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Day Shift – Chapter 04

That First New Morning

 

               Again, the agonizing screech of an alarm was the only thing that was able to rouse him from his sleep. His drive to move was less than it would have normally been, and his body’s natural aversion to daylight hours made it seem heavier than usual. He was determined to have a better morning though. Numerous alarms and a swing at a good night’s sleep ensured he would be up on time. Though, in all honesty, he didn’t sleep well. He tossed and turned and got bored and sat on social media sites for hours and hours and watched pointless videos instead of shutting off and sleeping. He just couldn’t find himself tired or relaxed. Between nerves and his own natural schedule, there was no way that he would find a good comfortable rest.

               He did, eventually, doze off. But that sleep was not a particularly restful sleep. Nights like this, he would slip off for moments, but the inevitable nightmares induced by the stress he felt kept waking him up. Those dreams where the day had begun and operated normally until some twist of terror would pull you out of your sleep, and adrenaline would keep you up for a few minutes. He was always used to such things, so he tended to fall back asleep. Though, that may have just exacerbated the problem, making him have most of the night in short bouts of poorly interrupted naps.

               That morning, despite his lack of energy, he was up and ready much more smoothly than he had been a few days prior. He had time to enjoy a simple, lukewarm shower and a small breakfast before his final alarm let him know he should be leaving. He got dressed, and though he had time, he looked no more put together than he ever did in the past.

               As he was leaving, his phone chimed. It gave him a simple text message alert. The name simply said, Olivia.

               Good luck. The text said, though the gif of a particularly popular cartoon character in a particularly sarcastic scene. It made him roll his eyes. It was meant in a playful tease, of course, but it still made him feel a little bit like an idiot. But, she did at least say something to him one way or the next. Which was nicer than any of his other so-called friends. He didn’t have time to dwell on it, and with his usual accouterments, he headed out to his car.

               It was still dark out, which was nice for him. His car started up normally, and he tried the radio for a few minutes as he started to pull out – but it was miserable. For all of his life, he had absolutely hated early morning radio. He had no desire to listen to morning radio hosts. They just annoyed him. Noises and constant yammering with guests that he could have cared less, and clearly didn’t want to be there. And there was so much time between the music that it seemed almost pointless. The music was why he listened to the radio on the drive. And for this drive, reliable music would have made it so much more tolerable.

               It was just a few days ago that he made this drive in a mere few minutes – but early morning driving, along with so many other people, was hellishly dull. There were too many stoplights in this town, and people piled out to head towards their job, or drop their kids off at school, or whatever. He didn’t know. He didn’t really care. There was only one reality here. The movement was slow enough that it seemed like he would just crawl along between lights, barely making any headway. He was surprised people lived like this. What did they do in the car every morning? Listen to some random people make bad pop culture jokes interspersed with random noises? Or was there something he was missing? It had to be that, right? Something people knew that he didn’t. No one looked to be as deep in thought or miserable as him as he looked around and caught glimpses of other drivers.

               The person in front of him, in particular, seemed unaffected. She was dancing in her car, enjoying a coffee, and seemed genuinely happy. She’d even wave to people from time to time. He hated her a little bit, as he sat in his quiet existential box waiting to reach a job he didn’t particularly want to go to. But, she turned off and into a shopping center, and he was back to watching people in short bursts. No one else was as interesting to him. Except one person with a bunch of bumper stickers he didn’t understand. It just seemed like random numbers to him. But whatever they meant, the person seemed proud of them.

               Eventually, nearly thirty minutes after he left, he finally found his way to work. His car pulled into the parking lot he was used to early that morning. His clock said 6:44 AM. The sun was beginning to peak over the horizon through the skyline of small skyscrapers in their midsized city. That light hitting his skin sent a bit of shaking through his form, a wave of building nausea almost instantly coming over him. It was a familiar feeling he had been able to tamp down on for so long, but now he was going to face it again. Olivia was right. This might have been a very bad choice. Maybe starving was a better plan.

               He was a creature of habit, and the first thing that irked him was the fact that the parking lot was already full. He wouldn’t be able to park where he wanted to. Or even in the same section. He had to wrap around and find a parking space, and it took him a circle or two to find a spot. Even that was not a decent one, it was far and with no possible shade between it and the entrance. He took a minute to steel himself and prepare to get into work for the day. One long breath helped center him and he stepped out into the morning light.

               It was a mistake.

               As soon as that solar light fell on his skin more fully, he felt another wave of nausea and fatigue. It made the walk to the front door feel as though it took forever. With the sun out, it was such a different world. He remembered it differently than it was now – even without the painful parts of the existence. His skin was burning within seconds, heated up and his skin turning bright pink and red. He made his way to the lobby a few seconds later.

               He waited for a few moments just inside the door, enjoying the shade of the building and feeling himself get a bit closer to normal once he had a second. He never thought the smell of stale recycled air and fluorescent carpet – and whatever that third smell was that he couldn’t quite place. Just that general stench of a building full of humans. He sighed and straightened himself up a bit only to catch the eyes of Marcell staring at him.

               “You aren’t lookin’ so hot,” The old night guardsman said quietly, twisting back down to look at his tablet for whatever internet surfing he was doing to pass the time.

               “Not great. But I’m okay,” Mattias said softly, taking a moment to clear his throat. He took a step forward and found himself a bit dizzier than he would have thought, but that faded quickly. The further away from the sun, he was, the better he was able to do. “I guess good morning.”

               “Mhm,” Marcell responded with a quiet nod.

               Mattias didn’t try to engage beyond that. He just decided to move on. He heard the door open behind him and saw another person enter. Some older man in a business suit with a dark briefcase. As the vampire called the elevator, the man walked up next to him and looked at him.

               Really looked. He stared at him with a strange intensity that Mattias didn’t particularly like. And he never said anything. He just stared, until the elevator dinged. The man pushed past him, his shoulder checking the vampire as if this was some sort of race to the tiny cubicle that would lift them both to their destinations. He didn’t understand the strategy if he was honest. Or why the man was in such a rush.

               Holland followed him into the elevator and stared at the lit-up number. Looked like he was headed to the third floor. It was only proper to start off polite, he thought.

               “Could you hit floor four for me?” Mattias gave a small point to the number as the door started to shut. The man turned and stared back at the vampire. Mattias’ eyes widened expectantly, but nothing happened. The man just stared. It frustrated the vampire a bit, “Alright, fair enough. Not until you’ve had your coffee, I guess.” He thought out loud, stepping forward and leaning past the man to hit the number of his floor. All the while, the man just stared at him.

