CLIMBING THE CORPORATE LADDER • by Kelly Ospina

“MATT!” Sam Sworen’s bellow thundered over the intercom. Under the purplish fluorescent lighting in his cube, Matt cringed. He’d transferred to this office a month ago, but already he regretted it. With a heavy sigh, Matt smoothed his hair, straightened his tie, and went to see what Sam wanted.

“You rang, sir?” Matt repressed the urge to wrinkle his nose in disgust as he eyed the steep piles of papers, scuffed manila folders, and soggy paper coffee cups that littered Sam’s desk.

“You’re damned right, I rang,” Sam growled, his thick eyebrows furrowed into a V. “I can’t find the Hawkins file. I asked you to get it to me yesterday! What the hell’s taking you so long?”

“Hawkins?” Matt frowned and smoothed a small wrinkle in his purple paisley silk tie before adding, “I sent the file to you right after you asked me for it, sir.”

“Where the hell is it, then?” Sam gestured at the pile of files in front him as he glared at Matt, a gleam of triumph in his eye at catching an Associate unprepared.

“In there, sir.” Matt pointed at the unused computer terminal at Sam’s elbow. “I scanned and emailed it to you, right after you asked me for it.” Sam’s craggy face crumpled in disgust as he glared at the computer; the only thing Sam Sworen hated more than Junior Associates was email. One corner of Matt’s mouth curved into a fleeting smirk.

Sam heaved a sigh, and sent Matt away with an imperious wave.

Back in his cubicle, Matt crunched numbers, his work interrupted at regular intervals by bellows from Sam. As he worked, Matt fantasized about showing Sam up in a variety of delightful ways. By lunchtime the quitting fantasy had evolved to include making an impassioned exit speech while standing on Sam’s desk, then yelling “I QUIT!” over the intercom for the whole office to hear. Feeling better, Matt grabbed his jacket and headed for the elevators to go find a sandwich.

Matt didn’t notice he wasn’t alone in the elevator until the mirrored doors closed and he saw Sam’s reflection, glaring at him in the glass. Too late, Matt realized that his dismay at being stuck in an elevator, alone with Sam, was written all over his face, and clearly reflected in the mirror.

“MATT!” Sam chuckled as Matt flinched. Their eyes met in the mirror before Matt dropped his gaze to the floor. “I know you think I’m too hard on you,” Sam grumbled. “All you twenty-somethings are the same, too soft. You can’t make it these days if you’re soft. One day you’ll thank me for toughening you up.”

Whatever else Sam might have said was cut off as the elevator stopped at the first of the Executive floors. A distinguished looking man of about Sam’s age entered. As the doors slid closed Matt admired the man’s expensive suit; success was written in every stitch. Sam’s sparse comb-over, off-the-rack slacks and wrinkled white shirt, punctuated by a baby-poop colored tie, looked even shabbier by comparison. Matt saw the sleek executive’s eyebrows lift as he came to the same conclusion.  As he eyed Sam in the mirror, a look of recognition dawned, and his mouth formed a small, cruel smile.

“SAM!” The man bellowed. Matt’s mouth fell open at the sight of granite-hard Sam, visibly flinching. The look of bald dislike that passed over Sam’s thick features wasn’t unlike the one that Matt himself had worn only moments ago.

“I can’t believe you’re still alive and kicking!” The executive’s chiseled features rearranged themselves into a smirk as he looked Sam up and down with distaste. “You’re not still in Accounts, are you? I thought you would’ve retired by now, you old dog, but then again, who could afford to retire on what they pay down there?” The elevator shimmied to a stop. “Too bad only one of us got that promotion, huh, Sam?” The executive cuffed Sam on the shoulder in a fake gesture of good will before exiting onto another of the executive floors, leaving behind a cloud of spicy cologne.

Matt hardly dared look at Sam. Sam stood stock still, jaw clenched, eyes fixed on the illuminated numbers over the door. Matt could feel the burn of Sam’s humiliation radiating in waves. When the doors opened, Sam exited without meeting Matt’s eyes.

After lunch Matt had no sooner settled in at his desk when he heard Sam’s bellow, but for once, the bellow wasn’t directed at him. Sam was hollering at Ted, the other Junior Associate. Free from Sam’s constant stream of demands, Matt worked steadily.

En route to the copy room Matt encountered Ted scurrying down the oatmeal colored hallway, his arms loaded with dog eared manila folders. As Matt passed Sam’s office Sam looked up, expecting Ted, and their eyes met. Sam harrumpfed and looked away, but not before Matt saw the mottled flush creeping darkly up his beefy neck.

