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at my second shift co-worker who had so graciously stayed later to show me how to clean the machine and change the out of date bag of syrup.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.

DARK DAYS ON THE DIXIE HIGHWAY: DIARY OF A THIRD SHIFT ZOMBIE

At the beginning of the year I decided to take the layoff from my part time employment in the cemetery to get some much needed writing done. For the past two months I slaved away at my computer (and built an awesome bed canopy that I named FORT COMFY) and pretty much stayed in my bedroom during the winter season. I was excited DARK DAYS ON THE DIXIE HIGHWAY: DIARY OF A THIRD SHIFT ZOMBIE was taking shape and really starting to look like a book. I was about ready to have a cohesive rough draft when I realized a word count of about 45,000 wasn’t much of a novel. I figured I’d need at least 30,000 more words for a proper length. Unfortunately, after writing and essentially picking at and reopening old wounds these past two months, I realized that I am running out of material. Getting together something that I can proudly publish will take a lot more work. I am still plugging away at it as well as other stories and scripts I have rattling around in my head. In the meantime, here are two previously unpublished chapters to my grim and gruesome tale.

 

CONDIMENT MAN

 

There was a regular that came in quite a few times; he’d buy a cup of noodles for a dollar and change. He opened it up in the store, poured in the water and popped it in the microwave. He scooped in a bunch of chopped onions and a few jalapeno peppers. He’d squeeze in a packet of sweet and sour sauce or a pump or two of nacho cheese and added a splash of hot sauce. Though I found it to be a cheap and ingenious meal, which he always paid for in change, Condiment Man’s Special Ramen Recipe was a drain to our supply. Particularly, the bags of diced onions I changed over constantly for he always managed to show up just after I threw the old ones out.

The manager blamed me at first for failing to fill them to their proper level. He did not pick up after himself either. I caught hell for that too. She’d yell, pitching a fit about the cleanliness of the sales floor. “Have you even been working? What have you been doing at night? There’s a nacho cheese stain on the counter and just look at all of these onions!” She exclaimed as she shoved the dispenser of fresh relish, onions, and jalapenos aside causing the condiments to splash over with a grating screech across the counter, making an even bigger mess than the one she pointed out to basically everyone else in the store. “How many times do I have to tell you to do your job! You’ve been here long enough!” She stomped and scuffed her feet and yelled as she pitched her fit, blustering and berating me. “There is a stain on the floor! What is that more nacho cheese? This is my store and I want this floor so clean I can lick it!”

“Why don’t you,” I said quietly but loud enough that she heard me.

“What did you say?” Her head perked up and she came toward me.

For a second I fancied forcing her to the floor and making her lick the cheese stain clean. “I said I’d get the mop.” I grinned at the customers who stopped what they were doing and gawked during the  early rush. The store was packed at six in the morning.

After my shift she pulled me into her office and threatened me with the employee handbook and a write up. She didn’t believe me when I told her it was Condiment Man. It was as if he was some sort of convenience store Cryptid, a nocturnal scavenger for ramen add-ins. “That’s bullshit. No one uses that many condiments for anything,” she spat matter-of-factly debunking my sightings of Condiment Man. He might as well have been stealing Tupperware lids, underwear, or single socks.

Then one day Condiment Man came in on a morning that she happened to be there to witness his feeding habits. She was in a mood when she let him have it. Every visit after that I had to charge extra for all of his condiments. A special button was added on the POS machine. Condiment Man stopped showing up as much after that fateful encounter. Some nights when I was alone enough for some semblance of a lunch break, I followed his recipe, including the liberal amount of ingredients, especially the onions. Ramen is, after all, a perfect comfort food and depression meal. I did of course pick up after myself.

 

 

ROPEARONI

 

 

There was a time my freshman year of art school that some friends and I went on an Adderall fueled road trip to the North Country to rescue a friend. We were in the farthest reaches of Upstate New York, the next town over was basically Canada, when we stopped at a gas station to refuel. I squinted in the harsh florescent lighting of the store. It was a stark contrast from the pinpoints of passing headlights we saw for most of the night, and even those grew few and far between as the dark hours drew on.

