I stepped through the muck and marshland, wondering why in the hell I decided to add a Hunting experience to the itinerary, It felt so cumbersome and uncomfortable to be in the ‘sportsman’ gear I had acquired for everyone taking part, which wasn’t many.
Most were still recovering from last night’s events to follow my meticulously planned Retreat schedule like capable adults, so I was trying my best not to feel insulted, with all the hard work I put into this.
It only reminded me of my disappointment at not receiving the promotion I was gunning for, but at the same time it was like a weight of pressure lifted off my shoulders, along with a lingering sympathy for Zachari.
The poor guy had his work cut out for him, I’m almost certain I saw cameras phones out recording, and no doubt the rest of our peers who weren’t invited this year, already know what went down. He was a no show as well, though who could blame him.
Only about two dozen of us actually signed in for the Hunt, the lot of us splitting off into four groups of six. Surprisingly, Jynx Ellison and his troop of Adonis’s were among the first to arrive, Karishma somehow weaseled her way into his group. While I was stuck with Grayson, Cedric, Famous, Pastel, and Shaw.
It was hard to look at him the same way, after seeing his hands covered in all that blood, so I just avoided him altogether. I’m sure he noticed, because Aemous did, he seem to be watching us both, wondering what the tension was, as I still wasn’t talking to him either. Pastel and Grayson were bickering about the morality of what we were doing and if ‘hunting’ was considered the same as murder, they were going on and on, until finally Shaw cut in and interrupted them.
“The difference would be if it were for food or sport, I’m sure it goes without saying that if you don’t eat the kill, you were just getting your rocks off, there’s a thrill people get from ending another life.”
“You would know all about that, wouldn’t you.”
When everyone’s head turned my way, I realized I had actually said that out loud, and loud enough for them all to hear it. Shaw arched one of thick eyebrows at me curiously, like he was totally oblivious to why I was even upset with him.
There was a tense silence that was as dense as the forest we tread through, only to be broken by the sudden sound of a rifle blast not far from where we stood, cheering could be heard soon after. It seemed Karishma had killed an enormously large moose, problem is, those were on the list of restricted animals, the woman was going to get us slammed with astronomical penalties and fines.
“What is wrong with you, I gave specific instructions based on the wildlife preserves regulations, you even have a pamphlet for Christ’s sake!” I hollered as I made my way over to them, calculating the fees for this casualty in my head, and giving myself a headache. “Did you forget we’re in a foreign fucking country?!”
“Everyone’s cheering for me, don’t be a hater.” She replied, as Jynx and his crew continue to laugh and jest amongst themselves.
“They aren’t cheering, you buffoon, they’re laughing at you!”
There was another round of riotous laughter from them, as if on cue, and her already dusky red skin flushed even redder.
“Don’t worry yourself about it Cydnee, the Prime minister owes me a favor or two, and I’ll make sure the reparations come from her check. Now let’s get back to hunting, I think I smell a wrascaly wrabbit..”
He used a funny country accent, and though I didn’t get the reference, I laughed along with everyone else. When I return to my group I could see some had moved on without me, the only two to wait were Famous and Shaw. I sighed, knowing I was stuck in the center of sin and sadness, a rock and a hard place, contemplating if I wanted to traverse the woods alone or with two beings more dangerous than any animal in the woods I’d come across.
The choice was clear, yet painful, as the silence was suffocating and the tension was torturous. I was afraid to open my mouth, on the chance I’d scream, I was that frustrated with it all. As we continue on through the forest, both men seem to get as heated as I was.
“Well since Cydnee is giving us this childish silent treatment, and we both seem to be in trouble, why don’t we try something new and talk to each other. Hi I’m Shaw, but you know that, we just feel like strangers but I guess that’s sorta my fault, so what did you do to piss off Cydnee the infallible saint?”
“Hello Shaw, I’m Aemous, but my friends call me Famous, I guess we’re friends now.. you ask what I did, seems I have one too many woman in my life.”
