By Brianna Abbott
Stan Jackson hadn’t moved in about three days, unless you count wheeling his desk chair into the kitchen as moving. He tried to ignore the large, dark circles under his eyes whenever he glanced at his reflection in the computer screen. Sleep would have to wait; he had a project for Financial Planning due in two hours and an essay in Business Ethics due in five, and the word-processing program update installing on his computer didn’t sense the urgency.
“Come on” he begged. “Come on, Draxal, you piece of shit. You run the world. You should be able to update properly. You – yes!”
Coaxed by the encouragement, the system known as Draxal fully downloaded. Stan vigorously hit ‘Next’ went back to the registration screen because he forgot to sign the ‘Terms & Conditions’ and then set to work – until the screen went black.
“What?” he cried, pressing down on all of the keys like a man trying to suffocate a piano. “What happened?”
As Stan began to panic, he heard a heavy thump that he assumed was his own mind trying to escape and quit on him. But the sound came from outside his head. Someone was knocking at his door.
Stan’s first impression was that the stranger looked like the Monopoly man. His head was unusually round, and his chin jiggled like a water balloon. Underneath the full, thick weight of the mustache, his lips were barely visible. There were roughly three black hairs sticking out of the man’s head, and a powdery layer of dandruff protected his scalp.
“Uh, can I help you?”
“My dear man!” The little man cried in a rich, overly enthusiastic voice. “I’m here to help you!”
With a force disproportionately strong compared to his height, the mock-Monopoly man shoved Stan through the doorway and marched through the apartment. Stan briefly stood against the wall, shocked, questioning whether he had actually lost his mind.
“Hey, wait a minute!” shouted Stan, finally coming to his senses. “Come back! What are you doing?”
The unwelcome guest spun around in Stan’s desk chair, shouting “weeee!” as he circled around. The man then abruptly gripped the desk with his chubby hands to stop his ride; then he started fiddling with Stan’s laptop.
“Okay, look,” Stan began. “I don’t know who you are, but – ”
“You don’t know who I am?” The stranger stared. “I’m so sorry! I thought we had already been acquainted!” The man stood erect, brushing the dust off of his suit. “I’m Draxal.”
It took Stan a minute to comprehend. “Draxal? Like…like my software?”
“So we have been acquainted!” The little man beamed. “I thought so. I do believe that you called me a – now, what is the phrase? – piece of shit earlier?”
Stan was flabbergasted and felt his face flush red. “How did you hear that?”
The man tilted his head, clearly confused. “I told you. I’m Draxal.”
“You’re Draxal,” he paused and collected his nonexistent thoughts on how to proceed. “Okay. Fine. That still doesn’t explain what you’re doing here. Like, as a person.”
“My dear man” sighed Draxal, returning to meddling with Stan’s computer. “It was in the Terms and Conditions.”
“The Terms and…. no. What? I didn’t agree to this.”
“You most certainly did,” Draxal confirmed cheerfully. He reached into his completely flat coat pocket. Bright, pink glitter began to spill onto Stan’s carpet like sand being dumped from a bucket. Draxal pulled out a bulky, paper scroll. It was covered in glitter and actually glowed a golden, radioactive yellow. With a single flourish, the seemingly endless scroll unraveled, reached the ground, somehow lifted back up off the ground, and stopped right under Stan’s nose so that the end of the parchment was visible. “This is your checked-off box right above your name, is it not?”
It was the Terms and Conditions contract with Stan’s messy scrawl of a name, fully checked-off and approved from about ten minutes before. Stan had to squint because the contract was so bright. It was longer than he remembered scrolling through. “Well, I think so. Yes.”
“Then what’s the problem? I’m here to update the new program. You have an essay due in five hours according to your email account, and you can’t do it without me.”
Stan paused. He did need his computer updated. “Okay, fine. Just be quick about it.”
“I’ll do the best I can!” Draxal gushed, going back to tinkering with Stan’s laptop.
