The Last Word by Chauncey Haworth

The Last Word

By Chauncey Haworth

~ 1 ~

“I don’t know,” James Pembroke said.

“What do you mean, ‘You don’t know?’” Javed shoved a few chips in his mouth and chewed feverishly.

Their group was having lunch in the small, crowded cafeteria at Merry Andrews Publishing.  Merry Andrews Publishing was easily the largest still-inhouse publisher on the eastern seaboard. The company was known for publishing many genres of books, but was best known for romance novels, specifically romance novels by the wildly famous Desideria Del Daga.

Since James started working at Merry Andrews, Astor Stillwell, the editing supervisor of the Romance Department, had bullied him at lunch. It all started when James accidentally spilled his Mountain Dew on the cafeteria floor and Stillwell slipped and fell. Stillwell was more than embarrassed. He had somehow got it in his head that James had done it on purpose. It didn’t help that everyone in the place had erupted in laughter. Since then, Stillwell would accidentally drop his lunch tray on James, trip him up, or cut in line in a juvenile attempt to reclaim his honor..

“I’m telling you, James,” Javed said as he wolfed down his soup like a dog drinking water. “I can help you out with that jerk.” Javed looked over his shoulder. He saw Stillwell gazing intently at James and said, ”he’s staring at you again.”

James swallowed his yogurt, sniffed, and replied, “I know.”

“Look, man. Remember how I got moved up to assistant editor?”

“Yeah,” James wiped his mouth with his napkin. “Jacob Gibson traded out to a dotcom or something.”

“No, remember? I was asked to go pick up Mrs. Del Daga from the airport last month?” Javed reminded James.

“Yeah, and you were half pissed they were sending an editor on an airport run and half excited that she might bring up if you’d been writing anything,” James recalled.

“Yeah yeah yeah, and she didn’t bring it up by the way, but what she did do is she left something in the car.” Javen’s voice decreased into a mysterious whisper through the statement.

“What’d she leave? Blackmail? Did you blackmail poor old Jake out of a job?”

“Nah,” Javed chuckled. “I’ll show you what happened after work.”

“You’ll show me? What’d you do? Kill the guy or something?”

Javed shrugged, “Or something.”

Javed noticed Harumi sitting at a table, alone, sadly poking her fork in whatever mystery meat she bought from the cafeteria. He sighed. “Look at Harumi,” he pointed impolitely. “She’s still depressed about you two breaking things off.”

James shook his head. “No, she’s not. She’s dating Tedbert. He’s more of a loser than I am.” Tebert’s real name was Theodore Bertinski, but James and Javen had taken to just calling him Tedbert, partially due to the man’s wide-set eyes. The two swore he looked “touched”, but most everyone else saw a fairly okay-looking successful man. Theodore, aka Tedbert, sat down beside Harumi at the table and her expression changed to happiness. She reached over Theodore’s tray of Tacos and patted him on the hand.

James felt a tinge of jealousy and turned to Javen. “He just cleans the floors around here. At least I write copy for the stupid dust jackets and have a hand in creating some amazing writing.”

“You mean you add punctuation. Besides, Tedbert doesn’t clean the floors,” Javen corrected.

“Yes, he does. Harumi told me.”

“If that’s true, James, then why does he go up to the executive offices on the 15th at all?”

James scrunched his nose up and looked perplexed. “He does? Well, I’m sure they have floors on the 15th too.”

Javen discarded the sarcasm. “Nah, man. She’s all broken up about you. I saw it on her Facebook. You’re the ex… shouldn’t you be the one web stalking her?”

“No. She blocked me,” James said.

At that moment an open container of disposable ranch dressing zipped by and exploded on the table. James jumped from his seat, quickly realizing it came from Astor Stillwell’s table. Stillwell leaned back in his chair and gave James a long-toothed grin.

“Okay, okay,” James said, a little shocked that he was so frustrated with his Stillwell problem that he was willing to let Javed help. “I’ll be at your apartment at six.”

“No,” Javed shook his head while he guzzled down the last of his daily lunchtime protein shake. “I’ll be at your apartment at six. Laksha will be home and I don’t want her to see this.”

