Rack diving in Aisle 13.

“This is what I was talking about,” Jeff said as he pointed at the shelf in question. “It’s a really tight squeeze but there’s a huge pile of boxes back there that need to go back on the shelf if our inventory numbers are to be accurate this year.”

I nodded, silently enthusing at my chance to do some rack diving, the latest phase in helping the store prepare for inventory day. Other members of the inventory prep team were working in other aisles also to retrieve any fallen boxes from the tight space behind the shelves. And now my chance finally came.

I kneeled down on the floor and started clearing the bottom shelf in preparation for the task at hand. It did look like a tight squeeze but I recalled tighter squeezes than this during the years past when I worked this job. It did mean working nights for a month but served as a much-needed change of pace from my day job working as a parking lot attendant.

“Can you fit in there?” Jeff asked.

“Oh yeah,” I replied as I began to slide onto the shelf with ease. “This one’s OK.”

“I’ll be back to check on you in a bit,” Jeff said, “I’m going to check on the others. Just get what you can, okay?”

Just get what I can? Heck, I’ll get all the boxes back there.

I continued my slide towards the back of the shelf and already I could see the large pile of boxes that had fallen to the floor. What a mess, I thought. There was barely room for me to stand up but somehow I managed to get back on my feet and start clearing the space behind the shelf.

Then I heard what sounded like a whisper. I stopped working and listened intently. Nothing but the cheesy music playing on the store’s PA system. Before I resumed my task, I heard it again, this time loud enough for me to make out the words.

“Potato chips.”

It was a hideously raspy voice that sounded like fingers scraping across a chalkboard, maybe worse, and it sounded like it was coming from just a few feet from where I was standing. Only I couldn’t see what it was.

“POTATO CHIPS.”

This time the voice was louder and I could now see the hideously deformed creature emerge from the shadows. Its skin was deathly pale and lumpy with a few strands of hair at the top of its head. It had two small dots for eyes, mere slots for a nose and a large mouth filled with the most grotesquely misaligned teeth I had ever seen…

“POTATO CHIPS!” the creature screamed before beginning its wobbly scramble to where I was standing.

Suddenly a bag of potato chips slid into view from the bottom shelf.

“Hurry,” I could hear Jeff’s voice, “Just get what you can.”

The creature grabbed the bag and wobbled back to its hiding place. As it began devouring the potato chips, bag and all, I hurriedly put away enough boxes to at least clear a larger section of floor but it was still a mess back there.

“Okay, that’s good enough, you can come back out.”

“But there’s still a lot do to back here.”

“Please,” Jeff insisted, “the creature’s almost done eating and I don’t have any more potato chips!”

I glanced at the creature one last time and saw that it was in fact almost done with the bag. The panicky tone in Jeff’s voice suggested a very unpleasant outcome of this particular situation so I stooped down for my return trip across the shelf and back into the aisle where Jeff was standing.

“You okay?” Jeff asked.

“Yes, but what was that back there?”

“No matter,” he sighed, “let’s find you another aisle to work on.”

I walked with Jeff towards the middle of the store to aisle 26, which seemed brighter with all the lights on display. “You can do this one,” he said as he led me to the shelf bearing my next task, “I don’t think there’s anything back there but boxes.”

I hesitantly cleared the bottom shelf and proceeded to slide towards the back of the shelf where once again I saw a mess of small boxes on the floor. I started working, trying to forget about the horrific sight I had seen just moments before.

Then I heard what sounded like a whisper. I stopped working and listened intently. Nothing but the cheesy music playing on the store’s PA system. Before I resumed my task, I heard it again, this time loud enough for me to make out the words.

“Pretzels.”

The Ungone.

Ding dong.

Ron answered the front door and saw his neighbor Peter whom he hadn’t seen in decades.

“Ron, how the hell are ya?” Peter asked. “Welcome home!”

“Thank you,” Ron smiled as they shared a tight embrace. “It’s great to be back.”

“And back in your old house,” Peter grinned back.

“And back in the old neighborhood, just the way it was before my transfer to Florida.”

“Amazing how time flies,” Peter shook his head. “The golden years sure catch up to you before you know it. ”

“Thanks for reminding me,” Ron sighed. “Please come in.”

