Gretchen's Unfair Advantage

Submitted into Contest #124 in response to: Start your story with someone trying to read a map.... view prompt

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Fiction Suspense Horror

Gretchen peered down at the crisp parchment paper. The title read Hector Martinez Francisco Guerrero Personality Map. Her heart swooned at the name. The rest of the document listed in color-coded sections from gray to gold. Her eyes shuffled past the colored font and underlining. Gray, blue, yellow, and gold. The Notary saw the expected glow of her eyes.

“Don’t you be reading too fast like all the others. Stay away from the gold until you know you’re ready to see who he truly is. Anything less, stop. You and the subject will become bonded and you will never get an opportunity to backtrack once you read into gold.”

“Will I bond to him or him to me?” Neither option mattered as long as they bonded.

“Only the scroll knows until it happens. Just don’t do it and you’ll have nothing to be concerned over. One more warning, what happens to the parchment, happens to him. Treat this like his life is literally in your hands.”She scoffed at the warnings. He is mine and we are meant to be together forever. My future husband. My future father of our babies. My one, my Hector.

She tolerated her unfulfilling, professional job as regional director to see him. Gretchen thought about him on the way to work, during the numerous, pointless meetings, and always in the evenings. Deep, descriptive fantasies of Hector carried her through nightly excitement into throws of orgasm. She had finished up another semester of Spanish language classes at the community college. She looked forward to when she inevitably met his parents for dinner or perhaps a late Saturday lunch. She wanted them to know that her intentions were to make their son the happiest person ever. He remained unaware that she had saved him from several rounds of layoffs by substituting others in his place.

Gretchen longed to be in his arms, preferably on a rug in front of a fireplace like so many movies had described as romantic. She wanted to go to sleep with him next to her in their bed and wake up to his kisses on her neck. Her fantasies shifted like beach sand with as many different nuances. She had one problem. Hector knew her existence primarily as his boss.

She called him into her office several times under false pretenses that appeared to be legitimate issues. His cologne further intoxicated her. Most times he thanked her for making sure the “issues” didn’t go any higher into the company. She created reasons to better understand who he was as a full person beyond the sterility of HR paperwork. She fell more and more in love with him throughout every meeting. Gretchen took a cell phone picture of the heart map to examine the information while at work.

The Notary had dissuaded her from taking such a picture. “Keep this safe at home. If it gets destroyed, his fate will immediately follow. And don’t you be taking a picture of this map, missy. You hold your horses for when you get home. Then, if you want to spend your evening and early morning time lost in this here heart map, that’s on you. Stronger people than you have lost their jobs and livelihoods to emotional greed.” She placated him with a hollow agreement that they both understood to be a lie. She believed herself to be too far gone for boundaries. Gretchen spent time with the office gossip circles accumulating additional information about him. She hated the droll discussions about anyone else. Get to the good stuff, get to Hector. She was able to find out much about his life through their loose tongues. They inevitably shared how he lived, where he grew up, his family dynamics, and every bit of information worthy of their discussion. Gretchen discovered one of their best saleswomen showing more than passing interest in him. Gretchen stewed for several days before transferring the woman fifty-three miles away under the guise of distributing the talent throughout the company. The woman ended up quitting due to an elongated commute.

She looked over the map. Ok, gray. These are the most basic elements about him. Nothing too much to learn here. Blue. His most superficial traits. She passed through the unrelated information. What does he want in his woman? Besides for his cock. She laughed at the dumb joke. He likes short hair for himself, longer hair for his girlfriends. Gretchen immediately canceled her appointment for a trim. Oh, he likes brunettes. She looked at herself in the small mirror. Check. Oh, he likes them a bit on the curvy side. She called to cancel her trainer. Tonight, I get to enjoy some extra donuts after dinner, yum. Already this thing is paying off. Gretchen thought back to her odd encounter with The Notary.

