Gainfully Employed | A Short Story

Doorway

“It’s really quite a simple job,” Mr. Witherstone said. Paul couldn’t get the words out of his mind.

Remember Paul… you do not lie during an interview.

And with as serious as his friend had sounded, he was almost inclined to take his advice. Unfortunately for his good nature, his only option was to land this job.

Witherstone set aged fingers on his small portable filer “You see… What was it again? Paul…

“McCormack. Two C’s.”

“Got it. Yes, you see Mr. McCormack, it’s a simple job, but we need someone special to do it. I’m not sure if our receptionist told you, but there have been over 250 applicants for this position.”

This he did not know. The receptionist hadn’t said much of anything other than to inform the codger he was there for his ten–o–clock.

“Of those 250,” Witherstone continued, “I’ve talked with maybe 150. And let me tell you Mr. McCormack, most of these people are real lightweights. Just useless.They get walked out as quick as they walk in…”

Having applied to over 200 positions himself, Paul grew weary of listening to old pricks like this. Old pricks in $2,000 suits insisting on only hiring “the best.” When you get old enough, everyone starts to look like a lightweight.

“Paul, I see something different with you. Y’know most of the young men who come in and sit where you are, they can’t go a minute without talking. They go on and on telling me about how great they were at this, and how well achieved they were in that. All this fluffy shit no one believes. Maybe they believe it, but I don’t Paul. But here you are—what has it been, ten minutes?—and you’ve hardly said a damn thing. I like you already.”

“So do I have the job?”

The old man shook with laughter, letting the palm of his fist hammer on his desk, “AND a good sense of humor. Yes, Mr. McCormack. You can have the job once we’re through the formalities. The questions, you know.”

“Of course, of course. Anything you need.”

Witherstone’s office was as dull as they come. Even being a prideful codger, he kept nothing hanging on the cool, gray walls. No commemorative plaque, no photos or trinkets to crowd his desk. Only stacks of paper, manilla file folders, and the customary name stand, “ANGUS L. WITHERSTONE” just to make sure everyone knew who they were speaking with. Out of all things, he’d never found himself applying for a clinical trial facility, so it was possible these decisions were influenced by a foreign work culture.

A working man, Paul thought. Someone who sees their office as a place to work, and only that.

And while that would have put him at ease anywhere else, here it didn’t. And why was that? If he were in his right mind (and it was possible he wasn’t,) he would’ve agreed this was exactly the job he needed. A job without nonsense. He’d left several employers—a few too many—who didn’t care to straighten their ties or keep the floors clean. But he could rest easy with that knowing it gave him hawk-eye. Paul suspected if it hadn’t, he wouldn’t be seated there in the first place. Maybe the hawk-eye was getting just a little too keen.

“So, let’s see here Paul… What can you tell me about your last employer? How would you describe your position?”

“Well, they often served to dispatch me for their clients. Needs vary job to job as you can imagine, but in most cases my job was to serve as a deterrent. Just keep the trouble makers away from the business. Unarmed security.”

Witherstone didn’t look up from his notes. He scribbled in a few places, and with a look of cold satisfaction spreading over his face, reached for another small packet. Presumably these would have other questions—other boxes to fill with his little notes, “And how do you handle difficult people, Mr. McCormack?”

“I don’t handle them, I listen,” Paul found himself leaning back in his chair a little. Confident. “I like to hear people out, but then if they just want to cause problems, I give them an incentive not to.”

“And how exactly do you do that?”

Paul rattled off something about confidence. About using an assertive nature and communicating through various actions the message that there are consequences for unacceptable behavior. All the while he kept turning over the same memory like a stone: of the rows of cubicles he had passed with Witherstone on the way to his office. The employees seemed hard enough at work; their fingers tapped at keys while others sorted through filing cabinets and databases alike. Still, it hadn’t seemed anything remotely like a medical test center.

One of those employees—presumably a young man—sat idle. Loud with his stillness in contrast with everyone else. He’d only caught a glimpse before it all disappeared behind him, but Paul could’ve sworn the man’s neck was a little too far off to one side. Crooked. His left shoulder trembled under a pristine button-up shirt, but otherwise the rest of him sat still as death—at least the way it replayed in his mind.

But the stone was no smoother after each turn.

“And how are you physically Paul? Could you ever restrain someone if the situation demanded?”

It wasn’t a question he’d ever heard phrased that way. For a moment he had to abandon the rock tumbler for an answer—feeling himself ready to stumble, “Good question… Though I’ve seldom done that in the past, I suppose I could.”

He wasn’t happy with the waver in his own voice. Witherstone nodded.

“Yeah… Whatever it takes to get the job done right. That’s what I do. With as much flexibility as you need from someone like myself, I find it important to go to the lengths I need to, to… ensure things are done right.”

