Short Story Challenge – “First Day of Work” – Marcy Erb

I meant to post this about a week ago, since NaNoWriMo is already 8 days expired. But the results for my personal version of it with short stories – NaShoStoWriMo – were good: I wound up writing 15 short stories and over 22,000 words. My goal had been 20 stories, so I fell short of that, but considering I started the month with a whooping zero short stories ever written, I’m very pleased with the challenge. It accomplished its goal, which was to inspire me to write short stories.

Holiday travel for Thanksgiving really put a monkey wrench into my writing schedule and I marveled at folks in the U.S. doing NaNoWriMo who were able to power through that crazy last week of November when so many of us are traveling or shopping or prepping or hosting or cooking.

Here’s another story from NaShoStoWriMo, entitled “First Day of Work.” This one resulted from a personal challenge from my wife – she challenged me to write a short story about whatever topic she chose at random. I agreed and here it is. I’ll reveal what her story topic was at the end of the story. It’s just over a thousand words – enjoy! As always, comments and suggestions welcome. You can see the other story I posted from my NaShoStoWriMo, “The Soldiers’ Return,” here.

First Day of Work

By Marcy Erb

Sam peered at the field of blank rows and columns glowing before him. He glanced back down at the printed version of this reimbursement form lying in front of his keyboard between his arms. It was strewn with illegible notes and open headed arrows pointing to particular rows and resembled less an institutional form than a laser printed treasure map.

The ceramic knock of a coffee mug being set down on his desk broke Sam’s meditation on reimbursement.

“Sam, don’t let me forget – I have some PDFs I want you to look at today or tomorrow.”

Sam glanced up at the affable and slightly disheveled owner of the “Science Never Sucks” coffee mug; a man whose daily attire, like most everyone here, looked like he had stepped out of a camping catalog.

“Okay, Peter. Are these for new hires – information about getting started? Or is it scientific?”

“These are meant to be helpful to newbies.”

“That would be good. I feel like there is a lot to learn and I hate to keep bothering people every five minutes.”

Peter waved at him. “Don’t worry about that – everyone shows up here not knowing anything. You can know all the biology in the world and not be able to fathom the draconian museum bureaucracy.”

“Thanks, Peter. I appreciate your help.”
“No problem.” Peter picked up his mug and wandered off. Peter was a senior graduate student from a nearby university and was a classic ABD case – all but dissertation. Sam had taken an upper level undergraduate zoology class with Peter last semester and it was partly his strong classwork and good grade in that class which had earned him his job here.

It was, in fact, Sam’s first day on the job at the natural history museum and despite needing to ask someone for something every few minutes, he thought it was going very well. For now, he was a paper pusher for the department of vertebrate zoology, filling out reimbursements, cataloguing shipments out, and documenting goods received; but he hoped to move up to actually working with the collections of both live and taxidermy animals. This internship was to get his foot in the door and network.

The rest of his first day was filled with tours: tours of the filing cabinets, of the shipping department, of the specimen collections, and of the vivarium. The vivarium had been a bit daunting. Sam couldn’t think of a mammal or bird that he didn’t like and he was at peace with most reptiles, but amphibians gave him the willies. Over the years, he’d tried to suss out what his problem was with Class Amphibia, and the only thing he could come up with was the slime factor. Reptiles were scaly, but dry. Frogs and salamanders reminded Sam of a ball of mucus. He’d confessed as much to Peter one day during class last semester and Peter had thought it was hilarious and expressed sympathy for the poor unloved amphibians, saying, “Well, I’m sure they don’t love you either, Sam.”

On his way back to his desk after the vivarium tour, he spotted Peter again. Sam waved and asked, “Did you send me the PDF?”

Peter snapped his fingers with the recognition of a memory lapse, “No – not yet, but I will do that right now.”

“Thanks, Peter.”

Sam filled the remaining two hours of his shift with wrestling some more with the online reimbursement system. Five o’clock rolled around and he noticed that the promised orientation PDF has still not arrived in his inbox.

He stopped by Peter’s desk on his way out. “I hate to bother you again, but did you send the PDF to me? I’m only asking because I’m worried I might not be getting all of my email at my museum email address.”

Peter leaned back in his chair. “Yeah, I sent it. But you probably won’t get it until tomorrow.”

“Wow, the servers are that slow here? I complain about the internet provider I have at home, but I’ll stop doing that after this.” Sam shook his head.

Peter nodded and tipped his palms to the ceiling, “What can I say? That’s a publically funded institution for you.”

The next morning Sam was at his desk again when Peter strolled up, his “Science Never Sucks” mug of coffee in one hand and a USPS rectangular box under his other arm.
“Good morning, Peter.”

“Good morning, Sam. How’s day two treating you so far?”

“Pretty good. It only takes me 20 minutes to fill out these verification forms now – that’s down from 40 minutes each yesterday.”

Peter laughed. “Unfortunately, I can tell you with great authority that it will become second nature soon.”

Peter set his mug down and drew the box from his armpit. “Here it is.” He extended the box towards Sam.

Sam stared at the square of cardboard in front of his face, but didn’t take it. “Here’s what?” He asked.

“The PDF I promised you.”

Sam blinked at it. “You printed it out for me?”

“Yep, I’m a nice guy like that.”

Sam took the box and set it down in front of him. He grabbed the cardboard “open” tab as he said, “It looks like you were planning to mail it to me.”

Sam tore the box open and tipped it forward to allow the documents to slide out.

A glistening neon red face peered out instead.

Sam froze. The red face became a neon blur as it leapt from the box onto his desk. It was a frog with a bright red face and blue body. Sam dropped the box and slid his chair away with a yelp. “Yo! What is that?”

But the question underestimated the number of occupants of the box. Another frog hopped out – this one was neon green and black, and then another red and blue one followed on its friends’ heels. Sam brought his feet up on his chair seat like there were mice running under him.

Peter was laughing as he pulled latex gloves on and came around into Sam’s cubicle. He began to corral the frogs back into the box.

“I told you. These are the PDFs – poison dart frogs. Welcome to the museum, newbie.”


The challenge topic for this story was “poison dart frog.” She said, “write me a story about poison dart frogs” and I did!

2 thoughts on “Short Story Challenge – “First Day of Work” – Marcy Erb

  1. I love how you incorporate science into your writing…(plus I also enjoyed the story). And, as usual, I admire both your ambition and your work ethic. Short stories too?!

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