The state of the office was a mess. Files stacked in no particular order, paper with mug circles, the garbage filled with a circle of mess surrounding it. The only thing that could be considered clean was the bird cage. Clyde suspected its state of cleanliness was due to Thugbert being tidy. Thugbert being a parrot.
So far today there had been no calls. Not that many people called in the morning or at all for that matter. Practically the only calls he ever received were from newspaper subscription services which ceased as being currently helpful because Clyde had no fancy for news. Thugbert showing a preference for the business section to collect his rubbish upon.
Clyde sipped his coffee and did not appear to savor it. Thugbert commented, "It'll kill ya! It'll kill ya!"
By this time Clyde had no humor left for the bird. Thugbert's comments often made Clyde feel like some tourist to an exotic South American country where bumper to bumper traffic jams sounded with customized car horns and all was not well concerning the purity of the water.
Continuing to drink his coffee. He turned away from Thugbert and walked to the window. Looking at his own private little concrete jungle. There had to be some clients to be found somewhere he thought and took another mouthful.
Looking longingly at the telephone. He sat by his desk and began to mull over insurance forms. He was reminded of an article he had read documenting the number of accidents, crime and mortality per district with developing insurance companies. If by all accounts his company provided no active policies for Clyde that meant protection for everyone everywhere. Though it still was difficult selling insurance, especially his kind, with so many people willing to laugh at him.
Not too far away a parcel arrived for Jane Freeman bound with brown paper and masking tape. Jane worked for a parts relocation service. Her job was to receive items from a wholesaler, manufacturer, or some such place, and on behalf of a client whom preferred to wave immediate delivery, she would deliver the item to them, often to places one might consider strange.
Typically her clients were eccentrics, paranoids, and the independently wealthy. It kept her life interesting. During business hours normal people could be viewed as quite strange. Thus working hours tended to be different from all others.
The parcel had a message requesting its opening and also that further instructions could be read inside. With a blue handle cardboard cutter the parcel disappeared revealing a light metallic rod with golden trimming along its exterior and a translucent cathode within its interior. The inside filled with what seemed like a crystal of some kind.
The further instructions included a map with directions for the item's deliverance, some rural area, perhaps a 45 minute drive away and for her not to drive there personally. The client preferred for her to bicycle or a tolerable yet non-preferable suggestion of taking a taxi. Also the delivery should be made as soon as possible.
Thugbert pensive and calculatingly marches along the business and entertainment sections of the daily newspaper. Clyde rummaging through his collection of receipts found an 80 cent donut transaction, crumpled it and threw it at the trash pile. Thugbert viewed Durwent with dark eyes. The bird thought about why Clyde had ownership of this business. Thugbert speculated it was because Clyde had the spirit of a teacher.
The day Clyde went looking for a pet he found Thugbert lounging in his water bowl. Clyde eating a banana at the time. The attention of the baby parrot was riveted.
From the start Clyde detected that Thugbert chirped with a tone of questioning. Durwent purchased the bird immediately and taught him the words why and what. After two years Thugbert knew the word for almost every object in the office. Even more striking was that the bird seemed to understand the purpose for them, and the value of alien invasion insurance.
"Throw out the garbage, purchase a filing cabinet." said Thugbert.
"I'm busy." said Clyde.
Taking a piece of paper from a pile. Clyde discovered a potato bug crawling along his receipt for hot chocolate and bacon he purchased from two days prior. For a moment he considered killing the insect, afterwards he decided while grappling with his morals that sparing it a grim fate was favorable.
Cupping his hand while gently rolling the tiny form between his fingers. He held his fist clenched firmly around the creature, holding it with a gesture resembling a salute. He turned the doorknob and left the office while observing his hold of the bug near to his face. As he walks towards the elevator Mrs. Myers the culinary artist with an ancient face and a light pink dressing jacket is busy leaving her office.
