Some stories sing. Some howl at the moon like the love child of Boo Radley and a Gong Show contestant. Others, well, others sing, but really, it’s only in the shower, once the wife and kids have gone out, and nobody is around to take the piss because the story happens to know all the words to Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go and insists on doing all of George Michael’s dance moves in the wet, slippery nude.
After the number of rejections the following story has received, I’ve worked out which song it’s singing, and it’s short enough that those of you who care can experience a free read of a story that never quite made it.
So, for your reading pleasure, or otherwise, a freebie:
Meanwhile, in a cubicle some way distant from the main story, a man sat back from his computer’s strobing screen, loosened his tie, and experienced the type of epiphany the rest of us have to watch the right movie to believe in.
Orders died part-way up the throats of generals. Massed ranks of slavering Orc-demons checked their watches, shuffled from foot to foot to keep the circulation going, and glanced about, calculating the chances of maybe, just for a minute, dropping their battle shields and lighting a quick fag without anyone in command catching them at it. Far above, in a sky so distant it was more velvet than blue, the intercontinental bombers of the US Air Force circled in mile-wide loops like so many hungry seagulls on autopilot. Cards were dealt. Bets were placed. Coins changed hands in silent camaraderie. All except for one lonely aircraft at the periphery of the armada, where a role-playing game called ‘Mafia’ entered its third round.
It could all resume at any moment. The war for truth. Or freedom. Justice. You know. That one.
Any moment at all.
No longer defined by his cubicle, so insignificant to the scheme of things that I don’t even know his name to tell you, not even really our hero, the man closed his boss’ door for the last time, took a moment to drain the last cold swish of coffee from his cup, and dropped his security pass at the front desk. A puff of air-conditioned cold pushed him from the building forever. He inhaled the smells of the street, looked left, then right, and strode away, the cardboard box in his grasp holding the few reminders he wished to retain.
In an unnamed pass, high in a mountain range at the edge of the world, turbaned teenagers passed around spliffs and tuned a radio to catch the latest scores. Men in balaclavas clung to ropes above them, calling out “There, no there, there!” in strange accents as the static receded. Deep within the most important building in the world, a silver-haired man in a suit more expensive then your life threw a red telephone against the wall and sat with his arms crossed, glowering at the world he imagined lay outside.
Queens trumped Jacks. Shields were lowered. A tail gunner looked at his crewmates, smiled convincingly, and said “I am not Mafia” as they voted.
Nothing was over, of course. Not without some sort of resolution. It would never cease, no matter what happened at this moment. But just for this moment, this one, small moment…
After dinner, with a newly-purchased bouquet fanned out above the lip of a vase, and a half-bottle of red between them on the carpet, the man with no cubicle shared his epiphany with his wife, and held his breath.
Orc-demons stared at one another. Pilots looked up from their cards. The most important building in the world grew silent. As far as a galaxy far, far away, even as far as that, weapons were lowered. Everyone stopped, and waited, and watched.
The man’s wife reached out and ran a single fingernail down the side of his jaw.
“I love you so much,” she said, and brought his smile down to her lips.
A soccer ball struck the mud midway between two lines of trenches. Slowly at first, then with greater assurance, men of both sides emerged to shake hands, to hug, to swap chocolate and whiskey and photographs from home.