               It was a long twenty seconds before they reached the third floor. And that stare never left him. Mattias could not understand it and couldn’t read him. He wasn’t sure if he had done something to piss him off, or if he was trying to establish some sort of dominance. Whatever it was, it wasn’t working. When the doors open, the man muttered under his breath something and shook his head, stepping off and away. A great way to start the morning.

               The elevator doors closed and the lift began to rise again. A few more seconds and he was on the fourth floor. He moved towards the entrance to his office and found himself frozen at the door. He hadn’t realized how many windows there were in the cubicle farm, and that morning sunlight pouring in was intimidating, to say the least.

               He took a deep breath and pushed open the door. The fact that the glass doors had blocked the sound of the room astonished him. Even with not nearly half the staff having arrived, there was a buzz of activity that seemed so loud. It must have been louder today than usual, as they had often crossed paths with others as they left the night shift, but it was never like this. It was a buzz of laughing and early morning talking, the sound of percolating coffee, and early morning hums of computers coming online, and the clacking of passwords being entered. The smell of coffee was actually overwhelming, but that part was a little bit comforting and made him feel a lot more.

               He glanced down to his small red bottle and gave a smirk. He was sure that smell would not have been as popular with the people getting ready for work. He was pulled from that thought when he heard the hiss of the door behind him pushing open, and a bubbly voice bounding out.

               “Oh, sorry! We don’t technically open until seven,” He heard the voice speak quickly. It was so high and mousey that he didn’t know how to respond, and it was followed by hurried clicks of high heels on the fake wooden floors. A common sound here, he admitted, but she seemed to be moving quickly. He turned his gaze towards the sound, as she continued, “Give me one second to put down my things and I can get you checked in.”

               “No, you don’t,” Mattias tried to speak up, but his quiet lack of a morning voice didn’t help in this situation, she continued as she moved past him.

               “It’ll just take me a minute. Mondays, am I right?” She asked quickly. Now, Mattias was not a big man, but this woman made him look like a giant. She couldn’t have been five feet tall. That small package was paired with nearly three feet of long golden hair with strips of artificial platinum throughout, a smile as bright as any he had seen. Much more than any he had ever given. She hefted a load of bags that would have made a packhorse buckle. She had her purse on one shoulder, which was one of those massive tote bag style ordeals that seemed to bulge at the center from the number of things within it. Her lunchbox was another surprisingly large bag. And across her shoulders she had a rather well-packed backpack, which by the branding near its straps was likely holding her laptop. All of this she was carrying in addition to the number of layers of clothes she wore. She was meticulously dressed for her days work, with a morning coat over her business jacket, a small sweater vest, and a button-up blouse under that. She wore a knit scarf and long gloves. All of which she had to pull off once she got to her desk. “And who are you here to see?”

               “No,” Mattias said with a shake of his head and a small wave of his arms. “I work here.”

               “Oh, a new hire. Here for Orientation, then?”

               “What? No. I already work here,”

               “Yes, employment comes before,”

               “No I mean I’ve worked here for years.”

               “I would have remembered you, then,” She spoke quickly, a wide smile on her face, and sudden piercing gaze turned in his direction. “I’m good with faces, and yours is unique.”

               “I’ll take that as a compliment,”

               “Good, because it was one,” She spoke, but he honestly wasn’t sure if she was being facetious. She had to be, he thought. There was no other explanation for how polite she was being to him at their first meeting.

“Right.” It had already taken her longer to get her accouterments off and hung up than it did for him to put on his entire outfit this morning. “I’m Mattias. Was on night shift and,”

“Oh, you’re the Manager that got switched to Day Shift. Congratulations!” She clapped a bit as she spoke, rifling through her drawers.

“Uh, thanks.”

“Nightshift must have been terribly lonely. I’m glad you’re here now. We’ll have to celebrate you and your team coming up to greet the sun, finally, after all those years,” She was chipper. Of course, she didn’t realize the sun was making him nauseated, and the very fact that she was chipper made him think that she likely didn’t actually know what she was saying – at least in regard to him – but he had no time to correct her before that small hand slammed a chocolate and caramel bar on the counter side of her receptionist station. “Here, I know it’s not much but I didn’t know you guys were going to join us after the shutdown. I’m glad no one got fired though!”

“I can’t,” He said with a little wave of his hand. For the first time, he saw that smile of hers fade, just a bit.

“Oh. You’re not much of one for sweets then,”

“You could say that, yes,” He responded. That seemed to take more steam out of her. He realized the answer she had probably been looking for was a timing thing, not that he couldn’t. Her eyes widened larger as she seemed to come to a realization that it wasn’t a choice, “I mean, I’d love to take it – but I literally can’t.”

“Oh god,” She said quickly, pulling the candy away. “I’m so sorry,” The way she said so took up the most of that short sentence somehow, “Dietary restriction. I should have asked that first,”

“You could say that. Yeah,”

“Are you…” Her voice lowered as if she was trying to be polite, “Diabetic?”

“I don’t think you have to whisper that,”

“I mean,” She kept whispering, “I don’t want other people to know if you don’t want to tell them,” She said quickly, “I’ll keep it quiet.”

“No. I, what? No. That’s not it, exactly.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I guess I could be diabetic, technically. I mean, my pancreas doesn’t work, and my blood sugar depends on who I drank last.” He tapped his chin a bit, in thought. This was something he did. Meander on topics in weird directions, and some people, like the receptionist, didn’t understand he was just thinking.

“Wait… drank?” She glanced across him for a moment and the blood drained from her face and she slipped back, “An alcoholic?”

Mattias was confused and just shook his head. “No, I’m a vampire.”

“Oh,” Her tone changed immediately back the more chipper one, “Good, I was worried.”

He couldn’t help but smile as she put the candy away and smiled back over to him. “Why did you think an alcoholic?”

“Bourbon cream filled bar,”

“I thought it was caramel,”

“They look similar,” She shrugged. “Wait, vampires can’t have sugar?”

“We don’t metabolize things like humans. I can eat, but it takes longer and is really bad for me if I don’t have proper blood flow.” He shook the red bottle in his hand, a little sloshing noise from the container made its way over to her, and for a second she seemed confused.

“Is that… blood?”

“Human, yes. Not sure what type, just grabbed one from the fridge,” He said with a shrug.

