The Surprise

So, how did the break up go? If you read last week’s post, you know that we parted ways with Writer’s Block, or anything that has been holding us back.

This week, I’ve snagged another prompt from Brian Klem and Zachary Petit’s Bootcamp of Writing Prompts. As a way to get the creative juices flowing, I responded to this prompt:

Someone starts leaving little gifts on your desk every day at work. Then one day, instead of a gift, they leave a note.

Here’s the story that evolved from this prompt. Let me know what you think!

“Charlie!”

I could hear the click of high heels tipping down the hallway and I knew I was in trouble.

“Charlie Johnson! Is Charlie in his cube?” I could hear Tonya asking our co-workers as she rounded each corner.

Oh shoot. Ducking out of my chair, I bent low and crept quietly towards the men’s bathroom. Pushing through the door with my shoulder and keeping my head down, I barreled full force into something soft. I heard an “uck” sound. “Oh!” One of my feet crossed the other and I lost my balance . In seconds I and the other man were falling. The doughy mass of human flesh went down with a thud! As I tried to disengage myself I could still hear Tonya yelling in the distance.

On my feet at last, I looked around to find none other than Jacob Jones, CEO sprawled on the floor like a June bug! He was a big man with bad eyesight. As he rolled his large body over on his hands and knees he was also patting his head in search of the horn-rimmed glasses that were set at an odd angle on his forehead. Honestly, he looked ridiculous.

I knew Mr. Jones would be looking for that financial report I had promised on Thursday–it was now Monday. So, before he could situate his glasses and get a good look at who just tackled him, I spun around and darted back out the door. “Sorry!” I called over my shoulder. Then slammed face first into– “Tonya, Hi!” I flashed her my bright whites.

“Don’t you ‘hi’ me.” I could feel her moist breath against my cheek. “What happened to you last night?” She punctuated each word with a hard tap on my chest with her long, sharp fingernail.

Ouch! I pulled back.

“I waited at the restaurant for an HOUR!”

“Yes, about that—”

“Mr. Johnson!”

“Mr. Jones!” He came behind me from the bathroom and suddenly I was the cream sandwiched between two cookies. “Have you met Tonya Cooper?”

“How do you do, Ms. Cooper… Mr. Johnson, why must you barge into the men’s bathroom like a Pamplona bull?  The last time you did that Tom Pinkett filed for workman’s comp from the injury he sustained.”

“Ah, yes, but, really, Mr. Jones, it was a paper cut!”

“In his eye.”

“Well, yeah, but if he hadn’t been holding that file so close to his face—”

“He nearly went blind!”

“He just had to wear a patch for a few days.”

“Three. months.”

“Was it that long? Wow! Time flies, huh?”

“Speaking of time, Mr. Johnson, where is that report?”

“On your desk, sir!”

“Really?”

“Yes sir, I’m going to my desk to get it!”

Johnson—”

“and take it to your desk right now!”

“Mr. Johnson!”

“And did I mention that Ms. Cooper has an extensive background in marketing and public relations? She might be able to advise us on that new product launch. I know you were looking at trying something different this time.”

Tonya cut her eyes at me letting me know I wasn’t off the hook, then turned, smiling towards Mr. Jones. “I’d be happy to put together a proposal if you let me know what you had in mind…”

I eased myself out of the conversation and back to the safety of my cubicle, pretending not to notice Mr. Jones still giving me the evil eye. “Whew! That was close.” I slid my wheeled office chair over to my computer and was surprised to find a tiny, gift-wrapped box. Looking over my shoulder I half-expected to see Tonya standing there, but no.  She’s mad at me. Ohhh…maybe it’s from Rebecca! She and I had a great time last night. But, Rebecca works in another building and wouldn’t have access. She would have had to send it with someone. Wheeling my chair around the half wall, I tilted my head to see if Tom was at his desk.

“Hey buddy!”

“What do you want, Charlie?” Tom didn’t look up.

Raising the little box and giving it a shake I said, “Know anything about this?”

Tom sighed and leaned back, cocking his head to look at the little box I was waving.

“Nope,” he said without interest and returned to his computer.

“Did you see anybody come by here in the last 10 minutes? Tonya? Or anybody else?

“Uh-uh.” Tom wasn’t being very helpful. I can’t imagine why. Eh, I opened the box and found a single key inside. It looked like a key to a file cabinet. “That’s a weird gift.”

