Working for the Job Centre was boring, to say the least.
Elizabeth had been employed there eight years. She’d fallen into the position after a prolonged period of signing on after graduating from university. When there had been a recruitment drive at her local dole office she had been offered, forcibly, and accepted, reluctantly, a position as a Junior Personal Advisor, and in the years since had been promoted to Senior Personal Advisor. The people she worked with were nice enough, though she found the work draining at times. Not what she had expected to be doing at this time in her life after acquiring a degree in media studies. The office was bland, though a rare beam of natural daylight shone through the permanently half-closed blinds covering the window closest to her desk. There was no air conditioning either, the space filled with the stale smell of second hand smoke and Daniel Letterworth’s peculiar breath. He had worked there longer than Elizabeth. No one had ever mentioned it in all the time she had been there and Daniel seemed oblivious, so it remained an unspoken truth.
It was Wednesday. One of Elizabeth’s favourite signers was due in. An old man, Richard, who had spent all his life working at the local town paper as an editor and when it had been converted to a website he had ‘taken’ voluntary redundancy. He was a cheerful soul and very positive minded. Though he hadn’t made it to retirement before being ‘cast on the pile,’ as he put it, he had done relatively well for himself. He didn’t need housing benefit as he owned his property outright and his wife, older than he by a fair way really, had been a doctor and so they were relatively well to do in their old age. He constantly applied for forms of employment he was never going to receive given his situation and age, and as a result he had been on benefits for quite some time, but without ever drawing any negative attention to himself. He made Elizabeth laugh, and he was a gentleman who never stared at her breasts. Elizabeth’s co-worker came over, an older woman called Judith.
“Can you cover some of Lionel’s afternoon signs? He’s had to go home.”
“Oh, yes of course.”
Secretly, Elizabeth’s heart sank. Covering other people’s work was always a free for all and it meant extra stress. She wasn’t going to get to kill any time chatting with Richard, she knew it. They both liked Alfred Hitchcock. And Galton and Simpson too.
“It’s his kid,” Judith explained. “Spewing everywhere at school, the poor little mite. He has to go and collect it, and take a change of clothes apparently. Yuck.”
Judith smiled and put a box of JSA agreement forms on her desk, before trotting off to the next table. Elizabeth sighed, looked through the box. The first to be called was Gigantis Mantis Religiosa. Elizabeth didn’t recognise the name, she tried to think if she had seen a giant praying mantis around anytime before but she drew a blank and before she had time to look him up on the computer he was perched before her, his antennae twitching nervously as he rubbed his raptorial legs against one another. Elizabeth smiled politely to mask her alarm. The males were the small ones… the females were bigger! And… oh God, don’t stare. He’s missing a hind leg! She shook her head internally and logged into his account on the server. The details were largely blank. Typical, Elizabeth thought and as she looked up she saw Richard nod at her cheerfully as he sat down at the desk opposite hers to sign on with Daniel. Great. She made eye contact with the enormous watery unblinking domes that were set on either side of the mantis’s head. Its labrum twitched nervously.
“Hello, Mister Religiosia.”
“Please, call me Gigantis. Surely there is no need for such formality?”
His voice was smooth and surprisingly pleasant with a friendly tone that she found instantly relaxing. She pondered briefly how it was he could speak, being a Mantis, but she dispelled the question from her head. It seemed rude to ask.
“So, Gigantis, what sort of work are you looking for then? We don’t have a lot on the computer about you, I’m afraid. Have you filled out an agreement form?”
“Sadly not. I fear, as an insect of grotesquely enormous proportions, that there is no work in which I can engage. I am without qualifications, or experience. It is a woeful situation.”
Elizabeth’s heart sank at this. She worried too much about the people around her, even when she was not actually connected to them on a personal level.
“Do you not even have some GCSE’s then? An NVQ perhaps?”
Gigantis shook his head, his antennae lowered in shame.
“I never studied. There never seemed to be the time. A reckless youth, I fear. I spent my formative instars feeding upon other insects relative in size to my own body mass, and once I reached sexual maturity and my exo-skeleton was fully formed I was hit by a bout of severe depression.”
“Oh goodness, that’s terrible! I hope you’re all right now, though. Yes?”
Gigantis lowered his head and spread out his antennae as a show of grace.
“I have to laugh about it now, I suppose. Though at the time it didn’t seem so funny. I fell in love, a beautiful thing. You will excuse my forwardness on the matter, but she had such lovely white dots on her coxae. We planned to have children. And then…”
He shook his head and grew distant, his elongated bulk seemingly retreating into its individual segments. Elizabeth smiled sadly. He didn’t need to say anymore. She had been in a bad relationship herself once, it had ended with her briefly returning to live with her parents and she had changed her phone number to escape his constant abusive texting. He had been unpleasant enough, though he had never tried to eat her following copulation. She wondered if that was where Gigantis had lost a leg. Perhaps he had been forced to leave it behind as he desperately fled from his murderous nuptials. She realised she was staring again. Gigantis chirruped briefly, and then started to speak again.
“And then there was the accident.”
Elizabeth had been intimidated by Gigantis at first. At about eight feet in length and with what were, essentially, claws at the end of each foreleg, he had cut quite an imposing figure. But now, listening to him speak, Elizabeth could only feel pity for his plight.
“You are aware, though you are too polite to mention it, of my size. Would that it were the only elephant in the room, though my physical presence rather belies my use of such a metaphor don’t you think?”
