This is an excerpt from my novel Finally, Some Good News, out now.
This is the last free chapter. Better go buy that fuckin shit.
7. Power Achiever
The Monday before Halloween there were vegetables in the break room. Broccoli and baby carrots.
It was a sign. The merger had closed. The company had therefore switched insurance providers. The new insurance emphasized preventive care to cut claims. A new poster in a black frame outlined the benefits of healthy eating for productivity. Be a Power Achiever, it said. A smiling woman climbed Western-looking rocks next to a lens flare.
Larry, from Wisconsin, Vice President, Global Sales, was helping himself to a free Activia. The yogurt, a client, was playfully marketed to women as a stool loosener. Larry was 6′ 3”, Norwood 6.5. Strawberry.
Happy Monday, Larry said. You still driving that old beater Benz?
How wouldn’t I be, he thought. You saw me leave in it Friday. He’d had to sell his $15,000 Subaru that he’d paid $9,000 on, owed $11,000 on, for $7,000, to accommodate a rent increase. Take his 1979 Mercedes 300SD out from under the tarp where it had awaited Craigslist buyers he couldn’t bring himself to call back. He said yes.
What kind of mileage you get with that thing?
Yeah, the diesels are underpowered. Keeps ’em out of trouble.
It was true. The 300SD got excellent fuel mileage. Its 5 cylinder in-line diesel engine produced only 111 horsepower. It required a more cautious driving style. But the OEM 917.51 engine was well known among enthusiasts: the most reliable motor ever built.
Ever think about getting the one of the biodiesel conversions? See a lot of those around.
If it’s hot enough you can run it on vegetable oil as is.
Yeah. Biodiesel you have to swap the hoses out. As is it’ll run veg, kerosene, jet fuel– anything but gas.
Well you should get one of those stickers. I bet the girls melt.
I would get 0.0 more pussy advertising my car’s fuel flexibility, he thought. A woman who cares about biodiesel has her own interior design business. Her dog is her boyfriend. Meanwhile I had anal sex on the first date with an au pair in that car, Larry. Low sulfur #2 diesel notwithstanding. Back when girls liked me. Maybe I will, he said.
Believe me, they love it. My daughter loves environmental stuff, said Larry. Even people just ten years older still thought you could speak to women.
Now he’d forgot what he came in the breakroom for. Diet Coke maybe. One cold one left. He took it, dutifully put four more from the cardboard flat of warm cans into the fridge. That left one half empty flat of Diet next to 3 full flats of Regular. 95% of all soda consumed in this office, in every office, was Diet Coke. Corporate ordered the same amount of everything. Maybe the merger would change that too.
Back at his desk. He typed passwords. Spreadsheets blinked open. Two monitors angled ergonomically. Top 5,000 advertisers in consumer packaged goods by annual spend. Key in-house and/ or agency decision makers for QSR mobile coupons, keyword: Hispanic. He would dial. Wait. I’d like to speak with you about data driven solutions for market leading brands.
He dreamed about his grandmother with the hose, mist hissing in the grass in the summertime. She turned the cool spray from the lawn to the rhododendrons and the cold water hit his bare chest and he laughed, and she laughed too. The flowers were impossibly big and bright, the bushes fifty feet tall, a hundred feet wide. Someone was touching him. A huge warm wet palm slithering up his knee, his thigh. Rough like a workman’s hand. A gargling voice sniffling help me… help me…
Two hands on him now in the dark and a ghoul with a slimy bald head coated in red and black dust. No face. Throaty voice slurring: I need help, I need help.
The sprinklers were going. The front of him was soaking wet. He slid back and hit his head on the lip of the printer table. His Hewlett Packard printer/ fax combo slid down the slick slanted pressboard and into his skull with a crack. He was awake. The fax handset flopped off but mercifully emitted no howler tone. It was Larry. The ghoul was Vice President, Global Sales. The back of his bald head looked intact but he’d dragged a blood smear fifty feet up the nylon carpet behind him. Black trail through a maze of collapsed cubicle dividers.
Larry. Relax, man, he said.
Please… helppp. Larry looked up. Where his eyes had been two oozing dark holes glimmered with specks of safety glass. His lips half hanging off, jiggling like nightcrawlers. Helllbbb me, he snuffled.
OK man. Relax. Take a deep breath.
The sprinkler water smelled like the men’s room at Fenway Park. They kept it in separate tanks, he remembered. It had sat untouched since the building was built. Larry, turn over, he said. Helllbbb meee snuffled Larry.
He grabbed Larry around the collarbones and got him halfway on his side. The front of Larry was gone. His black sport jacket and his broadcloth checked Oxford and his skin and his flesh– gone. What was left was bones. Red lumps. More safety glass, little cubes like diamonds, shot into the meat like cannonfire. He was scabbing over. It must have been a while. Helllbbbbb mmmmeee. The voice of the dead.
I’ll help you, he said. I’ll help you. Stay right here.
He had to uncrimp Larry’s bleeding hands from his shirt to stand up. He looked out the holes where the windows were. The sky red and lightning teasing dark clouds. Buildings skeletal and black and every alarm in the Valley shrieking like a tree full of sparrows. The sprinklers hissing, the water dirty and cold. I’ll help you Larry, he said.
Across from his cubicle wall where the poster urging DETERMINATION once hung, a fire extinguisher sat askew in its red box. He picked it up, held it, stepped back. Larry’s hands grabbed for his legs again. And he said: sorry man. He swung his hips like splitting wood, brought it down on the temple again and again until the skull broke.
He found her in the break room. After the fifth office with a flayed corpse or twitching burned thing in agony he’d stopped looking. He was at the fridge dumping cartons of Activia into a PWW promotional tote bag. The corpses of the women had shit themselves. Activia had worked one last time.
Water, he thought. I should take water. The flats of Evian, a client, were kept in a closet in back of the break room. Co-branding efforts with Angelina Jolie’s humanitarian work had dovetailed into an Ellen! advertorial campaign. For the first time, Evian was placed in 7–11 stores worldwide. He preferred the tap. He’d heard the plastic made you lactate.
When he swung the closet door open she was huddled by the mop bucket. Cold, wet, shaking, hugging her knees. Marcy Pendergrass.
Get up, he said. We gotta go.