Wotsits

Dear the Wotsits,

Firstly may I congratulate you on your cheesy puff snacks; I find them delicious as well as dangerously moreish. They’ve been a snacking favourite of mine ever since my mum gave up feeding me properly and would just throw a family sized bag of Wotsits at my head.

“Eat them.” She’d snarl around a cigarette as she headed out to the bookies with my pocket money.

It must be said though that nothing in life that could be considered good is without its downsides; love comes to an end (either mutually or terminally), a happy child becomes a miserable office drone, and mayonnaise goes off. Yes, nothing in life is perfect, and that includes your Wotsits.

What is that orange dust you coat them in? It’s astonishing, there’s little else in existence that can equal the sticky staying power of your powder. You could rub it on your shirt and use it as a temporary visi-vest (I say could, I have). In university I could tell which housemate had stolen my Wotsits by following the radioactive orange trail of grit from the cupboard all the way to his big, stupid, gurning face upstairs in his room.

However, this letter is not a broad sweeping generalisation of your luminous crisps. Instead it’s to do with a situation I ended up in last October, and it’s all thanks to your snack.

As you may have gathered from a passing comment above. I don’t get on with my family too well. My Mother and I never saw eye to eye (she’s two foot shorter than me) and sadly that attitude prevails through my entire family. Unfortunately some events in life force you back together with those you’d rather avoid. Funerals are one such event.

The entire Haley family were there to say a fond farewell to Micetro, the family mouse. Despite my misgivings with my family I was impelled to attend  as he was my favourite pet as a child, some twenty years ago. Micetro was a unique specimen who had a surprisingly long life, a veritable Terminator of a creature who never showed any signs of giving up the ghost.

Instead, whenever he appeared to get eaten by the family cat, Orson, or escape his cage and chew through a mains wire he always came back, sprightly as ever. The only visible signs of his misfortunes were a slight change of fur pattern, or the occasional switching of gender. Sadly Micetro was finally brought down by his own hubris when, being fed up of getting eaten by Orson, he tried to get his own back.

Taken moments before the final fight.

Taken moments before the final fight.

I stood in the back garden as my father lowered the bloated body of Micetro into his ornamental grave under the tree in the garden. I wept a solitary tear and dropped a lump of cable from a standing lamp, his favourite chew toy, on top of the cardboard coffin.

As the priest, or to be more precise my nine year old nephew, gave final rights we turned away from the grave and headed into the house for undersized sandwiches and small sausages, as is for fitting for a wake.

Whilst I piled up my plate with miniscule quiches, baby battenbergs and mounds of boringly average sized Wotsits my uncle slid up to me, being the slick, greasy fellow that he is.

“How are you faring Neville?” He asked me, his voice as oily as his hair.

“I’ll survive, although I’m surprised Micetro didn’t.” I said warily, eyeing up my oleaginous uncle. Out of my entire family he hated me the most and I found it odd he was even speaking to me.

“True, true.” He slimed out, staring at me from his sweaty, piggy eyes. “I hear you’re out of a job at the moment?”

“Yep, I’m back on the market.”

“Good, good.” My uncle dripped, leering at me. “I may have a job for you.”

“Oh really?”

“Yes it’s…technically a short term contract, but I think you’re just the specimen for the job.”

“Specimen?”

“I errr, mean, person. Yes, person for the job.”

“Brilliant, where is it?”

“Oh it’s a little place near Hucknall. I can’t give you too much information here, it’s all very hush hush.”

“Hucknall? That’s a fair distance from me.”

“It is I agree. But this is a job for life, well worth the commute.”

“Okay then.” I said, chewing around a scale model sized onion bhaji. I’ll give it a shot. Hang on though, you just said it was a sho-“

“Excellent, I’ll email you the information over. Let’s shake on it.”

I shook my uncle’s hand, immediately feeling my grip faltering under the lubricious texture of his skin. My palm shot out of his with a ‘pop’ and I surreptitiously wiped my gooey hand on a trouser leg. My uncle looked at his own mitt and snarled at the Wotsit dust valiantly clinging to his flesh.

