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Funny Fiction Contemporary

9:17 AM

The Office Lobby


The yucca tree is no longer alone among the impressive boulder formation and cloudy pink sunset of Joshua Tree National Park.


“That shouldn’t be there,” Milton says to no one. He has been staring at the landscape for nearly ten minutes while he sips his coffee, letting the image before him sink in. Sometimes you see something that is so unbelievable, so out of place, it can take a moment for the emotions to settle. His therapist – who is not really his therapist but a barista at the coffee shop on 4th Avenue – tells him to take ten deep breaths before reacting. The long finger on the clock ticks in his ears, five seconds…four seconds…three seconds…


He takes another sip of coffee. Two seconds…one… He releases an audible “ahhh” sound and closes his eyes. There’s the anger, he relishes. “Jerry!”


Milton has two more sips of coffee before Jerry is fumbling beside him, frazzled and juggling a clipboard and other unimportant documents. “Yes, Mr. Mackerel?”


“What do you make of this?” Milton gestures, extending a finger from his coffee hand. “And I told you, it’s just Milton.”


“Oh, right, yes, Milton.” Jerry struggles to stuff his items beneath his armpits so he can adjust his glasses. He examines the framed photo on the wall of the office lobby. “Uh…Oh, wow. Um, it appears someone has drawn on this photo with a sharpie, sir.”


“I see that. And what do you see?”


Jerry scrunches his nose, visibly uncomfortable.


Milton rephrases. “What does that look like to you, Jerry?”


“Genitalia, sir?”


Milton takes a longer sip of his coffee and releases another exaggerated, ahhh. “Yup. It is, Jerry. They even drew little hairs and everything.”


“Er…” Jerry nervously flubs.


“Do you know what this photograph means to me, Jerry?”


“No, sir.”


“I took this photograph the weekend I met my wife, in Joshua Tree. We were both on a retreat there, and we fell in love. We go back every year for our anniversary. It’s a very important photograph,” Milton laments.


Jerry only mumbles, “I’m so sorry, sir.” The two men stare at the desert landscape in silence for a moment. Their silhouette reflections (and the genitalia) glare back at them.


“Who would do something like this?” Milton’s voice is composed, but there’s a dash of anger simmering between each word.


“I don’t know, sir.”


“Was it you?” Milton asks flatly.


“Of course not, Mr. Ma – Milton. Sir.”


“Well, I don’t pay you not to know things. I need you to find out and bring them to me."


“Right away, sir.” And then Jerry is gone.


1:26 PM

Milton’s Office


Milton clears his throat before unleashing his most authoritative voice. “Mr. Campbell and Ms. Anderson, do you know why I’ve called you into my office today?” To Jerry, his voice smooths over. “Thank you, Jerry. You can shut the door and have a seat, too.” He directs him to the chair against the wall.


Jessica and Cameron are seated directly across from Milton. Jessica is smacking the gum in her mouth loudly and twirling a strand of her red hair around her finger. Cameron is bouncing his knee. “Is this about us dating? Because we fully disclosed that to HR, and as far as we know, we’ve followed all the rules,” Cameron says. He looks to Jessica for reassurance, then back to Milton.


Jessica doesn’t look away from the hair winding around her pinkie when she scoffs. “Yeah, Cam won’t even let us do it on our lunch break. Like, where’s the fun in dating a co-worker if you can’t even get a little afternoon delight?” Jessica sings the words with Starland Vocal Band’s melody.


Cam nudges her with his shin. “Stop, Jess, you’re going to get us fired.”


“You guys are dating?” Jerry asks from behind them.


Jessica spins around in her chair. “You’re not HR, are you?”


Fear reddens Jerry’s face, blotching his already acne-laden cheeks. “No,” he shakes his head.


“Then, it’s none of your business,” Jessica quips before spinning back around.


Milton is less astonished than he should be by his female employee’s rudeness. He’s grown desensitized in his years as a boss. Nonetheless, his mouth hangs open as he lifts a stack of papers and taps them on the desk. “Uh, no. This is not about your relationship, Mr. Campbell. And while I’d highly encourage you not to engage physically in the middle of your work day, Ms. Anderson, the lunch hour is unpaid and you can do as you please so long as you are not on company property.”


