Jared Williams shifted uncomfortably in his seat. The wooden office chair’s creaks echoed off the blank cinderblock walls of room 219. The air was hot and thick with smoke still billowing off the snubbed out cigarette butts in the ashtray on the old metal desk in front of him. The one fluorescent light in the dimly lit room flickered, and Jared could feel the sweat rolling underneath his shirt collar. But it wasn’t the eerie surroundings or the splinters he was getting in his butt cheeks from that old chair that had Jared on edge. It was the gaze coming at him from across the desk, peering right through his soul, from Rust Cohle–the HR representative.
His sleeves rolled up to his elbows, Rust pulled out two cigarettes from a package and offered one to Jared. Before Jared could answer, Rust lit them both, the cigarette lighter illuminating the dark circles under his eyes. He looked like he hadn’t slept in days. Jared had never actually met the HR representative before, but he had heard the horror stories from Cindy in accounting about the countless employees who had left his office a shell of their former selves. Whatever was left of their souls after years of grueling office monotony, Rust was able to find it and choke it out.
Jared wasn’t sure what he had done, or why he was in Rust’s office. His mind raced through all the inappropriate emails he had sent his buddy, Chris, from the mailroom, who loved a good Obama joke. He was possibly there because of the March Madness-style bracket he had made on an Excel sheet with all the women in the office, seeded out to be crowned “Coworker I Most Want to Bang.” “Shit,” thought Jared, “I am so fucking fucked.”
Rust took a long drag from his Marlboro, leaned forward, and exhaled the smoke through his nostrils. “I see you,” he said. “In fact, I can see straight through you. Every decision, every action you’ve made since your first day here–it’s all been leading to this very moment. You had no control over it; you’re bound by your baser instincts. You could no more avoid this situation playing out than you can avoid death. It’s all inevitable. Your parents, your teachers, your friends, and society as a whole have been telling you your whole life that you are in the driver’s seat, that it’s your choices that make you who you are. But that’s just a construct, a fabrication. You’re not living life. Your choices were programmed before you were even born.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Cohle…but you lost me. Why am I here?” Jared asked.
“Why are any of us here? Isn’t reality just a big metaphysical joke? The whole cosmos is nothing but the product of a molecular reaction. We cannot even fathom the insignificance of our existence. But we keep trudging along, the forgotten creatures of some god’s divine plan.” Rust was standing, his back to Jared, staring at the cinderblock wall.
Jared looked on, dumbfounded. “No, I meant, like, here. In this room…with you. What did I do?”
“Nothing you haven’t done a hundred times before, and won’t do a hundred times again. We’ve had this same conversation and been in this same room who knows how many times before,” said Rust, still staring at the wall. “Time isn’t some linear concept. It keeps repeating, and we relive the same shit over and over. I know what you did. You know what you did. Man is a slave to his true animalistic nature. Just acknowledge it was you who used the color copier for your personal gains, or we can keep doing this song and dance.” Rust turned, and loosened his tie. “End it now, Jerry.”
“Jerry? I’m Jared.”
Rust looked down at the file spread out on his desk. “You aren’t Jerry Wilkins?”
“No, I’m Jared Williams. So, I am free to go?”
“Yeah, you can go,“ Rust said, rubbing his forehead with both hands, through gritted teeth. “But could you grab Jerry for me?”
Jared felt his muscles unclench, and he breathed an audible sigh of relief. He bolted for the door and down the hallway back toward his desk. He had a new lease on life. Just as Jared rounded the last corner, he stopped and peered into a storage-closet-turned-office of the squat, thinly haired man looking at his calculator.
“Hey Jerry, HR needs to speak with you.”