Vacant Houses - By Danny Mendlow and Zack MitchellDanny Mendlow / Humor / Science Fiction
By: Danny Mendlow and Zack Mitchell
Copyright 2012 Mitchell Mendlow
by: Danny Mendlow and Zack Mitchell
The houses were all empty. This was no surprise. All houses were empty. That’s what houses were after all, just ask anyone... empty structures in which one could invest. They were sound investments though, sometimes. All depended on that finicky little thing called “The Market.” Everyone knew that if you got in at the right time in the right market you could surely be in for a sound return on your investment. At least that’s what everyone said they knew. Not too many folks seemed to be getting sound returns these days, or have anything to invest. But they all knew that as soon as they did have something, they’d surely be the first to find a good market to invest in, at just the right time, and get one of those sound returns they knew so much about.
Nobody really knew what would happen should they get that sound return, but it clearly meant things would get better for them and their family. It would be pretty damned impossible for things to get much worse. It was hard work building all these houses. But somebody had to do it. Otherwise there’d be nothing to invest in, and no way for the hard workers to at least have a chance at one day cashing in on a big return and retiring from the hard work. Had to be done, just ask around, it was the only way growth would come back. Things hadn’t grown in a long, long time, but everyone knew if they kept working hard, the growth would come back. You can’t go around complaining about things you can’t change. And if there’s one thing you can’t change it’s the fact that houses have got to be built, and they’ve got to be invested in. Especially if things are ever going to grow again. Fact.
Carl Jang knew it. Knew it all too well. Barely had any fingers left to prove how well he knew it. Hurt like you could never know every time Carl Jang tried to move his poor fingers. His wrists too. And ankles. His back was a bundle of nerves and discs so damaged he couldn’t bend at the waist or lift anything without letting out a loud “Aaarrrghhh” noise from his mouth. But houses had to be built. Had to. After yet another hard day of work Carl walked down the rows of identical, empty houses. It was his job to install the sinks. That was all he did all day, all week, all month, all year. He was good at installing sinks, it wasn’t hard to be. There was no plumbing after all, the sinks were just one of many pieces required to build what could legally be considered a house. Like Lego blocks or puzzle pieces. All of the houses had the same pieces, and none of them had any function any more. It wasn’t clear why they bothered to make the houses with all of the different components that used to have a purpose, but they did. Bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchens, stairways, basements and garages. But the toilets did not flush, the bedrooms were not slept in, and the sinks did not run water. They were shiny though, the sinks, and extremely heavy. But a good strong man like Carl Jang could lift them all day and attach them to the countertops. Even if he had to scream out “Aaarrrghhh” every time he lifted one and carried it from the sink truck to the kitchen countertops.
Carl hated the countertop installers. They never took into consideration his needs as a sink installer. They never appreciated how hard it was for him to install a sink properly if they hadn’t done their due diligence installing the countertops. They would always do the bare minimum, never prepping the counter for a fresh sink to be dropped in smoothly. Carl’s job didn’t have to be so hard if the damned countertop installers would just do their job properly. But there was no way they would ever change. No reason to. For one thing, Carl never worked with the same installing crew. Didn’t matter who he had to work with, it was always a different crew of countertoppers, and they were all the same. Not one of them gave a damn. But the real trouble was the bosses. Carl would have complained to his bosses, but he knew nothing would happen. He knew this because Carl Jang talked to all the other sink installers regularly, and they all said the same thing. It was common knowledge that the bosses only cared about erecting as many houses as possible, and if anything they would be upset at the sink installers for being too picky about the detail of their work. The important thing wasn’t to make good houses… it was to make houses. Lots and lots of houses. Quotas had to be filled, and despite the long, and getting longer, hours and the constantly reduced pay, the quotas were being missed terribly. The quotas were never met. Not once in his 40 years had Carl ever seen a quota that was met. He questioned what the point was of having quotas if they were never met… but he never brought it up. Such ideas were dangerous. People who brought this sort of thing up tended to not work much longer. They would disappear shortly after. The constantly reduced pay was barely enough to afford a square, but at least you could have a square.
Carl walked into his square and hung up his gloves. Ava Adwara sat staring at her computer screen.
“How was work darling?” She mumbled, not looking up from her screen.
“Terrible, just terrible,” He said, with a rhythmic, hollow cadence that can only be achieved by having the exact same conversation every day. “If the god damned countertoppers would just do their job…”
“Well why don’t you just talk to them and let them know...”
“Because they don’t listen and besides we work with different crews every day…”
“I know, I know, but if you start telling them then they’ll at least think about it next time and maybe things will change for the next sink installer, don’t you think? And if you get your boss to just…”
“The bosses don’t care about the…”
As this monotonous, dead-end conversation droned on, Carl flopped down on the pad, a slightly softer section of the floor of the square. Like all people nowadays, all workers at least, Carl and his female ‘pairing’ (marriage had been outlawed 80 years ago, along with religion) lived in a square. A square was exactly what it sounded like. It was a 10X10 foot square. Well, a cube to be specific. But it was called a square. A cube was the name for the giant, monolithic collection of squares that housed all of the workers and their pairings. The workers who spent 12-20 hours a day building houses. Putting in as many hours as they could so they could one day have some extra money to invest in the houses and so they could keep the economy going, and maybe one day, growing. No matter how hard they worked though, the workers never could seem to get enough extra money to even afford their little square.
The price of squares was always going up, and their hourly wage was always going down. It made sense though. It wasn’t anyone’s fault but theirs. They weren’t meeting quotas, they weren’t building fast enough. How could the market ever grow if the lazy workers weren’t building houses fast enough for investors to get a sound return on their investment? As such, most workers were now sharing squares, or rotating their squares with workers who worked opposite shifts. It was also common to ‘go in’ on a square, and alternate days of residence while simply working through the off days.
The lighting level within the average square was abnormally dim. There was a strict quota for the amount of wattage allowed for each block in the Cube District. It had been like this as long as Carl could remember. If you didn't have an insider deal, your square was likely lit up with the equivalent luminescence of one tiny candle placed in a bad angle and burning poorly from a dud wick. When Carl turned off the roof-mounted lighting-device for the evening, it hardly seemed to make a difference. The images from the day lingered in his vision.
Carl tried to get some sleep on the pad, he’d worked 18 hours today, but the second he got his eyes closed and his legs curled up he had the unfortunate misfortune of a spacecraft violently crashing through four of the squares next to him, killing 7 and maiming 3. Carl would later be slightly relieved as one of the maimed was a countertopper, and he hated countertoppers. The spacecraft operator was a skinny man, barely a muscle on his wiry frame. He had a fat belly though, and he leaped out of the spacecraft and landed on the head of a dead body, frantically looking around for something alive.
“What’s the meaning of all this?” stated Carl defiantly.
“What honey?” said his pairing, absent mindedly.
“What do you think?” screamed Carl at his oblivious girl, who remained glued to her computer screen. “The alien that just crash landed into our Cube.”
“Aliens aren’t real honey, how many times do I have to tell you? Go back to sleep.”
Carl would have liked to continue this debate with his pairing, but the alien was not here to let Carl debate with her about the existence of aliens that had just blatantly crashed into the neighbours, killing 7 and maiming 3. It was here to quickly abduct the first working class citizen of Earth it could find… which happened to be Carl Jang.