Work Is Hell

(Audio narration below.)

My alarm blared, jarring me from sleep. The bright light of my clock showed that I was an hour late for work. Crashing on the floor, I threw on rumpled clothes and slipped on my shoes. I jumped into my car, breaking the speed limit on the way and cursing the traffic in front of me.

My heart pounded as I drove toward the giant black obelisk, my stomach knotting with a sense of dread.Either way, I had no choice but to be here; it’s my job, and if I don’t do this, someone will replace me.

Gerald, the security guard, was sitting smugly at his desk. He yawned and stretched his long body and looked at me with half-open eyes.

“What costs nothing but is hard to find and can be lost?” He asked, brushing his paw against his chest and looking at his claws.

“Look, Gerald, I don’t have time for this, I’m already running behind, and I have to get to work.”

“Ma’am, I’m required to follow security procedures. No one gets to the obelisk without answering the question,” he said.

“Fine,” I rolled my eyes. “The answer is time, and I’m running out!”

“Well, your answer is correct,” he flexed his wings and stretched on his hind legs. “You may enter.

“I was late, and management would notice. There went my bonus for the year.I pounded up the stairs and logged into my phone. I turned on my computer, and it just froze. The little white circle on it kept spinning. My phone chimed, and I dropped my headset before I could answer it.

“Hi, this is Drew with Obelisk Corporation.

“How may I help you today?”

“Why is my bill so high?!” screeched a voice on the other line.

“If you give me a moment, I would be happy to research that for you-“

“I need to know why your company is overcharging-“

“Please hold.”I took a deep breath and shut my eyes. I opened them to see my screen was still loading. The blue screen of death appeared.

“Ma’am, bear with me one moment, I’m having technical difficulties-“

“I am tired of you and your crappy company overcharging me and then putting me on hold.”

“Ma’am! My computer is booting up.”

“Your corporation needs a new system. You can afford it with all the fees you billed me.”

I got my computer up and fumbled through retrieving a copy of her statement. The woman kept me online for an hour, why I explained each charge. Most of the costs were for legitimate services we offered.

“I want all the charges refunded!”

“Ma’am, I don’t have the authority to do that,” I said. “Our policy states that all sales are final.”

“I want to speak to your manager!” she shrieked.

My finger hit the transfer button on my phone only to realize I forgot the extension. I opened my bottom drawer to find the giant leather tome with a chain. It fell open, and a plume of dust flew right in my face. I split my thumb into one of the ancient pages. Blood spilled, and a small portal opened. The portal then spoke.

“The number to resolution is 666333.”

I dialed the management’s number. On the other end, there was nothing but a low growl followed by squelching sounds. Good, let her deal with them. Hitting the transfer button, I breathed a sigh of relief.

The portal started spinning, and my stapler flew into it. It made a slurping sound and sealed shut. Great, another item I would have to request from maintenance. At this rate, they were going to dock my pay.

Smoke poured from my station tower, my screen turned blue and then white. The scrawled text formed on the screen, and the numbers bled downward. Lovely, I had to call tech support to let them know that my computer was having Zalgo issues.

I turned through the pages and found the number to tech support.”Please remain on hold. The next representative will be with you in one hundred and twenty minutes.”Out of synch, hold music played, interrupted by mysterious chanting over static.

After several hours, tech support answered and asked for my IP. I provided it, but the technician said my desk was unregistered in the system. I would have to pack everything up and move.I sighed as I picked up my headphones and a few things to move.

Coworkers with various degrees of hooves, horns, and scales took up all the desks. I spotted a small, dusty desk in the back corner of the office. Ms. Naga was in the cubical beside me. Her long body coiled over her chair. She was wearing heavy makeup, and her scales polished to a mirror sheen. A Prada bag rested beside her.

“Excuse me, do you know the supervisor on duty?” I asked.

“He’ ssss on vacation. Email him.”

“Is it all right if I use this desk?”

“Yesss, but keep it down. My clientele is crucial.”

“Yes, ma’am.”I unpacked my things and started the computer up. As soon as I hooked my phone to the headset, it rang.”Hello, this is Drew with the Obelisk Corporation, with whom do I have the pleasure of speaking with?”

“What?” said a man’s voice on the other line. I could hear loud crashing in the background, followed by incoherent roaring.”Sir, can you go somewhere quieter? I can barely hear you.”

“Damien, I told you to get away from the fridge!” A voice yelled in the background.”Sir?” I asked, louder.”No! Damien, don’t eat the fridge. Bad!”

I chuckled.”Are you laughing at me?” asked the man.

“No, Sir, how may I help you?”

“I need a new refrigerator, the old one… it has some damages.”

“Sir, the Obelisk Corporation doesn’t specialize in appliances we… “I trailed off. A wave of panic hit me. I could pull up a statement of services, but it didn’t list what the services were. I forgot what Obelisk Corporation did.

“Ms. Naga, can you help me?”

“I’m on a very sssspecial call! What did I sssay about interrupting me?”

“Sorry,” I said. I searched my computer for information. Sweat started to bead on my forehead. I googled the Obelisk Corporation only to find the slogan: Obelisk, may your soul find its way here. I cross-referenced, trying to find more details. I looked at the interface of our corporate site, but it gave me nothing substantial.

“Sir, I found the main website for Black and Decker. They can help you with your appliance. It appears to be an email service; you’ll have to fill out a form.”

“I’m swamped. Can you fill out the form for me?”

“I’m not a representative of Black and Decker,” I said.”Well, your no help at all! No, Damien, don’t eat the couch, please stop.. NO..”There was a loud crash in the background followed by another roar and a gulping sound as the call disconnected.

The call ticker on the screen read that 666 calls were waiting in the queue.

“Why is our queue so high?”

