A few years ago I was employed in a job that I hated. To wash away the sour feeling of that dreadful nine to five, I’d spend my evenings churning out essays and short stories. Occasionally I would publish a short story on my web-site. It was as a result of these nighttime literary activities which led my employer to dismiss me from that hellish daily grind.
One story titled “Eddie” caught the attention of my employer’s corporate security team. With the typical goon squad’s lack of imagination, corporate security deemed the subject matter “aggressive and violent” and aimed towards my colleagues – though in reality it had nothing to do with anyone I worked with and more to do with stylistic experimentation.
Back then, I was trying my hand at two literary techniques: stream of consciousness prose and transgressive fiction. For those unfamiliar with the latter, transgressive fiction is a genre in which the principal characters break free of social norms through violent, illicit or questionable actions. Writers who specialise in the genre include Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club and Bret Easton Ellis, author of American Pyscho. The late Iain Banks also delved into transgressive fiction with is debut novel, The Wasp Factory.
Key to the writing of transgressive fiction is the willingness of the writer to explore their deepest, darkest fears and using the resulting emotion to guide the story. An example of this would be Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters inspired by his fear of growing old without accomplishing life goals.
“Eddie” was partly inspired by my fear of time passing away without meaning. I had a sense that I was in a phase of life where between sunrise and sunset I was simply running down the clock to no purpose. This fear manifested itself quite unconsciously when at the end of the story our titular character wakes up.
Another source of inspiration was a real event, a mass shooting in October 2011. A man walked into a beauty salon and murdered six women and two men. It was the deadliest mass shooting in the history of Orange County. I recall being horrified by the senselessness of these murders, made all the more gruesome by the banality of the surroundings. Worse, that particular mass shooting followed a month after twelve people were killed in a restaurant in Nevada.
I am fascinated and horrified by how the greatest evil can occur in otherwise ordinary circumstances. In response to these terrible events on my TV and conscious of my own depression over the career path I was on the following short story emerged.
In a way, “Eddie” was a literary steam release valve for my sense of self-doubt. But with retrospect I can see how a person of below average intelligence might interpret the story as wishful thinking on my part.
Unfortunately, there is and always will be a constituency who are unable to differentiate between fiction and reality. And it was a body blow to my self-esteem that I was punished for creating literary fiction at the hands of an institution built on fiction and fiat wealth and governed by just that sort of people. In my darker moments, I wonder how many real people have suffered and died as a result of losing their homes and pensions to the deceit of fund managers, mortgage brokers and insurance companies. Certainly that butcher’s bill is higher than the fictional deaths in “Eddie.”
At the time, the termination left me reeling and hurt. However with the gift of hindsight, it was perhaps the best thing that could have happened to me. Looking back with the vantage of time, I perceive those events as the birth of a new era of optimism and hope.
Consequently I have bittersweet sentiments towards “Eddie”. I don’t consider it to be a very well-written piece by comparison to the material I’ve since created since. Yet it holds a place in my heart nonetheless.
In fact I thought of it today during a hard day at work and it occurred to me just how much happier I have become since the day “Eddie” got me fired. Now with a new job and a happier personal and professional life, I can move forward to better things.
None of which I plan on sharing with you today. My current crop of short stories is either being edited or awaiting rejection from various publications. In the meantime, I invite you to experience an extraordinary day in the life of an otherwise ordinary man named Eddie.
If you dare.
Eddie is the kind of guy that is forgotten almost immediately after the first glance. He is quiet, shy and prone to stuttering when he gets nervous. Eddie is the type of man who stands in the corner at the office Christmas Party: neither liked, disliked, or taken seriously by his peers. Occasionally Eddie will crack a joke that sets the room roaring with laughter, but those moments are few and far between.
Eddie works hard but he never excels. He is a competent rather than exceptional employee. He is good with numbers and not so good with ideas. Nor is he all that good with people. In fact everything about Eddie is average. Average height, moderate build. His taste in shirts and ties runs towards the cheap, non-descript department store variety. Some of his peers consider him boring. They poke fun at him behind his back. Some suspect that Eddie is gay. Others think he is plain weird. To most he is a harmless, office accoutrement with all the personality of monochrome wallpaper. They think that Eddie is unaware of their remarks.
They should have known better than to mess with him.
A week after the office Christmas Party, the office workers of Murray Garfunkel Wealth Management Consultants, are settling in for a long and arduous Monday. On golf courses across the country, the days tee-off has been postponed as angry investors are glued to cellular phones. The rich are frightened. Quarterly dividends are due and the markets are not behaving well. The stock market took a giant fall the previous Friday, and the open plan office is filled with the constant din of ringing telephones. The investors blame Murray Garfunkel.
In the hubbub, only the management notice that Eddie is not at his desk. They frown. Eddie is seldom late; but typical of him not to show up on a crisis day! The office is located on the third floor of the Ventura Building in Atlanta’s Peachtree Street. The only means of exiting the third floor is the single elevator and a dusty staircase that even the most health conscious employees seldom use. At precisely 10:05AM the elevator pings to a halt on the third floor. The sound is drowned out by the ringing telephones. No one notices Eddie as he steps out of the elevator.
The first employee to lay eyes on Eddie that morning is fifty four year old Dominic Grant. Grant is a big man; a veteran of Saigon’s Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols and better suited to the football field, than the sedentary work of an investment house. He is looking forward to early retirement so that he can spend more time with his wife and his grandchildren. Grant is returning to his desk with his third cup of coffee when Eddie steps out of the elevator. It has been thirty six hours since Grant last saw Eddie, and thirty six years since an AK-47 has been pointed at him. For a moment, Grant is puzzled to see that type of assault rifle in the hands of someone other than a Viet Cong. Then his instincts take over and he lunges at Eddie. He realizes too late that the boys in his LRRP unit were right: you never hear the bullet that gets you. Eddie puts three in Grant’s chest. The big man is dead before his body hits the floor.