James was still watching Stillwell, checking to see if he threw anything else. Stillwell gave James the middle finger. “Fine!” James grit his teeth. “This has gone on long enough!”

~ 2 ~

James’s apartment was pretty spartan. White walls, tan IKEA furniture, and art that looked like his mom picked it up for him at Target.

The front door opened and closed quickly as Javed entered and said, “That woman is going to drive me to do something fucking horrible!” He strutted over to James and handed him an envelope. “I told her I was just coming upstairs to see you and she shouts at me saying I don’t spend enough time with her! I mean, fuck, who would want to with a yapper like that? Am I right? It’s like if she wants a life like back in the old world I could smack her around. Just kidding, man. You know I don’t hit no ladies right?” he said using his mock pimp impression.

“What’s this?” James said, ignoring Javed’s blustering.

“This is what I was talking about at lunch.” Javed pulled a chair up and faced James.

“Is this the blackmail? How’s this going to solve my problem with Stillwell? I’m not really a blackmail kinda guy,” James said, going to open the envelope, but was stopped by Javed’s hands.

Javed looked at him with his intense, almost black eyes, “Inside there is a card with a word on it. Whatever you do, do not say the word out loud.”

“Don’t say it out loud? What? Why?” James asked while seizing the opportunity to have Javed let go of his hands by setting the unopened envelope on the coffee table.

“Because the sound of it does things,” Javed responded, uncharacteristically serious.

“Does things? The sound? What sound? The sound of the word?”

“Yes, the sound of the word being spoken does things… and as far as what it sounds like no one knows. When you say it you hear nothing, everybody hears nothing, but still, something happens.”

James of course didn’t believe him but was so intrigued by the fiction of the story he asked Javed to continue. “What the fuck man? What happens?”

“Anybody within earshot of the word will do whatever you want them to do,” Javed said leaning back in his chair.

“What, like breakout in a flash mob for a few minutes or some bullshit?” James joked, breaking free of the seriousness as well.

“If that’s what your heart desires. Whoever hears the word will do whatever your heart desires… and not for a few minutes, but forever… until they die,” Javed said flatly.

“What a bunch of bullshit. So like, what if I read it and say it out loud now? You’ll do whatever my heart desires? Seems pretty… ya know… weird?” James laughed.

“The word does not work on people who know the word but let’s not test that. Now do you want to put Stillwell in his place or not?”

“So, you’re saying that this is how you got Jake’s job?”


“What did your heart desire then? What happened?” James asked.

“I walked up to Jacob, I said the word and he stopped dead in his tracks. Well, not dead dead, but he stopped. Then he looked at me and he walked out the door. No one has heard from him since.”

“That’s it?” James asked.

“That’s it,” Javed reiterated.

“Try me. Read the word, promise me you won’t say it to anybody, even by yourself. Then tomorrow, walk up to Stillwell and say the word.”

“This is fucking stupid, man,” James said, laughing it off.

“I can’t do it for you… like everything else,” Javed said.

“No you don’t,” James was a little irritated.

“I got you this apartment,” Javed said.

“I was sick… my lease was up in two weeks.”

“I even talked to Harumi for you.”

“A lot of good that did. I still screwed that up.”

“Not too late, I’m telling you… She still has a thing for you.” Javed said.

“Nah, she’s with Tedbert. Does anyone know what he does at the office?” James asked, trying to change the topic.

“Not sure,” Javed said, his eyes still showing that he wouldn’t fall for the topic change for long. ”a book scout I assume…? Not sure.”

“He doesn’t act like those guys. You know, all pompous.”

“Hmph. I would if I was a book scout. Those guys are rock stars. You should try to get back with Harumi. She still feels for you. I can tell.”

“No. I… just don’t feel like it. I don’t feel like doing most things these days.”

“You’ve always been that, buddy. Lazy.”

“I’m not lazy. I go to work. I cook for myself.”

“Well then do this for yourself. I’m telling ya, man, you’ve got a lot of potential in ya and I’ve loved ya like a brother since we were kids. If we’re smart and hushed up about this, this will change our lives.” Javed said as he picked the envelope up and handed it to James.

