Have you ever felt as if your life was different? As if you held some otherly purpose that couldn’t quite be explained? It’s constantly on your mind, rattling around beside your other thoughts — undetachable, irremovable. Never was such a feeling more present than in Jackson Nosek. Born from the daughter of poor immigrants — both of whom arrived in the states when they were quite very young —, and the son of a rich, aristocratic deadbeat, who had left before he had lived but a single year.
Before his birth, his mother had undergone a few experimental phases of testing, hoping to find — and correct, if need be — any chance of birth defects he may be born with. Naturally, he grew up with his poor mother, who dragged him across the country every few years, solely in the pursuit of a better life.
He grew with temporary friends, none permanent; by his eighteenth birthday, seventeen different schools held his personal files. Within those very same years, she had devolved into a years-long usage of drugs to dull her pains, had long since turned to prostitution to make ends meet… and, she had had a roulette wheel of men, each of whom she, either, had at her disposal, or had an influence over her.
When he was young, he held the belief that his mother was happy; yet, as he grew, and the veil of ignorance that clouded his vision slowly dissolved, he was gradually able to see her life for the bottom-ness that it was. The idea that her life could eventually result in some semblance of happiness was a concept that remained, even to this day, an impossibility.
His dreams did not matter to his mother, who often omitted him from her thoughts; he wanted a family — a wife he thought to be the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, with children who were as happy as can be, who would grow up in a loving home —… but, this could not happen with her in his life. With the possibility that her unintentional vitriolic, self-destructive life could leech into his, he knew there was no future in which his ideality was achievable.
The midnight of his eighteenth birthday, he woke to find his trash-heap of a home — as broken as it was — empty. His mother was gone, out with one of the numerous clients she regularly saw: a portly, sweaty man, who paid well… not well enough to have food in the house, unfortunately — not with her drug habits. None of her clientele paid well enough for that. So, in the cold of night, he left.
His bags had been packed for weeks, now. And, while he had held some reservations as to the actual exit, looking back on it all, he would realize he held no contrition for the fact he had gone through with doing so.
At first, life was shaky: he held a very minimally-paying job, working for an employer who disliked regulations, of safety or otherwise (in fact, he quite often disregarded them entirely). But, with job security that was almost entirely immune to outside factors, and it being a steady position with even steadier hours, he found the provision of some stability to his life — the very same he hadn’t previously felt.
After that position was taken from him, after the state government’s interference, he moved to a contracting position, wherein he exchanged job security for a larger pay. The few months during which he had been employed went fairly smoothly: he integrated into the company well, he had begun to form friendships with a few of his coworkers, and he was quite talented in the work that had been consistently presented to him. But, before he could settle in too well, he was out of a job… discharged of his own volition: purposefully disregarding the rules set forth by one of his many bosses. Once word reached their ears, he was gathering his personal effects and being escorted out by armed security, within the day. This settled upon him a bit of humiliation, but it failed to adequately affect him as those around him expected it to.
After that day, he found a bit of difficulty in securing employment of any kind. As personal finances began to run thin, the risk of falling into a life similar to his mother’s rose — in correlation. But, thankfully, though very temporary, he found work, in the form of experimental testing.
After the signing of Non-Disclosure Agreement forms, having his fingerprint preserved, and being superfluously documented, he was forced to call the facilities home for a full seven days. His time spent in these facilities was… uneven, to say the least.
For the first few days, he was subjected to a slew of relaxing tests: what the possible side-effects of pills, lotions, drinks, even shampoos were. Harmless things, generally. Then, for the rest of the week, he was spent in subjection to much harsher tests: serums administered through biopsied tissue — his liver and kidneys — as well as blood samples; not to mention the distressing stress tests, each administered over the course of hours-at-a-time; and, finally, a serum that held the possibility of ungovernable rage, brain aneurysms, even horrible fevers (as they had learned through their preliminary testing).
After this week of awfulness, he was let-go to the tune of five thousand dollars, and the unknown constant surveillance, to ensure his utmost discretion. Shortly thereafter, mere days later, he was approached by two men, on the street. They wished to make him their newest employee.
“You’re the perfect candidate,” they said, almost in unison.
He accepted, without further discussion. The following week, he arrived at his office: the entire top floor of a tall building — one that had been fairly recently constructed; it had been exteriorly painted in varyingly colored, sparse squares, of reds and yellows.
He quickly learned that he was the only employee in the entire office. A very inexpensive woolen material carpeted the floor, while a very pale white coated the walls. Above him sat a drop ceiling, distanced approximately ten feet from the floor. To his right, a group of three windows lined the wall, each to allow him fresh air, if need be, or a view through which his mind would be allowed rest. To the left of these windows sat four cabinets, above a counter-and-sink, for food and the like. The top of these cabinets sat but inches from the ceiling.
