's 2013 Horror Write-off:


Submitted by Olita Clark

Joey’s shift began by checking the doors.

When he had first taken this job, at an interview that seemed to have taken place an impossibly long time ago, this task involved him turning on the automatic sensors that would slide aside the great panes of glass. Now, he ensured that they were locked and blocked. If he was running early, the young man would occasionally take an old rag and some windx to the few exposed surfaces that glistened like veins of gold between the stacks of cat litter and metal folding chairs and detergent buckets. He made sure not to look outside

Next came managing stock. Things were loaded onto carts and rolled out onto the vast showroom. The product always changed, but it was usually last week’s sale, at double the original price. Items already on display were dusted and shuffled slightly upon their cold perches. Joey used an electronic calculator (Now $9.99 in the school supplies department!)( and several small notepads to take inventory. Careful attention was paid to the food and household amenities departments. They were always low, but the trucks were always late. The meat had gone bad long ago.

He would then sweep, mop and refill the bathroom stalls with toilet paper as needed. Check the doors again, just to be sure. A good employee was always meticulous in the details.

Basic chores completed, Joey would at last take his place at register number seven. The young man would adopt the customary forced smile of the retail worker and focus his mind upon customer service. He manned this post for the remainder of his shift. Well, usually, unless one of the other departments requested assistance. But the store had been quite as of late, and the most shuffling about Joey suffered during his eight or so hours was a brisk walk down the main thoroughfare to the gardening department. Their doors were faulty, and he was the only one in the entire store who knew how to return them to working order. He took a small amount of pride in that.

Sometimes, undesirables would enter the store. They were loud and unruly and generally an unwelcome disruption to an otherwise pleasant shopping environment. Ousting these individuals was also a task included in Joey’s job description. He would open these confrontations by asking them to leave in a calm and polite manner. It never worked, but was vital to maintain the company’s image. When civility failed, Joey was forced to take more direct action. He would beat the intruders thoroughly with whatever heavy object was at hand, then set the still-withering pieces of their anatomy aflame with gasoline obtained from the automotive department, a procedure detailed on the 119th page of the Revised Employee Handbook. The bludgeoning tool was then turned into Guest Services to be marked as a faulty product and returned to the manufacturer.

Lately, Joey had been feeling sick.

It started yesterday morning with a sore throat and nose. He had just finished repairing the gardening department’s doors again when the symptoms appeared. By midday the mystery bug had progressed to stirring up a pounding headache, centered in the back of his skull. The thought of going home fluttered briefly across the young man’s mind before being stamped down like an errant insect. It would look bad on his permanent record if he took off in the middle of his shift. Joey couldn’t leave the store, no matter how bad he was feeling.

Joey glanced up from his nest on the break room floor to peer at the time clock on the wall. Even through blurry and unfocused eyes, the four digit number frozen upon small monochrome screen stood out as if emblazoned by neon.

His current shift was on its 2,023rd hour. The first few days had been so hectic that clocking out had completely slipped his mind; by the time he recalled the task, undertaking it seemed pointless, foolish even.

“Overtime.” His throat was like a desert, his voice a harsh croak. Joey grasped at a nearby bottle, trapping within a cage of numb fingers. The small torrent of clumsily downed water provided little relief. Yes, overtime. Mandatory overtime, but overtime nonetheless. If they ever put things right, the store would owe him a nice chunk of change. Provided, of course, that this small transgression was kept hidden. Joey was loathed to abandoned his station but…well, he just needed to lay down for a minute. Yeah, a couple of minutes-ten, maybe fifteen a most. Then he would be ready to resu-

A flash of agony tore his head asunder. The young man let slip a strangled scream as his vision danced black around the edges. He heard the faint clatter of plastic upon tile, as if the noise had echoed down the length of a great tunnel.

Coherent thought was slow to return, and when it at last showed its face again, it was draped in a curtain of thick, white fog. Yet a single thought was written upon the blank tapestry in the blazing font of the time clock, a fact he had so foolishly allowed himself to forget. A cold sweat broke across Joey’s body as he envisioned his manager returning to discover the single remaining employee under his charge had forgotten by far his most important task.

The young man dragged his limp and cold body upright. Perhaps if he was swift now, previous transgressions would be forgiven.

Joey's shift always started by checking the doors. Joey's shift should always end by checking the roof.