Disciplinary Actions May Be Taken To Correct Unsatisfactory Performance
It was Kevin’s first day at Chthonic Consulting. He’d met his new boss Theresa (“Call me Tessie”), been initiated into the mysteries of the coffee machine (“don’t press the double shot button, it breaks the darn thing”) and been given a flier for the company’s upcoming vernal equinox party (“it’s the highlight of the corporate year”). Now it was time to start learning the corporate rituals. He was eager to see how Chthonic’s magickal practices compared with those of his previous company, Talisman.
Kevin was told he’d be working closely together with Rachel, who occupied the cubicle next to his. “We’re preparing for our initial meeting with a potential new client, FeriKyno,” she explained as she showed Kevin into the company’s spacious ritual room. “We’re hoping to win a major contract. This ritual enhances the likelihood of that happening.” Kevin looked admiringly around the space, which had gleaming white tables arranged in a hexagon. At Talisman, he’d worked in a dingy back room with old equipment. He hoped that one day, if he did well, he’d be allowed to conduct his own rituals here.
On an elegant sideboard stood jars of dried plants and other preparations that were needed for the rituals, next to a selection of tools, including an impressive ceremonial athame in a glass case. Kevin scanned the container labels to see which he recognised. They had Psilocybe semilanceata mushrooms, which strictly speaking were highly illegal because of their hallucinogenic properties. But companies were discreet about their magickal practices, and law enforcement tended to ignore what happened behind closed doors, so long as businesses contributed to the local economy.
Kevin noted they had cordoncillo, which The Harvard Review of Ritual Magick had recently reported was showing impressive results, with the consequence that it was now almost impossible to obtain. Rachel saw him looking at the bottle. “We have our own supply chain. It’s manufactured for us by Amazonian shamans.” Kevin was impressed. Chthonic was obviously operating in a different league from Talisman.
Kevin watched Rachel as she deftly ground a selection of herbs in a mortar and pestle. It was clear she was an expert ritualist. He already sensed he could learn a lot from her. In between steps, Rachel told Kevin about the company’s R&D activities. “The quants crunched the numbers and concluded this particular ritual increases our chances of closing the deal by 9 percent. That may not sound much, but it’s enough to give us an edge over our competitors, and that’s what matters.”
Kevin whistled softly. Nine percent was impressive. Back when the first companies began experimenting with rituals, while Kevin was still in business school, results of 3 percent were already considered good. Of course, not everyone agreed. Most of his professors refused to believe that magick actually worked, let alone that it could boost a company’s bottom line. But in Kevin’s opinion, the results spoke for themselves, and rituals soon caught on among forward-looking businesses. Even while still at business school, Kevin saw it was the future. More importantly, he saw it was his future. There was clearly money to be made from magick, and he was in on the ground floor, young and keen, learning as much as he could while others were still scoffing about its effectiveness. Magick was the perfect tool to give him an edge over his peers and advance his career.
Talisman’s head magician, Eric Dunbar, saw Kevin’s potential and hired him straight after graduation. Within a couple of years, Kevin was in charge of his own rituals and helping to shape the company’s magickal practices. He had plenty of success and enjoyed the work, but he was a big fish in a small pond. Five years later, he knew he had to move on if he wanted to advance. Chthonic was the perfect company to take his career to the next level. He’d been interested in working there for some time, so when he heard at a MagickMeetup they were hiring, he jumped at the chance.
His mentor Eric was distraught when Kevin told him he was leaving. “This is how you repay me for all the help I gave you?” But Kevin had no regrets. This was business. You couldn’t let personal ties get in the way. At Kevin’s leaving party, Eric gave him an intricately engraved silver ring which he said he’d received from his own mentor. “Wear it always,” he said. “For protection.” Kevin was touched by the gesture and always wore the ring on the index finger of his left hand. It was reassuring to know that, whatever happened, he was protected by powerful magick.
