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by Deryk 

Posted: 04 December 2003
Word Count: 2508
Summary: A man wakes up and has the worst day possible in his entire life.

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It had started like any other day. He woke up at 6 AM sharp, and rubbed the sleep out of his weary eyes. He started at the ceiling for an unspecified amount of time, which felt like an eternity. The depression that he was currently steeped in was common to most mornings, except a precious few, where he had not had a hangover that morning, though it was usually down to depleted stocks of beer in the fridge.
He was a bit of a slob, and he knew it. He weighed over two hundred and thirty pounds, and his rotund belly stuck out a considerable distance further than his belt. This, like the hangovers, was caused by the beer.
To his left, the electronic alarm trilled its high, deafening, and most infuriating beeping sound. He glanced over at it for as long as it took for his tired eyes to focus on the red LED display. 6:23 - his depression increased, as he now needed to get up, or become late for work, which had happened too often in the past for the liking of his supervising officer, who had threatened to report him to the boss if he was late again this month. He knew this threat was real, as the supervising officer was a 'sad jerk with little interest in his life', and extracted pleasure throughout his miserable working days by making other people suffer.
With considerable effort, he pushed himself upwards so that he sat upright in his bed. The air outside of his bed was reasonably fresh, but a lot cooler. He had forgotten to set the central heating to start an hour earlier. Again.
Things just didn't get better when he pushed his feet outside of the warmth of the bedsheets, as they hit both the cool air and the chest of drawers at the foot of the bed.
It took several minutes for the pain and anger to pass, by which time he was hobbling his way towards the bathroom, with a limp due to his new injury. He reached the bathroom, its air even cooler, as he had left the window open the previous night, and the tiles on the floor were like ice. The pain on his feet multiplied as the extra cold hit them. He had to stuff his hammy fist into his mouth to stifle the yelling. It didn't work, and several dogs outside began barking and nearby birds scattered in alarm.
Twenty minutes later, he was fully dressed and making his way downstairs. The wooden floorboards creaked and groaned with the large weight he presented, the sounds echoing through the darkened living room.
He took several steps into the room, and promptly fell over the small coffee table. Not only that, but he hit it on one of its sharp corners, and both fell over, him one way, the coffee table the other. He stood up again, somewhat more shakily, and proceeded to wade through the mess of the room, doing a surprisingly good job, considering that the room was clothed in darkness. Occassionaly he would put his foot in a discarded pizza box, or knock over a half-empty beer can, but still managed to maintain a steady pace.
He had reached the other side of the room. Triumphantly, he pushed back the curtains, and light flooded into the room. However, this sense of acheivement did not last: out on the driveway, his old Escort had been attacked by a group of vandals. The types were let down, egg stains covered half of the painwork and windows, and the rest was covered in red spraypaint, with the words 'Sadass' and 'Arsehole' clearly visible among the (formerly) blue paintwork and egg stains.
He screamed in anger and frustration. This had to be one of the worst days of his life. Things just didn't get better when he turned around.
The pigsty he had waded through had a certain green quality to it, and was congealing a foul smell. He didn't smell it on the way in; perhaps it had just waited for him to see it all in its full glory before unleashing its terror. "Well," he thought, "Why not - it'd be just like everyone else on this stinking planet."
Ten minutes later he had his winter jacket on, and was running along the streets as fast as he could, the swirling snow and biting wind attacking his feet. 'Heck of a day,' he thought. 'First waking up, now this!'
Ahead, a gang of surly-looking youths stood in a group on the street corner, each with a snowball in their hand. It was then that they noticed him running up the street as fast as he could, his coat billowing in the wind, and smelling strongly of stale drink. They stepped out into the center of the pavement in a line, blocking his path, and each putting a suitably meanacing look on their face.
He stopped just in front of them, and told them breathlessly: "Just stop it! Stop it, alright? I need to get to work, I'm going to be late, and I'm having a bad day already without having your sodding snowballs in my face!"
The expressions on each of the youths' faces darkened considerably. They did not like being told what to do, and there were odds of 5:1, in their favour. They didn't need to listen to this rubbish. Each stepped forward, took aim, and threw their snowballs directly in his face. Then, knowing they had scored an easy victory, they walked triumphantly down the road, leaving him to clear the freezing snow from his face.
He glanced at his watch - 6:57! There was simply no time left for anything but running.
Five minutes later he arrived outside his work, the Nuclear Power Plant, panting uncontrollably and bent double. Considering his condition, and the distance he had just travelled, he might have qualified for an olympic medal. However, today, he would have no such luck, being already two minutes late. He nodded to the security guard, and set off for the staff entrance. As he arrived, he felt the warm, pleasant air of the power plant, and the lovely warm glow of the flourescant tubes above the timecards. Quickly, he picked up his own, Colin Durnham, and put it into the machine. There was a click, and then he removed his card and put it back in the slot.
Turning, he dashed along the long, grey corridors until he reached the steel door marked 'S-12', his station, as he was a supervising technician.
Basically, his job was to check that all of the machines in his section of the plant were up to scratch, and doing their job properly. Also he had to oversee repairs to said machinery and ensure other employees knew how to use the things.
He turned left, and found his desk. Hurriedly, he hung up his coat and pulled out some random papers from the filing cabinet and shoved them roughly onto the desk, to give the appearance of having been at work for a while. However, this plan fell apart almost immediatly, as a voice croaked from behind, "Late again then, are we, Mr. Durnham? I thought I had made my point clear last week, but then, here you are, late again! Well?"
