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  Table of contents Issue Seven DAY AT THE OFFICE

by
AISHA ABRAM
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P


ercy was a loner. Percy was very quiet. Percy always stuck to himself.



“We should have known.”



It was Greg who spoke up first. Everyone looked around as if they had no idea who spoke those words. Even Greg, whose larynx and vocal cords formed that sentence, appeared stunned. He was barely aware that he had spoken. A steady stream of liquid crowded his vision and as he blinked, red droplets began dotting the linoleum.



Nell shook her head and pushed her hands against her restraints. Her eyeliner had left two parallel lines on her cheeks.



“Be quiet,” she hissed and squirmed again. The twine scratched deep rivets into her wrists. Her feet sported matching anklets of orange.



Mary and Angie were both blinking and staring. That’s all. Just blinking and staring. They stared at a small hole in the wall of the cubicle across from them.



It was one of many holes. Some were small; others showed the showerhead pattern of a shotgun. Light and small bits of dust and paper and carpeting floated around the holes. Angie thought it looked strangely pretty, like those days when you were a kid, watching snowflakes drift down towards your nose.



“Don’t just sit there staring like dummies,” Nell’s voice was barely audible. “Help me.”



Nell wiggled her bottom until she was nearly on top of Mary and thrust her wrists towards her.



“We should have known,” Greg repeated.



“Oh shut up Greg,” Nell said. “Nobody wants to hear your opinion. This is your fault anyway.”



Greg snapped out of his daze for a moment.



“My fault?”



Greg’s teeth were red and his voice went up an octave. Nell scrunched her nose as he spat a clot onto the floor.



“This is your fault too you know.”



Mary worked with her fingertips at the hard knot on Nell’s wrists. Her nail tips broke off as she struggled with it. It was the only time Greg had seen Mary unconcerned with making sure her manicure wasn’t perfect. Mary used her hands more for filing her nails than for typing on her computer.



Nell jerked up so frantically that another of Mary’s nails popped off.



“How is this my fault?” she said. “You were the one who fired him.”



Greg leveled his head and looked at her eyes.



“You were the one who fucked him.”



Nell kicked out with her leg, but Greg was too far away to make contact. Instead, her remaining shoe fell off. The other was in the cubicle labyrinth they called an office—somewhere. She doubted if she would ever find it again.



“If my hands weren’t tied, I’d wring your neck myself,” she said.



“But then again,” Greg began, he smiled and spat again. “Who haven’t you fucked in this office?”



“Shhhhh….” Angie hushed them. “Percy’s back.”



The group saw his boots before they saw him. The boots made heavy popping noises. Outside, the sirens had stopped and it was quiet. Too quiet.



Percy turned the corner and poked the rifle he now carried through one of the holes in the cubicle wall.



“How are you this morning?” Percy smiled and poked his rifle in and out again. Angie hid her face in Mary’s shoulder. Nell moved slightly away from Mary. Greg watched more of his own blood drop from his nose onto the floor. He watched the small splatters and random droplets. Jackson Pollack’s got nothing on me, he thought.



“Just let us go already,” Nell said. “This can’t end well for you.”



Percy reached down and grabbed her by the hair. Mary and Angie huddled tighter together.



Nell could see his eyes, down to the small gold flecks in his irises that she once found adorable. Oh God, she thought, how could I have seen anything in this man that I found adorable?



“This can’t end well for who?” Percy’s breath smelled like molasses. It was more of a statement than a question.



He began laughing and pushed Nell back down with Mary and Angie. Mary and Angie were huddled so close together that they seemed to merge together into one person. Greg couldn’t tell which legs were Mary’s and which were Angie’s.



Percy gave Greg a poke with the rifle’s end. Greg grunted and opened his mouth as if to speak. Instead, a stream of red saliva dribbled down his chin, adding to the masterpiece on the floor.



Percy knelt down next to him. Greg’s right eye could see his shape in his peripheral vision and feel the hotness of his breath on his cheek. He could smell the gun oil of the multiple firearms Percy had with him. Some of them still smelled of warm sulfur and metal.



“Now Greg,” Percy began, the sweetness of his breath was overpowering. “Usually you have so much to say.”



In one quick movement, Percy grabbed both sides of Greg’s cheeks. Greg let out a low growl of pain. “Leave him alone,” Nell screeched. She kicked out with her foot again, but she was still too far away. The effort made Percy laugh again. Angie and Mary began to cry.



“No, no, now, Greg, I’m sure has a lot to say. He always does. He does evaluations all day. He tells us if we’re doing a good job.”



Percy, still crouched next to Greg, jerked his head to face him. Eye to eye with Percy, Greg struggled to focus but Percy continued to blur.



“Tell me, Greg,” Percy said. “Am I doing a good job now? Am I thinking ‘outside the box’?”



