By Christian Laforet
“I can’t believe it’s been a year already,” Dale muttered as he pulled into the Fresh Choppers parking lot.
The events of the previous year were still very fresh in his mind. When a freak lightning strike coincided with a magical spell gone awry, the result was ten thousand miniature versions of himself. The tiny terrors ran amok through the store, killing many of his fellow co-workers. Only with the complete annihilation of the building, was Dale able to destroy them.
Once the dust settled, Dale was heralded as a hero. The mayor even presented him with a gently used 2003 Dodge Dakota and fancy box cutter with a blade that was guaranteed to never dull.
Even after his fifteen minutes of fame ended, Dale considered himself lucky that, at least, the Fresh Choppers had been reduced to a gaping hole in the earth. And then they rebuilt the damned place. Dale resisted returning to work there, but relented. It wasn’t cheap keeping a beast like a Dodge Dakota on the road.
The store looked exactly as it had before. The produce department led through to meat which connected to dairy and then on to the grocery department, which took up the bulk of the space.
As Dale made his way through the grocery section of the store, he ran into Felicia and Robi Jo. The cashiers were setting up a ladder in the middle of aisle one.
“Hey loser.” Robi Jo punched Dale in the shoulder as he walked up.
“Ouch.” Dale rubbed the spot gingerly.
She rolled her eyes. “You’re such a baby. I can’t believe you saved the world.”
Adjusting the ladder, Felicia jumped into the conversation. “It does boggle the mind.”
Dale shot a frown at her. “You guys are just lucky you weren’t working that day. You could have ended up like everybody else.
“I miss those guys, especially Sam, she was the best.” Felicia pouted.
“You know who I miss, kinda?” Dale said thoughtfully.
“Who?” Robi Jo asked.
“Oh yeah. I totally forgot about him.” Felicia scratched her head. “What happened to him again?”
“I heard he got eaten by a sea monster down by the river!” Excitement caused Robi Jo’s voice to rise.
Dale rolled his eyes. “Nobody knows what happened to him. He just vanished.”
“Do you think the little Dales got him?”
Dale shook his head. “Nope, he called in sick that day.”
“Huh, that’s weird.” Felicia shrugged.
Feeling that a change of subject was in order, Dale asked the girls what they were working on.
Robi Jo pointed up. A series of signs hung from wires along the ceiling. The store’s slogan of Fresh from the first Chop! Was being changed to Chop it Fresh! Dale thought they both sucked but hey, he didn’t make the big bucks for a reason.
Felicia stepped up onto the first rung of the ladder. “Frank wants us to change all the signs in the store. The stupid things are really hard to get down.”
Dale smiled. If there was one good thing about the re-opening of Fresh Choppers, it was Frank. Everything that was horrible about the old store manager, George, was great about Frank.
“Let’s take a look.” Dale followed the wire securing the signs with his eyes. “Uh-huh, just what I thought. Even though it looks like they’re all strung up independently, they’re actually all attached to the same wire which connects to the top of the aisle, and if I’m right, it ties off somewhere at the back of one of these shelves.” He moved to the side of the aisle and peered between a stack of canned mushrooms. “Here it is.”
Both girls watched curiously as Dale unclipped his trusty box cutter from its holster on his belt.
When Dale received the knife from the mayor, he doubted the claim that it would always stay sharp and could cut through almost anything. But after months of heavy use, the blade was still like new. With a flick of his wrist, Dale sliced the hidden wire. All at once, every one of the signs hanging from the ceiling in that aisle came crashing down.
Felicia stood stunned. “Damn. That was pretty smart.”
Dale smiled. “Yep.”
Robi Jo held her hand out towards Dale. “Do you think we could use your box cutter? We still have to do the whole rest of the store.” Before Dale could respond, she snatched it from his hands. “Thanks.”
Dale hated lending people his prized box cutter, but since he was a little afraid of Robi Jo, he let it go.
The PA system crackled to life. “Dale to receiving.”
“Ooh, you’re in trouble.” Felicia poked Dale in the stomach.
“No way, Frank loves me.” Dale started towards the backroom. Looking back, he couldn’t help but add, “Don’t lose my box cutter.”
