SILVESTER

This is my contribution to Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene’s “Dead of Winter” writing challenge. I am taking certain liberties with her suggestions, but I think (hope) I’m close enough to count. Rather than a non-technology world, I chose to portray a type of oppression in a world of evolving technology. I also took inspiration from my three favorite characters, Emlyn and Osabide, and Osabide’s niece, Zasha.

A sense of dread came over Sara as she read the latest email from the Technology Group. Her concern over the meaning was pushed aside by the sound of Marge’s laptop lid as she slammed it shut before pushing her chair back into the file cabinet in the neighboring eight-by-eight cubicle. Sara’s wall shook from the collision. She stood and saw Marge heading for the door as if running from a fire.

“Marge, wait! I’ll come with you.” She shouted.

“I’m going to the Ladies Room. I don’t need your help, Sara.”

Sara grabbed her jacket. Marge was oblivious to the cold, but Sara would need something when, if her assumption was correct, they ended up walking down the block to the strip mall.

“I know why you’re walking out, Marge.”

“I have to pee! When you get to be my age, you’ll understand.”

Sara caught up to her near the Ladies Room. “We’ll stop here, but you’re not coming back. At least not until you visit the Time Trap for an early lunch and a glass of wine.”

Marge smiled at her young friend. “Indeed, you know me well. What was it, the slamming laptop, or my crash into the files? Wait ‘til you hear me wail the door on this stall when I’m done.”

Sara laughed and shook her head, although Marge could no longer see the gesture. “I got the email, too.”

“You know what it means don’t you? They’re going to lay more people off.”

Sara was uncomfortable talking to Marge from inside a bathroom stall, so she let her ramble on.

“They say ‘Performance metrics have indicated, blah, blah, blah.’ I’ll tell you what they indicate. They indicate that I’m getting to the age where they can force me into an early retirement – at a minimal benefit, and a healthcare stipend instead of real insurance – what’s one more old lady to them?”

Sara dried her hands and held the restroom door open for Marge. “Come on, let’s get something to eat. You’re letting your fear control you. The email only talked about making minor improvements.”

As they walked to the pub, Marge tried to explain her concern. “You’re still new to this game, honey. I’ve been through this cycle before. Minor improvements add up over time and sooner or later, they equal an F-T-E.”

Sara repeated the acronym. “I’m not familiar with that one.”

“Full-time equivalent. A euphemism for ‘old lady drawing a high salary and skewing the actuarial data to the expensive side of health insurance.’ In other words, me.”

Sara laughed, but then stopped when she realized the awkwardness of the situation. Marge laughed in response. “It’s OK, sweetie. I’ve been prepared for this ever since they made me make room on my desk for a tower computer and a monitor the size of my first television. They control us with technology until they can replace us with technology.”

“But Marge,” Sara countered, “they had layoffs in our department before they hired me. Why would they bring me on-board if they wanted to reduce staff?”

Marge looked across the table at Sara the way a mother looks at a naive teenager. “Do you know who they laid off before they hired you?”

Sara shrugged. “Of course not. They were gone long before I got here. My understanding was the layoffs were related to an earlier product failure. New products were launched, and business improved, so they needed another person to help with the increased activity.”

Marge finished a strong sip of her wine. “So why didn’t they hire any of the others back?”

Sara was angry at the thought that Marge somehow blamed her for the fact that those people were still out of work. “I’m sure I don’t know. I interviewed for an open position. I didn’t ask them about their historic personnel policies.”

“I’m sorry, honey. I didn’t mean to attack you personally. They hired you because you’re cheaper. Your salary is lower and new hires don’t get a pension.” Marge paused as a wave of guilt passed over her. “I’m sorry about that, too. A meager early retirement benefit is better than no retirement benefit.”

“I still think you’re overreacting, Marge. The company is doing well. When Thomas comes over to follow-up on the email, we can ask him about the changes. I’m sure they’re just routine improvements.”

Marge took another sip of wine. “You have a thing for Thomas, don’t you?”

Embarrassed, Sara forced a tiny smile. “He’s cute, and funny. I do like him, but he’s such a geek, he’ll never ask me out.”

