click.. click.. click..
This episode kicks off a ThrillUs exclusive! You will not find this story anywhere else. I worked one on one with the author, Lucas Whorley, to develop this horrifying tale especially for you. It’s akin to a Fight Club or Shutter Island; The character’s experience is surreal, the author leaves subtle clues along the way, and the ending only answers some of your questions. You do not want to miss this thrill ride. So strap in and hold tight… - Cheshire
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My name is Arthur Bannon and my human life will be over soon enough. If you wanted to know exactly the way it went, you could probably ask anyone else involved and you’d get a better view of things.
I work in data entry. Worked? Yes, I guess it should be in the past tense now. I worked in data entry and my workplace was a great big concrete brutalist structure. The hallways ran through the facility labyrinthine and illusory. I swear I’d get lost in that place several times a day, keeping my right hand on the wall so as to make sure I wasn’t taking any wrong turns. The only guideposts were bright dizzying metallic pointers sporadically placed throughout the facility to indicate different corporate factions. I might’ve needed to find my way to accounting and end up in human resources. It always seemed like I’d get lost and end up in human resources. Then Janice would lead me back to my desk. If not for her, I’m sure I’d have died on my way back to my office cubicle, forever lost in that nauseating gray blur of halls.
My boss was a great big burly bastard with a furry face and hairy arms. His biceps and gut almost split the material of his clothing and I’m still unsure how he managed to tug his belt up every time he was upset. That’s what he would do. “Art, you’re gonna’ be working late again.” Then he would grip his belt and tug it up. Or “Sorry Art, but we got a memo from corporate saying that the network went on the fritz, so all of last week’s entries are void.” This was normally followed by him sighing heavily and dabbing around his cheeks with a kerchief. His name was Quincey.
These were the players.
Sceptre Incorporated was the stage.
Phones rang all around me. Sometimes ten or fifteen at a time so that half of them would be left on hold at any given moment. The phones rang day in and day out. There was heavy breathing on some lines and on others there were screaming irate customers. You may be wondering why someone working in data entry should be answering phones and you’d be right to question it. Some months ago, the company decided to consolidate data entry and customer service into one department. I was the only one that worked in data entry and so it was that I was the only one working in customer service too. This came with no extra pay, but the plastic plaque on my desk read:
ARTHUR BANNON; HEAD ENTRY CONSULTANT; LEAD CUSTOMER REPRESENTATIVE ASSOCIATE.
I hated that plaque, but Quincey insisted on using my full title whenever referencing me to someone else.
It was strange to meet other people around the water cooler and have them mention my name even if I’d never met them. They’d lean in and whisper something like, “Art, we need those points you promised in last month’s email. You didn’t forget, did you?”
I’d raise my eyebrows and respond listlessly, “No, I’ve got them. I was just awaiting your confirmation email.”
“Yes. The confirmation email.” They’d sip their paper water cone cup and crumple it into the nearby receptacle. “Did you fax over your notary’s info? Can’t confirm a confirmation email without your notary’s authorization.”
Like I didn’t know that. Cheeky.
“I think Quincey is trying to kill me.” I said in the bare office.
Janice pursed her lips from behind her desk, leaning back in her chair. “Most employees feel that their bosses are out to get them.”
“Is that true?” I sighed. I watched a metronome she kept on her desk bob back and forth. Hypnotic. Click. Click. Click. Click.
She sighed. “Arthur. We’ve been over this. This is human resources. We have resources for *humans*.”
“Yes, that’s right. That’s what I’m looking for!” I protested.
“What would you do with resources for humans?” Her voice was far away in water as I watched the rod of the metronome go back and forth.
I blinked, turning back to face her. “What?”
“I said, ‘How can human resources help you?’.”
I shifted in the big leather chair, feeling it fart underneath me. “It’s the chair.” I tried smiling. My eyes drifted back to the melodic metronome.
“Why what?” I asked.
“Why do you think Quincey is trying to kill you?” Far away in water.
“I don’t know. But I think I need to kill him first.” I said.
“Yes.” She said.
“I said, ‘I’ll talk to Quincey and let him know he should lay off you.’.”
I blinked. “Thank you.”
“Now let’s get you back to your desk.”
“Thank you, Janice. Boy, what would I do without you?”
“What?” I said, feeling a chill tickle up my spine.
Janice laughed, ushering me out of the room. “I said, “You’re stronger than you think.’.”
“I did.” She assured me.
