In the developing world, news travels faster than ever before. Facts become fiction as fiction becomes fact, falling prey to an almost eternal game of Chinese whispers. Connecting with people has never been easier, with mobile phone numbers becoming second to a Facebook friend'. Mobile Phones begin to resemble actual phones less and less, instead becoming miniature computers designed expressly for the download of information on the move. As many wise people have said in the past, knowledge is power. No longer is this focussed on one person following the knowledge of their chosen career. In the modern era, to not know the latest news makes you worthy of dismissal.
Unfortunately, given the nature of the internet, coupled with the nature of Chinese whispers, things easily go awry. What was once information completely required has now become secondary. Newspapers, Magazines and journalism in general has taken a nosedive that may well wipe them off the face of the planet. Evolution has brought us the internet, where anybody with quick eyes and quick fingers can be a reporter. Often, the quickest eyes are not the most astute. Hence, knowing that knowledge is power, we find ourselves at a standstill. The truth becomes ever more elusive. What are facts in a world where people most willingly believe the first thing that they read?
A child, upon reading that A is for Apple', will then believe that the first letter in the word apple' is A'. Since this is the truth, this is in no way a bad thing. A man browsing the internet may come across an article that advises him against having sex due to the fact that, when the pubic hair of differing genders comes together, a slug like creature called a Rudamina' is born. This is, of course, complete nonsense, yet somebody in this world is guaranteed to believe it. Worse, they will then pass it on. Have we, perhaps, reverted back to children?
One website on the internet had one particular plan in mind when it began. The idea was to share factual knowledge about the musical instrument known as a guitar. Quickly it soared in popularity, swelling to an enormous size and constantly adding new features and user-generated content. This, unfortunately, was the issue. It started small, with people detailing incorrect facts, then downright lying. Then, tabs began to be questioned. Chosen and often correct tunings were mocked due to the facts' of personal preference. This bred worse to follow. The news became a tiresome annoyance, mocked for being behind while also mocked for being wrong'. If a band manager said that a band is to tour, so few people would believe it. The news is no longer factual; there is simply too much of it for that to be the case. Instead, the news is now opinion.
Nevertheless, there is another place where members of that guitar website gather their news. While many pursue the honourable art of music and others endeavour to obtain the most suitable equipment for themselves, others have no interest in either. They go to a place where one man's death is heaven for youngsters desperate to get their name known. There, the validity of the news is dependant entirely on the name of the person reporting it. All users ask that most important question: Where did this person rank in the last popularity poll?'
In the infamous Pit, one man reigned supreme for his news'. He knew why Kurt Cobain died. He knew why Freddie Mercury was gay. He knew why Jews were circumcised. At the same time, the actual facts were completely different. Still, who would ever bother to check facts when Hugh Gee was on the case? Why would anybody even bother to question the articles that he posted, followed by the well known trademark lol'? Hugh Gee was adored as a master of reporting, better than any modern journalist. The man was a legend, looked up to by more men and women than he could possibly realise for being fast, witty and intelligent.
Hugh Gee was envied by many, but nobody wanted to be so popular as much as Henry Jones.
Henry Jones was a twenty-four year old man who was moving quickly into the career of advertising. He was capable, intelligent, and well respected by his friends and colleagues, despite the fact that he was always very vague about his work. Should somebody ever ask about his work, he would simply say that he was in advertising and drop the subject as smoothly as possible.
The truth was that he absolutely despised his job, and was desperate to get out of it. To him, at least, it was so mind bogglingly dull that every day had settled into an annoyingly consistent routine. He would wake up, shower, shave, brush his teeth and then drive to work. He would spend his time working, taking his breaks regularly so that he might eat the same meal that he ate every day, before coming home to settle down in front of the television with a good crossword out of the morning newspaper. There was no excitement, no enjoyment, and nothing keeping him warm on the cold winter nights. He was lonely and he was unhappy, and he had no idea how to change it.
The highlight of his day came once his crossword had been completed and before bed. After settling down to his lukewarm microwavable dinner, he would boot up his computer and spend some time browsing the internet. Henry would talk with people that he had never met, slowly scaring them into fleeing, while keeping himself up to date with the latest news, gossip and, occasionally, he would learn something. Most often this would be via browsing the wikipedia pages relative to Battlestar Galactica, but he never felt a day fulfilled without it.
