The conveyor belt purred as it transported materials down the assembly line. Computer parts rattled on the stream through blank faced workers who were stationed strategically on both sides of the current.
Within the brick and concrete walls of the well-worn factory, about 200 drones deteriorated their human state. The interior was dull and void of decorations to avoid distractions to their acclaimed essential work. Twelve hour, six day a week shifts were dull for their entire duration. There was a lack of personal application in the work and room to develop skills further, which forced the workers to become mindless and miserable while they rot away at their stations. Ben was one of these workers.
He stood in his 6’4”, gangly body to wait in the open foyer of the factory with the others for the morning rally. From here the entire factory could be seen; one massive room occupied by aged machines and corroded barrels to store the various metals, wires and plastics needed for production. The area was divided by the faded conveyor belt that commanded full attention from the laborers as it wove through the stations.
He scanned the crowd for the one face he cared about. He didn’t like the idea of investments or effort, which rendered him friendless throughout his life. Jerry was an exception to his philosophy; Ben found comfort in a bond with someone who shared his same mindset.
He tapped his fingers nervously against his leg. It isn’t like Jerry to show up late, where could he be?Before his thoughts could wander to horrible situations, the boss, Mr. Hirsch, scuffed to the front of his laborers. The portly, old man spat out production numbers and motivation for a few minutes to pretend the labor was useful to them. His speech was interrupted by a throaty cough that indicated the approach of his hourly smoke break. With a grunted “get to work!” the herd migrated to their stations for the day.
About 5,000 products pass through Bens hands each day. Protective gear covered his arms and face and a thin apron draped over his torso to suffice as safety. Over the past 15 years, the 33 year old spent his shift perched in the position assigned to him. Vital to his step of the assembly, a barrel sat beside him that contained thousands of identical copper chips. He dipped in his latex covered fist to grab a chip every thirty seconds. Within this time frame, he was required to solder the copper piece to the board itself and to the thin silver wire that extended from the circuit base. A circular magnifying glass rested in his apron pocket, used after each construction to guarantee flawless execution before the product was cast back down the stream.
Ben shifted his caramel colored eyes from his work to the spot Jerry usually occupied. His replacement was someone Ben didn’t recognize. He must still be sick from whatever he had yesterday. He exhaled deeply and lingered before he inhaled slowly. For the past 5 years, he worked with Jerry by his side. Ben didn’t realize how much he valued his presence until he wasn’t there. His nerves expressed discomfort; his stomach fluttered and tightened while his body quivered. With a subtle shake, his hands guided the pliers. He kept them under control while they cycled through the memorized procedure. Each individual finger hummed a gentle vibration under its skin. Don’t worry about him, he encouraged his nerves to calm down.
In the grasp of the pliers he firmly gripped the wire. Pressure tightened in his chest as he strained to connect the wire to its destination point. It was impossible for Ben to direct his shaky hands in the right direction. He glanced up at the rubber strip and noticed the back up of products at his stations divider. He made eye contact with the woman stationed across from him. She lowered her eyebrows into a scowl.
“Hey, boy, what’s wrong with you? You’re jamming up the line!”
Involuntarily, his hands twitched in unison. The motion jerked the delicate wire into the circuit board with an agonized screech. Orange flecks sprayed towards Ben’s face against the thick plastic goggles that protected his vision. The pliers ejected from his weak grasp into the pile of work at his station and knocked three sets of mother boards off of the trusted transporter.
“Shit!” Ben was motionless for a moment. Fragmented computer components sparkled across the concrete floor. The woman held a narrowed, dark gaze on Ben and pointed her wrinkled finger towards the bosses office.
“I hope that Mr. Hirsch saw how useless you are,” She shook her head and resumed her loop of work.
Ben held his hands out in front of him and bent his arms at the elbow to examine the soft membrane that relentlessly fluttered. Instead of a wound or something to explain their behavior, he saw how flawless his hands were. They were squishy and feeble, pure in their lack of hangnails or wear. Ben looked up and noticed that everyone in his general area stared at him and his accident. What the hell is wrong with me?
