What if you made the worst mistake of your life and got the chance to fix it? Only you made it so much worse? From the incomparable crafter of nine cross-genre works of fiction, Lisa de Nikolits expands her horizons to pen a grab- you-by-the-throat, feminist speculative-fiction thriller in the style of Groundhog Day meets The Matrix.
The perfect father kills his family on Christmas Eve, and tries to undo his actions by jumping back in time. The result is murder and mayhem in dystopia. Set in 2055, the world is run by robots and virtual data, while the weather is controlled by satellite dishes. Arts and culture are no more than distant memories. People are angry, placated by prescribed visits to rage rooms to vent their boredom, fury, and discontent. Beneath the sunny skies and behind the garbage-free suburban McMansions live deeply disturbed, materialistic families.
During his time travels and increasingly desperate attempts to reserve his colossal mistake, Sharps Barkley meets the leader of the Eden Collective, a feminist army determined to save the Earth by removing all artificial intelligence and letting the Earth restore itself—if necessary, at the expense of mankind. The Eden Collective uses data gathered from the rage rooms to analyze and predict the potential and actions needed for the Earth to reset and they need to prove that time travel is an effective tool. If Sharps can go back and save his children, then there is hope for the future. Sharps is the 49th experiment and his success is pivotal. Can love prevail over anger?
“In her latest captivating book, Lisa de Nikolits proffers not only a roller coaster of entertainment, but also, sharp political commentary in complicated times. The Rage Room is an intricately woven dystopian world, rich in strong female characters who easily whisk readers to a world of futuristic follies. Move over George Orwell—De Nikolits shows us how the future can be scary, exciting, and above all, female.”
—Kelly S. Thompson, national bestselling author of Girls Need Not Apply: Field Notes from the Forces
“Wow, what a ride! Lisa de Nikolits has written a pulse-pounding thriller set in a troubled future that might just be ours. We see the seeds of The Rage Room in our own digital landscape. Mind-bending yet all too believable in the hands of a masterful storyteller.”
—Terry Fallis, two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour
“If dystopian speculative fiction is your thing, with the enticement of time travel, you won’t go wrong with The Rage Room. The world de Nikolits has built is utterly fascinating, and quite horrific, yet believable. I sympathized with the main character, even though he is flawed, but that makes the story even more interesting. What a ride! The plot ratchets up like a train speeding down the tracks out of control. Gripping tension, and at the same time, highly complex, with multiple time travel redos and memories overlapping. I found that fascinating. I was absolutely riveted, and pleased to see that it ends with the hint of more books to come.”
—Melodie Campbell, award-winning author of The Goddaughter series
“We’ve all wanted to go back to the past to fix the future – but Sharps has messed things up so much in his own high- tech future-world that he has to do it. Lisa de Nikolits takes us – and him – on a wild, high-octane ride into other times and places so bizarre, blighted, funny and wise that they just might seem chillingly familiar. She turns time travel on its proverbial ear and you won’t want to get out of the passenger seat until the last page.”
—Catherine Dunphy, author of Morgentaler, A Difficult Hero
“Why would one go back in time? To make things right, of course. But every time Sharps visits his past, things change in ways he can’t control, and he keeps changing from a worrier to a warrior. I loved all the witty characters, and original, daring twists in this genuine reality fiction beyond imagination!”
—Suzana Tratnik, author of Games with Greta
“Leave it to the wild imagination of Lisa De Nikolits to bring us the dystopian future of The Rage Room, an extraordinarily inventive speculative fiction thriller with a decidedly feminist bent. Fast-paced, funny, bold, and completely engrossing, The Rage Room is an allegory, a cautionary tale, and a rollicking good read that will stay with you long after the last page has been turned.”
—Amy Jones, author of We’re All in This Together and Every Little Piece of Me
I couldn’t live like this. And I couldn’t let my children live like this either. There was only one solution. I had to go back and kill them. I’d never been so certain of anything in my life. I held my wrist out. The gates opened and through I went.
But when I opened my eyes, I wasn’t in my house. I was in the rage room. I smelled of asphalt and diesel. I held a hammer and I was poised, mid swing.
