A place dim and deadly; a place full of mystery; a place full with strange people, but it is also a place of work for the unseen.
I stepped into the accountancy firm, quiet and spooky. All the windows shut, and blinds closed. The floor creaks as I walked; the ceiling full of water stains; the paint on the walls peeling off bit by bit and the lights blinked every second. The place looked grey and dead. Even the people working there seemed to go with the flow of the place. They walked in a slow pace, every action as if they were programmed into a slow motion mode and they looked as deadly as ghosts.
I walked up to the receptionist, who looked at me after several seconds. The reception was a mess, a wilted sunflower in a black vase, files covered half of the table, the telephone stayed hidden in between the files where only the wire was visible and empty drink cans spilled from the dustbin. The receptionist, known as Madam Mary as written on her nametag, she wore an oversized coat over a brown dress where it looks faded and wrinkled and her grey hair tied up in a messy bun. Her bony hands emerged from her oversized coat to shake my hand as a sign of greeting. “Welcome to DPS Accounting Firm,” Madam Mary croaked. I felt the slightest bit of uneasiness growing inside me. Her voice made the place even more eerie than it already was. I swallowed hard, and shook her hand in return. “Good morning, I’m looking for Mister Stone. Is he in?” I asked. “I’ll bring you to him,” Madam Mary walked out of the reception and I followed her into the firm.
The floor creaks even louder when my red pumps hit the floor with every swift step I took. I took a quick glance around the firm as I walked passed. The place looked worst from the inside. Madam Mary stopped at one of the closed office. She knocked several times before a man’s voice said, “Please come in.”
Madam Mary gave a reassuring nod as I stepped into the office. “Good morning,” I greeted.
“Have a seat please. You must be Miss Hailey,” said the man who wore a black suit with a red tie, his grey moustache curved upwards on both sides as he talked.
“Yes,” I said while I took a seat on the plastic chair. This place looked better than the reception. At least it was neat and dust free.
“I’m Donald Peterson Stone, better known as Stone, as everyone here calls me that,” he gave a smile which made things better.
I smiled in return and I showed him my résumé. “Hmmm…,” he said when he read my résumé. “You are hired,” he said after a minute. I was dumbstruck. “But… but…,” I stammered. “You didn’t ask me any questions,” I said dumbly. “We really need an accountant here. We are lack of people,” he said. “Welcome to DPS Accounting Firm, short for Donald Peterson Stone,” he said.
He rang someone on the intercom, “Rita, could you please show Hailey her place,” Mister Stone said. “Yes, give me a minute,” answered the lady on the other side of the intercom. “Make yourself at home and those people are more friendly than they looked,” he pointed at the door and he smiled again.
The lady, Rita as Mister Stone had called her, came into the office and showed me my desk. The table looked antiquated. It was a wooden desk with carved flowers and words that I can hardly make out. There was a statuette of an old lady and an old computer on the desk, covered with a thick layer of dust. There were two drawers. One locked with a rusted padlock while the other was not locked. I pulled the one without the lock and it got stuck halfway. I pulled harder and it opened completely. Inside was a pair of bifocal glasses, a portrait of a lady, a diary with yellow stained papers, an abacus with missing beads and a gold locket. Everything in the drawer was covered in dust and there were cobwebs on the edge of the drawer. This drawer must have been left unlocked for a very long time.
I was distracted by someone snuffling beside me. It took me a minute to realise that a man was seated at the next table, snuffling due to a blocked nose. If it wasn’t for his snuffling, I won’t have noticed he was there because he seemed to be camouflaged into the surroundings. He was wearing a grey cardigan, his pants grey and baggy. The blinds that hung behind him looked more or less the same shade of grey. “Hi!” I said politely. He didn’t turn around to look at me.
Instead, he continued with whatever he was doing, giving me the cold shoulder.
I looked around the office and notice everyone wearing clothes with a shade of gloomy colours. They were either in white, grey, black, dark green or brown.
Suddenly, my outfit seemed out of place. It was a bright orange tailored dress, with pleated edges. Too much colour? Everyone seemed to be stressed up with their job, their faces moody and expressionless. They were the most deadly group of people that I had ever worked with. A cold hand touched my shoulder and I jumped with fear.
“Whoa, Relax! I just stopped by to say hi,” said a middle-aged man with blue eyes and black hair.
“Finally, someone who looked normal,” I said under my breath. “Sorry?” he answered.
“Hi!” I said sheepishly.
“Sorry, did I startled you?” he continued.
