That’s what happens in the absurd novel I’m working on!
Bert Blaxon fidgeted with his glasses, something he always did when he was getting yelled at. He was worried, as usual, about losing his job.
“Bert, come see me!” screeched Fernillipy from the other end of the office.
Bert jogged from his desk and down the hallway. This is it, he thought.
The walls of his boss’s office were painted in a suffocating shade of beige and perfectly fit with the tired mustard metal desk. The small window to the back hid behind a cracked set of purple venetian blinds, and for whatever reason, his boss had papered one wall in red and brown plaid wallpaper. The last time this office had been gloriously refurbished was six years ago, which also happened to be the same amount of time another glorious refurbishing was due. Every second an emergency interior designer wasn’t called in lay greater offense to any innocent pair of eyes unfortunate enough to witness the insides of this office. And very unfortunately, Bert’s eyes weren’t very innocent. They had been exposed to these horrendous surroundings more than any other office lackey.
Not two seconds of visual offense had passed and Bert’s boss, Fernillipy, was already barking her insults at him. She was always looking for any minute reason to get rid of Bert, and today she had found one. Her lips flapped so fast that her spit nearly formed the words she spewed at his face. Needless to say, Fernillipy had the personality of a steaming pile of sludge.
Fernillipy herself was an offensive sight. Her black, scraggly hair had likely never seen a comb and was currently featured on the front page of Rat’s Nest Magazine. Her most upsetting feature was that she was always frowning. So often that it looked as if someone had permanently wrapped an elastic around her eyes, nose and mouth.
Bert had often wondered how Fernillipy, with her incompetence the size of a manatee, had even been hired in the first place. He supposed that all the other applicants had taken one look at the lack of opportunity of the position and promptly fled. The only thing Fernillipy wasn’t incompetent in was micromanagement. Regrettably for Bert, he was the only one she managed and she took full advantage of her only skill, even going so far as to keep a microscope on her desk as a constant reminder. She had been so successful at micromanaging Bert that he hadn’t been able to learn any greater skills than relying on Fernillipy for every decision. Because of this, he had no hope for ever finding another job. Who would want somebody from Superdump’s Marketing department who had been there for nearly six years and not gained a single skill?
“Bert, you gangly, needle-nosed chimp.” She held up the 50 page slide deck that Bert had stayed up till 3:00 AM to finish. “You spelled Footnote wrong in the footnote on page 4. You’re about as competent as a fistful of worms in a cheese soufflé.”
Bert parted his chapped lips. He wanted to retort. Badly. But, his nerves weren’t strong enough to deal with her wrath. They were hardly as strong as a two-pound chicken. Instead he resorted to just thinking about his retort. I didn’t even write that footnote! Bert screamed at Fernillipy within his mind. I pasted it from another presentation that YOU wrote. Even though his thoughts were confident, they had hardly any effect on his nerves, which were currently in a ring with a two-pound chicken (and losing mind you). Instead, Bert diverted his gaze from the elastic-wrapped, scrunch-face of his boss and caught a glimpse of his reflection from the glass plate of the microscope on her desk. A sorry-looking face with unkempt brown hair and green eyes looked back at him. I’m not a needle-nosed chimp, he thought and went back to fidgeting with his glasses, adjusting them around his ears.
“Don’t look away from me when I’m talking to you, you feeble, pie-faced telephone pole,” Fernillipy barked so loudly, Bert had to dodge the hurling insult of spit, and his glasses fell off.
Now Bert couldn’t see much, which made his need to fidget even worse. She’s going to fire me. His hands naturally went for the next closest thing, his red tie. In seconds he had fidgeted away the weak knot. The whole thing unravelled and fell to the floor. Unsure of what to do next, Bert’s hands went all jazz for a moment, before they found the buckle of his belt.
“Out of my office, and reprint the whole deck, or pack your things!”
Bert scooped up his accessories from the floor, snatched the 50 page deck, and fled like a turtle without its shell.