“Don’t we all..”
“Look, you two aren’t going to stand here and trivialize my fucking feelings about who you really are.. Famous, you are nothing but a Con, a fraud, you’re a plant for VIOtrex and you’ve been playing me from the start! And you Shaw, somehow you’re even worse, maybe because I thought you were real, so I believed you. Want to know why I’m mad at you? Well guess what, I saw you early this morning before you could wash your hands.”
He paused where he stood, his eyes going cold, as if he involuntarily went on autopilot, and the thought cross my mind that he might kill me. Aemous at least had an expression, but it wasn’t any better, he was livid. I had called them on their shit, and they didn’t like the smell of it, both of them were different men than I thought I knew. Maybe I was biased, pious, and judgemental but I wasn’t being crazy, these two were up to no good.
There was rustling in the bushes nearby, that caught my attention, and in my peripheral I could see Shaw make a swift movement towards me. I screamed as he tackle me to the ground, but it went unheard, because the deafening roar of a shooting rifle went off almost simultaneously.
“Get off me! Let me go, let me..” I stopped struggling under his weight, when I saw the telling remains of splintered wood, where a bullet struck the tree I was standing in front of.
“Aemous, the blast came from there.” Shaw said, pointing in the direction of some seemingly random set of bushes, but Aemous took off anyway. “Cydnee, are you okay?”
I was silent, no.. more like speechless, as I open my mouth to speak but no words escape my lips. He helped me stand, and I just hugged my arms tight around myself, moving away but not very far. Taking a knife from his pocket, Shaw dug deep into the wood and pulled free the bullet, shaking his head as he closed his hand tightly around it.
“It was one of ours..”
“One of our what’s?” I replied, said lowly, my voice hoarse and my throat dry.
“This bullet belongs to one of the Hunting rifles given to us at the Lodge, if we find the casing we can run the serial number, help me look over here.” He said, dropping to his knees digging through the bushes he sent Aemous towards, I was momentarily transfixed by his ass in the 501 Levi’s he was wearing. “Cydnee, are you going to help me look?”
I was broken from my trance, dropping down to the ground next to him, knowing that finding this casing was integral, without it, we would have no clue as to who was trying to take one of us out, more specifically, Me.
We searched until Aemous came back, all of us coming up empty handed, a different kind of silence settling over the group as we walked back to main lodge, our eyes darting in every direction.
All the teams had returned already, and the rest of our ‘six’ was huddled off to the side, from the looks of it, their debate had escalated to full out civil war. Pastel was damn near screaming at Grayson and Cedric, I look from Aemous to Shaw, seeing immediately we were all on the same page. We wanted nothing more, than to just retire to our room and wash the woods off our bodies.
There was the added fact, their going ons weren’t any of my business, or so I thought. Karishma moved to calm Pastel down, but it only seem to infuriate him further, as he brushed her hands off him like stray debris.
“And you have some goddamn nerve Karishma, you’re implicit in this conspiracy to commit sexual assault, you DRUGGED a coworker with chemicals considered Arkham property, what the fuck is wrong with you?!”
She looked to Cedric with sharp deadly eyes and an unbecoming snarl, he pointed to Grayson shrugging his shoulders in exasperation, all tell tale signs of who opened their big mouths.
“Look Pasty, I’m a victim in this too, why you yelling at me?”
“Are you serious Grayson? There’s a plot to sexualy compromise and assault a fellow coworker, yet YOU aren’t a part of it? Puh-Fuckin’-Leaze! Did you imbeciles forget that I had to take over as acting HR while Miss Chambers is out for her triple bypass? How dare you place me in this position, to think, I called you people my friends.. you’re all fucking evil.”
“YOU PEOPLE?! You better watch that shit Mister HR, I see that southern geechie twang of yours is gone real quick? Trouble in the hood you run to the suburbs.”
“You’re really going to bring Race into this? I know more black people than you as an actual black man, didn’t you grow up in Martha’s Vineyard? My that’s a thick urban accent they have there for you to pick up home boi.”
