I found a job. I wasn’t looking for one, seeing how my writing was going so well and I wanted to continue my work, but it was one of those opportunities that forced itself upon me, the lesser shy of the kind that I couldn’t resist. It happened that I went to Starbucks like I tend to do almost everyday, but this time not to the one in Mockingbird Station. This place is the one restaurant a person passes by in their life but never enters. They always mean to of course, but the time or the will to do it never arrives. So it goes.
I sat down with my laptop and books, entering my usual coffee shop routine of distracted internet browsing and occasional hidden glances at people entering the shop when this woman sitting behind me wearing what looks like the uniform of a person who’d lived in a bed their whole life would wear (tacky yellow pajamas and a t-shirt from a 5k she or someone she knew ran in 1997) turns to me,
“Are you a student at SMU?” she is behind me when she asks this, moving from her table to mine, asking the second question, “Do you mind if I sit with you?”
Most people in this situation would wonder what this woman is up to, I did the same, but there was this feel to everything she did that jarred with her outward appearance like she’d just escaped from a prison where everyone is forced to wear tacky pajamas, and the first thing she decides to do while out is pick up some guy at a coffee shop. Though I was certain she wasn’t hitting on me.
She asks about my blog and what I plan on doing with me life, and I tell her. We go on until I realize I know nothing about this middle-aged woman with no bra on, and I ask her about her life and why she’s so interested in mine.
“Because you look like the kind of person we want to hire,” she says.
Oh wonderful, I thought with mild disbelief. I’m always open to employment, though I can honestly say this had never happened and I’m right to never expect it to. Regardless of the unique situation, I was going to listen even if I wasn’t sure what kind of job it would be.
“You have to decide now if you want the job, though.”
I ask her why.
“It’s how it works,” she says, smiling at having to give that kind of answer. I could tell this woman enjoyed whatever it was she did.
“Is there anything you can tell me about it?”
Her answer to this question is straightforward and brutal: she gets up and says to me while standing next to my table,
“You’re offered the job only once,” she says and she exits the shop, leaving an empty seat across from me. I ponder what she has to say, thinking over my options and the reality that I have very little going on besides my writing. This isn’t bad, of course, but why pass this up? I gather my things and follow her out the door, seeing her a few feet from a black BMW parked at the side of the building. She unlocks the door and gets inside, never acknowledging me for a second. I get into the passenger side seat.
“I decided to take your offer,” I say as I sit down beside her, realizing I just entered a strange woman’s very nice car that I’d met at a coffee shop. She doesn’t respond to me, acting as if we’re a couple in the middle of an intense but silent tiff. Her face is expressionless and cold.
“Is something wrong?” I ask her. Nothing about her acts as if I’m there.
We drive north out of dallas, no music is playing on the radio, and I listen to hum and thump of the car on the highway, turning to look out the window at the orange and blue streetlights passing above our car. We drive nearly twenty minutes past McKinney, when I turn to her and ask,
“Where are we going?”
Her eyes begin to close yet she continues driving, somehow keeping us on the road. I take the wheel with one hand, but see I don’t have to when I can feel her steering the car. I reach for my cellphone to call for help, but when I try to do anything with it I only see a blank screen.
Finally we exit the highway onto an empty street with dark pastures on both sides of us. We turn onto a road lined with trees. I don’t want to look at her, thinking she doesn’t want to talk, and any communication I attempt will be met with a harsh rebuke.
The car turns off the road into a driveway with no mailbox and gravel as its pavement. She still guides our car with her eyes closed, as if she were a machine without eyes. I look down at the pedals, and see her feet operating the car with amazing dexterity.
We reach a gate that opens automatically when our car approaches, the letters on the gate are “U” and “H”. The road opens into a stunning scene of a large house with a circular driveway and a fountain in the center of the front yard. Cars are parked in odd places with no clear pattern or direction. Every light in the house looked to be on, with no one standing in any of its windows. Our car stops in front of the steps that lead to the entrance of the house. Once the car comes to a stop, the woman slouches over onto the wheel as she passes out, the only thing missing from her were Xs over her eyes or a blinking battery telling me she is dead.
I thought of running away, though I knew it wouldn’t be worth it, seeing how I didn’t know where I was, and I would have to take my laptop with me. I didn’t want my data to be harmed in any way, especially since I’d been working on getting twenty thousands songs on Itunes and I hadn’t backed up my library in three weeks. All that work would be lost for a weak attempt at escape, I couldn’t undergo such a thing. So, I gathered my courage and decided to face the daunting task of climbing the stairs and finding who the host of this party might be. Without flinching, I ascend the stone steps and knock on the large wooden door. It’s carved with an ornate design of a garden with a man and a woman walking through it. I study the scene until the door opens a minute later.
The house is decorated for a party like the ballroom of the titanic. The scene is magnificent. I enter the house, not realizing there was no one standing behind the door to open it, leaving the question of who allows entry into the house unanswered. Stairs leading to a second and third floor present themselves at the entrance, while lights dot the walls where paintings fittingly take up space. I am stunned by the room and remain there for a time I couldn’t measure, having lost all sense of location. A statue of a woman wearing a toga stands in front of the stairs holding a cup lifted to the ceiling as if heaven would fill it. Her mouth is slightly open in anticipation, and she stands on her toes to get as close to the sky as she can like any second she will break into flight and leave the house. A chandelier hangs above her like all the stars in the sky gathered into a ball and left lazily clinging to one another, unable to get away.
