The Supervisor looked at the clipboard in front of him. These were some of the lowest intelligence scores he’d ever seen. And he’d hired the educationally challenged several times before now. “So, Mister Anders. What are you good at, in your opinion?”
Moose held up his shovel-like hands. “I’m good with these. Show me a job, and you won’t have to show me again. And I don’t get bored. Ever.” He smiled as he wiggled his enormous fingers, almost as if he was seeing them for the first time in his life.
The Supervisor had a policy: he hired any person who wanted to work. And this man said he wanted to work. But where to put him? “Mister Anders, do you mind doing the same thing all day?”
Moose shook his head. “Heck no, sir. Like I said, I don’t get bored. One job is as good as another to me. As long as it pays at the end of the month.”
The vacancy at the bottom of his clipboard was starting to appeal more and more to the Supervisor now. “Mister Anders, I think I have just the department for you. Come this way.”
The Supervisor led Moose down a set of ever descending staircases which led through a warren of tunnels lined with pipes of all shapes and descriptions. Some of the corridor lights worked, most of them didn’t.
For these areas the Supervisor had pulled a large metal flashlight from his overcoat pocket. “I think you’ll need to invest in one of these if you intend to work down here, Mister Anders,” the Supervisor said to him as they walked through the darkness.
And then they reached the double doors. Above the doors hung a large wooden sign which read “Packaging: Authorized Staff Only!”
Inside the doors was a large room that stretched far off into the distance. Countless workers were busy sealing large wooden caskets at stations all down the length of an assembly line. The caskets both entered and left the room on a thick black rubber conveyor belt which slid them slowly down the line of men. It moved just slowly enough to allow a man from each station to approach, close, and then seal the caskets shut. All of the men would tap the lid before sealing it. Some were marking their assigned casket with chalk.
It all looked very impressive to Moose.
The Supervisor led him down to the far end of the conveyor belt. At the very end stood the oldest man Moose had ever seen. The Supervisor introduced him. “Mister Anders, this is Mister Monroe. He’ll be your line manager. Good to see you again, Monroe.” And with that, the Supervisor left Moose in his new department.
“Mister Anders, right?” the old man asked.
“They call me Moose, sir.” he said.
“Moose it is then. They call me Flory, or Pops. Either’s fine.” Flory showed Moose how the job worked. It was simple enough. The crates came in, got sealed, were marked according to the behavior of their contents, and then finally sent out to customers.
“So, what’s inside the crates?” Moose asked.
Flory smiled. “Dead men.”
Moose looked nervous, but Flory had clearly seen this reaction many times before. He tapped Moose softly on the wrist. “You’ll be fine, son. They’s dead when they get here. They gets activated when the customer gets ’em. They don’t hurt no one.”
Moose didn’t know about the work the plant did above them. How recently deceased corpses were purchased wholesale and injected with a special reanimating fluid that consisted of a two-part compound.
The first part was injected at the plant to preserve the corpses, and the second part was shipped in the crate for the customer to inject when they received the corpse. The newly animated corpse then imprinted onto the customer and would do any job it was told to. It was a cheap form of labor and a good way to do jobs that were dirty or otherwise too dangerous or hazardous for a living worker to do.
It removed the need for things like health insurance. Lots of companies were using the corpses now.
Flory explained all this to Moose, who then asked, “So how come they don’t use ’em here, to do this?”
Flory smiled. This was another question he’d been asked many times before. “This here is a skilled job, Moose. Your deaders ain’t got the dexterity or speed required to do this here task. So, we does it. It pays just fine, it’s a job for life, and none of those big-boss types ever bother us. Sound good?”
Moose agreed that it did sound good.
Flory led Moose a few stations back up the conveyor belt and showed him a toolbox. “This here’s your toolbox. Put your name on it if you want. You got your hammer, your spare hammer, and your back-up hammer. And them’s all your tools, okay?”
Moose nodded. Back at his own station, Flory had already shown him how to seal one of the wooden caskets. “What about the chalk marking, Pops?”
Flory smiled. “You’ll learn that as you go. Just start by sealing one. We’ll let you know if it needs chalk or not. Okay?”
Moose said it was okay, and with that Flory walked off back down the line to his own station. Moose pressed the red button like Flory had shown him, and a wooden casket rolled down onto his station. The lid was on, but not sealed. Moose picked up the hammer and a handful of nails and placed the lid into the sealing position. He then knocked three times on the lid, just as Flory had shown him a few minutes ago.
“Ya gots to wait ten seconds. If nothing happens, seal the lid down.” That was what Flory had told him.
Moose knocked firmly on the unsealed lid three times. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.” Moose counted the ten seconds out loud to himself, to make sure the full time had passed.
Nothing happened, so Moose hammered the nails into the lid, sealing the casket. It went on like this for another eight hours until quitting time. As the Supervisor had suggested, Moose invested in a good flashlight, making sure to also get back-up batteries just in case.
Each day was pretty much the same: press the red button, knock on the lid, count to ten, seal the lid. Repeat until quitting time.
A couple of times during his first week, Moose got curious and lifted a couple of lids. Inside each was just a prostrate figure with gray skin, eyes closed. Moose was kind of glad that their eyes were closed. It would have been just too darn spooky otherwise.
The days of sealing wooden caskets gradually bled into each other.
Until his next shift.
‘Press the red button. Wait. Casket arrives. Lid into position. Knock three times, good and hard.’ Moose was about to start counting to ten when he heard three more knocks.
From inside the casket.
“Hey, Flory! There’s something knocking inside this one!” Moose called down the line.
Flory started laughing his hacking cough-like laugh that he had. “It’s all right, son. Take off the lid. Ask if he’s okay.”
