Enough for the Dawn

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 1 (v.1) - Chapter 1

Submitted: June 11, 2019

Reads: 61

A A A | A A A

Submitted: June 11, 2019

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A A A

“Okay.” Avery put the phone’s receiver back in the cradle. It fell from where he had tried to set it and clattered morosely on the desktop. He just left it where it had fallen. It’d ring whether it was hung up or not, so it didn’t matter. Avery turned to face his computer. He had been sitting at his desk for two hours, or was it three? Or maybe it had just been a few minutes. He had no idea what time it was. The yellow-white fluorescent lights that illuminated his cubicle were giving him a headache. He rested his arms on the desk and laid his head on his forearms. He hoped the pain would pass quickly.

 

Avery jumped when he felt someone tap his shoulder. The lady standing behind him, the one who tapped his shoulder he suspected, didn’t look familiar. Maybe his boss, Randy or Robert or maybe it was Roger, had been promoted. Or maybe he had been fired, or he resigned, or whatever would lead to him needing to be replaced. There was probably an email about it. Avery hadn’t checked his email in a while.

 

“Hi Avery. I’m Phyllis.”

 

Avery didn’t respond. He was still wondering about Richard, or was it Raymond?

 

“We talked on the phone a little while ago.”

 

That couldn’t be true. They’d talked two weeks ago. Maybe it was three weeks ago. Definitely not a little while ago, right? Avery was sure they hadn’t talked for weeks, maybe months.

 

“Let’s go to my office.” Phyllis held out her hand like she was tempted to take Avery’s elbow and escort him out of the cubicle. Avery nodded once, slowly, and got up without Phyllis’ help. She was blonde with fluffy hair in a type of bob. Her bangs were a little wild like they didn’t want to be too closely associated with her forehead. Or perhaps she took great inspiration from the 80s. Her suit was too big. Or maybe it was too small. Somehow it wasn’t right. But she seemed nice as she waited just outside of the cubicle and ushered him onwards. She stayed to his side, slightly behind as he shuffled forwards.

 

They took the elevator up, in silence. Their company owned the whole building. They’d bought it floor by floor, slowly taking over as the business grew. Eventually the different departments and the employees who worked within them covered all seven floors. They had something to do with optimizing supply chains. Avery didn’t know what that meant. Even after a few years, it seemed like most of the people who worked in his department didn’t know either. Avery wondered if the lady in the elevator with him knew. He could ask, but then the elevator dinged and the door opened. In short order he found himself seated in her office.

 

It was good. The lights were much softer, and standing felt like a chore. As he folded into the seat, Avery caught a glimpse of his shoes. They were both black and shiny, patent leather. One of them had decorative stitching on the toe. The other was completely without brogues and curved outwards instead of in. Avery thought maybe he was wearing the left shoe from another pair on his right foot. It wouldn’t be the first time.

 

“Avery?” the woman called his name. She drew his attention away from his footwear. She was watching Avery, handles steepled on the big wooden desk in front of her. She was the picture of concerned patience.

 

“Yes?”

 

“Is it okay if I call you Avery?” she asked. She tilted her head slightly to the right, her right, Avery’s left, as she finished the question. Avery thought she looked a little like a dog unsure of the well-being of its master. He’d had a dog as a boy growing up. His name was Spot, for the obvious reason. Avery hadn’t been a particularly imaginative boy, although he and Spot had been best friends. They went on adventures together, always side by side.

 

“Yes?” he replied a moment later more unsure of the question that his answer. Avery was his name after all. He could have said no, but he wasn’t sure what else he’d be called even if he got to pick. There were so many names to choose from. Spot was a good name, although maybe not for a human. Avery was pretty sure people would look at him and think ‘you don’t look like a Spot.’ Then again Avery wasn’t sure he looked like an Avery. But that was his name. It had been his name for 32 years. He was pretty used to it by now.

 

“Would you prefer if I called you Mr. Rose instead?” That woman was still talking about his name. Odd.

 

“No.”

 

“Alright then.” She smiled again, did the little head tilt. Then she laid her palms flat on the desk. Then she stopped. She made a face, Avery thought, although he couldn’t really tell. He hadn’t put on his glasses this morning. Everything was slightly blurry, and she was sitting too far away for him to know if she pursed her lips or blinked or something like that. He could tell she wasn’t smiling. That much he was sure of.  

 

“I’m going to be honest with you.” Phyllis paused. “This isn’t an easy conversation to have, but sometimes, as part of my job, I have to be honest and have these kinds of conversations. Do you understand what I’m sharing with you?”

 

Avery did not. But he nodded all the same.

 

“We keep track of things like vacation hours and sick time that our employees use. Now it’s none of our business how you use those hours, so long as you comply with the guidelines. Which you have,” she added that last reassurement hastily.

 

Avery nodded a second time. That seemed to be the correct thing to do.

 

“But, as I’m sure you know, at this point, you’ve used up your allotted sick time for the year. It’s rare that employees use all of theirs, but we do encourage employees to use it when they need it. We want our employees to be happy and healthy and come back to work revitalized.” Phyllis paused.