This was all wrong. I was supposed to be back in my house, back in the clean world where I’d be in control. What was going on?
And then it all came back to me.
BOOK ONE: TO THE MELTDOWN
1. The Rage Room
I don’t know what year it is. We aren’t allowed to know and really, I couldn’t care less. I’m in my safe place, the rage room, focussed on doing what I do best, breaking things.
Thwack. I bring the baseball bat down on what’s left of a kiddies wagon. The room is full of wagons, broken toys, junk furniture and discarded office equipment, garbage, all of it. The auto voice made her usual announcement as I entered the room: Screen-based materials are forbidden in the rage room. Glass cannot be utilized or destroyed in the rage room. We always consider your safety first! Because we care about you! All in accordance with Docket102.V, Health and Safety Code 0009: By Order of The Sacred Board, Gloria In Excelsis Deo. Yeah man, I know all the rules. And here’s what I think of your rules.
I attack the wagon again and the cheerful pink plastic replies with a slight ‘ugh’ as if asking me if that was the best I could do but it doesn’t give. I come down harder and score a crack that mocks my feeble efforts. Story of my life.
My soundtrack is on maxed. O Fortuna, Carmina Burana on repeat, volume pumped. Sometimes it’s War, by The Cult or You Lied by Tool or, incongruously, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with a disco twist and added bass for power. Rage Against The Machine is a good one too. Thud, thud, thud, yeah. I choose my soundtrack and I like vintage, none of that auto-robo music for me.
Thinking about music choices makes me think about life choices or the lack thereof, and my wife’s beauty badge, previously known as her profile pic, flashes unbidden across my crystal path. Celeste. She looks angelic, like Farrah Fawcett in the days of Charlie’s Angels, only hundred pounds heavier, with two chipmunk teeth perching on the lower lip of her overbite. Celeste had ordered those teeth, paid premium to get her primaries longer than anyone else’s. She thought it made her sexy.
I raise the bat higher and split the wretched wagon in two. Sweetie, honey, baby, sugar. Thwack. Was it possible for the woman to utter anything without coating it with saccharine, glucose and fructose and then deep-frying it like an Oreo at fun fair? Celeste had fried my brain alright. So why did I marry her?
Thwack. Because she offered me everything I wanted, the sum of which boiled down to one thing. I wanted to be normal. I wanted to be The King of Normal. And Celeste’s marrying me was the act of a desperate addict trying to set her life straight, topped up with a deep-seated desire to please her father, Daddy.
I thrash at an impervious lime green keyboard, finally picking it up and slamming it against a workbench. I’m grunting as if I’m up against a heavyweight champion of the world and my thin white protective plastic suit rips off like old wallpaper. But it’s not all my fault, the suit was torn when I got into it. That’s the government for you, step into this used piece of shit, so what if it’s slick with the sweat of some other angry dude who came before you, the rules say you have to wear it, Docket809.V, Health and Safety Code 0009.12: By Order of The Sacred Board, Gloria In Excelsis Deo. The rules should say you each get a fresh new suit but that would cost too much money.
We look like giant Easter bunnies, hopping insanely behind one-way mirrors, covered from head to toe in white disposable Tyvek coverall suits with elastic wrists, booties and hoodie. All we need are big floppy ears and little bobbing white pompom tails. Hop, hop, hop in a plastic room and break plastic shit to make yourself feel better for a tiny piece of your stupid, meaningless life.
I’m a clean freak and I like my life to be scrubbed and tidy which makes the rage rooms an anomaly to be my safe place but I’m an anger addict, giving into chaos at the drop of a hammer. And the hammer drops a lot in my life which I’ve come to accept but what I can’t accept is that the white suits still disgust me. They’re damp when you pull them on and it’s like trying to wriggle into someone else’s just-discarded swimsuit. I also hate the smeared and greasy goggles with scratches like some kid used them for skateboarding, which is still a thing.
I’ve offered more than once to buy my own equipment but it’s against regulations. It’s also against the rules to self-harm in a rage room but more than one person has tried to commit suicide. I imagined them rushing in, falling to their knees and hacking their veins open, wanting to die in a thick red sea of gushing blood while their fave hate song drums out the dying pulse of their lives. Trust me, I’ve thought about trying too. It’d be a fitting place for me to meet my end but the person behind the window watches just enough to not let that happen.
