—I’ve been told you’re having a bit of trouble in burning off nipples.
He found himself sitting before Oscar’s desk again, but whatever Oscar was telling him he was sure it was unimportant. It had been 50 DAYS WITHOUT INCIDENT and he was the rising star of the workplace. He became quite talented at his work, and he eventually grew to love it.
The fat man at the beach was right. He felt secure, even comfortable, when he beat someone with a crowbar, for example, because he figured it was probably someone who deserved it, someone who got on everyone’s nerves in some way. He often tried to challenge himself to knock out as many teeth on the first swing as he could (his personal record was six so far). He firmly believed that anyone could be cheered up by giving them a Glasgow smile. He enjoyed taking his lunchbreak, which usually consisted of an egg-and-olive sandwich on rye and a small dish of Mandarin oranges, at the forced starvation ward. He made a killing once while betting on “Old Wobbly” at the Hamstrung Races. To him, the world made perfect sense with the turn of a rack, the shutting of an iron maiden, and the fizzle and pop of a car battery to the testicles, all things which, he remembered with a faint chuckle, horrified him when he was first referred here.
The row of Mr. Yuk demerits on the board were soon replaced with their opposites, a long row of Abu Ghraibs (that is, stickers of buck-toothed smiley faces giving a thumbs-up) that wound around the whole break room several times. He finally understood the ask ladder! Of course they don’t have ten thousand, but when you squeeze them hard enough they agree to give you ten thousand anyway. And once they make that agreement, of course they don’t have it, so the company gets everything they do have. He got so good he didn’t even need the ladder after a while, some customers would just agree to an absurd amount, a gajillion or something like that. It became impossible to ignore him, and sure enough he was promoted to the prestigious Department of Aureoles, burning off nipples with a hot soldering iron. Oscar presumably called him in the office to speak to him about his record there, and even though he knew his record was impeccable, he humored Oscar anyway.
(At first, he thought he’d give anything if Oscar would just stop dropping heavy things on his mangled feet. If just the tips of his extremities were this excruciating, imagine what Oscar would be capable of once he started work on the rest of his body (although he did find it sort of funny when Oscar first offered him a teddy bear for his trouble, only to find there was a cinder block inside.))
—No, sir, I think I’m burning nipples perfectly fine.
—Oh, big talker we got here now. Be that as it may, there is a surprising lack of them being produced…
—That’s right, the, ah, severed nipple which arises from the act of cauterization and removal from the, chest area…
—But, that’s impossible…
Oscar nodded and opened a drawer from his desk. He threw a plastic bag full of tiny severed nipples before him. He picked the bag and inspected its contents. Not bad.
—I mean, why exactly do you think we call it “burning nipples off?” Even still, we’ve been closely inspecting your nipple operations, and they’ve often come up surprisingly intact.
—I doubt that, sir. I make sure to get at least eighty percent mutilation each time.
—”Surprisingly intact,” that’s what the QA feedback says. And also, we’ve noticed that you haven’t been sticking to the ask ladder either. Care to explain that?
—You said yourself that pledges aren’t important. You said they don’t have anything.
Oscar let out a sigh and pulled out the pills and bottle of water from his desk.
—They usually don’t have anything. Of course, we never know unless we ask, do we? Have I taught you nothing since you came here?
Oscar put a couple pills up to his mouth, about to swallow them, and was interrupted by a knock at his door. Oscar stared at the knob on his door, suddenly agitated, and put the pills down on his desk. Two whole minutes passed with Oscar doing nothing in response to the constant knocking before he spoke up for him.
—If you want, I can answer your door…
—I can answer it myself, thank you.
Another two minutes passed. The door knocked again. He rose from his seat.
—What the hell are you doing?
—I just thought I’d, get the door, since you…
—You must think I’m an idiot. I can’t even answer my own door, is that right?