“Neat. Just out of curiosity…” She said quietly, “What would happen if I had a drink?”

“Uhm…” He glanced down at the bottle and then back to her, “First, weird question,” He said quietly, and then with a tilt of his head gave a smirk, “Second, nothing.”

“Oh. I guess that makes sense. I just thought, maybe there was something special about it,” She said with just the softest hint of disappointment in her tone.

“I mean, its good blood. Like. Great quality, I guess.” He paused, and then there was the dreaded awkward silence between the two, where neither said a word for a moment. He gave a point towards the cubicle farm beyond. “I should find my new… office. But it was nice to meet you,”

“Oh, yeah! Sorry, it was weird,”

“Eh, I like weird,” He replied, “Oh, and your name was?”

“Ava-May Mays, but people just call me Ava. Or Miss Mays,”

“Which do you prefer?”

“Ava.”

“Ava it is. And you can call me Mattias.”

“Mattias,” She smiled, “Good to meet you. Welcome to the Day Shift,”

“Thank you, I’m…”

“Mr. Holland,” Ed’s voice shattered the conversation with a purposeful intent of a bark. Somehow she had snuck up on them, standing in the entryway to the cubicles beyond. The woman was as sharply dressed as always, cutting a stark figure of a silhouette against the rising sun beyond the windows. “My office.”

“Right, on my way.” He had stopped the sentence then at first, but she was shrouded by the position of the sun, and didn’t move – but he felt like he could see her eyes narrow expectantly on him anyway, “Ms. Chambers.”

A sudden realization hit him. He didn’t remember if Miss was right for Ed. Was she a Miss, or a Misses? He couldn’t remember if she was married, and he couldn’t see her well enough to make out a ring if she was. It made him suddenly very self-conscious. He was worried that she wasn’t going to respond well if he was wrong. Her response didn’t instill him with confidence either.

She gave a small huff, a hum of sound that was neither happy or unhappy. It was cold and frankly uncaring and he wasn’t sure if he had misspoken. But she did move off towards her office, so he was going to count it in his wins for the day.

He took a breath and stepped through the opening and into the offices proper. The torrent of sunlight stopped him in his path and made him keel over just a bit, for a moment. Nausea and fatigue moved on him like a storm. His muscles tightened up and his body tensed without him in control. He felt like he was the embodiment of discomfort for a few moments, but as he took stock he was able to regain some semblance of control and begin his walk towards Ed’s office. She hadn’t paused when he did, so he took a while to catch up to her, and then he was there at her door.

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Day Shift – Chapter 03

Crepes

 

               “You’re an idiot. Why didn’t you just quit?” Olivia spoke to him with no holds barred. A flash of her hand in a harsh wave gave him little solace over the lonely booth table in the back corner of their usual haunt – though that word held such a different meaning these days. “You could survive a few weeks finding a new job. This one clearly doesn’t work.”

               “I know,” He said quietly, staring down at the plain crepes on his plate, and then up to the sweet monstrosity she had made hers into, and then up to her.

               Olivia was a mountain witch, a classic American archetype. She was the crazy woman at the edge of the wilderness who was set in her own ways. Her hair was wild, and her demeanor uncouth. Like the Baba Yaga of Europe, her abilities were bewildering and made no real sense. The warmth drained from the air around her, animals were comfortable near her and spoke to her, she could see auras of mortals and non-humans, she could work minor spells, and who knew what else. It was ever-changing, like the wilds themselves. She was strange. A Hedge Wizard with a mix of craziness brought by the countless mystic archetypes that helped settle the west. Of course, that meant she was human.

               She had continued to grow old, and he had stayed much the same. And it was that fact that eventually broke them. He was cursed to live as he was, at least until such a time as he faded away from whatever reason. Most likely getting Van Hellsinged by some new age Hunter who considered non-humans ‘dangerous’. So now, here he sat the same as the day she met him – but she, she was in her forties.

               She was still beautiful to him. Of course, he had always had a thing for older women, and if he was honest, during her time as a mother she had filled out nicely. She disagreed with him. And frankly he was a complete ass forever making note of it. He couldn’t help it. Of course, when she saw him the same it was the opposite. It made it clear how much she had changed, that her path had continued, whereas he had stopped on his path when his vampirism took hold.

               He gave a shake of his head. “I don’t know why I said yes.”

               “Because change scares the hell out of you. It always has, but now especially. Quitting, well that would have been a change. You’d have to move out of the safety and comfort of the place you’ve built for yourself. That is a big change. A frightening change. You, you would rather stay mostly comfortable and not take a damned risk.” She spoke as the waitress dropped off a fresh cup of coffee for Olivia.

               “You want that warmed up?” The waitress spoke as she pointed to his cup.

               “That might be nice, if,” Mattias added with a small point to Olivia as she started to speak up. It didn’t stop her.

               “No. Caffeine makes him burn through blood faster, and yet he still won’t give it up.”

               “I can make my own decisions.”

               “No, you can’t, obviously,” Olivia said, “Bring him decaf.” She tapped on the table.

               “Really? Still going to modify my orders.”

               “You need to stay healthy, and if you won’t do it when you’re alone, I can sure as hell do it when you’re with me. Eat up.”

               “Fine, witch,” He hissed at her. The waitress had by this point wandered off. It was too early to watch a grown couple argue over things like this for her.

               “How are you going to do daylight?”

               “Daylight won’t kill me,”

               “I know that. But the fatigue is going to tank your performance,” She paused to pick up a bite of sweet crepe and cream, holding it on her fork before she continued with another question, “And when are you going to get time for torpor, hm?”

               “I’ll just sleep like humans do and get real rest during the weekend.”

               “Uh-huh.” She said before taking the bite and shaking her head. “That’s never worked for humans.”

               “Well, humans suck at life, but I already blew that, so I’ll figure it out.”

               “That makes… zero sense.”

               “Shut up. I’m still thinking about it.”

               “Why don’t you try talking to them? They know you’re a vampire. They have to help how they can. Maybe a dark room for your office, or at least shades.” She sighed, “Why don’t you just do what you want to do?”

               “I don’t know what I want to do.”

               “Uh-huh… keep saying that.” She said quietly with a shake of her head. She took another bite and the two sat quietly for a minute.

               “What do you mean?” He sighed, realizing she was leading him to a question but that she was just going to sit there and give him the silent treatment until he asked. They had known one another long enough that she knew he would eventually push her to say something. It was the same old game. It always was. Not that he didn’t like playing.