The walls were a blinding white littered with convenience store propaganda. Posters and decals covered the windows as well, telling all who enter which products to buy for the best deal. One poster on the front glass doors displayed a proud managerial type. Bold lettering on the bottom read Want a career in customer service? All you need is a smiling face!

Something about my surroundings bugged me, the vibe I got, for a seemingly empty store; it was filled two the gills with consumerism, advertisements that practically vibrated and jumped off the walls, targeted to road weary travelers such as ourselves. There were two cashiers working on that desolate stretch of road. For all I knew they might have been just as jacked-up as we were. One would have to be, I surmised, being shut up in a place like this every night. A late night corporate wage slave, paid to bend over and take it from customers, people who intrinsically thought that they were better than you.

Broke and hungry, I wound my way through the isles covered with candy and chips when I stumbled upon a four foot jerky stick. “Holy crap,” I remarked open mouthed for I have never seen a package of dried and seasoned meat of that size and magnitude before, “that is an excessive amount of meat!” For a moment I wished I had the money to purchase it.

I stopped my story to look up at my fellow third shift zombie as he took a break from his security gig for a moment of human interaction. That night, I regaled to him the tale of my encounter with that fateful meat snack. “It was then I decided if I ever ended up working in a place like this,” I waved my hand at the window to the sales floor littered with convenience store propaganda for dramatic effect as we smoked outside, “I was going to fashion it into a meaty noose and hang myself with it. Sadly, I haven’t seen a Ropearoni since.”

“Sadly?” He repeated and I nodded. The irony was not lost on me. “You want to make a noose out of jerky and hang yourself with it?”

“Yes,” I clipped my cigarette to save it for later. I knew I was going to need it.

“You worry me sometimes,” he frowned.

“Yeah.” I shrugged, “look I have to go in and clean some shit. Not real shit this time, thank you Jesus. Oh, by the way, the hose beast of a manager has taken note of our meetings and if she catches me with another ‘late night visitor,’ I’m going to get fired.”

“Damn. I’m not surprised though, I’ve been here when she was here. I’ve seen the way she treats people, the way she treats you. People around here are beginning to wonder which one of you is going to crack first. Why are you still here anyway? I thought you moved.”

“I did, I’m planning on getting out of here soon, don’t worry.” I no longer had the convenience of a five minute walk to work since we moved out of the apartment complex. It grew to half an hour or a forty five minute commute depending on traffic. I had my lines out for different jobs that were much closer to home. Something was bound to bite, and I couldn’t wait to put my time at the Gashole far behind me.

“Yes, you should leave this place,” he put out his cigarette and turned to leave, “but not by making a noose out of jerky,” he amended and went back to his job.

“Many years ago,” I added grimly to myself as I looked off into the night before returning to my expansive workload, “I made a promise to myself and I intend to keep it.”

Diary of a Third-Shift Zombie

Haunt season has begun, and will occupy a good number of my nights and weekends for the next couple months. With adding that to my day job, I don’t know how much free time I will have allocated to write very much of anything. That’s okay – I like being a monster. In the meantime, I have decided to post on this here blog not one, but two, unpublished stories from the gas station saga: Diary of a Third-Shift Zombie.

The Argument

The standard procedure in case of a tornado was to kill the gas lines and take cover in the bathroom. Strong winds blew the doors open and it was rainy as hell, but that was just about it for the weather. Sadly, I had no choice but to continue cleaning the store.

There was quite a build up to the point when the storm actually hit. Customers came in telling me there were 74 mph winds in Indiana. Then it was upgraded to 85. It was only a matter of time before a tornado was heading straight for us. The sirens rang out as the storm picked up considerably. Kill the gas lines run for the bathroom, I thought about my escape plan hoping that I could enact upon it for I really did not feel like working that night. However, amid all the chaos a couple walked in. “How much is it for the 88 octane?” the man asked without even a greeting and acting as if Mother Nature had no intention of baring down upon us that very moment.

“Are these things fresh?” his wife interrupted shouting from over by the roller grill.

“$3.65” I said pretending not to hear her, choosing to take care of one customer at a time. I read off the giant sign in the front of the store that depicted the current gas prices.
“I said, are these fresh?” she asked again this time with conviction.