Stan watched the little man work. Draxal was just hitting random buttons; the screen hadn’t even come back on yet. It was weird; a man was wearing a tuxedo in an apartment that had never been dusted before and smelled vaguely of buffalo sauce and Febreze. Daring not to leave his laptop unattended, Stan stood awkwardly by, trying to look anywhere else, as Draxal hummed to himself.
The room jumped as Draxal slammed his arm on the space bar a final time, nodded at the computer in apparent approval, and got up from Stan’s chair – the impression his butt left behind clearly visible. Stan’s laptop screen was still blank.“The updates are all installed. Now all I need is your bridewealth,” he said, holding out his hand expectantly.
“My – my what?” sputtered Stan. “For what? Why?”
Draxal furrowed his brow. “For your bride. What else would it be for? You certainly didn’t get engaged to a chicken. Though those are on their way as well.”
“I thought women paid for the – wait. No. This is not real.” Stan backed away, his hands up as if Draxal were armed. “This was not a part of the deal. I just wanted you to fix my computer!”
“Exactly!” cried Draxal. “Computers and updates are an expensive business, my friend! Notice how I update for you every time, free of charge. Who did you think was paying for that, you and your free Draxal account? Of course not! You have a sponsor; and for the small price of a bridewealth and an inescapable marriage to his daughter, he pays for all of your updates! It was in the Terms and Conditions.”
Draxal inched himself closer to the confused Stan, nudged him, and said, “I’ve seen pictures of the girl, my dear man, and between you and me, she’s quite the looker. Others aren’t that lucky. The father is even throwing in a servant, a horse, and a few chickens because the girl has a bit of a temper.”
A knock on the door interrupted his next sentence.
“Ah, they’re here!” he cried. “Come in, Anuhya!”
Before Stan could utter a refusal, his front door swung open, and the small yet formidable bridal party marched into Stan’s apartment. The bride side-straddled a small, brown horse led by an even smaller man; Stan felt the urge to vomit at the stench coming from the animal. A petite girl with two pigtails and no front teeth walked alongside the horse, throwing confetti from a basket with an expression on her face that reminded Stan more of a pallbearer than a flower girl. The only noise in the apartment was Draxal clapping his hands, muttering “excellent, excellent!” and, of course, the chickens, balking as they now mindlessly roamed Stan’s small kitchen.
“My dear Anuhya!” Draxal said as the party reached the computer system and the groom. “How was your trip?”
“Long,” said Anuhya.
Stan looked his future wife up and down. Draxal was right; she was quite the looker. He liked her high cheekbones and olive skin. And he did need to update his computer.
“Uh, hi.” Stan half waved his arm in greeting. “I’m Stan. Nice to meet you.”
“Pleasure.” If Anuhya actually did feel pleasure, there was no hint of it in her voice.
Stan leaned over to Draxal so the party could not hear him speak. “Hey, um, are you sure that she wants to do this? She doesn’t seem too – ah – keen.” Both men looked at the future bride, who stared off in no particular direction with a look of mild disinterest on her face.
“Uh, I’m sure you two will be very happy together,” was Draxal’s reply. “Besides, neither of you have a choice!”
“Yeah, yeah. I already knew that,” Stan grumbled. “So, when is this happening? Can I get back to work now?”
“Of course not, my dear sir! There’s still much, much more to do!”
“What, does she want a bachelorette party or something?”
“A – what? No, sir! You still need to pay your bridewealth.”
Stan groaned and removed his wallet from his back pocket. There wasn’t a lot to choose from. “I have ten dollars and a Chipotle gift card.”
Anuhya pointed her finger to summon Draxal over to where she and her horse were stationed. She whispered into Draxal’s ear; her incessant, strong gaze made Stan nervous.
“How much is on the gift card?” Draxal asked.
“I’m not sure. It had $15 on it at one point.”
Anuhya once again whispered in Draxal’s ear with the same ferocity as before.
“She’ll accept the card!” Draxal clapped his hands together and nodded to the small man. The small man bowed his head, rushing beside Stan and handing him the reigns of the horse. The small flower girl followed. Stan glanced at his new bride, who gave a curt nod.