Sensing that they were keeping each other company. Neither of them made much difference of what they were doing. They stepped aboard the elevator and she remained calm during his salutation. While they descend elevation she began to smile. His lips barely manage to curl.
"It's not supposed to rain today." she said.
"It's probably raining somewhere."
At ground position Clyde left the elevator first. His shoes click upon the white linoleum floor and his shadow blends with the grey wallpaper looking similarly alike a static television screen.
The sound of the street gave Clyde the feeling of adjustment. Ideas were forming from the freedom to go anywhere and do anything beyond escorting the bug to the gutter. With his arm perched resembling a hail. A yellow taxi cab swerved and the driver thought to attempt finagling a lift.
Clyde bent his knees to carefully place the bug upon the concrete. The taxi driver adjusted the position of his vehicle. Returning to an upright stand. The passenger window lowered.
"Hey, you going someplace?" said the driver.
"I am." said Jane Freeman.
The terms were not forming fast enough for Clyde to avoid feeling unsure. He looked at Jane and noticed her as being in her early thirties. She wore a grey one-piece dress, a black skirt and nylons. Her hair was dark blonde, a style that might place her in an upper tax bracket.
"Where you going?" said the driver.
"Out of time." she said.
"I have business out of town." said Clyde.
"Yeah, so do I, out of town." she said.
Jane saw Clyde as about her age, maybe even younger. His dress shirt and red tie made her want to laugh and that matched with his expression of bewilderment and uncombed hair he seemed to her as somebody people could laugh at while personally ignorant of joining in.
Her hands slipped neatly into her purse and pull out a map. She displayed it for the driver. Clyde thought of a strategy while glancing between them.
"There's a client waiting for me in that area." said Clyde.
It was heard easily. Not considering what he was saying to be a lie, more an optimistic theory. Jane considered sharing the taxi with him. His sense of humor or maybe the lack of knowing he had one kept her comfortable. Clyde thought she might accept splitting the fare.
"If it's okay with you, we could share it." she said.
Clyde put his hands in his pockets. He stepped back and nodded with agreement. Secure with enough money to split a cab ride there and back.
Jane handed the map to the driver. Clyde entered the cab and sat. The glass division with decorations, a laminated best driver in the world award with photographic identification along with a best client in the world award and a mirror.
The map being a rough diagram did not include a legend or roads and identified the city as heading towards a destination. A shoreline community labeled Sweetsmoke, the driver prevented showing this would be much of a problem.
The taxi departed while the three of them remain quiet for a time, they merge with the heavy traffic and cruise along the highway. Their attentions turn to the distractions of billboards and grey white sky scenery. It looked as though it might rain. Clyde thought that Mrs. Myers had absolutely no idea what she was talking about.
Soon the buildings were sparse as the cityscape gave way to open country with compositions of hills, trees, and occasionally a pond. There was a lack of tension between them although Clyde had motivation to discuss his policies and pitch a plan but did not want to appear as though it was his reason for being there.
Being accustom to people who found no pleasure in speaking about their business. She began to think of subjects of conversation and settles with the taxi ride itself.
"I don't ride in taxis very often." she said.
Clyde has a shift of vision as he looks at different things through the windshield. To avoid seeming awkward Jane adds, "I prefer to get where I'm going by doing something else, but I'm stuck here."
"I walk, I'm a big walker." said Clyde.
The driver had a disliking for Clyde. People who walked where they were going put taxi drivers out of business, he thought.
"Do you work around here?" said Clyde.
"I don't get out much, most of my work is waiting, not tables I mean, delivering things."
"That doesn't sound very usual." he said while looking ponderously about the landscape.
"It might be."
The driver made a turn with the highway and left behind the open scenery for a depth of forest. The cement roadway when driven upon felt coarse and less fine than the ones you could find in a city. Signs of homemade jams and apple picking yards decorate the sides of the road that continue onwards with an array of greasy spoon restaurants, barren businesses and community gathering inns. Jane looked about for the places she might prefer to visit, a chocolate store was passed with some labor to avoid.