Sometimes I yell profanities at the blacked-out glass window but I’m sure whoever’s watching is so used to witnessing the pointless destruction that they don’t even bother to look or listen most of the time.
I smash on, chasing release and finding none. Then the music stops, just like that and a cop-car siren sounds. Whoop, whoop, whoop! Red lights flash across the room. Green lights signal go, red for when your time is up.
I’m out of time but release was denied. Shit. I pulled my face gear off, hearing only my frustrated breath. My face is dented from the goggles and I run my fingers along the ridges and bumps. A guy opened the door and dragged in a trash can. He ignored me and I just stood there. I wasn’t ready to leave but my time was up. The siren sounded again, whoop, whoop, whoop, and still, I stood there, goggles in hand, looking at the useless crap I had broken.
Another guy came, in a big fella. “Buddy,” he said, “you know the rules. You gotta go. Come on now.”
I turned to him and I couldn’t help myself, tears spilled down my face and I heard myself sobbing and he said “oh crapola, we got ourselves a wet one,” and he left. The guy behind me carried on cleaning. I had nowhere to go so I just stood there, crying.
The big guy came back and handed me a roll of paper towel. I tore off three sheets, blew my nose and handed the roll back to him.
“A bunch of us are going for a drink,” he said. “You wanna come? You need a drink. Come on.”
I thought about Celeste, waiting at home and I thought about my baby boy, Baxter. I thought about the carpet that needed vacuuming because the robovacs never got into the corners and how Bax wasn’t eating properly and how Celeste wouldn’t listen to me when I panicked about his nutrients. I needed my boy to eat properly and no one cared but me.
“But honey,” Celeste smiled, “we’ve got science, you know that. Science takes care of us. Minnie’s got everything under control. It’s not like the old days. We don’t have to worry anymore.” She was right. It wasn’t like back in the early 21st century when the news was filled with illness, devastation, human loss and natural disaster. It was, however, thanks to the pervasive fears of that time, of illness, aging and dying, that politicians had secretly funnelled billions from the taxpayer’s pockets into the science labs, and the results, once uncovered, were astounding. The powers-that-be knew they were killing the world by denying the existence of global warming and they’d collectively and secretly developed labs to create food and fuel, motivated not by altruism but because none of them wanted starve or die in a flood or drought or fire or get taken out by the newest raging disease, caused by alpacas or bearded dragons or, in the most deadly of cases, the family cat. Scientists had developed surgeries and scientific solutions for any manner of ailment or disease and Minnie, the Supreme World Leader, and her Sacred Board of Directors, shared this wealth of knowledge with the world.
So Celeste was right. Bax would be fine.
I was exhausted. All I wanted to do was lie down on the floor and carry on crying. Yes, the carpet at home needed cleaning and yes, I was worried about Bax not getting enough protein but, weighing on me more heavily than anything, was the fact that my paternity leave was over.
I was due back at work the next day, the thought of which ripped through my gut like a tumbling drum of sharp nails and broken glass, all sloshing around in an icy pit of poisoned, oily water.
So I mopped up my face and figured it would be best to follow this guy to a bar and pull myself together before I went home. I couldn’t let Celeste see me like this. She thought I was Mr. Strong and Steadfast, solid as a rock and I couldn’t let her know any different.
But I realized I needed help, so I flashed a comm to my best friend, Jazza. Need to see ya, buddy. Follow my cp. I wondered if Jazza would even respond, given that I’d sorely neglected him since I ran out the building into the waiting arms of my pat leave.
My cp. My Crystal Path. By logging in, Jazza could access my bio-hard drive, the neural implant microchip embedded in my brain. We all had them. Every interaction from my, and everyone else’s Crystal Path, moved across The Crystal Lattice which was like a large invisible digital spider’s web around the Earth, connecting all the satellites and all of us. Even the weather was satellite controlled and every strand of the information was part of the Crystal Lattice.
