Aug. 25, 2017
“It’s too bad, really…the way this will all shake out,” the suit next to him said evenly. “I always liked you, Frank. You had a lot of potential, a lot!” Francis shuffled his feet as the elevator continued to beep. He glanced sideways at a faded picture on the wall. A sunrise over the desert with one word emblazoned in the sun. “Life.” His gaze was interrupted as the suit nervously checked his firearm inside his jacket. Francis sighed and stared back at the display over the door. Minus twenty, minus twenty-one; deeper into the Earth than he had ever planned to go before.
“You know,” the suit began but was interrupted as the elevator came to a halt at minus twenty-four and the doors opened. Before them stretched a long white hallway lined with dark-red doors with black trim. The hallway had no visible end but it couldn’t possibly go on forever, could it? The suit cleared his throat and smoothed his tie before striding forward with the faux confidence his employer required. Francis followed him closely, dazed. After some time, a half a mile perhaps, they came to a sudden stop.
“Here we are, 4815.”
Francis stared at him blankly then looked at the deep-red door to his right. There was no number on it, how did he know where he was? What does it matter, asking questions is what got him here in the first place. He nodded at the suit and waited for him to open the door. The suit nodded back and reached for the knob saying “Well Frank, it’s been a pleasure.” Francis grabbed his wrist and looked him straight in the eye.
“My name is Francis.” With one swift move he twisted the man’s arm behind him and reached around to his jacket pocket while he flailed to free himself. He lifted the gun from it’s holster carefully and clicked off the safety. Before the man even knew what was happening Francis pulled the trigger and sent a round into his chest at an angle, flinging them both backwards and onto the floor. Francis scrambled out from under the man and steadied the gun in his face as he tried to stand up as well, clutching his chest and gasping for air.
Francis fired a final round into the man’s forehead, painting the white walls and floor with blood and brain matter. He stood there watching the blood gather and pool on the floor before he stepped back a few feet and checked the clip. It was full when they arrived so he was in good shape. He turned toward the door and straightened his tie.
“4815” he muttered, clicking the safety back on and stuffing the gun into the back of his pants. Francis turned the knob and pushed the door open. The blood on the floor behind him had almost reached his shoes and he thought about looking back. He decided not to, just in case there is life after death and he didn’t want to give the man’s soul the false impression that he cared. Without further hesitation he pushed his way into the dark room and gently closed the door behind him.
Once the door was shut the room was completely dark except for a dim light playing on the wall as if someone had left a TV on in the adjacent room. He double-checked the gun in the back of his pants to make sure it was accessible and then turned the corner. The dim TV in front of him was flickering dully across a few familiar images when he entered. He scanned the room and, seeing no one around, allowed himself to relax a little. The screen suddenly brightened with an intensity that made him blind int he dark room. An audio feed started playing suddenly and seemed to match the video. His eyes couldn’t adjust to the dark around him and he was consumed by the picture in front of his face, as if he and it were the only two things that existed.
“You know when you’re driving and there’s no one behind you or in front of you going the same way, but there’s a line of cars coming at you?”
“Sometimes I like to think that they are all trying to escape some sort of apocalypse, zombies or something, and I’m heading right into it without knowing.”
Francis shrunk back against the wall behind him as a new scene began to play.
“Happy Birthday to you!”
He tensed up.
“Happy Birthday dear Francis, Happy Birthday to you!”
The screen flickered again and he was staring at the tiny meeting room from his first job.
“Truthfully, I can’t take credit. Francis ran the project himself, he’s really shown initiative on this one.”
He took a couple steps forward, jaw dropped as more memories flashed by. Promotions, breakups, parties, conversations, it was all here. The audio quieted and the lights came up in the room slowly, showing a cozy living room with a couch, a couple of chairs, some end tables, a coffee table…his coffee table. It was all his, this was his exact apartment ten years ago, before he had taken that job out of the city.
“It’s uncanny, isn’t it?” A voice said sharply from behind him. He spun to find an older gentleman in a gray suit with white hair and a graying beard. Francis opened his mouth to speak but the man continued, walking in a slight curve towards one of the armchairs. “We had to upgrade the TV, of course, but I think you’ll find everything else to be the same.” The man eased himself into the chair and motioned for Francis to do the same across from him. He obliged as the man continued. “As you see, we have been with you for some time, Francis.” The audio picked up again as a scene from his toddler years emphasized the point. “The path that led you here was no accident, you see, it was all an exercise. Sure you improvised here and there, poor James paid for that out in the hall, but in the end the result is the same. We are here and now we must complete the exercise.” The TV turned off and retracted into the ceiling leaving behind a map of the Atlantic ocean and adjacent shores. The man sighed as Francis stared at it blankly. “I really expected more from you by now, has nothing occurred to you yet?” Francis wracked his brain trying to figure out what was going on but he came up short. After a few minutes of awkward silence the man continued. “Well, we hired you as a sort of recruiter, yes? You brought us new employees and we bought you things to hide your misery.” Francis opened his mouth to object but the man silenced him with a wave. “We taught you everything about the company that someone of your pay grade could handle and you absorbed it. You became our star employee but when offered a raise and a promotion you refused it. You were happy to stay in your pathetic position even though you had been professionally groomed for higher management, why?” Francis opened his mouth to answer and was silenced again. “Because you knew something was up. So how is it that you could know something was wrong then and be so stupid when we are right here in your face?”
Two strong hands suddenly grabbed his shoulders and held him down as the man stood up. “We don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, you’ll accept this promotion and you will excel at it. I will be back to accept your formal apology and a statement of intent for your new position as soon as you figure out what we do here.” He crossed the distance between the chairs and leaned into Francis’ face, pausing inches away. “Don’t be long, I’m not a patient man.” He patted Francis on the cheek and left the room. Francis struggled to rise and go after him but the hands held him strapped to the chair. As he continued to struggle he felt a sharp prick in the back of his neck and a wave of calm washed over him. The muscular hands released him as the room faded to black.