Eschew obfuscation; death to gross errors

Occupational Therapy
by Ken Lamb ©2011

They came for me in the early hours of the morning. The heavy pounding of a fist on the door woke me from a deep slumber. The illuminated clock dial said 2:00. I switched on the light, looked around the room. You know how sometimes you’re not sure if something is real or if you were just dreaming? That’s what I felt like. A cool summer breeze blew through the screened window. I listened . . . nothing but katydids and the chirping of crickets. Ah . . . just a dream. I reached for my cigarettes on the night table.

More pounding. A voice shouted,” Mr. Abraham, open the door. We know you’re in there.”

“What the hell is this,” I thought. I put on some jeans and a t shirt, waded through the littered living room to the front door. “Who are you? What do you want ? It’s 2:00 A.M.” I shouted through the door.

The door flew open with a crash. There were three of them, the size of defensive linemen.

“What th’ . . ..?” They wrestled me to the floor. I managed to connect with a few solid punches before I found myself face down with my arm twisted high up behind my back. One of them pushed my face to the floor. My nose was jammed into a pile of paper, a short story I had written about a planet where greed is a capital offense. A rejection slip was taped to the front page.

“Just shut up or I’ll break your arm,” the one pinning me to the ground said. He pulled my other arm behind my back, snapped the cuffs on my wrists. Someone pulled a dark hood over my head. I was yanked to my feet and drug outside. My bare feet stumbled through the damp grass. I had bought the old ranch house because of the seclusion. My nearest neighbor was half a mile away. I was alone with these maniacs.

I tried to gauge where we were going by the stops and turns the car made. I gave up trying after a short time. The hood smelled of mildew. “Goddammit, someone tell me what is going on. What do you want?” My voice cracked a little.

Something heavy smacked into my skull, and that’s all I remember till I woke up in the interrogation room.

I was seated at a bare table. My head throbbed. A heavyset man with a shaved head sat across from me, shuffling through a stack of paper. He wore a cheap, off the rack suit. I asked him for a cigarette. He ignored the request.

“George Abraham,” he said “You don’t mind if I call you George, do you? Good. My name is Charles Jordan. I’m the warden here.” He looked down at the stack of papers in front of him. “Well, it looks like you’ve been pretty busy, haven’t you George?”

“What do you mean, I don’t know what your talking about.”

“Oh, come on George, let’s keep it real here, shall we?” Maybe you remember this piece of trash.” Charles slid a bound stack of paper towards me. The title on the top of page one said “A Fish Story.” It was one of mine. It was about a boy who goes fishing and by chance hooks a strange, intelligent creature never seen before by humans. The creature turns current evolution theory upside down, as it appears to be a living missing link between humans and sea creatures. I knew it was pretty bad. Lately, my creativity had just dried up. I kept churning out this crap . . .

“Refresh your memory, George?” he asked. “This is B movie garbage.”

I began to panic. “Where am I? What do you want from me?”

“Ahh . . ..That’s a good question, George,” he replied. “We know that you’re capable of much better work. When you were signed to your multi-book deal, it was assumed you would keep up with your high standards. It seems you’re getting a bit sloppy, a little lazy perhaps . . .”

“Now wait a minute, Jordan,” I stammered.

“Listen to me George,” He said. His bald head shone under the single hundred watt bulb hanging over the table. “Some very important people are banking on you. Do you think that Red Bird Books is going to keep publishing this shit?”

“Red Bird Publishing!” I exclaimed. “Are you trying to tell me that they’re . . .”

“We are an independent facility, George,” he said. “Publishers hire us to motivate their high priced talent when they stop producing, which seems to be the case here. We employ some very persuasive methods . . .”

“Now, look,” I said. I felt the lump on my head, looked at the blood on my fingers. “I know lately my stuff hasn’t been up to par. I’ve been under a lot of stress. My brother just blew his brains out with a gun. I’ve been trying to sort through things . . ... anyway, you can’t do this, people will be looking for me.”

“I don’t think so, George. Your girlfriend, your acquaintances, hell, even your mother all know exactly where you are.”

“My Mother?!”

“As a matter of fact, we have signed statements to the effect that this is probably the best place for you at this point in time. These people all depend on you, and you’re letting them down, George. Basically, you’ve been committed.

“But . . .what . . .how . . .,” My head throbbed. I had trouble thinking straight. I looked down and realized I was still barefoot.

“It will become clear to you that this is for the best, George. In the meantime, let’s get you processed so that you can get a little shut eye.” He glanced at his watch. “It’s 4:15. The program will begin promptly at 10:00 A.M. You have a big day ahead of you.

Charles pulled out a small two way radio, spoke a few words into it. Two large men dressed in white came into the room, each getting a hand under one of my arms. They pulled me to my feet and escorted me from the room, into a brightly lit hallway.

