This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
It was another beautiful autumn day and much like any other day; Gerald Stance was making his unhurried way to work. Gerald had been travelling this same way for what seemed to be all of his 30 years of life, but what was in fact only eight of those years. Gerald was vaguely aware that those eight years were quite a long time to have been in the same job especially these days; they had, he realised, passed by relatively quickly. Not in the sense that time somehow passed quicker for Gerald than it did for anybody else, but in the sense that Gerald had not been aware of that entire time passing.
This of course was not surprising, given that he had been asleep for a large part of it and the other large part of that time had been taken up by work. When he thought about it for a moment, it seemed to Gerald that the fact that time had passed by so very quickly, was in its self a blessing: after all, who in their right mind wants to be aware of every waking moment spent at work?
Still, the fact remained that time had passed Gerald by in a way that he was not entirely aware of or, indeed, ready for: like a duck sat at a pond’s edge snoozing in the sun, only to wake and find the pond was now a dust filled hole and the abundant plant life had begun to wither and die. Gerald was aware that his life was beginning to run away from him, and he still felt that there was something he needed to do. Of course, it didn’t help that he wasn’t sure what that something should be.
He thought these things over in his mind as he made his slow way from the train station into town. It wasn’t a long way into town from the station, but Gerald always made his way slowly. It was nice, he thought, to move at his own pace and watch the river of humanity that was the morning rush from the station flow past him.
Gerald marvelled at the determined steps of those about him, as if some invisible force pulled each along like iron-filings to a magnet or Salmon to the sea. Gerald could only take that thought so far however, without feeling like a hypocrite and a traitor; he was caught up in the same flow as everybody else, he just lived his life in the creak, backing water.
As he walked, he felt the last of the summer’s heat in the early Autumnal sunshine. It was pleasantly warm now but he knew from the way the sun was warming him and the tinge of ozone in the air that there would be a chance of thunder later. It would be a shame not to sit and watch it; it smelled like it would be a good one.
Gerald noticed that a few more of the trees had started to tinge yellow, just the briefest touches at their edges but it signalled the fast approaching end to summer and the shorter cooler days of late Autumn; it seemed to have been a long summer this year, there had been plenty of opportunities for getting out and about and enjoying nature for Gerald. He and his family had even visited the sea on a few occasions during their summer-break.
Thinking of his summer holidays reminded him, painfully, of the large amount of time that needed to pass before his next break. Gerald stifled the feelings this realisation caused: he recognised them so well. They were the same feelings he had every morning and he worked hard to ignore them, lest they tumbled him into despair. There was no room for despondency and despair in the working world - he knew that much.
Steeling himself to not let those feelings take over, Gerald made his way through the quiet early morning streets of the town centre to his favourite coffee shop. The Barista was bustling about in his little shop serving the queue of customers that were his early morning rush; that were his very livelihood.
Gerald waited patiently in line trying to decide what to have this morning, he wasn’t sure whether to go for something different or stick with his normal Americano. His mind wandered as he stood in line, helped by the familiar lull of the meaningless conversations of people nervously killing time before the start of the working day. Eventually, his mind settled on what he needed to do that day at work, there was quite a list, unfortunately. He was reviewing his mental check list of the things he needed to do when he was interrupted by the familiar Barista, ‘Your usual is it?’
Slightly confused, Gerald refocused his mind on what he was doing, ‘sorry, daydreaming... Yes please that will do nicely.’
The Barista smiled at him and busied himself with Gerald’s order. Only a few moments later Gerald was the proud owner of a too-hot coffee and was making his way to the office. As he entered the building, the familiar feeling of anxiety that the start of the working day brought moved unpleasantly through him, leaving him as always slightly breathless. He made his way through the front doors of the building and to the reception desk where he collected his mail and then to the second floor where his office and the archives were kept.
Gerald was the head archivist at J.J. Smedley & Sons solicitors. It always amused him that he was deemed the ‘head archivist’ and that that made him a head of department because there was precisely one archivist working within the archives.
His task was one of bringing order to what could only be described as chaos. The fact that the solicitors firm still employed an archivist said an awful lot about its backward nature - that is - it said a lot, about how it used to be run when James Smedley was still alive.
Now that the company had passed into the hands of the sons, it was being dragged kicking and screaming into some semblance of modernity and that meant the archives needed to be ordered. It also meant that Gerald’s job was running on something of a timer because, of course, once order was restored the archives would be digitalised and outsourced to lessen the costs.
