After four hours, Dana realised she was slouching again. Almost hunchbacked, she rubbed at the back of her neck and slowly eased her spine into a straighter position. She stared at the distant wall clock, blinking her eyes into distant focus. “Twenty, going on a hundred”, she groaned softly. As her eyes and neck slowly came to terms with the concepts of “far” and “straight”, her attention wandered over her hunched colleagues. Jahn was typing frantically under the long curtain of his hair, softly brushing the edges of the keyboard. A few small detached strands trailed from the numpad to his mouse, an unfortunate umbilical cord. It stretched then snapped when Jahn abruptly grabbed the mouse and decisively opened a new spreadsheet. Jin’s desk placed him with his back to her, revealing a hunched forward-leaning spine uncannily similar to the form Dana was currently trying to unlock. TvEEo was staring intently at her screen, periodically scrolling the middle mouse wheel with an irritating habitual sniff.
On her first day at SneeBux consulting, Dana had been given the typical TempTamp agency duty outline. Alongside the typical duty outline, mostly business-speak terms for the doldrums of report editing and typesetting, were the more distinctive workplace specific notes. These emphasised the need to only work during business hours, that the employee coffee and water supplies should be used “with consideration for others”, and explained an elaborate lighting system to maintain temperature control. Employees were required to open and close assorted windows and vents near their desks depending on the coloured light. This was rounded off with the usual disclaimer that the one month position may or may not actually go for one month (and torturously specific definition of “a month” that somehow made the concept less clear). All pretty standard, except someone had taken a green biro and underlined the part about business hours, and scrawled in the margin “MI actionables; Don’t slack off, and don’t comment on the sniffing”.
The indicator lights near the wall clock flicked to purple. Her three busy officemates were too busy to notice. Sighing, Dana dutifully reached for the cooling vent below her desk and closed it. After her previous disastrous posting at Candancy insurance, she couldn’t afford to place even a toe out of line. Whatever an MI actionable was, it was handwritten, so someone must be keeping a personal close eye on her. Last year, this would have given her veritable palpitations. In many ways TempTamp was her saviour, losing her position with them could be the end of the line financially.
Two years ago, Dana had left school early to follow her heart. She was young and in love and invincible. In mere months she discovered her heart was an appalling judge of character. As the relationship degraded, her amazing powers of invincibility were stripped away by real-world concerns like finding money for food. She signed up to a microtasking website and took to ad-hoc assignment editing. The work wasn’t consistent and it didn’t pay at all well, but it was just enough to cover the basic costs of food. He’d stay out “job hunting” for longer and longer stretches, until one day, he didn’t come back. The final straw was when she woke up to find a family of three standing at the foot of the bed. The ChimWemWe family had returned from a three month holiday at their Scopp’s BirthForest to find their fridge empty and a lady in papa Frank’s bed. Papa Frank screamed, and Dana rocketed from the bed and into the middle of the living room.
Papa Frank took quite a while to stop screaming, which was OK by Dana, who needed to collect her thoughts and come to terms with the fact that she had been inadvertently squatting in somebody’s home. She had to explain. At first the ChimWemWe were sceptical, but were mollified when she didn’t assault them or try to climb out the window. Outnumbered three to one, Dana posed no immediate threat. In a quiet, shaky voice she told her story and took out her laptop to show them school photos to verify her identity. She had no idea how her “love” had gained entry, but supposed he had got a copy of the door key card somehow – she was evidently stupid, but not stupid enough to overlook any obvious breaking and entering. When she was done, papa Frank loomed over her. She now sat demurely on the couch, acutely aware of her tatty pyjamas. They weren’t exactly rags, but may as well have been when contrasted with the ChimWemWe family’s immaculate dress. Scopp may as well have been a pop star in his baggy hoodie and designer pants. Frank wanted to call the police, but Scopp was more sympathetic. He was looking through her photos while Mama Dathy pragmatically clomped throughout the apartment, checking for anything missing.
“Her washing is in the dryer,” she called from the laundry. She returned, holding a pile of crumpled clothes in one hand, and Dana’s school tie in the other.