“Hey Tom! Does this look familiar?” I popped my head over the half wall and held up the key.

“No,” Tom said barely glancing up at me. Tom won’t win any congeniality awards, that’s for sure. Just then I heard the distinct click of Tonya’s heels on the linoleum. “Shoot!” I grabbed a file folder off my desk and tripped over my briefcase as I headed towards the main hallway. I made it to the elevator just in time to squeeze in between a little old lady holding a huge dog carrier and a monstrous-looking biker dude with some major biceps. As the heavy doors slid shut I smiled as Tonya lunged, too late, for the call button.

Somehow, I managed to avoid her the rest of the day, but I knew I’d have to explain myself eventually.  Tonya and I had been going out for a couple of months, but she was starting to get a little clingy. I came to work the next day with my speech prepared. I would tell Tonya that I got sick over the weekend and I didn’t know if I was contagious. And, by the way, maybe we should see other people.  Peeking my head around every corner, I expected to hear her shrill voice at any moment, but the office was surprisingly quiet.

“Morning Fred! Still working on that finance report? Yeah, I gave mine to Jones yesterday, he says it was the best report he’s ever seen! Ha! Hey there Margaret, how’s that rash? Still itchin’? I’m tellin’ you, corn starch and water, that’ll do the trick!  Betty! I heard your husband died, bummer!”

I’m a friendly guy, but my co-workers are always so grumpy. “Hey Lily? What’s got your panties in a bunch?”

When I get to my desk I find another gift box waiting. I smile. Somebody is definitely into me!

“Hey Tom!” I pop up over the half wall.

“What, Charlie” Tom replies sipping his coffee and staring at his computer screen.

“Any idea what this is?” I wave the little box again.

“The key to my heart.” Tom says dryly, still not looking at me.

“Ha, ha! That’s a good one! Do you think that key that I got yesterday was for a treasure box somewhere? Maybe it’s a game someone’s playing and these are clues!”

“Mmhmmm.”

I tear off the ribbon and lift the lid. Inside is a gold ring—a man’s wedding band. I slide it on my finger, too big.  I let it slip off and hold it to the light of my desk lamp. Engraved on the under side of the band are the words To My Love. A smile spreads across my face.

“Hey Tom! Look at this!”

I spend the rest of the day showing the ring and the key to my co-workers, asking their opinion, trying to see if any of them give off a hint that they know where these items are coming from, but no one has any info. In fact, most of them tell me to “get lost” or “go back to work.”

Sheesh! Grumpy.

I return to my cubicle and unwrap my tuna sandwich. I haven’t seen Tonya today. These gifts must be from her!

When I come to work and find yet another gift on my desk for the third day in a row, my curiosity is more than a little piqued.

“Tom! Can you believe—” I wheel my chair over to Tom’s cubicle, but he isn’t there. Bummer.

I look at the box. This one is different. Rather than a cube, it is a rectangle and tucked under the bow is a little card. I open it and in a loopy cursive handwriting there’s one word: Surprise!

I look around and peek over the half wall again to see if Tom is there. Nope. I turn the box over in my hand, thinking. My birthday isn’t for another couple of months. What is this about? Slowly, I slide the bow off and lift the lid. Inside, on a piece of soft white cotton, is a leather luggage tag. On the name card showing through the clear plastic, in the same cursive font is: Aloha!

“Aloha?”

All day I’m frustrated, but no one cares. When I show them the luggage tag they just shrug, “Who knows?”

Mr. Jones sent back the report I submitted. Apparently it was “incomplete” and I better get it right this time, “or else!”

Lily yelled at me for eating the chicken salad sandwich she had in the break room fridge. How was I to know it wasn’t my tuna? They look the same!

Betty from HR sent a stinging email that she’s been getting “complaints” about me—me? What did I do? “I’m the nicest guy in this office,” I told her.

“Well, stop being nice. Just keep your opinions and your hands to yourself!” With that she slammed the phone in my ear. Now that was not nice!

Still fuming from my day of insults I almost don’t notice that my cell phone is buzzing. Swiping the screen, I see a message from an unknown number, “Check your email.”

Betty again? She already read me the riot act! I click on the envelop icon and  see a new message from Tonya. “Finally!” I have been calling this girl for two days. Where has she been?

