I Wrote This At Work

Worth noting, in case an employer sees, that this is just an inflammatory title. What I mean is that I wrote it in like my lunch breaks and stuff, a stolen sentence here and there, a turn of phrase scribbled on a post-it note while waiting for things to print. It just creeps through the cracks, you know? 

Four desks from mine is a big box of communal chocolates. I am there… often. You might say I’m a regular. A local. I’ll sidle up to the box and it’s keeper will say to me, ‘Ah hello again, Angus. Just the usual, mate?’

What I find so irresistible about the box is not the actual chocolate, which is too rich and gooey, and it’s kind of nauseating under the fluorescent office lights, and it’s just empty calories when you really get down to it. No. I am hypnotically attracted to the chocolate box for the simple reason that it is free

I’ve come to believe that there is no greater rush in all of Corporate Life than getting something, anything, for free. 

Today I sent three different emails, asking the people that I was emailing for the email addresses of other people. 

We had some new hires come in this morning. They were brought around the office and introduced to everyone.

Things I should have done to haze and befuddle them: Demand they give me their lunch money; Do that handshake thing where you tickle their palm with your index finger; Leave a post-it note on their computer that reads “Whatever you do, don’t trust John”; Punch the bigger of the two in the face, like I’ve heard they do on the first day of prison; Lean in real close and ominous and whisper “Run”.

What I actually did: Made an unsuccessful joke about no longer being the new kid then asked them if they had any trouble parking. 

On the Thursday of my third week here I had a problem. I was sat at my desk, hunched, breathing deep and serious, somewhat feverish, alternately reading appendicitis symptoms on Web MD and wishing I was dead. 

All I did that afternoon was open and close different applications. There were almost no consequences for this, which was a very dangerous revelation. 

As I sat there, doubled over, sweating lightly from my brow, texting my brother who had his appendix urgently operated on in 2012 to ask him at what point he knew he “had a real problem”, too debilitatingly shy to make a big deal about a false alarm, I thought about how this would have been so fine two Thursdays ago. Actually, at any other time in my life, self-diagnosing myself with extremely early stage appendicitis wouldn’t be a big deal at all. Especially in the wait-and-see phase of the illness, the only change to my regular routine would be to watch slightly more TV than normal. But now it’s a whole thing. Now I have to work out how to lodge a leave request. Now I have to choose to either suffer silently at my desk or have a frank and open conversation with my supervisor about the very real danger of shitting myself on the train home. 

And yet, I felt strangely lucky to have that hot ball of lead in my abdomen. At literally no other time in my life have I been paid to stifle tortured groans at a state-of-the-art sit-stand desk. Even a couple of weeks ago, getting paid to poop was unthinkable. 

The job hunt was long and scary and uniquely demoralising — a harrowing period of high-volume, low-explanation, life-altering rejections. Failure lurked around every refresh of my inbox. I over-analysed the formatting of my resume to the point of insanity (i.e. I started using serif fonts). To this day I can’t look at the words “Unfortunately, we’ve decided to go in a different direction,” without Vietnam-style flashbacks to the Horrors of Before. The whole process was kind of like being dumped because of my answers to a buzzfeed personality quiz that I’d filled out before a first date. Which is a totally fake scenario I just made up. Definitely not anything that has happened to me personally in real life.

A lot of the jobs I applied for were entry-level positions seeking candidates with five plus years of extremely specific work experience. One of them was hoping to pay me in something called “exposure and life credits”, which as far as I can tell is not a real currency. And then there was the bespoke digital marketing firm that, as part of the pre-interview screening, required me to fill out a 200 question “personality test” that turned out to be the Church of Scientology’s administration exam. That actually happened to me.

So yeah. Silently tolerating (potential) appendicitis for two business hours seemed like a pretty small price to pay to be employed at all. 

I got a promotion today. I am now the Fire Warden. This is because the guy before me was the Fire Warden and no one else wants to do it because it’s a shit job. 

