VIRTOX- The Story I Felt I Had to Post

VIRTOX- The Story I Felt I Had to Post

I wrote this little short story late last year and presented it to Keybangers Bangkok, my writing group. It was well-received, only a few criticisms (writers are full of criticism). I was up in Chiang Mai earlier this month and had the opportunity to read it at an open mike and it was well received. I showed it to a few other  people who found it humorous and rather timely.

As I’ve written in previous posts, most magazines will not publish anything that has appeared anywhere before, even one’s own blog.  That means the choice is to publish on line yourself and pretty much forego any chance of being published elsewhere, or take your chances leaping into the Great Void of Publishing.  The latter means that you may or may not receive a response, and if you do, it can take many months. Should you be fortunate enough to be selected, there may be a wait of many months until the story is actually published. It is entirely possible, depending on the publication, that more people would have read it if you published on your blog.  I have found a few magazines that do allow some leeway, such as publishing on one’s own blog or a very limited distribution as a e publication, but they are few and far between.

This story is one of the few I have ever written that is really time sensitive in the sense that the events I write about are actually occurring as we speak. It is also rather short, only a bit over 2500 words. So I decided to cast fate to the winds and publish it now. If the story is any good, it will find readers. Hope you enjoy it and feel free to let me know any thoughts you have.

                                                                      VIRTOX

by Stephen Shaiken  ( c ) 2017

    Ferdinand was awakened by a firm grip that shook his shoulder.

    “Wake up buddy,” a disjointed voice called from the void. As Ferdinand regained consciousness he recognized it as belonging to Hilton, the friendly financial services consultant in the adjoining cubicle. Hilton’s space was larger than Ferdinand’s by half and had a window looking out at the world from eight stories up, another reminder of  Ferdinand’s status as a word processor.

    Ferdinand had fallen asleep at his desk while reviewing the prospectus he was expected to have ready by day’s end. The last thing he recalled reading was “In the event of a default by the party of the third part, the party of the second part shall indemnify and hold harmless the party of the first part, except as specified in subsection (iii) of section (K) within Part 16, Clause WW.”

    Whatever people might find interesting about investment services eluded him, he had been thinking when he nodded off. Spending their lives obsessed with one index or another when not consumed by disputes between the party of the first part and the party of the second part.

    He had fallen face down onto his keyboard, his nose striking the q key, causing seven pages of that letter to mar the draft he had worked on since early morning. His computer screen showed it was almost four in the afternoon so he had been dozing for an hour. He had to finish and proof read the document and get it to his boss first thing in the morning.Hilton was all smiles. Hilton was almost always smiling. He was a making a good living selling stocks, bonds, mutual  funds and ETFs to the affluent over expensive lunches. Hilton didn’t spend much time at his desk.

    “Catching a little beauty sleep?” he asked Ferdinand.

      “I have to get back to work,” was the reply.

    “If you were smart, you’d do as I did and put your money into Virtox,” Hilton said. “Pretty soon you’ll never have to work again.” Hilton snapped his fingers in emphasis.

`  “Virtox? Is that something like Botox?”

    “What planet have you been living on?” Hilton asked. “You mean to tell me you don’t know about Virtox? And you’re in the financial section?”

    “I’m a word processor, Hilton.”

    “Even word processors get the news,” Hilton said.

    “Okay, what the hell is Virtox?”

    Hilton stared at him.

   “Virtox, my friend, is the best investment a person could ever make. Up nine hundred percent this year. “

   “That still doesn’t give me a clue,” Ferdinand said.

    “Virtox, my friend, is virtual oxygen. Created by a top finance guy in California. Sells by the cubic foot here in America. I bought a hundred cubic feet when it was first issued and I wish I had bought more.

    “Why would anybody pay good money for something they can get for free?” Ferdinand asked.

    Hilton exhaled long deep breath. Then he shook his head slowly.

    “Ferdinand, do you really believe the air you breathe is free? You forget about the taxes you pay to keep it clean. You think all those fancy ventilation systems they have in buildings don’t get baked into the cake? Basically you’re investing in physical oxygen every time you spend a penny.”

    “Wait a minute,” Ferdinand replied. “That makes no sense. There’s no reason we have to pay for the oxygen in the air we breathe. There’s an unlimited supply. Trees keep pumping it out all the time. You can get all you want by opening your window. Even if you’re dead broke.”  Like I’m close to being, he thought. And at work I don’t even have a window.

     “Maybe you don’t pay much now for the air you breathe,” Hilton countered. “ You will when you make enough to pay a nice sized tax bill. And you just hit on one of the biggest problems. The unlimited supply and the ability to keep pumping out more. We in the crypto oxygen world call that fiat oxygen. People pay good money for it yet the government can keep making more and more. Why do you think they protect forests? Doesn’t all that bring down the value of your forced tax investment? But with Virtox, no such fear. The founder created only six hundred trillion cubic feet and that is it. Not one breath more will ever come in being. As more people wise up and reject fiat oxygen in favor of crypto oxygen, the value of Virtox can only go up.

