Once again at the request of His Coolness, popfiend, and his weekly Writer’s Block Party — and because I had an hour or so to myself this evening after everyone else went to bed — I offer my answer to this week’s prompt, "Just me and my shadow." I’ve actually had the general idea since Tuesday when the ‘fiend first posted the notion, but I haven’t had time to do anything except ponder it until tonight.
NOTE: The following doesn’t represent a cry for help, or describes a real event, or anything of that nature. Scout’s honor and all that. It’s just me, running in the direction my gut signalled when I first read the WBP prompt and seeing what would happen. If anything, it’s an outgrowth of the flash fiction and other related stuff I’ve been writing in recent weeks. You know, working outside the comfort zones and whatnot. So, relax and breathe regular as you read, okay? 🙂
Without further ado…..
Just Me and My Shadow
Look at these assholes. Suckin’ on those cigarettes like ten-dollar crack whores and blowing smoke all over the damned place.
I glance to my right, worried that someone might overhear the remark. I always do that, even though nobody ever hears the voice. Nobody but me, anyway.
They’re always here, the smokers, hovering just under the awning that covers my office building’s main entrance. Our management had enacted a policy requiring smokers to stand no less than fifty feet from any of the building’s entrances. They’d even gone so far as to erect something like a picnic shelter out back, complete with a few tables and benches and a host of outdoor ashtrays.
But do they use ‘em? Hell, no. Instead, they mill about the front door like stray dogs, waitin’ for someone to step outside and throw them scraps.
I hate it when he starts to vent like this. Sometimes he gets so loud I have to squeeze my eyes shut and wait for him to simmer down. I have to be careful about that, though. Otherwise, I get funny looks from people.
Nobody gives a damn about you. They’re too wrapped up in their own shallow, pathetic lives to give you any notice. Case in point? Watch this.
Reaching the building where I work, I open the door, standing aside and holding it as an attractive woman with a cell phone to her ear exits, passing through the doorway without so much as a glance in my direction. In the corner of my eye, I can see my shadow glaring at me in disapproval.
See? Self-absorbed bitch can’t even be bothered to nod a thank you. Who raises these idiots? What the hell ever happened to manners? We go through this all the time. Why don’t you ever say anything to these jack-offs? Put ‘em in their place, for crying out loud.
He knows the answers. Hell, he knows everything—just ask him—but he keeps pestering me, anyway. He’s always hounding me, trying to get me to say or do something when I’d rather just take a deep breath and get on with life. He’s always been that way—assertive, fearless, eager to give voice to the words I’m unable or unwilling to speak aloud. I’ve never been good at direct confrontation, preferring instead to bide my time and gather whatever information I think I’ll need when I finally decide to take on whatever it is that’s bothering me.
Meanwhile, the rest of us grow older.
I step onto the elevator for the long ride up to my floor, maneuvering into the car along with about a dozen other worker drones. No one makes eye contact with anyone else; no morning pleasantries are exchanged. The only talking is from the one asshole in the back with his wireless headset, blathering on about some report he needs to have the instant he gets to his office. No one else seems to care, not even the couple of people who aren’t immersed in whatever crap is spewing from their individual sets of earphones. I look over at the wall next to me, and my shadow regarding me with his usual cynicism.
Look on the bright side. One way or another, this is probably the last time you’ll have to put up with this bullshit.
The elevator stops at the sixth floor and the doors open, and two or three people in the middle of the group shoulder their way past others to leave. A couple of idiots waiting outside the car immediately try to clamor aboard, naturally causing the expected clog up as those in the midst of this sudden commuting conflict begin attempting to stare down one another and wish the other moron out of the way.
You have to wait for somebody to get off before you can get on, dickheads. Someone sure mixed in extra helpings of stupid this morning, didn’t they?
He hasn’t always been this way. When I was a kid, he’d be the one who could make me laugh without fail. Always there, a step behind of ahead of me depending on the time of day, he used to offer me encouragement when I was feeling down or uncertain. There were countless times when I was ready to give up on something, but then a few reassuring words from him would make me get my act together.