I pledged my allegiance to the Fire Nation, swore on my life never to make another sparkler bomb, and promised to sacrifice mind and body to protect important company documents. Or at least I think that’s what I agreed to? Didn’t take in much of the soulless 1000 page guide, if I’m honest. 

It’s weird that reading the policy document for this position made me want to set myself on fire.

Anyway, I am now the Fire Warden. And there’s going to be some big changes around here. No more birthday candles, for starters. I will not respond unless specifically addressed as the ‘Blaze Boss’ or ‘Keeper of Flames’. I’m going to wear the indestructible red Fire Warden helmet at all times, for protection and clout. And it will be my first noble decree that, from now on, if (and, let’s face it, when) there’s a fire, the first people out the door will be the Marketing Department. 

Who else could tell the story of the blaze, you know? 

Every morning I run across all six lanes of Pennant Hills Road, in increasingly narrow windows, just to remind myself that I am alive. 

Yesterday, on the bus on my way home, I heard a woman say the following into what I’m pretty sure was a flip-phone: 

“Yeah I don’t know what the fuck Damian’s deal is. He said he had to work from home today because his kid lost their tuba… Yes! That’s exactly what I said to Kate, like, fuck, how hard is it to keep track of a tuba?”

I didn’t have appendicitis, by the way.

A rare miss from Web MD. 

Whenever I go to the bathroom, I get two bits of paper towel together, roll them into a damp ball, and shoot at the bin from downtown (between five and seven metres away). My success rate has a discernible and unironic influence on my mood. If I’m on a real hot streak, I tend to go to the bathroom very frequently. 

Problem 1: Emotional control, paper wastage, corporate efficiency, etc. 

Problem 2: Sometimes, as the paper ball floats through the air, time and space seem to slow and collapse and there’s a wide, terrifying moment where the only thing I can think about is how truly meaningless shooting a paper ball at the bin is. And how meaningless this job and the economy and sit-stand desks and money generally are. I think about how many of these shots I will take in a week, in a month, in my whole working life. I am afraid of and for myself. I am afraid to miss. I am afraid I’ll keep missing and afraid that I will die having left the world worse and more full of paper towels than when I found it. 

Problem 3: On more than one occasion a colleague has walked into the bathroom and found me fist pumping euphorically. 

Problem 4: Some days I feel like what I used to be has been torn apart. I am now something else. What I was can only seep through the cracks, leaking out in diluted form as these fragments, as bathroom breaks, as sentences scribbled on post-it notes while waiting for stuff to print. 

Problem 5: The quality of my day is now directly, tangibly connected to my attitude, more so than at any other time in my emotionally turbulent arts-student life. If I’m curious and calm and up for a bit of horseplay, my day is good. If I want to go home, my day is mainly entirely focused on wanting to go home. I’m getting better at controlling this, but it’s hard when I keep missing this fucking bin shot.

Problem 6: Saying, ‘Sorry, I’ve got to go to the shitter, I’m just on a real hot streak,’ is not a very professional reason to excuse myself from a meeting.

Today I was demoted. The Fire Warden title and helmet and special (self-appointed) parking privileges were taken from me. Apparently the new guy who started today trained with some kind of elite unit within the RFS, if you can believe that such a thing exists. Personally I do not.

There is but one solution to expose him as a fraud and win back my red crown.

Yes, it’s maybe a little extreme.

But, remember, where there is fire there is also, in time, rebirth.

The Biggest Dare Is Truth

There are sleeping bags atop pastel foam camping mats and pillows brought from home. There is a petrified silence, for now, since Jason’s dad has only just finished telling them to be quiet again. There is partial darkness; the light of the full moon leaks through the edges of the curtains and makes everything glow pale. There are four boys, squirming, trying not to giggle, feeling like they might burst, fading into delirium, having to draw strength from all the WizzFizz and soft drinks digesting inside of them to fight off biological necessities and fourteen years of bedtime conditioning and the stern, disembodied voices of their respective mothers in their respective heads telling them, imploring them, to just please go to sleep. 