We were studded with implants shortly after Minnie came into power. Of course, she said it was optional but after she assumed control of the Internet, how else were we to communicate? She dominated the service providers and instated regulations that didn’t let anyone else provide access. So really, what choice did we have? In my opinion, Bax was far too young for implants, he was only a year old which didn’t stop some parents hooking their newborns up, to monitor them in their cribs, watch them at childcare, at preschool and in the playgrounds. It was important to keep an eye on the nannies, don’t you know, and make sure that the robo-carers and humans were doing a good job and not subjecting their beloved offspring to any horrifying abuse or disturbing discipline. More expensive software developments allowed parents to access the kiddies bio-stats to make sure heart rates, blood sugars and serotonin levels were all where they should be. The Crystal Path wasn’t exactly pure, it had its own form of the Dark Web just like the old days and, despite my body being riddled with every manner of software that I could get my hands on, I wasn’t sure I wanted Bax to have access to any of it. And yet, the creation of those implants were the very thing that gave me, and thousands of others, jobs.
The Crystal Path was like a map of screens that could viewed at any time, all jam-packed with data and information that we could switch on or off, supposedly curated by ourselves, we were supposedly the editors of our own content. What a joke that was. We were pawns while big business moved the pieces of our lives around the playing field.
When I went on pat leave, I shut Jazza out of my cp. You could do that, control who had access to what. Previously, Jazza had permissions to my path that Celeste didn’t even know existed. I just hoped Jazza would hear my cry for help. God knew the guy owed me nothing considering how I’d dumped him when Bax was born.
I nodded at the rage room attendant.
“Yeah. I’ll come for a drink.” I ripped my suit off, a petty act of childish fury that felt so good at the time but later, felt shameful. That was me to a T – equal parts fear, guilt, shame and anger. The guy didn’t say anything as I followed him. He had a man bun. Talk about retro. Why was I even following a guy with hair like that? But I went out to the parking lot and got behind the wheel of my solar-powered station bubble, an Integratron company car, courtesy of Celeste’s father. The inside was full of yielding soft curves and cushions that molded to my body. The round rolling ball of the car’s exterior looked like just glass but it was it was plastic, shatterproof polymethyl methacrylate to be exact, with a sunshiny yellow interior. Our car interiors came in a variety of colours – sky blue, fire engine red or bubblegum Juicy Fruit pink. Pink was the most popular. The cars were cheerful, happy creatures, with scads more room than one might think, and they rolled along like soap-bubble spheres. My cp connected me to the car’s displays and controls and I could choose to drive the car or not. I always chose to drive. The cars were utterly silent and they were soundproof and it felt odd, rolling along a busy suburban street or highway, and seeing other bubbles filled with reclining people who looked like they were talking to themselves, leaning back in their colourful chairs and controlling the cars with their thoughts. There were no steering wheels or dashboards, just the flashview that connected the driver to the car via their cps.
I sniffed my pits. I was annoyed with myself for skipping the post-session cleansing shower booth and my clothes had a rank, sweaty plastic smell. I’d have to do a washdown with wipes so Bax wouldn’t smell me like this. I couldn’t let my little guy smell the fear on me. I had to get a grip.
2. In The Dive Bar with Jazza
I followed Man Bun to a dive bar. He’d introduced himself as Norman. My heart did an arrhythmia dance in my chest as I drove and I called my vitals up on my flashview. Heart-rate, blood pressure, all good. When I pulled up in the parking lot, I looked around. Where was Jazza? I’d thought I’d see him waiting for me. Jazza. He had been my best friend. He interned with me during initiation and we’d been together through thick and thin, all the highs and lows of our careers. I guess that when I left for pat leave, I’d misguidedly hoped it was a case of so long and see you never when it came to the corporate world because I shot out of Jazza’s life like a bat out of hell. And now, here I was, needing him more than ever.
I followed Norman into the bar and studied the drinks menu that flashed like a ticker tape in a fast blur but I was really thinking about how Jazza and I had met.
I graduated from the Global International University with a Ph.D., in Optimal Communications and Life Branding, a master’s in Flexibility Optics and Mass Persuasion and a bunch of other related psych and media relation majors. Yeah, right? What the hell did any of that even mean?
University graduates got to audition at the three top branding companies, and I’d rated pretty poorly on the first two outings. Then, on the third, we were given partners to speed up the process and thank god for that.
