HORLA FICTION (February 2019)



by Thomas Kodnar

January 9

Dear Diary,

I did it: I have a job. I can hardly believe it. For months my search has been fruitless—as  you very well know, having received rich report of my last spring’s many failings (and its dreadful results). And now, by simple chance, a stroke of blind luck, I have been employed without ever even applying. Maybe this world has something to offer after all.

It’s not a big gig, mind you. It’s not an “important job.” As of 9 am this morning—which is two hours from now, yes, Diary, that’s how excited I am—I will be junior assistant to the marketing manager at Rebro. Yes, that Rebro, the paper store. I’m a retailer now, woohoo! And yes, it’s a well-known chain and all, but still, I’m junior assistant. You know what that means: I make coffee for Miss Drowse (president of all things marketing, contents & communication) and, should they ever deign to show their faces, Messrs CEO Substat (aka “Mr Rebro”) and Coin (Substat’s vice). Also, I take calls and get rid of the callers for the bosses. And I will likely answer an e-mail or two on a daily basis.

Did you know that “junior assistant” isn’t even a thing? It’s not defined, it’s not an official title. I have a job now, but it’s practically non-existent outside of the individually arranged compromise between employer and employed.

On the other hand, isn’t that true for all jobs?

Anyway, just wanted to let you know. Or, let me know. Read this with gusto and cherish your past exuberance, Future Me—remember how happy you are on this bitterly cold winter’s day.

I know I haven’t written in here in a while. Take my absence to reflect the inner state and general composition of my being over the last couple of months. The preceding entries display the low I was in a year ago quite adequately, but believe me, I went lower. For the months that I did not record my experiences and thoughts, words would have failed me anyway. Mere human language cannot come close to the darkness I’ve known …

But that’s in the past! On to bigger and better things. On to a job, damn it. Finally.


February 8

Dear Diary—

Wow. And a month is gone. Just like that. I was planning on making a habit of you again—actually, I was very intent on keeping track of myself as I’d done before everything had gone to shit. But turns out: when you’re busy, once you’ve actually got something to do with yourself, you don’t have a lot of time to waste on writing. Or even on thinking about writing. And even though there was once a time when I thought circumstances such as these would kill me, they don’t really register as a step-down for me from where I’ve been before. As a matter of fact, it feels rather good to be this busy. I feel … accomplished.

Unlike what I expected, my job doesn’t consist of mere banalities, of fetching beverages, printing documents, arranging lists, and answering phones. Turns out a junior assistant in marketing can have quite the workload throughout his average workday. Not only do I order the printings of flyers and posters (yes, Rebro advertises like any other company—I’ve  never even realised that I walk past posters for notebooks, folders, and 90 mg-paper on a daily basis until I became responsible for placing them myself!), I even help making them occasionally (and how glad I am now about the basic Photoshop skills I acquired in school–never thought I’d ever need them!), just as I am involved in the production of the catalogue in which we present our latest and greatest to clients and customers who use our stuff.

(Listen to this now—I already speak of “us” when referring to the company. That’s how quickly being part of a functioning team works on you.)

I’m tired in the evening. Can you imagine? I only work thirty hours, but when I come home, I long for sleep. And not just on workdays. Then particularly, yes—whether I arrive home at 4, 5, or 6, I want to go nowhere but bed: my body exhausted from running around the office distributing mail, fetching signatures for invoices, and, once obtaining said signatures, delivering these invoices to book-keeping; my mind weary from numbers, and research, and arranging and checking and re-checking and re-arranging appointments. I’m in no mood for going out—there’s a habit swiftly and unspectacularly kicked—and I don’t even feel particularly hungry in the evenings. Yes, diary: I’ve lost weight!

And all it took to finally do the trick was to structure my life a little, order it in accordance with office hours and an alarm clock set to a dawn’s glorious promise of another day.

But even at weekends, I have no urge to waste my time in clubs, to stay up late pointlessly watching TV, or to senselessly poison myself in any other long-practiced, well-known fashion. A general sense of contentment, which appears to go hand in hand with a perpetual, weirdly restful fatigue, inhabits me now.

I think the road to a happy and successful life has been paved for me. No. More than that. I have paved it for myself.

