Leading Up To… (Part 2)
by Gavin Biddlecombe
As the last two marshmallows dropped into the contents of his steaming mug, Dave inhaled deeply, enjoying the thick, rich smell of chocolate. There’s definitely an upside to working here, he thought, even if the days are long and the uniform takes some getting used to. He removed a couple of coins from his waistcoat pocket and stacked them on the cashier’s counter, looking around. Where has Cookie Jingle got to?
He leaned back on the counter and scanned the usually tidy canteen. Empty round oak tables surrounded by displaced red and green painted wooden stools dotted the room. It was quiet now. Everyone was hard at it down at manufacturing and they’d be busy with the latest list of requests.
Pushing himself away from the counter, Dave took another sip from his mug and made for the door, stifling another yawn. He was still getting used to the 40-hour days in this part of the world. He wasn’t sure where along the journey it happened but this time distortion allowed more to get done than back home. The next shift would be arriving within the hour so it was best to get going.
A panicking figure raced through the doors right into Dave, sending them both sprawling to the ground. Dazed and confused, he picked himself off the floor, trying to understand what had just happened. He glanced at the figure lying in a heap beside him, the contents of his mug staining their green jumper. Looking down at his hand, Dave realized he only held the handle.
“What on earth was all that about?” muttered Dave, chucking away the handle as he reached down for the murmuring individual. “Are you okay?”
“Oh, that hurt,” moaned Garland Tinsel as he was helped to his feet, wiping the thick liquid from his eyes. “Been looking for you everywhere.”
“We’re at a standstill. Manufacturing are waiting on the next list to proceed.”
“Already?” asked a surprised Dave. “I only just left the Listing Department ten minutes ago. Quickly, now.” Racing out of the canteen with Garland on his heels, Dave ran down the corridor to his office, heaved open the ancient book and brought up the next list of names. The monitor beside him blinked to life as he fired up the computer.
“How long will it take?” asked Garland.
“Well, I’ve crossed referenced most of these already, so give me a couple of minutes and I’ll print out the next set.”
“Oh, do hurry,” said Garland, hopping from foot to foot nervously, “I wouldn’t like a repeat of that year.”
“Don’t worry, we’ve stocked up on the goods this year,” replied Dave eyes flitting between book and screen like a spectator at a speedy tennis match, the blurring movement of his fingers typing away at the keyboard.
“No, not last year… that year. It’s very rare for us to stand around doing nothing down at manufacturing and it can be quite eerily silent.”
“Well, yes. We sing when we build,” said Garland, “and when we’re not building we’re, well…”
“It’s only happened once before.”
“Mm-hmm,” uttered Dave, still focused on preparing the list.
“I was too young to remember,” said Garland, glancing round the room nervously, “but the elders used to tell us the stories. It was chaos they said and people stopped believing. Those old stories scare me to this day.”
“And… There,” exclaimed Dave as the printer whirred into life, filling blank sheets with names and lists. He spun round on his chair to face Garland. His satisfied look melted away as his now unoccupied brain took in those last comments. “Stopped believing?”
“Oh yes, a very serious matter. Apparently, our reputation took a massive hit and it lasted years before people regained the spirit again”.
“Well, I won’t let it happen on my watch,” said Dave. “I’ll get on with the next batch immediately and phone through for collection when it’s ready.”
Unfurling his frown, Garland perked up at the positive note and turned towards the door, the list neatly tucked under his arm.
“And be sure to let Merry know next time she comes up for them to check there are sufficient names to keep you guys busy for longer than ten minutes. I’m certain there was enough for at least the next two shifts.”
“Erm. Merry?” asked Garland anxiously.
“She collected the last list,” said Dave, looking round.
“Oh dear.” Garland’s nervous twitching returned.
“Oh dear what?”
“In my panic earlier I forgot to ask whether you’d seen her. She volunteered for the last pick up and we haven’t seen her since”
Dave jumped off his seat, panic setting in. “Now then, I think we may have a problem.”
“I didn’t see her on my way here,” said Garland.
“And I left her heading your way as I went into the canteen.”
Dave thought back. Merry had been eager to deliver to manufacturing. She wouldn’t have deviated. “Right, get those back as quick as you can and I’ll search this area to make sure she didn’t come back. I’ll meet you in the canteen shortly.” Garland shot off to deliver the package, his legs travelling faster than the rest of him could manage.
The wrinkles on the side of his eyes creased as he shut them tight and thought back to earlier. Merry had not mentioned going anywhere else. She hadn’t wanted a drink at the canteen for fear of arriving late. Could she have turned back? The only place up this end is the archives room.
Without further hesitation, Dave stepped into the corridor towards archives.