by Walter Campbell
“What the hell are you doing?” Kelly asks.
I don’t respond right away, even though she has all the right in the world to ask me what the hell I’m doing crouched behind the copier with a huge kitchen knife.
What I’m doing is waiting to ambush Ryan Miller, but I can’t tell her that because she’ll just discourage me.
“Oh my God, don’t do it, he has super strength,” or, “Butm Will, he’s got guns built into his shoulders,” or, “Be careful because he can control wooden objects with his mind.”
But sometimes you just gotta be like, “Listen I’m going to kill this monster of a coworker because someone’s got to or he’ll keep ruining the lives of his employees until the end of the world, or at least until this failing sports drink company files for bankruptcy, and we’ll never get a chance to date.”
I first met Ryan Miller three months ago at the interview for my current position as a sales rep.
“Why,” Ryan asked me, leaning over the large table between us like a leopard leaning out of a tree, “would I want you on my team? What are you going to bring to this job that no one else can?”
“Determination. Dedication. And dead serious attention to detail,” I spat back. I felt so full of shit.
“Goddamnit, I like that answer. That answer gives me an erection!”
Ryan jumped up and swept his 115 pound, 5’5” body across the room. I took his hand firmly in mine, and shook it, looking down at the elated little man before me.
“You’ve got the damn job, you definitely do. Now, I want you here tomorrow morning at 6 a.m. We start early because we sell sports drinks, and do you know the one quality that doesn’t sleep in?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Athleticism. There are athletes out there right now, and they need some Goddamn sports drinks, don’t they?”
I wanted to shrug, and say something like, “Maybe, but they could also just have water and a snack, right?” But knowing that an answer like that would get me fired only minutes after I’d been hired, I told him that hell yeah they needed sports drinks.
Ryan ushered me out, telling me multiple times not to hit my head on the doorframe, even though I’m only 5’10”.
“You’re a tall son of a bitch, you know that?”
“I guess I am. I never really thought of myself as that tall.”
“No, trust me, you’re tall. Like the Jolly Green giant, except there’s no way I’m letting you peddle vegetables. High fructose corn syrup and caffeine are as close as we come to vegetables, and really what’s better for an athlete: vegetables or sports drinks?”
“Exactly, sports drinks. Glad you’re on board with our company mission. See you at six.”
When I showed up at 6 a.m., Ryan wasn’t at his desk. Instead, I was blessed with quite possibly the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. She glowed like a fake tan, except that she didn’t have a fake tan; what I mean is that she metaphorically glowed as though she were covered in spray-on tanning product. Looking at her made me feel like I was drunk on tequila shots, and this rap song with a totally excellent bass was playing in the background, and I was staring at a lake coated with a layer of dusk sun. Or something.
“Hi, I’m Will. Ryan told me to be here at six. I’m new,” I said nervously, extending my hand. She didn’t shake it.
“I know,” she sighed. “I’m Kelly. Will put me in charge of getting you set up this morning, so it’s because of you that I had to wake up two hours early.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know he was going to make you come in early for me,” I stumbled, still too stunned by her tequila-spray-on-tan-like beauty to come up with anything better.
“Forget it,” she said, groggily rising from her seat. “It’s Ryan’s fault, not yours.”
“What’s Ryan’s fault?” an older man, somewhere in his fifties, asked from the doorway.
“Nothing, Dave. Just complaining about the time of day,” Kelly said.
“6 a.m., time to sell sports drinks. That’s what I always tell Ryan. Good employee that one; soaks up my lessons like a vampire soaking up blood, or paper towels soaking up my spilled whiskey before my wife gets home and yells at me for being an alcoholic, you know what I mean Wilbert?” Dave said, extending his hand.
“Actually, it’s William,” I said, shaking it.
“Sorry about that. Ryan told me it was Wilbert. I think. Regardless, welcome aboard. You ready to sell some sports drinks, Bill?”
“You bet I am, sir. And actually, I go by Will. Full name’s William, and I go by Will.”
“I hear you, Willy.”