“It’s okay,” I tried to smile, didn’t know what to say next. “So, you’re the new accountant?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I nodded. “They needed an accountant so urgently that they hired me immediately,” I continued.
“You are so lucky,” he sounded sarcastic. I looked at him with a raised eyebrow. “Let’s take a walk around the office,” he said looking at the door.
I followed him around. He showed me the coffee maker, the Photostat machine, the cafeteria, and the toilet. I was amazed that the whole building was basically a few shades of grey. I didn’t know whether they loved the colour grey so much or they were simply colour blind.
When I was back at my desk, I asked the middle-aged man, Jack Baron, “Who sat at this desk before me? The drawer is full with her belongings and the other drawer stay locked. Is there any way that I could contact her, perhaps to get the drawer unlocked or returned the belongings to her?”
He kept quiet for a while and said, “I’m not so sure.” He sounded like he was keeping some secret.
“I thought you worked here for several years already?” I asked again.
“Just make yourself at home. All of us here are really friendly,” he said it while avoiding eye contact with me. He left without another word.
That was strange. How do I make myself at home if these people keep acting weird and ignoring me, not wanting to tell what happened? I’m started to get sick of this accounting firm, I need to get to work. Maybe it will help to make my day better. Unfortunately, the computer needed a password to log in. I let out a sigh. “Excuse me. Can I know what the password for this computer is?” I asked politely to the lady sitting in front of my desk. She turned to look at me slowly, her eyes as cold as stone when she stared at me. I swallowed and tried to smile.
“T, I, M, E, S, 9, 2,” she spelled every alphabet clearly.
“Thanks,” I said in return. I typed on the computer, and I was logged in. As I began to explore the computer, I found nothing other than a blank document. The document was named Times Accounts but the document was completely blank.
I continued doing my accounts on the computer as Mister Stone had given me the details. I stood there for two hours typing in numbers and counting it correctly. It was finally lunchtime. I stood up and give out a yawn. Some of my colleagues gave me an icy cold stare as if I had done something wrong.
Everyone started to walk to the cafeteria at the same speed. No one seemed to be excited about lunchtime.
I reached the cafeteria. It had a very fishy smell. I followed the rest of them, queueing up in a straight line, slowly taking turns to scoop up our own food. When my turn came, I was excited to see what they have to serve in this cafeteria. It turned out to be rice that were boiled with too much water, chicken feet that was rather raw, and soup that was rather bland. So, it was nothing so interesting, the food was somehow disgusting to me. No one seemed to complain about the food at all, everyone just munched it down and returned the dirty plates and bowls to the basin.
I walked back to my desk, ready to continue my work. The account I was doing earlier was missing. Instead, the Times Accounts document was opened but still blank. Someone might have touched my computer because I forgot to log off before I left for lunch. But closing my document without saving it is bad enough. I really wanted to ask who had used my computer and I need an explanation. But I didn’t want to make a fuss out of it. However, I’m still a newbie; I don’t want people to start hating me on my first day of work.
Unfortunately, I need to redo what I did earlier. After three hours, I was finally done with it. I printed the accounts I have done into two pieces of A4 paper. I put it into a file and placed it on top of Mister Stone’s table before I left for the day.
The next day, I was called to Mister Stone’s office. I was feeling the slightest bit of nervousness.
“Please take a seat,” he pointed to the chair.
I was nervous, so I started to twirl a lock of my black hair around my finger. That always happens when I’m feeling nervous.
“Good job! I hope you will continue your effort in the coming days,” he smiled, sensing my nervousness.
During lunch, I was observing all of my colleagues. Wondering who might have used my computer. I tried to get along with them but they were really strange. “Can I have a seat?” I asked a group of three ladies. “Sorry. Occupied,” they answered. I sat at an empty table alone for lunch. I observed the three ladies until the end of lunch, there was a seat left but they told me it was occupied.
They just could have told me that they dislike newbies sitting with them.
After lunch, Mister Stone told me I could rest a little, maybe explore the office or make new friends. Instead, I looked at my own desk. Some hideous writings are carved on it, hardly readable. One sentence read, ‘I was here (1992)’, like the ones school children wrote on their desk at school. Another read, ‘Turn my head’. I don’t know why but I suddenly thought of the statuette. I turned the head, and the statuette opened. Inside it was a key.
