The Button

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic


Peter has started a new job, but something about it doesn't sit quite right. It's not as if it's the end of the world, though.

Submitted: February 01, 2018

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Submitted: February 01, 2018

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It was the first day of Peter’s new job.

He arrived at the office at 8:30am, determined to make a good impression.  It was his first job since leaving university, and he was excited to make his mark in the world of work.  His new haircut felt neat and professional, his best suit was crisp and looking sharp, and his shoes were shined up nice.  He looked up at the imposing building that was to be his new employer and smiled.

He was going to do well here.

Peter entered the building and strode confidently towards the Reception desk.  One of the Receptionists looked up from what she was doing and gave him a warm, encouraging smile.

‘Yes?  How may I help you?’

‘Good morning, I’m Peter Hopkins.  It’s my first day today.’  The Receptionist consulted a sheet of paper and looked back up.

‘Oh, yes, Mister Hopkins.  Please take a seat.  Someone will be down for you shortly.’  Peter walked away from the Reception desk towards some low chairs towards the corner of the lobby.  There was an elegant potted plant and a stylish coffee table with some glossy magazines arranged on its glassy surface.  Peter sat down and looked around admiringly.

So far, so good.

After a few minutes, a man in a pinstriped suit entered the lobby area and made his way over to the seating area.

‘Peter?’

‘Yes.’  Peter stood up to greet the man.

‘Bob Stevenson.’  Bob extended his hand and Peter shook it firmly.

‘Great to meet you, Bob,’ said Peter, making sure to look him in the eye.

‘You too.  If you’d care to follow me.’

‘Of course.’  Peter followed Bob out of the lobby area and towards a set of lifts set to the back and to the side of the Reception desk.  Bob pressed the call button and clasped his hands behind his back.

‘We’re on the fourth.  Did you get here okay, this morning?’

‘Oh, yes.  Fine, thank you.’

‘Good.  Did you drive in?’

‘Bus.’

‘Got you.’

The lift arrived and the doors slid smoothly open.  They both stepped inside and Bob pressed the button for the fourth floor.

‘We’re a pretty friendly bunch around here, Peter,’ said Bob, smiling.

‘Glad to hear it,’ said Peter, returning the smile.

‘Who did you interview with, by the way?’

‘Her name was Sharon.’

‘Sharon?  Impressive.  Her selection criteria can be pretty stringent.  So, kudos for getting the job.’

‘Thank you.’  Peter felt pride swell in his chest.

He was going to like it here.

The lift arrived at the fourth floor with a pleasant bong and the doors slid open.  A well-appointed and modern open plan office stretched out before them.  Seated at the desks were various people, all professional-looking, all hard at work.  Bob stepped out of the lift and beckoned Peter to follow.

‘Come on, I’ll give you the tour.’  Bob led Peter to what was to be his desk, allowing him to set his bag down.  Bob then took him around the office and introduced him to the various members of the team.  Everyone was friendly and polite and Peter felt welcomed and accepted.  Bob took care of the perfunctory things like showing him where the toilets were and where the kitchen was, and after a while they were done and back at Peter’s desk.

‘Well, I think that’s about it,’ said Bob.  ‘I know you’ll no doubt have a tonne of stuff to do for HR, so I’d better let you get to it.’

‘Okay, thank you, Bob.’  Peter picked up the induction pack on his desk as Bob turned to leave.

‘Oh, there is one more thing,’ said Bob, turning back around.

‘Yes?’

‘Can you see that door over there, in the far corner?’  Bob was pointing towards a nondescript door that looked like all others he had seen in the building so far.  There was a sign on it, but they were too far away for Peter to read it.

‘Yes.’

‘Don’t go in there.’  Bob’s tone suddenly became stern, and it jarred Peter a little after so much initial geniality.

‘Oh?’  Peter looked at Bob, questioningly.

‘Ever,’ said Bob, for emphasis.

‘Why?  What’s in there?’

‘Just don’t go in there.’  Bob patted Peter on the shoulder, perhaps a little harder than was necessary.  The message was not lost on Peter, as he watched Bob walk away.  The matter was closed.  Peter looked over at the door and curiosity blossomed inside him in a heartbeat.

Interesting.

 

***

 

The rest of Peter’s first day passed without incident, but he couldn’t help but think of the door in the far corner on the fourth floor.  What was in there that he wasn’t supposed to see?  And why wasn’t he even allowed to know why it was off limits?  The rational side of him chalked it up to him being the new guy, and he attempted to file it away in his mind as something that he may learn one day, after he had settled into his new job.

