The Clerk

For this month’s short story, I present to you another offering from my experimental phase: “The Clerk.” Inspired by ReedsyPrompts Contest #75, this story comes with a trigger warning. The prompt I used was “Write about someone whose job is to help people leave their old lives behind”, so there is mention of suicide in this story. In fact, since this came from the mind of someone who suffers from depression AND enjoys science fiction, the commodification of of suicide is a core component of this story.

I still adore the character of The Clerk and the world I created, but skimming back over this one I noticed some things that could be improved. Maybe someday I’ll do a rewrite and further develop this world and it’s characters. Would anyone be interested in reading an extended version of “The Clerk”?

The Clerk sighed as he adjusted his tie in the mirror. It was going to be another long day. His eyes traveled up to his worn-out face and examined all of the lines that had accumulated over the years. He was getting tired of this. But work was work. With any luck, he’d be able to retire in a few years anyway.

Just as he was about to leave the employee break room and start his day, the Junior Clerk ran into the room looking all kinds of frazzled and panicked.

“There’s a massive line already!” he said almost breathlessly as he hurried to put on his button-up shirt and tie. “I can’t believe it! Who knew it would be this busy after the holidays?”

“This is normal,” said The Clerk with a shrug. “It’s always like this after the holidays. You’ll get used to it.”

“But why? You’d think after Christmas people would be in a good mood, loving life.”

The Clerk shook his head. “The holidays might lift people’s spirits momentarily, but it all comes crashing down again. Spending all that extra time with family, even family you don’t hate can be stressful. That, and everyone’s feeling a bit of a financial strain right now. They’ve had time off work and they’ve over spent on gifts and groceries. It’s a lot to deal with.”

“Oh, you’re right…”

“And then you add January into the mix and it doesn’t get much better. It’s a depressing month. It’s cold and miserable, and the wait until the next holiday or celebration seems like a lifetime away. The only people who are happy in January are the ones with birthdays.”

“Ah, I didn’t think of that. You see, both my mother and my wife have birthdays in January, so I guess I never noticed anything different or depressing about the month. But January has barely begun! Don’t tell me all of those people have the winter blues already.”

“New Years.”

“New Years?”

“New Years,” The Clerk said with a nod. “It’s all those ‘new years resolutions’ and that ‘new year, new me’ nonsense. People want to make a change for the better. They want to improve their lives. The first week after New Years is always our best week for sales out of the whole year.”

“Oh wow, I guess you’re right.”

“Now hurry up and straighten your tie. We open in five minutes.”

“Yes, sir!”

As The Clerk stepped out of the break room and made his way to the front desk, he was instantly aware of the buzz of activity just outside of the main doors. After all these years, he still wasn’t entirely used to the overwhelming sound of restlessness and the palpable feeling of anticipation in the air. The busiest week of the year would undoubtedly become the most emotionally draining, just like all the other years before. The Clerk never quite felt ready to deal with this New Years rush, no matter how many times he worked it. Even his family had grown accustomed to the toll it would take on him. His daughter had offered to come over every night this week to cook dinner for him, and he had gladly accepted.

As he sat behind the front desk, the Junior Clerk came running out, straightening his tie as he did so. Once he too was seated behind the large desk, both clerks verified that their computers were on and that the Operations Team was ready to go. The Clerk glanced at his watch and waited until the hands lined up to show that it was exactly nine o’clock. He then pressed a button on the desk and the front doors automatically unlocked.

“Good morning, and welcome to Renaissance!” he said loudly, but not harshly, before the prospective clients even had a chance to cross the threshold. On busy days like today, it was always a good idea to prevent such a large crowd of people from turning into a mob.

“Please line up, single-file, in a calm and orderly fashion. Don’t worry folks, I’ve been doing this a long time and I guarantee we will get through all of you by the end of the morning. There’s no need to panic. Now, my colleague and I are ready to help the first two customers.”

And with that, the day had begun.

“Hi there,” said a nervous looking woman that stepped up to his side of the desk. “I registered online,” she said quickly before The Clerk even had a chance to greet her.

“Wonderful! You’re making my job easy for me this morning. Name?” he said in his best customer service voice. It was a skill he had perfected over his many years of service. People who came to Renaissance were already on edge, so it helped to convey a sense of calm confidence. The customers wanted to know they were in good hands.

“Marina Ford. I think I filled out all the forms properly,” she rambled nervously, “But I wasn’t sure about a few parts so I just did the best that I could but I… Sorry. I’m just a little nervous.”

“Not to worry,” said The Clerk. “I’ve got your online registration form here on my screen and everything looks to be in order. I’ll just need to confirm some of the information with you.”

“Of course.”

He walked her through each portion of the client registration form, confirming her personal information and all of the relevant details.

“Excellent. We’re all done here. Marina, we have a member of our Operations Team waiting for you in room number two, down the hall. They’ll be taking care of you from here on out.”

As he motioned down the hall, the sign above door number two lit up, as did Marina’s face.

“Oh, thank you so much.”

“You’re welcome. And have a wonderful life. Next in line please!”

And that was how most of the morning went. The Clerk and Junior Clerk saw customer after customer; some had pre-registered online, and some had not. But all in all, it was a fairly easy morning. By the time the lunch breaks were approaching, The Clerk realized that the line had not gotten any shorter. More and more people were joining the line, but The Clerk was confident they would be able to get through everyone that day. So far, they hadn’t had any “Special Cases”, clients that proved to be difficult.

