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Eye of the Storm · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000


The following prizes are courtesy of horizon and Trick Question:

  • $25 USD to 1st place
  • $15 USD to 2nd place
  • $15 USD to 3rd place
  • $20 USD to the top placing entrant who has never entered a Writeoff before

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I Would Like to Speak With The Director
“I would like to speak with The Director, please,” Stuart said.

The clerk stopped filing papers and turned to her computer, large and clunky and a drained shade of yellow. Her long, purple fingernails clicked against the keyboard as she typed. “You’ll have to book an appointment, hon. Age?”

Stuart straightened his bowtie. “I’m Stuart Whitless. 33 years old.”

“How long have you worked here?”

“Nine years.”


“Eight dollars and sixty cents an hour.”

Tacka-tacka-tacka went the keyboard. “I’ll need your fingers.”

Stuart pressed his lips together. “Which ones?”

“The index and the middle finger.”

Stuart bit his lip. He used those fingers often—losing them would be terribly inconvenient. Perhaps he could mitigate the loss. “Left hand, right?”

The clerk stared at the computer and shook her head. “The records say you’re right-handed.”

Stuart put his hands on his hips. He narrowed his eyes at the clerk’s ogre of a computer, grumbling, “Can’t say I’ve expected anything less from this place.”

“Repeat that and I’ll file a release report.” The clerk tilted her head down, glaring at Stuart over her pink-rimmed glasses. “Understood?”

Stuart tightened his fists, then released them. He needed to be patient. “Yes, ma’am.”

She nodded her head towards a machine behind her. “Follow the instructions. I’ll book your appointment when you’re done.”

Stuart shuffled over to the machine. It looked like a large scanner, covered in faded yellow paint and a few peeling black stripes. He read the first step of the posted instructions and sighed. As long as this meant he could speak with The Director, losing just two fingers would certainly be worth it.

Stuart pushed the seventeenth floor button on the elevator, which retorted with a chunka-chunka bizzzzzzz. He gave the elevator two swift kicks, then pressed the button again, and up he went.

The wall clock in the elevator read 2:54. Six minutes until his next report was due, and sixteen minutes until his appointment to speak with The Director. First, he wanted to see Victoria. Stuart loosened his bowtie, attempting to go for a more casual formal look. Clunk went the elevator, signaling that Stuart reached the Document Control floor. He stepped out into the dark hallway.

The lighting in the halls was never bright, per se, but set to some corporate standard that went along the lines of “constantly dim”: Dark enough to save a few cents on energy bills down here, but bright enough to keep subordinates from nodding off.

He walked down the hall, took a right, then two lefts and swung around the opening to Victoria’s cubicle, careful not to put too much weight on the cubicle wall or it might collapse.

“Hello, Victoria.”

“Hello, Stuart,” Victoria said without looking away from her computer. Automatically, she placed her right hand on the desk space next to her and slid it towards her. She stopped typing, looked at her hand, then looked up at Stuart. “Where’s the report?”

Stuart stared at her irises for the first time. Light green, he noted. Almost hazel. Her eyes were framed so well by her soft face and short, prompt brown hair. Stuart shrugged. “No report today.”

Victoria furrowed her eyebrows, looking Stuart up and down, then turned back to her computer and typed away, her hair sweeping around and bouncing a little before settling down. She spoke in a tired voice, hints of groans slipping through her words. “ ‘Corporate Policy deems that reports must, under any and all circumstances, be submitted by their respective deadlines’. Your reports are due every day at three o’clock.”

“Do you like cats?” With the one index finger he had left, he pointed to one of the two posters in Victoria’s Corporation-Mandated Office Signboard Space. He leaned on Victoria’s desk so he was half-sitting on it.

Victoria sighed, her gaze following Stuart’s finger. The poster depicted an orange-and-white striped kitten hanging from a tree branch by its front paws, on a bright sunny day, with a caption underneath that read INSUBORDINATION MERITS SEVERE DISCIPLINARY ACTION.

Victoria pushed up her glasses. “Everybody has those two posters.”

“You can still like cats.”

“Please leave.” She turned back to her computer, her shoulders hunched over more than before, and resumed typing.

Stuart sighed. If he couldn’t make small talk with Victoria, then he could at least try to impress her. “I’m going to speak with The Director.”

Victoria’s fingers jerked to a halt. “Really?”

Stuart smiled. His right hand shot up, wrapped tight in gauze. He waggled his remaining fingers. “I have an appointment.”

Victoria looked at his hand, watching the fingers move. She wrung her hands, shaking her head as her eyes locked on the clock just behind Stuart. She inhaled, hesitating at first, then spoke carefully. “Why?”