“Shhhhhhh!” the entire office said. I shook my head as my phone rang again.

“Obelisk Corporation. This is Drew speaking; how may I help you today?”

“Look, ma’am, I’m having an emergency, I need your help.” Her voice quivered on the verge of tears.

“I’ll see what I can do. What is the nature of the emergency.”

“I’m so scared, help!”

“I.. I need to know more details so I can help you.”

“My name is Selena Johnson. My account number is 66633I typed the account into my search system, and nothing came up.

“Ma’am, I’m having a little trouble locating you..”

“My son is injured! I need your help!”

“Ma’am, hold on, I’m connecting you to emergency services!”

“PLEASE HELP ME!” She screamed through sobs. I flipped through the online pages looking for a solution, but my mind blanked.”Noooo! Please, God, not now!” A whispering noise came over the phone, followed by a loud thud and then silence.

I unplugged my phone and sobbed. My nose started to run, and makeup ran down my face. Horrible things happened to that woman because I couldn’t transfer her to the right place. I’m just a messenger and a coward, a useless cog. I took a deep breath and picked myself up to go on a break. After today I would look online to get another job. I can’t keep doing this.

A giant hoof lowered gently on my shoulder. I turned around to see a massive devil. He had massive black horns, charred red skin, and hooves instead of hands. Yet he wore a nice business suit, had a neat goatee and gold-rimmed spectacles.

“Miss Drew, are you quite, alright?” He asked.

“I.. I’m sorry, I’ll pull myself together-“

“This has gone on long enough; I need you to see me in my office. Follow me.

“My heart pounded, and I felt the icy knot in my stomach as I followed the Devil to an office with an elaborate oak door carved with sigils and markings. Inside, the office was rather cozy, with wood paneling and an ornate clock ticked softly. An enormous desk sat in the middle of the room with two overstuffed leather chairs.

“Have a seat.” He nodded towards the chair across the desk.

Nodding, I took a seat. My face was sore from crying, and my hands were shaking. The Devil handed me a tissue, and I blew my nose, making a loud honking sound.

“There, there, child, it’ll be all right,” he said while his hoof patted my shoulder.

“What am I doing here?”

“Do you remember the last thing that happened before you came to work?”

“I overslept, I headed here as soon as I could. I’m sorry I was late; it won’t happen again.”

He shook his head. “No, child, the day before.”

I thought hard but ran into static.

“Do you remember the heart attack?” He asked.

It all rushed back to me. I worked at a call center for an umbrella company. They were laying off people for restructuring. I pushed myself hard just to keep up. Yesterday was abysmal. The queue was high all day, and customers were screaming at me for the increased call volume.

There was a sharp pain in my chest, but I brushed it off as another panic attack. I slept on it, and I woke up here.

“I’m dead, aren’t I? I never lived, and now I’m dead. Trapped here forever in torment.

“The Devil grinned sardonically.

“Yes, and no. Yes, you are dead, but no, this place is not permanent, at least not for you. You’d have to be damn evil to stay here forever.”

“What?”

I looked up, and the Devil vanished. In his place was an elderly Asian man in warm orange robes. He was wearing the same golden glasses.

“Souls find this form less intimidating.” He said as he bowed his head. “What do you believe I am?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Lucifer, Satan, Beelzebub, my ex-husband?”

“If you believe so.” He shrugged. “In a way, I am, but I’m also not.” He smiled. “Why do you believe that you are here?”

“Because I worked far too much. I wouldn’t make time for my family. I was so worried about getting ahead. I was so focused on making a life for myself that I didn’t live.”

“One shouldn’t have to push so hard just to live. In a way, I think your employers will be here a far longer time than you,” He sighed. “But I digress, what will you do better next time?”

“Next time?”

“If you had to live your life again, how would you live it?”

“I’d spend more time with my family. My parents and sisters missed me, but I never made time for them. Work came first. I’d travel more, walk the Appellation Trail or drive cross country. I wouldn’t worry so much about the rat race.”

“Then, my work finished.” The little man smiled and gestured. A glowing white door opened behind him. “Remember this lesson in your next life, child.”

“Next life?”

“Why yes, your soul will move on to the next life, and you will live better. You’ll spend even less time here next time. Eventually, the world will be Paradise” He took off his glasses and polished them. “It is always a work in progress, I’m afraid.”

“I move on to the next life and make things better, and Earth becomes paradise?”

“Or you don’t work together, fight each other, and continue to pollute the earth. And the earth will become the Hell of Revelation. It’s up to you guys. I’m just the keeper of the in-between.”

“Oh..” I opened my mouth and then closed it. “Are you God?”

“I am whatever you believed: God, Satan, St. Peter, Anubis weighing your heart against a feather, and the never-ending void. I am all of these and none of these at the same time.”

“I see,” I nodded.

“You need you to go through that door unless you want to wander the earth for eternity.”

“But I didn’t even get to say goodbye to anyone,” I said.

“I’ll let you visit one last time in spirit if you promise me one thing.”

“And what is that?”

“Be more remarkable in your next life, be more memorable. Leave something other than labor for a company that never cared if you lived or died.”

“I will.”I hugged the old man a hug as I walked through the door. My heart felt full of life. I hovered over my family as they stood over my casket. I overheard them speaking to each other, saying they wish they knew me better. My sister wanted me to come over to see her son, my newborn nephew, in her arms. A wave of sadness hit me.

“I’m sorry, I wish I could have been there more.”

My employer would hire an extra worker, and they would forget me, in this life at least. There was no point in staying here. I floated through the glowing door.

Blinding light hit me as the world rushed through at breakneck speed. A wailed out in confusion as I was freezing and naked. They wrapped a warm blanket around me and lowered me into my mother’s arms.

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