He knew what they called him and he didn’t like it: Unemployed Lloyd. True, he’d been out of work for a while; but that’s no reason for insults. Besides, he’d sent out his resume. Even went on a few interviews. He knew his luck would change and they’d be sorry.
Lloyd scratched his butt and looked at the clock. He heard the stop-and-go hum of the mail truck and trudged to the door; not bothering to put on shoes (or pants, for that matter.) The only highlight of his day since he lost his job, was the mail.
The wind tussled his thick, full head of hair and an eviction notice slapped Lloyd in the face when he opened the door. He ripped the notice, balled it up, and tossed it over his shoulder. Muttering to himself and scowling; he stomped to the mailbox.
One, lonely letter sat in the mailbox. Lloyd grabbed it without looking at it and went back inside. After getting himself a coffee, he wondered what he’d do with the rest of the day: game shows and soaps, probably. He sighed. On his way to the sofa, he caught a glimpse of the return address on the envelope.
The Plant. (Gasp! That’s the most secure, highest-paying company in the area!). Lloyd’s heart thumped and his stomach flipped. He ripped into the envelope and read the letter four times before he’d allow himself to believe it. He phoned his wife, Avril, who was getting her hair and nails done.
“It’s true! I have the letter right here. I’ve landed the top position in the company, Avs. I’m the Head Plant Supervisor!”
“Now, they’ll have to call you Employed Lloyd, won’t they?”
The next day, Lloyd ran into friends at the supermarket. Smirking, they asked him about his employment status; but they were not expecting his response. When Lloyd told them about his new job, he saw the shock and envy in their eyes. He remained humble about it, though, because he knew not everyone was as blessed as he was. Lloyd never rubbed it in, but his renewed confidence was evident in his demeanor. He glowed with pride. And why shouldn’t he? After all, he had landed the top position of Head Plant Supervisor.
The week before his first day on the job, Lloyd’s wife threw a party. The place was packed! Everyone wanted to rub elbows with the man who held the most prestigious title in the city. Lloyd mingled and chatted; making sure each person felt welcome. Just because he was moving up in the world didn’t mean they couldn’t stay friends, right?But, his gut told him he’d outgrown them. He knew the party was probably the last time he’d ever see them.
“Who cares if they’re jealous and envious.” Avril rubbed lotion on her hands and climbed into bed next to Lloyd. “We’re moving out of this good-for-nothing, low-class neighborhood, anyway.”
So, they did. AND, get this…The Plant PAID them to move and sent movers to take care of every detail. Lloyd puffed out his chest when the moving van arrived. He had never felt so important.
“You know, Avril, my gut’s never wrong, and it tells me that, The Plant, is the right place for me. I believe this position is my destiny…my calling…my true purpose.” Lloyd grabbed a potted Ficus tree and his favorite fern; making sure they weren’t forgotten or left behind in the ruckus of moving day.
They followed the moving van and gawked in awe at the upper-class neighborhood where their new home was located. Compared to their previous near-poverty situation, this felt like they’d won the lottery. What an amazing estate! A dazzling waterfall welcomed them at the entrance of the gated community that was comprised of luxurious, palaces; every home in the neighborhood was absolutely gargantuan.
Still, Lloyd half-expected to find that their own new home would be modest. It wasn’t. The moving van turned into the circular driveway of an enormous estate. He smiled as his wife clapped and squealed with delight. They couldn’t believe it. Their new home was a four-story, ten-acre mansion. Twenty of their old houses would fit inside their new one.
It wasn’t just the size of the estate that impressed Lloyd. The lush landscaping looked like the Garden of Eden, with every flower, tree, and shrub immaculately manicured. There was a pool, a lazy river, and a hot tub with fountains and waterfalls to boot. Lloyd got a high-class, company car and Avril got two other vehicles. The estate came fully staffed. Everything Avril and Lloyd could ever want was right at their fingertips; a dream come true.
The morning of his first day on the job, the butterflies in Lloyd’s stomach kept him from eating breakfast. He kissed his wife and drove his new car to The Plant. He smiled when he spotted his very own, designated parking spot.
Reserved for Lloyd Long, Head Plant Supervisor
The security guard at the front entrance greeted Lloyd by name; so did the receptionist. An attractive woman in a bright yellow dress smiled at him as if she’d known him for years.
In fact, everyone he encountered seemed to know Lloyd.
“Good morning, Mr. Long.”
“Hello, Mr. Long. Lovely weather , isn’t it?”
“Morning, Mr. Long. Nice tie.”
One after the other, each person he passed acknowledged him by name. It felt good to be noticed. Why…he was so important that everyone already knew him!
Of course, Lloyd couldn’t return the gesture because he had never met any of them. He decided then and there to learn every person’s name. That’s what a good boss would do. And, by golly, Lloyd was bound and determined to be the very best Head Plant Supervisor that he could be.
