From “The Life of Linus Feathersmith”

Posted: December 2, 2009 in Braak
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Here, guys, read this.  It’s from a novel that I’ve finished most of, and will finish up completely when I’m done with Mr. Stitch.

*****

On my first full day of work, I was led back into the inventory room—a modest-sized warehouse of a place, filled with teetering stacks of cardboard boxes.  Most of the boxes contained crap for us to sell near the cash register:  fancy pens with feathers on them, little wooden reindeer (in anticipation of the Christmas season that was still three months away), book lights that clip to your book, book lights that clip to your glasses, book marks (a slim piece of laminated cardstock with a picture of a) Harry Potter, b) Mr. Tumnus, or c) Sauron’s glaring red eye, each of which retails for $3.49 and will be lost approximately fifteen seconds after you buy it for your nephew), and an abundance of small stuffed toys.

Some of the boxes contained books.  If you work in inventory, it is your job to take the books out of the boxes, put them on little carts, wheel the carts onto the floor, and then put the books onto the shelves.  This is the simplest and least ridiculous task a person can be assigned in a bookstore, because it has a clear starting and ending point:  you start when you have some new books in, you end when you have put them all on the shelves.  This is compared to working on the sales floor, where the only way to measure your progress is “upselling”:  given a random sampling of your time on the floor, how many times did you succeed in convincing someone to buy something they didn’t want, and how much was that something worth?  This is then measured according to an ill-defined standard that I don’t think anyone fully understands—it’s some percentage of the daily total.

In the very back of the inventory room are the magazines.  Magazines, obviously, have to get switched out constantly.  New ones come in, old ones are disposed of.  Ordinarily, it’s one person’s job to make sure that happens efficaciously, but this Border’s hadn’t had a magazine specialist for a half a year.  Consequently, there were six months worth of old magazines piled up like Fort Conde-Nast, rotting and yellowing under the fluorescent lights.

“We need you to strip the magazines,” Carol told me.

“Oh,” I said.  “What does that mean?”

Carol picked up a three-month-old issue of InStyle.  It had Kate Winslet on the cover.  “We only sell about forty percent of the magazines that come in.  The rest have to go back.  But we don’t want to ship the whole magazine back, because the printer doesn’t want it, they just want proof that we didn’t sell it.”  She neatly tore the cover off of the magazine, and setting it in a box filled with other out-of-date covers, and tossed the remains into a large trash can.  “So, we have to rip the covers off, put them in boxes, and send them back.”

“What do we do with the rest of the magazine?”

“Trash.”

“Do you mean…we just throw sixty percent of the magazines we get into the trash?”

“Yep.”

“How many is that?”

“About six hundred a month.”  She rubbed her hands together, like she was building up a static charge.  “You don’t have to get through all of these today.  But you do have to get them done by the end of the week.”  She bustled off, straightening boxes and adjusting the positions of any stuffed animals within reach of her arms as she went.

I sat down, hidden away in my fortress of magazines, and began stripping their covers off.  It took a while, but I eventually got the hang of it, and once I did, I was proud of how fast I could go.  Minor decisions, like where I kept the stack of magazines I was about strip or the part of the cover that I picked the new magazine up from, all contributed to my efficiency.  The covers made a sound like srrrrrrrrp when I took them off.

While I sat there, bathed in whatever burning phosphors were showering me with washed-out and ultraviolet light, ripping the magazines apart, srrrrrrp, I saw the man in the buzzcut come in.  He moved among the stacks of unpacked books and toys furtively, like he was trying to avoid scrutiny.  He didn’t see me, apparently, and couldn’t here the srrrrrrp of the magazines over the rattling and buzzing of the climate-control fans.

I couldn’t say for sure, but the man looked like he’d been a former Marine.  Haircut notwithstanding, he had the thick forearms and heavy shoulders that spoke of endless hours of pushups.  It was difficult to see what he was doing, because he’d found a little alcove among the towers of inventory; I could only see his back, and I could barely hear him mumbling something.

A strange, blue light flickered in the man’s dark corner.  I couldn’t tell what it was, or where it came from.  I imagined it was another piece of merchandise from among our innumerable useless book-supplements.  Have you ever wanted a light that could turn all the pages of your book green?  Haven’t you ever wanted to project that new Tom Clancy novel right onto your morning eggs benedict?

