Before we get started today, some shameless self-promotion! If you haven’t yet, please consider stopping by and checking out the NaNoWriMoVideo Songfest, hosted by yours truly throughout the month of November. You don’t have to be doing NaNo this year to participate! So swing by and see what you think! 😀
We can’t always what we want. What I wanted for this blogfest was a great finale post under 600 words–but I didn’t get it! 😀
What I did get–on this post and the others–was an enlightening experience trying my hand at a shorter story. There are various definitions out there about what length story is considered flash fiction, and I’d say a 2,000 word story is right on the outer reaches of that category. But 2k words is much shorter than just about any of my other projects.
So for me, this was a departure from my writing norm, an excuse to stretch myself and see what I was capable of. During this blogfest, the challenge of cutting the fat, paring things down to a pure distillate, of still conveying the point without the luxury of endless blank pages taught me volumes. Even though I vastly exceeded the wordcount for this installment (~1200 words), which likely puts me out of consideration–if I was ever a serious contender–for any prizes, this Blogfest has been a true blast and helped me continue to grow as a writer.
And I’ll say it again: if you haven’t made it around to see what the other participating writers have cooking, you are truly missing out. (I have some getting around to do myself! :D) Some great work has been done by great writers, and I’m happy and honored to be a part of this effort.
So I want to take a moment and give massive unadulterated thanks to the #REN3 Blogfest sponsors: Damyanti, JC, Lisa and Stuart for setting up this totally fun event and keeping it going throughout the month. It was truly a blast!
The Leopard’s Spots
by Jon Paul
Wordcount: mumble mumble 😀
Prompt: Relationships are torn asunder.
Link to Part One (Magnus McGrool, 596 words)
Link to Part Two (Theodora Ravelstein, 597 words)
Link to Part Three (Calvin Rumpus, 600 words)
CALVIN ARRIVED EARLY. On his desk he found a 5×7 photo of himself, distant and serious on the rock at the Heriot Pass trailhead, the words “Stay cool!” inscribed on the back in Theodora’s expressive hand. He was still grinning when Magnus arrived ten minutes later.
The next hour passed in a blur. Readying the Conference Room. Copying and organizing various forms. Magnus grimacing and cussing. Briefing security personnel who would be posted nearby, in case of trouble. Calvin tried to stay focused, but a strange anxiousness made him feel out of place in his own skin.
“You’re running the show,” Magnus had told him. “Time to step up and show what you’re made of.”
Calvin took the news in stride, nodding in what he imagined to be a professional way. Magnus even hinted that a good performance over the next several days might earn him a shot at becoming HR Director permanently. Calvin watched his boss carefully. Did Magnus really think he had it in him? If so, then the vote of confidence felt like a real affirmation, and a wave of pride surged through him.
At 9:00 a.m. Gladdis ushered in the first employee: an older man wearing a wrinkled avocado-colored suit. The three of them–Calvin, Magnus and some flunky from Legal–sat behind a long mahogany table.
Calvin cleared his throat and gestured for the man to take his seat. In a quiet voice, he began to explain that the man’s services were no longer required at Barchadelli Marketing, Inc. The surprise in the old man’s eyes turned first to dismay, then decayed gradually to a bitter, tight-lipped bemusement. Calvin continued on, ignoring the ticks gnawing the insides of his stomach. This is just business, he reminded himself. Magnus looked on as well, his face a mask of blank acquiescence.
One by one, two more employees were brought in. A woman whose left eye twitched when she was nervous. A long-limbed man with acne. Calvin went through the motions, explained their rights, conveyed the company’s regret.
Throughout it all Magnus looked on, as cold and emotionless as a machine. How does he do it? Calvin wondered. He never betrays his emotions. Calvin had to admit it: despite Magnus’ bad reputation, he had earned Calvin’s respect in the time they’d worked together for just this kind of detached professionalism.
Feeling a flutter of edginess as the man with acne was shown from the room, Calvin girded himself and tried to follow Magnus’ example. Being professional is a skill, Calvin reminded himself. One I can master.
The next employee entered the room. Calvin was scribbling on a legal pad when Magnus nudged him gently and knocked him from his reverie.
In the interview chair, Theodora sat eyeing him in profound disbelief. His mouth fell open. When he looked toward Magnus, he expected to find a cruel smile there, expected Magnus to admit to the joke. Instead Magnus’ hawk eyes articulated absolute tranquility.
