Back to Work

This little story began its existence as a scene in one of my bigger stories, a dark comedy named Fearkiller (Volume 1). I cut it as I got closer to finishing. Later on, I revisited and expanded it into this. Before going further though, I have to say: this story is NSFW. So read it at work when the boss isn’t looking. 

***

January, 2000.

The world didn’t end.

This meant bills needed to be paid.

We went back to work in those first few days of The Third Millennium.

Those consultants who added twos and zeroes to the left of the pre-existing digits so our half-witted computers wouldn’t teleport us 100 years into the past—we owed these people one.

Business as usual.

Think: that survivor’s mentality that is so entwined into our world now, this might have been the moment of its birth.

That feeling of believing that putting someone else at a disadvantage is justifiable, as long as self-preservation is your motivation, maybe this was its beginning.

Back to work.

Business as usual, only different. Started to hear stories of friends of friends of friends of friends of friends who knew somebody whose cousin just got laid off.

A layoff. Don’t go there. If you’re going to be terrifying, talk about a radioactive gila monster destroying a village full of blue-eyed endangered baby pandas. Don’t talk about me getting laid off. That is sick. Just sick.

Layoffs don’t happen at WidgetCo®.

Do they? They don’t. Do they? Positive. They don’t. I think.

The year progressed.

Projects…you couldn’t put your thumb on it.

“Why are we making this harder than it needs to…”

“I DON’T KNOW YOU QUESTION-ASKING QUESTION-ASKER! ASKER OF QUESTIONS: WHY ARE YOU ASKING QUESTIONS? WHY ASK QUESTIONS? ASK! ASK! ASK! LIKE A GIRAFFE! A LONG-NECKED QUESTION-ASKING GIRAFFE! ASK ASK! (sniff, sniff) Could you get me a tissue. BACK TO WORK.”

2000 progresses. You’re working later and later. With no idea why.

Now, this new post-millennial thought from your boss about giraffes asking questions.

Last millennium, you didn’t think about things like giraffes asking questions. Did giraffes ask questions before?

Maybe we were all so busy preparing for Y2K that we didn’t notice the long-necked giraffes asking questions. What if the giraffes asked some pertinent questions that we missed, now the future is ruined?

The thing about this post-Millennial workplace, its complexities go beyond the giraffe issue.

Take that looming deadline.

True, that looming deadline has no set date or time, but guess what?

IT’S LOOMING.

Back to work.

Speaking of work, your work from the weekend is wasted effort because key data points that you needed before getting started weren’t shared. You asked for this information Friday afternoon.

AND WERE TOLD YOU NEEDED TO CHECK THAT ATTITUDE PRONTO.

“NO, YOU SHIT-FUCKING SHIT FUCKER, I’M NOT PANICKING YOU’RE THE ONE WHO’S PANICKING NOT ME! THE PANIC YOU’RE IN—LOOK AT PANIC-FILLED, PANICKY YOU AND YOUR PANIC, PANICKING!”

Today, the boss is wearing a fireproof one-piece car racing suit and helmet.

“I’M WEARING THIS RACING SUIT TO WORK FASTER THAT’S WHY I’M WEARING IT. VROOM-VROOM. SPEAKING OF WORK WHY HAVEN’T YOU FINISHED THAT PROJECT YET? But before you answer that, could you get me another tissue? Thanks. WHY HAVEN’T YOU FINISHED THAT PROJECT YET?”

“I haven’t finished because you haven’t given me any project details—”

“IT LOOKS LIKE MISTER BACK-TALK IS WHAT…HE’S BACK-TALKING! THAT’S WHAT! MISTER QUESTION-ASKING, BACK-TALKING SHIT-FUCKER HAS AN INSUBORDINATION PROBLEM—WAIT. I GOT IT. I. BACK. TALK. I. FUCK. SHIT.”

As he elaborates on this last point, he improvises a dance.

The Back-Talking Shit-Fucking Dance.

“Could you please hand me another tissue, thanks. YES, I KNOW THAT WHAT I JUST SAID PREVIOUSLY MAKES NO SENSE! YOU WANT SENSE? HERE, WE’RE TALKING ABOUT Q4 SALES. YES, THAT’S RIGHT WE ARE TALKING ABOUT PURCHASE ORDERS. LIKE I SAID WE WERE TALKING ABOUT THE LOUISIANA PURCHASE. OR AS I LIKE TO CALL IT, ‘TALKING ABOUT THE 1967 NEW YORK JETS’.”

“Sir, our client presentation is in two…”

“MINUTES? AND YOU HAVEN’T SHOWN ME ANYTHING YET—TWO MINUTES? Be a friend and get me another tissue, would you? Thanks. YOU’VE WASTED A WHOLE MINUTE AND NOW I HAVE NO CHANCE TO SEE ANYTHING IN THE NEXT MINUTE…”

“Before you cut me off—”

“CUT ME OFF? I’LL CUT YOUR DICK OFF!”

“THE PRESENTATION IS IN TWO WEEKS, SIR!”

“Oh.”

