Gerald worked in what you could quietly refer to as a “cut-throat” industry. Whilst his company maintained they weren’t directly out to rob their customers blind, (not the slogan they chose for the ad campaign), when it came to jostling with it’s competition there really was no honour among thieves.
It was because of this, Gerald had learnt that trust & loyalty were relatively scarce. Sadly, there were times when this even extended to his office’s environment. Ever since he unwillingly received the big-shot contracts, he’d found several colleagues less agreeable, more abrasive and judgmental. If it wasn’t for Steve and Eric, he’d have probably quit or gone insane by now. Sure, Steve could be a patronising dick, and had a Sahara dry wit, but he was one of the most reliable workers. Eric just didn’t have a mean bone in his body, and was consistently happy. How the hell he got into this kind of job Gerald just never quite fathomed, nor how he remained so vigilantly cheerful. It was almost creepy. At least he knew he could trust them.
Then there was his notebook.
After last year’s internal mail hacking scandal, when it was discovered that someone was siphoning highly secretive client information, Gerald refused to use the company server for anything remotely sensitive. He’d gone anti-tech, back to (synthetic) paper & pen. Everything was kept in his green leatherbound notebook. Accounts, finances, dates & contacts; he kept it with him at all times, and trusted it more than people.
And now the thing he relied on the most was having an identity crisis.
Gerald gingerly fished the notebook out of the bedside table drawer, and held it in his trembling hands. He turned it over once or twice, and cautiously checked the contents. Inside as usual were all his priceless notes, and in his handwriting. So how was it now the same disgusting shade of orange as his stupid ID?
Its finally happened, he thought. I’m genuinely going mad.
What other explanation was there? His notebook, the office decor, the client pitch? All those things can’t just simply change overnight.. it’s impossible! But that wall was always grey… and there was no way he’d forget a client presentation of that magnitude. He’d never be able to work in this sector again if it had fallen through! The city’s a soul-consuming spider that’s finally entangled me in her vicious web he glumly began to accept. Either that or…
Gerald suddenly sat bolt upright, eyes wider than the Sun, mouth slightly ajar, and slapped his palms against his face.
Or they’re all out to get me!
Steve, Eric, Frederick Petersfield… the whole damn office for all he knew. How could he not see this before?! And to think, they almost succeeded in driving him over the edge and into the abyss. He cursed aloud to himself as the frailty and stress turned to anger and contempt. Those ungrateful, scheming, backstabbing bastards!
With him out of the picture, Steve & Eric would be able to scurry in and fight at leisure over the lucrative scraps like rabid hyenas. He pictured them snarling wildly at each end of a project file, desperately trying to wrench it away with their teeth whilst clawing at each other. No. Goddamn. Honour.
But why? Gerald spent the next 2 hours erratically constructing his own tinfoil hat out of half-baked theories and reverse-engineered accusations. Yet in every instance, every angle he could think of, two things always eluded him.
The presentation itself was one of two things he “deduced”. Either it was secretly rescheduled and brought forward a day, with a second team brought in (likely stealing and adapting the work Gerald had already put in), or.. maybe the meeting had always been the same date! Maybe F.P. just gave him a fake deadline and a list of objectives, and his “team-mates” stole all the work, wrapped it up and presented it a day early without him. No wonder he was left to finish the document on his own that night! The client pitch was already over. It was all just misdirection, smoke and mirrors! He cursed again.
As for the office walls, well. The company could have found a decorating contractor at short notice who was willing to work through the night. They must have been highly skilled, and probably highly expensive too, as aside from the (obvious) change in colour there were no marks (or smells) of freshly licked paint to give the game away. It must have been barely touch-dry! Gerald had been too stunned to actually run his hands over the clean, creamy surface. If only he had checked it thoroughly.
Perhaps F.P. didn’t want me to, and that’s why he was watching me when he summoned me to his office?
But the notebook.. how did his notebook keep changing wardrobe? How could it be one colour one day, and another the next? They could have taken it from him, found a local Leather Binders and then covertly placed it back without him seeing. But that was just too ludicrous for even Gerald in his current state to truly accept. First of all, where the hell do you find a Binders in the city that’s open 24 hours a day (or even, heck where would you find a Binders full-stop? They’re not exactly on every street corner!), and secondly, how did they break into his home, take the book, and then place it back without making a sound?
The other thing he struggled with, was what did his director get out of all of this? Was his meagre city salary such a drain on the company’s finances? Or was he simply getting too good at his job, and F.P. felt threatened? Yes, that must be it! Gerald grinned manically.
Maybe I was one of the few next in line, and it was only a matter of time? Maybe putting me out of the client pitch puts me down a few pegs, and ol’ Frederick Petersfield gets to cling on to his job a while longer!
Gerald was so wrapped up in his own little world of secrets & lies that he didn’t notice Eric walk into the room with an elaborate fruit basket. As he approached to greet him, Gerald caught him in the edge of his tunnelled vision & span around to confront his former friend.
“YOU!!” he hissed venomously.
Eric jumped back, startled at Gerald’s reaction and waved, almost cowering behind the assortment of grapes, apples and kiwis.
“Um.. yes Gez it’s me, Eric. H-here, these are for you. I’d ask if something was wrong but that’d be a daft thing to say seeing as we’re here in the hospital..”
“You planned all this, didn’t you! You and Steve. You were in cahoots with Fred!”
Gerald had propped himself up on his elbows, glaring at Eric as he spat out his fork-tongued proclamation. Eric looked back in complete confusion.
