The Most Important Job. Short Story

John moved slowly through the large crowds that were gathered, unsure of exactly where he was going. It was his first time and everything he had read about it had been vague on what to do and where to go. Anyone he tried to ask usually answered with an annoyed “there’ll be signs everywhere, you’ll figure it out.” He would have liked to get there a few days before, have a look around, but it was all strictly scheduled of course, so many people were applying this year, though that was no surprise, it was the same every year. This year there was a strange sense of expectation in the air, people were starting to get antsy as no one had been selected in a long, long time. This would be the eightieth year since the last one had been chosen. As John moved through the crowd he caught snippets of conversations ,”this is my seventh time applying.” “Eight.” “Every year since I was eligible, never missed a one, not even when my parents died.” The further he moved through the crowd the more inadequate he felt, he had been eligible to apply for almost five years, most people entered as soon as they could, but he didn’t want to, he wanted to explore a little, live a little before being tied down. He knew he probably wouldn’t be chosen, after all why would they pick him? But he had to be aware of the possibility at least. He wondered if he underdressed, there were a lot of people milling around in suits, he spotted a few people in jeans like he was, but they were few. Finally, he spotted the large sign, “First Time Applicants.” And he began to fight his way through the crowd towards it. It was a greater spectacle than he expected too, waiters circulated through the crowd carrying trays of food and drink, tables were set up selling more substantial fare. Even outside the cordoned off area there were stalls and tables set up, selling, buying, or looking for workers.

John joined the back of the queue, feeling a faint thrill of excitement. It didn’t take him long to see that he was by far the oldest person in the queue, a few people looked at him oddly, but most were reading over their applications. John had the desire to do the same, but he knew there was little point, he didn’t have a pen and even if he did, it would be far too complicated to change anything. The girl in front of him turned around and smiled, it dimmed slightly when she looked at him, but then it brightened again, “How long did you spend on your application?”
“Um. I don’t know? Maybe half an hour?”
Her eyes widened, “Wow! Really! I wish I could have done that, I spent weeks doing it, making sure everything was perfect.” John wasn’t surprised, she was immaculately dressed, her makeup was sparse but well applied, everything about her screamed perfection.
“So is this your first time applying?”
“Yeah, it is.”
“Wow, why the wait?”
“I dunno. Just had other stuff to do I guess.”
She nodded sympathetically, “Oh don’t worry, I get it, I was soooo nervous about applying, I almost considered putting it off. Still, you’re here now.”
She smiled again, John had decided he didn’t like her when she first turned around, now he upgraded it to hate. The line moved forward slightly, the girl smiled again, almost sympathetically, “Well, good luck!”

She turned her back on him resolutely, leaving no room for further comments, which was fine with John. After a moment, she tapped on the shoulder of the person in front of them, when they turned around, John was sure she did the same smile thing to them by their face, then again she asked, “How long did you spend on your application?”

John started to feel bad for the girl when her second attempt at conversation didn’t pan out, he noticed that she kept fidgeting, and trying not to fidget, she had been carefully folding and unfolding the application booklet. She seemed exceedingly high strung to him. She kept looking around, looking for something to distract herself in an almost panicked fashion. He idly wondered if her parents had threatened to disown her if she didn’t succeed. Wouldn’t be the first time it happened, however awful it was. Sighing, he reached out and tapped on her shoulder,
“Sorry, I didn’t catch your name before.”
“Oh. Um. I’m Sabine.”
“I’m John.” He stuck out his hand, she took it after a second, “Nice to meet you.”
“Same.” She looked at him oddly, as though expecting some kind of trick.
John suddenly realised he had nothing to say, thinking wildly he tried to find some kind of conversation starter. “So, what was your favourite section on the application?”
She seemed to relax slightly and smiled at him, this time it was a true smile, “Well, I loved loved loved the moral dilemmas, they were so interesting and I think I really nailed them in terms of creative thinking, I rank pretty high up with solving them, best in my school. The one with the mother, children, missing money and cliff face was particularly satisfying to solve.”
“I don’t know. I thought the one with the murderer and child abandonment to be the best.”
Sabine launched into a full, one sided discussion on the merits of each, before finally coming to the conclusion that they were both on par in terms of difficulty, however the one she enjoyed was probably superior as it involved more choices and options that lead to disaster, therefore it was more important. John let her talk, nodding at the appropriate intervals and occasionally making vague sounds of agreement. Despite his complete lack of interest in the conversation, it helped pass the time a little faster and soon they were nearing the top of the queue. Realising where they were, Sabine stopped her monologue for a moment, “Almost there. Nervous?”
“A little I guess. You?”
“No, not at all, I’m ready, I’ve been preparing for this for years.” Then she launched into detailing her school life, why she would be a good candidate and how she would be adding so so so much to the world if she was chosen.

