Dale rubbed his head. He could feel the beginnings of a knot forming. He had never been socked with a piece of meat before…it really hurt. As he looked around the meat cooler, a nasty shiver ran up his spine. The chilled space was not an ideal place to be considering he was still completely soaked. Then again, he preferred dealing with some goose bumps and an uncomfortable chill rather than face the army of tiny doppelgangers roaming the store.
Danny, Alton and Sam sat on a skid half stacked with meat totes. The threesome were clearly distressed but looked otherwise unharmed; the same could not be said for Nick. The big guy lay sprawled in the corner atop a pile of bacon packages, several gashes were bleeding across his hands and face but none as grievous as the one on his neck. Someone had done their best to staunch the blood flow by placing meat soaker pads over his wound.
The lighting in the cooler was worse than in the rest of the store. The lone emergency light stationed along the right wall was producing such a faint glow that it only illuminated a couple feet before being swallowed by the darkness. Because of this, Danny, Sam and Alton all held their cell phones out like flashlights.
Having left his phone in his locker (which was company policy), Dale had immediately blurted, “You guys have your phones?! Call somebody!”
Sam gave Dale an annoyed look before saying, “Gee Dale, you think we should call somebody? What do you think was the first thing we did? There’s no signal.”
“Did anybody try the phones in the store?” Dale persisted.
This time Danny answered. “I’m pretty sure the phones don’t work when the power’s out, even with the back-up lights on.”
Feeling somewhat stupid with his questions, Dale quickly changed the topic. “Is…is Nick okay?”
“Hey…I’m p-peachy. I j-just have…t-to be more c-careful when I’m s-shaving though.” Nick said with a chuckle which morphed into a retching cough.
Both Sam and Danny laughed at Nick’s joke but it was forced and quickly faded leaving the cooler in silence.
“What da ‘ell is goin’ on here Dale?!” Alton demanded, breaking the quiet.
Dale was taken aback by his co-worker’s tone. “Why would I know?”
With a sigh, Sam answered for Alton. “Oh, I don’t know, maybe because there several thousand little crazy ass yous running around trying to kill us!”
“I don’t know what those things are, but I think they came from those rotten eggs.”
“How is that even possible?” Danny asked.
With no answer to give, Dale just shrugged his shoulders.
In the corner of the room, Nick attempted to climb to his feet. The movement sent a river of blood cascading down his neck. “One…one thing’s f-for sure, th-those little Dales…are real jerk-offs,” He mumbled. Trying to look down at the grievous wound in his neck, he then continued, “Do…do you guys think this is infected?”
“I t’ink dat’s the least of your problems,” Alton said before Danny could shush him.
Sam went over to Nick and adjusted the meat pads stuck to his neck. “Try not to move.”
Dale was horrified at the state of his friend. Wondering how others in the store had fared he asked, “Where is everybody else?”
Danny thought for a moment then said, “When those…those Dales, came at us we ran. They were everywhere though, Nick was covered in them; I guess in the chaos Alex must have taken off, we didn’t see where he ended up. And the last time we saw Adrienne she was at the front-”
Dale cleared his throat as he interrupted Danny. “Adrienne’s…dead.”
“What?! Are you sure?” Danny asked.
“Well…unless she’s able to take her head off, I’d say yeah.”
Alton started for the cooler door. “Shit, forget ‘dis, we’re gettin’ out of ‘ere.”
“Don’t be stupid, we don’t know where the Dales are, you could be killed as soon as you leave the cooler,” Sam piped in.
“Sam’s right guys, those things are pretty fast. When I found…Adrienne, they came out of nowhere and nearly got me,” Dale said.
“So…what are we going to do?” Danny asked.
Dale thought about it for a second and then it came to him. The quickest way out of the building from their current location was the emergency exit located against the back wall. The exit was a metal door with a cross-bar protruding from the front. The door was less than twenty feet from the meat cooler; they could get there in seconds. The only problem being that the door was locked. Just after the store opened, the staff realized that the door was faulty; a strong wind was enough to push it completely open. George freaked out at the possibility of just such a thing happening during the night and so did what any cheapskate would: he sealed the door closed. Now the only way to access the emergency door was by a key which was held exclusively on George’s key chain.
After filling the others in on his idea, Dale said, “We need to get to George’s keys. Does anyone know where he is…or if he’s even still alive?”
“Last we seen him, he was in his office,” Alton answered.
“Alright, well, one of us should go see if he’s still in there,” Dale said.
“I ain’t goin’ out ‘dere alone,” Alton shook his head vehemently.
“Alton’s right, we should all go,” Danny said.
“Dat is not what I meant,” Alton started.
“Fine then, you can stay here,” Sam said.
“What…alone?” Alton sounded worried.
“Nick will be here,” Sam said.
“Nick?! He’s half dead!”
“Th-thanks…ass.” Nick grumbled. “B-besides, I…I’m not staying here either.”
