On Your Shoulder

Info Smokey125
01 Feb. '17
On Your Shoulder

Originally published December 2015 as Smokey Saga #58

Here’s a story I wrote in 2008, as a theater play to get produced on stage. That never happened, but I was always fond of this funny little fairy-tale, and the upside is I can now redo it as an erotic story. There’ll be a bit of a sex scene in the middle, and a full one at the end. I hope you’ll find them worth waiting for, ’cause there’s a lot of content here. This is a long one. But it’s also humorous, and may give you a giggle or two. Also, this will switch narratives between first- and third-person. Italics denote the intro. Bold is the first-person narration. And as always, bold italics are the headings of the individual segments. We’ll start with our protagonist’s first monologue, her initial (‘P’) in brackets (parentheses). Enjoy, and as you know, feedback is highly valued and appreciated.

*****

(P) Hi there. You’re looking dapper. Y’know, our whole system of morals and values can really get flipped on its head sometimes. When we’re growing up, people try to teach us right from wrong. But what they don’t tell us is that sometimes the “wrong” path is the only path to survival. At some point during our formative years, the barriers between good and evil break down, and the thin line gets blurred beyond recognition.

My name’s Poppy Sorenson. I never thought of myself as a bad or evil person before. I never really thought much about morality at all, in fact. Maybe that’s just what happens when we become grown-ups. We tend to lose the innocence and idealism we were instilled with. That’s what happened to me. I’m in my 30s now, but I lost my inner child when I was 15.

This is my office. Well, it used to be my office. At the moment I’m sitting Native American-style on my old desk. Up until a while ago, I was employed at SuCo Industries, occupying the awful position of Corporate Killer. In the most basic terms, I fired people for a living. Yep. I was her—that terrifying lady down in the office of doom, where they send you when you know you’ve screwed up just a touch too much. That wicked witch…was yours truly.

And I loved every damn—oops…’scuse me—darn second of it.

I did. I was a cold-hearted, sadistic devil. I was a snake, a creep, a rat, a slime ball, just you name it. But less believable still, I was completely oblivious. That is, until something…happened to me. I know how impossible it is, and all I can say is that I swear it’s true. I remember every detail. At the start of what would be my last week at SuCo Industries, one cold frosty November day…I heartlessly axed a sweet, innocent girl called Suzy.

C’mon along with me. It’ll be all right. Promise.

*****

Pop Blows The Whistle

Monday, November 10th, 2008, 12:23 p.m.

It was a chilly autumn afternoon in downtown Juniper, Minnesota. The temperature floated around 40°F, cold falling leaves and whistling winds reigned over by precipitating skies. Festive retailers, done with costumes and candy, brought out the turkeys and Stove Top, with toys, gifts and wreaths next in line. Students and laborers carried on with an extra bounce in their step, looking forward to grand holiday celebrations. And another week of staggering business was underway at SuCo Industries.

SuCo was a thirty-five-year old corporate giant for whom production was a number-one concern. In competition with fierce longstanding rivals, they had to maintain a cutthroat ethic. They were always on the lookout for qualified personnel, and known to hire a wide surplus of individuals—even those with little or no experience. Unfortunately, herein lay the “glitch,” so to speak. While they could use as many proficient workers as they could find, SuCo standards of proficiency were less than concrete. They often took on just a few too many employees to maintain their precious balance. It was survival of the fittest.

Unproductive laborers—so deemed by the company, via either accident or intent—were treated to a bite of harsh reality. Under scrutinizing superior eyes, only the strongest thrived. Stepping into the doors of SuCo Industries was a massive roll of the proverbial dice. There was room and opportunity for growth, and for the truly dedicated, lavishly rewarding careers may just lie in wait. But there were no guarantees. The glitch in the hiring system (exposure of which would undermine SuCo’s stature) eradicated job security, for even those who tried their best. The next recipient of this smack in the face was on her way down to the office of Miss Poppy Sorenson.

Suzy Cooper took a few breaths before she turned the knob. She and other entry-level workers heard things about the woman behind this intimidating door. But she couldn’t be sure till witnessing for herself. She cautiously opened it, and peeked inside to see not one but two women sitting behind the desk. The one to her left looked up.

“Suzy Cooper?”

The timid girl nodded, slipping inside. She couldn’t help but notice neither of the women appeared very welcoming. In fact, they looked frankly hostile. She also observed just how loud and creaky the door was. Could use a little oiling in the hinges, she thought. The other woman gestured to the chair facing them.

“Shut the door and have a seat, Miss Cooper.”

Well, it’s Mrs., actually, thought Suzy, but she somehow didn’t see this mattering a great deal. She did as they said.

For a bit, no one said anything. Suzy’s eyes shifted between them as they robotically glared at her. They were attempting to make her as uncomfy as possible. And succeeding. Finally, the woman on her left spoke again.

“…Thank you for coming down, Miss Cooper.”

“Um, I’d prefer Suzy, actually, please,” she said, feeling this a more tactful choice than correcting them with her married title.

“Very well; Suzy.”

Suzy nodded, trying to keep her breathing under control. She had an ominous feeling whatever was going on wasn’t good.

“Now,” continued Poppy, her first hostess. She sorted and shifted papers, giving Suzy the illusion that she and the other woman had additional things to do. She went on, low and slow, trying to make Suzy sweat.

“As you know, Suzy, here at SuCo Industries, production is our number-one concern.

“Unfortunately, it has come to our attention…”

Oh, dear, the poor girl thought with a gulp. “It has come to our attention”—the six scariest words in the clerical office profession, preceded right by number seven: “Unfortunately.” Suzy already knew she was going to hate this.

“…That an issue has arisen concerning your performance.”

Suzy’s heart accelerated. Perspiration materialized under her bangs. She hoped to heaven she wasn’t in trouble, but was about 90% sure this hope was in vain. She opened her mouth to try to answer, but wasn’t granted the chance.

“It seems your productivity has fallen an average of eight percent, in a single month.”

Suzy felt her eyes reflexively widen, her mouth speechlessly ajar. The other woman, Tammy, stepped in.

“Were you aware of this, Suzy?”

Suzy vehemently shook her head, trying to convey her sincere obliviousness.

“Well, I…no, no, I wasn’t,” she answered meekly. “I’m…I’m doing the best I can. I-I always have been, since I started here.”

“Now, Suzy, in addition to your orientation, you’ve had several training sessions with your supervisors, have you not?” asked Poppy.

“Um…yes…”

“Supervisors who took the time out of their already busy schedules working with you personally, to help boost your progress,” Tammy admonished. “And instead of increasing, the quality of your work has done only the opposite.”

Suzy was genuinely thrown for a loop. “…Well, I…had…I-I had no idea,” she told them.

“Yes, well, be that as it may, Suzy,” Poppy went on, “All of this having been said, as things stand at this point…”

Suzy teemed with trepidation as she felt her fate being sealed. And she was right.

“…I’m afraid we’re going to have to let you go.”

There it was. The confirmation. Suzy’s gasp came out just before her face fell.

“Oh, no, wait, please!” she begged. “There…th-there-there must be something I can do! Give-give me another chance! Please!

The two women behind the desk just shook their heads once more.

“Suzy, I’m afraid you’ve already had all the chances you’ll be getting with us,” said Tammy. “I’m sorry; our decision is final.”

Suzy couldn’t believe it. “But, I-I…I didn’t even know!” she exclaimed, her voice starting to crack. “Please, you can’t do this to me! I need this job! I’ll lose my insurance, and my husband’s unemployment just ran out! What’ll I do??”

Poppy let out a sigh. “Suzy, don’t make this more difficult than it is. Again, we’re very sorry. We’ll be providing you two weeks’ severance pay. You may take all the time you need to clean out your cubicle, and you’ll then be escorted out.”

Suzy watched through welling eyes as Miss Poppy Sorenson and the other woman—whatever her name was—returned to their “paperwork.” Not even looking back up at her, Poppy finally announced, “That will be all, Suzy. You’re dismissed.”

The crestfallen girl let her head drop. One hand over her mouth, she rose from the chair and started back to the noisy door. She supposed the things she and her co-workers had heard about the infamous Miss Sorenson were true after all. But she also supposed if she spread the word to surviving workmates, Miss Sorenson and her crony here could make things tough on her, past even this point. As she’d lamented to the two of them, she couldn’t handle life being more trying just now. And she didn’t want to let emotion get the better of her, but a small, audible weep still escaped.

“And Suzy?” she heard.

Much as she hated to let them see they’d made her cry, Suzy somberly turned back around. Her tear-blurred vision made it hard to determine who said the next sentence, but she heard each word loud and clear.

“Rest assured your future potential employers will be given a favorable reference.”

Suzy nodded, turned back around, sniffled, wiped her nose, and solemnly departed. She left their door open, so after a few moments Tammy got up from her seat, took a peek outside, shut it, and brought her voice to full volume.

“In her dreams!” she chuckled, clapping off her hands.

“Ha ha ha!” Poppy grinned and laughed devilishly. “And another sucker bites the dust!”

“Yep,” Tammy returned to her seat. “And the best part: watching ’em crawl outta here like worms on their bellies, thinking it’s all their fault.” She folded her arms behind her head, throwing her feet up onto the desk. “Y’know, maybe we should tell one of ’em the truth: we just need to…‘lighten the load’ a little.”

Poppy shrugged. “Yeah…but where’s the fun in that?” They shared another malicious laugh. “Next victim!”

The diabolical duo was normally treated to axing an individual worker, sending her or him packing every couple hours or so. As the company was apt to take employees on by the truckloads, it was as quick to weed through unsuitables and cut them loose. So between callous terminations, they sifted documentation, determining what to keep and what to dispose of. This left them still copious extra time, during which Tammy met with department heads for progress updates. Poppy stayed in the office, taking calls and keeping the computer system up to date. A bit later, Tammy left to go on her next round.

By herself in the shut office, Poppy picked up her nameplate to read the fancy serif letters. If met with the question as to why exactly she and Tammy took such delight in telling victims to beat it—or keeping them on edge with their unoiled door’s squeaking and creaking—she’d be a bit stymied for an answer. She supposed she chalked it up to being a survivor in a cold, cruel world. As long as SuCo kept bringing folks aboard by the boatloads, she and Tammy had job security, unlike those on the other side of their desk. Hey, she’d reason, she and Tam needed to eat, and roofs over their heads as well. And, schadenfreude. Lots, and lots of schadenfreude. The heartless, but simple and logical “better you than me” philosophy.

