Time for something a little different

 

So, about a month ago I took part in the NYC Midnight Short Story Competition. This involved writing a short story, no more than 2500 words, over the space of a week. In the competition, you are given a number of prompts, a character, a genre and a subject. Now, while I didn’t progress through to the second round of the competition, I did get an honourable mention. So I can’t be doing too badly. 

Either way, this is that story. 

The prompts were:

  • Genre – Fantasy
  • Character – A Cement Truck Driver
  • Subject – A Blind Date

Now read on…

Terry, 33, Looking for Love
Not Really the Beginning, but it’s where I want to start
There are two truths I want to tell you.
Number one. All the stories, they’re based on real things. But most stories are better when they stay stories. Nobody wants to meet a Gorgon or a fire giant. Especially when you’ve been set up by your only mate in Fariador.
Number two. This one’s the important one. In Fariador, everything’s a quest. You want a pint of milk from the shop? That’s a quest reward for bringing the shopkeeper “fifteen Demilizard skins.”
Okay, I’ll give you three truths. Demilizards can run like the blazes. It’s a lot of effort for a cup of tea.
Well, maybe four truths. Nobody in Fariador can make a cup of tea to save their lives. They put milk in first, then add tea leaves, then do some mystic hand waving and mumbo-jumbo then eventually you come out with a cup of hot milk and leaves.
I miss the Earth methods of dating. Your mate sets you up, you go to the pub, you have a few drinks and you make your decision. Here, there’s lava, a dragon, witches, monkeys…
I think I’ve got lost here. I’ll start again.
My name is Terry Holliday. I’m from Dagenham and I drive a cement truck.
Last time I wrote those words was on my Match.com profile three years ago. Now I’m writing them while sitting outside the door of the highest room in the tallest tower in Fariador. It’s only taken three months of trekking through marshes, fighting witch-queens and collecting goddamn demilizard skins to get here.
A lot has changed in my life in those three years. Never thought I’d learn to use a sword, for starters.
Moranim’s just told me that I still can’t use a sword. I really hate him sometimes. Especially seeing as it’s his fault I’m on this quest in the first place.
Terry, thirty-three, human and looking for love
“Tez, mate, you can’t be down.” Moranim nudged me in the side and passed me a pint. “Look at everything you’ve done for the Palace?”
I looked up from my empty flagon, looked towards his cheery face, then back towards the lack of drink. “I drove a truck. Left some cement. Then drove away again. Not like you, gemstone boy.” I was slurring slightly, but managed to drag myself back to sobriety.
“Mora,” I said, blinking my bleary eyes, “it was awful.”
“What, you and Farigiana? But she’s hot!”
“Yes. Because she’s a fire giant.”
“Does that change the fact that she’s hot?”
“Only in the very literal sense that every time she went near me, my skin began to boil!” I lifted a blistered hand as evidence. “That was a tender moment.”
He snorted. “At least she liked you, eh?” He patted my hand and I flinched “A little too much, perhaps. But still, I know you’ve been down so I’ve got the best thing to cheer you up.”
“More booze?” I said, hopefully.
“Better.” Those tombstone teeth broke through the beard as Mora’s eyes glinted with mischief “I’ve got you another date.”
My heart fell as he spoke those words. He meant well, after all, but after two years in Fariador and only having managed to score with a succubus, it was a hard life. I’d practically resigned myself to the monastery to be honest. “I’ve only just got back from the last one.”
Mora ran his fingers through his grizzled beard. “Yeah, I know that, but I figured it might go a little bit off the rails. I still get chills when I remember poor Demura.”
“She was Medusa’s cousin. I got turned to stone.” I shuddered at the thought. Being trapped inside a statue is not a fun way to spend an evening, especially when your date doesn’t notice.
“A misunderstanding. Then of course, there was poor Leona.”
“She was literally covered in hair.”
“A fact you didn’t have to bring up by saying “Bugger me, are you under there somewhere or are you Cousin It?” which, by the way, is a reference that nobody understands. I asked the whole Twelfth Legion about it and got nothing.”
I shrugged, hoping he’d just drop the subject of my love life. He didn’t.
“So, I thought you might have some troubles. But fear not, because I’ve got something good for you.” He shimmied his hips as if trying to use an invisible hula-hoop, stupid nervous twitch. “She’s gorgeous and she’s available. She’s also partly Hume and a princess so, that’s got to be a win for you. I mean, you’re not exactly something to send a pigeon home for, Tez.”
