Flash Fiction Story 035: Performance Review

As The Other grasped an unfortunate human and ate its screaming form whole, I couldn’t help but feel a little nervous.

After the human stopped screaming somewhere on the journey down to the stomach, The Other regarded me once more. “Are you sure you don’t want one?” He opened up a wooden box on his desk, and more anguished shouts joined their fallen comrade. “They’re very fresh.”

I was hungry, he had guessed that much correctly. Unfortunately, I was still too nervous to actually eat. I begged off again.

Appearing to feign disappointment, The Other closed the box, muting their agony. He then looked back to the file on his desk which had brought me here.

“You’re nervous,” The Other observed.

I shook my head. It was a lie.

“Well, there’s no need to be nervous. Relax. So, you’ve been doing the job for…” he eyed the documentation. He clearly didn’t remember. “Two million years?”

“Has it only been that long? There are some millennia when it feels like I’ve been here as long as the concept of time itself!” I added an awkward chuckle to the end of my question, in order to convince the both of us that I was kidding.

Thankfully, The Other appeared to move past the remark. He kept reading. “Looks like you’re learning the job, good, good… Punctual. That’s good. What would you say is your favorite part of the job?”

“Well, I’d have to say being an eternal demon of misery and pain is its own reward. Mortal beings need to be introduced to the torture that lies within the cosmos, and… I’m just proud to be there for that.”

The Other nodded and marked some manner of notation down on my file. I wondered how many times he had heard some variation of that same answer. 

“So, I always like to end these discussions with a simple question, just to get a sense of where your ambitions are. Where do you see yourself in five-hundred thousand-thousand millennia?”

How does one answer that? I was lucky to be able to bring destruction and fire to the cosmos. It was a good job, with benefits and security. And yet, there were millennia where I just wanted to throw the towel in, find some nebula in one of the less populated galaxies, nestle into it, and just relax for the rest of eternity.

But one doesn’t want to be rude, especially with their supervisor, especially when one’s supervisor is the entity known by mortals as The Other, the Devourer of Stars.

Apparently I had waited too long to answer. The sounds of the human snacks that The Other had harvested went silent. He reached for the box he kept them in, and dumped the remaining bones out into the rubbish. How could humans go from screaming snacks to long-dead husks in the brief century it took for me to mull my response? It boggled the mind. “Sorry,” he said. “Where were we?”

He didn’t even give me a decade to chime in before taking back the reins of the conversation himself. “Here’s why I ask,” he began, not acknowledging that he had already given an explanation. “We’re all very pleased with the work that you’re doing. Not just the quality, which is really quite fine, but the sheer tonnage of it is astounding.”

I suddenly wished that I had taken him up on his offer of a snack. My nerves veered into nausea, and if I had something to chew on, I might have been able to keep the feeling at bay. 

The Other continued. “What myself and the other members of management want you to know is, that in only a short amount of time I think you’ll be ready to join us in management.”

A cold rush cascaded through my body, and I was hoping it had more to do with the final death rattle of a nearby star evolving into a black hole.

“Oh, wow,” I said. “That’s very flattering.” Panic set in. For fifty or sixty years, I felt like I might collapse under my own sense of doubt. Is this what mortal beings feel like? I began to share their agony, if only for a moment. The notion appeared and was gone inside of a decade. If I had been mortal, it might have been debilitating.

“Is that a yes?” The Other asked. “If you commit to making a real career out of this, I can guarantee you that whatever you put into this, you’ll get that back tenfold.”

I knew in the deepest pits of my blackened soul that eternity was just too short to spend doing this, forever. If I was going to quit this job, I had to do so now. It was only fair to The Other. It was only fair to the universe. It was only fair to me.

“I’d really be interested in that,” I heard myself say before I could take it back. I just couldn’t be rude to The Other. Maybe I did need this job after all… At any rate, I’d certainly have a long time to think about what I had just committed to.

The Other’s assistant entered, carrying a receptacle filled with puny, mortal, squirming things. The assistant dumped the new snacks into The Other’s box, and the screaming began anew.

“You sure you don’t want one?” he asked.

I relented and reached for one of the terrified things, and like he had done not centuries before, swallowed the creature whole. They were fresh. The freshest I had ever tasted. If The Other and the others in management could get their hands on meat this fresh, that might just begin to change how I felt about the possibility of moving up.

I reached for another snack. I could definitely get used to this.

 Art by Eris O’Reilly

Art by Eris O’Reilly