He laid his rifle and compass on the grass before taking a seat on a rock.
His soldier, Ash, must have been halfway towards the sunrise before realizing he was no longer behind him.
That kid… that girl… His soldier was young and enthusiastic with good knees, and would often walk ahead of him even though he should always be in the lead because he was her superior officer and she was the soldier.
Ash returned. “The sun is setting.”
“I see that,” He replied.
“Why are we stopping?” Ash questioned. “The shadows are on our tail.”
“The shadows are always on our tail,” He said. “Always will be.”
“Which is why we continue west during the day…. Sir,” Ash drew a cone. “We’re down to our last shelter cone.”
“I’m aware.” He massaged his knees.
“And we’re low on ammunition,” Ash added.
“That we are,” He said.
Ash groaned before taking a seat on the grass beside him.
“Ever seen the sunset?” He asked.
“We walk west,” Ash answered. “The sun sets in the west.”
“But have you ever paused to watch the sun… set?” He asked. “Or even the sun rise.”
Ash turned her mouth. “No… why would I?”
The young soldier looked frustrated, but he couldn’t tell whether the frustration stemmed from his questions, or his decision to rest.
“We fight shadows and we walk west,” Ash said. “There is no purpose in standing still to look up.”
“Why do we walk west?” He asked.
“Because… its what we were created to do,” Ash said.
“You sound frustrated,” He said.
“You continuously stop and ask silly question, sir.” Ash stood. “We are wasting time?”
“And you never wonder why we walk west…” He questioned again.
“The prophets said so,” Ash replied. “Our purpose is west.”
“What’s West?” He inquired. “I’ve lapped the world and have seen nothing.”
“Ever wonder what’s West? Why we walk, West?” He questioned.
“No.” Ash turned her back on him.
“Why not east? Or North…”
“No!” Ash paused to inhale. “We will know our purpose when we find it.”
“You sound so certain,” He said.
“It is not our job to be certain, sir,” Ash answered with venom.
“Is it not…” He replied.
“Stand up, sir…” Ash commanded. The enemy is clos–“
“Remain still.” A soft whisper carried on the wind. “Still… remain stilllll…”
“Shadows…” Ash drew her rifle. “They’re here, sir.”
“Yeah, as expected.” He reached down to reclaim his rifle from the grass.
Ash’s eyes widened as she stared behind him. “The sun sets on us… We need to move west.”
The girl looked ready for a fight.
“You go…” He said.
“What?” Ash reached for his arm. “Move, sir…now!”
He was done fighting. He no longer had the energy or faith or desire to fight.
He handed his rifle to Ash. “I’ll remain to watch the sunset.”
Ash dimmed her eyes at him before removing her hold. “You’re a stupid old man.”
It took the girl longer than he expected to stop calling him sir. He lost a bet with himself.
“Perhaps.” He reclaimed his compass from the grass and handed it to her. “Lead whoever you come across and lead them well.”
Ash snatched the compass and shook her head at him. “Stupid…”
Ash took off towards the what was left of the sun, that time without turning back. His soldier quickly disappeared below the setting horizon and over the grassy distance.
He wished Ash well. He hoped for her to meet someone younger and that she would lead them well.
A chill on his neck.
“I knew you’d catch up eventually,” He said.
“Remain… still,” The loudening whisper commanded.
He drew his canteen and took a drink as the shadows around him grew.
The sun was all but gone. The shadows were all but on top of him.
“Alright… I’m remaining still…” He called. “Now what?”
The sun vanished, stars appeared, and scythe shaped tentacles emerged from the grass.
No amount of caffeine could have woken him up that morning.
He stumbled off the elevator and shuffled his way through the dimly lit halls of his office building.
He didn’t feel like himself. He felt like someone else was in control of his body and he was just the passenger.
He swiped his badge.
He opened the door and entered his office through the kitchenette.
The office was quiet, which was usual for a Tuesday.
He was an hour behind his usual schedule but he was certain there wouldn’t be enough people present to notice.
He entered his office, gently shut the door, hung up his bookbag and jacket before taking a seat to power his computer.
He never shuts down his computer. He simply logs out, because it takes a whole millennia for it to boot, and part of him was hoping the constant running would burn out the computer so his employer would be forced to either get him a new one or telework.
He was burning out. He only logs out and never shuts down.
He left his office for the kitchen.
His coffee was cold. He needed the microwave.
He needed to believe the caffeine would kick in eventually.
“Morning?” Someone called.
He looked over his shoulder to greet the old man. “Morning, how was your weekend?”
“It was fine, thank you,” His old coworker replied.
“Was the office busy yesterday?” He asked.
“The office was closed,” His old coworker replied.
“Oh, wow,” He itched his beard. “I teleworked yesterday.”
“The boss let us out early on Friday,” His old coworker said.
“I can imagine,” He responded. “The place must’ve been a ghost town.”
His old coworker nodded.
