THE MANY FACES OF MR. STUPID By Eric Burbridge

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I avoid anger early in the morning, but this morning it was a struggle. I answered the page to go to the inner office which meant I was being fired. That infamous part of the World’s Largest Beverage Depot partitioned by glass panels was the manager’s idea of humiliation and not a comfortable fit for overweight guys like myself. Customers glanced at me as they shopped for whatever alcoholic beverage they liked. Thank God, I decided to look for another job, after my brown-nosing co-worker whose forklift shattered a skid of expensive cognac. I figured he would lie and say I did it since he used my fork because his battery died.  I should’ve known Sammy was going to screw up. He’d hit his flask more often than usual. Rarely could you smell it, but that day was different. I warned him about going to the casino, beginner’s luck doesn’t last long, but who listens to me. Mr. Tanke was in the area, I knew his strategy was to display me to my co-workers and let me percolate on the situation and hope I would explode. You wish! I’m way too smart for that no telling what would happen after I was escorted, vertically or horizontally, out of the store. If someone did a dastardly deed who would be the prime suspect? No, Mr. Tanke, not me. His arrogance coupled with pride in helping the family build a large wholesale liquor distribution business didn’t impress me. I watched the six feet plus, workout daily and health conscious dieter walk down the aisle toward me. The smirk on his face said, you’re fired, Amos. He squeezed past me and sat.

“Mr. Amos Stalls, how are you today?”

“Now I’m Mr. earlier I was Amos as usual. Get to the point, Mr. Tanke, I’m too old for games.”

He cleared his throat and opened the desk drawer and fingered through a folder. “What happened the other day?”

As if he didn’t know; his mind wasn’t already made up. “Sammy used my fork because his battery was dead, so he said anyway.”

“And.”

“And…and what? He damaged that shipment not me.” With no witnesses, it was his word against mine. His won. Tanke stared at me for a minute with his close-set eyes that resembled a person with some sort of syndrome.

“You been with us for–”

“Two years, never been late or took a sick or personal day. Do you believe me or what?”

He sighed and slammed the folder shut. “It doesn’t matter business has slowed. Your seniority says I lay you off. I’m sorry.” He reopened the folder. “But your record gets you this.” He handed me an envelope. “Don’t open it now, it’s a month’s severance pay. And, don’t thank me either–”

“Just leave now, right?” The cut-off got me an arched eyebrow with smart ass written all over it. I slipped the envelope in my pocket and saw a couple of coworkers stocking a section of cognac by the rare and collectible beverage room turn their heads not quick enough. Nosy bastards, if I was supposed to be embarrassed, I wasn’t. But, what would a forklift driver scorned do?

Drop a hint about a bottle here and there being opened and resealed or glitches with the

inventory scanner? He might know already. I stood quickly and Tanke’s eyes bucked, now he was in defense mode. “You know, Tanke, thanks for the opportunity to work here.” I extended my hand; he stood surprised at the gesture. We shook. Why burn down a bridge, I’d probably need a reference.

“Ok, Amos, good luck.”

Now I was Amos again. It was a tight fit in that space that’s when I got a whiff of Mr. Stupid on his breath. It smelled like wine or cognac. Was he an undercover drunk or what? He held out his hand. “Oh, I forgot my locker key and ID badge. My locker’s empty.” I should ask for a bottle of what he’s drinking, but instead I stepped out of the cubicle and walked past the liqueur section, the least rotated stock in the building. That garbage didn’t sell why they kept it was anybody’s guess. Several couples crowded the locally brewed beer aisles that led to the warehouse and the dock. Several coworkers got on their phones. My guess, they called Sammy to warn him I’m headed that way.

There was only one trailer being unloaded. Sammy backed out of it driving my fork. He turned it and avoided eye contact. “Hey Sammy.” He pretended not to hear and drove the load in the opposite direction. And there went my so-called friend another lesson learned in my forty years of life. No great loss, true friends are few and far between, old people told me that one. I waved at the guys on the dock and made a beeline to my car. It hesitated when I turned the key, now I know where part of that check was headed. My cell vibrated, email. Great!! A job interview that called for a celebration.

The temptation to visit my favorite watering hole overwhelmed my annual ritual to stay sober for six months a year. But, several more good job offers got me sitting at the bar watching my favorite barmaid pour a shot of my favorite concoction, rum with a Miller on the side.

“Leslie, what happened to your knuckles?” She shrugged with a look of disgust. “Sorry.” I felt bad; I spoke before I thought.

“That’s ok, I need to dump on somebody and you’re the lucky guy. Me and my man had been partying and got into a heated stupid argument. He grabbed me. I over reacted and my MMA training kicked in.” She was a small woman very attractive and almost in tears. “I don’t mean to cry in your beer, but I don’t know what to do.”

Mr. Stupid strikes again.

