Combined Financial Service Provider’s Third Annual Conference on Corporate Social Responsibility

Combined Financial Service Provider’s Third Annual Conference on Corporate Social Responsibility

A Story by William Arthur

A short story I submitted for my final year of undergraduate English Literature


Combined Financial Service Provider’s Third Annual Conference on Corporate Social Responsibility, Workplace Leadership and Ethical Business Practices



Braxton shot down the motorway in his Mercedes E-Class convertible thinking of himself as a silver bullet, hell-bent on embedding itself in the Hilton London Metropole. He bore down on the cars in front until they moved over, or undercut them to the protest of blaring horns. He was looking good, good like a Hollister pin-up minus the surfboard. No, like one of those guys from a magazine ad for expensive watches. Either way he was looking good. If only someone was watching. Braxton imagined that every satellite in the northern hemisphere was trained on him and he felt untouchable.

He cut onto the North Circular and headed towards Edgware Road. The London traffic reduced him to a crawling pace, the V8 engine idling in the dusty, polluted morning. He pulled down the sun visor and ran his hand through his hair, inspecting his good looks in the mirror, then glancing around at the static cars nearby to see if anyone else had noticed.

Maybe he would take that girl from Audit out to dinner after all. She’d earned it. She had made him look good in front of the director and had worn that low-cut blouse she knew he liked. The director had gawped down her top in a way nobody could fail to notice, and he’d had to agree to Braxton’s terms in order to cover up his lapse in attention. Braxton eagerly anticipated stripping her, dismantling an asset the director would never have.

He was about to flip the visor back up when he noticed a tiny stray hair had escaped his razor. He fumbled in the glove compartment for a pair of tweezers and, with a satisfied grunt,  plucked the hair. A horn sounded from behind him and Braxton returned the tweezers to the glove compartment before flicking a V at the car behind.


The traffic was moving now, stop and start, stop and start. Braxton revved the V8 heavily, accelerating and braking hard into the short gaps. Before long he was past St John’s Wood and onto the Edgware Road, pulling into the ant’s nest of the underground parking. Braxton threw his key to the concierge as he headed through the sliding door.

The conference room was filling up. Braxton sat at the back lazily thumbing a copy of GQ. The conference had not started and he was already eager to leave. For an hour with the girl from Audit to himself, corporate social responsibility could go to hell. Better still, it could take these arseholes with it. At the front, a squat bald man appeared behind a lectern and a corporate logo flashed onto the screen behind him. The familiar logo was loathsome to Braxton, a partially eclipsed globe with an elliptical orbit that reminded him of a pair of strangled testicles. The bald man smiled and began.

   ‘It is my pleasure to welcome you to Combined Financial Service Provider’s Third Annual Conference on Corporate Social Responsibility, Workplace Leadership and Ethical Business Practices. Good business has always been about responsible leadership practices, about doing the right thing, the right way. The corporate social responsibility lens provides a powerful tool for assessing and evaluating the opportunities and challenges of ....’

The voice faded to a drone and Braxton sunk into a kaleidoscope of naked flesh, money and machines.


When Braxton’s eyes refocused, the melee of breasts and cars receding before his eyes like a close-up of a candle in fast forward, he found himself bathed in a soft blue glow. The PowerPoint presentation glaring at him from the front of the room showed a flow diagram of corporate social responsibility supply chain implementation before cross-fading into a staged photo of grinning Afro-Caribbean banana growers by a truck emblazoned with that same testicular CFSP logo. Below stood an Indian production line manager next to some women sitting behind sewing machines. The bile rose in the back of Braxton’s throat. He wanted to punch CFSP and their grinning banana growers in the mouth, to see if they’d smile so sweetly with their teeth out.

It was a moment before Braxton realised that the PowerPoint was the only source of light in the room. He started and looked around sharply. The blue glow revealed nothing but rows of empty seats, the periphery of the room hidden in darkness. He slid his hand into his pocket searching for his iPhone, but his pockets were empty except for crumpled receipts and business cards that seemed to multiply as they fell from his hand. A search of his jacket revealed only a packet of gum and a dog-eared condom packet. Angrily he reached around on the floor below his seat, noisily banging chairs about, but it was not there.