“The boss here?” He asked.
“Not yet,” His old coworker replied.
“Okay, let me know if you need me for anything,” He said.
“I will,” His old coworker waved before exiting the kitchen.
He popped his coffee in the microwave and set it for thirty seconds before stretching his ailing knees.
He questioned whether there was a different life for him. Whether he had reached his cosmic peak, and working hard to leave the office life was like fighting gravity and that he’d be far happier accepting his pre-destined position in life.
He pulled his coffee from the microwave with two seconds left on the timer.
The coffee was lukewarm, but he didn’t have the patience to wait another thirty seconds for his caffeine. He needed his caffeine. He could do nothing about his mental tiredness, but the physical tiredness…. caffeine will hold him over until its time to head home.
He returned to his office and immediately guzzled down half of the lukewarm coffee.
He sat in front of his computer and opened his email.
No new emails.
The coffee was failing to rejuvenate him.
He had to accept the reality that no amount of coffee or prayers or well wishes will replenish his mental and physical energy.
It was time to accept the reality that he will always be tired. Tired and bored was his lot in life, and ironically, the acceptance of that truth was his one chance of finding peace. If he can’t find success, then would dedicate his life to finding peace. It was all he could ever hope for.
He forced himself to smile before opening his word processor to begin his work.
Her bite wound was beginning to turn. And so was she.
Her cleric’s healing magic was ineffective against the spreading rot, inside and out.
Her flesh turned cold, numb, and she could feel the same happening to her soul ever more rapidly. The pain all but disappeared. She felt nothing- and that was a terrible thing. To feel nothing was a terrible thing because to be human was to feel something.
She shoved the healing cleric away.
The cleric’s magic did little to slow down her descent.
Kill the cleric. Kill… the… cleric.
The cleric extinguished the warm light emanating from his ankh. “I have to tend to your wound.”
She stood and retrieved her ax. “I’m beyond healing.”
It was inevitable. Her soul will be lost and she will become another legion in the army of the underworld. The least she could do, in whatever time she had before her soul ceased to exist, was to fight her way to the next level so that the next Paladin could fight their way even further towards the bottom floor. If… there was a bottom.
She moved to the chamber door.
She could hear the monsters wheezing through the cracks in the chamber door. She could feel their warm breath.
There were more than before, she could tell. She was certain there were more beyond her own understanding.
“You have to let me heal you,” The Cleric protested.
“No,” She placed her eye to the key hole. “Save your magic. You’ll need it to get back above ground.”
A bloodshot eye stared back at her.
They were patient, waiting for her to open the door and engage them again.
“I was a fool for thinking you and I could make it to the bottom.” She moved from the door and retrieved her dented helmet from the ground.
“You followed your visions,” The Cleric answered.
“You mean the fever dreams?” She answered. “They amounted to nothing but my demise.”
She should have never listened to the Council of Clerics and their visions. Now, she was going to die in a cellar, and her spirit would wander and rot in the sub-earth for eternity much like her stolen body.
“When you return to the surface…” She said.
“We both,” The Cleric interrupted.
“When you return… command the council to flood the tower with hellfire,” She commanded.
“What of the captives?” The Cleric cried. “The villagers and the hundreds of others.”
“They’re not alive,” She answered.
“I saw it in my dream,” The Cleric replied. “They’re scared.”
“It’s a trick,” She shot back. “This tower… it plays tricks. It uses our belief in dreams against us.”
She walked to the chamber door with her ax at the ready.
“We are here to rescue innocents,” The Cleric protested. “I can’t.”
She turned her ax on the cleric. “You will.”
“I can’t turn away from those in need,” The Cleric said.
“How many die if this demonic sickness reach the surface?” She asked.
“They won’t,” The Cleric answered.
“And who will stop them?” She questioned. “God?”
Behead the Cleric.
“Your God created this evil,” She said.
“This is not you talking,” The Cleric said.
“Who summoned this evil?” She cleared her throat. “That’s what I thought.”
She pulled her ax away.
“You’re asking me to sacrifice innocent people.” The Cleric looked to the ground.
“I’m asking you to open your eyes,” She said. “We will never reach the bottom before they reach the top.”
She was taught in her training that the high ground gave a warrior a great strategic advantage. She learned quickly, after watching hundreds of her fellow Paladins, wielding the most divine weapons and armor ever created, fall easily under a flood of shadow, decay and teeth, that the high ground was a disadvantage, both tactically and spiritually, in that hellish tower.
“I’m going to open this door,” She said. “I’ll get you to the elevator. Take it to the surface. Tell the council to burn this place to the ground.”
She imagined the hellfire rushing down the elevator shaft and shadowy staircases like a blue monsoon, quickly disintegrating everything it saturates in its path.
“Ready,” She said.
The Cleric nods before lighting his ankh.
She unlocks the chamber door and whispers a prayer to herself before yanking it open.
