Sunday, February 9, 2014

Inquire Within - original short fiction

Inquire Within
by Alli Kirkham

The ad was tantalizing. I'd spent, like, seriously three hours paging through all kinds of horrifying nine-to-fives on Monster and before I decided that my kind of work was best appreciated by Craigslist. It's a pretty horrifying decision to come to, that you're going to be valued most by people trading weird crap and trying to scam a blowjob, but sometimes you have to be realistic.

There was no title for the job, pay D.O.E. which is only expected when you're dealing with the dregs of the internet, one photo of a kinda trendy office building in South Pas, and a couple of typos. But there was so much potential! They wanted a twentysomething (me) with loads of social media experience (also me) who was willing to be the go-to no-guy in a world full of yes-men (so totally me); they were looking for makers and creative thinkers adept at browsing Pinterest and with a knack for getting retweeted - liberal arts BA was a plus. I was so all over this. Dress code was casual, benefits included (but were not limited to) telecommuting and plenty of cellphone breaks. Sounded like a dream.

My email response was snappy, my resume highly graphic, and my custom-crafted cover letter included as much hip detachment and insider knowledge as Radiohead and a Google search could impart to me. I got a response only an hour later and called in to schedule an interview for the next day, super stoked that they were so eager to hire.

I stayed up probably later than I should have, prepping my adorably nonconformist version of a business suit and making sure that I'd picked out a headband that was just the right combination of feminine, ironic, and professional. It took me an hour to do my nails but I made sure that they would complement my purse, shoes, eyes, and hair while clashing beautifully with my belt. This was going to be the best interview ever.

Getting there too early seemed like it would come off as desperate so I went to the closest Starbucks and ended up standing in line just long enough to make me slightly late. I gave myself a slight brain-freeze trying to suck down my frappachino before I went in the door and only realized that it might give me some kind of gross milk-breath as I was stepping into the lobby. Oh well. In the elevator I dug in my hobo bag until I unearthed an ancient Altoid. It would have to be enough.

I got to the right office only five minutes late; the waiting room was full of guys wearing corduroy jackets and bow-ties with dark-wash jeans and girls wearing not-quite business suits. I glared balefully at one girl whose shoes were almost the same shade as mine and whose belt was exactly the same - ugh, I'm never buying from Amazon again.

The glaring didn't go on too long, though - I didn't even get a chance to sit down because the receptionist ushered me through taupe hallways with ultra-cool framed prints right away before depositing me at the door to a corner office. I was duly called in and sat down in front of my potential new manager. He had a fantastic haircut and wonderfully vintage glasses. He was really cute, actually.

"Hi, hi, yeah, great to meet you," he said, lounging back in his chair. "So, tell me about your hobbies. What's your favorite website?" That kind of threw me a bit.

"Uh, don't you want to know about my work history?"

He shook his head. "We get all that junk on your resume; what I want to know is who you are, how you're going to mesh with the culture here. What you Instagram and what shows you go to." I could feel my jaw dropping. This was my time to shine.

I think it was about half an hour later when I noticed that time was still passing and I was still talking even though I had kind of run out of things to say. Manager man, whose name I had forgotten at this point, was still nodding and had a great big grin on his face so I must have been doing okay.

"Ohmygod," he said at last, and walked around the desk, "you are, like, totally what we're looking for. You wanna come down to HR with me?" Of course I did. He took my elbow just like an old-fashioned gentleman but, like, in a really cool way and we walked to a different elevator. I started asking him about pay and benefits and cellphone breaks on the way down and he just told me that HR would fill me in on all of it. The elevator doors slid open, I turned toward a new hallway with glittering, delighted eyes, and he shoved me over a ledge.

I hit the ground hard, about six feet down from where the floor of the elevator had been, and broke a heel. Dammit, these shoes were expensive. I got my feet underway and prepared to shout up at the asshole when I realized that the elevator was moving rapidly up through completely empty space. There must have been ten floors of just blankness before the elevator cables disappeared into shadows. That was a little unusual.

I made sure that nothing other than my shoe was broken then looked around. I was in a huge empty room. It was dark and dirty. Not much else to say. There was a pretty bright light and a wide, clean swath of floor off to my left, so that seemed like a good direction to go.

