by Sarah Kirchner ’21
It’s another late night at the office, which has become typical for almost the whole month. We’re behind on reports, and Frank keeps asking me to stay and work on them, so I have. I know I deserve a raise, but I’m too nervous to ask. It isn’t too bad, I had nothing to go home to anyways, except my tabby, Tiger. He’d be waiting for me at the door like he always does, purring between my legs and following me to bed. But tonight he’d be waiting a little longer for his bedtime treats.
The blue from the computer screen lights up my dark office. The city illuminates the rest of the space. All the lights have been turned off in the building. Everyone is home except me, working on the reports that my colleagues should be doing with me. The papers are scattered on my desk, and I have no idea when I’ll be finished, so it’ll be another Chinese food delivery night and midnight drive home. It isn’t too bad. Tiger would be waiting for me.
* * *
After hours of staring at the screen, my eyes begin to burn. My back aches from leaning over my desk, and my head is pounding from looking too closely at my computer. The Chinese-food smell is lingering in the small space and the one-too-many egg rolls are causing my stomach to turn. This is my body telling me to go home, and I know it’s right, but I’m determined to push through for another twenty minutes. Then, I’ll be almost halfway through the reports.
My gaze goes to the old Halloween candy in the bowl on my desk. I haven’t had the time to get rid of it yet, with all the added chaos going on. Through the transparent wall, I see the cleaning crew head into the bathrooms and a part of me is relieved by that. At least I’m not completely alone here. Rosie waves to me as she enters the women’s room and I give a small smile. We both know neither of us really want to be here, but we do what we have to do.
Returning to the candy, I see the candy hearts that Frank had left in my office last week. I had thought it was strange then, since candy hearts weren’t usually a thing until February. But, here they were, and for some reason Frank wanted to praise me for my hard work with them. A bonus would have been nice, too.
My body gives in and I grab the sugared hearts. Everything aches, but I know the sugar will give me the twenty-minute push I need. The egg rolls are still sitting in my stomach, but it’s not like the sugar can make me feel worse than I already feel.
Pouring them onto my desk, I pop a few into my mouth and allow my body to feed off the sweetness. The taste brings me back to middle school and Valentine’s Day treats. It reminds me of when Jeremy Wyler gave me a singular heart that read “Be Mine.” The cliché messages made the hearts even grosser, but anything tastes good at this time of night.
I stare closely at the screen, reading over everything I have written. My eyes linger on the candy hearts, which are watching me suffer. My eyes glaze over and I feel my body ready to shut down. It’s time for bed. It’s time to go back to Tiger.
I convince my eyes to refocus, and that’s when I see it.
Leave. Run. Watch Out.
With each heart, a new cryptic message awaits me. I hadn’t noticed them when I first started eating them. I had only assumed that they were the normal messages, like the one Jeremy Wyler gave me. I wasn’t expecting this.
I blinked a few times, trying to readjust my gaze in case it was my sleep-deprived body deceiving me. But even after a minute of staring at the same candies, nothing changes.
I glance up to see if anyone is around, but I’m still alone and the cleaning crew is still in the bathrooms. Did Frank know what these hearts said on them? Was it some prank? I grab the box to see if it said Joke Candy Hearts, or something out of the ordinary. But they don’t. Everything about the box appears normal, but I can assure you nothing about this is normal. They tasted fine, or at least as good as those things can taste. But nothing appeared different about them.
What am I thinking? This is ridiculous. It isn’t like someone poisoned me. And the messages were warnings, not so much threats. Right? Was Frank warning me? Was there something about the company that I didn’t know? Something that could be harmful to my job?
I shake my head. No. Crazy. I’m delusional. Sleep deprived. All of the above. I need to go home, get into my pajamas, and sleep this madness away. It would probably be another late night tomorrow, too, since I didn’t finish tonight.
As my computer shuts down, I put on my coat and grab my purse. I take the trashcan and slide the hearts into the bin, along with the box that holds the rest of the candies. Out of sight, out of mind. For good measure, I pick up the garbage bag within the bin so I can toss it on the way out. I lock up the door to my office, trying to not think about the ominous messages on the hearts. Behind me, I hear a bang and my whole body jumps. But immediately I notice it’s only Rosie leaving the bathroom.
“Sorry, Emily!” She calls to me. I give a quick wave of relief.
“No worries. Scared myself.” I laugh it off and head to the elevator. “Mind if I toss this in there?” I ask Rosie and point to the garbage bag on the cart.
“Of course, but I could have gotten that for you, sweetie.”
“I figured I’d help out since I’m here during your time,” I joke, and she laughs before grabbing the vacuum out of the supply closet. “Have a good night, Rosie.”
“You too, Emily!”
As I press the button for the elevator, my heartbeat finally starts to settle. Everything’s fine. Rosie is here all the time at night and nothing happens to her. It’s just me being neurotic and tired.
The elevator arrives in seconds and I walk in, relieved to finally be going home. I’m craving ice cream, but I know I’ve had too much junk food tonight, and the thought of having any more sweets makes me shiver.
I begin to descend, and I let out a long breath. Finally. Everything is okay. I’m away from the candies. I’m away from my office. I’m finally going home. There’s nothing to worry about. And with that thought, the elevator jolts to a stop. There’s static through the speaker and my blood goes cold.
The lights go out.