Note: This started as a collab between Traxer/Geo and myself, but I recently got permission to continue it solo. The first few parts I'll be posting were co-written.
Trent’s pen jammed. He lifted his hand from the sign-in sheet and shook it three times before finishing his signature.
“Thank you.” The secretary smiled. She took the clipboard and tucked it into a drawer. “I’ll let the editor know you’re here. Please take a seat.”
Trent sat down in an ergonomically rigid chair against the wall of the reception area. His throat was dry. At least this time he was the only person with an interview. Trent hated when he had to wait alongside other job applicants. The awkward silence and stares of intimidation mixed with desperation were never helpful. He slipped his pen back into the breast pocket of his dress shirt. It rested alongside two others that were covering up a stubborn spaghetti stain. Trent’s fingers drummed nervously against the manila folder containing his resume and writing samples.
Five minutes ticked by like five hours until the secretary cleared her throat. “You can go in now.”
Trent nodded weakly. He stumbled getting out of the chair and almost tripped over a coffee table. The editor’s office was spacious and had a very utilitarian feel. Filing cabinets lined three of the walls, each marked with an alphabetical label and a numerical code. Behind a long, mahogany desk hung numerous framed newspaper clippings, degrees, and photos. The thick-bodied editor sat in a large leather armchair, watching Trent expectantly.
“Hi.” Trent said weakly.
The editor indicated a small seat across from him. Trent sat down. The editor cleared his throat but said nothing. Instead he opened a drawer and withdrew Trent’s job application packet and resume. More silence. Trent did his best not to fidget.
“So,” the editor finally began, “you graduated three months ago?”
“Yes.” Trent breathed eagerly. “My majors are in journalism and professional writing.”
“I can see that here. I can also see the sample article you submitted with your application.” The editor flipped to the final two pages in the packet and read the title, “Crème Lobby Throws Pies”. It’s a good article, engaging, but the material is somewhat...” he made an odd waving gesture. “Do you have any other samples that are more... hard-hitting?”
“Oh! Yes! Yes I do!” Trent began fishing through his portfolio. “Last year I wrote “Garbage-Workers Smell of Success” and a month ago I did Apples vs. Oranges: Family Feuds of Fruit Vendors for practice.” He handed the pages over and waited hopefully while the editor read them over.
The editor scratched his forehead. “Well, the writing is still good, but these aren’t what I had in mind. We’re looking for someone with a more solid, realist angle to their articles. This human interest stuff,” he indicated the portfolio pieces, “only goes so far. Have you written anything political? Covered a police blotter? Any financial scandals at your school?”
Trent’s hopeful look fell. “No, sir,” he admitted, “I tended to avoid writing about that stuff. It was really depressing.”
“I can understand that sentiment,” The editor sighed, “but journalism is about reality, and the world isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. We already have three human interest columnists. They’ve been with us for over ten, thirteen, and seven years respectively, but if something comes up I’ll keep you in mind.”
It was the politest rejection Trent had received so far. “Thank you.” He said as graciously as he could while retrieving his portfolio.
The bus ride back to his apartment was mercifully short. The cosmos gave a further kindness by keeping the landlord in the boiler room—if the shouts and metallic clatters echoing through the main floor were an indication. Trent didn’t need a reminder that his rent was due in a week. The date was circled in red on his calendar along with the crosses that marked off a series of job interviews; the latest and last of which he had just returned from. With his emergency fund dry and no prospect of a roommate or employment, Trent was looking at having to decide between rent and food.
He kicked off his shoes and sat down at the creaky kitchen table, tossing his portfolio next to the crumb-laden plate that held his earlier breakfast. The morning’s newspaper was still sprawled open from where he had left it. Trent took out his pen and began the routine of crossing potential job openings in the classifieds. He was going to miss food.
The pen jammed.
Trent growled and shook the pen. He heard a crack. He opened his hand. Black ink dripped across his fingers.
A few drops spilled onto the newspaper. He dropped the pen, scattering more ink drops across the paper and onto the front of his shirt. He cursed. Trent stood and walked to the sink. He started the water and pumped at the soap dispenser. Empty. Typical. And the ink was still dripping from his fingers. Trent placed it under the water and tried to wipe off the ink to no avail. He turned off the faucet. In fact, there appeared to be more ink on his fingers. That was...
This thought was interrupted by the sound of rustling newspaper.
He turned to see a raccoon sitting on his table.
No, not a raccoon.
Well, yes, a raccoon in some sense of the word, but "raccoon" did not seem to encompass what Trent was seeing. For one, it was not a flesh and fur raccoon, but a drawn proxy of what an artist with cartoonist talent would consider a raccoon, still wet on the page. Or wet off the page. The ringed tail, the mask, the paws, all had the gleam of being fresh inked. In fact, the raccoon seemed to be blowing on one of his paws to dry himself.