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The Spike – Quick Sample

The Spike Collection - EbookBelow is an extract from the short story ‘The Spike’ (from the Spike Collection).
(c) 2013 Martin Skate

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I have never run as fast as I did on that day. It is the fastest I have ever run. Until that moment, I never knew I could run that fast.

I guess when you’re older there aren’t many opportunities to test your speed, when you were a kid sure, that kind of thing was important. Everyone in my class knew who could run the fastest, they knew who was the second fastest, the third, hell I bet every kid in the class could rank everyone from the fastest to the slowest. We tested our speeds regularly, we had running races in the schoolyard all the time.

I am nearly Forty and my body was not made for running. I’m not huge but I am not thin either. I like my food, I like it big, and I like to enjoy it, take my time with it. I don’t drink, I don’t know why not exactly, only that I do not enjoy it, I’m not sure I even understand the need for it. No one really seems to notice that I’m not a drinker anyway, not a big deal. Nor do I smoke but that doesn’t seem at all a thing anymore. Smoking is stupid, we all know it, I am glad it is being outlawed, it is a waste of time, a waste of energy, why smoke when you could be having a conversation; why did you wear that today? Why do you have a beard? Why don’t you have a beard? How many times have you laughed out loud today? How many times have you laughed out loud ever? Shall we get a coffee or shall we literally go to the shop right now, get some paint and draw a picture of our faces, put them up on a wall at work and everyone’s got to guess who the pictures are of? What is the point of smoking if all of those questions are bubbling up inside of you? By smoking you have already lost out on a hundred opportunities and none of those questions will ever get asked or answered, all that opportunity literally disappearing in a puff of smoke.

Anyway, stop reading the above paragraph, you have already, and listen to this, ok, three words; Enjoy your work. That’s it. Enjoy your work.

It is important you do so, and here is why: This is my story, and it not only encapsulates why it is important to enjoy your work but it also explains why I ran so fast that day.

My first job was removing pages from a printing press and stacking them neatly. I did it daily for twelve hours and I did it amazing. The foreman said he had never seen someone do that job the way I did it so unfathomably neatly, so methodically, and (this is the thing he liked the most) without complaining.

Because of some union rules bullcrap you weren’t allowed to do the work listening to a personal stereo, so it was truly the most banal mind-numbing soul-destroying job to the outsider, but to me it was heaven; it was freedom. It was the first time I think I ever knew where I had total silence to think my own thoughts ever (I grew up with 3 brothers, 2 cats, 2 opera singing parents, 1 dog, and 1 very noisy parrot). It was at the printers therefore that I worked out what I wanted to do with my life, it was literally spelt out in front of me.

The printers were printing a magazine that nobody read called (without any irony) Read. In it were pages and pages of glossy adverts that no one would see and some of the messages in those ads at the time were taken very seriously…

Hard day? Long day? Every day the same? Not any more…

That was an ad slogan for toilet paper. Yes. Somehow toilet paper, or rather the right kind, the right brand of toilet paper, could really change your whole life. How very amazing. Up until then I did not give toilet paper any consideration, from then on I would ask people ‘What toilet paper do you use?’ trust me when I say there began some fascinating conversations. This is my all-time favourite and in all my years since I have never seen this bettered anywhere…

Looking for a hobby? Try the flute.

That actually happened, there was the ad without a hint of humour or explanation or anything in fact, it was complete with a pencil drawing of a young man playing a flute like he was it, he was not just a flutist, he was the daddy of the flutists, he was playing that flute like it made him a worldwide superstar.

