Encounters in Publishing #28: The Auditors, by Liz Mathews

They appeared in the 14th floor conference room one morning, unannounced. Or, at least to me they were unannounced: the auditors.

Having only been marginally aware of auditing as something one does not want to have happen during tax season, my feeling toward them was one of slight curiosity coupled with the wish that they’d leave our conference room so I could continue to fill up my water bottle from the water cooler in that room without feeling like I was walking in on something.

On the second day of their presence, I realized they were using our coffee machine. And rifling through our plastic utensils, in search of spoons or forks for their food. Initially they did not have ID cards. But then they did. This should have suggested a permanent residence to me, but I clung to the hope they’d be gone at the end of the week.

But they were not. The following Monday, there they were, at work in our conference room (presumably well before I arrived), and there they stayed, well past when I left for the day. They used our microwave for their lunches. Some of these lunches created disgusting smells that were no longer possible to blame on the sole editorial suspect usually responsible. I gathered my courage and started using the conference room water cooler again—they were mostly leaving the door open, after all.

Once, several years before, I was called upon to have a conversation with the auditors. I was very nervous, and certain I’d done something wrong and been found out, despite being reassured by HR that it was just a thing that random people in the company were asked to do and that it was no big deal. Considering that I draw a blank on what actually happened during my brief interview with an auditor, I assume that either it really was nothing to worry about, or that it was the worst experience of my life.

The auditors remained. Eventually word spread that they would be with us to the end of the month, November. I grew accustomed to walking into the conference room for water, listening intently to whatever sixty seconds of auditor conversation I happened to walk in on. Not that I could understand their auditor words. One evening I stayed late after work, and ran into an auditor in the office kitchen. “Have you seen any paper cups around?” she asked in a slightly British accent. I hadn’t, I apologized. She seemed disappointed, an instant oatmeal packet in her hand. I offered her a mug of my own, but she declined.

The week of Thanksgiving came, and I noticed on the Wednesday right before the holiday that the auditors were packing up. They walked past my office with boxes of files, and returned with take-out lunch from nearby eateries. When I prepared to leave for the holiday break around 1pm, I noticed they were all back in the conference room, typing away frantically on their laptops in an otherwise sparse, paperless environment.

I’m not going to see them again, I thought to myself. The auditors aren’t going to be here when we come back December 2. I’d gotten used to them. And I will miss them.


Liz Mathews composes ads for many things science fiction and fantasy. Her writing can be found in magazines, catalogs, newspapers, brochures, and books; and on bookmarks, postcards, cable television commercials, and even doorhangers all across the United States and in some parts of Canada. She lives in Brooklyn but considers the cornfields of Iowa home.