The Cleric screams an incantation and blasts the room and hallway with the light which momentarily freezes the monsters in place.
Go home. Go… Home. Go home!
Her ax burns a blinding blue as she beheads several beasts in a single swipe. “Stay close!”
The Cleric places a hand on her shoulder and envelops them both in a golden silhouette as she hacks and slashes her way through the hallway, through hundreds of beasts.
You will fail. We will reach the surface.
Her ax gets lodged in the armor of one of the cellar beasts.
An alpha. Armored and hard to kill. They’re rumored to be from one of the lower floors. She would like to believe they had made it close to the bottom. Closer to the Great Beast who sat on the throne.
She kicked the Alpha in the chest to free her ax. “I need juice!”
The Cleric shifted all of the golden silhouette to the ax.
They were naked. Unprotected.
“Go!” The Cleric commanded.
She slashed through the beast.
No resistance. Like a blade through melted butter.
The Alpha beast split in two as it hit the ground.
“Ahhh,” The Cleric screamed.
She turned her ax behind her.
A beast bit through the clerics cloak into his side.
She beheaded the beast quickly.
“The Gods…” The Cleric whimpered.
The monsters were beginning to recover from the jolt of light. They were regrouping and turning their bloodthirsty eyes on the both of them.
She grabbed the cleric and tried to usher him towards the elevator.
“I have to heal myself,” The Cleric said.
“We don’t have time!” She answered.
We have to return to the room.
“No!” She said. “It’s too late! We have to get to the surface.”
The possessed in the halls, the monsters, were breaking free of their magical stupor and were staggering towards them.
There were too many for her to face alone.
She yanked the Cleric towards the elevator but he pulled back.
“We need to regroup,” The Cleric resisted.
They were closing in. They were too many.
“I’m sorry,” She said before shoving the Cleric towards the attacking mob.
Kill the Cleric. Go home.
She rushed towards the elevator and pushed the up button.
Much of the mob was consumed with the Cleric and his tasty spiritual energy, so they were distracted.
She easily dispatched the few that came for her.
She felt jubilee as she separated their heads from their bodies.
She would allow them to reach so she can separate their limbs from their torsos.
She was amused. The carnage amused her.
The Cleric forced her hand. He should have just listened to what she commanded. He should have not resisted or dismissed her logic with his illogical faith. Destroying that place, and everything in it, including the innocents, was the only option, and the Cleric’s immovable ignorance would have doomed all on the surface.
The elevator arrived.
She entered and shut the door.
Thump! Thump! The monsters in the hall beat on the door.
She hovered over the buttons.
She was infected. It was inevitable she would turn. The Cleric was her only hope, or so she thought.
She removed her helmet and collapsed against the wall.
She killed him. She killed the Cleric. Her soul was beyond saving. The cold had all but taken over her soul. It was only a matter of time before she became one of the legion.
She placed her helmet on her head before pressing the down button.
There was no turning back for her. She would fight the infection with sheer will alone, and she would not allow it to overtake her until she reached the bottom floor to confront the one on the throne. The one flipping the switches on the tower.
I look forward to meeting you….
Somehow I knew… They knew I was coming, and they looked forward to it.
The alley was silent. His cocky opponent’s cheerleaders fell silent, giving way to the ambulance and police sirens blocks from the dimly lit alley.
He cracked his blackened knuckles.
None of his fallen opponents shit-talking friends were stepping up.
“Whose next?” He quietly asked his remaining opponents.
He dropped their preppy pal faster than an ugly John’s paycheck on a two dollar whore.
He checked his lifeless opponent’s neck pulse with with his bare toes.
He’s breathin. Laid out on the ground like a seal out of water but breathin.
“Nobody?” I ask them.
His hands were trembling worse than before the fight.
He was grinding his teeth so hard the roof of his mouth felt tender.
He wanted to clobber each and every one of them but he needed them to engage him first. He needed to stick to his code and not start any fights.
“Cowards?” He tried egging them on. “Pussies?”
They weren’t budging. It frustrated him. Standing there frozen in fear was worse to him than running away.
He looked the biggest one among the four square in his eyes.
“You, big guy….” He pointed to the biggest one. “Make your mother proud.”
Big guy lowered his gaze to his friend and then to his feet.
“Uh huh,” He said.
Big guy nor none of these preppie college kids from the North side don’t want none of what he had brewing in my fists. All the smack talk from the bar earlier fell silent the moment they heard the crack of his fist connecting with their pal’s jaw. All the liquid courage evaporates from their pores as they watch their friend lying in a pool of his own blood and puke.
He cracked his neck.
He wasn’t the best at trash talking but he’d been practicing in the mirror. He thought if he improved his trash talk then it would increase his chances in finding a worthy scrap.
Some guy staggered out the side door from the club and leaned against the wall and lit a cigarette.
“Fuck you looking at?” The new guy said as he lit his cigarette.
“I’m looking at you,” He replied.