“What do you think of it?,” a man’s voice says from beside me. He is dressed like an art dealer at a fancy hotel bar after work. “I bought it from a friend in Prague who owed me a favor.”
“It’s impressive for sure,” I say back to him.
“Yes, it is,” he stands and admires it like old friend’s photograph. His eyes are bright and intelligent with a young man’s face only a few years older than myself.
I introduce myself, and he responds,
“I know who you are. I’ve been keeping up,” his fingers move on the glass of wine he’s carrying. I assumed its wine.
“You know about me, do you?” with a suspicious tone, though I wasn’t surprised with what had happened up until then.
“I know you just graduated from SMU, and I know the names of your roommates. I can tell you what’s in your pantry at your apartment and I can tell you what the combination to your bike lock is,” he said it in such a calm, almost tired way, I had trouble telling myself he might be lying to me.
“And how did you get all of this information, and why would you even care?” I ask, taking a step back and trying to look as casual as possible while inside completely worried about what this man wants from me.
“I care because you’re someone we need for a project of mine,” he leans in and speaks in a softer voice, “You see, we are attempting something only I’ve tried and with moderate success. Let me ask you this, have you ever wondered if there are any other civilizations around us we can’t see?”
“Sure, like the Sasquatch except a village of them.”
“Like that, but less ape-like. I mean something the way people used to think of gnomes living in the ground and stealing things from us every once in while.”
“People believed that?”
“Who knows what people believed? We can only guess, but I know they talked about it quite a bit, and there are plenty of stories to give us information on what they thought of them.”
“So, you found a bunch of gnomes, have you?” laughing with a nudge to his elbow. He acts annoyed at this.
“No, we haven’t, or I haven’t. It’s only been me working here, trying to find out if it’s true.”
“If what’s true? The gnomes?” growing more curious, but really joking the whole time.
“No gnomes. Forget I said that,” he says flatly as he steps away from me, never making eye contact.
“Will you come with me, please?” he walks through the door where he came from, I follow behind. He takes me through a series of hallways and into a room where a woman and two men are sitting at a table, each hard at writing something by hand.
“Just take a seat and follow the instructions,” he says, making me feel like I was taking the SAT all over again. He walks out of the room and leaves me with the other applicants. I look at them as they write with a serious and concentrated face like their future depended on the results of this test, creating an even greater resemblance to every standardized exam I’ve taken.
“What do you know about the job?” I ask. None of them respond. Getting this sort of reply was expected at this point. I began the exam, which I might add was the most exhausting and silly test I’ve ever taken. My life is examined and I begin to write, picking up an odd blue pen shaped like a harpoon. I write with an inexhaustible vigor and honesty that was surprising. Things I didn’t remember until then emerged onto the paper, and for each answer there came a precise response. Before I know it, I’m on the last question and finishing its last sentence when I look up and the room is empty and the door that I entered into has now shifted to the other side of the room. On the wall is a clock with the second hand unmoving and a pillar beneath it with a green ceramic bowl. My fellow applicants are missing and I am the last one left in the room. I drop my pen and go over to the bowl, and see that inside is a single piece of gum wrapped in red wax paper like the peanut butter candies in orange and black wrappers given out at Halloween.
I put the candy in my pocket and walk through the door. The next room is a conference room much like the one I left, except instead of a table there is furniture lining the walls with the middle of the room open. Occupying some of the recliners were my silent friends from the exam earlier. I find a seat and wait for something to happen, growing sure that no one will talk to me. One of them does, however, the oldest of the men, a gray headed man with a big smile and a moderately overweight and relaxed look. Out of all the people, I’m least happy it’s him that speaks to me.
“So, you were pulled into this too were you? You look like the kind of guy who belongs here, you know? Did you get a look at that chandelier? I’ve never seen anything like it. You’d think this guy has a billion dollars or something. My ex-wife had family like that, though they weren’t the kind you wanted to know. Whew, they just didn’t know when to stop and their money seemed to never end, though it did when the debt crisis happened and they had some investments in a few homes. Bad timing, I suppose,” and he goes on and on with me only slightly listening to him, and him acting as if we were the best of friends after a long time away from each other. He smiles big like a door to door magazine salesman.
About this time our host enters the room and everyone falls silent. Without a word he strolls to the center of the room,
“You all did very well,” he says, rummaging through a stack of papers I assume are our exams. “I knew I chose the right people.” He makes a point of looking at each of us, giving his approval with a glance. The man seemed very knowledgable and professional in what he did.
“Can anyone of you guess why you’re here?” he asks.
“Work,” the older man who was talking to me laughs with an obnoxious guffaw, sitting in the chair next to mine. I cringe and hope no one thinks we came there together.
The man gives a mild grin.
“Yes, but what exactly?” he asks. No one speaks, which comforts me because I also have no idea.
“Pay attention,” he says. And taking one of the candies similar to what I found in the green bowl, he places it on his tongue, bites down, and disappears right in front of us. All breath leaves me as I’m stunned.
That was an hour ago, and I’ve had the chance to use this laptop I found in the room. He has wireless here, so I thought I’d check facebook and blog about this.