Her nameplate bore thirteen letters with a space in between. Poppy’s middle name bluntly embarrassed her, and remained a secret to almost everyone. She read and embellished out loud—

“‘Poppy Sorenson’…Corporate Killer.”

While adding the job title to the nameplate would be even more satisfying, it would send a premature signal to their victims, confirming for sure what was about to happen. And Poppy and Tammy couldn’t have that; why, it would spoil their fun. She returned the nameplate to its spot, stretched her arms, closed her eyes, and smiled.

God, I love my job.”

She was just about to go on updating the computer system when something…very unusual happened. Poppy heard a sound she’d never heard before…an alternating ascending and descending scale of…

Harp music?

It seemed to fade in from one side of the office and out towards the other. Another moment later, it was gone. Poppy looked up in utter bewilderment, eyes darting back and forth. She listened, but heard nothing more.

Ohhh-kaythat was one of the weirder things I’ve heard lately

She checked the time, subsequently picking up a small voice recorder.

“Note to self: switch to decaf after twelve.”

The next moment presented an indecipherable knock on her office door. Poppy looked up, unsure who this was. Tammy never knocked, and their next termination victim wasn’t due for another while yet.

“’S open.”

The otherwise noisy door silently flew ajar, and something no less than a flourish swept in. Into the office pirouetted a lass Poppy’s age, though her appearance gave the impression she was about twelve. She had long, fluffy hair, a light bright top, denim overalls and rainbow-colored sandals. Despite the less than ideal footwear, she proceeded to dance around the office, sticking a tasteful landing with a modest bow. After she stopped moving, Poppy stared wordlessly for a few more bemused seconds. She picked up the voice recorder again.

“Cancel that; switch to decaf, period.” She stood to greet this bizarre creature who had just ballet’d her way in.

“Yes? May I…uh…help you, ma’am?”

Her visitor was all smiles and twirls, turning another 360° on one of her rubber soles. She was the polar opposite of Poppy: undeterredly bubbly, bouncy and cheerful.

“Oh, it is such a beautiful day!” the guest gushed, throwing her arms as if to hug the air. She hopped on her toes, embracing nothing. “Isn’t it just the most wonderful day??”

The disinterested Poppy was nauseated by such merriment, but remained professional.

“Uh, yes, it is quite a nice day,” she muttered, as a mere throwaway. “Is…there something I can do for you, Miss…?”

“Oh!” Poppy was treated to yet another gleeful twirl. “You may call me…Anastasia!

For some reason that seemed to ring a bell, but Poppy wasn’t sure why. Wasn’t that a character in an old fairy tale or something? At any rate, Poppy hadn’t inclination to find out. She obligatorily sauntered around the desk and offered her hand.

“Uh-huh…Poppy Sorenson.”

Anastasia forewent the handshake and flung her arms around Poppy, squeezing extra tight until she about crushed her circulation. Poppy emitted a groan, unable to do much with her arms pinned under her visitor’s. Her guest broke the hug, but didn’t let go.

“Yes, I know,” said Anastasia, holding on to Poppy’s arms, smiling tenderly at her. “Oh, how I’ve missed you.”

Aha; the plot thickened. Poppy was taken aback, but now thought maybe she could get a clue what was going on.

“Um…I’m sorry, have we met?”

“Oh!” Anastasia brushed a hand through the air. “Time, the sly boots! You knew me…in an era that once was.”

Poppy was about to ask in an era that once was what, but her mind was growing consumed with this weird chick’s touchy-feely-ness.

“You know, there’re pretty strict guidelines about hugging in this off—”

“You embraced me in the wondrous wake of birth,” Anastasia went on, staring into nothingness. “I ran by your side through the fleeting transience of childhood…”

She next reached to clasp both of Poppy’s hands in her own.

“…And I held your hands as you embarked upon the tumultuous trek of adolescence.”

Poppy was getting just a little freaked out. She worked up a smile, feigning politeness.

“Really?...Well, how disturbing. Um—” She slipped back around to behind her desk. “Is there, in fact, anything I can actually do for you today, Miss, uh…Anafantasia…?”

Anastasia approached, the desk still between them. Poppy surreptitiously sidled behind her chair as well, just to be on the safe side. Her visitor intoned, arms outstretched.

“The innocence of childhood…is but a winding corridor, to an eclipse…a portal, dividing the birth that is idealism…”

Her voice suddenly lowered and intensified.

“…And the death that is jaded…indifferent…malice.”

Poppy gazed blankly, frankly ready for the weirdo to go away now. She nodded quarter-heartedly.

“Yes, well, there’s the door, eh, Drizella; don’t let it smack ya in the ass on the way out.”

Accustomed to giving folks the boot, Poppy felt satisfied to have a seat, and return to her work. But her guest wasn’t ready to go just yet. She stayed put.

“I see that I shall have to make the purchase of my presence nakedly clear.”

Poppy’s eyes remained elsewhere. “Hey, you wanna talk dirty, take it outside.”

“I’m very serious, Poppy,” Anastasia stated intently. “From this moment on, you will ignore me no longer.”

Poppy sighed, becoming highly exasperated.

“Look, I’m-I’m very busy here, Anaconda. Why don’t you go…fly a kite, or something.”

The mystery visitor refused to give up. “You once turned to me for guidance, Poppy. Whenever in doubt, I helped you. I was your moral compass. It was I, Poppy…who, in your formative years…told you to do the right thing.”

Poppy ceased her activities midway through this little speech. It seemed an epiphany had struck. She nodded sardonically.

“…Oh, I see where we’re headed with this…”

Anastasia smiled. “That’s right, Poppy…”

She flung out her arms to the sides once more, for her umpteenth twirl. She chirped the next three enigmatic words, in the most angelically sweet voice.

“…I’m your conscience.”

Poppy nodded, serving up a saucy grin. She decided to treat this as the joke it so obviously was.

Allllll right, I get it…” she smirked. “Okay, where’s the camera?” She got up and traversed the office, as if looking for hidden devices. “Huh?...What’d you do, bring a whole crew in here?” She opened the door and peeked out. “Yoo-hoo! Hello there! Good one!” She flung it shut and whipped back around on Anastasia. “C’mon, what is this, America’s Dopiest Home Videos?”

Anastasia shook her head, the beatific smile irremovably plastered on her face.

“I jest you not, Poppy.” She began to sound like an unsolicited lecturer. “You have shut me out of your life for long enough, and I have returned today…” She paused for effect.

“…To show you the error…of your ways.”

Poppy scoffed. She was through clowning around, tired of having her time wasted, and not about to be undercut by some screwball who’d taken it upon herself to start telling her how to live her life. She inched in, mocking Anastasia’s tone.

Getbent.”

She started back around to her desk. “I dunno what kinda fantasy world you’re living in, but listen up, kiddo: this ain’t La-La Land. Stuff like this doesn’t happen. You don’t play these kinda games in the real world.”

As Poppy watched, Anastasia’s smile actually faded. This made Poppy feel triumphant.

“That’s what I thought. Besides, Poppy Sorenson has no conscience. So, although I’ve gotta give you points for originality, I’m afraid I’m gonna have to dismiss you. Again.”

She pointed to the door, and returned to work. But Anastasia still didn’t budge.

“You cannot continue running from your virtue…Poppy Eve Sorenson.”

Poppy reflexively stood back up, triggered by indignance and defensiveness.

“Hey, hey, watch that ‘Eve’ cra—”

Her eyes narrowed. She warily came around the desk once more, glaring suspiciously.

How’d you know my middle name?”

Knowing she’d regained the upper hand, as it were, Anastasia’s smile returned. She looked back into Poppy’s hostile eyes, her own dear and innocent. For just a minute the two stared one another down. Then, Poppy pointed a declaratory finger.

“…You’ve been through my files, haven’t you?”

Anastasia was unfazed. Her response skirted the accusation.

“Oh, Poppy…sweet, simple Poppy. You just refuse to understand.”

Poppy veritably stormed back behind her desk. She grabbed the phone.

“You’re pretty sick, you know that?” she asked, punching buttons. “You need some professional help!”

She’d almost finished dialing when the door opened. Tammy reentered.

“Oh, good.” Poppy hung up and gesticulated to her companion. “Tam, you wanna escort this nutjob outta here?”

Tammy’s expression turned downright bamboozled. She shifted her gaze between her partner, and where she seemed to be pointing.

“I…beg your pardon, Poppy?”

Poppy’s frustration escalated. What in the hell was going on here?

“You heard me; I want her gone!” she snapped. “Hey, if you’re not gonna do it, I’ll just call security! How’s that?”

“Poppy…

What in the name of all that is holy are you talking about?”

The receiver dropped from the incredulous Poppy’s hand, clattering on the desk. She couldn’t believe she had to do this, but she emerged, stamped up behind her conscience, and grabbed her by the arms to show Tammy.

Thissss!” she emphasized, violently shaking Anastasia. “I am talking, about, thissss! Do you not see her?!

A gleefully grinning Anastasia stuck out her tongue and thumbed her nose. Tammy discreetly shuffled the few feet to where Poppy stood. She examined the empty space between Poppy’s clutching hands, and slowed her voice to a patronizing tone.

“Is this your imaginary friend, Poppy?...” she asked, as if talking to a small and not especially bright child.

Anastasia’s expression changed. She glared sourly, as her owner’s jaw hit the floor.

WHAT??!” Poppy screeched.

“She can’t see me, Poppy; only you. You wouldn’t expect to be able to see and hear everybody else’s consciences, now would you?”

Poppy’d had more than enough. She unhanded Anastasia, dismissively shoving her off.

“Oh, get away from me!”

Tammy was of course oblivious to whom Poppy was directing this command. She took a modicum of offense to this broadside. She retorted in the same condescending manner, now with a dash of her own indignance tossed in.

“As you wish, Poppy.” She about-faced, turned her nose up, and marched back out the door, yanking it closed.

“Wha—oh, no no no, Tammy, th-that w-I-I didn’t m—”

She tried to stop her, but was too late; slam! Poppy followed, but lost her energy at the door. She let her head thud against it. She heard her conscience’s voice behind her.

