(This is another weekly serial. The choice that gets the most votes will continue the story.)
Daryl stepped out into the muggy autumn of Albany, New York. Carrying his briefcase, umbrella, and lucky hat, he took a look at the city and reaffirmed that he hated it. He hated everything about Albany. He hated the crammed housing, outdated and rotting. Every fifth building was condemned in the Albany downtown districts, where the poor people like Daryl lived. Plywood boards covered the windows of such houses, accompanied by a yellow notice from the state inspectors warning of asbestos, dangerous levels of lead, and rampant disinterest in a dying city.
Daryl also hated the muggy weather. Albany was a grey wasteland after the summer months. The rain came in the fall, with its grey mists and biting cold. The skylines and horizons that he glimpsed from his office windows disappeared in the fall, swallowed by a bleak nothingness and water droplets on the window pane. The occasional headlights strobed through the miasma and that was it. The whole city stank of rain filtered through car exhaust. The winter was even worse, and that was always one surprise snow storm away.
The day that Daryl had stepped out into was another dreary and humorless day. He wore his usual Monday outfit, a brown checkered sports coat that matched his hat and darker brown pants. The briefcase was also a brownish tan. His sister had dubbed him the brown-brown monster of Monday’s, but he didn’t care. Daryl was beyond caring about what the people of Albany thought of him. He hated all of them and just wished to be ignored.
The morning was already busy. The sky was misting rain down upon the city wasteland, a problem compounded by the cars kicking up more water with their tires. It’s the kind of environment were not even an umbrella could help. Albany was determined to saturate Daryl with its emanation. Resigned to the fate of being coated in a watery film, Daryl locked the door to his house and started towards his bus stop.
The sidewalks were crowded, and his fellow pedestrians insisted on using umbrellas despite their futility. Pushing through the crowds, Daryl had the misfortune of finding himself behind a gaggle of old women. The women seemed determined to be fat and waddle in his path, taking up as much space as their corpulent selves could take. The three of them dominated the entire sidewalk, and they kept turning towards each other to talk about the asinine and the obvious. Yes, the weather was bad today. Yes, they would probably have frizzy hair. Yes, it would be nice to have taken a car instead. Daryl knew all these things, but the fat women appeared to be as stupid as their conversation, and if he could just get past them he could be done with them. He couldn’t get past them. They were oblivious to their heft and how it blocked the young man. They kept waving their umbrellas about perilously at eye level whenever their bulk careened around to say something else stupid to their friends. It was too much, and Daryl decided to cross the street just as a bus came to a screeching halt inches away from Daryl’s face.
Daryl hadn’t seen the bus. He cursed himself for being caught so unaware. The bus also cursed by blaring its horn at Daryl. It was a completely useless gesture, as Daryl was already keenly aware of the several tons of metal that had come to a screeching halt a handbreadth away from his own person. It seemed to make the bus driver feel better, as well as several of the patrons aboard who had stumbled about due to rapid deceleration. Daryl patted the front of the bus and continued to his office. A gloom settled on Daryl as he trudged on. He was upset that the bus had stopped. So many problems could have vanished if the bus driver had just kept going. The more Daryl thought about it, the more he became upset about the whole thing. He could have just disappeared into the fog like everything else good in Albany.
Daryl arrived at his office. It was a small office on the third floor of a rundown building. Like most of Albany, this building had been beautiful and sturdy a few decades ago, but years of neglect had worn it down to this passible and creaky old thing. Daryl shook his hat twice to remove the few droplets of water and hung it upon a hook before taking his seat. Daryl’s office was really a cubicle, but he insisted on calling it an office to make himself feel more important. The office was unimpressive. A light grey countertop served as his desk, where an old boxy monitor sat on top of an old boxy tower. The counter was also armed with a white electric pencil sharpener and old phone with a long coiled cord. He sat on a black office chair that was supposedly good for his posture, but would recline too far if the slightest weight was pressed against the backrest. The various parts of his office were composed entirely of a greyscale color palette, which is why the first thing he did was take out his red and blue pens and place them behind his keyboard. They made Daryl happy even though he didn’t use them. Something about the color breaking through the bleak and dreary gave Daryl hope that he’d get through another day.
As soon as Daryl had settled his boss approached holding a stuffed envelope. Daryl hated his boss. The boy was a full decade younger than Daryl and hadn’t worked nearly as long at the office as Daryl had, yet he had been promoted above Daryl. Daryl suspected nepotism, but couldn’t prove it. The boy’s name was Carter McCoy, and he was in the habit of greeting each of his employees and asking what tasks there were going to do that day. It was a silly and useless ritual that Daryl didn’t have time for.
