Sam’s Answers (a short story)November 4, 2009 -
Novmeber 4, 2003
It was a day like any other for Herbert S. Walden. There was nothing extraordinary about the weather or the people hustling by the 22 story complex on 23rd and Spine St. It isn’t often that there are anomalies in the working day of a door man, but this day promised to be different to this forty-something.
“Morning Mr. Ralph.”
No cars careened off the road into pedestrians. No Squeegee-kids discussing quantum physics. No one was wounded by the pigeons that bobbed predictably on the curb. Gargoyles didn’t rain from the rooftops. Curious.
“How’s the weather Herb?”
“It’s fine.” It was a little too fine.
It was nearly 9 o’clock now. Streaks of yellow whooshed by the brass gateway that was Walden’s post. The taxi traffic was picking up. None exploded. None even burst into flames.
“You seem distracted Heebs” It was the Courier guy. What a jerk. What a dumb font. Herbert hated being called ‘Heebs’ and had told him on more than one occasion.
“I’m waiting for something.”
“Well you have fun with that, don’t work too hard!” He laughed. A lot of people laugh at their own jokes. Only a jerk would laugh at that though.
9:30 – none of Heeb’s dead relatives paid him a visit
10 o’clock – no CHUDs came out the drains
10:30 – no kamikaze bicyclists
11 o’clock – no earthquakes
11 o’clock also meant it was lunch time. Door men have to live in a different time zone. If they exist in the same time as everyone else, no one would mind the doors when one goes home for lunch. The door man lives an hour ahead of us.
…The stuff heroes are made of.
Stuart met him at the punch clock. “Rough Day?”
“Don’t believe everything you read Stu.”
Herbert normally went to Bob’s Diner for lunch, but today he had to make a small detour. He needed answers.
The door to Sam’s Answers had bells on the handle. ding ding. How quaint.
Sam was old. ding ding. How quaint.
“Good afternoon” (It wasn’t really afternoon, but a good teller has to be sensitive to time-zone afflicted people. The retail worker himself has to rearrange his day. Breakfast and lunch are 8 hours apart, but lunch and supper are only 10 minutes apart).
“Are you looking for any answers in particular today?”
“Yeah!” Herbert began to list off on his left hand, “I haven’t seen anyone spontaneously combust or witnessed any natural disasters, or -” (Heebs was getting noticeably irritabler).
“Hold on pal!” Sam shook his head and smiled. To anyone but Heebs it wouldn’t have seemed like a know-it-all-jerk smile.
“Am I missing something?”
Herbert reached into his jacket pocket and produced a small newspaper clipping. “It’s my horoscope for today.”
Sam did that quaint head-bobby thing that old people do with their funny 2-for-1 glasses and read the aloud:
“Aries: Expect the unexpected today…Hmm”
“So?” Herbert prodded, “Am I being too impatient? The day is only half over…”
“No, I don’t think that this is the problem at all!” Sam said leaning forward on the counter top. Herbert noticed for the first time that the counter wasn’t a counter at all but a table. And that Sam’s Answers wasn’t anything more than a bare room. The floor bore faded marks where store furniture once stood.
“I think that the problem is with you.”
” ” Herbert’s blank stare said it all.
“You’re expecting too much. You need to relax.”
” ?” Herbert replied.
“Absolutely. Just go back out there and stop expecting it. UNexpect it. It says so right here. Expect the unexpected, Unexpect the expected. I suspect you expect incorrect. Accept it.”
Herbert walked out the door with a new outlook on life. ‘Expect the unexpected’, ‘expecting too much’. He was contradicting himself and as a result he was abusing his horoscope. Herbert set forth anew to only expect the unexpectable and live the day as he normally would.
Suddenly a giant squid pulled Herbert into the alley way and devoured him whole, and burst into flame.
Fly on the Wall
November 5, 2003
It was a busy busy day for Stu Eardrums, a very very busy day indeed.
It was busy for everyone like Stu too.