Matt stepped aside to let Ted and his load of files enter Sam’s office. As he listened to Sam grumble and Ted stammer, Matt thought how easy it would be to slip away, make his copies, and forget about Sam. But the cruel smirk on the face of the executive in the elevator lingered in his mind’s eye. Matt fingered his paisley tie as he cast a last glance down the hallway in the direction of the copy room. He squared his shoulders and took a resolute breath; There was more than one way to climb the corporate ladder.

Matt pushed the door to Sam’s office wide. He strode in and reached across Sam’s disaster of a desk to power up the dormant computer.  He felt a muscle in his jaw twitch as Sam’s wary eyes met his. “You old timers are all the same,” Matt drawled, “too stubborn to use the computer. You can’t make it these days without technology, Sam. You’ll thank me one day for making you learn.”


Kelly Ospina lives in central New Jersey with far too many children and animals. When not writing, she can usually be found doing laundry, yelling at children to pick up after themselves and cleaning up dog hair.


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 average 5 stars • 2 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • I love feel good stories, and I’m not going to apologize for it, lol!
    Well-written, I could see what was going on and feel the atmosphere without it being over-worked. Four stars.

    • Von Rupert
      I agree, Amanda. I could see and feel the scenes clearly. I love a good feel-good story, too. :)
  • I love feel good stories, and I’m not going to apologize for it, lol!
    Well-written, I could see what was going on and feel the atmosphere without it being over-worked. Four stars.

    • Von Rupert
      I agree, Amanda. I could see and feel the scenes clearly. I love a good feel-good story, too. :)
  • Kelly Ospina

    Thank you so much Amanda!

  • Kelly Ospina

    Thank you so much Amanda!

  • Tom Britz

    Kelly this was well written and the truth behind it is real. Congratulations. this story deserves its place here.

    • Kelly Ospina
      Thank you Tom! I"m glad my time in Corporate America were good for something. ;)
  • Tom Britz

    Kelly this was well written and the truth behind it is real. Congratulations. this story deserves its place here.

    • Kelly Ospina
      Thank you Tom! I"m glad my time in Corporate America was good for something. ;)
  • Von Rupert

    Gotta tell you, Kelly, I was super excited to read your name in the TOC for this month. Way to go!!! And what a great story. You left me in suspense until the very end. The ending completely ROCKED! I think Matt and Sam will be good for each other from this point on. Excellent work.

    • Kelly Ospina
      Thank you Von!
  • Von Rupert

    Gotta tell you, Kelly, I was super excited to read your name in the TOC for this month. Way to go!!! And what a great story. You left me in suspense until the very end. The ending completely ROCKED! I think Matt and Sam will be good for each other from this point on. Excellent work.

    • Kelly Ospina
      Thank you Von!
  • Paul A. Freeman

    Excellent message in this piece and I loved the pace of story development. There were a few places where a bit more editing wouldn’t have gone amiss. Good ‘un, Kelly

    • Kelly Ospina
      Thank you, Paul! Much appreciated.
  • Paul A. Freeman

    Excellent message in this piece and I loved the pace of story development. There were a few places where a bit more editing wouldn’t have gone amiss. Good ‘un, Kelly

    • Kelly Ospina
      Thank you, Paul! Much appreciated.
  • Aviva

    Wonderful writing, Kelly. I rooted for Matt to show Sam a lesson, and he did. I hoorayed out loud, and would have scared my dog, if I had one. Yey! Looking forward to read the next one.

    • Kelly Ospina
      Thank you so much Aviva!
  • Aviva

    Wonderful writing, Kelly. I rooted for Matt to show Sam a lesson, and he did. I hoorayed out loud, and would have scared my dog, if I had one. Yey! Looking forward to read the next one.

    • Kelly Ospina
      Thank you so much Aviva!
  • I recognise the characters and I can empathise with them. I too had a boss who shied away from the computer. He had better manners than Sam though…fortunately most people do 🙂 Good story.

    • Kelly Ospina
      Thank you Derek! A few of my former bosses may have found their way into Sam.
  • I recognise the characters and I can empathise with them. I too had a boss who shied away from the computer. He had better manners than Sam though…fortunately most people do 🙂 Good story.

