Pen

The Best of Times Short Story Competition


Spring 2013 Results




The Job

Copyright © James Ian McKenzie 2013


I didn’t pay my bills on time, so the debt collectors came and took a room from my house. It was the bathroom, an essential room, so I had to refashion the study into a replacement. It was strange to have carpet in a bathroom. I don’t have very good aim so I found myself having to regularly call in the carpet cleaners to scrub off all the urine and poo. It takes a lot of discipline to stay on the toilet while the waste is coming out of you – discipline I didn’t always have. A few months later, I realised that my bedroom had an ensuite. Sometimes you don’t even realise the rooms you have in your own house.

I was called down to the station on a Thursday afternoon. When I arrived, the chief asked me why I hadn’t showed up all week. I shrugged and farted. He wasn’t happy about my insolence. He took my badge and my gun, but not my police clothes, so at least I had something to wear on Halloween. I would be the spooky policeman. Probably I would go around pretending to be a real policeman, arresting people.

I went to an employment agency and asked if they had any policeman-like jobs. They suggested that I do night work as a security guard for an old factory.

“The old factory better not be haunted,” I said.

The lady squinted while looking at the job listing.

“Her name was Maryanne Parker,” she began, reading from the advertisement. “She was eight years old when she was caught in the factory fire. She survived the flames, but the tigers ate her. Some say they were ghost tigers.”

“But are there any other jobs available?”

The lady turned her computer monitor around to show me the listings. I made my decision in about thirty seconds.

I arrived at the job interview the following afternoon. When I stepped into the office, I noticed that the room was eerily dark, and that fog was being pumped in from somewhere. I always hated it when fog was being pumped in. The lady behind the desk smiled, revealing two sharp, pointed canine teeth. Blood ran down her chin. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought that she was some kind of vampire. But vampires exist only in movies, books and some developing countries.

“I’m here for the job interview,” I announced.

“Oh, are you?” she said, and cackled hysterically. I didn’t understand the joke but joined in regardless.

There was a loud, creaking sound as an office door opened. Out came a tall, imposing figure in a long, black cape with a stiff collar, and a button-down white shirt that looked old and formal. His lips were red and his skin was the palest thing you’ve ever seen. He was an eerie man.

“Hello,” he said. “The name’s Vlad. You’re here for the job interview?”

I nodded so much that my brain got sloshed around. “It’s a pleasure to meet you sir,” I said. We shook hands. Then, I noticed that both of his hands were free, and I was actually shaking the receptionist’s hand, and with my other hand, I was actually punching my future boss in the face.

“I’m sorry!” I shouted, but I had limited self-control so I kept on doing it for several minutes.

“Enough!” he said. “Come to my office.”

We stepped inside.

“I know that the place needs a bit of tidying up,” he said, and he was right. The floor was made of dirt and there were spider webs everywhere. “But without any employees taking care of the smaller jobs, it’s difficult to find time or cash. That’s my plan, you see - to expand my operations. If we are to generate more income, then we need more staff. If everything goes well, in a thousand years, I’ll be the richest man in the country.”

“Won’t you be dead in a thousand years?” I asked.

“Uh… yes, of course. I am referring to later generations in my family. I plan on having many children to carry on the family business. But first I must find a lady. That will be one of your first jobs, to find me one. I admit, I confused by your mortal women.”

“That’s an odd term to use, ‘your mortal women,’ don’t you think?”

“Uh… it is a joke!” he said, and he laughed as if overcome by the thrill of telling a successful lie.

“You should be in the comedy business,” I said helpfully.

“I agree. But when can you start?”

“I have to return this rented suit before I do anything as it is nearly twelve, but any time after that, I can do whatever you require.”

“Fine, return your suit. And grab me a can of Dr Pepper on the way back. No, make it two cans. And tip out half of the second can, as I do not feel like drinking that much. And get me a copy of Hustler magazine. And some KY Jelly. Quickly, go, and pay for it out of your own pocket as well.”

I hurried out of the office and headed to the drug store.

As I drove, I mulled over the events in my mind. It was a bit suspicious. He had never said what kind of business he was involved in. Furthermore, it was obvious that he was a vampire. What kind of a job would that be, to go around assisting a vampire? How would I explain myself to relatives at family gatherings? I guess I could tell them anything I wanted, really. I could say that I was an astronaut, and that I was in space right as I was talking to them.