Those were the days, eh?
Now, however, he’s pretty much a bastard.
And why not? You’re in a dead-end job where they won’t promote you or give you a raise even though you bust your ass for them every day. You should have quit two years ago, but you’ve been chicken shit. Now they’re layin’ off people left and right and sendin’ jobs overseas, and we both know your number’s comin’ up any time now.
Yes, he’s right, again. I know it’s coming, even though no one in our management chain would ever grow enough sack to admit it up front. Better to make us work our asses off in the vain hopes of keeping our jobs than give us any warning and chance to try and find something else with another company. Pricks.
We continue our odyssey until the elevator finally reaches the eleventh floor and I make my escape. Turning the corner, I navigate the maze of cubicles that forms the bulk of the floor toward the cramped gray box that’s my home away from home. A few co-workers are milling about, drinking coffee and shooting the shit about all manner of inane topics—what they watched on TV last night, whose kid is sick, who got laid, whatever. I never feel comfortable in such social situations, only offering a few nods and smiles as I make my way down the narrow aisle to my cubicle.
Ah, caught ya lookin’. Tina does have a sweet ass, doesn’t she?
I give my shadow a scathing glare as I enter my claustrophobic workspace. He says nothing, merely watching me from his customary place on the drab gray material comprising the cubicle wall as I set down my messenger bag. I’m reaching to turn on my computer when I notice the handwritten note laying atop my desk blotter. It’s short and to the point: “Meeting in the conference room at 9.”
There’s no name signed to the note, but I recognize the handwriting as that of Alicia, my manager. Checking my watch, I see that it’s almost nine now. Alicia’s in charge of thirty people, but I poke my head above my cube’s low wall and note that no one in my immediate vicinity seems in a hurry to head to the conference room. I get a sudden feeling in the pit of my stomach. Looking toward the glass-walled conference room at the center of the floor, I see Alicia already there, sitting at the head of the oval table along with a woman I don’t recognize but who has that unmistakable air of representing Human Resources. The man standing by the door is easily recognizable by his blue blazer as being part of the company’s security team.
Shit. Today’s the day. No more waiting, no more wondering.
Coach wants to see you, brother. Take your playbook.
Well, I’ve got their playbook.
Ignoring the shadow’s taunts, I instead reach into my messenger bag and extract the thick manila file folder. Inside is all of the ammunition I’ve been compiling for nearly a year. Every condescending, patronizing, and just plain harassing e-Mail I’ve received from Alicia. Copies of various reports I’ve created, each of which carry all manner of scathing, even insulting remarks across the pages. Also included are copies of the letters I’ve sent to Human Resources, seeking redress for the way I’ve been treated. Everything’s dated, everything’s logged. It’s all here, waiting for me to make use of it in brutal fashion.
I’m not leaving without the last word, by God.
Now you’re talkin’! I wondered last night if you’d have the balls for this. Don’t let me down now. How’s that saying go? Better to burn out, than to fade away, right? Make ‘em remember you, bro.
Taking a few deep breaths to calm myself, I draw myself up and step from my cubicle into the aisle, holding the file to my chest as though to protect it. Moving past a few lingering co-workers whose jobs are secure and so are content to keep jabbering about all manner of non-work subjects, I head toward the conference room.
I halt my advance as Linda Crane steps into the passageway, blocking my path. She sees me and we both freeze, staring at one another and both realizing that we’re both here for the same reason today. Her eyes are red and puffy, and in them I see the same turmoil that’s been eating at me for days, along with the fearful realization that the moment of truth is upon me. Her tears have streaked her mascara, staining her cheeks with dark lines. She’s holding a note in her left hand that looks a lot like the one on my desk. In her other hand is a gun, which I don’t see until she sticks the muzzle in my face.
Shit! Look out!
Nobody hears my shadow’s warning, of course. Nobody but me, anyway.
– END –
Copyright © 2007 by Dayton Ward. Permission granted to reproduce and distribute copies of this work for nonprofit purposes, provided that the author, source, and copyright notice are included with each distribution.