I’ve been working on a novella I’m planning to publish in March. The book is a collection of stories about Mark, a man who sees magical things. This is my rough draft of the last story in the novella. It’s a little strange, so I’m not sure I’ll use it. We’ll see.
Please forgive any typos. This version is not edited.
Even though he’d never been in this hallway before, Mark was struck by how similar it was to the hallways on his floor. There was the same dark purple industrial carpet, the same cream-colored walls, the same nondescript brown doors. Without the room numbers displayed on the wall next to each office, it would be impossible to know what floor you were on.
Mark took a left and walked all the way to the end of the hall. After confirming he was in the right place by checking the room number on the wall with the one he’d written on his hand, he knocked gently on the door.
There was no answer.
Mark sigh and knocked with more force.
“Come in,” four voices said at once.
Mark pushed open the door and surveyed the room. There was a desk on each wall. While there were no windows, the wall behind each desk was littered with various posters that, Mark assumed, had been chosen to fit the tastes of the desk’s occupant. On each desk were three large computer monitors, a keyboard or two, and a mouse. Behind each desk sat an IT technician. That’s what Anne had told him to call her co-workers on the train that morning, “IT Technicians.” They all swiveled in their chairs to face him.
“What do you need?” the man sitting to the right of the door said. He was inexplicably thin, and his sharp features contrasted his large round black-framed glasses. Behind his desk were posters of dragons and female warriors ready to do battle in tight fitting, battle inappropriate clothing.
“You don’t have to come up here,” that man to the left of the door said with nasal irritation. “Next time you can just call us.” He was heavy sat with a round face. Mark could see the crack of his ass peeking out between his pants and his t-shirt. Above on his wall were ironic motivational posters. Mark giggled at the picture of a kitten hanging from a tree with the words “Don’t let go or you’re fucked!” across the top.
“Did you bring my new tablet?” the third man said. He spoke with an accent Mark couldn’t place, wore suspenders and a bowtie, and had a bushy beard that looked as if it hadn’t been trimmed in months. Above his desk were pictures of people from the company. They looked like copies of the people’s ID badges. Some of the faces had thick red X’s through them and others had green, blue, or red circles around them. Mark quickly skimmed the faces until he found his picture. It had three red X’s through it and looked like it had been stabbed multiple times with a pencil.
“Ignore them,” Anne said with a smile. “We don’t get a lot of visitors.” Above her desk was a collage of postcards from various cities, mountain ranges, and ocean views.
“Hey,” Mark said.
“Oh shit,” the man with the dragon posters said. “I know that voice. You’re the Fuck You guy.”
“Yeah you are,” the one with the kitten poster said. “Hey, say ‘Why don’t you pull your head out of your ass and try and do something fucking useful!’” As he quoted Mark, he tried to imitate his voice. “That’s my favorite.”
“It’s more like this,” the dragon guys said in a lower tone of voice, “Why don’t you pull your head out of your ass and try and do something fucking useful!”
The bearded man leaned back in his chair and threw a pencil at the picture of Mark’s face. He too then tried the line, but with more gravel. “Why don’t you pull your head out of your ass and try and do something fucking useful!”
“That’s totally wrong,” the dragon man said. “You do it, A. You do it the best.”
“Why don’t you pull your head out of your ass and try and do something fucking useful,” Anne said with a smile of pride.
The other three men looked at Mark expectantly.
Mark sighed and looked at the ground. Then he said, “Why don’t you pull your head out of your ass and try and do something fucking useful.”
The three men cheered and agreed that Anne’s impression was the best as they swiveled in their chairs to face their screens once again.
“Why don’t we talk in the hallway,” Anne said, standing and walking toward Mark.
Mark took a few steps back to give her space to leave the office. He loved how her hair was held in a messy bun by two pens. He thought it was cute. Once they were clear of the door, he said, “That’s quite a crew you’ve got in there.”
“They’re good guys,” she said looking over her shoulder. “They take care of me. So what’s up?”
Mark felt suddenly shy. He bit his bottom lip, looked at the floor, and tried to remember what he’d come to ask. “Um, well,” was all he could manage.
“Did you come to walk me to the train?” she said.
“Yeah,” Mark said. “That’s it. I was getting ready to leave and I was wondering if you wanted to walk together.”
“That’s really sweet,” she said with a smile. “But we’re all staying late tonight.”
“Big project?” Mark said.
