We Need You Too

"We need him, so that we can leave.
Though, we could use you too..."
(Revised as of 3/3/17)

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1. Chapter 1

"How long you think this'll take?" 

"Not long at all. Like, five minutes, tops." 

A darkness swarmed the room, except for where the flashlight's beam fell before them. The two followed their line of sight as they carted the robot along. 

Only one of them was doing the carting. The other merely manned the flashlight. 

"You'd think a high-tech place like this could afford a lightbulb or two," the laborer joked, as the vehicle squealed in front of him. 

His fellow worker shrugged, throwing the light a ways off their path of travel. "It's a weird company," he said. "I've seen 'em do a lotta questionable things." 

"Well...yeah, I guess," he uttered while he pushed. He waited a moment before he spoke up again. "Why do they keep sending us back here, Cody?" 

The torch-bearer heaved a sigh. "I dunno," he admitted. "But I wouldn't question it if I were you. Heaven knows what they'd do." 

He nodded in response, as if anyone would have been able to see it. The room truly was dark, the color and consistency of pitch. That sole beam was all they had to refer to, because nothing beyond it seemed to exist. Yes, only a clean-cut oval of tile was of any permanence to them. He felt like he was in a dream, trapped in a lucid dungeon deep underground with no way of escape. The comparison was quite valid, except that there actually was a way to get out of here. The elevator was the only exit out of this establishment, and he knew exactly where it was. And thank the Lord for that, because he needed to be walking through it as soon as he could.

He couldn’t be late.

But he had been wondering for some time: why them? Of all the perfectly competent technicians their boss could send down here, he and Cody were always put on the front lines. Thrice a week was this company’s needy routine, but no one else in their work force had the privilege to experience the thrill that was Circus Baby’s Rentals and Entertainment. No one but them. 

"Jay, watch out—!" 

He awoke from his thoughts, due to the crash of metal. The cart wouldn't move anymore. Cody shone the light on the collision, grounding a very small animatronic in the physical. It sprawled stagnant upon the ground and looked like the scene of a crime, as if a little ballerina had just been run over. 

"Oh, shoot!" he said as he backed up the cart. "Is it broken?" 

Cody knelt down to the victim as he reached out a hand. He grasped it delicately and examined it with his spotlight. "Eh, it looks fine," he fibbed, turning it over and over to assess. In reality the exterior was blemished, with scratches lining the robot's side and flecks of its pink tutu chipped here and there. But Jay didn't need to know that. He was under enough stress already. 

"Seriously, those things are creepy as all hell," he spoke, leaning his elbows atop the cart's handle. He was conveniently short enough to do so without needing to crouch down. "Uh, what're they called again? Mini...mini-somethin'-er-others...?" 

Cody would have looked up at him, but remembered that Jay was but a figment in the void. "Who knows?" he said, as he kept his gaze on the doll-like animatronic in his hand. Its slender limbs were colored tan as well as its torso. The face painted a ghastly white, disrupted by a gaping smile that took up the area its two eye sockets weren’t occupying. Indeed, creepy as all hell.

"C'mon, man," Cody said, setting the ballerina off to the side, back into nothingness. Hopefully none of the employees that worked here would notice the scuffs. "Let's get going." 

Once he rose from the ground the two of them set out again, wheeling their final task for the day in front of them: the very tall, somehow appealing, and strangely promiscuous animatronic. 

"You know for sure this is the last thing?" Jay questioned as the door drew nearer. "I mean, you gotta be sure about this. I have somewhere to be." 

They finally made it the door, after a trip that should have taken half of the time it did. Cody reached for the handle, still shining the flashlight on their intent. "Yeah, I'm positive," he assured, as he turned the nob to the right. "I even double-checked." 

Jay let out a sigh of relief. He needed to be a hundred percent sure of this—a hundred-and-one if possible. He could not be late again. He had let her down so many nights before. Jay was going to make tonight different, and he meant it this time. No if's or but's, the usual excuse-starters for his cancelled dates. Trista didn't deserve to be treated like that, he knew that perfectly. Their relationship had been going so well. He and Trista had been together for nearly nine months now; Jay couldn't mess this up.

