Scary Stories Part III: Welcome to the Family
Do you ever have that feeling? Like everyone is just a bit too nice. That feeling, where you can’t even make enemies if you tried? Every office has a little bit of two-faced gossip, a little bit of relationship drama, a little bit of psychopathic divisional management, but you just can’t seem to find it.
You walk in on your first day and, in chorus, everyone turns to greet you: “Welcome to the family” – the words echo in your head. Row after row of welcoming smiles and kind faces. Your tentative, nervous wave is returned by row after row of waves, all in unison. Then, as one, they return to work.
Where is the catch?
Erik’s jacket has a different pattern to his trousers, and you are desperately trying to find someone to joke about it with, but you just can’t. You approach the Admin team, expecting an opportunity to gossip.
“Did you see Erik’s outfit?”, you posit.
“Forward-thinking!”, come the replies, and all of them sincere.
“Unique, daring, AND forward-thinking”, they repeat simultaneously.
You try to make a joke, pull some criticism from somewhere, but all that comes out is: “I need to ask him where he found those shoes.”
“Welcome to the family”, another echo, another worry.
When you were placed here, you met the boss on your first day. She shook your hand with perfect pressure, and immediately offered you a raise: “We’re just so excited to have you on board”, she had told you. Her unblinking eyes maintained perfect contact with yours, and her cheeks were just rosy enough to look genuinely happy.
It was never like this before. Back at the museum, your old job, you hated your boss, but you can’t stay away from your new manager. She invites you for coffee, and you bond over a shared love of an obscure graphic novel. How is she this identifiable? At the café – an older job, from before you started at the museum – you had to be separated from the alt-right propaganda-spewing cook, but here your opinions are valued and respected. You can’t help but do the same for your new co-workers. As you all sit down together at the fifty-seat table, and your forty-nine fellow employees join you in toasting the eternal prosperity of the family, you allow yourself a moment to ponder.
No placement could be this perfect. You worry where you went wrong, or where you inevitably will. If it’s the perfect job, then you worry you will muck it up. You spill your drink over the person next to you, and they thank you for warming up their lap. Their smile is full and earnest, without the empty void in the eyes that you wish you could see. You pray for a sign, anything to attribute this ceaseless worry to.
“Welcome to the family”, from a co-worker who just got back from holiday, and you have not yet met. He already knows your name and pats you on the back with just the right level of respect and comradery. He is your closest friend soon, and best man when you get married. He is the godfather of your three children. You invite him into your home on Sunday evenings, and drink fine whiskey, and have done for as long as you can remember. He is a part of your family. You play golf, and darts, and hunt exotic animals with him. You tell him your darkest secrets. One Tuesday evening, he invites you to his house. Your forty-eight other co-workers and he meet you in his basement. Together, you chant, and pray for the judgment and destruction of all rival companies, and the everlasting life of The Family. You ritually sacrifice thirteen goats and a duck. As employee of the month, you get to eat the duck. You smile. You like duck.
Your line manager stir-fries it with Udon noodles and plum sauce. Nice noodles, from that swanky new independent grocer’s, not those horrible stodgy supermarket ones. It’s delicious. Your 49 co-workers watch you with bated breath, and as you nod your approval to that first delicious mouthful, each of them descends on their own portions of ritually sacrificed goat and goblets of mead. While the second course is prepared, you have pleasant chit-chat about the downfall and damnation of that start-up that is trying to shoehorn in on your market.
It’s your third day, or your thirtieth, or your three thousandth, you’ve lost track. The company is your home. The company is your life. The company is your family.
“Welcome to the family”, you tell the new guy, with a welcoming smile.
Ready for the final chapter? Part IV is available now!