After the first year you have a choice to make. You can stay in the blank slate mode, or you can train your brain to see past the numbers and the tedious tasks and start having conscious thoughts. The blank slates, they are zombies.  It really is easier that way, to focus on the numbers, like counting sheep, and think of nothing else.  Bad things can happen when you think too much. So the blank slates, they play it safe. And for the first year that’s all any of us imputers can do because it takes that long to master the craft. In the first year you can’t talk to anyone or you’ll forget to minus column C from column F and if a disbursement cheque gets cut with the wrong amount the Bosses upstairs will pop veins in their foreheads.  No, the first year you’re just a slave in a sweat shop while the Bosses laugh behind their professional degrees.

However, if you can train yourself to unfocus; train your fingers to move without congesting your brain, then you can find freedom. You can think about whatever you want and the constant droning of 14.59, 284.07, 295.66, 1,371.50…

Credit: Rohan Quinby

Credit: Rohan Quinby

The first step is listening to music; something that grabs you. Not that crap they play at the bar with three chords and a one line chorus that repeats itself incessantly so all the drunks can sing along because they don’t have to memorize anything. No, you need a diversion worth your time in order to develop muscle memory. If you see number 8 your middle finger moves like a reflex. We’ve had it happen on the subway or TV watching a yogurt add that claims 0% sugar, 0% trans-fat and every zero makes out thumb tap instinctively. Once you get to that stage you’ll be amazed how easy it is. You can input with your eyes closed.Then you can fill up your blank slate with things that matter.

Douglas over in cubicle 27 learned Chinese just by listening to downloaded lessons in his ear-buds. Every day when he passes by he asks, “Ni mung ma?” Really, when are we not?

Imputer is pretty close to “I putter” so we call ourselves Puter Putters. Don’t tell the Bosses, they’ll automatically think the worst, like all we do is putter around. Heaven forbid us wasting a couple hours when they’re off to Sweet Valley twice a year and calling it “customer relations.” Disbursements are a joke. Goes to show Bosses and lackeys can never be friends. But there is a double meaning to the word “putter” that nobody thinks of. A putter is a person who molds and shapes clay or putty. They fix cracks, fill holes, you know, improves things.

See Alisha over there? She writes music She sings it to herself and visualizes herself playing Never practices on a real piano, doesn’t need to. She could play it perfectly the first time because for her it’s the thousandth time. First time we heard her Nocturne in C minor we all asked her to play it at our funerals.

We are more than data input technicians. We are more than our mundane jobs or our imperfect bodies.

Thinking can also have its disadvantages. Keith had a serious problem with paranoia; always thought his wife was cheating on him. He’d analyze every word she said to him. He’d ask us lame stuff like, “Does your wife keep her computer password protected? Why would she need to keep it under a password? What’s on there that I’m not allowed to see?” All lunch hour he’d spend at his desk trying to crack her Pinterest account. They’ve got these secret boards you know, where you can put pictures of anything and no one can see.

Keith’s funeral was awkward since everyone from work wanted to know if his wife really cheated or not.

You’ll never meet Keith because he killed himself last winter. He threatened his wife so badly one night she just walked out the door and never came back. He never got past her firewalls but we bet our pinky fingers there was nothing going on Who knows? We could be wrong. We all have our secrets.

Security around this place went way up after they found out about Janet. She was a genius, and hot, too. She’d mark each charge a couple cents higher than what was recorded and the unaccounted money added up fast. By the time they caught her she’d spent one hundred thousand dollars on what she’d labelled as “employee relations”. It would have been cheaper for the Bosses to take the entire accounting department to Sweet Valley twice a year. But since they didn’t, they deserved what happened. Janet’s at the women’s correctional facility We go visit her every once in a while.

Keith’s funeral was awkward since everyone from work wanted to know if his wife really cheated or not. We wanted to ask what unbreakable password she used that her own husband couldn’t decipher it. Alisha played her Nocturne. She plans on playing it for all of us.

Actually, we all have our funerals planned What else can you guarantee in life? You might think we’re morbid but we are preparing for the “take over”. That’s the day when one of us snaps. It’s going to happen. It always happens. Keith and Janet were just the beginning. They had enough moral conscience to keep their chaos to themselves, but that won’t last. The real evil people can’t keep it from spreading. They need others to suffer. Sink with the ship so to speak. Whether they torture us out of pleasure or want to save us from a life of misery the result is the same. Whether a suicide bomber, sniper, or airplane flying into a building, someone innocent is going to die.

Janet gets “Enter Sandman” played at her funeral because she must have been in Neverland if she thought she could get away with embezzlement. Douglas gets his eulogy in Mandarin so only a select few will understand. Alisha gets a video of her practicing in her head and everyone has to imagine the music. We’ll all have our names engraved on a memorial plaque on a statue shaped like a cubicle that stands at the threshold to the empty lot where the office once stood. After they clear away the debris they’ll turn it into a park where old people can come feed the pigeons. Yah, we’ve got big plans.

It’s going to come from one of the blank slates. They’re the kind of people who don’t think on the surface, but deep down their souls are festering with rage bottled up because their minds are too busy counting numbers. Those people can’t explain what happened or simply don’t remember anything. “Honest, Officer, I don’t understand I blacked out and when I came to my hands were covered in blood.” That sort of thing. They wear glasses and cardigans. They don’t even smoke. And the trigger that sets the whole thing off can be something as minor as running out of paperclips.

If you chart the number of mass killings in the last fifty years you’ll see a curve that rockets skywards. Current stats like these predict in ten years there’ll be a mass killing every week. So get use to it. A corporation like this is a prime target for a mindless employee with no therapeutic outlet to one day start hearing voices that tell him he has a divine mission to ritualistically sacrifice everyone on the third floor.

One person’s actions affect all of us. The Bosses think they can go golfing and call it a business trip without hurting anyone, but it does. A man can think nobody will notice when he gives up and shoots himself but we do. We rely on each other’s stability. When one person jumps off the deep end it makes us question our own sanity. We let doubt creep in. If Keith can pull the trigger then we’re all not that far off.

Maybe it will be a huge accident. Right before our shift ends the clock will strike 4:44 pm and trained muscle memory will kick in. The number 4 triggers an automatic response in the pointer finger. The brain will have nothing to do with it. The brain will be speaking foreign languages, composing symphonies, bypassing firewalls, inventing new html code, collecting disbursements in off-shore bank accounts. The real disbursements have nothing to do with numbers at all.

Halli Lilburn was born in Edmonton, Alberta.  She has works published with Poetry Quarterly, Canada's History, Leap Books Spirited Anthology,Tesseracts 18 and many others.  Many of her stories begin as dreams because she says creativity is more prominent when she's sleeping. She is married with three children and works at the local library.