“Can you sign here, sayin’ you received this?”
The stout woman behind the desk, her name tag identified her as “Patty”, signed a scribble on the line. Lucas couldn’t tell if she was even looking or not. He thought he was disinterested in his own work. This lady’s face couldn’t be more lifeless.
Lucas glanced at the other three people milling around behind the service desk; these other employees of The Copy Jalopy. They were three other plain people with no real distinguishing characteristics. They putted about their work in an efficient enough manner, but they too barely seemed connected to reality.
The blonde spiky haired twenty year old was about to leave when he realized Patty had walked away with his pen. It was the only one he had, and he still had a few more deliveries on his bike.
“Hey! Miss! Eh Patty!”
Patty had already carried the new package into the back room. Lucas spied another pen on the table behind the service desk. Lucas called out to the others but they were all wrapped up with other customers.
Lucas slyly pulled himself over the service desk, reaching for the pen. He took a quick two steps when Patty was coming back out again. Lucas stumbled, embarrassed with the pen in his hand.
“Oh, sorry, just you took my pen, and I’m in a rush and-
Patty suddenly fell forward, dropping face down to the floor, limp, like a rag doll.
Immediately, the other three employees stopped what they were doing and looked at Lucas. Confused, Lucas looked at the others, then back at Patty.
“Uh, I didn’t-she just-“
He stepped away. At that point he noticed a thin pinkish cord on the floor where his foot was. It led to Patty’s body.
Patty suddenly sprung back up again. She quickly headed towards him. “You are not allowed back here. You must leave now.”
Lucas fumbled backwards, falling back over the service desk. He scrambled to his feet and ran out the door.
Lucas made the rest of his deliveries, never said anything to anyone about what happened. Still, he couldn’t shake the weirdness of the whole thing.
The next day was his day off, and he couldn’t resist. Wearing a hoodie and cap and keeping his head low, Lucas returned to the Jalopy with a random book to make copies of. Spending almost an hour and about five dollars, Lucas kept one eye peeled on the employees. Like before, the four of them went about their work like automations. He wanted to ask one of them for assistance but was afraid he’d be recognized.
After a while, Lucas left. He noted that the copy place closed at ten o’ clock pm. He returned around then, and watched the place from a distance. Not so surprisingly, he noticed that no employee ever actually left the place. They shuffled around inside until closing time, then disappeared into the back room, and finally the lights went off.
It was late. He was walking back at his apartment, Lucas wondered about what it could all mean. He ran the events through his mind. They way they didn’t act like people, like individuals. None of them were seen out of the confines of the service desk. Mostly, he focused on that cord. The one he stepped on, and was sure caused Patty to drop lifeless. It was like he cut off the power to her. Only now upon recollection, he was sure that cord led right up into her pant leg.
It was flesh colored. He could swear he saw veins.
They all immediately knew when he had stepped on it. They all looked at him. His imagination was running wilder. What if they were controlled by those cords. He didn’t see where the cords led but what if they led to something larger. These weren’t people, but outgrowths of some bigger organism. Like appendages.
He couldn’t fathom why something would set up shop in a copy store unless it was just a front for something bigger going on.
He walked up the front steps to his building. He was fishing through his pockets for his keys when he instinctively looked behind him.
There was a man, dressed in a grey jumpsuit and boots. He was frozen in mid step on the curb, staring at him. He was clearly caught trying to sneak up.
Lucas looked at the man unsure what to say. The man slowly started walking towards him. Lucas was ready to fight him off, but then something else caught his eye.
A pink cord was running from the man’s pant leg, leading to a manhole in the street. The man stopped again, seeing what Lucas was focusing on, then the man rushed at him.
Lucas had the high ground on the top step and kicked the man away. Then he tackled the assailant. Both grappled on the pavement. Lucas delivered a few good punched to the man’s face, but then he caught Lucas’s wrists and was able to push it back, his strength outmatching Lucas. Adrenaline giving way to worry, Lucas looked at the man whose face still registered no emotion.
“Who are you?!”
The man said nothing. Instead he slapped his other palm over Lucas’s mouth. Lucas tried pulling it away with his free hand, but couldn’t. The jumpsuit man was too strong. He forced his palm over Lucas’s mouth and nose, squeezing tight.
Suffocating, Lucas tried hitting the man with his free hand, punching him in the face, but it was having no effect. The man’s head twisted away with each punch, then turned back to watch Lucas dying. Lucas’s eyes shot past the man’s face to his feet where he could see the cord. Struggling, Lucas wrenched his body out from underneath his attacker. He was moving a little at a time, trying to get his foot closer to the cord leading out of the man’s pant leg.
He felt himself growing weak, like he was about to black out. He reached his leg out a little more, then a little more. His eye sight was dimming.
Lucas slammed his foot down on the cord. The attacker trembled, his grip became weak. Lucas was able to pull away a little bit, getting more leverage to press his shoe down on the cord.
The man dropped lifeless.
Lucas pulled his face away from the lifeless hand. He waited a moment, catching his breath, waiting for something to happen. He kept his foot pushed down on the cord. After a minute, he pushed the body off him. His foot still planted, Lucas pushed himself to a standing position.
He looked at the long cable, he saw that in the area his foot was on, was staring to turn brown.
Cautiously, Lucas reached down to the pant that the cord was leading into. Lifting the cuff, he confirmed that the fleshy cable did indeed grow right out of the man’s calf.
At that point, the cord pulled taut. Catching Lucas by surprise, it yanked right out from under his foot. Lucas wobbled, but regained his footing in time to see the man’s body swiftly drag off the pavement. In a millisecond, it disappeared back down the manhole. Lucas quickly ran into his apartment and locked the door.
The next week was a blur for Lucas. He had quit his job and quickly flew back home to his parents house in Michigan. He never told anyone why he had abruptly abandoned his life. It was for fear of the story spreading and those people learning where he was.
However, whenever he met someone new, he always first insisted on checking their shoes.
I am a writer, filmmaker, and painter. I have a BFA from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and I am winner of the Spokane Film Festival Drama Award for my short Lip Service. I also have had work appear in the Aphrodite Gallery, AngelCiti International Film and Music Market, published in magazines and E-zines such as Death’s Head Grin, Nth Degree, Wink, Aphelion, cc&d Magazine, Down in the Dirt, and Poetry.COM and in collections such as A Time To Be Free, and Time After Time.
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