You know what’s bullshit? How hard it is to find an office supply store.
Office supplies? Ha.
Who prints things?
Elevator jazz played softly as I got off with a ding.
Approaching in the dim, I came to stand in front of a monstrous yellowed machine, somewhere in the underground of my building. A cube whose face was marked with the ridges of unopenable panels. The limp torso of an android extended up from one such panel which protruded from the thing. But it had long been defunct.
One black inset marked the otherwise weathered white. A dead screen.
“Hello?” I said. My head was pounding.
Nothing at all.
My phone in hand, I could see the listing for the machine registering as active. It wasn’t outdated. It was live and pinging.
I pressed ‘order online.’
“HELLO SIR!” The marionette motion of the android jittered to life with a grinding jolt.
I startled only a little.
“Goddammit!” I cried. “I’m not up for this! You get it, clanky?”
“I’m running around, being chased. Like, it was fucked up, okay?”
“So listen, I just need you to print some flyers. Can do?”
“CAN DO! WE SUPPLY ALL YOUR OFFICE NEEDS, ABOMINATION.”
I pulled out my phone. “Thank God.” I rubbed my eyes, compulsively checked a watchless wrist yet again. Pay attention. “I’ve got the flyer design here, okay?”
“PRESS YOUR MOBILE PHONE TO THE TERMINAL, PLEASE.”
The machine groaned to life as the alabaster android trembled lightly while standing at attention. The flyers began to fall out from a crack in the machine, scattering across the hall floor.
I scowled at the faceless attendant.
“You gonna get that?” I asked.
They looked down to where their torso joined the machine’s extended panel.
I nodded and gathered the falling papers, looking at the first one I took, reading below the picture the old man had given me.
Missing Cat! Please call….
This is what people did.
The last paper had fallen.
“Transaction complete.” Suddenly, the android was drawn into his unit as their panel retracted. The low humming of the machine’s power supply silenced.
The hall’s lights wavered.
I checked my phone. 04:49:01.
There was a shopping floor just above here. I kept the elevator open behind me, putting a foot in if it began to close. Just in case.
Your skin’s crawling.
A little vacuum bot came tooting by.
What made all this worse was that they knew. There was a camera on every corner of my floor. They knew exactly where that cat was and why the hell the lights were on the fritz. Why the vents were scrabbling like they brimmed with rats.
No, that one was a dream, I remembered.
Everything was squirming, the walls, my skin, the very air. All of it rippling as insects crept beneath the surface. Cracks as the facade tore under their motion. Everything was writhing. I blinked a few times.
It was my vision wavering. I knew that.
My phone rang out as I stared down the wallpapered end of the hall, watching. I took the call to silence it but I couldn’t sound a word before the caller spoke.
“What are you doing, man?”
It was Dag.
“You calling from sleep?” I checked the opposite end of the hall. I could only watch one at a time.
“No, no. I needed a break. Why?”
Good. “Meet me. There’s a food court on… on… I’ll text it to you.”
“Fine, but why?” The line was dead for a moment as I thought.
You can help me pass out flyers!
“…Cool… shit.” I hung up. “Shit.”
I stepped back into the elevator and watched as the doors closed on the monstrous office depot machine and peeling papered walls.
I didn’t like the deeper floors.
I felt like the reasons were obvious.
The sriracha bottle tipped up over my meal. It wasn’t good until it hurt my mouth. At least that was the way it seemed to work out.
The food court was ghostly at this hour as the custodial bots hummed on, mopping between tables. I saw Dag come round the corner, passing the bakery. My hand raised in a wave and we locked eyes.
He was unreadable, this guy.
“Here,” I said. I slid the flyers out in front of me.
He looked at them, then back to me.
“Listen,” I told him, “this guy lost his cat. I figure if we place one on each floor, you know, by the elevators, we maximize-”
“They’d be torn down.”
“…Well,” he’s right. “So, we hand them out, then.”
He yawned and I resisted the urge to let it get me. I couldn’t fight it.
My headache was worse.
Dag shook his head. “No, we’re not gonna do it. We’ll be at school. Trail will be cold by the time we get back,” he said, matter of factly. “You’re not going to find that cat.”
“We can skip.”
“No, I won’t.”
“Come on,” I picked up the papers, shaking them. “I… could use some help, you know? There’s a lot we could try… to maximize our chances.”
He sat down at my table. “It’s just a few hours to the buses.”
“I know that.”
I know that.
“So, you’re going to be on them?” he asked, raising his brow.
“Oh?” I pretended to check my watch. “What day is it?”
“Tuesday,” he said, dry.
“So Tuesday. This Tuesday and the next, right?”
His eyes narrowed.
“And the Tuesday after that? And the next one?” I slammed my hand down on the table, the clang echoing through the room.
He hadn’t been expecting that. Neither of us.
Boredom and anxiety simmer to shatterpoint.
“Yes,” I said. “…I’ll be on the bus. Every one of them.”
Death and taxes.
Dag got up from the table. “Then go to bed.”
With that, he was on his way, not looking back.
“I don’t need this!” I called. “You’re not my dad!”
My dad was drunk on a corner somewhere. Fucking luddite.
“This bitch needs off his high horse!” I threw the flyers up, scattering them on the air. “You hear me?!” I clenched and unclenched my hand. I knew it, though. I’d be on that bus.
This bitch needs to find a goddamn cat.
I looked down at my meal, growing cold.
Something about that struck me, sitting alone in the food court.
I had a thought.
The cleaner rolled closer, sucking up the strewn papers I’d paid for.
“ENJOY YOUR MEAL, SIR.”
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