Story Six – Employee of the Month


He wanted me to start this with “You asked for it.” But no one asked for anything. He’s an unknown and should always remain that way. In spite of his original grandiose idiocy some would call ‘showmanship’, he is correct about the statement which would have followed. This is a continuation of his Day Three story, Outsourced.

As a side note, I make an appearance in this story as your memory of the rules of your career… I did this under duress and I will be suing for reparations. You, the reader, will be included in this lawsuit. Expect contact from my lawyer.

It has been thirteen years since your invitation. As you lean your spine against the solid metal frame of the van’s interior, the sensations cause memories to bob up from the darkness. You can’t help but to smile at your past incarnation’s naivety.

You thought no one knew you. You thought no one knew what you had done. Now, though, your well aware that there is always someone watching. He’s watching, just as he had been the night you packed the duct tape in the bag. You know he saw the rope in your hand, far before it ever found it’s way around that man’s neck.

You went through months of worrying. The planning was meticulous but it couldn’t push your anxiety aside. Questions, those damnable figments of what could and what should, gave you nightmares of what might be.

Will anyone figure out that it was me?

That was the worst of the bunch, above – or below depending on your perspective – any musing on philosophy, morality, or religious retribution. You cared more about how your mother would view you, how your father would shake his head and your friends would disown you. The calming effect of knowing, for certain, that your actions were necessary and beneficial to the world always allowed sleep, at least for a few hours.

The van stops. You catch yourself, sending your arm down to the floor, throwing Newton’s third law into the face of his first.

The driver turns to you.

“We’re here.”

You don’t recognize the voice. This is the first time he’s spoken tonight. For hours, you thought you were being driven by your usual guy.

It’s unsettling.

His hood covers most of the skeletal mask. It’s company policy, wear the mask when on the job or get the boot. The boot, in this case, isn’t a quick escort to some door. There is no door. The boss made it clear, you do what you’re told, you do what you should, or you become a client.

You don’t bother asking who he is. The voice is simple. It’s smooth and precise. People are replaced, it’s a simple danger. You just nod and hope someone never has to be so surprised when they think they’re talking to you.

The mask has, thankfully, dried out since you took it off. It slips on. The hard rubber rubs your nose just enough to make it noticeable. In a second, the raw feeling is gone. A fear arises that you’ll eventually have a permanent scar on your nose, giving you away.

You’d worn something different when you signed your unwitting application. A hood, yes, but not the heavy black thing you now slide over yourself. It was a thin grey sweatshirt. You’d shopped for something simple, something generic. Most of the clothes you found were hipster. They were different and unique, each having their own decal or decoration. Most meant nothing at all. They wouldn’t do. You finally settled for a university decal. They were everywhere. Everyone of your sex and stature would wear one on game days or just around town when they didn’t want or need to put any more effort into their outfit.

You slide the door back. It crashes into its stop with a little too much force. You weren’t quite aware of the van’s inclined state. The street is raised at some midrange angle.

Your feet hit the pavement and compensate for the uneven ground. Your gear packs up easily. There’s no chance anyone’s going to see you. You’re aware of the measures taken to provide you with a shift of sub-time each night. You’re stuck in the same extended area as the ones you’re collecting. Some normals are here as well, only for moments of extreme stress or that great adrenaline rush. They’re usually caught up in their own endeavors to pay you any attention… Though seeing a shrouded figure with a grinning, staring skull generally pushes them back in the through-stream.

Still. You look around. You call it a remnant of old habits. A habit you only exercised once. It had been enough to put you on a list. It had been enough to bring you here. For that reason alone, you honor it and the other fledgling rituals you didn’t know you had established.