“I hate working here. It’s bad enough that the hours are long and the pay sucks,” Stuart said, eyeing the kitten poster. “They’ve brainwashed us. They force us to read those Corporate Policies until we babble them off as if they’re instinct. I don’t feel like a human anymore, you know? They tell us what to think, and it works, damnit. It’s unacceptable. It’s inhumane. We have to put a stop to it.”

Victoria's eyes widened. She continued to shake her head, glancing to the entryway of her cubicle. “Keep your voice down,” she said.

Stuart lowered his voice to an eager whisper. “Don’t you think someone should do something about it?” Stuart watched Victoria’s hand shake. He slowly reached his left hand out.

She quickly retracted her hand and rattled off, “ ‘Corporate Policy deems that any interactions involving AdmiCorp subordinates that constitute anything’—”

“—‘anything other than formal and professional interactions are forbidden’, yes, I know.” He cringed, knowing this would be the end of the conversation, and the two of them, really. All thanks to AdmiCorp: We Know People.

“You should leave,” Victoria said as she stared at her computer screen, clasping the edges of the desk, her fingertips turning white. “Leave, please.”

Stuart stood up, berating himself in his mind. He should’ve been more patient and not so forward. Putting his hands on his hips, he took a step out of her cubicle, then turned back around and cleared his throat. “Before I go,” Stuart said. “I just want to say that before today, I’ve only ever heard you say two words, and that one of them was my name… it makes me happy.”

Victoria didn’t say anything back, or even move. Maybe he never had a chance with her to begin with. Stuart pursed his lips, nodded to himself, then walked down the hallway. It was time to speak with The Director. Well, almost time.

He approached the guard’s desk to Management’s elevator. The guard sat with his feet up on the desk and his legs crossed, reading the day’s newspaper and stifling a yawn.

Stuart walked up and put his hands on the guard’s desk. “I have an appointment to speak with The Director. I’d like to go up, please.”

The guard wiped his eyes, set his feet down on the floor, yawned, stretched, and chicken-pecked at the keyboard in front of him with two fingers. “Age?”

“33 years old. Nine years. Eight dollars and sixty cents an hour,” Stuart said, noticing the clock on the wall—2:59. “Can I go through, please?”

“You need a visitor badge,” the guard said, resting his chin on his palm, as the number of fingers he used to type went down to one.

Stuart blinked. “I work here.”

“Not in Management. You need a visitor badge.”

Stuart folded his arms. “Okay, how do I get one?”

The guard jerked his thumb to a hoop behind him, situated on a vertical four-foot pole. “You have to jump through that.”

Stuart walked up to the hoop. It was just big enough to clear his shoulders. He took a few steps back, swinging his arms, getting a feel for the momentum required for this. This shouldn’t be too hard. “At least it’s not on fire,” he mumbled to himself.

The guard turned around for the first time in years. “Huh. It should be.”

Stuart sighed.

Stuart looked in the elevator wall and straightened out his curly, singed hair. The elevator walls were so polished and clean, he could see his own reflection three times over.

His coworkers talked of the gold-plated elevator as an exaggeration. He was surprised, and also wasn’t, that it actually was made of gold. Everyone joked that half of the money that went through AdmiCorp went into Management’s elevator. He could believe that, now.

Eyeing the 77th floor button, Stuart untied his bowtie and retied it, such that the scorched side was facing inwards. His shirt was burnt—his left sleeve got the worst of it, now a jumble of charred fronds from the elbow down. There were a few new holes in his khakis, too. The gun tucked in the back of his pants had survived, though, which was all that really mattered.

The cheerful ding of the elevator prickled his chest. The elevator doors swung open and Stuart stepped into the main offices of Management, his hands sweaty but still, ready as ever to speak with The Director.

The Management department was lined with offices on both sides of the room, each with its own glass-paned door with the name of its incumbent in ornate calligraphy, printed in delicate ink. Venetian blinds shielded every office door and window.

The middle of the room was a bustling mess of assistants to the Managers. Each one wore a necktie and a sweat-stained button-up white shirt, one jacket away from a full suit. Half of them yelled into their white corded phones, half into their computer monitors, until they were red in the face. Spit flew out of their mouths to punctuate every fifth curse they hollered.

Stuart had been on the other end of those phones, several times. He elected to walk around the clamour, not ready to meet one of the raspy, nameless voices in person.

Stuart could feel the eyes of several assistants follow him as he walked around the room. His face felt hotter than his clothes. That so many assistants would focus their practiced scream-fueled glares on Stuart told him what he already knew, that nobody, much less a lowly analyst, came to speak with The Director. Stuart pressed on.