James opened the envelope and removed the parchment card inside. There was a little bit of foxing on it, but nothing too ancient or mysterious, but on the card… on the card, written in immaculate cursive was the strangest word. It was the oddest collection of letters he had ever seen. There were mountains of consonants longer than he thought impossible to sound out, and valleys of vowels that made little sense. There were thirty-nine letters in all. James sounded it out in his head several times to commit it to memory and put the card back in the envelope.

~ 3 ~

Javed’s phone kept ringing. Weird Al’s It’s Christmas at Ground Zero would play over and over. It would sound off five times before he would silence it, look at James and sigh as the two rode to work together.

They walked down the hall of  Merry Andrews Publishing, toward the elevator that would take them to the 14th floor, and their respective offices.

“Are you going to answer your phone?” James asked.

“No,” Javed replied, looked at his phone again before placing it in his coat pocket. “I’m not going to answer it.”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t want to,” Javed growled.

“Well at least silence it!” James exclaimed. “That song is giving me a headache.”

“I’m not going to do that either,” Javed smirked.

“Javed… if your phone goes off one more time—wait… who is it that’s calling you, anyway?”

“It’s Laksha,” Javed answered, continuing to smirk.

“Your wife?” James said and sighed.

“Yes,” Javed said sharply. “My wife.”

“The one that hates me?”

“Yes, James. She hates everyone.”

They came up on the elevator, pushed the button, staring at each other. The doors slid open and the two of them squeezed past several others exiting the elevator. Harumi jogged up to the Elevator, barely caught the doors before they closed. She stepped inside and dropped everything she was struggling to carry—huge handbag, several books, and an apple. The apple rolled to James’s feet. He bent down, picked it up, and handed it to Harumi. That uneasy, awkwardness set in.

“Uh,” Harumi accepted the apple, fiddled with her glasses. “I didn’t… I didn’t get a chance to eat breakfast.”

“Oh,” James nodded, nonchalantly.

Javed’s phone rang again. He stared ahead without acknowledging it.

“Javed, your phone is ringing,” Harumi murmured.

“He knows,” James said, still looking ahead.

“Oh.” Harumi looked confused at first, then decided not to be bothered by it.

“What happened, Javed?” James asked after the phone stopped ringing.

Javed reluctantly told James the story. “Laksha thinks I’m cheating on her. I told her I was at your apartment. I stormed out and stayed at a hotel last night.

“Why didn’t you stay with me?” James was hurt a little. But also glad Javed didn’t ask to stay over. He didn’t have enough food and was waiting to go to the store until Thursday. For some reason, Thursdays always seemed like the perfect day to shop.

“Deal with that horrendous foot odor? No thank you.” Javed quipped and Harumi laughed. James gave her the stink eye and she glanced at her feet, embarrassed.

“You didn’t tell Laksha you were coming over ahead of time?” James asked.

“No,” Javed became defensive. ‘I told her to do what she pleased and I was going to do the same..”

“That is so lame,” Harumi shook her head. It was Javed’s turn to glare at her. “Sorry,’ Harumi bit her lower lip and again, stared at her shoes.

“Harumi’s right,” James agreed.

“What? You’re going to take the advice of a mousy girl who can’t even keep a boyfriend?”

“Hey!” Harumi objected.

The elevator suddenly came to a halt and the doors slid open exposing the brightly sunlit 14th floor. James marveled a bit at how fancy a place this was compared to how meager his paychecks felt. Reception on the floor was full of towering pillars, sitting areas, and modern concept work desks all bathing in the light of a massive vaulted window that looked over the city.

“I’m not taking advice from you either! Mr. I don’t have time for a relationship. What fools you two are! You’re both perfect for each other!” Javed sniffed. “You’re both weird!” And with that, Javed walked out, leaving Harumi and James in their awkwardness.

~ 4 ~

The first half of the workday passes slowly for James, as they always did. He thought to himself that editing must be hell for writers, and that he had arrived. He spent all day fixing other people’s work to get home and be too tired to work on one’s own.

Hating his life helped pass the time. That way lunch arrived faster. Again, James and Javed met at the elevator. As James approached, Javed looked around making sure nobody was there.

“You remember. Right?” Javed asked with a flick of his eyebrows.

