Common Platitudes of the Damned
Dark Fiction by Rodolphus
On the drive to work the dread seeped ever upward in his gut, oh septic backwash. He steadied himself, or at least attempted to calm himself, just don’t take it seriously, he affirmed again, and reaffirmed yet again, and again, it’s not that bad, and it could be worse, and all the other trivial absurdities that people reassure themselves, when they feel the paranoia slamming at the iron bars of its cage.
I don’t think it is paranoia. But of course, that’s what all paranoid people think. They all think it is real. They all think they are not crazy. Everyone thinks that everyone is after them, even when they’re not. But then again, sometimes they really are after you.
Logically, he understood that he could be paranoid, as well as correct. Utterly sane, and bonkers as all bananas. It could all be real, and 100 percent certified nutzoid.
He parked in his usual parking space and steadied himself again. Just go in, do your job, ignore the witches, and make everyone think everything is as usual.
At his desk he stared at his computer screen. Cramped at this insidious modern cubicle, he could feel their attention upon him, even as they pretended to do their assigned duties. They were all cheerful with each other, blatantly loud and gossipy, but as soon as they crossed the opening of his cubicle they instantly silenced. It was as if they entered a dead space. Or as if death had just passed by his space, passing too closely.
The Giant Slug woman focused her mind on him, malevolently. Oh, she had never actually said anything mean to him, had never even been rude. But in her quiet, passively aggressive way, she was zapping him with her negative intentions. He could almost feel her casting her spells. Great gobs of Jabba the Hut mucus aimed his way.
The Mummy Woman on the other side, she was another story completely. Every morning she would bounce gaily down the line of cubicles simpering: “Morning!” and “Hey, Good Morning!” and so on until she came to his cubicle and she would go silent, marching in her Gestapo stride, until she made it to the next cubicle whence she bubbled over again: “Good Morning!”
Yes, the Mummy Woman took every opportunity to be rude to him, hissing, to snipe at any of his suggestions, and to hit him with her soul-draining cold hexes. Just knowing that she was taking up space only twenty feet away from him was enough to make him feel nauseous.
If nasty people were all he had to deal with, he could live with it, unpleasant as that could be. That would be no problem. He could live with rudeness. He had lived with such things before. But, the coincidences. Yes, the coincidences.
The coincidences were another matter. They popped up all around him, every day.
If he picked up a book at work and began reading, anywhere, randomly looking at a page that he flipped to, within one minute of reading his eyes might fall on the sentence “the corporate intersection of ideas” and even as his eyes fell on the word intersection, someone close by would say: “Oh look out at the intersection, a cop is stopping someone.” These and other impossible bizarre coincidences happened on a daily basis—nothing extravagant—just tiny puzzle pieces snapping together.
His frustrating dilemma was that despite the pieces of the puzzle coming together, he still could not discern any understandable picture to the greater whole.
The irritating cell ringtone of the ditz in the cubicle next door began its flatulent wak-wacca-blat, wak-wacca-blat. That had to be the most irritating thing he had ever heard. It blared through a maddening 30-second cycle, if not answered. And she left the cell phone on the top of her desk when she went to meetings, so for two years now he had listened to that insidious ditty many, many times a day.
He was only fifteen minutes into his day. Well, look at the bright side, only about eight hours and forty-five minutes to go; he could deal with that, couldn’t he? It’s not like he was fading away in a concentration camp, was it? Yes, you can deal with this, just survive, make it through.
He looked up. It was kindly Mr. Torez, the tall, thin and graying director. Mr. Torez was not his boss, but in the corporation he was parallel to Dave’s boss.
“Yes, Mr. Torez?” Dave said, feeling no warning vibes at all.
“Can I have a word with you in my office?”
He assented and followed the kindly older man down three hallways to sit across from him at the director’s great desk.
“You’re still not quite…assimilating, are you, Dave? I mean with your team?”
He stared at the director for several moments, unsure of which can of worms he was about to open, and still thinking it might be possible to keep all the cans intact. Let those worms be!
He could not talk about the Mummy Woman. Everyone in the company must know about her. She was nasty to so many people, and she was so…untalented…at her job, it was amazing she had racked up nearly twenty-five years in the company. A gooey twenty-five years of hissing from her darkened cubicle.
