Nicholas Graves’ day started out like any other. He would wake up with his alarm at six, playing Mission Statement from his phone. The oak nightstand would rumble from the bass, making the stained glass panes of his touch lamp shudder before being shut off right before the lyrics. It’s been a while since he had heard the entire song, and today would be no different. The red orchids and purple lotuses glowed as he tapped the lamp once, and only ever once, giving enough light to add a bit of glow to the cream colored walls, barren otherwise. He sat up, groaning, yawning as he glared at the window opposite. There was a soft wind blowing that morning, making those dark blue curtains dance away from the slit left open the night before, allowing the hisses of tires and rumbles of vehicles reach him from the highway but a stone’s throw away, leading to Morgantown in either direction. There used to be separate towns in the area, now little more than districts for the super power Morgantown had become, the largest city in all of West Virginia... or, as Nick put it, first prize in a contest of one.
He had no love for this city, nor the state. He would use it, as he had used their university, their connections, and discard them to go someplace he truly belonged. They already helped him get out of Maryland, so now it was just the waiting game, build up “experience” working for these fools until he has enough to be considered elsewhere. Where, though? Not in the fly-over states, that’s for sure. He had his eyes set west, towards a far more lucrative coast, which just so happened to be where the window was opened to, mocking him, reminding him he was but one a single sliver towards it. A singular, inconsequential, minute step towards freedom.
But today was another day. Another bustling, busy day of waiting and gaining experience and proving his worth. He finally woke enough to swing his legs over the left side of the bed where a set of black slippers waited, where he had taken them off the night before, lined side by side with the right jutting out just enough to force him to pull it in and stand. His entire body stretched as he took the second step, another groan on the third, and the rest forgotten as he headed for the closest door. The brass knob squeaked a little as it turned, and he flicked on the light just inside, illuminating the bathroom. It was little more than a shower, a sink, and a toilet, but all three were used before he left it. The sink, over the other two, took the longest, standing before it as he gazed into its mirror, taking care of the overnight growth. He didn’t shave completely but left a thin line along his square jaw, leading and accenting his tri-color goatee: Black, brown, and gray. It seemed like every week since he started his low-level employment at Consolidated Consolidated LTD. the gray became more prominent, all because he worked with people who didn’t care as much to get ahead and away as him. The same was true for what was on top, as well. He started shaving the horseshoe away because he was tired of seeing the small sprouts of gray take over, leaving him looking like one of those monks you see on the TV. He was no monk, though, nor any font of kindness; he wasn’t paid enough to be.
After he finished shaving, he took his shower, washing away the fetid little hairs that clung to his body. He was never one to truly exercise, but he also didn’t sit around all day like a slob nor did he have a taste for junk, leaving him a frankenbody in between. He didn’t care, though. He wasn’t trying to impress anybody in this back-hills cesspit, and would worry more when he reached his final destination. There he would have more than incentive to look out for his health.
He looked at himself in the small mirror inside the shower, gazing at himself as he brushed his teeth, watching the steam roll around his cold, blue eyes. That’s the one part he truly cared about: his smile. No amount of dental work could ever return those to normal. Even the best dentists’ fillings look artificial, and you can always see your own failings. Whatever happens to your own mouth is your fault, after all.
He finished as the last few suds rolled down his back, spitting onto it, chasing down the limed drain as he turned off the water and stepped out. He grabbed a towel off the small, wooden bar beside before pulling on it, opening the door to the bedroom again. He scrubbed at himself hard, heading to the next door along the wall, this one housing several, black suits. They were all the same, all from the same brand, all given to the same dry cleaners every Friday and picked up at eight at night every Sunday. The only thing that differed were the dress shirts, ranging from reds and oranges to blues and greens. Only the reds and blues were ever touched, a fine layer of dust gathered on the others, shoved against the wall, forgotten again as he shut it.
