“Wallace? Where’s that data?”

Andy’s voice broke the silence of my cubicle. My boss was really good at pouncing on unsuspecting drones like that. I switched over to the spreadsheet window and pointed.

“I’ve got most of it. Just waiting for Lesley in International Sales. And you know how she is.”

Andy harrumphed. “Lesley again? Seems like she’s always the slow one. I should talk to her supervisor… Which one is that, Simon? Bob?”

I waved him off. “Nah, it’s okay. I just sent her a reminder, and she’s getting it as we speak. And Simon’s been stuck in meetings all morning with both the Mexicans and the Canadians, so he’d just blow up – trilingually.”

“Good. Way to show initiative.” Andy nodded approvingly, although I knew he had tuned me out halfway through my sentence. “Let me know as soon as you’re all set.”

“You bet, sir.” Andy grunted and waddled back to his office. I heard the click of his door closing, and knew once again that I was safe. Safe to ponder the fate of the free world.

After all, those mines weren’t gonna sweep themselves.

I grinned at the obvious 1-2-1 pattern on an edge, and prepared to set my flags. The timer was still in the 70s, and I was nearly done with an Advanced map. New record, here I come, I thought.

“Bra-vo,” came a voice from right behind. I jumped and accidentally clicked the mine on the left, ending the game. Too late, my fingers reflexively hit Alt-Tab to bring back the spreadsheet, and I spun around in my chair. A ridiculously short man with a pointy white beard and an even pointier red hat leaned against my cubicle entrance, giving me a slow clap. “Quite the performance there,” he continued in a voice that sounded straight out of one of those chipmunk movies.

The brief moment of relief from realizing that this little twerp wasn’t anywhere in the chain of command was quickly replaced with annoyance over my lost game. “Who the hell are you?” I snarled.

“Time gnome,” said the little man, as he buffed his nails on his violently yellow coat.

I was thrown off. “What?”

“Time. Gnome.” He exaggeratedly paused between words and raised a bushy eyebrow condescendingly. Which was an accomplishment for a guy under three feet tall. “Do I need to repeat it again for you?”

I didn’t have a good answer for that, so I just responded, “Sure.”

The guy – er, gnome’s other eyebrow shot up, as his expression shifted to one of surprised admiration. “Now, see, that’s just the kinda thing that made me want to meet you. Positively brilliant, you are.”

I shook my head a little in confusion. “What are you talking about?”

The gnome grinned and bowed low, doffing his hat. “Allow me to properly introduce myself. You know how some moments drag on without end while others seem over in an instant? That’s because of me, the Time Gnome. I steal time from the ones who want more of it, and give it to the ones who are sick and tired of too much of it.”

I stared. “Now, wait a minute–”

He interrupted. “Yup, that’s me. Wait a minute, a sec, a ‘sconch’, a bit, a ding-dang-diddly of a moment, and that’s me, keeping things from happening.”

“Huh,” I said slowly, blinking. Still didn’t quite know what to make of this guy.

“…Such witty repartee,” he snarked. “Anyhoo, once every 730 days, I’m allowed a moment to meet the human who best exemplifies my work, and well…here I am. A pleasure to meet you, Wallace.” He stuck out a stubby little hand to shake mine. I nodded, dumbly.

“Wait,” I said. He smirked at that. “730 days? So you mean every two years?” He nodded. “Why didn’t you just say that?”

He leaned in to whisper conspiratorially. “‘Cause it takes longer to say it that way!” He winked and chuckled at himself.

“Soooo…” I drew out the word as I casually snagged a pencil and began doodling on my desk calendar. As I did, he leaned in to try to decipher the doodle. This was an old trick of mine: always appear to be in the middle of figuring something out. Just as I was drawing something that looked like it might’ve actually been something, I startled him by barking out a question. “Why?”

“Why?” he echoed in confusion. “Why what?”

I narrowed my eyes and turned my head, so he’d get the full force of my look of skepticism. I imagine it’s rather intimidating. Then again, I can imagine a tremendous amount of things that aren’t necessarily so. “Why me?” I clarified.

