The halls of the Conscience Control Center were very clean, with white walls and tiles alternating black and white. The walls were decorated with various clients and their consciences posing with smiling faces; free from the burdens of guilt and shame. There were ficus trees in the corners of the waiting room like book ends for the plaid couches with firm cushions.
On this day, one of the CCC’s (as it was known) employees, Jiminey Cricket, was waiting for his first performance evaluation. He was a new conscience and therefore still in his probationary period. His first assignment was somewhat unique in that a fairy appointed him to serve as a conscience for a wooden puppet who had been animated by the fairy. As most know, the puppet was named Pinocchio and at the end of an adventure, he was turned into a boy. It was a challenging situation to say the least and now a representative from Human Resources was prepared to let Jiminey know what the Center thought of his performance.
Jiminey shifted nervously, so small on the large couch, waiting for the secretary to give him word that it was his turn. He recalled all his time with Pinocchio and how proud he was of the boy. The cricket looked down to his chest and on it was the medal the Blue Fairy gave him. He quickly polished it with his sleeve and smiled, then chuckled to himself, confident that the performance evaluation would go well.
At last a woman slid open a window behind the receptionists desk and announced, “Jiminey Cricket, please report to room 407. Mr. Gecko will meet with you now.”
“Ok! He, he!” Jiminey chirped as he hopped off the couch and then down the hall looking for room 407. He found it easily enough and then knocked as loudly as he could. There was no answer. He knocked again hoping to be heard and yet again there was no answer. A third time. Still nothing. At last he merely crouched down, flattened himself against the cool tile floor and crawled under the door.
Jiminey pulled himself through the space between the door and the floor and into a room with file cabinets to one side, a large, aluminum desk in the center, an oscillating fan blowing warm air around the room and unsettling papers but not enough to blow them off the desk. There was a chair in front of the desk and the cricket could hear a man breathing with shallow gasping breaths on the other side but he could not see him beyond the desk.
“Um, hi!” Jiminey called.
A large, thick, man with his collar too tight around his neck and tie too short to cover his belly, jumped in his seat and slid backwards. “What is that?” He called out while looking around.
“Oh, um, it’s just me sir,” Jiminey comforted in his high pitched cricket voice. “No need to be afraid, he, he.”
Mr. Gecko looked over his desk and onto the ground and at last spotted the cricket standing just inside the door holding his hat in his hand.
“I’m here for my performance evaluation, sir,” Jiminey explained.
Gecko leaned back and relaxed while straightening the papers he disturbed by his quick, startled movements. “Oh, yes, well, have a seat then and we’ll get started.”
The Human Resources staffer studied the papers in front of him while Jiminey climbed the chair and seated himself at the edge. Gecko looked up and couldn’t see the miniature sized conscience. He leaned over and when he spotted the insect smiled “Hold on one moment, Mr. Cricket.”
Mr. Gecko stood, pulled his sagging trousers up higher underneath his round belly with the shirt half untucked and went over to a file cabinet. He opened it and found a large tome of a book and pulled it from the cabinet. He then walked over to the chair and politely asked Jiminey if he would move while he placed the book on the chair to give his employee more height. Jiminey agreed and then sat on the end of the book, able to see over the desk.
“There, that’s much better isn’t it? Mr. Cricket,” Gecko asked.
“Um, sure it is, sir. That certainly is a large book, he he,” Jiminey joked.
“Oh that isn’t a book there. It’s the CCC’s rules and regulations. You know it takes a lot to run a successful conscience operation. And important too, but you know that don’t you, Mr. Cricket?”
“Oh, I sure do! And I love being a conscience,” Jiminey beamed.
“Oh I’m sure you do, but then, it isn’t just about enjoying the work is it?”
“Um, well, no I suppose it isn’t, he he.”
“No, just as important as enjoying the work, is doing it well which means working within the very reasonable and functional boundaries set forth in the very rules and regulations that are boosting you up currently. Don’t you agree?” Gecko smiled.
“Um, well, yeah! I can agree with that, he he.” Jiminey chirped.
“Right! Well then let’s get started. I am Lars Gecko and I will be reviewing your performance with you today. We did a lot of interviews and made a lot of observations to complete this evaluation, as we do for all our employees. But allow me to review some basic information with you first.”
“Sure! Whatever you need, he he,” laughed Jiminey.
“Splendid,” Gecko replied. “I see here you are the conscience for a boy named Pinocchio, is that correct?”
