FICTION: The Masque of the White Christmas by D. A. Schneider

We had decided to storm the castle.

Well, it wasn’t a castle so much as the office of the company we worked for. A company who shall remain nameless for the purposes of this story to protect the not-so-innocent.

“It’s like the Poe story, The Masque of the Red Death,” I was explaining to my co-workers in the breakroom. The three of them only stared at me. I knew James and Mike were just waiting for me to elaborate, but the gaping, toothless mouth in the middle of The Great One’s haggard face said I’d lost him altogether and getting him to understand anything about classic literature would be tantamount to trying to teach him how a toothbrush was used. “In the story, Prince Prospero hopes to avoid a plague called The Red Death by hiding in his abbey along with a shit load of wealthy nobles and other well to do fucks. All the while, the peons are laid to waste outside while the prince and his pals are throwing a masquerade ball. Until, that is, someone shows up in a red death mask and wipes them out.”

“I don’t get it,” The Great One mumbled through his broken grill. He had attained his nick name by constantly claiming he was a far superior worker than anyone else in the building. So, James came up with The Great One and that’s all we’ve called him since. In fact, I’m not sure I even remember what his real name was.

“It’s an analogy,” James explained. James was as sharp as Reese Witherspoon’s chin and there wasn’t a whole lot that got by him. “Eric is saying management are the nobles, the office is the abbey, all nice and warm, and the cold ass warehouse is the plague.”

“Alright,” Mike said. “So who’s the Red Death.”

“That would be us,” I said with a conniving grin. “Look, Christmas is on a Sunday and these fuckers told us all year that we’d be off the Monday after. Now they tell us we have to work both the day after Christmas and the day after New Year, but not before they cash out everyone’s vacation days so they can’t try to take the 26th off. Now they go and cut off everyone’s key cards so that only management can get in the office. And why? Because it’s cold as fuck out here.”

That may have not been the real reason, but it was enough to get these guys riled up and it went along with the prank I had in mind. Besides all that, the us-against-them mentality had always been strong with me. I attribute this to my father’s lessons on life in the work force as well as a few too many viewings of The Breakfast Club throughout my lifetime. Not only that, but I was just pissed off that my upcoming vacation would be cut short a day because our holiday was taken from us, and I was tired of being treated as if we physical laborers were nothing more than the bothersome shit that should be scraped off the heal of those that relied on us to make their bonuses. Changing our key cards so that we couldn’t enter the office was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. What it said, loud and clear, is; our open-door policy is closed. Your questions and concerns mean nothing to us and by the way, you’re going to work twelve hours a day and kiss your holidays goodbye, because your families mean nothing to us either.

“I still don’t get it,” The Great One said.

I put it all in the simplest terms for him to understand. “They think they’re better than us.”

This lit a fire under him. “Motherfuckers!”

“So, what do you have planned?” James asked.

“A simple prank,” I explain. “We break into the office, turn off the thermostat, then open all the windows to freeze it out. It’s currently four below outside and we have nearly three hours before office personnel start to show. That gives us plenty of time to drop the temperature in there to match what we have to put up with out here.”

“How do we get in?” Mike inquired.

I pointed up. “Through the ceiling tiles.”

The offices and the breakroom just sat in the warehouse, walled off and covered by simple ceiling tiles, and it was all connected.

“I’m in,” James said.

“Me too,” Mike added.

“Fuck yeah,” The Great One agreed.

“Alright, I brought white death masks. Sorry, I couldn’t find any red ones that would match the story. My brother-in-law works at the Halloween/Fireworks store over on Washington and this is the best he could come up with. There are three cameras in the office. We all wear the same work uniforms and coats, so if we’re picked up on the video feed they won’t know us from any other guys in this place. Still, we’ll cover the cameras with these rags.”

I passed out the masks and the rags. Looking back on it now, I should have had the foresight to realize my simple prank would turn into a giant cluster fuck. Especially considering the group of constantly embittered assholes I’d recruited to help me.

The plan was simple enough. James and I would crawl over to the lobby, stealthily drop to the floor, then cover the camera that was there before we shut off the thermostat and hit the offices on the east side to open the windows. Meanwhile, Mike and The Great One would split up and take the remaining two cameras, one in each of the two halls, and move to the west side offices to open the windows.

As I crawled over the ceiling tiles ahead of James, my mind returned once again to The Breakfast Club. I couldn’t help but recall the scene where the bad ass John Bender crawled over ceiling tiles very similar to these and I remembered far too late how they didn’t hold his weight. The tile broke in half and I went tumbling through the ceiling into the lobby. Fortunately, the Christmas tree broke my fall.