“Well look elsewhere, bitch,” Cigarette guy replied.
“I’m no bitch,” He answered.
“Yet you respond to the title,” Cigarette guy blew smoke in his direction.
He recognized the cigarette sucking twerp. It’s the drunk at the bar with the guitar who was giving the waitress hell for no reason. But the guy looked familiar from elsewhere. He didn’t know that guy personally but he hated him with a passion. Something about him.
He kept his eyes on the guy hoping he would approach aggressively.
Gotta stick to the code.
“You some kind of fairy?” Cigarette guy tossed his cigarette to the side.
“Don’t you wish, punk,” He tightened fist.
The cigarette guy was talented at trash talk. He was impressed even though he wanted shove the lit cigarette up that guy’s nose and brand his tiny brain.
Cigarette guy looked down at the unconscious preppie and then the unconsciou’s preppies conscious friends and then at him and then snickers.
“Something funny?” He asked.
“The fact that you’re so sloppy,” He answers. “That’s funny.”
“Me, sloppy?” I replied.
“Yeah, big man,” Cigarette man said. “Looks like you had a little trouble putting the kid down. He get his hits off of you?”
He touched the faint strawberry mark on his cheek the preppie gave him at the beginning of their brief scrap.
It was true. His unconscious opponent managed to get a punch in. The kid had above average head movement and speed and could throw a straight punch. Without a doubt, the preppie had some pugilism training, as does most of these rich kids from the North Side do. But I easily caught on to preppie from the North Side’s movements and ended the fight quickly. He ended the fight quickly.
He didn’t like that cigarette sucking punk was making an already cheap victory feel even cheaper.
“That’s what I thought,” the cigarette sucking punk smirked at him before reentering the club– probably to harass more poor and defenseless waitresses. “Later, loser.”
I screamed. “I’m not a loser!”
How dare… I’ve only been defeated once in my entire life. He doesn’t know me. I’m a….
He punched the brick wall leaving a chip in the brick wall. He kicked the dumpster, nearly sending it rolling out of the alley like a semi with a drunk driver behind the wheel.
Call me a loser again!
He took a breath.
Dumpsters and brick walls weren’t going to hit him, though he liked the feeling of old brick against his knuckles and the feel of rusted steel against his bare toes.
“Take this weakling and leave,” He commanded the Preppies.
The preppies wasted no time grabbing their pal and fleeing the alley.
No more pounding on preppies. he had a new target.
He cracked his knuckles before re-entering the club.
It’s on sight whence he found the cigarette sucking punk. That punk’s going down the moment that punk raises his tobacco stained fists.
If cigarette sucking point didn’t want to fight, he would do whatever it took to make that that disrespectful bastard want to fight. He would never stop until he got his fight.
Read about the “cigarette sucking punk” right here.
It seemed like trying only made him worse. At everything.
His joints hurt. His brain hurt. Everything hurt and every progressive thing he did on a daily basis only made him more tired.
Even taking breaks made him tired.
He finished his coffee and placed his glass on his wrinkled notebook next to his camera.
He was starting to feel envious of the old people he’d see practicing Tai Chi, sitting in their horse and balancing on one leg, in the park everyday at five in the morning. He wondered where they found the energy. Whether it was something inherent to everyone other than him. Whether he needed to return to the city to regain that enthusiasm for life and career he had as a teenager.
He stood from his chair, reached down and attempted to touch his toes.
He was a centimeter closer to his goal, and his lower back wasn’t bothering him.
He sat back in his chair.
There was a new email in his inbox from a coworker.
A request for a Database change.
He wondered if the old people in the park ever had to deal with annoying coworkers.
He replied to the message before leaning back in his chair and sighing.
He reached the conclusion he would never reach enlightenment sitting in front of a computer, answering emails. He would have to escape the 9 to 5 timeloop if he ever hoped to reach enlightenment. Enlightenment was just outside of his comfort zone.
He stood tall from his desk.
He would have to leave his comfort zone. That was the simplest, yet most frightening solution to his lack of enthusiasm for life. He would have to risk it all.
Someone was challenging him by consistently and persistently invading his space. Or, at least, that was how it appeared to him.
Who do they think they are?
He reached down to his toes and took a long, deep, calming breath.
I hope they don’t think they’re going to impose themselves on what I am doing.
His peers were not his competition, nor were they his rivals. He kept trying to drill that thought into his overactive brain, but either the drill-bit wasn’t sharp enough or his mind was damn near impenetrable.
He stood tall, raised his biceps to his temples and stretched towards the dim ceiling lights.
He barely touched his coffee. It at at the corner of his desk near a mound of confidential files and it was probably getting cold.
He was too anxious for coffee at the moment. His coworker walked by, but he was indifferent about what they thought at the moment. Sort of.
Do they value me?
He took one last breath before taking a seat before his dusty keyboard.
