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Sneak peek. Image by 955169 (Pixabay)

By Jeremy Bursey

Jeremy Bursey is the author of many short stories, essays, and poems, along with a modest number of novels and screenplays. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Central Florida and currently works at a local college as a writing tutor. He appreciates feedback for anything he offers to the public. He also takes too many pictures of cats and the ocean.

June 15, 2022

Sneak Peek: Paperweight, a Novel(la)

Note: The content of this article was originally written for my newsletter subscribers on April 20, 2022. If you want to read these articles while they’re still fresh, please subscribe to my newsletter today. You can find the signup link in the side panel (desktop) or at the bottom of this page (mobile).


Hi Reader Friend,

Last month, I told you about my upcoming novel(la), Paperweight, which you’ll get in e-book format as part of your subscription to my newsletter once it’s finished and ready for reading. If you recall, it’s a story that positions an Indiana Jones-type adventurer character in an environment like The Office and addresses the conflicts he faces in protecting himself and his coworkers from the harmful effects of bringing a cursed Mayan treasure into the workplace.

This month, I thought I’d share with you an excerpt from that story.

Here’s the context (which I’ll keep as spoiler-free as necessary):

Lewis Urlong, our newly retired adventurer, has just started his new job as a mail clerk at the Investment Phillips Corporation (“Phillips” being a power verb). After a life of evading bad guys and pursuing MacGuffins, he’s come to the realization that he doesn’t have any real friends, so he tries to make a few while on the job. The following scene is an early attempt to gain an office friend.

(from Paperweight, chapter undetermined, first draft only and subject to change):

The next morning, Lewis found his wobbly cart and headed out into the labyrinth of cubicles, hallways, and rooms of requirement, where he could hand workers their good news. He still didn’t know much about the Investment Phillips Corporation, but he was impressed with its size and scope. The company filled up three floors of building space, occupying somewhere between six to ten thousand square feet each, and everyone he passed seemed to know exactly what their roles were, without question, without any doubt. He certainly had never seen such efficiency in the bazaars of the Middle East or the shantytowns of Brazil. Even that one time he ran errands for the Chicago Mafia (they told him not to ask what was in the box), the appearance of order was just shy the level that he witnessed here at the Investment Phillips Corporation. This place was, in a word, organized.

 

After living a life on the edge, he still had trouble comprehending how a breathing organism of such size and scope could function without a hitch. Even as he peeked into each cubicle and corner office, he marveled at the employees’ focus and the managers’ hands-off approach. Because everyone knew his or her role, there was no conflict and no drama.

 

By the time he reached the third floor, however, he couldn’t ignore the mystery any longer. He had to ask somebody.

 

Halfway into the cubicle farm, Lewis found a bearded man leaning against a cubicle desk, reading something on his computer. The guy’s workspace was tidy and relatively empty of mementos. Compared to the other cubicles on the office floor, his was the least broken-in. Might’ve been new to the company. Just like Lewis!

 

He had nothing to give the man, but because no one had spent any time talking to him since he got here—too busy working!—he wanted to invite the conversation. Chatting up coworkers kept things relaxed at work, so he’d heard once upon a time. The man was about his age and could probably catch him up on the “normal” things that men his age often did in regular society. Maybe the guy could even become his “work friend” or whatever they were called.

 

“Aloha,” he said to the bearded man.

 

“What?” the man said, startled. He clutched his chest as he spun his chair around to see who had tried to kill him. Lewis had seen that look a thousand times or more, usually before he stepped aside in time to watch a covered truck barrel down a hill and run his rival off a cliff. He shook his head at the memory of such repetitive carnage.

 

“What?” Lewis’s thoughts had trailed off.

 

“You came to me. What do you want? Who do you work for?”

 

Lewis raised his palms in a gesture of peace.

 

“Mail room,” he said. “I forget my immediate supervisor’s name.”

 

The man exhaled through his mouth. Calming technique. Must’ve been an adventurer in an earlier life.

 

“Okay. You can leave it there.” The man pointed at a plastic in-out box.

