"Now calling: number 117."
Greg looked down at his own number card. 125. They sure were taking their sweet time with each candidate ...
It was very strange. He had been late for his appointment with the HR associate director (associate!) and had called to say his tire was flat. This had required him, of course, to quickly change his (perfectly fine) left rear to the spare in the trunk. He sped off for the downtown office, but traffic had been a bear, and he had done what he always did, fazed out entirely, thinking about the new jacuzzi he was planning for the backyard - if he got the new job.
When he had come to, he was outside the office, and only two minutes late. Fabulous! He raced inside, got the floor from the receptionist, and headed up in the elevator. The three people in with him all looked terribly old, and their suits were cheap. Greg smirked. If this is the competition ... hello, hot tub.
Sure enough, the three got off the elevator at the 7th floor with Greg. They all smiled politely at each other as they made their way down a corridor to the "Candidate Room" marked on the wall. When they turned the final corner, they found a rather substantial line there. Greg's casual confidence quickly shrunk inward.
He was petrified of long waits.
The fear was pretty silly, even Greg admitted that, but he couldn't help it. He was always afraid that the line wasn't really moving at all, or that it was a line to nowhere - right back to the beginning. Greg was also always worried he would get to the door and then be denied admission - the last one shut off. Greg was a go-getter, pushy, an overachiever; doing the standing still just didn't do it for him. And he always did worse in these interviews when he had to wait. His nervousness would overtake his charm and then ..
Greg walked to the front of the desk. "Excuse me, sir?"
"Yes, sir, Mr. Studebaker. What can I do for you?"
"Well, you see, I had this engagement at noon - I was wondering if I could somehow .. you know .."
"Don't be silly, Gregory. There's no cutsies here. We'll get to you."
Unamused, Greg returned to his spot. The three old men ahead of him, the ones from the elevator, seemed rather pleased with themselves. And in front of them, two more older men, a pleasant looking woman about Greg's age, and strangely, two kids who couldn't have been older than 21. Greg didn't see how they could be qualified for the candidacy. But college was getting more rigorous every year, they said ...
"Now calling: Number 118."
"I really can't stay here any longer," Greg protested. His hands had begun to sweat profusely. He wasn't just kowtowing now, he really was getting anxious. He had only been two minutes late, why was there such a wait? It was paralyzing.
"And I really can't let you go ahead of the others. We're in no hurry here, Mr. Studebaker." The desk man pointed to the crowd behind Greg. As Greg turned and looked, they all seemed to being staring blankly at the wall in front of them, faint smiles on their faces. Greg noticed that the pleasant looking woman had on a ton of greasy makeup. Something wasn't right ...
"Well, I can't stay here any longer. I have to leave now, it's nearly noon. Goodbye," - Greg paused as he looked at the assistant's name tag - "Goodbye, Mr. Peter."
As Greg turned and walked back down the corridor, the man ran after him. "Mr. Studebaker, please don't go, there's only seven more people ahead of you, it's really not much of a wait at all..."
But Greg wasn't listening, picking up his pace as he neared the elevator. He stepped inside, and as Mr. Peter stared him almost apologetically, the doors shut. He reached over to hit the button to take him back to the lobby .. but it wasn't there. None of the buttons were there. Except one. For floor 6.
Greg was too exasperated to care. He stabbed at the button. I'll just take the stairs then!
As the elevator let out a cheery *ding* and the doors opened, Greg knew he had made a big mistake.
Huge bursts of flame roared up from the floor to the ceiling. In the distance, Greg saw large fur-covered beasts with chains in their hands, beating on what looked like humans. The entire floor was covered in hot coals. The sight was the most horrific thing he had ever seen. Suddenly, a hand reached out and grabbed his sleeve, yanking him into the room.
"Welcome to Lucifer Enterprises, Incorporated, Mr. Studebaker! It's good to see a new face in the workforce! If you'll just step over here in line, we'll have you processed in no time!"
To Greg, it was as if bright green demonic dwarf speaking to him was on mute. He was much, much more concerned with the infernal screaming that echoed throughout the open area. The unimaginable torturing going on just outside of his vision made Greg nauseous. The demon, unaware, continued to drag Greg down a short hallway, plopping him in a chair and handing him one of the number cards from the stack on the wall.
"Here ya go! Enjoy!"
A voice over an intercom screeched: "Now calling: number 2,909,415."
Greg looked down at his number.
As the gravity of his situation came crashing down him, Greg, too, began to scream an endless scream - and in the back of his mind, wondering how the man on the seventh floor had known his last name was Studebaker ...
In the conference room later that evening, Saint Peter threw his hands up in the air. "I realize that we can't just let anybody any into the place, but that's about the ten billionth person we've lost to the waiting game!"
The Man at the End of the Desk nodded in solemn agreement.
"Maybe I could get some help? Saint Thomas has been bored lately with the karma fluctuators. Or Saint Michael, he's basically got that free will incident under control ..."
The Man appeared pensive for a moment, and then shook his head.
Saint Peter just shrugged. He knew that those sorts of decisions were final. He would keep bringing it up, though, just in case ...
As he walked out of the room, Saint John came up and put his arm around Peter's shoulders. "Cheer up, old boy. Maybe it was a good thing after all."
"A good thing, you say?"
"Well, sure. Maybe Mr. Studebaker won't be so adverse to long waits now. Come on, then: let's go cause a miracle, it'll brighten you right up - I hear there's a potato chip shaped like J.C. in a bag in Toronto ..."