One of, if not the, favourite haunt of Henry Jones was Ultimate Guitar. There had been a brief stint, between his current and previous jobs, when he had fancied himself as a bassist. Though his cheap bass guitar still stood gathering dust in the corner of his living room, it had been a short-lived passion that had dwindled into nothing almost immediately. It was too late, however, for Henry had already been seduced by the vagrant off-topic area known as The Pit.
This was like a home away from home. The topic titles alone were typically enough to make him giggle to himself, but the actual content was often even worse. Watching the moderation team waging war on the miscreants, both young, old and in between, was a wonderful distraction from the mediocrity that was life. Some users though, he considered close friends. Henry always felt himself drawn to the ones that made him laugh the most. He wanted to be them. He wanted to be known, accepted and popular, rather than ignored and left to his own devices as usual. The only reason that he had ever desired a job was for money to survive.
The pinnacle of his envy was one Hugh Gee. Even now, Hugh's latest thread was drawing him in, enticing him to look closely. Hugh had done something completely absurd to a girl that had actually been interested in having sex with him, a rare occurrence in itself. The very notion that anybody would do something so ridiculously stupid had brought tears of laughter to Henry's eyes, breaking up the monotony of his working day and microwave broccoli. He posted a few comments and rebuttals, but found himself upset at the lack of people quoting him, replying to him or laughing to him. More and more, Henry envied the interesting life that Hugh Gee led and Henry Jones did not. He went off to bed with that in mind, desperately hoping that, when he woke up, everything about his life would be different.
The next morning was like every other, from the jam on his toast to the jam on his tie. With the sun just rising over the horizon, Henry found himself back on his computer in the twenty minutes of spare time that he had managed to scrounge by rushing back and forth like an insane lemming. There he discovered something that quite literally made his heart leap in his chest. He had been quoted by Hugh Gee, though only to be thoroughly abused and insulted. Henry had made the mistake of mentioning some part of his own life, and it had been picked up on by the packed home of Pit monkeys. From Hugh Gee onwards, they were making note of how pathetic his life sounded. The last post was from Hugh himself, his idol, suggesting that Henry do something to shake things up and hopefully change his life for the better. Of course, Henry Jones went to work.
Work was dull. There was no other way to describe it. Henry did not work in an office or a cubicle. Instead, he worked at an elongated desk with a supervisor to his left and a technician to his right. His computer, monitor, keyboard, mouse and even himself were all crammed into the space between these two gentlemen, neither of which had ever liked him very much. The technician was in IT, a different department altogether and, as such, he rarely spoke at all. He was a work focussed man with dark eyes, thick glasses and a slim build. His name was Gregory. Nobody called him Greg; he didn't let them. The supervisor was named Bill, and he was well known for looking over the shoulders of whoever he was supervising at the time, incessantly watching their every keystroke for a mistake or misdemeanour. His goatee and sideburns made him stand out from the ground, as did the gold tooth and the fact that he was extremely tall.
"I need that report on the Leyburn account Mr. Jones," Bill was saying in his loud, obnoxious voice. Nobody was on first name terms in this office. The fact that Henry even knew the first names of the people closest to him was only through looking at their screens. The extremely personal and sometimes downright pornographic e-mails that his colleagues sent, but never received, generally gave him too much information about them.
"I'm working on it," Henry answered quickly and nervously. "I'm just requesting their manager's details from the human resources department now so that I can get the header of the report."
"Is that really necessary?" Countered Bill. He looked down at Henry with a raised and suspicious eyebrow. "Do you always have to do all of this step-by-step, by the book stuff. Just get the job done, Mr. Jones, and hurry it up. I want to be out of here by four 'o' clock."
Confused, Henry paused from his frantic typing to look up at his superior. The fact that Henry slouched horribly did not make him feel much better about looking such a downright terrifyingly hairy man in his cold, grey eyes. "But, our working day is from nine until five, sir. You mean out of here by five, right?"
"No, I mean out of here by four," Bill replied with a near shout of fake laughter. "I'm in charge of you idiots for a reason. I'm good enough at my job to get special privileges like that. Now get back to work or I'll report you to a manager for slacking off. I want that damned report or you're going to end up in a lot of trouble. Do I make myself clear, Mr. Jones?"
