Issue No. 18, Autumn 2016

The Spruce Room
Laura Knapp

The chair next to the head of the conference table was pushed out about a yard, like it had been every morning since Marjorie first noticed it a month ago. Now, before she left in the evening, she made sure it was pushed in, locked the conference room door and reminded the night cleaning crew to stay out. But the chair, as though taunting Marjorie or rebelling against inertia, seemed to will itself to the same spot at some point each night.

Marjorie closed the door to the Spruce Room, and as she walked into her office, just next door, she considered again the possibility of installing a security camera. Besides the chair, there had been other inexplicable things. Like random thuds that emanated through the wall her office shared with the conference room when she knew it was empty. And once, while she sat alone in Spruce, Marjorie heard a sigh and turned her head in time to see the closet door close by itself.

But Marjorie knew a camera was out of the question because she’d have to get permission. As a director in a company dominated by men, she couldn’t afford to let her colleagues discover her suspicions. This was an engineering firm after all. Precise, analytical reasoning was valued, superstition was not. Marjorie would let unearthly forces hound her into a lonely insanity before she allowed herself to slip back into the role of token female.

 

Tammy always arrived early and chose the chair next to the head of the table. She had spent most of her 20 years at the company hidden away in a cubicle, so she sat in a conspicuous spot for meetings. Then, as people walked in, they couldn’t help but see her. But she had noticed a marked descent in politeness as of late, most people seeming to find it unnecessary to return her smile.

As she sat waiting for others to arrive, Tammy gazed out the window. In the early morning sun, a shadow shot from the buildings across the street, and a corridor of light sliced a corner of the shade diagonally from the intersection. Tammy watched as the light advanced and the shadow moved across the street then retreated against the buildings like an undead thing hiding from the sun. It was then that Tammy realized it must be noon. Where was everyone?

She rose from her chair and bustled over to the supply closet for bottled water to offer the others whenever they decided to show up, but all she could find were boxes of files and old monitors. In her haste she knocked a monitor to the floor. It made an ominous thud when it landed. She moaned because she knew it was broken and her manager was intolerant of errors. And no matter how hard she worked, it seemed only her mistakes got her noticed. Only her mistakes.  Suddenly, she heard people come into the Spruce Room. She didn’t recognize any of the voices. How angry would they be about the monitor? Tammy sunk to the floor and rested her head on her knees. She prayed no one would open the door and find her sitting there.

 

Marjorie was working late, last one in the office suite, again. She stared at the CAD on the screen, listening for sounds from the Spruce Room. Nothing but quiet tonight. She was tired but kept working. She knew she’d bring her skittishness home with her, listening for sounds there, too, jumping at the slightest noise then getting mad at herself when she realized it was only her neighbors.

 

When Tammy roused herself and left the closet, it was dark outside, and the buildings across the street were lit up like Christmas trees. It was the McCaskey proposal – that’s why she was at the office so late, she told herself. Tammy was waiting for Lucy to return with copies to collate. She started to feel impatient to get home until she thought of her empty apartment. She sighed, took her favorite seat facing the door, and waited.

The lights in the buildings across the street blinked out one by one and the dark sky turned gray. Eventually, the corridor of light and the shadow appeared again. Meanwhile, the silence in the conference room pressed on Tammy like a frigid sea holding wreckage to the ocean floor. At some point, a woman Tammy didn’t know opened the conference room door and peered in. She looked right at Tammy without saying a word and slowly shut the door. Tammy sighed and bustled to the closet to search for bottled water.

 

“I found another broken monitor.” Vijay, a fellow engineer at Marjorie’s firm, spoke conspiratorially. He had recently admitted watching “Ghost Hunters” on the SyFy Channel, so Marjorie confided in him. Surprisingly, he had noticed weird happenings in the Spruce Room, too. They decided to meet secretly from time to time to give each other updates.

“Really?” said Marjorie. “Today when I checked to see if the chair was pushed out as usual, I swear I heard someone whisper ‘hi.’”

 

Twenty years previously, after her company’s merger resulted in the office closing, marketing assistant Tammy Glowicky packed up the Spruce Room closet. Everyone else had forgotten it. After she set the last carton of bottled water on the table, she returned to the closet for the other supplies. In her haste, she stumbled against the opened door, and it slammed shut. The lock could only be opened from the outside, so Tammy started banging and yelling. Then she remembered she was the last one in the office for the night. Then she further remembered the rest of the boxes were already loaded on the truck and no one from her company was returning to this office suite, ever.

Days passed before anyone missed Tammy. Security in the building was lax, so it wasn’t until the next tenants had moved in that she was found. Two weeks later.

 

Again it was late and the suite was nearly empty as Marjorie sat in her office, this time fuming: Some kiss-ass young twit got the promotion she deserved. Suddenly, Vijay poked his head around the doorjamb. “I’m glad you’re still here, Marjorie,” he said. “Can’t you hear that? Something’s happening in Spruce right now.”

 

Tammy rummaged through the closet when she heard whispering in the conference room. She slowly opened the door to find a man and woman staring at her, their eyes large with fear. Then, rudely, as though she wasn’t even there, the woman turned to the man and said, “Screw this place. Let’s get out of here and grab a drink.”

“I could use a stiff one right now,” he responded.

They rushed out the door. And Tammy was alone again.


Laura Knapp currently works as a marketing copywriter and was also a freelance reporter in metropolitan Chicago. She received her MA in English from Roosevelt University, also in Chicago, and had fiction published in its literary publication, Oyez Review. She has two short stories forthcoming in Rum Punch Press and Rivulets.