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I was awake a full twenty minutes before I could even bring myself to so much as move. The previous morning I had been greeted by the sight of goat’s legs staring back at me from beneath the sheet and, as much as they amused sporadically, I had no desire to command them again. Even more frightening was the likely eventuality that the voice I had discerned the past couple of days would plunge me further into the abyss. Maybe I would be a fragile ice-lolly, sent to scour the Sahara for a piece of luminous crockery. Or worse, a ticking time bomb commissioned with backpacking to Antwerp with the aim of resurfacing the cobbled streets before tea time. I dreaded to think.
The worst kind of trouble is that which perches on your doorstep, refusing to be shooed until which time as you remove its threat personally. The burning shit in a brown paper bag variety. Turning a blind eye is fruitless in such instances as its punishment is unyielding and its resolve ever-dogged. This classed as one such scenario; I was welcome to remain penned in beneath the divan but it would serve no real purpose other than delaying the inevitable. At some point I would have to face whatever demons were placed and today seemed just as good a day as any to do so. If nothing else my dignity was still intact; by the close of play the night prior my Millipede had amassed nearly three million hits on YouTube and I had every reason to hold my head up high.
So fucking what if I had traveled home via the wrong coordinates, who cared if I left the boot in the sky without that polystyrene teapot under my wing? At least I had given each task my all. I felt resilient this day and nothing or nobody was going to stand in my path. Signs were encouraging too; a quick pat-down revealed that all appendages were in their place and no twisted transformations had occurred while I had slumbered. Ten fingers, the same amount of toes, no gills; just the same set of cards I was dealt at birth, albeit hairier. If only I hadn’t felt so utterly lethargic then I would have been shadow boxing defiantly but I could hardly raise the energy to lift my right arm. The slightest movement required a telethon to muster sufficient will.
I sauntered along the landing, plodded each of the thirteen steps to the downstairs lounge and slumped in my basket like a demoralized Alsatian. Now, I’m already fully aware that I am not a morning person by any stretch, until I have fixed myself with caffeine I shall never attempt Sudoku. However, I felt so completely drained of anything resembling fatigue and could barely bring myself to simmer my maiden brew. It took a Herculean effort just to make my way to my briefing post but sheer pigheadedness kicked in and I trundled off to receive my daily orders.
“Looking tired Keeper. Have you been burning the midnight oils?” There was that familiar drone. “Just cut to the chase” was all I could muster as rejoinder. “Indeed I shall. Today shall be your sternest challenge yet and will require fierce commitment on your part as well as testing your decision-making skills. You are expected at your workstation in forty-five minutes and shall work through until 5.30 pm with only a ten-minute break. You shall have over three hundred emails in your inbox and I expect every last one to be replied to. In addition you will be required to attend a two hour team-building seminar, take minutes and compile a dissertation on equal opportunities in the workplace for the remainder of your shift which will be expected by 5.15 pm. Once you have finished you must take public transport back and be back here no later than…”
“8.30. I know the drill.” I was initially rather befuddled by the lack of any discernible banana skin but agreed terms in an instant as this banal laundry-list was unlikely to provide any sort of provocation. I set off at once and spent most of my time in transit pondering the voice’s intention. Having missed the early morning peak travel, my passage to work was devoid of incident and almost therapeutic. Perhaps he had softened some or been forced into a rethink by my logic-defying dance hall prowess? Whatever his cunning plan was, I simply had to put in a shift, no more, and I had done that for twenty years before my mind started to dissipate so what was one more day?
I made it to my intended destination several minutes shy of the cut-off and made my way across the office where I was greeted in exactly the same manner I always had been, despite being absent for over a year. It would have felt somewhat stale had it not been for the fact that none of my colleagues wore a face, at least not one bearing features. Each looked as clinical as the grey emulsioned walls and not a spark of anything emotive was anywhere to be seen. Despite possessing no discernible voice boxes my associates sure had a lot to say but it all felt like nothing. “They’re cracking down on Health & Safety protocols so there’s a ton of risk assessments in your inbox” was one remark whilst “You will need to complete your online registration documents by lunchtime” was another.
All at once an emotion rushed in that had remained dormant for the past twelve months since being dismissed from this same position for posing too great a risk to be entrusted with informally educating, or enforced lobotomization under their jurisdiction. The lethargy was beginning to manifest more now and the oxygen in my lungs began to siphon away. I poured myself a glass of tepid water from the cooler. Apparently, due to inevitable cut backs, these dispensers would soon be suspended so I guzzled it back and prepared myself another. Maybe I could engage in some non work-related banter to fritter a few precious minutes as the long hand of the timepiece on the ashen adjacent wall appeared as though doused in treacle.