“Thanks.” I paused for a moment. Did I really want to waste time on this blind date? For all I knew, I’d be going home tomorrow when the Circle had their power back. Just as I’d been saying for the past two years. “What’s her name?”
“Carlotta Francesca Riviera Del Fonte. Distant cousin of the Crown Prince. I knew you’d be interested!” He did his small shimmy again.
That’s how my most recent date started. Of course, I didn’t remember the second Truth Regretted that one for a while. It was like learning the rules of this place all over again.
Ergh, that was hard enough.
How did I even get here?
Have you ever had one of those days? You know the ones, where the small child of possibility is messing with the sliders of good and bad? One minute, everything’s great. You got an extra rasher of bacon with your breakfast because the girl at the café liked your smile. Your bus was on time, or your car started on the first try. Hell, perhaps the boss even bought doughnuts for everybody. It’s great, right? Life can’t get better than this.
You’re right. It can’t. Let’s face it, the next corner you turn, something’s going wrong. Your sausages are cold. There’s an accident that stops your bus. Your car blows a gasket halfway down the drive. Blue-grey sparks flicker along your arms and clothing as you and your truck are transported from the M40, just outside Oxford services, to a cobbled road in the middle of a wood in Fariador.
That’s never happened to you? Well, aren’t you a lucky one.
I wasn’t prepared for Fariador. I spent most of my first year closing my eyes and wishing Delilah and I were back home, to be honest.
Delilah is my truck. Problem?
I almost run over a Dwarf and he is not Happy
My cement truck, load included, weighs about twenty tons. On the M40, I was pootling along at fifty-six miles per hour, or ninety kilometres per hour. As such, my truck arrived in Fariador with a momentum of… Well, a lot. It must have seemed as if hell itself had just appeared before the poor bloke in the middle of the road. I was screaming, he was screaming, I’m fairly sure Delilah was screaming.
I thundered past him as he dived to the side. For a little guy, he had some mad leaping skills.
“Brasnovokia!” He yelled as Delilah came to stop. “What, you couldn’t see me?” He marched up to the cab where I was trying to get my breath back and hopped onto the step, wrenching the door open. “How about you use your eyes! Not like they were created for seeing or anything.” He punched me in the arm, then jumped back down onto the street. “I get it, we all want to get home but that was way too fast man! Some of us don’t want to end up in the Unterjord Pits anytime soon, ya know?”
I was catching about one word in three. Mora, who is of course the dwarf in question, keeps correcting me as I write down what he said. “I didn’t say that. I don’t sound like that.” His raspy accent is like nails on the chalkboard of my brain.
“Look, mate, what?” I looked blearily at the enormous red nose that seemed to be filling my vision. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
The nose retreated to reveal a face that was eighty percent beard. Coal black eyes stared out with a hungry glint as a short, stubby finger prodded me in the chest. “Irresponsible, that’s what you are. Driving like a lunatic when there’s people who’ve been yanked from the pub to this place. Goddamn Jarlnoim.”
“Yarl-whatnows?”
“Do you even know where you are? What are you? Elf, Orc? You’re not a bloody Merman, are ya? Though it would explain the driving.” Moranim spoke as if he had a quota of words to reach within an extremely limited timeframe. “By Vodrun’s eye, you’re a Hume!” His mouth dropped open, revealing grey teeth like stone slabs.
“Is that bad?” I closed my eyes, thinking that I must have been involved in a terrible accident and this was all a dream. Only my imagination could conjure up angry little men waving pickaxes and shouting at me. I opened my eyes again, but his nose was still relentless in its occupation of my sight.
“Let’s get you and your machine to Ratcheton. I think you’ll want a beer for this. Wait, you can drink beer, right?”
I absolutely do want a beer for this
Moranim brought across two flagons of Dwarven Dark ale, along with intense glares from everyone in the tavern. It was as if they’d never seen a person before.
“They’ve never seen a Hume before. The last one here became famous within weeks. Amelia Something-Or-Other. Eyebrain. Handkidney.”
“Earhart?”
