The Office Goth
By mark p
My name is Lorraine Denning, I am a retired office manager and I like to think, an amateur author, not published yet, but there are lots of websites I can submit to and the wonderful writers group I attend in Aberdeen are so good when it comes to feedback. Anyway, I cast my mind back to 1983, a lifetime ago, when I was still working, my having retired in 2020 after 45 years with Friel and Blackstaff, a most reputable firm of solicitors. In my day, I was the office manager, and in my time there saw many people come and go, my old Mum used to say that ‘it takes all kinds’, and I think she was right. Anyway, now at a ‘loose end’, I am attempting to write stories based on my working life and its characters, ‘fictionalized’ of course, and this is one of them.
Alison, the ‘Office Goth’, as she was known, was probably one of the weirdest people I encountered, or more accurately worked with in my time. To tell you the truth, I don’t remember her last name, she had just turned 20 and always dressed in black, black dresses, black tights, black coats, as if she were attending a funeral rather than working as an office junior. Sometimes she was reminiscent of a character from the Hammer Horror films my long deceased brother James liked to watch on his video, her hair, dyed black, was long and frizzy, ‘crimped’ as they called it back then. She played her music on a Walkman, one of those small cassette players, which she carried in her coat pocket, with music from The Cure, Joy Division, and Bauhaus. These were scattered across her desk along with her endless supply of cans of Coke. She was quite an attractive girl, but hid behind the ‘Goth’ image, and sometimes her attitude tried my patience to its limits, though most of the time she was a good worker. Her taste in books sometimes caused me concern. She was reading up on witchcraft one day, can you imagine it, witchcraft in this firm, whatever next? I thought that was maybe what Goths did, so didn’t mention it, she was an avid fan of the ghost stories of M.R. James, and the vampire stories of Bram Stoker, you know Dracula and all that nonsense. I notice these things about my colleagues! At lunchtime she would sit transfixed by these books, while me and Lynda, my second in command, and best chum, would read the latest Danielle Steele, or Jilly Cooper best seller. Ok, she was young so maybe that’s what the young folk were reading at the time, neither me nor Lynda were in that category anymore, we were both over 30 (just).
She could often be a bit standoff-ish, and sometimes didn’t speak to us for days after being given a telling off. Usually this was about toning down the Goth look, as the customers of the firm expect a certain standard from us, we should look smart when dealing with the public, not like she was ready for a Halloween party. So, during this time of her silence, she passed notes about work to me, and kept on working, she was a good typist, and churned out letter after letter for Mr. Friel, the firm’s principal solicitor, on a regular basis, which was a good thing. He had told me on the quiet that Alison might make a good secretary, though it was early days yet, and she was still on her trial period.
I had noticed a book on her desk on day, about Runes, I would look that up on the Microfiche system later when I visited the library in the evening on my way home from work. It must be something evil, or weird, she wouldn’t have read it in the first place.
I couldn’t find anything about runes on the Microfiche system, and the library assistant, an older grey-haired lady about 60-ish, was very tetchy with me, as I was the last customer in before closing time. I hurriedly returned my Jilly Coopers, got them stamped, and quickly went to the Horror Section where I picked up a book by M.R. James, just to see what nonsense Alison was reading, and maybe get a handle on what I was dealing with, if anything.
I read a bit of the story called ‘Casting the Runes’ on the bus, so runes were like a spell, something like that, I thought. I would read the whole thing later and find out what was what. I was looking at the footnotes at the back of the book written by some academic or other, and it said, I quote ‘Runic Letters: ancient alphabet most commonly associated with Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon writing; often carrying or implying magical qualities.’
Me and Lynda invited her out for a drink one Thursday after work, we went to the new wine bar in town, ‘Towers’, it was called, very trendy we thought, dressed up in our orange trouser suits, and Alison in her black goth gear. Thursday was late night shopping in Aberdeen, and it was as busy as the weekend, with wine bars and pubs doing a ‘roaring trade’, as we said back then. Of course, in the ‘80s most folk wore brightly coloured clothes, it was a thing back then, I wouldn’t be seen dead in anything orange now, Good Lord no. Anyway, after one drink, mine a diet Coke, as I was perpetually on a diet, and Lynda’s half cider, Alison said she had to go, not finishing her lager. We had been giving her some ‘friendly advice’ about her manner of dress, and how a change in that might improve her chances of promotion at the firm, she didn’t care, she said, and was off into the night, away to meet ‘some folk’ at a club called ‘The Venue’. Lynda’s parting comment to me was to the effect that Alison was probably away to meet the rest of her coven.
We both laughed heartily at that one, Alison, a witch, surely not.
Lynda and I said our goodbyes, and both drove off in our separate cars.
I felt a tiny bit restless thinking about what we had been saying to Alison, maybe she was a sensitive type under the image, behind the mask so to speak, but I would give the story ‘Casting the Runes’ a read, maybe it would help me sleep, then again, perhaps not. Ghost stories were not something I was used to, being more of the romantic type, even though I have never married, I have always thought my prince will come sometime. Meantime, I was married to my work for better, for worse, for richer or poorer, thinking of myself as a ‘career girl’.