Rounding the office hallway, Bert tripped over something and planted his nose face first into the floor.
“Sorree,” said Clumsy in a cutesy voice.
Bert rolled over onto his back and looked up at Clumsy, who retracted her foot. She blew a big, pink bubble while she twirled one of her pigtails with a finger. She wore her usual extra large pink sweater, which hung loosely on her thin frame all the way down to her knee-high green socks. The bubble burst and she used her tongue to scrape the gum off her nose and back into her mouth.
“You do enjoy yourself,” replied Bert, sitting up and collecting the papers of his presentation.
“Yup!” replied Clumsy and she turned and skipped down the office hallway.
“Who let her in here?” yelled Bert, looking around to see if anyone else had noticed, but everyone was too busy businessing to pay any attention. Bert stood up, pushed his glasses to the top of his nose and tucked the presentation under his arm. He retreated to his brown cubicle in the corner of the office.
“How was the daily beating?” Nate Quimbleton’s tall frame dwarfed Bert’s. He slung his hand over the partition of Bert’s cubicle and took a sip of his coffee. The mug said, “Mondays, Baby”.
“Not bad this time. At least I didn’t fidget the buttons off my shirt like yesterday.”
“Bert, I tell ya, you’ve gotta take kick boxing classes or something, get your nerves in order. You’re never gonna climb the corporate ladder getting pushed around like that.”
“How’s your own climb going?” said Bert, entirely uninterested and looking at his nails. One of them was developing a bad case of hang and Bert made a mental note to sort it out later.
Nate slackened his posture. “Heh, I’ve only been here five months, unlike you.”
“Well, I’m not going anywhere unless I can appease Fernillipy.”
“That’s impossible. You know that. You’ve been living on the edge of her wrath since you started here.”
“Yeah, but pleasing her is the only way I’ve been able to keep my job. One big slip up and she’ll fire me. She’s been looking for excuses.”
“Why not just quit? There’s not a boss in the world as bad as her.”
Bert sighed to himself and imagined quitting, but the ambiguity of Unemployment really unsettled him.
“I can’t. Crippling Debt would ruin me. I need this job to keep him at bay.”
Nate stared blankly at Bert for a moment. “I dunno, Berty boy, Every day I see you sigh all over the place. Isn’t there something you’re better at doing?”
“I grow thyme in my apartment.”
Bert visualized the thirteen varieties of thyme he grew in mason jar pots in his apartment window. Every night he tended tenderly to them. He was trying to develop a thyme for tea.
“Strange.” Nate took a sip of his mug.
“Kay Nate, sorry, but I gotta get to work, Fernillipy’s presentation is tomorrow.”
“Why aren’t you presenting? You practically wrote the whole thing!”
Bert stared at the slide deck in his hands. Superdump Trash Growth Strategy read the first page. Combat Tactics from Slumping Sales. He flipped through the pages till a blaring red circle screamed at him from the footnote on the bottom of page 4. “Yeah, except for a few footnotes…”
“Tough,” said Nate, unconsciously picking his nose.
Bert flipped through the rest of the deck. The last page had a personalized note to him, also in red ink.
Tomorow is your 6 year aniversary with Superdump. Congradulations. I have no idea how an incompatent lacky like you has slipped throu the cracks this long, and I’ve regretted hiring you since the moment I hired you. However, after I present your completily rubish Trash Growth Strategy to the board tomorrow, I can guarentee you they will be the opposite of impressed. Better start looking for some referinces, because I certenly won’t be giving you one. It’ll be a relief to know I’ll finally have grounds to get rid of you. Consider this heads up a faver.
“That sucks,” said Nate.
Bert hung his coat next to the door and waved to Crippling Debt, which was flipping away at the TV and reading the newspaper.
