Welcome to another Tuesday! If you missed Chapter 1 of Cubicles, Blood, and Magic, click here. This Tuesday we continue where we left off–Dorelai and Dereck on a really bad date. What follows is the entire second chapter from this contemporary fantasy novel. (PG-13, folks.) Cheers.
Cubicles, Blood, and Magic: Dorelai Chronicles, Book One
Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore
Copyright © 2012 by L. M. May
Published by Osuna Publishing
This story is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Chapter 2: Poisoned
As Dereck and I walked to our reserved table at La Belle—Dereck bellowing into his ear clip—the alluring scent of grilled steak made my nose twitch, soft violin music tickled my ears, and the flickering of candlelight relaxed my mind.
I couldn’t help noticing an elderly couple snuggled up next to each other, more into each other than the half-eaten plates of roast duck before them. The gentleman cradled his wife’s veined hand in his, then actually kissed it with a loud smack.
How I wished I had someone who’d kiss my knuckles that way.
Dereck remained engrossed in fighting with his law partner on the phone.
A wave of dizziness surged through me and I had to grab onto the high back of my dining chair for support. Our waiter noticed, and nodded in sympathy as he pulled my chair out for me.
Once the menus were handed out, Dereck hung up on his law partner and came back to reality.
“So, what are the specials?” he asked the waiter.
As the waiter told us his name (Kevin) and rattled off the specials of the night, my gaze kept straying to the listed salmon.
I always got a salad when eating out. Always.
But a plate of blackened salmon, with herbed wild rice and grilled mushrooms, onions, and zucchini, made my stomach rumble just thinking about it.
“—and chocolate lava cake for dessert,” Kevin said. He flipped open his order book. “So, madam, what would you like?”
“The blackened salmon,” I said. “And the lava cake for dessert.”
“Excellent choice,” Kevin said, while Dereck frowned at me. I never ordered dessert. Never. Between the rich dessert and not ordering a salad, I’d surprised him.
Dereck said, “Bring two forks for the dessert.”
No way. That dessert, the first I’d allowed myself on a non-special occasion in years, was mine.
“Bring a second lava cake for Dereck,” I said to Kevin.
Kevin nodded. “Very good.”
Dereck made a hnnnh noise in protest.
Kevin rolled his eyes in derision behind Dereck’s back. If it weren’t for the wedding band Kevin was wearing, I might have tried picking him up.
I said to Dereck, “You can always take the leftover cake home if you can’t eat it all.”
Dereck bristled at my words. He said to Kevin, “I’ll have the New York strip, medium rare. Baked potato. Dinner salad.”
I waited until Kevin was out of earshot. “Look, I’ve come to realize I’ve been too narrow in my choices for meals. I want to experience what the chef here is renowned for.”
I tried to fill his awkward pause. “If I can’t finish the cake, I’ll take it home to enjoy tomorrow after dinner.”
“But,” Dereck pursed his lips, searching for the right words for whatever was bothering him, “their cake has so many calories.”
My shoulders tensed. Unbidden, I thought about my bony frame and lack of muscle tone, and Dereck’s past admiring comments about how “spare” I was.
Dereck was worried I was in danger of going on an eating spree and getting fat.
I made my fingers unclench from around my butter knife. Stabbing him for being a jerk would not solve my problems.
But dumping him definitely would. “You don’t have to worry about me getting fat,” I said to him, “because I’m never going to be your lover.”
Dereck choked on his water, spitting out a mouthful onto the tablecloth.
Kevin hurried over to help wipe up the mess while Dereck coughed from water going down his windpipe.
I took up my napkin from my lap and tossed it onto the table. “I’m leaving,” I said to Dereck. To Kevin I said, “I’m calling a cab. If carryout containers can be put together with my salmon dinner and cake, I can pay for it to take home.”
“Certainly,” Kevin said. “I’ll let the chef know.”
I strode over to the maître d’ to arrange for a cab to come for me once the takeout was ready.
Once Dereck had gotten his coughing problem under control, he stalked over to where I stood.
