The Calling

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Religion and Spirituality  |  House: Booksie Classic
An unfulfilled office drone encounters the physical manifestation of the devil at a deserted street corner.

Submitted: April 01, 2007

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Submitted: April 01, 2007

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It was late.  He had let his mind wander.  The cursor on his screen blinked with anticipation where he had left it five minutes ago.  He pressed the arrow key and the cursor jumped to the right-responding to his will, almost.  But it wasn't, and he knew that.  That cursor controlled him.  He didn't tell it where to go, what to say-it told him where to write.  He hated being controlled.  
He looked across the aisle.  Cindy-or was it Sally?-was typing away madly at her keyboard.  Her face was bent into a kind of awkward, perpetual smile that made her look like she was merely the shell of a person.  On the wall of her cubicle was a poster of some shining beach.  The blue waves beneath the vastly blue sky looked so real; so inviting.  It was like a window into a world that he had never experienced.  Amid the sterile whites and cool tones of the office the poster revealed the vibrant, earthy tones of blissful freedom.  A palm tree swayed in the breeze.  He looked carefully through the window.  A wave lapped gently upon the shore.  He found himself standing as he walked towards the window: his escape.
"Can I help you?"
She looked up at him.  Her smile, still bent permanently across her face, seemed more like a smirk.  Her fingers were still, but poised petulantly over her keyboard.  Her body still faced the screen: only her head had turned to look at him.
"I-uh, I've got. I just wanted to ask you about-your, uh, family.  How are they doing?"
"My family?  Have we ever talked about my family before?"
"Uh-no. No, I don't think we have.  It's just that, you know, we've, uh, been neighbors for what, four, five months now-"
"Two years."
"Yeah, wow. Two years.  Yeah, well, we've been neighbors, but I just realized that I've never heard any.  About your family."
She looked up at him, her smile communicating a sense of muted dismay.
"I'm very sorry.  But you'll have to ask me again later.  I've very busy right now with this report."
"Right, uh, yeah.  Good luck with that."
She did not respond.  She had already begun typing before her head had even turned to face the screen.  Her fingers danced across the keyboard at a furious rate.
He glanced one last time at the poster, with the stagnant trees and perpetually frozen waves.  He bet to himself that she had never even been there.
Looking around him, he saw only a sea of drones typing feverishly, their faces lit by the flickering fluorescents from above, the consuming glow of the screen.  He wondered how many of them had ever talked with their neighbors.
"Sutton, Andrew."
He looked around, but realized instantly how silly that was.  No one knew his first name here.  No one else seemed the least bit distracted by the noise.  He was tired; his mind was playing tricks on him.
"Sutton, Andrew."
Throughout the cavernous room, a hundred sets of fingers continued typing feverishly.
And then he realized that the voice was not in his mind.  In his stomach boiled a rising sense of consuming discomfort; of hesitant anticipation.  He excused himself from the office, leaving early like he never did. Normally he'd take the bus to get around town, or the subway.  But he took the taxi that was waiting outside of his office.
"Preston and State."
The burning in his stomach rose, giving him now a warm but uncomfortable strength. In the pale darkness of the street, he was no drone. He was in charge.
"You sure?"
"What the hell do you mean by that?"
"There-there isn't anything there.  Just two streets, a stop light in the middle of nowhere. And, don't take this as no offense to you or nothing, but it just ain't a nice place. You know that."
"Hey, I'm not hiring you for commentary here, Max. Preston and State."  
There wasn't a word more between them for the length of the 15 minute ride.  They didn't need to speak.
As they left the lofty glass buildings of the business district, Andrew felt increasingly powerful: in charge, full of infinite knowledge and strength.  He could do anything that he wanted.  And do a damned fine job of it, too.  
The cab pulled to a stop at the corner of Preston and State.  
"Hey, Max.  Max.  I don't exactly feel like paying for this ride, right?  So maybe you should just give it to me for free."  
In the moonlight coursing through the dirty window, a faint glimmer of hidden metal caught Max's eye.  It was not his place to disagree.
"You got it.  You got it.  Just don't-don't ask for my services anymore, you got it?  I don't want to be doing you no more favors, you hear?  This is the last time, I'm out.  I'm out of this."
"You know that won't go over well.  You know he won't like that."
"Fuck him.  Get out of the cab."
