Being out of work sucks, especially when that's how you value yourself. But what if you have another calling, a deeper calling... a DARKER calling...
Torture and Other Job Skills by Killian Crane
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Have you ever been laid off? I had my dream job in management. Good benefits, great pay. Small company, room to grow. Every day at work was a genuine pleasure. Most people say that to kiss their boss’s ass. But not me. I loved my job. When Debra left me, the job was all I had. I poured my soul into it. Those under me, they didn’t understand. They whispered behind my back, called me, “pushy, tight ass... nut job.” Some of them even called HR on me. They couldn’t understand. I demand nothing but the best from my team. Do your job to the best of your ability and we’ll have no problem. Do sloppy work, and I will make sure you face the consequences. And as for all the whispers behind my back, what they failed to realize was that my methods worked. I was by far the best manager at my job. Punctual, organized, efficient. Those under me knew my expectations. You see, people are like coal. If you put enough heat and pressure on coal, it becomes a diamond. Diamonds are the standard we should all strive to achieve. One thing I cannot stand is failure. I punished those that failed me. There are far too many weaklings in the workforce. The answer of course isn’t to fire them on the spot, that’s a waste of coal. But punishment, that’s the answer. More heat, more pressure. There’s a diamond in there somewhere. I was the best at making diamonds... until this fucking COVID-19 virus. I will never forget the day my boss Ryan called me into his office. The first words out of his mouth were, “I’m sorry I have to do this.” He was flat, formal, and precise. I sank into my chair. He said some more things about the virus, uncertain times, cutbacks in every department. Across the board, he said... I didn’t listen to all that. I was too busy looking into his eyes. They said everything I needed to hear. He wasn’t sorry, not at all. He wanted me gone. I couldn’t help but cry. It was unsightly and unprofessional, but the job was my everything, my only thing. And he took it from me. He leaned back in his chair and sighed. “It came from corporate. Nothing I can do.” Years of service, up in smoke. As COVID made a killing, so did delivery services. I had everything delivered to my apartment; food, basic supplies, alcohol. Not that I was afraid of the virus, I just... didn’t have the strength to go outside. I was a failure. Me, the best employee in my division, possibly in the entire company... had been laid off. Let go. I knew it had nothing to do with the virus. That was just an excuse for the higher ups to trim the fat. I never thought of myself as fat before then. Fat was something gross to be discarded. I hated myself, but more, I hated everything else. I started the search for a new job immediately. I updated my already outstanding resume, surfed the appropriate websites. Someone would have me. My bed became my new office as I searched. My laptop lay to my right, next to the television remote, the pretzels, the two liters, the whiskey, the box wine... I used the same cup for everything. Saved time during the search. Every time I went to the door for a delivery, I had to kick the daily paper out of the way. Despite the pandemic, the paper never stopped coming. Over time, they became a pile next to the door. They had their own ozone, their smell of ink and paper so much more pleasant than the rest of the place. It was funny. The world shut down, but not the mail. Should have been a mailman, I thought. Definite job security. Of course, there were no mail jobs available. There were almost no jobs available. And the ones that were disappeared fast. The market was more dog eat dog than ever. I’d send in my resume and check back the next day to find the position no longer available. And I hadn’t gotten a call. Their loss, I thought... but then more and more listings disappeared. Blinking out like stars in the night sky. When the check from the government came in, that was the worst. I’m sure it thrilled some people to receive one, but not me. I felt like a leech. More than anything, I wanted to work. To earn my way. But the night sky had grown dark, and so had my apartment. In the darkness, I fantasized about hurting Ryan. A lot. I wished it was just me and him and a fucking pipe wrench... Those weeks were hard on my ex, Debra. She called me often. I remember standing in my bathrobe at the window talking to her. The view was nothing spectacular, but it was nice to stand in the sun and listen to her voice. Too bad I couldn’t see her in person; she’d caught the damn virus. “I’m worried about you,” she said weakly between wheezes. I held my phone in the crook of my neck, checking my robe for smells. I’d flipped it inside out a few times