The phone had not stopped ringing.
It seemed like the second Toothy bid goodbye to another promising lead, the Toothphone was glowing purple again. Toothy usually loved this part of his job, but Christmas was around the corner and there seemed to be no let up. He took a deep breath and picked up the receiver, but this time a familiar voice was on the other end.
“Hey Goji!” Toothy exclaimed, grinning a toothy grin. “How’s it goin’?”
“Ugh!” came Goji’s flat response. Goji was the company’s Operations Monster. She could handle anything with a smile, but it seemed even she was reaching her limit. “It’s been non-stop. We’ve had five enquiries just this morning and I had to say no to all of them” she groaned.
“We can only do what we can do in the time we have,” soothed Toothy, though the words sounded tired and hollow. He refreshed his inbox and was rewarded with a flurry of new emails.
“I know, but I hate letting clients down. We don’t have enough monsters to take on this extra work. Spinnie is even doing overtime tonight” Goji explained.
Toothy sat upright. “But isn’t Spinnie supposed to be seeing that Rod Stewart tribute act tonight? He’s been looking forward to it…”
“He was,” said Goji. “But Spinnie’s client had an urgent deadline so he stepped in.”
“But it’s Christmas Eve. Speaking of which, shouldn’t you be logging off soon Goji? Isn’t it your dog’s birthday?”
“But I have so much left to do,” Goji signed. “
Hold on, I’m getting a call. Bye Toothy.”
Before Toothy could respond the line went dead. He slumped back in his chair and sipped from his mug of cold tea. It was Christmas Eve. Shouldn’t everyone be logging off to watch Die Hard by now? He watched emails continue to stack like Tetris blocks. A calendar reminder alerted him to his upcoming 2021 review with Zippy, Head Monster at Word Monster Australia. Zippy had been busy too, so this was the only time their calendars (and circadian clocks) could sync up.
But Toothy was tired and worries were creeping in. What had happened to Word Monster’s life-first culture? Sure, he had wanted the business to grow, but had he created a… well… Monster?!
Toothy closed his eyes. He thought of Goji, Spinnie, Zippy and all the other monsters who had worked so hard all year.
“Maybe they would all be better off if I wasn’t around,” Toothy lamented. “Maybe the world would be better off without Word Monster”.
At that very moment, a pulse of brilliant bright light emanated from Toothy’s 3D printer. The small figurine he’d been printing expanded to life-size and took on a familiar form.
“Hello Toothy”, the figure said with a deep yet silken voice.
“Alan Rickman!” Toothy spluttered. “But how? Why?”
Alan smiled. “Why not? After all, I was the villain in the greatest Christmas movie of all time.”
“Yea you were wicked in Die Hard.” Toothy affirmed.
“I was talking about Love, Actually, actually. But I digress. Toothy, I’ve come today to show you what life would be without you. Without Word Monster.”
Before Toothy could respond, his surroundings flickered and faded, and he found himself standing with Alan in an office. But it wasn’t anything like his own colourful and comfortable ‘Wordshop’. This office was a much more corporate affair, with desks and LCD monitors as far as the eye could see. Sitting at one of them was Goji, looking tired and pale in the blue light.
“Goji, what are you doing here?” Toothy boomed, heading over to his fellow monster. But Goji didn’t look up, and as Toothy went to tap her on her shoulder his hand passed right through her. “Goji?”
“She can’t hear you,” said Alan nonchalantly, wiping a speck of dust off his smart, black suit. “You don’t exist, remember?”
Toothy’s eyes darted between Alan and Goji, who was frowning at her computer screen. A paper cup of mulled wine sat untouched by her keyboard.
“What’s happened to Goji?” Toothy asked, worried for his friend.
“Without Word Monster, Goji had to take an office job in the city centre,” Alan explained. “But the hours are long and the work isn’t very fulfilling.”
Beside them, Goji took off the reindeer antlers she had been wearing, and threw them to the floor with a weary sigh. “Oh no”, said Toothy. “She’s lost her Christmas spirit!” Toothy glanced around the desk. Goji’s calendar had a picture of a handsome American bulldog in a Santa hat. Toothy turned to Alan. “At least Goji has her dog, right?”
Alan shook his head gently. “Goji works in the office every day. And dogs aren’t allowed in the office. Without Word Monster, Goji was never able to adopt her dog.” Suddenly Toothy was filled with sadness. Goji loved taking long lunchtime walks with her dog. He couldn’t imagine his brilliant Ops Manager without her faithful companion.
Alan put his hand on Toothy’s shoulder. “Goji has a lot of responsibility at Word Monster. But she really enjoys her work. And she gets to hug her dog any time she likes.”
“Okay, maybe Goji’s life is better because of Word Monster” Toothy conceded “But what about the others?” He remembered his upcoming call with Zippy, which was scheduled for midnight in Australian Eastern Daylight Time. Toothy felt guilty for dragging Zippy onto a call at such an unsociable hour.
As if reading Toothy’s mind, Alan whispered “perhaps you would like to see what Zippy’s life is like without Word Monster…”
The bland office scene melted away, replaced with a vibrant vista. The bright sun bounced across cool blue waves, and in the distance the Sydney Opera House stood resplendent. Toothy stepped towards the beautiful scene, only to crash into a wall. “Oww!”
It was a mural.
He turned around to find a carpeted room filled with cubicles and inflatable palm trees. Along the walls there were other murals showing stunning scenes from every corner of the globe, flanked by rows of glossy brochures. In the corner was a kiosk with a glass partition and a sign reading ‘Bureau de change’.
“What are we doing at the travel agents, Alan?” Toothy questioned, rubbing the egg that was rapidly forming on his forehead. “And if I don’t exist, why did I crash into that wall?”