Kevin rubbed the ring with the edge of his thumb as he watched Rachel work. She burned the herbs in a metal bowl, chanting a spell to the Egyptian god of new clients: “Oh, blessed Hapi, help us acquire this new contract …” Some of the phrasing was similar to the invocations Kevin knew, but a lot was different. That was to be expected. Each company put great effort into developing its own spells, which were closely guarded company secrets. Talisman had patented over 50 rituals; in this game, your intellectual property was everything. In his contract, which ran to 20 pages (Kevin had skimmed some of the boilerplate), it stipulated that any spells or rituals that Kevin created while working for Chthonic would remain the property of the company.
“I’ve performed that ritual every day for the last week,” Rachel said once she had finished the rite and disposed of the waste respectfully. “This deal is really important to senior management. We have to make sure it goes through.”
As they left the room, Rachel told Kevin there was someone important he had to meet. “Cameron Stone, our Chief Ritual Officer.”
Kevin nodded. “It would be an honor.” Every company worth its salt had a head seer these days, but Chthonic’s CRO had a formidable reputation. According to a profile Kevin had read in Bloomberg Magick, Stone was one of the most powerful magicians in the corporate world as well as being well-connected in the political scene.
He followed Rachel along the corridor to a glass-walled corner office. She tapped lightly on the door before entering. Sitting behind a pale wood desk in the corner was a man about a decade older than Kevin wearing a smart dark suit, white shirt, and elegant spectacles with transparent frames. Rachel knelt on the floor as the seer got to his feet. Kevin could see they took things very seriously here at Chthonic — nobody treated Eric with that kind of respect — and followed Rachel’s lead. The man stood in front of them and motioned for them to stand. He chanted a few words under his breath and made a triquetra symbol in the air in front of each of them. Kevin felt the sweat break out on his back and he touched his ring to calm his nerves.
“Cameron, I’d like you to meet Kevin Gourd,” Rachel said. “It’s his first day.”
Cameron gave Kevin a firm handshake. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. You’ve come from Talisman, I understand?”
“That’s right,” said Kevin, surprised the seer knew who he was.
“Eric Dunbar is a good guy,” Cameron said. “I hear he has an admirable ritual-to-yield ratio.” He asked a series of technical questions about Talisman’s magickal practices, which Kevin answered as far as he could, referring to the NDA he’d signed when he couldn’t divulge specifics. Cameron studied Kevin’s face intently as he spoke. Kevin had the feeling the seer could look right into his soul.
“Well, I hope you enjoy working at Chthonic,” Cameron said. “Good luck.” He took a vial of liquid from inside his suit jacket and sprinkled a few drops over Kevin, reciting some words in a language Kevin didn’t know. “This should get you off to a good start.”
“I think he liked you,” Rachel said, once they were out in the corridor. “Not everyone gets the protective rite.”
Kevin nodded. “I was surprised he knew so much about me.”
“Well, it’s the seer’s job to know everything,” Rachel said with a smile. “Plus, he was involved in your hiring process.”
“I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, but he did a rune reading that indicated we should employ you and get you to help me with the FeriKyno account. I expect he’ll be keeping an eye on you.” She gave a short laugh that was more like a grunt. “So don’t screw up.”
Kevin looked back at the corner office. Cameron was sitting at his desk studying a pack of Tarot cards arranged in the Celtic Cross spread. His expression was hard to read.
“I won’t,” Kevin said, trying to sound more confident than he felt.
In the following days, Kevin and Rachel worked hard preparing for the meeting with FeriKyno. Rachel performed rituals every day to increase the chances of the meeting going well. Kevin helped her with research into FeriKyno’s competitors in the healthcare sector and worked on the presentation she would give at the meeting, revamping the graphics and tactfully fixing her spelling mistakes. They discussed her proposal for rebranding FeriKyno’s medical devices division in great detail. When there was time, Rachel taught Kevin about Chthonic’s proprietary rituals. There was a lot to take in.