“Go back to our table,” he said.
“We’ve talked for weeks now, and you wouldn’t listen. It’s over. We’re finished.”
Dereck turned beet red. “What have I done to treated like this?” He kicked the reservation stand so hard I feared it might topple over on me.
“Excuse me, madam,” the maître d’ said. From his tone, he was asking if I needed help.
“Everything is okay,” I said to the maître d’. Then to Dereck, “Isn’t that right?” and in a lower tone, “Or do you want to talk to a police officer?”
Dereck broke eye contact, muttered “Women” to himself, and left the restaurant.
That night I feasted on salmon and cake until I felt full, then put the leftovers in my fridge. I was unhappily struck by the lack of solid food in it. Lots of liquid diet drinks, and celery in the crisper, and diet caffeinated soda. And that was about it.
Monica was right. I needed to eat better. I’d have to go shopping for groceries on the weekend.
In the meantime, I grabbed a plastic bag from under the sink, and put the liquid diet drinks in it. I’d leave it in the break room tomorrow for someone to take home.
Then Dereck had the nerve to text me while I was getting ready for bed: Talk 2 me.
I sent back: No!
Dereck: Stop being a bitch. We must work this out face 2 face.
Me: I hate you. Never text me again.
That got him to leave me alone for the rest of the night.
My alarm forced me to drag myself out of bed. I felt like I’d run a marathon while drunk, which made no sense since I sat at a desk all day.
If it hadn’t been Tim’s last day, I would have called in sick to sleep off the fatigue and wooziness.
But instead I made myself a cup of coffee, ate leftovers from dinner so I wouldn’t ride the bus on an empty stomach, and got on my way. I stuffed the bag of liquid diet drinks in a book bag so the plastic bag wouldn’t tear from the weight.
It was after I got on my bus for downtown that I discovered that this particular Friday morning would be the weirdest I’d ever experienced. For a man in his twenties ran up to the bus before it began to pull away from my stop, and I was struck by the faint golden glow around his blonde head.
I’ve definitely been working too hard, I thought. I’m punch drunk from exhaustion.
I rubbed my eyes to clear them, but the glow did not go away as he climbed aboard. His entire outline glowed like one of those tacky paintings of angels.
He made his way down the bus aisle, so I was able to study him up close.
His clothes were those of a successful businessman—grey wool suit, white shirt, briefcase. Blue eyes, and a face like the proverbial angel. Breathtakingly handsome.
I forced myself not to stare back at him after he passed from view.
The bus got moving, and I soon discovered that every few blocks or so, on the walls of scattered buildings near pedestrian level, was the exact same ancient Egyptian-like painting of two golden eyes with black pupils. The way it had been painted made it seem like the pupils moved, as if the eyes were looking around.
It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
You know, I ought to be panicking right now. Why am I sitting here so calm? Was there something in those weird ink specks last night that drugged me?
There was something familiar about the strange colors and patterns I was seeing, as if I’d seen them before and then forgotten them. I pinched my ear, but the pain made it clear that this wasn’t a dream I could wake from.
When my stop came into view, which was within sight of Knossos Tower and the Chesterton Downtown building where I worked, I nearly rose from my seat in shock at what I thought I saw.
I tried not to gawk as I got off of the bus. Glowing blonde guy got off as well, and headed toward my office building, slipping past me with eerie quickness and silence.
The faint imaginary glow of Knossos I’d been staring at for two weeks now existed in reality. And it was beautiful. The entire exterior of Knossos was surrounded by a protective silver-blue aura, with golden sparks that flickered in and out of existence.
It’s so gorgeous, I almost don’t care that I’m hallucinating. A strange conviction came over me that this was how things in Mather were supposed to look, that I was on the verge of seeing everything and everyone for how they truly were.
You’re crazy, Dorelai, I heard Father’s voice say in my head. Snap out of it. Now. I won’t have a child of mine behaving in such an irrational manner.
Screw you, I’m tired of you telling me what I can and cannot do.