“Thanks, and actually it isn’t Willy, it’s—”
“Sure, Warren,” Dave said, and then turned to Kelly. “Now, Kerry, I’ll be in my office if you need me, but I’ll be really drunk, so I’d prefer if you only interrupted if there’s an emergency.”
“Of course, Dave,” Kelly said softly.
“Great!” Dave reached into his pocket and pulled out a flask. “Now you two sell those drinks, and when Ryan gets in, tell him to bring that beer hat he promised right over.”
“Of course, Dave.”
Dave fumbled his way to the door
“Also, Kitty, make sure they tap the keg when they deliver it today. Ryan didn’t ask them to last time, and I had to saw it open.”
“Of course, Dave.”
Once Dave disappeared, Kelly told me who to call, what to say, how many calls to make, and how no matter what I did, I’d never sell a single drink because the drinks tasted awful, didn’t rejuvenate athletes, and in a few instances, mysteriously caused hepatitis infections.
“But in spite of all this, you still need to try. This business and large quantities of booze are all that Dave has left.”
“Also, if you don’t make any calls, Ryan will torture you with the sound of a thousand children dying.”
I’d heard some weird shit up to that point, but none of it had made me actually question my hearing until that. I was relieved. She couldn’t have possibly said what I thought she said, and so all the other weird shit that Ryan and Dave had said must have been products of bad hearing as well.
“I’m sorry, I think I misheard you.”
“Did you hear me say that Ryan would torture you with the sound of a thousand children dying?”
“Did you say a thousand children dying?”
She nodded, and then nodded again at my very confused expression.
“Quick, before he gets here, let’s go through a little Ryan lesson. Ryan’s a demonic creature born in the fiery layers of earth’s core. One of his parents was half-demon, half-human, and the other was full human, so Ryan’s only a quarter demon, but he makes up for the three quarters of his humanity by doing a whole lot of awful things. Among them is perfectly reproducing the sound of a child dying from an infinitely painful death – think machetes, or fires, or being forced to eat broccoli – and then he amplifies that sound a thousand times. It’ll make you cry for at least a week, but it’ll also motivate you to work harder, and that’s what Ryan’s all about. Ryan really, truly believes we can turn this company around.”
“You’re fucking right I do,” Ryan said. “Thanks for helping out, Kelly. I was slaughtering goats for the monthly sacrifice. Totally forgot about it yesterday when I told you to come in early, Will, and Kelly here was kind enough to cover for me.”
Kelly walked back to her desk without the slightest acknowledgment of Ryan, and sat down across from Cindy who glowed like a spray-on tan. Cindy actually (not metaphorically) glowed like a spray-on tan because she actually had a spray-on tan. She also never wore underwear, always wore skirts, and never crossed her legs, and at that very moment, Cindy flashed her cooch in Ryan’s direction, and Ryan, being a demon with no heart and soul, look at it ravenously, before forcibly tearing his head away, and shaking it rapidly at the speed of sound.
“Will, it’s time for you to make phone calls,” Ryan said, patting me on the back. “And Cindy, it’s time for you and I to chit-chat. Isn’t it, Cindy?”
Cindy would have blushed red if she weren’t already spray-on-tan orange.
I walked to my desk, and started calling people, all of whom either hung up on me or asked me if I thought hepatitis was a Goddamn joke. But every hour, Kelly walked by to fill her cup at the water cooler, graceful like a swan floating through autumn leaves on a pond, so I kept calling.
Following that first day, I was allowed to arrive at 8:00 a.m. and each day I’d get to the door at the same time as Kelly. We’d say cordial things like, “Hi, how was your weekend?” “Is Dave still drinking himself into oblivion?” and “Does Ryan crack his third or his fourth spinal cord when he stretches after sitting too long?”
A few days later, after overhearing Ryan ask Cindy if she’d allow his hell spawn to gestate in her womb until the Day of Judgment, I decided I was not only going to talk to Kelly at the door, but I was also going to synchronize my water breaks with her.