On a day like this Stu will drink a lot of coffee.
Stu’s mind was a mile a minute.
That’s 1.6 KM per minute.
That’s around the world in 20,416 minutes.
That’s 340.23 hours
That’s roughly two weeks.
Stu doesn’t have that kind of time!
Poor Stu. He hates paper work, and here he is working in an insurance firm.
Today he’s filing through life insurance claims.
“Where’s Wanda!?” A panicked voice two cubicles over yelled,
“Is she dead?!” another added,
“Her birthday isn’t until September!” added a third,
She must be late!” Stu replied.
“THEN CALL HER!” The other three yelled in unison.
Stu didn’t have time to call her. No one did. That’s why he called her.
It rang 2.75 times. Stu spun his pencil in his hand nervously 3.4 times in that span.
“Why aren’t you here!?”
“How could you? Haven’t you heard?!”
“Yesterday everyone born between March 21 – April 20 died unexpectedly!”
“Oh thank you so much!”
“No thanks I’ll get some one the way home”
“Ok, see you soon!”
The clock ticked. The sweat beaded. The pencils tapped on the desks. Papers flew – the phones went crazy until –
It was very faint at first.
The thirty most stressed out people in the city held their breath.
“Did you hear that?!”
small at first – then bigger.
The housefly mastered the airways like a drunk.
From face to face, cubicle to cubicle the fly haphazardly made its way around the room.
Swats were taken.
Thirty of the most high strung people in the city were being held hostage by an insect.
“I’m losing it!”
“Dang! Almost got him.”
A faint buzzing was all that it took to bring chaos, until –
…It was on the window. Was it trying to get out?
Was it relaxing?
Stu was closest. It hung on the wall were the real world and his cubicle met.
“Kill it Stu!”
“For the love of Gravy!” The blood left his face. He became cold. He was already holding rolled up papers in his stressful state.
The fly was a mere arms length away.
He sat on the window rubbing his hands together mischievously as though plotting his next tour.
“Stu – we’re very busy…Kill it”
“promotion time is coming up Stu…”
Their voices were hushed now…
Anticipation, fear and suspense gripped and held the thirty most peer pressuring people in the city.
Sixty eyes were on him.
He pushed his glasses up the sweatiest part of his nose.
Hot tears came up to his eye lids blurring his vision.
Stu – a grown man pushed his way through a crowd of the most confused people in the city. He ran. He ran down the stairs, ran past the new door man, ran down Spine street and into history.
“Karma,” scoffed Scott from one cubicle over.
WHAM! Mrs. Johnston’s claim met the window. She deserved it.
“What’s his problem?” the tension left the room.
Scott’s laughter and the relief of the entire room was soon cut short.
The building shook. Light from outdoors became blocked off by a large black surface.
“What the -” Giant fly mandible-thingys smashed through the glass and promptly cut Scott in half at the waist, before flying off to the dump. It was karma.
* * *
“That’s so tragic,” Sam said truly sympathetically. “Scott was born on the Cusp.”
“Yeah, and what’s more” Wanda complained “Now we’re short staffed two workers for all these March/April Claims.”
Jake dove through the bay window of his second floor apartment and landed on the lawn in a shower of glass.
Jake’s house turned into a fire ball. Fragments of brick and plaster made their way through the skies like fireworks. Jake rolled painfully onto his back and took a deep breath. “Not again.”
The trip to the insurance building was as usual an interesting trip. When your life is ordinarily extraordinary you get used to it. He lost a sneaker to a large black dog. A car careened off the road and almost hit him. He was attacked by pigeons and almost crushed by a falling gargoyle. “Stupid Jake” His wife explained before he got the flesh eating disease three years previous. “He brings it upon himself”. He was almost mugged three times along the way, but his assailants stopped at realizing he had nothing to have stolen. The only thing Jake had was bad luck.
* * *
“What do you mean ‘wait and see’? They said you were the answers guy!? What’s going on!”
“I can’t say, there isn’t an answer yet.”
