Stand behind yer sheriff Circulation: 120,791,029 Issue: 244 | 16th day of Relaxing, Y8
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Five O'Clock Deadline

by literalluau


The pile of books landed with a loud thunk on Dewdrop's desk. The baby Kougra could just see over the top of them.

      "More books to review!" Mr. Staffner, her blue Chia of a boss, announced with a smile, brushing his hands together as if glad to be rid of his load.

      Dewdrop forced a smile in return, but as soon as Mr. Staffner had cleared the door Dewdrop's forehead landed with an audible thud on her desk. She rolled her head to one side and listened to the clock ticking away the seconds. After a few moments, she picked her head up and took the top book from the pile.

      It had a deep green cover. Dewdrop ran her fingers over the binding dreamily as she remembered a time when she could read for fun and didn't have to analyze and pick apart every book. Nowadays I can't even read the Neopian Times without reviewing the stories and articles in my mind. With that thought, she sighed and opened the book.

      Half an hour later she was done with her first read-through. On a sheet to her right under "initial impression" she wrote: Very nice introduction and development of characters. The plot is intriguing and will keep readers flipping the pages.

      "The kind of book I would have loved to read," she said to herself, "when I loved to read."

      "Ahem," came a cheerful clearing of a throat at her door, if clearing one's throat can be cheerful.

      Startled, Dewdrop stood up, bumping her desk on the way. Papers flew everywhere and books slid to the floor. Tears of frustration brimmed at her eyes, but she managed to mutter, "Sorry Mr. Staffner. Didn't see you there." She bent down and set to work picking up papers and books.

      Mr. Staffner pulled her chair from behind her desk and motioned for her to sit in it. She obliged, eyeing the mess still on the floor.

      "Dewdrop..." He beamed, pulling up another chair for himself. "You are my best reviewer and I value your work, but I'm a little worried about you lately. You seem... stressed. Incredibly stressed."

      Dewdrop opened her mouth to speak but Mr. Staffner hushed her. "Before you say anything, let me acknowledge that I know your job is very stressful. You may be a baby Kougra, but you do more work each day than most other pets. I'd like you to remember that you are very important to all those writers out there who, without you, wouldn't know what was thought of their work or have the means to let others see read their stories."

      "Thank you, Mr. Staffner," Dewdrop managed.

      He nodded in response and stood up to leave. "If you need a break, take a walk in the park. It's just beautiful out there today." His eyes sparkled. "I thoroughly recommend it."

      "Thank you. Maybe I will later." Mr. Staffner nodded and left the room.

      I'll get a break when it snows in the Lost Desert, Dewdrop thought to herself. She picked the papers and books up off the floor and arranged them again into neat piles on her desk. Life was complicated and stressful enough; she didn't need a messy desk right now to add to it. She picked up the green book again, but couldn't force herself to reread it to do the more in-depth analysis. Setting it aside for later, she picked up a red book for a first read-through.


      "How's it coming?" Dewdrop jumped again. She had allowed herself to get caught up in a fight scene between some rivaling pirates and hadn't heard her door open. "Kyle! You scared me."

      "Sorry," grinned the yellow Kyrii. He used his paws to lean forward on her desk. "Working hard as usual?"

      "Yes. But at the moment you interrupted me, I was actually very caught up in this book." Dewdrop paused as she thought of what that meant. "But that's okay. The scene distracted me from reviewing, so now I'll have to read it again," she muttered.

      "Ah. Must be the first read-through."

      "Kyle, you still love reading. How do you do it?"

      "I don't read them twice for one thing." He laughed.

      "We've had this conversation," she responded jokingly. But then her face got very serious. "If I didn't read them twice, I'd feel like I was giving someone less than my best. We have so many talented voices here," she gestured to the books, "and none of them deserve less than my best."

      "Even if it kills you," jested Kyle. He chewed on his lip for a moment as if he was thinking very hard. "I know! You could go take a walk in the park!"

      Dewdrop raised her eyebrow. "Why does everyone want me to go to the park?"

      Kyle's eyes widened. "They do?" His voice was many notches too high. "Well," he got his voiced back under control, "it is nice out there today."

      "It's Friday," Dewdrop reminded him. "These have to be done today." She gazed at the books stacked on her desk. "Thank goodness we don't work with novels, right?"

      "Here, I'll take some of them."

      "What?" Dewdrop was bewildered. "But... you never want extra work!"

      Kyle grabbed half the stack of books and put his face next to Dewdrops. In a low voice he commanded, "Go. To. The. Park. Now."

      Dewdrop, afraid he would change his mind, grabbed her jacket and ran out the door.


      Okay. I can only be out thirty minutes before I have to go back and do my work. Kyle may have taken half the stack, but I still have about four more hours to put in today.

      Dewdrop was walking briskly toward the park, determined to take a few spins around it and go back to the office. But as she walked, her pace slowed. The sun was bright and warm on her fur, the flowers seemed to bend toward her as she moved along the path, and the soft breeze blowing through her fur was so refreshing it made her feel like dancing. So that's what she did. The sunlight on the path danced along with her, moving with the swaying shadows of the trees. She didn't even notice the looks others were giving her as she pranced down the path.

      When she reached the end of the circular path around the park, she looked at the sky and realized in a panic that she had been gone far longer than she had anticipated. She rushed back her office, prepared to put in a late night of reading and reviewing.

      There was no sign of anyone in the office. Usually there would be a scratching of pencils and thumping as books hit the floor, but that afternoon the office was silent. "Did I really stay out that long?" she wondered to herself, glancing again at the sky and dreading how angry Mr. Staffner would be with her for not completing her work by the five o'clock deadline.

      On tiptoes, she crept through the front door and into her office, hoping not to see anyone who might still be in the building along the way, especially Mr. Staffner. She sat down at her desk and, while searching for a pencil in her desk, reached for a book. She grabbed air. "What?"

      All the books that had been on her desk before she went to the park were gone. A piece of pink paper was sticking out from underneath her calendar. She picked it up and unfolded it slowly.


      We all know it's a bad idea to try to give you a big surprise while you're stressed out. If you feel up to it (and we hope you do) come down to the break room.


      Her interest piqued, Dewdrop got up and walked down the hall to the break room. She could hear the whispering and giggling before she got there. As her footsteps got closer however, the noise stopped. Before she stepped in the room, she prepared herself for a lot of noise--though she didn't know what for.

      "Happy Anniversary!" came the great cacophony she been anticipating.

      A smile spread rapidly across her face as she saw her coworkers clapping and smiling back at her. "You did this for me?" she squeaked.

      "You deserve it," a Purple Koi said with a nod of her head.

      "And my books... ?"

      "We all pitched in to finish reviewing them," grinned Mr. Staffner. "Like I said, you looked too stressed, especially for your anniversary."

      "You know, I put myself under so much pressure that I forgot it was my anniversary." Dewdrop giggled.

      "And now, we have a gift for you," announced Kyle as he pulled out a beautiful book the color of Sponderola petals.

      Dewdrop gasped, but her joy soon turned to disappointment. "I'll never be able to read it," she despaired. "I'll ruin it by picking it apart."

      "That's why we're going to read it to you," answered Mr. Staffner as he carefully took the book from Kyle.

      Dewdrop felt a cushioned chair come up behind her and sat down, shaking her mind completely free of reviewing.

      Positioning himself on a stool, Mr. Staffner began to read in a rich, expressive baritone. "The salty sea rolled gently against the sandy beach..."

The End

Author's Note: Dedicated to Droplet for her anniversary and to all those who work hard to get the job done right.

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