[Note: Some profanity (mainly the a-word and f-word), sharp satire]
On New Year’s Eve 2021, Grimraj reflected upon the year that went by, and the grim tally of everything he had achieved with grim satisfaction, while he was en-route to a watering hole to ring in the New Year with his co-workers, and celebrate their achievements in grand style. For you see, 2021 had been a stellar year for him; he had clocked-in only God knows how many hours , achieved all his targets and then some. 2021 was the year when the CEO finally noticed him as a stand-alone candidate. He had finally made it into the “inner leadership circle”, a trusted lieutenant of the CEO himself, his right-hand man. He knew he was next-in-line for a promotion to a top-leadership position. He just had to get rid of that asshole Yamreap who was occupying the position he coveted. As if to read his thoughts, Yamreap had preemptively solved that problem by declaring himself “too old for this shit” and rage-quitting out of a combination of exhaustion and disgust, but the corporate PR spin was “to focus on family and retirement”.
The CEO didn’t lose any time in appointing a successor. The choice was obvious. Grimraj had surpassed all performance expectations for 2021 and had been a stellar worker, delivering consistently, rising up the ranks steadily for a few years, and then meteorically over the past few years, and the time was right for him to occupy the highest position in his business vertical. Grimraj was elevated to the post of CDO of the company, a post which was held in awe and fear by everyone: all business horizontals and verticals; for they were the most ruthless, most fearsome of the entire company, handling all the dirty unsavory deeds which nobody wanted to touch with a ten-foot pole, getting their hands dirty while the rest of the company kept theirs clean, and they did it with remarkable clinical detachment and vicious ruthlessness. You almost had to give up on any/all idea of a Conscience to work for this team, and to lead it, you would have to almost be a Psychopath. Attrition and turnover was high in that division, especially for the leader: you would need a very strong stomach to lead that team for multiple years, and not be physically affected at a visceral level by all the shit you see. Rage-quitting due to emotional anguish, psychological burnout and stomach-churning disgust was quite the norm. But Grimraj didn’t care. His predecessor Yamreap was a Grade-A corporate asshole, but somewhere buried underneath 6 feet of douchebaggery was still someone with a shred of conscience and sensitivity. Grimraj on the other hand was a Grade-A corporate psychopath and an emotionless machine. While Yamreap was “too old for this shit”, Grimraj was “born for this shit”.
As CDO, Grimraj headed a motley crew of people (“Collection Agents”) in the “Collection Services” division. Their job was to knock on people’s doors to collect their ultimate final debts once and for all, and resolve the matter without any further follow-up. Their methods were unpleasant, unsavory, intimidating and violent, while obeying all international laws. In fact, the company was not under the purview of any National or International Governments. It was a supranational, opaque entity which skirted all laws and regulations worldwide.
As Grimraj reached the pub, he saw his colleagues, all of whom were now going to be his subordinates working under him. He was looking forward to taking command and lording over them as the “Top Boss”. But then he saw the CEO, which surprised him. This was going to be a New Year’s Eve party for him and his division, but the CEO had made an appearance. But this was to be expected, since the CEO was omniscient and omnipresent, with his eyes and ears to the ground, his knowledge extending to the farthest corners of the company and the globe.
When everyone had a drink in their hands, the CEO made a speech, in which he expressed that Yamreap’s sudden resignation had given him a lot of pause to think. Yamreap’s internal reasoning for why he resigned had ignited within the CEO some kind of introspection and reevaluation of how the “Collection Services” division ought to operate. There was probably a need for some reforms, and dialing-down things a notch or two, especially the violence, and being more selective about using the violence against certain targets, at least for a while. Till the company could figure out a long-term policy to deal with things in a way that keeps the business running, and keeps the unpleasant but necessary task of “Collection Services” operating but with some kind of moderation. At a bare minimum, this was needed from a PR/optics perspective for a while, but the CEO had other deeper moral reasons in his mind.
