The Peculiar Case Of Custodian Woodworth and Dr. Bright

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It was common knowledge that the janitors working for the Foundation were privy to all sorts of sensitive information: containment details, gossip from underpaid and overworked interns, and tidbits of knowledge found in the dusty corners of long-unused rooms.

Despite their bright yellow attire, they were the unseen sect of the Foundation. Chances were, if there was a break room at a site with especially chatty researchers, there would also be some janitors who knew a lot more than they let on.

Well, this is the story of one Custodian Woodworth.

Joe Woodworth — often called ‘Joe’ or just ’Custodian’ by the especially cold — cleaned the halls and rooms of Site-19’s Administrative Wing. He worked hard every day, not including the days he didn’t. On those days, he could usually be found in the nearest custodian’s closet, drinking whatever liquid that happened to be in his flask.

Nobody really cared what Joe Woodworth did with his free time, nor did they particularly give a damn about his work ethic. In fact, the only noteworthy thing about Joe Woodworth was the discovery he made on July 19, 2078.

July 19, 2078 was not a noteworthy day. Nothing extraordinary or world-ending occurred during that date: no containment breaches, no new discoveries, nothing.

However, it was the first day Mr. Joe Woodworth cleaned Dr. Bright’s office.

“Now,” the esteemed Head Custodian Sam spoke to him, before the fated day arrived. “You’re the first person to ever clean Bright’s office, you hear? He’s protested about custodial services, but the higher-ups don’t give any fucks about those now."

Sam was hunched down, currently in the middle of lighting a cigarette, or at least attempting to. They weren’t allowed, of course, but none of the janitors snitched on each other, lest they be shunned by their coworkers.

“Who cares about what’s in the guy’s office, anyway?” Joe bemoaned. “All the important documents are in a safe. We’re not spies, for Chrissake. We’re freakin’ janitors.”

Joe never cursed. Not because of any moral obligation or to hold onto the illusion of elegance, mind you. He thought it’d make him sound different than all of the other custodians, and therefore refused to utter a single curse word, funny as it sounded in his thick Brooklyn accent.

This isn’t important, by the way. It’s just amusing.

Sam turned his attention back to his cigarette, not really caring about the particulars of Bright’s office.

“Just get it done, Joe. D’ya think I care about the particulars of Bright’s office?”

Joe nodded, wrinkling his nose at the thick smoke blown into his face.

“Got it, sir.”

A hearty chuckle sounded from Sam, who, at the jaded age of 79, responded to most forms of disrespect with a smile and a shake of his smoke-smelling beard.

“We’ll see where that attitude gets ya when Bright’s found burying your body.”

On July 19, 2078, Custodian Joe Woodworth found a piece of paper.

Of course, there were the moments leading up to the finding: Joe getting cursed out by a disgruntled researcher who was seemingly unsatisfied with the job he did, Joe texting his wife about picking up some Instant-Ready meals for the kid, and, of course, Joe entering Bright’s office. But nobody is here for that, right?

The paper itself wasn’t all interesting. It was the regular looseleaf paper, commonly found in most places of work. No, what drew Mr. Joe Woodworth to this particular piece of paper was the shoddy, child-like drawing of SCP-963.

The colors looked to be made by a red highlighter, and the pen did a poor job of emphasizing the necklace’s metallic sheen.

But Mr. Joe Woodworth smiled anyway. No matter how poor the quality was, it made the mysterious Dr. Bright seem a little bit more human.

So, he took a picture (remarking how Sam would get a chuckle out of it) and tucked the paper into a desk drawer.

And that was that.

The drawings continued.

After a while, they were no longer confined to the side of a surprisingly very important document. Instead, they thrived within a small compact sketchbook, able to be fit inside a lab coat.

Crude sketches of Bright’s poor intern juggling four cups of coffee. Bright’s coworker sleeping in the breakroom. Dr. Light gazing at something above the page, a slew of curses still on her lips. Dr. Cimmerian sneaking a can of Pillsbury dough into his pocket, looking both ways in case of prying coworkers.

They were surprisingly… cute. Joe felt embarrassed for thinking that, but it was a perfectly apt description. The tiny portraits cemented a fraction of time within the leather-bound book, the only remains of a moment long gone.

Once, Joe even found one of him. Of course, this was multiple years after the first discovery — by then, Joe had gained a considerable amount of weight — but it still bore the 5 o'clock shadow and large bags he had earlier in life.

In it, he was sweeping up a hairball from the ground. It wasn’t very flattering, and Joe couldn’t even see his own eyes through the Foundation custodial cap he wore.

But Joe smiled anyway.

Joe’s hair slowly turned more salt than pepper as the years went on, and the sunny grin omnipresent on Bright’s face matured into rigid plaster.

More and more of Bright’s former subjects dropped like flies to the Foundation and its horrors.