Now and again, Kevin passed Cameron in the corridor and the seer gave him that look again, as if he could read his mind. In the evenings, as he sat drinking coffee in his Jackson Park apartment, Kevin reviewed his notes on the rituals he’d learned and read the latest corporate magick journals to keep up with new developments. He consulted his grimoire on rituals he could do to create auspicious circumstances for the FeriKyno meeting, and stayed up late performing rites.
When he fixed himself an espresso in the office kitchen — the fancy coffee machine was so much better than the cheap one they’d had at Talisman — Kevin made an effort to introduce himself to his new colleagues. Several of them told him how lucky he was to have started in time for the vernal equinox party. “The stars must have aligned for your hire,” one of them said. It sounded like the party was a big deal. The company always hired a grand venue, there was live music and plenty of food and drink. And of course various rituals were performed to mark the equinox and rebalance the company. Everyone agreed it was the event of the year.
“You look tired,” Rachel said the day before the meeting with FeriKyno when she arrived at her cubicle. Kevin had been there since seven, obsessively tweaking the presentation.
“I was up late doing a ritual.”
“What kind of ritual?”
“To make sure the meeting goes well.”
Rachel’s eyes narrowed. “You shouldn’t be doing your own rituals. You’re not experienced enough.”
Kevin bristled. “I was running my own rituals for years at Talisman. I know what I’m doing.”
Rachel smirked. “That was at a bakery chain in a cowpoke town. Now you’re in the big league. This is serious stuff.” She sat down at her desk. “Anyway, you need to make sure you get enough rest. It’s important that you look after your body if you want your magick to work.”
On the day of the meeting, Kevin got to the office extra early, wanting to be ready in good time. He’d ignored Rachel’s advice and stayed up late reviewing the presentation and the rituals, then slept badly because of his nerves, so he was tired and there was a dull pressure behind his eyebrows. Nothing an espresso — no, a double espresso — wouldn’t fix, he thought to himself as he headed to the kitchen.
As the coffee machine warmed up, a couple of his colleagues arrived and stood waiting patiently. “You can go first, if you like?” Kevin offered.
“No hurry,” one of them said.
Kevin noticed Cameron joining the line of people waiting to use the machine. They nodded at each other. As always, the seer’s expression was hard to read.
The light on the machine went on. Kevin placed an espresso cup under the spout and pressed the button for a double shot. The machine hummed for a moment, then there was a loud buzzing noise followed by a crunch, and the light went off. No coffee came out. Kevin pressed the button again. Nothing.
It was only then he remembered the warning he’d received on his first day. Don’t press the double shot button.
He frantically stabbed all the other buttons on the machine, silently praying to the machinery gods to make it work, but nothing happened. The people in the line sighed, shook their heads, and walked off. Cameron stared at the machine for a long moment. “Very inauspicious,” he muttered as he turned to leave.
It seemed like everything that could go wrong with the meeting with FeriKyno did. Somehow Rachel managed to give the cab driver the wrong address, or he misunderstood her instructions, so they were 15 minutes late arriving. Rachel tried to rush the introductory ritual and ended up forgetting one section, rendering the whole thing pointless.
When the meeting proper started, they weren’t able to connect Rachel’s laptop to the projector, so they were forced to show the slides on the laptop and the participants had to strain to see them. Then it turned out Rachel had forgotten to download the most recent version of the presentation, which Kevin had put so much effort into, so they had to use an earlier version that still had mistakes in it. Because of the late start, the main decision-maker left before the end of the meeting, and the discussion got bogged down in trivial details, with key points left unaddressed. When the group performed the closing ritual, it felt like they were just going through the motions. And as Kevin knew, a ritual performed without full mindfulness was worse than useless.
“Well that went well,” Rachel said mournfully as they left the FeriKyno office.
“Maybe it’ll still work out,” Kevin said, without much confidence. “Let’s perform a purification ritual when we get back.”
