There never seemed to be a time before The Grump, they said that he’d been installed at the same time as the computer systems. No one knew when the server had come to be, but someone had whispered that the IT department placated Satan with offerings. The servers were run on Windows Vista, stuck together by plasters and secured by blood contract or two with the owd fella downstairs.
Even management wasn’t sure what the IT team actually did during the day, as the moment they were needed, they nowhere to be found. The running theory was that they spent the afternoons holed up somewhere playing endless Quake tournaments. Every break time they could be found hovering over the mandatory “employee enrichment” Subbuteo table that HR had set up in the canteen. When the systems went down though, the best guess was that they’d gone through the wardrobe to Narnia.
The Grump was in fine form, it was barely 9am and already he’d found six faults with the system, two with the phone line and given an open commentary on the wall board. It took a second to glance up and see the never-ending call queue, thousands of clients, just waiting for their moment to crush employees’ souls. With The Grump around you always knew if there were more than two calls in the queue. The team leader was tugging at his hair, perhaps wondering whether prison would be more odious than one more day at the end of the bank. Scott delighted in how thin it had become, as though the last wisps of his nemesis’s sanity were connected to the few fragile hairs that were left.
Breaking point came in the form of fire.
Mirror Man’s cardiologist had forbidden him from Biddly Juice. It seemed that the effects of constant energy drinks were not elevating him to a higher level, as he believed, but were in fact causing strain on his heart. No matter what, no matter how dull the day, not a single Biddle was allowed. It was then that Mirror Man had switched to McDonalds milkshakes. Though the caffeine level was not enough to keep him connected to the universe, the sugar was comforting and made it less likely that he’d start to doze at his desk.
In the week preceding the fire, Mirror Man had only finished half of his milkshake, discarding the rest below his desk. There were more important concerns, such as continuing to forge his Mirror Box. DPD Dale had just delivered The Mighty Hose and Mirror Man was distracted, testing it on several cars in the car park. In his newfound glee he’d forgotten to return to his beverage. Fortunately, his colleagues seemed to prefer him washing their cars in the car park, to him actually being in the office. Perhaps it was the balaclava.
In the week that followed the McDonald’s cup slowly, but surely lost its integrity, as happened with all things that remained in the office over a period of time. By the Friday lunch time it had started to seep into the poorly protected floor plugs. Pastel pink ribbons trailed through the twists of electrical wires, sprawled below the desks like jungle vines. It was only a matter of time before fluid and electricity mingled.
The first person to notice the fire was not The Grump, it wasn’t even the team leader, who had taken to writing fiction about how he would kill each of his employees slowly with reckless abandon. It was Scott. The scent of smoke alerted him to impending chaos and he revelled in it. One quick glance at the smouldering infrastructure was enough to tell him that things were about to get good. So good. Perhaps they’d even get a day off work.
Just as the first tongue of flame coiled about the edge of Mirror Man’s desk Scott felt a hitherto unfelt emotion – concern. Concern, not just for himself, but for the small community of individuals he was forced to share the majority of his life with. Even the people he tolerated and called his friends saw less of him then The Grump, Mirror Man or that one employee, whomever they may be, that was known only as “The Phantom Pooer”. With a rush of bravado, adrenaline and tangled crutches Scott seized the nearest fire extinguisher and pointed it at the fire, which had gone from entertaining ember to vaguely threatening blaze.
Despite the infrequent, yet beloved fire drills – except for that one in the middle of winter where Scott was sure someone had lost a toe to frostbite – no one had ever taken the time to explain what to do in the event of a fire. Except to run away. Running away seemed to be very important. As Scott stood there, arms outstretched, clutching the fire extinguisher with nothing happening, it occurred to him that he did not know how to work a fire extinguisher.
It was not the optimum time to read the instructions.
Still what choice did he have? Rolling the extinguisher over he hopped back from the growing heat to properly take in the step by step guidelines printed in fading text. Apparently fire extinguishers had an expiry date, who knew?
“Oh for… Can’t you even stop a fire properly?!”
A shadow fell upon him, the form of The Grump rearing up at his back. Meaty paws seized the extinguisher, yanking out the pin, as though some fire stopping expert. No sooner had the flames reached the desk borders than they were beat into retreat by the stream of expanding foam.
“Have to do everything at this bloody place.. Even fight fires. I don’t get paid enough for this.”
In the stunned silence, only the sound of The Grump’s complaints rumbled on.
For once HR responded within the hour.
Ten sullen employees hunched over the Boardroom table. It was a high quality table, like no table they could afford. The lustre was so bright even Mirror Man had taken off his Mirror Suit, the reflection had hurt his eyes and the Head of HR was already in an unpleasant mood.
There was only one question on her lips. Who had started the fire?