“That’s the one. Came crashing through the sky on her flying machine and went straight into the old Prince’s window. Now that was a shock for him, poor old coot. Still, paid off in the end.” Mora picked up his flagon and drained it in one, slamming it back down onto the table. “Barriers to your realm are… How did you get here?”
I began my answer, only just starting the “I” of “I have no idea” when an enormous man, almost as wide as he was tall, barged into the tavern.
“Citizens of Fariador,” the newcomer announced with a voice like thunder, “We have amongst us honoured guests! All those not native to Fariador should move to the Palace!” He quickly left after that proclamation, moving down the street to begin again at the next tavern.
“Well, Humy, that’s us. Come on, I’ll take you there. Let’s find out what’s going on.” He snatched the beer from my hand and drained that too. “Get the machine! We’ll be there in no time.”
Parking is an issue, but at least you can’t get a ticket
“I thought you said we’d be there in no time?” I asked as we went to visit a third wizard. Delilah was, once again, trapped in a tar pit.
“Well, I didn’t realise that you couldn’t work your own damn travelling machine!”
“I didn’t realise you were an asshole!”
This was a common theme. We’d had to stop five times already and Delilah was being unhelpful. Still, after three days (Mora had said one) we’d arrived at the palace.
It was a magnificent building, an open hand stretching towards the sky, shining and splendid in the early morning sunrise. It was a bit of a shame about the ruins, really. Large chunks of the building had fallen down or were on fire casting dancing shadows across the large crowd gathered in a courtyard. It was an odd gathering, a mix of every creature from any story ever told as far as I could tell. Moranim ran across to a large group of dwarfs, all ginger and armed with pickaxes.
“Bloody typical,” I whispered, “all these people ready to work and nobody doing a damn thing. Like being back home.” I looked around for a place to park, but upon finding nothing, decided to just drive onto the flagstones.
“People of all realms! I am Crown Prince Belafont!” A small, weedy man in a long purple cloak steps out onto a balcony. “My court wizards have used the powers of Vodrun to gather you, the greatest craftsmen and women that have ever existed, to my world.”
Mora had appeared by my elbow as I looked on, entranced. “Fat lot of good that was. He could have sent a pigeon.”
“I have called you here with one mission in mind. As you may know, my father, King Thrum, son of King Atla, son of…” The list of names went on for several minutes and I noticed several heads in the crowd nodding, “Did bring it upon himself to wage a long and bloody war with the Forlnoim. Three days ago, that war was ended upon this very spot!” A small pocket of people, presumably his supporters, launched into a half-hearted cheer.
“As such, I intend to build a monument to the occasion through you. You will help me raise a fitting memorial to those who lost their lives and a fitting tribute to those still standing! For food, lodging and all the wine you can drink.” That statement got a far better response, with whooping and yelling from all corners. So much so that I think I was the only one that heard the last part. “Unfortunately, the wizards inform me that you might not be able to go home for some time. Free wine!”
Building is easy. Dating is hard.
My part in the project was over pretty quickly. Terry from Dagenham, master of foundations. Which left me with a lot of free time. I figured I’d be home after a couple of weeks, but at least nobody would miss me.
So, Mora started setting me up. Delilah stayed parked outside the workers’ village and I’d head into town for one disastrous date after another. Which led to the last three months, after our talk about Carlotta. Three months in which I lost my pinkies to a witch-queen in a game of poker, fought a dragon, took a stone boat through a lake of lava and eventually got to here. The highest room in the tallest tower, outside the Moonlight Door.
The Full Moon Rises
It’s nearly time. All this, just because Moranim told me he’d set me up with somebody two years ago. I’ve never been one for blind dates, ever since Barry Daniel set me up with One-Eyed Sally back in college. She was alright, but she wasn’t right for me. Last I heard she was married to Barry, actually. If I ever get back to Earth, I’ll have to check them out.
I’ve just heard the lock click. I know I shouldn’t be worried, but what if she’s nothing like Moranim said? I’ll push the door open with my foot before he wakes up and see what she’s like.
Here goes nothing.
A gentle nudge with my foot and the door swings open with a loud creak.
Wow.