 

Lewis regained his thoughts. He was here for conversation. Well, and to deliver mail. But for this guy, he was here to chat.

 

“Whatcha up to?”

 

“Reading about window curtains.”

 

“Ah, researching your next investment?”

 

The man shook his head.

 

“No, my wife wants new curtains. Doesn’t have time to research them herself.”

 

“Oh, what does she do?”

 

The man shrugged.

 

“She won’t tell me. Says it’s safer that way.”

 

Lewis nodded. He understood completely.

 

“Yeah, I had a supplier who’d tell his wife that all the time. Not sure what happened to him. Or her.” Lewis shrugged. “But what can you do, am I right?”

 

The man returned his attention to the computer screen. Images of the most spartan curtains Lewis had ever seen scrolled from bottom to top. Compared to the patterned drapes he’d encounter at the kiosks of southern Cairo, these curtains may as well have been automobile tarpaulins.

 

“You sure she wants something so plain?” Lewis asked.

 

“I see her ten times a year, and she’s always looking through the windows when she’s home. Not at them. She said her only requirement is that they’re thick. Outside of that—”

 

“She doesn’t care.”

 

Both men nodded. Lewis understood completely.

 

“So, what’s your job here when you’re not looking for curtains or checking over your shoulder?”

 

The man glanced at Lewis from over his shoulder.

 

“Job?” He glanced at the screen. “Oh, yeah, I work here, don’t I?”

 

“You an investor? Or…actually, what else do people do at this company? Besides deliver mail, of course.”

 

“I was hired a few years ago to track the movements of a high school football coach to see if he was more likely to buy Gatorade from a nerd or a jock. Didn’t think the task was serious, so I just wrote nerd on a Post-It Note and turned it in to one of the ‘Eddys.’ They seemed to like my work, so they asked me to stay on for another project. They never gave me that next project, so I’ve just been contracting my own work.”

 

“Yeah, doing what?”

 

“Freelance graphic design.” The man switched screens to an elaborate vector image of nineteen fifties-era people hanging out at a soda shop. “New café startup is paying me good money for this picture.”

 

Lewis raised his eyebrows at the image. It was a cartoonish take on [Hopper’s diner painting “Nighthawks”] but with modern technology reinterpreted through the lens of its time. The man in white running the counter was taking the hat man’s order with a smartphone.

 

“Impressive,” Lewis said. Then he stood up and swiveled his gaze across the room. “Is that the case with everyone here, or just you?”

 

The man shrugged.

 

“Not sure. I try not to make friends, if I can help it.” The man glanced up at him. “Safer that way.”

 

Lewis nodded. He understood completely.

 

As he left the cubicle and checked on the other desk dwellers sharing the bearded man’s floor space, he uncovered many different stories, but all sharing the same or similar theme: everyone on this floor was hired to perform a job, each of them had finished their jobs, and none of them had been given a new job, so all of them came to the office specifically to work on personal side projects or surf the Internet in peace, and each of them collected a weekly paycheck, payable by the Investment Phillips Corporation.

 

After returning to the other floors and asking similar questions, Lewis discovered, to his surprise, that this company he so admired was actually as productive as the safety team who had monitored the cooling chambers of Chernobyl.

 

Nevertheless, he had a job he could return to systematically, and that’s what mattered. But, if there was anything he could do to help them contribute more to the company they worked for, he was certainly open to the challenge. The one thing he knew about business, regardless of type, was that its success depended on relevant output, and the Investment Phillips Corporation seemed to lack much of that at first glance. Lewis worried his new job might not last as long as he’d like if Maximillian and the Eddys didn’t figure this out soon.

(end excerpt)

So, what did you think? Want more? Reply to this email to let me know your thoughts.

And don’t forget, I still need beta readers for this and other upcoming books, so if you’d like to join the team, please sign up as soon as possible, and I’ll let you know when I’m ready for feedback. I’ve also got a need for ARC and early access readers if either of those positions are more preferable to you.

Thanks for reading.

Until next time.

–Jeremy


Cover Image: 955169 (Pixabay)

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