“It’s the story of who he is. It’s an ever-changing story. The words on the paper will update accordingly. It’s his deepest needs and impulses. It is not for the faint of heart.” His sausage fingers shuffled through the files as his expression widened in pleasure. “Ah, here we go. This is him, Hector Martinez Francisco Guerrero.” 

Gretchen strained to see the document. “Do I have one of those parchments?”

Every person has one,” he said flipping his hand to such an obvious question.

She thought about that idea for a minute. “Do… you have one?”

The young man turned to her. “I said, every person has one. He raised his finger in the air. Don’t get us confused for being on the same level. Do you want to continue asking questions that may break this deal or do you want the parchment?”

She blinked away further questions and brought herself back to the moment why she arrived in the first place. Gretchen regretted offending her host. “I would like the parchment, please.”

“Good, now we have that settled.”He handed her the scroll, tied with a simple red bow.

“What do I owe you?”

“My dear, I am beyond your mortal payments. There isn’t anything that you could give me that I couldn’t take on my own. But, I will accept a drop of blood if you volunteer it.”

Gretchen contemplated this. She flashed through her countless fears and ended up on consenting anyways. “Ok.”

“Excellent. Come by my table.” She noticed a small swing jar on the tabletop. One that she swore hadn’t been there moments ago. Ah, I couldn’t see it because of the angle, she lied to herself.

He took off the glass topper. She noticed a clear liquid inside. “What’s inside? Water?”

“If that’s what you want to believe, then yes.” His tone indicated that further questions weren’t welcome.

“This won’t hurt a bit.” He held her wrist in a tightening grip. His gray-peach flesh felt colder than a block of ice cubes. Her hand became unresponsive. She immediately regretted her agreement. As if reading her mind, he commented, “No going back now, sweetheart.” A pin materialized in his free hand. Four of her fingers curled into her palm without her command. He jabbed the point into her extended ring finger. A series of blood droplets fell perfectly past the jar’s edge into the liquid. Her mind’s eye flashed through a series of unnerving, dark images. She wanted to recoil from consciousness. “Almost done sweetheart, just a little more. Stay with me.”

The images transformed into ideas. Disgusting, revolting ideas made from scraps of broken insanity. He pulled the pin free. His grip released. “Done. See that wasn’t so bad.” Her hand tingled.

She watched him grab up the bottle in his hand. She thought something slithered inside. He placed the jar into a drawer of like containers.

Gretchen looked at her undamaged finger. “Wait, I don’t underst-”

“And you won’t.” A scalpel materialized in his hand. “Would you prefer I mark your finger for posterity?”

“No. No, I think we’re good.” Gretchen quaked with unrelenting fear.

“You’re right. Our transaction here is done. It’s time for you to go.” His eyes spewed for her to leave.

Gretchen caught herself back to the moment. Yellow. She looked through Hector’s private opinions. Political views, religious views, views about people in his life. She delayed looking at what his thoughts were about her. The temptation festered like an itch. Gretchen Thomas. Gretchen Thomas Guerrero, it will say. She read on. “Kind, cute, and with a power trip once in a while. Not quitting or staying with the job because of her. Looks good in a low-cut blouse, not so much in that yellow sweater. Perfume is on point.”

Gretchen sat back in her chair. First thing tonight, that sweater goes into the garbage. I wonder if he hates the color or the style. She looked down to Gold. Her eyes followed the private thoughts. Hector’s personal secrets flowed like a waterfall in front of her. The experiences and thoughts he locked away to share with only those who he most trusted. The past that would grab at him in the middle of the night in dreams or dark bedrooms. The guilt for past actions. The guilt for prior thoughts. The lustful wants he would never share with another person. His rawness, devoid of boundaries. Oh, my god, I shouldn’t know this. I shouldn’t know but… now I do. She continued to read like an addict taking one more smoke, one more shot. She took one more look. Her hand quaked. She held the picture up to her face and dialed her desk phone, trying to divide her attention equally.