Gerald knew all of this though but also knew that this wouldn’t be happening any time soon. He was maybe a quarter of the way through the ordering process and that had taken two years to accomplish. So far, that had been pleasing to the management but Gerald knew their patience wouldn’t last forever.
He entered the archives and was assaulted by the gentle, familiar smell of paper-decay, old leather and dust. It didn’t matter how many times he came into this vast room, or how long he worked here, the smell always caught him in this way. It was, he decided, a nice smell: a comforting smell.
Gerald relaxed into his morning routine, which was generally quickly glancing through e-mails, looking at his work sheet (which determined what he would be doing with his day) and checking the requests ledger. This heavy, half-filled tome was probably the most time consuming and often-frustrating part of his job.
The ledger was a large book, brought up to the archives each morning by the clerks of each floor of the building, written on which, were requests for various archived materials, whether it be case work, historical paper reports, whatever; It was Gerald’s job to collect each of these requests together and deliver them to each person that had requested them. Generally, this would be a solicitor’s request for a case they were working on and which might have some relevance to one of the historical case-loads, in this way the archives were invaluable.
Gerald glanced at the ledger and winced at the seven requests listed there:
One name he noticed written under four separate requests was Fiona; Stephen Smedley’s personal assistant. Generally, it was agreed that for large requests of more than two separate documents from the archives, a telephone call would take place to order what was needed. If for no other reason than courtesy, it at least gave the archivist a forewarning of what was needed and maybe time to track them down.
That Fiona had not given Gerald this courtesy was, perhaps, not surprising. She was after all, the boss’s assistant. Stephen Smedley was clearly the man in charge, despite there being two names above the door.
Gerald sighed and started his weary trudge through the archives looking for the requested materials. It was expected that these would be delivered to the necessary departments before midday.
At least Fiona’s requests were for cases from the last two years: that would make things easier - anything from the last twenty years, now followed Gerald’s own system of referencing, which of course, he knew like the back of his hand. He’d decided to adapt the well-known Dewey-decimal system often used in libraries to create order out of chaos. So far, this was working very well, particularly now that he’d settled on how it would work.
Shuffling his way between the stacked shelves, Gerald marvelled at the size of this room as he very often did. Even with familiarity, it was still a staggeringly large room. It was a great rectangle of space, taking up the entire second floor of the building; there were windows against the eastern wall, high up near the ceiling and the same again on the western side. The two shorter walls, on the north and south, were devoid of windows all together although there was the entrance in the southern one. Attached to the inside of this same wall like a wasps’ nest was what Gerald called his office. This was really a very temporary looking structure of stud walling construction on three sides and a low glass screen over Gerald’s desk on the fourth side; much like a bank clerk’s teller position in miniature.
Gerald liked the set-up of his office, it allowed him to ‘survey his kingdom’, and really visualise how his ordering system would affect the layout and order of the shelves which stretched in repeated corridors the length and breadth of the room, entirely filling every piece of floor space.
Later that morning, Gerald had managed to gather together five of the seven articles that had been requested. The two that were missing were two of those requested by Fiona. There was nothing for it though; he’d given as much time to the task as he could. The deadline for delivery was almost upon him. He just had time to re-check his e-mail before leaving the archives to begin the delivery run.
As Gerald sat at his computer, he was surprised to find what a relief it was to get off his feet. He felt the mental fug of concentration slowly lift. It was a strange feeling, almost as if he had just woken from a nap. It was a feeling very similar to exhaustion that temporarily clouded his mind whenever he had been concentrating hard on the same task for any period of time.
Clicking his mouse on the e-mail icon, he was slightly disappointed to note that he had only two e-mails in his in-box. His attention was caught immediately by one specific e-mail. It was an invite, of sorts, to the Master Archivists’ annual conference. It was a professional group that Stephen insisted Gerald had to join; he liked to be able to state every employee’s professional credentials on the firm’s website. Gerald had been less than enthused about joining what he believed at the time, would be a stuffy collection of old men whispering about the good old days and bemoaning the I.T. revolution. Gerald was now quite happy to admit, however, that he had been very wrong; he had some good friends there and looked forward to seeing them yearly. A jolt of excitement ran through him, it was always a pleasure to mingle with like-minded colleagues.
The firm viewed it as an annual training event and was more than happy to allow Gerald to attend: They viewed personal growth and commitment to one’s profession as admirable qualities and encouraged all their staff members to attend external training events: resting on one’s laurels was not an option. Gerald locked his computer, turned off the monitor (as he would be gone for at least an hour) and made his way with his trolley loaded with documents, case files and ledgers to the exit.