in the past week. It itched, but I had a fix for that. A sort of numb-all recipe I’d perfected. “Me?” I asked on my way to concoct the recipe. I accidentally stepped in a puddle. Liquid seeped through my sock and in between my toes, “Don’t worry about me. Hey, this might cheer you up. I found out today they shut down my entire department. Even Ryan, the asshat that fired me, lost his job. And I think he has COVID!” “You shouldn’t laugh at that,” she said, “COVID’s no joke. I’m not liking it so far.” “Well, I hope it fucking kills him. Hang on, let me put you on speaker.” I put the phone down on the table. It was tough to find free space, so I knocked a takeout container to the floor. Globs of congealed rice spilled onto the hardwood. “I know you loved your job, but you shouldn’t say things like that.” My old job... it was why she left me to begin with. Late work hours, dates cancelled, time missed and all that. As she droned on about what the fuck ever, I poured myself the perfect numb-all. Three fingers of red wine, two fingers of bottom shelf whiskey. Pour over ice and slosh until mixed. Only one more ingredient... “No, I’m not,” I said, holding a little orange bottle. I wasn’t sure if that was the right response or not. Based on her silence, it wasn’t. Debra had left the bottle here at our- my apartment after a surgery on her knee. My supply of the last ingredient was low. The pills rattled as I popped the top and fished one out. Debra snorted. “You’re being strange today.” “Eh.” “Is there any way I could maybe see you, you know, after I get better? I’m just… tired of being cooped up.” I put the pill on my tongue and washed it down with a sip of my drink. Numb all coming right up. “We’ll have to see. I’m just so… busy these days.” “Busy?” “Yeah, sorry… can’t... can’t talk right now, I’m at work.” She went silent for a while before finally saying something terrible. “Take care of yourself, okay?” “Hey,” I said, ice clinking as I downed the rest of my drink, “who’s my pretty girl?” I licked my lips and tasted the world slowing down. Debra had a tattoo on the small of her back, a purple butterfly. Thinking about it made me the numb-all version of hard. “Stop,” she said, “you know it’s not like that anymore.” “Come on,” I slurred, touching myself. I tried to hide the slur, but that hadn’t been my first drink of the day. Or my first pill. “Who’s my pretty girl? Smile for me.” “Call me sometime, will you?” Fucking bitch, I thought before hanging up. Oh, how I wanted to fuck her brains out, and maybe more. If only... Oh well, I thought, eyes bobbing listlessly upon the fucking wreck that was my apartment. Before, I kept things spotless and sanitary. I did my laundry the second the hamper filled up, wash, dry, fold, iron, put away. Now there were dirty clothes on every piece of furniture, empty bottles and containers on every flat surface. The floor was a minefield of trash and puddles. The smell of household cleaners and soap was gone, replaced by something... sad. The only agreeable smell came from the pile of papers near the front door. It’s ozone of pressed ink smelled so nice… I blacked out then, not sure for how long. I woke lying on the ground in a half-dried puddle of piss, my head nestled against the help wanted section. And then it came to me… The help wanted section! Why hadn’t I thought of it before? How stupid had I been? Of course, all the job positions would be online, but what if…? I tore into the pile. That ozone of ink and paper stained my fingers as I flipped and tore and read. Loose sheets crumpled and flew away. I didn’t care about the news; everyone knew the world was going to hell already. I devoured the job ads, holding them in the light pouring through the window. And I was right! Every single paper had the same offer! Every single one of them! “Management position. Job is challenging and a test of dedication and skill. Nothing but excellence will be accepted.” I danced with joy, kicking trash and splashing in puddles as I spun around and around. I tripped over my couch and busted my lip on the armrest, but stood with not a care in the world! The answer had been in front of me all along! Everyone had missed it because no one reads the paper anymore! There wasn’t a phone number to call, only an address. I had no time to shower. Some other desperate fuck might find the ad too. I laughed at his misfortune. “Sorry, pal,” I screamed at the top of my lungs, “I’m gonna beat you to it!” I tried calling Debra. She didn’t answer. I found that she’d called me in my blacked-out state, but… I’d call her later, after I gave her the good news. Because things were about to change. I would get that job. I would. I peeled my wet underwear off, splashed water on my pits and junk. Put on deodorant, scrounged around and put on my cleanest work clothes. Slapped a mask over my face. I felt the blood of my busted lip leaking onto it. I grabbed