Applicant, Heeled

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Flash Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
How far would you go?

Submitted: June 17, 2010

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Submitted: June 17, 2010

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Except for the shallow entryway recess, the room was a perfect square. There were no decorative touches on the dimpled eggshell walls. Not a single splash of color or framed print in sight. No carpet to soften footfalls or dampen the impact of those who dropped unconscious or worse. The company was probably worried about stains. Understandable given that the need for regular replacement would prove cost prohibitive to say the very least.

A patchwork quilt of sterile fluorescent tubes and acoustic fiberboard made the ceiling. It sat oppressively low. We waited in groups of four at rectangular folding tables that would match perfectly the décor of any church basement or bingo hall. There were two packages roughly the size of hardcover dictionaries placed before each applicant and this task was performed by dull-eyed drones donning ball caps with identically embroidered logos overlooking the brims. One package was green. The other, red. Christmas comes early for some. Thirty-two applicants for a total of sixty-four flashy packages. Thirty-two applicants plus sixty-four flashy packages for a total of eight occupied tables, set to get wet. Once all the seats were filled and the murmurs dulled, the drone army scurried out and an attractive brunette in a smarter than average pantsuit stepped inside and took her place as presenter.

She looked business in the front and back. Party must’ve skipped town.

“First of all,“ she began, “the company would like to sincerely thank each of you for your interest in the open positions at our Adirondack foundry. As you know, that particular facility has been off-line for the past few years and has only recently received the certification necessary for rehiring.”

A smatter of applause and “about times.” If the speaker appreciated the gesture, she gave no sign.

“As of today,” she continued, “there are still six positions that remain unfilled. Of those six, four require a bachelor’s degree and at least two years of relevant experience. The remaining positions are entry-level and only a high-school diploma or equivalency certificate is necessary for consideration.”

She paused for our full attention.

She had it.

“As all of you are no doubt aware, recent activity in both the domestic and foreign trade markets has slowed dramatically. In some cases, tragically.”

There were whispers and nods from the group. Some hung and shook their heads like bullied children. Others simply stared straight ahead as if to bluff away the news with counterfeit indifference. The presenter waited patiently for the room to settle. This wasn’t her first time. Anyone could tell.

“Make no mistake, everyone here has suffered. Homes have been lost. Families broken. Villages, towns, counties, parishes, and even cities bankrupted. We’re all due some good favor, if you ask me. And hopefully, with some patience and hard work on both your part and ours, the end of this trial will come sooner rather than later.”

Another smatter of applause. A bit louder this time. Some of the hanging heads were no longer that.

“Of course, such grievous circumstance has set even the most unsavory work in high demand, and that demand has led to unprecedented measures in the areas of workforce acquisition and human resource management. To put it simply, the job market is flooded with qualified, and in some cases overqualified, employment seekers such as yourselves. And it’s that bitter fact that brings us here.“

A barely noticeable rumble overhead. The pleasant breath of central air.

“And so we come to it.” The presenter walked over to the nearest applicant, a mousy blonde in a fire engine red blouse and pleated khaki skirt seated beside three other well-dressed women at the table cramping the door. Behind them were four sour and burly men, and each had to weigh a solid 225. A recipe for messy.

The presenter picked up a green package and held it aloft for the whole room to see. “I would like each of you to open your orientation packet now.”

A charge of anticipation kindled the room. We were so close. The burly men were shifting uncomfortably in their seats.

The presenter didn’t miss the beat. “Inside is a standard liability waiver. Please read each section carefully before signing the highlighted tab at the bottom of the last page. If there are any questions, now is the time to ask them.”

No raised hands. No quick tips of the head to signal assistance. We, the negligible, knew the score and that queries would serve little purpose on this side of our scale-model caste other than to delay the inevitable. We scribbled our marks without so much as a second thought.

The drones returned and scooped up the documents briskly and with almost no sound. An efficient lot.

“Good,” the presenter seemed genuinely pleased. She brushed a tassel of rogue hair back over her shoulder with a cool snap of the wrist and then took up the second package.

The red package.

Her once pleasant tone turned frosty. “This is an instrument packet. Open yours now.”

There were gasps and hissed profanities as the contents spilled. A heavy man wearing jeans and faded blue flannel held a pocket-knife with corkscrew and nail-file attachments. Not bad, but not great either. On the other side of the room, the mousy woman was shuffling a serrated bayonet from her right hand to her left and then back again. She was smiling and weeping at the same time. Behind her, the burly men sported matching hatchets. Yup, messy. But the real jackpot winner was two rows up. He checked and chambered the magazine for a compact .45. Twelve in the clip, one in the pipe. It even had a black rubber overlay for added stability. This guy was heeled and ready to make trouble. Apparently his neighbors felt the same way because there was already a wordless conversation going on between them. With just a few quick glances and gestures, a coalition formed. He’d be lucky to clear the first thirty seconds. Trouble, no more.

The presenter: “You’ll have one hour to complete your employment review. Once that hour has lapsed, any remaining applicants will be rated and ranked by performance and the top six will be offered placement within the company according to their position and all necessary experience and skill requirements. So, for the last time, are there any questions?”

Struck dumb, the room was a voiceless dead-heat.

“Well then,” she said, strolling towards the exit, “good luck to you all. And again, we prize your interest in our company and look forward to working with some of you.”

A barely noticeable click and the door opened slowly from the outside. She stepped into the frame.

“Your time begins now.”

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© Copyright 2017 Eric James Pray. All rights reserved.

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