Although clearly not happy about it, Alton gave in.
Outside the meat the cooler the emergency lights were on their last legs. The strobe effect from earlier had been replaced by a sputtering glimmer which would disappear for seconds at a time before coming back to life only to fade quickly once again.
Those with cell phones held them out to light the way.
Sam was in the front. She was going to crack a joke about being the only girl in the group and still having to lead but decided that it was not the time to emasculate the boys any more than they had already been. Following behind her was Alton and Dale with Danny helping Nick bring up the rear.
The building had grown dead quite, even the storm outside seemed to have slowed down for the moment. If the tiny Dales were anywhere nearby they were not making themselves known.
The group shuffled towards George’s office. The only obstacle in their way ended up being an empty banana box which caused Sam to stumble, her phone slipped from her grip and slid under the produce preparation table. Not wanting to lose the light source, she dropped to her hands and knees in search of the device.
Dale scooted past Sam and quickly darted towards the door marked “Manager’s Office”. He expected the door to be locked for some reason but when he twisted the knob it turned and he was greeted with a satisfying click.
Sam could see her phone, it had landed against some sort of pile of cloth. Countless little mounds of purple fabric stood out in her phone’s light.
“…What is that?”
As she spoke the fabric moved and unfurled. Each lump was actually a tiny Dale rolled up into a ball.
“Dales!” She screamed.
Dales flooded out from under the produce table.
Everybody quickly hustled into George’s office…or at least attempted to. The space was quite small, only intended to accommodate two or three people at a time, it became painfully apparent that they were not all going to fit inside.
“Hurry up, close the door!” Danny yelled.
“I can’t, it’s too tight!” Sam screamed frantically.
“Don’t…w-worry guys, I got this,” Nick said as he stumbled out of the office.
Suddenly the office space went from impossibly tight to just uncomfortably so, with Nick gone there was enough room to shut the door.
Everybody crowded around the small window in George’s office door but it was too dark to see much of anything. If Nick made it past the Dales, they couldn’t tell.
Dale held his breath. He was floored by Nick’s act of courage but he knew there was little chance his friend would be able to elude the mob in his injured state.
Moments later there was a knock at the door which was quickly followed by another, then dozens, then hundreds.
“Oh God, we’re gonna die in ‘ere.” Alton cried.
Nobody offered to console Alton because they felt like he had hit the nail on the head. They had moved from the much bigger meat cooler to a tiny office and had lost Nick along the way. Things were looking pretty grim. A pall of fear and depression overcame the group, all except Danny would suddenly burst into laughter.
Spinning around with a shocked expression on his face, Dale demanded, “What the hell are you laughing at?!”
Between whoops Danny pointed to the small book shelf located on the corner of George’s desk. “Look at that! George has a book called ‘How to build good relationships with your staff’.”
Even with the miniature horde of murderous Dales moments away from overrunning them, the others joined Danny in laughter.
“There is no way George has ever read that!” Sam howled.
“No…look, it is the only one that isn’t completely covered in dust.” Danny reached out and grabbed the book by the spine. “Hey, it’s stuck or something.”
With a click the book tilted outwards from the shelf then stopped at a forty-five degree angle.
The area of wall just next to the book shelf suddenly began to move.
“What is that?” Sam asked.
Under the pale light of their cell phones they could see a secret doorway. The opening had been cleverly hidden along the wall making it almost invisible unless it was open.
“Is that a secret room?’ Dale scratched his head as he peered into the darkness beyond the hidden door.
“Who cares, we got ta get away from dem Dales.” Alton pushed past everybody and darted through the mysterious entranceway. The others quickly followed.
The doorway led to a set of stone cut stairs which spiralled downward beneath the store. The steps were very clean and looked practically unused. The wall on both sides of the stairs were decorated with small glow panels but—like the lights in the store—they were without power.
The foursome continued deeper, they could see a faint light coming from below.
The stairs eventually levelled off into a long hallway. The narrow stretch of corridor was completely bare except for a single open door along the left wall towards the end. The light the group had spied earlier was pouring out of the open door. It was clear by the flickering of the light that the source was fire—probably candles.
“…George?” Sam tentatively asked as she approached the doorway.
The room was circular. It—like the stairwell and hallway—was made from poured concrete and appeared fairly new in construction. Unlike those other areas though, this space was not bare but rather completely covered with strange, arcane artifacts. Statues of bizarre looking creatures stood ominously around the circumference, ancient looking books lay strewn about the space in piles, and glass jars containing various liquids were visible in nearly every open space. Standing in the middle of the room in a long purple and red robe was Fresh Choppers store manager, George. The man had painted odd symbols on his face and he was chanting. He was not alone either. Strapped to a table in the middle of the room and as naked as the day he was born was Alex.
“Alex!” Dale asked dumbly.
Alex twisted his head around to look at his co-workers. “A little help guys.”
End of Part 3
To Be Concluded!