I realized, the second he opened his mouth, that Jazza was a genius. His brain was filled with ideas the
likes of which I’d never even get close to, glimpses that I was only permitted to spot by using the Drive-thru in Jazza’s brain, the lane he opened to me and only me. Brought together by happenstance, we stuck to one another, bonded by the desperate need to survive. We got hired by Integratron, my last kick at the can but admittedly, the biggest prize. Integatron was a giant corporation linked to other global giants, tied to mass manufacturers around the world. Our job was to come up with innovative products, launches, dances and clothing, basically any and every manner of tiny, stupid fascinating things that obsessed people and gave their dreary, hopeless lives meaning.
Jazza and I made a great team. While I didn’t have as much confidence in myself or my ideas, Jazza was an chronic Asperger boy with shameful secrets which meant he could never leave me. But he didn’t want to leave me because I was the cool guy in his eyes and, more importantly, I was the sales guy. I was the guy who could sell sand to an Arab, water to a drowning man, a pork chop to a vegetarian, haha you get it. When I was in pusher mode, I was unstoppable.
Norman shook me from the shadows of memory lane and asked me what I wanted to drink. “Raspberry hops, protein infusion, no alcohol,” I said and Norman groaned. I called up my flashview and messaged Jazza again, where are u? Would he even reply? I could see he’d accepted and read my message and I waited for the tiny speech bubble to appear to show me that he was typing a reply. There was nothing. Shit. But then, close, came the reply. I could breathe again. “Hi, I’m Knox,” Norman’s friend introduced himself. He was an over-friendly, in your face type of guy, vintage hipster to the bone, skinny, with a beach-ball beer belly and toothpick legs in tight ripped jeans.
For some reason, I wanted to punch the shit out of him. But hey, that was just me. The whole world annoyed the shit out of me to the point where my mother had banned me from even using the word ‘annoyed’ or any variation thereof. Which didn’t stop me from breaking shit and thinking about how annoying pretty much all of life was.
“Kiddie fruity smoothie for my buddy here,” Knox called out the to bartender, breaking my thoughts, and I caught sight of my reflection in the mirror and felt marginally cheered. Thank God I had this handy mask to hide behind. People saw a handsome, reassuring man, with a cleft in my chin and a strong jaw that belied the reality. A thick head of hair, model good looks and deep dimples that made it look like I was smiling even when I wasn’t. A trustworthy face. The face of a strong man. What a joke. Inside I was like Jello, afraid all the time, afraid of everything and yet also, so damn angry with it.
Celeste loved my dimples. And the cleft in my chin. “So manly,” she crooned, stroking my face like I was one of her FluffSqueaks. Since when did dents on one’s face make you manly? But I smiled back at her and said encouragingly reciprocal things because that’s what love was, right?
Knox and Norman were talking about hockey. I perked up. Sports were bigger than ever, we loved watching the steroid gladiators getting out there and pushing their bodies to insane limits. They were everything we’d never be. I tried to join the conversation but Knox was like a shadow boxer, dancing to keep me out.
I was saved by the arrival of Jazza. I knew he had arrived because the mood in the bar changed. A hush fell and there was a sense of freak show wonder in the air. Jazza was a man unto himself. A six-foot-seven giant with a craggy face of folds and ridges that only a mother could love. Except that Jazza’s mother didn’t love him, she had vanished to live among the Blowflies and she left him to make his way through the various levels of state-funded care.
The Blowflies were the less fortunate economic sector who had been shuttled into the highrise condos built in the boom of the early 21st century. The rental wars had reached the point where no one could afford to save up for a mortgage, kids never left home and the condos stood largely empty, save for overseas investors. And when those investors left, driven out by economic and viral disasters, the governments figured why not shunt the lesser-fortunate into the vacant skyscrapers because, among other things, it would make them easier to manage. Affordable housing solutions at last! cried the politicians, and thus, the inner cities of BlowflyLand were globally born and that caste kept to themselves in their tall glass castles. Admittedly the world population had dropped like a stone, thanks to all the diseases that flared up and wiped out millions. Way back in 2020, the world population was nearly eight billion. Eight billion, with daily births doubling those of deaths. Too many people! After the dust settled and we’d returned to a sensible and manageable two billion, the question was asked whether the rabid diseases had been biological warfare let loose to rein things back under control, orchestrated by Minnie’s predecessors but nothing was ever proven.
