by a one-way mirror, an opening with steps on either side of it. Inside was a single chair, desk, and landline phone. Probably a place for supervisors to oversee productivity. Other than that, the room harbored no points of interest, unless you fancied the waste bin and fern in the corner.
An older gentleman opened the door to the room and came over to shake my hand, introducing himself as Al. He seemed to be in a rush, wasting no time in describing the task at hand. I was to stay in that very room from 8:00pm until 6:00am the following day, every night for a week. He left me his cell number and a laminated list of rules to be followed. He told me he could not overstate enough the importance of following each and every one, exactly as they were outlined. Once he was sure I understood the gravity of the situation, he left me to my first shift in peace, closing the door behind him.
That was it? Really? Just stay in the room for ten hours a night?
I had no clue as to why I was being paid over $5,000 to room-sit, but I learned some time ago to never look a gift horse in the mouth. I simply sat down in the overseer’s room with a smile on my face and went over the list of rules. There were ten in total, all of which left me more than a little confused.
1. Once 8:00 rolls around, lock the door, and do not leave the room for ANY REASON until 6:00. Plan your bathroom usage and meal periods accordingly. No food or drink items within the room.
2. DO NOT use Hank’s computer. It’s the closest to the exit. No one is ever to touch it, under any circumstances. Not even Hank.
3. If the phone rings, answer it, but do not talk. No matter what the voice on the other end says, you are not to respond. Hang up after two minutes have passed.
4. Do not let the janitor in. We don’t have one.
5. If anyone else comes to the door, let them in, but ignore them. Do not react, whatsoever. When they leave, shut the door and lock it behind them.
6. If the waste bin changes locations, place it back in the corner as soon as you notice.
7. If I stop by, only let me in if I know the password.
8. At 9:30 precisely, set each of the computers’ home screens to different URLs (except Hank’s). Do not react to the images. Act normal.
9. If you see Harvey, feed him one of the treats from Lisa’s desk (the one opposite Hank’s).
10. If there’s an emergency, call my cell, but not after 10:05pm.
Below the last rule was a final sentiment, scribbled over the laminate in pen; No one has made it past night three. Good luck.
I was perplexed, wondering for a moment if Al was a lunatic and if that was the reason no one else had lasted. Perhaps his quirks were too much for the previous candidates and they backed out, fearing for their safety at the hands of his fragile mind. I would not be swayed so easily. Even if Al was crazy, I would happily take his money for what was shaping up to be a very simple job. At least, that’s what I thought.
Day one was utterly boring. Nothing remarkable happened – definitely not anything to the extent of what Al’s list would have me expect. At 9:30, I even changed the URLs on the computers, if for no other reason than to feel somewhat useful. The next night, however, was a little different.
Day two started as it normally did. I settled in for another long night, making sure to eat and empty my bladder before locking myself in. At 9:25, just as I was about to ready myself to change the home screens again, I saw it. The waste bin was right there at the top of the steps to the overseer’s room. I certainly hadn’t placed it there.
I felt a small spike in my adrenaline before calming down with a smile. The waste bin, the list. It was all a joke at my expense. Al would be in the next room, waiting anxiously to see the look on my face.
I raced out to the office floor. There was no one there. I walked over to the exit and shook the knob. It was still locked.
Confused and a tinge scared, I swiftly picked up the waste bin and walked it back over to the corner of the room. I checked the time; 9:30. I started changing the URLs on all of the computers, hoping desperately that I had imagined what just occurred. After skipping Hank’s desk, I typed in the last website on PC number six. I was about to pull away, when some strange imagery manifested on the screen.
It was surveillance footage of the room. The very room I was in. I saw me looking at the computer. I turned and looked up, but there was no camera. Upon looking back at the screen, I saw something terrifying.
I watched as a copy of me stepped out from the overseer’s room. It walked up behind me, grabbed a hard-drive from one of the desks, and wound up to strike me in the back of the head. I quickly turned to shield myself. There was no one there. I turned back and the screen changed, displaying the website I had entered as normal.
I raced back to the overseer’s room and sat down, more than a bit frazzled. I contemplated walking out, but I steeled myself to continue. I was fine, after all. Maybe Al wasn’t a lunatic, but he didn’t seem the type to wish me any harm, not that I knew him all that well. Still, I hadn’t sustained any damage. I was questioning my sanity, yes, but no bodily injuries had befallen me. Whatever was at play here seemed harmless so far.
