The steaming water burned his tongue, but Kyle sipped at it anyway, enjoying the stinging sensation, and letting it rouse him, if only temporarily, out of his bored stupor. He spent a few minutes focusing on his posture, the next racking his brain to think of any supplies he had yet to order. There must be something he could be doing to earn his paycheck, rather than just sitting there.
He was lucky to have a job, he knew that. Most of his graduating class were still looking, moving back in with their parents, or even, in desperation, going back to school to rack up even more of the debt they couldn’t get a job to pay off in the first place. But the truth of the matter was, Kyle’s brain craved stimulation – and he didn’t know if he could stand one more year of staring at his computer screen, waiting in hope that someone would need something copied.
The thought depressed him. He hated being depressed. With a sigh, he pushed himself away from his desk and headed for the back stairs, pulling his knit cap tight over his ears. He stepped out into the parking lot and was greeted with a sheet of driving rain in the face. Hunching his shoulders, he walked on, past the endless stalls of parked cars and into the undeveloped forest lots behind the building.
Kyle liked this little, ragged patch of nature, stuck in the middle of a dirty office block. It reminded him of the legends of faerie folk and woodland creatures he had studied at school for his thesis. Maybe amidst all this cold and boredom and never-ending sameness, he could still find a touch of magic, if only in his imagination.
When he didn’t return to his desk by check-out time, his colleagues assumed he had decided to play hooky for the rest of the day. When Kyle was still missing by the beginning of the next day’s work, HR called his home phone, his cell, and finally his emergency contact. No one had heard from him since he left his desk the day before. The police came in and made a thorough search of the woods behind the building, but found no trace of him.
People avoided the woods after that. No one would say why out loud, though several of the programmers, when they sat at their desks, waiting for code to compile and bug checks to run, would doodle the small rings of mushrooms the police had found covering almost every inch of the forest floor. No one could remember having seen them before that day Kyle went missing. And sometimes, sometimes they said, whispering over coffee, they thought they heard a man’s laughter echoing through the parking lot, coming from the patch of the woods.
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