The rain beat against the front windows in a steady cadence. The noise was not enough however to override the beep of the scanner at checkout nine. Adrienne passed one item after another across the scanner. She had the extreme misfortune of being the only cashier currently working at that time. Putting on a smile which she hoped did not look as fake as it was, she asked the customer standing before her, “Do you need any bags?”
Down aisle one, Danny stood in front of a green cart piled high with a dozen cases of instant mashed potatoes. He made a sour face when he realized the shelf was already filled to capacity with the sodium loaded side-dish.
“Why did we get this?” Danny asked himself.
With an annoyed grunt, he directed the cart towards the backroom.
Nick sat reclined at the lunchroom table. He felt that he had earned a break after helping Dale with the eggs. Sitting across from him, doing their best to not work, were Alex and full-time grocery clerk, Alton.
“I ‘erd Dale got fired,” Alton said, his Jamaican accent obliterating the first two letters of ‘heard’.
“Ha! What a loser!” Alex said between laughs.
Waving a hand dismissively, Nick set the record straight. “Nah, he just had to get rid of all those eggs before the new truck shows up. He’s out back right now breaking them.”
Both Alex and Alton burst into laughter.
“George made him do it the rain?!” Alex howled.
“Dat’s cold,” Alton said.
A huge boom of thunder shook the building and all the florescent lights in the store flickered. Over by the meat counter, Sam stopped stacking packages of Stewing Beef to take a moment to look at the overhead lights.
“Great,” She said sarcastically.
George Morris, store manager, hurried across the backroom of Fresh Choppers. He could just glimpse Danny making his way back with a cart loaded to the gills with instant mashed potatoes. Normally he would berate Danny for not being able to unload the boxes somewhere (forgetting the fact that Danny hadn’t been the one who ordered them in the first place), but George just didn’t have time. He had been sweeping the floor in receiving when an epic crash of thunder had caused him to peek out the small window in the loading bay door. What he saw outside had been startling. Prompting him to get to his office as fast as possible.
Though, when he spied the guys lounging in the lunchroom he could not help himself and quickly blurted out, “Hey, you guys can’t all be in here…no talking to each other!”
Unaware of the lewd gestures being directed towards his back, George quickly ducked into his tiny office and locked the door.
Outside, the storm grew increasingly fierce. It did not bother the staff; the nastier the weather the less customers to deal with. Indeed the downpour had already worked its magic and besides the employees, there was a single customer walking the aisles. And even that wasn’t so bad because he was a regular and most of the workers liked him.
Another colossal boom of thunder rocked the building and in a flash the lights went off. The store was equipped with emergency lights which were supposed to blaze to life within seconds of the power going out, but as employees stood in the dark waiting, nothing happened.
Sam sighed as she stopped working. When the back-up lights failed to come to life, she started for the front of the store.
She didn’t get far before running into Alton, Nick and Alex.
The lunchroom—along with most of the back of the building—had no windows. The three guys had fled the crushing darkness before bumping into Sam.
“I love when the power goes out, I get to grope people,” Alex said.
“Yeah you sicko, you were trying to grope me,” Nick replied.
Rolling her eyes—an expression lost in the darkness—Sam cut off the back and forth between Nick and Alex. She said, “Why haven’t the emergency lights come on? And where’s George?”
“He went into his office just before the power went out. I t’ink he’s still in ‘dere,” Alton answered.
“That’s weird, it must be pitch black in there.”
“Whatever, the guy’s crazy,” Nick chimed in.
Danny came around the corner pushing his cart of mashed potatoes. “Man, it’s really scary out there,” He said with a nod towards the front of the store.
A burst of lightning caused the windows at the front to light up. The group could momentarily see Adrienne standing by one of the cash registers talking to the store’s lone customer.
“I wouldn’t want to be outside in ‘dis,” Alton stated.
“Hey, wait, isn’t Dale still outside?” Sam asked.
“Maybe we should go check on him,” Danny said.
Behind them the flaps leading into the backroom moved. There was something in the blackness and it was coming out.
“Dale?” Danny asked.
Dale had awoken in several unfortunate places over his short life (most times following a night of boozing), but he had never come too in a puddle of sewage with buckets of rain pounding against him. Apparently the grate he was supposed to dump the eggs down had backed up and had set him adrift in lake nasty.
Climbing to his feet, Dale noticed that he was not alone in the water. Countless bits of eggshell bobbed and churned on the surface as the rain fell.
Vague memories jockeyed for position in Dale’s confused brain. He seemed to remember getting hit by lightning; but as he stood there in the miserable weather, the idea seemed ludicrous. How could he be standing there if he had been hit by lightning? Then there was the other thing; had a tiny Dale emerged from one of the eggs? Dale gave his head a shake and tried his best to dislodge the ridiculous memories along with the sewer water soaking his curly hair. Whatever had happened was secondary to the fact that he had clearly been knocked unconscious and should tell somebody.
