Return of the Working Dead is a collection of short horror fiction stories and will be a five-part series starting today, Thursday, October 3rd, and ending on Halloween.
This is the final part of “Retail Hell”. Read the first part, “Third Shift” here.
Daniel was sitting in the manager’s office getting chewed out by their boss, Bob. “15 minute maximum breaks, Daniel! How many times do I have to tell you! 15 minute paid breaks!” he said, with spittle flying all over.
Daniel, with a straight face in a monotone voice said, “Yeah, paid. I can just, like, take breaks and not get paid. That’s fine. My feet just hurt.”
Bob’s face looked like a tomato ready to burst with the contrast of his red face and the tight white collared shirt buttoned up to his jaw with a tie tight like a noose. Bob made an angry, frustrated growl that sounded more like a toilet gurgling when it’s backing up and stormed out of the office. Daniel looked over at his manager, “Can I go, now?” Jamil, the manager, nodded.
Daniel passed Bob on his way out and coughed out, “asshole.” Bob turned his head to glare at Daniel and he could swear it got even redder. Daniel pushed through the swinging doors and got back to his station in the fitting room.
It was a pretty slow day. He doodled on some sticky notes and tried to create music with the different beeping tones of the phone and walkie.
“Help me repackage these shirts,” said a voice. Daniel stood up and looked around. He was the only one in his area right now. Something soft hit his back with a crinkle. He looked down behind him and saw a package of men’s undershirts that needed to be folded and taped together. He picked it up and looked around again.
“Uh, hello?” Daniel called out. Someone stepped out from behind the rack of merch to be restocked. Well, not someone. Something. Daniel stumbled back in fear, tripping over the footstool and landing in a pile of clothes.
Standing in front of the little fitting room kiosk was a person. It was man, his nametag said “Darryl” and he was wearing the same uniform as Daniel, albeit much dirtier and worn. His uniform was covered in dirt and had cuts and holes in it. Darryl didn’t look much better, either. His skin was grey and chunks of flesh were missing showing raw, rotting meat and bone. One eye was missing, replaced, by an earthworm or two wiggling their way between his eye socket and out his nostrils and back into his eye socket. One side of his head was missing a piece of skull and he could see brain, black and grey and rotting. “Is there something on my face? C’mon man, help me out. Bob is gonna have my ass if we don’t get this finished by the end of the day.”
Daniel leaned over the pile of clothes and puked. Breathing hard and fast, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he turned back to stare at Darryl, “W-what are you?”
Darryl gave him a concerned look, “What do you mean? I’m a fitting room attendant, just like you.”
Daniel scoffed, “You look like a…like a…uh, well, like a zombie.”
Darryl and laughed and nodded his head and looked down at himself, he flicked a maggot off his chest, “Yeah, I know. It’s the fucking pits, man.”
Daniel stood up, “Uh, you know Bob? He was your boss when you were alive, too?”
Darryl handed Daniel some more packages to put back together, “Yeah, he killed me. Okay, well, he didn’t directly kill me. But I had suddenly developed this super bad stomach flu while I was here at work and he wouldn’t let me go home even though I was puking like all over the place. He said I could sit in the break room and rest but I’d already used my two 15 minute breaks so I would have to clock out. I kind of needed the money to pay off my student loans so I just said fuck it and tried to keep it together. Well, near the end of my shift I’m sweating a ton, my coworker Gina says I look like a hot mess and asks if I want to go to the hospital. I said no way, I can’t deal with those ER and ambulance bills. She insisted I try to get some help but I just had 30 minutes left on my shift and told her I’d be fine.”
“Well, shift is over, I’m walking back to my car and I just drop in the middle of the parking lot. It was really hot that day and I guess the heat was just too much. A good samaritan tried to do CPR but by the time the ambulance got there I was dead.”
Daniel nods, “Yeah that fucking sounds like Bob. Shit, man. I’m so sorry. And now you’re, uh, stuck here? I thought zombies could like roam wherever they wanted. And you’re like not brain dead.”
“Yeah, I don’t know, this place does weird stuff. Like my coworker Gina, she also dropped on the job once and now she just comes at night asking if someone can cover her shift. It sucks because I wish I could talk to her but a lot of the ghosts here are like that. Just stuck doing or saying one thing.” Darryl walks to the spill station to grab what he needs to clean up Daniel’s puke.
“Well…maybe we can do something to put you all to rest?” Daniel suggests.
Darryl smiles, his teeth are missing and rotting and he has no tongue, his lips are cracked, “Bob. We gotta kill Bob.”
Daniel takes a step back, “Y-yeah, sure. That might be it. Bob just came in for a couple hours today but he should be back by the end of second shift. Come back later at like midnight and talk to Janice and Brandon.
Darryl gives Daniel the bro sup head nod and throws a peace sign before disappearing behind the clothes rack again.
11:30 PM Bob sits in his cushy office in the back corner of the stockroom. His tie is loosened, his white shirt has yellow sweat stains under his pits and at the back of the neck. He’s eating a big sandwich, mustard drips down onto his shirt.