—No, I just thought that this way you’d have time to, uh, take your pills…
—I’ve held a supervisor position here for twenty years, I’m more than qualified to answer the door to my own office, thank you very much! I’ll prove it to you, I’ll open it right now! You don’t believe me, but you’ll see! Look, I’m going right now.
Oscar rose from his seat and walked toward the door. He placed his hand on the knob, and after another two minutes of hesitation, which prompted another knock by the visitor, he finally opened the door. A sharply-dressed man wearing a suit with a red and brown-checkered jacket and matching tie stood in the doorway. Well, well. It looks like the fat man from the beach can sure clean up.
—Jeepers, I’ve been knocking here for ages, Oliver!
—Right, Oscar. Well, how the hell are ya, ol’ buddy?
—Fine, sir, just fine.
The man shot a glance at him, still sitting in the chair opposite Oscar’s desk, his interest piqued. He approached him and, flashing a big toothy grin, jutted out his hand, not wearing a blood-stained rubber glove for once, which he accepted and shook with vigor. He had a firm, assertive handshake. He started to like him. He looked like his name was Jasper or something like that.
—So you’re the one everyone’s going crazy about, eh?
—Well, sir, I’m just doing my job…
—And he’s modest too!
Oscar stepped forward and loudly cleared his throat.
—We were actually in the middle of a review, sir. He’s, ah, been having problems with this whole burning off of nipples business…
—A review? Are you crazy? For this latter-day Torquemada here? Listen kid, the board and I have been chatting it up, and we think you’re ready to be trained in the Department of Scaphisms.
Oscar is stunned by his own outburst. He laughed nervously and attempted to cover his blunder with a smile. For the first time since they met, he noticed that Oscar’s smile finally required some effort. He knew why his old boss was behaving so strangely. The boats were rumored to be the most advanced procedure, and only employees of the highest echelon were trained for it. He figured Oscar was trying to get that position for years, and he was glad he took it from him in a manner of days. He could barely contain his elation as he wholeheartedly accepted the position
—Fantastic. We’ll get started right away with your training. In the meantime, you’re going to need a new office. Hm. How about this one?
Oscar let out a sudden grunt, and Jasper finally gave him his attention.
—My office, sir?
—Why not? I mean, let’s face it, Orwell,
—Right. Let’s face it, you won’t be needing this big ol’ office too much longer, will you?
—Well, sir, I’m just surprised that this decision has been made, because, well, you see, I’ve been a credit to this company for twenty years. I just don’t see why, since this is my office and there’s ah, no reason why, you know, since I’m a credit to this work, environment…
—Ah, don’t worry yourself so much, Rudolph.
—Close enough. Ol’ Rudy here can bounce back from anything, right? I’m gonna have to have you go ahead and start packing your things. We’ve gotta start his training as soon as possible, understood?
—Well, you know, I’m just going to finish up my review…
—Suit yourself. Just be out within the hour.
Jasper left the room. Oscar plopped himself on his chair and took in deep breaths.
—So, your nipples. They’re surprisingly intact.
Oscar picked up the pills and water bottle, then stopped suddenly and placed them back on the desk.
—I mean, not literally your nipples. I’m sure yours are fine, that’s not really the issue. I mean, of course, the ones you service, the…
Oscar was getting ready to crack for good, and he enjoyed watching it. But nonetheless Oscar made him uncomfortable when he fixed him a fierce glare and threw his pills on the floor.
—I am a credit to this company. I am a credit…
Oscar clenched his eyes shut, pulled his hair and breathed through his nose like a bull in a Spanish arena. Any traces of schadenfreude slowly faded from him as Oscar got up from his seat. He sat fixed in his own seat in mixed fascination and dread.
Oscar took the bat leaning against the stack of china, raised it in the air and slammed it on the dishes. The topmost dish shatters, sending tiny shards of porcelain all around the office. He shielded himself from the onslaught as Oscar pummeled the defenseless china, letting out a near-encyclopedic catalog of profanity upon each blow. He finally dropped the bat after a while and took a few deep breaths.