The old squalor factory I called a home was cast in weird long shadows as I walked to the front steps. Mary and Margery, the twin girls, were sitting on the steps, braiding one another’s hair together. By together, I mean that they’d intertwined their hair. Mary on the left, Margery on the right. Or maybe it was the opposite. I can never tell. Between them was a ropey knotted mass of hair. I stepped past them.
Mary whispered to Margery. Or Margery whispered to Mary. Or maybe it was the opposite. I never can tell.
I stopped at the top of the steps and turned to greet them. “Huh?” I asked.
“You’re a strange man.” Said one of them.
“No.” said the other. They giggled.
“What?” I asked.
They ignored me.
The old squalor factory hadn’t produced anything within even the previous century but an ambiance of filth and drugs. Sometime over the previous fifty years, the building owners decided to convert the place into a series of apartments but had given up on that project halfway through. Whereas the exposed brick would have looked nice in another place, here it only served to indicate the owners’ sloppy attitude. This hadn’t stopped them from charging rent, however.
A laid on my sheetless mattress on the floor, watching the flicker of the oil lamp on the floor next to my head. The thing cast wild purple shadows against the rusty walls. I rolled onto my back and looked at the beams of the landing above me. My eyes went unfocused and I breathed slowly, listening to my heartbeat. Click. Click. Click. Click.
My mind strayed back to the metronome sitting in the resources for humans office and as I closed my eyes, it was the only thing I could see; it floated in my mind within a vast unblinking void. “Click. Click. Click. Click.” I began whispering to myself in the darkened room. When I opened my eyes again, I was startled to see that the sun was sparkling in through the cracked factory window next to my bed. The oil lamp was empty.
In a rush, I fired up the camping stove and started a can of beans. As the pan heated, I checked my phone and saw I had a few unread messages from Quincey:
“I’m coming for you. Be ready.”
“Don’t forget to bring that power point from last week.”
“Did you hear me? I’m coming for you.”
I stirred the beans with butter and sipped on a murky glass of water. “What does that mean?” I asked to no one in particular. I found myself whispering under my breath as I hunkered over the camping stove, “Click. Click. Click. Click.”
A small cockroach skittered up to my feet to inspect what a gourmand I was. Startled, I squashed it with my barefoot and excused its guts from me with a paper towel.
Getting dressed in front of the dirty standing mirror, I straightened my tie without any trousers on. I leaned closer to my reflection and he leaned closer too. Beneath each eye I’d accumulated a dark black bruise. “Hmm.” Said the man in the mirror.
After putting on a pair of holey socks, I was down the steps with my laptop over my shoulder in a khaki satchel. I saw one of the twins sitting on the steps of the old squalor factory.
“Where’s Mary?” I asked the girl.
“Oh. I’m sorry.” I looked around at the drab littered surroundings of the stoop. “Where’s Margery?”
“I told you!” said the girl, “I’m Margery!”
“Oh. Of course. I’m sorry.” I shook my head and rubbed my temples. “I’ll just be on my way then. Have a good one.”
She ignored me.
“You’re late!” said Quincey, leaning over my cubicle wall with a broad yellow grin as warm as the sun. “Art, you know I’ll have to dock you for that.”
“Of course, sir.” I nodded while rifling through a set of papers.
“Aren’t you going to get that?” He motioned to one of the phones on my desk. None of them were ringing.
“Excuse me, sir?”
“Answer the phone, Art.”
I looked down at the phones. “Which one was it?”
Quincey let out an exasperated sigh and lifted the phone from its cradle. “Here.”
I took it and put it up to my ear. “Hello?”
“Good morning Mister Bannon.” Said the gruff voice. “Your boss will come for you in two days’ time.”
I squirmed in my seat, hoping Quincey hadn’t heard the voice. I trusted a sidelong glance in his direction. “Of course.” I said.
“Now, Mister Bannon, if you’d please pass the phone to your supervisor, I’d be thankful.”
“Of course.” I held the phone out for Quincey.
Quincey took it, giving me a confused raised eyebrow. “Hello?” he said.
I watched as Quincey gave me a suspicious glance then slammed the phone in its cradle, tugging up on his belt. “Damned crazies.” He said then chuckled. As he turned to leave me, he added, “You’ll have to work OT tonight.”