               “You know what you want to do,” She said, “The place you’ve always talked about opening. The place you think it would be so great for people to have access too.”

               Of course, that was vague, even for her.

               He did know what she was talking about, though. Not that he was going to admit it here or anywhere. “Just because I talk about something doesn’t mean its what I want to actually do. I talk about professionally playing video games sometimes, it doesn’t mean I’ll quit and become an actual pro gamer or some bullshit.”

               “Yeah, but you don’t care about that,” She pointed her fork at him. “You do care about other things, though. Like that Fomorian girl on your team,”

               “Lindsay?”

               “Sure,” She shrugged, “I don’t have any idea what her name is.”

               “You want me to go after Lindsay,”

               “No, pervert. I want you to admit that there are things you like doing. That you consider yourself lucky to get a chance to do,” She said quietly, “You’ve had a shitty run of it, and you made something of yourself anyway. Beyond what was expected of you. So why won’t you admit that and actually, oh I don’t know,” She took another bite, and through gritted teeth gave a final word. “Try.”

               He paused and considered diffusing the situation with another perverted joke, but it seemed unfair. Unfair, and unfunny. And likely ineffective at doing anything but raising her ire. He took a deep breath and shook his head. “I don’t want to abandon my team at Christmas.”

               “Christmas is two months away.”

               “Christmas starts on November 1st in every customer-facing industry…” Mattias

               “Not for me.”

               “You’re a witch. Witch season ends on November 1st, so you guys hibernate until next Halloween, as far as I can tell.”

               “Not too far off.” She said quietly, before giving a little smile. “So, breakfast on the new year to see how far you’ve gotten, and maybe you’ve geared up and can jump in to try what you really want to do. I’m happy to help if you decide to do that. But this,” She waved at him just as the waitress returned with a decaffeinated coffee for him. She stood awkwardly there for a moment, causing Olivia to pause.

               Mattias glanced up to the Waitress with a practiced but hesitant smile, “Thank you,”

               “Anything else I can do for you? Or are you ready for the check?”

               “Check,” Olivia said pointing at him, “He just got a promotion.”

               “Oh,” The waitress said, pulling out that little black book with the check tucked inside and setting it on the table in front of him. “Congratulations,”

               “Thanks…”

               “And a box for me,” Olivia said softly, pointing to the mountain of food on her plate. “I think I’ll finish this later.”

               “No, you won’t,” Mattias said quietly with a shake of his head as he reached for his wallet. He flipped out an old beaten up debit card and slipped it in the black book with the check. “Take your time,” His head shook slightly, and then pointed towards Olivia, “You were saying.”

               “I forget,” Olivia replied with another bite

               “What? You pointed at me and said, ‘but this’,” He put his hands on his chest and sighed. “It was twenty seconds ago.”

               “Oh, yeah,” She said quietly, waving back at him. “This whole lazy just surviving thing. That has to stop. You were better than this before your vampirism. There is no reason you can’t succeed at what you want to do with it. Even if it did change the end goal a bit.”

               “A bit? A bit? You think?”

               “Don’t be an ass.” She raised one finger and stared over at him for a moment. “Alright?”

               “Fine. Have it your way. After Christmas, if I survive, I’ll give you an update and we can see about making something of my bigger plan.”

               “This, like all things, is temporary,” She said calmly. “You should do the great thing you know you can do and make that temporary matter. Even if it comes from a cursed place, you can still do good, and do more than just survive.” She smiled up at the Waitress, who returned for a moment to drop off a plane white to-go box, which she then slid over to his side of the table. “Would you mind?”

               He rolled his eyes a bit as the check was laid back on the table. “Thanks again, you all. Come back and see us again.”

               “I’m sure we’ll be back,” Olivia gave a wide smile as Mattias took up the to-go box and put both her leftovers and his in the box, and then passed it back over to her. She smiled, “And thank you for breakfast. And I guess, congrats, you’re an idiot, do better.”

               “Thanks, Olivia,” He said with a sigh, picking up the check. He glanced at the cost, and with a pause, he figured up the tip in his head and jotted down that number. He left a decent tip, nothing too spectacular. “And I’m always happy to get a meal when you come by. It’s nice seeing you.”

               “And you… come by the house from time to time. And maybe say high to Morrigan from time to time. She does like non-humans, you know. And is always reading about them.” She spoke with a grin, “But you know how six-year-olds are. They don’t understand that non-humans live a different life than the rest of us. It’d be healthy for her to see the truth before she’s older.”

               “Is she in Kindergarten now?”

               “First grade. I just said six.”

               “I don’t know how children work. You know that. Part of the problem, if you remember.”

               “I remember.” She said, scooting down the bench-style seating as she prepared to leave.

               Olivia stood up and stretched, stepping out of the booth. There was a little shuffling as she stepped away, and he watched as her purse jumped down off the booth seat and followed a few steps behind her – the strap twisted to form a couple of little fat legs that the creature moved on. It kept pace with its mistress for a moment before Mattias shook his head.

               “Forget something?” He said as he leaned over the table to grab the to-go box.

               “Oh, thanks. Purse, would you?” Olivia requested, waving the purse back towards the table. “Meet me in the lobby. I’m going to stop by the restroom.”

               The purse waddled back over to the table and twisted as if to look up at Mattias. The vampire just grinned and offered the to-go box over to it, holding it above the creature for a moment.

               “Just want me to set it on top of you.”

               The purse twisted and bobbed, which was as close to a nod as he should have expected. It was enough for him. He sat the white box on top of the purse, and it turned away and waddled off towards the door. He turned back to the table to catch his eyes on the waitress. She seemed pale, watching that small purse carry away a take-out box.

               “Ah… huh. She’s a witch – they like to animate things.” Mattias explained before picking up his coffee and taking a sip. “Could I get a to-go cup for the rest of this?”

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Day Shift – Chapter 02

Daywalkers

 

               “Then I suppose we’re finished here,” Mrs. Chambers said as she closed the folder. She paused for a moment and looked down the table at the vampire who had laid his head on the table and just sat there unmoving. “I’ll let you break the news to your team.” She quietly put his folder into her dark leather briefcase, which had been hidden under the table. “I’ll be in my office when you are done.” She ended with a nod and walked around him.

               The sound of her stiletto heels against the fake hardwood floor of the office hit him like stake each step. Soon enough, there was a little hiss of the door being pressed open. Then the hiss of it shutting.

               Today was a bad day.