He didn’t stay in the room the entire time to dress. He threw on a pair of boxer-briefs, his pants, socks, his shoes, then slung the shirt and jacket over his shoulder as he went through the final door along the wall, leading to the rest of the apartment. It was just as sparsely decorated, with but a single ficus put in the corner to liven up the room. There was no TV, no coffee table, not even a couch; only a single, small, table awaited in the living room, with a single chair open. The other was piled with textbooks, waiting to be resold, the last of a trove he once had.
In front of the “living room”, separated by a black half-wall, was the kitchen. It was a difference of night and day between it and the rest of the house, that tiny nook packed to the prim with kitchen utensils and gadgets. The most used one was the coffee pot, and was the first item greeted as he entered it. It buzzed to life, whirring as the water reservoir pulled water into the capsule, emptying its robust, enthralling tincture. That heavy, brown liquid was the closest thing Nick had to a spiritual experience; truly the nectar of God, Himself, and he lavished it every single day.
The next item Nick addressed was the fridge. It sat in the center of the quaint little galley kitchen, and looked very much out of place. The wall to its left didn’t match, a remnant of the oven that it once shared space with, torn out for their to be room for the new fridge. The double doors on top were ignored, for the moment, in favor of the freezer on the bottom, retrieving a microwavable breakfast bowl, opened methodically and tossed into the stainless steel microwave to its left.
He sighed, pulled out his phone, and checked his bank account as he waited for both items to finish. The coffee was first, brought to his lips as the page finished loading, showing him his checking and four savings accounts, all well above four-digit.
My favorite sight, he thought, as he did every morning, and the microwave beeped. He ate, he finished dressing, and left his apartment, located at the top of the second tower of the thirty towers that loomed in that complex. Elevators were free, though, and always ready to go at this time. The perks of living with college students... working with them was a completely different matter. The parking lot was packed as he reached the bottom, not a single car his, instead traipsing across towards the sign to that lovely “gated” community and down the hill, walking directly in-center on the road. This street never saw any action... Then again, neither did another-
He shook his head, and continued on with a somber glower, his destination not much further. CC LTD. was a tiny building at the base of the hill, a concrete hut. It only housed thirty employees, but one of the heads of the mother corporation, worked as its head. Charles Greene. Forty-seven. Five-foot eight. Club foot. Permanent laryngitis. Gambling addiction. Sleeping with the secretary. Father of four with his wife, Kristen Greene; Nick remembered every detail he could gather about his boss, and his list of favors he is owed from him is close to triple digits. Another month, and he could cash in; the secretary, Charlotte Hedrick, was due.
He shook more from anticipation than the chill in the air as he stood outside the door, looking at his email while he waited. His shift didn’t start until nine, after all. He would then work his eight, all to the fullest. There were days when he didn’t take his hour lunch, doing everything he could to make sure his job was perfect... Sadly, his fellow employees didn’t feel the same. So many times he would be stopped in his own pursuits because one decided to barge into his cubical and try to fraternize with him. After the first few months of enduring this, he had enough and now was complaining about every single infarction, even outside his domain. They were at work to work, not to make friends nor to converse. If they wanted to do that, there’s always after work... or when they are unemployed. Whichever came first.
Sadly, the fruits of his labor didn’t bear until after he went from just complaining to writing up all issues on the online board they all shared. As expected, though, that had resistance. They wrote such vulgarities on there, telling him to do such tawdry acts, which were swiftly answered, those members terminated. From the whispers that still lingered, Nick knew he had a new nickname, one he accepted as a badge of honor: Gravewarden.
He smiled, looking at the online board, seeing the most recent coward’s message, to commit workplace suicide, telling him to fellate the largest, blackest phallus he could find. His boss had left a message under it, and he knew that little punk was going to be executed today with great prejudice. He closed it out, though, seeing it was five to eight, and pulled out the key to the office. A gift from his boss for his services; he was in charge of opening the building, warming up the coffee pots, preparing all the computers and the heaters (or fans, depending) for the day. He was, also, tasked with wiping and dusting, which saved them from having to deal with their initial housekeeper, Frank West, who did everything so slow, so sloppily, it was a wonder none of them died from dust allergies. Frank was on his way out, anyways; there was no way he could keep his wife from running away with the college professor, and he was already depressed. Probably from having no higher aspirations than a housekeeper.
