“One Hundred Years of Servitude” by James Vachowski

Tonight’s the night. My hands shake as they adjust my bow tie. Showered, shaven, not a hair out of place, I flash the mirror my most sincere look of appreciation while rehearsing the speech yet again. I know it word for word, yes, but practice makes perfect.

Still, I am nervous.

I feel her arms upon my shoulders. She reaches around in a warm embrace. Her hands close on mine and cinch the knot about my collar. Our eyes meet in the reflection. Her warm brown gaze is a loving vote of confidence. She makes not a sound.

She doesn’t have to.

With a sigh, I bare my soul to her. “Ah, my Bobo. Where would I be without you?” Fully dressed now, I turn to face her. “You know, I couldn’t have done any of it without you. You know that, don’t you?”

She smiles at me. She knows. She stands high on her toes, reaching up to plant a wet kiss on my cheek.

She smells of ink.

I glance at my watch. A Rolex. I bought it new, to match my success. “We’d better get moving.”
The limousine awaits. We ease into its luxury and set off. Outside, the crisp dark of a wintry night settles over the boulevard as we roll along. I lean back and stretch my legs, warm in my cocoon and content to watch the city’s lit windows pass by in a blur. “Ah, Stockholm.”

We arrive. The door opens. I emerge to flashbulbs.

“Sir, can you comment on the recent allegations of torture!”
“What do you have to say about the accusations of cruelty! Of the captivity?”
“Will you comment on the statements in today’s New York Times? Are they true?”

I give my Bobo a gentle wave, her signal to remain in the car. A patient smile from her, coupled with a nod of understanding. She’s been through this before. At times her entire family has. I close the door firmly, shaking my head the same way. No interviews. Thankfully, a policeman parts the crowd and shows me through. Once inside the foyer, I breathe easier. Where there used to be crowds of protestors, now there are crowds of reporters. These days, my quiet moments have all but disappeared.

As I am late, they escort me directly to the stage. Seated in the wing, I hear my introduction but miss the words. The bright floor lights flash me back to other times, other places, so many years before.

Back to the thin roads of blacktopped highway I would drive late at night. The truck’s worn springs jolted with each bump in the road as the cardboard crates full of discount typewriter ribbon jostled about in the bed.

Back to the cold sidewalk underneath my Bloomsbury flat, the front door chained shut and posted with an eviction notice. They called me a fool then for squandering my entire inheritance on banana futures.

And back to my beloved farmhouse in the Cotswolds, with the lines of PETA activists stretching out along the lane. Many a sharp elbow I caught while forcing my way through their ranks, defenseless as both arms were laden with manuscripts.

And the shipping! Thousands of pounds sterling over the years! Enough money to feed and clothe a small East African village, spent on what?

Stamps.

My reverie is broken by the announcer’s change in tone. “…and so, in recognition of all his accomplishments, from his groundbreaking debut work ‘Simian’ to his most recent bestseller in thirty-two countries, ‘Jane Goodall? She Ate My Head Lice,’ I am proud to present this year’s Nobel Laureate for Literature…”

I smile at my cue and walk briskly onto the stage. The audience smiles back. They rise in a wave of thunderous applause. I am reassured.

It was all worth it.

An embrace from the announcer whose name I have already forgotten. A wave to the crowd. The briefest moment of awkwardness while the applause dies down.

I step to the podium, stand tall, and pull the speech from my pocket. The fresh ink on the note cards has smudged onto my white dress shirt. I look down and smile upon seeing the familiar rows of neat typescript. Ah Bobo. You don’t miss a trick.

The spotlights glare from overhead as I examine the printed text. It may be a simple message of gratitude. It may be a work of oratory genius. It may be sheer gibberish. There is no way for me to know. Though the tears cloud my eyes, I have one last vision.

I see the dank basement of my farmhouse, swirls of cigarette smoke hanging thick in the air. I hear the hard clatter of hairy brown paws striking down on typewriter keys. The sharp noise fills my eardrums as I ponder my shameful secret.

I lick my lips, preparing to recite from memory. The speech comes naturally, the result of years spent practicing for this very moment.

My hands remain steady, holding the note cards I have never learned to read.

“Success…is truly a team effort…”


Profile: James Vachowski

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“#486: The Backlight Conspiracy” by James Vachowski

Embedded within the brick labyrinth that was the back streets of Pittsburgh, an immaculate factory with a fresh white exterior stood alone among its neighbors, starkly contrasting their grim appearances. The building constantly emitted a low rumble, which never failed to make a passerby’s skin tingle when they paused in wonder. None of the onlookers, who would invariably shudder as they stopped to stare, could possibly fathom the wondrous acts of sorcery, which were occurring before them. Deep within the bowels of the Timox Corporation Factory Headquarters, a recluse mastermind was hard at work.

In a long-forgotten basement three stories below the ground’s surface, at the end of a barren hallway, stood an inconspicuous wooden door. Despite its mundane appearance, this door concealed the true heart and soul of Timox Watches Incorporated. Behind it, an old man sat at a desk in the corner, his back turned to the door. His eyes were closed, but for no apparent reason, he began to smile. He chuckled, and then he laughed. A delighted, merry, rumbling laugh. He opened his eyes, which showed no pupil, no iris, no retina or cornea, just a pale blue glow that seemed to reflect and refract across the entire room, as if the walls had somehow been painted with it. The old man’s laughter slowly became indistinguishable from the constant rumbling of the factory’s machinery.