They did a purification ritual, and a ritual to banish negative energy, followed by another ritual the next day appealing to the gods of challenging circumstances, but nothing helped. A few days later, Rachel’s contact at FeriKyno emailed to say they weren’t interested in pursuing the contract further. When they told their boss Tessie, she picked up a decorative stone off her desk and examined it. “That’s very disappointing,” was all she said. Kevin would have preferred it if she’d shouted at them. There was something terrifying about her self-control.
In the days that followed, Kevin had the impression that everyone in the office was talking about the debacle behind their backs. He heard rumors that senior management had been hoping the contract with FeriKyno would turn Chthonic’s fortunes around, and were very upset the deal had fallen through. Kevin and Rachel were assigned to separate new projects. When Kevin saw her, he thought she looked stressed. Even Cameron was lacking his usual poise and seemed distracted.
The departmental secretary, who Kevin had become friendly with, warned him that the management was looking for someone to blame. “You’d better watch out it’s not you,” she told Kevin in a low voice. “Rachel’s been telling everyone it was your fault. And it’s company policy to discipline employees for serious mistakes.”
Kevin asked Rachel if they could meet in the ritual room. “What’s going on?” she asked as he closed the door.
“I hear you’ve been trying to pin the blame for FeriKyno on me,” Kevin said, rubbing his ring with his thumb.
“Well, it was your fault,” Rachel said, examining the athame in its glass case. “If you hadn’t broken the coffee machine, the meeting would have gone well.”
“What do you mean?” Kevin felt the back of his neck grow warm. “Half the things that went wrong at the meeting were your fault, and the other things were accidents. It had nothing to do with the coffee machine.”
Rachel shook her head darkly. “You don’t understand how magick works, do you? Everything is connected to everything else. An inauspicious event has knock-on effects even if the relationships aren’t immediately apparent.”
“But if everything is connected, how do you decide what caused what?”
Rachel turned to look at him. “The true magician sees beneath the surface of events and understands deep causality.”
But after a few days, the talk about FeriKyno died down and people went back to discussing the vernal equinox party. Preparations were apparently in full swing. Kevin learned there were going to be some large-scale rituals, one of which would be targeted at undoing the negative energy caused by the FeriKyno meeting. That was good, Kevin thought. A major ritual would draw a line under the event and help everyone to move on. That was one of the positive aspects of corporate magick. It provided a framework that helped a company to process a negative outcome and put it behind them, rather than letting resentment simmer for years like in the old days.
The day before the party, Rachel turned up at her cubicle with two takeout cups of coffee. “This is for you,” she said, handing one to Kevin.
“Hey, thanks,” he said, surprised.
“Listen, I’m sorry about the other day.”
Kevin studied Rachel’s expression. The apology seemed genuine. “Don’t worry about it.”
“Are you going to the party tomorrow?”
Kevin took a sip of his coffee. It was an expensive roast, and Rachel had remembered he took two sugars. “I’m not sure. I still feel kind of bad about the FeriKyno thing.”
Rachel gave him a warm smile. “You should come. It’ll be fun. Take your mind off things.”
Kevin thought about it for a moment. Maybe he should go, show he was a team player. Put the FeriKyno failure behind him. “Sure, why not.”
When Kevin arrived at the party venue, a former bank converted into an event space, he walked into a wall of warm, moist air and loud music. A jazz band was playing on the stage, and servers in formal clothes paraded trays of hors d’oeuvres and glasses of chilled white wine. The room was already half full of Chthonic employees and more people were arriving all the time. Kevin took in the scene approvingly. Talisman could never have afforded anything like this. Switching companies had been the right decision. Chthonic was going places, and so was he. He wished Eric could see him now. He felt a momentary pang of nostalgia at the thought of his former mentor, but he quickly dismissed it. His future was here now.