The above is the story as it was sent to the competition. I intend to refine it, now that I can break out of the 2500 word limit, so any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. 

The Idiot in Tin Foil

Day 291: Write a love scene from the point of view of your hands

 

We are explorers in an unknown place. We have delved across fabrics and navigated buttons, danced across lines of lace and satin. From hills to valleys, we search throughout this fair land. Beneath us, the beautiful landscape stretches as we glide across its naked surface, drawing ourselves up and down in spirals of pleasure.

We are the harbingers of wonder and excitement. Our arrival calls forth memories of pleasures gone by as we sail across the skin. We navigate past old scars, take a moment to appreciate them then continue onwards. Our journey takes us all across this surface, this unknown, bringing pleasure anew.

We are firm. As everything moves around us we are firm, gripping and holding tight. We are a constant reminder of the power, the gentleness, the soft caress. We exist only to serve.

All love is from the viewpoint of us.

The Idiot in Tin Foil

Day 290: Ethan Canin said that he wrote “The Accountant” (in the Palace Thief) because he wanted to write a story in which a pair of socks seemed important. Pick an ordinary object. Make it someone’s obsession. Write a story about the obsession.

The figure sneaked through the darkened halls, soft shoes on small feet that danced along the tiles. It stops every now and then, raising its head like a meerkat on the prairie, searching for any indication that the rightful inhabitants, for this place was not its own, were awake.

It continued on its journey, pausing by an open door here, a small cabinet there, constantly searching for something. It was determined, focused on its goal. Whenever a pale shaft of moonlight swept across the floor, the figure would glare towards the offending window before skulking around the patch of light.

It reached a wooden door and stopped. This was what it had been looking for. With the slightest creak, the figure stepped through the door and shook a small bat from its sleeve. “It’s time.” It said, glaring at the cold tableau before it before striking down with the weapon. “She’ll be the only one. And the best.”

***

“Who, in God’s green earth, cares enough about Barbie to club a collection into oblivion?”

The Idiot in Tin Foil

I know, I know. I’m slacking. But my aim is to be back on track by the year point. I think I can do it. Wish me luck, friends, Romans and countrymen!

Day 289: What did you wear to prom? How did you get your outfit and what happened to it?

Do you know what really sucks? Spending decent money on a dinner jacket. You’d think that you could get one relatively cheaply, but Mum insisted. “You’ve got to look your best,” she tells me. “You never know who you might meet.” Well, she certainly got that one right. Only instead of her pretty vision of me meeting her future daughter-in-law, I met the Outcasts.

I also managed to antagonise them enough that I’m writing this from a small crawlspace in one of the old IT classrooms, covered in dust and cobwebs. It’s all getting torn down, so at least it’s gonna be an effort to find me. I can hear them occasionally, the gentle thud of a combat boot on broken tile. It’s not a good noise.

I can’t believe that four hours ago, Stacy was passing me a drink and now I’m here, without a dirnk and with a murderous gang of thugs trying to find me so that they can, and I quote, “Rip your fucking heart out and feed it to you.” I was tempted to tell them that ripping my heart out would leave me dead and unable to eat, but my legs decided that that wasn’t the time for sassy comments and was, in fact, time for running. Far.

Did you realise that a dinner jacket isn’t great to run in? The trousers didn’t help, being slightly too tight, but they ripped shortly after I started fleeing down the corridor. That made life far easier. In that I had a greater range of movement, but less so as I’d be mortally embarrassed should I come across anyone I know.

Still, you win some, you lose some.

The Idiot in Tin Foil

Day 288: Write a scene that begins: “Joe was the last person on Earth I expected to do that.”

 

Joe was the last person on Earth I expected to do that. When he called me here, to Vidaros, I never even began to think that he would have changed so much.

He met me on the runway, all smiles and the Joe I’d met at university all those years ago. He wrapped his arms around me in a bear hug, then kissed me on both cheeks.

“You’ve been spending too much time with all those Europeans.” I said, jokingly wiping my face. “You were never one for contact before.”

“Yes, well. People change, Eddie.” He grinned. “Now, come on. Time for you to see why I’ve called you here.” We walked toward a jeep by the side of the runway, all decked out in military green with a gunner on the back. “Don’t mind Aldo. He’s not one for talking much.”

“Okay, but why do you need a tail gunner?”

“We’ve had some issues with the wildlife.” He cut off, quickly, then told Aldo to be prepared.

I’ve never seen anyone drive like that. It was like he needed to be at the place he was going twenty minutes ago, or he was going to be shot. Running a gauntlet, but why? “Do you have to go so quickly?” i asked, but he never replied. He just sat, grimly staring ahead, a stark change from the man I’d met at the runway.

It was all explained later, when we got to The Forge.

Just a short one today. Need to get back into the swing of things (and catch up) but this is, in my head, the beginning of a classic adventure. Find the artifact, save the world. Etcetera. 

