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Prompt: Write a short story, of 650 words or fewer, based on the photo prompt above. You can be funny, poignant, witty, etc.; it is, after all, your story.
Read the winning entry below.
"The Knowing" by Kelsey Gilbert
I notice too much.
The cubicle walls join at not-quite-90-degree angles, creating a dull, fuzzy maze. The gray of them spreads like a bad attitude. A single red pushpin sneers from an otherwise blank wall.
A papercut somewhere makes somebody hiss.
Most of the fluorescent lights have been replaced with LEDs, except in the break room. From the corner of my eye, I can see one flicker. Flick, flick, flicker. I listen to it hum.
Above the drab landscape hangs the murmur of voices. Busy, bored, muted, with a thread of resentment — we’re all trapped in the Great American Rat Race.
Calm, I tell myself. Soon. I take another bite of muenster, another breath. I slip my high heels off and twist, slowly, in my office chair. I didn't used to notice so many things. But ever since —
There. There goes Dolores Valdez again. She stares at me. She’s always doing that these days, though she tries to be subtle. It's not admiration, disdain, or jealousy. But she’s definitely watching me.
I wonder if she knows. She and Mr. Cush.
I used to be your average nine-to-fiver: Drive to work. Walk in, eyes glued to the floor. Hello, to those who insist. Occupy a cubicle, with your rear glued to the chair, eyes glued to the screen, and lips glued to your coffee cup.
Then they changed me. Somehow. It was at that last employee picnic, I know it. At first I blamed food poisoning — diarrhea, nausea, vomiting — but when the illness abruptly shifted gears from pain to ecstasy and dropped me into a 24-hour nap that left me with this acute awareness of everything —
I jump as Fred activates the shredder.
In another cubicle, Darla St. Martin sneezes, making her hat feathers quiver. Nobody else knows about her female-pattern alopecia.
Across the room, I hear Jeff grunt, shift. He’s getting too hot, as usual, but shorter sleeves would reveal his full-sleeve tattoos of nude women.
Nan Brown, the secretary, has duplicates of every key in the office, even personal keys. Especially personal keys. I hear them rattle in the drawer, hidden under her candy stash.
Tap, ta-tap, tap. David Muldoon’s dusty mouse tells me he navigates his computer entirely by keyboard.
I stand up and press against the cubicle wall, watching him. He's oblivious.
In 13 minutes, Dave will get up for his 12:06 p.m. cup of coffee.
In 5 minutes, Mr. Cush will leave for a lunch meeting.
In 6.5 minutes, Nan will follow.
After her, but before Dave, I’ll get up, walk to Nan Brown’s empty cubicle, and grab the keys to Mr. Cush’s office.
Then I will know everything.
Glug, glug, glug, gulps the water dispenser. It’s two-thirds empty, but the —
There goes Mr. Cush. Nan grunts as she rises from her chair.
Dave is getting restless, craving his 12:06 caffeine.
I move, barefoot, across the worn carpet, slipping unseen between the rhythmic flows of the workplace. I snag the keys from Nan's desk, then slide over to Mr. Cush’s office. I'm in. I shut the door. Breathe. Outside, I hear Dave walk by.
Flawless performance, everyone.
I unlock Mr. Cush’s cabinet and pull out the folder bearing my name. My fingers tremble. Quick!
MINERVA MAUS | Project RDNT, Phase Two
Rodent Genetic Modification Serum successfully administered. Subject stable. Proceed as planned.
Observe subject's coworker interactions. Report behavioral changes. Watch for increased efficiency, alertness, etc. Monitor subject closely; side effects include paranoia; subject may flee unexpectedly.
Do not allow subject to become aware of experimental status. Secrecy must be maintained at all costs in order to preserve experiment integrity. Test subject must be destroyed immediately if —
I jump as the door handle moves.
“Mr. Cush —”
He sees the folder. Our eyes meet.