"If Alex catches you with your phone, they're not going to give you a warning, retard," Janelle laughed. "They'll just fire you."
"I can tell them I had an emergency call, nothing they can do about a single dad taking care of his kid, right?" Ben shot back.
Janelle smirked and continued to stock the shelves full of Lego boxes. Her long brown hair tilted slightly as she tried to reach the top shelf. Her shirt lifted slightly exposing her pale, toned stomach.
"America the beautiful, reach a little bit higher-"
"Fuck off, creep!" Janelle snapped, playfully punched Ben's arm.
"Easy, easy! This phone cost a ton!" He replied.
"Well then maybe you should have thought out that before perving on me. I'm going back up front to pick up the last of the returns. I'd like to leave this shithole before Alex tonight so I don't have to listen to his awkward stories while I wait for my ride."
Janelle took her empty carriage and pushed it to the end of the isle.
"Getting an eyeful yet, creep?" She giggled.
"You're worried about getting in trouble and you're hitting on me across a whole damn isle?" Ben smiled coyly.
"Pfft, no one is here. This place sucks on Sunday. We'll see Alex or another manager several times more than we'll see a single customer. Go get the rest of your items rookie," Janelle smiled and turned the corner, leaving Ben's sight.
He turned off his phone's camera and replaced it in his pocket. Ben was scrawnier than Janelle, but a lot taller so he adjusted some of the boxes she had poorly sorted on the top shelf.
"Whoa, shi- err, sorry Mr. K, you scared me. This place is weird without the music playing," Ben spoke.
Alex Karatsis was a middle aged man, thin glasses, no facial hair and even less on top. Ben knew he was nosing around, at this time of day, it was all about getting the store neat. They would be closed in two hours and he'd get to go home.
"How has your first week been?" Mr. K asked, his voice as neutral as always. It scared Ben how oddly devoid of emotion nearly every conversation he had had with Alex or 'Mr. K' so far had been. "I know coming from a smaller store to one as large as ours can be difficult."
"Oh ... no, it's not so bad, just more to keep me busy, right? The store I worked for had like, four employees. Hillgrove's is a huge compared to my dad's place, so yeah it's definitely a switch but I'm doing good, sir."
"I'm glad to hear it," Mr. K said.
Ben doubted it.
"Keep on task and tell me if you need assistance."
And with that Mr. K was gone. Ben nearly screamed as a hand grabbed his shoulder.
"SHIT come on!" Ben yelled.
"Dude, you're way too jumpy," said Devin.
Devin stood about six feet tall, only an inch or so bigger than Ben, but his brown skin and tattoos intimidated Ben a lot more than he cared to share. Ben and Devin were friends in middle school but didn't see each other much now that they went to separate high schools. Devin was also a senior and Ben a junior, so it was basically taboo for them to be friends.
Speaking of taboo, Ben wondered if Devin got stuck managing the backroom because of the two sleeve tattoos he had gotten for his eighteenth birthday. He'd have to ask him.
"Very funny, Hadji," Ben spat back.
"You'll get used to it, Mr. Quest. It is quiet here at the end of the weekend, but it'll be your favorite day of the week eventually, trust me. If you're not doing anything, I could use some help checking some last minute items in out back," Devin said.
Ben still had one crate of items up front at the service desk that he had to put out, but it could wait for a bit.
"We got some weird summer shit that I don't remember us having last year. Like, tiki torches and lawn furniture and random crap like that. I mean, it's March but we got a lot of this stuff already so it's slowing us down out back," Devin explained. "I just need help at least getting some of it sorted so the night crew has less work."
"Don't worry man, I'll help you sort through it. I know counting has never been your strong point," Ben joked.
An hour went by as Ben and Devin stood in the receiving bay and dug through a pallet of new merchandise, sorting out carts to give to the other grunts for them to put away after the store closed.
"So, having fun being part of the Hillgrove Family?" Devin sad.
"Oh yeah, I'm stoked," Ben said, throwing a box of lawn ornaments onto a cart.
"It's not that bad dude, I'm sure you're already getting paid more than what your dad was paying you at the convenience store, besides you get health benefits all other kinds of cool shit and if you're an asshole, you can stick around and try for management. That's especially fun if your idea of a job is walking around and ruining peoples' days," Devin said.
"Yeah I'm an asshole, but I think I'd like to be a better paid asshole than that," Ben grinned. "What the hell are these?"