“Why yes, that’s correct.”
“And this is your first assignment, is that correct?”
“Yes, yes it is, he he.”
“I see, and in fact Pinocchio wasn’t even a real boy when you began was he?”
“No, he was a wooden puppet, the Blue Fairy made him into a real boy when he proved himself worthy you see.”
“Yes, yes I see, and you helped him achieve this did you?”
“I suppose I did, yes. I helped him from the moment the Blue Fairy made him alive. She appointed me as his conscience.”
Mr. Gecko was following along and reading some notes in front of him as he did. When he paused there was no sound except the humming of the fan which continued to move from one side to the other and in the middle, blew on Jiminey enough to cause him to turn his head to avoid the air current.
“Splendid,” Gecko interpreted. “I want to review some of the decisions you’ve made along the way. I read here,” he said looking over his notes to the diminutive cricket seated on an oversized manual of regulations, “That in his first day, Pinocchio did not end up going to school. Is that true?”
“Um, well, yeah, he he, I suppose that’s what happened.”
“I mean, well, yeah, he didn’t quite end up at school.”
“I see here that he was tricked by a fox who called himself,” he paused and looked at his notes to make sure he had the name correct, “Honest John? Is that correct?”
“Yeah, that sounds right, he he.”
“And it seems that this fox was able to convince Pinnochio to skip school. Is that accurate?”
“Yes, sir,” answered Jiminey looking at his feet which dangled over the edge of his seat.
“And were you there when he met this character? This honest John?”
“Well I caught up with them, right after they met,” Jiminey explained.
“You weren’t with Pinocchio when he left the house that morning?”
“Well, no, I overslept.”
“On your first day?”
“Um, yes,” Jiminey admitted.
“So an animated puppet was away from home for the very first time, and his conscience wasn’t even with him. Does that sound accurate?”
“I’m afraid so, sir. I overslept on account that the clocks were loud and I couldn’t rest.”
“Does that sound like a good reason for a conscience to fail on the first day?”
“Um, no, I suppose not, sir.”
“No, it isn’t,” Gecko blurted matter of factly then wrote down some notes. “And when you caught up with Pinocchio then, what did you do to stop him from making the choice to skip school?”
“Well um, I mean, I tried to tell him it wasn’t a good idea, but,” Jiminey couldn’t finish the thought, it was a bit too painful and he hadn’t considered how that might effect his overall performance evaluation.
“But you failed? Is that what you are trying to say?”
“Well, I suppose that’s true.”
“Did he get to school that day?”
“Um, no, he didn’t, he he.”
“So you failed to keep him on the right path.” There was a long pause as Gecko scribbled some notes on a pad of paper in front of him with a pen. The evaluator looked up and added, “But I suppose it was your first challenge. What did you do when Pinnochio made the wrong decision and went with the fox rather than school? No doubt you stuck by him? Continued to encourage him to make the right decision?”
Jiminey turned even more green that he already was. He swallowed hard. Gecko just waited patiently for an answer.
“Well?” Gecko asked. “What did you do to try to help get Pinocchio back on track?”
“Um, well, I left,” mumbled the cricket conscience.
“What do you mean you left exactly?”
Jiminey paused for a very long time then began to answer so quietly, Gecko couldn’t hear him well.
“Please speak up, Mr. Cricket. I need to understand what you mean when you say you left your client,” boomed Gecko.
“I mean, um, that I left. I decided I wasn’t up for the job and that maybe Pinocchio was better off without me.”
“I see,” the evaluator groaned as he scribbled more notes on his pad. “You quit?”
Jiminey hesitated to answer. The word pierced his heart. He had not reviewed those first few days with Pinocchio since he was turned to a real boy and had been so happy with his father, but hearing the word ‘quit’ reminded him that it was a difficult beginning. “That’s right, he he.”
“You overslept and when your client ran into trouble, you quit. What happened to Pinocchio at that time?”
“Oh, ah, you don’t know?”
“I want to hear your version of events, Mr. Cricket.”
Jiminey tugged at his collar and swallowed hard before he continued, “Well, it seemed that Pinocchio had joined a show and was an actor in a theater. He was really popular because he was a wooden puppet with no strings. People loved him. I thought he was doing really well.”
“But he wasn’t doing well was he?”
“Well no. Not exactly.”
“What happened to Pinocchio?”
“Well, uh, he was a slave it seemed. The puppet master, a man named Stromboli, threw him in a cage.”
