She walked into work with formal black dress, well-done brunette hair, and a spirit refreshed from a good night’s sleep. She worked in a massive building since it was the corporate office to one of the largest tech companies in the world - 100 floors, beautiful staircases, small trees inside of the building, ivory floor and walls, expensive artwork framed in gold. Many people would have given their lives to work there since they paid an excellent salary and since they had terrific benefits.
She worked as a manager in the graphic design department on floor 34, and this was a big day for her team since they were about to launch the new ad campaign. This time, she thought, they were going to impact millions for the better. But first, a meeting in the conference room on floor 3. She always enjoyed getting caught up on everyone’s progress; however, she didn’t feel like attending today since they had a lot of work to do. I’ll just excuse myself before it’s finished, she thought.
“Our department is exceeding expectations so far with 1103 ideas generated and 598 put into practice. 194 of them were successful for brand awareness and 74 of them were responsible for an estimated 3.2% yearly increase.” Applause could be heard around the room as Jullia stood up to give her summary for the season, which was 6 months in length.
“...and our new graphic designers are absolutely fantastic. They have helped us create a total of 13,476 new total designs this season which generated approximately 14.7% yearly profit. Speaking of graphic design, we have a lot of work to do, sorry I can’t stick around! Great work everyone!”
They applauded her as she left. No-one stopped her since she was a manager, but also because she was a hard worker who meant well. She had never mistreated anyone and she wasn’t going to start today.
Some hours passed. Everything was going along swimmingly. The new designers continued to be happy and their graphics exceeded even her expectations - she was impressed. They made their final touches, the video editing was done, their market research had been done for years, so all they had to do was click the “submit” button. But in order to build suspense, she suggested they wait until after lunch. They laughed and agreed! Off to the break room they went!
Pot roast, mashed potatoes, and veggies. Jullia always thought their chef was a genius, he could take the most basic dishes and turn them into carnivals of flavor. A smile spread across her face as she ate because she had been waiting to click that button for so long. But until then, she was going to enjoy every… Single… Bite.
As she was talking to her acquaintances she saw something out of the corner of her eye, probably because it was out of place. A mysterious black book placed on a shelf above the entrance to the kitchen. Was there even a shelf there before today, she thought? Probably, but that book definitely wasn’t there before. And why did it have such a strange aura around it, almost like it was a person? A bad person?
She didn’t let it affect her too much as she continued making conversation. But, eventually, everyone left the break room, and she felt a strange pull to take a closer look at the book. Maybe, she told herself, someone was hiding something illegal in here. She had to take a look.
The janitorial room had the step-stool she needed to reach it. She grumbled because she was very tall, yet the book was just out of her reach. Her eyes poked above the shelf and she inquisitively looked at it. Worn and torn. Hardcover. No title. What a strange book, she thought.
She flipped through some of the pages, only to find nothing. No pictures, no illegal things, and no words. A book with no words? Why? She was only growing more curious as she attempted to pick up the book and take it down with her.
But when she picked up the book, she could see a lever underneath. Then she heard something click. What was that? As she finished her thought she saw a door open on the opposite side of the room, a door that was masquerading as a wall, a door she hadn’t noticed even after 15 years of working there.
She was absolutely astounded. Did her bosses know about this? Did anyone know about this? What was down there? Why did it need to be kept a secret? All of these things raced through her mind as she was reaching an answer to the most important question of all - should I go in? Or pretend as if nothing happened?
“Well,” she said out loud to herself, “I’ve made it this far. No sense in turning back now. What if there’s something down there that everyone should know about? I have to go see.” She didn’t even care about the ad campaign anymore, this new door occupied every ounce of her attention.
After carefully putting the stool back she went inside of the door and psyched herself up. It automatically closed behind her, and some lights came on, illuminating a staircase. The lights were a bright neon cyan, and the stairs weren’t made of ivory, but they were impressive nonetheless. Despite all of this she had a weird feeling - she knew she wouldn’t like what, or who was at the bottom.
She walked for what seemed like forever until she could hear something! Voices, grunts, and… A moan of pain? Is that what that was? She became infinitely more scared but she wasn’t going to turn back now - she had to do this, for herself, and for her co-workers.
A door with no window. No letters above to label it. Just a single door made out of iron. She knew it would creek as soon as she opened it, but she was prepared. It was unlocked, so the moment of truth was about to arrive.
Cubicles, 15 or so. Bright neon cyan lights once more. A manager’s office made entirely of glass with a control panel inside. The walls looked barely stable, the chairs were tattered and torn, the computers were old and very outdated, and the workers… They all had hunches, they were very dirty, some were whimpering, others were silently accepting their fate. And to top it all off, every single eye in the room was directed at her. Every. Single. One.
Her hand fell from the door and her mouth fell open in shock. What, in the hell, was this?! First, there’s a secret office, then there are workers being mistreated? Oh no, she didn’t think so. She was going to have a word with whoever was running this place.
“You!” She screamed while pointing at the manager. “Get in that office! Now!”