At the other end of the room, occupying half of the high wall, hung a huge nameplate reading “Director”, each four-foot-high letter etched in bronze. Why it was bronze, not gold, nipped at the back of Stuart’s mind. He eyed The Director’s secretary’s desk and straightened out the burnt strands of his left sleeve.

A strong hand slapped down on Stuart’s shoulder, and he turned. His supervisor and an assistant to one of the Managers, Mr. Richardson loomed a full two inches over him. He didn’t have an office yet, but he did have his own desk here in this room. With the hand that wasn’t on Stuart’s shoulder, he held up a poster with a kitten hanging on a tree branch. “You have one of these in your cubicle, don’t you, boy?”

Stuart huffed. “Yes, Mr. Richardson.”

Mr. Richardson bobbed his head as he spoke, his shiny black hair frozen in place, combed ever to his right. His sharp brown eyes drilled into Stuart as he waved the poster. “And when I get word that Stuart Whitless hasn’t turned in his report by three o’clock, you know what comes to mind?”

“What, Mr. Richardson?” Stuart said, unable to help speaking slightly through his teeth.

“Read this little word right here,” Mr. Richardson said, holding up the poster and pointing to the word INSUBORDINATION.

“Insubordination, Mr. Richardson.”

His normal speaking voice was loud enough to hear over the commotion around him. “Do you know what that word means, Mr. Whitless?”

Stuart tried to back away, but Mr. Richardson smacked down his hand on Stuart’s shoulder again. “Mr. Richardson, I understand what the poster means.”

“And you’re aware of the relevant clause in the Corporate Policy on this, Mr. Whitless? Need I remind you? ‘Corporate Policy deems that reports must, under any and all circumstances’—”

“With all due respect, Mr. Richardson, I am not here to speak to you,” Stuart said, his face growing hotter. He could feel more eyes from more assistants. “I’m here to speak with The Director.”

“Like hell you are, Whitless,” he said, jabbing a firm finger at Stuart, almost touching the bridge of his nose. “I’ve got half a mind to send a release report right on down the line to HR, get that horse’s outhouse of what you call your office emptied, and usher in the next guy waiting in line who actually has that the part of the brain that connects his ears to his brain to his hands. Do you understand me, boy?”

Keeping eye contact with Mr. Richardson, Stuart’s hand searched a desk nearby. When he found a spare telephone, he tightened his fingers around it. “You’re assuming that you do, in fact, have half a mind, sir.”

“What did you say?”

Stuart swung the telephone upwards, clocking Mr. Richardson in the jaw, forcing him back a step. Mr. Richardson sunk down to one knee, holding himself up with an assistant’s desk. A few assistants turned set their phones down, helping Mr. Richardson to his feet.

Stuart whipped around and walked away. He picked up a small box of paper clips on the way. It wouldn’t do much in case Mr. Richardson decided to retaliate, but it was better than nothing.

“You’re fired, damnit!” Mr. Richardson hollered. “You’re fired!”

Stuart felt his button-up shirt stick to his skin with sweat. He searched for a wall clock—3:09. He strode towards The Director’s secretary’s desk, his face burning in searing indignation.

Stuart held up his bandaged right hand. “33. Nine. Eight-sixty an hour. Stuart Whitless, Christ’s sakes. I have an appointment in one minute.”

The secretary looked past Stuart to Mr. Richardson. “As I understand it, you’re no longer employed by—”

“Doesn’t matter,” Stuart said, pulling out his visitor badge and slamming it down on the desk. “I have an appointment.”

Wrinkling her nose at the badge, the secretary pulled out a piece of paper and laid it before Stuart. Pulling out the pen from behind her ear, she pointed at a few boxes on the document. “Sign there and there.”

“There and there?”

"Yes. And two more on the other side."

"Jesus Christ!" Stuart ran a hand through his hair. “I literally had to jump through a flaming hoop to get here. You already have my fingers. What more could you possibly want from me?”

The secretary blinked, picking up the pen and presenting it to him. “To know how to use this.”

“Fine.” Stuart set the paper clips down, snatched the pen, and eyed the boxes on the page.

The pen pressed down into the paper as Stuart concentrated, foregoing his full signature, writing only ‘S’ before moving on to his last name. The pen inched along the paper as it made the first line in the ‘W’, then it slipped outside of the box. Stuart scratched that out and cursed himself, the yelling and shouting of the assistants behind him ever present and ever tempting him to yell right back.

He took a shaky breath and put the pan to the paper, sweat beading on his forehead. He tried the next line, clenching his teeth as he tried to keep from pressing too hard. The pen wandered and veered to form a curved line.

