Action/Adventure, Fantasy/Sci-Fi, Humor, Short Stories

Joshua Hall and the Ghosts of Peanut-Butters Past

Once there was was a small office in a small town outside a big city. The city’s name was Philadelphia, the town was called Malvern, and the little office had the unlikely name “Healthmonix”.

Although it had an unlikely name, the office was, in many respects, just as you’d expect an office to be. The people who worked there had good days and bad days and excitement and disappointment and boredom, just like any other office. Some employees were good friends and others not-so-good friends, and there was the occasional bout of inter-office Nerf Gun warfare. In short, it was entirely normal.

Except in two respects.

The first respect was that everyone who worked in the office was actually intelligent. By a strange twist of fate, or perhaps design, the office president was so intolerant of stupidity that she actually succeeded in making sure no stupid people worked there. (I believe this is often attempted, but rarely succeeds.)

The second respect was the Peanut Butter Graveyard. (Here, the author must perhaps present some proof to her claims of uniqueness: I have neither heard of nor ever presently witnessed any other office or place of employment that has had a Peanut Butter Graveyard. I invite you, however, to inquire with as many persons as you like to either verify or else refute my claims. And you should discover this as quickly as you can: a Peanut Butter Graveyard is a source of serious contention!)

No one can quite remember when the Peanut Butter Graveyard began. One day, not so long ago, peanut butter jars began appearing at the top of the refrigerator in the office. While several of the young men in the office seemed to have an inordinate fondness for peanut butter, there came to be a curious ritual surrounding the final demise of said peanut butter jars. When the contents of a peanut butter jar were completely devoured, someone would take the jar, fill it with what appeared to be water, and put the jar on top of the refrigerator.

First there was one jar, then two, then an entire colony of peanut butter jars. Some, in a trick of prescience, recognized it for what it was: a Peanut Butter Graveyard.

As the Graveyard lingered, stories emerged to explain its origin. “Perhaps it is a social experiment,” one person said. “Perhaps someone likes peanut butter waaaaaaaay too much,” another said. “Perhaps they meant to recycle, but forgot,” an eminently sensible (but not terribly imaginative) person said.

Before too long, it was discovered that the Graveyard was the work not of Peanut Butter Conspirators, but the mad creation of only one person.

That person’s name was Josh.

Now Josh was not a particularly odd person. He liked tennis and writing and video games and math and serving in youth ministry and plenty of other normal, socially well-adjusted things. He was kind and funny and well-liked. He did have his quirks: most notably, his office mate Nathanael let slip that Josh sometimes chomped on carrots with his mouth open while staring deeply into Nathanael’s eyes, just to drive him crazy. (And there was evidence he had in fact succeeded.) Other than this, Josh appeared to be entirely normal.

So normal, in fact, that this aberrant habit stuck out like a sore thumb.

Various methods were contrived to inquire into the “Peanut Butter Situation,” as it came to be known. In the beginning, there were discreet inquiries made around the office. There were both indirect and direct questions to Josh himself. One of his closest friends explained, “He just wants to see how people will react.” For a while the curiosity abated, as Josh was known to be something of a jokester, and this seemed plausible.

However, the population of jars in the Peanut Butter Situation continued to grow, and so rumors about it arose again. Sometimes it seemed like the jars diminished and occasionally one or two of them were replaced. But there were always at least a dozen jars of Peanut Butter.

And so the pranks at Healthmonix began.

One person removed the jars from the top of the refrigerator, put them under Josh’s desk, and stacked them in a pyramid. (Alas, there was no response to this prank beyond a glower and sullen silences.) Josh then moved those jars to the top of his desk in the corner most difficult for an intruder to reach, and the Situation never occurred in the kitchen again.

The last prank involved the creation of a Peanut Butter Creature…which was nearly as tall as six-foot-four Joshua Hall. That prank came at some personal cost to the prankster, but also provided the key piece of information that began unraveling the mystery of the Peanut Butter Situation.

At first it seemed that no good would come of the creation of the Peanut Butter Creature. One day, after Josh left the building and there weren’t many people left in the office, the prankster entered Josh’s office and made for the peanut butter.

Seeing Christina approach the Peanut Butter Situation, Josh’s office mate shook his head slowly. “Oh, I wouldn’t advise that,” Nathanael said.

“It’s for the cause!” Christina (the prankster) responded excitedly. Nearly everything Christina did she did excitedly.

“I think you’re gonna regret that, but suit yourself,” Nathanael responded. But he smiled.

