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Nil Thrillz & Overkill


Adam had just gotten out of prison. Stupid mistake. More on that later…

Anyway, he decided it was best to move to another city and start over. New home, new job, new attitude, all that shit. Adam was taking his second chance to live a responsible, peaceful and legal life very seriously.

He was excited, almost to the point of giddiness, at the thought of things that make regular people yawn.

Whereas most people daydream about their next holiday and get their kicks from mid-week restaurant visits, Friday night live music and weekend getaways to lush wineries, Adam was ecstatic at the prospect of working 9-5, coming home to cook dinner and then reading in bed with a coffee for a few hours.

After everything he’d been through, normality was Adam’s idea of adventure. So when he arrived in Melbourne, Adam was full of optimism and extremely eager to begin his dull existence.

Thankfully, the job hunt didn’t last long. It was coming up to Christmas and everyone was hiring. Also, Adam had done a magnificent job of hiding the fact that he was an ex-convict on his resume… mostly because he didn’t include it on his resume… mostly because he didn’t create a resume.

He’d attempted to create a one, but after sitting in front of a computer at the Prahran Public Library for the better part of an hour, staring at a Microsoft Word document that simply read “ADAM DRESDEN”, he’d started to feel like the blinking cursor at the end of his name was mocking him.

Instead, he thought he’d try his luck with job hunting along Chapel Street empty-handed. As it turns out, post-incarceration Adam seemed to have better luck than his former self, because he got hired at the very first shop he walked into.

It was a chain store that specialised in adventure travel clothing, gadgets and luggage.

A dishevelled and over-worked manager named Cheryl had asked Adam a total of two questions. Did he have references she could call, and how soon could he start?

Apparently they were grossly understaffed, although Adam couldn’t help but notice there wasn’t a single customer in the store.

Adam gave her the phone numbers for two old pals of his from Perth, and said he could start as early as tomorrow. And with that, he rushed out of the shop to call his friends before Cheryl could.

She must have believed the “previous employer” false identities he assigned them, and clearly she enjoyed their high praise for Adam, because right after speaking to them she called Adam to invite him in for his first shift the following morning.

Day 1

As it turns out, Adam’s first day wasn’t his first day at all. He showed up early, fresh-faced and ready to go, only to have Cheryl profusely apologise as she informed him that his new Staff ID had not arrived from head office yet.

Without a Staff ID, she couldn’t “clock him in” as present at work. Due to insurance policies, no employee could be present at the workplace without being logged in. What if there was a fire and the system said that everyone was accounted for, but Adam was burning alive upstairs?

What if some cash from the till went missing, and they couldn’t get to the bottom of it because management couldn’t ascertain who exactly was at work at the time of the theft?

Adam considered pointing out that he wasn’t going to be anywhere near the till today, and that he was sure he’d be capable of climbing out the window to safety should there be any dramatic incident, but he decided to leave it.

Instead, Adam suggested completing the work training modules from home. Not a chance, Cheryl replied. How would management know whether he’s actually working or not?

Adam considered pointing out that if he wasn’t working, the modules simply wouldn’t be done and that would be a very obvious giveaway, but he decided to leave it.

Through all this discussion, no customers entered the shop.

Day 2

When Adam stepped through the wide open doors into the widely empty shop, his new manager was positively beaming.

Good news, she exclaimed as she hustled over to him. Your Staff ID has arrived.

Adam got to work on his training modules, and quickly came to the conclusion that every piece of information included in them was either common sense or highly irrelevant.

As a keyholder, you will be responsible for a set of keys to the shop. What is the main function of a shop key? What happens if you arrive to open the shop without your key?

How old was the CEO when he first had the idea to open a shop that sells down jackets and thermal underwear?

How many shop locations does the company have in Peru alone?

Six hours, 340 questions similar to the ones above, and three highly unnecessary but apparently compulsory coffee breaks later, Adam’s shift was over. As he waved goodbye on his way out the door, he was almost surprised to see a customer browsing the shelves.