“Sorry about that.” I garbled, almost choking on a micro roast duck as I did.

He looked away from his orange palm to me and smiled, serenely.

“Oh no need to worry, not for much longer anyway.”

*

The job requirements were very odd. I’ve never been to an interview where they’ve asked me to send, shall we say samples, in advance. Anyway I followed all of their instructions and on the 28th October I made my way to the site, a small brick building half a mile outside of Hucknall.

Whatever the business was their location was out of the ordinary. There was nothing around for miles but fields and entrenched gun nests. Half of the building before me had collapsed in on itself, although the front looked sturdy enough. I checked my phone in case I had the wrong location, but according to the map I was standing exactly where I needed to be.

The secret location was around about there.

The secret location was around about there.

I gave the door a smart series of raps, following the instruction on the email, the beat reminiscent of a Pete Droge song. I stood back and quickly swiped some imaginary lint off my suit jacket before fiddling nervously with my tie.

The door creaked open and a severe woman stood before me, wearing a rather fetching brown trouser suit, overlaid with a white medical jacket. She peered down imperiously at me over her horn-rimmed glasses, wrinkling her pointy nose as she sneered.

“Neville Haley?”

“Yep. Hello.”

“Come with me.”

She spun round and vanished inside, I had no real option but to follow her. The floor was sloped and I followed her down, our shoes clattering on the wire mesh grating. The walls were constructed from solid steel, stark fluorescent lights lit the way. The words ‘Vira-Bac Research Site Alpha’ were painted in a white military font on one of the walls.

The women led me silently through the complex; past heavy bolted steel doors with what seemed like jargon written on them. It looked like I was going to get my own office, which was an exciting thought.

“Interesting place you have here.” I said to the woman, trying to start a bit of rapport early.

“This is only the first level, there’s another forty before us.”

I whistled in appreciation. This was certainly the oddest office I had been too, obviously they meant business. After several more minutes of clacking along we reached a leather sofa shoved against one of the walls.

“You wait here. We’ll be with you in a moment.”

“Oh okay. Thank you Mrs?”

“Stanley, Wendy Stanley. And it’s Dr.”

“My apologies Dr. Stanley.”

“Just wait here.”

“Cool beans.”

I sat on the comfy leather sofa and watched as Dr. Stanley strode down the corridor before turning and heading through a door, the words ‘Enhanced Interview Department’ stamped across the steel.

I looked around, but there wasn’t much to see. It was all rather samey, very clinical if anything. I waited for five minutes, but no one came for me, so I took the opportunity to hoist a packet of Wotsits out of my leather briefcase. I happily munched through them as I mentally ran through some of the interview techniques I had read about online. I decided against the ‘naked interviewer’ concept, if anything Dr. Stanley would be even more intimidating in the nuddy.

As I finished my Wotsits I looked around for a bin, but couldn’t see one, so instead I scrunched up the bad and dropped it back into my briefcase. Orange powder drifted through the air, catching itself on the worn brown leather of my bag. I hissed in irritation, wiping the dust away with my jacket sleeve.

I paused in realization of my actions and groaned, I tried to pat the Wotsit detritus away, but the remnants on my fingers only added more to my poor jacket.

Panicking I looked around for something I could clean my hands on when I spotted a tea towel shoved between the cushions on the sofa. I yanked it out and stripped the grime from my hands. The jacket came off and I had a go at cleaning the arm, scrubbing furiously to no avail.

I dumped the ruined garment into the briefcase (it was empty, I just brought it to look professional) and instead cleaned the bag and myself up as best I could. Just as I was finishing up I heard a door squeak open. Hurriedly I folded the tea towel over to best hide the Wotsit grit and chucked it back on the sofa.

I started whistling nonchalantly as I heard footsteps.

“Hiya!” I turned to look towards the direction of the chirpy voice.