It fitted nicely into the key hole. It was the key to the rusted padlock. Inside were a coffer, a jack-in-the-box and a few pieces of yellow stained blank paper. I observed everything, nothing to do with this firm. It was just some personal things of the person who sat here before me. I opened the other drawer, took out the diary and read it. It was a diary of a lady called Polly. She was an accountant in Times Accounting Firm in 1992. Her diary stopped on a Sunday, 24 June 1992. The portrait of the lady, her hair tied up in a neat bun, and her face expressionless.
So, all these belonged to Lady Polly, I supposed. The diary was just her normal routines, how she felt about work and how she liked her jack-in-the-box which was a gift from her boss.
I opened the jack-in-the-box, a sly looking joker popped up from beneath the box, making my heart leaped. I was just about to close and place it back when something shiny caught my eye. It was something under the spring, a gold ring. I took out the ring slowly, placed it on my palm to observe it. Words are carved on the gold ring. It read, ‘Best Accountant’. I wished I was the ‘Best Accountant’.
The next day, I was given the task to complete the final accounts for the month. I worked until late evening while all my colleagues left. I was the last one in the firm. I went to the coffee maker to make myself a cup of hot mocha. As I walked back to my place, the firm was darker than usual. The lights seemed to dim a little and the place got a bit chilly. When I reached my computer, I thought I saw my chair shifted slightly to the right. Maybe I was too tired.
It has been two weeks since I first started. I still didn’t get along so well. I only managed to be friends with Madam Mary the receptionist and Jack Baron the supervisor and Mister Stone, the boss. Everyone here was slightly introverted or am I too loquacious?
I hate to work until late at night. The office was always chilly and the dogs downstairs have their endless barks. It was hard to concentrate; I often had to make myself hot mugs of coffee to keep awake. I walked to the coffee maker, ready to make myself a cup of hot coffee. In a split second, there was an electricity outage and the firm was pitch-dark. I was frozen in place, too scared to take another step; I might bump into a table or tripped over something small.
The lights didn’t come back after five minutes. It wasn’t a good idea to stand there doing nothing. So, I took each step carefully, putting my hands in front while I walk my way through. I bumped into a few desks, causing a bruised knee. I finally got my way to the coffee maker. I searched the drawers, hoping for torchlight or candles with matches. Luckily, I found a few candles and a box of match.
I lighted the candle and went back to my desk. I stood there, waiting for the electricity to come back. I didn’t know how long I was there, because eventually, I fell asleep.
I was awakened by the sound of a typewriter at the Photostat room. Someone was typing furiously, and then the person press on the Enter key, it gave a ‘clink’ sound. The candle I lit earlier was blown off. Instead of using the candle, I could use my phone. I shimmied my way to the Photostat room to see who was there.
When I reached the door to the Photostat room, I knocked on the door. “Hello?” I said. The typewriter stopped and there was no answer. I knocked again and there was no sound. I pushed the door opened and shone my phone’s flashlight around the room. No one was there. I couldn’t have heard it wrongly. The dogs downstairs started to howl furiously.
Normally, I wasn’t a milksop. But today, I felt scared and timid in this old and spooky place. All I wanted to do was get out of here as soon as possible. I gathered my stuff and make a beeline for the entrance.
The next morning, I was greeted by Madam Mary, as usual. Instead of walking into the firm directly, I stopped by at the reception.
“Madam Mary, can I ask you a question?” I asked.
“Sure! What is it?” she croaked.
“I was just wondering if there’s anyone who lives here,” I asked.
She turned pale. “No,” she said softly.
“I heard someone using the typewriter last night, but there was no one in the firm except me,” saying every word clearly but I emphasised the words, ‘except me’.
“That’s strange. You must be hallucinating then,” she managed to smile. I shrugged and went to my place.
Upon reaching my place, I saw stacks of files on my desk. I walked to my desk to get a better look. The files were insalubrious. On top of the deck was a hard cover book. As I opened it, I saw a few silverfish ran through the pages and disappeared into the book spine. The pages were full with holes of various lengths. I was disgusted.
It took me a moment to realise that all my colleagues were staring at me. I shrugged and went to Mister Stone’s office.
“Whose files are those?” I asked.
“I thought you took it out from the cupboard last night,” he said.
“Me? Why would I? What cupboard?” I was feeling confused.
“I thought you might want to refer to some old accounts or something,” he shrugged.
“So, who place it on my desk?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I was the first to arrive and it was already on your desk,” he said. Now, I’m curious and worried at the same time.
“I heard someone typing on the typewriter last night, but no one was in the Photostat room,” I said nervously.
