By Chad A. McClendon
Bruce Kelley ran his fingers through his dust broom thin hair as he opened his corporate email Monday morning. His pants were still damp and cold from being pulled out of the dryer too quickly, the coffee burn hurt his mouth from earlier in the morning, and his boss was already complaining. He scanned his emails in order of importance, and opened one labeled Urgent Response Required; he scanned the contents of the missive and downloaded the spreadsheet attachment.
It was a report he was not familiar with, and he tried clicking on the tabs of data at the bottom of the sheet. He clicked, whispering at the sheet for not responding. His pointer on the screen turned into a spinning loading wheel, and he crossed his legs under his desk.
He noticed a flashing icon near the ribbon and saw a warning alert. Warning, sheet contains macros. Click here to enable. Bruce pointed a finger accusingly and clicked his mouse determinedly.
“You okay over there Bruce?” His coworker, Jake, called from over the cubicle wall.
“Oh, I’m just fine. Computer’s just giving me some trouble!” Bruce said as he enabled the macros. He stood up briefly and smiled at Jake. “Thanks for asking, though! Your dog doing better?”
“Hey, thanks for asking. Yeah, Scrappy’s fine.”
Bruce sat down and began looking at the spreadsheet. He clicked on the first tab. It was rows and rows of numbers, seemingly dates by the look of it.
What in the seven circles of confusion is this?
He began to put the data into a readable format but noticed a compile button at the bottom conveniently colored with a bright purple button.
“Oh, how helpful!” He dragged his cursor to the button, was prompted for his name which he entered, and then he clicked.
Bruce clutched at his throat and knew he was choking. It was cold, the feeling around his throat, and he tried to slide away from his desk. He looked over, trying to get Jake’s attention, but he fell to his knees. He was scared of dying and was terrified that he was being taken in such a stupid way. He stared up at his monitor and caught a final glimpse of the name of the file. He didn’t recognize the sender, but in the top he saw the name of the spreadsheet. He had his final breath as he lay on the floor, staring up at the underside of his desk.
Jake’s head popped up as he heard something crash from over the cubicle. He pulled out his earbuds and didn’t immediately see Bruce.
“Oh wow.” Jake walked over and finding no pulse on Bruce’s wrist, immediately called for 911 to be called.
“I think he’s had a heart attack,” he told his coworkers. They were all surprised and quite saddened. As the paramedics left, Jake was assigned to take over Bruce’s clients by the boss.
# # #
Bruce’s work files were not the most orderly. His desktop was littered with rows and rows of individual files and no semblance of order whatsoever.
“I don’t know if he knew what a Personal Folder was,” Jake told Sal Voyles, as Sal cleaned his glasses on a tissue taken from Jake’s desk.
“Can you get the work done? Bruce was shit, but he had clients. I trust you can work the overtime if necessary.”
Jake’s jaw went slack, as he looked at Sal’s pale face and untrimmed forest of black facial hair.
“Sal, he just died for Chrissake. And he wasn’t shit, he was the most optimistic person I knew.” Jake crossed his arms. “And I actually can’t stay tonight.” Jake looked across the floor at Hannah, and saw her typing busily at her desk. He felt the weight of the game tickets in his pocket.
“I knew I could count on you, Jake. Thanks for being a team player during this very trying time,” Sal said, walking away while Jake tried to process what just happened.
“Sal! I said I can’t stay!” Jake stood up and caused everyone to look at him as he shouted. Sal, meanwhile, sauntered away toward his office, and he made a stop at Hannah’s desk. Jake couldn’t have known what was said, but he felt a bit of jealousy taint his mind as he saw Hannah smile at Sal.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and saw his buddy Phil behind him.
“Maybe she does it for the same reason we all do.”
Jake turned himself away and sat down at his desk to see how much longer it would take Bruce’s emails to transfer to his flash drive.
“And maybe we should all want to keep this job even less. Where did our standards go?”
“You going to stay? I can help out if you want.” Phil made to sit down.
“No, go do something fun tonight. I won’t take long.” Jake looked again at Hannah and saw that Sal had gone. She looked up and locked eyes with him briefly. He waved timidly, and she smiled as she waved back. Jake heard Phil walk off behind him, and Jake got down to business.
