Word Count 500
The Great Beyond
By Sam McManus
The shredded strips lay in ruins on the carpeted floor, tiny yet not insignificant, harbingers of a time not
long before when they were as relevant as anything else in the office, like the stapler or the chairs. But
that was when they were whole, eight and a half by eleven sheets, black lettering stark against the
shocking white. Now they were like so much garbage on the floor, captured in fragments of memory but
nowhere else, just as they had been scripted to be.
Harrison Waltham III sat with his hands clasped firmly behind his head, in his swivel chair, but he wasn’t
swiveling. Instead, he was staring at what was left of his last-ditch effort to save his firm. He couldn’t
even bring himself to get the cleaning crew in to vacuum them up. They were apparently not as
fascinating to the I.R.S. as the papers that were still nearly whole, which they had taken amidst large
smiles and barely concealed joy. He closed his eyes and tried to block out the carnage.
It was hard to focus on anything, and yet the day itself was ordinary. Outside his large picture window
birds flew past, as they always had. In the corner of the room the radio played faintly, as it always had,
some ditty by Hall & Oates, though this didn’t register in his brain. A knock on his open door shook him
abruptly out of the haze he found himself mired in.
“What do I tell the associates?” his right hand, Siobhan Tate, asked, having already entered the tomblike
office. She wore a loose blouse, light pink, black pleated slacks, and no-nonsense flats, but her expression
was a worried one. It matched his own.
“Tell them we’re closing up shop,” Harrison Waltham III replied, without looking up.
“Does that mean what I think it means?” Siobhan asked, tentatively, probingly.
“It means we got caught with our hands in the cookie jar,” he said. “But we’re holding on to the cookies
for dear life. We can’t get our hands out. We need to get our hands out.”
“Are you okay, Mr. Waltham?” she said, coming closer. “You don’t sound like yourself.”
“Did you ever wonder what it was like to be so close?” he said, whether in answer to her question or not,
she couldn’t be sure. “To just about grasp it, and then it slips away?”
“I know we have a fighting chance with this thing,” Siobhan equivocated. She was good at equivocating.
“Then you know a lot more than I do,” he replied. He looked down at his hands, now clasped neatly in his
lap, testament to a calm he was not at all feeling. Maybe the answer wasn’t in a calm examination of the
events that had happened, but in a new plan for where to go next. Looking up suddenly, Harrison
Waltham III met Siobhan’s eyes.
“Get someone in here to clean up this mess,” he said firmly. “It’s time to move on.”