Allie strode down the sidewalk practically dancing as her earbuds pumped her newest favorite song through her. Her blond hair swayed and her bright smile flashes at every passerby. She jogged into the coffee shop and easily found her friends at one of the corner tables.
"Hey, guys!" She said beaming as she pulled her earbuds out.
"Hey!" They all exclaimed and exchanged hugs.
"You ready for the job fair?" She asked.
"Definitely NOT..." One of her friends said.
"Aw, come on." Another said smiling.
"I'm serious... It's not like when our great-grandparents were doing this... It used to be; you go to the school's gym and just talk... try to figure out your path in life..."
"Yeah... but now we actually walk out with jobs and it's a done deal," another friend said, "We don't have to fight each other in a rat race anymore."
"But it's always the jobs no one else wants," another friend added.
"Oh, come on. You're exaggerating."
"Okay, we'll see about that."
The group had their brunch and coffees together, laughing and talking until it was time to head to the job fair.
The old gym was decorated brightly and beautifully, trying to hide the ugly cracks in the dulled walls of the building, pretending that it wasn't as old and dismal as it truly was. The people pretending that it wasn't falling apart, and trying to boost their new youth out into the world. There was a light buzzing with a life made of the energy of all of the early adults going from booth to booth interviewing with the different companies.
Allie and her gaggle of friends went to the restrooms to double check hair and makeup and other odds and ends. Meeting back with the boys from their group they got into a huddle, arms around each other, forming a group hug.
"Alright," Allie said, "No matter what happens, who chooses us or what schedules we're on, we all need to try to stick together."
"And still have a meal a week." Her best friend of the group, Chelsea, added. Everyone agreed and hugged tightly before separating and going to see what booths were there.
Allie went to several booths that she was interested in, looking at the jobs, and money they each offered. The workers all seemed interested in her joining their companies. But her gut kept telling her to move on. She slightly worried that spots would be filled quickly, but there was a constant thought gnawing at the back of her mind that someone was watching her. She rounded a corner and saw a booth kind of stuck in the corner. The whole decor of the booth was a dark blue, almost black, and there wasn't a single sign put up, not even a paper to hold the business' name. All that was there was a woman sitting behind the empty table. She was very thin, and all edges, her hair was red and tied tightly into a bun pinned to the back of her head, not a single strand out of place. She wore a white pantsuit with a black silk top and black high heels. Her long thin legs crossed and her back straight. She was typing a million words a second on her phone, peering at it through large solid black sunglasses, even though the gymnasium was always dim. Looking at the woman made a chill run down Allie's spine into her core, she wanted to hold her breath and dart past the booth. But, even though she didn't know why, her gut pushed her to go up to the booth.
She took a deep breath and stepped forward. A few people in the crowd around the other booths watched her as they waited for their own business.
"Hi," She said to the woman, suddenly having trouble sounding confident, "I'm Allie and–"
"There is no lifting or paperwork, and it's twelve hours a day," The woman said in an annoyed tone, not even glancing up from her screen.
"Well, that's fine, but–"
"The pay is a thousand dollars an hour for twelve hours a day. And for each day you survive, you get twelve thousand dollars deposited to you at midnight," The woman interrupted.
"You get paid every day?" Allie asked, not sure whether to be more in disbelief of the pay period or the pay altogether.
"Every day you survive, yes," The woman said.
"You make it sound like the job's fighting dragons or something," Allie said with an amused smile. The woman's fingers stopped and she turned her long neck over her shard shoulder looking up at Allie.
"That's interesting... the fact you jumped to fighting dragons... and not something... well..."
"Un-fantastic?" Allie suggested though she didn't know a real word to express it. The woman looked back at her phone typing a few more buttons, and then up at Allie.
"I believe you are the type of person my bosses are looking for."
Allie smiled and said, "Really?"
The woman's mouth twitched slightly as she stared at Allie through her sunglasses then stood up and said, "A car will be at your home in the morning to pick you up at seven-thirty."