“For chaos!” Christina cried, and plunged herself into the Peanut Butter Situation.

Moments later, the screaming could be heard on the other side of the office. There were a few moments of general confusion before Christina appeared.

On her face was a mixture of resignation and disgust. “It touched me!” she said, thrusting her hand out for her officemates and friends to see. “That…goo…got on me when I touched his jars.” Everyone stared at her, partly in horror because they could see the shiny remnant of rancid peanut butter oil, and partly because Christina, as she was wont to do, said this in the most awkward way possible.

“But did you succeed in your mission?” Seretha asked finally, peering carefully at Christina’s hand while adjusting her glasses. She Saw something she did not expect to see. “Well, that isn’t water,” she muttered to herself.

Christina furrowed her brow in scorn. “Of course I succeeded in my mission. I always succeed in my missions.”

The latest prank provoked more outrage than even Christina intended. In response, Josh exclaimed his proprietorship over the Peanut Butter Jars to the entire company through the company IM. He demanded that people leave his ex-Peanut Butter be.

“THERE WILL BE PEANUT BUTTER BLOOD!” he warned. (The gif that accompanied this threat chilled the blood. A man, clad only in tight, hot pink boxers, and a devious, “sexy” smile, shook his ass back and forth, with the words “PEANUT BUTTER” emblazoned on the left hand side of the screen. Truly horrifying).

At the same time, outrage over the seemingly illogical and now-undoubtedly malodorous Peanut Butter Situation was brewing.

There was a young woman named Kelly working in Healthmonix. From the first day she set foot in Healthmonix (long after the Graveyard appeared), she had taken note of the Peanut Butter Situation. And it burned her… to…the…CORE.

“But why??!!” she exclaimed to all who would listen to her. “It doesn’t make any sense!” She protested. People agreed with her. They couldn’t help it; she was right. “And it’s gross!” That was true, too. In any event, it certainly looked gross and since the latest prank, the smell wasn’t great either.

Now Kelly was a 7-year veteran of Starbucks. It is commonly known among baristas and ex-baristas that the only way to succeed at Starbucks is by either already having or else acquiring OCD while employed there. In that, Kelly was the paradigmatic barista. In her particular case, her OCD drove her to be particularly devoted to the cleanliness of refrigerators, so it was no surprise that the Peanut Butter Graveyard atop the Healthmonix refrigerator singularly enraged her. (It should also be noted for the sake of this narrative that Kelly became the true Sorceress of Starbucks while she was there: people were so enchanted by her they remembered her for years after she left the store. Her skills in customer service have been described as that of a “snake-charmer”.) Josh could not have incited her wrath more had he intentionally targeted her.

Kelly began to plot overtly against the Peanut Butter Situation, threatening to put an End to the Graveyard. She was surprised to find her friends resisting her. “Let’s prank him first,” it was agreed upon. But as the pranks progressed with no sign of the jars disappearing, Kelly decided to take matters into her own hands. The Peanut Butter Situation was coming to an end, she vowed to herself. But she already knew her friends to be too tolerant of the Situation. So she plotted against Josh in secret.

Meanwhile, Seretha puzzled over the situation openly. It so happened that Seretha was an Aristotelian who had also studied divination at school. Now everyone knows that the two most common causes of death among Aristotelians are 1) having a stroke from thinking too hard about everything simultaneously, and 2) dehydration: in the middle of pursuing something that makes them curious or in the midst of passionate debate (which can last for days without Aristotelians noticing the passage of time), they often forget to drink adequate water. This is why there are not many Aristotelians left in the world. (But if you look very hard and you have quite a lot of luck, you may find one at a university, particularly if it is a Roman Catholic one).

In any case, Seretha was an Aristotelian and her curiosity was piqued by the Peanut Butter Situation. It had always looked suspiciously like a Graveyard to her. Everything about the Peanut Butter corpses was creepy: the way the water looked slimy and viscous if you moved it. The little air bubbles trapped inside that roamed around the sides of the jars like trapped creatures trying to get out. But mostly it was the weird way they loomed on top of the refrigerator, like a collection of catacombs, casting their little shadows over Healthmonix.

“There must be more going on here than meets the eye,” she said to herself. “There must be some reason Josh is doing this,” she reasoned. So she thought about it. And thought about it and thought about it and thoughtaboutitandthoughtaboutit. Until finally she reached an X-Files-like conclusion with a Mulderian leap of intuition: “What if ‘Peanut Butter Graveyard’ isn’t just some clever term, what if it really is a Peanut Butter Graveyard?…why would Josh want to collect Peanut Butter corpses…assuming, of course, that he hasn’t lost his damn mind? Always a possibility….”