That’s not why they’re here. 

‘Dare,’ says Daniel. Daniel always choses dare. 

‘Climb out the window, run around the house, and ring the doorbell.’

‘No! Don’t!’ whisper-screams Jason, ‘Dad’ll kill us.’

There are some unrepeatable taunts on the general theme that Jason is just such a wimp when they stay at his house. There are rustling noises and the sound of thick, gluggy chewing. There is a permeable feeling that the universe is alive in a way that it usually is not, and that they are the only four people that matter in the whole of the world. There are some aspersions cast on Liam’s awakeness, since he’s notorious, since he played basketball today and that always knocks him out. 

A big wad of Zappos is lobbed from the dark and strikes Ben in the face.

‘Okay, Liam, gee. A simple “I’m awake” would have—’

‘Jason’s Dad’s going to pee in five minutes, so we need to be quick,’ says Daniel. No one asks him how he knows this. ‘Is someone gonna dare me or what?’

It’s a potent question. What more is there to do? Daniel’s already boiled the kettle, pissed out the window, texted Angela Kershaw a picture of his bicep, punched Ben in the stomach, followed Jason’s mum on Instagram. 

Please,’ says Daniel. There is something tortured in the way he says it. ‘I want to do something scary. Hey, no one scream, it’s just a car horn.’

Four seconds later a horn blares from the street. 

Jason lets out a yelp and the boys whisper mean things at him.

There is the whistling of the wind against Jason’s bedroom’s shutters and a dog barking a few houses away. There are metabolisms working overtime to digest all the glucose that’s oozing through their veins. There is a deep and terrifying need to do brave things and tell each other secrets in the pale dark, because they know this feeling will be gone in the morning. There are the increasingly desperate pleas of the boy Daniel.

‘Just nothing left to do, Dan. It’s gotta be a truth,’ says Liam.

‘Oh guys, hang on,’ says Daniel through a pinched nose. ‘Jason’s about to let one rip.’

‘What? No I’m—oh.’

There is chuckling and theatrical gagging. There are swishing sounds as the boys roll around in their nylon sleeping bags to punch each other. There is now real begging from Daniel, who has never felt so awake, who feels he must do something thrilling and new and unexpected or he’ll burst, who has eaten an entire packet of licorice allsorts on top of all the other stuff because he’s the only one who likes them. 

‘Can I dare myself?’

‘No,’ says Liam. ‘Ben?’

Ben always asks the best questions and the boys are quiet while he thinks. 

‘How do you always know stuff now?’

‘What?’ says Daniel. His brain whooshes. Can’t think. Heart pounds. 

The boys’ hearts all pound, actually, because of the sugar.

A cloud must pass over the moon because the light changes, shadows slide about the room. The boys are quiet. 

‘It’s something from when I was a kid,’ Daniel says, softly. 

It hangs. 

Shadows slide back to their resting places. The dog barks. 

‘Wait, is Liam still—’

There are more Zappos catapulted from the dark. There is the unzipping of sleeping bags to let cool air flood over burning skin. Daniel’s heart punches the inside of his chest.

‘I ate a crystal,’ he says. 


‘Is that…is that slang?’

‘He means like drugs or something. Hey Liam, do you have the gobstoppers?’

‘No!’ cries Daniel. He sits upright. He lies back down. ‘No, guys, it was a crystal crystal,’ he says. He knew this would happen. Like literally he knew. ‘My grandma was a psychic.’

‘Oh right yeah sure, Dan, okay. And my Gran fought in the trenches for the Navy.’

‘The Navy fight at sea, Jason.’

‘Anyone got eyes on the Sour Patch Kids?’

There is the exasperated sigh of a wise man amongst fools. There is some really toxic wind being broken here, because of bubbling stomach acids. There is yellow light from passing headlights that make the room spin golden, in slow motion. There is the sound of Jason’s Dad’s getting up to pee, which freezes them all again.