“That makes no sense… when will I know?”
“It’s a secret. You’re being too forward.” The man across the counter from Sam was getting red in the face.
“I think that this Sam’s Answers is more like Sam’s trickiness!”
ding ding (how quaint)
“Why don’t you ask him” Sam said “He’s my best customer.”
The man turned to behold a queer site. Jake was approaching with his hand in his bloody mouth.
“I ‘oth anover toof Tham” he said through his hand, and pulled out shattered fragments of enamel.
“You bump into a tall guy on 45th?” Sam asked
“Yeah.” Jake pulled up a stool next to the bewildered red-faced man. It promptly fell apart sending Jake to the ground.
“That reminds me,” Jake said pulling himself off the floor “I was gonna return that book you leant me, but the cab I was in exploded. I got thrown into the river, but the book didn’t make it.”
“It happens,” Sam shrugged.
“You…what?” the now paler man stammered
“Jack has bad luck” Sam explained
“Jake” Jake interjected
“Sorry, Jake has bad luck,” Sam re-explained “He broke a chain email.”
“I’m into 5 years of bad luck”
“How much longer do you have to go?” asked the other guy.
“Only 3 hours! Then hopefully I can go back to work.”
Hot Head: ” ?”
“I was an elevator attendant across the street. Because of me the elevator plummeted 22 stories.”
“Yup. Being on disability is brutal”
“Disability!? Bad luck isn’t a disability!” said the man with the re-reddening face.
“Neither is being a jerk!” Jake snapped back
“Who are you calling a jerk, buddy?”
“Whoa fellahs, why don’t you relax -”
“Who are you calling buddy, Pal?!”
This talk didn’t last long. Soon the two frustrated men resorted to fisticuffs. Jake swung and missed and sprained his wrist on the wall. The angry man broke Jake’s nose, and then ran away screaming in terror.
“What’s his problem anyways, Sam?” said Jake nasally through a tissue-stuffed nose.
“He’s having space-time conflicts. What are you here for?”
Answers for Sam
“What am I here for? You’re the answers guy, don’t you know?”
“Naw, I’m on my lunch break now.”
Sam pulled a sandwich out of the cash register. Jake noticed for the first time that the cast register was really a paper bag.
“…I’m on my way to the insurance building. I thought I’d stop by and say hi.”
“I thought the insurance company stopped paying you for your damages after the last time you took public transportation?”
“Oh they did, but I hear they’re hiring. Anyways, I should go, the bad luck ends 2 hours, and 58 minutes, I’d better hurry if I’m going to get there on time for my interview.”
-HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” The man with the red face ran down an alley and threw himself behind a garbage bin. “Get a hold of yourself Todd… get a hold”
He tried to wipe the cold drying blood of Jake onto his jeans with no success.
The oddness had all begun that morning when Todd got up. He was late for work because an alarm am/pm mix-up. He had a quick supper and left for work. The rising sun was blindingly bright as he headed up 36th West, and as a result he didn’t notice that he was in fact in the wrong lane.
The faint glimmer ahead gave Todd a start, he slammed his foot against the break. Rubber and asphalt whined. The car eased to a halt. Todd, a little shaken but unhurt, got out of his car.
“Have you been drinking son?” still dazed Todd realized that the man before him was a police officer, already taking notes.
“How did you -” Todd cut himself short. There were two cruisers and an ambulance beyond his car – but more startlingly, a minivan with a crumpled hood lay one foot away from the front of his car. Todd leaned forward in awe – the van was bent in the converse shape of the front of his car. The twisted metal bore the marks of the same colour of beige paint his car had.
“Is this some kind of joke?” Todd asked the officer accusingly.
“Does this seem funny to you?”
“But look at my car, it’s not even scratched, this accident happened before I got here!”
“You’re in shock” the officer replied scribbling notes.
“Hey I can’t wait all day, do you want me to tow it away or not?” An impatient tow truck driver Todd hadn’t noticed was sitting on the trunk of his car.