    • Kelly Ospina
      Thank you Derek! A few of my former bosses may have found their way into Sam.
  • The story has a nice flow to it and certainly kept me reading. I’ll take the risk of being the party pooper here, though, to suggest, Kelly, to beware of cliched writing, e.g., “Matt repressed the urge to wrinkle his nose…”; “Sam’s craggy face crumpled in disgust…”; “Sam heaved a sigh…”; “…the mottled flush creeping up the beefy neck…” and so on. The challenge for me, too, and all of us really: make and keep it fresh.

    • Kelly Ospina
      Thank you for your feedback, it is appreciated.
  • The story has a nice flow to it and certainly kept me reading. I’ll take the risk of being the party pooper here, though, to suggest, Kelly, to beware of cliched writing, e.g., “Matt repressed the urge to wrinkle his nose…”; “Sam’s craggy face crumpled in disgust…”; “Sam heaved a sigh…”; “…the mottled flush creeping up the beefy neck…” and so on. The challenge for me, too, and all of us really: make and keep it fresh.

    • Kelly Ospina
      Thank you for your feedback, it is appreciated.
  • I have to comment on this one. This story is like a clinic in how not to write fiction.

    Dialogue Attribution—

    The word ‘said’ is a dialogue attribution. It tells us who is speaking in a succinct and unobtrusive manner. When a dialogue attribution is necessary, ‘said’ is what should be used the vast majority of the time. Even if it’s a question, ‘said’ is acceptable, though ‘asked’ might also make the grade. The word ‘said’ is used exactly once in this story, and then not in dialogue attribution.

    When two people are speaking, as in much of this story, dialogue attributions are generally not necessary. The author should write the prose in such a way as to make it clear who is speaking at any given moment. And when it isn’t clear, the author should simple append ‘he said,’ ‘she said,’ ‘Matt said,’ etc. To do otherwise calls attention to the writing and takes the reader out of the moment. And once that happens, you may lose your reader.

    For these reasons, in adult fiction one should never use dialogue attributions such as appear throughout this story:

    Sam growled…

    Sam grumbled…

    Matt drawled…

    Sam Sworen’s bellow…

    The man bellowed….

    This sort of writing is generally considered lazy writing. People don’t growl when they speak. If what you mean is that Sam was angry, then write it that way:

    “You’re damned right, I rang,” Sam said, looking Matt straight in the face as if daring the young man to turn away.

    Of course, your use of ‘damned right’ in this sentence is probably enough to convey the sense of anger, so that everything after ‘Sam said’ is really unnecessary. This is an example of choosing the proper dialogue to convey both the meaning of the words and the feeling of the prose.

    Gestures—

    This story is so heavy with gestures it’s like reading through mud. From the first paragraph to the last, there isn’t a one that doesn’t contain an overwrought gesture, many of them more than one. It’s exhausting to read.

    These gestures are trivial and obscure the meaning. Likely the author’s intent was to show who was speaking, that is to attribute the dialogue. But as we have already seen, there are better ways to do this.

    Most dialogue should just happen. An occasional gesture might make things interesting, but only if they are in context and meaningful. I repeat MEANINGFUL. And preferably not cliched. The gesture I wrote above, ‘looking Matt straight in the face…,’ is such an example.

    Take a look at this, from the story with most of those gestures stripped out:

    ***
    “MATT!” Sam Sworen’s voice broke with static over the intercom.

    Back in his own cubicle, Matt sighed. He’d worked for Sam a month but it seemed six times that long. Why couldn’t the old man just leave him alone to get his work done?

    A moment later he stood beside Sam’s littered desk. “You rang, sir?”

    “You’re damned right, I rang. I asked you to get me the Hawkins file yesterday. What the hell’s taking you so long?”

    “Hawkins? Hawkins? I sent the file over right after you asked for it, sir.”

    “Where the hell is it, then?”

    “In there, sir.” He pointed to Sam’s desk, to the unused computer terminal in the middle of the piled papers and various manila folders, which were blemished here and there with brown stains. Coffee rings Sam supposed, noting how they matched the underside of the soggy cups strewn about. The man’s a primitive, Sam thought. “I scanned and emailed it right after you asked for it.”

    “I fucking hate email,” Sam said, adding soto voce “almost as much as I hate junior ass-wipe associates.” He glared at the computer. “Get the fuck out of here.”

    Back in his own cubicle, Matt crunched numbers best he could amid the constant interruptions from the old man. Get these numbers, get that file, I need the papers on the Smith project… By lunchtime Matt imagined quitting. He’d stand on Sam’s desk, maybe even piss on the old man’s chair, yelling it loud enough for the whole office to hear.
    ***

    I admit I ad libbed here a bit, but not much. The pissing might be a bit much, but what gestures are included here are interesting and useful. Nothing generic. They advance the story and our understanding of the characters. Every word must advance a story, must inject the scene with meaning or feeling or thought. If it doesn’t, cut it or rewrite it so it does.

