[Just a quick explanation here: Together with some friends, I decided to celebrate “Imperial March”, because it is March and we love evil stories and villains. Therefore, we decided to dedicate the whole of March to this theme, and I, for instance, decided to (try to) write something every day – to get back into my creative mode, and to have a reason to do so. So throughout March, I’ll try to get as much creativity out of my system as possible, and if things go as planned (
they never do), I might be able to upload some short piece of writing each day. I’m deliberately aiming at flash fiction because that’ll give me the best chance to actually do things, considering that university is very time-consuming. So happy Imperial March, everyone, and – enjoy the villainy, or whatever comes out of it.]
“Morning, Sybil!” His cheerful voice seemed to emerge out of nothingness when Dr Carter, Ph.D. in Economics, entered the office. He saw his new secretary – yes, his secretary – nearly jump off her comfortable leather chair, way too comfortable for a secretary, if anyone cared for his opinion, but as of now, nobody did. She yelped when she knocked over her cup of coffee which, steaming hot, spilled over her white skirt. He ignored her mishap and beamed at her in the same manner that had made a fellow student at university punch him right in the face after their final exam. Sybil glowered at her new boss for a second and lowered her head, furiously grabbing a tissue to remove the stain. Unsuccessfully, of course. Dr Carter shook his head and cheerfully approached the recovering woman.
“I did not expect you this early,” she remarked politely. “I thought you would want to take the week off, after – after –”
“After my father’s death, I presume? Don’t be ridiculous,” his rather annoying voice sounded through the room although, by now, he stood right in front of her desk. “I can take time off when I am dead,” he finished. Sybil’s shoulders sagged at his distasteful joke. She did manage a little laugh, though. She had seen him around the office in the old man’s days, every now and then. She had realised early on that he thought of himself as a comedian rather than Dr Carter, Ph.D. in Economics. Where he considered his remarks hilarious, everyone else gave a little desperate laugh, hoping that this one would be the last Carter joke cracked on that particular day. More often than not, their hopes were crushed five minutes later. She had even noticed his own father hold her gaze at some point, shaking his head ever so slightly. Even back then, he had seemed rather tired. She missed the old man. He’d always brought her coffee when he came back from lunch, and all his employees received a little personal note on Valentine’s Day; even the cleaning lady found a little thank-you card, humorously placed on top of the garbage bin in his office. But he was gone now, and from what she could tell about Dr Carter, Ph.D. in Economics and Apparently Freelance Comedian, things would change soon.
She cleared her throat. “Your father, Sir, has asked me to – to – to reveal some crucial information about your family for you, Sir. If you don’t mind, Sir.” He cocked his head quizzically.
“Presumably some of his fairytales. The old man was so fond of them. Did he scare you with them?”
She swallowed. “A little. But he firmly –”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Sybil. An old family curse, that’s what he used to scare us with. His famous bedtime stories. Hilarious. Did you know, Sybil, that he devoted several books on his so-called phenomenon? He even used to have a prop for the stories, but I haven’t seen it in a long –”
“The hand. It’s in his office, Sir. You need to feed it every day before you leave the office.”
He grunted. “Of course. The hand. I can’t believe the old fool kept it for so long. Things will change around here,” he announced loudly and grabbed a pile of letters from her desk. “No more of such nonsense. We are all grown-ups, aye?” Sybil stared after him as he entered his office. The wooden door banged behind him, and it grew quiet. She sighed. This was promising. Maybe it was time to look for a new job.