Colin hitched a false smile on his face and spun around. "Mr. Rogers, you know I would never be late again, after that.... mishap... last week. I am quite comfortable with my job, I assure you."
The man called Mr. Rogers stood there, his arms folded, his expression grim. "Yes, but I told you what would happen if you were late again. So, the manager it is, then!"
Mr. Rogers set off at a surprisingly quick pace towards the manager's office. Colin sat in silence. He knew he was in for it this time. His timekeeping record was sure to catch up with him sometime, but he didn't expect it to be this soon. In fact, he was privately hoping that it would never happen. All manner of thoughts flooded into his head, what he was going to do next, getting a new job, moving out of the house, selling the car... The last thought didn't bother him too much, considering the state of the car this morning, but the rest really worried him. He began to sweat, and rocked slowly back and forwards on the chair. So, this was what it felt like to have a nervous breakdown.
A voice sounded on the tannoy. "Mr. Durnham to the manager's office, please," a female voice said pleasantly. He knew there was nothing pleasant about his fate - he would be fired for sure. He stood up, his legs shaking madly, and set off slowly towards the manager's office, each step echoing wildly in his now empty head.
He reached the wooden door with the gold nameplate stuck on the door. With an increased sense of trepidation and foreboding, he pushed open the door. Inside sat a young secretary, typing away madly, her fingers a blur.
"Er.. I was told to see the manager?" he ventured shakily.
"Ah, yes," she replied in a pleasant voice. "Just go through the door to your left, and good luck."
She gave him a small smile and went back to typing furiously.
A bead off sweat ran down his face and into his mouth as he reached for the door. His greasy hand touched the cool metal handle, and then his mind began to fill up again, very fast. What would happen if he was just to turn around and make a dash for it? No, that wouldn't work, that would only delay the inevitable, and make the whole situation worse.
There was nothing left but to get on with it. He took a deep breath, and pushed open the door.
The door closed behind him quietly, a small click confirming it was back into position. Facing him was the manager's office. Had he not been here in such terrible circumstances, he would have been quite pleased to have a look around it.
The decoration in this office was very modern, its light beiges and metallic silvers glinting in the light coming from the window. Clearly this was a manager's office, the bog-standard cubicle the rest of the workforce had was distinctly lacking.
In front of him was a desk, and he saw Mr. Rogers standing there, and the manager himself, seated in a large leather chair.
To get their attention he cleared his throat, the rasping noise ensuring they took notice of him. Both turned around immediatly.
"You wanted to see me, sir?" Colin enquired.
"Ah, yes, Mr. Durnham, Mr. Rogers has been filling me in on your past issues." said the manager. "Please, sit down." He guestured to the empty leather chair.
Colin went over and sank into the chair.
"Mr. Durnham, you know why you are here. I'm a busy man, so let's make this short, okay? Your past records indicate a number of latecomings this month. Therefore, we have come to the conclusion that you are unreliable, and not a valuable asset to our company. Therefore, I must inform you that after the end of this week, you will be leaving this plant. I'm sorry, but there it is. Now, if you'll excuse me..."
Colin left the office quickly, his stomach heavy, his mood low. Just as he had feared. Now what was he going to do? He had no job, any reference he would get from this place would do him no favours, and this had been his source of employment for the last twelve years. Essentially, he was ruined.
He sat down at his desk sadly, and put his face in his hands. This was awful. Surely things could only get better?
It was then he noticed the stream of tears down his face, their warmth providing him with a pleasant sensation, but he wasn't sure his honour and dignity would withstand it. He quickly took a handkerchief from his desk and wiped his face, to get rid of the tears. He had to appear externally strong, he was a man, however internally weak he was.
He made an abortive attempt to resuume his normal work, and began to sift through the stacks of paper on his desk, the safety reports, new legislation, his written warning for being very late on many consecutive occasions, and a vast number of junk letters.
It was then that the siren sounded. A low wailing noise filled the plant, and red warning lights came on. Now he started to panic. The siren was only used in the event of one thing - a meltdown.
Shaking madly, he set off down the corridor that would lead him to safety, away from the reactor core. As he ran, he looked to his left, and saw one of the machines in his designated area sparking madly. His jaw dropped in horror. This was perhaps his fault? While he was at the manager's office, did one of the machines fail?
He stopped running, and instead went over to the sparking machine. Behind him, there was a large fizzing noise and then all of the lights went out, leaving him in total darkness, excluding the blue light cast by the sparks. He continued to walk over to the machine, a new thought running through his head. What if he alone, saved the plant by stopping the machine from causing any damage? Then he could keep his job, and would be a hero. And anyway, it wasn't like he had anything better to do in his increasingly miserable life.
The electricity hummed gently as he made his way across the room. A red warning light flashed twice, and failed too. He stepped over some overturned desks, chairs, and stacks of paperwork that were now lying on the floor.
He reached the machine, and bent down to look at one of the exposed circuit boards. It had two wires leading out of it. Before he could stop himself, he tugged out both wires. The machine began to make a strange sound, like a cat being throttled, but more violent. Then one of the sparks caught him and he knew no more.
* * *
It was all over the news. The explosion in the nuclear reactor had devestated the countryside for miles. But worse than that, radiation had spread over hundreds of miles, to major cities and to large stores of food. Now all the nation could do was wait, while the numbers of cancer patients grew larger every year.
The offical enquiry into the incident had stated that a machine that was under the supervision of a Mr. Durnham suffered a catastrophic failure and caused the entire incident.
No-one knew any more about Colin than that small piece of information, and no-one cared either, and did not know of his gallant sacrifice in a failed attempt to prevent the whole thing.

