The static buzz, menial beeping, and repetitive clacking on the keyboards used to be calming to him. It was sad to say that the mind numbing task of transferring data onto a spread sheet and checking over Joja’s inventory logs was calming to him. Check one page, type it in and yawn. Rinse and repeat. As long as he didn’t fall asleep at his desk or fuck up the Joja corporation’s higher ups didn’t care how many hours he worked, and well, he had racked up a lot of overtime.
Suddenly a mess of blond hair popped over the top of his cubical. “Yo, Polly. We’re going to go and hit the pub after work. You in or out?” This plucky ball of excitement was one of the newer members of the Joja family. Their will hadn’t been broken yet. In a month or two that would change.
“My name isn’t Polly. It’s Apollyon.” He muttered as he punched in a few more numbers. “If you can’t remember it just call me Al. Everyone else does. Steve.”
The blond pouted a little. “My name isn’t Steve. It’s June.”
Apollyon shrugged and quickly finished off his final spread sheet for the day. “Whatever.” He wasn’t one to be friendly with his co-workers, hell he hardly ever spoke to them at lunch, preferring to just eat his lunch at his desk. The only people he really talked to was his manager, the mail lady, and the random slew of interns that Joja employed. Legal slave labour.
“So are you coming out to drink with us or not?” June asked. “You hardly ever show up to any of the other company functions, so just come out and hang with us. Make work friends or something.”
“… Nah, I’d rather finish some stuff I’ve gotten behind on. Management will do my head in if I mess up this deadline.” He might have finished today’s workload, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t go through everything and check it again.
Almost as if the world was against him, his manager happened to walk by. June grinned at him and waved. “Hey, so is it okay if Polly comes out drinking with us tonight? He says he’s behind on work.”
“I wasn’t aware you were behind on anything.” Said his manager. He glanced over at Apollyon’s computer and shook his head. “You’ve finished your work for today. Just come out drinking with the rest of us.”
Apollyon could just feel a heavy weight slowly pushing down on his shoulder. Each word rolling out of everyone’s mouths making that weight heavier and heavier. “Oh, so I have… Who else is coming?”
June just grinned and started listing off people. “There’s Greg and Barry from accounting, Diana from admin, Rose and Tina from sector B’s IT crew, our manager, me and you. Small group.”
Suddenly the Joja corp jingle started to play as the bright green work light at the front of the room went out and the bright res rest button started flashing instead. Joja really seemed to treat its employees like animals. No, robots would be more accurate. That’s just how things were. The bigger the company the more expendable the workers.
“Let’s go.” Said June with a grin. “I wanna get there before Greg gets smashed. He’s such a light weight.”
So with much reluctance Apollyon ended up getting dragged to a bar to drink with his co-workers personally he’d rather be run over by the Zuzu city 9:15 bus than be here of all places. The pub looked welcoming enough. It seemed to have an Irish theme if the shamrocks and grotesque wooden leprechaun staked to the wall meant anything.
Everyone ordered a few rounds of drinks and happily downed themselves in alcohol. It disturbed Apollyon how easily everyone lost their damn minds, but he could understand it to an extent. Joja corp sucked the life out of everyone and everything it touched till they were nothing but an empty husk.
He looked around at all the people around him, sighing internally when he could easily distinguish who had been working for Joja for longer. The more reserved the individual and stronger the drink the longer they had been there. Maybe some of them were alcoholics and used it to numb themselves like the way he used work to do the same thing?
He quickly pushed that thought out of his mind as he continued to listen to these random people talk about their random weekend activities. Two of the girls were going to have a spa day. Someone was going to go fishing. Someone else was going to catch up one some TV show they had fallen behind on.
Apollyon wondered for a moment what he was going to do, but quickly squashed any idea that he was going to do something fantastical. He was going to do what he did every weekend; eat, sleep, and watch TV. None of those activities were really going to be much fun. He slept on a broken mattress in a rundown apartment, ate crappy instant ramen, and his TV’s volume had a mind of its own. If he made any deviation from what he usually did it would be to call his mum to see how she was going. But knowing her she was unlikely to pick up. Same with his dad.
