He just wants to wash his hands. Why won’t they go away, leave him be, let him wash his damn hands? The vein is throbbing in his temple again, he can feel it and he knows that anyone who looks at him will be able to see it, writhing like a worm under the thin skin. Any attention is unwanted attention, but anything that draws attention to his tenuous grasp on control is doubly so. If they would just stop, if they would just be quiet and let him scrub under his fingernails, he knows he could breathe through it, that he could get that vein back under control where it belongs. Why won’t they just give him a minute? He hadn’t intended to run behind schedule this morning, but when opportunity presents itself, well, he would be ungrateful if he didn’t take advantage of it. If he had just gotten here one minute earlier, if he had been able to wash his hands before clocking in, he wouldn’t feel like they were on fire, he would be able to lose himself in the repetitive whirring of the laser printer and let the beast sleep for just these few hours. Why won’t they go away?
Alex glanced over at Tobias, a little disdainful, a little fearful. The strange little barrel chested man stood at his ink jet machine for eight hours straight every day; he didn’t take breaks, or go to the food truck for lunch with any of his co-workers. Alex honestly wasn’t even sure if he’d ever seen Tobias go to the bathroom during a shift. It was no skin off his nose, either way the time allotted for breaks was deducted from the payroll, but it was weird, and Alex liked things to slot neatly into their places. Tobias didn’t slot neatly into anything, including the ill-fitting outfit he habitually wore everyday.
Mentally shrugging off the uncomfortable feeling that always floated around him when he was near Tobias, Alex turned back to the prospective customers. “As you can see, this machine basically runs itself. An experienced operator can have it programmed within ten minutes, and, depending on the paper stock you choose, have it running a minimum of 250 addresses per hour. I’m familiar with your market. I know that your location does corporate mailers and individual store flyers approximately every two weeks, which is why I’m showing you this particular machine. For the volume you guys deal in, it’s a perfect fit. We run three straight shifts here, so we’d be able to run your jobs 24/7, which I happen to know your current business associates cannot do.”
“Mmmmm.” Robert made a non-committal sound. He was pretty sure that Alex thought his little smiles were ingratiating, when what they were, were smug and unduly self-satisfied. He wished that he could do business based on principle, because he really didn’t want to shake the smarmy floor manager’s hand again. Alas, what they were offering would shave off about 25% from his marketing costs, and Robert did love himself a tidy little bonus at the end of the quarter. Still, he didn’t want to make it too easy. He stepped forward, peered over Tobias’s shoulder at the shiny paper currently whizzing across the mini conveyor belt and slotting itself into neat bundles. “With a job running this fast, what’s your procedure for quality checks?”
This was a typical question, and as he hadn’t intended it to be a slight, Robert was a little taken aback at Tobias’s reaction. He watched his shoulders stiffen, his hands flex over the machines controls and then squeeze into fists. He swiveled from the waist, slowly, making it look more like a contortion than a turn. His face mere inches from Robert’s, he growled at him, low and threatening.
“Tobias!” Alex, shocked, quickly stepped forward and tugged at Robert’s arm, pulling him back a step. “What in the hell, man? I’m so sorry,” he continued, looking over at Robert. “I, uh, I, I don’t know what, I don’t…” he trailed off. “I’m so sorry,” he repeated. He gestured the two men back towards his office, indicating he would join them momentarily. He took a few deep breaths, completely unsure of his next move. There had been something animalistic and frankly a little terrifying in the look behind Tobias’s eyes, and his managerial training at the Lane Williamson School of Business had not equipped him to deal with frightening employees who growled at customers.
As Robert closed the door to Alex’s fastidious little room of the ruler, Jacob burst out laughing. “What in the actual fuck was that? That guy seriously looked like he wanted to bite a chunk out of your face!” He tucked his longish, sandy blond hair behind his ear. “Sorry, I know it’s not really funny, but that was maybe one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen.”
Robert was a little more shaken than he had realized at first. Jacob had hit it on the head, though, he thought. The guy had given off a vibe that said that two seconds more would have had him doing just that. “I really think he wanted to. I really think that guy wanted to bite my face off.” His voice was a little unsteady, and that irritated him. “Some odd violent tendency working at a mailing factory wanted to bite my face off because I asked him a question about an ink jet printer.” He supposed he was trying to normalize the situation by saying it out loud, stating it as fact, but that didn’t make it any less strange, or make him feel any less uncomfortable. He wandered over to the little window that looked out on the shop floor, standing shoulder to shoulder with Jacob as they watched Alex actually wring his hands as he debated what to say to Tobias.
Alex stuttered a few times, still not knowing what to say. Tobias had turned back to his machine, pulling a stack of brochures from the sorted bundles, performing the very quality check that Robert had asked about. Alex could hear, very faintly, that he was still growling softly, and that the hands that normally flipped so deftly through the papers that he didn’t even have to stop the machine to re-load the feeder were shaking. “Tobias,” he said. “It’s time for you to go.” He hadn’t known that those were the words that were about to come out of his mouth, but discovered as he said them that there really was no alternative. An employee who growled at prospective customers, one who behaved threateningly, well, that just wasn’t someone that he could in good conscience keep around. Decision made, he spoke more firmly to the man who hadn’t acknowledged that he was being spoken to. “Tobias, you have to leave. I’m afraid that the behavior that you just displayed is unacceptable, and you’ll need to shut the job down and go home.”
He didn’t even have time to scream.
“Holy fuck!” Jacob grabbed Robert’s wrist so hard he felt his bones grind against each other, and started yelling so fast that his words became one long litany of breathless profanity. “Holy fucking shit holy fucking shit holy fucking shit what the fuck jesus fucking Christ what the fuck!”
Robert yanked his arm free and dove for the phone on Alex’s desk, but halfway there he decided locking the door first would be prudent, and changed direction in mid-lunge like an ungainly bird that had forgotten how to fly. He jabbed at the locking mechanism in the door knob a few times before he actually managed to engage it and ran back to the phone. He punched in 911 and danced from foot to foot while he waited for the operator. “Jesus, Jacob, what’s the fucking address here? I don’t know where we are, I don’t remember where we are!” He looked around wildly, there had to be letterhead, a business card, something. “Jacob!”
“911, what’s your emergency?”
There was reverberating thump behind him, and even though it was the last thing he wanted to do, Robert turned to face the window. He saw Jacob hunkered down on the floor below it, trying to retch quietly, and as his eyes slowly tracked up the first explanation his brain provided was that obviously someone had spilled a can of red paint all over the man who currently had his palms splayed out against the glass.
“Hello, this is 911, what’s your emergency?”
Red spattered teeth bared in a grin, and Robert thought distantly that it was strange that he even got paint in his mouth, that had to taste awful. “I, yes, I have an emergency.” He stopped and gaped as the monstrosity on the other side of the please dear god thick paned window opened his mouth wide and hocked out what Robert thought at first was just a mouthful of blood. “A man just spit out another man’s nose.”
Tobias loped away, heading for the docks and an escape route where the security cameras were broken and only left up for show. He would have thought that this morning’s unexpected bounty would have kept him full for a few more days at least, but all of a sudden he was just so damn hungry.
Brought to you courtesy of Skinny Puppy, The Process and Vivi Sect VI