“The fuck you tryna say?!”
“Calm down everybody, and Pastel please, you’re not letting me explain the whole story.”
“You’ve explained quite enough Cedric, and I’m pretty sure I get the gist of it, I’ll let the investigation upon our return to Arkham fill in any other details.”
“Investigation?!” Dr. Jhedav cried, covering her mouth after, hoping none of our peers had clued in on this conversation yet. “I could lose my license.”
“Yeah, you probably will, but I think it’s the possible jail time you all should be worried about.”
With that final declaration he stalked off, leaving a panic stricken looking Karishma, a befuddled Grayson, and a seething Cedric in his dust. As the three of us approach, I hid the smile on my face but couldn’t help that my eyes smirk with glee, they had this coming, at least two of them did anyway.
“Well, it looks like you all ruined the rest of his afternoon.” Aemous mused, as we heard the sound of a door slam in the distance.
“Maybe one of us non complicit bystanders should go check on him, I’ll see if I can talk him down some, not that I think any of you deserve your damn jobs.. we just do not have the time for delays once this trip’s over.”
“Shaw, go on ahead, but it looks like you’re wasting your time there.” I cautioned, shrugging my shoulders as he left the way Pastel had stalked off to, turning to the others with a shake of my head, it was hard not to have pity. “Hey Grayson, if it helps, I’ll let them know I don’t believe you were complicit in the schemes of these deplorables.”
“I’d appreciate that, why don’t we discuss it over dinner tonight?” He replied, returning back to his fuckboy-ish self so I knew he was feeling better, I respectfully declined as I moved closer to Aemous of all people for some semblance of safety.
“Who are you calling deplorable you aching twat? I can’t help it if Grayson doesn’t know his limit, he’s a lush that would be better serving his time in Alcoholics Anonymous.”
“You wasn’t screaming AA when you were deep throating dis dick like a BollyBitch amateur.”
“Okay Grayson, enough!” Famous chastised, trying to hold back his laughter, while the Doctor looked completely aghast.
“I don’t know why you’re laughing Cedric, you’re the main conspirator and nothing but an insecure jealous creature, who has made too much of a habit drugging people.” I was in the mood to clock everyone’s tea, it was just one of those days, I wasn’t going to allow him to fade into the background when he was the master crafter of the schemes.
“Wait, someone else was drugged?” Karishma asked, looking at Cedric with an accusatory glare, while everyone else was completely silenced from the unexpected news.
“He drugged Shaw, you can ask him, here he is now.” I replied, as Shaw walked up to us clueless to the conversation, he paused cautiously when he saw the look on our faces.
“Yes or No, were you drugged by Cedric?” Karishma asked expectantly, not even giving him a chance to catch up, he slowly nodded, as if unsure of how much damage the answer would cause.
“Wow, you’re a fucking sleaze ball Ced, this coming from the unofficial president of the Fuck Boys Club.. I need a drink after all this.” Grayson commented, as he walked away fuming, Karishma wasn’t far behind.
“Yeah, blame me! I’m the bad guy, I’m always the Bad Guy cause I’m THAT Bitch!” Cedric holler behind them, trying to play it off like he wasn’t upset, but this was my former best friend we were talking about.
On the inside, Cedric was livid, as his carefully cultivated image and status amongst our peers crumble before our very eyes. I honestly pity him, because that was all he had, and it didn’t even keep him warm at night.
He turn to me, ready to raise hell, but our boss Jynx Ellison walked up to our group, dressed in a red flannel and jean combo that probably cost more than some people’s salary, he look at us wondering what he had missed, as the tension was palpable.
“Cydnee, it seems I’m the only person to sign up for fishing, so it’s just you and myself, meet me on the dock in fifteen minutes.”
“I’ll be there in ten.”
“Perfect..” He replied, about to leave but he paused and turn to Cedric, raising an eyebrow. “What’s with the sour face, you got something you want to say to somebody?”