I stood at my post near the water cooler, sipping an empty cup and surveying the lonely break room. People rarely went in there, but it was nice to stand next to the water cooler. It was against a wall and it felt good to have a wall to my back. Everything was cement gray. The drapes, the floor tiles, the cabinets, the furniture. It made me sick to my stomach. I waited longer in the break room than normal.
My cellphone went off. It was Quincey sending me a text:
“You will be docked if you stand in the break room any longer.”
I crumpled my paper cup and threw it in the bin.
I rubbed my eyes against my fingertips, stepping out into the cool night air. Work was over. Car headlights splashed against my pant legs as I sulked down the sidewalk to the squalor factory, kicking loose bits of asphalt beneath my dress shoes. I loosened my tie and fancied for a moment that a drink would do me good but thought better of it. I always awoke with a shattering headache after saucing myself up.
Approaching the steps to the squalor factory, I saw that the twin girls were there.
I ignored them and unlocked the door to the factory.
“Quincey is coming for you.” Said one or the other.
“Excuse me?” I shifted around to face them.
“Go away weirdo.” Said one or the other.
I went away.
Sitting on my mattress in my barren room, I refilled the oil lantern near the bed, hushing slowly to myself, “Click. Click. Click. Click.”
I watched as a cockroach about the length of a stick of gum crept from the far corner of the room. I lit the lantern and inspected the insect. “Click.” I said. It rose up on its haunches, rubbing its fore mandibles together. “Click. Click. Click. Click.” I said. The cockroach began rocking from side to side in tune with the rhythm I’d created.
I reached down, laying my palm flat. It scooted itself along the floor and into my hand. I lifted the small creature level with my face and began, “Click. Click. Click. Click.” It began dancing in my hand, moving itself undeniably along with the clicks. Its little antenna stood on stiff ends. It made a hissing sound, startling me. I dropped it and it landed on its back. Watching it struggle was a bit sad, so I reached down to knock it right side up.
It insisted its hissing again and as I was reaching for my shoe, I saw that perhaps fifty or sixty more cockroaches crept from various places. My gut shrank and my skin grew cold. They sat in a line. The original cockroach crept from the line and let out another hiss, rising on its haunches.
“Click.” I said. They stood at attention and I watched them cautiously, pulling my feet beneath me on the mattress. I began my clicking again and they all began swaying their posteriors in affirmation.
I dressed myself as the cockroaches made my breakfast. It was slow learning at first and the toast was only a little black around the edges. Leaning back in awe, I saw they’d found the time to tie my shoes as well.
“You’re early.” Said Quincey.
“Damn right.” I said.
“What was that?”
“Yes, sir.” I shrugged. “Thought I’d get an early start on things. Lots of work to do.”
He peered at me over the rim of his coffee cup. “That’s right.”
Click, click, click, click went the metronome.
“That’s a funny thing you’ve got there.” I pointed at it.
“I find it helps me to focus on a single sound,” said Janice, “Calms the nerves.”
“I know what you mean.” I said.
“How’ve you been feeling?” she asked.
“That’s good. Quincey is coming for you.”
“I said, ‘That’s good.’.”
“Oh. Yes. I feel better today.”
“Do you like your job?”
“I like mine.” She said.
“It’s alright, but the customer service aspect of my job is strange.” I focused on the clicks of the metronome. And blinked.
“That’s right. People are stupid.”
“Yes!” I said, “That’s exactly right!”
“You could kill them all, you know.”
“You could help them all, you know.” She smiled from behind her desk and leaned in to add, “One more day.”
“I know.” I said.
I gathered an army of roaches. I never counted them, but if I had to give a rough estimate, I’d say I had a few thousand under the control of my clicks.
After gathering them around the alley adjacent the squalor factory, I laid a thick greasy sausage out on the pavement and stepped away. “Click.” I pointed at the sausage, leaning from a dumpster. The shadows spilled the cockroaches, skittering like mad to devour. After they’d dispersed, I approached the spot, lifting the one thing they’d left behind: a casing.
“Good.” I whispered to myself. “Quincey doesn’t stand a chance.”
Before work, I ushered them into my khaki satchel, hoping that it would be enough to defeat the boss. Moving the bag with them squirming around inside was an arduous task, but it still felt as though I had a hop in my step.
As I approached the twin girls with the bulging bag, I noticed they were braiding their hair together once more so that their heads were connected by a blonde rope.
“Good morning, ladies,” I said.
“Go away weirdo!” squealed one or the other.
“Click.” I pointed at them.
