The occupational health nurse had told him to relax. Seemed such an empty word. He kept hearing it, but it always seemed to bounce off and roll away somewhere. Probably behind the computer.
He straightened his tie, blinking at the reflection in his laptop. The figures for August were flashing.
"Remember to save, you'll live longer."
Boss's voice in his head again. He shuddered as he looked down at the keyboard. Saving the coffee from being spilled, he hit 'ctrl+s' then 'enter' just like IT services had told him after the first heart attack. He
couldn't lose records like that again.
He turned the computer off and shambled out of the office. A plaque on the wall served to remind him of former glories.
"George Mortensen: Employee of the Year"
That was before the data crash. The IT boys had really bailed him out of the shit, but he'd panicked. He mumbled something about the kids before he collapsed. His arms had flailed briefly as he tried to reach his mobile phone.
The nurses had been kind, but the time off threw him somewhat. He knew he wasn't as good as before.
It was a little foggy outside, and he stuck close to the shops on the high street. He wondered when he'd become so dull, and concluded it was on his forty-seventh birthday.
The JJB Sports sign reminded him he needed to buy his brother-in-law the new England shirt. That or Arsenal. Back when Melissa was alive, she sorted out all the presents. She was great. She remembered everyone's birthday. She knew exactly what everyone wanted. He was rubbish. He cursed his own ignorance. Stagnant. That's all he was. Boring. Just like shopping. So fed up. Want to go home. Come on love, don't you see anything you want? Of course it looks good on you darlin, you improve anything you wear. Are you sure it's good enough for you? Am I?
He shuddered as the words echoed in his mind. Why couldn't he be like his younger colleagues? Exciting, vibrant risk-takers, who didn't need help from IT all the time. He wanted to be his old self again.
Then he stopped outside a very different shop. Its blacked out windows confused him as to whether it was open at all. He'd walked past it before, barely noticing it. He'd have sworn there was something different about it from all the other shops, but no soul could tell you. Darkness? No, he'd walked past it in the dark before. He gave up trying to tease it out into existence and just stared at the window.
Linda's Emporium. No explanation of what was inside. Could have been a sex shop for all he knew, what with those blackened windows. What were they trying to protect him from?
He went inside and noticed a doormat.
"Abandon hope..." it said
He couldn't help himself, the words fell from his mouth.
"All ye who enter here..."
"No. Just abandon hope."
He couldn't see where the voice had come from. It appeared to be recorded. A cursory inspection gave no further clue. Instead, his eyes fell to a candle, moulded into the shape of a businessman, coloured wax giving the image of his suit and tie. He recognised the tie.
"Scented human candle. Five pounds. Money in box on desk please."
Still no obvious home to the voice. He bought the candle and left. When he got home and placed the candle on his desk, he suddenly felt unsure of how it arrived with him. Tired, he lit the candle and began to read his newspaper.
A few drops landed on the paper, just a few inches off the bottom of the crossword. Grasping for tissues, he began to realise his vision was a little blurred. Finding no tissue, he wiped his nose on his sleeve. No, his nose was dry. A few more drops fell as he stumbled to the mirror.
His eye was dripping out of his skull. Tilting his head back didn't help matters, as his flesh appeared to be melting.
Half-blind, he rushed back to the candle and tried to blow it out, but found himself struggling for breath. He tried snuffing the candle, but the flame began to melt his fingers. He held his head over the flame and let his face drip. The candle went out and everything turned black.