Written for Screams!!! 2/4/2020.
| A Cut-Throat World
As if it was not bad enough by itself, they were not even going to give me a chance to sulk over the injustice in peace. Hendricks and Hendricks, Jacob and Lucas, were not satisfied with terminating my employment but were insisting I went along to see Fiona, the company employment counsellor too.
To be honest, the facts hadn't quite sunk in. I came into work in the morning, the same as I had for every working day of the last twenty years. I'd sat down at my desk, logged on to my terminal, when I became aware that someone was standing beside me. Not someone I usually worked with for this one was dressed in a smart suit while we all dressed far more casually.
I tried to ignore him, and I think I did a pretty good job of it too, until he reached out his hand and tapped me on the shoulder. Reluctantly, I tore my eyes from the screen and looked up into a strangely ageless and emotionless face.
"Your presence is required in the office." That was all he said; didn't even bother to address me by name.
"I'll just finish off this..." I began, before I was interrupted.
"Now would be a good time."
I remembered the instructions about never leaving a monitor with data on display. Even a trip to the restroom required logging off, then logging back on again.
"I'll just... "
He pulled me up on my feet. "Leave it. The office... now!"
If his hand had still been on my shoulder I would have shrugged it off, but as soon as he had got me up onto my feet, it was back by his side.
I raised my own hands up in a gesture of surrender. "Okay, okay. I was just trying to obey the rules, that's all."
He walked beside me all the way to the office door, where he paused, knocked once, and then opened it, managing to somehow usher me through while remaining outside himself.
I'd never been inside the office before. Not once in all this time. I'd not even thought about what might be behind the closed door. Now I was faced with such extravagance, such opulence. The carpet was so thick that my sneakers were almost buried in the fibers. In front of me was a desk, behind which sat a man. One of the Hendricks, I presumed. As I got closer I could read the gold embossed name-sign. This was Lucas, then, my boss. Should I say something I wondered?
"Take a seat, err, Kendra." He picked up a pen, tapped it point down on the desk in front of him, before lying it neatly beside a page of what I could see was blank paper. "We are having to make some cuts to our... expenses. It is a very... cut-throat environment, and we need to streamline our workforce. I know that you have been with us for many years now, but we feel it is time that your work here was... terminated."
I gulped, finally found my voice. "But why, Sir? Have I done something wrong?"
"It is not to do with performance, but our very survival." I watch as Lucas Hendricks once again picks up a pen. This time he begins to write. "I understand that this might have come as a bit of a shock..."
"That's an understatement, Sir." Why did I call him 'Sir'? He's just sacked me, I'm no longer his employee; I don't need to defer to him any more.
"Take this along to Fiona's office. She is our employment counselor, and it is her job to deal with you now. You can pour your heart out to her in total confidence, and I'm sure she will do her best to help you find a better life."
The paper has been folded, put inside an envelope and slid across the table towards me. Is that it? Is my dismissal so easy? I look back at the man across the desk and he has already turned away.
Should I say anything? Hell, no! I snatch up the envelope and head towards the door. I'm shaking with a combination of indignation and anger; I want to turn back and tell Mr Lucas Hendricks exactly what I think of him, but I quite simply lack the guts.
Before I get a chance to open the door, it is opened from the outside for me. The same suited man is still waiting for me. How much has he heard? How much did he already know? Everything, I guess, for he marches me directly towards another door. 'Fiona Prentice, Employment Counselor', it says on the door.
My accompanier knocks once and again opens the door. I enter alone and this time I am sure he does not wait outside. The room is still impressive, but there is no carpet. The floor is covered in tiles, or linoleum of some kind; the walls look slightly glossy. They are completely free of decoration.
"Come and sit down Kendra." Fiona Prentice is young; younger than me at least. How is she going to understand how I feel? Twenty years of my life have just been tossed away. "I'm sure the news has come as a big shock."
"You could say that," I say, trying to weigh how much it would be wise to say. Not my real feelings, I'm sure of that."
"The thing is," she says from her seat, "we have to stay competitive. I am sure Mr Hendricks has explained about the... cutbacks."
"Mentioned, but hardly explained," I said.
"The data that you have been processing is highly confidential, of course."
"Yes, I know. I signed the forms when I first got the job." Suddenly feeling tired and drained, I rubbed at my head. It was starting to throb. Surely Fiona would understand my closing my eyes.
"The thing is that is no longer enough."
How did she get beside me so quickly? And what is it that she is pressing against my throat? I open my eyes, look directly into hers. She smiles and says; "It's a shame that the world has got so... cut-throat." On those final words, I feel a sharp pain. I reach up my hands to my neck and they come away soaked with blood.
I'm cold, shocked. No, damn it, I'm dying. I push myself up, or rather I try, but the blood loss is rapid and I fall to the floor knowing that the contract I signed that offered me employment for life really had meant just that.