The room was big enough that I ended up kicking off my broken shoes and digging my emergency flip-flops out of my bag. I walked a little better after that, but it made me sad to dirty up my nice pedicure. Eventually I made it over to the light. There was a window like a ticket booth with "HR" written in the dust above it. Other than that there seemed to be no features in the wall. Behind the glass there was a girl with raccoon-like eyeliner and about six facial piercings. She was asleep so I knocked on the window. She slitted her eyes at me and grumbled.

"Um, like, what the fuck is going on?" I asked.

"Fuck if I know. Are you a new hire?"

"I guess, but I don't know if I wanna be. This place kind of blows."

She nodded in understanding. "Oh yeah, totally. So what do you do?" I stared blankly at her. "Are you into crafty shit or just web stuff?"

"Um, both. I do custom papercraft and things that you just would not believe with modge-podge and glitter, but I have a pretty serious Twitter following and like a thousand likes on just one pin." She smirked a little bit in a way that I really didn't like.

"Yeah, you're in the right place for sure. Or, I guess, not quite the right place. Can you take like, half a step to the right?" I shuffled my feet slightly to where she had asked me to. "Sweet. Have fun!"

It's a little embarrassing but I screamed for at least ten seconds after the trap door dropped. Then I realized that I was on a side and I got really confused. Maybe two minutes later I fell into a bright square of light and onto a big pile of extra fuzzy cushions. I dug myself out of the pile of pillows and discovered that I'd been shot into what basically amounted to a kindergarten classroom. Everything was done up in bright colors and there were craft supplies everywhere. There was a bank of windows through which I could see puppies and ponies and rainbows cavorting around a waterfall. In the center of the room was a giant kidney-shaped table with miniature chairs full of people around my age who were all tapping away at their iPhones. I found an empty chair and sat down, opening my purse on my lap to look for tissues; I felt the need for a pretty serious cry coming on.

"Uh, hey," I said to the table, startling a couple of people who hadn't noticed me coming in, "can someone please tell me what the fuck is going on?"

A girl who was clearly too old for her pigtails looked around the table and seemed to realize that she was the only one willing to take the initiative to answer. "Um, none of us are actually totally sure. But I guess welcome to Etsy?"


"That's the best we can figure. We make stuff and when we're done we put it in the chute," she jerked her thumb over her shoulder where I saw what looked like a dumbwaiter, "and when we come back to the room each morning there's new fabrics and buttons and different colors of glitter. So we just make more stuff."

"How do we go home?" I was beginning to see that nothing made sense and get well and truly freaked out by everything.

Pigtails shrugged. "I don't think we do. I've been here for a couple of weeks and I haven't found a way out yet."

"Ohmygod," I gasped, "have we been kidnapped?"

"Yeah," said one of the few guys at the table. He had a scrap of leather and some cool, hand-made etching tools on the table in front of him. "I'm pretty sure kidnapping covers it. But it doesn't suck as much as you'd think."

"How can it not suck?" I was horrified. Then the bell over the dumbwaiter rang; a girl in a cute, off-the-shoulder striped shirt walked over to it and retrieved a tray. It was full of Starbucks drinks which she passed around until there was only one left. She looked at the side then over at me.

"Tall half-caff soy white mocha with two pumps of raspberry?" I felt my jaw dropping for the tenth time in the last hour and held my hand out; it was my signature hot drink. Within a few minutes I felt considerably better; the cell signal was great and I tweeted that I'd been kidnapped by Etsy, I had friended everyone at the table on Facebook, followed the leather worker's Tumblr, and seen the dorms (including the free supply of nail-polish) and community kitchen that was stocked with twenty pounds of bacon and at least a hundred cupcakes. I spent an hour pin-striping a navy blue pair of TOMS with silver glitter, then Instagrammed a really awesome pic of them - I boxed them up and put them in the chute without even realizing it. The unicorns on the other side of the window spouted Adios Motherfuckers and Old Fashioneds from their horns whenever anyone held a glass out to them. My dorm-mates told me that there was an Arcade Fire show scheduled for Friday, and that Deerhoof had been in last week.

Once I looked up at the hole I'd fallen through. It was small and must have been at least twenty feet over my head. I thought about stacking up some furniture and asking my new BFFs for help, but right then someone handed me another mocha and I remembered that I'd been eyeballing some of the origami paper earlier and wanted to see what I could do with it; it seemed like the perfect time to work on improving my paper elephants. I spent the rest of my cellphone break pinning paper projects that I'd probably never try, then wandered over to see how many colors of paper I had to choose from.

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