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Drama Urban Fantasy Fiction

Toffee chunks lodged themselves between my teeth, mixing terribly with the burnt coffee that rested over the burner for about an eon and a half too long. I reached for another case file, brushing off the crumbs as I did so. Case 203349292021-091. This one had been the party platter of the office, I should know I gave it to Rickman, Samson, and Walton every time I had the misfortune of seeing it slide on my desk. This time it came with something extra, a curled sticky note with a passive-aggressive love letter from my boss. ‘They are coming at 9, and your client is going to be there at 7. If this comes back around to me, you’ll have your own file. Good luck.’ I cradled my face with worn-out hands, I poked my head out. With all of the cubicles and this landed on mine—I blame Rickman. It must have already swirled around the water cooler about my present situation, as the ceiling was the most interesting thing around me. Causing some coworkers to snap their necks when they got too close. Part of me wished I could use a car battery to get the blood flowing. Bottle cap reading glasses pulled down on my ears, the lobes hooking on my chin. Case 203349292021-091 made War and Peace look like light reading, a comparison making the Epic of Gilgamesh as comprehendible as a pamphlet, it was not uncommon for tear drops from those noble workers who thought they could conquer the beast to be seen. And now, it was my turn (oh joy).

The first bit was no issue, that is how they get you. It is not till section six that you question if this is all worth it. That is when things escalate into utter madness, a symphony of blandness that causes the mouth to foam. How could anyone live like this? It was approaching seven, and I had been reading for about three hours. In full honesty, I could not tell you what I just consumed even if I wanted to. Something about taxes I believe. Or was it referring to quantum physics? Who knows. What I did know is that it was 6:30 and he was already shuffling in, because of course he was.

A beige cardigan with pressed pants to match, a white starch shirt buttoned up to the point of asphyxiation (the flushed complexion only proving my point). Polished shoes squeaked down the aisles, my teeth absorbing the tremors. He pulled up the seat without saying a word and was rigid before me. Fear did not seem to wash over his face, there was almost a triumph about him. I gnawed on a pencil, giving him a once over—he looked exactly the way a man of his sorts should, not even a hair strayed. I sipped what little there was, a pregnant pause that he gave no attempt to fill. There was a manilla folder between us, though everything I needed to know was sitting across from me.

“So, Mr. Norton. I believe you know why you’ve been summoned.” I flipped to the last quarter of the pages. “has the process been explained to you?” Sawdust could be picked from my spit from all my excitement of the matter.

“Oh yes, it has been explained.” A sparkle clung to his eyes. “it is rather exciting is it not?” I nodded with what little sincerity the caffeine would allow.

“Yes, exciting.” I flipped threw the file and pulled out some of the documents, “now sign here.” The dotted line waiting to be marked up by him once more. “Now I know you’ve been over this before, so how about you tell me where your concerns are at the moment.” His brain must have slid to the left because he was giving me a funny look.

“Oh, nothing really. Not much to be concerned about to begin with.” My eyes sauntered down to his file once more.

“Are you sure this whole thing has been explained to you?” The syllables tied up in my throat.

“Of course.” He beamed.

“How about you tell me what you think is going on.” I leaned back in a chair that was doomed to give out any day now.

“I am dead.”

“Sounds about right.”  

“I have been dead for quite some time now, it was a heart attack I believe.”

“Actually, it was an ischemic stroke, but the heart attack triggered it.”

“Yes right, I always forget that word.”

“You can just call it a stroke.” I meandered.

“Well, after I passed I learned there was an afterlife, which I am currently in.”

“Technically yes.”

“And heaven and hell are real.”

“I mean not in the way you believe, but I see you checked off catholic on your forms. So, sure.”

“And no one knows where to put me.”

“Okay.”

“Because both sides are fighting for me.” There it was, “and you have never had a case like this before.” That was untrue, there were several individuals who were in this situation prior. No wonder this guy came in with a little prance, he thought the very cosmos were fighting over him, seeking out his greatness in order to best the other. I sharpened my pencil and started to jot down as comprehensible a game plan as I could. He nodded with a giddy schoolboy nature, all of his mannerisms were affected down to how his leg bounced. He really had no clue, at least not in the way that would be closest to the truth. But that is how most like to operate. Close enough. The placement was the issue, both sides both added thirty chapters for their reasoning with thirty more to rebuttal the thirty from the other side. The bureaucracy of it all made this thing more flammable by the second. We went over section six, the part about his life. Nothing extraordinary of the sorts. Was born to a moderate family, was oblivious for 56 years, then died in a world that did not realize he was there at all. So, the average life span.