“All the tech is here, “ Scopp noted, gesturing to the open living room wicker hamper that contained a pile of portable gaming devices, headphones, and a swanky coffee grinder. Dana winced at the sight of the high-range Dapf kit. She’d used that grinder while watching TV several times. Of course her “love” couldn’t have afforded such expensive brands, why hadn’t she noticed that?
“I believe her, Dad,” Scopp said, breaking the uneasy silence. To Dana’s disbelief, Dathy agreed.
“Nothing is broken or missing, and nobody but a student would be caught dead in this,” Dathy hefted the tie with evident distaste.
And, just like that, they let Dana collect her things and leave. Scopp even wished her “bloody vengeance on that lying crubbnugget”.
Dana sniffed at the memory of the ChimWemWe family. TvEEo sniffed back. Jin was standing at his desk and looking across at Dana expectantly. Dana clocked that Jahn had slowed down, tipped sideways and was typing one-handed, TvEEo had relinquished her middle mouse wheel, and Jin was holding three mugs. She took a punt and proffered her regulation white TempTamp mug “Yes, thank you very much.” To her relief, as Jin took the mug and turned to the small kitchenette that bordered their office. As he used the employee coffee supplies “with consideration for others”, he suddenly looked older. Maybe it was the light highlighting the flecks of grey in his hair, or more likely, the stooped and stiff posture. Dana determinedly straightened her back. It finally capitulated with a complaining “crrnnk”.
“Do you think the quarterly will be ready this week?” TvEEo asked over the low roar of the coffee machine and intermittent ‘tinks’ of mug and sugar bowl. Jahn shrugged, his head a swaying willow of reddish brown. “Depends,” he said, non-committally. He was always like that. At first, Dana had mistaken him for a layabout hippy, cringing at the expectation of TvEEo’s wrath. She was the department senior, after all. But within the first week, she had been impressed by the speed and quality of his work; produced almost as much as Jin and TvEEo combined, with far fewer typos for Dana to iron out to boot. If something “depend”(ed/s/ing), it meant Jahn had not been provided with critical information.
“Yeah, management has been slow this week,” Jin commented. He brought TvEEo’s mug over first. She raised it to her nose and after a few appreciative huffs (with some sniffs thrown in), she averred that “Bob from accounting says Pip from the executive thinks at least one of them is off with gastro,”. Like many of Dana’s postings, SneeBux did not appear to have a clear communication structure. Announcements about workflow or targets or goals filtered down via immediate superiors, or a convoluted grapevine across multiple departments. Dana always seemed to be flat-out regardless of whether or not management was slow, whoever management were (likely the source of mysterious MI actionables), mostly because her work day was so rigidly compressed. This was in no small part because of the SneeBux really did have a culture of genuinely clocking off at five pm, which made for an intense work day but also yielded sweet lengthy afternoons. Having passed Jahn his mug, Jin delivered Dana her coffee and returned to his desk. Like her superior, Dana took a moment to huff the rich nutty fumes. The afternoon sped by in a blurr of “they’re/they are/there” and re-working Jin’s ongoing inability to correctly capitalise names (a bewildering swirl of combinations like TVeeo and TveeO, but never once TvEEo). At ten to five, her colleagues began to unfurl themselves from their computers. Jahn slid across his desk, fingers nimbly reorganising a rainbow of post-it notes into reminders and to-do lists for the next morning. TvEEo stood with a sniff, gently stomping circulation back into her meaty legs. Jin also stood, slowly, creaking like a branch in the wind. The air was veritably chilly, as Dana had been the only one to close her cooling vent when prompted.
The warm afternoon air washed over her as they left the office and joined the veritable traffic jam of people filing down the corridor to the exit. Bob from accounting fell in next to TvEEo and they picked up an amiable conversation about boats. Dana felt a twinge of sadness. The temporary nature of her postings could be a godsend in toxic places like Candancy, but it the end of her contract loomed like a storm cloud in places like SneeBux. TvEEo’s sniff turned into a snort of laughter. Still, life wasn’t half bad now.
