The sky was on the verge of tears when I left the house that morning.

‘It must be a sign.’ I mused with myself. Yes, a sign. For today, after years of preparation and study I was gonna apply for the job made for someone of my skills.

The ad on the previous day paper was put by a company in Blue Cove, Delaware. The Centre, they called it. They were requiring the expertise of a pretender and what better job for an actor than... a pretender? After all, what is acting if not pretending?

I took the bus instead of the subway. They were both crowded. As always. That wasn’t a sign anyway. Not as far as I could tell. ‘Things will be better soon.’ I thought.



I stood amazed at the Building standing in front of me. The entire structure was impressive, oppressive, and depressive too. I smiled. “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to pretend!” I thought out loud.

I approached the tall steel doors and pressed the doorbell. Instead of a normal ‘ding dong’ what I heard was THERE ARE PRETENDERS AMONG US.

‘This must be it. Apparently, they have a very peculiar sense of humor.’

The door opened and I saw two large men dressed in identical black suits, with sunglasses on their  faces. Without speaking a word, they grabbed me by the arms and dragged me across the hallway. Suddenly, I realized I had no idea where they were taking me.

“Where are you taking me?”

No answer.

“I can walk, you know?”

No answer.

“Excuse me? Hello?”

‘They must be deaf or something.’

“Are you deaf?”

‘That’s a very good question. How are they suppose to answer you if they can’t hear what you’re asking, you idiot!’

After a few more steps, we reached the receptionist’s desk and they dropped me down like a bag of dirt. With a slight difference – I’ve seen bags of dirt being handled with much more care than I was.

They pulled me up, forced me to sit on a chair near the desk and then left without saying a word whatsoever. I was adjusting my tie when the sound of someone clearing the throat made me look to the woman in front of me. Young, mid thirties, good looking, Asian. In fact, all the secretaries I saw wandering around fit into that description perfectly. I must have smiled or said something without realizing it because she answered my answered question.

“Mr. Lyle hired all of us. He likes Chinese women. I’m Tai Min.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you. That’s a very nice name. Does it mean anything special?”

“Yes, it means it’s my name.”


“Yes. What can I do for you now?”

“I’m here because of an ad I saw on the paper about a pretender vacancy.”

“Very well. Are you aware of the pretender minimal requisites?”

“Maybe if you tell me what the requisites are, I’ll be able to tell you if I have any of them.”

“There are three basic requirements...”

“I thought you said requisites.”

“It’s the same.”

“Oh! Okay. Sorry to interrupt.”

“That’s alright. First, a pretender has to be a genius capable of becoming anyone he wants to be. Second, he cannot know who their parents are, and third, he has to be in love with his worst enemy. Do you possess any of this qualities?”

“You call that ‘qualities’?”

“Call them whatever you want, but you have to possess at least one of these to be considered to a preliminary interview.”

“Well...” I thought for a few seconds before answering. “I’m not a genius, to tell you the truth. My parents died a few years ago--”

“Your real parents?”

“How many more should I have?”

“What about the third characteristic?”

I sighed. “I have to say I really don’t fit into that category. My worst enemy is my neighbor, but from that to being in love with him it’s a very big step. One I’m not willing to make.”

“I see.” She scratched her nose with the tip of her pen. “Well sir, I’m sorry to tell you this but you seem to lack the minimal requisites this job requires.”

I came a little closer to the desk and whispered softly. “Look, Tai Min, we’re all in the same boat here, okay? I really do need this job. Please? Can’t you, I don’t know, pretend I’m good?”

“It’s not my job to pretend. My job is to type, file and answering phones.”

“Come on. I’ll buy you dinner. What d’you say?

“I can’t do that. If my boss catches me doing this he’ll...” she trailed off.

“If he find out anything, I’ll tell him it was all my fault. You won’t have to worry about anything.”

“You don’t know my boss. The things he’s capable off...”

