It was probably the tall robed figure at the door, dark cloak trailing on the ground and faceless in the shadows, that tipped him off. When the figure hissed and raised a skeletal finger in his direction, he was 100% certain.
This must be the location of the job offer he’d received via carrier pigeon. Excellent.
The figure lurched forward, bony hand opening and closing and the shadows seemed to stretch and bend and reach, a howling voice echoed nonsense words, the sunlight dimmed and darkness began to set in…
“George!” Came a new voice. “How many times have I told you — you’re not to send the new employees into the Void!”
The figure shuddered and the darkness retracted hesitantly.
“This is meant to be a safe working environment, George, and while you make an excellent guardian, I’m afraid I’ll have to let you go if you continue this sort of behaviour.”
Robes askew, the figure retreated to his corner and resumed his inanimate state, sulking.
Living body intact, understandably unsettled, the newly-hired employee turned to the man who had saved him. The man was older than him by a few years, maybe late 40s, with jolly red cheeks and a huge lumpy nose. There sat atop his head the most horrifying thing the young man had ever seen: A greasy mullet, shiny and slimy.
He was sporting a blue vest that read Otto’s Grocer and Hello, I’m Jonathan on the small rectangle over the man’s heart. Below the name, in tiny lettering, the tag read Assistant Manager. The blue shirt rippled with a boisterous chuckle.
“My friend, not to worry, George really only attacks werewolves or people he deems ugly.”
Jonathan looked him up and down for a solid minute, then shrugged.
There was a pause.
“Um…” The new employee started.
The doors slid open, letting out an exhale of air conditioning.
“Now, I’m Jonathan, as you may have noticed. What is your name?”
He took a moment to get his breath back before answering.
“I’m Matthew.” He said. “This is my first day.”
Matthew thought he was pretty normal, generally speaking. Average build, brown hair, huge blue aquatic dragon in his local public pool behind the grocery store, freckle above his left eyebrow, straight A student with a smattering of Bs — mostly in math. Not much else. He’d gone through high school and was working on a degree in the history of religion at the local community college, but it was summer now: he’d decided to get a job.
After meeting George he was rethinking that idea.
“You’ll fit right in here — I can already see it!” Jonathan proclaimed as they passed through the employee break room. He grabbed an Employee Handbook and handed it to Matthew without comment. Matthew surveyed the scene. There was an odd sort of phone box tucked into the corner, a couple tables, a couch and blanket, a pristine coffeemaker, and a whiteboard with phone numbers for Jonathan, and Jerry, the manager.
“There are a couple other new employees who are going to be working alongside you for the summer, and the rest of the year if you decide to stay on!”
If I can handle it for that long, Matthew thought.
“I believe Rachel and Madison are currently tied up in the produce section. You all have a lunch break at noon, but in the meanwhile lemme just–”
The jangling of a telephone cut him off, and he pulled a sleek black flip phone out of his back pocket. He signaled Matthew to wait, holding up one finger, round and sausage-like and a bit hairy.
“Yup.” He answered. There was an indistinct mutter from the phone. “Got it. Aisle 4. Not a problem, I’ll send my newest employee.” He listened for another second, then snapped the phone shut and slipped it back into the thick black utility belt hooked around his denim jeans.
“You’re needed in Aisle 4, there’s a woman there who’s looking for something.”
Matthew was slightly taken aback.
“That’s all?” He asked. “Just a woman who’s looking for, like, the peanut butter or something?”
“Good luck.” Was all Jonathan said, though a small smirk danced on his lips. Matthew left the break room.
“Oh, and Matthew,” Jonathan called. Matthew turned around once more. “Bring a mop.”
When he rounded the corner into Aisle 4, the first thing he saw was the giant squid. It appeared that Aisle 4 was the seafood aisle, and some of the seafood had escaped. The 12-foot jar which read “Pete’s Fresh East Coast Giant Squid” in bold lettering had broken, and released copious amounts of salty water and one giant squid which was definitely not past its sell-by date. Thus far, it had managed to knock over the tank of red lobsters, all of which scurried willy-nilly about the aisle, as well as a couple jars of minnows in oil, which slicked the floor. On the other side of the aisle were rows and rows of canned and jarred fruits and vegetables, and two jars of prunes had fallen onto the ground and shattered. Salt and fish and brine permeated the air and swirled on the ground. An older-looking woman puttered quietly among the shelves, a pointy black umbrella tucked under her arm, examining the jars, heedless of the giant squid flailing behind her and angry lobster casually attached to the velcro straps of her glossy black sandals.
Matthew glanced down at the limp mop and blue bucket in his hand. He took a careful step into the mess, slipped, and landed with a squelch in a puddle of canned plums and escaped crustaceans. The older woman caught sight of him. She marched forward and stood before him, whacking the lobster on her foot with the end of her umbrella, and towering over Matthew in all her four-foot glory.
“EXCUSE ME, SIR.” She bellowed. “I CANNOT REACH THE JARS OF PRUNES. CAN YOU HELP ME?”
“Are you hard of hearing, ma’am?” Matthew inquired, eyebrow raised.
“PARDON ME, DEAR?” She bellowed.