Upon arriving at the drug store, I noticed that everyone and their mother had come along. Even the mothers had brought their mothers along. Even the Smothers Brothers had come along. One family all had moustaches, even the children and the wife. A suspicious looking man stuffed things into his jacket, then went to the register to pay for them. “I just find it to be a convenient way to carry items,” he explained.

“Excuse me,” I said to one of the chemist ladies. “Do you have any KY Jelly?”

“At home?” she asked.

“No. Here in the chemist.”

“Well, I’m a bottle of KY Jelly,” she said, and she was. I placed her in my shopping cart and went to the register.

“Nice day, isn’t it?” said the checkout lady.

“Well, that’s contentious,” I replied.

“Just the KJ Jelly then?” she asked.

“Yes, and this gum please.”

“That’s not for sale, sir,” she said, as she snatched it off me and put it back in her mouth.

I was so bothered by her rudeness that I stormed out without paying for my items, and also I took a few hundred dollars from the register, because of how rude she was. I jumped in the car and hightailed my way out of there.

A couple of miles down the road, I was trapped behind this small two-seater that putted along like it was in a competition for slowness. I tried breathing deeply to calm myself down, but the force of the air going into my lungs pulled the car backwards which made it go even slower. Eventually, I lost my patience, rammed the car off the road and sped away.

At the club, the bouncer saw me, lowered his gaze to my suit, and looked me dead in the eyes.

“Fancy dress for a place like this,” he said.

“Shove it,” I said, and pushed him over. His feelings were hurt so much that he didn’t do anything about it.

In a way that suggested that I didn’t care about anything, I entered and walked by the people in the club while bouncing my head up and down to the music. Everyone was doing coke off different parts of each other.

“Drugs are bad for you,” I helpfully advised, and everyone listened and nodded. At the back of the joint, I snuck into the secret entranceway. There I saw Barry, at his usual post.

“Hi Barry,” I said. “One edition of Future News please, one copy of Hustler, and two cans of Dr Pepper.”

“We don’t sell Future News anymore,” said Barry. “The time gate closed.”

“I’m sad to hear that Barry. I always liked being unsurprised when certain events happened.”

Barry had been independently running the Future News business for some time. It began when he spilled some milk and had to move the fridge to clean it up. To his surprise, he discovered more than milk behind that fridge. There was an olive, a chocolate bar packet and an old, mouldy piece of bread. There was also the time gate. He walked through it and emerged in a busy street. It was a lot colder than it had been in the kitchen. As the cogs in his brain turned, he snatched a newspaper off an old lady and read the date. It was six months in the future! He slapped the old lady in the back of the head.

Barry felt a burning desire to tell people what he had seen. When he mentioned it in conversation, people thought he was crazy. One person contacted the authorities and had him thrown in a mental ward. It took him four months and two hundred thousand dollars in legal fees to get out. He decided he had to share his stories of another time in a different way. He made his own newspaper, where he reported what he saw. Some people dismissed it as nonsense, while others noticed that the things he wrote about tended to come true. Soon, he amassed a small clientele who bought his paper and used the knowledge contained therein to their advantage. Gambling was the obvious one (though Barry helpfully warned that we shouldn’t win too much), but there were other uses as well. One edition reported a flood, for instance. A reader realised that his house was in that area, so he took out insurance, and saved himself a huge amount. Others heard of a space shuttle disaster that was visible from the town, so on the day it was to happen, they went out to the woods, pulled out the lawn chairs, turned on the radio, looked up at the sky and watched it all unfold in real time. It was useful to have knowledge of the future, and that’s why I read Future News. It was disappointing to hear that the time portal had closed, but I had stacks of old editions and a headful of memorised events. I had nothing to worry about.

After returning the suit, I went back to Vlad’s. His receptionist was distraught and I entered his office to see what was going on. On the ground was a rolled up rug and a whole bunch of blood.

“We’ll throw her in the ocean, like in the movies,” said Vlad. “Let’s carry her to the car.”

“Listen,” I said to him. “I’m happy to do your shopping for you, and if you want me to help you with your business deals, I’ll do that as well. But murder – I’m afraid it’s too much.”

“Well,” sighed Vlad, “we gave it a shot and it didn’t work out. But it was nice while it lasted.”

“Yes it was, Vlad.”

And we went our separate ways.

My experience working with Vlad taught me that while your job might be challenging, working will keeps things interesting. Instead of living off my gambling earnings like everyone else who read Future News, I decided to man up, head back to the police station, and ask for my position back. I must have said sorry a thousand times before they agreed, but in the end, I got what I wanted. Nowadays, I don’t skip work anymore – well, at least not as much.