“Hm. Good riddance to bad rubbish, if you ask me,” Anastasia shook her head, hands on hips. “I don’t know why we put up with her.”

Poppy felt a surge of fury ignite her. She whirled on Anastasia with fire in her eyes.

You!!

She marched back with boiling blood, pointing one angry quivering finger.

“I…will…murder…you.”

Her conscience’s only reply was a waggle of her own index finger and a scolding t’sk.

“Ah, ah, ah, ah. Now, Poppy, she who kills her spirit so kills her soul.”

“I’ll chance it,” Poppy growled through clenched teeth, cracking her knuckles. She neared and neared, waiting for just the right moment to pounce. When she thought she had it, she made a sudden lunge. But at the last possible second, Anastasia calmly stepped aside, causing Poppy to belly-dive square into her desk.

OOOohff!

Anastasia merrily twirled yet again, using her sandals as ballet slippers. “Now then…” she began, clasping her hands. “Let’s go ahead and get started, shall we?”

A bit intimidated for the first time, Poppy Sorenson steadied herself and turned around.

“You-you…what, you-you brainwashed Tammy now too?”

“Tammy is immaterial, Poppy. Annoying, and a gigantic pain in the heinie, but immaterial. More importantly, you fired that sweet lovely Suzy as you have dozens of hard-working individuals—with zero just cause whatsoever. You know full well she put everything she had into her job. You didn’t fire her to increase productivity. You didn’t even particularly need to lighten the workload.” Anastasia’s words slowed at the final accusation, telling Poppy what she knew, but would not acknowledge.

“You fired her solely for your own selfish sport and pleasure.”

Poppy leaned against the desk, starting to breathe uneasy herself, as she possessed the ability to make her victims do. Also for the first time, she wasn’t sure whether this was a joke or not.

“…What, were you listening at the door or something?...”

Nobody deserves to be treated that way, Poppy,” Anastasia sternly chided. “No one. I need hardly remind you the countless other examples of your renowned ruthlessness. Heaven knows your own family, not to mention your company, fears you.” Seeing that she was getting through to Poppy, Anastasia made her next move. She chuckled.

“Your files?...Sure, Poppy. Your middle name’s in your files.

“Perhaps now would be a good time to discuss a few things that aren’t.”

Anastasia approached, smiling coy and sweet. Her unassuming benevolence frightened Poppy, culling a small gasp from her. She backed up to the desk, reached behind for something to protect herself, and found an object.

“You stay away from me,” she warned.

Both studied the item Poppy’d nabbed off her desk and was now pointing at Anastasia. It was a small bottle of liquid paper. They returned their eyes to one another.

“What are you planning to do, white me out?”

Poppy scurried behind the desk again, as if it were her base.

“I-I’m serious. I mean it. You try anything on me, I’m calling security.”

Anastasia nodded, clasping her paws and rocking on her heels.

“Mm, good idea. I’m sure they’d just love to meet your imaginary friend.”

She flashed her insufferably lovely smile. Poppy stopped and thought a moment.

“…A’right. Okay. Okay, I’m…I’m-I’m willing to negotiate here. Wh-why don’t we jus—”

Her conscience held up a single hand. “Poppy…let’s conclude the small talk portion of our program, shall we? You know every bit as well as I do, we have allllll day.”

Poppy threw out a sigh, almost ready to start pleading.

“Look, uh, Antarctica, you’ve-you’ve gotta understand. This…this is a cutthroat company. It feeds on brutality. ’S full of evil women. But, we’ve-we’ve gotta be evil to survive! That’s how the corporate world works! Have…oh, have you met Ellie in Human Resources? She is an absolute demon. She’s a monster! Every single day sh—”

“You’re babbling, Poppy. And you’re avoiding the issue at hand. Now, we can do this the easy way, or the hard way. Up to you.”

Poppy let out yet another frustrated sigh. But she was excused for the immediate moment. The door opened. Tammy called in.

Pop-pyyyy??...It’s Tam-myyyy.”

“Oh, for God’s sake,” Poppy uttered under her breath.

“Your next vic-tim is here…” Tammy announced. She added that she was still doing rounds, and so Poppy’d be handling this one herself. But Poppy didn’t hear this part, as her conscience piped up.

“Ooooh! Front-row seat, front-row seat!” the enthusiastic Anastasia squealed, hopping onto the corner of the desk.

Shut up!” Poppy hissed, staring at the floor.

“Oh, you shut up,” said Anastasia, sticking out her tongue. She crossed her legs excitedly and swung her feet back and forth. Poppy hadn’t time for this nonsense. She looked up, cleared her throat and green-lit her partner.

“That-that’ll be fine, Tammy; send her in.”

Tammy withdrew, as Poppy took her seat and checked the next appointment. She could do this; it was just a matter of willpower. A moment later, in sauntered a woman named Gwen Culbert. She assumed the chair across from Poppy and crossed her own legs. She didn’t seem nearly as nervous or anxious as Suzy.

Poppy was rattled, but launched into the standard routine, complete with the shuffling of papers and the cold stare. “Good afternoon, Miss Culbert, I’m Poppy Sorenson. Thank you for coming down.”

Gwen shrugged. “No prob’m.”

“A’right, well, let’s just get started,” said Poppy. “Now, Miss Culbert, as you know, here at SuCo Industries, production is our number-one concern.”

As Poppy opened her little spiel, Anastasia decided now was the time for the fun to begin. She waited for Poppy to resume.

“Now, unfort—”

Anastasia snapped her fingers. Poppy promptly hiccupped. Loudly.

HIC—!

“Hee-hee-hee!” her conscience giggled. “Gotcha!”

Poppy reflexively whirled on Anastasia, forgetting that Gwen couldn’t see or hear her.

“What do you think you’re d—” Snap!HIC—!

Anastasia chortled in jovial humor. This was fun. She extended her arm and snapped her fingers multiple times in succession.

HIC-HIC-HIC-HIC-HIC—!!

Finally, she gave her a break. Poppy caught a breath and cleared her throat. “Um, ’scuse me,” she apologized to the now somewhat bemused Gwen. “Little tickle there. Constrictive throat muscles. ’S a family problem.”

“T’sk-t’sk-t’sk-t’sk-t’sk,” Anastasia reprimanded. “Family lives clear across the country, and you don’t even have the courtesy to call or write ’em. Ungrateful, that’s what.”

Poppy squeezed her eyes tight in irritation. “Will you freaking be quiet, I said!”

“But, I didn’t even say anything yet!” Gwen objected.

“Par-er, pardon me, Miss Culbert,” said Poppy. “Now, unfortunately, it has come to our attention tha—”

Anastasia reached over and poked Poppy’s forearm. Her voice abruptly shot up three octaves. The startled Gwen arched her eyebrows and reared back in her chair.

Poppy gave herself a light whap in the sternum, trying not to let Anastasia get to her. She cleared her throat once more. “My goodness, I do apologize,” she told Gwen. “Anyway, Miss Culbert, the bottom line is, w—”

Anastasia loudly clapped her hands twice. “Clap off!”

At the instant her conscience said the word “off,” Poppy’s voice and speech went dead silent. She continued moving her lips, but no sound came out. When Poppy realized she was suddenly mute, one paw flew reflexively to her larynx, the other over her mouth. She turned on Anastasia, incredulously mouthing some very unpleasant words.

The already befuddled Gwen was getting seriously weirded out. “A—…are you all right?” she asked Poppy.

Quite literally at a loss for words, Poppy was compelled to think on her toes. She pointed to her throat, as if to indicate to Gwen that she had laryngitis. This made Anastasia burst into hysterical laughter.

“W—…what?” Gwen asked. “I…I don’t understand.”

Anastasia was in stitches. She gave the desk a couple bangs with her fist, and Poppy a playful punch in the arm.

“Nice save, killer! We’ve having fun now, huh??” She clapped again. “Okay, clap on!”

Poppy’s voice came back.

“—can’t talk. I have laryngitis,” she explained, perfectly audibly. “That’s wh—”

She realized her powers of speech had been restored. She proceeded to fire a glare at her conscience, with a desire to kill her multiple times, via the most excruciating methods feasible. Anastasia innocently blew on her nails.

Gwen was extremely perplexed. “Sh-should I go?” she asked, starting to get up.

“Oh, no no no, Miss Culbert, sit,” Poppy insisted. She shuffled her papers. “Just, a, um…just a little, eh…a little office difficulty here…” She took a deep breath. “Okay. Here’s the deal. You see, the bottom line is…”

Anastasia seized this moment to clasp Poppy’s hand, link their fingers, and speak for her. Poppy went on with no pause in her explanation, but her conscience made her say some very unintended things. Her expression and tone changed dramatically. She essentially became Anastasia’s puppet.

“…Even though I may think I do,” Poppy told the visitor she was supposed to have fired by now, “I have no right to judge you, or anyone else. Just look at some of the things I’ve done in my life! I break hearts every day, for the sheer fun of it! That’s the sort of person I am; I take pleasure in tormenting people! I cheated on my girlfriend because our relationship got boring! I hocked my Mom’s jewelry ’cause I needed the money!”

Right before the words “…I needed the money,” Anastasia stopped puppeteering Poppy and released her. Out from under her conscience’s spell, Poppy registered what she’d just said, shrieked, and slapped her hands over her mouth. The confession prompted a bout of silence. For a few moments, no one said anything. Gwen looked uncomfortable.

“Well, I, uh…that’s…that’s pretty, eh…unfortunate to hear…I guess,” Gwen commented, not very sure what to say.

Poppy sighed, straining for words.

“Yes, well, regardless, Miss Culbert, as much more difficult as it makes this to say…”

This time Anastasia did not interfere, but Poppy hesitated on her own. Another short spell of awkward silence ensued. Her conscience shot her that oh-so innocent smile.

“Something wrong, Poppy?...”

“I…uhhh, I-I-I…” Poppy stammered.

Gwen furrowed one eyebrow and raised the other. “…What are you trying to say?”

“Yeah!” prodded Anastasia, giving Poppy another impish smack in the arm. “What’s the matter, killer?! C’mon! Gonna wimp out on me now? Huh?? Too much of a goody-two-shoes? Boot the babe! Can the chick! Ditch the doll! Come on already! Woman up! Grow a pair and kick her sorry butt outta here!!