He was very grateful to get home and cook himself a nice dinner for one, read his book for a while, and go to sleep.

Day 3

Adam showed up at 11:57am for his second shift, and was immediately instructed to quickly sign in with his thumb print before the clock ticked over to 11:58am. All employees must arrive at least two minutes prior to their shift commencing, otherwise head office deducts the first 15 minutes of pay from their shift.

Their reasoning behind this is that it takes the average adult 90 seconds to adjust their mindset from the distracting street outside to their professional working environment, and a further 30 seconds to make their presence known to all team members who are on duty.

And with that, it was time for Adam to show his new manager how to correctly lift an empty cardboard box to demonstrate a sound understanding of occupational health and safety.

The one or two customers who entered the shop every hour watched Adam curiously as he practised holding the handrail while walking up and down the stairs, tying up the bin bag (which contained nothing but paper receipts) in a way that didn’t expose him to harmful waste, and removing shirts from hangers in a way that ensured he wouldn’t accidentally impale himself or others.

All this OH&S training killed most of Adam’s second shift, while much of the rest of it was spent revising some of his answers to yesterday’s questions – why not see if we can bring that 88% score up to a 92? Maybe even a 93!

As Adam trudged out of the shop that afternoon, he decided he might have a beer or two with dinner tonight.

Day 4

This morning, Adam was opening up the shop with Cheryl. He met her in front of the shop at 8:48am with a takeaway coffee in his hand, and was shocked by the hostile situation he’d just walked into.

Apparently, it takes 15 minutes to prepare the store for customers when the doors open at 9am. Company policy states that no single employee can be on the premises at any given time – even the store manager.

What if there was an incident? What if there was a theft? What if the team member slipped and injured themselves? There would be no one else there to assist.

Due to this policy, Cheryl had been standing in front of the shop for the last three minutes, frantically looking up and down the street for her new employee. They would now need to ready the shop in just 12 minutes.

Adam considered pointing out that there was no mention of this 8:45am start time in the 340 questions he’d answered the other day, but decided to leave it.

They rushed into the shop and scanned their thumbprints to clock in. Moments later, the phone rang. It was head office in Auckland, New Zealand, calling to enquire why they were clocking in four minutes late.

Cheryl, near tears, profusely apologised no less than five times. Adam watched her count the money in silence (under no circumstances can an employee count the money on their own), and afterwards she mumbled that she’d planned to show Adam how to count the money today, but now it would have to be another time as they were behind schedule.

Once Cheryl returned from opening the front doors, she was absolutely astonished to find Adam taking a sip of his coffee behind the counter.

First of all, she said, under no circumstances were team members to be standing behind the counter during opening hours unless they were processing a sale.

And perhaps more importantly, under no circumstances could team members have drinks (other than water) during their shift. Water needed to be in a plain, unbranded water bottle and concealed in a drawer behind the counter at all times, out of sight of customers.

Adam placed his coffee cup on the floor beside the bin, and spent the next few hours periodically looking over at it longingly as he meandered around the shop “familiarising himself with the products” while his new manager waited by the door to greet customers.

That day, Adam must have read the tags of every item in the shop – from thermal leggings and cotton polo shirts, Nepalese beanies, goose down jackets, socks, backpacks, sleeping bags, tents, camping chairs, hiking shoes, head torches… you name it.

The only thing Adam didn’t study were the pocket knives, because he’d yet to complete his training on how to safely handle a pocket knife. When he suggested he complete the training right now, Cheryl said she wasn’t allowed to conduct training while greeting customers at the door.

What if someone entered the store while she was showing Adam how to safely handle a pocket knife, and no one was there to greet them at the door?

The moment the minute hand ticked over the 12 to signify it was officially 5pm, Adam’s thumb was on the pad to clock out. Unfortunately, he hadn’t noticed the clock on the thumb pad was a minute behind the clock on the wall, and a few moments later the phone rang.

