Orange. Orange. Orange.
Your eyes glaze over as the fruit tumbles along in front of you. Your hands are expertly spinning and squeezing each one as they drift past, which you think is odd considering you’ve never done this before.
Not far to the right, you can sense a familiar presence: your mother. From your peripheral vision, you can tell she’s working hard and keeping a good pace, better than she should be at her age. You try to sneak a glance at her, but something stops you. Your gaze seems to disagree with you. Odd. Your work feels too necessary, urgent, unsympathetic. You try again, but this time only succeed in bumping a few oranges off the belt.
Orange. Orange. Orange.
Your hands keep going, ignoring the ice-cold panic gripping your insides. You can feel one of the oranges sitting against your right foot. The other one must have rolled under the belt somewhere. In the time it would take you to pull your attention away, pick up the first orange, locate the second, pick it up and return both of them, about 15-20 oranges would have passed by on the belt. Un-checked. Too risky. You keep going.
You hear a pair of casual voices that could only belong to management wandering nearby. They’re laughing. One of them says something about clocking out a bit early today. “No one would notice,” she argues. She’s right, you think. They probably wouldn’t. They’re about to pass by you when you hear their footsteps pause.
“What’s this then?” says the manager, stooping to collect the orange by my feet. “Has someone been throwing oranges around while we weren’t looking?”
“I hope so,” giggled the other manager. “It sounds like a fun game. Maybe next time we can play as well.”
“Quite. Still, it’s hardly what we’re paying this lot to do, is it?”
You feel a hand on your shoulder and turn, slowly, to meet her gaze. She’s staring at you. Waiting. You tell her you’re sorry; which you think is strange since you’re not sorry at all. A smile softens your face and she keeps on walking, satisfied. You turn back to the conveyor belt and begin to work again.
The hours blur together. Muscles and bones aching, your mind wishes fondly for the blaring alarm used to mark the end of the day. Eventually, mercifully, it greets you.
The belts stop. Your feet move towards the lockers, ready to take you home.
You don’t really remember walking home. Then again, you don’t really remember being at work either. You unlock the front door and head inside. The thought of food makes your mouth water, but the couch looks so inviting. You head towards it like a moth to a flame. Without really meaning to, you reach for the remote and press the on button.
The lights go out. You blink. The TV is dead. This wasn’t supposed to happen. You blink again. You probably could be moving right now. Doing something else. Anything. But you’re not. Interesting. So you wait… and you wait… and you wait.
You jolt awake, vaguely aware of an alarm sounding in the distance. Groggily, you roll off the couch and hit the floor with a THWAK.
“Dangnabbit!” You curse, then pause. Something is different. Looking around the room, you’re struck by how tidy everything is. Suspiciously tidy. “I still live here, right?”
You get to your feet. It feels uneasy, wrong. Like you’re a passenger in someone else's body. You hobble over to the bathroom to check in the mirror. Nope. That’s you. You run your fingers through your hair. When was the last time you had a haircut? You looked ridiculous. The bags under your eyes aren’t helping either. You splash your face with cold water and head into the kitchen.
The power is off. What happened there? You jiggle the light switches to no avail and crack open the fridge. Big mistake. Closing it quickly, you try to pull the threads of your thoughts together. It’s difficult, more so than it should be. Kind of like picking up your knitting after a long hiatus and trying to figure out where you were up to. Your alarm is still ringing, and you remember - you have to go to work.
Throwing on your overalls, you grab your keys and a phone, thrusting them into your pockets. How could you have forgotten your first day at the orange juice factory? Thinking back to the induction, you remember it being kind of awkward. Management seemed bored and the others in your group looked pretty nervous. They only gave us a quick tour before sending us home with an induction DVD.
“Shoot, the DVD.”
You’d watched it last night. Hadn’t you? You remembered turning it on, pressing the button. You rack your brains. Why was everything so foggy today?
It doesn’t seem worth it to try and find a way to rewatch the DVD. There was no electricity anyway and you don’t want to be late. It’ll be fine. How complicated could doing quality control on oranges be? Besides, you weren’t the only new person. It wouldn’t be too hard to slip in unnoticed.
You frown at your mother, who frowns back. It’s hot today, and a small crowd has gathered in the factory parking lot. No one is talking, which is a bit awkward. You wave at Jenny, a girl you recognised from the induction, but she just stares ahead, her eyes glazed over. You look back at your mother, but she’s giving you that same blank stare. What’s wrong with her?
