I’m looking for a possibly British short story I read in a youth sci-fi collection book that definitely was not new, so the story may be older. I would have read it about 10 years ago but the book it was in looked like it was at least as old as the late 1980s.

The story is set in a dystopian future and starts with a young man (the protagonist) arguing with his father (likely about how he doesn’t have a job but I can’t be certain of that). The young man is a rebel against the government who has recently slept with either a reporter or government agent for information. The dad mentions how he buys him condoms and would never turn him in to the government but something has to change.

The man storms off. On the way he passes a person coming out of a place with a help wanted sign who warns him not to bother applying for the job because the test is too hard. Curious, the young man decides to take the IQ test and apply. He passes, and thinks it was rather easy, and the boss and another employer type person proceed to welcome him aboard, leading him into an elevator to the top floor. I’m hazy about this next part, but one of three possible things happens:

  1. He is tricked into going into the elevator which is itself a gas chamber.
  2. He is tricked to going into a door he believes is an office but then it has all the air sucked out of it.
  3. He is led to the roof of the building and tricked into being launched in to the vacuum of space.

Point is they kill him. The second employer type person asks the first why they did so or something to that effect and the boss responds that people as intelligent as the young man was are simply too dangerous.

  • 1
    This is vaguely familiar; will have to mull it over. Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 13:52
  • 6
    Not the same story, but there's more than a few stories that touch on the same idea. There was a short tale on the first Twilight Zone reboot from the 80s called "Examination Day", based on the story by Henry Slesar - a young boy is looking forward to taking the national IQ tests, and showing everyone how smart he is. His parents seem reticent. After he takes it, his parents get a phone call reporting that their son has exceeded the national maximum IQ, and they begin crying. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Examination_Day Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 16:16
  • @VBartilucci that's probably what I was remembering, thanks. Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 19:00
  • 3
    Some elements remind of of Vonegut's "Harrison Bergeron" but I think he gets shot at the end. Commented Mar 9, 2019 at 17:29
  • @cybernetic.nomad No, that’s not it, but that is an interesting read!
    – Jessica K
    Commented Mar 10, 2019 at 18:13

1 Answer 1


This is Robert Westall's "The Vacancy" which appears in The Puffin Book of Horror Stories and in a couple of Westall's own collections.

It has pretty well all the details mentioned: the dystopian future, the argument with the father, the "help wanted" sign, the previous candidate who couldn't pass the test, etc. The ending involves a "waiting room" that teleports the hero to space where he explodes. Then comes the final discussion, exactly as described

There's a preview available here.


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