Monday, March 12, 2007

One Over, Three Down

Following is a short story I wrote riffed from my buddy Andy's office issues.

6 comments:

Niteowl said...

ONE OVER, THREE DOWN

Aerdna lifted up an earphone. It was still going. Even through her noise-cancelling super-duper European over priced headphones, she could hear it: a hollow sucking sound. Not the air conditioner, which rivaled a small turbo prop. It sounded like someone was trying to clean their teeth by sucking between the gums.
    It most definitely sounded like it was coming from the cubicle over. But Aerdna was a temp. And even if she wasn't, friendliness wasn't her forte. Quippy pointed remarks about blatant hypocrisy of co-workers, maybe. Friendly banter about husbands and wives she'd forget before lunch, not so much. Still. Maybe this sound was enough for her to take a friendly meander over.
    She went to get water. An excuse to peak at what the person's name was. Susan Hopkins, apparently. She brought up the corporate email, and found her name. A somewhat friendly email beat a face to face any day.
    
    Hi Susan,
    This is Aerdna, the temp, my cubicle is around your area. Do you hear that sucking sound?
    Regards,
    Aerdna

    Salutations Aerdna!
    Good to see a friendly email from a coworker, even if you are only with our little family for a short time! Yeah, I know what you mean. I was hearing the same thing. I've asked all my girlfriends who have come by, and they don't hear anything. Weird huh?
    Cheers!
    Susan
    
    Aerdna sipped her water slowly. Now that was one cheerful employee. She thanked her instincts for emailing her. She'd probably still be talking, that is, listening to good old Susan, well past quitting time. She wasn't one to interrupt while another was blathering. But she had the unfortunate being bored by blather quite quickly. She crossed her self ironically. Dodged that bullet.
    She brought up her favourite Buffy fan site. Time to post on the boards about theories and random errata. Lunch time wasn't for eating, it was for Buffy gossip! The forum she was a long time member had degenerated somewhat into talking about all sorts of projects all the alumni had gone onto. But Aerdna was a staunch supporter of Buffy. Annoyingly so, by any indication from her fellow forumites.
    The sucking continued.
    There was just going to be nothing doing. Maybe this Susan was just doing it subconsciously. Aerdna popped her head up quick, and peered into Susan's cubicle. One over and three down. There she was with a coworker. The same one she saw when she got a drink of water? She popped back down before any chatty cathys saw her, a ripe target for chit chat.

    Susan,
    Is it just me, or is that sucking sound getting louder? I mean, really. It's so loud.
    Aerdna

    Halllooo Aerdna!
    Yeah, I no what you meen. It sure is loud, isn't it? I think I'll try and have my cubikle moved.
    Almost quitin time!
    Susan

    Aerdna read over the email slowly. Apparently Susan didn't use a spell checker. Or maybe she was in a rush. Or maybe it had to do with what she saw in the cubicle.
    No, that couldn't be it.
    What was it that she saw? It was just another coworker. Helping her out with something. That's all it was. Maybe a bit of office romance. What did she care?

                                                        ***

That night she curled up to season 3 of Buffy, making her way through the series for the countless time. She got her popcorn, her hot cocoa, and her lucky slayer stake.
    She had bought a real prop one on eBay. But too late she realized it was rubber, for safety, she understood. But she felt vaguely dirty holding a rubber stake, so she carved one from a branch. Even had it signed by Michelle Geller herself. It had heft to it. As if it knew it was lethal, particularly to vampires.
    Fictitious vampires, she reminded herself.
    A thought trailed through her mind, Susan's cubicle.... her with a friend... a coworker helping her out with a tricky spreadsheet.
    That's what it was.

                                                        ***

Aerdna tried to get back to work. But the newer temp had come by, asking questions. He had -- as was usual in the temp industry -- finished all his work, and was wondering what to do with the rest of his day. Aerdna wasn't quite sure what to tell him. Mainly because he had the deepest green eyes.
    They were distracting.
    At lunch she took him out to the nearest fast food joint. The usual fare in the downtown core. Pre-processed foodstuffs with pictures that in no way resembled what you ordered; busy business men fighting, and losing spectacularly, to the bulge; people who, except for their stunning odour, had nothing to their name. Not that Aerdna noticed. She was too busy noticing the other features of Chip, the new temp.
    "So really, Chip, that's your name? You played some sort of varsity sport or something?"
    "Uh, something like that. I actually think it was just an effort by my family to make me somewhat normal. A familial nickname, if you will."
    "Somewhat normal?"
    He shrugged. "Normal by their standards."
    "And you were fine with this renaming? What's your real name?"
    Chip looked at his fingernails in his best impression of a socialite, "I really don't know you well enough. And to tell you honestly, unless I come down with a crippling disease which requires you to donate one of your more important organs, I don't think I ever will."
    Aerdna blew her bangs out of her way. If she was a more confident woman, she would've arched her eyebrows and made a witty yet slightly suggestive remark. But she wasn't.
    "Yeah, well. So. New temp, new temp, that's got to be exciting."
    "Oh, yes, you have no idea. I'm so glad I have a semi-lifer to talk to. I'm sure it won't be a few weeks before they welcome you into the zomb-- I mean the permanent worker fold."
    She threw a fry at him.
    "No, I'm sure, don't worry, that gold watch and tacky retirement party is in your future. " He framed her, as if shooting a movie.
    "You're not very nice to people you meet are you? Did you lead a super loner black raincoat life in high school?"
    Chip tried his best Southern gentleman's accent. "I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about Miz Aerdna."
    "So, anyways, you don't work near where I do, but there is this constant sucking sound coming from a coworker. It's driving me insane."
    "Are you sure that's just not her life, being sucked by the corporate behemoth that is Ridgework Insurance?"
    "Ha, ha. No, seriously. And it seems like the only people who are bothered by it are me and her."
    "I think someone has too much time on their hands if they are being bothered by a sucking sound. Just put your headphones and listen to your music, like I do."
    "I would but -- oh, don't you notice how all the lifers totally give you a look when you put your headphones on."
    "Totally, like it's against some unknown procedure. Even though no one talks to us."
    The conversation went to strange and witty places. She forgot all about Susan's coworker, and the sound.
    Chip really had nice eyes.