Elizabeth couldn’t help but smile.
“Yes. I had noticed that you were… a little larger than one might expect. It seemed rude to say anything.”
“No, I am not offended. My size is beyond my decision, beyond my control. I have no qualifications, as I have already said, and my only experience lies in the hunting of other insects. These are hardly skills on which to base a career. In my youth, well. When we are young we feel the world is ours for the taking, and that it can be taken whenever we feel the time might be right to do so. But life is not like that, and one only realises as one grows older. By then, it is too late.”
Elizabeth nodded, lost in thought. She remembered her own degree and her time at university. She had been going to travel, and upon her return from seeing the world she had planned to write a novel about her experiences. But it had never seemed to come together. Now here she was. Gigantis continued.
“So you see, in a fit of desperation I applied to one of those clinical trials. It was a thousand pounds, I could hardly say no to the money. And there is only so much of your life you can spend standing perfectly still while you wait for a cricket to stray into your reach. You know how it is, I’m sure?”
Elizabeth had never stood motionless, disguised by long grasses, until a hapless insect fell into her strike range whereby she had then consumed it head first. But she could empathise.
“So I applied to these clinical trials. I was assured there would be no long-term effects and the money was a boon at the time. I foolishly signed away my rights and signed a contract I only read in haste. I was desperate. It’s done now. No one can change the past. But, as you can see, they were slightly untruthful about the side effects. They injected me with a growth hormone. You wouldn’t believe it looking at me now, but once I was barely two inches in length!” Gigantis chuckled gently. “And now look at me. Plus would you believe, I’m still growing. But what can I do? I signed my rights away and now even that money is gone.”
He shook his head, a robotic-like swivelling motion that saw his face rotate a near 160 degrees before finally coming back to meet her sad stare. Elizabeth could feel her eyes watering. He seemed such a nice male Mantodea. She wanted to help but didn’t know what to do. There was a pause between them. And then it struck her.
“Gigantis, have you considered a career in city destruction?”
His antennae prickled in curiosity.
“I’m a little unsure as to what you mean?”
“Well, back in the 1950’s it was quite a popular cottage industry, but as time passed it died out, became all but forgotten. And then in the last few years it’s started to make a comeback. I was racking my brains while you where talking, and it seems such a sad story, but then it hit me. An enormous Praying Mantis such as yourself, especially if you’re still growing at such an exponential rate, I mean… politely Gigantis, but you’re bigger than a lot of cars. And you have, if you don’t mind me saying, such large claws. I hope you aren’t offended are you? You seem like such a nice Mantid.”
Gigantis shook his head warmly and rubbed his legs together appreciatively.
“No, no. Not at all. I have never thought of these things before now, but it suddenly seems so clear. I can lift many times my own bodyweight. I’m quite sure I could flip a bus over with ease, not to mention pick it up and throw it.”
“And I assume your carapace is quite tough as well, is it?”
“Oh yes. I was hit by a car a few weeks ago and I hardly felt a bump. It’s silly. I didn’t think to knock the puny thing out of the way, and I apologised afterwards to the driver. But now that I think about it, it was no different from some common insect. A bug.”
“Was it a VW?”
Gigantis shook his head, but they both laughed at the reference.
“So, how does one apply to such a position? Is there training available?”
“Well, it runs as an apprenticeship. You would be willing to travel, right?”
“Of course, needs must and I like to see new places.”
“Well hold on, let me just check the computer.”
Elizabeth beamed as she logged on to the apprentice scheme website. She always felt good about herself when she managed to help other people. It was tremendously fulfilling.
“So I’m checking the details now. It says here that you spend an intensive twelve week period with a fully skilled hive of giant mutant ants where you watch but don’t participate while they destroy Brighton. And then, on the assumption that you pass an oral examination on techniques employed, which I’m sure you will, Gigantis, you hardly seem a fool to me, if you don’t mind me saying so, then you move on to a practical development of your skills which is a lot more hands on, pardon the expression, whereby you will eliminate Hull to the point that it’s nothing but smoking rubble. Then, as long as that works out, you’re fully trained and can commence freelance wholesale destruction of any heavily urbanised area that takes your fancy. Sounds pretty good, huh?”
“I… I don’t know what to say. This sounds wonderful. I’ve never really thought I had much potential, but this just seems like me down to a tee. And now that I think about it, I’ve always hated Leicester. This could be my chance to really make a difference. Make changes in my life.”
“Well, to be honest, Gigantis, when I saw you come up to the desk I was a bit scared. You could have just said, I’m a giant praying Mantis, give me my benefits or I’m going to eat your head. But you weren’t like that at all. You’re really nice, to be honest, and some of what you’ve said seems like such a sad story.”
Elizabeth found her eyes drifting back to the missing leg. Some things were better left unspoken.
“I’m just glad we could be of help. You deserve this, Gigantis.”
“I must say, if I was able to cry, I would, but in the face of that disability, I will say this instead; Give me this chance and I won’t let you down. If I get the training, the opportunity, then I’ll be the best monstrosity of nature you could ever hope to see laying waste to a city skyline, and I promise I’ll never lay ruin to anywhere that you or your family live in, Miss.”
Elizabeth pursed her lips slightly at this. Her brother lived in Leicester but she didn’t want to dampen the mood. She decided to keep mum and began inputting details into the computer. It turned out that she and Gigantis shared the same star sign, which they both laughed about. She didn’t notice when Richard said goodbye.
Alex Gabriel Phillips asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work