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The Howler on the Sales Floor
Fluorescent lights embedded in the drop ceiling flickered and pulsed faster than the human eye can perceive, but for eyes formed in the ancient whirling chaos of the Maelstrom, they bathed the conference room in a pleasant light. It was enough to drive a man insane. Luckily, Nya had been born of insanity. The chaotic lights comforted him.
Nya sat at a conference table and sipped his stale coffee. Bob Dudly, his frumpy manager, a balding man with an unkempt neck beard and thick-rimmed glasses sat across from him. Bob sat next to Julia Andersen, a she-devil from beyond the void. It was Nya’s quarterly review, and his cowardly manager had summoned reinforcements in the form of the pencil-skirt-wearing, austere woman with aquiline features and a command of the darkest arts of the known and unknown cosmos: human resources.
“Nya, your sales numbers are exquisite, as always.” Bob flipped through a manila folder, each turn of the page jostled his garish tie. Not even in the deepest pits of madness had Nya seen such hideous patterns. His mind, though forged in a crucible of insanity, struggled to comprehend a reality in which such a tie could exist.
Bob asked, “Just as I did last quarter, I need to ask how you do it?”
“My clients see the embodiment of despair and madness in my eyes, and the futility of their existence is laid bare before them. Then they cannot help but buy paper in vast quantities in a vain attempt to cover the dark revelations from seeping into the world,” Nya projected the thought deep into Bob’s mind and resisted smiling when the man twitched. “Tell me how much my mortal compensation is due to be increased.”
Julia fixed her cold green eyes on his. “Do you really think this is an appropriate time to ask for a raise?” Her perfume, aromatic oils suspended in whale vomit, if he didn’t miss his mark, both repulsed him and enticed him.
“Is it not my quarterly review?”
“Of course it is, Nya. Relax,” Bob said.
Julia asked, “How many times has HR needed to remind you about projecting dark realities in to the minds of your coworkers?”
“This is how my people speak.”
She didn’t flinch. He met her unyielding eyes and bit back a snarl. He didn’t let the sharp lines of her face, her blonde hair, or any other quality that might sway a mortal subject to the whims and desires of the mortal flesh distract him. What a terrible adversary.
“Seven,” he said aloud.
“Make it eight,” Julia said. “We need to talk about Daryl.”
“I am not responsible for Daryl’s weak mind.” Nya concentrated on forming the words with his tongue and not his consciousness.
“You reduced the poor man to a gibbering husk,” Bob countered. “Drive competitors insane, fine. Torment clients into signing purchase orders, and as long as the numbers are good, we can live with it. But your coworkers are your family.”
“My family exists in planes beyond mortal comprehension. They would not be unable to withstand my voice.”
Julia opened her plain black leather portfolio. “After Daryl’s manager wrote you up and asked HR to conduct an investigation, you said in your report: ‘I am the messenger of the Maelstrom, the Devouring Will made flesh.’ You continued to say that you ‘opened Daryl’s eyes to the coming of the Storm whose dominion is madness and pain beyond comprehension.’” She leaned back and glared. “You can’t make threats like that!”
Nya sought to explain. “He was to ensorcel my computer back to functionality. Even in the Maelstrom, we did not have the blue screen of death. Was his job not information technology? Was his task not to fix such issues so I could return to selling paper, as is my task?”
“But, madness and pain beyond comprehension?” Bob did not meet Nya’s eyes.
“Not even the chaos lords of the maelstrom use microsoft word. What fresh hell is this place?”
“This place is Howel Percival Lomington, LLC,” Bob said, “And we have a very favorable contract with Microsoft for our suite of productivity software.”
“Bob, I think he was asking a rhetorical question.”
“The HR witch is right.”
Julia leaned forward, menacing. “Also, your coworkers have reported you for what is noted in your file as a ‘persistent use of archaic disrespectful language.’ You can’t call me a ‘witch!’” Julia slammed her hand on the table. “I’d also like to take this moment to remind you that ‘trollop’ and ‘churl’ are also inappropriate. Lastly, none of us can even figure out what ‘ebien,’ ‘eibata,’ or ‘temum’ mean, but your tone suggests they are disrespectful. I’m drawing a line in the sand on those too.”
