Excerpt for Office Mutant by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Office Mutant

By Pete Risley

Copyright © 2018 Pete Risley

Smashwords Edition

Office Mutant copyright © 2018 by Pete Risley. All rights reserved.

Grindhouse Press

PO BOX 293161

Dayton, Ohio 45429

Grindhouse Press logo and all related artwork copyright © 2018 by Brandon Duncan. All rights reserved.

Cover art copyright © Travis Northrup 2018. All rights reserved.

Grindhouse Press # 035

ISBN-10: 1-941918-25-5

ISBN-13: 978-1-941918-25-8

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase and additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental.

No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including mechanical, electric, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher or author.

Other titles by Pete Risley

Rabid Child

The Toehead

In Memory of Lulu

Chapter 1

The alarm clock howled, provoking the bed into so violent a spasm that its inhabitant, Timothy Plummet, was thrown halfway across the room. After hitting the floor, he tumbled a short distance and ended in a sprawl, face up in the center of a beam of morning sunlight shining in from the window above him. He winced, but didn’t move. The alarm kept ringing.

An eternity passed.

Finally, with obvious pain, he raised his head from the floor. A whine escaped his throat. His eyes attempted to crawl from their dark and cavernous sockets, but were driven back by the cruel sun.

His head fell back to the floor with a thud. The alarm kept ringing.

Tim’s wince became a full grimace. He trembled, apparently from an extreme effort to hold himself perfectly still. His toes curled, the big toe on his left foot producing a popping sound.

The alarm took on an oddly heightened quality in his mind. It was no longer just an irritating sound, but an oppressive presence, an entity with a visual aspect as well as an aural one. It swirled violently before his closed eyes, a montage of fragments from uncountable unremembered dreams, pouring out like the plagues in Pandora’s box, as if from a hole in his head.

The dream fragments blurred as they rose into the air, becoming blue, red and yellow blotches on the walls and ceiling of the bedroom. Then, for the sheerest moment, they reshaped into perfectly round spots.

Upon attaining perfect roundness, the spots disappeared, though the alarm kept ringing, as obstinately as before.

Then came another sound: a loud rapping, followed by a familiar voice.

“Tim, you’re up, aren’t you?”

The speaker was Betty, Tim’s wife. She stood outside the bedroom door. She was always up and about in the mornings before him.

“Yes, of course I am, dear,” he said clearly and pleasantly, though he was still splayed out on the floor. “I was just getting ready to come downstairs.”

The alarm rang on. Betty apparently had stepped away, for she said nothing more.

Lying there, still submerged in a quicksand of inertia, despair swept through him. He knew his entire life was going wrong, though he hadn’t allowed himself to contemplate the matter when he was fully in possession of himself. He was losing control. Every morning it was worse, every Monday morning especially. The arrangement just wasn’t working the way he’d hoped it would. The chaos out there in the world at large was creeping into his home, his private domain, the place in which he was supposed to be king. But no, he didn’t want to think about it—mustn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t let it preoccupy him—and his rising determination not to do so brought him almost fully awake.

He painfully forced his eyes open and dragged himself to his feet. He stumbled over to the dresser and seized the alarm clock with both hands. Its cry took on a note of terror as he pounded it into submission.

Tim put on his glasses and got dressed in an aggravated frenzy. He had lain on the floor too long and would now be late for work. Betty had laid out his clothes for the day, as always, on the chair near his bed. Stripping out of his polka dot nightshirt, he put on his underwear, his suit pants, his stiff-ironed white shirt and his suit jacket, and hung his tie around his neck. When he got to his socks, he was struck with dread, and the despair threatened to engulf him once again.

The socks didn’t match. One was black and the other dark blue. Further, the dark blue one had a rather sizable hole in its heel.

He put them on anyway, scrunching the bad sock down so its hole wouldn’t show at the back of his heel. He didn’t have time to complain to Betty about it now. Besides, in his present queasy state, that might be dangerous. He would do so this evening, when he would surely feel stronger.

He rushed to the bathroom, turned on the sink’s faucets, and splashed water onto his face. He had no time to bathe, let alone shave. Fortunately, his beard was light, though that was also why his carefully cultivated moustache tended so often to curl upward at one side, as it was doing now.

He was still knotting his tie as he hurried down the stairs. Betty stood at the bottom, in her apron. Her deportment appalled him, for she wasn’t smiling, and her hair was a terrible unruly mess. However, he chose not to say anything about it.

“Breakfast is ready, dear,” she said, a bit forlornly, Tim thought.

“I really don’t have time for it,” he replied, brushing past her.

“But Tim, you’re already late. It will only take a minute. I really don’t know why it took you so long to get up, but I have gone to the trouble—”

“Thank you dear, no,” said Tim, as firmly as he could manage. He pulled his coat from the living room closet, grabbed his briefcase, and plunked his hat on his head. He glanced, in passing, at the large framed painting hanging on the living room wall—antlers, rainbow—and then at the twins, Clark and Shirley, sitting in the kitchen at the table and staring at him. “See you this evening, dear.”