“That my life is a cosmic joke? Yes, how could I forget.” James answered leaning his head back with a sigh.

“Dude?!” Javed whisper-yelled, his arms outstretched.

“Yes, I remember the fucking magic word,” James said with an eye roll.

Javed quickly put his finger to his mouth and looked around with a bit of panic, “Don’t even talk about it. You’re gonna get me fired.”

“You brought it up.”

The elevator doors opened to an empty car and the two stepped inside.

The moment the doors closed Javed said, “Dude, don’t talk about it here. Just promise me you’ll say it to him. I have to know if I’m crazy. I mean it totally worked for me, but, please man, just do it.”

James looked at Javed and thought for a second and said, “fine.”

The pair walked into the cafeteria and surveyed the scene. You could always tell who was going somewhere around here by the quality of their tweed. They grabbed trays and got in line.

“Here he comes,” Javed said with a whisper and an elbow to James’s ribs.

“Fuck,” James said, a little louder than he would have liked. “Fine, fine, I’ll say it,” he continued while rubbing his side.

Stillwell came up, grabbed a tray, and got in line right behind Javed.

“Oh, didn’t you have something that you’d like to tell Stillwell here?” Javed asked James. James dumbfoundedly shook his head.

“Oh, really you shit? What do you have to say to me?” Stillwell asked. Stillwell was one of those unfortunate trust fund kids, tall, blond, buff, smart and rich, which was really only unfortunate for the rest of us.

“Yeah, he does, but it’s a secret,” Javed said with a feigned look of seriousness on his face.

“So tell me you little wuss, or are you gonna sit there and wait for my message in a ranch cup later?”

James had enough. He leaned in close to Stillwell, close enough that only Stillwell, Javed, and James would be able to hear. James whispered the word.

Nothing came out. Just silence. A deadening, overpowering silence. None of the three men could hear anything, not the room, not their heartbeats, not the word, just deep, ancient, and dark silence.

Stillwell, slack-jawed, stopped in his tracks, staring at the two men. Stillwell dropped his tray with a crash and stepped out of the lunch line. He walked over to the end, where the drink cooler and cash register were. He reached in the cooler and pulled out a Mountain Dew. Several people at the front of the line thought he was cutting and started telling him off. As Stillwell opened the plastic Mountain Dew bottle the clerk at the register started throwing in his earful thinking he wasn’t going to pay. Both groups were right, he was cutting and he wasn’t going to pay, but neither group guessed what would come next. Stillwell turned the opened bottle upside down in front of him and poured the entire bottle on the floor. The bewildered man then took about six big steps back, appeared to be making a mental calculation, and then ran toward the spill quickly stopping on top of it. The quick, jerked action caused his feet to slip out from under him as he flipped backward smacking his head onto the institutional tile floor

Blood poured out from the back of his head like a cracked egg quickly spreading to people’s feet around him in the silence. A woman screamed and a man yelled for someone to call an ambulance as Stillwell started to convulse.

~ 5 ~

Late that night there was a succession of rapid-fire knocks at James’s door. James had no desire for company, but the knocks kept coming.

“Okay!” James yelled. “I’m coming!”

Javed was at the door. He rushed in, wringing his hands. “I did something bad,” he said. “Oh, James… I did something I shouldn’t have…”

“Who, Javed,” James shut the door. “Like we haven’t seen enough shit today, man. I can’t believe it. That shit worked and Stillwell got hurt and it’s my fucking fault.”

“Fuck that man. I fucked up. I really fucked up,” Javed trembled, his eyes begging James to listen.

“Slow down. Did you kill Laksha or something?” James laughed.

Javed turned to James, stone-faced. “Or something,” he said, a quiver in his voice.

James laughed nervously. “What do you mean—you left her?”

Javed shook his head. “No,” he whimpered.

The confusion left James’s face as he realized what actually happened. “Oh, Javed. You said the word?”

Javed swallowed hard. “I did,” he whispered. “I… did. And I feel… horrible for it.”

“Oh, shit,” James sat on the couch, looking straight ahead. “What happened when you said it.”

All Javed said was, “Laksha… is gone?”