Head office would like to know why a staff member was clocking out early. If Adam hadn’t rolled his eyes and chuckled about it, he probably would have started crying.

Adam counted seven customers for the entire day; only four of which bought something.

On his way home, Adam swung by the same bottle shop as yesterday. This time, he bought a whole six-pack. The staff member, a laid-back kiwi guy with dreadlocks down to his knees, recognised him from the day before and the two chatted for a while.

It was the highlight of Adam’s day.

Day 5

Today was the first day that saw Adam actually interacting with customers. Given that the shop sold camping gear, backpacks and hiking clothes, most customers were either going somewhere fascinating or looking for a gift for someone who was going somewhere fascinating.

Adam would ask customers about their trips, and this would usually grow into lengthy banter that helped Adam forget where he was for a few moments, as well as making the customers feel at home in the store.

For the first time, Adam started to feel confident that he might be able to excel in this role.

Then, around lunch time, Cheryl noticed that Adam was neglecting to upsell at the point of sale. For the second half of the day, Adam felt his stomach turn upside down every time he put through a sale for a friendly customer he’d just been chatting to.

Cheryl would shoot him a glance, raise her eyebrows, Adam would gulp, and then ask the customer if they’d like to complement their purchase with a microfibre towel, thermos, or perhaps a wallet protector that shields your credit cards from electronic pickpocketing.

Adam would then have to stand there and watch the warmth vanish from each customer’s eyes as they realised that all the nice banter he’d just engaged them in was fake, and he was purely trying to squeeze more money out of them… even though they were already spending $250.

Foot traffic was quite low towards the end of the day, and Adam had increasingly retreated to the counter like it was a floatation device. Cheryl reminded him that under no circumstances was he to lurk behind the counter unless he was processing a sale.

In the midst of all this, Cheryl was shocked to see a rectangular-shaped bulge in Adam’s right pocket, which looked suspiciously like a mobile phone. Under no circumstances were employees to carry their mobile phones on their person at work.

Adam was instructed to place his mobile phone in the staff room, which he then had to go and retrieve when his shift ended eight minutes later. Adam counted 12 customers for the entire day.

At the bottle shop, Adam’s new kiwi friend asked him how his fourth work day had gone. The two of them stood out the back of the store and shared a spliff while Adam told him all about it.

Day 6

Adam was sure to arrive at the shop at 8:40am this morning, sipping the last of his coffee so that he could throw it in the bin before starting the work day. It took every ounce of his strength to force his mouth into a smile when Cheryl came waddling up the street to meet him.

Surprisingly, the morning went by rather uneventfully. Adam did as he was told.

His mobile phone was out back in the staff room. He consistently strolled around the shop, straightening and tidying the already immaculate shelves and coat racks, unless he was processing a sale. And when he was processing a sale, he was sure to encourage the customer to buy even more of the shop’s stellar offering.

He even managed to make Cheryl laugh with a horrible knock-knock joke he remembered from his childhood.

Things were going swimmingly, until suddenly the regional manager walked in.

Adam wasn’t aware who the guy was at first, but he’d noticed that all the colour had drained from Cheryl’s face, and that she was now in something of a fluster.

The regional manager walked around the shop with an air of superiority, and chatted to Cheryl authoritatively as he rearranged displays and instructed her to adjust this and fix that.

He assessed Adam carefully as he approached with an outright hand. Adam shook it, and introduced himself as a new employee. Team member, the regional manager corrected him. Apparently the staff here were a tight-knit team who looked out for each other, and Adam was extremely lucky to now be part of it.

And then, out of nowhere, the regional manager asked Adam what the six C’s of excellent customer service were. Adam looked baffled for a moment, and then responded that he found casual banter always seemed to make customers feel quite welcome and comfortable in the store.

The regional manager shot Cheryl a disapproving look, which she redirected straight at Adam.

