Corporate Culture-A Work of Legal Fiction

It was once a land of great prosperity. Even then, though, it was a land of extremes. Or at least that’s what the history books say. It’s been hundreds of years since government dysfunction, natural disasters, and internal conflicts turned it into the greatest quagmire of human suffering. Little is known of the people that remain there now as they are physically cut off from each other and the world and are suspicious of strangers besides. Still, those few brave souls that have managed to make the trip and come back alive have brought strange rumours of what goes on. I suppose it is only natural that a society pulled apart by extremes, if left alone without even the checks and balances of others would only get stranger.

I was just a young anthropologist when I first heard the story from one such traveler. In almost a whisper, he told me of a large and apparently flourishing community far inland that worshipped a corporation. I was both intrigued and aghast. We had long ago done away with these “legal fictions” when they became far too powerful. Yet here was a society in the midst of utter chaos that not only kept them but deified one! And they managed to flourish?

I had to see it for myself, whatever the risk or cost. Was there some secret that we, in our rush to be rid of the old ways, had missed? At the very least, it would make a fascinating series of articles and a monograph on a fresh topic.

Naturally, it took months to get the funding, proper approvals, and arrange the passage, but this was somewhat expedited due to my urgent plea that this odd community could be swallowed up at any moment by the natural or political instability of the continent.

Getting there was no small task. When I finally arrived at the place the traveller had indicated on the map, I was a little disappointed to see a rather ordinary town. Of course, an ordinary town amidst what I had seen elsewhere was odd in itself, just not the kind of oddity I had hoped for. When I came into town, a woman in uniform came out to greet me. On her shirt was simply written “K Corp”. I explained who I was and what I was doing there. Without any apprehension, the woman said, “You’ll want to speak to someone from public relations. They’ll be able to answer your questions.” With that, she handed me a glossy print-out of the map of the town and pointed to a building simply named PR.

After a short walk, I stood in the hall of the PR building where a man greeted me with an eerily friendly smile. “You must be famished from your travels. Why don’t you come into Meeting Room 1 with me and we’ll have some lunch.”

“Thank you,” I said, and followed. After a sufficient lunch of mediocre egg salad sandwiches and juice, I took out my recording device.

Before I had a chance to ask anything, he began, “I understand you have some questions about our way of life. I’m happy to answer any questions you might have. We are in a growth phase and we believe there are a lot of opportunities for personal investment here. You’re aware of the problems with our domestic situation no doubt, so foreign direct investment is welcome.”

“Thank you, that’s very generous of you. I will certainly share what I learn as widely as I can,” I said truthfully. This seemed to please him and he began in earnest with an enthusiasm I can’t remember ever seeing in a person.

“As you know, the Great Divide tore apart our world long ago. All around us, many died from war, famine, disease, and other disasters. Our ancestors, however, survived. A great leader, an entrepreneur, saw in all the chaos a business opportunity. Our ancestors, his employees, understood his great vision and followed him. In exchange, he took care of them. As long as they served the bottom line, their interests were his interests. As the chaos grew, so did the company. More and more sought security among its ranks. A steady paycheque, a warm office, family benefits… these were the difference between life and death. And for a while it worked, but all natural persons are flawed. You have that saying where you’re from, right?” I nodded, not wanting to offend. “And even our great Founder, may his name be preserved in our Minute Book forever, began to err. As he grew more successful, he invested less and less back into the company. He spent more on himself. He spent less time making decisions and the products suffered… the people suffered. It was almost as if the bottom line and the people’s interests were not the same, may it never be so resolved!” He shuddered, but with an audible relief, he continued. As he did, I marvelled at how, though it seemed to be well rehearsed, he looked as though he was giving it over for the first time.

“But you see the bottom line did eventually begin to suffer. The Corporation itself punished the Founder and he soon died in an earthquake. Though he could not see it, his accomplishment could not be undone. He had given birth to the Corporation, but there was no heir. Without a natural person to pervert its vision, the Board and Officers could carry out its will unmediated. Their task was an awesome one and though they faltered at first, unanimity soon reigned. The Founder, after all, had selected them carefully. The Corporation alone has protected us ever since. We are all only accountable to The Bottom Line. Our interest is its interest, and as you see, we are very comfortable.”

The whole thing was quite astonishing, but I wondered what it all meant in practice.

“A people lives by its calendar, and we are no different. Not only does each individual have their own personal holidays according to their place in the Corporation, but we all come together several times a year. Once every five years, in April, the Board goes on a Retreat wherein they must be completely secluded and purified so that they may determine the Corporation’s Strategic Plan. Each year, they Retreat again to ensure they are on track to meet the Corporation’s Goals and Metrics, by which we all live. This is a period of great anticipation and anxiety for us all, since it is not revealed to us until the Annual Staff Meeting in May. April, in general, is a time of self-reflection for us as each must take stock of their accounts and see how they have contributed to The Bottom Line. Performance evaluations determine who will be promoted and who must be… let go.” The pain in his voice told me all I needed to about what that might mean and so I didn’t ask.