Marge shook her head and sighed. “You’re going to have to help with that. Wear your hair down more often, men can’t resist wavy red hair. If that doesn’t work, invite him here after work. He’d be a good catch. Soon enough, his kind will be the only ones with jobs. Speaking of jobs, we better get back.”

An hour later, Thomas Hartley knocked on the cubical wall near Marge’s desk. “Excuse me, Ma’am, is this a good time to talk about the stuff mentioned in that email this morning?” He added in an apologetic tone, “it won’t take long, I just have to ask you about a couple things.”

As angry as Marge was, she couldn’t bring herself to be rude this young man – it wasn’t his fault. “Sure, what do you need to know, Sonny?” She added that for being Ma’am’d.

He fumbled with his laptop, trying to clear enough room on Marge’s desk so they could both see the display. There wasn’t room in the cube for two chairs, so Thomas knelt on the floor. He was tall enough to almost be at Marge’s seated height. “I’m trying to figure out what’s happening in these areas.” He pointed only generally toward the laptop.

Marge studied the large multi-line graph on the screen. The data-labels were all foreign to her. The X-axis appeared to be time, but the scale was unclear. The Y-Axis was some bit of technical gobbledygook. She clearly understood the chart’s title – “Momentary Productivity Reduction” – at least she thought she did.

All the lines took precipitous drops near one-third and two-thirds along the X-axis. She laughed. “If it’s those dips you’re wondering about, those could be when I was in the Ladies Room.”

Thomas offered a nervous laugh. “Oh, you couldn’t take care of business this fast, the Y-axis is CPU load and the X-axis is seco…” The words faded off as he realized what he was talking about. “I’m sorry, I didn’t…”

“Oh god, don’t worry. I’m beyond being upset by things like that. So, if this isn’t measuring me, what’s it measuring? What does this mean?”

“These two drops are occurring in the SMOD New Order entry screen. It’s like you reach a point where you have to pause before continuing.”

“A SMOD New Order? Hell, I can tell you exactly what those blips are.” Marge put her hand on his shoulder as she leaned toward the screen of his laptop so she could point at the first dip. “If an order is for a replacement part, I have to look up the original order.” She pointed to the second drop. “Then later, I have to look up the customer – to make sure his or her billing is current.”

Marge looked at the copious notes, he was taking. Acronyms, system references, lines, arrows, and other symbols that looked more like Hieroglyphics than English. “I wish I knew what all that meant.”

Thomas smiled. He started to explain, but Marge stopped him. “That was a rhetorical question, honey.”

The following morning, Marge and Sara both had emails from ‘SILVESTER’ with the Subject Line: “SMOD Improvements.”

“Who the hell is Silvester?” Marge groused. 

“I think it’s an acronym for something.” Sara explained before reading the email out loud.

“Improvements to the New Order Entry screen have been finalized. When it is determined that an order is for replacement parts, automatic links will be established with the historical orders and billing databases. Information about the previous order and the customer’s account standing will open in small windows.”

Marge smiled to herself. “Young Mr. Hartley might be a geek, but he certainly knows what he’s doing.”

A few minutes later, they both received an email from the Technology Group. “Now that the Self-Initiated Logic Verification for Enhanced System Timing and Error Reduction (SILVESTER) system is fully functional, diagnosis of Momentary Productivity issues with SMOD will occur via real-time system chat. There is no need to involve the Technology Group. Chat windows will open automatically as needed.”

“I don’t understand, Sara. We have to chat with the computer to fix the computer. This is ridiculous. Why can’t we call Thomas like we always have?”

“I don’t know, Marge, but I’m going to find out. I’m going to send him an email.”

Marge stood and peeked over the cubicle wall. “Why don’t you suggest that he explain it to you over lunch?”

Sara giggled as she typed the email. “Bing!” She rolled back from her desk in shock by the immediate response.

“Thomas Hartley, is no longer a member of the SMOD Team or the Technology Group. SILVESTER-based chats will be able to process any information requests previously requiring his attention. This, and other messages SILVESTER determines to be of a personal nature will be forwarded to his personal account for thirty days. Please join us in wishing him good luck in his future endeavors.”

“Have a nice day.”