Peter stepped inside and looked around the house before taking a seat in the living room next to Ron. “Looks nice in here. Just the way it was when you lived here back in the 60’s. Where’s the wife?”

“She’s out running some errands. She’ll be home shortly.”

“Ah. So how’s the rest of the family? Kids all grown up?”

There was an uncomfortable pause in the conversation before Ron responded, “Mostly.”

“Mostly? What happened?”

“Ian passed away last year.”

Another uncomfortable pause.

“Ron, I’m so sorry,” Peter replied softly. “What happened to him?”

“Well, basically I threw him out of the house. He spent his 50 years just idling away in his room with no job, no education and no desire to move out and start living his own life. I lost my patience with him and just showed him the door.”

Peter nodded.  “Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.”

Ron nodded back. “Anyway, a month later, someone found Ian’s body in the woods. It’s sad to see a life wasted like that.”

“Ron, no one ever lives a wasted life.”

Yet another uncomfortable silence began to set in. Peter’s eyes began wandering around the living room before they focused on what looked like a family portrait hanging on the wall. Ron noticed this and spoke up, “That was taken at Disney World last month. A family reunion of sorts.”

Peter stood up and walked to the portrait for a closer look. “Nice. Ah, there’s Jeff and Sue. I still remember them when they were just kids. And now, they’re all grown up with families of their own.”

Then Peter fell silent. The silence lingered to the point where Ron began to sense something was wrong.

“Are you all right, Peter?”

“Ron, did you say Ian passed away last year?”

“Yes, I did.”

“And this picture was taken last month?”

“Yes. Why do you ask?”

Peter turned to face Ron. “Ian’s in this picture.”

What?

“Take a look at this.”

Ron stood up and joined Peter. Peter pointed a shaky finger at the person standing behind Ron in the portrait.

“Oh my God,” Ron whispered. “You’re right.”

Would you rather?

I was sitting at my desk at home paying bills while playing a game of “Would You Rather” with my smart speaker.

“Would you rather predict the future or change the past?” it asked.

“Change the past,” I replied.

“You are unique,” my smart speaker responded. “47% of people agree with you. Next question. Would you rather have a book written about you or a song written about you?”

“Song written about me.”

“I like the way you think. 53% of people agree with you. Next question. Would you rather drown in the bathtub or self-combust in the kitchen?”

I looked up at my smart speaker.

What kind of question was that?

“95% of people agree with you,” the smart speaker said without waiting for my response. “Next question. Would you rather be squeezed to death by a boa constrictor or trampled on by a herd of elephants?”

No way I’m answering this.

“Stop,” I said to my smart speaker, hoping to put an end to this typically family-friendly game.

“45% of people agree with you. Next question. Would you rather gouge out your eyes or cut off your tongue?”

“STOP!”

“76% of people agree with you. Next question. Would you rather-“

Before I could hear the next question, I unplugged my smart speaker, opened the window and threw it out on the street. Then I gasped at the sight I had just seen.

There were smart speakers flying out the windows of homes all over my neighborhood.


The ghost hunters.

Our first night. Steve and I arrived earlier this afternoon at Galilee, the abandoned retirement community rumored to be haunted by ghosts and poltergeists. We found our way into one of the apartments, which, to our surprise, was still fully furnished. We set up our gear in the bedroom which had two beds. All that was left to do was wait until dusk and watch for any signs of paranormal activity. To help us wait, we decided to take a nap.

A few hours later, it was beginning to get dark. As the sunlight faded, we could hear noises, noises of scratching, tapping and the occasional whisper. Steve and I held our breaths, hoping we weren’t spotted by the ghosts. Suddenly Steve’s bed began to swell as if it was being inflated. He tried to hang on but the mattress took on a round shape as it became so large that it began pressing up on the ceiling. Finally, the mattress exploded with a loud bang as Steve fell to the floor. He sat up in a daze, trying to figure out what has just happened.

“Bummer with the inflatable mattress, huh Steve?” I said.

After a long pause, Steve’s reply filled me with terror.

“Ian, I don’t think my mattress was inflatable.”

One unfortunate night at the bar.