I can write better adverts than those I thought, those adverts are so stupid, how hard can it be to come up with something more engaging, something more than just random words slovenly thrown together? I can do this. I wrote to the magazine Read, told them that I read their magazine not only weekly but that I read it literally cover to cover over and over again and that if they employed me that their readership and advertising revenues would double within three months. Here is the letter I got back in return:


Dear Mr Beacon, 

I sincerely thank you for your most astute and kind letter of the 7th that you sent to Read Magazine. Permit me to be blunt and direct by stating that in my 37 years of being in the print business, no one has ever complimented a publication of mine in such a manner. To inform me of your dedication and passion for the magazine was a very courteous thing to do, and I have no qualms about having you as an employee of the magazine. Indeed I can think of no higher qualification to work for Read magazine than by reading it so methodically and so regularly. Please accept this letter as a confirmation of your role here as Commercial Executive, and I look forward to hearing from you again with a starting date (but no later than June 1st please).

Yours sincerely,

 C.D. Burnstrom
Burnstrom Publications, MD.

I showed the letter to everyone I knew, in my mind and I hoped in their minds too, I had made it. Even before I even showed up for work I already felt that I had made it in the world. My whole future mapped out before I had even shown up on day one. I would join the company, in two months (not even three) I would turn that bucket of a magazine around, it would be the most profitable magazine in the whole of America, the whole world, and then after a year I would have shares in the company, I would be a partner, there would be me and all the important people in high society giving me cigars and slapping me on the back congratulating me for this and that, I could see myself saying to them whilst crunching down on my cigar: “It was all so easy, learn the flute? How crazy was that?” to the sound of appreciative laughter.

On my first day at Burnstrom’s they gave me a desk and a phone. Me! My own desk my own phone with my own actual telephone number. There was a computer too, but no-one knew how to use it, so it was never switched on. I called my Ma.

“Ma, I’ve got my own telephone here things are great,” I said.

“Great Samuel, we’re real proud of you, how many drawers in the desk?” asked Ma.

“Hold on,” I checked. “Three, three drawers and one of them has a key so I can lock it”. Ma was so excited. That night I remember we had special beef burgers that she had been making all day long, I can still taste them even now; they tasted like success. To be honest I don’t think I have ever had a burger to this day that tasted like that, I have often wondered if I ever will.

After three weeks at Burnstrom’s I was fired. I was the salesman with the worst sales figures, the worst reputation (I literally didn’t know what I was talking about) and the worst kept desk. Old man Burnstrom said in his 37 years of being in the business it was the most stupid thing he had ever done; to employ someone off the back of a letter he had received complimenting his magazine. I was fine with that. Two months after that Read magazine folded (presumably a big blow to the flute business, and possibly my losing a couple of important advertising clients may have also been a factor, who knows really how these things go).

The day prior to getting fired, my confidence must have gone into overload because I asked Clementine out on a date. I would never have dreamt of asking her before. I was not a shy guy, far from it, but I was the kind of guy who only liked to go for something if I knew I had a strong chance of cracking it. Clementine lived next door; she was literally the girl next door, she was pretty, she was lovely, she had a laugh that would not get annoying after a hundred years and she wore little bright yellow skirts, sometimes green, she was super exciting. Here was my pitch: “Clementine, we’ve known each other a long time and the thing is that even though I pretty much know I am in love with you already I am worried that you don’t know me, the real me, and the real me is fantastic, the real me is puppy dogs and fireworks all year round, if you go out on a date with me I promise that you will never have another date like it for the rest of your life.”

I rehearsed this line three times in the mirror then went round and said it out loud verbatim, in front of her mum her sisters and her dog, in fact there was a whole bunch of people there, I could feel the whole audience behind me really cheering me on. Clem did not even reply. Her mom did.

“Pick her up at 6 o clock Samuel, thank you.” And I did. I had no idea what we would do on the date, but I knew I had to fulfil the promise that I had made to her and in front of all those people. At work the next day (which turned out to be my last day) I sneaked an ad into the print run…

A Clementine a day will never lead you astray.

I added a pencil drawing of a happy lady eating an orange and billed it to the grocery store on the next block. I have often wondered if they paid for it. The advert sure enough was there in the magazine the next week. Clementine cut it out and placed it in a frame next to her bedside table, and now it is there next to our bedside table today.

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