By Susan Browne © Susan Browne 2018
A Flash Fiction Thriller. Josh is desperate to get work, on the verge of being kicked out for not having the rent. On finally getting an interview somewhere unexpected and bizarre, he is subjected to a test he hadn’t bargained for.
This morning I woke up to the sound of a tinkling bell and Tiddles licking my face with her tiny ragged tongue. Her paws are like something out of a dolls house. Her collar is too big for her scrawny neck. Her blue eyes too big for her head.
The landlord didn’t allow pets, so I had to keep her a secret.
On checking my email, I had a reply from my most ridiculous job application I ever applied for: a freak horror show assistant. Whatever the hell that is. It was shoved into my hand in a bar a few days earlier, a handwritten note advertising a job. And then this email came:
We are interviewing this morning at 11, please reply if you can make it, and include your phone number so I can give you directions.
The place was well outside of Sligo town, behind a caravan site, through acres of bog, a breeze from the Atlantic that would skin you. I had to bring Tiddles with me and leave her in the back. Too risky leaving her in the apartment. I banged the door shut and walked down the narrow, overgrown path. I had a weird feeling that I was being followed, and I tried to shake it. I thought I heard a van door being slammed again but convinced myself that was madness.
At the entrance, I was met by Sofia. She was far from Irish, had long, white hair with a streak of blue and a short denim skirt. I tried not to stare at the tiny tattoo under her left eye of a teardrop with a skull inside it. It looked strangely familiar, which threw me. She sounded Italian. She brought me down to the interview room which was an old staff canteen. I could hear someone shuffling down the corridor away from us. It smelled like a thousand spilt powder cappuccinos and cup-a-soups in there. And some other faint, repulsive smell that I couldn’t identify. On the wall, an ancient sacred heart flame lamp flickered red. The air was freezing.
She looked at me and smiled, but it did not reach her eyes. ‘Thanks for coming. Please sit down.’ I sat across from her on a red plastic chair, accidentally standing on cutlery on the filthy floor.
‘Do you like horror, Josh?’
‘Sure.’ I actually didn’t.
‘Do you scare easily?’
‘You know, if, say we said this place is haunted and we needed you to be the caretaker for the night, alone, would you do that?’
‘Sure. I don’t scare easily.’ That’s not entirely true, but I figured I might as well roll with it. I was about to be living in my van, or worse, with my dad in Castlebar, and that was scarier than any freaks in there.
‘Okay. This is a very well-paid job, and this interview is a sort of.. test.’ She flashed a ruck-sack full of money at me. ‘We pay cash, and we pay quick, immediately at the end of each assignment. We need someone with some kind of .. grit.. you see.’
‘Really?’ I just really heard the money part and began plotting my escape from my life of despair into a life of coolness. Whatever kind of shit this is, I’ll have to do it. Me and Tiddles could live in luxury, free from huffy, eye-rolling landlords.
She turned toward an old brown microwave. ‘What if I were to tell you that something you love was in that microwave? What would you do?’
I laughed. ‘What? Like my favourite pizza?’
‘Not food. Something you care for. Personally.’
I felt hairs on the back of my neck stand up as she walked over to the old dirty microwave. I had this silly habit of making jokes when I’m nervous, so I said ‘what? Have you got my mam in there?’
‘Not your mam, she would not fit I do not think,’ she said, and grinned. Despite her pretty face, her teeth were yellow, and a little pointy, and her silver eyes widened alarmingly. ‘Meow,’ she said and rolled what looked like a cat collar bell between her fingers.
I stood up so fast I knocked the chair back.
‘Relax,’ she said, but I was already lunging towards the microwave.
Just then big strong arms yanked me back by the shoulders. I was being held tight and I could smell the sourness of sweat and feel a scratchy beard and lip stud against my ear.
‘We just need to know what you are willing to sacrifice. You see, to do this work requires a tough guy. Someone who can fulfil the assignments. Most people so far.. they don’t meet the criteria.’
I relaxed into the hold, feigning submission. ‘Do it,’ I said. ‘Switch it on,’ but as she did, I wriggled out from under the arms, stabbed a fork into the man’s leg and knocked the burco filled with boiling water flying. The microwave was on for less than a second, and Tiddles was stunned but alive. I shoved her into the bag with the money and ran. The man was yelling and hunched over in pain.
I ran through the bog to my van with Tiddles and the money which of course I should have left there. I daren’t look behind me. My lungs were screaming, and my vision was going dark and patchy. But I made it. My beat-up old van with no shocks. With very little fuel in it. At the end of an awful, old road that is overgrown in part. Potholes that you could comfortably bury a body in. The van made it.
Tiddles and I, we’ve decided to move South. The van is packed and we’re going in ten minutes. I had a few missed calls but I’ve switched the phone off and will be getting a new number. I’ve even put all the rent outstanding in an envelope, with the word thanks scribbled across it.
About this Story: This story was written in response to a flash fiction challenge run by NYC Midnight in September 2018, where I had 48 hours to write a 1000 word story.
The Prompt: Genre = Thriller, Location = an Interview; Object = a Microwave.