A Better Place

A short ghost story

Peter sat at his kitchen table.  He felt the presence before he saw it.  The room got a little colder and the lights a little dimmer.  Oh, this is some typicalhaunted house shit. He’d been in the new, old house for over a month and strange sensations and occurrences had become the norm, but this was something different.  While the temperature and dim lights were passive indicators of the ghost’s presence, the apparition pulling up a chair across from Peter was as direct an introduction as one could get.

They stared at one another for an unknown length of time. Peter felt a lump in his throat and fear in his skin.  What sat across him almost wasn’t there.  He could barely make out the furniture behind it, but the clarity ebbed and flowed as if the apparition was flowing within its form. 

It spoke first, “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”   It threw its head back and produced a laugh that seemed to fade between the present and the hereafter.  “It’s okay.  I won’t bite, but I might mess with your toothbrush now and then.”   He laughed again, and the effect was more unnerving than the first time.  

“What are… I’m sorry, who are you?”  Peter asked.  

“Oh, you were right the first time; what I am is complicated, but I’m not much different from what you are.  The “who” part is a sticking point.  Seems I can’t let go of that and, well, here I am still.”

“I’m confused.” Peter said.  

“Oh, sure.  I can see that.  I think if I were in your shoes I’d be baffled too. I usually just mess around with people. Knock things over or maybe hide something.   This is the first time I’ve sat down for a chat. Didn’t know if it would work out or not. Apparently, it does.”  It looked a little surprised and a little confused.  “Anyway, I think things are changing around here and I wanted to introduce myself.” 

Peter nodded slowly. Still trying to buy time for a brain that couldn’t grasp the situation.  “Um, can I help you or something?  Wait, changes, what changes, what are you talking about?”  

“Well, I don’t know. I died upstairs, in what’s now your bedroom room in 1955.  Went right to sleep, never felt a thing.  When I came around, it was like I was in the realest dream a person could be in.”  The ghost motioned with hands that faded while in motion but solidified while still.  

“I’ve been here ever since,” he continued. “I always thought the end would be a bigger deal and for some, it’s like nothing you could ever experience while alive, but for me, well, it’s just day after day being invisible and all alone.  Well, alone until now.  It seems you and I can commune, which is interesting.”   

Peter had no less than a million questions running through his mind, but one popped to the front:  “What’s it like when the others go, like what do you mean it’s like nothing you could imagine while you’re alive?”   

The ghost solidified more than he had before and cleared his throat, which made an otherworldly sound again. “I’ve only seen it happen once, but anytime a person dies, you know it.”

“How?” asked Peter. Thoughts were running through his mind at an insane pace.  
“A few years ago, a family moved in. Nice people, but they were a little distracted.  They didn’t tend the boy closely, and he wanderedinto the road.  A car came up over the hill, going too fast, and hit him square.  The kid never felt a thing, but when he left this earth, he went in a flash.  I heard the car lock its brakes and saw the impact and what happened next was the most magical thing I’ve ever experienced. He blew up like a star, so bright and so hot. I don’t feel hot or cold anymore, but when that boy went, it felt like the air caught fire and it looked like it too. It was like snow, that instead of falling had been blown out of the sunand was going off in all directions.  The parents were devastated and moved within a month, but if they could have seen how their boy went out, I think they would have felt differently. But that’s not how this works, is it?  The amazing thing was that the lights never faded but instead seem to work themselves into the fabric of reality.  I can’t come close to explaining it, but that’s what I think it was.  He went back to what he was, what we all werebefore we were born.”  

Peter would have been skeptical if this hippy slant on death wasn’t being told by someone who wasn’t already dead.  

“Yeah, that’s right, he went back into place within the fabric of life. The little crystals of light just unwound and worked themselves back into everything.   Holy shit, I’ve never said this out loud to anyone, for obvious reasons, and I know I couldn’t sound crazier.”  He shook his head and an ethereal trail accompanied the motion.  

Peter was silent.  He wasn’t sure if the ghost or his story had locked his mind up more. “Well, why didn’t you turn into a bright star type of thing?” he asked. 

