Thursday, August 25, 2011

Replacing Dave

This is a story I originally wrote in 1998, at the beginning of a cubicle job.


"Hey Dave, remember we have that kickoff meeting in five minutes." Bob had poked his head round Dave's cube. "Unfortunately, Marci is going to be there, but I hear there's some free food, so maybe it won't be so bad."

"Somebody should put her in the zoo, she has enough hair on her body to pass for a chimpanzee." Mark said from the next cube. He rolled his chair out to face Dave and Bob. "At least, someone should clue her into waxing her face and arms, I don't think shaving is working too well for her."

"Guys, don't you think you are being just a little harsh? She's not that bad." "She has, like, no personality, and no sense of humor. And she hardly ever looks directly at you." said Bob.

"She's also this weird conspiracy nut." added Mark. "Not the government cover-up and aliens type, but if you ever try to have a conversation with her, she goes on about 'they' and 'them'. It's a little disturbing frankly."

"Come on," said Dave, "She's good at what she does, and she never slacks either."

"You've got to admit though, she is weird and ugly as sin; you've got to be uncomfortable around her."

"Yes, I'm uncomfortable, but I'm not about to crucify her; it's not like she's done anything wrong. It's not like she bites the heads off small mammals or hoards empty tuna cans in her cube or something. Anyway, we're going to be late for the meeting if we keep chatting about her. Come on Bob."

"Have fun with Marci!" said Mark, rolling back to his computer screen.

As a mental note, Dave promised himself to smile at Marci in the meeting, and maybe talk to her later. That would show the guys that she wasn't some hideous thing to be shoved with repulsion into a dark corner somewhere, and forget the little fact that she was still human. As they walked into the meeting room, he saw that Marci was sitting quietly off by herself.

"Hey, Dave, we've got subs today. This is great." said Bob smiling. "What do you want, roast beef, italian, or chicken salad? It looks like there is only one chicken salad here."

"I'll go with the chicken salad."

"Is roast beef too manly for you, huh?"

"No, I just had a roast beef sub yesterday for lunch, but you go right ahead and make yourself as manly as you want to be." Dave noticed that Marci didn't have a sandwich. "Hey Marci," he called out, "would you like a sub?" Bob gave him a bug-eyed look.

"No thanks," she said "I'm vegetarian."

"Um, okay."

"Hairy and vegetarian...sounds like a chimp to me." whispered Bob under his breath.

"Hey now, we don't need to go there. Besides, chimps aren't necessarily vegetarian. In the wild they've been known to hunt prey and-"

"Okay people, let's get this meeting started. We're here to kickoff the Petersen project. I'm happy to say, wegot full funding, and there will be bonuses for beating our milestones..." The project manager droned on in the usual corporate manner for an hour and a half. Practically the entire time, Marci just diligently wrote down notes on her legal pad, hardly ever looking up. Everyone else either just looked bored, or was barely disguising their boredom.

After the meeting, Dave started to get up, intending to make an effort to talk to Marci, but a wave of nausea overtook him and he slumped back down in his chair. He rested his head in one hand and covered his mouth with the other. A sharp pang rolled through his stomach, like a biker gang through a small town, depositing a trail of dull radiating aches as it subsided.

"You all right man?" asked Bob, patting a hand on Dave's shoulder.

"Oh. I don't think that sub set too well with me." He looked up and around the room. "Did Marci leave?"

"Yeah," said Bob. "Maybe it was her though and not the sub." He whispered, smiling.

"Enough." Dave was annoyed. "I think I'll just take the rest of the day off and go home. Luckily I don't have any more meetings today."

"Good plan. Want me to drive you? I could stand to get out of a meeting or two."

"No, I'll be alright I think." Before he could make it to his car, Dave spent a good ten minutes curled around a toilet bowl in the men's room. After the chicken salad exited his body, he began to feel much better, but he felt warm and remained moderately queasy. The clinical coolness of the smooth ceramic that he gripped with white knuckled fingers helped him feel a bit better, but it didn't compare to the thought of slipping into bed with some ginger ale and watching some 80's rerun sitcoms on TV.

The entire time he drove home, he tried not to throw up on the dashboard, it would be a shame to ruin his new car, even if it was the cheapest one on the market. He had saved up for two years to pay for it in cash, and had only gotten it last week. When he got to his apartment he had to park a few hundred meters from his entrance, which was blocked by a fire truck and some related vehicles; it looked like some idiot had started a grease fire in his kitchen. It was certainly a common enough occurrence in this complex, so it was a good guess. Dave wondered what prevents people from learning the basics of cooking and cooking safety, before they embark on culinary conquests. As he walked slowly and uncomfortably to his apartment, he silently cursed the would-be chef for his incompetence.

