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Chapter 5

TF sat in their mentor’s chair, staring at his laptop on the desk. Double A stood behind him, also reading Oblong’s story on the screen.

“Huh, that’s an odd one,” Double A said when she’d finished. “Even odder than the one I read yesterday.”

“‘Even odder’...I wonder if anyone has ever uttered the phrase: odd evener.”

“I can’t imagine why they would...so, what did you think?”

“Give me a minute to finish, and I’ll tell you.”

“Then stop commenting on my comments and keep reading.” She waited as he continued to scan the screen.

TF finished a moment later with a, “huh.”

“I know, right.”

“Sort of reminds me of the one I read yesterday afternoon...kind of disturbing. You think this one was odder than the Kipling knockoff you read?”

Double A nodded. “Yeah, I mean it had talking animals, but it wasn’t unsettling or anything. What was the one about that you read yesterday?”

“This guy and a pigeon...but different than the farmer and the bat.”

“I want to read it.”

“Yeah, I want to read the one you read yesterday too.”

Double A opened her own laptop and, with one hand on the touchpad and the other on the keyboard, executed a quick search, but all she found were Excel documents and the Word document they’d just read. “The ones from yesterday aren’t on Oblong’s computer anymore.”

“Could he be hiding them in some subfolder?”

“He could be, but if they’re anywhere on his computer, they should’ve come up in my search.”

“Then he’s either emailing them or printing them.”

“Let me check his printer log.” She made several keystrokes and a few touchpad clicks as she navigated through various menus. “No, he hasn’t printed anything since last week.”

“Can you check his email history?”

“I can check his work email’s sent folder...no—he sent six emails yesterday, all replies to other employees.”

“How about his personal email?” TF asked.

“I’m not sure I want to do that, but let me take a quick peek at his browser history to see if he even accessed a personal email account...nope, he hasn’t cleared his history in over a month—and surprisingly, I don’t see an entry for any external email account.”

“So then what...he’s just deleting them?”

“I doubt it, but I can check his computer’s recycle bin.” Double A shook her head. “Holy shit, I think he is deleting them.”

“You found them in there?”

“No, it’s completely empty...and according to the recycle record, he purges his bin twice a day.”

* * *

TF sat down with his brownbag lunch at the table near the long window that overlooked the parking garage. Double A joined him with a diet soda from the vending machine in one hand and a sleeve of crackers in the other.

“That’s not much of a lunch,” said TF.

“It’s more than I used to eat for lunch most days back in college.”

“Yeah, but you’re a junior executive now...you can afford better.”

“What’ve you got in there that’s so much better?” She looked inside his lunch bag. “Some sort of sandwich—guessing PB&J—a baggie of plain potato chips, an apple, and...oh what have we here, a big cookie. I wouldn’t exactly call that a power lunch—though, judging by the circumference of some of these executives, maybe a daily power lunch isn’t such a healthy idea.”

“Neither is soda and crackers. You can have half my sandwich or my apple, if you want.”

“Thanks.” Double A reached into his bag and pulled out the cookie. She opened the cellophane packaging, broke off a large chunk, and put the rest back in the bag.

“Why don’t you take one of my kidneys while you’re at it?”

“Gross...I don’t even eat kidney beans.”

“So our plan is to sit here and wait for Oblong to come in for lunch and then invite him to join us, since this is the table he was sitting at by himself when we first met him yesterday?”

“That’s right,” said Double A. “Doesn’t he strike you as a creature of habit?”

“He does, which makes me think he’ll choose to sit alone again.”

“Could be, but it’s better than showing up at his cubicle unannounced for no reason at all.”

* * *

TF and Double A navigated through the cubicle farm, with TF leading the way to the desk of Tom from accounting.

“I’m so disoriented, I feel as if we’re inside a casino.” Double A looked for a window. “It’s like once you enter here, it’s nearly impossible to either literally or figuratively leave.”

“What do we say when we get to his cubicle? ‘We waited over an hour for you in the breakroom, so we could ask you potentially inappropriate questions, even though when we met you yesterday, the most innocuous of small talk seemed to irritate you.’”

“Leave it to me,” Double A said as they rounded a corner to find Oblong eating a slice of cold pizza at his desk. “Oh, hello there...Tom, isn’t it? We were just looking for our desks, but I’m glad we bumped into you, because my colleague had a question that he wanted to ask you.”

Oblong set his half-eaten slice on a partially crumpled sheet of aluminum foil. He chewed quickly, swallowed hard, and then looked at TF expectantly.

“Yeah...well, uh...it wasn’t so much a question,” TF began, “but I just wanted to say that I was really impressed by your impromptu and extemporaneous comments yesterday in the boardroom.”

“Okay.” Oblong returned his attention to the piece of pizza on his desk.

“Right,” added Double A, “It was quite impressive that you came up with the idea you suggested on the spot like that...but also, I wanted to say, on a different note, that I’m sure you heard about our mentor passing away last night.”

“Yeah, I read the email this morning.”

“Yes,” she continued, “such a shame.”

“How so?”

“You know, being so close to retirement and all,” she said.

“I didn’t know he was set to retire.”

“Yes,” said Double A, “a real shame.”

“You mentioned that already.”

“Correct...so we were thinking of doing something nice for his widow.”

“Flowers are nice,” Oblong replied, “and I believe customary.”

“Sure, of course,” Double A said, “but we were thinking of something a little more personal to express how much her husband meant to us.”

“Didn’t you two just meet him yesterday?”

“That’s true,” answered TF, “but it was a really full day.”

“What did you have in mind?” asked Oblong.

“Well, we thought we’d canvas our fellow office workers to see if they had any hidden talents,” said Double A. “You know, like artistic ability to draw a pretty picture on the front of a homemade card, or maybe a penchant for creative writing to write something nice on the inside.”

“I think the lady three cubicles down does calligraphy,” Oblong said.

“How about you though?” asked TF. “Any special aptitudes?”

“Sure, let me know if you think the widow would enjoy an Excel pivot table.”

Tuesday Afternoon Story by Oblong

Two uprights in an otherwise empty room stand and stare at each other. One upright smiles, and the other upright smiles back.

Then they return to staring at one another with expressionless faces.

The first upright nods his head approvingly toward the second upright, who nods back in the same manner.

Then they stare some more.

The first upright winks at the other, but the second continues to stare ahead blankly and then slowly shakes his head back and forth.

The first upright begins to shake his head slowly too, though a little faster than the other.

The second upright speeds up the shaking of his head.

The first upright shakes his head even quicker.

The second upright shakes his head so swiftly that his cheeks make a flapping sound.

The first upright shakes his head with such velocity that streams of saliva issue from the corners of his mouth.

The second upright shakes his head so vigorously that he begins to gasp for air.

The first upright accelerates the rapidity of his shaking head to the point that he begins to lose consciousness, though his head continues to shake back and forth.

The celerity of the second upright’s shaking head causes him to fall over, but his head shakes on as it bangs against the cement floor.

Finally, the first upright manages to shake his head with enough force to snap his own neck, and he drops dead.

Now in the blank space, the only noise that can be heard by the silent spectators is the sound of the winner’s skull beating against the concrete, as if the victor was applauding his own triumph.

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