He tried to compose himself. “This is business,” Calvin mumbled, but when he began to speak out loud, he was sure his voice would falter. Theodora sat cross-legged in her chair, her face a manifestation of open defiance.
He couldn’t look her in the eye, so he continued to scribble on his legal pad instead, going through the motions. The economy had suffered, he explained, and Barchadelli’s revenue had fallen as a result. Management’s decision to reduce the workforce was unfortunate, but it had to be done, for the survival of the company.
“Calvin?” Theodora intoned. In the emptiness of the room her voice rang like a bell and cut through his thin words, stopping him in his tracks.
Magnus looked over, surprised at her familiar manner. Sensing his boss’s concern, Calvin chose his words carefully. “Mrs. Ravelstein, let me urge you–“
“No,” she said, the corners of her mouth curling into a vicious grimace. “I’m not going to play along. I’m not going to go quietly.”
“I can see you’re very upset, Mrs. Ravelstein. I’m very sorry–“
Theodora clamored to her feet, pointing at him. She spit words at him like daggers. “This is just what we talked about. Can’t you see? It’s flat out wrong, and you should know it!”
Strangely, amid the chaos, Calvin caught himself noticing the graceful curve of Theodora’s jawline, the elegant slant of her nose, the way the corner of her mouth always seemed on the verge of an animated smile, even when she was angry. She was beautiful, Calvin realized. Why hadn’t he noticed this before?
He shook his head, tried to dispel these thoughts, yet her kindnesses kept coming back to him: her compliments on his photography, their conversation over the weekend, the photo she’d put on his desk that morning. She’d warned him he was being set up. She’d said he was too nice for his own good. She’d said a lot of things, but why?
Theodora railed at him, shook her fist, called them every name in the book. One of the security people appeared at the door. Magnus was smiling now, enjoying the show. Calvin caught his grin out of the corner of his eye and wondered again if this was all some sort of joke, wondered if Theodora had been right about Magnus’ intentions all along.
It came clear to him in that moment that he had a choice. In his mind’s eye, Calvin saw himself standing up from the table, straightening his suit, walking toward the conference room door. He’d tell the security guy to take his hands off Theodora, offer her a winning smile. When Magnus asked him what the hell he was doing, Calvin would say it to his face, without equivocation: “I quit.”
News of his revolt would spread through the Barchadelli offices like wildfire. Walking through the hallways toward the exit with Theodora at his shoulder, he’d call out “Who’s with me?” over and over again. Mobs of employees would materialize from cubicles, given permission to quit, freed suddenly of the yoke of responsibility, happy to be a part of something profound and brave and real at last. He’d lead the mob out the front doors of Barchadelli, leaving Magnus and the other Directors behind to pick up the pieces.
“Calvin?” Her voice broke the spell.
Two Renaissance PD officers had appeared from somewhere and they were hand-cuffing Theodora. He had said some things, he realized, but he didn’t know what. The storm of Theodora’s anger had broken, and she stared at the carpet, looking as if she might cry. One of the security people was holding a handkerchief to his cheek, a smudged rose of blood soaking the white fabric where she had scratched him. The guy from legal was nowhere to be found.
His eyes locked on hers. Her confusion about him had given way to an unwavering clarity. When she spoke again, all generosity had fled from her voice. “Things didn’t have to happen like this. You know that, right?”
He looked away, scrutinizing a picture on the far wall. As it turned out, it was a photo taken long ago of the Roundeli Mountains. It was funny what people said about them: you could never really tell if they were real or an illusion.
“It’s business,” Calvin said at last, his eyes on the photo. “Nothing more.”
After they took Theodora away, Magnus patted him on the back and spoke at him–some chatter about the interviews that afternoon and the fine job he’d done and how he’d known Calvin had it in him all along–but the words sounded garbled, muffled, like whalesong. Then Magnus was asking him something else. What was it? Lunch? Executive Boardroom? CEO?
Calvin told him to go on; he’d follow in a minute.
When finally he was alone in the room, the silence hung in his ears like the persistent ring of artillery fire. He looked at the photo on the wall again, ran his eyes along the snow-crowned summits, the rocky saddles between outcroppings, the overhanging cornices frozen still like thousands of white horses.
From his pocket, he withdrew the photo Theodora had given him that morning. I should have realized all along, he mumbled to himself as he tore the photo into neat 1-inch squares and let them flutter to the floor. The peace he had felt that morning, the strange sense of happiness and contentment he had found in those spare moments before the day started now seemed like a distant dream, a vacant event, a carelessly scrawled fragment of another person’s life.
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