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Chapter 2

Sitting in the corner booth of a posh restaurant that their executive mentor had taken them to for lunch, Double A and TF eyed the bill on the table.

“He’s really been gone a long time,” TF said.

“Do you think this is some sort of initiation thing?” Double A asked. “He tells us he needs to use the restroom, but then instead he heads back to the office.”

“I hope not. In addition to him having the company credit card, he’s also our ride...though perhaps I should offer to chauffer if he ever does return.”

“Yeah, you’d think someone who made a career out of soft drinks wouldn’t drink so much hard liquor over lunch. Maybe one of us should go check on him.”

“Gee, I wonder which of us would be the better candidate to go searching for him in the men’s room,” TF asked sarcastically. “I say we give him a few more minutes.”

“What do you think he’ll have us do for the rest of the afternoon?”

“I don’t know. So far I get the sense that the executives don’t really do all that much themselves.”

“Yeah, we’ve only been I.C. employees for a few hours, but I get that same sense. After our morning meeting, he gave us until lunch to check our email...I mean how much email did he expect us to have on our first day?”

“I spent most of the morning playing solitaire—our company laptops come preloaded with more games than I would’ve thought.”

“I accessed Oblong’s computer.”

“How did you do that?” whispered TF.

“I just went to the Executive Portal and entered my employee number on the back of the work ID they issued us. Then I did a search for Tom in accounting...it was surprisingly simple—disconcertingly easy, actually.”

“Did you find anything interesting?”

Double A raised an eyebrow. “I read a very short story he wrote this morning.”

“Really...what was it like?”

“A little derivative of Rudyard Kipling, but kind of fascinating...though, definitely outré like we were told.”

“Well, now I know how I’m going to spend my afternoon. Maybe I will go visit the men’s room so that we can get back to the office quicker.”

“Lesson two: Never be in too big a hurry to get back to the office,” their mentor said as he returned to the table. “And incidentally, if you can, I’d hold it if I were you. I shouldn’t have ordered all those oysters...or that third martini. I used to be able to knock ’em back and keep ’em down better when I was a younger man.”

Monday Afternoon Story by Oblong

Another assessment. This time I wake up in an empty room next to a pigeon with a broken wing. It grunts and attempts to fly but can only flap its unbroken wing, so the wounded animal twists around in a little circle. Am I supposed to eat it? I do a quick search for something heavy in the blank space—nothing. I look down at my feet—no shoes. I could try to snap its tiny neck, but I don’t actually feel hungry enough to eat raw pigeon. Anyway, I’m not keen on the idea of the pigeon doing whatever a dying pigeon does within arm’s reach of me.

I wake up again. I must’ve been asleep for a while, because this time my body instantly informs me that I am indeed hungry. I look around the blank space: wounded pigeon, nothing else, still no shoes. I consider what it’d be like to eat a recently deceased pigeon. Didn’t rock stars do that in the 70s? Pigeon meat is considered a delicacy in some countries. At least I would know that it’d be fresh. The idea grows on me—maybe I could bite its head off and get the messy bit over first. I grab the pigeon. It makes an “oorhh” sound of distress. I hold it close. I study its beady little eyes...dumb mistake. I can’t do it.

I wake up still holding the pigeon close to my chest. It does that twitchy, pigeony thing with its head as it looks up at me. It seems to be in good spirits. I let it go. It walks around, now holding its broken wing in place against its side. It appears to be on the mend. I watch it for a while. As always, I don’t remember falling asleep.

My eyes open, and I see the remains of the dead pigeon. Someone made a lot of gore out of that little bird. I look down at my hands. They’re clean. I scan the room and see another upright in the blank space. He’s asleep with feathers and viscera dried around his mouth. Near his open hand lies a bloody brick. I pick it up. I contemplate using it to cave in his skull, but then it occurs to me that he ate the pigeon and not me, so I leave him be.

I sit down in the corner of the blank space. I keep the brick with me. I know it’s a futile thing to do, since soon I’ll be asleep again, and when I wake up the brick will most likely be gone, but it comforts me to hold it the way I held the pigeon.

I’m annoyed that they continue to assess me in this manner, but I’m even more aggravated that I still don’t understand what these assessments are meant to measure. Maybe they’re attempting to figure out my purpose.

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