“Um, well, best I could tell, I loved me too much to dissipate like that.  I always thought of myself more than anyone else and I guess that carried over. I was always apart from everything and never a part of anything.  I was all wrapped up with myself when I was alive and myself is all that’s left.”  

A lump formed in Peter’s throat.  He watched, but the ghost seemed quiet and distant.  It seemed to contemplate things.  Peter felt like he needed to say something but just didn’t know what to say.  He searched his mind looking for a proper word of encouragement or phrase that may provide comfort to this being before him.  He came up empty; in fact,he wanted to leave now. This ghost and its existential crisis weren’t Peter’s problems.   This was all too deep for him.  He wanted this strangest of strange conversations with a ghost or a hallucination or whatever to end and be behind him.  

He noticed a flash in his peripheral vision.  All the windows in the house lit up.  Small flakes of light drifted through the walls. Numerous passed in front of Peter‘s face and even more surrounded his body.  The house filled with a brilliant light show – small crystalized suns bounded everywhere.  He noticed the unwinding the ghost had mentioned.  He watched as the crystals untangled and then work themselves into the air.  They looked like actors exiting a stage, but instead of disappearing behind a curtain, these illuminated objects slipped into the very fabric of space and time itself. The light avoided the ghost, rushing around him the way a stream rushes around a rock.  

The ghost’s face hung on him and he looked more faded than he had before.  “Looks like one of your neighbors has passed on. You’ll get used to all of this after a while,” the ghost said in a voice that sounded more like the wind than a noise created by a human.

“Wait, what?  What are you talking about? I’ll get used to it?  What am I getting used to?”  Peter knew the answer to the question before he asked.  

Not only had the light flowed into everything but the ghost, it had avoided Peter too.  He looked down at his hands and could see the table.  Small traces of light remained and danced and weaved their way speedily around him, careful to avoid contact.  

The ghost broke the silence.  “You know hell isn’t fire and brimstone – it’s a never-endinglight show where the lights get what they deserve and the ghosts get what they’ve always wanted.”          

