Work Dreams

I’m still working at the graveyard. In fact, recently, I have posted a story, in which I cobbled together a number of stressed-out work dreams I’ve had about the whole ordeal. I still like my job, mind you, and I wonder why my brain gets that way.

Speaking of brains, I have somehow gotten a wild hair into mine that The Happy Valley should now be an audio drama instead so I have been working on a script for that. Dear Gods help me, why am I like this?

https://www.booksie.com/607835-work-dreams

ESCAPE FROM BOILERTOWN

This is my only day off for I’ve been pulling about sixty hours for the past three weeks. As a result, my room is trashed, littered with clothes, and coffee mugs. I’m afraid I have ants on my writing desk. I wish I could pay someone to clean and do laundry while I sleep. Instead I did manage to get some work clothes washed for round four and wrote the teaser chapter for the next book. That is what I call time management.  

Welcome to Boilertown

The room she found herself in was similar to the one in the house in Abernathy Avenue. She had no idea how she made it back upstairs for the last thing she remembered was staring at the splintered wood of the entrance to the coal chamber in the cellar. She looked around the dining room, it was still the same front room, it had the same shape and dimension but it looked bigger and more spacious. There was no furniture, and no vast collections adorned the shelves. The floor was covered with plush throws, ornately woven carpets, and plump tasseled pillows. Instead of a vast number of shelves, tapestries covered the walls. “How?” she paused and asked the air as if coming out of a dream.

“That is exactly what I want to know.”

She spun around and found Grander standing there, his face a mix of shock and puzzlement. “No one comes in from the outside.”

“Huh?” Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge asked, unsure of what to say next. “Bracken?” she asked remembering he was the reason she was there in the first place; her nightmares.

“Who? What? Now tell me! Where did you come from?” There was desperation in his voice. “As I said before no one comes from the outside.” 

“I came from-“she paused for a second and faced Max Grander, who seemed to look equally young and old at the same time and was currently not making any sense. Suddenly this was all too much for her to handle. She wanted to think of something to say, but nothing came out. So she just shut her mouth and turned around. “I came from my bed,” she resolved and that is where I am going to go. Good night.” She said and pushed past him.  

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Grander raised a warning hand and stepped in her direction barring her path.

“Excuse me?”

“It is different here,” Grander said, his voice exasperated as if he was tired of explaining this to her. Time and space are different here, you know. I wouldn’t run off because I might not ever find you, whoever, or however you got here.”

“Maximillian Grander, it is me!”

“Don’t you Maximillian Grander me. I have no idea what that is.”

“I don’t have time for this, I’m going to bed.” The Spiritualist slipped past the confused looking Max Grander that denied being who he is. He protested but moved aside nonetheless, figuring she would soon find out on her own. Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge turned the corner of the room and placed a hand upon the railing and was about to take the first step. Instead she paused and looked up, and up, and up, as the painted black stairs stretched before her. There must have been hundreds if not thousands, a veritable stairway to heaven, or somewhere else, for the upstairs of the manor was no longer in site.

“See,” not Grander said as he appeared behind her.

The Spiritualist jumped in spite of herself and for a second swore she was still dreaming. She spun around and sat down on the first stair. Her bedroom and back to some semblance of sanity seemed so far away. “What? Where are we?” She asked her voice was hopeless.

“I don’t know what this place is called exactly.” Grander’s voice and face were grim set as he answered her. “But I refer to it as Boilertown.”

“What?” She couldn’t help but ask again as she stood back up and looked around at the bottom of the stairs, and to her utter befuddlement she saw that the adjoining rooms of the kitchen and the parlor might as well have been miles apart from each other. It was also the first time she realized that the dastardly cat that led her there in the first place was nowhere to be seen. “You’ve got to be kidding me, Mr. Grander?” She turned around to face him.

“Why do you keep calling me that?” he was greatly puzzled at his new house guest. “How did you get here?”

Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge shook her head looking as if she made up her mind. The room that she was in held true to its dimensions, the front door was in view. That is where she planned to make her exit. She wondered why she hadn’t have done so earlier. “I’m leavening now.”

“I’m afraid you’re not.” He shook his head; his voice didn’t sound threatening there was more of a heavy truth to his words.   ”You can’t leave this place. I’ve tried.”

The Spiritualist chose to ignore his warning. She was beginning to wonder what had happened in her previous life for her to end up in the accursed manor on Abernathy Avenue in the first place and what she had done to deserve it.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” He said and shook his head for he already knew what was going to happen as his new and confused surprise house guest made a mad dash for the front door. He tried his best to reason with her. But he also knew she would find out soon enough, and the truth would be unbearable. He watched her visage shrink in the distance that spanned before him. He took a step forward following her, keeping a steady pace, for now he had a journey to make.

“Oh no,” she wheezed as she as she burst into a full on sprint. “Not again,” she didn’t know far she gotten but the front door wasn’t moving anywhere. It should have only taken her a few swift steps to reach her destination but it felt like she ran a mile already. Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge hated running, it was the worst. She wheezed again gasping with the strain, she could feel her face growing as red as her hair. She forced legs to push her faster. The door was still within sight but it was if she was sprinting in place. With a final burst of will she propelled herself forward. She groaned and closed her eyes as she felt her feet lift off the ground as she catapulted to the exit. Just as she thought she could fly no further she landed and the tips her fingers touched the wood molding of the door and the heavy leaden fabric of the curtains. She opened her eyes to see that she had made it. But her exhausted celebration was short lived as she madly grabbed for the door knob to find it was not there. She only grasped air. She got a closer look to see that there wasn’t one. “NO,” she said and repeated as she patted down every surface. “No, no, no, no, no.” The Spiritualist threw back the heavy leaden gray curtain revealing a plate-glass window. She remembered the curtains were lacy and wispy and the glass not being as thick nor tinted a putrefying green color. She squinted out the window and then her eyes went wide.

 The front porch with the crumbling bricks, wobbly railing, and rotten roof that she remembered were all but obliterated. So was the ground around the house. It was craggy and full of holes as if it had been blasted. Then she realized as the glass wasn’t tinted at all. The air was filled with a heavy haze that contained swirls of yellows, browns, greens, and reds. The Spiritualist could not put a finger on the color for did not know if a name for it even existed. Her eyes grew wider as she stared in horror as the cloud of heavy murk dissipated slightly as it wafted by and she saw forms shifting about in the rubble ridden world. “What,” she asked herself and then amended, “who?” for she saw that there were people outside the house. “What are they doing out there?” she asked shocked as she turned around to see to see the man that wasn’t Grander was still some distance away. She didn’t want to look back out the window but she couldn’t peel herself away. “How are they even alive?” She asked herself for they looked deader than anything, with flesh that sloughed off exposing bare bones that seemed to glow under the odd irradiated light. She could see the empty eye sockets as they continued to blindly go about their business. There were too many to count before the cloud cover once again took over. She heard a whistle ring out from sky above that grew incrementally louder as something descended at a deafening speed. The house rumbled under the weight of the sound, outside the sky lit up in a blinding light. “No!” she saw in horror and spun around as a flaming rock plummeted to the ground. The house shook violently upon impact obliterating everything outside. She turned away from the door and shut her eyes and covered her ears, still seeing the flash as it pulverized the people outside. When she opened them again, the man that claimed to not be Grander, but definitely did look like him approached her. His face looked grave. “I’m afraid there is no more outside,” he said. His was voice steady for he did not run like she did. He slung back the curtain, and she was thankful for the dust and rock filled haze that once again descended, obliterating the view.  “That was close,” he stated as he looked around grateful that the manor still stood erect.                    

