Spring Cleaning

Submitted into Contest #27 in response to: Write a short story that ends with a twist.... view prompt

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Mystery

It wasn’t just fear that clouded the face of Karl Mikkelsson beneath his silver-rimmed glasses. It was regret.

 

And now that tortured face popped back into Hannah’s head – prompted by the annual reminder email from HR: Remember to cast your Spring Cleaning vote by 5 PM on Wednesday.

 

After all, Karl had been her choice. Her vote had played a part in condemning him.

 

She didn’t even dislike him that much, but she knew that some people found him a bit aloof and unapproachable. No great crime, but she guessed that’s what he was regretting as death was sent rushing through his veins and the first convulsions shook him.

 

One day last February, after struggling through a needlessly large burrito for lunch, she’d casually glanced about the office and realised that she never really talked to Karl and she’d not seen him down the Crown Tavern on a Friday night. 


Was that enough of a reason? Well it was more of a reason than she could muster for anyone else.


Spring Cleaning was supposed to clear the air around the workplace. It was designed to prevent grudges and office politics from festering under the skin. Maybe the government also hoped it would clear some deadwood from the corporate world, too, making the whole economy run more smoothly as voters did their civic duty to condemn those least effective in their jobs.

 

The first year had been a relatively easy choice, as far as sending someone to their death went. It was an open secret that Richard was a sex pest. And, of course, being the first year, he hadn’t had a real chance to modify his behaviour. Maybe he finally came to the realisation that his innuendos somehow weren’t that funny, or maybe he saw the looks of pity (and guilt) as Spring Cleaning Day approached. Either way, he became a lot less jovial in his final weeks. Apparently he'd even apologised to a couple of the girls.

 

Still, as occasionally despised as Richard was, nobody was prepared for the act.


Even Melissa, a prime target of Richard’s unwanted half-advances had puked all over her prized Louboutins. Despite the carefully constructed, inches-thick glass wall that The Caring Bank had installed, the decay of Richard’s carcass still reached their noses from the almost-sealed chamber.


Of course, it would’ve been bad enough even without the stench. The sight of a middle-aged man slumped on the floor – with foam-stained stubble and sodden M&S trousers hinting at a final defecation – was enough to distract anyone from whatever the fuck they were making on the 3D printer.


That was one of the rules: the chosen would remain on display for 24 hours. An unsubtle warning, Hannah supposed. Toe the line. Be a good employee. Be a good person. Or be executed and left to rot in indignity.


But nobody complained. Nobody protested. Nobody even muttered how horrific it all was.


Some cried – especially those, Hannah suspected, who’d voted for Richard. While others gently shook their heads in classically British mild disapproval.


Nobody dared utter a peep though.


Non-compliance with the system, they were told, was now a contravention of HR policies and would land the dissenter a spot in Richard Corner.


The HR policies were clearer than crystal:

 

Everyone had to vote.

 

Everyone had to turn up on the day, lest anybody try to avoid the day of reckoning.

 

Nobody would reveal who they'd voted for.

 

There was genuine shock in 2020 when softly spoken, biscuit-sharing, project-managing Colin was seized by the outsourced executioners and dragged up into the ceremonial chamber. But the rules were the rules and Colin had flouted them, revealing in an email he’d once voted for a guy called Inderjit, who’d since left the company. So that year, poor Colin probably spared someone the seat, with HR explaining the reason behind the choice for the first time since Spring Cleaning had been introduced.

 

Obviously, the unwilling participants in this game had to be replaced by the business. Colin, for instance, had had a plate full of virtual reality banking work and now The Caring Bank had nobody to eat it.


So in came Australian Greg, all unfashionably blonded quiff and needless ties. Hannah had expected him, as a newbie lacking allies, to swiftly join his predecessor.


In fact, she wondered how people ever had the courage to switch jobs anymore. Surely it was a risk, going into a new place and hoping they liked you enough to vote someone else dead? 


What if you weren’t any good at the new job and couldn’t pull your weight? That could edge you closer to the ceremony door. 


What if you unwittingly joined an office full of Nicolas Cage fans and loudly announced your hatred of Con Air?


Then again, maybe some people realised they were sinking to the bottom of the popularity pile in their current office and jumped before they were pushed.


Still, Hannah preferred to stick to what she knew, slowly advancing up the corporate ladder, while cautiously staying clear of the top jobs that could attract envy or force her into making unpopular decisions.


When the cleaners, kitchen staff and other blue collar workers were allowed to join the party, there was a sudden surge of fear. There was also a sudden surge of manners and goodwill towards the newly enfranchised. 


She had to admit, Spring Cleaning had been a great leveller, even if the government hadn’t intended it to be.


The first of the executive executions had been in 2022, when the head of their digital department had been frogmarched, disbelief and betrayal shining from his face, from his desk. Hannah had never found out if it was a coup against Martin, but it eventually became clear what a poisoned coffee mug that position was.


The chamber then claimed two more heads in successive years – the last being Zara, who had been absolutely lovely to everyone, right up until the results were revealed and she unleashed a supernova of perfectly understandable expletives and curses.


Now they had a Decision Council. 


It definitely took longer to get things done, but it was generally quite easy to build a consensus. Nobody ever wanted to rock the boat too much.

 

As a creative director, Hannah now took a pew in Conference Room C, where their council of elders was gathering.


What pile of shit would it be facing them today? Hannah hadn’t read the agenda.

 

“Morning all,” began Emma, who the rotating chairpersonship belonged to this week.

 

They all muttered their 9:15 AM greetings into teacups or the ether, like schoolchildren in assembly.

 

“So...here we have the team's ideas for the next ad campaign on the robocabs. They're focusing on mortgages."


She wondered how Karl’s wife would pay the mortgage. The Spring Cleaning compensation payments wouldn’t last forever and she thought they’d had three kids. Why hadn’t she voted for someone without responsibilities? They should tell you about people’s family lives on the system somewhere. You should be made aware of the facts before you made that kind of decision.


And what about how old people were? It was hard to guess sometimes and it was only fair if the oldies went first. Although Colin had been expecting his first grandchild when he was chosen. No, it just wasn’t that black and white.

 

Maybe if MPs were made to do Spring Cleaning, they’d have come up with a better system. There’d definitely be a bit more democracy that way. The whole thing had gone to shit since those laws back…


“Hannah, Earth to Hannah! Anybody home?”

 

Shit.


“Erm…yes?”


“What did you think about this one?”


She was directed to a screen showing a beaming fake couple with a baby and dog. Even the dog looked like it was forcing a smile but screaming ‘Kill me now’ inside. Probably one of Ad Inspiration’s shot-in-the-dark concepts, done at the last minute to make up the numbers.


“I think we need some better agencies on board. I mean, it’s a bit bloody tacky, isn’t it? Very 1950s America, only shitter. Who did this one?”


There was silence and Hannah didn’t understand. Why did Katie look so glum? Oh…


“We did. Darren, Katie and I. We decided to do this campaign in house. Remember?”


She looked around the room for reassurance. She found naked contempt.


She could already feel the weight of their cursors hovering over her name.

 

Fuck. 

February 03, 2020 09:42

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