If you happened to see any of my hints and teasers regarding our updated Books page, you may already know that my first novel, You’d Guess From Their Cries, is now available via e-book from Amazon. It’s a story told in three parts, and before I tell you to buy it, I’m going to share the entire second part, “Tale of a Lost Worker,” with you here, for free – as a serial! Today’s is the first (and longest) installment, and it will be followed by one short installment tomorrow, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Like and share! And if you really dig it, the book info is always there at the bottom for you to click.
I don’t tend to get a lot of comments on any of my posts, but I’m excited about this project and really open to feedback of any kind. Please let us all know what you think – or drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Tale of a Lost Worker
“We’ve seen our savior, our brother, our teacher, the Son of Man taken from our midst and nailed against a tree. Many among you curse these dark days, but I tell you that we who knew our Lord, who saw him and heard him and broke bread with him, we are blessed above all those to come.
In the age to come, saviors will present themselves to the people, they will give freely their lives as ours did his – but never again will any among the people recognize them. In their blindness, the people will not be able, as we have been able, to see the light of the Most Holy Spirit around them. They will not conceive to establish the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, and so shall they be shackled to their unbelief as slaves to a master.”
-Attributed to St. James, brother of Jesus
Found and translated from ancient Syriac in a little-known and still controversial cache of apocryphal papyrus fragments currently held under guard, off limits to the public, in a hidden library in Aqaba, Jordan
SITTING IN THE CUBICLE IN THE MIDDLE OF A ROW IN THE MIDDLE OF THE MIDDLE OF THE ROOM, this neat little hamster box among three hundred others with its three-foot felt and aluminum walls, it really was just like so many other days. So many other times. It wasn’t just the days that blended together, but the weeks and even months. There are a couple whole years I can’t really distinguish from one another. But that day, like so many others we found ourselves with no escape in sight and even the past memory and future inevitability of the cold comfort of night’s wild embrace but a distant dream.
On days like this, it helps to imagine things. It hardly matters what, specifically. Pretty much anything you can come up with is better than reality. It was the kind of job that actually maybe, in theory, wouldn’t have been so unbearable, if it weren’t here. That is to say, here in this department, in this office, at this company, in this valley. A mildly insane climate of micromanagement drove twenty-year-olds to wake up in the middle of the night thinking of obscure inventory levels, and it drove thirty-year-olds to blood pressure pills designed for fifty-year-olds. A certain methodical reduction of any special skill turned us from ostensible professionals into interchangeable gears in a perpetual motion machine fueled by the souls of its “associates,” all in the name off efficiency.
In other words, it might have been bearable if it were totally different.
People told themselves otherwise in order to get out of bed and show up every day, but that didn’t make it any less true. Maybe for them but not for me. I would never replace the reality before me with a slightly more wholesome version of the same thing. That’s too serious a lie to even play with. Better to imagine ourselves as fellow travelers working in cubicle pods on a spaceship. The delusion there is a sincere one, because you’re not pretending you’re not pretending. You’re coming right out front with it.
Spirits are like bacteria. They’re in everything and you can never really keep them out.
I imagined other things, too, like spirits flying around and living inside of things. I imagined, based on some real evidence, that the true God or Goddess or Great Spirit was banished from this building (perhaps lacking an ID badge to get past reception). But weird, twisted office spirits, surely they could get in. Spirits are like bacteria. They’re in everything, and you can never really keep them out.
Our seating arrangements would change, on average, three times a year, yet another unsettling and generally jarring way to live out the daylight. But for most of that year, 2007, for probably no good reason besides dumb luck, nobody’s desks were moved. I happened to sit facing my cool-ass, Viking-descended, part-time rock star buddy Fitzy. Fitzy was salt of the earth, real solid sort of fellow, but he was always a grouchy son of a bitch in the morning. It wasn’t a drinking problem, either. He liked to have his beers, as all of us did, but he kept his appetites in check in a way that I was years away from figuring out. He wasn’t hung over, he was just a prick.
