Eron sat, placidly, palms down, atop the rough pine, at the long, cheap, unfinished, wooden workbench.
In some considerations, in a different setting, and under alternative light, the bench may have been a table. But here, it was not.
Eron tilted his head to the left, and glanced at the few dozen, closely-packed people, positioned in a fashion, similar to his own. The only marked deviation, of their positioning, was that they were looking down at the workbench, and not at him.
He breathed in gently through his nose, taking in the extensive row of facsimile, exhaled, then shifted his gaze to the right. With little astonishment, he encountered a similar scene. Heads were declined, hands were flat on the wood directly in front of them, eyes were marginally opened, and focused directly on the bench immediately present to the slits in their eyelids.
Eron withdrew his gaze from the right, and refocused his attention, directly in front of him. Across from the bench upon which he sat, another broad row of similarly stationed individuals sat, motionless, but for their shallow breaths.
A wide, double-door swung open in the distance, to his left, and each half crashed against a wall with a loud bang. Very few jumped, stirred, or had any twitch of reaction to the calm-altering intrusion.
A pair of oversized, man-mules, cradling large containers in their bulky arms, slowly walked into the space between the benches. They shifted their awkwardly sized packages handily between their strong, muscular, arms.
They reoriented their hefty frames, and sizable containers, towards the benches. Methodically, they moved towards him, from the far end of the bench, that nearest to the door whence they had come. At each person they paused, depositing a sizable pile of pea pods. When they reached him, they casually dumped a pile of pods on the bench in front of him.
The people to the left of him, had already begun removing the pods, and had begun putting the peas they had removed into a pile, to their right, while placing the pods to each workers left.
Eron, followed suit. But, when he peeled open his first pea pod, there were no peas inside. He looked at the absence curiously, then placed the shell to the left side of his pile, and grabbed the next pod.
He split the bean with his fingernails, and saw the same absence of peas in the pod.
Over and over, this same behavior, coupled with the same result, continued. Out of the entire pile of pea pods, he harvested not a single pea.
He sat dejectedly, and confused, at the bench, having halved the pods, and yielding nothing from their innards.
He took quick, furtive, glances around the room, and saw that all had two piles in front of them, where he had only one.
The muscular beasts waited at the edge of the room, to his right. When those at that end of the workbench completed their task of relieving pea from pod, the apish transporters began moving towards him, scraping the shell, and bean piles into different containers.
He felt a wave of panic rush through him, as he noted the hulking masses strolling in his direction. He had separated all of the pods in his allotment, and his yield was a pile of shells, with no separate pile of innards. He knew that there was nothing he could do to change the curious absence of contents in his pods, but he felt nervous, and dejected, for he had failed at his task.
The crew of cro magnon carriers approached his station, paused, raised a curious eyebrow, and swept the empty hulls into a bin.
They proceeded towards the door to the left of him. When they passed through, doormen positioned on the outside walls stepped into the long room, reached for the handles, and pulled the doors shut behind them as they exited.
Eron chanced a quick glance, once again, at his compatriots, finding them still focused on narrowly delineated sections of pine, on the workbench directly in front of their downward gazes.
With considerable internal restraint, he mimicked the positioning of those around him. He executed measured, deliberate breaths, while he waited, patiently.
The breaths weren’t specifically counted, but their number was in the thousands, before the doors were thrown open with a loud bang.
The burly porters carried in dark containers, housing unknown items. They moved to the head of the workbench, and tilted the containers toward the moderately even pine. Eron saw contents spill out onto the wood slabs, and an anxious feeling set upon him.
The heavy depositors moved closer, down the workbench line, towards him. Within thirty, or so, feet, he was able to learn the item that they were piling in front of his coworkers.
As the brutes closed on his station, he could see the workers reaching for the piles, cracking the shells, separating the contents, and placing them in a pile to their right, while tossing the shells in a pile to their left.
Eron stayed still, and waited for the slow-moving ogres to approach. When they reached his position, a marginally hairy, mountain-sized man dumped a large pile of peanuts on the slab of pine in front of him.
The depositor tilted his container upwards, then shuffled down the line to the right of Eron’s position.
Eron picked up one of the peanuts, and pressed his thumb into the seam, while his forefinger supported the back of the shell.
A crunching crack resounded, and Eron, looked at the recently split shell.
It was empty.
He picked up another, and split the shell with another sharp pop.
He selected a third. This time, he rolled the shell along the pine board, underneath his palm, applying pressure and slowly crushing it as he rolled. When he lifted his hand, and separated the pieces, there was nothing inside the shell.
He cracked open a fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh. The result was the same. None of the shells contained a single nut.
