The Button

Emergency Stop Button

It was a slow day. Every time I looked at the clock the numbers seemed to have melted together. Which give the hot stale air that the many fans couldn’t cut through, wouldn’t have surprised me. I leant back in my plush chair and listened to the phones ringing like lazy flies buzzing in the background. I fanned myself with a paper fan and breathed deeply.

I avoided checking the time again and instead looked at the spreadsheet before me. My desk was scattered with paperwork and a few folders were balanced neatly on the edge. I listened to my co-worker chatting to someone on the phone as someone else began hammering at a keyboard.

Dropping the fan and sitting up, I got back to work. Keeping busy would pass the time, I told myself, whilst not believing a word of it. I scrolled about on the screen and looked at which client’s details needed up dating or deleting. Shuffling the papers, I found the matching data on the information on my screen and started.

I couldn’t contract and my eyes wondered away and settled on the wall opposite me. Underneath the clock and next to a small noticeboard was a large emergency stop button. It’s bright yellow and red form looked as out of place as an elephant.

I frowned and my thoughts spiralled down the familiar staircase of questions. What was it for? What would happen if someone pressed it? Etc. Perhaps and this was a theory by a co-worker, the builders who had renovated this historic building had forgot it or not been allowed to remove it.

Sinking back into my chair and kicking off my black high heels, I curled my legs up. My chair twisted a little bit and drew me level with the button. The background noises of the office faded and I was alone with my thoughts. A daydream started up and I pictured myself getting up and pressing the button. There was a sawing like sound and the ceiling opened up. I looked up at the blue sky and felt a cooling breeze on my face.

In the next daydream, a trap door opened under me and like Alice I tumbled into a land of fun and nonsenses. My co-workers quickly joined me and we were free to live much better lives. We’d have tea parties with rabbits and mice, explore the queen’s garden and sing with flowers. Okay, so maybe that was a bit too far.

The phone rang on my desk, jarring me back. I scrambled for the receiver, silencing it and speaking too quickly. A dull dial tone beeped in my ear then a faint voice began running off a too rehearsed script whilst other people did the same in the background. I hung up, muttering about call centres under my breath as I did so.

I turned back to my computer screen, pulled a stack of papers into my lap and tried to make it look like I was reading. My eyes though didn’t take in any of the information and instead stayed still. My thoughts reeled once more and I pictured the emergency stop button once again. What else could it be linked too?

Maybe it was for a fire? Did it stop the elevator or something? Maybe it was for bomb or other alerts? Wasn’t the risk of attack at an all-time high? But if that was the case, the logic side of me spoke up, then there’d be a notice or we’d all know. My eyes went to the noticeboard, but it was too over crowed with small posters and flyers. The only way to know would be to get up and press it.

I shook my head, there was no point in risking it. What if the button was important and I lost my job? I turned back to my computer and picked up my work again. I pushed all thoughts of the button away and got on. Maybe it was the heat or because I had thought about it too long, but I couldn’t really get rid of the thoughts. The urge just to press it and run away like a school girl bore down on me like a dare. My mind bubbled over with thoughts about what it could be linked to again. Some hidden piece of machinery in the walls? Maybe we were all robots and that was the button to stop us all? Did someone come in at the end of the day and press it then hooked us up to something that made us believe we were human and had lives?

I shook my head violently. That couldn’t be true!

But what if it was….?

Shop

Tom yawed and rubbed his tried eyes. He wanted to go home, but there was still two hours left of his shift and they were the dullest hours of his night. Once the shop had officially closed at two AM, he had to tidy up, sort out the money, look at the stock list and plan the next deliver. Taking some sips from his almost finished bottle of water, he watched the doors open and an old man shuffling in. Tom paused, then decided he was too tried to point out that he was about to close. What does one more customer matter? He thought before adding, Is that guy with the baby still here? He glanced around, but couldn’t spot anyone else. The shelves were high though and the man could be in the back cornered baby aisle. Just as Tom was thinking of walking over, the man appeared.

Jason gently bounced his new born daughter against his chest. The baby carrier felt too tight around his muscular frame, but at least his daughter was safe, close by and he had full use of his hands. He tried not to yaw, nor show the middle-aged man at the counter how tried he was. He swung the basket up onto the glass top and dug in his pocket for his wallet. The yaw escaped and he quickly brought his hand up to cover it. The movement jerked the baby and she started crying. ‘Hush, Hush. I’m sorry,’ he told her and placing his wallet on the counter, put both hands under carrier and rocked her slowly. She wailed and Jason felt her tiny fists struggling against him. Trying to calm her, he watched the items go through the till and into a bag. ‘Long night, huh?’ he asked. Tom nodded and told him the cost. Jason handed him a note and waited for the change, ‘Yeah, feels like that for me too. She only seems to sleep when being driven or walked somewhere. Something to do with motion, I don’t understand it. Thanks,’ Jason added. He put the change in his wallet, which he slipped back into his pocket then grabbed the bag and left. Tom called a goodbye, then prepared to close the shop, but he suddenly remembered that there was another customer roaming the aisles.