Ellen, who sat to Fitzy’s left and was thus diagonal from me, was another absolutely wonderful person, the kind of person who makes the whole thing almost worth it once in a while. She, too, had no serious alcohol problem and still managed a chilly and jagged attitude for the first couple hours of every day. She was a little kinder than Fitzy, at least toward me, so she would sort of tolerate my gibberish politely, maybe managing a little smile if it was particularly good gibberish.
See me, on the other hand, in those days I definitely had an “issue,” if you will, with getting fucked up every night, and I certainly entered most days carrying about me a heavy haze that one might describe as a hangover, but only because there exists no more precise word for it. Still, I was almost always chipper and bouncy. I never understood how people in their twenties and early thirties could still be clinging to the whole “I’m not a morning person” thing. I have never been a morning person. I’ve hated to sleep since I was a toddler, and I have always preferred the late night to the morning. But that has never meant I wanted to just torch the morning and voluntarily accept misery. That’s the kind of surrenderist attitude sure to prolong a hangover, or even create one that wasn’t there already.
“It’s animism for the electronics age!” Fitzy exclaimed.
So it was that I loved Fitzy and Ellen, and Fitzy and Ellen loved me, but they sort of hated me every morning and I sort of tip-toed around them. Early that day, Ellen was away from her desk getting breakfast, and Manny from IT was either installing or decommissioning, or perhaps just coaxing into submission, the computer in the cubicle to my right.
“Manny, man,” I said to him, “don’t you ever think computers – and other electronic devices – have spirits?”
“Oh boy, here we go,” Manny said with good cheer.
“This guy,” Fitzy said, a dark grin forcing its way through the fog of his grumpiness. “Eight AM and he gets started.”
“I know, right?” Manny said. “Like, no intro, nothin’. Just ‘do you think the machines have spirits?’”
“Well, like they say on the Good Morning America,” I responded. “’No better time of the day to get started than the beginning!’”
Manny paused. “Do they really say that on the Good Morning America?”
“Fuck yeah they do.”
“You crazy bastard,” Fitzy said, “you made that up.”
“Well, if they don’t say it, they should. They would like that, on that show. Anyway, back to the question. So?”
Manny tried to get back to the actual work at hand as he answered. “…No. You probably just think that about your computer because they’re all shitty PCs that act like they’re possessed half the time.”
“Sometimes I talk to the demon, though, and he (or she – but I think it’s a he) listens.”
“You’re just anthropomorphizing. All humans see human behavior in everything.”
“He always does it, though,” Fitzy accused. “To a whole new level.”
“Hey, you know,” I defended, “animism is one of the most ancient beliefs on Earth.”
“Animism,” Manny repeated, “…isn’t that usually like things like trees and rocks and mountains having spirits?”
“Yeah! But that’s only because they didn’t have computers and mp3 players back then.”
Both of them laughed. “It’s animism for the electronics age!” Fitzy exclaimed.
“Why do you think your mp3 player contains a spirit?” Manny asked. “The computer, I can see, but…”
“Oh, it’s so simple, man – I put it on shuffle, and it gives me messages with the songs it plays.”
“That’s an algorithm,” Manny answered. “Not an oracle.”
“Even with a thousand songs or more? The choices are just coincidence? I don’t buy it, man. The fuckin’ thing talks to me all the time.”
“Even with ten thousand songs,” Manny said. “You know I’m open to a lot of things, but there’s nothing mystical about a shuffle button. None of your electronics has a soul. But that doesn’t mean that freaky shit doesn’t happen sometimes. People who spend a lot of time in rooms with servers and shit, or large amounts of data storage, or even high-voltage electrical workers, there’s no study but there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence – they start feeling a crackle, like an electrical crackle, following them around even when they aren’t in the high-energy environment. You know like the static on a TV? Or, I guess, the static that used to be on a TV. Most TVs don’t have static anymore, obviously.”
“Yeah,” I said, quite interested.