Untied

Peter emerged from his house and stepped out on to his front stoop.  He looked to his left. John, his next-door neighbor, was standing on his stoop.  He wore a white button-up shirt, black tie, and navy blue pants.
Peter looked to his right.  Tom was standing on his stoop, adjusting his black tie, tightening it into the ring of fat that surrounded his neck.  He nodded at Peter. Peter returned the acknowledgment.
Peter looked down at this own clothing.  Gray Tie, white shirt, and navy blue pants.  He was safely dressed this morning.
The three men descended their stairs and went to cars parked sensibly close to the curb and safely out of the road. Each man drove a four-door sedan, that was good on gas and rated well for safety.  They drove to their office buildings where they worked in cubicles with others like them. To be unlike them would be unwise because to be different would bring attention and maybe questions and if there are questions, there have to be answers, but the people of Normality, USA had all the answers they needed or were comfortable with.   
The shifts at the office ended.  People turned off their computers and made their way to their cars that were unique only because their owners had gone to great lengths to be more normal than others.  Comments like, “oh that’s a pretty gray, there Charles, the dirt will barely show,” were frequently overheard in the parking lot. The people with the newest version of the same car everyone else had, were the envy of the lot.  The gaggle bantered about simple things and avoided the deeper depths where the secrets hid. They talked about the big game coming up that weekend or the latest unreality show, but they never talked about the boss’s unreasonable expectations or the shallow nature of their lives – they just went on treading water, careful to stay above the waves and even more careful to pretend they didn’t exist.
Peter walked through the lot, sending a wave to a couple co-workers as he went, “don’t do anything crazy this weekend.”  He turned the key and the four-cylinder purred to life. He backed from his spot and joined the procession exiting the parking lot.  Each car crept to the exit and slowly, but decisively moved into traffic. Peter merged into the flow of cars. For a second or maybe it was less than a second, he thought about going a different way home.  Wait, what? Why would I think about going another way when this way works just fine, with no surprises or delays? Peter shook his head. He wasn’t sure what that was – that little event, but he didn’t need it.  The inefficient little nuisance bothered him. His hands began to sweat, and the wheel felt slimy.
He pulled into his driveway and killed the engine.  He wiped his hands on his pants but he couldn’t seem to get them dry.  He looked at them and they glistened under the fading light of a late autumn day.  He felt a tightness in his chest that made breathing difficult. The more he noticed the tightness the tighter it got.  He wiped his palms harder on his pants. He rubbed them back and form, faster and faster. They began to burn, but he rubbed harder.  They didn’t feel drier, so he continued. The burn was intense and was all he could think about. He wanted dry hands and a clear mind like he always had.  He stopped rubbing and turned his hands over. They were red, with tiny rolls of navy blue material stuck to what sweat remained. As he stared at his hands, he noticed his breath moving in his nose, down his throat, around in his lungs and then out again.  There was peace in that. He sat, empty-headed for a few moments and just noticed the simple process of breathing. He felt better. He felt back on track. He got out of the car. He had a routine that demanded adherence. He felt better in the routine. There were no detours or sweaty hands within its confines.  There were only predictable outcomes, dependably prepared meals and neatly laundered clothes. Peter felt like he was back in his lane and safely back on track.
The next morning, Peter woke up at six am.  He always woke up without an alarm.  His early-to-bed and early-to-rise routine had his internal clock operating with a level of precision that would make the Swiss jealous.  He went through the morning rituals. Shave the face, brush the teeth and shower the body.
He stood clean and prepped in front of his closet.  Perfectly pressed clothes hung evenly spaced from a brightly polished rod.  He removed a white shirt and navy blue pants from their hangers. He moved to the tie carousel. He spun it, pondering which gray or black tie he’d wear. He twirled the carousel slowly and watched ties pass by like animals on a merry-go-round.  He stopped abruptly. A red tie hung neatly between a charcoal gray and jet black one. A bead of sweat formed on his forehead and rolled down his face. The tie was dull and faded with age.  It had been there forever but somehow he had missed it. He must have bought it a long time ago – probably when he was young and immature. The world didn’t have room for red ties or the fools that would wear such things.  Life was short and serious. He removed it from the hook and turned it over in his hand. His fingers removed a layer of dust, revealing a vibrant red fabric underneath. He stood, slacked-jawed, “well it’s just the prettiest thing isn’t it?”  He gave the tie a couple good shakes and freed it from its dusty covering.
He put on his shirt and pants.  He stood in front of the mirror and held the tie up to his neck.  A slow burn began in his mind. He positioned the tie to simulate wearing it and found the red against the white fuel the warm, glowing sensation within him.  The excitement smoldered and spread down into his throat where it met resistance coming up from the anxious knot forming in his chest.