“Sweet,” Jessica says. She blows a large gum bubble, and it pops loudly, stretching across her lips. She uses her tongue to recollect it into her mouth. Jerry gulps. Milton clears his throat again.


Cameron visibly deflates against the back of his chair. “OK, great. So, what is this about then?”


“Well, on the similar but much more serious topic of body parts…I brought you in here because of this!” Milton lifts the large frame up from behind his desk and plops it dramatically onto his desk as if revealing a murder weapon to the murderer.


“Oh, shit,” Cameron bites at a fist of knuckles, stifling his laughter. Jessica just tilts her head, continuing to chew her gum.


“What do you have to say about this?” Milton scolds.


At his serious tone, Cameron attempts to compose himself. And for a brief moment, there is silence, save for the chattering of teeth behind them: Jerry biting his nails.


Jessica – because she would – says one of the worst possible things you can say to your boss regarding an accusation like this: “I like the hairs. They’re cute. No one ever adds the hairs.”


Cameron squeezes his eyes shut trying not to break again. He settles for a cough, and then says, “That’s the picture from the lobby, right?”


Milton is glaring at Jessica when he responds to Cameron. “That’s right, Mr. Campbell. It is the photograph from the lobby. Pleased to hear you recognize it. Do you notice anything different about it?”


“Looks like someone thought that tree was a little lonely,” Jessica says, matching Milton’s gaze.


Someone defaced my photograph, Ms. Anderson. And I’m becoming increasingly convinced who that person is.”


“Woah, woah, woah. You think we did that?” Cameron asks, all his amusement replaced with seriousness.


Jessica leans in and whispers loud enough for everyone to hear: “Do you think he wants us to teach him how to properly draw a di—?” Cameron slaps Jessica’s arm. “Ow! Hey! I’m just trying to help.”


“Ms. Anderson!” Milton sputters, face reddening. 


“What I think Jess meant to say is… we definitely did not draw that on your photograph,” Cameron says.


Milton looks at his two young employees as if they are defiant children. He can feel the rage boiling up his throat. He wishes he had more coffee to sip, a reminder of what his therapist/barista would tell him to do. With closed eyes, he clenches a coffee-less hand and breathes in for eight counts and releases.


“Do you know what this picture means to me?”


Jessica lolls her head back, unleashing a bored sigh. “We know about the time you tripped on shrooms in the desert, Milton.”


Jerry chokes on a laugh behind them and has to cough to catch his breath. “Sorry,” he mumbles, but no one cares.


Cameron cups one of Jessica’s hands in both of his and shifts towards her. “Jess, baby, why don’t you let me do the talking, OK?” He pats her puffy red curls with one hand while kissing the other.


“Sure, whatever. Just seems like a waste of time.” She says and resumes twiddling with her hair.


“With all due respect, Mr. Mackerel, Jess and I are well aware how important this picture is to you, and we would never draw on it. I’m not really sure why Jerry thought it would be us.” He flicks his eyes towards the back of the room. “I’m really sorry this happened to you, but it wasn’t us.”


Milton sets the frame back down behind his desk and folds his hands together. “That’s very admirable of you to protect your female companion, Mr. Campbell, but I think it is clear why Jerry thought it was the two of you, what with Ms. Anderson’s crude attitude and blatant disrespect for authority, that coupled with your romantic connection. I’m sorry that you were dragged into this, Mr. Campbell, but women do have a tendency to pull us by the ear, that is, if we let them.”


“How does he know you like ear stuff?” Jessica wonders aloud.


“I’m afraid I have no choice but to let her go,” Milton finishes.


Just before Cameron can object, a gasp comes from behind them. “No!”


All three of the others startle and shift their attention towards Jerry, who is now standing, pointing a finger at Cameron. “You can’t fire her! You’re supposed to fire Cameron!” Just as soon as he says it, Jerry covers his mouth, regret rounding his eyes.