Mulder, if he had been more than a fictional character, would have been very proud of her. It was the Peanut Butter goo on Christina’s hand that was the final piece of evidence she needed to confirm her theory. It was goo that was not just goo: just like any proper episode of the X-Files.

Seretha then did what any good Scully would do: she observed Josh’s behavior for a few days until she found something greatly suspicious. Although Josh left the office early most days for tennis practice, he would sneak back in late at night once or twice a week. She was determined to catch him the next time he snuck back in.

The next time happened to be on a Monday evening after the Writing Group she and Josh participated in. Although Josh did not act suspiciously during the Writing Group (and luckily didn’t notice the furtive glances she kept sending his way), she was determined to follow him when he left to see if he went back in the office. It was around 10:30 at night.

She was in luck. He did, and, in traditional X-Files style, she followed him back into the office alone, without back-up, and with a flashlight that didn’t work properly. Thus unarmed, she sneaked into Healthmonix.

Sure enough, when she found him in the office, Josh was standing over his desk in the dark, with the Graveyard displayed before them. His back was toward her and he didn’t seem to have heard her tip-toe into position. All the Peanut Butter jar tops were off, but curiously, she couldn’t smell anything. A dim amber light shone out from Josh and the jars of open Peanut Butter. The liquid danced and swirled, and this time it looked quite a bit friendlier than it had in the day time. He held his hands over the jars, and his hands glowed too.

“So,” she called out casually, trying not to startle him, “Peanut Butter alchemy, is it? Who ever heard of that?”

“Oh, Seretha,” Josh said, shaking his head, and then casting a glance at her over his shoulder. So he had heard her approach. “Do you see any transmutation circles?” He put his hands down and faced her with something between a grin and a smirk. He then rolled his eyes dramatically. “I thought it was obvious. I am a Peanut Butter Elementalist!”

It was Seretha’s turn to roll her eyes. “No,” she said coolly. She folded her arms across her chest and stared at Josh in reproof.

His smile faltered a little. “Yes,” he asserted.

“No,” she repeated just as firmly, shaking her head.

“What do you mean, no? I’m a Peanut Butter Elementalist, I tell you!”

“No,” Seretha said for the third time, this time walking into the room and pointing an accusatory finger at the jars of Peanut Butter. “You are not. You are dealing with the souls of living things here. Or the souls of ex-living things? This is why I caught you. Anyone who has studied divination for more than a moment can See that the solution you have in here in these jars is to catch the souls of living things before they dissolve. You sir, are not a Peanut Butter Elementalist. You are a frickin’ Peanut Butter Necromancer! Hence your creepy little Peanut Butter Graveyard that, by the way, everyone in the entire office knows is creepy except for you.”

Now, for the non-magicians, divination is about “arcane” knowledge, using magic for knowledge or insight into things usually unseen. This is why fortune telling is usually considered a form of divination: the future is usually unseeable. Seretha, being a philosopher, was naturally also a diviner or a Seer. There was little she could not See.

The look of commingled shock, dismay, and chagrin in Josh’s face was comical. “No…it isn’t Necromancy…it can’t be. Peanuts…peanuts don’t have souls, not like humans do.”

Seretha pursed her lips and stared at Josh. “Of course they have souls. All living things have souls. You’re right to say they don’t have souls ‘like human do’. They don’t: they have vegetative souls like vegetables do…they vegetate…they live and reproduce and make oxygen as a byproduct and not much else. Animals have animal animated souls–souls that capable of moving bodies, and of course humans have rational souls, capable of reason. Elementalists deal solely with non-living materials. You sir, are certainly a Necromancer–of vegetable souls, which seems harmless enough–chaotic, but neutral rather than evil, maybe–and you have trapped?–retained?– your Peanut Butter souls to do your bidding. What on earth are you doing anyway?”

Josh now looked thoroughly chagrined and as if he wasn’t sure he wanted to pout or accuse her of falsehood. Instead, he made a face at her: “How do you know all this anyway? Who even knows that vegetables or whatever have souls?”

“It is all in Aristotle,” she said, with extra snark. “What do they teach in these schools, anyway? I studied Aristotle and that pretty much makes you a half-way decent diviner–you learn all the rules for everything anyway.”