He had a terrible habit of inapt disregard, and not just the usual late-assignment-situation. Although that was certainly a common misdemeanor of his, Jay’s forgetfulness seeped into just about every aspect of his life, not even leaving his love life untouched. He wouldn’t think twice before planning events willy-nilly, only to place them right atop neglected dates.

Excuses followed a similar structure: “If I don’t go to the reunion my family will shun me for the rest of my life. You know what they’re like.”

Or here’s another: “But this professor is a really big deal! I think going to his lecture could really help me learn a lot!”

How about this gem: “I seriously promised the guys I’d play COD with ’em. If I skip tonight they’ll kick me from the team!”

Jay was pitiful, and well aware of it. That was why he needed to leave this hellhole as soon as possible. He knew if he and Cody returned to the surface in five minutes, he would have just enough time to drive home and get ready. His only regret was that he wouldn't be able to shower, but that was not a big deal. Nothing that a damp towel, some Axe, and a little cologne couldn't fix. And with the time he had left he could rush over to her apartment and pick her up. It was a foolproof strategy, planned down to a tee. Jay was determined; there was no way it could fail. 

He just needed to get out of here. 

Cody swung the door open and made his way inside the so titled Scooping Room. "Okay, bring her over," he instructed, standing off to the side of the room and shining the light on their current assignment. The animatronic sat cross-legged on the cart, positioned so that its limbs wouldn’t drag on the ground while being rolled. Despite its hunched stature in the vehicle, the ballerina was actually very tall; about one-and-a-half Jays in height. Clad in plates of white and blue, and its tutu colored a magenta with tiny orange spheres dangling from the fringe. The face was sliced into four sections, each one able to shift and move when the animatronic was powered on. Its smile a most uncanny, cheeks encircled with distinct blush, and eyes closed, as they always were meant to stay. Yet sometimes Jay would feel a chill run up his spine when his back was turned, as if someone were watching his every move. And he could have sworn to catching its eyelids flicker open out of his peripheral, but snap shut in an instant once he spun around to see. However, nobody believed his claims. He didn’t really believe them either.

At least, he didn’t want to.

Jay stalled to breathe only a second, because for a good minute he was going to have a hard time doing so. He squatted near to the ground and reached out his arms, taking hold of the animatronic in the cart. At first glance, anyone would think that it weighed a mere few pounds. How the guy that made this thing managed to give it its plastic appearance was incredible. Because Jay could attest, the ballerina weighed much more than a few pounds. 

With a grunt and a wheeze he stood upright, and made his own way through the door. Of course the frame was much too narrow, and the cart had to be a nice inch or two too big. Oh no no, wheeling the robot inside the room would have been way too easy. Jay entered in sideways, so that both he and the animatronic could fit through. He felt like he was frisking away a fair damsel, or hauling a dead body. Certainly he wasn't doing either, but the most efficient way to carry the ballerina was to hold it the way one would lift a human: one arm under the knees, and the other supporting the back. It felt a little wrong to him; he wasn't sure why. 

"Forward," Cody spoke from inside the dank room, keeping the flashlight’s beam cast at his coworker’s feet. Jay followed his directions and moved forward a bit. He loathed that he was the only one doing the heavy lifting. While he knew he was doing Cody a great service, his back was not appreciating the hard work. Having started from all the way in the "Something" Gallery (Berlora? Berrona? Ballona?—Jay couldn't remember for the life of him), through those stupid cramped vents and Control Module, all the way across the pitch Funtime Auditorium, and then inside this hazardous Scooping Room.

Did these people even know how to build a workplace? 

His selfish side huffed in dismay, both at this company and his workload. Yet he suppressed that area of his mind and let his common sense take over. He was aware of Cody's injury, the irritating sprain in his shoulder. Jay couldn't allow the man to take part in any heavy-lifting. He respected his coworker to the utmost place. The two had worked together for nearly two years now, and since then they had grown to know each other as rather good acquaintances. Maybe even as friends, if to go so far as to say. While they drove to the houses they were instructed to attend to, whether fixing up routers, setting up PC’s, or getting a “broken” DVD player to work, Jay and Cody would converse about their lives and their plans for that day, and then any other topic those happened to lead to. At first it had been out of obligation to keep from going crazy of awkward tension, but soon they had come to learn quite a lot about each other. Jay would usually talk about his college classes, and how he was this close to getting his degree and finally, after all these years, meriting the title of electrical engineer. Whereas Cody would tell of his daughter's softball team, and how well the kids had done at practice the evening prior. Jay’s coworker was the coach of the team of ten-to-twelve-year-olds, curiously dubbed the Butterflies.