“Yup. Definitely.” He muttered slowly picking himself up out of the muck. Raising his voice, he said, “Let me help you reach those prunes, ma’am.”
She nodded and eyed him over her black rimmed glasses. Gesticulating with her umbrella, she pointed to the top shelf about three quarters of the way down the aisle — three quarters way too close to the giant squid, who was now battling a creeping vine coming from the direction of the produce section.
“Um, ma’am — sorry, what was your name again?”
“WHAT WAS THAT? THE PRUNES ARE OVER THERE.” She jabbed with her umbrella, narrowly missing Matthew’s eye.
“Nevermind.” He surveyed the squid once more. “Ma’am, as an employee of this establishment, might I suggest that you come back tomorrow for your prunes? There appears to be-”
The squid let out a huge shriek, and tore the vine from where it had clung to the tank of small rainbow trout. Otto’s Grocers’ latest shipment of fish was sent tumbling to the floor, and the lobsters quickly went to work, gobbling them up.
“QUICK!” The woman shouted shrilly, arms raised and umbrella hoisted, “WHILE THE LOBSTERS ARE DISTRACTED!”
Thinking of nothing but his job, Matthew made a dash across the slick floor, lost his footing and scrambled, almost skating, to come to a stop next to the giant squid.
“NICE JOB, DEARIE!” The old woman cheered from the other end of the aisle.
One giant eye pivoted down to glare at him, narrowed, and the next minute a huge pale tentacle swept by. Matthew lept to his feet, made a grab for the prunes, and dove onto the ground, waterslide style. He slid right past the woman, who was battling the lobsters with her umbrella, ferocity, shouts of glee, and the occasional comment about Venezuela.
He really hoped lunch was coming soon.
Matthew, Rachel, and Madison were sat around the table in the employee break room at precisely noon. There were vines woven through Rachel’s blond braids, though it didn’t seem to be a fashion choice. Madison had claw marks on her hands, and Matthew — still dripping prune juice, brine, and salty water — was gently dabbing at the scratches with a cotton ball dipped in ethanol. He applied some neosporin and a few jumbo bandaids, before laying his head in his hands.
“How on earth are we supposed to handle this job?” He groaned.
“How on earth are we supposed to survive this job?” Rachel replied, hugging her knees.
“Who knew there would be sabre-toothed tigers?” Madison despaired, looking at her bandaged hands.
“I thought those were extinct…” Rachel scoffed.
“And there are dodo birds in aisle 2. I saw them eating a box of Quaker Oats.” Madison declared.
“So how was your first morning?” Jonathan asked brightly, entering with a sandwich and a smoothie in hand.
There was a chorus of groans. He strode through the room and headed into the manager’s office on the other side, right next to the white board with the phone numbers on it. Before he entered, though, he left them with this:
“You guys just gotta figure out how to deal with it. Oh — and there’s a Code 656 in Aisle 10.”
“But there’s a Giant Squid at large in that aisle!” Madison cried.
“No, that’s Aisle 4.” Matthew corrected, dazed.
“Good luck!” Jonathan sang out.
With that, he closed the door behind him. There was a huge whoosh sound, and the phone number next to Jonathan’s name on the whiteboard changed to simply the word Deceased. George walked out and over to the coffee maker a few seconds later, robs shifting and the vague impression of a smile under his hood.
Rachel choked out a sob.
“Guys,” Matthew said. “I have an idea.”
They gathered close, hesitant to get back to work.
“We should handle all the clean-up jobs together for the first few days. Until we, you know, get a handle on things.”
Rachel and Madison glanced at each other, then back at Matthew. They nodded.
“Alright then. Aisle 10.”
Two aisles away from Aisle 10, they were stopped by a customer.
“HELLO, DARLING. I HAVE ONE MORE QUESTION.”
Rachel and Madison jumped, startled at her loud tone of voice. Matthew was not phased.
“Yes, ma’am, what is it?”
“I WAS JUST TRYING TO GET MY QUAKER OATS FROM AISLE 2, BUT THERE WERE THOSE DODO BIRDS-”
“I told you.” Madison interjected.
“-AND I WAS WONDERING IF IT SAID ANYTHING IN THAT EMPLOYEE HANDBOOK OF YOURS TO HELP ME OUT?”
“Sure ma’am, but I have to check out this situation in Aisle 10 first.”
“NO PROBLEM, DARLING.”
The four of them rounded the corner to Aisle 10, and stopped. There were frozen vegetables in bags lining the aisle, and the steam curled off the rows of popsicles and ice cream boxes.
“I thought Code 666 would stand for, I don’t know, demonic possession or something.” Matthew said.
“He said 6-five-6, not 666.” Rachel snapped.
“Let’s get to work.” Matthew decided, rubbing his palms together.
“I’M EDNA, BY THE WAY.” The old woman declared.
“Somebody should get her a hearing aid.” Rachel grumbled.
“WHAT WAS THAT, HON?”
“Guys!” Madison reminded them. “Is nobody going to acknowledge the dead body on the ground?”
And, indeed, there was a dead body. A man, lying innocently in the middle of Aisle 10.
At least there wasn’t a demonic possession.