There was nothing he hated more than a person shoe-horning themselves into his work. Especially if that person wasn’t made for that work. Didn’t live or care for that work.
I bring value, right? He kept pondering to himself.
What did he offer his workplace, his other workplace, his relationships that they could not find anywhere else.
Hard work didn’t count. Anybody could work hard. Availability or kindness didn’t count either. Those weren’t rare or invaluable skills or talents in his opinion.
He checked his phone.
There was a missed call from his mother.
He took his phone off of Do Not Disturb.
The idea he couldn’t figure out what value he brought frustrated him and made everything he knew and thought he knew feel worthless.
He pushed his rolling chair away from his computer and claimed his lukewarm coffee.
Anybody can buy a camera or pick up a pen. Anybody with money or time on their hands, but does that make them professionals.
His stomach to turn.
He felt he needed to hit his heavy bag.
But he needed to figure out what set him apart from the weekend warriors and hobbyists or big spenders who believed wielding a camera or pen made them something. More importantly, he needed to figure out what made him any different.
He stood from his desk.
He needed to find out, and fast. He wasn’t getting any younger and his insecurities, his need to always compete with his peers was becoming counterproductive and stifling his progress.
He locked his PC.
He needed to understand that any peer who put pen to paper or pointed a camera was not his competition, nor his rival, and that it was okay for them to want to do what he does. He needed to stop being so self-important. He would be looking for a professional to help him work through those dark, counterproductive dispositions and insecurities.
He left his office to warm his coffee in the microwave.
He planned to work light that day and answer very few emails.
What his peers were doing were not his concern. He needed to focus on himself, and if anything, figure out what sets himself apart– for himself, and not others and set it for one minute.
He planned to reach out to his peers to applaud them for what they were doing. They were not his competition, nor his rivals.
There were living people who remembered the Doomsday Clock like it was yesteryear.
He sprinted across the street and through the revolving door to his office high-rise.
The Doomsday Clock became an afterthought the day the asteroid scientists call Damocles appeared, and suspended itself in the atmosphere. That was when all the nuclear powers unplugged the Doomsday Clock and aimed their arsenals –away from each other– and towards the more powerful threat.
He checked his watch.
Ten minutes before his grace period would elapse.
Ten minutes to midnight…
Traffic was madness. Not that his supervisor cared. Late was late. The clock on his Supervisor’s desk was his own personal Doomsday Clock. There could be a great flood or an erupting volcano in the middle of the freeway and his Supervisor would still write him up for tardiness.
His grandfather would talk about a time where there was only one fiery ember in the sky during the daytime, as opposed to two. The sun would set and then there would be complete darkness. The other fireball on the horizon never set, and burned nearly 24 hours a day, leaving much of the earth with near constant daylight.
He put his cell phone and keys in his bookbag’s front pocket before walking through the full body scanner.
The security guard smirked at him as she sipped her tea.
He smirked back.
She was cute. He liked her. And he guessed she liked him. He thought of asking her out one day. He needed to think about it before he did.
He was alive too, but too young to remember the Doomsday Clock or a time where countries were at odds with each other. Too young to remember the time when the possibility of nuclear annihilation or mutually assured nuclear destruction was more a potentiality than a science fiction trope.
He picked up his bookbag from the conveyor before flashing his ID to the half-asleep security guard near the elevator.
He heard something about Damocles on the morning news but couldn’t remember what. If he had time, he planned to scroll through a few articles while he sipped his coffee. If he had time.
The cubicle farm looked busy.
He still wasn’t used to seeing so many people so early. Since his supervisor changed everyone’s hours to work at the same time– for lord knows what reason.
He powered his computer before taking a seat at his desk.
What was that thing I heard about Damocles….
He couldn’t remember that news report about Damocles for the life of him. It was probably something unimportant and irrelevant to his day no more relevant than a cloudy day or high pollen count.
Partly cloudy with a chance of rain.Also,Damocles is reported to have moved two centimeters.
Whether Damocles had moved forward or backward was irrelevant. People stopped caring. Even the government had slowed their efforts to safely destroy it or propel away from the atmosphere or even try to study it. The government had diverted their funds elsewhere– he believed into defense. Damocles was beginning to cost too many tax dollars.
The boss was cooking curry in the microwave for breakfast again. It burned his nostrils and made his eyes water.
Another reason he needed a transfer to another division. He couldn’t stand sitting so close to the microwave, and he believed his education was being wasted where they placed him.
He walked to the window to look at Damocles.
He remembered listening to a radio program the past where the hosts argued whether Damocles had grown bigger since it appeared in the sky and that bigger just meant it was growing closer. Of course, there was no way to substantiate or verify that claim. Scientists were baffled by Damocles existence or the nature of it and any time they tried to get close enough to study it their instruments would fall out of the sky or melt.
“Hey pal.” His older co-worker slapped him on the back.
He nodded. “Morning.”
“How was your weekend?” His older co-worker asked.