These two forces struggled in his center.  Each pushing the other, gaining and losing ground in the war for Peter’s attention, but the warmth of inspiration spread like a slow-burning wildfire until it consumed the knot and any doubt along with it.  
He put the tie around his neck and formed the knot that would cost him his life.  
He snugged the tie up under the wings of his collar and shifted it, into the right spot.  His breath caught in his throat. The white shirt looked purer because of the red tie and the red tie looked more vibrant because of the white shirt.  The two together had formed something that wasn’t possible in a world where only the bland get noticed.
He stood for several moments admiring the sight in the mirror and the feeling it produced in the fabric of his being.  He spun around, grabbed his briefcase and car keys and went back to the mirror for one last look. This time he noticed the smile on his face.  He had forgotten that his mouth was capable of that. Today a red tie had lifted the corners of his mouth and the center of his soul.
He stepped out into his front stoop.  John and Tom were already in their normal spots.  They were wearing similar clothes, safely the same and safely normal.   Tom noticed Peters tie first. His face went through a range of contortions before it settled in a disgusted arrangement of mouth, eyes, and eyebrows.
Peter looked over towards John but his gaze never made it to John’s stoop. Neighbor John stood in front of Peter.  He’d never talked to John – neither had anything unique to bring to a conversation so none was ever needed.
John stared at the tie.  “What, um, what is that… what are you doing?”  John’s forehead and upper lip glistened with sweat despite the morning‘s crisp temperatures.  
“It’s a tie.  I liked it and decided to wear it today,”  Peter said with a slight smile and a reoccurrence of the sensation that had made him wear the tie in the first place.
Tom joined them on the stoop. Peter backed up into the closed front door.  The stoop was built for coming and going, not congregating.
Tom’s gaze was fixed on Peter’s tie. “Why would you do this?”  “I mean why would you, um step out like this?”
“I just saw the tie today and decided I liked it, but I really don’t know why so I can’t answer you.”.
John stepped closer, “but people don’t wear red ties or any other color for that matter.”  
“You guys can wear whatever you want. Why can’t everyone just wear whatever makes them happy?   
John and Tom looked at each other, dumbfounded   
“Happy, what does that have to do with anything?”  Asked John.
Tom stepped even closer.  “what you’ve done is weird and doesn’t make a damn bit of sense.”.
John nodded, “weird, yes that’s what this is, weird.  You’ve gone off the deep end here Peter, no telling what you’ll do next.”.
Tom crossed his arms,” that’s a really good point what the hell will he do next. This behavior has thrown everything out of whack”.
“Can’t be trusted,” said John.
“Sure seems that way,” Tom agreed.
“Wait, you guys can wear whatever you want too. Don’t you see, there’s nothing wrong with it?  Look I’m fine, nothing, bad happened. Sun’s still shining and the birds are still singing.”
Tom and John looked around as if they had just noticed that a thing called the sun and things called birds, existed for the first time.  
Tom shook his head, “I liked things the way they were yesterday.  I knew what was going on and I had everything figured out. I didn’t have to waste time thinking about anything.  Went to work, did my job and went home and went to bed. Now I don’t know what’s going on. This tie makes me feel something.  Like, I feel really bad.”
John nodded again. “You’re right I’m feeling something and I sure don’t like it.  Yesterday was much easier, and the day before that and the day before that. They were so easy in fact that I don’t really remember them. I liked things much better before this feeling thing.  Now I’m all stirred up like someone let loose a bunch of bugs in my head.
Tom hit Peter first.  A punch that landed squarely on the jaw and sent Peter back into the door and onto the ground.  
Tom stood over Peter. “Um, you brought this on yourself. I’m messed up. I’m unsure about things.  What else don’t I know? 
Peter struggled to his side. John kicked him in the face.
“A red tie?  You’ve got no right to force us to feel or think.”  “We didn’t have this problem yesterday. “He stomped Peter ’s bloody face.
Tom and John stood over Peter as his fixed eyes stared off into forever and his last breaths bubbled through his broken face.
Tom turned to John, “what happened here?”
”I don’t know, I mean why would he upset the apple cart like that?”  John replied
Tom shrugged. ”I can’t figure it out.”.
“Starts with a red tie and then who knows what’s next. “
“Nobody knows.  Anything then right? Think of the possibilities – actually don’t do that. No good can come from that.”  Tom put his hands to his face and shook his head.
John agreed. “You start messing around with thoughts and feelings and there’s no telling what will happen”.  
“Well, that’s behind us now. “
“Right.  Back to normal. “
“This messed up my whole day.  I’m late for work”
“Me too”
“If I explain to my boss, he’ll understand.  He certainly wouldn’t tolerate a person crazy enough to wear a red tie. “
“Mine either.  My boss likes things by the book.  Orderly and productive that’s what we do.  It’s better that way. “
“For sure.”  He pointed down at Peters’s lifeless body. “He said happy.“
I heard that I thought to myself what the hell does happiness have to do with anything?”
“I know right.  Life ain’t about being happy it’s about getting things done and maintaining order – the system depends on it. “
“That’s right. Very true.”
“Well enough talk, it’s off to work. “
“Right same here.”  

