Acute Paranoia


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June 30, 2006

It was finally time to proceed to the first step of my tooth reconstruction. The hole left behind by the extraction had healed sufficiently. Once more I reminded the dentist that I was taking Topamax. He needed to know in case I had a seizure during the operation.

The procedure was simple and consisted of anesthetizing me, then slicing my gum open at the spot where the tooth was missing. Then a titanium bone screw, called an implant, was drilled into my jaw. Next came a waiting period to see if my body accepted the implant before it was capped with the prosthetic tooth.

Back at the office I went into the men's room to inspect the dentist's work. Larry was exiting the handicapped stall, one of his trademark nuggets swirling in the toilet behind him. In the mirror I examined my open mouth. Sure enough, there was a little metal stub jutting out of my lower right jaw, between two of my teeth.

July 2006

This was the month it all went downhill for me. When I relaxed after work, I became completely overcome with anxious thoughts about my predicament. I would put a DVD in the player, but I couldn't focus on it, so it would play through unwatched while my mind churned with scenarios of what could be going on at the Corporation. I was stressed from work, worry, and the extra burden of caring for the three cats.

I thought more about how the Corporation could completely take over a person's life. The key lay in how finances were handled these days. Paychecks were direct deposited, mortgages and other loans were automatically deducted from bank accounts - the human being was superfluous. What if the Corporation took control of a person's accounts? It could then use its influence with other companies to manipulate a person's employment contract so that it ended up attached to a phantom position. Arrangements were so multi-leveled nowadays that no one would notice.

Finally came the step of "laying off" the employee. This is what appeared to happen in public, to the co-workers at the office. But the awful truth was that the worker was eliminated, spouse, kids and all. His paycheck kept being deposited into his checking account. His house stood empty, mortgage payments automatically paid each month. His SUV sat unused in his driveway, loan payments deducted duly on the appointed day. All of his excess income went to the Corporation, instead of being spent on gas, groceries, and new drapes for the family room.

In the evenings I would hear gunshots echo in the distance in my neighborhood. I imagined I was hearing the sound of families being killed off. I knew how the Corporation planned it, too. When people went on vacation, they usually had their mail held. With access to Postal Service databases, the Corporation knew when this happened, and knew the day the family would be returning: the day the mailhold ended. That was when the unfortunates were ambushed, right in their own home. My old friend had even warned me never to have my mail held. Now I understood why.

This horrible conspiracy ran deeper than just the third floor of the office building where I worked. All those shots I was hearing could only mean one thing. My neighborhood was being slowly taken out, and somehow it was connected to my job at the Corporation. Their tentacles must extend far and wide if they could reach the contracts of all the people that lived around me. I felt a profound guilt and depression over what was happening.

I realized now what those weekly calls from that recruiter were about. Someone on the HR staff had been trying to give me an escape route, so I could get out before I was converted to a full-timer. But it was too late now. Again, the Corporation could easily follow me if I quit and moved, since they could track a change of address. They also had the names and addresses of my relatives and friends, which I had foolishly provided when I filled out the background investigation paperwork. So I had nowhere to run. I had nowhere to hide.

The neighborhood was eerily quiet. There was still no sign of occupancy at the house next door. Across the street had been a family whose kids were always playing in the back yard. Now there was no trace of any inhabitants; the yard was empty.

There were hardly any vehicles driving on the roads, and no one was ever out on the lawns. Once I saw a man on a riding mower in front of one house. Another day I could swear I saw the same man on the same mower, mowing a different lawn. Of course, once a house was emptied by the Conspiracy, its lawn would still need maintenance. The man was a large, bald fellow - he looked like a tough. Maybe he was one of the Corporation's hired killers.

I understood that the other full-timers at the office must have gone through the same experience as me. Their neighborhoods were probably already empty of inhabitants. What a horror. And they were trapped, because the Corporation had all the goods on them. That was why poor Larry was reduced to leaving his little warning signs in the toilet.

July 5, 2006

As I drove into my neighborhood at the end of the work day, a black pickup truck followed close behind me. The driver was a large, bald man. It looked like the same man I had seen earlier mowing different lawns. I felt threatened. What was he doing?

At home I worried about what the man following me portended. Was he making sure I was going home? Attempting to relax did nothing to help; it just set the thoughts racing through my head. Somehow the idea got to me that tonight I had been marked by the Conspiracy for termination.

I recalled that Florence's husband had a business laying foundations for new construction. That meant they had the perfect way to dispose of my body. Finish me off in the night, and then seal me in a cement tomb.

That night I lay in bed, in fearful anticipation of my sudden death. I expected to hear the sound of the Corporation's agents breaking through the door at any moment. I was unable to sleep as I attended to every little noise coming from down the stairs. Now I understood why Lloyd had his house wired with web cams. He was waiting for them to come get him, too. But he was ready, and with his military training he could face them. I had no such advantages.

