cat being eaten by fish plushie

“We have been tasked by corporate to read this notice to you in its entirety, so please save all your questions for the very end”

Oh boy, another outbreak of the meme virus. Isn’t being in a cramped, unventilated office the worst place to have this announcement, then? Hopefully, we get paid to go home early like last time.

The monotonous, sterile reading continued, eyes glued to the page. “We here at Generic Retail pride ourselves on our positive work culture and attention to our individual associates…”

Sure you do. Going through new hires like gym socks and ignoring availability requests really makes me feel the love. My eyes and attention began to wander as I wallowed in indignation.

“As of next month, we ask that management begin to eat their associates in whatever order or procedure they deem fit.”

Alyssa right across from me got a new hime cut, and it looks absolutely… wait, what did I just hear? I must have misheard that word. What would make sense… yeet, beat, teat? This wasn’t getting me anywhere; each one was worse than the last.

“We understand that this might be a surprise for some and that proper preparations perhaps haven’t been made…”

Preparations, huh. I don’t recall the overly preppy white dude from the insurance commercials soliciting cannibal coverage, but perhaps you have to ask for it under the rug, like some demented Secret Menu.

“…but we encourage our associates to team up with a coordinator to properly understand the new changes.”

What would a drastically underpaid and under-motivated coordinator possibly say to have me acquiesce to giving my life so willy nilly - more so than we already do? I looked around. Blank stares. Alyssa was stealthily texting someone with her watch, or so she thought. Apparently, I was the one in the wrong, but I didn’t feel wrong. I had to make sure.

Once we were released from captivity, I looked for a plaid button up shirt among the masses and sure found my friend from the home department. His Cartoon Action Turtle keychain jangled as he recognized me and ran up.

“Yo, Dom. What did you think of the announcement?” I probed in as friendly a tone as possible.

Dom picked up a bed sheet off the floor and began to fold it to keep up appearances. “What do you mean? Oh, the eating? It’s whatever, I guess.”

I decided to look busy as well. “Wait, so it’s not a prank?” I was certain that Dom would agree with me like he did everything else in the break room. Now that I think of it, that’s why I considered him my friend in the first place - a reinforcement of my so-called hot takes, for better or worse. But today was different.

Dom adopted a polite yet firm tone of voice. “April Fools was a long time ago. Besides, I don’t see who would find that funny”

I had to give him that point. “I don’t, either. Quite bad taste if you ask me.”

“Ay, lmao!” Dom broke out in an exaggerated chuckle and cordially slapped my chest with the back of his hand.

Bad taste… you gotta be kidding me. I slapped Dom back trying to hold back a smirk. “No, but for realsies. There’s no way they’re serious about eating us.”

“I don’t know. My friend works at Big Store and they told him the same thing. I hear that’s just the next big thing companies are pushing for these days.” Dom said the last part in the same register one might use for the weather or last night’s baseball game.

We were clearly on different wavelengths about this issue, but I decided to prod just a little further. “Doesn’t that bother you?”

Dom seemed somewhat confused. “Not really. I’m only here one day a week. I do my best to leave work affairs at work and have fun at home.”

I failed to see how one could have fun with vital organs missing, but the inanimate smiling gnomes on clearance seemed to have a better chance of understanding, so I dropped the topic and excused myself to my position after folding my towels. In any case, I had no reason to panic; words have no meaning on their own, especially the stiff, artificial ones that bureaucracy loves to throw around. Having worked 8 years in the service industry, I had learned the valuable art of dropping the arcane policies nobody cared about, so I would just civilly disobey any suspicious orders and play ignorant when the time came.

The time came pretty quickly. The same manager that had given the death sentence had asked me to come in early - 3:30 in the morning to be exact. The last time I had done so was a year ago and that was to clean out the basement. We ended up throwing all of the shelves and boxes away, so I wondered what the point in having a dumping ground in the first place, until today.

Nothing good ever happens at 3:30 in the morning.

I made my way down the rickety stair steps and met up with the stocky, short haired woman in her late thirties that had given the death sentence. Sawdust had already caked on top of her tacky horn-rimmed glasses and plain red t-shirt; she must have come in earlier, or even stayed overnight, to get this project over with. Neither would surprise me given her track record.

In the moments she took to notice me, my eyes were able to adjust and present to me giant metal slabs of machinery with open screws and saws - clearly a grown up version of building blocks, just with more skin in the game.

She seemed relieved to see me over the boxes she was lifting. “Thanks for coming in on time. I knew I could count on you to follow through.”

I looked around. “Is anybody else coming today?”

She set down the box with a cloud of dust. “No. We need everybody else for the afternoon rush. You just happened to be scheduled in the morning,” she said matter of factly.

I had assumed I was selected for being stronger or more competent, but I guess I shouldn’t rely on minimum wage work to feed my ego, even in passing. I thought about my coworkers, and came to the conclusion that I was as dispensable as the rude, rebellious kid with a mullet that management hasn’t had the leisure to fire, or the middle-aged Hispanic women in the warehouse that don’t speak a lick of English. One ought not to compare themselves to others, but such was life.

I returned to the task at hand. “OK, so what do you want me to do right now?”

“Do me a favor and hand me that paper night next to you.” I came closer, but quickly returned to my strategic distance. She went on. “So while the the installation and HVAC guys that corporate sent us show up, we’re gonna finish taking everything out of the boxes and group like with like according to this schematic.”

She showed me the large fold-out diagram of what the eventual goal was. Documentation was sparse, with mostly diagrams, but the title stood out to me. 冷凍室. I racked my brain remembering their semantic meaning from my college elective class - chill, freeze, room. Room to chill to a freeze… good lord, this was a walk-in freezer! Corporate really didn’t care about covering their tracks, did they?