The problem was, though, that Peter could see the door from his desk, and every time his gaze fell upon it he was reminded of the strange encounter with Bob that first morning.  He didn’t want to make waves, so he didn’t approach Bob about it again, but eventually curiosity got the better of him.  One afternoon, a few weeks in, Peter was at the printer, collecting some documents, and another member of the department whom he now new as Kate was waiting for her things to print.

‘Hi.  Kate, isn’t it?’  Peter shuffled his documents in an attempt to give the conversation a casual feel.

‘Yes, hi,’ said Kate.  ‘You’re Peter, right?’

‘I am.’

‘How do you like it so far?  You started a few weeks ago, didn’t you?’

Peter moved out of the way so that Kate could retrieve her print-outs before continuing.

‘Yeah, I’m enjoying it.  It’s almost a month now.’

Kate smiled.

‘Time flies, eh?’

‘Sure does.  How long have you been here?’

‘Five years come Christmas.’

Peter blew out his cheeks.

‘Wow.’

‘I know.  Career girl, that’s me.’  They shared a quick chuckle before Peter broached the topic that was on his mind.

‘I was actually wondering if you could help me with something.’

‘Yes?’

Peter indicated the door in the corner.

‘That door…’ he began.

‘We don’t go in there,’ said Kate, flatly.  As with Bob on Peter’s first day, Kate’s tone went from friendly and genial to firm and resolute.  Peter looked at Kate, questioningly, hoping that more information would be offered, but it wasn’t.

‘Yes, but…’ he tried to continue.

‘We just don’t go in there.  I have a lot of work to do.’  Kate pulled her print-outs close to her chest and walked away, briskly, leaving Peter standing by the printer wondering what exactly was going on.  He saw Kate stop to talk to someone at another desk, and their exchange looked tense and furtive.  Glances were cast towards Peter and they looked concerned and mistrustful.  An unpleasant feeling began to squirm in Peter’s stomach; he didn’t want to become someone other people avoided around the office.  He took his print-outs back to his own desk and tried to put the incident out of his mind.  However, he was now convinced that he was being kept in the dark about something, and he didn’t like it.

Peter tried to get on with his work, but a few moments after he had returned to his desk his phone rang.

It was Bob Stevenson.

‘Peter, it’s Bob.’

‘Hi Bob.  How can I help?’

‘Can you come into my office, please?’

‘Of course.  Is something the matter?’  Bob’s tone had been curt and had made Peter wonder what was up.

‘Just come down, please.’  Bob hung up the phone.  Peter sat and blinked stupidly for a second, processing the swift exchange that had just taken place.  He hung up the phone and stood from his desk.  Even though everyone seemed to be busy with their work, Peter now felt exposed, like all eyes were on him.  He felt hot and prickly and his shirt suddenly felt uncomfortable on his skin.  He looked over at Kate’s desk as he made his way across the office.  She looked up and quickly averted her gaze when their eyes met.  Peter felt a pang of resentment towards her that he instantly regretted.  He didn’t know why Bob had called him into his office, but after his encounter with Kate he had some suspicions.  If he was right it meant that Kate had gone straight back to her desk and…

Told on him?

No, that’s stupid.  Peter tried to dislodge the thought.  You’re not in school anymore, he told himself.  People don’t go around telling tales in the workplace…

But had she?

Peter arrived at the door to Bob’s office.  It was open, so he didn’t need to knock.

‘Come in, Peter,’ said Bob, from behind his desk.  ‘And close the door behind you, please.’  Peter did as he was asked and took a seat opposite Bob.  His shirt had grown no less uncomfortable, and now his throat was feeling dry.  Bob finished signing the paperwork that was in front of him and he then fixed Peter with a penetrating look.

‘How long have you been with us now, Peter?’

‘A month,’ replied Peter, automatically.

‘And are you enjoying it here?’

‘Very much so,’ said Peter, cursing himself a little for what he felt like was now a lie.  He was enjoying his job, the actual work part of it, but this business with the forbidden door was starting to creep into his mind and making him question himself.

‘Good.  I’m glad to hear it,’ said Bob.  ‘Because your work to date is top notch.’

‘Thank you.’

Bob interlocked his fingers and leaned back a little in his chair.

‘I think you have a future here, Peter.  But I have to ask: are you a team player?’  Peter hated questions like this.  They always meant so much more than what they were asking.  He knew why Bob was asking this, and he knew there was only one way this conversation could go that was positive.  He was going to have to play along.

‘I’d like to think that I am,’ he said, as sincerely as he could manage.  He really did want to be a team player, but he felt he should be allowed a level playing field to do so.  Bob looked at Peter in silence for a moment, bringing his interlocked hands up to his mouth for a moment as he thought.

‘It’s just that Kate phoned me a few moments ago.’

