Saturday, March 12, 2016

A Good Product

by Bryan Singleton

                Max Eisenberg was seated comfortably in his favorite chair. Dust motes maintained a vigilant dance under the photonic blanket above his head, while brown recluse spiders morbidly stalked one another behind the bookshelves that lined the walls of his apartment. A beautiful dracaena marginata dutifully scrubbed the foul indoor air of its invisible toxins. A piece of paper lay on the small wooden desk in his living room with the word specticle inscribed on it. Something to check out later, Max was thinking while consumed in a sea of words.
                Such are how the days go for Max. Besides his unrewarding job as a pizza delivery man, his time is spent cramped in an artificial habitat (indoors) where he appears decidedly sessile, as if his chair were an oceanic rock and he were a clinging mussel. For avid readers, a good dictionary is an indispensable tool to be kept nearby at all times, much as a rap star keeps a gold chain nearby. Max is a bibliophile and while not logorrheic, he is nonetheless a logophile. His activities necessitate a proximal dictionary, in order to facilitate encounters with unfamiliar words.
                It was 2:30 p.m. and Max rose from his chair, muttering profanities. To be yanked out of peaceful reading and reverie into the real world of a job is insulting. Insulting to existence, to pander to the whims of corpulent consumers of cheese that value taste so much they are content having cannonballs for bellies. Thus, Max is disturbed about the nature of his work, knowing intimately that his job decreases healthiness and contributes to rising health care costs. And when soda or cheese sticks are part of the delivery his silent curses drive fear into the oxygen atoms as they desperately try to escape his irate inhalations. Max is like many strange men in that he thinks all people should desire to improve their grossly inadequate biological bodies.
                2:30 p.m. is also time to eat lunch, brush his teeth and change into work clothes. Ah, how he loves wearing a uniform. It’s proof of being a slave, whether it’s pizza delivery or flying an airplane. Like most people, Max isn’t sure how to escape slavery, which is the condition of having to work for, and follow orders from, another human, regardless of pay or benefits. The debilitating rawness of forced routine coarsely erodes one’s vitality, but for Max, the routine itself is not noticed. Nor is his mundane job. A bibliophile is never bored.
                Dan Smothers, the manager on duty, was grinning as Max walked into Widdershin’s Pizzeria. The familiar, yet tantalizing, aroma of pizza ingredients wafted through the air.
                “Hello, Gemini”, shouted Smothers, much to the irritation of Max. Max had never been able to understand the throngs’ fascination with astrology.
                Max said hello to his under educated boss and clocked in. While waiting for orders to arrive, he busied himself by gluing coupon fliers to the lids of pizza boxes. After having happily glued roughly 50 coupons, an odd misprint caught his eye.
                Thumbing through more coupons, Max satisfied himself that they all contained the peculiar word, much like specticle, which he had found in a book about the war in Iraq before coming to work. The phone rang and moments later, Smothers voice broke his mysterious cogitation. “Four large, two pepperoni, two sausage and onion, all extra cheese.”
                With four hot pizzas in hand, Max walked through the patronless seating area, wishing most earnestly for the economy to improve. People just order pizzas these days because they don’t want to spend any extra money on gas. A large fly casually walked along the vertical scape of glass in the front of the store, unable to make sense of the lack of auxiliary information that usually accompanies vision. Max studied the fly and wondered if it felt trapped. He grimly realized that the fly is in a better situation, as its barrier is merely physical. Max can physically leave the store and still be trapped. By low income, neurotic disorders, ineffable shyness and enigmatic ennui.
                After eight splendid hours of listening to inanities from his boss, gluing coupons to pizza boxes and driving around the neighborhood, Max doesn’t handle the mental and physical fatigue as do most denizens of the civilized world. Rather than drinking acumen reducing fluids, such as vodka or beer, he goes to the gym and improves himself. The gym would probably be a healthier place if it weren’t for all the attractive women, which only exude temporizations when approached by a thinking person. Max has a frustrated love life.