He grimaced while looking at her. “Who let you in? You aren’t supposed to know about this.”
“Well guess what! I found you! Now get inside, we’re discussing this, now!”
He began walking towards her, and she could tell he meant trouble. All of her martial arts training flooded back in that very moment and she put her hands up to guard her organs.
He threw a punch to fake her out, but she knew it was a fake-out because of how uncommitted it was, so she dodged it and continued to be ready for his next move. It happened to be a punch to the gut, so she blocked it with her elbow, used her other arm to grab his wrist, and twist his arm… Just like in school, she thought.
She noticed the pistol in his back pocket right before he grabbed it, so she instinctively dodged the shot. She noticed another pistol in his other pocket, so she quickly grabbed it and pointed it at him. They pointed their pistols at each other and entered a stalemate.
“Now tell me,” she said in an animalistic voice, “what is going on here.”
“You want the truth? You want the truth?” He began laughing and her face became angrier than ever before. She kept herself under control, though, since he was about to spill the beans.
“I was contacted by the owner of the company many years ago. He wanted to maintain a good corporate image, but he also needed everything to get done. So while you’re up there looking good and doing the tiny amount of work that you do, my men are down here picking up your slack. They sit here, for hours upon hours every day, working for next to nothing because they’re happy to have a job. They can’t afford homes, they can’t shower whenever they want, and I’d rather they soil their pants than use my restroom. The one rule is that I can’t beat them or kill them… Other than that, it’s free game!” He began laughing once again. “You had no idea this entire time… It makes me smile.”
She was in shock. How could her team be slacking? In fact, every single team was doing a fantastic job! So what was he talking about? Maybe he was talking about the work that no one else wanted to do? But then, couldn’t they simply do it? It would be much better than to let these poor people suffer, she concluded.
“You know, I can’t let you out of here alive. You’d tell everybody, and that would ruin the entire company. You’d lose your job, everyone would lose their jobs, and these people would suffer a worse fate than this. Much worse…” He glared at one of them and they instantly winced.
As soon as he stopped talking she took the opportunity to shoot the gun out of his hand. He dropped to the floor in pain, although his hand looked okay on the surface. Maybe his fingers were broken, she thought after hearing his loud scream.
“While you’re worried about that, I’m letting these people out of here. They deserve to work in a real office with real people. They deserve to eat real food, wear real clothes, and give real status updates like the rest of us! Everyone, pay attention to me! I’m setting you free! If he moves he’s going to get it right in the kneecap! It’s over! It’s all over!”
Her speech was quite inspiring, however, nobody moved a muscle. No one twitched an eyebrow. They kept working as if nothing had happened, nothing at all.
“H-hello? Everyone! Leave this place! You’re free, I’ll see to it you get jobs elsewhere in the company…”
But it was no use. It was like they were deaf! No one listened. No one left.
He laughed through the pain. “You see, my dear, they want to be here. They want to be trapped and live this pointless life until the day they die. Don’t you get it? I’m not forcing them to come in every day. They choose to! I don’t know what you thought would happen, but this is how it is. There’s nothing you can do against their free will.”
He winced again and tightened the grip on his hand. Deep down she knew he was right. Well, he wasn’t exactly right - they had been abused and tormented for so long that it was all they could possibly remember. They had free will, but they didn’t believe they had free will, they believed there was no escape, there was nothing they could do. So they sat, with the door open in front of them, and they didn’t move an inch. It was a sad sight to see.
She saw a $20,001 check in his coat pocket. She grabbed it, took his gun, and walked out of the door in a daze.
“If you say anything, everyone loses. Everyone!” He screamed after her. She didn’t respond, but once again, she knew she was right. If she reported this to the police everyone would lose their jobs, and who knows if anyone would ever hire her again.
She made her way to the top and pushed the button that opened the door. It was almost 3 - she had been down there for 3 hours. No one was in the break room and she collapsed into one of the chairs, unable to move from exhaustion.
Surprisingly, no one walked by for the entire 30 minutes she sat there. That was good, she thought, because I have some tough decisions to make. Do I keep it a secret, or should I tell the police? Do I confront my bosses? Do I ask my co-workers for advice?
But then, another question floated into her mind, one she didn't expect to ask herself… Do I want to be free?
It was an interesting question because she had to define what freedom meant for her on the spot. She didn't feel like she was like them, completely brainwashed and thinking that was her fate was misery and torment. But then, she felt like something was missing from her life, something she almost never admitted to herself but something she wanted immensely - she wanted to make her living as an actor. Or a dancer. Either one worked for her. She had the skills and the talent, but she had never done it out of financial fear.
But, she decided on her plan; she gathered her co-workers together and told them everything, outside of work. She opened the door and took pictures to prove herself, and she let them decide what they wanted to do with the information she gave them. She also announced her plans to resign and to recommend a new manager to her bosses, so that she could pursue her dream.
This took many days to set up and discuss, but after it was over she sat in her home, beaming with happiness as she looked at her list of roles to audition for. She could do it, she knew she could, and her freedom was worth more to her than anything else!