“Laksha… is gone? What the hell does that mean? Like she disappeared?” James asked. “Why did you do it?”

Javed shrugged and wiped his eyes. She…” he continued through choked back tears. “She wouldn’t get off my back.”

“Oh, yeah. That’s a good reason.” James said, sarcastically. “So, what happened when you said it.”

“It started with us fighting, as usual,” Javed said. “She was relentless.”

“What was it about this time?” James said, still trying to grasp the gravity of the situation.

“I fucked Harumi,” Javed blurted out, his face falling back into his hands.

James was shocked. “You what?”

“Yeah, after work. I went to Harumi’s apartment. She was worried about Tedbert. Apparently, she hadn’t seen him since Mrs. Andrews talked to him and she said he’d been acting weird lately. Something about Mrs. Del Daga,” Javed said and sank into the couch.

“So… you just… screwed her… Harumi… in her bed?” James’s blood was boiling. He had completely forgotten about Laksha. The more he thought about it, the larger the vein in his forehead became.

“No. Not in her bed,” Javed said.

“Oh, that makes me feel better.” James didn’t get a chance to have Harumi. Not in her bed, his bed, or anyone’s bed.

“We talked for a while. A good while. We were watching TV, I don’t even remember what show it was… She got up to clear away a plate of Nachos.”

“You had her nachos?!” That was one of the things James dearly missed about Harumi. Her Nachos. She always added the right amount of spicy and sweet in her sauce.

“Yeah… I had her… Nachos. She bent over in front of me… I… couldn’t help myself… James… I don’t know what came over me. I felt untouchable. Powerful.” Javed was staring down at his clenched fist. “I felt… I don’t know.” He dropped his fist to an open palm. “Next thing I know is her skirt was up, and I was inside her and she was begging me not to stop. I went home directly after that. I was… I am ashamed. Oh God, James… ” Javed broke down again burying his face in James’s shirt, bawling like a baby.

“You said the word to her,” James accused Javed.

“No, I didn’t, I wouldn’t,” Javen defended.

“Oh but, you’ll say it to your fucking wife you coward?”

“No! I… I felt terrible… I promise I didn’t say it to her. I went home immediately. I was so confused, I didn’t know what I was doing. I got home to Laksha waiting for me. She called me out,” he paused looking straight off into space. “I didn’t lie. I told her.” Javed looked directly into James’s eyes, “I just straight up told her that I had fucked Harumi.”

Javed stood up and started pacing back and forth. “And then she just started going off. She wouldn’t shut up. I begged her, I fucking begged her to shut up, but she just wouldn’t stop. So I said it to her.”

Javed returned to his seat on the couch. “She immediately stopped when I said it. She stood, motionless for a moment, then, it was like a light came on, she went to the kitchen sink and started drinking cleaners. Not one of them. All of them! I tried to stop her, but she wouldn’t stop.” Javed was quiet for a moment. “I called the ambulance. We went to the hospital, but it was too late.” Javed collected himself, pressing down his shirt a bit, and then calmly said, “Laksha died on the way to the emergency room.”

James was not listening.

James was pissed.

James turned his head from Javed and said the word. Again he heard nothing but that deafening silence. He thought to himself all the terrible things that he wanted to happen to Javed. He wished for it, begged the powers that be to kill that two-faced fucker, but when he turned back, Javed was still there, unharmed. The word had not worked on him and he had heard nothing in the silence.

“Hey,” James said to Javed, “I want you to get the fuck out of my house.”

~ 6 ~

James stood in front of Harumi’s apartment, pounding on the door. It had been hours since Javed had told him that he had slept with her. James had tried to put it out of his mind, but it was no use. He just festered and festered. Then he took a walk and festered some more, all the way to Harumi’s front door.

Several locks were unlocked before the door opened slightly.

“James?” Harumi gasped and unfastened the chain from the door. She opened it quickly and yanked James inside, looking him up and down. “Are you okay? You look like shit?”

Harumi’s apartment was nice. It always smelled of honeysuckle and she always had snacks on the coffee table.  She had pictures of family everywhere and a very friendly cat, who at the moment was curled up on top of the cable box beside the television.