“Gwen, you’re fired!” Poppy finally exclaimed, springing up from her chair. She sharply exhaled in relief, and whirled on her conscience. “HA!”

Anastasia arched her brows, a bit surprised Poppy could go through with it, even after all that taunting. Miss Gwen Culbert, meanwhile, was foreseeably dumbfounded.

“What?!”

Poppy whipped back to Gwen, now less than in control.

“You heard me; you’re outta here!” She whacked the desk with her palm on each forthcoming outburst. “Goners! Bounced! Heaved! Dumped! Ousted! Axed! Now beat it! Pack up and hit the bricks!”

Even for the Corporate Killer of SuCo Industries, this was a wildly erratic dismissal. But Poppy didn’t care. She was blazing the warpath, only starting to calm down. She threw out another breath and turned back to Anastasia. “Take that, you guilt-tripping harpy!”

An even colder, uglier silence followed. Then, Gwen suddenly jumped up from her chair.

“Well, fine!” she shouted at Poppy. “I don’t need this job! I have plenty of better offers waiting for me, from people a lot nicer to associate with than you, thanks very much!”

She marched out, slamming the door with such ferocity it didn’t creak at all. Poppy relinquished what energy she had left, collapsed in her chair, and dropped her head on the desk with a thod! Her conscience reached underneath and gently swept Poppy’s hair out of her eyes. Finally, Poppy slowly looked back up, and glowered at her.

“You’re very good at this, aren’t you?”

Anastasia twirled. “The best.”

Poppy’s tone was flat and inflectionless. “Yeah, well, you must be, ’cause all of a sudden I feel like a scum bag.”

“Aw…” Anastasia gingerly rubbed her back. Her face softened to a hybrid of both mock and genuine sympathy. She was, after all, just doing her job, and of course loved Poppy—even if the feeling couldn’t be less mutual.

Creeeeak. “Next!” Tammy called in.

Anastasia clapped. “Ooh, goody! Let’s see how much fun we can have with this one!”

Poppy moaned.

“Something tells me this is gonna be a looooong afternoon.”

*****

(P) Heh! Anastasia terrorized me the whole rest of the day. Not that I didn’t deserve it, of course. She didn’t miss one single opportunity to sabotage my employee-sacking, or dredge up something I did years ago to make me feel horrible about: losing touch with friends, ducking family obligations, general acts of dishonesty and unkindness…even cheating on my income tax, for heck’s sake. It was unbearable. She had me feeling so slimy and terrible by the end of the day, I couldn’t fire my last victim. I simply could not bring myself to do it. Every time I tried, I got a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. Finally, I just had to send her back to work. After I left, I thought I’d managed to shake Annie off. I went home and tried to dismiss the day as some kind of aberration. I’m now in bed, in my jammies, to bring you to the next flashback, which happened later that evening.

Well, to be precise, this next segment occurred just after midnight. I was talking to Tammy on the phone, trying to explain my behavior. It should be noted, I did not have the next day off. SuCo does not honor our Armed Forces veterans by giving its workers a free day. I merely tended, by nature, to undersleep. And so I opted instead to pleasure myself. Or try.

Now, after midnight, I thought, for a second, everything was back to normal. I was, of course, wrong.

I’m going to take you into my bedroom now.

But…just to illustrate the next scene for you.

*****

Jillus Interruptus

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008, 12:09 a.m.

Poppy pawed at both eyes with her free hand as she finished the conversation.

“…Right, Tam…yeah, I…I know…yeah, well, I, eh…things got a little weird there for a while…uh-huh…yeah, well, I’m pretty sure this’ll all be straightened out by tomorrow—at least I hope so…right…’kay. Yeah…good night, Tam…sweet dreams. Buh-bye.”

Poppy dropped the phone and her body side by side. She closed her eyes nice and tight to soothe them. She then proceeded to stare up into the ceiling for a few moments…and shook her head.

“Oh!” she waved a weak paw, slapping the bed. “It was a dream. That’s it. Had to be. Just had to. A disturbing…vivid…perverse…disenchanting…horrific…”

She decided to stop thinking of depressing adjectives and start fantasizing. A dirty yet dreamy smile crossed her face. One hand snaked its way beneath her pajamas and panties, the other under her nightshirt. She began fondling herself.

Single and unattached, Poppy thought about different women when masturbating: celebrities, public strangers, occasionally an office-mate for a spicy workplace scenario. But secretly, while she wouldn’t admit it, her own personal biggest crush and most intense jill-off fantasy was a literal work of art. Her parents owned a copy of the classic rock album “Layla.” And the first time Poppy saw it—with the lovely painting “La Fille au Bouquet” as the cover—she fell heels over head in love. As a young teenager, she’d pluck the record from the shelf and sneak off to her room, where she’d listen to it, kiss it, and even sleep with it like it was her teddy bear.

Her mind often wandered back to simpler times. Senior year in high school, Poppy met Gigi Robertson, the young woman who’d become her girlfriend the next several years. She was wonderful: sweet, kind, generous, affectionate, upbeat. And then there was the trait which endeared her most to Poppy. She even looked like the beloved “La Fille au Bouquet” painting. Poppy couldn’t believe her luck when Gigi liked her back. It was the beginning of what looked like a beautiful relationship.

Gradually, the novelty of togetherness wore off. Gigi loved the things they did on dates: seeing movies, going to restaurants, walking in the park or any other venue of attraction. But her mate craved a bit of horizon expansion. By the time Poppy’s 21st birthday rolled around, she wanted to start doing more adventurous things. She wanted to go snow and water skiing, rock-climbing, bungee jumping, even skydiving. Unfortunately, what she found exciting, her girlfriend found scary. Gigi was content to have peaceful times at home with her sweetie. She was frightened to do these things—and deep down, for Poppy to go through with them as well. But she told Poppy she’d be her biggest supporter, and encourage her every step of the way. Poppy was a little disconcerted Gigi didn’t want to take part in her activities, even if she was just scared.

One night, Poppy just felt like being by herself. She went to a bar and had a few drinks. She guessed she understood her honey was intimidated by her adventurous ideas, but, oh, she didn’t know. Somehow, such quests didn’t seem enjoyable without Gigi by her side, chasing the wind with her each step of the way. Poppy imagined that for or with her, the love of her life willing to go to the ends of the Earth, and that together they would conquer it. Her parents taught her a good relationship tip was to put herself in the other person’s shoes now and then. But such techniques never came so easy to Poppy. She didn’t mean to be egoistic; she just had trouble seeing things in terms of how they affected others. Right now…she just needed a drink. Or six.

“Hi,” a voice had said. Poppy looked up.

“I’m Layla.”

The intoxicated Poppy heard this new companion’s name, and allowed poor judgment to seize the better of her. In her drunken state, she interpreted this woman’s approach and name as a make-believe fantasy come to life—her own personal Layla, in her own mind. However, it was not make-believe, and it was not in her mind. Twenty-four dizzy hours later, Poppy had naught to show for her actions but a meaningless one-night stand, a severed relationship, and a bawling ex-girlfriend with a broken heart. To complicate things, when Gigi went her way, she took with her Poppy’s will for new adventures. Nothing was really stopping her from doing these things, except for the wind having been knocked out from under her sails.

At the time, Poppy felt pretty heartbroken herself. This Layla she’d met at the bar was interested only in a cheap one-nighter with no further interaction. It was foolish and selfish, and like Layla, Poppy had taken without intent to give. But as she thought about it, giving of herself had never seemed to do Poppy much good. The world was full of takers. Cold individuals for whom giving was foreign and taking was status quo. Grown, and unwilling to allow her inner child to catch up, Poppy Eve Sorenson made a decision early on in her 20s. If being hard, cold and selfish…if looking out solely for number one was her task for survival in this world…then so be it.

Over the rest of her 20s, she trained herself out of the guilt of stepping on her fellow man to get more for her. When the position of SuCo Industries’ corporate killer came along, Poppy saw the opportunity to drain all leftover humanity, and become the ultimate survivor. At 27, Poppy decided to put her adventurous aspirations aside, and join the hard, tough corporate world. It was there and then she’d meet Tammy Winkle, her comrade on the firing squad.

Tammy’d joined the company just a short time before Poppy arrived, and possessed the same ruthless killer instinct. Poppy and Tammy quickly developed the type of colleague camaraderie that entailed they trust each other, but virtually no one else. There was also something else Poppy liked about her. Tammy boasted an edgy “bad girl” sexiness that tickled Poppy’s libido and riled her up. She wasn’t girlfriend material, and Poppy knew better than to get involved with a co-worker. But this didn’t stop her from conjuring up a juicy Tammy fantasy or two.

One of her favorites portrayed her as a newbie, with Tammy as evil superior, hazing her through a tough physical exam. She cleared the desk, made Poppy take off her clothes and climb on, propping herself on all fours. She heard the rubber glove snap! on, and felt Tammy proceed to force a cavity search on her. Poppy loved to imagine Tammy emotionlessly probing her, not concerned in the least for her comfort, safety or best interests. That was the way Poppy liked it. She was a sucker for the rough, sinister stuff. She loved the idea of fantasy rape. Depending on her mood, sometimes she summoned the same scenario, but put Tammy on the business end. If she really wanted to spice things up, she’d imagine Tammy actually found something while searching her. And instead of giving her the boot, Tammy would indefinitely blackmail her. Such taboo malice really did ignite Poppy like hellfire.

And the possibilities branched out limitlessly. She might imagine Tammy or herself mistreating a fellow employee using such methods, or any other which struck her fancy. Now and then she’d fantasize about firing someone with Tammy, and then forcing any number of tribulations upon their victim, simply to add insult to injury. Sacking an employee and following it up with a vicious, violent sexual coercion was out of bounds in real life. In Poppy’s mind, it was a delight.

As she scanned her fantasy portfolio this early twilight, trying to decide which file to pull, she felt her pussy secrete under her jammies and lube itself up. Before the mondo bizarro incident she was trying to put behind her, they’d fired Suzy. Such a cute, young, vulnerable thing. Poppy smiled, bringing Suzy to her mind’s eye, shutting her indigenous eyes as she slipped a bladed hand between her labia.

Well, Tam, we’ve broken her spirit and made her crywhaddaya wanna do to her now?

