The Working Man
Carl Benson sat in front
boss’s desk, his backside squeezed into a ridiculously small wood-and-cloth chair.
The legs of the chair jutted at odd angles, raising the front higher than the
back, making Carl feel like he was taking off in a jet. Carl tried to suck in
his stomach and butt at the same time, running out of air quickly, making a
rude noise expelling the stored breath. Mr. Dawson wrinkled his nose.
“I know you’ve
diligent in your work Carl,” Mr. Dawson said. “Indeed, with everyone’s work,”
he finished with a sigh.
care of business
like my dad taught me,” Carl said, his eyes closing as he tried to smile. His
headache was back. For several weeks he’d been having sporadic, intense pain
all around the top of his head. He blinked hard to quell the ache.
Mr. Dawson said.
“We’ve all gotten used to you walking up to someone who wasn’t at their desk
working and pointing to your watch. We’ve tolerated your loud exclamations of
‘Boy I’m sure getting a lot of work done today. I wonder how everyone else is
doing?’ But recently you’ve crossed the line.”
Carl laughed. “People
in this office don’t work and it’s my fault.”
“You walked up to
she was talking to my assistant and threatened to staple her lips shut if she
didn’t sit down and get to work.”
to work. Right?”
Carl shrugged his shoulders.
tickets to a concert out on the color printer and you tore them up, put the
scraps in a bowl and lit them with a match.”
Smacking his left palm with
side of his right hand, Carl said “company time and company equipment should be
used for company business.” He ended his point by tugging at his shirt collar.
Some of the extra pounds he had put on over the last year had settled in his
neck. His shirt and tie were strangling him, and his head felt like a knife
blade was being plunged into his skull.
“This is my company
Dawson said while leaning back in his all- leather, king’s throne of a chair,
crossing his stick-thin legs. “If I say it’s okay for my employees to use the
printer, or their computer, for personal reasons, that’s my choice. Not yours.
If people want to take a few minutes to have a friendly conversation during a
long day, I think that’s healthy.”
Carl said with a
shake of his head.
“I don’t want
to lose you, Carl.
You’re the most productive employee I’ve ever had, but you need to tone down
“Ok.” Carl nodded,
hands into the air. He pried himself out of the chair, nodded again along with
a wave before leaving the office.
Trudging down the hall,
muttered to himself, his head bobbing animatedly. He just didn’t understand Mr.
Dawson’s lenient attitude. Carl Benson was a blue-collar worker in a
white-collar world. His father’s work ethic as well as his frustrations with those
who didn’t share that ethic were in Carl’s DNA. When he had been in
construction, work got done. Here, in this suffocating office, no one cared.
“The working man has
everything,” Carl muttered as he returned to his desk. He sat down and was
immediately hit with a pain rolling through his head. A bottle of Tylenol sat
next to his desk lamp. He popped the lid off and swallowed several pills
straight from the bottle without water.
Frank Benson, Carl’s
known the value of a good day’s work. From construction to machining, his hands
were busy 8-12 hours a day for forty years. To Frank there was a time for
jokes, a time for eating and drinking, a time for family and a time for
working. Carl idolized his father, replacing the blood in his veins with Frank’s
words and feelings.
Carl was being driven mad
rest of the world who wasted time that was allotted for the work they were
getting paid for. Every day at his own office and elsewhere he watched men and women
on their phones, doing crossword puzzles, talking about Netflix, all while on
their company’s time. Carl didn’t think it was asking too much for people to
work while they were on the job.
“Why do I end up doing
everything?” Carl muttered.
Carl’s blood pressure
with the pain in his temples. He couldn’t believe the lack of control Mr.
Dawson held over his employees. He signed into his computer coming to a stop
partway through his password when he heard the laugh again.
“I don’t believe
it,” Carl said,
his left eye twitching. Across the aisle, his co-worker Denny Fulbright,
Carl said through
gritted teeth. He tried to ignore the noise. He waited for someone else to say
something about the distraction, but they blithely continued with their own
wastes of time.
Denny laughed again followed
his high-pitched voice saying, “Look at them go.”
Fuming, Carl stood up at
desk. The fluorescent light in the ceiling caught his left eye sending a charge
of pain through his head. Carl hitched his pants up, losing his fight to pull
them over his extra-thirty-pound belly. The laugh exploded again.
