Months ago I sent out the first five pages of Fate, Inc. to Literary agents to read following a read through by some well respected colleagues in a number of different critique groups. This is a work of speculative fiction. Think of it as "Office Space" meets "Dead Like Me."
That New Job Smell
Death is a funny thing. It’s unlike any experience in life, and yet strangely familiar. After all, we see it every day. News sites list celebrities passing rattled off with birthdays. The Oscars, Emmys, Grammys, and other ceremonies has some version of the “In memory of” from the past year. Flip, or scroll, through the newspaper and there are obits, and news reports are full of who passed on from this world to the next from the day before.
There are treatises on it everywhere: the Bible, the Quran, Out on a Limb by Shirley MacLaine. Is it a final cessation of life, or a doorway into another existence? I never really gave it much thought, but I should have. I wished, now, that I had a user’s manual similar to what Alec Baldwin and Gina Davis received in Beetlejuice. Instead, we have three-ring binders that can be as enigmatic in corporate double-speak as the Dead Sea Scrolls.
When you’re up to the age around thirty-five like I was, you think you’ll live forever. The thought of death rarely fills your mind or occupies more than scant seconds in a day. You see it in the media, experience it when you lose a grandparent, and think yeah, that’s unfortunate. But when you’re younger, you never equate that with your destiny. You keep thinking that the movie just ends with you living happily ever after, not on a respirator, alone in an alley, and definitely not the victim of a bombed-out building. Yet, at some point, the tank runs empty, and the battery loses it’s juice. You’re another statistic on the exit ramp of life.
Now, Death is my life.
Funny, many see death as the end of a story. The third act of a tragedy. The final scene in our life’s movie. The curtain falls, the coffin closes, the lights dim, and the credits roll followed by the sound of static. That’s it.
But the moment where the screen goes dark is where my story begins. It isn’t the end. At least, it wasn’t the end for me. I still live on, breathe normally, take in a baseball game or two a year, drink a Coke for lunch, and when I retire for the evening, read the latest Stephen King or flip through articles in WIRED magazine. But I do not live what can be termed “a life”. That ended at a thread. A fragile thread life is. It can be cut in a moment. And then—
So yeah, my story, as most stories, begins in the middle of things. We usually tell others what happened to us last night, or the year before. We don’t begin with what happened on the first day out of the womb, breathing pumped-in hospital air. My story begins in a similar fashion, but in a decidedly “unfamiliar” way. Before the deaths, the alleged conspiracy, and getting a nice kick in the head from love, it was just me beginning a new job.
The building shone in the morning sunlight like a polished rock uncovered from a creek., burnished and weathered as if from sand and time. Brown and gleaming in the sun’s rays, it rose from the foundation like a mahogany slab on its side. Something’s wrong about it.
The light didn’t reflect off of it as much as shimmer.
I squinted as I looked at its imposing mass. My tie, noose-like around my neck, seemed to tighten the more I looked at it. The place exuded a form of intimidation that is seldom received from a three-story building.
It was a splinter to the mind.
I looked down and gave myself the once-over. Was my zipper up? Why did my tie keep twisting around like a pretzel? My first day on the new job and I should at least appear professional. I felt anything but. I was a charlatan, a changeling, an imposter.
If my mother could see me now.
It wasn’t too long ago I had long hair and a beard. Not too long ago, I mused, brushing my clean-shaven chin as if reminding myself I still existed. Go back a few weeks and I looked like some deranged Amish man because I always had trouble growing mustaches. It’d only been how long? Weeks or a lifetime, it’s all the same now. I felt as if I had been sucked in through a vacuum cleaner and dumped out like discarded lint.
“Are you alright?” a voice asked.
I turned and there was a middle-aged woman looking at me, concerned. Her jet-black hair with a few traces of grey framing her face. She brushed a few strands of hair blowing over her eyes.
“First-day.” I responded. A knowing smile briefly twitched on her face. It was a kind face, an encouraging face. There were crows feet, laugh-lines, and her eyes were bright and intelligent. She also had a curve to her nose that had an aristocratic air to it. Her face was an advertisement of competence and welcoming.
She glanced down at the lanyard I wore and then lifted her eyes again to meet mine. She stated, “Take all the time you need, Mr. Vagan.”
No words of comfort, no you can do it or hang in there! The implications were I had all the time in the world. It was true, I did, as far as that went.
“Getting my bearings,” I responded and I wondered if this was her job. Maybe they’ve had employees bolt, or have second thoughts. Or be in breach of contract. I swallowed at that last thought.
She continued, gesturing to herself with a game-show model flourish, “I’ve been on staff for a number of years, and as you can see, all is well.”
There was an errant thought that entering through those doors would be like entering a roach motel. But there were cars in the parking lot, and employees entering the revolving door. And that was an important distinction, the door revolved.
Steeling my thoughts as well as the support from the woman no doubt still smiling behind me, I went up the marble steps, to the satisfying swish of the revolving entrance.
Like slices of pie in a revolving display.
The polarized glass gave the building a closed, unused look from the outside. I placed my hand on the door to push it and felt a vibration. The door spun easily on its axis allowing me through.
Once inside, the atmosphere was dim, almost dark at first glance. I looked around and no one manned a security desk, but a disembodied female voice stated, “Welcome to Fate, Inc. Tony Vagan. Please enter the elevators located straight back”
My fingerprints must by in the system.
There was a small lobby at the entrance, but no one was sitting in chairs at the small round tables. My shoes clattered on the dark polished floor as I walked into one of the four express elevators at the back end of the lobby. The staccato sound of shoes to linoleum muted as I went from the cold tile to the carpet of the elevator.
The doors shut, leaving me alone with my thoughts. I was struck by how normal everything looked inside. The red phone, the notation about weight capacity, even the floor number buttons worn from use. The one I pressed, three, had all but worn clean. Still, it all lent an air of a corporate environment, and of the mundane, the impersonal.
Should I be surprised, though? Training had been the same as any other corporate training I’d had: filled with many of the same mundane rules, expectations, and regulations.
The next thing that caught my attention, the Muzak. My ears must be doing the hallucination disco.
Don’t fear the Reaper?
It was way too "on point" that such a classic song should be piped in over the elevator speakers. Music, the very thing meant to relax employees and passengers, was the soundtrack to my new life that had me on edge. I also wanted to know why they didn’t include “more” cowbell.
Alone, I leaned against one of the reflective walls, reflecting. For a moment, I let despair wash over me, because despite the fine charm of the daylight, and the singsong chatter of birds on this early morning, there was no way to gloss over my current situation.
“Current Situation.” Vague, but in my case, all I had. I wasn’t even sure, after signing the documentation, what my “current situation” was, or its benefits and constraints. And this, despite the binder I left at home and the training I’d endured over the past week.
I probably should have read the fine print.
At the time of the signing, I wasn’t really processing much, mentally speaking. I had other thoughts in my head than kicking back, sipping tea, and scanning over the finer points of the contract.
Exactly the kind of attitude they were counting on.
Yet how many times have I clicked on the accept button on the terms of service? How many times had I discarded the EULA, the End-User License Agreement, without reading it?
I recalled a fragment of text on the final page with clarity. I remembered it because I was still reeling from extra space on the contract for additional “proof of identity” needed for a blood sample, fingerprints, and other evidence of my identity. This spoke volumes about my new station in life and how difficult it would be to get out.