Some people just get on your nerves. Like the new guy Rawlings, who moved into the cubicle next to me.
He’d transferred in from the San Diego office the other day, ostensibly to help us get the Fairview project plan together — which would be a major deal for the company, if we could bring it off.
Rawlings was young, sported spiky blonde hair, tanned, with a fake, permanent smile plastered on his smooth baby-face. I hated him the first time I saw him. A chemical thing, probably. The chemicals told me this guy was all puffed-up about himself.
I can’t stand puff-ups.
On the morning he moved in, he stuck his head over my cubicle wall, flashed that smug, sparkly, too-artificially-white smile at me, and announced that he’d just contributed ten bucks online to the “Save the Seals” charity.
Whoopty doo. Like I was supposed to praise him like a poodle for doing his business in the yard.
“Whoopty doo,” I said.
He huffed, then his face disappeared. Good.
Now, I know I should have let that pass as it stood. But somehow it grated on me all morning. I don’t know why.
But that’s a lie. I knew good and well what it was all about: my indomitable spirit of competition. The world was a zero-sum game, and there could only be one winner — namely, me. During lunch, I took a few minutes and did some web crawling until I came across a charity that challenged Rawlings’ own.
Later, I raised my head above the cubicle wall and said: “Hey Rawlings, I just donated twenty bucks to ‘Save the Orcas’. My Killer Whales will eat all your baby seals! Stick that in your craw and chew it.”
It was totally satisfying to me to see his permanent smile falter. Point!
As the wise men say, age and treachery will always overcome youthful enthusiasm. But I soon found out that Rawlings was not to be undone so easily.
The next day, my nemesis’s head appeared above the cubicle wall again. “You may be interested to know that I just contributed fifty bucks to buy a heifer for a poor Honduran family, to help lift them out of poverty. I’ll email you a picture of it.”
Sumbitch. This could not stand. I spun off my normal work routine and got right on it.
“Backatcha, Rawlings,” I said, poking my head above the wall, “I just contributed a hundred bucks to the ‘Save the Jaguars’ fund. My big cats will take down your puny heifer and render it into a pile of bloody bones!”
Rawlings made a sound that was, as I imagined it, akin to a heifer being gutted. I had him. I had him good.
But no I didn’t. Later that afternoon, he howled over the wall: “Bingo. Two hundred to ‘Save the Alaskan Wolves’.”
A few minutes later, I shot back: “Three hundred to the NRA, who’ll blast them from helicopters!”
“Five hundred to ‘The Elephant Fund of Nairobi’,” he trumpeted.
“A thousand for ‘The Committee to Re-Legalize Ivory Imports’!” I sang, imitating a Chopin etude.
“Two thousand to ‘Save the Tigers of Tibet’,” he chanted.
“Three thousand to support the ‘Tibetan Free Game Slaughter Consortium’!” I intoned, polyglottously.
“Four to ‘Save The Planet’,” he gasped, obviously clutching his last straw.
“Five to the ‘Extraterrestrial Fund to Exterminate All Life on Earth’!” I replied, Darthvaderishly.
Rawlings stood up then and looked over into my cubicle. “I’m calling you on your last play. Surely, that one can’t be a valid charity! I think you’re making it up.”
I rose and faced him, nose to nose, waving printouts of the charity’s mission statement and my electronic donation receipt. “You’d be surprised, Rawlings. Read ’em and weep. Non-profit 501C, completely tax-deductible. It’s all fair game!”
He grabbed the papers. While he read them, I inspected my fingernails and added, “Furthermore, you’ll note that my own personal contribution pushed them over their fundraising goal. Whatcha think of those apples, amigo?”
“You’re totally insane. Totally!”
“No, not insane, Rawlings. I simply play to win. The ETs promised they’d preserve all their human contributors, so I’m golden.”
The light stopped coming through the office windows, as if the sun had suddenly been blocked by… by something big. Bigger than big, in fact. Enormous. Gigantic. Gargantuan.
Gary Cuba lives with his wife in a rural area of South Carolina, dangerously close to the Congaree National Swamp where eight-foot tall “skunk apes” are said to roam. His short fiction has previously appeared in more than 100 magazines and anthologies, including Baen’s Universe, Flash Fiction Online, Daily SF, and Nature Futures. Visit thefoggiestnotion.com to learn more about him and to find links to some of his other published fiction.