What made this man so remarkable was unknown to all those who flipped through the file. He never committed any actions that the universe frowned upon, but with that being said, he never committed any actions that the universe smiled upon either. In all honesty, it looks like he did not take any action at all, the picture of passive. I looked at him once more describing how Code 239-a3 was going to be the primary tool for the day given how deliberations have been undergoing for nine cycles—ten being the max. A grin was poorly chiseled behind his teeth, the worst-case scenario was if Clause 609q-09 was evoked…then I personally would beg for mercy. The jolly types are always the worst. It was nine on the dot, and two figures appeared by the door thirty minutes late. Because of course they did.

The feeling of uncomfort was mutual between us, the same beings always seem to deal with these sorts of things. I dealt with these two during the last audit where they approached it with much more enthusiasm. The one on the left brought cake.

Identical in physical form, 10 ft tall frames with fingers making butchers blush. it was uncommon for the hire-ups any other way. Suits too big hung around their wrists; loose fabric hanging around their ankles. In perfect sync, they shuffled to the desk, the cubical growing ever more cramped. They nodded at me, avoiding eye contact with Mr. Norton as much as possible. The two ill-fitting celestials stood on opposing sides of a man in sheer awe. They had no halos, no horns, only loose ties, and missing cufflinks. The human look never suited them, and I think they would agree. They crouched the one on the right slightly off cue. Taking a pause to grab one of the candies from the little bowl on my desk. With knees at their chest and wide eyes squinting at the fine print. Shoulders pressed tight; the negotiation was to begin.

“This is for Case 203349292021-091 this is the ninth cycle so we will focus on Code 239-a3. Any comments before we get into it.” They looked at each other well over the head of Mr. Norton. Speaking in unison.

“We are aware of Code 239-a3, but we would like to invoke Code 239-a3 subsection C8. Specifically, the third to last line.” All I could do is blink, those sons of bitches, no one calls for subsection C8, especially that part of it. Boards have gotten over fistfights over removing it, mass layoffs had subsection C8 to thank. I wanted to jump over my desk and knock their two bobbleheads together till they popped. Because let’s face it, C8 required at least 75 forms. 

“Why?” that was not in reference to the case itself, if I had the strength I would have said ‘why are you doing this to me?’ They must have known what they had done, because what expression they manage to do looked like sympathy. Or pity. The one on the left spoke out.

“We are on grounds of authority to strike a deal with the other side. However, our department is firm on the placement for 203349292021-091.” I was unsure if Mr. Norton was able to understand what they were saying, he was simply basking in their holy might and coffee breath. The one on the right chimed in.

“Our department has come to similar conclusions, subsection C8 is the best route for everyone here. It is either that or we evoke Clause 609q-09. Which I am sure would need to be approved by your department.” Yep, I was going to kill them. I was going to take this pencil and stab them. The one on the left could probably tell this plan was forming and moved my pencil slightly away from me.

“Okay then, we will now enter the proceedings if both sections are in agreeance. Do I have verbal confirmation?”

 (Please say no, please say no, please say no.)

“Yes, we confirm.” They just had to say it at once, didn’t they.

Now to recount the events that unfolded is a task for a man of stronger will than mine. So, as mercy, I will give a brief summary of the twelve-hour forty-five-minute proceedings that followed. It was a cosmic hot potato, with absolutely not a soul taking any accountability. Subsection C8 is basically a loophole both sides invoke when they want to wash their hands of it. Basically, it states that if both sides are locked it must be broken down case by case, seeing how each is holding up in terms of maintenance and routine inspection. However, since they are the ones who called for it, both had the chance to tick all the right boxes. Meaning, they were equal in every way imaginable. And trust me we went over everything four times over and another two for good measure.

Sweat was drowning us all, somehow the walls were inching closer and closer together. My voice gave out near the hour-eight mark, grunts and hand gestures were used to claw me along. The only being who was having a good time was Mr. Norton, whose head was the ping-pong ball of it all.  I don’t think this was the cosmic battle he hoped for, but it was a battle all the same. More of a battle to see which one of us would collapse first. The one on the right was getting close, their tie was now on the ground snaking around the desk’s legs. The eyes of us all mocking the glazed donuts half-eaten in the breakroom. By the end of it, we were still sitting in that cramped cubical. With, once again, nothing achieved. No placement was found. Again. But this was not an option, and that note from my boss had been staring at me the whole time from the trash can. I sighed, not even because I was tired, just because my body was deflating.