“Sally? Sorry to bother, I, um, I need,” her eyes continued to read the image, “I have a personal emergency that I need to go home to take care of. Ok, thanks.” She hung up the phone with her mouth open. He really is the one. There’s no way someone else could be into that, like that. Her body trembled at the unwavering confidence caught in her feelings.

Gretchen made her way home nearly getting into two accidents, one that caught a patrolwoman’s attention. She talked her way out of the ticket into a warning. The officer could see that Gretchen appeared shaken up by some external situation outside of the stop. She arrived home and stripped out of her clothing into the shower where she stood until the warm water ran cool. Then cold. Gretchen pulled herself into bed without drying off. Her brain felt as though each thought collapsed in on itself. She arose several hours later. The sun perched over the distance, ready to take its pause until the morning. She felt afraid to open the scroll, to read those words in their purest form. Gretchen sat on the couch naked as the last bits of daylight expired. She remained in the dark until the reality of her body needed attention. Gretchen pulled together dinner and turned on her evening shows without paying attention to the screen. She coasted through the evening processing the real Hector. The man that mirrored her past, guilt, and lustful desires.

How do I even look him in the eyes tomorrow? How do I maintain a workday with him so close in proximity? I don’t even know how this works now. Maybe I should read more, her inner brain encouraged, like a drug addict. “Maybe I should,” she said aloud to the room as she remained seated. Her mind went over the idea repeatedly. Gretchen decided to go to bed only on account of a passing look at the clock. 1 am. Her body needed sleep. Her mind needed rest. Her heart needed Hector.

Gretchen overhauled her life and wardrobe to match his secret preferences. She gave herself a goal of landing him in nine months. She checked the map daily to ensure his preferences had stayed constant. Gretchen accelerated her Spanish learning to audio lessons in the car, in the shower, and while making meals. “Estoy preparando el desayuno,” she told herself as the eggs and bacon sizzled one morning. She almost slipped Spanish into their conversations several times, causing him to question if she was bilingual. Gretchen casually mentioned that she had picked up a few words here or there from a local Mexican food market. Their at-work relationship blossomed as her efforts matched his unique preferences. She put on several more pounds to enhance her curves. Her hair matched up with his preferred style. She became less authoritarian at work and more empathetic to her subordinate’s needs. He stole smiles her way, which added fuel to her raging fire for him. His work improved in both quality and quantity. She lay in bed on most nights seeing herself getting closer and closer to the prize.

One afternoon a memo appeared in her email. The subject read Hector Guerrero: Promotion. Her boss indicated that she should promote him to their regional office over two hundred miles away. Oh, God, no. This, this can’t be happening. I’m so close. Gretchen responded that a woman she had been mentoring would be a more applicable fit. She waited in haste for a response. Several hours later her boss indicated that Mary Setvunson would be the new director based solely on the personal recommendation. Gretchen sighed with relief. She decided that moving forward, any and all threats to their happiness would be eliminated with a deep prejudice. Many of the office women, including several of Hector’s female friends, were either run out of their jobs or transferred with males as their replacements. The few remaining females were far from his preferred type, including an old spinster who talked incessantly and a woman who held no affinity for “minority hires.”

Gretchen hated leaving the scroll at home since she spent most of her time at the office. She stashed the rolled-up parchment in a locked filing cabinet near her desk. She spent much time viewing and reviewing the information. Her piling work lagged behind as her stress mounted. She felt unable to pull herself away.

Hector entered her office with a somber face.

“What’s the matter, Hector?” Her concern was expressed greater than it should have been.

“My, my mother passed away this morning and I need to go out to Cambridge to deal with her affairs.”

Gretchen embraced this as an opportunity to become his hero. “Please, yes, take all the time you need. I’ll make sure HR is cleared for you.”

“Oh, thank you so much. I really appreciate that.”

“Please give my best to your family.”

“Thank you. I can still work today if needed.”

“I insist you go now as long as you keep me updated.”

“I promise. Thank you, Ms. Thomas.” He bounded out the door.