"They really wanted the team to be called that," he had said with a chuckle. "They still won't tell me why."

A few days before Cody had been showing one of the teammates how to improve his pitching, a lesson that in turn had led to what was now a nasty shoulder sprain. It was an inconvenience, even for Jay, but he didn't need to make the situation into something unnecessary. He would cover for his buddy while the joint healed. Besides, he knew Cody would have done the same for him. 

"More," came the voice again. Jay inched a bit farther, struggling to watch his step past the metal ballerina in his arms. Thankfully he could sense the wires underfoot, and made sure that his feet didn't catch on any of them. Cody illuminated the conveyor belt with his flashlight, giving at least some reference of the room. "Moooore," he goaded, as the man and robot continued to move. 

"Okay, stop," he relieved. Jay halted where he stood. He was at the belt. 

"Set her down." 

The animatronic was laid upon the device with care as if a newborn child, and not the tank it was. 

"Watch the step." 

Jay made note of that too. A sudden incline arose right before the conveyor belt, which he had felt as well. If not for Cody’s warning and his supposed extrasensory perception of the terrain, that could have turned into quite a messy blunder. Teamwork was all they had down here in the corridors of hell. He took a step back from the sprawled ballerina. It wasn't completely on the belt, with one arm and both legs dangling off the sides. But Jay needed a breather. He would finish the task in just a second. 

He moved beside the light source, which he assumed his coworker was standing behind. "What happened to it this time?" he said, hooking one arm in the other and tugging to the side. He asked out of mere curiosity, as this same animatronic had been their assignment the last time they came down here, and countless times before. There was never any problems with the pink and white fox, or the bear with the bunny hand puppet, or that clown-girl with the haunting green eyes. No, always this ballerina. Broken, malfunctioning, short-circuited—take your pick. What was wrong with that thing?

Cody shrugged. "Seems like these things can't go a day without breaking down. Who knows?" He placed a hand on his own shoulder and massaged it with his fingertips. "It's always the same. Some kind of hardware malfunction." 

Jay had finished a leisurely backbend, his spine crackling in sheer bliss, when he suddenly came to his senses.

He had a date to keep. 

"Well hey, I haveta be somewhere in fifteen minutes," he reminded, "and this place gives me the creeps. Can we just get this over with?" 

His friend started to move toward where he knew the door stood, but still shined his light on the conveyor belt. "It's all automated; we don't have to be here for it. Just get her on the roller so we can go."

It was evident that Cody wanted to get out of here just as much as Jay, so he would waste no time. He grasped the limbs of the animatronic that hung off the sides of the belt and lifted them on. With painstaking effort it was then positioned upright as if sitting in a chair. This way the Scooper, the device for which this very room was named, would be able to do its job. And with that he stepped away from the belt and walked back to the door, though not before reaching his hand to the left and jabbing a large red button pad with his fingers. He had done this so many times before; he barely needed to look. 

So intent he was on making it out the door that he didn't even notice the strange noise. In a place with quite the variety of sounds, this one was not too unusual to hear. Like the desperate jostle of metal, the shifting of plates. But Jay couldn't have heard. Unfortunately for the source, it was much too quiet. 

Behind him the door slammed shut, while the conveyor belt played its familiar roar of clanks. It would be just a few moments until the machine worked its magic and removed the animatronic’s innards. Perhaps it was a process for repair? Jay and Cody weren’t sure, and they didn’t care. They were done with this place. At least, for now. Until their company sent them, and only them, tomorrow evening. No matter how many times the two of them traversed down into this prison, they were never going to get used to it. 

