I don’t know how long I’ve been waiting. I’m standing in the small reception area in front of two plump read chairs pushed up against a wall. I don’t dare sit in them. They look like the kind of chairs that you would sink into, where getting out requires an ungainly sequence of arms and legs to windmill wildly.
Chairs, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were designed to trap the unwitting candidate in their first secret test of coordination. I’m too nervous to sit anyway. I can feel my palms and the backs of my knees sweaty with the thought of the interview.
So instead, I stand staring up at the large wall.
There are dozens of newspapers cuttings covering it from foot to ceiling. Along the rows at the bottom, are articles with dates and headlines from the last week. Freshly cut edges lined up in neat rows and thumb tacked into place.
“Oil spill averted”
“Hostages freed with successful negotiation by Supers Inc”
“Runway train – 40 saved”
The highest ones up the wall are in an odd shaped assortment of frames and if I crane my neck I can just about make out the underlined text in the same bright yellow pen that runs throughout the pages on the the wall. I’ve read most of them, before I hear the footsteps coming down the hall.
I glance down the long white hallway that has no doors, sun streaming from windows lining it on one side, hitting the cool tiles and smooth wall opposite.
The man striding down the corridor wears a black cape fastened at the neck, a tailored suit and smart top hat. But it’s the mask on his face that makes my eyes go wide. The light from the windows catches the mask and in he light, it changes.
In one step it looks luminescent, the fleshy tones mixed with glittering stones. In another half a step, it seems to go translucent, a dull shimmer above a plain face, expressionless. A mouth, a nose, two eyes, but the tones shift with each step. The features change with every breath creating an aching familiarity that this is someone I know and don’t know. A dozen strangers’ faces flashing past in a crowd.
Realising my mouth is hanging open, I taste the sweat on my lips and manage a smile as he reaches me. He steps between me and the chairs towering in front of me with his top-hat.
“Welcome. My name is Mag.” He says, cold silk pressing dry my hand as we shake. “I hope we haven’t kept you waiting too long?” His voice is clear even behind the mask, but soft. It speaks a gentle reassurance that match the blue eyes staring through the mask.
“No, not long.” I reply, but the end of my thought seems sucked into the air between us.
I’m distracted by the memory of a photo of him in one of the clippings. I’m sure of it. One of the older ones I hadn’t finished reading. My gaze wonders up searching for the image behind him, looking for a face from the picture to fill the mask.
“If you don’t mind,” he says, still holding on to my hand. “We’ll take the short-cut to the interview room.”
I nod, still distracted as I search for the familiar gold edged frame. But when I feel his other gloved hand on my shoulder, his voice cuts through.
Mag looks straight ahead his eyes through the mask intently focused on something behind me and I feel his grip on my shoulder tighten.
The sunshine through the windows gets brighter and seems to bleed into the corners of the hallway, smudging away the frames on the wall, the floor, everything. I stand perfectly still and the world around us melts into curved shapes until they pulse into life and become the fixtures of another room.
I take a moment to steady myself and fight down the churning in my stomach as my breakfast does a somersault. The room dulls into the fluorescent light of a windowless room, and at its centre is a small table and some chairs.
“We’re here.” Mag says and releases me to take a step back. For a moment, I think he might take a bow, but instead he turns with a flourish of the cape to walk around the table to take a chair.
I see sitting next to him behind the table is a woman almost hidden amongst what looks like a trellis of vines and flowers surrounding her deep green skin. Growing out of her arms and back, the lush plant stems creak over and under the table. They curl up the legs of the table and into the corners of the tiny room.
“Hello AJ,” she smiles. but doesn’t offer me a hand. Instead the vines pull at the base of the chair opposite her and slides it out.
Oblivious to the mesmerising dance of leaves and flowers going on behind her. She looks down at a small pile of papers in her hand, a look of deep concentration making furrows on her brow.
“My name is Sulia.” she says, not looking up. “I have your application here and everything looks in order.”
As I sit down, I see Mag with his own pile of papers in front of him. He stretches his gloved fingers and with a small gesture a pen materialises.
“We’ll be taking notes, through-out.” she says.
“But please don’t worry about it.” Mag adds. I meet his eyes through the mask and feel his gentle reassurance before he looks down at the paper in front of him.
Sulia shuffles her papers once more and holds a small pencil poised in one hand.
“So” She says, looking up at me finally and smiles. “Why you want to be a superhero?”