“That’s strange. Are you sure you heard it correctly?” he asked me, but something in his voice tells me that he doesn’t believe me.
“I am one hundred percent sure,” I insisted.
I went back to my desk to continue working. Now, clearing those stacks of old files were enough to make my day miserable. I lift out the hard cover book with my thumb and my index finger. A silverfish ran through the cover and I drop the book immediately. The book opened to a page where it showed notes of some old accounts from Times Accounting Firm. Two more silverfish ran through the page. I couldn’t stand another sight of the book; I turned to look at the stack of files, hoping it was still in good condition.
I flipped through the first file and find yellow stained blank A4 papers inside. Same goes to the second file and all the others. All are filled with empty yellow stained papers but still in good condition. Don’t the silverfish like those papers in the files?
I placed all the files back into the cupboard as Mister Stone had asked me to. It was a cupboard at one corner of the office where it is isolated. All the old documents were put there. Mister Stone also explained that this building used to be called the Times Accounting Firm before it was abandoned for a very long time. According to some local folks, they said the building was on fire and a few workers got killed. So, if someone got killed here, spirits must be around then.
I tried to finish my work as soon as possible and leave early. Unfortunately, I need to stay a little longer as my work is still undone. I was the last one left to leave again. This time, I kept reminding myself that ghost don’t exist in this world. Upon reminding myself, I kept thinking of what the local folks have to say. The building was haunted because they died unwillingly.
The skies are getting dark and my work is still unfinished. I sat there doing my paperwork, but something caught my eye, a movement. I turned to see what could have possibly move because next to me was a wall. I saw my own shadow and nothing else. In a split second, I wanted to scream but my voice was stuck. I seemed to be frozen in place. A silhouette started to form on the wall. It’s a silhouette of a lady, walking towards me with every cripple steps. Before I could react anymore, darkness crept over me.
I was awakened by the sound of footsteps. I jerked when someone touched my shoulder.
“What are you doing?” said a familiar voice. I woke to see Mister Stone standing before me. I was lying on the floor, unable to speak because I was still frightened. Mister Stone helped me up and I was shivering. I needed time off. I took two days off from work. I needed to rest my mind and forget about what happened last night. I was certain that I saw the silhouette of the cripple lady walking towards me.
When I finally returned to work, I brought a holy picture with me. It will keep me safe from all evil spirits. I was astonished when my desk was a mess when I returned. Papers and files all over the desk, on my chair and even the floor.
The broken abacus was on the desk and the diary too. “What happened here?” I whispered to myself.
When I was picking up the papers on the floor, I came over an article titled, ‘Qualified Accountants in Times’. I read the article and found out that Lady Polly was one of the qualified accountants. Times was the best accountancy firm with committed accountants.
I continued picking up the other bits when my desk began to shake vigorously. All the stationery and documents fell to the floor. The computer crashed to the ground and the screen cracked. Surprisingly, the abacus and the diary remained on the table.
Screams and shouts filled the air. Everyone made a beeline for the entrance but I was still standing there, not knowing how to react to the situation. It took me a moment to realise that everyone have left except me.
I turned to look at my desk when one of the drawers opened by itself. I felt a gust of cold air went past me. I watched as the papers flew in mid-air. The beads on the abacus started to slide up and down. The chair whirled around towards my direction, as if someone invisible was sitting there and he or she is now staring at me.
I tried to run but my feet were glued to the wooden floor. I wanted to scream for help but nothing came out except a whisper for help. An invisible icy cold hand landed on my shoulder which gave a chill down my spine. I shut my eyes as tight as possible, murmuring a few lines of short prayers hoping that the spirit would go off.
After several moments, everything settled down. The air was still as usual. The abacus’s beads stop sliding and the invisible hand was no longer on my shoulder. I sigh and make a beeline for the exit.
The day after, Mister Stone hired a medium to solve the problem. All of us were asked to be in the firm as the medium summoned the spirit. A Chinese man with a bright yellow robe was standing in the firm as I entered. He was holding a bowl of holy water, sprinkling all over the firm as he walks. I sprinted to where my colleagues were standing. All of us were terrified but we don’t have a choice. The spirit will continue haunting us if we do not do anything.
For starters, the medium chanted some words I couldn’t really make out. He continued by writing some characters on a strip of yellow paper using a brush. After several chanting, he started to summon the spirit.
“Who are you, and what do you want?” asked the medium.
