by Max Talley
Jeremy Rebus startled awake. A voice throbbed inside: Go to work, go to work! The words sounded familiar. Nietzsche spoke of waking each morning to create the fiction of one’s identity, one’s life. Jeremy often pondered that after rising, and again today as he stood dazed before the bathroom mirror. Much of his identity remained wrapped up in his job. He had been a clerk, an assistant manager at Transitions Unlimited for ten years. Perhaps longer. Everything seemed clear once, but of late he was bedeviled by confusion, irked by an amnesiac fog cast over essential details.
A week ago, an intriguing co-worker asked, “How old are you?” Normally, he found such questions invasive, however, Christina had inquired with a smile while brushing lint off his jacket. He theorized that she wondered if Jeremy was in her acceptable potential dating range. She being around thirty-five.
Jeremy paused in mystification. “I, uh...”
“Don’t be embarrassed.” Christina played with her blonde hair that showed dark roots. “I know you’re older. That’s cool.” She eyed him. “Forty-five?”
Trying to end the strained moment, Jeremy said, “Right. You guessed it.”
She nodded with a smirk and returned to her cubicle.
He now felt determined to confirm his age. After showering, Jeremy ransacked the drawers in his studio apartment but couldn’t find a driver’s license. No wonder. He lived in the Center Square neighborhood of Albany just four blocks from Transitions’ office. With parking garage costs and urban traffic snarled most of the day, Jeremy’s license had either expired or he never sought one in the first place. Jeremy unearthed credit cards, though no birth certificate. He Googled his name. Five different people came up. None of their photos resembled him; their ages ranged from twenty-three to eighty-seven.
Jeremy then noticed his flat screen TV atop the dresser had vanished. Worse, after checking his pockets, his wallet containing a hundred in cash was gone. What the hell? Noticing the digital clock by his bed showing 8:45, he quickly dressed and raced outside.
The main room at Transitions was rectangular with connected cubicles. Beyond it, sat two private executive offices. People in-between jobs and those unemployed for longer periods came to Transitions to sharpen their resumes, or to be referred for temp work and permanent positions. Sometimes they just received a pep talk. Part employment agency and part counseling service. Transitions received a small fee from walk-ins and a payment from companies that hired qualified applicants.
Jeremy worked in their smaller back room. At one time, seven employees held desks there. It now served as a graveyard for malfunctioning office equipment, file cabinets, and broken swivel chairs. The other associates had vacated the rear area due to odd circumstances.
The fluorescent light tubes overhead buzzed noticeably, and at times the volume increased to bug-zapper-in-kill-mode frequency. Even when the tubes were replaced or repaired by electricians, the irritating noise continued. But Jeremy rarely noticed it.
The air vent system that brought cooler temperatures in the summer sometimes malfunctioned and emanated a foul, rotting odor. In the winter, the steam heating pipes clanked with alarming vigor while providing minimal warmth. Female coworkers took to wearing coats and wool hats inside. On occasion, they claimed to hear anguished voices pleading through the brick walls. Jeremy remained unphased.
One coworker, Maryanne, had complained about him. Jeremy’s friend Titus Wilson recounted her words later. “That guy goes into a trance for hours, just typing away frantically, not talking, ignoring us,” Maryanne had said. “He’s either an arrogant prick or he’s been touched. You know, drop-kicked at birth.”
Jeremy worked at a heavy oak desk pressed against the rear wall. Beyond the desk stood a door with three outsized locks on it. He had been entrusted with a secret: the never-to-be-opened door led to a fifteen-foot hallway leading to another locked door for an office in the adjoining building. Why this suspended bridge passageway existed was never discussed.
The only person who knew anything of the locked door’s origin was Thad Wexler, the Director of Transitions. A reclusive man, Wexler refused to venture into the office. No one beyond the two senior managers up front ever contacted him.
Jeremy opened a computer file and began typing letters, numbers, and symbols at a rapid speed. All day, every day, he filled blank documents with incomprehensible gibberish. Sometimes he theorized he must be writing code, even though Transitions did not employ in-house coders.
Jeremy’s fingers moved on their own accord so he didn’t fight them. At the end of the week, he received a decent paycheck, and on the first of the month his apartment rent was auto-paid by Transitions. Jeremy’s terms of employment dictated that he work from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and that he be the last person to leave. Fifteen minute breaks were allowed and a half-hour to eat a delivered lunch in his back room.
During a morning break, Jeremy found himself unlocking the desk’s lowest drawer. He hovered on a distant plane watching one hand feel around until his fingers touched cold metal. Three keys on a keychain for the locks on the sealed door. A bolt of electric pain shot through his forehead. “Keep them on your person at all times.” Thad Wexler had stressed this over and over in voicemails. Jeremy flattened his brown hair to his skull as he did when vexed.
Where did he lose them and how did they end up back in his desk? He returned to manic, automatic typing. When his tuna sandwich lunch arrived at 1 p.m., bits of the recent past filtered into Jeremy’s fragmented memory.
Titus from the outer office set the plastic tray on Jeremy’s desk and studied pieces of discarded machinery cluttering the room.
He sniffed the air. “Damn it stinks in here. And whatever died in those air vents, I’m definitely allergic to.” He gazed at Jeremy with sympathy.
“Hey, man, you want to eat with us, outside, get some fresher air?”
“Sorry,” Jeremy replied. “Too much work to finish.”
“Not to pry, but what do you do exactly?”
Jeremy froze; he didn’t know. Suddenly, words vomited up out of his throat. “I catalog each person who comes through Transitions office. File their information, gauge their career trajectory. I calculate the success and failure rate then submit the data to Thad Wexler.” He smiled. “That way we can continually improve our interface with humanity.”
Please purchase a copy of Delirium Corridor, to see how it ends for Jeremy!