                With great futility he attempted to control the microsaccades as he exited the gym, a path that forced him to walk past many sexually provocative women, due to their choice of “spray paint” attire. He understands clearly why fashion in the past contrived to conceal the shape of women under amorphous skirts and frilly blouses.
                He arrived home near midnight and added echust to the piece of paper on his desk. Echust obviously referred to sales tax and from the context in the Iraqi war novel, he inferred that specticle referred to an officer in the military, probably one of high rank. Neither word could be found in his American Heritage Dictionary, published in 1992, nor did they turn up in google searches. Several hours later he woke up with a powerful sore spot on his forehead, brushed his teeth, and resumed sleeping in his lonely bedroom.
                Trisha Porter sat placidly behind the counter in the library, eyeing all men with pavid glances and smiling exuberantly at small children. Knitting quilts for her grandchildren and watching them play occupied her thoughts, although any tike to traipse by made her think of them. Considering the flux of small children in a library, Trisha had a dream job.
                A little girl stepped up to the counter. In a minuscule, squeaky voice she asked, “Do you have Jigglebang’s Rumpslicks?” The latest craze in childhood reading.
                Trisha brightened like the glare off a car’s rear window. “Why yes we do, little sweetheart.” Before Trisha could admire her adorability any further, the little critter darted to the children’s area, apparently already aware of which books it contained. She wanted to talk to the grandmotherly woman behind the counter.
                Max Eisenberg walked into Fridley’s Fjord Public Library on a Saturday at 10:00 a.m. The smell of thousands of books imbued his dull life with a sense of hope. Children capitulated to high energy noise making in lieu of visiting popular intangible worlds. Adults, the progenitors of the silent weasels, sat reading magazines. A precocious youth sat at a table studying some arcane subject, oblivious to the tangible world in his autodidactic angst. Max looked to his left and saw Mrs. Porter staring something vicious into him.
                “What a paranoid beldam. Old crone probably thinks I’m here to maliciously disorganize the books.”
                He stepped up to the counter and gingerly handed her the Iraq war book, maintaining a stolid expression. “How are you today?”, he asked in an attempt at friendliness. A cold breeze could have departed from his lips, as she did not reply.
                Mrs. Porter put the book on a cart, which she pushed into the recesses behind the counter. Several pieces of paper were pushed off a shelf by her turbulent maneuvers and sliced through the air at varying angles before silently coming to rest on the aloof carpet. When she disappeared from view, he numbly headed for the reference section.
                Eastern Orthodoxy...Echinoderms...Eclipse, Occultation, and Transit... Max found no entry for echust in the 2007 Encyclopedia Britannica. He tried specticle next, with equally encouraging results: Spanish Literature...Speech...Sponges. He found an old dictionary. His idea had been that perhaps they were older, replaced words, having not yet been googlized. Leaving it as a mystery for another day, Max started to leave the small room and something caught his eye. A very thick book with a wordless spine supinely rested on top of a shelf. He had to stand on his toes to reach it and the other man in the room eyed him with leveled curiosity.
                Max nearly gasped when he read the title:
                My word! What is going on? Two more bizarre words, together, no less!
                The strange dictionary had a fair amount of heft, several kilograms at least. Heavier books tend to increase the anticipation of reading, for there are potentially more unknown wonders. Max was delighted and mystified. And dispirited. Reference books must stay in the reference section, as many people depend on it for important research. He opened the book randomly to the ‘C’ section and started perusing the entries. Nothing made any sense! It was completely full of gibberish nonsense words, akin to echust and specticle. Here’s what he initially saw:
                Cobargu, Faldox
                 “I must have this book!
                Max confidently carried the strange dictionary to the counter and waited patiently for Mrs. Porter. It would be a few minutes wait, as a small group of children were being entertained by her grotesque facial contortions and offensive noises. When she finally walked to him, he nonchalantly slid the book across the counter and feigned an interest in some abstract point in the distance, in order to achieve an air of casualness to offset her paranoid accusations.