The two descended the stairs and parted, each going to their car.
Tom stopped before getting into his sedan, “Hey John,” he yelled.
“Yes, Tom.”
“You feel anything? “

John gripped the door, it was the only thing that kept him on his feet. Tom noticed that John was crying. John yelled,  “Tom why would you ask such a stupid question?”  
John threw himself into the driver’s seat.  Tom watched as the backup lights flashed on and the brake lights dimmed. Johns car whined as he demanded all the four cylinders could give him. He smashed into Peter’s car with a terrible crash.  
Tom jumped and ran to the wreck.   John was in the front seat. His eyes stared straight ahead, “Tom my head went back and forth hard, I heard my neck crack.  I can’t move Tom. I can’t feel anything”.  John laughed at his own comment but his laughter transitioned to crying.  “I feel something, Tom. It’s in my head and it’s terrible. I feel sad. I feel scared. I didn’t have this problem yesterday.”  
Tom didn’t know what to do as he watched John flow between fits of crying and bouts of horrible laughter. Suddenly, John became calm and still, there were no longer any of the terrible signs of thinking or feeling. Tom wanted to go to the car but didn’t. He wanted to run, but couldn’t. He saw Peter on his stoop and John now, still and silent in his car and it was all too much to handle.  The world spun in a new direction. He could feel it. He felt like he was about to be thrown off the globe – out into space and out into whatever was out there. He kneeled in the middle of the road. His mind raced with thoughts of a red tie, Peter and John.  He cried because he was feeling so much all at once. He wasn’t good at this. He only wanted an end. He wanted to go to work and worry about the numbers again. The numbers always added up, but this morning was a problem he couldn’t solve. The thoughts moved in and out, repeatedly, the same painful ones, the same painful visions. People should be happy and do what they want.

“We can’t do what we want,” he yelled. “We can’t. It doesn’t work like that.” He rocked back and forth and he felt like his head was out of control and not his own.
He looked to the car and the stoop and back again. He couldn’t stop. He stood up and jumped headfirst into the street. His head slammed into the pavement and intense pain killed the thoughts and blinded him to the visions.  He felt dull and pain clouded hints of what was. Things will never be normal again. The thoughts popped back into focus and circled his mind, this time accompanied by confusion. He brought himself to a kneeling position, tendrils of blood streamed from his head and onto the road. He arched his back and drove his head into the road one last time, finally quieting his mind.  

Tom lay still on the cold asphalt next to John’s idling car and in front of Peter’s, stoop as one last thought entered and exited his mind, I’d like to be happy too.

Well, it’s a start…

I like the lamp. Not sure why. I think if fires out positive vibes or something.

The first podcast, well the first on Libsyn, is up on the hosting site. I listened to it again and didn’t cringe nearly as much as I thought I would, which is good. I think I did a pretty decent job conveying my plans for the future and mindset that is directing those plans. I’ve submitted the RSS feed to Spotify, but as of yet, the podcast is not up on there. I also ran into issues publishing to iTunes.

I’ll get the kinks worked out and learn along the way. The link below takes you to the hosting service’s podcast player. Works well, loaded up and played within the browser without issue.

“The Deepest Demons”, short story/novella, novel thing is coming along nicely. Not sure where it is going or where it will end up, but it is going from my head to Scrivener, which is what I want (get it out of my head…). I’ve got an ending in mind and it’ll be interesting to see if survives in its current form, throughout the writing process. The ending scenario/idea, is what prompted the story in the first place. How does one get at the demons that torment them?

Next podcast will be recorded Sunday, with an upload that same day or shortly after. Looking forward to that!.

That’s all I’ve got today.

TGIF.

http://unreasonableme.libsyn.com/

Update


I have a lot of things I’d like to do but there aren’t enough hours in the day. I know If you’re reading this your probably thinking, no shit buddy.  

I have uploaded a couple episodes of the UnreasonableMe podcast to Anchor. The service is simple and easy but I want more flexibility going forward. Anchor does all the distribution leg work for you. I’ve decided to take that on myself and since I have zero experience doing a podcast, there is a little bit of a learning curve. I’m good with that.

I’ve got several podcast planned and intend to complete them and ideally upload them this weekend.