As Dave got to his apartment, he noticed that the door was slightly ajar. He froze up, trying to remember locking the door in the morning. He could indeed picture the entire moment in his head. He started to panic a bit, but he had recently given his girlfriend a key, and it might have been she who had left the door open, though he had not ever known her to be forgetful about closing the door. Or perhaps it was the manager finally getting around to fixing his leaky shower.

He moved closer to the door, listening to determine whom, if anyone was inside. He could hear the faint murmur of the TV; it sounded like it was either a sporting event or a game show, judging by the periodic cheering noises. His heart began to beat faster, his queasiness fading as adrenaline pulsed through his body. He fumbled around for his cell phone, but he had left it in his cube when he went to the meeting. He paused, then took a deep breath, and slowly swung the door open.

He couldn't see anything immediately out of the ordinary in the entryway. He checked behind the door, in case someone was lurking, but there was nothing there but a dust bunny composed primarily of his girlfriend's long red hair. He stepped into the entryway, and was amazed at what he saw next.

It was a man in a purple jumpsuit. The man did not see him, but was adjusting the position of a small potted rubber tree pant in the living room. Dave had never owned a rubber tree plant, nor ever had the desire to do so. It was so odd that he just stood there, mouth agape.

Another jumpsuited man came around the corner from the kitchen, with some paperwork in hand, about to give it to the rubber tree man, but definitely saw Dave.

"You're not supposed to be home yet!" he exclaimed. The rubber tree man looked up startled. Two other jumpsuited men appeared in the living room.

"You're not supposed to be in my apartment!" exclaimed Dave. Another jumpsuited person came to the living room from the bathroom, shortly followed by another from the bedroom, then another, who was carrying Dave's favorite sci-fi poster. "How many of there are you?! And what the hell are you doing?"

Dave walked further into the living room, and saw a man he had never seen before, dressed in jeans and a t- shirt sitting on his sofa, intently watching a football game. "Who's he?!" Dave said, pointing to the man on the sofa.

"Look, please calm down. We just have a job to do. You're not even supposed to know we are here." said the second jumpsuited man.

"Get out of my apartment now! I'm calling the cops!" "I'm afraid that won't do you any good, you don't really have a choice in the matter."

"What? What are you talking about? Of course I have a choice. You broke into my apartment. You are messing with my property. That's illegal, and I'm calling the cops!"

"It's not your apartment anymore."

"It was most certainly my apartment this morning when I left for work. My lease isn't up for another 2 months, and I've never had a noise complaint filed against me. I don't see how it could suddenly not be my apartment."

"I'm sorry mister, but you are being replaced. I'm sorry you had to find out." "What?! What on Earth are you talking about?" "Look, we've had some complaints about you." "Who is we, and what kind of complaints are you talking about?"

"We, you know, 'WE'." The man gestured emphatically with his hands.

"They...?" Dave asked incredulously.


"You exist?"

"No, THEY exist. WE are THEY."

"You're kidding."

"We don't kid."


"And to answer you're other question, we've gotten some complaints from you're girlfriend, your mom, and a coworker named Bob."

"Like what?"

"Your mom complains that you don't call enough, and that you haven't visited her in years. Oh yes," he said referring to his paperwork, "and she's also complained that you haven't given her any grandchildren yet."

"What, did she file those at the department of THEY?"

"No, those were phone conversations with you."

"You've tapped my line?!"

"No, 'tap' is such a primitive word...we have access to all phones all the time."

"What? I've never heard of such a thing!"

"Well, don't think about it and you won't have to worry about it." Advised the man.

"I don't believe this. Well, what about my girlfriend then?"

"Well," he said, looking at his paperwork, "She thinks you're kinda boring. You spend too much time with your computer, and not enough time with her. She says you are also too sensitive and she is suspicious that you are being facetious. Also, she really hates it when you brush your teeth and get droplets of water on the mirror in her bathroom. She says that that is her all time biggest pet peeve."

"Well, if she doesn't like me that much, why doesn't she break up with me?"

The man looked at his paperwork some more, shuffling the leaves. "Oh yes," he said, tapping a page, "she says that she would feel too guilty to break up with you, and desperately wanted you to break up with her instead, so you could feel guilty, and not her."

"Oh, please, that's such a cliché. That's not logical at all."

"I'll remember to make a note of that in her file."

"Do you keep information on everyone?" Dave thought about all the mean things his coworkers had said about Marci.

"Of course."

"Why? What would be the purpose?"

"We can't reveal that information."

"Why not?"

"It would reveal our purpose."

Dave paused, then decided not to further pursue his query. "Well, what does Bob have to say about me?"

