What's my name

Submitted into Contest #146 in response to: Start your story during a team building exercise.... view prompt

1 comment

Fantasy

"Okay, guys," Sheryl, the trainer, said with a game-show-host grin. "This will be our last activity of the workshop."

Bonnie, the company's CEO, had organized the leadership workshop for her and the senior managers. The company was one of the Fortune 100 with stocks on an upward trend, but camaraderie created a more efficient and pleasant workplace.

"We are going to play a fun game called 'What's my name?'" Sheryl looked like a preschool teacher talking to her students. During breaks, that had been the only complaint: she wasn't treating the group as adults. "The rules are simple," Sheryl continued. "You write a name of a famous person or well-known character on a sticker,"- she held up a marker and name tags- “then stick it on someone’s back. That person has to walk around the room and ask the group yes or no questions to guess who they are."

Blank stares and awkward shuffling met the explanation.

"Everybody understand?" Sheryl asked, scanning the room.

Mumbles.

"Do we all understand the rules?" Bonnie called out to the group.

"Yes ma'am,” "Yes,” and "Yeah” were the hasty responses.

"Okay, great," Bonnie looked at Sheryl and nodded.

"Right." Sheryl held up the marker. "Let's get started."

As the group moved toward the conference table that held the name tags. Bonnie leaned toward a short, red-faced man whose hairline had fully retreated from his greasy forehead. "Hey Ralph," she said to the man. "I bet you won't be able to guess your 'name.’"

"My dear Bonnie," the short man replied with a shrill voice. "First a desperate plea, now a foolish wager. Are you sure you want to do that?"

"I'm very sure," Bonnie said as she got to the table and began writing on a nametag.

"Fine then," Ralph sneered, a cruel glint in his eye. "What’s the wager?"

"Double or nothing," Bonnie replied.

Ralph's eyebrows chased after his hairline. "Careful, my dear lady. You don't want to be too hasty."

"I’m not," Bonnie said nonchalantly. "Our same deal, but double the stakes.”

A ravenous smile split Ralph's face. "You have a deal," Ralph said, holding his hand out.

"Fantastic," Bonnie said, taking the proffered hand. "The game is afoot." She slapped a hand on Rupert's back and tried to find a bottle of hand sanitizer to get the feel of him off her skin.

Nearly two years ago, Bonnie's company was ready to declare bankruptcy. Stock values had plummeted, and she had let go of almost every employee she had. Forbes had done a brief article about the impressive fall the company had made once Bonnie had taken over.

She was done. All of her inheritance had gone into the company to keep it afloat. But the holes in the boat were too large.

The night before she went to her bankruptcy lawyer, Bonnie went to the bar around the corner from her office. She sat at the bar and ordered a drink, staring into the mirror.

"Celebrating or mourning?" A shrill, grating voice came to her halfway through her second drink. The voice belonged to a short man with a bulbous nose on a round, red face.

The booze masked her pain, so she looked at the interloper and coldly replied, "Mourning."

"Too bad," said the man. "You're too pretty to lose anything."

"I'm married," Bonnie stated flatly.

"I see the ring," the man swatted her words away. "But the statement stands. What are you mourning?"

Bonnie had never been good at ignoring people who weren't being rude, so she answered. "My family's company will declare bankruptcy tomorrow," she muttered.

Despite the ambient noise, the stranger had no problem hearing her quandary. "Oh, that is too bad," he said solemnly as he waved to the bartender. "Bad investments?"

"Yes. But not mine." Bonnie didn't know why she was talking to this man.

"I'm pretty good with those," He said with a lecherous gleam in his black eyes. "I've always been good at making money." The bartender brought them both drinks despite neither glass being half empty.

"How nice for you." Bonnie wanted this conversation to end.

"It's been said that I can fill a room with gold." The man pushed the fresh drink closer to Bonnie.

Bonnie tossed back her drink and turned on the man, alcohol bolstering her. "What do you want, sir?"

"I'm just making conversation," He said, leaning back slightly. "But I'm wondering if I'd be able to help you."

"We're beyond help at this point. The bills are all delinquent, and we're losing the office space next week." Contempt slithered around her words.