“Please Tai Min. We’re colleagues, aren’t we? Soon-to-be, I mean. That is,” I whispered “if you just... close your eyes and listen to your heart.”

‘Man! I’m really good at this! She’s gonna do it! I can feel it! I can feel it!’



“But you need to possess some special ability. Something remarkable.”

“I’m very good at pretending.”

“That’s very good. Anything else?”

“I can do voices. I used to do commercials.”

“That will do.” She fumbles through her paperwork and hands me a paper and a pen. “Fill this out.”

I grabbed the pen and the paper and began to fill out the blank spaces. Name, age, blood type, last psychiatric evaluation, allergies, first time kiss, first time...

‘Wow! These guys are thorough!’

The phone rang only once before Tai Min answered it. “Yes, Mr. Lyle?”

“Tai Min, I’m feeling a little peckish. Do you mind stepping into my office so I can have a bite?”

“I’ll be there in just a second, Mr. Lyle.”


The phone on the other end was put down. Tai Min disconnected the call and spoke to me.

“Are you through?”

“Almost. Just a few more seconds and that’s it.”

“You better hurry. Mr. Lyle is very hungry.”

I finished filling out the form and handed it over to Tai Min.

“Here you go. What now?”

She made a quick check up on what I wrote before answering. “Go to the end of the hall and use the elevator to go to SL-5. Once you get there, you will be...” she thought of a good word to use “‘guided’ to a waiting room.”

“Then what?”

“You wait. That’s what waiting rooms are for.”

“Thanks, Tai Min!” I gave her a quick kiss. “I owe you one.”

She smiled but still maintained her composure as the phone rang once more.

“It’s Mr. Lyle. You have to go now.”

“Thanks again.”

We got up simultaneously and moved in opposite directions. I looked behind and watched her walking down the hall. It was only then that I realized she was missing her left arm.



The waiting room was a small room with no furniture except for three plastic chairs and a small surveillance camera at one corner of the room. Apart from me, there was only one person there. A man in his thirties, brown hair, well built. I sat on one of the two available chairs, leaving the one in the middle free for whoever might come.

I cracked my fingers and sighed. The journey from the elevator to this room was not what I’d call a ‘pleasant trip’. I checked my watch. The walls of silence built between my colleague and me were brought down with the sound of his voice.

“First time here?”



“A bit.”

“You should be.” He took a cigarette from his pocket and lighted it. He extended the pack to me. “You want some?”

“No, thank you. Why should be nervous about?”

“Because they will kill you if you fail their tests.”

“That’s not very nice, is it?”

“No. But this company was never known for being nice to its employees.”

“How do you know that? You’ve worked here before?”

“My brother did.”

“What happened to him?”

“He reached the end of his contract and they let him go.”

“What’s so wrong with that?”

“They let him go for good.”


He sighed. Something was amiss here. I decided to move on.

“What about vacations?”

“Well... it may be a while before you receive any vacations, but once you do, believe me, it will seem like eternal.”

“I don’t want eternity. I just want a week. That’s all.”

Although I was the first to hear the doorknob being turned, we both looked to the door at the exact same time to see who was coming. The door opened and an old distinguished man in his sixties entered the room. He spoke directly to me, ignoring my colleague, with a, if I’m not mistaken, French tone. Belgian, I think.

“My name is Sydney. I’ll be taking care of you for a while.”


‘So far so good. I think...’

“What do you want me to do?”

“I’m going to test your skills. Follow me.”

With that he left the room. I got up.

“Good luck.” my partner said.


I left the room and closed the door.



The room where we were now was much more different than the previous in terms of size and items. This one had several tables and chairs, a computer, a TV and audio system, a strange glass bubble and a large mirror on one of the walls.

I pointed to the bubble, intrigued by whatever use it might had, and asked, “What’s that for?”

“That is something we use while performing SIMs.”

I tried to nod as if knew what a SIM was but it was no use. I had to ask. “What’s a SIM?”

“Short name for Simulation.”

“But what does it do?”

“It’s a sensory privation chamber.”

