Storytime: Trashed.

December 17th, 2014

“Awww now…..what’s wrong?”
Daniel stopped crying. Well, he hadn’t really ever started, really – what was the point with no audience? No, he’d been snuffling. Snuffling and scuffing and worrying over and over.
But there was something more important now, which was finding out where the voice was. Mom was upstairs working. Dad was out. Tammy was next door. The dog probably couldn’t talk.
So it was either him or the clock. And the clock was in no state now. Or ever.
“Thaaaat’s better. No sense crying, heh? None at all. You got a problem there, kid?”
Daniel looked at the clock again.
“Yeah, I thought so. Well, what’re you gonna do, kid? Gotta do something, right?”
“Who are YOU?” asked Daniel. He poked the clock. The minute hand slid off the cracked glass and buried itself in the carpet. A half-tick stopped.
“Well, let’s make introductions. Just listen to me, heh? Follow my word.”
Daniel hesitated. The voice was nice. It was too nice. The sound of smoke and mirrors.
“I’m no stranger, kid. I’m your best friend, been that way for years. Now it’s time to prove it. Follow my word. Over here.”
“In the kitchen.”
“Under the counter.”
“There I am. Nice to meetcha.”
Daniel didn’t yet know what ‘disconcerted’ meant, but if he had he would’ve described himself that way right then. He was pretty sure garbage bins weren’t meant to talk, and he said so.”
“Awwww come off it, kid! I’m here to help you out and here you are, talking trash at me! Naw, nah, na, that’s my job, kid! Let’s talk trash. Let’s get you outta this mess. How’s your momma’s clock, eh?”
Daniel flinched.
“That bad, heh? Oh no, oh too bad. Don’t worry. I gotta plan. I wanna help you, kid, on account of us being such good friends, even if you never said so on account of your youth-ful self-ish-ness.” The lid hissed happily as it snapped a single word into three. “Just c’mere, kid. Gimme the clock.”
“It’s mom’s.”
“Yeah, but if you break it you bought it. That’s not a clock anymore – it’s a mess. And that mess is YOURS, kid. But if you bring it over here, weeellll…. I’ll take it right off your hands and straight outta the picture. Easy.”
Daniel looked at his feet. Saw the broken glass winking at him. Saw his mom’s face.
“Good kid. Here, take the dustpan. Now I’m gonna say aaaaah, right? Ready?”

Daniel’s mother never did find the clock. Tammy said it wasn’t her fault, and Mom said maybe it was her boyfriend, and Tammy didn’t speak to mom for a week and a day.
He cried a bit at first, at hearing the living room all quiet. But he was only little, and it all melted away soon enough.

“Well, THAT’S a mess.”
Daniel agreed before he thought about who he was agreeing with. There was a lot of garbage in that bin across the way from him in the station. Spray cans. Some dog crap in a little sack. A lot of really incriminating photographs.
That wasn’t the real mess though. The real mess was wearing the handcuffs and the swollen eye and nose.
“Wellll…. We all make mistakes, heh?”
Daniel found the voice. It smiled happily back at him through a mouthful of paper and candy bar wrappers, tucked beside a desk. The sergeant on duty didn’t seem to notice.
“Shhhh kid, shhhhhhooooooosh. In-cog-neat-o. Now, I say we all make mistakes. And this is a big one, right? But look, I’m your pal, kid. I’m your bud. Your chum. Your bro. You can lean on me, kid. Just give me the nod and I’ll help you out. They ain’t got nothing on you nohow once I’m done.”
Daniel thought of his dad picking him up from the station. Thought of the things he’d say once he’d see the things Daniel (and Porter and Conner and David, but THEY didn’t have the bruises and blame, oh no, they left Daniel holding the bag – and the cans) had said in paint on the mosque’s wall. That made Daniel stop thinking and start nodding.
“Smart kid,” said the bin. “Now just cough for me, heh? Cough a bit.”
Daniel coughed, and coughed, and coughed until he couldn’t stop and the sergeant sighed and got up and smacked him on the back a bit. Her belt clipped the box and sent it spiraling down, down, down.