Braxton cursed and kicked the chair in front. He fumbled along the row of seats impatiently. The chairs appeared to extend infinitely into the darkness. Braxton quickened his pace, pushing chairs out of the way. He still couldn’t see the side aisle. The rows were narrow and Braxton grew frustrated. He pressed on faster through the darkness, knocking over chairs in anger, until his head banged against the wall.

Braxton doubled back on himself, kicking aside the fallen chairs. The darkness seemed to thicken. He stretched his arm out in front to feel for the end of the row, but seat after seat met his hand, until finally his hand knocked against the far wall. The blue light seemed to be receding into the distance, and Braxton moved towards it like a moth.

His breath short, he pushed forward, even when his trouser leg snagged and tore on an upturned chair. There was space at the front �" open space. If only he could reach it, he could collect his thoughts, breathe, bathe in the protective light of the screen. But the light appeared no closer than when he had begun.

In the dim light something loomed in front of him and he staggered towards it. It was the lectern. He was almost there. But where was the stage? By now he should be standing in front of the screen. But the light was dim. The chairs extended beyond the lectern. Surrounded it. Continued into the darkness.

Braxton thrashed about, tossing chairs aside to make space, though he felt his strength waning. The light would revive him, he knew. He was a plant, rooted to the spot. He needed the light and the light was going. Braxton watched the light dim unable to move.

Faces swam before him in the faint glow �" inhuman faces, bug-eyed and pointed, smooth and hard. He knew them all but they were not as he knew them. He uttered their names, their ranks, and their departments. The girl from audit was among them: he knew it, he could feel her presence. She was hidden in the darkness just out of reach of the light but she’d come to him, he was certain. She would save him. If anyone would it would be her.

He called out to her �" an empty, hollow cry. His voice caught, he could not remember her name. Her face was somewhere close to his now. The smooth shell had lost none of its former beauty but it horrified Braxton to look at her. No frown could wrinkle that face but the nattering mandibles and twitching antenna spoke perfectly clear to Braxton. She had turned on him. She was lost to him and he was lost to all.

The faces crowded round him, familiar but alien. Above them the corporate logo floated unseen in the darkness, now fully eclipsed. They were on him, hymenoptera crawling over him, a super-organism. Sterile and hungry, they searched him with twitching antennae. He swiped at them, but his hands were green and papery and he could not stem the flow of them up his body. They crawled over him, emptying his pockets and dismantling him. He was being broken up, facet by facet. Braxton was no longer an aggregate being. He was being processed, carried away piece by piece.

How many were there? If only he could account for them all. They were multiplying surely, accumulating beyond control. He shut his eyes and tried to shake off the thousand gnawing mandibles. A hand touched his shoulder. Braxton opened his eyes. A watch glinted as the hand withdrew. They all sat arrayed before him; shirts, collars, cuffs, cufflinks, jackets, pinstripes. Heads twitched towards him on spindly necks, their faces expressionless. A thousand protruding compound eyes fixed on him like satellites.

© 2015 William Arthur

Author's Note

William Arthur
origionally appeared in Issue 10 of Route57 ( -> Watch this page for more upcoming work from me.

My Review

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Great character development. Great plot development. There was, of course, only one place you could be going so the end was not a surprise. With a bit of manipulation you might have made an alien invasion alternative work but that would not distort reality - unless, maybe, they pumped hallucinogenic into the atmosphere ... Anyway, a good read. I had fun.
Braxton, as a word, may have been overused a bit. Not needed twice in the same paragraph, especially since he was the only character, the others existing only in relation to him. Well written.

Posted 9 Years Ago

Very well written.

Merc would have done. not need for the full model.

Posted 9 Years Ago

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2 Reviews
Added on February 17, 2015
Last Updated on February 17, 2015
Tags: corporate social responsibility, braxton, ants, business, welath, greed, mad, crazy, arrogance, arrogant


William Arthur
William Arthur

Sheffield, South Yorkshire, United Kingdom

I am doing an MA in Creative Writing at The University of Sheffield (as f*****g self indulgent as that is) under the tutelage of Simon Armitage. I am mainly a poet but also write short prose. My favou.. more..