Sleeping Cyborg

Jonathan David Page talks about whatever he happens to be thinking about. Sometimes other people join in.

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Help Wanted; Enquire Within

by on 17 December 2013
with some comments, maybe.

A piece of flash fiction I wrote for a class, concerning a mysterious business. Inspired by a sign I misread.

Alan walked back to his apartment, staring at the pavement as he went. He had his shoulders hunched and back bent, tie loosened and collar unbuttoned. The briefcase in his hand held just as many résumés as it had when he set out that morning. To his right and left were rows of white-painted stores with peeling blue signs and large plate-glass windows. A bus rushed past, hurrying its passengers over the bridge to downtown. Alan glanced up at it, and as it passed it revealed a door displaying a sign reading “HELP WANTED”. He contemplated the sign for a minute, then crossed the street to take a better look.

The door the sign was taped to was crammed between two very clean plate glass windows. The window to the left contained a desk that had been stained to look like mahogany, and a blue overstuffed chair. The one to the right showed off a watermelon-pink dress, paired with a dark green dyed-leather handbag. The door itself was painted bright green, and was rather grubby. Before turning his attention to the sign, he glanced up at the company name and read:

Messrs. Owen, Lake & Honor
Est. 1904

The help-wanted sign did not say what sort of help the company actually wanted. It simply directed the reader to “enquire within.” Alan hoped that this meant they were not feeling very particular about it. He put down his briefcase, fixed his collar, tightened up his tie, picked up the case, took a deep breath, and pushed the door open. A little bell rang. He stood at the bottom of a dimly-lit staircase with dark red carpet and dark wood paneling. He smelled a combination of old books, tobacco, oiled metal, and coffee.

“Come on up,” called a voice from the top of the stairs.

He ascended into a smallish, marginally better-lit room. A spear was mounted on one wall, and there was a desk facing the top of the stairs. A woman wearing jeans and an Iron Maiden tee shirt sat behind it with her feet propped up, reading a book with a dragon on the cover. She looked up as he entered.

“Hello,” said Alan, and cleared his throat. “Is this the Owen, Lake and Honor Realty Company?”

The woman grinned. “Nope. This is the Owen, Lake and Honor Reality Company. Door says so. I’m Sarah.”

“I beg your pardon?” He frowned, shifted his weight to the other leg, and cleared his throat again.

Sarah continued. “Nice to meet you too. You’re here about the sign, right? The ‘help wanted’ one? You must be, ’cause you’re the first person who’s come in since I started working here and I only just put up the sign this morning.” She put down the book.

“Reality company?” Alan shifted his weight back again, and transferred his briefcase to his other hand. “Not realty?” He looked back down the stairwell. Sure enough, the door read ‘REALITY COMPANY’. He wondered if he would have bothered to come in if he had read it properly the first time.

“Yes, reality company. Not realty. We don’t really do property management—except incidentally—and we’re the best in the reality business.” Sarah stopped, and looked at the ceiling, then back at Alan. “Well, that’s what I’m supposed to tell you. There are some companies downtown with way more clients than us.”

Alan stood and gaped while Sarah waited for him to say something. A large, battered grandfather clock adorned with ravens, standing against the wall between the desk and a plain white door, solemnly measured out a full two minutes before he spoke.

“What—what sort of qualifications does one need to work at a reality company?”

“As far as I can tell, the primary qualification is being able to find the front door, and it looks like you’ve already got that worked out. You don’t even need to be getting your reality plan from here. I was hesitant to transfer mine over at first.”

“I beg your pardon? Finding the front door? Reality plan? Is this a joke?”

Sarah sighed, moved her feet off the desk, and sat up straight.

“No joke. The front door can be difficult to see sometimes. And yes, reality plan. Everyone has one. You’re probably signed up with one of the big companies. They all have offices downtown. I think there’s one which specializes in people who don’t know about the whole deal.”

“I am most definitely not signed up for any sort of ‘reality plan’. I don’t get billed for it.”

“Yes you do. Though most people can’t see the bills either.”

Alan moved his briefcase to his other hand again, and glanced at his watch. It was getting on to five o’clock. He could probably excuse himself with something about dinner, or not wanting to keep her late. Though the latter might not work, since he didn’t know what kind of hours people who worked at ‘reality companies’ kept.

“Um,” he said.

“If you like, you can leave a copy of your résumé here, and the bosses will take a look at it when they have a moment.”

“Oh.” Alan smiled. “Yes. That sounds wonderful. Thank you very much.”

And with a rapidity stretching the bounds of politeness, he handed her a copy of his résumé, thanked her again, and left the building. He walked straight home without any further interruptions, drank a beer, and fell asleep on the couch with the television on.

The next morning, he received a call from a company he had left a résumé with the previous week. He had not been able to find any other job opportunities since then, and immediately agreed to an interview first thing Monday morning.

Monday morning, on the way to the interview, he happened to glance out the window of the bus while it was waiting at a stop. He saw the storefronts from the other day. There was the cheap desk, the blue overstuffed chair, and in the window right next to them, the tacky dress. There seemed to be something missing from the scene, though, that he couldn’t quite put his finger on.

The bus started moving again, and Alan thought no more of it.