“That’s awful!” Gecko exclaimed louder and more dramatically than he had said any other words to that point. “ But you got him out of course.”
“Well, uh, not exactly.”
“Not exactly? How do you mean? If you didn’t get Pinocchio out of the cage then who did?”
“The Blue Fairy did.”
“Oh, I see,” Gecko mumbled as he scribbled some more notes. Jiminey Cricket continued to fidget while wondering what the evaluator was writing.
“And as his conscience, no doubt you helped him tell the truth of the situation. I mean, obviously he made a mistake and in this instance it made sense to admit wrong and then seek forgiveness, right?”
“I did tell him to be honest. Honestly. But he lied to the Blue Fairy anyways,” Jiminey admitted.
“So he didn’t take your advice?”
“No, sir. He didn’t.”
“He lied to the blue fairy then?”
“Yes, he did.”
“But she let him out of the cage anyways. Is that right?”
Jiminey perked up, “Yes sir! She did! And we escaped that mean ole Stromboli.”
“Of course you did. And then what happened?”
The air was sucked out of the little cricket’s lungs as if he was punched in the gut when he remembered what happened next.
“Well?” Gecko encouraged.
“Well I lost him again,” Jiminey muttered.
“Right after the Blue Fairy freed him?”
“How did that happen exactly?”
“Well, um, I thought it would be a good idea to race home you see? So I was racing Pinocchio and I was winning and got ahead of him and before I noticed that he wasn’t behind me any more he got side tracked.”
“Do you know by whom he was side tracked?” Gecko asked as he was scribbling notes again.
“Well, it was the fox again. Honest John.”
“Ah yes, Mr. John. And this time he didn’t just sell Pinocchio to a puppeteer did he?”
“No,” Jiminey swallowed.
“This time he was sold to a slave trader to be turned into a donkey wasn’t he?”
“At a place called ‘Pleasure Island,’ is that right?”
“Yeah, that’s right, Pleasure Island.”
“So, to summarize where we’re at so far, you lost Pinocchio for the second time in a day?”
“Well, you could say that.”
“I can and I will Mr. Cricket. So you lost Pinocchio for the second time in a day and this time he is once again sold but now he is heading to Pleasure Island to be transformed into a donkey. Correct?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“And what did you do about this predicament?”
“Well I rode all the way to the island and then went looking for Pinocchio.”
“And you found him?”
“Yes sir!” the Cricket chirped.
“And you convinced him to leave?”
“Well not quite. Well not then at least.”
“What happened then?”
“Well there was another boy there. A rotten kid and he was making fun of me and giving me a hard time.”
“And what did you do about that?”
“Well I, um, left.”
“Um, yeah, he he. That kid was being really mean you see?”
“Yes, I see. There is a very clear pattern developing,” Gecko stated as he continued writing notes on his pad. Jiminey just stared at his shoes without looking up when Gecko added, “In each opportunity you had up to this point to steer Pinocchio in the right direction, you failed to do so. You also abandoned him multiple times at this point. In the last example you left because of some teasing.”
Gecko let the judgement hang in the room like a heavy fog. Finally he added, “At the CCC we demand that our consciences be durable and patient with our clients. A conscience cannot abandon a client because they are fed up or their feelings are hurt. Especially a client as new as Pinocchio was. He needed more help than most and was one of the most innocent clients we’ve seen and you were in charge of guiding him and where did you allow him to end up? Caged by a puppeteer and then on pleasure island. Each time you decided to leave him.”
The words drained the blood from Jiminey’s face and he went completely pale. He didn’t want to be there any more and just like he ran from trouble before, he wanted to take off and leave the trouble behind. But he was stuck like a fly to fly paper and had to endure the evaluation no matter how painful.
“I can see my words are sinking in,” Gecko stated. “We need to complete this evaluation, however. So please, let’s continue. You walked away from Pinocchio once more. This time on Pleasure Island. What happened then?”
“Well, um, I was trying to get off the island and I snuck under a door and I saw the donkeys who were boys before and I knew that Pinocchio was in danger. So I went back to get him.”
“When you saw the donkeys, you were suddenly worried?”
“You weren’t worried when he was merely smoking and drinking?”
“You were only worried when you thought he might turn into a real donkey?”
Jiminey’s head dropped again, “Yes, that’s right.”
“So you found Pinocchio?”
“Yes! I ran to him to tell him about the donkeys.”
“What was happening when you found him?”
