Something weird is happening at my grocery store. - Chap 1
So before all the recent unpleasantness, I got a night job at a grocery store. It was supposed to be a part-time stopgap while I found better work out here, but even before everything went to hell, it was pretty hard to find a job. This paid a little over minimum and was in walking distance from my place, and inertia is hard to overcome.
I’d never done a really hard physical labor job before, or at least not since I was a teen. The whole back area is poured concrete, studded with drains so they can clean the floors by just spraying it with a hose. Not that anyone ever does. It’s hell to walk on all day, even with good shoes and gel inserts. My feet swelled like cantaloupe every morning when I got home. I had to start propping them up on pillows when I slept, just so I could fit into my shoes the next day. After a few months, it got better, or I just got used to being exhausted and in pain all the time.
Anyway, once all the mask shit started up, I couldn’t risk losing the job. Housing was expensive as balls and my resume wasn’t getting any prettier, not to mention half the businesses in the country closing and everyone getting desperate for work. I toughed it out and worked my butt off. (Literally: I lost about ten pounds even eating junk food for half of my meals.) It wasn’t what I’d call fun or pleasant, but I was keeping my head above water.
The trouble started a couple of days ago. Now, I want to preface this by saying that while I don’t work janitorial, it’s not like there’s no bad smells anywhere else. One time, the new guy from the seafood counter put a box into the cardboard baler while it was still full of crab guts and trash. The machine juiced up those rotten crabs until there was a little yuck-slick for two feet on the floor around it. The entire back hall stank like rotten death for two weeks. Another time, the sewer lines got backed up into the drain behind the meat counter. That whole area is prone to clogs because the animal fat gets washed down and then congeals; whenever it rains (and it rains a lot), the whole area around the drain is usually half an inch deep in rancid water. Anyway, this was not just gross water, but full on untreated sewage. We had to close the whole store (even though the manager yelled and tried to get us to stay until it got fixed. The meat guys all straight up refused to cut or serve anything while splashing through inches of raw sewage, though I don’t know if it was on ethical grounds of serving it to customers afterward or just the personal health factor, and the manager caved.)
The point is, I’ve seen some bad smells. I mean smelled some… You know what I mean. So understand that I mean business when I say that the other day, the drain in the extra storage room – the one in back of the dairy chilled storage – started putting out the most outrageous odor I have ever had the misfortune to suck into my nostrils. It was something like rotten fish, but with a horrifying acrid undertone and a real meaty bass note. It smelled like something that shat itself, ate the shit, vomited that up, then ate the vomit and shat it back out again. And it smelled *sick*. You know the smell you get in the back of your mouth when you’re really unwell? Like your own body is rotting away and you’re trapped inside it about to suffocate? That’s what this smell reminded me of, a little. It was sharp enough that it was physically painful to breathe it. I’d been sent to get a new pallet of paper plates and plastic cups – that’s what we used the room for, since it was so small and out of the way – and when I opened the door for the first time I threw up a little in my mouth. I had to dive back outside and yank my mask off and bend over to lean on my knees until the dry heaving stopped. I had never encountered something so foul. I held my breath and got the pallet out as fast as I could manage, and then I went to report to Ronnie that we needed a plumber or maybe an exorcist for the small storage room.
Ronnie’s a nice lady, but she gets distracted pretty easily. I checked in with her the next night about it, and when she told me that there hadn’t been any other reports about the storage area and she’d take a look the next time she had a minute, I didn’t pay it much mind. I figured she’d just forgotten, because there was no way the dairy guys at least hadn’t noticed it in their work area. It was worse that night, and you could smell it through the door from ten feet away. I’d only been in the room for under a minute almost twenty four hours previously and I still felt like it was clinging to my face and hair.
But later that night I made an offhand joke to Vic, one of the other stockers on my crew. I don’t even remember what it was, but I said something about the smell in the milk closet – that’s what we called it; I think technically it was some number-letter combination on the floor plan, but not even the manager used those. Vic gave me a really weird look, not disbelieving, but almost suspicious and a little hostile, like I’d asked him if he knew where to score some oxy or if his girlfriend was busy that weekend. Instead of telling me I was smelling my own farts again or some other dumb joke, Vic got all quiet and said, way too serious for the tone, “I haven’t smelled anything unusual today.”
“Well go take a whiff,” I said, trying to keep it light. “It’s fucking grotesque.”
Vic just shook his head and turned away without a word.
So that was weird.
But what was really weird was what I saw at the end of that shift, right as we were doing the last push before the store opened at six. I’d gone to ask Luke and Gina – the dairy crew – if we could borrow one of them to help get Frozen under control because we’d fallen behind for some reason. Neither of them were in the dairy cooler when I peeked, and I knew they weren’t stocking on the floor because I’d walked up the cheese aisle and through dairy to check on exactly that on my way to the back. I was about to shrug and head back to work when I heard a weird slithering, bumping noise from the back hall. I poked my head around the corner and was about to call out to Gina and Luke, but instead I gagged. The door was open and the smell was stronger than ever. Then I saw them, both of them, along with Vic and at least two other guys I couldn’t see clearly in the back. They were all standing around the drain in the center of the floor, staring at it, standing rigid like they were at attention, except for Luke, who was crouched beside the hole, his mask pulled down around his neck. That part wasn’t too weird because Luke is kind of an asshole, but I swear I saw him lifting his hand from the floor to his mouth and *licking* his fingers, slow and sensuous. I made a little involuntary noise when I saw that, like I’d watched someone eat a turd. I know Gina and Vic both looked up and saw me staring; Luke had his eyes closed, and the two other guys had their backs to me and honestly could have been almost anyone in the store, especially since it was getting colder now and everyone was bundled up because they just leave the doors to the loading docks open most of the night.
I got the fuck out of there, but later on I saw Vic pull Ronnie aside and mutter something in her ear, and then they both just looked daggers at me. I pretended not to notice, and Ronnie didn’t call me over to reprimand me or anything. What would she have said? ‘Don’t walk into the back room and see your coworkers acting like gross freaks or you’re fired?’
I’ve been feeling paranoid. I didn’t get a good look at the two other guys so now I’m worrying that anyone in a jacket – which is basically everyone, like I said – could be one of them. They’re all mad at me and I don’t even understand why.
My lunch break is almost over. I’ll get back to you later on with more, if anything happens. Maybe it’ll all turn out to be nothing.