Across the room they traveled, and through the inconvenient vent they crawled, until they came into the light that was the Control Module. Finally, proof of a world outside of darkness. Not pleasant evidence, however. A sickening green hue shone from two bulbs at the ceiling’s edge, giving the place and everything in it the look of mucus. Two windows looked out into the Something Gallery and Funtime Auditorium, although there was nothing much to see. A fan propeller took up half of one wall behind a grate, and a clown mask with a pointed hat hung above it. The room consisted of far too many things for a single enclosure, including a speaker, a keypad, three automated heads held up on poles, a toy that…nobody was exactly sure was, two waste-high pads each with buttons labeled according to purpose (lightening bolt for Controlled Shock, and sun for Lights On), a poster, a security camera, a wall clock with a clown face in the back, bendable pipes stretched from floor to ceiling, and perhaps even more than that. Jay grew claustrophobic just thinking about it.

So instead he looked over at his coworker, who was finally able to be observed in all his glory. Cody was of an average height and large build, so much so that it seemed his shirt could barely contain his upper body. His uniform was the same as Jay’s own, a blue shirt tucked in black slacks and held with a belt, and a ball cap reading their company’s title and insignia.

But Jay had no time to drink in his surroundings. He was on the clock.

"Hey, you got the time?" Jay asked, wiping the debris from his pants. "I wanna know how much time I have." His level of disregard had taken an all new stance; perhaps the stress was starting to mess with his mind. He didn't think to pull out the cellphone in his pocket, or to even glance over at the giant face-clock upon the wall. 

Why would someone put an unnerving clown smile like that on a clock? Of course, it was the face of one of this place's rentable animatronics, so it's presence was absolutely understandable. But it was just so creepy! 

"Um, iiit iiiiis..." Cody prolonged while he reached into his back pocket for his own phone. He never got to finish his statement, however, for he never came upon any phone. He certainly checked the other pocket and then the side ones as well. But once he had run out of pockets he suddenly kept still. His heart skipped a beat. 

"Crap," he muttered, staring off into space. "I don't have my phone." 

Jay put a hand to his face and nasally inhaled.

Why now? Of all places and times why here and now? 

"Cody," he named anxiously. "Please tell me you know where it is." 

There was an uneasy pause; Jay could barely breathe. This could not be happening. He had somewhere to be! 

In the end, after what was unbelievably a mere five seconds or so, Cody's eyes lit up. "Yes, I do!" he declared, relief prominent upon his face. "It's in the Breaker Room. I think I left it on a box or something." 

Finally Jay could take in air. The Breaker Room lay just across the Something Gallery, with an actual lightbulb poised above the door. Quite convenient, and such a rarity in a place like this.

But…he was cutting it close.

"Do you think you could just leave it for a while?” Jay asked, but more like begged. “You can come back in just a few minutes or…something…”

But instantly he saw that it wasn’t going to happen. Jay watched the color drain from Cody’s face, at the very mention of being another minute without his cellphone. In their few years of working together he had come to learn one certain thing about Cody: the pathetic middle-aged man was a mobile addict. Jay was sure that if he had the option to save either his family or his phone, that he would hesitate. Cody was unashamed to admit that he had a problem, yet the fact of it was still an annoyance.

At least he knew where his phone was, and its exact placement as well. Maybe this could work out.

 “Look, man, you gotta hurry," he said. "We can't take much longer. I have to pick up Trista in, like, ten minutes." 

Cody sighed and nodded vigorously. "I know," he told, "and I will, alright? I'll be back in a minute." 

Immediately, without any allowance for a comment, the poor man was already through the vent and had disappeared into the Something Gallery. Jay repositioned his cap nervously by the bill, his heart thudding like a timpani, and his legs pacing back and forth. He didn't feel the need to toy with the many and various knickknacks scattered about the Module. His mind was whirling as rapidly as the fan that positioned behind him, while it beat steady wafts of cool air onto his back. He could barely keep a straight thought through the chaos.

Jay and Cody needed to leave at the same time, because they only had one keycard to work the elevator to the surface world. If one of them set off by himself, the other would be trapped down in this nightmare the entire night. As much as he wanted to get out of here, Jay wished no such thing for his coworker. 

Cody said he only needed a minute. But a minute was all Jay could spare. 

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