Choose Your Curse

On Monday mornings, I send out a story via email: ultra-brief tales of 1,000 words or more, usually in genres including horror, science fiction, and the supernatural. Those stories collectively are called Once Upon A Time. I’ve also published several ebooks and compendium volumes of those stories so far.

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Choose Your Curse

I first saw the ad on a forum, between a pair of posts. Usually I’d ignore it, of course, or my blocker would have filtered it into a blank space, but it was there and it caught my eye.

Instant Online Curses, it said. All payment methods accepted!

I have to admit that my mind went immediately to the bastard that I work for. Not my own immediate boss, but his own boss; one of the co-founders. His name was Granton, and never has there been a more pure-bred swine and swindler.

His background is in marketing, and of course conning people out of their money is what marketing is for, so it was exactly the right line of work for a tawdry little sociopath. It’s well known around the building that he’s sleeping with his office manager, a blonde who seems to be in the job for that sole purpose. He has a wife too, of course, and a couple of daughters, and he’s a golf type of guy who drives a big boat of a Mercedes, drinks lager, and has the kind of blood pressure that makes him look like an angry cartoon character.

Granton stole from people all the time. Not literally, but functionally. Bait-and-switch selling, overpromising, pressure tactics, sleaze and threats; all of it. He’d have no compunction about taking a lollipop from a toddler, stealing it back, selling it to the mother, then stealing it back all over again.

I detest him on every level. I think I started detesting him on the same day I got the job, up in the digital department. I’m insulated from him by my own boss, an ex-army lad who’s quirky but utterly dependable, but that doesn’t stop me from cringing whenever I hear Granton’s voice boom across the office with some bawdy and idiotic remark.

So I clicked the ad, in a moment of weakness. Didn’t even use an incognito tab in the browser. The site was charmingly Web One-point-oh, with a visitor counter that was just an animated GIF making the numbers spin. Everything about it was from the nineties, except the forced SSL connection. For some reason, it felt appropriate; folksy and old-timey, within the context of the internet.

There was an enquiry form, with the default browser styling for the fields, and the first time I realised that it was for real was when I saw that not only were my own details somehow pre-filled, but also those of Granton himself as the target. I felt goosebumps on my arms, and almost closed the tab, but a part of me thought it might be fruitless to do so. They already knew me, after all.

Then there was the nature of the curse.

Everyone has seen a popup menu on a web form that starts out empty and then auto-populates with relevant choices once you choose some previous required option in the form. Make and model of car for insurance, country and shipping method, and so on. On the curse site, the Choose Your Curse popup looked empty, but when I clicked it there was a single choice listed in the drop-down.

Compulsive cleanliness, it said.

No other entries at all, and that was the second time that I knew it was for real, because the single positive thing about Granton was that he was a notorious neat-freak. He made a joke out of it, calling staff members messy children as he went around straightening things up, pushing chairs under desks, aligning items on the main reception desk, and supervising the cleaners who came in twice a day, every day.

The fact that he loudly joked about it was how I knew it was actually a problem for him. I rarely had reason to go into the office manager’s room, but her desk was always like something out of a zen minimalism book. Wherever Granton took her when he was cheating on his wife with her, it sure as hell wasn’t her office.

So I chose the only option available, and I checked the checkbox to agree to the terms, and then I submitted the form. The fee wasn’t much; just fifty quid. I paid with Apple Pay. And that was it.

Until the following Monday morning.

Granton looked preoccupied that day, and flustered. He’d clearly been at work for a while already, even though it was only a little before nine AM when I walked in. The early-shift cleaning staff were working away, and he was paying excessive attention to them, obviously finding fault in every little thing. At one point, I actually saw him grab a vacuum from one of them, without a word, and drag it to his own office before slamming the door. I heard the machine running for almost an hour in that little room.

It progressed from there. On Tuesday, he went into the male bathroom and didn’t reappear for over forty minutes, until eventually the other co-founder went in to check on him. It turned out that he was bleaching the sinks and toilet bowls himself, with big yellow rubber gloves on over his pinstriped shirt.

On Wednesday, he screamed at a young woman from the design department, making her actually cry in front of everyone. She had spilled some coffee on the beige carpet. The young woman’s boss took Granton aside and spoke to him quietly, and Granton left the building, only to return an hour later with a rented carpet-cleaning machine which he then insisted on using despite it still being the middle of the working day.

Of course, all it did was make that one section brighter and cleaner than everywhere else, and Granton was stricken. He pulled the machine into his office and lurked there until the end of the day. We all suspected what his plans for the evening were, and the following morning confirmed it. The place smelled amazing, and the carpet was six shades lighter everywhere.

The next Monday, he didn’t come into the office at all.

I eventually got the story from my ex-army boss, who’d heard it from the other founder first-hand on the phone, late on the Friday night. The other founder’s name was Carson, and he’d come back to the building that evening to collect opera tickets he’d left in his desk, thinking the place was deserted.

He’d heard a knocking sound, though, and had traced it to the male bathroom, where he once again found his long-time business partner. This time, Granton was knocking his forehead against a section of the tiled wall which he’d covered with a paper towel, and he had tears streaming down his face. He’d been unable to leave the bathroom for the preceding several hours, because every time he touched the door handle to open the door and exit, he had to turn around and wash his hands again.

Granton never came back to work, and that was eight months ago. Last I heard, he’d been institutionalised, where I’m sure he’s helping the orderlies make sure that the straightjackets are whiter than white.

Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, and let me tell you: it was the best fifty quid I ever spent online.

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