"But—I—Well—Don't you need my information?" She asked.
"Already done. If you aren't in the car before the driver leaves your home we will know you don't accept the offer."
The woman turned to leave when Allie said, "What should I-"
"Anything you're comfortable in." The woman said, back on her phone and out the door behind the booths. The dark booth seemed even darker now as it stood empty.
Allie stood there for a moment with a million questions buzzing through her mind. The rest of the day was a blur as Allie tried to see other booths, but couldn't shake the woman. It didn't take long for her to find Chelsea at a booth for dentistry work, and they stayed together for the rest of the job fair. Allie laughed and smiled with her friends, but she kept thinking about the strange woman, and wondering what the job even was.
"Well, you only have to last one day then, right? So if you don't like it just leave, and you're filthy rich to find a new one." Chelsea said eating her ice cream.
"Or die," Brad said with his mouthful.
"Well, it's possible the woman just described they could just rip her heart out and sacrifice her."
Another friend said, "We'd better find a good sketch artist tonight in case we never see you again."
"That's so morbid, Chris!" Talia gasped. They all laughed.
Allie walked into her home calling, "Hey! I'm home!"
"In the kitchen!" Her mom's voice called back. She walked down the hall into the kitchen where both parents were preparing dinner.
"Hey, honey," Her mom said beaming at her.
"Hey," She said with a light sigh as she settled on one of the barstools across from her parents at the counter.
"How was the job fair?" Her dad asked munching on something.
"Well there were a lot of nice people and places and I talked to several booths... but... there was one that was strange..."
"Witches and devil worshippers strange?" Her mom joked.
"No, nothing like that... it was... it was just a bark booth... no signs, or pamphlets, not even a business card... and just one woman who seemed annoyed and bored like even being there was a waste of her time."
"Did you see what she was there for?" Her dad asked.
"Yeah... and I still have no idea what it is... but I think I got hired."
"What's the pay?" He asked looking at her.
"A thousand an hour, for twelve hour days." Both of her parents froze looking at her, even the boiling water on the stove seemed quieter.
"Yeah..." Allie said knowing the tension, "I thought that was crazy too... and they pay per day, not per week or bi-weekly..." Her mom looked at her dad as he looked at his daughter protectively. She stood up picking up her bag saying, "I'm going to shower, call me when dinner is ready."
"A-Alright, sweetheart." Her mom said watching her leave the room.
"Well..." Her dad whispered, "Do they tell the kids-"
"No... no... I don't think so..." Her mom mumbled keeping an eye on the doorway. He breathed deeply and said,
"The more you get paid, the more dangerous the job is... what the hell is she getting into?"
"Well, we know it isn't stripping," Her mother said.
Allie stood hidden around the corner, listening to her parents' mumbled conversation then went upstairs to her shower, thinking in the steam, the words her father said drifting heavily around her.
Dinner was very quiet, everyone going through their minds about what the mysterious job was. Allie answered her parents' questions about the woman from the booth and what she said, but after every question, the air only got heavier. Allie even spent most of the night listening to her music, staring at the ceiling.
In the morning she got up and got dressed in a nice shirt, and a good pair of jeans and she decided on wearing her gym shoes, not knowing what to expect, but at least she'd be prepared for a lot of walking. She glanced out of her window seeing a limo outside. It was black with the blacked out windows, the driver standing by the back door looking like a secret service man.
She sighed getting her purse and phone before walking downstairs to get a breakfast bar from the pantry. She saw her mom standing by the front window, her coffee mug held tightly in her hands, staring through the glass at the man outside.
"Mom?" Allie asked walking up to her mother's side. She smiled at her daughter and hugged her saying, "Have a good day."
"I'll try," Allie said.
"I love you."
"I love you too, mom," she smiled and walked out the door to the limo, the man opening the door for her.
"Good morning," she greeted smiling brightly, "I'm Allie, what's your name?"
