“I don’t think I can wear hats anymore”
Kafkaesque is a ThrillUs exclusive! You will not find this story anywhere else.
I blinked in front of the mirror in my apartment. The antennae sprouting from my head were new. The pair of twig-like appendages had minds of their own as they would react to things my ears never could. I worked my jaw to see whether it had taken on a more pincer quality. It had not.
The sound of the metronome was incessant even though the thing was nowhere to be seen. It came from everywhere all at once. Click, click, click. It was too much.
I straightened my tie and went to work.
“Your product gave me cancer!” screamed the voice on the receiver. “There are growths all over my body!”
“If you read the fine print on your shampoo bottle, you’ll see that is a possible side effect. By opening the cap of your shampoo bottle, you’ve agreed to not sue us.” I played with the twirly cord of the phone at my desk.
“What sort of bullshit is that?” They screamed.
“I’m sorry, sir.”
“I’m a woman!” they shouted.
“I’m a man!”
“Would you like me to put you on the phone with my supervisor?” I said this as I heard the footsteps of Quincey approaching from behind.
I twisted and handed the phone off to my boss. “Mm. Yes. Yes. No. Yes. Yes.”
Click. Quincey pushed the phone gently into its cradle.
“So?” I asked.
“Why would you need me to settle a run-of-the-mill customer service dispute?” he looked me over and took a deep audible sip from his coffee cup, finishing it off with a sigh. He tapped the plaque on my desk with the end of his index finger, specifically, the half that said: LEAD CUSTOMER REPRESENTATIVE ASSOCIATE. “Given your title, I’m inclined to believe you did not need my help.” He craned over the wall of my cubicle. “What’s the matter, Art?”
“Nothing, sir.” I shook my head slowly to the sound of the metronome in my head.
“Those are new,” He reached over and tugged at one of the antennae on my head. I felt a jolt of electricity shoot down my left side. “Damn champ, those things are really on there, aren’t they?”
“Yes, sir.” I said, wincing through the pain as he let go of my antenna.
“Have you spoken to Janice about it?” He asked while never removing his eyes from the things on my head.
“Where did those come from?” she asked.
I slid in the chair in the resources for humans office. I watched the metronome sway.
“Could they be from stress? You do understand that if you’re stressed while at work, I’m obligated to report you for misconduct, yes?” She asked.
I could not take my attention from the rhythm of the metronome. My antennae moved in unison with it. “Quincey bothers me.” I said.
“Is he still picking on you?”
“Yes, but it’s more than that, I’ve told you. I’m sure he’ll kill me.”
“Nonsense, Arthur. We only want you to be a productive member of the family.”
“Yes.” There was a pause. “The Sceptre Family.” Another pause. “That’s trademarked by the way, so be careful who you say it around.”
I nodded. “Is it against company policy to poison the coffee?”
She ignored the question. “Let’s focus on your,” Janice gave my antennae a funny look. “Issue.”
“I don’t think I can wear hats anymore.”
“I guess I never really wore hats before, but now it’s impossible.” I thought for a moment as the metronome filled the silent room. Click, click, click. “Suppose I cut a few holes in the hat?” I wondered aloud.
“Do you find your work fulfilling?” She asked.
“No. Do you?”
“Not when you’re in my office.”
“I said, ‘Not when I’m alone in my office.’.”
“Are you sure about that?”
Janice left me at my desk and my mind went back to poisoning the coffee. I imagine Quincey would approach my desk, take a long audible sip, then fall to his knees, echoing his death rattle to the walls around.
A phone rang and I answered.
“Ah, Mister Bannon.” It was the voice. “I’m sorry we’ve not been able to touch base for some time now. How’ve things been?”
“That’s to be expected within this moment of the process, but things will look up, Mister Bannon, I promise you. Trust, remember?”
I could have sworn that I heard the click of the metronome on the other end of the line, but it could have come from anywhere because I heard it everywhere. “Do not poison the coffee, you understand?”
“How did you know I was going to do that?”
“I’ve seen what it is like in the simulations when you do poison the coffee and it never works out well for you. So, I repeat, do not poison the coffee.”
“Ahem, well, what I mean is that whenever I’ve run the numbers, so to speak, it doesn’t end well. That is not an ending you want. There is but one end that you do not die or end up in very dire circumstances. Understand?”
“Good. Now there’s a camera in the wall of the cubicle in front of you.”
I almost jumped from my seat at the thought of having a camera so close to my face. “Where?”
“Just feel around the edge of where the walls connect, and you should be able to feel the wire.”
I followed the voice’s instructions and found the wire that led to a camera lens no larger than an ant’s head. I pinched it between my forefinger and thumb, listening to its small crunch.
“Good, now,” The line cut out momentarily and I sat at the desk, baffled. Had he hung up on me? The line came back clearly, “Hey! We’ve got a rogue one over here!” It seemed there was a struggle on their end. “Get away from me, you bastards!” I heard the voice yell. This was followed by a long dead beep of the line.
I sat the phone in its cradle and looked back at the wire in my hand tethered to the cubicle wall. I stuffed the thing behind my desk and resolved to forget it.
I lay on my mattress and stared at the ceiling. The rhythm of the metronome in my head was so loud that I could scarcely think of another thing. It blotted out all other noise and I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs so as to break the spell it had over me.
The cockroaches I’d been periodically vomiting curled up on my mattress with me, bringing a sense of warmth. Or perhaps that was my hopeful mind wanting it to be so for they had left me with no blanket.
Sometime in the night, my fingers fused together into fine points so that I could not hold a single thing, but on the upside, I seemed to have sprouted a series of pointed appendages along my hardened thorax. My jaw had indeed become a new shape entirely. Somewhere between the mouth of a man and that of a beetle. I could still speak words even if it did take some doing. At least the pincers made it easier to command the roaches with my clicks. They seem to respond to the noises that come from my mouth more appropriately.
They arranged my breakfast while I fought to get dressed in clothes not befitting a human sized roach. The bacon was crispy, and the eggs were a bit rubbery; still, I’m sure they did a better job of cooking the food than I ever could have.
“Gee, Art,” said Quincey as he approached my desk. “That,” he searched for the words, “Sure is something, isn’t it?”
“What do you figure cockroaches are good for anyway?”
“Nothing.” The muscles in my jaws moved. Along with the physical attributes of my form changing, I noticed too that my voice had changed and taken on a coarse, gruff quality.
“That’s right,” said Quincey, “Roaches. They have something of a collective mentality. No one of them is different than the one next in line.”
“Well,” he leaned down and sipped on his coffee, “I need those data points on my desk by the end of the day.”
“Thanks, drone boy.”
The metronome filled my brain as I worked on my computer and waited for the next phone call from a less than satisfied customer.
Episode 6 comes out on 1/6/2021