He found his office—the biggest office in the building. It was on the top floor; or rather, it WAS the top floor. The back wall was nothing but windows, which gave him the best view in the building. Lloyd walked around his office in a daze of bewildered awe. His office was a work of design brilliance; the perfect work environment. He even had his own bedroom suite where he could enjoy a shower or an afternoon nap. There was a fully stocked kitchen that made his wife’s homemade bagged lunch look stupid. Everything he could ever need or want was right there in his office. Except for one thing. Where was the computer? What was he supposed to do all day without a computer?
Lloyd found the intercom system and pushed the red button labeled with his secretary’s name.
“Yes, Mr. Long?”
“Hello, Frankword, I was wondering about my computer.”
“Your what, sir?”
“My computer. Have you any idea when I might receive my computer. I’d like to get to work straight away.”
“Of course, sir. I’ll look into that, sir.”
“Thank you, Frankword.”
Lloyd made himself a cup of coffee. He texted his wife. He played games on his phone. He made another cup of coffee. Hours passed without any sign of his computer. He searched the office, but found no instruction about what he was to do as Head Plant Supervisor of The Plant. He ate the lunch his wife made for him. He drank another cup of coffee. Another hour passed. Finally, Lloyd decided to take action.
He walked out of the office and confronted his secretary.
“Frankword, I still don’t have a computer. What am I supposed to do all day?”
“How should I know, sir? I’m just a secretary.” Frankword’s phone blinked with five lights, indicating people on hold. The phone rang again. Clearly, Frankword had plenty of work to do. Lloyd’s face flushed with embarrassment for interrupting Frankword’s workflow. He backed away from the desk.
“Sir? Maybe you’d like a tour of the facility?”
“Oh I wouldn’t want to interrupt. You seem terribly busy.”
Frankword, a handsome young man with chiseled features and curly blond hair, pushed away from his desk. He grabbed a clipboard and two hard hats; one of which he gave to Lloyd.
Lloyd followed Frankword around the outskirts of The Plant. He saw various individuals hunched over desks and computers; their foreheads wrinkled in concentration. Lloyd approached a lively young woman who was punching away at the computer keyboard while laughing and talking into her headset.
The woman, startled by the sudden appearance of The Head Plant Supervisor, hit a button on the computer. The screen went blank. She smiled at Lloyd. Was that a genuine smile? Lloyd thought there was something oddly contrived about the woman. In fact, when he really stopped to think about it, everyone at this place seemed odd. He brushed off the feeling and attributed it to caffeine-induced paranoia. Five cups of coffee will do that to a guy.
“Hello, Mr. Long. How can I help you?”
“I’m sorry to bother you, but what are you working on here?” Lloyd gestured toward the blank computer screen.
“The top-secret project, of course, sir.”
“Oh yes. Absolutely. Please, continue.” Lloyd made his voice sound deep and professional. He wouldn’t dare let on that he didn’t know what his employees were doing; or that he hadn’t the foggiest idea what his own job entailed.
He shook his head to clear his thoughts and glanced down at the Rolex the company gave him. It was time to go home for the day. He thanked Frankword and walked out of the building. As he inhaled the new-car aroma, a faint thought occurred to him. Lloyd was the only person leaving The Plant. Everyone else was still inside working. He shrugged it off; leaving early must be another thing enjoyed by the Head Plant Supervisor.
That night, in bed, Lloyd stared at the ceiling, puzzling over the events of the day. Avril noticed her husband’s brooding demeanor. She kissed him on his newly-receding hairline and stroked his cheek while asking him about his day. He told her about his office and the perks of being the Head Plant Supervisor. She stared back at him, confused. It all sounded pretty good to her, so what was the problem?
“It’s nothing, really, but, I don’t seem to have a job to do.”
“Yes, you do. You’re..”
“Head Plant Supervisor of The Plant,” they chanted.
“But I don’t actually do anything. And no one will tell me what they do, either. My position seems kind of boring and useless. I’m beginning to wonder why they’re paying me so much.”
That was not what Avril wanted to hear at all. Her face turned red and she balled her hands into fists. She punched the wall and growled at her husband. How dare he talk like that! How dare he question their success! In Avril’s opinion, it didn’t matter what Lloyd did as long as the money kept coming.
Avril shoved pillows and blankets in her husband’s face and demanded he sleep on the couch. She would not put up with his insolent whining. There were starving people in Africa, for goodness sakes!
The next few weeks went along similarly. Soon, Lloyd felt the “newness” of the job wearing off. He’d already stopped smiling at his designated parking spot. (Besides, a bird pooped on it.)
People stopped addressing him by name, too. In fact, the people who greeted him that first day were nowhere to be found. He pouted about it; feeling as if he’d learned their names for nothing.
After the first month, he still didn’t have a computer. Questioning Frankword got him nowhere, so he gave up. He spent his work days lounging about the office, growing complacent.