"Oh, I think they're candle holders or something, you know, citronella?" Devin explained.
"That would make sense, they just look ... shitty." Ben held two little tiki figurines and tossed them back into their box.
"Well, our child laborers are not the best from what I've heard." Devin's Gemini, a gun-like device with a screen on top that tracked inventory throughout the store, beeped lightly. "So only here a week and you're already wooing some poor girl."
"Well, being a dad at nineteen wasn't my plan, but that doesn't mean I can't hold more auditions," Ben said.
"Okay Mr. Casting Couch, what would some senior girl want with a guy who missed a year of school to take care of a kid whose mother ditched you basically twenty minutes after it was born? You're probably already starting to get boring, Dad. Do you watch NASCAR yet? Try on any waders or flannel shirts?" Devin chortled.
"Fuck you," Ben shot back. "That box of tiki guys really stunk. Like rotten eggs."
"Has anyone seen Tom? The front doors are all locked up and there are still carriages outside," Aaron Hillgrove shouted across several registers.
"Sorry Mr. Hillgrove, I haven't seen him, I'm almost done with this drawer then I'll go get him," a short middle aged woman replied.
"Thank you, Terry."
Mr. Hillgrove walked away from the registers and up a set of stairs to his office overlooking the department store. Terry was always nervous to see Mr. Hillgrove leaving his office, the man was punctual and would never be seen outside of it unless there was something really wrong. He had Mr. K and Callie to handle his problems in the store.
But Tom was a different story. He had been a cart pusher for them for almost four years. Nice kid, but a slacker of the highest order. It bothered her because when he did work, he was the best worker they had, it was motivating the boy that was the problem.
Terry finished counting the last register drawer and watched as her cashiers continued to return product to the shelves. Now that the store was closed, in an hour she would do her last checks and be done for the evening. But she couldn't leave with carriages still in the lot.
Terry made her way through the expansive store, heading straight for the break room. She hated that she expected to find him back there, but her patience was wearing thin and if she caught Tom in the break room again it may be the last time. The night crew hadn't arrived yet, so the silence was deafening, however it made Terry happy. She spent every day of her time with Hillgrove dealing with customers so any silence she got, she cherished.
Making her way through the double doors behind the infant section, she wandered down the cold cement hallway and into the employee's area. Lockers, even a few shower stalls and of course, the break room. Yet, Terry found it empty. Only a few scant wrappers and some crumbs left by previous visitors.
If I find you out here, I can't help you anymore.
She wandered away from the employee area and took a right instead of a left back into the store, towards one of the back employee entrances. Terry wasn't dumb, she knew he smoked weed and had heard associates trying to quietly ask him for a sale or ask why he would be dumb enough to smoke on company property. No one had ever caught him doing it and Terry had largely suspected it was because he waited until these late hours. The cashiers were the best source of gossip and as their supervisor, she knew basically everything happening in the store.
She knew enough to have a good idea where to find Tom and it was by this back entrancee. Terry pushed on the back door ever so slightly but it felt sticky, warm even.
"Tom, are you out here? Get your ass up front, I can't help you this time if you get in trouble, Mr. Hillgrove asked me to find-"
And with a sudden jolt, she was silent. Moments before she lost consciousness, she caught a glimpse of Tom's body, sticking to the side of the building. His body was suspended by some dark green, jelly-like substance that seemed to move, almost ... intelligently. His bones showing in several places, as if he had been slowly eaten away and his skin was bloodied and ripped, almost melting. His clothing was almost entirely gone.
"Sweet Mary, Mother of Jesus..." Terry gasped.
His face was protruding from the blob just enough for him to spit out a few words.
"Ith's okay ..." he gurgled as blood trickled from his mouth, the nasty green ooze shifting around him. "I'm going home now."
Terry tried to scream, but was silenced by a sharp pain in her back and a piercing stab from the green mass that had been sliding down the top of the doorway overhead. She looked down at the blade-like tentacle wriggling out of her chest and before she could even begin to struggle, the thing above her snatched her up with a thick, green appendage enveloping her entire head.
Everything she felt was fierce, blinding pain and agony as it enveloped her torso and lifted her upwards. She felt her throat and lungs fill with what felt like a liquid fire and then the pain was too much. Her mind grew hazy and scrambled.
Terry was going home, too.