As he rode the lift to the third floor, he checked over his list again, he hadn’t even started his scheduled days’ work and it was already 11:50. Sighing slightly, Gerald pushed his trolley from the lift onto the third floor and turned for the finance office.
Gerald was hoping that for once, Horace wouldn’t spot him and delay him with mindless chatter as he often did. It was difficult for Gerald, in situations like this, to extricate himself without seeming and sounding abrupt. Gerald marvelled at how other people effortlessly dealt with people like Horace, they seemed to have a natural ease which they, with a subtle disdain, stopped any conversation before it had chance to begin.
The problem was that Horace was one of those people: he seemed to like the sound of his own voice and believed entirely in everything he said. Horace, Gerald thought to himself, was one of those people who confused obscurity with profundity.
As he entered the finance office, Gerald was struck as always, by the wall of noise coming from a space as large in size as the archives, but instead of being filled to the ceiling with books, was instead filled with busy people. They always reminded Gerald of the pictures from a nature program about nesting sea birds that he had seen once on TV. In the same way that the birds had never stopped squawking, hustling, and squabbling. Gerald thought that putting a large group of people into a space resulted in a striking resemblance, even the squabbling went on and it was often not very subtle.
As Gerald looked across the room, searching vaguely for the finance department’s clerk, it suddenly occurred to him that he didn’t know the woman’s name, only her appearance and that was in itself a vague outline in his mind’s eye. She had unruly red-hair and a kind, calm face; that however, was about the limit of his recollections.
As he continued to search vainly about the room, a familiar and unwelcome shape hove into view. Horace Hobbald was a short, fat and balding man of around 50 years of age. He seemed to both wheeze and sweat continuously and had the sallow appearance of one who smoked too much. Gerald wondered at the striking resemblance to a pot-bellied stove, his stature had: Having barely any neck and a great round head which, precisely because of the apparent absence of neck, seemed to sit on his shoulders of its own accord and threatened to dislodge itself and fall tumbling to the ground.
As the head of the finance department, Horace naturally fancied himself as something of an important player in the overall machinery of the firm, whereas Gerald tended to think of him as a great fatty deposit, clogging up a vital artery.
Gerald cursed inwardly as the pot-bellied man made his slow, waddling, wheezy way across the room; he’d been spotted, the only thing for it now was to hope that Horace was too busy to chat.
Still some distance from Gerald, Horace opened his mouth and partially shouted:
‘Ah Gerald, how are you my good man?’ Even his voice contained a wheeze; he sounded, Gerald thought, like an old bellows, losing air with every puff.
As Horace finally made it to Gerald’s side, he cast a querying look at the trolley Gerald had been pushing.
‘I am well thank you, Horace. Actually I am looking for your Clerk, have you seen her?’
If Horace noticed the question, he made no attempt to answer it, instead saying,
‘Have you heard the news my good man? On the Dobson’s case?’ Horace knew that Gerald hadn’t heard the news; in fact, it was likely that few other than Horace had: he seemed to have a knack for getting news before anyone else. Not for the first time, did Gerald think that Horace was in the wrong job. He should have been working for a newspaper, writing about all of this news!
Gerald sighed wearily, time was pressing on, he hadn’t managed to deliver one request yet and here he was captured in a game of which grown man could appear the most important, with this person who looked like he was getting more ill every second.
‘No Horace, I haven’t heard the news - but you know that, surely?’
Horace wheezed a dry chuckle and clapped Gerald on the back with a great pink, meaty paw.
‘Well then my good man, I shall educate you, although of course it’s on a strictly hush-hush basis, we wouldn’t want the wrong people getting this information would we?’
Gerald smiled weakly at Horace, as he proceeded to tell his tale of woe for the Dobson’s company. As Horace told his tale, Gerald wondered idly, who exactly the wrong people were and what dire things would happen if they were to get hold of this none-news.
Apparently the company had just been ordered to pay a large amount of money to a frankly, idiotic individual who had spilt coffee down himself whilst on their premises. The fact that Dobson’s were a sheet metal firm and the coffee had been bought from a vendor at the railway station, half a mile away- was supposed to be something worth celebrating. Well at least it was if you shared Horace’s view of the world, or if you were the now substantially better off idiot.