Ben stood before the fridges looking for the right kind of milk before he opened the door. A blast of cold air escaped as if he had stepped outside again. He grabbed the milk and closed the door, wondering why the shop had to store things at artic temperatures. Shaking off the cold, he shuffled away and went to next aisle. Holding the milk in his arm, he studied the loaves of bread then choice a small white one. Muttering the list to himself, he moved on again and picked up a tin of peaches, soup and a packet of grapes. Heading back to the counter, he heard Tom closing up and tried to hurry his pace. Placing the items down, he went through the list again and realised he’d forget the biscuits. ‘Be right back,’ he said softly and walked off. ‘I’m closing,’ Tom called after him. Ben nodded and grabbing a packet of rich tea biscuits, hobbled back again. Tom was scanning the items and bagging them. Ben gave him the biscuits and fumbled for his wallet. ‘Bit late for shopping,’ Tom told him. Ben nodded, ‘I prefer it. No people and no waiting,’ Ben laughed and handed Tom some money. ‘My wife is sick, I can only leave when she sleeps,’ he explained. ‘Sorry to hear that, here you go. Hope she gets better soon,’ Tom said. Ben thanked him, took his items and left the shop. Tom locked the door behind him and walked into the back room. There was still two hours of his shift left.

Ikea

When I hear the lights go out and the front doors lock, I step out of the stall. Breathing a sigh of relief, I feel my way to the light switch. The lights ping on and as I behold the staff bathroom, I want to switch them off again. However, I move my feet towards the nearest sink and run the tap. Cold water gushes out and I wash my hands and face. A small sign on the mirror says not to drink the water, but I ignore it.

Glancing up, I see my reflection and faded former self. My normal short brown hair is growing long and semi-wild. Wrinkles and bags drop down from my dull eyes. The shape of a beard is more defined and my skin looks pale. I’ve become the shadow of my father in his last months.

Turning the tap off makes the humming of the lights come back. I flick the switch as I hurriedly leave. The bathrooms are at the end of a small tight corridor and a few footsteps from the staff room. I walk in, turning on the lights. The smell in here is worse than the bathroom. It’s made up of a number of things; fast and mouldy food, sweaty bodies, hot drinks and lingering tobacco. We often joke that the cleaners don’t do their job, but I now know that for a fact.

I open the small fridge and the remains of a half-eaten sandwich and a yogurt catch my eye. There’s also a lunchbox of wilted salad, gone off milk and a bowl of…something. I take the first two items and I make myself a coffee. Sinking into my favourite arm chair, the springs creak loudly. All the furniture in this room was brought back by customers because it was faulty. I guess the managers didn’t want it to go to waste and decided the staff could use it.

Eating and drinking takes the edge off my hunger. Then I have to tidy up. I put on the small radio and begin. Once I wouldn’t have cared or bothered and as the signs state: tidy up after yourself and wash your own things. People seem incompetent and now that this has become my living room and kitchen after hours, I’ve the urge to keep it clean.

I do as much as I can and then go to the lockers. Opening mine, I take out my old rucksack, which is stuffed with clothes and items. I sort through it, taking only what I need and shoving the rest back inside my locker.

After, I head into security and study all the cameras. It took me awhile to figure the system out. I’ve never had a head for technology. However, just like in the movies, I can now create a loop. I don’t bother sitting down as it only takes a few minutes to fix the cameras. I double check that it’s still recording and the time is still moving.

Now, I’m free to roam the shop floor. I pick up a small torch before I leave then go through. Keeping the torch low, I make my way to the tills. Some nights they are not fully emptied and the spare change is useful. I use my key and opening them all; find a handful of coins in the last one. I then take some chocolate bars and fizzy drinks from the shelves and into my rucksack.

I climb the stairs to the bedroom section and turn on some of the lamps. I picked out a single bed some time ago. Making my way over, I sit down and look around. I could have had any bed I wanted and for my first few nights I did. However, I discovered it was easier to stick with one in case I had to get out quickly in the dark.

I get undress and under the covers. Settling down, I set my alarm for five as that gives me enough time to prepare for arriving staff. Turning out the torch and lamp, I try to sleep. It takes me awhile though as my mind is on edge over every sound. Finally, I imagination myself back home; even though I knew when I awake I’ll still be here.