The Clearing: The Fearful Bystander (A Short Story Series 6/9)

Short Story, The Clearing / Thursday, April 20th, 2017

The Cabin was now enclosed, the primary expectation of a residence. All else was finishing the Carpenter thought. To most it was comfort or aesthetics, to the Carpenter it was time. Time to allow him to develop an image that encapsulates humanity. The good and bad of the species which he belongs to was stark.

There were people who focussed only on doing good, others complacent about their roles. There were people who did a great many evils, while others enabled. From his assessment he couldn’t be sure of what their intention was that. Those great massacres, whilst evil things were done in pursuit of a higher purpose.

They believed in good and bad, humans through the ages were instructed in such matters. A great many gods, perhaps Their intervention, told of good and evil. The great punishments and eternal delights. Yet evils were still perpetrated and those who did so under the impression of a higher purpose.

From this could the Carpenter only gleam that humans were unable to comprehend an objective assessment of themselves. Was evil only truly evil if you were not in the moment? If you were not the one doing evil? The Carpenter was unsure first if the human being was evil and second if they could be judged as such.

Judged as doing a wrong without the comprehension seemed harsh. Damned for a crime they did not know existed. Humanity had an obsession of good and evil but did it really understand it. Understand the evil in itself, not just in others.

The Carpenter thought about this judgment as he worked on the boards. They would go down to make up the floor. Such precision in his work, the cabin would last much longer than him. How long would that be?

If he judged humanity to be damned, he would be taken up with Them. Wherever they existed had no need for such a sturdy structure. If he judged humanity good, would they let him stay there? At best he would need the cabin for a decade or so. It seemed unnecessary that the construction needed to be so perfect when he looked at it outside of himself. Like evil though reason was hard to come by, particularly with a view from outside of oneself.

Without a second thought he kept working towards perfection. In the quiet of work the thoughts came and went. One thought came to him, it was not just about a person’s ability to be human but also to allow it. Acting in a way that pits us against our better intentions. Frozen by fear or selfishness, our better selves once more recede into the wilderness of intention.

The Carpenter was reminded of Jack, the man remarkably like so many others in their refusal of action. In the face of horror he turned a blind eye. Sometimes though, even if you refuse to see them, they can see you.

Jack sat in his apartment immersed in a television show. It was set in space, and every week it mixed morality with excitement. A world away from Jacks life of the mundane. He existed to produce work, not be excited with life. The grinding of reality pushed him to be more and more amoral. Ignoring the real life situations that his space hero’s would face weekly.

Jack worked for a conglomerate, making rich people more so. He analysed employees, his purpose was to maximise revenue streams. To find the wastage, when illuminated would allow the company more profit.

The Corporation

It was a regular occurrence that the wastage was human, a person committed to the company. Their jobs valuable only as long as another cheaper option was not available. Jack would find that option, and he would put it in his monthly summary. Last month he found a way to save $3 million by illuminating a department.

For that Jack was rewarded with continued employment. He watched them being walked out of the building. In this world they were expendable, his report proved it. The company had no loyalty, even if it demanded it of them.

Usually when he watched them being walked out it was silent. They were resigned to their fate. It was built into the new economy, an agreement that you were dispensable. The fear of being made redundant caused you to work harder. Your job depended on it.

Occasionally there would be those who got mad, shouting as they left. Security escorted them, they were dispensable too yet they put themselves in harm’s way. They were the people who Jack wished he didn’t see but couldn’t look away from. The ones who cried. Tears of fear, perhaps betrayal.

There was a crier in this group, she had worked for the company for 17 years. Just last year the rules were changed so that her redundancy was halved. Because of the old rules, last year Jack sent a report saying it wasn’t a revenue positive move. Now it was a revenue positive mood. She voted for the new agreement, an extra weeks holiday for people of her tenure. It did her no good now.

She cried from betrayal, he wanted to look away from her. Wished that he could have done something but the numbers made sense. It was wastage.

Jack arrived home and sat down in front of the TV, he could be lost in the stories of other people. Forgetting about his troubles or conflicts. It didn’t take him long, there wasn’t time to lament. He needed to be back to work for next months recommendations. If he didn’t produce than he would be considered wastage.

