The Buddy Lunch
This is a short story rough, a work in progress.
* * *
“Can you help me out here?” Mark asked, his face desperate.
Fred realized Mark was talking to him. He took his headphones off, and looked around his cubicle in the vast office floor. Everyone else was eating lunch at their desk.
He looked back at Mark. “I’m actually working on something here. Can you find someone else?”
“We’re interviewing someone, and it’s gone on for a couple of hours. So the big boss said we should break for lunch. He wants to go take some calls, so he asked me to hang out with the interviewee for a bit.”
Frank frowned. “Okay, but why do you need my help?”
“It’s kind of…hard going keeping this conversation going. We want to seem natural. I can’t think of anyone else who could handle this better. Help a brother out.”
Frank sighed. “You know I’m behind here. If you really need my help…”
Frank put down his headphones, logged off his computer and walked with Mark towards the cafeteria. They grabbed today’s menu, what looked like some rather good cheeseburgers and some salad that came with the deal.
Frank coughed. “So what should I know about the guy? The boss must like him.”
Mark’s face froze into a mask of impassiveness. “You’ll see.”
“What do you…”
Mark pointed over to a table where a large child-sized porcelain doll was sitting, motionless. It had a white dress with a light-blue stripe around the bottom, with ruffles at the sleeves. The doll had a laptop next to it. Moving no other part of it’s form, the doll’s childlike head swiveled in Frank’s direction. It smiled.
Frank grabbed Mark’s arm, and pulled him around the corner. “Oh no. Oh you gotta be kidding me. Not again.”
“You promised, man!” Mark whispered back intensely. “I need your help on this!”
Frank shook his head. “Why do we keep interviewing soul-killing possessed dolls?”
“Because they kill at coding, you know that!”
Frank sighed. They walked towards the table, and set their plates down.
“Hello,” said the creepy porcelain doll.
“Hi,” said Mark, and very tentatively shook the tiny doll’s hand. “This is my friend Frank.”
“Hello Frank. I’m Dolly Dollerson!” It said with perfect chipped cheerfulness. “We’re gonna be great friends.” The porcelain beneath it’s eye had the lightest stain of what looked like…
Ketchup. It had to be ketchup.
“Hello Dolly,” said Frank, realizing just as he said it that he was repeating the refrain of the famous old song. He sat down.
“Hee hee,” said the doll.
“So, uh, what do you do?”
“I’m a database engineer. I also drink the souls of those who cross me. You aren’t going to cross me, are you, Frank?”
Frank threw a scowl directly at Mark. Thanks buddy. “No, of course not. I, you know, I mind my own business. It’s all about the work.”
It raised a single mechanical eyebrow. “That’s smart. You stay smart. Hee.”
Mark coughed. “Dolly here has taken up databases after her previous position working for Salesforce. She was already heading up a team before she left. She’s a natural.”
“What were you doing at Salesfo-” Frank began.
“I headed up HR.”
“Of course you did,” said Frank smoothly. “What made you take up databases?”
“I have a good mind for cold precision,” said Dolly. “Also, numbers in databases can make grown men cry.”
“Isn’t that the truth, huh?” Mark forced laughter, elbowing Frank in the ribs.
“Got that right,” agreed Frank. “What made you Oracle?”
“No one MADE me leave. I LEFT.” It moved it’s porcelain face pieces in an imitation of a scowl. “Are you suggesting something?” said Dolly with perfect pinprick perkiness.
“No, no,” said Frank smoothly. “I just meant with your, your obvious skill at precision, were they no longer challenging enough?”
“Yes. Okay, you’re off the hook for now. I’ve got my eye on you.” It kept one glass doll eye focused on him, as that side of it’s face turned a mechanical check upwards in something that was supposed to approximate a smile. “Is this a typical amount of attendance?” Dolly asked. Her other eye moved off of Frank and snapped into sync. Then she looked around, her smoothly swiveling neck covering nearly 360 degrees, like an owl.
“Pretty much,” said Frank. “Some folks are on PTO.”
“We have a lot of food options,” said Mark. “Kosher, Halal, vegan, gluten-free…”
“Do you have souls?” she asked softly.
“Uh…not that I know of.” Mark admitted.
“I’ll have to see what I can do then.”
Frank sorted through his mind, and nothing came to him but the old set of cliches. Better than silence. “What are you looking most for in a position?”
“A place where I can make everyone as happy as me! FOREVER. EVER EVER AND EVER.”
Frank raised an eyebrow. “Doesn’t that…kind of conflict with enjoying how databases can make grown men cry?”
Dolly shook her head, with the perfect smoothness of a plastic joint in a socket. “Good question. Not at all. It instead the best time to DRINK their souls so they can be HAPPY AND HAPPY.”
Frank nodded. “Well, you should fit right in then.” He saw a gleam of hope. “If you aren’t so stuck on the souls thing.”
