If you ever find yourself in the city on the corner of Broad and Vernon, you’ll see a dirty pile of rags sitting on the sidewalk. It lies in front of the sleek, mirrored windows of the office building behind it. What you’ll realize if you approach this pile of rags is that it’s actually a person.
His name is Bert. Bert greets everyone with a smile. He doesn’t hold out his hands as people walk by, he doesn’t have a box or a cup to collect the spare change he so desperately needs. Rather, he offers a smile and a compliment to everyone that passes.
The only time of the day he might forget your compliment is during rush hour. Once the clock strikes 3 PM, fit men in suits and slender women in pencil skirts emerge from the sleek office building.
Bert smiles and waves from his position on the ground. He nods to the businessmen and women as they pass by, sometimes shouting “that color looks lovely on you” or “your shoes look sharp today!” The employees of the business office often ignore him, but sometimes he’ll get thrown enough change to afford a Big Mac for dinner that night.
Bert has been sitting at the corner of Broad and Vernon for 12 years now. But today is going to change everything for him.
It’s nearing 3 PM and Bert is in his spot, smoothing down his hair and arranging the blue and black plaid flannel shirt he’s wearing. He rubs the crust from his eyes and stands. Resting against the concrete wall behind him, he waits for the first few employees to trickle out onto the sidewalk.
“That’s a nice shade of lipstick you’re wearing there, miss.”
“Sir, your tie is one of my favorite colors!”
After some time, the sidewalk becomes congested with workers darting this way and that. Sticking out their arms to catch taxis, waiting for buses, and talking loudly into their cell phones. In the commotion, Bert simply waves and smiles at passers-by. As if from a cloud of people, a thick, rectangular envelope drops onto the blanket Bert is standing on.
He picks it up and shouts “Hey! You dropped something!” but no one turns around. Bert pockets the envelope and decides to hold onto it in case someone comes back to claim it. Throughout the rest of the day Bert keeps a sharp eye out for anyone that might have lost the envelope, but no one comes to claim it.
As night falls, Bert’s curiosity grows and he decides to open the envelope. Inside is a large stack of money; all $5 bills. Bert counted out $75; tears of gratitude made lines through the grime on his face. As he flipped through each bill, a note flitted out and down to the ground from the stack. Upon picking it up, Bert read:
There’s more where this comes from,
come to 1241 Greenhouse Rd. and I’ll meet you there.”
The homeless man had finally been given a chance to change his life after 12 years. He found it odd that no time or date was listed, but was excited nonetheless to have been given this opportunity. Had it not been dusk, he would have found his way to the address sooner but he decided to wait until morning to make his trip.
The next day, Bert packed up everything he owned into a grubby backpack. He washed up in the gas station bathroom, bought a suit and shoes at the thrift store, and made his way to Greenhouse Rd. Having lived in the city for so long, he made it there in 10 minutes.
The address led him to an empty office space. Assuming his guest meant to meet inside, he tried the door. It swung open and he stepped inside.
“Welcome,” a voice said as Bert entered.
“Uh…hello?” he called into the empty space. There was no furniture in the office, only a small desk with a desktop computer monitor on top. It was in the center of the room and the screen lit up as Bert approached it.
“Welcome Bert Matthews,” the same voice said. At the same time, letters appeared on the computer screen spelling out what was spoken.“Please do not attempt to leave. The door is monitored by an automated turret designed to shoot on command.”
The voice was almost chipper as if it was an advanced automated system with an actual personality. Bert looked out of the glass office door up at a brick wall on the other side of the street. Sure enough, there was a small mounted machine gun that looked to be the size of a security camera.
“What is happening here? I was sent a note,” said Bert, growing increasingly frustrated.
“Yes, we have created a special opportunity for you, Bert. And we thank you for accepting.” The computer said, stating his name as if it was a selected option from a menu.
“I haven’t agreed to anything.”
“By spending the money we initially granted you, our contract was set and you accepted our terms and conditions. We thank you greatly and look forward to working with you.”
Without responding, Bert bolted for the door and ran out into the alley-way. Before he could go any further, a gunshot rang out. In front of Bert, carved into the pavement by his feet, was a large bullet hole, about the size of a half dollar. The turret locked a laser sight onto his chest and slowly followed him back to the door of the office space as he went back inside.