The Spiritualist did not want to look out there ever again. So she turned against it and sank to the floor with her back sliding down against the door. “How?” She asked herself as another dark conclusion came to her, what if she really was awake. What if this was her life now? “Oh no,” She muttered and looked up at him with her eyebrows in a knot.

He glanced down at her in a grim grin in agreement to her sentiment.

“This is another nightmare, it has to be.” She stood up again once she managed to pull herself together. The Spiritualist put her arms up, brought her fingers together and delivered a vicious pinch to Max Grander’s forearms.

“Owww,” he squirmed and reeled under her grasp. “Why are you doing that!?” his voice was shocked as he managed to squirm free as he rubbed and patted the aggravated skin to try to soothe it.  

With her finger still held together she brought them up to her face to study them. His skin felt real enough. She lowered her left hand to about waist high and crooked her elbow in and gave her own forearm a hard pinch. Digging her fingernails into her skin, she bit her lip and whimpered before letting go choosing to hug her waist instead. “What? How? Where?” All the questions came on at once and she once again felt the floor rise up to meet her.

Not Max Grander dropped down beside her. His voice was sympathetic. “I’m afraid you’re not dreaming and I don’t recall how long I have been there.”

“What is this place? What happened here? And who are you?” She remembered the autonomous people she had seen outside, toiling away, despite the fact that they were burning. “Who are those people?” Then she asked the most important question as she looked him in the eyes. “What did you do?”

“What did I do? I survived. I woke up like this, appeared out of nowhere much like you. A ‘friend’ brought me here before he left me to go downstairs. I don’t know how long it has been since then. Time doesn’t exist anymore. I’m afraid it is even collapsing in on itself at this point. All I know is I’ve been here by myself, well sort of by myself, for a very long time.”

Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge realized her mouth was hanging open; it was a lot of information to digest. “If you’re not Grander, then who are you?”

“I am called LeMerde.”

“Le-Who? That’s French for-“

“The Shit, I know.” He got back up, and offered a hand for the Spiritualist to do the same. She reluctantly accepted, and pulled herself up to stand beside him. Grander, LeMerde, she mentally corrected herself, brought a sweeping hand to the dining room and motioned dramatically outward to the rest of the house, declaring himself lord of his territory. “And this is all mine.”

“I thought you said that time was collapsing in on itself, how come everything is spread so far apart? Shouldn’t it be closer together?”

LeMerde shook his head, “it’s more like the water peeling back before a tsunami and I’m afraid the wave will crash here soon enough.” He let slip a small mad chuckle as he delivered the grave news. “Welcome to Boilertown.”

“Wait,” a thought dawned on the Spiritualist as she remembered the how of his tale of woe. “You were brought here by a ‘friend’ you said. Did he have long dark hair, tall, gaunt, and really super pale? Did he say his name was Bracken by any chance?”

“He didn’t quite look like that,” LeMerde tried to remember the face he tried so hard to forget. “No, he didn’t call himself Bracken then. His name is LeMorte.”

Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge thought about retiring to the floor again for she knew what that word meant as well. “I know where he is. He is downstairs.” She said slowly.

“I could have told you that, I saw him walk down those stairs and never come back up.”

“There is a machine down there in the cellar, somewhere, with a million orbs powered by a million souls. It is a contraption called The Consciousness. He has hooked himself up to it; he has been down there the entire time.”

LeMerde looked at the floor again as well as he could peer miles beneath the earth’s surface. “How do you know all of this?” he returned The Spiritualist’s gaze.

“I have just woken up from nightmares about all of this.” She shook her head and looked at the door to the cellar stairs. “I’m pretty sure I came from the coal chamber down there. How I ended up here is beyond me. If we are going to survive that is where we have to go.”

He turned toward the cellar door. The words were grave ones indeed. He was afraid she’d say something like that and he said as much. “Fine, okay.” He said after a spell for the downstairs frightened him. It defied all laws of reality, he had ventured down there once before and nearly made it back out with his life. He felt makeshift bandages on his chest and arms that hid beneath his shirt, they covered gruesome claw marks he was pretty sure were festering at this point. “We’ll go down to the cellar, but we have to be prepared. We have to be armed.”

