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By Richard Dani
“This will be your workstation,” said Tracy Macmillan as he guided his newest hire into suite 127. “It’s not a whole lot to look at, but you are close to the action.
Fredrick nodded and took in the small room. Its walls were painted light beige and were sparsely dressed with inexpensive pictures of landscapes and skylines. A plastic palm tree gathered dust in the corner to his right. A small brown desk stood directly in front of the door and acted as a barrier to the clear glass chamber that rested against the back wall. Fredrick tried not to look at it. He knew bad things happened in there.
Tracy guided his employee around the desk and continued talking, “Now, this here is the log. When people come in all their paperwork should be completed and they should show you a yellow card that displays their picture and name.”
“Yeah, I learned that in training.”
“Good, I figured that, but believe it or not, some people forget. Check their id and write there name down in the log. That’s it. Then you just guide them to the chamber back here and they do the rest.”
Fredrick swallowed hard. The whole notion of this job rubbed him the wrong way. It seemed immoral somehow. But he needed a job and the pay was outstanding. Besides, the Instant Off Corporation wasn’t doing anything illegal. In fact, the government was practically pushing people to use their services.
Just then, the door to the office opened and two women entered. The younger one would have been pretty if her face wasn’t streaked with tears and twisted by a grimace. She had one arm around the back of an older woman who barely had the power to stand. Judging by the resemblance, Fredrick correctly assumed they were mother and daughter. The older woman had a large plastic object protruding from her throat and when she inhaled, it whistled. Her skin hung from her bones in sheets allowing her skeleton to be visible through her flesh. As the two hobbled and sobbed toward the desk Fredrick felt a large ball form in his belly and he fought the urge to vomit.
Through her tears and sobs, the younger woman handed Tracy the yellow card and Tracy handed it to Fredrick. He glanced at the id and wrote the old woman’s name in the log. Tracy whispered into Fredrick’s ear and he relayed the message to the women.
His throat was so constricted that at first no words came out. He swallowed hard and said, “She can wear her clothing but she must leave her jewelry or anything metal with you.”
The daughter nodded blankly and helped her mother take off her thin wedding band. This small action caused another wave of tears. Then, both women walked around the desk. The daughter opened the glass door and led her mother inside. The woman grasped the blue ceramic railing with all the strenght left in her feeble old hands. The daughter pointed out the buttons that her mother could push and after a few goodbyes, accentuated by a kiss on her mother’s cheek, the younger woman withdrew.
Tracy elbowed Fredrick in the side and whispered, “That was easy. The daughter did most of the work. I thought we’d have to guide the old bird in there ourselves.”
Fredrick answered the comment with an indignant stare and glanced at the chamber. The elderly woman clutched to the railing on shaky legs as she inched her foot toward the small pedal on the floor. Then, with a gentle press, it happened. The chamber was filled with a bright light that highlighted the woman’s skeleton in black. The process took only a second and when the light had faded, only dust remained in the chamber— That and a few burning embers that floated to the floor.
The younger woman turned almost immediately and exited the room leaving her sobs to echo in Fredrick’s ears.
“Now, that wasn’t so bad was it?” Tracy asked. “All that’s left is sweeping the inside of the chamber. There’s a grate on the floor where most of the dust falls naturally, but there’s always a couple of piles that need a little more guidance. After that you just sit and wait for the next one. Any questions?”
Fredrick stared at the chamber and asked, “How many people use that thing a day?”
“Oh that depends. We have our busy times like any other business. But on average, I’d say around twenty-five. A little more during the holidays and a little less when the economy is going strong. But for the most part all you have to do is write down a name and do a little sweeping. Ha, ha. Trust me, you’ll do great. If you don’t have anymore questions, I have to be running along. But I’m just a phone call away. Alright? I’ll stop back at the end of your shift and see how it went. Bye now.”
With that, Tracy left the room. Fredrick numbly sat down in the chair and focused on his paycheck. As he began counting the days to his first vacation, a teenaged boy entered the office. He looked physically healthy, but his eyes clung to a deep sadness. Fredrick took the card that was handed to him and wrote the name down in the log allowing the boy to do the rest. In moments the room was filled with bright light and the strong scent of burnt hair.
Fredrick cringed and doubted he was getting paid enough.
If you have no questions or fears about your abilities, then you will learn nothing from your mistakes and know nothing about your limitations.