This is the seventh in a series of short stories written to music. Control was written while listening to The Olivia Tremor Control’s album Black Foliage: Animation Music, Volume 1
Jimmy just got out of a meeting in which he was offered the job of his dreams. A coding position at Smarple, a tech giant in the Greater Bay Area.
He put each foot out in front of the other, taking massive steps because he was feeling grand. This was the moment his life had been leading up to.
He’d grown up in the 90’s. His first love had been Windows 95, C++ his sexy, complicated mistress. He’d never had many friends in school. His favorite subject was math, an area in which he surpassed his teachers abilities by the 9th grade.
He learned to express himself through code, building elaborate interactive stories and prank programs for his friends. By the tenth grade he wasn’t doing math homework anymore because he’d constructed a program that would do it for him. He was still forced into math class because the American school system is a broken system of misery.
But now he was out, and now he’d be doing what he loved. Full time. All the time. Jimmy loosened his tie. Stopped by a bakery: Gluten free. Made it home quick.
The traffic: Light.
He crashed into his chair: Red. Velvety. Wide arm rests.
His TV: 48 inch. Flat. LCD. His Tuoko box turned on and gave him his options. He cycled through them. What looked least soul crushing: Some new NBC comedy. He’d already forgotten the title. It was probably garbage.
It was, and Jimmy found himself wishing he’d had something better to do. Halfway through the show his Tuoko box glitched out.
On the screen: Green text. onload agitate()
The screen refreshed and it was gone. He shook his head and figured he’d been staring at code too much recently. Jimmy shut off the TV and went to his computer. His copy of Visual Studio was still open.
Jimmy rubbed his eyes and then stared at the screen closer. He’d never finished the writeOn function on the graphics program he’d been working on. Jimmy sat down and put his fingers to the keys.
Kevin – Hey Jimmy. How’s it been going?
Jimmy – I’m at work. I’ll call you in a minute.
Jimmy stared at the image on his screen. The hard edged skyline of Chicago. Why Chicago? Why anything. This image had been haunting his dreams for the past two months. He didn’t feel any closer to unlocking it’s mysteries either.
“Hey,” said Kevin.
“Hey,” said Jimmy.
“How’s it going.”
“I don’t know.”
“What, trouble in paradise? You know I haven’t seen you since you got that job.”
“Naw, naw it’s ok. I’m just happy one of us is doing good.”
“It’s just they have me on this one problem and I just can’t seem to figure it out, and I don’t know why they need it so bad. It’s just this image, and I guess there’s this hidden code in it or something. Maybe it’s just some sort of initiation thing? Jesus I knew that interview was too easy. ”
The phone cut out, almost unnoticeably, but Jimmy took note.
“Whoa there, take it easy on yourself. Listen. I bet once you crack that thing you’re gonna be a hero. I mean if it’s so important I bet you’re not the only one working on it.”
“You’re starting to sound a little like my boss, Kevin.”
“Whatever man, maybe you should just take a step back. You wanna go out tonight?”
Jimmy’s throat: Tight. Warm.
“No, no I better just, uh. Get some rest.”
“Yeah, yeah. Some other time then.”
“OK, everybody breath. You’ve done good. Now we’re just relaxing, the meditation will come. I don’t want you to think about anything. Just let your body take over. Think about the air coming in…and out. In…and out. In…and out. Just listen to yourself, lose the rest of the world.”Jimmies chest rose and fall. The image of Chicago’s skyline broke into his head and his concentration cracked. He opened his eyes.
The yoga studio: Wide. Windowed. Bright. Empty. Still.
Jimmy was alone. The Smarple yoga studio was empty. There was something more more than that. He felt truly alone. The sort of feeling he’d only ever had in a new place, lying awake at night.
The air conditioner: off. There was a stillness to the world he’d never felt before. Like everything else had simply ceased to be.
Jimmy smiled. His mind clicked. He’d finally done it. He was meditating for real. He was completely lost.
He was lost. Jimmy checked around him. How did he get out. How did he stop meditating? The abject quietness of the room took on a sinister bent.
He moved to the window. It was so bright he could barely see a thing. What he did see didn’t make any sense. Cars stopped in the middle of the road. Mid turn. Airplanes above the San Fran airport frozen in mid air. Jimmy stepped away from the window. Meditation wasn’t for him. None of this was right. He ran for the door. To his relief it opened easily.
“Jimmy,” called Arlene, the yoga instructor. “Where are you going? The class just started.”
Jimmy turned: the whole class had reappeared. Arlene was staring at him expectantly. There was a snarl in her mouth that he’d never noticed before.
“Come back and sit with us, Jimmy. It’s not too good to sit at the computer all day.”
“I’m sorry. I have to, uh, go to the bathroom,” said Jimmy.
The path to the bathroom: Familiar. The looks he received: Unfamiliar.
Jimmy’s steps: Hurried. He locked himself in a stall with one hand and dialed Kevin with the other.
“Kevin. I um.”
“Jimmy? Hey is everything alright?”
“Yeah, I think. I just had a really weird experience, and now I’m freaking out and I don’t really know what’s happening and I’m feeling kind of paranoid.”
