Proof of Purpose 9

The Gravedigger dug deep into the upturned soil, and deposited a clump into the empty bottle. At first, the Complainer thought that the Worker wanted to get some blackmail material in exchange for his help, but no, he actually got a jar of dirt for his trouble. It hardly seemed worth it. “All that work just for this?”

“This is the last component. We’re down the home stretch now.”

“Is this going to take much longer?”

“Just one more stop at the Dirt Farm, and it’ll all be over.”


Over at the Workplace, the Thief had made his way towards the Third Corridor where the fabled Management was rumoured to be. He expected having to charm his way through another layer of bureaucratic employees getting in his way, only to find the presence of a huge intimidating tall Robed Figure menacing the hallway. It was draped in rags that matched the colour schemes of the walls, and cast a discomforting aura. Everybody working there was doing their utmost best to look as busy as possible, and avoid being seen. The Robed Figure stopped in front of a stall that attracted its attention, and the Thief was about to intervene when the Robed Figure bent down over the clerks’ shoulders and said in an unnerving tone,

[cOmpLAiNtS.]

“No, there’s nothing wrong here!”
“Everything’s perfectly fine!”
“Running smoothly!”

The Robed Figure wasn’t convinced, and looked about, its covered twin heads swinging around until they pinpointed a single random employee and sauntered towards its general direction.

[wHaT’s WrOnG?]

“We can’t complete the project in two months, let alone two weeks!”

[yOu HaVe TwO HoUrS.]

“Thank you for your words of wisdom!” the employee said, trying to avert the gaze of his co-workers glaring at him for going into sudden death deadline pressure.

“Excuse me,” the Thief said, “Sorry to bother you while you’re busy, but I need to talk to you.”

Even though its features were obscured, the outline of the rumpled clothes surrounding the Robed Figure suggested anatomical impossibilities ultimately culminating in having two heads. That was the only thing about the Management that made sense.

[wHat’S tHe pRobLeM?] the dissonant voice said.

Hearing the voice from a distance and having it aimed directly at you were two different things. The Thief’s methods of intimidation only worked when dealing from a position of fear, and in this place, he held very low on the respect ranking. In the midst of their presence, all pretense of duplicity faded away. The voice rattled him from the inside, but the Thief pressed on. “There’s been an awful mistake.”

[wRoNg FlOoR.]

“No, not that. There’s something you need to see.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out the Worker’s card. “If you look at my Identification card and my face, you’ll see that they’re not the same.”

The Robed Figure snatched the card away. One head stretched its neck, staring at the Thief, while the other looked impassively at the stolen piece of Identification. Even though he couldn’t see their features, the Thief felt very nervous being scrutinized this way.

Then the long head of the Robed Figure snapped back in place, and part of its nondescriptive rags stretched out, surrounding the Thief’s head. The Thief thrashed helplessly as he was raised, his head muffled, trying to remove the loose fabric that now had an iron grip. Then all of a sudden, he was let go, and fell to the ground, gasping for breath. As he held his throat, he felt a subtle change. The underside of his chin felt more defined than usual, and his sight felt strange. Putting his hands to the sides, he felt the contours of his skull, and found it was now flat.

[tHerE. nOw YoU MaTcH.]

The Robed Figure handed over the ID and glided away. The Thief’s blurred vision refocused, and he looked for a mirror to see himself, settling for looking at an Amazing Grey instead. What he saw confirmed his fear. The Management had misunderstood his intent. Instead of confirming that they’d had the wrong man for the job, they had reshaped his head to look like his Identification card. His head was now a cube, with each side showing a profile of the Worker’s face – and nothing in between.

In his haste to circumvent around the routes of hierarchy, the Thief had forgotten one of the cardinal rules when dealing with shortcuts.

You can only bend the rules of the Law for so long, before they start to bend back.


“I’m back,” the Worker declared, getting the attention of the Dirt Farmer. “I’ve got another soil sample for you.”

“You got the stuff from the third moon?”

“Not yet. I got you something else.”

The Worker opened the jar of dirt, and the Dirt Farmer stuck a finger in. There was an audible gasp of impressiveness from the stoic figure no longer bothering to retain his composure. “Ooh, this is quality material! Hard to decompose this time of year! How’d you manage?”

“Trade secret. In exchange, I need to use the usual, again.”

Grumbling noises could be heard as the Dirt Farmer reluctantly opened the contents of his wares, where jars of dirt sat on carefully arranged shelves, separated by region, category, soil consistency, absorbency, erosion, fossils and rocks.

As the two men made their way inside the interior, the Dirt Farmer could be heard remarking, “I don’t appreciate having footprints all over them. You’re just getting them dirty!”

The Worker made a beeline to a specific table that had a selection of bottled dirt already arranged for him, and started dumping the contents into contained piles on boxed outlines on the floor.

“Okay, you’ve gone to a great deal of trouble bringing me here. What’s the big deal?”

“I just need you to stand on this patch of dirt, and move on to the next when I say so.”

“What for?”

“Right now, you’re on the land of Bloom Country. That makes you eligible to enter this land, which is this pile of dirt here. Step over here now.”

As soon as the Complainer set foot onto the pile of dirt, the Worker stamped the Complainer’s card with an ink slab invisible to the naked eye. Looking closer, there were numerous coloured ink slabs on the table that blended into the background. Only the presence of the nearby rubber stamps gave them away, and they were obscured by the dirt bottles.

“Now, by chance, you happen to hear about a bargain that’s not normally available in your homeland, taking a tour of the tropics at a reduced rate. So you decide to take a little trip, using this system to your advantage, only to venture out, get caught, and be forcibly shunted back.”

The Worker was becoming more animated and talking excitedly now, speaking at a breathless rapid pace that was difficult to follow.

“You’ll become the victim of an amateur left-handed handler, who’ll accidentally stamp the wrong box, forcing you to be shipped out to Kokonino Country where the mistake won’t be recognized until arrival. At which point, his colleagues there will want to get rid of you as soon as possible to cover up the mistake. That’s where your card gets stamped twice, because they always skimp on the ink, and are too cheap to splurge the expense. As a result, you’re flagged as a flight risk, and shuffled off to the Double Islands. There, they’ll quickly figure out your stamping mistake, and reroute you along with all the other travelers who’ve been forced this route, and go to the Condemned Lands. But wait! You’ll be prevented from boarding, on danger of overloading, and have to catch a later flight out. Naturally, you’ll want to avoid going there at all costs, so you’ll bribe numerous officials, who’ll sneak dirty looks at all the suspicious stops you’ve made, wondering just where you’ve been, what you’ve seen and what you’ve been doing. But don’t worry – this is exactly what we want!”

“It is?”

“Absolutely! That means you’ll be deported back under heavy watch, where you’ll be seen as a spy, and be flagged by numerous nations vehemently denying any association or entry. After which, you’ll be traded multiple times for political prisoners, and get another stamp from people who’ll want to get rid of you fast. So now, you’ll be extradited back where you came from. In this case, that happens to be the first patch of land where you were standing. And just like that, you’ve traveled around the world without leaving this room! Astounding isn’t it?”

“Very impressive,” the Complainer breathlessly replied, not understanding a word of what just happened. “But what was the point?”

“The point was that after moving around so much and rejected so much, you’re now officially labeled a Nomad without a land to return to, and are eligible for refugee status.”

The Worker returned the card with a flourish. “Which should be taking effect… NOW!”, he emphasized with a dramatic gesture from his hands.

The Complainer waited expectantly.

“Now.” the Worker repeated, as if the act of saying the word again would change anything.

“Is something supposed to happen?”

“I didn’t forget anything, did I?” the Worker quizzically asked, flipping the card back and forth. “It should’ve worked by now. What did I miss – ” Then he stopped, closed his eyes, his head turned upwards and turned to the Dirt Farmer. “Has the latest legislature passed today?

“Not as far as I know.”

“Oh, that’s it! My stand-in’s messed up my workplace somehow! He’s interfered with the necessary paperwork that’s supposed to allow legislation to pass through! It looks like I’ll have to go back to my workplace early and resolve the bottleneck.” The Worker rested a conciliatory hand on the Complainer’s shoulder. “I thought we’d be done by now, but it looks like we’re going to have to make another stop. Back to the last place I wanted.”

Proof of Purpose 8

“I’m telling you, that’s mine!”

“Look, I’ve worked here for years. I think I know who’s an employee here or not.”

Fine words coming from someone who couldn’t recognize the Thief upon first sight. “Just scan my card.”

“Sorry, I can’t accept this.”

“Why not?”

“Your signature doesn’t match.”

The Thief had attempted to imitate the Worker’s handwriting as best as possible, but the letters were so illegible it was impossible to make anything out. How could anyone possibly create such an indecipherable scrawl? “I’ve had a wrist injury recently. That must be what’s throwing you off.”

“If that’s the case, you need to update your signature so it’ll be accepted.”

The Thief was about to protest, when he realized that in a roundabout way, this would result in getting what he wanted. “How do I do that?”

“You’ll need to go to the 38th floor, sector A, and ask for proper documentation and present a handwriting sample.”

“Isn’t there a faster way of doing this?”

“This IS the express route. You’re fortunate enough just to get ahead of the line!”

Now having a specific destination, it was a simple matter of asking around until he was directed to the directory. From there, through a roundabout method of covertly asking questions, the Thief found out he’d need access to the Identification Clarification Department.

“Is this the ICD? I need to prove I am who I say I am.”

“There’s a lot of that going around here. Are you aware of the risks and consequences for doing so?”

“I am, but I want to speak to someone in charge.”

“Have you filled out the proper forms?”

“Of course not!”

“Then don’t come back until you’ve done so.”

Convincing complete strangers that he was who he wasn’t, wasn’t a problem. The problem was, unlike the other stations, the ICD needed more papers than usual, and all the necessary memos were scattered throughout the building. This required taking referrals from known associates starting from the ground floor, then moving up from every floor onwards before moving on to the next floor. To make matters more infuriating, some of these notifications had to be repeated, so a blank heading that would remain unsigned on the 12th floor would then have to be filled upon reaching the 23rd floor, resulting in a lot of back and forth action.

For a Clarification Department, the procedure for making your identity clear wasn’t very clear. Such a long-winded regulation process wasn’t along the Thief’s preferred methods, so he fell back on his last-ditch attempt to speed the process along. He didn’t normally take this option, not wanting to give up his reserves of easily acquired ill-gotten gains, but he was desperate to get this over with.

“Might this help convince you?” The Thief asked, slipping a fair share of money hidden in his coat pocket over to the Receptionist who wouldn’t complain about being given a higher cut than usual.

“For bribery, you need to fill in the necessary forms.”

The Thief looked down at the paper in dismay. The procedure for such a simple transaction was more trouble than it was worth. There was a surprisingly large number of tax deductions and rewards depending on how much you were willing to sell your soul for. It was just like these employees to balk out on a deal, even when it’d benefit them. What were they all so scared of?

