Fear, focus, and the future. Here, C.M. Humphries writes about whatever.
If you hate your boss, you already know you're not alone. Let's face it, if you have a 9-5 you've heard all the chatter about how so-and-so is a suck-up or how the boss is arrogant, evil, sexist, stupid, etc. You might've even demonized your boss for a weak paycheck, a lack of hours, some personal comments, or favoritism. However, to play devil's advocate, your boss probably has a lot of responsibilities. When your boss has to focus on a lot every day, there might be some oversights, which really sucks when you're the oversight. But what if your boss turned out to be truly possessed by a demon?
It's you or me.
Before I piss you off too much, let it be known that I've had some pretty crummy jobs with crummy bosses. I'm talking about the kind of boss you wouldn't want to cross in an alleyway at night without bail bonds.
Shady hours, paychecks, responsibilities, unnecessary discipline, retaliation, favoritism: I've faced them all. Hell, I've even been at the wrong during the wrong time. Something went wrong one day at one of my previous jobs, and I was the victim of verbal assault and a little shoving. And I demonized the S.O.B. I actually felt like he was controlled by some paranormal entity that was ravenous for vengeance.
But what if my boss had been really plagued by some sort of demonic curse? That's when "No-Injury Policy" from No-Injury Policy comes in. It starts off with Nicholas Tanner, a family man, in search of a job to help support his household. Though I never specifically state it, the story does take place around the 1930s, a time when workers' unions faced a huge revitalization.
He works on a lumber mill that's known for being a harsh work environment with unacceptable pay, but for Mr. Tanner, it's a matter of money. Some income is better than no income. Once he works for the Douglas Lumber Mill for a few months, he starts to notice some of the rumors are true.
When he tries to support a workers' union, he faces real violence in the workplace and at home. When he tries to expose his boss, he learns he's actually a demon.
This is a fun story because we've all demonized our boss before, and in this story you get to live out the adventure of bringing an authority figure down.
What it comes down to is owner versus employee. While we all have certain obligations and bills to pay, a business is a business. With that said, a business will do whatever it needs to survive.
Your boss might actually give a shit about you, but if you're asking for a few dollars or a day off, he might think twice if it might risk his job or how the big wigs view him. In essence, if it's you or him, he's going to take a little self-interest. Wouldn't you do the same?
Passing the buck.
When your boss has to choose between his own job and yours, the decision may be quite easy. The problem is, once a situation is avoided altogether, it doesn't stop it from existing. Instead, the problem keeps snowballing until it's a real monster.
In a realistic sense, the problem you worked to deter may end up coming back to haunt you. Through a wacked-out metaphorical twist in the story, the demon posessing the owner of the Douglas Lumber Mill cannot be avoided; it has to be remedied.
If the buck is passed in "No-Injury Policy", the demon might need a new host. That's what demons do, right? To stop anyone from thinking I've spoiled the story, let me assure you I never take the predictable route if I can help it.
However, there is a story I've written in which the demon does take on a new host. You might recognize the name Douglas from the lumber mill. In fact, Raphael Douglas, Sr. is the grandfather of Liddell Douglas from Excluded. How he is possessed is not how you would think. The demon has to go through great lengths to reestablish its hold on the Douglas family.
A lot of my stories pass on ideas between the towns of Chase County. Many of my characters bump into each other. But no matter how unordinary my tale might be, it represents something very familiar. So if you hate your day job or you boss, maybe Excluded and No-Injury Policy are for you. If you would love to take down a tyrant in your life, they're especially for you, and I welcome you to continue reading for a sample of "No-Injury Policy".
Oh yeah, share your tale of an evil boss or pass this blog along for a chance to win a copy of No-Injury Policy. Score the most points, which is explained here, and I'll make a hand-bound edition just for you. Who's the worse boss you've ever had (no real names or real business names, please)?
Excerpt from "No-Injury Policy"
Raphael Douglas Sr., the owner of the Douglas Lumber Mill of Raven’s Crook, was a mean, old son of a bitch with a furious right hook.
Every splintered edge of jawbone grounded together like dry cogs underneath my face the second after his fist recoiled. Underneath the glow of a few new lights, he hunkered over me and said, “I appreciate your concern for your co-workers, but it’s no good here. The reason we pay you is so it’s not called slavery.”
He thumbed close his coat and plopped into his brown leather desk chair. From his top drawer, he pulled out an envelope and tossed it to my side as I fought to return to my feet. The cash spilled out against the nicotine-yellow linoleum.
He said, “Pick yourself up, Nick, and go home early. Work tomorrow as usual and not one goddamn word, you understand me?”
“Good. Now go. You fell on the job. There’s a no-injury policy, so I sent you home early. All right?”
I nodded again. I could smell the build-up of blood in my nostrils. Money tucked into my pocket, I stumbled out of Mr. Douglas’ office and never dared to look back.
Seven months before the incident, I stood before the Douglas Mill on a cold October morning with high hopes and a future pointed towards promise.
These were tough times for anyone back then, since Chase County peeked at an economic downturn during the big two wars. Although I wore a torn coat and holey dress pants, I could’ve been mistaken as one of the fortunate. At this point, I’d already heard the stories of cruelty, abuse, and poor work environment, but I couldn’t have cared less.