I asked if they had any belief in an after-life. “Of course! At the age of 18, all employees have the opportunity to incorporate. It is only then that they receive their true name. Mine for instance is 1795643677 Inc. We believe that life before incorporation is inherently temporary. You are merely a natural person, cut off from your fellows. You may wish with all your heart to serve the Bottom Line, but ultimately, your pay is alienated from the Corporation. Once you become an incorporated employee all that changes. You can become a wholly-owned child of the Corporation, a subsidiary, whose whole purpose is to serve it. Your bottom line is its bottom line, and though you may have your own balance sheet and your own annual report, you can become truly part of the Great Annual Report. In exchange, you are granted perpetual existence. Indeed, we have a Department dedicated to maintaining the corporations of our ancestors.”

While my own society was far more technically advanced than this one, they seemed to be in touch with a dimension of existence we had totally lost touch with. The idea of being so devoted to something greater was at once monstrous and seductive. With all my training, I should have known how to extricate myself, but I simply could not.

“And does everyone get incorporated?”

“Well there is a fee involved with the process but for those who cannot afford it, the Corporation has set up a foundation.”

Potato Soup

The chef herself came out and, quite pleased, laid the soup out before customer.

He took one look at it and said, “What is this? I ordered potato soup!”

The chef, undeterred, replied, “Yes, I did try to include some potato in it. In fact, to complement the potato, there’s also dill, onion, and garlic.”

The customer’s look became steely and his voice began to rise, “I ordered potato soup. There should be more potato! You can’t get potato soup anywhere in town and we both know why. It’s not right. There should be more potato.”

The chef’s looked a bit impatient. There were, after all, many more meals to prepare. “I hear what you’re saying. I’m aware of the issue and we’ve been making an effort in the kitchen lately to add more potato but we have many customers to feed and they’re looking for different things…”

“Yeah, and who are your customers?” The customer interrupted.

But the chef continued, “and besides which, we have nutritional targets we need to hit. You need a balanced soup.”

What seemed like common sense to the chef certainly wasn’t to the customer. “Your nutritional advisors thought potatoes were poison until two weeks ago! How can you talk to me about balance? Last week you included kale in all your salads until we all woke up and realized it causes head explosions.”

The chef knew where this all led. She had been involved in many such conversations. It was part of the job and yet the kitchen depended on her moving on. “We were as surprised as everyone else about the kale. We have learnt the lessons and changed our recipes.”

The customer looked indignant, “The dangers were all known! Don’t tell me you didn’t know.”

The chef suddenly looked tired. “Look, I got into culinary school because I like making things for people not because I’m a scientist. People come, they order, I barely get home before midnight much less have the time to sort through all the science. I wouldn’t understand it if I did. Enough people enjoy the soup to keep the restaurant open. That’s my job. I am sorry if you don’t like the soup.”

The customer had much more to say, but just then someone called from another table, “Excuse me, Chef, but this soup needs more onion.”

A Hole in the Floor

You wake up suddenly and look closely at the centre of the room in which you are planted, there is a small hole in the floor. It is a kind of drain and forms a kind of funnel. If you focus, you’ll notice that the world is slowly but forcefully swirling into this ever so slight gap. There’s no need to feel an immediate panic about it. The world moves like molasses and you can be sufficiently certain that it will take a great many millennia for the draining process to make any real dent in reality. By that point, you’ll probably be dead and you’d be happy to offer up your corpse as a noble stopper for the hole.  

Still, you can’t help but be worried as, for a split second, the thick liquid materiality of the room seems to accelerate into that tiny opening. You might wonder where it all goes, but this is not the time for idle speculation. You must tell the authorities quickly and they will know what to do.  

You slowly and with uncomfortable care move alongside the walls towards the door. In you is the dread that the little hole is just a taunt masking the fact that there wasn’t any ground at all. Luckily for you, for the time it takes you to get out of the room, most of the floor stays in place while it continues its slow viscous march to nowhere.  

Once you’ve crossed the door’s threshold, you are a little more at ease. Just then you hear on a nearby radio that a similar hole had been discovered in some European university and specialists are now working around the clock to plug it. You are not reassured. You move towards the phone and call the first number you can think of, a friend well placed in the structure of things. Not only will he know what to do, but he’ll be able to do something about it. The phone rings, once, twice and you consider how little you two have spoken in the past many years. He is not unique in this regard. You have many friends with whom you share slowly fading memories, who are simply too busy to talk. You have been displaced from their lives. As the phone rings a third time, you wonder if, supposing you slipped into the hole, would they notice? 