Gretchen’s depression bottomed out at his absence. She felt like an alcoholic who became forced to spill her last bottle of whiskey. The days dragged by. She watched his grief through the scroll. She watched him change from a family lackey to a patriarch. Gretchen followed his thoughts and fears. Each night she cried for her beloved and for her inability to hold his hand through the process. Each night she went to bed without any official follow-up. Each day, she waited for something from him. A week passed without any word.

Gretchen looked over the scroll one early morning. Her face went hard. She sent a specifically worded text to him making sure that he was alright. He replied that the situation had become complicated and he may need to consider an unpaid absence for some time. She responded with the need for a call. Her blood boiled at his new “situation.” Her phone rang. She answered holding back an untapped fury.

“Hey, Hector. I thought maybe we needed to do this by phone.”

“Yeah, I’m so sorry. My mother’s passing has created some unexpected issues that I might need more time to resolve. What are my options for unpaid leave? I promise it won’t be any more than two months.”

The mere thought of him being gone for that time unraveled Gretchen’s sanity. She broke her silence.

“Who’s Tani?” Each word layered with thick disgust.

“How do you know Tani?” His confusion was clear. He felt an obligation to answer his superior’s question over his personal reluctance.

 “She’s a friend from high school that I reconnected with during my mother’s funeral.”

“I know that you’ve been spending time with her out there. Are you delaying your return because of her?” Gretchen’s tone flamed with accusation.

Hector felt completely caught off guard.

“Yeah, I guess, somewhat. I mean we’ve been catching up and we have a lot in common. I’m here mostly because of my family and getting my mother’s place sold. No one else can take care of the sale. Does my friendship with her change something?”

“It changes ev-ery-thing.” Gretchen spat. She hung up and slammed her phone on the desk. The skin on her face rotated through various shades of red. She opened the scroll at her desk, seething with out-of-control frustration. She looked at his most inner thoughts. Her eyes widened. Tears streamed down her face. Gretchen’s fingers curled, wrinkling the delicate paper in her hands. She looked down at new words that came to existence on the parchment. “Snooping, crazy, old boss lady needs to get a boyfriend.” Time stopped. Her heart sunk into darkness. Gretchen screamed. If I can’t have him, then no one does. She pulled the crisp paper until it ripped in two. Several days passed with the fluidity of a lead balloon. Hector’s brother called with the untimely news of his death. Gretchen had been waiting for the call. She offered her condolences as she looked over the newly purchased scroll of Tanya Montenegro Rodriguez, the woman she was about to kill from her desk. The Notary had requested a larger quantity of her blood for the new document. Gretchen considered a list of everyone she could eliminate as the paper tore within her hands.

December 17, 2021 18:35

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5 comments

Kevin Broccoli
17:26 Dec 24, 2021

This one really creeped me out in the best way. Your attention to detail is amazing. Good job.

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Bobbie Candas
00:01 Dec 23, 2021

A dark creepy story of obsession. Be careful who you give your blood to! Great job, held my interest throughout.

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Pako Dunwhile
00:44 Dec 23, 2021

Thank you for the comment. I am always working to make the tales as engaging as possible for my readers. I am considering a follow-up story on the Notary. I think his backstory or future tales would be interesting. I want to imagine him in a Cthulhu-esque world. I will have two more stories out this week for your consideration. Teasers: Better late than never takes place during a time when humans are on the defensive. Clocks stop sees a woman navigate her way home with reality stuck in place.

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Jon Casper
20:27 Dec 17, 2021

Oh my goodness, this is amazing! Like an extra dark episode of the Twilight Zone. I really enjoyed how you unraveled the mysterious nature of the scroll throughout the story. It also has some vibes of the Netflix series "You" which centers around obsession like this. Great dialogue throughout. Excellent story!

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Pako Dunwhile
00:34 Dec 23, 2021

Thank you for the positive input. This story had been so much to put together. I will make sure to check out the "You" series. Twilight Zone has always been a favorite and I take your reference as the highest compliment.

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