Her tiny smile spread to an ear-to-ear grin as she considered options.

Then, a surprise dropped that was not part of the fantasy: an ascending and descending scale…of harp music. Poppy’s eyes snapped open as her smile evaporated.

OH, no.

She whimpered, suddenly feeling like crying. She removed her hand from her cunt, maneuvered up to her knees, clasped her paws together and looked to the ceiling.

“God? It’s Poppy again. I forgot something.”

But there’d be no supreme intervention to save her tonight. Right on cue, the door opened, and in spun Anastasia, also in her jammies. Their sleepwear was another reflection of their auras. Poppy’s pajamas were solid white, and Anastasia’s were light blue, printed with cute little cartoon animals, and had footies. She covered her nose and mouth, yawned and gave a stretch, twirling in place.

Oh!” the conscience announced. “I, am, bushed.”

Poppy fell back down into the mattress, feeling tears coming. “What are you doing in my room??” she demanded.

“You should know a thing or two about that, Pop,” Anastasia pointed out. “You really should get more shut-eye. Your body is a temple. Treat it right, it’ll thank you for it.”

“Good idea. Y’know what? You go to bed, and I’ll smother you with a pillow, and then we’ll both sleep like babies!”

Anastasia paid no heed. She merely fluffed up a pillow on the vacant side of the bed.

“You sure skedaddled from work in a hurry, babe,” she remarked, lifting the comforter and climbing in beside Poppy. “I see I’m gonna need to keep a closer eye on you.”

Anastasia settled in to get cozy. An incredulous Poppy snatched the pillow out from under her and began swatting her with it. “Get the hell out of my bed!” she ordered.

Anastasia, natch, took this as an invitation to play.

“Oh, goody; pillow fight!” she squealed, yanking Poppy’s from under her and slinging back. Poppy swiped it and flung it across the room. She could see jilling off was out of the question. She was too tired now, and definitely no longer in the mood.

“Fine. I, am going, to sleep,” she over-enunciated, hoping conscience-breath here would take the hint. “Good, night.”

Poppy leaned back, shut her eyes and arched her back. She stretched, pulling up her jammie top, exposing a few inches of tummy. Anastasia grinned, reached quickly, and dug her fingers into Poppy’s bared stomach.

“GITCHIE-GITCHIE-GITCHIE-GITCHIE-GI—!”

Poppy shrieked. She reflexively death-gripped Anastasia’s wrists.

“Try that again…” she unamusedly warned, “…And I’ll turn your hands into stumps, and distribute your fingers amongst your body crevices. Do we understand each other?”

She threw Anastasia’s grubby little paws back at her, turned over and reached for the nightstand lamp. Anastasia made a sad puppy face and rubbed her wrists. She was a delicate conscience, and felt quite frankly a little injured. She did not like rough stuff.

Click. The light went out. Poppy and Anastasia found themselves in pitch-darkness.

“Just what are you implying?”

“Oh, well, why don’t you tell me, Jiminy?”

“…Y’know, Poppy, this hostile attitude of yours is becoming increasingly tiresome. You would do well to heed my encouragings, and follow on the path of virtue and goodness.”

“Oh, blahbbity blahbbity blah.” Poppy stuffed her face in another pillow, placing atop her head the one she’d smacked Anastasia with.

“Poppy, I still don’t think you get it,” Anastasia called, raising her voice. “I’m not going away. You’re not getting rid of me. If I weren’t constantly on your shoulder, making you do the right thing, you’d be a rotten, nasty little person, and I’d be unemployed.”

SIGH. That just about tore it. Poppy’d had way more than enough now. She ominously removed the pillow over her head, slammed it on the mattress with a plsh!, and sat up.

“OH-kay…much fun as this is, and as tolerant as I feel I’ve been with it…seriously, Anabanana, whatever your name…no kidding: stop it. Now, I-I know I’ve been a jerk, okay, and…I-I’m sorry, a’right? I’m…I’m gonna treat everybody a whoooole lot nicer. Got it? Enough is enough. Now, after everything I’ve just said, if you do not get out of my room within the next thirty seconds, I am no longer responsible for my actions.”

Anastasia’s voice responded from behind her. “As a matter of fact—clap on!...”

The lamp went on. Anastasia stood on her other side. Sitting in bed now facing nothing, Poppy’s eyes were stung by the sudden light. The conscience gave the next command.

“…Pick up the phone. Call Dad.”

Poppy covered and rubbed at her eyes.

What?

“Mm-hm,” nodded Anastasia, the light not bothering her eyes at all. “He’s our Daddy. He misses you. He hasn’t gotten a chance to talk to you for a long time now.”

“Ou—…” Poppy blinked, trying to maintain sanity. “…‘Our Daddy??...Wh—…what’re you, my sister n—…l-look. Leaving aside for just a moment the fact that it’s after midnight, and my father goes to bed at nine-freaking-thirty—”

Anastasia held up a hand. “Oh—not tonight.” Her tone turned solemn. “The poor ol’ fella’s under the weather, Poppy. He hasn’t been able to get to sleep. Mommy stayed up with him as long as she could, but she couldn’t hold her eyes open any longer.”

Poppy was finding it hard to believe that these words were penetrating her. “…What?”

“He’s got a fever of a hundred and four.”

Poppy felt her emotions being tugged. Something terrible dawned and settled upon her.

“…Oh my God, you…you’ve-you’ve gotta be screwing with my mind here, right?”

The conscience gravely shook her head.

“Mm-mm. He’s been wanting to contact you for a long time now, but he knows how busy you are, Pop. He doesn’t wanna bother you.”

“…Oh, co—…” Sigh. “C’mon, gi—…gimme a break here, will ya?”

Anastasia sat back down, put an arm around Poppy and rubbed her shoulder.

“He’s just sitting there at home, all alone, trying to nurse himself better…wishing more than anything he could speak to his only child right now, just so he could tell her how much he loves her. Maybe even hear her say it back. Even though, deep down inside, he knows it won’t really happen.” She shook her head once more. “…Poor silly old guy.”

Poppy almost felt her heart crack. Her eyes pricked. She covered her ears. “Stop it!”

Anastasia gently pulled her hands away and continued.

“Poppy Eve Sorenson, do you know how precious you are to him?...Do you have any idea just how much he absolutely adores you, just because you’re his daughter?...Oh, Poppy, it would mean the world to him. And it would only take you a minute. One single minute. Sixty seconds, to bring a father a lifetime’s worth of joy!”

The now tearful Poppy heaved yet another sigh.

“…’Kay, look, i—…if I do this…will you please leave me alone?? At least for the night?!”

Anastasia placed a hand on her chin and tapped her cheek, humming as she pretended to think about it. Finally, she smiled.

“Why the heck not. You’re gonna need some time to get used to this. And besides, no good deed should go unrewarded.”

Poppy weakly surrendered. “…A’right, I’ll do it.”

Anastasia clapped excitedly. “Yay!! Here, I’ll dial for ya!” She snatched up the phone and started punching.

“Hey, bu—no, no, wait a minute!” said Poppy. “Wha—…what’m I gonna say?”

Anastasia scoffed, tossing her hands. “‘I love you’! Duh!” She gave her the phone.

Poppy held a dirty scowl on her, grabbing it as it began ringing on the other end. “I love you too, ya psycho,” she snarled.

Anastasia returned her glare with an innocent smirk. “It’s not nice to be mean, Poppy.”

Poppy felt her blood heating. She gritted her teeth and made a fist with her free hand. She began to threaten her, but was forced to shift her tone as her father picked up.

“I’d like to belt you right in th—hi, Dad!…It-it’s Poppy…yeah! Yeah, I…well, yeah, I’ve…um, I’ve m-missed you too…yeah, it, eh, has been a while…oh, well, thank you…well, I-I’m not really sure, Dad; something just told me you might be awake right now…y—…you are?...” She turned to Anastasia, gazing in disbelief. “…‘Sick as a dog,’ you say?...Well, I’m…I-I’m very sorry to hear that…w—…yes I am, Dad, I am too sad you’re sick!...” She took a breath. “…I’m-I’m sorry, I…I shouldn’t aggravate you when you don’t feel good. I…well, th—…the point is, I just, uh…”

Oh, this was difficult. Poppy was not good at mushy stuff. She covered her mouth, trying to bring herself to say it. Her conscience became extra hopeful.

“…Well, I-I just…I just kinda wanted to tell you that…” Gulp. “…That-that I…”

Anastasia was wide-eyed. She held her fists to her heart, smiling big, whispering to her.

Come on, Poppy, come on! You can do it!

“…I lllll—…” Poppy finally gave in, letting her voice go soft and tender.

“I love you, Dad.”

Anastasia rasped a silent “YES!!” startling Poppy and almost making her drop the phone. She threw her arms around Poppy with an extra loving squeeze, then let go.

“…Yeah, and-and…” Poppy continued, trying to push Anastasia off her. “…I, uh…I just wish I was there right now so I could take care of ya…right, well, y’know, drink your juice, get plenty of rest and all that…and, y’know, you’ll...uh…”

She realized she was about to hit an emotional bump. Her voice cracked.

“…Get well soon, Daddy!” she cried, starting to weep. She almost sobbed for half a second, then pulled herself together.

“…Uh, yeah, well, anyway, get better as soon as possible, Dad; I want you to be healthy…oh, you’re…you’re welcome...okay…all right, well, I’m…I’m-I’m gonna go now, ’kay?...Yeah, good night, try to sleep well…yeah…I…llllove you too, Dad…bye-bye.”

She hung up, and collapsed. One moment later, she felt her conscience pat her knee.

“That made me so very happy,” praised Anastasia. “I am so proud of you.”

Poppy clutched her head. “Dear God, what is happening to me??”

“Poppy, don’t you get it?...You’re becoming human!”

Poppy dropped her hands and stared at her.

“Listen up, pipsqueak, news flash: I am not Pinocchio!”

Poppy!...” Anastasia hopped back off the bed. “Can’t you see?? For the first time in your adulthood, you allowed yourself to be vulnerable! You let down your guard! It was wonderful! Sure, you tried to be your grown-up, tough-as-nails self, but you couldn’t stop it; your true colors came shining through! That’s why I love you!”

Poppy paused, and made a matter-of-fact statement out loud to no one.