Now, I was not in the habit of rocking the boat any more than needed, but the time had come for the confrontation. I sighed and took a deep breath.


She looked up, ready to over-explain. “Yes. Mr. Jacob.”

“What is this machinery for?”

“Corporate finally got us the meat locker for the first of the month. There was a little back and forth while we…”

“What!? You were serious about that?” This was my first oral confirmation since I had abandoned all thought and sedated myself with music and porn. My throat dried up and words took time for them to form in my mouth.

Mary wasn’t used to being interrupted, and roughened her voice a bit. “Of course; why else would we take the time to let everybody know? We’re losing time, you know.”

“Are you hearing yourself right now? Do you fully intend to eat me and my friends?” Up to the last second, I doubted. What the hell was I even asking?

“That is company policy after all.” Mary had collected herself and defaulted back to her NPR PC NPC (National Public Radio, politically correct, non-playable character) voice.

“Don’t you have a mind of your own, though? Do you ever ask yourself how you feel about these things?” I had always taken personal offense to Mary’s outlook on life, and finally calling her out, albeit under unfavorable circumstances, was unexpectedly cathartic.

“I’m not the one in charge of making those judgments.” Mary paused for a bit, as if deliberately choosing her words. I had learned to dread being in the same room as her, even before the corporate announcement, on the mere basis of unsolicited monologues - the hallmark of low intelligence. It’s not like I was much higher; I was working minimum wage as a cashier after all, but I was self-aware enough to find such self-importance sickening. “I’ve been with company for 16 years. I was in your shoes as an associate for a year, then coordinator for 2 years, then…” and went on, making the bold assumption that anybody cared about her passionate regurgitation of her resume. When she was satisfied with her chronological masturbation, she continued, “Corporate promoted me precisely because I did everything by the book and they could count on me to follow the correct procedures.”

Yeah, to assistant manager; whoopdee doo, you’re slightly higher up on the orgy pyramid. But I digressed. I recognized that from day one, she had always been dying to tell someone, anyone, her life story - anybody docile enough to give her the time of day. If she wasn’t trying to feast on my innards, I’d pity her a little - not that she needed anyone’s pity.

“I can’t do this. I quit. And you should, too.” I timidly grabbed my name badge and placed it on a nearby table. My arms were trembling; I had been taught to be a good boy and respect authority, and this was the first time I had ever put my foot down and asserted my opinion. The last line seemed extraneous at best, cringe at worst, but it seemed like the kind of thing an anime protagonist would say, so why not?

No shock. No scorn. No confusion. Just more canned responses. “You haven’t put your two weeks notice. It’s really unprofessional to leave such a large project to one person. What would your next employer think?”

Ah, pulling the bad reference card - a classic. There was absolutely no moral dilemma going on behind those lifeless glasses, was there? But that didn’t matter. I was making my escape and bidding good riddance to wage cuckery. I’d much rather play for pennies on street corners than be dependent on such a fragile and fallible system of drones in suits and ties.

“I’ll manage. Don’t worry about that.” I tried to muster a confident grin, but the best I could do was a queasy smirk for half a second.

Mary wasn’t having any of it. “You know that the consequences of your defiance will follow you wherever you go. You will be eaten, if not by us, by somebody else. That’s the price of living in the modern…”

I had given her the time of day enough. I awkwardly turned away and stumbled my way towards the exit, reveling in some sophomoric stupor of rebellion.

I rode my bike to my tiny quarter of a living room I shared with another aimless wagie, made sure she wasn’t there, beat my meat, and went to sleep. What a hassle, having to job search again, but it can’t be helped.

About a week later, I was walking home after a morning run and came across Alyssa walking her dog. Panting and sweating, I wasn’t in the best condition to make small talk, but she always smiled and nodded at my conversations, so it’d be rude not to.

Almost immediately, she brought up work. “You should really come back! We’re short staffed and the vibe has totally changed without you!”

I would normally be flattered at this polite desire, but there was no use in beating around the bush. “Did management begin eating you guys yet?”

Without a hitch, Alyssa replied, “Just the cashiers and department heads so far. I’m a coordinator so I’m off the hook.”

I did my best to establish eye contact I had been avoiding like an anxious teen. “What if they come for you next?”

Alyssa’s dog paced around and found a nice patch of grass to sit on. “It’s not a big deal. It was about time. Have you seen all those TikToks about people entering the slaughter room?”

Ugh, what a normie. Wait, what? “No, did you just say slaughter room?”

“Yeah, it’s very popular in other places, too.” She pulled out her phone, this year’s best model, of course, and showed me a series of overly made-up women - or maybe men; it was hard to tell - dancing in front of bloody piles of saws and organs. She went on, “Even celebrities are making posts about it.”

“Like, against it?”

“Not really. If anything, more like sponsoring it.”

“I don’t get it. But anyway, how is Dom doing?”

“I’m supposed to tell you that he quit, but actually, he was the first to go.”

“Wait, so he’s… dead?”

“…Yeah. I hadn’t put it in those words, but I guess you’re right.”

A permeating sense of doom enveloped my vision, so I hastily excused myself and ran home as fast as I could. I called Dom, and sure enough, “This number could not be completed as dialed.” Non-operational.

People are dying left and right at the hands of mass media. This is the apocalypse. I began to assess my situation; I have enough saved up to sustain myself for quite a while, so I could take things at my own pace and look for the best rural land to relocate to.

But then the phone calls started. And the letters in the mail. Then came the eviction notices, and I’m pretty sure I was put on some kind of blacklist. Once a day at first, but later going full tax collector on me and swooping in like vultures, all saying the same thing. I had a debt to settle with Generic Retail.

Going off the grid wasn’t going to be easy; I had a long, tedious path ahead of me.