                                                        ***

The clock crawled to 2:15pm. It was like someone had taken it behind the shed and done unspeakable damage to its legs. It would not follow the generally acceptable speed. It had to move glacially, and at other times only give the impression of moving.
    Aerdna moved numbers around her spreadsheet. She had been done at 11:20 am. She just had to put in her time.
    And then the sucking started up again.
    She considered emailing Susan again. Although, it would probably invite more oh so cheerful emails back. And might even escalate --yes escalate, like some clandestine war in South America-- to an invite to coffee. And of course, she'd look like a total dolt if she refused.
    The sound got louder.
    It was broken by a low moan. Mostly of pain, with just a sliver of... well, it sounded like some sort of scandalous pleasure. She popped her head up. A few of the other coworkers gave cursory glances to the direction of the moan. But they just as quickly got back to their games of solitaire and endless office gossip.
    She forced herself to take a quick peek, one over, three down. There was Susan, in her frumpy faux Victorian blouse. On a hip twenty something with heavy eyeliner, it might have, no, it would still look ridiculous. But on Susan, it looked like she was going to a themed dress up party, where the theme was Frumpy Women of 70's British Sitcoms. But it wasn't the fashion sense that irked Aerdna (the last time she had been in fashion was Jubal Stetson's 6th grade birthday party, and even then, it was only by accident), it was her coworker. Still there, still hovering over her, helping her out. How much help did Susan need?

    Hi Susan,
    Just wondering what you're working on. Looks like a doozy, seems like you have coworkers over there all the time.
    Curious,
    Aerdna

    Hey Aerdna Baby!
    Oh, thos are just my friendz. We go to coffee. No bigi.
    Toodles!
    Susan

Friends? But it was just one...
    What was with the spelling? Seemed Susan was learning to spell like some tween texter.
    She got up and went to get some water. She never did, usually. It was a bit ridiculous that office workers would need a constant supply of water like NFL linebackers or something. It could've been worse, she supposed, it could have been Gatorade.
    She slowed at Susan's desk. Thankfully, she didn't even know what Aerdna looked like, so Aerdna slowed down quite a bit, and took a look at her coworker.
    He wore a black, flawless, three piece suit. With hair that was far too long to be regulation for any company. He had his slender, almost effeminate hands on Susan's shoulders, and his head was right over Susan's. It was a strangely intimate position.    
    Aerdna had eavesdropped enough to realize that Susan was married. But if she was, then the office would be all aflutter with this flirting. The man's shoulders started to turn toward Aerdna, she looked at the ground and continued to the water cooler.
    
    Yo Aerdria!
    So I swung by your cubicle, and you weren't there. What's up?
    Chip

    Chip
    Sorry, was investigating the whole sucking sound thing. Did you hear it when you came by?

    Aerdria
    What? There was no sound
    C

    You sir, are insane. Or deaf. Or both, which is really the worst of all possible worlds.
    A

                                                        ***

That night she took a break and watched Underworld. The vampires all had on perfect black suits. Quite fetching, actually.
    A thought proceeded to run wildly rampant in her skull. Perfect black suit. Perfect black suit. No... That would be too weird even for her. No matter how many times she wished to be given the kiss of eternal death by David Boreanaz, it would never be reality.
    But still.
    Such close intimate contact.
    The whole situation was giving her the creeps. More than she would admit to herself. But enough for her to pack her wooden stake to work. A talisman against the creepy crawlies.