Atop a wooden desk sat a very expensively put-together computer, which itself stood beside a yellow rotary telephone. From quick inspection, one would have thought the latter to be new, but it was simply a refurbished model. Also in the office was a fairly new flatscreen television and a Blu-ray player.
Before the start of the day, his new employers arrived side-by-side. “Is this all to your liking?”
“Yeah,” he assured then, “I’m still not sure what you want me to do here.”
“Whatever you wish; waste your time all day here, as if we care. The only requirements of your job are: don’t tell anyone, don’t disobey, don’t miss a single phone call, and do not ever, for whatever reason, enter the utility closet on the bottom floor. If ever you need anything — anything to do with the circuit breaker, a spill, or even the commodity our business was founded upon, such as when you receive an Appointment — simply call the Janitor at that number,” he took pause to point to the piece of paper across the way, currently thumbtacked to the wall, “and he will assist you in the petty matter. And, in the event of a power-loss, there is a flashlight in the cabinets to your right for assistance.”
“Okay,” Jackson replied with strangeness and curiosity abound in his voice.
With a uniform nod, the two abruptly left. Without thought, Jackson began his first day: lazing about, the phone remaining silent. The next day, the very same. A third, a fourth, nothing. It sort-of felt as if his life had plateaued as he sat there, day-to-day, mindlessly completing personal tasks. Then, on his fifth day, the first phone call arrived.
It had come with the interruption of the task he busied himself with, one somewhat less menial than the job itself presented: playing video games, and listening to music. The woman on the phone, a potential customer, sounded frustrated and annoyed, “Hello?”
Before he answered, he noticed a book on the desk, tucked away between his monitor and the tower of the computer. Upon opening it, he saw just two pages inside, both pink, both containing instructions for him. “Yes, how may I assist you today?” he asked, reading off the page of words that existed solely for him to turn to for the most basic of training.
“Look, I just need to know: how much is your company going to charge me for my Appointment?”
“Pardon?” he confusedly asked, deviating from the script in wonder as to what she was referring.
“Look, I’ve called three others and they were just so… so… so stubborn!”
“Well, um…” he began as he thought of what to say, “how much are you willing to pay?”
After a bit of thought, she told him, with absolute confidence, “Twenty.”
“You’re new here, aren’t you?” she asked after a second of pause, her words laced with uncertainty.
“Yes.” What should it matter that he’d only been employed for a few days?
Through an agitated sigh, she made her discontention aggressively known. “Look. I’ll be willing to pay twenty thousand, maybe twenty-five, though not a penny over.”
As his gaze dropped to the pallidly pink script page, the same he was meant to follow to a tee. This page spelled out, very plainly, that he was never to go below the set price of thirty thousand; he was even encouraged to haggle for a higher payment. But, with a sense that the woman was in need of… whatever it was he was supposed to sell her, he figured it would be best to make an exception. “Well, I’ve been recently instructed that our base price is thirty…”
A worse displeasure was present in her sigh, and lowly spoke her reply, “I can’t believe this…”
“But,” he began, “I figure it’s in both our best interests to make an exception… I can’t go below twenty-five, though. I hope you understand.”
Her gratitude pulsated through, both, her sigh of relief and her words, “Thank you, so, so much.”
“It’s no problem at all. Is that all you needed today?”
“Yes, thank you, again, so much.”
“Uh-huh, have a good day, now.”
As they both ended the call, he looked to the paper on the wall, to dial the janitor’s number. After three rings, a disgruntled man’s voice crackled through, “Hello?” he brashly asked.
He looked to the page before him, but found no further instructions than he had already glanced at. With the realization of forgetfulness, he turned to the second page and found exactly what he needed. Very statically, as if he had difficulty in doing so, he read the six words on the page, “A customer has made an Appointment.”
“Did they give you a specific time slot?”
“No…?” he answered as he attempted to recall the phone call in its entirety.
“A rando’, then…” said the Janitor, immediately before he harshly returned the phone to its retired position.
As Jackson did the same — albeit, much less abusively — he returned to his video games and music. When the day came to an end, he collected his things, and promptly exited the building… passing by the very door he had been instructed to avoid entrance-of. Curiosity wiggled its way inside his mind, taking his attention hostage as he blankly stared at the yellow door.
This sudden urge, of curiousness, compelled him to press on into the utility closet. “What could even be in here?” he wondered. But, despite its nagging, he felt it best not to disobey his employers so early on, especially since they had considered him to be “the perfect candidate.”
For a year, his days went very similarly to these five, almost exactly so: the phone rang randomly and very sparsely, some of the customers being as distraught as his first, others as calm as can be; though, a few people were erratic, nervous and anxious.
