I worked for a year as an overnight clerk. That's about a year longer than I'd recommend anyone else do that particular job. People aren't built to be awake all night. They just aren't. There's no reason you can't wait a few hours for your eighty six cent soda or loaf of bread and allow the shop to close up at a reasonable hour. But the public demands it, and so people like me continue to exist.
The first few months passed without incident. I had a few beer runs, a few drinks and druggies, but my store was in a decent area, so crime was minimal. Mostly stupid kids lifting Budweiser for their parties or people stumbling over from the bar we shared the plaza with. Our location pretty much guaranteed that I'd see someone at least once a half hour, even between two and five, which the guy before me affectionately referred to as 'the dead hours'.
That dude exists.
And he still does the job.
And he's probably still creepy to new employees.
Anyway, I was so used to seeing particular people at particular times that when the schedule changed on me it was...viscerally upsetting. It rang tiny alarm bells in my brain that ruined my night until the next expected regular came in. If the cop didn't come in for his hazelnut coffee, I'd be on edge until the metro security guard came in for her chewing tobacco. Being up all night, it was other people that anchored me to the rest of the sleeping world.
So one night, when I saw no one, my mind pitched me down a flight of stairs.
It was middle of the week and I was already halfway through my nightly duties. Lots of cleaning, with some stocking and straightening of the shelves. As I was going through my to do list, I caught a quick glimpse of the time clock.
1:45 AM
I was coming up on the dead hours, but like I said, I still saw someone every half an hour or so, so I didnt know then why the pit of my stomach fell about an inch. I shook it off. It was nothing.
I was sure.
I helped the last few customers, folks hoping to pick up beer and cigarettes before I closed those sections up at two. As soon as I helped the last one out, I found myself watching him walk to his car. It was the last car in our enormous plaza. Even the bar was empty. As he drove away, the pit of my stomach twitched again.
Save for the sleeping neighborhoods surrounding the shop and the odd car speeding by on the main Street, I was alone.
And of course that's when I checked the clock.
2 AM.
I returned to my duties, fully aware that my head had begun a countdown. I had a few folks I expected to see by three, and so the strange dread that had pitted my stomach was put at ease. I washed the windows, scrubbed the counters, renewed the coffee. I worked so steadily that it was only when I refilled my own coffee and returned to the check out counter that I checked the clock again.
3 AM.
I was dumbstruck. The hour had passed in no time at all. But my brain and stomach had made appointments, regulars that should have come and gone, and they hadn't.
For the first time since I took the job, I had been completely alone for an entire hour.
I reasoned that this wasn't unusual; people change their schedules all the time. But my stomach fell another inch.
It was 3:45AM when I heard it.
Something fell in the cooler, and as I jerked my head toward it, I was immediately aware that the safety light had turned off. It wasn't my responsibility to stock the cooler, and so I hadn't been inside my entire shift. My brain started to wrack itself, trying to figure out how the evening crew could have stacked something that it would take six to eight hours to topple over. My stomach had decided now was the time to free fall, and my skin hummed, the familiar tremors of my rare, but powerful, panic attacks. I took deep breaths, my eyes watching the dairy door of the cooler, looking for...something. I didn't know what.
Until I saw the unmistakable reflection of the fluorescent lights over my head in a pair of eyes.
Just behind milk shelves, maybe three feet back from the door, that was only two feet away from me, two glinting orbs of eyeshine watched me back.
Then they were gone.
My lips numbed and my heart pounded. I rushed to the back room and grabbed our ten pound flashlight. All the while, I was trying to rationalize what I saw. The only way to the cooler was through the beer cooler. And I had locked that at two. And I hadnt seen anyone since two. So whatever I had just seen, I knew only one thing: it was impossible for it to be back there.
Of course...nothing was there.
I searched the whole store, throwing up a sign about me going to the bathroom on the front door to give me the excuse to lock that too. With no way out, I should have found something. But the cooler, walk in, back room... It was empty. I was the only one there.
I hung out by the soda machine until my manager came in at 6AM. She asked me if I was ok, and I said no. I told her I thought someone had snuck into the store, and asked her permission to review the security footage.
Of course, nothing there either.
She sent me home early and gave me the next night off.
I never found what fell in the cooler.
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