He tilted his head. “Didn’t you do that last weekend?”
The old co-worker looked taken aback by his question, as if he expected a more vague, less probing response. “Yeah… I guess I did.”
“Don’t you want to try something different?” He questioned. “Like… gardening. Or traveling.”
“Yeah, somewhere other than the same pond you always go to…”
His old-coworker stroked the matted white bush on his chin. “No… fishing at the pond’s fine.”
“Cool,” He said. “Catch you later.”
“Lunch?” Older-coworker asked. “I got fish.”
“Maybe tomorrow,” He said before heading back to his cubicle.
He’d had enough of his old co-worker’s fried fish to last him a lifetime. Plus, he was tired of the smell.
“Suit yourself,” Old co-worker said.
“Thanks though,” He said. “Appreciate it.”
His co-worker moved on and he returned to his desk.
He looked over to Evan, his cubicle neighbor, who was playing with his phone.
Evan would normally greet him first, since he was always in the office before him. But lately, Even always seemed distracted by things other than work. That time it was his phone.
“What?” Evan said without looking away from his game.
“The boss will be making his rounds soon,” He said.
“So,” Evan answered. “My magic meter’s about to fill. Monster’s about to get a dark matter charged foot up his ass.”
His heart skipped a beat as his supervisor turned the corner and looked in his direction.
“Hey, put that away,” He warned.
“Almost there.” Evan waved him off.
Their supervisor skipped over several rows of cubicles to head straight for theirs.
His supervisor had a serious but relaxed face and reeked of day old coffee and was sipping more coffee from a mug nearly as big as his orange face. .
“Good morning,” Supervisor said to him.
“Morning,” He greeted.
“Great job on the reports.” Supervisor was speaking to him but had his eye on Evan.
“Thanks,” He replied.
“Evan,” Supervisor called.
“Have a report for me?” Supervisor took a sip of his mug.
“Sure thing,” Evan replied.
“Well, can I have it?” Supervisor moved closer to Evan.
“Can you….” Evan put down his video game. “You nearly made me lose the battle, dude.”
Supervisor rested the mug on his desk.
He hated when Supervisor would rest the mug on his desk. He knew it was a territory, alpha male thing to show dominance over the space, which is why he hated it.
Supervisor leaned over Evan’s railing. “I think your reports are more-“
“Shh,” Evan interrupted.
Supervisor stood up as if he was literally taken aback by Evan shushing him.
“F*ck.” Evan slammed his phone on his desk. :”See what you made me do?”
“I’m going to have to write you up, pal,” Supervisor said to Evan as he retrieved his mug.
Evan looked up at Supervisor. “Do what you feel is right.”
The Supervisor took a sip and shot Evan an angry glance before stepping away.
“The f*ck Evan,” He said. “You trying to get fired?”
“I don’t think that matters,” Evan answered.
“What matters?” He asked.
“Getting fired,” Evan answered again.
“I guess you’re not worried about food and bills,” He said. “You must have a lot of money I don’t know about.”
“Is everyone insane but me?” Evan massaged his temples.
He used one of his McDonalds napkins to scrub away the sticky coffee ring left by his supervisor’s mug.
“There’s a ten mile wide fiery freaky rock suspended above our planet,” Evan said.
He balled up the tissue and tossed it in the recycling bin. “Yeah… I’m aware of that.”
“You sure?” Evan said.
“Of course,” He answered. “See it every day.”
It wasn’t like it rose or set like the sun. The fiery ball in the sky was ever-present. It was a flaming, permanent fixture, frozen in time
His old coworker rolled a cart to his desk to drop off several packages.
“Thanks,” He said to his old coworker.
“Screw this.” Stood pocketed his phone and stood from his desk.
“Where are you going?” He asked Evan.
The old coworker looked just as puzzled.
“To empty my bank account and travel,” Evan answered. “The world could end tomorrow… Hell, today.”
Evan walked over to his desk and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Don’t get caught by Damocles doing something…. boring,” Evan said.
Evan withdrew his hand, entered the break broom and emerged with the microwave before disappearing into the elevator.
The old coworker shrugged and moved his cart to the next aisle.
He leaned back in his chair.
Leaning back in his chair allowed him a partially obstructed view –now that Evan had abandoned his cubicle– of Damocles fixed in the sky as a lone cloud passed over it.
He stood and walked to the window.
He rarely thought about what Damocles would do to the world if it suddenly propelled towards earth, or even away from earth. He rarely thought about what his life would, should, or could be like if he considered the possibility that there was a hidden countdown somewhere, and time was ticking away and would one day reach zero and all life would be wiped away within minutes.
“Hey,” His supervisor tapped him on the shoulder. “We’re all heading downstairs for coffee. You should come with.”
“Okay,” He said.
“Now that what’s his name has resigned there’s an opportunity for you,” His supervisor shielded a smirk behind his enormous coffee mug. “An opportunity of a lifetime.”