What had started as one distraction split into many.

There was the dull sting of someone’s eyes on his face: eyes other than Witherstone’s. To his right sat an open doorway that lead to the cubicle hell he needed to work for. Needed to, or they’d eventually cut his lights. If his wife stayed around long enough for that, it wouldn’t be much longer before he’d lose her too. This was his chance.

He could feel beads of sweat, but no immediate need to brush them off. He no longer heard his own voice—just the graveling whine of Witherstone’s questions gently prodding him through the air. The rest of his own part was muscle memory.

“So Paul, how do you deal with stressful situations?”

A woman stood maybe three yards away—looking in through the door. Or at least, he thought she was looking at him. His eyes flicked over her a little too quick. Probably just waiting to give the old man his memos.

Another flick of the eyes.

There was something very wrong with this picture. It wasn’t just any employee, but the woman who had greeted him at the office, and her lidless eyes met his own—a stare unlike any he’d ever seen. And even though he tried to focus on Witherstone and his questions, there was a tugging inside him that knew his glance was a little too long.

“I’m sorry, can you repeat that again?” Paul said.

Witherstone’s upper lip raised, “I was asking you young man, if you are aware of the special government-enforced policies we operate under here?”

“No sir, I don’t.”

“Good, because this information isn’t public. Not another soul outside the company is allowed to know. Not your family, not your friends, not anyone else but you.”

“Understood. I assume you’ll be providing me with what I need to know.”

In reality he didn’t care what he “needed” to know, because the young woman remained in the hazy edge of his peripheral, and she still had her eyes on him. The bend in her neck tilting her head to the side wasn’t all that different from that of a hanged man. And dear God she’s walking closer, he thought.

Step… Step…

Almost inaudible with the ever-present hum of the building’s AC unit. He wanted to look over—to stare right into those wide eyes and ask her something. Anything to bring the attention away from himself for a moment. That luxury couldn’t appear any farther away.

“And there’s a few things I want to tell you McCormack. You would be correct to assume you are here as a deterrent. You are here to ensure everyone involved in our operations remain safe. And the public of course…”

The woman’s right arm trembled. The other reached for the doorknob as she stepped inside. Witherstone continued to be oblivious.

“…Our employees are to be under regular and strict surveillance. You are to ensure they do not leave the building at any time during your shift. They’re sometimes a little unpredictable…”

He watched from the corner of his eye as she silently locked the door behind her, and crouched down next to a filing cabinet, still facing him. One last look, and he saw those eyes in detail. Just as wide. Saliva dribbled from a corner of her mouth—lips stretched into a thin, ugly smile.

“Are you scared, Mr. McCormack?”

“No.”

A lie. Witherstone swept his fingers under the stack of paperwork and moved it to the corner of his desk, “Well that’s a shame, you really did seem like an honest man. But you’ll still make a great employee, of a sort…”

The receptionist was at his feet. Crawling on all fours.

“…Maybe just not the role you had in mind.”

He could feel her fingernails digging into the back of his legs. A wet length of tongue far longer than it should have been snaking up his shin.

He never thought he’d be so unhappy being gainfully employed.


 

Author’s Note

There are few things scarier than a job interview. Actually, scratch that. There are few things scarier than a job interview with a mysterious employer. It doesn’t always happen, but sometimes you find yourself interviewing with someone from a large, faceless corporation you know little about. You do the best you can with research, but as the saying goes, things aren’t always as they seem.

The inspiration for this story came from those uneasy moments we all experience while searching for employment. One time I recall walking into an interview with a man I found out later was managing a very shady, under-the-table sort of sales company. And if what I heard was true, the broken backs of their employees served to bring them a lot of drug money.

It was unsurprising after what I would call the most… unprofessional job interview I had ever participated in. On the employer’s part.

Trust me, you don’t want to work for people like that.

So while most job interviews are scary because of social pressure, I wanted to see what would happen in a much more sinister scenario. Many people feel they’re at the mercy of employers (they are the ones providing the jobs after all,) but sometimes an opportunity is better off missed.

Let me know if you’ve had any crazy job/job interview experiences; I’d love to hear all about them.

And thank you so much for checking out my story. If you want to read more stories like these before they ever come out, you can support my work and get access to hidden content over on my patreon page. It has me excited to experiment and try new things, and I want to offer the best possible value to those of you who are generous to support me.

Oh, and just in case you’re concerned: I will always be posting new content to this blog. I’m not going to cut down on that any bit. I have always vouched for putting material out there for others to discover; this is just something extra for those who may want to take the extra step—and that level of support is beyond appreciated.

I think that about does it for today, I’ll see you in the next one!

Sleep tight. Don’t let the nightmare employers bite.

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