“They start to hear that, all the time – not with their ears like a real sound or even a normal hallucination, but like in the back of their minds, in the place where they think. PSHHHHHHHHHHT all the time. Running in the background. Some have even reported they begin seeing the patterns you used to see when the TV was on the wrong channel or the cable was disconnected.”
“Jesus, Manny,” Fitzy shoot his head, laughing. “I thought we were on a roll and now you’re encouraging him. Don’t feed him this shit! That’s the last thing he needs.”
“Hey, I’m just telling you what I’ve read – and what I’ve heard firsthand. It gets weirder than that, too. They don’t have a syndrome name for it yet, but it’s a real thing.”
“I call bullshit on that,” Fitzy insisted.
Manny shrugged. “Google it.”
“Well wait a minute,” I said, “how is that different from what I said?”
“Well, I mean,” Manny searched a moment for the right words, “we’re not talking about spirits like computers and servers and electrical lines being sentient or shuffle settings giving you astrological insight – but what I’m saying is that there’s definitely some freaky shit that goes on when man and machine interact.” He stopped what he was doing again and leaned towards the two of us over the cube wall, lowering his voice. “Speaking of freaky shit, have you guys seen the crazy new HR guy yet? Noah Abraham? I’m not saying that to be mean – he’s literally a little crazy.”
I’m just saying there is freaky shit when it comes to people and electricity and electronic devices. And if there is, why would we really know it for sure yet? All this shit is relatively new to us as a species.
Fitzy shook his head.
“No,” I said, “I don’t even think I’ve heard of him. Is he the new guy who fires people and shit?”
“Pretty much,” Manny continued talking softly. “Strange thing is, you’d never know it. He’s a halfway nice guy – course maybe that means he won’t last. We’ll see. But yeah, I spent like half a day with the guy yesterday trying to get his shit set up. You know why it took half the day?”
“No, why?” I said.
“Tell us, Manny,” Fitzy said, half-mockingly.
“Because freaky shit kept happening whenever he’d go near the computer, and his desk phone, and his company cell phone. The shit would buzz a little, or maybe flicker…and at least a quarter of the time, it was worse than that. The hard drive of the computer would overheat. His cell battery kept draining every hour, his desk phone wouldn’t hold any programming. Even its own extension wouldn’t stick at first. The computer wouldn’t just freeze, programs would just close down in the middle. Not even always all of them at the same time, just some of them. And other times it would just very calmly shut itself down and refuse to turn back on. This is a brand new clean machine I’m talking about here. Same with the cell.”
“It’s spirits!” Fitzy exclaimed.
“Well no,” Manny said, cocking his head. “I mean, even if we were dealing with spirits, it seems unlikely that the same spirit would be in all of those things at the same time.”
“Yeah, I don’t think that’s how it works,” I said, “but what if they are all separate spirits who happened to be in agreement?”
“That’s only slightly more likely.”
“Well, what do you think it is, then? I mean before, you were talking about electricity somehow getting into people, but now you’re talking – correct me if I’m wrong – about a guy who goes into the electricity.”
“I’m not sure I’m willing to go that far,” Manny said hesitantly, “but I’m just saying there is freaky shit when it comes to people and electricity and electronic devices. And if there is, why would we really know it for sure yet? All this shit is relatively new to us as a species. It takes a long time to determine exactly what the effects of something environmental are on so broad a group of any animal – especially if the physical nature of those environmental changes is subtle, or mostly invisible.”
“Very good point,” I mused.
“Almost scientific,” Fitzy said.
Just then, Ellen got back with her breakfast. I was about to fill her in on this fascinating new line of thought, but she unexpectedly started to talk. “So I just had an interesting experience down in the cafeteria,” she said. “There was this dude down there, Abraham something, new guy in HR I think—”
“Noah Abraham?” Manny asked.
“Yeah, that’s him! Do you guys know him?”
“Not yet,” I said, “but we were just talking about him.”