“Make sure he’s properly cleaned,” the warden called from behind us, “sometimes these writers aren’t very sanitary. We don’t want any vermin running loose here.”

“All right, lets go,” the larger one barked at me. His breath smelled like vodka.

I was taken to a shower room, where I was forced to strip, and then hosed down with a high pressure hose. The force of the water pummeled my body, actually knocking me to the ground. I was then issued a bright orange prisoner’s jumpsuit and a pair of slippers, and led to a stark little room. The room contained a bunk, a toilet, a sink, a wooden desk, and a chair. On the desk perched an ancient Olivetti typewriter and a ream of paper. The guards practically threw me into my new home. The door shut behind me, and I heard the turn of a key locking it. I collapsed on the bunk and fell into a disturbed sleep.

The breakfast tray sliding through a slot at the base of the door woke me up. I was still a little dizzy from the knock on the head. I realized I was very hungry. I bent down, suspiciously lifting the lid from the platter. Scrambled eggs, home fries, some toast and strawberry jelly. As I began to eat a thermos of coffee slid through the slot, rolling across the floor towards me. I finished the food, and was halfway through the coffee, when the door opened and the warden strolled into my cell.

“Good morning George, sleep well? We need to get a move on. You don’t want to be late on your first day, do you?”

I swallowed some more coffee, tried to size up the situation. “All right, I’ll play your game. I guess I have no alternative.”

This seemed to please him. He handed me a pack of smokes, some matches. I lit up, the nicotine reviving my senses. We walked down a hallway, passing other orange clad prisoners as we moved along. They nodded greetings as we passed, though the sight of Charles seemed to make them wary.

“Let me get this straight, I said. “These are all writers that have run afoul of their publishers, is that what you’re trying to tell me? Just what is the objective here?”

“I’m glad you asked, George,” he said. “Our mission, as with any correctional facility, is to punish and rehabilitate. Grammatical errors, poor description, overuse of adjectives, bad dialogue, these are all punishable offenses. Some, like yourself, have forgotten how to write a good story. That last piece you wrote really stunk to high heaven . . .”

“All right, we’ve been through that already,” I was getting pissed off. “What about plagiarism? You didn’t mention that.”

“Plagiarists are routinely executed here”, he said. “We’ve found that there is no way to rehabilitate a plagiarist.”

I stifled a small wave of panic and changed the subject. “You keep mentioning rehabilitation . . .”

We had come to the entrance of a fairly large room. There were no windows. Bright fluorescent lights gave the room a stark, institutional feeling. Other men and women in orange jumpsuits milled around. At one end of the room was a podium with a microphone. About fifty metal chairs were arranged in front of the podium. At the other end of the room was a small table on wheels that held a large pitcher and a stack of plastic cups. The walls were lined with the white clad guards. Charles nodded to one of the guards, and he began filling cups from the pitcher. The inmates seemed to know the routine, and formed a line at the table. Charles looked at me, nodded towards the others. I took my place in line. My fellow inmates shuffled forward. The woman behind me in line spoke to me in a whisper.

“Psst . . . hey, you’re George Abraham, aren’t you? I thought it was you.”

I turned my head around. It was Anne Rice.

“Mr. Abraham, eyes to the front!” It was Charles, the evil warden.

I looked ahead , whispered out of the corner of my mouth. “What was your crime, Anne? Why are you here?”

“Same as a lot of them here,” she whispered. I was taking too long between books. What do they think we are, machines? Anyway, just try to stay relaxed, and think happy thoughts.

Happy thoughts? That seemed strange advice from the queen of darkness. “What do you mean . . .?” I began to ask, but was interrupted by someone shoving me foreword. It was my turn. A guard poured about two fingers of clear liquid into a cup, handed it to me.

“Cheers, George,” Charles shouted from the other side of the room.

I hesitated. The guard held a club in one hand, rhythmically smacking it into his free hand. He watched me closely. I drank. It tasted like tap water. I walked over to the seating area and joined the others. When we were all seated, Charles walked up to the podium.

“By now, you all know why you’re here,” he began. It’s a damn shame that this institution is necessary. By god, when you leave here you will write up to the standards you’re capable of. Lets face it, a lot of you are lazy drunks that couldn’t tolerate a real job. You are insufferable, perverted, half-wits with big egos who think the world revolves around you. So you churn out any old slop, believing your fans would buy used Kleenex if you put your name on it. This will not be tolerated . . .

I began to feel a peculiar sensation. I felt a tightness in my stomach. Colors flew across my field of vision. Every time Charles spoke, I saw as well as heard the words come from his mouth. My mouth was very dry. I felt like I was looking through a kaleidoscope. I noticed the pores on my arm seemed to be growing larger. I looked around. The others all seemed to be in a state of confusion. Some were laughing hysterically. It seemed the LSD was hitting us all at the same time.