The first two times I was late. All I got was a quick whiff of her flower-scented perfume as she walked back to her desk. Kelly was a fast water refiller, and I was a slow stalker. The third time, though, I waited for the flapping of her sandals from four doors down, and when I heard them, long before I could smell flowers, I made my move, reaching the water cooler just before she did.
“Hey, Kelly, how’s it going?”
“It’s good, Will. Thanks,” she said with a sigh.
“You sure?” I asked, hoping I wasn’t overstepping any bounds by inquiring into her sigh.
“Yeah, it’s just… Will, have you messed anything up yet?”
“Nothing I know of,” I truthfully told her. She didn’t respond right away, so I filled in the silence. “But I bet I have. I just haven’t been caught, you know?”
“Well, when you are caught, let’s just say Ryan comes down on you hard.”
She cringed a little like she’d just tried the sports drink, and started to move away from the water cooler, but I spoke before she could go, and not just because I thought she was super hot and super cool, but also because I needed to hear more about Ryan.
“What do you mean? What does he do? Are you talking about the thousand dying children thing? Because I overheard Kyle getting the thousand dying children treatment the other day, so I have an idea of how bad that is.”
I looked down the hallway at Kyle who was still sprawled on the floor just outside of his office door, foaming at the mouth, grinding his teeth, and staring unblinkingly at the ceiling. He’d wet and soiled himself a few times, but Ryan had been kind enough to burn his urine and feces away with hellfire, so none of us had to smell it.
“Poor Kyle,” she sighed with a look of super hot sympathy that made me extremely horny. I crossed my legs and leaned back a little bit to hide the forming boner. “But no, not the thousand dying children thing. Worse than that.”
“I’d rather not talk about it, if that’s okay.”
“Not okay at all, Kali,” Dave slurred, falling towards the water cooler, filling a glass, taking a swig, and spitting it out violently. “What the hell is this crap?”
“It’s water, Dave,” Kelly told him.
“No wonder. Disgusting. When did this thing stop dispensing vodka?”
“I don’t think it ever dispensed vodka,” Kelly told him.
“Really? Who’s running this mess of an office? No vodka in the vodka cooler? I’m going to have to leave Ryan a note on his desk.’”
“Or you could just write him an email.”
“We have email? Well, I’ll be damned, Katie. Now what was it that you didn’t want to tell Wilfred?”
“Nothing, Dave, nothing.”
“Oh, don’t give me any of that. What was it? We don’t keep secrets in this office, and it’s important that Warner learns that, so set a good example and fill us in.”
Kelly once more looked like she’d had a sip of the sports drink, but she exhaled and began.
“I was on the phone with that middle school in San Jose—”
“Our best clients ever!” Dave yelled.
“And they told me that they no longer wanted to purchase our drinks—”
“Worst clients we have!”
“Because half their school now has hepatitis and a new strain of polio.”
“That’s all a bunch of lies.”
“Well, even still, I felt bad for them, so I let them cancel their account with us. But really, I think they would have cancelled it no matter what; they sounded pretty upset. But Ryan found out, and he was furious.”
“I bet he was. Damn good employee, that Ryan.”
“He… Dave, he marked all of the middle schools administrators for Hell. Then he took control of their minds, and not only made them reinstate their account with us, but also made them add a middle school course on torture and mutilation.”
“That’s disturbing,” Dave said, pulling a beer from his back pocket and shotgunning it sheepishly. “But that Ryan sure knows how to sell sports drinks.” Dave burped.
“I guess. If you call that ‘selling.’”
“I call anything that keeps this company afloat ‘selling.’ Now, was that all that you didn’t want to tell Wilbur?”
“Not quite. There’s also the way Ryan punished me for losing the account. First, he submerged me into a virtual reality in which my family was being flogged with whips made of acid. I was restrained and watching from a distance, and each time I tried to break free from my restraints, extra acid was added to the whips. Then, once he brought me out of that, he charred my skin with the heat of a million suns.”
Her delicate skin looked perfectly soft, smooth, sexy, and uncharred.