“Armed?” Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge asked.

“There is someone I would like you to meet.”   

The Happy Valley: Mother Millipede

I have been writing like a fiend these past few weeks and as a result, I have nearly filled two handwritten notebooks, transcribed them onto a computer, and reached the end of The Happy Valley.  There are a few chapters in the middle that need to be flushed out and then I go through the entire thing from the beginning in the painful process of editing it.  To make matters worse I have managed to tie this story in with the previous iteration: The Boilertown Saga. I may have opened myself up to writing another book, and possibly a third. Dear Gods, help me, what have I done and will it ever end?

In the meantime for the month of May, it is the busy season in the cemetery. In preparation for Memorial Day we can work as many overtime hours as we can handle and I really want to buy a car. I don’t know how much more writing I can accomplish during this time.  Originally, I wasn’t planning on posting much more of this story for things have gone off the deep end. Fair warning, this chapter is a bit “spoilerly” so to speak. A lot has gone down in a short amount of time. I have begun to have slight trepidation about the story line, for how convoluted and weird is too convoluted and weird and is such a thing even possible?     

The Happy Valley: Mother Millipede

The Spiritualist stood just inside the doorway of one of the largest unused rooms in the decommissioned church. All of the furniture and statuary were gone a long time ago for the place hadn’t been used as such for a quarter or more of a century. “I thought you were behind me,” she heard Bracken behind her, his voice worried and felt his grip on her arm as he tried to lead her out of the house. With her free hand Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge brought a finger up to her lips silencing him. “She’s sleeping,” she pulled her arm free and pointed. Bracken followed her finger. To his horror he saw the massive Mother Millipede curled up in the center of the room. Between each segment was a pair of legs that clutched an egg. Words failed Bracken as a low whistle escaped his lips for there must have been a million eggs and twice as many legs. Unwound, the thing must have been at least a fifty sixty feet and every bit as vengeful while caring for her young.

“We have to get out of here,” Bracken urged once more.

“I said shhhhhh,” Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge vehemently shushed him as she stood staring transfixed. “You don’t want to wake her.” She’s right, he thought. The two of them tensed as they watched the legs clutching the eggs twitch in a ripple. The Spiritualist and the former ghost witnessed firsthand what those eggs became. Metamorphosing from larvae to segmented death with gnashing mandibles.

“We need to get out here,” Bracken said for a third time. “I can’t stress this enough.”

“We need to burn the place down,” she answered resolutely.

“What? Deeds’s house?” Bracken mouthed, even though he knew that she was also right about that.

“What if this isn’t the first clutch of eggs and who knows how many more will be released into the world? We have to act fast before The Mother wakes the babies. Too much time has already been spent talking about it.” Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge added credence to his thoughts. “If Deeds was here with us, she’d say the same thing.” The Spiritualist answered in absentia for her absent friend, “she’d probably ask what are we waiting for?” Bracken caught a glint in her eye reminiscent of the firelight that had yet to happen.

Octavia Anton Deeds was busy walking the proverbial walk of shame in the custody of The Twins through downtown Knowlton’s Corner. They had her cuffed and flanked on either side. She trudged along slowing her pace on purpose, staring at the ground, and nearly tripping over her own feet. They did feel weird to her, with the extra skin growing between the toes, much like her fingers. Deeds swore for she knew she had done something dumb. It was the third time that one of The Twins had stepped on her heel, “come on,” they reprimanded her and one of them nudged her with a knee to the back of the leg. Deeds stumbled a couple of steps and almost brought them down with her. She wasn’t injured or anything, she just wasn’t ready to go just yet. For the first time in a long time she was happy, “playing river pirate” while Knowlton’s Corner burned. All of her nightmares of drowning had ceased, she was able to utilize her new abilities, and she even befriended a bog witch. Most of all it was the freedom she missed. The Twins had come like they said they would and she had to answer for her transgressions. She did still did not understand what their role in all of this was, nor did she particularly care to at that moment. She had a feeling that it might have something to do with the coal chamber on Abernathy Avenue. “Will you please stop doing that?” they replied in unison and she felt another quick jab to the back of her leg with a knee. She stepped up her pace for moment for they too close for comfort.