And he certainly could not broach the subject of the Giant Slug woman, or even the Ditz, because they did not seem to offend too many people (doing all their sly, dirty deeds only when backs were turned). There was the leprechaun just down the hall, the little guy with white hair who leapt into the air at odd moments, clicking his heels together, cackling and jiggling loud change in his pockets.
Or Bloody Mary, he certainly could not talk about her. Or It, really. Bloody Mary was not really a woman, not even really a person, but a mechanical contraption that galumphed down the hallways, the handle on the side of her box cranking even though no human hand would dare touch the crank, let alone actually wind the key. It galumphed around the building, cackling, rolling its vacant blue eyes, its artificial red hair waving, its spindly arms emerging from its box to swing a great ax in circles above its head. No one ever seemed to comment on this thing, this recent addition to the menagerie.
“You can talk to me, Dave. Tell me anything.”
Dave smiled at the kindly, gentle-eyed old man. He wanted to spill his guts, but soon enough everyone would think he was crazy. No, really, they would know that he was insane.
“What’s on your mind, Dave? Trust me.”
It all opened up, Dave told the older man how it seemed that everything had happened before, even this, the meeting in this office, this very meeting, it had happened before, and Dave could remember complete snatches of it. That déjà vu kept happening, eerily, that Dave felt like a prophet, at least sometimes, as if everything fell into place moments after he remembered it in just such a fashion.
How he heard the weird women in the office chanting together, that he believed they were some sort of coven, all sipping chamomile tea, delicately discussing where they should plant the next body, and what flower should grace its mound, oh and how they all hated him—Dave—and that he didn’t really mind, because he found all of them so distasteful. Their smell, it was not quite natural, was it? The air of sickness about them. The great slimy trails the Slug Woman left behind her passage. The hisses from the Mummy Woman’s dark cubicle. It really seemed as if they all felt instinctive hatred toward him, the same kind of loathing he felt toward them.
Only, it seemed as if they hated him because he was so normal. Because he was alive.
After five minutes of this, poor Mr. Torez rubbed between his eyes with a long, bony finger, slowly shaking his head.
“Do you think I’m crazy?” Dave said.
“I don’t think you’re crazy,” Mr. Torez said. “But be honest with me, is there anything else that seems to be…prying into your mind?”
“I’m starting to think that time itself is a great big cycle, like a computer program, and that it has been loaded up several times, with mostly the same results happening over and over again—like a massive hologram—with certain people changing, or waking up, I guess you would call it enlightenment, while mostly everyone else has dropped out of the program, that they have developed, or evolved as far as they can, and now they are just like computer-generated people, and that there are fewer and fewer real people in the program. And what is mostly left are the dark, slimy things, the creatures, the monsters, all these things around here.”
Wow. He really got that all out in a major rush. It was just like vomiting. He felt somewhat better for cleaning out his system, just dumping everything. Poor Mr. Torez. He now looked like he was afraid of Dave, that it was now all confirmed, he was insane. Dave was bonkers, nuts, completely off-kilter, a living Looney Tune.
“Aren’t you happy here, Dave? You don’t have a lot of responsibilities, your workload is never that heavy, you received a raise and a bonus soon after you were hired. And your starting salary was quite good, you agree with all of this, don’t you, Dave?” Mr. Torez said, almost pleading. “Can’t you just be happy. Stop worrying. And stay with the program? Can’t you just ignore the strange things that seem to go on around here? Can’t you just pretend that everything is normal? That the Slug Woman is just a slightly batty old crone, that we are being kind in keeping her on, despite her dementia? And that the Mummy Woman is just a negative, unkind woman, bitter at the world? And the Ditz, she’s not so bad, is she? Sure there is all that stuff with the Slug Woman, but things like that happen all the time in the work place. Can’t you try to just ignore it all?”
“Well, I try, but these coincidences just keep happening, and it’s like I’m seeing through the people. I mean, I’m wedged between three of the worst people I’ve ever known, and yet they are playing it as if they are nice, friendly people, and yet they are just so plainly…evil.” He could have said foul, grotesque, hideous, but it really boiled down to the fact he had never known anyone or anything as evil as these…beings.