“I could put your coffee in a thermos, at least,” said Betty.

“No,” said Tim, stepping through the front door, closing it decisively and setting down his briefcase so he could put his coat on. He hurried over to the garage and pulled up the rattling door.

The horses were waiting inside, as always. At the sight of him they snorted and whinnied, raring to go. Tim scurried behind them and strapped himself into his leather harness. He made sure the reins were secure and situated himself, sitting on the ground in a relatively comfortable position for skidding.

He snapped the reins expertly, and the horses galloped off, dragging Tim behind them. They turned out of the driveway and into the street, picking up speed and raising a great cloud of dust, especially around Tim himself.

He shifted to his left side as his right buttock began to burn. Friction was always a problem, and the horses were feisty today.

The horses galloped on at a good clip. They came to a red light and stopped along with the rest of the traffic. Waiting out the light, Tim squirmed impatiently. He hoped he wouldn’t catch too many red lights. He was late enough already.

Someone from the neighborhood, a fellow Tim didn’t know very well but saw occasionally at the local bowling alley, though he was on a different bowling team than Tim’s, sat in his car at the next lane. Just before the light changed to green, the man looked over at Tim and cautiously lifted his hand from the steering wheel to wave hello. Tim nodded back as the light changed, smiling as best he could as the horses took off again and he began to skid. It was hard to act friendly on Monday mornings, especially just lately.

After catching four more red lights and running the last with nearly disastrous results, Tim finally arrived at the massive, dark-hued Bureau of Verification building where he was employed. He extricated himself from his harness and, straightening his bedraggled and dusty jacket, sent the horses on their way.

He used the back entrance of the building as usual but, when he got inside, found to his displeasure the door of the elevator he always took covered with a sheet of heavy plastic, and taped to it was a sign which read:


He sighed dispiritedly. He might as well have used the front entrance. Now he’d have to take the elevators in the lobby and walk past the claimants.

Then came the first trace of the dreaded Smell but, fortunately, no glimmer of the Spots. Perhaps there wouldn’t be any today, despite his dream that morning. The Smell occurred more frequently than the Spots. He suspected both were the result of simply thinking about them and expecting them. The Smell, oddly mutable, though usually as now beginning as a faint trace of sweet rot, was more frequent, perhaps because it was less alarming and distracting. He hurried down the corridor, dusting off his pants as he went and thinking in his practiced manner: it’s alright, don’t be so negative, don’t think about it, no, don’t let it in, keep it out, don’t think at all, just cheerful, think positively. . .

The other elevator banks were just across the hall from the entrance to the Certification of Inquiries Department, which took up the entire first floor. Masses of people would report there every day to file appeals of various kinds when the determinations on their claims hadn’t come out the way they had hoped, in many cases with some desperation. On Monday mornings the place was always crowded and tense, as Tim well knew from having worked in that department some years before.

As he rounded a corner into the lobby, he saw that, though appointments didn’t begin for almost another hour, a number of claimants were already assembled outside the door, anxious and impatient, many of them rather scroungy-looking by Tim’s judgment and, some of them, he sensed, in fairly dangerous moods. All the worse, there were no other staff persons around.

He made for the elevators and pressed the up button, carefully keeping his back turned to the line of claimants, as he didn’t want any of them to try and get his attention.

Behind him, he heard a couple of them talking.

“Man, these people work here ain’t shit, you know? They act like they all better than you, and you asking them for somethin’ outa their pocket. You s’posed to be here right on time, then they keep your ass standin’ ’round three hour or some shit. I been waitin’ six fuggin’ weeks since my request got put in, and now they tell me I gotta file it all over, start all over, ’cause some asswipe upstairs lose the file!”

“That’s ridiculous!” came another, deeper voice, amid cluckings and sympathetic murmurs from the rest of the claimants present. “You should write your congressman over that shit.”

Tim pressed the button again, pulled his arm back and held very still. Come on, elevator, please!

“Congressman shit! I told them I want the name of that fuggin’ asswipe. I want the fuggin’ name and address. I talk to the sumbitch my own self and ask him how I’m s’posed to feed my fuggin’ family for six more fuggin’ weeks on account of him losin’ my fuggin’ file, goddammit! I mean, I ain’t yellin’ at you, man, you know.”

“I hear ya,” came another voice, “these people just be l’il clerks an’ shit, they act like they’re doin’ you a favor just talkin’ to you.”

“They’re little shits, man! Check that dude out!”

At that moment, a maintenance man stepped in front of Tim and started staple-gunning a sheet of heavy plastic over the elevator door nearest him. Wasn’t that bad for the plaster, thought Tim, but what he said to the man was:

“They’re all out?”

“All what?” replied the maintenance man, without turning.

“The elevators,” said Tim. “I see that the one by the back is—”

The maintenance man made a slight directional gesture with his head. “Stairs still work.”

