Steps Challenge

In an effort to improve the health of the office, your company has issued a steps challenge—who can take the most steps in a week. The winner gets a free trip to the Bahamas (something you are determined to win). It’s come down to the final day and it’s between you and one other person in your office—and that person keeps trying to sabotage you.  What happens and who wins?

Post your response (500 words or fewer) in the comments below.

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58 thoughts on “Steps Challenge

  1. pinkbamboo

    A quick one. Last time I took too long and my last prompt Revolution Radio was overdue. Oops.

    ***********

    I really need this vacation.

    I glanced at the score board in the pantry before my friend came over with her purse in hand.

    “Mandy, let’s go for..ooh, I see you already have your lunch delivered.. again” Sara winked.

    “Yeah, this is annoying. Bitch” I sighed and put aside the lunch box.

    “Are you going to give it to Sam today?”

    “Nah, Sam is out of the office today. I think I’ll give this to .. hmm.. Max perhaps?”

    “Are you sure it’s Jessie who ordered these lunches for you?” Sara leaned against the door.

    “I’m very sure. This is her tactic to prevent me from going to lunch and earning my steps”

    “Well, you guys are really neck to neck. Plus tomorrow is the result, I’m sure it is bound to be quite competitive”

    “You don’t see me doing shit to her, do you? I play fair. Come on, let’s go for lunch” I nudged Sara.

    It was a while before I took a break. I looked at my pedometer and targeted another thousand steps tonight to secure my win tomorrow. I rubbed my eyes and looked at the corner of my screen. Oh crap. It’s 7 pm. Time do really pass when you’re super busy.

    I switched off my desktop and sent a text to Sara.

    – Out jogging in the park. Man, I’m tired –

    Car key in my hand and my handbag sling on shoulder, I headed to the car park.

    “Hey”

    I turned and there was Jessie standing near the fire exit. I looked down and continued walking towards my car.

    “I don’t understand why you are going against me. I’m going to win”

    “Yeah? Maybe I just don’t like to throw in the towel without fighting till the end” I turned back to her.

    “Come on Mandy, you’re no match for me” she laughed.

    “I don’t understand why you need this vacation. You just came back from Hawaii last month. Oh and no thanks for your lunches. That was such a lame attempt”

    “Don’t you appreciate them?” she gasped in mock surprise.

    “Look, I know you sent me your bunch of work too so I had to stay back in the office every day. I had a long day and I still have other things to do. Go home Jessie” I shook my head.

    “Are you going to cheat your steps? Is that what you plan to do cause I will tell on you .. ” she approached me as I backed away.

    “And I will tell on how you were sucking Mr Peterson’s dick”

    I had no intention on blabbing that but now that it’s out, I loved how Jessie’s face turned white.

    “You fucking bitch” Jessie spat her words venomously as she walked by me.

    Oh no, YOU BITCH. I leaned forward and pulled her hair from behind. Jessie screamed as I pushed her down on the concrete floor. I started stomping on her legs as she cried and begged me to stop. I stopped to straighten myself and to catch a breath.

    “You are crazy!” Jessie yelled through her tears.

    I pulled off her heels, broke them and threw it back near her feet.

    “I’m not crazy. How dare you!” I screamed at her before I quickly get into my car. Another deep breath before I turned on the engine and pulled out of the parking spot.

    I have no time for this, I still have to go jogging. I stepped on the accelerator and through the tiny gap of my car window, I heard Jessie screamed again.

    Man, I really need this vacation.

  2. jhowe

    Joanie squirmed under the hot lights and shifted on the hard wooden chair. She glanced around the table at the other panelists and wondered if they also felt anxious. She had noticed the sharp decrease in participation on the web site weeks ago and felt both honored and inconvenienced by the invitation to participate in the discussion. There were five chairs around the oval table, all filled with fellow writers. She wondered which of the others was in charge.

    “May I address the elephant in the room?” said Jason, a semi-starving novelist, as stated in the bio sheet, from Nebraska. “It’s obvious to me why participation is down slightly.”

    “Slightly?” said Matilda from Pasadena.

    “Well, maybe a little more than slightly, but that’s not the issue. The issue is why.”

    “Then by all means, enlighten us.”

    “I will, don’t get your undies all bunched up.” Matilda stiffened and Joanie groaned silently. Jason continued. “It seems to me that some of our writers have a problem with clean writing. They can’t express themselves without using foul wording and unclean situational settings.”

    “And what wording are we not allowed to use?” said Joanie.

    “Foul wording.”

    “Can you define that?”

    “I know it when I read it.”

    Joanie rose. “I appreciate that Jason, I do. But your definition, in my mind, is the problem.” She held up her hand to fend off the rebuttal. “For weeks, months, no one knew why their stories wouldn’t post. We gradually figured it out, but we were confused, which stifled my thought process and I constantly had half of my brain writing and the other half wondering if I could say what I wanted to say.”

    Matilda also stood. “Joanie, all you have to do is substitute the words that aren’t allowed. Get creative.”

    “What words aren’t allowed?”

    “Well, obviously the f and s words.”

    “So, Elmore Leonard would’ve had a tough time on here.”

    “He would’ve had no trouble toning it down.”

    “Toning what down? That’s the problem. We don’t know the rules, if there are rules.”

    “Here’s what you do,” said Steve from Santa Fe. “Write a story with a questionable word in it. If it doesn’t post, change it and see if it goes through. Then you add that word to the banned list.”

    Or,” said Jason. “Use symbols instead of certain letters. Readers will figure it out.” Joanie and Matilda sat.

    “I don’t know. Whenever I read a symbolized word, I get distracted. I like dialog to be realistic, to sound like the character would really sound like.”

    “What about unmitigated gore?” said Kyle from Maine.

    “Gore is fine. Just omit the bad words.”

    “So we can give em nightmares, but not the s word?”

    “Exactly.”