Underneath candlelight, Allison and I sat across from each other at our make-shift kitchen table. Though far too late for dinner, it was a relief after a long night with Elizabeth Joan. To eat and unwind was good enough. Eating a meal was godsend. Dinner tonight was tomato soup.
“Henry stopped by today in his automobile,” Allison said between slurps of cold soup.
I mumbled, “How’s he doing?”
“He said he can’t wait too much longer, Nick.”
Allison slid her soup to the side, an act I’d seen countless times. She won’t eat for the sake of emphasis. “No longer. You need to get a job, Nick.”
I might’ve cringed as I swallowed tomato soup, but maybe I hid it well. I finished my bowl and slammed it against the table. I could be empathetic too. “You know what it’s like for me.”
“It’s the same for everyone,” she said. “Get a job.” She crossed her arms and slid her chair back, ready to leave with the last word.
I stared at her soup and said, “Finish that, honey. We can’t afford to waste.”
With a defeated scowl, she dropped back into her chair and slowly spooned the soup into her mouth.”
“Give me ‘til Monday,” I said. “I’ll go to the Douglas Mill if that’s what it’ll take.” I brought the bowl to the sink and added, “Clean these bowls before the soup sticks, will ya?” And then I left the room with the last word.
Mr. Douglas didn’t seem as cruel as a fella as his employees made him out to be. He offered me the seat in front of his desk and said, “I’ll lay it out for you. It’s $1,500 during the year, which is based on you lasting a year or more. There’s a no-injury policy. We’re not liable for your injuries or their compensation.”
He slid me an envelope as a few technicians installed newer lights into his office. “These new lights are something, aren’t they? They’re supposed to last longer.”
“Sure are,” I said and tucked the envelope into my coat pocket.
Three months before the incident was when the turmoil began. Elizabeth Joan uttered her first words after the technicians turned on our new lights: “Pretty,” she said.
At work, Kent, a guy I spent six days a week standing next to, came in with a face full of bandages. One around the top of his scalp might have as well held his entire head together. From time to time it bled, so I asked what happened.
“I fell,” he spat out. His words were angry, but his eyes, all sunken and low, were desperate.
The lunch hour bell summoned, which meant we had thirty minutes away from the machines. During lunch we sat outside around a decrepit picnic table, facing a giant fence around the mill. On a normal day, Kent would sit with us, but after he showed up with the bandages around his face, we never heard from him again. He hid all the time.
I turned to a tall fella named Matthew and asked what was going on.
He leaned in so close I could smell last night’s whiskey in his breath. He kept his voice real low and said, “This ain’t the first or the last of it.” With a quick hand, he slipped a folded piece of paper into my pocket.
PREP ROOM 2 A.M. the paper read. Matthew said, “This time we need to work together to find out.”
Allison’s pissed off. In our bedroom as I changed, she said, “Why are you going back there?”
“A meeting,” I mumbled as I tied my shoes.
“What kind of meeting?”
“A meeting. Jesus.”
She gave me her look again, as in, “I’m not sleeping until you tell me.” What she asked was, “Are you ever going to be home? Don’t you want to see your daughter at least?”
“Look, you asked me to find a job,” I told her. “I found it. Christ, Allison.”
From the next room, Elizabeth Joan started to cry.
“Fine,” she said. “I’ll get it. Go. Go to your meeting.”
Two A.M. sharp, I stepped into the preparation room of the mill, a place with lockers and work essentials before our shifts. Matthew and a couple other guys from the lumber line sat around a table. “Welcome,” he greeted me.
“My wife’s fairly angry about this,” I said. “If we could do this as quick as we can.”
“No problem,” he said. The others remained quiet. There’re four of us in all. “Here’s the slick and skinny: We’re trying to get together a bunch of us guys to form a group.”
“A group?” I asked. “For what?”
“You saw Kent,” he said. “This has been going on for years; probably since these doors opened.”
From the upstairs office, a light flickered on and then off. We fell quiet, but the silence was diluted by boots crunching against upswept splinters from the work day.
One of the men screamed.
A thunk came from nearby and another scream. Whether anyone followed my lead, I didn’t know, but I sprinted for the entrance nonetheless. The only problem was, in the darkness, nothing stood out. No moonlight peered in through the windows – there weren’t any windows – and the indoor lighting fell short to the traditional because all the lights could be turned off at once.
I only saw one thing in the mill: the silver edge of a wrench coming down on me. Bracing myself for the blow, I ducked and thought of Elizabeth .
Right before the wrench connected with my left temple, someone drove to block the blow.
I stumbled towards the exit, but dropped on my ass and watched.
Matthew waved me on, screaming, “Go, go, go!” but I didn’t. The wrench came down on him god-knows-how-many times, tearing flesh straight out of his bleeding cheeks. They we’re going to kill the man who saved me too.
I sprinted over to the man with the wrench and shoved my shoulders into his abdomen. A loud clink came from the wrench against the cement floor, and as soon as he laid out flat, I picked Matthew up and rushed outside. What all happened, I didn’t know, but my saving Matthew had little to do with bravery as it had more to do with the fact, after they killed him, they would have killed me.
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Fear, focus, and the future. C.M. Humphries talks about writing, horror, and whatever.