“Help Wanted: Code Gray” by Tyrean Martinson

Dave felt a headache coming on as soon as he opened the first of the virtual classifieds. He needed a job. Everyone wanted experience. The best jobs were taken by the time he clicked through and the worst ones wouldn’t even hire him because he didn’t have “expertise” in their particular field of horse manure.

A sip of his coffee eased the ache in his sore throat but did nothing for his stuffed nasal passages. In addition to being out of work, he was sick. Even if the perfect job opening landed in his lap, he’d probably sneeze all over his future employers. Definitely not a good idea these days. And, how would he interview in a mask? He glanced down at his gray tie and suit jacket.

A few weeks ago, his suit jacket had been fashionably tight, and now it easily overlapped. His mother would cluck over his skinny frame if she saw him, but he didn’t want to give his older brother the satisfaction of showing up home after college with no job and giant loans riding his shoulders.

Dave sighed again. None of his family angst was putting money in his pocket. His Americano drip coffee kept him out of the fall chill, but it wouldn’t last long. He had just enough money in his accounts to keep him from the streets for just another few weeks. Or, he could buy a bus ticket home.

No, he told himself. He would do anything other than go home with his tail between his legs. He sat up straight, trying to use his posture to improve his mood as he glanced out the window in time to see a classified ad flash on the billboard across the street.

“Help Wanted: Apply in Person by MN. ALA. Gray Building, Suite 42. Code: Gray.”

Dave closed his eyes for a moment, wondering if he was going a little crazy. When he opened his eyes again, the ad flashed across the billboard and paused there.

The choice didn’t seem like a choice at all. Even if he had no idea what kind of job it was, Dave felt desperate enough to check it out. With one last dab at his nose, he gathered his things, then took three more napkins from the dispenser and shoved them in his pocket.

Outside the coffee shop, he walked briskly to the Gray building. It loomed above him, complete concrete except for the top floor of windows that winked in the chilly autumn sunlight. The doors, which always looked uninviting, were closed

Dave felt a thrill of nervousness run through him. He remembered joking with his college buddies that the Gray building was actually a morgue of epic proportions—a place where all the bodies were hidden, when the government wanted to cover something up. They had laughed about it, thinking it was a clever sort of thing to say. Now, it didn’t seem clever.

The door swung open in front of him, and a young woman with a brilliant tangle of afro-curls stepped out and walked towards him.

“We’ve been expecting you,” she said.

“Uh.” Dave felt transfixed by fear and interest.

“Don’t you want to apply for the job?” She cocked an eyebrow at him, and put her manicured hands on her hips. She was dressed in a charcoal gray pant-suit that hugged her curves and flared out at the ankles.

“Sure,” Dave heard himself say. He felt like he’d gotten lost in a fog as he followed her into the building.

Inside, the walls were all dark gray, and even the decorations—a huge fountain in the center of the atrium, and an oil painting—were in various shades of gray.

“Your interview is in Suite 42. I’ll take you up.” The beautiful woman led him towards a bank of elevators, and then offered her hand. “My name’s Kestral Hawk.”

“Seriously?”

She raised her eyebrows.

“I mean, that’s a beautiful name, but it’s a…well, your parents must love birds.”

She laughed a beautiful echoing laugh that filled the whole room.

When the elevator doors opened, she walked in and pressed 42.

Dave followed her. “I’m Dave.”

“I know.” She smirked at him.

Dave wanted to ask how she knew, and what this was all about, and he suddenly wondered if this was some kind of prank, but the elevator rose with a jostling swiftness and then the doors swooshed open to reveal a plush, charcoal carpeted office space with multiple screens stretched across the opposite wall.

Dave stepped into the room.

“Good luck, Dave.”

The doors closed, Kestral Hawk was gone, and Dave was alone with a bunch of blinking screens in a large, gray office space.

The screens flared to life all at once, depicting world maps with ciphers running across the bottom. It reminded Dave of his favorite game on his notebook, the one he had been playing all the way through college. He went to the small keyboard and began to solve the ciphers, one after another, sometimes having to match them with the correct section of the world maps. He didn’t know how long he worked. The room had a constant light. As he solved the last cipher, the screens went dark.

The doors of the elevator opened behind him, and Dave turned to see Kestral Hawk enter the room.

“You’re hired,” Kestral Hawk said.

Dave sneezed.

“Bio-signature accepted,” said a computerized voice.

“But what kind of job is it?”

“The kind that lets you solve puzzles for work, pays off your loans, and isn’t something you write home to mummy about,” Kestral said. “We’re keeping secrets safe, Dave. It’s what Grays do.”

“So, this is where they hide the bodies,” he said.

Kestral shrugged. “You need a job, don’t you?”

“When do I start?”

“You already did, Dave.”

Dave felt his stomach plummet. “What organization is this?”

“We serve the country’s best interests, Dave. Don’t worry. And, we’ll take care of your illness before you even start.” She pulled a wicked-looking syringe from her pocket and poked it through his suit jacket and into his skin before he could protest.

Dave forced himself to relax against the pain and all of the fear shooting through his mind. At least he had a job. He could figure out the rest, later.

Tyrean Martinson lives near Gig Harbor, has a BA in English Education from WWU, works as a property manager and tutor, enjoys walking, and has recently taking up kickboxing. She’s the mom of two college-age daughters who are both into engineering and who don’t like Star Wars or Shakespeare, which means their mom didn’t brainwash them enough, although she really tried. Tyrean is an indie author of several books, both fiction and non-fiction, and has had over 100 short works published. She’s an admin for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group and a member of the SCBWI. She’s on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and has a blog at https://tyreanswritingspot.blogspot.com/