"A week?" The man scoffed. "That's plenty of time." He tossed his drink back and grabbed the new one.

"Plenty of time for what?" Bonnie couldn't help it. He’d sunk his hook.

"To spin some gold." He said simply. "We can save the office and get you back up and running. You could be wildly successful within a year." The gleam in his eye was a spark now close to a flame.

"Who are you?" Bonnie asked. "What do you want?"

"You probably already know my name," the stranger said, nudging her drink a little closer. "And I'd like to make a deal with you."

"How would I know your name? What kind of deal?" Irritation and confusion twisted inside her.

"You have no children yet, despite being what? Thirty, thirty-two?" the Stranger asked abruptly.

"That is none of your business!" Bonnie snapped. "I'm leaving."

He slid over to block her onto her stool. "You aren't even going to guess who I am? After the hints?" His breath smelled of smoke, pickled eggs, and onions.

"I don't care. This conversation is over." Bonnie tried to push past the man, but he was a brick wall.

He stretched to her ear and whispered.

Bonnie stopped. Confusion shackled her in place. It all made a sideways kind of sense. His hints, his boasts, and his interest in children. It all made puzzle pieces that connected the crazy.

The man guided her back to the stool and pushed her drink into her hand. "I can save your company." He was still too close. His fetid breath surrounded her. "I can make you rich."

"Why?" the question stumbled from Bonnie's lips.

"Because we both want something that the other can provide." He returned to his stool. "You want to save your father's company and prove that a woman can succeed in the business world." His beady eyes stared at hers.

"What do you want?" Bonnie asked again.

"Your firstborn."

The words hit like a fist in the gut.

"You’re-"

"I'm not crazy," he interrupted. "Just discerning. I want your firstborn to be mine as a servant and companion for all their days. Then maybe a snack. In return, you get a successful company and great wealth. You can have more children easily. Can you build another company like that one?"

Bonnie's mind ran wild. Her firstborn? Was he serious? Of course, he wasn't. He just claimed to be a gnome from a fairy tale.

"I'm not a gnome!” He scolded over the rim of his drink. “I’m an Imp."

Shivers ran up Bonnie's spine. How could he know what she was thinking? Maybe he was the real deal and could help get the company going again. And really, they hadn't even decided if they wanted kids.

"Okay." She blurted. "Let's do it. You save my company, and you can have my firstborn."

"You're going to have one." The bar’s noise drowned his mumble. Then louder, "Shall we drink to it?"

"Let's shake," Bonnie said. "I'd like a more tangible agreement with less symbolism and no telepathy."

"Okay, I'll get your company going again, and you'll give me your firstborn." He held out his hand.

"What about an escape clause?” Bonnie asked, pulling her hand to her chest. “In case one of us is dissatisfied?"

"You won't be dissatisfied, but if you insist," he cleared his throat. "When both parties speak the name of the initiator of the deal, then the deal is nullified."

"That's it?" Bonnie said skeptically.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Alright,"- She grasped his outstretched hand- "You have a deal."

The low lights in the bar dimmed to near darkness, and the music crackled with static, then the abnormalities ceased.

"Fantastic!" the stranger held up his glass. "We'll see you at work on Monday."

"You're going to be at work?" Bonnie was confused.

"How else am I supposed to get you all the good investments? And you can call me Ralph." Ralph winked at her.

Bonnie clinked her glass to his. "See you Monday."

They both tipped up their glasses.

That next year was a whirlwind. The company roared back. The local office caught up on its rent and then bought out the floor to house the increased need for employees. Soon they were moving to a bigger building to get three floors for call centers and tech support. A fulfillment center was down the street. Then two fulfillment centers, then three. Soon they needed ten spread across the country. Revenue kept rolling in, and growth became necessary and lucrative.

Bonnie became pregnant that year as well. Despite two forms of birth control, Bonnie saw two lines on the test after a missed period.

She stayed involved in the company until Steven's birth. Then she had to step back to take care of him and learn how to be a mother.

Ralph visited Bonnie at her house. His beady, coal-colored eyes shone with greed. "Hey, boss. I just wanted to see how the kid was doing."

"Ralph," she spat the name out like a lugi. "We're both fine."