“No, Mr Ellison, I have nothing to say, I prefer to let my actions speak volumes.” Cedric said in reply, looking at me with that evil eye the entire time, with those final words he walked away red in the face.
“Listen when I say to you Cydnee, you ain’t winning unless you pissing motherfuckers off along the way.” Jynx mused, as he saunter towards the dock, whistling a tune.
After a quick wardrobe change into something more suitable, and decidedly more cost effective than my employers ensemble, to find a surprisingly patient Jynx waiting for me, with him was one of his companions, the ones who eerily never seem to leave him alone for long.
It was the one Aemous and I had run into, it was hard to forget such roguish yet regal features mixed with wide eastern eyes, he was imposing, as they all were, but something was different about him. He was the calm one, though it only amplified the dangerous aura that surround him. It was so odd to see the way the four of them battle for not just his attention, but his focus, they were like a pack of alpha males following around a beta like overgrown puppies.
Pastel and I had a running bet on whether they were his bodyguards or his Harém, even though they honestly all just acted like old friends, with inside jokes and a casual closeness. So it was probably just part of our elaborate fantasies of Jynx Ellison’s decadent lifestyle, Pastel imagined him to be like a young gay Hugh Hefner, while I figure him to be an outrageously wealthy regular guy.
His life just appear so glamorous and perfect, well.. aside from that minor stint in prison, but I heard it was like some fancy Martha Stewart shit. Top it off, he was just so beautiful, with so many equally beautiful things and people surrounding him all the time, his life just came across so seamless and easy.
The air was humid despite the changing of the autumn leaves, but the season was tricky sometimes, is what I was told by one of the lodge ranger who help set us up. We fully expected and prepared for a light snow, as was forecast, though there wasn’t a cloud in sight since we arrived.
Out on the water of Lake Windigo, we settling into a peaceful relaxing mood as the sun sit high overhead, Jynx and I enjoying the serene image of the horizon since neither of us had any luck at catching anything. His friend just sort of sat there, monk style with his eyes closed, I wasn’t sure how he could balance and fold his six foot one frame into such a position comfortably, he clearly didn’t skip any yoga classes.
A sudden break in the silence came when I felt a tug to my line, whatever it was, it felt big. I pulled and tried my best to reel it in as Jynx cheer me on, his companion stayed in his place, not even opening his eyes as the small boat rock back and forth. Finally, after a few exhilarating moments of struggle, I reeled in a whopping forty pound trout. It flopped around in the boat frightened, and I knelt to unhook it to throw back in, but Jynx stopped me, looking deep into my eyes with the most dangerously intense stare.
“We never spare our prey, keep it, I’ll have the kitchen cook up something nice for us.”
He helped me toss the fish into the icebox, and I tried to ignore the smell, and the thought that I would really have to eat this poor guy or I was akin to a murderer.
“You know, I’m glad we came, this is so relaxing and great practice for the three day camp out.”
“Three days? I only scheduled us for one night.”
“There’s been a change to the program, especially since only about thirty of us are going, and from what I hear, they have the camp grounds set up about two miles from our Arkham facilities on this island.”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea, there is so much tension in the groups.”
“Good, I have just the right idea to help relieve the angst and frustration, it’ll be perfect.”
“If you say so..”
“I like you Cydnee, no really, I do. There was a part of me regretting my decision to name Grannison as head of ops, but he was the most qualified on paper, there was no denying it. Yet looking at you, the way you solve problems and enforce a quiet authority, it compels me to offer you something. I want you to be an advisor to Zachari, possibly even a co-director in an unofficial capacity. All the power and the perks, but none of the blame when shit hits the fan, I don’t know, it just kills me to waste your potential.”
“Well, I appreciate that sir, and I accept.”
“I knew you would, I’ve already had Yurika set up clearances and paperwork as she’s doing with Grannison.” He replied with a knowing smirk, he cast a freshly baited line out onto the water, and wiped some sweat from his forehead. “A cool gentle breeze would be perfect right now.”
