Soaring

Submitted into Contest #43 in response to: Write a story about transformation.... view prompt

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General

Tuesdays were the worst, in Paul’s opinion. Mondays were often bemoaned, but he could at least look forward to the other people in his office talking about their weekend plans. By Tuesday, the fondness of weekends past had worn off and it was too far off to dream of the weekend to come. Tuesdays left Paul sitting at his desk, catching longing glances out the window, watching the city from eighteen stories up. 


“Numbers are down again,” Mr. Stevens grumbled, pulling Paul back to the projected graph at the front of the room. “Our goal was to go up another 10% from last year, but we’re falling behind. We need to think about how to turn this around. We need to find a way to get our profits up.”


Paul tried to focus on the meeting, but Mr. Stevens was droning on and on about things he couldn’t care less about. His focus was back to the window again as a pair of seagulls lazily drifted in the wind. Sunlight shined on their backs and their white bodies stood out against the bright blue sky.


“Paul?” Mr. Stevens asked. “Are you still with us?”


“Yes, sorry, sir…” Paul blinked a few times and looked back to the front of the room.


“See, this is the kinda stuff I’m talking about. If we want to get ahead of this and meet our end of the year goals? We gotta stay laser-focused! Now, we gotta get this campaign off the ground by Friday or we’ll have to start cutting dead weight. I want improvements by the end of the week. Let’s get it, folks!”


Paul went back to his desk, typing out what felt like the same email for the thousandth time today. The only sounds in the office were the other people typing and the calls of lonesome seagulls outside. Paul glanced out the window, watching the birds in their elegant flight. 


After absentmindedly sending out a few emails to a few of his familiar leads, Paul packed up his things at the end of the day. His body ached from sitting all day and his vision was sore. In the elevator, Paul pulled up his shirt sleeve and looked down at his arm. Small, red bumps were forming on his forearm and going up to his elbow. 


“Great,” Paul said. “First I get railed at work and now I’m getting a stress rash.” 


At home, Paul applied a few drops of ointment onto his rash and didn’t think much more of it. He dreamed of flying in open clouds, diving between buildings, and letting his wings soak up the sunlight. 


Wednesday morning brought with it the usual slew of “Hump Day” jokes and a few hushed discussions of the end of the week. Most people focused on their work with their heads down. Paul wasn't able to focus on his work for more than a few minutes. The rash on his arms was getting worse and now his feet ached. His attention was outside all day and he only took bites of the bread from his sandwich with his very front teeth. 


Thursday led to Paul feeling skinnier. He wasn’t hungry when lunch rolled around and his focus was everywhere but the emails. Instead of going into the staff room for food, Paul went to the bathroom and ran some water over his warm face. His rash on his arms had advanced, turning into a rough, dark texture. His fingernails were darker and brittle, while his face was gaunt and angular. A faint voice in his head told him that he needed to go to the doctor. 


“Mr. Stevens?” Paul asked, coming into his boss’s office. “I need to go to the hospital.” 


“Are you sure?” Mr. Stevens sighed. “Are you bleeding or in pain?”


“I mean…it’s more of a dull ache, but—“


“I need people in the office. If you’re not in danger of dying, can you at least wait until we get everything taken care of on Friday?” 


“I’m worried that—“


“Do you worry about your job?” Mr. Stevens asked, raising his brow critically. “Come on, Paul. I need all bodies on deck for this. We need to get some improvement, you in particular. Everyone else has at least been following up on leads this week. You’ve been sending emails at what seems random…you have no focus…it feels like you lost all motivation.”


“Please, Mr. Stevens, I need this job to pay my rent.”


“You need more than the need to pay your rent,” Mr. Stevens said. “This job takes motivation, drive, and commitment. It takes more than showing up in the morning and going through the motions.” 


“I—“ Paul closed his eyes and let out a breath. “Yes, sir.” 


“We have a meeting tomorrow at two,” Mr. Stevens said. “If you still feel like you need to go to the hospital then? We’ll call you a cab.”


Paul nodded and went back to his desk. His headache had gotten worse over the last three hours of work. He’d sent one more email by the time he finally gave up and watched the birds out the window. At the end of the day, his bag felt so heavy that he could barely carry it onto the bus. That night, Paul slept very little. His body ached all through the night and it felt like his skin was on fire. His morning alarm startled him and he nearly screamed at the noise. 


“Folks,” Mr. Stevens grumbled as he walked in. He was looking at an open folder in his hands and shook his head. “I can’t say I’m impressed. We’re closer to the goal we had, but it was barely enough.”


There was a sigh that went around the room and Paul felt his shoulders relax. 


“Don’t get too excited,” Mr. Stevens said. “We had to submit our goals for next quarter and we’re supposed to go up another ten percent.” 


“Are you serious?” 


“What was that, Paul?”


Paul was surprised he’d spoken out loud. He swallowed, but the damage was already done. Nothing to do except continue.


“We—busted our asses to get this last—ten percent,” Paul stammered. The words were heavy on his tongue and unfamiliar. “When does it—when does it end? When is what we do—enough?”


"It’s enough when we say that it’s enough,” Mr. Stevens snapped. “And you’re in no position to criticize, Paul! You barely improved, if you count this last week. You were already on thin ice. I get that you’re still not feeling well, but you need to get your act together.” 


The meeting played out as Paul expected. A handful of the usuals were praised and the rest were subjected to irritation and humiliation. Paul only heard every other word and his attention was outside, among the feathered creatures. As the meeting closed, Paul stood and followed his coworkers out to their small cubicle section. 


Slumped in his chair, Paul barely felt the energy to move. He wondered about going to the hospital, but he felt so hollow now. It didn’t matter if he was sick or not. He felt like all this was pointless: the office, the emails, the whole monotonous routine. Paul wanted to leave, to run, and never look back at the rows of workstations. 


Paul opened his eyes and looked out the window. That tiny sliver of glass that separated him from the world where he wanted to be. Outside of this world of desks, screens, and phone calls was a world of fresh air and open skies. The seagulls were spiraling around the building. Pigeons fluttered by in a large flock and he could hear crows calling down below. The shrill ‘caws’ started to sound like words. “Paul, Paul, Paul…” 


Paul stood up from his desk and looked toward the glass. He took a few steps back and loosened his tie. Running forward, Paul forced his shoulder through the window. His body ached as the feathers exploded out of his skin and his bones rearranged. As he fell, Pauls spread his arms as the feathers filled out into large, black wings. His vision broadened as his face shifted to accommodate his growing beak. As the pavement was rushing up to meet him, Paul spread his arms. 


The rush of wind beneath him caught under his feathers and carried him up over the streets. Paul flew high over the streets he would have normally walked on with sore feet and a heavy heart. Spiraling upwards, Paul wove through the thin alleyways that connected the streets. The sun warmed his black feathers and he could hear the calls of other crows as a flock flew down Main Street. Paul glided with the strong wind currents and flew over to the flock. 


No, his flock. This was where he belonged. Each time he looked out the window he was looking for this. He was free now. Pumping his wings, the crow fell in line with the others. The flock flew towards the mountain that glowed yellow in the afternoon sun. 

May 29, 2020 15:54

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2 comments

Blueberry Elf
05:09 Jun 04, 2020

What a wonderful story! I loved the feeling of suspense that was built and how the story ended. Great work! I really enjoyed reading this.

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Vienna Crosson
04:25 Jun 04, 2020

I really liked this! You did a good job of making your words evoke a feeling rather than tell us the feeling in the scene. Great work!

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