“Will my computer update now?” he asked.
“Of course, of course!” cried Draxal. “It should be updated in no time. Meanwhile, we’ll go over the rest of the contract.”
“There’s more?” Stan looked up to his new bride for confirmation. She shrugged.
Draxal sighed. “You don’t seem to be picking up on the pattern here. Did you see how long that contract was? My God, what did you think was in it?”
“Uh, I never really thought about it. I just assumed I didn’t need to know.”
Stan shrunk at the stare Draxal gave him. “Why would I put in useless – never mind.” He stopped himself, straightening out his coat jacket. “You are the customer. Since you seem so confused about your contract, would you like me to list off everything else that must be done?”
“I just want it done as fast as possible.”
“Well, then,” Draxal gave Stan a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. His hand went into his breast pocket and fished out the contract. More glitter crashed to the floor in an unenthusiastic clump. Draxal flung the scroll, and the contract unraveled down the hallway. He cleared his throat. “Terms and Conditions for Mr. Stan Jackson regarding the 10.5.7.15 update of the Draxal Computer System – that’s me. The legal agreement below holds the customer binding to the following conditions:”
Stan could barely listen to Draxal’s voice. First it was because it was all so mundane and boring or things he already knew that he physically could not pay attention. Then, it was because of the circus.
The trumpeting echoed through the apartment and practically burst down the door, followed by the elephant that actually burst down the door. Along with it came screeching monkeys, jugglers on unicycles, women in all spandex performing acrobatics, and a hoard of mice in tiny circus uniforms, all exploding into the apartment as if shot out of a confetti cannon. There was plenty of confetti, too.
“In addition to providing a home, a bed, and a bridewealth for his bride and the members of her party, the customer must also support the traveling circus with which she performs.”
Anuhya clapped excitedly as her party gushed into the room.
“This includes but is not limited to: washing the monkeys once a week, making sure that Mr. Tibbles receives his medicine, and performing the duty of ringmaster. The marching band – ”
Stan could no longer grasp what was going on. “Mambo No. 5” suddenly echoed through his head; the marching band had entered the premises. He couldn’t see five feet in front of him, especially with the excessive amount of confetti flying into his eyes.
Draxal raised his voice in vain to be heard over the band. “THE MONEY MUST BE BROKEN INTO SMALL BILLS AND KEPT IN A LOCKABLE SUITCASE UNTIL HIS ARRIVAL. WHEN THE DICTATOR ARRIVES AT THE DOOR – ”
Animals and people moved around, squeezed in, and crashed into each other; he could tell the population was growing because he was forced between the horse and the small flower girl. How was a broke college student supposed to support a circus?
“ALL SEVEN DWARFS REQUIRE RESIDENCE UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. THEY PROMISE IT’LL ONLY BE UNTIL THEY CAN GET BACK ON THEIR FEET AND THE COAL INDUSTRY PICKS UP AGAIN.”
Things came in flashes. Monkeys jumped from cabinet to cabinet. Horns trumpeted. Sweat dripped, the mob glued together in a mass of confusion and odor. Breathing became more labored; eyes pained to stay open. The scream for sanity died in his throat. Draxal’s constant voice and “Mambo No. 5” dimmed in his mind. Dizziness flooded his head, and Stan felt himself slip out of consciousness.
Murmurs eased him out of the darkness. Standing above him, all looking concerned, were the young flower girl, a dwarf, a gymnast, a girl Stan thought he recognized from high school, and Draxal.
“Oh, thank goodness you’re alright!” Draxal said as the flower girl and a gymnast cautiously brought Stan to his feet. The gymnast offered Stan a piece of chocolate, which Stan – still somewhat in a fog – brushed off with a motion of his hand. “We were worried for a moment! Now, back to the conditions – ”
“Wait,” Stan croaked.
“Wait?” said Draxal. “I thought you said that you wanted to go over the Terms and Conditions as quickly as possible.”
