A loud thump answered, sending more dust and drywall raining to the floor. Grayson jumped deftly aside, satchel and coat streaming behind him. A yelp and the sound of glass shattering. The cameraman wasn’t so lucky. Grayson glanced over, hand fishing in his satchel. The cameraman was fine, but the camera had been smashed by a small piece of the rafters.
“Alright. I can play your way.” Grayson whipped out a digital recorder from his satchel. “I gave you a chance.” He held up the recorder like a gun, speaker aimed at the center of the room. He pushed play, and a song blasted into the room.
“We all live in a yellow submarine, a yellow submarine, a yellow submarine. We all live in a yellow submarine, a yellow submarine, a yellow submarine.”
The effect on the room was immediate. Drywall and dust began raining down onto the room as it began to shake violently. Cameramen scurried toward the walls, arms cradling their cameras to protect them, but still filming faithfully. Grayson stood in the center, debris falling all around him, holding the recorder with an unwavering hand.
“Is that all you got? Come on, you’ll give up long before I do.”
A swirling vortex of silver fog erupted into the room, whipping debris around like a sports fan waving a giant foam finger when their team scores. Grayson clapped a hand to his head to keep his hat from blowing away. The cameraman shrunk as close to the walls as they could, one or two no longer filming; instead, their hands were shielding their bare heads instead of the fragile cameras. The veterans kept their cameras on Grayson.
The energy in the room continued to build, and Grayson feared it would reach a crescendo. Negative Energy reaching a crescendo was not something anyone wanted to happen. Ever. Grayson let go of his hat, and it was torn from his head, sucked into the vortex engulfing the room. His trenchcoat was whirling violently, a smear of black clouds at night. His face tightened, parted lips showed gritted teeth. He slowly moved his arm through the wind, the strain appearing as sweat beading across his forehead. He reached the recorder and cranked the volume.
The room exploded. Rafters cracked and started falling, only to be swept up by the maelstrom. None of the cameraman were filming Grayson anymore. Grayson held onto the recorder like it was an anchor, the only thing keeping him from being stolen by the raging vortex. The entire room was vibrating so much that the hum could be heard over the wind.
“Fine. We’ll do this the hard way,” Grayson said.
Grayson pushed stop on the recorder. He flung his free hand into the writhing maelstrom and snatched his hat flopping it onto his head. He slipped the recorder back into his satchel. The wind was dying down, and the room wasn’t vibrating as violently, but the NSR was still angry. Still there.
“This room has a purpose. You don’t need to be here. You’re not wanted here. But, I know where you’re wanted. You can leave here. You can go where you are wanted. You are not tied here.” Grayson covered his heart with his hat. “You are loved. You are wanted. All if you have to do is go out there and look.”
The room sighed. Every camera was aimed at Grayson, capturing him with head bowed, hat over heart, coat hanging still around him like a veil. Silver fog vented slowly from the walls, floor, and ceiling, escaping with the soft sound of a sigh. The tremors stopped, and the energy change was noted by the watchlike device Grayson wore.
Grayson put his hat back on and shifted his satchel behind him. His eyes looked at the now adjusted room, past the camera in his face. His lips were tightened lines, and in the reflection of the camera lens, he could see the beads of sweat he felt dripping down his face. “This space has been adjusted.”
“This is Charles Menshwetter, and you’re watching NSD: The Untold Stories. Just a quick recap to get everyone up to speed: we just watched Adjuster Grayson tackle a pretty explosive Negative Space. And now we have the pleasure of being able to chat with Grayson. That was pretty intense in there, Grayson. Are all of your adjustments like that?”
Grayson shifted, causing the black leather chair to squeak in protest as he uncrossed his legs and leaned forward, placing his elbows on his knees. “Not all of them, Charles. Some are certainly easier than others, but really it all boils down to the NSR.”
“I’d hope they’re easier than that one. That Negative Space Resident was wild! So, tell me, I’ve been wondering, as I’m sure our viewers have been, what’s with all the black felt?”
Grayson smiled, adjusting the brim of his hat. “You know, it’s gonna sound really strange, but there’s something that Negative Energy dislikes about felt. You’d think that it’d stick right to it. I go through tons of anti-static spray, but the felt has just the opposite effect on the Negative Energy. It repels it, like oil and water.”
“It’s basically your armor, then.”
“Yeah, exactly,” Grayson said, sitting up straight and crossing his legs. He glanced at the cameras surrounding them.
“I’ve just gotta say, Grayson, I really appreciate what you and the other Adjusters do. I’m sure everyone appreciates what you guys do. And I’m really glad you were able to take the time to talk to us.”
