Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Genre: Science Fiction
By Daniel Skye
“Who’s next?” Nigel Pittman asked his sniveling assistant. Francis Fox was a servile drudge whose sole mission in life was to make sure Pittman’s butt was chapped beyond red from all the ass kissing Francis did.
Francis was a suck-up. He knew what he was, and he wasn’t afraid to use it to his advantage. As long as the paychecks kept coming, Francis would say or do anything to please Pittman and stay on his good side.
“Fernando Nunez,” Francis informed Pittman, reading from a list of potential job applicants.
“Does this one at least speak English?”
“Yes, sir,” Francis told him. “But he still has an accent.”
“And I’m sure it’s an atrocious accent, no doubt. Well, whatever. Bring this border jumper on in.”
Francis Fox opened the long, narrow doors to Pittman’s office and summoned Fernando Nunez from the lobby. Fernando presented himself in front of Pittman’s oak desk and was not invited to take a seat.
“Tell me your qualifications,” Pittman said.
“Well, I’m a very hard worker,” Fernando spoke, clearly intimidated by Pittman and the power and influence his wealth brought. “I’m motivated. I’m a fast learner. I have office experience. I worked in a mailroom for two years.”
“Fernando, I’m going to stop you there,” Pittman said. “When I said ‘tell me your qualifications’, I didn’t mean blabber on with this nonsense. I don’t care if you’re a hard worker or a fast learner. I have three hundred other applicants to speak with who are hard workers and fast learners. You have to sell yourself to me, Fernando. Tell me what you can do that none of these other applicants can. Offer me something that they can’t offer.”
“I’ll do whatever you ask of me,” Fernando assured him.
“Will you mow my lawn?” Pittman asked.
“Huh?” Fernando said, raising one eyebrow.
“That was a joke,” Pittman said, laughing.
“Oh,” Fernando said, but he wasn’t laughing.
“Well, I’m sorry, Fernando,” Pittman said, “But I’ve looked over your résumé, and I just don’t think you’re qualified. I don’t think you have what it takes to work for Pittman Pharmaceuticals. But thanks for taking your time to come down here and meet in person. And Fernando, I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.”
A morose Fernando shuffled out of Pittman’s office with his head hung low. Pittman waited until he was gone to ask Francis, “Where do these beaners get off thinking they can take good jobs away from honest, hardworking Americans?”
“It beats me, sir,” Francis replied. “But they should stick to mowing lawns and washing dishes.”
“You said it,” Pittman told him. “Hey, it’s getting late. Are there any more applicants to interview?”
“Not today, sir,” Francis said, looking over his list.
“Good. Let’s call it a night and start fresh in the morning.”
* * *
Nigel Pittman returned to his three-story mansion that evening. He was alone, as he had been every night for the past forty years. Pittman never married, though he came close once. But his avarice proved to be his downfall. His rapacious ways alienated him from his fiancé and made her see just what a greedy maniac she was dealing with.
Worse was that Pittman had a mouth like a sewer and his foul language was never viewed as attractive, though many often humored him with laughter because of Pittman’s position of power and authority.
He never had a kind word to say about anyone whose skin wasn’t white, and the only reason his company employed other races was to avoid unnecessary lawsuits. In the business world, Nigel Pittman believed there was no place for men like Fernando Nunez.
Nigel was also a heavy drinker. And every night when he returned home, before he warmed up the dinner his butler prepared for him, Nigel had a tradition of taking one shot of whiskey.
But that evening, Nigel was craving the liquor more than usual. Perhaps it was quiet guilt gnawing away at him. Perhaps it was just of an alcoholic doing what an alcoholic does best. But Nigel overdid it. He quaffed down half a bottle in less than an hour, and consumed the other half within the second hour.
Nigel passed out before he could even have his supper. And he woke up the next morning with a terrible headache. He woke only after some persuasion from Francis Fox, who had been shaking Nigel and calling his name for more than ten minutes. “Mr. Pittman! Mr. Pittman!”
“I’m awake,” Nigel muttered. “Stop shouting.” Nigel picked himself up off the floor of his voluminous living room and massaged his throbbing temples. “How’d I end up on the floor?”
“I found an empty bottle of Jameson in the sink,” Francis said. “Does that answer any questions?”
“A few,” Nigel responded.
“Sir, I’m afraid we have bigger problems than that. Look at the television screen.”
Nigel turned his attention to the sixty inch HDTV mounted to his living room wall. Francis had the news turned on, but it was all in Spanish, with no subtitles accompanying the dialogue.
“Why do you have one of the Spanish networks turned on?” Nigel asked.