“I’m being humbled by Cyndi Lauper. My conscious mind is torturing me, and my guardian devil’s citing a pixie from the ’80s.”

“Small steps, my friend, small steps.” Anastasia gave another stretch. “Well…

“A promise is a promise.” She fetched the pillow Poppy’d flung across the room, fluffed it, and returned. “Up.”

Poppy lifted her head, and Anastasia slipped the pillow under it. She pulled the blanket over her, proceeded to tuck her in nice and snug, and was off.

“Rest up, killer,” she advised. “Got all those nice folks to throw overboard tomorrow!”

Poppy let her eyes close. “Thanks for the encouragement.”

“Sweet dreams, honey!”

“Sweet dreams, Satan.”

Anastasia tippy-toed out of the room, and Poppy was alone. She had to ask herself if that last half hour actually just happened. It all started to seem too surreal. She felt so weary and mixed up, she didn’t know what to do but go to sleep. The lamp was still on. She reached to turn it off. Then she stopped and looked around.

The room was empty. Curiously, she turned back to the lamp.

She softly and hesitantly clapped her hands. “…Clap, off.”

Nothing happened. She tried a little louder.

“CLAP, off.”

Nothing. Poppy waited just another moment, and let her eyes roll back in her head, realizing just how absurd the situation had become. She reached for the cord, resting her other hand on her forehead.

“I am losing…my mind.”

Click.

*****

Give A Little Whistle…

Thursday, November 13th, 2008, 9:04 a.m.

A lowly humming Tammy Winkle sauntered down to the office of doom.

“A’right, docket’s looking pretty meaty this mor—”

She heard a bizarre sound faintly emanating from the desk, and looked up.

Snoring?

She was presented with an equally strange display. Her partner Poppy’s arms were folded on top of the desk, face buried in them, sound asleep. Her hair was stringy, tattered and unkempt. Tammy arched one bewildered eyebrow.

“…Poppy?”

The sleeping beauty draped over the desk kept snoozing. Tammy repeated herself, upping the volume a notch. Still nothing. She placed a hand on Poppy’s shoulder and gave her a little shake, resulting in only a snort. Finally, Tammy leaned down on her.

POPpy!!”

Poppy instantly awoke with a start and a gasp.

“You’re fired! Pack your stuff and get out!” the dizzy Poppy semiconsciously exclaimed.

Tammy too noted Poppy’s eyes were red and puffy, and she hadn’t a trace of makeup on. In fact, she looked downright frightening.

“No…no, no, Poppy, it’s me, Tammy.”

Poppy felt a pounding in her brow. She looked up, trying to get her bearings.

“Oh, God,” she moaned. Tammy perched across from her, where their victims sat.

“What on Earth is going on with you??” she wanted to know. “Whole week you’re acting like a lunatic, today you look like a damn zombie! What gives?”

Poppy gave a yawn and rubbed her eyes. Looking around instinctively to make sure no one…else was here, she leaned in.

“…Tamlisten,” she whispered. “Cancan you keep a secret?

Tammy leaned in as well, dropping an elbow on the desk.

“Hey, Poppy, if I couldn’t keep a secret, you think anyone except me’d know Diane in accounting had a nose job?”

Poppy’s mouth fell open, letting her jaw crash on the desk between them.

“Diane in accounting had a nose job?

“You didn’t hear it from me. Now what’s going on?”

Poppy’s mouth hung open, now indecisive. This seemed to have shaken her confidence. If Tammy cared so little about Diane’s secret, would hers be kept any safer? Just then came a timid knock on the door. It was victim du jour number one.

“N-not today! Come back another time, please!” Poppy called.

The baffled Tammy turned back to her again.

“‘Please?...When did you start saying ‘please?

Poppy leaned in yet closer, trying to convey the distress in her eyes.

Tammywe can’t breach our ethics anymore. They don’t, like, that.”

Tammy let an approximate dozen seconds pass, giving Poppy a face among the blankest she’d ever made. Finally, she spoke.

AHHHhhhhhh…” she said, her tone paced and patronizing, just like on Monday. She rose and headed back for the door. “Well. Heaven forbid we err on the side of danger…lest we offend the gods of the loopy.”

Poppy jumped to her feet in frustration. “Tammy, I’m serious! Please, you gotta believe me! C’mon, help me out here! You’re supposed to be my friend! I—”

In swept the by now dreaded harp music. Poppy looked up in panic.

“Oh, God, there she is!” she cried.

Tammy looked all around, more or less as a formality, seeing of course nothing. This was getting disturbingly inane. She was Poppy’s friend, and…guessed she wanted to help. But first she had to discern just what the hell Poppy was on about.

“Who?! Where?!” she demanded, throwing her arms in the air.

Poppy snuck to the door herself, quickly opened it, peeked out, made sure no one else was in earshot, shut and locked it. She about-faced and pointed at Tammy.

“This doesn’t, leave, the office.”

“Fine. What?”

Poppy took a breath.

“…It’s my conscience.”

She waited, allowing Tammy to take it in.

“…Yeah?...”

“That’s it! Tam, my conscience showed up a couple days ago, and she’s been haunting me ever since!”

Tammy gazed at her with a look normally reserved for one of their termination victims.

“…She…has?

“Yes! She’s making my life a living hell! She’s making me hate myself for everything bad I’ve ever done!”

Poppy watched in consternation as the only person she’d trusted for the last three years slowly nodded.

“…Okay…and the punchline?”

Poppy suddenly felt as if about to blow a gasket.

“Forget it! If you’re not gonna take me seriously, I don’t even wanna talk to you about it.”

“Poppy, I know you,” Tammy reasoned, almost accusatorily. “We have been working side by side together for three years! I know it when you’re putting me on! Besides, you have no conscience! You’re every bit as ruthless as I am!”

“That’s what I thought too!” Poppy said, returning to the desk for support. “But…I…she’s just filled me with so much guilt and shame…I-I just…don’t think I can do this anymore.”

Her evil partner could not believe what she had just heard. “You’re not serious.”

But a locked door wouldn’t keep this conscience out. Anastasia suddenly sprang up from behind the desk, again dressed in her overalls, colorful top and sandals.

“PEEKABOO!”

DAAHH!” Poppy screamed, startling Tammy in turn like a domino effect.

“Ta-dah! Gotcha!” Anastasia teased.

“What the hell’s the matter now?!” Tammy yelled simultaneously, losing patience.

Poppy groaned, gesturing to where her conscience now stood. “That’d be her, Tam. Get out the butterfly net.”

Tammy naturally saw still nothing. Oblivious to Poppy’s comments, Anastasia twirled.

“Good morning!” she chirped, bright and bubbly as ever. “Is everybody happy??”

Almost no longer caring that Tammy was even here, Poppy whirled around on her.

“For freaking crying out loud, Anastasia, do I look happy?!

Tammy raised her brows. “You…named…your conscience?”

Anastasia looked Poppy up and down to see what a fright she was this morning.

“My goodness, Poppy, you’re a mess!” She t’sk’d. Turning to Tammy, she added, “I warned her about that undersleeping. But hey, you know how that is, huh, Dracula?”

“Oh, shut up, Anastasia!” Poppy burst out. “You know it’s all because of you!”

“‘Anastasia’?” parroted Tammy. “Oh, that’s cute, Poppy.”

I DIDN’T NAME HER!” Poppy furiously shrieked.

“Yeah! Stuff it, blubberbutt!” Anastasia added, sticking out her tongue to razz Tammy.

“God’s sake…” muttered Poppy.

Anastasia skipped over to her owner, placing a hand on her shoulder.

“What’s bothering you, Poppy?”

What’s bothering me? “…At the moment, this conversation!” Poppy snapped.

A bit creeped out, Tammy backed to the door. “This…sounds…private. I’ll just leave you alone, with…whomever else you may have in there. Be back later.”

Hand still on Poppy’s shoulder, Anastasia shouted over her own to Tammy. “Yeah, try not to trip over your knuckles on the way out, bone brain!” She scoffed. “Honestly, why do we keep her around??”

Poppy decided to toss her a hint. “Gee, I dunno…maybe she just won’t go AWAY!!

She resumed her seat, lowering her head to the desk and crossing her arms overtop with a whimper. Anastasia hopped up beside her, on the corner.

“Tell me what’s on your mind, Poppy.”

She watched, as Poppy gradually, ominously brought up her head to glare at her, teeming with acidic anger.

“What’s…on…my…mind?...

“You…want to know…what’s, on, my, mind??

Anastasia finger-walked a hand across the desk and clasped one of Poppy’s, intertwining their fingers. “You seem troubled,” she tenderly remarked.

Poppy stared at her.

“…‘Troubled.’

“…‘Troubled?

Her hand and arm seemed to take matters into their own, bypassing her brain. The absolute last thing she wanted was her own personal wholesome, hand-holding Care Bear. Poppy’s fingers closed. And began to squeeze.

“Try ‘seventh circle of hell.’”

At the word “hell,” she raised their hands together and tightened her grip. Anastasia’s expression changed dramatically as crushing pain assaulted her. Her mouth dropped ajar and her face grimaced in agony. Poppy stared off straight ahead. She spoke low and solemn, as if delivering a eulogy, as Anastasia tried to free her hostage paw.

“Nothing in the world of Poppy Sorenson makes sense anymore,” she lamented, as her conscience moaned, and began writhing on the desk. “Days filled with wracking remorse…nights invaded by endless tears and subconscious monsters...”

Anastasia’s hand was beginning to throb. “UmPoppy…” she rasped.

Poppy drearily went on. “…Each waking moment in between a morsel of despair…”

POPPY…”

“…Of fear…doubt…self-hatred…”

Popif-if you could just please, uh…”

Poppy finally turned back to acknowledge her once more.

“…And all because of you.”

On this final accusatory word, Poppy threw down Anastasia’s hand and rose from her chair in one rapid motion. Anastasia’s poor mangled paw shook with twitching digits as she tried to soothe it. The distressed Poppy began pacing.

Why is this happening??...Why are you doing this to me??”

“Um, well, Poppy, if it makes you feel any better, you just got a little even with me. I think you might’ve broken my fing—”

“And where did you come from all of a sudden, anyway?” Poppy continued. “I mean, what the actual hell? Consciences don’t just…go away, do they? The…the last time I can remember even hearing a peep outta you had to be…”

Silence momentarily took over as she tried to think. Anastasia filled in the blank for her.