“Yes they are fresh!” I exclaimed.

“How fresh?” She asked incredulously questioning my integrity.

“I just put them on the roller grill like a half hour ago.”

“88 octane?” her husband asked again from the counter.

“$3.65,” I answered as calmly as I possibly could motioning toward the sign outside. I could almost see it rock as the winds picked up.

“And if I wanted to fill that blazer out there how much would that cost?”

Do I look like a calculator? I wanted to say but kept my mouth shut.  There was a good chance the store could blow away at any second. Please, take me with you I plead to the gale outside for I really didn’t feel like doing the math.

“How much is it?” His wife interrupted again seemingly satisfied with my answer regarding the quality of the overly processed meat products.

“Two dollars for two.” I let out an exasperated sigh for the roller grill was also littered with various signs depicting the prices of each individual item.

“What if I just wanted one?”

“$1.45”

“How much is it to fill up the blazer out front?” Her husband asked again slower and louder for better comprehension.

Oh God. The math. “Um-” My mind churned grasping at any number that would pop into my head. I had no idea how many gallons his blazer held. All I could think about was killing the gas lines and take cover in the bathroom. Even if there was wasn’t a tornado I was tempted to do it anyway. The sooner I got those two out of the store the better. I started to say a number, any number, “Thirr-”

“A dollar forty five? That’s ridiculous!” She interrupted again, there was a hint of outrage in her voice. “I’m hungry. Is the Burger King down the road open?”

Before we could even start the transaction, he turned to his wife to scold her, “we are not going to Burger King.”

“I’m the one that is driving.”

“How many times have I told you not to interrupt me while I’m talking.”

Tornado sirens wailed again competing with the bickering as it ensued. My only two customers paid no attention as the first of the rain began to fall. The lights flickered and the machinery beeped to combat the brownout. The door alarm chirped as the side door swung open in the strong wind. Kill the bathroom and take cover in the gas lines, I thought to myself over and over. Then in a brief moment of zen I closed my eyes and silently prayed to be spirited far away from this place on the wings of the tornado. I never got my wish and business continued as usual.

Clean Hands

The icing on the package of glazed donuts clung perilously to the plastic in tiny creases right at the bar code. It was a struggle, a battle of wits and will as I tried to cash my customer out. I flattened the wrapper, flipped the thing over, and tried and tried at every angle. “I hope your hands are clean.” I heard the lady say faintly with a deprecatory tone in her voice.

“Excuse me?” I asked politely as I finally succeeded in ringing out her item.

“I said, I hope your hands are clean.” She repeated a little louder with a little more attitude.

“Don’t worry, Mam. My hands are clean.” On that note she left in a huff and I was grateful to see her go. Some customers rubbed me the wrong way. Chances were by the way she was dressed she was a nurse and would probably assault the package with an arsenal of antibacterial as soon as she got into work just to be safe.

The hours passed and I commenced with my shift. I still fumed over her remark. Where does she get off telling me how to do my job? Does she think I don’t know how to wash my hands? Is being a cashier is just so beneath her? “Wash my hands,” I grumbled aloud alone while I scrubbed down the cappuccino machine. Half of my job involved cleaning up after people. “I hope your hands are clean,” I repeated imitating her condescending voice and the way she seemed to look down her nose at me. Her thin lips twisted in a sneer. Then I could no longer hold back the rage. I retorted back too little too late all the things I could have said to her face if it wasn’t against company policy. “No lady my hands aren’t clean. They are absolutely filthy. I’m a fucking bio-hazard! I’ve been wallowing around ass deep digging through all of the trashcans. I’ve cleaned the mens’ room toilet without gloves on. Scraping shit off the inside of the toilet seat with my fingernails. I’ve even rubbed one off and touched every single one of these damned donuts in this godforsaken store! That’s right. I said masturbated! I’ve even- ” My litany was cut short for at that moment I realized a customer walked in and I wondered how much he heard.