A cockroach popped its pinpoint head from the corner of my satchel flap and jumped to the ground, hissing. The girls screeched in horror. One or the other attempted to run from the insect, taking her sister with her by the end of that blonde rope of hair. The two girls went head under feet then over again, tumbling down the stairs. I watched them and chuckled.
“Click.” I said, pointing at my bag. The cockroach skittered up my leg and disappeared beneath the satchel’s flap.
“Art, where have you been?”
“Right here.” I said. “I’ve been working on these.” I held up a sheet of graph paper to show him.
“No excuses, alright?”
I gritted my teeth, reaching for the satchel at my feet. “Yes sir.”
The bag was empty and loose. I gasped, pushing my head between my legs to search for the insects. “What’s your problem, Art?”
“Lost my laptop. I can’t find it anywhere.” I was sweating.
“It’s right there.” Quincey pointed to the closed laptop on my desk.
I bit my lip. “Oh. Of course. You’re right.” My legs shook beneath the desk.
After Quincey’s departure, I scanned the room of empty cubicles, finding nothing.
A phone rang.
I lifted it to my ear.
“Ah, Mister Bannon.” The gruff voice sighed. “The roaches have gone rogue.”
“What? How is that possible?”
“They’ve found a new master.” The voice sighed again. “Perhaps you were too friendly with them. They need a strong hand to hold, Mister Bannon.”
“What does that mean?”
“I’m sorry. Goodbye.”
I crept through the halls, following all the proper indicators on the walls, but knowing full well where I’d end up. There came the sound of the metronome from the end of the concrete hallway. Moving slowly with my breath caught in my throat, I approached the cracked office door.
“So, anyway, I told him, ‘You’re stronger than you think.’.” That was Janice, but who was she talking too?
In response came a wheezing laugh. “He’s such a dolt!” That was Quincey. “He’s always so, ‘Yes sir. Of course, sir.’.” I peeked in through the crack just in time to see Quincey wipe a tear from his laughing cheek.
My heart sank as I stood at the door.
At his feet were the cockroaches, wobbling along to the beat of Janice’s metronome.
With one last futile effort I tried my clicks, “Click. Click. Click. Click.”
Quincey and Janice’s eyes shot to meet mine, noticing my presence. Their faces became manic, oily plasticine, with smiles that set my synapses on fire. Maddening.
Janice pointed at me and the roaches came.
The skittering of their mandibles was deafening as they surrounded me. Some of them fluttered into the air erratically, landing on my pants. I swatted at them and screamed in terror. They went for the soft tissue in my mouth, so I bit down, sending insect viscera down the front of my shirt. Pumping my legs in tandem with my own heartbeat, I moved faster than I’d ever moved before through those delirious halls.
In my path, I saw a woman in a white shirt and black skirt. She turned to look at me with a stack of papers in her arms, mouth agape. I shoved her and she smacked the floor, twisting herself up in her own legs. “Sorry!” I said as her screams echoed all around. I didn’t dare turn to look if they’d stripped the poor woman clean of her casing.
As luck would have it, I did not end up in human resources again, but the gray break room. I slammed the door shut with my chest heaving beneath my work shirt.
I stamped as they tried coming in beneath the door. Whether it be some higher intelligence, or because enough of their bodies had crammed beneath the door that no more could fit through, I can’t tell you. I sighed for a moment of relief and moved to sit on the couch near the water cooler, never letting my eyes stray from the crack at the bottom of the door.
Then I felt a tickling sensation run up my back. I shifted around in the seat, removing my shirt as I was sure one of the roaches had slipped in under my clothing. I smacked around my shoulder as I felt it move up my back. It stopped for a moment before running around the right side of my rib cage. I watched the raised flesh as it moved beneath my skin.
In a fit, I pinched the skin on my chest so that it could not move from the spot. Panicked, I bolted to the utensil drawer, removing a pair of scissors. Leaning over the sink, I focused on my breathing.
I took the pinched skin between the blades of the scissors and looked away. It was a sweet relief to no longer have the thing inside of me, but as I looked to the spot it had been exercised from, I felt sick.
The roach rocked to and fro on its back in the sink basin. I stabbed it with the scissors. It’s mandibles shot in all directions then relaxed.
I wrapped myself in my shirt, being sure the wound would stop bleeding.
The sound of the roaches just outside of the break room door were still there. But another noise joined them. Click. Click. Click. Click.
Episode 2 comes out on 12/28/2020
Written by Lucas Whorley