Corporate Academic

Ponce laughed. "It's your first day, Mel. You don't get to ask why. You ask, how high? This is corporate academic, and you'll need to learn your value within it."

Storytellers & Artists: Will D'Laz & LO Loverun

Year: (c) 2018 & 2022

He stuttered, "Ho-horrible," beneath fluorescent blue, trapped by the mirror's distorted reflection. A look over his shoulder confirmed what he already knew; the restroom had no lock.

Melville turned back to the mirror, wide-eyed from the ugly state of his face, then glanced to find the inordinately small space contained a single urinal beside a single toilet stall. When a muffled conversation in the adjacent hall drove his heart to race, he rushed into the stall, driven by adolescent school memories rattling their cage. Before the voices disappeared, he heard the words "corporate academic." A breath tainted with self-loathing followed.

Hours later, Melville heard, "Mr. Calvin wants you."

He turned from his screen and asked, "Did he say — "


In Leonard Calvin's office, Melville smiled artificially.

I see your true face.

"So, Mel, how is your first day?"

Awful. "Great." Don't waver. "I'm happy to be here."

"Good. I have some ideas on how you can help us with Duffy."

"Okay. Um, what do you mean?"

"Duffy's sickness has become a problem, Mel."

Melville considered the words before cautiously asking, "What sickness?"

Mr. Calvin said, "Corporate Academic," with disinterest, turning to his computer, adding, "Ponce will explain it."

"Come in, Mel." Ponce didn't look away from his computer as Melville entered the small glass-walled office. "Len told you the Duffy plan?"

"Uh, no. Mr. Calvin told me to see you."

Ponce rolled his eerie eyes while Melville stared at the symbol on Ponce's forehead. Earlier, he'd overheard someone call it Leo's Splatch. "Mel, we need you to absorb Duffy's sickness."

Melville, transfixed by the symbol, reflexively asked, "Why?"

Ponce laughed. "It's your first day, Mel. You don't get to ask why. You ask, how high? This is corporate academic, and you'll need to learn your value within it."

As Melville approached Duffy's desk, he felt a radiance of anxiety. "Your foot sounds make me uncomfortable!"

Melville froze, then began, "Uh — "

"What do you want?!"

"Um, I was told to absorb your sickness."

Duffy abruptly turned. He looked deformed, gesticulating with angry consternation as he said, "What's in it for me," in a wavering, resentful voice.

After a moment's confusion, Melville sheepishly explained, "Mr. Calvin told Ponce to tell me to absorb your sickness."

Duffy turned and growled over his shoulder, "If Mr. Calvin said so, you can take some, but I better be compensated. And soon!"

Melville took labored steps back to Ponce's office. His spirit wheezed with each lift of his foot, and when he absently glanced at his hands, they were sickly and emaciated.

In the tinted glass box that was Ponce's office, he saw his face reflected. It was far uglier than in the bathroom. Hair he'd believed only thinning was now totally gone. When someone nearby said, "I'll get right on it," it hung in Melville's mind, twisting his face into a cringe. Get right on what? he pointlessly analyzed, recalling Ponce's words, corporate academic, and you'll learn your value within it.

Ponce said, "Sit down," attention on his computer. As Melville weakly entered the office, Ponce continued, "I hoped you'd absorb more, but it's only your first day." He focused his eerily light eyes on Melville's as he added, "More importantly, Mel, tell me what you learned today?"

Melville muttered in a wave of defeated realization, "Corporate sickness flows down."

Ponce smiled, adding, "Yes. It's academic. But it can't happen without foremen like you." He opened his mouth and released a powerful spray of bilious green and orange; through it, Melville saw the symbol on Ponce's forehead, Leo's Splatch, was gone.