It would take too much time and energy running around, finding all the relevant documents necessary to fill the requirements. But he needed these papers if he needed to get further. So, to save time, he covertly copied and stole from the files of those waiting for their turn.

It was a long gruelling process, and went against his better nature, and by the time he was done, it would’ve been faster if he’d gone to the trouble of going of collecting the papers himself. But once having gone down this path, was loathe to change his mind.

Another problem was the need for numerous referrals that didn’t exist. That was easily taken care of by having dummy accounts with pre-recorded messages to match the caller’s scripted responses. It wasn’t likely that they’d be double-checked, but it was just in case.

The procedure for accomplishing all the falsified information took the better part of the afternoon and the remainder of the day. Finally, the necessary paperwork was done, the required body samples were on hand, the numerous fake contacts were in his inventory, and he was ready to have his signature approved. But as always, there was just one more thing that needed doing.

“Not so fast. We need a witness to verify your signature.”

“Is that really necessary?”

“There’s been a rash of identity theft all around. You understand.”

“Yes, all too well,” the Thief ironically replied. “Can’t you just see me sign my signature and sign off on seeing me sign off?”

“I can’t be part of the notary process.”

Typical. There were so many redundant hoops that needed jumping through. So many blockages and detours in getting anything done that it was a wonder anything got passed around here. There should be better ways to navigate through the labyrinthic process that stood in the way. There had to be something he could use here! Something he could use to his advantage. It would be far easier for someone to –

A nefarious thought suddenly popped up in the Thief’s head, and he normally would’ve kept it to himself, but decided to share his findings.

“What guarantee do you have that that’s the official witness’ signature?”

The Record Keeper looked shocked at this glaring obvious hole in the system. If this was revealed, it would mean having to verify hundreds of thousands of signatures, further backdating the already backdated system.

Sensing weakness, the Thief made his proposal. “Look, how about you just let this legislation slide, and I’ll forget this conversation ever happened?”

“I – don’t have the proper authority – ”

“Once I get the badge, I’ll give you the authorization to temporarily deputize yourself under an assumed name, then you can legalize me, making your signature legitimate.”

“What about the timestamp?”

“Set your clock ahead a little, then rewind it back. The order of operations doesn’t matter as long as everything checks out in the end.”

The Thief had no idea if what he said made a lick of sense, but it sounded reasonable enough. It must’ve been convincing, since the Record Keeper hesitated slightly before silently agreeing with the proposal.

“Finally!” the Thief cried out, grabbing his updated card, which still had the Worker’s photo on it for some reason. He was just about to leave, when he mentally slapped himself. It was only after he completed his task that the Thief realized too late that he could’ve seen the Worker’s portfolio. He could’ve recieved clarification of the stolen identity, access to private passwords and looked up his personal history.

He maneuvered back, one foot still staying back to prevent the person behind from moving further up the line. “Can I get a copy of my old files?”

“Impossible. That person no longer exists. As soon as you changed your handwriting, all access to your previous records has been expunged – forever.”

“Surely you must keep backups somewhere.”

“Yes we do. However, the path to getting said backups is as elusive to the point that they might as well be destroyed.”

“Isn’t there an easier way?”

“For that, you’d need to talk to the Management, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The Management are eternally busy, even when they’re not.”

“I’ll find a way to make myself part of their schedule. Where are they?”

The Record Keeper looked at the screen, noting a blurry static image moving about that couldn’t be captured properly. “You’ll find them three floors down, but you didn’t hear it from me.”


“…a little something from me.”
“It’s just what I needed!”

As impressive as the trade-off was, the Complainer was beyond the saturation point of being impressed. All day, he’d been witness to seeing the Worker making trades of useless items in exchange for more useless items that were gradually exchanged for increasing valuable items, only to exchange them for seemingly useless items again. He’d endured a dizzying array of trades, the sheer number of swaps making his head spin. The rate of trade went back and forth with random bargaining thrown in the mix depending on the deal, either through gently cajoling or making veiled threats. What had started out as a pencil stub had grown to children’s toys to rare animals to parchment papers to jewelry to the current item – a jarful of swarming bugs.

“What’re you going to trade those in for now?!

“These are a delicacy for Bians. They’re sure to give us a well-cooked meal in exchange.”

“I could’ve paid for that in a fraction of the time you spent running around.”

“You’re just upset because you’re hungry. You’ll feel better when you’re full.”

“I don’t want to be further indebted to you! When are we going back?!”

The Worker checked his watch. “Now would be a good time.”

After making a quick stop at some Bians, emptying the contents of the jar for some roasted thighs that the Complainer didn’t want to admit was pretty tasty, they made their way back to the Gravedigger, and the scene was surrounded by dozens of aggravated police officers. The Worker held the Driver back, saying “It’s still too early.”

Even from this distance, the Complainer could hear snippets of the conversation:

We dug all day and didn’t find anything!

“My bad,” the East Turned apologized. “I must’ve been mistaken. Aren’t you going to resoil the lawn?”

After reporting a false alarm? You’re lucky we don’t report you.

After the cops left, the East Turned signalled over to the Gravedigger, “Go ahead. Pick a spot.”

The Complainer looked on in amazement at the handiwork. “How did you know – ”

“I use the same trick when I want to till the fields.”

“That seemed too easy. Aren’t you worried the Gravedigger’ll use your trick without you?”

“Not a chance. I know which precincts have been alerted. Don’t want them to notice a pattern. And I know where the skeletons are buried. Now… gimme the dirt.”

Proof of Purpose 7

The Complainer reeled from the intrusion of this dirt-encrusted Man with a Shovel who seemed to be on good terms with the Worker, and the discomfort levels only increased with every new sentence uttered.

“How much have you done so far?”

“Just a few shovelfuls. Get digging.”

“You should be able to do this on your own.”

“Do I tell you how to do your job?”

“Yes. Constantly.”

“It’s not my fault they keep dying faster than I can get rid of ‘em.”

“Don’t talk like that. Somebody might get the wrong idea.”

Noting the Worker wasn’t alone, the Man with the Shovel said to the Complainer, “I’m not responsible. They all come dead to me when I get ‘em.”

“You’re not helping your case here.”

“But that’s what I do, isn’t it? Call a spade a shovel.”

Sensing the Complainer’s increasing desire to get away, the Worker explained, “He’s a Gravedigger.”

Somehow, that explanation made it both better and worse.

“An accomplished Gravedigger.”

“Delegating to others doesn’t count.”

“It does in my book! As long as the job’s done, who cares?”

“Hopefully, nobody I know.”

“Rest assured, if they were important, they’d be getting their own plots of land.”

“There are other ways of disposal than burial, y’know.”

“If he doesn’t want to be buried with all the others, that’s his choice.”

The Complainer was spooked out and about to grab the spade and help out, since nobody seemed to be digging, when the East Turned interrupted by digging everyone into a hole in a voice loud enough for all to hear; “Hey cops? I think somebody buried a body in my buddy’s backyard.”

“What did… how could you just…?” the Complainer stumbled.

“Wait for it…” the East Turned replied.

“You work fast,” the Gravedigger remarked.

“I’ll be expecting some compensation.”

“Is this acceptable?”

“That’ll do.”

The Complainer looked in dismay at what the Gravedigger handed over. “A pencil stub?”

“My good man,” the Worker admonished, “this pencil stub is the foundation of the cornerstone on which your Empire shall be built! Let’s go.” And he got back into the vehicle where the Driver was waiting.

“You’re leaving?”

“This’ll take awhile. I have other things to do in the meantime. You can stay if you want.”

The Complainer surveyed the area. In the foreground, the Worker was patiently waiting. In the background, the Gravedigger was absently twirling his spade/shovel between his fingers while on the East Turned’s receiver, a recording sounded out on loop:

Don’t worry kiddies! The policeman is your friend! …as long as you don’t ask them to do anything that actually requires doing their job. Some restrictions may apply. Stay where you are and don’t move. Failure to comply will result in punishment. Don’t worry…

The Complainer didn’t ask for an Empire, yet the Worker seemed to be going above and beyond his ask, every new interaction seemingly getting further away from his goal. He couldn’t possibly see how each disparate element fit together. His problem had yet to be resolved, yet resolved himself to tag along. He was curious and wanted to see the end result of this friendly exchange.


“…in exchange, if you help me out now, I may be able to help you in the future. It could be very beneficial.”

“Really? How?”

“A simple request made to the right ears at the right time having maneuvered all influential parties into the right conditions at the right moment. Simple as that! No guarantees. Just a stipulation that upon getting what I want, I’ll be giving you what you want.”

“I’ll be needing your signature before I commit myself to anything.”

“Where do I sign?”

It was easy to make these kinds of promises. The Thief didn’t plan on sticking around for very long. He’d leave the mess of trades and double-dealings for the Worker before anybody noticed.

The Thief had hoped to lift the badge from the false identification form come to life, but even the presence of the personification of an impossibility wasn’t enough to convince the Clerk to hand the badge over. The apparition still had to wait his turn. Getting a replacement badge that way seemed more trouble than it was worth, so the Thief decided that rather than be stupefied by the obstructionist methods, to use their obstructionist tactics against them instead.

It was a little trick he’d learned. If caught doing something he shouldn’t, just say, ‘The Boss asked me to do this.’ If told to get back to what he was supposed to be doing, record their outrage and tell everyone. If openly confronted, just say that he tried to help out as much as you could, and couldn’t understand all this animosity pointed towards him. That was their blind spot. Showing absolute deference to authority while openly defying their orders.

But even that path was fraught with peril. In order to get to this point, he had to navigate between Inhumane Resources, the Harass Bureau and the Department of Complaints (the longest lineup so far). Just finding a sympathetic employee who would listen to him was a ordeal in itself, and it looked like his Targeted Mark was willing to sign off on his request, when one last hurdle revealed itself:

“Looks fake to me.”

His Target wouldn’t believe that the Thief’s fake signature was actually his.

Proof of Purpose 6

“How long are you going to spend on my suit? I have places to go, things to do!”

“Not much longer now. See, the stain’s practically gone! No harm done.”

“I’d still like to know what you were doing at the Secretary’s desk for so long.”

“You know her. She’s reluctant to give up any details without a fight.”

“Tell me about it. I don’t know why we bother. What were you doing there?”

“Trying to find information about another worker here.” The words were barely out of his mouth as he rearranged the current situation to fit his narrative. “He’s lost his badge, and is kinda embarrassed about it.”

“If that’s all, then he just needs to register for another.”

“He’d prefer the original. He’s very sentimental about it.”

“Who gets attached to their own badges?! I’ll ask around, let everyone know.”

“He also asked for privacy. Let’s keep it between us.”

“I want to tease him about it.”

“There’s no need to aggravate him any further.”

“Let me get my jollies where I can! There’s so little joy to be found in this place.”

“I don’t know his name! All I have is his number and description.

“Go to the Lost & Found. They should have what you’re looking for.”