 

 

 

Dark Days on the Dixie Highway: Diary of a Third Shift Zombie- Chapter Outlines

I have compiled two years of stories, numerous notes, and journal entries of working third shift as a customer service representative at a gas station. They are harsh and harrowing and often humorous tales of a rather dark time in my life. Not just because of the lack of sunlight. There are tornadoes, packs of roving children, dead babies, bowel movements, demanding customers, bitchy bosses, a million pennies, and some pretty horrifying holidays. My short-lived career of a CSR tested my wits and will, the fortitude of my character, my moral compass, as well as my mettle as a writer.

Once assembled into one large file, I began the laborious process of rereading, elaborating, categorizing, and organizing these narratives into something that vaguely resembles a book. So far I have ten chapters broken down into over sixty odd and various entries. Some stories span pages upon pages while others are mere sentences long. There are also bits and pieces of a musical I entertained the notion of composing while working there. What I have down so far is not set in stone. I am sure a lot of it will be moved around, combined, or even cut out.

I was often told that my early morning facebook rants after a long and loathsome shift should be turned into a book. So, I am doing just that. I hope to finish, format, work on a cover, and shop around for a publisher sometime in the near future. With another published book under my belt I plan to sell the hell out of it and move on with my life to far more grand and glorious adventures.

Intro: How To Be Subhuman

Chapter One: Sin and Cigarettes
I got the Job and Touchdown Jesus Burned
The Root of All Evil
Gratuitous Violence

Chapter Two: Bad Weather
The Argument
Night of the Twister
Below Zero

Chapter Three: The Lost Children
Lord of the Flies
Lord of the Flies pt 2
Gone Girls
The Lost Boys
The Baby, the Drugs, and the Lost Hotdog

Chapter Four: Loose Change
Sesame Street
The Time Traveler
Country Crock
Silver Certificate
300 Pennies

Chapter Five: Customer Service Superstar
Clean Hands
Customer Service Superstar
The Customer is Always Right
The Tailbone of America
(excerpts from The Tailbone of America: The Musical)
Midol, Ohio
What Boulevard
“911 whats your Emergency”
“Do I look like a Fucking Restaurant”
The Payout

Chapter Six: Degenerates
Cops
Drug Problem
Barn Door
Drunk Muscles
Hookers
Below the Belt
A Stripper in Need
Bondage Guy
The Blunt

Chapter Seven: Endless Shit Parade
“If it looks like shit, clean it. If it is shit, wear gloves.”
Another Bag of Piss

Chapter Eight: “Happy” Holiday
A Christmas Dirge
Happy New Year
The Easter Fetus
God Bless Baby
Big Toasty
Kilt Lifter
All Holidays are Drinking Holidays

Chapter Nine: Major Malfunction
Crappachino
Ketchup
Log Jam

Chapter Ten: Darker Days
Rope-A-Roni
Robberies
Bad Reasoning
Sweet Merciful Explosions
Punch Drunk
Gas Station Horror Story
Beervalaches and Bitch Tornadoes
Random Song Lyrics
The Deathwish
Dark Night of the Soul
No Week Notice

Gratuitous Violence

There is something insidious about the morning rush. The invasion of headlights coming into view on the crest of a small hill on the edge of the highway, bring a battalion of early commuters arming themselves for the work day with gasoline, cigarettes, coffee, newspapers, energy drinks and lottery tickets. Constant chirping of the door alarm, the beeps and dings of the POS machine and gas pumps pervade the morning air that was so stiflingly quiet no more than an hour ago. With the change machine filled, the trash emptied, all the coffee pots on, the roller grill stocked and the counters clean, I stand behind the register fending off the onslaught. The last two hours of my shift end abruptly as if they were mere minutes. At around five, I resign to my post and abandon hope of completing the rest of the night’s tasks, desperately wishing I had back those hours I spent procrastinating in the beginning of my shift.

The rest of the world wakes when the sun starts to lighten the eastern horizon; I trek home across the parking lot and jump the gully into the housing complex, mentally preparing myself for the next battle- sleep. Even with the new airbed, the bustle of activity behind the counter, the mad cashier dance of exchanging change and pleasantries leaves me too wired to immediately retire. Even in my dreams, it seems, the sanctity of sleep escapes me.