It was late, the sun was already beginning to set, and Jake was getting bored. He had been at the grindstone since eight that morning and it was starting to become evident by his shaking hands that he was desperately in need of something to eat. As he munched on a candy bar, he pulled out his cell phone and browsed his social media. There were several stories that he skimmed, but a recent picture upload made him freeze up. There it was, a picture of Hannah and Phil at the Sharks game. Tonight’s Sharks game. Jake suddenly felt less hungry and resigned to the fact that he at least had work to keep him occupied. With a renewed sense of purpose, Jake pulled up the last document in Bruce’s transfer log. It was an email from one of the company’s investors, attached was a simple spreadsheet.
Jake ran the data into an easy-to-read format that quickly told him this was a log of dates. It was an odd sort of file, the name caused Jake to cringe, given the circumstances of the day. It was called ‘die.xlsx’ and given that Bruce died earlier that morning, it caused him some degree of unease. All the same, it must have had meaning, so Jake continued to toy around with it. He sorted the data by the date it was entered and found a column in the spreadsheet with Bruce’s full name written in it. Jake tilted his head and saw that the timestamp on the column was right around when Bruce passed.
Curious, Jake entered a timestamp and began to put his name into the blank space. He nearly jumped out of his seat as he heard a low, phlegm-ridden voice speak from behind.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, kid.” Jake turned to see the pallid face of a man who looked as though death had fashioned himself after this character. He had gnarled old hands, nearly transparent. His lips curled in a way that did not denote happiness.
“Who the hell are you? What are you doing here?” Jake asked, and pushed his chair away from the stranger.
“Me? Don’t you have a clue?” The man’s chest heaved from beneath flowing blue robes.
“You’re tryin’ to scare me, Grim Reaper. Who put you up to this? Sal?” Jake looked at him suspiciously.
“Sal?” Kid, I ain’t no grim reaper, and I sure as Sheol don’t work for Sal.”
“Uh huh. Sure. So just who are you, then? You nearly scared me to death.”
“Well isn’t it obvious? I’m the Office Wizard, and you are using the spreadsheet I developed! Not everyone can write macros that kill folks off!”
Jake’s head was spinning; he reached out to steady himself and passed right through the self-proclaimed Office Wizard.
“Holy crap!” Jake said as he fell to the ground, only to look up at the man. “You’re not there.”
“Oh, I’m here. Just not here, here, ya hear?” He cackled. “See, I like jokes. That’s one of my favorites. It really knocks people dead! Ya get it?” He shrugged him off with a wave of his hand as Jake looked up at him.
Jake pinched himself.
“I’ve fallen asleep at my desk.” He didn’t succeed in convincing himself.
“Ain’t no dream, Buttercup, but it could be a dream if you wanna stop the blabberin’ and come listen to me. I like you, you remind me of me when I was alive.”
Jake stood up, his knees felt like jelly and his tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth.
“You’re a ghost.”
“Ain’t I just? And a damn conscientious one, too, I might add. Now, about this sheet and about ole Brucey.”
Jake made to move toward the door, but the Office Wizard appeared in front of him.
“Sit down, Jake. I ain’t playin’ no more. This is serious business.”
Jake walked backward, slowly, and sat on his desk.
“What do you want? Why are you here?”
“I’m here to stop you from entering your name to die in my spreadsheet. I’m here to help you make something of yourself, and get a little somethin’, somethin’ myself. See, Jake, this is what I’m after.” He sat down and crossed his legs comfortably.
“Ole Sal did me wrong a few years back, I was the data analyst for this place when it first started. I ain’t gonna bore you with that, though, you don’t wanna hear that, do you? Here’s the facts. I wrote a killer spreadsheet that you’ve now seen called “die.xlsx”. It does just that, makes people die. Makes it untraceable. I was gonna use it on ole Sal, but my intern was messing with my files one day and entered my information. Then poof, no more me. Do you know how long it took to get someone to restore my spreadsheet to an earlier version? That’s how I came back. They rolled the sheet back some days, and now here I am, a version of me, at least. And I want things. I want you to put Sal’s name into the spreadsheet, and as a bonus, I’m gonna let you put one more person’s name in there, too, if you’re into that sort of thing.”