It was a very rough day at work. Instead of working 8 hours, I put in 12. Countless deadlines, aggravated clients and misguided negotiations boosted my stress levels beyond tolerable levels. By the end of the day, though, everything jelled and worked themselves out to everyone’s satisfaction. But my nerves were still shot.

On the way home I stopped at a bar for a drink. The mood here was festive as a live band played its string of contemporary hits. I sat at the counter and saw dozens of bottles on the shelf along the mirrored wall behind the counter where the bartenders worked. Curiously, there were also lit candles along the bottom of the shelf.

A bartender walked up to me and placed a coaster on the counter in front of me. “What can I get you?” she smiled.

“I’d like a Bloody Mary, please.” I replied.

The bartender leaned forward and said, “I’m sorry, it’s really loud in here. What did you say you wanted?”

“Bloody Mary,” I repeated.

“One more time?”

“Bloody Mary!” I shouted.

Suddenly the candles behind the bartender began to float as bottles began to fall off the shelf. The entire bar fell silent as the lights began flickering. All eyes were focused on the mirrored wall that was now trembling and shaking to the point where it almost looked ready to break. Suddenly a ghostly woman with deathly pale skin and long black hair leapt out from the mirror with her hands trained on my throat.

As I lay on the floor weakened by the attack, I could see the bartender take a piece of chalk and draw a diagonal line over four short vertical lines on the chalkboard behind the counter.

“That’s the fifth time tonight,” she announced. “Now taking bets for number six.”

Cleaning up ‘Salem’s Lot.

After reading Stephen King’s novel ‘Salem’s Lot, I came up with some crazy ideas to further enhance the story. I see this as a sign of a good book, one that stirs up your imagination to come up with ideas like this one.

It was well after midnight when I pulled off the road towards the woods just outside the town of Jerusalem’s Lot, a town in Maine known for its population of vampires. Many have been curious but few have dared to visit the town itself. I on the other hand was determined to rid the town of the vampires to once again make it safe and habitable.

Slowly I drove down the dirt road that ran through the woods where the vampires were known to hide and attack unsuspecting passersby. Everyone in town was a vampire anyway, so it was necessary for them to venture out of their territory in search of fresh victims.

I turned on my hazard lights and pulled off to the side near the trees. Then I opened the trunk and retrieved the tire jack and my flashlight before sitting down at the rear tire on the passenger side. The trap was set. All I had to do was wait.

Sure enough, I heard a rustling in the bushes behind me as someone approached. The stray light from my flashlight illuminated a friendly but fiendish face. The skin was deathly pale with a reddish hue around the sinister green eyes. The smile revealed sharp fangs amongst the rest of the yellowed teeth. No doubt I was in the company of a vampire.

“Can I be of assistance?” the vampire asked.

“Oh no,” I replied nonchalantly, “I’ll change this tire myself. Perhaps I’ll have more energy after a quick nap.”

With that, I reclined on the ground and closed my eyes. It was only a matter of time.

“You make this too easy,” the vampire hissed as he lunged for my throat. But instead of his fangs sinking into my flesh, they sunk into an air hose wrapped around my neck. I pressed the button on the remote control hidden in my hand and an air pump roared to life from its hiding place in the trunk. Instantly the vampire’s head began filling with air like a balloon before exploding with a loud bang seconds later, sending the lifeless body falling to the ground.

One down, who knows how many left to go.

I put everything away in my car before driving to a different spot in the woods to set up the trap once again to lure another unsuspecting vampire.

Then I was faced with a dilemma. Either I can continue this vampire trapping all night or venture to the heart of the woods to eradicate the very source of evil that has plagued Jerusalem’s Lot for centuries. Finding this source won’t be easy, let alone eliminate it, but I decided to give it a shot.

I slowly drove down the dirt road while keeping an eye out for any clues that could lead me in the right direction. Maybe an increased presence of vampires? Or perhaps a barren landscape with nonstop lightning and thunder?

Then I saw a road sign ahead.

THE SOURCE OF ALL EVIL

NEXT RIGHT

With a sigh, I turned right and there I was, at the very spot that transformed Jerusalem’s Lot from a sleepy small town into a dreadful realm of the undead. There, in front of me, was a wretched church that stood under an atmosphere of pure fear. If I am to save this town, then I must go inside.

And inside I went.

To be continued…