No one loves their desk job all the time, Shelby thought. She hit her second alarm and lay in bed, the room barely lit by her apartment window. Some mornings required a conversation to get started. It’s not like I don’t enjoy being there, she reasoned. It’s in the city, I’m good at it, and it’s more money than I’ve ever made. Shelby looked out that small window to the sides of other buildings, the tops of the front range behind them. I’ve got an apartment downtown, without having to even share a room, she told herself. It was expensive, but she knew that. The layout was sort of modern – chrome fixtures, small chairs. It didn’t hide what was really a square in a square-shaped building. She liked the new smell though, and the new look, and liked not having to worry if she was paying too much.
“Ow!”, Shelby whispered. Her hydro-flask kept coffee hot, and when the train lurched forward it burnt her tongue. Paying the tolls in Denver didn’t seem worthwhile, so Shelby elected to take the train. Two years ago, in 2018, they decided that inner-city tolls might stifle the rising traffic problem. Too bad it didn’t work, Shelby scoffed as the trained passed bumper-bumper Broadway. It did make the D-Line a little crammed. Shelby liked taking the train though, being around other city-goers, and she could drink coffee while the mountains passed by.
That cute front-desk boy was waiting when she arrived; they exchanged a small wave and “hello”. She put her tupperware lunch in the work fridge. That lingering funky-mold smell was actually gone, someone had scrubbed the whole thing. Shelby grabbed a mug and filled it with coffee, saving the rest for the afternoon, maybe around 1pm, she planned. Clips of commercials played, then stopped, being edited by the film department on the other side of the open office. Shelby mostly managed freelance writers, editing their work before it made its way to the final website. She worked for Plucker.com, a small start-up that built sites and provided marketing services to small and mid-level businesses. Shelby pulled out a wireless keyboard, set it on her desk, and projected a computer screen to the blank white wall in front of her.
The work could get boring, namely editing copy writers attempts at being clever. But the people were pleasant. Every once in awhile Shelby would grab drinks with her co-worker Andy, who sat close to her desk. They were about the same age, and both enjoyed having a friend to vent work stuff too. The only thing to vent, really, was about Jace. Jace was a board-member, and had invested (with Dad’s wallet) in Plucker.com when it began in 2015. The office had no literal use for him, but he still found the time to show up and “monitor” employees. It was incredibly annoying, and usually rude. “Drinking martini’s all day in Vail apparently can get old,” Andy would joked with her.
Shelby pulled up her email, a good way to get into work-mode. Once she started reading, sipping coffee and munching on a muffin, she felt more content. I know this isn’t permanent. No, one day I’ll do something with my hands. Her mind drifted; like wood-working, or casting metal for expensive light fixtures. I’d wear dirty Carharts, and my muscles would be sore by 4pm, instead of my eyes, she dreamed.
“Heyy there, Shelby”. That voice. It was Jace. I hadn’t even seen him walking around. Shit. He was wearing this blocky, modern shirt, tucked into tight jeans. God, I hate those leather pointy shoes. Someone’s getting rich selling you that cheap shit. “Well, I don’t want to interrupt, not that you were working”, he observed. “I know you can day dream, and we love that creativity at Plucker.” “Yes, I wa-”, Shelby tried to answer. “Maybe you could use that creativity to write us something really great.”, Jace mused with an awkward air-fist pump. “You can use a hash tag even! It could blow up twitter.” No one fucking uses hash tags anymore, Shelby kept to herself. “You know, I’m going to put this in an email for you. So you remember.” I know you’re looking at my boobs. Jace tried to dart his eyes, but was never that good at it. He caught a last glance, then left.
1:15pm had passed, and Shelby couldn’t find even a minute to get up and get coffee. Four new clients had signed on just that morning, and she was swamped trying to delegate to writers. It was turning into one of those days that you wished you’d slept through. Jace had left early on “business” lunches, but his stench hung on to her bad morning. At 3pm, she finally pulled away from the computer projection to break and drink the last of her coffee. Even in a high-tech liquid preserving device, it was stale. Did I have… Shit, I forgot to eat lunch. At 4:06pm, she put on her jacket, packed up the keyboard, and walked out to a late Denver afternoon.
