I’m not good at beginnings, but then nobody at Penderstout, Inc. is. “We’re always looking for that opening hook” is a phrase I’ve heard countless times, not only from the mucky-mucks but from the Darlings themselves. Maybe that’s why they keep hiring people here—in the vain hope that, sooner or later, someone will come up with an opening that will knock the reader’s socks off.
So, how are your socks?
Feh. I crumple that one up and toss it vaguely in the direction of the company-supplied wastebasket. It falls amongst the countless other crumpled notes, candy wrappers, and assorted flotsam and jetsam that never actually make it inside the gleaming cyclinder. Oh well, at least it gives the custodian something to do.
Maybe I should start by saying I’m an employee at Pendersnout. But maybe that’s not entirely correct. I suspect I’m an employee—that would be more accurate. I say this because others here appear far more “employee-like.” They have actual desks assigned to them on a permanent basis—at least until, you know. Whereas I have…if I’m lucky, part of a desk. Shared by someone else. Sometimes it’s only just a corner of a desk, barely large enough to keep the scraps of paper I’m supposed to be keeping track of.
Paper. Pendersnout, for some reason not fully comprehended by the up-and-coming Millenials, insists on still using it.
But my “desk” isn’t my job, is it? Then what is my job? Is it to hang out and schmooze with the Darlings at lunch break, or is it to spend all day combing through the manuscript, looking for excess buts? Of course I don’t have the actual manuscript—that’s for the mucky-mucks. I’m stuck with pieces of the previous drafts, because as we all know, Pendersnout is one anal retentive CEO.
Schmoozing with Darlings is fun, but risky. Because as everyone knows, Pendersnout eventually kills his Darlings, and associated Schmoozers are at risk, too. He has them marched out at dawn into the courtyard next to the food truck, where they get one final burrito before the firing squad puts them out of their misery.
Today I hear that the Inciting Incident is under review. Everyone’s talking about it: “Did you hear about the Inciting Incident?” “Who hasn’t?” “It’s critical to the story, so I’m not surprised.” “Nothing about this place surprises me anymore.”
“I hear Pendersnout’s going all post-modern on us.” It’s the new receptionist, who’s deranged in an adorable way—rumors are she’s on a fast track to make it into a side plot, or at least a back story. She wears flashy hoop earrings and proudly shows off a tattoo of a pert hamster on her thigh. How did she find out Pendersnout has a thing for hamsters? I’ll never know, that’s for sure.
“Post-modern? Not likely.” This from an Ink-stained Wretch. Nobody knows why he’s here, or what he does either. But he has narrative cred, so we all listen. “Pendersnout’s too old school for that.”
“Hah!” says Hamster Thigh with a sneer. “Post-modern is old school. Fiction is totally retro now, or haven’t you heard?”
“Then if post-modern is old school, it’s also retro, which makes it totally now, Hamster Thigh. Or haven’t you heard?”
Ah, an argument—are things heating up? Could this be the Inciting Incident?
Employees and unnamed visitors wander off in search of food. Guess this isn’t the Inciting Incident, after all.
Oh my God. I’ve been writing Pendersnout instead of Penderstout. If any of the mucky-mucks see this, my hide is history.
Though perhaps that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. I could get taken off copyediting and put into sales, for example.
On second thought, sales? Feh. Better to be shot with the Darlings. Note to reader: please replace Pendersnout with Pendersnout wherever you see it. Thank you for patience.
Just the look on the face of Joan the Serious Editor as she trundles out of the meeting clutching her tablet is enough to send hamsters and other assorted rodents scurrying for cover. I focus on the one remaining square inch of desk that has not been overrun by Ink-stained Wretch’s collection of antique fountain pens and assorted bottles of ink, but it’s no good. Joan the Serious Editor has perfected the art of the Voice of Doom, and we are compelled to listen.
“Why are you here?” she says in a deceptively upbeat warble. “I mean it, people. Can you answer that question?”
Everyone looks at their shoes. Finally, Ink-stained Wretch, while expertly rolling a cigarette, holds forth. Or at least starts to. “Perfectly good question,” he mumbles through his moustache. “I believe Camus had the best answer to that one. Or Artaud, actually, in The Theater and Its Double. He said—”
“Artaud?” Joan the Serious Editor’s voice grinds the Ink-stained Wretch’s vocal meanderings into the rug. Okay, bad metaphor, but you get the drift. “Why do you think anyone here gives a damn about Artaud? I’m asking you a question. And you need to come up with an answer. Jesus.” She shakes her head and sighs. “I’m sorry. It’s just…”
“It’s the Inciting Incident, isn’t it?” interjects Hamster Thigh.
