Friday, April 8, 2016

The Job- Short Story

This is an early-ish piece of mine, dating from about 2009.  It's meant to be an attempt to write something like Kafka, though I don't think it quite hit the mark.


"So, Mr. Foreman, I would like to welcome you to our company, or as we like to call it, our family."
The man in the polo shirt smiled so brightly that Mr. Foreman was instantly disarmed, and forgot that this man had never so much as stated his name.
"Family?" Mr. Foreman asked. It was a curious idea. A family... that's a group of people who tolerate each other because they ought to, isn't it?
"We look after our employees' every needs," he explained. "We house, feed, clothe, and even entertain our employees in return for their valued service to our organization."
"That's quite a benefits package." Mr. Foreman's previous job scarcely even paid him. He was thirty-two and still lived with his widowed mother, and the idea of finally moving out on his own had a prestigious allure to it.
"Well then, all I need is for you to sign this contract, and we'll get started," the man said, holding out his phone.
Mr. Foreman ran his finger over the screen in an X pattern and a small message appeared to say that the signature had been accepted.
"Right then, right this way, Mr. Foreman," the man said, leading him out of the office and down a narrow corridor.
The corridor was bare concrete and lined with small, industrial-style doors with tiny safety glass windows that were almost too high to see through.
"These are our employee housing units," the man explained. "They contain all the basic necessities, and if there is anything you need your computerized assistant can have it delivered within twenty-four hours."
"Impressive," Mr. Foreman said, adjusting his collar.
"It is!  A triumph of technology really. Our employees rate highest on nearly every satisfaction survey. So, here we are."
They stopped at one of the rooms about midway down the corridor to their left. The man typed a sequence of numbers into a key pad next to the door and it unlocked with a mechanical buzz.
"Step right in, make yourself at home," the man said.
Mr. Foreman walked into the room. It was solid white, except for a video screen at the far end of the room that played a screen saver montage of bright colors and shapes. On one side of the room was a treadmill, and on the other a bed and a desk with a computer. On the wall next to the treadmill was a small door with a red button beneath it, and next to that a metal straw protruded about six inches into the room.
"You can do all of your work from this desk without ever leaving the comforts of home. But the real center piece is the all-in-one entertainment and comfort center. So, are you hungry Mr. Foreman?"
Mr. Foreman nodded. "Now that you mention it, I am."
"Just press the red button and let the machine do the rest," the man said.
Mr. Foreman walked over to the red button and pressed it. A gentle buzz could be heard from within the wall.
"Hello, Mr. Foreman, hungry I see? What would you like to eat?" a smooth female voice with an artificial edge said from the direction of the video screen. A montage of pictures of food and question marks danced around on the colorful LCD display.
"How about a BLT?" Mr. Foreman said.
"Coming right up," the screen said.
There was a hum and a whirr, then within minutes the door in the wall above the button slid open. There, on a blue china plate, sat a passable BLT.
"Incredible!" Mr. Foreman said, taking the sandwich.
"Just put the plate back and press the button again when you're done," the man said. "Would you like to see how the entertainment system works?"
"Maybe later," said Mr. Foreman. "I'm thirsty at the moment."
"Just press the button, tell the computer what you want, and you can drink as much as you want from that small metal tube there," the man said with a smile.
Mr. Foreman pressed the button once more.
"Can I get you anything else?" the computerized voice said.
"How about a beer?" Mr. Foreman asked.
"We have sixteen domestic and twelve import varieties currently on tap with more to coming soon. Would you like to see a menu?" the computer asked.
"Nah, surprise me," Mr. Foreman said.
"Coming right up," the computer said.
A small buzzer sounded and the drinking tube shook slightly.
Mr. Foreman walked up to it and began to drink from it, taking long, deep sips from the downward metal straw.
"Mmm... It's either an import or a really good domestic. A lager, I think," Mr. Foreman said.
"Only the best for our employees," the man said with a grin.
"Come to think of it, I have to ask, where are the bathrooms?" said Mr. Foreman, his eyes darting across the room.
"Ah, well, you see, everything here has an antimicrobial coating, so you won't need to shower near as often as you normally would. There are showers down the hall for the few times you'll need them," the man said.
"That's all well and good, but what if I need to... you know..." Mr. Foreman asked, starting to look uncomfortable.
At that, the man walked over to the desk and tapped a small, unassuming panel next to the paper shredder. It opened readily, a large stack of documents falling out from behind it.
"Part of your job will be to shred as many documents as possible," he explained. "The more documents you shred, the better. It's something you can do in your spare time, it hardly takes any effort. What I would suggest is that you cover the floor in shredded paper and use that to... well, to keep the place clean. Soak up your business, if you know what I mean."
Mr. Foreman's eyes went wide. "You aren't honestly suggesting that I..."
"Hey, you came here to do business, didn't you?" the man said. "No reason to skip out on doing your business while doing your business. Besides, it isn't like you'll be wallowing in your own filth. The antimicrobial coating will take care of the smell, and we'll have the dirty papers removed and clean paper supplied daily. These units are actually cleaner than the average American home."
"I don't know about this..." Mr. Foreman said, rubbing his chin, his eyes turned to the corner of the room.
"Do you want the job or not?" the man asked bluntly.
"Alright! I'll take it!" Mr. Foreman said.
"Well, then, I'll leave you to get comfortable in Casa Foreman," the man said with a smile and a nod as he turned to leave the room.

"So cute. Almost like us, really!"
A redheaded woman, about thirty-eight years old in a blue pinstripe pantsuit peered through the small window of Mr. Foreman's room.
This one wasn't a bad looking specimen for being working class. He clearly took care of himself. He was one of the most active workers there, too, constantly on his treadmill, or drinking from his tube, or purposefully pushing around the paper that lined the floor of his room to move the soiled papers all into one neat corner.
Next to her stood an older man, about fifty years old with gray-streaked black hair in a more formal business suit.
"This one's pretty industrious. Might have made middle management back in the old days. Nowadays it's dangerous to have one like that loose, though," he said.
"You do know the door's unlocked, Dave. He could leave any time," the woman said scornfully.
"You have to understand, keeping people in one place is a little easier than keeping a gerbil or something," said Dave. "With animals, you have to have a lock and a cage that's stronger than they are. The bigger the animal, the stouter the cage. But with people, all you need is an idea that's stronger than they are. As long as you can jam that idea into their heads, they're yours to control. This one here believes that he ought to be a productive member of society. You can see how he shuffles around, always busy. He's the sort who measures his worth by how much he can get done in a day, even if it's all pointless tasks. He believes he has to be a model employee, and that idea rules his life."
"But he's also smarter than average," the woman said. "I grant you, he's no Einstein, but he's not a complete moron. I don't understand how someone like that can stay trapped by an idea."
"They can and they do," said Dave. "And even if they don't, there's one more thing that will keep him here until he's grayer than me."
"What's that?" the woman asked, more in annoyance than curiosity.
Dave smiled, running a hand through the gray streak on his head, as if it were a charger for his razor wit. "Mr. Foreman here owes us more money than he'll ever make. Just by living here, he's racking up debt like you wouldn't believe."

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