“What do you mean tow it away?! I wasn’t in an accident! My cars in perfect -”
“Yeah, get this heap out of here” the cop said waving it away.
“Easy now big fellah!” before Todd had time to identify the voice behind him a thick restraining band was wound around his neck. Todd instinctively raised his arms to stop this choking object when he was whisked up into the air and slammed onto a stretcher. Looking up Todd saw 3 large paramedics.
“You’re ok now, ok? Can you hear me?”
“Yeah I can hear you – I’m fi-”
“He’s going into shock!”
A rubber air mask was put over Todd’s face.
“What are you doing? Let go of me! …LET GO!” Todd wrenched his arm free and leapt off the stretcher. He stood in amazement as he observed that this had no effect on the paramedics. They continued to restrain the stretcher upon which he had been laying.
The rest of Todd’s day hadn’t been much better. He sat in the alley way feeling sorry for himself for a while longer, but soon left because of the putrid smells of decaying seafood and a sharp acrid burnt smell.
“Not even the famed Sam could answer my questions” he sighed “Said I was too ‘forward'”. Todd stopped dead in his tracks. ‘Could it be that easy?’ he thought. ‘Too forward? It’s worth a shot’
* * *
Todd hesitantly entered Sam’s Answers backwards, “Goodbye Sam, thanks again.”
“Glad I could help.” the old man replied.
Todd sat down and thought hard about what he should say next…or was it last?
“um…So that’s why I’ve been having a crazy day. That explains it then.” He gave Sam a look as if he was hinting at a secret.
“So you see Todd, it was just a simple case of space-time being messed up.”
Todd sat there looking very confused. Sam sipped his tea and waited patiently. And waited.
And waited. Todd rubbed his temples in anticipation of a headache that he felt coming on – or was it a head ache he’d already had?
“I’m not cut out for this’ Todd Muttered.
“ahem. yeah, so that’s what you did to cause it.” hinted Sam.
“No, you haven’t caused the problem yet. It’s backwards see, you still have to break space-time. Effect then cause.”
“Oh I know!” Todd said excitedly “But I haven’t done anything to cause this!”
“Yes, so those are just some things that can cause it.”
“umm… really, I didn’t know that.” Todd was trembling. This was the most intriguing conversation he’d ever had. Too often when talking we just let our audio auto pilot take care of things. This really made him think.
“Space time can be messed up by many things, taking a picture of yourself in the mirror, calling yourself and talking on both phones, things like that.”
“Heh, So what causes this!” Todd said giving Sam the wink-and-the-gun.
“Hello Todd, I knew you’d figure it out.”
“Hello Sam! I need answers!” With that Todd got up and ran out of Sam’s Answers for the second time that day.
As Jake had predicted, bad luck makes even a short trip arduous. What could have been a half hour walk up 24 flights of stairs became a trial of endurance. Fires, terrorists, rabid cats and cannibals were just a few of his challanges on his way up. Nearly out of breath, and a little worn looking he came to the last landing. There, laying on the top step was a twenty dollar bill.
“My luck is looking up!”
* * *
With the change in luck came success. Jake’s interview went excellently, he met all of there criteria, and was encouraged to start work right away. With an armful of folders and manila envelopes Jake followed the directions to his cubicle. He was surpried that his would be right by the window. Why wouldn’t someone with seniority have taken it? There was a maintanance man installing a new pane of glass. Jake had to stoop to get under the ladder. He sat down at his new station and decided to check his email before cracking down on his new assignments. In the four and one half years since his computer had exploded Jake had received just over forty kagillion new emails.
Todd merrily skipped down the street. He knew the end of the madness was close at hand – He was going to the Spine St. strip mall. On the way he j-walked, and took money from buskers (who thanked him very much). “There are some perks to living in a messed up time-line”.
Todd had imagined that causing this flux in his life would be easier, but this mall didn’t meet his needs. No two consecutive pay phones worked, and the audio visual section of the electronics store was closely guarded by snooty clerks. There would be no video-hijinx there.