He picks up.  

You speak briefly and exchange pleasantries. You’re not sure if he remembers who you are. You continue the conversation anyway. You explain your situation. He seems tired. He responds that there are many such pores in every room and it’s merely a matter of physics… a sort of pressure valve for the weight of the world. He seems bored but the analogy is helpful. Yours is different though, you assure him. You explain how it’s speeding up, how you’re scared. He quickly explains that visual tricks are common and you’re probably under a lot of stress lately. Are you? Yes, you are. He’s sorry to hear that in a kind of distracted but probably sincere way. He says it was nice talking and you should call back some time, but he has to run. You hang up. 

You could run out of the building and seek help, seek counsel. Instead you just return to your room with less care than you left it. There’s still a small hole. You have learnt there are many more, too small for you to see. You don’t stare as hard at it and eventually fall back asleep. You will be ready to wake up again tomorrow. The hole grows a little wider and the dripping goes on.

Hanging by a Thread

There is a string of words in me. It is curled up like a spool of yarn. It has slowly been unraveling since I first understood. The colours and sounds have shifted, changed as I have carried on, but always carefully avoiding silence. As I write this, I am tugging at that seemingly endless rope. I am not afraid to pull hard. Rather, I am afraid to stop pulling, because I feel that if not unraveled it will rot. One great big mess of things unsaid. 

I wonder what’s at the end. I can hardly tell if there’s anything at all. I know it is then, but that end exists now so that does not mean much. I have confused place and time and wonder and Truth. How colourful the rope can be. It is glistening as if it knows it’s important, but it is nothing. Nothing, that is, but woven expectation and a need to understand. There might not only be me and the rope is just a way to avoid that fact. Perhaps it is a stepping stone to that fact. Perhaps I am at the end of the rope.   

How odd it is to think of such things. I feel as if I am suspended by it. As if its knots pull at my hand to be set free and not the other way around. The rope whispers, “We need each other.” If I were to let go of these pretty sensical and nonsensical things (for our purposes, it’s all the same) then there would only be a vast silence through which to fall. The rope whispers, “There is no way to let go.”  I do not know if the rope could be cut…. Thinking back, the rope extends beyond my vision. Thinking forward, the rope extends indefinitely. At least, as far as I am willing to see.  

I try to imagine silence. I fear it. I cannot know what remains after I’ve fallen away. How can something seem so foreign and yet be all there is?  I may be  nothing more than a hole in that holy wall of silence through which these words drip. Tempting. But human beings were not made for silence.

Perhaps I ought to laugh to ease the pain. No, no, do not confuse pain and struggle. You see, laughter echoes off the lack of walls and I don’t know what the sounds mean by the time they bounce back. They come drifting down to me in ancient disjointed verses, like loose threads of a golden rope, making no sense away from their braiding. Nevertheless, I clutch to these, hanging by them. After all, a man cannot pull himself up by his own hair.

Note to reader: I wrote this as an automatic writing exercise many years ago. I have made a few changes to it and thought I’d share.

Real Bliss

There’s a coffeeshop on the corner, you know the one. It’s a local franchise of a global conglomarate conveniently located between your home and your office. Well, I’ve stopped in there every day at roughly the same time for years and this day was no exception. There was, of course, a line up. Now, lines are good for a lot of things. They’re good for thinking about all of the other places you need to be and all of the other things you need to do. I had a drab but respectable office to get to so I could deal with other people’s problems. Lines are also good for thinking about the eight hours of sleep you didn’t get and the morning workout you skipped. These are just some of the things lines are good for. Oh, and they’re also good for selling things to captive suckers.

Don’t get me wrong. I respect consumers. Some of my best friends are consumers! Hell, my brother married a consumer and nobody says a thing about it at Thanksgiving dinner. At the end of the day, I was there in line with the everybody else. So I say this from a place of love, or at least tolerance. We’re all suckers. The lighting, the colour, the packaging and placement… it’s all just so in order to manipulate our animal drives. They’ve got an army of lab-coat-wearing evil geniuses to make us putty in their hands, and on top everything we’re in a rush! What chance do we have? Still, sometimes their clever ploys go too far.

“Made with real bliss” was written in permanent marker next to a smily face on a scrap of paper taped to a little glass dome over brownies by the cash. I was incensed. Who the hell did they think would fall for that?

“And what will you be having today?” The clearly over-worked barista asked.

“I’ll have a medium black with two sugars,” I hesitated for a moment, and, without exactly understanding why, added “and give me one of those brownies.”