Bert’s bachelor pad was the prettiest thing four walls could muster – a kitchenette, a retractable bed-sofa, a milk crate desk, and a hand-me-down love seat from his mother, which Crippling Debt was currently occupying. The window, which looked as if it has been forced into the wall, faced the beautifully glistening Lake Ontario. However, another apartment building had been built a mere twelve feet away, and obstructed any beautifully glistening views. The thirteen mason jars sat on its sill. Bert had packed them tightly with his own concoction of potting soil, nitrogen, foam balls, eggshells, and mint tea bags. The whole hobby had only cost him eighty-seven dollars, which he had saved from picking up loose change on the his way to work every day.
Bert opened the fridge to grab a slice of pizza from yesterday’s takeout, but came back empty handed.
“Sorry,” muttered Crippling Debt.
Bert looked up at his Crippling Debt. The large, balding man was wearing a soiled, but expensive suede, purple suit. Crippling Debt leaned forward to take a long, drawn out sip from the extra large take-out cup of soda that he was balancing on his enormous stomach. His face was stained with pizza sauce. Bert rolled his eyes and let out a sigh as big as a potato. This day just can’t get any worse, so I might as well get it over with. Bert pulled out the bed from the sofa chair and promptly went to it. “Mind turning out the lights?”
“No problem,” replied Crippling Dead as he flipped the newspaper to see the next headline of the Business section. It read, Superdump’s Trash Rubbish. “Hey, your work is sucking.”
“I know, trash just isn’t as easy to sell as it used to be.”
“Don’t you have some growth strategy thing to present tomorrow?”
“Yeah… Fernillipy’s presenting it.” said Bert.
“Well, maybe you should talk to her about presenting it yourself tomorrow?”
“I don’t want to talk to her tomorrow, or ever again. I just want to go to sleep and never wake up. Now, night.” He pulled up his comforter.
Crippling Debt looked to the window. “Aren’t you going to tend to your thyme?”
Bert didn’t reply. Crippling Debt shrugged. An infomercial about ten-payment 1,000 thread-count ankle socks had just come on.
Bert had long ago lost his control over Crippling Debt and sighed the size of a radish. He rolled over to face the window and counted the bricks of the adjacent building while thinking about how much he hated Fernillipy. Both topics were equally boring, plus his neighbour was doing tai chi in the nude, and so he entered Dreamland in twenty seconds flat.
Now, I must interrupt the story to tell you something. Wait, who am I, you ask? Just the little voice in the back of your mind that’s reading this story to you, don’t worry too much about it, I don’t have any alternate agendas.
What I must tell you is that this is one of those stories where the main character awakes at the end and realizes that all his adventures have just been a dream. I thought I’d tell you this upfront so you’re not completely underwhelmed at the end by any obvious clichés. So let’s just hash that out now and get it over with.
Now, the reason why Bert can’t just wake up any time soon is that he’s actually stuck in his dream, mostly because he forgot to dream about an exit door to the real world. Of course there are many ways to exit a dream, but dreaming of an exit door is the easiest way. In fact, since dreams are made up of pure imagination, nearly anything can happen. That is, anything but the Queen of England showing up. She’s so tired of appearing in people’s dreams to do that little hand wave of hers, that’s she’s negotiated a cease and desist. It’s now impossible to dream about her, however that works. Other than that, the world is your oyster, or as they same in Dreamland, Your dream is an elephant. No one’s really sure why that’s the saying, but it’s managed to stick.
Okay, let’s get back to Bert. Besides failing to dream up an exit door, the main problem with Bert is that his thoughts are so dull that his Imagination got fed up and squeezed itself out of his mind to go on a permanent vacation on Mars. Because of this, all Bert ever dreams about are a desk and a chair, which he sits at until his body decides to wake up. He just sits quietly through everything and waits.