                She lividly inspected the book and blurted, “This is a dictionary. You know the policy for reference material.” Much like a soldier ant guarding the anthill, with its parochial programming, she resolutely adhered to policy. “And you must have removed the spine label. Why did you do that?”
                “I didn’t.” Her jowls perceptibly quivered at the fringes of his sight as he started into her hateful eyes. “I guess I’ll bring it back to the reference room.”
                “You are not going to do that. Since you removed the spine label, I have to print a new one. It may be several weeks. Or months.”
                “Just let me look at it for a second. I need to check a few things.”
                “No.” She put the strange dictionary on a cart behind her and attended to a woman, ignoring Max.
                He left the library, cursing his stupidity. He should’ve read through more of the book before confronting that stony woman. On the way home, he listened to Keiichi Okabe’s rendition of Walking on the Land of Flames from the Mushihimesama Arrange Album.
                At 3:30 p.m. he arrived at work. Dan Smothers was talking about his car. “I dropped a dime in the lighter socket and the stereo stopped working. What a piece of shit.” Noticing Max, he said, “Hey Gemini, you’re smart. Wanna fix my stereo?”
                “You have to make friends with the right electrons.” Max knew that would irritate Smothers considerably.
                “Fuck you, Gemini.”
                Ignoring his ignobility, Max clocked in and gathered up the two pizzas under the heating element. Passing again through the patronless restaurant he noticed a fly and wondered if it was the same one from yesterday. Hard to say. They looked pretty similar.
                The Swinechurdlers ordered 12 pizzas again. Several of their blueberry shaped children trundled down the walk to help carry the carbohydrate feast as Max pulled into the driveway. Waiting expectantly, like vultures on the fringes of a lion kill. He felt sorry for the kids and anger for the parents - but he had to be nice to them. Disgusting or not, these are some of the people that allow him to pay his bills.
                Mr. Swinechurdler heaved and huffed and puffed as his gigantic girth greeted him at the front door. The wheezing never abated as he laboriously handed over $100 in an assortment of small bills. Max thanked him for the tip and walked back to his car, stopping to inspect a beautiful black jumping spider with white stripes on his windshield.
                During the day’s pizza deliveries his mind was conjuring ways to read Churzon’s Salikystic Dictionary. Asking Mrs. Porter was out of the question. The head librarian, Ms. Gillian Raw, was even more intractable. She would not listen to his concerns or pleas either. Nor could he wait. Nor did he trust Mrs. Porter to ever put the book back. He had never seen another librarian on duty and for all he knew, the beldams could in fact be living behind the counter somewhere. Thus, sneaking behind the counter during business hours did not seem worthwhile, simply because he did not know the location of the book. Sneaking would only work if it could be done in a time span of mere moments and not minutes. As for breaking in, his tactical skills included rock throwing, which is not a very elegant solution. Plus, it attracts the police with celerity.
                Two weeks had passed and he had drawn the library on graph paper, noting all access points save those on the roof, which he could not see. While he could claim to be an amateur vexillologist in order to gain access to the roof, that seemed like too tall a tale for anyone to swallow with satisfaction. He wasn’t sure why he had drawn the library on graph paper, but it was to scale and skulking around the place at night to take measurements made him feel like a spy.
                The next day he checked the reference section to see if the strange dictionary had been reshelved, but it had not. He had already surreptitiously inspected the interior of the library for hiding places, to attempt to stay after hours, and that yielded nothing. But there were two places he had not yet checked - the restrooms. The men’s restroom had a janitorial supply closet and a hatch in the ceiling above one of the urinals. The hatch could offer a way behind the counter, a way to slip back there unnoticed. The only problem was how to reach it, since there was nothing to stand on. Using a ladder would solve the problem, but as usual, the solution would cause more problems. He left the restroom and sat on the steps in front of the library, carefully watching the autotrophic plant life feed on photons as a bumblebee most earnestly tried to fly in an alarmingly erratic fashion. He got an idea.
