In the Shadow of the Facility

The building taunted Arthur every time he walked past it. It stood there, all steel and glass, a modern architectural style designed to evoke medical cleanliness and peerless efficiency. No matter how hard he kept his eyes on the ground, the image of that facility remained burned into his consciousness, a reminder of the grisly deadline that lurked ever closer in Arthur’s future.

He would have just as soon have avoided walking past it except that it happened to be so close to the coffee shop. His daily cup of coffee was the only luxury Arthur had been able to fit into his current budget. His walk down to the shop had become a sort of ritual. It got him exercise, and got him out of the apartment and away from the constant pressure of bills. He felt that without this ritual, he really might be in danger of losing it.

Entering the shop, Arthur walked over to the counter, ordered his usual (a medium cup of coffee with cream), and took a seat by the window. He made sure he was facing away from the facility, and yet it still lurked in his mind. Arthur thought back to when the first facility of its kind opened in Washington, D.C. He remembered the president’s speech, promising an end to the nanny state, to the do-nothing parasite who suckled themselves on the government teat. Arthur remembered that he used to think the facility was a great idea. He had felt ecstatic when one had opened right here in Cleveland. Finally, he wouldn’t have to see so many transients on the way to work.

Arthur had continued to think this up until the day his manager called him in to talk about his performance. “So you see, Arthur,” the manager had said, peering at Arthur through his spectacles, “you just aren’t processing software change requests at an efficient pace.”

“But my work has been improving,” Arthur had protested. “Everyone has been saying so!”

“Yes, the individual requests you complete are quite thorough. But you see, it’s not just about the quality of thew work. We also have to consider the rate at which the work is done. Efficiency is key. Do you see what I’m saying?”

Arthur had, in fact, understood. The modern world worked at a blinding pace, and those who couldn’t keep up were left behind. Arthur had seen then that his protests would be in vain. The manager, for his part, had been nothing but cordial. He had even walked Arthur to his car to make sure he was OK to drive. This politeness didn’t stop Arthur from cursing the manager out as he pulled away, however.

In the months that followed, Arthur fervently applied to every business that would take him. And every week, he had received another email apologizing to him for the inconvenience and wishing him luck on his job search. Around the three month mark, he had begun having nightmares about men in clean, crisp uniforms coming to his apartment and dragging him screaming into the metal and glass doors of the facility, never to be seen again. These nightmares had continued unabated throughout the rest of his job search.

Shaking his head, Arthur brought himself back to the present. Though the nightmares were terrifying, the future they predicted was not yet a forgone conclusion. There was still a few days before the six month deadline. and just last week he had attended a promising interview with a local tech support call center. Sure, it wasn’t the most glamorous work, but it was better than the alternative. And besides, in all likelihood it was the last chance he’d get.

Suddenly, Arthur felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. Taking it out, he saw that he had gotten an email from the tech support company. Arthur felt his heart begin to pound. Opening the email, Arthur read the words “We are sorry,” and then the room began to spin. Arthur felt himself take shallow breath after shallow breath. He felt beads of sweat form on his brow. His sight became unfocused, and he couldn’t read the rest of the email. He didn’t need to, anyway. He knew what it said.

Then Arthur heard the tiny ringing sound of the bell on the coffee shop’s door. He didn’t need to see who had come in. The men from the facility were here for him. Arthur knew this in his very bones. “Run,” said a voice in his head. “Run, run now!” And Arthur did run. He ran out of the door and straight into the street.  There was the honk of a car horn, a screech of the brakes, the crunch of bone under rubber, and then finally, nothing.

This is a story I wrote a couple of months ago, basically just as a way to deal with the stress of being unemployed. It’s completely self-indulgent and over-the-top, but MAN was it cathartic to write. Writing is good therapy, even if the result is kind of grim.