How far would you go to get off the treadmill?

Written in 45 minutes, to the prompt “Write about a new beginning”, from AQA English Language Paper 2, Section B, in November 2021.

Funny, isn’t it, how life takes you on amusing diversions.

This, for me, would be the fourteenth time I have had such; the cartwheeling through the chaos of change has become, almost, normal – none of us have job security anymore, and most people earn more doing their online side-project than in their day jobs. C’est la vie.

As it was, this particular change of direction was a direct result of somebody else’s intervention.

Peter. He was a darling in the office, handsome as only early thirty-year-old men can be, supportive of all, and genuinely kind. He had found himself in something of a pickle when he had picked up a pile of papers from the warm and worryingly cacophonous photocopier and hurried to back his desk, only to discover that, hidden in the folds of the disordered leaves, a print which was TOP SECRET, red and almost pulsing in the flickering fluorescent lights. Before he could stop himself, he’d read it, the poor devil. He knew the consequences of reading such material when it was beyond one’s clearance level; thus, he came scurrying, furtively, to my cubicle, tears welling in his ice-blue eyes, wherein I gave him the obligatory pat on the back and told him to bring me the sheet – which he, in his terror, had left under the pile on his keyboard. I, then, a favour to the otherwise incapable, to poor Peter (who needed this job more than I did), I alerted a supervisor, who – cannily – refused to cast a single eye at the sheet of paper in my hand after seeing its incarnadine headline.

I found myself, very shortly afterwards, in a complicated seat in a darkened room. Complicated, obviously, by the straps which would have held me to it had they been attached. Clearly, on this day, I was not expected to cause trouble. I wondered, briefly, how many people had necessitated restraint and, therefore, why a company such as this would require a seat with straps. A James Bond fantasy, perhaps, of one of the more senior of the Business Protection team?

Abruptly, into the room strode a Very Senior Executive, the sort that appears prominently on the website but never usually in person, the sort whose face is recognisable from television interviews on the Six o’Clock News, but never from the annual Christmas knees-up. He asked, as he sat down in a chair opposite mine, “Did you read it?” Gruff, to the point. My type of guy.

“Of course. Unless that will get me killed, in which case: not.”

“Look,” He did look – exasperated. I suspected that I had not been this silver fox’s first crisis today… He continued, “I need to know – quickly – whether or not you read the sheet. If you did, that’s okay, but we’ll need to get you to sign a few things before you can get on with your life.”

“In which case, yes. I did read it. Twice, in fact, just to make sure I’d read it right the first time. Inconsistencies, I recall, and something about the pension plan.”

He stared at me, intensely, for a moment. I felt as if I were being flayed. “Okay. You’re obviously fired – as per our internal security policy, that you signed when you started – however, you’ll know that we cannot allow the information you read about to leak, especially not ahead of next year’s trading.”

I, entirely conscious of the contents of the sheet that Peter had purloined, and the consequences of their distribution to certain key members of the British press, feigned shock at the suggestion. “As if I would sell or share company secrets!”

My Very Senior Executive declined and shook his head, before turning to speak over his shoulder. “Give me the paperwork – I could do without this nonsense today.” Receiving a leather-bound folio from whoever was behind him in the shadows, he opened it and handed me a Mont Blanc, after having used the nib of it to point at the page pinned in place: “Sign there.”

I took a moment to read the document. There was much legalese, but prominently was the promise of a permanent ‘Special Consultant’ role (which, from what I could decipher, would essentially earn me two-thirds of my annual salary to Not Tell Anyone Anything) and a golden ‘hola’ for the new post (which was a third of my annual salary, in Euros, up front and wired to an account set up for me with Sabadell, as well as furnished accommodations on the Costa del Sol, where I was to be shipped, which also happened to be really far away from any of our competitors or customers, and something about Legal dealing with the life admin of it all).

Smugly, I signed and passed back the folio. I looked the Very Senior Executive dead in the eyes as I smiled and popped the deftly capped Mont Blanc into my jacket pocket. He glowered, then rose and left.

I was escorted, unhandled, from the broom cupboard to the front of the building by a burly bouncer with a bow-tie, with a serf from Accounting carrying my belongings in a neatly packed cardboard box closely behind. Awaiting us was a black saloon, night-black and sinfully thirsty, its sleek lines highlighting its athleticism. This was a car designed to turn the heads of the proletariat and remind them of their position beneath the oligarchy. The security guard opened the back door for me to slide in, then handled the boot and box arrangements.

The fourteenth time I’ve changed career. The fourteenth time I’ve adjusted my expectations or changed my direction. The fourteenth time, in this modern era of constant change and ‘jobs for life are a thing of the past’.

Turns out, being a Good Samaritan ended up gifting me that hallowed job for life. I wound the window down and reflected on that life which could have been spent in Human Resources – me, the Doyenne of the Filing Cabinet, forever printing and collating, storing and rotating, emailing and replying. I couldn’t imagine for a second longer the drudgery of such an existence, having now a chance for something different, somewhere different. I opened the window to allow the wind to flow in and around me, as I settled into the supple and luxurious leather seat, and watched the world contentedly bask in the amber glow of the late afternoon sunset, as the driver of the car was diverted onto a slip road to avoid an accident en route to the airport.

The deal means this will be the last time I need new beginning. If only any of them had remembered to limit anonymous access to restricted files for employees below a certain login level. If only any of them had thought for a second that anybody would actually read the policies they were signing, especially the bits about severance. If only the left hand had any idea what the right hand was doing back there in Hades.

Poor Peter; if only he’d known.

I thought about him very briefly when I considered that I’d ultimately feigned the horror of his potential punishment and offered salvation from the chance that this would be the collapse of life as he knew it; he, content, had promised to owe me one and had scuttled back to his cubicle fearless. Two dice had been rolled on a chance and I’d landed on sixes.

I won’t need to print anything classified again for a very long time. I will, however, need to learn Spanish.


This work by Dav Kelly is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

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