The meal for one dinged in the microwave, he got up to retrieve it. He was in his underwear by this point. No need for formality. He placed it on the coffee table in front of himself. Jack ate for sustenance, the taste was enough to placate him. The TV flickered with a product that caught his eye. He wrote it down on a notepad, he needed to consume.

The TV

Jack finished his meal and dropped it into the bin, he heard his neighbours argue. That was why he was single, he abhorred confrontation. He listened to them, occasionally they would hit each other but this time just a slammed door.

He went back to his seat and the next show came on. He didn’t count his nights in terms of hours but introductions to TV shows. He knew it was time to sleep after the sixth. Jack sat there, in his Television induced coma, the fifth one came on. He couldn’t wait for the sixth, he was tired and wanted to go to sleep.

An empty cup sat on the coffee table, and he dozed off. It was a rerun, he knew what was coming. Then there was a noise outside his window. It caught his attention, a women screaming. It seemed that all humans were attracted to this sound, gaining the attention of something low down in the lizard brain.

Jack walked to the window and peered out, he could see many of his neighbours doing the same. Their lights came on eerily behind their shades. The women who had screamed was on the floor struggling with two men. One of them struck her hard and she went still.

They looked up at the windows, the men with nefarious intent. Jack wanted to call for help but was frozen in his place. He thought that someone else would call for help, surely with the amount of lights coming on. He then caught the eyes of one of the men. He pointed up, Jack stood staring at this man for a moment, then they ran to his building. Jack in a panick ran to his door, made sure the locks were secure.

For a moment all he could hear was the TV and his own breath. Then the men, he could hear them counting the doors. They were in front of Jack’s, they tried the knob and Jack jumped. “I didn’t see anything.” They banged on the door, “please I wont say anything”. This did not appease them, they continued to bang on the door, relentlessly.

Then the sound of sirens, they turned and ran from the door. Not before Jack heard a thud, it was small but terrifying none the less. Jack waited against the door till he was sure they had gone. He opened the door to the sight of a little plastic bag, in it a pinky finger. He picked it up without thinking, he was in shock. It had on a deep red nail polish, almost complimenting the blood the appendage gave.

Jack slammed the door shut when his neighbours came out of their apartments to look. He put it on the counter, staring at it. He had seen fingers many times before, but not in this context. The TV came on with the sixth show. Jack ran to the window, to see the car speed away and then moments later the police arrived.

By this time many residents of the buildings had come out of their homes. There were three police cars, one went out in the direction of the offenders and the officers of the other two cars began to interview the people. Jack starred out from the window and then one by one his neighbours pointed up at him. He shut the shades quickly and went back to his couch. Wishing he could go back to watching his TV.

There was a knock at the door, “police open up”. Jack stood behind the door and yelled back to them, “I didn’t see anything, please I’d like to be left alone.” The office said something into the radio, “open the door we have reason to believe you were involved. If you do not open the door we will be forced to open in ourselves.”

Jack thought, he couldn’t speak, they would come back for him. They were serious, he didn’t want to die. “This is your last chance open up or we will do so by force.” Jack lent against the door, “Ok”

He unlocked the door and opened it enough to speak with the officers. “I didn’t see anything, I’m sorry I can’t help you.” The officer looked over Jack’s shoulder and saw the finger, he pushed the door open and knocked Jack backwards. There were three officers in his apartment before he could get to his feet. One of them spoke into his radio, “We’ve found a finger” They searched the tiny apartment for the missing women. “She’s not here, take him in now.”

They put Jack in cuffs, and dragged him out of the building just in his underpants. The doors opened a crack to view him being taken into custody. They all watched on as he screamed his innocence.

At the station he sat opposite an officer who questioned him. He recounted his story over and over. They would not believe him, even in all his terror. It was hard to believe a story so far-fetched, especially with the finger in his possession. Jack wished to be back on his couch, lost to another world.

They put him in a cell and kept him over night. He did not sleep, scared that he would be imprisoned or worse, deal with those men. There appeared no good options, the fear gripped him and he had a panick attack.

The next morning they released him, a number of neighbours corroborated his story. He was lucky to have so many nosey people living in the apartments. They gave him clothes to travel home in, it was demoralising but he was free.

