The day was going to end wretchedly, but you’d never tell by the general sense of happy-go-lucky heedlessness.
When an email came around announcing that the next staff meeting would be held at the trough, people’s disbelief was understandable. Nobody knew what trough the email was referring to. There was no trough. Folks began to suspect some sort of a joke. For a little while, that was the prevailing theory, and the staff was becoming somewhat amused by it. That is until someone happened to pass by the boss in the hallway.
“So, what’s up with the trough?”
Someone asked the boss nearly laughing.
It was then that things got weird as the boss gave that person and everyone around a stern look. No response followed. The boss left in silence and seemingly displeased. The word of this spread like fire, and people got really confused.
How could anyone in their right mind think that a trough meeting was for real? Setting aside the fact that there was no trough, it would still be ridiculous to suppose that such a meeting place could be chosen even if it did exist. A trough is where animals feed. It’s a stinky and dirty place. What is going on?
Nobody knew, of course. The only way to find out would be to go to the meeting.
A short while later, the staff was standing around a trough. It was outside where there used to be a small parking lot, a couple of buildings, a street and a sidewalk, a few lamp posts, and some other things. That was all gone. The trough was at least 50 feet long. It was under a narrow tin roof, which was suspended above on 20-foot tall wooden beams. There was a bunch of hay on the ground. Chickens everywhere. A fresh pile of dirt reaching about 10 feet high was nearby. A tractor next to that. Some workers were out in a small adjacent field. The pungent stench of fresh manure thicker than the air was permeating this entire surreal setting.
You wouldn’t believe it if you saw it for yourself. This was right smack in the middle of a big city. The staff was dumbfounded because they could swear none of that farm stuff was there earlier. And they were right. It defied logic to imply that a piece of a city disappeared and farmland turned up in its place. And all that in, what, about an hour?…
The staff was getting chained to the trough so quickly that there was no time to react. The chains were long enough that one could walk into the adjacent field or cover a fair amount of ground near the trough. But, the staff couldn’t get far enough to enter their office building or, say, get to their cars. The means of communication were taken away. Their cars, by the way, were nowhere to be seen. The parking lot structure wasn’t even there anymore. Still, perhaps, fatefully the chain lengths wouldn’t allow reaching the spot where the cars used to be. Only memories of them existed. And the chain restrictions did not extend to memories as of yet.
Quite a few staff members put up a fight. It got ugly in no time. The company, however, hired several security firms to supply heavily armed and armored personnel to put down any resistance. A few maimed bodies and puddles of blood later, the staff began to faint and feel weak from the sudden and drastic change of circumstance. Many of the folks started feeling numbness in their muscles and began getting dizzy and fearful. Still, almost all of them – red-faced and excited – shouted profanities at the boss. You’d be hard-pressed to hear them utter a word that wasn’t foul.
“Due to economic uncertainties, we were forced to cut back on staff perks including the company sponsored food. To make sure you continue to have access to nutrition as part of your employment, we are pleased to announce that we have secured a used trough and a supply of leftover animal feed. Furthermore, due to recent unhinged behavior at the White House, we’ve concluded that COVID has driven people insane. Therefore, we took steps to protect you from yourselves. Hence, you have been chained to the trough. It’s all for your own good. You will thank me later!”
With that, the boss started to walk away.
Amidst all of the swearing and name-calling, some of the staff had the wherewithal to demand that the boss release them immediately or face legal action. It fell on deaf ears. Middle fingers were up almost constantly throughout this whole ordeal. Some were shouting things that didn’t make sense. Perhaps, that was a sign of a meltdown. The speed with which the situation devolved into chaos was shocking. A staff member ran after the boss at full speed, intent, I am sure, on kicking him in the groin with her foot. In all of the hubbub, the staff member forgot that she was chained to the trough. Sure enough, she ran out of the chain, tripped, and fell down. Feeling hurt and helpless, she got up on all fours pulling with her body in the boss’ direction like a ferocious animal, and started making noises closely resembling the bark of a dingo. A few other staff members joined her in this albeit standing up. The barking chorus of men and women created a deeply threatening sound.
