Legacy is the short I submitted for the Owl Canyon Hackathon. For this writing contest they give you the first and last paragraphs and you have to fill in the meat, so to speak. There is also a max number of paragraphs allowed (22 – including the ones they provide). It was a fun experience. I didn’t win, but I enjoyed the writing process which is good enough for me (most the time).
It was an odd sized casket, too small for a man, too big for a child. A flag was draped over it, a smallish one. It was carried by four men in uniform, though it was hard to tell for sure from a distance what uniform it was, or even if they were all men. There wasn’t room for the usual six pallbearers due to the small size of the casket since it would have made for a comical service to have all six jammed together, shoulder-to-shoulder, crowding around an under-sized coffin. So, the extra pallbearers were in the ranks of many others in uniform standing beside a small open grave. The officiant wore a robe instead of a uniform and must have said something because there was a long silence, then a burst of laughter.
Ellie looked at the coffin, annoyed by the laughter and needing to take her mind off those who didn’t understand the significance of this moment. She had been here from the start and knew full well they were at a turning point in the evolution of what they had created.
Letting herself drift back to those early days, she couldn’t help but to smile over the fond memories. The three of them had found each other through shared classes in grad school and quickly bonded over a shared interest and desire to make the world a better place. They had all been so young back then, full of dreams, promise, and energy.
Rob had been the charismatic one of the bunch. Handsome, in an unconventional manner that allowed him to stand out in subtle ways the dug into your memory, making him hard to forget. He was smart, but not overly so. He understood the general ideas behind what they had planned but also knew he wouldn’t be anything more than the face of the organization. His laugh was infectious and at times she felt as though she could still hear it echoing through the executive suites of the office.
Glancing over her shoulder at the rest of those gathered for the occasion, as they celebrated the moment, she wished she still had that innocence from her younger days. She had traded it for maturity and growth, which she had convinced herself was a necessary change if she was going to have the drive it would take to fulfill the dreams and live up to the promises she had made to her friends at the beginning.
Pure, sweet Allison. She had a smile that would light up a room. Not out of brilliance or unforgettable looks, but out of some inner light that only came from a life of innocence, cultivated and protected during her upbringing. She had been a sheltered child and when they met, she had only been living on her own for a few weeks, having recently moved into school residence halls. A miracle worker with numbers, it was Allison that had let the others know their ideas would be viable as a company, if they were smart with their money.
Ellie envied Rob’s charisma and Allison’s optimistic approach to everything she faced. She was the cynic of the group. It was her ideas the company was founded on and it took a lot of prodding from the other two before she felt comfortable acting on their flowery words. The part of her that pointed out her shortcomings hovered at the edge of her mind mouthing, “I told you this would happen, and you would end up doing this alone.”
As usual when she looked to her past, her smile quickly turned to a frown. She was the only one of the three left on the project they had started together. Some rumors blamed her for driving the others away with high expectations and demanding perfectionism. Still others credited her for being the sole reason things were going so well for everyone involved. Ellie knew the truth was somewhere in the middle but refused to let herself dwell on such drivel. She missed her friends, at least missed the idea of them. It had been so long since she had seen or spoken to them that she couldn’t say for sure.
“Excuse me Aunt Ellie”, a voice pulled her away from the reflection of the earlier days, “the priest would like to know if you want to say a few words.” Turning to face the person who had come over to where she was standing. Even if he hadn’t called her Aunt Ellie, she would have known it was Robert who had approached her. He was normally the only person who felt comfortable doing so during times when she felt the need to pull away from the rest of the staff.
As her eyes landed on Robert, she could see both of her former partners in his features. He somehow looked like both Rob and Allison, yet different enough to be his own person. As she usually did when she first saw him, she took on a sad smile at the return of the memories once again. He did a good job of hiding the pain it caused him, knowing her well enough to know her thoughts and feelings. After college he had applied for an internship with the company and admitted that he had done so anonymously in an attempt to learn more about what his parents had helped create, but seldom talked about. The moment she saw him in the halls of the office she had known who he was and taken steps to watch over him and guide his career within the company. She owed his parents that much, and with no kids of her own it helped silence the maternal calling that creeped in to whisper to her about the shortcomings of generations in the past.
Without a word, she raised her arm, indicating that if he wished to escort her over to the head of the ceremony, she would follow him over to make a statement. She didn’t kid herself into thinking that her words would move anyone into further believing in the company cause. They saw her speeches as a sign of conclusion to events, allowing them to get to the celebratory phase of the event. To the others, this might as well have been the company Christmas party. She was certain the number of believers at either event would be about the same.