“Mum?” You say again. “What’s wrong with you?”
You hear the movement of heavy metals scrape against each other as the doors are unlocked. Silently, the crowd forms an orderly line. You join them, taking your place behind your mother. Without a word the line begins moving. Your heart drops, taking residence deep in your gut. This doesn’t feel right. But neither does running. What would mum want me to do?
Being as subtle as possible, you reach out and squeeze her hand. She twitches slightly in surprise, but other than that doesn’t react. Odd. you run.
It seemed unwise to go home. You’re not sure why, but decided to trust your gut on this one. It was having a bit of a day. Instead, you head to your mother’s back porch. You’d picked up some orange juice from the market on your way home. Hand squeezed. No added sugars. Just the way she likes it.
Your mind was feeling clearer every minute. You were starting to remember pieces, flashes, of the last few nights. Last night in particular. Something had changed then. Something different had happened. Something good.
Heading inside, you poke around your mothers living room. The case for the same DVD you brought home after the induction is lying open next to her telly. You shake your head. Why had she been there? She was supposed to be retired. Had she changed her mind? Decided to get a job in a local factory. Without thinking you snap the disk in half. Putting on the kettle, you decide to wait for your mother to come home. This puzzle would not go unsolved.
It felt like hours until mum came through the door, and when she did she wasn’t alone.
“Why, hello there. Fancy running into you in your mother’s living room. When you didn’t show up for work today, your mother was worried about you.” It was that awful manager from… wait… you knew this woman. “I thought we could have a little chat.”
You smile, though you’re not sure why. Fear? You follow the woman outside and she snaps the door shut behind you.
“You need to know we take truancy very seriously,” she says. “It’s not usual for our staff to miss days at work. What happened?” Her voice is sugar.
“My power went out,” you admit.
“It did?” says the lady, seeming very interested. “Well, we’ll have to fix that.”
“Don’t bother,” you say. “I’d rather enjoy the peace and quiet that comes with a TV-free lifestyle.”
“Indeed.” She looks you up and down and smiles again.
“Besides, my mother always told me too much telly would turn me into a mindless drone one day. I’d hate to see her be right.”
Her smile falters. Through the window you can see your mother searching fruitlessly for the DVD. You smile now, thinking you might finally be honing in on the truth. If you were right, tomorrow morning your mother would wake up groggily on a couch and try to call you, asking what was going on. You weren't sure what you would say just yet, but at least you knew you'd be able to answer.
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Wow! Wonderfully paced, the slow dawning realisation kept me guessing what was going on. Brilliantly drip-fed throughout, this was incredible to read. One comment; the curse ‘Dangnabbit’ took some of the suspense out for me. Nothing major, just after the low level dread and threat you were building up it kind of broke the mood. I can’t wait to read more of your stuff!
Hi Iona! Thank you - that's great feedback. I'm going to take that line it out of my next draft. I'm glad the pacing worked and that you enjoyed the story. I look forward to reading more of yours too. :)
I liked this story Ingrid. Great work. Keep writing,keep gifting the world with your words and stories. Beautiful.
Aww thank you for your lovely message Grace, I'm so glad you liked it. :) Have a beautiful day!
Hey Ingrid, I'm here for the critique circle like I said! I loved this story so much! It was unsettling from the get go and the feeling of unease kept getting greater until the realization hit- that watching the induction DVD was making them into mindless workers for the orange factory! It kept me hooked until the end. What an incredible concept... it makes me wonder what happens next (the character and their mum should definitely be resigning and reporting it, but what if the authority figures are corrupt too...) "Besides, my mother al...
Hi Nayab, aww thank you for the lovely feedback, it really made my day. I'm glad I succeeded in making it a bit creepy. :p Haha, I love that idea, and agree that they should definitely report it to someone! In the planning phase I came up with a whole backstory involving hypnotism being leveraged by corrupt class systems... then decided all that was probably a bit difficult to unpick in a short story. Maybe I will write a sequel. ;) Looking forward to reading more of yours too. Have a lovely day!
You're very welcome Ingrid! Awe I'm glad it made your day, as your feedback also made mine :) I'm happy you like my idea haha! Oooh and the backstory is so cool- I totally get the struggle though- I often make up complex backstories but can't add them into the short story because like you said, it's difficult in the limited amount of words. And maybe if you write the sequel let me know haha ;) Have a wonderful day as well!!