The Idiot in Tin Foil

 

Day 287: Five ideas for a novel that you’ll never write.

 

The day that the demons came, I was making pasta bake for Suzie Macmillan and Edwin Hall. Our lectures had finished at three on Tuesdays, so it was only right and proper that one of us made food before we all headed to the bar. This particular Tuesday, the wheel had turned once more to point to me and my sub-par culinary skills.

“Do I have to cook?” I asked as we walked away from Professor Edward’s talk on Demons in Fiction and Fact. We figured it would be an easy way to make up some credits, thus allowing us to spend more time in the pub. It turned out to be very dull and uninteresting, just Edwards droning on about representations of demons in the Catholic Church.

“Yes, Darwin.” Suzie replied, tossing her hair over her shoulder. She had a habit of doing that, as if she were using it to flick away a fly or something. Either way, her tone made it clear that I would be cooking.

I hate cooking.

Edwin had moved off to one side, squinting through his thick glasses as if he were staring at the tip of his nose. “I’ll see you guys in a bit. Meet you at Darwin’s, yeah?” Then he just ran across the green, clutching his books to his chest.

Suzie stared after him, then shook her head. “I’ll never understand that boy. Right, I’m off. I’ll be round at six, yeah?”

“Yeah. It’ll be ready.” I said, knowing two facts perfectly well. Dinner would not be ready and Suzie wouldn’t be at my place for six. She preferred to arrive… Fashionably late.

It was one of the reasons I knew something was wrong, actually. Five to six and Suzie was banging on my door and swearing at me to open the door. She’s never been on time for the past three years.

Something was definitely wrong.

The ideas here are: 

  • The demon invasion
  • The odd love triangle
  • The strangely specific story telling
  • The mentor Professor Edwards
  • The character called Darwin

I’ve had a few of these ideas floating around for a while, so I thought I’d throw them all in together and see what came out.

The Idiot in Tin Foil

Day 286: Write a scene in which a women is fired after only a week on the job. Just a week earlier, the same person who is now firing her was very persuasive in convincing her to take the job.

 

Grakus Ironskull, of the Dark Isles Ironskulls, has never been very comfortable at a desk. His armour is designed for battle, not a war of words and intrigue and as such keeps catching on drawers. His six foot seven, broad-shouldered frame also doesn’t help, as the desk itself is built for a clerk, or a dogsbody, or anyone that has never seen battle in their life.

Somebody knocked at the door. “My lord Ironskull!” Arden Shipman, his second in command, called through. “Captain Havisdotter has arrived.”

“Send her in.” He shouted back, looking down at the reports before him. This was not going to be a fun meeting, to say the least.

Fjonna Havisdotter stepped into the room and snapped to attention. She was every image of the dutiful soldier, leather armour moulded to her body to allow for greater range of movement, hair cut short to prevent the enemy getting a handhold in close combat. By her side hung two blades that danced on the line between long knife and short sword, both singing as they cut the air as she walked.

“General Ironskull, Sir.”

“Havisdotter. Take a seat.” He raised a mailed glove, gesturing to the seat before the desk. She broke from her rigid pose and sat down, placing her hands on her knees and giving every impression of being as at attention as before. “Last week, I asked if you would become Captain of the Seventh. What did you tell me when I first asked?”

“I said no, Sir.” She swallowed, not in a fearful way, more of a challenge. “I specifically requested I stay with the Valkyries.”

“Indeed. I then asked once again. I told you I’d not seen a warrior of your prowess since my own youth. You then told me, what?”

“That I had much more to learn and that the best place for me was the Valkyries.”

“Exactly.” Grakus lifted his hand to his chin, scratching the rough beard covering a healing wound. A close call with a Mallian death squad had nearly taken his jaw off. The Seventh, his chosen warband at the time, had almost let him die. Their captain, Mors Stormsearch, had disappeared at the first hint of battle. “I then insisted. I said that the Valkyries had other capable leaders rising through the ranks and that you, personally, should be commanding. Not following the orders of Niamh Seacrest. I instructed you to take charge of the Seventh.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“So, Havisdotter, I’d like you to tell me what happened at Barock Pass. Then I have to make a decision as to whether I release you from your duties or kill you where you sit.” Grakus smiled as he slid the plate gloves over his hands. “Move for the knives, you die. Move at all, you die. Talk and I’ll make my decision.”