Gingerly making his way through the ankle deep water, Dale headed for the door.
The first thing he noticed when he entered the building was the complete lack of power. Dale was taken aback by the sheer darkness of the backroom.
“Hey! What happened to the lights?”
With only silence as an answer, Dale moved deeper into the building.
He knew that he needed to get out of the backroom. The area was always littered with empty skids, random boxes of overstock and other ankle breaking obstacles.
As his eyes tried to adjust to the darkness, Dale thought he could see a faint bit of light coming through an opening in the flaps leading out into the store. Being afraid of the dark (he still used a night-light), Dale jogged—carefully—towards the light.
The first sign that something was not right (besides the power outage), came when Dale pushed against the flaps. He had expected them to do what they were designed for and simply fly open. However this time they only pushed outward a couple of inches before stopping abruptly. Something was lying against them, blocking them from opening.
“What the heck is going on?”
Dale knew that George would flip out if he knew somebody had stacked something against the flaps, especially with the power out. The obstacle was not big, it was just unexpected. The flaps could open either way and Dale could simply pull them towards him. It was still too dark to see what was on the floor but Dale gave it a probing nudge with his foot and determined it was a bag of garbage; given the squishy sound which came from the object, Dale decided it must be meat waste.
The store was almost as dark as the backroom, which was a testament to just how bad the storm was outside. The clouds had rendered the early morning into an unnatural twilight.
Moving cautiously in the dark, Dale could feel some sort of puddle or spill covering the floor. Another red flag popped up inside his head. George may be a lot of things, but above all else he was extremely fastidious; epically in regards to the tidiness of his store. Dale filed this latest mystery with the others in the back of his mind; he was beginning to worry at the speed in which they were piling up.
The light Dale had glimpsed was coming from the front of the store. Despite the power outage it appeared that the cash registers still had some juice. Besides the faint glow—which Dale now recognized as emanating from the digital screens—he could also hear the droning beep of the check-out.
“Adrienne?” Dale called out as he neared lane nine.
A flash of lightning sent a flood of illumination pouring through the massive windows beyond the cash registers. Although lasting only seconds, it was enough for Dale to see every detail of the checkouts before him.
All the checkouts were empty except lane nine. In the momentary flash of light Dale saw a sight straight out of a horror movie. Stretched across the entire surface of the conveyor belt were the remains of Adrienne. She had been torn into a dozen pieces; each one was being meticulously scanned through the checkout by a horde of tiny Dales’.
Dale stumbled backwards just as a miniature carbon copy of himself rolled Adrienne’s head across the scanner, the words not on file flashed across the screen.
The lightning faded quickly but it must have sent a surge through the building as with an audible flick the emergency lighting finally came to life.
Dale stared in shocked disbelief as he was slowly surrounded by thousands of little Dales.
“This can’t be happening!” Dale screamed as he scrambled to his feet and fled towards the back of the store. As he ran he could hear the pitter-patter of countless teeny feet chasing behind him.
With an idea of escaping out the back door, Dale approached the same flaps he had just come out of moments before. With the emergency lights on he could see that his earlier assumption of a bag of meat waste resting against them had been horribly wrong. Dale immediately recognized the dead body as belonging to the regular customer who usually came in early. The man was slumped in a heap; it didn’t take a coroner to determine the cause of his death either; hundreds of wounds decorated the poor man’s body.
The emergency lights were not as fully operational in the receiving area as they had been out in the store. As Dale burst through the flaps he was greeted with a sickening strobe of yellow light which made everything appear to move in slow motion.
Covering the distance from the flaps to the receiving bay in seconds, Dale slammed into the door full force. It didn’t budge.
It didn’t make sense, why would the doors be locked? Whatever the reason, he needed to keep moving.
Dale turned as the flaps to the backroom began to open. His heart began beating in his chest as the first of the mini Dales began piling through.
“Leave me alone!” Dale yelled.
There was still another way out, Dale realized, he would just have to pass the freezer, the dairy cooler, the meat cooler and prep area and then make his way across the floor to the front doors.
The little Dales were fast but Dale was able to outrun them. He zipped past the freezer and dairy cooler before rounding the corner by the meat cooler. He was sure he was going to make it.
The vacuum packed pork tenderloin came out of nowhere and slapped Dale across the face sending him tumbling to the floor. In his dazed state he could see the forms of Sam, Danny and Alton standing over him.
“Shit Sam, you ‘it the wrong Dale” Alton said.
“Hurry and get him inside,” Danny said as he grabbed one of Dale’s legs.
Dale could feel himself being dragged across the floor into the meat cooler. With a sliding bang the cooler door slammed shut behind him.
To Be Continued!!!