Clyde second guessed whether or not to mention his business. Not knowing what to expect made him hesitate. Experience had the tendency to remind him that after the mention of alien invasion insurance a person would often refuse to take things seriously. Compelled as if by courage he set about to launch a pitch.
"I'm seeing a client." he said.
"About what?" she said.
"I sell insurance."
"My uncle sold insurance, I think he liked it, I'm not sure though."
"I don't like it."
"People don't take me seriously."
She perceived Clyde as unsure. He did not appear upset so she wondered about the calmness amidst their misunderstanding.
"What kind of insurance do you sell?"
Placing his hand to his hip pocket. He brought an aging wallet with creases and clumps of fading fabric. He removed a business card and held it for her delicately.
"I work for the A, double I, C."
She observed the card, a pallid green slip of cardboard with bold red letters and bright orange stripes. She read his name Clyde Durwent. A tickle of silliness enters her belly as her eyes glance past the word alien. She clenched her cheeks and fought to hold back a smile.
"You sell alien invasion insurance!?!"
"Only if I'm lucky."
He thought for a moment of Thugbert grumbling.
"How much do you sell?"
"Most of my clients are single men, which makes sense because alien invasion is twice as likely to occur if you're single. Are you single?"
The driver became confused, not from the conversation but from a sense of sleepiness developing. His vision blurred. His left eye shut. His wedding ring dragged along the steering wheel before his hand fell to the seat. His mouth contorted, a stream of drool flowing from his left side. Followed by a hesitating cough.
Clyde and Jane share a glance of worry.
"Hey are you okay?" said Clyde to the driver.
"I'm half okay, the left side of my body has gone to sleep. I'm half narcoleptic."
Before thinking of being in danger Clyde thought about the policies of a taxi cab service hiring a man who might half fall asleep at the wheel most any time.
"Is the other side going to fall asleep?" said Jane.
"No that never happens."
She expresses agitation while breathing deeply. Her words to prevent the driver from continuing were not forming, the panic frightens them with a diminishing lack of control and the three seize with fear. The taxi continued at its pace. Clyde could see the distress from her eyes and chose not to spare any more time.
"Everything's okay, pull over." he said.
The taxi signal blinked as the rubber wheels edge along the gravel shoulder. The wheels calmly buckle while the vehicle comes to a full and complete stop.
Jane's heart settled as Clyde remained calm. They sat with the driver a few extended moments and show a willingness to stay behind and observe his condition. Slightly embarrassed, his hunched figure bespoke of a callous disregard for his own safety, but a quality at maintaining face amidst the relieving tension. Coming to terms. The driver radioed a backup taxi to escort the couple ahead.
While they waited the silence was broached with discussions of slurred subjects such as avoiding the police when half your functions endure impairment and gambling with the lives of your clients. The conversation seemed to approach a close. Awareness was gained as the driver reached limply for his wallet and found it not lost. Tending to do so for the sake of confidence amidst his illness.
Becoming aware to a degree resembling fully capable. His eyes showed fatigue and focus to the state of disregard for his clients and their having for himself. Clyde could tell Jane would be driven no further by him and with the curiosity of searching for a solution. Past his shoulder he glimpsed a decaying pickup truck heading straight towards them.
The elder vehicle was littered with dents and scratches, a slightly browning pallor encroaching the whiteness of the paint job. Clyde elbowed past the passenger door and walked to intercede the approaching vehicle. He edged the frame of the taxi and raises his hands waving to attract the attention of the fellow traveler.
At the sight of them the corn leaf hat wearing truck driver felt amusement. The rigmarole of their recent development has the truck driver at a loss for words but he would not deny them assistance. He accepted the couple as guests and offered to escort them wherever they were going.
The condition of the truck upon entrance was a shoddy mess of empty coffee cups and takeout containers. A course of garbage was swept away for the guests to join the lone countryman whom declares his name as Bill, not Billy, his wife only calls him that, he clarifies.