“Yeah.” He gave Damocles one last glance before facing his supervisor. “A lifetime…”
He tossed his cigarette over the edge of the pier.
Smoking was his nastiest habit, but he couldn’t help himself. It’s what he’d always done after a tough job. Especially after killing someone.
The nicotine was starting to ease the jitters in his jagged, broken hands.
“You should get that checked out.” His partner approached with his rifle on the ready.
“I’ll be fine,” He answered as he looked over his shoulder to his partner.
He checked his hands. The blood had soaked through the wrapping on his hands.
“You’ll turn into one of them junkies.” His partner slung the rifle over his shoulder and drew a pistol.
“Been there, done that,” He turned from the peer and walked past his partner. “You found the brother?”
His partner shook his head. “You?”
“Nope,” He said. “I can barely tell these junkies apart.”
“Suprised you found the girl.”
“Boy can’t be far behind.”
He had to take out a dozen of the junkies to get to the girl. For drugged up and malnourished people, junkies had ungodly strength and endurance beyond logic. His mark nearly gnawed off his hand before he was able to subdue her.
“These bastards bite hard,” His partner said.
“Yeah,” He grabbed the potato sack holding the unconscious woman and slung it over his shoulder before walking the body to his car and popping the trunk. “And they’re strong.”
“We should check another nest,” His partner suggested.
He popped the trunk and dumped the body in. “No.”
“Why not?” His partner asked. “We don’t, another suiter will.”
“Don’t care.” He slammed the trunk closed. “Bad idea.”
“I need that bonus,” His partner said. “Ain’t leaving without the brother.”
“Shit,” He muttered.
His partner would do it with or without him.
“They’re only two of us,” He said.
“Those ghosts are more interested in the next high than us,” His partner said. “Just help me look through one of their nests.”
He watched the charcoal colored smog overtaking the river.
“Just one?” He said.
“Just one,” His partner answered.
He sighed. “Just one.”
The smog reminded him of something he couldn’t quite remember, but he could feel it gnawing at his subconscious mind.
He checked his ammunition before following His partner to the hangars just beyond the docks.
All the hangars were opened and abandoned. No traces of ever being used. Except one.
“Got your bolt cutters?” His partner asked.
He drew the cutters from his belt. “Yep.”
The fog had grown thicker over the years.
It bothered him. He didn’t know why it bothered him. He couldn’t let it bother hi-
“Hey?” His partner snapped a finger in front of his face. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” He answered.
“You keep looking out there,” His partner said.
“Ever thought of just catching a boat out of here?” He asked.
“I mean, I could,” His partner replied. “But never thought about it.”
“Just never did.”
“Not one bit.”
He drew his pistol.
“You’d be sailing to another shithole place,” His partner answered.
“You sure about that?” He asked.
“The whole planet is a shithole.” His partner said. “Why not remain in the shithole you’re familiar with.”
“How do you know?” He asked.
“Should probably just sail out there.” His partner said. “Since you’re so curious.”
“Perhaps I will,” He answered.
“Could use the bonus to buy a boat,” His partner said.
“And I’ll sail to the edge of the goddam world,” He said. “And you’ll ride out too.”
“Count me out,” His partner said. “I’m fine an dandy in my shithole.”
“Know anybody who’s sailed out of town?” He asked.
“What do you mean?” His partner questioned in reply.
“Have you ever seen boats sail out?” He inquired.
“All the people I know are businessmen,” His partner answered. “They’re too busy making money to go sailing.”
They walked along the docks and approached the biggest building on the pier.
“These businessmen have yachts?” He asked.
“Of course,” His partner answered. “Several.”
“Any of those yachts leave port?” He questioned.
His partner looked off to the smoggy sky. “Probably. Will have to ask next time.”
He couldn’t think of a time when he’d ever left Rose City, or whether he knew anybody who had left Rose City.
His lip quivered.
“You got a smoke,” He asked his partner.
His partner shook his head.
“Shit,” He muttered.
His overthinking would always get the best of him when he didn’t smoke. The last drag was all he had left until he got back to town.
“C’mon, let’s clear this place out,” His partner said. “The wife’s expecting me home early.”
“Alright, I’m good to go,” He clipped the chains on the door.
His partner nodded as he pulled the hammer back on his pistol.
He opened the door.
A gathering of glowing white eyes stared out to them from the darkness.
“Alright…” His partner lowered his pistol and drew a picture of their target along with a glowing white vial. “Free drugs for the first junky who leads us to this kid.”
He moves in and instantly eats a jab from the amateur boxer– his much taller opponent.
Five years of training for a fight and all he could accomplish was walking chin first into basic jab-cross combinations.
He can’t move without being hit.
No place to go.
Hands are getting heavy. Guard dropping and chin rising every time he presses forward to strike.
The lanky boxer snaps his head back again.
He never sees them coming. He justs tastes and smells the rubber of tall boxer’s glove every time he moves in to throw an off-balanced punch or kick.
