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Books by Quantum Muse contributors and friends.
Outrunning the Storm

by
Michele Dutcher
Assisted

by
Harris Tobias
Hold The Anchovies

by
Harris Tobias
The Tooth Fairy War and Other Tales

by
Jeromy Henry


The Tall Tale

by Jason Herrell


     Oh God, I’ve slept in late, he thinks. The light creeping around the black out curtain is enough to tell him, but the clock confirms it’s 8:40. His alarm was supposed to go off but it hadn’t. Jared picks up his phone and turns the screen on, squinting at the bright light. “Jesus”, he says, “why do I always turn the brightness up so high.” He flips through his phones multiple screens, wondering all the while why he has so many apps, and finds the folder marked junk, where he keeps all his system apps. He finds the clock app and taps on it. The alarm is set to P.M. as always. How many times do I have to do this before I remember to flip it to A.M., he thinks.
 
     He unplugs the phone from the charging cord and walks to the bathroom. He sets his phone up to play his favorite playlist, Today’s Hits, on his music streaming app. Pop music fills the small, outdated room with synthesized happiness and he jumps in the shower. He might be late quite often but he won’t be classified as a slob too. As he showers he realizes the paint around the vent is starting to crack and the vent itself is starting to droop. It’s a one bedroom apartment with a thick coat of generic tan primer on the walls and doors. Popcorn ceiling and outdated but functional appliances complete the apartment. It isn’t half bad for a bachelor, especially for the price. He jumps out, towels off and grabs the first pieces of clothing he can grab out of his laundry basket. He piles his clean clothes in the basket and keeps telling himself he’ll fold them, but he never quite gets around too it.
 
     His drive to work isn’t bad, around 15 minutes, but his mind starts to turn. His boss doesn’t like people being tardy, even by one minute, but he doesn’t seem to mind too much if you give him a good story. When he first started working at Gilmore’s, a call center where he helps whiny customers troubleshoot their online home decor orders, he had been late within the first month. His old car just wouldn’t turn over he told Mr. Jamison. The battery had died and he’d had to call his brother to come pick him up to get a new one. Mr. Jamison just looked at him for a minute, almost disgusted and said, “What a horribly boring story,” boring came out with long, drawn out syllables,“make it better next time, or you’re fired.”
 
     Three years later and he’d come to realize that if he didn’t provide a more and more and more fanciful and unrealistic story,  like a children’s storybook, he would be fired on the spot. No questions asked.
 
     He’d seen it happen a couple months ago. It was Charles Lager, he remembered. He was a poindexter. He stood kind of hunched over, hands hard at his sides. His glasses were square but probably the most stylish accessory he wore. He stood there, like a scalded dog, stuttering out his reason for being late. His mother was chronically sick and she had a doctors appointment that day. He thought he had asked for the extra 30 minutes off in sick time but he must’ve forgotten. Mr. Jamison told him that he had given that story just one too many times and that was it, his time at Gilmore’s was over. “Pack your cubicle and leave”, he had said.
 
     His parking lot had a fresh new layer of asphalt, and the parking spaces had a coat of, you can’t miss it, yellow. The building stood out from the rest of the street. The smaller buildings to the left and right of Gilmore’s looked old – because they were – a few had windows that were boarded up, and the other parking lots were littered with pot holes and trash.
 
     At 9:15 he pulled into his assigned space, turned off his early 2000’s sedan, and thought this time he would just wing the story. It shouldn’t be too hard. He’s done it enough to know what his boss likes to hear.
 
     His office was on the 3rd floor of the five floor concrete building. He’d started in the basement, where the print room was. Then had skipped the 2nd floor where the Creative Team was, and went straight to Customer Service within the first year. The 4th was the IT department – something he wasn’t interested in – and then the 5th floor, the executive offices. All the big wigs were up there. Sending down their authority, sending down all the rules and regulations that everyone in the company had to follow. He liked that idea – power – and had always been good at making decisions and following his instincts. “Two more years and I’ll be there”, he would say.
 
     He scans his card and opens the glass door to get in the building and finds it strange that the security guard isn’t at the window that sits off to the right side. He’s probably taking a walk, he thinks, I’d get bored too if I had to sit in that little hole all day. He opens the second door and realizes something is off. The receptionist isn’t at her oversized wooden desk, and no one is walking around. He thinks about it for half a second and wonders if today was a holiday he had forgotten about. He walks towards the elevator, his dress shoes clacking and echoing against the polished tile floor, and pushes the little up arrow, making it light up a pale orange.
 
     The door dings and opens quietly. Jared walks slowly out of the elevator noticing that they’ve added a new piece of artwork on the wall in front of him. The first noise he’s heard since he’s been at work catches his ear. It sounds like hushed sobbing. He comes up to the edge of the wall in front of the elevators, and pushes his arm hard against it. He peeks around the wall into the main cubicle area and jerks his head back.
 
     Charles Lager is standing in the middle of the cubicles, one arm around Mr. Jamisons neck and one arm pointed straight out, holding a pistol aimed at the wall. “Shit”, Jared says under his breath. This doesn’t happen, he thinks, only in movies, right? His breath picks up and his heart pounds in his chest. Janice is quietly crying. He sees two other people besides Janice sitting on the floor, but he can’t see their face. And then he hears a growl of a voice. Heavy with disgust and rage.
 
     “You’re late, Jared. You’re late! I know you’re there.” He shakes his gun, thrusting it forward. “What story are you going to tell today, hmmm? You’re apartment filled with rats. A dragon took the roof of your car! What bullshit are you going to tell today? Come out here!” He fires a bullet into the tiled ceiling and Janice squeaks. Pieces fall to the floor with a thud.
 
Jared comes around the corner slowly with his hands up and his forehead in a cold sweat.
 
“Look, I –”, Jared starts to say.
 
     “No, you look,” says Charles, “I’ve worked here for 8 years. Never late one day and you come in here 3 years ago and just tell this idiot – he smacks Jamison in the head with the butt of the pistol – whatever you want. You’re the type of person that talks his way out of everything. The type of person who looks at both sides of good and evil and decides to walk down the middle.”
 
     “It isn’t the right way to live. I always follow the rules because it’s the right thing to do. And you wanna know what happens when I follow the rules; I always get shit on. Nothing ever works my way. But now, now I will.”
 
Charles steadies his nerves and his gun. Bears his teeth, finger on the trigger.
 
Bang!
 
A shot rings out and Charles falls to one side.
 



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Books by Quantum Muse contributors and friends.
Transdimensional Blues

by
Raymond Coulombe
Piņatas From Space!: Crazy Games With Cards And Dice

by
Jeromy Henry
The Tooth Fairy War and Other Tales

by
Jeromy Henry
The Dreaming Fire

by
Jeromy Henry


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