With a turn of your heel and a huff of your breath, it’s time to go to work.

~~~

You look around the apartment complex. It reminds you of the forties. Ornate wrought-iron designs line the steps and guard-rail.

You get the feeling that in normal time, with everyone and everything that would would normally see, this place wouldn’t be so peaceful. It’s easy to imagine a homeless man curling up in some hidden corner. Sadly, it’s even easier to see a young hooker or a drug dealing selling their wares.

The paper feels cool in your hands. It’s thick parchment rather than the brittle printer reams you were used to in your old job. The list is almost finished for the night. You’re not willing to take a stab at how long you’ve been active. You’re not paid by the hour, or the client, it’s for each night. However long it takes you. A lot of the others bring their special tools, the items that represented the skills which  brought the attention of the boss in the first place. You’ve heard of all sorts, knives, clubs, mallets, your trainer actually carried a spoon. You didn’t ask him what he had done with it. Your imagination filled in the blanks and there wasn’t a need to know if it was right.

You can feel the loop of rope around your waist. It’s loosely tied, easily accessible. It makes you feel safer. You know it shouldn’t. You know you should never want to see it again. It was with you at the most confusing point in your life. With you, it saw that man die. It saw the horrible things he’d done drain along with his life.

As you left it behind, it screamed for you. Reason had told you that it was just the body’s weight pulling down on the beam you’d hanged it from. The creak was too loud to be that simple.

But it’s been with you since you were accepted. After training, you took a walk with the boss. He told you where you’d be placed. He told you the terms. He’d given it back to you, even tying it around your waist with his too-long arms. He had to stoop over and the huge black hood nearly enveloped your own face. You’ll never forget the moment you discovered that death smelled of christmas. Not your family christmases, they were never so wonderful. The scent was like what you thought christmas was always supposed to be. It was what christmas never was. If your father had never been there.

You arrive, both at the doorway capping the hall and at a more present state of mind. You don’t knock. You can’t, there’s no door. They don’t exist in this region of reality, not on buildings, at least. You wondered, on your first run, how this could be and why any buildings still stood here. Why doors? The answer you arrived at is something you’re proud of: Death needs never knock. To you, it makes sense.

You step through, repeating the poetry in your head as you often do when presented with where a door should be.

The name written in simple, clear script is Caspar Vittorini.

You chuckle. You hope he’ll be friendly. It would make the irony so much more interesting.

Blood is on the floor. There is always blood and it never dries. So many have come into this realm. So many have died everywhere. One can’t walk down a street without stepping in red. You’re used to it now. When you had originally arrived, your breath left you at the first sight of all the gore. A standout piece of flesh hanging from a streetlamp had sent you scrambling back into the train. Before you could get away, you collided with a larger employee. He forced you back and hadn’t been too happy about it either. You grew to like the differing shades of red. You found a game in looking beyond the horror.

You had an uneasy feeling here, though. There was so much blood. So many had had so much violence done to them in this building that it seemed strange you’d never been inside.

The apartment was small, but compartmentalized none-the-less. You scan the living room. You catch a glimpse of yourself in the tiny screen of the monolithic TV set.

The couch-bed had been pulled out but no one was in it anymore. No foot-prints, no weapon, no pills. You realize you’re pegging this as a murder or suicide. The list doesn’t have that kind of info, it’s not necessary. You often take a guess at what kind of death it’s going to be. When you had a partner, back when the company was a little younger, you’d make bets. Inflation turned it into a morbid solitaire.

Your gait becomes longer, your pace quicker. You check the kitchen. You even take care to open the dirty, rusting refrigerator. It sure as hell smells like something died in there, but it’s not your concern. You let that lonely door go and it shuts with a vacuum whoosh.

The bedrooms are clean… cleaner, at least. You check the bed and under it too but nothing moves or groans or bleeds out anymore than what was already there.

Your first step into the adjoining bathroom reverberates; as your sole touches the floor, you fall back a little. Everything from shoulder height down is dripping scarlet.

It’s here.

The bathtub is full to the top. Sticky, darker streams of blood drip from the edge. You extend a white-gloved hand. Your mind reaches out for a plastic bag or some other protection but if memory serves you correctly, nothing actually touch you.

Your knees find the ground and you lean forward.

The bottom of the basin is covered in a more viscous form of what flows on top. You search for the confused victim. They can sometimes slip under from the fog of blood-loss and not realize when they cross into sub-time. They’re only here for a time until their body actually dies. They don’t need to be subjected to the same pain and terror that their bodies were going through.

You think of the old woman, Mary. If you could have helped her go any more peacefully, you would have done it. The rule you broke was a small one. Others take so many more liberties for so little a return as you gained. You hope the boss understands.

The tips of your fingers are finding nothing.