  3. AnnaS

    I had been really creative, almost winning the one-week step challenge at work, without having to take a single step. Okay, so that wasn’t exactly true, because of course I walked a little every day, between the desk and the coffee pot at work and between the couch and the kitchen at home. The thing was, none of these steps had actually been logged on the pedometer. My pedometer had been at home, attached to my dog who was running around in our fenced-in yard, or it had been tucked into my kid’s pant pocket at daycare, or conveniently and secretly attached to my husband’s sweatpants, as he went for a run. I don’t know how he managed to not notice the device, but he didn’t and for that I was grateful.

    The way the whole thing worked was that we had all been given these fancy little devices that we were supposed to carry with us 24/7. The devices submitted the steps to a website that we were all able to log in to. We could check our progress and we could see how well we were doing, compared to the others. I was doing awesome, which meant that I was close, really close to be claiming the prize – a one-week trip for two to Bahamas.

    The problem was that Estelle, a very athletic co-worker of mine, was sabotaging my plan to win. She had come up with her own ways of sneaking in extra steps, steps that weren’t exactly steps by the way, but ways to get the step-counter to assume she was walking. She bounced on an exercise ball all day long at her desk. With every bounce, a step was logged, and Estelle bouncing on this ball was way more effective than my dog running around the yard. My dog was lazy and I suspected he spent a few hours every day just snoozing in his doghouse. I needed to come up with a new plan.

    I could have assumed the exercise-ball-bouncing routine myself and maybe if I bounced fast enough I could log two steps for every one she did, but that meant that I actually had to do some work, and I’d rather not. So I did something really ugly on Friday morning. I put the pedometer on the pendulum to my grandfather clock at home and I went to work early and inserted a dull needle into the flesh of Estelle’s exercise ball. I heard the air seep out slowly and I mused just a little.

    Come Monday morning I was in the lead. I was the winner. Needless to say I was ecstatic, until the computer screen at work went blank. All the computers at work froze and by the time the problem had been rectified, my boss suggested that all the data from the step challenge was lost.
    “Sorry guys. We don’t have a winner,” he said.
    And then he looked over at Estelle and winked at her.

  4. Witt.Stanton

    I had forgotten his name, but that didn’t matter; he was just another face on the list.

    Through the broken glass of the attic window, my eyes traced the man’s movements, every small twitch of his wrist as he double checked the time, every flicker of his eyes at the pigeons and tourists clustered in the heat of the market square. As the clocks struck noon, I lowered the cross hairs to center over his heart.

    The police radio crackled to life as I let my finger twitch the trigger. A smirk curled the corner of my mouth as the man collapsed, a burst of red clouding his suit front. I watched the people scatter. Two beat cops ran up to the scene, trying to both heard the people away and call in reinforcements.

    A woman sitting on a nearby park bench stand abruptly stood, panic in her eyes as she caught sight of my handiwork. Another face on the list. I rechecked my focus, swiveled the barrel, closed one eye, and fired.

    “Screw Bahama,” the man behind me cursed. “This isn’t worth it.” I let out a huff of air that scared my client into silence again. The gun resting against my jaw felt warm and familiar. I continued to shoot his co workers, one by one eliminating his competition. My client gave a short, choked-back sob.

    I refocused, moved my scope, and prepared to fire again when I felt a sweaty hand on my shoulder. “Let’s go, please. I transferred the money, like you asked, and –” I stood up, flipping the heavy metal of the gun onto my shoulder. My lips curled in disgust.

    “What do you want me to do?” My client cringed, flinching back. I took a step closer, spitting out the words. “You paid me to kill them. I’m doing the job you paid me to do. Make up your mind.”

    We both heard the police officers slam open the downstairs door, their shouts carrying up through the rafters. My radio buzzed with voices. “Please, it was just about their steps –” my client sobbed, his hand covering his mouth. I slammed the butt of the rifle into his stomach. He fell to the ground, silent sobs wracking his body.

    “Nobody wastes my time,” I growled. I slammed my boot into his pretty face and raised the weapon one last time. I left his body curled on the floor of his attic, his tears dry on his cheeks and the rifle resting across the hole I blew in his chest.

  5. Papa Troll

    Janice! Evil Janice! Always the gossiper! Always the ‘is there going to be extra credit?’ girl. Evil, calculated, beautiful eyes, and a wicked smile. How I hated her.

    Neck and neck, the race has given me gas pains the minute it began. ‘Promote the health of the company!’ my ulcer. Death incarnate, coming for me in the form of a second-place finish, first loser to a trip to the Bahamas! How I already picked the locale, the excursions, ticket for two? I’d eBay the second one, and take that trip solo thank you very much. No girl would talk to me anyway.

    Over the intercom came the announcement, “Assistant needed in the lobby.”

    A Walk in, fresh fish, interested fish…my fish. I raced to the elevator and slammed on the button several times in hopes the sheer quantity of pushes would convey the sense of urgency and speed the process up. Elevators suck.

    From my peripheral, I spotted a flash of gold and blue. I turned and found myself staring into the azure brilliance that was Janice’s eyes. She scowled, and made a dash for the stairs.

    Over my dead body!

    I pushed past Ms. Karadzic, the elderly women who ran the café on the fourth floor. I didn’t stop to see if she was alright, although I’m quite sure I can predict an extra gift with banana muffin and extra hot coffee, black, with a hint of sugar. Mental note: Avoid the café for a few weeks.

    I pulled the door open, the wind gusted blustery as I could hear the made clickity clacking of her heels slapping the steps. Couldn’t be more than a floor up, thought I as I took off in pursuit. Fresh fish in the lobby, Bahamas are mine! I’m grateful I’ve always kept in shape. I’m also grateful Janice was well endowed in places gravity punishes when they try to run.

