This is my first official short story from the Elbie reality. I actually posted it on my personal blog but this is an alternate version of that story with one critical change. I hope you enjoy it.
The innocuous looking box sits on the corner of David’s desk, perfectly aligned to the edges. He likes it when his assistant does that. The shipping label is nondescript and gives no indication of what company it is from or what kind of products they offer. Completely inert and yet he feels his blood pressure rising at the thought of its contents.
David doesn’t believe in destiny. Such mystical notions are childish. Feature articles, podcast interviews, blog posts, and personal appearances all tout his brilliance and his quiet climb to power from a humble patent clerk to the Director of the Unites States Patent and Trademark Office in only a matter of months. The American dream prescribes hard, honest work to be rewarded with a rich and fulfilling life. Whenever someone bestows accolades on him for his forward thinking and innovative genius this is the line he gives them.
When asked, he claims to have done nothing extraordinary. He makes decisions and takes risks that make sense in their context. It’s what anyone would do given the same information and options. It is a source of constant bafflement to him. It’s all so obvious and natural to David. One step leads to the next logical step, then another, and so on. Simple. All the fuss and analysis really is unnecessary.
David had spent years as a clerk, doing the work set before him, never looking for anything more than the next stack of documents to file, his next paycheck, the next government mandated holiday. All “I”s were dotted and all “T”s were crossed. Then one day he took a step back and he could see the whole picture and not just the one square inch allotted to him. And for the first time in his life he had decided to do something about what he saw, to be the agent of change in the world, as suggested by greater men.
But in truth it wasn’t just any day. It had been a succession of days that had changed him. He doesn’t like thinking that this is the case and he tells himself it was just coincidence, but it has never let him go.
It was the same as any other day because that was how he liked it. Order. Routine. No surprises. At the time he had had the same address for forty years. The same barber for fifteen. The same alarm clock since he was in college. He called his sister every Sunday at 6pm. He wrote his nephew once a month. He paid his bills as soon as they were due and he never answered the door unless the person had called ahead. The postman knew to use a special knock.
Leaves were changing from bright summer green to yellow as autumn settled in. He had his lunch in the usual place, a small park across the street from the office. Right bench, right side, in case someone else wanted to sit on the same bench. But they never did. Turkey, cheddar, mustard, no mayo. When he was feeling adventurous it would be Monterey Jack instead. Otherwise his lunch was as predictable as his schedule.
As he ate his sandwich and thought about the order of actions he would take after lunch, a woman walked into the small park. She wore plain brown flats, a skirt that covered her knees and a cardigan over her button up top. She looked around the parklet uncertainly. Their eyes met. She smiled. David looked away and pretended to be searching for something in his lunch bag.
“Hello.” The girl said to him as she sat down. On his bench. On the far side of it, but there were at least two other benches she could have picked from. She set her thermal bag in her lap and started organizing her food around her. Since it seemed like she did not require a response he kept eating, making sure his interest was on watching the birds in the trees or anything else that would discourage conversation.
After she had laid out her meal, she opened her fruit cup and started eating. Within a few bites she looked at him. “I’m Pandora.” She took another fork full of peaches. “I know, I know. My mom’s name was Cassandra. I guess my parents decided to go with the tragic Greek figure theme. I’ll have to name my daughter Persephone. In a way all Greek figures are tragic, don’t you think?” She looked at him but moved on without him. In this manner she talked the whole time. Including him in her conversation but requiring nothing of him.
On the third day of this she asked for his name.
He already knew that she was a receptionist temp from the building across from his. Her favorite pet growing up was her cat Spotty who was mostly black but had a white spot on his forehead and chest, thus the reason for the name. Her major in college was English and her favorite course was the political satire of the late seventeen hundreds. Mustard was too tart as food but the best color for fall leaves. All of this, and more, had been offered to him, giving his name in return couldn’t hurt.
“David.” He answered after a moment.
“So glad to meet you, David.” She held out her hand.
He had not expected that. He did not want to be rude. He wiped his hands on a napkin, her hand suspended in mid–air waiting for his. He forced a smile and took her hand. Her palm was hot, as if she had just been holding a fresh cup of tea. She released his hand and picked up her fruit cup.
“David is such a great name.” They continued their meal as she went about explaining who her favorite David’s were through history.
So it went for several days, each getting shorter and the sun colder than the last. They both wore additional layers but still ate at the same time and place as they had all the days prior.
“It’s supposed to snow late tonight.” David reported and took a sip from his thermos, letting the steam warm his face.
Pandora looked to the sky and took a deep breath. “Today’s my last day.”
David didn’t know what to say. He had become accustomed to her conversations. Sitting on the park bench alone no longer appealed to him. “Oh.”
“Yeah, I start a new assignment tomorrow.” She set down her fruit cup and looked at him. “Thank you for being my friend.”
