Tracked and Signed For – Charlie Chitty
July 5, 2022
Thomas Bindle, The Fulfilment Officer for BoxN’Ship, stopped for a second next to Loading Bay AR-1.
Down AR-2 and AS-1, forklifts beeped and rickety robots reached clawed hands towards unmarked boxes.
He took a laboured breath, one hand on the metal shelving unit. As he breathed in and out, the bottom of his stomach peeked out from below his tank top. Pink and hairless.
“I gotta quit smoking.”
Sam thought, but did not say, that it probably wasn’t the cigarettes.
“So that’s the entire tour. Mail sorting room, returns, new arrivals, voidroom, smoking area, break room, manager’s office, infirmary and those other offices on the third floor we don’t use for some reason.”
Sam Sherwin fiddled with his lanyard. “Voidroom?”
Thomas sighed. His sigh broke into a belaboured cough as he struggled to catch his breath. “Fuck, I knew I forgot something. Sod it, we’re not going back upstairs.”
He pulled out a rather battered and scratched inhaler from the pockets of his black corduroy trousers and took a quick puff.
“You don’t even really need to see it.”
“What’s a voidroom?” asked Sam.
-a void in it.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Look son, you’re on an internship. All you need to know is that BoxN’Ship, the largest fulfilment center in the Midwest, you a room with a void in it. It’s not a big deal.”
“Can I go and see the void? I just feel I kind of need to see it in order to understand it. Why do we even have a void here?”
Thomas shrugged, with considerable effort. “They don’t pay me to ask questions, kid.”
He reached a hand into the other pocket and pulled out, not a battered inhaler, but a Yale key.
“Up two flights, down the corridor and it’s one to the left. I’ll give you four minutes then it’s break,
-it’s back to orientation. You’ll hopefully pick things up within a week, keep an eye on the robots and automatic forklifts and make sure you don’t turn up to work too drunk.”
“I’m not going to show up to do my job drunk.”
“Give it a year, or two. I said don’t show up too drunk. Trust me-
-There’s nothing wrong with coming in a little blitzed. Makes watching the robots less annoying, stops you focusing on how there’s nobody around you, I think about my ex-wife less too.
“Why’d she leave?”
Sam wasn’t particularly interested, but thought it polite to ask.
“Smoking.” Thomas replied, avoiding eye contact.
The room at the end of a corridor looked as if it hadn’t been used a while. In fact, the entire corridor seemed disused. A thin sheet of dust coated the floor and as Sam walked down the abandoned corridor, his feet left marks on it like freshly powdered snow.
He peaked through the frosted glass into the darkened room. Something was on the floor, turning and letting out a sound much like an animal attempting to quietly gargle.
The metal plaque on the door looked ancient, probably made in 2005 or something. At one point varnished stainless steel, now weathered into a sunset iron rectangle with “Voidroom” laser etched onto the front.
Sam turned the key and walked into the room.
The first thing he was struck by was the smell of old technology. Tangy, slightly smoky. Like something being burned that you weren’t supposed to eat. Dust lay upon mountains of keyboards stacked up like a thousand tiny digital tombstones in front of monitors that had gone dark, never to light up the room again. Melamine office chairs were stacked in the far corner and, in the centre of the room, was The Void.
It looked like a carpet filled with an emptiness, circled with a blue/violet/red bioluminescence like a living LED light shining a torch into the sea on the edge of a dark forever.
Sam found a button that had fallen off of his t-shirt and threw into into the void.
Nothing happened, but then again, he wasn’t sure what he expected.
He watched it for a while, swirling a twirling, completely unaware that someone was coming up from behind him. Then he heard a wheeze followed by the familiar puff that he had heard all morning and he handed the Yale key back to Thomas without even looking up from The Void.
“I guess, thinking about it now, it is interesting.”
Thomas was standing a little straighter.
“Uh, so my ex-wife didn’t leave me because I was smoking. I was smoking. And drinking, eating too much, gambling. I’m kind of falling apart. I don’t even want to work at a mailing company.”
“Reminds me of when it was my birthday and I never used to get any cards. Now I see these robots sending all those cards out to people and I wanna cry.”