               He heard mumbling outside for a moment before the door hissed open again.

               “I just heard the news, Matt,” Hal’s voice came through. “Congratulations! We’re going to be peers on Day Shift.”

               “Yay.” Mattias didn’t move, just lifting his wrist and spinning his hand with his head down on the table.

               “That’s the spirit!” Hal responded in all genuine seriousness, taking Matt’s response as an actual ‘yay’, which warranted a groan from the man. “I’ll get your team,” He heard the man clap and excitedly move towards the door. “You just enjoy it.”

               Mattias groaned and rolled his head against the conference table for a moment. This is not what he wanted to do with his life, and he had just agreed to do it through the worst possible season. Holidays. Not only that, he had doomed his team to the same thing. Or, at least, those that agreed to come along on corporate’s new fantastic adventure for them. He assumed he would lose some. People didn’t do this job because they loved it, though. They did it because it was this or starve. He had just chosen this over starving.

               A few more moments of existential thoughts and silence was all he had to endure before the door pushed open and his team began to cycle in. A few of them wouldn’t even get the offer. He still didn’t move, he just laid there and dreaded it a bit longer. Sweet, loving dread. The only constant companion he seemed to have.

               “Just have a seat. When you’re all here, Mattias has an announcement.” Hal’s voice called out from the door. Shuffling of feet and moving of chairs finally warranted some semblance of life from the team leader.

               Mattias sat up and glanced around at his team as they sat down. He went through his mind real quick on how to do this and then opted for his usual strategy of just stumbling through. He even started with his usual, “Uh… yeah. So…” He stammered before finally finding some footing in his disappointment. “Bad news first. They’re shutting down the night shift.”

               His team was taken aback, a series of “What?” and “Really?”, one “Finally,” and a gasp or two. None that he particularly tied to any individual.

               “Good news. They offered us all transfers to the day shift. Half will stay on Hal’s team… half are going to be joining a new team. With me.” Mattias, at this point, was nervously talking with his hands. The motions of his hands didn’t necessarily follow any rhyme or reason. They were just there to distract people, in hopes they wouldn’t notice his pausing and trying to come up with a plan. “On the day shift.”

               “Day shift?” One of the team spoke up. He let out a sigh afterward. “Like, nine to five?”

               “Seven to Four, actually.” Mattias corrected.

               “Seven to freaking four?” The team member spoke up. “No man, I’m out.” The team member pushed back on his seat and stood up, shake his head. “I ain’t working nine-hour days and driving forty minutes both ways. I’m out.” He didn’t sound too upset, but his heavy footfalls were quick and out the door. “Consider this my two weeks,” He called from outside the conference room.

               “We’re a right to work state, so, you don’t need to give two weeks,” Hal answered, sort of to the team that was in the room, before chasing after the member leaving.

               “Carlos isn’t wrong. If this isn’t what you signed up for, the company will give you a small severance, and you can go.” Mattias added, waving towards the door. “Anyone else?”

               A few team members glanced around before a couple stood up and walked to the door. One more raised her hand. “Any, ya know, pay raise?”

               “Nope. Cost of living and a chance of a raise at the end of the year. A transfer, not a new offer.” Mattias shrugged.

               “I’m out too… gotta job during the day,” The woman spoke and stood up. “So, like… bye.”

               “Bye, Liz.” One of the remaining team members gave her a wave as she left with the others.

               Then there were six members left in the room. Mattias took a deep breath and asked the question on everyone’s mind. “So, everyone else is stuck, right?”

               “You bet. I’ve got rent coming up, so…” One of the team said.

               Mattias nodded and let one of his hands lull back towards the door. “Alright then, Hal can handle the outgoing guys. Let’s talk about what’s happening with us. Starting next week, we’ll be on the day shift. Ashley, Maddox, and Lindsay are with me. Shantelle and Braxton will be sticking with Hal. So, you two will be doing the exact same thing, just a different time of day – and a bit of a busier workflow.”

               “Define a bit,” Shantelle said with a grimace, twisting her lips into an exaggerated frown because she knew what was coming.

               “Well, you know how many guests we handle as a team every night…” Mattias spoke with a sigh, “That number, except per person…”

               “Up to a hundred guests per person? Seriously?” She protested. “Best damn believe I’d be the hell out of here if I didn’t need the damn insurance.”

               “You and me both,” Braxton chimed in with a little raise of his hand as if he needed to add that for permission.

               “I get it, trust me,” Mattias added. “But, yeah. Tomorrow is a paid day off so you can get things in order. And we’ll start back Monday. That’s all you need to know. So, you two can go home if you want.” He added.

               “And us?” Maddox asked as he leaned back and put his feet up on the table.

               “You three stay. Our jobs are changing.”

               “Oh, good. I love it when unannounced changes disrupt my entire life, and I have no recourse,” Ashley chimed in, only to be interrupted.

               “Yeah yeah, we’re all screwed, don’t launch into some political…” Maddox twisted away from the woman in all black.

               “Diatribe?”

               “I was going to say bullshit. Not sure what you said is a real word.”

               “A little vocabulary would go a long way in making you into a more fulfilled person, Maddox.” She retorted, with him mimicking her with his hand making little mouthing motions. “Fine, be an ass.”

               “Ass, I know that one.” Maddox jumped a bit.

               By then, Shantelle and Braxton had both slipped out of the room, and Mattias was just waiting for the two to get done. As they seemed intent on starting something, he decided to interrupt. “Any thoughts Lindsay?”

               Lindsay shrugged. She was the only other non-human on his team currently. She was a Fomorian – ostensibly related to the fey folk, but always at odds with them. They weren’t well-liked. Her hair was like seaweed in color, her eyes pale gray like ocean fog, and she always smelled a bit like saltwater, though she tried her best to cover the scent with perfumes and deodorants. Her choice in fruity flavors of such things though just made her smell like saltwater taffy. Which was an improvement to most. The main signifying feature of her race was that they were part fey, part giant. So, she was large. She stood a full foot taller than Maddox, who was already freakishly tall for a human.  She was their gentle giant, though. She didn’t talk much. And guests would have never guessed she was a Fomorian. On the phone, her voice was quiet and soft, with a little bit of husk.