Outside the Chesterton was a new street vender selling sunglasses and key rings. His brown skin also had a golden glow like that of glowing blonde guy, who had stopped to talk to him.
I pretended to stare into a jewelry store window as I watched glowing blonde guy confer briefly with glowing street vendor guy while pretending to shop for sunglasses. He actually bought a pair, and handed over cash and something else into the street vendor’s palm. Then he disappeared into my lobby.
I wobbled toward the Chesterton lobby entrance. There was a woozy calmness on me that I couldn’t shake, no matter what I saw as I looked around.
On an office building next to mine, two painted giant golden eyes stared down from the second floor. I gaped as I saw the pupils swing back and forth to gaze at the office workers going past.
There were no golden eyes painted upon the Knossos building itself, but many buildings around the plaza facing Knossos had golden eyes painted on them.
And as I scanned the plaza, I found another golden glowing form, this one a ragged beggar woman holding an empty glass jar as she sat on a bench. She was engulfed in cloaks and a floppy hat.
On a crazy impulse I couldn’t stop myself from acting on, I wandered back to the glowing street vendor to look at his wares.
“How’s it going?” I asked him as I poked at a keychain with a velvet-style portrait of Elvis attached.
“Not bad.” He smiled, showing perfect white teeth. Up close I could see that he, too, was staggeringly handsome under his sunshades and baseball cap.
Most of the keychains had portraits of famous people or imaginary characters.
“Will you be here on Monday?” I blathered. “I don’t have the money today to buy keychains.”
The vender grinned. “Likely. But you’d better shop today in case I’m not. Here today, gone tomorrow.”
“Oh.” I barely stopped myself in time from asking why he glowed like an angel.
Somehow I drifted into the Chesterton lobby, which after the muggy exhaust fumes of the street was a chilly contrast with its air conditioning. Glowing blonde angel guy was nowhere to be seen as I wobbled my way to the elevators.
The day started off badly with our status meeting with Ed.
Before the meeting, I’d been forced to splash my face with cold water from a sink in the women’s restroom for ten minutes to get my mind clear enough to function.
The first words out of Ed’s mouth at the meeting were, “I regret to inform you all that Monica has given her two weeks’ notice. We’ll miss her as much as we miss Tim. But she’ll be doing programming work as a contractor. A move up.”
Monica couldn’t look us in the eyes while he told us, but then her eyes were nearly puffed shut from getting so little sleep. She was a walking commercial for sleeping pills. Just looking at her made me want to yawn and go back to bed.
Ed continued. “She assures me that she’s taking a week off after she resigns to get some shut-eye. It will, um, be a while before we can replace her due to the postponement of all replacement hiring until next year.”
Hiring freeze. The odds of me being able to keep our project up and running for six months had just gotten a lot worse.
Jake smiled at me as he passed around mugs of coffee. Jackass. My predicament amused him.
Tim, Stuart, and Vadin were all gripping their pens too tight. They knew what this meant. The death spiral for the project had just sped up. Tim was right. Granite Hills was headed toward layoffs. And as a prototype software project, we’d be the first to go.
I stood up with my mug and snagged a sugar packet from the side table to add to my coffee, and as I stirred in the sugar, wriggling black specks floated to the top.
My back was turned to the group, so my grimace went unseen.
Jake. He’d made this coffee.
Tim and Ed blathered on about what had been learned during yesterday’s software release.
I went back to my seat next to Monica, carrying my drink, and eyed her coffee as she blew on it.
Hers had shiny blue specks swimming in it.
What the hell?
No one else seemed to have speck crap floating in their coffee. And no one seemed to be able to see the weird black specks in mine or the blue specks in Monica’s, for there would have been an uproar if they could.
I got up with my mug to go look again at the coffee urn. No sign of specks in the coffee drops underneath the urn’s spout, or in the mugs, or on the side table.
“Drat,” I said as I deliberately knocked over my coffee. It spilled across the side table, exposing the wriggling specks to view. My coffee had been chock full of them.
