Oblong

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Chapter 7

TF had arrived at the office early, as was his wont, and sat behind his mentor’s desk studying the two cups of coffee he’d brought with him. He’d bought them on his drive in, despite the office offering perfectly adequate coffee for free. He was attempting to make a gesture, though he wasn’t sure what he intended to convey with the gesture. He’d ordered two black coffees, because that’s how he liked his, but he decided during the elevator ride up that giving Double A a black coffee the morning after they’d made out in his car didn’t seem quite right. He didn’t want her to think that their difference in skin tone was an issue...and so he didn’t want to have to say, “I got you a coffee—it’s black (just like you).” He knew he was being ridiculous, but he still didn’t want to say it.

When he had gotten off the elevator, he’d gone directly to the breakroom and poured some sugar into her coffee, but then on the way to his mentor’s office he thought of how it would sound when he had to say, “I got you a coffee—I hope you like sugar (I know that you do).” He was aware that he’d transitioned from ridiculous to ludicrous...but still, he didn’t want to say it. And so, he went back to the breakroom to add creamer. “I got you a coffee—I added some sugar and cream (nothing). Yeah, that sounds fine, he thought. But then the word cream made him think of that Prince song, so he tried to think of another song, and the line from that Carly Simon song popped into his head: “I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee.” Nothing objectionable about that, he figured. Then he thought of semen.

Stop it, he told himself, we only made out a little. We both kept our pants on...true, mine came unbuttoned, but I think that was a result of moderate to heavy petting and was in no way an intentional escalation on her part. She was probably just taking pity on me for getting transferred—sort of a farewell make-out session for the road—and we’d both had a couple of drinks...and, of course, we were also a little emotional about our mentor. Should I maybe go check to see if they have honey in the breakroom?

Double A entered the office with a small box and a somewhat self-conscious expression. “I picked us up a couple of doughnuts—a vanilla long john and a cream-filled chocolate.”

* * *

Double A sat with her feet up on their mentor’s desk as TF stood at an open filing cabinet, perusing a manila folder. “Huh, I think I found the files on all the past junior executive trainees.”

“Anyone we know?”

“No one from the last couple of years...it doesn’t look as if they run this program every year. Wait, here’s a name I recognize—Ricky Roberts.”

“Doesn’t ring a bell,” said Double A.

“He was in my fraternity; he was a senior when I was a freshman—had to drop out because he ‘got a girl in trouble’ as they used to say. We should’ve seen it coming, so to speak; his nickname was Ricky ‘Rubbers are for Rain Puddles’ Roberts.”

“Not a very succinct sobriquet...so, you were in a fraternity?”

“Yeah, all of us lacrosse guys pledged the same house. Wasn’t there a track and field sorority?”

“If there was, I didn’t know about it.”

“Maybe I’m mistaken.” TF returned his attention to the file. “Strange, he must’ve graduated if he was eligible for this program, but I don’t ever remember seeing him on campus again.”

“Perhaps he finished his degree online.”

“Perhaps, but I never heard of that being an option at our university...besides, I doubt Imperial would’ve hired a junior executive with an online degree. I wonder if he still works for the company.”

Double A sat up and started tapping the keys of her laptop. “Looks like he completed the training program but then only worked here for a few months afterwards.”

“Does it say what happened...was he fired?”

She read down the screen. “It just says that they cut his last paycheck about two years ago—his personnel file is sealed. It’s curious that the executives have so much access to their subordinates’ information but so little to each other’s.”

“Yes and no. Can you check again to see if Oblong has written his morning story yet?”

“Yes.” She made a few more touchpad clicks and several more keystrokes. “And no...nothing yet.”

“Do you still believe there’s a connection between what Oblong writes and what goes on in the office?”

“This is what we’re going to talk about from yesterday?”

“As I told you, it’s an intriguing theory—got me thinking last night.”

“That’s what you thought about last night?”

He smiled. “I thought about some other stuff too, but the more I got to thinking about Oblong’s stories the more I realized you might be on to something—there are a lot of...coincidences, I suppose, between what he writes and what happens here.”

“Maybe, but I’ve been accused before of seeing connections where none actually exist.”

“Could be that the connections you saw were real but that whoever you told about them couldn’t see them too.”

“Could be, or it could be that your change of heart is being influenced by other parts of your body.”