Bill spoke with them kindly about the cool fall season and his firewood business. Clyde and Jane sat listening. Secure that their driver would not fall asleep at the wheel. Atop the lukewarm blacktop the expressway traffic was no more than a horse-drawn carriage transporting a load of apples and a family of slugs encircling a turtle.
The predicament of solving where they were heading is now the subject of discussion. The rudimentary drawing along with the title Sweetsmoke provides a few details. Apparently Sweetsmoke was the name of a commune occupied not more than 20 years earlier by some people who felt that settling away from a big city was a more understandable means of enduring than say not fishing for your dinner or affiliating with a modern governing system.
Curiosity as to what was bringing them where they were going causes Bill to ask about their business. The item Jane was relocating, she mentions to them. Bill further requested to view the item. She brought it forth sending golden reflections throughout the interior of the truck. Their eyes alight as Jane affirms for them that she had no idea what its purpose could be.
As the entrance to the commune draws closer the group of them slow to a firm halt. Clyde could see a dense pathway diverging from the road and decides an attempt to appeal his services, "Jane, I know this might not seem ethical but I'd like to come with you. I find the situation interesting."
She smiled and thought it might not be a bad idea. She might feel safe having him along. But however trustworthy and attractive he seemed she had a concern about his business, "What about your business? Your Client?"
"That can wait, I'd feel more comfortable knowing if you were all right."
Obliged and trusting their departure Bill wishes them farewell. The truck sets off and leaves them behind. They begin to walk through the pathway. Jane gesturing for Clyde to follow.
What was once a dirt roadway had long since grown over with greenery. It could still support a vehicle but it does not appear to have been traveled for ages.
They continue to walk along the path, a steel cement gable could be seen at either side of the narrow passage where there are trees of various shapes and colors surrounding. The fall season was something to be admired from this perspective. Auburn and yellow trees holding and dropping in place piles of seasonal leavings. One might wonder if a city might seem as beautiful from the life and fauna that could be found here.
Towards the end of the passage they could see an entrance to a clearing. With the brightness guiding them. They stood at the edge of the forest where a community of such unique and unbelievable aesthetics extends beyond. There were homes looking both modern and maintained while also old and decaying. Barns and workshops. Businesses and stores. A school and library. A modern antique view about them.
A group of children play around a pack farm animals. Adults ease about carrying tools and pieces of linen. Further beyond a large body of water glistens from the sunshine. Perhaps the size of a lake but the horizon is a bit too hazy to know for sure.
Not having been noticed yet they seek to speak with someone who could direct them. With an item such as the one Jane was relocating perhaps it would be no trouble to find someone who might know who its rightful owner could be.
A middle aged man with long red hair of tiny curls whom wore spectacles brought a group of people with him, welcoming Jane and Clyde. Children peak through the spaces between the adults. A whole hubbub of exchanges regarding the "why's?" and "how's?" of their being there. A woman dressed with a discreet teacher-like appearance noticed the item and suspected its rightful owner.
They pointed to a house positioned at the edge of the community. Jane and Clyde drew away from the people. They approached a pen with dozens of pigs attached to a stable that rested not far from the home looking as though a large pink clay pot with two dark circles, presumably windows, with an extensive doorway between them looking oddly enough like a pig snout.
The stench was revolting. Walking towards the house goes against their better judgment. Clyde wished he carried a hanky so he could put it to his face, but then thought contentedly of the anticipation to give it to Jane, and with a cynical sneer thought satisfied to avoid the whole stinking mess.
A knock produced a short bald fat man who looked far older than he probably was. At once realizing who they were the man introduced himself.
"My name's Hargil, yes, that's right, and I called you here to deliver a spatial transmogrification ingredient, as it were."
