My writing partner, one Mr Matthew Nelson, is doing this flash fiction project he calls The Daily Chronicles. He scans the front page of the SF Chronicle for a word or phrase that jumps out, then sits down to write for about ten minutes. I’ve been happily typing away at my Western, but I’ve learned that when I get stuck on one project, I should just move to another. It keeps me writing, and helps to prevent the frustration of “Writer’s Block” (which I actually believe to be bullshit, but that’s a different post). So I’ve co-opted his flash fiction project, using the same words that he does, and I thought I’d share some of those pieces with you. They are relatively raw but I’d love to get some feedback. I spent longer than ten minutes on it, but less than a half hour.
The Daily Chronicles: Secret Test
by Matthew Thomas Maenpaa
“Failed. What do you mean failed? I haven’t done anything.”
Walter shifted in the hard plastic chair, the seat too small to fit in comfortably. His supervisor stared at him with beady eyes through thick-lensed glasses, his chubby cheeks and ruddy complexion pocked with acne scars. “I’m sorry Walter, but that just isn’t true.”
“Mr. Larkin, this must be some mistake. I wasn’t aware of there being a test, how could I have failed?”
“Well of course you weren’t aware, Walter. It wouldn’t be a secret test otherwise. And I’m sorry to say it, but you’ve failed.”
Walter frowned, his tie suddenly seeming too tight around his neck. “Well what was I being tested on?”
Mr. Larkin pressed the tips of his fingers together, making a steeple on the desk. “Oh I can’t tell you that.”
“Really? Well than what were the criteria of the test?” A trick question, rephrasing the last. Walter squirmed under the beady gaze, watching Mr. Larkin’s adam’s apple bobbing under the drooping wattle of his chin.
“I’m afraid I couldn’t tell you that either, Walter. Needless to say, it is the feeling of the Board that you just aren’t the sort of caliber we’re looking for.”
“Caliber? What are you looking for anyways.”
“Oh that isn’t important now, Walter.” Larkin pulled a thick sheaf of papers from his desk, pushing them across the surface toward Walter. “If you’ll just fill these out, we’ll have you on your way in no time at all.”
Walter looked at the formidable stack of paperwork, likely to be information they had on file anyways. “On my way to where? Have I been terminated?” Larkin frowned, looking for a moment as if his eyes would pop out of their sockets.
“Terminated? Nonsense. What would you be terminated for?”
“Well, for failing the test.”
“Oh nonsense, it wasn’t that sort of test.”
Walter fiddled with a pen, the kind with a chrome barrel and gold-leaf script with his name near the clip. “What if I don’t fill out this paperwork? What then?”
“Don’t be silly, Walter. I assure you nothing bad will happen to you. This paperwork is for bureaucratic purposes, mostly. Just for the administrative records. I’ll sit right here, keep you company should you have any questions.” He smiled beatifically, as if he believed for all the world that this was the greatest duty a man could perform, filling out an inch of paperwork.
Walter sighed, picking up the first piece of paper. It was a non-disclosure form. “An NDA? What the hell is this for?”
Larkin nodded solemnly, though the corners of his chubby mouth turned up slightly. “To be sure that you don’t tell anyone else about the test, of course.”
“But I don’t know a damn thing about this test.” It was getting harder for Walter to keep calm, his voice tended to rise to a squeaky pitch when he got upset.
“Well of course not, but you know how these things go. Just go ahead and sign it, so we can keep the process moving.”
With another sigh of frustration, Walter filled it out and signed it. The forms were wide and varied, from immigration confirmation, tax documentation, and insurance policy approval, all forms he’d filled out when he’d started with the company. Annoying, that he’d have to fill them out over again but he could sense that argument would be futile. The minutes ticked by at an achingly slow pace, his hand cramped from writing his name, address and social security number over and over again. Occasionally he would glance up at Larkin, beady eyes meeting his own in an odd smile. Eventually he reached a form that he had to read over twice. He slapped it down loudly on the desk, upsetting a container of paper clips in the process. “Are you serious? My soul? This is a form signing over authority of my soul to the company.”
Larkin nodded. “That’s right. Really, I’m surprised they haven’t got you with that one before. I had to fill it out of course.”
“I’m not giving my soul to the company. Bad enough I have to waste my time with these papers. Shouldn’t I be getting back to work?”
Larkin chuckled, a tittering sound that grated Walter as badly as nails across a chalkboard. “We have a temp filling in for you today, don’t you worry about a thing.”
Walter pushed away from the desk. “A temp. You brought in a temp while I’m filling out these preposterous forms? Absolutely not.”
Larkin’s face turned sour. “Walter, please. Calm down. Just fill out the form and sign, and you’re done. You’ll be given the rest of the day off.”
“And what do I get for turning over my immortal soul, Mr. Larkin? Better pension? Profit-sharing? A vacation house in Bali!?”
Larkin stood, his squat, heavy frame barely eye-level with Walter’s shoulder. “That’s enough, Walter. Sign the form.”
Walter couldn’t contain himself anymore. “No!” He shoved the papers toward Mr. Larkin, sending them scattering everywhere. “I’m through with this. I’ll find a better job, one that won’t ask for my soul.” He turned, kicking over the hard plastic chair, then kicking it once more because it made him feel better. “I quit, Larkin. Find some other slob, take his soul.” Walter stormed out of the office, slamming the door behind him. People peered over the walls of their cubicles at him, curious about the cause of the commotion. He glared at them, storming toward his cubicle to collect his briefcase and jacket. A mousy looking girl with short-cropped hair stared at him from his chair, but he only offered her a snort and continued his storming path toward the elevator bank.
Larkin appeared outside of his office. “Walter, please reconsider. Its such a paltry thing, you’re soul. You wouldn’t even notice. Sign the form.”
Walter fumed, shoving Larkin into a large trash can as he marched past. “Stuff your form.” He jabbed the call button for the elevator, doing his best to maintain his self-righteous anger as his former co-workers stared at him. Eventually the elevator door opened and he stepped inside, grateful that it was devoid of people. He pushed the button for the lobby, leaning against the wall. Only the elevator started to go up. He jabbed the lobby button over and over again, but the elevator kept going up until it reached the top floor, where the door slid open. Larkin stood there waiting for him, along with a man in a well-cut dove gray suit. Larkin was smiling beatifically again, as was the tall blonde man in the suit. Larkin opened his mouth to speak, but the man in the suit shushed him.
Walter pushed the button for the lobby again, but the doors remained open. “I’m just leaving, but the elevator doesn’t seem to be working. I’ll be through causing a scene as soon as it cooperates.”
The man in the suit only smiled, entering the elevator. Larkin tried to follow but the suited man waved a hand and the elevator closed. He turned to Walter, his voice a rich baritone that made Walter think of melted chocolate. “Congratulations, Walter.”
Walter frowned, his voice trembling. “For what? I thought I failed.” The man in the dove gray suit smiled wider, showing perfect white teeth. “Quite the contrary, you passed with flying colors.”
“What! But Larkin…”
“Larkin did what he was supposed to. And you did as we’d hoped. You passed the test.”