The day she had lost her (well, the ChimWemWe’s) home, she had walked the streets for hours. Stinging from abandonment, alone in a new city with ten dollars and no clue where to go, she turned corners at random and concentrated on placing one foot in front of another. Oblivious to the lengthening shadows and thinning pedestrian traffic, she only noticed the passage of time when the streetlamps flickered on. She stopped, finding herself outside a small café. “FerniLab” read the hand-painted sign, dangling slightly precariously over an old-fashioned double-width entrance. Contrasting the harsh greenish fluorescence of the streetlamps, the café window glowed softly, yellowy, invitingly. Dana had entered to find a compact, cosy space made from dark hardwood and soft lush red velvet. It was about half full. A negaleg shakily hefted a bucket-sized long black while her friends smiled. An elderly gentleman sat in the corner, eyes flashing as they caught the light from his laptop. Everyone spoke in hushed tones, as if in a library. It seemed to Dana that this was a place of profound calm.
A lean woman with braided honey blonde hair smiled at Dana from behind the counter. “Take a seat, dear” So, Dana took a seat. The barista soon approached her table and handed her a short drinks menu. I looked to be carefully handwritten on parchment, though the formality was somewhat diminished by some smudged letters and misspellings. Whatever a ristreffo was (did they mean risttetto?), it was only two dollars and it was dark outside and Dana wanted an excuse to stay. She mumbled her order, and watched the barista walk away. She wore an immaculate deep red suit and dark brown apron that followed her lean lines and matched the décor perfectly, but had bare feet. This was incredibly risky, particularly in a small space like the café. One errant hoof, one honest misstep, and those long toes would be crushed beyond repair. Dana winced as one of the patrons got up and clomped past the barista to get to the toilets. Somehow they flowed past each other without incident.
It turned out that a ristreffo was effectively a ristretto with a sprig of fern propped up in the thick coffee. Dana had never had a focca before, mostly because there was no BolfMart in her small rural hometown. It had been in the news a few months back that Bolf’s monopoly on focca had finally been overridden after several long legal battles, on the grounds it was unconstitutional. Helped by last year’s precedent of Turnt v Milky, the courts established that any proprietary monopoly on coffee additives breached the twelfth adjustment (freedom of coffee), and opened the way for all café establishments to “pop a fern in their coffee and a spring in your step” (Turnt v Bolf, 4028). Dana certainly needed a spring in her step, so took a sip. It was absolutely delicious. The caffeine swept through her system and lifted her mood.
Dana sat there for hours, drinking in the hushed voices and soft light (but no more ristreffo, she only had eight dollars left after all), watching the lithe barista scoot from the counter to the coffee machine to customers. After a time, another woman wearing the barista uniform, but thankfully also shoes, appeared from somewhere out the back. She had similar braids, but dark brown hair and softer features than her colleague. They briefly embraced, and muttered softly to each other for a few minutes until a new customer walked in and grabbed their attention. The interval between new customers stretched ever longer, until eventually an unseen clock chimed and the few remaining patrons filed good-naturedly out. Dana slowly got to her feet. When she left, she had no idea where to go. Soon, she and the brunette barista were the only ones left in the cosy store. Dana hesitated at the doorway. Outside, the city buildings and deep blue sky loomed impossibly high. Little Dana, so small, adrift, so very, very alone. It took all her energy to close her eyes in an attempt to staunch her tears.
“Everything OK, sweetie?”
The tears burst out. The world blurred and her knees shook and she felt herself tipping over only to be folded into strong, warm arms. The soft stranger’s shoulder smelled of freshly roasted coffee and vanilla. Dana spent that night at FerniLab, pouring out her heart as the proprietors poured out cup after cup of soothing green tea. Circinate (“but ‘Nate is fine”) was a calming source of hugs and sympathy, while Crozier, the barefoot blonde, was all pragmatic suggestions and factual points. Dana eventually slid into sleep stretched out across a velvet couch, and when she woke needing the restroom found they had covered her in a warm fleecy blanket. The next morning, Crozier had provided her with a discount coupon someone had dropped at FerniLab the previous week, and Dana had dutifully followed her directions to a nearby sportshall. Her coupon combined with the last of her money was sufficient to purchase a month’s subscription to the gym.
“Exercise is very psychologically rewarding,” Nate had said. “Also they have laundry, shower facilities, and public computers”, Crozier had added with a wolfish grin. That was the leg up Dana had needed: between the computers at the gym, the couch to crash on from FerniLab, she had secured an interview with TempTamp and from there her life in the city had slowly taken root.