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Comments by other Members

Nell at 14:44 on 04 December 2003  Report this post
Whew! Well, Deryk, meltdown was certainly an apt title in every respect. When the nuclear power plant was first mentioned, and especially after your description of the central character and his disasters an image of Homer Simpson flashed into my mind. By three quarters of the way through the piece I wasn't sure whether I was supposed to find this funny or tragic, although that could be seen almost as a deliberate device to make the ending even more horrifying than it was.

There are many typos, and I feel also that you've given the reader too much information throughout the piece.

Here's just one example:

'To get their attention he cleared his throat, the rasping noise ensuring they took notice of him. Both turned around immediately.'

The words in italics are superfluous, and I believe that if you went over the piece you'd find many places like this example that would be improved by editing.

Repetitions interrupt the flow - the most obvious is the word 'door' which appears too many times in a short section.

But I think you have something here, although I'm not quite sure what it is - maybe you've invented a new genre of comic tragedy.

Best, Nell.

Dee at 18:46 on 04 December 2003  Report this post
This story has a style which screams 'amateur'.
I'm sorry Deryk. I really am. I'm not usually so negative, and I'm sure - from Nell's comments - that you have a plot which could work, but I stopped reading when your character reached the living room. Presumably he's at home? (if he isn't you should nake that clear) Why is he creeping? Why doesn't he just switch the light on? Why doesn't he know where his own coffee table is?
Perhaps we, on this site, have become conditioned by the consistently high standard of the work posted here. Take note of that. Read as much as you can, compare your story with other work on the site, and your own standard will improve enormously. If you want to make it as a short story writer - and, personally, I feel it is an extremely difficult discipline - stick with us, take all the advice you get, learn your craft and grow.

Good luck,

Richardwest at 20:14 on 08 December 2003  Report this post
Hi Deryk: Sorry I've arrived belatedly at this one: with a title like that -- bearing in mind where I live -- I should've checked it out earlier (in the interests of self preservation if nothing else.)

'Meltdown' is about as imaginative a story concept as one can get. And I like the notion of going from the micro to the macro, the prosaic to the apocalyptic, in one bound. I just wonder about credibility though, because 'Meltdown' really does test it to the full, centred as it is upon an individual who by narrative definition seems to be a junior employee of poor time-keeping skills (and much else, including muscular co-ordination!) yet who is in charge of a principal system-critical function.

If your guy was at the top of the food chain (well, at the site, anyway: the top people are always politicos who take care to live hundreds of miles from the nearest nuclear plant) then the 'bad day' scenario might be more tenable. But even then I think you'd find yourself having to account for a sequential, as well as exponential, error rate a la Three Mile Island and Chernobyl: one guy and one malfunctioning machine are perhaps too little to offer when a reader is being invited to suspend so much in the way of belief.

Anyway. I think you were pretty brave to try this out -- no failure of imagination here! -- and I enjoyed the narrative drive that carried the piece from the mundane to the monstrous at unfailing speed. Like Nell and Dee though, I'm not sure the piece entirely works, this a reflection of the scale of the subject as much as anything else. I look forward to your next piece (meantime, as Groucho said, Armageddon outta here. . .)

Best, Richard

Deryk at 17:38 on 15 December 2003  Report this post
Thanks for the kind words. Yes, in some ways the story is a bit of a maxamilist epic (sorry about my spelling, I'm very tired), I felt it was neccessary for the reader to develop a small emotional attachment to the main character.
Yes, it's full of errors, I've updated the version on SSC (Short Stories Central) to reflect that, it has some errors ommitted.)
Thanks for the comments, keep them coming!

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