Nell continued to push and loosen her restraints. Come on SWAT team, she thought. Where are you guys? Come on Percy, stand closer to a window—just give them a clear shot. She hoped they wouldn’t be too late.



Mary/Angie began to whine in a low, guttural way. It reminded Nell of the sounds young kittens make when they cry for their mother. She wished they would stop.



“Let’s see if there are any words in there,” Percy said, prying open Greg’s mouth and inserting the rifle’s tip. Mary/Angie let out a shrill sound. Greg seemed to neither notice nor care.



From this angle, Nell could see the gash that Percy had made earlier on Greg’s head. It was surprising that Greg was still conscious. Even she had shuddered when Percy pistol-whipped him as they were being tied up. A bullet hole in Greg’s shoulder still pulsed blood randomly.



Greg closed his eyes. He struggled not to gag as the butt of the gun struck the back of his throat. Instead, there was a small gurgling noise.



“Stop it, Percy, stop it right now!”



It was Nell’s voice that broke over the gurgle and the Mary/Angie sound.



Still gripping the gun and Greg’s head, Percy shifted his gaze towards her.



“What was that, love?”



“Love,” it was what he had called her on their third date. “Love” was what he had called her as he had fumbled with the latch on her bra the first time she let him into her apartment.



“Love,” who knew that the sound of that word would make her cringe?



Nell managed her most seductive smile. That’s alright, she thought, he can call me “love” if he wants. She hoped a million cops were getting ready to burst into the office like a swarm of locusts.



“Come on, there are more fun things to do than that?” she said. “Didn’t you do all this for me?”



She smoothed her tongue over her lips and hoped it was enough.



It was.



Percy released his grip on Greg’s head and withdrew the gun. A click-clack noise made by the rifle hitting Greg’s teeth sent more blood streaming onto the floor. Greg let out a sigh and slumped. He spit out part of a tooth and just stared at it. Surely that’s someone else’s tooth and not mine, Greg thought.



How much blood does one person have? Nell thought.



“Love, what are you talking about?” Percy said, seemingly intrigued by the question.



“Didn’t you do this all for me? You know,” she said, flipping her hair. Behind her back she worked even more frantically at the knot. She lowered her voice an octave and stuck out her chest. “Don’t be coy. You know.”



Nell saw a brief flicker of acknowledgement.



“So you know?” he said. “You know I did all of this for you?”



Percy took out a smaller pistol. Nell could see he had three small caliber weapons tucked into the vest. Two rifles were slung over both shoulders. The one he had stuck in Greg’s mouth sported a red-tinged barrel. Percy’s pockets still bulged with ammunition.



“Yes of course,” she said. “This had to happen. You did everything right dear.”



Percy stood, the armory jangled as he stepped towards her. She pushed her head against the side of his leg. His khaki trousers were dotted with blood. She imagined the surprise with which her coworkers first saw him today. “Didn’t he get canned yesterday?” Of course, that was when Percy opened fire. One of the dots of blood was still wet and it smeared across her cheek like some gaudy rouge.



Nell knew she had to stay calm if she wanted this to work.



“You did everything right.”



He knelt in front of her. Nell tried to keep her gaze off of the pistol in his right hand. Her heart pulsed hard and loud in her chest. She wondered if the beat was an audible sound in the room. If Mary/Angie—huddled into a mass of cotton and skin—could hear it. If Greg—lost in his semi-conscious world—could hear it.



If Percy could hear it.



Nell had seen the gore of what he had done as he carried her to the back cubicle with the others. She had seen the coworkers who didn’t get up from their desks quickly enough. They were still there. Their computers were still on and some still sat in their chairs—wide eyed—eyes that would never close. Eyes she would see every time she closed her own.



It was Percy’s eyes that she watched now. They seemed amused and enticed. The black pupils dilated—wide and excited.



Percy crept even closer and touched the smooth metal of the gun against her inner thigh. Nell willed herself to smile again. She had read somewhere that you should keep your captor occupied. “Do whatever it takes to stay alive,” the article had read. Clearly the author had never been held captive.



“What did you like best, love?” he hissed the words into her ears and smelled her hair.



“The way you took charge,” she said. Nell fought every impulse she had to pull away. “The way you showed them all who was boss.” She glanced over at Greg. He had slumped down even more. The hole in his shoulder only pulsed small rivulets now. Maybe Greg was right, she thought. She had never thought of herself as a slut. But then, how could she ever have given this loser the time of day. She had felt sorry for him, she reasoned, that he needed a friend, a companion to help him socialize.



Percy pushed the gun a little further up her thigh.



“Whoa,” she said, pulling away a little. “Don’t you think we should wait?”



Percy began stroking her hair, and the movement sent shockwaves through her scalp. She had almost forgotten how hard he had pulled it earlier.



“Wait for what, love?”