Clown cars of customers cram my unconsciousness. “You can’t reach me here,” I try to remind my sleep self. Unfortunately, it’s too late, they’ve invaded my bedroom and impatiently wait for the jumbo dogs and polish sausages to cook. Hoards of commuters stand outside their cars with nozzles hooked to gas tanks, but no one is there to activate the pumps, so they just beep and beep and beep. Once, I found myself standing in the middle of my room with my arm raised at the ready, “pump one…” I muttered and woke myself up.  I’ve even tried to ID the cat when he wanted in. These phantom episodes of customer service riddled my subconscious for weeks until they came to a particularly gruesome head…

Continued in Dark Days on the Dixie Highway: Diary of a Third Shift Zombie 

 

Lovecraftian Tales of Porn Shop Horror

The Phantom Whacker

Customers left the room in single file. I thought I that was the last of them. Greatly relieved I finally had the store to myself; I started to close the doors after them. With the store key in hand, I stalked to the back room to kick the viewing booth doors closed. It had been months since taking this job, I’d grown accustomed to that ripe spunk smell. What assailed my ears, however, took me by surprise. Standing frozen to the floor, just short of the corner, I heard the distinctive groan and grunt to know that onscreen some guy’s wife was reamed by a monster black cock. The first viewing-booth was occupied. The door cracked open suspiciously and the red bulb glowed overhead. The undertones of wet slapping and a metal clanking sound made me creep back to the safety of the sales floor.

Minutes crept as I waited for the “whacker” to leave, and I hoped no one else would enter. Perilously parched, I planned a daring a five minute break. A dash down the block to the gas station. Once the store was empty, I was free to lock up and leave. Minutes passed, and I turned down the music. The faint noise of the movie clip stopped and there was still no sign of him. Perhaps the store was empty all along. Once again screwing up the courage to check and close the door, I stopped thoroughly perplexed. All was quiet except for that noise. How could it be? Doesn’t he know that the movie stopped? Perhaps I was hearing things. Is that guy still in there? I turned and fled, swiftly and silently as possible. Hoping he should be finished soon.

The second hand crawled, I checked the time in small increments. Pacing and checking the video monitor beneath the counter for signs of life. My friend had not emerged. I was still alone with the whacker. No one else entered, “hurry up and zip up!” I muttered impatiently. The night shift was wearing on me. In my mind, I was hitting up the liquor store, and pouring airline bottle after airline bottle into a soda bottle.

I would have to close up shop anyway to use the restroom, regardless of the noisesome one jacking off. I locked the door and took the keys with me. Preventing this pervert from leaving with merchandise. An empty store awaited me when I returned. “Good God man!” Surely, he can’t still be in there. How long has it been since the movie ended? Was I mistaken? Was I hearing things? But why that dreadful noise. It was my job to mind the booth traffic. Smile politely and slide singles across the across the counter. Who was this man! I thought that perhaps he was the one that liked to sit naked, lathered in lube, seated on the booth floor, waiting. Or the other memorable characters from many memorable tales that frequented the store. With new resolve and an increasingly unbearable thirst. Sobriety weighed greatly. I rounded the corner and faced the familiar cracked door and prepared myself for what horror, I may finally encounter. I reached my foot out and forcefully kicked, sickly hoping give him the scare he deserved for playing so much with my poor jangled nerves. What I found was an empty booth.

Vittles

He must have pretended not to hear it, the sound of serrated plastic, sawing into rare meat. It was a gruesome wet noise. I calmly regarded the only customer as he perused the teen porn mags one by one caressing their covers as I arduously hacked into the steak. I tore through the tendons, and pockets of fat. The cheap plastic knife wasn’t going anywhere, and the fork strained severely under my grasp almost to the point of snapping. He bent down to go through the lower rack of magazines. I took the opportunity to abandon utensils. Picked my dinner up, locked jaw and tore away a mouth full of the meat. And another. Reaching for a napkin, I let out a satisfied growl. My customer was already at the counter by the time I turned around. “Vittles,” he chuckled.

“Dinner” I spoke through the napkin as I wiped away the blood. “I just killed it this morning.” I wanted to say, but held my tongue.

