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Caught in the Loop (NYC midnight challenge -suspense, a call center, treadmill )

Updated: Feb 28, 2022

“Welcome to the LOOP Julianne! Here’s your space. We don’t believe in cubicles- it’s all about energy, ” Dianne said as she flashed her too-bright smile from a dewy fresh face.

Julianne grimaced as she looked down and smoothed the old gray pantsuit she had squeezed her post-maternity body into.

She’d expected a blue-grey cubicle and a squeaky chair. Instead, Julianne sighed contentedly at the beautiful open office space. There was a standing desk with a monitor over a sleek treadmill. Bright sunlight streamed through full-length windows, shining on potted plants scattered throughout the room.

“Are you sure this is a call center?” Julianne couldn’t help the wonder and awe from infusing her voice.

Dianne chuckled, “that’s the exact energy we want you to help our customers with! Since exercise is important, start on your treadmill to get things moving. Once you’ve completed your tasks you can pick up your little one from our child care center.” And with that Dianne elegantly spun on her stilettos and walked away.

Julianne took a deep breath of incredibly fresh air. But her nose scrunched at the hint of a sickly sweet smell. She looked at her heel-clad feet. She couldn’t walk on a treadmill in those. She looked around, seeing others wearing green booties mismatched with their office-casual attire. Someone laughed too-loudly, but the drone of the treadmills buffered the constant conversation.

She took off her heels, putting on her hopefully, new booties, before she gingerly stepped onto the treadmill. It started right as she bent to look for a power button. Despite the slow pace, she cried out and clutched the desk as she scrambled to start walking. She flushed with embarrassment. Julianne glanced around her to see if her new co-workers snickered at her blunder.

No one noticed her, everyone focused on their screens.

‘Welcome to The Loop! Where we’re all connected to help YOU get back to YOU!’ a low soothing voice like Dianne’s intoned from the screen.

‘I’m so lucky this beautiful place provides child care and promotes exercise to lose this extra weight,’ thought Julianne.

Julianne opened the welcome binder and read about the LOOP’s culture of ‘connectivity’ then finally the wellness products they sold.

Julianne stretched her tired neck and looked around for a clock. There were none. Julianne moved to get off the treadmill and grab her phone from her purse.

A zip of electricity made her feet tingle. The booties suddenly felt very heavy, as if magnetized to the machine. Her screen blinked red. A frisson of discomfort crawled across her shoulders. She looked around at her co-workers. All but one was still there, although they walked faster now.

Her screen flashed red again as her treadmill sped up. Julianne stumbled awkwardly as the booties kept pace with the machine while her body struggled to catch up. Julianne was sweaty and thirsty now. She glanced around, confusedly as sunlight still streamed in the windows. ‘How long have I been here?’

A recording of Dianne started on her screen, “thank you for connecting with us. Put on your headset and get ready to LOOP others in!”

As soon as her headset was on, a caller started talking, “I’m still so tired, your energy drinks aren’t helping at all!” The woman on the phone cried.

Julianne’s screen blinked. Prompts appeared. Julianne read aloud the first prompt, in her best placating phone voice, “I’m so sorry to hear that, tell me more?” Another prompt appeared, “ How much do you weigh?” Julianne shook her head and waited for a different prompt to appear, she wasn’t going to ask that. Her feet tingled, the screen flashed the same prompt in a larger font and her treadmill sped up.

Julianne blurted out the question. After following 5 more prompts the treadmill slowed, another satisfied customer hung up.

She convinced more callers to continue using their energy drinks, pills, skincare, or exercise regimens.

‘It must be time to leave now.’ But it was still bright out as if no time had passed. Julianne’s heart was racing, she was tired and thirsty. She looked around, some co-workers had left, their booties sat on their treadmills.

Her feet tingled again and the treadmill sped up to a quick walk. Julianne stood straighter, alarmed. Another call came in and she followed the prompts on her screen. Finally, the treadmill slowed a little.

“How is it going?”

Julianne startled violently as Dianne stood there looking just as fresh as she had earlier.

“Uhm fine,” Julianne said hesitantly. “ What time is it? My daughter will be worried.”

“Yes that happens here, but you still have a while until you are finished.”

Julianne furrowed her brow in confusion.

“Oh, she’s fine. You haven’t completed your tasks.” Dianne paused, flashing her too-bright smile. “Didn’t you read the packet? Remember we are all connected. Loop doesn’t work unless you do!”

Julianne was now panting as she walked. “But if I could just take a break, perhaps I’ll be more productive,” Julianne pleaded.

Dianne tilted her head and looked Julianne up and down. “But you promised you would bring all your energy to this job and be a dedicated employee. You still have pounds to lose, and energy to give. We looped you into our system for a reason. Your energy lights up our office, grows our plants and contributes to our company’s success. You can go once you’ve given it your all!”

A hiss sounded somewhere, Julianne looked over as a vine dropped from the ceiling and wound around one of her co-workers. He had collapsed on the treadmill, his chest heaving. The vine encircled him several times, as he murmured unintelligibly. Julianne looked on in horror as his limp body was pulled up, up, up, and into the ceiling tree canopy. Which she now saw was decorated with jackets and slacks.

Dianne snickered, “where do you think we get the energy and ingredients for our special formula. Again, Welcome to the Loop Julianne!”

A vine reached down from the ceiling and brushed Julianne’s cheek. She sped up as the screen flashed red and another caller came on the line.

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