The desk. Oh! the hateful desk!
It is a standing desk made of oak, with storage under the writing surface and four drawers on either side. The legs are ornate and sturdy. Were it not a thing of evil, I might consider it attractive as well as functional.
My maternal grandfather was ill-schooled, but he had a preternatural way with numbers. He was, at a young age, indentured to an accountancy house. By the time he was released, he knew everything about the business and saved the pittance he made to start his own accountancy firm.
Grandfather installed this terrible desk for his personal use. He stood at it every workday for decades. And when madness forced his retirement to an asylum, my father took over the firm and stood at that same desk.
Father did not have a wizard’s way with numbers and practiced accountancy only because Grandfather was kind enough – such a phrase, considering! – to take Father on after Father’s bookbindery failed. Father detested copying the numbers and doing the sums of successful businesses. Each scratch of the pen for another man drove home in him like spikes that he was in thrall to others who had far better fortune than he.
When I was young, I was apprenticed in Grandfather’s lucrative and respected firm; it was only natural that I should follow in the family business, although I inherited my father’s difficulty with numbers. I watched for three years as his mind gradually gave way. It was not age, as some say; no, it was that wretched desk. I could see it. The desk preyed upon him hour after hour, year after year. I alone could see the forged chain connecting Grandfather to the desk, making him its slave. I saw him pour out his brain onto the desk and into the storage and into the drawers, going back and forth, pen scratching wildly to make the numbers work.
And I was there on the day he could take no more. His screams still reverberate in my ears. Three men, including my father, wrestled him to the ground as another man ran for assistance. He was bound and driven off first to a hospital and then an asylum. I did not see him again until I looked into his open casket. His rest did not appear to be an easy one.
Father became principal of the firm. This should have bolstered his confidence, but he took over not only Grandfather’s company but also his hideous desk. It quickly chained him, too, and began its foul depredations upon his spirit. He withstood it for many years, but the terrible stump worked its evil on him. I saw him leave that fateful day. I had become accustomed to the haunted misery in his eyes and thought little on it as he walked out the door. Only when a constable came to tell me that my father’s body had been fished from the canal did I understand that the dreadful desk had claimed another mind and another life.
I inherited the accountancy. And with it came the desk.
I swore that I would not be dominated by the wooden beast. No other family member would succumb to its hate and its black arts. The morning I took over, I arrived early. I stood at the desk and demanded its attention.
“Hear me! I will not fall as my grandfather and father have. I alone am master here! You shall serve me. If you try to degrade me, know that the axe and the torch await you.” And I took my rightful place at the desk that had for so long symbolized leadership of the business.
I have aged behind that desk. And if I am not my grandfather, whose touch with mathematics was legendary, I have lost no more business than my father did when he ran the operation. And I have fought the desk. I have felt its evil swirling around my head, tickling my ears and trying to seep in. My back is stiff from bearing its unusual lash.
I have, indeed, aged. I could not fight much longer as I had. I wished greatly to destroy the desk. In my mind, I burned it many times. Each time its ash reformed into the precise pattern and measure. I mentally chopped it into pieces with an axe, with a maul. And the splinters rushed together, restored. In my thoughts I threw it repeatedly into the same canal where my father perished because of this unnatural thing. It floated and returned to its customary place in the firm’s offices.
I could conceive only one way to rid myself of the monstrosity. I sold it to an unsuspecting fellow who had need of such an item. I would have given it to him at no charge, but men are distrusting when things come too easily. I was forced to haggle over a price that he would bear and that seemed outwardly fair to me.
So the old desk is gone. I have a new one. It is of proper height and solid construction. It is made of mahogany and is unlike the previous desk. I have given only airy explanations to my workers. It is peculiar to sell what should be regarded as a family heirloom, but I do not need to justify myself to those in my pay.
The money from the sale is still in my pocket. I have resolved to give it to the Church; I cannot profit from selling the desk lest that permit it to retain some hold over me. It is enough that there remains a miasma about the place, a lingering dismal fog as reminder that the desk sat there for so many, many years. I am not entirely free of it. Perhaps it has not fully engulfed its new owner. Perhaps it is because I retain the money from its sale. I may give that to the Church, perhaps in exchange for the vicar coming to bless these offices and driving out the spirit of hate and madness. Though that could create talk. Perhaps I will simply give the money to the Church. That would break the spell, would it not?
I am the master of my new desk. I stand at it and figure the sums each day, and I check the work of my subordinates. And when my hand shakes, or my head grows heavy and then light, I recall that the money is still in my pocket, and I should think about giving it to the Church, to vanquish the remaining odor of the old desk.
But I have a new desk. I will be its master and I will ensure the prosperity of the family’s business. The hours are long and the responsibility rubs my neck like a noose. Yet I will prevail, I will succeed. The old desk is gone! Nothing can prevent my success.