“I assure you that my change in opinion on this matter didn’t have to do with any part of my body beyond my brain.”

“I can’t decide if I believe you or not.”

TF was about to respond, but then something caught his eye in the folder he held. “Shit on a stick.”

“What is it?”

“You’ll never guess who was part of the junior executive training program some twenty years ago.”

“Your dad?”

“Nope.”

“Your mom?”

“No, a certain Tom from accounting.”

“What...how’s that even possible?” Double A quickly clicked on her computer’s touchpad and clacked at the keyboard. “According to his personnel file, Oblong started in accounting two decades ago, but there’s another file for him dating back about a year before then, which is sealed.”

“Why would he quit being an executive but continue to work for the company as an accountant?”

“Maybe they fired him.”

“But then rehired him—that doesn’t make sense.”

“Just because it doesn’t make sense to us, doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense at all.” She looked again at her screen. “Speaking of things that potentially make sense to Oblong alone—he’s writing his latest story.”

Wednesday Morning Story by Oblong

Mole loathed the term “snake hole.” A mole digs the hole and then a snake winds its way in, claiming the hole for itself—sometimes eating the mole who lives there in the process—and suddenly it’s known as a snake hole? Mole figured that if a snake climbed a tree, ate a bird in its nest, and then curled up inside, it wouldn’t be referred to as a snake nest. Besides, he didn’t think “snake hole” sounded as pleasing to the ear as the rhyming “mole hole,” but it seemed to him that he heard the term snake hole a whole lot more than mole hole. But “mole hills”—now he heard that plenty. “Who cares what the holes are called?” Mole had been told many times before. “You’re making mountains out of...well, you know.”

Mole was snug in his hole one chilly morning when who should come a-calling? Snake twisted her way through Mole’s tortuous tunnels. Mole could hear Snake, and she could smell him, though neither could see the other. Mole burrowed as Snake pursued. Each time Snake thought she was closing in on Mole, he managed to dig his way to another arterial tunnel and slip into a new network of corridors, then Snake would have to start her hunt all over.

Mole evaded Snake time and time again, but she was determined to catch up to Mole. She figured eventually his luck would run out—and so it did. Mole burrowed into an oak tree root, hitting his head and momentarily stunning himself. He snapped to just as Snake rounded the corner, and Mole began to burrow anew, but he’d become disoriented and dug under the tunnel he was aiming for. Mole continued to dig, but he knew that unless he dug into another system of tunnels soon, Snake would catch him. He was a fast digger to be sure, but she could slither still faster—all Snake needed now was patience.

Mole exhausted himself. He’d never dug so much at one time in his entire life, or had a better reason to, but now his body no longer felt like it belonged to him—his muscles stopped obeying. Quite by accident, Mole broke through to his sleeping den, but he could not go on—as good a place to die as any, he thought.

Mole felt Snake’s forked tongue flick against his fur. He sensed the empty space in the chamber filling up as Snake slithered her long body inside. Snake wrapped herself around Mole and began to press firmly. He knew what was to come. She would squeeze him tighter and tighter. Each time he exhaled, she would tighten her grip a little more so that every next breath would be shallower than the last. Mole’s heart was racing, which meant that his respiration had increased—he would draw his last breath very soon now.

“Your heart’s beating too quickly,” Snake said. “Calm yourself, or it’ll burst.”

“What do you care how I die?” asked Mole.

“I don’t want you to die.”

“You want to eat me alive then...is that it, you sadistic serpent?”

“I’m not going to eat you. I came in here because my reptilian blood was getting too cold outside. I wanted to be close to your mammalian warmth.”

“You mean you chased me all that way just to hold me?” Mole asked incredulously.

“Yesss,” said Snake sibilantly.

“How long do you intend to keep a hold of me?”

“Until spring comes, but you can leave whenever you like to do whatever you want—just so long as you return.”

“How do you know I’ll come back?”

“Are you not comfortable in my coils?”

Mole touched her imbricated scales, which he had to admit felt better than the damp dirt he usually slept on...and he was exhausted. “You don’t need to hold me quite so tightly.”

"Sorry.” Snake loosened herself around him. “This is a first for me too, so I’m a little tense.”

“No need to apologize...it’s going to be a long winter, and I’m sure we’ll both make our share of mistakes.”

And so Snake and Mole enjoyed a peaceful slumber, neither having ever known a more pleasant season.

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