“Oh no,” she said shaking her head for emphasis. “It’s Call of Duty night. Once a month we wait until the building is empty, bust out the controllers, and play Call of Duty and order pizza.”
“That sounds fun,” Mark said.
“Sorry,” Anne said, holding up both hands. “It’s an IT thing. IT Geeks only.”
“Yeah,” Mark said as he kicked at the carpet. “I totally get it.”
“Sorry,” Anne said.
“Well,” Mark said. “Maybe we could catch up this weekend? Go get another beer or something?”
“That’d be great,” she said. “Give me a call tomorrow and we’ll figure out details.”
“I don’t have your number,” Mark said as if that was the reason he’d come down the hall.
“Give me your phone,” she said.
Mark pulled the device from his pocket, unlocked it, and handed it over. Anne quickly typed her name and number in and handed the phone back. “Perfect,” Mark said, looking at the new contact on the screen.
“See you then,” Anne said, heading back down the hall.
Mark’s heart throbbed with excitement as he walked to the elevators, took the ride down to the bottom floor, and stepped into the lobby. “Goodnight, Florence,” Mark said as he passed the receptionist sitting behind the tall desk covered in flowers.
“Good Hun,” she called back.
“See you tomorrow,” Mark said, extending his hand for a high-five to the elderly security guard standing watch at the building’s front door.
Smacking Mark’s hand, the security guard replied, “Not if I see you first.”
Stepping onto the sidewalk, Mark took a moment to breathe in the fresh air. Removing his sunglasses from his chest pocket, he put them on. Then, he retrieved the pack of cigarettes he kept in his back pocket, removed one with his teeth and he grabbed his lighter with his other hand. Lighting the small stick, he blew smoke into the air. “What a great day,” he said.
“Hey mister,” a voice said from behind Mark.
Mark flinched with surprise and turned to see who was behind him. He was unprepared for what he saw. The sight took him a moment to register. Standing behind him was a big brown bear – at least, a man dressed in a bear costume. Mark looked the man up and down.
“So, I know you don’t know me,” the man said. His voice echoed from beneath the costume’s head. “But do you have a phone I could borrow? My friend was supposed to pick me up and he’s like an hour late, and I just need to give him a call.”
“You’re dressed like a bear,” Mark said, taking another drag from his cigarette.
“Yes,” the man in the bear suit said. “That’s very observant. That’s why I don’t have my phone. No pockets in the bear suit.”
“Um,” Mark said, looking left and right, hoping someone else would step in to help, but the streets were clear. “Um, yeah. I guess so.” Mark retrieved his phone, typed in his password to unlock it, and handed it to the man in the bear suit.
“Thanks,” the man said. Then, placing one hand to his mouth and pointing behind Mark with the other, the man yelled, “What the fuck is that?”
Without thinking, still thrown off by the bear suit, Mark turned to see what the man was pointing at, but there was nothing. Just an empty park across the street. Turning back around, Mark was shocked to see the man in the bear suit was gone. Looking left and then right, Mark saw the bear running down the street and turning the corner.
“What the fuck?” Mark mumbled to himself as he scratched his head. It then occurred to him that the bear still had his phone. “What the fuck!” Mark screamed and took after the man.
They ran for four blocks, which felt like three miles to Mark. The sidewalks were moderately crowded with people leaving work. As Mark chased the bear, he screamed, “Stop that goddamn bear!” But outside of the occasionally surprised look, no one paid any attention to his pleas for help.
Turning another corner, Mark saw the man in the bear suit step into a building. “You’re not losing me that easy, fucker!” Mark screamed as he picked up speed.
Throwing the door of the building open, Mark surveyed the lobby. Mark was standing in a large atrium with a vaulted ceiling. Open space stretched from the floor all the way to the roof. In front of Mark was a glass elevator and a series of five balconies. Glass windows to offices flanked him on either side.
The elevators began to move and Mark locked eyes with the bear who was traveling up from the first floor to the second. “Give me back my phone you asshole!” Mark screamed as he ran for the elevator. He watched as the lights indicating each floor lit up. The elevator stopped on four. Mark began banging on the elevator call button as he grumbled, “Oh when I catch you, you’re going to pay, bear! You’re going to fucking pay!”
When the elevator arrived, Mark jumped in and pressed the button marked 4 over and over. Slowly the doors closed and the glass box rose. Mark’s heart was pounding and his head was throbbing. He removed another cigarette from the box in his pocket, lit it, and took three rapid puffs. His hands were shaking. “Hurry the fuck up,” he said, stomping his foot.