Moose slid back the lid. Inside the casket, the recumbent figure lay with its eyes wide open. “Hey, man. You okay?” Moose asked.
The figure nodded stiffly. “I’m okay. What now?” it said.
Moose shouted down, “Flory, he wants to know what now?”
Flory laughed again. “Tell him to go back to sleep!”
Moose leaned over the casket. “Go back to sleep, okay?”
The figure nodded again. “Okay, boss.” It closed its eyes and made no further sound or movement.
Moose called down the line again. “Now what do I do?”
Flory shouted, “Mark it with the chalk—a nice big X so they know it was an early waker. Now you know what the chalk is for. Boys, give Moose a big cheer. He had his first waker!”
The other workers on the line cheered and tapped the metal struts of their stations with their hammers as Moose sealed the casket and chalked an X right across the middle of the lid that almost covered it. Moose pressed the button to send the sealed casket on its way and summoned another to seal. There were no more wakers for Moose that day.
At the end of the shift, Flory took Moose to a local bar for a beer. “Had your first waker. Quite a kicker, ain’t it?”
Moose agreed that it most certainly was quite a kicker, whatever that might mean.
The days turned into weeks, then months, then years. Moose quickly became an old hand on the line, slowly working his way up through the ranks from rookie.
“Hey, Moose! Supervisor wants to see you upstairs!”
Moose hated going upstairs. Visits up there never led to good things.
A well-groomed, perfumed secretary sat at a desk.
“I was called for?” Moose asked her.
“Name please,” said the secretary.
“Anders. Packaging,” Moose replied. To these people he was just Mister Anders and a pay-roll number. Only his friends on the line called him Moose. They were good people.
“Send him through please,” a voice came across the intercom.
Moose went into the office.
“Mister Anders, thank you for coming so promptly.” It was the Supervisor. He didn’t look all that different from Moose’s first day here, just the odd gray hair here and there. People clearly wore well in office country.
“Hello, sir. You wanted to see me?” Moose asked, nervously.
“Relax, Mister Anders, it’s for a good reason. You’re being promoted. We need a new line manager, and I asked around the department. Your co-workers feel you’d be the best for the job,” the Supervisor said.
“But we’ve already got a line manager, sir,” Moose said.
The Supervisor shook his head. “Mister Monroe? I’m afraid not. Not any longer, at least. Sadly, he passed away during the night. Cancer, I understand.”
“Flory’s gone?” Moose asked. He was stunned. Flory had practically been part of the fixtures in the packaging department. Moose had asked around one day, and none of the other workers could ever remember Flory not working there.
“Mister Monroe is deceased, yes. Do you want the position, Mister Anders?” the Supervisor asked.
“I don’t know, sir. Can I have some time to think about it? This is a lot to take in,” Moose said through the shock.
The Supervisor nodded. “Go back to the line, Mister Anders. You can decide tomorrow morning. We got a new worker today. Can you show him the ropes?”
Moose nodded and left the office. Outside, standing next to the secretary was a young man with dark hair.
“You our new boy for packaging?” Moose asked.
“Troy Simms, sir,” said the man, holding his hand out.
“Not sir. Call me Moose. Troy, was it? Come right this way. It’s way down in the bowels of the Earth. You’re gonna need to buy yourself a flashlight if you’re gonna stay, okay?”
Moose led Troy down the ever-descending staircases and through the pipe-clad corridors until they finally arrived at the double doors.
Moose stood Troy at the station next to his. “So, you press the red button, wait for the casket to arrive, slide the lid into position, then knock real hard on the lid three times. Then wait ten seconds. If nothing happens, seal it up and send it off. Repeat until something does happen. Here, I’ll show you how it’s done, okay?”
Moose pressed his red button. The conveyor system flashed into life and rolled another freshly unsealed casket in front of him. He slid the lid into position. He knocked once, twice, three times.
From inside the casket, the three knocks were repeated. Troy looked nervous.
Moose smiled, “It’s all right, son. We got a waker. Here’s what you do. Take off the lid. Ask if he’s okay. I’ll show you for this one, if you want?”
Moose removed the lid. By this time he’d seen hundreds of wakers. They all looked pretty much alike, be they male or female, but this one was different. He recognized this one.
It was Flory.
“Flory, are you okay?” Moose asked his old boss.
The gray corpse of Flory opened his eyes and nodded stiffly. “I’m okay. What now?”
Moose thought back to that first time, all those years ago. How Flory had laughed, hurting his cancer-ridden lungs every time a new man met his first waker. It never got old or any less funny for Pops. Moose remembered that like it was yesterday.
The corpse of Flory spoke again. “I’m okay. What now?”
Troy looked at Moose. “What do you do now?”
Moose had to look away. There were tears welling up in his eyes. “Tell him to go back to sleep. You do this one, okay, son?”
Troy leaned over the casket. “Go back to sleep, okay?”
The corpse of Flory nodded. “Okay, boss.” It closed its eyes and made no further sound or movement.
Troy looked over at Moose, “Now what do I do?”
Moose said, “Mark it with the chalk, a nice big X, so they know it was an early waker. Now you know what the chalk is for. Boys, give Troy a big cheer. He had his first waker!”
The other workers on the line cheered and tapped the metal struts of their stations with their hammers as Troy sealed the casket and chalked an X across the middle of the lid. Troy pressed the button to send the sealed casket on its way and summoned another to seal.
Moose looked at him, blinking the tears out of his eyes. “You think you can manage this for eight hours every day?”
Troy smiled and nodded. “Sure, Moose. I don’t get bored. Ever.”
Moose tapped Troy softly on the wrist. “You’ll be fine, son. They’s normally dead when they get here. They gets activated when the customer gets ’em. They don’t hurt no one. You’ll do just fine.”
Copyright © 2015 Ray Daley