At one time, this place, this intersection, was supposed to become something big and perfect and grand: some vast gleaming development.  But now it was nothing and it looked dead.  Two large four-lane streets converged at a stoplight.  And then, after meeting briefly, they zoomed off into the darkness, separating off into the dark horizon towards the distant lights of the city proper-the city that was. Andrew stepped onto the cracked and weathered pavement; into the degraded future that would never be.
There hung above the intersection a solitary traffic light, both directions stuck perpetually on red.  There were no other lights at night and it was dark save for the glow of the signal.  It shone like a lazy beacon into the darkness but you could never see it, really see it, until you came upon the intersection.
No one gave the place a conscious thought; even those lost and passing through wouldn't think twice about it.  Finding themselves stuck at the stubborn light, most would pause just long enough to be law-abiding and honest and truthful, then slowly it would dawn on them that they were in the middle of nowhere and no one could see them and the light must be broken or something because Lord knows it wasn't turning.  And then they'd accelerate onward and out of their stupid little mistake, never to return again.
Andrew felt right at home. He rolled back and forth on his feet as he watched Max's headlights speeding on into the darkness towards the light of the city.  He watched as the cab swerved and the headlights went out and he knew that Max would regret that decision forever.
He turned towards the intersection and surveyed it.  The faint red light from the signal cast everything in a surreal glow.  There was no white at this intersection; everything was red, black, or some dead shade in between.  Andrew searched quickly and found what he was looking for, what almost every other visitor to this place missed.
A large mahogany desk stood to the side of the road.  The desk was filled with books and papers, a clipboard, some pens.  Behind the desk was a high-backed chair of worn red leather.  Andrew walked toward it.
"I'm here."  There was no movement.  "Hey! I'm here."
"I know."
Silence.
"So, uh... I take it you know what happened to Max, eh?"
"Know what happened to him?" A faint gasp of a laugh escaped his parched lips. "You know what happened to Max."
"Yeah.  Yeah.  I just thought, that, you kno-"
"You don't think. I think."
Andrew didn't say a word.  The man took a puff of his cigar, exhaled the smoke, and let it slide and swirl in the air, obscuring his face.
"How's the job, Andrew?"
"You know, same old, same old.  Can't complain, really.  You know I can't complain."
"You wouldn't be here if you couldn't complain."
"Heh. Yeah, uh, I guess. Yeah, I guess that-uh-that you're right.  Listen," he lifted his elbow high and scratched his head.  He knew why he hated this place.  He hated this place. "I, uh, I'm busy.  I'm real busy.  Can we do this?  Can you give me that-thing?"
The man took a puff of his cigar.
"I mean, I'm real real busy.  You know that.  I've got stuff to do all tonight and I'm real busy at work and I-oh, just could ya please give me it?  Can we do this? Can I go?  You know I don't like it here."
"Max didn't like it here either."  He opened his mouth and let a humorless laugh die upon his lips.
"I-oh, come on.  He wasn't a bad guy.  He wasn't. Let's not-do that to him, huh?"
"You're scared."
"I'm not scared.  I'm-I'm not."
"Max was."
Andrew didn't have anything to say.  He hated this.  He didn't want to be here.  He glanced at the distant lights of the city.  They twinkled like stars fallen far away, beyond his grasp.
"Please.  Please, I'll do it.  Just give it to me."
"You can wait."  He paused for a brief pull on his cigar.  "You can wait."
The man stared deeply into Andrew's soulless eyes and reached forward.  Andrew jumped back and reached to the sheath but his hand found it empty.  The man looked up at Andrew and let out a grunt of rotting contempt.  He pulled the old intercom towards him across the desk and leaned forward to meet it, holding his cigar away.
"Kaufmann, Mitchell."
The man settled back into his chair.
"Oh, come on, do I got to wait?  Are you going to make me wait?"
The man didn't say a word.  A moment passed.  Soon, Andrew heard footsteps approaching the desk from the darkness.  They became louder and louder, slowly so that he thought he was imagining it until a foot swung surely out of the darkness and Andrew gasped and took a step backward and then Mitchell appeared fully out of the gradual darkness into the red light.
He wore his tailored suit impeccably.  His long hair, which could have been wild and care free, was slicked back professionally.  Out of the corner of his eye he caught Andrew with a look of confident disdain as he approached the desk certainly and without fear.
