By Christopher Krull
Lance composed a new message so he could read his own email signature: “Senior Account Executive,” his title read. The “Senior” part had been added yesterday.
“Congratulations!” Lance spun around in his cubicle’s chair and saw Jan, the office coordinator.
“Thanks, Jan.” Lance replied. White khakis hugged Jan’s wide hips. A colorful necklace ornamented with plastic tropical fruits she bought on a recent Caribbean cruise hung below her wide face.
“It’s all about the ship,” Jan had told the office who gathered in the break room to heat their lunches. “The Admiral of the Seas – everything you need is on the ship. It’s like being on a different planet!” Lance removed his gaze from the plastic fruit adorning her sun-spotted cleavage as Jan spoke to him, “We’re going to have to circle-up later today so you can download me on your strategy for the Vydyne account.”
Lance sighed. His new title came with a 3.5 percent pay bump and new account responsibilities. Tight times meant even the office coordinator had to do revenue-generating account work. Lance nodded and returned to his blank message. The screen blurred and a brain zap came on. Brain zaps are most commonly associated with Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) withdrawal syndrome. There’s no medical consensus regarding what causes brain zaps, which often are described as nausea-inducing electrical waves running through one’s head. WebMD informed Lance they were harmless when he first investigated the strange feeling that came on when he tried to wean himself from the antidepressant. Lance found the drug allowed him to accept what he did for a living and even perform better. Now off the once-a-day pill, he was unsure what coping mechanism might be needed to take its place.
Lance felt a pulse and stood from his computer. The cube farm was silent but active with other Account Executives glaring into their computer screens, most wearing ear buds. Their eyes occupied by the screen, their ears with the buds, Lance thought at some point in the near future they would have feeding tubes in their mouths, bed pans beneath their chairs.
A thud came from the drop ceiling above Lance’s head. He looked up and saw one of the white tiles had come ajar. Lance looked to the cube-mates surrounding him. No one else had noticed the loud noise. He returned his gaze to the white tile that had moved to reveal the blackness above it. Lance saw two light blue eyes looking at him from above the drop ceiling.
The next day Lance sat in the break room while his lunch heated for five minutes on the microwave’s rotating dish. Jan entered wearing a Hawaiian blouse and dark circles under her eyes that had been unsuccessfully covered with makeup even more caked-on than usual. Lance smiled and looked at the clock on the microwave. Three minutes. He sighed mentally.
“How are you, Lance?”
Lance gave the obligatory optimistic banality that affirmed his well-to-do-ness before he returned the question, which was also obligatory of course.
“Well, I’m glad you asked,” Jan took the question far more seriously than Lance had planned and moved closer.
“I’ve been hearing some strange things around the office. Some noises that don’t sound right.” She paused.
“What exactly do you mean?” He asked.
“I came in early this morning to prepare the status updates for everyone’s projects. There was no one else here but someone kept talking to me from another cube.”
“It sounded like it came from above. It knew things about me I haven’t told anyone, and it kept asking me over-and-over as I worked, “Why are you doing this?” I thought it was a joke of course.”
She again paused. “But there was no one else here, Lance – no one.” Her face was pale despite her recent cruise aboard The Admiral.
Lance ate his lunch staring up at the tile still ajar. He got little work done that day, stopping whatever he was doing every few seconds to glance up at the darkness of the hole. Lance waited until the office was completely cleared out to investigate. Standing on his desk, he was able to reach the white tile the mysterious noise had brought to his attention. Lance pushed the foam tile up and over to reveal a perfect rectangle of blackness.
He slowly raised his eyes into the darkness making up the space between his office’s drop ceiling and the floor above. As he pulled himself fully into the space something scurried away. It was too dark to see what it was, but it moved with such quickness that Lance’s tie shot up around the back of his neck from the sudden airflow.
“Hello,” Lance’s voice cracked. The blood in his body moved to his center mass and his heart beat rapidly. Lance forgot he was in the office. He forgot that he even worked in such a place.
“What are you doing here?” Lance spoke to the outline of something that was darker than the absence of light that surrounded him. Upon hearing this, the light blue eyes Lance had originally seen peering down at him returned. They examined Lance as he remained stiff with primal adrenaline.
“What are you doing here?” Lance heard his own voice repeated back to him through the eyes.
Lance replied shakily, “I work here.”
Again the voice repeated Lance’s statement using Lance’s voice but with more emphases on “I.”
“I work here.”
Lance considered the possibility of this being a joke, a recording device that played back what it heard.
But then the creature spoke again in Lance’s voice.
“I do different work than you. I am here to understand you.”
The voice continued.
“How you spend your time on this planet is interesting to us. We see how little time your organic body allows. It’s very interesting to us.”
Lance felt dust fall on his face. He brushed at it but the oiliness of his skin held it in place.
“You’re skin is free of crevasses and decay,” the creature observed. “Young specimens are the most curious to us. Your limbs work, yet you sit. Your vision is crisp, but you stare through only minute amounts of space. You are perfect as a being of your species can be, but you alter yourself with manufactured ingestibles that send your brain spattering about. This all is of great interest to us.”
Lance felt another brain zap coming on, but instead his head cleared before it took hold. When he looked again at the blue eyes surrounded by the blackest silhouette imaginable, he thought of absolutely nothing else. Lance’s only knowledge in life was what lay directly in front of him. Like a jungle cat with its prey in sight, Lance’s peripheral vision vanished. His future was not the next minute, hour, tomorrow, next week, next year, or his 401k. Lance saw his future and it was in front of him. It was his dinner and his livelihood. The sight of prey flooded Lance’s brain with natural dopamine and serotonin. His muscles twitched in tune with all five of his senses operating in unison and at their utmost capacity.
Existing only in each second of time as it presented itself, Lance bent back his hind legs and lunged aggressively toward the figure before him.
Christopher Krull has published short fiction in Fiction365, Full of Crow, and the Eunoia Review. He’s currently sick to his stomach over an 84,000 word sci-fi manuscript he wrote about a society that worships people who haven’t been born yet. He can be found on Twitter @atChrisKrull.