Pink Slips

I don’t have long to write today, but this incident was just too strange not to be shared.

Yesterday morning, as I walked into the mailroom, I was met by Mr. Phlephel, my boss’s boss. I’ll admit, as he led me out of the mailroom and back down the hallway to his office, I was concerned that I had been found out. Until now, there’s been no indication that the powers-that-be know about this site, but that won’t last forever. And someday, they’ll determine my real name.

So I was reasonably shaken when Mr. Phlephel offered me a seat and then took his own chair on the opposite side of his desk. Everything about this man is gray, I thought. His hair, his beard, his eyes, even his skin. It’s like looking at a Tolkien wizard in a bad plaid suit.

“Jeremy,” he said, “today’s going to be rough.”

A pregnant pause followed this cryptic statement and I finally broke it with the most casual voice crack in the history of conversation.

“Sir?”

He leaned back in his chair, opened the shallow middle drawer of his desk and pulled a stack of small envelopes out. He removed the rubber band that held them together and then handed the stack to me. I took them cautiously and wondered if R&D had ever accomplished their goal of breeding carnivorous paper. I flipped through the envelopes and noticed they were labeled with names from the 9th floor. Phlephel gave me a reassuring smile.

“I’d prefer you take care of that first thing this morning. Then you can do your usual rounds.”  

 

Cubicles
photo by Asa Wilson on Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0)

I nodded and breathed a silent sigh of relief before exiting the office. I was so thankful for not being exposed that I didn’t even bother to wonder what was inside the envelopes. They hadn’t tried to eat my hands, and that meant they were okay in my book. I took the service elevator to the 9th floor and then walked over to the data entry offices. Through the doors, I was met by a sea of cubicles. In the back, I found the human that matched the first envelope. He was a short, stout and generally unremarkable data nerd who was quite surprised when I appeared at his cubicle opening.

“Fergin Maddledux?” I asked.

The man swirled around in his chair and scrutinized me through thick spectacles. “I am. And you are?”

“Jeremy, from the mailroom. I have an envelope for you.”

“For me?” Fergin asked, clearly confused.

I held the small envelope out for him to take. Instead he took one look and then regarded me with the same expression one might give to a stranger trying to hand out dead fish wearing soiled underpants. I stretched further, inching the envelope closer. He responded in kind, wheeling back to maintain the distance. I frowned.

“Do you mind? I have a whole stack of these to hand out this morning.”

Fergin’s face had taken on a greenish hue and I realized I was the bearer of bad news. “Just take it. Please.”

“I don’t want it.” Fergin pleaded. “It’s a pink slip.”

I felt a sour taste in my mouth and looked at the stack of envelopes again. This truly was going to be a rough day. I frowned and met Fergin’s eyes. “Look, man, I’m sorry. I know this is crappy…”

He ripped the envelope from my hand in disgust and tore it open, pulling out the tiny slip. I was slightly amused to find that it was, in fact, pink. The greenish tint drained away and Fergin’s face was left a ghostly pale as he read the paper. Silently, he stuffed the slip into his shirt pocket, pulled a conveniently placed box from under his desk and began to load it up with the personal items scattered about his cubicle.

I continued to deliver my terrible messages, but after the first encounter I learned to simply drop the envelope on the desk beside each person and move on without saying a word. After the deed had been done, I exited the data entry department and headed for the elevators. As I approached, I was disappointed to find Fergin waiting with his box in hand. He glanced at me, but there was no anger in his eyes. Only fear.

The elevator doors opened and we both got inside. I pressed the button for Sub-Basement M and waited for Fergin to press the button for the Lobby. Instead, he pushed the 17. His shoulders slumped noticeably in my peripheral vision. In a big corporation’s headquarters (or, at least, this big corporation’s headquarters), the higher floors have higher priority so I rode with Fergin up to the 17th floor. After an unbearably long moment, the doors opened to reveal a dark hallway. There was – no joke – a slight mist that floated along the floor. And there was a light at the far end of the hallway, hardly more than a speck. Fergin never looked at me. He merely took a deep breath and walked out into the hallway. As the doors closed behind him, I swear I saw what appeared to be a handful of dark figures emerge from the shadows to follow Fergin down the hall.  

The rest of my day was rather uneventful, thankfully. All together, I had delivered pink slips to twelve people and it is my understanding that every one of them reported to the 17th floor. But that is not the strangest part of the story, if you can believe it. No, the strangest part was today, when I returned to the Data Entry department to deliver a memo to the manager. On my way back out of the cubicle area, I spotted Fergin sitting at his desk. I popped my head in and smiled. He turned and looked at me, but there was no recognition in his eyes. His gray eyes. In fact, the whole man was much grayer, and thinner, and altogether more calm, than he had appeared the day before. I excused myself, made a wide arc around the cubicles to discover that all twelve people were back (in grayer form) at their desks and then I got the hell out.

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