It was immediately apparent that Ms. Smith and I would not get along well.
Firstly, she was the type to wear sunglasses indoors, and not because she was hungover. That would imply she had at least a modest penchant for fun, and Ms. Smith was clearly not fun. Furthermore, when I tried to speak directly at her, I found myself looking back into my own nervous eyes.
Like her furniture, her manner was uncomfortable and unnatural. Not to mention, she spoke to me as she would a child, reprimanding me with her artificial tone. She was sharp, she was precise, and I felt cornered by her the moment she first spoke. Ms. Smith, it seemed, was a human square.
“So,” She began, “What brings you here.”
“I- well, I think I’d like to begin searching for a career. And, uh, career services seemed like a logical start.” This response, as you might’ve already guessed, did not so much as elicit a smile from the Ms. Smith, rather it earned me an annoyed twitch of the mouth. A little flame started to burn behind those opaque shades. Evidently, the outlook of this meeting was even bleaker than I’d first reckoned.
“I see. Well, I’m glad that you’ve shown enough initiative to at least venture down here, Mr…?”
“Henry!” I offered, happy to give at least that morsel of information. Though it was clear that even the incontestable and inexorable fact that my name was Henry fell short of her standards.
Ms. Smith frowned.
“Uh huh…” She mumbled, typing away at her computer. Therein followed about a minute of this activity, periodically broken up by her taking sips from a mug on her right side. Perhaps this goes without saying, but the beverage of choice for Ms. Smith was coffee. Black coffee.
“Mr. Henry, what special skills do you have to offer in the work place?”
I mulled this one over, really trying to dig deep. I scoured the aisles of my library-mind, picking through shelves of useless talents and discarding anything I couldn’t market. Seconds later, I had a list. A short one, granted, but it was at least something.
Queue up item one.
“Uh, I’m good at tying knots.”
From behind her glasses, a pair of eyebrows shot up like two black cats startled by someone grabbing their tails. I plowed on regardless, before she had time to collect herself.
“I’m also good at exploring. I’ve led a great number of expeditions into the woods around my home, and I’ve fearlessly charted the inside of every abandoned house in the area. At night, too, mind you. In addition to that, I’m a fantastic archer. Yeah, that’s a good one, definitely mark that one down.”
I have my doubts that she marked that or any of my other aforementioned skills down, but after the second it took her to regain her composure, she did proceeded to do a great deal of typing. As seconds of this became minutes, I began to feel a little awkward.
“Uh, I also know how to make a spreadsheet.”
Ms. Smith mumbled something under her breath, but never stopped typing.
“Have you any ideas regarding the type of job you expect to secure with these skills?”
“Huh,” I reclined back in my chair and looked up at the ceiling. I racked my brain. There wasn’t any sort of conventional post that I could see myself in. Now that I thought about it, I don’t think I’d ever imagined myself pursuing a real career. Not one behind a desk anyway. I knew there were other types of jobs; jobs that put you out in nature, or had you traveling the world, but in this moment, the names escaped me. Certainly I’d imagined myself in the future; in a day dream, I saw myself as an old man sitting on a porch, mulling over old adventures come and gone. That was the only way I saw my future: as the past of my last dying days. Across the desk from me, the Ms. Smith mumbled something quietly to herself.
“What was that?” I asked, unable to make out the exact words.
“Nothing, nothing…” She said under her breath, barely paying me any mind. The next couple lines she muttered, but I was just able to discern them.
And as the Great Adventurer sat there
Pondering his future
“What are you saying?” I asked, furrowing my brow. I recognized that manner, that meter, that way of speaking, and reaching for my back pocket I felt for the note from months ago. The note that I’d carried with me every day, and had spent countless hours trying to decipher.
“Oh, nothing, just a little note for the report.”
“No you definitely called me-”
“Pay it no mind. Now moving on to the next question, where do you see yourself in the next twenty—”
The Ms. Smith was now typing furiously on the keyboard. I stood up and leaned across the table, reaching for the monitor.
