Lewis Carroll’s Alice thought Wonderland was strange. Sarah Hollingsworth knew her adventures in Office-land were twisted and downright bizarre. The office of the 1990s was a hunting ground where the unprotected were bagged and disposed of. The trick was not to be one of them. Hawks flew high, mules slogged away on their computers and praying mantises searched for prey. Butterflies and moths danced in the neon light. And the old caterpillar looked on passively to various unfolding dramas. Meanwhile, mall rats and lika-lika birds, growing up in this decade, fervently hoped that everything about the office would become more civilized by the time they had to get a DESK JOB.
When she reached the bottom of the slope, she came across two hundred mules tethered to two hundred desks. They were facing two hundred computers. Every once in a while they moved keys on the keypads with their snouts. She asked a stout looking male mule what he was doing. “Navigating for my hawk!” snorted the male mule. “It’s a living!”
“Are all you mules navigating for hawks?” asked Sarah.
“Yes!” snorted the male mule. “My hawk has a dozen navigators!”
“Careful!” sniffed a nearby female mule. “They may hear you!”
“Oh dear!” snorted the male mule.
Among the mules there were a dozen human sized praying mantises. They were cracking whips with their spiked forelegs and reading out loud from a book of rules.
“If I am seen talking to you, Human beast,” said the male mule Sarah had been chatting with, “they will punish me! If they ask you, could you please tell them that you talked to me first!?”
“Why?” asked Sarah.
“We’re not supposed to talk unless spoken to first!” he told her. “It’s one of the rules!”
“I shouldn’t have spoken to my mule friend!” confided the female mule who had spoken. “I shouldn’t be talking to you!”
“Are there many rules?” asked Sarah.
“Lots!” said the male mule. “I’d best get on with my navigating!”
“Goodbye,” Sarah told the mules as she began to walk away. “Good luck with your navigating.”
Then, from the other side of the hill, came the roar of a dozen low flying World War Two Japanese Zeros. They were being chased by a dozen American Hellcat fighter planes. The Hellcats were hot on the tails of the Zeros and managed to shoot down two before the remaining planes disappeared into the distance. One Zero did drop a bomb before going away. It exploded a short distance from the mules.
This has nothing to do with Pearl Harbor, thought Sarah. Hellcats didn’t come into that war until much later. Even so, these Hellcats are like dark mules with wings and the Zeros are like great big butterflies with bombs and a work ethic strange for butterflies.
Out of the bomb dust a figure stirred. What was it? The sky was darkening and a savage wind was stirring. It hammered at the desks of the mules and threatened to drive the hawks from the heavens. Then a flash of lightning revealed the presence in the bomb dust of an old Asian witch with her face painted white and her lips decorated a cherry red. She had on a white flowing gown that moved swiftly. It moved as rapidly as her black fluid hair. She ventured closer to the mules. As she got nearer to them the intensity of the wind increased.
A desk was overturned in the ensuing gale, freeing a mule from his tether. The mule then kicked the witch, sending her into a dozen computers. Sparks flew as the witch, choking to death from a crushed windpipe breathed her last.
“God help us!” cried the male mule that was closest to the dead witch. “God help the one responsible!”
The mule who had kicked the witch, who also happened to be a male, cried out: “No! I didn’t want to do it! I didn’t mean to do it!”
“She was bad,” said Sarah.
“Was she really?” questioned one of the praying mantises. “Or was she simply doing what one would expect a wind witch to do?”
“A wind witch?” questioned Sarah.
“Yes,” hissed the praying mantis in Sarah’s face. “Would you deny a wind witch her ancestry? Would you deny a wind witch her culture? Would you do these things for the sake of some puny computer slave? Well! Would you, my dear, would you?!”
“I don’t know!” cried Sarah in confusion as the wind faded to nothing and hideous insect like orbs bored into her eyes.
“I don’t know!” Sarah screamed after a moment of heavy silence as the air became still, the fog came in and so did the static.
Rod Marsden was born in Sydney, Australia. He has three degrees; all related to writing and to history. His stories have been published in Australia, England, Russia and the USA. He has work in the American anthology Cats Do it Better. For some time now his short stories have turned up in Night to Dawn magazine. Undead Reb Down Under and Other Vampire Stories is a collection of his short fiction on vampirism. His novel Disco Evil: Dead Man’s Stand is his first venture into the vampire novel. Ghost Dance is his first undertaking into dark fantasy involving a quest. Desk Job is his salute to Lewis Carroll and it is also his initial surrealist novel. Desk Job will be coming out soon in 2012. Steam punk is new to him but he is enthusiastic over the idea. Rod has a fondness for the Wollongong area but an abiding love for the more northern Clarence River region of his home state of New South Wales. Both the Wollongong area and the Clarence River region frequently appear in his writing. He’s also been to the USA and his adventures there add spice to his prose.