Sybil had made a promise to the old man, and she was not about to abandon it. In the weeks to come, she crept into Dr Carter’s, Ph.D. in Economics office every day after he had left and looked after it. There it was, the wooden hand that his father had cherished so much, and that was largely ignored by now. She surmised that it was lonely because he never talked to it, never shook the hand, so to speak, like the old man had done. She had found it in the trash several times, but managed to recover it just before the cleaning lady came. She cleaned it each time, and placed it on the windowsill so that it had a good view at night. She sat with it until it was time for supper, and then she would leave quietly and go home to see her boyfriend. She talked about and to the hand, but Dr Carter, Ph.D. in Economics simply laughed at her. At least once a week, he told her that her obsession with his father’s decoration was ridiculous. He had no idea, she pondered, that she was taking care of it for his sake. She had read the books that the old man had written, and she had listened to his stories. She probably knew his family’s history better than Dr Carter, Ph.D. in Economics did himself. She tried to convince him of the hand’s importance and impatience, and its bad tempers if it was not fed properly, but to no avail.
Valentine’s Day came and went, and not a single note was found.
It was close to her 30th birthday, such a dreaded and fateful date, when Sybil received news of her mother’s illness. Although not fatal, she would be confined to the hospital for at least a week, and someone had to come home to take care of her own old man. Everybody understood, without even asking, that Sybil would be that someone, no matter whether or not she could afford the time or the money for the trip. She was tempted to take the hand with her, but she knew that it was impossible to take it to the airport. Accidents might happen, and nobody wanted to have accidents, least of all at the airport. So Sybil took time off, and she confided in the cleaning lady to take over her care of the wooden hand. She pleaded that it was important, that she was not crazy, and that bad things would happen if nobody took responsibility. When she left the office that day, she felt misunderstood and stupid – but, she promised the hand, she would be back fairly soon.
Five evenings later, Dr Carter, Ph.D in Econmics sat in his comfortable armchair and went through his recent correspondence. He was determined to sign the last contracts of the day. They would be mailed first thing tomorrow morning. He normally did not stay in the office after dark, but the matter was urgent, from what he understood. He yawned heartily and shook his head. At least this horrible hand was gone now. He had made a point of throwing it out the day after Sybil had left to see her father. She wouldn’t come back for at least a week, and by then the trash would have been taken out and the horrid thing would be gone for good. He felt uncomfortable keeping it around. He didn’t believe any of his father’s stories, but it was spooky nonetheless. But now the windowsill was empty, and he could finally look out of the window without staring at those five fingers–
He nearly jumped, his heart racing as he stared at the door. Nobody was in the office, or the building, for that matter, not at this time of the night. He kept still.
Knock, knock, knock.
Ridiculous. Dr Carter, Ph.D. in Economics shook off his little shock-induced paralysis and got up. It was a prank; most certainly, a prank that his employees played on him. He was not surprised. He played pranks on them all the time, and they loved them. They always laughed so much.
Knock, knock, knock, knock.
Taking a deep breath, he opened the door forcefully, a wide smile on his face, and stared right into–
He stepped out of the office, looking around carefully. It was dark and empty, and the moon shone dimly through the blinds.
A prank, he thought, and shook his head, chuckling to himself. Quite a good one, in fact. He would pretend to be scared tomorrow morning, when the pranksters would presumably come back. But as he turned around to finalise the contracts, his face was suddenly drained of all colour. There, right in the centre of his desk, was an all-too familiar shape outlined against the moonlight.
Knock, knock. The shape shrunk to a fist and bent towards the desk before recovering to its original position.
Knock, knock, knock.
When Sybil returned at the end of the dreadful week, she was glad. The surgery had gone smoothly and without any complications. Her father was fine, her mother was fine. Her mother’s beloved cat was fine, too, even though the fish were not so fine anymore after Sybil had accidentally left the tank unguarded and the door open. But she was not prepared for what she would find upon her return.
Dr Carter, Ph.D. in Economics and Apparently Freelance Comedian was gone. The whole company was puzzled at his sudden abandonment – all but Sybil, to be honest. Because when she returned to her boss’s office, she found a letter – not a letter, a will, officially certified and all. It was almost unreadable, not Dr Carter’s, Ph.D. in Econmics handwriting at all.
And it mentioned her, Sybil Baker, as sole heir to the company.
She smiled quietly as her thumb stroked the back of the wooden hand that was sitting on her new desk, unmoving and patient.