What was particularly depressing to Gerald about this story was that he had no doubt that not just Horace would be celebrating this ‘victory’. Gerald often felt like he was the only person in the world who felt the way he did, or thought the way he did. Although, his wife would often remind him that that wasn’t the case, she felt that he let things like this get to him too much. She felt that he would be better off in a job that wasn’t so against his morals; either way, however, he felt almost comparably non-human.
Horace was practically a human water feature by the time his tale was finished, but Gerald found he could not feel the same excitement that was causing Horace’s pores to try to recreate, in human form, a water fall. Could Horace not see that this was no victory? That this was in fact, daylight robbery? More likely to savagely cripple Dobson’s and quite possibly put some people there out of a job? And all for what? Some perverse desire to receive financial gain, whatever the Human cost. The injustice of it created a deep-seated anger and distaste for Gerald. This was not what J.J. Smedley used to be about.
When Gerald had first started and James was still alive and well, the firm had been a small family business. Since James’ death, Robert, and Stephen’s joint leadership had begun and the firm had been becoming increasingly commercialised, with a completely new department handling ‘no-win no-fee’, claims.
Abruptly, Gerald became aware that Horace had finished speaking and was looking at him with a questioning look. Finding himself in a slightly awkward social situation in a room full of potential on-lookers, Gerald felt the first fluttering of panic. Stuttering slightly, Gerald resorted to asking his original question again:
‘W-where about i-is your Clerk?’ Looking slightly taken aback at Gerald’s abrupt tone, Horace looked across the room for Cynthia’s bush of red hair.
’Actually, Gerald, I am not entirely sure. I can’t say I have seen her all day. What do you need her for anyway?’
’She’s requested some materials from archives, which I have brought up to her.’ Recovering his poise somewhat, Gerald pointed needlessly at the stack of materials on his trolley. He was uncomfortably aware of Horace’s scrutiny. Gerald had a special dislike for being stared at by other people, particularly when he was already feeling uncomfortable.
As Horace returned his gaze to the room, Gerald felt the last of the panic leave him and with it, his wits return. ‘Would you be able to pass these on to her when she returns from wherever she is?’
Horace looked down at the smartly wrapped bundle of papers, folders and documents and then up at the man opposite him. He was an odd one, Gerald, he was able to seem entirely capable and yet, at the same time, incredibly vulnerable. Most remarkable of all though, were his eyes. Such bright, fiercely intelligent eyes and always knowing, almost as if he weighed a person each time he met them and each time, he found them wanting.
It was difficult not to feel less in Gerald’s presence and yet Gerald seemed oblivious to the effect that he had on other people, the way in which he made others feel they were not worthy: of his time; his attention or even, his words. Such a precise way of speaking that he had, as if he weighed every word for its every possible outcome and only then when he was sure what their effect would be, would he speak. If words were magic then Gerald was a wizard indeed.
‘Of course Gerald, you leave it with me they’ll be safely in Sylvia’s hands before the end of the day.’
‘My thanks, Horace. It saves me a job.’
With that, Gerald made a hasty retreat. Horace watched him go and wondered at the dual nature of the man, he was somebody who was so clearly capable and yet, at the same time so ill at ease with others. Horace wondered again if it were not just a simple case of aloofness that Gerald was displaying, he found himself almost wishing that that was the case, it would be easier for him to understand him that way.
There was a certain panic filling Gerald now. Not the familiar panic he had felt the beginnings of with Horace, but a new slightly wilder panic. It was approaching 12:30 and he had delivered all of the other requests, save for Fiona’s.
It was never a pleasant experience delivering things to the top floor; he was not comfortable around any of the figures of authority up there. From the two brothers, he received disinterest and impatience but from Fiona, Stephen’s assistant, he received, disdain, distrust and maliciousness in woeful abundance.
He was currently pushing his trolley down the corridor, willing the squeaky front wheel to be quiet. It was always startlingly quiet up on the top floor. Gerald was used to quiet, he spent nearly every day as a lone figure in the vast archives, and they were naturally, necessarily and fully quiet. That was that sort of peaceful and expected quiet that put a person at their ease, the quiet of this top floor however, was the sort of uncomfortable silence found in an art gallery or an upmarket store. An almost alien, forced silence that should not belong to an office filled with three important people and the work that they do.
Its very alien nature unnerved Gerald, almost as if he had wandered into a cathedral with an electric guitar and an amplifier on full. It was a sort of blasphemy to make any sort of noise up here. Unfortunately for Gerald, that is exactly what he was doing, or rather what the trolley was doing, squeaking away like a dammed soul being led to the gates of hell.
