Happy New Year! Kafkaesque [4/6]
Kafkaesque is a ThrillUs exclusive! You will not find this story anywhere else.
I stood in the great open chamber before the board officials as they sneered down at me from their station ten feet off the ground. Each of them was wearing the board approved judging robes.
“You understand the magnitude of this indiscretion, don’t you?” asked one of the board members from beneath a hood.
“Of course.” I said. To trespass against the board was something that no Sceptre employee wanted to do. Those that did were never heard from. I could feel the pressure rising in my chest again and I balled my fist, thumping it against my diaphragm. “I’m sure that if I’m able to look over the indiscretion you’re speaking of, I’ll be able to clear the air once and for all.”
They scoffed. “I’m afraid you know that’s impossible.” One of them thumped a bright yellow book across their counter, thumbing through it. I recognized the book. It was the employee handbook. The very same one I’d been coerced into signing when I’d first been hired all those years prior. I never weighed the tome myself but talk around the water cooler was that it was heavier than at least a full-grown bulldog. “It’s clearly stated in the handbook that no employee is allowed to look over their own payment information.”
I rocked on my heels, staring at the ceiling and feeling foolish for having forgotten. “Of course. I’m sorry, sir.”
“I’m a woman,” said the hooded board member.
“I’m a man.”
I blinked and looked at my feet, feeling the sweat blot across my forehead. This was serious business.
“It seems that you are in debt to the company by at least one fifteenth of a cent. This is a discretion you should have caught; you understand? The proper channels should have been taken in response to such a ghastly over-compensation.”
My mind immediately shot to my panicked waltz through the dizzying halls of Sceptre Incorporated in search of accounting. I still don’t know where that place is. The pressure in my chest was manifesting into what felt like a wad of phlegm in the back of my throat. Perhaps it was my nerves.
“Have you taken the proper measures to make it so that nothing like this will happen again?”
I thought. I hadn’t. “Yes.” I said.
The figure nodded and there was a moment of indiscernible chatter among the board. Then another one of them spoke up.
A voice spoke up from one of the shadowy corners of the room, “I’ll keep a very close eye on him until he’s paid up.” This was followed by the sound of dress shoes clicking until Quincey revealed himself from the shadows. “Does that please the board?”
I craned in closer to see that he was holding a sleeve of saltines. He’d broken one of them into bits so that he could feed the cockroach resting on his right shoulder. The pressure in my chest was growing to the point that it was beginning to swell into a thumping pain. I coughed into my closed hand to quell the mounting inevitability.
“Yes Quincey,” said one of the board members.
“May I be excused?” I asked lamely.
They turned their attention to me, and I could feel them eyeing me over meticulously. “I suppose so, Mister Bannon. Quincey will bring the paperwork to your desk this morning.”
“Thank you.” I nodded at them and scrambled for the door to the lobby only to find myself standing in one of the building’s hallways.
It didn’t matter. After scanning both left and right, I stumbled to catch myself on the wall and gagged. The lumps with legs spilled out of my mouth and the pressure in my chest released. They skittered all around and lined themselves along the wall as though awaiting further instructions. I stamped my feet at them, attempting to get them to leave me alone. I wanted them gone. The voice of the mysterious stranger on the phone came back to me, “They need a strong hand to hold, Mister Bannon.” Exactly what did he mean by that? I didn’t want them to hold my hand.
Janice found me in the hallway, still craned over. “Sick?” she looked to me then the puddle I’d left in the floor. I glanced at the spot the cockroaches had been, but there wasn’t the slightest evidence they’d ever been there in first place.
“I’m thinking of being a mother as well.” She patted me on the back. Her hand felt as cold as ice and I hated it.
“I said, ‘Corporate meetings really take it out of me as well.’.” Her voice was cheery.
My skin went cold. I wiped my mouth, turned to look at the resources for humans representative, then grabbed her by the lapels of her business suit. I slammed her into the wall. Her head struck the gray concrete wall as strands of her hair came loose from her ponytail. I could feel my eyes bulge as though they were ready to jump from my head. “I’m done with this. I know you said something else. You always do that! What’s happening?”
“Please,” Janice’s eyes were pooling. “Arthur, you’re scaring me.”
“No.” I slammed her against the wall again. “You tell me! You said something about being a mother. Am I a mother?” I spat. “What does that mean?”
I felt a hand on my shoulder. “Leave her alone, Art.” It was Quincey.
I blinked. I could hear my heartbeat in my ears like the rhythm of a metronome. It’s all connected. They all wanted to kill me. They were out to get me. I felt my fingers unclench the woman as I stepped away from her.
The sun was coming over the horizon as I stepped outside. On my walk home, I could hear the clitter clatter of the hard-tipped limbs of insects following me close behind from the darkness. Every time I’d glance over my shoulder to try and spy one of the little buggers, they were long gone.
I took the steps of the squalor factory quickly, hoping to get back to the work in time to not be late. As I pushed the front door in to the old place, an older woman pushed into me, forcing me to take a step backwards. Stunned, I looked her over. I’d seen her plenty of times before, coming and going from the complex.
A moist filtered cigarette dangled limply from the corner of a lip. “You!” she said, “You the one that’s been harassing my girls?”
“No! Of course not!” I was aghast at the accusation up until she pulled the lit cigarette from her mouth and hocked a thick bit of spit at her slipper covered feet. I knew who this was. It was the mother of Mary and Margery. Her name was Margaret.
The two twins produced themselves from behind their mother’s haunches. “That’s the man mommy! That’s him!”
“That so?” asked Margaret as she flicked a bit of ash from the tip of her cigarette. “You like picking on little girls?”
“No. Of course not.” I shook my head. “I’m a mother myself. I would never.” I thought back to the words that Janice had said in the hall.
She raised an eyebrow then reached out and poked me in the stomach. “You don’t look pregnant.”
I began slowly. “Click, click, click.”
“What the hell? What are you doing?”
The clatter of the cockroaches coming from behind matched the volume of their screams.
Episode 5 comes out on 1/4/2021