He had never been one for words, but now he found he was completely devoid of them. David nodded his head.
She placed her hand on top his wrist. It was hot to the touch, more so than it had been the when they shook hands. He shivered.
“You’re sweet. Good-bye, David Dresher.”
Her hand was still on his wrist. He had never told her his last name.
She leaned forward and pressed her lips to his cheek. His brain failed him, neither flight or fight had kicked in, he was paralyzed, stuck to that park bench like he was a part of it. The world burned white hot as he tried recall how she could know his last name.
He had been kissed once before, by a girl in his music class. They sat next to each other every day, sharing the same music stand as they played clarinet. They had been practicing in one of the sound proof rooms for an upcoming concert. They were the only clarinetists and there was to be a ten bar solo, they both wanted it to be perfect. He was the better player and he had stayed after school to give her pointers. Just before leaving she hugged him and kissed him on the cheek. It was so sudden he didn’t know what to do. She giggled and waved at him as she rushed out the door leaving young David in a daze.
A digital beeping snapped him out of the memory. He looked down at his calculator watch. Lunch was over. He looked around. He was alone. Not only that, he had his sandwich in his hands, paused midway to his mouth. There was no sign of Pandora anywhere. He threw the sandwich in the garbage and rushed back to work.
As usual, he went into the bathroom to wash up before returning to his tasks. As he looked at himself in the mirror he noticed the blush of pink lips on his cheek. A sudden drumming pounded in his ears, he felt light headed. He used extra soap to make sure there was no trace of pigment on his skin. He checked the mirror again, the reflection of the fluorescent bulbs against the black marble walls were brighter than usual. He looked at the vent above the sinks blowing out hot air and pulled his sweater off. He was burning up. He would make an appointment with his doctor right away.
As he returned to work something happened. People looked at him. Some of them even smiled. “Good lunch?” Eric from accounting clapped him on the back as he past him in the hallway. “Beautiful sweater.” Shelly from HR commented as she cruised by his cubicle. Anyone who walked by him said something or did something. Friendly gestures and casual comments had not been part of his prior interactions with his co-workers. Usually they looked past him like he was an apparition that haunted the hallway but now they took notice of him.
He called his doctor. Diagnosis, negative. More than negative. Since his last check up, less than six months ago, his blood pressure was down and his insulin levels had evened out. The friendly gestures and casual comments led to actions. People asked him out to lunch and he accepted, with reluctance at first. Within a few short months he had friends. There were people in his life that wished him happy birthday and asked him to their house for celebrations.
When the snow had thawed and the sun warmed, he returned to the park when he could but Pandora never did.
Whenever he wonders about how she learned his full name, a sadness comes over him and he misses her quite kindness. Her friendship had done something to him. Thinking back on those days it’s like he is watching another person living that life. He feels no association to the man he had been. What matters is who he was now.
The box waits for his attention. After cutting the tape he peels back the four sides and looks down on a pile of biodegradable foam pellets. Dipping his hands into the pile his fingers find another box within. A smaller silver box shimmers with an electrical current as he brings it closer.
He sits down at his desk and sets the box in front of him. This technology has been available for some time but it was only now that he found the resolve to acquire it. After taking a deep breath he flips up the lid. He feels pressure throbbing in his temples.
A shining silver bracelet gleams under the track lighting. There are no markings of any kind, just a band of black that runs around its center. It is open at the back so it can be put on easily. Once the ends are snapped shut the device will activate. A small card wedged into the lid reads: DPA Certified Technology.
The item is not from the Department of Planetary Affairs directly but it has passed their standards which are the highest in regards to these matters. Certainty is what David wants. The banishment of doubt is what he is looking for.
No matter how many times he thinks it through or the number of possible explanations he can devise for the changes in his life he always comes back to the same conclusion: Elbie.
As beings of pure energy they are easily passed from one person to another. He does not display any of the usual signs of a host; accelerated healing, interference with electronics, or waking visions. No one ever mentions self-confidence or a social life as possible side effects of being a host but there is one way to know for sure.
He is ready for the truth.
He takes his sweater off first. It is always too hot in his office. He will have to tell his assistant to check the thermostat.
Just put the band on. In a few minutes he will know if all he is today is something he had found within the depths of himself or is the result of an outside entity that has been planted there by a friend.
David takes the item out of the box and slips it over his wrist. Blue for Elbie-free, red for not. He snaps the ends shut.
He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. Does knowing change anything? What will he do if he has one? Will he register or ask for it be removed? His life has only improved over the years. He is the same person he was ten years ago, just more involved with his world.
His mind fills with burning white heat, like the center of new born star. He can hear the blood rushing in his ears. He opens his eyes. The silver band is settled in its silver box. David closes the lid. He will have his assistant return it to the company this afternoon. This is who he is and there is no changing that.
Copyright © Pat Griffith 2013