"Here you are, Mitchell.  Do me proud."  A smile stretched across the man's lips and revealed his teeth clenched hard on his cigar. "Do me proud."
Mitchell took the briefcase and without deliberation or doubt turned and receded back into the darkness.
Neither Andrew nor the man said a word.  Finally, as the smoke swirled about the man's hidden head and his shadows cast rays of darkness through the red light, Andrew spoke.
"He, uh-he a regular, or something?"  The man watched Andrew carefully, without moving. After a moment of heavy silence, Andrew continued. "Uh, you know. Does he do-a lot of, you know, stuff. Does he do a lot of stuff for you?"
The man continued staring.  Without warning, he leaned towards Andrew.  Andrew didn't jump this time-he knew he couldn't run.  The man stared him in the eye without a word.  Suddenly, he spoke:
"O'Reilly, Sarah."
The man's finger released the button on the intercom quickly, holding his hand steady above the device as the indicator lamp sputtered and faded to nothing.  Then he leaned back in his chair, immediately but without hurry.  He folded his hands in his lap.  His eyes remained firmly on Andrew. Andrew kept his eyes on the man for as long as he could stand it before letting them flutter off to a rock on the pavement, a crack in the curb, before forcing them back to meet the man's.  
Without warning, the man's dead eyes clicked suddenly and precisely to his right, landing upon a woman who had emerged silently out of the darkness.  Andrew exhaled; he had been holding his breath.
The woman was beautiful.  She stood perched upon her pointy heels, her hips positioned dramatically to one side, her one hand resting lightly but strongly on her waist. Her face was covered in light makeup, artfully applied.  Her sensuous lips, painted a strong red, leapt from her chiseled soft face. And then Andrew let his eyes slowly rise to meet hers and he realized both that she was looking him straight back and that he had been silently appraising her beauty for too long: far too long.  
He glanced nervously at the man with the cigar.  He was leaning back, his face obscured in the shadow cast by the sides of the chair.  His hands were folded in front of him, his elbows supportively positioned on the rough leather armrests.  Andrew watched as the man inhaled, making the tip of his cigar glow brightly and then fade back to nothing.  Andrew looked back at the woman.
She was so confident and fearless.  She had no worry in her eyes. He let his eyes stare into hers and he felt confident, too, and fearless.  He felt all at once complete and satisfied.  He felt, deep in his gut, a connection to her stronger than any he had felt to anyone else.  He reached his hand out to touch her soft cheek, for she was standing within his grasp.  As his hand reached slowly to her skin, she turned and faced the man in the chair.  He leaned forward out of the shadows and Andrew could see that he was grinning.
The woman rested a strong and relaxed hand lightly upon the mahogany desk.  Andrew stepped near, reaching his own hand for hers, to take her hand into his own.  He moved slowly as if the white hand were a dove that might take to the sky at the slightest provocation.  He was so close, so close, when another hand approached from out of sight and came to rest lightly upon hers.  There were handsome splotches of something wet and thick that in the crimson light had a pearly brilliance of pure red.  Andrew's eyes lifted to the face and saw that it was who he had feared. Mitchell's slicked hair shone a dull red in the light.
Andrew's gaze drifted back to the woman's hand.  Her hand was now coupled with Mitchell's in a powerful yet easy grip.  
The woman glanced down at her hand, and saw that it now shone brilliantly red as well.  Mitchell, matching her gaze, pulled the handkerchief from his breast pocket and with great precision cleaned his soiled hand.  He then stooped upon one knee and with extraordinary care cleansed her hand.  With sly sensuality, he sucked the last drop from her fingertip and she giggled.  Mitchell got to his feet and Andrew noticed that his pant leg remained free of debris from the grimy street.
Without a word the two, hands coupled, turned and walked with precision and lusty grace towards the shadows.  In the woman's hand hung a briefcase, motionless with its own gravity. Their stride was relaxed but efficient as they disappeared gradually into the night.
After staring into the darkness after the woman for a time, Andrew returned his gaze to the man in the chair.  
"That uh, Mitchell, right?  That Mitchell.  He's a fast worker, ain't he?"
The man didn't respond.
"Uh, you know, I bet that I could be just as fast as him.  I'm a good worker.  I follow instructions, whatever you tell me, I'll do.  I'll do it."
The only motion was of the smoke drifting and slowly swirling.