                He still had a few hours before having to report to work, so he walked 2 miles to the nearest car rental center, Jalopy in a Jiffy. The man behind the counter, named Bud, wore blue coveralls with a large wrench sticking out of a hip pocket. Bud had a great selection of old pick-up trucks, replete with rusted beds and punctured floorboards. Max picked one with an extra long bed and drove it to Johnny Lumbar’s Lumber, which was a general hardware store, but specialized in lumber. Mr. Lumbar had a fine selection of ladders and Max picked out the finest.
                Bud had given Max a further idea he had not considered while pondering on the steps. Bud looked like a maintenance man, with those coveralls. So Max drove to Sartorial Inelegance and bought some work boots, a ball cap and blue coveralls, a fairly standard outfit for a maintenance man or janitor. Parking the rental truck in an unnumbered spot in his apartment complex, he carried the ladder inside, then went back to retrieve the clothing.
                After work, he drove to the library and parked by the dumpster. His previous data gathering had proved fruitful, since he had a found a spot where the ladder could be stashed. There was a wooded area behind the dumpster. He concealed the ladder underneath a swath of overgrowth, greatly disturbed the arthropod population, and gave his immune system something to do, what with all the scrapes and cuts the brushwood so kindly proffered. With the ladder successfully stashed and his skin smarting, he drove to an adjacent lot and parked the truck. He then began the 3 mile walk home.
                The next morning, he donned the ersatz maintenance uniform, and drove to the corporate complex located next to the library. He parked near the rental truck. It was 6:30 a.m. The library opened at 7 a.m.
                Max sat in his car, waiting for Ms. Raw to arrive. An old Buick Electra, a veritable boat on the road, pulled into the empty lot in front of the library. Gillian Raw stepped out of the car and unlocked the front doors to the library, entering without a single askew glance. The door closed behind her and sunlight meticulously reflected off the glass. He figured she would be unlocking doors, turning on lights and making rounds throughout the building. So he had made plans to enter at 8:00 a.m.
                An hour passed and he stepped out of his vehicle and headed towards the concealed ladder behind the dumpster. Several people, wearing suits, were arriving at Pecuniary, Inc. for their wild day of sitting at tables and desks. But they did not look in his direction; their minds were occupied with keeping up with Mr. Jones himself. Max braved the brush a second time, irritating more scores of arthropods, pulled the ladder out, and started walking towards the front steps. His footsteps made light grinding noises as they ground the small rocks into the pavement, transferring energy as sound waves, which crashed into the library walls. The walls did not care. A few people were entering the library as he walked up the steps and one lady even held the door for him, assuming he was a maintenance man.
                The men’s restroom was empty. Max quickly leaned the ladder against the wall and climbed up to the hatch, which was simply a piece of drywall resting over the hole in the ceiling. He pushed the drywall up and scooted it to one side. A surge of dust particles randomly scattered through the air, covering his hair and shoulders. Since only breathing out is impossible, many of them entered his lungs. And he hacked.
                “Must move quickly!”
                Ignoring the obnoxious dust particles invading his lungs, Max climbed into the crawlspace, turned around and started to pull up the ladder, careful to not make any scraping noises. When the ladder was secure, he put the drywall back in place.
                “Done! What a relief!”
                The library closed at 9 p.m. and he had prepared a backpack with food, water, a flashlight, and a Scientific American magazine. He planned to urinate and defecate freely, with abundance if necessary. He considered trying to hit the urinal from the hole, finding it rather humorous to imagine how someone would react if they walked in to see a stream of piss 8 feet long.
                After just 2 hours, he began to experience rather uncomfortable discomfort, wishing most pointlessly that he had thought of bringing a pillow. After 5 hours, he passed out on the dust laden floor, unaware of the microscopic creatures that were enjoying his body. He awoke 3 hours later, with a menacing 6 hours left until closing time.
