Outside? Well it’s blue skies.
Inside, I see a couch... and that is vomit beside my mouth. That rhymes, but it’s all over the cushions, and the carpet. Fuck, definitely getting up---another one. How novel, but this has already soaked in. My brain tries to rush into some sort of gear, like a kid too lazy to get off the bike and fix the chain. I stand up. I need... things to clean with---I need a drink of water. I gulp some down. I look around the place quickly and quietly. I realize we have little more than the most basic of household soaps.
I inhale a quick bong-hit and release it out my bedroom window and into the passing breeze. The fresh air feels nice. I could use a shower. Below me a young man--probably about my age--is walking by. He’s clean-cut, wearing a suit, headed for the bus stop that is just down the street. I see him on occasion, with his polished feet down there firm to the ground.
6:49am. I get into my car, decidedly to try searching at my parent’s house down the street to see if they have any carpet cleaner. That’s right I live down the street from my parents. Hopefully no one is up at the house yet. I give the car some gas and shoot out of my condo’s parking lot. Whoa. I might still be drunk. I let myself in the side door slowly and conclude from the silence that everyone is still asleep. I rummage around in the dark, bumping into stuff, trying, and occasionally failing, to not burst out into laughter.
It’s either Tuesday, or Wednesday morning.
I am about to pull out of my subdivision and onto one of the main roads. This is kind of hard right now. I don’t see a car coming from the same direction I am turning and have to make a sudden stop to allow it to pass. I think I am still drunk. I fly down the road with a small grin. It feels good to be moving. There is a song on the radio I want to sing but my throat hurts. The Price Mart is near-empty due to the hour. I fly into a parking spot slightly crooked and I don’t re-adjust.
‘Mary’ her name-tag reads. The greeter at the front door looks more awake than humanly possible for this hour. She has a man-brow. I suspect she may be a virgin. “Hello” she says enthusiastically. I can’t tell if she is faking it, or if she is a genuinely good greeter. Are virgins good greeters?
“Hello!” I say, trying to match her enthusiasm. Why does my voice sound like... that? I step across the threshold into the fluorescent lighting. That’s really bright. Good lord...
“Whoa, man, what the fuck is going on in here?!” I look over to see my roommate, Jason, staring at me in disbelief.
I have the giant couch cushion up on the sink counter. The sink itself is bubbling with the laundry detergent; the giant bottle sits conspicuously beside me. “Yeah... “ I start, unsure of what to say. “I guess you must have gone to bed before me. ...I’ve been up for a while.”
I’ve just finished cleaning everything when my mother calls. For a second I fear that she knows about the incident somehow. She wants to see if I have found a job yet. “Yes, mom, I have been job hunting.”
I haven’t been, not really. As you can tell I’m... well not job hunting. I have a bit of money saved from my last job, and I’m sort of spoiled anyways, which will probably mean I’ll end up poor. I’m not living down the street from my parents by choice. They bought this place so as to save me from living on the streets for a little while longer at least.
“Yes, I know that I need money to live.... as that is the medium of exchange for goods and services... ...Well why did you send me to school if you didn’t want me to ‘get smart?’”
In retrospect English might have been a better decision. The old philosophy degree has probably served more as a repellent than anything else. It’s like a badge, or something---one that I can’t get off. People run from it like it’s some gestapo symbol. You there, Citizen! time for a thinking!
“Mom, look, the phone is hurting my head. I gotta go, I’ll pop over for dinner, or something. Ok, bye.”
I put the phone down, rubbing my ear slightly. Feeling the shame of motherly worry I decide not to play World of Warcraft and open up my Inbox instead. I haven’t even touched it in days. To my surprise, amongst the ‘suggested by a friend’ emails from my parents, I do have something directly job-related.
-----------Re: Temporary Editor Position------------
We are pleased to inform you that you have been selected, pending an interview, for a temporary position at the Sphere corporation.
Should you feel so inclined, please arrive at room 357, 1:30pm, Wednesday, Oct.17th.
Nathan Hardwich, Special Services. Sphere.
I hope to god it’s Tuesday today. I look at my calendar icon which confirms it is so---I’m so pro. The sad thing is I don’t even remember sending anything to Sphere. I mean, Sphere why would I? That soul-dead apparatus of technological fervor? It must have been a joke.
The things that come out of us when we’re drunk.
“So you have an interview at Sphere?” My father laughs, poking through his vegetables. “That is irony for you.”
“Yeah...” I exhale, still sort of flummoxed about this. I feel like I should have some moral reservations, but I also know a lot of counterarguments.
My mother’s neck perks up at the sound of my exhale like a cat. “Well please tell me you are going to go.”
“Yes, I’m going to go. I’ll see what they have to say.
“Might as well.” My dad stabs a bean stalk and chews it down.
My mom carries on, her momentum already started. “I know you have this... fear that all these corporations are ‘bad’ and the new government is out to get us, but you have to still live a life. You have to have a job. How else can you ever hope to support a family? You’ve been stuck in this rut ever since Katie. It’s time to move on.”