Jake pinched himself again and threw himself off his desk. He felt the pain in his knees first, and then it continued up his body.
“You can’t be real, but God if I ain’t scared to know that you are. Why the wizard getup?”
“I hate khakis. Here. Let me prove it to ya. I saw ya sittin’ there looking at your phone. I saw that pretty girl, and I saw that jerk with her. You’re crushin’ on her, I imagine. Why don’t you put his name into the sheet, just as easy as Basic. If it fails, what do you have to lose, eh?” The wizard came close to Jake, and Jake was able to see into his black eyes, he saw his reflection fall deep into those pupils. “But I guarantee, you screw me over, and I’ll find a way for you to die just as easy.”
Jake felt his heart plummet, and a bead of sweat ran down his nose.
“What do I have to lose, right?” Jake laughed uncomfortably, as he turned and looked at the picture on his phone. He typed, slowly, deliberately.
“Click that little purple button there, I always liked purple.” The wizard pointed to the screen.
With a hard swallow, Jake sat there. A minute passed. The wizard looked at him encouragingly, and over the minute his smile wavered.
“Kid, if I had a pulse you’d be killing me. What’s the matter?”
“I don’t know that I want to kill someone.”
“’Course you do! Don’t be a chicken liver. You wanted that girlie, he took her out instead of you. Sal made you work overtime, which gave him the opportunity in the first place. Don’t you deserve nice things? Think of how hard you work! It’s a debacle!”
“Look, people steal other people’s love interests all the time. They don’t go out and kill people over it. I’m not that kind of person.”
“You’re not that kind of person, that’s right! I’m not asking you to go knife Sal in the stomach and say so long sucker! I’m asking you to run a simple, very low effort, macro for me. And me, being the nice guy I am, want to pay back what you’re gonna do for me. You can even keep the spreadsheet after you’ve done Sal, maybe you could even improve on it! Imagine if you could write macros that would make people tell you anything you want! Do anything you want! You could go far; you could rule the world with a power like that.”
Jake considered what he was saying. It would be nice; he did deserve nice things. Hannah was nice. Sal was not, and Phil definitely wasn’t if that was the way he was acting tonight.
“You listen to those voices in your head; they’re right most of the time. There’s a little devil in all of us, I assure you of that. Now you go listen to yours, I’ll be here a waitin’.” The wizard folded his hands contentedly.
Jake stared at the button that would run the alleged macro. He looked at the picture of Hannah and Phil. He saw the Wizard smile at him as if he knew exactly what was going through his mind.
“It’s the same mentality as any office worker, isn’t it?”
“Well, what do you mean? I’m a wizard, not a mind reader!”
“We steal pens, we take a dump on the job, we look for so many reasons to take back a little for ourselves from our employer, no matter what they give us. It just makes us feel good because we do deserve nice things. Albeit, this is a grander scale, but what would stop me from improving on your formula, making this into something that could change the world? Like, I could take out terrorists with this. I could be just like a superhero.”
“Just like Batman, kid. We can’t all be wizards.”
Jake smiled. “I think I will. This could be the thing that really changes the world; I could be something so amazing. Thank you, so much.”
“It’s not a problem kid. I’m glad you chose to listen to me.”
“Me too.” Jake smiled at him. “Hey, I know you’re the Office Wizard, and that’s kind of clever, of course. But I gotta know your name, I want to thank you properly.” Jake laughed. “When I’m writing my memoirs I don’t want to be indebted to a nameless wizard.”
The wizard cackled. “Sure, Jake. I’m Marlin Perez. Nice to meet ya.”
Jake smiled, and with a speed born of being the best typist in his graduating class, he typed in ‘Marlin Perez’ and clicked the purple button.
“What the hell, kid?!”
Marlin’s face grew panicked, his skin began to sizzle and he let out a deep painful scream. With a pop and a cloud of smoke, the Office Wizard was gone. Jake stared at the spreadsheet and pulled out another flash drive. He made a duplicate copy of the spreadsheet and deleted all prior versions. Jake was smart, and he wasn’t going to chance the wizard finding a reason to come back at him like he planned to do to Sal. Jake looked at the entry for Phil, and Jake stared at the picture on his phone. Jake grinned and felt the weight of what was ahead of him.
There it was, that big purple button.