The doors slid open and Mark rushed into the hallway. He looked left and right. Both directions seemed identical, stretching for twenty yards and then making sharp turns. “Arrr,” he yelled, “Which way did you fucking go!”
To Mark’s complete surprise, the bear poked its head around the corner on the left and waved Mark’s phone.
“I’m going to kill you, you fuck!” Mark yelled as he dashed toward the bear.
Rounding the corner, Mark was shocked to see the bear was already on the far end of the 100-yard long hallway. “Stay right there, asshole,” Mark screamed, pointing at the bear with his cigarette.
Again, the man in the bear suit waved the phone at Mark. Then, opening a door to the left, the bear disappeared into a room.
“Son of a bitch!” Mark screamed as he sprinted down the hall.
Arriving at the door, he threw it open and stepped inside the room ready for a fight, but there was no bear. Rather, there was a circle of ten chairs in the middle of the room and a small table against the near wall with a coffee pot, Styrofoam cups, and plastic containers labeled “sugar” and “creamer” sitting on it.
Mark took a drag from his cigarette and thought through the scenario. The bear-man had to have come in here. Mark saw him open this door. Mark crossed the room and examined the windows. They didn’t open. He stepped back and took another drag from his cigarette.
Mark was startled by a buzzing behind him. He turned and saw his phone sitting on a chair behind him. Rushing over, he took a seat and read the text he’d just received. It was a smiley face emoji from a new contact named “The Bear.”
“I’m going to find you and mount your fucking head on my wall,” Mark type furiously in reply.
Three dots appeared, indicating that recipient was responding. Mark gripped the phone with both hands, waiting for the bear’s reply.
“Goddamn Styrofoam!” a woman’s voice shouted. Mark looked up. He’d been so focused on his phone, he didn’t realize the room had been filling up with people. The angry woman was holding one of the coffee cups above her head. Her face was beet-red and her eyes blazed. “How many damn letters do I have to write to the damn building manager before they get it in their stupid heads that these cups are destroying the earth?”
“Practice your breathing, Olivia,” a man sitting across from Mark said. He was balding, overweight, and wearing a V-neck sweater vest. He had a notepad in his hand.
The woman with the Styrofoam cup snapped back, “Fuck you, Leslie.”
“Leslie’s right,” a thin man sitting to Mark’s left said. He was taking notes in a spiral book and didn’t look up when he spoke.
“See,” the man named Leslie said.
Olivia grumbled under her breath as she turned and poured a cup of coffee.
A fourth man entered the room and took a seat. “Sorry I’m late,” he said, taking off his blue windbreaker and throwing it over the back of the chair he was sitting in. “There was an accident at the corner of Charles and North. You should all be proud of me, though, I didn’t scream or yell or anything. I did my breathing. I counted. I envisioned my center. It all worked. I got through the whole thing and only flipped one guy the bird – but that asshole really deserved it, so that doesn’t count.”
“That’s great, Julio,” the thin man said, looking up from his notes. “That’s real improvement. I’m excited for you.”
“Thanks, Doctor Chuck. It felt good.”
Olivia took a seat in the circle. Leaning forward, she furiously stirred her coffee with a thin red straw.
“Now that everyone is here,” Doctor Chuck said, “let’s get started. Welcome to anger management,” he said. Then motioning to Mark, he said, “As you can see, we have a new member today whose name is,” Doctor Church looked down at his notepad and then back up. “Mark. Mark was referred by his friend Andy Bear. That’s kind of a funny name. Anyway, Mark, why don’t you tell us a little about what brought you are here?”
Mark looked down at his buzzing phone. The bear’s reply text read, “You’re welcome.”
Mark took a drag from his cigarette.
“You know you’re not supposed to smoke in here,” Leslie said.
“Shut the fuck up, Leslie,” Mark said. “It’s my first day.”
“Well,” Mark said, leaning back in his chair. “I was in a committed relationship with an amazing woman. And I fucked it up because… Because I was a jealous-rage-filled asshole.
“Been there,” the man with the blue windbreaker said.
“And now the universe has seen fit to magically help me meet another amazing woman.” Mark paused to take another drag. “And I don’t want to fuck it up too. So I guess I need to get my shit together.”
“Welcome to the group, Mark,” Doctor Chuck said. “You’re in the right place.”