Oh, yeah, also: Marcia’s celebrating her birthday on Friday. Really looking forward to this. Haven’t seen her in weeks.

February 16

Dear Diary,

They’re thinking about upgrading me to full-time. So my work’s been satisfactory, which is nice, and more hours are more money, so I’m not disinclined. On the other hand, thirty’s putting quite the strain on me already. I’m not sure I want to do any more.

That’s all the news for now.

March 2

Dear Diary, just checking in to say that everything’s still going great. I honestly planned on penning regular entries, but damnit, there really isn’t all that much to tell! I guess that’s good? I don’t know.

Ah, by the way: I didn’t go to Marcia’s birthday party in February. I worked overtime that Friday because our new catalogue had to be finished and we were a little behind, and when I got home, I was just so damn tired. She understood, but I think she was disappointed. I was sad, too. But that’s adulthood for ya! Right?

March 6

Dear Diary,

Today the issue of my going full-time came up again. I said no.

I pray I won’t regret it. All I know is, I don’t think I could cope with more work, more time spent at the office, more energy invested in the job. I know I’ve painted it as somewhat of a miracle, this job, a great endeavour, a blessing, something entertaining and marvellous and worthwhile. And in many ways, it is. It pays the bills. It keeps me occupied. It makes me a valuable member of society, and has me recognised as such.

What I have so far failed to mention–perhaps because I’m intent on keeping my eyes closed to it, prone to ignore it as long as possible, to remain naïve and blind to all those aspects of workman’s life which my colleagues so eagerly complain about every chance they get—is that work can be annoying and defeating to the point of complete joylessness; that the mundane tasks I face on a daily basis make me question the very premise which it is supposed to make me believe and which I have even stressed above, which is that I am valuable, that I matter, and that my life means something in the greater scheme of human things; that sometimes—by now often, even—I wish I wasn’t so damn tired in the evenings, longing for social and cultural stimulation which I cannot afford either energetically or—and this is perhaps the biggest joke of all–financially, as, despite finally having access to monthly income now, I don’t earn anywhere near enough to attend a party or go to the movies or even go for a couple of after-work drinks without second thought.

I know, I know—if I increase hours, I increase my financial status. But I’ve come to realise—and it pains me to say that this is something I have long suspected of being true before gaining direct knowledge of it, but which I’d thought might be a lazy man’s excuse more than a fact–that wealth and true affluence, in a sense associated with actual wellbeing, are not one and the same.

Yes, the more I work, the more money I have. But: the more I work, the more tired I will be.  The more I work, the more of a “workman” I become.

Labour is good in moderation—as are all things, I guess. Better not overdo it.


April 2

Dear Diary,

I’m beginning to see an ominous, menacing pattern. In fact, I believe I’m beginning to… see things. As in, imagine things. I know they say you’re not insane so long as you suspect yourself of insanity, for the truly crazy are not aware of their craziness.

But if you consciously experience the impossible—which is to say, if you hallucinate—and, despite your being conscious of its impossibility, cannot alter what you see and hear and feel, cannot stop the impossible from also being true to your senses, how is your awareness of going crazy going to change the fact that you are going crazy?

Also, see how I’m babbling?

That alone is all the proof you need of my accelerating descent into madness.

Lest I digress, or indeed start to believe in the lunacy I’m jokingly (or, at least, half-jokingly) accusing myself of, let me return to the beginning and elaborate on the pattern I’ve mentioned by way of an introduction.

I guess you remember Marcia’s birthday, and that I missed it. (If not, simply turn back three pages or so.) I vowed—in the silence of my early retirement to bed, in occult cahoots with my weary self as I fell asleep off the draining fulfilment of my duties—that this failure to celebrate the anniversary of the arrival on this planet of one of my best friends would be an isolated incident, a small stain on my perfect career as a good friend and avid party-attender (interrupted only by my months of dreadful diversion, which I still refuse to write about, half-hoping that, by ignoring them, their reality will go away, their being part of my history will drown and disappear in the bigger picture that I wish my life would finally paint and divulge).

Well, vows, as all promises, are made to be broken.