Exhausted from a long day in the office, Dana barely had the energy to reheat one of her single-portion leftovers. Curry of some form, possibly eggplant. Could have done with some supplementation from a few microwaved vegetables, but that felt like far too much effort. She sniffed experimentally at the half-finished bottle of wine from last night, took a cautious swig. Still good. She was almost settled in to her lonely repast when she remembered it was Wednesday. Lemmster’s weekly uploads had been a vital grounding for her in the past two years. Ten reliable, redoubtably spooky minutes, each and every week.
She thumbed at the screen of her phone. True enough, there was a new upload. She cast around for some headphones to avoid the tinny speaker running the mood. A bright pink pair was dangling off the empty chair opposite. There, now she was ready to eat. She hit ‘play’ and scooped up her spork while the eery intro music tinkled.
“Greetings and acknowledgements to the beings of the ether,” Lemmster began as always, low, deep, and steeped in auditory cheese, “it is time to step away from your experience, outside of your comfort zone, and into something altogether…” – dramatic pause – “… different. This time, we have a message for you entitled ‘Fair Trade Ritual‘. Let’s begin.”
“Yes! Let’s!” Dana said thickly through a mouthful of eggplant. She smiled to herself and let her mind focus entirely on the creepypasta goodness she knew was to follow.
“Overdue loans? Savings in trouble? This ritual will help tip your bank balance back into the red.
You will need a small coil of solder, oven mitts, a cloth such as a handkerchief and a plate. Find a private space some distance from where you live, ideally something like a shed or a hotel. You can begin at any time of day, though most people prefer to start in the late morning when it is brightest outside.
Begin by preparing the room.
It is very important that there are no uncovered vessels in the room. Cups, bowls, buckets – anything that could hold water. Take them outside, or turn them upside down. Clean the floor of any dust, dirt or debris.
Close your eyes and count to ten. You should see a flash of red light when you get to eight. This means everything is going according to plan, and they have arrived. Do not open your eyes until you get to ten. They need time to pass by you, and once seen you cannot unsee them. You can keep your eyes shut a bit longer, to be safe, but once they have arrived the clock is ticking.
One you are sure they have arrived and passed by you, open your eyes and check the room to make sure there are still no uncovered vessels that could hold water. You might find a mug or a vase you don’t recognise. A quickly as you can, use the oven mitts to turn them over without touching them. Do not attempt to take them outside, as they will still be in the room when you return, and you will have wasted time.
Take the solder and place it on the cloth. If you have not properly cleaned the floor, you might find the dust, dirt or debris will move and start to form words while you do this. Do not read them, they are just trying to distract you and waste your time. Stand back from the plate as far as you can and point at it. Speak out loud clearly, and just once “I have brought the solder”. Close your eyes again and count to five. There will be no flash this time, but you will smell the solder melting. When you open your eyes, the cloth should be gone and the solder will have been replaced by a silver coin. If the solder is still there with the coin, it means they are trying to trick you. Leave the room and do not go back under any circumstances.
If the solder is gone, they are acting in good faith. But do not take the coin yet. Check the room one final time to make sure there is no place for fluids to gather. If any of the vessels you took outside or turned upside down aren’t outside or upside down anymore, you cannot take the coin. The room is no longer safe, and you should leave as soon as possible.
If the room is as it should be, say out loud “Thank you for your trade,”. You can now pick up the coin and leave. Do not return to the room for the next few days, as no matter how carefully you have prepared the vessels will be right side up and start to fill.
Do not worry that the coin does not look like legal tender, it will be accepted by all shop assistants, bank tellers, or vending machines. However you can use the coin, it will ensure just enough money comes to you that your finances will become balanced. The simplest method is to use it to buy a lottery ticket, though you could also deposit it into your account and an untraceable clerical error will also work in your favour. Or you could take it to a pawn or jewellery store and trade it in.”
The low end-of-piece musical cue began to swell, and Dana eagerly awaited the invariably spooky final line. Lemmster did not disappoint… “Just make sure it is never left unattended near any mugs, cups, or vessels that can hold water.” Dana looked around her apartment, pondering at how many unwashed bowls and mugs there were. While sure there was no ritual that could bring instant wealth and success, for the first time in a while she felt like she could actually make it on her own.