The Village

The Village had no place to hide. They’d planned it that way from the very beginning. Decades later, the influence of the Company could still be felt.
They’d laid out the streets in an arcane pattern which would have been instantly recognizable to ancient alchemists. It was reasonable after all, since the Company were modern alchemists. However, they were no longer trying to convert base elements into gold, but into bombs.
The Company was all about control. It had to be. What with such volatile elements under their purview, control was a matter of life and death. The only problem was that they did not know when to stop.
They thought the same about their employees as the elements that they worked with – unknown, potentially dangerous. The Overseer decided early on to keep them isolated from the city at large and then to further segregate them by function. It was best to keep the workers from mingling with the supervisors, and both from regular citizens. Explosions could not be ruled out. Separation was for everyone’s safety.
They’d done their job too well. Even now the people who lived in the Village, no longer a Company town, still were isolated from the rest of the city and suspicious of anyone who had not lived there for at least 20 years. Even that wasn’t a free pass, with any aberrant behavior transforming a “friend” to a “foe” at the speed of a post on their neighborhood watch’s Facebook page.
The layout of the neighborhood created invisible walls that focused energy and attention inwards. It was a feedback loop. It was a closed circuit. Day after week after month after year it built up with no release. Like crabs in a pot, they clawed at each other, keeping the whole group down, preventing escape. Little did they know that they were all doomed.
Only the Overseer could have predicted this.
It was his plan all along.
On the surface it seemed like a great place to live. All the houses were built by the Company for their workers. The school, the library, even the gymnasium were provided. All the workers had to do was show up to work and put in eight hours every day excepting Sundays. Everything was paid for through their wages. They didn’t have a lot of money left over for personal needs, but they felt it was a fair trade-off to be able to live in a model community. They were told that here their children would be safe, protected from the dangerous elements of the rest of the city.
This inward-facing community was their undoing. With no new information, no variety, no challenge to the status quo, the Village stagnated and degenerated. It became inbred, where aberrant and defective ways of thinking became the norm rather than the exception.
They never saw it coming. The wall surrounding their village and their minds was invisible but no less effective because of it. Perhaps it was more effective because it was invisible. They didn’t know they were trapped, thus they had no reason to try to escape. Why would they? It was perfect here, they all agreed. Those that didn’t agree were silenced in the way that works best – by declaring them crazy. Why martyr someone by forcing them to leave the community? Excommunication wasn’t just for the Church. It was far better to keep them as an example of how not to behave.

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Smile lines (a very short story)

Paula was older than everyone, but only chronologically. Sure she’d lived longer than everyone else in the department, but you couldn’t tell by her actions. The only evidence of her greater age was in the deep wrinkles around her eyes. They looked like smile lines, but the smiles had to be for show, or from another period of her life. Perhaps she smiled out of habit, because even when she was telling very personal, very private stories about herself, she smiled her brittle smile at whoever had the misfortune of being stuck at a task that required they stay in the room with her.

The other staff had taken to looking forward to any task that involved being away from the back room after she arrived for the day. Normally these tasks were completed by whoever felt like it, and whenever it was convenient. Now they took turns, working around her shift. Every day one lucky person got the blessed reprieve of not having to listen to her yammering.

She needed a therapist.
Or an exorcist.

She’d been counseled by her temp agency to not share personal details, but she ignored those censures, choosing to run over her coworker of the week (or month), or however long the assignment was (or however long they could stand her) whichever came first, like an 18 wheeler over a kitten. It was merciless and bloody, with no regard for the emotional and psychic carnage she left in her wake.

One employee, unlucky enough to be forced to work with her three days in a row, even considered homicide. This gentle soul, a vegetarian for six years, a person who marched in peace rallies, a weekly volunteer at the domestic crisis shelter, had gotten so overwhelmed with Paula’s incessant complaints and bizarre observations that she started fantasizing about how she would make her be silent. Strychnine in her water bottle was considered. Loosening the lug nuts on her tires was a possibility. Anything that involved a painful end that was preceded by terror and confusion – the same as she had endured but more focused, more compact. That would do nicely.

Asking Paula to be mindful of others didn’t work. Neither did complaining to her supervisors. Flat out telling her to shut up seemed cruel, but perhaps it was the only way to regain peace at work. Mindless blather and too-personal comments was cruel so why not fight fire with fire?