Finally, Sabine was called forward to a table, a moment later it was John’s turn. He handed over the application to the bored looking official. “ID Number?”
She typed it into the computer in front of her, “Ok, name?”
“John Kennedy.”
“At 54 seaside?”
“Yep, that’s me.”
“Ok, perfect. Now, you’ve filled this out to the best of your ability and it contains no intentional falsehoods on your part?”
“You are aware that submitting this application guarantees nothing and that you may not be chosen and that all decisions are final. If you are chosen there is no backing out of this, it’s done.”
“I know.”
“OK, I just need you to sign this here”
She thrust a pen and screen at him, John signed his name, “And stick your finger in this please.”
John did so, there was a brief pinch, then he was instructed to removed his finger.
“Ok, thank you for your time, we’ll be in touch.”
“How long does it take to sort through all these?”
“If a decision it to be made, it will be made no later than one week after the final applicant hands in their application. Which, with the closing date, makes it the 15th of this month. Next!”
“Oh, uh thanks.”

John shuffled away from the table, thankful that Sabine had already seemed to have left. A week and a half wasn’t really that long to wait. He’d just have to forget about it, go on with his life. It’s not like he’d be chosen anyway. There were millions of applicants and they didn’t even have to choose anyone. Still, it would be nice. He moved through the large crowds, disappointed that he didn’t really feel any different. A few waiters appeared in his path, offering food or drink, but he didn’t want anything. He wasn’t really that hungry. On his way out the front door he stopped and bought a bottle of water. It would be a long journey home. All the public transports would be jammed with people, it was the same every year. Probably more so this year as there were talks about changing it so it only occurred once a decade, rather than every year. John personally thought they should limit it, if you apply one year, you can’t apply for another one or two, just to ease the large movement of people.

The bus was as packed as he expected, it was an hour journey and he had to stand, squashed against the wall the entire time. When he finally escaped he managed to just catch the train, again it was packed, but as it moved further out the people began to dwindle until he finally got a seat. After another five hours on the train he was finally at his station. Then it was just a short ten minute walk home.

His parents were waiting by the door, “Well, how’d it go?”
“It went ok I guess. Didn’t really have to do much, hand it in, confirm who I am then that was really it.”
“well, congratulations. I know you’ve wanted to do it for a while. I’m sure whatever happens is what needs to. I have dinner made already.” Together they moved into the dining room and sat down, his mother had made his favourite, smiling, they started to eat.

John lay in bed, half asleep. It had been a few days since he applied, the applications had been closed about three hours before. There was a faint popping noise, John rolled over and yawned.
“John.” He sat upright, his heart pounding, no one else was supposed to be home. He looked around his room but it was empty.
“John.” His breathing slowed, someone had to be screwing with him, they were probably outside his window. “Scott, is that you? Quit being an ass.”
He stood and moved over to the window, annoyed now, he pulled back the blind, but there was no one there. He opened it and peered out, there was no one in the back garden either. The hairs on his neck stood up.
He turned back from the window and froze, his entire room had changed, balloons starting falling around him, “Congratulations John. You’ve been chosen.” People appeared around the room, one second he was alone, the next, he was surrounded by almost a hundred people.
Someone clapped him hard on the back, “You’ve gotten the job son. Congrats!”
“I got the job?”
“You got the job.” The man behind him, the man that John had read so much about, the man who everyone knew, the man who was a God turned to the crowd, “Let us welcome our new brother into our ranks. Say hello to our newest God.”

About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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