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Wednesday, 12/1/10 – Two Crows

Carroll removes his glasses and places them on the spray of papers covering his desk. For several minutes he sits, eyes closed, fingers massaging his temples.

Henkel and Jenkins. He and his team have been working on the account all week with nothing to show the client.

Their first challenge, getting viewers to hear ‘Henkel and Jenkins’ instead of ‘Heckle and Jeckle’ would have been easy if the client hadn’t insisted on using a picture provided by their photographer. In the image, Henkel and Jenkins stand side by side in dark suits. Both men have their heads sunk halfway to their chest so that their shoulders ride just below their ears. On the tops of their heads is hair so black and shiny that highlights appear blue.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the photographer chose to photograph the pair in profile from a low angle. For most men, this is a powerful pose making them appear taller and more commanding. With Henkel and Jenkins, the pose served only to accentuate their large noses making them look like two beady-eyed crows.

If Henkel and Jenkins thought that looking like Heckle and Jeckle was good for business – and if they were willing to pay Carroll and his team to develop their ads – then they would find a way to make that happen.

It wasn’t going to be easy.

Carroll checks his watch. If he leaves now, he won’t be home before eleven. Leaving everything out on his desk, he grabs his jacket and heads for the door.

Waiting for the elevator he feels the way stress has tied his muscles into tight knots. Riding down he realizes that he has had nothing but coffee and donuts all day.

Too wired to sleep, he decides to stop at the gym before going home.

He used to belong to Golds but their schedule was never his so he never renewed his membership. MyTime Fitness is smaller but it’s open whenever you want. The gym is nothing more than a strip-mall location with a few pieces of equipment and an electronic entry system. You pay your dues, they give a code to the door. Nothing fancy: no trainers, no frills.

Red LED’s flash from the console of the treadmill counting down the final minute of the program Carroll had selected. He is sweating but still feels tension in his neck and back.

Three beeps and the belt slows to a stop. He considers starting the program over but decides to try something else.

Drying his face and arms with a towel, he walks around the space looking at the equipment. A chin-up bar in the corner catches his eye. He has no intention of actually doing chin-ups, just hanging there might help to stretch out his muscles.

He holds onto the bar, lifts his feet and feels the pull of his own weight in his arms and down his back. It feels good.

As he hangs he notices an outline on the wall of what could be a door. Right shape, right size… and there is an indentation that might be a handle.

Carroll lowers his feet to the floor then releases his grip on the bar and slowly brings his arms down to his side. The door shape in the wall intrigues him so he walks over and pushes on the space where a handle would be.

The door swings inward.

Expecting nothing more than a janitor’s closet, Carroll reaches in and finds the light switch.

Not much larger than a closet, the room contains no cleaning supplies. Instead, there is a single piece of equipment in the center of the room.

For safety and liability reasons, it’s MyTime’s policy to post usage manuals and exercise guidelines for men and women on the wall next to each piece of equipment. The walls in this room contain no notices and nothing that would inform members on the safe use of this machine.

Carroll walks around the setup inspecting it from every side. Belts, wheels, pulleys and cables stick out from the main apparatus with nothing connecting them to one another. Beneath a rusted seat are pedals offset not at one-hundred and eighty degrees but at what appears to be sixty degrees. One pedal stands out a foot from the center hub while the other is easily twice that distance.

With no obvious adjustments to be made, Carroll slides up onto the seat and raises his feet onto the pedals.

He pushes on the pedals and is surprised to find that they turn at different speeds and with different tensions so that his left foot is pushing hard and going slow while his right foot is barely exerting any pressure but moving around very quickly.

It is an odd feeling but one that he rapidly adjusts to. Finding an odd rhythm, he begins to pedal faster.

With nowhere to put his arms, he reaches up and takes hold of a cross beam running a few inches above his head. As his fingers close on the bar, manacles clink shut around his wrists and ankles as the bar he is holding onto flies upward pulling him into a standing position.

Before he can react, Carroll’s ears are tortured by the screeching sound of rusty hinges. His nose is burned by the smell of sulphur.

Unable to cover his ears or nose, Carroll hangs motionless as the low tone of a basement boiler room resonates through the room and vibrates through his body.

Scalding jets of steam spray from cracks in the equipment’s piping as the pedals begin their uneven revolutions, slowly at first in jerking motions forward and back, then faster, and faster while the bar holding Carroll’s arms moves in random sequences of its own.

Twisted like a crazed marionette, Carroll’s screams are lost under the sounds of the equipment.

As thick clouds of steam fill the room, the machine slows to a stop. Carroll tries to pull free but manacles still hold him tight. In this tiny room, lights begin to fade.

An eerie flickering is projected onto the steam clouds in front of him. As lights focus, Carroll watches a graveyard scene unfold before him. Mourners walk slowly past an open grave, each dropping a handful of dirt onto the casket. Carroll can hear clods of dirt pattering down on the wooden lid and the muttered sobbing of men and women.

As the scene fades, two crows land on a power line running over cars parked along the roadside. The pair ruffle their feathers then settle in, folding their wings back and allowing their heads to droop down inside their shoulders.

Carroll recognizes them. He wants to call out to them but he doesn’t know what he might say.

Staring at the empty space where the scene had once been, Carroll hears a crow cawing.

“Caw? That’s what we’re going to the client with? Caw? Are you crazy?”

“It’s not just ‘caw’, it’s ‘call’.” Carroll explains his idea again. “We’ve been fighting the Heckle and Jeckle image all week and I say we just run with it. The public is going to do exactly what we have been trying to get them not to do. Look, these guys aren’t models. They have names and faces that make us think of crows so why not use that? Besides, they’re estate planners, right?”

Across the table, Aimee flips through Carroll’s quick sketches. “So, you think a black and white graveyard scene, mourners, casket, the whole enchilada? No words, just crying and ambient sounds. At the end, two crows fly in, one says, “caw” and we fade to the picture of Heck… Henkel and Jenkins?”

From the corner, Tom addresses the group, “Anyone have anything better?”

A restless unease moves around the table.

“Then I say we go with what we’ve got.”

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