    Taking the steps two at a time, I turned the corner at floor three and saw Janice there fixing the strap to her heel. A beam of light spotlighted her from the window, a painting of opportunity to the moment, and I saw her, really saw her. Although I was hardly out of breath, suddenly I felt the onset of asphyxiation.

    “Are you okay?” I asked with genuine concern.

    She snarled at me like a caged animal. “The strap busted. I hurt my ankle. Take your prize! I hope you choke.”

    I thought about it, but for some reason I just couldn’t.

    “Let me help you.” I offered instead.

    She looked at me hesitantly with her heavy black lashes blinking away the tears. “You-Your…the fresh fish…”

    I shrugged. “Not important. You’re hurt. Let me help.”

    She stared at me for a long second and then suddenly she smiled. My heart stopped, and restarted, beating only for her. “Here.”

    She handed me her shoe, and then leaned up to me. I could smell her hair, and feel her closeness. My mouth was dry. “Help me up the stairs.”

    And I did. She leaned on me, and we slowly made our way up the remaining floors. By the time we got to the tenth, we heard an announcement over the intercom.

    “Final results, it’s a tie,” the voice announced. “Congrats to Kurt and Janice!”

    “So will you go out with me?” I asked her.

    “Where do you want to go?” She asked with a smile and a small wince.

    “How about the Bahamas?”

    1. Kerry Charlton

      Youm want goosebumps from a reader, well, you got them from me. This is my kind of story. Looking forward to your next one. As one guy to another, a beautiful woman always deserves several looks and a kind smile. Golden rule number one!

  6. FinnMacCoul22

    So, I skipped a few pages and went straight to leg breaking. He shouldn’t have told HR about the laxative I put in his coffee. If a guy tells on you, there’s no telling what he’d do next. I’m just glad I thought of it first.
    In the last week, he somehow started putting a mile more on his counter than me per day. I still haven’t figured out how he did it. When I asked him, he said he just started running further.
    “My girlfriend makes me do it. She really wants to go to the Bahamas,” he said, all bashfully. I doubted his girlfriend even existed, but just smiled and playfully punched him in the shoulder. A few times. And then he asked me to stop, so I pretended I was stopping, then turned around and punched him one more time and ran to my desk. Not ran. Walked.
    Naturally, I did an extra mile after work that day. I was able to finish a whole Joe Rogan podcast, which was awesome. But the next day I come in and he’s done an extra mile, so he’s still ahead of me. I could tell he doesn’t want me to touch him.
    “How does your girlfriend get you to run further?”
    “Oh, you know. She just checks the stepcounter.”
    “Food or sex?”
    “Uh…” I poked him while he stared at me stupidly. He had no girlfriend. Later I got him coffee and poisoned him. I mean I gave him the laxative.
    The next day he comes in, looking wrecked. That’s what spending a night on the toilet does to you. Doubt his “girlfriend” got him to do much running that day.
    I stayed away, but I guess he saw me laughing. Or somebody I told about the laxative told him about it. Anyways, I’m called into HR. They ask me straight up if I put something in his coffee. I denied it and eventually they let me go. It’s not like they tested his bowel movements or something, they couldn’t bust me for it.
    Once I got out of HR, I walked right up to his desk and knocked on it.
    “Hello.”
    “Hi.” He stares at me.
    “What the hell, man?”
    “What are you talking about?”
    “You told HR I put Ex-Lax, I mean laxative, in your coffee?”
    “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
    “You need to watch your ass.”
    “Please just stay away from me.”
    “Or what?”
    He kind of threw his hands up in the air and turned back to his desk.
    How could I trust him after that?
    I couldn’t get near his food again, and of course the next day he comes back in and he’s done like five extra miles. He looked like hell, but he’d basically tied it up again.
    So, I waited for him in the parking garage with my baseball bat then went home and ran my ass off. My point is I won those tickets, and I want them even if I can’t use them. My mom’s getting remarried and I’d like to do something for her.

    1. Tysheena Jackson

      Thoroughly enjoyed your story! I was snickering throughout the entire thing, not even trying to conceal my laughter from my co-workers. Great job capturing both humor and flow in your writing! Xx

  7. Pete

    The Powers That Be got creative. First, they broke ground on a gym. Then, they had us jump through literal hoops and tires with CrossFit incentives and motivation strategies. Flu shots and motivational seminars followed, anything to cut premiums. Kurt and I joked that they were trying to cull the baby boomers.

    Then came the contest. A bubbly sort from HR presented us with complimentary FitBits. Behind her was a backdrop of the ocean. She introduced Step Into A New You! to the cube dwellers. She received a a collective groan. Then she mentioned the prize, an all-expense paid trip to the Bahamas.

    We were given an hour, in addition to lunch–smile!–to get our steps in. Whoever led by the end of the month, won the prize. Simple

    I gave it a shot. That first day I tossed in my gym shorts and a brand new pair of sneakers. I logged 3,700 steps, or, three times around the Vita-Life campus. But the IT department had this intern, some cross country junkie who lapped me seven times before I got my first blister.

    Thursday, I met Kurt from Compliance at the bar. We were both divorced, both in our late forties and both enjoyed making fun of the world from afar. I plopped down, fiddling with my Fitbit after forgetting to take it off and lock it in the glove department. I’d decided to give it to my niece, so that she could roll her eyes and tell me how FitBits were lame. At least we’d agree on that.

    We were maybe a few drinks in when Kurt looked at me and said, “Did you happen to see the leader board today?”

    I made a habit of avoiding leader boards, and people in general. “Why? Am I winning?” I took a big sip of my five-grain-Belgian-crisp-wheat-honey-wobble microbrew. Kurt shot me a rueful smile.

    “No, I am.”

    “Okay,” I said, waving him closer. “Details.”

    He leaned close, bringing with him a manly reek of sweat, beer, and chicken wings. “I’ve been putting my Fitbit in the dryer. Cool cycle. I wrap it up in a wash cloth.”