"He is unhappy that he can't talk to you about sports, since it is his favorite subject. Last week, you annoyed him when you hummed a Village People tune in your cube, over and over for almost 2 hours. He doesn't like it when you whine about your girlfriend, he doesn't like to get involved with that sort of thing."

"That bastard. I don't 'whine' about her." Dave didn't remember humming, but he did like the Village People so it was possible.

"Well, your opinion of what you do doesn't matter here."

"I can't defend myself?"


"Why not?"


"Because why?"

"That's just not how it works."

"So how does it work?"

"We can't say."

"Say what?"

"How it works."


The man looked at him with an annoyed expression. "Well, then it wouldn't be mysterious if I told you how it all works, so stop asking me stupid questions!"

"Do you even know yourself?"

"Look mister, I didn't even need to tell you everything that I did tell you. I just felt sort of sorry for you, that's all."

"Well, I don't need your pity, but I do need you to leave my apartment. I don't believe anything of what you've said." Dave was beginning to gain some confidence after seeing the man get flustered. "All of you. Scat! Now."

They all stared at him, except for the man on the sofa. There was an uncomfortable pause. Dave gripped his stomach, the pain was beginning to resurface. The crowd cheered on the TV.

"Yeah! Go TEAM!" the man on the sofa exclaimed, thrusting his hands in the air. "Wooo!"

Dave looked at the man on the sofa. "That's not supposed to be my replacement is it?"


"You're kidding. It looks like he has an IQ of 5."

"We don't kid." Dave turned very pale. "But, but...but what happens to me?"

The jumpsuited men started to close in on him ominously. Dave panicked and shrieked, and ran out of his apartment. He started running down the hall, but his stomach cramped up, and he ended up lurching out of the building, doubled over, clutching his stomach. Sweat was pouring off his face. He thought about Marci, and wondered if they had tried to replace her too. He though about his neighbor who burnt his food, and wondered if they knew that he had complained in his mind about him. If they somehow had access to all the phones, maybe they had some sort of mind reading technology too. Maybe every bad thought that every person has ever had gets logged in some computer somewhere that they control.
Dave was beginning to feel a little dizzy. The grass around the complex looked brown, and he thought that this was a little odd. He stumbled towards his usual parking spot, but his car wasn't there.

"No, they took my car! They took my new car!" Dave spun around on the pavement, stumbling and trying to regain his balance. A tangerine woman and her child were walking to a nearby car. The woman tightened her grip on the child's hand, and tried not to make eye contact with Dave.

"Help me! You have to help me!" he pleaded with the woman. "They're after me! They took my car, and they took over my apartment! They did it to a friend of mine too! They wear purple jumpsuits!"
"Mommy, mommy, that man is ranting!" the tangerine child exclaimed, pointing at Dave.

"Shhhh! Get in the car now!" she opened the door for her child, and shoved her in, keeping an eye on Dave. She locked and slammed the door, then got in the car herself. She fumbled with the keys, and Dave lurched toward her door. He slapped a sweaty palm on her window, letting it slide down, leaving a smudgy trail.

"Why are you orange? You have to get help! Please!"

"Get away from us you pervert! Go away now!" the woman screamed through the glass. She started crying, and fumbled around for something in her car.

"Please, they're coming after me! They're going to erase my identity! Everything that is me is going away! I think it is already beginning to happen. You have to help!!"

Dave thought the woman looked a little more composed now. She unrolled her window a crack, brought up a canister to it, and sprayed a fine mist directly in Dave's eyes. He screamed and fell backwards. It felt like red hot ants were crawling all over his face and eyes, biting and chewing and spewing forth formic acid. He curled up on the pavement, trying to wipe the vile liquid off his face. He started to retch and throw up again. He writhed in the pool of acid, until his body just gave up and he fainted, face down.

A few minutes later, a van labeled "John and Sons Plumbing" pulled out of the complex. Inside, were several men wearing identical blue work jumpsuits.

"You know," said John to his eldest son, also John, "that guy sure was gullible."

"Yeah," replied John, "we'll have to remember that for next time."

"It was too bad you made me put back that poster Dad. I really liked it." said a younger son from the back of the van.

"Well, we can't have them actually see you take things from them now. That's just bad business." said the elder John. They drove for awhile in silence. "You know," he said, "one thing I can't figure out, is that if the guy who came in didn't know the guy watching TV, then who was he? Cause I just thought he was a roommate or something."

There was another long pause, as they all thought about it. "Well," said one of the other sons, "at least we got rid of that hideous rubber tree that Gramma got us for Christmas. But Mom's gonna be furious when she finds out it's missing."

1 comment:

Nathan said...

Hmmm, I miss seeing new stories.