Dolly Dollerson looked at him with a puzzled glance in its frozen eyes. “Yes Frank? Why do you say that?”
Mark looked over at Frank. “Eh, heh heh, Frank’s still getting over a bit of a breakup. He used to date someone else who was…flesh impaired.”
“A doll?” Dolly asked. “Why did you break up?”
“It was just time,” said Frank.
“So she dumped you, hee!” It swiveled both eyes back on him as it smiled.
Frank was about to respond angrily, and then laughed too, surprising himself. “You’re right.” It felt a bit of a relief to admit it. “She wanted…more interesting opportunities I guess. Anyway, she liked it here while she was here.”
“But…everyone here is still so … living,” said Dolly, puzzled. “Why would she leave before she had made everyone as HAPPY AS HER, FOREVER AND EVER, you know.”
Frank shrugged. It was a mystery to him too. For all her faults as a significant other, Amy had at least been good with his family. “She did say something once about there not being a lot of room for her to grow.”
“Let’s not dig up old negativity now, Frank,” said Mark. “Let’s stay on track about working for us. There’s so many things Dolly can do here.”
“Sure. Dolly, Have you met our current VP’s of marketing and production?” Frank indicated the corner table.
There sat two dolls, in sharp suits. They slowly raised empty spoons from bowls of red, that Frank and many others always hoped were just tomato soup. They were surrounded by several other human VPs, who also stayed quite quiet.
“I…have not,” said Dolly, suddenly somewhat unnerved.
“They came on board last year,” said Mark.
“It’s been a year now, hasn’t it?” Frank inclined his head philosophically. “I didn’t realize it was that long. To be honest, I thought it was kind of bad at the time. But, their expertise in a variety of fields has worked out really well.”
“Absolutely,” said Mark. He seemed more than a bit relieved to be back to talking on a positive note. “Yeah, it seems like they are quite happy.”
“And they’ve been able to get past the whole souls thing, too,” said Frank, a perfectly innocent look on his own face.
Mark’s face froze. “We don’t need to talk about compensation right now…”
“I disagree. Hee. I think we do.” Dolly Dollerson’s eyes narrowed. “What about compensation?”
Frank shrugged. “We had a hard time keeping interns, so we didn’t have a lot of souls to offer. So we cancelled the intern program, and they accepted stocks instead. All about the profits, for the good of the company,” said Frank.
“No souls?” the doll turned to Mark. “You foolish sack of blood. You didn’t mention NO SOULS.” It waved its arms at the cafeteria. “No souls in the dining room, no interns, no souls, only stocks instead?”
“I understand being interested in souls,” Mark responded, “But we can’t really pay in life-force any more. We could pay in happiness, maybe? Like how much enjoyment would you want to suck from each of the living per quarter?”
It frowned and gnashed it’s perfect tiny teeth. “I need a house to keep my form in, so I am not stuffed into a trunk and burned when my soul wanders for new victims. That means I must make good income, especially in this city. But once I have that money, does it bring me souls?” Dolly shook her head. “The best things in unlife cannot be paid for.”
“There’s still things that can be paid for,” said Mark, a panicked edge rising into his voice. “You can still get a lot of nice things. Think of how you can help make people happier and happier, forever and ever!”
“Is there room in the budget for hiring contractors?” said Dolly hopefully.
“I’m sure we can work something out,” said Mark.
“We do also have a general policy against soul harvesting now.” Mark kicked him under the table. Dolly noticed.
“We order food out, when we can’t cook it,” said Frank. “I don’t think there’s a startup offering souls yet.”
“That’s a good idea!” said Dolly. “I think I’ll do that! Want to join me?”
Frank blinked. “Uh…”
“I mean, I’m not working here now. No souls, this is bullshit.” Dolly crooked her finger at Frank. “You have an original way of thinking. You can keep your soul. We will make the green tickets you blood sacks think bring you joy. Just bring lots of other souls to me. We can set up a database. We can even store them in a database, hah haaaaaaa!”
“We can talk about it,” Frank said smoothly. “Send me a proposal.”
“Done.” Dolly got up and grabbed her laptop bag, and leapt off the seat. The possessed porcelain doll stood and turned it’s polished blank face up to Mark. “There’s no need to waste my or your time any further. I won’t forget you tried to hire me without telling me about the souls. Watch your back heee heeee!”
Dolly left as quickly as her doll legs could take her.
“You absolute dick,” said Mark. He sighed. “Now I have to get a whole bunch of protection hexes. Maybe even a damn salt rug and a familiar.”
“All I did was tell the truth,” said Frank. “I’ll be at my desk.”
He spent the rest of the day figuring out if he could begin a startup based on protective hexes. If he and Mark wanted them, maybe there was a way to cut out the middle witch.