another mask off the floor so I could change them when I got to the interview and filled my flask; four fingers of whiskey, topped to the brim with red wine. I mixed them together and took one good pull of liquid courage to calm my thudding heart. I pocketed the flask, my phone, wallet and keys. One good slap to the face, and I was on my way. I barely remember the bus ride there. I worked through what I needed to say at the interview… but I was nervous. Like my first date with Debra, only worse. This was my chance out of the hole. My only chance. I lowered my mask and took another pull. The bus came to a halt at my stop. I paid as I got off and was stunned by what I saw. The building was beautiful; a perfect square of black glass, like an onyx finger pointing accusingly at the sky above. I smelled the threat of rain through my mask. A good rain was just what the world needed. The filth could drown in it… but not before I got inside. I hurried across the street as thunder echoed in the distance. I stopped shy of the door, checking my dark reflection. I fixed my tie, checked my mask. Yep, there was blood. I threw it out, licked until there was no more red, and put a new mask on. But not before another pull of liquid courage. The whiskey wine burned my busted lip, as well as a fresh pain I hadn’t noticed before. In my fall, I’d apparently knocked one of my teeth loose. I wished I’d brought a pill or two… and then I remembered something else I should have brought. My resume! I’d come empty-handed! Lightning arced in the sky. Too late. I couldn’t go back... The flask loosened my nerves. The pain in my tooth made me sharp. It was time to prove I wasn’t fat to be discarded. I was excellence. I was perfection. I walked to the door like I owned the place and hit the buzzer. The sun was low in the sky. I thought maybe I was too late, but someone buzzed me in. The place was dark. No receptionist, no activity. An open elevator cab was the only source of light in the place. I stepped in and knew that something was wrong. This building was immense… but there were only two buttons. No floor numbers, just an up and a down. The boss had to be upstairs. Downstairs was probably to a parking garage or something. I pressed up. I worked my loose tooth with my tongue as I ascended. The wait was agonizing. When I thought it would never end, the doors opened. To either side were empty offices… but straight ahead I saw a man in a massive office standing behind a desk. He stared down at the world through a great window. Someone must have buzzed me in, and I hadn’t seen another soul in the entire damned place. I tread towards his office, scared for reasons I didn’t understand at the time. Even from behind, this man exuded power. He spoke without turning. “Come in.” His voice was velvet ice. I couldn’t help but follow his command. I stepped into his office like I’d stepped on a puppy dog. He turned with a smile. His hair was neat, blonde, slicked back on his head. His face was clean-shaved. I realized with broiling anxiety I hadn’t shaved before I left. I reached to shake his hand. “Hello, I’m- “ “I know who you are,” he said, gesturing to a chair, “Sit.” My stomach turned. “You know who I am?” I did as he command and sat down. Though I was scared, I couldn’t help but admire him. He was beautiful. And terrible. All my preparations flew out of the window, if I’d had any to begin with. I sat, crossing my legs and then uncrossing them. I didn’t want to seem disrespectful. He walked to a small cabinet. “Drink?” A test. He wanted to see how professional I was. He poured himself two fingers of scotch. It was my chance to impress him. I pulled my flask from my pocket. “Thank you, but I brought my own.” He laughed a practiced, unreadable laugh. Maybe I’d passed his test, maybe I’d failed spectacularly. I noticed there was no name placard at his desk. I didn’t know what to call him. “What do I call you, sir?” His coal eyes went to my mask. “You don’t have to wear that around me.” I took it off, noticing this mask was also soaked with blood. It was odd he’d said nothing about it. I began to spiral. Whatever this was, it was feeling less and less like an interview. I recognized the look in his eyes. It was the one I gave my employees when I had them right where I wanted them. At my old job, I constantly tested those under me, prodded them like a shepherd, herded them in the direction I wanted them to go. Now I was being herded. But towards what? “So, sir... what are your expectations?” He took a sip of his bourbon. I took a sip from my flask. It helped to even me out. Nervously, I pressed on my loose tooth, grimacing at the pain. The man studied me with that look. “I expect excellence. Nothing more, nothing less. And I think you have what it takes.” “You do?” “Yes. I think you have all the qualifications.” At this point, I was at a crossroads. I wanted this job, even though I didn’t