    Logic Breaks—

    When was the last time you got on an elevator and didn’t realize you were alone until the doors closed? I’m gonna go out on a limb here and guess never. There are only three situations in which that scenario is plausible: the character is blind (and even then it’s unlikely to work since the blind have a heightened sense of their surroundings over us mere sighted folks); the tale is not in the real world (ghosts, etc.); or the other person is hidden behind something, either another person or a box, etc.

    Thus the entire scene on the elevator does not work.

    There are other issues. Too many adjectives comes immediately to mind. Use adjectives and adverbs sparsely, like good seasoning. Mostly however, the story is wordy and could have used a heavy editing. I doubt you needed more than 500 words to convey it as written, but probably could have put together a first rate tale using 1,000 well thought out and well placed words. Writing the story isn’t the secret though. Rewriting is. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

    There is obvious talent here, hence the reason I have taken so much time on this, but it needs to be massaged and worked hard.

    Stephen King says you can make a good writer great but you can’t make a bad writer good. I believe that. The writing isn’t bad, just amateurish. You need to put words on the page, and lots of them. I doubt most truly outstanding writers would feel anything they wrote before the first million words was any good. That’s roughly ten novels.

    I hope this helps. Good luck.

    • Katherine Lopez
      Oh God, do people still take writing advice from Stephen King? I'd love someone to burn those books. Not sure what lessons you've taken on writing, I will say that the bit you re-wrote, and the advice you gave, are indicative of beginner work. Yes, the original version has issues. But one has to judge the work overall, and this author had a good sense of what she was doing and where she was going and the story satisfactorily accomplished the goal. Look at it this way, could have been worse, could have been better. It was good.
      • Kelly Ospina
        Thank you Katherine :)
        • Katherine Lopez
          Quite welcome. Keep writing. I can tell. You got what it takes.
    • Kelly Ospina
      Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and suggestions. I'll keep them in mind.
  • I have to comment on this one. This story is like a clinic in how not to write fiction.

    Dialogue Attribution—

    The word ‘said’ is a dialogue attribution. It tells us who is speaking in a succinct and unobtrusive manner. When a dialogue attribution is necessary, ‘said’ is what should be used the vast majority of the time. Even if it’s a question, ‘said’ is acceptable, though ‘asked’ might also make the grade. The word ‘said’ is used exactly once in this story, and then not in dialogue attribution.

    When two people are speaking, as in much of this story, dialogue attributions are generally not necessary. The author should write the prose in such a way as to make it clear who is speaking at any given moment. And when it isn’t clear, the author should simple append ‘he said,’ ‘she said,’ ‘Matt said,’ etc. To do otherwise calls attention to the writing and takes the reader out of the moment. And once that happens, you may lose your reader.

    For these reasons, in adult fiction one should never use dialogue attributions such as appear throughout this story:

    Sam growled…

    Sam grumbled…

    Matt drawled…

    Sam Sworen’s bellow…

    The man bellowed….

    This sort of writing is generally considered lazy writing. People don’t growl when they speak. If what you mean is that Sam was angry, then write it that way:

    “You’re damned right, I rang,” Sam said, looking Matt straight in the face as if daring the young man to turn away.

    Of course, your use of ‘damned right’ in this sentence is probably enough to convey the sense of anger, so that everything after ‘Sam said’ is really unnecessary. This is an example of choosing the proper dialogue to convey both the meaning of the words and the feeling of the prose.

    Gestures—

    This story is so heavy with gestures it’s like reading through mud. From the first paragraph to the last, there isn’t a one that doesn’t contain an overwrought gesture, many of them more than one. It’s exhausting to read.

    These gestures are trivial and obscure the meaning. Likely the author’s intent was to show who was speaking, that is to attribute the dialogue. But as we have already seen, there are better ways to do this.

    Most dialogue should just happen. An occasional gesture might make things interesting, but only if they are in context and meaningful. I repeat MEANINGFUL. And preferably not cliched. The gesture I wrote above, ‘looking Matt straight in the face…,’ is such an example.

    Take a look at this, from the story with most of those gestures stripped out:

    ***
    “MATT!” Sam Sworen’s voice broke with static over the intercom.

    Back in his own cubicle, Matt sighed. He’d worked for Sam a month but it seemed six times that long. Why couldn’t the old man just leave him alone to get his work done?

