Hu Factor (working title – suggestions welcome)
Here is chapter 1 of book one of my amazingly unpublished apocalyptic novel. Any notes, edits, thoughts, or ideas are appreciated. I will be posting it chapter by chapter here and archiving at http://vagobond.posterous.com
For those who are curious…the main character’s name is Ben and he is a printer and he is based on what I think Ben Franklin (the true founder of the USA and perhaps greatest human ever to live) would be like if he lived during (and after) the global apocalypse.
Book 1: A Simple Printer
Ben could feel his stomach telling him that he would need to close the shop soon. It wasn’t so much that he was ruled by hunger as that he had decided early in his life to flow with what his body, his instincts, or his choices put in front of him. He knew that he had been working efficiently all afternoon and that if he ignored his body, that efficiency would be lost. He could still get a reasonable amount of work done before he left for the night to satisfy the hunger he felt in his gut…and other places. He stepped back from the machine he had been working on for the last two hours and surveyed what he had accomplished.
Three large boxes were filled with glossy paged catalogues that were perfectly folded and stapled thanks to his labor. Less than half a box of unfolded, unstapled pages remained. The order sheet indicated that they didn’t have to be completed until 4 PM the next day, but he knew he would finish them before he closed the shop. He knew from experience that putting a job off until later was more difficult on his psyche than plowing through it. Once it was done, he no longer had to think about whatever the job was. In this case it was a spring catalog of tulip bulbs. He smiled as he thought of spring approaching.
It had been a particularly cold winter. He caught himself standing idle and began to feed the flat pages into the folder/stapling machine again while he continued to muse about the life he was living. It would have been a lot colder if he hadn’t of learned life’s lessons as well as he had in his fifty two years. Sometimes it astounded him to see just how maladapted some people were to life. Take the case of his hunger and his desire to finish the job at hand. The majority of people would not find any sort of balance if they were presented with a similar circumstance. His younger brother, were he still alive, would have closed the shop at the first impulse of bodily desire and not come back until all of his yearnings were completely sated. It was exactly why Teddy had been fired from every job he hadn’t quit first, even by his older brother. Ben smiled sadly to himself and continued feeding the quickly diminishing pile into the machine.
Teddy was one extreme, the other was Ben’s older brother, George. George was the kind of guy that worked through his hunger and didn’t stop until he was dragged away from the job or he was mentally or physically incapable of continuing. George was rich because of his hard work. He lived in a huge house, had a beautiful wife, was invited to all the right social occasions, and provided everything his two children could ever want. But Ben wouldn’t say that he was successful. Ben shook his head thinking about his unhappy sibling in his unhappy life. George denied himself all the pleasures that life had to offer. His old white butt cheeks were clenched together so tight that he probably crapped wire. George had probably only had sex with his wife just enough times to begat a couple of Protestant children but no more. George had refused to speak to Ben for almost thirteen years, but Ben managed to stay abreast of him through the society pages and the gossip of his customers and friends.
Amazingly, Ben and George shared more than a few acquaintances. Everybody needs a printer from time to time and Ben’s shop had a sterling reputation built on years of balancing the hungers of the present against the needs of the future. Ben fed the last of the stacks of paper into the machine and put the results in the remaining box. He shut the machine down and looked around his shop. Not too bad, he thought to himself, as he looked at what his moderate labor had accomplished. The shop was by no means everything he possessed, but it was gratifying to think about the first day he had moved his old offset printing press into the room more than twenty years before. Now he was surrounded by a dozen high tech machines that were capable of producing anything a person might need printed. His clients wanted wedding books, invitations, pamphlets, catalogs, greeting cards, manuscripts, and sometimes even an anti-establishment zine or two. The shop itself was a testament to living a balanced and happy life.
In looking around, his eyes landed on the picture of his wife that he kept on the desk. He’d almost forgotten to call Doris and tell her he would be getting back late. He walked to the desk and picked up the phone.
She answered on the first ring just like she always did. “Hello?”
“Hi Doris, sorry I forgot to call you earlier but I am going to be working pretty late this evening. I hope you haven’t made dinner for me yet?”
“No Ben, it’s the last day of the month, so I figured you would be late tonight.” He could hear her frowning on the phone. He hated to lie to her, but it was really for the best. She even did her part to make it easier for him. “Ben, I’m a little worried though, have you seen the weather?”
“I’ll have a look Dor. Don’t worry. I love you.” He meant it, but this part always felt bad. That twinge of guilt. It would disappear soon enough.
“Okay Ben, I love you too. Don’t work too late, okay?” Just the slightest emphasis on work.
“Okay Doris. I gotta get back to work.” That was worse than usual.
He was relieved to hear the bell on the door ring as a customer came in. It was the tulip man coming to see if the catalogs would be done on time. He was surprised when Ben told him that he could take them now. The two men carried the boxes out to the customer’s car. It was the first time Ben had been outside all day. The weather was weird. The wind was picking up snow and trash and creating a painful sheet that hit them as they emerged from the shop. The sky was almost green with the moonlight shining through the windy detritus. After stowing all the boxes in the customer’s trunk and backseat they went back inside to settle up the bill.
“I just need you to sign here and we’re good to go,” Ben said. As the man signed, a particularly hard gust of wind blew the door open and scattered paperwork.
“Wow. It feels like the end of the world out there,” the man said.
“Nah, I can smell springtime thanks to your catalogs,” Ben joked back.
Once the client was gone, Ben picked up papers and sat at his ancient desk. He opened his old fashioned ledger, a giant leather book that contained all of his accounts. Ben had a computer, but preferred to put everything on paper with an old fashioned ink pen. With that finished he picked up the phone and dialed.
She answered with that soft French accent that drove him nuts “Alloo?”
“I’m closing up the shop and should be there in about twenty minutes, Beautiful.”
“Oh, Ben, I was starteeng to worry you might not come ce soir. I meese you mon cher!”
“I miss you too Gorgeous, but not for long. See you soon.”
“Au revoir Benny. Je taime.”
He was already starting to feel better.
That was when the building collapsed on him.