This challenge was fun. If you want to participate, here are the rules:

Challenge Rules

  • Use Dead of Winter: Journey 1, Forlorn Peak, as your inspiration.
  • Link to my blog if you publish your creation http://www.teagansbooks.com
  • Mention Dead of Winter, by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene.
  • Send me a link to your creation (if published) so I can share it.
  • For those of you who are not reading the journeys your responses should represent a non-technology world in an oppressed society.
  • Post/send your responses December 1 through December 24, 2021.

I (Teagan) will collect your responses throughout this month.

74 comments

  1. How bleak. But nicely done. I can’t write a story to save my life, and so this kind of writing is very impressive to me. I love the photo of the tobacco barns. The winds hit us too — they certainly brought great sadness.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Maureen. I think the story works with the mood of Teagan’s first Journey.

      We didn’t have damaging winds, just a rough time sleeping. I feel so bad for the people affected by the tornadoes. I can’t believe the extent of that devastation.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. We’ve had wind too, but not as fierce as you. Two Smokeys! Bet there’s more in the wings. Love the way MuMu has claimed your chair, but clearly hasn’t let go of her window perch! Those birds on the wires just scream Alfred Hitchcock! All the misty pictures are great, and Old Glory never takes a bad picture.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Is this you, hiding again, Ginger? MuMu doesn’t have to worry about the shelf, I can’t get up there. We fight over the chair now on a daily basis. She grumbles, but eventually, the bigger butt wins. Before the storm, we had the fog and the mist. After, we had the wind. We take what nature gives us. I do drive carefully under those birds.

      Like

      • Yes, that’s me! But I wasn’t even touching my iPad. I was thinking what I wanted to say next when my comment just disappeared and came back about 30 seconds later under Anonymous. Soooo, I hit reply explaining what happened, hit ‘post comment’ and Safari told me they “couldn’t open this page….blah, blah, blah”.

        What I didn’t get to say because I was so rudely interrupted was that I hope this is the start of a great week for you. You and Maddie should get in some fine weather walks. Enjoy them before they become a memory!
        Ginger

        Liked by 2 people

        • Thanks Ginger. I figured you were doing battle with WordPress. Maddie and I checked Walk #1 off the list. It was fairly warm, but she wanted to wear her little coat. Give Murphy a scritch from us.

          Like

  3. Fantastic story, Dan. You are a sure bet to win!!
    And lovin’ the pictures too. Do you happen to notice that the birds always amass on the same wire? I’ve seen that here.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Well written, Dan. As a former HR exec, it is way too accurate but then again I’m guessing it came from your experience as well. The big bucks and savings are always in the FTEs, and when you sort them on a spreadsheet those with the most seniority (and age) come up first. Do I miss that part of the job? No. Happy walking this week, the temps should be good and no snow to shovel.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Judy. I did deploy the systems that put a lot of people out looking for work, but that was mostly in the 90’s. After that, my job was to try to make life easier, perhaps to support staff reduction due to attrition. Still, people often feared my department’s efforts. HR was the bad guy in my world. “We need to talk about staff reductions…” Too many of those conversations took place in the 90s.

      We walked this morning. Nice and easy. No wind, now rain.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great response to the prompt, Dan. Excellent. And your photos are wonderful as usual. I especially love the birds on the wires and the tobacco barns. Beautiful. 😊

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Great story, Dan! I didn’t see that ending coming–I was going to tell Marge to sue for age discrimination! You know, I retired one month before Covid. When that hit, my company laid off 1/3 of the staff. First to go was one of the other old-timers in my department. Then the other old-timer. And with that, three of us were gone (luckily, mine was by choice), and they have two new, lower-paid people, working from home, who are stressed beyond anything. And those acronyms–I don’t miss those at all!! You should write stories like this more often. I love this!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you so much, Lois. I am glad you enjoyed this. I have been working on longer form writing. I hope to be publishing something in the first qtr, 2022. I don’t normally do writing challenges, but I’m enjoying “Dead of Winter” so much that when Teagan posted this one, I had to give it a try.

      That’s awful about your coworkers. This is fiction, but after working for 42 years, it wasn’t hard to imagine. I’m glad you got out on your own terms.