‘Oh?’  She had gone to Bob.  Peter tried to control his emotions, but a flash of anger burst inside him.  In that moment he decided that he didn’t like Kate and would avoid her when possible.  She clearly couldn’t be trusted.

Bob continued.

‘I thought I made myself clear on your first day, Peter.  The door at the far end of the floor is strictly out of bounds.’

Peter didn’t reply.

‘Do you understand?’

Peter decided to go for it and try and get some answers.

‘Not really, no.’  This answer seemed to throw Bob a little.  He looked at Peter for a moment before he recovered.

‘It’s not a matter for discussion, Peter.  No one goes in there.  Not you.  Not me.  Not anyone.  You can do your job perfectly well without ever going through that door, as can we all.  So, I’m asking you nicely – and I take no pleasure in stating that this is the final time I will ask – that you do what you need to do to put this out of your mind and focus on your job instead.  Do you think you can do that for me?’

Peter breathed slowly.

‘Yes, Bob.  Of course.’  Bob’s demeanour brightened noticeably upon hearing this.  He nodded and smiled in satisfaction.

‘That’s excellent, Peter.  Thank you for seeing sense.  Now, don’t let me keep you.’

‘Thank you, Bob.’  Peter rose from his chair and left Bob’s office.  He started walking back towards his desk.  If he hadn’t been sure before he certainly was now.

He was going to find out what was through that door.

No matter what.

---

Peter’s mind was now set.He wanted to know what was behind that door.Everyone was so secretive about it, and his attempts to find out anything about it had left him feeling like the naughty school boy being told off for playing up.After leaving Bob’s office that afternoon he decided that, come what may, he was going to find out what all the fuss was about.

After all, it was only a door in an office building.How bad could it be?

Peter did his best to get on with his job after being warned off by Bob, but he could still feel people’s eyes on him as he passed their desks, or they his.People didn’t trust him, but Peter didn’t care now.He didn’t like being treated like a child, which was how he felt, so he had formulated a plan.It had come to him as soon as he had left Bob’s office that day: he would continue as normal and let everyone think that he had forgotten all about it.Then, when he was no longer the target of suspicion he would find a way through the door.Part of him felt a little silly for being willing to go to such lengths to see the inside of whatever room was on the other side of the door, but it had fully taken hold of him now.He didn’t think about it all of the time, but it was always there, lurking not far off in his mind, teasing him, tantalising him.And any time he caught a glimpse of the door, or happened to walk near it, it marched smartly to the front of his mind again, waving its curiosity maddeningly in his face.He didn’t know what would be in there, but he didn’t care.It could be a mouldy old broom cupboard as far as he was concerned, but at least he would know.It was the not knowing that was the worst part.If Bob had told him on his first day that the room housed such and such and was out of bounds for this reason or that, then Peter would have just gotten on with things and not given it a second thought.But the confusing secrecy and the infuriating refusal of anyone to even discuss it had driven Peter to his plan.It would take some time, but it would be worth it in the end.

Some time turned out to be six months.Peter spent that time creating the façade that he was now the model employee, dutifully going about his daily routine and towing the company line.But all the while he was watching, studying.He knew that he would never get through the door with others around, so he started taking note of who arrived at the office and when, who left at the end of the day, and who stayed.He came to work early some mornings, and stayed late after work some evenings.He was careful never to do it too often, or without a plausible reason.If anyone in the department, especially Bob Stevenson, saw him in the office out of business hours he needed an iron clad reason to be there.

As the weeks and months rolled by, Peter narrowed his window of opportunity down to Wednesday mornings.He had come into work early of a Wednesday enough times to know that he could have the run of the fourth floor for ten to fifteen minutes before anyone else arrived.This was when Peter would do it.This is when he would go through the door.

Once he knew when his plan would be carried out, the waiting felt like agony.Peter did all he could to keep things looking normal on the surface, never letting on to any of his colleagues as to what he was thinking.Eventually, the ideal Wednesday came around, and Peter practically leapt out of bed, much earlier than normal.Unable to sleep much, he had been awake for at least an hour already.He fumbled with his shirt buttons as he dressed hurriedly, desperate to get to the office as soon as he could.He bolted his breakfast and dashed out of the house, nearly tripping over the neighbour’s cat as he did so.

The buses felt excruciatingly slow on his commute that morning, and it seemed that twice as many people wanted to get on and off as normal.He fidgeted in his seat and checked his watch multiple times as his journey laboured on.After what felt like a lifetime, his stop came up, and Peter practically shoulder-barged his way off of the bus, which by now was quite full.He walked at a brisk pace to his office building, stopping to take a moment’s steadying breath before going through the double-door entrance.He nodded a silent hello to the Receptionist as he made his way to the lift.He irritably pressed the call button several times, as the lift descended ponderously to the ground floor.He kept looking about to make sure that no one from his floor was also arriving.If anyone did, his plan was shot.It would only take him lingering too long by the door for everyone’s suspicions to come racing back, and then would he ever get another chance?

