The roaree turned to his computer and closed the browser window currently displaying a house cat in an amusingly compromising position. Then he put the phone back on the hook after conveniently hanging it up improperly fifteen minutes into the day and leaving it there for the subsequent three hours. Then he removed the discreetly placed headphone from his right ear, put the magazine he was reading in a drawer, and paused the tower defense game on his phone. He closed the second browser window, getting rid of the tabs open to “8 Most Hilarious Hamburger Disasters,” “5 Bizarre Art Restoration Mishaps,” and “Top 10 Most Inane Top 10 Lists.”
As he took the short stroll to his boss’s office, he thought this was it. This was when his completely sane and viable career choice of writing professionally for a dying industry would, shockingly, prove to be unwise. His boss looked haggard, tie loosened around his collar, top button undone, hair in wisps around his head. This was the type of guy that still described his career as “newspaperman” at parties.
“You gently requested my presence, sir?” Rory Spaughsun asked.
“Sit.” Rory sat. “Do you know what this is?” He slid a piece of paper across his desk.
Rory picked it up and knew immediately. “This is the lulz, isn’t it?” A yellow smiley face glared hideously back at him, cigarette lolling out of its mouth and party hat that might be on fire tilted roguishly to the side. Instinctively, he bounced the face up and down in his hands.
“That’s the lulz. Or, well, that represents the lulz. The lulz themselves, well…” he trailed off. The lulz were missing. They’d been missing for some time.
Rory understood. “You want me to find them and write an article on it?”
“What? No! Hell, no, I’m firing you. Nothing personal, boy-o, but this place is sinking and I just found out that you were never on staff to begin with.”
“Of course not, sir, I’m an intern. I have the paperwork right here.” Rory, seemingly from nowhere and disarmingly quickly, produced a much mishandled document riddled with haphazard signatures and mostly faded lettering. “See it says right here, I’m to…”
“Spaughsun, I’ve seen the paper. You’ve handed it to me every time we’ve seen each other, including last Tuesday when you passed it to me under the stall after running into me in the bathroom. Thing is, I can’t read any dates on that thing any more but I’m dead sure that four years as a paid intern is just far too long. Circulation is low right now and we have to cut back a bit.”
“But right here, sir, that’s the dean’s signature and uh, well I think that’s yours there next to the coffee stain, and here’s mine, and…” he pointed frantically around the paper, at one point poking a jagged hole through a critically weak spot. “The dates are backwards! Yeah, like European dates where the month and day are reversed,” he cried desperately.
“I’m sorry, m’boy, I am. I hate to do this kind of thing to a budding young reporter like yourself. Just get out of here, alright? You’re welcome, by the way. You can swim to shore from here. The rest of us will be bailing this thing out and hope not to drown.”
The poignancy was lost on the stunned Spaughsun, who pointed weakly at a signature in the corner from a delivery driver a few years ago that Rory thought had a very official looking script.
“Put the damn paper away, Rory,” his boss told him sternly.
Rory obeyed, sliding the ragged thing up his sleeve. He sat there a moment, still stunned even after assuring himself every day for the last four years that exactly this would happen. He rose from the chair and gathered his dignity, appearing much like a drunk just after openly urinating on a public corner. He reached the doorway and, leaning slightly, turned back to the desk.
“But the lulz. What does this have to do with the lulz?” he asked.
“Nothing, Spaughsun. They’re gone. I just like remembering sometimes is all. Remembering the fun we all had before all of this.” He gestured quickly around the disheveled office. Somehow he caught the dull, unmotivated newsroom as well as the busy and anxious streets outside.
The young man nodded. He didn’t bother going back to his terminal, having lived in it like a squatter for the last few years. He figured one day they’d just deactivate his keycard and he wouldn’t be able to get in the building to his workstation. Then a year ago, when that actually happened and he just started piggybacking the doors, he figured security would haul him off and bodily toss him outside.
The newsroom was filled with hushed whispers of “Goodbye Rickie,” and “He was still here,” and “Who the hell is that guy.”
Outside was loud and hot and still cold to the bone, uncaring and unenthusiastic. But with the sunlight on his face, Rory Spaughsun felt great. He took a deep breath, choked on the greasy garbage scented air, and strode forward with purpose.
Because he had one, now.
He was going to find the lulz.