    His poker face was solid. I leaned back. Only Kurt would do something so sinister, so darkly genius. I set down my brew. “You’re serious?”

    “Serious as a heart”—Kurt pushed away the basket of widow-maker wings— “Yeah, I’m serious. And that’s not even the worst of it. I’m in a tie.” He wiped at the dribbles of ranch dressing in his beard. “A tie! Do you know the odds of two people finishing with the exact same amounts of steps?”

    “Or drying patterns.”

    Another round came our way. Kurt took a slug of his Jagged Jack O’ lantern stout, shaking his giant head, his smile shameful but his eyes flashing with pride. “Nope. I’m tied with that cross-country twerp.”

    The couple in the booth perked. I couldn’t help busting out laughing, but I mean, here was Kurt, a good chunk over 240, looking to face off with that rail thin runner. I smacked the bar, thinking of that kids face when he saw who had matched his steps. I started to steal a widow maker, but it smelled of paint thinner. I tossed it back.

    “So what happens now?”

    Kurt dug in, ripped the meat off the wing. “A walk off. Me and Ichabod. All day tomorrow. Until four o’clock. ”

    “Wait, you have to show up tomorrow, and race this kid?”

    “Not race, just get more steps. It’s different. Whoever has the most steps by four o clock, wins.”

    “Where’s your gizmo?”

    He gave me a look, dabbed his face with a dirty napkin, streaking orange sauce across his forehead like war paint. I shook my head. “It’s in the dryer? Right now?”

    “What the hell, right?”

    “Jesus, so you’re still trying to win this thing?”

    “Yep. Look, bring your FitBit tomorrow. That way I can keep mine tumbling. End of the day we make the switch.” He stuffed the rest of the wing, tossed the bones.

    “Your crazy.”

    He held up two pudgy fingers. Wing sauce in his fingernails. “It’s two tickets, you know.”

    1. Beebles

      I liked the beers too – mines a pint of Scruttocks Old Dirigible – and the great character depictions, so recognisable, and use of language – ‘broke ground on a gym’ pleased me. but then you are very good at those things.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Excellent dialogue, relazed and true to core. I liked the story line also. Me thinks the count off on the walk off is going to be a disaster. Wish you had the words to write that scene in also.

          1. jhowe

            I had a woman, in a multi-person thread e-mail, say, “John, your nuts.” So your blunder isn’t as glaring as hers was.

  8. Beebles

    Can’t say this prompt inspired me, so I tried something a bit different for me.
    —————–
    At the top of the stairs Sonya sits at last, Appalachian chest heaving. She pulls off the sneakers in the privacy of the stair well and massages her feet, letting her face form … well let’s call it her ‘arrival face’, the expression she reserves for those intimate moments with Mr Fantasy and the contents of the bedside cabinet drawer. That it’s the last day of the ‘step challenge’ hardly registers in her ecstacy. She won’t win. Though she doesn’t know that yet. To date, she never won anything.

    Since age eight, her nemesis has been her weight. The dumpy friend, the frumpy classmate, never on the team, never at the dance. Now in her mid-twenties she is determined to change; to hell with genetics, the doomsayers be damned. The prize of a holiday in the Bahamas is not the end, nor even a beginning.

    She has a picture on her fridge, a lingerie model with her face stuck on it, captioned: Super Sonya. That’s her goal. She never makes it. Though the picture does end up overlain by crayon drawings and tapioca mosaics. She also avoids diabetes and the coronary at forty.

    Her latest Mr Fantasy is Tom, but he won’t make it to her fridge. ‘Morning Sonya,’ he grins, appearing halfway up the stair. Oh Christ! Has he seen ‘that face’, or the holes in her stocking soles? She giggles pathetically and mentally picks at the stigmata of her self-esteem. In his hand he holds her sneaker with the pedometer.

    ‘Wow, look at those numbers. You’re really going for it. I can see you on that beach in the Bahamas.’

    It sounds as condescending as it reads, but he flashes those hammer white teeth again, the crooked molars that give him the look of a newly woken vampire. That’s how she sees him, biting into her frothy pink neck as she grabs a fistful of his curly black hair. Her rosy face reddens furhter at the thought and she stares at the carpet tiles. Uninvited, a whale rolls on to the sand in her thoughts. Was that what Tom was thinking? She shrugs, laughs, mumbles. She takes the shoe without meeting his gaze.

    Tom felt a twinge of guilt when he pressed the reset button, but the numbers on Sonya’s pedometer had rocked him; lose to Supersize Sonya – the thought! The pain in his gut must be stress related, his eyes red from overwork, he needs that prize, that break, that beach. But there is no time for walkies: kids to pick up from his ex, Hannah’s sister to bed, and the flat, the flat needs so much work before Liz moves in. When he saw those numbers he knew he had underestimated Sonya. Somewhere inside that human big bang is a girl with will power. Something he doesn’t possess; his tongue down his wife’s sister’s throat was proof of that. One drink too many and five years of marriage go pop; relationships just break apart, like debris in space. Liz is the one though, he knows it now.

    It’s tough he is wrong. Even now a professional footballer named Zak Apeth is signing the papers to take possession of the flat two doors down. A flat that will witness Liz pinned on the wide receiver’s kitchen table one Friday night, begging Zak to go long. Tom ends up moving to the Bahamas, running a pitiful pedalo business, desperately trying to recreate that last vacation they had together, desperately looking for the reset button.

    Funny how things work out.

    1. Pete

      Well this sure seems inspired! Wow, incredible. I was sucked in from the start, and you didn’t disappoint. You placed so much in here, seemingly effortless. Poor Sonya, with her struggles, so glad Tom got what he deserved.

      Question. While I don’t read romance, I’ve heard that it is okay to head hop in this genre, and yours was a well placed transition, any thoughts on this?

