How difficult can it be to remember to file paperwork properly? Percy Elton kicked a rock as he fumed. Gnashing his teeth, the human resources bureaucrat felt his spindly fingers balling up. It’s simple! A process a baby could follow. A helpless baby! What does that make Roger? Can he remember to turn in his 1533s on the second Thursday of the month like a civilized person? Of course not! That would require him to get off his dumb ass and do his damn job!
A voice in his head reminded him to calm himself. That this was a problem he could solve. There’s always turnover. When he had joined the esteemed ranks of HR, the thought of hoping for turnover would have made his skin crawl. Percy was, after all, supposed to make the working environment feel safe. But now he rubbed his hands together and grinned at the thought of watching Roger hear the news. Anyone who can’t tell the difference between a 1533 and a 1353 has it coming.
* * *
Roger Veckser stepped out the elevator before the doors were all the way open. His eyes beamed at anyone who passed by. In his hand, he held a coffee carrier laden with six steaming beverages. On his way to his desk, Roger handed out each one to the members of his team. Though not a caffeine addict like most of his colleagues at PWX Sales, he always wanted to keep his people happy. As happy as one can be with turnover always lurking in their minds.
“Good morning, Faith. How was the weekend?” He held out the last of the brown paper cups. “Two creams. No sugar.”
“Thank God for you.” Faith grabbed the cup with such force, the lid came close to popping off the top and allowing a flow of scalding liquid to splash into her face. “You know, I don’t know if I could stand it here without you. The way you go out of your way to—”
Roger smiled. “Oh, it’s no bother. No turnover for our team, right?”
Faith’s smile faltered. “Mmm. Smells like Heaven.”
Nothing can smell like Heaven in a place like this. “You know what they say. A happy team is an efficient team.”
Faith nodded, sipped her coffee, and let go an exaggerated sigh of relief. “Just limit the talk of – well, you know. No one wants to think about it. Even as a joke.”
“Right. Sorry.” The word had slipped out his mouth without a thought. The last time the head honchos of PWX had brought up turnover, the office had become a wasteland of vacant eyes staring at computer screens. A sweaty stench had overpowered the floor. Darryl from marketing had needed paramedics to administer a tranquilizer before he could calm down. Roger shuddered as he made his way to his desk.
Roger had seen turnover in action three months ago. He had always known how terrible it would be, but to watch it happen to Marci in reception? He rubbed his neck, imagining how crushing it would feel to face that harsh consequence over a single customer complaint.
Two hours into the workday, the door to the manager’s office squeaked open. Heavy feet thundered into the work space. “Attention!” Few mortals could ignore Mr. Tooms’s voice, and none of them worked at PWX Sales. “It has come to my notice that someone in this office has been driving down efficiency under my very nose!”
Though substantial, Mr. Tooms’s nose sniffed out slackers and timewasters like a raptor.
“You all know what this means.”
Roger noticed Faith’s mascara running down her cheeks. He wanted to put a comforting hand on her shoulder, but no one could move while Mr. Tooms boomed. He heard the boss’s next word resounding in his mind before Mr. Tooms’s voice confirmed the worst.
All around him, Roger heard whimpers. Dread drained the color from Roger’s face, hoping he would not know the victim too well.
What? It can’t be me! How can it be me? Please, no! There must be a mistake! Unsteady on his legs, Roger wobbled to his feet. “Yes, sir?”
“Do you recognize this form, Mr. Veckser?”
A beefy hand thrust a paper up close to Roger’s face. Within moments, Roger recognized his signature at the bottom of the 1353 he had filled out three days prior. A form detailing resources his team had used over the course of a month. A form he filled out once a month. Swallowing, Roger confirmed that he knew the form. No point lying.
“Are you aware, Mr. Veckser, that you have filled out a 1353 every month for the last seven months?”
“Y-yes. Sir, I—”
“DO NOT INTERRUPT! Are you also aware that your job requires you to fill out a 1533 and not a 1353?”
“W-wh-what?” His dry throat would only allow him to whisper.
“A 1533. A form that lists all resources your team will require in the next month. Quite different from a 1353, yes?”
Roger struggled to keep himself upright. His dizzy mind tried to recall a time anyone had ever mentioned this crucial information. He was on the point of collapsing, sure that his time had come. All that effort to prevent turnover, and all for naught.
“Volume 3 of your employee handbook clearly states that team leaders are to fill out a 1533 every second Thursday of the month. How is it you did not know this?”
“I-I-I—” Roger felt his stomach squirming with nausea.
“Incompetence of this nature costs our company time and thus revenue. The consequences of negligence are quite clear. Is that not right, Mr. Elton.”
Smirking behind Mr. Tooms, Percy Elton nodded. “That’s right.”
Roger fell to his knees, crying. “Please. I’ll do better. I’ll get it right next time. I didn’t know. Please don’t—”
“We will now turn over—”
“No! Please! I’ll fix it!” Roger’s heart thudded like a meat tenderizer on a cutting board.
Mr. Tooms withdrew a remote from his pocket and pressed down on a large red button. Claxons sounded. Yellow lights flashed. In the middle of the office, the floor opened like a mouth. Humid breath stank up the room. Faith wailed, averted her eyes, and backed away from the long, snaking tongue that sprang up from the orifice. A hand gripped Roger by the arm and started dragging him toward the mouth in the floor. Percy’s glee shone in his eyes.
“We will now turn over Mr. Elton for negligence in training team leaders.” Mr. Tooms retired to his office.
The tongue sprang forward, lashed around Percy’s leg, and tugged at the HR worker. Percy shrieked as he slid closer to the edge and held onto Roger. The two struggled with each other, punching and kicking as if that could stop the inevitable. Roger at last wrenched himself free inches away from the foul mouth in the floor.
“HELP!” Percy screamed.
The mouth closed with a crunch, spraying a fountain of hot, red blood.
Mr. Tooms spoke into his radio. “Send Clean-up Crew 13. And tell them no dawdling.”