The barista nonchalantly complied. Taking my money and handing me the brownie, she said, “You can pick up your coffee at the counter.” I should have just moved along. Instead, I withdrew the brownie from its paper bag and took a bite. As if to say, “You can’t fool me. This is the same old sugar and fat everybody else uses to get us hooked on what they’re dealing!” What chutzpah, calling it “real” anything, much less bliss. Of course, she probably didn’t make them and didn’t care one way or the other what I thought of them, but I needed to send the message to someone.

But instead of seeing her tired, indifferent face, I saw a rainbow. Not just any rainbow. The first rainbow I could ever remember seeing as a child. I was sitting with my mother on a picnic blanket and she pointed up and there it was. I had never seen anything so beautiful. I looked at it and wondered where something like that came from. I had a million questions, but a sweet smelling spring breeze blew my hat off. When I turned to grab it, my hands rested on the soft cheek of my first love. There was so much that was awkward and teenage about our relationship, and yet we were both so excited just to be together, it just didn’t matter. I looked away from her and suddenly things went dark. I was in a concert hall and I could hear a symphony. I don’t remember its name or who it was by, but I could feel something I felt the composer wanted me to feel. I understood why, after all these centuries, people were still performing this sacred thing. One memory after another flooded into my thoughts like this. I also saw and felt colours and sounds I had never experienced before. This seemed to go on for an eternity.

When I finally came to, the coffee shop was in chaos. Chairs and tables had been pulled back and the line was all over the place to make room for the paramedics. My head was swirling, but as they wheeled me out, I could hear the barista say to her colleague, “That’s the third one this week. Maybe we shouldn’t make them with real bliss.”

A Love Story–Because Why Not

A pair of thoughts wandered around fairgrounds. They walked gingerly past a sideshow of old gods to be laughed at. They skipped past an art show of dollar bills. They walked and walked and didn’t stop. They did not see and they did not care, but they felt and they knew. They knew what it was to be and the fairgrounds had not yet indoctrinated them. They heard screams of joy in the night. Somewhere in the distance, an economic rollercoaster and a fairy tale ride into the sun were amusing both adults and children alike. They had a better idea. That’s what thoughts do after all. They kept walking and with every step forward, they took two into each other. 

Thoughts make for good lovers as they are very much all meant to come together. As their metaphysiology commanded, they danced the night away in a motionless kind of away. As they did, everything blurred and began to resemble itself.  

They spoke softly and with the faint rhythm of a lullaby that a mother might sing to a child touched just enough to be happy later in life. They whispered the names of stars and caressed each other’s best and most honourable intentions. There was beauty in such moments, there is no doubt, but the thoughts did not know how to recognize love. That is what thoughts do best. Doubt became a spectre and the lovers came upon a cave. They figured there was a lesson to learn. Along the walls of the cave light danced heretically as gravity dripped off stalagmites. There were laws, but this corner of the world had decided that they were best left to human courts.  

The thoughts, whose hands were now slipping from one another, continued deeper into the cave. At the very end were a couple of historical figures laughing about the ease with which the world had been discovered. The hearts of the thoughts beat a little slower and a little faster. The thoughts felt naked as structure and purpose began to slide off their bare bodies.  

They appeared naked to each other and felt ashamed. 

They saw each other for the first time. The thoughts grew eyes and began to solidify. The overwhelming weight of identity began to weigh them down, but it weighed them down together. Soon they could not separate from each other. A lover’s cage replaced all doubt with a sad inward contempt. The laughing ancients took on a more studious look as one of the younger ones picked up the two lovers and placed them in his zoo.  

The thinkers then left the caged archetypes to their own devices. The lights flickered and sputtered and soon it was just the romance alongside every other academic subject in the dark. Tears were shed that night, needless to say, but they were not lonely. There was a change of heart half way through the night as a quiet young boy was struck by lightning in front of the two lovers. He was struck by lightning and blamed no one, but smiled slightly and asked them their names.  

Suddenly, the cage became adorned with potential. The two lovers considered the question and considered the answer. They spent many a minute kissing each other’s cheeks and laughing slightly at the taste of someone with a name. They finally settled on Henrietta and To-Be-Determined (the T B and D all capitalized). The child smiled as he took this new information into himself and became a new sort of him. Just like that, he collapsed and became a river. This was his final gift to them. They would have to cross and they would have to remember their names on the other side. 

They made their cage into a raft. They took the raft and pushed. The river pulled them. The winds and waters of this deep spontaneous cave were unchallengeable. The two lovers had hubris for a paddle, but it was a fight none the less. The push and pull was infinite and highly mortal. They began to admire their own strength and forgot to pay the same heed to the river and so lost ground. They paid the reverence due to the river and forgot their own and so felt weak. Long story short they made it.  