There was a loud banging. Having just had the most horrifying experience of my life, I nearly jumped out of my skin. A voice then penetrated the door.
“It’s the janitor. Just here to clean up. Can you open the door?”
I recalled rule number four and denied him entry.
You did good not letting him in. You followed the rule. Now you’re fine. So long as you follow the rules, you’ll be safe. It’s as simple as that. You can see this through.
I jumped again.
“I really need to get in there and clean up. Open the door!”
I took a deep breath and peeled back my anxiety, successfully ignoring the janitor until he left. This was an accomplishment for me, and it actually felt pretty good. A challenge that I was able to best.
Though I remained on the edge of me seat, the next few hours were uneventful. I even dozed off for a moment at one point. It wasn’t until 2:30am that my next challenge would come.
A multi-colored cat jumped up on the desk in front of me, complete with beautiful splotches of black and orange. I was startled, but it seemed to be friendly, brushing up against my arm; the name on its collar, Harvey.
I knew what I had to do. I rummaged through Lisa’s desk, found the jar of treats, and fed Harvey one, to which he purred in delight. To my astonishment, he then charged at the door, fazing right through it. My mouth was agape in awe. Once my initial bewilderment dissipated, it was replaced with satisfaction over another small victory. As strange as it may sound, I was beginning to like the job.
It was the landline. Remembering the rules, I removed it from the receiver and held it to my ear, making sure to keep an eye on the time.
“Hey, it’s Al. I’m going to be stopping by pretty soon to do a little work. How’s the job treating you so far?”
I remained silent.
“Hello? You know you can talk if it’s me, right?”
I picked up the set of rules and looked them over again. There was nothing about Al calling. I didn’t respond.
“This is no way to treat your employer. If you don’t say anything, I’ll have no choice but to fire you. Do you really want that?”
I stood my ground. Only twenty seconds to go.
“Fine. I’ll see you soon to relieve you of your duty. I guess you couldn’t even make it past night two.”
The two minute mark came and I hung up on him.
I felt safe as another hour went by. Reflecting on the trials I had faced thus far, I was bewildered, but determinate. I wasn’t going to let the room cloud my judgement. I was in control.
“It’s Lisa. Can I come in?”
Though hesitant, I had to abide by rule five. I opened the door and a woman entered.
“You must be the new guy. What do you think of the place?”
I went back to my desk in the overseer’s room and sat down, trying my best to act casual. Lisa walked up to the glass, knowing I could see through it.
“Not very talkative, are you?”
Her eyes unnaturally darted around in all directions and her skin drooped a bit, almost as if it was falling off the bone. I didn’t answer.
She didn’t speak again. Instead, she stared at the glass for a long time. Long enough to leave me feeling truly unsettled. She then waltzed in and stopped at my side, raising her arm. I hoped she wouldn’t notice that my breathing had become sporadic and labored. She then violently swung down on the desk, creating a thunderous clap. I almost winced, but held my composure.
After another awkward five minutes or so, she left. I ran to the door and locked it behind her. A few moments later, there was yet another knock. This time, it was a boy, claiming to be searching for his father. I let him in and sat back down. He tried many times to ask for my help, but I was careful to ignore him, just as I had with Lisa. At one point, however, I made the mistake of meeting his gaze. For an instant, in between blinks, his eyes became pitch black, void of all color. Startled, I nearly jolted back, but was able to restrain myself.
Like Lisa before him, the boy eventually left, and I quickly locked the door behind him; another rule followed.
Other than the waste bin moving around a few more times, nothing else happened that night. Before I knew it, it was time to go home. I heavily considered calling it quits, and may have even had a nightmare or two upon sleeping that day, but I found myself excited to continue; wondering what obstacles the room would throw at me next. Curiosity shouldn’t have been enough to bring me back, but all rational trains of thought escaped me. The room had this pull that beckoned me to it. I was hopelessly compelled to return, powerless to its call. Any excuse would have sufficed. As such, I resumed my post the following night.
