Lone Worker

a ghost story

According to the centre's "lone worker" policy, Michael shouldn't have even been there.
He worked for a car insurance company, enforcing the policies of various brands. (Though the company called him an "emergency responder", he couldn't think of many 999 operators required to bully drivers for insurance information before rescuing them and their children from a busy layby.) Of a night, it was normally just him and four other workers in the centre. Any less and the calls were re-routed elsewhere. Certainly, no one was officially allowed to be alone in the office.
But the needs of the business and vagaries of human beings sometimes collude to interfere with policy. The nearest centre was understaffed as well as the one that Michael worked for. (The dread name "COVID" was invoked.) And so, he found himself alone at his desk, the one moving ship in a sea filled with empty hulls when "Dead Steph" started rattling about upstairs.
This was the name given to the call centre ghost. The building, an ugly modern edifice which gave you the impression that it had bars on its windows even though it didn't, had a whole top floor that ended up going unused. There were no computers up there, just rows of desks. Certain unaccountable noises could be heard despite the laying of traps for mice, and occasional searches for tramps presumably industrious enough to penetrate to the top floor of a security-laden call centre. Michael found Steph's presence oddly comforting. 'If you find me dead tomorrow' he'd told his line manager, 'you'll know who to blame.' His manager hadn't found that very funny.
Steph had earned her name and sex from a legend that successive managers had tried to suppress before giving up and letting it become an office joke. Centres such as this had to deal with the occasional employee suicide, given their extremely high turnover pooled from across the local communities and including people with all sorts of problems, no doubt exacerbated by having to deal with abuse from uninsured motorists all day. According to the legend, Steph had been such a case.  
The legend was extremely vague and varied with the teller. Steph had been a lot of things, from an illiterate daughter of travellers ("she couldn't even write the call notes") to a care home girl whose mother had been the victim of a strangler. One particularly romantic teller had tried to present her as a glamorous princess of foreign royalty, although why such a woman would be making her living in a call centre was left up to question.
Michael ate a spoonful of chow mein and saluted Dead Steph. 'Up and about, old girl' he mumbled. He didn't expect to receive many calls. They were few and far between on most nights anyway. When a call did come through just as he was enjoying the last of the Chinese takeaway, then, he felt personally affronted and took a moment to compose himself for the opening branded inanity. "Hello, you're through to Carpatica, where we make your car run like water. This is Michael. How can I assist?'
Silence. He looked at his PC clock. 01:00 AM. He watched a minute tick by. 'Hello, Michael, I'm stuck.' Female voice. Background noise: a busy motorway and heavy wind. It was a rather ferocious late-November night. 'I can certainly help you with that' said Michael, and hoped that he actually could. 'Can I take your full name and insurance number, please?'
Silence again. A car horn blared. 'I'm stuck.'
'I know you're stuck, and I can certainly help you with that, I just need your full name and insurance number. Is your connection okay?' He waited a moment and then asked her if she was in a safe place.
'You shouldn't be alone in that office, Michael.'
Michael's brow furrowed, and then he realised what was happening. Some idiot was prank-calling him. He didn't recognise the voice, imagined it was one of the stupid teenagers that had been culled from the nearby secondary. He wasn't allowed to hang up, though. 'Who is this?' he said.
'Dead Steph' said the voice and giggled. Definitely a young girl, he thought and pictured the ones he'd seen brought in for their induction that day. It was his nature to only remember girls whom he found attractive. There were three of those, a couple of blondes and a goth with jet-black hair. He fumbled for a name. 'Are you sure you don't mean Stacey?'
'Is that the name of the girl you killed?'
This question shocked him out of whatever game he was hoping to play with the saucy young filly who'd decided to prank him. 'Who is this?' he asked again.
'I can't remember.' There was a scream in the background, seemingly of a male motorist yelling something at the caller. Another car horn. 'I'm hanging up now' said Michael.
'Wait, I need help! If you hang up and I die you'll be in BIG trouble!' What disturbed him more than the sentiment was how the words seemed to regress the girl in age. By the time she reached "BIG trouble", she sounded not much older than 9 or 10.
'Tell me who you are, or I'm ending this call.'
Instead, she gave him a home address. It sparked certain embers in the back of his mind, though not enough to make a flame. 'On a screen' she continued. 'You saw that on a screen and you wrote it down. You weren't supposed to have pens and paper but you did. Just like you shouldn't be alone. But don't worry, Michael, I'm alone too. I'm alone in a bag in the woods, covered in blood so you can't see my badge.'
It all came back to him, then. He saw a branded university satchel as if it floated spectrally before him. The one piece of evidence that he'd neglected to burn, drawn to make a grave of the one memento that remained of his sweetheart. The affair had seemed so perfect, but when was love ever such?
'Was your name Stephanie?'
He could hear her smiling. She didn't seem angry or vengeful at all. 'That's my name now, sweetheart.' He felt his heart swell with a poignancy that he couldn't contain. It came out in a flood of lover's tears. He remembered that Dead Steph and her rattlings had only started a little after he did, eight years ago now. His sweetheart had been one of his first calls. He hadn't gone all the way with any other woman since, and now he knew why. His love had taken form and satisfied him through the nights.  
But he was still him, and unsatisfaction returned. 'How do I join you?' he said.
'There's a cable on the top floor' she said.  
And the lone worker understood.
Written by Casted_Runes (Mr Karswell)
All writing remains the property of the author. Don't use it for any purpose without their permission.
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