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The Trials of Gladstone (as told by Franz Kafka)

Someone must have been spreading rumors about Gladstone because one morning, without warning, he awoke to an alarming e-mail from Cracked.com Editor In Chief, Jack O’Brien:

“You’re through, Gladstone.”

On any other day, Gladstone would have attributed the note’s ambiguous brevity to Jack’s crippling addiction to Madonna and techno raves. So many other Editorial notes had trailed off aimlessly while Jack chased chemically manufactured joy and glow sticks:

“Like the new Hate By Numbers. Like… a virgin. Where’s my pacifier? My jaw hurts.”

But this email was no mere rambling. It showed a dark certainty that Jack had not exhibited since mandating ass-less chaps Fridays at the Cracked offices.

Gladstone turned from the screen and looked for comfort in his normal routine. But things had changed. Now when Gladstone shaved closely around his sideburns, a few gray hairs appeared. His navy blue suit, which had once been his HBN armor, showed fraying at the cuffs. And the leather-masked gimp in his basement revealed a zipper mouth of sadness (although, Bucholz might have just been in one of his moods).

Through a Byzantine labyrinth of corridors and passageways, Gladstone found the Cracked offices, but was greeted only by Seanbaby and a closed door.

“None shall pass,” he said, and Gladstone was struck that Seanbaby spoke like he wrote: with little cartoon bubbles appearing above his head.

“Please,” Gladstone urged. “I seek admittance. I’ve been the victim of a conspiracy.”

Seanbaby sighed.

“Gladstone, behind this door, there is another. And another. Each with a guard bigger than the last. Each with instructions to deny your entry. Penis, penis, boner.”

(Contractually, all Cracked columnists were obligated to go no longer than five sentences without a dick joke or penis reference. Gladstone, however, had negotiated for a one per 25 sentence quota, knowing full well that no one at Demand Media could count that high.)

“If you like,” Seanbaby offered, “you may have a seat and ask again in awhile.”

Gladstone turned to see two seats beside the door. One occupied by Robert Brockway.

“Robert, are you also here to fight some unjust indignity that has befallen you?”

“Nope. Just waiting out the effects of last night’s peyote party. I’m still trippin’ balls.”

“I see,” Gladstone said and cursed himself for thinking, however, briefly, that he could have an ally in this struggle.

“Furthermore,” Brockway added, “penis, penis, boner.”

metamorphosis-730781Just as all seemed lost, Seanbaby left his post to go Photoshop dirty things into a 1950s brochure about bomb shelters, and Gladstone seized the moment to step inside. There before him, stood a giant insect.

“Dan O’Brien? Is that you?” he asked.

The insect raised human eyes up to the ceiling. Its twitching antennae forming accents of confusion. And despite the gross spectacle, Gladstone could still discern a trace of humanity in the creature’s struggle to sit in an office chair when its hard shell dictated a less evolved posture. The insect opened its mandibles, craning its neck to generate some semblance of human speech. Part human, maybe, but was this monstrosity Dan O’Brien?

“Penis, penis, boner.”

Yeah, it was Dan. His sticky claws began clacking away on the keyboard, filling the screen with “penis, penis, boner” hundreds of times.

“Dan!” Gladstone cried. “What metamorphosis has deprived you of your knack for comedic prose? What can we do?”

Dan popped the insect mask off his costume and replied, “Whaddya mean? Just givin’ the people what they want. I found the one-to-five ratio too confining anyway.”

Gladstone recoiled in horror. All his perceptions unreliable. All painful.

“But why are you dressed as…”

“For Brockway’s costume party. Well, it was a peyote party, but, y’know, what fun are psychedelics without costumes? Sorry, I’m still tripping balls.”

“AAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

A blood curdling scream filled the offices and Gladstone ran to find its source. Still, even as he dodged through cubicles and corridors he wondered what he could do. And was he running to help, or to find another who shared his impending sense of dread?

product_scapelThere, behind a door marked “Not Torture” was a bearded man strapped face down and shirtless to a table. Over the man’s back hung a large device most notable for an appendage containing a razor sharp writing implement. There was a rhythm to the arm’s movements and as Gladstone approached he realized the razor pen was carving the same sentence into the victim’s skin, over and over, with increasingly deeper penetrations.

Gladstone could now see the bloody writing hundreds of times across the man’s back:

“I will not defy readers’ expectations. I will not defy readers’ expectations.”

“Oh! You must be Cody, the new guy! Like your stuff.”

But Cody did not greet the kind words with the kind of appreciation Gladstone expected. In fairness, it might have been because a surgically sharp blade was carving an “x” into Cody’s deepest layer of flesh at that very moment, but Gladstone still couldn’t help but be appalled by the manners of kids today. He left Cody in the care of the device, confident all lessons that needed to be learned would be. Besides, the guy’s voice was really annoying.

Now Gladstone had examined almost every crevice of the Cracked offices and still he was no closer to understanding why he was no longer part of this family. Why he had been cast out.

Gladstone let loose the scream that had been building since morning, “WHY JACK? WHY?!”

“It wasn’t me,” Jack whispered. Apparently, he had been standing next to Gladstone the whole time, and now he was pointing. “I take my orders from him.”

picture_kafka_drawingJack led Gladstone down a hall that seemed both intimately familiar and somehow unknown until they reached an office door.

"Whose office is this?" Gladstone asked, but Jack was gone.

Gladstone held the doorknob for a moment, fearing a truth worse than his paranoia. But, ultimately, he realized that whoever was on the other side of that door still worked for Cracked and, therefore, was likely functionally retarded. Gladstone opened the door, revealing the office to be his own, but now, Michael Swaim was sitting behind his desk.

“Swaim!”

“Wayne! Come in. Have a seat.”

“Please, Michael. Call me Gladstone.”

Swaim smiled warmly. “Fine, if you prefer, Gladstone. But why all the animosity?”

“Don’t pretend, Michael. Jack told me everything. You’re behind my termination. Look at you. You’re already sitting behind my desk.”

“Of course, I am. But Wayne, that's because if you’re searching for who’s responsible, it’s you.”

Gladstone looked closer. Swaim was wearing a navy blue jacket much like Gladstone’s--only new. His hair was coarser and wavier than usual. And the part in his dress shirt revealed some sprouts of chest hair whereas Gladstone had recalled Swaim normally being smooth like a pubescent boy with a testosterone deficiency.

“Wait,” Gladstone murmured, “you’re… me?”

“Of course, I am. You don’t think one website would actually have two numbered video shows do you? I’m just a product of your twisted imagination. I mean,‘Swaim’? Who’s ever heard of such a ridiculous name? Think about it, Wayne. I keep giving you clues, but you know what those letters stand for:

Secretive Wayne’s Alternate Identity Michael.

“No, it can’t be!” Gladstone protested.

“In your heart you know it's true,” Swaim insisted. “Why else would no one call me out on stealing your jokes?”

“But even if what you say is true. I’m not self-destructive?”

“Oh, really? You’re not?”

“No.”

“So you think it’s a good idea for your future at Cracked.com to write a 1,000 word column, mocking your boss and colleagues while making allusions to a Czech writer from 100-years ago?”

“I see your point.”

“Of course, you do. It’s yours.”

Gladstone shut the door behind him and headed home. The next morning, his landlady would find him dead at his computer with the cursor still blinking at the end of one solitary and incomplete sentence:

“Penis, penis, bon. . .


Hate By Numbers returns November 16, 2009.

Visit Gladstone's site! Or follow him on Twitter and stalk him on Facebook.


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