by Matthew S. Dent
"I must say, Mister Slater, this is all very impressive."
Mark managed a small, nervous smile. He could feel the sweat creeping down the small of his back. His forehead was already slick with it. His toe twisted in the carpet, even as the squeaking of the new leather annoyed him.
"Your CV is excellent," the interviewer continued. He was a bland man, utterly non-descript. He wore a grey pinstriped suit, a crisp white shirt, and a pale yellow tie. Even his manner was utterly grey. Everything except his eyes.
Mark had been trying to avoid looking the man in the eyes since he sat down. One was a pale blue, whilst the other a green-tinged hazel. It was off-putting, serving only to unsettle the already apprehensive applicant further.
"I think, from what I've heard today, that you're just the man we're looking for," the interviewer said. His voice was a dull low drone, the background hum of an air conditioner. It took Mark a moment to register what he had said.
"That's...excellent..." he said, uncertainly. He'd applied for so many jobs, been to so many interviews, and heard so many platitudes ending in the cold kiss of rejection. But a small spark of hope struck within him.
The interviewer smiled, and gave a small nod. "In fact, I think I can safely offer you the job right now." He let the sentence hang, waiting just until Mark's comprehension had caught up with it, before dropping the bomb, "Provided that you pass a final test."
"Final...test?" Mark was confused. That hope leapt into a flame, crackling inside him. He could see a light at the end of the cold, dark tunnel. "But, I thought... I mean, I've done the application, the selection exercises... I thought I'd done enough?"
The interviewer nodded. His expression was almost fatherly. "I understand, Mister Slater," he said. "But this is just a small test, a test of your value to the company. If we take you on."
Mark said nothing. He was away elsewhere; with the bowl of instant noodles that would be his and Marianne's dinner; with the red final notice envelopes dropping each day through their door; with the sleepless nights worrying about how they'd manage to make ends meet.
He shook himself from his reverie as the interviewer was removing something from his draw. A polished mahogany box. He set it on the desk before Mark, and slowly lifted the lid to reveal a plush, pale red velvet lining. And the cold black pistol lying on it.
"I..." Mark's throat was like sandpaper, and whatever he had been about to say died in conception.
"This gun is fully functional," the interviewer explained. "It has been cleaned, checked, and the safety is off. It is loaded with a single nine millimetre hollow-point round."
Mark managed a nod. He realised that his mouth was still open, and closed it.
"Mister Slater, I want you to pick up the gun, and shoot me in the head."
That was it. There was no explanation, no further instructions. Just one blunt sentence hanging between them like something tangible.
The interviewer looked at him expectantly. His elbows rested on the desk, the perfectly manicured fingers of each hand resting against the other as the midday sunshine bounced off the shaved dome of his head.
"I -- I don't think I understand," Mark stammered.
"It's quite simple Mister Slater. This is the final test, before we can offer you a contract of employment. Please, just pick up the gun and shoot me."
It was madness. There had to be some trick, something he was missing.
He turned the job advert over and over in his mind. There hadn't been much to go on: a meaningless company name, a job title so steeped in jargon as to be meaningless. And, of course, the salary; enough to solve their money woes instantaneously.
This man was offering him the job, giving it to him, if only he passed this test. So what was it a test of.
The answer came riding the crest of a wave of clarity. It was an obedience test. The bullet was a blank, and they wanted to see that he could follow instructions. That had to be the answer.
He picked up the gun. It was heavy in his hand, like a lead weight. He passed it from hand to hand. Would he be able to feel the difference if there was a blank in the chamber? He'd never fired a pistol before. The closest he'd come was as a Cub Scout, shooting air rifles at paper targets.
The decision was made. He pointed the gun at the interviewer. The man didn't react at all, if anything looking at him with slight disinterest.
Mark's hands were sweaty. His heart hammered. If he was going to do it, he had to do it now.
The gunshot was louder than he had expected, and the recoil lanced back up his arm. He took a few moments to notice the man in front of him, the man with a hole through his head.
He dropped the gun, which clattered onto the desk with a white trail of smoke still rising from the barrel. It was such a small hole in the interviewer's forehead, so neat and round. The window behind him was splattered with blood and viscera.
Mark didn't move. He couldn't. The corpse stared vacantly at some nonexistent point above his head. His mouth hung open again. He felt sick. Behind him the door opened, and he heard the footsteps of someone entering.
"Congratulations, Mister Slater," a voice said. "You've passed the test. If you'd like to come with me, we can get you all sorted out."
Mark didn't turn. Tears had risen in his eyes, and as he blinked they ran down his face, and everything before him cleared, glistening bright and fresh.
A perfectly manicured hand touched his shoulder. He looked up, into the face of a bald man, wearing a grey pinstriped suit, with a crisp white shirt and pale yellow tie. He looked up into a face with eyes of two colours, blue and hazel.
"I -- I don't understand?"
Mark glanced back at the corpse. It hadn't moved, and its two-tone eyes still stared vacantly into oblivion.
The man -- the living man -- only smiled at him. "Mister Slater, we'd like to offer you a job."
© 2012 Matthew S. Dent
Bio: Matthew S. Dent is a writer of dark fiction, based in a small village in rural Berkshire, in the United Kingdom. His stories have been published in a number of anthologies and magazines, including Blood Bound Books' Night Terrors II and Abomination Magazine. For more about Mr. Dent, visit his blog, A Mad Man With A Blog.
E-mail: Matthew S. Dent
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