joegoda: (chethead)
[personal profile] joegoda
Okay. So I took a day off to paint. It's still not done, there's some work on one wall of the living room, but I spent a full four hours painting. *Shrug* after that I was sooo tired I moved around the house like a zombie (I hate being a zombie.. they are too popular with the wrong crowd), and went to bed at 9 pm. So, for those who are reading, thanks for waiting. I haven't given up. Here's the latest installment 1,080 words short of the daily 1667 word recommended dosage. I'll make up for it tomorrow and the next day.

John ambled to the sidewalk in front of the store. The walk was filled with planters and firepits and decorative stone, all for sale and all for display. All of the items were chained down or heavy enough that it would have taken two men to lift and a truck to transport. They were pushed up against the storefront wall, out of the way of any customers who may not know to walk around them or a wheel chair or a delivery man.

John strolled casually, keeping his eyes on the black van. It was so obviously a bad guy, to John. He had read about bad guys, seen them on television, and somewhere in his forgotten past, he seemed to remember knowing bad guys, or felt that he had. Perhaps those were false memories.

He had a few of those, for sure. He had good friends and a wife who had known him for some years, so it was not uncommon for John to ask if he had actually done something, or if he had only imagined he had done something.

He shoved the suspicious memory to the back and focused his attention on the van. He couldn't make out the license plate and it wasn't the first time he had grumbled to himself about his aging vision. It was black, it had a Chevy emblem on it, and all the windows were blacked out. There was a luggage rack on the top and the tires were new, because the lettering on them was bright white, rather than faded white. It was moving slowly, and as the bright morning sun pierced the blackness of the driver's side window, it shone through the interior of the car and John could see there were two… or more… figures inside the vehicle. The blackout windows wouldn't allow any more details than that, but it was enough.


A voice broke through John's concentration. It was Debbie, the single cashier for the morning shift. Muddy blonde hair cut in a bob, wide blue eyes and a chipped front tooth made up Debbie, who had a charming Deep South accent and was always chipper, always friendly. Debbie was a customer favorite and that's what kept her here, rather than pursuing a career in management or even a position somewhere else. She was a little thing, standing just at five feet, and had passed her fortieth birthday with grace, not going too round, and not looking anorexic from too much exercise, too much sunshine, too much ego.

John liked her, this Debbie of a person. Not in a flirtatious sort of way, though. He liked her because she was genuine, exactly as she appeared. He had seen her handle happy and grumpy customer in exactly the same way, day in and day out for two years, and he was always amazed at the level headedness she exhibited.

It's not that she was a saint, mind you. John had heard her say a few blue words about some of the worst customers, and, on a particularly bad day, she said some off handed remarks about her life. Debbie, for all of her rays of sunshine during work hours, did not have the best life. She suspected that her husband was having an affair, and their finances weren't in the best shape and her mother had cancer and… well; let's just say that Debbie, like the rest of us, did the best with what she had, even if what she had made her sadly average. It was sad because Debbie, given a chance, could have been amazing, rather than just amazing. John knew this, and couldn't voice it to anyone, because having voiced it, he knew that it would gain a life of its own, and as much as it would give Debbie the rising star she might want, it wouldn't give her what she needed.

Debbie needed the cheating husband, the dying mother, the bad finances, and all of her less than perfect life. A rising star would have created a different Debbie, and Debbie wouldn’t be Debbie anymore. All the crap in her life made her what she is, and even if she wouldn't agree, she needed all of it to give her life meaning.

"John? Are you all right?" She placed a soft hand on John's shoulder.

Not taking his eyes from the van, which had started another slow circle around the lot, he answered. "Sure, I'm okay. It's going to be a good day, Debbie. How are you? How's your mom?"

Debbie's voice took on a bit of stress and she sighed real big. "Mom's… mom. The doctors say she might live another twenty years, or she might not make it to Christmas." Another sigh. "Damned doctors don't know a thing."

The black van had parked far across the lot, near the service station on the corner. It had stopped, and John couldn't tell if the engine was off. Sitting still, sitting all the way over there, the van still gave off bad vibes, as if it wasn't the people in the van, but the van itself that was evil. Things like that had happened before, or so John seemed to remember, that items could contain evil, and the people affected merely pawns for the evil contained within.

"Isn't that the way off things, Deb?", John asked. "I'm sorry." He pulled his eyes away from the van and looked into Debbie's open face. "Truly. I've lost my dad and my youngest to cancer. Maybe your mom will be one of the ones that beat it."

Debbie gave a weak smile. "Does anyone ever beat it?" She shrugged and shuddered a bit, throwing off the negative thoughts and feelings. "Come on, it's nine. Time to work."

John followed her into the store, through the doors that whooshed out of the way as if they were from a science fiction movie set. John passed the threshold and passed the waiting and empty register queues. Debbie left him there and went to her station, station three. She stooped out of sight as she adjusted the small goods, the gum, the nuts and bolts, that lay suggestively selling themselves to the customers who were standing, waiting for their turn at to have Debbie cheerfully check them out.

