Originally published in The Weekly Knob
Norm Helders lived a lonely life. At forty-one years of age, he was never married, had no children, or many friends. He spent his days watching football on the tele, reading books, and tending to his cat Neville. Norm worked in the agricultural industry as a logistics director. It was his job to figure out how everything connected in the business from the farmers, to the shipping trucks, the workers, the meat-packing plants, the ice, and maintaining the trade routes and relationships with the buyers and shipping companies across the country. It was a time-consuming job and it left him without much social time. Hence Neville.
It was a cool autumn day; Friday, October 6th 2006 to be exact, and Norm was coming home from a long week at work. His workmates went out to the pub to watch Liverpool play Swansea, but they didn’t invite Norm so he went home to watch it alone. He put the kettle on and sat on his reclining chair in the common area of his small flat. As he heard the kettle whistle, he thought Ah, sod it, and went to the fridge for a Guinness. He called his favourite curry place for delivery and went back to the game. He called the curry place every Friday night for dinner. After dinner, he called his mother, and then his sister like he did every other evening.
The next morning, Norm woke suddenly. He looked around him and found himself in his reclining chair, the TV still on, an empty box of chicken curry, and three more cans of Guinness on the carpet next to him. He groaned and got up to put the kettle back on in a weak attempt to help his headache. As he walked down the hall from the living room to the kitchen, he heard his mail slot close and letters fall to the floor. The clang of the tarnished brass rang through his head causing him to groan. He collected the mail and brought it into the kitchen.
“Junk, junk, junk, bill, junk, bill, bill, junk,” he said as he tossed the mail back onto the table one by one. After making his tea, he eyed the junk mail on his table. The papers didn’t have much to read, we could at least see what they’re trying for, he thought as he began to read the various take-away menus, lawn care services, and Polish contractor ads. One caught his eye, in particular. A take-away menu for a new curry place called Brandos. It said in bold letters at the top and bottom of the pamphlet: DO NOT THROW THIS AWAY. He opened it up and briefly scanned the food options on the page. None of the names sounded exotic enough to continue reading, so he tossed it in the bin and went on with his quiet weekend.
On Monday, after returning home from work, Norm noticed more junk mail as he came into his house. This time, the menu for Brandos was on top, and in larger bold yellow letters it said, PLEASE DO NOT THROW THIS AWAY AGAIN. Norm thought it was a funny marketing stunt, and tossed it in the bin with the rest of the junk mail. He called his mother, and then his sister, like he normally did. He asked them about the Brandos menus and they said they hadn’t received them.
On Tuesday, again returning home from work, Norm saw more junk mail in his foyer. The pile seemed to be getting bigger. There were several pamphlets for Brandos this time. All of them on top. All saying the same thing. NORM HELDERS DO NOT THROW THIS AWAY. This time, he took a closer look at the pamphlet menu. There was a number that wasn’t in the Bristol area. He later found out the number was linked to a call center in Northern Wales. He called his mother, and his sister but his sister was not home. Her husband said she went out with friends. Norm tossed the junk mail in the bin.
For the next week the junk mail piling up in Norm’s house became concerning. He called the post office to ask why he was getting so much junk mail from Brandos. They dismissed the issue and hung up. Calling again did not get him further. His nearly daily calls to his mother mostly focused on the amount of junk mail from Brandos he was getting, and Neville. His sister was always out when he called. Finally, on Thursday October 19, the Brandos pamphlet was different. On it, it said, NORM HELDERS DO NOT THROW THIS AWAY. WE HAVE TRIED MANY TIMES TO CONTACT YOU. PLEASE PLAY NICE. When Norm opened up the pamphlet, a polaroid picture fell out and drifted to the floor. A chill raced down his spine.
As he looked at the photo, his heart skipped a beat. It was a close up photo of his sister’s face, looking terrified, gagged, and seemingly tied to a chair in a dark room. He couldn’t breathe. His vision began to spin. He fell to his knees. He let out a scream. Norm tore up the Brandos pamphlet and suddenly another appeared through his letter slot. He picked it up, and it was the same as the one he tore up. The same picture fell out onto his lap. Norm cried for some time.
When he regained his composure, he looked at the Brandos pamphlet.
“What do you want with me,” he whispered.
Another Brandos pamphlet came through the letter slot into his lap. On top, where all the other messages had been, it simply said, CALL THE NUMBER. Norm, feeling quite afraid, looked through his letter slot but saw no one outside.
As Norm walked towards the phone with the Brandos pamphlet, he was vigorously eyeing every corner, every dark space he saw. How do they know? His hands were shaking so much that he could barely grip the phone. He carefully dialed the number, constantly checking back at the piece of junk mail to make sure he was right.
“Hello, would you like to unsubscribe?” a robotic voice said on the other end.
“Where is my sister? What did you do to her?” Norm screamed into the phone.
“I’m sorry, I do not understand that command. Please follow the instructions.”
“What do you mean? Hello?”
“I’m sorry, I do not understand that command. Please follow the instructions.”
Norm looked down at the Brandos pamphlet. Under the logo was writing that read, You’ve gotta read our menu! Norm stared at it for a moment before it clicked. He realized he had never really read the junk mail thoroughly. He opened it up and looked at the menu. The first dish was Chicken Tikka Masala, and written in smaller print beneath that read 1. Yes, I would like to unsubscribe from the T.I. Norm read it slowly into the phone enunciating every syllable.
“Why do you stay out so late?” the robotic voice asked.
Again, Norm read the next piece of text into the phone. The robotic voice asked again and he responded with a third code, and then all over again. Suddenly the voice thanked Norm, and the line went quiet. Norm wasn’t sure if anyone was still there.
“Hello Norman,” said the voice of an older man with an upper-class accent.
“Hello” Norm said, his voice shaking.
“Are you happy, Norman?”
“What? Where is my sister?”
“Answer the question, Norman. Are you happy?”
“If you don’t-“
“Norman, answer the question. Are you happy?”
He paused for a moment. “No.”
“Good. I have an offer for you. I want you to work for me.”
“What about my sister? What have you done to her?”
“She’s fine, ask her. She’ll tell you she was having a week off in Magaluf with her friends. Now, I need a man of your intelligence and experience to help with my,” he paused, “operation.”
“I need a person to oversee the many strands of one of my webs to ensure its success.”
“There’s no one like you. This job pays extremely well.”
Norm paused to think it about it.
“What do you want me to do?” he said quietly.
“I’m glad you’re reconsidering. First thing’s first, in all meetings with my other employees, you will be known as Mallory.”
“But my name is Norman.”
“Nobody in The Consortium uses their real name,” the voice said.
“What do you want me to do then?” Norm asked.
“You’re going to be a delivery man of sorts. You’re to meet with another employee every Wednesday and exchange suitcases. You’ll get your instructions Wednesday morning on the Brandos pamphlet. But that’s just one of your jobs. Eventually, I’m going to slowly bring you up to where you’re running the substance division of my Bristol Outfit.”
“I’m going to be doing what?” Norm said, exasperated.
“Read the Brandos pamphlets,”
For further reading into the dealings of The Consortium, please read The Rubber Band Man