If you asked me, the Blowflies had it good. Food trucks kept them stocked with solid if unexciting fare, they had Welfare Streaming Channels twenty-four-seven, drugs kept them blissful and tame, and they even had schools for their kids. They were guarded by Welfare Ambassadors, aka security guards and it didn’t make sense to put the Blowflies to work since robots did a much better job than they did.
They’d been dubbed the Blowflies by some low-grade journalist and the name stuck.
I only knew about Jazza’s mother’s defection to the Blowflies by careful sleuthing. Jazza never talked about her and I reached a dead end without learning too much at all. I wondered if Jazza had ever tried to find her but if he had, he kept it a secret.
Genius Jazza was full of secrets. For one, he liked wearing women’s underwear. Big sheer granny panties, 1950’s style, sheer and gauzy, with ruffled chiffon edging. And he had bras to match. I’d seen his stash, along with peach-coloured feather boas, cashmere sweaters and fluffy angora scarves with soft fringes.
I often saw the line of a bra strap under his shirt and I once saw the top of his frilly panties riding above his jeans. I didn’t say anything then because I didn’t want him to know I knew but seriously, I couldn’t let him near my Bax, are you kidding me? And I knew it hurt his feelings but the man was an aberration even if he was my best friend. Separate the issues, work was work, he was my friend, but my kid was untouchable. Which was why I ditched him. That and the fact that I really had thought I was escaping the workplace forever and that I’d never have to go back to Integratron.
“Sharps?” Jazza showed up at my side, parting the sea of people at the bar. He sounded understandably confused at being summoned and he also didn’t exactly sound warm and friendly. I guess he thought I could have visited him during my year off but there wasn’t only the feather boa women’s underwear thing, there were his animals.
Jazza was a fiend for illegal real live fur babies. Genetically-modified squirrels, sheep-like woolly cats, multi-coloured guinea pigs and even a weasel. His apartment was filled with creatures, all of them scampering around and shitting everywhere. The place was a germophobe’s nightmare, a fecal shit-fest of gargantuan proportions and Jazza himself was a walking cloud of bacteria and fungi. I literally Lysoled myself when I got home from his apartment after my first visit. After that, I insisted we hang out at my apartment and, once I got married, we hardly saw each other outside of work.
So yeah, I acknowledged that Jazza’s feelings had been hurt when I excluded him from my perfect family life, but what else could I have done?
And now, a year later, he looked much the same, but he wasn’t exactly enthused to see me. I thought about opening with an apology for neglecting him but the whole thing was a can of rotting worms better left untouched.
“Yeah man, thanks for coming!” I leapt off my bar stool and hugged him, startling him by my spontaneous affection. My head rested on his big barrel chest and he patted my head awkwardly. “So good to see you!” I grinned. Knox and Norman were chatting up the bartender, a blonde girl, oblivious to me.
“You want a drink?” I asked Jazza and he shook his head. “I’ll get some food,” he said.
“Starved. I’ll get us a bunch of stuff. Go sit over there.”
He pointed at a booth in the corner and I obediently did what he said. How was I going to explain my panicked flash comm? My out-of-character summoning?
He settled himself into the booth and leaned back, arms folded across his chest. “They’ll bring food. So buddy, you worried about coming back tomorrow?”
“Yes!” I practically shouted at him and he looked startled. Thank you, Jazza, for giving me an out. Because it was that but it wasn’t, it was everything. I was drowning. My life was suffocating me and it was all of that and more.
“Everything all look the same?” I asked and he nodded.
Integratron, our hallowed place of toil and grind was a sci-fi Legoland, a sprawling estate housing hundreds of primary-coloured, dome-shaped bungalows made of interlocking durable plastic shiny blocks. The domes, or Sheds, spiralled out from the base of a two-hundred-story, four acre, pink and blue skyscraper, Sky The Tower. And it was all plastic, which was par for the course. We had polybutylene terephthalate for cars, polyethylene terephthalate for clothing, good old Teflon polytetrafluoroethylene for pots, pans and cookware, soft polyurethane for foams and sponges, strong bodied polycarbonates for appliances while acrylonitrile styrene acrylate bricks replaced cinder blocks, and we even polylactide for medical implants. Fluffy, furry, velvety or glasslike, there was a plastic for everything. Jazza and I had, out of curiosity, done the intel.