“I don’t go there that often. Could you point the way?”

“It’s five corners down that way, past the blocked hallway. You can’t miss it.”

The Thief had severe reservations about that. It was very easy to get lost. Appropriately enough, the Lost & Found was notoriously difficult to find, but why should he expect any different in this place? He’d just keep going and ask around until he was told, ‘The Lost & Found? This IS the Lost & Found.

As he left, he could hear from behind, a faint voice whisper, “Hey! Guess who lost his badge again?” Without looking, the Thief could already tell he was being pointed at. Let them have their laughs. He’d be getting what he wanted soon enough. Instead of going to the trouble of forging a new badge which was overly complicated, it’d be simpler to just piggyback onto an already existing one.

Along the way, the Thief started filling in the blank sheet, filling the form with an amalgamation of false identities lifted from the vast well of known IDs. He didn’t like leaving a paper trail that could lead back to him, so he created a fictional third party. To ensure the success of his plot, he wrote down descriptions that couldn’t possibly exist within the realm of plausibility. Three eyes? Sure. Borne of a tall midget and short dwarf? Why not? Name – a bunch of randomized letters strung together. Perfect!

The trick was to find an ID that was relatively low on the importance scale, but not high enough to arouse attention. From there, he could leech onto other unused identities from careless employees wandering about the place. And once there were enough names in lofty positions that he could control, he’d get access to restricted areas beyond his reach.

He topped off the finishing touch with the inclusion of a long string of numbers that to any outside observer, could’ve been caught with his keen and observant eye, but was really from memorizing a dark screen that showed the interior of reflective shiny objects. The Thief initially didn’t think much about this at first, but filed it away for later, and the seemingly irrelevant data popped up once he had some proper context for them.

At the Lost & Found center, the badges were kept out of view in a drawer for safekeeping, and to double security, the interior of the drawer that kept them secure was outlined with Amazing Greys. That was a severe security breach that no one had caught, since no one from the inside would normally think of stealing officially lost badges, and the Thief planned to take advantage of this opportunity.

The Thief initially wondered why there were so many missing badges, but after extensive navigating the confusing layout that defied common sense, gradually understood that it was very easy to lose yourself. After multiple unsuccessful attempts, he finally arrived at the barely visible counter of the Lost & Found. It was simpler than he thought. It worked on the same principle as looking for missing objects in plain sight. All he had to do was NOT look for it, and there it was.

“Do you have this badge number?”, he asked, already knowing the answer.

The Clerk lazily drew attention away from his fascinating fist he’d been examining up close, and took a half-cocked glance at the paper, the knuckle imprint still visible on his face. “Well, the form certainly seems right,” he muttered, as if unsure of what was right before his unfocused eyes. He ran the document through a slot which sucked in the paper and spat it out. “Everything checks out.”

The Thief waited expectedly for the badge to be handed over. The Clerk made no attempt to do so. “Sometime today??”

“Did you want something?”

“If the badge could be returned, it would be appreciated, and I can continue doing my business.”

“Why bother? It’s not as if we’re prevented from doing our job properly.”

“If you could bother to check…

“There’s no hurry. They’re not going anywhere. You can accomplish just as much with a badge as you can without.”

What was with this obstruction? Retrieving lost items shouldn’t be this difficult. “Is there something wrong with not giving it to me?”

The Clerk looked up and down at the Thief. “You don’t match the description.”

“I’m picking it up for someone else. He’s terribly busy.”

“How do I know you won’t lose it along the way?”

“I won’t!

“I’ve heard that before. Careful people bringing items back that just keeps slipping out of their hands. Honestly, if you’d stop losing your stuff all the time, we wouldn’t have to keep track.”

“I’ll staple it to my forehead if that’ll convince you.”

“Don’t lose your head over this.”

“It’s firmly attached!”

“I’m not letting you skip ahead of the line. It would be unfair to all the others.”

The Thief glanced around. What others? Apart from himself and the Clerk, there was no one else to be seen. “Is there a number I’m supposed to take?”

The Clerk pointed to the ticket counter on the side. “That thing’s been empty for ages. We had a replacement roll, but it’s been lost. I imagine it’s somewhere in the high hundred-thousand digits. You’d be somewhere in the middle.”

“And then it’ll be my turn?”

“No, you’ll be eligible for a reservation. You’ll be notified when the time comes.”

It was maddening! Everything he needed was right there, and the only obstacles in his way was a flimsy drawer and a Clerk too lazy to do his job. Compared to picking safes and locks, this shouldn’t be a problem. How could he be stymied by such weak defenses?

“Is there something I can do for you to help speed the process along?”

“No need. The owner’s already been notified. In fact, here he comes now.”

The Thief looked in amazement as he saw the exact description of the fake persona he’d just created come waltzing down the corridor as casually as anybody, walking on twenty legs and three feet decked out in a garish plaid coat with unmatching designer pants, in clear violation of the dress code.

“Oh, there’s my badge. Thanks for looking after it for me.”

“But… aren’t you made up…?”

“The Government is not in a position for making lies. Are you calling the Institution a Liar?

“Perish the thought!”


“…always thought they were just children’s stories.”

“Even the most outlandish stories are loosely based on fact. That’s what makes them so dangerous.”

The Complainer was making casual small talk with the Worker, anything to distract himself from the fact that they were most likely indulging in skeevy behavior. They’d been driven around for awhile, and still hadn’t reached their destination. Whoever this “Friend” was, must be very important.

It occurred to the Complainer that the Worker had already used the book as a bargaining chip for taxi services. What could he possibly trade with now?

“Stop here,” the Worker suddenly told the Driver and got out, making his way towards a drab street. The Complainer hadn’t been told to stay behind, and against his better judgement, decided to follow. The Worker hadn’t gone very far when he was suddenly accosted by a Turned. The Complainer was shocked at first, but that turned to a different kind of shock when he saw how the Turned reacted.

“Friend!” the East Turned declared warmly as he embraced the Worker who stood stiffly. “It’s been a long time! Who’s the best worker?” he asked in a sing-songy voice.

“No need to compliment me.”

“You deserve it, you magnificent bastard, you!”

“Just because you praise yourself doesn’t mean you have to do it for everyone else.”

“If they won’t do it, then who will? After all, who’s the best Turned?”

“You don’t have to – ”

*I* am!”

“I know!

“And I’m going to tell you again!”

The Complainer couldn’t help interject himself into the conversation. “I’m impressed! I’ve never seen one so eloquent.”

“Oh, I’m not really dead, I’m acting so for copyright reasons.”

“You talk too much, you know that?”

“Just because Turneds don’t talk doesn’t mean no one listens.”

“Go tell the world, why don’t you.”

“I certainly will!” And the East Turned got started.

“I was a popular Musician who provoked shock and outrage by providing music in an ad for a platform that went against everything I stood for, which dismayed fans and members of my band. They felt I was betraying them by working for the establishment I once rallied against. And then, it was revealed that the lead singer (me) only did the first lyrics, and delayed completing the rest, due to ‘artistic temperament’. The more they pressured me to complete my song, the more I rebelled against them and put out weak rhymes. In the end, they had no choice but to release the ad with that single completed line, which lost a lot of its potential power.”

“They wanted to own everything I produced, but wanted nothing to do with the unfinished music, and outright refused to own the working draft for my next song. Once the terms were up, I still held the rights. In my hands, I finished the outline, making it a bigger commercial hit than the drink it was supposed to sell. When the music’s that’s been banned in multiple countries is reduced to selling fruit juice, that’s a sign you’re no longer popular. They tried to make me irrelevant, but failed.”

The Complainer was confused. “What does any of that have to do with playing dead?”

“There was a nasty clause in my contract – when I die, the property rights revert back to my backers. I worried about what would happen to my music after I died, and wanted to keep my work out of the hands of parasites. And this wonderful worker here helped!”

“It was more of a suggestion than anything.”

“‘You should just die’ was very useful advice! Since I’m both dead and alive, and they don’t want to raise attention to bad publicity, they can’t touch me! So, cozy up to the people in charge. Say you’ve had a change of heart. Ask how you can help. And once you’re inside, sabotage as much of their operations as you can.

Throughout all this, the Worker kept nodding impatiently, rolling his eyes and hand as the East Turned went on and on. Sensing that the speech was nearing its end, the Worker interjected with, “As long as you’re here, you might as well make yourself useful.”

“Of course! Anything for my little friend!”

“It’s not for me. It’s for him.”

“What?? You’re helping others?? I thought I was the only one!”

“You’re not that special. You just happened to be in the vicinity, and I figured you needed some advice.”

“I don’t want more living people here! They’re so unethical and selfish!”

“How can you say that?” the Complainer asked. “You were alive once.”

“That’s how I know what they’re like! They’ll leave no stone unturned, no land untouched, no food unbitten! You don’t know these people. They’re filthy and ratty and smelly and ugly and have no fashionable sense!”

“Well, excuse me for living.”

The Worker sighed. “I really didn’t want to do this, but there’s a way to tell the Authorities that there’s a certain glitch in your status card that could make it possible to send you back where you came from.”

The Turned stared at him. “And to think I thought you were such a nice guy. How can you do this to me?”

“I told you, you didn’t have to compliment me.”

“Well, you’ve got your wish you contemptuous cantankerous sorry excuse for a living being that ever existed! I regret the day you were ever born!”

“Keep it up, and I’ll make good on my threat.”

“You don’t want compliments, you don’t want insults. What DO you want?!”

“You to make a phone call. Contact this number regarding this property,” the Worker stated, handing over a piece of paper.

As the East Turned stormed off, the Complainer sidled up, “Was that really necessary?”

“He fights dirty, so it’s fair that I fight dirty on my own. Don’t underestimate people who use Politeness as a weapon.”

“If that’s how you treat your friends, I’d hate to see how you treat your enemies.”

“Oh, he’s no friend of mine.”

Before the Complainer could even digest this, a man with a shovel came shambling up to the Worker and without preamble, asked, “I need to hide a body.”

“THIS is my friend.”

Proof of Purpose 5

As the two of them continued, the Mother spoke to the Complainer in confidence. “As much as I don’t approve of his methods, I can reassure you that you’re in good hands.”

“How do you know him?”

“It’s something of a funny story. I was utterly and completely lost in another country. I had no way of getting a passport issued to me. All my attempts to get one through the usual channels were denied me, since I didn’t know the proper procedure, forms to fill, or people in the know. But this man, he saw my predicament, and offered to give me a Passport. I don’t know how he managed to get one, but when he did, I was so shocked I was sure that it was a forgery. It looked and felt authentic enough, but I wasn’t going to pass up this chance. I got on a transport to another Region, and took my seat. These transports back then were even more rickety than they are now. The one I was on had missing seats, holes underneath the frame, and unruly passengers, some of whom were fighting each other over personal property. I was just trying to keep inconspicuous and calm.”