A static distortion from above their heads rung from the speakers, until it shaped into Mr. Hirsch’s voice, “Ben Hudson, my office. NOW! BEN HUDSON.” He cleared his throat to speak in a more pleasant tone, “momentary pause in production, no need to worry, people. Rick Rogers you are re-assigned to Solder Station #5 to replace Ben Hudson for the day. RICK ROGERS, SOLDER STATION #5. Let’s get back to work!”
A short rustle followed by a click indicated the end of the boss’s announcement. The herd turned back to their individual repetitions, satisfied that Ben was caught for his mistake. He took a moment to scowl up at the shadow of a man that lingered behind the pane of glass high above the production line.
He hung his head low as he navigated across the factory to the boss’s office door. His hands felt stranger and stranger as they acted like they driven by an isolated power source. He rubbed his palms against each other, but the nerves of his fingers pinched against themselves in their equalized frenzy. Maybe I’ll calm down after I leave. His knuckles aggressively knocked on the door, like a cop at the home of a criminal. Embarrassed, he sighed and hid his disobedient hands in his pockets.
The old, cranky Mr. Hirsch bellowed from the other side. “Get in here, kid”. He couldn’t be bothered to get up from his spot by the window that oversaw the shapes of people, solitary in their spots he assigned to them.
“Sit down,” the boss peeked up at Ben and nodded his head towards the chair on the opposite end of his rickety desk. Ben could feel his hands jiggle in the pockets of his jacket as he silently sat in the armless chair. “Kid, we all need to work at the same pace here. You can’t slack off; we’re a team dammit. You disrupted production and now I have to go down there, pick up your mess and file a damaged report.”
The boss spoke to Ben but retained eye contact with the window. Ben frowned and pointed his eyes down towards his lap where his hands noticeably shook within their concealment.
The boss finally looked at Ben and observed his body cower. He scrunched his eyebrows together. “Get your shit together and come back tomorrow able to work. I’ll have Rick fill your shift. He can thank you later for the extra hours.” He wanted to make sure Ben felt awful about his inconvenience.
“I’ll make it up to him, sir. S-sorry” Ben sputtered. Let me go before I explode.
Mr. Hirsch met Ben’s eyes and noted the presence of fear that pooled within them. He mistook its origin as their current engagement.
“Calm down boy, I’m not that scary. Tough love motivates,” he snickered, “Now get out of here.” He gestured his half-balded head towards the door and swiveled his back towards Ben to face out the glass.
Ben sat and stared for a moment at Mr. Hirsch and thought of what Jerry said earlier that week. That lucky bastard just sits there ruling over the factory, doing nothing as we lose our minds. Man, I wish I could get paid to do nothing. Ben agreed and wished for the same, but that’s not how the real world works.
He slipped out the door toward the exit stairs. His fingers vibrated against his hips inside his coat pocket. The fabric rustled frantically like a blender set to high. His body calmed down but his hands were a motion blur of hummingbird velocity, completely foreign from the rest of him. Why won’t they stop? He pulled out his phone to check the time and realized his girlfriend was calling. Goddammit, I can’t even feel it vibrate against my hand.
“Hey Candice.” Ben barely kept the phone in his grasp as it hit him against the side of the head repeatedly and rustled against his hair. This is ridiculous. He moved it off his head; confident Candice’s voice was naturally loud.
“Oh, hey, thought I’d just get your voice mail.” She paused and he heard a giggle in the background. “I’m hitting up that new club tonight, you know, The Bowline? It’s sailor themed– super trendy. I can wear my sexy sailor costume from last Halloween!”
He tried to remind her of their prior plans, but she spoke before he could.
“Yeah, I said I’d have dinner with you, but it’s the opening night. All of my girls will be there, and it’s a chance to grab potential clients! You understand, right? ”
Her job required her to flaunt her bulimic-driven body to eager, lonely men. They reward her efforts with a rain of dollar bills she’d crawl at the end of her shift to collect. He didn’t question what she did with her time there and avoided confrontation on every level.
