Lester's New Job

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Ben Montgomery
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Lester's New Job

Post by Ben Montgomery » Mon Aug 25, 2008 11:08 am

Can I post a story that isn't a comic just this once?

Lester's New Job
By Ben Montgomery

Lester Cornwell had a new job.

The back of his mind knew it would be awful, but the front still couldn’t help feeling the twinge of excitement as he whistled in the shower. A factory that assembled car engines had hired him. He didn’t know anything about cars, but had been assured it wouldn’t be a problem. Lester had never been the type to care for cars or sports or any of the things that made a man a “warm-blooded American.”
Lester liked to read. In fact, he liked to read so much that he had been fired from his last job for doing it on the clock, so he felt pretty lucky to have landed the factory gig.
Although he liked a good novel, his favorite reading was poring over textbooks and technical manuals. Lester was once a quantum physicist, before the world decided it didn’t need quantum physicists, anymore. His scatterbrained scientific mind not only made it difficult to focus on the mundane jobs he had held and lost, but he was often ostracized for being, he supposed, a bit of a know-it-all.
His new job was good pay, he got weekends and evenings off, and the factory was close to his home. He didn’t even have to drive; he could get to the factory in ten minutes on a bicycle. Lester rarely exercised, and he considered this a great opportunity to get into shape. Lester was just enough out of sync with reality to think that twenty minutes on a bicycle a day counted as working out.
The first thing Lester did when he arrived at the factory his first morning was to find Mr. Nutby, the supervisor for his sector of the factory. Mr. Nutby had two rules: No music, and no talking. He was a pathologically paranoid man who often suspected the workers of talking about him behind his back, so he banished all communication outright. Without music, it was impossible to sneak in a whisper in the total silence. The only sound in the factory was the hum of machines and the drills and torches as they scoured metal.
Mr. Nutby showed Lester to his station, seated between a thickly bearded man and a heavyset woman. Lester discovered that there was a clock hanging directly across from his seat, no more than two yards away. He also found a set of simple instructions for constructing his part of each engine at his workspace, and no sooner had he read them than the bearded man sent a half finished engine towards him. Lester attached his piece with relative ease, and was surprised at how well he understood what he was doing.
As he worked, he found that he could not help but see the clock. It did not bother him at first, but after a couple of hours the true tedium of his work began to dawn on him, and the seconds were agonizing. He kept telling himself that he would get used to the crawl of time, but he knew it was a lie.
After what seemed like an eternity, the lunch whistle blew. Lester sat alone and ate his meal. He tried desperately to think about something, but the four hours of monotony had sapped his creativity. All he could do was discreetly watch the other employees in the cafeteria. He could hear a few conversations here and there, but for the most part the room was unsettlingly quiet, despite the fact that the “no speaking” rule did not apply to the cafeteria.
The lunch hour ended, and the employees returned to their stations. Two more agonizing hours went by, then a very non-relaxing break. It was quite clear the factory was just covering its legal bases: everybody just sat at their station for ten minutes, saying and doing nothing. It was worse than working. He thought about whispering to the employees sitting on either side of him, but they had a strange, unapproachable aura about them that shook Lester.
Lester attended a Christian Methodist church often. When the pastor would dismiss the congregation, they would suddenly burst into conversation, as if it had been swelling up inside of them. However, when the factory whistle blew (a jarring anachronism, Lester thought) signifying the end of the workday, the only sound in the factory was the scuffling of chairs. Even when the other workers walked outside to their cars and bikes, they were totally silent. Lester suspected they did not know each other’s names.
Lester did not usually watch television, but the mere thought of reading exhausted him. He cooked himself a simple dinner, and slumped into an easy chair. There was a sitcom on television, a genuinely funny one. Sitcoms were his favorite genre of television series; the artistry of creating and solving a conflict in exactly thirty minutes enticed him. What if everything in the universe was that episodic?
Lester did not remember going to bed, but he awoke there, nonetheless. He did not have the vigor he possessed yesterday. He did not whistle in the shower. Lester realized, with great disappointment, that he already hated his job. He arrived at work and plopped down dejectedly into his station, and regarded the clock with a visible sneer.
Lester mustered his resolve, and decided to try an experiment to get his mind off of his boredom. By counting seconds on the obnoxious clock, he measured how much time it took him to attach his piece onto each engine.