Jake said, “I’ll get towels,” and ran for the break room. The rest stared in bemusement as the liquid spread across the side table. But none of them seemed to be able to see the disgusting speck stuff as I could, for no one said anything about it.
I don’t want to be called crazy. If I say anything about what I’m seeing, I will be.
Jake ran back in to hand me a roll of paper towels and a wastebasket. He watched with nervous interest as I cleaned up the spill.
As I soaked up the coffee and specks, I threw out each wad of paper towels before the liquid could touch my skin. I was able to clean up the spill without getting any of the specks on my skin, but it was a close call twice.
Once done, I tied up the wastebasket’s plastic liner so that none of the specks could accidentally fall out.
When I turned my attention back to the meeting, I noticed that Monica’s coffee mug was empty. Too late to knock hers over. And unless I was imagining things, her sunken tired look had faded slightly.
Then she gave a huge yawn. “Excuse me. I don’t know where that came from.”
Something was happening to her. Something good.
Jake was watching Monica. Her head bobbed once, and his bobbed in mimicry. Monica was in danger of falling asleep in the meeting.
I made myself a fresh mug of coffee before Jake could offer to do it. I’d have to find a way to nail Jake’s ass for whatever it was he was up to with the speck crap. This wasn’t the first time he’d given us all coffee. Looking back on the past few months, it would have been all too easy for him to slip something into a mug if he wanted to.
Unless, of course, you’re just seeing things.
I’m not crazy. I’m not. I could feel the cry of protest stick in my throat.
Yes, you are. Your hostility to Jake made you imagine you saw something in the coffee. No one else saw anything. Only you. Admit it, you’re going crazy, Dorelai.
Prove it. Stop imagining things that aren’t there.
Right after the meeting, Monica drifted over to her cubicle, put her head down on her arms as they rested on her desk, and fell into a deep sleep.
We left her alone. She seemed to be resting peacefully, with no bad dreams.
I did my best to try to forget everything that I had seen, but it was hard to focus on my work. Hard to pretend I’d just imagined it all.
Monica woke up around eleven with deep creases in her forehead from her sleeves. But the puffiness was receding. She looked better than she had in days. And hungry. I was relieved.
“Why don’t you take a break?” I said to her. “Go get a souvlaki for lunch from the Pomegranate Deli or something just as good.”
“But we’re eating out for dinner.”
“Big deal,” I said. “You look famished.”
Monica perked up at the thought of the Pomegranate. “I’ll do that,” she said, grabbing her purse. “But you have to come along with me to Knossos, Dorelai.”
I hesitated. If I saw that imaginary silver-blue glow around Knossos Tower again, I wasn’t sure how well I could handle it.
Monica ignored my silence and said, “Anyone want to place an order?”
“Fries and a falafel sandwich,” Vadin called out over his cubicle wall.
“Nothing,” Stuart and Jake said in unison.
“I brought a lunch,” Stuart added.
Tim said nothing. He hated Greek food, and so never ordered from there if he could help it.
Monica scribbled Vadin’s request down on a scrap of paper. “Got it,” she said. “C’mon, Dorelai, let’s go.” She gripped my arm so tight I thought she’d cut off my circulation.
Once we were in an elevator headed down to the lobby, she said to me, “I’m so embarrassed that I took a nap on my desk.”
“We were happy,” I said. “It looked like you were getting the best sleep you’d had in two weeks.”
“It was.” Monica seemed startled by this. “No nightmares.”
“Um, when exactly did the nightmares start?”
“Sunday night, after the Chinese takeout.”
The elevator opened, and we exited into the lobby.
In the bright light of a summer noon, Knossos’ aura stuck out like a beacon in the heart of downtown. My heart rate sped up and I felt dizzy again.
Glowing street vendor was still at his post. Glowing homeless woman had moved to a new position down the street, sitting in the shade of a door stoop. The golden eyes glared down from the buildings.