“When they called for my papers, my heart was pounding in my throat. I thought for sure I would get caught. Especially when the Officials kept curiously looking at my papers again, over and over. They called me out of my seat so that they could call more Officials over. I was detained for hours in silence, with only a single Interrogator for company, certain that an overlooked mistake was buried there somewhere. Then, after an unendurable amount of waiting, my papers were handed back to me with a pleasant remark to ‘Enjoy my trip’.”

“It was only later that I noticed that the other passenger’s papers looked different from mine. They were extremely slipshod, and were obvious fakes. That was when I understood the confusion over mine – my papers were the real deal in a sea of counterfeits, and they marveled at seeing an actual authentic document. They’d never seen one before.”

“Thanks to that, I was able to avoid being shipped back among all the others, and my safe passage was assured.” The Mother looked over to where the Father and the Worker were still negotiating. “He certainly likes to hear himself talk. What IS it about men who go on and on about their professions without actually getting to the point?”

There was an old woman, and what do you think?
She lived upon nothing but victuals and drink.
Victuals and drink were the chief of her diet.
And yet this old woman could never be quiet.

“Okay, I think that’s enough reading for today.”

“AW!”

“I don’t mind,” the Complainer complimented. “She’s very smart.”

“She’s too young for you.”

“No worries. I’m not attracted to her.”

“Why? You think she’s ugly?”

“That’s not what I mean.”

“What’s wrong with you, then? She’s only 14!”

“Really? She’s small for her age.”

“No, she’s only 4!” the Father replied from across the room.

“Well then, she’s large for her age.”

“We talked about this,” the Worker interrupted. “She’s whatever age I deem appropriate.”

“I’d still like to know where she is on the waiting list. We’ve been waiting a long time.”

“Those rankings are kept private. If everybody knew how many were ahead of them, they’d spare no expense in knocking anybody in their way off the charts.”

“Give me a hint. Is she anywhere between 1 and 20? I’ll count back from a thousand, and you tell me when I’m getting close. 999… 998…”

“How about in exchange for sharing her current ranking on the waiting list, you help drive us around?”

“995… that sounds acceptable.”

“We’ve worked out an arrangement,” the Worker announced, having completed his deliberations.

“Where are we going?”

“To see a friend of mine.”

As they left, the Daughter spouted off one last poem:

Three wise men from Arkham
Went to sea in a bowl.
If the bowl had been stronger,
My song would be longer.

Inside the transport vehicle, the Complainer asked the question he’d been avoiding this whole time. “What do you want from me once this whole thing is over?”

“Oh, nothing terribly expensive. Sometime in the future I’ll be expecting a small favour in return. It may seem minor, but it’ll make sense later.”

“Such as?”

“You’ll know as soon as I know.”

There didn’t seem to be any further revelations forthcoming, and the Worker was reluctant to do so. The Complainer’d get no answers there, so he asked a question that would get an answer. “What was that about removing feats from the book of Nonsense Verses?”

“Oh, just a silly superstition. Ancient Feet from Ancient Times Stomping Green Mountains Down.”

“I think I heard about that! Banned songs about Legends longing for a prophesied day when the City would be destroyed by five successive blows from a gigantic foot.”

“That’s where inspiration for this came from,” the Worker pointed to his chest emblem that all employees wore of a worn boot stomping the remains of a shattered skull. “But that is little more than wishful thinking.”

“How can you say that?”

“If they really wanted the City destroyed, they would’ve done it themselves long ago. They’re much more content to stand around and argue amongst themselves over past grievances than actually DO something about it. That would require more work than they’re willing to handle.”


The Thief handled the outer rim of the badge he’d… borrowed. There was a slight scare when he was surprised from behind, and wound up spilling the guy’s drink all over his clothes. This accident was fortunate, and in a state of apocalyptic apologism, offered to clean the mess up for the poor victim helping to get a clear path of where the bathroom was. Once the coat was off, the Thief went to work simultaneously washing the stain off, while paying close attention to the details. Upon inspecting, the badge had a display of two images that changed position depending on the angle of sight.

The Thief could’ve copied one image easily, but two? That was harder, and he didn’t have the necessary supplies to make a convincing counterfeit. He couldn’t use this badge as his own, since it was already enmeshed to the original owner both in fabric and identity.

Proof of Purpose 4

“You’re home early,” a voice called from the interior.

“I’ve brought guests.”

“Who’s – oh, it’s you,” the Mother cooly replied. “We don’t see you much these days.”

“I’ve been busy. Haven’t had much time.”

“Some notification on our progress would be appreciated.”

“There’s a long waiting list. You’re lucky to be moved ahead the line.”

“We don’t need verification! We know what she has!”

“It’s frustrating I know, but these things take time. It may seem slow on your end, but my method is making rapid-fire progress. Others in your predicament have been waiting years. Once they’ve passed the age from child to adult, they’re no longer applicable, which I suspect is the point.”

The Complainer ignored the family drama, talking about politics beyond his interest, noticing one person who hadn’t participated in the conversation. At the table was a young girl of 6 years, sitting comatose, staring off into space, intently focused on the blank wall opposite her. The Complainer greeted her with cordiality with no response. He waved his hand in front of her, trying to get her attention without much success until the Worker cut in.

“Staying home today, are we? Well, I’ve got something that might freshen your day – a book of Nonsense Verse. I recommend looking at page 43.”

Without looking, she snatched the book from his hands, flipped it open, and read the poem there:

Doctor Blochtor went to Gloucester
Right in the tumbling rain.
He diddled a little, stepped in a puddle
And was never seen again.

Her voice started off as monotone, but gradually grew more animated as she continued along. When she finished, she replied with peals of laughter, and went on browsing the contents at random to read other rhymes of a similar nature.

“Don’t worry, I made sure there were no rhymes about feet,” he reassured the Mother who still looked concerned. “How’s her sleepwalking coming?”

“She’s been better. Still needs to be tied to the bed. What do you need her for?”

“Not this time. Where’s your Brother?”

“He’s out. May be a long time before he returns.”

Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques,
Rendez-Vous? Rendez-Vous?

“Then he’ll act in his stead,” the Worker motioned to the Father.

“I knew it”, the Mother said. “No good comes from good deeds. What do you want from him??”

“Nothing terribly strenuous. We need help getting around.”

“Don’t I have a say in the matter?” the Father piped in. “I could get in trouble operating without a license.”

“I’ve taken steps to ensure that you won’t get caught.”

“The whole proposition makes me uneasy.”

“If you really felt that way, you could cut your losses anytime you wanted by committing her.”

The Father shook his head. “She’s a lot of trouble, sure, but she’s still a rare gem.”

There was a little girl with a little pearl
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was bad, she was very very bad,
But when she was good, she was horrid.

“You see? She’s simply too valuable.”

The Father sighed in resignation, having delayed the losing side of the argument until he could concede no further. “What do you need me to do?”

“I’ve prepared a map of the surrounding areas with points of interest.”


“…with interest, and requested they look into his pay. The Management did so, and after much investigation, they said they were paying him too much!”

The Secretary tried to keep her face composed as the Thief regaled her with the troubled history of a wrongfully accused man arrested over the trivialist of crimes, none of which was satisfactorily explained to him. It took some time going through various tales of woe, trying to suss out what would most appeal to her, and it seemed she was most appreciative of tragic happenings, usually in the vein of bloody household accidents involving young brides falling down the stairs into a crateful of doorknobs. In other words, she was a sadist.

It wouldn’t do well to rush asking for help. His seductive skills were useless in the face of rigidity to conformity. She’d turn him down flat. He had to guile her over to his side without making it too obvious. All he had to do was keep her attention until she’d lower her defenses. He still had plenty of unused material left, but decided he’d done enough softening her up. He had to strike at the point where her interest was at its peak, and just before she’d go on break.

“… was found guilty for the crimes of whistling in the elevator, and two counts of chewing while loitering. ‘I’m new in town’, the detainee said. The Judge snapped back with… but I really must be going.”

“You’re leaving? But you haven’t finished your story!”

“I’ve taken up enough of your time. You must have more important things to do.”

“Weren’t you going to double-check your records?”

“I can’t come through until I’ve filled the necessary forms. And those things are so time-consuming. I’m sure we could save each other a lot of trouble if you could waive me over.”

The Secretary considered the Thief’s proposal. “Just for future reference, most people just resort to flattery and bribery. Now, what did the Judge say?”

“‘Ignorance of the law is no excuse.’”

“Yes, it isn’t. I’m still going to need your identification first.”

“Certainly. Here’s my card. You’ll see the information is up to date.”

“I’ll need another form of ID. Where’s your badge?”

“My badge? I – must’ve left it in my other pants.”

“If you’ve lost it, you’ll have to apply for another one. You know where.”

“Certainly.” The Thief started walking away, and then turned to face the Secretary again. “Just out of curiosity, how would someone who’s never been here find it? Hypothetically speaking.”

“It’s right next to the washrooms.”

“Right, of course. Which are… where?”

“Right next to the waiting room, next to the plant room, next to the oxygen room, next to the carbon dioxide room, next to the suicide room.”

“Which are… where?”

“Sorry, I’m on break.”

As the Thief reeled back from the sudden closure of the Secretary’s station, a voice from behind rang out, “Hey! What’s going on?”


“…you don’t need to know what’s going on. All that matters is that I get to these places multiple times, and I may need to go back once or twice.”

“Won’t I get in trouble?”

“If you take the recommended detours, you’ll be able to avoid being seen.”

Proof of Purpose 3

Wait, if these screens showed what was going on outside, but also showed the back of the Thief’s head, then chances were it also showed the interior of this building as well. It’d take some time to navigate through the confusing layout and figure out how everything fit together.

At least this way, he’d have some idea of what to expect.


The Compaliner had no idea what to expect. He’d followed the Worker from one location to the next with a clear path obvious only to him, and now the Worker made his way towards his next destination by addressing a perfectly ordinary figure standing in the middle of the street, doing his utmost best to avoid any kind of confrontation.

“How are you these days?”

“Fine. Perfectly fine. Couldn’t be any better,” the man replied casually.

The Worker took a quick survey of the surrounding area, looking at the reflective surfaces, and motioned his audience of one to another area just slightly out of public view, who compellingly obliged. Then he asked the question again.

“How are you?”

Compared to before, the man started shaking uncontrollably and his features slumped with exasperation and relief. “I’m a Nervous Wreck. I’m constantly worried I’m going to be found out one of these days.”

“Just keep your nose clean, and everything will be fine.”

“That’s no small consolation! Just the other day, I saw someone who was fined just for walking too fast. How can it be possible to walk too fast?!”

“It’s possible if you go at a rapid enough pace in a low-speed zone – ”

“Rhetorical question! I wasn’t seriously seeking an answer!”

“There’s no need to be nervous,” the Worker said, gesturing towards the walls of tarnished gleaming walls. “The Amazing Greys see anything within their path, no matter the distance. They accumulate an astounding amount of data separate from you – from the smallest mote of dust to the refracted clouds in the sky. What you do on your own time is of no real consequence to them.”