The only major difference he found in his life was his first ever relationship. Around June, about thirteen months into his employment at the company, she, Janice — a lovely woman: fit, but curvaceous, with a beautiful smile and bright, hopeful eyes, and long, naturally straight, brunette hair — had fallen in love with his caring personality, and his rugged features. Even his physique was attractive to her.
After their most recent night of intimacy together, they laid in bed with the feeling that they were the only two in existence. Everything was quieted, still… as if time had frozen itself for these two. “Jackson…” softly, began she.
Their large room was beautiful. Pale white walls, an inexpensive woolen material carpeting the floor… a drop ceiling sat above them, distanced approximately ten feet from the floor. Three windows sat to the left of the bed — to the right of the door. His water bed sat atop a frame of silvery metal, unwelded together; his blankets and sheets were of a very light blue color: almost luminescent-ly so.
Almost without intrigue, he tilted his head to look at his love. He asked, “Yes?” with his head still perched upon his pillow.
“Tell me about your father…”
She nodded, “Yeah… you haven’t mentioned him at all.”
“Well, the truth is… I’ve never even met him…”
Surprise and shock, even a tad of sadness, clutched her chest, over her heart, as her eyes met his, “Never?”
“Never… my mom said he left pretty early on, so…” He paused in loss as to what to say next.
Though she felt a flood of emotions through her, now — mostly the latter of the three previously mentioned — she noticed he was completely complacent: neither sadness, nor anger, nor hatred, nor regret consumed him, as she fully expected. He was, seemingly, entirely at peace with the fact. With a simple hug, she silently consoled him, even if it may have been a foolish, useless thing to do.
With that having ended the conversation, they fell to sleep in that position; when they woke, they each went about their days: Jackson to work, Janice to her business. She worked at a technology firm, for which she was the official, in-house legal counsel. Usually, her firm experienced smooth days — recently, though, an investigation into their actions had been begun by the federal government, for “improper asset usage.”
At work, after receiving a new Appointment, Jackson found himself in the midst of losing a riveting match against a group of random teenagers, on the newest release. His team was at a twelve point disadvantage… when the circuit tripped. This took him by surprise, but those on the other team, who had just been trash talking him, thought he quit out of frustration and anger.
The entire building had lost power, yet, the phone beside him worked entirely fine: it seemed that it drew power from an outside source. He called the Janitor, who once again answered very grumpily, very brashly. But, before he could breach the topic of concern, his thoughts began to fill with that recent curiosity, all of which distracted him to the point of silence.
Aggravatedly, the Janitor asked, “Jackson?”
As if he had escaped a deep trance, he spoke, with seeming mindlessness, “Just,” he began, extendedly, as his mind searched for a passable excuse, “checking to see if the Appointment was made.”
Immediately, with simmering anger, he sighed and hung up: he had little patience for those who waste his time.
He returned the phone back to its retired position before he slowly made for the flashlight in the cabinets to his side. After ensuring the necessary batteries were inside — and they were, to his relief — he turned it on. With the flick of the switch, the gentle darkness surrounding him became illuminated, the light projected forth acting as his guidance.
With apprehension, he descended the metal staircase. With each step downward, the muffled pounds and residual pinging caused a wisp of regret to rise in him, which failed to entrance his mind into returning to the safety of familiarity. The curiosity in him was always able to push the caution away, it was always able to allow him to continue.
After what seemed to be an eternity, he finally reached the bottom of the stairs. To his left, the door of the building itself, to his right, the door of concern. As his sight met the cold steel of the door, unlocked by the loss of power, he felt dread and ominousness exude from behind it. Its yellow coating ineffectively cautioned his mind. Anxiety, nervousness, frightful wonder, all began to wrack his body. With the increased perspiration, he hesitatingly took the necessary steps forward.
As his hand lay upon that door, his thoughts returned to the negativity instilled in us, through evolution, to turn back from uncertainty. Though, for some reason, he paid no attention to those thoughts… even if that would have been preferable to learning such an awful truth.
It creaked open as he pulled it further open. The freezingly cold room beyond was blanketed in a much starker darkness, filled with the faintest of hummings. The cold latched onto his skin to erect goosebumps upon it as the darkness actively avoided the volume of space the light’s beam existed within.
He walked forward, aimlessly, as the humming grew hardened. The further along he walked, the colder the air grew; his ears began to burn, as did the tip of his nose, now reddened. His mind became distracted from the need to find the circuit breaker by the now-accompaniment of the noticeable bubbling of water, where the chill had grown deepest.
As he followed this symphony of sounds, he heard the sounds of mechanics and odd music, each playing very softly. The latter of it all, the music, sounded very much like the sort you would come about within a music box: a slowed, somewhat creepish string of variously pitched notes.
Curiosity, the deadly beast it is — killing countless innocents across the scape of history, anyone from explorers to scientists to simple men, who had been sentenced to a life of sought-after answers to their most intriguing questions — beckoned him further.