As the CEO spoke, Grimraj had a queasy feeling in his stomach. Here he was: just promoted to CDO and the CEO is talking about dialing things down. Grimraj felt the blood draining out of him, and was slowly becoming white as a sheet, just like how his “targets” would feel when one of his Collection Agents paid them a visit. He was getting a taste of his own bitter medicine. Despite being a Grade-A corporate psychopath, in that infinitesimal moment, he couldn’t help but have just the tiniest sliver of empathy for his “targets”. He had previously considered them numbers on his corporate excel sheet, a way to boost his metrics count, make his division look good, ingratiate himself into the CEO’s inner-circle and earn a coveted promotion. Now, the “targets” were a simulacrum of his own self: uneasy, anxious, quivering, rattled, with a pit in his stomach, a sense of fatalistic foreboding writ large on his forehead.
Grimraj was quite sure that mirror neurons were not present in his brain, since he was almost incapable of empathy, being a clinically detached ruthless asshole in most situations. And yet, when his own hard-fought promotion was now being undercut, he found himself in the rarest of moments when empathy made a brief cameo appearance in his brain, like Robert DeNiro’s cameo in an Al Pacino movie (or vice versa). And yet in the next moment, what terrified Grimraj more than his promotion losing significance, was that he was empathizing with his “targets”: he was overcome with a sense of nauseating disgust. The very act of seeing his “targets” as more than numbers was absolutely revolting to him. As the wave of sudden nausea wore down, with Grimraj in almost an epileptic seizure, the mirror neurons in his brain deactivated, the fragmented remnants of empathy drained away and the Grade-A corporate psychopath resumed its Permanent Residence in his brain. The trajectory of the CEO’s speech was downwards, but Grimraj had gotten back in his comfort-zone. He suddenly felt stoic, imperturbable, insouciant, like an alternate-parallel-universe-corporate-psychopathic version of Gautama Buddha: an enlightened soul who finds calmness in his own psychopathy.
The CEO then announced his personal New Year Resolution, which was to be applied company-wide, but most specifically to the “Collection Services” division: that in 2022, only “bad” people are to be “targets” of “Collection”. That “good” people are to be spared for the next year. The CEO didn’t specify whether this would be an interim ad-hoc policy, or become part of the company’s mission statement in-perpetuity, he seemed conflicted about making this policy permanent. He made it clear that his mind was already made up, and that this New Year Resolution was non-negotiable and legally-binding. The CEO paused for a few seconds, to scan the faces of the “Collection Services” personnel in the pub, to get a feel for how the room was reacting. The New Year’s Eve party had clearly taken an unexpected and sour tone. He knew Alcohol was going to flow plenty in the coming hours, but where it was earlier intended to be for celebration, it will now be to somberly digest this latest policy-shift, its implications for the entire Business Vertical and for the people staffing it.
The CEO then proceeded to the most unpleasant part of the speech, the part he dreaded the most. He had taken that pause not just to scan the faces, but also to brace himself for this next part, and as a sign of respect of looking everyone in-the-eye one last time before he dropped another bomb. For you see, with the “targets” reduced substantially for the next year, there wouldn’t be a need for so many personnel for the “Collection Services” division. The next logical step would be to cut down some staff to meet the “lowered targets”. The CEO spoke again and communicated this unpleasant fact, but to be fair, most of the Staff had by then guessed what was coming. A couple had already swore quietly. A few had sauntered over to the Bar to get some liquid courage in-hand as they awaited the ax to be dropped on their necks.