“That’s just it, sir,” Francis uttered. “This is channel seven. It shouldn’t be in Spanish. And I didn’t change any of the settings. Look, it’s not just this channel.”
Francis used the remote to flip over to channel eight, where a daytime talk show was in progress. The host and his counterpart spoke in fluent Spanish with no subtitles to accompany their words.
Francis changed it to channel nine, where a sitcom was being aired. But the dialogue was in Hindi.
On channel ten, a children’s cartoon where the animated bears and rabbits spoke in French.
Every channel that Francis had tried produced a similar result. He couldn’t find one program being broadcast in English.
“I need some fresh air,” Nigel said. “This is too much to process all at once.”
“Do you want me to come with you, sir?”
“No, I’ll be fine on my own. Thank you, Francis.”
* * *
Nigel walked six blocks and came across a magazine kiosk. He picked up a copy of the New York Times, but the paper was useless to him. Every word was written in Spanish. Nigel tried asking the clerk what the deal was, but the clerk didn’t speak a word of English.
“Is it April Fool’s Day?” Pittman muttered as he wandered away from the kiosk. The streets were flooded with the sounds of over a dozen languages, none of which Pittman could comprehend or identify with.
He felt the whole world was playing a practical joke on him. That everyone was in on it but him. He even began to wonder about Francis Fox. Could he be trusted? Was this his doing?
Pittman had found himself sucked into something reminiscent of a Twilight Zone episode. He was the same man, but everyone around him was different.
If this wasn’t a joke, Pittman pondered what the explanation could be. Had he slipped into an alternate universe? Had he been abducted by aliens and this was all just part of some human lab rat experiment?
Confusion and paranoia had swallowed his brain and made him consider every preposterous scenario he could think of.
“How much are they paying you to pretend you don’t speak English?” Pittman asked a young man standing on the sidewalk. But the man just shrugged his shoulders and said, “No habla ingles.”
He tried this approach again with several other passing individuals. In one case, he even tried to bribe someone into confessing. But when he removed his money clip from his pocket, he noticed all the bills had been replaced with foreign currency. This only frustrated Pittman further and fueled his belief that this was a prank and Francis was in on it. Pittman surmised that Francis could’ve easily switched the money in his pocket while he was unconscious.
He tried hailing a taxi, but the drivers all refused to stop for him. Pittman glanced over his flashy pinstripe Brioni suit that had an immaculate cut and polished cufflinks to match. He wondered if the drivers were singling him out because of his clothes and the color of his skin.
Pittman hoofed it the extra twenty-three blocks to Pittman Pharmaceuticals, hoping to find his business still intact. Instead, when he approached the thirty-floor office building, the name on the sign was written in a language he couldn’t even identify.
“No,” Pittman shook his head defiantly. “It can’t be. It can’t be! I worked my whole life for this company! You can’t just take it away from me!”
Those that passed on the streets stopped and stared at Pittman, listening to his rants, but not understanding a word of it. He cried and begged and pleaded with them, but every word produced the same reply, “No habla ingles.”
Pittman’s knees buckled as he collapsed to the sidewalk, clutching at his chest. With his final words, he tried desperately to convey he needed medical attention. But his cries fell upon deaf ears. As the pain in his chest reached its boiling point, he closed his eyes and embraced the darkness.
* * *
“Mr. Pittman!” Francis shouted. “Mr. Pittman! Mr. Pittman, wake up!”
“I’m awake,” he muttered. “Stop shouting.”
“Oh thank God you’re okay, sir,” Francis said.
Pittman could hear the steady beeping of a nearby heart monitor. He recognized the unfamiliar settings after a few moments passed. He was in the hospital.
“How on Earth did I end up here?”
“You had a severe case of alcohol poisoning,” Francis informed him. “You’re lucky I came to check up on you when I did.”
“So the whole thing was a dream…” Pittman breathed a sigh of relief. “When can I go home and get back to work?”
“Tomorrow,” Francis told him.
“Excellent,” Pittman said. “Do me a favor. Track down Fernando Nunez and have him waiting for me in my office when I return to work. I’d like to speak with him.”
* * *
“I’m so sorry you didn’t qualify for the position,” Nigel told Fernando Nunez that Monday in his office. This time he invited Fernando to sit and had Francis fetch him a cup of coffee. “But I happen to have a spot open in the mailroom. If you want it, the job is yours. The pay is twenty dollars an hour and you get health benefits after the first six months of employment. And yes, the plan will cover your family too.”
“Wow…I don’t know what to say. Thank you. I won’t let you down, sir.”
“Hey, call me Nigel,” he said, flashing a warm smile. “I insist.”