Lower echelons worked in the Sheds, while movers and shakers took up space in Sky The Tower. The Tower was cylindrical with an open centre at the core, allowing light to flow into the offices and each pair of worker bees had their own cell in the hive. No more open plan, no more shared space. It had been proven that people, like bears, needed private caves in which to think, hibernate and create.
The dome-shaped Sheds, the ornamental Art Deco entrance façade to Sky The Tower and the giant animal statues dotting the fake green lawns were intended to infuse the workers with a sense of childlike joy but they failed miserably. The inmates were fearful desk sloggers who did the minimum and escaped like scurrying mice as soon as the schoolbell rang.
“There are more Sheds,” Jazza said. “And there’s a waterfall and atrium in the main foyer. Lots of Monarch butterflies. I find them creepy.” The butterflies weren’t real, of course, neither were any plants in the atrium.
“Ah.” I said and we were at a loss for a moment, silent.
“I guess we’ll have to come up with a new campaign,” I finally said. “Unless you came up with something amazing while I was gone.”
But I knew he hadn’t because our boss and my father-in-law, Mr. Williamson, known to me as Daddy, would have told me.
He shook his head. Jazza wasn’t being exactly welcoming and I needed to bring him on side. And what better than a little self-flagellation, the revisiting of Jazza’s successes and a spotlight on my failures?
“Best I don’t screw up again like I did with the MdoggHotBody campaign,” I said mournfully and I saw Jazza’s craggy face soften. He unfolded his arms and leaned forward. “You gotta stop beating yourself up with that, buddy. Old news.” He waved his hands around just as the waitress arrived and he nearly knocked the food off the tray. Enough food to feed the bar. And it nearly landed on the floor.
“Sheee-it!” Jazza dived and saved the tray, coming up grinning. “Sorry!”
The waitress tried to avert her gaze from Jazza’s misshapen face and rushed off. I felt badly for the way Jazza was treated in public but he didn’t seem to register the waitress’s disgust and he attacked his food with glee. He’d suffered from acromegaly as a child, his welfare family not having taken care of him as they should have and the lingering gigantism was evident in his features.
“Seriously, buddy,” he said, his mouth full of onion rings and cheeseburger, “MdoggHotBody was a mistake, so what?”
So what? I had failed us. I had failed me. I failed Jazza. I failed my unborn son and Mother and Daddy. I’d brought the subject up to give us a bond but in truth, it was never far from my mind. “Easy for you to say, genius boy,” I commented. “You scored 123BlikiWin which was historical.”
He had the grace to nod modestly. “Yeah, well, by the time we got to present our shit, my brain had been working on a bunch of ideas for a while.”
“Man, were we ever hot shit, then!” I said. “Home run, first time out to bat. The Board loved it!”
“Yeah, well you sold it. They wouldn’t have listened to a word from me. I don’t have the visual aesthetics to be a front man. Whereas you, everybody loves you!” He chewed, staring off into space and I knew we were both thinking back to our early days, fifteen years prior.
Excerpt from The Rage Room by Lisa de Nikolits. Copyright 2020 by Lisa de NikI followed Man Bun to a diveolits. Reproduced with permission from Lisa de Nikolits. All rights reserved.
Originally from South Africa, Lisa de Nikolits is an award-winning author whose work has appeared on recommended reading lists for both Open Book Toronto and the 49th Shelf, as well as being chosen as a Chatelaine Editor’s Pick and a Canadian Living Magazine Must Read. She has published nine novels that most recently include: No Fury Like That (published in Italian under the title Una furia dell’altro mondo); Rotten Peaches and The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist’s Solution. Lisa lives and writes in Toronto and is a member of the Sisters in Crime, Toronto Chapter; Sisters in Crime; Mesdames of Mayhem; and The International Thriller Writers.