      1. Beebles

        Well you’ve made my day and no mistake, guvna. Praise indeed. I don’t know that I would class this as head hopping, perhaps if I’d gone back to Sonya after Tom? I do have a problem with POV sometimes and wonder just how much inner feeling I should attribute to different characters in a scene. I think I’m right in saying JHack does alot of it in his books, quite unashamedly. But like you I don’t read romance, its all a bit messy and unnecessary. With this I tried to build empathy by looking at their futures rather than their pasts – very ladida I must say.

    2. jhowe

      That was a good read. I liked the mental picture of Sonya and her struggles. It was comforting to know she was trying to make improvements and didn’t care too much about the contest. I really liked the tie-in at the end to the reset button.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Unusual writing for you, non the less it’s hypnotic in it’s range, scope and depth. Did you have any idea what you were writing as you did it? On rare occasions, I seem to let the auto pilot in my brain write some of these stories for me. This week’s is a good example. I had the story laid out but the fingers wrote an entirely new ending, nothing that I even thought about.

        1. Beebles

          Whoops, hit the wrong button there. Hey ho. Thanks for noticing Kerry. I know what you mean, though my process rarely starts with a ready made vase, just a lump of clay that i keep squishing until it forms into something vaguely recognisable. You just keep typing Kerry, your fingers know what their doing 🙂

    3. Papa Troll

      I liked this tale. I really felt great compassion for Sonya. I then felt pity for Tom. Amazing how quickly I got into these characters. So well drawn out! Awesome!

  9. Kerry Charlton

    THE DIVINE MISS PENNYWORTH

    Brad read the company notice a second time. A step contest? Sic hundred employees in the building, most could be blown away but there was one he had tried to meet several times and she took little notice.. She had reminded him of a Greek Goddess, perhaps a daughter of Borias, God Of The North Wind. He had seen her running in Central Park several times at lunch and had asked if he might run with her.

    “Serious boy friend,” she said, “Not a good idea, sorry.” And away she went with the wind.

    Well, Brad Thompson didn’t really care about the official prize, he had made several trips to the Caribbean while at Yale, but what did fascinate him was the Divine Miss Goody, Goody Pennyworth, or for short, Laura. ‘Probably an impossible feat,’ Brad figured, ‘but the challenge is fascinating.’

    As Vice President of Marketing, he sent Laura an inner office memo on one project he had been working on for the last month. With a little research, he found his hill to her charms, growing ever steeper. Laura was the daughter of one board member and the niece of another. .Surprised at her mundane position in their company, puzzled him. ’Maybe she’s working as a corporate spy, on a fascinating inner-company espionage,’ he day dreamed. He wasn’t getting anywhere speculating as she broke the silence in his office.

    “Your secretary said you wished to talk to me, Mr. Thompson.”

    “Thank you for being prompt, Miss Pennyworth“. .

    “Most people call me Laura.”

    “Thank you for the information. What I’m interested in is marketing our ‘Step Contest’ to the city of New York. Since you’re in advertising,, and a runner, our company would use you as a model for the event and kind of a good will ambassador. I‘ve already talked to your department head. Miss Honeydrop, she’s all for it. How do you feel?”

    “Like I said the last time, Mr. Thompson, serious boy friend, not a good idea.”

    “Afraid to take me on in the Step Contest?”

    “You? At your age, you want to compete?”

    “Miss Pennyworth, I’m thirty and can outrun and out step you any day of the week.”

    ‘Think so, do you? Forget the marketing idea, you’re on for the contest of your life, unless you want to back down.”

    “I only have one request from you.”

    “And that is?”

    “That we train together, I prefer the early mornings.”

    “I’m a morning person, I’m flattered you might want to learn from me.”

    “Well, that’s a start Miss Pennyworth, but that wasn’t what I had in mind.”

    “Be careful what you say, Mr. Thompson, the boyfriend really is serious.“

    “Have you run the hurtles, Laura?”

    For the first time, Brad saw a fleeting hesitation come across her face.

    “Were you thinking high hurdles?”

    “No, low hurdles, much better for the training I’m thinking of“

    “Did you run track Mr…………..”

    “Call me Brad if you will, it‘s easier.”

    “Okay, did you.”

    “Yes, at Yale?”.

    “Really, was it this century?’

    “Barely, can you meet at 5:30 in the morning? We’ll run stairs until light.”

    “You’ll never break me, Brad.”

    “Speaking of that, I do break horses for a hobby. 5:30?”

    “You’re on, you have no idea what you’re in for.”

    “I’m looking forward to it, Divine Miss Pennyworth.”

    “Did you really say divine?”
    .

    1. jhowe

      That was divine KC. You have a knack for creating memorable female characters. I liked the conversation and the hint of se*ual tension. Sorry for leaving out the x. Censors, you know.

  10. ericdbolton

    Russ sat in the bleachers of his daughter’s basketball game. Instead of watching his eleven year old soar over her opponents while grabbing rebounds and throwing elbows, he sifted through Google images of Atlantis on his smartphone. His company had offered up a “steps challenge” for his office. The employee with the most pedometer steps in the office gets an all expense paid trip for two to the Bahamian resort.

    They weren’t in the best financial situation when they got married twelve years ago, so they couldn’t afford a honeymoon. They got pregnant with Laura a few months later; then over the next eleven years four more kids arrived. The finances never got any better – they managed to keep their head above water over the past decade, but that honeymoon never came.

    This trip was going to be his and this was going to be the honeymoon his wife, Christine always wanted.

    “What are you doing?!?!” Christine chastised while hitting Russ in his knee.

    “Owww.. What??”

    Russ hurt his knee with this challenge. He was walking in the wooded area behind the office on Wednesday when he stepped in a hole and banged up his knee pretty good. He didn’t tell Christine about the challenge nor the knee because it would have brought up too many questions.

    “Your daughter is out there playing like an all-star and you’re on your phone!!!”

    “Okay okay okay.. I’m done anyways.”