“What do you want from me?” he asked. His entire body was shaking and his eyes had begun welling up with tears.
“We are willing to give you 10,000 U.S. Dollars in exchange for a small task.”
“I’m listening” Bert replied, still shaken but now interested in what the computer had to offer.
“We need you to deliver a package. It will be on the sidewalk where you normally sit. Deliver the package to the CEO of Telecorp, the office building behind your sidewalk. When you arrive, face the security camera to your right and state your name and date of birth. Do not talk to anyone. Take the elevator to the 15th floor and enter the office of Marcus LeChance. Place the box on his desk and leave.”
“What’s in the package?” Bert asked, placing his hands behind the straps of his backpack.
“I am not at liberty to say” the computer replied.
“I have a right to know what I’m delivering.”
“You have no rights to know anything related to this exchange according to the contract.”
“I never signed a damned contract!” Bert yelled, his yellow teeth grinding in anger between his reddening cheeks.
“By spending the money we initially granted you, our contract was set and you accepted our terms and conditions. We thank you greatly and look forward to working with you” the computer repeated.
“God Damnit” Bert swore. “Am I gonna get shot if I leave to get your package?”
“You have 20 seconds to recover the package and leave the area. Thank you for your time, goodbye.”
The haggard man turned quickly and exited the building. He nearly tripped on a 12”x 12” box set in front of the door. He tucked it under his arm and ran out of the alley just as a red-dot had appeared on his chest.
While Bert had lived on this corner for the last 12 years, he’d never been inside the office building. He didn’t know what it was for, and until today, he hadn’t been aware of what the company was called. The sweeping path that led through the neatly landscaped front lawn led to a revolving door at the front of the giant building.
Bert walked inside. The walls were white with dark blue trim and the furniture was all made of white leather. A young woman with red hair pulled back into a tight ponytail sat behind the desk directly in front of him. He turned to his right and searched for the camera on the wall.
“Robert Matthews, April 4th, 1964”
The receptionist glared at him as he passed by her desk and she simply rolled her eyes as he pressed the elevator button. Once Bert arrived on the 15th floor, he placed the package on an empty desk in a room labeled “Marcus LeChance.”
Unsure of what to do next, Bert left and headed back to collect his reward. The clock was nearing 3 PM and Bert relished in the fact that he would no longer have to wait for this time of day to arrive. A broad smile covered his face as he passed the receptionist on his way out.
Within seconds of his departure through the revolving door, he heard screaming behind him. A Woman in a pencil skirt and white blouse ran past him. She was covered from head to toe in blood. Bert stopped and asked if she was alright, but all the woman could do was scream.
Soon after, more people emerged from the building covered in blood. Some had blood pouring from their eyes, others from their ears and even the follicles on their skin. They were all screaming in agony as they fell onto the neatly manicured lawn. Some had even stopped moving altogether.
Victims peppered the lawn as Bert made his escape. He recognized some of the faces that passed by him, moaning and screaming. He had only complimented this man’s shoes this morning and now they were ruined with blood.
With tears running down his eyes, he tried to resuscitate the receptionist that had darted past him and fell. Her eyes were bleeding and her hair was matted with blood. Bert pushed on her chest, but all it did was force more blood from her open mouth.
He wanted to help those that had been so kind to him over the years, but he knew if he caught this terrible disease, he would never see the money he was promised. He made the difficult decision to leave and save himself.
Blood stained the new suit and shirt he was wearing, and he looked like a lunatic running through the streets back to the empty office space. Once he arrived, he sped to the door, trying his best not to look at the turret still mounted on the wall.
The computer was gone. In its place was a stack of $100 bills. He assumed it was the $10,000 he was promised and grabbed it, shoving it into the large pocket of his suit jacket. Peering through the glass door at the turret, he assumed the deal was the same, 20 seconds. He took a deep, emotional breath and opened the door. Without a second of hesitation, the gun fired and shot Bert through the head. He was dead before he hit the pavement.
Last Week’s Story: Lights Out
Next Week’s Story: Her Name is Luna
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