The wine arrives in small barrels that bang down the chute. It’s red. They only drink red, so they only sell it, and as employees we have the opportunity to buy it, bottled and heavily discounted, as we leave our shift.
I don’t buy it. It tastes like vinegar.
Then again, I’m not exactly a wine connoisseur.
A friend of mine, a colleague, reckons the bottles we buy, with nifty little labels expressing faked boutique origins, do not hold the same wine as what is found in the barrels.
He’s seen the execs in their business meetings as he delivers last minute documents necessary for important business decisions. In the meetings, he says, they drink it straight from the cask, not even bothering to decant it, and it’s a hell of a lot darker than the shiraz we fill our glasses with.
My colleague reckons the vineyard and cellars are a cover for something, though he doesn’t know what. He says too many documents are marked ‘Highly Confidential’ and not even the admin are allowed a glimpse.
Perhaps he’s right, though as one who merely moves the casks from one part of the factory to another, I can’t rightly say.
We go out for dinner, my colleague and I. He tells me of our employers’ clammy handshakes, their bloodshot eyes, their odd penchant for midnight meetings.
Best time to drink wine, I say. Can’t very well serve it first thing in the morning.
He laughs and agrees.
Time passes, and we meet more often—morning tea at work, the odd dinner, a movie. One of the managers has disappeared, and my friend has been covering their shifts. He’s worked so well there’s talk of promotion and I tease him about becoming one of them.
He laughs, assures me it’s not possible. Up close, he says, they all have something wrong with their teeth.
Their teeth? I ask.
Yeah. They all have pointy teeth. Like they’re all…
I lean in, curious, but he doesn’t continue.
He shrugs, tells me he watches too much horror.
This intrigues me, and I push him to continue. What sort of horror? What do their teeth make you think of?
His face flushes, first I’ve ever seen him embarrassed, and there’s a fluttering in my stomach at this vulnerable side.
Go on, I say. I won’t laugh.
Vampires. He mutters it, sculling his red as I laugh anyway, I can’t help myself.
Never mind. He seems angry now, as he pushes away from the table.
Sorry, I say. But it’s too late, I’ve offended him and he’s gone.
I can’t last a day or two without talking to him, and luckily for me he feels the same. In no time we make up—the usual way new lovers do—and as we lie in his bed he tells me of his promotion, certain now, and the odd induction he has to take.
It’s a month-long camp, he says. All food and drink provided.
A month long? I ask. Who needs a month’s training for a job they’re already doing? What exactly are they promoting you to? CEO?
We laugh together.
I’ll message you. Tell you all about it. He leans in for a kiss.
That would be good, I say, my hand lingering on the side of his neck.
A week passes with no contact. No calls, no texts, no emails. Two weeks. Three. After a month I look for him at work; in the evenings I visit his house, peering through the windows. Was that a movement in the corner? I can’t tell; the room is too dark.
I just want to know he’s okay.
Another month passes before I see him at work. He’s walking just ahead of me, trailing behind the group of business executives heading for yet another meeting. I race to catch him, just before he passes through the door beyond which I, as factory dogsbody, cannot go.
He turns, his nose twitches, but it’s his eyes I notice first. Bloodshot, he squints at me, then looks down so I cannot make eye contact.
Are you okay?
I see he’s not, but what else do I say?
He nods, shakes his head.
I can’t see you again, he says.
It’s not you. It’s… this. He gestures with his other hand, waving it in the direction of his disappearing colleagues.
He makes eye contact, and my heart constricts with the pain evident in his gaze.
Get out of here. Find another job. Don’t come back.
Why? I pull down his hand. It’s cold, clammy.
He jerks away at my touch, squeezing his eyes and mouth shut.
I miss you, I say. I want to help. Even if all I can do is hold your hand-
Forget about me. There are tears in the corner of his eyes.
You must! It’s an order, snapped, and he looks at me again, his irises an odd shade of yellow, his teeth…
He clamps his mouth shut and runs after his colleagues through the door to where I cannot follow, and I wonder if I, too, watch too much horror.
Heather Ewings is a Tasmanian author of speculative fiction. She has a MA in History and a fascination with myth and folklore. Her most recent publication is ‘Tea with Grandma’ published at Lite Lit One. Heather squeezes her writing time between homeschooling her three children and making beeswax candles.