NaNoWriMo Day 6

In any case, overall your performance is solid. However, there were a couple of points of concern we did have and I was hoping to sort of go over them with you if that’s cool.”

And if it isn’t? Again, Phil was successful in keeping that thought inside his head. “Sure.”

So your handle times are looking good, and your survey scores are acceptable, but when you first started there was an upwards trend, improvement was happening, right? But then, a few months back, you started to plateau. And then in the last month or two, your scores have actually begun to noticeably dip. That’s a cause for concern.”

But you said that my scores were still acceptable.”

Well, yes. But there’s a gap between acceptable and optimal, right? We want to encourage your core potential,” this was a quote from the company’s motto, “and insure ideal service quality,” which was from paragraph two of the company mission statement.

Phil contemplated his salary, his prospects for advancement within the company, and the likelihood of improved performance netting him a raise. He had done these calculations before. In fact, now that he thought about it, he had first considered these things seriously right around the time Charlie said his performance had started dipping. Curiously enough.

Phil nodded and said “sure.”

So, the other thing, and I get that this one can be tricky to stay on top of sometimes, is your schedule adherence. Even with all your other metrics in the black, you’ve dropped a few percentage points into the red on your time-management. Your breaks are consistently off-schedule, you’ve been starting lunch late, getting back from lunch late, getting slack in the amount of time you allow between calls, just sort of, you know, a general messiness. It all adds up, right? We just don’t want you nickel-and-diming yourself to death.”

But my productivity and quality both remain at acceptable levels.” It occurred to Phil that Harry the dream outlaw would have started shooting by now, probably.

Yup. No question of it, came the answer from inside him. Phil twitched.

Now understand, I don’t mean to alarm you,” Charlie said hastily, maybe misreading the look on his employee’s face. “You’re not in danger of termination at this point, not at all. We just want to make sure you’re on the right track, on board with an improvement plan, moving forward. So, how can we incentivise that?”

You’re of a mind to do some stranglin’, you could do worse than starting here. Christ boy, show some gumption. Your blood can’t be that watered down, can it?

Shut up,” Phil said, muttering under his breath.

Man up, son! I ain’t swum back up the black river to see no blood a mine get ramrodded by a cocksucker dude like this!

Shut up.” Phil said it louder.

I…what?” said Charlie.

Look, you want to incentivise me, maybe the chance, just, like, a chance at getting a raise in the next year, or a promotion ever, maybe that’d do something. But you’re not going to do that, are you? Doesn’t matter how well I do my job, I get paid the same, I get to keep doing the same job, isn’t that right? Isn’t it?”

Charlie looked about as startled as he might have if Phil had sprouted Wolverine claws and started breathing literal fire. He seemed unsure of how to respond. Phil realized that he was on his feet, and leaning forward with his knuckles on the table, pushing into his supervisor’s space a little. He wasn’t sure how that had happened.

Well, maybe you got some Branson left in you after all, son.

Shut up! Who are you? Get out of my head!

Uh, Phil, are you uh, you okay?”

Phil remembered where he was, and that he was rapidly increasing his chances of being unemployed.

He deflated back into the cheap conference room chair. “Um. Hey, look, Charlie, I’m sorry. It’s…It’s been crazy this week. I’ve had some, some family stuff, and I’ve been sick some, and…I’m sorry.”

Charlie’s frown got deep. “Phil, we’re starting to worry about you some. Listen, how about you take fifteen, stick to emails for the rest of the day, and tomorrow morning we’ll set up some time to talk a little more?”

Uh, sure. Sure, Charlie. Sounds good.”

Valley View

Oklahoma was long gone, and now Gainesville was in the rear-view mirror. Soon as the sun went below the horizon, the Driver found a discreet place just a few miles out from the dead center of nowhere, a place in which the Cadillac could be parked out of sight and away from any likely disturbance. He took the opportunity to swap out the license plates, using older Texas plates. The previous ones were from Missouri, and he dug a little firepit in the earth and applied some gasoline to insure they’d burn past recognizability, then filled in the whole with dirt and tamped it down, smoothed it over.