‘It was Black Obsidian Stone,’ Daniel whispers in a fragile silence. ‘Fully charged, too,’ Daniel says, a bit louder, a bit more oomph. ‘That’s like one of the most powerful ones!’ he cries, and they all hiss shushes at him because what is he, crazy? 

Daniel feels like he might cry, which would be unconscionable. 

‘Can you listen, for a second?’ he whispers. ‘When I was a kid, I had a tendency to put things in my mouth. Coins. Pens. Ants.’

‘Yeah we remember.’

‘You ate half my deck of Yu-Gi-Oh cards once. Liam’s cat was never the same after you—’

Okay,’ hissed Daniel. ‘Okay so I was at my grandma’s house. She’d left this amazing black crystal out from one of her readings, just a little bugger, about as big as a lego block, black as night, glittering black. Beautiful. It kind of, like, drew me in. And I… ate it.’


‘Anyone else just get their first ever hankering for licorice allsorts?’

‘Anyway, I ate the thing,’ said Daniel. ‘Last year when my balls… when I got taller, I felt, I don’t know, I felt like I could feel it. Like the fragments of the crystal were fused with my glandular acids, and now it’s like I can feel the prophetic energies randomly ignite… and I just get sucked into a…the cascading temporal streams converge on… it’s like the vision overpowers me and… I… I see the future.’


‘I can see the future.’


‘The Obsidian energies pulses in my astral mind and my consciousness is flooded with a future reality. Just in fragments. Flashes. Visions. And they always come true.’


‘I can see the—’

‘Yeah, no, Dan. We heard you.’

There is a different kind of silence. There is a silence that lasts so long that Jason’s poor dad might think they’ve finally gone to sleep, but not even Liam is close anymore. There is again the barking, more like howling, of the distant dog at the full moon. There is no chewing of any kind. 


‘That must be…’

‘That must be so fucking cool.’

‘Do I get rich, Dan? Do I become a dentist?’

‘Does Jenny still like me in 2035?’

‘What number am I thinking of?’

‘No,’ says Daniel. ‘You don’t get it.’

The boys stop grinning. Their friend sounds far away.

‘I can’t watch Eels games with you guys,’ he says. ‘I see it play out before it even starts. And they’re not going to win a premiership ever again.’

‘So why don’t you just support the Broncos?’

Jason is struck by Zappos.

‘I’ve seen fucked up, planet-destroying election results. I’ve seen the steady, global increase in human suffering. I’ve seen the exact moment my Dad gets sick. I’ve seen my heart get broken by girls I haven’t even met yet.’

‘Any hotties?’


‘I’ve seen the world end. In thirty-seven years time.’


‘I’ve seen each of you die.’

Worse silence.


‘Does Jason’s Dad kill us?’

‘And no matter what I do or you do we can’t change any of it. The future I see is absolute. We’re all just atoms moving to places they’re meant to go. It’s inevitable. I chose dares because I want to feel something, feel some fear, but it doesn’t work—I know Jason’s Dad forgives us in the morning whatever we do, I know Angela Kershaws’s destined to fall for a vitamin-based ponzi scheme in year eleven. All that awaits any of us is empty heroics, low comedy, pointless death.’

There are four boys in the pale dark. There is stillness. There is gulping from Liam and Ben and light whimpering from Jason. 

Then there is the breaking of wind. 

Then there is giggling that comes in three separate waves. Then there is lightness again, joy, thrill. Then there is some punching and roughhousing and banter about how serious they’d all got just then, as if seriousness was a vice. Then there is a surreal sense of safety and warmth and love in the middle of the night, because nothing binds young boys like sleepover truths, because each of them have never felt more connected to other human beings before but they don’t know how to say that, so they just giggle and try to stay awake for as long as they can. Only Daniel knows that they will never feel this feeling when they get bigger. 

‘Jason,’ says Daniel. ‘Truth or dare.’

‘Truth. Obviously.’


‘Ummm. Okay. Let’s get back to the classics, hey? Shoot, shag, marry: Angela Kershaw, Liam, and Daniel’s psychic grandma?’