No evidence. No fingerprints. Even the digital camera had gone missing.
Well, Daniel’s dad said that was it, no case. And that got him his share of glares, and that got him his share of speeding tickets, and there was a proper row for the next four years until the family moved. Daniel tried not to think about it.

“Ac-a-dem-ick pro-bay-shun. Now THERE’S a winner for ya.”
Daniel kicked his trashcan violently.
“Hey! Hey! Hey! What is this shit, kid? I’m here to help, this is the thanks I get! I oughta ditch you here and now for this crap, if I weren’t so kind and kringle-hearted.”
“It won’t help,” managed Daniel, through lips so white they’d bleached his small, awful moustache. “You can’t help. It’s on his desk. It’s in the computer. Tomorrow, it’ll be across campus. They know I did it.”
The trashcan snorted, and Kleenex wheezed free from under its lid before being sucked back in. “Hah! ‘Puters. Faxes. Modems. Whaddo I care? You think those matter? Kid, what goes in me, stays in me. For-ev-er. You get me?”
“No,” said Daniel.
The can creaked, and the lid popped up and smacked him in the chin. “Smarten up, kid! You’re young ‘n stupid so I am cutting you a lotta slack, but there are limits! Give me respect! And listen up – all that zero-one-one-zero-one garbage means jack. I don’t care what it is, it goes in me, it goes away. All tidied up. For-I-repeat-myself-ever. You get me?”
Daniel looked at the red pen on the paper in his hand again. He read it as far as ‘plagiar-’ this time before he had to look away.
“You get me. Now just drop that nasty ol’ thing in here, heh? It can’t hurt you anyways.”

It took a lot of doing to get tenure demolished, but Daniel saw it before he graduated. A false accusation like that, even after a formal apology…. Well. It soured things. You’re not nominated for department head anymore, your colleagues don’t talk like they used to, and your classes shrink shrink shrink. You can’t get fired, but you can quit. Daniel just aimed for a seventy-eight average and kept his mouth shut.

“Oh boy, oh man, oh man kid,” the voice sighed. “You sure do know how to up the ante, heh?”
Daniel stopped mid-swear. He looked up, he looked down, he opened drawers and flicked on lights and was in the midst of tearing apart his desk when he heard the chuckle. “Not there, kid. Out HERE. C’mon. Out HERE.”
The office door creaked open, bumped against the dumpster. It smiled at him, disarmingly.
“Long time no see, kid,” it said. “Problems?”
Daniel looked back at Stewart. Yeah. Problems. How to describe it? Well, he tried.
“He was just. I just. There was. It shouldn’t have.”
He stopped trying. The dumpster was still smiling.
“Yeah. He was just something-or-nother, you just woopsy-doodled, there was a LOT of icky-accident, and it shouldn’t have splatter-carpeted. Ooooh my, kid. When’d you get that temper, heh? Good thing you didn’t flash the po-po that card back in the day or you’d be gettin’ out of time right now.”
Daniel looked at Stewart again. No, wait, his mistake – he’d never stopped. It was his eyes, that was it. He couldn’t tear away from those eyes. Was one pupil bigger than the other, or was that blood?
“Can get you outta this time right now, kid.”
Daniel licked his lips and blinked. He felt like he’d been pared down to a chameleon’s instincts. All the ape had gone home and left the lizard in charge.
“Just a nod and a by-your-leave. Or one or the other. I ain’t picky.”
Nod. Sharp, short, darting. Blink.
“That’ll do. Now, get ready for this – here, put your arm in. Over the shoulder, fireman’s carry like they do it on tee-vee. Now, wait for me, heh? Aaaaaahhhhh.”

