A Very Short Story In 3 Parts
By David Yates
25 minutes to go... Just another 25 minutes...
I, Victor Shackle, am a white-collar office worker. I spend my entire day filling in reports, entering data, and generally doing mundane and meaningless tasks that can't possibly have any actual effect on my company of employment's running. I suspect that I'm only employed here because the boss is a sadist who enjoys watching people suffer.
But then again, what do I know about business? Nothing. If I knew anything about business, I wouldn't be here, I'd be starting a business. If only I'd taken Business Studies instead of Home Economics during highschool...
Twenty-four minutes pass. I waste the time away by playing with my pal Stevey the stapler, being careful not to get bitten. Stevey may bite me sometimes, but only when I hurt him. He's the only friend I've got around here, so I try to keep that to a minimum.
The clock strikes five, and I jump out of my grey plastic twirly seat, glad to finally be done with a long day of wasting time. I leave my brown cubical with an air of triumph, having defeated its forces of soul-crushing boredom.
There's a noise of everyone in the room getting up from their seats, and I see a mad rush of people, all competing to be the first one out of the door. Sometimes I wonder how grownup and mature everyone REALLY is.
But wait, something's wrong. It's been about 30 seconds, and the crowd in front of the door hasn't become any smaller. I move towards the crowd, to see if I can discover the source of the trouble.
After standing on top of the desk of a cubical near the door, I see that the door is stuck, and everyone's trying to get it open. Gareth Hadson, the office heavyweight champion (we get REALLY bored sometimes), is trying to ram the door open, but to no avail. The thing simply won't budge.
"Attention staff," comes a voice over the intercom. "It is not yet time to leave. Office hours have been extended to end at six o'clock, because of poor productivity. Don't complain, it was in your contracts."
The office workers let out a long collective sigh, and retreat to their cubicals, until only I am left. I think deeply about the contract. It seems that the boss adds something onto it every time he gives an announcement. The thing must be looking pretty bloated by now.
For a moment, I consider returning to my cubical, and doing some actual work. True to character, I dismissed it the next moment as madness and decide to find an alternate route out of the office. I am NOT spending anymore time here today.
I take out my company-issued room map, and unfold it. The cubical room's a big place, so I have quite a bit of unfolding to do. I lay it down on the floor, kneel in front of it, and look over it.
The main entrance/exit door, which is what I'm kneeling in front of now, is on the north end of the room. I scan the room's edge, searching for another door. I find one.
The fire escape is in the far south of the office, beyond a maze of cubicals. And, according to the key on the back of the map, the fire escape is never locked. Hopefully even sadist bosses conform to safety standards.
After stopping by my cubical to grab some supplies (Stevey, some paperclips, my trusty rubberband ball, and a my "excuses paper", should I need some help making excuses about why I'm out of my cubical), I begin my quest for freedom.
At first, everything is straight-forward, and I am able to simply follow the map through rows and colums of cubicals, past soulless drones who don't even notice me passing, because they're too busy staring blankly at their work.
But after a while, things get tough. The carpet becomes bumpy and unkempt, and the spaces between the cubicals become smaller and smaller. The whirring of fans and sharpening of pencils is replaced by an eerie silence.
There's certainly something different about this part of the office. It's... more clustered, more disorganized, and looks old, broken and decayed. There are scratch marks on the cubicals, multicoloured stains on the carpet, and the path through the cubicals is a twisting and turning labyrinth.
I come to a part of the office that is shown as a large question mark on my map, and quickly discard the useless thing. Obviously one of that sadist boss's little jokes
The noise of my map hitting the carpet behind me is almost jarring in the silence. It creeps me out, but I continue walking. Odd, my footsteps seem to have become louder.
"Stop," comes a deep, gutteral voice from behind me.
I turn around to see a large office worker who I've never met before. He has a nasty look in his eyes, and is holding his freshly sharpened pencil in a very menacing manner.
I fumble with my excuses paper, and read the excuse at the top of the page.
"Don't mind me, I'm just going to the bathroom."
Without another word, the man lunges at me, his pencil ready to rend my flesh. Obviously he doesn't sympathize with my bladdery needs.
With a swiftness that one only acquires during times of extreme danger, or extreme stress, I jump to the right, and successfully dodge the worker's blow.