I awoke sweating at 2.25am, from a dream, or more precisely, a nightmare, reading the story must’ve dropped this one into the depths of my thoughts. The dream image waved from the dreamworld that Alison had placed a note with a runic message in my handbag and my death would ensue imminently.
I would receive intimation of this soon, I was sure of this.
I switched the bedside lamp on and checked my handbag, the nice white faux leather one that Aunt Harriet had given me for my 30th birthday. I opened the bag, and a slip of paper fluttered out in the manner of a butterfly, paper didn’t do that, maybe the window was open? I lurched clumsily towards the window, snapped it shout, and snatched the slip of paper out of the air. I didn’t recall leaving a window open. It had writing on it, it looked like calligraphy, fancy writing, cursive writing like we used to do in school, but something more, it was in Greek or something, a language that I didn’t understand, maybe hieroglyphics, like the Egyptians wrote.
I shuddered as I thought what was happening, I went to the window and looked out, it was windy outside, and a figure in black was standing across the road from my flat. Was it Alison? My eyesight isn’t great without my specs, so I wasn’t sure, but once I put them on it was apparent that there was nobody there, just the trees swishing about in the wind, and a cat mewling along in skewed harmony.
I lay down and was rudely awakened at 7am by the alarm clock, wondering if the whole thing had been a dream, I would speak to Lynda about it in the office later.
So, an hour later, showered and dressed, I drove off towards the city centre and the office. ‘Gold’ by Spandau Ballet, was playing on Northsound Radio, as my little Mini, fought against the other vehicles vying for supremacy, in Union Street.
When I got into the office, Lynda was holding up a message, a ‘fax’ had come in on our super new Fax machine, it was in some weird script, but typed out rather than written with pen and ink. The message was to the effect once we managed to decipher it, that I was to meet my death in three months, there was only one Lorraine Denning in the office, me, and it could only have been sent by one person trying to emulate the bad guy Karswell, from the ‘Runes story, and we knew who that was.
That day Alison never turned up for work, we wondered if she had maybe drunk too much last night and was hungover. She had no phone according to her staff file, as scant as it was, given that she was still her trial period here.
Something occurred to me about the fax, James my brother was a horror obsessive who, in the parlance of today, had mental health issues, something that wasn’t spoken about openly in the 70s. Anyway, not long before he died, he was rambling on about having been cursed and that he had three months to live, evidently, he had been visited by a black clad figure, who had uttered various incantations and brandished a scrap of paper bearing the details of his impending death. But that was way back in 1978, when his obsession with such bands as Black Sabbath, horror books and movies were sucking the life from him. Maybe this was happening to me, maybe I was heading for a breakdown, maybe I was under stress and unaware of it, maybe….
But I recalled that he had told me, in confidence, that if the message was returned to the ‘caster’, it would effectively turn on them. At the time, I had dismissed this as mumbo jumbo, the ravings of my brother who was ill, but this clearly made sense considering what had happened with me.
That morning Alison arrived late for work, still a bit worse for wear from her drinking at the Venue last night, she was stinking of drink, so after giving her a telling off, I handed her a couple of clients files and instructed her to type up letters to each confirming the details of the court’s latest order for each action.
She gave me no apology or anything, just an angry stare, which you could have called ‘giving me the evils’ and sat down banging everything about. I had clearly upset her. She never left the firm or anything, just carried on giving me and Lynda the silent treatment for the next three months, just getting on with her work, reading her weird books and playing her Walkman at lunchtime, to drown our chatting out.
Mr. Friel was still coming to me saying how good her work was, maybe her drunkenness was a blip, and maybe we should offer her a secretarial job, a step up for her.
I wasn’t convinced, I was having weird dreams, maybe it was the lack of food as I was dieting again. There was always a black clad figure following me, and a strange message handed to me, posted to me, appearing on my typewriter at work. It must be her; she must be a witch or something, I told myself.
The day before my allotted three months was to expire, according to my fax message, Alison announced that she was leaving, she was apparently going to college to do a secretarial course. Here was my chance, I had discussed it with Lynda, I would put the rune message into the Anderson case, which Mr. Friel was to review today. So, I planted it, in the file.
She was going up the stairs to Mr Friel’s office, with the file under her arm, when she evidently beheld a snarling black cat mewling like a denizen of Hell, the cat jumped down the stairs towards her and she fell to her death with a clatter as she bounced down to the reception area.
Lynda saw a cat scamper from the foyer of the building and wondered where it had come from.
The ambulance was called, and Alison was declared dead, we would all have to attend court at a Fatal Accident Enquiry, Mr Friel told us, nobody was to blame here.
The rest of the day went by in a blur of incredulity, this was just like one of those stories Alison had liked, so Lynda and I thought, maybe we would change our reading matter to ghosts and horror, rather than the romantic fiction.
That Friday night, we returned to Towers , all dolled up in the orange trouser suits , and met two blokes, Ian and Kev, they were well pissed, two young guys out on the town, who saw us older ladies as fair game, maybe thinking we had a bob or two stashed away.
They were out to get pissed, and one of them said that his sister had died that day falling down the stairs at her work!
Lynda looked at me and I looked at her as if to say, ‘Oh my god’, what next?
We made our excuses, and as we left the place, saw a black cat sloping along the kerbside.