Jan/Feb 2010  •   Fiction

Nasty ... Short

by R. Christopher Knight

We arrived at W.G. Nature Products every morning to find our workplace in a jumble—flat-headed desks tilted away from walls, waiting-room couches bunched cushion to cushion at the center of the room, desk chairs scattered in small tangled knots like sleeping children after a slumber party. Denise, Fred, and I liked to watch them after hours sometimes, after midnight, through the stripe of windows girdling our pizza box building in the business park. At first, their night life was sedate, even aimless—a lot of wandering, bumping into each other, a bit of playful rolling and scooting. But after a time, the scene grew more lively. Through the dim security twilight, we saw desks reared up, shaking a leg and flashing their drawers, couches mounding each other in the corners, chairs twirled and spun to music we couldn't hear from our perch on the grassy knoll. We began to haul along sandwiches and beer, a little dope, party hats for the mood of it. It was good entertainment and better than most parties I'd ever gone to.

In the mornings we'd collect the chairs, far flung, tilted into corners, or nestled up with a couch. We moved the sofas out of their puppy pile and return them to lounges. It was a routine, a morning chore. Everything back to its place. My chair, my darling, my sweet comfort with her chubby arms and over-sized feet. I loved that chair. I'd usually find her at the opposite end of the site, nearly fifty yards from my cubicle, alone, leaning into a corner of a conference room. Always there, like me, a loner, an early fade from the party, rolled off to sleep in a round of solitude.

Lately, we've encountered more damage when we open the doors. The twenty foot conference table suffered a rip in its haughty teak veneer. A waiting room sofa chair was singed, with bubbled sores and soot at his corners, giving off an acrid odor of burnt plastic. And the desk chairs were tossed and dented in helter skelter disarray, mostly upside down. A few nights ago, we saw pulsing red in the security twilight, a rhythmic, urgent, throbbing of the fire exit signs, we thought. And the furniture was dancing together strangely. Not in the usual wild party chaos we knew, but circling, beating legs on the floor hard enough to rock the window stripe. Security's telephone received complaints from residential neighbors over the concrete barrier concerning "deep booms and chanting."

This morning when I arrived, I couldn't find my chair. I looked in the conference room where she usually lands, but she wasn't there. I looked everywhere. After an hour searching the corners and peaking into offices at the perimeter, I returned to the mound where we find all the furniture in the mornings, these days. Cushions were lolled over, soaked through with fountain water, a conference table lay tumbled with splayed legs, chair arms were roughly intwined, and two five-way adjustable rolling chairs were so bent-frame looped together it took three of us to unhook them. There were the remains of wadded and burnt toilet paper arranged on the terra-cotta floor surrounding the heaped furniture. We hauled loose bodies from the pile. At the bottom we found a small scatter of plastic and metal shards—a screw, two springs, a half-gnawed wheel, unrecognizable tatters, and among the remains, the sprocket-bitten shreds of my "Little Piggy Jammers" concert sticker, the one I'd pasted to the back of my sweet, sweet chair. I looked again at the furniture we'd lifted away. On the lips of chair seats clung a dusting of plastic chips. On Debra's lithe, athletic aerobic-chair, a bent and mangled wheel cover protruded from the intestines of its rocker-back control. Smeared graphite gore covered the arms and legs of Jack's high-back alpha chair. A bent aluminum ruler poked in at the edge of the remains. The sleeping pack lay sprawled all around us, exhausted from frenzy, supine, spent. Sated.