It was 3:00am in the real world and Bert could be found lying peacefully in bed. The covers were pulled exactly up to his chin and each of his hands were placed daintily at his sides. Tucked in bed beside Bert lay a tattered old stuffed goat. Bert’s mother had placed the stuffed animal in Bert’s crib and since then the two had been inseparable. Everybody has that one belonging they carry with them from childhood—a favourite blanket, a plaster handprint, or a first soccer trophy. For Bert, it was his stuffed goat.
The knocker at the door sounded and Crippling Debt stepped over Bert to sign for the twin earlobe massagers he had ordered. He took the package and in his haste to open it, left the door unlocked.
Meanwhile, in Dreamland, Bert was patiently waiting at the desk he had imagined and began biting at a hangnail on one of his fingers. Even though he had no inclination of wanting to be at, or go to work ever again, he was dressed in his usual business attire – light blue dress shirt, tired gray dress pants, black leather belt, faded red tie. This was how Bert dressed most mornings, so it was also the easiest way to dream about how he was currently dressed. Bert took a break from biting at his hangnail to push his glasses to the top of his nose. Even in his dreams he couldn’t see very well, which was a tad ironic considering he wasn’t dreaming about anything to see. He was staring at nothing but a lot of black space. As soon as Bert began biting his hangnail again, something new happened.
His desk quivered.
Bert pretended not to notice.
The desk quivered some more and began to shake violently.
Bert still pretended not to notice, which was hard, because he was shaking violently along with the desk.
Suddenly the desk stopped shaking, which was good. Bert was afraid he’d have to imagine a giant paperweight to keep the desk in place. With his Imagination in the Bahamas, he knew it would be an arduous task. A giant paperweight suddenly became very disappointed about not being imagined. Plato took note.
“Hello?” A robotic voice with just a tinge of curiousity spoke.
“Hello,” said Bert unsure of who he was talking to, and too uninterested to look at the source of the voice.
“What are you doing?”
“Nothing. I don’t want to wake up and go to work tomorrow.”
“Well stop that.”
“It isn’t good. Now, who exactly are you?”
“Why do you care?” said Bert, still staring off into nothing.
“I need it for my records. I must keep proper documentation of everything.”
“Fair. I’m Bert… Bert Blaxon. I’m 37 years old and single, well that is, until my Crippling Debt moved in recently, but I haven’t gone on a proper date in over a year. I live at 34 Millwood Road, apartment 27 B. My phone number is four one six, two four one, zero two four one.”
Bert figured it would be best to just get all his personal information out there all at once, so whoever was attached to the voice wouldn’t bother asking any more questions.
“Nice to meet you Bert Blackson, your dream is an elephant.”
“It’s Blaxon,” corrected Bert, a little annoyed that he still had to talk with the voice. “And what about elephants?”
“Right… I said Blackson. And nothing about elephants.”
“So let’s not bring up elephants. They’re very hard to imagine. And you’re not saying my name correctly. It’s Blaxon, not Blackson.”
“They sound the same to me.”
“There’s an X of a difference.”
“How can you even tell I’m saying Blackson instead of Blaxon? And even so I don’t know how I just knew the difference.”
“Well,” Bert began, “there are these words appearing as we speak, sort of just in the middle of everything. They’re taking up quite a lot of space and I wish they would go away.”
“You can see them?”
“Not exactly, it’s just this odd feeling I have that everything I’m saying is being spewed out onto paper with ink. It’s a really odd and annoying thing.”
“Oh, well in any case, it’s nice to meet you, Bert.”
“Just to fill me in, where and what exactly are you?”
Bert did so and realized that his desk was sitting atop a shiny tin body. That’s probably what all the shaking was about.
“Mind if I get up? It’s quite uncomfortable under here,” said the shiny tin body.
“Oh course not.”
Bert stood from his chair and stepped to the side, which was quite an odd sight, because Bert hadn’t actually imagined a room for the desk and chair to be sitting on. Instead, Bert, the desk, chair, and the tin body just floated in the black of space.
The tin body pushed the desk off it and stood up in the black of space itself.
“You’re more than just a tin body,” said Bert. “Looks as if you’ve got a few limbs and a face to you.”