Todd paced the mall for what seemed like hours. He was feeling jet lagged. Suddenly inspired Todd ventured into no-man’s land – a female clothing store. Naturally it was the last place Todd thought about fixing the time-line. He timidly walked by racks of baggy teen clothes and past the sassy clerks and made his way to the dressing room mirrors. A trendy gum-smacking girl was standing before the three hinged mirrors at an outragous angle holding a dress over her trying to imagine what it would look like if she actually tried it on. Todd crossed his arms and tried to look impatient. She swivelled her hips as if it had some affect on the appearance. Todd was getting anxious “It looks horrible on you.” The outraged teen smacked her tounge in offense and retreated to the other side of the store to the safety of other angsty teens.
Todd stood before the mirrors. “this is it” he said. He drew close and pulled the hinged mirrors around him. He was now standing in his own personal triangular room of mirrors. He was staring at dozens of other Todds. He adjusted the mirrors back and forth. There he was disheveled and confused looking as far as the eye could see. The cascade of blue shirts inspired him.
“She Sells Sea Shells by the Sea Shore… She Sells Sea Shells by the Sea Shore!” Todd had mastered the tongue twister as a child. He recited it time and again while eyeing up his the other Todds.
“She sells she shells… See… SHE shells she shells…She…ARG!” One of the hundreds of reflected Todd’s broke formation and smacked his forehead. He looked up. The two Todd’s eyes met. “Whoa.” they said in unison. They stared at one another dumbfounded. Reflected Todd wasn’t wearing blue, he was wearing a turquoise hospital gown. There was blood on his forehead.
“Does this break my space time problems?”
“I hope so.” Reflected Todd replied. Todd stepped away from the mirrors and looked around for some sign of a restored reality. He was greeted with the sullen glares of moody retail clerks. He made his way out of the maze of clothes, and winced at a pain in his neck. It was stiff and sore. ‘What caused this?’ he wondered, and raised his hand to rub it. Todd froze – he no longer was wearing his blue cotton business causal shirt, he was wearing turquoise. Todd’s concern grew.
“She shells… She sellsh shea she… she sh… WHO AM I!?”
Chain of events
“Well, better start at the top.” Jake said clicking on his first email
Fwd: fwd: fw: please reply
>> Dear reader
>> Soft-drink monopolist Rudey Pitudey has recently bought the moon and has plans to have his soda logo carved into it. This
>> Blatant abuse and aggressive commercialism will turn all our offspring into mindless consumer zombies. Fortunatley we can
>> stop him. Please sign your name at the bottom of this email and send it to 300 people. If you don’t do this in the next two
>> minutes you will have a terrible curse put upon you.
“Jake I almost forgot – wait, What are you doing? Emails? On company time?!”
“Sorry sir, I didn’t know it was policy -”
“Here’s a new policy for you: You’re fired. you can do this on your own time.”
“You have one minute to clean out your stuff and get out of here.”
Jake froze. “Sir, if it’s all the same to you, can I just finish this email first, if I don’t respond in thirty minutes -”
“Security!” Then to Jake’s horror the big-bad boss flipped the power bar switch. In an instant the email fizzled off the screen.
“…no.” Jake whispered.
“I hope you’re happy Jake, I don’t like to do this, but if I – What was that?” The building trembled. It trembled again.
“I told you to let me finish the email…”
“What’s happening?” The ground shook again, this time sending the men to the floor. “WHAT’S GOING ON!?”
“…It’s the ultimate embodiment of bad luck…it’s coming for me…” Jake said calmly.
“You – you don’t mean…”
“yes. The Woodpecker of Doom.”
With that she began to strike her beak more ferociously. Glass and concrete rained upon the street below. Her gigantic evil eye was level with Jake. “The Gas line!” one of the maintenance men screamed. The building exploded. It was a horrible stroke of the worst kind of bad luck.
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This post was written by ArleyM