“Gez.. you totally flipped yesterday. Steve, Me and rest of the office has been really worried about you man! I came with you in the ambulance but they didn’t let me stay overnight. I was hoping to be around when you woke up, in case you had, I dunno, amnesia or something. You left a real crater in F.P.’s desk, that’s for sure.”
“Stop avoiding the subject! Why are you all trying to drive me crazy!?”
Eric pleaded with him. “Gerald, listen to me. We all love working with you. Plus,you’re one of the best we have! Why would we want to…”
“That’s it isn’t it?? I’m one of the best, and you’re all afraid I’ll get ahead of you all! You’re all jealous of me!”
In any other situation, Gerald would realise he was acting like an ass. Especially to a poor guy who brought him a fruit basket. However, his livelihood was at stake because of his colleagues’ underhanded actions, and Eric right now was their figurehead. Or Scapegoat. Clearly he got the “take one for the team” straw.
Eric tried once more. “Gez, look man, you’re tired. You’ve clearly been working too hard and it’s taking it’s toll. But there’s no “conspiracy”. It’s all in your head! We just want you to get better.”
“Then why is my notebook orange?!”
His hands were still shaking, but now with rage rather than fear. He fiercely waved the notebook at Eric as if to say Checkmate. But rather than creating cracks in his façade of falsities, Eric’s bemused look of confusion seemed to strengthen.
“Um, Gez.. all our notebooks are orange. It’s corporate stationery, corporate colours. Y’know, like Branding & Log..”
“IT WAS GREEEEEEN!!”
As the last word left Gerald’s roaring lips, he threw the notebook full force at Eric. It struck the fruit basket he was still carrying, sending the contents scattering like a fresh green firework. Eric fell backwards clutching his face in complete shock. The book must’ve bounced up and struck him.
“My nose!, You broke my freakin nose!”
Before Eric could splutter another word, Gerald had dove out of the bed and grabbed his now bloodied shirt with both hands. He desperately shook him on the floor, yelling in his face whilst staring at him through entranced bloodshot eyes..
“It was GREEN! It was always green, until you bastards started changing it! You’re trying to screw me over aren’t you, send me over the freakin edge! Why.. why, why, WHY ERIC?! I know I’m not crazy.. tell me what the hell is going on! WHY IS EVERYONE AGAINST ME?!”
“Jesus Christ! *cough* Snap out of it Gez, you’ve bloody lost it! Nurse, NUUURSE!”
Sylvia Woods had already heard the commotion, and raced over with two of her colleagues for backup. They darted into the room and attempted to restrain Gerald before he could do any more harm to Eric or himself. As Eric managed to wriggle free and crawl hurriedly towards the door, Gerald continued to scream at him. There was no use..
“We need to move him to a secure unit!” ordered Sylvia.
One of the other nurses produced a syringe from his uniform pocket, popped the cap off with his teeth and stuck it in Gerald’s left arm. He cried out in surprise, then felt the anesthesia start to slowly take effect. His anger levels began to subside, and arms & legs began to feel light and floaty. The third nurse had materialised a wheelchair, and both of them rather unceremoniously dropped him into the seat whilst Sylvia attended to Eric, still bleeding profusely from the nose. As they rapidly wheeled him out of the ward, and down several hallways into the bowels of the hospital, Gerald fought the increasing urge to pass out with every breath. His arms & legs tied down with straps, he frantically tried to twist his body and look back at his kidnappers, but the hazy glow of the corridor lighting mixed with the growing desire of his eyes to close themselves resulted in clouded amorphous shapes that “resembled” people.
Then at once the chair came to a halt. Undoing the straps, (Gerald was far from being a threat as this stage), the two nurses lifted him out and into a small room. As they lowered him onto the floor, his weightless body embraced the soft padded cushioning that lined his new accommodation. As the two shapes left the room, he could just make out one of them speak to him.
“You’re ok now pal. We’ll take good care of you. That jab should give you all the rest you need. Kinda surprised it hasn’t knocked you out already.. Oh, and here’s something to keep you company.”
A soft thud next to him announced a familiar roommate for his stay in this “plush” establishment. As the door locked shut, he managed to fall sideways like a baby, wearily reach out for his notebook and clasp it as he finally went under.
Gerald awoke shivering. He was freezing cold, and a strong wind was blowing right through the room. “Through” was quite the phrase.. because as he took a few seconds to sit up and take stock, his eyes widened in amazement.
The soft padded floor of his cell was still padded, but it was also covered in rubble, dirt and moss. Three out of the four walls were missing, collapsed around him. The doorframe stood fast, but the door itself was hanging off its steel hinges, creaking with each passing breeze.
He gradually rose to his feet, and realised he could see past the confines of the hospital, or what was left of it, and beyond to the outside world. The sky was still grey but the clouds seemed heavier, denser somehow. This whole building was in ruins. He struggled for words. One minute he was throttling Eric, the next he was carted into this room and now…
As he went to step forward, his foot brushed something. He looked down, and smiled meekly at his notebook. His green leather notebook. Thank God, at least something was back to normal. But at what cost? What the hell happened now, and why was everything falling apart? If all of this was a dream, it was the longest dream he’d ever experienced, and definitely the worst. He picked up the book and hugged it tight, seeking for some momentary comfort before flicking through the pages. All his own notes, all his lovely plans and schedules. And then…
And then, scrawled sharply across two full pages in large capital letters, was a phrase he’d never uttered or written in his life..
YOU’RE DRIFTING, GERALD