    “Wait a minute,” Ferdinand said. “What good is imaginary oxygen? You can’t even breathe it?”

    Hilton placed his hands on the edge of Ferdinand’s desk and stared at his friend.

    “Why would you want to breathe anything that valuable? Virtox was never intended to replace government controlled oxygen in that way.”

    “So what good is it?” Ferdinand asked.

    “You can trade it. You can swap it for a whole host of virtual gases. You can use it to buy futures contracts for just about any virtual commodity in the world. Movies, songs, books, even telephone talk time and data.

    “But mostly you get to rake in lots of cash. Fiat cash, I admit, but until the world goes all virtual, there’s still a value there. So I advise to you to hop on board while there’s still time.

    “I bought Virtox fourteen months ago when it was at six hundred dollars. Checked this morning and it was at nineteen thousand. Where else can see that kind of return?

    “A year from now, if things go as expected, I’ll be lounging on some tropical beach and all of this will be a distant memory,” he added.

    “Nice talking with you, Hilton, but I’ve got to get back to work,” Ferdinand said.

    During a coffee break he checked the market on Virtox. Up one percent that day.

                                                                                                                   #

    Ferdinand was enjoying an after work beer amidst the crowd at Gilhooly’s when he felt a tap on his shoulder. It was Gordon Planter, the last person he wanted to encounter in a bar. It mean for certain buying a drink or two or three. Gordon claimed to be a photographer but never carried a camera. He drove a BMW but showed no means of supporting himself or his car.  Ferdinand had known Gordon since college and had never known him to pay for a meal or a drink. Sometimes he forgot his wallet in the car or at home, or his credit card had just expired, or they took only cash and he had none, or he had just come back from travel and had only Euros or pesos. All of Gordon’s acquaintances knew he was playing them but none had the courage to say so. Though he always claimed to be on the cusp of a financial windfall, Gordon coasted through life as a freeloader.

     During the second round of beers, while Ferdinand was thinking of a graceful way to exit before his uninvited guest ordered food, Gordon revealed his latest plan to achieve wealth.

     “Heard of Virtox?” he asked.

      Gordon explained how had heard about virtual oxygen on a radio talk show and had been so taken that he maxed out his credit cards, borrowed from whomever he could and and pumped it all into his Virtox Cyber Tank.

     “Gone up eighty percent in the two months I’ve owned it,” he bragged. “If you’re as smart as you think you are, you’ll jump on this before it’s too late,” he added as he watched Ferdinand pay the bill. When Ferdinand asked Gordon if he planned to at least leave a tip, he replied that he already had.

     “If you’re smart, you’ll take it,” Gordon called out as rose to leave.

      Back at his apartment, Ferdinand exchanged pleasantries with his roommate,  checked his e mail and paid his credit card on line. When he was done he looked up the market for Virtox again. Up another one percent since that afternoon.

                                                                                                                #

    “Good job, Ferdinand.”

    Roger Schultz was as pleasant a boss as could be expected in the fast paced world of investment. He was fit and trim, handsome, and always even-keeled.

    “By the way,” he said, “there’s a new class for sales people opening next month. If you’re interested, just let me know.”

    They had been through this before.

    “Thanks, Roger, but I don’t think I was made to sell securities.” One of these days I’ll find what I was made to do, he thought.

    “No one is made to do anything,” Roger said. “But anyone can be taught. If that idiot Hilton can make a buck doing this, you surely can.”

    “I just don’t think I can sell things I don’t understand,” Ferdinand replied. “And I don’t understand the first thing about these investments. Not really sure about the difference between a stock and a bond.”

    Roger smiled his perfect white teeth.

    “We’re not really selling securities,” he said. “We’re selling hopes and dreams of a better future.

     “It’s like we’re selling legal LSD.”

      Ferdinand cleared his throat.

      “I was wondering, sir, if you have heard anything about this new investment called Virtox. Seems to be the rage these days.”

      Roger held up a finely manicured hand. He turned the palm towards Ferdinand.

     “First of all, don’t call me “sir”. It’s Roger to my friends. Second, stay away from that tomfoolery. Anyone stupid enough to buy imaginary oxygen is the very person they had in mind when they created that old expression about a fool and his money.”

      “But some smart people are telling me I should buy in now before it’s too late.”

       Roger kept his palm facing Ferdinand.

      “It’s a bubble. Classic case. Think Seventeenth Century Dutch Tulips. Or junk bonds in the 1980s. Maybe a better example would be underwater Florida land in the Roaring Twenties.

