"Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!" The curses were muted somewhat by the cubicle walls, but Dot could tell they came from the coffee station.
She gophered up and saw Keith, lightly spattered with coffee grounds, staring with resigned annoyance at the larger pile of grounds and ripped plastic in front of him. "What this time?" she asked.
"The measuring spoon tore through the Ziplock when I tried to get it out," he sighed.
"And the coffee's in a Ziplock because...?"
"Hell if I know," Keith grumbled, brushing grounds from his shirt into the sink.
Janet popped up in her cube. "I accidentally blew the bottom of the bag out yesterday." At Dot's look, she added, "You know! Getting the air out, so it stays fresh and all? I had a Ziploc from lunch, so I figured I'd put the coffee in there. Sorry, Keith."
"Not your fault," he sighed. "The spoon came through like it was tissue paper - must've been a bad bag." All three shook their heads.
There'd been nothing but trouble since Tom, the manager, had sprung for the new coffee pot. The old one had turned brown from old coffee residue, and the brew was terrible. The new one made much better-tasting coffee, and Tom was religious about cleaning the thing at the end of each day so it would stay that way.
But the thing was cursed. The new carafe spilled unless you poured just right, the filter'd go askew at the drop of a hat, fold down and spill grounds into the pot, and now the coffee itself - not even technically part of the new pot - was making a big mess. Next week, Dot was sure, the milk would spill in the fridge.
The rest of the work day progressed more or less smoothly. "Hey Dot," Janet called out as she pulled on her black wool coat, "we're headed over to McCaffery's. Want to come before you abandon us for a week?"
"I'd love to," Dot smiled wryly, "but I want to get this paperwork done tonight. I don't want it still here and waiting for me when I get back from vacation."
"Party pooper!" Janet stuck her tongue out playfully. "Well, if you wrap it up in the next hour or so, come on over - we'll probably still be there."
"If we don't see you, have a great time in Florida!"
"Thanks!" Dot waved goodbye as her coworkers filed out. Tom was last out the door, still shaking water from his hands after finishing the ritual coffeepot cleaning.
Dot got up to turn down the lights. She liked working in a dark office when she stayed late - it made it feel more like time had passed, instead of like a never-ending day of work. The emergency lights weren't enough to work by, so she clicked on a small lamp in her cubicle and settled down to finish the troublesome paperwork.
It took rather more than an hour - at least two had passed when she paused to stretch her neck. That's when she heard the rustling sound. It was like a plastic bag being scrunched up or shaken, and it came from the direction of the coffee station.
Dot rolled her eyes. Mouse? she thought. Great. Probably feeding off the snack food people stashed in their desks - won't everyone be pleased to hear that? She decided to try and get a look at the furry interloper. After all, what if it's not a mouse? Could be a rat... or a really big roach? Neither of these were particularly pleasant options, and Dot found herself hoping for a mouse.
The rustling continued. Coming out of her cube, Dot noticed that it came from the wastebasket next to the sink. Great! Maybe she could grab the bag and twist it shut with the mouse - or whatever - inside. Problem solved. She slipped out of her pumps to approach quietly, then reached down to grab the bag - and shrieked.
The bag shrieked back.
Three tiny, misshappen men spewed coffee grounds from their lips as they hollered in suprise at being found. They shouted some more when Dot kicked the wastebasket, and then some more when she thought the better of it and snatched it up. She stared down at them for a long moment. "I'm really seeing this. Hello? Hello, can you talk?"
One little man heaved to his feet, swaying on the uncertain footing of the suspended garbage bag. Even in the dim emergency lighting, she could see a... straw wrapper? in a Windsor knot around his neck. "We can proactively communicate with a diverse client base," he informed her in a mild, squeaky voice. "Current operational security has been compromised and we're actively interested in a win-win negotiation scenario."
"What?" Of all the things Dot might have expected to hear from the wastebasket, corpo-babble wasn't one of them.
"Yeah, we talk," said a second, still on his back. "How about you let us go?"
"Who... what are you? Why... why are you in the garbage? Are... you eating that?" she asked incredulously. The third, who'd been silent, paused with a grubby handful of coffee grounds halfway to his wide mouth. He put this hand behind his back instead.
"We are faerie-Americans, or 'people of magic,'" the first explained. "We're leveraging underutilized resources to increase overall output and customer satisfaction."
Dot looked at the second, who sighed heavily. "Hobgobs. We're packing up the coffee you threw out for home."
"You like coffee?"
"Coffee is a vital tool in our corporate management culture."
"If the Queen don't get her coffee, real bad stuff happens."
Dot considered, then frowned and shook the basket slightly. "Have you been sabotaging the new coffeepot?"
"Changes in the acquisitions environment necessitated the utilization of more proactive collection methods!" protested the first, falling heavily onto his backside.
"You don't leave us no more coffee at night," the translator put in. "Pot's always empty nowadays. What else we gonna do?"
Dot considered. "How's this for a win-win negotiation scenario..."
No one really noticed that the coffeepot ceased to be cursed. One expects compliance from one's appliances, after all.
"Hey Dot," Keith called over. "We're doing happy hour at McCaffery's. Coming?"
"Sure thing!" Dot called back. "Give me a minute to get my stuff together." Dot pushed back from her desk, grabbed her purse and coat, and headed out the cubicle, leaving her desk covered with papers, pens, and a full cup of cold after-lunch coffee.