“They teach math,” he retorted. “You can also learn divination through math, but obviously I didn’t pay enough attention that day. Anyway. You asked what I was doing.” Josh paused, and then shrugged. “I was using the Peanut Butter elementals…err…souls, that sounds weird, but anyway… to help us because we are always understaffed in QA. They give you a good little boost to stamina and you can also use them to look into the future or the past to see what kind of mistakes to avoid. It isn’t a lot, but since the boss isn’t planning to hire another QA person anytime soon, it is a lot better than nothing.”

“Ah,” Seretha said, nodding slowly. Eventually that evolved into her shaking her head from side-to-side. “That’s too bad, then, because that actually makes sense.”

He stared at her, suspicion growing on his face. “What do you mean by that?” he said defensively. “I told you, hands off my Peanut Butter!”

“You’re going to have to find a better way of keeping your little souls together,” Seretha warned.

“What are you going to do about it?” he demanded. “I told you why!”

“Oh, it isn’t me you have to worry about. And it isn’t what I am going to do, it is what Kelly is going to do. Or maybe, what she has already started doing.”

“Oh, Kelly? She’s harmless. It’ll be fine.”

Seretha laughed out loud. “No, you don’t understand. Kelly is the Sorceress of Starbucks. She will completely, sanitarily and magically eradicate you. And by ‘you,’ I mean your creepy little rancid soul-vessels here.”

“She wouldn’t.”

“She is going to.”

“You Saw this?”

“I saw this on her face with my eyes. You’re doomed.”

As if on cue, the little cavalcade of Peanut Butter jars started glowing with a white light. A clean breeze ruffled their hair. “That’s our sign to exit,” Seretha said cheerfully. She grabbed Josh by the shoulder and started pulling him out of the room.

“Nooooooo!!!!” he howled, “I can fight her!!”

“No, you can’t,” Seretha said firmly. Josh flung out a hand, and for a moment, the golden glow of the Peanut Butter energies competed with the white light for dominance.

Finally, there was a bright flash of light. After Josh and Seretha blinked away the spots from their eyes, they saw that all the Peanut Butter had been eliminated from Josh’s desk (and, little did they know, the entire office). Even the peanut butter smell (slightly off) had been eliminated…replaced by a whiff of bleach.

Josh, shocked and dejected, stared at the place where the Peanut Butter Graveyard used to be. Seretha cocked her head to the side. There was a hum in the air that only she could Hear. “I am pretty sure she put a ward up against peanut butter. There is no way you are ever going to get peanut butter back in here. You are going to have to change magical disciplines.”

He stared at her reproachfully as they walked out of the office. “Hey, I didn’t do anything,” Seretha protested. “I just wanted to know what was going on.”

As they left the office, they encountered Kelly in the hallway coming their way. The doleful scowl on Josh’s face clashed with the radiance of Kelly’s smile.

“And that’s how I’m the mother-flippin’ Sorcerer,” Kelly said smugly. It was extremely rare for Kelly to be smug. But in this case, she had defeated her nemesis, and who could blame her?

Josh glowered at her for a long moment before appearing to snap out of it. Then he unexpectedly flashed a bright smile: “I have eaten enough peanut butter to power me for years–those jars–the ‘Graveyard’ if you like, were just my reserve store. I don’t actually need them.” He started walking away from them.

It took a moment for this to sink in.

“You mean, after all this, you were torturing all of us with the Graveyard for nothing?!” Kelly shouted, her face turning red and balling her hands into fists.

Josh turned as he walked away from them down the wall. He had a huge smile on his face. “Surprised? Gotcha! Pew-pew-pew-pew-pew,” he said, making guns with his fingers as he rounded the corner to the elevator and finally disappeared out of sight.

Kelly stared after him in dismay. Seretha just shrugged. “As I suspected: the saga of Joshua Hall and the Ghosts of Peanut-Butters Past is entirely chaotic neutral.”

The End!!

“It is surprising that one act of chaos can affect so many people.”–Josh Hall

Written by Seretha Curry

At the age of 17, Seretha wrote a rough draft of a science-fiction/fantasy epic during summer break. It was a measly 1000 pages long. Since this grand eruption of activity, she has earned a Master's of Divinity, delved into the depths of physics and personal psychology, and read tomes of Aristotle faster than a normal person reads “Go Dog Go.” When not slaying irrational thought and sentimentality with her sharp wit and cool logic, she stays current on the latest developments in physics. Her passions intertwine and unfold on the page, tamed and refined by the pursuit of the presence of God.

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