The Night Shift
A collaborative story by The Parking Lot Confessional
The world doesn’t end once the sun goes down. The last tail light fades to a red pin prick before guttering out, but I’m still here, a creature of the night. Now don’t go yelling vampire or demon spawn or some such crazy nonsense. There’s no such thing. I’m just Ted.
The night clerk.
Once the street lights come on, I clock in and man the bullet-proof cage that hasn’t seen anything stronger than a .22 caliber spit wad in the twenty-some years I’ve worked here. Tina says I can have all the coffee I want while I work. She thinks it’ll help me stay awake through the night, and I’ve been known to go through more than two pots on my shift. Truthfully, I just like the bitter, no cream or sugar taste. I have no problem staying up till sun rise.
I think the common misconception is that nothing happens in the middle of the night when you’re outside city limits. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. I see all sorts.
Just the other night this lady comes in wearing a black shirt with two columns of thick buttons. The cuffs were rolled several times just so her hands wouldn’t get lost in the sleeves.
‘That’s an interesting shirt.’
‘I’m a chef,’ she told me as she reached for a pack of cigarettes on the display case.
‘Let me grab you a fresh pack from here,’ I said. Those packs on display haven’t been rotated out in years. If someone should steal one, I’d hate for them to enjoy it, too.
‘Thanks,’ she said.
As she put the pack back on the shelf, the cuff pulled back just far enough for me to see a light scar across her wrist. She must have seen me looking because she said, ‘Cooking accident. An oven doesn’t care how long you’ve been using it. It’ll bite you just the same.’
Her mouth might have smiled while she said it, but her eyes looked tired from repeating it.
‘Ain’t that the truth. That’ll be three seventy-two.’ I took her money and a couple pennies from the spare change tray and gave her thirty cents back.
Now on a different night, or maybe a different time that same night, I might have chatted a bit more. It’s not often I get to talk to an actual chef. Outside though, another car pulled in the lot, and most people won’t talk to a stranger if they know another stranger will overhear them.
‘Do you mind if I stand outside and smoke?’
‘Sure, sure,’ I said. ‘Just don’t get near the gas pumps. Nothing might happen, but we could get an earful if the wrong person sees you.’
The chef lady pounded the pack of cigarettes against the palm of her hand as she walked out the doors, sounding the electric chime as she crossed the threshold.
No one had gotten out of the car yet, but I could see two people talking in the front seat. I’m pretty sure the car was green. It was hard to tell being that it was covered in mud, most of it fresh. Usually I’d wait behind the counter for someone to come in, but instead I waddled out from the bullet-proof cage and headed for the beer coolers. My knee was acting up that week, so it took me a bit to get up to speed. Sometimes I tell people it’s an old football injury acting up, but really I’m just getting old. I also used to tell people to avoid getting old until I thought about the alternative.
So I waddled to the beer coolers and locked them. I still had an hour before last call, but it could save me some grief later. At least so I thought. I poured myself another cup of coffee and headed back to my little cage of glass. It’s more like plastic, but they tell me it’s bullet-proof.
The passenger door opens up and a kid gets out. Maybe he’s not so much a kid, but at my age, if your hair ain’t gray or falling out, you’re still a kid to me. He’s got his hood pulled up, hands in his pockets, and never looks up as he comes in the store. I couldn’t keep from smiling as he headed for the beer. He pulled on the cooler door and nearly lost his balance when the door didn’t open like he expected.
Now I could’ve just asked the kid for his ID. That usually sends them running through the door. But I was enjoying watching him fumble around, staring at a seventy-five cent bag of Doritos as if there was something meaningful to find in its list ingredients.
That’s when the door chime went off again. The chef lady was back.
‘I think I’ll bring home a nightcap, too,’ she said.
As soon as that chime sounded, I knew this would go sour. Well, less amusing anyway.
The kid jumped at the sound of her voice. He spun, a neat heel-toe that I never would’ve guessed was in him. Then he hissed at the chef. If I’m lyin’ I’m dyin’. Frickin’ hissed at her. I thought that was super weird.
Things got weirder directly.
“Oh shit,” said the chef.
They ran at each other. At least, that’s what I thought was going on. But the kid, he runs down aisle two at the chef, and the chef runs up and jump-kicks the shelving , like she’s the goddamn Karate Kid. The whole thing tips. The kid skids on a packet of Skittles and bites it just in time for the metal shelving to smash down on top of him in a hail of Snowballs and Corn Nuts.
I thought my brain was going to short-circuit.
“Oh my God!” I hustled out from the counter. “You all right son?”
“Stay back,” said the chef.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” I’m screaming now, and I don’t care. “You think you can just come in here and fuck up my store, kill some kid cause he looked at you funny? You think you’re some kind of fucking gunslinger or something?”
“Nothing is wrong with me, sorry about the mess, he’s not dead-”
“-Hell no, and he’s not a kid. And no, I’m not a gunslinger.” She hooked a thumb on the black nylon strap on her shoulder and swung her bag around so I could look at it.
“THE ULTIMATE EDGE,” I read. Okay. She was nuts. As if there was any doubt at this point. Just gotta keep her calm until the cops get here. “I don’t know that purse brand, but I’m sure it’s a great one.”
“It’s a knife bag.” She squinted. “Ted.”
I rubbed my hand over my name tag. Back and forth. Back and forth. “Knives, huh? For cooking. At your job. ‘Cuz you’re a chef.”
The chef turned, set THE ULTIMATE EDGE on the counter.