      Liked by 3 people

  7. Well done, Dan! Nice twist(ed) ending. Funny thing..when I was in Atlanta, we had a tech support manager named Thomas who easily fit your character’s description. He was there a long time but eventually left over management issues. He married a lovely girl who worked for my doctor before she quit. I don’t miss the bleak Winter. Stay warm!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks Pam. I’m very happy you enjoyed this. I am honored to have a nod from a storyteller such as yourself. I think it is a little too close to being true. I am glad to be retired from the world of delivering technology to improve productivity.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Well done, Dan! It’s a most unexpected story. I’m impressed that you stepped outside your comfort zone and wrote a short story. That’s the wonderful thing about inspiration — its results might look absolutely nothing like the thing that triggered the creativity. Thanks for the shout out, and especially for “coming out to play.” Hugs on the wing!

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Oh man, I feel bad for both Marge, and Thomas! He-Man retired a year and half early b/c they offered him an exit package too good to pass up and you know with every package offered after that wouldn’t be as good as the original package offered. So far it’s worked out really well for him/us, but that’s not the case for everyone offered the package. Some who didn’t take it were layed-off a month later. 😭

    The foggy mornings looked really neat. I love fog. My mom and I were just talking about it b/c they’re having foggy mornings and she thinks it’s scary. I told her I think it’s magical and mysterious. She said she likes those thoughts better than scary! Me too!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • My boss asked me if I wanted a package, but he wanted me to stick around, so it wasn’t going to be a great offer. I stayed until the mandatory retirement date. At least I was already retired when the pandemic started.

      I’ve known plenty of Marges and, early on in my career, I was Thomas.

      Thanks very much for reading and for your comment, Deborah.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. I think the phrase is penny wise and pound foolish. Or to put it another way – if I stab myself in the eye I will only need to buy one lens for my glasses. The fact that one would loose depth perception and that one is half way on the journey to totally blind never enters into the equation. Work that into the corporate vision statement. It is very apt in light of the disasters at several Amazon facilities. Evidently among their other very strict policies employees are not allowed the use of cellphones on the job. So no one was aware of the tornado threat bearing down on those facilities. And because of this the employees paid with their lives. Ironic for a company that relies on technology for every step of its operation. And callous too. On a less oppressive note the fog pictures are neat. The halos around the traffic lights and other lights. Happy Monday

    Liked by 2 people

    • I read about the cell phone ban, John. That is callous. People should be able to have warning or be aware of problems at home. There are things more important than filling the ne t order.

      Driving in the fog is always interesting. I hope you’re off to a good week.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Ok I admit I’m not good at math but tried to google how many square miles the Amazon facility “took up” (technical term) and can’t find an answer. It seems HUMUNGOUS as I read it😳. The long puddle my favorite this day❤️Oh and a good but often true story 😏

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Liked by 2 people

  12. You gotta love those acronyms! And all those euphemisms that basically mean a shake up is coming! Have you heard about the “Birds Aren’t Real” conspiracy theory? Are you sure those birds are getting their orders from Silvester?

    Liked by 2 people

  13. HI Dan, this is a very realistic story. It’s not even dystopia really because this sort of thing is happening already. The young students are already warned to be careful about their career choice and to prepare to be perpetual learners and to be flexible and adaptable to change.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Hi Dan – the sadness of learning the truth – one wants to smile with relief … but Thomas deserves help – poor chap. Congratulations on the story – and it looks cold! MuMu certainly has nobbled your chair – and just wants to check in, so she can jump back in, by watching out … Cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope you are reading a burgeoning author, Kirt. If things go well, sometime early next year we will see.

      I’ve been reading about the rain and the snow in the mountains. Given the size of California, it’s hard to imagine such a huge storm. Stay safe.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Interesting how inspiration works. It is totally different to Teagan’s story, but it goes to show how our lives might become ruled by all kinds of norms and regimes, not all to do with politics or religion. Love the story, Dan! It feels, unfortunately, so true to life!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Olga. Many people are controlled and even oppressed by the technology that we’re told is helping them do their jobs. Teagan’s story has made me think of that kind of world, where we aren’t free to think – it’s really scary.

      Like

  16. I love this story. It reminds me of trying to figure out how to talk to a real human in those computer-generated answering systems where their canned options never address why you are calling. Sometimes they sort of make it easy by saying stay on the line and an operator will answer. Often they do not.

    Liked by 1 person

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