“Really nice guy – weirdly chill, almost has kind of like a zen vibe to him. But just wait – you guys are gonna think I’m nuts – but so he’s down there and we’re both at the toaster. He grabs a bagel out of the thing and I have my toast already. So you know me, I’m just minding my own business, I am not in the mood to talk to anyone, and he almost sorta stopped me from putting the bread in the toaster in order to introduce himself. Okay, whatever, you’re the new HR director for the office, you’re here to help, being very nice and friendly, but I really want my toast. But he just keeps talking, sort of blocking the toaster with his arm, even though I couldn’t tell if it was by accident or not. I know he said something funny – I don’t remember what it was, but I’m laughing and then finally he moves on to bother somebody else, and I go to put my bread in…and it’s already done.”
“The bread?” Fitzy said.
“It was toast,” she said. “I never put it in the toaster, I swear to God I’m not losing my mind, but there it was, toasted, and he’s over talking to somebody else like there’s nothing to it, and I walk by and I can see his bagel’s toasted, too. So, like, even if I’m crazy and don’t remember putting my own bread in the toaster and then taking it out again, I’m telling you, I swear, he definitely didn’t toast his bagel. And I saw him get it out of the bag. It wasn’t toasted when we started talking.”
“Uhhhh…yeah.” Manny finished up what he was doing. “Watch out for that guy. Something freaky about him. And that’s about enough weird shit for me for one day – and it’s only like 8:30.” He walked off with a wave.
“That’s not even all,” Ellen gushed. “Then grouchy Gerry hobbles by, carrying a fresh omelet over to where the hot sauce is, and she trips and drops it everywhere. I mean, like everywhere.”
“Did she go down?” I asked, not really suppressing a laugh.
“She didn’t, she just sort of…moaned…and grabbed her hip.”
“Well, at least there’s justice somewhere in the world,” Fitzy muttered, suddenly eager to go back to grumpiness and focus on his work. Gerry was pretty mean to everyone all the time, and everyone had to deal with her sometimes.
“That’s the thing,” Ellen said. “As soon as she stopped grabbing her hip, everything changed. Nothing moved…I don’t know how to explain it. Her plate was still on the ground, only it was right side up…and the eggs and potatoes and veggies, which looked like, you know, airplane wreckage on the floor a few seconds earlier…it was all just sitting on her plate like nothing happened. This Abraham guy goes over, picks it up and hands it to her, and she goes and gets her hot sauce without saying anything. Like, no harm, no foul.”
“Did you take any cold medicine today or something?” This was getting maybe a little too weird even for me. I’m not used to being outdone when it comes to crazy claims.
“Or, like, mushrooms?” Fitzy asked, laughing again. “What the fuck are you on?”
“I’m telling you – other people saw it too. And so then a few seconds later I’m in line and he walks behind me to where the coffee is and he goes to fill his cup with the light breakfast roast. Chelsea the awesome cashier lady is like ‘You’ll have to wait a minute, that one’s empty.’ ‘Not anymore,’ he said, smiling – and he said it quiet enough so that only me and Chelsea and maybe one other person could hear, and a shit-ton of piping hot, fresh-smelling coffee rushed out to fill his cup. I shit you not. I’ve never seen anything like it.” She sat down and started to eat. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what to tell you – maybe my husband put something in my coffee. That’s so something he would do – try to poison me but fuck it up because he’s too stupid. But I’m telling you, you can ask other people, too. I wasn’t the only one who saw it”
She threw a couple names out and I sent them all a separate e-mail. With only slight variances in detail, they backed up her story, and I forwarded them to Fitzy and Ellen. I wagged a finger at Fitzy. “See, you call me crazy for talking about spirits, and we’ve got Manny talking about ‘freakiness’ and four separate people talking about a new HR guy doing magic tricks with food in the cafeteria.”
“Okay, Monaco,” he conceded. “You’re no crazier than the rest of everybody else. Don’t get me wrong, I’m crazy, too. I’m just saner than you.”
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That’s it for part one – hopefully you dig it. Stay tuned for part two tomorrow, and check out You’d Guess From Their Cries: One Heretic’s Quest for Salvation on Amazon.