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

Day 268: You can keep only one memory from your entire life. What will it be?

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I knelt before the Splendour and awaited my judgement.

“You know that those who come before me must pay a price, do you not?” It asked me, a voice like church bells ringing next to my ear.

“Aye, that I do.” I replied, my eyes firmly focused on the floor. I could feel the heat radiating from this being, this raw power that if I looked would strip me away and leave nothing behind but an husk, an empty shell that once was me. “I’ll pay it, but you must keep them safe.”

“Upon whom would you confer the honour of my protection? Nina, perhaps?” Nina’s face, red hair framing a multitude of freckles on her alabaster skin, appeared before my screwed shut eyes. She stared into me, through me, past me with that piercing stare of hers, a feeble pretense at the Splendour’s power, her lips moving to repeat the moment I had seen in my dreams so many times over, her admission and her promised departure. “Or perhaps your father?”

This time, it was my father’s hands that swam through the darkness. Strong hands, with wide knuckles. Hands made for working, as he had every day until his mind had escaped him and left him confused. They reached out towards me, old scars peppering the surface of the veined skin, before turning the palms upwards to reveal the deep crevasses, so ingrained with dirt, begging for my help, before vanishing into the darkness.

“Yes. But there’s more.”

“Really? You would do such a thing? For your mother?”

Long red painted nails flashed through the darkness and caught a memory on the cheek, leaving three blood red lines raised on the skin. “Your sister?”

A hand lets go of mine and a shadowy figure walks into a distant sunset. “Is there anybody I’ve missed?”

I say nothing, feeling my emotions surge within me like a tidal wave, my fear, my anger, my hatred all fighting for control of my weary body. My lips were trying to move, trying to force out words saying that I’d changed my mind, that I wouldn’t go through with it. Then a calm rang out, like a bell echoing through a still night. I found my control again.

“So tell me. Who would you have me save?” I heard a whisper as the Splendour knelt beside me. “I who am known by many names. What would you ask of me who has been at the forefront of civilisation since mankind realised that fire burns and water is wet, that the sun brings light and predators are bad? Me, who has received all of their prayers and wishes? Ra, Zeus, Odin, God… It doesn’t matter what name I had. Sometimes I was a multitude, sometimes I was alone.” His breath brushed past my ear, an intimacy I had been unprepared for. “They always ask and they always refuse when they find out the cost. So, what is it, Henry Miles? Son of a blacksmith, general waste of space? What would you have me do?”

“Leave.” I replied. “Leave and never return. Spare them all.” I was struggling with the words again, thick like treacle as they oozed from my brain. “Let us make our own mistakes.”

The Splendour sighed and stood up, its robes rustling. I eased an eye open, taking care to keep my stare on the cold, hard ground. “The cost is high. I will take everything that is you. All of your memories, every experience. Your highest points, your lowest points, I will leave nothing behind. You will never have existed. There will be no songs, no stories about Henry Miles, the Saviour. There will be naught of you that exists, has ever existed or will ever exist. You will…” It paused, as if struggling for words. “Poof. There will be nothing.”

“I know,” I said beneath my breath, “But it’s a price worth paying.”

“For everyone? What about the evil people? The truly evil, those that would hurt another, squander wealth and opportunity while others died in a slum?”

“Everyone deserves their chance.” I took a deep breath, steeling myself for what was about to happen. “I will do it. I will sacrifice to save.”

I felt a hand on my shoulder, then beneath my chin. My eyes followed the flow of the robes to the burning pits of gold that were set into the Splendour’s face. “Child, you are the bravest who has ever found me. You will be remembered by none but me, but I will leave you with one thing. One memory to accompany you through oblivion. Choose quickly, for you don’t have much time.”

I didn’t need any time. I talked for a few moments and the Splendour stroked its chin thoughtfully, before it agreed. My eyes remained locked on the burning gold and I felt my soul, my spirit diminishing in the light. I was being reduced to nothing.

 

I was awoken by a knocking at my door. My eyes took their time to adjust to the harsh sunlight streaming through the windows. My father has just walked in and pulled me from my bed, placing me over his shoulder as I yell in delight, before he carries me downstairs to where my mother and my sister are waiting. “Happy birthday, Henry!” They say, smiling wide as they gesture towards the table. Before me is a spread fit for a king that must have taken months to save for. I pull my family into a hug, but before we can begin to eat a bell sounds. I throw the front door open wide to find Nina looking at me, shy but piercing eyes peering out of a freckled face. I take her hand and pull her inside.

 

I was awoken by a knocking at my door…

The Idiot in Tin Foil

Day 251: A strange girl who hides herself under layers and layers of clothing

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Lisa Matthews walks along Kedleston Road every day at half past six. She is always, come rain or shine, bundled in no less than seven layers, a coat, a jacket, a jumper. Even her legs do not escape this constricting embrace of clothing, with layers of tights and leggings. People who pass her will whisper to one another as though sharing a secret. “How on earth can she be wearing all of that clothing in this heat? Surely she must be boiling!” Yet Lisa never seems to sweat. She will have a thick woollen scarf wrapped around her neck with a matching bobble hat perched atop her head, covering a blonde bob, cut as short as she could manage.

You see, there is a reason that Lisa wears all of these clothes. It isn’t one that any who pass her have come up with yet. She is not mentally ill, she is not medically ill. She has no scars or injuries to hide. Her reason is that she seeks the warmth, wherever it is. In this case, if she has to travel anywhere, she must do so within this warm cocoon, smothering her skin as if forcing it to keep her secret. The answer is really quite simple.

Lisa Matthews is dead.