“And then, once I’d fully experienced that pain in all of its unimaginable agony, he reversed the damage, a process that was just as painful, but left me clear of burn marks so that I’d bear no evidence of his torture.”
A few tears slid free.
Dave reached into his other pocket and produced five mini bottles of tequila, downed each, tossed the empty containers in the trash, and said, “He’s a damn good motivator, that Ryan. His methods might be unorthodox, but boy does he keep you guys working hard.”
With that Dave stumbled to his office to sample the mojitos he’d asked Cindy to make.
This time, Kelly didn’t make a move for the hallway. She held her cup of water so loosely that I worried it was going to slip out of her grasp at any second.
“I’m sorry, Kelly.”
She seemed to awaken a little, and her grip tightened just enough that I stopped worrying about the cup.
“It’s okay. It’s done now, and no permanent damage, right?”
“Right. But that’s awful. That’s terrible”
I nodded. I had this weird urge I’d never really felt before: a rush of anger like an eighteen-wheeler that just lost control on black ice and was spinning out at full speed. It must be how Ryan felt all the time.
“Fuck Ryan. He’s such an demonic asshole,” I said, and Kelly laughed. Just a little laugh, but a laugh.
“Yeah,” she said, “fuck Ryan. He’s a demonic douchebag.”
She laughed a little more.
“Hey, boys and girls,” Ryan said, coming down the hallway, “hey, hey, hey, you guys. Looks like you tools aren’t working. Lame! You know what that does? That gives me an anti-erection. You guys are going to need to work twice as fast, or I won’t be able to reach full mast, and you’ll have to pay for my managerial Viagra,” Ryan said, joyfully slapping us both on the back. Kelly cringed again, and this time, I did too.
The next day, I synchronized my water break again.
“Kelly, do you want to go to dinner with me tonight? There’s an Italian place nearby.”
“Oh, Will, I’d love to.”
“Great!” I tried not to sound too much like a boy peeing himself in ecstasy on Christmas morning, but I sort of failed.
“But I can’t.”
“Why not?” I tried not to sound too much like a boy shitting himself in fear as a B52 bomber strafes the living room where all his Christmas presents are.
Before answering, she looked left, right, and behind.
“I can’t because of Ryan,” she whispered.
“You’re dating Ryan?” I tried not to sound too much like a boy who just found out the B52 was circling back to bomb him directly.
“No! Definitely not,” she said, looking like I’d just accused her of bombing me on Christmas morning. “But he has… possession of me. He’s claimed me.”
“Yeah, but not just me. Every woman in this office has been claimed as candidates to carry his demonic seed, and when a demon puts you under possession—even a quarter demon—it’s impossible to have a romantic or physical relationship with another man.”
She explained it as though it were a recipe for banana bread or instructions for changing oil. No big deal, just your standard demon pregnancy possession.
I tried to respond nonchalantly so that she wouldn’t feel weird about the whole thing.
“It does,” she said.
“So, like, there’s nothing you can do about it?”
“Not unless Ryan dies. Ryan’s death would set me free, and set all the other women in the office free, too.”
“Ryan can be killed? A demon can be killed?”
“Killed isn’t the right word. Banished back to his infernal pit deep within the earth’s core? That’s probably more accurate.”
Again, banana bread and oil changes.
“Do you happen to know how exactly one banishes a demon like Ryan?”
“Actually, yeah, I do. One time at a happy hour, Ryan got completely hammered after sixty Jägerbombs, and started hitting on Beth. Beth’s no longer here because Ryan lit her house on fire with the fire of ten thousand fires because she broke up with him to date Todd, who also lost his house in a fire. Beth survived the fire, but decided that was the last straw, and she quit. Ryan’s since marked her for eternal damnation. Anyways, that night was before they started dating, and he was hitting on her, and she wasn’t feeling it then, so she continued to snub him, and finally he screamed ‘Why don’t you just carve out my heart with a knife, and banish me to a permanently hellish existence!’ Very melodramatic when he’s drunk.”