The bark of the assault rifle causes all present to raise their heads. Now everyone notices Eddie. Everyone panics.
The first person to cry out is thirty-two year old Matthew Selkirk. Selkirk considers himself, a ladies man. At the time Eddie steps off the elevator, Selkirk is leaning over the desk of his latest conquest, the twenty-five year old junior fund accountant Stacey Miller, whispering about the plans for their evening together. When Eddie hears the shout, he raises the gun and sprays Matthew and his new flame with more than a dozen rounds. As Matthew flops to the ground Stacey Miller slides from her chair and lands on his body. Her dead face falls across his crotch in a macabre display.
By now the other employees are running for their lives. In the confusion Eddie’s plan and his aim become less exact. Eddie has prepared for this day. He has a list of those he wants to target. Now as his terrified colleagues cower behind their desks, a brave few attempt to rush past Eddie in a vain hope of reaching the stairs.
Among them is Colin Archer, a senior fund accountant and Eddie’s immediate supervisor despite being five years younger than Eddie. Colin is on Eddie’s list. Colin and four of his colleagues are rushing for the door almost tripping over each other in their panic. Because of this Eddie cannot get a clear shot on Colin Archer. He fires anyway, catching Colin’s assistant Sonya Blake with a burst of 7.62 parabellum. Sonya is thirty-four years old and a high school drop-out who recently acquired a diploma in Business Administration, so that she might interview for a higher paying job with the company. Her chest and throat are reduced to a bloody mess. As she stumbles forward under the impact of the bullets, the heel on her right shoe breaks. She falls to her side and upon hitting the floor, her colleague twenty-six year old Andrew Muniz trips over her body and is sent sprawling. As he struggles to his feet he falls victim to another burst of rifle fire intended for Colin Archer.
Eddie has nothing against either Sonya or Andrew. He wants Colin Archer dead. But it is too late. He has made his decision and having committed to that course of action those who are not on his list of targets are merely collateral damage.
Colin Archer makes it to the door at the same time as his buddy Albert Parker. Frustrated at having missed Colin on his previous attempts, Eddie fires off the remaining nine rounds in the AK’s magazine in a short arc. Parker is struck in the neck and shoulder but manages to reach the staircase. Colin Archer is not so fortunate. His body is later identified by a security badge he keeps in his wallet. His head is never pieced together.
The last to die is also the last employee on Eddie’s list: Managing director Michael Murray. Forty five years old, balding, overweight, three times divorced. Murray is the kind of guy whose greed overrides all other human sentiments. Murray likes to harass his employees about their sales targets. He awards himself a fat bonus every year, which he uses to pad his already well – funded 401K. Eddie can forgive all of that. If there roles were reversed, Eddie would do the same thing. However, Michael Murray never remembers Eddie’s name. He calls him Freddie, the few times he bothers to notice Eddie`s existence. It makes Eddie angry.
Eddie finds Murray huddled on the floor of his office. Eddie notes the damp patch around the managing director’s crotch. He aims the assault rifle at Murray and pulls the trigger. The weapon clicks. Empty. With a yell, Eddie spins the assault rifle and wields it like a club. Murray screams and raises his arms to ward off the blow. Eddie swings the rifle in a vicious arc, slamming it across Murray’s arms. A loud crack of breaking bone is followed by a curiously high pitched wail from the managing director. Eddie feels no pity. Eddie enjoys watching Murray rolling on the floor in agony. He raises the rifle again and brings it crashing down on Murray’s head. By this time Eddie`s fury is unstoppable. He hits Murray again, driving the rifle stock into his employers head until the managing director’s wails are cut short and blood spatters across the floor and across Eddie’s face.
Eddie roars in triumph…
Unwillingly yanked from unconsciousness, he shakes his head to clear it. He is at his desk. Before him the pile of paper he has been using as a pillow is stacked in front of his computer monitor. A Microsoft Windows screen saver plays across the LCD screen. A multi-coloured ball slowly bounces across the dark void, morphing into a triangle, then a flower, then back into a ball again.
The voice that roused him from his dream sounds overhead, this time insistent and petulant.
“Yeah, wha…?!” Bleary eyed he looks up into the pudgy face of Michael Murray. Murray’s expression is flushed and angry. Eddie ignores him, his eyes drawn over Murray’s shoulder. Across the room on the far wall Eddie sees the row of clocks denoting time in London, Tokyo, New York and Shanghai and Atlanta. It is 4:32pm on a Friday. The office Christmas Party is tonight. The weekend looms. So does Murray.
“What the hell is this?” Murray snarls. “You think I pay you to sleep on the job?”
Eddie rubs his eyes. “I’m sorry, Mr Murray. It won’t happen again.”
In the next cubicle someone giggles. Eddie recognizes Matthew Selkirk’s laughter. The burly Dominic Grant hurries past, his eyebrows raised. Eddie hears Colin Archer and Sonya Blake struggling to contain their laughter in the in the next booth.
Murray glances at his watch and frowns. Then he glares at Eddie. “I suppose you don’t have those stats I wanted?”
Eddie nods, reaches for a file and hands it over. “It’s all there, sir. This quarter’s profit statements.”
Murray’s eyes widen with surprise. He leafs through the contents then clears his throat. “Very good.”
Eddie nods, but Murray must save face. He must be seen to have managed the problem. “I want you in my office first thing Monday morning. You can’t just sleep on the job… its unprofessional! Now get back to work.”
He turns and strides away leaving Eddie resentful and Eddie’s colleagues snickering. As Murray closes his office door, Eddie aims his index finger at the manager and cocks his thumb as if he were firing a pistol. It will soon be Monday.