Eventually, Gerald found himself in front of Fiona’s office door, which was firmly shut. He reached out and knocked, feeling entirely foolish for how nervous he felt. Perversely, this served to make him more nervous as he became aware of how foolish he believed he was being.
He tried to reassure himself that he was not about to converse with Beelzebub but another person; clearly one with more company seniority, but that should not stand for that much, not really; it certainly should not have this effect on him.
He knocked lightly on the door and waited, there was no answer. He could feel his heart beating at what felt like a thousand miles an hour; he noticed also, his hand shaking as he withdrew it from the door. He thought about knocking again but then wondered whether that would seem impatient. He reached out to knock again, when suddenly the door swung open and there stood Fiona.
She had the appearance, in Gerald’s mind’s eye, as though she towered over him, though he knew this to be foolish as she was shorter than he. It was probably an interpretation that his subconscious was making, mirroring the way he was feeling, he thought to himself. She, for a heartbeat no more, looked shocked to see him standing at her door. Then gathering her wits she remarked, ‘Gerald, you have to knock if you want to come in’.
‘Ah, er I was-was going to knock, I mean I did knock, I was just about to do it again!’ Anger at himself for stumbling over his words flooded through him. He hated giving other people the power so easily. Fiona regarded him with amusement for a moment and then said:
‘So you’ve come to deliver my requests have you, I notice you are here well after the deadline, it’s a good job there isn’t a case resting on this information isn’t there?’
She was skilled at this sort of thing, Gerald realised. He guessed there was some sort of subtle hint behind her words, but wasn’t sure what that would be, it would take some thought before he puzzled that out, there was definitely something there though. Fiona had that self-satisfied look that people got when they believed themselves to be being clever.
‘Yes, I have managed to locate two of the four documents you asked for, I am afraid I will need more time to find the other two, they don’t seem to be where they should be.’ Fiona’s face fell at that. For all other people’s subtleties, one emotion they could never seem to hide was rage. Gerald often wondered if that was because it was the most honest of emotions: It always displayed a person’s true heart; their true being in all its ecstatic glory.
People used their faces to lie; that was what Gerald had come to realise in his relatively short time on Earth. The lies were often spoken, but were nothing; signified nothing without the face to secure them - or not- depending on the ability of the liar. Fiona’s face didn’t lie, there was clear rage etched on it and she was ever frightening seen thus - ever truthful.
Trying hard not to cringe, Gerald waited for the furious outburst to surely come; however, Fiona calmly moved to the trolley, removed her requested materials, and returned to her office, shutting the door on Gerald without a single word.
Gerald looked down at his trolley, feeling foolish. He made his slow way back to the second floor and relative peace of his archives, but his thoughts were in turmoil. That she hadn’t shouted or sworn made it all so much worse; at least if she had, he would have had chance to explain his reasons, but her preternatural calm had been the worst kind of insult. He believed that she had suggested by her actions, that he was not even worth her anger.
This had two profound effects on Gerald, it made it particularly hard for him to concentrate for the rest of the day certainly, but more than that, it also spawned a deep anger in him, which was an anger of two parts. The first part was the smaller of the two and it was an anger at himself: an anger at the way he had stumbled over his words, an anger over the way he had watched her close the door in his face, an anger over the complete inability of his thoughts to function in such a situation. Once again he was left feeling slightly less than a man, slightly less than a person and awfully, not at all worthy.
The second part though, was the greater of the two parts; it was a slow and building anger, like a great thunder-head building through the long hot of a summer’s afternoon until it becomes so great the instability of itself affects a cataclysmic chain reaction. This was a much less familiar anger and as such was in its own way frightening: frightening, and yet at the same time, it was almost a relief to feel something other than self-doubt and self-loathing for once. This was an anger of having been treated in such a way, of having been treated as less. Less than her or less than anyone else she knows, less than anyone else she was likely to see that day and not shut a door in their face.
This anger of two-parts stayed with him for the remainder of the day and made it hard for Gerald to concentrate on the job at hand, it stayed with him when he got home, when he ate his tea and tried to read. As the evening wore on the anger faded in intensity it stayed with him still and prevented him from getting to sleep until the early hours of the morning so that he awoke queasy and sandy-eyed and washed out.
It was with a sense of more dread than usual that he prepared for work that next day, but the anger was with him and it was an anger of two parts.
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