No sooner said, did a pleasantly brisk gust of wind blow by, warding off the heat of midday. I looked around wondering where it came from, because none of the trees along the shore were swaying, it was then I noticed Jynx’s tag along was blowing softly from pursed lips. It was eerie, but there was no way he could have been the cause for it, so my attention diverted back to my employer.
“Cydnee, I’m going to be honest with you, because I believe you deserve that.” He turn to me, and the light from the afternoon sun, glisten the gold mixed in the green of his eyes. “You’re a winner, and you are on the winning team, best believe it.. but I’d be lying to you if I said we were the good guys all the time.”
“At Arkham we do work that benefits all of mankind, the stuff we do is groundbreaking and will propel us into the future, so forgive if I’m not understanding you sir.. I mean Jynx.”
“I know we do amazing things for the betterment of people’s lives, I guess what I’m trying to say is, you have to do some bad things to do good.”
“Okay, but what have we done that’s so terrible?”
“Once we return to Arkham headquarters, we will be undergoing a merger with VIOtrex, some would call it a hostile takeover but that’s semantics, I would prefer to think of it as an unfortunate inevitability. My dear friend and long time business rival, has suddenly gone gravely ill, and it’s due time she was called on home, as of now I’m informed she’s on her deathbed. One of my inamorato, was spawned from that callous woman so I guess she wasn’t all potions and poison, he was sent back home early to ensure a smooth transition during the acquisition of all her assets.”
What in the world happened? Belladonna was vibrant despite her age and totally intent on bringing Jynx down, why would she leave him EVERYTHING? Better yet, was it given or taken?
“Your, um.. friend, the blonde with the tattoos, he’s a Van Duyn.”
“He sure is, he embodies every trait of that bloodline, but that’s why I like him and it’s what makes him an essential presence to my circle.” He replied fondly, and for the first time the immobile monk actually shifted in his seat, I would have smiled at his jealousy had Jynx not been staring at me so intently. “I’m sure you’re wondering, how I took down a woman, that was so ready to offer you three hundred million to cut my throat. It’s simple, I cut her throat first, and it was because of you, that’s why I’m fond of you Cyd.”
I sat there in shock, wondering if I were about to get drowned in the lake by my boss, was this a set up? How the hell did he know about the money or that I even met with her in the first place?
“You’ll get your answers, but you’re not ready for them yet, in time you will be.”
Sitting there, more baffled by this man than ever before, I had come to the conclusion I would never fully understand Jynx Joseph Ellison the man. He was an enigma, and there was probably no one like him on the planet, at least no one leftalive.. or living for long. He is all consuming of any competition he faces, and I don’t think he can help himself, in this moment it was as if he was finally seeing himself the way others did.
“Do you fear me Cydnee? Not just you specifically, but everyone who works for me..”
I paused a moment, honestly thinking about the answer, looking at this monster of a man, who was essentially cannibalizing the world with capitalism and corporations as his knife and fork. Yet despite how cancerous a being he was, he still somehow retained a sliver of his soul.
“Yes, people fear you, but I don’t, I fear no man with God on my side.”
“How cute, I’m sure he’s been working miracles for a saint like you.. Saint Cydnee, it has a nice ring to it.”
“I’m no saint.” I objected, slightly perturbed that it was the second time today, I’d been called such.
“You are when compared to me, but frankly you have the luxury to be, men like me give people like you the Privilege to keep your morals intact. We rule the world, we make the tough decisions, so you can play into a piousness that in the end is usually self serving. I’m a leader, and leaders can only lead effectively, if they are feared or revered.”
“You can still be a good man and a great leader.”
“What I would pay to have your optimistic outlook, the price would be absurd.. but sadly, optimization is a weakness I can’t afford.”
We decided to end our fishing excursion at that moment, as the sun was heading west and we were still leaving to the campsite tonight. When I depart to my room, pondering over what happened on the boat, I didn’t know if I left the conversation with Jynx Ellison, pitying the man or still aspiring to his station in life.