***In Trenton, New Jersey, Highway Patrol Corporal Alan Codeine had just returned home after a long day’s work. He had been awake for almost twenty hours now, the last five of which were spent clearing up an ungodly seventeen-car wreck on the Jersey Turnpike. It was one o’clock in the morning. He was tired and needed to use the bathroom.

Entering the bathroom, he flipped the light switch. A sudden pop sounded. “Great,” he thought, “the bulb blew out.” Not wanting to risk waking his family, Alan made a valiant effort to do his business in the dark. On a cold toilet seat in the still room, Alan wondered what the time was. His right hand fumbled with the buttons of the Timox Backlight watch on his left wrist. The display suddenly illuminated with a pale blue glow. “Wow, one o’clock already,” Alan mused to himself. The glow continued, even after his finger had left the button, and the entire room was bathed in a cool light blue hue of artificial illumination.

“Wow, that’s neat,” Alan said. “But how can a standard Timox battery put out that much power?” At that point, Alan stopped altogether. Stopped thinking; stopped questioning. He pulled up his pants as the glow continued, and walked into the master bedroom where his wife, Sarah, was sleeping. He shook her until she woke. “Where’s your Timox watch?” he asked. “I want to show you something.”

Bewildered, Sarah wiped the sleep from her eyes. She wondered if Alan’s stressful job had finally caused him mental problems. She looked him in the eyes, but noticed his normally hazel eyes seemed to glow a pale shade of blue. She stopped wondering, put on her own Timox Backlight watch- always kept on the bedside table- then rolled out of bed, grabbed her dressing gown, and said, “Let’s go show the neighbors.”

***Sam Jenkins dragged himself of bed at six o’clock the next morning, as he always did. It was a workday, as was every day in the world of discount retail, and his thoughts were of nothing but joy at the chance to fulfill the shopping needs of his customers. The opened drapes revealed a dark, stormy morning, but this did nothing to dampen his spirits. Once dressed and showered, Sam headed downstairs to cook breakfast. Toast and two eggs – sunny-side up.

Sam finally took notice of the completely overcast skies as he headed towards his car, ready for the thirty-minute commute. The sky was as dark as night. Ahead, rain threatened to fall in bucket loads. “I hope this won’t make me late,” he thought, pausing to check the time on his Timox Backlight watch. The pale blue glow lit up his Datsun, and the gloomy morning seemed to lighten by a full shade. Sam started the car in a hurried manner, knowing that he would have just enough time to get to work by the eight o’clock scheduled opening. It was the annual one-day spring clearance sale, after all. It just wouldn’t do to be tardy.

Sam drove contentedly along through the thick fog and pouring rain. He thought about how nice it might be to slash prices on the store’s entire stock of Timox Backlight watches.

***In New York City, the United Nations building was bustling as always. Delegates from the 190 member countries had gathered for the purpose of open dialogue on foreign policies, seeking peaceful resolutions to international disputes. Usually, the UN conference floor would quickly erupt into a hotbed of political debate, but not that day. Ambassadors from every member nation lovingly admired the new Backlight wristwatches they had just received from Timox Watches Incorporated – a gesture of goodwill and international commerce.

As they played with the Backlight lighting systems, the main conference floor, and equally the 190 delegates within, became awash in a pale blue glow. Each of them thought about the forthcoming recommendations they would propose to revoke import tariffs with the United States, especially on products from the Timox Corporation.

***Everyone was happy, everyone in the world. People everywhere had their own Timox Backlight wristwatches, and should they need cheering up, they would simply press the light button and soak in that familiar pale blue glow. People would pass each other on the street and actually stop to talk. They would say, “Hey, that’s a nice watch. Is it a Timox Backlight?” War had ceased, disputes now resolved by judging who had the nicer watch.

Eventually on one fine day, at precisely twelve-thirty Eastern Standard Time, the sun adopted a pale blue glow. Those lucky enough to be on the half of the world that could see it said in a unified voice, despite their many languages, “Wow – that’s neat.” By twelve hours later, as the earth had circled the sun, all of mankind had said, “Wow, that’s neat” in their native tongues. No one had ever been happier. The world was a pale blue Utopia.
However, all good things must come to an end.

It began with little Sue Smith. Sue had been a large fan of the Backlight phenomenon, as had all of the people of the earth. She had used her Backlight so many times that one day she pressed the button, and nothing happened. She pressed it again and again for hours, sometimes holding the button in for a long time, sometimes clicking the button in and out very quickly, but every time the result was the same. Horrified, little Sue ran screaming to her father. Her watch’s battery…was dead.

Batteries died quickly after that. Most people simply threw away their watches once the Backlight was used up, cursing the Timox Corporation for manufacturing watches with such cheap batteries and vowing to never again buy their products. Certain people of power and influence tried to hoard Backlight watches as their commodity value skyrocketed, but even those too eventually went dead.

Finally, the sun resumed its former color, and people everywhere knew it was over, except for those on the other side of the earth, who knew twelve hours later. Daily routines resumed, as the world’s population returned to being rude to one another and ignoring each other. Watches once again became very diverse in design and manufacture, but hard to see in the dark.

And life went on in the same drab and mundane way that it had before, except for in a long-forgotten basement of the Timox Corporation Factory Headquarters. Three stories below the ground’s surface, at the end of a barren hallway behind an inconspicuous wooden door, an old man sat at his desk, crying.


Profile: James Vachowski