March has ever been a month of non-stop frivolity and singular solidarity, what with two cousins, one of my dearest friends, two friends of less close but nonetheless longstanding and well-wishing kinship, and myself being born throughout its weeks of vernal friskiness.

All of my friends insist on having their own party, and my cousins celebrate both with the family and then, a lot more excessively and liberally, with their peers; me being on good terms with and nearly the same age as them, I am, as a rule, invited to both parties; and since these two cousins have had a most serious row the year before and are now no longer on good terms with each other, their respective binge booze-ups were to be separate occasions this year (for the family affair, at least, they were going to keep it together and pretend they like each other).

Which, to spare you the ordeal of having to summate or even count, adds up to a total of seven parties I was invited to last March, and an eighth for myself, had I chosen to throw one.

As it is, I neither hosted nor attended a single social event in March.

Of seven parties I was invited to—four of which, at least, I sincerely looked forward to—in the thirty-one days of the month, I went to not a single one. Nor did I honour my own nativity and existence in the world, or give my friends and relations a chance to do so in the appropriate fashion.

Friends and relations none of which I have seen in over two months.

I do not know how this is possible. I cannot explain what is going on. Time is flying by so horridly fast. Poets and philosophers have long since taught me that it is a-fleeting and relative, and I have been able to attest to this for a while now. But none of what has gone before is comparable to the way the hours, the days, the weeks disappear into unattainable nothingness ever since I started my job. The pattern of my portentous partylessness is just one prime symptom of this enhanced relativity and speed of time.

What is more—and here begins the enumeration of the plentiful ways I’ve begun to take leave of my senses—it seems as though my employers know of said pattern. Have, in fact, helped create and perpetuate it.

Back when Marcia was having her party, the week preceding it had been a quiet, slow affair, the most relaxed—and, incidentally, most efficient—week at the office since my joining. All the week’s usual and most important tasks have been good as finished by Wednesday, and from the way things looked, we were not expecting to receive any heavy new workload before the week was out; Miss Drowse told me so herself, and confided in me that she was considering taking Friday off to get a head-start on the weekend. She even suggested I do the same.

Thursday evening, minutes before I was to leave the office, the CEO’s e-mail landed in Drowse’s and my inboxes. The new catalogue, which was not due until the end of the month according to our regular schedule, was to be finished by the next evening. It had to be pushed forward, he said, because changes in strategic marketing were planned which would require a novel approach to our direct-to-consumer advertising, to be implemented in March.

I asked Drowse; she had no idea what those changes were supposed to be. She also lamented that that was ‘it’ for her early weekend. Not to mention my own, of course: being the new guy and the assistant, I was obviously called upon to be there the rest of Thursday and all of Friday, perhaps past my appointed and required hours.

I did stay late both on Thursday and Friday. I did my work diligently and commendably, receiving appropriate praise from Miss Drowse. After, I almost fell asleep on the bus home, and by the time I finally remembered I should be at Marcia’s party, it had been going on for an hour, I was lying in bed, and my only desire was to sleep—dreamlessly, if possible.

Now, none of this is very mystifying, I know. I did not even deem it strange when, come March, such changes in strategic marketing as had been announced were never brought up again, let alone implemented—Miss Drowse explained that this happens on occasion: the bosses have what they consider a great new idea, align all current work with its intended forth-bringing, then discard the idea the next day, never to speak of it again. I forgot the whole thing and got started on the regular mid-March catalogue as though the previous spontaneous extra edition’s creation had never transpired.

But then the week of parties one (Wednesday late afternoon), two (Friday evening), and three (Saturday evening) dawned. I’ll let you have one guess each for when the bosses needed me to stay overtime, when they had me clean out the office attic, and when they asked me to, just this once, return on a weekend day to complete the project of cleaning out the office attic.

On Saturday, I—feeling brave after two great and successful months in their employment and, to be honest, a little dumbfounded—asked them whether finishing the attic project could not wait until Monday, especially after I’ve had to stay longer on Wednesday already.

They insisted that, no, it couldn’t wait, for on early Monday morning a large delivery would arrive and then have to be stowed away in the attic, so the space had to be cleared “asap.”