As usual, the backroom of the store was a cluttered mess. Skids of everything from toilet paper to pickles filled every conceivable space. The jumble of product climaxed in the store’s receiving area, where there was barely room to stand.
Dale spotted Frank staring at a massive skid of jarred olives. “Hey Frank, you called?”
Frank twisted away from the olives, which stood a dozen feet tall, and greeted Dale with a fist bump. “Dale! We just got this huge grocery order in and we’re the only people here.”
“Oh man, where’s Steve?” Dale looked around the area as he asked. Steve was one of the few fulltime employees at the store and was almost always there.
Frank shook his head. “Steve doesn’t work here anymore. He got a job as an underwear model.”
“I know, what the frick, right? Anyway, it doesn’t change that this stuff needs to be put out ASAP, buddy. Can you start pulling apart these skids? I have to make a quick call and then I’ll come help you.”
“No problem, Frank.”
Dale grabbed one of the green grocery carts jammed against the wall and began filling it with items from the nearest skid. Frank gave him a thumbs-up as he jogged towards his office on the opposite end of the backroom.
The tower was a garish blight on the landscape. Bright hues of light splashed across its exterior from countless spotlights which circled its base. Banners flapped and snapped in the wind, displaying a graphic of a fist in front of a rainbow.
Hundreds of storeys tall, the tower housed thousands of men and women. All of them dedicated to the complete conquest of the five worlds. The tower, and all those in it, acted as extensions to a single man’s will: The Dread Rainbow Emperor Shawn.
The chime echoed through the throne room. The Emperor looked ups from his contemplative state and directed his gaze towards the massive screen which faced him.
One of the Emperor’s many agents appeared.
“My lord. I have the Dale Prime at my mercy. Should I proceed?”
The Dread Rainbow Emperor though long before replying. “Yes, it is time. With the other four Dales already destroyed, I can move against the Dale Prime. Once he is vanquished, all five realms will be forever mine!”
Felicia pushed the last remaining stack of signs into the garbage compactor. “Man, I’m really happy Dale showed us that little trick.”
Robi Jo nodded distractedly. “Huh, oh, yeah.” She studied Dale’s box cutter. “I think I’m going to keep this.”
“It’s a really good knife.”
“Yeah, but, it’s Dale’s.”
Robi Jo shrugged her shoulders.
“Ugh, fine.” Defeated, Robi Jo tossed it to her.
“Good.” Felicia put the box cutter in her pocket for safe keeping.
“Hey! You better not be thinking about trying to steal my knife!” Dale, who had just walked around the corner, pointed an accusing finger at Felicia.
“She was,” Robi Jo smirked.
Felicia looked from Dale to Robi Jo in rapid succession. “Me? I wasn’t the one about to steal-” Her reply was cut short as Frank entered the receiving area.
“Dale, can you help me for a moment?”
“Uh, sure Frank.” Dale turned back towards Felicia as he walked away. “I’m watching you.”
Frank pointed at the skid of olives. Dale had already put out some of the grocery clogging the backroom, but the size and weight of the olives had pushed it down to the bottom of his list of things to do.
“I’m going to get the power jack. Stand right there,” Frank motioned to a spot directly behind the skid, “-and wait for me.”
Something about the man’s posture, very rigid, and his strange, flat tone set off alarm bells in Dale’s mind. He shook his head. This was Frank he was talking about. The new store manager was a friendly, stand-up guy.
Frank turned on the power jack and directed it at the tower of jarred olives.
“Whoa, Frank, I think you’re coming a bit fast.” Dale peeked around the corner of the skid as Frank rocketed towards it.
The power jack collided with the skid hard, the entire stack of jars tipped backwards. With a crash which rivaled thunder, thousands of pounds of olives came crashing to the cement floor.
Robi Jo and Felicia jumped as a flood of olive juice quickly spread across the receiving bay. Felicia let out a scream as Robi Jo put her hands to her mouth to stifle one of her own. From their vantage point they could see that the skid had fallen over directly on top of Dale. The only thing visible of him was his head. It poked out from under the chaos of broken glass and olives.
In contrast to Robi Jo and Felicia, Frank was as calm as could be. He casually turned the power jack off and made his way over to tipped skid.
Dale was still alive. He opened and closed his mouth as if to speak but nothing was coming out.
