Skip to content
Curtin University of Technology

On Friday afternoon I was in such a hurry to leave work that I left my phone in my desk drawer. Sunday afternoon I go in to retrieve it and realize I need to piss while I'm there. The place is all empty cubicles and switched off lights, hot because the air conditioning doesn't run after hours, and I trip down the back corridor to the bathroom and open the door.
First, the smell; it wasn't a bad smell, which is even more disturbing than if it were awful, because you don't like to think that another person's excrement could be anything less than disgusting, so you stop breathing and back out of the doorway quietly, hoping that whoever is in there didn't hear you come in and isn't wondering why you're leaving, having not done what you supposedly came in here to do. You notice - no, wait, ‘I' - I notice that whoever is in the stall isn't wearing any shoes. No shit, there is a hairy potato foot visible beneath the door of the stall.
Alright, so it is hot in here and if whoever it is wants to do their business barefoot, it's none of my concern. But then I also wonder if this is some homeless guy who somehow snuck in to the building on Friday and has been stuck in here all weekend, pilfering instant coffee and milk arrowroot biscuits from the staff kitchen to keep from starving. Well I don't own shares in the company, so I stick with Plan A: sneak out and rush home. If I turn up at work on Monday morning and find an ambulance parked out front, I'll know not to tell anyone about the poor dead hobo on the bog.
Then he moans: urrggghhhh. I creep back, baby steps. Then he talks to himself: comeoncomeoncomeon. I cradle the door back into the frame. Then he babbles: ot'yer fabinfabinfabin yerkamin fer teeee. I lay the door on the jamb and leave.

"So I laid the door in the jamb and got the fuck out," said Jonathon.
His story elicited a one-word response from co-worker, Cormac: "Ha."
"I know."
"There wasn't any homeless guy in here this morning."
"I know. There weren't nobody here. This guy... This guy's like, the Harry Houdini of winos, or he's one of our fellow employees."
"Yeah. This guy's coming in - of a Sunday - to shit with his shoes off."
"You think he's making a special trip? Coming here just for that?"
"I don't know. Sure, why not?"
"So, Miss Marple, what's your next move? Stakeout?"
"No next move, dude. Guy wants to shit shoeless, good on him. Next move is: don't leave my phone in the office, necessitating extraneous fucking trips in here on the weekend."
"I bet it was Graeme."
Jonathon scratched his beard. "That thought crossed my mind."
"Fat, hairy guy..."
"Not the most ‘normal' dude."
"He's a fucking crackpot."
"Not a crackpot. Just doesn't know how to talk to people."
"Hits you with that stare, man. Like he's trying to figure out what you are and how you work. Crack-fucking-pot."
"Well, you wanna know for sure if it was him, just follow him into the bathroom next time you see him go in, come back and tell me what it smelled like. And look out for the foot."
"Nah, nah. You need a first-hand witness to verify the stink. I wouldn't be able to..."
"Just make some notes for me and, when you come back, we'll compare..."
"It's okay, Jessica Fletcher, I know you like to work alone on these cases. Here's a supposition: he's married, eight kids..."
"Fuck should I know? I'm suppositioning. So, before the kids are born, he's got free reign on his toilet. It's his great pleasure in life, slipping in there with the Sunday Times, getting away from his nagging, Russian..."
"...German wife, just taking out thirty minutes or so - of a Sunday - in the closet of eternal stench. Now. Fast-forward to the future..."
"The present."
"Right you are, the present. In the present, he can't get a look in, in his own toilet. He's touching cloth, but there's eight kids, one wife and only one toilet to go around. So. Every Sunday he comes in here, brings the ‘paper, gets naked..."
"What, he's just taking his shoes off? You said it was hot."
"It was hot. I don't know if that means..."
"So he gets nude, reads the ‘paper and floats in a calm ocean of undisturbed bowel function."
"That's pretty fucked."
"I didn't create this world, Jonathon. I just live in it."

On his way to his desk, Jonathon passed Graeme's cubicle. His computer was idle and a screensaver was rolling out an endless slideshow of cat photos. Graeme sat in front of it, motionless, watching them slide over the screen, his head lolling from side to side.

