Checking the time as he pulled into the car park, Mark realised he was just about on time for opening up the vape shop he was a manager at. That was until he was blocked off by a blacked out car driving in and a white large transit van blocking the car park exit. There was no other real route out except trying to jump the large fences like the kids do when they inevitably got caught running across the roof again.
Mark just froze up. Whatever was about to happen wasn’t what he’d wanted. He wanted to have a boring day, finish writing his resignation letter and leave the job he was hating. But nope, the world had it against him and this crazy gang of whoever had obviously followed him and trapped him in before he even got to open the shutters this morning.
The side door on the transit van opened and out stepped a man covered in a thick rubber coat, with a hood covering and obscuring his face. As the light improved, you could see he concealed his face. There was no telling who this person was, or even why they were traveling in the back of a normal transit van without a seat.
Without realising it, and still in a bit of shock as to what was playing out in front of him, he didn’t notice the figure was presenting him with a small box with no markings on it. He was told by a male voice with no real identifying elements. No accent, slightly robotic, just male. He was told to sell one of the items in the container. He manages that then the other was for himself to “enjoy”.
Enjoy. That word rang as he just held this small box as they climbed into the van and left as quickly as they turned up. The car leaving straight afterwards. No sight or visibility to any other beings in the vehicles.
The box was small enough to put in his pocket, so he slipped it in and continued to opening the shop just looking extra pale and in a slight state of shock as to what happened. Opening the shutters caused a rush of people to enter the shop. It wasn’t uncommon to happen, but it was a bit annoying trying to prepare the shop for the day and people desperately trying to stock up on e-liquid before the shop was even meant to be open.
It was lunch time before, for whatever reason, the shop had died down enough for Mark to have his lunch. After eating as much chicken and other high protein products as he could find for £5 in the convenient discount supermarket over the road from his work, he remembered about the weird experience that morning.
Pulling the box out, it was just a usual shipping box for something. Rattling it revealed the likely be bottles of vape liquid. Just great, on his last day of hopefully escaping his weird career path of vape stores, some vape mafia turn up and force him to sell someone dodgy fucking vape juice.
There was a small piece of paper sticking out from the packaging. Teasing it out almost torn the paper, but it made it out in one piece. The size of a fortune out of a fortune cookie.
“For those who need a change,” read the string of paper.
Thinking it was a bit weird, putting the paper back in the back of the box and also trying to put it into the back of his mind. Thinking over, what were those people and what would happen if he didn’t sell this dodgy stuff to anyone. What did the words mean? This whole day felt like an incredibly vivid dream.
Next he got out one of the bottles. They were both bright orange, labeled as normal vape juice. Wondering if it was real, he unsealed one of the bottles and sniffed at the liquid. It smelt sweet, like a waffle liquid. Surely it can’t be that dodgy and it was just some weird weird thing he’d gotten himself into. After all, he was about to send his resignation letter to the head office so what’s the worst that could happen anyway.
Before realising the time of the day, his last person of the day entered. His friend who got a lift as he only lived a couple doors away that vaped occasionally. Nate smiled for probably the first time in the whole day, free from his office job which he hated quite a lot.
Mark putting his hands in his pockets noticing the box in his pocket again, and looking at the time. There wasn’t much time at all. And besides, it couldn’t be that bad. Just get rid of the bottle and hope there was nothing dodgy in it and get away from the whole vape business. He had sent in his notice an hour earlier when he knew the owner was away for a bit and wouldn’t read it until he was on his way home.
Nate took a drag on his vape and took back on how burnt the coil was and he needed a new one putting into his vape. Paying Mark on the till, which was always a bit weird between friends, he got to work on replacing the coil in his vape.
“Nate, you want to try a new flavour as well?”
“Yeah sure. What is it?”
“Just try it. See if you like it”
“Oh, okay. Sure. So long as it’s not another cola one you keep getting in”
A couple of minutes with the tank primed and ready to go without taking any drags, constantly thinking about the weird situation he was in and didn’t want to do anything wrong against their situation. He just hoped it wasn’t a really disgusting flavour or something crazy like that.