Next, the regional manager asked Adam what last spring’s best-selling camping accessory was. Adam sighed, and took a wild guess that it was a tent. Both Cheryl and the regional manager gasped.

Apparently it was an inflatable pillow, and Adam would have known that if he’d been completing the “extra-curricular” modules in his own time throughout the week.

Adam interrupted his manager and regional manager to point out that there was a customer waiting for service. While Adam assisted the customer, the regional manager had a rather public “strong word” with Cheryl, which Adam received from Cheryl after the regional manager left.

As Adam left work that day, both fists trembling with rage, he had no idea how many customers had come into the store today… but it couldn’t have been more than six.

By this point, Adam and his new bottle shop friend had developed something of a routine where Adam would enter the shop, grab his beers, come to the counter and the two of them would laugh about whatever new and increasingly ridiculous events had unfolded at Adam’s new job that day.

The guy with the dreadlocks could never contain his bewilderment – here he was, standing behind the counter with a can of beer in his hand, an overwhelming stench of rather potent marijuana wafting from him, and nothing but socks on his feet because he’d stubbed his toe earlier that day.

He enlightened Adam to the fact that he’d arrived to work 20 minutes late today, and the manager hadn’t said a thing. He was three beers deep, and halfway through a documentary about a guy who had been searching for the Loch Ness monster for the last 35 years.

The store had several incense sticks burning, and he’d switched all the fridges off tonight for some peace and quiet.

This guy had worked there for five years. He lived just up the road, and made just enough money to live paycheque to paycheque. He knew everyone in the area, and he was perfectly content.

Adam went home that night, cooked his dinner and drank his beers. He tried to read his book, but found that he was too distracted.

He was thinking about the guy at the bottle shop, who had managed to find himself the ideal lifestyle to suit his personality.

A simple existence, and a low-maintenance job in a shabby establishment with employers who really couldn’t fucking care less what he got up to during his shift, because sales were good. The same customers came in every single night and bought the same thing, without any need to push sales or upsell.

Adam realised that he had gone about this fresh start all wrong. Only once he’d figured out his new plan did he manage to drift off to a sound sleep.

Day 7

Today was Adam’s day off. He was supposed to do his extra-curricular modules to enhance his product knowledge, but he didn’t.

Instead, he went to work.

He’d chosen not to wear his uniform. In fact, he’d chosen not to wear anything at all.

Adam strolled into his workplace stark naked, equipped with nothing but a screwdriver, a jerry can full of gasoline, and a box of matches.

Before Cheryl could say or do anything other than emit a confused high-pitched squeal, Adam marched across the shop floor, raised the screwdriver, and stabbed her in the neck 18 times.

He glanced over at the other staff member, who was now breaking company policy – under no circumstances was a single employee to be on the premises at any given time. The team  member screamed and ran from the store.

Adam proceeded to empty the jerry can of gasoline all over the shop’s floor, walls and merchandise while Cheryl lay twitching and gurgling on the floor.

Then he struck a match, and threw the flame into a puddle of gas. As Adam emerged from the store, flames growing behind him and sirens already wailing in the distance, he started to laugh maniacally.

He felt free again. He sat down on the curb and waited for the police to arrive.

Day 1

Three meals a day, and a room all to himself. Adam had all the time in the world to read his books. Aside from the bottle shop guy, Adam really didn’t miss social interaction. He quite preferred his own company.

And now, whenever a new prison guard was hired, they were told, “Under no circumstances should you ever bother Adam.”

3 Comments Add a Comment?

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Helen

Posted on April 1, 2020, 10:50 p.m.

I so enjoyed your short story. Looking forward to the next one. ????

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Vicki

Posted on April 10, 2020, 3:21 a.m.

A very engaging short story which captures the captures the nonsense of micro management ????

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Kaye

Posted on April 16, 2020, 12:11 p.m.

Very enjoyable read, not the finish I was expecting, intense.

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