“Well, uh, he was already turning into a donkey.”
“How is that?”
“I mean,” Jiminey stuttered, “I mean, he had long ears and a tail like a donkey.”
“What did you do then?”
“We raced to get off the island and even dove into the sea to get away.”
“You successfully got away from the island then?”
“That’s right! And we made our way home.”
“But Giapeto wasn’t there was he?”
“Let me hurry this along. You received the letter we sent and then Pinocchio decided he was going to look for his father. And the pair of you found him in the belly of a giant whale yes?”
“And you eventually made your way home correct?”
“That’s right! But Pinocchio was dead or we thought he was. But the Blue Fairy brought him back and turned him into a real boy!”
“That’s wonderful,” Gecko added as he straightened his papers, “What a happy ending. Well Mr. Cricket, the agency is none too pleased about this entire affair and I’m afraid no matter the outcome, a number of violations occurred that are very poor practice for any conscience working in the field.”
“Oh, um, I suppose there were,” Jiminey mumbled.
“Yes, not only did you abandon your client multiple times, you were late the first day of work and you essentially failed to keep Pinocchio from making poor decisions at any point. In fact, we had difficulty discovering how your client was better off with you. The Conscience Control Center mission statement is, ‘To help our clients live healthy lives, learn from mistakes and to love their life.’ As we reviewed your performance we came to the conclusion that you did not do well to fulfill that mission. We’ve determined that you have performed very poorly. Out of an overall 5 you received a 1.”
Tears formed in Jiminey’s eyes, “Oh, um, I see.”
“Your client even died. Virtually every misstep was a result of your negligence and failure to guide your client.”
A heavy silence hung over the room and Jiminey felt he could hardly breathe and his heart raced. He wrung his hands together and shifted his weight from side to side. “But, um, the Blue Fairy gave me a medal,” Jiminey countered.
“Yes, we’re aware. We have addressed that as well. You were not the only one who didn’t follow procedures in this assignment. It is not company policy to appoint random consciences to new clients. Blue Fairy is no longer with the company and the medal was not approved.” Gecko stared directly at Jiminey and the cricket would not look up but felt the judgement of the gaze like a hot sun on a summer day.
“So I’m being let go?” He wondered.
“Not quite,” Gecko began, “We think you may yet have a future here at the CCC. But, you are now going to be placed on a final probation. Typically, all new consciences are on probation but you are now on a final probation which means if you have any violations during the period you will be terminated. Besides that, we are going to reassign you because we feel it will be best to get a new client and a fresh start.”
The words were like a shot of energy that rushed through Jiminey and his head popped up and he smiled widely.
“Oh boy! I won’t let you down, sir! I learned my lesson!”
“We’re glad to hear that. You will start immediately,” Gecko instructed.
“Thank you, sir! Who’s my new client?”
“A very energetic and adventurous boy. Peter Pan is his name. Should be no problem,” Gecko grinned.
“Oh, ah, he he, if you say so, sir.”
“I do say so. Peter is an interesting case as well and was previously under the care of a freelance conscience who is a fairy but this fairy was guiding the boy into all sorts of mischief and the lad is a bit turned about. But we’d like to give you a chance to sort him out. What do you think, Mr. Cricket?”
“Oh! Yes! I can do it! He he. I’ll sure give it my best!”
“Ah yes. Your best. Let us hope, for Peter’s sake, that your best includes getting up on time and not taking off at the first sign of resistance.” Jiminey lowered his head once more as the hot air from the fan blew in his face.
“Let me make this perfectly clear. With your new assignment, you will have forty-five days during which time none of the following behaviors will be tolerated by the lad. He will not be late to any event. He will not miss school for any reason. He will not engage in any fights with anyone. He will not ‘go off to fight the injuns’ as he likes to put it. He will not consort with mermaids. He will not crow. And he will absolutely, under no circumstances, fly off to Neverland. Is that perfectly clear?”
Jiminey gulped air. His face drooped. “Um, well, I don’t imagine I have much choice. Do I?”
“Certainly not. Just keep the boy who never wants to grow up from doing anything juvenile and all should be well. Good luck to you Mr. Cricket, I sincerely hope you manage to do much better with this client. I will see you again I’m sure, now please see yourself out, I have another employee coming in.”
Mr. Gecko scribbled some last notes onto his pad and then reached for the phone on his desk and then commanded into it, “Yes, please send in Mr. Sebastian the crab for our 2:30 appointment. Thank you.”