Her message is empty but there is a photo attached. Is that Tonya and…Tom!? What in the world is Tom doing with my woman? Then I look more closely. The two of them are wearing Hawaiian shirts and floral leis. Tom is holding up a glass of—something with an umbrella in it—but what catches my eye is the gold band on the ring finger of his left hand. Tom isn’t married.

My phone buzzes again. A message from the same number says, “Use your key to unlock my heart.”

Who is this? I text back.

No answer.

I look again at the picture of Tom and Tonya. Weird.

Setting the box down I look at the key, then walk around the half wall to Tom’s filing cabinet. I yank on the handle to see if it’s open, locked. So, I fit the key into the tiny opening above the top drawer and turn. I hear a click, pull the drawer and scream!

What do you think happens next?  Leave a comment!

Did you like the story? Why not try your hand at the prompt and see what evolves. Happy writing and Happy Monday!

Cover artwork courtesy of Johnson Wang on Unsplash

Getting Beyond the Shadow of Doubt

When I was a kid I thought I was invincible. In my mind, there was literally nothing I could not do. I climbed trees, played with caterpillars and caught fireflies in jars. I explored my expansive yard and imagined myself as my idol–Wonder Woman! My childhood was not drama free, but my imagination was like a protective cloud into which I would ascend up and away from the mundanities of daily life.

Then I became a teenager and the bubble burst. I was introduced to mean girls and bullies that my imagination could not wish away. Middle school was a war zone and my side was losing!

High school wasn’t much better. By graduation I emerged bruised, but hopeful. The future seemed more promising than the past. However, I underestimated the extent of my psychological injuries. Suddenly faced with the weight of my choices I was overwhelmed by the reality that my future was up to me! While I knew what I loved–books and writing–my former confidence had long since left me. What if I chose wrong? What made me think I could make a living as a writer–“a writer?” Someone scoffed. “You can’t make a living doing that!”

Really?

Unlike the little girl who was undaunted by trees and laughed at the tickle of caterpillar legs, my teenage self was immobilized by fear. Doubt crawled out from under my bed and hovered over my dreams.

“You can’t” became my blanket, covering me when I wasn’t cold.

“You can’t” drove me to a different destination, a detour I never intended.

“You can’t” shouted at me from the stands and stopped me in my tracks.

“You can’t” has held me captive. When will I be free?

When I recognize the signs of succumbing:

  • listening to people who don’t have my best interest at heart
  • believing people who don’t know what God has planned
  • wavering in uncertainty rather than trusting in what I can’t see

If I’m ever to move past this point where I always stall, I must reach back and grab hands with the little girl who didn’t know fear. I must re-capture the imaginative mind that dreamed of possibilities, rather than allowing my thoughts to drift towards all the improbabilities.   If I could only reach out and boldly grasp what God is holding out to me! Overcoming the shadow of doubt may be the hardest hurdle, but it is not impossible.  

Do you believe it? Come with me.  Let’s reach for it and keep reaching!

Cover photo courtesy of Canva.com

In Defense of the Invisible Writer

Have you ever doubted yourself as a writer? Ever wondered if being a writer is really a noble profession? Often our work is a “side gig” because we need a “real job” to pay the bills, but  sidelining this work can make us feel less valuable too.

But, I’m here to cast a different light on the invisible writer. What if the fact that our writing is taken for granted is a good thing?  Perhaps it is a credit to the skill that we employ when we produce such good work that it disappears! Think about it: The slogans on your cereal box, the catchy phrases splashed on the wall at Zaxby’s, even the clever little phrases on the Taco Bell hot sauce packets were the work of an invisible creative mind. Employment application forms, instructions for assembling gadgets, the news you follow on social networks—all the work of writers whose names you’ll never know, yet all are needed! If the writing is bad, we notice, but when the information flows, there’s no thought about the work that went into producing it.

Maybe they don’t know that work is not reserved for coal factories or Wall Street; it also happens in coffee shops, in quiet corners, at raggedy desks in lonely buildings once students have fled and janitors sweep through dim hallways—but we do, and God does! “Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:4b)

As invisible writers, we tap away at keyboards, reflecting on the world we’ve observed, trying to make sense of the chaos. We reshape meaningless moments into objects that can sit in the mouth like peppermint—sweet, refreshing, enlivening—leaving a pleasant, lasting impression even after we disappear. God honors our hard work even if no one sees.

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Photo by Alexa Mazzarello on Unsplash