In my files somewhere I have the beginnings of a story about a man trapped in a dead-end job doing meaningless work who sees the walls of his office melt, revealing another world beyond. I wasn’t terribly satisfied with what I developed because it seemed to be turning into another one of those quest novels without a stronger storyline. So I put it away.
Also in my files was the concept for a story about a writer whose tales of a world destroyed by a mysterious plague come closer and closer to his world until he is consumed by the plague he described. This story begs the question of whether his idea for the plague was prescient or whether his fictional reality somehow became his―and his world’s―true reality. Struggling with this conundrum is a jaded, rough around the edges, cynical veteran cop who has to find the answer before the plague becomes pandemic. I put this one away, also.
Neither of these concepts seemed to work by themselves, so I wondered what would happen if I combined them.
Deep in the bowels of the ninety-story Heschimer Building, in the third basement, is an office. In the office is a man. The man is surrounded by stacks of paper. These are paper files, some dating back thirty years or more. Shanton Wheezer is the chief archivist of the corporation. He is also the only archivist of the corporation. His job, his sole purpose, is to catalog files, assign a reference number to each file― and sub-reference number for each element in each file―then transfer the files to a storage facility where the files are stored away in case they are ever needed.
Shanton is also responsible for retrieving a file, if anyone would ever request it. In the thirty-five years that Shanton has worked in the office―yes, the very same office―no one has ever requested a file. In fact, not a single person from the corporation, including the cleaning staff, has ever ventured to the third basement. Files are delivered to him, either in envelopes or boxes, via dumbwaiter. Since the dumbwaiter is outside his office, in the main storage area, Shanton receives an automated email to notify him that something has been delivered to his area.
Day after day Shanton sits in his office cataloging files, never bothering to read the contents or attempting to assess whether the files delivered to him should be retained or not. His job is to catalog the files and send them off to storage, nothing more. Cataloging and shipping the files efficiently is important because efficiency generates numbers and numbers look good on a spreadsheet. This being a corporation, there is―of course―a daily production report, which is a spreadsheet. And Shanton’s report always looks good.
But that’s not all there is to Shanton, of course. His real passion is writing―not just reports, but fiction, and maybe even literature. During his self-imposed breaks at work, he sketches out ideas for stories. He immerses himself in his stories and sometimes they actually take him away. It may be to a tropical island or to a strange new world, but he is there. What he doesn’t count on though, is that it’s possible for the stories in his head to become so real that they initiate the process instead of him.
The walls in his office melt away. He hasn’t shut his eyes. He hasn’t ignored the files on his desk. He just looked up and it is happening. And he’s is a world that―
Oh, my God, no! he pleads, but God isn’t there to answer. This world is ravaged by violence and disease and he stands in the middle of it. Worse yet, there is no way out, no returning.
When he fails to file his daily reports, answer his emails, and submit his timecard, Shanton is fired in absentia. His firing brings his position under the scrutiny of corporate management who judge it to be redundant. The third basement is closed until a CEO with the latest vision for the corporation orders a full physical audit of the corporate resources.
After three years, the third basement is opened and workers discover a grisly surprise.
The forensics investigators on the team led by Detective Frank Castaletti are stumped. Shanton hasn’t been seen or heard from for three years, yet he is found in his office in a locked room, an emaciated disease ridden corpse that appears to have been dead less than twenty-four hours.
To make matters worse, the medical examiner suspects that what killed Shanton is a previously unknown strain of virulent plague for which there is no cure. Castaletti has only hours to determine what happened to Shanton, but he may already have a clue if he can figure out what it means.
During the initial investigation, Shanton’s hand closed on Castaletti’s―Through the glove, right through the goddamned glove! ―triggering a terrible vision of a world lost to violence and disease.
Will Castaletti discover the secret that is hidden in Shanton’s life and writing in time to save the world?
What do you think? Was combining the two stories a good idea? Is this worth pursuing? Most importantly, do you want to know more about Shanton Wheezer, Frank Castaletti, and the fate of mankind?
Tags: #mystery #horror #fantasy #writing #sci-fi #epidemic #plague
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