“I know the feeling.” What do you say? I had my own problems, at least she was working. “Pray about it, if you’re into that.”

“That’s sweet, be right back.” She hurried to serve another customer at the end of the bar.

Who would’ve thought she had mixed martial arts experience. Brutal sport for such an attractive woman. I turned my beer several times. Did I want it? Yes and no. Leslie returned with a concerned expression on her pretty face. “What’s on your mind?”

“Got fired a few weeks ago, got a few job offers too.”

“That’s good, right?” She smiled. “Congrats,” and downed my shot of rum and poured another. “That’s how it’s done, Amos.”

“I guess, but–” I looked at all the different sizes and shapes of the bottles of alcohol that lined the wall. Most people who drank didn’t need to. It created more problems than it solved.

“But what?”

“Never mind.” My phone sounded off…an email. I couldn’t believe it. Solomon Tanke asked would I be interested in reinstatement, if so; report Monday at the usual time. Sounds good, but what made the owner get involved, he spent most of his time abroad?

Don’t let your imagination runaway with you, Amos. If and when you walk in the door you’ll get a feel of what’s going on. Whose there and who isn’t will say a lot.

I’ll put the other interviews on hold, if possible. “Sorry, Leslie, don’t mean to be rude.” I peeled off a twenty. “Got to go.”

Good bye, Mr. Stupid, not today.

 

Eric Burbridge has written several published stories and is currently working on a novel.

‘Afloat’ by Eric Burbridge

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It rained for twenty-four hours before Emory decided to get high.  The cast on his shattered left leg and hip itched like hell. He needed relief and waved the flame under the spoon.  He drew the heroin into the syringe, pierced his vein and watched the blood mix with the chalky white fluid. Thunder and lightning exploded outside and in his head.  He fell back on the bed and his arteries were on fire. Oh, no, fentanyl mix, they lied…they killed him.

He was cold and wet, darkness his only companion.  Focus. He passed out, but how long was he out, twelve hours, a day?  He splashed water on the bed the place was flooded. He managed to grab the headboard.  What do I do? An eerie silence fell over the place. The rain had stopped, but the window was open and the stench of sewerage in the water turned his stomach.  A splash in the other room, what was that? Contaminated water soaked into the cast; the itch returned. His lower half would be infected if it wasn’t already. Emergency flashing lights danced on the walls.

People in boats, it had to be!

He scooted to the opposite side and grabbed the chair before it floated away.  If he could only get on it and scream for help. The lights faded, then darkness.  But what were those glowing spots in the water?

Spots!  Those weren’t spots, but eyes just above the water.

A gator!

He snatched his arm from the chair too late. The gator’s teeth sank into his biceps as it tried to swallow his arm.  The pain was unbearable.

“Help!!”

Emory jerked back and forth and the reptile’s grip loosened.  He’d almost got his arm out when the gator moved with lightning speed onto the bed.  Emory punched its mouth. “Get back!” It didn’t. Instead its mouth snapped up his arm again, spun trying to flip him. The more he pulled the farther his arm went down the gator’s throat.  Flashing lights reappeared and revealed the black bumpy scales of the predator determined to kill him. The sickening smell coupled with panic made him puke. The contents of his stomach splashed in the water and face of his assailant.  Emory scooted back on the bed and so did the gator, locked on his arm, but the tingling stopped.

“Help…help somebody…please help!!”

The gator’s eyes popped open.  Oh shit.

A mandatory evacuation is in effect.  Please go to the upper floors of your residences if possible.”  A male voice with a heavy southern drawl shouted through a loud speaker.  Waves of water rushed through the window as a boat circled the house. He managed to move his arm in the gullet of the gator and felt boney ridges.  He opened his fist; his fingers would prevent his arm from going any further. The reptile wriggled one last time.

“Dead…you’re dead.  Help!!” The waves in the water started to rise and cover his face.

After all this, now he was going to drown.  A boat bumped into the house? “Anybody in there?”  A guy slipped through the window his helmet light shined in Emory’s face.

“Jesus, Willy there’s a big ass gator in here…he got a guy’s arm in his mouth!!”

“Help.”  Emory tried to scream but only whimpered.

The rescue worker waded through the putrid water opposite the gator.  “Be still guy…be calm. Your arm stuck?” Emory nodded. “Willy, get your fire ax, hurry.”

“OK.” The worked poked the gator with the axe and pushed it further on the bed. “It’s dead, Willy.”  He shouted. “Ok guy, I’m gonna chop its head off, relax…be still.” Emory nodded and closed his eyes.  He still couldn’t feel his arm. “Be still.” The sound sickened him and blood sprayed in his face. Chop, chop. He wanted to scream, “Don’t cut off my arm,” but couldn’t and lost consciousness.

Eric Burbridge has been published in numerous literary journals. He started writing at a young and continued through his retirement.