His boss arrived at eight-thirty, on the dot, saw the work he had done, and gave his usual, impressed shake and admiring frown before heading to his office, and shouted out to Nick when it got close to nine. Not that he needed to; he beat his record every day, most of the time by seconds, others by minutes. He had everything down to forty minutes, but was aiming for thirty-five by the end of the week... He chuckled, remembering when it was daunting to even do it all in that, and that was before he had to also turn on the computers.
The rest of the day went normally. There was even a new hire: a spunky, air-headed ditz who just started college. The boss called him in and asked if he could guide her, which the look in his eyes under that bushy, furrowed brow knew that it was a waste of time. They both knew she wouldn’t last long enough for it to matter, but he agreed. He allowed her to shadow him and watch as he completed his tasks... with somewhat mentioning to her what he did. If she couldn’t keep up, then college was also a waste, and, as the day went, well, good thing there were plenty of strip clubs.
However, all changed when another dared to intrude upon his work.
There was a soft rap on his door just after lunch. A lunch he didn’t take but Candice or Cherry or Carly or whatever her future stage name would be did. He ignored it, at first, and kept tapping away; however, it came again, then again, louder each time until a shadow decided to enter his cube. He sighed, exasperated, and turned in his chair, looking up at Chad Godwick. He always wondered why such a picturesque example of an alpha male even bothered to work in this office. With his looks, he could land himself in any acting role just by saying, “Oh, what a lovely tea party,” but no. He decided to diminish them by wearing those bottle-thick, heavy-rimmed glasses and wearing his blond hair long and in a manbun.
“Nick. Man,” he started off, his voice just as deep and burly, and hid his hick accent well behind a guise of intellect.
“Chad! How are you?” Nick said, throwing on his best sneer. “Have fun last weekend?”
“Yeah, but it would have been better with you. You really should take us up on our invitations, brah.”
“I would, but I just don’t have the money for those... games you play.”
“We always have extra, and we don’t mind. It’s about just hanging out, you know?”
Not really, no. What a waste. “Well, we’ll see this weekend.”
“If you’re not careful, I might just drag you with us right after work.”
He chuckled, and Nick joined in. Conspiracy to kidnap, huh? You really are re-
Chad shook his head, sighing. “But that’s not why I’m here. I see you were charged with orienting Courtney-”
“Right! That was her name,” Nick uttered, shaking his head... as she entered the room. “Oh. There you are. Enjoy your lunch?”
“I did,” she said, her voice, even after the last four hours, like nails on a chalkboard. How can anyone have that much energy, that much innate bubbliness? Probably the same that brings a fast food bag back to work; she thrust it towards him, reeking of grease and shame. The food didn’t smell much better. “I knew you were busy, so I brought you some back.”
“Did you bring me any?” Chad teased.
“Uh, no! You don’t deserve any.”
“It’s because he’s prettier than me, isn’t it?”
“By a country mile.”
Nick scoffed as the two laughed. “That’s a lie. Have you seen the guy? Pure chad material... The irony is palpable.”
“... Right,” Chad said, clearing his throat, and hooked an arm around Christy... or Carly... or whatever Chad called her. “I was about to tell you. This little runt is my sister. Better teach her right, or else I’m going to have to complain about her fucking things up.”
“Please,” the sister said. “You’re going to do that anyways.”
“Yeah, but I want it to be a fib, at least.”
“So nothing new.”
They laughed again, which Nick kept glancing on the clock on his computer, keeping track of every minute they waste, but it wasn’t even a minute before she nudged him in the ribs, shoving him back out the room as she took her place as Nick’s shadow once more.
“All right. You two get along, okay, but not too well. We don’t want to hear you fucking.”