Then, with a resourcefulness that one only acquires during times of extreme danger, or extreme stress, I take Stevey out of my pocket, and toss him, fangs wide open, onto the worker.
"Sick 'im Stevey!" I yell.
Stevey hits home, and I hear the office worker scream in pain. I revel in my triumph, and think of how good a friend Stevey is.
My victory is shortlived, however, as the man stops screaming. He straightens up, and Stevey goes flying across the room.
Stevey hits a nearby cubical with a sickening crack, and breaks in two. Both pieces fall to the floor, and staples spill everywhere.
"Stevey, NOOO!" I scream, choking back tears.
I look away from Stevey's broken frame, and turn to face his killer, whose face has now received two small gashed. My mind is full of rage, and I lung for the man.
SOCK! I am spent flying backwards as the worker's fist comes into contact with my skull, and hit the cubical wall. I land next to Stevey's remains.
As the office worker approaches, I shield my face with my hands, and prepare for my life to end. I wish I'd spent less time here.
THWACK! Just as I'm certain that my fate is sealed and I can't escape this horrible death, I hear a loud sound of something hitting something else. I slowly open my eyes, and see that my assailant has fallen.
In his place stands a man and a woman with crumpled suits, and untidy hair. The man has a thick blonde beard, brown eyes, with a patch over his left one, and is carrying a large pipe, obviously the implement with which he saved my life.
The woman has hair and eyes of the same shade as the man, and is wearing a man's office grey pants, rather than the usual skirt. I guess a skirt isn't really suitable for whatever it is that these two do.
The man is the first to talk: "Hello, friend. What brings you to this part of the office?"
I smile weakly, glad to know that this guy doesn't want to kill me. "I'm looking for the fire escape. What's up with this place?"
The man sighs. "I'm John. My cousin Nancy and I have been on that same quest for weeks. We received a tipoff regarding the boss's eventual plan to extend work hours, and decided to plan out an escape route beforehand, to be prepared."
I raise an eyebrow. That's thinking ahead.
"If only we knew what we were getting into," added Nancy, burying her face in her hand. "We've been wandering around, completely lost, for weeks. And this place's inhabitants aren't aiding matters."
"Inhabitants?" I ask incredulously.
"You've already met one of them," replies John, motioning to the large man on the floor. "These guys have been working here for so long that they've lost their humanity. They're just hollowed out shells now, zombies that attack interlopers and sit motionless behind desks when they're not attacking interlopers."
"Why don't they just leave the office?"
"They can't," Nancy replies sadly. "This is the only place they know. To them, there is no outside world. Just an office. It's sad really."
"But we know better than that. We're going to find that fire escape," adds John resolutely. "With your help, Mr..."
"Mr Shackle. But you can call me Victor."
"With your help, Victor, we're going to get out of here. Come, let me show you were our path has been halted."
I scoop up Stevey's remains, wrap them up in my excuse sheet, put them in my pocket, and follow John and Nancy.
John and Nancy lead me through a winding passage, from cubical to cubical. We duck down low, and at times we crawl, so as to avoid being spotted by the office zombies. After what seems like forever, we arrive at our destination.
I gasp when I see what the obstacle John had spoke of is. It's an enormous crevice, a huge hole in the middle of the floor, blocking our path for as far as the eye can see.
I step towards the hole, and look into it. I am unable to see where it ends.
"Careful, don't get to close to that," Nancy warns.
I step away, and proceed to question John and Nancy about what progress they've made so far. I discover that the hole goes all the way to the office's walls, and is at least a kilometer deep.
I look around, wondering what to do. I see a light fitting hanging over the crevice, and, remembering my supplies, get a daring idea.
"Guys, I've got an idea," I say excitedly.
"What is it?" they ask.
I take out my rubber band ball and collection of paperclips. Then I point towards the light, and start attaching rubber bands to each other with paperclips.
"You want us to..." John begins.
"... swing across that crevice..." Nancy continues.
"... on rubberbands and paperclips, yes," I finish. "Trust me, these things are strong. I buy only the finest."
John takes a paperclip from hand, puts half of it under his foot, and tries to twist it so that it will break in half.
