Mill Work

Jim’s mind wandered. The gray fuzz of an afternoon nap invaded his mind, and he began to day-dream. In his dream, he was sitting at a large table in a small cottage in the woods. Sunbeams speared down from holes in the thatch roof, lazily tracking the dust that was filtering down from the straw. At the table were several small creatures who took turns making yapping noises:

“Yap yap yapyap yappa yup.”
“Yap oop.”

The creatures took turns speaking, but they were speaking nonsense.

Slowly Jim realized that the creatures were holding a status meeting of some kind. Freely translated, he felt it would go something like:

“Dumpy hasn’t finished the supports in the lower gallery.”
“That’s because Chunky hasn’t cut down a tree in two weeks!”
“My axe is busted as Beano, here. I need a new one from Smokey.”
“Okay, you try to fire a forge without coal or wood.”
“Why not just hook Beano up to it instead?”

Jim fiddled with his pipe (his mechanical pencil?) while the creatures argued. Axes and coal and timber were in short supply, fall was coming and Fingal had gone off to the city and wasn’t around to bring in the crops, and there were rumours of another wicked witch in the eastern forest, accosting travellers and asking them annoying questions (“Look, if I knew when we were going to ship, would I be working here?”).

He stared out the window. In CorpLand, bulldozers were uprooting the park across the street to make room for another business complex, but in his day-dream squirrels chattered and chased each other around the base of a huge oak tree, insects batted against the windowpane with a sleep-inducing drone, and somewhere a rope holding a beam creaked. Just beyond the oak was a small yard with a well, then a dense green forest. Several game trails headed off into the trees. He could just see a glint of —

Jim’s fingers had been working idle magic, and suddenly all of his pencil leads fell to the floor. He bent over to retrieve them, and conked his head against the table.

“Owwww.” The conference room swam back into focus. He blinked; he was surrounded by people in white shirts, and whiteboards.

“What about you, Jim?” Peterson eyed him.

“Well, the wicked —”


“Oh, uh, we’re on schedule. Just another week or so. Fingal wants some minor features changed, is all.”


“Uh, that guy from Finance.”

“Features, like what?”

“Oh, just the front end. And the database. Some of the back-end. And maybe the report generator; he said it could use some ‘pizazz’.”

“Finance wants to change the fonts again? Put Iggleson on it!”

The room roared with laughter. “Ig?” “Old Ig?” “Who-needs-a-metric Ig?” Which was really unfair. Iggleson was a really nice, kind of slow guy who’d simply been “passed over” for promotion the last decade or so because he’d refused to go along with the latest fads in engineering. Ig was a living object lesson in replaceability that management kept stashed away and never replaced, he was so indispensible. They trotted him out occasionally to scare the new fish into working twice as hard at fabricating the milestones in their weekly progress reports. The message was clear: do your metrics, submit your paperwork and job logs (down to fifteen minute intervals) or become like Ig.

“Okay, Iggleson’ll be on it.” Jim knew that submitting a three-inch stack of paperwork to change a font from Times to Helvetica was just the kind of work that Ig secretly enjoyed. Ig’s secret was that only the top several pages of the forms changed from task to task; the remaining pages had remained the same for years, and if management ever bothered to dig into them they’d find flowcharts from the 70s, or autocoder forms from the 60s, maybe even older stuff from the arcane days of vacuum tube computing. Jim wrote a checkbox on his daily goal sheet.

        [ ] See Ig - Fonts

Like most meetings, this meeting didn’t really end. Instead, several conversations branched off to different parts of the table and were carried out the door (and back to whiteboards) by the participants.

The glint of a creek, past the trees. Motion, like the turning of a mill’s waterwheel. Over a decade of faking paperwork, what kind of job was that?

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