“Relax, relax,” he goes on, sometimes in front of me, sometimes behind. “Relax as if your life depended on it” (hoosh, whoosh). After eight minutes of pyro-fencing, Fletchens extinguishes his sword in what I assume is the giant plastic water bottle from the bubbler, which he sliced in half at the start of his presentation when the lights were still on. A moment later, someone’s smart phone buzzes and glints in the dark.
“Whose. Phone. Is. That?” asks Fletchens.
No one says a word. Fletchens stalks the aisles between our be-lotused bodies, sniffing out the culprit.
“Whose. Phone. Just [violent wet swooshing] BUZZZZZZZZZED.”
I think I know who it is: Joyce Sarrow, a junior communications officer with Tongle Inc.’s PR team. I am a communications officer for the same department and share a “cube space” with her, which means that we both occupy a single “cubicalized mini-office” (in a row of such offices) that once housed just one, only one, if you can believe it, lavishly spoiled Tongle Inc. employee. She and her newlywed husband, Flynn, text each other memes of adoration every two to four minutes. The rest of us are unhappy, and it makes us all sick.
Bill O’Hanrahan, a fellow PR flunky and bitter scold rustles and ahems, trying to get Fletchens’ attention. Were I not mortally terrified of Fletchens’ now lightless sword parting my head from my body, I would tell Bill that no one can see his hammy hinting and pointing in this Stygian gloom.
“I can sense that someone is trying to SIGNAL me,” says Fletchens, warming to Bill’s oafish intimations. “Tell me, MESSENGER, who dares interrupt Big Mind!?”
At which point Bill, adopting what I’m sure he thinks is a totally anonymizing voice, huff-growls, in the manner of a séance ghost, “It…was…Joyyyyyce.”
Fletchens stills, it seems, then speaks from what I sense is a new elevation.
“Joyce, come forward. The others can’t see you, but I can. Sense you that is. Very good. I feel you rising. Now, Janice has her legs spilled out in from of her despite my warnings [a rustling is heard as Janice’s legs re-lotus]. Good. Three more steps to your left. There. I believe you’re directly in front of me and 10 feet below me. LIGHTS!” he screams. The lights slap on. Everyone blinks and rubs their eyes for a minute, then stares at the switches across the room (no one there) in wonder, then at Joyce, and then at Fletchens, who’s standing atop a stack of conference chairs on top of a conference table. His dress shirt entirely unbuttoned, sword hanging from his macrame belt. He’s all wet, as though he fell asleep in the rain.
“Joyce. Tell me. Whomst are you texting?”
Joyce quivers and then says, “Flynn.”
“Does Joyce love Flynn?” Fletchens asks.
“Yes,” she snivels.
“Does Joyce love Flynn more than Tongle Inc.?”
“Well, I mean. I do like it here—”
“Does Joyce,” in a silent acrobatic swoop, Fletchens dismounts and lands in a crouch beside Joyce, and just as silently rises to full height. His business card says he’s 5’11, “Does Joyce love Flynn more than Big Mind?”
“Why no, I mean yes, I mean—”
“Do you love improvement, Joyce?” Fletchens asks, buttoning his sopping shirt.
“I do,” she says, and her phone buzzes again. Andre from fiscal gasps behind me in fear.
“Do you love making your mind and work life bigger?”
“Text good Flynn. Tell him he is loved. How big is HIS mind, I wonder? But tell him you must be alone with your career.” Joyce slashes away at the screen. “That’s right: Tell him, you’re with BIG MIND now.” Joyce, I believe, tells Flynn that she’s with BIG MIND, at the moment and maybe forever.
Fletchens pulls out his sword.
“Stock options, health insurance, conference lunches, discount parking, employee fridges and coffee makers, all these….jewels,” says Fletchens in a low hypnotic voice. “These riches. Take the sword.” He hands the sword to Joyce, who drops her smart phone in the process, and then drops the heavy sword as soon as she’s received it.
“Oof, that is heavy,” she says.
“How big can your Mind be if you need a 'smart' phone? From this day forward, you will use only landlines, bulky desktop computers, pens, paper, and swords to do the great bidding of TONGLE INC. Is that clear!?”
It is clear. Michael, a cubical neighbor of mine and Joyce's, needlessly amplifies Fletchens’ edict: “Clear as a great pyramid made of ice. Clear as a glass bridge spanning the TWIN INFINITIES of the ancient poles—”
“Good,” says Fletchens. “Let’s break for lunch.”
Andre and I share a vegetarian wrap with dried humus and soggy roasted veggies, since we happen to be sitting near each other and “must share everything with partners,” Fletchens says. “Especially your minds!”
Fletchens gets his own lunch. His big mind is hungry. Ours are small and must be half-starved into what he calls awakeness.
As we eat on the floor of the conference room, Fletchens sits on a table, eating and plucking a lute, lecturing us in between bites of chicken salad.
