My name is Peter “Squid” Billy. Odd name, I’ll give you that. Even odder is that a grown man north of 40 goes by a nickname. I prefer it, honestly. I not only make my friends and family call me Squid, I also instruct my one hundred or so colleagues above and beneath me to call me that as well. My real name is Peter William. I know. I’m one of those shifty people with the two first names. Can’t trust them, right? Also, if you have paid attention to the first sentence of this paragraph then you are furrowing your eyebrows, maybe even lifting one, and scratching behind your left ear in inquiry.
I said my name is Peter “Squid” Billy. Turns out my real name is actually Peter William. You probably don’t know many people with the last name Billy. To easily explain this one, I’ll just say that growing up I hated my first name, and I hated William. When I was about 7 or 8, I found out that some grown ups called William have the option to be called Billy. What a revelation. I was also into old west outlaws, like most boys my age, and came across the legendary American train robber and vigilante, Billy the Kid. What a combo at such an impressionable age. I started signing my name Peter Billy. I introduced myself as such to my new class every school year, despite what was on the official roster. The name stuck. To this day.
Oh yes, the squid part. A unique name for a unique child. The short story is that when I was in 3rd or 4th grade, I was playing with a black pen. I must have been trying to disassemble it like a tommy gun or something and the ink exploded all over my newly acquired Michigan Wolverine jersey I got for Christmas. It was short time college football phenom Tim Biakabutuka. He wore the number 21. Doesn’t sound like something too out of the ordinary for a child to wear, but it was their away jersey if I can remember correctly. Which means it was white. The black ink plastered the front of my chest like a Jackson Pollack painting. “Hey, you a squid or something?” one of my classmates yelled. That was all it took. I was mortified at the time of course. I knew I had to embrace it to keep the hurt down. I’ve been known as Squid ever since.
I couldn’t imagine not being Squid now. I love it. I hardly answer when someone calls me Pete. Or Billy. Or Mr. William. I’m Squid. Fast forward to present day. I spend most of my days and nights in my corner office on the 10th floor of the Peterson group building. Ten floors of controlling people’s financial future. We’re not a well-known company like that of the shopping site, or the search engine we all depend on. We do, however, know how to make money for our clients. I can’t go further than that just because it’s too hard to explain. I will say that recently we got ahead of the pack in the “crypto,” world. An idea that a few of us agreed could be major. Could we have been more, correct? Oh, and we also bought one of the first NFT’s around, boosting that scam into the stratosphere. Did I say scam? I meant investment.
I’m the “CTO,” of this company. The Chief Tech Officer. Basically, I’m the second in command. It’s just a fancy term for social media manager really. The boy in the ink-stained Wolverine jersey was always ahead of the crowd when the internet surfaced. Not only did I get it, but I also dove straight in. I learned code. I made my own websites. I dominated the early days of e-trading. Which brings me here today. Sitting in a nice leather chair, looking outside from over 100 feet in the air.
My life isn’t great. It’s not bad either. I have no kids, no partner. I’ve dated and had a few serious relationships, but nothing committal. Things just didn’t work in that department. I’m not one of those married to work guys, I just really do enjoy my job. I have a lot of freedom in that, which allows me to work whenever I want. A relationship can get in the way when I have an idea and need to flip my surface or laptop open. No one likes that when you’re in the middle of watching a movie together.
Sorry I’ve rambled enough. I’m just excited to add this experience to my daily/monthly experience. It’s a journal I’ve been keeping for a while. I read some billionaire keeps a journal of their best experiences to help them see in ink when they need reminding of what brought them to their success. I’m writing this with a real pen. A black pen. Hopefully it stays contained inside the hard plastic Bic container.
Last night I’m sitting at my desk, like most nights. I’m fortunate enough to have my own bathroom which is such a plus. After finally deciding to power down my computers for the night I decide to wash my face and take a piss in my bathroom. Not sure which order I performed that in. Either way I shut the water off to the sink, flushed the toilet, and.. lost my vision. I was sitting in complete darkness. I could not see my own hand in front of my face. I was not physically blind, thank the Lord. The power had gone out. I felt my way to the bathroom door, hoping that I would at least see the “Exit,” sign that always had power to it, by way of some kind of emergency regulated generator. Nothing. The building has lost power before, but never more than a few seconds. We are situated in a part of the US that doesn’t have threatening weather or temps that would affect our electricity.