Probably not.

The lift finally arrived and Peter entered, pressing the button for the fourth floor and hoping that the doors would close in time to not allow anyone else to ride it with him.He could feel his heart thudding in his chest, and he felt sure that if someone was in the lift with him they would hear it, too.

Steady, Peter, he told himself.

The fourth floor was blissfully deserted when the lift doors opened.Peter stepped out, and quickly reached back inside.He pressed the button for the top floor and withdrew quickly from the lift.If anyone from his department wanted the lift they would now have to wait a bit longer for it to reach the ground floor, giving Peter a few more precious moments to get a look past the door.Peter walked quickly to his desk and turned on his PC.He un-shouldered his bag and put it under his desk, as he always did.He hastily typed in his login details and let the computer set itself up.If anyone arrived before Peter was able to gain access through the door, at least his workstation would look like he had genuinely come in early to get some work done.Satisfied that his desk looked as it would on any other early morning start, Peter stood up and fixed his gaze towards the door.

This was it.No turning back now.

Peter weaved his way through the banks of desks, sweat now prickling his forehead.His mouth felt dry, his tongue thick and too big.His hands clenched into fists and released; his palms were sweaty.He cast a furtive glance over his shoulder to make sure that he was still alone; he was.

And then it was before him.

As he had noticed before, it looked like any other door in the building.The only difference was the mocking little plaque that bore the single word PRIVATE in plain black font on the silvery metal.Peter looked at it scornfully, as if all of this was its fault.

What if the door was locked?

The sudden thought stopped Peter in his tracks.It made perfect sense that the door would be locked, and he cursed himself for not being prepared for this eventuality.He had a moment’s thought of trying to pick the lock with a credit card, but that probably only worked in films.In that moment Peter felt stupid and angry.He had let a ridiculous obsession push him this far, and for what?A locked…

Peter tried the door handle.

The door was unlocked.

His heart skipped a beat.Peter had been certain that the door would be locked, but he was equally taken aback that it wasn’t.Somehow, this was almost worse.The arrogance of people like Bob that they would have something so secret and off limits and not even lock it away?Peter felt like crying out in frustration.But at least this meant that he could go in.

At last.

This was really it.

Peter stood with his hand clasped around the door handle, feeling the cool metal slick in his sweaty grip.A million thoughts raced through his mind.Now that he was here, could he go through with it?Whatever was on the other side could cost him his job, if he was to be found out.A moment’s hesitation was quickly replaced by another flash of anger.He had come this far and was not about to walk away without at least looking.

He took a deep breath and opened the door.

The sight that met Peter’s eyes was so anti-climactic that he very nearly did cry out.The room was bare, save for a thin metal pedestal in the very centre.Atop the pedestal was a button.It was red and set on a black and yellow striped box.

That was it.

Peter felt cheated.He walked into the room and closed the door quietly behind him.He looked around for any signs or instructions, but there were none to be seen.He suddenly started to think that he was now the butt of a massive office joke.Everyone had gotten together to put one over on the new guy.

Very funny!

Peter breathed deeply for a moment or two, attempting to process what he felt in that moment.If it had all been a joke, how could he go back to working with such people?But on the other hand, did he really want to quit and try and find another job in this economy?He felt angry, but his rational side was able to wrestle some form of control.He wouldn’t quit, he wouldn’t storm out.He wanted to know what was in the room, and now he did.So, he supposed it was over.But, even with the rational side seemingly winning the curiosity of what the button did, if anything, when pressed, started to creep into his brain.If a joke was being played on him then surely pressing the button was what they all wanted.Peter turned on his heel and made to leave the room.He hesitated at the door, drawn back to the button and its elusive nature.

What did it do?

Peter screwed his eyes shut and tried to dislodge the temptation to turn around and press the button.Was that what they wanted?Was that why he was here?An argument raged inside his head, rooting him to the spot.

Press it?

Don’t press it?

Would it make any difference?

Peter pictured his colleagues all laughing at him if he pressed the button.But then, what if this was a test and he was supposed to press it?Would they laugh at him for not pressing it?Peter gritted his teeth and let out a growl of frustration.

Press it?

Don’t press it?

Peter’s hand gripped tighter on the door handle.He had flashes of him going back to work and trying to put this out of his mind.He knew it would be no good.It had a hold of him now.Peter let go of the door handle and turned around.

‘Sod it,’ he said, to the world at large.

Peter stepped up to the pedestal and pressed the button.

And the universe ended.

 

***


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