He would never forget the incident a few years ago when a client had failed the background check. The client had become so violent when he heard that his application was being rejected that the police had to be called in. In all his years, that was the worst “Special Case” The Clerk had ever seen. Usually, the “Special Cases” just ended up being people who were indecisive, or people who wanted a plan upgrade without having to pay for it.

His first “Special Case” of the day arrived at the desk just before he was to go on his lunch break. They looked far too young to be a customer at Renaissance, but the company had no age restrictions so The Clerk welcomed them.

“Hi,” they said quietly and uncertainly.

“Hello. Welcome to Renaissance. How can I be of assistance today?”

“I… A friend told me about this place. He said you’d be able to help. I… I… I had an accident,” they said quietly, showing him their wrists.

His heart sank. The Clerk was all too familiar with these kinds of clients, and it broke his heart every time.

“It happens to the best of us,” he said softly and comfortingly. “We can certainly help you, if that’s what you want.”

“I… Yes. But I… I mean, I don’t really know what you do here. I mean, I’ve heard…”

“I’d be more than happy to explain the process to you,” The Clerk said as he pulled out a brochure. “Here at Renaissance, we offer reincarnation services. If you’re unhappy with the live you have now, our Operations Team makes all the arrangements necessary to get your next life started smoothly. They make sure that all of your affairs are in order in this life before sending you off to the next. And, depending on the package you purchase from us, we can ensure a certain lifestyle or quality of life when you are reincarnated. Take the brochure home, give it a read, and if you have any questions you can call this number at the bottom.”

“I… Thank you. I think… I think I might just go through with it. Get it over with.”

The Clerk did something he had never done before. Perhaps it was his age catching up with him, or perhaps he was just tired of all the things he had seen at Renaissance over the years. He reached across the desk, held the adolescent’s hands in his, and looked them in the eye.

“Go home and really think about it,” he said quietly. “Really take your time. It’s a big decision. Try… Try and find something to live for, even if it’s just a little thing. Even if it’s just a piece of music, or an episode of a tv show. Anything. Just try to find that one thing. And if you can’t find it, then you can come back here. Just please try. Please.”

They smiled a little and blinked back a tear or two.

“Okay. Okay, yeah. I can try. Thank you.”

As they got up and left, The Clerk placed a sign on his side of the desk and indicated to the Junior Clerk that he was going on his lunch break. The Junior Clerk nodded and turned his attention back to the client in front of him. As The Clerk walked back to the breakroom, he wiped a tear from his eye.

He was getting old and soft. He never used to be like this. And yet, it didn’t entirely bother him. He didn’t even care if the Sales Team found out that he had turned away a potential customer. After all these years, he just didn’t care. And what was the worst that could happen? He had been with the company for so long that if they let him go, they would have to give him a rather generous severance package. He could retire in style if that ever happened. He chuckled to himself as he ate his lunch.

When his break was over, he went back to the front desk and indicated to the Junior Clerk that it was his turn to go for lunch. Once he finished with his client, the Junior Clerk disappeared in the breakroom, leaving The Clerk alone with the long line of people.

He continued to process clients, one by one, and met with his next “Special Case” before the Junior Clerk even returned from his lunch break.

The old man shuffled up to the desk, clutching a stack of papers in his hands. He handed them over, and The Clerk could see that they were old client copies of someone else’s application.

“My wife passed away a few years ago,” the old man said after they had exchanged a greeting. “When she knew her time was coming, our grandkids paid to have her reincarnated. She had lived a hard life and the family wanted to make sure that she was delt a better hand the next time around. I miss her terribly and I… Well, I probably don’t have much longer left myself so I wanted to come in to see if… Well, if there’s a chance I could still be a part of her next life. She’s my soul mate and I want to be with her forever. And I know she would want the same. I was always the only man for her, and she’s always been the only woman for me.”

“Of course,” said The Clerk kindly. “We do offer a package that will suit your needs.”

“I sense a ‘but’ coming on,” sighed the old man. “I have money. The grandkids are helping me pay for this. They want me and my wife to be together.”

“I understand. But your reincarnation would be substantially more expensive than your wife’s. I can see that you purchased a Premium Package for her. If I were just giving you the Premium Package, I would charge you the same price. But if you want to be reincarnated into specific circumstances within the Premium Package… I’m afraid that’s quite a bit more expensive.”

“Oh,” the old man’s face fell, but he held back his emotions as best he could. “I see.”

The Clerk felt that tug at his heart once more and looked at his computer screen.

“But… I see here that… You… You are our… Hundredth customer of the New Year. So that qualifies you for a free upgrade.”

“Really?” asked the old man as the tears began to stream down his face.

“Really,” said The Clerk with a wink as he input the information into the computer. He selected the Premium Plan with Custom Specifications and marked it as pre-paid.

Once he and the old man went through the application form, The Clerk sent him down the hall to the Operations Team and said:

“Now, you go find your wife.”

The smile on the old man’s face as he walked down the hall filled The Clerk’s heart with joy. He instantly felt better about his day. And who cared if anyone found out? The Junior Clerk wasn’t around to see it. And The Clerk certainly didn’t care if he was let go. He realized that being this old, being this close to retirement, meant that he was starting to care about the job less and less. This was something he had already been aware of, but he only now realized that this meant he was starting to care about the people more and more. He suddenly felt another swell in his heart as he thought about seeing his daughter when she came over for dinner.

“Next in line please!”

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