" ‘Cept, now that I think of it, uh, that Mitchell, he sure does get around quick.  I mean, I had to take a cab out here, but that guy, he just walked right outta the shadow.  That city's what, like a mile from here?  How'd that guy get that far that quick?"
"He's good at what he does."  The sudden response made Andrew take a step back.
"And what about that girl?  How does Mitchell get a girl like that?"
"He's good at what he does."
 "Well, obviously he's good at what he does.  But what's that got to-I mean, you know, I mean, how does he-" he glanced at the man but saw no response.  He let it die.
A few silent moments passed. "And what if I'm good at what I do?"
The man responded in a matter-of-fact tone: "There are lots of girls."
Andrew nodded. He stared at the ground contemplatively.  The man took a puff of his cigar and exhaled, observing Andrew silently.  
"Andrew, I'm worried."
"You? Worried?  For what?  What have you got to be worried about?"
"You."
"Me?  Why would that worry you?  I mean, why would I worry you?"
"I don't think you're going to do what I tell you to do."
"What?"  The man didn't move. "I mean, why would you think that?  Of course I'll do it. Of course.  I'll do a damned fine job at it, too.  I'll put Mitchell to shame.  I'll do whatever you tell me to do, I bet my life I will.  I'll do it."
"Good.  You're no use to me unless you do what I tell you to do.  You got that?  You don't do it, and you're useless."
"Yeah, I got it.  I got it."
The man repeated out loud: "You've got it."
He took a long puff on his cigar as he rested back into shadow.  
"Take the briefcase, Andrew."
"What briefcase?"
The man didn't answer.  Andrew looked down at his feet.  He picked up the briefcase resting beside him.  He glanced back at the man but he hadn't moved and so Andrew began to walk away into the shadow.  It would be a long walk to the city.  Andrew, upon a thought, stopped and turned to the man.
"When should I come back?"  There was no answer.  "When should I come back, you know, to tell you how it went?  To tell you that I did it?"
The man remained silent for a few seconds, not for thought, but rather to study Andrew.
"If you do it, then you'll see me.  If you don't, then I'll send Mitchell."
"Yeah, but, uh, when?  Tomorrow night I should come see you?"
"We'll meet if you do it."
Andrew knew that no more of a response would come and so he didn't wait.  He continued on.
Just as the shadows were about to consume him, he heard the man move, and Andrew swirled around to see the man reach for the intercom and mumble something unintelligible into it. Andrew faded out of the red light and into the darkness as he watched the man and now that he was out of the light there was no light at all and he was lost.
He had imagined he'd be able to see something in the overwhelming darkness but there was nothing, nothing, not the red of the stop light, not even the distant twinkle of the fallen stars of the city. He was lost, so lost, and he did not know if he was walking or flying or falling or living or dying.  He began to breathe faster as he realized he couldn't hear his own footsteps; that his ears were ringing with a profound silence.  And then he gasped as he realized that he did not know if he was breathing air or nothing and his face began to pucker and contort as he panicked, panicked in the dark alone and scared.
And then he walked blinking out of the darkness of the alley and into the light and the din of the city proper.  Cabs sped past, couples walked hand in hand, bums held out old cups for handouts.  He was confused at first; he had no idea where he was.  But gradually a sense of confidence spread over him and he realized that though he did not know his location, he knew that he was walking briskly towards his destination.  He allowed his legs to take him quickly, strongly in the direction they wished; towards his goal, his destiny.  He was drunk on the feeling of purpose and resolve he felt himself bathed in.  Nothing could stop him.
"Spare some change?"
Andrew found his focused resolve shattered at the feet of a dirty bum.  Andrew considered the pathetic man carefully, without saying a word.
"Please sir, some change?"
Andrew was in control.  He put his hand in his pocket and shook it to make the coins jingle loudly.  A fire was rising in him.  This pathetic man in front of him dared to ask him for change?  For what?  Booze? Drugs?  What a loser.  What's worse-a loser who depended on the naïve kindness of others to fund his workless days, his perpetual drunkenness.  He was scum.  Andrew worked for a living.  He gave his life to work.
The man looked up at Andrew, hopefully.
Andrew could feel the fire burning within him.  He wanted to kick the cup of coins out of this loser's hand, and then kick his chest and stomp his hands until they were broken and would never be fixed again.  He wanted this worthless man to die.  He had the power; it was his choice if this anonymous beggar should continue to leech off of hardworking people like Andrew.  