On the other side, they dried off and laughed at their adventure and could feel their newly formed arms begin to pulsate with will. They were beautiful and now loved the beauty (perhaps as much as they loved each other). They made their way to the nearest wall of the cave. By it, was a sharp stick. The lovers were curious. The eyes of the lovers, green and grey, crawled all over the stick. They took all of it into themselves. The sharpness of the stick pricked and broke the skin of the lovers. A drop of blood slowly made its way down the stick. Out of fear and anger, the green-eyed lover named Henrietta threw the stick at the wall. The blood smeared across the wall where it rests to this day.  

The Way of Angels

There is a jungle in her eyes.
It is growing on my mind like an existential spore.
There’s a neon moon out and it’s only helping the weeds grow in my unkempt soul.
The weeds and underbrush obscure those beautiful eyes.
I need to get out.
I need to know those eyes.
My arms become machetes and I push until I bleed.
I find that it is only my own heart through which I am cutting.
I fall back in a pool of blood.
It is mine.
I take a deep breath.
It becomes harder as the universe presses down on my chest.
She is on the other side.
I draw in deeply.
I lose myself in the flow of life and death.
She is on the other side.
That is the way of angels.

The Life and Times of the Fat Man

A story of a man held prisoner in his apartment by a clock.

Download the story here.

The TV screen was blank. It was a blank TV screen, you understand. It was empty… nothing there. The fat man looked at it all the same. He was alone and so the TV screen reminded him of simpler days. Whenever he looked at the TV screen it was like a vacation. He was very hard at work most days being alone and the TV screen was like a vacation. The fat man was the only person there, that’s why he was alone. That’s what he thought. He thought he was alone, because there was no one there.

The sweaty, wrinkled skin of the fat man’s neck rippled like a wave on the beach as he looked beside him. “It was time for his vacation to be over” the clock was saying. The fat man cried on the inside. All the people were gone, but the clock stayed. The clock was his father. The clock made sure he was always on time to be alone. The clock looked out for the fat man, and the fat man’s heart cried, “Because he did not understand why he didn’t love the clock as much as the clock loved him.”

The fat man had a whole apartment. He had written his name all over the walls. His name was on the apartment so it was his. “this is his apartment,” said the fat man as his big sad legs tried so very hard to lift him. Outside of the apartment there was sunshine. The sunshine made all the butterflies, and flowers, and crawling things that lived on his body come to life. The fat man did not like the feeling of all the moving. The moving made him want to fall. The moving, of all the things that lived between the rolls of his body reminded him of when he was not the fat man.

Too much, too much to take. The fat man had to get up or else he would be late for his work of being alone. He could not have all these thoughts here. There was no room in the apartment for both his name and the thoughts. The clock… the clock began to scream. “Why does he not move quickly?” the clock loved him and called him names. He was such a good father and the fat man was really sorry, but his oily breath slid slowly down his throat. The air hurt. It was so hard to lift himself. There was a kitchen where he went. It was a kitchen to be alone in. It had all of the bells and whistles, but they made no music. Sometimes, a long time ago, before the fat man’s stomach was all crumbly, and saggy, he would sit next to the dish washer and love. He would love the dishwasher, ‘cause it made sounds. It made sounds, and it was warm.

The clock in the other room heard the sounds one day and SCREECHED. So the fat man’s ears did not work. He was a bad man. He should not hurt the clock. The clock was his protector from all the messiness. The dishwasher was not his friend. The fat man missed his ears. After the screech, the fat man had to peel them both off. They were seeping into his brain. The clock made them collapse, and seep into his brain. It was not the clock’s fault.

The clock was screaming more and more, “no memories. He cannot have them” but all the fat man could hear was a tiny special thing he saved under his eye ball. He saved it when he got his new apartment. The special hands of the clock checked his whole body. They checked the whole thing, but not his eyes. Even the special magic hands can’t change his eyes. The hands scared him though. He was afraid. He was afraid, so he saved his special thing in his eye. The special thing was a picture of another thing like him. When he went to sleep sometimes after the canola oil tears would dry, and the clock was not looking he would look at the special picture.

The image would tell him to stab the clock. Kill kill. Burn all the apartment. Smash the mirrors and take the glass to smash himself. The fat man was also afraid of the picture, but he liked the warm feeling of the fire burning everything. Now, he could not be brave. He had work to do. He had work to be alone. When he looked around him he saw he was in his kitchen. The walls were GREY. The table was white. The chair beside the table was a million miles away. He did not fit in the chair. So he ate on the floor. The clock was no longer screaming. The fat man smiled. It hurt his muscles to smile. It was very hard to lift his face. All of his skin drooped and was filled with puss and ugly things. The fat man hated his face and everything attached.

