Dennis had been looking for a job for months now and, after eighty some odd interviews, he began to question what he really wanted to do with himself. In college, Dennis thought he was all about his degree and was dead set on finding a career in his field of study. After graduation, however, that seemed like an impossible dream. He bused tables, went to trade school, and picked up a few skills which didn’t exactly pertain to his degree, but paid the bills for a short time. After losing his most recent job, Dennis was back to looking and had no luck. Bills were piling up, his credit card was maxed out, and with each passing day he thought about what life was really like in a city homeless shelter. It couldn’t be that bad compared to sleeping on a sidewalk, could it? More than the threat of losing his home and having no money, Dennis didn’t know what to do with himself, nor what to say about himself.

Employers asked him again and again, “What do you like to do in your spare time?”

They’d ask “Why do you want to work here? Why do you want this job?”

The answer was that he wanted to work, but that’s not what the brown-nosed company jackass wants to hear, no, they want you to throw all your passion, your heart and soul, behind the dead-end desk-monkey job you’ve applied for. Dennis was running out of ways to answer their questions without losing his cool and downright shouting at them that the only reason he was there was that he’d hoped to earn a paycheck. He’d do and say anything they asked him for a paycheck.

Another day, another job search. Dennis booted up his computer and searched the dozen or so job databases he frequented and looked for anything which he hadn’t already put in his application. After a few minutes, something caught his eye.

“Hello and welcome to Cog In The Machine, your number one search engine for any and all opportunities in manufacturing and industry! The economy’s growing and demand for consumer goods is going up, up, up! Apply today, and please include dates and times when you’ll be available for an interview. No education, nor experience required.”

Dennis attached his resume and a short cover letter to the online application, sent it off, and continued his search without a second thought. Maybe it was a scam, or whoever had posted it wasn’t very used to advertising jobs for their company, or maybe the company was so desperate for employees, they’d take anyone. Dennis was not a bad employee, never having stolen from the work place nor been excessively late too often. He didn’t have a criminal record, nor any crippling disabilities and still, finding work was hard. The longest he’d searched had been the two years after college, during which he’d found nothing. During one interview, the interviewer even asked him what he’d done for those two years, and didn’t believe him when he told the truth; he’d been searching for jobs.

The next day, Dennis got a call. He had an interview set for later that week and, having applied for so many jobs in just a short amount of time, he wasn’t sure which job had called back. It didn’t matter, though, it was a job and he needed it. Dennis had to take a bus, then a train, transfer to another train, then walk for forty minutes to get to the address he’d been given in his confirmation email; Number 1, Cogs Plaza. The building itself was massive, covered in metal plates which seemed dull, muted, as though all of the shine had been taken from them, any light they’d reflect when the sun shone upon them seemed absorbed by a darkness that permeated the building and the empty field around it.

A rotund man in a suit came waddling up to Dennis. He was short, sweated profusely, and had lost most of the hair on the top of his head. His voice, boisterous, hearty, with a touch of gravel due to an old smoking habit long left in the past.

“Well, hello there!” The man boomed. “Right on time, sir, right on time. Follow me this way and we’ll get you acquainted with your new work environment.”

Well, that was fast. Dennis protested, saying he hadn’t started yet and was only there for the interview but the portly, older gentleman assured him he had the job and told him not to worry so much. He was relieved, finally something was going right! They discussed pay, $15 an hour as a base salary wasn’t bad, he’d worked for less. This was turning out to be a very good day! Inside the building, it was oppressively warm, as though air didn’t circulate through the rooms at all. It smelled like sweat, burnt rubber, and somebody’s lunch they’d heated in the microwave. The halls were dark and, no matter how far they walked, Dennis never saw any doors. There weren’t any offices, break rooms, bathrooms, nor were there any conveyor belts, windows looking down to a factory floor, or anything else you’d expect in what should have been and office building or factory.

“So, manufacturing. What is it that’s manufactured here?” Dennis asked. “I tried to do some research I didn’t find anything about the company’s products or anything.”

“Oh,” The fat old man piped up. “You’ll see as soon as we get to your work station.”

With that, Dennis followed, and after a minute or two, the man stopped in front of a metal panel which he, with the use of a specialized key, moved aside. The key looked like a skeleton key-socket wrench hybrid and, once the panel was moved, it led to what Dennis could only describe as a hole. The top of a cylinder that led straight down jutted out of the floor behind the panel and the man seemed to be waiting for Dennis to get closer to it.

“What is this?” Dennis asked, but received no answer save for a nod to goad him closer. Leaning in, Dennis looked down the cylinder. He couldn’t see anything in the dark. The next thing he knew, he was pushed down in to the cylinder and, with a loud slam of metal on metal, the can was sealed and he was trapped inside. Dennis screamed, pounding with his fists on the lid of the canister, demanding to be let out, but nothing happened. The pitch dark and a claustrophobia he’d never been aware of began to take hold, setting a primal fear in his heart and mind and wrenching the most frantic screams from him. He couldn’t stop screaming and thought of nothing but escape.

After a while, Dennis must have passed out, the past several hours was a blur of nothingness. What had woken him was a noise, a dull hum like the sound of a machine powering on. As he tried to listen, the top and bottom of his cylindrical prison began to close in on him, lowering rapidly. With his hands pressed to the top, and feet on the bottom, Dennis pushed with all his might, forcing the platforms apart so he wasn’t slowly being crushed. A moment passed and the top and bottom of the can began closing in again, forcing Dennis to fight the pressure again. This continued again and again for hours and, during the torture, the constant fight for his life, an announcement played somewhere in the building’s halls outside of the cylinder. He could hear it, though slightly muffled.

“Welcome to your new career, your new life. You are now a cog in a gear, a piece of this great, man-powered machine. You, all of you, are inside the machine, welcome to your life as a cog in the gears.

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