Mr. Torez sighed. He buried his face in his hands. “I’m so sorry, Dave. I just, am, oh, so sorry.”
Great, first Mr. Torez tells him to trust him, and now that it is all out on the table, yep, now comes firing time!
Dave felt almost relieved, he really didn’t care, he needed to escape from this nightmare pit. He felt a sudden welling sense of freedom bursting like firecrackers in his chest. Thank God! I’m free, I’m free at last! He could get another job. He could move his family away from this hellish place, I mean come on, whoever heard of a wind-up jack-in-the-box waving an ax, at work? He just needed to get away, and thankfully, it looked like that could happen now, he might escape!
“Do you want me to clear my desk?” Dave said, attempting to be helpful. Might as well get started. He would need to find another job, and fast.
Mr. Torez removed his hands from his face. He pushed back in his chair, sighing loudly.
“I wish it were that easy, Dave. But don’t take this personally. You made it so much further, this time around, and I am betting that when the next cycle starts, you are going to really go far, I really do believe that, Dave,” Mr. Torez said, kindly, looking over Dave’s head at someone entering the room. “If you can retain anything, just remember that dreams are not important. Imagination is trouble, and will only bring you grief. Try not to think so much, Dave, just be more accepting, and try and fit in. You’ll be fine, you’ll see.”
Dave glanced back with a feeling of dread. Here they came, filing into the room, the Giant Slug Woman, the Mummy Woman, and the Ditz. And oh, such malevolence, such palpable hatred. Their eyes were fastened upon him, blood-thirsty leeches. Dave swallowed, and tried to scoot his chair away from them but they were already surrounding him.
“The next cycle begins in about one hundred years, and I’m sure we will meet again, Dave,” Mr. Torez said, easily, turning away and lifting the handset of his telephone.
“Disposal?” the Mummy Woman said, in her bright, false voice.
“Yes, please,” Mr. Torez said, tossing the two words over his shoulder as he focused upon his telephone conversation.
As they seized him with their pincer hands, he struggled, but only briefly. He thought of his children, and only slowly began to realize that he would see them again. And perhaps he could be a better father, the next go-round, a much better husband. Maybe all this was his fault, because really, who cared about hissing Mummy Women and Jabba the Hut slugs leaving trails in the office corridors? Who cared about the feasting noises from locked offices? The distant cackles and all the screams, really who cared?
“Do you want to go out for lunch today, it’s payday,” the Giant Slug woman said to the Ditz, almost as if the three of them were alone, and that Dave was a nonentity, dragged and crumpled in their midst.
But I’ll remember, next time, he suddenly knew, and he realized that this is why the three of them hated him so much, because he was real, and would run again, while they had petered out long, long ago, and were now just simulacra of the realities they used to be, with only the worst of them in evidence, with only the remnant evil remaining.
Dave saw a bland version of himself passing the other way. They bland empty version of himself nodded at the three creatures and continued on his way, apparently not seeing Dave, Dave the real Dave, the real Dave being dragged by the foul things, the slimy things, the hideous things. Dave realized that the simulacra Dave was heading to a meeting. He wondered how many real people remained and would attend the meeting, and if any of them might sense that Dave was not Dave, but only a bland version of himself, a blind, dreamless husk of the real Dave, the Dave heading to Waste Disposal, the Dave who would not activate again for a hundred years.
I will remember, he tells himself, ignoring the white pain in his body, and I will dream, and I will imagine, and I will not fit in with these things. I will never accept them, or be one of them.
Down the hall in the darkened recesses of an empty conference room, Bloody Mary waited, sprung from her box, her key crank winding furiously, the ax doing circles above her painted red head, the bugging vacant eyes blue orbs spinning like clockwork.
“We should plant poppies on its mound,” the Ditz said, even as it snuggled up to the Slug Woman.
“Poppies are appropriate, for this thing,” the Mummy Woman hissed. “Wild and dreamy, wild and dreamy, disgustingly bright and full of light.”
“Sitting here,” the Slug Woman burped. “Sitting here. Sitting here. Sitting. Here.”
Dave sighed, dragged amidst the things, and he told himself, over and over again, it’ll be okay, it’s not so bad, everything will work out in the end, and other common platitudes of the damned.
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