Fjonna thought for a moment. She was considering making a run for it, making an attack on the General. Here at Portin’s Keep, she wouldn’t make it fourteen yards before there were three crossbows pointed at her. Those options were out. She analysed other possibilities, going for the window, calling to her sisters in arms. None of them came through.

“Very well. Barock Pass.” She took a deep breath.

The Idiot in Tin Foil

Day 285: Write a scene full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

 

It is the tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

The warband of ideas that roams my head, pillaging the land and laying siege to the fortresses of my mind, chooses to remain silent. Their war cries, usually so overbearing in their efforts to shout out the thunder, instead have become muted conversation that rolls across the landscape on a gentle wind.

A howl, like every wolf in existence choosing to join the chorus, emanates from some unseen monster behind a distant hill. It is accompanied by a distant rumble, that ancient monster clambering to its feet.

The warband has dissipated. They seek refuge from this monster’s unholy shriek, its imposing presence. It crows from its hideout behind the horizon. The rumble comes again a the giant maw opens, shaking the very foundations of this landscape. The ideas and their usual raucous carousing have fallen silent, leaving nothing but me and the monster.

“Hello, writer’s block.”

The Idiot in Tin Foil

Day 284:Write a message in a bottle. Write about the person who finds it.

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Stanley Livingstone leaves his house at thirteen minutes past seven every morning. He is dressed in his high-visibility jacket, his running trousers and his bright red trainers, a Christmas present from a well-meaning but fashion unconscious relative. He checks his fitness tracker and starts his music playing as he sets off.

The sounds of repetitive bass fills his mind, pushing out all his thoughts of the day ahead. There is nothing but him and the music as he heads towards the beach. Stanley loves it at this time, when he doesn’t have to dart around tourists and dog walkers. He can even, should he so wish, get right down to the water and run through the spray.

On this day, he does so. His trainers sink slightly as he powers across the sand, pushing himself to the limit. He feels like he has to work the stress out this morning, as he’s got a very full day ahead.

Suddenly, his foot strikes an object hidden in the sand and he goes flying. He sees the ground rushing up toward him, barely with time to swear to himself before he’s sprawled in the sand. He flips onto his back to look at the thing that tripped him, to find a green bottle sitting in the sand. He starts to get up, only to pause.

There’s a piece of paper in the bottle.

He pulls the bottle from the sand’s grip and peers inside. The paper is tightly rolled, held in its coil by a lady’s hair tie. He considers, then decides to head home. His routine has already been disrupted and at forty-four minutes past seven the crossroads always gets blocked.

When he gets back to his flat, he places the bottle on his breakfast bar as he makes his food. The paper is sitting in his mind, niggling until he can’t take it any more. He picks the bottle from the table and slowly eases the cork from the neck. He’s never been one for mysteries but this has caught his attention.

The paper slides from the bottle easily and lands in his accepting palm. He quickly unfurls it and begins to read…

To whomever finds this note,
I had to write this down. I had to get my story out in the hope that somebody trustworthy will find it. My partner and I have followed this as far as we can, but the 
Molly May is sinking. We are far from the shipping lanes between the Cape of Good Hope and the Western tip of Australia. We thought that we’d found it.
We were wrong.
Now, if you find this note and I pray that you do, go to Hannigan’s in Perth. Take this note and apologise to Hoskin that we lost his boat.
We must have made a mistake with the Verses. Hoskin has a copy. Get them and go to Isobel McCluskey at ANU. Maybe she’ll find something in the physical copy that we missed.
Whoever you are, I hope this works out for you. I’m sorry.
Anna Harris and Peter Williams

Stanley looked at the note. He was still looking at the note when his mobile phone began to ring.

“Stan? It’s Jerry. Look, there’s been a change of plan. We need you to go to the Perth office.” Stanley said nothing, just looked at the phone then back to the note. This couldn’t be a coincidence. This was all a hoax, a big joke that they were playing on him. Perhaps everyone would be waiting at this Hannigan’s bar to laugh at him. “Stan? Stan? You gonna say something or you just gonna leave me hanging?”

“Yeah, sure. I’ll do it.”

“Great, we’ll send you the email ticket. You’ve got the company card still, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Excellent. You’re meeting some of our top clients out there, so take the good suit.” With that, Jerry hung up. No goodbye, no sign off, just the end of the conversation and a dead phone line.