(Cont. next column)

I, ever the keen labourer, complied, especially since I’d made great headway on Friday and believed I would be finished early on Saturday; I could then even take a nap before the evening’s event, and proudly explain at the party to the friend who’d celebrated the night before, but was also expected to attend this consecutive evening, that my vocational duties had forced me to make a choice, and the most practical had, to me, seemed to be to attend only one party this week and use this chance to congratulate the one whose party I’d missed. As for Wednesday’s afternoon get-together with my family—well, who cares about their cousins nowadays?

All this to say that: no delivery arrived on Monday, or ever. The room I freed up is free to this day. When I asked Mr Coin about it, he pretended like he didn’t know what I was talking about.

Even this I let slide, determined to be a good worker, to receive praise and, in some distant future, a pay raise.

Then I missed parties number four and five because the bosses had me meet with partners and run errands out of town, from which I failed to return the same evenings because I had the honour of being provided with hotel rooms for those nights, and because I was too tired to drive by the time the errands were completed.

I neglected to go to party number six because our computer system failed us that day, had only been rebooted half an hour before it would’ve been my time to go home, and that day’s work needed to be completed no matter what.

I would have had time to go to party number seven, but the birthday boy sent me a text telling me that Marcia—who happened to be his girlfriend—was “thoroughly pissed” at me for having been AWOL for so long now, and that, perhaps, I should skip that night and he and I would go for drinks some other time.

I feel it is redundant to mention that he and I never went for drinks, and that I haven’t heard from him since that depressing message.

I trust the general outline (and complete lunacy) of my accusations against my bosses has become clear by now.

I believe that they monitor my private life, and orchestrate a series of either pointless or strenuous (depending on what’s available) tasks and challenges to prevent me from living this private life of mine.

I know, I know. This conspiracy worthy of a communist’s agenda, of course, impossibly corresponds to reality. And I’m only writing this down because I’m aware of how absurd it all sounds, and I wish to collect these more inane thoughts of mine for future reference—both in case I ever decide to go back to writing fiction again and need inspiration, and in case I ever feel stupid or crazy, and need a standard to which to compare my state: I can’t imagine ever entertaining any other notion as troublesome and dim-witted as the speculations presented above, so this entry will soothe me should I ever again worry that I’ve lost my mind.

First, however, I presume I’ll have to regain it. Because even after confessing to its nonsensicality, my narrative, upon rereading it now, still appeals to me as a tightknit tale of rigorous recital, so I must have lost my mind. I will leave it for now. Having written all this down and commented on its absurdity should be the first step in the right direction.

August 19

Diary, I know I broke my promise to keep you updated on a regular basis. But too much is happening, and yet too little, for there to be any point to my intended journaling. I am constantly busy—with work, of course, but also with other aspects of the “daily grind.”

When I’m not working, I’m shopping, or repairing something in my apartment, or cleaning my apartment, or cooking what I’ve shopped, or eating what I’ve cooked, or keeping up with the modern world either through news or the latest episodes of all the hottest TV shows, et cetera, et cetera. Sounds witless and boring, I know, and let me tell you something: it is.

My life has become an unstoppable river of sameness, a sequence forever repeated—or at least, repeated until death—considering of nothing of substance or worthy of note.

The worst part? I don’t even mind. I suppose this is the famous “growing up” everybody’s been talking about. I feel relatively happy doing my chores, I feel cosy and safe in my apartment, I do nice polite chatter with my colleagues and such friends as I still have who are not also workmates. I’m alright. There’s just nothing to report, let alone chronicle.

Except maybe that Miss Drowse has gone into well-earned retirement at the beginning of the month and that I now serve under one Mr. Dult, a rather unorganised fellow.

So… until next time?

August 25

Dear Diary, I have resolutely changed my mind.

Since my last entry, I have begun to wonder what I’d had to say in my previous scribbled monologues, and have, yesterday evening, reread the entirety of you.

I snorted condescendingly at my mindless spinning from April—until I did not. Until my eyes flew wide open and my body froze, then shook as though it had been dowsed in icy water. For you see, giving expression to my spiralling thoughts of apparent lunacy and over-dramatisation has, instead of helping me understand, helped rid me of my worries, written them out of my brain to be revealed, on paper, as ludicrous, and thus banned them from my mind.