“But surely, all that information has to be going somewhere where someone would see it?”

“Truth be told, while we see what they see, we can’t access what they’ve seen. We don’t have the clearance for it. And if anybody wanted to see what you’d done, they’d need specifics to narrow you down. As long as you stay out of their line of sight, you’re safe.”

“I’m pretty sure the Prognosiser suspects something!”

“I assure you, if he did, I’d let you know.” The Worker continued on. “Look, your name is still your name. Your Wife’s name is likewise the same. Same goes for your cute little Daughter. All that’s really different is that her age’s been slightly inflated and you’re living in a residence that’s not your own. Once she’s officially old enough, nobody’ll care. It’s all borderline legal.”

“I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up. When can I go home? She wants to know why she can’t bring any of her friends over.”

“It’s not your fault she’s a month too young.”

“If only my wife could’ve held her inside a little longer!”

“That would’ve been unhealthy. Look, I didn’t come here to talk about your home life. I came to you because someone else needs my services, and I could use some help. But I haven’t come empty-handed.”

“Did you find the drugs?”

“I was unable to get the proper medication, but I found a substitute.”

“A book?”

“Don’t worry. I removed the dangerous bits.”

The Father regarded the Worker with trepidation, then nocked his head over, signalling permission to follow him, even though the Worker likely already knew where he lived. Once the conversation was over, the Complainer asked, “What was that all about?”

“Nothing that concerns you.”

“I’d like to know what I’m getting into.”

“If you must know, his family wanted to immigrate here, but could only do so if they met a specific set of limited qualifications. It was statistically impossible to meet those requirements, so I found a way to increase their chances. All for the sake of getting treatment for their Daughter’s condition.”

“How can you be so certain about the Prognosiser’s ignorance?”

“There are little habits that crop up when Agents survey their reports. A cough, a stroke of the page, a look of boredom. And none showed up on the Prognosiser assigned to their case.”

“You spied on him??”

“For as much as everyone is surveiled, they’re remarkably negligent, casually letting snippets of their hidden lives out in open display, because nobody reports on how much the populace picks their noses.”

I haven’t! – not that I ever have…”

“I’m not judging. We’ve all been there.”


“There!” the Thief triumphantly cried, zooming in on a section of the map. He’d been scouring the contents of the screens, trying to make sense of the interior. If he’d had the foreknowledge, he would’ve noticed a certain Prognosiser poring over confidential information while wantonly picking his nose, but his profile was buried in a sea of images of people going through personal items while picking their noses. There was simply too much going on at once to pay attention to the important details.

There was one curious detail – on some of the interior screens, there were some glitchy images, warping the air as it moved throughout the facility, as if there was the presence of something that the real-time screens couldn’t capture properly.

Whatever it was, he’d avoid it en route to his destination.

Leaving the confines of his office, he traversed the confusing layout, taking care to avoid as much confrontation with other employees as possible. He didn’t want to get sidetracked, and made his way, probing every possible exit along the way. The alternate paths were blocked, but that was just testing the foundations. Every structure, no matter how formidible, had a weak point somewhere. It was just a matter of time until he found it. Having exhausted every possibility along the way, he finally reached the Archival Reserves.

This was where all the sights these Amazing Greys picked up was being stored. It took some time to figure out where the flow of data was going, but once he narrowed down the paths from other channels, this was the common focal point. Chances were that there were records of this morning that would show that he wasn’t the Worker, but a lowly Thief. If there was anything that could help him, it would be here. Then he thought about it, and realized he was thinking too small-time. There was a vast amount of information not just limited to his identity, but to the actions and deals of thousands of unsuspecting people out there just waiting to be blackmailed into submission.

Before he could even gain access, he was halted by the Desk Secretary. “Do you have permission?”

While anyone would’ve been intimidated by the Secretary’s looming presence, this was a minor obstacle. The Human element was always the best way to get anywhere. And the Thief could be very charming when he could be. He could talk a granny out of her clothes for his personal use, and make her think it was her idea.

“I’ll be in and out – just have to check something real quick.”

“Permission,” she repeated, blocking the way.

“I need to double-check the address. The client may have inputted the wrong number.”

“Permission.”

“I’m having a hard time finding the name for this form.”

She took a look at the piece of paper he had. “This form is blank.”

“You see the problem?”

“I still need the permission form filled out.”

“Those things are so cumbersome, and the boxes are too claustrophobic.”

“I still need to know which item you’re requesting for the records.”

“C’mon, can’t you let this slide?”

“That would be negligent of me. If I let you in, then everybody else will want to get in, and before you know it, all the data’s corrupted.”

For such a malleable path, this Secretary wasn’t making things any easier. But there were still multiple ways to get past that didn’t involve filling in pesky forms.

“This client of mine was fined for walking too fast.”

“How is that even possible?”

“He was striding ahead in a 10 speed zone. The Cop who issued him the fine reassured him, ‘Don’t look dejected. You’ll be bragging about this for the rest of your life’.”

The normally placid static features of the Secretary’s face gnarled into an unmistakable smirk.

“Aha! I knew there was a smile in there somewhere!”

“Oh, stop it!” she replied, not being serious in making him stop. This was his in. Regaling her with tales of woe accumulated via the osmosis of hearsay. It was just a matter of time until he won her over.


“Over here,” the Father motioned through the doorway, letting the Worker and Complainer through, and they entered the temporary lodgings. From the outside, it didn’t look like much, but from the inside… it didn’t look like much either.

Proof of Purpose 2

“What changed your mind?”

“I suddenly have a surplus of free time now. What seems to be the problem?”

“I’ve been trying to validate my papers, but everybody keeps saying that they’re not legitimate, even though I keep paying the monthly rates. For some reason, no one believes me, no matter how many paper trails I show.”

“Hmm. I know this one. This is going to take some doing. We’ll have to move around to get what you want. Might as well do a few errands along the way.”


At the office, the Thief was perplexed at the attitude of the workers around him. He’d never seen any of them, and they all approached him with a sense of camaraderie.

“Oh, there you are. Good to see you again.”

“Been too long!”

“Working hard? Hardly working!”

“You recognize me?”

“Of course! Who else would be occupying that desk?” A folder stuffed with papers was dumped into his unwitting hands. “Here, redact these client names for confidentiality. Then file them away alphabetically.”

“Um…”

“Same as always. Get cracking!”

Amazing. None of the people in the workplace noticed anything was amiss. The Worker must’ve been so unmemorable that the Thief was indistinguishable from him. He examined the workstation. There wasn’t anything identifiable there. No trace of personality was present – no signs of extravascular hobbies or photos of family members. Not even a self-portrait.

Then the Thief realized the great opportunity that’d been handed to him – he’d just been given a list of names that he could use to his advantage! Any one of them could be used to create an entirely new identity! He peered at the reams of forms in hand.

A wall of incomprehensible text appeared before him. Each form had a different layout from the last, and vital information jumped from one area to another. Dates and addresses had no bearing of what was connected to who, and there were no indicators of how the dates were arranged. Was 001/003/009 the first day of the third month of the ninth year? Or the first year of the third day of the ninth month? Or the first month of the third year of the ninth day? A sample had unhelpful connotations representing hours, days, months or years, with no indicaton of where the numbers ended or began.

He’d barely managed to make heads or tails of the cryptic form, when he noticed the names started disappearing from sight. A careful inspection of the workplace showed various mechanisms that dutifully organized the confusing reams of papers, no matter how they were stacked. The whole workstation was preprogrammed to work independently, regardless of whether anybody was present or not. So then, what was the point of showing up?


“Now, let me see. Who would be the best… AH!” the Worker proclaimed, singling out a particularly distressed-looking person arguing over the wires while clenching reams of papers between in his hands, elbows, underside of arms and knees.

“Excuse me, do you need help?”

“No, I’m perfectly fine.”

“Having trouble renewing your membership?”

The Man on the Wire snapped his attention to the Worker who’d zeroed in on his dilemma with a questioning look, whose only answer was, “I’ve seen your situation before.”

The Man on the Wire relaxed his grip on the papers he was holding and confessed, “I’ve faithfully been with the same company for years, never complaining about their services. And they suddenly raised the rates on me. What can I do? The competition is even worse!”

“Nothing to worry about,” the Worker confided. “Just tell them this:”

The Man on the Wire hesitantly repeated back the Worker’s fed script, while reciting a series of seemingly unrelated string of letters, numbers and symbols at length. Then proclaimed, “Okay, I’ll cancel my membership then. Now, I’d like to apply for a new membership.”

Wonderful! Have you had any past dealings with our company before?

“No, never.”

We welcome you into our company, and hope you’ll enjoy doing many years with us!

“There you go.”

“Amazing! How can I ever thank you?”

“Think nothing of it. Could I have that card, since you won’t be needing it anymore? You’ll be getting a new one shortly.”

“Of course! Here!” And the Man off the Wire handed it over without pretense. The Worker held up and examined the expired membership card with one eye. “Vintage. Perfectly outdated.”

Throughout all this, the Complainer looked on with confusion and awe. “How did you – ”

“They’re more interested in acquiring new members than keeping faithful ones. Any old customers who’d lasted this long would want to stay, more out of brand loyalty than anything.”

“But they’re not increasing their members, they’re just re-inserting the old members as new ones.”

“Yes, but they’re not consciously aware of it, despite all evidence to the contrary.”

“As impresive as all this was, how’s this supposed to help me?”

“Patience. This is just the first step. Things will be clear on our next stop.”


“Stop it, stop it, STOP IT!” The Thief was trying to prevent the automatics from erasing valuable names before he could use it, while also doing his best to prevent breaking the automatics beyond repair. It wouldn’t look good if he was asked to provide extraneous data from elsewhere and wound up damaging the very machinery that could’ve prevented his cover from being blown. The workings behind what made the surrounding materials work was beyond him. But he could overload the system by feeding more papers than it was supposed to handle. The extra papers fed into the system slowed down what was running smoothly. It was a stopgap measure, but it stopped the process long enough for him to get a better look.

He examined several pages from near the bottom of the pile. There was definitely a pattern to be found if one looked hard enough. But no sooner did he see the layout did the names and addresses summarily become wiped out before his very eyes. Even with the backlog, the system was still running smoothly, despite all his attempts to stop it. Desperate, he decided to abandon riffling through the disparate papers and started looking at the mechanics of the station instead. If he was to get any means of success, he’d need to understand the basics of how it all worked before tampering with it.

The desk had seemed quite simple at first, but that was an illusion that held an iceberg of secrets hiding underneath. Compared to the Worker’s password card, the security here was much more elaborate. Pressing the underside of the desk revealed a dizzying array of multiple unlabeled buttons, each with their own method of operation. There were multiple compartments and sub-compartments and sub-sub-compartments that opened up at a whim, depending on the pattern that was inputted via a series of deliberate clicks. The sheer amount of available options available at his fingertips was beyond his scope, and yet, was utterly useless without a way to figure them out.