 

Avery nodded again.

 

“However…” Phyllis paused again, “and this is the part where I have to be honest, your supervisor Reggie has noted that you don’t seem to be quite up to the task of being back at work.” Phyllis opened a thick manilla folder full of paper. She laid a few of the pages out in a fan towards the edge of her desk. Avery leaned forward and pretended to look at them. He could see the jagged lines of pen ink on paper, but he couldn’t make out what it said.

 

“These are incident reports written by Reggie. There’s quite a few, as you can see.”

 

Avery could not see. He nodded all the same.

 

“Most of them focus on your lack of productivity. You don’t seem to be getting much done while you’re at your desk.”

 

Avery blinked several times as his response. If Phyllis knew Morse Code, she would have read a string of nonsense from his blinks. Avery didn’t know Morse Code. He wasn’t trying to say anything. He hadn’t opened his mouth since she’d asked about his name.  

 

“I’m not here to pry. It’s none of my business and a violation of HIPAA, but it seems obvious that there’s something going on.”

 

Avery didn’t know how hippos had anything to do with anything. He’d always found them terrifying. They were so large. There jaws were very, very powerful. And they were supposed to be ornery and mean.

 

“We want you to be able to take the time you need to get back on track. So I’m going to encourage you to file for FMLA. You can take the next twelve weeks off to try to get a handle on whatever it is you’re going through. If you find you don’t need that long, then great! You can come back sooner. Your job will be waiting for you. Unfortunately you won’t be paid during your leave, but you can take the time you need, and that’s what’s important.”

 

“Leave?” Avery broke his gaze from the ficus he had been staring at. It may have been a fern. He didn’t know much about plants, although he had a tiny succulent on his desk. It had been from his secret Santa at the office Christmas party four years ago. It was his first year. He had only worked at the company for five months at that point. It was the last Christmas party they’d had. “I’m fired?”

 

“No, no, not fired.” Phyllis backpedaled. “But, and again I have to be honest, Avery. If you don’t take the leave and you continue like you’ve been, we’re going to have to fire you. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to mention this, but on several occasions, Reggie and other employees have noticed you sleeping on the clock. That’s a fireable offense.”

 

Phyllis picked up another set of papers. She held them out for Avery to take. He did. The pages were covered in long, dense paragraphs broken up by lines. There were little stick on arrows that hung over the edges of the pages marked all the places of note. Avery ran his thumb over them. They sprang away from his touch and bounced right back to brightly announce where he should sign.

 

It was this or be fired. They wouldn't necessarily can him today but soon, maybe tomorrow. Wednesday was a better day to be fired than Tuesday. Or perhaps I was already Wednesday. Thursday was an okay day to be fired. Friday would be better. Or tomorrow. Tomorrow was the best day. It was also the worst day. He wasn't likely to be different by tomorrow. He would wake up and still be the same person. He'd be himself even if he wanted to be someone else or no one at all. He supposed the latter was a choice, an option he could think about.

 

“You're not obligated to sign this now. You should think about this, about your options. Do you have any questions?”

 

Avery shook his head.

 

“Since it’s Friday, why not take the weekend to read through all of that. You can come back on Monday with any questions. Or you can call. Or email. I’d be happy to go over all of that with you.”

 

It was Friday. Interesting. That meant Avery could sleep in the next day. He didn’t have to bother getting up at all. That would be nice.

 

“So I’ll see you Monday?” It was a question. Phyllis didn’t seem as certain now as she did before. “Say 10 am?”

 

Avery didn’t say or do anything.

 

Phyllis sighed. It was a quiet sound. Avery hadn’t put his glasses on that morning, but he could hear just fine.

 

“From me and the company, I sincerely hope this time off does you good. We value you as an employee and want to see you back at your desk and doing well. If you need anything at all, my contact information is on my card.” Phyllis reached forwards towards Avery again.

 

“Here,” Phyllis prompted. She had moved around the desk and was standing next to him again. It was like deja vu. She had her hand outstretched near his elbow. Avery realized she was holding a tiny piece of paper. Avery took it from her. It was thick and glossy between Avery’s fingers. It was a business card. The company’s logo was printed large on one side. Information on how to contact Phyllis Zimmer was on the reverse.

 

Avery looked at the card, reading it over and over. Then he looked up at Phyllis who hadn’t moved. He stood to go. Phyllis smiled at him as he did so. They were standing close. He could see her smile now. It wasn’t a nice smile. It was a little crooked as it sat on her face. It was strained too. The smile of someone who felt compelled to smile. He was used to that look. People smiled like that a lot, really anytime he went anywhere or did anything lately. People wore that same smile. It was like they shared it. They passed it around, kept it handy for when he was nearby. It was unnerving. Now Phyllis had that smile. She may have had it all along.