               Really, he was lucky. Ashley was a Wu – a Chinese witch, despite the fact that she was mostly Vietnamese. She was familiar with the non-human world. Or rather, her grandmother was a Wu, and Ashley had a mild interest in such things but wasn’t practicing. It made her more comfortable around him than most humans. Maddox was straight-up human – but his brother married a Lycan, so despite his general demeanor he never treated anyone any differently because of the background in the occult. So, the fact that their team leader was a vampire never really seemed to bother them. They were often ignorant of the situation’s details, of course, but never in a way that had bothered him. It was luck.

               “So, since Ashley still isn’t talking, what is the new… gig?” Maddox asked, leaning back in his chair with a glance over to Ashley.

               She twisted her lips and crossed her hands in her lap.

               Mattias took a breath. “Seasonal Guest Enrichment and Retention Team,” He let that sink in.

               “What the hell does that mean?”

               “It means when someone screws up, we go fix it. We call the guests, we fix the problem. Whatever that is.”

               “Damn it, we’re damage control? For Christmas?” Maddox figured it out quickly. “So, when a damn manager snaps at some already pissy old bat,” He held up a hand and pointed to Mattias. “Sorry, no offense,”

               “Why would I be…”

               “We have to deal with the fallout. Right?” Maddox didn’t pause in his thoughts.

               Mattias gave a nod. “Yes. Basically.”

               “Oh good. So, they’re throwing us to the wolves. Nice.”

               “Yeah. Apparently, our retention scores were through the roof on Night Shift. So… congrats on keeping customers coming back despite the nonsense – and now that is your whole job.” Mattias said with a forced smile.

               “I kind of like solving problems. Better than taking random calls.” Lindsay’s voice cut through, causing the others to look over at her.

               “Well, we’ll be helping with that too, let’s face it,” Mattias whispered out.

               “Well, shit. So, what we do now, but more.”

               “And no pay increase.”

               “Right, because there is no way they could pay for that. Their struggling, so much.” Maddox groaned and spun about in his chair a bit. “What else? We have to wear business casual now too?”

               “Yes.” Mattias said, “Coats, ties, dresses for the ladies.”

               “What? Why? It’s not like the guests even see us.”

               “I agree.”

               There was a lull in the conversation before Mattias had to go over the specifics, exactly how it would change things. It didn’t matter though. No one listened. It was just time to get the information out. He’d go over it again the next workday. And likely the next after that. They had to change directions, and inertia was a hell of a thing to overcome. But they would overcome it. That or they would starve. Those were kind of the only options. Well, some of them might not starve, but anyone of them would struggle.

               The meeting ended, his team went home, and he sat there alone. At least for a few minutes, just thinking about what had happened, what was coming, who he would become. Instinctively, he packed up to go home too. It was a strange feeling – this mix of dread and resignation to a fate he hadn’t looked into. Things blurred together, he felt adrift and at the same time on a course he couldn’t control. A low-level manager in a job he hated, with little chance to expand his horizons. His thoughts were interrupted as he left, interrupted by a cold sound of speech from a woman he had just met.

               “See you Monday morning, Mr. Holland.” Ed’s voice sent a shiver up his spine. She looked pleased with herself and gave him a little wave. He couldn’t help but feel frustrated with her existence at the time, the way she was all but oblivious to the dynamics of the team and only operating on a single diction from some corporate report puller who had never worked with a customer in their life.

               He gave a half-hearted wave, a purchased smile, and then headed out. Back to his old car, and back to the night from whence he came. He knew this feeling was frustration. He had felt despair before, he had felt the heavy hand of fate guiding him on a path he didn’t want in a way that forever altered his life – and this was not that feeling. This was just frustration. Still, he felt like a piece of him was stolen, that he was bound for a place he didn’t want to go. He dreaded it. But it let him survive, one more day, one more night. It kept him alive.

               So he could keep doing what he loved.

               Which, he would one day figure out.

               He sat in his car for a moment as that thought sank in. What was he doing this for? He could just… quit and do nothing. But he enjoyed a comfortable life. And that would have made sense if he had any sort of direction he wanted to go with. He needed to think, to talk to someone. So, he pulled out his phone, and with a thumb, he spun down a list of names. He stopped at Rory.

               Hey, He typed out, I’m out early and got some news. Wanna grab brkfast? He watched as his phone autocorrected a misspelled breakfast.

               Gotta work early. Sorry. What’s up? The words popped up with a little chime on his phone. He stared a minute.

               Nothing. Just changing to the day shift. Mattias responded, staring at the screen and being bathed in blue light for a minute.

               Lame was all that came back through in the next text.

               He paused, and for a few minutes, he thought about just driving home and going to sleep. But, it was unhealthy to bottle up your emotions, to dwell on them. He knew he needed to meet and talk with someone. But with

               He scrolled down the names again and selected another. Olivia.

               Want to grab breakfast? He typed and clicked send.

               Two or three minutes passed, leaving him regretting that choice. The screen darkened and he was sitting alone in the dark, in a virtually abandoned parking lot before most people even woke up. He realized he was texting people who likely were still asleep or getting up and ready for work. He finally twisted his keys in the ignition, and the car rumbled to life. And he resigned himself to go home.

               What did you do? A chime alerted him to the text. Luckily, he had barely put his car into drive.

               Got a ‘promotion’.

               Really? Sounds ‘good’. Where do you want to meet?

               That Bakery on Clay St?

               Fine. See you in twenty.

               He realized that he was visiting his ex in hopes of finding some solace. Good plan. Excellent plan. What could make you feel better than realizing that what you are ruined what you wanted to be? And now you’re stuck in a dead-end job that you hate. He let his head hit the steering wheel before sighing and steeling himself. The Mountain Witch was the best thing he had ever known, and she would know what to tell him to calm down. He was sure of it. She always did. Even if he didn’t like to hear the answer sometimes.

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Day Shift – Chapter 01

A Night in the Life of the Dead

 

               Was there anything less welcoming than the generic sound of a preloaded alarm jingle on a phone to wake one up. The blisteringly loud but wholly unoriginal and unmemorable tune brought only one thing to mind. It was time to wake up. It was time to do it all over again. It warranted little more than a sigh and a disappointed groan from anyone who heard it. There would be, every morning, so many people that found that same tune grating against their ears and forcing them from what small peace they could find in sleep.

               He, of course, was no different. There was nothing about that sound that made him joyful or excited to rise from his torpor. Nothing that drove him to rise quickly, or with anything resembling urgency. Slowly but surely, his world came into being, and he pushed the covers down off of himself just enough to reach a hand towards the side table. He patted his hand idly along the edge of the table, fingers feeling about for the source of the noise. When he found the plastic shell of his phone, he reached just a little further to cup it in his hand before pulling it over, unaware of anything but the noise.

