We now enter Part Too: Go Weird, of my book, Go West or Go Weird. And we begin with Story #9, Executive Fear. This is my longest short story of all, at more than 8,000 words. That’s pretty long for a supposed “short” story, and you may be feeling some fear yourself, at getting involved in it. So to make it less intimidating, I’m breaking it down into five, easy to swallow parts, for your reading digestion.
I originally wrote this long, short story back in the 1980’s, but it’s been a work in progress ever since. That’s because I can’t keep my obsessive-compulsive, wordsmithing fingers off of it. So it’s received a few revisions. Which perhaps are improvements. One improvement was to scratch out references to the old stone and chisel way of doing things, that preceded 1990, and update this manuscript to today’s technology.
This tale reflects my inner sentiments about our modern, so-called civilization. In fact, I first penned it to paper (yes, good old-fashioned treeware) when I was living in my underground log cabin in the middle of the Mojave desert.
As I sat in my log cabin, wondering why I had to go to such great lengths to get away from that great monster known as civilization, which dehumanizes people and destroys the environment, I had plenty of time to think. And my thinker came up with a theory.
I reasoned that there are invisible forces at work that make our world the way it is. And these invisible forces are the executives who head big businesses, such as banks and large corporations. They stay hidden in their high-rise offices, out-of-touch with humanity, and far away from the primitive appeal of nature. And in a cold, machine-like way, they use paperwork to pull the strings and levers that make everything function the dysfunctional way things function.
And it occurred to me that maybe these executives hide in their offices out of fear. They’re afraid of humanity. They’re afraid of the outdoors. They shun reality. And they’re phobic about being anywhere away from the safe cocoon of their homes or corporate offices.
This is radical thinking, I’ll admit. And I’ll also admit that I lived in my underground log cabin in the Mojave at the same time that another radical thinker lived in his own little cabin, in the woods of Montana. His name was Ted Kaczynski.
So I’ve sometimes wondered if maybe I’m just as nuts as Ted.
But while he was mailing surprise packages to executives and academics, as the Unabomber, I approached the problem from a different angle.
I simply wrote this story.
Executive Fear (Beginning)
Otis Felp was a frightened man. Always. Always there was the fear. Lurking just outside. Ready to pounce. Fear stalked him. It waited for him to leave. It waited for him to return. It waited for him to be caught unawares. It was always around. Somewhere around. Just outside those doors. Stalking and hunting him like a cougar sniffing out a wounded deer.
Every day of his life from the time he was born.
Crippling, destructive, inner fear. Fear that assaulted his soul and body, worming into his heart and hollowing out his worried eyes.
His soul was condemned to a constant hell by this stalking fear. And it left him with no heart for enjoying life.
He was also desperate. Desperate for an escape from the terror that always awaited him.
But he saw little opportunity for hope. No, there seemed little hope for an escape from this phobic paranoia. Little hope for an escape from the phantom fright that constantly breathed just outside. No, he saw scant opportunity for this kind of hope.
But he did see one opportunity.
Small? Yes it was.
But it was still an opportunity. It was a slight chance. As slight as the little tin of brown powder he now held in his hand.
He sat at his desk and fiddled anxiously with the tin. He had been told not to handle it much, but he was so desperately excited he couldn’t control himself.
It was yellowcake.
Yellowcake is a powder produced from crushed uranium ore. It is used for manufacturing enriched uranium-235, which in turn is used for making nuclear fuel and nuclear weapons. And in spite of its name, it is neither yellow nor cake-like. Rather it is brown and powdery.
It had taken him awhile to obtain this uranium-rich powder, but he had been persistent. His client had hesitated, had hedged, had put it off, but had finally given in. His client brought it to him secretly. As a present. Or as a gratuity. Just yesterday—the day after the loan was approved—his client had walked into his office, set his briefcase down on the big, expansive desk, opened it a slight ways, and removed the tin of brown powder.
He began to act as if he had committed a great crime. There was a big, guilty smile on his face as he palmed the little tin toward Otis Felp. “Here you go, Otis, just what you were asking for,” he said in a low voice. “Now don’t go advertising what it is, and don’t say it came from me. Just stick it on a shelf somewhere and don’t handle it too much. I think it can hurt you if you play around with it a lot. Remember, don’t say you got it from me.”