“You don’t have to show me-” I said as she pulled on the zipper.
“Name’s Teresa. You can call me Reece.”
“Do you mind not doing…that?” I asked. Something rolled against my foot. I looked down at a can of Vienna Sausages. I looked over at the kid, still pinned beneath the metal shelving. His eyes were open. He wiggled. One arm was almost free.
“Hey!” I said. I walked over to the kid on legs shaky with relief. “Anything broken?”
He looked at me, mute.
I bent closer. “I said-“
His hand shot out from under a bag of Fritos and grabbed me by the throat. The pain was instant. I couldn’t breathe. I pulled at his hand with both of mine, but he was strong. A shadow fell over me.
“WHY ARE YOU HERE?” Reece shouted at the kid.
The kid spat at her.
Reece screamed in pain as the kid’s saliva struck her skin.
“You’re 86ed, you dumb mother,” she said, and stabbed the kid in the chest.
Green stuff came out, the exact green of those pine tree shaped car fresheners.
No red. No red at all.
I finally got the kid’s hand off me. “What. The. Hell?” I choked out.
“I told you he wasn’t a kid. They’re Nightwalkers, Ted, and where there’s one, there’s always more.”
I looked at the green puddle spreading across my floor.
“Tina’s gonna kill me.”
“Tina is not who you gotta worry about. Unless-”
“She the owner?”
“That would explain it.” Reece sounded almost relieved.
Reece looked at me. “She’s their Queen.”
No sooner had the green goo spread to the Rock Star display than the door chimed and four more creeps swooped in. Agile bastards. Ugly, too. All red eyes and spitting mad. They cleared the magazine racks and the candy aisle before Reece or I could say boo.
“What do we do?” I yelled, but my words came out, “Whumma-shu-ah!”
Reece slipped one of the fiercer knives from her bag and, holding the point, tossed it to me. It dropped into my hands and my fingers gripped the molded handle. Perfect balance. Finest craftsmanship.
“Go for the kill!” she yelled, wielding two smaller knives, and she set on the sucker running at her. Caught him with one knife in the belly and the other in the eye.
Two more raced down the aisle toward me. I ducked behind the cardboard Godaddy girl, my feet slipping on green splatter and my heart pounding in my head. What was I doing? I didn’t know anything about gutting monsters. I was just Ted, the night clerk.
Then they batted the girlie away and I didn’t have time for indulgent thinking. The bigger one was on my right. Matted hair hanging in his eyes. The smaller ran a black tongue over his lips. I took a step back. And another. The cold of the beer case crept through my shirt.
“Reece?” My voice pinched in my throat. I heard a scream over by the coffee island. Didn’t sound human. The big one reached for me and instinct took over. I braced my back foot against the base of the cooler and pressed forward with the blade. It punctured through and kept going. The beast screamed as green oozed down over my arm.
I couldn’t pull the blade in time to cut the other smaller one. It leapt on me, clambering on my back and digging its fingers into my shoulders. I kicked the big guy off my knife and his body fell back with a squish. I stabbed blindly at the bastard on my back. I didn’t feel the blade stick, but his scream ripped through my skull. He released his grip and fell, leaving a slick of goop down my back. I turned to see Reece, breathing heavy, two knives poised in her hands.
“Thanks.” I shook the monster juice from my sleeve.
“Don’t thank me yet.” She looked past me toward the door. “There’ll be more. Their blood emits a chemical that attracts others. Works like a — “
There came a banging from the back of the store.
“Well, that was quick.” Reece wiped the knives on her jeans. “This place have an emergency cutoff switch?”
She ran for the automotive aisle. I ran for the bullet-proof box. Grabbed the fire extinguisher and smashed the crap out of the plastic casing covering the kill switch. Then I smashed the crap out of the switch itself. Bits of plastic and metal fell to the linoleum. Reece raced toward the front door, her arms full.
“Grab your keys. Let’s go.”
I locked the door behind me and looked up through the glass to see Tina walking toward me. Eyes red. Arms reaching. Spit dangling from her mouth. Gathered around her were a dozen or more nightwalkers.
“Get away, Ted!” Reece called from the pumps.
But my eyes were fixed on my boss. She slammed her palms against the glass. “I’m disappointed in you,” she growled. “You were supposed to be oblivious. Too stupid to figure it out.”
Reece’s voice came behind me again, closer. “Get. Away. Ted!”
She’d rigged a contraption out of hoses, duct tape and oil funnels that stretched from pump number five all the way to the door. And she worked that makeshift flamethrower with the same steady hand I imagined she used to torch sugar on fou-fou egg tarts. The flames ignited a chain reaction through the cans of WD40, toilet cleaner and all the other kinds of chemicals she’d stacked around the front of the store.
We’d barely run far enough, when — boom — the blast shattered the night.
Later, after the fire’d burned to coals and she’d doctored my scratched-up skin, Reece pulled out her ULTIMATE EDGE bag once more. Sharpened a clean knife and stabbed two Vienna sausages out of a can. Held them over the heat. “So, what are you going to do now, Ted?”
The first hints of dawn tantalized the deserted street. I pushed the ashes of what had been the store with my shoe. “No idea.”
“You’re pretty good with a knife.” She held the perfectly browned sausages out to me. “I could use a sous-chef.”
I blew on the sausage before taking a bite, wondering what else this woman had up her sleeve. “Let’s talk about it over coffee.”
I was gonna need something bitter with no cream or sugar before making any decisions. That was for damn sure.