“What are you up to after work then?” I reached out as best as I could. “I have three assignments to finish by tomorrow and my line manager has penciled in a one-to-one for first thing.” I wondered whether my question could have been misconstrued as misleading so attempted another angle. “That chick in human resources keeps glancing over. I think she’s into you dude. I’ve seen her ass truffle and boy is that shit tight. Bet you wouldn’t mind funking up her trunk huh? Huh?” All I received was a blank expression, no less than I should have expected, and the words “She’s in personnel actually. That reminds me, I have to fill out my mileage claim.” With that any thoroughly depressive dialogue had reached its zenith and silence washed over once more.
Fuck, this place was like a boiler room. No air conditioning, precious few windows; just the buzz of technology accompanied by deafening static. I tried hard to pass the time another way but the intranet raped me of any search engine. Policies, procedures, legislation, administration, emails. Of course, my inbox. I kept my head down, partially to while away the hours and partially because I barely had the stamina to prop it up. Finally the lunchtime buzzer chimed and I was granted momentary release. I shot from my uncooperative adjustable office chair and straight to the elevator. Ten minutes. That’s all they legally have to offer and that’s damned well what I was getting. Should’ve looked at section 9:4 of my contract before signing.
Here was irony at its cruelest. It took six minutes for the lift to show which left me less time to reach the canteen, order my food, wait for its arrival then make an identikit ascension to floor seven. Even Zola Budd would likely fail and have nothing but heel blisters for her troubles. It barely mattered anyhoots as the time had come for me to attend the seminar in the stuffiest sub-chamber in the building. Anything beat spending another 120 minutes stuck at my desk slowly expiring so I took it as a refreshing diversion. More fool me. The moment I stepped in the room and glanced across my expressionless compadres my heart sunk to my sphincter. “Take a seat please. You’re the last to arrive so you can begin our ice breaker. Please stand out front, introduce yourself and tell us three things about yourself which make you unique.”
Actually this sounded like it could be a blast. “Okay my name is Keeper of the Crimson Quill and I have a twitch in my left bicep which I presume is due to excessive masturbation or hallucinogens. Then there’s my… ” This displeased my training provider greatly and she cut off my flow “Workplace-related only… and no use of pseudonyms.” This was torturous but nothing would hold a candle up to the next phase of his process. What better way to accompany one’s monotone delivery than with a nice dry power point? I was suddenly overcome with a real desire for one of Beryl’s famous crumpets. The entire duration become one protracted slumber skirmish as my weary eyes began that desperate flicker. Even the pyramid of red bull I fashioned as a barricade couldn’t mask my yawns and any wings provided were soundly clipped by monotony.
I saw it through. I completed the exercise, scribbled my vague notes, and my dissertation was licked by 5.07 pm. My line manager could’ve acted more enthused “Everything appears to be in order, I shall mark it and have it back to you tomorrow first light. Now you have 23 minutes left and that clock is running a minute fast so that leaves 24. Return to your workstation and read through our mission statement just to re-familiarize yourself. I shall test you tomorrow.” Whatever bitch, I wasn’t coming back to this hell-trench, wouldn’t if she had promised me three hand jobs and a nut-massage.
There was no way I was hanging around for the elevator so I slid down the stairwell banister and embraced the smog like never before, the moment my foot touched asphalt. All that was left now was a few stops on the subway and that was unlikely to pose much of an obstruction to my generous goal. “All lines are subject to severe delays due to a technical fault. The next train to leave platform three will depart at 1900 hours. Using my advanced powers of deduction I did the math. This would mean me arriving back at 8.27 as long as no further delays ensued. It was destined to be skin of the teeth for sure, but at least offered some form of excitement after the drabbest day of my 39 years to date.
Alas, rush hour coincided with this long wait and I barely made it onto the carriage, such were its over-encumbering numbers. Being the subway, there are a number of rules one must adhere to. No direct eye contact, no smiling, not a flicker of emotion. I was feeling rebellious so emitted a puff of methane which hung in the air for the entire journey as it had nowhere else to escape to. I figured it payback for the chafing armpit resting against my cheek. Tou-fucking-ché my friend. My fortunes had appeared to have lifted as I reached the back gate by 8.25, a full five minutes before judgement hour. This bought me a few stolen moments to consider the voice’s intention further.
By the time I finally crossed the border it was 8.31 and, knowing how much of a stickler for the rules he was, I knew I would receive no leeway. “Once again you have failed in your quest. You had the chance of your everyday life right there in the palm of your hand and you still couldn’t grasp it. As you will be aware by now, you will need to repent and your failure to produce will not be looked kindly upon. Tomorrow you shall awaken blown into glass and will be required to wrestle the Super Bantamweight belt away from the clutches of the undefeated Knuckles Johnson.” I agreed to the terms and made my way to my quarters.
I had called his bluff. My shift at the office had been a glimpse of what I could have and there was no fate more desperate than that. I was offered sane, gifted normality and any semblance of individuality was the only price to pay. I wasn’t prepared to payroll that shit. I had been there, done that, worn the colors and sucked the metaphorical cock for too long already. Right now, madness just seemed so much more enticing.
Truly, Clearly, Really, Sincerely,
Keeper of the Crimson Quill
Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2014