Headset on, distracted from my paperback of Waiting for Godot, I shifted, glanced at the screen then across the aisle, and first saw the green spiders crawling in and out of Smita’s skull. She grinned at me, sun from the skylights reflected in her glasses.
Across banks of cubicles, the bright spot below the square skylights illuminated a grove of plastic trees. I longed to bask in that light.
Months ago, when I started, the world still lived. First day, before I had a badge, I sat in the deserted cafeteria for lunch. Salad and Songs of a Dead Dreamer. With my hour close to up, I discovered all the doors leading out required a badge. It took three hours until someone came and let me out.
Not an employee, but a Vendor, I almost lost the gig.
The first week left me cold.
Locked in the cafeteria, ridiculed by the other, younger Vendors manning the phones. We had to carry a pager when we left work, but no one but I complained or thought it odd to do so without compensation.
“If you get a call, you get to charge that time,” Smita said, perplexed.
Soon after I saw the blue woman.
She of many arms called out a word in Hindi, peered among the cubes and crept like a wolf spider, breasts bulbous, cotton briefs –her only clothing– covering a dark ‘v’ of pubis.
“She’s looking for one of my cousins, probably,” Smita offered, muting her phone to answer me. Other-than-human ceased to confound.
Walking past the deity, ogling her –the extra arms connected to her torso in rough seams of viscera and green spider legs as though a greater deity had assembled her from among lesser beings– I nodded, assembling from my trepidation a golem of civility.
A glance back at her halo of dark hair, the skull-hole in her head boiled with spiders.
The news broadcasts, until they ceased, filled with stories of pseudo-arachnids, speculation of their nature and origin, mounting into images of centaurs, minotaurs, and other odd configurations of humanity and animal life. A giant walked in Fort Worth, knocking over Big Tex and recalling In The Hills, The Cities. Events occurred gradually; never seemed outlandish or extravagant except in retrospect.
As the world became, not less populated, but less human, I continued to work. Everyone did. Employees labored from home, so the cavernous building stood decimated of occupants, rows of cubes empty but for the occasional punctuation of a head turned toward glowing screen, hole bubbling with spiders.
I feared to reach up to the back of my head.
On my daily trek to the lunch room, badge at hip, I stopped among the grove of plastic trees, shut my eyes, and turned my face to the skylights. I felt warmth.
I believed myself a whole, complete, and compassionate man. A strong, caring, and honorable man. But what if I reached up to find the green spiders boiling from my own skull?
“You look crazy when you stand out there like that,” Smita hissed, muted, then turned back to her screen and her customer.
‘They’ kept the lights off, the A/C rarely on. What were a few sweaty Vendors to those titans of industry?
Other Vendors, furtive watchers of my eccentricity, began to linger in the grove, faces up.
Badging through to lavatory, cafeteria, break-room, mail-room and fax station, desks both deserted and occupied enshrined small trinkets and totems of the old world: Koran, Gita, Zen garden or plastic Buddha. A Rosary or prayer mat.
Still the blue woman walked among cubes, her beckoning as futile as those abandoned fetishes.
At the center of the building stood the grove of plastic trees in sunlight.
Light will never nourish those trees. Not because it lacks nourishment, but because the trees are of such a nature. They are plastic.
I stood from my cubical, headset falling from my skull, voice on the other end chirping angrily, and I walked into the grove of trees, to stand in the light. Others stood around me. I could feel them. I turned my face up, eyes closed, bathed in light. Tears flowed from my eyes, but I would not reach up to discover if I am the last, or merely a thing that looks like a man.
The deity still skitters amongst the waste of cubes, calling for followers who do not answer.
And here I stand in the light.