At home, Avril mostly ignored him. He didn’t mind. In fact, Lloyd felt relief. He was tired, and didn’t have the energy to pay attention to Avril. He spent his evenings staring at the TV while his wife pranced around; chattering about jewelry and designer clothing.
Avril spent loads of money on Lloyd, too. She lavished her husband with gifts. But, expensive things didn’t satisfy Lloyd—and Avril knew it. He tried to feign excitement over the newly decorated furnishings in their upscale home, but she saw through him. She believed it was time to teach Lloyd a lesson. He had a bad attitude and she was determined to fix it. She banned him from the bed, again.
“And don’t come back until you appreciate what you have, Mister!”
From then on, Lloyd didn’t bother to go home. He had a perfectly comfortable bed at the office, after all. It was much more satisfying for his aching back than the sofa at Avril’s house. Besides, he felt more at home at the office.
One morning, he regarded his reflection in the mirror. Hm. His eyes had a glazed, yellowish look and his hairline was receding even more. Oh well. Must be the lighting. He grabbed a cup of coffee and arranged himself on his office sofa, as usual.
Avril collected his pay checks and spent exorbitant amounts of money. She purchased a little dog to dress up and felt happier than she’d ever felt. She got used to life without Lloyd. In fact, she had all but forgotten about him. If anyone asked, she simply said that Lloyd was so consumed by work that he never left the office.
Every day or so, Lloyd noticed small changes in himself. A chipped tooth here, a new mole there. His joints ached and his back hunched. His skin drooped and sagged. He got used to the changes; and eventually looked forward to them. Chunks of bloody puss and blackened, dead skin fell off of him when he moved. Oops! There went a toe! Oh well. Probably didn’t need it anyway. But, just in case, Lloyd saved his fallen body parts in a jar. He didn’t want to lose any part of himself, after all.
Around his third anniversary with The Plant, Lloyd decided to go for a walk while the staff cleaned his office. He asked Frankword, who looked younger and shinier than ever, to show him the factory part of The Plant.
“Oh no, sir. I don’t think that’s a good idea. That place is dangerous.” Frankword watched a chunk of Lloyd’s face fall plop onto his desk. He politely retrieved it and gave it back to Lloyd. Lloyd added it to the jar of himself.
“I need to see it, Frankword. My gut is never wrong and it’s telling me to go. Please, point the way.”
Frankword pointed to a door marked, “hazardous waste do not enter”. Lloyd opened his mouth to thank his secretary, but a tooth fell out. The tooth clinked when Lloyd added it to the jar.
Cringing with pain, he hobbled through the door. There were warning signs, but Lloyd could barely see them through his cataract-ridden eyes. He trudged forward; compelled— like a moth to a light. He had to find it. He knew it was close. He sensed its presence long before he arrived at The Plant; but he never mentioned it. It was Top Secret.
He proceeded down a corridor, lost in his own thoughts. He had grown so much since becoming The Head Plant Supervisor of The Plant. Tears of pride stung his eyes. Lloyd was tired…exhausted…run down…spent…used up..drained of life; but proud. And wasn’t that the important thing? Truly, he had given it his all.
A loud cracking sound announced Lloyd’s broken ankle. His foot detached and flopped to the ground. He added it to the jar.
He continued forward; alternating between one foot and a bloody stump.
Foot stump foot stump; slap thud slap thud!
His bloody stump left splotches of blood and tissue; creating grotesque polka dots down the hall. He lurched from the corridor into an airplane-hangar-sized room. One of his eyeballs burst and oozed. He shaded his other eye from the blinding sunlight that exploded through the glass ceiling. Lloyd’s eyesight faded, but he could just make out the vines of greenery and foliage that grew in all directions.
Finally, in the center, he laid eye on the Top Secret project. A surge of adrenaline hit his veins as he stood in awe of its magnificence. He limped around it; admiring it from every angle. His neck cracked and his head dropped to his shoulder.
Through murky vision, he spotted the others. Looped and entangled within the snaking vines of a tremendous Venus Fly Trap, were the remnants of people who worked for The Plant. His employees; still fresh as The Plant worked to absorb them into itself. He knew them all by name, of course, since that first day. One by one, he greeted them. Some of them could even gurgle back.
“Hello, Mr. Long. Good to see you again, sir,” said the woman in the bright yellow dress. A vine lunged itself up her nostril and came out her ear.
“Under the circumstances, you can call me, Lloyd.” He emptied the jar of himself onto the soil and stood on top of it. A vine brushed fresh soil over his foot and encircled his stump.
“I’m Daisy.” She reached for him. He reached for her. A vine wrapped around their hands; joining them together.
Lloyd’s head jerked forward; lopping itself off at the neck. A flowery vine wrapped around his ears and pulled upwards; lifting and exalting his head to its proper position at the very tip top of The Plant.
After all, he was the Head Plant Supervisor of the Plant.