                Six hours later, having finished the entire magazine, he started to pay very close attention to any sounds, particularly those of doors being locked. He heard sharp metallic clicking noises at 9:15 p.m. and waited another 45 minutes, primarily due to anxiety. As noiselessly as possible, he exited the restroom and headed for the counter. The library was dark and silent, amplifying his patters on the carpet and producing a variety of intangible threats. His flashlight produced a photonic cloud that made even darker, densely impenetrable, shadows.
                A variety of metal carts, bookcases of varying heights, strewn papers and pencil holders comprised the habitat behind the counter. And it was deep, perhaps 30 feet. Max started the task of looking for the strange dictionary, heading confidently towards the very back, where he presumed Mrs. Porter would have left it. It didn’t take long to find, considering it was the only book in the library bereft of a spine label. It was then that he noticed the faint line of light at the base of the door, labeled “OFFICE”. The door opened.
                Mrs. Porter stepped out and Max froze. Coming to his senses, he shined the flashlight at her eyes, in an attempt to conceal his identity. But no one has faster reflexes than an expanding shell of photons. She had already recognized him when she opened the door.
                Her face became delightfully crimson, as if her purpose in existence was to finally catch someone stealing books. “I’m calling the police. And don’t you dare try to run out of here.”
                Max bolted for the entrance and frantically pushed at the glass and metal doors until he flipped the deadbolt switch to the right. He ran for the back of the library and cut through the small wooded area, coming out in the rear of the corporate complex. Nothing in particular was running through his mind, except taking the most evasive possible route to the rented truck. When he got in the cab, he saw the familiar flashing lights coming up the street. The patrol car pulled up to the steps as closely as possible and two officers got out; one went into the library and the other began to circle the complex. He started the truck and pulled out of the lot when the officer left his field of view.
                The police would find the ladder and evidence indicating he had spent some time above the ceiling. He also dropped the flashlight. He couldn’t imagine what they would think, but imagining was very low on the list of mental priorities. They would find his car in the adjacent lot, they already knew his identity and time flows the same for everyone.
                Max drove to a popular steakhouse, The Gruesome Grill, and parked in the rear of the lot. A lot of hooting and yelling could be heard. There was no doubt a ruckus of raucous rib eating in that place. Coming back to a different type of reality, he pulled Churzon’s Salikystic Dictionary out of his backpack. His suspicions had been growing, so he opened it to the ‘S’ section and looked for specticle.
                spec•ti•cle  (spĕkʹtĭ-kəl) n.  1. A general in a military. 2. Any sentient life-form in a position to kill without restraint or possible punishment. 3. A dangerous animal. [Old Ghavish spektkyl, to cause suffering.] 
                Max leaned his head back against the seat, staring at nothing, wondering desperately about what he had found. Somehow, some odd words had made it into the vox populi, as indicated by the inclusion of specticle in the best-selling Iraqi war novel. Remembering the coupon flier, he looked up echust.
                ec•hust (ĕkʹhŭst) n.  1. A tax imposed by a government on its citizens. 2. The excess hydrogen atoms given to home planets from asteroid dwellers. 3. Assistance. [Middle Sjask ecchjsdt, assistance.]
                A large bellow of laughter, mixed with chortles and obnoxious hoots, disturbed his contemplation. Four men with distended stomachs wearing stained T-shirts piled into the car next to him. Max entertained the notion that an analysis of their stomach contents could serve as the dissertation for a gastroenterologist. While the bustling activity provided great cover from the prying police, it had the disadvantage of stymieing cognition. Carrying the strange dictionary, Max walked behind the restaurant into a complex of warehouses. He had driven 20 miles from the library; thus sitting under a light on metal steps provided no discomfort other than the hardness of the metal.