“You’re right, I should move away.”
“Don’t get smart. I can only pray your suit doesn’t have any stains on it as you obviously don’t have time to get it dry-washed. I find it odd they gave you such short notice.”
“I’ll bet you just haven’t opened your inbox in days, instead playing that stupid game.”
“Only children play games.”
The downtown building is massive, and so is this guy’s office, from the looks of the outside, which happens to lie deep in the heart of a series of security clearances. Third floor from the top. Mr Hardwich’s secretary shows me through the frosted glass doors after paging him as to my arrival. I only now feel safe enough to put my ID card into my pocket. That bong hit I had previous to my shower has me feeling somewhat stoic. I don’t respect this company, I doubt it respects me.
This is a drug-trip enough. Maybe my last.
“Mr. Reing, please, come in, make yourself comfortable.” A pinstriped creature slithers up, dismissing the secretary and motioning me into a seat. He is a tall man, with with grey sparks of hair at this temples, erupting back into the brown of the rest. I suspect he gets those dyed-in, as they look too perfect. Someone who wants to seem older than he is? Sort of funny. When I finally settle on his face I realize he seems on the verge of laughing. He is likewise looking me over. “Would you like something to drink?”
My mouth is pretty dry. “Yes, please.”
“Well, I’m going to be completely honest with you---partially because I doubt that I could surprise someone...like you. The paranoid...” he starts, walking over to a small table with a jug of ice water and some glasses. “We don’t need to employ you, really, as you’ve probably already considered. We want to offer you a large sum of money to scan your brain. To...use your perspective, shall we say. That is the offer.”
“Is this a joke?”
He walks back over to me, handing me the glass of water. “No.”
“How much money?”
“How about... endless?”
“So this is a joke...” A take a sip of the water. Damn. I really do need a job. “Didn’t know Sphere had a sense of humor.”
Nathan Hardwich walks back around to the other side of his desk, looking out the window---actually, the entire back wall of his office is glass, enabling a rather amazing view of the city below. You can tell he just loves basking in it, like some sort of Egyptian lord staring down the pyramid. “It’s no joke. You’d be surprised what goes for commodities these days.”
“It’s not really fair to tell a student with a huge debt all his financial problems are gone. I don’t know what game you’re trying to play. I didn’t even apply here, did I?”
“I have your file. I know all about your...problems.” He points behind him to the folder on the desk. “You’re not some materialist. You have your head in the clouds, and you spend most of your time writing fiction---poorly, I might add. What would be the point in giving you billions of dollars? It would just sit in an account, suspiciously, while you continue to ‘warn people of clandestine evil’ and do drugs.” He laughs. “Evil as an objective force...”
Billions? I start breathing hard.
“How it works is we just give you a credit card.” He’s still looking out the window through all of this, and he motions now rather dramatically to the entire expanse of the city by spreading his arms. “Buy what you want, Justin.”
“Alright let’s cut to the chase. So what is it you want from me?”
“A brain scan, as I said. Someone wants your perspective. Here at Sphere we...engage in that line of work.” He explains this, turning around and taking a seat in the chair, staring deep into my eyes. “A client caught a glimpse of it, and they seem to like you...” He continues to stare, trailing off a bit, “I have no idea why...” He finally looks away.
“Me either.” I rub my eyes, trying to take this all in. “Look, you have my file, you know what kind of person I am. You think I want a credit card? In exchange for my....what sounds a lot like my fucking soul? No way. This is wrong.”
“Your soul?” This sounds foreign to him. “Your perspective---and you’re not selling it, you’re just...copying it for compensation. You’re a writer, right? Isn’t that what you do? Sell your perspective? Like I said, yours is...pathetic---that’s why you haven’t been published. So I would take this opportunity if I were you.” He holds up the file, opens it up, chuckling as he flips through the pages. “People like you are so naive...” He points at something I can’t really see on one of the pages, starting to read out loud. I recognize after a couple seconds it’s something I wrote once on an online forum: “I just don’t understand why people don’t care.” ...The voice he’s using isn’t even what I sound like. “The truth is right in front of them and they refuse to see it. There is a secret plot to form a one-world-government.” He just starts laughing at this. A grown man, laughing quite hard.
I feel so immature. I don’t understand. Well I’m not just going to give up my integrity because some rich guy made a speech. “Listen you prick, I was right, wasn’t I?” He stops laughing. “Um...”
“After an auspicious string of ‘terrorist acts’ and vague climate threats, we did unite under global governance. Look at how things are now. They’re horrible.”
“Horrible? You’re rich! And no one else cares about th--”
“I care! I--”
“---Just stop. Please, Mr. Reing, just stop.Think about it: should we all just re-arrange things for you and your band of online disenfranchised goons? ‘Freedom? Which one?’ You people think you are special just because you can see more of the lies than the rest of the public. Alright well here is your prize. Take it.” He just shakes his head. “Spotting lies isn’t hard to do. Try spinning the lies for a change. You don’t have the first clue, kid. You don’t. We saved you from yourself.”