As I was standing as still as a statue, feeling like a real shithead, I saw something black dripping from one of the air ducts. Yes, I know. It was pitch black. I don’t understand if the area I was looking at was illuminated, or the lights had come on without me realizing it, or what. I truly believe what I saw was blacker than the darkness I was covered in. Being scared does not begin to convey how terrified I was.
As I was transfixed on the multiple strands of black goo coming from the vent above me, I heard a voice. More like a cough. A clearing of the throat maybe. Nervously I worked up the fortitude to say something, announce my presence. “Hello?” I said with a weak little voice. A ghostly moan responded.
A dark, deep voice board inside my head. It felt like my eyes were going to shake outside of their sockets. “Squid..” I think it said. This couldn’t be happening. I finally worked too much. I was seeing and hearing things due to overwhelming self-induced stress. After a moment I bravely stood my mental ground. “Wh.. Who are you? What do you want?” I put on my manliest front. No reply at first. Then after a few terrifying seconds it responded. “Hello Peter.” I attempted to calmly reply to it this time. “Look, I don’t believe in ghosts, or ghouls, or ghasts. Who are you?” “What are you?” I know it sounds strange, but I felt like it was thinking. “I’m not here to scare you. I think you invited me.”
The lights came back on. Although not as bright as normal, I could at least see. The familiar office space was once again visible. I slowly made my way back to my leather chair. I cautiously sat down and attempted to regain my composure. I did not see the black sludge. I didn’t see a person, or any kind of entity. But I felt it. “Ok… what is your name?” I heard what I perceived as a human voice saying “Umm.” And then silence. The entity spoke again, this time as clear as a summer day in the Bahamas. “You can call me.. Jim.” “Jim?” I said, quizzically. “Ummm.. yes. You can call me Jim. No one’s asked my name before. I think I like Jim.”
For some reason I was more relaxed now. Jim disarmed me with his joy at naming himself. “Ok Jim. What do you want?” This was my first attempt at communicating with another world. A world I had no idea ever existed. “I’m here to help Pete. Or should I call you Squid.” This thing knew my avatar, so that was an alarming start. It said that this spirt, demonic or not, knew exactly who I was.
“What do you want to help me with then “Jim.” I was way outside of my comfort zone with this conversation. A few low clicking sounds and then it spoke again.
“I know you are looking for more. Even though you are a seemingly complete soul.” “You want more, but you don’t know what.” I look around my office. A dozen awards for.. nothing. Meaningless cheap plastic statues given to me for meaningless achievements. I can’t even remember one of the occasions that I’ve been acknowledged for.
I still could not see anyone. As I said though, I did feel it. “Jim,” was with me in my office. It felt like he was sitting in his own little invisible chair, knee to knee with me. At that moment a faint dark mist materialized around me. It took no form. The word “ether,” was flashing inside my brain. A low rumble indicated that Jim was about to speak again. “Yes, I allowed you to see me for a brief moment. To show you that I do have a somewhat of a physical form. Which you humans appreciate. What’s the phrase.. seeing is believing?”
I sat quietly. “Right, on to business. I don’t come to your realm often. Do you agree you are missing something squid?”
“Of course, we all are,” I said, feeling an immediate rush of sadness.
“You sit here surrounded by achievement. You are financially set for ever. Yet.. your dreams are all dead and buried. Do you know what happened to you?”
I felt something that has not happened to me in the better part of a decade. My lower lip started to move involuntarily. Vapors felt like they would escape from the corner of my eyes.
“Ok ok, no need for that Squid. I’ll get to the end. Agree to let me in and I guarantee you will find what you’ve been missing.”
I straightened up, loosened my tie, and leaned into where I imagined Jim would be. “I’m in.” The ether started swirling about me in a violent pace. My office now turned red. “Say.. you.. agree,” Jim said with much more bass in it’s voice this time. I stood now, kicking my chair to the ground in the process. I bet I looked silly. Jim had truly whipped his energy into a small tornado. It almost threw me face down into the floor. My attempt to bravely “stand up,” to Jim turned out to make me look and feel weaker than ever. “Say it Squid.”
“I.. agree.” I was dropped on the floor of my office. I was in so much pain I didn’t realize I was levitating from Jim’s force. I grabbed my glasses which were ripped off my face. I felt no more entity, or ether, in my office. Sensing this, I’m sure, Jim appeared in front of me. An awful shadow version of a human. Two small, white eyes glowing where the head should be. He floated within six inches of my face. Three tendrils crept underneath my nose.