He looked at her through his dark sunglasses, not responding other than a nod. She smiled once more and got in the car. When she was situated, he closed the door, getting back to the driver's seat and starting their strange journey. Allie put in her earbuds, plugging in her phone, and she started her happiest music to keep herself in a good mood.
After what seemed like forever in the car, they approached a huge corporate building with a tall ominous perimeter fence and a large gate that was slowly opening, allowing them to enter. As they were silently gliding through the gate Allie saw an identical limo drive past them heading towards town. She wondered if it had dropped off another candidate for the job. She tried to see who was inside, but the windows were up, the dark tint glinting in the early sunlight as her limo slid into the shade of the building.
She suddenly felt a chill, possibly because of the blocked sunlight. She was feeling the kind of cold that you feel in your core facing imminent danger, she decided the feeling was just her nerves about the unknown job. But she still couldn't shake it at all.
The driver stopped at the front of the building and walked around the limo to open the door. Standing at the top of the steps was the tall woman, still in a white pantsuit with her hair up and tamed, she stood typing quickly on her phone, wearing her large sunglasses, even in the dark shadow of the large building. Allie took a deep breath, smiling 'thanks' to the driver, and boldly went up the stairs to the woman.
"I'm glad you made it," The woman said absentmindedly.
"Good morning," Allie said cheerfully smiling.
"Yes... we'll see. Come along try to keep up."
She followed the tall woman through the doors into the building. The halls were surprisingly empty and deathly quiet, Allie only saw a few handfuls of people, and milling around security guards, none of which seemed to notice her or the woman other than to avoid bumping into them. The woman came to a door and scanned her ID card, and went back to typing as it slid open.
"This is where you'll be," she said as they stepped in.
Inside the room was a desk with a decent chair, a bed that looked soft with a pillow and blanket, a decent TV with a remote and a stack of movies, a bookcase with a bunch of books, a lounge chair, a large mirror, and a door.
"That door is a bathroom and shower. This panel on the wall is to call your operator. You can order food, yes any food, however much food, whenever you want, whatever you want. You can also ask for books or movies if these aren't to your liking. People will come in prepared for your needs. You can use your computer here if you don't have one, they'll bring you a blank one to keep in here for you. Any soaps you need can be brought to you. Long story short, you stay here and don't leave till time's up, and I escort you out. If you need or want something you call on the panel. and they'll figure out what you want and get it to you. You have freedom, there is no password to the wifi, and we won't hear you outside so you don't even have to worry about volume, or you could sleep all day. Unless called we won't be bothering you. Dream of a teenager."
It was a lot of information for Allie to have set in, and she looked up at the woman.
"That's the job? I just spend twelve hours a day in here and do what I want?"
"Yes, and you get paid for it." Allie was intrigued but confused. "If you have questions or need anything call your operator at any time, otherwise I will answer your questions at the end of the day."
"Thank you," Allie said looking around the room again.
The woman looked at her and said, "I will caution you, woman to woman, don't undress in here. Use the bathroom, it is large enough to fit any needs. I am allowed to tell you that you will be periodically monitored that's what you could call the catch."
"Oh! So it's like a behavioral study," Allie said.
"Yes, but that's all I can tell you, also you won't find yourself online anywhere it's only for our eyes. They don't want you to feel odd, you probably won't even be watched while you're here most of the workers here study at night," Allie nodded and said,
"I'll act normal."
The woman nodded and said, "Remember to use the panel if you need anything, and your phone should already be on our WiFi."
Allie glanced at her phone's screen seeing the icon and said, "It looks like it."
"Alright, I will see you in twelve hours. Have a good day."
"Thank you," Allie said smiling as the door slid closed.
The woman was gone into the hallway. She sighed a little bit and sat in the desk chair setting her phone and purse on the surface of the empty desk. She opened the drawers, seeing plenty of lined and sketch paper, pencils and big erasers, pens, and even colored pencils and an electric sharpener that just needed to be plugged in. She closed all of the drawers after learning what was where, and walked to the bookshelf. There were different business or college books, none of which really jumped out at her, and there were normal books that are in every library, public or personal, she even probably had some at home. She saw a thick copy of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, the title on the spine slightly faded. She looked at the movies, seeing they were all old black and white movies, some titles she didn't even recognize. She stood awkwardly in the middle of the room when her phone buzzed. She walked to the desk picking up her phone seeing a text message from Chelsea saying, 'Good luck today!' She smiled and responded, 'Thank you, you too!'
