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A diverse collection of three short stories: The Marshmallow War, Peripheral Witches, and Parson's Song.
The Marshmallow War is a humorous look at how organizations sometimes push aside older workers and their accumulated knowledge in favor of younger workers with "fresh perspectives." The story is set inside the Merryman Marshmallow Corporation's research and development department where management confuses youth with innovation.
Peripheral Witches combines elements of a fairy tale and the paranormal as a young working mother struggles to discern whether or not she's losing her mind. A trip home at the end of a long, stressful day has Miriam seeing witches that disappear whenever she looks directly at them. The witches reappear in her peripheral vision.
The last story in the collection, Parson's song, is based loosely on the legend surrounding the folk tune "MacPherson's Lament." Set in the rural south, a small town speculates on whether or not a young gentleman named Billy Parson will be a great man or great criminal. According to their superstitious beliefs, he would be legendary whether for positive or negative reasons. Billy also struggles to come to terms with the local superstition surrounding his fate.
The Marshmallow War
The department head was prone to monologue. The guns were for self defense. Anyone could go temporarily insane under the duress of excessive monologue, so it would be natural for someone to think of shooting the source of boredom. It should be mentioned here that the guns were toys that only shot marshmallows. The original objective was to creatively use these weapons in an effort to decrease the length of the R&D team's weekly staff meetings. It worked at first. Then, like everything else in corporate America, the guns were repurposed in order to maximize their return on investment.
When the toy weapons first arrived, the three junior members of the department thought the five older employees were finally going senile. The senior researchers covertly launched marshmallows at empty soda cans for several days, practicing their aim. The younger department members were too busy creating the appearance of productivity to bother with the game. However, the first staff meeting proved the immediate practicality of the guns.
The weapon was discretely carried into one of the meetings by the oldest member of the department. The gun operated under air pressure to catapult a mini marshmallow up to 30 feet. The head of the conference table was only fifteen feet. An easy shot.
As the first hour was churning over into the second, several employees shifted in their seats.
"What are marshmallows?" The department head, Adderson, bellowed rhetorically.
Silence. One person yawned absentmindedly.
"Fluffy!" the monologue continued after a satisfied pause. "They are fluffy! And if we want to have the best marshmallows on the market we need to harness our intellectual capitol and brainstorm on ways to make our marshmallows fluffier than our competition. We also need to be able to say that our marshmallows are X percent fluffier - and that X had better be greater than 10." He paused momentarily for dramatic effect. "The only way to achieve this is through teamwork. Teamwork and synergy." He continued on in a similar vein for several minutes. Adderson's primary contribution to the company involved stringing together endless acronyms and buzzwords.
Papers rustled on the table like tumbleweeds in the desert. Numerous people strained to discretely check the time. Then a muffled, popping noise caused everyone to look towards the head of the table. No one saw the soft, white missile. Not one person aside from the assailant was looking at the speaker when it happened. Nevertheless, the sound of the pop got everyone's attention. It was quiet. Uncomfortably quiet. The egotistical, monologging department head had paused mid-drone and was moving his mouth in an awkward manner with no sound coming out. Then he spit the tiny marshmallow into his hand.
"Where did this come from?" A question voiced as a statement is hardly recognized as a question, so there was no answer. "It didn't just appear from nowhere."
"Well, Team?" He was big on using words like "team" except when publicly honoring an accomplishment, in which case congratulations often went to an individual. He could monologue for hours on teamwork without letting anyone else contribute to the discussion. It was his own form of synergy.
"Check and see if the face of Jesus is etched on it. Maybe it's a sign," suggested Jensen, a young man who spent most of his time at work on the phone with girls. Adderson proceeded to sear the image of Jesus from Jensen's mind with a stare that obliterated everything but the boy's knowledge of his own stupidity.
"We work for the Merryman Marshmallow Corporation. Marshmallows are everywhere," a gray-haired employee offered nonchalantly.
"Even in my speech, apparently," The Department Head consented before looking at his administrative assistant. "Siobhan, stop taking minutes. This conversation is irrelevant. Have Facilities check the duct work in the building for lost product and then iterate with me before COB. Dismissed."
This ended the staff meeting 45 minutes ahead of schedule. A sweet victory. Eventually, though, in subsequent meetings the department head learned to swallow the covertly launched marshmallows and continue speaking without noticeable interruption.
With the original purpose of shortening staff meetings thwarted, the senior researchers sought new uses for their weapons and it didn't take long to conclude that the guns were perfect for hazing. In fact, prior to purchasing the guns they had frequently commented that several obnoxious coworkers "needed to be shot." Perfect.
Adderson unknowingly confirmed this resolution to haze certain coworkers. It was common for the Department Head to by respond to the blatant flattery from some of these individuals by sending out e-mails lauding the favored employee as "much needed new blood" or "an exciting fresh perspective" or "wonderful, wonderful, wonderful (insert name here)." He would write, "Young Jensen is such a wonderful, wonderful, hard worker who is full of innovation and initiative. I have no doubt that he will impactfully respond to my leadership and champion the cause of creating better ROI for the corporation through the development of the fluffiest marshmallow on the market!" Something had to be done. Anything with more than one "wonderful" was too much. In fact, wonderful should always be onederful.