As they approached the podium that had been placed next to where the priest had performed his blessing, she looked him over. He smiled to her as she approached and was met with a straight face in return. She wasn’t sure why they had felt the need to bring in an actual priest but had conceded to it when it was suggested to be good for symbolism. She did like the idea of having corporate security come out in uniform to act as an honor guard and the pall bearers. It seemed right to make sure they were included and made aware they were part of the company as well. This was a turning point in the company, and she could see where the Judeo-Christian notion of rebirth would fit the desired narrative they were aiming for during the ceremony.
Ellie wasn’t sure if she believed in God. She didn’t allow herself to think about Him, or Her, or IT. She worked to make the Earth better for humankind. If there was a God up there, she was certain that they weren’t displeased with what she was doing. When they met, she would broach the subject, before launching into the multitude of questions she had accumulated over her years.
Looking up at the faces in the crowd, she was pleasantly surprised to see that a few looked to be genuinely excited, based on the glimmer in their eyes. Of course, they could also have been helping themselves to the open bar the company provided. It was hard to tell from this vantage point and she knew that free booze was hard for some to avoid.
As she pulled out the pages she had prepared for her speech, she could feel the dread coming over the crowd, even those with a gleam of excitement in their eyes. Yup, they got into the bar already. No shock there. Flattening out the pages on to the podium as she scanned the crowd, she saw Robbie. Robert, she mentally corrected herself. As he stood off to the side of her looking out over the crowd, she could see the genuine smile stretched across his face. Not only had he received the best physical traits of both parents, he had also gotten the charisma from his dad and optimism from his mom. She knew it was impossible, but she felt like he had gotten her intellect as well. Genetically it wasn’t conceivable, but maybe from being around her when he was a toddler. Chalk one up for nurture.
Seeing him in that moment, Ellie decided on something far outside of her character and comfort zone. She changed course. Looking over the crowd one more time, taking the time to slowly scan the crowd and make eye contact with every person that wasn’t avoiding her by looking at their shoes, she gave each a reassuring nod and reassuring smile. As she finished scanning the crowd, she reached down to pick up the speech she had planned to give. Lifting it up for all to see, she slowly ripped the pages into pieces and tossed them into the air. The stunned looks across everyone faces were a testament to how surprising her behavior was to them all.
Ellie allowed herself a moment to enjoy the silence, before she started speaking. “Hello everyone. Thank you for coming today to mark this momentous occasion. As you can see, I had a lengthy speech ready to make certain that you all knew the importance of today.” Pausing to raise her hands up indicating the pieces of paper still floating down through the air, she was rewarded with a hushed laughter from around the crowd. “I decided that my speech was both too long winded and inadequate to describe this moment to you. I started this company over two decades ago with my dearest friends at the time.” Looking out the corner of her eye, she could see the smile on Robbie’s face lessen as he became more serious at the reference to his parents. “Everything I have done from that point until now has led to this moment. We have achieved our company goals. We are gathered here to symbolically burry our past, as a startup company fighting to achieve its goals and be reborn as a successful, model for others that wonder if you can be profitable and do right by others. Give yourselves a round of applause for helping make this happen.”
As she finished her speech, Ellie walked off the tiny stage, taking Robbie’s arm again as he escorted her to the buffet table to get a plate while the rest of those in attendance politely paused to allow her to go first. As they walked over, she patted him on the arm to get his attention before speaking, “It is time for me to step down Robert. I’ve done all I can for the company, and it needs some new blood to take into the future and keep it on top.” Stopping for a moment she turned to look him directly in the eyes, “Starting Monday you will be reassigned from your current position to be my personal assistant. It will allow you time to learn the business from the point of view of my office.” Turning back and resuming the walk towards the buffet, she added, “When we both feel you are ready; I will hand you the reigns.”
Arriving at the table, she quickly grabbed a plate and filled it with food before moving to sit at a table on the outskirts of the area. As he sat down next to her, Ellie looked at him with a smile of true happiness. “I miss your parents Robert. I miss them every day.” Smiling back at her, “Well, I am having dinner with them on Sunday. I’m sure you would be welcome.” Pausing for a moment to consider it, she laughed briefly, “Baby steps son. Baby steps. I’m sure you will all have a lot to talk about on Sunday. Feel free to leave out the part about us burying the first prototype in this ceremony.” As he laughed at the uncharacteristic joke from Ellie, he silently agreed it would be best not to mention it.
The grave wasn’t ready until sunset, so the whole event was rushed and disorganized, except for the very last part. The grave was a massive affair, more of a crater than a grave, and it took until dark to roll the casket down to the bottom. If any prayers were said, they couldn’t be heard over the dull thudding of the clods raining down on the casket far below. It was an odd sized casket, too big for a man, too small for a dream, but just right for a dynasty.