Ezekiel got the letter through the door of his family’s pod on the first day of spring. Of course no one sent letters any more, except for the Corporation, and only then in exceptional circumstances. This particular circumstance was not particularly exceptional (everyone got the same letter on their 16th birthday). However, the fact it was sent by the Corporation made it exceptional.
That is important to understand.
Ezekiel had been invited to attend an interview for an entry level position within the Ubiquitous Trading Corporation, or UbiCorp as it was typically known. To Ezekiel’s knowledge, no one who had attended an interview with UbiCorp had ever failed to secure a position there. Unfortunately the fact that he had never met anyone who had failed to secure a position could mean something entirely different, such as the existence of that particular person having come to an end suddenly and without warning.
That is also important to understand.
Ezekiel was not in possession of any smart clothes or shoes, only the uniform he wore for school and the one he wore for exercise, so the requisite items were supplied to him in advance by UbiCorp, and deducted from his parents’ monthly credits. Ezekiel was relieved to see a smart dark suit and shoes emerge from the package which was delivered on the morning of his interview. He had performed well at school, and achieved the highest possible grades. Others amongst his classmates would be receiving field-smocks, graphene-helmets and radiation vests, but Ezekiel had a suit, and that was important to understand.
It was a short cab journey from the outlying suburbs to the central UbiCorp campus which served Ezekiel’s region, and as the driverless cab made its way through the rows of pods and farming facilities he took the opportunity to bone up on the history of UbiCorp and the myriad ways in which it had served humanity. Not that he really needed to of course, he’d learned it all in school and was destined for a fine career in the data mines (or so he desperately hoped). His father had worked in farming, maintaining the larvae in the vast protein farms which were the bedrock of Ezekiel’s region. This was a noble profession, but the data mines were much more salubrious. A man could really get on in the that particular department, and Ezekiel had high hopes.
The cab dropped Ezekiel at the entrance to the Campus. Huge, monolithic black buildings stretched as far as the eye could see. The Ubiquitous Trading Corporation sign stood fifty storeys high and a mile wide (apparently).
But just in front of this colossal monument to consumerism, this Brobdingnagian corporate prison, there were some rather ornate gardens which (no one would dare to argue) lent it a rather genteel air.
Ezekiel walked through the gravel paths and flowerbeds, the rock gardens and water fountains, making his way towards a sign which said ‘Reception’ although there did not appear to be a door, only a solid black wall stretching on for infinity.
As Ezekiel grew nearer he noticed something else; there was no path to the reception sign without a door, only a wide flower bed which separated the path from the building. How was one to enter? Ezekiel didn’t want to dirty his new shoes by walking through the soil, that would surely not play well in his interview. It was too far to jump and besides there was nowhere to land on the other side. It was flower bed then solid black wall. The reception sign was the only evidence that this was where he was supposed to enter.
Ezekiel stood contemplating his predicament for a few moments – maybe it was some sort of test?
Then the silence was ripped by a loud groaning noise – the voice of an old man who sounded as if he had just spent a night locked in a coffin before emerging in to the daylight. Either that or he was being disemboweled.
‘Aaaaaarrrrrrgghhhhhhhhh!!!’ said the voice.
Ezekiel looked down and saw that a head had emerged from the flowerbed just in front of his feet and was now looking up at him. It was a man’s head, dirty and scabbed and horribly discoloured. Even more startling (perhaps) than the sudden appearance of a head in the dirt, was that the face was partially obscured by a lacy, woman’s undergarment. An ivory coloured g-string was draped over the head, making the wearer look like some bizarre interpretation of the superheroes Ezekiel had seen in illicit literature.
‘Afternoon’ said the voice in what Ezekiel knew to be a colloquial British accent, long since eradicated. ‘You must be here for the interview?’ The voice sounded chatty, jovial, deeply unsettling.
‘Yes, that’s right.’ said Ezekiel, falling back in to the safety net of social protocol. ‘Ezekiel Mathis, my interview’s at 11.’
‘Right you are young man.’ said the head. Followed by a deathly silence as the eyes swivelled dementedly beneath the gusset of the g-string.
Ezekiel remained calm, this had to be some sort of initiative test. He decided to try and engage with the disembodied head in the dirt.
‘Do you work for UbiCorp? Are you the receptionist?’
‘The Receptionist?’ said the head. ‘Well, well, well thank you kindly young sir that is most gracious of you. I could only dream of one day having the title of The Receptionist bestowed upon me, although I suppose my function is not dissimilar. No, the name’s Cunt-Face McGee, pleased to meet you.’
Panic – it crept slowly up Ezekiel’s spine and wound its way around his guts. This was all wrong. What on earth was happening here? Just stay calm.
‘I see, nice to meet you….Mr McGee.’
‘Call me Cunt-Face.’
‘Ok…Cunt-Face. Could you help me find my way to my interview please?’