“What are they going to be about?” Okay, okay calm down I’ll tell you.

I plant to do an intro podcast to layout my plans and the direction I plan to take going forward.

The next few will focus on the two short stories I’ve posted to the blog. I plan to look at the ideas that sparked each story and the creative juices that fueled them into being. Should be fun. The idea behind the blog/podcast, is that I’m using creative expression to meet and greet the demons that prevent me from being the person that is at peace within himself. I want to explore the problematic parts of my personality, understand them more and poke a little fun at them too. Like I said, this should be fun.

World peace is likely impossible, but inner peace seems within reach.

Stay tuned.

The Company Man.

A short story from the cubicle.  

Steve felt a shiver run up his spine as he returned to his cubicle. He’d been away for too long. He didn’t know the extent of his infractions but he was sure that he was in hot water. He logged in. Red numbers flashed – 15 seconds. He’d been gone for 15 seconds longer than allowed. The numbers disappeared and were replaced by a new message. His urine output had been inadequate for justifying the break he’d taken. The message indicated that based on urine output and estimated bladder capacity, the system determined that he could have remained at his desk for another four hours. The urinals were marvelous developments for productivity management that could simultaneously scan the worker’s bladder and measure urine output. This number was based on normal fluid intake which was kindly provided by the hydration-matic tube installed in his cubicle. They knew what went in and they knew what should come out. Steve heard a click which he guessed signaled an end to his fluids for the remainder of his shift. He was pretty sure that he had a urinary tract infection and a slight fever but he didn’t dare confirm this with the WorkDay Health and Wellness kiosk; the temperature-taking apparatus had malfunctioned and ruptured someone’s bowel a week ago. A bead of sweat flowed down his forehead and into his eye.

A gentle vibration in his ear notified him that a call was inbound.  An implant deep in his ear tracked his whereabouts in the building and also acted as the primary means of communication for his job. Before he could respond, the call dropped. He began to shiver and before long his teeth chattered loudly. He felt like he had to go again. His abdomen cramped up and he doubled over meagerly looking for a position of relief. His ear lit up again. “Hello thank you for calling WorkDay Occupational Healthcare Solutions where we promise to keep your staff on the job and out of bed or their sick time is on us”. A tone signaled another dropped call. Two in a row. Although no fault of his own, dropped calls were considered missed opportunities for customer engagement. Too many and you’d be disciplined. Previously he’d had a run of bad luck with a streak of five dropped calls in a row, and he was told by his supervisor to answer better. Steve didn’t dare ask for clarification instead he just bowed his head and signed his improvement agreement. There was a rumor circulating that an aging phone system was to blame for the dropped calls. The CEO had held a teleconference beamed from the company jet during which he ensured them that the phone system was the best one around. His message was heard intermittently because it turns out that the beaming hardware is a little old too.

Steve had to go, as his body ignored his mind’s pleas for peace. The cramps worsened and it felt like his bladder had worked itself into a knot. He couldn’t take another break. Two break abuses in a row would put him at risk for the dreaded Performance Booster Seat. Pam Steele had been subjected to this modified seating situation after a bout of food poisoning had sent her to the bathroom numerous times and her forceful and inaccurate eruptions had made waste amounts tough to quantify. The seat required the employee to sit on a suction-powered device which allowed the waste-producing areas to fit comfortably within a rubber ring that limited smell and mess. Pam had been overhead yelling something about her guts being sucked out and was terminated later that day for her poor attitude.

Steve bolted from his cubicle. Once again, he stood over the urinal that would decide his fate. The urge to go was intense, yet all he produced was a single drop that plopped into the water like dew off a leaf. Several more drops of moisture slid from his forehead and joined the one in the bowl. He still had to go but nothing would come out. His body was killing him right now. He shook and began cussing. Bert Stubblegust was in the adjacent stall, safely taking a break when he overheard what he later described as the chattering of a peeing lunatic. “I heard the guy cussing a lot but I didn’t hear any water running.”

