Oliver muted his new TV and listened. Marilyn Monroe went on acting. There it was again, a faint knocking. He went to the front door and peered out of the window. Nobody stood on his stoop.
As he turned to head back to his new couch, he heard the knocking again.
This time, Oliver opened the door to check. There was some...thing standing on his welcome mat. It appeared to be a horrible little man. He wasn't horrible because he was little, but because of every other attribute. He wore a tan trench coat. It was mostly tan, the same way that oceans covered most of the Earth. Continental grease stains divided up its surface. Occasional mountain ranges of substantial debris soared over the wrinkled plains.
"Can I help you?" Oliver asked, holding his nose.
"Why yes, I'm looking for Oliver Henry Reichart."
"My name is Lobart, and by asking the question you affirm that you are Oliver Henry Reichart." The man barged past Oliver into the house.
"Hey! What do you think you're doing!"
"I am from Pursue Card Services, you recently became a valued member of our credit card product and pursuant to such you agreed to the terms communicated to you in our Cardmember Agreement."
Oliver grabbed a fistful of Lobart's collar. The fabric rustled and gave way beneath his fingers like an empty french fry bag. I hope, Oliver thought, that there's some room left in that credit limit - I'm almost out of soap!
"That's true, I got one of your damn cards. They'd been sending me pre-approved offers for months."
"Stated in said Cardmember Agreement is a suite of terms that you accepted in exchange for issuance of said card."
"And one of those terms was that you agree to surveillance of your purchases for reasons of security as well as corporate demographic profiling."
"Can't you do that with computers?"
"Please let go of my collar." He didn't wait for Oliver to let go, but immediately squirmed free. The squirming continued as he re-arranged his face into a puddle of dripping condescension. "We could, Mr. Reichart, but that would not tell the entire picture of your spending habits. Why do you use the card? Are you sad before you decide? Happy? Quixotic? You see, Mr. Reichart, there are thousands of companies selling information on their users habits. What matters, then, is the granularity of the detail."
"I'm not going to talk to you, you stumpy luna-"
Something blinded Oliver. He stumbled, grasped for a chair, and sank into it while the spots cleared, and he realized that Lobart held an enormous camera.
"Research. Your face tells me something, and it tells me something new every five minutes. Try to quiet your face. You can't. Otherwise you'd be masking your simmering rage."
Oliver blinked a few more times, then stood up. Even in a Saturday morning slouch, he towered over Lobart. So he drew himself up a few extra inches, and turned the towering into looming.
"Cardmember Agreement or no, I have my reasonable limits. I want you out of the house right now, or I will call the police."
"The police gave me a ride, Mr. Reichart, as I was accosted on the sidewalk. I had forgotten that I had visited another valued member of Pursue Card Services in this town." He opened Oliver's blinds. Sure enough, a police car sat against the curb. After Lobart waved, it pulled away.
"Were they waiting for you?"
"Yes. The police department has suffered some cutbacks in funding. Oddly enough, a rounding error in their favor happened against their account just after I arrived. They are very happy to be valuable members of Pursue Card Services."
"Interesting," Oliver said.
"I see you reaching for a brand-new set of fireplace pokers, set oh so tastefully in front of your brand-new fireplace."
The poker hung in the air. Oliver's heartbeat sent the tip waving, a turntable needle jumping to the rhythm of his heart.
"That was quite an expensive purchase. It did not surprise our account analysts, as you seem to have expensive tastes."
Lobart's face flared into a torment grimace that Oliver realized was a smile.
"Don't worry. We encourage healthy consumer spending, and respect its place as a vital sign of the economy. And you have definitely done your part to encourage economic growth." Lobart's eyes flowed over Oliver's new couch, to his new TV, to his new speakers, to his new coffee table with built in refrigerator and imported lager with specks of gemstones in it.
Oliver knew that Diamondbrau would get him noticed. He set down the poker.
"So what happens now? You live with me?"
"I do, Mr. Reichart, until I've collected enough data."
"How long does that usually take?"
"Only one to three years. Usually. By then we'll have a full psychological profile on you. But we promise to keep that as private as we legally have to."
"Well, I guess I can't fight it. Please, sit down on the couch."
"I shall, because our company paid for it," Lobart said. He sat on the couch.
Oliver moved towards the sofa as silently as a bat climbing along a cave wall. With a flash of unhygienic fingernails and bloody teeth, Oliver seized Lobart by the collar once again. Only this time he sank his bloody teeth into Lobart's neck. The little man's skin tasted like a package of Christmas tree lights dissolved in a glass of ammonia, but he did the deed even as the body struggled to retain its life.
Lobart's blood dripped from his mouth as he pulled away. He gagged on the flavor. Raccoon blood tasted healthier. Even as an immortal vampire, Oliver got the sense that had probably shaved a couple of years off of his life.
The living room looked like the floor of a butcher's shop. Lobart's struggles had turned the screen of Oliver's TV, still showing Marilyn Monroe, into a nightmarish mashup of Pollock and Warhol. Blood streamed out of his neck. Thick, arterial rivulets stained the fabric and pooled in between the cushions. Lobart smiled.
"Not everything is as it seems," he wheezed. Then he died.
Oliver chopped up Lobart and the couch. He burned both of them in his backyard. Then he checked his balance online.
Enough for a new couch!
The new couch arrived two weeks later, along with a statement from Pursue.
It read: "You are overdrawn on your credit limit. Your introductory rate is over. You will now owe 39.99% interest, retroactively applied to this bill. Have a nice day."
Oliver shook his head.
"No, this can't be! They wouldn't have sent an agent to lure me into ruining my things so that I went over my limit!"
He pulled out the binder that contained the Pursue Cardmember Agreement.
It read: "Online statements may not reflect your current balance. Allow two to three weeks for new charges to resolve."
Lobart's dying words echoed in Oliver's heads for the rest of his many, many mierable days.
"Not everything is as it seems!"
The Moral: most things are exactly as they seem.