On offering for Fiction Friday today is an excerpt from a story of mine called Nero’s Fiddle. It is about the worst workplace in the world and one man’s attempt to maintain his sanity, and personal safety, amid the chaos. Some of you may be able to relate.
Nero’s Fiddle (excerpt)
by Desmond Manny
Kevin gripped the arms of his chair and gathered together something resembling resolve. Grimly he heaved himself up and out of his cubicle headed for the break room. Cruelly his mind hallucinated the smell of freshly brewing coffee though he couldn’t possibly have smelled it from this distance. He began to walk more briskly. Reaching the half-open door he gripped the handle and a voice came from somewhere behind him, warbling in a high-pitched tone. “Nooo!”
Wheeling around Kevin was completely unsure what to be prepared for. He scanned the line of cubicles. Peeking from behind one of the felt lined panels was a small heart-shaped face out of which peered two large brown eyes filled with fear.
Not recognizing the woman Kevin was unsure how to handle the situation. Was she warning him? Or worried he’d take the last of the coffee? Which he admitted to himself he was entirely capable of. He had become pretty mercenary in his thinking.
The face whispered something at him but it was too low to hear. The urgency in the woman’s face made him want to take a step closer. If it was a trap it was a good one. It played on both his curiosity and his chivalry. Kevin took a tentative step forward. The face flinched. He took another step. The eyes in the face widened. He was now no more than four feet from the cubicle.
He steeled himself. “Say what now?”
The face quivered and Kevin thought that if the eyes opened any wider they would pop right out of the heart-shaped face and roll across the floor. Then she blinked and said, “You… You can’t go in without a tribute. They don’t let anyone in without paying a tribute.”
“Who the hell is ‘they’?” Kevin inquired.
His new friend looked at him as though he had just asked her what color the sky was or if water was wet. “The crowd from IT.”
Kevin honestly couldn’t credit it. He knew those guys. How in the nine hells had they even gotten caught up in all this? Usually they kept to themselves only venturing out to lend tech support to the less computer savvy. They were contemptuous of most of their fellow employees and guarded their tech secrets like an order of socially inept monks. Kevin had by chance mentioned he installed a Linux distribution on an old laptop once and it had earned him the occasional head nod in passing. Nerd street cred.
“They,” Kevin looked at a point just above the woman’s head and desperately tried to keep confusion at bay. “The IT department is holed-up in the break room?”
“And they’re demanding a tribute from anyone who wants to get into the break room?”
“What kind of trib-” Kevin gave his head a hard shake as though it could dislodge him from the ridiculous situation he had found himself in. “I just want coffee.”
“They know. It’s why they choose the break room. Everyone wants coffee.” She looked at him pityingly.
Kevin turned his head to look back over his shoulder to where the door of the break room stood partly open. Kevin believed he could smell dark roast, freshly brewed. His pulse jumped.
“I have to get coffee.” He said in a small voice.
The woman assumed he was talking to her. “Not if you don’t have something they want. It changes. They made one guy bring them all the hole punches from up on sixteen. A woman had to give them her underwear. Didn’t make her strip for it, sent her to the bathroom to take them off.” She added the last as though it were the most confusing part of the story, the part she couldn’t wrap her head around.
Kevin took a step toward the door,then another. “Wait,” the woman, “I will go with you. I brought a Cobb salad and Coconut Water for my lunch. I’m starved.”
The thought of a sidekick appealed to Kevin. There was a cinematic quality to it with him being the grizzled hero (though he had actually shaved that morning), and her the plucky girl who is inspired to face the evil and provide comic relief.
He turned and took two steps when something hard and heavy came crashing into a point of his skull just below his right ear. His knees buckling under him and darkness swimming in from the corners of his eyes Kevin had just enough time to hear a quiet female voice saying,”Sorry. Not sorry.” and to process that the sheer crappiness of this day outmatched all that had gone before it.