      “The smart money get in early and gets out in time. Everything else is just sucker money.”

       “Well thanks for your time, Roger.” Ferdinand pivoted and walked towards the office door.

        “Any time,”  Roger called out.

        Back at his desk Ferdinand read the most recent e mail instructions for a document, opened the template and worked until quitting time. Before shutting down his computer he checked Virtox. Up another percent.

                                                                                                                          #

     “You believe this guy?” Hilton bellowed when Ferdinand recounted his discussion with Roger.

      “Of course he’s going to talk down Virtox,” he explained. “Makes what he’s having us push look bad. When’s the last time this outfit offered anything with a return like I’m seeing? Over a thousand percent this year? Wouldn’t surprise me if he’s buying it on the side,” Hilton added.

      “I still can’t get my head around paying all that money for something that isn’t real and even it it was you can get all you want for free. Why would anyone pay all that money? Why would any trade real things for make believe air?”

      “How many times do we have to go over this?” Hilton asked, exasperation flowing from his voice to the hands he threw towards his shoulder, palms up.

     “Why do people pay so much for gold? Why do people trust dollars and Euros that are only backed up by a promise? You don’t want to listen, fine by me. Feel free to miss the party.”

      After Hilton went back to his own cubicle, Ferdinand took another peek at the Virtox market. Up one and a half percent this time. He checked his bank accounts. A little over a thousand bucks.

                                                                                                                      #

      A week later Roger was standing by the water cooler when Ferdinand approached to refill his thermos.

       “Water’s still free around here,” Roger said as he clapped Ferdinand on the back. “Unless you think we should install some virtual water and let the market decide the cost.” He laughed and shook his head.

      “Amazing what some fools will pay for absolutely nothing.”

        Ferdinand let out at tiny cough.

       “When you clear your throat you have a question,” Roger said. “Let’s have it.”

       “I know you are really smart and experienced, and I don’t know much. But I’ve been following Virtox and it keeps going up. If I bought a thousand dollars of Virtox last week I’d have fifteen hundred today. For doing nothing.”

        “Is that how you think it works?” Roger asked. “You are right, you don’t know much. Take me up on my offer and let us train you. But in the meantime, stay away from Virtox or anything that takes money and gives back nothing.

       “Believe me Ferdinand, anyone still dumb enough to be in Virtox in the next few weeks are going to wind jumping out of windows. Or maybe breathing in the carbon monoxide from their cars.

      “At least that’s a gas they can still get for free and it’s real.”

        Ferdinand went back to his computer. Virtox was up three more percentage points for the day.

                                                                                                                    #

     The following week flew past Ferdinand like a bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto. Roger kept him busy, so busy that after Monday Ferdinand didn’t have time to check on Virtox after Wednesday morning when it was still climbing.

      It’s only a thousand dollars, Ferdinand thought. Roger always says not to invest more than you can afford to lose. If that’s the case then I could never invest anything.

      Would have doubled my money if I listened to Hilton and Gordon and bought when they told me, he thought. “I don’t know who to listen to,” he muttered himself  as softly as he could.

      “Listen to who about what?” a gravelly voice called from behind him.

       He turned around and saw it was  Millie, the middle aged African-American  woman who came to clean the office each evening. Ferdinand had never paid her much attention and could not ever recall speaking with her. With his college degree, Ferdinand  considered Millie’s work to be menial labor, but suspected that with her union and her seniority she earned more than he. If Millie was there, Ferdinand knew he had worked past quitting time.

       “Just kicking myself for not buying Virtox when it was still cheap,” he replied, not certain the cleaning woman would have any idea what he was talking about.

       “Virtox?” Millie asked” You ought to thank your lucky stars you ain’t that dumb. My brother in law cleaned out his retirement fund, put it all in Virtox.”

       “And?”

       “And now he ain’t got two nickels to rub together. Ain’t you heard the news?”

        Ferdinand gripped his desk and arched his back as he stared at the small squat cleaning woman.

       “Virtox down eighty percent overnight. Panic in those streets, I tell you.

        “Hope my brother in law don’t go jumping out no window,” she said, slowly shaking her head.

        Ferdinand was frozen in place.

       “Hope you ain’t thrown any of your hard earned pay out the window along with them suckers,” Millie said. Ferdinand did not answer.

      No wonder Gordon Planter wore a worried look on his face when Ferdinand saw him scurrying out of a restaurant at lunchtime. Ferdinand had figured no one was willing to cover Gordon’s bill so he was doing a dash and dine. It wouldn’t be Gordon’s first time.

       He had to see what Hilton had to say about this turn of events. He rose up from his chair and strode from his cubicle to Hilton’s.

       He saw the open window.

THE END  

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