The CEO then somberly announced a list of names, without saying whether these are the “chosen few” who will be retained, or the “Judas outcasts” who will be laid-off. Once he finished reading all these names, he took another brief pause to scan everyone’s faces again, to absorb the gravity of the moment at hand. While the CEO had taken the pause with serious intentions, it was also a bit comical, quite like the pause that the Host takes when revealing which contestant won in the Grand Finale of America’s Got Talent, then cutting to an advertisement, except it was even more inappropriate and excruciating in the context of a mass-layoff. The pause was brief, but to everyone else in that room: to the people whose names were read, and the people whose names were omitted: the pause stretched for all eternity: from the beginning of time to the End of the fucking Universe, which was quite apt and poetic in one way because the CEO had Universal Dominion and through his company exercised Universal Control.
The CEO then made it clear that the names he read are the unfortunate corporate slaves who must be eliminated; sacrificial lambs so-to-speak. The CEO of course put a dignified, somber spin on it, telling them in a somber but matter-of-fact way: “Thank you for your services. It's with deep regret that I make this decision. Unfortunately, your services are no longer required. Please speak to HR for your exit severance.” What was spoken and what was heard were two different things: “Thanks for playing Squid Games. Player numbers #,#,# eliminated”. This was the silent subtext among everyone there, including the CEO, the HR representatives now revealing themselves, stepping out of the corners, and the armed security guards who seemed to have descended from God knows where (again pun intended) to make sure nobody crosses a line. The swearing had intensified. Glasses were thrown, but no lines were crossed. Everyone knew that it was pointless. They were no match for the CEO’s army of mercenaries. Besides, the eliminated knew that they were a small cog in the wheels of the CEO’s mysterious grand plan, that they had played a role in the Universal scheme of things, that they had done their bit and their time was up, that theirs was not to question why, theirs was to do and die.
Everyone also knew that this would not be just another mass corporate layoff. This one would be mass-murder. They were to be eliminated. Their ultimate debts were to be collected. In a strange poetic twist, the “Collection Services” division was now tasked with collecting “targets” among their own: the personnel retained by the company were now responsible for collecting the ultimate final debts of the personnel just laid-off by the CEO, and Grimraj was now in the unique position of eliminating his own subordinates in his own promotion and New Year’s Eve party. His first task in the new position was to watch his own department be gutted by roughly a quarter. He would lord over his own promotion getting watered down to shit. The premium IPA beer in his hand started tasting less like frothy hoppy Alcohol, and more like concentrated urine.
For you see, what’s the ultimate final debt? Life itself. The CEO (God) gives everyone a Life, a chance at doing something, at stumbling through the Fog of Life, without much of a handbook, without a compass, without navigational tools of any kind. Nobody can make any sense of it. But most make peace with the random nonsensical absurdism, and keep calm and carry on. A “chosen few” do thrive, whether through ignorance, or delusional belief-systems, or rigid social conformism, or through mountains of persistent hard-work and sheer grit, or through blind-luck. But in each case, Life is a Gift, given as a Loan by the CEO. And what can be given as a loan, can be collected as a Debt. The CEO had many business horizontals and verticals who were responsible for a battery of assorted functions that kept the Universe running: everything from governing the movement of stars and celestial bodies, to the number of times Elon Musk would tweet something outlandish, to the birth of new beings, and of course, the final most critical component: the manner and timing of departure of beings from the Universe.
It is this last task which the “Collection Services” department was responsible for: they had to figure out when it’s time for someone to give-up the Loan of Life that the CEO had given them. Grimraj (and Yamreap before him) was the CDO: Chief Death Officer, overlooking an army of “Collection Agents”. They were in the Debt Collection business, and all such business, in all its forms, by definition, is extremely unpleasant and unsavory. Except theirs was the Ultimate Debt Collection: calling-in the Chips of the Loan of Life itself. It had the most ultimate sense of immutable finality and irreversible violence to it. “Targets” would of course still do their best to bargain for more time, make promises to repay the Loan by living their Lives better, and so on. And when the bargaining didn’t work, the anger would strike. “Targets” would curse the CEO (God), and wonder why it was them that was being targeted. “Why them, and not someone else?! Why now?! Why?!” they would scream. But all the bargaining and anger couldn’t save them, for the decision had been made (after all, the CEO works in mysterious ways). The penultimate stage would be of sheer terror, as the “Targets” would realize that this is it. That this is how it’s going to end. Nothing can be done. This is really fucking it. This fucking moment. This one single infinitesimal moment when everything they’ve learnt: from walking to talking to potty-training to trigonometry to tax-saving investments or retirement-funds: it all comes to naught. None of that shit can save them at this moment. Their departure from this world is set in stone. “Fuck! Fuck me! Fuck this world! Oh God No! No God please no!”
