GIFTED • by Paul A. Freeman

Robert Murdoch stood awkwardly at attention in the manager’s office of Predator Pensions. Robert’s boss, Mr Penrose, had not offered him a seat, which he viewed as a bad omen.

As for Mr Penrose, he was standing with his back to Robert, feeding cubes of Australian beef to the pet piranhas in his aquarium.

“Do you know why I’ve called you here?” Mr Penrose asked, without taking his eyes off the fish.

“No, sir.”

“Don’t lie, Murdoch. You know perfectly well why. You haven’t met your monthly quota. That’s two months in a row. Perhaps you’re getting too old to be selling pensions over the phone. What do you have to say for yourself about your poor performance?”

Robert shifted uneasily. He pulled at the sleeves of his threadbare suit and ran a sweaty hand around the collar of his shirt. “I’m sorry, sir. Times are hard, what with the economic downturn and all.  Then there’s our policies. They aren’t that competitive if potential clients bother to read the small print; and these days they tend to do just that.”

Realising he had spoken out of turn, Robert hastily added, “I won’t miss my quota again, sir,” before barely checking himself from saying, “I promise.”

“Damn right you won’t miss another quota,” Mr Penrose barked. He turned away from the chomping jaws of the carnivorous fish, his eyes burning with anger. “You’re fired, you useless old fossil. Clear your desk and leave the keys with Joyce.”

Meek-mannered Robert Murdoch, to all intents and purposes tamed by years of wifely henpecking, suddenly experienced an unfamiliar sensation — fury. “You deserve to be diced up and fed to your fish,” he told Mr Penrose, his lips drawn back in a snarl; and when he blinked, his boss had disappeared.

Nonplussed at this curious turn of events, Robert gawped at the empty space where his employer had been, until a plink-plopping sound caught his ear. Much to the delight of the ravenous piranhas, cubes of meat were coalescing out of thin air and dropping into the water of the aquarium.

Robert staggered backwards and out of the manager’s office. Composing himself, he told Joyce that Mr Penrose didn’t wish to be disturbed, then caught the number twenty-seven bus home.

“I’ve got some kind of freakish gift,” Robert decided. “A God-given gift.”

It was Robert’s perception that a deity had bestowed divine powers on him, which encouraged him to test his abilities further.

Shortly after the bus dropped him outside his modest semi-detached house, and once he had flopped down in his favourite armchair, Mrs Murdoch arrived home from a shopping trip.

“Are you skiving off work, you lazy bugger?” she said by way of a greeting. “Well, as long as you’re home, make yourself useful. Put the shopping away and get me a cup of tea while I put my feet up.”

Robert did not stir from his armchair, however. Instead, a sly grin spread across his face, and he asked, “Have you had a hard day today, darling?”

Mrs Murdoch frowned. “Not particularly. Why do you ask?”

“Because you look totally shattered, dear.”

Mrs Murdoch opened her mouth to speak, froze where she stood, turned the translucent aquamarine hue of Venetian glass and broke into a thousand pieces.

Once he had disposed of his wife in the recyclable materials dustbin, Robert wandered across to the local park to take a walk and mull over the extraordinary possibilities of his gift.

While he strolled beside the park’s ornamental lake, deep in thought, a voice from behind gave the meditative ex-pensions salesman a start.

“Give us your money, you old fart.”

Robert spun round and came face-to-face with a pair of aggressive looking hoodies.

“I wouldn’t mess with me, lads,” Robert warned, his eyes narrowing. “You’ll regret it. I promise you.”

The young hoodlums laughed and abruptly produced switchblades.

“I said give us your dosh, granddad, or we’ll slice some more wrinkles into that crinkly old mug of yours.”

Robert smiled and pondered their proposition. “I’ll tell you what,” he said, sitting down nonchalantly on one of the concrete bollards lining the lake’s perimeter. “Why don’t you two go jump in the lake?”

Seconds later, unable to control the jerky movements of their legs, the thugs marched over to the edge of the lake and threw themselves into the murky water.

Roaring with laughter, Robert watched in amusement as the hoodies struggled out of the lake only to jump straight back into the water.

Thoroughly amazed at the extent of his powers, and still sitting on the concrete bollard, Robert exclaimed, “Well, I’ll be buggered!”

Moments later the smirk abruptly left his face.

Paul A. Freeman is the author of Rumours of Ophir, a novel set in Zimbabwe which is presently on that country’s high school literature syllabus. He writes mostly crime and horror fiction and his short stories have been widely published. His narrative poem novella, Robin Hood and Friar Tuck: Zombie Killers — A Canterbury Tale by Paul A. Freeman, was published in 2009 by Coscom Entertainment, and his crime novel, Vice and Virtue, set in Saudi Arabia, was published in German translation earlier this year. Currently he works in Abu Dhabi where he lives with his wife and three children.

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