This is the final passage to chapter one of Psychopomp, a slipstream novel, by Joshua Lee Andrew Jones. The first passage is two posts down if you care to read that. More chapters will be posted.
In the downtown offices of Milton Communications, Blake Moxley scratches his scalp and thinks about what he’s going to say to his supervisor. The meeting he set up is at 10:00 AM sharp and the time on his computer screen reads 9:59 AM. He steps out of his cubicle and flattens the front of his pinstripe jacket as he heads down the aisle toward Mr. Chen’s office. To his left, rows of customer service operators type away on plastic keyboards and on his right account managers are burrowed behind low cubicle walls. On both sides, the phones never stop ringing.
The floor to ceiling window, right outside the corner office, draws Blake in and he stares down to the Manhattan streets. Forty stories below, yellow cabs zip through red lights, dots of humanity cluster at the intersections, and box trucks gush out diesel exhaust into the thin autumn air. Outside it is a city of windows, each window an eye to a new world, and the eyes are the window to the soul. Some call it the city that never sleeps but it is full of daydreams and sleepwalkers. The scent of coffee drifts by Blake’s nose.
“Moxley, get in here,” Mr. Chen says through the cracked door.
“One moment Mr. Chen,” Blake says and adjusts his tie. A small bottle of generic hand sanitizer is plucked from his pocket and he blasts a few streams of clear jelly on his palm. He rubs his hands together as if trying to start a fire with a stick. A splash of gel jumps to his lapel and soaks in.
Blake enters Mr. Chen’s office and stands before a steel desk.
“Mr. Moxley have a seat.”
Blake grabs the chair next to the door, a spare from one of the empty cubicles, and scoots it under him. The loose plastic wheels spin and squeak to a stop. Mr. Chen keeps his focus on the computer monitor as he watches the stock market plummet and the volatility index rise twenty percent.
“So Blake, why did you want to see me?”
“I wanted to inquire about potential openings and advancement.”
“You want a new job?”
“Don’t get me wrong, I like my current position but I’m ready to take on more responsibility.”
“Why should I do this for you?”
“I work late. I work Saturdays.”
“So does everyone else. But setting up this meeting shows ambition. I’ll let you know if anything suitable comes along. Like the proactive behavior, keep it up.”
“Is there anything I can do to stand out?”
“Do you want to?”
“Okay, be here Sunday at ten. I’ll be here to get you started.”
“Yes Mr. Chen. I’ll be here.”
“You don’t sound so sure.”
“No I’m sure. I just wanted to go to a hockey game. That’s all.”
“Good, get back to work and by the way don’t drink on the job. Even if it’s a little.”
“But I don’t sir.”
“I can smell it. Now get out.”
Blake nods and then exits while thinking I didn’t get a new job and now I’m working Sundays. Shit. What’s with the booze comment?
Mr. Chen lifts his cell phone, taps the touch screen twice and puts it to his ear.
“Mr. Garew, we have a new one. I sense a lot in this kid. The others must watch him,” Mr. Chen says and leans back while watching Blake walking away through his window.
Blake makes his way back down the aisle thinking if I didn’t owe the fucking bookie I wouldn’t have to grovel. If I make one good bet, I can clear my debt and never do it again. At his desk, he plops down into his chair and moves his mouse to activate the screen.
Out of the corner of his eye, just as he is about to input his password, Blake sees a bright indigo light. He turns to see a FedEx deliveryman standing by the break room door surrounded by a pulsing blue aura. A spike of heat stabs his neck and a hot flash burns his skin and muscles. He can’t move but his heart pounds so hard he can hear it.
No fucking way. No fucking way. No fucking way he thinks. I’m losing my mind. Going to end up like that old women. No, calm down Blake. Just your imagination.
Blake closes his eyes and shakes his head hoping to rattle the image from his mind. It worked before when he saw the flame yellow aura around Faun. His eyes open and the FedEx guy is gone. I’m not going crazy he thinks. He takes a deep breath and goes to the bathroom to wash his face with cool water.
In the afternoon, the office enlivens with activity as markets plummet to record lows for the quarter and bells toll for many of the company’s clients. Sweat pours down executive faces and furious phones calls are made. Blake avoids a couple account-executives running down the aisle and looks to his watch but a small discolored patch of gray on his lapel gets his attention. He lifts the lapel and takes a whiff. The blot smells like rotgut booze from the generic hand sanitizer.
“Shit, that’s why,” Blake says as his coworker Juli Cesare, who smells of jasmine year round, slips by. Her hair like woven honey glows under the over head lights.
“Excuse me?” she asks.
“Oh no, it’s nothing. Not about you,” he says, bites his lip and rushes away with his arms crossed.
Juli intimidates Blake. He knows she’s a city girl born in Brooklyn and raised in Manhattan. The fact that she was in a few print campaigns for Macys as a teenager, Blake saw some photos online, makes her seem one step out of reach to him. She never shared with her coworkers that she was rejected by every high powered modeling agency because they said she was only fit for bikini work so she left that world behind.
Blake picks up a piece of discarded paper from his wire trash can and plops into his office chair. He scribbles: Next, I get rid of debt, I move, and then I ask Juli out.
He crams the paper into his pocket and thinks I tried to get a promotion and now I’m working Sundays. Fuck. How am I going to pay the bookie?
The office continues to buzz with activity through the afternoon and the phones never stop ringing while outside the sun begins a slow creep over the city skyline. Blake finalizes his spreadsheet and hits save. Though unhappy about coming in on the weekend, he resigns to the task because it is the only path he can conjure that will allow him to move up the corporate ladder and then move out of his apartment. He can’t stand the smells of his apartment building anymore and thinks the chemicals in the old paint and carpets are giving him headaches.
Blake has part of it right. Something is giving him headaches but it’s not his sick building. A change deep in his cells is taking place. A dormant gene begins to express caused by exposure to an epigenetic compound. His brain, body and senses are transforming.
Blake yawns a yawn that has been building for years and checks his email. No messages from the bookie. He cracks his neck and then straightens his tie. The image of Faun surrounded by the yellow aura pops to the forefront of his thoughts. A hot flash burns under his skin and makes him sweat. A bead of perspiration runs from his swooping hairline and he wipes it away with his sleeve.
“Have to figure out what causes those auras. Don’t want to have a stroke,” he says to himself and logs out of his computer.
The plan to come in on the weekend is set and he hopes the bookie will give him time to find the money to pay up.