“Ok, ok. Just slow down. Where are you?”
“I was in my meditation class and I don’t know. It was like the world stopped moving or something.”
“Well maybe it was just-”
“And now I’m hiding in a bathroom stall.”
The phone cut out.
“Kevin!” said Jimmy. His voice: High pitch. 62.3 decibels. Louder than he’d meant. “Kevin!”
“Yeah, listen it’s OK. Why don’t we meet somewhere downtown. Just get out of your office for a bit. I think it’d be good for you.”
There were footsteps outside the bathroom.
“Why did the call cut out.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I mean why the did the phone cut out after I told you where I was? Why is the image important?”
“Jimmy I don’t…”
The bathroom door opened. Jimmy stared at his phone unbelieving. Something was happening to him and Kevin had something to do with it. Jimmy ended the call, and then turned it off.
Kevin had been right about something. He had to get out of here. He had to find somewhere safe, and then he had to find out what was happening.
Outside the stall something was waiting for him. It was familiar enough to Jimmy, but altogether the strangest thing he’d ever seen.
Something the rough shape of a man floated a few inches above the ground. It was: Gray. A single shade. Smooth. Completely naked. With no defining features. No face to speak of. No eyes. Empty holes.
Floating above it’s head: Green text. Larry_Guard.ppl not found.
Larry? That wasn’t the Larry he knew. The figure floated towards him, but Jimmy dodged past it and crashed through the bathroom door. He ran through the office building not caring to stop for anything. He’d either lost his mind or the world was falling apart. Neither option comforted Jimmy much.
He opted to take the stairs rather than the elevator. His trust of machines: All time low. His car was waiting for him: Silver. Sports. Sun roof open.
The car. He could trust the car. He disabled the GPS in case anyone could tap into it. He knew he’d have been able to if he needed to, so what would stop anyone else?
The ride home was quick: Twelve cop cars. 90 miles per hour. Six incidental wrecks.
Jimmy blessed Kevin for convincing him to buy the stupid gas guzzler. It’s speed outmatched anything else on the road. He swerved into his driveway. His neighborhood: Sleepy.
Inside, his home was a buzz with energy. Every screen in his home displayed a message: Come back to work Jimmy. You are important to us.
Jimmy ran to his TV and unplugged it. Last weeks half full glass of melted ice cream fell on to the floor. The sirens were near. Jimmy ran to each door and locked them before shoving every bookshelf and desk he could spare to block them. He shut all of his blinds and then systematically took down every electronic device in his house until all that was left was his computer.
He stared at it, completely unconvinced of it’s benign nature. He opened up a new window, consciously not choosing Smarple’s Chrome browser. He let his fingers fly on the keyboard. He needed answers.
What was so important? Why him? What was he seeing? What had they done to him? Why now?
Smarple’s mainframe was hidden behind mountains of security, but if there was anyone in the world that could crack it, it was Jimmy. After all he’d spent years that felt like decades studying security algorithms meticulously. They’d armed him to the teeth.
Within seconds his programs had broken through nearly every layer of security. He went in and manually readjusted a few lines of code and compiled them.
The doors on his house were being busted down. His house rattled.
And he was in. It was so…boring. The interface was: Boring. Gray. Overly complex.
Jimmy opened another of his programs and ran it to crawl the site for one word: Jimmy.
There was one result: Project Pangaea.
Without thinking, Jimmy clicked on the link and he was brought to a whole new page. The date said 2167. Jimmies eyes dashed to the date in his computers toolbar. 2015. What the hell was this. Why was the date wrong. Which date was wrong? Were either right?
Jimmy forced himself to keep reading. The file was talking about someone named Jimmy and their invention of the Pangaea algorithm. This Jimmy was some sort of genius. Why had he never heard about this?
Maybe this didn’t have anything to do with him. Jimmy’s body relaxed for a second.
Then his heart caught in his throat. Just below the body of text there it was: Chicago’s skyline. An image that had been burned into Jimmy’s brain forever.
The banging and sirens and rumbling had stopped. It had all just stopped. So was his connection to Smarple’s website.
Jimmy stood up in a fit of anger and fear. He paced around and then, finally coming to his nerves, checked out of the window. He saw his yard, his driveway, his car, his mailbox. Past that: Nothing. The world stopped. A gray plane extended from his driveway out to infinity. He’d seen it before in modeling software. Jimmy closed his blinds.
Back at his computer a message waited for him: Come back to work when you’re feeling better. We have psychotherapy and special programs to help you deal with these issues.
Jimmy laughed. These issues. He reached back and unplugged his computer from the internet. No. That wasn’t enough. He reached into his computer and ripped out his hard drive. He heard his computer throw up a spams of error messages: It’s last cry for help. Mercy. Please. I’ve only ever loved you.
A trail of cords through his fingers, Jimmy smashed the hard drive against his desk. Next he slammed his foot into the computers case. He felt the motherboard crack against his shoe.
Jimmy stood up, and then sat in his chair: Red. Velvety. Wide arm rests.
He didn’t think he’d be going into work the next morning.