I felt intense despair at what I was seeing as Monica and I crossed the plaza and approached the silver-blue aura around Knossos. The summer heat that radiated from the concrete of the sidewalks made me feel as if I would pass out. It took effort to keep walking.
When I reached the aura around Knossos, I instinctively flinched as I walked through it. Didn’t feel anything odd. Nothing seemed to happen. But it turned out to be a thin barrier instead of something that filled all of Knossos.
Like an energy shield around a spaceship in a science fiction show.
Dorelai, that kind of thinking is going to get you a mandatory visit to a psych ward in Boston if you don’t stop it.
Monica showed no sign that she saw the barrier aura around Knossos as I watched her walk through it. But as she passed through, a piece of the aura pulled off and stayed on her back as a tiny silver blob between her shoulder blades. It made me think of a transmitter.
As we entered the lobby, I eyed other people. They all had the same blob-thing on their backs.
I will not make a scene about imaginary blobs.
I shifted my body around so that I could look at my back in a nearby mirror as we made our way to the escalators. But I couldn’t see anything between my own shoulder blades.
This is all in my head.
But the blob was still to be seen on Monica’s back as I rode behind her on the escalator going down. I could feel clammy sweat ooze down my back and sides. I feared I might be sick.
We placed our orders at the takeout counter in the deli. I ordered a salad with grilled chicken even though I felt nothing but nausea, and Monica insisted we go hang out at the entrance to The Dive to watch the pool players while we waited for our orders to be ready.
I peered through the smoky haze of the pool hall to the bar.
There was a human-like cockroach at the bar guzzling beer. He wore a trench coat, and I watched with a surreal urge to laugh as he turned his beer glass upside-down over his mouth to get the last drops.
I blinked a few times, but he was still there and still a human roach.
My body was shaking all over and I felt sweat drip off my forehead.
Roach guy rocked his bar stool while waiting for the bartender to give him another beer.
“Well,” I said in a quivery voice to Monica, “let’s go pick up the food.”
I couldn’t resist a compulsion to look back as we walked away. Roach guy was happily guzzling his second beer. Then he noticed my too-shocked gaze, and swiftly put the beer down.
My legs sped up to a near-run, and I bumped into Monica as she pulled open the Pomegranate’s door. “Sorry!” I said as I scurried in as fast as I could, and made sure I didn’t look back to see if he had followed us.
Monica, on the other hand, had no compunction about looking back. She did so before following me through the deli entrance. Then she whispered to me, “I think the guy is taken with you. He’s looking in at us right now. Rather cute, like an extra from The Maltese Falcon.”
I knew the movie. But I was making comparisons to Kafka in my head … and William Burroughs.
“Er, that’s interesting,” I said, and bit my lip to keep but I’m not into giant roaches as boyfriends from coming out.
I’m losing it. I’m not sure how much longer I can fake being normal.
Monica asked Amanda (one of the waitresses we knew well) to get our takeout, then tickled me in the side as we stood near the deli cash register to wait. “He’d be a step up from Dereck. You need to start dating someone else. That’s the only way you’ll make Dereck accept you don’t want to get serious with him.”
“I broke up with Dereck last night,” I said.
I just rubbed my clammy face with my trembling hands. Luckily the food arrived, so Monica got distracted from the whole topic of Dereck in divvying up the takeout bags.
When we went back into the hall the roach guy was gone, so I was spared a matchmaking attempt by Monica.
After going up the escalator and exiting the lobby doors, I saw that when Monica walked through the silver-blue aura barrier, the blob-thing merged with it instead of staying on her back as I had expected.
It was a difficult slog for me across the hot plaza to Granite Hills. I had to fight the continual urge to sit down on the plaza sidewalk and throw up.
Then my cell phone rang.
“A friend saw you in The Dive,” Louie said when I answered, “and let me know you were available to come over to the emporium.” His voice was smooth, but had an undercurrent of urgency.
My crazy-looking stares at the guy I’d taken for a giant cockroach must have somehow triggered this phone call. Stall him until you can think of a good cover story. “Maybe I can come by later.”
