Short Story // Nine to Five
It was Sophie’s first day on the job.
She had been mentally preparing herself for weeks. In fact, she’d been preparing herself since the day she saw the position advertised. One of those dodgy websites that make you fill in every single detail manually that you’ve already put on your CV. It wasn’t the first time she’d heard of these jobs. And what she’d heard had been nothing good. But her rent was due, and her tyres were flat, and every text she’d sent to her dad had been answered in a tone she just knew belonged to her wicked stepmother and not him.
‘You’ll find something soon. We have enough on our plate.’
Yeah, enough on their plate. Because buying a holiday home in France was an absolute necessity.
It had taken hours of applications, a plea to her roommate Jonny to help makeover her resume, and three weeks of unpaid training to land her at this desk. When Sophie looked to her left and to her right, there were young people sat at a desk exactly like hers, separated only by a half-sized partition, like horses in a stable. She put on her headphones to excuse herself from the coughs, sneezes and hmming around her before taking a deep breath.
She was ready.
They had warned them time and time again that the job wasn’t easy. Sure, it was eight hours at a desk with a water cooler in the hallway and about ten different cafes nearby to choose from on your break, but the work itself was difficult. From what Sophie had read online following her application, it could even be harmful. You clicked through thousands of images a day, all of which had been reported for being spam, abusive, or dangerous in some way, and you had to decide which ones were bad and which ones were okay. They had been honest about that much in her training. That the job was hard. The PTSD she had read about in former employees, well, they hadn’t been as transparent about that. Her eyes fell to a colourful sign beside a white door near the exit that read, ‘Pop in any time you need a chat :) ’
Sophie wouldn’t be needing a chat. What she needed was money.
She started her computer.
The first few reports were simple enough. Hate speech, bullying, someone getting their head chopped off. Nothing she hadn’t been warned about in training. But then, there were the kids. She was terrified of seeing the kids.
Fortunately, throughout her first two hours, the worst she saw was a puppy being smacked - and, having always been terrified of Alsatians, Sophie half-believed the bugger might have deserved it. Some of the content had even been funny. Conspiracy theories about 9/11, a drawing of Hitler and Donald Trump in bed together. She had almost started to enjoy herself when it was time for lunch.
Once she had bought her five-euro sandwich and three-euro coffee, she sat down on the wall outside beside Esmerelda; a girl on her floor who had started her training at the same time.
‘Have you seen that horrible camera thread?’ Esmerelda asked. ‘It’s been doing the rounds all morning.’
‘No,’ Sophie replied, barely listening. ‘What is it?’
‘It’s awful,’ Esmerelda said, scratching her nose. ‘It’s all these girls whose cameras have been hacked. They don’t even know. And we can’t even do anything about it! The only reason it’s been reported is because some of them have nudity or violence. There’s no way to actually contact the girls.’
‘Really?’ Sophie asked. ‘Hey, are you going to finish that scone?’
Back at her desk, the first thing that popped up on her feed was the thread Esmerelda had been talking about, a video embedded and shared on another platform that had been flagged by a user. Sophie could see why. At some point, the woman in the video, who was strolling around her apartment and smoking dope, kicked her dog, the poor animal emitting a terrible ‘squeal’. Sophie took down the video, and, having already hit her daily target of flagging fifty pieces of material, she thought she would chance it No one was watching her. Everyone’s eyes were glued to their own screen. There was no supervisor to be seen. They weren’t supposed to visit external websites, but Sophie couldn’t resist. If she got in trouble, she would say it was research.
The link took her to the thread. It was full of creeps, talking about which and what videos had made them feel whatever sort of way, how they had hacked the cameras, or what they had done while watching them. One comment was particularly aggressive, saying how he had found one of the women’s address, and was planning on paying her a little visit.
She clicked into the video he had been referencing and she could see why he was so enthused. A woman was stood facing away from her laptop or computer, which must have been sat on a desk. She was naked, stretching. Her body was phenomenal, Sophie thought, and the commenters agreed. A brief glimpse of a window was visible in the background, it was dark outside, and the link said it was from Dublin so it can’t have been a live stream.
And then, looking again at the window, she thought - doesn’t that look familiar?
The woman in the video turned. Sophie gasped, but no one around her reacted. They all had their headphones on. Sophie was alone in her shock, as she watched herself finish her stretches and pull on her pyjamas. Shaking, she scrolled back down to the comments.
‘I know where this bitch lives. I hope she’ll be happy to see my big cock!’
She was interrupted by a hand on her shoulder. It was Margot, her supervisor.
‘Everything okay?’ Margot asked with a wide smile and eyes as big as dinner plates.
Sophie tried not to stare at the lines around Margot’s eyes and hoped she would never have wrinkles like that when she was thirty-five.
‘I’m fine,’ she said.
‘Are you sure? That doesn’t look like our engine. What website is that?’
‘Made a wrong turn,’ Sophie replied, minimizing the window. ‘Sorry.’
‘No problem,’ she said. ‘Come see me if you need to talk.’
Sophie made her way to the bathroom. They were only allowed two minutes of toilet time on every shift, so she had to be quick. She went onto the same thread on her phone and found her video again. There were more of them. She should have put tape on her laptop camera like her dad had suggested or installed that anti-virus software. But it was too late now. And what she was really concerned about were the comments; they referenced her habits, her body, the intimate moments she had, broadcast for all these strangers, these men to see. And the comments that haunted her the most? The ones like:
‘I would do anything to see this in better quality.’
‘I’d pay to watch that up close.’
‘Anyone find her social media yet? I need MORE.’
Sophie knew what she had to do. She left the bathroom, bypassed her desk and made her way to Margot’s office.
‘I do need to talk to you,’ she said to Margot. ‘I’m sorry. This is my last day. I won’t be back.’
‘It happens,’ Margot said. ‘Especially with the girls. Too much for you?’
‘Something like that,’ Sophie replied.
On her way home, she purchased lingerie, and a new webcam. HD. If only she had thought of this before and not wasted so much time. Although, everything happens for a reason, she told herself. She would have to move, of course, to protect herself, but at least she knew the audience was there. They were waiting for her. Her debts would be paid off in no time.
Sophie tried to remember the name of the user who had claimed to have her address. Goatfucker123? Something like that. She would have to find it again. Something told her that he would turn out to be her number one subscriber.
Laurie graduated last year from DCU where she studied English and Media and is currently finishing up an MA whilst working part time. She been writing for as long as she can remember and especially loves writing short stories. Her work has been published in a small literary magazine, Lazarus, which she helped publish when on the committee for DCU's creative writing society.
Of the motivation behind the work, Laurie says:
‘Social media has completely changed society, for good and for bad, in the way we communicate as well as the way we work. Although we are all connected and there are a lot of opportunities, there can be a feeling of isolation, with users detached and distant from their subjects, or targets.’