Her brain raced for an answer. She couldn’t think of one. Percy had begun tracing the gun up and down her neck and across her breasts. Mary/Angie was quiet but was still crying. Nell wished she had been nicer to them—maybe said a ‘good morning’ or told them their outfit was cute. Maybe she would do that if she survived.



“Survived” was always a strange word for Nell and one she knew the meaning of well. Other people ‘survived’ when their in-laws stayed for the holidays; they ‘survived’ when they slammed on their brakes in heavy traffic; they ‘survived’ wearing a green dress for their cousin’s wedding.



Nell was a survivor in the truest sense. She knew the key to staying alive was playing it cool. She had survived her mother’s many boyfriends. She survived when they told her she was pretty and they wanted to take her for ice cream by herself. She would lock her bedroom door at night. She would sleep under the bed, scared that the doorknob would turn again. She felt as if she were hiding under the bed now.



And it scared her to death that she couldn’t think of what to say.



“You think she loves you?” It was Greg’s falsetto that answered.



Outside, a megaphone-muffled voice said something none of them could understand.



Greg had slumped completely to the floor; the side of his face lay flat against the linoleum. They could see his breath moving shallowly against the pool of congealing blood.



“You think she loves you?” he breathed again. “You’re dumber than I thought.”



Again the muffled-megaphone voice from outside.



Nell turned towards the sound of the megaphone. Greg don’t do it, she thought. They’re all outside right now. She wished she could speak telepathically to him. Don’t you know all we need to do is bide our time. Greg, don’t do it, she begged with her eyes.



“When I fired you yesterday…” Greg paused and caught his breath. “When I fired you yesterday do you think it was just about the job? The job…” He seemed to lose his thought. “The job…no,no,no…”



He coughed again and again. Percy seemed annoyed by this interruption. The megaphone again bellowed outside.



“You…you killed…you killed all those people,” Greg coughed again. “For her? I had her…everyone….everyone has. She’s no prize.” Greg laugh-coughed and his broken front tooth showed a black gap with a crimson interior.



Nell blinked furiously. Tears had begun to spring into her eyes.



“She’s no prize.”



The words echoed in her head. It was something that Greg had said to her before she started dating Percy.



“She’s no prize.”



It was something he had said about a year ago when she and Greg were the office romance.



“You’re no prize, honey; you’re not just some prize. You’re the whole lottery.”



Greg had said it jokingly, lovingly in fact—as they stood in his office, with the door closed and the shades drawn. He had kissed her and whispered it in her ear. That was before he started getting too serious; before she started dating Percy.



Hell, Greg was right—that was before she started dating the whole office.



Greg made eye contact with Nell.



“She’s no prize,” he said, barely a whisper this time.



Nell fought the tears. She knew she still loved him too.



Percy paused his tracing of the gun across Nell’s skin and turned again towards Greg.



“So that’s how you want it.” Percy’s voice was flat and emotionless. He might as well be ordering a cup of coffee than signing Greg’s death warrant. “That’s how you want it.”



“That’s right,” Greg’s tone sounded even and clear. “That’s how I want it.”



As Percy stood up, Nell couldn’t keep the tears from flowing. She worked furiously at the knot. Percy was distracted.



With each step Percy took, Nell pushed against the orange twine. She thought she felt it give a little; it sliced further into her wrists and she began to feel warm liquid around the knot, but still she kept wriggling.



Greg maintained his gaze on Nell, although Percy was a monstrous shadow over him now.



“I love you. I’m sorry,” she mouthed. “I’m sorry.”



Nell continued to push on the knot. She worked a finger under the knot and felt it give a little more.



Percy hefted Greg by his wounded shoulder onto his knees. Greg’s knees threatened to slip in the blood, but Greg braced himself in this kneeling position.



“No, I’m sorry,” Greg spoke this aloud.



Nell felt the knot slowly unravel as Percy brought the gun up, towards the side of Greg’s head.



‘I’m not going to be free in time’, Nell thought. She closed her eyes, trembling.



That’s when she heard the shot.



Nell felt the knot untangle and her hands fall free. She didn’t want to open her eyes and covered them with her hands instead.



“Nell, oh, God, Nell.” It was Greg’s voice; her eyes fluttered open.



It was Percy’s eyes that she saw first. They were wide, surprised and unblinking. He fell to the floor and twitched twice, a sniper’s bullet lodged firmly in the gray matter of his brain.



They could already hear the sharp clack of police-issued boots entering the lobby. Nell crawled to Greg who slumped into her arms.



Nell felt every fear leave her as she untied his hands. He rested his head in her lap. He looked up at her and grinned.



“Greg,” she said, wiping the smeared blood from his face. “You’re wrong. You’re the whole damn lottery.”



   
   

 

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Aisha Abram lives near St. Louis with her husband and cat. She has a Master of Fine Arts from Lindenwood University. She is a former reporter who gave up fact for fiction.



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