“You could just shoot me with that gun of yours. You could carry me?” Deeds begrudgingly mumbled for it sounded like a better idea the more she thought about it. “Please?” she asked in earnest.

“Keep walking,” They answered.

“Or I could just play dead and you don’t have to shoot me?” Just as Deeds said that she stopped, loosened up her joints, and started to go boneless. They both gripped her restrained wrists and yanked up hard before her legs gave out taking the two of them with her. That was her plan until her arms were pulled at an odd angle and she jerked herself back to feet. “Owww,” she muttered as she shook off her failure and brought her head up just in time to see Maximilian Grander up and about out of the house on the other side of the street some distance off. He was heading towards them in the opposite direction hunched over and walking backwards. “What?” she muttered confused as she watched him draw closer and she saw that he was dragging someone. He looked every bit suspicious as he craned his neck around in every direction to see if anyone was there to catch him in whatever heinous deed he had committed. He was close enough for Deeds to see that it was heinous indeed. The head of the body he dragged behind him lolled to the side at a drastic angle. It was apparent the victim had been garroted and nearly decapitated. Deeds got a better look at the deceased; her confusion grew to shock when she realized it was Maximilian Grander himself. She stopped short and stared in befuddlement, once again getting her heel stepped on by the Twins. Grander stopped dragging his murdered doppelganger when he realized that he had been seen. He almost dropped the body and stood up in shock as he turned to face the folks on the other side of the street. His welcoming grin was more like a grimace as he nodded nonchalantly at The Twins, who reciprocated the awkward greeting feigning their own innocence. “Grander?” Deeds forced his name out. He looked confused as if he didn’t know who or what she was talking about. “Max Grander?” There was a bit more uncertainty in her voice the second time she said his name. He shook his head at her, signifying that the subject was dropped and bent down to adjust his grip on the dead Grander’s armpits as he cradled the body in the crook of his elbows and kept on dragging. Deeds stood there blinking rapidly for a second and looked askance over each shoulder at The Twins. Something clicked into place. “He did not know me at all. Is the real Max Grander the dead one?” Deeds drew the dark conclusion not exactly knowing how she got to that point for none of this had made sense for an awfully long time. “Wait,” she paused and turned around to look the pair dead in their faces. “You two are the same person?”

They each nodded once, “same person, different parallel,” That One answered.

“There used to be third.” This One added slyly.

“But we don’t talk about the third,” They said in unison.

“Huh, This One, That One, and The Other One.” Deeds muttered as she mused for a minute, before she had more time to process everything she was herded further down the street.  

Bracken stomped down hard on the grub and he cringed as it squished and the gooey innards splattered over his boot and up his black pant leg. The mess barely had time to register as he swung his leg up and brought his foot down on the next one, and the one after that. He lost count because there were so many. He switched feet so both of them could shoulder the blow as they exploded under his boot heels. The massive Mother Millipede had woken up. She unfurled with a piercing screech and released her clutch of young from her legs, as soon as the eggs hit the floor they hatched and all the larvae wiggled and crawled and it was only a matter of time before they too curled up and twitched and a million more millipedes molted. No longer concerned with keeping quiet, The Spiritualist screamed back at The Mother’s face. “We need to leave!” Bracken shouted over the din as around him all the babies stopped their wriggling. Not only were they about to be released into the world but Deed’s house was set to burn. In their mad search to find a way to torch the place, they found a stockpile of incendiary fluid in one of the closets as if it was there just in case the occurrence should arise. “NOW!” Bracken roared.