“You’re quite observant, Bert Blaxon, for having an extreme lack of imagination.”
“Thanks, but I don’t remember imagining you. My Imagination is currently spending a lot of money in the Bahamas. My Crippling Debt loves it.”
“You didn’t imagine me—I forced my way in,” replied the shiny tin body.
I might as well mention that the shiny tin body (with its face and few limbs) belonged to a robot. Its limbs were actually two arms protruding from its sides, which looked like the tubing from an air conditioning vent. Its shiny square body had a few dials and gauges punched into it and it sat atop a stick with a wheel at the end. The robot’s face was its most notable feature. Besides being a flat cube itself, it had a grid of square, blue lights six times six – two squares of which were lit up at either side of its face as eyes, and six of which were lit up in a straight line near the bottom indicating its mouth.
“I suppose you’re wondering where I came from and why I’m here, Bert?” The robot’s mouth lights blinked as it spoke.
“Not particularly. I’m more wondering where this hangnail came from. I’m so careful with my nails.”
“Well, should I be wondering where you came from?” asked Bert.
“Yes. You should.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“I’m not the most patient of programs,” said the robot, its mouth lights blinking. “So, I’ll just tell you. I’m from the Dream Corporation. Your dream has timed out, meaning you won’t awake from your human sleeping machine and I was sent here to investigate.”
“My what now? Human sleeping machine?”
“Yes, you might also call it a bed.”
“Makes sense,” said Bert biting his nail and sitting back down. “Now have your go, so this can all be over, I can’t imagine that there’s much to investigate here.” Bert motioned to the black void all around them and then folded his hands.
“You’re exactly right, there isn’t anything at all to investigate here. I can see why your dream timed out now.”
“Am I supposed to know what that means? How does a dream time out?”
“Dream Time Out,” the robot suddenly straightened up all stiff-like and its voice sounded even more robotic than it was before – double robotic, or doublebotic. “The state of occurrence when no activity has occurred within a dream and its owner ought to be waking up soon. However, due to a complete lack of imagination, no dream activity is being logged, nor has an exit route been imagined and the subject is locked inside its own dream.” The robot’s voice went back to normal robotic sounding, or normalbotic. “I’m a wikibot, for your information. My databanks have all the known knowledge of the Internet and beyond.”
“What could possibly be beyond the internet?”
The robot’s voice became doublebotic again. “Beyond the Internet, or otherwise known as the Beyondternet. A state of being where exists all knowledge from the real world – as collected from the Internet, and Dreamland – as collected by the Dream Corporation.” The wikibot’s voice went back to normalbotic sounding again. “Boy, Bert, you sure aren’t very imaginative.”
“Well enough of this. Please follow me.”
“I’d rather not. I’m perfectly happy sitting here, waiting to never wake up again.”
“That’s the thing. Your dream timed out. You’ve caused a glitch in Dreamland and now you’re stuck here.”
“For how long?”
Bert unfolded his hands and placed one on his chin. “You mean I’ll never have to go to work again?”
“You won’t be able to, since you’ll never wake up.”
“Excellent!” For the first time in this story, Bert sounded excited about something. “If I wake up, I’ll have to go to work. If I go to work, I’m likely to be fired. If I’m fired, Unemployment will move in, and I already have to deal with my Crippling Debt amongst others. It will simply be too much to handle.”
“Less than excellent for me though. I’ve been sent to fetch you so that some Dream Scientists can poke your brain and figure out what caused all this. Dreamland is already overrun with tourists from all the humans coming here every night. We can hardly take any more, and we can’t have any of you moving here permanently. Dreamland has very strict immigration policies.”
“Oh, what are they?” Bert perked up in excitement at the possibility about staying in Dreamland permanently.
“There aren’t any.”
“There are no policies?”
“Strictly none. That’s why we can’t have you staying.”
