Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fiction: The Happy Campers

The Happy Campers
(Part of the "Road to Snapplopolis" series)
Creative Commons License
This work by Jonty Kershaw is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

    Doctor Anriji stood at his third-story window and tried to breathe deeply through the fluid in his lungs. The window stretched from wall to wall and he liked to peek through the louvered blinds and watch the patients in the courtyard below, laughing and playing tag, their pasty buttocks flashing from the openings in their gowns. They looked so relaxed at their play. He stirred his coffee in resigned irritability. He could do with a little downtime himself. His coffee was black, but he liked stirring his coffee with the little spoon made of silver. It made him feel somewhere else.
    The window was mirrored on the outside, but occasionally one of the patients would stop what they were doing and look up at him, waving and yelling words that  he knew from experience would be “I love you!”
    The intercom on his shiny oak desk bipped at him, signalling the arrival of his guests. Placing his tiny coffee cup on the bookshelf, Doctor Anriji tapped the little silver spoon on the rim and laid it delicately on the edge of the saucer. He tugged the creases out of his tailored suit and hurried to the oversized leather executive chair behind his desk.
    The first hour-or-so of the meeting went as always: Formal greetings, a few mentions of spouses and children and golf, and a scripted series of agendas, goal assessments, and budgeting charts. Everyone sipped their coffee except Doctor Anriji, who gripped the handles of his chair as though he were in the front seat of a rollercoaster. Doctor Anriji was a master of appearances, but his superiors frankly scared the willies out of him. The only part of him he couldn’t control was his hands, which shook in their presence. So, no coffee for him.
    One of the superiors, whom we shall call Mr. Klein, did most of the talking. He was not a man who had ever appeared on the television, and his name had never been in the papers. People who mentioned him on the Internet found themselves missing. In certain circles, it was whispered that he reported only to the president. In deeper circles, it was known that the president reported to him.
    “We’ve been receiving some… disturbing reports, Doctor Anriji,” he mentioned smoothly after the formal part of their meeting had been dispensed with. “According to my office, you have requested a twenty percent increase in the security budget. I think you’ve got some explaining to do.” Mr. Klein smiled broadly, and the other members of the meeting laughed politely.
    Doctor Anriji’s eyes flicked momentarily toward his cup of coffee sitting on the bookshelf. He cleared his throat and sat up squarely. “If you will all turn to page seventy of your quarterly reports.”
    Page seventy was a grainy photocopy of a youngish man with a military bearing and matching haircut. “This,” said Doctor Anriji, “is Lieutenant James Watkins. We recruited him from the Airforce three years ago. He has an exemplary record, both with the Airforce and with our organization. He is twenty-five, married with two children, and likes to spend his day off picnicking with his family. One of the best security officers we have had the pleasure to work with.”
    He led the group to the picture window and opened the blinds. “Do you see the patient with the frisbee and the bushy black beard? That is Lieutenant Watkins.” He paused for a moment to let his superiors absorb the significance. Lieutenant Watkins threw the frisbee badly, missing every one of the other patients playing with him, and everyone could be seen to laugh uproariously, although nothing could be heard through the glass. Long hugs were shared, and strangers gazed into each others eyes. The words “I love you” were spoken repeatedly, he was sure.
    Doctor Anriji continued. “Three months ago, our quartermaster requisitioned six cases of class-twelve rubber gloves. Instead, he received four cases of class-three gloves and a poorly-typed requisition denial form referencing budgetary cuts.” Doctor Anriji didn’t make eye contact with any of the men or women present. He didn’t dare. “Three weeks ago, while on a routine inspection of the facilities, Lieutenant Watkins made inadvertant skin-to-skin contact with one of the patients through a tear in one of the inferior protective gloves, and it…” He took a breath.
    “It changed his mind,” finished one of his guests, an angular woman who was considered the swing vote in the Supreme Court.
    “Yes, exactly. It changed his mind. Lieutenant Watkins is now a patient in our facility, rather than an employee. He will never see his loving wife or another of his son’s baseball games ever again.”
    Mr. Klein’s eyes didn’t change. He wasn’t the sentimental sort. “That’s terrible news for the Lieutenant and his family, but these are considered normal and acceptable risks in an operation such as this. I believe we lose an employee to the… ah, what are we calling it these days? The Attitude-Shifting Bio-Memetic Infection? It’s in the report somewhere, I’m sure. Anyway, I believe we lose one about every six months or so.” He focused his gaze at Doctor Anriji and opened his hands questioningly.
    “In the last six months, Mr. Klein,” said Doctor Anriji, “We have lost three of our most valued employees. Even that, however, isn’t the most troubling part. You are all, I’m sure, aware of the disastrous consequences of this disease escaping into the populace. One infected person could wipe out the social structure of an entire city in three days. People not going to work. Smiling at each other. Not buying stuff.” They shuddered as a group. “The disturbing thing is how close we have come to an escape each time.”
    Doctor Anriji was two feet away from his coffee, and the smell made him long to stir the little silver spoon around the edge of the cup, to listen to the relaxing tinkling sound.
    “Lieutenant Watkins was in the exit area waiting for clearance when he was caught. The exit officer noticed the Lieutenant smiling at her. Apparently, she thought he was flirting and almost released him. It was the tapdancing that finally alarmed her.” He glanced around. “According to the investigation, Lieutenant Watkins was an avid tapdancer in elementary school. He gave it up when his parents sent him to military academy. Apparently the Infection released years of inhibitions and he broke out into a routine, possibly to the tune of “I Wear my Green Fedora.” Had she noticed fifteen seconds later, he would have exited the facility.”
    A hush had fallen over the group. Doctor Anriji pointed out a short redheaded woman playing hacky-sack in the courtyard below. “That’s the exit officer down there.”        One of the military men present,  a jowly man wearing a uniform with too many medals to have been earned, noticed a group of patients waving and mouthing something up at the window. “What are they all saying?” he asked in a slow Texas drawl.
    Dr. Anriji replied, “It’s almost always a variation of  “I love you.”  The truly disturbing thing is of course that they mean it.” He let that sink in.
    “Now, you see, ladies and gentlemen, why this facility cannot be subject to the normal budget cuts that other military institutions are facing. I realize that money doesn’t grow on trees,” He was sure that for several of the people present it might as well grow on trees, “but I’d like to ask you to take a moment to recall the measures we had to take in 1967. Can we afford another Haight-Ashbury?”
    Mr. Klein pursed his lips and sighed. He nodded.
    The meeting was concluded with handshakes and false promises of golf. Doctor Anriji pressed a button on his intercom. “Ms. Spencer, my guests are ready to leave now. Please unlock the doors.” He let go of the button.
    A bubbly voice flicked on through the tinny speaker. “Okay. I love you.”
    Doctor Anriji’s guests stared at each other. Doctor Anriji went for his coffee.

*    *    *

No comments:

Post a Comment