                After nearly an hour and one sore rump later, he determined that it was not the work of a creative writer. While someone clinically insane could make up 300,000 new words, he doubted such a person would be able to get it professionally printed and bound. A group of people could have made it, but for what purpose? Curiously, the front of the dictionary provided an address for the publisher. It was unlike any address he had seen before:

                Churzon’s Nask
                122 Gryd Suhjart
                Yholpulga, MO 63033

                Max checked Google Earth on his cell phone and 63033 was on the other side of Missouri, about 4 hours away from his hometown of Lawson. While it could find no match for ‘Yholpulga’, the zip code and state were something, at least. He had $400 in cash, which was plenty enough to make it to 63033. Again checking Google Earth, he determined the most efficient route to Highway 70, which connected directly to 63033.
                The trip across Missouri provided no adrenaline rushing moments, for, after all, the police weren’t going to scour the country for him. Not for hiding in a library and stealing a book. But the back of his head felt eyes staring at him, in the usual way that backs of heads feel things. According to Google Earth, the zip code 63033 was Florissant. Except, when he arrived, a sign stating “Welcome to Yholpulga” greeted him.
                He pulled into one of the ubiquitous Quiktrips and asked whereabouts Florissant could be found.
                “Don’t know what yer talkin’ ‘bout, bud.” The man, coincidentally, named Bud, had a large stomach, with eyes glazed over from carbohydrate laden snack foods. Bud was a shining example of the benefits of a Quiktrip diet.
                “So this has always been Yholpulga?” Max asked as Bud scratched his stomach.
                “As far back as I can reckon.”
                “And just how far back can you reckon?”
                “Mister, you is crazy.”
                Max ignored the jibe and pressed further. “Do you know where grid sue-jart is?”
                “Surely I do. Except ya say it like gride suh-jart.
                Max was listening very attentively now.
                “Ya pull a left outta here and head up thataways until ya hit Flyd Suhjart. Make uh right and go ‘bout 2 miles. You’ll hit it as surely as my turds hit toilet water.”
                “What a disgusting fucking redneck.
                Max walked out and got back in the truck, noticing the gas prices were not in dollars. The stated prices were in Arabic numerals, but the dollar symbol was replaced by a paraboloid with a ray, presumably intended to be light, shooting from the center. It looked similar to a cereal bowl with a knife, viewed edge-on, sticking straight out.
                Max felt uncomfortable as he drove up Flyd Suhjart. The prospect of being found by the police had been replaced by more urgent concerns. Whatever he was going to find at 122 Gryd Suhjart would likely outclass the inconsistent words and strange symbol.
                Churzon’s Nask was an opulent office building hovering approximately 6 inches off the ground. He parked and noticed nothing else peculiar. All the cars in the lot looked normal, the trees were not inverted, the squirrels were not talking, and the pavement was not flowing. One must be ready for anything when they see a floating building.
                He opened the strange dictionary to nask and read the entry...
                nask (năsk) n.  1. The headquarters of a company or corporation. 2. A decision. [Old Ghavish naysk, clarity]
                Well, that did clear things up. Max boldly stepped up thin air into the lobby of the building. And shortly discovered he couldn’t move.
                Two men in dark clothing were talking. Max supinely rested on a cot, unrestrained, but nonetheless immobile. One of them looked at Max and he felt his jaw muscles become functional.
                “Where am I?”
                The man walked to the cot and stared down into Max’s eyes. They revealed nothing.
                “You’re at the Leptonic Laundry Facility,” he stated with unequivocal precision.
                “But I thought...this was the headquarters...”
                “You were sent here when our system detected you.”
                “What happened with the words? Why were they changing?”
                “The problem, Max, is that you were not changing.”
                “Is this a parallel universe?”
                “No, those are fanciful constructs in the science fiction stories you like to read.”
                “Am I in a computer, like The Matrix?”
                The man conferred with the other for a moment.
                “No. You are real. The universe itself is artificial.”
                Max was nonplused. He finally asked, “Are you Churzon?”
                “Churzon is not a man. It is the name of the company I work for.”
                “What does Churzon do?”
                “We make artificial universes.”
                “There is a market for them. Some people want a private universe.”
                Max asked, “What’s going to happen to me?”
                The man walked away and left the room. The other faced Max, with a grin.
                “We take pride in making good products and we can’t have any defects.”

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