The Thing in the Sewer Pipe

Weeks passed but the horrific event still stained my brain. I should have listened to our esteemed jizzmopper’s parting words that night. He warned me not to venture into the bathroom. “Put up a sign,” he said, “TOILET IS CLOGGED. OUT OF ORDER.” I stood in front of the door, poised to tape up the printer paper warning. The dire words of caution were written in thick Sharpie marker. A series of exclamation points followed. Who knew what terror lay behind the half-cracked door? Something scary always lurks. I shouldn’t have looked. But I had to see where I put my hand to shut off the bathroom light. The last thing I wanted to do was to slap blindly on the sticky white walls of a porn shop bathroom. The fetid odor stole my breath. The floor was slick, thickly coated in whitewashed mop water. There was an overflow. Gagged by all the spunk and spume, I floundered for the lights, slammed the door and slapped on the sign. After running outside, I slowly recovered, taking in a lungful of fresh air and a quick cigarette. There was an hour left of my shift, bar hopping with friends was next. After that a drink was definitely in order. I replaced my work shirt and entered the martini bar, where I welcomed my companions. “So, did you have an extra jizzy day?” One of them remarked snidely. The bastard thought he was funny.

It was two in the morning when I finished the nightly merchandise inventory, counted cash and closed the register. The smut hut was shut. I was ready to arm the alarm and leave. Everything was in order. All accomplished on autopilot. My mind was elsewhere entirely; drifting incongruously between a horror-filled dream world and my own bleak reality. The day held both jobs, a bitter disappointment for I was not allowed to venture out to the bars afterward. I damned my unfortunate coworker for getting himself fired on a Friday. Because of him I had been working straight since nine the previous morning. A small break to introduce a steak to frying pan before I set off to peddle porn until the wee hours of the morning. In between the sparse yet steady stream of customers and viewing booth “whackers,” a compilation of Lovecraft’s tales filled the rest of my time. It preyed upon my imagination. As the night wore on I wondered if it was the wisest choice of reading material. Almost ready to leave my porn shop prison, I made one last break for the bathroom. It was dark and I missed the sign, a sharpie marker warning against flushing. I should have known that with the sordid past this toilet held. This time wasn’t going to be any different. Sure enough, I absently flushed, and nothing moved. Damn, I thought, wondering if I should attempt it again. From the floor came a noise; a guttural gurgling sounded from the sewer hole. It stayed my hand and made me jump remembering the spunk-soaked floor. In times past, I encountered a mysterious foam, erupted from the dank depths. God only knew what clogged the pipe this time. I didn’t wish to encounter what lurked beneath the porn shop floor. What monstrosity could possibly mutate from so much semen? Gallons and gallons of ejaculate. I left and slammed the door behind me after leaving a note of apology upon the counter; I set the alarm and exited. I was ready for bed and to give my weary head a rest.

Happy New Year

I put up the register-closed sign and was readying the final safe drop when the cop walked in and approached the counter. He strode with purpose, not just stopping in for a pack of cigarettes,a cup of coffee, a doughnut, or can of Copenhagen. He was on the job, and deep down I had a feeling that I was going to lose mine. This is how it ends, working as a third shift gas station attendant. Canned on New Years Fucking Day. It had to happen sooner or later. In the business, there are sting operations with underage kids coming in and buying beer and cigarettes. We lost a co-worker that way during the summer, didn’t bother to ID, the cops came in and she was fired on the spot. Emails circulated among the other stores in the district, copies were printed out and posted by the registers. “‘Tis the season for Cigarette and Alcohol Stings,” was the subject line, instilling a great wave of paranoia in with our holiday cheer. There were three violations in one night just the week before. I had been hyper vigilant and extra paranoid for the holiday season. I must have slipped didn’t ID, probably when I was too worried about my own damn stomach acting up, or if the stupid bagged onions would ever get changed over. I looked to the co- manager as she stood beside me scanning the scratch-off tickets and gave her a “nice knowing you” look. Seems I won’t be handing in a two- week notice after all, I thought grimly “Hello officer,” I tried to keep my voice calm.

Continued in Dark Days on the Dixie Highway: Diary of a Third Shift Zombie