Eron methodically went through his entire pile, yet his efforts yielded not a single peanut.
Beads of sweat formed at his brow, and his hands began to feel clammy. Anticipating the return of the hefty peanut-totters worked at his nerves. His eyes dodged right, then left, furtively.
The giants at the end of the room shifted slightly, then glanced at the workers at the far end of the bench. They were just finishing their shelling process. As soon as they completed their task, the massive men moved up the row, collecting both piles from each worker.
Eron’s pulse raced as they drew near. His eyes darted to his one pile of shells, then to the absence of the expected, second pile of peanuts.
The hulking duo glowered at him. Then, one of the pair turned toward the door to the left of Eron’s station, made a quick gesture, swung his limb back towards Eron, and pointed.
Eron waited nervously, for what seemed an eternity. But nothing happened. The pair eventually shuffled off, seemingly weary of waiting for action toward Eron.
They continued their collection procedure, and eventually, passed through the door, which was closed behind them as they exited.
Ten minutes passed, then twenty, then thirty, the doors did not reopen, and no one in the room stirred from their positions.
Finally, the doors burst open, and the two strapping carriers stepped into the long hall.
Once again, they moved down the line of phlegmatic workers. On the workbench in front of each, the brutes dumped a pile of dead crustaceans. Each worked diligently to remove the shell from the crabs, then extract the edible meat from inside.
Eron nervously accepted his allotment, went through the same motions as all of the others, and experienced different results. Each crab shell that he cracked, he hoped would contain meat, but none did. Not surprisingly, given his work with the peas and nuts, he went through his entire pile, and finished with a solitary mound, not two.
The two cavemen completed their march, watched the two workers at the end of the bench until they observed a completed task, swept the piles into their bins, then began their trek back towards the door.
Eron waited, heart beating rapidly, as they approached. He stared at the pine slabs in front of him as they cleared the piles from his neighbor to the right. He stared downward as they stopped before him, grunted, then flinched as one brought his fist down on the bench with a loud thud.
Eron stayed perfectly still, and said not a word. He could feel the hot breath of the muscular beast in front of him on his brow. It singed his eyelids, and stank of overcooked meats and cabbage.
He didn’t move.
The muscle-bound porter reached forward, put a hand on Eron’s shoulder, and gave a forceful shove, nearly dislodging him from his seat. The giant grunted, then growled in his direction. Eron snapped his body back from the shove, and placed his hands, palms down, on the bench.
The bulky, barbarians moved away from him, to his left, and collected the piles on the benches.
Upon finishing their collections, they moved through the doorway, and the doorman stepped through, grabbed the handles, and pulled the doors shut.
Not much time had passed before the doors opened, once again. The familiar ogres walked through the door, and began depositing coconuts in front of the waiting workers.
When they reached him, the brutes removed the coconuts from the containers, and slammed them down, one by one, on the pine in front of him.
Eron cracked open the first, and found now trace of the milky pulp that his neighbors were plucking from the inside. He tried the second, and found the same. Eron finished the rest of his pile, noting that nothing salvageable was in any of the coconuts.
He could see the fury in the eyes of the collectors from a distance. He knew he wouldn’t escape retribution by staring into pine boards.
He couldn’t comprehend how none of the organic containers set before him yielded any nutritional value.
He saw the colossi moving in his direction. He saw their sweeping motions as they collected both piles from each worker. He saw their burning gaze on him as they inched forward.
He stood from his post, and stepped backward, over the thin wooden bench upon which he had been sitting. He saw the approaching ogres, and could see salivation at their lips as they inched towards his lack of productivity.
Suddenly, he felt like he had been pierced through the chest, by a blade of ice. He felt incredibly nauseous. And he experienced an intense chill, rush into his upper torso.
He slowly began to unbutton his shirt, shifting his gaze from left to right as he moved through the buttons.
The cro magnon males, moved towards his location, as he loosened the last button.
Eron reached up, and parted the two sides, then brought his right hand toward his chest, to probe for the source of his discomfort.
Beneath the shirt, where his chest should have been, there was nothing. There was an incomprehensible void.
The pair of troglodytes closed on him.
Eron looked around the vast room, and saw nothing but down-turned heads, declined shoulders, and palms flat on the pine in front of them.
Eron thought to himself, “All I wanted was a happy life. I worked hard. I tried to be good to my fellow man. I was a productive member of society. I thought I was making the right decisions. At one point, I even had dreams! Yet, what I’ve ended up with, is emptiness inside.”
The brutes moved towards Eron, oblivious to the absence in his chest. The rest of the workers at the benches, made no sounds, and kept their heads down.