Friday, April 13, 2012

Flash Fiction #4: In Deference to the Precious Nature of Time

            Pete looked at the bulging heap of paper in his hand; it was thick as the ham sandwich he had brought to work that day. He looked at Mr. Knowles and asked, “Do I really have to read all of this?”
            “Why, of course not,” the man said. “It would be burdensome to peruse such an onerous document, especially since time is so precious.” The man spoke with a distinct English accent. His speech, however, had an artificial tone to it. It was as if the man’s words had shellac brushed on them as he elaborated each syllable.
            Pete looked around his cubicle. God, he hated this job. Software support, my ass, he thought to himself. It wasn’t his fault that no one used the damn software. How was anyone supposed to, either? Bugs larger than cockroaches filled the computer program and the development team did nothing to fix the problem. Any of the calls that came in he handled readily enough. They had become less and less frequent since the majority of their customers were switching to the competitor’s accounting software. He wanted out. Mr. Knowles, if that was his real name, had his full attention.
            “That is, after all, Mr. Cayle,” the man spoke with a strange cadence, “the purpose of our discussion, to come to an agreeable arrangement between us. “
            Pete had only arrived at Mastodon Software minutes ago. Having walked to his cubicle past the wooly mammoth logo in the entrance, he had noticed a man in a pinstripe, double-breasted suit carrying an aging, black briefcase. This man had promptly approached him and invited him to consider an offer “to change his life forever.”
            Pete hadn’t considered it until now: Mastodon Software had a strict solicitation policy, no one was allowed in without first speaking to management. Why was he speaking to him? And where was everybody? The office space seemed empty.
Mr. Edward Knowles
(aka Mephistopheles)

            It had all happened so fast—as he entered, he noticed the man, and soon he was following him. He spoke fluidly, as if every word were rehearsed, “Allow me to introduce myself, Mister Peter Cayle,” the man spoke with a bizarre rhythm, “I am Mr. Edward Knowles. That is pronounced noles but spelled K-N-O-W-L-E-S. I represent the Apollyon Corporation. Please, forgive me, since this is your place of employment, might I suggest we enter this conversation in a more private locale?”
            Pete didn’t say what he thought he should have, which was, “no thank you.” Something itched inside him, fighting the reasonable response to remove himself from this remnant of the late 19th century. The curiosity had won: “I…I guess you could come to my cubicle.”
            Mr. Edward Knowles had begun to spell out a fantastic offer for him: fantastic as in not believable fantastic. Fantasy world fantastic. The man’s sing-songy words dripped like golden liquid and continue to reverberate in his head:
            “Mr. Cayle, as you well know, your employment at this software establishment is lack-luster. You slave away, daily, not with what is productive and beneficial to your life, but with the pointless distraction of social-network-games and internet surveys. To be candid, Mr. Peter Cayle, your life contains neither hard work nor joyous recreation. It is a glum, piteous, pointless existence, to which its end can only be disappointment and regret.
            “However, Mr. Cayle, I have an offer for you, that, once you carefully consider, shall send you into a world devoid of boredom. Every day, Mr. Cayle, you will find yourself not only entertained, but also driven by the passion, which still flickers within your soul. If you are interested, I have prepared a document for your consideration.”
            The whole encounter was weird. What was this guy selling?
            He hadn’t had time, because Mr. Knowles grabbed the thick stack of papers from him. The salesman continued, “Yes, yes. Time is, indeed, a precious commodity, Mr. Cayle. One of which I know you cherish readily. Well, this is your chance, Pete,” the man winked and poked him with his elbow, “sign at the bottom and you’ll get what you want.”
            It was too much. Was this guy for real? His curiosity could only go so far. Now all he wanted was to be rid of him. But he had to ask, “Yeah, so what do I get if I sign?”
            The man leaned back and stared uncomfortably for three seconds, smiling, and replied, “Extra time.”
            “Extra time? Like, extra time during the day? As in extra time like I-don’t-need-to-wait-at-the-stoplight extra time?”
            “To you, yes.” The polished gentleman gave only a hint of a smile and nodded.
            “Okay. Get out of here. I’m calling security,” Pete said, irritated.
            “If you sign, I will be happy to leave,” the man said. He did not waver, but sat statue-like in the chair next to Pete in the cubicle.
            “Fine. Whatever,” he said. He grabbed the stack of papers and read the cover sheet:

To the Advancement of Time
Mister Peter Jay Cayle
On this day the 28th of April, 2012

            Peter brushed through to the last page, scribbled his name, and threw the cheap ballpoint pen on his desk. He looked at the man and said, “There. Will you leave now?”
            “Certainly, Mr. Cayle. I would be happy to oblige,” the man said. He smiled and nodded, picking up the stack of papers and placing them in his old, black briefcase.

* * * * * * *
            Peter sat in his living room, the holograph news projecting on the walls surrounding him. So much time had passed since he met Mr. Knowles. It seemed just like last week. That is what it was like ever since he discovered the document he signed gave him a power he previously did not have—the power to advance time when he was frustrated, sleeping, nervous, angry or simply bored.
            He advanced time a lot. More than he could keep track of. Now he sat here, wondering: where had it all gone?
            That’s the thing he asked himself, justifying every time advancement he made: why bear through this? This sucks, push it forward, Pete! Come on, come on, get moving.
            He figured that for every day that went by, every boring meeting he had sat through, every torturous hour in the cubicle he advanced into nothingness, he probably had lost half his life. You wouldn’t know that when you saw him, though. Pete soon learned that he aged as he did it. At least I didn’t have to sit through all of it, he thought. Yeah, yeah…it was worth it. 
            He looked outside into the rainy weather and pushed time forward into his death.


Djibouti Jones said...

Have you seen that movie with Adam Sandler? What's it called?...with the remote control that fast-forwards? This reminded of that movie. I like the ending of yours - how he chooses to die. It seems like the only honest way to end his life.

D.D. Maurer said...

No, never saw that one. It makes me laugh not that the idea of this isn't anything new, but that you compared it to an Adam Sandler movie!

Anonymous said...

Given the chance to do this, I think I probably would. I would regret it, too. hmmm

Denise Nohner said...

I love it Danny. We are so impatient with how our lives are, and this shows a good perspective that we just end up missing life if we fast forward through it. Nice.

Gregor Purdie said...

Love it!

There's something about the rhythm and style of your prose that reminds me of Michael Marshall Smith before he moved to crime fiction - when he was writing things like Spare and Only Forward.