idol survivor | week 9 | ~1200 words
It was Tuesday, one of those early Spring days where the sun had finally returned and everyone remembered that the world was not dead after all. The fertile odor of daffodils and dogwood petals hung in the air, promising new life and new opportunities in the months to come.
Steven Bentley sat at his desk in Widget Works Accounts Receivable, thinking about how that ought to make him feel energized and hopeful. But instead, all he felt was, Meh.
So, what exactly was wrong with him?
He could hear Molly and Janice laughing in the break room, and Bill and Kevin across the wall from him debating whether the Chiefs could really pull it off this year. Everyone else seemed happy enough, all of his coworkers with their cat calendars and their sports' team mugs. And it wasn't just about their home lives—even there at the office, people were humming along through another dull day of making bills and payments line up, until the numbers either matched or they triggered the next step in the sequence of threatening emails and phone calls. Steven's coworkers seemed to actually like their jobs, and they certainly liked each other. They even arranged monthly birthday celebrations and fortnight pizza-Fridays and betting pools.
Steven couldn't remember the last time he'd laughed at a joke, or even enjoyed whatever the monthly birthday cake happened to be. Honestly, had he ever? He figured must have, because everyone else did, but somehow the specifics eluded him.
It was like the sudden shift into Spring. Everyone was excited about it, and Steven pretended he felt the same, but really… weather was weather. The seasons turned, the cycle repeated. Rain, sun, clouds, wind, snow, heat… so what? It wasn't as if he were a tree or a flower that depended on the end of a freeze or the warmth of the sun to survive.
But he knew he hadn't always felt that way. Things used to matter to him. He wasn't sure when, exactly, but he was certain it was true.
He missed being that person. Now, everything just seemed to roll right off of him, good or bad—the whole world was a gigantic quagmire of Blah. He had no idea when it had started, because he obviously hadn't noticed it at first. It could have been months, and it hadn't really bothered him until today, but now that he knew…
Now, it made him itch with the need to bring that passion and enthusiasm back into his life again.
He thought about the kinds of things other people got excited over. Their families, definitely, but Steven didn't have a family. Sports, cars, movies, pets…none of those really interested him. He'd heard a lot of talk about vacations, but he'd never gone anywhere special.
All of this was stuff outside the office, of course. What did he do with his time off? Steven wondered. He couldn't think of a single thing. He had no hobbies, no favorite TV shows, nothing. Everything was just work, work, work, day in and day out.
Clearly, he was in a rut.
He could ask Molly or Dennis what they liked to do after work, though that was bound to be uncomfortable. He didn't talk to other people much, because he didn't really fit in. He didn't know why—sometimes it just happened, apparently. Maybe it was him? He'd been with Widget Works for years, but conversations with his coworkers were always awkward.
More practice might help, he decided. Some small talk—he was terrible at that, because it always seemed so pointless, but he could tell other people enjoyed it.
Hannah was pretty friendly. He decided to start with her.
He followed her into the break room at lunchtime, using the excuse of getting his lunch smoothie out of the fridge while she microwaved a frozen Weight Watchers' meal. "Hi, Hannah. How many cats do you have?"
Hannah's eyes darted over to him. She looked at the microwave again, which had thirty seconds left, and then back at Steven, who was still waiting for an answer. She coughed. "Uh, one…" she said.
She hit the oven door release, snatched up her food, and rushed out of the room.
Well, not great, Steven thought. But at least it was a start.
Manuel came into the break room, carrying a coffee mug.
"Hey, Manny," Steven said.
Manuel looked at him and froze, and then quickly backed out of the room.
Rude! Steven thought.
But he tried not to get discouraged. People always acted weird around him, it was nothing new. There wasn't much he could do about it, except keep trying.
He drank his smoothie by the sink, because his coworkers hated how it smelled. Then he rinsed the lid and container, put them back together, and stuck them in the fridge.
He headed back to his cubicle. "Nice, um… desk-thingy," he told Claire as he went past.
Fine, so he didn't know what it was called, but he was making an effort, right?
Claire ignored him, the way she always did.
Why won't anyone talk to me? Steven thought. It was getting hard not to take it personally.
He sat back down at his desk, and got to work on the next cycle of payments from the previous week. Maybe it was just that he didn't know Hannah or Manny very well? They hardly ever even looked at him, so they might have found it weird that he was suddenly talking to them.
They were nothing like Kevin, for instance, who always came around at the end of the day and patted him on the back for a job well done. Or Jamal, who was always there to say hello each morning. Yes, Kevin and Jamal were definitely better friend material!
He was busy trying to figure out what constituted the sort of "fun" email people usually sent their friends, when he heard a groan from the other side of the wall.
"What's going on?" he heard Dennis say.
"It's the bot," Kevin muttered. "He's talking to people again, and now they're emailing me because it's freaking them out."
"What, already? Didn't we just reset him, like, three weeks ago?"
"Yup. Seems like it's happening more and more often, but he's out of warranty, so there's nothing we can do."
"Maybe he gets lonely," Dennis suggested.
"He's a bot, don't be ridiculous." Kevin said. "Let me just go over there and fix this."
Steven blinked. There was a bot at their office? Why hadn't he heard about it before?
He noticed Kevin coming around the corner toward his desk. "Hi, Kevin!" he said.
"Hey, buddy, how's it going?" Kevin said, reaching around to the back of Steven's neck.
"Good!" Steven said. "I am fi—"
There was a painful burst of static in Steven's head, and then everything went dark.
It was a Tuesday afternoon, one of those early Spring days where the sun had finally returned and everyone remembered that the world was not dead after all.
Steven Bentley sat at his desk in Widget Works Accounts Receivable, going through the payments from the previous week…
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