“You would steal the words from my tongue, how is that not witchcraft?” Nya ground his teeth. The mortal coil he wore made violent expressions of impudent rage less dramatic than when he could lash out with tentacles of warped space and time.
“Given your history, this time there will be consequences,” Julia said. “You will undergo seven hours of sensitivity training, as well write a formal apology to Daryl, and the poor man’s psychiatrist. For God’s sake, we had to offer the psychiatrist a settlement just on account of the things Daryl said during therapy.”
Nya met the she-devil’s gaze, unwavering and cold in the flickering fluorescent light.
“You would make a good servant of the storm. My father would wield you as a great felling blade to reap the wheat of this world for the fire.”
“I think you’re a valuable member of the team, too,” Julia replied. “Don’t be late for your first sensitivity session, seven one-hour sessions at five p.m. after the next seven work days. Your first starts at five today in the Rolling Meadows conference room.”
“Five? But we have an office softball game tonight!”
“Well they’ll just have to manage without you,” Julia said. “And stop with the despair projections. That was the whole point of this meeting.”
“The infinite universes bend to a cold, dark, and hopeless end from which none will escape.” Nya stood from his chair and towered over his seated adversary. “I have sales calls to make.”
A line of white, the cord to his ear bud, dangled just on the edge of Nya’s vision. The dulcet tones of panpipes danced in his ears, distracting him from the endless rows and columns of sales figures that demanded his attention. He closed his eyes and thought of home, the deep places, the dark places where one could scream with wanton disregard of the clock, never attracting a noise complaint or eviction notices.
When he opened his eyes, the sales figures remained. A calendar with kittens frolicking with yarn hung on the wall of his cubicle. Eight days had passed since he clashed with human resources. He had endured his punishment, seven hours of droning from sensitivity counselors. He was the messenger of Maelstrom. It was his steadfast desire and mission to further the devolution of the mortal plane of existence into darkness, chaos, and entropy, and even he had hated those seven hours.
He took the last sip of too-cool coffee from his mug and frowned. He stood up and stalked away from his desk to the coffeepot, only to find it empty. He suppressed the urge to seek out the culprit who had failed to make a fresh pot to banish the scofflaw’s psyche to wander in an unending graveyard of the soul. He began instead to make a fresh pot.
“Good afternoon, Nya,” Marty, a short man from accounting wearing a mustard-yellow short-sleeved dress shirt said as he walked up to the coffee station. “You heart New York, eh?”
“What?” He spun to face the man, coffeepot in hand.
“The—uh—the mug,” Marty pointed at the white mug with a tiny red heart on it that Nya carried with him to the coffeepot.
“One day I will go to New York,” Nya intoned emotionlessly, returning his attention to the coffee.
“Yeah, it’s a cool place to visit.”
“I will go there and bring sermons of the beyond to its masses. I will show them the prophecies men dare not speak of.”
“Yeah, like a sales call presentation? I didn’t know we were expanding into the New York market, but sure. That sounds like a great idea.” Marty shifted his weight from foot to foot. “So, softball tonight? We need this game against IT. We’re behind them in the standings. We’ve missed you out there.”
“I will use my long arms and superior leverage,” Nya promised, “to send that tiny white sphere into dimensions beyond the outfield wall.”
“That’s—yeah. That’s the spirit. Hey, thanks for not, you know, doing that thing where you explode my mind with your voice.”
“Sensitivity training.” Nya flipped the switch on the coffeemaker. “I am told that mortals lose their grip on reality when I speak directly into the depths of their soul. The trainer said your kind finds it ‘unnerving.’”
“Something like that,” Marty said. “Anyway, see you at the diamond.”