The floor was littered with the fragmented remains of the china. After a few moments Oscar ripped the sign above it off the wall. A replacement sign hung behind it, a blank space followed by DAYS WITHOUT INCIDENT. He took out a black marker from a drawer in his desk and drew an O.
(But that was before Oscar took out the surgical blade, and just held it close to his eye. Millimeters away from the cornea, perfectly still for what seemed like at least five straight minutes. He dared not move a muscle himself. Was Oscar going to cut it out or not? If so, just one, or does the symmetry of torture apply here too? Would he want him blind or would he want to see, to anticipate what comes next? The waiting was as torturous as anything he had already endured.)
He remembered there was a golf course. He was with Jasper, listening to stories about his sexual escapades. There was one where he was at a party, about to hang himself with another girl. He wanted to feel her breasts before they got started, so he leaned over to reach them and accidentally knocked her over. She’s probably dead by now, but man, those were some tig ol’ bitties. This sounded familiar to him. Oh yes. Auto-erotic asphyxiation. Someone he struck up a convo with in the break room enjoyed this activity, he wanted to try it someday too. Jasper then asked him for an especially lurid tale, and he explained that, as he was a novice in that department himself, he’d have to ask for Jasper’s pardon for his own lack of stories.
It was his turn to tee off. The golf ball soared over the water traps, filled with stagnant water and the feces of diarrhea-ridden customers trapped within hollowed-out logs, being eaten, burrowed and stung to death by wasps, locusts, and other insects. He wished to himself that something could perhaps be done to clear up the smell, but all in all, life was pretty good at the corporate country club.
—So, what are you going to do now?
—What do you mean? Like, am I going to putt?
—No, I mean how are going to spend the last thirty seconds or so of freedom you have left, before they drag you away from here and lock you up with all the other miserable saps?
What? Jasper frowned and fixed him a menacing stare. Finally, despite himself, Jasper cracked a smile. A few moments later a hearty laugh escaped through his clenched lips. Of course. He laughed along with Jasper and made a note to himself to get used to his new boss’s special brand of humor.
In all, his training in the boats department lasted a few minutes under three hours.
He came to and found himself restrained to the usual operating chair in a dark room, sure that he did a job or two in the same room. He noticed a stabbing pain in the back of his head, and the rope chafed the skin on his wrists. He felt shards of broken glass underneath his bare feet.
—Well, well, well. Guess the scaphism training didn’t go so well, did it?
He recognized Oscar’s voice even before his eyes adjusted to the dim lighting of the room and saw the rest of his face.
—What’s going on? What am I doing here?
—Oh, just a little performance review for yours truly. The board wants a bit of personnel restructuring.
—But… What are you doing here?
—Well, since it’s your fault that I’ve been relocated to this department, you’re getting the first taste of what I do best!
He tried to struggle out of the chair, but the ropes predictably did not give and chafed his already-sore wrists even more.
—No, there has to be some mistake. I don’t belong here! Oscar, please…
Oscar went to the box of rapport-building instruments and pulled out a pair of pliers.
(this is the part where Oscar ripped off each of his fingernails one by one.)
—Wait, you’re not even doing this right. What about the ask ladder? Maybe I have ten thousand. You never know unless you ask…
—I searched your pockets and any available orifice while you were unconscious. I already know you have nothing.
—What about the hood for me, the gag for me to bite on? The anonymity clause, remember?
—That only applies if the customer and employee don’t already have a history together. Besides, it’s really more of an anonymity suggestion…
—What about balloons?
Oscar went back to the box, put away the pliers and took out a tiny ball-peen hammer, and glaring at him spoke through clenched teeth.
—There will be no balloons.
(This is the part where Oscar broke each finger individually with the ball-peen hammer.)
—This is no board decision, is it? You had me put in here, just so you could get back at me for taking your position. You know I’m better than you, and you just want to take it out on me, don’t you? You’re pathetic!