John walked down the main isle, passing trays of discount paintbrushes, hammers, drill bits, screwdrivers. He passed the tall racks containing electrical supplies and plumbing supplies and all the necessary bits and pieces one would need to make a barbeque to remember.

Turning right at the paint area, he moved back to the corner where the PVC pipes and Romex and copper tubing and hardware that would actually build a house, rather than just make it pretty. There were a set of swinging double doors with small porthole windows and John went through them.

The back of the store, where all manner of items were not on sale yet, where the offices were located and the bathrooms not used by customers, was lit dimly, was filled with tall metal shelves, was close and claustrophobic. There was a rollup door at the very back of this tool man mancave fantasy, for deliveries. In the winter, there would be ice built up on the inside of the door because insulation was for customers. In the summer, the heat radiated away from the door in waves. It was summer, and thankfully early in the morning. By four pm, the heat radiating from the door would have been unbearable to stand close to.

John walked along a wall that had been painted a boring white with no name on the paint can other than white. Just past the swinging doors, there were certificates and licenses and pictures of the employees and they hung on the wall for anyone curious enough to look into the porthole windows to see. Just past the framed proof of existence the paint ended and turned to unpainted drywall, that was spackled in some places so the white swatches appeared as bandages on some long stretch of grey skin.

John continued along the wall and stopped at an ugly bare wood door that stood on the corner. He turned the doorknob and walked into a mostly bare office that contained an ugly, paper covered desk and an ugly squat desk chair that was missing its back.

The man sitting behind the desk, on the backless desk chair was Lou. Lou was John's boss, his immediate supervisor, the manager of the store. Lou was a good manager, and a good man. He stood five feet two inches in his stocking feet. His head could be described as threadbare, and what hair he did have was either on his arms, his back, his legs or was stringy and brown and combed over the top of his head. He had a pencil thin mustache and had no illusions that he was either handsome or desirable.

What Lou was, was a good man, a decent man, a man who had been around and seen things, and had known the evils that man can do to man. He had made the choice to do good and moved from his native Queens to this sleepy Midwestern town to remove himself from the influences that might have made his life taken a different track.

He looked up as John walked in and grew a broad smile.

"John!" Lou stood and moved from behind the desk. "How's my favorite employee?"

John smiled shyly back and said, "I'm find, Lou. There may be a problem, though."

Lou's smile faded. "Oh? What's doin'?"

"There's a van in the parking lot, Lou. Black with blacked out windows. It doesn't feel right."

"Oh?" Lou ran a hand over his balding head. "Let me go check it out. Where's it at?" He pushed John out the door and started toward the storefront.

John followed quickly, as Lou, for all his height, was a fast walker. "It's across the parking lot, Lou. Sitting near the Citgo."

The two men went to the front windows and looked out towards the service station on the corner. The van was nowhere in sight.
"I don't see a van, John." Lou scanned the parking lot. "Do you?"

John searched the entire lot and gave up. The van was not to be seen. The feeling of bad, the feeling of evil, was still out there, somewhere, waiting for its moment, like a panther on a branch.

"I don't see it either, Lou. But it's around some place. I can feel it."

Lou shrugged. "Well, it's not here now. You sure you're feelin' all right? How's that memory thing?"

John frowned at this. Everyone knew about his fragmented memory and made allowances for it. John worked very hard to not let his 'memory thing' get in the way of doing his job.

"I'm fine, Lou. Same as always." He patted his blouse pocket to show Lou that he had his notebook.

John hadn't had to use it today, hadn't had to jot down anything that might slip away. It was a bit out of the ordinary, but not all that unusual. Over the years, there had been days when his memory worked perfectly, and he could remember all the way back to when he was 6 months old, accidentally setting fire to the bed he lay in. More and more, he seemed to be able to hold onto memories better and for longer periods of time.

He clapped John on the shoulder. "Keep an eye out. If you see it, don' come and tell me. Call the cops first, okay? Then come and tell me."

John frowned. "But the rules say…"

Lou smiled up at John, "I know what the rules say, buddy. Call the cops first, then tell me. That's the best way. The rules can go hang." Lou turned and ambled his squat body back towards his office. "Let's start you in plumbing today, John. As we get busy, just help the customers."

"Sure Lou', John said distractedly. The feeling of bad was still there, like a skunk musk that hadn't dissipated. "It's what I do."

He walked back to the corner of the store and started sorting the tubes of PVC according to size and diameter. Next he would sort the copper tubes and pipes, followed by the tapes and adhesives and wrenches and all those plumbing things that were needed to properly plumb any building from the smallest shack to the largest high-rise.

All the while he was working, he kept his senses alert. Something was going to happen, as sure as he knew that the sun had risen that day. Or as sure as his assumption that sun had risen.

There were two other floor walkers, like John. Steve and Martin.

Steve came in at 10:30, Martin at noon.

Steve was a nice enough fellow and he and John got along well enough. Tall, not bad looking in a blond Scandinavian way, with strong cheekbones and straight teeth. He was the perfect height to reach the taller shelves, and was a favorite among the younger women and some of the younger men that came in. Steve was working toward graduation of a local bible college. It was Steve's opinion that John memory troubles were a curse from God.