Nya stood watching the dark coffee drip down into the pot, slowly filling the carafe with its bitter caffeinated bounty. He could wield nearly infinite power, and yet still he was at the mercy of this gadget taking its time with gurgles and bursts of steam to produce the nectar he needed to get through a long afternoon.
“I can’t believe you talk to him,” a soft feminine voice said from around a nearby corner. She spoke softly, but Nya’s ears were far keener than most humans realized.
“Hey, Angela,” Marty said. “He’s a little odd, but he’s not a bad guy.”
“Have you seen Daryl?” Angela said. “He can barely feed himself anymore. I’ve been waiting for him to fix my email signature for weeks, and all the man does now is mutter about ‘vagaries of infinite blackness’ and some nonsense about panpipes.”
“So maybe Nya went a little overboard. Tell me you’re not annoyed by the IT guys every once in a while.”
“Annoyed, maybe, but not enough to drive a man insane.”
“He’s a really good first baseman,” Marty said. “And we’ve still got a chance to catch IT in the standings.”
Nya filled his ‘I Heart NY’ mug. Without putting the carafe down, he took a deep drink of the scalding hot coffee. The sensitivity trainer had also told him that drinking coffee that was obviously so hot that it would burn his coworkers was another ‘unnerving’ trait. He frowned and added “wait for coffee to cool” to the list of things with power over him.
He raised the mug to his lips and blew on the surface of the coffee, gently dispersing the delicate tendrils of steam.
“Fine,” Angela said. “Just tell me that at least you didn’t tell him that we’re going to Finnegan’s after the game?”
“No, I figured the rest of you would want to ditch him, so I left that out.”
Enraged, Nya hurled the carafe into the floor without regard for the scalding coffee or the broken glass. He stormed around the corner of the cubicles that separated him from Angela and Marty.
Angela’s face paled and she backed away. A cubicle wall prevented her escape. Marty’s face blanched. He looked as if his bladder might fail him–just as Daryl’s had.
“My ears hear all things! I am good enough for the hitting of dingers for your softball team, but not good enough for the mutual consumption of alcohol?”
“It’s not like that, Nya,” Marty said as he backed away. Angela cowered.
“angela, prepare to confront the depths of the unspoken prophecy.”
Her eyes widened as she stared into the visions of dark inevitability he placed in her mind. With each passing second a chorus of unending pain–the majestic howls of souls lost to an eternity of torment–forced the sales floor from her vision. To Angela’s fraying consciousness, each moment passed at an agonizing, languid, pace. Nya allowed her to wallow in her despair and forced her into the embrace of an cold, uncaring, universe in which all she had ever held dear withered into the void.
Angela’s pupils dilated further, until they consumed her irises with inky blackness. The sweet cadences of her screams filled the office, lending the afternoon a peaceful calm.
Nya smiled and laughed. He cared not who might be unnerved by the earthly expression of his delight.
“Nya,” Bob shouted over Angela’s wailing as he came upon the scene. “Come on, man. We’ve talked about this.”
The manager knelt by Angela’s side, trying to comfort her, but Nya knew that she would never truly recover from the things he’d shown her.
“Perhaps if she underwent sensitivity training,” Nya offered, “she’d know not to excluding a family member from recreation.”
Marty slipped away around a corner of cubicles. Nya surveyed the office, people stood up, peering over cube walls with hesitant but implacable curiosity. He offered them all a glimpse of the darkness on the other side of the veil, for deep down, all wished for such visions.
“I’m going to have to write this up,” Bob threatened.
Nya smiled. Angela’s madness sustained him. It was time to test his strength against his most fearsome foe.
“I long to join battle once more. Summon me the devil from human resources!”
This story was first published in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 34, available on Amazon.
Edited by Steve Hovland
Jonathan Ficke lives outside of Milwaukee, Wis. with his wife and daughter. When he isn't writing, he turns lumber into sawdust and, when all goes according to plan, furniture. His fiction has been translated into Spanish and Estonian, and he muses online on Twitter at @jonficke and at JonFicke.com.