She sat for a moment, and then started her music, setting it on the desk, letting it play as she laid on the bed, realizing it was very comfortable.
She laid there for a while listening to her music till she got up and started checking to see what channels were on the TV, surprisingly they seemed to have all of the channels she was used to seeing, and so she sat to watch different shows and movies she liked as she played games on her phone, and read the news stories.
She checked the time and saw it was actually past noon. She stood up and went to the panel on the wall touching the screen. It started to load a bar and the screen opened as a woman looked at her. She was a very soft woman, her tanned skin showed a few wrinkles, but she didn't seem too old, her eyes were kind as well.
"Hello, Allie, how is your morning?" She asked.
"Good, thank you and yours?"
"Oh, it's fine just my usual paperwork. What can I help you with?"
"I was hoping to order some lunch."
"Of course! What would you like?" She asked as she seemed to open something on her computer screen.
"Well, I'm not sure..." Allie said.
"The chefs here are very good, we've been able to get pretty much anything we've wanted. What do you like to eat?"
"Italian... mostly alfredo."
"Chicken or shrimp?" The woman asked.
The woman nodded and said, "Side salad and breadsticks?"
"Yes, that would be wonderful."
"Alright... any desert, or would you like to see how you feel afterward?"
"I'd like to wait."
"I would never wanna have too much in front of you, I always say. Do you need anything else brought to you? Books or movies?"
"No, I'd like a few bottles of water..."
"Of course, honey, have to stay hydrated."
They laughed together and she said, "Thank you."
"You're so welcome, Allie, they'll be down there shortly."
They smiled at each other and the panel went dark. Allie went back to the chair, and flipped through a few more channels.
It didn't take long before there was a knock on the door, and it slid open for a small man stepping in with a rolling cart.
"Here we go, Allie," He said with a slight smile as he placed the plates and bread basket on her desk, and then put a small cooler down saying, "Here are a few bottles of water. If you leave a list with the boss lady, I'll have them stock up a mini-fridge in here for you—drinks and snacks—we can fix it up while you're gone."
"Thank you, that's very kind..." She trailed off, smiling.
"Chef Kurt," he said shaking her hand, "Do you need anything else right now?"
"No, thank you, this is brilliant."
"Well, don't hesitate to call for anything else. The operators are amazing out here, the whole building would fall apart without them."
They laughed a little and he said, "Well, gotta get back to work."
"Thank you so much."
"That isn't a problem."
The door slid closed, and she sat at the desk about to eat one of the most delicious meals she had ever eaten in her life. She ate every bit of the food and relaxed with a water bottle as she watched some more TV. At some point during the day she found some paper and wrote;
at the top and below it listed her favorite drinks and snacks trying not to sound too needy as she did.
She left the list on the desk, clearing away her trash and decided to take a nap.
She opened her eyes, hearing the door beep and open, and she sat up blearily looking around, seeing the tall woman at the door.
“It’s time to go home, Allie,” She said.
Allie slowly stood and looked around the slightly cluttered room.
“Don’t mind the room the custodian will deal with this.”
She picked up her bag and personal things and went to pick up her list.
“Leave it there it will be easier to find.”
She did so, making it obvious it wasn’t trash, and she followed the woman out the door towards the main entrance to the building where the limo and driver were already waiting with the door open for her.
“Thank you for–" Allie started.
“Yes, well you’ll see the money after midnight, and we will see you tomorrow if you decide to return,” The woman said before walking back into the building.
Allie smiled lightly and got in the limo as the driver was leaving the gate she noticed another limo heading back into the building. She gazed at the glass windows wondering if it was the same one she saw leaving that morning.