As the calming elevator music played, I was anything but. My hands were in my pockets, making sure it was all there. All forty-one hundred dollars. Mere moments ago, I was joking on the busy street with my friend that I ought to stop hiding so much cash in books, that someone else is more likely to find it all than I am, that so much money could kill. I suppose my laughed-out words were loud, loud and clear enough for others to hear, because the next thing I know, I am being grabbed by a man. Grabbed and patted. He moved to my backpack pretty quickly and tried to take it from me. Thank God I am a dweeb that clicks the little latch in front of the chest, because it went nowhere. I then realized what was going on and ran, I ran without saying a word. As for the man, I didn't even get to see his face, but I could hear clomping and heaving behind me in passionate pursuit. Who wouldn't be passionate over an easy forty-one hundred bucks?
My dweeb-ness saved me twice in the next moment, as when I entered a reasonably modest office building, my tucked-in button-up shirt and sometimes-fashionable corduroy pants, I didn't look too out-of-place. Just another young entrepreneur with city clothes and an outdoors-y backpack. The receptionist tried to ask who I was but, in a moment of brilliance, I merely blurted "LATE TO A MEETING, SORRY" and kept running to the clearly labelled elevators. Next to them was a clock, which showed two thirty-three p.m. Three minutes late to a meeting seems plausible. With a ding, I went in and hastily pressed the first button I saw: "29".
The music kept trying to calm me down, but I was truly shaken. I counted the bills. Forty-one indeed. Man, am I lucky to have tight pockets. Even if he decided to look in there, he would've had trouble getting his grubby hands in there. Regardless, it was there, and I seemed to be safe. The concern now would be leaving the building. Would he be waiting down there? Would he have time to call in a friend perhaps? Twenty-one and-a-half hundred dollars is still quite plenty. Should I call a cop to escort me? Or would that be too much? Oh, what about my friend? I just left them behind. I hope they’re alright… With that question concluded and right before I got to begin my next one, the doors opened at my hardly-chosen destination.
They opened to the scene of four men in suits, proper nice suits. Four men with identical hair but very different facial features. Either they all read the same fashion magazines, or they're a part of some odd group, I imagined. They are ordered in a neat two-by-two with each column flanking the doors, allowing for a clear pathway. Their stances are casual, their faces with an… expectant(?) look. The man in the front right, the one with the largest features says- nay, declares- “Welcome at last, you are late! Sure, four minutes late only, but that is four too many!”
I stammer. Not words, but steps. Movements. I am unsure of what is happening in front of me. The same man steps forward twice, gets his hand behind my back, and pulls me into the room just before the elevator doors close. "What’s wrong buddy? Surprised to see us? Thought you were early or something?" I stammer. This time words, "I… I am n-not sure what you are talking… about…?" His massive facial features become larger, somehow. His features, you have had to have been there to understand, encompass every part of the front of his head. His mouth widens to the very edges, his eyes magnify from his hairline to his cheek bones, and his nose flares in such a way you’d think he’s a bull that is about to charge at you. “DO NOT DOWNPLAY, DO NOT PRETEND YOU FORGOT, YOU ARE HERE, ON FLOOR TWENTY-NINE ON THE SEVENTEENTH OF AUGUST, TWENTY THIRTY-TWO!!! YOU ARE FOUR MINUTES LATE TO A MEETING YOU ARRANGED ON YOUR TERMS. WE WERE PATIENT FOR ELEVEN YEARS, AND NOW WE WERE PATIENT FOR FOUR MINUTES TOO MANY!!! DO NOT ATTEMPT TO SAY YOU FORGOT, HOW COULD YOU REMEMBER, IT HAS BEEN ELEVEN YEARS; BECAUSE YOU CLEARLY HAVE NOT, AS YOU ARE AT THE CORRECT PLACE AT NEARLY THE CORRECT TIME!!!"
I gasp. I gulp. I… grief. Mostly because I wanted to say those exact words, and because they are exactly true. I forgot; how could I remember? It has been eleven years! But also, what did I forget? It has not come to me yet. And a moment later, as the man seethes (but thankfully with shrinking features), it still doesn't. I then spotted a chair across four others, with a conference table between them. I gesture towards the seats as if I were the one with the authority here to tell who to sit and begin walking there. They follow. I notice as they walk that… they are soundless. No sounds of their breath, no sound of their shoes, no sound of their clothes’ fabric rubbing.
I sit at my supposed designated chair, and they take their places in theirs. The men who were in the back of the two-by-two sit on the outside of the line, still in their respective sides. "So, remind me of your names," I state, almost command, nonchalantly. I am leaning back on my chair, one arm hanging off the back of it, the other on the arm rest. My right ankle is on my left knee. I don’t know why I am calm all of the sudden. Why I feel I am the superior of the group, especially after I was berated by a man twice my size. And I began to realize that fact and wanted to question it when he began. "We won’t remind you, sir, as you never knew them to begin with. What I can remind, however, is that they do not matter to you. You remember us by our faces, not our names. You remember us by the identifier God gave us, not our parents." Unfortunately for them, I do not remember their faces. Mr. Massive has a memorable face- one of massive round eyes, a nose with a massive (yet not distracting) bulb at the end of it, and a mouth that you could fit an entire half-pound loaded cheeseburger into- sure, but I simply do not ever recall it. Nor do I remember the other gentlemen’s faces: the other man in the center has very plump lips and eyes sharp enough to cut slices through a squishy tomato with soft skin; the man on the far left has a nose that looks like a clock's hands at four 'o-clock and cheeks so thin I think I can see the outline of every tooth; the final man has a forehead that completely destroys an artist’s template for a portrait and ears large enough to pick up on a conversation three stories above (it is clear by the way he is scrunching his face occasionally that it is not appropriate for an office building).
