The Narrators

(An idea that long gestated, and finally came to life in Filmic Cuts 3: Curse of the Ellipsis. A little bit of dystopian sci-fi, a little bit of a wink toward modern life. You decide. Hope you enjoy… – OJ)

The park was lush with greenery as they walked through it, hand-in-hand. It was one of those wonderful moments we all dream of, that we all aspire to. A moment where everything just seems right. Just seems, dare you say, perfect.

And as he held her hand, he slowed his pace so he could turn and look into her eyes. Look and see how beautiful she was to him, from her radiant smile to her blue eyes that shone gloriously in the Summer sun.

Yes, this was a perfect moment. There was no doubt about that now. The only thing the two of them could do now was to enjoy it to the fullest. Enjoy it more than anything else…

Right then, a heavy heart befell Cal. He cupped his hand over the microphone so that his sigh wouldn’t be caught in the audio. He felt himself lucky that the sentence he had ended so abruptly, had trailed off so perfectly. Maybe that was why he was a Narrator. His knowledge of how to say things and how to structure words perfectly. Painting a glorious picture for the listeners at home, without daring to outlay his own internal conflict.

It had become worse in recent times. Every day, he had to watch the blissful life of his subject, a stupidly handsome fella named Dan. At first Cal had enjoyed telling his story, enjoying his good fortune along with him. But soon, he began to resent Dan. Resent his cushy job, his flush existence, and now his wretched love. Dan had met Emma a few months ago and every minute since then had been a picturesque dream. All flowers and hearts, smiles and good sex. No arguments, no conflicts. No barriers in their way, no hurdles to overcome. They were the ultimate fairytale couple.

And it made Cal sick.

Yet every day, he had to walk into his booth, get his glass of water ready, and watch the giant screen in front of him unfold; from the moment Dan woke up, to the moment he fell asleep. Every moment, he had to describe and comment and theorize upon. To be a good Narrator, you didn’t just tell the story on screen, you told the story that was in the person. You had to know them, research them, essentially be them.

But Cal wasn’t Dan. Far from it.

He didn’t have his bronzed complexion. Nor his dark, wavy hair or toned torso. All Cal had were dark-ringed eyes from spending days in the booth, a messy mop on his head and a gut from years of snacking when he had the chance.

He hated it. Absolutely hated every fucking second of it.

Which is why it wasn’t a surprise when he was called in by Tompkins. It was a rare treat; the Supervisors rarely troubled the Narrators due to the stress of the job. Instead, they waited for a mis-step and, even then, treated them with kid gloves. Cal had seen Tompkins before, when he first started and the stress of day-in, day-out hours in that damn booth had taken the natural, psychological toll. Tompkins had helped then by allowing Cal a scheduled break here and there, one that had been whittled down in time.

Then, of course, came the prescribed drugs. Cal didn’t even know whether he was still taking them or whether they were being laced in his food and drink these days. Who knew?

Who cared?

Tompkins himself was a mask of smiles and caring eyes. A well-rehearsed routine that no doubt, he played to all the Narrators under his care. Even his questions were straight from the stock.

“How are you?”

“Feeling well?”

“What can we do to help?”

Shit. No. Kill me. Those were the answers Cal wanted to give, but it was no use. What could he do? Quit? That wasn’t an option. Down in the facility he called home, you were either a Narrator or something worse. And he had seen the worst. The Service. The cleaners and servants and pitiful excuses for human beings. For a man of Cal’s intellect, being a Narrator was the best he could hope for.

At this stage, anyway. Rumours abound of ‘better’ jobs. Jobs which gave you a bit more time to yourself, a bit more state of mind. Then, of course, there were the rarer rumours of going ‘upstairs’.

Cal didn’t want to think about that right now.

“How are you Cal?”

Why both answering? Tompkins knew it was all an act as well as Cal did. So why play along?

Sat behind his little bureaucratic desk, Tompkins shifted nervously, keeping his fingers interlaced as he had been taught to. If there was one job Cal didn’t want more than the Service jobs, it was to be a Supervisor. God knows what drugs they pumped into you to stay that chipper.

Sometimes, Tompkins’ veneer slipped and Cal thought he could see the screams in his eyes. But only sometimes.

“We notice you’ve been a little glum in your intonation. Something troubling you?”

Exhaustion? Boredom? Jealousy? All valid answers. All answers that would go nowhere fast.

“Just a bad time.”

“Oh I’m sorry to hear that Cal,” Tompkins replied, thankful at the response. Now he could flick through his database of answers and pick the suitable one for this situation. “Would some Personal Time be in order?”

No. Never ‘Personal Time’. Personal Time meant less Narrating, but also less money. Every hour you did meant a little more coin in the box. And that coin went a long way. The economy was deep in the shitter, and Cal had become accustomed to a certain way of living. His room was a more luxurious Mid-Size, and even then it was barely big enough for a bed, desk and amenities. Personal Time would mean moving to a Small, or a ‘Box’ as they called it, and having to share amenities with the Service.

Cal would rather slit his wrists.

So no, Personal Time would not be required. But then Cal had to ask himself, what would? He couldn’t change subject until Dan died, and there was no bloody way that was happening any time soon. His life was too darn perfect for any atrocity to occur. No, what Cal wanted wasn’t possible.

It would be fun to see Tompkins reaction though.

“I want to see the sun.”

Cal gave a little crack of a grin and shifted his gaze up. Behind his desk, Tompkins was shifting more now, and the scream had come back to his eyes. Cal had rattled him, and enjoyed it.

“Cal, you know that isn’t possible. Our place is down here.”

“Why?” Cal asked. It was a question he already knew the answer to, but always had to ask.

“Because it’s our place. It’s where we belong. To provide people with the entertainment they need in these dark times.”

“Why can’t I enjoy the… ‘entertainment’?”

“Oh Cal, you know you’re not rich enough yet for that.”

There was no negativity in Tompkins answer, no sarcasm or spite, but it still hurt Cal. The Viewers were those who had earned that privilege. Who had so much surplus coin, it was ridiculous. They had worked in the facility and retired to a life where Cal’s voice would tell them about other peoples lives.

Reality TV had reached such a watermark that it had gone beyond simulated reality and more into actual reality. An abundance of CCTV, and advances in technology, had meant that every movement, every step, every person was on camera. All the time. There was no such thing as a private life anymore, only down here in the facility.

Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all…

(To read the rest of The Narrators, find it as part of the collection in Filmic Cuts 3: Curse of the Ellipsis… available now)


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