“Oh! I know what they are! A friend of mine got on of those on Ebay a few weeks ago. They’re very cool!”

“I’m afraid you must be mistaken. This is an exclusive Centre item and The Centre never puts its products on sale. Especially not on Ebay.”

“I don’t know about that. All I know is that I like it.” I looked at him and gave my best ‘pleading’ look. “Can I use it now?”

“Later. Let’s begin this, shall we?”

“Whatever you say, doc.”

Sydney asked me a couple of questions while taking some personal notes from time to time. He must have been very tired for every once in a while we would put the notes down and close his eyes to sleep. Then, after five to ten minutes, he would awake up and tell me to continue. Whenever I asked him if everything was alright we replied with a yawned “Yes”.



After thirty minutes of inquiry, I was already in the middle of my fourth answer when a young man, in his mid thirties entered the room. Bald, Hawaiian shirt, nervousness at its peek.

“S-Sydney--” he stuttered.

“Yes, Broots?”

“I’m sorry to interrupt you. It’s just...”

“That’s okay. What is it?”

“We have a lead on Jarod. Miss Parker and I will be flying to Nevada in half an hour. Do you want to come with us?”

“I have to choose between going on a goose chase or staying here?”

“You don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”

“I call the window seat.”

“What? C’mon Syd! You got the window seat last time!”

“I called it.”

“You know that’s not fair...”

“Someday Broots, you will learn how to call.”

“You’re coming now?”

“Soon. I need to finish something here first.”

“I’ll go tell Miss Parker then.” Broots replied and left the room.

Sydney turned to me and spoke, while gathering his stuff, “I’m going to leave you now. I’m sorry to say this, but I’m afraid you’re going to have to be put under Mr. Raines’ care.”

I felt like asking if I could go with him but then I remember I really didn’t like goose that much, so instead I asked “Are you sorry for me or him?”

“That’s a difficult question. I’ll give you an answer as soon as I return from my journey.”

Sydney left me alone in the room. Alone with my thoughts. What did he mean by that? And who was this Mr. Raines anyway?

As if hearing my thoughts, a man carrying a briefcase entered the room, accompanied by two other men similar to the ones who dragged across the building from room to room. What’s with this people and individuality? They all look like a bunch of clones.

I took a good look at the man walking towards me. Old, about Sydney’s age, bald, wrinkled skin, psychotic eyes and, to complete the portrait, a pet oxygen tank.

‘This guy reminds me of my neighbor’, I thought ‘Man! Imagine me being in love with... this. Ergh!’

“My name is Mr. Raines.”

“I know. Sydney told me.”

He nodded once and one of the clones hit me with a slap on my face. I tried to get up but the other one restrained me.

“What was that for?” I asked.

Again he nodded. Again I got hit. This time, harder than before.

“It seems you’re failing to understand your situation. You have two chances here: either you follow my commands or you suffer the consequences.” He leaned a little closer. “I can be your worst enemy if you want to.”

He smiled and that smile really crept me out.

‘This guy wants to be my worst enemy? That means he’s in... Wow! Stop right there! Don’t even think it!’

“I don’t love you mister! You can forget about me having an affair with you! It’s not gonna work.”

‘Hope I wasn’t too hard on him.’

“What’re you talking about?”

“One of the pretender requisites. It says that we must be in love with our worst enemy.”

“Who told you that?”

“The receptionist.”

“Lyle and his stupid pranks...” we wheezed. “That boy is needing a long trip to Renewal Wing.”

“You mean... Oh! OH! Thank God! I’m so relieved. No offense to you sir.”

He nodded once before continuing, “Let’s get down to business.”

He opened the briefcase and took a bunch of papers, which he gave to me. I gave a quick look at the papers before asking, “What do you want me to do?”

“Our client wants you to solve this problem.”

“Why me?”

“Because I’m telling you.”


“I’ll leave you alone for now. Be sure to be finished when I return.”