“…Fifteen years ago.”

“…Fifteen…years ago??...

“Well, w—…what happened? Where’d you go?”

Anastasia shrugged. “Vacation, mostly: Bermuda, Vegas, Disney World…”

What?

“Well, Pop, I’m under contract,” Anastasia explained. “I belong to Wish Upon A Star Unlimited. Any time on duty’s contractual obligation for equal leave compensation.”

Poppy’s brows furrowed. Suddenly, things began to seem fuzzy and bizarre again. She tried to figure out how to pose her next question, but couldn’t.

“Well, wh—…” Sigh. “Oh, skip it.”

“Actually, it’s okay; I think I know what you wanted to ask me,” said Anastasia, feeling a bit of her own remorse creep in.

“Why I left you like that when I did?...Why I deserted you that year, and why you’ve been stranded without my guidance ever since?”

“I…” Poppy tried to remember. “…I never even noticed.”

“I know. The difference is vast, but the absence is so very sudden…it’s like falling asleep.” Anastasia allowed herself for the first time to let some forlorn sadness through. “And then one day, you wake up to find that your best friend in the whole wide world, your mentor, your own personal guardian angel on your shoulder…

“…Has been replaced by a chip.”

Poppy began to feel bad again. “…Was it me?”

“It was everything, Poppy. I was forced to take time off, and you to set out and be on your own. But you were still just a teenager, and your life was getting complicated. You built a will, and it became too strong. I was afraid it’d happen one day, and it did. The force of your strength shut me out when I tried to come back. And…you outgrew me.”

Poppy began to realize what she was saying. “Just like…”

Anastasia nodded, finishing out loud with her.

“…The little old bicycle.”

Her conscience gave a small smile. “You remembered.”

“Oh my God…” Poppy indeed recalled. “I loved that little old bicycle!...” The memory came flourishing back, like a found object after decades of being lost. “…Oh my God!

Anastasia smiled, also fondly and nostalgically remembering. “That’s what you always used to call me. Ah, I liked being God.”

“So…I guess that’d be about when I stopped caring how I behaved…” Poppy mused.

Her conscience took her hands. “I never stopped thinking about you while I was away, Poppy,” she insisted. “I missed you every moment, knowing I’d be back again one day.”

Poppy sheepishly looked down at her shoes.

“I guess I…haven’t exactly been Mother Teresa since.”

“It’s my fault. I blame myself. It was my duty and privilege to look after you, but my departure was too abrupt. I wasn’t strong enough to hold on to you. You got lost in turmoil and confusion. You didn’t know which way to turn…you started acting out…”

Anastasia hung her head, feeling for the first time as shameful as she’d made Poppy to.

“…And you got angry. And…I’m sorry, Poppy.” Her voice cracked. “I’m so sorry.”

Poppy found herself faced with a host of unplaceable emotions, as her conscience literally began to weep before her. She found herself unable to decide what to say, do or think. She found herself wanting to go up to Anastasia, and…hug her.

And for once in her adult life…she found herself wondering just what was wrong with a little wholesome affection. For years upon years, her mind had been a locked cocoon of self-serving avarice. And for the first time in all these ages, it seemed to have been cracked open. And…cleansed. Inside and out. It was an astonishing feeling. Maybe…

Maybe she didn’t have to occupy the role of an evil killing machine at SuCo Industries to survive. Maybe she didn’t have to treat those around her with such dismissive mockery.

And maybe, just maybe…

…She could learn to love, instead.

But this would have to wait, as the door to the office swung ajar. Tammy reentered.

“So. Make the voices stop?” she acerbically queried.

Anastasia raised attention to Tammy and glared, trying to burn her with her eyes. Her hands clenched into two angry fists. Poppy wordlessly gaped back, only stammering in reply. She seemed a bit hurt and stung by this comment. Tammy went on staring.

“Don’t tell me…conscience got your tongue?”

Anastasia’s blood boiled. “Ooooh, I wish I could kick your butt!” she seethed. Poppy remained silent. Tammy shrugged, semicircling to the desk, dropping the meaty docket.

“Well, get it together, ’cause we’re not waitin’ any longer to can these sorry-ass clowns.”

Poppy stood inert. She did nothing. After another little bit, Anastasia grew just ired and determined enough to take matters quite literally into her own hands. She marched to Poppy’s side, faced Tammy with her, and clasped her owner’s paw. And just as before, Poppy felt the contact infuse her with that mystical faraway feeling she couldn’t quite identify. But whatever it was, with Anastasia’s touch, she felt her strength returning. Just as she did on Monday, Anastasia channeled Poppy’s words, and the courage to say them. Letting her conscience be her guide, Poppy abruptly glowered at her partner.

No!

Tammy paused. Arching her brows somewhat indignantly, she raised her gaze back up.

“…Excuse me?”

“That’s right, you heard me; I’m not doing this anymore!” Poppy declared, without a trace of hesitation of doubt in her speech. “I won’t be party to this spectacle of human carnage any longer! And I don’t, give, a flying, fu—”

“A-hem,” said Anastasia.

“And I don’t give a flying fig what you think. I’ve decided what’s right, for me.”

On the word “me,” Anastasia confidently, faithfully let go of Poppy’s hand, letting her take the reins. She was no longer guiding Poppy, no longer supporting her with words or courage, but Poppy took over beautifully.

“I have gone along with this humiliation long enough,” Poppy declared, as her guardian angel slowly, transparently began fading into the background.

“From now on, Tammy Winkle, the dirty work is all yours, once—” She held up a finger.

“Once I have severed my final association.”

A barely still visible Anastasia smiled with a wink, before she vanished completely.

“Poppy Sorenson…has hereby fired…” She made a fist, whapping it on the desk.

Anastasia disappeared.

“…Herself.”

And with that, she headed for the door. Tammy’s incredulous stare followed her.

“That—…that’s ridiculous! You can’t do that!”

Poppy turned around. “Oh, really?...”

Staring off in no particular direction, she intoned—

“Poppy…I’m fired! No…” She held up her finger again. “No, wait. I can’t fire me; I quit!” She turned back to Tammy matter-of-factly.

“Hm. Looks like I can do that!”

“Poppy…y—…you’re nuts! Wh—…what’re you gonna do for work? Where’re you gonna go? How’re you gonna support yourself?”

“Hey, I’m not entirely without resources,” Poppy asserted. “I’ll be all right. I’ll get back on my feet.” She turned the finger on Tammy. “And you can bet it won’t be by ripping anyone else’s career outta their hands. Right, Anastasia?”

Abrupt silence filled the room. Poppy noticed with frankly dismayed surprise that Anastasia was no longer in the office.

“An—…Anastasia? Where’d you…?” She opened the door and peered out. “An—?”

Her conscience was nowhere to be seen. Almost by default, Poppy let panic ride her, but after a moment realized what must have happened.

Anastasia’s work…was done. Poppy didn’t need her anymore. She could stand on her own two feet. She now knew and owned her objectives to follow the right path. She could be good, and virtuous now. She hadn’t to be mean and spiteful. At all. She didn’t have to indulge in any form of malicious or cruel temptation. Her life was her own.

“She’s…gone.

“Anastasia’s gone.”

Well, congrats, Sybil; good for you,” Tammy sneered, unable to care less.

Poppy suddenly felt disoriented, as if she’d just stepped off a rollercoaster. She was a little confused, a little relieved, and a little giddy all at once.

“I…I don’t believe it,” she said. “I guess I just needed her to…to push me, to…give me that little extra courage…hm. Well…” Since she didn’t honestly have very much left to say…Poppy once more approached the door.

Out of nowhere, Tammy suddenly looked straight up. Poppy heard her voice.

“Wh—…what the hell was that?”

Poppy turned back. “Huh?”

“…That,” a disturbed Tammy reiterated. “It sounded like a…a-a harp, or something.”

Poppy froze.

“…You don’t say. You…heard a harp?”

Don’t tell me you didn’t hear it.”

Poppy thoughtfully arched her eyebrows, letting a coy smirk paint her lips.

“Oh, I’ve…I’ve heard it…a few times…”

“Well, what the hell was it?” Tammy again wanted to know.

Poppy stood in astonishment.

Oh my gosh, it’s her turn. She had to presume that now that she was transformed, the angels from beyond could focus on Tammy.

Should I tell her?...

Nah. Let her figure it out on her own. She’d never believe me anyway.

“Oh, I…think someone in the building’s taking lessons.”

Poppy cupped her mouth to stifle a giggle and exited, leaving a befuddled Tammy standing alone. She continued out of the offices of SuCo Industries, nary a break in her stride. A few of her things remained inside, but no matter; she’d get them another time. These formalities could wait. Right now, she wanted to do something enjoyable. Something fun. She could hardly remember the last time she had done anything just plain fun (short of jilling off, that was to say). And it was still morning, barely 11:00. She had the entire day. She wanted to go to the mall and do a little shopping, maybe take in a good movie. She wanted to sit down and read a good book. She wanted to run through a field and catch a natural high. She wanted to talk to people and make friends, armed with her new vibrant personality. And she wanted to reach out and make amends to the people she already knew, many of whom she hadn’t exactly treated wonderfully.

She’d get around to it all eventually. There was no rush; she had all the time she could use now. She got outside, took a big, deep breath, and got in her car. For once this week, there’d be no nagging little voice eating at her, righteously torturing her, shaming her her indiscretions. Finally, at long last…her mind could be put at peace.

All she had to do now was decide which activity she wanted to do first.

*****

Tantrilizer

Friday, November 14th, 2008, 12:33 a.m.

Even being her night-owl self, Poppy was pooped after the day she’d carved out for herself. She’d done several of the fun things that first came to mind, and spent the meantime coming up with more. By her front door sat some shopping bags underneath her purse and keys, followed by a trail of clothes leading to her bedroom. She lay naked under the comforter, passing palms softly over her skin, trying to determine if she had the stamina to get herself off before catching a truckload of ‘z’s.

As she touched a familiarly sensitive spot, a memory was triggered. Gigi. Poppy remembered the way Gigi Robertson once kissed her in just this spot. It was a form of declared love on her part, of saying that she wanted to do anything that would make Poppy happy. She exhaled wistfully at the memory of Gigi. She was a wonderful, sweet girl, whose only shortcoming was sensible apprehension. Over precarious acts which Poppy only thought, at the time, she’d wanted to try.