    Russ put away his phone but was still focusing on the pictures of Atlantis in his mind. He also focused on the leader board in his offer. Megan was about four thousand steps ahead of him on Friday. He worked claims while she was the office clerk. Her job description gave her the reason to walk and walk and walk.

    Russ secretly despised Megan. The twenty-two year old recent college graduate doesn’t need to go to the Bahamas. What does she have to get away from? Selfies on SnapChat? Her stupid old beagle named “Buddy”? He’s got kids. He deserves this vacation. She’s got plenty of years to go to Atlantis, Russ tried to justify.

    Since he hurt his knee he hadn’t been able to walk as much and his count suffered. Megan was able to catch up and pass him because of the injury. Russ also noted she didn’t do a lot of walking on weekends and it was his time to catch up. Yet he wasn’t able to because of this stupid knee. The final step count would be turned in tomorrow morning at 8 AM and all Russ would have are these Google Images of the Bahamas. He hated he’d have to hear about the bathing suits and cute lifeguards from Megan.

    Oh how he despised her.

    The buzzer sounded and the game was over. He and his family cheered for his daughter’s winning team. He gingerly made his way down the bleachers to embrace his daughter.

    “Excellent job, Ladybug!”

    “Thanks” an out of breath Laura said while guzzling down some water.

    Russ hugged his daughter and pulled something from her waistband.

    While other family members congratulated her, Russ looked at the pedometer her removed from his daughters shorts. Seven thousand steps added to his count. Hello Atlantis. Let’s see her stupid old beagle get that many this weekend.

  11. jhowe

    I’ve never been further south than Knoxville, Tennessee. I went there in 2006 for the company’s estimating software training program and only made it outside for a few minutes during breaks. It turned out to be a blessing because it never got above freezing the whole two days. So much for the south being a warm place.

    But now I’m in the running for the first annual steps challenge that kicked off on Monday. My Omniband step tracker is my ticket to the Bahamas if I can keep it up for three more hours and if Carl doesn’t get any further under my skin.

    “Hey Dinkweed,” Carl says, stutter stepping up to my work station. His face is aglow with sweat. “I hear that hurricane Jomamma is heading straight for the Bahamas.” He pauses to breathe heavily. “I better pack a raincoat.”

    Between thundering heartbeats I say, “Bite me, Carl.” I escalate my in-place jogging and ignore my screaming knees.

    “Don’t listen to him, Jason,” says Caroline from accounting. She dropped out on Wednesday. “He’s nothing but a big blowhard.” Carl makes an obscene gesture with his tongue and cheek and Caroline huffs away.

    “She wants me,” Carl says. He does his linebacker before the snap move and I increase my static pace even further. I hope my face isn’t as red as his.

    “Careful Carl, don’t blow a gasket.” My left calf is cramping again and I try not to grimace. At least it distracts from the stitch in my side.

    “Too bad we have to stop at five o’clock.” He tries to cover a spasm in his back by doing one of his annoying wolf howls but I see the fear in his eyes.

    “Carl, let’s stop now,” I say. He shakes his head and doubles over but keeps his feet moving awkwardly. “Whoever has the most steps will win.”

    “Not a chance, loser.” Tears stream down his face as he grabs my worktop for support, struggling to keep stepping.

    My legs suddenly feel lighter and my breathing becomes stronger. I’m hitting my second wind big time. I watch as Carl limps away slowly, his right foot dragging, his left foot tapping the floor when it can. I unstrap the band from my wrist, the signal that you’re dropping out.

    * * * *
    As it turns out, there is no hurricane Jomamma, but the eye of tropical storm Caroline rages over the Bahamas for three of the five days Carl is there. Ironic, yes, and Caroline from accounting and I smile at each other as we print our tickets we purchased for next month, after hurricane season passes. We reserved two rooms, with an adjoining door, just in case.

    1. Kerry Charlton

      John, I never read a story until mine is posted. When I started out, my theme was identical to yours but the writing took me far away. Sometimes thetre’s no controlling it. I liked your story a lot, especially about the errant tropical storm. I bet the door between the two suites gets a lot of use. What gets you calling Knoxville the south, boy. It might be below the Mason-Dickson line but it ain’t the south son!

    2. Beebles

      What i loved about this jhowe, apart from the sweet justice, was the wonderful image of their stubborn pain, like something out of a steve martin movie – a good one. A good job at invading my head.

  12. dustymayjane

    Shelly read the postings for the week on the bulletin board. Her name, second in place after Tim’s. No one else came close. It was between her and Tim with only one week left in the clinic’s step challenge. 
    “I can’t believe he has that many steps this week. How can we be sure he’s not cheating?” Shelly commented to Darlene who stood at her shoulder. 
    “He’s on his feet twenty three hours a day.” 
    “How does he do it Darlene? He’s must be a robot. I never see him in the cafeteria. What and when does he eat?” 
    Darlene knew the real reason Shelly was so perturbed at Tim’s besting her. It had become a personal challenge between the two who weren’t fooling anyone. Tim the handsome med student, working nearly around the clock. Shelly the beautiful nurse, working to get her practitioner’s license. Everytime the two were in the same room sparks flew and the electricity was palpable. 
    Shelly wondered what she could do to up her step count this week when she looked at the assignments for the week she was alarmed when her name had been erased and replaced with Tim’s.  
    “Hey, look at this. Tim’s been stealing my assignments.” That explained a lot Shelly realized. “Well two can play at that game.”  
    Tim rounded the corner just as Shelly had erased his name and reprinted her own. 
    “What do you think you’re doing?” Tim crossed his arms and looked through thick black lashes at his competition. 
    “Just fixing a mistake on the  schedule.” Shelly pointed out.  
    “I’m sure there are no mistakes. It appears you have taken my shift however.” 
    “I’m going to beat your step count Tim. I know you’ve been stealing work time.” 
    “You can’t prove that but good luck beating me this week.” 
    The park nearby with its pathways and trails provided a change of scenery from the tiled hallways of the clinic. By Friday Shelly was drained. Her feet ached and her body needed rest. As Shelly approached a park bench a branch hidden beneath the leaves tangled her footsteps. She fell headlong on to the ground, or would have if strong arms hadn’t been there to catch her.  
    “Tim! What…? Oh for heaven’s sake. You’ve saved me from quite a fall.” 
    “So I have. We wouldn’t want you to injure yourself now would  we?” 
    “Ah, huh..no we wouldn’t. You can let me go now.” 
    “I don’t think so Shelly. I rather like the feel of you.” 
    Shelly gasped as Tim leaned in for what she thought was going to be a kiss. Instead he just looked her in the eye, so close she could count the gold flecks in his pools of green. 
    “I think you owe me. Let’s say you come with me and we’ll call it even.” 
    Shelly wasn’t surprised. They’d been planning to travel together for weeks, knowing one of them would win the trip.  
    “Deal. But have you looked at the board? I’m ahead of you.” She flirted and took off down the trail.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Dusty, you have managed to scoop everyone on this lonely sight. Have the Martians landed and dragged off all our writers? Very romantic in a soft setting. Come to think, wouldn’t that make a funny prompt. I bet Tim would put up a magical fight with the Martians, don’t you think?.