really know what it was. But everything in me told me to run, so I tried to take an out. I pretended to pat myself down, looking for something. “I’m sorry,” I said, “but I forgot my resume at home, on my desk.” The man smiled. He saw what I was trying to do. “You don’t need it. You see, I’ve been waiting for you.” The urge to down the rest of my flask was strong. I tried to hide the tremble in my hand but couldn’t. Taking this interview had been a mistake. But… I was compelled. And desperate. He knew that. “Waiting for me?” “Yes. You finally saw my ad in the paper.” The room spun. I thought for sure I had lost my mind. “It’s a shame,” he said, “no one reads the paper anymore.” I stopped fighting the urge to down my flask and just did it. It poured over my loose tooth, and the world stopped spinning. The man finished his drink as well. “Are you ready to begin the interview?” I could barely control my breathing. “This… isn’t it?” “No. The interview is downstairs. Come.” He stood and walked out of the office. I hurried to my feet and followed. We got in the elevator cab, and he pressed the down button. We went down… and down… and down… and down. Far longer than it took me to go up. It got hot. Maybe actual heat, maybe my nerves. Questions buzzed in my head. I realized I never even asked what the position was for, yet here I was in a box descending the depths with this stranger. “So... what do you do here? The ad was vague.” “It’s best if you see for yourself.” The elevator didn’t open to a parking garage like I thought it would. It opened on a pristine hallway lit by fluorescent lights. At the end was a large metal door. The man walked ahead. He looked over his shoulders and called to me. “Here, boy.” He clicked his tongue, and I was out of the elevator. As we walked, he pulled a keycard from his inner suit pocket. He waved it in front of a reader, and the door popped open with a hiss. Beyond was pure darkness. Someone was in there, crying. The man smiled at me. “Are you ready to begin the interview?” He stepped inside, and fluorescent lights illuminated the room. Ryan, my old boss, rested on his knees sobbing. His arms were clasped in chains that hung from the ceiling. Every part of me screamed to run, but I stepped inside anyway. Ryan looked up at me. There was recognition in his face. “Thank God, it’s you! You have to help me!” On a rolling table next to him lay a red pipe wrench. I couldn’t believe what I saw. “What... what is this?” The man held his chin in one hand, studying me. “This is what you wanted, isn’t it?” “How did you know?” He gestured at the wrench. “This is the job. This is what you will be doing.” He gave me a wink. “Show me excellence.” My heart thundered in my chest as I approached. Ryan forced a smile on his face. “Hey man, it’s good to see you! Jesus Christ, help me! I’ve been in here for days now!” I lifted the wrench in my hand. The weight felt good. Really good. Ryan shook his head. “What are you doing?” I pressed so hard on my loose tooth it popped out of its socket. I grinned at Ryan, blood seeping out of my mouth as I spit my tooth out. It jangled on the floor like an ivory marble. “I’m sorry I have to do this.” I was flat, formal... precise. “No,” he cried, eyes bulging like a pig at the slaughterhouse, “please! No- “ I swung. Hard. The wrench sank into his temple. His eye popped from its socket. He sputtered a bit, then went limp in his chains. I grabbed him by the hair, hauling him up. “No,” I said, “he can’t die. He can’t fucking die!” The man grabbed my shoulder, surprising me. “Why can’t he die?” “Because... I want more!” The man’s eyes went from twin black coals to shimmering diamonds. He touched Ryan on the ear, and he came back to life screaming. “It hurts!” The little piggie squealed, “oh God, it hurts!” I hauled his face to mine. “No God! Not here! I’m your god now!” I pulled the dangling eye from his head and popped it in my mouth. I tasted his sorrow as I chewed. “It came from corporate,” I shouted over his screams, “nothing I can do!” We played with Ryan for a very long time. I struck him, and the man brought him back. All that anger and fantasy released with unholy zeal. Goddammit I was in heaven. I fell to my ass, heaving. Ryan hung from his chains in an unrecognizable slump. His ozone was salty but sweet. Tears stung my face. “Thank you,” I told the beautiful man, “Did... did I do good?” He nodded. I smiled and wiped the tears away. “Does that mean I got the job?” “Not quite. There’s one more test.” He snapped. The lights went out, and Ryan’s ozone disappeared with them. The man snapped again, and the lights came back on. When my eyes adjusted to the sudden illumination, my heart stopped. Where Ryan was once shackled sat Debra, bound by chains dangling from the ceiling. She screeched, trying to stand but was unable. “What- what-“ she stammered, too shocked to speak. The man put his hand on her