He went to the pantry and got two squares of brick. “The brick was good for him,” the clock used to say calm and soothing. It was clay and hard, and it hurt. It hurt the fat man’s tongue and made it heavy. It was ok. That was how it’s supposed to feel. The brick made him feel strong, and stupid, and wonderful, and hurtful, hungry. Most of all the brick made him hungry. As punishment for wanting to be with other people, the fat man had to drink cement with his brick. The fat man pleaded not to have it, but the cement was good for him. He was strong and big, and most of all independent. He was as free as a wall.

The fat man sat on the floor with his smile cracking his lips. He ate, and he drank. He began to notice something. He began to notice he was dying. With every bite of brick he died. He started to breathe harder and harder, but there were rocks that made his lungs too heavy. He had to stop, but he couldn’t. He was going to die. The fat man kept eating so he could forget. The wet cement got into his brain and made him happy and forget.

As he kept eating the blood came. “no, no not his blood,” the fat man cried. The blood made all the poison come out again. The blood made him look at his insides. The blood was mud actually. It was mud. It was so very thick and it seeped out of holes in the fat man’s body. The fat man did not know what holes it came from, but he wanted it to stop. It would not stop. No matter how many times he told the blood to stop it kept coming. Why couldn’t his body listen?

He turned to the calendar for help. The calendar had a band-aid on the day of that day, and told the fat man “it was not up to him.” He was a baby again. The fat man was a baby again and it was bad. The fat man wanted to live, but the blood kept coming out, and he was a baby. He tried to think, but the calendar just laughed. The baby had to find a way to survive, but it was just a baby.

Then a dark funny thing happened, and no one expected it. Not even me. I did not expect it. The baby found a crayon, and started to mutilate the calendar. It got all drawn on and the baby laughed with its broken face at the calendar’s pain. The calendar was dying too, and the baby forgot so was he. Many minutes went by as the baby tortured the calendar with the crayon. Many many minutes went by. The blood kept coming, but there was the calendar’s pain was like a lullaby. The baby forgot about the blood.

As the baby took the pill the clock heard the commotion. The clock revolved all the way to the kitchen to see what was going on. “It is finally time for him,” laughed the clock at the baby. Then the clock noticed its fallen comrade. “He is a fucking bastard,” rhymed the clock as its needles sprang to hurt the baby. The puss and oil, and bad blood dropped out of the baby as it turned into a child.

The child jumped from the needles, thinking it was a game. In the needles was an impatient lethal injection. The clock was angry, but the earless child did not care. The child began to run. The child began to leap. There were many room in the grey apartment where the walls were bare. Many rooms the fat man had never seen before. The child thought it was an adventure, and began to play hide and seek with the clock. The clock refused and growled. “He comes out now,” the clock rasped, “or I find him and make it all slow.”

The child could not hear and did not understand, so he giggled. “Catch him, catch him,” shouted the child. The child found his legs and a closet. In the closet there was a whole universe, and the fat man in the child’s heart cried. The child’s heart began to beat again. The lungs began to push. Finally the nose could smell all the putrid vomit and stagnation in the apartment. The child got scared. Suddenly he didn’t want the clock to catch him. The clock did not love him. He was not his father.

“I am coming for him,” roared the clock. The child began to make a fort out of cushions ready to defend his aching body. The child’s little bones snapped under the weight of the responsibility. There the child lay paralyzed in the pillow fort in the dark. He needed to get away somehow, but the child could not remember where the apartment ended, and he could not move. The ticks of the clock neared. Suddenly an odd organ pulsated in the child. He began to twitch, and bleed, and sweat. Slowly but surely, as his eyes rolled back in his head the child found his own imagination.

He could no longer hear the clock, but it wouldn’t have mattered there were too many colours. All at once the child could see colours again. Just then he had realized how much grey had been in the apartment. So much dust for his soul. That did not matter now he was swimming in colours. All of them and they all tasted so good. The child began to get chubby again, the feeling was good. He was no longer just skin and bones, and his bones were stronger now. The child stayed in his imagination for an eternity and got strong.

CRASH

The child woke up older in a collapsed pillow fort. It was no defense at all. Dazed, he stood to find the clock staring right at him. There was a beat, and then the oddest thing anyone had ever seen took place. The older child lunged at the clock, and they fought. Hand to hand and death to death. The older child felt all of him push. The clock was a bit confused, but so very angry. The angry hurt, but so did the want. The want and the angry mixed and matched and punched and kicked. Dancing things popped out of the older child’s head. He looked away for a moment and the clock broke his jaw.

The older child fell next to his broken jaw. No more music. There was no more music the older child remembered. The fat man was sobbing and weeping in the older child’s heart. Right next to his jaw lay rage. It was all of the angry and want mixed up. It had made a hammer. The hammer was changing and shifting. The older child grabbed it, and suddenly was the fat man again.