The night dragged on. A sound would disturb me, and I would head downstairs to look fearfully out the window in the door, straining my eyes in search of approaching intruders. As the hour grew late I despaired of ever sleeping. I was so frightened my heart was racing. I contemplated fleeing the house to spend the night in a hotel. But part of me doubted my anxieties and was determined to see the night through.

Eventually the routine of going down and back up stairs grew weary. It was necessitated by the fact that I couldn't see outside very well from my bedroom. So I moved down into the living room, sitting in a chair, wrapped in a blanket, facing a bay window. It was the dead of night. This was the hour they were most likely to strike. I was shaking in abject terror, certain of my doom.

Morning came and I was spared. But I never slept.

July 6-7, 2006

I was now completely obsessed with concern that the Corporation was coming after me. I thought they might plant agents in the house when no one was home, who would remain camped, waiting for the signal to move in for the kill. The order wouldn't come until my accounts had been manipulated and absorbed by the Conspiracy. But the agents could wait - they were elites, trained to survive patiently for days on the barest amounts of food and water. They could be wearing special light-refracting suits that made them nearly invisible. I knew that technology was in the works.

The slightest noises in the house would set my heart racing as I imagined them to be evidence of a lurking killer. There was a crawl space adjoining my bedroom which would make a perfect hiding space. One evening I noticed that the latch to the small door to the crawl space was undone; as far as I knew it should have been in place. Instantly I was terrified. The space might be occupied by one of the Corporation's shadowy operators.

Scared out of my wits, I went to my roommate Fred and told him that I thought there might be someone in my crawl space. I asked him if he would just do me the favor of checking it with me. He grabbed a flashlight and we headed up to my room. He opened the small door and shone the light into the crawl space. It looked empty. There was no explanation for the undone latch. I closed the door and put the latch back in place.

At work, I thought more about the company's scheming. They had a large contract with the Postal Service, and had then laid off and eliminated most of the people working under it. But surely they had kept all of those people's computer accounts active, with access to their key databases. The programmers still left, in on the conspiracy, could have written automated programs to run all sorts of scams. Programs that collected surcharges on transactions, or fudged postal traffic data. Or Frank could simply be selling personal information to criminal syndicates. The power of a corrupt corporation with access to Postal Service data was truly mind-boggling.

So why hadn't anyone done anything to try and stop Frank? I realized how deep the rivalry between Frank and Lloyd really ran. Lloyd knew about the Conspiracy and was waiting for his chance to take Frank out. I noticed that Frank never came into work until after Lou did. That heavy thump on the desk every morning must be from a shotgun Lou was toting in his bag. He was acting as Frank's bodyguard.

Meanwhile, Lloyd was packing his Guard-issued handgun in his backpack. If he was ever in the office when Frank was without Lou's protection, he would make his move. But Frank made sure Lou was always around. It was a standoff. The tension in the office was palpable.

July 7-9, 2006

Early Friday evening Fred and I were standing out on the lawn when a gray sedan coming down the road slowed down in front of our house. Of course, I suspected that the vehicle was a threat, carrying agents scoping us out.

"You're making me paranoid!" I shouted out.

"They're just checking the numbers on the mailbox," Fred said.

That weekend, I received a call on my cell phone in the middle of the night. It was a number I didn't recognize. I assumed someone was trying to find out if I was at home. Maybe someone connected to Florence's husband. I dared not take the call. But after a while of worrying I dialed the number back. A man answered; there was noise in the background.

"You called this number?" I said.

"I don't think so." he replied. I didn't know what more to say, and terminated the call.

On Sunday the 9th my father called. I told him again that I was certain there was something crooked going on at my company. I told him about Vince angrily going into Frank's office. He said Frank was probably just late with a report. He said I should see if there was a number I could call to report abuse.

That night I couldn't get the thought out of my head that there were agents planted in the attic. There had been a period of time that day when the house was empty, which gave them an opportunity. Once more I turned to Fred, asking him if he would do a sweep with me. We went up the stairs to find that the attic was clean.

"Sometimes you just have to work around madness," I said to Fred.

Even then I knew that my mind wasn't working right.

July 10, 2006

The following Monday morning Pete was late coming into work again. When he finally came in he was clearly upset.

"I just had another near-wreck on the drive in," he said. "A semi side-swiped me. It must have been going at least ninety."

In a flash I put the pieces together. Pete's run-ins on the freeway always involved big rigs. It must be the case the Frank had connections with the truckers, and had paid them off to do Pete in. Since Pete had been working at the company for many years, he must have long ago figured out what was going on. Maybe he simply knew too much, or maybe he had made some mistake. Perhaps he had stolen data, or tried to blackmail Frank. Now he was paying the price.

Dismayed, I rose from my chair and strayed over to where Nora and Dan sat. They both worked under Lloyd, who as it happened was out for the week on military leave. Nora was another grind, always the first to arrive every morning. Dan was the youngest member of the team, and a really nice guy.