“I wanted to knock some sense into you,” Alan quipped.
Toothy shook off the pang of disappointment of not being in Sydney, before spotting a familiar face at one of the cubicles. Zippy. She was talking enthusiastically into a headset, presumably to a customer. But her chirpiness seemed forced, and when the call ended, her smile quickly vanished.
Toothy didn’t get it. Zippy was ambitious, hard-working and loved to travel. Why wasn’t she in Australia?
“Zippy went to Sydney,” Alan explained. “But without you to help her, she didn’t have the confidence to set up an agency abroad. She thought about it almost daily. And then she gave up and went home.”
“But why a travel agent?” Toothy asked, as La Cucaracha started blasting through the tinny sound system.
Alan shrugged. “I guess she didn’t want to lose her connection to her dream. But with Word Monster, she didn’t have to dream. He glanced over at the Sydney mural. “She could have the real thing.”
Toothy nodded. “Maybe that’s true for Zippy. And, yes, Goji too. But what about the writing monsters?” He thought of Spinnie, facing an evening of overtime. “What about their dreams?”
“Let’s find out” Alan replied, and within the blink of an eye the travel agents had faded away to reveal a dark, cavernous bar. The floor was sticky and the stale odour of sweat and lager hung in the air. To the right of the bar there was a standing area, and spotlights centered on a rickety stage with a faded red curtain.
“Let me guess, a gig?” Toothy questioned. He spotted a soggy flyer stuck to the floor. The details were faded, but he made out the words NOT ROD at the top of the page in bold letters. Something clicked in his brain. He turned to Alan, smiling. “We must be at the Rod Stewart tribute concert that Spinnie got tickets to. Cool!” Toothy looked around again, searching for a familiar face in the small crowd that had now formed in the centre of the room. The crowd was mostly men, and the men were mostly drunk, getting rowdy as they swigged their pints of Carling. He turned to Alan. “Where’s Spinnie?”
At that very moment the lights dipped low, and a melodic tune filled the room. The curtain opened to reveal a figure dressed in a shiny green suit and a spiky blond wig. Spinnie. The monster said something, but Toothy couldn’t make it out over the brays of the crowd. Toothy moved closer to get a better look.
Seemingly unfazed by the less than stellar reaction to his arrival, Spinnie and his band launched into their first track. But it was a tough crowd, and soon boos and cries of “You’re rubbish!” drowned out the music.
“This is awful, can’t we do something, Alan?” Toothy cried. He was barely able to watch his friend endure such abuse.
“You don’t exist,” Alan reminded him. Toothy could only watch in horror as the crowd continued to mock Spinnie. “Without you to show him the way, Spinnie lost his love of science,” Alan explained. “He grew disillusioned, wondering if his work was really making a difference.”
“But Spinnie is such a talented medical writer!” Toothy stated. “Does he still write at least?”
“Of course. You see there isn’t much call for Rod Stewart tribute acts, surprisingly.” Alan smirked in an evil manner. “Spinnie does do writing on the side to supplement his income.”
Toothy brightened at this, until Alan clarified. “Spinnie… Freelances… on Fiverr.”
Toothy gasped! “No, it cannot be!”
“I’m afraid it is so. Without decent writing experience the only remote jobs available to Spinnie are ones that pay 0.05p per word.”
Toothy could barely take it in, as around them the crowd was growing wilder and louder. From nowhere, a rotten tomato pelted Spinnie in the eye socket. Spinnie stumbled backwards, and his silver polyester mullet cascaded to the floor.
“Noooooo. Take me away Alan,” cried Toothy. “I’ve seen enough!”
Alan laughed in the manner reminiscent of his Die Hard villain, Hans Gruber. “Very well, Toothy.”
Toothy came back to earth with a thud. He was sitting at his own desk, and Alan was nowhere to be seen. He glanced at the clock. Barely a moment had passed since his call with Goji. Had it all been a dream?
Remembering everything he had seen and heard, he was ecstatic to be back to a world where he existed. A world where Word Monster existed. He looked up at the plaque above his desk. He hadn’t given the plaque much thought recently, but today he was looking at it with renewed appreciation. It was embossed with the words: You can only do what you can in the time that you have.
He knew what he had to do.
Goji petted her dog as she switched on the kettle for yet another brew. As her brain whirred with thoughts of her growing to-do list, the doorbell chimed.
A courier handed Goji a large box. Inside the box was a canine-friendly birthday cake. And a note:
I’ve switched on your Out Of Office. Your phone has been deactivated. Anyone who tries to call you will just get holding music (I’ve chosen La Cucaracha. You’re welcome).
Thanks for all your hard work. See you in 2022.
Zippy was on an evening walk watching the sun set over Sydney opera house when her phone pinged. A Skype message from Toothy read:
G’day Zippy! I’ve cancelled our gnarly meeting that could easily be an email. Have a ripper of a Christmas! Good on ya!
Spinnie popped a crate of beers in the fridge. He would definitely be indulging in one (or more!) later. But first, he had some work to do. He grabbed himself some flamin’ hot monster munch and settled down at his laptop. And that’s when he got an email from his client.
The strangest thing just happened. A mysterious masked figure with purple eyes and massive teeth just swooped into my window and told me that I should only do what I can in the time that I have, so I’ve pushed the deadline back to take the pressure off. Looks like we won’t need you tonight after all. Thanks! And have a great Christmas!
Spinnie looked down at his watch excitedly. If he hurried maybe he could still make it to the Rod Stewart tribute concert. Something moved in his peripheral vision, and he looked over at his window in time to see a purple cape disappear into the night.
On the windowsill sat two tickets to see Rod Stewart in concert in 2022. The real Rod Stewart. As Spinnie stared at the tickets in disbelief, a voice cried out in the distance: