Time and a Half

Mel Reynes

“If you’re doing your grocery shopping on a Sunday night, you done fucked up,” Chris said seriously. He was probably a little high. You needed to be on something to work the deli counter at a supermarket.

“Look at her, yo. Like, she could be home, watching the game. Sleeping. Getting laid. Whatever. But she gotta get wafers right now.. Go home, dummy, don’t stay here,” he gestured under the counter where customers couldn’t see. I looked out towards the big cookie display on an end cap. There was indeed one middle-aged woman, alone, dressed in a striped top and khakis like she was about to go boating. Our store was about an hour from the beach, in a desert made of identical ranch homes and strip malls. She should be on a pier in Boca Raton, not the south ass end of Miami-Dade County.

“Shoppix: where empty shelves are a pleasure,” he chuckled at his mangling of the store’s tagline. The woman by the end cap looked over at us and tensed her lips disapprovingly, and headed down to the dairy aisle. The aisles were indeed pretty bare. Almost everyone did their grocery shopping on Saturday, wiping out the fresh and best food.

I started cleaning the sandwich station, trying to get ahead so we could get out before ten. Sunday was the deep clean night with time and a half, but was also the short staff night, and we were expected to clean like we had double the people. Perfect for the college kid and stoner. Everything had to be broken down, soaked in cleaning solution for at least 20 minutes, rinsed, and re-assembled. It took forever. My shoes were permanently damp from all the caustic cleaning solution and meat juices. My mom wouldn’t even let my shoes in the house. I had to leave them on the porch.

Twenty-five minutes until closing. We could confidently turn her or anyone else away unless they wanted sliced meat. Company let us shutdown half an hour before closing so long as no one was in line. It looked like we’d be getting out on time. Hell yeah.

“Hey, Davey, I gotta go take my break, be back in twenty,” Chris flashed me a sly smile and headed through the swinging back doors of the deli before I could say anything.

That was the only bad part of doing a shift with Chris. He was a beast when we had a big line. But he liked to time “breaks” for the last part of his shift. He’d go vape and breezily come back to “supervise” cleanup that was already done.

I didn’t mind. I hummed along to the best hits of the 80s, 90s, and today from the supermarket speakers and set the sandwich bins to soak. With no customers bothering me, I would get this done in no time.

I did wonder where Chris went to get high. There were cameras everywhere. Employees used a key fob on a door through the meat department to get out. That meant having his card swipe on record for when he took his break during cleanup.

The deli section also had an emergency entrance that led behind the building, but that had an alarm. No cameras there. Cameras were to catch folks stealing from the store, not to catch the store committing food crimes.

That left the eerie storage areas. There were towers of food two stories high in there, always half-lit to save money. It was more like a tomb than a place for food. Once there had been a single potato on the ground for three weeks that no one touched. That potato had been damn weird.

Friendly chimes announced the store was closing in ten minutes. The lights went to half mode. It was enough to shop by, but the ominous lighting encouraged customers to finish up and get the fuck out.

I was carrying a tray of shredded lettuce when a huge crash came from the dairy department. The sound was gloppy with the crunch of plastic. I fumbled the tray, spraying wet gunk everywhere. I peered over the counter, but couldn’t see anything.

“Hey, ya’ll alright back there?” I called out

No one responded, but then a single yogurt container was hurled out. Laying in the blue light of the dairy case, mangled and dripping. The air left my lungs. I had a very bad feeling about whatever had chucked yogurt that way.

A roar rolled out from the dairy aisle. A low wave of rage that hit me right in the chest. My heart started fighting to leave my chest. I fell down behind the counter.

Shaking, trying to control my body, I looked out through the meat and cheese. The bright fluorescent lights inside the case made the store beyond much, much darker. I could hear something coming. A slow click-click-click of movement towards the deli. My ears were hot. I wanted to throw up.

I turned around and looked at the large swinging doors labeled IN and OUT. Just twenty feet from them was the emergency exit. I could probably dash across the two acre parking lot to the car and peel away before it got me. But whatever was coming would hear the alarm and follow me. Even a brainless zombie could push a door.

I looked around for a weapon. Surprisingly, there were very few real knives in a place dedicated to slicing meat. Just mounds of processed and smoked meats.

Right, there was the meat. If that thing didn’t like yogurt, maybe it would like some meat. Carefully sliding open the door of the cooler enough to fit in my arm, I tried not to attract attention. The cool air from the case felt nice. I touched lots of cornered edges, which meant cheese. Not sure if this thing would be down for some colby jack. But then my hand landed on a rubbery tube, hopefully bologna. Everyone likes bologna.

I peeled off the plastic wrapper of the meat to expose a full log of liverwurst. It smelled strongly of dark iron. I turned it in my hands, imagining myself throwing it. I said a silent thank-you to Coach Burger and little league baseball for teaching this crappy little guy how to throw less-bad

I turned to face the counter fully, balancing in a crouch on the front of my feet. I imagined how it would go. I would stand, throw it like a spear—and once the monster went for it—I’d duck, and crawl to the swinging doors.

I counted to three and sprang up, miscalculating the ability of my sneakers to grip and stumbled back. My toss went wild, the liverwurst ended up in a case full of prepared foods near the deli. I fell on my ass into something wet.

The clicking sound sped up. A large, dark shape approached the prepared foods, shoving its mass into the plastic wrapped meats. It gave off another one of those roars that vibrated my bones. I jammed my head between my knees so it wouldn’t see me.

I had to get something better. Visualize the case in my head. I’d just pulled out liverwurst. That was right next to the cheeses. Then there was: roast beef, turkey, ham. Get over to that side of the case. Pull out the roast beef. Throw it far as fuck and hope that the thing went for it.

