“Roland, I adopted an heir,” Mrs. Frobisher said one day. My name is actually Steven, but Mrs. F renames all her employees. She said it was so she could remember all their names. She paid well, and the economy was bad, so no one really complained.
“Congratulations, Ma’am,” I said.
“I want you to see to his education and such, Roland. He just has so much potential. I look forward to seeing him bloom under your guidance.” She looked at me sternly, and I understood that there had better be blooming or my job was over.
“I’ll do my best,” I said.
“Excellent.” Mrs. F opened the side door to her office that no one else is ever allowed to open and called out, “Harold, come meet your new friend Roland.”
There was a shuffling sound, and I leaned forward. Out of the darkened room came a chimpanzee dressed in a little three-piece suit. It looked at me and scratched its side absently. “Isn’t that—” I began.
“Yes, this is Harold,” she interrupted. “Harold, meet Roland.”
Was it a joke? It didn’t seem like it. I held out a hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Harold. I look forward to working with you.” Harold looked at my hand and then slapped it before wandering off.
“Children these days,” Mrs. Frobisher chuckled. “He’s going to be a handful. All the bright children are, of course. Well, I’ll leave you two to get acquainted.” She sat at her desk and pulled out some paperwork that she held upside down.
I turned to Harold, who was digging through the wastebasket. I wanted to cry. With my salary, I just barely made rent and not even the fast food places were hiring. Chimp or not, Harold was going to bloom. I pulled out my phone and started texting.
Harold learned quickly. I found him a tutor, and he mastered enough sign language to get through his expensive private school. He was a whiz at multiple-choice tests. Between that and some over-helpful tutors, Harold managed to graduate and ace the college entrance exams. He was accepted at a small but prestigious university, helped along by a large, well-timed donation from a proud Mrs. F.
Well, that’s that, I thought as I read the acceptance letter. He’s bloomed. I happily prepared to deliver the acceptance letter and go back to auditing accounts or something. Someone was hired years before to take over my former duties, but surely something was available.
Mrs. Frobisher set down the letter with a happy sigh. “Roland, you’re doing so well for my Harold. I’ll arrange for an apartment for the both of you near the university so you can continue to advocate for my dear boy.”
I felt faint. “Mrs. F?”
“Oh, don’t worry. The company will partially reimburse you for any classes you wish to take to further your education while you’re there. Harold will still be your priority of course.” She gave me that look again. The economy was still pretty bad, too.
Oh well. I always wanted to get an MBA. And I became rather fond of the little guy too. How would he manage without me?
So, Harold and I went away and got degrees. Harold’s talent for multiple-choice tests was as sharp as ever. Mrs. Frobisher cried at his graduation. Three months later, she passed away unexpectedly.
To my surprise, she changed her will when she adopted her heir, leaving Harold in my care and everything else to him.
Yes, the company too.
Remarkably, under Harold’s leadership the company did better than ever. I prepared any decisions he needed to make as a multiple-choice test, and otherwise he was pretty hands off and let people do their jobs. He was very popular.
Far too soon, Harold grew old. He moved more slowly and was less interested in doodling on the reports from the department heads. He didn’t have any children (despite some awkward blind dates set up by Mrs. F) so I helped him turn the company over to the employees.
Harold helped me narrow down the list of candidates for CEO, and then we left it to a company-wide vote. I nearly spit my cocoa on Harold when I read the results. I had won the election as a write-in candidate.
Harold was able to stay in the little apartment behind the door no one else is ever allowed to open. I did my best for the company. When Harold passed away, thousands came to his funeral.
I stood by the casket, shaking hands and trying not to cry. A child approached and wrinkled up his nose. “Mom,” he said, “It’s a monkey.”
“Hush, dear,” his mother said. “The funeral home just did a bad job. Poor man. They should have had it closed casket.” They moved on.
I felt lost. Maybe, I thought, I should start renaming all my employees. Maybe I should find an heir.
I originally posted this on my blog, stbirdblog.wordpress.org, on October 26, 2016. I like how the illustration turned out on this one.
Isaac stepped back from the wall, paintbrush in hand. He always wanted to paint a mural and see his doodles, larger than life, on permanent display. The cartoon jungle glowed vividly in the afternoon sunlight, even brighter than when he painted it. It was perfect. When Marianne and Charlie came home, they certainly would be impressed. Time to wash up.
Hours later, Isaac heard rumbling coming from Charlie’s room. He set his book on Marianne’s empty pillow and pushed his toes into his slippers. As he neared the door, the rumbling sounded louder. He left the window open a crack to let out the paint fumes — was the sound an idling motor? There were those bikers that roared down the street at all hours of the night…
Annoyed, he pulled his hand back from the knob and began to turn away. The back of his neck prickled with fear. It wasn’t rumbling; it was roaring. Instinct impelled him to pull the heavy hall table against the door moments before a dull thump shook it. Something like claws made a shrieking sound and the door rattled. There was a roar and a snuffling snort and the sound of canvas paint-cloth being shredded.
Isaac stopped in his room long enough to grab his keys and wallet and then fled in his slippers without pausing to turn off the lights. He stayed in a hotel until mid-morning, reluctantly returning home only to sneak around the back and peek in Charlie’s window. The room was torn apart, but empty.
He entered the room cautiously. The spread of the claw marks was wider than his hand. The imprint from phantom jaws was enormous. He looked up at the cheerful jungle scene and pried open the white paint he bought to touch up the baseboards. With broad strokes, he painted over the mural.
This was the very first post on my blog, stbirdblog.wordpress.org, on October 24, 2016. I have grown so much in the past five years. I will repost many of my short stories and comics with new illustrations or coloring. I hope you enjoy them!
Isaac’s lunch break was longer than normal, because the fire alarm wouldn’t stop shrieking angrily. There wasn’t any fire, as far as anyone knew, but the alarm kept ringing even when it shouldn’t be possible. The office workers huddled together outside the doors, chattering. “They cut off all the power.