He cleaned out the little cubbyhole under the stairs, took away the ironing board, loose hangers and the bag of dirty washing, and wiped down the shelves with a wet cloth. There was just enough room for a small desk.
The day had come when he’d never be truly free from work, and he switched on his old computer, its fans whirring with dust. The black screen glowed green and connected to the practice network. In this small space, in this whirring womb with its taste of dust and bare light bulb, he checked his patients’ blood tests.
Later, when he couldn’t sleep and the house had cooled, he crept down and passed by the room under the stairs.
It was then that he heard a glowering green voice from behind the door.
‘You might have missed something,’ it said softly. ‘But then again, you never were any good at your job.’
He held his breath but the voice came again.
‘You don’t want to miss anything, do you?’ He reluctantly pulled up his chair and sat down to pore over the test results.
Over the coming weeks the computer, with its smooth casing and its obsidian screen, became ever more imperious. From the cubbyhole, it demanded he check over his referrals and discharge letters. If that wasn’t enough it would appeal to his anxieties and stretch his fears in the same goading mouthless way.
‘Just take a look at yourself! I bet you’ve overlooked something important, knowing you.’
Even whilst he was sat having dinner, it called at him from under the stairs. His wife continued to eat – either she didn’t hear it or she chose to ignore it.
He lost weight and hardly slept, and each evening he would run past the room under the stairs. But the voice would always call him back, insisting that he check his codes, and then recheck them, again and again.
Finally, after weeks of threats, he stripped the small windowless room of the computer and threw it into the boot of his car.
Sensing that this wouldn’t be enough, he drove out of town and pulled over next to a hidden incline full of creepers and dead birch. He hurriedly bundled the computer into the ditch. In the green evening light, its monitor, slimed and covered with weed, called out his name.
‘You’re pathetic!,” it screeched. ‘Come back! What if you’ve missed something? What if you kill someone?!’
But the brave doctor drove away without looking back.
Dr Kevin Hinkley is a GP in Aberdeen.