Slowly, I crossed the tiled floor, wiping as I went so I wouldn’t slip again, then paused for a fear spasm, inched forward, repeated. The thing was tearing through the prepped food case. Metal and glass collapsing with a crunch. It had crawled up over the low barrier and into the case. Fuck you Chris, where were you?

Distracted, the thing had found something to eat. I spied a big hunk of pastrami.  Dear god, let it have an accepting palette.

I pulled out the pastrami, and layed down on the cool floor as electrical adrenaline coursed through me. If I missed, it would know I was here. I needed a run home like my life depended on it.

I rolled onto my stomach and eased back up into a crouch. I imagined myself standing up, legs planted wide, tossing the meat over the counter, towards the butcher department. The wall along that side of the deli would block it from seeing me. I’d ram through the emergency door, get mom’s car, and be free.

I sprang up, pastrami raised over my head. The thing was huge. It’s dark, ragged form filled the whole prepped foods case. It was turned away from me, digging its face further into whatever it was eating. I took a deep breath—let’s make this throw count.

I threw with all the three years of little league had granted me.

…which turned out not to be very much.

The pastrami sailed on a short arc, hitting the monster between the shoulder blades. It landed about thirty feet short of my target. Fuck fuck fuck. Had I really thought I could throw ten pounds of meat forty feet away?

What a stupid way to die.

I ducked back behind the counter. The thing roared again. My teeth were chattering, trying to escape my body before the thing ate me.

It leapt out of the prepped foods case and slid on the wet floor. All the opened packages had made the floor slick and it crashed into some glass–the rosé wine display. The monster yelped and there was more scrambling and clicking as it tried to get up. I could smell the wine, cheap and fruity. I choked back vomit. It had liked whatever it had found. Hopefully it was still hungry. 

Wasn’t a Game Day Special today?

Then it clicked, there were two big platters of meat rollups. Someone had ordered them and never picked them up. So we put them in that case hoping we could resell them before closing. Two big platters of sweet ham with honey mustard sauce. It had been eating store brand sweet ham. The sickly sweet smell drifted to my hiding place.  

We sold loads of sweet ham on game days, sometimes up to three or four loaves. It was barely even ham, more like a giant version of canned meat. Packaged with “juices” so thick we had to wipe off the meat before we could slice it.

I chanced looking through the case, to see where the monster might be. It was way too close, I could see it licking up the stew of spilled rosé and platter ham. I had to get it to the other side of the deli, and keep it over there.

Under the slicers were the soaking bins, ready for cleanup. I pulled one slowly towards me, trying to move at my slowest pace. Sliding open the deli case one last time, three and a half bright pink loaves of ham were right by the opening. I pulled them into the bin and started tearing them open. I could chance throwing packaged meat, but it might decide to try for something easier, like me.

With the bin loaded up, I slowly crouch-walked away from my only exit towards the other side of the deli. I held the bin up off the floor to minimize noise. No time for fuck ups. I was headed to the sweet tea case.

I opened the door to the sweet tea case, breathing in the sugary tang of old iced tea and frost. This plan was, hopefully, simpler. I’d shove the bin as hard as I could through the ice tea case. It would pop out the other side. The noise and smell would attract it, I would run like hell.

I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders, pulled the bin back a little and launched through the sweet tea case.

It burst through the other side and accelerated when it hit the slippery mix of meat and wine on the floor. With so much momentum it hit something hard, spinning further away from the deli. Thank the Dark Lords of Sweet Ham. 

I eased the sweet tea case door closed, waited. I needed to know that thing had taken the bait. I needed it far from my exit.

And I heard it.

Click. Click. Click.

Carefully moving through the destruction. A shadow passed over the sweet tea display. It started nudging, sniffing, and investigating the ham bin.

Eat it. You fucking shaggy nightmare beast, it ain’t got honey mustard, but it’s all yours. Deeply discounted at free as fuck. Tonight only.

And then the thing started ripping into the sweet ham. With no bones, it could take big, wet gulps. But it couldn’t get a grip on the floor. All the muck from the prepped foods made the floor too slick. It slid further away from the deli. Knocking into everything and pushing the ham further and further away. If it just calmed down, it’d get what it craved. This was my chance.

I dashed to the IN OUT doors and shimmied my thin frame through the smallest opening I could make.

I eased the door back into place. I laid down on the floor for a minute, letting my muscles spasm themselves out, trying not to think about how easy it would be to die right now. I just had to get to the car, get in, get away.

I rolled over to aim myself at the emergency exit—and it was open. Held ajar with an empty can of soda. Guess the alarms didn’t work.

I heaved myself up and cautiously approached the door. If Chris was out there, something could have gotten him. I would have to shut the exit door before any more get in. Closer to the door, I could smell weed vape. I peered through the crack, Chris was scrolling on his phone in the dark, getting high. He hadn’t heard any of it. Pushing open the door the rest of the way, I lunged at him.

“Hey, Davey, y’all finished up….” he started, but I grabbed him and pulled him towards the parking lot.

“We have to go…RUN!” I panted, trying to get my exhausted legs pumping. We must have been a sight–a skinny 140 pound kid covered in the most foul deli cocktail, trying to move a 300 pound stoner.

Chris finally got the idea and we booked it to my car. My legs ached, my sides burned, I breathed fire. But we made it into the car and I collapsed against the steering wheel. Weeping out big tears of snot. Chris put on his seatbelt and waited. He looked comically large in my mom’s little economy sized hatchback.

When I cried it all out, he said, “Fuck yeah, Davey, going rogue. Shoppix: where quitting is a pleasure.”

I laughed and started up the car, might as well take him home with me. Mom usually made a casserole.