—You know, it’s never a good idea to taunt someone when you’re tied to a chair, and the other guy has a hammer.
(This is the part where, after adequately breaking each finger on his hands, Oscar proceeded to break each of his toes the same way.)
It took all the effort he could muster to not think about snapping pencils, breaking twigs, the exploding pieces of china dishes from Oscar’s office. Oscar put the hammer down and went to the box of tools.
(This is the part where Oscar put on ridiculously-oversized steel-toe boots and stomped on his shattered toes over and over again)
Shards of glass from the floor embedded deep into his sole, going through the skin and muscles and touching the tips of the bones broken by the boot. He was unlucky enough to not have a gag to bite, and he figured he should take advantage of the only benefit that came with being ungagged and beg Oscar to stop, just as he remembered how all the others had tried to do, but he could barely form words. Oscar removed the boots and returned to the box of tools.
—You don’t look so good. You look like you could use a teddy bear.
What? Sure enough, Oscar produced a teddy bear from the box. Did he actually think this was going to comfort someone with bits of glass stuck in his soles?
(This is the part where Oscar initially offered him a large cute teddy bear, but then dropped it on his toes, there being unbeknownst to him a heavy cinder block hidden inside it.)
Oscar left the teddy bear on top of his toes and headed to the box, this time pulling out a bowling ball.
—You know, I could bore you with some long monologue about how I hate you for ruining me, after everything I did to get you where you are now, how because of you I’ve lost any sort of grasp upon how anything in the universe is supposed to make sense, how I’ve essentially lost my mind, but you know what? Until now, I forgot how much I love my work here. So thanks for that.
—Oscar… please… you’re a reasonable man… we can talk about this… please… just, put the bowling ball down.
Oscar stopped, oddly affected by his plea, and nodded his head to him, as if he finally understood, and put the bowling ball down.
Right on top of the teddy bear.
With a laugh Oscar went to the table again, then made his way staggering back to him, carrying a box marked BOX FULL OF HEAVY STUFF.
(This is the part where Oscar dropped a bunch of heavy stuff on him.)
A few heavy things later, he finally passed out.
He eventually came to, still tied to the chair and in immense pain. There was a tiny gash in the side of his stomach that smarted him even as he did his best not to move his face even a fraction of an inch.
(This is the part where Oscar held the scalpel millimeters away from his eye for an inordinately long time.)
—Oscar, let me go… I’ve had enough… This is more than even I’ve ever done to anyone… Please don’t cut out my eyes…
—Come on, I’m not going to blind you. I’m not a monster.
—You’re… you’re not?
—Of course not. I just have one question before I let you go.
—Anything… I’ll do anything… please, just let me go…
—Of course. Just one more thing. How long is the human small intestine?
—How long is the human small intestine?
—…I, I don’t…
—You don’t know, do you?
Oscar finally put down the scalpel, letting out a sad sigh, then placed his hand near the gash in his side.
—I guess we’ll just have to find out, won’t we?
Oscar jammed his hand into his opened side and pulled something out. It felt like a bloody, gooey snake. Oscar kept pulling. Three feet so far. Oscar kept pulling. Ten feet. He felt like his other insides might collapse, the bottom foundation being pulled out from underneath them. Twenty feet. Oscar did not even pull anymore, coiling it around his body and spinning around the room like a nun on a hill alive with the sound of music. Thirty, forty feet. He eventually lost track. Finally, the intestine stopped giving slack. It tugged at his stomach with a sudden jerk that tipped him over and onto the floor.
(This is the part where Oscar, garlanded with another man’s bloody small intestine and riding high on the euphoria of another successful torture session, imagining promotions, steep pay increases and bonuses, invitations to seminars, standing ovations in auditoriums and board rooms, new offices, sabbaticals, flights all around the world, interview circuits, statues and plaques dedicated to his honor, and finally getting trained in the Department of Scaphisms, and being so elated in the imagining of it all he gently caressed his face with both hands and, not realizing he was still wearing gloves, covered his whole face red with blood. Dang it, we’re always forgetting we all have blood on our hands, aren’t we, Oscar admonished himself while wriggling out of the small intestine wrap.)
