The First Time it was an accident, truthfully, it just slipped out. My face glowed red with humiliation and I hoped my coworkers wouldn’t notice. I hunkered further into my cubicle, hiding behind walls of paperwork, festering lunch boxes and snapping bulldog clips.
A caller had just told me to piss right off, and I could feel her hatred stringing its acid way down the phone line and into my ear.
“Wait!” I shouted. “Did you hear about the man in Brazil who lives in a sandcastle?
“Is this some sort of joke?” she said. “Are you mugging me off?”
“Really. He rebuilds it every time it rains.”
She didn’t hang up. And that’s how I started telling stories.
The Second Time was self preservation. The woman spoke in the rippling drawl of the North, all curling Rs and stretched Es. Somewhere close to the walls of her house I could hear the sea trying to sooth her.
“You’re a piece of shit, you know that?” She said it so softly I almost mistook it for kindness. Her hatred formed a layer on my skin, starting where the phone touched my ear and fingering its way towards my face. Threatening to overwhelm me.
“I’m not. I’m not a piece of shit,” I said, as saltwater tears sploshed onto the numbers of my telephone. “Once, there was a woman who swam all the way to Doggerland.”
“She never did.”
“She did. And when she got there she ate crepes with chocolate and maple syrup to build her energy levels.”
“I like chocolate and maple syrup,” the woman said thoughtfully. I heard the splash of her jumping through the waves before the line went dead.
The Third Time was premeditated. I spent from sun down to sun up scouring the internet. Deathwatch beetles kept me company, hammering their furry heads inside the walls of my house. The stories hung like apples from the branches, fully formed. They crunched when I bit into them. I filled a basket and covered it with gingham, and hooked it over my arm for the walk to work.
“Get a real job,” the man growled into the phone. Barred canine teeth shining. Prickling stubble and whiskers. A bark snapped in the background.
“Did you hear the story about the dog that could dance Merengue?”
“The Merengue. It could dance the Merengue. Here, I’ll send you the link.”
The man chuckled and snuffled down the phone as he watched the video. “You have a nice day,” he said as he hung up the phone.
Soon, my coworkers started asking me to bring them stories too. I set up a tray in the staff room and wrote a note saying, Free, help yourself! I spent every night harvesting so that they were good and fresh the next morning.
One day, my boss came to my cubicle. He was a bulbous creature with shining skin and writhing chest hair that poked through the gaps in his shirt. He clutched a plastic shopping bag full of my stories in his claw. Some of then had brown-edged tooth marks through their skin. “Stop giving people stories,” he said.
“But they like them.” A lump of jagged crystal grew in my throat.
“It’s weird,” he said. “And they’ve not been risk assessed. And anyway, Head Office want you all to follow this script from now on.” He unfurled a scroll. The end of it bounced onto the ground and rolled away. I stashed the bag in the bottom drawer of my desk.
The stories stayed there until my hair was blue rinsed and my fingers turned to knotted twigs. They grew wild and needed pruning, and whenever I opened the drawer the tendrils would climb out. In spring they bloomed and the smell of rancid flesh wafted out from my cubicle. My coworkers forgot I’d ever been a storyteller. And my boss ignored the trailing vines so long as I didn’t let them reach too far out of the shadows.
“You’re a piece of shit, you know that?” a voice said down the line.
The stories stirred in my desk drawer then sank back into dormancy. I used my eyeglasses to check the scroll for the correct response.
“We value your feedback. Enjoy the rest of your day.”
About the Author: Sarah Daniels is a recovering academic writing in rural Lincolnshire. Her work is forthcoming in Fictive Dreams, she is a graduate of the Curtis Brown Creative Online Novel Writing Course and a finalist in the 2018 NYC Midnight Short Story competition. Her blog is at https://emergencytoastblog.wordpress.com.