* Winner of the 2015 Story of the Year Award *
George found the rip in the fabric of space on a Thursday morning, some time after elevenses. He leant over to throw away his empty packet of rich tea biscuits and there it was, a tiny hole hanging in the air behind the long-dead hydrangea the HR people had put in his cubicle in an attempt to pretty up the place.
After a quick look around, George cautiously stuck the tip of a pencil in the hole. The pencil slid in halfway, the tip disappearing into thin air. George left the pencil hanging there and went back to work on the Masterson report, after carefully moving the hydrangea a little to disguise the hanging pencil.
Next day, the rip had torn a little wider and the pencil had disappeared. George bent over and peered into the tear. It was now wide enough to see into. On the other side he saw white sand and gentle waves of the clearest, aquamarine blue. The sun shone and trees rustled softly on a distant hilltop. The pencil, disturbed by the growing hole in the fabric of space, lay on the sand.
George looked sideways out of his cubicle, to where he could catch the barest glimpse of the grey office block across the street. The hum of London traffic was audible even above the ordinary office noises. From the rip, a soft breeze blew and the salty tang of the sea beckoned.
But the Masterson report wasn’t going to write itself. George sighed and got to work.
Throughout the day, George found himself stealing looks through the rip. There didn’t seem to be any people there. The idea of a secret world, a place all of his own where his boss and his ex-wife couldn’t find him, was incredibly appealing. By the end of the day, George had come up with a plan.
The office emptied, slowly. Eventually, George was the last one left. “Staying late tonight,” he told the security bloke. “I’ll turn off the lights when I’m done.”
He set the hydrangea aside and worked one hand into the rip. It was soft, malleable to the touch. He pulled hard, and the fabric of space ripped further. Now he had both hands in, and he ripped it apart until he had a hole large enough to climb into.
George tied the end of a long spool of parcel string to the leg of his desk and stepped awkwardly through the hole, hanging onto the string like Theseus facing the Labyrinth. Once through, he removed his shoes and wriggled his toes in the sand, smiling broadly to himself.
The beach was just as deserted as he’d hoped.
Behind him, the hole gaped open, an ugly gash in the blue sky. George picked up the pencil and his shoes and stepped back through. He untied the string and fetched a spare whiteboard to set up in his cubicle to hide the hole he’d made. Then he left for home, whistling all the way.
Over the next couple of weeks, George found quiet moments to explore his new world. The trees on the hill formed a natural windbreak and curved gently around a bubbling spring of fresh water. There were all sorts of fruit trees, and several types of birds. George built a small fireplace and cooked eggs and bananas. It was wonderfully peaceful.
The place was an island. Besides the birds, the only other living creatures to be found were sea turtles and crabs, as well as the multitude of small fish that swam the shallows of the warm sea.
Back at the office, the Masterson report had developed alarming issues. Board meetings were called, and multiple employees attempted to unravel the tangle that Masterson had got himself into. George sweated away over the intricacies of number crunching while a part of him dreamt of his tropical hideaway.
The Idea began with a book. There had to be reading material on an island getaway. Next, George brought in a waterproof box, to keep his beloved childhood copy of Treasure Island safe from tropical rainstorms. Soon, he had a whole cache of useful things in there.
One day, just before leaving the island, George thought to himself, “What if I didn’t? What if I just stayed, forever? Would anyone really miss me?” His parents were deceased, his ex-wife hated him, he had no children, no pets…
That night he couldn’t sleep. He tossed, and turned, as the idea swelled to gigantic proportions, threatening to smother him if he didn’t do something about it.
The next day was Saturday. George spent the morning packing and shopping for useful things like a tent, fishing gear and a water filtration system. It took him three trips to carry it all up to his cubicle. Luckily, security had become so used to his out-of-hours presence they barely glanced at him.
He carted the whole lot through the hole and up the hill to the trees. Then he walked back down to the hole in the fabric of space and stared through at the dingy office and the dead hydrangea. Was he really going to do this?
George found he had absolutely no regrets. All he felt was a warm wash of satisfaction. He set down the sail-mending kit he’d picked up at a boating supplies shop and took out needle and thread. And then – slowly, neatly, carefully – George stitched up the hole.
He darned it up good and tight, until there was nothing left of London. When he tied the final knot and cut off the thread, the stitching disappeared and the fabric of space was once again seamless and whole. George grinned and set off up the hill, whistling happily to himself.
The disappearance of George was a seven-day wonder. Eventually, they emptied his cubicle and threw away the dead hydrangea. The new employee moved in a few days later, a quiet sort of fellow with a dreamy look in his eye and a battered copy of Wuthering Heights in his pocket.
In the corner of the cubicle, hidden behind a freshly bought philodendron that HR had delivered earlier that morning, a tiny hole held a vision of windswept moors, waiting, just waiting.