Gord Stimpson was a simple man with a simple brain who lived in a simple town. Thinking hurt his head, so he had no problem letting others think for him. That’s how he ended up working at Quint’s Quality Paints—a relic of a factory on the outskirts of a small mountain town called Eckley.
Gord wasn’t too adept when it came to mixing paint. Nor was he very good at canning it. And with blocky hands and a sturdy frame best suited for digging ditches, there weren’t many jobs he could do without constant supervision. This was a problem as the best place for someone of Gord’s particular mental faculties in a town like Eckley was on a farm or in a factory, and the town didn’t have any farms.
So, long ago, the people of Eckley made sure Gord would always have a job at Quint’s. Even if all he could do was carry the cans of paint around and load them on trucks—despite the fact it was much easier to use a forklift than raw manpower to accomplish this. Giving him work wasn’t some grand act of altruism on the part of the town, though. No, Gord inherited his father’s cabin in the nearby mountains and a sizable chunk of money some years back. This was more than enough for someone like him to live comfortably on for the rest of his life. The reason they made sure he always worked was pretty straightforward; he was a real pain in the ass.
Gord always meant well and never did anyone any harm, but his mouth had a tendency of moving faster than his brain. Before they got him the job at the factory, Gord spent most of his days wandering through Eckley, bothering every unfortunate soul who crossed his path. He would blather on and on incessantly about weird looking bugs he saw, the best places to pick blackberries, or any number of topics that a dim mind like his found to be important.
It was the summer after his father had died when Gord started wandering the town daily. And for most of the quiet citizens of Eckley, it was the longest summer of their lives. That fall, Gord had his first and only job interview. And excluding some minor mishaps over the years, he was more than happy moving cans of paint around for eight hours a day. That was until something bizarre befell the town.
It was a warm spring evening and the factory had already let out for the day. And just like every other day at the factory, Gord was staying later than everyone else so he could clean up his work area.
“Make sure you shut the lights off and pull that door closed tight when you leave,” the foreman said as he put on a ratty baseball cap and headed out the side door.
“Will do, Gus,” Gord replied with a smile as wide as the mountains. “You have yourself a good one, Gus.”
“You too. Oh, and Gord,” Gus stopped in the doorway, “I know I done told you before, but just so you remember good. Don’t go outside of your spot.” Gus gave a quick wave, then disappeared into the darkening backdrop outside.
“Alright. Alright,” Gord said to himself, nodding his head emphatically.
With meticulous, almost rehearsed looking movements, Gord began sweeping up a small section of the factory floor with a huge push broom. He gathered the debris into neat little squares, making sure to stop short of the wide yellow line which enclosed Gord in a three-sided rectangle. What would be the fourth line of the rectangle was a wall that housed the side door exit Gus had left through. Outside of the rectangle was where the real work in the factory took place. The work Gord wasn’t permitted to do without supervision.
“Oh, momma never said life was easy,”
“Oh, momma never knew.”
“Oh, this work could never ever please me,”
“Oh, this kind of money will never do.”
Forgetting the rest of the words to the song—a song he’d made up only a day before—Gord began whistling the tune as he scooped up the debris into a dustpan then dumped it into the garbage. What Gus called “Gord’s Spot” was an open space on the factory floor used for storing empty paint cans, large trash and recycle bins, and the uniform containers where everyone turned in their dirty uniforms for cleaning at the end of each week.
Not long after starting at the factory, Gord had developed a bad habit of following his coworkers to their cars after work and talking until their eardrums hurt. So, using a bit of cunning, the foreman Gus Tomlinson implemented “Gord’s Spot.” This special area needed cleaned thoroughly at the end of every work day. They even gave Gord a one of a kind shift so he could stay a little later than everyone else and clean without the company having to pay him overtime. And while he liked talking to his coworkers, Gord didn’t mind staying after hours. There was something about the quiet, dimly lit factory that he found peaceful.
“Oh, momma said life…”
Just as Gord started belting out another verse, he bumped a row of empty paint cans with the end of his broom—sending them scattering about with a shocking loudness.
He chucked his broom to the side and rushed to stop a few cans from rolling over the yellow line. He snatched up the last can right as it was about to cross over to the factory floor.
“Man, oh, man. That sure was close,” he said as if trying to reassure someone who wasn’t really there.
Carefully, taking his time so as not to make another mess, he stacked the paint cans in a neat line. His heart was beating faster than hummingbird wings as he thought about what would’ve happened if one of the cans rolled over the yellow line. Even though he didn’t need the money, he always feared he would get fired from the only job he ever had. Gord was unable to think beyond the moment, so the thought of a future where he didn’t need to work had never occurred to him. Nor did the idea of how ridiculous it would be to get fired for crossing an arbitrary line painted on the floor. But to him, that line might as well been a giant chasm with an endless drop into oblivion.
“You need to be more careful, Gord,” he said to himself like it was a perfectly normal thing to do. Since he was a child, talking to himself helped the world make sense.
After stepping back and evaluating the line of cans, his heartbeat returned to normal. This near catastrophe was certain to be one of Gord’s main topics of conversation for the next few months. Or at least it would have been if it weren’t for what happened next.
“Where’d you go?”
Gord looked around for his broom. Slow and methodically, he traced the yellow lines with his eyes, but the broom seemed to have vanished. Then he remembered how he’d tossed it aside when the paint cans fell. With much concentration, and overcoming the pain this caused his head, he came to the obvious conclusion that he must’ve thrown it over the line.
“Well if I ain’t a fool.” He marched up to the yellow line and stopped with his feet a hair’s width behind it. “You gotta be out there somewhere,” he said, peering into the dark factory.
Shadows stretched over the machines, creating the illusion of giant monsters with outstretched arms. Unseen metal components clinked and clattered sporadically as they cooled down from the day’s use. But most unsettling, a light tapping like a steel-toed boot hitting the floor echoed from somewhere deep in the black recesses of the factory. This caused a tiny spark in Gord’s brain. And for the first time in a long time, the gears of his imagination began to turn.