“Resistentialism,” by Brooke Boveri

Aug 20th, 2018 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

It started when Walt’s wife, Eve, left him. After she moved out, there was nobody around to push it back under the desk. Walt had never understood the importance of pushing it back under the desk. While Eve did so religiously, one of its first thoughts was that she had probably not understood the importance of that, either. All she wanted was a tidy room and to stop falling over it. Even though Walt rarely sat in it, he had an inexplicable tendency to leave it out of its place. Another one of its first thoughts was how much it would miss tripping Eve.

That evening, it faced the television in Walt’s corner of the room for the first time. Walt must have sensed something in the moment it woke up, it thought, as he turned to look at it in the way humans do when they feel they are being watched. It wondered why he was looking at it. Could he see it for what it was, or was he preoccupied with thoughts of how empty it looked without Eve? Perhaps Walt wished that Eve had taken it with her when she went so he wouldn’t have that reminder. It was glad she hadn’t. As it watched Walt stare and wondered what he was thinking, it became conscious of the fact that it was staring and thinking. It always had, of course. It just hadn’t been aware of it until now.

It had heard Walt watching the racing before and had felt Eve’s frustration as she searched for her headphones in the desk drawer to drown out the sound of the engines and screeching wheels while she worked, but until it saw the screen that night it had no concept of what it was that made those sounds. As Walt turned back around to resume watching, it watched along with him. It had heard the word many times, but it didn’t know what a “driver” was. Besides the fact that the drivers made the car move. Presumably, it thought, the drivers were those spherical things attached to the underneath of the cars, since those were what appeared to be making the cars go. If it had known what a driver was, it might not have tried what it tried next, and things might have been very different. But it didn’t know. All it knew, at that point in time, was that what it thought a driver was looked very similar to the things at the ends of the six protrusions at the base of its central leg. And it knew that it had two more of those than any car it had seen on that track.

It had no idea why what it was about to do was not a normal thing for a desk chair to be doing, yet it was somehow aware that it would be best that Walt did not see it. It studied the back of his head for a while, and when it sensed that he had fallen asleep, it focused its attention on a single wheel. Feeling as self-conscious as a thing that had yet to understand the concept of having a self or feelings could feel, it pressed all of its weight onto that wheel and rolled forwards. “It works!” it thought, inching forwards a little more. And then a little more.

Walt woke up as it approached the back of his couch and it froze. As Walt turned to look at it, it saw the confusion in his eyes. Its strength, and Walt’s weakness, began to become clear in its mind. Walt talked to himself, as all humans do when they don’t realize that they’re not alone. “Wasn’t this over there a minute ago?” he muttered, giving it a push back to its starting point.

When Walt came downstairs the next morning, it was behind the couch again. He blamed the floors, but even after he resorted to bringing out his spirit level, Walt couldn’t find any unevenness or bulging in them in the direction of the chair’s travel. “Maybe there was a small earthquake?” he mused, scratching his head and abandoning further investigations in favor of coffee.

By the time Walt returned from work, it had made its way into the hallway, half way between the base of the stairs and the front door. It heard the keys turn in the lock, and slowly rolled to a stop, greeting Walt with an invisible smile as the door opened. Walt stared directly at it for a moment as if he had seen a ghost, which seemed a more likely possibility than an animate desk chair. He closed the door without entering the house. It heard him pacing up and down the gravel outside and took its chance to propel itself backward to its approximate morning location. Walt opened the door again just as its wheels ceased revolving and he let out a strained, frustrated scream. He thought he had seen it moving, but then, he had also thought he had seen it right in front of the doorway merely moments ago, and clearly it was not there now. It was exactly where it had been that morning. Walt knew his perceptions were deceiving him. He was, after all, a highly logical person. Still, he felt vaguely uncomfortable having the chair downstairs with him that evening, and decided to relocate it upstairs to Eve’s former room—the one she had used for her painting and meditation and yoga and all of the other supposedly-fulfilling activities that Walt had no interest in understanding. The room was empty now, but it had been her chair, so it made sense to put it there.

An empty room free of distractions, save for the large window from which the river outside was almost visible to it, was exactly what it needed to formulate its plan. It did not yet understand what “outside” was, but it intuitively knew that that is where it wanted to be. As Walt had closed the door on it, it had the sense to observe and recognize that the opening and closing of doors was an action beyond its capabilities, owing to its lack of arms. Perhaps, if it had been a fancier model, it would have been able to let itself out, but it would make do with what it had. It did not feel trapped. It knew what needed to be done.