    A moment later he stood beside Sam’s littered desk. “You rang, sir?”

    “You’re damned right, I rang. I asked you to get me the Hawkins file yesterday. What the hell’s taking you so long?”

    “Hawkins? Hawkins? I sent the file over right after you asked for it, sir.”

    “Where the hell is it, then?”

    “In there, sir.” He pointed to Sam’s desk, to the unused computer terminal in the middle of the piled papers and various manila folders, which were blemished here and there with brown stains. Coffee rings Sam supposed, noting how they matched the underside of the soggy cups strewn about. The man’s a primitive, Sam thought. “I scanned and emailed it right after you asked for it.”

    “I fucking hate email,” Sam said, adding soto voce “almost as much as I hate junior ass-wipe associates.” He glared at the computer. “Get the fuck out of here.”

    Back in his own cubicle, Matt crunched numbers best he could amid the constant interruptions from the old man. Get these numbers, get that file, I need the papers on the Smith project… By lunchtime Matt imagined quitting. He’d stand on Sam’s desk, maybe even piss on the old man’s chair, yelling it loud enough for the whole office to hear.
    ***

    I admit I ad libbed here a bit, but not much. The pissing might be a bit much, but what gestures are included here are interesting and useful. Nothing generic. They advance the story and our understanding of the characters. Every word must advance a story, must inject the scene with meaning or feeling or thought. If it doesn’t, cut it or rewrite it so it does.

    Logic Breaks—

    When was the last time you got on an elevator and didn’t realize you were alone until the doors closed? I’m gonna go out on a limb here and guess never. There are only three situations in which that scenario is plausible: the character is blind (and even then it’s unlikely to work since the blind have a heightened sense of their surroundings over us mere sighted folks); the tale is not in the real world (ghosts, etc.); or the other person is hidden behind something, either another person or a box, etc.

    Thus the entire scene on the elevator does not work.

    There are other issues. Too many adjectives comes immediately to mind. Use adjectives and adverbs sparsely, like good seasoning. Mostly however, the story is wordy and could have used a heavy editing. I doubt you needed more than 500 words to convey it as written, but probably could have put together a first rate tale using 1,000 well thought out and well placed words. Writing the story isn’t the secret though. Rewriting is. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

    There is obvious talent here, hence the reason I have taken so much time on this, but it needs to be massaged and worked hard.

    Stephen King says you can make a good writer great but you can’t make a bad writer good. I believe that. The writing isn’t bad, just amateurish. You need to put words on the page, and lots of them. I doubt most truly outstanding writers would feel anything they wrote before the first million words was any good. That’s roughly ten novels.

    I hope this helps. Good luck.

    • Katherine Lopez
      Oh God, do people still take writing advice from Stephen King? I'd love someone to burn those books. Not sure what lessons you've taken on writing, I will say that the bit you re-wrote, and the advice you gave, are indicative of beginner work. Yes, the original version has issues. But one has to judge the work overall, and this author had a good sense of what she was doing and where she was going and the story satisfactorily accomplished the goal. Look at it this way, could have been worse, could have been better. It was good.
      • Kelly Ospina
        Thank you Katherine :)
        • Katherine Lopez
          Quite welcome. Keep writing. I can tell. You got what it takes.
    • Kelly Ospina
      Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and suggestions. I'll keep them in mind.
  • Katherine Lopez

    Well-written very little story.

  • Katherine Lopez

    Well-written very little story.

  • Chinwillow

    Love, love, love this….nuff said!

    • Kelly Ospina
      Thank you Chinwillow
  • Chinwillow

    Love, love, love this….nuff said!

    • Kelly Ospina
      Thank you Chinwillow
  • Scott Harker

    I don’t know. I gave this one a few days before commenting. I’ve gotta say I mostly side with E. McD on this one. The dialogue was muddied with way too many attributions and unrealistic sentences. It all felt forced instead of natural.

    I was waiting for something interesting to happen, but then the story was over and I was just left with, “Um . . . what?”.

    Just my take. Can’t like em all.

  • Scott Harker

    I don’t know. I gave this one a few days before commenting. I’ve gotta say I mostly side with E. McD on this one. The dialogue was muddied with way too many attributions and unrealistic sentences. It all felt forced instead of natural.

    I was waiting for something interesting to happen, but then the story was over and I was just left with, “Um . . . what?”.

    Just my take. Can’t like em all.