He spotted Rachel standing nearby and headed toward her, grabbing a couple of drinks from a passing tray. He handed one glass to her and raised his. “To Chthonic.” Rachel clinked her glass against his and gave him a friendly smile. “I’m glad you joined us.”
Kevin and Rachel mingled, chatting to colleagues and helping themselves to snacks from the buffet. There was a buoyant, expectant mood in the room. Kevin could tell the party was already lifting the employees’ spirits. After a few minutes, Rachel said she needed to talk to Cameron about something and drifted off, leaving Kevin to check out the divination tables.
He was on his second glass of wine and about to cast his coins at the I Ching stand when there was the sound of someone tapping on a microphone. The room quickly fell silent. Kevin turned to see a woman he didn’t know standing on the stage, flanked by Cameron and Tessie.
“That’s our CEO,” whispered the woman next to him.
“Good evening, everyone,” began the CEO, extending her arm in a sweeping gesture. “Welcome to our annual vernal equinox party. As you know, this is a time of great power. The rituals that we perform this evening will be especially potent.”
The crowd applauded.
“This is particularly important for our company because, as you know, we’ve been going through difficult times lately. We were hoping the deal with FeriKyno would mark a new start. Unfortunately, it didn’t come to fruition.” Her expression became somber. “It’s important that we mark our failures as well as our successes. Only by performing a suitable ritual this evening can we put this setback behind us.” More applause.
Cameron took the microphone and the crowd hushed in respect. “I’ve spent many hours meditating on what went wrong with the FeriKyno deal,” he intoned. “I’ve concluded that we angered Hapi, the god of new clients, with our hubris. We need to atone for that.” He paused. “This requires a sacrifice.”
A jolt of electricity went through Kevin’s bones. He’d heard of companies performing sacrifices — it was the most powerful magick there was — but he’d never witnessed one. Officially, sacrifices were illegal, but companies could get away with them if nobody found out. Normally sacrifices involved rabbits or chickens, but he’d heard rumors of one blue-chip company sacrificing a goat. He wondered what Cameron was planning. He hadn’t seen any animals, but presumably they were backstage somewhere. He was glad he was there to witness such a potent ritual. A sacrifice would certainly make it a night to remember.
On stage, Cameron produced the ceremonial athame that Kevin had seen in the ritual room. Its long blade glinted in the spotlight. He held it above his head and said various incantations, then lowered it. “Tonight, we are going to sacrifice the person who is responsible for the failure.” Gasps from the crowd. Cameron looked out into the room. “Kevin Gourd,” he said in a low voice.
Before Kevin could process what he’d heard, two strong pairs of hands grabbed his arms.
He jerked his head from side to side, unable to believe what was happening. Surely this was some kind of joke? A hazing ritual for new employees? But nobody was smiling. In an instant, Kevin realized his coworkers already knew.
On stage, Cameron was explaining how Kevin breaking the coffee machine had created the negative energy that caused the deal to fail. Kevin tried to pull away but the men holding him were too strong. “You can’t do this!” he shouted. “It’s not right.”
“It’s company policy, I’m afraid.” He recognised Rachel’s voice. She was standing just behind him. There was a touch of sadness in her tone, but mostly she was business-like as she continued. “Here at Chthonic, employees are disciplined for poor performance. You gave your consent when you signed your contract.” She gave her laugh that was more like a grunt. “Or didn’t you read the small print?”
As he was dragged toward the stage, Kevin looked back and saw Rachel nodding in Cameron’s direction. It was then he realized they’d stitched him up.
His arm was held tight, but he could still move his fingers, and he touched his ring with his thumb. Protection, Eric had said.
Kevin was beginning to think the ring didn’t work.
Daniel Addercouth was almost fired from his first job for hiding messages in product packaging. Later, he had to pretend to understand the corporate world in order to write Business English textbooks. Now happily employed in the public sector, he hopes he will never have to face the rigors of the free market again. He can be found on Twitter at @RuralUnease