    Aerdria!
    So did you go see an ear specialist last night? Because that sucking sound is all in your head. I think maybe you're inner child is trying to tell you something. Like get out of this job while you still can.
    Crap, I hope they don't monitor emails, or my life as a temp is numbered. That is, a life as a temp at this place. Ugh.
    C

    Chipperooni
    I'm am not going crazy. You are just deaf. Deaf and silly. Deaf and silly and not deserving of the hallowed title of "Temp."
    A

    Aerdna sure hoped she wasn't flirting. Last thing she needed was her own remake of "Disclosure" with a decidedly younger and cuter Michael Douglas. Did Michael Douglas have green eyes like Chip? So very distracting.
    An overly excited invite to another birthday celebration in the break room snapped her out of her reverie. She procrastinated as long as possible. Less time milling around with the friendly smiling faces of Ridgework Insurance.
    By the time she made her way to the break room they were handing out cake. Chip was at the far end, digging his way through his piece, keeping his head low, his smiles brief without eye contact. He was obviously an old hand at the work birthday celebration. She caught his eyes, his green eyes, and gave him a nod. Almost too curt, too nonchalant. She really hoped she hadn't given anything away. Cute guys were in such short number. Cute guys who could carry a conversation, of course.
    As she made her way -- again, cool, easy going, no pressure -- over to Chip, she saw Susan. And she was with the man.
    But something was not right.
    Susan just stood there, staring off into the distance. Coworkers tried to strike up conversations with her and she only stood there, nodding dumbly. From her cheery emails, this was not the Susan Aerdna had learned to know and avoid.
    But even that wasn't the worst of it.
    Her coworker was there. That man in the perfect black suit. And he was standing behind her, his fangs deep into her skull, sucking noisily.
    Aerdna was pretty sure she had had enough sleep. And her only dabbling in drugs had been that really terrible night she tried Ecstasy. It was on a whim from two friends from college. Needless to say that after that, their friendship became very, very awkward.
    But that wasn't it. And the rest of the people just walked by the spectacle without so much as a "What in blue hell is going on here!?". She shot a look over to Chip, then meaningfully at Susan. He only looked at Susan with mild confusion, then back at Aerdna with a "Aaaand?" expression.
    The vampire stopped its feeding. Susan stood there dazed. Then shuffled to a nearby chair and slumped into it. She looked around briefly. Aerdna watched the whole thing, her eyes not blinking, a cold sweat breaking out. Then Susan just let her head fall onto the table in front of her with a thunk. It was a thunk that had some finality to it. It sounded of death.
    One or two of the party gave her a glance, but then went back to their conversations.
    Aerdna stifled a scream.
    I'm just seeing things, Aerdna tried to reason. Susan is just tired. Just taking a well deserved nap. I've been watching too much Buffy.
    The vampire floated around the crowd. His eyes demurely flickering across the many coworkers.
    He stopped suddenly.
    His head snapped to Chip, and he licked his lips slowly, revealing fangs still grisly from his last meal of Susan. He slowly made his way over to Chip, lackadaisical, almost bored.
    Aerdna bolted back to her cubicle. She rummaged through her bag furiously, and found her stake. She wasn't sure it was going to work. But she wasn't going to let her last meaningful crush in years be brain drained by some vampire in a fancy black suit. It wasn't every day that hauntingly green eyes were paired with witty repartee. And damnit, she needed her repartee.
    But... But the more likely scenario was that she was going bat-shit insane, and she was about to ruin her only chance at a Chip filled date by running wildy into the break room brandishing a stake.
    On the slimmest of possibilities that she wasn't insane... She was about to let a vampire suck Chip's brains out. She took a step towards the break room. Stopped. Moved towards he bag, about to put away her stake. Stopped.
    She clenched her teeth hard against screaming.
    Clasping the stake, she sprinted back to the break room. Sweat broke across her brow. She shoved coworkers out of the way. Most still eating their cake. The vampire was almost upon Chip; who was now sitting, doing a Sudoku puzzle with almost too much concentration. Anything to avoid the conversation. He looked up just in time to see Aerdna barrelling through break room, stake raised high, a scream on her lips.
    He was looking at her, and not seeing the vampire three feet in front of him. She lunged swinging the stake wildly, hoping to hit the heart. She wasn't even sure if she could hit the heart from behind.
    Thunk.
    The stake found its mark. Aerdna tumbled to the ground. The vampire turned around slowly. The look of mild, bemused boredom replaced with rage, and confusion. He bared his fangs, and they seemed to grow. He lurched towards her. Then in a flash, his body caught fire. A quick, blue fire, that consumed him in seconds. After a few writhing moments and hollow screams, all that was left was a small pile of very fine, white ash.
    "Well, that's an entrance." said Chip.
    "I... I didn't.. You mean you didn't see.."
    "You know, you don't have to lunge at me if you want a date Aerdna. How's this Saturday? A Buffy Marathon isn't too nerdy for you, is it?"

andrea said...

AW! Jason, that was really sweet...I'm touched. I'm telling you, paranormal activity...RAMPANT in my office!

The Nighthawk said...

Good stuff man!

Grace said...

That was great!!! I was so completely into it. Me thinks you have to write more of these short stories.

Dave said...

J, you're BAT-SHIT INSANE! good reading. keep it up!

Niteowl said...

Awww! You guys are so nice! Thanks!!!