“No, no, no he was not,” cried the fat man, but he knew it was so. He held the hammer and looked up at his wrathful father, crooked with a tinge of terror gleaming next to midnight, his arms were approaching. The fat man, with all of his oozing wounds and sad crumbling muscles under the mountains of waste, stared the clock right through for the first time, and saw the door out.

He threw himself, hammer and all, at the clock. The fat man and the clock collided, but the weight was too much for the clock, and it folded. The fat man hit the door. He fell right onto its knob. The door swung open, and hanging just barely the fat man could see under him was only darkness. He let go of the knob with a smile. With a smile he plummeted to his death.

The Alarm

A story about a town where an alarm started ringing some decades ago and never quite stopped.

Download the story here.

I would ask that everyone put their noise cancellers on now. We’re walking close enough that the sound is harmful to all and may be fatal to children, pregnant women, and people with heart conditions. In fact, here’s a bit of sad trivia for you, the original team that tried to shut it off spent two weeks so close to it that, even with all the cutting edge noise cancelling equipment of the day, almost all of them had to be hospitalized, half lost their hearing completely, and one was admitted to a psychiatric facility permanently.  Your average household alarm may be annoying, but this one is dangerous and I ask that as we continue the tour you all be mindful of that fact.

Before we continue are there any questions? What’s that you say? How was it started? Please forgive my laughter, I don’t mean to be rude. It’s just that I’ve been doing this tour for ten years and that is always, without fail, the first question.  There are a lot of theories out there and you probably read a few before deciding to visit, or maybe you noticed some of the books at the gift shop. Some say it was an environmental toxin that set it off; you know pollution from a nearby industrial plant or something like that. Others say that some poor young woman hit the panic button out of fear of some violent pursuer maybe even someone she knew. There are lots of reasons alarms get set off in the world. And if you’re interested, after the tour, I would love to discuss some of the research that’s come out of the Institute of Alarmology. It’s one of the finer parts of the government’s response to the whole situation in my opinion. So like I said, there are a lot of theories out there about how it got blaring its sad song, but the truth is we really don’t know. If you ask us locals what we think, we’ll tell you some kid probably pulled it as a joke. It may not be the funniest, but it sure as hell wins for the longest joke ever. It’s been almost 100 years now (you’re all welcome to our 100th anniversary this June) and, well, we’re still all waiting for the punch-line. Anyway, I hope that answers your question!

Anyone else? Yes, you there with the stylish fanny pack. Why was it built? Well that’s a very interesting story in its own right and one of the more mysterious pieces of it all. Some respectable academics say the alarm must have been built in the Cold War in case of a nuclear disaster. After all, why else would they build an alarm so strong an entire town and its surrounding area could hear it for a century? Of course, that’s a rhetorical question. Besides a nuclear war or a natural disaster, there really aren’t too many sensible reasons to build such a thing. The trouble with the Cold War theory is that there are absolutely no documents to prove the government built it. There are no flags or trademarks or anything like that on the alarm itself or its surrounding structure. Of course, after the government failed to shut it off and it blared so long the government actually evacuated the town, everyone was pretty embarrassed. This is not a part of the official tour, of course, but if you ask me, it’s not crazy to think that they started hiding and destroying evidence when they realized what a mess it all was. Anyway, if it wasn’t the government, then who could have done it? Actually that one isn’t a rhetorical question. If you want to e-mail us your most creative theory about who could have built The Alarm, then you may be published in our annual book “RIIIINNNNGG!” Also, one lucky story will be chosen to receive a free vacation to some of the quietest places on Earth.

Ok, so we’ll have to move on, but if you want to save some of your questions for the end of the tour I’d be happy to answer them then. Our first stop is the town library. Before it all happened, this used to be a place of quiet reflection and study, a place for community members to gather and speak calmly to one another about the books of the day. Well, you can imagine what The Alarm did to all that! For the first couple of weeks, everything was in such a panic and upheaval that there wasn’t much need to go to the library anyway. People don’t think of comfortably reading their favourite copy of Jane Eyre when there’s a disaster going on. Mind you, a few diehards did keep going for the first few days. As things got more tense though, and the riots started, people barely left their homes altogether. When the evacuation was finally called, the library was totally forgotten. I guess with all the running about, (you may have been taught in school about the controversial decision to call it a national emergency) well, most people just don’t remember books in a time like that.

The only reason we know anything about the library is that the security cameras kept running and so we have a lot of it on record. If you have time before leaving here, then I recommend you check out our archives. Some of the footage from the early days depicts strange and often downright haunting behaviour. For instance, those people who stayed in the library despite the blaring in the early days demonstrate such an intense determination. Watching them sit there and read is almost heroic. But I’m probably just getting carried away. The last thing I’ll note about this stop on our tour is how the library came back into use once people started returning from the evacuation. Some studies have been done on our residents. Experts have tested the effect of its noise on students’ ability to learn and older people’s ability to remember, you know, that kind of thing. What these studies found was that members of the first generation, the people who were born before it all, were significantly harmed. There was even talk for a short while of passing a law considering it child abuse to raise a child here. Well, wouldn’t you know it, tests on the second generation found that things like memory and learning not only weren’t harmed, but were actually improved! I’ll just let that speak for itself, whatever that might mean.