“Thanks, Charles. It’s been a pleasure being on the show, and letting everyone see what we do at the NSD. And also showing that we are just normal people, doing a job.”
“A job that keeps everyone safe and spaces in use.” Charles shifted in his seat, angling himself toward the primary camera. “But speaking of normal, I have some other questions that I’m sure all our viewers are dying to know the answers to.” Charles turned his head back toward Grayson. “Is there someone special waiting for you at home? At the end of the day, do you have someone that you get to go home to?”
Grayson slumped back into his chair, pulling the felt fedora from his head. A slight smiled tugged at his mouth. “You know, Charles, I do. My girlfriend, Jenny. She’s wonderful. Has a smile that could adjust a room all on its own.”
Charles laughed, leaning in toward Grayson. “Maybe you should take her with you next time!”
Grayson smiled. “Ha! I can’t do that, she’d put me out of a job! But seriously, it is a dangerous job, and Jenny gives me motivation each day to leave our apartment and go adjust Negative Space. To make sure that all the space out there is safe to use and has a purpose.”
“It’s great to hear what motivates our Adjusters. I’m glad you’ve got a special girl at home that makes it all worthwhile. I hope everyone can have that. We all need something that makes leaving the house and coming back worth it.”
Grayson put his hat back on, glancing at the floor before meeting Charles’s eyes. “It’s true.”
Charles’s eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly, but they were back to being bright and cheerful for the cameras before Grayson could be sure he had seen anything. Or that Charles had seen his slight slip.
But without skipping a beat, Charles shook Grayson’s hand, and looked straight into the camera. “That’s all our time today, folks, thanks for tuning in.” He looked at Grayson. “Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us today. It’s always interesting hearing about what makes everyone tick.”
“Thanks for having me, Charles.”
Charles beamed and looked back at the camera. “Thanks for tuning in, folks! We’ll see you next time for more exciting stories, right here on NSD: The Untold Stories.”
“I really hate it when you bring your work home with you, Grayson.”
Grayson hung his coat and hat up on the rack by the door to his small apartment. “Babe, you know the cameras are only temporary.”
Jenny, slid her arms around him and hugged him, smiling. “How was your day, honey?” Before Grayson could respond, Jenny kissed his cheek, but it was only a cover. She whispered so the cameras couldn’t hear: “You know that’s not what I’m talking about.”
Grayson let her slip away from him. “It was fine. Had a rather reluctant NSR today.”
“Aren’t they all reluctant?”
Grayson followed Jenny into the kitchen, walking through a narrow hallway with off-white walls, sparsely scattered with pictures of a pond with a single duck, an empty dirt path through a glowing forest, and a handful of pictures of them walking in the park, and sitting at a table full of friends. “Yeah, I guess they are.”
He watched Jenny reach into the fridge, pulling out a Corona. She deftly popped the cap off and took a large swig. The amber liquid and foam swished loudly in the small kitchen. Jenny collapsed into a beaten up, more-oak-color-than-white-now chair and took another gulp from her beer. Grayson was briefly bathed in the pale refrigerator light as he fished for a Diet Pepsi. The angry hiss filled the kitchen and was replaced by the scratching of his chair as he shifted it and sat down. He felt the camera lenses burning into the back of his head, and he wished he kept his hat on. At least it would be something to distract him from the feeling of being watched, the feeling of being a slightly distorted reflection on the glass lens.
“Any plans for dinner? I was thinking…” Jenny trailed off, and Grayson knew she was thinking Chinese, but couldn’t bring herself to say it on camera. Ordering out would show how little she cared about making dinner for Grayson.
“We could just stay home. Order some take-out, maybe watch a movie.” The glare Grayson received made him painfully aware she was not grateful for his rescue attempt.
“Oh. Well, I was going to make you lemon pepper salmon, but if you’d rather just do Chinese…”
Grayson stared at Jenny over the quietly chattering bubbles of his Diet Pepsi. He caught the smirk in her eyes as she put the bottle to her lips and tilted her head back, sloshing the amber liquid between her lips. “Whatever you feel like doing, babe. Salmon sounds great.”
Before either of them could speak again, the room shuddered, rattling the bottle and can on the table. It seemed like someone had turned on a vignette filter; the room was wrapped in a halo of darkness, leaving the light in the center dirty, like an old, dusty sunbaked beer bottle. Two black shapes stood near the sink, silent, but gesturing curtly at each other, pointing at an unseen mess at the kitchen table. They stormed away from each other, light slowly coming back into the room. Grayson glanced back toward the hallway and saw Jenny and himself reflected in the lens of a camera, the red recording light blinking steadily.