Candice didn’t wait for his response. “Of course you do. Otherwise you’d be a useless boyfriend.” She chuckled the way she always did after she put him in his place and bluntly ended their call.
He sighed and lowered his dysfunctional hand. Ben used to drink at the bars alone and debate with himself the idea of having a significant other, until 21 year old Candice approached him and made his decision for him. He knew he didn’t want to put effort into the relationship and luckily she didn’t either. She used it to fully embrace her obscenity while he watched television alone at home every night in his underwear.
The phone slipped from his flaccid grasp and a quick snap cracked through the air. His agitation grew as he stared at the device broken on the concrete. Ripples smacked through the fat on his legs as his hands fluttered frantically against them. Ben determined the limbs attached to his arms were completely useless and left his phone shattered on the floor.
The thick, steel door grumbled open with a creak as he stepped out of the factory. He winced at the suns position in the brightest point for the day. Ben paused, disoriented for a moment. He held up his manic hand to temporarily shield the sun and confirm he walked towards the direction of home. He stowed his hands back in his pockets and kept his head pointed down.
The city flourished with fresh greenery; tulips and daffodils sprouted their blooms into the spring air. The cracks in the sidewalk gave passage to the hungry weeds below. The growing life indicated the start of Ben’s least favorite season. The cheery weather, hope for change and idea of ‘spring cleaning’ deeply bothered him. It seemed pointless in its jubilant optimism for new beginnings. His normal walking pace was amplified by his dislike for the spring weather and the hands dedication to control his actions. I don’t think this is just anxiety. Ben grew concerned but he couldn’t think of any plausible health condition. Health insurance was a luxury he wasn’t provided with at his job, which forced him to receive seldom medical attention. I doubt they could help me anyways. He believed nothing could be done for his unique condition. The hands gently pattered against his thighs in wait for his next attempt to use them.
Ben approached the supermarket and realized how empty his stomach was. He felt a thick gurgle rumble and tried to comfort the ache with a hand on act of instinct. The hand added to the discomfort his stomach with its belligerent behavior. He held it in front of him to get another look at the invader. The fingers rubbed against each other in a barbaric manner, but Ben couldn’t feel it. He shook the arm that held the hand still in his pocket and realized he couldn’t feel the soft fleece lining against his skin. What is happening to me? He began to feel weary but his stomach voiced its need again and temporarily cut away his other concerns.
He entered through the motorized sliding doors of the grocery store and directed himself to the frozen section. The fingernails itched inside his pockets and picked at some loose threads in the hem. Stop it, he warned them, you better not rip holes in my jacket. The stubborn fingers continued to tear at the construction of his coat as he stood in front of the frozen pizzas. He balled the end of his sleeve into the palm of the hand to hide the fact he was a shaking monstrosity. The hands flopped around the handle in his attempt to grab the metal and smashed delicate finger bones into the hard metal. He finally held the door handle and exposed the front of his body to the chilly freezer air. Moments after he grabbed the box the hands released it from their clutch and threw it onto the linoleum floor.
“Oh, come on!” He grunted in irritation towards the possessed hands.
Ben closed his eyes briefly to compose himself, unaware that someone stopped to stand next to him. Instantly he recognized the voice that spoke to him, “Hey, what do you have against that pizza?” Jerry sported a smile that looked out of place on his sickly face. Ben widened his eyes and subtly recoiled at the sight of his friend. Jerry’s freckles puffed out around the dark circles, deep in contrast to his pasty skin, that encompassed his crimsoned eyes. What is he sick with? Ben opened his mouth to ask, but Jerry stopped him.
“Yeah, I look like shit. Never mind me, you don’t look too good yourself.” Jerry paused for a moment and realized “Hey, shouldn’t you be at work right now? What’s going on?” Jerry put a hand on Ben’s shoulder and felt his body rattle.
“My-my hands Jerry. Th-they won’t stop shak-king. It’s like their being controlled by something that isn’t me.” He realized it sounded crazy, but he was about to break down in tears there in the freezer aisle.