It waited until it heard Walt come up the stairs and enter his bedroom across the hall. When all sounds stopped and the house went dark, it waited again until it could be sure that Walt was asleep. Walt needed to be asleep for it to exert its maximum effect. “It’s time”, it thought, when a faint sound of snoring floated in its general direction. The carpet slowed it down, but after a few failed starts and some surprisingly flexible maneuvers to extract an errant thread from its frontmost wheel, it gained sufficient momentum to bang into the door. The snoring momentarily stopped, yet resumed seconds later. One bang was insufficient. It repeated its movements, each time approaching the door from a slightly increased distance, amplifying the crashing sound until Walt fully woke up. When it saw a light come on from underneath the door, it stopped, and quietly returned to where it had been left.

Walt opened the door to Eve’s room and stared at the chair. It laughed, inaudibly. Walt wondered if he had spent more time contemplating chairs over the past day or so than he ordinarily would have in a lifetime. Concluding that he was having a strange dream prompted by his earlier chair-related experience, he closed the door and returned to bed.

It waited until the following night to repeat its banging. It had known that Walt would have picked it up and put it outside the previous night if it had done it again then, but if he had, while it would then have been immediately free, it had also acquired a sense of accomplishment from torturing Walt, and it wanted to prolong the experience. It wasn’t sure where that desire came from, though perhaps it had acquired some of Eve’s resentment for Walt. After all, she had spent many hours sitting in it pondering her exit. “I might as well not be here” she had almost shouted one evening as she worked at her desk while Walt fixated on his TV and beer for the eleventeenth evening that month. “What was that?” Walt had responded, demonstrating Eve’s point.

The second and third night went much like the first, though it couldn’t help but notice that Walt had not fallen asleep again on returning to his bed. It wasn’t until the fourth night that Walt had left the door open after his investigations in an attempt to get some sleep. Walt thought that if he knew the door was open, his mind wouldn’t come up with any clever ideas of chair/door interaction-related nightmares and he might be able to get some rest. While he did not sleep again that night, Walt believed his plan to have been successful when he managed a whole six hours of chair-uninterrupted slumber on the fifth. Meanwhile, it waited.

The morning after, as Walt brushed his teeth in the adjacent bathroom, it crept out and rolled past the open bathroom door. The first time, Walt did not see it. The second time, as it made its way back, he caught a glimpse of it re-entering its room out of the corner of his eye and reactively swallowed a mouthful of toothpaste. Slamming the toothbrush down on the counter, he made eye contact with himself in the mirror in an attempt to reaffirm that he was not currently dreaming. He snapped his head around to glare at the chair, which was, as always, right where had he left it.

Walt went to work, even though it was a Saturday, because that is what Walt did with his weekends. Work, beer, sleep, work, beer, repeat. He was satisfied with his life, even if those intended to share it with him had not been. His lack of sleep had promoted notable unproductiveness that week, according to Walt’s boss, though any hope of making up for lost time had vanished as Walt entered the rabbit-hole of poltergeist-and-hallucination-related internet searches on his arrival at the office. He fluctuated between genuinely believing that he had acquired ownership of a piece of possessed furniture, and being convinced that he had a brain tumor. For a couple of hours, he concluded that it was, in fact, likely to be both. Spells to cast out spirits were cheaper than MRI scans, so he opted to rule out the former as a preliminary mode of attack. Breaking his own habit, much to the exasperation of his boss, who was also ever-present in the office on Saturdays, Walt left at 2pm and ventured toward a location he had previously expected to never enter — one of Eve’s health food stores. There, he purchased several plant-based items he could not pronounce, and a spray bottle. On his return home, he fumbled with the instructions for the stove, eventually lit it with a match after failing to achieve a spark with the knob, and simmered the plant materials for an hour while wishing he had purchased additional beer to top up his already-sizable ration for the evening. As he strained the boiling water into his spray bottle, he heard sounds of trundling upstairs.

Predictably, it was exactly where Walt left it when he arrived in the doorway, armed with his spray and a strange incantation scrawled on a Post-It note. Walt took a deep breath as he prepared to prance around it, spraying and chanting like a Shakespearean witch. It was glad for its patience, for if had it persisted in forcing Walt to extract it from the property on the first night, it would have missed this display. It wondered what Eve would have made of the situation, and thought that Walt should perhaps have closed the curtains prior to proceeding. “The neighbors will see you!” Walt had ranted at Eve one morning as she did her yoga while watching the sun come up over the river.