“I got this dad,”
Carl said. He
picked up his pen and walked ten feet to his right, aside of Denny’s desk.
Denny glanced up as Carl approached.
“What can I do you
Denny said, still watching a video on his computer of a dog chasing a cat
chasing a squirrel chasing a chipmunk.
of business,” Carl
mumbled. Then he grabbed Denny around the neck, yanked his head back and drove
the pen into Denny’s left eye.
lasted for seconds. As Carl drove the pen deeper, Denny’s voice quickly lowered
to a droning gurgle. The initial blood spurt hit Carl in the nose. He snorted,
blowing a spray of red dots onto his arm, then breathed in, taking a globule of
blood into his sinuses.
“Ah,” Carl growled
to expel Denny’s fluids. Denny flopped in his chair like a boated tuna. Carl
pressed his full body weight down, driving the pen down until Denny was still.
Carl waited a beat before finally releasing his grip on the body. He stumbled
backward out of Denny’s cubicle into the aisle.
Carl stood, breathing heavily,
blood coating his face, arm and shirt. Other co-workers stared in disbelief, a
few with a hand over their mouth. It took a moment for Carl to escape his
reverie and notice his audience. When he did, he put a hand in the air, smiled
and said, “Don’t worry folks, I know what I’m doing.”
Then Carl Benson fell face
onto the floor, unconscious.
Carl blinked, moved his
left and right, finally realizing his face was lying against something cold. He
lifted his head. Looking down at a silver, metal table he saw a puddle of his
drool. Carl moved his left hand to wipe his mouth only to find his wrist was
chained to the table. Moving the right hand rattled another chain.
“Where am I?”
Carl mumbled. He
tilted his head, thinking. A dopey grin formed on his face.
“Oh yeah,” he
said. “Denny.” His
grin vanished quickly as his father’s visage appeared on the table top. Frank
Benson’s wide neck and thick face stared at Carl with a disapproving glare.
“I went too far, didn’t
Carl said. He sat back in the chair, the headache that had been tearing his
head into ribbons was idle for now, but he could feel the pressure sitting in
wait at the back of his skull.
“I was only trying
everyone to work,” Carl mumbled to himself, remembering the long shifts his dad
had put in, coming home late, tired and agitated. At 6’4” and over 300 pounds,
Frank was the image if his nickname, Bear. While Carl was supposed to be doing
his homework he listened to dad complain to mom about his job; people not
pulling their weight, supervisors not taking charge.
“Why do I have to
everything?” Carl said, repeating what he’d heard his dad ask rhetorically over
Frank Benson’s admonishing
faded from the table as the door of the room swung open and two detectives
walked in. Carl immediately felt the pain in his head activate.
detective into the room said overly cheery, “good to see you awake.”
The detective was tall,
athletically trim, and dressed in an expensive blue suit. He sat down on the
opposite side of the table. “I’m detective Flaharty.” He pointed to a short,
squat, hairy man leaning against the wall with hands in his pockets. “That is
“Yeah, sure, how ya
said with a firm nod.
“We would like to
hear why you
stabbed your co-worker Denny Fulbright in the eye with a pen,” Flaharty said.
“On pins and needles,”
Carl started, “. .
. he was a thief.”
hesitation. “And that’s why you killed him?”
“He sat there every
videos on his computer, making phone calls to his ex-wife, his kids, who knows
who else. That slob never did any work. I’d get calls about his clients because
he wasn’t takin’ care of business.”
“You said he was a
detective Banks grumbled from the corner.
“What did I just tell
yelled. The pain circled around to the front of his head.
“Back it down, Carl,”
said while tapping his fingers on the table.
“You don’t think
at work isn’t stealing?” Carl said, his irritation growing again. “Every minute
that jerk spent not doing his job fell back on everyone else in the office, you
know what I mean?”
“So you’re saying
he was like a
“Whatever pretty words
why you stabbed
him,” Banks said, walking closer. “In the eye . . . with a pen?”
Carl looked at the man’s
furry arms as Banks leaned onto the table. Then he met Bank’s gaze.