It has veiled my eyes and ears from the truth which I have caught a glimpse of and then forgotten.

Reading the story I conveyed to you, my perspective is now cleared again.

There has been more. More signs of the unbelievable. More indicators that the impossible is in fact not merely possible but very true. There have been incidents which, now that I think back to and revaluate them, I appear to have waved away, ignoring the feeling that something is off, that I’m gaining upon dark, esoteric, incredible truths in my mindless everyday life as a simple workman. The only thing that is lacking now that I see and begin to accept again … is understanding. For I can’t make sense of any of it.

Here now, for your consideration and before I—and how I shudder at the thought now—have to get back to the office, is the latest wonder in a series of strange occurrences at which I—stupidly—shrugged my shoulders, and which—now that my shoulders are set—keep me awake at night.

I mentioned in my previous, most naïve and ignorant entry that Miss Drowse has left the company. I termed it a “well-earned retirement” then, and I still agree with my six-days-past’s self that Drowse has been an excellent workforce, a companionable superior, a fair leader and just simply an all-round good sport worthy of catching a break after years of diligence and good results. At her retirement party—for which we even had permission to quit work an hour early—every individual gathered in the tiny office kitchen had good things to say about her and to her.

The woman, grey-haired, her face riddled with lines, stood accepting these things with weak smiles and casual nods, but I could see that, really, what she wanted was to get out of there as quickly as possible. I noticed—with internal, good-natured laughter then (and with nothing short of horror now)—that she was wearing clothes befitting a much younger, much fitter person: her jeans were tight and seamed in part with pretend-rips and fake holes, her shirt was daring in an innocuous way and had, above one breast, a little pocket depicting a highly stylised, rather modern-looking cat-like logo.

In addition, I thought I saw traces of recently attempted colouration in her grey hair, a streak which might have been a decisively youthful shade of purple. I liked the idea that she was ready to embrace a second adolescence now that her retirement was upon her better than the more intrusive assumption that she was afraid of growing old, so I rolled with the first and did my best to enjoy the party.

This wasn’t difficult, despite my unhappiness at seeing Drowse go.

The bosses had pitched in and covered all expenses for food and drink, regaling us in what seemed a magnanimous gesture (when in fact, as we all knew and pretended not to know, it was a shameless attempt to endear themselves to us, keep us in their debts, and motivate us for future endeavours), and for the first time in a long,long while, I feasted without restraint–and got well and truly drunk.

And that was the last time I saw Miss Drowse, three weeks ago, apparently ready to embrace her future as a senior citizen. Like I said above, she is a great woman, she has done a great job, and she deserves a break. And yet, I am forced to rethink my judgment, or at least my terminology, in one crucial respect: Miss Drowse is not ready for retirement because, dear Diary, Miss Drowse is—or was—not that much older than me. I recognised the outfit she wore to her farewell party as one belonging on a younger person, not because I have suddenly developed a finely attuned sense of fashion, but because I had seen it on her a few times before… and it had suited her perfectly then.

When I started working at Rebro in January, the woman was all of thirty-five years old.

September 1

Excuse the abruptness with which I ended my last entry. I left you with a cliffhanger not because I did not have more to say, but because my hand was beginning to shake by the time I wrote that final reveal. And I haven’t returned to the story until now because, dear Diary, I am afraid. Writing it down and believing it now—or at least believing that something is wrong—is decisively more difficult, more of a nerve-wrecking exertion, than I would have thought; in fact, believing it seems to put more of a strain on me than simply living it. This documentation of things unthinkable seems to disturb me more than the disturbing things I bore witness to did themselves. It clearly does not aid me in my quest for understanding. Not yet.

For a bigger picture of what I think might be going on—or don’t think, for all details are beyond me and my head fails to wrap itself around the enormity that I vaguely sense—let  me describe another series of interlinked scenes which paint the abhorrence before me in lines and colours quite blatant.

I told you that I had to clear out the office’s attic room at one point early in my career. I also chronicled how the large delivery we allegedly expected and were to store in the emptied-out space never arrived, and how Mr Coin pretended like he didn’t know what I was talking about when I beseeched him to educate me on the whereabouts of the rumoured bulk.