After leaving the crowd, the Worker went towards a bustling corridor filled with vendors, huckstering wares of all kinds. Some of them looked at the Worker with admiration, others averted their gaze, but he wasn’t looking at any of them. His attention was solely focused on moving through the marketplace as fast as possible. And even though the surrounding crowd rushed about like maniacs, he kept a steady gait, walking at a leisurely pace.

The Complainer had no choice but to follow and see how this was going to turn out

After much navigating, the two of them eventually stood in front of a stall that looked no different from all the rest. The Worker displayed a calm demeanor that wildly contrasted against the panicked state of the populace.

“Ah, you’ve got a fair selection of materials here.”

“We only have the finest high quality stuff here!” the Owner of the stall proudly cried, his coat stuffed to the gills with knickknacks of all kinds, second-hand goods and a bevy of items in his coat pockets. “You’re lucky to come across me early in the morning. Most of the good stuff’s gone later in the day. You want stuff? I’ve got stuff. You want answers? I’ve got answers.”

“Is this all you’ve got? I was expecting more. Don’t you have more stuff in the back?”

The Owner took a conciliatory tone reminiscent of someone who’d had this conversation more times than he could count. “Despite what you may think, we don’t have a hidden stash of high quality reserves kept far away from prying customer’s eyes. Anything you want is already available up front. The back just has more of the same here.”

“I’ve got a little something you might be interested in,” the Worker said, holding up the expired Company membership card.

The Owner gaped in amazement, his eyes bugging out despite all attempts to play it cool, and gave up trying. “I’d given up looking for those. Where’d you – no, what’re you asking?”

“A quick peek at the back room.”

The Worker was led to the back of the stall, where he proceeded to rifle through the impressive contents of banned contraband just kept out of view from those not in the know.

“What’re you looking for?”

“I’ll know when I see it.”

After several seconds of casual rummaging, the Worker settled upon a slightly ripped book. “I’ll take that.”

“Just so you should know, this is the abridged version,” the Owner clarified, making sure the Worker was aware of what he was getting.

“That’s fine with me. Here you go,” the Worker said, handing over the valued worthless card over to the Owner who gratefully tucked it away for safekeeping.

The Complainer who was left waiting out front was given the basic perfunctory of explanations; “The Owner’s somewhat of a collector. There was something I thought he might have, and I found it.”

“You could’ve asked him where it was.”

“Why deprive myself of the joy of browsing? You never know what you might find. It’s all a matter of knowing what buttons to push.”


With some experimentation, the Thief stumbled upon a series of options buried within a sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-compartment that revealed a vast array of screens that lit up the wall before him. Each screen showed a different activity taking place in multiple places, with reams of data pouring in, and no way to categorize it all. Where was all this footage coming from? The Thief ran his eyes through all the screens looking for a foothold of familiarity within them, and found one that looked hauntingly familiar.

It was the back of his head.

Whirling around, he looked at the presence that he’d felt ticking at the back of his neck, only to find the reflection of silver wall staring back at him. All the walls around this place had the same dull metallic look, and he’d thought it was part of the architecture at first, but now that he looked a little closer, these reflections were carefully capturing his every move, saving them for posterity.

The Thief had heard of the Faceless ONEs – beings who were represented by a reflective surface, and only talked by emulating the reflection of the person they’re speaking to. They could observe anything and were everywhere, but hardly ever acted on what they saw. There were persistent rumours that somebody or something else was able to access their records, but no way to verify any of that.

The only way the Faceless ONEs observed the world was from these reflective walls, known as Amazing Greys.

Proof of Purpose 1

Readers may be disappointed that, during the Girl’s entire visit in the City of Lies, she didn’t fall victim to a lie. She was warned early on, but still wound up suffering other indignities along the way. Any lies made would’ve intruded on the trauma of her then living conditions, and detracted from her struggles. But who’s to say she Didn’t wind up being affected by a lie, consciously or not?

And yes, I’m aware the Girl has a name, but, as she said so herself, she doesn’t like being called that. Personally – and this has been confirmed – I’m of the opinion that the author is terrible with names, and is more comfortable at just labeling titles of specific roles, so there’s no risk of confusion. This applies even to us, since all records of our names were wiped out, and only constant repetition of a name is enough to generate memory recall. Teams have scoured through entire dictionaries of names, trying to find one that sounds familiar, but a better and less time-consuming choice would be to create a new name that fits.

To simplify things, the writer has chosen to call himself Prose, while me being acquainted with conspiracy theories, I’m regulated to being Consp. (The ‘P’ is silent). Prose & Consp. I feel like I’m part of some grandiose inside joke I’m unaware of.

Anyways, getting back to the subject of lies – there IS a story that deals with someone winding up changed by the result of a lie, and not for the better. Baring any potential spoilers, the following story focuses on the roles of Worker & Thief, NOT to be confused with Worker & Parasite, the cat & mouse team whose dadaesque antics are an acquired taste in artistic literary circles.


The Worker was making his way towards his workplace with rote routine, having followed the same route with little to no variance. There were other faster ways of getting there, but due to recent changes, had taken a preference to coming in person, even if it meant he was constantly harassed by people on the street demanding his attention, vying for a morsel of charity tossed their way.

“Please! I need some help getting a proper license!”
“My child’s been missing for three days!”
“My country won’t let me in!”

These were the familiar cries of despairing people who wanted nothing more than getting ahead of the line. He was hardly alone in being subject to this barrage of desperate citizens who’d fallen on unfortunate circumstances, but was the only one who bothered to give them more than a token snubbing.

“Sorry, I can’t help you.” It was perfectly typical of them, for these poor helpless souls seeking assistance in the most desperate manner possible, all other avenues of escape having been exhausted and were now reduced to openly begging like scavages. If only they were a little more aware, they could escape their predicament. But as he was now, there was little he could do to ease their circumstances.

As he was hindered by the rowdy crowd, a Thief happened to bump into him, which went utterly unnoticed among the constant barrage as he continued to push his way through, finally arriving in front of the main gate of his workplace.

“ID please.”

It was so typical. He’d been coming here for how long now? And still the Front Door Guard refused to let him past, despite the familiarity of routine. Upon searching his pockets, he found that his identification card that was needed to access the building had been lifted. This wasn’t a case of leaving it at home after changing his pants – he’d clearly put it in after making the switch.

“If you don’t have your ID ready, I’ll need you to get out of the line.”

“All this time, and you still don’t recognize me?”

“I can’t take the risk of letting you in until you present your ID. Move.”


The Thief had heard rumours of vulnerable marks in the area, employees who were notoriously careless about their belongings, and used his expertise to lift the Worker’s wallet without detection. The level of personal security was laughably nonexistent. It would take no great struggle to imitate this man’s life. Duplicating fingerprints was just a matter of lifting the smudges all over the card. A handwriting sample could be copied from the engraved sample. Even getting the password wasn’t a problem, since the Worker had even gone out of his way to leave it printed on the underbelly of the card.

It was like he was begging to be robbed.

The Thief used the Worker’s ID to his advantage early in the morning, racking up as much merchandise as possible before the credit ratings ran through and he was found out. …only to find out that the amount left on the card was far below the cutoff daily limit. The only remaining funds had already been used to purchase breakfast that morning. How was this guy already broke? Was he living from paycheck to paycheck? No matter. There was still the option of using other lines of credit before being burned out… which would’ve been useful, if this Worker hadn’t already been deemed a credit risk everywhere else. A minor detail. The Thief cast a rumour that he was the legitimate heir to a Company fortune. A slight change of notification of incoming funds was all that was needed to suddenly become desirable again. It didn’t matter that there really no money coming in, all that mattered was the appearance of being rich.

There was the pesky business of insistent salesclerks wanting to verify his claims, but some righteous outrage at being unable to buy anything he wanted and threatening to take his business elsewhere was all that was needed to convince the store to hand over their wares. At least, that was the plan. The stores were only willing to hand over so much at first, without confirming all his personal information.

The Thief mechanically recited all the pertinent information that was stored in his head, rattling off the necessary data with casual ease. Satisfied, the sales clerks handed over the high quality re-sellable merchandise to be added to his ever-increasing debt. By the time they grew wise to his antics, he’d already be long gone.

Despite his success, the Thief was annoyed at the high difficulty. For such an easy mark, it was proving to be more trouble than it was worth.

The Thief was on the verge of leaving with his legitimately acquired ill-gotten gains, when an insistent hand tapped on his shoulder. Before the Thief was a large menacing man who looked severly displeased.

“If there’s a problem, you can take it up with management,” the Thief replied.

“You are late.”

“There must be some misunderstanding. Any missing funds can be covered later.”

“That is your card, is it not?”

“Yes, of course it is!”, he bellowed before putting up a facade of mild concern. “Has somebody been acting as me, without my knowing?”

“Come with me.”

The Thief held up his boxes and bags. “What do I do with all this?”

“Leave it. It’ll be dealt with.”

Figuring he could pull one over Security, the Thief followed the Burly Man, and was perplexed when he ventured not towards the Security wing as expected, but outside where a van was waiting. There was no further pretense of explanation coming, and despite all temptations to run away, he ventured inside. He’d carried out this facade so far, he might as well draw it out a little longer.

Inside, the two of them sat on opposing seats, facing each other. The Burly Man stared at the Thief in an intimidating manner, which the Thief tried to play off, but was beginning to wither under his unflinching glare, until short words were suddenly spoken:

“This is getting to be a habit.”

“It won’t happen again, I assure you.”

“I’ve heard that before.”

After that, nothing more was said for the durration of the trip, which didn’t last too long, until they reached the front entrance of a building, where the Burly Man directed the Thief out. He didn’t seem to be coerced in any way. No matter. Wherever he’d wind up, he’d find a way to get out of it. He was led to the interior of the building, ferried up a long series of floors and then finally guided to his destination – the Worker’s office.

“I think there’s been some kind of mistake.”

“This is your card, is it not?”

“Of course it is!”

“Then we’re not mistaken.” And they left him to reconsider his life choices. Apparently, the Thief had been mistaken for the owner of this card, despite the two of them not looking the least bit alike.


“I’m telling you, I need to get to my office before I’m late!”

“You don’t have to go upstairs. We’ve just received word you’re there already.”

Upon hearing this, the Worker abandoned all pretense of arguing, and turned away. Being unable to get past the front door, the Worker made his way back to the throng of pleading victims victimized by circumstances beyond their help, and said to a single Complaining Man,

“Change of plans. I will be helping you out after all.”

Q & A 2 – Side Job

Phew! That was a long story, wasn’t it? Well, believe it or not, this story could’ve gone on EVEN LONGER. And coincidentally enough, this correlates to the next question from our reader, Imp Patient, who asks,

I tallied up a timeline of the events the Girl went through, and there’s about three weeks missing.

