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The attractive receptionist stepped into the waiting room and called out "Mr. Soomer?" to which a casually dressed man stood up from his chair and waved. "We're ready for you."

Conrad Soomer followed the woman through the door, down the hallway, and was pointed towards an office. "Mr. Marklin will see you now," she said. Conrad entered and just as the door was closing behind him he heard the woman wish him good luck.

"Mr. Soomer, come in!" the enthusiastic approaching-middle-age man behind the desk said. "Sit down. Would you like an ice-cold Coca-Cola? Maybe some Pringles? You know, once you pop, you can't stop." He chuckled at his own joke and tapped a few keys at his computer.

"No, thank you, I'm fine," Conrad said. He sat in the chair in front of the desk. Small (and presumably expensive) speakers hung in the corners of the room, light instrumental music emanating from them. The flourescent lights above hummed quietly, the music just barely drowning them out. The walls themselves were covered in the same thick carpeting as the floor, and on those walls hung a series of framed logos for various companies: the Coca-Cola circle, the Nike swoosh, the MGM lion, the Skippy Rastafarian elephant, and so on.

"I'll get right to the point. You're here because you're interested in Arcadia Towers," Marklin said, "And because we at Arcadia Towers are interested in you. You're just what we're looking for in a resident. In fact, you might say you're in our target demographic. Your application looks promising, but we like to meet with prospective residents before we approve anybody."

"Oh, I understand," Conrad said. "I've heard a lot about Arcadia and-"

"Arcadia Towers," Marklin cut in. "We insist that Arcadia Towers always be referred to by its full name."

"Ah, pardon me," Conrad continued, "Arcadia Towers... As I was saying, I've heard a lot of nice things about this condo."

"And the unique offer that Arcadia Towers' parent company, Nordyne Worldwide Consumer Applications, presents to the residents," Marklin finished. "You can save the fawning for some other interview. Let's be honest, Conrad - can I call you Conrad? - you're here because each unit in Arcadia Towers comes fully furnished with the latest in approved modern conveniences and decorations, completely stocked with the finest and freshest foods every week, and includes your choice of free DVD, CD, or video game each month all as a part of your monthly residence payment plus utilities, all of which are subject to Nordyne Worldwide Consumer Applications guidelines. A payment which, of course, is guaranteed to be no more than 40% of your average monthly income."

"Well, yes," Conrad said. "To be honest, it all sounds a little too good to be true. What's the catch? What are these guidelines?"

"The guidelines are nothing more than a list of restricted brands and products. We can't have you, say, shooting off a restricted firearm, watching an unlicensed DVD player, or smoking an illegal nicotine product. The only catch is that at Arcadia Towers we conduct background checks on all prospective residents to ensure that they are Arcadia Towers material. We have a little saying here, Conrad: 'Do not bring your evil here'. How would you feel if your neighbors were thieves, malcontents, and criminals? Not very comfortable, that's for sure! Your written application shows that you're Arcadia Towers material, Conrad, but I will need to ask you a few questions about your past before I can approve you for residence. And I will have to insist that my decision regarding your standing at Arcadia Towers is final." Marklin pulled a form out from his desk and passed it to Conrad. "I just need you to sign this indicating that I have explained this to you and that you understand that all decisions are final." Conrad signed the form and Marklin whisked it away back into his desk. "Shall we begin?"

"Go ahead," Conrad said with confidence. He had never been in trouble with the law, nor had he let his bank accounts run dry or his credit revoked. In his mind, Conrad was a shoe-in for acceptance. Marklin's first question, however, seemed to come out of nowhere.

"Coca-Cola or Pepsi?" Marklin asked.

"No thanks," Conrad said, turning down a drink yet again.

"No," Marklin chuckled, "Which do you drink? Coca-Cola or Pepsi?"

"Um, Coke."

"Which variety of Coca-Cola? Classic, Caffeine-free, Diet, Vanilla, with Lemon? C2?"

"Uh, Classic. What does this have to do with-"

"How do you feel about the McNugget?"

"Excuse me?"

"Chicken McNuggets," Marklin said, "What are your thoughts?"

"I don't really have any thoughts about McNuggets."

"I see," Marklin said, his salesman-like smile fading as he tapped away at the computer again.

"What does any of this have to do with a background check? Or with living at Arcadia Towers?"