He’s hit with another jab.
He wants to blame the art he’s been training for the last five years, but that would be unfair to blame an art for his lack of spatial awareness, balance, fight IQ, or overall skill. None of that has anything to do with the art.
Smack! He takes another light jab to the nose.
Jab to his eye.
The bell sounded and ended his vicious pummeling, saving him from further embarrassment.
How could he blame the art. It wasn’t the arts fault he hasn’t picked up any real, effective skill in five years of training. .
As he walks to the sideline and removed his gloves and headgear, he thought about all the awesome practitioners who came before him his Sifu would brag about daily. People he will probably never reach. He thought about taking an art that would be more effective against bigger opponents specifically.
He took a seat on the ground and tool a guzzle of water from his bag.
The tall boxer was holding back the whole time. He knows tall boxer would have made quick work of him if he wen’t at even half his power.
He rotates his wrist.
He believes he jammed his wrist trying to punch through tall guy’s cross guard.
He can’t rely on speed, and what was the point of ox-like strength when he couldn’t even get close to opponents without getting clipped.
He removes his shin pads to massage his sore legs.
Tall guy checked one of his clumsy kick and he felt the impact through his pads.
He didn’t know his body. He blames the art. It wasn’t for him. It wasn’t for taller, more skilled opponents.
He watches as tall guy obliterates another one of his training brothers on the mat with the same jab-cross combinations he was hit with.
Tall guy’s combinations look so smooth and effortless. They are much slower when he watches other people on the receiving end of tall guy’s gloves, but the combinations were blinding when he was the one getting hit with them.
He put his water aside.
All of a sudden he doesn’t feel so thirsty. He doesn’t feel like he deserves water for his poor effort in sparring.
He watches at tall-guy dances around his opponent.
Tall guy moved like a tall guy. Tall guy knew his reach and he knew to stay out of range.
Why couldn’t he move his stocky body around without crossing his feet.
He removed his gloves and completely removed his shin pads.
He is done… for now. No sense in sparring, or learning anything new if he didn’t understand how to best utilize it for his body. If he didn’t know how to attack and move without getting his jaw clipped by simple jab-cross combinations from tall, long armed boxers.
He grabs his Gym-bag and bowed before leaving the Gym.
It will be the last time they see him for years. When he returns, he will be a better fighter.
He finishes his room temperature coffee– store brand and brewed at home.
He longs for the days of old when a bank account was something he checked when his debit card was declined. The gruff, knotty white hairs shedding from his chin and cheeks were making him fiscally responsible. And boring. His adventurous-self retired the moment he resigned to being the (fiscally) responsible adult– spouse, co-worker, business owner, etc.
He rinses his reusable Starbucks cup before refilling it with fountain water.
He craves more coffee. There was a Starbucks on the ground floor, but was too responsible to buy coffee when he had plenty at home.
The hallway is quiet, but he isn’t alone since he has several surveillance cameras to keep him company.
He salutes the cameras.
He’s always tempted to wave at the camera, but that will just reinforce the idea that he was a strange and awkward fellow. It was true, he was the strangest, most awkward fellow in the (commercial) building, but he believes they didn’t need to know that about him.
He returns to his office and takes a quick sip of his cold, coffee-flavored tap water.
Responsible him no longer buys sugary drinks, nor does he drink them. He misses Snapple and the Arizona Half and Halfs– the one with the old golfer on the can, but hiscalories were now a thing to him and to his wife. She didn’t want him to get diabetes because diabetes were a thing to (fiscally) responsible adults.
He checks his phone.
55%… (Charging)… Spam likely called twice an hour earlier.
He turns off the Do Not Disturb on his phone and puts his phone on the Vibrate setting.
His phone needs to be on in case his wife calls. She wants to leave work on time so she can work from home for another five hours.
He spins his chair towards the door and reclines.
Its the week before a holiday weekend so he expected the office to be quiet.
He watches his door, waiting for Calliope, or one of her fine sisters, to twirl into his office and sprinkle magic dust on his eyes, or even his typing fingers.
It has been months since he’s written or snapped or played anything good or updated his resume or added anything to his website. He wonders whether he’s forgotten his muse in the Colorado mountains. Or whether his muse decided to remain behind, refusing to accompany or empower a person who periodically checks his bank account and refuses to buy coffee or ingest sugary drinks.
What’s happened to me?
He logs off of his computer, yanks his phone from the charger, grabs his jacket and prepares to promptly exit his office.
If his old muse won’t return, he’ll walk to the pier for his lunch hour and snap pictures of wandering pigeons and quirky restaurant signs until another muse takes notice. Or… so he hopes.
His phone rings.
Its his boss.
He removes his jacket, returns to his desk and returns his phone to the charger before answering the phone.
“Hello,” He says.
His new muse will have to wait. Or, send him an Outlook calendar request like everybody else.