I didn’t think that the man with the buzzcut was doing either of those things, but I was hesitant to say anything for two reasons.  The first was that I found him intimidating, and I didn’t want to interrupt him if he was doing something important.  The second is that I would have felt guilty no doing the work I was supposed to do.  Always, when I first start a job, I have a strong sense of responsibility to the work I’ve been assigned.  This typically doesn’t last very long, but at the time I was fully in the throes of Vocational Conscientious—uptight half-brother to Grim Curious.

Srrrrrrp, the magazines said, while I sat there and said nothing, watching the man with the buzzcut using some kind of secret blue light.  Srrrrrp.

The light winked off.  The man stepped out from behind the boxes, and saw me.  I felt nauseous, suddenly, and my ears were ringing.  I continued to strip magazine covers.  Srrrrrp.

“You’re new here?”  The man asked.  He had a gravelly voice.  Maybe from basic training, where he had to keep yelling, “Sir, yes, sir!”  And “Sir, no, sir!”  Until his voice was hoarse and damaged?

“Yes,” I told him.  Srrrrrrrp.

“Ethan.”  He crossed his burly arms and nodded.  I interpreted this as an introduction.

“Linus,” I responded.

Srrrrrrrp.

“Really?  Like in Snoopy?”

Peanuts. “Yep.”  Srrrrrrrp.

Ethan stared at me from beneath his buzzcut, and I wondered if maybe he was just going to reach out and break my neck, the way that Marines can in the movies.  “Did you see what I was doing over there?”

I felt flushed, suddenly, in that hot, nervous way you feel when you’re lying.  “No,” I said.  Not lying.  I didn’t see anything, I don’t know what’s going on.

Srrrrrrp.

“Are you sure?”

I felt sick again, and wanted to just shout it out, just get up and yell You’ve got some kind of secret Marine television back there!  You were talking to Central Command!  The Mothership was giving you instructions for the domination of Earth!

“I didn’t really see anything.”  Srrrrrp.  “This…I’ve never done this with the magazines before.  It’s more complicated than I thought it was, you know?  So I’ve been paying attention to this.”  Not your secret alien transmitter.  “I have to get all of these magazines done by the end of the week.”  Srrrrrrp.

“Huh.  We used to have another guy.  Phil.  He did all the magazines.”

Srrrrrrrp.

“What happened to him?

Srrrrrrp.

“He died.”

Oh, god, please don’t kill me, I didn’t see you use your Marine television communications unit.  I was fairly certain he was trying to send me some kind of message.  Don’t tell anyone what you saw, or you’ll be killed the way I killed Phil. I  stabbed him in the lung with a metal bookend that I sharpened after hours and hours of scraping it against the concrete steps.

Ethan the Marine started picking his way around the inventory debris, an activity he performed in a startlingly delicate fashion.

“How…uh…”  srrrrrp.  “How did he die?  Phil, I mean.”

Ethan muttered something as he slipped out of the employees-only door, and back out to where customers drifted between the stacks.  He’d said one word, and, having heard it, I could not be sure whether I’d heard it correctly.  I thought to call out, to ask for clarification, but I was filled with dread, and did not want to be the subject of any more of Ethan’s scrutiny.

Fanciful conclusions about his activities aside, I figured I’d probably misheard him.  A secret-agent Marine that is on a deep-cover operation at the Borders bookstore in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania is one thing.

But what Ethan said?  That’s plan ridiculous.

“Vampires.”

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Comments
  1. V.I.P. Referee says:

    So good! More, please.

  2. Bill says:

    I’m looking forward to reading this one.

  3. richie says:

    Good stuff! I enjoy being in this guy’s head. I sort of hope that there aren’t actually vampires.

    A couple typos:

    and couldn’t here the srrrrrrp

    I would have felt guilty no doing the work I was supposed to do

    I also found this sentence to be a little much:

    This typically doesn’t last very long, but at the time I was fully in the throes of Vocational Conscientious—uptight half-brother to Grim Curious.

    Everything else is very stream of conciousness and that snaps me right out of it.

  4. braak says:

    There are no vampires. But being in this guy’s head gets trippier and trippier as the book goes on.

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