SMOGGY WAS A SMALL CLOUD OF VAPOR that had existed since the beginning of time. Presently, he worked a cubicle job as a mechanical engineer to make ends meet.
Smoggy had certain peculiar work habits in the cube farm. He was a Liberatu, after all, of the same genus as Nasferatu except that while the Nasferatu is an undead that feeds off the living, the Liberatu—being the dichotomous opposite—was an undead that feeds the living. Mostly he would feed the living information they weren’t interested in discovering. He performed this duty throughout the office at all the times he was not hovering above his workstation and thinking about pressing keys he had not the phalanges to manipulate.
He maintained it was not his physicality that made him an asset to this military subcontractor but his ability to communicate. Sometimes he would rise up to the acoustical tiles, spread his grayish smog out real thin and gab with all thirty workers at once.
This Wednesday morning was like any other except that his performance review was coming up in thirty minutes and his apprehension had made him a little more chatty than normal. He drifted over the head of Ronnie. “…and with this scientific peer review,” Smoggy continued, “it’s possible for scientists all over the world to collaborate on the same experiments. It’s really cool. Scientist from different countries, different cultures, different socioeconomic agendas can all collaborate to validate their data—”
“But the sunspots,” Ronnie said, hunched over his computer, squinting at a CGI model. “In the seventies they said we were headed for a global cooling. Didn’t you read those emails that got leaked from their conference?”
“I’m just saying, Ronnie,” Smoggy continued, half appraising Ronnie while counting the holes in the acoustical tiles, “Global climate change may not be a perfectly orchestrated, international hoax.”
At this statement Ronnie flexed his neck, crunched lower, clenched his jaw and flushed. It was a very animal response. Smoggy often elicited animal responses but he was too high up, too diffuse to notice.
“And further, the most recent ice core samples brought from Antarctica bear out the original hypothesis—”
Ronnie was digging in his desk for something. He pulled a clenched fist from his desk and spilled sesame seeds over the carpet. “COUNT THEM SEEDS, DEVIL’S BREATH!”
“Oh, here we go again,” Smoggy sighed as he floated closer to the carpet. “One seed, two seed, green seed, new seed, five seed, six seed, black seed, sick seed…”
The janitor rolled her trashcan over the shielded extension cords marking the entrance to their cube. “You been arguing with that Liberatu, again, Ronnie? Who gonna clean up them seeds?”
“…nine seed, ten seed, flat seed, bent seed…Hey Tamicka!—Smoggy likes counting seeds…thirteen seed, fourteen seed, in-between seed, mean/green seed…but I hear the Nosferatu’s like it even more! Seventeen seed…”
“He started it,” Ronnie grumbled. “Smoggy always starts it.”
She rolled her trashcan past. “That Liberatu’s been haunting this land since before this building was a bowling alley. Never seen him win an argument yet.”
“Stop counting them seeds and get in here, Smoggy,” Smoggy’s boss, Mike, said, “It’s time for your performance review.”
“Twenty-two seed, twenty-three seed, maybe-two seed, look-at-me seed… I can’t stop it. It’s in my DNA—”
“You don’t have DNA,” Ronnie said.
Smoggy pulled into a frown, threatening rain. “My smog particles…”
“Oh take it easy, Smoggy. Don’t rain on the carpet again. Just come to my office when you’re finished counting.”
Ronnie wheeled around to lean over him and rub his hands together. “Yeah, count them seeds, Devil’s Breath. Count them seeds.”
He finished counting and floated into his boss’s office.
“I’m here!” he said.
“I can see that,” Mike said. “Look, can we do this without you floating right over my head?”
“Where do you want me?”
“Just—just hover over that chair over—over there.”
“Better,” Mike said. He leaned back in his chair. “Now, I’m not going to waste time here today. I’m just gonna say it: Quite frankly, Smoggy, there are some in the office who have expressed a definite interest to…clear the air.”
He shrank back. “Clear the air of Smoggy?!”
“You’ve been spreading yourself pretty thin lately. Disturbing a lot of the workers.”
“I was brain storming.”
“You’ve been talking on a lot of personal subjects lately that are troublesome to our employees. For example, what was it you said to Ferguson?”
“I suggested South America could fit nicely into the Western coastline of Africa: Continental Drift—”
“You see? that right there—that’s a personal conversation that infringes on another’s personal beliefs. Like this stuff you were just saying to Ronnie about peer review—”
“Science?” Smoggy asked.
“Be that as it may. We’ve set up an appointment with a priest to have you exorcized.”
“Father Lugoravich? Why would he do that to Smoggy?”
“Your mother informs us you haven’t been to church in ten thousand years.”
“Oh.” Smoggy sunk down into his chair. “How can Smoggy change?”
“Perhaps if you focused more.”
“Pull your smog into a small, dense space—like, like a person. It might make the others feel more comfortable.”
The edges of Smoggy quivered and trembled. Thunder rumbled as he darkened, rained on the cushion and scorched the armrest with lightening. “I—I can do it. I can make others ha—ha—HAPPY!
“There,” Smoggy said. “How’s this?”
“My God,” Mike shot back. “That almost looks like a real person. If you keep up that image you might go far in this company.”
Part of Smoggy’s cheek escaped in a puff, “I—I can’t do it.” The edges of his skin quivered and diffused.
“POOF!” Smoggy said as he turned back into a grey cloud.
“My not keep up the façade, Smoggy?” Mike asked. “Isn’t it worth it to you? Even to survive?”
“I just remembered that before this place was a military subcontractor and a bowling alley and a farm, before it was a field, back in the post colonial days it was a blacksmith shop. Sometimes the master blacksmith was a chatty type and sometimes he wasn’t. Either way, he always wanted his apprentices to be exactly like him.”
Mike crunched down and flushed red. He was reaching for something in a drawer. He flung a clenched fist of seeds over the floor. “Count them seeds, DEVIL’S BREATH!”
“Oh, here we go again,” Smoggy said.