shoulder. His eyes were black coals that sucked her in. “Relax, my dear,” he cooed, stroking her cheek, “take a deep breath.” She calmed at his touch. “Where am I?” “You’re home, where you belong.” “No, I’m not. I was in my apartment, on my couch. How did I get here?” “You’d be surprised what lands you here.” “Where the hell is here?” The man pointed at me. “Isn’t it obvious?” She fell silent as she looked me up and down. I looked down at myself. Ryan’s blood still soaked my everything. The man ran his fingers through her hair. She shrank from his touch. “I want to go home now.” The man laughed. “I told you, you are home. This is where people like you go.” “People like me?” “People that deserve to be punished.” She winced at me as I stood, wrench in hand. I found the man staring at me. His gaze was piercing, but I found the words. “Do... do I have to?” The man’s eyes glowed like diamonds. “Do you want this job?” I remembered being in my apartment, dirty and all alone. All Debra had left me with was a broken heart and a little orange bottle of pain pills. I’d never admit it, but sometimes I would fantasize about fucking her, hurting her, sometimes both. But I never dreamed I would have the chance. Now, I wasn’t so sure. It didn’t feel right. The man backed away as I approached. Her eyes pleaded for help. I remembered all the good things. Cuddling with her as we watched television, walks to the park on late nights, drunken cab rides home. Thinking about those things, I almost wanted to set her free. “I tried calling you,” she said. “I know. I was going to call you back.” “I was in so much pain. And then I blacked out.” I cradled her face in my hand. She flinched from me as Ryan’s blood stained her jaw line. “Good news,” I said, “I’m having an interview! I think I’m doing really well, too.” Her lip trembled. “Get me out of here. Please.” Our time together had been sweet. And I was mostly to blame for why things fell apart. But... I needed this job. She looked confused. “What are you waiting for? Let me go!” I felt something in my heart rot as I fondled the edge of her chin. “Who’s my pretty girl?” Tears ran down her face and over my hand. “Please,” she begged, “let me go.” I gripped her face tight, scrunching her lips together. “Who’s my pretty girl?” Her mouth worked like a fish out of water. “I... I am. Just please- “ “I thought things weren’t like that anymore.” “They are! I swear to God- “ “No God! Not here! Only me! I’m your god now!” She burst into sobs. I almost felt bad, but I just had to rub it in. “Still feeling sorry for me?” She whined as she looked away. I choked her, forcing her to look at me. Heat and pressure... I would have my diamond. As her face changed colors, I let go. She collapsed, coughing. “What do you want?” She screamed. “I want you to smile.” “What?” “Smile for me.” “Please... don’t do this.” “Smile for me, pretty girl.” She looked me in the eye, still crying. A forced, agonized smile split across her face. I gripped my wrench tight. I remembered how pretty her smile was. Those candid moments at a restaurant, in bed after a date, in the morning over breakfast. Those thoughts drowned as I remembered all the things she said to me when she left... She mewed like a bad little kitten. “Things- things can go back to how they were. Would you like that?” I grinned back at her. “Sorry. Can’t talk right now. I’m at work.” Her smile evaporated into a shriek, and my wrench found her teeth. We played for a very, very long time. When I finished punishing her, I collapsed in a heap and passed out. I woke up in my apartment, head resting against the mostly shredded pile of newspapers. Lying next to me was a sheet of paper. Only... it wasn’t a sheet of paper. It felt wrong under my fingers. Too soft to be paper, and too thick. I instantly dropped it to the ground when I realized it was human skin. It suctioned to the floor. The flowery script stared up at me. I peered down and saw that it was a contract. A job offer. I’d done it! I was a contributing member of society again! I found a knife and pricked my thumb. It burned as I pressed on the dotted line, right next to a very familiar purple butterfly. Have you ever been laid off? I thought I had my dream job. Good benefits, great pay. The company was small, family oriented. I genuinely enjoyed coming to work every single day. Most people just say that to appease the boss. Now, I’m the boss. Now, I have my dream job. My nightmare job. Every day I’m at work, I feel myself changing. When I look in the mirror, I see my eyes are now as black as coal. Maybe one day you’ll get let go from your “dream job.” You’ll find yourself numb and alone and lost. Maybe you’ll see a special ad only found in the paper. After all, no one reads the paper anymore. That ad will lead you to a tall building made of black glass. Come on in. We’re always hiring.
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