Climbing the Ladder. Short Story.

John sat at his desk, around him he could hear the steady clack of typing and just ever so faintly, a radio playing classical music. He logged on and while waiting took a sip of coffee. It had been a late night, they had allowed him to come in late, but he hadn’t slept well. Not that he had expected to of course, you don’t see something like that and then go home and sleep like a baby, not if you were normal anyway. His desktop appeared finally and he went straight to his inbox, there he sorted through the various emails, three bullshit ones from HR about something or other that didn’t involve him, another from his boss asking him to pop in when he got a chance, a short “congrats!” and an entertain me email from Ellie. It didn’t take him long before he was done and left with a choice, boss first or Ellie, both could have consequences. Finally he stood and started walking towards Bob’s office. He ignored the people he passed as they ignored him, it was only right. He didn’t glance into any cubicles but if he had they would have been like his, bare of any mementos or pictures. It just wasn’t done here.
He knocked on the door lightly and waited a second, “Come in.”
Bob was sitting behind his desk, he had seemed to eschew the traditional keep your work life and home life separate ideal, on his desk were tens, possibly hundreds of little knick-knacks and, facing an angle so the entire room could see it, a picture of him smiling with his family. John had never really cared for Bob, he was hard to take in anything other than small doses.

“Ah! John! You got my email then? I just wanted to go over a few things about last night.”
John resisted the urge to sigh, it was all in his report and in the debriefing interview he had to undergo the night before. There was nothing he could add to anything. Bob gestured at the empty chair, John stayed standing.
“Well, it seemed to have went very well, but now that you’ve had a little time to think over things, is there anything you would, or could, have done differently?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.”
There was a brief moment of silence.
“Well good. I’m glad. Also, Mandy was talking to me, she wanted to talk to you about another assignment. What do you think eh?”
“Yeah, that’d be great. I enjoy getting out and stretching my legs.”
“Don’t we all. I don’t seem to have a list of previous courses you’ve completed though, I was hoping you’d be able to send me a list of them?”
“Yeah, sure, though you’d probably be better off asking HR, I don’t want to miss any.”
“Of course, of course, I’ll touch base with them, see what they’re at.”
Silence.
“Well, that’s all I guess. Job well done!”
“Thanks.”

John left, closing the door behind him. He felt bad for being stilted, but if you gave Bob the slightest opening you’d be stuck talking to him for the rest of the day and John didn’t have it in him right now to pretend to care. He drained the mug he was holding, then went to the break room, a fresh cup of coffee would be needed when dealing with Ellie.

 

He stood outside Ellie’s room for a moment, looking at the pink door that had a herd of white, cartoonish elephants playing on it . He didn’t like this place, no one did, but Ellie herself was usually ok. He took a deep breath and opened the door. Inside was completely black. He stepped into the room, ignoring the sudden churning of his stomach, his foot hit solid ground though it appeared there was nothing underneath him to support his weight. Ellie was sitting at a small table about twenty feet away, hunched over with a crayon gripped tightly in her little hand. He walked over and sat down across from her, he didn’t speak, she was concentrating and it wouldn’t do to interrupt. He didn’t bother trying to look at what she was colouring in, it would have just given him a headache anyway. After a few moments she put the crayon down and stared at the paper critically, deeming it done, it vanished and she looked at John, smiling.

“I hear you went on an assignment last night, did it go well?”
“Yeah, I enjoyed it, but it was a little gross at times.”
“They can be. Scott told me about this one time, when there was some kind of tentacle thing and a bunch of pregnant women.” She scrunched up her face “how yuck is that?”
“Scott?”

She waved a hand in the air, “before your time.”
“ah.”
“So, what happened?”
“Not much, some cult trying to summon a class six being.”
“I thought I felt something coming through.”
“Yeah, only for a moment though. It was a bit of a bloodbath though. I wasn’t able to safely stop them summoning it, but I was able to banish it pretty quick. Six of them survived.”
“That’s something at least. Heads scrambled?”
“Not all of them, two were completely unharmed.”
“That’s nice. Are they being sent to me?”
“I don’t know, I can find out if you like?”
“No, that’s ok. I’ll know soon enough I guess. How’s Becky doing?”
“She’s well, bit stressed from work, but other than that she’s pretty ok.”
“Have you decided what dog you’re going to get?”
“No, not really. Though we’re going to stop by a shelter soon to have a look.”
“When you do get one, can you bring it in? I’d like to play with a dog.”
“We’ll see, I don’t know if I’m allowed, but I’ll certainly ask.”
“Good.”
John took a sip of his coffee, not surprise to find it had turned to chocolate milk. Oh well. So far things were going well, it was a little unnerving to hear her ask about Becky, a name that no one else in the office knew about, and about their discussion on getting a dog, which had only happened the night before, but it could always have been much worse.
“They told me that Jacob has cancer of some kind again. I don’t know if they’re going to let me fix it. Apparently it did something to him the last time. They’re going to be looking for a new caretaker. Would you be interested in the job?”

“I honestly don’t know, I’d never thought of it before.”

She nodded once, “I’ll have HR talk to you about it. I won’t be mad if you don’t take it, don’t worry about that. I do enjoy your visits.”

She smiled at him almost shyly, “I made you something.”
“Oh?”
A small box appeared on the table, “Go on, open it.”
John reached out, not sure what to expect. He opened the box slowly, revealing a mug. He took it out, obviously hand made and with a bright blue flower painted on the side. His other mug vanished, this one filled with chocolate milk.
“Thank you, it’s really pretty, I really like the flower.”
She beamed at him. He tentatively took a sip of the milk, ice cold.
“It’ll keep your drinks at what ever temperature you want. You just have to think about it. Go on. Try.”
He thought of warm chocolate milk, then took a sip, it was warm.
“Wow, that’s great.” The flower on the side had shifted to a light orange colour.
Some paper appeared on the desk again, a box of crayons beside it, the conversation was over.
“I’m afraid I have to get back to work, I’ll pop in later if I get a chance.”
Ellie didn’t respond.
“Bye Ellie.”
John left the room and walked back to his desk, as he set the mug down he noticed it had become filled with coffee again. That was nice of her. He sat at his desk, thinking. He didn’t know if he wanted to be Ellie’s caretaker, he wasn’t entirely sure what it entailed, but he imagined it would be a stressful job. She seemed to like him, but that in itself wasn’t any guarantees. Jacob had been her caretaker for a long time, maybe ninety years. He’d have to find him and have a chat about it. He’d get a considerable pay bump. He looked back at the computer, there was an email from HR already. Maybe he’d be able to look after her and go out on assignments too? He took a sip from the mug, his coffee was the perfect temperature.

 

 

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 24 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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