—Oscar… I don’t understand… What did I do wrong? I have so many Abu Ghraibs on the board… I don’t belong here…
Oscar stopped, any trace of happiness in his suffering vanishing from him in an instant, and bent down to the floor, staring straight into his eyes, cradling his face with blood-stained rubber gloves.
—We all belong here. We’re all torturing each other, all the time, whether we know it or not, whether we want to or not, whether we enjoy it or not.
Oscar reached into his pocket and pulled out some pills, swallowing them with a hard gulp and instantly perking up. Cracking a big smile at him, Oscar then untied him from the chair and patted him on the back.
—You take care of yourself now, and I’ll see you here in a week, same time sharp!
Oscar left, leaving the door ajar for him. He slowly gathered up his intestine, doing his best to wind it around his arm like an extension cord. With the other arm he dragged his own weight, made useless by his mangled feet, to the open door. The glass on the floor scratched his legs and side, but he did not mind so much as he was finally on his way out.
He reached the hallway and looked for a certain door. There it was. He was absolutely certain, yes, that’s the door. That’s the same door I took, that accidentally led me to… He mustered as much willpower as he could to drag himself up to it, reached his free hand up to the knob, and could not quite reach it. He dragged himself closer, digging the shards deeper into his legs and side. He reached again for the knob, he could almost touch it with his fingertips.
Just a little bit closer.
Two young men in swimsuits and Hawaiian shirts walked by him, then stopped and looked him over for a moment.
—Wow, that is one long intestine. It’s gotta be ten times the length of his body!
So that was the answer to Oscar’s question. How about that.
—Say, are you trying to get to the office beach party?
He weakly nodded his head yes.
—You don’t want to go that way. That’s 573A. That’ll lead you to 6643C, totally out of the way. You want to head a few doors down, 571A.
He finally gave up, dropped his hand to the floor and started to sob.
—Hey, don’t worry about it man, we’ll drag you over.
One of the beachgoers picked up his free hand, the other carefully held his intestine-wrapped arm in the air, and both of them dragged him to a door, his deadweight legs dangling and scraping across the floor behind them. The glass in his side seemed to hurt even more than before.
—Here we are, 571A.
—Wait, that’s not it either. We want to go to to 550A, so that leads to wing B, through door 475, so we can take that shortcut up to 6698C and get to the beach party.
—Hm. You’re right. Let’s head over there.
The two beachgoers dragged him twenty-one doors further down. The pain was unbearable, but at least it would end soon. Finally they reached the correct door.
—Wait, I think I goofed. I forgot about the new addition. It was 550A, but since then they’ve redirected all the routes. I actually wanted to go twenty-one doors the other way.
—Yeah, you’re right.
After a while he started to lose consciousness, their navigating different rooms starting to blur into an inaudible mumble. Before he finally slipped into oblivion, the beachgoer holding his intestine-wrapped arm kicked open a door.
—Here we are!
With the last shred of willpower he had left he opened his eyes and took in as much of the room as he could. It was indeed a Hawaiian Shirt Day party in the break room. Colleagues and management alike gathered together, enjoying snacks and beverages, around a room decorated with the bare minimum of luau memorabilia, a bland surf-rock tune playing through some tinny speakers. Among the revelers he saw Jasper as well.
The guests all looked at the door to the break room, propped open by his mangled body, and an unbearably awkward silence broke out among them. They all shot nervous looks to each other, hoping someone would take charge of the situation. Just look at him, they all silently told each other. He’s filthy, bloody, he smells like shit, and Jesus is that his intestine? Who in the hell is he anyway? Whoever he is, he sure can’t stay here! He’ll ruin the whole party…