The fire exploded forth from Andrew, controlling him, moving him.
The cup hit the pavement; the coins were strewn about on the ground.  The man, barely living, barely breathing, looked up at Andrew with eyes moist with blood, questioning, seeking, begging Andrew for mercy.  Andrew looked at his trembling hands.  In the yellow light of the city, the blood had no pearly brilliance but rather a sickly tinge of death.  Andrew, the taker of life.
His breath was shallow and fast.  He had killed before, but never like this. The fire within him had swept him without conscious thought.  He looked from his hands to the scene around him.  A woman across the street walked her poodle.  On the corner, a vendor hawked pretzels.  They had not noticed Andrew; the dying man at his feet.  He was invisible. Their reproachful stares could not reach him.  Andrew, the powerful.
Suddenly he found the light of the city abhorrent; repulsive.  He ducked instinctively into the shadow of a recessed doorway.  In the darkness, he was king.  In the darkness, he was in control.  He closed his eyes before he became afraid of the nothingness; he held his breath without realizing it.
He opened his eyes and found himself stepping out of a thick stand of trees and into a deserted playground.  He was not confused.  He was where he was intended to be.  He expected it, on some level, and he felt invigorated.  A hideous dawn fell upon him: he had an awesome power and he knew it and he trembled with the thought of coming to control it.  He let the power swirl and rise around him; he let the fire within him burn and flame, and he went with it, not yet in control but everywhere he felt strong, assured. Taking his feeling of confidence as evidence of his own powerful will, he gathered a protective feeling of control about him and reveled in it.  He was not afraid of the darkness now; he was the master of it.
He found himself in a deserted street.  He stared at a building, crumbled and abandoned, and he willed it down and it collapsed in a great cloud of tremendous smoke, swirling and rising towards the sky.  He willed it risen again and it was so.  A pigeon flew overhead and he willed it dead and it exploded into brilliant flame and fell to the ground and he reached down and picked up the fire and toyed with it and when he grew bored he dropped it to the ground and it extinguished itself and there was no soot.
Hours, days, minutes passed, and he found himself walking towards a bench in a park lit only by sporadic and unmotivated light.  He sat on the bench and laid the briefcase carefully upon his lap.  He touched the locks and they sprung open.  Inside was a single sheet of paper.  He read it carefully, over and over and over.  This one was not like the rest.  But he must do it to prove himself.  He felt the surge of confidence, he felt the fire within him burning, licking his skin.  He felt the desire, the unrepentant urge.  He realized that he must do it.  He would prove himself. He reached to his side and found his dark instrument there again and he picked it up and ran it across his chest and plunged it deep and maybe he had willed it right because it felt sort of good until the last second when it hurt like all the hurt had been saved up and that one last second was pure agony but he had proven himself and there was forever to be repaid.

He found himself at the intersection, only this time something was different.  It was dark but now he could see into the darkness past the light of the signal and he saw a wretched mass, millions of bodies writhing and screaming in a pain so intense it split their insides but Andrew knew instinctively that they could never die, they had to live, they had to live with the pain forever.  This could not be for him.
Andrew walked to the desk and there was the chair and there was the cigar but the man's face was covered in shadow and there was no light that Andrew could find.  
"Name?"
"Uh-" He chuckled. "It's Andrew-Andrew Sutton.  Come on, it's Andrew.  Andrew."
"Yeah, I see you, calm down.  ‘Sutton, Andrew.'  Don't worry, you're on the list."
The man wrote something on a clipboard and settled back in his chair.  He puffed on his cigar and the tip grew orange and hot but shed no light upon his hidden face. Andrew waited.  Something was growing in the pit of his stomach: smoldering, burning. The shrieks of the wretched mass roared in his ears.
"So, uh, I'm on the list.  Is-is this it?"
The man took a puff on his cigar before answering.
"This is it."
"But, I'm-I'm on the list.  I-I did what I was supposed to! I'm stuck here, with this? With this? I'm on the list."
The pain grew stronger and stronger and he felt like his insides were being consumed by flame. He wanted to double over in pain but he remained standing, wincing.  The man waited, studying Andrew's face from the shadow.  Minutes-an eternity-passed.  Finally, the man spoke, and as he did smoke rose out of his mouth and encircled his hidden head.
"And so are they."


 
 


© Copyright 2018 Alex Komoroske. All rights reserved.

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