Steve Britton's Writer Challenge

This micro tale that takes place at the height of the Last Great Format War in early 2008, is in reply to Steve Britton’s Writer’s Challenge posted on Twitter ( @scbritton ) on 04/12/2012.  Steve provided the opening line…

Back to the Wars

The sardines were packed as tight as the coach section of a 747, as Dave Armie twisted the small metal key, peeling back the lid of the greasy tinned snack.  Hunter shuddered as the smell of the canned fish packed in oil hit him full on in his olfactory sensors, making him twitch uncomfortably.

As the offending effluvium dispersed from an area of high concentration to low, the others sitting around the cheap, folding, card table set up in the corner of meeting room “B” expressed their own displeasure.  This of course only succeeded in encouraging Armie to reach out and wave the nasty snack tin under everyone’s noses and laugh like a lunatic at the same time.

Hunter shook his head, “I’m out.”  Even over the pleasing aroma of cigars and lager, the stink from the sardines was too much for him.  He threw his cards face down on the table, much to the annoyance of Tyler Pernell, who seemed to think so-called “table etiquette” was just so damn important, even at a friendly, after hours employee poker game.

“Hey!  Come ahn man!  Ya don’t jest throw yer cards onna table! Eh!?”

Hunter gave a dismissive wave of his hand and walked away from the table leaving Tyler, Sally, Akbar, Daphne and Dave to finish out the hand.  He picked up his bottle of Molson Canadian, and took a puff from his Macanudo Maduro Toro cigar and stepped into the hall. 

As he walked back towards his office, he could hear Armie telling the rest of the gathering that they were a “bunch of pussies” and they should really give the sardines a try as they “put hair on yer chest!”  Daphne, the service office assistant, told him she didn’t need or want any hair on her chest, and there was some laughter.  The door to the meeting room clicked shut behind him and the voices and noises of the poker game deadened as Hunter finished the last, warmish swig of lager.  He grabbed a fresh bottle from the employee beer fridge, then a quick left at the end of the hall and he was in his tiny, cramped office. 

He pulled the door closed and took a seat in the creaky, uncomfortable chair behind his cheap flat-pack desk that he assembled himself, popped the top on the Canadian, and took a pull, swallowed, then enjoyed another puff of his Maduro cigar.  As Hunter leaned back and blew the smoke towards the ceiling he realized he had nowhere to ash.  Quickly looking around his desk, he espied a small tea plate with the remains of a peanut butter sando on it left from lunch.  Hunter dumped the bread crusts into his circular file and used the dish to ash his cigar.  There was a muffled roar from meeting room “B,” where the poker match was continuing in earnest.  Hunter took a long puff from his stogie, detecting notes of spice and coco that he hadn’t noticed in the first third of the cigar, possibly due to the distractions of the card game.  Technically there was No Smoking of any kind allowed in the building, but it was 19:30 on a Friday and he was beyond caring about such things.

He opened up Internet Explorer on his slow-ass PC and searched for some info on the so-called “Last Great Format War.”  Hunter found he was leaning toward HD-DVD, not because he thought it was the superior format, which clearly it wasn’t with a mere 35gigs maximum data storage and the tendency towards lossy audio, but because in his experience the unwashed masses always tended towards the cheaper, inferior product.  Folks chose VHS over Betamax, then VHS again over LaserDiscs, and it seemed to Hunter the superior format always lost out in the end.  He would have been delighted if blu-ray pulled out a win in this latest home entertainment format war, if only because after the failure of Beta, and mini-discs Hunter thought Sony was due to win one.

Hunter shut down the computer after only a few minutes and took another long, satisfying pull on the Macanudo.  He shut his eyes for a second, and ran a hand over his stubbly, balding head and remembered back to the nineties when he had a big, thick, head of wavy blond hair.  Back then if asked, he would have said he expected to be published by the time he was in his mid thirties, but here at almost thirty-eight, and twenty-two rejections later he was beginning to wonder…

It was time to go.  He had already spent too much time at work on a Zero Tolerance Friday, and it was time he called it a day and hit the road.  He left the half-finished bottle on the desk and was pulling his black coat from the back of his chair when there came a knock on his door.  It opened without waiting for his reply and the head of marketing, Sally Nishimura stepped into the doorway, in her hand, an unlit Captain Black Cherry flavoured cigar.

“Hey, you coming back to the game?”

Hunter placed the last nub of his stogie on the tea plate to burn itself out, then pulled his coat on, “Nope.  I’m the hell outta here for tonight.”

“Oh, uh well Akbar gave me five bucks to tell you something-“

“And he couldn’t tell me himself for free?”  Hunter was intrigued.

“No, he couldn’t.  And it had to be me.  He said you would know what it meant.”  She smiled, and Hunter couldn’t tell if it was mischievous or slightly embarrassed, or maybe a little of both.

“Okay, shoot.”

Sally stood up straight, put one had on her hip and pointed at Hunter with the other, then wagging a finger she said in what Hunter assumed to be her best Japanese Anime girl “accent” 

“No Smoking on the bridge sir!”  She smiled and gave a nervous chuckle.

“Did I get it right?  Does that make sense?”  She wanted to know.

“Yeah, that was both awesome and amusing.  I hope you got the money up front!”

“Oh yeah, don’t worry he paid up.  You Otaku are a wacky bunch.”

“Absolutely.  Have a good weekend, Sally-chan!”

“You too Hunter-san, back to the wars on Monday!”  She turned back towards the meeting room and Hunter headed for the side door, the smell of sardines still lingering in his nostrils.

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