Jerry let out a hearty laugh despite his weakened state and slapped Ben on the back, “Maybe they’re tired of you not doing anything with them.” He continued to laugh. “All we do is the same thing every day. Being stuck at home sick made me realize what little I do with myself.” He paused for a moment to cough into his sleeve. Blood appeared where his mouth was and he widened his eyes with concern. He smiled at Ben and dropped his hand to the side to hide the fresh stain. Ben didn’t notice his friends’ body was in an equal state of regression.
“Have you heard the phrase ‘idle hands are the devils playthings’? Or is it ‘the devil finds work for idle hands?’”
Ben never heard that expression before; his eyes squinted at the sound of it.
“Oh, well, I was reading into it today actually, ‘cause like I said, I realized I do nothing outside of work,” he cleared his throat and pumped a fist against his chest, “It means if you’re lazy or don’t do productive or good things with your hands, they’ll be tempted to do bad things and get into trouble. In the end, it’s just a scare tactic used to keep people busy and away from sex and drugs.” Jerry smiled to hid his fear of the truth in the idiom, “You’re not doing drugs again, are you?”
Ben squeaked out a chuckle, “No-no. But can you carry this pizza to the check out for me?”
Ben hoped for relief as he stepped onto the creaky porch of his home. His leg felt the brutality of his purchase that smacked against it, but the hands still failed to communicate feeling to his brain. If the doors locked… he began to threaten the hands, unsure of what he would do to them. The limp appendages banged against the doorknob until he forced his fingers on the handle and pathetically turned it. Damn, it’s locked! The hands hit themselves against the door before he got hold of the knob again to try the other way. The door clicked and he thrust his body with great effort into it to swing it inside the house. He kicked the door closed behind him and involuntarily threw his purchase into the entryway.
The hands relentlessly trembled as they shot up in front of his face. The blurred fingers flicked their joints in different directions, engorged with so much energy the ligaments seem as though they’ll pop out of place. I need to tie them down.
“Ben? Is that you?”
Ben tensed at the sound of Candice’s voice. He forgot the possibility she could be home while he dealt with this abnormal regression. Shit, she can’t see me like this!
Her footsteps sounded as she slowly sauntered from their bedroom to where he stood.
“Why aren’t you at work?” She turned the corner and met her boyfriend with a gasp. “Jesus, what happened?”
Ben’s eyes reeked of hysteria. The amount of sweat and flushed skin that filled the pores of his face gave off the impression he committed a crime. If he saw himself in the mirror, he’d say he resembled exactly how Jerry looked at the grocery store.
“What did you do?” She crossed her arms; stubborn to her belief he misbehaved.
Ben’s body snapped into a violent twitch that cocked his head back and forth.
“Th-these hands!” He shrieked as he presented the problem. He took a step forward as the sporadic fingers flicked towards Candice and beckoned her to rationalize their rapid motion.
“Ben! What are you doing?!” She cringed and stepped back to create distance between her and her newly manic boyfriend.
“These useless hands!” He groaned in disbelief of the inhuman energy that powered the hands. The individual fingers became indistinguishable as they blurred across his field of vision. His eyes refused to blink; determined to uncover a flaw in the hands perfect tantrum. The hands evolved to an impressionistic mist that flowed from his wrists. He was only able to recognize the translucent, hazy figures as hands from his previous knowledge. Speckles of energy flickered inside the clouds that vibrated at a frequency much faster than the human eye was able to process. Candice stood motionless, caught in the awe of his unrealistic movements.
He rejected his brains ability to properly communicate his vision, convinced it was a trick. His eyes forced him to witness reality as chunks of pixelated flesh faded from the left hand. Hollow gaps of air poked through the cloud that once had solid function. Where are they going?
The information loss rapidly spread to the right hand and completely disassociated it from its original form. Ben could only stare as the fragments vanished in entirety. He flexed his empty wrists and shook his painless, lonely arms. A clean, flat stub marked the division of where hands once were.
Candice paused before she discharged her sinister chuckle at his predicament.
“Wow, you really are useless now.”