“DIE!” The Spiritualist shrieked one last time with blood-lust in her voice. Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge turned on her heels just as The Mother reared up on hundreds of thousands of hind legs. She paused to ignite the makeshift torch of rolled up papers that the adolescent millipede had kicked from under Deeds’s boarded door of her bedroom. With the torch lit she made sure to hit every wet surface on her way out and Bracken did the same as they tore out toward the outside. He waited in front of the blasted front door, shielding his eyes from the smoke and rising heat as he made sure they weren’t being followed. The Spiritualist circled around the perimeter to all the wet windowsills and boarded doors making sure she sealed all the possible exits in a great wall of fire. She met back at Bracken just as The Mother screeched and so did all of her young which had barely begun to sprout legs. He turned his gaze towards her. She looked exalted as her exuberant eyes reflected in the firelight as she paused to try to catch her breath. He found himself wondering who she really was and what happened to her in the coal chamber. She wasn’t the same Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge that emerged no more than fifteen minutes later. Before them the stained-glass windows broke and fire and smoke belched out.  A flaming baby millipede squiggled out and died upon hitting the ground. It was followed by a few more siblings who tried to make their escape. Bracken was ready with his boot but they also died upon impact. The final screams of The Mother were still heard inside as well as a great thrashing and crashing as the roof collapsed. “Yeah, you better be dying!” The Spiritualist hollered and punched the air triumphantly; her voice was manic with rage at the dying cries of The Mother. Bracken brought his head down and almost gagged as he looked at his boots and trouser legs for they were covered in the milky white pulp of countless millipede babies. He too hoped that the fire that raged inside what used to be the house of Octavia Anton Deeds killed the creature and all her young. There was something about the way that Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge was acting that made him pause.  She looked back at Bracken when she noticed that he was staring at her. She smiled back but he could see that it was forced. There was something behind her eyes that she wasn’t ready to let out just yet. He had a feeling it would be growing there until she did.

The air hung heavy with an acrid smoke of a charred chitinous exoskeleton, Bracken coughed into the crook of his elbow and squinted as he watched her draw closer to him. “Hey,” she said as she approached, tears streaming from her excited eyes as The Spiritualist gripped Bracken’s hand in both of hers. “We did it, we killed them all.” She paused for a second, lending an ear toward Deeds’s place, she could no longer the cries of the apocalyptic arthropod. “Let’s get out here.”

“And go where?” For the moment, the former ghost was at a loss for what to do next. The smoke was getting to him.

“The Post,” The Spiritualist answered as if she knew the answer to some great cosmic question. “I’m sure Deeds will show up there if she hasn’t already.” She gave his hand a reassuring squeeze and led him out of the front yard and back into the heart of Knowlton’s Corner.

DAY JOB PT.2

Over this past week I grew a wild hair that I must rework The Happy Valley from the beginning. I have found that it is an arduous process and I am only a couple of chapters into it. In the meantime, here are some more photos of the cemetery. I wasn’t lying about them taking up so much space my phone.

DAY JOB

Well, today I emerged from my winter writer nest and went back to the old day job, which happens to be in a cemetery. I’ll try my damnedest to keep up with the writing this work season. There will, however, be photos – a lot of photos. (My phone is so full of them that it doesn’t want to work as a phone any more.)

Vacation Photos

I promised my family I’d make them a wall calendar of our August vacation in the Adirondacks. Needless to say, I am running behind schedule so the starting month for the calendar is going to be March. I am currently up to my eyeballs going through thousands of photos. These are a few of my favorites. I’m also not ruining any surprises here, for this year’s theme features candid family photos.

Diary of the Third Shift Zombie: Major Malfunction

Here are a couple more tales from the gas station saga. These are from a  chapter called Major Malfunction in which everything I touch breaks in the typical literary conflict of  Man Vs Machine.