Your arm, completely clean, slips out of the pocket it created in it’s staining environment.

A hard, loud bang brings you to your feet again. Words come from the living room. They fade in from whispers.

You were early.

You stand in the hallway, watching the scene play out. You always like to see the windows into the living world. They show you the things you just don’t get here. The TV turns on, a stupid cartoon show. You overhear a joke and must smile at the ridiculousness.

The grin fades.

The swaying blurs coalesce as translucent bodies in motion. The girl’s scream is horrible. The man’s words are worse.

“Get on the bed or so help me, I’ll slit your throat.”

His biceps twitch and he throws her where he wants her. She couldn’t be more than twelve. Your head begins to shake.

No…

Her tears fall on the sheets. She slides away from him, keeping her eyes on the knife he’s waving.

“I bought an hour, goddammit, I’m getting an hour.”

They become more solid. The dim light barely penetrates their skin. Their shadows go from a muddled grey to near black.

The girl’s weight switches the show off. The screen goes blank. It only serves to provide you with another angle of the sickening show.

His pants fall, leaving stained boxers barely covering his intended weapon. He leans down and falls into contact with the pull-out. He crawls towards the crying, shaking little body trying to get away.

Her back meets the rest of the couch and finds no where else to go. His knife finds her throat. It’s dull, you can tell from the lack of a wound. But you know he can easily compensate for that with enough force.

He clumsily grips her shorts and tries to jerk them down.

She closes her eyes. She doesn’t want to see him anymore than you wanted to see him. Your tears match hers, they slide down your neck and under your cloak. You can’t simply watch this.

“NO!”

Your voice echoes before it arrives. He looks up, stupidly craning his head to find the source. He can’t see you yet, not until he’s dying.

Your friend loosens itself. It falls in your hand. It cries for the girl just as much as you do. You grip the fibers with two fists and walk closer.

He hears the footsteps but turns the other direction. The alcohol you can smell is working its magic.

The rope, your friend, your comrade, falls under his neck. All of your strength yanks upwards, bringing his body with your arms. You cross the rope at the back of his neck. You squeeze him under its coarse weaved length. You see his reflection in the TV set. His eyes are bulging, bleeding from the pressure put on his veins. They’re fixed on the screen as well. He sees you. You grit your teeth and pull harder.

This is not allowed. The rule book in your left pocket flashes through your mind. The list of things that will send you beyond were to be studied before one ever goes on a ride-along. You read them over and over. You could recite them.

The one you remember the clearest is the first entry.

#1 – Let nature take it’s course; do not initiate a death.

You calm yourself with the understanding that was going to die soon enough. This ‘Caspar Vittorini’ only had a few moments. What’s one less minute for a creature like Caspar?

Your actions combine living-time and your own world. He will have no through-point. He will have no period of thought or contemplation. He will go directly to hell.

You hope it’s going to be hell.

His last movements tug against your resolve. He’s large and heavy, the burst of energy you had in protecting the girl gave you strength you don’t have anymore.

He’s going, there’s no mistaking the pull you feel around you. You release him and hear the sound of the floor take the weight. Your breath comes in bursts, short and labored.

“Thank you…”

Her voice is small. You turn to see the girl pulling her shorts back over her hip. A trickle of blood falls from her neck. The bastard must have pushed down when you got him.

She begins to fade away, away from you, away from death. She smiles and waves. She’s still in the phase of childhood that brings acceptance. You’re glad you could keep in that innocence.

As she disappears, she shouts a whisper. She wasn’t aware of the finite time she had. The window closed cut her sentence. She was wishing you well. She was smiling. She was waving. On her wrist was a shimmering silver bracelet. The bent metal spelled a name out in reflective decoration.

Caspar

Your body becomes a little colder. Your mouth goes dry. You glance down at the body still very much physical to this world.

#2 – Go by the list; only a client on the list may be collected.

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About Aaron Shively

I have been working as a freelance writer and artist for the last decade. In that time, I've done everything from ghostwriting to toy design and everything in between. I am currently working on a novel series called 'Myth' which has held my attention for the past sixteen years. I have spent my time developing the world, character and story and am now ready to funnel all the preliminary material into the manuscript of the first installment, 'of Men and Monsters' Bookmark & Share

Posted on 05/07/2011, in Excerpts, Freewriting, Personal, Short Stories and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Whoa! Did NOT see that end coming. Well, not till about the second to last paragraph. You’d think I’d know by now.

    Btw, even if I will get in trouble from my boss, I feel justified in what I did. (Yes, I do insist on commenting this way. If you don’t like it, stop writing in second person.)

    Also, not that it’s a huge deal, but in addition to a couple typos and missing words, you switched tense for a paragraph or two. Thought you’d want to know.

  2. Uh oh. Someone’s in a LOT of trouble…

    • ARGH! Computer’s acting up today, that wasn’t supposed to post yet, I didn’t get to say…

      I loved the story! I’m glad he saved the girl, even if she was supposed to die. 🙂

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