A young and attractive woman was standing before me, wearing a rather dashing hot pink trouser suit with a lemon yellow blouse, only half the buttons distractedly done up. Her hair was a veritable rainbow of colours held up in pigtails, an equally bright grin was chiseled onto her face.

“Oh, hello.” I said.

“My name’s Marie, you’re here for the examination, aren’t you?”

“Well, for an interview.”

Marie slapped her forehead comically and roller her eyes maniacally.

“Yes, of course, interview! I’m always getting those words muddled up when a new one of you lot come in.”

“Have there been many other applicants?”

“Oh tons, but none of them seem to survive more than a week here. Let’s hope you last longer than your forerunners!” She giggled coquettishly. “If you’d like to follow me we’ll get started.”

As I stood up and collected my briefcase Marie paused.

“Oh, that’s where I left my scarf.” She said, grabbing what I had believed to be a tea towel on the sofa. She wrapped it artfully around her neck, somehow keeping her cleavage still on full display.

“It gets a bit cold up here, it’s a lot warmer down in Lazaretto.” Marie said and I nodded happily, she had wrapped the Wotsit coated side around her neck, which meant I was safe for the moment.

I followed her to the ‘Enhanced Interview Department’ door, which she opened with a swipe card. Inside there was a bank of computers lining one wall; a wheelie table with medical equipment was parked against another. In the centre of the room was a desk bolted to the floor with four chairs, three plush leather jobbies on one side and a single bare metal one on the other. Two of the chairs were already occupied, one by Dr. Stanley, the other by my uncle.

“Welcome Neville.” My slimey kin drawled, not bothering to get up. “Take a seat.”

“Cheers, but won’t you need it later?” I asked, trying to add an air of levity to the oppressively bleak room.

The room’s mood darkened further, somehow. I quietly sat down as Marie snapped past me and demurely slammed herself into the remaining leather seat, beaming as seemed her natural state. Dr. Stanley opened a file in front of her.

“So Mr. Haley we received your samples the other day. Thank you for your swift delivery, although may I suggest next time you use something more resilient than Tupperware boxes.”

“Sorry, I couldn’t think of anything else to send it in.”

“No matter. Now if I give a quick description of what we aim to do today. Firstly we’ll go over the medical history declaration you sent, just iron out a few issues. Then we’ll follow that with a physical examination that will include stress tests, some intrusive procedures, lots of things ending with –scopy and the like, and a quick bout of mental resilience interrogation before rounding off the session with tea and biscuits.”

“This sounds a bit extreme for an int-“

“If you don’t mind, we’re short on time so I’ll run through the first part quickly.”

Dr. Stanley pulled a damp sheet of paper out of the file, wrinkling her nose as she did.

“Now as for the medical form you sent the other day with your samples, I have a few questions.”

ViraBac Page 1

“Okay.”

“You say that there’s no history of heart disease in your family.”

“Yep.”

“I honestly find that hard to believe. Pretty much every family has some history of cardiac complications. How do you know with certainty that the Haley family doesn’t?”

“Well I can’t guarantee a hundred percent that there’s nothing like that in my lineage, but no member of my family has died from a heart attack.”

“For certain?”

“Yep. In fact it’s very unusual for a Haley to die of natural causes, we normally get wiped out before the end, typically in a unique way.”

“I have to confer with my nephew here.” Leaked my uncle, leaning forwards in his seat slightly. “My brother drowned in a puddle and my granddad was shot in the Savannah when someone confused him with a gazelle. It’s a family trait.” He leered at me. “And I can assure you that my dear nephew here will be the same, he will die in an inordinately unique way.”

“Thanks unc.” I said, feeling a bit chuffed that I had been regarded as a true Haley.

“Right, well.” Said Dr. Stanley as she scanned the rest of the form. “Everything else looks fairly standard, although I must say there were some…interesting readings from your samples. However I don’t think they will make real difference to your residency here.”

“Residency?”

“Yes all sub- I mean staff live on site. It’s standard practice.”

“That sounds fine to me.” I said, brightening at the prospect. My flat’s crap.