“Enough with the Terms and Conditions!” cried Stan, his anger giving him newfound strength. “I am done with your ridiculous Terms and Conditions. Did you just see what that did to me? You nearly killed me with all of this bullshit!”
“Now, Mr. Jackson, that’s an exaggeration!”
“You’re an exaggeration! Everything about this is an exaggeration! This is insane!” He frantically looked around, his eyes jumping from the elephant to his bride to a monkey in a suit and back to Draxal. Stan stole the scroll out of Draxal’s hand and crushed it in his clutch; more glitter scattered to the floor. He continued, waving around the endless piece of parchment like a gymnast angrily twirling a ribbon. “You’re crazy! This is crazy! I just wanted to update my computer – that’s what you said you were going to do! I have no idea what is going on, but you all need to get the fuck out of my apartment!”
Draxal’s eyes narrowed. All of the creatures behind him shifted and fidgeted awkwardly, but Draxal stood fixed on Stan, his nostrils flared. Stan shrank, genuinely afraid for the first time, and Draxal seemed to grow in size so that his head hit Stan’s broken ceiling fan.
“Oh, sure!” Draxal said. “You just want everything from me! You want me to come in and fix your computer and be efficient and be quiet and run everything smoothly – and you want me to do so for free! Well, that is not how I work; I can’t work like that! But, oh, I try my best for you, my dear sir! I run all over the globe trying to find you the best deals on my services and run through them as quickly as I possibly can on your request, and what do I get? Insolence! A complete lack of gratitude! Not to mention a client who is so horribly ignorant that he refuses to do his research and has the gall to be surprised at what he gets! If you’re so unhappy with what you agreed to, why don’t you just tear up the contract?”
Stan almost dropped the parchment. “What? I could have done that the whole time?”
“Of course you could have!” Draxal scoffed. “It’s paper. You could tear it up right now in your hands and be done with it. But then, of course, I can’t finish the update.”
The group stared at Stan. He stared back. One member of the marching band was so enthralled that he lost focus and accidentally smashed his cymbals and muttered, “Sorry. So sorry” into the void.
“I can’t live like this,” said Stan.
“On the contrary,” Draxal replied. “You can’t live without it.”
The paper felt cold and dead in Stan’s hands. His fingers dug into the parchment in such a way that it was almost difficult not to tear it by a simple touch. It no longer glowed.
Stan’s eyes searched the room. His bride looked cautiously down at him. The dwarves were whispering among themselves. That girl he knew from high school was on her phone. He hated them. He just wanted them gone. He just wanted an empty apartment and enough time to do his work in peace.
And there was his computer. It was equally as cold and lifeless as the contract, but it seemed to Stan even more fragile. The screen once again lit up his features in the darkness, the same as before. He was the only one in the reflection; and then Draxal appeared over his shoulder.
“So,” Stan began, slowly forming an idea. “If I agree to this, I technically own you, right?”
A dull, eerie laughter echoed throughout the entire apartment, causing the ground under Stan’s feet to shake. Even the animals joined in, the monkeys and elephants revealing their teeth. One of the monkeys lunged forward, snatching the Terms and Conditions out of Stan’s hand with a screech, returning it back to Draxal. It began to glow again.
“My dear boy,” said Draxal, gripping his jiggling stomach as he laughed. “You don’t own anything. You don’t actually buy anything when you update your computer. We own you.”
Suddenly a bright light came on behind Stan, and he turned around to see his computer starting up again. Looking one more time at the scene before him, his cramped apartment stuffed with dwarves and gymnasts and Anuhya and the perverse Monopoly man with the jiggling chin.
Every fiber in his body screamed out in protest, but Stan moved toward his computer with a mindless expression and began to type.
Brianna Abbott is a recent graduate of Providence College with a B.A. in English: Creative Writing and a B.A. in Chemistry. Originally from Wrentham, MA, Brianna currently lives in NYC and is pursuing an M.A. in Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU. When she’s not studying or exploring the city, Brianna can usually be found reading, running, tap dancing, or finding a product that can tame her frizzy hair.