He was getting nowhere. The pain wouldn’t subside and his attempts to soothe it only produced sweat and more bladder spasms. He went to the sink and splashed cold water onto his face. The sound of running water enraged the leviathan and he clutched his abdomen as he fell to the ground.

In Bert’s account to the supervision team, he noted that he could see the peeing lunatic clearly wasting company time writhing on the floor. Bert was well-liked because he had good productivity on the job and on breaks too. Floor grime had mixed with sweat, giving Steve’s face a coat of filth that added to his already-disheveled appearance.  He bounced from cube to cube, bracing himself on each one as he passed. He rounded the corner to his own cell of productivity. A maintenance worker snugged the floor seal in place for the Productivity Booster Seat. The rubber ring seat looked worn and dirty. Steve’s bladder kicked again just as his stomach attempted to heave his breakfast out of his mouth. Clyde tightened the last floor bolt and stood up with a groan. “Hey kid, shit you look terrible. Drop ‘em and hop on so I can fire up the vacuum.” The multiple sensations of discomfort disoriented Steve and he struggled to make sense of things. Clyde crossed his arms and sighed loudly: “I can get your supervisor and we can end this right now or you can be a good company man and take a seat?” Steve did as directed.

Suddenly, the pain in his urinary system took a back seat to the fear now occupying his mind. The ring was cold and sticky. Clyde mumbled to himself as Steve settled onto the sick contraption of efficiency. “Keep your ass right there, I’m going to go kick on the vac. If you make a sudden move, it’ll rip your pecker right off” Clyde said, staring over a thick finger which he pointed directly at Steve’s face.

Clyde walked away but kept his eyes fixed to Steve’s. Sweat made the seat even grosser. Steve thought about adjusting his position but remembered Clyde’s warning and decided against it. He gripped the outer rim and tried to prepare for the worst. He felt the air stir around the seat before he heard what sounded like a balloon deflating through a small opening.  The sound and sensations baffled him only briefly before the seal was complete and the force pulling him from below added a new wave of confusion. He didn’t want to do this anymore. He needed the job, but at this rate, he figured he’d go somewhere else for less pay and less manual restraint. What was already an intense tug turned into something worse altogether as he heard a roar from below and the pull threatened to collapse him at the waist and suck him into the bowels of the building.  Concern grew into panic as he struggled to free himself. Clyde rounded the cubicle opening: “Easy there, buddy, this goes smoother if you just relax and let the process take its course.” Steve felt dull. He struggled to line up the thoughts needed to make sense of this. The pain from below occupied all of his consciousness at this point. Clyde was in his face, looking him over like a cat studying a dying mouse. Clyde’s mouth was moving yet his voice drifted to Steve from a distance and he appeared further away than he should have.  Steve felt like a hand being withdrawn from a glove as he moved further and further from his rooted perspective on the rubber ring. He could see his hands, but they were off in the distance. They were attached to arms that seemed to belong to someone else. He saw the ceiling now. He was pulled down like water through a funnel as his body remained upright at this desk, but whatever Steve was seemed to circle the drain of oblivion. He was surrounded by darkness, with only a small portion of the ceiling remaining to be seen. The trip to the end grew darker and what he could see of the ceiling grew smaller until all that remained was nothing at all.

Neal Pushercark stood by Clyde, starting at Steve.  Neal slapped Clyde on the back, “Seems we’re working out the kinks with this thing.”  Clyde’s chest expanded with pride and he grinned widely. The Soul Vac was his finest invention and while its initial implementation had been a little messy, the 2.0 version had the extraction process dialed in. Clyde turned to Neil, “Yeah but this simple ass is staring at the ceiling right now… not much work where he’s looking,” he said through a smirk.  As if on cue, Steve lowered his head from the recumbent position and stared blankly at the screen.

Steve began to speak. He quoted the intro script without an issue and although the caller was inaudible to the two onlookers, Steve’s flawless rebuttal indicated a refusal.  They stood silently as Steve parried every silent remark with perfect responses that culminated in his smoothest sale ever. He completed the sale in the system and seamlessly answered the next call and began an elegant flow of salesmanship all over again.