It takes Jessica approximately one eye roll to no longer care. She shrugs and faces forward in her chair. “You can fire me. It’s fine.”


Cameron and Milton are still locked on Jerry. “Jerry, what the hell is going on?” Milton asks.


“Yeah, man, what the hell?” Cameron adds.


The room is heavy with silence. Jerry’s breath is thick and raspy, and beads of sweat glisten across his forehead, reflecting the office LED lights. There is both hurt and longing in his eyes as he looks at the back of Jessica’s head.


“Ahhhh,” Milton sighs, his realization manifesting into sound.


Cameron looks from Jerry to Jessica, who is too self-absorbed and bored to notice. “Woah, seriously? You like Jes—?”


Jerry fumbles through the inside pockets of his jacket and pulls out a handkerchief, presumably for the dripping sweat. But when he pulls out the cloth, something else tumbles out and falls to the floor. At once, all three men lock eyes on it.


For the second time this afternoon, Cameron bites his fist. “Brooooo…”


Jerry tries to be quick when he reaches down to pick up the Sharpie, but it’s too late. There was no mistaking it. “It’s not mine!” Jerry screeches, shoving it back into his pocket.


Milton pushes his tongue into the roof of his mouth, closing his eyes. Five…four…three…


“I swear, Mr. Mackerel – Milton – it wasn’t me. You have to believe me!”


Two…one…


“Jerry!” Milton yells. His elbow on the desk, Milton opens his palm. “Give. Me. The damn. Sharpie.”


Cameron is too shocked by the unraveling events. Jerry, the nerdy intern. His mind is blown. All he can do is watch, as Jerry gulps and slowly produces the Sharpie. He steps forward and places it in Milton’s hand, his palm snapping shut instantly at contact.


“You can pack your things, Jerry.” Milton says.


“Yes, sir.” Jerry slowly walks towards the door, his shoulders slumped. But before he reaches the door knob, he pauses and turns around. He walks back over to where Jessica is picking at her nail polish and places his hands on either side of the armrests. He leans in so their faces are almost touching. She looks up at him, disgust curling at her lips.


“For the record, I would have done whatever you wanted on our lunch break,” Jerry says, and then turns and glares at Cameron. Jessica gasps audibly, and for a moment, she actually considers kissing him. But the thought is fleeting when she sees his sweating forehead and remembers she’s not actually a nice person.


“Ew,” she spews.


And then Jerry is gone.


6:12 AM, a week later

The Coffee Shop on 4th Ave


Milton is disappointed that Tito, his therapist/barista, is not at the register this morning. He’d been eager to brag about his recent anger management successes, and even though the lady at the counter is polite, she’s not as vested in his small talk as Tito always is.


“So, no Tito today, huh?” Milton says, rocking on his heels.


“No, he’s here. He’s training the newbie,” the blue-haired, nose-pierced, twenty-something-year old flings her thumb behind her shoulder. Milton tilts his head to look past her, confirming his confidant is there as she says he is. His disappointment is solidified: Tito is there, but he can’t talk to him. “You’re all set,” the not-Tito employee says.


Milton steps aside so the person behind him can move forward. He peeks behind the drink bar and can see the back of Tito’s head and the back of the new employee. They’re close together, and clearly Tito is instructing him on how to make his drink. Milton is going to meet the new temp today, but he kind of wishes he could just hire Tito. The new guy is lucky to learn from him, he muses.


Milton’s phone dings, and he sees a message from his wife. She’s sent him a picture of his framed Joshua Tree photograph, indicating it is now Sharpie-free, along with a message that reads: “Can’t wait to go back this year.” Next to the text, she’s included a mushroom emoji. Milton smiles coyly. The photo is once again genitalia free but he knows their trip won’t be. He’s about to type a flirty response when he hears his name.


“Milton!” the barista calls out his name. The voice doesn’t sound like Tito, which is surprising, because the voice does sound familiar…


“Hey, hey! Milton, my man!” Tito steps behind the new employee, placing a friendly hand on his shoulder. “I’m so happy you’re here today. It’s actually my last day. But don’t worry. This, right here, is my replacement, and I’ve told him exactly how you like your coffee, so your drink will be in good hands.”


