Joshua bent over his keyboard, head in hands, staring at his computer screen as though willing his final year thesis to appear out of thin air. At his elbow lay the study he’d chosen to discuss: Diffusion of Responsibility among Adolescents, Niaga et al, 2011. He’d thumbed through it innumerable times already, and what at first glance had appeared a curiosity-piquing, appetite-whetting fodder-mill for a dissertation, was rapidly beginning to appear, not so much a red herring, as a whale shark with a full-body blood blister. Joshua groaned, and rubbed his eyes. He’d been here five hours, and the essay was due at 11am the following morning.
Why had he left it so late?
Why had he chosen a degree in Psychology in the first place?
Why had he not throttled himself with his own umbilical cord when he’d had the chance?
He couldn’t hand in another assignment late, least of all this one. His track record in this area was notoriously appalling. Why did he never learn?
Pushing his swivel chair away, Joshua rose to his feet, and began to pace. What had started as a vague sense of hopelessness was now graduating into a full-blown panic. He scoured his room for something to inspire him, and his eyes fell, traitorously, on his bottom drawer.
He hadn’t opened that drawer in months. It contained an object of unmeasurable power that Josh had sworn to use only as a last resort, if ever.
In the annals of last resorts this was a five-star hotel with palm trees and swimming pools, adjoining a massive adventure park with rollercoasters, whitewater rapids, ballpits and a flume.
Joshua opened the drawer. Inside, protected from thieves by a layer of judiciously selected unwashed undergarments, lay an innocuous looking strip of wood. Joshua lifted it, gingerly, and surveyed its gnarled surface. The wand had been in his family for generations, but he’d promised many people that he would never invoke its power.
Durst he use it?
He held the implement aloft, before he could think better of it, and spoke.
“Please, god, let me find something clever to do with this study,” he implored.
The wand fell to the floor, and Josh, his eyes glazed, turned mechanically, and walked towards the kitchen.
Unsheathing a butcher knife, he made his way, still apparently entranced, to his door, and scratched the words “NIAGA ET AL, 2011” into the veneer. When he was done, he dropped the knife at his feet, and returned to his chair, falling asleep instantly.
When Joshua awoke, a wonderful sense of serenity had come over him. This promptly ended when he saw the time on his still open computer screen.
He leapt up in horror, looking wildly around for an explanation as to why the spell had failed, then his gaze landed on the full-length mirror which stood opposite his door, and he collapsed, head in hands once more.
There, in crudely etched, six-inch-high letters, read the legend:
“1105, LATE AGAIN”
~ James Le Lacheur, 2015