“Awakeness is both a competition between and a cooperation with other BIG MINDS. The principles are as follows: Relax! Think of good business energy! Get to work early! Ask for more responsibility! Take care of yourself first, second, and third, but take care of Tongle Inc. before that! Dress well! Hear the music in all things!” Then Fletchens begins to play.
His piece is gloomy at first, cavernous—it has the feel of getting lost in a beautiful but deadly forest. I look about me and see vines and elegant snakes dangling from lush canopies.
But the music soon courses in new, ecstatic directions. Coruscating cataracts fill my sight. Four-winged birds shift and dart toward brilliant churches of fruit trees. A school bus made of light ferries angels from mossy grotto to mossy grotto.
Then the final movement begins. An ontological madness, a catastrophe of the senses. His fingers go wild, as if torturing the lute into some ghastly confession.
We wail and moan. Notes of long-ago anguished midnight sickness pock my soul, sew sores and scars there. But just before I break, the tone relents. Thick flocculent silences gauze each trauma. Sparse cries imply divine counsel gluing the music together in space. God is our surgeon, I think. We are torn apart by evil but by His knife and thread are made whole again.
I’ve wet myself. Coworkers I’ve never seen before throw back their heads with what seems like labor pains. Andre snaps his fingers as fast as he can. “My hands are castanets!” he whisper-shouts.
Somehow Fletchens folds up his beautiful lute like an expensive shirt and tucks it carefully into his wheeled luggage. “Now it is time for Architecture!” he yowls. “We build our greatness here today.”
Matt Fitsimmons, Sr. Vice President for Tongle Inc., who came up through the PR department before my own un-illustrious time, shuffles into the conference room with the bored arrogance of a corrupt detective. Though a master of HUMAN LOGISTICAL SYSTEMS and corporate spin, he looks and dresses like an ulcerated sales manager from a beleaguered 70s shipping firm: brown square-framed glasses, blunt mustache, scratchy thinning hair; slate grey slacks and sneakers; short-sleeve dress shirt; four wedding rings, two on each freckled hand.
“Matt,” says Fletchens, with the tone of an old, embattled adversary hacking up begrudging respect.
“Storm,” says Matt, with magisterial if nasal condescension. “How are the troopers doing today?” he asks, looking at Fletchens, not us.
“Greatness, Big-Mindedness, is war,” says Fletchens.
“I agree,” says Matt.
“You know why I have become so great, Matt?”
“Why is that?”
“Necessity. War is all. There is no relaxedness without conquest, no Big Mind without relaxedness. Did I ever tell you that my freshman year roommate at Pepperdine disappeared?”
“Very interesting. Well, you just get these people feeling good about their workplace, Storm. Okay.”
“Wait, before you go, I thought we might treat the novitiates to a little demonstration…”
“You know how this ends, Storm. I’ve taken several of your wives already. Don’t gamble away anymore in hopeless duels…”
“I’ve built skyscrapers in my mind! I have ERECTED great damns and silos there! I have tamed the wildness and made it my own! My father is quiet now…”
“There is no one, nothing—”
“That can defeat me.”
“What’ll be this time. Want to have another roll in the sensory deprivation chamber?”
“No. This time it will be a battle of persuasion. You may use your crude managerial power and gifts of rhetoric. I will use the principles of Big Mind. Whoever gains the most followers, wins.”
“Okay, then. So we try to convince these people (pointing a thumb at us) to join us?”
“That’s right and the winner gets…”
“The other’s wives—”
“Not. This. Time. This time the winner is master and the loser servant.”
“For ALL eternity. I see.”
“Alright people, what’ll it be? I’m your boss but Storm here’s just a guest speaker and someone I know from back at Pepperdine. But he’s a complete madman and he’ll lead you all to ruin…”
“Then why did you hire me to come and speak about the miracles of BIG M—”
“HR hires the speakers. I just brought you in the first time—when I won Denise from you, remember?—out of morbid curiosity. Anyways, you always seem to generate some energy even if…”
“Even if what?” Storm asks, reaching for his sword.
“Even if I have to set ‘em straight a little bit afterwards. No big deal.”
“Set them straight how?” he asks, raising his sword.
“You want to know the truth. I’m Flynn. I’m Joyce’s husband. We just got married a few months ago. We’re very happy.”
“Happiness is for fools. Join me, you grubs. Come with me and I’ll teach you to see in the dark. To listen across continents for the doleful songs of extinct birds.”
“They love me, Storm. It’s no use.”
Fletchens swings his sword and Boss Matt raises his hand to fend it off, but in doing so, his hand is partially severed from his arm. He screams as blood spurts here and there. Some of us rush to save Boss Matt from his injuries, to honor his sacrifice. Others tackle Fletchens en masse, prying the sword from his steely grip. It’s impossible to say who the winner is. But both men have fallen, for the sake of us all.