"Yes, sir," answered Henry, turning back to his work. His high chair, a vague and vain effort at feeling less insecure around the monster that was Bill, always caused him to hunch over the little desk space that he had. At the same time, his failing eyesight had him squinting at the tiny letters and numbers wandering back and forth across his screen. He kept his mouth shut. Arguing with a supervisor was a sure way to find himself fired, and arguing with Bill was a sure fire way to get shot and thrown off the roof. He was not a nice man. With this in mind, Henry kept his thoughts to himself. Bill had only started at twelve 'o' clock; a late start that he had not been entitled to. Still, as long as Henry was covering the parts of the job that Bill was supposed to be doing, nobody really cared.
"Good," Bill said, laughing to himself again. "Now, I'm going to go and get a muffin or two. I won't be gone long, just long enough to enjoy myself. That report better be on my desk by the time I get back, or there'll be hell to pay."
Henry sighed angrily and continued to work as fast as he could, muttering to himself. As he did, memories of Hugh Gee's opinions began to assail him. Henry had always conceded to Bill, no matter what the request had been. He had done his own evaluation report, amongst other things. He had been forced to pick up packages, shopping and even order porn for the quite intimidating man that worked both next to him and above him. Something about the angry glare that Bill reserved especially for him sent Henry scurrying to task.
"He's f---ing your wife, you know," said Gregory quietly, with a smirk. He didn't take his eyes away from his computer screen as he did so, leaving Henry to guess in bewilderment as to where this incorrect information had come from.
"I don't have a wife," Henry replied shyly in complete confusion. For a moment, he suspected that Bill and Gregory were playing another one of their infamous practical jokes on him. Last time it had been to place Salmon in his tie when he had taken it off in the heat of the summer and left it on the desk without him. Nevertheless, Gregory should definitely have known that Henry wasn't married. His last girlfriend had left him within four months for the man who had come to fix the freezer.
"That's strange," Gregory continued, pushing his glasses back up on to the bridge of his nose. Once again, he kept his eyes glued to his monitor as he did so. "He's been sending e-mails out to everybody that works in your department saying that he had her over your workstation while you were off getting photocopies for him. I guess he's doing you a favour really. At least people think you're married now. Nobody thinks you can keep a girl satisfied but at least they think that some woman in the world somewhere actually wanted to have sex with you at some point."
"How is that doing me a favour?" asked Henry, feeling an anger rising from his stomach at the very idea. "He's sending out lies about me to everybody I work with. No wonder I have to eat alone whenever I get a dinner break. On the rare occasion that that actually happens with Bill breathing down my neck every minute of the day. And now he's off to get himself a muffin or two? He's buggering off when he's supposed to be doing the work he's forcing me to do for him. This officially sucks. How do you know anyway? Did you get one of these e-mails?"
"No, I just wandered into his private e-mail account," Gregory answered briskly. Instantly, any anger in Henry's body evaporated into the air and he leaned in closer to Gregory's screen so that he might have a look at what was evidently fascinating the technician so. "You see this here," Henry was told, directed by an aged finger, "this is the column of e-mails that have your name in them. You want to know what they say?"
"Yes," said Henry without a moment of hesitation. He glanced over his shoulder out of reflex, checking to see if Bill was likely to return any time soon, but, other than office equipment and a whole host of office and cubicle walls, there was nothing out of the ordinary in sight.
"Well," began Gregory, elongating the word, "there's a lot of them, so I'll just give you the basics. This one," he said, directing Henry to one of the many e-mails, "is about how he got you the job. These one are about sleeping with your wife. This one here is about hoping your daughter grows up hot so that he can have her too, but he thinks your wife might be pregnant again and supposedly you're sterile now so it has to be his."
"I don't believe it," muttered Henry to himself. "This is all complete nonsense. I've never been married, I don't have any kids and I'm certainly not sterile." In complete disbelief, Henry leant back against the hard material of his chair before he continued. "I never even met him before I started working here either. I got this job by applying just like everybody else as soon as I had my qualifications."