BLOOD SLUSH

 Radiant unnatural red pooled on the counter in between the frozen mocha, French vanilla cappuccino, and the tropical punch slush machines. It seeped between the cracks of the cups where they were stacked up and bled beneath the display unit of single serving coffee creamers. It oozed into the open drawer where we kept the parts needed to complete the task. The syrupy tropical punch slush mix pooled on the floor at our feet. The two of us swore simultaneously as we watched in a complete state of shock as the deluge happened in slow motion. “I’ll get the paper towels and a mop.” I sighed and said as I glanced quizzically at my second shift co-worker who had so graciously stayed later to show me how to clean the machine and change the out of date bag of syrup. Something told me it wasn’t supposed to turn out that way.

I watched her work earlier, as the myriad of components were systematically washed, dried, and reassembled. The whipping chamber was emptied and rinsed out, the dispensing nozzle soaked, and the propeller cleaned. All the dust was wiped out of every crack and crevice. It was a laborious process. It looked like she did a decent job and I hoped to God I wouldn’t have to do it again by myself in the near future or if at all. Of course, a couple of customers complained that the machine was out of order for routine maintenance on the muggy summer night.

Disaster struck the second she snipped open the corner of the fresh bag and poured all of the contents down the hatch.  It immediately dropped out of the bottom and stained everything in its path a bright unyielding red. She fumbled trying to hastily take everything back apart as I struggled to stop the swelling mess before it got even worse.

“I need a band-aid,” she said suddenly and stood up straight as she held her hand a loft. She had gotten herself good and how she managed to do it was anybody’s guess. She went back to administer first aid on a sliced finger. Her blood mingled in the slush mix. It was hard to tell the difference. Not there was enough to time to watch as the customers crowded around at the beginning of my shift. “Looks like you spilled something,” one of them chuckled and said as I cashed him out.

“You think?” I added and swept my hand over the blood slush spill. His face grew serious as he noted the magnitude of our mess.

“The thing just broke. Mercury must be in retrograde or some shit like that.” I said through my customer service smile and tried to have a good sense of humor about the situation. Sadly, my statement was lost on him.

“Well good luck with that,” he said and left. It was then I looked up and happened to catch a glance at my unfortunate coworker as she resumed her task with a bandaged hand. My eyes went wide as she reached for another bag of syrup. “Nooooo!” I shouted, ignoring the line of customers and practically vaulted over the counter, slipping and sliding on the recently mopped floor as I ran to her before she reached for the pair of scissors. “Don’t pour another in there!” I shouted as I moved to swat the bag out of her hand.

“What?!” she looked perplexed. “But we have-”

“Don’t do it! Don’t trust the machine! Put up an out of order sign on it for now. I’ll look at it during the night if I have enough time. Go on, get out of here. Go home,” I said. The mess was almost cleaned up, and a she had already stayed an hour or so over her time to help me. “Are you sure?” She looked as if she had a long day already.

“Yeah, go.” I took one last look at the rest of the beleaguering mess before running back to the counter to resume cashing out the customers.

It was one in the morning shortly after the beer coolers closed when the store died down and I took time out to glance at the sticky red owner’s manual for the accursed equipment. It was in the drawer during the spill. “Lube!” I shouted aloud unaware of any costumers that may have entered the store as I happened upon the answer to all of my problems.  “You need to lube up the gasket!” I dug into the drawer and pulled out a spare little black rubber gasket. I grinned and held it aloft at a customer who came in and started pouring himself a cup of coffee as he could care less about the gasket. The bottle of lube, however, was nowhere to be seen. First or second shift must have misplaced it the last time the machine was cleaned.

DEAD KETCHUP

Out of all the condiments and condiment accessories the ketchup and mustard pumps will forever be my nemesis. For something so simple there were far too many working parts for my bedraggled brain to handle on some nights. Inside are plungers, caps, springs, and tubes.  Each individual piece has to be taken apart, scrubbed, and the contents squeezed out of the nozzle when the container is emptied and then refilled.