She blinked mournfully, realizing just how much she missed Gigi. Maybe she should try to find and contact her. If the girl had any interest in hearing from her. Poppy reminded herself she never knew if Gigi forgave her infidelity. Moreover, she could be involved with someone else now. Heaven, she could be someone’s wife. Or mother. Who knew?

Well, there’s no harm in just apologizing. Worst-case scenario: she doesn’t accept my apology, in which case I’ll be disheartened, but at least I’ll have closure.

She gazed to the ceiling, letting her eyes flutter. A faint harp jingle kissed her ear.

She opened her eyes and sat up. Her heart and body filled with warmth.

Anastasia?

The translucent spirit was glowing in white. She spoke in a tender whisper.

I’m proud of you, Poppy.”

“Oh my gosh,” Poppy gushed. “Anastasia, I’m-I’m so happy to see you, but…um…”

“What am I doing here?” Anastasia slowly became opaque, before Poppy’s eyes.

“I’m so glad you asked. Poppy, the moment wasn’t appropriate in the office. But I just needed to let you know…I’ll never abandon you again. Not even if the union forces me on holiday. If they make me take time off, I wanna spend it with you. I want you to be able to call my name and have me come running with open arms. I never want you to be alone again. You’re my best friend in the world. And your happiness…is still my law.”

Poppy blinked a few tears from her eyes. “I thought it was your privilege,” she kidded.

“Well, that too. Okay, dolly, I…guess I’ll be on my way…unless there’s anything else?”

“Oh! Yes! Yes, actually,” said Poppy. She patted the mattress beside her, indicating she now did want Anastasia in bed with her.

“I was thinking about this a lot today,” Poppy confided as her companion slipped in. “And, well, for almost three entire years, I basically just fired people. And y’know, everybody’s situation’s a little different. Some took it in stride, some didn’t. And who knows how many of ’em have even better jobs by now. But the economy’s still in bad shape, and SuCo’s not the only company letting people go. So…I wanna give back. I wanna reverse it. I wanna start my own employment agency.”

“What a lovely idea!” said Anastasia. “Tell me how I can help; I’ll do whatever I can.”

“Well, we’ll talk about it more later,” Poppy smiled. “I’m a little too tired now. But, eh…”

She slipped her arms around Anastasia, and settled down into the mattress with her.

“…You know what else I was thinking today…”

Oh…why, oh my,” commented Anastasia, letting out a small frisky giggle.

“All those times this week when you forced a hug on me and I pushed you away, or tried and I wouldn’t let you,” Poppy went on. “I think I’d like to try and make up for that.”

“Oh, now, Poppy, that’s really not necessary.”

“Oh, but it is.”

Poppy proceeded to give Anastasia a taste of her own proverbial medicine, snaking limbs around her and squeezing lovingly. Anastasia let out an excited squeak.

“Oh, goodness! Why, Poppy, that…ohhh…that feels good.”

Poppy grinned, kissing Anastasia’s pink blushing cheek…just before a look of abrupt surprise washed over her face.

“Wow, you know something?” said Poppy. “I didn’t notice it before, but up close, you…

“...You look like Gigi!”

Anastasia shyly turned away.

“Guilty. That was a little touch I added when I decided to come back,” she admitted. “Thought it’d be a nice little som’n’ to throw in for ya…but I wanted to make it subtle. I didn’t wanna make myself a carbon copy of her. Just spark a little recognition.”

Wasting nary another moment, Poppy kissed her. Anastasia gasped through the first moment, then let herself melt into the rest. She threw her arms around Poppy as well, wanting it never to end. Sensing Poppy thought she looked like an angel appearing to her tonight, she could swear this magical kiss made her halo glitter and her wings flitter. As their velvety lips parted and brushed, Poppy uttered her next devoted declaration.

I love you, AnastasiaI’ve always loved you. And I know you’ve always loved me. You truly are my guardian angel. I need you. I need to feel your love within me. II…”

She ran out of words, but Anastasia knew precisely where she was headed.

“…You cannot bear waiting another second to make spiritual love to me.”

Poppy nodded vigorously. “YES! So much, yes!”

Anastasia nuzzled her.

Your command is my wish.”

“Oh, yes, and…one other little thing, if I may?” Poppy requested. “Just for tonight…

“…Could we pretend your name’s actually Gigi…and your middle name’s Layla?”

And so Poppy shut her eyes and fell half-asleep, and Anastasia’s physical form morphed celestial, swirling with sparkles and moonglow. The bedroom vanished into a limitless scape of space and starlight. Only half-conscious, Poppy floated in limbo between sleep and awake. Each part of her reacted as tantric serenity enveloped her.

She felt herself elevated to the higher spiritual planes, her chakras brought to mystical, shimmering life. She couldn’t form transitive, lucid thoughts in this semiconscious state, but could feel enough to discern that her tantric dreams were coming true, here in twilight subspace. She felt Anastasia’s divine touch at each turn, escalating her higher and higher still. It was heaven, her utopian Eden, but somehow, even yet more ethereal. Sort of the outer, greater suburb of heaven no one was granted the privilege to see—

No one this second, except Poppy Eve Sorenson.

Her mind spun as divinity radiated her. She saw, heard and felt everything as in a real, intensified dream. Now that her spirit, heart and chakras were at full throttle, her body awoke with a newfound surge of passion unlike anything she’d known before. Her limbs flexed and withdrew. Her senses heightened. Her breasts swelled with stiffening, twitching nipples. Her paws groped blindly. Her belly and soles tickled from the inside. Her whipping head tossed sweaty hair over her face. Her digits balled tight.

Finally, even only half awake, she needed to tend to her love-starved pussy. Her hand fumbled under cover until it found its way, and she commenced to jilling in her sleep. Her happy place turned to fluorescent technicolor, and sifted through a hundred chromatic combinations. She groped at herself with limited faculty, but knew her hand’s path would be guided for her, as once more, Anastasia’s joined her own.

Anastasia’s spirit hand lapped Poppy’s, giving her an exponentially multiplied boost. She screamed—silently on the inside, but audibly on the outside—as her nerves and synapses began going off like crazy. It was the most surreal, magnificent experience she could recount to date, be they of childhood, adolescence or adulthood. Her pussy burned white-hot under the comforter. Her clit bulged and throbbed, massaged almost intolerably by the heel of her hand. Her muscles held their flex until the strain began to wear. She groaned and whined for release.

Somewhere over the horizon of Poppy’s happy place, the wild, hurricanic storm of passion swept, finding Poppy balanced atop the tantric minaret, and rocking her world. Despite the unforeseen turbulence, her happy place became much happier. While she could no longer be sure, she thought she felt Anastasia kiss her…her hair, her arm, her nose, her torso, her nipple, her foot, her tummy...

She couldn’t take another second. It had to happen, and had to happen now. The tantric element definitely added a new and literally awesome air to the act, and Poppy could wait no longer to find out how it would enhance her orgasm. She jilled and drilled, feeling it coming. Just a matter of seconds. An approximate countdown. Finally, at long last, and not an instant too soon…

Fireworks.

Explosions.

Shooting stars. Cloudbursts. Moondust and starshine. Dimensional shift. She experienced it all. Poppy felt herself zipped back through each and every stage and plateau on her path as she came. She shouted and moaned, at last culling frothy hot lava from her volcanic cunt. The climax was so dynamic, so paramount, so wondrously breathtaking, she was allowed to focus on nothing else. But had she, she would have noticed everything happening in reverse, in a dizzy, distorted, backwards blur. The storm unravaged her happy place. She tumbled off the tantric minaret. Anastasia floated up away from her. And her state of consciousness altered once more…but Poppy did not wake back up. Left alone, back in her own normal bed, she fell to inevitable, peaceful sleep, and enjoyed ten of the most serene slumbering hours she’d ever had.

*****

(A) Well, that’s pretty much the whole story. Just like when we were little, once I determined Poppy could be on her own, it was time to let her. I don’t need to be on her shoulder 9-24-7, but I’m always there if she needs a little guidance, support, or just plain good old-fashioned lovin’…as you saw, I’m very good.

(P) I guess if I’ve learned anything here, it’s sorta like…you should do what’s best for you, but shouldn’t have to come at someone else’s expense. You can’t always avoid hurting people, but if you do your best and follow your heart, then that’s all that can be asked. Oh, and also, it’s not a great idea to tell your conscience to play “hide-and-go-screw-yourself.”

(A) She always did have a mouth on her. Well, the union’s started working on Tammy, but she’s a tough little nut to crack. Meanwhile, Poppy and I backtracked, and did indeed start an employment agency, to get struggling folks back on their feet—just like that lovely young lass Suzy. We got her up and going again!

(P) Yep—we hired a staff, starting with a few of my friends who were nice enough to help. I kind of blended into the background…well, for the benefit of those like Suzy. In case any of those innocents I’d fired recognized me. Luckily, I told Tam I had resources, and I was right. And as the economy’s begun easing up, we’ve returned more and more happy folks to the workplace with me as President.

(A) …“President”?

(P) Well, I…I-I know we agreed to a co-Presidency, but…well, I mean, let’s face it: you are kind of a…silent partner.

(A) …“Silent”.

(P) Ah ha ha...I…think you know what I mean.

(A) Mm, no, no, I don’t believe I do; suppose you tell me.

(P) Eh, we both know who is the brains of the operation here…

(A) Oh, a nonexistent operation had it not been for me, excuse you very much.

(P) Yes, well, I think I can stand on my own feet at this point!

(A) Oh, sure, ’cause you’ve always been so good at that!

(P) Hey, look, guardian angel, how’d you like a one-way ticket back to heaven?!

(A) Oh, DO not make me clap you off, missy!

(P) I’ll show you “clap off,” ya pissy little pipsqueak!

(A) Oh, I’d love to see that with a bar of soap shoved down your throat!

(P) Oh, shut up, Jiminy!

(A) Oh, you shut up!

(P) You shut up!

(A) No, you shut up!

(P) You shut up right this second or else I’ll—

(A) All right, that’s it; this story is over. Sweet dreams, girls and boys. Have fun, and be good. Clap off!

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