“No man is an island,” Devin said, glancing down at his clothes and brushing dirt from his pants. Satisfied that there hadn’t been any witnesses and that there wasn’t any evidence left on him, he continued. “You guys have heard that, right?”
There was a quiet, noncommittal murmur.
“Well,” he continued, “I’m sure you have. I really want to stress that none of us are alone in this. It takes the commitment of the entire team to make this work. I’m really excited just to have you all here with me today so that we get the chance to show how much we have grown as a unit, how much we can accomplish together—and to have a bit of fun. We work hard, so why not play hard too?”
He grinned and paused as if expecting a wave of applause, but instead was met by the mousy sneeze of a girl from the back-office team.
Lydia watched Devin, standing before the group, reciting a speech she was sure he got from some cheesy YouTube video or pamphlet handed down by the corporate office. He seemed almost robotic in his flow; the words felt lacking in emotion. She could picture him reciting it in front of a mirror to memorize it. He wore sunglasses, a pair of obviously new camouflage pants, and a drab green shirt. He looked like he was trying way too hard to be hip and failing miserably.
She studied her coworkers gathered around, nodding. She imagined them as a group of bobblehead dolls, all responding to their employer’s movements and speech appropriately, but were any of them really listening?
Lydia wasn’t sure how the next couple of days were going to work out. She liked the outdoors well enough, enjoyed hiking and jogging, but this idea Devin had for a team-building exercise just seemed like a disaster waiting to happen. He really thought it was a big surprise, though most of the others had already figured it out after he childishly hinted around the water cooler at how good he was at paintball.
She scrutinized the people around her. Most were middle-aged women who couldn’t make it across the parking lot without getting out of breath and men whose regular workout routine consisted of walking to the break room and back three times a day. She thought it might be amusing to watch from afar, but actually participating was a different story. In her peripheral vision she saw a few more people: Zoe Garber from the front desk looked as if she was about to cry. She wasn’t into strenuous activity and getting sweaty. The bungalows and forest air weren’t her idea of paradise, more like a trip to a dirty, stinky hell. She kept looking down at her freshly manicured nails, and Lydia could almost read her lips as she silently bid them farewell. Karen, Mary, and Amber stood with disbelieving looks on their faces, their arms crossed over their chests. Not exactly broadcasting an air of willing participation.
In essence, they had all been kidnapped and sent to a place both boring and physically demanding. Their ransom happened to be putting on their best show of teamwork in order to remain employed. Lydia half-expected them all to revolt by the time Devin was finished. She imagined them all going feral and locking Devin in a bungalow while they ran for the hills or went completely insane and burned the place to the ground.
She smirked as Devin happened to make eye contact with her. He nodded and gave her a thumbs-up, as if she was really happy about being a part of a paintball game, and the company retreat in general. She had better things waiting for her at home, and none of them would be anything her boss would ever understand.
He continued to blather on, and Lydia felt on the verge of falling asleep on her feet. The boredom was reaching brain-melting levels, and she wished she could hide in her cabin and go online. Her horror fandom groups were like a second family, or quite possibly more like a dingy neighborhood bar where everyone knew her name and the weird shit she was into. They were more than likely already embroiled in conversations about the return of the legendary magazine Cryptmag.
The reception around the bungalows was kind of shitty, but Lydia knew if she absconded to the hilltop she could pick up enough signal to jump into the chat groups and possibly get a chance to see the cover of the issue heralding the magazine’s rise from the dead, rumored to be a fully illustrated, oversized collector’s edition. The thought of it made Lydia drool, and she worried she might miss the surprise announcement of a preorder she had already been tipped off to by an ex-girlfriend and new editor at Cryptmag. Lydia liked her job; it provided her with the money and free time to attend the horror conventions she adored, but she mostly kept that part of her life private, because her coworkers wouldn’t really understand why she was such a fan of scary, bloody things.
“Hirsch Capital wouldn’t be the company it is today,...