Her sadness crept through as she spoke. She was gorgeous in spite of it, and I had this irresistible urge to pull her lips into mine, bringing her body as close as possible as though if I drew her close enough, we’d meld.
“Will, what the hell are you doing?”
I stand up slowly, raising my hands to show the butcher knife.
“Oh, Will, no. He’s got guns built into his shoulders. They’re buried beneath his scapula. He’ll kill you before you can even get the first stab in.”
“No, he won’t.”
Kelly spins around to see Dave wobbling into the room.
“He won’t use his built-in shoulder guns,” continues Dave. “He’ll throw you against the wall with the force of a hundred elephants, and then he’ll ruin your life.”
“How do you know that?” I ask.
“Wilbur, five years ago when I wanted to have an affair with Cindy – beautiful, tan Cindy – I tried the same thing you’re trying now. Cut his heart out to free Cindy from his demonic possession, right?”
“Didn’t go so well. Not only did I break three ribs when he threw me into the wall, but he also branded my wife for demonic possession. Plus, I never got to have an affair with Cindy.”
Neither Kelly nor I have a response.
“Point is, don’t do it, William Carlos Williams. At a bare minimum, you’ll break a few bones, and in all likelihood, the rest of your life will be ruined. Forget Kelly, and go meet some nice non-possessed girl at a bar or a café or a strip club. No offense, Kelly.”
“None taken,” she says, seeming to have taken a little. “I’d love to date you, Will. I really would, but Dave’s right. It’s not worth whatever he’ll do to you when you try to kill him.”
“Try to kill who?” Ryan seethes.
“Oh, Jesus, I need a shot,” Dave says, stumbling past Ryan.
“It’s nothing, Ryan. Really nothing,” Kelly says.
“Is that true, Will?”
He’s giving me an out, a chance to tell him that I wasn’t trying to eternally damn him, and to walk away unscathed, all forgotten. I’m about to take it, I really am, but then Kelly looks at me.
Her overriding expression implores me to take the out. “We can be friends,” it says. “Who needs to date when there’s a hellish monster between us, right?”
But the expression beneath that, which she’s doing her very best to hide, says, “Oh, Will, I can’t do this anymore. Please free me, and we can get lattes together and talk about how substandard many politicians are and the shallowness of celebrity role models.”
I do a little hiding of expressions, too, and nod at Ryan.
“It is true,” I say, and he smiles. He turns his head, and in that instant when he’s looking away but still facing my direction, I leap like a tiger, pouncing to the top of the copier, jumping over Kelly, flying onto Ryan, and plunging the knife into his chest.
He wails the wail of a million warriors, and with the force of a hundred elephants, he launches me, and as he does, my knife wrenches back inside him and grabs his heart like a lever. I, with my weak human strength, would never have been able to operate that lever, but aided by the strength of a hundred elephants, the lever rockets Ryan’s heart through his chest. I hit the cabinets with a thud, and so does his heart.
There’s a moment – as he screams the scream of a hundred dying deer – when every woman in the office, most notably Kelly, glows with a radiance that’s well beyond spray-on tans.
“Thanks,” Kelly says after Ryan vanishes, screeching a slew of Latin as he goes. I nod, but I start to feel a bit nauseous, and notice that I’m having severe abdominal pain.
“Your eyes are a little yellow,” she tells me nervously.
“What was the last word Ryan said? Did you hear it?”
I gulp nervously, hoping it wasn’t what I think it was.
“I did,” she says, cringing. “‘Hepatitis.’ He said, ‘hepatitis.’”
I feel a wave of exhaustion and dizziness, and it must show, because she hurriedly starts talking again.
“Don’t worry, I have hepatitis too! He cursed me with it last year when I refused to sleep with him!”
She glows like a fake tan again, and my abdominal pain subsides a little. I think I’ll kiss her now.
WALTER CAMPBELL lives and works in Philadelphia. Recently, his work has been published in Dog Oil Press, Six Sentences, Dogzplot, Weirdyear, Toasted Cheese, Vestal Review, Eclectic Flash, and Flashshot.