“I went to my boss,
again. Told him that Denny was wasting time and not doing his job. He did
nothing.” Carl upturned his hands, holding them out in front of his body. “I
mean, he talked to him. That’s not punishment. There were no consequences.”
“So you took matters
hands?” Flaharty asked.
“It’s like my
dad said, ‘It
always falls on the working man to do the right thing.’”
Carl stood up, his eyes
I’ll clean up
everyone’s mess!” he yelled.
“Mr. Benson, sit down.”
“Damn it, where is
coming from?” Carl jammed a finger into his right ear. “I’ll take care of it.”
“Carl! Sit down,”
standing himself. Carl forced his finger farther into his ear, his body jerking
left and right, the chains on his wrists clanking off the metal table.
Flaharty yelled to
Banks. The two men stepped toward Carl before Carl suddenly spun to his left. A
spray of blood flew from his ear onto Flaharty.
said, backing away.
Carl said, still
digging his finger deep in his ear while blood streamed out. “I know what I’m
With that, Carl Benson fell
first into the table, bounced off and collapsed to the floor, unconscious.
Carl started to lift his
arm to scratch his nose but the chain attached was too short. His wrist jerked
back a foot shy of his face. After scratching his itch with his other hand,
Carl saw two police officers through the window of the operating room door.
They had been his escorts from the police station to the hospital after he had
So far Carl’s visit
hospital had included checking into a room, being taken for a brain scan, left
in an anteroom for almost two hours, back to his regular room, being talked to
like he was an idiot by a doctor with a Grizzly Adams beard, given a cocktail
of medication, having his head shaved and finally deposited in an operating
room for brain surgery on the gray mass Dr. Beard said was a tumor. And through
it all Dipwad and Dumbshit had been close by.
“because I got rid of someone who wouldn’t work. If management had just done
their job . . .”
Carl hated being an account
manager for a plumbing supply company. It’s not what he dreamt of when he used
to discuss his future with dad. Construction was where Carl wanted to be,
putting to use everything dad had taught him. Being a working man, blue collar,
sweating for every dollar. His dream had been a reality for only four short
With a shake of his head,
tried to erase the memories but instead stirred them up.
“Damn it,” Carl
spit, wiping away
a tear with the back of his hand. Lying in the hospital bed felt like just
after the accident. When that wall collapsed onto him and ruined his back it
re-charted the course of Carl’s life; no more physical labor, living on
tramadol just to get through the day, setting off metal detectors because of
the metal rod in his spine.
Carl’s dad was by
when he came out of surgery. Only 57 but looking 70, in a wheelchair because
his diabetes and blood pressure were eating him alive, Frank Benson held his
son’s hand and told him he was proud of him.
The ghost of Frank Benson
hovered in the room when the doors opened, and two surgeons with two nurses
walked in. Carl took a deep breath to calm down as the nurses prepped two trays
full of instruments and the doctors looked at Carl’s scans.
Over the next sixty minutes,
piece was affixed to Carl’s head to keep it still during the operation. He was
given Propofol to sedate him and his scalp was injected with a local anesthetic.
Through it all the nurses chatted like school girls while waiting for the
surgeons to begin. Carl felt like an afterthought as the “important” people
buzzed around him doing “important” things.
“I don’t feel
bad,” Carl said
The surgeons and nurses
talking to stare at him. One of the doctors walked over, putting a hand on
“Mr. Benson, I’m
Myself and Dr. Overton will be performing surgery today to remove the mass that
is in your brain.”
tumor, blob, doesn’t matter what you call it, I feel fine.”
Dr. Malek said with
condescension. “May I call you Carl?”
“Sure, everybody else
“All right. We have
numbed so we’re ready to cut it open. Following that we will be removing a
portion of your skull so we can get to the area of your brain that the tumor
“Resides? Like it’s
rent or something.”
“Are you ready, Carl?”
Overton asked with a sigh.
“Yeah, sure. Get it
Carl found himself mesmerized
the sounds of his head being opened up. Some of them reminded him of when he
was a construction worker. The nurses and doctors voices were soft now from
concentration, floating into Carl’s ears like clouds.
“How are you Carl?”
ready to lift a
piece of your skull off to take a look at your brain. All right?”
worked at all, Carl thought. He was agitated, not relaxed, and started mumbling
to himself in a whisper.