  13. cosi van tutte

    Dirk Pandrick smeared a smile at me as I reached the top step. “I don’t know why you’re bothering with this step challenge thing.”

    I wiped the sweat off my forehead.

    “Because, you know, I am going to win.”

    “Oh, stuff it.”

    “I am. It’s a waste of your time even trying to compete with me. Look at me, man! I was built for walking. These long legs. These strapping calf muscles. And you? Pfft! You’re built like a squashed watermelon.”

    “Watermelons roll better than sticks.”

    “Huh? What? What does that even mean?”

    I thought about it. “I don’t know, but it’s true.”

    “That would be all fine if this were a watermelon rolling contest. But it isn’t. So, I am going to win.” He slipped on his fancy sunglasses. “Hello, Bermuda. I can hear you calling my name: Dirk! Dirk! Dirk!”

    I had a twelve-second fantasy of whipping off those sunglasses, snapping them in half, and then…Well. Then, my twelve seconds were up and I had to get back to work.

    ***

    Every day that whole week, I’d trudge up those stairs and Dirk would already be up there, grinning at me and snarking at me and making me want to just give up.

    Then, I thought of a whole week in Bermuda.

    A whole week in Bermuda without Dirk.

    Paradise.

    I had to win.

    ***

    I took the stairs in the morning and in the evening. If anyone needed something in the office, I’d run and go get it.

    Dirk would lurk in the hallways and try to sabotage me with his criticisms.

    But I was determined.

    Dirk was not going to drag me down.

    I was going to win!

    ***

    Dirk stood next to me on Friday as they counted out the totals of who walked the most. He smirked. “It’s going to be me, Dave. Bermuda’s gonna be all mine and you’ll be sitting at home, washing your snot rags.”

    “Shut up.”

    “You are so going to looooose.”

    “Shut up, Dirk.”

    “Loooose. Loooooose.”

    “Dirk, if you don’t shut up, I’m going to throw you to Bermuda.”

    “Hahahaha! I’d like to see someone with your squat and flabby physique try to—-”

    Our boss cleared his throat. “All right! The totals are in.”

    Dirk jabbed me with his elbow while quietly chanting, “Loooser. Looser. Loooooooser.”

    “Everyone has done an awesome job. Here. Here. Give yourselves a round of applause.”

    Dirk clapped extra loud, pretty much right in my ear. “I’m gonna win.” he sing-songed. “I’m gonna win.”

    “Go eat fishbait, Dirk.”

    “All right! Now, while you’ve all done a remarkable job getting all of those steps in, two people in particular really stepped it up. Hahaha! Stepped it up! Hahaha! Funny because…Oh, never mind. So, our top two employees are: Dirk with 256 steps.”

    Another unneeded elbow poke. “You aren’t gonna top that, tubbso.”

    “And Dave with 1,412 steps. Way to go Dave! Come on up here and get your prize.”

    Dirk gaped at our boss in wordless astonishment.

    I smiled at Dirk. There was plenty I could have said and/or done, but I just smiled and went up to get my tickets to Bermuda.

    1. jhowe

      Good job creating such an annoying character. I wanted to ask you, how do you pick your last names? I liked Pandrick. Do you make them up or go with names you’ve heard before?

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Great job Cosi, don’t let our little secret out about last names. Drop thr “R” in the middle amd what do you have?. Everyone knows some miserable characters but your’s is certainly most annoying. By the way, where is everyone. Surely they’re not on the Trump Train. Or are they?

  14. Jennifer Park

    The irony was that the nursing staff had already been wearing pedometers, as part of a union plan to confront the hospital for working them too hard. One could practically hear the collective eye-roll at the announcement of the week-long pace-count competition sponsored by ReddTapeHealthCare—the very same health insurance company that had just raised the premiums by 30%—ostensibly for controlling cost through “healthy lifestyle”.

    The upshot was that everyone knew who would win: one of the two nursing assistants, Nolan and Barbara, who did most of the grunt work during the most understaffed shifts. Union action about that was pending as well, but they might as well get the trip to the Bahamas out of this. Soon, the competition started to take on a celebratory tone, with everyone cheering them on, and with announcements of their cumulative totals at every huddle. Since they were never in the same shift—otherwise, they wouldn’t be understaffed—the daily reports were the only way they were keeping tabs on each other.

    Nolan, frankly, could not be bothered. He hated the tropics, with their muggy air and virulent diseases and etiquetteless mosquitos. Still, he did the show of being eager and competitive, without doing any more work than he normally would have done. He was already walking miles and miles every day, for God’s sake, and he was still way ahead.