 

Avery walked to the elevator. When the doors opened, he stepped inside and hit the button for L. The building didn’t really have a lobby. There wasn’t a grand space where you could sit and hang out. There was just one sad plant next to the door and a short hallway that led straight to the elevators. That was it. There had to be something else on that floor. But to Avery the rest of the space was unaccounted for. He didn’t know what was down there or how to get to it. Maybe there was another door in the lobby. He wasn’t sure. He’d only worked there for four and a half years. He’d only walked to those elevators a thousand times. Or maybe it was more. He wasn’t great at math, despite his job. He did data entry. He just put numbers in boxes and hit enter on the keyboard. The spreadsheets did the math for him, not that there was a lot of math. Most of the numbers were just codes for product types and modifications that their customers were ordering. He didn’t actually have to talk to anyone. He was just a middle man who shuffled paperwork. The paperwork was digital though. The company used web-based technology to do the optimizing they were paid to do. Or maybe they sold software that the clients used to optimize something. Who knew? It was an easy job. It was a job that paid well.

 

Avery walked the two dozen blocks home. He’d driven into a lamp post the month before. No one was hurt, except for the car. The car probably didn’t count as a someone. It was a something. It couldn’t feel pain, so maybe it couldn’t get hurt. But it had been smashed to hell. The front end was caved in like a grimace. The headlight eyes were shattered and didn’t shine anymore. The car looked sad. The car was totaled. Avery still owed money on it. Insurance only covered part of the cost. Since he had seen a doctor a few months before that about not being able to sleep, and since he had fallen asleep at the wheel, the insurance company figured he shouldn’t have been driving in his impaired condition. So he kept paying for a car he couldn’t drive. He kept paying for a car that he probably been squished into a metal cube and stacked in a scrap yard like modern art.

 

Avery walked where he needed to go. He walked home. One foot in front of the other. It was broad daylight, lunchtime maybe. There were a lot of other people on the sidewalk and standing at corners waiting for lights to change. The sun did its best to shine off of the gritty, greyed snow that collected in gutters and huddled in out of the way spaces. The sun didn’t really succeed. But it tried. Normally when he left work this time of the year the sun had set nearly an hour before hand. 4:22 pm was not a good time for the sun to go to bed. It made Avery want to go to bed too.

 

He did just that when he got home. He took off his suit jacket and dropped it by the door. It landed on a small mountain of other jackets. Summer, spring, fall, there were jackets from every season piled by the door. Avery hadn’t realized he had so many jackets. He wasn’t much for shopping, especially not for clothes. But there they were, piled up and despairing in their neglected state. They lived in that pile now. Avery climbed into bed and closed his eyes. He thought about sunny weather. He thought about Spot. The little dog used to curl up in the crook of his bent legs as Avery slept. It was nice.

 

Once Avery had been out exploring, leading Spot along with a short length of rope tied around his neck. Spot hadn’t wanted to venture into the bog. He didn’t like the deep, sucking mud or the rolling fog that descended around you as you got closer. He’d been very, very hesitant to tag along. In fact Avery had almost left him behind. Spot had barked and whined. He’d jumped in place, up and down, as though held back by a fence that only existed in the dog’s imagination. He just couldn’t go forwards. Avery found a bit of rope, something his dad had kept in the garage for whatever reason, and tied it loosely around Spot’s dappled neck. He never wore a collar. He either chewed it off or got it caught on something and nearly hung himself. He didn’t need one anyhow. Everyone in the neighborhood knew Spot was Avery’s dog. And Spot never left Avery’s side, until that moment in the bog.

 

Spot’s footsteps became halting and afraid. Avery promised everything would be fine and after a few tugs on the rope, Spot abandoned his fear and followed obediently. Then it got foggier and muddier. The weather got colder, and Avery realized he had made a mistake. At eight years old there wasn’t much he could do that would have disastrous consequences, at the top of the list. They were muddy and tired and sore from walking for hours. They were lost.

 

“Yahoooooo!” Someone’s yell echoed through the distance. Avery startled. Spot barked and went rigid. He pointed, the harsh line of his body focusing all of its energy straight ahead. Avery couldn’t see anything through the fog, but Spot’s eyes could see better than Avery’s no matter the weather.  

 

“It’s you-hoo, you nitwit!” another voice called. It had a lilting, scolding cadence enfolded in a vaguely British accent. It was a voice Avery recognized.

 

“Mr. Thomas!?” Avery called into the distance. His small boyish voice was higher than usual. He hadn’t yet learned to hide his fright whenever it crept into his being. That was a few years off yet. For now he was scared, but it was an emotion that was receding. “Reg is that you?”

 

“Young Master Avery!” Reg declared. His voice was bright and brisk even across the distance. “We’ve found you at last!”

 

“Stay where you are!” Mr. Thomas called, his usual manner was all business. Avery complied. He had no desire to get on Mr. Thomas J. Otterlee’s bad side. Avery always seemed to be on his bad side. It was inevitable considering Mr. Thomas’ temperament. He was very straight-laced and didn’t put up with a lot of nonsense. He wore a waist coat. The chain of his pocket watch dangled from its pocket, and he insisted on a certain level of decorum at all times. He was also a large, blood red bird of some sort, a crow perhaps.

 


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