Fifteen minutes later, John is lying in a sweaty heap, paperclip still intact, and my grappling hook is complete.
I swing it around my head, and send it flying over the crevice. It latches onto the light, and stays there. Good thing I've been bored enough to have done this many times before.
"Now, only one person can swing across on this at a time, so let's decide on our order," I say.
"Ladies first," says John, and I voice my agreement.
"I'll go last." continues John. "I think I hear voices in the distance, and I may need to ward them off."
John goes over to the nearest cubical, brandishes his pole from its place on his back, and stands ready to fight.
Nancy grabs hold of the grappling hook rope, takes a run up, and jumps.
For a moment, I fear that it'll break and drop Nancy to her doom, but the rope holds, and she flies across the crevice, landing safely on the other side.
She sends the rope back, and I grab it as soon as it comes within reach. I'm just about to swing across when I hear the noise of groaning. That can't be good.
I turn around to see John fighting for his life against a hoard of office zombies.
"Swing across. I'll join you once I've got these things at bay."
I hesitate for a moment. It looks like John could REALLY use some help right now.
"Don't worry about me, I've got everything under control. Protect Nancy," John says, finally convincing me to go across.
I take a run up, and jump off the edge of the crevice, rope firmly in hand. Please don't break, please don't break, please don't break. Thankfully, the rope doesn't break.
I land next to Nancy with a thud, and toss the rope back over the crevice.
John is focused on the zombies, but notices the rope somehow. He reaches out behind him, and grabs it. Fighting off zombies with one hand, he starts taking a run up. Then one of the zombies grabs him. And bites him. On the shoulder.
John lets out a yell of pain, and releases the rope, crumpling to the floor. The zombies swarm over him, and I turn my head away, not being able to bear it.
Nancy is just staring at the carnage, her mouth hanging open. I turn her around, put my arm around her and lead her away.
"There's nothing we can do for him now," I say, holding back tears, in an attempt to look strong.
Two hours pass. Nancy and I are holed up in a cubical, with a bandaged-up Stevey. Apart from not being able to open his mouth, Stevey's looking okay. Better than John, at any rate.
"He cared for me so much, Victor," Nancy says, her eyes red with tears.
"And that's why he sacrificed his life. It was for you, Nancy. He was a good man, one of the best," I reply, in an attempt to ease the pain.
Nancy starts sobbing again, her face in her hands. She's devastated
I go over and give Nancy a hug. She returns it, and holds me tight. Don't even think about taking advantage of this. She's just lost a cousin.
After a while in this state, Nancy stops crying, and looks into my eyes. I can feel the strength of our bond. She wants me. Surely it isn't taking advantage.
Nancy tilts her head back and closes her eyes. I move my own head towards hers, and slowly close in.
I'm just beginning to close my eyes when my face is hit by a spray of blood, and Nancy's arms go limp. I open my eyes to see a gaping hole in Nancy's neck, with a bloody staple it. Just when I was actually getting somewhere with a woman.
"You!" I scream, spinning around to face a fully-healed Stevey. "And I thought you were my friend!"
Stevey leaps at me, his jaws snapping together with rage. I grab the stapler, and throw it across the room.
No luck. Stevey has gained the ability to... fly. This has got to be a dream.
Stevey flies at me, and starts firing staples everywhere. Fortunately, his aim isn't very good, and most of them lodge themselves in the cubical walls.
I kick the cubical door open, and started running, a flying Stevey hot on my heels. In the distance, beyond at least twenty cubicals, I can see the fire escape. With renewed energy, I bolt for it.
I feel a sharp pain in my arm, and know that one of Stevey's staples has hit home. But I'm too close to give up now. I'm almost there.
Finally, I reach the fire escape door, and wrench it open, as a staple cuts through my leg. With a cry of pain, I fall to the ground, mere centimeters from the door. Another staple cuts into my other leg. Then one cuts into the first leg. And another into the second leg. And another, and another.
The pain is unbearable, but, with the last of my strength, I heave myself through the door, and slam it shut with my good arm.
I'm free. After lying on the sidewalk for as long as it took to rest myself, I go to the nearest hospital, and get myself fixed up. The first thing I'm going to do once I'm better is resign, even if I have to get a job as a burger cook. At least I took Home Economics in highschool.