Tick.Tick.Tick.

Four-and-a-half minutes. Perhaps measuring his day in four-and-a-half minute units would be easier than simply watching the clock. To Lester’s delight, it helped immensely; his new method of measuring time was almost like a game, and anything remotely resembling entertainment was invaluable in this poisonous place. Each unit was a new little adventure. It even made the horrible breaks easier.
After lunch, however, Lester found his game no longer worked. Now, it seemed just as tedious as his work. He toiled the last four hours in the familiar agony of his first day, until the whistle finally blew once more. He went home again, and watched more television. He hoped the exhaustion he felt would soon pass, and that he would have the energy to read again. At the end of every day, he dreaded tomorrow.
Lester worked the rest of the week, finally arriving at his first weekend. His days were filled with agonizing silence and a crawling pace. His evenings slipped away from him. He marveled at how unfair time seemed to be treating him; when things were horrible, time shuffled on; when he was having fun, time zoomed by. The weekend was fleeting, and Lester found himself at the beginning of a new workweek all too soon.

--- --- ---

On Monday morning, Lester decided to try his game again, but he made the units of time larger; he spotted an incomplete engine two steps in the assembly line before his, and made a note of it. When the engine arrived at his workstation, he mentally ticked off one time-unit. The larger units made all the difference; time certainly seemed to be going faster. Lunch came and went. When he returned, he tried another trick: This time, he concentrated on the very passing of time itself. He compared each moment that went by with the next, counting each eternal second. It did slow time a little, but it was fascinating, even entertaining.

Nothing would ever be more important in Lester Cornwell’s life than what happened next.

At first, he wasn’t exactly sure anything was different. But, as he watched the seconds on the clock, he was almost sure he could see them. Not just the ticking hands; he could see seconds. It was like focusing on a single molecule of water in a stream and watching it travel for miles. He watched, held, relished this second, his second, as it shimmered in the air around him. Lester entered a sort of trance, and let the shimmering envelop him, as if he and the universe were--

Black.
White.
Pain.
Pain.
Pain.

Lester woke with a throbbing headache. He was lying prone on what must have been a cot of some sort, and a damp rag was on his forehead. Mr. Nutby was also standing over him, accompanied by a thin woman in a nurse’s outfit. He explained to Lester in a syrupy voice that he had suddenly passed out on the factory floor, his nose bleeding profusely, and that he would not be receiving pay for the time spent unconscious. He then ordered the nurse to administer an immediate drug test, and left the tiny clinic. Of course, Lester passed the test (and he could not help but notice a shadow of disappointment cross the nurse’s face), and he went home for the evening.
Mr. Nutby’s immaturity usually rolled off of Lester, but this was too much. He was certain what had happened to him had been Mr. Nutby’s fault; if he’d just let them talk, or listen to music, he might not have been so desperate to make his own entertainment, and whatever happened to him might have been averted…
What had happened to him? One moment he had been working, then something happened…and then he woke in the clinic. But, what was the something? Lester could not help but think the something was immensely significant, but he could not quite grasp the memory.
Lester did not feel as exhausted that night, probably due to the two-hour nap he’d had in the nurse’s clinic. He finally felt like reading, and he picked up a book on physics. He found the place where he had left off last, probably years ago, in a chapter on the Heisenburg uncertainty principle: An outcome of an experiment is changed when it is measured. Lester had always revered Heisenburg as a master con man. If anybody ever tried to disprove the uncertainty principle, the disproof would be instantly debunked on the grounds that close observation was to blame, not the principle itself. It was a bullet-proof, and had to be completely accepted by faith. It was a little too perfect in Lester’s opinion, and he didn’t take much stock in it.
Lester found his work was less exhausting since his incident, although all the more tedious. He tried to not think about the time, and instead focus on his work, but it was to no avail. The villainous clock would not let him forget. He looked two engines down the assembly line from the place where he sat. With great determination, he assured himself that the engine would be sitting in front of him soon. Oddly, he found himself surprised when it did. He tried again; looking two engines down, he made a note of it, and then quickly ignored it. It came even faster this time. Each time he tried his game, the engine seemed to arrive at his workstation quicker than the time before. Same engine, different time; had anything important really changed?
Suddenly, the air around him shimmered again, and the sensation of being waste-deep in a stream enveloped him. He watched engine after engine rush past him, and he was at the end of his workday after what seemed like mere moments. But, at the same time, he found he could remember his whole day as if it had passed by normally; he’d had a ham sandwich for lunch, and the plump woman who sat beside him sneezed during one of his breaks, and nobody had blessed her.
Lester knew he had stumbled upon something great, and he studied over his quantum physics books that night. No matter how he read, though, he could not explain what he had done. He felt like he remembered how he did it, but he wondered if he should. It didn’t seem natural; and if it was, it certainly wasn’t normal. His ability could really tear the universe a new one. On the other hand, maybe everybody had this ability, but it had lain dormant in mankind until now. Lester decided it was worth the risk, and he cooked himself an extravagant dinner (spaghetti) and curled up with his quantum physics book. He looked forward to tomorrow for the first time since he started his job.