Frank crouched next to Dale’s head, placed his hands on either side of it and then twisted violently.
The sound of Dale’s neck breaking was akin to wood splintering. Felicia screamed for a second time and Robi Jo barfed.
Frank stood and looked at the girls. He started slowly moving towards them.
“Why are you doing this,” Felicia yelled as she and Robi Jo backed away from the man.
Frank did not answer.
“Felicia?” Robi Jo spoke without taking her eyes off Frank.
Gimme Dale’s knife.”
Felicia pulled the box cutter from her pocket and turned it over to her co-worker.
“Alright, Frank, you better back off!” Robi Jo waved the blade at him.
In response, Frank raised his hands Frankenstein-like and continued towards them.
“Screw it!” Robi Jo charged the store manager. Frank stood stone-still as she swiped the blade across his face. A patch of skin along Frank’s right cheek split where the blade had made contact, and slowly folded down. A mess of circuits and wires peeked through the wound.
“What the hell, man!” Felicia had backed up to the wall, there was nowhere else to go.
The lights in the room flickered, a strobe of blue energy filled the space. A figure appeared directly behind Frank. A glint of metal reflected in the dissipating energy.
Frank shuddered and fell forward, his head sliding off his shoulders as he did so. It bounced across the floor and came to a rest at Robi Jo’s feet. She looked up wild eyed at the new arrival.
Stepping over the twitching remains of Frank; the servos and gears plainly visible through his neck hole, Sam sheathed her sword. The weapon was of a strange design but seemed at home with the tight leather jumpsuit and gadget laden utility belt she wore. Turning her attention to Dale’s remains, she grunted under her breath, “Damn it. I’m too late.”
Felicia raised her hand. “Hi there. So, you’re supposed to be dead. And, oh yeah, what the fu-”
Sam held up a finger to stop her.
“There isn’t time for long explanations. The condensed version is this. Although I am Sam, I’m not your Sam. I come from an alternate dimension. There are five parallel universes. Mine, along with three others have been conquered by the Dread Rainbow Emperor Shawn. Your world, the prime world, was the last unconquered realm. Now there is nothing stopping him from returning here.”
Raising her hand again, Felicia interrupted Sam. “Okay, first, that’s crazy talk. Second, is he really called the Dread Rainbow Emperor? And lastly, what do you mean by returning here? Is he from here?”
“Yes, he is really called that and believe me, he is no joke. And if you would’ve let me finish, I was going to say that the Dread Emperor is indeed originally from your world. Something happened, something magical, and he was displaced from this reality. Now he is bent on conquest and only one person can stop him.”
Taking the whole thing much better than Felicia, Robi Jo asked, “Who?”
Sam nodded towards Dale’s corpse.
“Oh, that’s just great!”
Felicia let out a laugh. “Oh, I get it! I’ve lost my mind! Okay, while, I guess I’ll see you guys at the nut house.”
Sam pulled her sword and held it out so that it blocked Felicia’s path. “I’m sorry, but you can’t leave. The Emperor must be stopped.”
“What? You just said Dale was our only hope and,” she poked the side of Dale’s head with the toe of her shoe, “yep, he’s super dead.”
Raising the sword above her, Sam turned and brought the blade down with force across Dale’s twisted neck. Like Frank-bot’s head moments before, Dale’s rolled across the floor.
Robi Jo barfed again.
Sam scooped up Dale’s severed head. “Each world had a Dale. The Emperor has now killed them all. But if we collect the pieces, we can rebuild him. It’s the only way to stop the Emperor.”
Felicia cocked an eyebrow. “I can’t help but notice you keep saying we.”
Sam grinned and pulled a small device from her belt. “You two are coming with me. We have work to do.” She thumbed a red button along the device’s side. Blue energy began pulsing from it.
“Huh, what?” Felicia asked.
In a flash, all three of them were gone.
To Be Continued!
Christian Laforet is the author of the short horror collection, The Space Between Houses and co-founder of Adventure Worlds.
The Space Between Houses is available through Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Space-Between-Houses-Christian-Laforet-ebook/dp/B00P5N8TRS/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-ueredtext&ie=UTF8&qid=1420681234&sr=1-2&keywords=the+space+between+houses