There was no funeral. Stewart had complained about the internship before – as if unpaid wasn’t normal – and a few someones said he’d been homesick.
Serves him right for not keeping up, they all agreed. Couldn’t even keep his cubicle clean. Not like Daniel. Good ol’ Daniel.

Good ol’ Daniel looked down at the letter on his desk, and he wished he was at the bottom of the sea.
“Hey kid.”
No wait, he wished the letter was there instead.
“Kiiiiidd. You fooling me again?”
No, no, no, what he REALLY wanted was for that voice there to be there. He rubbed his forehead, felt the temples under the loose skin. How many years ago had that popped up? “I told you. Go away.”
“Aw kid, don’t gimme that claptrap. You snorting anything? Typical elected official, kid. I knew you’d go far.”
He glared at his garbage bin – it was small, sleek, and discreet, but right now it offended him more than an open manhole. “Go away. I can fix this.”
“Kid? You read a paper recently?”
Daniel threw a pen at it, spat a curse as it chuckled.
“This ain’t the ol’ days, kid. You go around creeping on your staff, they don’t just go home and smile at the family before they down a bottle of good ol’ Jack. You’re in the drink, kid. Don’t go and stick a straw in it to spite me, heh?”
“I can fix this,” said Daniel. He scrabbled across his desk, found another pen. There. Halfway there. “I can fix this myself.”
“Can fix yourself right outta your pension, you mean. You figure you’ll really get away with a little bitty it-is-to-my-pro-found-ree-grett and retire gracefully, kid? They’ll eat you alive.”
“I don’t need you,” said Daniel. And he regretted it.
There was a nice long, slow moment in his office while they both mulled that over.
Then the garbage bin let its mouth slide open as it laughed, long and wide, wide, wide.

When it was done, Daniel hurled the letter into it without so much as a word. And he sped the whole way home, through every red light, past every stop sign. Two tickets. Didn’t slow down.
He was re-elected in the fall, and nobody heard as much as a whimper from his interns.

“Kid, you have done exceptionally.”
Daniel paused halfway through a sip, coffee gritting against his teeth. He still liked the cheap stuff. It reminded him of a long time ago, a time when he didn’t have to look over speeches and try to imagine himself saying those words to the world without breaking into tears.
“I mean it. It’s been a looooong couple of years since I got anyone into this office.” Hot breath touched lightly on his ankle, moving in and out of something that didn’t have lungs. “But y’know what? I could count on you. I knew it. ‘Cause you’re special, kid. You’ve got something nobody else does.”
Daniel’s eyes were frozen on his page now. He was sure if he kept reading the voice would stop, but he didn’t seem to be able to finish the sentence.
“You don’t never say no.”
He felt something prickle at the corners of his eyes.
“I like you, kid. Shame that the papers are going to get all fussed. Weeeelll, WOULD be fussed. I think you know what I can do about-”
“I hate you,” whispered Daniel. It sounded very small and pathetic and the only way he knew it had heard him was it stopped to chuckle.
“Now why would you go and say that, kid?” it asked. He could hear the humor in its voice, the happy indulgence, and that was what made him go and kick it over.
“You. Won’t. Go. AWAY!” he shrieked, each period a pump of his ankle. “It’s MY job!” Kick. “I’M in charge!” Stomp. “I’m RESPONSIBLE!” Pleasantly oiled leather impacted on smooth plastic with a crunch. “And I. WILL. FIX. THIS. MESS. MY. SELF.”
There was a crack, a snap, and a thump.

Leaders die in office, even in peacetime. It happens. And compared to the way some of them go, a stroke is nice and normal. Nothing to fuss about. The papers even put aside the latest scandals to wave a flag or three.
But nobody could quite explain the mess on the floor. A tangle of faded paper and smeared ink, of shattered electronics – and a small scrap or two of human bone, quite unsettlingly.
And everywhere, trampled into the carpet so deeply that they gave in and replaced it, there was the winking shine of broken glass.

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