August 16th 2016: Little mistakes big trouble
Office Mistakes
, by Jane Sherman

“What’s your problem? What the hell were you thinking? I guess you weren’t thinking at all.”

George Marcus scowled at Anna, who stood in front of her desk in the large office facing her boss. The other workers hunched over their desks, trying to hide from his anger, fearful that their imperfections would be criticized next.

The solidly build middle-aged man ranted on and on. His pale brown hair flopped down over his forehead as he leaned forward, repeating the accusations, using his fingers as emphasis. He was well known throughout the company for his vicious tongue, frequently making young entry-level office workers dissolve in sobs. Some weren’t able to take his verbal cruelty and quit. Then Mr. Marcus would take out his ill temper on the others in the office.

“I should fire you.” he said. “You certainly deserve it after this most recent blunder. I thought you were competent, and then you allow this to happen.”

The young woman said nothing.

            He was right, after all. I’d forgotten to send in the quarterly taxes. What was I thinking?

Anna’s head hung so low it almost touched her chest. Huge tears overflowed, blurring her vision. It seemed impossible that there could be so many tears, yet she made not a sound.

She couldn’t meet her boss’s eyes. Being beaten with a stick would be preferable to these stinging accusations, she thought.

“I’m sorry,” she mumbled, “I guess I just forgot about the tax due date.”

He leaned over towards her and said, “Never should have hired you: you’re just a nitwit. And what’s that crap in the corner?” he yelled, pointing in the direction of file cabinets and copiers.

Anna didn’t answer. Her voice had disappeared.

“Didn’t you hear me? I said, what’s that?”

Anna temporarily halted the tears with the back of her hand and turned her head in the direction his arm was pointing. Blinking hard, she managed to refocus.

Oh my god, she thought to herself. What’s that little black pile? It’s moving!

            “Jesus Christ, did you forget to pay the cleaning service? What do we have here? Bugs? Mold?”

Still blinking, she walked toward the moving mound.

“Can’t you do anything right?” he bellowed. That last insult was the final straw. She shut out his voice.

Her co-workers, hearing Mr. Marcus yell at Anna, used the opportunity to push their way out of the room and escape to the company cafeteria. She watched them leave, glad that they would be safe.

Before Anna took even one step, she could feel a surge of power replace her upset. It traveled up her whole body. She delighted in the feeling, which was almost pleasurable. She knew that now she would be able to take care of herself. Stepping closer to the swirling black mass that spread out over the floor, she thought to herself, now I’ll see how well that bully stands up to this threat. Standing ramrod straight, she imagined those black things growing larger.

In seconds, they became enormous black ants, as if they had suddenly ingested growth hormones. Satisfied, she realized she had made the little black ants become as large as mice.

It had been a very long time since Anna had felt the need to call up the magical power she’d discovered in herself, when she was a child. Her mother’s mother had recognized this talent and taught her ways to get by in the world when she was stymied or bullied. Other times, her grandmother’s magic had protected her. On this occasion, the power to create these ants came from Anna herself.

She took in another deep breath and observed the ants become even larger. Controlling this situation to her advantage was almost fun. At first she wondered if her vision was impaired from all the crying. Was she seeing what was really in front of her? The ants were becoming so huge she could make out the facial characteristics of each one as it stormed towards her and Mr. Marcus. A few looked as big as a small cat. More and more burst out of the hole, which had become larger as well. It was no good trying to hide. The ants galloped towards where Anna and Mr. Marcus were standing.

Conjuring up another level of her power, she made her boss stand still. He was powerless to move, as if he was nailed to a spot on the floor.

Anna tossed her hair back and smiled at her boss’s frozen face.

She was glad her co-workers had left and knew that people in other offices couldn’t hear what was happening. She could take her time dealing with Mr. Marcus. There was no rush and she didn’t have to worry about others arriving unexpectedly. Everyone in the company was aware of the horror experienced by those who worked for him, but it would have been impossible to explain the gigantic ants.

“So, Mr. Marcus…sir…,” she said. “What does it feel like to be on the receiving end of bullying?” Her mouth twisted in a distorted shape as she emphasized the word, sir.

Frozen in place, staring at the army of ants, their jaws and mandibles waving in front of them, he said nothing.

“I could call them off. Then you could just go back to work and everything would be as it was. Only it wouldn’t be the same, because you’d remember this episode. You’d then be able to figure out that it was my power, which caused them to grow and become dangerous.”

“What do you say, ole Marcus – ole George? Maybe I’ll let you off this time, but if you ever treat anyone in this or any other office unfairly again, the ants will be back and next time, will eat you, tiny bit by tiny bit until there’s nothing left of you.”

“Oh, don’t let them hurt me,” he begged.

“I wouldn’t think of letting them hurt you, you rotten son of a bitch,” she said. “I’d let them crawl all over you and eat you alive.”

She watched terror take over his whole being. A wet stain grew in the front of his fashionable trousers.

“What’s the matter, Marcus? Can’t hold your pee?” She stopped her conversation because it was one thing to have the conjured monster ants kill and eat this evil man. It was something else to ridicule him the way he’d been treating others. Magic could take care of the killing. Words were hers alone and she didn’t want to be like him.

She strolled back to her desk and wrote the check for the taxes that she had forgotten. She left him standing absolutely still, while the ants watched over him. Neither he nor they made a move. Once, when Mr. Marcus leaned to one side, as if he would topple over, the ants raised themselves up, ready to attack. He caught himself, just in time, and the ants went back to their former position, of being at ease.

“Well, the taxes are paid,” Anna said. “Do you have anything you’d like to say to me?”

Mr. Marcus’ throat was dry and he croaked out a response. “I’m sorry for being so hard on you. I won’t treat anyone unkindly again. Please don’t let the ants kill me. I promise to be patient and reasonable.”

Anna turned and went back to her desk. She wanted him to think that she needed some more time to decide if he should be eaten alive or if he had learned his lesson. She already knew what she was going to do. She just wanted him to suffer a little longer so he’d be less likely to return to his former ways.

Twenty minutes later, she returned to where Mr. Marcus and the ants still were standing, facing each other. “I’ll let you live. I would be upset with myself if I allowed them to eat you, although I really do think you deserve it. I want to live the rest of my life with a clear conscience. To stay alive, you must promise to be consistently reasonable and never again pick on anyone in the office. And you should treat your family this same way, for you are probably rotten to them too,” she guessed.

“Oh, and if you ever mention my powers to anyone, I’ll know it, and the ants will be back, ready to tear you to shreds.”

He bowed and thanked her profusely, before running back to his desk, throwing on his coat and charging out the door.

Before she left her desk, she walked down the hall and peeked into a few of the other offices in the building, where most everyone had left for the evening. She saw a couple of little black insects running along the baseboards of the corridor. The ants were little. They must have shrunk back to normal size after she told her boss he could live. Gigantic and frightening ants were no longer needed. Her magic had done its job.

*

Jane Sherman has an MFA in Creative Writing from Fairfield University and has written a memoir.
One chapter appeared in the eight magazines of the Weston Magazine Group.
Since 2012 she’s been writing a blog Hostileentry.com.
She’s President of Lois Street Corporation and lives in Westport, CT. She sings in three choirs.
Her twitter handle is @janesherman1


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