The Curse of the Reply-all Email
Filed in: Take a Break
Halloween is coming up, and we wanted to add a fictional-yet-spooky vibe to the M Dash by exploring an especially frightening scenario: the accidental reply-all email. Read on if you dare.
It all began with an email.
Samantha had fired it off to her assistant without thinking: “Chicken salad on a whole wheat wrap, and if that nightmare sales rep from yesterday’s meeting calls, tell him I’m OOO for the week. ” She clicked “send,” then quickly clicked “undo send,” and revised the message: “Chicken salad on a whole wheat wrap, extra mayo and mustard, and a Diet Coke.”
She had enabled the “undo” feature for peace of mind. It allowed an extra 30 seconds to scan through an email and snatch it out of cyberspace if she spotted a typo. But that day, it took a full minute for her to realize her mistake.
She had accidentally replied all to the revenue report email—addressed, among others, to her boss—with her lunch order and a side of gossip. She thought about the meeting she had with Todd before he offered her this job, when he had told her “You can screw up, as long as you come to me with a plan to fix it. But if I ever see an accidental reply-all email come through my inbox, that day will be your last.”
“Samantha, you know that was a joke,” he said that afternoon, after she tentatively knocked on the door to his office, ready to accept her punishment. “And you’re right, that rep was a nightmare. We’ll never work with him.”
“Got it,” she said, relieved. “I’ll see you at the numbers meeting.” She began to shut the door.
“You should be embarrassed, though,” he yelled after her. “Wraps are an abomination—the margarine of sandwiches, a pale imitation of the real thing!”
That night, as she slept, she found herself walking through a crowded street in a dream, knowing she was headed somewhere, but not knowing her exact destination. Faintly, she could hear a voice calling through the crowd:
“Let’s circle back!”
It was hard to hear, but there was something about it that struck her as frantic, sinister. She quickened her pace through the crowd but the voice grew louder, and more insistent, until it sounded like it was right behind her.
“Let’s circle back. Let’s circle back. Let’s circle back!”
She woke thirty minutes late for work with the sheets tangled around her legs.
She had long forgotten the dream by the time her phone vibrated with a new message. The day had been a whirlwind of meetings, and as she sat down for the first time all afternoon, she opened her email with a sigh.
Let’s circle back.
She frowned. The message had no sender, no return address. Just those five words, surrounded by blank space.
It’s spam, she thought. That’s all. She deleted it and stood for her next meeting, vowing to stop falling asleep in front of Lifetime movie marathons.
It was almost a week before another message appeared, the same as the first.
Let’s circle back.
She started, realizing that all eyes in the meeting were on her. Todd’s expression was expectant, impatient.
“Sorry. I just…I got a weird email,” she muttered.
“My condolences,” Todd said. “But surely it can wait until the end of your presentation?”
Later that night, as she put the finishing touches on the deck for Friday’s meeting, she opened the message again.
“This is ridiculous,” she said out loud, and started to type a reply.
What do you want?
The response was immediate.
To close the loop.
“Pfft. Close WHAT loop?” she asked as she typed the same question.
A minute went by, then another. “This is probably some teenager playing a weird Internet prank,” she said aloud at the screen, pouring a second glass of wine and putting her feet up on the coffee table. “I’m being ridic—”
The messages came furiously after that, at all hours of the day and night.
Let’s circle back.
Let’s close the loop.
“So, Samantha, you sounded distressed on the phone. How can I help you?”
Margaret, her therapist, set a cup of mysterious-looking tea in front of her. It smelled like the soil in which she had buried her laptop in in the backyard, when the incessant Ping! Ping! Ping! of new messages had driven her to her breaking point. She had awoken the next morning to find the computer back on her desk, covered in dirt, the screen black except for those three sinister letters, flashing in red. E.O.D.
Samantha folded her hands on the table to keep them from shaking, and launched into her story. When she finished, Margaret regarded her with horror from behind her round glasses.
“Let me make sure I have this right,” she said, voice quivering with fear. “You replied all?”
“I know,” Samantha said, eyes downcast. “I know it was wrong. But it was an honest mistake!” Distracted, she took a sip of the bitter tea and her eyes watered at the taste. “I just want things to go back to normal.”
“Oh, Samantha,” Margaret replied with an air of apologetic resignation. “I’m afraid that’s not possible.”
“So, who used to work here?”
Christine sat down at her new desk, opening the file cabinet and unearthing a legal pad that was down to its last sheet, slightly translucent against the cardboard backing. The blank page bore the faint marks of someone who had pressed hard with a pen as they wrote the same thing over and over—whatever it was, she couldn’t tell. She frowned and tossed it in the trash.
“I don’t actually know,” Lauren shrugged. “She and her old assistant left around the same time, so I’m still pretty new. Todd said something about ‘going off the grid’? I think that means she quit to do the whole Elizabeth Gilbert thing, or whatever.”
“Hm,” Christine said, already distracted by emails. “Well, thanks for showing me around. Is there anything else I need to know?”
“No, you should be all set!” Lauren chirped and began to walk away. She paused, and turned back toward Christine. “Well, there is one thing.”
“What’s that?” Christine didn’t take her eyes off the screen.
“This is going to sound weird, and I probably shouldn’t be telling you this,” Lauren began. “But I would try not to stay in the office too late, if you can.”
“Well, Lauren,” Christine said, with a small chuckle, “It’s a growing company. I’m sure late nights are part of the package.”
“It’s not that. It’s just…the maintenance staff say they hear things at night.”
“What kind of things?”
“Look, I know you won’t believe me,” Lauren said, her tone growing defensive. “But they all swear they can hear a woman speaking. But when they turn the lights on, there’s no one there.”
“Okay,” Christine said, finally turning to face her, her tone amused. “And what does this mysterious ‘woman’ have to say?”
“Well, they aren’t sure,” Lauren said. “It’s hard to hear. But it sounds like someone saying the same three letters over and over again.” She paused. “They say she sounds like she’s saying ‘E.O.D.'”
Christine stared at her, then began to laugh.
“A ghost that minds her deadlines!” she said, still smiling. “I’ll be sure to keep an ear out for her.”
“I know it sounds weird,” Lauren said. “But they swear it’s true.”
“I’m sure they do,” Christine said, turning back to her monitor and beginning to type. “I’m sure they do.”