“Screw it!” Stuart said, hurling the pen down at the paper, walking past the secretary’s desk. He wrenched the knob of The Director’s office door and swung it wide open, slamming it behind him and breathing out.

Instantly, silence rang in the room. Stuart looked around the office. It was smaller than he had expected, but certainly large. A bright yellow chandelier beamed over his head, and besides a few lamps on the wall, it was the only source of light in the room.

Three bookshelves stood on the left side of the office, filled with tomes of all shapes and sizes, but with intellectual colours of mostly brown and deep forest green. The spines of each book must have been dusted often. A rolling stepladder leaned patiently against the shelves. It was curled at the edges, much like the neck of a violin. The right side of the room was a bare beige wall, without even a Corporation-Mandated Office Signboard Space.

The Director’s desk was clean and barren, save a silver ballpoint pen, a glossy black telephone, a report, and a small open box with a neat stack of papers, the topmost sheet of which was irritatingly blank. The front side of the desk was a beautiful piece of wood, grains flowing like a pristine chestnut river, with more varnish than a brand new convertible.

The Director leaned forward in his black leather swivel chair. “Sit down, son.”

Stuart glanced at the short stool in front of him. He shifted for more stable footing on the cold marble floor. “No,” he said.

The Director looked Stuart over, raising his eyebrows slightly. He wore a bright white suit, in a high contrast to all other Managers, as was his bright white hair, combed neatly to his right side. The sleek wrinkles on his face just barely belied his cool, sharp demeanor. “Why did you bring a gun?” he said.

“Excuse me?”

“You have a gun tucked in the back of your pants.” The Director said, looking down to the report on his desk, then back to Stuart. “Your file says you’re right handed. There’s a peculiar way your right arm clings to your side, and your left arm twitches, testing to see if you can pull it out quickly enough to put a bullet through my head before I have the time to react.”

Stuart tried to keep his arms still, but his heart sunk when he noticed that indeed, his left arm was twitching.

“Go on, draw it,” The Director said, stroking his chin. “Take as long as you need, son.”

Stuart wrinkled his eyebrows, his heart clambering and fluttering up his chest to his throat as he reached for his gun. This felt like a trap, but he couldn’t place why. His fingers curled around the handle, almost slipping from the sweat on his palm. He pulled the gun out, brought it around his waist, and held it at his side, using his right hand to wipe his mouth. He couldn’t bring his left arm up to fire.

He didn’t like this. This wasn’t triumphant. This was a slap on the wrist, a yank on a child’s ear through the sugary cereal aisle of a grocery store.

The Director folded his hands in front of him. “What is it that you wanted to speak with me about?”

Stuart tried to speak, but choked up. Anything he wanted to say, The Director already knew. Management knew what they were doing. They were getting results, and the analysts and document control and every subordinate working for this corporation were means to their ends. Everyone knew the Corporate Policy. Stuart knew that it wouldn’t change anytime soon.

And he hated that. He hated that The Director. He hated AdmiCorp. Perhaps most of all, he hated himself for complying for so long. He lined up the end of the barrel with The Director’s face. A hint of a smile tugged at The Director’s lips.

“Go on,” The Director said. “Pull the trigger.”

Stuart squeezed a fist through the bandage on his right hand. A low rage bubbled in his stomach to think that this would be the last order he would ever receive, and that he would follow it.

He lowered the gun. He was out of options, and he hated that more than anything. He raised the gun to his own head. But he couldn’t do this here, not to The Director’s satisfaction.

Stuart picked up the stool and turned around, walking away.

“I thought you wanted to speak with me,” The Director said.

He didn’t need to.

Stuart thrust the door to The Director’s office wide open. He slammed the stool down on the marble floor and pointed the gun upwards, firing. The noise silenced the clamour in the room, directing all eyes to the man at the end of the room with a gun to his own head, Stuart Whitless, 33 years old, nine years a subordinate of AdmiCorp, earning eight dollars and sixty cents an hour, barely enough of a living to afford a gun, let alone another minute working for this corporation.

He sat down on the stool, turned ninety degrees to his left, and pulled the trigger.

The Director watched from his swivel chair, his eyebrows raised. He picked up the telephone and dialed.

“Hello,” he said. “An analyst has recently stepped down. No. Yes, again. Three days downtime, zero net loss. Thank you.”

The screaming in the main room died down to a few murmurs, then gradually picked up to the previous clamour of assistants yelling into their phones. The Director’s secretary appeared at his office’s doorway, reaching out to shut the door.

“Leave it,” The Director said. He slipped Stuart’s report in the trash and pulled out a paper from underneath his stack. The Director’s next report was due by four o'clock, as it was every day.
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