Marklin ignored the question and instead fired back with more questions of his own: favorite snack cake, favorite breakfast sandwich meat patty, preferred brand of sneaker, most trusted online retailer, and so on. The questions came at a rapid fire pace for nearly thirty minutes, with Conrad simply spouting back whatever answer first crossed his mind, his request for clarifications glossed over and explained away as "part of the process". All the while Marklin entered the responses into the computer.

"Well, it looks like you passed the first check," Marklin said after he had exhausted his list of questions.

"Just what is all of this about?" Conrad asked again, "What does my favorite frozen bagel have to do with living here?"

"Arcadia Towers is a joint venture between Nordyne Worldwide Consumer Applications and its various client companies," Marklin said, "You did read the small print on your application, right?"

"Um,"

"The goal of Arcadia Towers," Marklin continued, cutting off Conrad's reply as he had done to so many other applicants before, "Is to provide affordable living to targeted consumers through the use of product placement. Consumers like yourself, Conrad. After all, we can't have residents living on Nordyne Worldwide Consumer Applications's money and not using the correct products and furnishings, right?"

"You expect me to only eat your clients' food and use your clients' furniture if I live here?" Conrad asked, aghast.

"Only a certain percentage," Marklin said, "But you shouldn't worry about that. Your responses indicate that you already consume 87% of the approved foods and beverages offered at Arcadia Towers. You're already purchasing these goods by your own free will. You might as well let Nordyne Worldwide Consumer Applications pick up the bill. But if you're uncomfortable with this, I'm sure there of plenty of other less discriminating condominiums in the city that offer less perks for more money."

"Well..."

"That's the spirit! Now, let's continue. Next I'll be asking about some of your Internet and television habits."

"My favorite website is-"

"No, nothing like that," Marklin said. "Are you now or have you ever been a user of an illegal music and/or movie downloading service?"

"No."

Marklin tapped at the keyboard some more and said, "Well, your Internet Service Provider records show that you have accessed various file sharing servers many times in the past two years, most recently yesterday evening."

"But I-"

"Please, Conrad. Don't insult us both with lies. Next question: are you now or have you ever been a user of a digital video recorder? This includes TiVo, ReplayTV, and other similar devices."

"Yes, I-"

"And do you skip the commercials when you watch programming on these devices?" Marklin didn't even give Conrad a chance to answer, instead pulling up more information on the computer. "According to TiVo service records you fast-forward through commercials an average of 97% of the time. 97%! That's just as if you were stealing programming."

"How is that-"

"You disgust me, Mr. Soomer. Watching programming that you have not paid for by not watching the agreed-upon commercials is reprehensible, and downloading music and movies from the Internet illegally is even more ghastly! We're trying to have a society here, Mr. Soomer, and you're simply freeloading your way through life. I have no choice but to deny your application to Arcadia Towers, and I do so gladly. People like you make me sick, Mr. Soomer. Now, as you agreed upon when you signed the agreement form, I must take measures to prevent you from stealing content again in the future."

Marklin stood and walked to the door, Conrad right behind him raising his voice and saying "I don't know what kind of scam you're running here, but-" Marklin slammed the door in Conrad's face, cutting off his sentence and locking him in the little office. "Open this door!" Conrad shouted, pounding at the door. The soothing music playing over the speakers ended abruptly, replaced by a deafening siren wail. Conrad slammed his hands over his ears, attempting to block the screech. The humming lights grew brighter, becoming a series of blinding flashes of light. His eyes closed tight as dizziness set in. Conrad fell to the floor, unconscious, as his brain was overwhelmed with the loud noises and bright lights provided by Nordyne Worldwide Consumer Applications's various partners and clients.

"He seemed so promising," the attractive receptionist said as Marklin switched off the lights and speakers from the safety of the hallway.

"They always do," Marklin said as he went back into his office, "Get someone to drive Mr. Soomer home." He stepped around the man who had picked Conrad up and was about to carry him out through the building's service exit. "Be sure to leave a coupon behind for 10% off of braille lessons at one of our vision and hearing loss partners."

"I think I know the routine by now," she said as she walked down the hallway to the waiting room. She opened the door and said "Ms. Block? We're ready for you."


Written for They Hunger For Nodes: An e2 Halloween Scary Story Quest

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