As he begrudgingly accepted his mundane existence he hardly noticed one of the women slipping into the empty seat next to him. She was a brunet with long elegant hair. She was slightly flushed from the alcohol but still seemed somewhat capable of functioning on her own. “So is it real?”
“…Is what real miss?”
“Oh, Diana. I’m from admin.”
“Apollyon from sector D. So what’s real?”
Diana pointed to his face and grinned. “Your hair. Isn’t like natural black hair meant to have a blue or black shine? Why do you have a red shine?”
“I just do. Some people are like that.” It was true too, not once in his life had he dyed his hair. It just looked weird and that was that.
Before she could ask what he was talking about a woman started rattling off about something in a foreign language. This just caused the native English speakers to laugh and tell her they didn’t know what she was saying. “Come on Tina,” slurred June. “No one knows what you’re saying when you speak that gibberish.”
Apollyon shook his head. “She’s speaking Portuguese. Duh.”
“You know Portuguese?” Asked Diana. She seemed pretty impressed. “What else can you speak?”
“Eh, I can speak pretty much any language if I’m around someone who’s speaking it for long enough. But I can’t read it. Written words have never been my strong suit. That’s why I’m a numbers man.” He looked down at his drink; he had been nursing his cup of scotch for at least two hours now. All the ice had melted. He drained the glass and considered leaving.
“That’s cool, so if you are good with languages and stuff, why not get work as a translator or something?” She asked. “Would be good with war efforts on the front line with the Gotoro Empire and stuff… But then again you probably don’t like the feeling of getting shot at?”
Apollyon shrugged. He had considered going doing that, but the truth was he didn’t like the idea of fighting. Hell, he didn’t even really know why they were fighting the Gotoro Empire these days. As far as he knew it was an unfortunate mix of circumstances. It all made him feel uneasy and kind of dirty to be put in those kinds of circumstances.
Diana sighed. “Still, seems like a damn shame to waste your talent away punching numbers for Joja corp.”
True, punching numbers hand never been the truly ideal thing Apollyon wanted to do with his life, but it paid the bills. Kept him going day to day. Stopped him from thinking too much about anything. It was almost like working at Joja had beaten him mentally into submission. He really was a slave to the system at this point.
That realisation hit Apollyon hard. Was this what it was like to be human? Was this what it meant to be human? To just become a cog in the machine that was Joja corp? Was it an inevitable cycle? Would he eventually just leave Joja only to instantly be forced into working for Joja again? Sure the name and corporate structure would be different but in the end it would be the exact same wouldn’t it?
Realising having an existential crisis in public was probably frowned upon in polite human society, Apollyon excused himself. “Yeah, I need to go home now.”
“Aw, why?” Whined June. “You’ve only had like one drink.”
“… I have a doctor’s appointment early tomorrow and don’t want to stay up all night.”
His flimsy excuse seemed to be enough for the group and Apollyon was able to leave and catch a bus back to his neighbourhood. It was very depressing watching the glamorous night lights of the city with its fancy eye catching neon fade into the mundane yellow streetlights of the more residential areas.
He lived in a lower middle class area, the housing here was affordable for the time being. Lately there had been word going around that the government was going to try and gentrify the area. If that happened Apollyon would have to consider moving back in with his parents. He didn’t like that idea at all. They burnt all kinds of incense sticks and candles that made his eyes water and skin itch.
He got off at his stop and wandered back to his shoebox apartment. Glancing up at the sky he wondered if there was anything for him besides Joja. The stars said neither yes nor no. They just showed the Junimos trio constellation. Stupid spindly apple bastards. Apollon had a strong dislike for fables about those guys. They were meant to be forest spirits. Some versions of the stories his mum told him when he was younger stated that the Junimos were helpers of Yoba. He didn’t want to think about Yoba today.
