Johnny walks through a portal and is surprised by what he finds.
|Johnny walked through the portal and was instantly grabbed by glowing red hands. He screamed, choked on it and then coughed. The man behind the hands started laughing.
“Perfect! Best one yet!” Steven said. His hands stopped glowing but they remained red. The smile on Steven's' face stretched uncomfortably. “We got a crosser here!” he yelled to the hallway behind him.
Other figures emerged from the rooms connected to the hallways, some human and some that looked like a paper mache mock up of what a human should look like. Some of the figures glowed and some seemed to suck light away like they were living in a perpetual shadow. Some had horns and some had tails. Johnny was not allowed to wallow in his confusion long as Steven grabbed him by the arm and walked into the throng of people.
“Hi!” said one man/woman. “Glad to have another on the team,” said another. Through the hallway Johnny went, guided by Steven, with pats on the back and greetings by all. Steven brought Johnny to a room marked New Arrivalz. The door opened and Steven went through first, still pulling Johnny. When Johnny was halfway through the door, Steven’s hand let go and the door abruptly closed. The door knob swiftly hit Johnny in the gut causing him to bend slightly and whack his forehead.
Steven motioned for him to sit in a chair in the corner of the room. The chair’s back came up 4 inches and the the three metal legs were rusted. The cushions seemed to contain hard lumps in all the wrong places. He sat while Steven went to a desk that was on the same wall as the chair but 10 feet away. Johnny turned in the chair so that he could see Steven. When he did, the chair pitched forward slightly and he noticed that one leg was bent and shorter than the other three.
“Ok, let’s get the ball rolling here,” Steven said. He opened a drawer, the metal rollers grinding on ill-fitting grooves, and pulled out a manilla folder with no labels. Johnny looked up and waited for Steven to say something. He did not.
“Where is ‘here’,” Johnny asked. The air tasted metallic and Johnny’s throat began to scratch.
“The Institute of Cosmic Inconveniences!” Steven said, excitement in his voice. He picked up a 2-inch long pencil and began to take notes in the manilla folder. Johnny continued to look at Steven and waited for him to continue his explanation. Steven stopped writing and looked at Johnny, letting the silence stretch.
“And…,” Johnny finally said.
Steven’s smiled wider, how this was possible Johnny didn’t know.
“You flipped a light switch in your apartment, right?”
“And you were told not to, that the light switch didn’t do anything, and to leave it alone, right?”
Johnny nodded again.
“But you did it anyway, obviously. Then nothing happened for a while, correct me if I get this wrong.” Johnny didn’t correct him.
“After an hour and 3 minutes, you saw a portal open up somewhere. Let me guess, in the cabinet under the sink, maybe in a bedroom only used for cats?”
“It was actually in the guest bathroom shower, the one I never seem to get clean.”
“Ha, that’s a good one. Got to remember that one. Anyway, you went through the portal and now you are here. ‘Here’ is the Institute of Cosmic Inconveniences. The portal is how we recruit. We look for people that do things that they are not supposed to do, that seem to have a hard time listening, that sometimes make things a bit difficult for those around them. Now how well does that describe you? Be honest.” Steven licked the end of his pencil. The tip broke and he got out another one.
“Sometimes, I suppose?” Johnny thought. Then he remembered that in his apartment he kept no hand towels in the guest bath. This wasn’t an accident, Johnny just thought it was funny. “Yup, that’s me.”
“Of course it is. And now you have a chance to work for us. To be a part of the grand plan! Through our actions, humanity gets to see what it’s made of. They get a chance to improve themselves through adversity, an opportunity to be what the creator wants them to be! You’re in the big leagues now friend, welcome to the team!”
Johnny sat while he thought. He could smell a slight sewage odor coming from somewhere but it was faint enough that he couldn’t pinpoint it.
“When you say ‘cosmic inconveniences’, what exactly is that?”
“Look, we are really just a giant think tank here. We come up with scenarios and situations that push people. Sometimes it’s the small stuff, like a broken grocery cart wheel and when you try to get a new cart, that one breaks too. Sometimes it’s big stuff. Like the giant storm on Jupiter. That’s us. Humanity has been looking up there for years trying to figure that out. There’s no answer, of course, but it’s fun to watch them try. But by trying they have expanded into the universe. See how it works? We are the universe's trolls but there is a grander plan in place. We don’t know it, of course, that would be too helpful. But we get to screw around a lot and that’s fun.”
“Your door is misspelled. Arrivals doesn’t have a ‘z’ in it,” Johnny said, finally starting to understand everything about this place. “That is on purpose, isn't’ it?”
Steven just smiled.
“How does this work, do I get paid?”
“We can talk about payment later. But we think that you have the right skillz to do this job and do it well. We will start you off in the animal department. You ever have a neighbor that leaves a dog outside all day and it barks at nothing? That’s one of us there playing around with it. But we only do that when other people are home. If no one is in the neighborhood we actually take them for walks because we are not total dicks. So what do you say, you in?”
Johnny thought for a moment. He thought about birds at carwashes, he thought about squirrels running into roads, he thought about moose and the tourists that want to get close to take a picture with them. He chuckled and the chuckle turned into a laugh. That was his answer.
“Great!” Steven said. He asked Johnny to come over and sign the piece of paper that he had been writing on. He handed Johnny a purple crayon, an inch long and with most of the paper torn off except near the dull tip. Johnny signed his name and then watched Steven promptly throw all the paperwork in the trash.
“Welcome aboard. Let’s get you down to metaphysicals to get you into a form you are comfortable working in. You’ll also get a chance to meet Debra, your new boss. He doesn’t believe in cell phones or email, you’ll love him.”
Steven stood and shook Johnny’s hand for an uncomfortably long time.