Charles had a look of satisfaction on his face. The glare from his bald head was blinding. He held a thick binder in his hand. He smirked. “Judging from the looks on your faces, I believe we’re ready to begin.” He opened the binder and began to read.

“The brilliant orange sun danced across the snowy white clouds, which seemed pasted to an azure blue sky where the billowy, puffy contrail from a gleaming , silvery metallic 747 melted into a wispy , feathery design that resembled cotton candy at a country fair that passes through town on a midnight highway black as a tar pit where a dinosaur may have drowned millions of years ago . . .”

“Stop!” someone yelled from the back row.

“I’m begging you, please stop!” Others began to join in.

“No More!”

“ For the love of god!”

Someone let out an anguished shriek.

Charles smiled. “So how does it feel to have bullshit shoveled down your throat?” He began where he left off, “the dinosaur’s scales shone a multitude of colors that caught the eye of a wandering pygmy, who scratched himself furiously as he wandered foreword, then backward, effecting a moderate change in the overall outlook of his diffused mental state . . ..

Charles went on like this for another five hours, torturing the addled minds of the prisoners. Mercifully, it ended. We were led back to our respective cells. I was weeping as I fell asleep.

The next morning began as the day before. They had seen fit to include a toothbrush along with my breakfast tray. I skipped the food. I ran the water at the sink, brushed my teeth. There was no mirror. I could feel the stubble of a beard beginning. When the thermos of coffee rolled under the door, I drank greedily, slightly burning my tongue. I was enjoying a smoke when I heard a key turn in the lock. A guard appeared at the doorway.

“Mr. Abraham? Come with me please.”

“Oh, great. What fun do they have planned for today?” I thought.

We walked down a corridor, through a door. The sunshine nearly blinded me when I was led outside into a yard surrounded on all sides by a twelve foot high concrete wall. The yard was about the size of a baseball infield. Others were there already, and some were still being led in by guards. A huge pile of large, hard bound books lay near the center of the yard. It looked as if a dump truck had backed up and dropped them like a load of rocks. All were hefty tomes that seemed to be chosen more for their size than content. I walked over and picked one up. War And Peace. Next to it on the pile was a dictionary. I saw a volume of Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories. The pile wasn’t short on variety.

In strode that bastard, Jordan. He still had on the same cheap suit he was wearing the day before. His black wing tip shoes kicked up dust as he walked to the center of the yard. He nodded to someone off to his left . A group of guards appeared, dragging a cuffed prisoner. They stopped about ten yards from the pile of books.

Charles cleared his throat, began his little speech. “The man you see before you has been tried and convicted of the act of plagiarism. As you all know, the sentence for plagiarism is death.”

The prisoner spat in the warden’s direction, evoking a volley of billy clubs to his body.

Charles continued, “In ancient times, a capital offender was sentenced to death by stoning. We have our own version of that time honored tradition. This man chose to be a thief of words, the most despicable kind of human being. Now words will be his doom. You are all here to participate in this just punishment.”

As the meaning of it all sank in, the prisoners began to protest.

“No Way!” “You’re crazy!” “I refuse!” “You’re out of your fuckin’ mind!”

The Guards waded in, using stun guns to subdue the most vocal protesters.

“Let the execution begin,” shouted Charles. The guards pushed the prisoner to the center of the crowd.

We all looked at each other, bewildered. Then we looked at the guards. They seemed eager to use the stun guns again. A guy that looked like Hunter Thompson muttered, “Oh, what the hell.” He picked up a copy of Tom Sawyer and threw it as hard as he could. It caught the condemned man just under the eye, drawing blood. After that, the floodgates opened. Books flew in a frenzy at the word thief. I found myself caught up in the mayhem. After all, I told myself, this guy was a disgrace to all writers. I nailed him in the throat with a copy of In Cold Blood. The execution only took about half an hour. We were led back to our cells. The dead man lay in a heap in the yard.

I sat alone on my bunk. I lit up another cigarette. I stared at the old typewriter. It seemed to mock me. I walked over, sat down at the desk. I inserted a piece of paper and began to type.

***

It’s been a month now. Today is Tuesday, electroshock day. I’ve been making such good progress that Charles says I can stay in my cell if I want to. I’m up to about two hundred pages, and if I say so myself, it’s the best work I’ve ever done. They want to let me out next week, but I don’t know . . . I’m on a roll here, and I don’t want to lose my momentum. Maybe I’ll talk to Charles, see if they’ll let me stay on a while longer. He’s not such a bad guy. He only wants what’s best for me. I insert another page into the typewriter. I slug down some coffee and begin hammering away.

x x x

I don’t know where resides the villain of this piece. Publishers aren’t bad guys. Really. We aren’t. Argue our case, will you, on the BBS? -GM



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