The head stared back at Ezekiel with unblinking, terrible eyes.
‘Well I suppose I could, but wouldn’t you like to get to know me first?’
Ok – definitely a test.
‘Yes.’ said Ezekiel, making every effort to sound as convivial as possible given the circumstances. ‘That would be nice.’
‘I suppose you want to know why I’m just a head in the dirt? That’s what most people want to know.’
‘Well yes. I suppose that is the obvious question.’
‘I wasn’t always just a head in the dirt son, nah nah nah. I was a proper employee. Going places I was, everyone said so. I was Head of Internal Affairs.’
‘What does that involve?’
‘I’m glad you asked, young man. The facilitation and subsequent overseeing, of illicit extramarital activity in the workplace. People need to have affairs at work, that’s well proven. Keeps them engaged, so to speak. Trouble is I was conducting a training exercise, a role-play. I went too far, got too involved in the premise. Got sucked in to the conceit. I went native, upriver. I couldn’t get out. Failed my annual performance review and now here I am, a head in the dirt. You’ll need to step on me to enter.’
‘Don’t be sorry son just get it done. Tread on my head, trample me back down in to the dirt and doors will open for you. Go on, off you go.’
Ezekiel thought about it. There really was no other option. Whatever this whole exercise was supposed to be, disengaging was simply not an option at this point. So he took one step forward on to the top of Cunt-Face’s head, feeling it sink back down in to the soil as he did so. Just as the head started to disappear, a door opened out of the black wall beneath the reception sign, a white room just beyond it. Ezekiel pushed down on Cunt-Face McGee and hopped over the flowerbed. Just as the head disappeared in to the dirt, Ezekiel landed through the door and in to the white room. The door closed immediately behind him.
The room had no furniture, no windows, no discernible features of any kind save for the intensely bright white light which seemed to be emanating from everywhere. Neither particularly large, nor particularly small – the room was about the length and breadth of three adult males. It was easy to estimate this, because there were three adult males lying down on the floor. They were smartly dressed in pinstripe suits, shirts and ties. Their black shoes were polished to a high shine, made even more pronounced by the almost blinding white light.
One of the figures, the one in the middle, now spoke.
‘So glad to meet you. The first thing you should know about UbiCorp is that we have an extremely flat management structure. Ha ha. Ha ha.’
The laugh was joyless. Ezekiel made no sound or movement. One by one the figures started to rise, joining in with the slow, monotone laughter as they did so. They were all tall, much taller than Ezekiel and from looking at their eyes he couldn’t be sure whether they were human – although it was basically impossible to tell these days. One of the men was wearing thick rimmed spectacles, he was the one who spoke.
‘That was a little joke. We always do that one to new interviewees so don’t worry. That’s the kind of high-spirited japery you can expect at UbiCorp. Along with a lifetime of hard work of course.’
The three figures formed a half moon around Ezekiel, and regarded him with completely neutral expressions. Spectacles continued to speak.
‘You’ll have met Cunt-Face McGee on the way in I suppose?’ A look of pure hatred passed across his face.
‘Yes, he made me step on him.’
‘Excellent. And did you?’
‘Well yes I had to.’
‘A-ha! You hear that my dear colleagues? He had to. Very good dear boy, very good indeed. And how did it make you feel?’
‘I don’t know. I suppose I felt quite bad for him.’
‘Oh you must do away with that, no, no, no, no, dear me no. This is business dear boy – commerce! We mustn’t feel bad for the likes of Cunt-Face McGee as we tread them back in to the dirt where they belong must we?’
Ezekiel hadn’t quite realised that the interview had started. Now he did, and he needed to get it back on track.
‘Yes. I mean, no. No we must not feel bad for him, them.’
‘Precisely. Cunt-Face is a most vile creature is he not? A scabrous wretch, deserving of only the purest contempt. Why, he even said it himself, tread on me and doors will open for you. We must smash his horrible face back in to the filth from whence it came dear boy. Would you tread on him again?’
‘Yes I would.’
‘Would you tread on anyone to work here boy? Your mother, your father? Your whole family? Would you grind them down in to the grimy depths with the rest of the unwashed?’
‘Yes I would.’
‘And would you enjoy it? Would you savour it boy? Would you revel in the most exquisite feeling of power as you watch the suffering of others?’
‘Good. You’ll start immediately on 25 credits per week.’
’25 credits? I was hoping for…’
‘Hoping for? Yes that’s the spirit boy. Never lose that! You must always hope. But 25 credits it shall be. Plus free water and bandwidth for your pod – agreed? Don’t keep me waiting boy, otherwise there’s a job as Receptionist with your name on it.’
Ezekiel thought for a moment.
Rick White is a fiction writer from Manchester UK. Rick has previously had work published in Storgy, Soft Cartel and Vice Magazine among others. Rick is 34 years old and lives with his wife Sarah and their small furry overlord, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Harry.