               Every intention had been to hit snooze, to go back to bed for just a few more minutes of blissful unconsciousness. That was not to be. The cord had wrapped around one of the displaced forks tucked between a couple of empty diet soda cans, and with the sudden clash of sound, they came crashing to the ground between his bed and his side table warranting a single word response…

               “Shit.” He had worded breathlessly, as he snapped up to try to catch them before any errant liquid spilled out onto the less than pristine beige carpet of his apartment. Beige carpet that he would have to pay for when he moved out if he ruined. He was lucky – but the stains of the area around the side table indicated this wasn’t the first time. It wouldn’t be the last. He picked up the items and pulled himself to sit up.

               His eyes finally fell on the phone, a finger swiping the screen to have it come online. The room was bathed with dim blue light from the device, flashing along his bare, pale skin as he yawned. The clock lit up to a simple bold 10:15 PM, and it warranted another, louder single word.

               “Shit!” He groaned, rolling off the bed, his legs kicking the covers away from him as he jumped up and began to move. He had realized that he had succeeded in hitting the snooze button earlier. Likely a couple of times. He should have been leaving by now. He should have been gone.

               He slid to his feet and yanked off the ratty, threadbare boxers he had been wearing to sleep in, stumbling forward as he all but hopped towards the door of his bedroom. He left them lying where they fell and twisted out of the doorway. His arm dragged along the wall a couple feet to the next door, where he pushed open to his bathroom. The room was no bigger than a closet, with only the bare necessities. A standing shower, a toilet, and a sink. The sink was covered with his essentials – toothbrush, toothpaste, a couple different deodorants, a towel, toilet paper, a comb… all arranged with the elegance of any good abandoned building.

               He reached over to the shower and twisted the knob. The water hissed out with a rumbling shriek, the pipes tapping against the wall as if there would be a torrent of force. It wasn’t much, though. Barely a trickle of pressure. He turned away and leaned against the sink, moving closer to the mirror to give himself a good once over for the morning and see what he could get away with.

               He looked rough. His skin was pallid, his eyes dim, but he was livening up swiftly thanks to the need to rush. He blinked a few times to clear his eyes and ran a hand through his hair. It was twisted bedhead at the time, but suitable enough. He could wash it tomorrow, after all. And it wasn’t too visibly dirty. And it felt fine. It was fine. He kept telling himself it was, at least. He was a little grungy. He raised his head a bit and opened his mouth, two long canine fangs peeking out. He examined them for a few moments before finally giving himself a nod and turning to jump in the shower.

               He let out another loud, “Shit,” as the water hit him. Cold didn’t begin to describe it. But it woke him up nearly fully in a split second. The shower was quick. It had to be. With no warm water, it was an unpleasant experience. One he worked to end as swiftly as possible, covering the essential parts and hopping out only a minute or so after entering. He dried off and tossed the towel over the edge of the shower, before snatching up one of the deodorants and lapping it across his underarms. As he finished, he put the cap on and tossed it into the sink.

               Next, back to his bedroom and to his dresser. He pulled out his work clothes as quick as he could. A pair of boxers, that to the layperson would have been indistinguishable from the ones he slept in, but to him were basically his luxury pair. A pair of wrinkled khakis and a simple gray undershirt were pulled on next, and simple black socks. He hopped on one foot as he finished putting his socks on, moving to his closet. He pulled a button-up, collared shirt down from a hanger. He had never unbuttoned it, and as such just pulled it on over his head. It, like his khakis, was wrinkled. But he brushed his hands across it as if to smooth it out and it was still just as wrinkled, but he felt better about it somehow.

               He moved to the kitchenette, the darkened apartment barely a full five hundred square feet, so it took next to no time. He pulled open the door to his refrigerator and pulled out a small, red, plastic bottle. He set it aside on the counter before rifling through some odds and ends and finding a box of take-out, which he took as well. He closed the door behind him and had made it about halfway out of the kitchen before moving back to grab the bottle.

               He was at his door a few seconds later, grabbing a simple blue sports jacket from the coat closet next to the door while slipping on simple dark shoes. He checked the coat’s pockets, and with a jingle and a slap he had found his keys and wallet. He tucked the bottle under his arm and reached for the door. But something made him pause. Something was missing.

               “Phone,” He said to himself, before turning and darting back to the bedroom. He slipped it into his pocket, and then rushed back to the door. He was out, locked the door behind him, and then moved down the hallway of his apartment building to the stairs, jogging down the three flights of stairs to another door. He pushed out the door and into a poorly lit parking lot, with a flickering light overhead. His car was old, unimpressive, but started up smoothly. The clock in the car blinked to life as the engine came on. Pale green numbers in the dark evening light gave the time – 10:22.

               He shook his head and put the car into reverse. He twisted around to look behind him and quickly pulled out of the lot and onto the roads. It was a short trip to work – yes, but eight minutes was not nearly enough time. He drove fast, and in about fourteen minutes he was pulling into another parking lot.

               This was a large, empty parking lot, except for the row of cars near one of the entrances to the center building on the lot. The building rose six stories, each story with dark windows showing little more than dim red light of exit signs. All except for one. The fifth floor had flickering fluorescent lights on still. And that was his destination.

               He rushed into the building, pushing open the door and darting down the hall. The building smelled of cleaning supplies and old stone and carpet. The hum of janitor staff cleaning filled the distance. He slowed only for a second, as he passed the security post of the building. There sat the security guard.

               “Mr. Holland. Running late again as usual?” His raspy and quiet voice called out. The guard was an older man, in his late sixties or seventies. He was a stick of a thing, but always in uniform and one that was well pressed and meticulously kept. “Bad day for it.”

               “It’s always a bad day for it,” Our ratty protagonist replied before he gave a smile and a wave. “See you again at seven, Marcell.”

               “If they don’t fire you,” He heard the guard calling after him as he reached the nearby elevator.

               As soon as that chime sounded, he slipped through the door and into the elevator, mashing the button for the fifth floor. The doors closed, and he took a deep breath. Almost there. He tapped his foot idly, his fingers tapping on the takeout box in his hand. And after another minute, the doors opened. He stepped out into the hall and took a few quick steps. On the left was a large, double glass door with the word Yorokobi emblazoned in gold centered on the door. Well, it was brass, but the company preferred it to be called gold. Below the company name was his department. The Guest Enrichment Center. A fancy term for Customer Service.