Sexual harassme- He began to think, but was appalled by her response.
“We’ll make this office shake. Won’t we, baby?” She said, and winked at him... Two counts of sexual harassment, and on her first day, and probationary period, no less. Chad left, and he was able to return to wo- “So you don’t talk much, do you?”
“... Not really,” he said, and returned his fingers to the keyboar-
“Yeah, Chad told me you were the quiet type. You don’t even get in the discussions on the online board.”
“I try to keep my nose down to the grindstone and don’t bother with anything else.” Just because I’m the only one to change it to anonymous on the b-
“Which is why I asked for you specifically when I first came here.”
“I heard you were diligent. Somebody who was no-nonsense, and kept on-point no matter what. Doesn’t matter the drama around you, you just keep on going. I want to learn like that, work like that.”
“That’s... very astute of you.” He cleared his throat, raised his hands, preparing them for t-
“So you hanging out with my brother and his dorky friends this weekend?”
Goddammit! “I said I would think about it.”
“I wouldn’t. They are huge nerds! All they talk about is their cards and mini figures and video games- ugh! It’s no wonder none of them have girlfriends; who wants to hang out with a guy that spends more on his little toys than he does on his car, or her when it comes down to it? I mean, look at you. You must have your pick of the girls.”
“Not really. Not looking, either.”
“What!” He winced at that tone, and his hands shook with the rage building in the throbbing vein on his temple. “How old are you?”
“Does it matter?”
“With that attitude, you must be in your thirties, right? Forties?”
“... I’m only twenty-five.”
“Huh? You’re the same age as my brother? But he said you’ve been here for years when he started.”
“Only two, soon to be three-”
“And my brother is coming up on his first year! What the hell? You must be, like, super smart to have gotten here. Then again, it took him six years to get his bachelor’s; maybe you didn’t need the extra two.”
“What was he trying to get?”
“Criminal science. You?”
“Four: English, Business, Marketing, and Economics.”
“Wow! You are super smart.”
“Not really. Most of them overlapped, and I could always go back to grab, like, four more with the same credits. They are literally a dime a dozen.”
“That’s good to know- hey! Maybe you can help me. I’m having, like, the hardest time picking a major. I signed up for business originally because everyone says that’s the best starting point, but I’m not a big fan of math. Numbers make my head hurt, especially in long lines. Could you teach me how to deal with that? Oh, but first help me pick a major. What’s the truth, really? What is the best place to start? Which ones overlap so I can get the most bang for my buck? How many degrees is too many? Are places actually looking for degrees or is that to filter out people who have no drive, as my freshman orientation teacher told us? Say, something I’ve been wondering, but how often are workplaces multi-ethnic? I heard the-”
“I will be right back.” Nick stated, bolting to his feet as he did, and practically flew out of the cubical. There were only fifteen cubicals, with the center opened for a meeting table, wide enough to allow two people to walk side-by-side down them with ease, but he felt he didn’t have enough room as he raced to the restroom. The door thundered behind him, slammed shut as he leaned over the sink, drenching his face in cold water. He still had the bag of fast food in his left hand, crushed to a pulp, his hand coated in grease, shaking, raining it onto the ground. He tossed the bag away, cleaned it off, but it and the rest of him still shook. He could see the vein in his forehead, risen, throbbing hard, holding back the fire in his chest, making it ache, needing to unleash, but what good would it do?
No... he would have to approach this like normal. He was Gravewarden, after all... He stood in there a few minutes longer, soaked his face, and returned to his cubical, where his shadow still lingered. She continued to jabber on, but, just like the others, she would be gone. He kept a separate window open, writing down every inappropriate comment, every out-of-turn phrase, and it was quickly piling up. By the end of the week, he would have more than enough, as he did every week when he was assigned a new person, and, soon enough, it was time for him to slog home, to undress, stow his clothes in the hamper to the right of the bed, and go to bed to repeat it all once again. It was his life... and it was only a matter of time before it caught up to him.