Rob Does Words
Treating fiction poorly since 2019


A door creaked on its rusted hinges as someone pushed it open and scuffled in.

“Alright, Barry?” someone called from across the room, a mouth full of month old cookie.

“Bloody hell,” Barry, the new comer, called back. “Talk about a horrible shift.”

“Where were ya then?”

“The bastards put me on Africa today. What pillock ballsed that up so bad?”

“Ah, that would be Henry. He’s not here anymore.”

“You mean to say,” someone else called out, “that people still actually pull African shifts? Last I ‘eard was that no one actually turned up for them, after what ‘Arry did.”

“I shoulda just stayed in bed, I shoulda,” Barry said, pulling a chair up to the table with the other two. “Right mess, that place. Almost as bad as this one.”

“You watch your mouth, this here is a sacred place.”

“It’s the bloody smoko room, Paul, not a bloody church.”

The ‘bloody smoko room’ looked like one of those rooms that a Western documentary team would find in some unnamed ex-Soviet country 30 years after everyone forgot existed. It was a lean-to attached to a larger, just as worn lean-to, and to the untrained eye might as well be four planks with holes in them covered in sheets of corrugated iron, which, technically, it was.

There was paper hanging on the inside walls, which you might think was wallpaper, but in actual fact was just an attempt at insulation by workers a few weeks back, where they stuck wet cigarette papers to the walls.

The tables and chairs didn't match, and none of them had even legs. The four men who now sat in the room did everything they could to ignore this, but every so often one of them would lean the wrong way and the leg would fall that inch or so and make a hard tap on the floor.

Now, while the smoko room was virtually falling down and would be considered derelict by most reasonable people, it wasn't the worst building on the lot. For years complaints had been raised about the state of the main administration building. There had been no glass in any of the windows since the boiler exploded a few years ago. This also meant there was no heating. And since this particular location wasn't known for its tropical climate, this was a big issue.

On top of which, since the janitorial staff had tried to unionise around the same time and had - not coincidentally - been laid off soon after (and not replaced) any work that had to be done to any of the buildings had to be contracted out and management weren't fans of spending money when they didn't have to, so any request for work was procrastinated on for as long as possible.

Somewhere between the state of the main admin building and the smoko room sat the building which was labeled ‘Operational Headquarters’ but was only ever called ‘Work.’

It was a massive warehouse shaped building with a series of internal walls that broke the area into spaces of uneven area. There were no signs within the building, the idea was that if you worked here you knew where you were supposed to be going. Inevitably, this meant that no one knew where they were supposed to be at any given time.

One of the areas inside the warehouse was stacked with piles of papers, all tied together with string. These stacks reached to the ceiling, some 20 or 30 meters in the air. The space itself was about half the size of a football field and at least one of the stacks of paper had fallen over reasonably recently. The string had snapped and pieces of paper layered the floor and the few desks that stood nearby. No one was around to witness or fix this. A harried man who looked like he was 58 but was actually 22 saw the mess and ‘tsk’d’ at the scene but continued on to where ever it was that he was going.

In another section of the warehouse, a group of half a dozen people stood around an ancient water cooler which, somehow, had fresh water in the bottle. One of them had an old cellphone tucked between his ear and shoulder, hushed hold music could be heard from the earpiece.

“Anything?” one of the others asked in that tone of voice where they already knew what the answer was, but someone had to ask anyway, and it had been a while since he had said anything. The man with the phone rolled his eyes and shook his head, as if the answer was obvious. “He’s the boss, right?” the asker asked the others, who nodded. “Maybe he’s in a meeting. Bosses have meetings, don’t they?”

“Who the hell knows here. I mean, I hired you, right?” a middle aged balding man with half a cigarette tucked behind his ear pointed to the asker. “But that was because we needed someone. No one told me to and HR didn’t, and still doesn’t, want anything to do with you.”

“Same here,” said one of the others. “It’s like this place just doesn't want to work.”

“And yet, here we are, making sure it does.”

“Well, I tell you what, as soon as that paycheck stops clearing, I. Am. Gone,” the cigarette man jabbed his finger at the door, punctuating his words.

“And perhaps if we ever meet the boss, we can find out what we’re supposed to do,” the original asker said. “I’ve been here almost a year now and I think the only work I’ve done was yours on my first day.”

“Haha, yeah. That’s a joke we play on everyone on their first day. Get them to do our work.”

“Shame I’m not very good at it.”

“We all make mistakes. Laura over there,” the man pointed across the hall at a pair of legs that stuck out of a cubicle, “she’s responsible for the 1940s.”

“Well, give her a break, Bob. She could only do so much after the guy that came before her.”

“Sure, but look, she hasn’t done a thing since.”

“Would you?”

“Oh hell no. Ain’t touching Europe with a ten foot pole.”