It’s been days, more like weeks, since our mysterious meeting with Senski. I am very good at what I do. Well, dammit, start doing it! We hit a new low near midnight on a Monday; Jumpfunders thermometer stable. No more pledges, and unless we find some way to start our imaginary movie, we’ll never get the cash. Standing outside GIRLZ with Dumbo sealed inside that office doing God knows what, Mel mutters exactly what I am thinking. “Looks like we should have kept that check.”
Then the hairs on the back of my neck rise up and tremble. The air in the room changes, signifying a disturbance I don’t know about.
Mel feels it too. “We need to go.”
It’s odd. At 11:45, Dumbo’s usually glued to his computer, searching body parts on the web. Instead he’s up and running. We can see his big, restless shadow through the frosted glass: Dumbo, pacing back and forth. “He’ll come out and hit on us.”
“It’s too late,” I say again, without knowing why, only that it’s true. This is the nadir. “We’re stuck.”
“Us and him.”
But behind that glass, something is happening; we’re just too depressed to see Dumbo’s outline changing, changing. “Out ten K and what do we have to show? ‘I am very good at what I do.’ Yeah, right.”
Mel says bitterly, “Ten thousand dollars and he hasn’t done shit. What’s that?”
Behind that glass, there is an explosion of ugly guttural noise, like nothing human makes. “He’s up to something. Run!”
She grabs my arm. “Wait. Something’s happening.”
Whatever it is, it’s tremendous. There is much flailing, much crashing of furniture, muffled sounds that mean nothing or everything. Senski at work? Is that Senski, wrestling Dumbo to the mat, or is something worse going on in there? We don’t know.
We want to leave. We have to stay.
Mel and I have been here all night and except for the pizza guy and the UPS guy, who left as soon as they made their deliveries—food, new clothes at this hour?—except for them, nobody went into that office. Dumbo has his own bathroom with the fax in there, and enough food in that mini-fridge to keep him going for as long as it takes.
If it really is Senski, how did he get in, and what’s he doing in there to cause all the thrashing and the gurgling? Strangling Dumbo or stabbing him or some worse crime that will end us up in jail? Will there be blood and we’ll have to explain it to the cops?
Clinging to each other’s biceps with white knuckles, Mel and I grit our teeth and wait. Dumbo’s shadow seems to get bigger and bigger—unless it’s two shadows, grappling to the death. It’s hard to know. Near morning the shadow gets huge. Then something happens and the whole, shapeless mass drops to the floor. There’s groaning and gasping followed by a long pause and then a strangled, genderless shriek. Then it stops.
By this time Mel’s fingernails are so deep in my arm that I gasp. One look at her grim, lockjaw squint tells me that we’re hurting each other, so we let go and sag against the wall, settling on our haunches to wait. For a long time, nothing happens. It may have been minutes. It seems more like hours. No, like days. We roll our desk chairs into the long aisle between GIRLZ and the sealed, silent office, and we keep watch, waiting for somebody or something to come out that door. No Senski. Was he ever here? No Dumbo. What is he, dead in there? We sit and watch until sunrise warns us. We need to act before the morning shift comes in and calls 911, meaning that whatever happened behind that door, they’ll blame us first.
Should we stay? Should we go?
Mel and I sit riveted, too tired and anxious to talk. In the long silence, everything I know about pacts with the devil runs on a loop inside my head, along with every detail of “The Monkey’s Paw.” Oh fuck, I think, and that’s all I can think, just. Oh, fuck. We go in there and find out that we got what we want and it’s not what we wanted at all.
Then there is a stir. The shadow rises behind the frosted glass. It’s Dumbo, but not Dumbo. There are unexpected noises, outline of distressed creature forging back and forth behind that glass, reaching for things. There are muttered curses that sound like Dumbo, except they don’t, but before we can get out of those chairs and shake sensation back into our legs and feet, before we can turn to run, before we can think…
The office door opens and this huge, flailing, genderless being comes shambling out. It’s Dumbo all right, but Dumbo miraculously morphed into a shapeless, hideous version of Chester Underworth, our hated boss, except it’s a sort-of woman so fat that she could play TIFFANY in our movie, hideous in a garishly flowered muumuu with hairy legs rising above huge plush bedroom slippers that look like Hobbit legs or Wookie paws. H/she, or it, is simultaneously stuffing pizza into its face and gnawing on a cigar, while it runs sausage fingers through a new growth of hair on its head that’s, I don’t know. Puce, I think, a mass of artificial girly curls. Whatever this creature is, it isn’t interested in sex or power any more.
It wants one thing only. Huge, shapeless and barely recognizable, Chester Underworth lunges right past us and out the office door with such urgency that I think it’s after either whiskey or more food, raw meat or all three.
So nobody died on our watch and we won’t be charged with this—insult or transformation or whatever Senski did to him. You bet he is very good at what he does. Furthermore, although the office closed for the day, it turns out Cecil Underworth signed the order. He arrived next morning first thing, in his right mind after all, and under his own steam. Dumbo’s hired thug was gone, along with the drugs and whatever else they were giving him. He came up in the elevator in a dandy motorized scooter and rolled back into our lives. His eyes were clear—no pills and no explanations. He took over the reins at UnderworthOverwrite, so not only is Senski very good at what he does, he’s not about to turn up later and demand our souls.
Mel and I got what we wanted and, you know what? It’s exactly what we wanted after all.
Kit Reed’s next novel, Where (Tor), will appear in the summer of 2015. Her most recent books are The Story Until Now: A Great Big Book of Stories (Wesleyan University Press), a Shirley Jackson nominee, and Son of Destruction (Severn House). Recent novels include The Baby Merchant, Enclave, and Thinner Than Thou, winner of a YALA Alex Award, all from Tor. A Guggenheim fellow and an early recipient of an international literary grant from the Abraham Woursell Foundation, she is Resident Writer at Wesleyan University.Find her on Twitter at @TheRealKitReed.