“So, before we enter our,” I looked at my watch, “thirteenth hour, does anyone have anything they would like to say, because if not I suggest we take a break so I can take a smoke.” I don’t even smoke, I quit years ago. I was now reconsidering those choices. The two beings looked relieved at the idea, the one on the left seemed so cramped up that they were so close to peeling off the pseudo flesh and taking a much-needed twenty minutes to stare at a wall. The one on the right was too far gone. Right before I was able to call break, and grab the paperwork to allow such time, the middle seat began to rise.  Mr. Norton stood proud. Chest puffed out by a mile, nose sniffing the ceiling tiles.

“I have heard enough; I have made my decision.” Six pairs of eyes looked confusingly in his direction. “this whole time I have been debating if I should fulfill my purpose in life. I always knew I was destined for greatness, in life I wasted it but in death, I know what needs to be done. I choose the side of-“

“Wait? You think we are fighting to see who gets you?” The one on the left said mildly shook.

Mr. Norton looked winded.

“Did you not explain to him the procedure?” Muttered the one to the right.

“I did, he was close enough.” Slumped shoulders were their response, eyes diverting towards another plane of existence. The humid air made my arm hairs stand, it was clear neither of them was going to tell him what was the truth. “the issue of placement isn’t because they both want you. The issue is that-”

“We do not want you.” They looked at the other embarrassed to be in tandem with their opposite, giving them an equally thin look. He stood there, he too now having his gaze drift, a slight shake to him.

“But, why?” a thin shimmer cast over his eyes. “did I do something wrong? I can make it up, there must be a way to make it up.” He frantically looked to both their eyes, neither set willing to return the favour. He did find mine though.

“Unfortunately, Mr. Norton that isn’t possible. Life is sorta the time to do those sorts of things.”

“But there must be someone, anyone I can-”

“Look you could do that, you really could try to talk to someone. But do you think you would actually be able to change much?” the shaking was getting worse. I slid over a toffee candy, he just cradled it in his hands—like it meant the world to him.

“It is not personal Mr. Norton, we are simply at capacity at the moment and you did nothing of significance to earn a definite spot.” The one on the left tried to sound comforting.

“Exactly, we are dealing with a similar issue. Your file just got unlucky, that is all. You did nothing wrong.” The one on the right was a terrible liar.

“My name is John. Please just call me John.” Tears now filling up his throat.

“Mr. Norton, please just sit down. We can bring you some water.” I gestured towards his seat.

“I said call me John!” the entire office went quiet. Only the odd phone call had to be quickly hushed. His breath sounded like a car fighting to start. “all those years...all those chances, I-I…”

“Wasted them.” It sounded harsh but it was the truth. He broke down. His sobs echoed down every hallway. Neither of the beings gave an attempt at comfort, if anything, they were looking to me for what to do next. Tears and snot rushed down those rosy cheeks. 

“Mr. Norton,” he wailed, “Mr. Norton please pull yourself together.” No response. I looked up at the two wishing they were anywhere else but here. “Okay, enact Clause 609q-09, can one of you please go to my supervisor and to bring Form B15-99.” They practically fought for the privilege to speak to the greasy old man. He lumbered in, the one to the right now in their original spot. My supervisor now the fourth body in the sardine can. He grumbled with suspenders too tight, and a thinning mustache. He handed me Form B15-99. Ironically this was the easiest form to fill out, and all it took was his and my signature. His hand fumbled with the pen, it was clear he had no clue what he was signing—no one seemed to care though. Then it was done.

A continuous whimper kept slipping through his lips, as everyone shuffled out. It was now just him and I. I stood up, and let his eyes naturally catch mine.

“Please follow me for placement.” His whole head perked up, and he stood like a fresh soldier. I walked him out down past some of the other cubicles, and loose eyes followed. His spot was already waiting for him. “Here we are.” He stepped inside an empty workspace identical to mine in structure. Barren walls awaited him, a single folder on the desk. “everything you need to know is in those papers, if you have a question let me know.” He stumbled over, opening it.

“What even is this place?”

“I guess you’d call it purgatory.”

“How long will I be here?”

“Until a spot opens.” His eyes slipped through me entirely. I turned to walk away. “Don’t worry John, it isn’t that terrible once you get the hang of things here, just keep an eye out for Rickman. Guy is a real piece of work.” He reacted to his name. It was the first time he smiled at the truth.

July 07, 2022 04:32

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2 comments

Riel Rosehill
15:43 Jul 13, 2022

This story had an interesting premise, I had fun reading! My favourite part was "the one on the left brought cake" :D

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18:08 Jul 13, 2022

I am so glad you enjoyed it, I too thought that was a nice little humanizing moment.

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