I rolled onto my back, letting the pain subside in my entire body, before finally standing and surveying the damage I’d done. The fake Christmas tree lay sprawled across the floor, limbs flattened and broke, ornaments shattered and splayed across the lobby. It’d gone from a symbol of Christmas joy to a tattered pile of excrement in one single blow.

“Holy shit!” James called down from the ceiling with a chuckle. He dropped down to the floor, stomping on the poor tree as he came. “That was awesome.”

I stared at the tree a moment wondering what my next move was. It was an unintentional act of vandalism that could come back to bite me in the ass. So, I decided I would come back to it after opening all the windows and try to repair it as best I could. “Come on. Let’s get moving.”

James threw the rag over the camera while I killed the heat from the thermostat. Then we were moving toward the offices to the front of the building. I had James split off to the offices down the hall so that we could get through all of them faster, I could fix the tree, and then be back in the breakroom well before the office goons started rolling in.

While I was opening the window in the second office, James came in with a bottle of rum. “Dude, look what I found in the drawer of a supervisor’s desk.”

“Hair of the dog,” I said, taking the bottle and downing three gulps before handing it back.

“And you know what I replaced this with?” James went on.

“What?”

“Shit.”

I shook my head, not getting what he was saying. At least I hoped I didn’t get what he was saying. “What?”

“I dropped a deuce in the drawer.”

I could only stare at him, shocked and dumbfounded.

“I pooped,” he expanded. “Turd for rum. How are you not getting this?”

“Oh, I’m getting it,” I said, quickly losing my temper. “I’m just trying to figure out what the fuck is wrong with you?”

James shrugged, but before he could say anything else a loud crash came from the other side of the offices. James and I ran down the hall and came to an office that was in the process of being trashed by The Great One. The crash had been a file cabinet being tipped over. In the next office, Mike was pulling a bulletin board of the wall.

“What the fuck are you guys doing?”

“We saw the tree,” Mike said. “We figured this was part of the plan now.”

“That’s what I thought,” James put in.

“The tree was an accident,” I explained. “I was going it fix on the way out. This shit is going to get us fired.”

“Relax,” James said. “They never fire people around here. They only give them final warnings. Then final final warnings. Then super-secret final warnings.”

“Look, I know we joke about that shit, but they do in fact fire people. Occasionally.”

“We already started,” The Great One said. “I’m going to keep on.”

And they did. The three of them trashed every office, then started on the lobby. Perhaps I should have fixed the tree right away, but I had the felling it was more than that. This aggression had been simmering in each of them over the past few years. After enduring countless hours of overtime given to the company, time taken away from their families, with only a free lunch thrown their way every once in a while to show appreciation of their efforts. Taking away their holidays had been the final straw for them as well, I just hadn’t realized it. Hell, maybe they hadn’t realized it at the time either. They were venting through chaos and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do to stop them. I only sat back and watched, horrified at first, but that gave way to amusement before long. And then, before I knew it, I was laughing my ass off.

Once the damage was complete, the four of us stood on the copier and climbed back through the ceiling tiles, returning to the break room. I disposed of the masks and we went to work as if nothing had happened, all of us bundled up against the frigid air. Not long after eight o’clock, we were all called to the office. After being let in, we were met in the trashed lobby by our manager.

“I know you four are responsible for all this,” the manager said.

“How can that be,” I asked innocently. “We are locked out of the office now after all.”

“I’ll tell you what I’m going to do,” he went on. “I’m just going to fire the guy responsible for all of this. So, if the rest of you tell me who planned it all, you’re off the hook, otherwise you will all be terminated.”

It was pretty clear that he knew I was the ringleader. I’d been a thorn in his side before and this was his way to get rid of me. So, not willing to let my co-workers take the fall, I stepped forward. “It was my idea?”

Before the manager could respond, James also stepped forward. “No, it was me. I planned it all.”

Then Mike spoke up. “That’s not true. It was all my idea.”

“No, it was mine,” The Great One said.

The manger looked at all of us and gave a frustrated sigh. “Fine, all of you can consider this your final warning.”

As he turned to walk away, James called out. “Now, is that a final final warning or a super-secret final warning.”

“Final warning!” the manger fired back.

The four of us broke into laughter and walked back to the warehouse. Maybe we did get our holidays stripped from us. And maybe we were locked out of the offices from now on, deemed unworthy to be among the elite. But at least we made a statement. At least management knew how we felt. That’s the best guys like us could hope for. In the end, it made it a pretty good fucking Christmas in the workplace.

D. A. Schneider

D. A. Schneider is an indie author of multiple genres living with his wife and five kids in Indianapolis, Indiana. After trying for some time to break into the comic book industry with his artwork, Derek decided to instead focus fully on writing. Derek’s most recent works include the dark mystery novel The Goat, YA fantasy Franklin Stewart and the Mourning Mansion, and the upcoming steampunk/horror adventure Ghost Hunter Z.

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