Yes, if God wanted to make memorable faces, especially as a quartet, He succeeded. But He failed to let me remember them. Or perhaps He never even placed me in a place in life to not only meet them, but also promise them I would see them in eleven years. I would surely, by now at least, remember such a wild scenario.
Apparently, all this pondering took a while, as Mr. Massive pipes up once more. “This wait is unbearable. Who are you to remain silent for so long when you are the one who needs to explain?” I wonder what the Hell I am meant to explain. Who am I to remain silent? Rather, who am I to explain‽ And explain what‽‽‽ These thoughts do not remain thoughts. Turns out, I said them out loud. A fear I always had, and for once that fear was actualized. The four men, all twice my size, remain silent. As they clearly pondered- and Mr. Five-head listened in morbid curiosity to the conversation above- I also found myself able to return to my thought of "Holy shit they are massive! They must truly be ten-foot-four or something!" This time the internal dialogue certainly remained internal.
Mr. Clock answers my unexpectedly verbal questions with a question, “Do you truly not remember?” I of course reply that indeed yes, I do not remember them or what they are referring to. They quickly huddle, using the chair wheels to good use. They murmur and peek at me and pause to think and return murmur a few times before they regain composure and form. Mr. Sharp almost slices me with his gaze but his lips softly utter, “It seems we have the wrong man in our hands. But you are here, so it would seem God has decided on a better man to make good on Mr. Cherry’s promise." Mr. Massive continues the new script, "Because you are unfamiliar with the promise, we shall brief you on it. We must do so on the move, though, as we have already lost enough time." With that, they stand up and I follow suit. I initially begin to make my way towards the elevator, but they stop me with a whistle. "Not that way, through this door," Mr. Massive directs me. I follow them through the door held open by Mr. Five-head, which a second ago hid a room that is… Out of place.
For one, the floor-to-ceiling wall-to-wall windows are gone. There is just a dim light orange light at the center of the room. Center not just in floor plan, but in height as well. And the height is… there. Whereas before the men had to hunch, now they can stand perfectly upright and probably one atop the other. The room almost felt cubic, though I could not be sure. As Mr. Five-head closed the door and any natural light with it, everything took a darker tone. No longer was I perplexed, but I was scared. And not as I was moments ago, post attempted robbery, but truly fearful. These massive men looked down upon me, their faces taking new shape with the dim light, their features even more pronounced from the shadows they cast. As they walked into a snaking hallway that began at the other reach of the room, I tried my best to follow. Finally, they began, each taking turns saying every two sentences:
Eleven years ago, Mr. Cherry promised us he would meet us at the twenty-ninth floor of any building fate took him to on the seventeenth of August, twenty thirty-two at four-thirty p.m. Of course, he seems to have broken that promise. For what, we cannot figure right now, but we cannot wait any longer and we need a man. Specifically, a man of small stature, in comparison to us. You are the man afforded to us by God, so we must employ you. Ideally Mr. Cherry would be the one we employ, as we have already vetted him, but that’s beside the point. So, what do we need you for? Well, we need you to reclaim an item of great importance to us. You see, we used to bear a wonderful thing, a beautiful thing, but our King decided that since we were unable to pay our tax with money, he would take our prized possession instead. It is such a tiny thing, yet it is such a marvelous thing. One that men could wage wars over, true massive wars. And so, he sits with this thing in his hands, unable to let go of it. It is a ball, a small crystal ball. So smooth and so vibrant in any color your eye desires. So perfectly spherical, so perfectly sized. This ball, you may think at this point, is just a ball that happens to be perfect. But it is yet more than that. This ball, this perfect little ball is made brilliant by the effect it has on man. This ball completely stops man from aging as he holds it. This ball, in short, longs for the warmth of man. It desires warmth and touch, and it repays you by stopping your body from aging. As you can imagine, a king would love such a thing, and our King certainly proves that thought. He has not aged a minute since that moment, yet it has been fifteen years. We are beginning to feel the effects of aging, an aging we once expected to feel later than we do. We lamented this reality to Mr. Cherry one day about eleven years ago. He found us by accident while he was walking in his local park at an odd hour. He, unlike most people, didn’t seem surprised by our stature and began talking to us like normal. As he told us of his spiritual revelations he had been having that night and of the way he felt about how your society works- that it works on the rich feeding off the poor and that the poor should rebel and eat the rich- we figured this was our solution. He was a man with an ideology akin to ours and with a desire to allow his spirit to leave his body as God sees fit. We felt we could trust this man to bring us the ball as he would not desire prolonged or eternal life, so he would surely return it to us. We asked him to help us and he responded that he would. He would in eleven years, on the seventeenth of August, twenty thirty-two at four-thirty p.m. on any twenty-ninth floor fate brings him to. We thought his timing odd, but we agreed to his terms. After all, we were not in much of a position to counter. And so, we waited, aging day by day and feeling every new ache.
"So, my job is to steal back your ball?" I almost could not believe what was happening at this moment. They responded in unison with an "indeed" and all was silent except my steps and my breathing and the fabric of my clothes rubbing. I pondered out loud, "What if I do not want to rob back your ball for you?" They stopped and encircled me. I could not see their gazes, I refused to look up, but I knew they were looking down at me. "If you do not help us, we will rob you of your life," they said in unison, somehow.
So, it seems I have a new job.