“You’ll be staying in the area I work in.” Chirped up Marie. “I’ll be looking after you and the others day and night, making sure you’re getting the correct nutrients and checking for any physical changes or alterations.”

“So, like a nurse and chef?”

“Sort of. Basically I’ll be with you from start to end.”

I looked at Marie, well a bit of her, and thought that sounded acceptable to me.

“Anyway, if we can speed this along.” Said Dr. Stanley, slamming my file shut.

“Sure.” I said.

“Good, strip.”

“Huh?”

*

I won’t get into the nitty gritty over the next two hours, let’s just say it was certainly the most thorough interview process I’ve ever been through. There were lots of sticky pads attached to my chest, checking vital signs and stress levels and the like on a read out panel I wasn’t allowed to look at.

Throughout the examinations Dr. Stanley and my uncle stood by the wall making copious notes as Marie led the physical examinations, a role she took on with much gusto. Some parts with more gusto than was really necessary.

“Well you seemed to do well.” Said Dr. Stanley as I slipped my kit back on. “Especially the claustrophobia section, not many people last more than five minutes in the cupboard.”

I’ve got experience with that.” I muttered as I straightened out my tie.

“Well it will certainly come in handy once you get down to Lazaretto.” She said, marking something off a clipboard without looking up at me.

“Why’s that?”

“Doesn’t matter. Will you take a seat?”

“I’d prefer to stand if it’s all the same to you.”

“That’s understandable. Now, tea and biscuits while we go over some final points.”

Marie skipped up to me with a tray of biccies and a lukewarm cup of Earl Grey. I stared at the plate her fingers were pinching.

“It’s okay, I’ve sanitized myself.” She said, picking up on the subtle hint of outright disgust on my face.

“Well, okay then.” I said, picking up a pink wafer and accepting the paper cup. Marie dumped the plate on the desk and went off to fiddle with the medical computers. “You don’t have any Wotsits at all do you? I asked Dr. Stanley.

“Wotsits are banned.” She snapped. “They’ve caused too many problems in the past.”

Suddenly the job didn’t sound as tempting.

“Now Mr. Haley.” Continued Dr. Stanley, rapidly recovering her icy persona. “We’re certainly interested in hiring you. There are certain aspects about you that make you an inimitable subject, which we believe will further our research.”

“Sounds good, so what is the job I’ll be taking on? Only we haven’t really discussed what my role will be.”

“Oh of course. Well let’s say it’s in the R&D sector. You’ll be helping us with possible dangerous substances. Viral, bacterial, manmade DNA replicator de-stabilisers, that sort of thing.”

“I don’t really have any experience in that field, does that damage my prospects?”

“Far from it. Anyway like I said we’re certainly interested, but we need to review your examination results fully before we can give you a definitive answer.”

“So when can I expect to hear from you?” I asked, stealing a chocolate digestive from the plate.

“About a week or so. If accepted you’ll move in with immediate effect.”

“That’s sudden. I’d need to sort out matters at home, as well as arrange bringing my stuff up here.”

“No need to worry about that. We’ll arrange your personal affairs and we’ll even come and collect you.”

ViraBac Page 2

“Sounds like a good deal.”

“However between now and then I will need you to sign this non-disclosure form.” Said Dr. Stanley, pulling a thick wodge of paper off the desk and passing it to me.

“Ooooh, is it like the official secrets act?” I asked, flipping through the tiny, condensed print. Dr. Stanley snorted.

“No, this is far more in-depth. It’s the same one X-Factor contestants have to sign.”

I whistled as I weighed the tome in my hand, now I knew this lot were serious. I filled it in then and there, after all I ignore the iTunes T’s & C’s all the time, I couldn’t imagine this being any different. As soon as I finished Dr. Stanley swiped it away, tucking it into my folder.

“Thank you. Now obviously you’re not allowed to mention anything you’ve seen today, not even where you’ve been. Otherwise you’ll be in terrible trouble.”

