This story is by Tuder McShane and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Will brushed off any second thoughts and stepped up to the curb. The picket line outside the Yummy Burger restaurant extended from one side of the block to the other. He took a deep breath as he stepped through the line. People were shouting obscenities and carrying signs saying “Dead Scabs” and “Corporate Zombies!” Obviously, the group was upset with the latest hiring trend of Yummy Burger and its parent corporation, UltraCorp.
Will stepped through the line as people were spitting at him and screaming obscenities. They thought he was a customer, not the former employee looking for retribution from a crime committed by Yummy Burger no more than two weeks back.
Yummy Burger decided to lay Will off in a lame excuse to cut back on costs so that Yummy Burger could raise its stock price point zero three percent the next quarter. Today he would be meeting with management to settle his unemployment package. He shook off the torment from the petitioners and stepped inside.
He stepped up to the cash register to order a water with ice. He was nervous and his throat was dry, but he didn’t want to add more money into the corporation’s pocket. He was surprised that the registers were replaced with self-serve computer touch-screen kiosks. He pressed the screen and then flipped through the menu options. Of course, there was no ice water option. He decided that he was too thirsty and so he chose a small soft drink. The kiosk handled all the financial transactions including debit cards, credit, and even cash. It was an interesting concept except that it reduced the workforce of Yummy Burger by twenty percent.
After he had ordered, a worker came to the counter to deliver his drink. The computer screen hanging from the ceiling read Order 107 is Ready. The worker stepped up and slid him his drink and looked Will straight in the eye.
“Uh..thanks,” said Will as he took the drink. The man continued to stare and then a little bit of drool dripped from his mouth onto the counter. Another worker came over to the counter and grunted at the sight of saliva on the counter. She had the same dull expression on her face. She sprayed cleaning product and then wiped it clear. After her task was done, she turned and moved onto some other menial task. The staring one continued to stare, but then turned an about-face and moved onto another job without saying a word.
“This is the future of fast food,” Will said aloud hoping someone could hear him, but his words fell on deaf ears as people continued to eat and mind their own business in the dining room.
After quickly slurping down his soft drink, Will moved to the back office where his meeting was scheduled. He knocked on the door and opened it. There sat the restaurant manager and the human resource officer for the corporation. Will had expected both to be there. There would be no easy task ahead of him today.
“Come, Will. Sit down and make yourself comfortable,” said the HR manager while gesturing towards a chair. Will sat down without saying a word.
“Now, let’s get down to business. Will, we are all here to look into the matter regarding your unemployment claim with the company. Your manager, Mr. Smith, let you go roughly two weeks ago. Is that correct?”
“That is correct,” Will answered.
“Very well. Mr. Smith denied your claim for unemployment due to a hostile conversation you had with him regarding your layoff.”
“Hostile?! I was downright pissed off. They laid me off to make way for those corporate zombies out there!”
“Will, you know the company has to make a profit. Hiring the zombies was the right choice and you know that,” explained Mr. Smith.
“At what cost? You laid off a lot of really good people, Mr. Smith. To boot, those things out there aren’t even sanitary; one drooled on the counter.”
“Now those zombies are grade-A from the corporation. They don’t have any diseases because they aren’t alive. Unlike you, they actually do what they’re told! Heck, I don’t even get paranoid you didn’t wash after going to the bathroom. They don’t even go to the bathroom!”
The HR manager raised his hand to call a cease fire. “Alright, gentlemen, you know since the zombie outbreak two years ago we all have had to make sacrifices. The corporation was the one who ended the outbreak, but there was the issue on how to remove the zombies from the city, so it was deemed profitable to utilize them as workers in the burger division. Laying off the living workers was just a matter of economics. We didn’t get rid of everyone. There is still management and they seem to enjoy the zombies just fine. Right?”
Mr. Smith hesitated a moment. “Well…not entirely. We didn’t like laying people off for zombies any better than the workers liked it, but we had to do our jobs. Now, the zombies do work and you only have to feed them garbage from the restaurant, which is nice. They don’t sleep nor need breaks, and you certainly don’t have to pay them. But there’s something special about having a human welcome you at the counter instead of a computer and a zombie worker. In fact, our kid’s meal orders are down because the children run away when a zombie comes to the counter to deliver the meal. On the other hand, sales seemed to increase around Halloween.”
The HR manager nodded. “Well, the corporation would be very disappointed to hear that opinion, Mr. Smith. But, you are correct about the rise of orders at Halloween.”
“Sorry, it’s just how I feel. Sorry, I don’t do whatever I’m told to do like the mindless drones you have working out there.”
The HR Manager sighed and turned to Will. “Will, I’m truly sorry that you had to be laid off for this, but business is business. We are very willing to provide you with the appropriate unemployment package as you require.”
“Ugh, I don’t want an unemployment package, I want a job, sir.”
“Well that’s not going to-” He was cut short by a loud commotion in the dining area.
“What’s that?” asked Will.
“Oh, those zombies probably broke the milkshake machine again. They throw some kind of hissy-fit when that happens. I’ll be right back,” grunted Mr. Smith.
Mr. Smith walked out of the office and headed into the dining area. He saw one of the zombies leaning over the milkshake machine and growling. “What happened? Did you break this machine again?! Jeez, I just got it fixed! How many times have I yelled at you for-”
His sentence was cut off with a scream as the zombies swarmed around him and started to attack Mr. Smith. He shrieked in agony as they devoured him.
Both the HR Manager and Will could see it through the office door. The HR manager looked upon the sight with horror and then sighed. “This happens from time to time. They get tired of people yelling at them and then they eat the management. It is tragic for some, but leaves room for promotion in the company.”
“Wow. So what are you going to do?” asked Will.
He thought for a moment and then turned to Will. “How would you like to come back to the company and be the new manager?”
“Are you serious?!”
“Does that mean a no? We don’t have a ton of people trying for the position. What’s your answer, Will?
“Well, if you give me a raise over my pay before I was laid off…sure, I’ll do it.”
The HR manager smiled and shook Will’s hand. “Very good, Will. So, you were very upset about being laid off due to zombies. What makes you want to be the manager now?”
Will shrugged. “Don’t know, I was just upset that I lost my job. But if you’ll pay me more money to be the boss, I guess I can live with the employees being made up of rotten flesh.”
“I’m glad to hear it, Will. It’s no loss, really. Mr. Smith was not playing by the company’s rulebook and complained too much. He was on his way out. We need someone who really is a company man.”
“I guess I’m your man for the job, sir,” Will said with a grin on his face.
“Excellent. I’ll draw up your paperwork and you’ll start tomorrow. Yummy Burger and UltraCorp is always happy to have dedicated employees and understand that we value their hard work.”
Will walked out of the building still grinning. He felt alive again. Perhaps it was the fact that he was the only thing that did not smell like decay, but he now had a job again. Tomorrow was going to be a great day.