“No, it’s more than that.” Total silence now. “It’s…the Story Arc.”
We all gasp.
“The whole thing?” squeaks Ink-stained Wretch.
“Yup. Everything’s under review now. Nothing is sacred.”
“Good God,” says Hamster Thigh. “Does that mean…”
“I know what you’re thinking,” Joan the Serious Editor says. “But I just want to assure you—all you people—nobody’s going to lose their job.” She clears her throat. “But I want each of you to draft a statement summarizing your job function here at Pendersnout, Inc. Tell me how you can improve our productivity.” With that she spins on her heel and leaves us with her best authoritative stride.
“We’re fucked,” says Ink-stained Wretch. “She said the P word.”
We all know what that means. Anytime management says the P word while claiming you’re not going to lose your job, guess what happens.
Even Hamster Thigh looks downcast. “What are you going to say in your statement?” she says to me.
“Not sure yet,” I reply. “But I can start by deleting a few
“And saying Penderstout instead of Pendersnout,” adds Ink-stained Wretch.
A new directive has come down: the voice is no longer first person present, but omniscient third past tense. That’s not surprising, but why did it take so long for the mucky-mucks to figure it out?
Harry Penderstout looked puzzled at first, but immediately clamped on his winning smile as the visitor strode confidently into the executive suite of Penderstout, Inc.
“My son,” said Harry Penderstout, beaming widely. “Harry Penderstout, Jr., my beloved son. What brings you here?”
Harry Penderstout, Jr. chuckled softly. “Beaming widely, Dad? Really?”
His father’s smile wavered for a split second before catching itself. “My son,” he boomed, “have I ever told you that this”—here he made an expansive hand gesture toward a non-existent window—“will all be yours?”
“Two clichés in a row. Impressive, even if not ironic. Except that I’m not Penderstout now, Dad. Nobody’s named Penderstout. So now I’m Pendergast.”
The old man sighed. “I suppose the mucky-mucks insisted on the change?”
“With help from Joan the Serious Editor.”
“You might have asked me first.”
Harry Pendergast shifted uncomfortably. “That…brings up something else, Dad. I’m not asking you first anymore.”
“No, in fact I’m not asking you at all.”
The old man’s brow furrowed. “Like storm clouds?” he pondered.
Pendergast smirked. “That’s your third cliché, Dad. Your entire idiom is tired. You’ve lost your story mojo.”
Penderstout reeled with indignation. “No son of mine is going to treat me like this!” he roared. “Apologize, or I’ll have you taken out and shot with the next round of Darlings!”
His son couldn’t hide the gleam in his eye, even as he spoke softly, with concern. “The Darlings won’t be rounded up and shot anymore, Dad. They’ll be put to rest peacefully, instead.”
“What are you saying?”
“What I’m saying is that you are no longer in charge of Pendergast, Inc. I have the Board on my side, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Sorry, Dad. I love you, but you’re expendable.”
“Damn you!” Penderstout picked up his phone. “Security!”
“I agree,” Pendergast said. “Security?”
The door to the Pendersnout suite opened and four men in lab coats entered. They carried tasers and red pencils. “Come with us, Mr. Penderstout,” they said.
“Don’t worry, Dad. You’ll be well cared for in a new facility with all the modern conveniences.”
“My own son. I don’t believe this.”
“Save the histrionics, Dad.” Pendergast nodded to Security. “Take him.”
After Security efficiently hustled out Penderstout, Pendergast gingerly set himself in the old man’s chair, feeling the soft leather, inhaling its intoxicating dead animal scent.
“Finally,” he whispered to himself, “I can put this thing to rest.”
Do you suppose Hamster Thigh got it right? Is Pendergast, Inc. now committed to post-modern fiction, or will Pendergast continue to churn out the usual pulp?
“Know what I heard?” said Hamster Thigh as she munched on her food truck burrito. “I heard this isn’t a novel, after all. It’s a short story. Almost flash, even.”
“I could have told you that all along,” Ink-stained Wretch said.
“Then why didn’t you?” I said.
Hamster Thigh cocked her head, as though listening to the wind. “Did you hear something?” she said.
“Nope,” Ink-stained Wretch said.
“I thought it was that guy.”
“The all-about-me guy?” Joan the Serious Editor had just joined the conversation. “He’s no longer here.”
Hamster Thigh and Ink-stained Wretch didn’t say another word as they finished off their burritos.