When I opened my eyes, I was in my bed. My bed. Snug as a bug in a rug. It wasn’t until after I brushed my teeth and opened the newspaper that I remembered what happened last night. Yes, I still read print. I laughed to myself. I think I need a vacation. Clearly, I had some kind of mental break due to the stress of work. “Hey Jim, are you watching me right now you sicko?” No response, as I anticipated. I think I’ll take a walk to the corner store, get a little snack and a coffee.
After I grabbed a grande mocha frap I toured the candy aisle. I never make my way here; I’ve been on that keto kick for a while now. Today felt like a good day for a break. Ah, Reeses cups, my childhood favorite. “Take it.” I spun around to see who the hell just spoke to me. A ghost apparently. Still dealing with that adrenaline dump from last night. “Oh no Squid, I’m here. And I’m very real.”
“No..” I muttered. “Yep. I’ll be with you for a time ‘ol Petey boy. Take the candy. Take the candy and walk out the door.” “What, and not pay? It’s like a buck fifty, I’m not going to steal a reeses, man.” If you could feel a little demon in your mind smile, well, that would be a weird thing to feel. I did though. For absolutely no reason I stared at that peanut butter cup now like it was going to change the rest of my life. I reached for it, hesitated, and stared again.
Now I’m walking out of the store with an unpaid package of candy in my sweatshirt pocket. I’ve never stolen a thing in my life. I’m not a thief! I felt so.. ok. It felt better than ok. I was on fire.
If I had a health bar represented by little hearts, like Zelda, let’s say that 3 out of the 5 hearts were gone. I know there’s probably more in the game, I haven’t played since I was like 6 so don’t blow me up ok. Follow me on the analogy. I have five hearts. Two are gone. When I stole that candy, one entire heart filled back up. You get me?
Sitting at home now, staring at my looted prize, I just kind of smile. I don’t know what I’m feeling but I know that something has changed. “Yes child. You wanted a change, right?” Oh shit, him again. “That was just step one Squid. I think you’re going to enjoy this new life of yours, full of purpose, full of excitement. Do as I say, and I will not disappoint you.” By the time Jim ended his mini monologue I had finished scarfing both peanut butter cups.
It’s been about 6 weeks since I became an adult kleptomaniac. I mean that sarcastically of course. I have had no other urge to steal dollar candy. Nor have I had Jim in my head pushing me to do so. Jim hasn’t been here at all. I’ve come to accept it. I think it’s for the best.
Standing in the Subway, waiting for the 1:15 to uptown, I feel a familiar power brush by me. I know what it is immediately. “Hello Jim,” I said through gritted teeth. “Oh, come on old boy, don’t be like that. This is customary. I give you an idea of what I do, then I let you go back to your reality.
Rolling my eyes out of my head, I stood up to face my abandoned spirit friend. “So, what will it be then, Jim? Maybe you want me to steal a newspaper or something?”
I could feel Jim’s energy change. “You see that guy other there?” When he said that I felt a subtle breeze move across my face, like a hand attempting to move my head in a certain direction. As I moved my gaze, I saw a person. It was just me and him down here. This time of day isn’t that busy, but there’s usually more than two people. “Yeah, that’s him. Hey, you want to push him on to the train tracks?” “What?! Fuck you man, not a chance! I’m not a murderer!” The man looked at me. I forget that I am arguing with thin air to everyone else. As soon as he made eye contact with me, he quickly went to minding his own business.
Jim seeped back into my brain. “Maybe the train will be early, maybe it’ll be late. Maybe he’ll make it off the tracks in time. You don’t know Squid. That’s the fun of it. Haven’t we been over this before? Push him.”
“Do it.. or you will not be happy.”
I started to make my way over to the stranger. I attempted to be non-conspicuous but… kind of hard when there’s no crowd. I stopped when I was about 10 feet away. “You do it,” I said. I expected another cosmic response about how I was supposed to be fulfilled by acts of random badness but instead I quickly heard only five words: “I thought you’d never ask.”
Without a second to process, I saw the man get yanked off the platform to the tracks below. I could physically see his brown jacket go up behind his neck like someone was pulling it, and then his arms and legs whipped behind his torso, like he was pushed in the back with major force.
