|20.20|21|22|22.2|22.22|22.222|23|24|25|Those Extra Four…|1|2|3|4|Back Cover|
Shut The Chuck Up
The Trash Man
“Holy shit…” Chuck whispers to himself, his vision growing foggy as he’s sucked into his own head, “it worked…”
“Huh?” a crouching Alvey whispers back, too busy fiddling with the lock to listen to Chuck, choosing just to hear him instead.
“What?” Chuck says, snapping back to real reality as his prior realization fades cleanly back into the present moment. “Nothing. What’s going on?”
Alvey stops his fiddling and slowly turns his head to serve up an expression of irritated confusion. “What do you mean what’s going on? I explained the entire plan to you on the drive over here. And on the phone yesterday. Please tell me you were listening.”
“Well,” begins Chuck, patting the outside of his suit pockets, “I definitely heard you.” He pulls a lighter out of his pocket and hands it to Alvey before resuming his search. “Hold this for a second, will ya?”
“Oh… well I don’t need this again quite yet, but okay.”
Alvey slips the lighter into his breast pocket’s protector and resumes repeatedly jamming what at one point could be considered a paper clip into the door lock.
Convinced his pockets are empty, Chuck closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. Oxygen isn’t his preferred inhalant, but it will have to do for now. He opens his eyes and looks at the room around him, a cozy yet posh little den adorned with gray carpet, a couple gray couches, some gray artwork done by the late great artist Grey Grayson, framed in gray plaster frames – how full of life, especially with the lights shut off. There’s also a wooden-looking particleboard coffee table with a small collection of Office Life magazines (the Gray Editions, no less) sat next to a faux plant in a gray pot that looks like it’s made of clay but is actually made of plaster. Chuck almost makes a comment, but then Alvey starts mumbling about something.
“What’s that, bud?”
Alvey trembles for a moment then slowly turns his head around again, his neck crackling and popping the entire time. He says nothing.
“Dude you gotta stop doing that, just speak to me.”
Alvey crinkles his nose at Chuck for a moment before deciding to speak. “I can’t get this darn-stinkin’ lock open! They said the locks here suck, they said they could easily be broken into with a scorched-tip paper clip. Well, here I am, Alvey Fratto The Trash Man, trying to unlock the door with the paper clip with the tip that I scorched myself, with my own bare hands, but it isn’t working. It just isn’t working. I try so hard, I don’t understand why it isn’t working. Why does it never work Chuck, WHY?! This entire life is just so, so… dare I say it… so unfair!”
‘Alvey Fratto The Trash Man?’ Chuck thinks to himself with one eyebrow raised above the rim of his sunglasses. ‘I thought he said he was an executive here.’
Chuck cautiously takes the paper clip from Alvey’s hand and, after wiping the silky sweat off, gives it an ocular examination. The analysis: it’s definitely a normal paper clip, unbent with one end scorched black. He throws it over his shoulder like the garbage it is and goes about removing his left pinky finger, which does wonders for Alvey’s already intense nausea. Upon twisting the pinky’s base three times, Chuck’s detached finger opens up to reveal a multitude of mechanical multitools, including a skeleton key that’s not even remotely shaped like a skeleton. He hands it to Alvey, who shivers and turns back to his door.
“You’re welcome,” said just audibly enough to be ignored in favor of the satisfying click of an unlocked door.
“Yes! I’m in!” Alvey exclaims, dropping not only Chuck’s pinky but also the whole whispering thing down to the floor as he trots inside.
The digit bounces upon landing, resuming its finger form whilst in the air. Chuck scoops it up and reattaches the crooked thing before following Mister Fratto inside through the gray doorframe. The door, a beautiful solid piece of oak with a snow-capped mountain carved into it, slowly and silently shuts behind them, lightly tapping Chuck on the ass as it does so.
“Alvey, the do–”
“Not now cuck!”
“It’s Chuck, man. Come on, I feel like that was a bit intentional.”
Alvey doesn’t hear him though, the bigman’s already stomp-running his way down the N hallway in a beeline to the door at the end. He then unbends a new paper clip, which immediately assumes a silky coating of hand sweat upon being handled, scorches the end of it with Chuck’s lighter, and begins nonsensically jamming it into the door lock, just like his water cooler crew told him to. This affords Chuck a few moments to look around and figure out where exactly Alvey Fratto The Trash Man has dragged him on this fine, holiest of Holiblazes.