"Yeah," said Gregory with a chuckle, "you spent years pursuing a career in advertising, didn't you? This is your dream job, right? I'll bet you're really looking forward to spending the rest of your life doing this exact thing every day until you die. You get to sit between me and Bill with a goofy smile and do all of Bill's work while he tells everybody your swimmers aren't swimming. In a couple of years he's going to screw the hot daughter that you don't have, and your wife at the same time, and you still haven't noticed that we painted your chair this morning the same colour so that you wouldn't notice and sit down on it anyway."
"So there's black paint on my arse?" Henry asked, already completely aware of the answer.
"There is yeah," came the reply. "I've been laughing to myself about it for hours. Every time you get up to make a call or go to the bathroom we can see the paint all over those fancy grey trousers of yours. It's brilliant."
Thoroughly upset and verging on tears, Henry surrendered to a defeatist attitude. The youngsters in the Pit had been right; his life was worthless and pathetic. Every day was the same, just with a different prank played on him by his supposed colleagues. He truly despised this job and everybody around him, but he was qualified for nothing else. He had spent years working hard, focussing entirely on the world of advertising so that he might get himself this job. Unfortunately, he was ill-suited to the bottom rung of the ladder, and, by the looks of things, that was where Bill intended to keep him.
In this unhappy state, he thought back to the job that he had held while he had been studying in preparation for this one. It was a very relaxed part-time job that had been home to extremely relaxed and part-time people. Henry's job was to sit at a desk and move a selection of numbers from one column or report into the next column or report. Occasionally, though very rarely, he would have to type up something that would take more than five minutes, but that only happened every few weeks or so. Once the work was done then everybody there simply had free time until more work arrived. While Fridays were always busy to the point of overtime to get things done before the weekend, Mondays were the exact opposite, offering barely anything to occupy the staff there. So, they would play games, compete in all sorts of tiny competitions or, when others were working, they would sit on the internet and browse to their heart's content. As long as the work was done as soon as it arrived, they were free to do whatever the hell they wanted. He had loved that job. Unfortunately, he was now stuck in this one, or so it seemed.
"I'm guessing you don't know about his most recent little trick then, right?" Gregory asked, eyes still glued to the screen. In the entirety of their conversation thus far, he had not turned to face Henry even once, choosing instead to remain locked on to the monitor in front of him. "It's pretty bad. When I broke into his account and read it I thought that he might well have gone way too far this time, so I thought I should warn you about it."
"Warn me?" Inquired Henry. "It's so bad that you have to warn me about it? Oh god, what is it? Is the imaginary wife in labour? Honestly, it must be pretty bad or you wouldn't have told me about the paint, would you? You'd have just let me wander around completely oblivious to having a big black arse."
The smirk that crossed Gregory's face confirmed Henry's suspicions as easily as anything. "No," he said, "I'd have let you do your job. I can guarantee that nobody would have done anything other than laugh at you until you got home as well, but that's not the point now. Bill's not doing his job and he's blamed you for not being there to support him, so the manager's going to call you into his office in about a minute and fire you."
The news hit Henry like a Perspex sheet, quickly followed by a six foot thick slab of concrete to the face. However, before it pulled him under completely, he remembered who was talking to him and, considering the black paint on his chair, put two and two together. "That's a sick joke, man," he began furiously. "I mean most of the jokes that you guys play on me are mean and cruel but they at least remind me that nobody in this office cares. This is borderline obsessive now. What is it about me that you hate so much, eh? Is it the youth? The fact that I can still date a teenager and only bend the rules? Is it my hair? Are you annoyed by the gel in my hair?"
"I'm glad you're angry," responded Gregory. "It will help, trust me. It won't change anything though. I'm almost sorry to lose our favourite punching bag. That's the only reason I've warned you. Bill hasn't gone to get a muffin, he's just gone to collect his higher-up. If you don't believe me, see for yourself."
Gregory stepped out of his chair and, with a wave of his hands, offered it to Henry. Curious and terrified, Henry switched chairs, the better to read the e-mail that Gregory had opened up on his computer monitor for him. Back to being on the verge of tears, Henry began to read the words that were spread out before him, only to hear the voice of Bill behind him.
"Mr. Jones, is it just me or do you have my personal e-mail account open on that computer?"
Henry didn't turn around. He had been set-up, tricked and caught as easily as a rat who insisted on hogging the television remote control. He took a long, slow exhale, desperately trying to keep himself calm and relaxed, but he couldn't stop himself from breaking down into silent tears.