There’s a good reason for that. The majority of lost time is a litany of repetitive bathroom details consisting of cleaning, soaping, and washing in a futile task to remove the smell, and other mundane tasks that, quite frankly, are dull as hell. But there’s a better reason for the chunk of missing time. There was an additional ‘Lost’ chapter that never made the final cut, since it was dragging on long enough already, and was cut to get to the good stuff faster.

For the interests of those who haven’t had enough, here’s the missing chapter. It shouldn’t be too hard to figure out where it fits. It takes place before she met up with the Pale Boy and the Burned Man.


She was wandering from shop entrance to entrance, trying in vain to find someone who would be willing to take her in. Every display desperately asking for manual labour suddenly dried up in her presence. One whiff of her odor, and all pretense of wanted assistance went away.

She started going further and further down paths that were normally ignored. Tucked away in the crack of a narrow alleyway sandwiched between two eye-catching buildings was a store that was almost invisible. It was set at an angle that made it difficult for attracting casual customers. You had to look really hard to notice at first, but once you saw it, it was impossible to miss.

She noticed the HELP WANTED sign on the window, and looked inside, where there was a man sitting behind a counter. The interior was filled with odd knick-knacks of all kinds, but she didn’t pay too much attention to the surroundings, figuring she wouldn’t be staying for very long.

“Are you hiring?” she asked with rote mechanism and little expectations.

“Yes, I am! When can you start?”

The acceptance was so sudden she wasn’t sure she heard correctly at first.

“You are? What do I – ?”

“Don’t worry. The customers will know what they want. Just guide them towards what catches their eye and gently persuade them from there.”

The man behind the counter got up suddenly, and made his way through the back entrance, not even bothering to check her credentials, or lack of.

“Where are you – ”

“It’s vacation time for me! I’ll be back in a month. If any problems arise, there’s my contact number. Keep the shop running!” And then he left.

Huh. That was easier than she thought. If that was all it took to get a job, she didn’t see why it should be so hard. In truth, the Owner was Agoraphobic, and used the Girl’s presence as a pretense to stay in the privacy of his home and avoid having to go out. Originally, he chose this out-of-the-way location as a way of avoiding people, but they kept finding him despite the deliberate lack of advertising. The merchandise was more popular than he expected.

It wasn’t until she surveyed her surroundings that she noticed that the store displays weren’t the typical armaments they normally carried. There were snared ropes hanging from the ceiling, stacks of poisons arranged on elaborate tables, handcrafted knives and other lethal weapons encased under glass. All at once, she knew what kind of store she’d wandered into.

This was a Suicide Shop.


She was apprehensive at first, uncertain as to whether she’d be able to convincingly give a sales pitch to lure potential customers to make a purchase to their liking that would very likely be the last purchase they’d ever make in their life.

But then she thought about it some more, and figured that pretty much any item sold elsewhere could just as easily be used to kill themselves in a painful way. Here, potential suiciders would be guaranteed to have an murder weapon of quality material that they would feel gratified of having on hand to bring their unbearable lives to a satisfying end. Who was she to deny their right to die?

Having rationalized her way in getting job experience at the cost of human life, she sat behind the counter, waiting for the next customer to come waltzing in. It wasn’t as if she’d know them for very long. This place was really off the beaten path, and not easy to find. Anybody who really wanted to end their life had to fight for it, and inwardly, she worried what that meant for herself.

After an hour of inactivity, no one else had come in through the door. She figured she could easily breeze by the required conditions if this was all it took to get job experience, when a potential customer came through the front door, ruining her reverie.

It was an intimidating cop wearing a shiny helmet that exposed only the lower area of his face beneath the nose. His expression held a perpetual scowl that was purely business, and not someone to be crossed. Officially, Suicide Shops were illegal, and considered a drain on society, so if he came intending to shut the place down without the Owner present, it wouldn’t be very hard to do so.

“We’re running a legitimate business here. Nothing to see here.”

“I want the sturdiest noose you’ve got.”

The Girl was slightly taken back but recovered quickly. “Alright. Do you have any preferences?”

“It’s not for me. It’s for… a friend.”

“In that case, I’d recommend the durable model. Good enough to last five years or your money back.” The Girl didn’t inquire any further. If he wanted to commit Suicide by Cop, that was his prerogative. It was none of her business.

She had barely gone through the availability of velvet ropes available, which the Grumpy Cop seemed apathetic about, when another intimidating figure came in through the door, towering over the Grumpy Cop. This figure reeked even stronger than the Girl, and wore a mask riddled with holes. Even though his eyes couldn’t be seen, she could feel his intense gaze no matter where he stood. The Grumpy Cop noticed the Girl’s sudden stunned reaction, loss of voice and overpowering stench permeating the room, and turned to see the new arrival.

A West Turned!” he proclaimed in awe. “I’ve never seen one this close.”

“Never heard of them.”

“They’re the revived corpses of dead bodies,” the Grumpy Cop explained. “They’ve been popping up all over. There’s a one in a hundred thousand chance of someone dying becoming one. The exact cause is still unknown. Even so, there’s all kinds of Turneds. East Turned are able to survive in even the harshest sterile environments. South Turned are a rowdy yet polite bunch, complacent but willing to tear up anything that gets in their way. North Turned are… well, we’re still pretty much in the dark about them. But West Turneds… they – ”

“Can I help you?”, the Girl asked, ignoring the Grumpy Cop’s needless exposition, focusing on her undead customer instead. The West Turned never said a word, just homed in on a fancy demonstrative display and raised a heavily bandaged hand, pointing at a single gun.

“You want one of those? I’m sorry, but we’re all out of ammo for these old designs. There’s a three week waiting period before you can acquire one.”

The West Turned gave the Girl an inquiring look, then cumbrously made his way towards the cashier. He ripped the calendar from the wall, leaving an indentation behind and stared up close, nodded once with a clicking noise, then made his way towards the opposite wall, turned around and flopped his body against the wall, his long legs stretching comatose across the floor, making no attempt to move.

TheyHole

After several seconds of inactivity, the Girl announced, “I’m sorry, you can’t wait here. You’ve got to wait elsewhere.”

She got no response.

“You don’t have to use that model! There’s plenty of other options if you’re interested!”

Still no response.

“You’re getting in the way!”

Even more no response.

The Girl tried dragging his legs, but didn’t make much progress. Then she asked the Grumpy Cop, “Can you help me carry him out?”

“Alright, but it won’t do much good.”

The two of them struggled to carry the lifeless body out, banging into displays along the way to the door. Anybody coming across this scene would’ve been disturbed to see two people carrying a dead body on their shoulders.

“Why doesn’t he just smash the glass and take the gun?”

“I was saying that West Turneds operate on a bizarre honor system we’re still trying to figure out. They’re unwilling to default on their values upon fear of death.”
“But he’s already dead, and wants to be deader. What does he have to worry about?”
“That’s just one of the eternal mysteries of a West Turned. And that’s not accounting for the various subdivisions of their groups, such as North-East Turned, and West-South Turned.”

After much exertion and effort, they finally made their way to the front entrance of the shop. “Where do you wanna put him?”

“Next to that homeless bum.”

“Don’t be so disparaging,” the Grumpy Cop said, who then knocked on the bum’s head. “Hey, wake up! Your shift’s coming up soon!”

All that emerged were slurred mumbling words; “Juzz lemme die…”

The Grumpy Cop reached down underneath the surrounding garbage and lifted the body of the homeless bum, who turned out to be wearing a helmet and uniform very much like his own.

“He’s been feeling kinda depressed lately.”

“Well, at least we’ve taken care of…” she looked around for the West Turned. “Where’d he go??”

The Grumpy Cop thumbed towards the shop entrance. The Girl looked inside to see the West Turned lying in the same position as before, right where he was last resting. Given his bulky nature, and the difficulty they had moving him, it was a wonder he made it past all the displays without toppling them.

“How’d he get back so fast?! I didn’t even see him move!”

“That’s why I said there was no point,” the Grumpy Cop said while lifting the Homeless Cop’s arm over his shoulder. “It’ll wait the full time until the deadline passes. It’s honest that way.”

“But that honesty is gonna wreck havoc on this business!”

“Well, it’s not exactly legal is it? Good luck.”

She started yelling at the now incapitated corpse. “You’re going to scare everybody off! Move!”

“Is that any way to talk to your customers?” As he walked away with his partner in tow, the Grumpy Cop bolstered the Homeless Cop’s mood with, “Don’t look so down in the dumps. I got you a little gift,” showing him a fancy noose.

“Hey! Have you paid for that??”

“You don’t want me to report this, do you?? Consider yourself lucky I don’t run you in,” he threatened, lugging his partner away.

The Girl fumed in impotence, unable to do anything, until she noticed a wallet lying between the West Turned’s feet that hadn’t been there before. Picking it up and opening it up, she saw it was stuffed with currency.

“Did you steal this off a dead guy?”

The West Turned seemed almost apprehensive.

“Don’t tell me. The less I know, the better.” She rummaged around for any clue of whose property it was.

“Hey, this is that Cop’s wallet! How’d you take it without his noticing? Won’t you get in…”
The West Turned gave an imperceptible twitch from his head.

“He’s not going to report losing possibly illegal funds, is he? And I can use this to pay off his purchase and yours, and have the remaining funds for myself, right?”

<Chk>

There was more than enough money here to not only pay the gun, but also pay off her tab! She wouldn’t have to stay here longer than necessary! She was about to empty the contents of the wallet in her palm when it was indubitably slapped out of her hand. Perplexed, she went to touch the wallet again, only to have it snatched out of her grip.
“Stop that! What are you – ”

The West Turned gave an intense all-seeing look through its multiple mask-holes.

“Okay, okay, I won’t take more than absolutely necessary!” So much for getting a tip. Even the slightest drop of generosity offered her way would be a great help, but it didn’t look like it was coming anytime soon.


For the rest of the day, no other customers came. The Girl had to tolerate the West Turned’s uneasy presence until closing time. And the lively morbid music playing overhead didn’t alleviate the mood much. If given the chance, she could’ve very easily looted the place for valuables, selling the excess stock elsewhere, but she didn’t know anyplace she could pawn the goods off. And she didn’t want to risk what little social standing she already had.

When closing time came, and things were starting to lock down, the Girl figured enough was enough. “Well, it’s been fun, but you’re going to have to leave now.”

<Chk>

“I’m staying here! There’s nowhere else for me to go!”

<Chk>

“Look, if you want to be helpful, you can stand guard outside. That way, you’ll be first in line when the hole-puncher becomes available.”

The West Turned disappeared into the distance. Finally. Now she could relax. As soon as he left, she reached in her bag and started spraying the room with Intense Incense to get rid of the smell. The deed done, she looked for a spot to sleep in, and found one in the back where the Owner used to rest.

The next morning, the West Turned wasn’t anywhere to be seen, but that relief was short-lived, for as soon as she unlocked the front entrance, a cold breeze raced past her, and the West Turned was there back lying in his favorite spot.

