HR HELL • by Kendra Cummings

“Welcome to Hell, Jackie,” the demon says. “I’m Delia, your orientation manager. Here’s your new employee packet.” She half-stands in her cloven-toe stilettos, and passes a file folder across her desk.

What did she just say? The newly-deceased Human Resources manager stares blankly at the demon. “Hell’s a corporate office?”

Delia straightens her black mini-skirt and ruffled blouse before sitting. “Bathrooms are down the hall. Office supply upstairs, cafeteria downstairs.” Her face breaks into a smile of gleaming, pointed teeth. “They like things hot in the cafeteria.”

“But… why am I here?” Jackie asks, flipping through the packet in confusion.

“Heaven is downsizing. They can only accept souls that perform in the top thirty percent. Don’t take it personally,” Delia replies. “Your office is in hallway 3C.”

“But I was a good person! I donated to charity, I didn’t run over any cats, I helped old Mrs. McGurdey with her garden. This doesn’t make any sense!” Jackie’s hands shake. The packet flutters in her grasp.

“You were a good performer. Heaven just didn’t need your services in a down economy.” Delia pats Jackie’s arm. “I’m sure you’ll find this a nice place to toil.”

“Toil? What could I possibly do here that Heaven didn’t want?” Jackie says.

“Oh, we’ll have a use for your skills.” She pulls an emery board out of her desk and begins to file down her claws. “Best of luck.”

In tears, Jackie starts down a long, narrow hallway, painted a drab ivory. Fluorescent lights cast a sickly glow, while cubicles with gray felt walls stretch on as far as the eye can see. There are no windows.

At the intersection of the main hall and hallway 3C, she sees the sign: ‘Human Resources’. She rounds the corner…

Jackie’s eyes pop open. She’s in her office at Informinex’s corporate headquarters, collapsed across the top of her desk. The room is uncomfortably warm, and Jackie’s head aches. I must be hallucinating. Too much work-related stress, I suppose.

She stretches her arms high above her head. I need to get it together, maintain my professionalism. I can’t crack now. We’re almost done.

With a heavy sigh, she brushes the crumbs of her free-range chicken and organic tomato sandwich from her tan slacks and blue sweater set. She never wears black on big days. It sets the wrong tone. Muted colors are more soothing for upset employees.

Two cups of coffee later, she tosses the now-empty tissue box into her wastebasket, then wipes down her desktop, preparing for her next appointment. A single rap announces his arrival.

Jackie stands, wearing a polite smile. “Victor, thanks so much for coming. Please sit.”

“Jackie, why am I here?” His voice is steel. He doesn’t bother to sit, standing with his fists clenched at his sides.

Oh, dear. “You’ve served the company well for the last,” she checks his file, “fourteen years. I see, however, that your past three performance reviews resulted in average ratings. As you know, the company is going through a difficult time. Management has come to some tough decisions — ”

“Can you tell me what those decisions are?” Victor snaps.

“Well, with the economy, we have to take certain actions.” Jackie folds her hands on her desk. “These decisions were very difficult for our leadership to make — ”

“Cut the crap, Jackie. I know you’re gonna fire me. We’ve all seen the trail of people leaving your office.” He glares at her.

Jackie clucks to herself in disapproval. “No need to get angry. I understand how you feel –”

“How I feel? Have you ever been fired? I have a kid in middle school! We just started him in braces!” He takes a breath. “Look, spare me the corporate party-line bullshit and give me my package so I can get out of here.”

Jackie walks him through his severance plan, then shoos him out the door. “If there’s anything I can do, my number’s in the packet. Good luck.”

Victor responds by giving her the finger as he stalks away.

Jackie sinks wearily into her chair. Thank God that was the last one. I need a drink, maybe a margarita. I mean, it’s like they all blame me. Sure, I helped create the headcount reduction list, but the least they can do is understand my position… take it gracefully.

She rubs her temples before turning on her laptop to check her email. Twenty new layoff meetings have been added to her calendar for that afternoon, including two more with Victor, and three with that crazy Martin fellow. The one who Super-Glued his boss’s rear to a chair after not getting a raise. Why him? Why again? Jackie had needed security present for his termination meeting. What was this about?

The glint of blued steel crosses her mind. A flash. A loud bang. Jackie begins to tremble.

“I see you’re settling in nicely,” a voice calls from the hallway. Delia from Admitting peeks around the door frame, wearing a grin. “Jackie, welcome to Hell.”

Kendra Cummings is an Oklahoma girl, exiled to Texas. She is married, a mom, staff to two self-important and high-powered cats, an avid reader, an aspiring young adult genre novelist, a card-carrying geek, and a hopeful romantic.

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