When Milton's eyes land on the trainee, he does not see the nerdy intern who a week ago used to nervously quiver and call him “sir.” He sees a man with newfound confidence, smiling so wide that his face almost appears acne-free.


“Mr. Mackerel,” Jerry nods.


“You two know each other?” Tito asks enthusiastically.


Milton is too stunned to respond, so Jerry says, “Yeah, he’s my girlfriend’s boss.”


Tito chuckles. “Oh, cool. Small world, huh?"


Neither Milton or Jerry acknowledge Tito. They just stare at each other silently, until Jerry finally slides Milton’s coffee cup across the coffee bar. Tucking a Sharpie in the pocket of his apron, Jerry says, “Have a good day, Milton. See you next time.”


When Milton reaches for his cup, he sees the black lettering of his name on the side first before he notices something else next to the writing. He squints, reaching out and spinning the cup until the doodle becomes all too clear.


Ten… nine…eight…

October 19, 2023 04:40

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24 comments

Amanda Lieser
22:22 Oct 28, 2023

Hey AnneMarie! This was a highly amusing piece. I absolutely side with Milton on this one, but a little playful revenge was totally justified. This story was wonderfully unique and I appreciated that you made us so invested in this story. I hope that Jerry’s revenge ended in the doodle alone. I’m always afraid that someone would spit in my food as revenge. ;) nice work!!

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AnneMarie Miles
22:50 Oct 28, 2023

Thanks Amanda! I'm always scared of people spitting in my food too 😂 I don't think Milton will be going to the 4th Ave coffee shop anymore!

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PM McClory
15:59 Oct 27, 2023

Milton Mackeral! What a name and what a story. This is a hilarious take on the prompt. As others have mentioned, the characterization is strong. I can see all of the characters as the mini-mystery is solved. A very fun read. I actually had my engagement photos done at Joshua Tree and have half a mind to make sure they are unmarked...

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AnneMarie Miles
16:03 Oct 27, 2023

Thank you for the read and the comment! Certainly something fun and a bit of a stretch for this prompt but I just couldn't do another sad story - which is what my characters always go for 😜 Better check those photos friends! Unless you trust all of your coworkers 🫣

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M.A. Grace
21:57 Oct 25, 2023

Hi, returning the critique favour! The start of your story is a unique take on prompt, where character is looking at an image of the desert rather than physically being there, which created a neat hook. Really strong characterisation, especially Jerry and Jessica. I really liked the twist ending and the nerd getting the last laugh. A real fun read. Good luck with it!

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AnneMarie Miles
22:27 Oct 25, 2023

Thank you M.A.! I appreciate you taking the time to read. I didn't realize how much I bent the prompt until after I published it, whoops! But it was fun to go somewhere else with it. Thanks again!

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Danie Holland
11:07 Oct 25, 2023

AnneMarie, What a creative and hilarious take on the prompt. The way you weave the simple and yet complexities of human nature in this "whodunnit" office setting is entertaining and believable. Trying to get a coworker fired because he likes his girlfriend, I loved each of these characters. I went through a phase where I was obsessed with the office. I actually have a T-shirt with Michaels face on it that reads: "I'm dead inside." Wearing it to work brings me great joy. Thanks for the story this week! Danie

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AnneMarie Miles
13:18 Oct 25, 2023

Thanks Danie! Oh yes, I have my own Michael/dementor shirt :) All my years of binging the Office have paid off. LOL. I had fun with this group of ridiculous people! Thanks for reading!

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Tom Skye
16:29 Oct 24, 2023

This was brilliantly written. Must have taken you a couple of rewrites. I don't often laugh out loud when I am reading but I did in the early stages of this. The character work in the interrogation was hilarious. The way it is supposed to be a serious matter, but Jessica doesn't care. The way Cameron is clearly with Jessica because she is hot but doesn't really know how to handle her. And you can feel the nervousness of Jerry's presence in the room. Really great work again. Enjoyed it a lot. I have actually been to Joshua tree. I will thi...