--- --- ---

The next several weeks were so easy, it almost made Lester feel guilty. Each day he sped towards his relaxation time in the evening with his new powers. He felt important now, like some sort of superhero, or even a god.
Lester also tried, on occasion, to make time go slower in the evenings and on weekends, but he couldn’t think of a game to play to get the process moving. He thought he almost had it once, but the technique took such great concentration that he decided that it defeated the purpose of relaxation, and gave it up altogether. He also wished that he could reverse time, but he threw his back out trying once.
Lester came into work one morning, feeling good about himself and his general lot in life. He’d just gotten his first raise, and had already thought of the things he wanted to do with it. He began to concentrate on the clock and the workstation two engines down from his.
He instantly knew something was wrong. He was moving fast, as if the stream had swept his feet out from under him and was carrying him helplessly away. He had never found a way to actively stop; he had just sort of relaxed at the end of the day, and that had done the trick. Unfortunately, Lester was already panicking, making the time-stream get even more out of control. Days went by as if they were seconds, and the pace of time was continually accelerating. If he didn’t figure something out, his life could end in a matter of minutes. Time was moving so fast, now, that even if he could calm down and focus, it was completely out of his hands.
Heisenburg. It was his only hope. He had to measure the time somehow. He looked at the clock, but between the shimmering of the air and the whirling of the hands on the clock, he could not read the time. He grabbed the thickly bearded man by his lapels and yelled for the time. Lester felt as if he had breached the surface of a whitewater river, gulping for air. Time resumed normally for Lester for a moment, but he felt himself slipping again. He demanded the time from the bearded man again. The man, obviously scared, stammered his answer, and Lester felt the time stream return to normal. His head thundered in protest. It felt like it was going to split apart just to escape the pain. Lester saw black.
He awoke in the same clinic as before, with the same thin nurse and the same Mr. Nutby standing over him. Mr. Nutby had a strange, quiet fury about him. With a calm, clear voice, one that school principals use to tell students that they are in trouble, Mr. Nutby informed Lester that he was fired on account of talking while on the clock and generally being a liability. Lester was to turn in his uniform, timecard, and any other company materials and vacate the premise as soon as he was able to stand.
Lester was furious as he rode home. It didn’t help matters that it was cold and raining. As he rode in the blinding deluge, he cursed his time manipulation. If he’d just minded his own business at work, and not mess with things he knew he shouldn’t, he’d still have a job. Maybe if he didn’t read so much, and got out of the house more, he wouldn’t be so lonely. For so long, he had been so angry about losing his scientist position. If he’d just been happy with what he had, he might have enjoyed his jobs. He might have even been able to find a teaching position or—
A brilliant white light startled Lester and flooded his vision. He heard the sickening scrape of metal on metal. Lester flew forward off of his bicycle. Every part of him was a furious spear of pain, and he was certain he was bleeding profusely out of several deep gashes he had on him. Lester realized, with a sick lurch in his stomach, that he had collided with an oncoming car in the driving rain.
It occurred to Lester that he had been in the air much longer than he should have. He opened his eyes and looked around, and saw the familiar shimmering of the air. His reflexes must have triggered his power to freeze a moment, but it had triggered too late. Since most of the atoms in his body were time dilated, the pain had mostly subsisted. Lester knew, though, that once the dilation wore off, he was dead. If the impact didn’t kill him, he would bleed to death in a matter of moments.
Heisenburg had saved him once, maybe it could do it again. He remembered the passage in his quantum physics book, the second tenet of Heisenburg’s great con: the speed and position of an object cannot be measured simultaneously. Blink while looking at a ceiling fan, and you can see where the blades are in space, but to tell their speed, you’ll have to open your eyes again.
Lester did his very best to do the impossible, to see the whole of the ceiling fan, and saved himself. He now owed his life twice over to Heisenburg. He felt his atoms and molecules and even his subatomic particles stretch apart and dissolve, but he felt no pain. Rather, it felt liberating, as if he’d been cramped in a glass box for thirty years. He looked down and saw his bicycle, suspended in the air above the car that had struck him. He did not look with his eyes, but rather it was like seeing real sight for the first time. He looked at the whole state, then the whole country, then the whole world. Lester gave a little push, and freed himself from the last of his material bonds.
The feeling was more than cathartic. It was more than satisfying a hunger. He didn’t know how he had ever existed without this kind of mental and physical freedom. Lester became aware that he was pure energy, now. He learned so much in just a few moments. He averted six asteroids, whose courses would have caused them to collide with Earth in fifteen years. He expanded more. He strengthened the stars in sixteen solar systems, encouraging their life spans by at least two million years each. He found other sentient beings in the universe, which didn’t surprise him a bit.
He knew he couldn’t stay forever like this. Well, technically, he could, but it would be a terrible, lonely existence. He wanted to be human. He wanted to walk and talk and feel. He wanted other humans, even if they were like Mr. Nutby. He closed his metaphorical eyes, and listened to the universal clock.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Lester swam backwards in the stream, passing by familiar sights and sounds, some of them warm, some of them hurtful, but he welcomed it all. Then, he found the point he was looking for, and dove in, letting the time stream wrap around around him in a dancing embrace. All was silence and warmth.