When the Depression, Bargaining, Anger, Terror had all washed-over, there would finally be a sense of calm acceptance in that final blink of a moment before they are dispatched into oblivion. In that one singular moment, each of the “targets” get a taste of the “Singularity” and of the CEO’s “mysterious grand plan”, a “unified theory of everything” that eluded the likes of Stephen Hawking (brilliant physicist and brave ALS survivor he might have been, but he was still a mere mortal as compared to the CEO and his unknown and unknowable grandness). The preceding terrifying moments seem worth it, because they bear witness to what it all means, something the rest of us living mortal souls have no fucking clue about. In that final moment, they access a dimension hidden to us by paying the ultimate price for it, a price they didn’t choose voluntarily, but were predestined to pay at that specific time as part of the mysterious grand plan they understand in all its glory in that singular moment, before they are dispatched to the other side, to nothingness, to the void.
So far, the “targets” included everyone: “good” and “bad” both. The process of “Debt Collection” was as arbitrary as the process of “Loan Sanction”: none of it made any fucking sense. Many people who were sanctioned Loans of Life had no fucking idea what to do with it, awkwardly stumbling along, or falling prey to sins/vices or empty hedonism, and largely got away with it. Some people who were doing good in Life, making good on the Loan provided to them, became “targets” of the “Collection Agents”; a premature exit cutting short their time and potential. The scriptures say that God built Man in his own image, and it showed. The CEO’s organizational labyrinth functioned in random nonsensical opaque ways, like most corporate or government bureaucracies. The CEO had made up his mind to address the “Loan Sanction” department in next year’s New Year's Eve Resolution, to tighten the process of approving Loans to Lives by pre-evaluating their credit-score and Life-potential, so that anybody who gets the Loan of Life realizes its true value, and don’t squander it like trust-fund babies in Manhattan pissing away their inheritance over a hedonistic cocktail of alcohol, drugs and emptiness-filled depression. That was going to have to wait another year, but for now, Yamreap’s sudden resignation had sensitized within the CEO the need for reforms in the “Collection” process. And so it was decreed that the “good” people would avoid being “targets” for the coming year. Whether this would become a core part of the CEO’s mission-statement, remains to be seen. As 2022 rolled around, the “good” people got a Blanket Loan Extension.
Grimraj and Yamreap = Portmanteau of “Grim Reaper” and “Yamaraj”
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existential absurdism, I like that. Came back because I forgot to like your story
Wow- I had to take a breath. Great story.
Thanks for taking the time to read. Appreciate it! Glad you liked it! :)
This felt more like Wolf of Wall Street or American Psycho than Arrested Development. I’ve heard that the majority of successful CEOs are sociopaths acclimated to screwing over their coworkers and customers to get to the top. Jeff Bezos is a Prime example, the richest man in the world employs union busters so he can keep screwing over the workers in his warehouses. His business owes its success to tax avoidance. Your main character would probably do well in one of those companies.
Yep, you're right, that was the intent. An intersection of corporate satire and religious satire: the CEO of multi-billion dollar corporations were certainly an inspiration here. Parallels between God & the CEO, "Loan Sanction" department & creating new Life, "Debt Collection Services" & the taking of Life, with the Grim Reaper concerned with typical petty office-politics, jealousy, promotions, or being ruthless corporate machines, etc. Also satirizing corporate layoffs in the context of mass-murder of eliminated personnel. Appreciate you ...