I was even more upset than Pete was. "Doesn't it seem like someone put a hit out on Pete?" I blurted. Nora and Dan laughed nervously.

As it happened, Lou was walking by just as I spoke. He glared at me. Was it because I was creating a disturbance, or because I had figured something out?

July 11, 2006

By now I was concerned enough about my bizarre behavior to realize something might be wrong with me. Particularly disconcerting was the episode of terror that had kept me up all night. I had never experienced anything so frightening. I decided to seek professional help. I made an appointment with a psychologist for the afternoon. I just picked one at random from a list I found on the web.

I also did a little pre-appointment web research. I searched on "paranoia" and found a useful page that classified paranoia into different stages based on severity. Apparently paranoids were subject to delusions that placed themselves at the center of imaginary plots or grandiose notions.

I formed my own theoretical diagnosis of my condition. It was called Postal Service Personality Disorder. This was an affliction that plagued employees of the United States Postal Service, caused by the tension created by their utter insignificance as individuals, while surrounded by so much information about so many other people. For people with strong egos, this contradiction was too much to bear, and bizarre fantasies began to form regarding the vast amounts of personal data they encountered daily. This certainly described my situation, as I worked on my reports that probably no one ever read.

At the psychologist's office later that day, I first had to fill out forms as a new patient. I skipped a lot of the questions, since I hardly trusted my new doctor that I hadn't even met yet. After a long wait I was called into the back area.

The psychologist was a robust middle-aged lady in attractive feminine attire. She had a well-appointed office and invited me to sit on a comfortable leather couch. She offered me water which I declined. Then she asked me how I was and why I had come to see her.

So I told her that I thought I had uncovered corruption at work and that as a result they were trying to kill me.

"Well, that's certainly possible," she said. "It's not very likely, but it could happen."

I was stunned. She hadn't questioned my statement at all. In fact, she had almost affably agreed with me.

She then asked me questions about my family, such as who they were and where they lived. She asked if I had a girlfriend, which I did not. I told her about the night I had spent awake, waiting for the killers to come. I told her about Pete's accidents on the freeway and how I thought they were signs he was marked for death, as I might be.

"It's understandable that you feel fear," she told me. "Your buddy at work is getting into accidents, you're hearing things at night. Is there anything else that might be making you afraid?"

I didn't know how to answer her. It occurred to me that I was putting her on the spot, by confessing to her my worries about the Corporation being a criminal enterprise. I was unfairly drawing her into the Conspiracy, in an effort to protect myself, so that if I was eliminated there would be a trail. And then I realized what I was doing must be commonplace, and so the Corporation might have recruited psychologists to cover for them when paranoid employees turned to them for help. I clammed up.

Anyway, before I knew it, our time was through. I paid her and made another appointment for the following week.

I thought afterwards about my first ever session with a therapist. Part of me was impressed with her professionalism, the way she sounded out my situation without being confrontational. But ultimately there was still the issue of trust. How could I know she wasn't part of the Conspiracy?

July 12, 2006, day

The next day at work I overheard Dan talking to Nora. He was complaining about the cost of living, particularly the high price of gas. "In fact, my biggest expenses are energy related," he said. Little did he realize how prescient his words were. Eliminating the expense of a family's energy consumption while retaining the income of an employment contract was exactly how the Corporation's ruthless scheme worked.

I couldn't hold back any more. I went into the boss's office to confront him about my concerns.

"One thing you have to understand about me is that I'm very paranoid," I told Frank, after he closed the door behind me and invited me to take a seat in front of his desk. "Certain things about working here are bothering me."

"You think you're paranoid?" Frank countered. "I had an FBI agent in here, interviewing me about a prospective employee."

I understood this to be an evasive maneuver. I grilled him about the oddity of the Corporaton maintaining such a small staff in the mostly empty third floor of the building. He told me there had been layoffs over the years. One group of people had been moved to another building. He told me the Corporation had a long-term lease on the floor that it couldn't get out of.

I asked him about the employee in the Operator's timekeeping system with the same last name as Florence. He said he had no idea who that was. There were many people working at that company.

Finally I asked him if the Corporation regularly spied on its employees. Frank just rubbed his head and told me, "No, that's ridiculous."

"Alright," I said, and left. I was as unsatisfied as I had been after visiting the psychologist. But I now had another inkling of how the plot worked. Since Frank was responsible for interviewing hires, he might be planting people as postal inspectors who were really just murderous thugs who did the dirty work of eliminating families. He could simply be hiring local criminals, readily available through his policeman buddy.

I made a note of Florence's cell phone number off of the list that had been emailed to everyone in the group. When I got home I called her. I asked her if there had been anything unusual going on in her neighborhood. She was a fairly new hire, like me, so the Corporation must have just gotten around to taking over the area where she lived.

She said that everything was normal. But I knew I couldn't really trust her.


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