At seven o’clock every weekday, Mr. Bernie Herman wakes up, takes a shower, eats corn flakes, drives to Macleod, and signs the attendance sheet just before eight, but not before giving a quick “Hey!” to George in accounting. He imagined he’d do this until retirement.
But he didn’t have the time to think about that. Bernie had to call all the members of the approval committee to remind them of the review of the current algebra exam questions at two o’clock. Of course, none of them answered, but that just gave him more time to check his email. Mr. Grayson forwarded a seething message from Dr. Freeman about the lack of credit for his contribution to the Poe biography in the current eighth-grade literature book. Bernie needed to call Mr. Grayson to assist him, and fast.
Like always, Bernie carefully copied and revised Grayson’s personal apology for him to send to the irate professor on his behalf. “Also,” Grayson said, “don’t forget about that paper jam memo. Oh, and can you call Harry about where those new staples are?”
“On it,” he yawned.
“Alright, see you at two.”
The phone slipped from Bernie’s fingers as he rubbed his heavy face. He wasn’t normally a coffee guy, but today he felt like something was sucking the juices out of his brain. He needed a boost, and fast.
After leaving the cup of hot tar on the table, he searched the lounge for some pumpkin spice. Plucking the bottle from the back of the fridge, he spun back around.
And gone. . . Jerkoffs! That’s one of the reasons Bernie wasn’t a coffee guy.
No time to hunt down jerkoffs or caffeine. Time to get back to administrative assisting, or as Bernie thought of it, glorified copying. His job was to copy emails, memos, minutes, and whatever else Grayson needed. It wasn’t much, but it was a job, an easier job if someone would just remember to load paper into the damn copier!
By lunchtime Bernie had distributed the meeting agenda for the approval committee, so he tried to enjoy his ham and cheese as he waited for Grayson’s response to all his soft copies. Typing all day can be tiring, but his hands could barely lift up his sandwich, and his face, his eyes, were still so heavy. He blinked.
When they opened, his face was submerged in a puddle of drool. Shit! Bernie’s desktop advertised that he’d slept until 4 o’clock. Shit! The meeting!
Grabbing his binder, he ran, almost falling into the dark conference room. It’s over? The whole time? He was asleep the entire review? Bernie clawed into his face. Grayson is gonna kill me, he thought, I have to kiss his ass right away.
His feet staggered all the way to the man’s office. How could someone nap for almost five hours and feel more tired?
“I’m so sorry, Mr. Grayson! I’ll never do it again!”
The man just laughed as he hung up his phone. “Bernie, relax. I just think you should do another draft before you send it to Freeman. You know how bitter this guy is. You need to really schmooze these academic types.”
“No sir, the meeting. I’m sorry tha—”
“I’m sure they’re fine.” He snatched the binder out Bernie’s limp hand and flipped through it all. They were there, every minute of the meeting, every comment, every important note, condensed and retyped on the page.
“See Bernie, you haven’t lost your touch. You still take the best minutes of everyone in the whole building.”
How? How are these here? Maybe they weren’t. As his eyes glazed over the page, the words and numbers blurred together into black blots. His jaw quivered.
“You know what? You’re not looking so hot,” Grayson said, “Might want clock out a little early today.”
“Uh, okay. . .”
Bernie walked out to. . . somewhere. The office came in and out for him, in and out of a white cloud, but the hallway was solid long enough for him to spot his cubicle. He stepped carefully into the whiteness.
And it came out, a shape, a vaguely familiar shape. It stepped right out of his cubicle, threw the cup into the trash, and marched down the hall. It couldn’t be what he thought it was, but the suspicion pushed him down the hall.
He threw himself into the men’s room, and then he wanted to throw up his own heart. There were two faces in the mirror, his own and the face of a corpse. His face turned from the sink to look at him.
“Wh—Wha. . . What the hell is going on here?!”
“What? What? What the hell is going on here?” It said, no fear, no concern, no tone.
Bernie dug deep into his face. “What the hell are you, like an alien or something?” It blinked. “What the hell are you, like an alien or something?”
Sticky, his face felt so sticky. “What? Is this like that one black and white movie?” “What? This is like that one black and white movie?”
Bernie coughed. “But why? Why would you want to be me?”
It pointed at him. “But why? Why would you want to be me?”
Bernie looked at his hand, the hand that bubbled with yellow pus, the same pus that filled his throat and muted his scream.
Mr. Herman stepped onto the greenish puddle that poured out of Bernie’s clothes. He picked them up, threw them into the trash, and returned to his cubicle to revise Mr. Grayson’s memos before clocking out.
At seven o’clock every weekday, Mr. Herman wakes up, takes a shower, eats corn flakes, drives to Macleod, and signs the attendance sheet just before eight, but not before giving a quick “Hey!” to George in accounting. He did this until retirement.