Through the light in his hand, he saw a large metallic pod: silvery grey, large enough to comfortably house something just over six feet in height, its glass thinly layered in frost. With a cautiousness pervading his hand, he wiped across the thin veil over and over again. For half a minute, his hand circled around a spot level to his own head, about half the length of the glass, waiting until his body heat would melt it away enough to see what lay beneath.
Soon, the sight of the skin of a human torso was visible, as was a soft blue light, one that was almost luminescent. Initially taken aback by this revelation, he pursued the expanded sight of the being inside, whatever it may be. As he wiped where the head should sit, the hope that he wasn’t about to uncover an illegality involving human harvesting sat in his mind, nagging worse than that regret from earlier.
Thankfully, he found it was a whole, living human being, suspended in water… unfortunately, the revelation of the human within still left him speechless and breathless. It was him. His face, his body, his… everything. Everything about this man held hostage was exactly the same as his own. Nausea, insecurity, lightheadedness all befell him, and with swiftness, he charged out of the room, shutting the door behind him. It inched to its previous position, the same in which he had initially found it.
With urgency, he hurried back to the office, so as to pretend nothing had happened, for fear his employers would fire him… or worse, even. After calming a bit, he called the Janitor to let him know the power had gone out.
Grudgingly, he drove to the building, from his cozy house, and entered through the parted door. Everything seemed normal as he walked forward, pulling guidance from memorization. With the turn of the flipped switch, the power hummed back on.
Behind him, the lights slowly clicked back on in succession, beginning from the entrance in a crawl toward him. This ginormous room was filled with hundreds upon hundreds of frosted, mechanical pods, all exactly alike the one Jackson had encountered. And, even though the room itself was quite archaic — thick metal supports, a barebones metal room, and a lighting system that dangled high above the ground — each pod was as sophisticated as you would think it to be.
But, it was all too familiar to the man who now smiled. He was the caretaker of these pods, of those held within; he created the music, he makes sure they’re as comfortable as can be. All held doppelgangers of the same man who now sat above them, worried about his possible discharge. He felt they were his children, in a way, in near endless slumber.
With the wide smile plastered across his face — one that would cause unease to arise in any who would witness it — he approached one of the pods. In joyous, softly-spoken words, he sang to them, “Schlaf meine Kinder schlafen an einem anderen Tag. Gestern wachte Sie, morgen Sie schlummern. Gestern schlummerte Sie, Sie morgen aufwachen.”
He caressed the sides of the pods, one-by-one, as he repeated this song. But, as he sung, he noticed one of the pods had been disturbed… the frost had been wiped away. Angered and shocked, saddened, too, he calmly left.
The rest of the day, for Jackson, continued as his days normally had. As did the next day, and the day after. Those nights, he was somewhat emotionally distant from Janice, but she figured the reality of his father’s absence had finally dawned upon him.
The fourth day, he returned to the office, his day progressing as usual. Around the tick of noon, a new Appointment had been ordered. The phone range once, twice, and on the third ring, with fear, he shakingly picked the receiver up.
A strange man’s voice broke through the moment after he had placed it against his ear. “I’d like to make an Appointment.”
“How much are you willing to pay?” He had tried as hard as humanly possible to taper his anxiety and fear, and he had done much better than he expected himself to.
“Thirty thousand, time slot 17:80.”
“Will that be all?”
Without further reply, the man abruptly ended the call.
With a breath of relief, he dialed the Janitor’s number, to give him the necessary information. “Goodbye, Jackson,” was all he uttered before ending the call. His voice was different, though… kind, almost.
With promptness, he returned to listening to his music. It was blaringly loud, to distract his mind from the mundane of the day-to-day boredom, as well as the residual fear that still remained in him. With the volume of the music being at the level it was, though, he was oblivious to the goings-on around him.
Mere minutes passed before the door to his office opened, and in walked one of the many doppelgangers stored below. He was dressed in a black suit, draped in a black leather trench coat, but stood near the doorway as he blankly stared at Jackson from behind.
Just as Jackson was unaware of the doppelganger’s presence, the doppelganger was unaware of the man who sat before him — his true identity, at least. After a few minutes of simply standing in watch, the man finally acted.
With slowness, without emotion nor compassion, he raised his right hand… within which, a custom-crafted pistol was grasped. His target, oblivious to it all, persisted in his menial tasks as he trained the sight on the back of his fairly stationary head. But, before he pulled the trigger, he noticed Jackson pick the phone up one last time.
He wanted to call Janice at her work, to see how her day was going, to tell her he loved her. But, as he placed the receiver against his ear, he found no dial tone. He made attempts to call a number but found those to be ill-conceived. With the silence of the phone echoing to him, and him alone, the doppelganger exhaled… and pulled the trigger.