“What are you doing?!” The exclamation began as a gasp and ended with an animal snarl. This woman, or demon, or what ever she was, cried out in protest, but it was too late.
I spun the monitor to face me and voilà: my life as an epic. Or a decent-sized portion of my life anyway, all written out in a style of prose reminiscent of that which I’d been seeing everywhere—beginning with the note.
I didn’t know what to do. Part of me was confused, but another was equally mortified, as there was a definite part of me that recognized, if not the exact nature of this revelation, at least the magnitude of it. Still… what was really going on here? Even as I stood there, dumbstruck, looking at the monitor, more and more words were filling the screen. Even my thoughts and feelings were bleeding their way onto the luminescent face. I did the only thing that I could:
I smashed the screen. I threw it to the ground and watched as it broke into a hundred irreparable pieces on the floor.
“You can destroy this version, but we have hundreds more on file,” Spat our lovely Ms. Smith.
Perhaps I was overreacting to all of this. Maybe this woman was only recording everything I was saying, doing, and, by some means far beyond my comprehension, thinking, but worse than all of that, there was still the poisonous thought that this was much more sinister. The words had been typed at the exact instant that I did the things that it spoke of… which came first? Chicken or egg? Did this woman simply record my actions at the exact moment that I did them, or did I perform the actions that she wrote.
I spun around like a wild-man, looking for a way out of this trap. There was no logical way out of this one. If I’m speaking honestly, though, logic was never quite my forte. As it so happened, though, there were a great many illogical and wondrous escapes that I could think of, and so I went with the most pragmatic illogical approach.
I grabbed a handful of pens and looked at the woman at the desk. She seemed entirely unsure of what I was going to do, which was at once reassuring and quite fair. Frankly, I was equally unsure—but she didn’t need to know that.
“I’m going to write my own story from now on.”
And with that, I pulled back and launched one of the pens at the wall where it stuck like a hatchet caught on a fallen log. A web of cracks stretched out in all directions around it, and before our eyes they grew until they touched the far reaches of the wall. For a moment, both the Ms. Smith and I just looked at the wall. Then the sounds of howling wind and a crashing akin to that of a wrecking ball filled the air as the wall was stripped away in pieces from the foundation of the building. There was a huge, sucking whoosh of air, and many objects in the room, including the Ms. Smith, were vacuumed from the room and into the sky.
Fortunately I had sought refuge behind the desk, and after a minute, the howling wind died down and it seemed safer by degrees to voyage out into the open. Upon inspection, it seemed as though we were no longer in the city, or even anywhere near it. Walking to the edge of the room where the wall used to be, I was able to look off into a vast sky that seemed to stretch in all directions infinitely. Here and there a cloud floated by, drifting lazily along in the wind. Below me I could see that the building had been entirely uprooted, with clumps of dirt clinging to the bottom and a series of pipes dangling in the air. Far, far below me there was what looked like a forest passing underneath the building at a rapid pace. For a moment, I thought to check on the rest of the building and its inhabitants. However, it seemed like the real adventure was to be had down below.
I summoned forth another one of the pens I had grabbed. As these were most obviously magical pens, it was my solemn duty to explore their magic to the fullest of my ability. Uncapping one of them, I turned to the desk that seemed to be mounted firmly to the floor. I held the pen like I would a dagger and plunged it into the wood of the desk, wiggling it about to make sure that it held fast. Then I yanked with all my might, flinging my arm over my head and releasing what had now become a rope off into the gaping hole behind me. The rope fell and fell, extending past the base of the building until it stopped just above the tops of the forest’s trees.
Before I left, there was a thing that needed doing. Uncapping a large black marker, I crossed the room to the last intact wall and scrawled out what would be the beginning of my greatest adventure yet.
From a sartrien quandary, I descend
Upon an imaginary rope
That began as something pretend
But now, provides extraordinary hope
So hear our hero’s quest:
Tho you’d sooner own me, put me in a tranche
Be warned, omnipotent West
I’ll go on a limb and break the branch
With one final tug to test the strength of my pen-rope, I took leave of the little office in favor of the formidable forest below.