Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Eric Shields, The Secret World

Not everyone adjusted to the shift in climate the same. Georgia was good air; clean. The shift to working at the National Archives in D.C. had been incredibly hard on Eric Shields. The air was dirty, the pace faster. He was used to arriving at the office early by 8:00 a.m.; in D.C., he was one of the last people in. He took his job seriously, and he was good at it. It was an honest day's work for an honest day's wage.

He quickly found a routine. He found the Starbucks on his way to the office; he found his hole in the wall for lunch. He found his book store and his movie theater. He cheerfully pretended to enjoy going out for drinks with his coworkers and found creative excuses to ignore their invitations as often as possible. He had a schedule, and he kept to it almost religiously.

He wasn't really aware of the change in his routine at first. He slept in a bit one day; a bit more the next. Then, he was rushing out the door, tired. Then, he didn't show up one day until 9:00 a.m. His work didn't suffer; he just stayed late. But, each day, he found getting up more and more tiring. There were little things wrong too. Things he tried not to think about; burns on his clothes, things broken he thought had been fine when he went to bed; he blamed it to stress from the terrorism reports from Tokyo.

Then, one day, he just couldn't get up. He called out sick. Then a second; the tremors were getting worse and worse. The small apartment he hid away in was starting to show wear and tear; he blamed it on sleep walking. He woke up to the smell of burning one night and barely put the fire out before the smoke alarm went off; that night he set up a camera to see what was going on.

"Steve, I can't come in today," He said into his phone the next morning, as he hit play on the video again. "I've got some stuff I have to get together."

"Listen Eric, I don't care how bad of a headache it is; the only thing you have to get together are the papers for the testimony up north tomorrow," His boss said. "You've been keeping up with that case, right?"

"Yeah, Smithsonian says the documents are theirs; local museum in Canada has got papers saying otherwise. Look, I'm not up for travel right now."

"I don't care if you're up for travel; I snap, you jump," Steve said. It was 7:15 a.m. Eric didn't know how he did it, especially these days. "We need the work, and we need to up our burn rate on useful reports for when Congress or the Smithsonian come sniffing around for things to cut."

"The papers are nothing exciting Steve; Judge Carson from Maine went north to retire, brought some old court cases from the 1800s, a few letters to the editor about taxes. Drafts of state court opinions and motions that never got filed," Eric said. Judge Carson was a hanging judge, or as much of a hanging judge could be who specialized in tax law. "They're not even of local interest; I barely found them interesting. I don't see why the Archives even wants them."

"Because they're part of our heritage as Americans, Eric," Steve said. "Heritage and grant money. Besides, if we leave them there, Canada'll just let them rot in some records room."

"We can't restore them if that grant doesn't come through."

"The grant won't come through if we don't have results," Steve said. "Look, you're a team player, right? Get up, shove some pills down your throat and get your ass on a flight out there. This has the potential for a big win for the red, white and blue."

"It's a few hundred pages of a dead judge's memoirs no one even remembers, Steve. Normandy was a big win; Midway was a big win. This is nothing. Besides, I really can't today," Eric said. He hit play on the video again and watched it. "Send Shelly; she's smart. She likes to ski too, so everyone wins."

"Yeah, yeah, fine. Look, I just need you to come in. Tomorrow."

On the video, Eric watched as the strange lights danced while he was asleep. He had seen plenty of the fake ghost videos on YouTube; good for a sort of adult scary story before bed. This was different; he knew he had not tampered with the video. No one else could have either. He called in his resignation the next day; right before he started calling around worried that he was hallucinating.

That's when he got the knock on his door that changed his life.

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