Harumi was in her nightgown and socks, her hair pulled back in a ponytail. James had never seen her like this. They dated for quite a while, but he never tried to stay overnight. James liked the way she looked and smelled at that moment. But, all James could think about was Harumi and Javed doing the deed, right there on the coffee table.

“I love you Harumi,” he blurted out.

“What?” she said, stepping back.

“I love you Harumi,” he repeated. “I have always loved you… but, you… you and Javed.” His head fell to his chest.

“I’m sorry, James,” was all she said, her arms grasping his shoulders in a familial way that made him feel even weaker.

James looked up, looked her straight in the eyes. He wanted to say the word. He wanted this all to go away. If he said the word to her she would be his, not that bastard Javed’s anymore. What would it hurt? If Javed had said it to her then he would be saving her from slavery to that thief. If he said it to her then they could be together and all would be okay. But, if Javed hadn’t said it to her does that mean that she really wants to be with him? James wanted to know. He wanted to say the word.

“What is it?” She asked, seeing words starting to form on the tip of his tongue.

He gave her another long stare and said, “Nothing. I have to go.” He pulled his shoulders from her grip and left, quietly closing the door.

~ 7 ~

The conversation with Harumi hadn’t done much to slow James’s fester and the following night of tossing and turning between torturous nightmares of Javed and Harumi eating nachos didn’t help either.

He fumbled with an atomically hot coffee and briefcase as he waited for the elevator. He was happy that he was getting to work late so he didn’t have to ride up with Javed, but as the door was closing a familiar hand caught it and stepped inside.

There he was, alone in an elevator with Harumi. They both look ahead, fighting to not make eye contact.

Harumi was the first to give in. “Listen, James. I’m sorry. I’m just so sorry. I didn’t know that you still cared.”

James quickly turned his head and looked at her with shock. She didn’t know? She didn’t know that he had loved her this whole time. That he was willing to change, that all he wanted was to be with her, to be by her. She didn’t know?

She went to speak again but he stopped her. He then said the word. The overwhelming silence immediately filled the elevator car, absorbing all other sounds around it. Harumi stood there in the silence clutching her purse to her chest, her face expressionless. The quiet hum of the elevator came rushing back into their ears.

Harumi dropped her purse and immediately punched herself in the face busting her own nose and splattering blood onto James. He stood, dumbfounded as Harumi repeatedly bashed herself in her already broken nose.

James tried to reach out to her through his full hands, but she grabbed his coffee and dumped it over her face, blistering the skin not stained with blood. He begged her to stop. “Please!” he begged. With nothing else to harm herself with she took to clawing at her face and neck skin with her nails.

James yelled the word at her hoping it would stop her. The silence came but it did nothing. He yelled it again, his eyes squeezed shut as he prayed for her to stop. The silence was deafening, so deafening that James didn’t notice the elevator doors opening. He continued to scream the word, pleading with Harumi to stop.

As the silence of the word spread across the reception room of the floor, it echoed over the pillars, around the modern concept work desks, and slapped back against the vaulted window that overlooked the city.

Everyone, other than Harumi, stopped and looked at James.

He stood there in silence, James in the elevator with a silent bloody girl, and fifteen men all staring at him. Wait, not staring at him. They were staring at her. Harumi and the men in the room made eye contact and immediately started charging each other. She moved like a crazed street lunatic and the group of men like an advancing, enraged army.

When the first man reached Harumi his fist flew forward and audibly cracked into her jaw. The group of men fell upon her hitting, smashing, pulling, and biting.

James was on all fours, arm outreached trying to make a sound as they pummeled her face to a bloody mass. They lifted her body up above their heads, like crowd-surfing a flailing body of ground meat.

In unison, the entire mass of suits, haircuts, and blood heaved toward the massive window. The mass bounced off the glass with a collective grunt. The group of men heaved back again and charged the window, their bloody trophy above them, this time breaking through. The men’s bodies went piling out the window like a waterfall of tweed, ties, and flesh. Every last man followed the pack with a look of dedication on their face until only James remained on the floor. He remained there, still on all fours, mouth open, looking out the shattered window apologizing in a whisper, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know I hated you.”

The Last Word by Chauncey Haworth