John believed that Steve was delusional, and easily led by the popular concept that there was a God who watched over people, loved them unconditionally, but with conditions. And if one of his beloved people broke with one of the conditions, then this loving God would curse them, or smite them, or turn them into a pillar of salt or even worse.

Martin was a funny guy. He worked late nights at a local comedy club and John had caught his show a couple of times, and even though John couldn't remember a single bit of them, he had the impression that they were good and he had laughed at the parts that were funny. It was Martin's late nights that had him looking for a later shift.

Broad in girth and standing just shy of six feet, Martin was a muscular mountain of a human being. He was Mexican by birth, raised in San Antonio, and moved north when he had the chance to get out of Texas. He learned English by watching television, while his mother was cleaning hotel rooms. His father was nowhere to be found, and had been that way since Martin was four.

He thought John was a funny little man, and appreciated John's dry sense of humor. He would occasionally go out and he and John would share a beer at a local brewpub. Although John could only remember snatches of conversation, he knew they were good conversations and that Martin was an intelligent companion.

"John, you have a visitor." The overhead squawk was calling with Debbie's voice. "John, you have a visitor."

John had considered all of the people he worked with as part of 'Them', members of that group of nameless, faceless Watchers. Perhaps not Watchers themselves but quite possibly in their employ. John had worked many places, some before his memory went wonky, some after, but he suspected that all of them were Watchers or the watchers of the Watchers.

Not all of the employees, certainly. There had been some genuine friends that he had met; some he knew were not associated with the group observing him. These few people were too open, too honest. These were the very few he had continued a relationship with after he had left the position, whether he was fired or he had left because the business and the work had become too uncomfortable.

The rest of them, they had been too closed minded or were too 'by the book' or unwavering of their following of orders. Not all of the bosses had been members of the hidden cadre of Watchers. Not all of them. Some were honestly concerned with his welfare, as they were concerned with the welfare of all of the employees below them.

Some of them had been jerks, and jerks were rarely Watchers. John suspected that some of them were very good actors, and were Watchers anyway. Sometimes it was very, very hard to tell. John always could, though. There was always a giveaway. Always a sneaky sort of way about them.

They would give themselves away by disappearing at odd moments, or by the looks they gave when they were speaking on the phone, or taking a route that did not lead to their house after work. It was in their manner or their speech or their eyes, or their hands or their clothes. John could always tell.

John had led, by choice, a rather solitary life. It was a wonder he had any sort of social life at all. It was a marvel he had found a woman who he would let close enough to marry.

But the businesses themselves, without a doubt. No matter how innocuous, not matter how simple the position, rather he was a janitor or a cab driver or a database administrator or a carhop… every single business that would hire him was owned and operated by the Watchers. That was a given. That was a foregone conclusion.

The current position, stocker and customer service at a hardware store, had come 27 days, miraculously, after being fired from his last position. He had been a high powered supervisor at a cell phone company. His employees loved him, as did his customers. He was, in fact, so well loved, that the company had no choice but to fire him. They waited until he was two years away from retirement, and then decided, after eight years of superlative work, to find his performance unsatisfactory.

They went through the proper channels; they did all the right paperwork. His corporate crime was that he had not coached his employees firmly enough, that he had been too lax in his corrective action. Regardless of his team being one of the most productive. Regardless of his team bringing in the most revenue for the company, they weren't customer focused enough, polite enough, in line with the company enough.

And so, he was put on a performance plan with processes that he was unable to accomplish because the bar had been set so high, with intangible and cloudy objectives. He was evaluated after six months and found to be guilty of not having performed satisfactorily to the level of the performance plan, and he was terminated.

Such a final word for such a simple act. Companies, being oh so politically correct, no longer 'fired' people. They terminated employment, they separated, they ended employment. The truth was that they still fired people.

The only thing that John could figure out was that the Watchers wanted to see how John, with a new house, a new wife, a new life, would handle being set adrift and having to start all over again. John did what he had to, what he always did when life tossed him a hand grenade with the pin pulled out. He made a simple statement and made it come true.

John looked at his wife and said "I will have a job within the month." And he did.

His memory tricks left him, except for small things, like shaving, or doing the dishes or working on the swimming pool. They played havoc with what days did what, when his brother's birthday was, when he ate last or hugged his wife or went out drinking with the gang.

He was completely focused on finding work, and resumes flew from his house like crows from a telephone line. He submitted six a day for three weeks, every day, and searched for jobs to send them to the next day. Looking for work was a job, though non-paying, in and of itself.

On the fourth week, on day 22, he got his one and only bite. Three miles away was a hardware store and they had an opening. Would he be interested? The pay was almost half of what he was making, the benefits were better in someways, and he could start the next week, if he wanted. No interview was required.

John bowed to the Universe, to the Watchers, and accepted. It was what he had to do to survive and keep him and his wife happy and fed. John considered, once upon a time, that he was just a pawn for the Watchers too. He considered this and then tossed it away as ridiculous. He was nobodies pawn, and his life was his own. He may be part of an experiment, but he would live his life his way, and enjoy it as much as humanly possible.


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July 2017

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