               He leaned a shoulder against the door and pushed it open. There was a small antechamber that was unmanned this time of night. A receptionist’s desk sat there quietly before the room opened into massive hall of cubicles. During the day, these would all be filled with customer service reps – but for now, there was only a single row, near the windows overlooking the parking lot. He slipped back across the large room, and found his own cubicle, slipping in and falling into the chair.

               His cubicle, like his home, was in disarray – though he had much less here to have in disarray, so it appeared busy rather than lazy. He took a deep breath and sat his take out one side of his desk and held the red bottle. He adjusted in the chair. It was just comfortable enough to keep you from complaining but offered no real support or luxury. He sat relaxed until his computer booted, and the usual screens and browsers he used in his job began popping up on the screen and automatically logging him in.

               He snapped open his drink with a twist as he watched the computer load. He glanced down to the drink, the thick crimson beverage a welcome sight that morning. He was starving, and it might have just been a quick artificial breakfast for him, but it was better than nothing.

               “Mattias, good evening,” A familiar voice called out to him. His boss, Halil. Mattias finished his first sip before turning to see the man. His boss was a jovial fellow, kind-hearted, but a follower through and through. He didn’t have any ambition and couldn’t say no to those people above him. It made him a perfect manager. He was depressingly average beyond that, in almost every way. “We have a guest overseeing the department tonight.”

               “Oh, really?” Mattias said quietly, barely pulling his drink away.

               “Yes. Ed from Operations will be here early this morning to see how we do things. You know,” He gave a couple of little swift punches, “See how we knock it out of the park on night shift.”

               “Uh-huh,” Mattias said with another quiet sip of his drink.

               “So just be on your best – and if you see your team do anything exceptional.”

               “Grab a transcript. Yup.”

               “Always a step ahead of me,” Halil spoke with a beaming smile. “That’s why you’re my favorite team leader. Your team is always ahead of the curve.”

               “Thanks, Hal.”

               “You deserve it,” Hal pointed at Mattias clicking his tongue with what was probably supposed to be a wink, but then at the last second just became an odd blink. “Anyway. I’ll leave you to it. Let me know if you need anything.”

               “Will do. And I look forward to meeting Ed,” That was a bald-faced lie on Mattias’ part. He couldn’t care less about whatever the stooge from Operations had to say about the way they did things. This was an easy gig, and his team was good at it. With the holidays around the corner, it was almost certainly the usual reminder of their values and how important it was to, you know, do the job they did every day. And all the platitudes that came with it.

               Almost certainly.

               Mattias went to work after that. It was a slow day, though, and he didn’t have too much to do, so he didn’t do it with any expediency. Strangely, though, he didn’t work too long before Hal came back.

               “Change of plans, Mattias,” Hal’s voice came suddenly, as he hilted around the corner. “Turns out Ed is already here… Meet in the conference room in five.”

               “Sure,” Mattias shrugged.

               Hal gave a little clap, a finger gun motion and then walked away. But there was something about it that didn’t seem as genuine as usual. Something that seemed very off. There had been a small pause in Hal’s voice between the bits of information. It didn’t matter. He dawdled for a couple of minutes, shutting down essential programs and what he had been working on before standing up and stretching. He reached to his red bottle, which was empty, and sighed.

               He moved over to the conference room and glanced over to his team, who was working away – but all of whom took a glance over to him. They were aware that something was going on. He must have missed something.

               When he reached the conference room, he pushed open the door. It was a large room, with a big wooden table in the center. By wooden, of course, they meant wood finished plastic material of some sort or another. There were a lot of chairs around the table, mostly on one end of the table, all facing towards the large television screen where projects and reports would be displayed. Under that television at the moment was a woman, seated quietly and expectantly for him to arrive. She wasn’t what he expected when Hal had mentioned an Ed.

               She stood up and dusted herself off. She wore a crisp, perfectly tailored black and white business suit. She had a folder on the table, one with his name in all caps on the flap. Or rather, HOLLAND M.  It was the Human Resources version of his name. He couldn’t let her have the first word in that case.

               “Hi,” He said quickly, extending a hand towards her and walking down the table, “I’m…”

               “Mattias Holland,” Her voice cut like a knife. She was unhappy. Her hand dismissively pointed to one of the chairs. “Have a seat.” She said looking over him.

               “Of course,” He desperately needed to break the ice. He thought, at least. He gave a wide smile, practiced over the years. “You must be Ed.”

               A single brow raised over her eye. Perfectly maintained brows carved with a sharp flair made her look serious most of the time and raised, she looked angry. “Edwyna Chambers.” She corrected. “You can refer to me as Mrs. Chambers.”

               “Oh.” Shit. That was the word he left off as pulled a seat. “Noted, Mrs. Chambers. I should have,”

               “You should have.” She waited for him to find a seat, and then thin fingers smoothed down her jacket. “Let’s get started.”

               “Are we waiting for Hal?”

               “No. Mr. Bayrak will not be joining us.”

               There was that word in his head again. “Oh. Good. It’s one of those meetings, then.”

               “Yes, it is.” She said opening the folder with a bit more force than was necessary. “I won’t mince words, Mr. Holland. We’re shutting down the Night Shift department. After looking through the numbers, our guests do not tend to require assistance during the night.”

               “Wait, what?”

               “As such, we have decided to close the night shift department, and fold it into the day shift.”

               “Wait. Hold on.”

               “At Mr. Bayrak’s suggestion, Human Resources has looked through your team’s numbers over the past few months.”

               “I can explain those.”

               “And we’ve decided that team leader is not a position that is suitable for someone… like yourself.” She waved over at him. There was a long pause.

               In all this, this sudden realization that his job was gone. He felt one simple emotion that he couldn’t quite explain. Annoyance that Marcell was right. Why did he concentrate on that? Why was the night guardsman’s thoughts on him being late the thing that stuck out?

               “So, I’m fired then?”

               She started to respond.

               “Sorry, being let go.” He interrupted.

               She shook her head. “No, Mr. Holland. We want to offer you the position of Guest Enrichment Manager for our new Day Shift Seasonal Guest Enrichment and Retention Team.”

               Mattias couldn’t help but blink and just stare at her. With his mouth slightly agape, his head slowly tilted confusedly towards her. “Is there another M. Holland that works here?”

               “No…” She said quietly, with a shake of her head. “I know it is a lot to take in, but what do you say?”

               “Can we revisit ‘fired’?”

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