In a boring office building, far far away…
It was a normal enough waiting room, such as you might find at a dentist's surgery or some sort of sexually transmitted disease/family planning clinic. There were slightly uncomfortable plastic chairs arranged around the edges of the room, a low table in the centre piled high with out-of-date magazines such as "Horse Fancier Monthly" and "Cross Stitch For Beginners", and the obligatory tropical fish aquarium in one corner with a couple of mournful looking guppies. There was one set of glass doors leading out to a corridor, and one solid looking wooden door with a printed sign on it saying "Interviews In Progress". The glass doors swung open, and a loud but polite voice could be heard.
"…so if you'll all just take a seat here, your numbers will be called one at a time as required. Then go through into the interview room. The time-stasis field around this building should mean that you won't be kept too long, but those of you with high numbers might have a bit of a wait. The catering staff will come by with tea and coffee shortly."
The receptionist smiled a professional yet still vaguely sincere smile as she ushered the group of thirteen men into the waiting room, then turned and left back through the glass doors. The men all looked around curiously at their new surroundings and each other, then moved to sit down. There were a few largely polite back-and-forths as more than one tried to go for the same seat, and a silent battle of wills fought between two of them over who would get the one dog-eared copy of "Men's Health", but then they were all essentially settled in their chairs. No sooner had they all sat down then a buzzer sounded and the receptionist's voice came over the intercom.
"Number one to the interview room please. Number one."
An older man in a black frock coat seated nearest the door, stood and picked up his cane. He nodded to the rest of the group, made sure he had his card with a large red "1" on it and made his way over to the door. Just before he could knock, the handle twisted by itself and opened. He gave it a slightly suspicious glance, then set his head back and walked through the open doorway. As soon as he was through the door swung back and shut itself firmly. One down, twelve to go. Those still waiting hoped that their time would come soon, yet this desire was tempered by some degree of uncertainty as to what lay behind the door. None of them were entirely sure what they would face, it wasn't like they had done anything like this before.
The victor of the battle of wills over "Men's Health" had settled down on an uncomfortable chair in a corner, stretching his long legs out in front of him, and turned to the fashion section. Being number ten he anticipated quite a wait until he was called, so he decided to brush up on his sartorial savvy. He noted with interest that outfits similar to his brown pin-stripe ensemble were being touted as "very in". Next to him a man in a probably also "very in" leather jacket muttered to himself as he searched for the least non-interesting magazine left on the table. He had had his heart set on "Men's Health", he wanted to check out the current advice on "in" hairstyles. He was thinking of growing out his rather short, almost non-existent style. The man in the suit stifled a laugh as he ended up picking "Cross Stitch For Beginners" instead. He received a dirty look from the leather jacket-clad man, who was holding a card with a large red "9" on it. Number ten grinned back at him, then returned to reading about what meals had the best carb-calories balance, and whether it was too girly to eat salads.
Across the room another pair were also not pleased to have ended up sitting next to each other. The shorter of the two had selected a puzzle book aimed at the under-eights, and had set about trying to complete all the dot-to-dots backwards, using a bright green crayon he had found in a pocket of his over-sized slightly shabby jacket. Next to him sat a taller man with a puff of bright white hair who had watched the green crayon marks reveal a bucket and spade, a parasol and then a sandcastle from the random dots, an expression of disapproval evident on his face. The smaller man finally glanced over at him, as if surprised by the sudden attention.
"I'm sorry, did I miss a number out? I've always had a bit of a blind spot with fourteens, and fifteens. And then there's my long-standing problem with seventeens. Well, most of the teens really. It's easily done…" The taller man rolled his eyes, but declined to comment. He unfolded a copy of The Times from his velvet jacket and began working on the Sudoku. The smaller man smiled, and turned the page of the puzzle book. "Oh well, suit yourself. Now what is this one? There, to there, to there, and there… oh, I think it's going to be an ice cream. Hmm, they could have drawn on a wider theme for these pictures."
Across the room there was the rustle of newspaper and magazine pages, the occasional mutter from the man with the puzzle book as he uncovered the latest dot-to-dot picture, and then a gentle snoring noise. It came from the man seated on the other side of the white-haired Sudoku fan, a tall fellow with long curly hair, a long coat and an even longer scarf. His face was obscured by a hat which he had pulled down immediately after collapsing into a seat. His snores received amused looks from most of the others, and faintly annoyed sighs from the remainder. This included his velvet-clad neighbour, who pointedly rustled his newspaper more loudly than necessary when he turned the page. This drew a startled glance from the younger man on the other side of the sleeper, who immediately returned to his book of cricket statistics so as not to be caught staring. He debated whether or not to ask the white-haired man if he could borrow the sports pages to look up the cricket score, but decided against it, not wanting to be disapprovingly rustled at himself for being presumptuous.
To the left of the slightly nervous cricket fanatic sat a curly haired man completely absorbed in a copy of "Readers Digest", testing himself on the vocabulary Word Power quiz. He gave a self-satisfied smirk after scoring a perfect twenty, then moved on to memorise some of the more useful Quotable Quotes. He made a mental note to order a subscription to this very handy (or versatile, or multifaceted, or comprehensive…) magazine. It certainly helped him to block out the annoying antics of the little man to his left, who was occupying himself by practicing card tricks and mucking about with a set of spoons. This had sparked the interest of the man with the children's puzzle book, who was watching as the amateur magician accidentally dispersed a shower of cards across the room, including his number "7" card. He threw the card back across to man, who thanked him with a doff of his hat.
Next along the room, separated from the magician by the aquarium, was a man with quite long curly hair and an velvet jacket which was giving the be-frilled Sudoku fan a run for his money in the "Most Fancily Dressed" stakes. He had tried watching the fish for a while, but they seemed decidedly unenergetic, in fact possibly dead, and didn't make good entertainment. "Cross Stitch For Beginners", the magazine his neighbour was reading, seemed quite interesting, but the man kept giving him odd glances as he tried to surreptitiously follow the patterns over his shoulder. He decided against antagonizing him further, and picked up the last book on the table: "The Book Of Bunny Suicides". It seemed to entirely consist of cartoons depicting cute little rabbits ending their lives in tragic and improbable ways. The man shook his head, wondering at the surreal malevolence of the human mind. But then again the rabbit in the toaster was quite funny…
His chuckles made a few of the waiting men look up from their books, magazines or other forms of time-occupation, but time generally seemed to pass slowly, even for the sleeping bundle of scarf and coat. The three figures to the left of the "Men's Health" aficionado kept their faces hidden behind copies of "Welsh Tourism Monthly", "Breadmaking For Dummies" and "Fancy Hamster World". It wasn't clear whether they were trying to conceal themselves or were just very interested in the Cardiff Tourist Board's plans for the Millennium Centre, making the best crusty loaves and breeding hamsters. The intercom buzzed again.
"Number two please, number two to the interview room."
The little man with the puzzle book jumped up and looked around at the staring faces of the rest of the group.
"Oh dear, that's me. Well I'd best be off. Mustn't be late. Hopefully see you fellows later, goodbye!" He abandoned the book on the chair but kept the crayon, stuffing it back in one of his many pockets. He strode towards the door, largely keeping his nervousness in check. The handle sharply twisting open just as he was about to touch it still made him jump a good foot in the air, but he covered it with an exuberant laugh. "Come along then!" He marched boldly through the door, which swung shut after him. Taking a few more cautious steps forward, he found himself in a normal enough wood-panelled room with a large table, long enough to accommodate thirteen people. Currently there was only one figure seated at it. The elderly man looked up as he entered.
"Ahh, so you've come for my job then?"