Bob's Tattoo and Grocery
by Daniel J. Durand
Graveyard shift sucks. That's it, it sucks, no two ways about it, no making lemonade from those lemons, graveyard shift is a soul-sucking, mind-sapping experience that only the rare person who gets off on misery can enjoy. Naturally, it was the only type of work I could find for my summer vacation.
The local grocery store, Bob's Discount Tattoo and Grocery, had decided to start offering twenty-four hour service to the strange folk who need to buy a gallon of milk or a carton of cigarettes at 3 o'clock in the morning. They needed brave young men and women to man the front lines of the night shift, and, needing a reason to get out of the house during the summer, I applied and was fortunate enough to be hired. It didn't take me long to realize that work sucks almost as bad as being unemployed.
You see, for the earlier part of the evening, we have a few people here and there who come in for the aforementioned odd item, people who for whatever reason just couldn't wait until daylight to purchase an entire week's worth of frozen TV dinners and the latest tabloid magazine. After a few hours or so, the place starts to slow down to the point where even the half-crazed insomniacs on their third energy drink are blissfully blacked out by the sidewalk.
That's why it's called the graveyard shift; everything is dead, save for myself and the other night guy, Paul. Paul is the type who, no matter how long you've been around him, you always feel a little on edge in his presence. He mumbles to himself constantly, carries the trace odor of French onion dip, and dresses like a Vietnam flashback. I swear, he's just one foil hat away from the looney bin.
We hang out a lot, there not being anyone else around for company between helping baggy-eyed customers and stocking shelves. I try not to get too comfortable around him, but his insane rants are somewhat amusing and help pass the time. It was during one of these rants about two weeks into my employment that I started to understand why nothing good ever happens after midnight.
“Getting back to my earlier point,” said Paul, “it can be said with frightening accuracy that creamed corn is a proclamation of the true power of the American government. When you open the can, you pour out the contents, heat it up, and serve it with a spoon. Then you remember how much you don't like creamed corn, and make a mental note to buy another vegetable the next time you go out.”
My mp3 had died about an hour before, so I couldn't help but overhear Paul's stimulating conversation with the cart full of cleaning supplies he was sorting up onto the shelves. I had left the earbuds in so that he wouldn't know I was listening, but he didn't miss a beat when I turned to him and chimed in.
“But Paul, what if you do enjoy creamed corn?” I asked, “I personally find it quite charming.”
Paul motioned to a container of sanitary wipes. “I believe Mr. Fields can put to rest that particular conundrum. It was, after all, the subject of his graduate thesis.”
The container of sanitary wipes began a long and detailed explanation of exactly why it always seems to rain only after a car is waxed, to which Paul nodded knowingly.
“Thank you Mr. Fields, that was quite inspirational. Any other questions, Rodney?”
“My name isn't Rodney,” I replied, “but no, I think it's beginning to make more sense now. Thank you, Paul.”
“What were we talking about?” asked Paul as he placed the sanitary wipes onto the shelf.
“Nothing, Paul. Let's finish stocking the shelves, shall we?”
Paul wasn't listening, as he was busy staring down a speck of dust that had landed near to his left shoe. I laughed silently to myself, finished restocking the shelves, and then walked over to the check out stand to wait out the rest of my shift. Paul joined me a few minutes later, muttering something about the irony of dust build-up in the cleaning aisle.
About an hour after the creamed corn interlude, as it came to be known, I was enjoying a soda while waiting for customers to arrive. None came. I was about to hit what we in the grocery biz call “The Wall”; that moment where your shift is nearly through, but despite your best efforts to make the best of it you can't help but count the ways you could end it all with a single, well-placed swipe from a box cutter. I began to pray to God that something, anything at all of some sort of interest, would happen.
The power went out.
Luckily, management likes to keep a few things under the counters, like mace and adhesive bandages. While thinking that maybe I should start praying a little more quietly from now on, I fumbled around in the darkness for a flashlight. After a moment or two, during which the only sounds were my cursing the dark and Paul's angry muttering, I found the flashlight and turned it on. I turned to Paul, and found him to be even more entertaining than usual.
