There was a bit of a writing contest the last couple weeks on Ink After Dark, just in time for the Halloween season. I’m looking forward to doing more of their themed prompts, since both variety and deadlines seem to help my work improve.
The Monster Mash contest had two categories: Light and Dark. Here is the bit that I submitted for the Dark portion.
Cold Storage, Warm Living
“This office is always freezing. Why can’t it be a bit warmer?” Susan asked the rest of the team once again, wrapped under a shawl.
The familiar argument didn’t even elicit a look from the rest of her coworkers. “Boss likes it that way, I guess. Just give it time, you’ll see that it’s for the best.”
Ever since her promotion to the central office, her summer wardrobe had languished uselessly in her closet. She had to dress in layers even on the hottest of days, just to be comfortable enough to work. Her latest investment in some heated fingerless gloves had helped a lot. Her coworkers had gotten used to the temperature, it seemed, but she still had a long way to go. There had to be some sense to the cool, though. She had been more productive since she got that job, and had come up with some really interesting solutions to problems that had come up. Maybe the cold was keeping the team more alert, more focused.
Today, though, she had lunch plans with Lisa, a friend from college, and had tried to dress up a bit for it. The goose bumps on her arms seemed as though that might not have been the best idea. When lunchtime finally came around, she was relieved to thaw out enough to start dumping the extra clothes.
Once she got to the restaurant, she greeted her friend with a polite hug, and settled into catching up. Salads came, and the conversation flowed easily. When Susan’s new job came up, her friend’s face paled. “The one downtown? And you’re out here? What are you thinking?”
Lisa poured all the ice from her glass into Susan’s, and flagged down the waiter for more. “Drink that, and we’ll try to get you cooled back down.”
Susan stared incredulously. Her friend had never been much of a joker, and the concern on her face seemed very genuine. Reconnecting with her friend was quickly turning into one of the weirdest meals of her life. “What are you doing? You’re freaking me out. I actually need to warm up after how cold my office is, not cool down.”
“You don’t know?” Lisa pulled out several dollar bills and dropped them on the table. “Look, I’m not kidding. That’s the reason that I’ve never worked for them. There’s something that happens to some of the people who work there. Look it up, but it might be too late. I’ve got to go, and you’ve got to cool down.”
“Something happens? Like a guy with a hook comes out of a bathroom mirror and kills you with a video tape?” Susan was embarrassed as people started noticing the scene, and she got angry.
“Look, they’re known for having the best and brightest, right?” Lisa eyed the door like she was considering making a run for it. “The ones that don’t burn out, they push the stereotype: loners, work in dark and cool, live for the job?”
Susan nodded and crossed her arms. That sort of sounded like her boss, and her team, in fact.
“The why gets weird. There’re stories. The company uses the staff as some sort of cold storage, for something that gets in them. Maybe in the water, maybe in the catered breakfasts, who knows? If it gets a chance to warm up, that’s when the people burn out…literally.”
“That’s stupid. Like, what, aliens? The company is not sticking things in their employees. Why can’t you just be happy that I’ve got a good job, maybe better than yours?” Susan got up and stormed away from the table.
She glared at the host as she stalked through the front doors. Once in the car, her hands shook so much she could barely start it. Trying to calm down, she breathed deeply and counted to ten, but it still took several minutes before she felt safe driving. “Guess some people really do change.” she growled as she put the car into reverse and checked behind her.
Susan’s anger was so distracting that she didn’t notice as a tiny bulge moved along her collar bone, from her shoulder down toward her heart, under her warm weather blouse and under her skin itself.