He was in a stand of pines next to a dirt road that was off of a gravel road that was off of a farm road that was off of I-35. There had been a farmhouse here, and its bones were here yet, but neither farm nor house endured. He had drawn a circle in the earth with the tip of his hunting knife, and laid out a second with silk rope, and a third with iron chain, and made each one a staunch barrier. It was ideal.

He opened up the black box, and the passenger came out of it like the last bloody cough of a consumptive. The old ghost was thicker now than he had been, more cohesive and brighter in color, but still little more than a red vapor.

This’ll do fine. House yonder looks like it got burnt down some time. Yes, ‘prentice, this’ll do fine. Now first thing ye’re to do is make the call. Bring one to you.”

The Driver knelt in the grass, focusing his will into a clear vision of intent, and forced it out of his mouth. The noise it made was a harsh caw! Caw!

No. Twilight’s short now, and ye’ll want one with night eyes. Crow’s good for daylight, but not the dark. Try again.”

The Driver scowled but obeyed. Reshaping his desire into a different pattern, he released it again, into the shivering, bone-haunting screech of a barn owl.

Good. Now wait.”

He waited, making himself as still and empty as possible, as his first master had taught him.

There care a fluttering of pale wings in the moonlight, following an answering screech borne closer on those wings. The small white owl came to earth before him, head cocked, puzzled. The feathers of its strangely flat face rippled slightly.

Now watch me, and learn.”

Red mist swarmed and swept around it, forcing into it through seemingly every pore under the bird’s plumage. It flapped and squawked and struggled for just a bit, and then went still as a carved bone. The luminescent eyes flashed crimson. The bird let out a long angry screech, but the meaning that screech carried into the Driver’s brain with clear meaning in his master’s voice.

Now call again, and lie down flat as you wait. And when another bird comes, you jump in and take it.”

He called.

He laid flat, stretching his body straight on the ground.

He waited.

A pale weight, hollow bones light as a ghost’s, came to rest on his chest. He’d been told by more than one mystic that such birds carried souls back and forth, and been told too that spirits took such form when they perched on the chests of sleeping men to drink their life. The thought made him chuckle.

He marshaled his soul into the sense of a grasping hand, and pounced out of his body, seizing and crushing the small contents of the owl’s physicality and discarding them, pouring himself into their vacated place.

He felt himself blaze in every cell of the barn owl. He spread his wings, stretching his pinions. He saw the world, sharply delineated and clear, like looking through shooter’s glasses in the desert at noon (in the way that a chopped Harley is like a tricycle). He heard everything. The impossibly slow pulse of the blood flowing though his body below him. He had senses there aren’t words for in any but the most hidden of human languages.

Good boy.” The Driver turned his head to regard his master through his new eyes. The night hunter’s gaze caught all the wrongness to it, although in specifics he looked like just another owl. The transformed Driver shaped the plumage on his face in subtle ways his own mind didn’t understand, but in answer to his intent, and he screeched. The echoes of that screech poured back into the dish of his face, and he received a full picture from the waves breaking on his feathers. His body’s inborn sonar painted vividly on his brain, and he would never forget how that was and never would he be able to explain it.

The eyes said the other owl looked like an owl. The sonar said it was a vast and dark abomination.

Good. And that’s how you do it. With practice, ye’ll be able to take bigger animals, more tight-woven ones. Master it, and ye could crawl into another man. Not many dare mess with such, but it can be done.”

We can fly like ghosts. You’re as free as smoke. Why do we need to do this?”

Because a spirit in flesh isn’t melted by the dawn. Because other bodies give other strengths, as ye’re seeing and hearing now. And because in my present bodiless state, it is all I can do to overthrow the soul of a common owl. Now come, fly. We hunt. Tonight is yer initiation into the magic of the body.”

They soared up and over the darkening fields and thickets. The master taught, opening doors, revealing possibilities. When the Driver came down like an ax on a careless mouse, the master first took all its blood, then had him begin to learn the reshaping of the flesh. Six names he was told, of Powers who gave dominion over dead flesh. Four names, he was told, of powers who gave dominion over living flesh. In that night he was introduced to new power, and was warned that using it would tax him sorely.

Ye’ll need to be brimful with energy, full to bursting with it, for such workings will burn ye like a narrow candle. And I must be filled and fresh. Aye, to do what I intend, we’ll have to commit horrors. The rewards, though, the rewards will be mighty.”


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