The boss in the racing suit takes off his helmet.

“Now you yell at me.”

He sniffles and slowly sits down in the chair behind his desk.

“You yell. All my life, getting yelled at. Now, you too? I thought you were different, you. (sniff, sniff) WHY DOES THE UNIVERSE ROTATE THE WAY IT DOES? (sniff) I should have asked during your interview if you were this hurtful because if I knew you were this hurtful back then, you never would have been hired. (sniff) Before I keep going, could you get me another tissue? Oh. I’m holding the box, I see. I see…I can see you now. I. CAN. SEE. YOU. NOW—THE V.P. WALKS IN AND YOU’LL SUBTLY ASK ME WHERE THE BOX OF KLEENEX IS AND I WON’T KNOW AND THE V.P. WILL SEE THAT. (sniff) How devious you are.”

The boss shakes the box of tissue at you as he says this last part, then stops and turns away. After a second, he returns to the conversation.

“Since you’re the one here who seems to want to know what needs to be accomplished, I have a question for you: what do you think needs to be accomplished?”

The delivery of that last bit is perfect. The what do you think needs to be accomplished?…so well-rehearsed.

The way he says “you”. It sounds canned and packaged, which it is and you know it is. But you almost believe that he knows something about your inner workings that you don’t.

What do you think needs to be accomplished?

Before getting an answer, the boss yells “WHO KNOWS? THE CLIENT MIGHT BE IN THE LOBBY RIGHT NOW. HERE’S WHAT I BET THOSE CUNNING SOULS DID: THEY SCHEDULED THE MEETING TWO WEEKS FROM NOW, KNOWING THE WHOLE TIME—THE. WHOLE. TIME.—THEY WERE GOING TO SURPRISE US WITH A SNEAK-ATTACK. TODAY. GOOD GOD THEY HAVE US. WHY ISN’T THIS PRESENTATION READY? THEY’RE IN THE BUILD—”

“The presentation is in two—”

“WEEKS! FINE. DO YOU WANT TO—hand me another tissue? Thanks—DWELL OVER TWO WEEKS OR TWO MINUTES? YOU WANT ME TO DWELL, DON’T YOU? YOU WANT ME TO DWELL. AND PROVIDE DETAILS. AND DWELL. AND PROVIDE DETAILS. AND DWELL. AND—wait, you…You…You do…You do like working here…You do like, working here, don’t you…”

“I’m sorry?”

“IIII…FFFUUCCKK…SSSHHIITTT…” He pushes his buzzer. “LUCINDA, COME IN HERE AND WIPE MY BROW. NOW. AND USE THE SILK CLOTH, NOT THE TERRY CLOTH.”

Lucinda comes in and does this. His eyes stay locked on you the whole time. He breathes through his nose, in and out.

“Thank you, Lucinda…”

Lucinda leaves.

“I just want to get the work done—”

“YOU HAVE TWO WEEKS—could you please get me another tissue?”

He looks down to see that he is holding the box. He bursts into tears.

Two minutes later exactly, he stops crying.

This is called regaining composure.

Professionalism.

Professionalism is a medal on your chest, placed there during a too-elaborate ceremony.

“You know, most of your coworkers…many of them tell me…many of them—oh on a side note, one of them told me something…something that is actually kind of…kind of…curious…we’ll schedule a meeting to talk about that later…your fellow coworkers tell me fairly routinely how thankful they are to work here…I can’t remember…I can’t remember if I’ve ever heard you say so…”

You scoop out chunks of yourself and hand these over.

Consciously watching yourself do this. Powerless to stop it.

You are worthless. This is no longer them telling you this. You are telling yourself this.

You are worth less.

You show up the next day and the boss is wearing firemen’s gear, including the helmet. “For all the fires,” he says.

The day after that, he’s wearing surgical garb.

Soon, his daily outfits blend together. At the same time, their purposes mutate.

The forensic detective/coal miner/sculptor outfit, for instance, helps your boss fly sideways through salad bars.

You know this because he told you—right before he started crying about the fact that the menace of a Lucinda was out to get him and even she knows that he doesn’t know where the box of Kleenex is now.

One day, you walked in and he was covered in copper wire screaming, “You want Internet? I AM the Internet!”

In the First Year of The Third Millennium, you discover a whole new feeling.

It’s visceral. Yet calling it “visceral” disrespects all that is visceral.

The people you work for, you wonder if you have the ability to work for anyone else.

***

The little story you just read was first a quick scene in Fearkiller (Volume 1). I cut it, but liked these two stressed-out characters and Lucinda. Maybe two years after releasing the book, I revisited, expanded it a lot, into a story with an arc. I hope you liked. I hope you read it at work when the boss wasn’t looking.

Kirkus Indie Review for Fearkiller (Volume 1):

“A dark comedy about the psychological damage inflicted on American workers during the difficult economic and political climate in the new millennium… Blurring the lines between the real and the surreal, Maley creates a story full of both fright and hope.”

My other book series, a sci-fi story. Way less f-bombs in this one.

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