Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Almost Done on the B Shift

     For the third time in less than an hour, Andrew Rilobit is pulling a long viscous thread of yellowish organic material from his tear duct. The process is less than painful, but the soggy strand, whatever it is, clings to the inner passages of his lacrimal sac so that his lower eyelid is constantly pulling away from the white of his eyeball with wet, minute smacking sounds.

     This discharge began yesterday, according to the logs I read earlier, while Andrew was walking home from the grocery store. He had been on an empty bike path that skirted around the industrial kitchen fan bolted onto the back of Groever High School's cafeteria building, five bulging plastic bags dangling from each hand, pulverizing his knees. He had suddenly lost sight in his right eye and knelt to investigate the cause. When his hand reached his cheek, it closed on a writhing knotted string, soaked in some sort of sputum. After pulling it out in a state of shivering agony, he could see again. He hurried home, and hasn't left since then.

     Now he's sitting on a wobbly stool next to his kitchen island. He's got a frosted glass bowl in front of him, now filled nearly halfway with these dull snotty excreta. They look like earthworms, but thinner, with segments of varying width and texture from one tip to another. They're competing with each other to burrow to the bottom of the bowl. From where our capture device hovers, just beyond the cusp of Andrew's left ear, the microscopic microphone registers a thin squealing sound coming from the squelching yellow mass below.

     The kitchen, as well as the rest of the house's interior, is completely soiled. It would appear that a bag of flour has been thrashed and ripped apart while moving from room to room. According to the logs, the groceries from yesterday's shopping trip didn't make it safely into the refrigerator. The waste pisses me off; I'm surviving on animal crackers and old wholesale boxes of discontinued microwaveable popcorn. The former gleam of the cherrywood cabinets above the sink has been powderpuffed to an ashy hue that reminds one of my coworkers of the sight of skin-stripped muscle after it has been exposed to weeks of sandblasted sunshine in the eastern Sahara. That's what he told me as I was taking over his shift this morning, anyway, but that's Farley's opinion. And Farley is a dangerous sociopath.

     Andrew is now standing up and approaching a sliding glass door that he has previously been facing away from. We get a good look at his backyard as the sun is rising. He's got a collection of old suppurating washing machines stacked three-high in the center of a patch of dead whitish grass. There is an old faded doghouse made of red clapboard in the corner of a high wooden fence with its small opening pointed up at the sky. I haven't noticed a single pet since I sat down and began watching this scenario unfold four hours ago.

     The subject draws the glass door back and steps out onto his lawn for a few minutes. When I accelerate the capture device in pursuit of him, I discover that it is drizzling and am forced to retreat back into the house. He approaches the washing machines, further away than I would have liked him to be, and starts kicking their corroded white panels, glancing back over his shoulder every now and then. I can hear a rising whine coming from the kitchen island. The worms in the glass bowl seem to have registered what Andrew is doing, and this is what appears to be a vocal reaction. He is kicking the washing machines with more violent swings of his emaciated legs. Their aluminum casings, scrawled with streaks of weeping rust, are beginning to implode a little bit.

     He tires quickly and reenters the house. There is a sheen of rain flashing on his tight bloodless forehead. He is now facing the camera head-on and I am distracted for a moment by his t-shirt: a disintegrating cotton rag with the fractured line profile of the Packard Bell head logo, with its abstract contours denoting the bridge of a nose and the junction between a neck and a shirt collar.

     This causes an emotional reaction in me that, according to company policy, entitles me to five minutes of silent reflection; so I press a green membrane switch on the control desk in front of me, which puts all of the monitors in hibernation mode, and spin around in my chair so that I'm facing the bare brick walls by the entrance of the room. I take a swig of lukewarm coffee from a styrofoam cup that I have nestled in the armrest. I hear the muffled conversations of my coworkers through the ventilation shaft in the bottom of the surveillance room door. I catch an excerpt from one of these exchanges:

     "...Christ, you printed her out? Of all the templates available, you really figured that she was the one to go for? And you're surprised that she ate your dachshund, Mark. Honestly, man, I just... wow..."

     And the five minutes is over. I swivel back to the desk and power the monitors back on.

     Andrew is back on his stool, once I activate the capture device's tracking feature and get him centered in the frame. He has his hands clasped around the lip of the glass bowl. Drops of sweat are falling from his nose into the host of slithering worms below him. To my great dismay, he seems to be speaking to them now, and they are responding to him in a poorly synthesized automated voice:

     "...And I've got $576 in my checking account. Maybe that's not what you had in mind," Andrew says.

     "It is a start. Take it out of your banking account when you go downtown later today."

     "And what do you want me to buy?"

     "For now, you should visit a hardware store and purchase five buckets of mulch. Then you install us in the mulch so that we can breathe and generate further instructions."

     The subject nods at the contents of the bowl and begins to stand, but he sneezes onto the worms as he is swinging his legs out from under the lip of the island's stone counter, eliciting what sounds to me like a very low-quality computerized scream. Eight bits or less, I would say. The audio signal temporarily shorts the circuitry in the capture device, nearly resulting in a loss of control, which would have sent it plummeting into a nearby pile of spilled peanut-butter flavored cereal. I notice that I'm grinding my teeth because I have a great fear of peanut-butter flavored breakfast goods.

     Andrew has toppled into the stove and is now sitting on the floor, clawing at his eyes. Between the webbing of his fingers, I see multiple strands of these damp excretions raveling one around the other, then unraveling. He eventually summons the discipline necessary to begin the slow process of removing these new worms from his tear ducts. The automated voice reverberates once again off of the concave interior of the glass bowl across the room.

     "Critical Error. Please reevaluate your protocols before continuing your current task."

     And the door to the surveillance room swings open. And my shift is finally over. I relinquish the control desk and brush past Arnold Fest, who is tying his long aquamarine hair back into a frazzled ponytail as he approaches the drying chair I have been sitting in. We say nothing to each other and then I'm tossing my empty styrofoam cup into a tiny brown plastic trash can sitting just below the light switch.

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