Ugh, fuck today. She started the walk from the train to her building. Maybe today’s the kind of day you’re supposed to drink off, she wondered, walking by a couple bars full with happy-hour patrons. No, Shelby told herself. That won’t do anything, I need something to do that I actually care about. Inspired, that was a word she liked to focus on. Plus, I have beer at home.
Shelby popped the top off of a bottle and sat on her progressively-square couch. A sleek headset sat on a table next to her, the piece for a new virtual reality device she’d just got. It had some cool strategy games, or you could just watch cat videos, which is what she usually did. Shelby put down her beer and put it on, seeking a few minutes to unwind. A menu of programs appeared, starting with the usual arcade game and online video apps. I want to do something I’ve never done. She scrolled a little further and found a program she hadn’t noticed before. She chose it and was brought to an empty grid, with buttons at the corners of her sight.
No way…, she read a button that suggested you could pull up any place with just a few pictures. Shelby pulled up her office, from its website online, just as a trial. A “loading” bar appeared, and in seconds she was standing in a virtual recreation of her office. Oh god, get me out. Another button to the side had the outline of a head on it, with a plus sign in front. She clicked it, and on the screen came an upload bar. Next to the bar was a small button with an “f” in a blue square. She tapped it and was brought to a Facebook search bar. Wow… Not wanting to ruin anyone she liked, Shelby brought up Jace. Again, in mere seconds, an almost exact replication of Jace was standing in front of her. Walking around the virtual office were a few others, probably people who’d been in Jace’s pictures.
Jace started to talk. “Hey there, how’s it going?” His voice was eerily similar. Shelby’s heart beat faster, and she found herself quickly flustered with this projection in front of her. She glanced at other buttons on the screen. There was an option to add items to the grid, and she found a category labeled “Japan Home”. I should get sushi tonight, Shelby was reminded. The items were normal household Japanese items – sandals, mats, tea – but got more interesting as she swiped on. Behind the virtual menu, Jace kept repeating, “Hey. How are things? Hey. What’s up?” Like he’s ever that polite. Shelby scrolled past a kimono, then a string instrument she didn’t know the name of, then to a samurai sword.
She clicked the sword, and instantly a razor-sharp samurai sword was in her hands. She tilted her head down to see her hands, and they held the sword like a normal human would. She moved her hands slightly and the sword gleamed and angled like it was made of metal. Growing curious, she took her right hand off the handle, placed her finger on the blade, and ran it down. Instinctively, Shelby jumped, though there wasn’t any pain. Her virtual finger bled from the slice. That is so cool. She lifted her head again, and had forgotten that Jace was still there, the same dumb smirk waiting for a response. Shelby grasped the sword and brought it to Jace’s neck in a swift, right-to-left motion.
The projection grabbed its opened neck with both hands, its eyes staring in disbelief. His expensive, taught dress shirt was instantly crimson. The glittery accents on his jeans ceased to shine as blood ran from his neck. The sound of Jace’s jugular gurgling as blood rushed out was also almost exactly accurate. Shelby was surprised by the details, as virtual blood spread over the virtual carpet of her virtual office. Jace’s gasps for air turned into gargles as blood filled his mouth. This, and the surround-sound, high-def audio, continued for longer than Shelby imagined it would. Trying to remain calm, she hastily exited the program, shut off the device, and removed it from her head.
The brightness of her lightly-colored apartment startled her vision, and Shelby squinted to save her eyes. Her heart was starting to race, I wasn’t there. I’ve been in my living room. That wasn’t Jace. The sound of a slashed throat sucking for air was on repeat in her head. She was afraid to close her eyes. She knew that Jace would be there, laying on the floor in a dark pool.
She took a sip of beer. The clock read 5:30pm, shit, I need to get ready. Shelby changed, washed her face, and put on a light, complimenting layer of makeup. She locked her door, took the elevator down, exited her building, and began walking to meet her date