Updated: Aug 2, 2019
My latest complete piece of speculative fiction I, Lorenzo Samuel, named "Winnowing the Herd." It is a short story that will appear in a collections of short stories entitled "Charge of the Petals." In this story, a loan manager faces a client who thinks she is a herd of caribou. The story starts out innocuous enough. Here are the first few paragraphs:
Mr. Painton sits unnaturally at ease in the stuffed chair. His right leg over the left gives Joanna the feeling that he has practiced the maneuver in front of a mirror. The sallow flesh around his eyes sags as he fakes a smile.
The bargain-basement prints on the light-rose walls and the art-deco furniture provide a poor excuse for opulence. The sign on the corner of his desk reads "Assistant Loan Manager, Acme Assurance Company."
His percentage loan-closure rate held top place in the company for the last quarter. This quarter he should win as well; he'll disembowel that upstart Joshua although they are neck and neck, too near the end of the period for comfort. Just a few more closes would do it. He pretends to study the file on his desk. "Joanna Staples" it says.
Now the problem is to move this normal setting into the strange minds of these two main characters. I try to do such a transition subtly, but with shock value. A question in readers' minds would be "who is this Joanna Staples?" Here is the transition:
The woman sitting opposite him is seedy, smells chlorophyllic in fact. She moves on the sofa like underbrush in the wind. She says, “I need a food-development loan. You see, we eat a lot."
"How many children do you have?"
The woman laughs. More like a nicker the chuckle sounds. "Oh, not that. I have to feed the herd."
Painton needs to know with whom he deals. He says, "Be more specific. What is this herd exactly?"
"Oh, caribou, I guess."
"What? Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure. I'm a large herd of caribou, maybe five, six hundred."
What does the loan manager think at this point? He has to close the loan to win the competition among the other loan managers for the quarter. The end of the quarter is near. Here before him is a needy, albeit crazy, client. He's a normal guy; she's a kook. He goes ahead with the loan application process.
What will happen now? That's the "what if" question. The remainder of the story covers the changes that occur in loan manager Painton and loan applicant Joanna. Here is a section that tracks a bit of the change that continues throughout the story:
As he studies his kooky client, the drool becomes a steady trickle. He snarls, and Joanna is afraid again. Her mind drifts back to the night before and her usual fear of going to sleep. She thinks about this morning and her loss of weight, then relief floods in as she wheezes in realization.
“That's what is happening,” she thinks. Laughing easily, she says, "So, you're saying that I dream while I'm awake and don't while I'm asleep. That explains it. You eat me only at night! That's why I'm afraid at bedtime.”
Painton's head snaps back a decimeter. He repeats Joanna's words to himself and wonders what has brought on that weird interpretation. "This is terrible," he worries. "I need to get this loan through. That upstart Joshua Hawkins can't take the prize."
While his mind gropes, his hands rummage for nibbles in his desk. Despite having finished a full lunch an hour before, he is famished. The nibbles search completely distracts him. He makes a note to bring this up with Sheeta. Forgoing the nibbles, he pops a hunger suppressant, then says, "What did you say?"
"When I was sleeping, you ate point-two kilos off my body. I was short that much when I weighed myself this morning. Damn, thanks, I feel great!"
"Let me get this straight. You lost weigh, so explain it by saying that I ate some of your flesh?"
"You are a pack of wolves. Why, I think I might not need this loan after all!”
Painton's ears flick. He picks up a rumble of movement from the couch, but Joanna is sitting still. He feels an urge to run at the woman, but the need gives way to indecision. He scans the room as if he expects something out there to tell him what he is supposed to do. He isn't afraid though; his mind has turned keen. The woman across from him is needful somehow. “What has she said?” He can't remember, so fragmented are the rumblings in his mind.
The client is so sure; she never loses the idea that she is a herd of caribou. Definitely she is abnormal, different; however, she is the stable one. On the other hand, something is happening to the loan manager. He is changing. He gropes to understand, driven by his need to close the loan and win this quarter's best-salesman award. Is this story really about Joana or the loan manager?
To answer that question, you will need to read the entire story. When the collection of tales is published, look for the book on this site or at Amazon.