The gnome chuckled in relief. “Oh, of course! You, Wallace, came on the radar for being one of the most inventive procrastinators I’ve ever had the fortune to lay eyes on. Our R&M team – that’s ‘Reconnaissance and Meander,’ in case you’re curious – discovered some interesting facts about you and your work. Like the fact that you’ve been working on this same spreadsheet tab for three weeks, now, right?”

I nodded, as through the corner of my eye, I began looking for hidden cameras.

“And your solution for the delay is quite ingenious!” The gnome began giggling, which – well, imagine a squirrel. Giggling. After sucking on helium. Sounded a little like that.

I grinned. “Yeah, I’ve gotten pretty good at keeping Andy from contacting International Sales. Of course, that’s doubly helpful, since we don’t actually have an international sales team…”

At this, the gnome began giggling once again, and I rose to my feet. I gestured to the breakroom area and asked, “Shall we continue this conversation over a cappuccino?”

The wee man clapped, giddy with excitement. “Oh, yes, let’s! I’d heard of your prowess at making gourmet foods out of vending machine extrusions!”

As we walked, the gnome looked at each empty cubicle we passed. He glanced up at me, quizzically. No spoken question was necessary. I answered, “Lay-offs. The whole division was canned, except for Andy and me.”

The gnome’s face had gone from a look of concern to one of admiration mixed with utter confusion. “Doesn’t that mean that the two of you are stuck doing a mountainload of work?”

As I prepped the vending machine cappuccino for the little man, I explained how I had weaseled my way onto the restructuring committee, and had volunteered to draw up the new organizational charts. In the process of doing so, I discovered how to create a sort of flowchart cul-de-sac for a department. This resulted in our department being tangentially related to every decision the company made, but directly responsible for absolutely none of them.

I concluded, “I kept Andy along for the ride, and to deflect blame if it ever came to that.”

The gnome smirked. “And he has no idea that he – and you, really – are completely worthless?”

“Nope,” I said, shaking my head. During the reorg, I had further set up a fake corporate account for Andy’s immediate “superior”, so he’d not feel too far adrift. Of course, Mr. Stahl was always unavailable around employee evaluation times…

I don’t know how long we spent trading stories. Me, telling him of how I became a successful slackabout – him, telling me of tricks and techniques of previous procrastinators. It was a good time. It would probably have kept on for much longer up until our conversation was interrupted by the evening janitor coming into the breakroom to sweep the floor. “’lo, Wallace,” he smiled, waving at me.

“’evening, Cooper,” I said in return.

The gnome suddenly yelped. “Wait, is this the janitor?” I looked over at Cooper and gave him a “sorry-my-breakroom-companion-is-a-jerk” look. Cooper nodded, and went about working on the floor. The gnome continued. “What time is it?”

I glanced pointedly at my wrist, which did not hold a watch. “No clue,” I said.

He reached into his coat, and pulled out a large pocketwatch. It would’ve looked quite natural in the hands of a tardy white rabbit. He yelped again and shoved the watch in my face. Just about the only thing I could make out of it at that close of a distance, was that time had passed into the mid-evening hours. “What sort of procrastinator are you?” he squeaked indignantly. “Quitting time is long gone! You should’ve been home hours ago!”

I shrugged. “Eh, I like being around here. Heck, it’s a lot more interesting than being at home, alone, in my apartment. If you stick around a bit longer, I’ll deal ya into our poker game with Coop, here, the night watchman, and this homeless guy that lives by the entry gate.”

Image by Pedro Rebelo (Browserd on flickr.com)

The gnome looked like he was having an aneurysm. “Don’t you understand?” he bellowed. Or at least as much of a bellow as he could muster. “I’m two hours past MY quitting time! And I don’t get overtime! This means I’m going to have to fill out paperwork. Do you have any idea how much is involved? The pile’s as tall as I am, and I AIN’T EXAGGERATING!”

I held up my hands in a calming gesture and smiled, “Now, hang on a minute…”

“WHAT?” he yelled.

“Oh, nothing. Just wanted to see if that’d work.”

The gnome spluttered in fury, then spun around in place, and disappeared in a puff of smoke. Cooper blinked at the display, shook his head slowly, and resumed his sweeping. “We playing the usual?” he asked me.

I shook my head. “Nah, let’s try something new. I feel like wasting some time tonight.”