Jack got changed at home and made his way into work, two hours late but he was there with a feeling of normality. His manager took him into his office, “We heard about what happened at your apartment. I’m afraid we aren’t able to be associated with people like yourself.” Jack looked at his manager, they had worked together for two years now. Never having a conversation about anything but work. They were machines expected to work and be disposable. “I didn’t do anything wrong”. His manger pressed a button on his phone. “I’m sorry but we aren’t prepared to take the risk you currently hold. You will be paid all your entitlements and if your situation clears then please do get in touch.”


Security escorted a bemused Jack out of the building, there were many people who watched on and let out a sigh of relief. He was the best at finding inefficiencies, they could have been next. They were glad it was him and not them.

Jack sat in his apartment not sure of the next step. His life was work and the couch, he felt unbalanced. There was a darkness that descended on him, he was just as disposable as the names that found their way into his monthly reports.

It was after two days of job searching and loosing track of the TV that there was a knock on the door. Jack opened it without a thought, there stood the two men who had attacked the women. They pushed their way in, “you talked to the pigs didn’t you?” The men corralled him into the living room, they stood over him and fear was firmly in his mind.

One of the men put his head out the door, the way he closed it sent a shiver down Jack’s spine. That man was the one in control of the situation, he could see that. It was clear that this man, erratic in nature, was now in charge of his destiny. He sat on the coffee table across from Jack, looked him in the eyes. He took a gun from his inner jacket pocket. “The only thing separating you from this gun is the truth. Now if I don’t believe you, then there is no reason for me to restrain myself.”

“I didn’t speak to the police” Jack was in panick, if only he didn’t look. If only he acted before they saw him. The narcissism of society spoke through him. He had forgotten that the reason he looked was because of an attack on that women. That he should have acted to help her, not himself. When the coldness of reality settled the truth settled.

“You were in the police station for ages, you mean to tell me you didn’t have a little chat. Tell them what you saw?”

“I didn’t see a thing, that’s what I told them”

The man stood off the coffee table, he pointed the gun at Jack. The tears came quickly, he missed the possibility of the future. Where he would do something with his life. The man waited for Jack to calm, “the funny thing is pal, I believe you. But at this point you’ve seen way to much for us to risk.”

Jack put his hand up in reflex of what he knew was coming. The bullet went through his hand, and took out the left side of his face. He blood sprayed on the gunman, he was used to getting blood out of clothes. He wiped his face and just like that they were gone. Leaving the lifeless body like any other waste.

Jack was there for two weeks before anyone found him. He had crafted a life of loneliness, his only real tie to the world was his job. His loyalty there was misplaced, like humanity it was self concerned. Without a job there was no where that he should be, nowhere for people to miss him.

The police broke through the door and saw the body in the state of decomposition. Falling in on itself, returning to a nature that in it life it struck out against. They packaged him up and cleaned the apartment. Within two weeks there was another Jack in there, counting the time to sleep by the TV. He was erased from the living, there were so few people who remembered him that it barely registered across humanity. Within a decade his existence was forgotten altogether.

The Carpenter was the only person, now to remember Jack. He only ever existed because the Carpenter remembered it. When the Carpenter was gone so was any recollection of a human being. This was true of all of us. At some point we would stop existing in the memories of others. We would no longer be, we wont even have been.

As the Carpenter finished the boards he thought of Jack. How at some point all the people who had existed, never existed. The deep cruelty of this struck him, that no matter how good or bad a person you were, at some point in time you never were. History is only true as long as one person remembered.

He thought it a cruelty to inflict non-existence on more people. Even though Jack was an example of inaction, the inability to think of another person even at your own risk. Should he at least have the basic right of existence. It may be painful but it is the basic of what it is to live or have lived.

The decision felt like the most important ever to be made. What if it was only important for 100 years, after that regardless of the choice it would be forgotten by all, except Them. They would remember for all time, was that an even worse fate. To become one of them and be the only person to remember. The holder of human history, and only a glimpse at that.

The Carpenter sanded down the floor and thought not about the choice but rather if there was a choice. He was tasked with the judgement of humanity, yet humanity would never know. History would be empty of this knowledge. The perfectly aligned boards would fall to time, not matter how perfect.

Two thirds down for this tale of humanity and its worth. The clearing is anything but certain, it is the story of human nature and its worth. To catch up on past parts go to The Clearing

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What should the decision be? Where does it all end?



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