“My lips are sealed. Not one person will know I’ve been here, or what has happened to parts of me. I’m a man of my word.” I said, marking a cross over my heart. There was a beeping from behind.

Marie was staring at her phone, for once the perma-smile was marred slightly by a frown.

“Sub 23 in Laza has gone into cata-state and showing signs of phase four re-activity.” She said.

“That sounds…not good.” I ventured, not having a clue what she was no about.

“Not in front of the cattle Marie. Go down and investigate, make sure there’s no Escahtos contamination.” Dr. Stanley said, flicking her hand dismissively.

“Got it.” Said Marie before promptly turning around and disappearing through a back door.

“Well this is as good a time as any to end the interview. Goodbye Mr. Haley.” Said the good doctor, striding off before I could respond. My uncle slapped me on the back as he passed.

“Welcome to the fold.” She sneered. “ I can’t wait to see what we can do with you. I’ll have to find something inventive.”

“Cool beans. See you soon unc.” I said, giving him a farewell wave.

My kin gave me a slick smile before following Dr. Stanley out. I left my manky tea on the side and grabbed my briefcase. I smiled to myself as I walked down the corridor, merrily swinging my bag around. It seemed like I was in with a good chance of getting the job. I admitted privately that a spot of nepotism behind the scenes might of helped, it was clear my uncle was desperate to get me into the complex.

I wended my way down the corridor, feeling the floor angling up slightly, when a hidden tannoy system started blaring out of the walls.

“Marie Curile for Dr. Marburg. Subject 23 in Lazaretto exhibiting signs of possible phase five symptoms, requesting medical confirmation.

It all sounded rather interesting, whatever the hell they were saying. I slowed down a bit, being the nosey bugger that I am. Almost a full minute passed before the tannoy crackled to life again.

“All staff, all staff, code Ultraviolet. Evidence of Eschatos contamination in Lazaretto, air filtration compromised, level five and below on full lock down. All staff are to gear up immediately, hazmat grade. Professor Curile found with Eschatos bacterial markings on skin, she is currently undergoing disposal. Stand by for further information.”

I didn’t understand any of it, but the bloke sounded anxious. I picked my pace up again.

“All staff, Dr. Marburg again. Eschatos evident through entire Lazaretto level, including lifts. Code upgraded to Brown. Oppenheimer Protocol initiated, count down from twenty. Sorry everyone.”

I reached the main entrance as a robotic voice started counting down. I slowed again, intrigued to see what was going to happen. Five seconds to go the tannoy started again.

“This is Charlie Marburg for Wendy. I’ve always love y-“

“GET OUT OF THE WAY.” Screamed a voice as I stepped out into the early evening air. I turned back to listen, it was my uncle.

“ABORT OPPENHEIMER PROTOCOL. ABORT. IT’S NOT ESCHATOS IT’S JUST WO-“

Out of nowhere a huge metal blast door slammed down in front of me, missing my nose by a centimeter, I leapt back, somewhat shocked by the sudden appearance of a bloody big door. I was about to rap on it when I was thrown from my feet. A low roar filled my ears, shaking my delicate brain inside it’s oversized skull as I tumbled around on the bucking, bouncing dirt. Yet more parts of the dilapidated building in front of me crumbled apart, raining chunks of mortar and brickwork around me.

Then, as quick as it started, it subsided. The ground stopped tossing me around like a ragdoll and my poor ears were given a reprieve. Suddenly everything around me was silent, quiet, peaceful. I pulled myself up from the ground, gathering my stuff that had been scattered all over the place. It was getting chilly, being that it was evening in October, so I pulled my jacket out of the briefcase, only to see the bloody big orange mark made by your crisps.

*

It’s been several months now and I still haven’t heard back from the company, and the only reason I can fathom is your ruddy snack. If they hadn’t stained my jacket I could of worn it in the interview and looked far more professional. Instead I’ve ended up working in a factory that makes calendars. Whatever wonderful plans they had for me have been scuppered. For all you know I could of changed the world.

Thanks for that.

Regards,

Neville Haley

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