You see, the dark places are certainly not the inferno of legend. No, the dark places are very cold indeed and yet so very few come back…

The Idiot in Tin Foil

Day 133: The kill fee

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‘My price has changed.’ The shadow whispered with a hiss. Irwin shrank back against this evil, but couldn’t move his booted feet.

‘For, for why?’ His words stumbled from his mouth, tumbling slowly through the air only to be rebuffed by a horrendous screech. The walls themselves trembled in fear and Irwin shrank into himself, a mouse in human form.

‘You dare to question? Your deed is done, your rival lies a victim of the eternal sleep and you question my price?’

‘N-n-n-no.’ A timid little squeak. ‘How much more do you want? I have reserves. I have savings. I-I-I…’

‘Shhhh.’ The cowled figure moved towards him with a clicking sound, until the darkness of the hood was hovering mere inches away from Irwin’s ear. ‘The Veterans always take their price. Freely or by force. We do not lack in riches.’

A harsh grating flowed and Irwin realised the shadow was attempting to laugh. ‘If I wanted your money, Saranda, I would have taken it. You possess something the Veterans want. What will it be, Saranda? Our contract states that we may change the price and think of all the gold that you will save if you just…’ The figure sniffed, deeply, a mockery of intimacy. ‘Send the girl to us.’

Irwin’s spine flickered into existence for a moment as he mustered the strength to say no. It died quickly as the Veteran turned and rushed towards him. ‘Everything you do you do for material wealth, Saranda! You retained the Veterans to gain more money, you force her to slave for you to get more money, it is all about money!’ The creature drew breath, sharply, for another tirade. ‘Think, Saranda. Think of the gold that will pile up if you don’t have to pay for her. Can you see it, those shiny yellow circles spinning away in the darkness of your greedy little mind? She comes to us!’

Irwin’s resolve disappeared as quickly as it had risen, worn away by an unstoppable tide of greed and fear. ‘V-v-very well. The girl will come to you. Three days hence.’

The creature leaned in and whispered, barely above silence, ‘Very well, Saranda. Your fees are paid.’

Irwin never saw the creature leave, his eyes screwed tightly shut in terror. ‘My poor Arianne.’ He choked. ‘Forgive me.’

How far would you go for greed? How far would you go for love? Where does your balance lie?

The Idiot in Tin Foil

Day 117: A character discovers an object hidden many years ago in a family home

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Here my story ends. You have joined me for my trials and tribulations, my journey on the Afghan Hound and the relentless hounding that has followed me. The voices refuse to stop, they chase me, forever. I went to destroy the (the words here is blurred and illegible, it appears by tears. Further words blurred in such a manner in this copy will be represented by parentheses) but I couldn’t. It has such beauty. The (           ) and the artistry.  Every time I go near it, I hear it sing(   ), (          ) to me. I want to let it go, but I can’t. I put my hands in the flames before I (                            ) in, and withdrew them once they were red and raw. It punished me for daring to defy. 

I have decided. I will use the remains of my willpower and hide it. They are rebuilding the stable house at the manor, where they have said that they will be blocking up the cellar. I will put the object in there. 

I will then do the honourable thing. I will not inflict it upon the world. I shall remove the offending item in the equation. I will go on my terms, burnt hands and all. 

Consider this the farewell of Oscar Darius Hartwell. May this letter explain my journey. And may God help anybody who discovers it. 

We’ve lived in the Stable all my life. My family have been groundskeepers for the Hartwells for years. Me and Rupert Hartwell had spent years building dens in the woods, having swordfights. When you’ve got a whole manor grounds to play through, your imagination is the limit.

Then we found the skeleton. We were deep in the woods, the sun streaming through the trees. I remember it so well. You know in autumn, where it gets just cold enough for a frost to settle? All the leaves go crunchy underfoot? Mum and Lady Hartwell had sent us out with scarves and hats armed against the weather.

We’d taken a different path to usual. Rupe had said he wanted to explore, instead of going to the usual places. And we’d found a house.

You know the classic haunted house? Smashed windows, door hanging open in a mockery of an inviting nature. A scent in the air, one of rotting vegetation and general disrepair. It looked like it had burnt once, but had managed to cling to its frame. ‘Come on, Dock, let’s have a look!’

I mutely shook my head. The building felt wrong. It felt evil. But it was too late. Rupe had disappeared inside and I did what everybody does. I followed him.

We were in there twenty minutes when we found it. Staring sockets, loose finger bones scattered across the burnt floorboards. There was a sealed document tube on the ground too. I opened it up and read the pages inside, covered with the cursive script of Oscar Darius Hartwell.

Rupe snatched it from my hands, his eyes devouring the words. ‘Dock, you see what this means?’

I said nothing. Just nodded, slowly.

‘We can find whatever he’s hidden?’

‘But…’

‘Now now. Would Captain Abraham Docker hesitate?’ I shook my head. Rupert always had had a silver tongue, weaving a web to capture anybody who listened. ‘I didn’t think so. SO why should Master Abraham Docker hesitate now?’ I could feel my body nodding even as my soul shivered. ‘Now come on. It’s in your basement! It could be anything. Treasure? Or a map?’ Rupert smiled at me, a confident grin. All that grin did for me was start gnawing on my soul with bright, perfectly spaced teeth.

We’d trekked back through the woods. Got into the Stable and Rupe dragged me down to the cellar. They’d uncovered it in ’95 and Mum was converting it into a games room. Rupe started tapping on the walls and the floor.

Plink.

Plink.

Thunk. A hollow echo. ‘Dock. We found something.’ The bright, pearly whites of dread began gnashing wildly, a deafening cacophony that chilled me to my core. Rupert picked up the hammer in the corner and drew it back, a gun poised to go off.

That’s the moment I remember. That’s the moment everything went to shit.

The Idiot in Tin Foil