Upon starting my shift, I was confident. I had dealt with quite a few absurdities up to this point, and waited patiently for my next opportunity. A couple of hours went by with no trouble. No cat, no images on the computers, no phone calls, and no waste bin antics. Boredom was beginning to set in when a loud knocking broke the silence.
There was no voice. I yelled out from the overseer’s room.
“Who is it?” I asked.
There was a brief pause.
“It’s me, Al.”
I picked up the list and re-read rule number seven.
“What’s the password?”
I heard him chuckle to himself.
“I never wrote down a password!”
He was right. There was no password written with the rule. It must have been him.
I cautiously made my way to the door and opened it. Al was there to greet me with a smile. I sighed in relief.
“Let me guess. Scared of the things that go bump in the night?”
He laughed at my clear nervous disposition.
“You have no idea.”
He shut the door and set up some things at one of the computers.
“Say, why didn’t you write down a password?” I asked.
He smiled again.
“It’s a ploy. Anyone posing as me might try to come up with one, which would identify them as not being me. Understand?”
“I see. Good thinking.”
He returned to his work at the computer. I didn’t want to bother him, but I just had to know.
“What is this place, anyway? Why do these things happen here?”
He turned to face me.
“It’s best if you don’t ask questions, especially ones that are far above your pay-grade.”
I wasn’t happy with my answer, but I knew it was all I would get out of him. I let him work in peace and sat back down in the overseer’s room, watching through the one-way glass. That’s when I realized something. The computer Al was using. It was Hank’s.
I double checked the list to make sure. Yes, that was definitely Hank’s desk, and no one was to touch his computer. Didn’t that apply to Al as well?
I turned over the list on the off-chance I might find some more information. That’s when my heart sank. In large, bold print on the back of the laminated sheet was text that read:
I grabbed my phone, reached for the scrap of paper with Al’s number on it, and dialed it as fast as I could. There were a few tones, but he finally picked up.
“Hello? Everything alright over there?”
“Al, thank goodness! I made a mistake. I thought he was you. I let him in, and now he’s on Hank’s computer.”
He let out a long sigh of disappointment. I watched as Al’s copy turned from his computer and then stood up.
“Listen very carefully. Do not act suspicious in any way. You should be fine if he doesn’t suspect anything. If you try to leave or call anyone else, it’ll all be over. Understand?”
“Yes. I understand.”
Al’s copy began walking to the overseer’s room. My heart was beating faster than it ever had before.
“I’ll be there soon. Just don’t panic.”
He hung up. I kept the phone to my ear as Al’s copy approached, so as to pretend I was talking to my wife.
“I told you, hon; 6:00. That’s when I clock out. You don’t have to wait up for me. You worry too much. Please, get some rest.”
Al’s copy was in the room with me now, staring. I held the phone to my chest and looked back at him.
“Everything okay?” I asked.
He continued to stare for a few long seconds.
“Can you help me with something on the computer?”
I wondered if he could see my chest pounding.
“Sure. I just need to finish this phone call. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
He stared for another moment and then walked back to Hank’s desk. Though panicked, I kept up appearances by continuing to pretend on the phone. I even acted out an argument to lengthen the call. While doing this, I watched with bated breath as the knob gently turned and the door swung open.
It was Al. I had never been so relieved in my life.
He turned to the glass and put a finger to his mouth, gesturing for me to keep quiet. The clone was not yet privy to his arrival. Al snuck up behind his clone and grabbed him by the throat. The impostor struggled, but eventually succumbed to his vicious grip. He fell to the floor, a lifeless hull, before disintegrating into the carpet.
I ran to Al and thanked him. I also apologized, profusely.
“No need to be sorry. This isn’t the first thing to make it into the room, and I’m sure it won’t the last either. I’m just glad you’re okay.”
“Speaking of which, mind shutting the door? Wouldn’t want another one of me stopping by.”
I walked over to the door and then realized something. I had left it unlocked after the copy came in. That’s how Al was able to enter.
Remembering the final rule, I slowly pulled out my phone and opened the call log. My most recent call connected at 10:18pm; 13 minutes past the deadline. I turned around to see Al standing right behind me.
“Al, what’s the password?”
I ran out of there as fast as I could. The room still has a strange hold over me, but I will never go back.
At least… I hope I won’t.
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