This particular phase of my life, the one that involves giant slugs, started a little over two years ago. It’s one of those things that seems much more recent and at the same time much, much longer. That always seems to happen when your life changes. I’d blame it on the rule-breaking craziness, but I feel the same way about my father passing into what he used to call “The Great Orgy in the Sky.” I never knew if he was being serious and sacrilegious or just plain old sacrilegious.
The craziness started on May 15th. I remember the date, because that was the day of the first of the incidents in the Brandywine Valley.
I got to work late, as Tabitha was only too happy to tell me.
“You’re late,” she said with too much pleasure as I flopped down into my desk chair.
“I know,” I said. “Don’t remind me.”
“Too late. Also you look like you haven’t showered in three days.”
“Gee, thanks. I’m glad you have it mapped out so precisely. Isn’t there someone else you could be bothering?”
“Nope.” There were plenty of people around taking phone calls, but as I looked I didn’t see any of Tabitha’s usual victims. At least two of them were scheduled to work that day; maybe they called out sick. People were always calling out sick at Lucky Travel, because the amount of money you made by staying home was only slightly smaller than the amount you made when you showed up.
“So why are you late?”
“Traffic,” I said. “There was a nasty accident on Brandywine.”
“Ooo, what happened?” she said, again with entirely too much relish.
“Looked like two cars smashed right into each other. Head on.”
She slid towards me and rested her arms on the back of my chair. I had to crane my neck around to look at her. “Was anyone killed?”
“How the hell should I know?”
“It’s pretty obvious,” she said. “Did you see corpses? Or sprays of blood coating the roadside? How many cops were there?”
The fact that no one butted in on this conversation says something about the job. Probably.
“Tabby, please,” I tried to shove her chair away, but she was wedged in amongst the narrow aisles. “Can you back off just a little? I’m already late here, and I was late on Monday. Jeff told me if he had to warn me again he was going to stick my headset up my ass. And not give me a new headset.”
“Back off?” she said, smirking. “Why? Do I make you…uncomfortable?”
I groaned. I couldn’t tell her she made me uncomfortable without feeling like a jackass, and she knew it. She’d probably been pushing me the whole time just so she stomp on this particular button with her unnecessarily long heels. Tabitha saw it as her duty to spread discomfort and then feed on it, like some kind of awkwardness vampire-vigilante. Right now she was wearing a bright yellow skirt and a tie-dyed shirt that said, “Black is Beautiful,” even though her skin was as white as a red-headed Irish man’s ass. Only, you know, in an attractive way. And I’m a jackass for saying that made me a little uncomfortable.
“No, it’s not that,” I said, stuttering. Her grin widened. “It’s just that I’m late. Did I mention the headset up my ass?”
She laughed. “So you’re late because of traffic. Why do you look like you’ve never heard of showering?”
I shrugged. “I always look like that.”
“That’s true. So what about that accident?”
It took more than five minutes to get rid of Tabitha. I had to promise her I would go out with her and a bunch of her friends after work before she would leave me alone. I didn’t want to go out—I never did those days– but I had to admit was impossible to go out with her and not have a good time. And just then I would have promised her anything to get rid of her. I probably got off easy.
The worst thing was that she didn’t even actually work there. She just hung around bothering the staff. I asked my supervisor why she was allowed to do that but I never got a straight answer. I asked Tabitha, too.
“I’m with the Red Cross,” she said.
“The Red Cross has someone stationed at Lucky?”
“The Red Cross is everywhere.” I decided not to go down that particular hypodermic rabbit hole.
With Tabitha finally gone I settled down into my area and signed into my phone panel. And my stat tracker. And my supervisor chat feature. And all of the three hundred other pieces of software I needed to tell ornery people about shitty vacation packages. I’d been a customer service representative at Lucky Travel for about a year and a half at that point. It only took about four months of that time before it had totally removed my soul like the 99 cent value menu version of Mephistopheles.
My headset beeped, and a customer’s creaky voice filled my ears.
“Thank you for calling Lucky Travel, where your luck is only just beginning,” I said. “My name is Darius, how can I help you?”
“Yeah, I got one of your travel packages for some kind of boat trip, and I have a question? When I’m on this boat, do I need to wear shoes? I don’t like shoes. It’s my vacation. I shouldn’t have to wear shoes.”
I sighed. The work day had begun.