My desk began to shake vigorously as the drawers open and close with loud bangs. The lamps began to flicker and the lights went off. I screamed in terror but the medium shushed me. I was dumbstruck once again. One of the drawers opened slowly, the diary and the pen flying in mid-air as if someone invisible was holding it up. The pen began scribbling on the diary. The medium walked towards the diary and grabbed it.
“Who are you?” he asked sternly this time.
In a split second, my mind cannot register what was going on. The medium was lying on the floor when my mind finally worked. The medium is now talking in a voice of a lady.
“I’m not harmful. I’m just here to finish my task,” said the possessed medium.
“Who are you?” I asked. I was surprised to hear my own voice being so confident.
“I’m Lady Polly. I’m here to finish my final task before my departure. It’s urgent and I need it to be done by today,” said the medium with more politeness.
So this spirit is Lady Polly and she’s begging me for help? I was dumbstruck again. I tried to gather my courage once again to speak but I lost it when the medium started to walk towards me. He placed a hand on my shoulder and it felt exactly like how I felt the previous night, an icy cold hand on my shoulder.
“Place your hand on mine,” he said.
I nodded and placed my hand on his cold hand.
In a split second, the whole firm went to a shade of black and white. Everything was black and white. I took a look at my own palms and it was black and white as well. My heart began to race. It took me a minute to realise that I was still in the accounting firm, but the furniture were antiquated. The furniture and setting was totally different from how it looks like at DPS Accounting Firm.
I was at the reception. I greeted a few people when I entered the firm. First, I greeted Madam Mary and a few people I don’t recognise. Then, I walked to a closed office where Mister Stone sits. I knocked and someone from the inside said, “Come in.”
I had totally lost control of my whole body. All the actions I was doing were none of my own. They were somebody’s actions that I am doing. A blurry voice in my brain said, “Don’t be scared. You are now portraying me in my olden days.” So I am now in the past?
I or Lady Polly walked into the office and a man whose nametag read, Stanley, smiled widely.
I flew him a few kisses and I said, “Good morning. Don’t be late for the important day.”
“Of course honey. Please finish up your closing account and you will find that surprise,” Stanley replied.
Later that day, I or Lady Polly was busy finishing her closing accounts for the month. Doing it was not as easy as it seems. If one can be ranked as a qualified accountant, one must handle all the tough accounts. I was still doing as the day was getting dark. Stanley and I were celebrating our leather anniversary and he insisted I needed to finish my closing accounts to discover the surprise.
While I was still doing my accounts, the smell of smoke caught my attention. It was coming from Stanley’s room. I ran to the direction of the room as it exploded. Everything went dark.
When I opened my eyes, I was still standing in the same position. My hand was still on the medium’s hand. I didn’t know how long I was standing there but I was really exhausted. I took a few deep breaths and I slumped to the floor.
“Please help me. I’ve lost him after the explosion. I couldn’t even find his spirit. The accounts should be the answers to my questions,” said the medium.
“How do I help you?” I asked.
“I’ve tried to do my accounts on your computer but my effort had gone to waste. Whatever I do in this real world, it wouldn’t work,” the medium said. This time his tone was sad.
“What does it means?” I asked.
“I’ve been roaming the firm for years and I couldn’t get anyone to help me. Do you get it?” cried the medium. He continued, “You can only help me by finishing my closing accounts to find the answer.
I was busy working on the closing accounts of Times Accounting Firm 1992. I was really tired but I never gave up. I need to help Lady Polly find her husband, Stanley. It is now my duty to finish up her work and to let her rest in peace. It was seven o’clock when I finally finished. All of my colleagues were asleep, including Mister Stone. The spirit of Lady Polly was still inside of the medium. He sat at a corner quietly throughout the day. He looked up when I finally said, “I’m done with it.” Same goes to all my colleagues.
When I entered the pressed on the Enter key, a box popped up on the computer screen. I read it out loud for everyone to hear, “Thank you honey for all these years. You’ve been a great wife and I love you. Meet me at The Disco Bar at eight o’clock tonight. See you there. Love, Stanley.”
The medium walked towards me. He shook my hands vigorously and said, “Thank you for your help Hailey. You are the nicest living soul. Thank you for helping me.”
“You’re welcome. It’s seven, better be there or you’ll be late,” I winked at the Lady Polly.
The medium fainted as Lady Polly left his body. I did a good deed today and it is to be remembered for a lifetime. Best wishes to Lady Polly and Stanley for their tin anniversary tonight. “I hope you wouldn’t be separated ever again”, I whispered under my breath.
By Stephanie Cheng E-Laine from Malaysia