“I don’t intend to ‘play’ around with it,” Otis said, stiff-lipped, “I just want it as a souvenir.” Then he let himself smile a little. “But thank you, thank you very much. I appreciate the gift. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone what it is. I want it as a personal souvenir only. A keepsake, so to speak. Thanks very much for your trouble.”
That about concluded Otis Felp’s deal with the president of Loplite Mine Enterprises. The miner had received his loan—and at a very reasonable rate—and the bank manager had received his little tin of yellowcake.
That was yesterday. That evening he had gathered together other needed materials for his experiment, and had prepared his lab in the garage. Now, tonight, he would take his yellowcake home and try his experiment. Tonight he would put all the elements together and—poof!—see what would happen.
But then again, one never knew.
In his office he felt no fear. Behind the big sign that said “Manager”—that sat squarely at the head of his big, expansive desk—sitting in his big chair, with a big, important look of concern on his face—he felt no fear. He felt perfectly safe. No jitters. No trembling hands. No darting eyes, nothing.
It was a secure feeling to be an important bank executive.
Even out there in the lobby it wasn’t all that bad. But that’s because he was treated with respect by his employees. They respected him very much, and feared him even more so. It was the fear, really. They showed him respect, but felt fear.
Whenever he came around he sensed there was an instant change in the demeanor of his employees. A hush came first. Then darting eyes. Then a flurry of busywork.
He loved the employees best who stammered. “Uh, uh, yes sir, y- yes Mr. Felp. Y- yes of course. Sure. Th- thank, uh, thank you sir.” He loved those employees. They made him feel that everything was going okay. That the bank was still functioning properly. That he was still, definitely, in control. That nothing would cross him or cause him any kind of harm while he was in the bank. It was security.
And that big pile of paperwork in front of him. Now that right there showed just how important his job was. No one could question that he was an important man when they came into his office and saw all the paperwork he had to do. People would roll their eyes and say, “Boy, I’m sure glad I don’t have your job, uh, sir.” He would just smile and keep on working.
Or maybe he’d say, “Sometimes I wonder how I put up with it myself.” No sense making people envy his job. Let them be scared of such importance. Let them lose their ambition. Then they would be less of a threat. The less people who wanted his job, the more secure his job was.
But the paperwork had a greater value than just that. Most people bemoaned having to do paperwork. He didn’t like it much himself, but it did have a hidden value that many people seemed to overlook. It was the ultimate in power. It was power at its best. Paperwork was power. Paperwork was the power that made minds rule over backs. It always seemed to be the case. The ones who did the paperwork always had control over the ones who did the backwork.
Otis Felp was an expert at paperwork. Because of this he thought of himself as an invisible force of power. Like the Emperor of Japan, who for many centuries was not allowed to be looked upon by the common people. Otis was hidden behind the walls of his office, behind his big, expansive desk, out of sight, making deals on paper that could shake the entire city.
The average citizen depended on him to make sure the wheels of finance moved smoothly. To make sure jobs were available, and that businesses could operate. To make sure progress was made. And yet Otis Felp was virtually unknown to the average citizen. He was an anonymous man, hidden in an office somewhere, doing whatever anonymous, important men and women do. To the average citizen, Otis Felp was virtually invisible.
And that’s the way he liked it. He liked exercising his power anonymously. And he could do that with paperwork. There was such little risk. He could control his outside environment without actually going out into it. He could initiate a form, sign a sheet, or send a letter, and wheels would turn somewhere. He didn’t have to go out there and turn the wheels manually, and take all the chances that could entail. The chances of—who knows?—God knows—what could happen to him. No. He could sit inside his safe office and just do some paperwork. And then someone else—someone out there—some poor fool—would turn the wheels for him.
Paperwork was so much safer. With paperwork nothing wrong could happen to him. He was so safe. An anonymous but safe, secure, powerful man. A man who pushed paper, while others pushed their luck.
After filling out a few more forms and signing a few more signature blocks, he turned his attention back to the yellowcake. Tonight, he thought, it would be tonight. He turned the tin of powder slowly in his hands.
Perhaps it would work, perhaps it wouldn’t, but at least he would try.
End of Part 1. Come on back tomorrow, for Part 2.
Categories: Series (Stories): Go West Or Go Weird