• Dzama

The Job

Purple horns stuck out of Maurice’s helmet from every angle. His face was carved and wooden and his arms were made out of grape gelatin. He crossed through the trees and sat down at his lopsided tree desk, arms jiggling. You want the job of what? he asked me.

I’ll do the watering thing. I’ll water the shrubs. I’ll be the watering guy. I drink a lot of water myself and I know how not to spill it, I said.

Maurice raised his droopy arms. A snake-like tongue shot out of the mouth-hole in his wooden mask face. You will do nothing of the sort, he said. What you’ll do is you’ll go down in the tunnel and rid the miners of fleas and other insects down there.


Yes, tunnel. See that rise over there? He flopped his arm in the direction of a small hill. On the other side is a tunnel entrance. That’s where you go and sign in at the window. There’s a chain gang of miners down there.

I’m actually very unqualified in dealing with insects, I said. Here’s my resume. I unfolded and handed over a torn piece of paper towel with the words WATER BEARER written in marker above a list of water-related activities. Maurice held the soft paper in tremulous Jello fingers. You see, Mr… Gravelstroke… You see, that’s not how it works, he told me. How it works is you go down in the tunnel… Down there, where I showed you… And you sign in. They show you how to catch bugs. You then catch bugs for a number of years. DON’T FORGET to sign out at the end of every day. You’ll need to fill out all the forms at five PM every day. List the number of bugs of each type and also how many allowances you’re going to take regarding to your taxes, etc., etc., etc. That form-filling is very important. Otherwise, no monetary compensation, you hear me? Simple.

I stared at his flat wooden eyes. The snake tongue darted in and out. Sir, I said. I know how to fill out a form but I know zero about bugs. I can’t even remember the last time I caught a bug.

Listen, here’s the deal, he told me. Four types of bugs. Red, white, black, and spotted. The chain gang in the tunnel is infested and if those bugs start spreading to the sunlight world we are in big trouble. If you do your job right, you’ll be a national hero. Now get down to that office before it’s too late.

I got up from the slanted desk and moved towards the rise. After a few steps I looked back. Go on, he said. Everyone’s waiting. Just then I took off running, boots crushing the dry leaves, twigs snapping. But Maurice swung one of his rubbery arms and pulled me back with a gooey lasso.

Soon I was standing at the base of some mud steps looking through a barred window at a girl with black glasses and three buns in her hair. Have you done this before? she asked. No, I told you! You’re going to have to show me everything, I said.

Show you?

If no one shows me how to do it how am I going to know I’m doing it right? I asked. She stepped out of the booth and unlocked a large metal door with the ring of keys on her belt. She led me onto a very dirty down escalator that was barely moving. The escalator hummed and chugged along, deeper and deeper into the tunnel and I stared at the back of her little head with the ridiculous buns. What are you staring at? she asked. You know, if I wear my hair long the yellow spotted ones latch on. Plus, it’s regulations.

At the bottom of the escalator she led me to a dirty hamper full of plastic bags, stained with old blood. Take three of these, she said, handing them to me. You separate the bugs into each bag by color. At the end of the day you empty the bugs into the corresponding vat. She gestured to four giant vats with ladders bolted to them. I heard a whistle and watched as a miniature train came around a corner, with miners sitting on the cars. The miners were all chained together and had crazy beards. They wore construction helmets with small headlamps and were shirtless and very skinny and hairy. After a few more whistles and squeaks the train came to a stop a few yards away. The miners sat there and waited, occasionally scratching themselves.

I’m sorry, I said and with a violent yank I ripped the key ring right off her belt loop, knocking her off-balance and sending her sailing across the stone floor. Then I ran to the miners and unlocked them from their chains. They took off like mad up the down escalator. I hopped on the train and switched it to manual, hitting the accelerator lever, causing the train to lurch and then shoot down the tunnel. I braked at the next group of headlamps and unlocked the next chain gang, and they all took off running as well. After freeing the forth chain gang I saw something out of my peripheral vision. It was a hammer arcing through the air then making contact with my left ear. I went flying off the mini train and landed in a pile of sharp rocks. The girl with the three buns stood over me, holding her hammer high. You don’t know what you’ve done, she growled. And her hammer came down on my head.

When I came to, I was lying in a bed of leaves in the forest. It was almost night and I could hear the familiar cicada orchestra around me. I got to my feet and walked off toward the sunrise, feeling itchier and itchier with every step.



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