“We should monitor everything then? Control thought? Orwell’s nightmare? That kind of future is hellish.”
“Hellish? What grace did you fall from? Look at Eden: it was Big Brother---the apples were on camera, obviously.”
“That’s not even....
“You don’t have to always think for yourself--logically--love isn’t thinking for yourself. You realize, that, right? Don’t you want to have some fun? Look at yourself, you’re miserable.”
“Fun is...subjective. That’s the point: people should be free to be able to--”
“Fuck you’re annoying.” The veneer is wearing off. He actually seems to be getting frustrated. “Look... kid, I can’t re-write the drug laws, OK? The card does come with a sort of get-out-of-jail clause, though. I mean...judges can be bought off. We look after our clients.”
I bet you do. “Look, Mr. Hardwich. I’m not that naive. I obviously didn’t apply to this company, which means I’ve been targeted.” I get a chill at this, considering that I may not even leave this building alive. What have I gotten myself into? Then again what do I have to go back to? “I mean, do I even have a choice? If I say no will I get.. you know...thrown into a black van while walking down the street, or something?”
“Let’s not get philosophical.”
I exhale, looking down at the cup of water in my hands, shaking my head, unsure of what to say.
“Exactly.” He continues on, unfazed. “Who cares about the details? Easier to keep things simple. Taking the credit card is simple. You can use it to buy anything else you might want. Go...buy back your girlfriend.” He either forces a short laugh, or stifles a real one.
Asshole. I clutch the glass harder---really I’m in control, though. Maybe for the first time in a long time. I don’t want to cut my hand. I’m tired of hurting.
“The scanning process takes about an hour. You will read Chaucer, listen to Beethoven. It’s all very innocuous.”
“I need to think about this.”
He nods, standing back up, buttoning his suit back up. “Of course.”
There is so much pleasure in those two words and the corresponding nod. Hardwhich is acting as if I have just said yes. Maybe I have. This guy seems to know me better than I know myself. I gulp down about half of the water, reaching forward to place the glass on his desk. It is refreshing.
I sit alone in my room. After a while I even forget about the offer from Sphere, instead Is this decision already a forgone conclusion?
I log onto Facebook to see what the friends I never hang out with are up to. They’re all great. When I do see them I usually have a blast. Why can’t I just... live that? Invariably my search leads me back to Katie. Her page is still showing the same thing it was almost a year ago now. I’m blocked. I miss her so much. I can feel the heartache ticking years off my life. Aging me. The winkles of regret. She is back with what’s-his-name again. The deduction---the never-ending loop---is this: does she love him more, or was I so horrible that it doesn’t matter? I keep asking myself because I don’t want to settle on an answer. Happiness is, for her, never talking to me again, and she is not a cruel person.
I surf around the web a bit. I check the news, then the media. Apparently the North American Council is bringing back the death penalty---for select cases. I read on: “Justice will be swift. These terrorists will then exit our concern forever.”
Good. Monsters don’t deserve compassion. They don’t even deserve goodbyes.
It is Thursday morning, and I find myself on the bathroom floor. I have a shirt on, but no pants. I stare at my penis, somehow more alone than the body it’s attached to. There is vomit in the toilet.
“Have you made your decision then?” I am talking to the mirror, wiping dried something off my face with a wet towel.
I exhale a bong hit out the window to see the same reflection of what I could be walking to the bus stop as usual. His suit looks freshly dry cleaned. Just in general he looks suited: a story worth telling; someone worth loving. I wonder what his name is. It’s probably what’s-his-name. Fuck that guy.
I walk out into the front room and just stand there on the carpet. I feel like it’s the only thing holding me up. I guess it is. In this light I think I can almost see that stain.
Later on I’ve decided to go out. A stroll through the city, perhaps my last as a poor man. It’s nice out. Blue skies, like her eyes.
“Hey, did you hear about the death penalty thing? That’s pretty intense, eh?”
I nod, placing the alcohol on the counter. “I heard.”
“What do you think?”
I shrug. “Monsters deserve to be put down.”
“The terrorists?” He scans the bottle. “Maybe...” he seems to give this some deep thought. “That will be $26.89”
I nod, making the exchange.
The doctor is younger than I had imagined--my age, even--but I suppose that is the nature of business. Get the brightest while they are young; and they get them. So what will I get? He stares at me seated in the chair with curious, cold eyes. Very curious. His lab coat looks designer, if such a thing is possible. His waxed, messy hair contrasts with the crew-cuts on the armed security stationed at the door to the lab. Total power. He knows how smart he is. He loves it, playing god deep underground.
I have to ask. “So can you do it?” I have to know.
A machine turns on, and something ignites in his eyes.
Jason continues to stare.
The looks of shame I can handle. I have have a natural immunity. “Anyways it’s all good. Everything is clean I just gotta let this stuff dry.”
“I’m not even going to ask.”
“Yeah, that’s probably for the best. Just tell me one thing: Can you look over there and tell me if you see anything--a stain--on carpet?”
“Ok. Well, we have some carpet cleaner now.”