Hargil welcomed them through the doorway and their eyes beheld a fortune of wondrous objects whose description would be beyond belief for no one viewing first hand. Hargil placed his fingers upon a work bench strewn with sheets of paper and gadgetry. His placement of work was moved with a scattering gesture causing some of the papers to overturn and sending a pencil rolling towards the floor with a sharp thin thud.
"Yes, yes, now, now, don't be shy." said Hargil.
Looks exchange between the two as Hargil rummages. The odor of pig manure was not faint. Though they were welcome, leaving was a concern, so curiosity was coming. Jane thought to ask some questions, "You're a pig farmer?"
"Yes and no, I distil energy from pig dung and transfer it as a means of powering engines and things, generators and what not."
Immediately Clyde could see this little man as someone who might purchase insurance.
"Lifeblood of the community, we've been supporting one another for more than twenty years with it. Me myself, was one of the first, along with Jacob the butcher. We thought of the name Sweetsmoke cause how we seasoned the pig meat you see."
The house was dark and brown, a few homebuilt light fixtures with little to no decorations worth mentioning. Sheets of paper were almost everywhere and some were collected with folders. A mighty bookshelf constructed of oak was filled with vast encyclopedias glistening with brown binding and golden gilding from over in the corner.
"That's how we get our electricity, from generators fuelled by manure. I designed them. With them, we can purify water, build our own plumbing, run heaters and refrigerators, all kinds of things."
Hargil reflected for a moment with little to no concern of his lowly stature and allows his thoughts to run free. Tiny things jump through his mind. Words and work with friends or whomever. Single moments from an entire lifetime.
"May I see the piece?" said Hargil.
"Of course." she said.
She pulled it out and handed it to him. He took the cathode casing and admires its form matching his design to perfection. The machine could be completed, he thought.
"This is quite stunning." said Hargil.
"What is it?" said Clyde.
"Yes, that is the question. Come with me."
A key attached to a chain strung from Hargil's belt unlocked a door. They followed him into a room of wonder. Contraptions of which descriptions could do no justice lined the walls, covered tables, work of unmentionable distinction. Their eyes wander to the machines. Searching for something to focus upon or remember, so much they could not know, the majesty of each part blending into a seamless whole.
"This is my work shop." said Hargil.
Neither Clyde nor Jane knew where to begin with this. Clyde felt like laughing but his face would not allow it.
"This is what I've been making." said Hargil.
A switch clicked to reveal something looking like an apparition. A phase of dark blue light hovered as a circle in midair. A wave of smoke flowed from the edges of the rift as though only partly existing and not of full tangible substance. Hargil became ready to declare his creation, "That is the future, a thousand years ahead of this time."
A declaration Clyde was willing to hear. A vacant space where green photons danced of orderly fashion. Obstructed by the benefit of the golden crystal casing. The rift became dense, the fog substantial. The odor of fowl rot and oblivious attitude was pushed further into the background. This was real and quite possibly a doorway into another time.
Something shook at the core of Clyde. A physical attraction to the portal and it made him consider moving forward. Emotional backlash at the possible danger halting him.
Hargil saw the young man and knew that the time was winding away. The manure could reduce the time transfer only so much before collapse. He would have to gather more for a subsequent attempt. He watched the young man leave the side of his friend and step closer to the portal. "I'm afraid sir I can only pay you in bacon." said Hargil.
"I like bacon, but I don't work with her. I sell alien invasion insurance."
"How's that working for you?" said Hargil.
Clyde disappeared through the portal. He waited for less than a second thinking of the life that had brought him to this moment. Compromised satisfaction, people struggling to understand, all the expansion for more struggle and further misunderstanding. The people and love that prevented holding him in time. A world fully rejected.
He stood amongst the trees, long forgotten and knowing little. He turned to observe his surroundings. The land was much different but the same as where he had been. The water was heard rushing along the bank near the lake Sweetsmoke had settled by presumably ages ago. Looking to where the sun was where below glitters of light shone before his vision from the clear crisp water ripples. Clyde began to walk towards the direction of where the city could presumably be.