Which isn't surprising, by the way. The 30% mortality rate in 5 years might be tucked away in the fine print of the Foundation’s contract, but it finds life in the stilted whispers of scared interns and jaded senior staff.

But we’re all human. And despite knowing the risks, we never fully comprehend them.

And as Mr. Joe Woodworth continued to collect snapshots of Bright’s daily life bound within two thick leather covers, he began to do something quite peculiar of him.

He began to worry.

Bright would occasionally try to draw his old body throughout his venture into the art world. But as the years passed by, the shapes and contours that were once so elegantly sketched out on Bright’s notebook began to lose their shape and fall flat.

His old, high cheekbones melted into a uniform curve.

The slight scruffy beard slowly faded away.

Even his glasses and casual bedhead disappeared over the years.

As the now Head Custodian Joe Woodworth stared at the frenzied drawing of a blob of a person donning a “Dr. Bright” nametag, at the total lack of humanity left within this person shaped figure (although which person- he couldn’t tell), an ounce of something began to blossom in his stomach.

Throughout the day, that blossom developed into a tree which wrapped itself around his gut. Until, inexplicably, Joe Woodworth found himself in front of Dr. Harley’s office with an intimidating serif font reading “HEAD OF HUMAN RESOURCES” on the door’s frosted glass.

The door swung open, and Joe had to jump out of the way to avoid getting a concussion.

“What.” A neat, pencil-pushing type of guy glared at Joe through his thick rimmed glasses, uttering the word through pursed lips.

“I’m worried about Bright.”

Dr. Harley sighed, and closed the door on Mr. Woodworth.

Before Joe could turn back defeated, the door opened again- this time, Dr. Harley held a bottle of something strong in his gloved hand.

“Please come in. Or don’t. It’d make my job a hell of a lot easier.”

Joe grunted at that and followed the man inside, who sat with his feet perched on his desk.

“So, you’ve been noticing it too?” Dr. Harley said with a sad smile. He continued on, seemingly not interested in hearing Joe’s reply.

“The truth is, Bright’s state is well known to us. The human mind can’t handle 80 years of memories without going cuckoo, and that functioned perfectly well when humans only lived a hundred and odd years.”

Dr. Harley smiled at that. Joe still doesn’t know what about this amused the man, so if you can figure it out, please let him know.

“Unfortunately for Bright, he’s lived for around 200 years and has to store 200 years of gunk and horror in that little glistening jewel of his. Human hardware isn’t built for 80 years, and neither is the human psyche apparently.”

Joe clenched his teeth at the apathetic stare present in Dr. Harley’s eyes. He knew the Foundation were a bunch of unfeeling bastards- if you didn’t, you most certainly haven’t been here long enough- but the high and mighty attitude made Joe’s blood boil.

“Have you considered doing something about it?”

Dr. Harley barked at that- a short, barely audible, snort that reeked of patronization.

“Giving Bright a perfectly healthy mental state is harder than killing 682 at this point. We’re not assholes- contrary to popular belief. We’ve given him enough meds and therapists where the effects of 963 have slowed tremendously. Besides, he’s much less… rebellious with all the brain clutter. He concentrates on doing his work, the only thing he remembers at this point, and having a knowledge of the past 200 years of Foundation secrets. That’s his job at the Foundation, and all that’s required of him.”

Joe wanted to scream at Harley.

He wanted to shout, There’s a soul in him, and show Dr. Harley the tens and tens of drawings stored on Joe’s smartphone. He wanted to show him the bright, sunny portraits made in Bright’s earlier days. He wanted to convince the Foundation to help that Bright.

But Joe knew. Joe could feel the cold, numb voice in the back of his skull, telling him the truth, whispering in his ear that Dr. Harley is right. After all, there was no cure for immortality.

And so Joe turned around, grabbed his lucky broom from the men’s bathroom closet, and went back to work.

Joe was sweeping that night when he encountered Bright for the last time.

It was part of his job to do a final, large clean before he clocked out every night. Joe would start every night in the offices (the most interesting parts of cleaning), snake his way through the hallways, and end up at the messiest part of the site: the break room.

But as Joe approached the break room, eager to get home before 7 PM, he noticed someone hunched over one of the tables.

Bright was sitting on a plastic chair. It was too small for his larger, obese D-Class body, but Bright didn’t seem to mind the discomfort. Despite the obnoxious jingle of Joe’s keys clipped to his belt, the man did not seem to notice Joe as he entered.

Instead, Joe watched Bright. He watched Bright gingerly pick up a piece of stubby vine charcoal and flip to the one of the last pages in his now-worn sketchbook.

Joe watched the final bits of light fade from the windows as the doctor jammed the charcoal into the page, his black-powder covered hands etching circles and spirals on the whole page.

Joe watched Bright’s eyes, barely blinking, not moving from the center of the page; a dull, thick, lifeless black peering into the charcoal darkness.

And as Bright continued to stain his fingers and clothes with black, Head Custodian Joe Woodworth turned away and left.

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