“Ask for Hoskin. The Verses.” He muttered to himself as he went to pack. “Hmph.”

The Idiot in Tin Foil

Day 283: Why your boss should give you a raise.

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“Marisa, please send in Mr Carmichael.” The voice that came through the small speaker was tinny and distant, but still drove fear into Geoffrey’s heart like a spike. He rose slowly from the small plastic chair that seemed to belong in a child’s classroom than the waiting room of his boss, then headed through the door with a gulp.

Inside, there was a second small plastic chair in front of a large mahogany desk. Behind the desk sat his boss, Mr Zebub. Geoffrey couldn’t see his face as he was shrouded in darkness, but upon the desk lay mounds and mounds of food. It ranged from fantastical creations of spun sugar and delicate chocolate all the way through to a sad, lonely McDonald’s cheeseburger, deflated in its wrapper. “Mr Carmichael,” he said, slurping his way around the words, “I understand you’re here to discuss your pay?”

“That’s right, Sir.” Geoffrey moved forward to the small chair, briefcase held in his white-knuckled hand. “I’d like to petition for a raise.”

“This should be interesting. Go on.” A hand appeared from the darkness, folds of fat bulging around a ruby ring on every finger. It snatched up the cheeseburger then disappeared back into the dark. The sound of a cheeseburger being swallowed whole echoed around the large office.

“Well, Sir, I’m the best employee here. I’m a good worker.”

“Pah, none of you are good enough.”

“I’ve been effectively running my department following the budget cuts. I seamlessly integrated O’Leary’s role with my own following his termination.” Carmichael hesitated on the word termination, feeling his Adam’s apple move in his throat like a target for a hungry wolf.”

“Well, that’s in the job description.”

“Was the Uprising in the description, Sir? Seeing as I led the seventh floor in the charge that “won the day”, including the retaking of the prints and supplies cupboard, along with the break room.”

“True, I’m not sure how we’d have coped without the coffee. Jenkins barely survives without the stuff.” Zebub slurped and snorted, the hand once again emerging to snatch a precariously balanced muffin. “Then there’s Donna and her staples. She’s a madwoman with that bloody stapler.”

Carmichael gave a small cough, raising his slender fingers to his mouth. “Indeed. I also redirected the attentions of Miss Kimberley Watts, age seven and a quarter, away from the more secretive aspects of the building. Even after she was most insistent.”

“I did tell the higher-ups that “Bring Your Child To Work Day” was a bad plan. Even so, it’s definitely all there in the description. Take a look.” A piece of paper unfurled from the desk, rolling down to stop at Geoffrey’s feet. At the bottom were four lines of writing, detailing everything he’d just said. He pressed his finger against it and found that the ink was still wet. “See, right there in the description. Now, if that’s all, I’ve heard rumours about the Ninth having a party after work and I want to see if there’s a buffet.”

Carmichael stood up and turned to leave. He looked around the dark office, the portraits hanging on the walls, then wheeled back round. “Actually, Sir, that’s not all. You see, I also have a number of photos to show you.”

Zebub’s chair creaked as he leaned forward. “Photos? I’ve never really been one for art.”

“I think you’ll like these.” The briefcase popped open and the first photo was removed. It showed a shadowy bedroom, with Zebub’s secretary lying naked on a bed and a fat hand with a distinctive ruby ring on each finger working its way up her thigh. “How would your wife feel about this photo, Mr Zebub?”

Zebub’s laugh shook the windows. “She knows! You think you can come in here and blackmail me with some pictures of me screwing the secretary? My wife sometimes joins in! Come one, Geoff, either try harder or get the fuck out of my office.”

Carmichael smiled to himself. His next photo was a surefire raise winner. He passed it to Zebub, who snatched it from his trembling hand.

Fifteen minutes later, Carmichael walked out of the office holding a signed agreement for an increase in his salary. He looked down at the photo of an extremely fat man holding an oversized cheque for £1,000,000. The recipient, in this case, had been the British Heart Foundation. The photo below showed another cheque going to UNICEF. Then one for Make A Wish. Fifteen photos in all. He looked back at the glass-fronted door and the words etched in gold on its frosted surface.

B. L. Zebub
Prince Of Hell (Gluttony)

It wasn’t always a fun job, but Geoff got by. There were certainly worse places to work than Hell.

The Idiot in Tin Foil