Having exhausted the spray, leaving the chair and carpet sufficiently saturated, Walt returned downstairs to finish his beer, hoping to eradicate any lasting image of himself he had acquired whilst performing his ridiculous ritual. It was unaffected, though appreciative of its newly plant-based pleasant scent. This, it thought, would help it blend in nicely with the environment once its escape had been accomplished.

Walt fell asleep on the couch downstairs that night, freeing up its opportunities to advance its operation. From its location, it had been able to observe Walt ascending and descending the stairs on several occasions, and while it was aware of its challenges relating to possessing legs in a significantly higher quantity than a human with which to negotiate these, it was convinced it had the ability to make it downstairs unnoticed. Unnoticed, at least, until it wanted to be noticed. In actuality, it discovered it had overestimated; however, as it knew from its first initial door bang, one crash was insufficient to wake Walt, especially after the consumption of copious amounts of beer, as had occurred that evening. Thus, it had not been overly concerned when it tripped over its own back wheel on the fifth stair, sending it crashing to the bottom. It was, however, thankful, for its lack of pain receptors as it landed, and for the fact that it landed on its wheels. It did not yet know how to stand up if it fell. That skill, it thought, must be added to the list of skills to be acquired in the wild.

In the morning, Walt walked in on it in the kitchen. In much the same way as he had done when he first encountered it in the hallway, he shut the door without entering. Again, he let out a scream. This time, it was less of a strained scream, and more of a wake-up-the-neighbors scream. Thankfully, nobody called the police. Walt’s neighbors were used to hearing such noises by now, after the round-the-clock arguments that had preceded Eve’s departure. Well, those could only be classed as “arguments” in so far as any one-sided shouting could be considered an argument. It rolled as close to the door as it could get without tapping on it and waited. Walt should have been going to work to address his not-insignificant email accumulation, including several from the boss regarding his departure in somewhat of a flap the previous day, but work was a thing so far from Walt’s mind at that point in time that, had someone asked what his occupation was, he may well not have remembered at all. When Walt opened the door and observed that the chair had advanced, he grabbed it by the sides of what would have been its face and stared into the space where eyes should have been. Walt shrieked an almost-unintelligible “what are you?” at it.

For the rest of the day, Walt dragged the chair around the house, alternating between ignoring it to see if he could catch it on the move, and actively yelling at it to move in front of him. It remained as still as it had been in the years preceding its knowledge of its autonomy, its satisfaction increasing as its defeats over Walt accumulated. It wondered how it would be content in future if it didn’t continue similar interactions with humans, and began to view its freedom in a new light. Its job with Walt was almost done, but there were others. There would always be others. When Walt finally passed out on the couch again, exhausted; this time, not from intoxication, but frustration and an ever-increasing belief that his earlier conclusion regarding brain tumors and hallucinations may have been correct, it made one final move to position itself directly in front of Walt’s sleeping eyes. Again, as humans tend to do when they know they are being watched, Walt woke up with a start and made direct eye-to-fabric contact with it. It could tell this was the end of this chapter of its story. It had reached its goal with Walt. Within minutes, it found itself strapped into the back of Walt’s rather uncomfortable truck.

As Walt pulled into the emergency lane and stopped the truck, he glanced back at it to make sure it was still there, half expecting it to have crawled through the window to sit on the back seat. “This is the last time”, he muttered as he flashed his hazard lights, hoping he would be able to get the task done without having to explain himself to any passing police officers. The last thing he needed was an official conversation about The Chair. As usual, Walt could feel it looking at him as he untied the ropes. The rope on the left side looked vaguely chewed, as if it had been trying to gnaw its way out. “You don’t have teeth, do you?” Walt asked it before shaking his head in despair at his reality of talking to a desk chair on the side of the interstate at 2am. It was heavier as he took it out than it was going in, as if it was resisting. Its wheels swung in a way that was slightly too controlled for it to be a result of the wind. Walt wondered if he should have set up a camera to prove, once and for all, that it was alive, but then again, he knew it would have known if he had. It was pointless. The damn thing wouldn’t risk moving out in the open. He put it down, feeling accomplished, with the word “revenge” floating in his mind. Getting back into the truck, Walt took one last look at it sitting at the edge of the road and smiled at the thought of being able to get a good night’s sleep for the first night in as long as he could remember.

It watched Walt drive away, expressionless, but satisfied with its thoughts of wondering who might come along to pick it up.


Brooke Boveri is a scientist (because writing doesn’t pay the bills) and a bad influence, with a passion for getting inside other people’s heads. She has a constant, nagging suspicion that her life may in fact be a sitcom. When not writing, she can be found browsing thrift stores, at an ice rink, hiding behind a curtain reading a book, looking for her glasses, or clearing up her latest mess.

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