In case you missed it, the spirit of writer’s past overwhelmed me yesterday and I decided I needed to play Charles Dickens. So I’ve serialized a short story. You can catch up on part I, or read on for part II.
Going to work made me nervous. I wasn’t really surprised when he followed me out to the car and climbed in on the passenger side. What surprised me happened fifteen minutes later. Traffic was crawling slowly down I-25 toward my exit, and my phone dinged to let me know that my co-worker, Sally, who I thought was kind of cute, had commented on a Facebook photo of my dog.
“Cute dog.” She wrote.
I punched reply, and started to type “Just the dog?” When all of the sudden my strange companion snapped his fingers rapidly in agitation. I glanced up at him and he pointed desperately at the front window.
I looked up just in time to slam on the brakes and miss colliding with the bumper in front of me.
“Uh, thanks,” I said, going back to my phone.
He didn’t respond or make a sound that I noticed, but I felt sick, and put my phone away. Sally could wait until I finished my drive. I guess.
* * *
Nothing at the office felt unusual. No one commented on my strange companion, though he was there in the midst of every interaction. I could feel myself settling into this reality. Ok. So a weird guy follows me everywhere. As long as he doesn’t interfere — at least not beyond pointing out when I’m about to wreck my car — I can probably live with that, I thought. At least for the moment.
After writing a few emails and submitting an expense report, I was exhausted and felt like I deserved a little break. I’ve found this great browser game called Heroes of Mechanidar, where you fight epic battles in order to collect artistic cards of half-naked women holding swords. It’s not just women, there are also men, giant lizards, and half-snake people. But the men and lizards are pretty well covered in massive armor sets and the half-snake ladies still have large, barely-covered breasts. Not that any of that is important, except that I did feel weird about him looking over my shoulder as I played.
He looked back at me. Clearly, this seemed like a bad idea to him, but what business was it of his?
Hard work is important. I believe in it, it’s a value. Resting is also essential, though. So, I shouldn’t have felt guilty about taking a break. Clock-watching isn’t really my thing so I won’t claim that I worked a precise number of hours, or that my break was a certain number of minutes. There are guys that make everything into a legalistic thing, but I’m not one of them. On average, I think work was coming out ahead of my personal time.
I know, also, that my female co-workers might not love all the half-naked ladies, but it’s not like it was porn. It was just a game. I glared at my companion. Clearly, his presence was messing with me. Feeling guilty about taking a break at work is not part of my usual routine.
Just then, Gretchen, my boss, popped her head over the top of my cubical. Gretchen is a sixty-two-year-old divorcee. Her kids are grown, and the talk around the office is that she doesn’t have much of a life outside of work. I imagine she was never much to look at, but her cropped gray hair and well-tailored suits give her a professional air. Nimbly, I minimized my game, so only my report was visible on my screen, while also knocking my coffee mug over and ruining the print-outs I’d prepared.
“Hey, buddy. Great to see you!”
I was still fumbling to mop up the mess with a roll of toilet paper I’d filched from the employee restroom. Should I really have to purchase tissues for the office on my own dime? With all of that happening, it took me a moment to realize she wasn’t talking to me.
“Yeah, well, I’ve been pretty busy with work, y’know?” She fidgeted a bit as she answered a question I hadn’t heard. I looked up at her, my jaw hanging open a bit, and she turned to me.
“I didn’t know you two knew each other.” She gestured at the stranger as she spoke.
Gretchen knew my stalker? I wondered, did she put him up to this? Wouldn’t that be some sort of workplace harassment? Was this some secret program to check up on employees?
“You know this guy?” I asked, pointing a hostile finger at him and heavily emphasizing her potential culpability.
Her face flushed a little and she looked down. “I, uhhh… used to. It’s been a while.”
Sure it has, I thought. Gretchen was definitely number one on my stalker suspect list.
“You have the Farraday report for me?” She quickly changed the subject, and both of our eyes tracked to the brown mess of letter-sized pages, wadded toilet tissue, and spilled coffee.
“I—“ My indignation flickered out. “I need to print you another copy.”
She shrugged. “Just email it to me.”
As she walked away, I glanced back at my stalker. His eyes followed her, sad and longing.
Wait! They’d spoken. He’d asked her a question. I whirled in my chair to face him.
“You can talk!” I said with a pointing finger.
“Of course….” His smiling reply faded to a slight buzzing and I wondered about how the U.S. would do in the World Cup this year. Maybe this would be a good year for us… finally.
I looked up at him. He was staring at me. Waiting. Like he’d asked a question.
“Who are you, anyway?” I asked.
He smiled. “I’m glad you asked. I….”
My phone buzzed, and I tuned out the words as he continued talking.
Sally texted, “Lunch?”
“Yeah. I just need to send a report to G-ma. 5 min?” I typed back. Three little bouncing dots told me she was writing back. I waited. They continued to bounce. I looked at the ceiling and exhaled. How long did it take to type a reply?
“I’ll grab my jacket,” her message read.
I spun in my seat and pulled up my email so I could send the report to Gretchen.
To be continued… read part III
Check back tomorrow for part III, and take a minute to share your thoughts and comments with me below.