"Well," shouted Bill from behind him, "what have you got to say for yourself?"
Henry could tell that Bill was right behind the chair that he was sitting in now, glaring down at the back of his head. He could likely tell that Henry was crying now too. He would have a sick and evil smirk on his face.
"Not going to try and explain yourself?" Added Gregory in a mocking tone. The two collaborators had him trapped between them. Everybody was a colleague and a friend in this place apart from Henry Jones, and Henry Jones was about to be forced out forever. Not only that, but there would be no fight, no appeal, nothing to stop this from happening as smoothly as possible.
"F--- you," Henry said, as fiercely as he could. "F--- you both with a wooden spoon."
They had packed him away so smoothly that Henry could swear it had been in planning for months. The few personal belongings that he had had been thrown into a box and thrown out of the front door after him. He had no chance of a good reference. He would not have been surprised if he didn't even receive the paperwork employers typically send out once somebody gets fired. The human resources department had never really liked him, nor had any of the departments in that place. Nobody had liked him there. Returning home, he recalled all too easily that there was nobody there to make him feel better. He had been thinking about getting himself a cat or something, but he couldn't afford one now.
At home, surrounded by little more than a worn out sofa, a portable television and his computer, Henry made the great mistake of going into The Pit in the hope that somebody there would take pity on him and try to make him feel better. Henry Jones was not so lucky. The mockery of his fellows, most of which were unemployed themselves, stung almost as harshly as it had done earlier. Once again, he was left with the simple message from Hugh Gee to shake things up and do something that he wouldn't dream of doing in a million years. Desperately, Henry searched through his mind, hoping to find some avenue that he had not already exhausted. Of course, nothing came to him.
For over an hour he sat and read each angry and abusive comment roll in, until, eventually, he reported the thread himself to see it closed. He had cried like a baby, begged anybody who would listen and wished until his throat was hoarse, but nothing had changed. He was still unemployed and alone. As the night descended all around him, Henry recalled the cold winter nights at his old job enviously. The world was few and far between, so people would use up their holiday days, leaving the few people remaining to chase each other around the corridors and sit browsing The Pit when the days were slow.
Nothing compared to the Christmas party. They had a three-tier chocolate cake, enough alcohol to drown a continent and photocopies of employee body parts plastering the walls. One of the monitors was playing TV theme tunes as loud as possible, which the different people there were dancing to. Their various states of inebriation helped to fuel the quite interesting types of dance that everybody was doing; Henry could well remember chicken dancing with the teenage receptionist. At the time they had been of an age, and the two had flirted quite horribly with each other. They were both very bad at flirting.
He wandered into his inbox, where he found several messages from her and other people around his office. They would send each other small memos, factual information and completely useless trivia, knowing that everybody currently working would not actually be working. There, right at the bottom of his list was a message from the supervisor there. It simply read:
Always a job for you here Henry, you know how to do a chicken.
The words made him laugh like he had not done all day. At the bottom of the message was the phone number of the company. It jumped out at Henry, grabbing him by the neck and forcing his eyes to focus in on it so clearly that, for a moment, life seemed all too easy. Everybody was pushing him to do something daring, something fresh, something new. This could be it. This could be exactly what he needed to pull his life out of a rut. Like Hugh Gee had said, he needed to shake things up a little and do something for himself. With a crooked smile and butterflies in his chest, Henry reached for the house phone that was attached to the wall beside him.
It was late, the sky was black and the rain was hitting hard against the windows. Hugh Gee had come downstairs quietly, sneaking past the creaky floorboards to get into the living room, where the house computer was. Desperately hoping that his mother wouldn't come down and interrupt him again, he slipped into the chair and turned on the PC. Before getting down to business, he checked his stickies in The Pit, only to find that one of them had closed. Some user had been fired and Hugh had laughed at him, telling him that he had best do something spectacular or his life would never amount to anything.
Three threads down there was another thread by the same user. This time, he was quite ecstatically claiming to have found a new job with a few old friends. Supposedly, he was happy, and he was thanking Hugh for helping out. This made Hugh laugh. He couldn't remember helping anybody. So, before the thread could be closed, he searched through his image records in order to make a reply. It was a picture of a pear with a large mouth.
The words on the image simply said 'lol, wut?'