Passing through the forest. A trail led to a road and then a highway. Walking by a concrete embankment. A voice came from the concrete asking him who he was and requesting him to stay in one place. He would be collected by the authorities later it told him. The hunk of moulding cement had a kind attitude. Clyde viewed the grey solid matter restructure itself at what must be a particle level forming things like pointed fingers, faces and other such things.
The condition of the highway was far from being maintained. At the sight of the blacktop it looked to have been trafficked long ago, cracks and gaps widen with time and fill with weeds and grass while debris blows across from the wind. The wide expanse of scenery had long since been abandoned. He walked alone through fields divided from the decaying concrete mass.
Skywards shapes of propelled vehicles fly a designated section of space far above the ground. Clyde observed with the reaction of being stunned. Further after hours of trekking the barren landscape it became clear through the horizon that he was approaching a city of structures looming largely with distinction, soon filling his vision while approaching closer.
His senses were filled with structural concepts that moved and settled while walking upon the streets of the sprawling metropolis. An environment of color and design bringing compression to Clyde's chest. His face felt less of a struggle to hold back a smile. Clouds of activity beamed through the spaces as transport wagons and computer monitors passed in and out of multiple realities at speeds bound by the restriction of limitlessness.
A language was heard similar to his own. A police officer rounds a corner with an apprehended levitating squid of abnormally large proportion and technologically enhanced by cybernetic life support systems and channelling. Corralled by the authoritative figure whose features were all but concealed. Clyde observed the manacles restraining the squid's tentacles.
Clyde rushed towards the officer as his clothing and condition left an impressionable sense of being a classically performing actor to the darkly hidden constable. His visor reflecting the periphery. The officer along with his coworkers enjoyed consulting with actors, some were magnificent liars, whichever one representing the other.
Clyde attempted to not be distracted by the massive cyborg cephalapod.
"I've been away from the city, for some time, and I was wondering if you could explain a few things. It's difficult for me to remember sometimes. Can you explain. . . . Or I'd listen if you could tell me some history, of perhaps say, how this creature came to be here." said Clyde.
"Oh sure, after these fellas dropped the contagion of course, preceding invasion, soon after they were neutralized, a peaceful property exchange was designed between our planet and theirs, than things really went to hell you can imagine. Crimes and pranks undefined to us. This fella here was caught inking in a local water fountain, if you can believe."
"I'm not male or female you crinkle award on permanent break time." said the cephalapod.
"Save it for the judge inky." said the cop.
Clyde distracted by the words looked across the city square to a prominent building with the letters A. I. I. C. hovering as humungous signalling orbs.
"Hey is that the Alien Invasion Insurance Company?" said Clyde.
"Man, what a legend, to think none of us would be here if it wasn't for that bird. What a miracle." said the cop.
This could make sense Clyde thought. Soon after a brief conversation past events became clarified concerning Thugbert saving humanity. After Earth had been invaded as the cephalapod claimed because of active time displacement equipment from some rural commune, an extermination was ordered to save the universe, but was not prevented after the majority of the population had been destroyed. Every client Clyde ever had survived. Having no representatives to collect from they claimed stock and took over the company with Thugbert guiding the diplomatic proceedings between the aliens. He presided as the governing chairman, or chair-bird for the matter of correct definition.
Soon the company amassed wealth and universal respect establishing secure businesses with harmonious species spanning the known universes. The state and security of everything became dependent upon Thugbert addressing universal concerns. While long after Thugbert passed away, the memory, history, still has yet to be forgotten, for a millennia.
A bronze figure of Thugbert stood tremendously centered at the fore of the A. I. I. C. headquarters. Clyde approached and studied the face of his pet, a look of disapproval masking superiority, an apt likeness one thought.
Placing his hands in his pockets. Clyde walked out of the square. Heading towards his old house, for the 33 billion dollar policies he had hidden in a safe, buried in his yard.