Now we’ve come to an average family home of this town. When we think of home a lot of us think of peace, tranquility, rest. Home is a place to withdraw from the world and its troubles. In our town, it’s no different. Anyone who can name the four things different about the homes built here after it started gets a free pair of ear plugs. Sorry, could you speak up. Yes, that’s right! I’m glad someone has done his homework. For those of you who didn’t hear, our friend here with the reasonably short shorts pointed out that the walls are twice as thick as the standard in the rest of the country, the paint is made from a special noise resistant substance, and the windows are made of a special noise absorbing glass. The one thing you may not have noticed, but our friend here did, are the noise-resistant junipers. Yes, in the 20th and early 21st century these were used to block out road noise, which was then quite out of control. It therefore made sense to start planting them here. Well, a special strain of the tree was grown to adapt to the rather unique sound environment of this town and so now you see the dense, hearty junipers before you. Really a marvel of modern science. Of course, that could hardly cancel out all the sound, but people find a way to live anyway. Yes, throughout history humans have found a way to innovate for some of the harshest conditions. From the igloo of the Inuit to the tents of the Bedouins, people find a way! I know it’s a little corny, but, to be honest, this has long been my favourite stop.

Now you know about the house, you may be interested to know about the kind of people that live here (this house is actually still occupied!). Specialists, as with just about everything else in this town, came to assess the psyches of the kind of people who moved back after the evacuation and the kind of people who actually came to live here for the first time once the ringing started. Ongoing tests are still done on we who continue to live here, though with not as much interest from the wider world. You can really get a picture of the kind of person we’re talking about from Doctor Fredrick P. Johnston’s rather poetic field journal. The passage that I think sums us all up best goes as follows:

“The noise does not seem to bother them, or else if it does, it is a matter of essential pride and identity that they not reveal this fact. Their chins all seem to be turned up denoting, I believe, arrogance or maybe simply defiance and their voices all seem to be in constant competition, not with the overwhelming sound of the environment, but with the world itself. Some must be here out of sheer economic necessity, but for the vast majority choosing to live with it day in and day out is something much greater, like a cult on the slope of a volcano. I can only imagine what these people must have been like before the incident.”

Our next stop is the music hall, perhaps one of the greatest artistic feats of our time… sorry, sorry, I’m being called. Oh. Oh my… I’m very sorry about this everyone, but it looks like we’re going to have to cut the tour short. It seems there’s been a large fire along our tour route. Again I’m very sorry. Everyone will be offered a voucher to take the tour again and a $10 gift card for our local book store “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. Could you repeat that Miss? Well I guess you’re right. While we’re walking back I’ll just explain what our well-perfumed friend here just pointed out. When people started to move back, there were some major accidents that stemmed from the fact that fire alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, and so on were pretty much just ignored. We had to find a way to make alarms work on  people again. Surprisingly, or maybe not, this was one of the longest standing problems for our little town. We tried everything. We tried alarms that were even louder close up then the big one. We tried buzzing and flashing lights, but nothing worked.

Well the answer came to us in a pretty unexpected way. For twenty years after it began, the sound was constant and unbroken both in its volume and its pace. Then one day in the middle of the night, for just a few moments, it stopped, as if to take a breath, before continuing even louder than before. You know what’s funny? It’s said that people were actually woken by it. Not by the louder blaring noise, but by the seconds of silence. Some of our sharper citizens realized that alarms aren’t about the loudness or the brightness or anything like that. A good alarm is out of the ordinary. So now, whenever a real alarm needs to go off, we have a system of strange notifications. It changes constantly so no one can ever get used to it.

Are there any final questions before we part ways and our unfortunately short adventure ends? Sorry? Could you please repeat the question? Why did I choose to live here? Well, you see, I was born here, so in a sense I didn’t choose it. I mean that’s not a problem if you ask me, but I just want to clarify the question. I chose to stay here because when you grow up with something (this will sound a bit odd given what we’re talking about) it becomes a part of you in a way. It’s not just that if I lived anywhere else people would think I talk too loudly. It’s not just that quiet places make me nervous. There’s something more. I don’t know how to put it. I doubt anyone does, but there’s something honest about the alarm and it makes you honest to live with it. I don’t know, just saying it out loud makes me question what I mean. Well I don’t know what to tell you. Why does anyone live anywhere? Is any town perfect?