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AnneMarie Miles
16:37 Oct 24, 2023

Thanks, Tom! What kind words. I didn't rewrite it but I did take my time writing it. The dialogue developed over a few days and I had no idea where it was going. I love writing the quippy personality because it's so far from my own. Really glad you and enjoyed it and I certainly do hope you think of it next time you see a yucca! One day I'll make it down to Joshua. Thanks again!

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19:08 Oct 22, 2023

Hahaha very funny AnneMarie. The character work here is impeccable, they were all so vivid it was like watching an episode of Brooklyn 99. Brilliantly done.

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AnneMarie Miles
19:59 Oct 22, 2023

Thanks, Derrick! I had a bit of fun with these folks. Glad you enjoyed. :)

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Mary Bendickson
00:12 Oct 22, 2023

Laughable. Different take on finding an odd thing in the desert. You hit the silly bone for sure!

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AnneMarie Miles
19:59 Oct 22, 2023

Thanks, Mary! I stretched the prompt a bit but I just wanted something silly this week.

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Michał Przywara
20:29 Oct 21, 2023

Ha! Very funny :) Very Office-like office politics, and the characters are hilarious. The absolute gravity that Milton treats the event with is nicely contrasted by Cameron's flippancy, and Jess's boredom. Ending it with Jerry becoming Tito's replacement is also a perfect fit, particularly given the "therapist" relationship there. Everybody wins and loses here (except maybe Cameron, unless keeping his job is a win). I think a major strength of this piece is the distinct characters, and what really sells them is each has their own strong mot...

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AnneMarie Miles
13:24 Oct 25, 2023

Nobody cares what anyone else wants - precisely :) And Jessica doesn't care about anyone or anything, lol. I certainly had fun writing something a little more fun last week! I'm glad the characters came off as distinct. I pulled out a lot of tropes and just had some fun with the dialogue. Happy it made ya laugh! Thanks for reading and for your insights, Michal!

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Bob Long Jr
16:52 Oct 20, 2023

What a character that Jessica. Good story .. chuckled a good nit

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AnneMarie Miles
21:37 Oct 20, 2023

Thanks, Bob! Glad you got some laughs. I certainly had fun conjuring up Jessica, and a little jealous I don't have as much confidence as she!

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Philip Ebuluofor
18:14 Oct 19, 2023

Fine work. Jerry is now a Jerry. That line sounds poetic. Interesting storyline.

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AnneMarie Miles
23:24 Oct 20, 2023

Jerry is now a Jerry! I love that. Thanks, Philip!

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Philip Ebuluofor
15:04 Oct 21, 2023

Welcome.

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Kevin Logue
14:31 Oct 19, 2023

Fun, fun, fun! Seriously good, only you could take a disciplinary meeting and make it so damn good. The angry boss needing a barista therapist, super. Jerry is such a jerry, comedy gold, we all know a Cameron and well, not sure what it says about me but I'm oddly attracted to Jessica's pinkish attitude hahaha. Really enjoyed this AnneMarie, every last yummy morsel. "The photo is once again genitalia free but he knows their trip won’t be. " Proper laugh out loud moment. As we say in Ireland, that's top drawer! 😀

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AnneMarie Miles
21:36 Oct 20, 2023

Thanks Kevin! My writing lately has been nothing but a gloomy doomy zoom room what with all the grief and dying my characters have been going through. I just wanted to write something silly. Guess all my hours of binging the American version of The Office has paid off 😂 I'm a bit embarrassed now though, realizing I didn't quite adhere to the prompt 🫣 Whoops! We'll see what the judges think about that... And don't worry - I think if you weren't a little attracted to Jessica, I might not have done her justice! Who doesn't love a sassy, confi...

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A.B. Writer
21:10 Nov 20, 2023

Awesome piece! I love the humor and seriousness all in one. Love the revenge Jerry got. Also, people named Jerry just do really random and weird things, I've noticed. Pls write more and read mine!

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