Nate took a fairly long slow drag of it. Then wondered what it the sensation going around inside of his mouth was. Not quite able to put his tongue down on exactly what it was, he took another drag and then another.
Mark realising he probably shouldn’t have tried giving the dodgy liquid to his best friend looked on worryingly and noticed Nate’s pupils dilate slightly, the slight shine in them dulling.
“Fuck me. That is strong. Tastes like a cinnamon waffle or something. Really nice though”
By the time they made it to the car, Mark was worried as to why his best friend had a slightly glassy look in his eyes, and was even vaping a bit in the car which was rare for him. Must have been good he supposed.
The journey home went without anything exciting. No crazy vape mafia. Nothing. There was no sight of the van, the crazy hooded guy or the car that had turned up earlier in the day.
The next few days were fairly uneventful. Mark’s mate was pretty hooked on the vape juice. More so than any other flavour and the crazy people were never seen again. Nate still looked, well even more dull in his eyes.
By the Thursday of Marks last week at the shop, Nate had been arriving in trackies without it seeming like the odd occasion. What was strange was he was wearing what seemed to be a new pair of Nike trackies with expensive Nike trainers that he must have got from somewhere right?
“Nate, where’d you get the trainers from?”
“Ughhhh. I dunno. They just kinda appeared. Fucking mint tho right”
Something seemed off. Like as if thinking of that was straining the cogs going around in his head. Getting jammed up with something. I was trying to think of what as he stood there, with that dull glazed eye look taking drags on his vape. There wasn’t much time to really think much as it was time to cash the till and prepare for going home again.
Friday afternoon sealed it as something weird going on. Nate had been let go at work. Apparently some projects that were meant to be going well and making money weren’t or something. And he had been on one of them that got the chop. Nate had come to the shop and was hanging out, not seeming too bothered in the slightest. He was just pretty out of it, in a good way and not in a depressive way. Just like as if he wasn’t fully there for whatever reason.
Nate woke in a drowsy state on Saturday morning. It only really dawned on him that he was unemployed all of a sudden. Although with a months pay, it was the company’s standard policy for making people redundant. His head had hurt so much doing his job lately as well, it just felt so complicated and gave him headaches every time he tried to do it.
Catching himself in the mirror, he smiled at himself and gave himself a small flex. He liked and even loved how he looked these days. Finally feeling a lot happier than he had in as long as he could remember. Free from work for a while, and just free from stress at all going around in his head. Not like as if he could think that much to come up with much stressful situations any more.
Nate knee he would now have to spend the month looking for a new job. Any kind of job. He didn’t even have an up to date CV to give to anyone, never mind having applied for a new job in a long time. He spent the morning slowly preparing a CV to spend a few hours on the afternoon applying to tech companies for a similar job to what he had been doing.
What he didn’t realise was his CV and covering letters were full of mistakes, both spelling and meaning. His jammed up mind just wasn’t let him think clearly enough to put all of this down on paper easily. It was almost as though it had been a year since he’d done his job but he knew it was only yesterday he was working the job!
After spending a week of rejections, trying to send CVs to everyone he knew. It was starting to get to him a little. “Why was thinking so hard” he thought filling up his tank with that juice Mark gave him. Surprising himself it seemed he’d already used half of the bottle. He took a big drag, relaxing him somewhat. Even though he swore he only took 0 nicotine, it was relaxing. Maybe it was just the breathing exercise or something smart right?
The week was mostly full of spending a few hours job searching, scraping for anything he could do and then a couple hours gym with Mark. Pushing himself even further than he would normally. It didn’t matter if he was tired the next day, it wasn’t like he had anything else better to do.
It was on the fifth gym session in a row where his arms felt incredibly tight and buff. Just like how he liked them to feel. The gym being one of those budget 24 / 7 gyms but with a decent amount of weight equipment. Decent if you meant it was usually always in use by people who had only a rough idea as to how to use any of it. The gym sessions were getting longer as they went on. Somehow not feeling the ache but a need to keep the body moving.