"Dear Mr. Heap," began the e-mail that Jonathon received later that day, "Thank you for submitting your short story, ‘The Day The Earth Became A Metaphor For My Ruined Self-Esteem', to flightPony magazine. Unfortunately your piece has not been selected for publication. Please do not hesitate to submit again in the future. Each month, we receive several entries..."
He sat in the lunch room, contemplating this and fingering the plastic laminate on a sign, which read: "The staff microwave is a privilege, not a right. KEEP IT CLEAN!"
"The carpet is laid in squares," he said. "The walls are thin panels that you can move at a moment's notice. The computers and photocopier are all leased. Nothing here is permanent except the staff, who come here when they realize that their degrees are worthless and leave when they discover they've contracted Alzheimer's, and have been calling the person in the cubicle next to them ‘Son'."
"I never thought it would be possible to bring down the mood in this place," Cormac said, around a tuna sandwich, "but there you go."
Then Graeme was at the door, stomach pushed out like incriminating evidence. Draped over it was one of those satiny Looney Tunes ties - the one with the Tasmanian Devil on it. In his hand was a coffee cup, which read: "You don't have to be mad to work here...but I am!"
"You know," he said, "there are some less fortunate peoples in this world who would probably love to have our respective positions of employment," and then he walked away.
"Did I fall asleep and wake up in 1985?" asked Cormac. "Is this Live Aid? Is Sir Bob fucking Geldof going to appear now and tell us to send in all our fookin' money?"
"You ever notice that, whenever Graeme tries to cheer someone up, he says something supremely depressing?"
"All you fuckers depress me. I can't tell any of you apart. Oh, that reminds me, I have to send a text."
He produced a phone and hunched in his chair, thumbs lancing the keys, tongue curled out the side of his mouth. Jonathon's phone vibrated and Cormac grinned at him like a mime with a monocle.
"I went thru Graemes desk this morning," said the message.
"Why?" replied Jonathon.
"I reckon he lives here. I want 2 find proof. His clothes and stuck."
"Turn your predictive text off."
"Fuck U. Clothes and STUFF."
"So what did you find?"
"Nada. Literally. His drawers r empty."
"Leave him alone. If he is living here, he's got enough problems."
"I need 2 know."
"Suck my 8===D."

At the end of the main corridor was a storage room where paper copies of documents more than three years old were kept. Cormac watched as Graeme shuffled out of there and then, after waiting a good few minutes to make sure he wasn't coming back, he entered.
The place was floor to ceiling shelving and archive boxes, lit in stark fluorescent. There was just enough space between to shuffle through sideways, cardboard dust gathering on your clothes. Cormac realized that Graeme may have just been looking for documents. He also realized that he could search for hours and still only cover half of the room's contents.
"Follow the path of least resistance," he told himself. Ten minutes later he'd found two years worth of budget reports, numerous folders on tax reform, a bunch of floppy disks and a shelf full of boxes that were suspiciously un-dusty.
He pulled one from the shelf, put it on the ground and knelt over it. There was a thick, woody smell coming up from it, like grass burning under the sun. He opened it up and inside was a bunch of wood chips, a small bowl and a ginger kitten. It was sitting politely and looking up at him with wide, glacier-melting eyes.
He opened another. And another. Each one holding a different cat. They had begun mewling at him because of the disturbance. Then he found another rack of shelving behind that one. The shelves went six boxes high and four across, meaning a total of...
And just then, the lights flicked off.