Sam looked over and noticed the overweight balding man was close to tears.
“I just wanted a card, Sam. And you know what? I got demoted, because I snuck into the bay and started opening a few. Not packages, not money or presents, I just wanted to read some nice comments and I pretended these cards were for me, Sam. I saw some addressed to a Thomas and I kept those. Until they forced me to give them back.”
“This is a bit much,” said Sam. “It’s my first day.”
Thomas wiped his eyes with a giant pudgy fist.
“I’m sorry, I just can’t fucking do it anymore. I don’t want to. I can’t even touch or hold the cards or the post so I don’t even feel like I matter. The robots don’t break down. Nothing I do here is helping anyone.”
Sam saw it a minute before it happened. The steely resolve in the face of the overweight sixty one year old balding man, the way his body tensed up. He reached out, but his hands clasped nothing but the air.
Sam looked down into the void. Thomas had gone.
Michael Fermerger buzzed the door and gestured for Sam to take a seat, his other hand rifling through a small pot of salted beer nuts on the centre of a red mahogany desk.
“Michael Simmons Fermerger the Second, CEO of BoxN’Ship.”
“Sam Sherwin.” said Sam. He thought for a moment. “Intern.”
Michael laughed as if it was the funniest joke he’d heard in his life and then dropped his face a fraction of a second later.
“Let’s get down to brass tacks, Sammy.”
Sam took a brief glance around the room. Trophies for customer service, motivational posters, a giant picture of Michael and his father holding a giant fish next to a river out in the country.
Michael and his wife who worked as a model and their son, Sydney. Generations of Box’NShip, with little change to the formula.
Michael lowered his sunglasses and clicked his fingers.
“Sammy? Eyes front. We’re here to talk business.”
“Oh, I don’t have any money to invest I-
“I’m talking about suing. One of our workers just killed themselves in a way that we are not insured for. We get worker deaths all the time. This year five for hunger, two for robots, three from shelf falls and one from dehydration. Apparently they got lost in The Lower Stacks without any pager or personal alarm. Anyway, we just need you to sign a bit of paper saying you won’t sue.”
He pushed a thin sheet of paper across to Sam who immediately signed it and passed it back.
“Out of interest, how did the worker die? Also did he have a name? If I can find his family and send them a flower bed it may increase the popularity of BoxN’Ship. Also I’m thinking of running for senate next year, so a little PR never hurts.”
“Fell in the void.”
Michael stared for a moment and tutted. Then his eyes lit up.
“Ah! Shit! The Void! Now isn’t that a throwback? Dangerous, sure, but we can’t really get rid of it. It’s not asbestos after all.”
“What is The Void?”
“Kid, I don’t fucking care now that I know it isn’t my problem. I’ll keep the contract though. Might be useful. You can see yourself out.”
Sam stood up to leave.
“Wait, was it crazy letter guy?”
Michael grabbed a handful of nuts and crammed them into his mouth.
“Then that’s a big favour.” he continued, munching and spraying peanut kernels. “Means I don’t have to pay his bloody pension for a start.”
“Seems a bit cruel.”
“That’s business.” said the man across the mahogany desk, flashing an award-winning smile.
Thomas opened his eyes.
Darkness spread out all around him.
The floor was a spongy and shifting mass.
He didn’t feel afraid. He reached a hand to his neck, pressing two fingers under a fold near his chin.
Now the fear started, icy and strong.
He started to whimper. His hand pressed into the spongy mass and went straight through.
Thomas shrieked and gripped, clutching a large swath of something and pulling them up.
He tore one open and began to read.
His mother’s handwriting stared back at him, and he recognised the letter she’d written to him
when he’d gone to summer camp. A smile broke out across his face. He’d been scared, but she’d
sent him a letter and was thinking about him.
He reached for another and tore it open. A girl he went to school who he thought never liked him.
Another, a neighbour apologising for playing loud music.
Thomas Bindle was smiling, for the first time in years.
Somewhere in a distance place that cannot be described, a man sits on letters.
All the letters that have been sent and all the letters that have yet to be sent.
Six hundred quadrillion.
Each one reminds him he is loved.