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Short Story Sunday {Week 2}

Welcome back to Short Story Sunday! If you would like to read all of it, it is under the cut.

The Project to Save Us All
The sun shined bright across the
city with the hustle and bustle of the morning commute in full swing. Buildings
sparkled in the early spring sun, their windows clearly reflecting the streets
and building around them, as well as the clear river below. The buildings
reached toward the sky like fingers resting on a hand. In this case, the hand
was a hill, on top of which resided the city of Hollybrook, bordered by a river
on two sides.
Well, for now it was Hollybrook.

The first official meeting of Mayor Bradshaw’s Monday morning began. The first item on the agenda:
“Name change of the City of Hollybrook,” the secretary droned before sitting back down at her place behind the mayor.
The officials promptly turned their attention to the mayor, forgetting the secretary’s existence until she called the next item on the agenda. “Too many opportunities pass us because of the name of our city!” Mayor Bradshaw decreed. “Hollybrook sounds like a small town, one with meadows and flower crowns.” His emphasis indicated his feelings about those words – inappropriate. “No, we need something bigger and better. It will drive our commerce and make us a key player in American business. New York and Washington won’t be able to ignore us then.”
From the far end of the rectangular conference table came a voice. “But sir, we already are a key player,” the soft, light voice pointed out.
Mayor Bradshaw narrowed his bushy eyebrows down in that direction at the opposite end of the room. He stood, emphasizing his physically imposing size. At almost 6’5” with matching broad shoulders, a full chest, and stomach, at any given time he was the largest man in the room. Add the fact that at most points he smoked cigars, like right now, and no wonder that most chose “imposing” to describe him. “Who said that?” he demanded. “Stand up.”
None at the table shot understanding or pitying glances to the young man who stood up. Everyone knew this was a brutal business; no one wanted to be associated with the new guy’s failure. He trembled a little as he rose – with a small nose and wide eyes, short dark hair, and a small body; the mayor was at least double his size. “I did, sir,” he admitted softly.
“Name.” Not a question.
Trembling, he gave his answer. “Francis.”
The Major reached for his cigar, removing it from his mouth to release a few smoke puffs. A successful intimidation technique, Francis admitted. “Francis, I’m not looking for any help or friendly suggestions,” Mayor Bradshaw’s voice rose higher for emphasis. The others at the table snickered, not bothering to hide it, except for one, whose face was a rock. “Here we have men looking out for what’s best for to-be-renamed Hollybrook. Clearly, you are not one of them.”
Francis swallowed visibly. His chin trembled slightly.
Without looking back at him, Mayor Bradshaw sat back down at the table in his seat of honor and control. He turned back to the matter at hand. “New name. I’m thinking Shaw Port. Full name: City of Shaw Port.”
The quick murmur of approval told Francis of his dismissal. He immediately grabbed his materials and moved to leave the room. On his way out, the stone-faced man stopped him.
Director of Special Projects Gregory Grace grabbed him by the arm, his grip firm and impossible to break out of. “We meet with the mayor in two hours to discuss the Projects. Do not embarrass me then as you did now, or else you will find yourself out of a job. You know what that means?” he hissed, trying to keep their conversation out of the others’ ears.
“I could be a subject of the Study.” Francis knew the answer ahead of time, but whispering out loud make it real to him. He suppressed a shudder as he felt his stomach drop.
The ice in Director Grace’s eyes told Francis that his anger potentially held a worse punishment than Mayor Bradshaw could give. But Francis knew that. He knew what the Study did. He nodded swiftly before hurrying out of the room.
Two hours to prepare himself. Two hours to save himself. Was it possible?
A part of him feared – no, knew – that it wasn’t.
Recovering from a catastrophe like this was nearly impossible, namely because Francis lacked the cultural knowledge to prevent it from happening in the first place. How, then, could he fix it?
He hurried through the maze of crisp, sterile hallways of the City Hall. The back wing of the building stayed free of citizens looking for help and favors because of the security checkpoint at the public part of the building, and Francis silently thanked whoever made that decision. Except it probably was Bradshaw, he thought bitterly.
His jaw clenched as his thoughts jumped to the upcoming meeting. A glance to his watch made him hasten his step – an hour and forty-five minutes left.
Turning the corner to the Special Projects Wing, Francis paused to flash his ID at the two burly security guards stationed at the entrance. They nodded and opened the doors for him, and he flew through, heading directly to his tiny office.
He went straight to the locked drawer in his desk and unlocked it, revealing twenty or so unlabeled files, all of them the same thickness and color. But Francis knew what he was looking for, and, without pausing to consider which one, he deftly drew out an inconspicuous file.
Flipping it open, he breathed a sigh of relief. “Here it is,” he muttered to himself. “The project that will save me with Bradshaw and Grace.”
He slammed the drawer closed, and checked that it locked, with one hand while his eyes remained on the contents of the folder.
“Project H,” he muttered. “The Project that will save us all.”
***
What do you think? Will Francis survive his meeting? And what is Project H?
Kate



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