I watched the soon to be corpse scrounge to his hands and knees, eyes as wide as dinner plates. “Don’t help him.” I was mid stride and stopped. He’s right. This is all happening for some reason. A reason I cannot pretend to know. The man got to his feet. The familiar foghorn echoed throughout the steel and concrete tunnel. The massive headlight bended it’s fiery face. This only made the man more panicked. He met eyes with me. At that moment I didn’t feel sorrow, or shame. I felt pity. Pity for a man that had no purpose in life. He should be there. He scrambled for the platform like his pants were full of ants. Ants in the pants. “Let’s go Squid,” Jim puffed in my ear. I was already on my way.
Deciding to cancel my 1:15, I started walking up toward street level. “Take one more look.” As I did, I saw the man pulled himself to safety. Sirens were sounding in the distance. Shit. Didn’t think that the surveillance cameras are all over the place down there. Ah, no matter. I technically didn’t do anything wrong. You can’t charge me for not helping. I was afraid, the tracks are charged death traps, I didn’t want to fall myself, etc. etc.
Sorry, it’s been a while. It’s been almost a year since I checked in with my journal. Jim and I have been besties. I don’t want to go into everything, maybe the reason I haven’t been around. Not sure some of the things I’ve done should be repeated. Don’t get me wrong though, I’ve loved every second of it. Jim has let me do things as small as slap a little kids hat off to as big as scamming some helpless grandma out of the little bit of life savings she had. Thanks for the subscription to “Log Cabin Monthly.” Jim was always right. I had a great life up to the point he met me. But I was missing something, something I could not put my finger on. I think I’ll enjoy a drink of my own creation: 1 part jack Daniels’s fire, 1 part Jim Beam peach, and 1 part butterscotch schnapps. I call it the “Sunday Funday.” You can have it any day you like. Sip on one, then take a shower. There’s no better way to end a day, in my opinion.
As I wake the next day, I feel great. I throw on my favorite at-home lounge wear. Gray champion sweatshirt and pants. I see the empty glass of Sunday fun day and smile. Should I keep the buzz going? No, let’s have a tall bottle of ice-cold water and wait for Jim to tell me what’s next. Speak of the devil, and he shall appear.
“Ah, Jim,” I say to the ether. “What do you have for me today.” The lights flicker for a few seconds.
“Nothing, Squid.” I laugh. Come on man, I know you better than that. The mood lowers.
“We’re done Squid. You’ve reached the end of the line.” A little rose filled with panic starts to bubble in my guts. “Ok, stop messing around. What are we getting into, I’m not playing around.” An audible laugh bursts through my eardrums. “I was never playing around Peter.” The sweat beads on my forehead. Actually, I’m sweating all over. The sweatshirt seems like an intended choice. The specter that I’ve called Jim appears in front of me. “Sit.” At once I’m thrown down into my dining room chair. Another chair comes flying towards me, stopping inches away. The black mist in the form of a human sits down in front of me, staring at me knees to knees, face to face. “I’m leaving you Peter. You will be slung back into the life you knew before me.” I’m sure he picked up on the confusion on my face.
“It was fun, but you deserve to go back to your life as a sad, no-purpose having meat bag.”
I’m having trouble breathing. “I.. I don’t understand. I did everything you asked, I did awful things for you. I thought this was what I was supposed to do?” Another cackle escapes the shadow person in front of me. “This was always going to happen. You were supposed to change, adapt, see how shitty of a person you were. Instead, you embraced it. I was only there to push you, hoping you’d go the way I wanted. And you did. Sorry you were an insignificant pawn in this ethereal game.
I tried to speak, but nothing was coming out. “Think about it Peter. The only thing you’ve hung on to your entire pathetic life is that stupid nickname. You never made a difference. You never helped anyone. You didn’t hold doors open for anyone. You scammed people out of their hard-earned money. You sold them terrible investments. You even took a little off the top. Your boss has just found out the extent of your theft. Even worse, you regularly litter!” My blood went cold. “Sorry Pete. I know this isn’t how you thought this was going. I hoped it wouldn’t go this way either, but.. here we are. It’s been a pleasure if that makes you feel any better. I always get high marks when my subjects don’t bend. Best of luck to you. You’re on your own again. Don’t think you’ll quite enjoy where it’s going. Ta ta.”
Wait, wait! I screamed. For the only time I saw Jim’s face. Well, what looked like a face. It was mangled, glistening, and red. And like a campfire doused in water, it was gone. Silence.
I wish the world would just explode. I had nothing to live for. I never considered this was a chance to change. I took the path far too traveled. This squid had been cooked.
Credit: Blake Blizzard
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