“Hey Daryl. Quite the day we’re having. It’ll probably rain like this for the rest of the week. Anyway, you got something in the mail.” Carter waved the envelope around. “What are you working on today? Did you get the orders through for the Capital Region precincts?”
Daryl made a mental note that Carter was still holding onto his envelope. Was this some sort of power play? Was Carter lording his authority over Daryl? It was hard to tell. Daryl just faked a smile and promised he was getting close to having the Capital Region clients taken care of. Carter smiled. He spoke about how important those clients were. Then placed the envelope on Daryl’s desk and strode away. Daryl rolled his eyes at his boss’ departure. He knew that clients were important. His job paid him money to take care of clients, of course they were important.
Rather than begin the task of checking spreadsheets and making innumerable phone calls, Daryl opened the envelope. It was a large orange envelope, the kind with a metal clasp that could be bent to hold an envelope shut. There was probably a name for it, but Daryl didn’t know it. He cut through the tape holding it together and dumped the contents on his desk.
He knew what the contents were the moment they spilled onto his desk. Daryl’s uncle had passed three weeks ago. At the funeral, his mother informed him that while she was the will’s executor she didn’t want to deal with it. She lived in Salt Lake City and her brother’s house was in the small town of Watervliet, New York. The now vacant house was just a few miles north and easily accessible by bus, if Daryl wanted to put in the effort to clean it out. Daryl didn’t want to put in the effort. His uncle, the late Cameron Stewart, had been an odd man. Throughout Daryl’s life, the few interactions he had with his uncle were unpleasant. Cameron was harmless but he made people uncomfortable. His personality was off and he didn’t identify social cues, leading others to wonder how far the Autism spectrum he had wandered. He’d ask invasive and inappropriate questions in large gatherings. He’d insist that others hear him out on his latest conspiracy theory. He bulled over attempts to change the subject when it suited him to talk about subjects that others found devoid of interest.
When Daryl was young, Cameron would often comment on how Daryl took after his uncle, and Daryl hated it. His sister teased him about it often, saying that Daryl would grow up to be a crazy old man. In the early days of the internet, Cameron became the relative that passed along every chain letter, every crazy article of pseudo-science, and pledged his support for the investigation of the latest internet conspiracy theory. Daryl had successfully blocked his uncle from his life. Despite living only two dozen miles away, he hadn’t seen his uncle in over a decade. The old man was finally dead and the world was better for it. Daryl didn’t want to go to his house. He didn’t want to help his uncle, even after his death, tidy up the last bits of his life. Daryl just wanted his house to be bulldozed and then set ablaze, an idea he often entertained about Albany at large.
There on his desk were the things found on his uncle’s body when he had died: a set of keys, a cell phone, and a wallet. There wasn’t any money in the wallet, Daryl was disappointed to find. There were only a few plastic cards, a few pictures of family including one of Daryl and his sister back when they were in elementary school, and a USB drive hidden in a zipped compartment.
Daryl shoved the trinkets aside and went to work. He prided himself on being the most useful person in the office. Hours passed. Daryl was finishing the tasks for the local precincts when he received a phone call on his personal cell phone. Personal calls were not permitted during working hours, but the infuriatingly inept McCoy had stepped out for one of his innumerable short breaks he was in the habit of taking. Daryl answered.
The voice on the other end was his sister, Karen Hesh. Karen was seven months pregnant with her second child and had taken to calling Daryl more often than usual. Daryl assumed this had something to do with maternal hormones, as this same behavior happened last time she was pregnant. “Hey bro! I was wondering if you wanted to come over for dinner tonight. Aaron’s out tonight, and I figured it’s time we caught up. I’ll make your favorite: spaghetti!”
Aaron Hesh was Karen’s husband. Daryl didn’t like him much, but he was polite to him. There wasn’t a real reason to dislike Aaron, but Daryl did for reasons he wasn’t proud of. Aaron made lots of money, had better looks, had a wealth of friends, and had a very happy romantic relationship. Daryl didn’t have those things. Daryl tried to soften the refusal of his sister’s invitation. “I’m not sure if I can. I got this package in the mail. Did you know that mom was going to dump Uncle Cameron’s will on me? She wants me to clean out his junk so she can sell the house.”
“Creepy Cameron? Spooky Stewart? That really sucks. Well it’s not like he’s going to mind if you put it off. Which would you rather do? Have a nice spaghetti dinner with your favorite sister, or go through Uncle Cameron’s creepy doll collection or whatever it is he’s got stored up in there?”
Travel to Uncle Cameron’s House to help clean it out #1
Have a nice spaghetti dinner with Karen #2