--- --- ---

Lester’s obnoxious alarm clock rang at 7:00 a.m. He stuck his tongue out at it, and got up, stretching and scratching where appropriate. He hopped in the shower, whistling his favorite tunes. He grabbed his toast and coffee on his way out of his house, and started his walk to his first day at Phillip A. Kearns High School. He met many of the faculty on his way to the physics lab, and most of them seemed very nice.
The other scientists at the research institute had been sorry to see him go, but he just couldn’t be a research scientist after what had happened to him. He would never be able to submit a theory that he knew to be true. Besides, he was excited about his new job. If he could impart just the right knowledge to just the right student, maybe he would make the same discovery Lester had, and could prove it to the world. Maybe that was Lester’s purpose.
He arrived at the lab well before any of the students did. He unlocked the door, turned on the lights, and glanced around the lab. He took a deep breath and let a smile creep onto his face. He was home.
The first thing he did was unplug the clock.


T H E E N D[/i]
"Many can Bullshit; few can write."
-- Dr. Gardner, Associate Professor of English, University of North Alabama

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Josh-Ulrich
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Post by Josh-Ulrich » Mon Aug 25, 2008 12:42 pm

This is pretty good man. I enjoyed the read. I felt the pain of Lester's monotony, but at the same time didn't get bored with the story. I think the one place you could do a little touching up is at the point where you write "Lester did his very best to do the impossible, to see the whole of the ceiling fan, and saved himself." That line itself seems to give to much away and breaks the tension too fast. You had me gripped when I found out that he was probably going to die, but all to fast we know he's going to be okay. The bit after that were he goes into the strange state of being seems to feel a bit rushed as well and pulls me out of the story a little. Overall, good stuff though.

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