11:45 PM Brandon and Janice clock in together. “You seriously believe you saw a ghost?” Brandon asks Janice, incredulously.
“Yes, Brandon! Oh my god, she was translucent and everything!” Janice gave Brandon a playful shove.
12:05 AM Bob shuts the door to his office and locks it. He sits back down in his chair and plugs his headphones into his phone. He types in a porn website and unbuckles his pants and gets working.
12:10 AM Janice is walking back out to the registers and Brandon is following her with a cart of stuff to stock the impulse shelves at the check out aisles. She’s sitting on top of the counter again, flipping through a tabloid, while Brandon is knelt down stocking the snack shelves.
“Hey, guys, what’s up?” Darryl says. Brandon and Janice both scream and fall over. Darryl laughs, “Shit, sorry. Forgot what I look like, again. Daniel said you guys could help us.”
“Do you believe me now, Brandon?” Janice yelled at him.
Brandon stands up and brushes himself off, “Wh-what are you?”
Darryl nods and waves his hand as if to say “yeah yeah get on with it”. “Look we don’t have much time. I don’t know how much longer Bob is going to be here. Yes, I’m a zombie. Yes, Janice, you saw a ghost last night. That was my coworker, Gina. Yes, killing Bob should release us.”
“You can ask for my sob story from Daniel but we gotta come up with a plan to kill Bob like right now,” Darryl leans down to pick up the snacks that fell when Brandon stumbled back.
“He spends the night in his office for a few hours. His wife kicked him out of the house so he sleeps in there sometimes. I don’t think I can really kill anyone, though,” Janice says.
“Oh, no problem. That’s cool. I was going to do it myself, anyway. I’m the only sentient one of us around here and I’ve been planning out this speech and everything,” Darryl gets back up and takes a handful of chips that were on the floor when a bag burst from Brandon falling on it. He puts in his mouth. The pieces fall out of his throat when he chews and swallows. “Cool, well you two hang tight. I’ll be right back.”
Janice and Brandon just stare at each other.
12:20 AM Bob is still in the office, door locked, in the throes of self-induced passion when he hears a knock on his door. “Fuck!” he yells, very loudly, “What the hell do you kids want?” No response. “I swear to god if y’all are just playing tricks on me I’ll fire your asses!” Another knock. Bob makes himself decent and gets up to open the door, but the lock is stuck. He can’t unlock it. He can’t turn the knob. He checks to make sure his keys are still attached to his belt and they are.
He feels a tap on his shoulder and he whips around.
“Hiya, Bob. Remember me? You wouldn’t let me go home! But I died far enough in the parking lot that I was off the property and you weren’t responsible. Bummer for me, I guess.” Darryl grinned as an earthworm wriggled out his nose and one came out between a gap in his teeth. Bob screamed and turned back around, trying to open the door with all his might.
“It’s no use, Bob. You wouldn’t let me go home when I was clearly sick. I’m not letting you go home. Or anywhere else, ever again.” Darryl turned Bob around. Bob was as pale as his shirt. His tie suddenly started tightening, his face started turning red, and then purple. “Oh come on, Gina!” His tie loosens. “Thanks, you’re a doll.”
Bob opens his mouth to stutter, trying to plead for his life, “W-what do you want? I’ll pay your wife money. Survivor’s benefits! I’ll pay for your kid’s education! Just let me live!”
Darryl shakes his head, “You knew I had none of those things. I was post-grad living with my parents working a minimum wage job trying to pay off my student loans.” Bob stars crying, it turns his face read again and Darryl laughs. “How do you not know that you look like a tomato? It’s so funny!’
Darryl checks his nonexistent watch for drama, “Look at the time! Time for you to go!” Darryl pins Bob against the door and with one hand forces his head to the side to expose his neck while his other arm is pinning Bob against the door. He opens his mouth wide, hears a pop and feels his jaw loosen. “Oh goddammit. Gina, a hand? Sorry, Bob, just a quick technical difficulty” his jaw pops back in and he opens wide again. With a sickening crunch and tear, Darryl rips through Bob’s flesh, blood spraying out like it was a Tarantino film. Bob gurgles out protests but quickly faints before dying.
Darryl, Gina, and a surprising number of other workers come walking out toward the registers. They are smiling and look normal, happy, healthy. “Janice! Brandon! I’d say call 911 but, honestly, just leave it for the first shift managers. You don’t get paid enough to deal with a dead body.” Darryl laughs and walks over to give them both high fives. “Tell Daniel thanks!”
The dead workers walk away and out the front door. In the vestibule with the crane machines and grocery bag return, they see them all just…fade away.
Brandon and Janice look at each other, “What the hell just happened” they ask in unison. They walk over to the alcohol aisle and crack open a bottle of whiskey and sit in the cooler passing it between themselves. They don’t get paid enough to deal with this shit.
I hope you enjoyed this first story in the Return of the Working Dead series. Four more will be posted on each Thursday of the rest of the month. We also want to hear your own real-life working horror stories for a feature later this month.