The conflict of self when it comes to success in this business, it could eat at your soul, and that was only if had one to start, some souls were sold just to get a seat at the table.
“Cydnee, slide over, make room for me!” Pastel hollered, throwing his bag in the back of the jeep that was transporting me to the camp grounds, I was already cramped into the back with the constantly complaining Jerry Goldstein. “There is no way I’m riding with any of those assholes, you somehow still manage to call friends.”
“Sorry, we’re full.” Jerry replied dryly, fidgeting in his seat, elbowing me in the ribs.
“Nonsense suga, there plenty of space and opportunity right here.” My pink haired peer replied, as he boldly nestled his rump onto Jerry’s lap, causing him to flush red.
“Everyone else is leaving and we’re losing daylight, are you boys ready or what? Yurika asked, looking back at us comfortably from the front passenger seat.
The three of us mutter in reply, like whining school kids on a hot yellow bus going to summer camp, she look to the driver and twirled her finger around to signal we could go. The sun was setting as we traveled the dirt trail for about half an hour, we were the last to depart, so there were no other cars to follow in the coming darkness.
It wasn’t long before I could see the smoke pillar rising in the distance, and as we grew closer to the grounds, the light from a brilliant blazing fire reach high into the sky. As we pulled up, I could see the fire was a figure of a man, he was made of straw and dry brush. In front of it was a huge circle, drawn out in large stones and strategically placed torches.
There was a crowd chanting as they all stood around the circle, it was our peers, the employees of Arkham cheering and screaming. Jynx sat in the only chair, with the burning man behind him, and his companions at his side, watching as two guys from our IT department duke it out Fight Club style in the center of the ring.
This wasn’t the camping trip I planned, and if I knew this was Jynx’s clever idea, I would have probably thought twice before I signed the non disclosure and liability waivers, before coming on the trip. This was insanity, and completely barbaric, the four of us stood there shocked and in awe of the mess this had become in only ten short minutes.
Todd, the sweet nerdy guy who defragged my Holodeck two weeks ago, was bashing the face of someone I couldn’t even recognize now, all I could see was blonde hair and blood.
I hid my eyes to protect my squeamish stomach, as Todd lifted his arms in victory, giving a bloody tooth dangling smile, as everyone cheered.
“This is out of control, you can’t make these people act like this for your amusement, these are human beings!” I shouted uncharacteristically stern, at a man most people wouldn’t dare look too long in the eye, everyone grew silent around us as Jynx settled his ever sought after focus on me.
“That’s precisely the point, you told me there was tension and discord amongst the ranks, so I gave The People a choice. They could settle this two ways, a hearty touching full of fucking shit kumbaya around the fire or battle it out like our ancestors before us, with an instinctual settlement of score that needs no judge or jury.”
“This isn’t the coliseum, we aren’t gladiators.”
“Speak for yourself Cydnee.” He reply sternly, cutting me off, he turn to the crowd throwing his hands up as if to reach out to them. “I ask you fine people.. if you have someone that is here tonight that has wronged you in the workplace, stolen your due credit for hard work, if they ate your food out the break room, hell, maybe they stole your favorite pen, I don’t give a fuck. What I want you to do, is call them out right now, fight that bitch!”
The crowd cheered and hollered into the night, basking in the fiery violent mayhem Jynx had created, it was total anarchy that threaten to boil over. I struggle to think of some way to stop this, looking to Pastel, Jerry, and Yurika for help.
While they look slightly afraid, they didn’t seem as foolish as I to get into the middle of it, I was broken from my thoughts when I heard my name, it was the sharp tone that caught my attention.
I turn to the ring, where a figure stood in a dark grey hoodie, apparently I was being called out. Cedric lifted his head and locked eyes with me, he look determined and furious, ready to feed into the frenzy.
“Cydnee, this been a long time coming, FIGHT ME BITCH!”