"Where is my payment?" His voice was hoarse with desire. "Where is the child?"

"He's sleeping upstairs." Bonnie was stone-faced and stood solidly. "I thank you for staying out here and not waking him."

Ralph Bared his teeth. "Of course. I'll see him another time, I'm sure."

"Hmm." Bonnie crossed her arms.

"A deal is a deal." Ralph snapped. "Once he is weaned, he is mine." His eyes bulged red and wild.

Close to two years after their deal, Steven was nearly weaned. And Bonnie had set up this team building event to take full advantage of everything it offered. Including the competitive nature of her employees.

She had slapped Ralph's real name on his back. She hoped she could count on him wanting to win.

He zipped from person to person, asking questions about his character. Is he tall? Is he good? Does he slay the dragon? Are there princesses in his story?

He had worked the room over and over again. When he didn’t get an answer that made sense to him, he turned around and said, "Look at the name and think." He then asked another question.

Bonnie didn't play the game at all. She watched Ralph frantically bounce from person to person.

"Am I a Prince?" He asked one manager.

"No."

"Am I the villain?"

"Yes."

"Do I capture a princess?"

"No."

"But there is a princess in the story?"

"Yes."

"Do I help her?"

"Umm."

"Hello?" Ralph's face reddened as he pressed into the poor manager's space. "Answer the question."

"Kinda?" The manager was unsure how to answer and was terrified of the intense reaction crushing him.

"Kinda?!" Ralph shouted.

"That is a little aggressive," Sheryl admonished. "This is supposed to be team building, not team scaring."

"Shut up!" Ralph cried at the instructor. "I have a game to win!”

Bonnie crossed her fingers mentally. She hoped that Ralph's competitive nature would get the better of him.

"Yes, you help her." the manager squeaked, then scurried away.

"Was that so hard?" Ralph rebuked. "Hey, you!" He pounced on another man. "Did I marry this princess?"

"N-no." was the nervous reply.

"Did she marry?"

A nod.

"But not me?"

A head shake.

"Am I one of the seven dwarves?"

Another quivering head shake.

"A fairy from sleeping beauty?"

Head shake.

"Son of a bitch!"

"Language." Sheryl chastised.

"Bite me!"

Ralph ran to another guy. "Am I rich?"

"Probably?"

"What the fuck does that mean?" Ralph’s face was scarlet, and his eyes were bulging.

"You definitely could be." a cowed reply.

Ralph slowed down with realization. "I made the princess rich, huh?"

"Yeah." The new guy ran off.

"I made gold?" He smiled at Bonnie.

"Yup," she said, her eyes locked on his.

"I got it figured!" Ralph cheered. “I’m Rumpelstiltskin!”

Bonnie nodded her head. "Yes, you are, Rumpelstiltskin."

“Ha!" Ralph pumped his fists. “Now I don’t have to wait. You’re both coming with me.”

“No, we’re not,” Bonnie said.

“I won,” Ralph said slowly, mansplaining. “The bet says that I get you both.”

“It was the same deal as before, but higher stakes,” Bonnie said, mimicking his tone and cadence. “That means that the escape clause was invoked once we both said your name.”

Ralph’s face blanched. His jaw set into pinched lips. Then he blasted out, “You cheated!”

“I did not,” Bonnie said, raising her chin. “I made a deal that you accepted.”

Ralph began to shrink, and his features sharpened. “You fowl dirty cheating bitch!” With each word, his voice became shriller, and his skin turned ashen. “I’ll see you again.” Now, he was the size of a cat with smokey gray skin and crimson eyes that practically glowed. “Everyone, stop staring!”

The room turned away from the imp as he vanished in a puff of smoke.

“What happened?” Sheryl asked, shaking off her daze. “What’s that smell?”

No one noticed one participant was missing.

“Let’s turn on a fan to get this smell out,” Bonnie smiles. “Before it makes me Ralph.”  

May 21, 2022 01:52

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1 comment

Chris Morris
21:42 May 24, 2022

I really enjoyed this! It read like a sort of comedy-horror to me and the way you wrote it just made it so easy to sit down and take the story in. The last line was great too.

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