“Brain tumor. Right.
It’s a bad
headache, I can work through it. Whatever happened with Denny, the two of us
can sort it out like men. I’ll call him lazy, he’ll call me tight ass, Mr.
Dawson will do nothing, and everything is back to normal. Why is my wrist
chained? I need to go back to work.”
Carl felt tingles as the
worked, but no pain. He knew by their conversation that they had his skull
opened and were probing the tumor. They consulted the brain scans while looking
at the mass from multiple angles.
wedged in between
the folds,” Dr. Overton said.
“It could be bigger
originally thought,” Dr. Malek added.
“How do you want to
“Starting to cut here
most logical but I worry about nicking brain tissue because of its depth.”
“I think any other
makes the likelihood of a mistake much higher.”
“Agreed. But how deep
initial cut be?”
“Let me study the
appear to show the
“We may need to get
“Oh, for crying out
suddenly said. “Blah, blah, blah. Talk, talk talk. I’ll do it myself.”
Carl reached his
free-from-restraint left arm out to the tray of surgical instruments. His hand
landed hard sending metal pieces crashing to the floor.
one of the doctors
Both surgeons made sloppy
for Carl’s arm, but their patient’s fingers had already wrapped around a
scalpel. When Dr. Malek held his wrist, Carl jerked his arm back, catching the
doctor across the chest with the instrument’s blade. Dr. Malek flailed backward
into Dr. Overton sending both men tumbling to the operating room floor.
Carl jabbed the scalpel
head, at first stabbing his scalp causing rivulets of blood to roll down his
face. He adjusted his aim and found his brain, digging the blade into the soft
Carl said. “I
know what I’m doing.” After one more thrust of the blade, Carl Benson’s eyes
closed as he fell unconscious.
policeman said into his radio. He was standing so close Carl’s nose filled with
the man’s Axe body spray.
“What are we doing,”
haired policeman asked his partner. He was on Carl’s other side, no body spray
and no deodorant either.
“Not sure yet. They
up their minds,” Blondie said.
Carl sat on a chair in a
room. He was still in his hospital gown, and his head was swathed in bandages.
No one was sure what to do with him. He needed further brain surgery,
especially now that he had done damage to himself. But the hospital was also
dealing with two injured surgeons. Malek was being treated for a deep
laceration on his chest while Overton had broken his arm falling into the wall.
Hospital administrators were unsure they wanted to treat Carl any longer.
Carl wasn’t even sure
was all of the time. His eyes bobbled in his head like marbles bouncing into
each other. He had a crooked smile on his face and he answered any question
with “Gotta get back to work.” As he listened to the policemen talk, his head bobbed
and twisted in all directions including up and down.
“Gotta get back to
“Not today, pal,”
haired officer said with a laugh.
“61, come in,”
a voice buzzed
over Blondie’s radio.
“Go ahead command,”
the officer responded.
“Sit tight. Replacement
coming to relieve you.”
“No decision yet.
still arguing with our brass.”
“Nice. 61 out.”
The dark haired policeman
his head. “What are they waiting for?” he said. “Can’t we just lock this guy
“He stabbed himself
“So lock him up in
“Not our decision.”
“This is just stupid.”
“Gotta get back to
said as he stood up.
“Come on pal,”
putting his hand on Carl’s shoulder.
Carl turned quickly, shackled
hands out in front at shoulder height. He connected with Blondie’s jaw sending
him falling over Carl’s chair.
dark haired officer
yelled while grabbing for his gun.
“GOTTA GO TO WORK,”
He lowered his head and rammed into the policeman’s mid-section. His gun fell from
his hand as Carl pushed him into his partner on the floor. The officer fell
backward into the wall, hitting his head. Dark hair fell down unconscious,
lying on top of Blondie.
On the bottom, the blonde
officer pulled his gun out only to have Carl knock it away before kicking him
in the face, Blondie’s eyes rolled back in his head as he also lost
“Gotta go to work.”
Hivner writes from a small town in Pennsylvania surrounded by books and the
echoes of music. He has recently been published in The Horror Zine and
Siren’s Call. website: www.chrishivner.com, Facebook: Christopher Hivner -
Author, Twitter: @Your_screams