I was offered a really good job (Management) but I also have a chance (not confirmed yet) for a great educational opportunity (Master's Degree for free). I can't do both. I am going crazy trying to figure out what to do. I have another income, but this job offer can lead to bigger and better things.
It is strange and auspicious that you should ask this. Sunday evening I was visited by our own dear Tom Olafsdottir — most regrettably killed by myself in the Potomac River at the conclusion of our first year of publication, and now something of a "Spirit of Lab Assistants Past." So rare and delightful, to receive as guests old and dear friends, is it not?
Tom stood for a long time before my tank, in the crescent moon's thin light, looking upon his hands.
"TOM?" I asked, "HAVE YOU COME TO ASK OF THE ADVICE, OR TO RETURN MY TERRY CLOTH ALLIGATOR PUPPET-SPONGE?"
"No. I . . ."
We waited, together, until it became clear that Tom's caesura had blossomed beyond hiatus into discontinuation.
I think I may have left some keys around here, somewhere. Have you seen any keys?"
"I HAVE SEEN MANY KEYS."
"Right," he said, nodding his head, "Of course." He paused, "You know," Tom rubbed his face. "Just when you think you're getting used to being dead . . ." He knuckled at his eyes, which were purplishly limned, as though he had slept little since his demise. Little and poorly. He rubbed a hand raspingly along his stubble jaw, craned to look about the room. I described to Tom your problem, and asked his opinion.
"I guess," he began, then shook his head a little, opened his eyes wide, and then stretched his jaw as though to pop his ears. "I'm sorry. What did you . . . um, ask? I'm kind of . . . you know . . ." He fished from his shirt's pocket a crooked, ghostly cigarette, placed it gingerly in the corner of his mouth, and ignited it with the cold fire born of his swiftly rubbed index finger and thumb. He drew the ghostly smoke down his ghostly esophagus, where it pooled in his ghostly lungs. He removed the cigarette, then twirled his cigaretted fingers about his right ear, "Uh . . . absent minded . . . These days. I am."
This, it has been my experience, is ever as it is to speak to the spirits of the dead. I again explained your problem. Tom shrugged.
"I can't really help. Kudos to your pal for landing such a sweet dilemma. I couldn't even get a grad program to return my calls; fifty buck registration fee, and they never even sent me a rejection letter."
"LET US SAY THAT I CONCEALED THE MISSIVE AT THE TIME."
"You hid an acceptance letter?" Tom asked, his pupils narrowing to laserish points.
"LET US JUST SAY, FOR AN EXAMPLI GRATIS, THAT PRIOR TO OUR ILL-FATED, LINCOLN-DUELING CROSS-COUNTRY JAUNT SUCH A POSTAL COMMUNIQUÉ ARRIVED, AND YOU HAD RECEIVED IT; WOULD THAT HAVE INFORMED YOUR DECISIONS FROM THAT POINT UP UNTIL YOUR DEATH SEVERAL WEEKS LATER?"
"You hid an acceptance letter from the University of Chicago?" Tom repeated.
"IT WAS NOT A LETTER, BUT MORE OF A PACKAGE. THERE WERE MANY PAGES, AND FORMS. TO ADDRESS THE SCHOLAR'S SHIP, WHICH I BELIEVE YOU WERE TO SAIL UPON IN MICHIGAN'S GREAT LAKE, AND PERFORM YOUR SWASHBUCKLING STUDIES. LITTLE DID THEY KNOW OF YOUR POOR SWIMMING SKILLS, AS WE DID WITNESS IN THE RIVER POTOMAC."
"You hid an acceptance letter from the University of Chicago Graduate Program in Economics, with scholarship?" Tom clarified.
"AND A GRANT OF STIPEND. I DO NOT KNOW THAT THEY WOULD HAVE PAID FOR YOUR SEAMAN'S PARROT, A PIRATING HAT, OR THE LESSONS OF SWIMMING, BUT BEFORE THE PAPERS FADED AND MELTED IN THE SALTY WATERS OF MY TANK, IT WAS CLEAR THAT LIVING EXPENSES AND EDUCATIONAL COSTS WOULD HAVE BEEN PAID IN FULL. I BELIEVE THAT WOULD MEAN A RATION OF RUM AT EVERY PORT OF CALL, AS PER THE PIRATE'S CODE."
All the while I spoke a pinkish hectic seeped up from Tom's core, like magma throwing off the mantle's surly bonds, but doing so at the bottom of an arctic sea, and so hardening and collapsing back immediately, sheathing Tom in this noxious, razoredged ectoplasmic pink armor, sharp as aa.
Tom looked as the fingernails of his hand for a very long time, such that I felt compelled to repeat my original query, which had somewhat gotten lost in the ensuing details personal to Tom and Tom alone. Just as I was about to speak, he himself did so.
"You know," he said, watching the insubstantial smoke of his insubstantial cigarette rise through the substance of the air. His voice was strange and plangent, as though it was forged of the million lost, falling, frantic, guttural screams wafting up from the depths of a chasm, its walls sharp and shear, its bottom stony and dry, its original occupants rapacious, hungry, and deathless. "I used to think that . . ." He gulped hard, as though fighting to breath beneath his smothering, molten, stony shell, his voice the brittle, thunderous shearing of calving, dying glaciers, the gulp and tumble of an upending iceberg. "I mean, I guess . . . I wish . . . I guess that I wish."
He stopped and breathed long, timelessly. Superfluously. His ghost's cigarette tumbled from his fingers, and had never existed at all by the time it failed to reach my floor. In the sky the stars spun and winked out, the moon crumbled and decayed, and the sun rotted to a warm cinder. Cities rose and fell and rose and sank into the sea. Detroit became a gilded cloud city, and warren of parklands, and dystopian web of blacktop through foreboding cannibal woods, then dark and uninhabited even by wasps and grackles. The earth began to slow, immeasurably.
"I think," Tom began, calmer, "that jobs sort of have a way of," he swallowed hard, pulling some of the hot glow of his volcanic exoskeleton back into himself, and quelling some of the branding fire in his voice, "you know, turning on you. One day it's security and a growth opportunity and all that, and the next you're out on your ass. But, you know, with a Masters Degree, your whole goal is to get tossed out on your ass." He took another deep breath, and the ectoplasmic lava went cold, and melted back into him, "At least you know what tomorrow's like, right?"
And I Remain,
Your Giant Squid
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