That evening it was more of the same. Protein shake. Chicken. Rice. Veg. Sauce. All of the protein to grow. It was keeping him vaguely sane through whatever he was going through in his life at the time. Grow fuel as he was calling it.
After that was another attempt at crawling through the job sites looking for a scrap of work he was qualified to do, taking a drag or two of his vape until he fully glossed over and fell deep into a tranced like state. Eyes completely empty of any activity going on in there, almost as though they were swirling a little. Pupils spiraling into just nothing but mindlessness.
Nate woke in a bit of a daze staring at his laptop. He couldn’t really remember what happened last night beyond starting to look for jobs or something on his laptop. Staring at what was last on the laptop there was the usual job sites with some submitted application or something.
What was unusual though was the job listed on the submission page. Builder’s apprentice. Why would he ever think of applying to such a job? He didn’t really have the experience or anything for the job. But it wouldn’t be that bad. Like he can lift things right? Surely that would be more than enough for a job doing construction.
The next day he started getting pinged about the job application. A reply at all, never mind how quickly it was was reassuring. They quite liked him and wanted to bring him on site for an interview. Another email with pass details to access the site, all official and wanting to get him on board.
He thought why not give it at a go. At the very least it could be a job. A job so different from what he was used to doing, but a job nonetheless. He might even enjoy it. He never had really thought seriously much of doing something beyond IT and now was a fighting chance of at least giving it a go.
Checking the interview he swore. He had an hour. An hour to get ready. He threw on anything that would vaguely make him look smart causal. Do you dress smart for these interviews? Who knows. So much was trying to go through his head.
Running out of the door and into a taxi booked before getting ready, it felt like a blur. The site wasn’t that far away from where he used to work which was a bit weird. Nate checked the time after arriving and he was about 1 minute to the time due. He made it. Just.
After singing in and filling in some paperwork. It was just generic form filling, probably to pass some time and give some office worker something to do. The interviewers were in suits. Big mistake. But they were friendly and seemed to let him off. They actually seemed pleased with the way he was dressed and his answers to the questions.
Nate had done a few interviews before so the questions were fairly predictable. It also turned out that as he had applied for an apprenticeship he didn’t have to answer any questions about the actual job as he wouldn’t have much of an answer, or thought to give to making one up. They asked him about his qualifications and somehow the answer he had given them on his CV wasn’t what he remembered at all. Or did he. He would have to do college a few days a week in order to complete some qualification or something or he wouldn’t qualify for the job. Nodding, Nate figured he’d just check later and just hope he did good enough to get the job.
Waking up early a few days later, it was a horrible time to be awake at 5:30am but it would be Nate’s new regular time to get out of bed from now on. Today was his first day on the site, and he was to be given his uniform. Getting a bus he’d never got before on his long journey to the work site. It was raining on the journey, he knew the site was going to be pretty muddy making his first day pretty difficult.
Arriving on the site, he got changed out of his trackies into a pile of clothes wrapped in plastic wrap. Fresh and pristine. An orange hi vis polo with a hoodie and orange trackies. Never would be able to miss him in a million miles. Putting them on and then opening the box of the new steel cap boots, the new apprentice was ready for his first day.
Looking at himself in the mirror, he pulled a smile. He liked the look of the lad in the mirror. He knew it was him, but still, so different in a short period of time.
After the end of the long working day, Nate made his way over to Mark’s new job, in another vape shop of all of the things. Turns out Nate had ran out of the liquid entirely and he needed something new. And with a new shop with a different company meant a different selection.
After finding something suitable which didn’t cost a fortune, Nate was pretty happy with himself. Mark hadn’t seen him as happy as he’d been in a long time.
Then something clicked. That box. The note. “For those in need of a change”.
And then, he remembered, the other one was for him to enjoy.
Time to fill up.