    Then it began to happen. “Whoa!”

    “What?” asked the doctor who was dozing in the supply closet.

    “Did someone… where are the…” The washcloths had been moved to another shelf. “Here they are.”

    “Good.” The doctor was still asleep, in fact.

    **********

    The nurse tried to flag him down. “Nolan, the…”

    “I know. I‘m on my way.” He held up the water cup to prove that he was. The icemaker had jammed again. It took forever to unjam.

    “OK.”

    **********

    The intercom buzzed again.

    “You gonna get that?”

    Nolan was sitting on a chair, three sets of bedsheets piled on his lap. He looked at the sheets resentfully, and tried to get up.

    The nurse looked at him pityingly, then nodded. “I’ll get it.”

    “Thank you.” After a few minutes of rest, he was on again.

    **********

    Only after the shift ended, and he found himself completely exhausted, and saw Barbara clocking in for her shift, did Nolan realize what was going on. Barbara had also had the shift before Nolan’s, as a sub, and she had…

    Nolan shook his head. He was too exhausted to care. “Hey, Barbara.”

    “Hi, Nolan.” She didn’t look guilty at all.

    “Don’t work too hard!” he said cheerfully.

    “I won’t.” She didn’t look like someone who had sabotaged him.

    Nolan’s phone rang. It was Mike. “Hey!”

    “Nolan…” Mike started to sob.

    “What’s…”

    “I…” Mike’s mother had been struggling with cancer. She lived three hours away, and Mike couldn’t drive. “I have to…”

    “Yeah. I’ll be right home.”

    “OK.”

    “Hey, Barbara! Looks like you win.”

    She was too far away to hear him.

  15. PeterW

    In an effort to improve my self-esteem and my BMI, I set off on a 6 week step challenge, in a effort to improve my general physical health, the constantly thudding wound-muscle in my chest cavity, and my physique to the point where I was way more nearer to the 25 year old body that my wife had fell in love with as apposed to my 36 year-old slush-pile of body I have now (btw, my wife also feel in love with my mind and personality, not just the physique of my then 25 year old body). So I did steps. I stepped the f out of every day like it was goddamn destiny and I was the jesus of steps. Under my cubicle my feet did not stop moving, under the dinner table, jiggling the glasses of 2 percent milk that I required everyone in my family to drink, my feet did not stop moving. I walk 16 miles to work, most of the way on the side of the freeway with the cars screaming by and their foul exhaust-filled exhalations sweeping the hairs of my eyebrows back– yep folks it was intense– on the freeway those 16 miles from 4 am to 8 am when I arrived at the office, but it was motherfucking walking, motherfucking stepping, so I did it, I did it with pride. I did with a camel pack and in loafers, and it was pride that keep my legs freewheeling along the concrete, it was pride that keep me steady as each semi shracked past so damn hard that my brief case would be suspended from one air over the parapet by the sheer force of those gigantic beast trucks passing within 6 inches of my striding, walking, stepping body. My motherfucking pride kept me upright!

    Thing is: my meter wasn’t turned on for 6 of those morning out of 14. It was my bad, of course, I should’ve realized it wasn’t on. Thing is too, that Gary, from IT had once been a professional speedwalker (in my nasty younger days I would have had some pretty nasty homosexual slurs to say against that, but now as a member of HR in a well respected insurance agency, all I can say here is that speed-walking as a sport is stupid, sheer stupidity, stupidity on a precipice overlooking a valley of really really stupid people, a valley of people not only without GEDs, but so dumb, that the government delivers food in pig-like slop canals which these people slurp up, however not stupid enough to be “mental handicap” and thus not stupid enough to actually feed themselves and take care of themselves, but stupid enough to enjoy slop gushing weekly out of government sanctioned trucks into government sanctioned troughs, and they ENJOY it, that’s how stupid I think speedwalking as a professional and olympic sport is). Gary was also known as the office manager’s “boy” and was constantly running messages back and forth between departments. Fast. Speedwalking fast. If I was more competitive man I would’ve professional-rugby-player-took-the-f-down Gary, but instead resorted to more petty and insidious means and put laxatives in his coffee. Bad idea. His trips (18 or 19) to the bathroom resulted in some serious accumulation of steps. And so on the last day we were tied.

    I prayed to god that I would win firstly. I had never been to the Bahamas. My family had never been to the Bahamas. My two weeks of vacation for the past 10 years working at V insurance agency had been spend with dying relatives in Alabama, Pennsylvania, and Saskatchewan, CA. Many of them are dead now. So I thought I at least deserved the Bahamas, especially when Gary’s already been there twice for competitive speed walking competitions, not to mentions places like Athens, Greece, Italy, Norway, Kenya, and even the Antarctica 600k Coldness Annual. Not to mention all the places over the last 5 years when he won the company’s competition. So this is what I did.

    I went up to that thin, awkward man, and said, “Please let me have this one, Gary. Please, Gary, just please man, for my family, for my pride, for my mother who died last year in the Deep South.”

    He said, “Winners are winner,” in a whiny childish voice.

    It was only after this that I resorted to true sabotage. I alerted the manager to the huge stash of cartoon pornography on Gary’s computer. It worked. Gary was fired and charged with certain pederast crimes against humanity. I was awarded the trip to the Bahamas. Thing is, walking home that last night, happy, grin on my face as I envisioned the smiles of the family at home, those 16 mile on the freeway, thing is, I lost concentration, my stride faltered, and a goddamn semi shranked my right arm off. Yep, its gone. I only have one arm now. That meant I had to use up all my sick leave and vacation time and the extra vacation time for the Bahamas trip staying in the hospital. It was just like the last 6 years, except this time I was dying (no silly not literary, though I nearly did that first week in the ICU, but dying in my soul, my soul, my motherfucking soul died, actually died, I tell you.)

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