Silence on the other end of the line. Louie was not happy about this. “You’ll want to pick out a gift for Tim as soon as possible, since today is his last day.”
His tone troubled me—something was seriously bothering him, and for whatever reason he couldn’t talk about it on the phone. So I said, “You’re right. I ought to get it for Tim now. Give me a few minutes to get there.” I hung up, and said to Monica, “Go on without me. I forgot to pick up my gift for Tim.”
I walked through the barrier aura around Knossos without hesitation this time, and shoved my smelly takeout bag of grilled chicken into a trash can before going inside. Even though I was almost certain there had to be a blob-thing sitting between my shoulder blades from the aura, I couldn’t see one on my back in the lobby mirrors.
My feet felt like they would soon go out from under me. I felt as if I were being dragged down by sheer exhaustion.
Never had the basement hall seemed so long a distance as I plodded down it to the emporium with what strength I had left.
When I got close to the emporium’s entrance, I discovered that there was a faint image of weird stuff going on upon its walls and glass door—they were crawling with a silver shimmer.
I was too tired to care that I was seeing new imaginary things.
Through the glass door, I caught sight of the Jewish guy I’d seen before on the escalators. He again wore a woolen black suit and fedora, which had to be stifling in the August heat, but the details that would define him as a Haredi were still missing. Today his shirt was forest green in color. He and Louie had their heads bent together as they stood in front of the main display case, conferring.
Louie burned with a faint version of the aura that surrounded Knossos itself.
Why am I not surprised? Louie and Knossos have the same aural patterns, my thoughts babbled, and I wonder if he would be upset if he found out I knew it? Maybe Louie can help me. Maybe he would understand if I tell him what I see when I look at him instead of calling me crazy.
The Jewish guy had no aura as far as I could tell. He shook his head at Louie, whether in disagreement or concern, I wasn’t sure.
I had an instinctive urge not to touch the silver glow crawling over the door handle, but made myself do so. I couldn’t feel anything different upon the cool brass.
The door refused to budge.
Louie looked at me through the glass and motioned for me to try again. The silver stuff writhed around the door lock. I heard the snick of the lock turning on its own, which didn’t faze me in the least.
This time the door pulled open easily.
After the door shut behind me, the lock snicked again.
“I’ve locked the door so we won’t be interrupted during our conversation,” Louie said. “Dorelai, this is Rabbi Elijah Rzondzinski. Rabbi Eli, this is Ms. Dorelai Trelton.”
“Shalom aleichem, Ms. Trelton,” Eli said.
I just stood there right inside the entrance. I didn’t think I had the strength to take another step. And it was taking major effort not to weave on my feet.
“Just call me Dorelai,” I said.
Eli smiled and strode toward me, his hand outstretched to shake mine, and when I took a step forward to meet him halfway in the emporium aisle, I ended up staggering instead, and had to grab onto a shelf of antique leather books to keep my balance. Two books tipped over to spill open on the floor before I could stop them.
It was only with effort that I kept myself from toppling over as well. The ground felt as if it were heaving under me like a rowboat in a storm. Please don’t let me puke on Louie’s antiques. In a hoarse croak, I said, “Louie, I think I’m s-sick.”
Somehow Louie had gotten between Rabbi Eli and me while I was distracted with trying not to throw up. I’d never seen Louie look so worried before as he stared intently at my face. Then a realization came to him, and he went from worried to horrified. “Good God,” he said, “your irises. You’re crawling with nightmare dust.”
************** End of Chapter 2 *****************
Stay tuned for Chapter 3 next Tuesday. (Note: If you are reading this post after April 15, 2013, click here to go to Cubicle‘s main page on this website so you can find Chapter 3.)
This novel is currently available in e-book format from e-bookstores such as iTunes, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, Diesel, Sony, and other retailers. This will likely change over time (since an audio and print version will be coming out), so click here to go to Cubicle’s main page, if you’re reading this months after April 8, 2013, to see what is available.
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Cheers, L. M.