On Tuesday, Cormac wasn't at work. Wednesday: the same. Jonathon had sent him two or three texts, all of which had gone unanswered. This was odd because Cormac's phone was an extension of his mouth, which hardly ever stopped working.
Around lunchtime, he happened to walk past Graeme's cubicle again. And there he was, staring at cat photos, as if the secrets of the lost art of alchemy could be divined through their furry feline faces.
"Hm? Oh, Jonathon." His eyes snapped to Jonathon's face and bored into his brain. "Sorry, I was in another world. How have you been? They're not working you too hard are they? Ha ha ha."
"No. Fine. Thanks. Hey, what's with the cats?"
"Oh, aren't they adorable? These two are friends."
"Graeme, can I ask you something? I've noticed that you seem to be here a lot. Like, after hours and what not."
"Well, yes, that's true," he said, his expression remaining dull, empty.
"Is everything okay?"
Graeme sighed, a loud one that seemed to make his chest vibrate. "Things are not...perfect at home."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"Louise, my wife, she...well, she caught me with another woman."
"And there was a drama and it wasn't very nice, but we worked through it and she forgave me my indiscretion, as long as I promised never to do it again."
"There were photographs"
"Well. Um, I should probably get back. If you need anything..."
Then he noticed, on the desk, a phone that looked remarkably like Cormac's.
"Graeme, you haven't seen Cormac today, have you?"
"No, not today," he said, stiffening up.
"Is that... that's his phone, isn't it?" He picked it up off the desk.
"No, it's mine. I just bought it."
"You've got the same wallpaper as him."
"Oh, is that his? We must have got them mixed up. He's doing some work for me today."
"I thought you hadn't seen him?"
Graeme stared at him hard. He felt as though his face was about to catch fire.
"No. He's doing some work for me." He drummed his fingers on his belly. "Shall I show you?"
"Well, okay then."
He led Jonathon up the main corridor, then around a corner, then through a door. They were in the archive room. Jonathon followed him around the maze of shelving until they came to another door, which opened up on a dimly lit room, also full of shelving and boxes, but everything was covered in an inch of dust and there were cobwebs stitching everything in place. They walked around shelving for what seemed like an hour. He asked Graeme where they were going, but Graeme just said, "Around this corner."
Finally they came to an opening in the wall. It looked like it had been made with a sledgehammer. Through the hole was what looked like a cave. It was still an office, but there were stalactites hanging from the ceiling. People milled about silently, some working at computers, others standing around a printer, but it was all lit by candle. He saw Cormac, standing in front of a laminator, waiting for a plastic-encased A4 sheet to slide out.
"Cormac," he said, but Cormac's eyes did not leave the laminator. Next to him were a bunch of laminated signs reading such slogans as: "Please ensure that this toilet brush is used as required," "Attention whoever KEEPS leaving their dirty cup's here - you will be reprimanded WHEN caught", and "Everytime you feel like sighing, smile instead :D".
"Cormac has joined my team," said Graeme, and he stepped behind Cormac and rubbed his shoulders.
"Okay," said Jonathon, "well, you know, you could have just said that. You didn't have to bring me all the way back here."
"I wonder if you would like to work with me, Jonathon." He started unbuttoning his shirt. Jonathon dropped his eyes, trying to avoid looking at him, but when his shirt opened, Jonathon couldn't help himself. He glanced. Then he looked.
When the cotton drew back, Graeme's stomach fell forward like a birthing calf. His skin was a grey-ish pink and a great mouth was torn through it, opening, closing. It had the fangs of an angler fish and the underbite of a bulldog. The Looney Tunes neck tie flapped around the drooling maw, which blew at it like an untidy piece of hair, until Graeme grabbed it and flung it over his shoulder.
Behold, it speaks: "Johhhnathooon. You come to me. You will work. Spread my messaaaaage."
Jonathon was stunned into inaction, gazing into the drooping dark nipples that he now took for eyes.
"W-work?" he said.
"There are positions many," said the voice. "You could print and distribute passive aggressive notices, like your friend here. You could work in my electronic mail department, sending out humorously captioned images of cats, in bulk. Or perhaps you enjoy working with people? We have an empty position in the ‘Getting Along Really Well With Your Female Co-Workers In Order To Annoy Your Male Ones" department."
"I think I'm okay in accounts payable."
"Johhhnathooon. My boy. You may make your own choice. As long as it is one of the ones that I have laid out for you."
"Uh, really man, I think I'll be okay." He started to back away, but then Graeme jumped at him and threw him to the ground, then climbed on top of him and pushed the gut-mouth out at his face. The gaping hole blasted pungent air at him, bubbly spit slid down the fangs and onto Jonathon's face. Jonathon held him back, but he was heavy as fuck. He grabbed hold of one of the fangs and pushed back on it.
"You hate your life, Jonathon, you all do. It's the sweet enervation that draws me to you, the angst, the depression, the ennui. I know you. I know that your Father never taught you to fish and you always resented him for it. I know your frustration at your inability to finish things you start. The drawer full of half-written film scripts, the rock bands you played in that never went anywhere, the way you settled for a job that you hate."
It was becoming too much. His arms felt like exposed nerves, holding up all that weight. He gave one final push, growling with the effort, and the tooth broke off in his hand. He took it and drove it straight through the left nipple and the gut monster screamed. Hot pink blood spewed out of the wound, slathering Jonathon in warm plasma. Graeme lurched back onto his knees and ripped the fang from his nipple. More blood issued forth, but this time both his mouths merely grinned.
"Johhhnathooon. I like this savagery. Your zeal shall prove useful."
"I'm not a part of this," Jonathon said, peeling goo from his face and slopping it on the ground, first with his left hand, then his right. A spray of it hit the flame of a candle and crackled into sparks. Jonathon saw this and seized upon it. He looked up and grinned at the beast. "And your opinion of me is reductive at best," he said, and he flung a large wad of blood at the nearest candle. It ignited and small pools of fire landed around the candle, burning blue.
"What are you doing?" said the Gut Beast. "Somebody get me my Oc. Health and Safety Reps." Several of the people stopped working and hurried to a filing cabinet. From the top drawer, they drew out yellow plastic hard hats and placed them on their heads. They came to the fires with clipboards and pens and started pointing at the flames, mumbling in a low gibberish. When Graeme turned back to him, Jonathon had picked up a candle and was holding it at arm's length.
"I will not obey!" he said and he threw the candle straight at the demon's chest. It ignited so quickly that the air around him rasped and flame shot out in all directions in a sustained burst. The creature screamed and was turned to sparking ash in seconds. Everywhere, office furniture caught fire, workers were sprayed with flame, but showed no response. Cormac was ignoring the fire at his shoulder, which was already melting and scorching him.
"Cormac!" shouted Jonathon, "We've got to get out of here."
Cormac looked up, but his expression remained dull, free of soul. Now the room around them begun to crumble. A piece of flaming plasterboard fell from the ceiling, taking out all of the safety reps in one blow. Jonathon had to get out of there. He took one last look at Cormac and then bolted, out past the filing cabinets, through the cobwebs and into the main corridor. The fire alarm tripped and the other office workers began to file out, complaining about having to do "another bloody fire drill".
Jonathon hit the footpath and fell to his knees, unable to expend any more energy on the act of standing. Here, on the side of a busy street, amongst the din of fire alarm and angry co-workers, he made himself a promise. He promised himself he would live. He would finish things that he started. He would work hard to find another job so that he wouldn't have to work so hard. He would finally learn to fish. He felt better telling himself that he would.