It seems to be an office building of some sort, the main room is dominated by nine particleboard cubicles and lined with windows tinted so dark that one can’t see through them from the inside out. There are hallways marked E, N and W, all branching out from this central space in each of the four cardinal directions (besides South, because that’s how they came in). As he pleasurelessly jaunts down the E hallway, lined with unpainted and unmarked gray metal doors with no handles, Chuck notices the air getting thinner with each step he takes. The hallway seems to grow longer too, the doors warping and taking on a towering stature that makes Chuck feel inadequate. Then he blinks and they’re back to normal, allowing him to feel like a god again.
At the end of the stretching hallway lies a door with a not only a plaque on it, but also a pull handle. Chuck feels the cold of the metal handle through his leather glove and yanks at it, but the door won’t budge. It’s at this point that Chuck decides to read the plaque: ASSISTANT MANAGER’S OFFICE.
Down the W hall is more of the same – at least, that’s how it seems at first glance. The metal doors are painted a slightly different shade of gray than the unpainted E doors, and they all have handles, too. At the end of this hallway is the office of the ASSISTANT TO THE MANAGER of whatever thrilling corporation inhabits this brick and mortar shell. Chuck swallows hard, making an audible gulp sound, and slowly backs his way into the cubicle room with a look of pure mortification plastered on his sunglassed, goateed, and otherwise flabbergasted face.
“Al… uh, Alvey?” Chuck asks out loud, his voice carrying a slight hint of unnervedness. “I don’t like this place, where are we?”
No answer, just the sound of metal being jammed into metal with highlights of dripping liquid puddling on the carpeted floor. Chuck wanders around the perimeter, avoiding peeking inside the cubicles at all costs, lest he sees how the other side lives. Manning the corners of the room are four plaster vases, painted gray and gray but less so, each containing what looks like an exotic and tropical plant. ‘Thank Christ,’ Chuck thinks to himself, but perhaps a moment too soon – upon handling a leaf of one of the plants, he realizes it’s made of plaster as well.
That’s when Chuck notices the walls of the building are literally caving in towards him, trapping him in a small space that will only grow smaller until it’s not a space at all. Slightly panicked, Chuck stumbles backwards and crashes into, and through, the particleboard barrier between open space and office space.
It’s then that he sees it: an empty desk of one of the employees, utterly barren and devoid of all signs of life. It’s loaded with stacks of papers, two printers, three different staplers – which are all out of staples, mind you – a computer from at least twenty years ago, a gray-covered magazine entitled Apex Lifestyle: The Periodical For Peons At The Pinnacle, and the saving grace: a little grayscale poster depicting a cat hanging on a string by a single claw, captioned Hang in there, Baby.
“Alvey where the fuck are we you need to tell me right now,” yells Chuck as he dusts the particles of board off of his suit jacket and empties the brim of his fedora into one of the stapleless staplers. He also notices the walls have stopped stepping to him, this is a plus.
“CHUCK!” screeches Alvey at the top of his overexerted lungs without turning away from the door, “CANNOT YOU SEE THAT I AM TRYING TO CONCENTRATE? JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP!!”
‘You just gonna let him get away with that?’
Unable to help himself, Chuck tiptoes his way behind Alvey and whispers, “Don’t you mean shut the Chuck up?” into his ear.
The resulting clamor wakes the dormant being situated in the coat closet.
Chuck grabs Alvey by the blade of his shoulder and yanks him away from the door, sending the orbular mass of a man airborne for a whole of one second. “Mind your manners, missy,” says the grown skinny man as the grown husky man burns his exposed skin on the rug. Chuck then pulls a pinky detachment maneuver and unlocks the door before getting shoved aside by an excited Alvey.
“Finally… I’m here!” Alvey shouts as he runs into the blinding light coming from within the once locked room. “It is time!”
Through a pair of confused, squinted eyes, our suited man makes out a struggling Alvey attempting to climb aboard an immaculate mahogany desk, utterly stage-like in stature with a wide surface area capable of sitting at least six humans, nine on a good day.
Only three on a bad day though.
Walking inside, a chill goes up Chuck’s spine when his eyes adjust to the light and he sees three rows of swiveling office chairs facing the desk, laid out as if the chamber were the sick love child of a corporation’s board room and a public school’s auditorium. What’s worse, the massive desk only has one chair pulled up behind it, directly in the middle, behind a microphone with such a large pedestal that it could be considered a damn podium. Chuck really wishes he would have thought to pack a fucking joint so he could fill this terrible place with smoke.
Chuck begins to say, “Alvey, what ar–” but immediately cuts himself off when he observes his obtuse friend unbutton his pants and assume a squatting position while still standing on the frankly impressive carved wood desk. A few moments later, on the back wall of the room, the door of the coat closet creaks open to the width of a single human eyeball.