Suppressing a whimper, Tim walked, briskly but not so fast as to appear to be hurrying, past the line of claimants to the staircase on the other side of the lobby. As he went by he glanced up to see, prominent among the clustered group, a tall young man with a stubbly beard and blond bangs in his eyes, wearing a t-shirt which failed to cover the belly hanging out over his jeans and beneath his thick folded arms. At the young man’s side was a heavy-set black man in a workshirt and a dingy baseball cap, and both of them, along with the entire line of claimants, watched Tim with faces like clenched fists.

Hey, sir,” said the blond man, whose face was clenched the tightest and whose voice was the angry one Tim had first heard. “Mind if I ask ya a question?”

“Sorry, I’ve gotta . . .” said Tim, stepping faster and finishing his sentence by gesturing at the staircase. He reached it and began ascending rapidly, taking two steps at each leap. Some of the claimants began laughing.

“Hey, buddy! Hey!”

They were laughing louder, but Tim was through the door on the first landing, which led to the second staircase. Not following, is he? No. Whew! Tim had been lucky to avoid a situation there that might have resulted in an Incident Report. Of course, when that happened the Bureau always blamed it on you rather than on the scummy claimants. Well, thank goodness he didn’t have to work in Cert Ink anymore.

Tim’s office was five flights up, but he didn’t mind the exertion so much. What did worry him, right at the moment, was that he would now have to walk past the office of the department manager, Mr. Grovel, who was sometimes rather moody, to put it mildly, and who probably wouldn’t be pleased to see Tim arriving for work about—he checked his watch—twenty minutes late. The rear elevator would have let him off on the opposite side of the floor. Well, he would just have to hope for the best, step quietly and try not to be noticed.

He huffed up all five flights and walked briskly past Grovel’s office. He was pleased to see, from the corner of his eye, that it was unoccupied except for Grovel’s lovely young secretary, Dora, who was typing busily as usual. Perhaps, he mused, Mr. Grovel was already relaxing over at his favorite hangout, a little tavern a block from the office called The Wee Nippy, though on most days he didn’t go there until almost noon.

It was well known in the office Mr. Grovel did this, and no one really blamed him, except for the more malicious employees. After all, Mr. Grovel was less than two years away from retirement and, due to a number of reorganizations, most of his real work had been taken away from him. It was even said his only real function was to serve as a scapegoat and whipping boy for his own higher-ups in the Bureau whenever anything went wrong enough to attract their notice. Thus, it was no wonder he was sometimes short-tempered with some of the staff he had authority over—like Tim, for instance.

Tim’s nostrils flexed uncomfortably as he reflected on these matters. Darn! He must have thought about the Smell again without even noticing he had done so.

But maybe there really was a Smell—today, anyway—and it had come from those claimants downstairs. In fact, it had occurred to him more than once they might be the real source of it, though that didn’t entirely add up. How could it waft all the way upstairs and, more than that, seem even stronger upstairs than downstairs, sometimes becoming a nauseating stench like that of an open sewer—worse, one would think, than the most unsanitary of claimant mobs could produce on an ordinary day. Could the ventilation system actually make it worse? Besides, though he feared and avoided the claimants whenever possible, he wasn’t comfortable thinking such an unpleasant thing about them. It made more sense to conclude the Smell was actually produced by thinking about the Smell, however vaguely and distantly, and by nothing else. Of course, once the Smell emerged, the Spots were usually not far behind. If he could only keep both out of his mind, the problem wouldn’t even exist.

The entire sixth floor was a patchwork of offices separated by winding, narrow corridors. In the heart of the jumble of offices was the Preverification Department, housed in a small room filled with an elaborate hive of cubicles, at the heart of which was the Space Saver, a rectangular silver box about the size of a compact automobile, with rounded edges making it resemble an old-fashioned toaster, except it lacked slots at the top for slices of bread. This was where Tim worked. Most of the cubicles were already occupied by his co-workers, bent over their desks with their behinds sticking up unpleasantly and their legs hanging down. This posture, though it looked quite undignified and could be uncomfortable, was necessary because the employees’ heads had to be inserted wholly into their desk computer terminals in order for them to access the Space Saver.

This had been the arrangement at Tim’s workplace for the last year and a half. It used to be the Preverification Department was housed in an enormous room containing row after row of huge filing cabinets that held paper files for each of the seemingly millions of claimants’ cases—nothing could ever be discarded for legal reasons—but the cabinets had been hauled away and were said to be kept in a faraway facility, perhaps in another country. The large room they’d formerly occupied was divided into several by the installation of new walls, and the rest of it was now occupied by a variety of other departments. But the Space Saver allowed employees of the Preverification Department to access the files in a generated milieu nearly identical to the way things had worked before the big change, in that same enormous room. Only at the start of the day were things entirely different.

Tim hurried to his cubicle, though he was quite worried about what he’d be faced with once he tuned into the Space Saver. He glanced over at the huge jutting buttocks of his supervisor, Mrs. Henderson, her head already inserted into her terminal a few cubicles away. She would surely be stern with him about his tardiness, as always. Glumly, he bent over, stretched forward and jabbed his head into the pink plastic flaps of his terminal that, as always, seemed to pull him inside with a gulp. The fit was uncomfortably snug, and just lately he’d been getting a needling sensation at the top of his head, at times, while he was working.

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