Welcome to the 4th Annual Choose Your Spooky Outcome Novel, done over the 13 nights leading up to Halloween. Let's get this out of the way real quick, since some people have missed it years previous:
This is a sequel, so if you want the story to make sense you should go read the first one here, second one here, and the third one here.
Now, If you're reading this as it's happening, then be sure to vote for the choices you want made. If not, enjoy the story! Here's how it works:
It will run from October 19th – October 31st (13 days of Halloween). Every night I put up the newest chapter, along with a poll for you to make your decisions. Polls close at Noon CST on the following day, so I can write the next installment. Post goes up at night, rinse, lather, repeat.
There will be Dead Ends, choices you make that get your character killed. If people pick one then I’ll give you the Dead End, then redirect you to the other choice that didn’t kill you, because I think we all cheated at those books as kids and I see no reason to change that. However, if you all can get to the Halloween without a single Dead End, I’ll post a special bonus story or chapter as a prize.
Someone drank all the coffee. Again. How hard is it, really, to uphold this basic element of human decency? If you finished off the pot, then you make a fresh one. Not the biggest fucking hurdle in the world to clear, and yet here you are again, staring at an empty pot with nothing more than a thin brown film in the bottom.
Biting back a few choice curse words, you rinse the pot in the sink, grab a new filter and the can of grounds, and start the water heating. Maybe by the time you come back, there will be some precious caffeine in there to get through another shitshow afternoon.
Heading back to your cubicle, you pass the rest of the office drones. Most of them are bent over their desks, trying to look busy as they idly piss away the hours until quitting time. It’s a sentiment you understand well, on any other day you’d be doing much the same. Unfortunately, you’re not like them. Nope, you’re a recent college graduate, an intern, and that means all the work they don’t want to do slides downhill until it reaches your desk. Day after boring day, hour after boring hour, just slugging away in the hopes that this will land a real job. Looking back, maybe you should have turned down the diploma. Things never felt this stagnant in college.
Resting on your desk, dropped there in the three minutes it took you to deal with the empty coffee pot, are a stack of W-HJ7 forms. A gift from Mr. Parden, no doubt, one of your managers who never actually seems to be around physically, only existing in e-mails and mysteriously dropped off sets of documents. Shifting the stack to the side, you log back into your computer and prepare to start dealing with this fresh bundle of pain in the ass.
There’s a sound of a throat softly clearing from just over your cube. Lifting your head, you find Sheryl standing there, looking down at you. She’s as pretty as anyone can be under the florescent lighting, no great shocker given Mr. Durn’s reputation for hiring pretty assistants. From the office scuttlebutt, he’s had to settle three harassment lawsuits over the past five years, and from the constantly annoyed expression in Sheryl’s eyes you have a feeling lawsuit number 4 isn’t that far off.
“How can I help you, Sheryl?” You don’t quite manage to sound sincere, but she wouldn’t have believed you anyway so it’s fine. No one actually wants to help one another, or be here in the first place.
“Mr. Durn needs you to update the expense projections for next quarter by this afternoon. You’ve got an hour or so, tops, before he’ll want them on his desk for approval.”
“I’m not sure I can do that. I just got a stack of work from Mr. Parden, and you know he always expects a tight turnaround on his forms.” That’s putting it lightly, last time you took more than three hours you had several strongly worded e-mails in your inbox, with the last few CCing HR so they knew you were “screwing up” too.
“Not my problem. Work some magic and make it happen, Mr. Durn hates being kept waiting almost as much as he abhors hearing that some other manager’s tasks were given higher priority. You know what a pissing contest this place is.”
You do know, quite well at that. Since starting here, you’re pretty sure the managers have spent more time trying to prove their importance than actually getting any work done. Much as you like to think things would be different if you ran the place, everything just sucks so hard, you know you’d probably get drawn in as well.
“I guess let him know I’ll do my best,” you tell Sheryl, caving in like you always do. These days, anyway.
“Maybe I’ll find a better way to phrase it than that. They hate things like ‘doing your best’. They all call it an excuse for failure.” Sheryl starts to turn, and you notice a brief flash of orange on her brown suit jacket.
“Hey! What’s that?” You tap your own chest, pointing to the spot where the orange is on her.
For a moment, Sheryl’s eyes start to narrow and you realize too late that out of context this probably looks like idiotic harassment. Then she glances down at her outfit and smiles. It might be the first time you’ve seen genuine joy on her face. Hell, it might be the first time you’ve seen anyone in this office happy at all.
“It’s a pumpkin, duh.” She turns back all the way so that you can see the bright orange broach properly. “Didn’t you realize that today is Halloween? I love this holiday. The fun of costumes, candy, and booze; the sense of magic in the air; the history and power that comes from everything around this time of year.”
You start to think back to your own Halloweens, but nothing really stands out. Just a few drunken blurry memories with your roommate, Jim. But Sheryl still looks cheerful, so you nod along anyway. “Yeah, it’s a great holiday.”
“The best,” she corrects. “Some college friends and I are doing a bar-hop downtown tonight. You can come out and join us, just no talking about the office. Assuming they don’t keep you here all night.”
Sheryl’s smile fades as she heads back to Mr. Durn’s office. Having a nice conversation was an unexpected pleasant surprise, but with her leaving it’s time to face the reality of your shitty situation. You need to pick a project to work n, because even giving your all you may not be able to manage even one of these on time. Mr. Durn or Mr. Parden, one of them is going to give you an earful before the day is over, at least try and keep it from being both. Time to pick a project and get to work.