Mr. Raines and his two pet clones left me alone for almost thirty minutes. I stared at the papers pretending to understand whatever it was. I just couldn’t get it.

‘Great! Math... I’m sooooooo good with math. At least the pretending part is going on great. Look at me now, pretending to understand this!”

I wrote a few numbers when I noticed Mr. Raines and his fellow men returning.

“Are you finished with the simulation?”

“The what?”

“The problem.”

“Almost there.” I grinned.

He gave me an angry look.

‘Okay. He doesn’t like to wait. Maybe I can cheer up him a bit.’

“Lighten up, will you? Hey! I can tell you a few jokes while I’m finishing this.”

“I will not tolerate insubordination!”

‘Poor choice of words.’

“You know, being a little nicer could open many doors.”

“Really?” he turned to the clones. “I think he needs a lesson, boys.”

The two clones threw me to the ground and used me as a punching bag for three eternal minutes. Maybe I should quit while I’m still alive. Lucky for them I enjoy a good beating every once in a while. It runs in the family.

“I don’t need to be ‘lightened up’, what I need is for you to finish the simulation. Are we clear?”


“Good. Then proceed. I’ll wait.”

‘Great. Okay mister. If it’s pretending you want, it’s pretending you’ll get.’

“Now... if this is 834003x90309/3839 then this thing here will be 83817645,43094 which will be right next to the parallel line of the spiral figure, which...”

“What the hell are you doing?” he wheezed.

“Pretending to solve this.”

“What d’you mean ‘pretending’?”

“Isn’t that what I’m supposed to do here? Pretend?”

“You are supposed to solve the problem!”

“You have to be kidding, right? I mean I would have to be genius to solve anything like this.”

“That is what pretenders do!”

“I was under the impression I was just here to pretend. That’s why I applied to this job. I’m an actor. A good one, I might add.”

“You are not a pretender?” he wheezed with a very perceptive tone of rage in every word. “You mean to say I have been wasting my time with you?”

“If you’re calling ‘wasted time’ to one of my best interpretations ever, then I’ll have to say, yes.

He took a deep breath and spoke angrily as never. “Give me one good to reason to spare your pathetic life.”

‘Ah! My trump card!’

“I can do voices.”

“You what?”

“I can do voices. I used to work on commercials. I can pretend to be Michael Jackson. It’s one of my bests. All I need is a stapler and I’ll be ready.”

I scanned the room looking for a stapler. Raines’ whatever little patience he had came to an end.

“Enough! Kill him boys! And make it look like a suicide.”

“Yes, Mr. Raines.” they replied together.

‘First time here I hear these guys speak.’

Those were my last thoughts as I closed my eyes and felt the impact of two bullets hitting my skull, allowing my brain to meet the outside world for the first time.



I opened my eyes and saw... white.

‘Must be heaven.’ I thought to myself.

‘No. Not heaven.’ Someone answered. Someone invisible.

‘Who’s there? Who are you?’

‘I’m one of the Voices. You were selected to be part of the Inner Sense because of your gift.’

‘What is that, the Inner Sense?’

‘Oh... You know. Just a bunch of us talking inside someone’s head. You can think of it as a job for life.’

‘You mean I’m still alive?’

‘No. You’re dead. Your body is being eaten by worms as we speak.’

‘Oh. Okay, I’m in. What d’you want me to do?’

‘You can do voices, right?’


‘Can you make two different voices simultaneously?’

‘Sure.’ I replied with using an old man and a child’s voice simultaneously.

‘That’s very good. All right then. All you need to do is talk occasionally and try to guide the person you’re talking to without driving her to insanity.’

‘I’m gonna be inside a woman’s head?’

‘Yes. I must leave you now. The Voices are throwing a party tonight. I don’t wanna be late. Here’s the name of the woman you’ll be assisting.’

With that the Voice disappeared and silence fell. A tiny piece of paper came out of nowhere. I picked up the paper and read it, recognizing the name.

‘Hmm! Time for a chit chat, Miss Parker.’