The Girl went to the calendar and started crossing dates off before shoving the heavily revised month in front of the West Turned’s face. “See? It’s three weeks later. Now, take your old-school hole puncher and leave!”

<CHK>

“No one will think less of you for getting it earlier than everybody else.”

<Chk>

“Well, at the very least get some notifications for yourself. Proof that you are who you say you are.”

Even though his expression was hidden behind his holey mask, the Girl could feel the West Turned give a confused expression before willfully getting up, only slower this time. Seemed there was a difference in speed for when he wanted to do something or not.

With the West Turned gone, the Girl braced herself for another uneventful day, save for the occasional surprise customer who greeted her nose-first.

“Hello, I’d like – UGH! Are you trying to kill me?!”
“Isn’t that what you’re here for??”
“For myself, not to let someone else do the job!” and then they left.

Despite her best efforts, she was unable to make the smell deceptively welcoming. Even the Intense Incense wasn’t strong enough to hide her stench, and it drove everybody away. Well, almost everybody. The West Turned came shambling back and thrust some crumpled-up papers in the Girl’s face.

“These scrawlings are intelligible. We need neater letters. Preferably from someone still alive.”

Anticipating her response, he handed over neatly pressed copies that were hiding in his overcoat, and she looked over them. “Well… I THEINK theis is suppoised to be launguish? It’sh madking muy euys uand head heurt.”

Somewhat satisfied, the West Turned slumped back down in the same spot. Before she could even tell him to move elsewhere, a customer came through the door.

“I’ve come to find – what’s that smell?”

“Pay it no mind. Feel free to look around.”

“Do you know you’ve got a dead body here?”

This was exactly what she was worried about. It was one thing for the promise of death to be offered. It was another for death to actually be present.

“Looks very realistic.”

“That’s not decoration. He’s… an example of what your body will be like if you decide to follow through.”

“What’s the big idea? Don’t you want me to die?”

“This isn’t a decision to be made lightly. Do it only if you’re truly determined.”

“No, I think your corpse’s much more interesting.”


Over the next few days, she found his pungent smell was more preferable than her own.

“It smells just how I imagined a Suicide Shop would smell!”

Against all logic, the Suicide Shop attracted more customers with the West Turned present than the Girl all on her own. And he was quite the fount of conversation starters.

“Is it true that Turned eat brains?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never seen him take so much as a nibble.” It was a mystery as to how his body functioned. There were all kinds of unverifiable theories bandied about.
“I hear they have an unique digestive system.”
“They only need to eat once a month.”
“And can’t stand the taste of salt.”
“You’d think they’d like salted meat.”
“What do they use for flavor?”
“They’re carrion pickers, only eating dead bodies.”
“So, they’re cannibals?”
“More like piranhas, leaving nothing behind.”
“I heard they drink all your blood!”
“And eat all your bones!”
“And if a Turned bites you, you become a Turned in turn!”
“If they eat everything, how do any of them become Turned?”
“Don’t sweat the small details!”
“Don’t have him eat me when I’m done!”

“I’ve never seen him follow anybody who’s shopped here,” the Girl reassured them. For someone who was a subject of constant debate, the West Turned showed no interest. They talked about him like he wasn’t even there.

“They don’t feel anything! Look, he doesn’t even react when I stab him!”
“Don’t mishandle the merchandise.”
“I’m just testing it. Making sure it’s sharp enough.”
“No one’s going to want a used dirty knife. They might become infected.”

It was just as well he remained silent. If he DID speak up, the mystique would lost. Even so, the Girl was uncomfortable about the surrounding crowd. Furthermore, the West Turned didn’t seem in any hurry to leave anytime soon, but that didn’t mean there weren’t ways to get him out of the way. If this guy was as honor-bound as they said, then he should be easy to deal with.

“There’s still a few other things I need before I can give you the hole puncher. I need references from at least three people.”

As soon as the West Turned disappeared, the mood of curious linger-ons noticeably changed.

“Hmm? Where’d he go?”
“Did he leave without telling us?”
“We weren’t bugging him much!”
“I didn’t even see him move!”
“Aren’t they really slow?”
“Well, there’s nothing interesting here.”
“Let’s go somewhere else.”
“You’re not as good as the old man who ran this shop.”
“This place stinks!”

With the West Turned out of the way, the curious passer-bys didn’t come around, leaving space for regular customers, which the Girl found… depressing.

“I have nothing left to live for.”
“The pain is unbearable.”
“Everybody I know is dead.”
“What’s the point of it all?”
“I can’t go on.”

What was especially infuriating was that so many of them were comedians. You’d think they’d be funnier, since all it took to make people laugh was to fall through an open manhole and die.


It was with apprehensive relief when the West Turned returned. At first, she thought she was dealing with a dumb instinctive animal, but saw that he was smarter than he looked.

“What poisons would you recommend?”

“Well, we’ve got a display of the finest quality right over here…”

“Any that are particularly sweet-tasting?”
She put a thoughtful finger under her mouth. “You know, it never occurred to me. But I imagine the effect would be the same regardless of the taste.”

<Chk>

“…but I hear this brand has a slight tangy taste that leaves a tingle on your tongue. Or so I’ve heard.”


Without meaning to, she found herself enjoying his dependable company, and started opening up to him.

“I tell, you, they’re SO SLOW it’s practically insulting! You know what I mean?”

<Chk>

“Exactly! And every time they try to explain anything, I have to wait forever before they finally get to the point I already figured out hours ago!”


She no longer had him posting guard outside, and started playing pointless games to pass the time. She shuffled three cups around until they stopped. One was knocked over, revealing the poison capsule underneath.

“The right one AGAIN. How do you keep doing that???”

<Chk>

“I don’t believe you! You’re cheating somehow!”


In this way, the days passed quickly and uneventfully, until the day finally came. The real day. She could’ve simply mislaid any of the papers, citing any number of reasons for letting him stay, but it seemed wrong to keep him around longer than necessary.

“Here’s your long-waited hole puncher, with bullets included. Happy now?”

<Chk>

“I have to admit, I’m gonna miss your presence.”

The West Turned gave an affirmative nod, turned and left with the gun. Didn’t even say good-bye. It was foolish to expect any kind of compensation from him – they lived in two different worlds and their interests lined up only briefly. Even though she knew this was going to happen, she was still surprised.

A hole mask and a hole-puncher… this probably wasn’t his first attempt.

She wasn’t expecting much after that anticlimactic result, so she was caught off-guard with the return of the last visitor she expected.

“Where’s the Lost and Found?”

“Over there”, she pointed, towards the box that was stuffed with forgotten items left behind from people who had nothing left to lose. She’d been foraging for foodstuff from there, and watched the Grumpy Cop rummage through the contents until he found what he was looking for – a wallet with most of the contents still inside.

“I never expected to see you back here. We don’t get very many repeat customers. Don’t expect a refund.”

“As I told you, it was for my partner. He’s very happy with his noose now.”

“I don’t want to hear about it!”

“Oh, he hasn’t used it. He just stares at it first thing in the morning, and it’s the last thing he sees before going to bed.”

There was a lack of comprehension on her face.

“His life may be a torrential storm of perpetual crap, but at least he’s given solace that he has control over his death. It gives him something to look forward to.”

The Grumpy Cop gave off an uneasy air, his presence permeating throughout the room, scaring many potential customers off.

“Hey, I – Whoa, bye!”, one casual customer said before turning around to leave.

“Don’t worry!” she cried out. “He’s a former client! He was just leaving.” But the customer was already long gone. Only one customer wearing a smartly-dressed suit still remained in the vicinity.

“Do you have anything painless?”

“Everything here is designed for maximum comfort.”

“Nevermind. Which one’s the most expensive?”

“Well, the highest priced item doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re more effective – ”

“I’ll take it.”

“Don’t you want to take your time – ”

“Does it matter? I’m in a hurry.”

“Do you want it bagged, or – ”

“Thanksverymuchbye,” and he left with the purchase.

The sale made, she focused her attention back on the Grumpy Cop. “What are you still doing here?”

“I’m waiting for a crime to occur.”

“You’ve got nothing. If a Customer purchases something from here, and happens to die shortly after, that’s not on me. What happens to them once they leave is not my responsibility.”

As soon as the Smartly-Dressed Customer stepped outside, a torrent of blood started pouring out of his chest.

“It finally happened.”

“Uh?? None of my stuff can do that!!”

“You sold the gun to that West Turned, didn’t you?”

“Where?? I didn’t even see him!!”

“From the angle and entry of the wound, I’m guessing from that direction. 501 klicks outside my jurisdiction.”

Her face scrunched in confusion. “Outside…?”

“Any kill within a zone is immediately frowned upon. But anybody accidentally killed outside 500 klicks isn’t liable for damages, and the body can be up for grabs for any interested parties,” he explained.

As if on cue, the West Turned showed up, bending over the corpse.

“What luck that you should appear when we have a body that needs devouring. You may want to collect the evidence first.”

The West Turned agreed, and wrenched the hole-puncher out of the Customer’s chest. The Girl stared in confusion and dismay, “What’d you even need the bullets for?!”

<Chk>

The answer was dumber than you’d expect, and was the same reason an improvisible handyman would load a gun before using it as a makeshift hammer – to make it heavier.

“Such unfortunate timing. And since he was leaving a Suicide Shop with recently purchased merchandise, the victim can’t be held accountable, even if he wanted to die. It’s his fault for making himself a target. Also the fault of those who allowed such a crime to happen. I’m going to need to round up all bystanders before I can fill in my report.”

The Grumpy Cop went to get the Girl’s statement, only to see she’d disappeared via the back entrance.

“I’m not here! You’re mistaking me for someone else!! I’m not here! You’re mistaking me for someone else!!”

The Girl kept yelling these words, repeating them over and over, trying to deflect attention away from herself, averting the gazes of curious passerbys as she ran through numerous streets and back alleys, until she felt she was a suitably safe distance away. Daring to look back, she saw that her pursuer hadn’t bothered to give chase or catch up. Catching her breath, she pulled some papers out of her pocket, notifications of time spent in the Suicide Shop, the only proof that she had ever worked there. Then with a grimaced tortured expression, started tearing them up.

Three weeks of Work Experience… GONE.


And there you have it. Though not ALL of it, for there’s a few more irrelevant footnotes that couldn’t fit the narrative above:

Suicide Shops were a cheaper alternative compared to Suicide Stations, also known as Euthanasia Chambers or Euth Booths, which were in constant demand, and had a long waiting list, because some people abused the clause that the occupier could take as much time needed inside as they agonized over their decision, and started living inside them instead, since they were cheaper than regular housing. Some of them dithered about taking their lives for years, so more Euth Booths were situated to make up for the loss, which resulted in more people taking advantage of the system.

This was the Writer’s first attempt at worldbuilding, and the compulsive need to cram in as much detail as possible. Rest assured that future stories won’t be as lengthy.