Friday, August 19, 2011

Nothing Out

Nothing Out
Bobby Derie

The glossy brochure beamed “Greetings from the Cloaca of the World!” in bright sunlit letters. Not exactly what Jorge was expecting. He laid it back into its slot on the faux-wood rack with a handful of nicotine-stained fingers. It’s not that Jorge was not a clean person, it was just something that came with his line of work: rolling cigars. Jim’s mother always told him how he had a pleasant reek about him; a slightly musty smell of old much, stale sweat, and a hint of vanilla that reminded her of Jorge’s father.

There was a hiccup in the eternal drone from the lobby’s air condition. Jorge jumped at the sound, but settled back down, trying and failing to get comfortable. The seats were about what you would expect: hard, molded and unergonomic plastic-sheathed fiberglass torture devices designed by some artistic hippie in the 60s high on grass. Jorge knew he would have to have been high, because no sober person could conceivably believe this particular shade of nuclear orange was acceptable for a piece of furniture.

Jorge’s eyes swung back to the tired, dog-eared, and kaleidoscopic venue of the magazine rack. Half-hidden images of tropic palm beaches and epic sunsets mingled with cut-off exclamation points and renderings of various corporate mascots. The “Cloaca of the World” occupied a prominent spot in the middle of the display, flanked by menus for local Chinese restaurants and a stack of glossy cards for a glow-in-the-dark minigolf course. Obviously, some chuckling clerk had deemed it worthy to reside there. Jorge glanced around just for an excuse not to have to stare at it any longer.

To the right of the brochure rack loomed the hulking edifice of the lobby desk, a battle-scarred veteran of at least one war, virtually an antique. Rather than distracting from its appearance, the innumerable dings and dents lent credence to its history as a chunk of military surplus, eagerly drudged up from the abyss of fully depreciated goods just to grace the lobby…or maybe simply abandoned there, too heavy and indestructible to move. Jorge had moved some furniture in his time, and doubted the current doorway was wide enough to permit it to go through—and getting that thing up here in the cramped little elevator he had ridden up must have been a bitch.

Behind the desk, seated in a very modern leatherette upholstered swivel-mounted piece of corporate machinery was the secretary. That wasn’t her actual title, of course. It couldn’t be. Her desktop was impeccable, and her hands—they were very thing, with prominent veins like rivers sunk in dark hills, with pale pink palms—shuffled the work across the breadth of her domain like a general commanding her troops. At the moment, she frowned and squinted through her trifocals at something on her monitor.

The air condition hiccupped again, and again Jorge jumped a little. Her majesty the secretary continued without pause, her beringed fingers dancing a tattoo on her keyboard that any good DJ would have sold their soul to sample. It made an interesting counterpoint against the drone of the AC, and Jorge had to suppress the urge to whistle along to it.

To the right, the room ended at the door. Not the one Jorge had come in at, but the one he hoped to go through. The door was an imposingly blank canvas of generic gray paint, marred only by the small black plaque declaring the realm it guarded. Jorge almost imagined that if he exerted his will, the portal would be flung open and he could escape. A few moments wistful longing did nothing to cause it to open, and Jorge turned back to staring straight ahead.

Once again, Jorge found himself staring at the Cloaca of the World. Randomly, he selected another brochure to pass the time, but it proved to be one of many government-issues health pamphlets, this one targeted at some obscure disease that only struck females who happened to engage in sexual intercourse after being stung by an infected mosquito that only lived in certain swamps in this state. Several of the pictures were rather lurid and disturbingly graphic close-ups of blackened milk-ducts; swollen, clogged and ripe with yellow-white and brown fluids, the surrounding flesh raw and pink. Jorge continued to glance back at them every few seconds between reading increasingly dire statistics, relayed in bold fonts and several colors for added emphasis. The desk-queen began to address no-one in particular and waited silently for a response, fingers still clattering on the keyboard. While she was busy with her phone call, Jorge surreptitiously replaced the health tract.

The small door Jorge had entered from was on his left. Beyond lay a Sargasso of cubicles and winding tiled hallways. This room was carpeted, of course. From the right angle, Jorge could see the shuffling trail where many of his forebears in this Purgatory had come before him, ground into the carpet by dragging, tired feet and probably planting their asses in the exact same ill-designed throne. Parts of Jorge’s anatomy announced their mute sympathy with those stifled toes encumbered by shoes, the hard bony asses that had sat on the merciless plastic torture device.

The survey of the office complete, and with no sign of life yet emanating from his ultimate destination, there was nothing left to do. Reaching out, Jorge once more plucked the Cloaca of the World brochure from its holder. For the first time, he noticed that it was the only one of its kind left. The empty slot at the center of the display left by the brochure gaped like a lost tooth.

“Greetings from the Cloaca of the World!”

Jorge read, and there was something off about the o’s in the sentence, for they were shiny pink-edged orifices; holes punched through to the other page. Jorge skimmed past vague promises of titillation, awe, religious wonder, and reasonably-priced admission. There was a scanty history of this un-numbered Wonder of the World (again, with the gaping holes where the o’s should be), and the final fold-out revealed a panoramic view of the massive pink-rimed crater. Gaseous vapors like a pale yellow fog seemed to settle here and there, and the small-twisted trees on the rim looked skeletal and dead. In the very center, Jorge could just make out a turd-brown deluge—an apparent geyser of shit in the middle of the caldera.


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