“I think I got it this time,” I said to myself as I assembled all the pieces accordingly and primed the pump. Nothing came out. I grew to loathe the things, especially when there was no other recourse then to take all apart and try again. After the third time trying, everything was smeared in a sticky red mess. It got the counter and dribbled down to the floor. Ketchup oozed out of everywhere else in the damned contraption but the nozzle. Am I missing something? Is there another part that I’m forgetting? I started to fret. A thought nagged at the back of my mind and I pictured a mythical missing piece, a tiny spring perhaps or gasket lube, tucked away somewhere. Maybe it fell or was stuck in the drain. To think, littlest spring could very well be the source of all this agony. I was just about to dart back and scour the kitchen again when a customer walked in. I nodded in acknowledgement, as I stood over the ketchup pump as if I was a surgeon trying to resuscitate a dying patent. I looked down and noticed all the red splotches and smears on my hands and arms and all over my work shirt. No wonder why I got a weird look from her, I frowned as I cobbled the pieces of the pump back together poorly as opposed to having it splayed open for the entire world to see my shame. I ran to the hand-washing sink to clean myself up enough to cash her out.

After that, I made my decision to ignore the deplorable dispenser. There was so much more that had to be done in the store. For one the food cart was left out of the freezer, still leaden with all of the tube meats, taquitos, and condiments. It had been there for about an hour or so, infringing on health code violation territory, while I spent so much time fiddling with that accursed pump. I only managed to fill six of the twelve coffee pots and boy howdy that was a big no-no especially during the calm before the morning storm, which was set to descend upon us at any second. All of the counters had to be wiped down and trash bagged up and walked to the dumpster. I had a guy pay me in a pile of sticky car pennies and those had to be rolled up.

No more than a minute after the jumbo dogs were deemed heated enough to be eaten, a customer went without ketchup. “Uh, miss, the ketchup’s not working,” she said frowning as she held up her bare jumbo dog. The dispenser of doom mocked me as it sat on the counter, reduced a poorly assembled decoy. What was I missing? I wrung my brain for any answer but I could not wrap my brain around it.

“I know. I’m sorry I can’t get it to work for some reason.” I sighed and then gasped as I was struck with a brilliant thought. “Oh, there are condiment packets! Just over there on the other side. There is mustard, mayonnaise, sweet pickled relish, and we even have hot sauce!” I felt exulted in the fact that my customers would not go without their condiments and I wouldn’t have to deal with the ketchup container any more. I thought about sliding it straight into the trash hole in the counter, or perhaps drop kicking it into the parking lot; out of sight out of mind.

But still, it bothered me greatly. Once the store was again empty, I put it back together the right way and pumped once, twice, thrice, and nothing. My hands were again strained a sticky red. This, I thought, this is the meaning of madness. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results! Why couldn’t I leave it well enough alone? I felt myself becoming unhinged. Why won’t you work!? My brain screamed I pumped harder, and then I tried it slower, gently priming the piece. The ketchup only got up the tube so far and nothing but air spurted out. “Come on! Work damn you! Work!” I cried when I was alone; pounding the thing as if I was trying to bring a loved one back to life. At the same time I pictured myself picking up the full container, and smashing it upon the floor. Oh what a big bloody mess it would make- a beautiful bloody mess. I fantasized about running around with bright red hands smearing ketchup wherever I could reach. I thought about signing my name so everyone knew this masterpiece was mine. I could roll in the puddle on the floor and make ketchup angles.

The manager would surely have a coronary when she walked in. I’d be fired, hauled away in handcuffs, or even murdered. All of those options looked like a sweet release from my wretched life as a third shift cashier. “Why? Goddammit! Why?” I wailed as I balled up my fist and pounded at the thing live I’ve never pounded before. “Why don’t you work you bloody son of a bitch!” I screamed. In the midst of my fury I failed to hear the door alarm as another customer happened to walk in for coffee.