Apollyon walked into his apartment and tossed his keys on the table as he walked straight into his bedroom. It was nothing impressive. Just a mattress on the floor, a closet, and a nightstand with an old wooden box on it. It was a little time capsule of his childhood. It was filled with all kinds of things he though were important when he was younger. Small toys, drawings, sea shells, some photos, and maybe a cool rock.
He licked off his shoes and collapsed onto the mattress. His jeans were the only pants he had with fabric strong enough not to get ripped to shreds on the broken bed springs. Apollyon rolled onto his back and looked up at the cracks on the ceiling. There were more today. A lot more. Soon those cracks would end up making a hole. A dark, black, empty void that would suck him in. He’d be sucked in and trapped in the dark with all the other fleshy things that lived in the dark.
That thought made his chest tighten and his anxiety to rise even higher than when he realised he was a slave to the Joja system.
The cracks were getting bigger.
In the end it was just going to be him alone in the dark. No one was ever going to care about him enough to be worried if he just vanished someday. He’d just go back to the dark and no one would care.
The cracks were getting bigger.
The relationship he had with his parents was strained at best. His mum was nice enough to him. She still loved him and made the effort when he made the effort so she’d probably be a little sad. His step dad on the other hand, that was a whole other story. He was nice enough, but always looked at him with disgust when he thoughts that he wasn’t paying attention.
The cracks were getting bigger.
The only one that would care about him going missing was his mum, but even then she would eventually feel relief if he was gone. It would be like ripping off a band aid. It would hurt for a while but then it would go away and be just like the band aid was never there.
The cracks were too big.
Panic finally set in and Apollyon quickly sat up and tried to pull himself off his mattress, knocking over the nightstand and the box in the process. He stared down at the carpet as he tried to ground himself back into reality. The cracks weren’t getting bigger. They were the same as they had always been. People would be sad if he was gone. He was here and he was okay.
He didn’t know how long he sat there calming himself, but when he finally did, he noticed the damage he had caused. He knocked over his nightstand which meant he knocked over his box, and everything in it has spilt out.
Apollyon groaned in frustration as he quickly put everything back; a few small plastic dinosaurs, some rhinestones he thought looked cool, a rock shaped like a monkey’s head, some wood that looked like a dagger, sea shells, some photos of him and his family and an unopened letter?
Frowning a little Apollyon looked at the strange letter with his name shakily written on it. He strained to remember where on earth he had gotten the letter from and why he hadn’t opened it. Cautiously he peeled open the envelope and took out two pieces of paper. One piece of paper contained the deed to his grandfather’s old farm, Hellfire Farm.
Dramatic name aside, Hellfire farm was a place Apollyon didn’t think he would ever see again. His earliest memories were of that place with him mum and grandpa. The old man died too soon. Way too soon. Apollyon had only been seven at the time and didn’t understand why his grandpa wouldn’t wake up or why he was put in a box in the ground.
He quickly read over the letter that informed him that he indeed was being given Hellfire Farm. His grandpa’s pride and joy. Apollyon could feel his chest tightening again as ugly fat tears rolled down his face and hit the letter, smearing a little of the ink, and he didn’t know why. It wasn’t panic he knew that for sure. Maybe it was relief? Maybe his body was getting flooded was adrenaline and dopamine or something? He had no idea.
He wipes his eyes dry and turned the letter over, there was a phone number for someone called Lewis. His grandpa also scribbled down that he would need to call them to set up moving into the farm. All his happy childhood memories came flooding back; picking wild flowers with his mum, learning how to fish with grandpa, running around on autumn leaves, making snow monsters in the winder, and spending all day in the sun.
Screw Joja. Screw them and their fucked up system of mentally destroying and subjugating everyone they employed. Apollyon was going to escape that poison well. He hardly had anything to his name, his job was deliberately soul sucking, and the place he was living in was falling apart. He had nothing in Zuzu city. He could start over. He had a decent amount of gold stored away, kind of. Not really. No. Five hundred gold was pretty awful, but he could make it. He was going to make it.
Goodbye Zuzu city. Hello Stardew Valley.