On his head, he wore what looked like a Jerry-rigged helmet made from what appeared to be a colander, a bit of string, and with pennies glued to the sides. A tool-filled bandolier rested over his left shoulder, and his shop apron, instead of hanging in front of him as usual, was turned around over his back to be a sort of make-shift cape.
“What are you wearing?” I asked, a smart grin spreading over my face.
“This old thing?” asked Paul, “Why, this is just my battle armor. One must always be prepared, you know, should disaster strike.”
Paul reached behind him and pulled forth another object, made from a pair of earmuffs with a roll of toilet paper attached to each side.
“I made some for you, too.” he said.
At first I almost laughed out loud, but then I saw the look in Paul's eye; I could tell he had put considerable care into this. Not wanting to hurt his feelings, I took the apparatus and put it around my head. As it turns out, it was a good thing I did, because that's when the noises started.
It sounded like a sort of shuffling, almost like when an old person walks to the bathroom in a pair of slippers. Sort of a ruffled sliding sound where both feet stay on the ground and shift one after the next. This was followed by a short pause, then a muffled thud like someone had dropped a heavy box. Next there was a tearing, and after that a sort of... crunching.
Paul gave me a brief look of excitement before pulling a machete from his bandolier.
“Let's investigate!” he whispered, running off into the black. I tried to follow, flashlight in hand, but didn't make it very far before I realized I had lost him. I decided to follow the noise instead, and after an uneventful walk I found myself just outside of the snack food aisle.
Just before I could investigate further, two arms wrapped around me, one holding the flashlight toward the floor while the other held a hand to my mouth. I nearly panicked, until I whiffed French onion dip.
“Don't scream.” whispered Paul into my ear, “Just hand me the flashlight.”
I handed Paul the flashlight. Slowly, he raised the beam up, across the floor, then down to the opposite end of the aisle. There, surrounded by a mess of tortilla chips, was a creature straight from the nightmares of the criminally insane.
It had two massive red eyes, set high up on what looked almost like the head of a wolf. Covered in scales, the creature was approximately the size of a large coffee table, with two short, spindly legs and great, long arms ending in massive talons. Jutting from it's mouth were two sharp fangs, which somehow didn't at all impede the rate at which the creature was cramming the tortilla chips into it's mouth. Terrified, I leaned my face closer to Paul's ear.
“What... the hell... is that!?”
“Chupacabra,” Paul said.
“Chupacabra. Native to Central America. I haven't seen one of these in ages.”
“Paul,” I asked, shocked, “how do you know it's a choppa-whatzit?”
“Chupacabra,” Paul answered. “I saw it on the Discovery Channel. That, and because he's only eating the tortilla chips. Probably reminds him of home.”
“Do you think we should call animal control?” I asked, the concern not unnoticeable in my voice.
Paul thought for a moment. “Nah. He'll probably leave on his own once he's done eating. Give him a minute.”
With that, we both watched the majestic chupacabra devour the poor, helpless tortilla chips in what can only be described as a feeding frenzy. The beast would finish off every last crumb on the floor before violently eviscerating a new bag, spilling the contents and raking up the chips with it's razor-sharp claws. We kept the flashlight trained on the display, but not once did the creature even raise an eye to us.
Several hours later, the power came back on. The creature, having eaten nearly all of the tortilla chips at this point, was startled by the sudden change as the overhead lights winked back to life. Rearing up onto it's hind legs, the chupacabra let out a blood-curdling wale before leaping up into the rafters and clambering into the ventilation shaft.
Paul and I sat there for a moment, amazed at what we had just witnessed. Neither of us said a word. The silence was finally broken by the alarm function on my wristwatch; our shift was over. We both clocked out, put away our armor for another evening, and walked wordlessly to the parking lot. The day shift guys were just showing up to relieve us, looking well-rested and at the same time drained from the thought of another day working for a living.
As I pulled away from the store in my car, I could only wonder if they knew about our friend from the snack aisle. More importantly, I wondered if I should ask for a raise.