Now, after portraying my observations in my last entries, I hatched a plan and, come next evening at the office, when most of my colleagues had cleared out (and the bosses, as was their wont, had never even shown), I determinedly ventured up the stairs to the attic, guided by a feeling that there would be something to discover up there, something to harden and particularise my suspicions.

Rest assured, there was—and wasn’t.

For you see, the attic door was locked. I am no fool and naturally brought the key, expecting this.

But the key would not fit. The management floor had had the locks changed without informing anyone or fashioning new keys for us lowly clerks.

I left it at that for the nonce, but decided there and then that I would not let it rest until I had answers to questions I had yet to phrase adequately.

So when, the next morning, I learned to my surprise that Mr Coin had decided to bless us with a rare visit, I bravely entered his office and enquired as to the plans for the attic. I went about it smartly: not wishing to reveal that I had already investigated into matters I was likely not supposed to know about, I simply referred to my long ago task of cleaning out the room, and claimed that I was wondering whether we might not move some of the thick ring binders taking up valuable space in our offices up there.

Mr Coin did nothing but stare at me with those large eyes of his for a while. Then, the neatly trimmed moustache quivering in his slim face, he said—and I quote, for his words burned themselves into my memory and still send shivers down my spine when I think of them …

“The attic is not your business any longer.”

He then dismissed me by lowering his gaze and ignoring my presence in his office.

September 12

Dear Diary, I am afraid I must put an end to my investigations. I believe I am being watched. The same black car drives by my apartment every evening. What is more, a new colleague has been employed—and it seems that all his job entails is to sit in the same room as me and observe my movements. His name is Steve Mustard, a codename if I ever I heard one, and an annoyingly nonsensical one, at that—how stupid do they think I am? He is old and bald and has a nose like a hawk, and the only times he is not around me are those when he is in Mr Coin’s office, obviously reporting on me.

Whatever is going on, I fear I was not supposed to find out about it. I seem to have tapped into a world of secrets which not only has coexisted with Rebro since its conception, but is Rebro. I have seen my manager age, sucked dry of her life, and I have seen myself blocked from my private life, my friends, and my family, and all to serve the office, all to serve the company, all to serve the bosses—who, I should inform you, look strikingly young for their age, and as I saw in pictures of staff outings and Christmas parties past have looked almost the same for years now…

It’s beginning to make sense to me now. Too late, I’m afraid. There is no more escape: the bosses know that I know.

And I have, this morning, discovered grey hairs on my head.

October 31

It’s not just here. Not just this place. Not just Miss Drowse and me. Oh God, dear Diary, it’s not just here. It’s everywhere.

Marcia, that friend I can no longer call so, has been hospitalised after breaking down—“like a crippled old woman,” as her boyfriend has so vividly described it to me—at the hardware store where she’s been working twenty hours a week for two years now.

My father, whom I’ve never heard complain either of bad health or about his duties as a security guard, suffered a coronary last week. There is no history of heart failures in our family. The doctors told him his metabolism is in a condition befitting a man his own father’s age.

I am truly beginning to see now. The way it is. They are taking us; they are making us invest all our energy into their aims; they are harnessing that energy, and making sure that we have none left for other matters, until there are, by effect and in perverse reversion, no other matters left on which to spend our days and efforts; they are paying us little in currencies of short-lived value, while we pay them in our time, our life’s blood, our very existence.

January 9

This is it. I’ve been working for a year. Factually, a year. I look at the calendar and I see that it’s January 9 again.

But I feel an old man’s beard hang from my chin. I touch my skin and it is wrinkled and shrivelled; I listen to my mind and sense how it is slow and suppressed; I breathe and my chest rises and falls weakly. My body is riddled with ache and sorrow.

One year has passed on the calendar. But the truth is, Diary: I’ve been working here for twelve at least. I know it is not possible. I know that, to you, or any potential future reader, it will sound like a metaphor.

It is not.



Thomas Kodnar currently lives near Vienna, Austria. He has self-published two Horror novels, End of Time and The Devil’s Silhouette, and is working on a Horror anthology in four parts.

He has published short stories in a variety of Austrian and German magazines and anthologies. His work has at times appeared under the name of his occasional alter ego, Chester Peace.