“Oh,” said Bert and he slumped back down to his usual terrible posture. “If you don’t mind, I’d rather just sit here. Brain poking doesn’t sound like a very fun activity, and I was having quite a lot of fun sitting here thinking of nothing.”
“I’m sorry, Bert, but I also have strict orders to bring you with me.”
“Myself. I want to make a good impression with my micro-managing boss.”
Bert scrunched his face to show his disapproval, supposing he had learned that move from Fernillipy. However, the wikibot didn’t pick up on it, because it wasn’t very good at reading human emotions. “Your face looks scrunched up,” it said.
“Exactly my intention.”
“Strange. I will log this in my databanks.” Suddenly the wikibot’s voice became doublebotic again. “On occasion, human males named Bert will scrunch up their faces with intention.”
“When they are feeling upset,” added Bert.
“Of course,” replied the wikibot. “Now, I haven’t any more time to waste. I need to recharge my batteries before I run out of juice.”
“Yes, pineapple. It’s my favourite. Now, are you coming willfully?”
“No,” said Bert, noticing for the first time the juice box in the wikibot’s clamp hand. He wished he had some juice too, but knew it would take a lot of imagination to bring one into existence – a task which Bert found more unattractive than Fernillipy’s scrunch-face.
“Very well.” The wikibot’s features disappeared as the lights on its face dimmed. One moment later they lit up in sporadic red patterns, and noises much like that of an old dial-up internet connection came out of its box body. Two moments later, Bert’s table began to shake again. Three moments later Bert’s dream was filled with high pitched garbling noises like that of four talkative five-month old babies. Six moments later, the narrator stopped counting moments.
Bert couldn’t help but look down this time as his table stopped shaking. At the end of Bert’s nose, and the bottom of his table, sprung up two things Bert had never seen before. He looked back to the wikibot, whose eyes and mouth reappeared as lights on its face panel. Even though the eyes were just dots, and the mouth, a straight line, Bert couldn’t help but see an expression of smugness. “What are they?” he asked as the two unsightly things jumped out from under the table and stood before Bert. Their pink skin drooped like a balloon filled with jelly and at the top of their globuous forms, sat a gigantic ball-shaped nose. Two sets of beady black eyes peered out at Bert from underneath two dollops of brown hair.
“They’re Bing Bongs,” replied the wikibot. “I just transported them in.”
“And what do they do?” asked Bert. He had a feeling the Bing Bongs wouldn’t be very good for his nerves. His nerves agreed. They were still recuperating from losing a two-pound chicken match.
One of the Bing Bongs binged its nose right into the side of Bert’s leg, while the other jumped up and bonged Bert in the side of the arm. Bert stood up in alarm.
“Just that,” said the wikibot.
“It’s quite alarming!” Bert tried to dodge the bing of one of the Bing Bongs, but the other managed to bong him in the stomach, causing him to fall over. “Stop it!” cried Bert and his nerves in unison. The two Bing Bongs replied with some garbled noises and bing bonged Bert again. “What are they saying?”
“I don’t know,” said the wikibot. It shrugged its shoulders. “Just sounds like garbled baby-talk to me.”
“Why are they doing this?”
“It’s what they do. They’ll force you to come with me.”
The two Bing Bongs then proceeded to bing and bong Bert relentlessly. However, being the consistency of jelly-filled balloons, it didn’t really hurt. Instead, it was just a largely unpleasant experience. Just unpleasant enough for Bert to start moving in the direction they were bing bonging him in.
“This way,” said the wikibot and it rolled off into the blackness of Bert’s dream.
Bert was forced to follow.
I’m still working on the next chapters, but if you’d like to read more, I’ll email you them when they’re done 🙂
2 thoughts on “What if you came home and your crippling debt had materialized into a fat, balding man, surfing infomercials from your couch?”
Reblogged this on Barking Dog Publishing and commented:
What an interesting idea.
Thanks Kurt. I’m having a lot of fun with this one.