The boss was convinced that the staff would do well.
Being cut off from the rest of the world was just as unlikely and sudden as the staff finding themselves being chained to a non-existent trough at a non-existent farm in the middle of a city. They had wives, husbands, and children waiting for them to come back home after work. Alas, it was not to be. Neither the staff nor their families could locate each other because they were now in two different dimensions. A city dweller would not see the farm. A farm dweller would not see the city.
Wasting away in the blood-boiling sweltering heat of the farmland flanked by the city’s wall of deep bone-rattling freeze, one member of staff felt his mind slipping. He thought he saw the boss inside the building in the top floor office by the window. The staff member was meanwhile sitting chained to the trough on the ground outside. Yet, the two were having a conversation. Mathew was the staffer’s name. Surely, the conversation must have played out only in his head. Through this dialogue, Mathew learned from the boss that life has ended as we know it. Evidently, people have been descending into madness over perpetual lockdowns, and the company management quickly realized that the return to business as usual was becoming less and less likely with each passing day. Folks either didn’t seem inclined to return to the office or wanted to return for all the wrong reasons. Their behavior has become peculiar, to say the least. The economy was threatened by the fact that the returning workforce has essentially become subversive. Saving the business, therefore, hinged on securing an obedient cadre of human resources. And that is exactly what the company has done by chaining the staff to the trough. Before long, animal feed sustenance – not the salary – would be the motivation for doing work. Venturing into the adjacent field for better food would be a sign of personal growth and development. Coincidentally, the staff could never get a hold of and eat any of the chickens that were running around. God only knows why…
Folks would focus on their next feeding as opposed to growing increasingly hostile at home and economically counterproductive. The staff would, thus, have a life structured for them in a way that the management found best suited to the staff’s, the company’s, and the nation’s well being.
As it happens, the management found that luring the staff into a trough meeting and chaining them to said trough was the right thing to do as the first order of business. The boss wasn’t concerned with whether or not that was in fact the right decision. Whatever the outcome, the boss approved of it so long as it satisfied a momentary whim. The relationship between cause and effect appeared to have little bearing if any at all. Truth be told, the boss dispensed with the concept of consequences altogether.
Perhaps, Mathew was not losing his mind after all. Perhaps, it was the management. Given the misalignment of power and reason, who would be brave enough to risk proving it, though?
The staff member who tried to kick the boss in the groin has since exhausted her energy barking, suffered a massive heart attack, and died. Within minutes, her body decomposed into dust, which got picked up by a gust of wind settling it on the pile of dirt nearby. The tractor spread it out in the field shortly afterward. Before long, sunflowers began to sprout where she landed. She used to have a sunny disposition.
“You know, you are eating roasted sunflower seeds that grew out of my coworker’s ashes.” Mathew said to the cab driver who was taking him somewhere in the city.
There was silence. It could be that the driver didn’t speak English. Or, maybe, he did but thought Mathew was too crazy to warrant a response. Regardless, Mathew’s full body twitch brought him out of his feverish city cab ride dream and back to the farm still attached to the trough with a cold chain. The staff was devouring the animal feed.
Predictably, the common backstabbing office politics took hold in the form of chain whipping. As some staff members angled for better bits of the animal feed, others formed cliques to control access to the adjacent field. Conniving was the name of the game. Many decent and principled staffers were turned to dust. There was no room for the middle-of-the-road anymore. Taking sides and survival at any cost was all that mattered. Death was life’s calling card.
That was only the beginning.
The incoming White House administration may have intended to make things better. However, the boss and the staff had already drawn a line in the sand. The road to Hell was paved with good intentions. The farm invaded the city and the city the farm with neither of the two aware of the other. It was like an early stage undetectable cancer invading the body. The deadliest repercussions were yet to come.
The sun was beginning to set.
The stench thickened.
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