Late Shift at Leonard Pharmacy
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again; unemployment sucks.
I started my professional career right around the time of the Great American Recession in 2008. Perfect timing. People were taking any gig they could get. Lawyers did construction. Accountants worked in fast food. My Dad even jumped back out of retirement just to help pay off the last remaining debt on our mortgage. Pundits called it the summer of underemployment, and even still, I threw my tiny little resume out to every local business I could find. The call backs trickled in at one or two a week. I delivered pizzas for a bit. I managed the checkout line at ShopRite for a couple months. I even life-guarded a water park with coworkers half my age. All of this with a Bachelor’s degree already under my belt. Ultimately, I settled for a gig at the local pharmacy, and entered into the worst job of my young adult life.
The store sat in what could be politely called the most underdeveloped part of our small town. Opiate addiction was common for the area. So was petty crime. A lot of families who lived nearby survived off disability payments, social security, and wilting retirement accounts. Some of them were so hooked on our little white pills that they were in our shop once or twice a week. My boss called them the regulars.
The owner was a short, wiry man, named Devesh. Devesh traveled to the States in his early thirties with a goal of finding a better life for his growing family. He picked a good line of work for it. The pill popping business boomed in our town. Months after opening the first pharmacy, Devesh could afford to open a second store in a nearby town. Then a third. And a fourth. By the time he had a restaurant, to go with his medical real-estate portfolio, the original Leonard Pharmacy became sort of an afterthought. Devesh hired a second pharmacist to take over his shifts. He spent less and less time behind the counter or in the store and more at his other businesses. And that was when the stealing started to become a serious problem.
“It’s always stupid stuff,” he told me on the job interview. “Sure, we get some people with the fake scripts, but the cops will take that seriously. It happens once and never again. Not so much effort with the candle thief.”
“Candle thief?” I asked deliriously, trying to hold back a chuckle. “Who would steal candles?”
“I lose at least five of them a week. And they are expensive! Yankee Candle… ten dollars a pop from the vendor,” he paused and noticed my reaction. “The police are the same way. All a big joke right?. But I cannot afford to lose merchandise, razor thin margins, and the pharmacist cannot watch the shelves all day. I am really in a bad situation, man.”
A nervous feeling started to fill my gut.
“You want me to watch people?”
“No, no. Not watch. You will be doing maintenance. You can help stock shelves, ring up general items, empty the garbages, count the register. Obviously you cannot assist with the pharmacy. But your responsibility will be everything else. Everything in the store except the prescriptions.”
I thanked him and said I would think about it.
But I didn’t wait that long. I mentioned the idea to my mother, and she approved. My dad said it could be a good way to learn about small businesses, so, I guess he liked it. Even my little sister thought it would be cool for me to work at the place she always got her energy drinks before school. And on top of it all, I liked Devesh. Moreover, I respected him. He seemed like a good guy trying to carve out his part of the world. I guess it sounded exciting to be a part of it. I could learn from somebody like that. And the pay beat the shit out of the pizza place.
I came back the next day and asked him to sign me up for the night shift. He hired me on the spot.
The first few months were uneventful.
Most of my bad experiences revolved around expired scripts and impatient assholes. I bounced a couple of junkies in the first few weeks. I had to call the cops once or twice. I started to settle into my regular shift of five to nine. Monday through Saturday. I welcomed the consistency of it.
But the candles continued to go missing.
I had to admire the thief’s ingenuity. He never hit more than once a day. He knew how to time the crowds. Usually, after dealing with a herd of 4-5 customers, I would do my usual rounds of the store, only to find the tell-tale empty box sitting on the shelf. The thief actually went through the time to take it out of the packaging and leave the glass top behind. I wondered whether it had something to do with the bar code, at the time.
I kept my eyes on the customers as much as possible as the missing candles began to stack up. And yet, at a certain point, it became offensive to follow people around. More than once, somebody asked me what I was doing, and I was forced to fall back on the bullshit excuse of stocking the shelves. I realized that someone might find my intentions race-based and not candle-based. That made me even more uncomfortable. But the doss didn’t care. Devesh stopped in the store, one early Saturday evening, on his way to the restaurant. I could tell he was incensed from the get-go.
“Buddy, I hired you to stop the candle guy, and all my candles are still gone. What gives?”
I shrugged and tried to explain the difficulties of tracking the movements of one hundred customers a day on my own. I told him about how it made me uncomfortable to follow people. He nodded and threw up an impatient hand.
“Okay. Understood. I am not stocking candles anymore. They didn’t sell well, anyway, and the company charges too high a premium. Razor thin margins, buddy.”
Devesh caught me breathing a sigh of relief and continued.
“I still want you to watch the shelves. A thief is a thief. This won’t stop him from stealing.”
I agreed, thanked him, and sent him on his way with a fat envelope of money. Must be nice.
I worked through the night shift with a new plan to give up on following people. Fuck it. Fuck him. I resigned to the fact that if the thief did move onto another object, say, air fresheners; we would deal with that damn travesty once the evidence became clear. Devesh would probably need some video cameras, not a human spy.
The day moved a lot quicker with that thought in mind. Before I got another chance to look at the clock, it was already 9:30. One hour to closing. The store looked dark and empty as the last customer walked out with their 24 pack of water bottles. I disappeared to the back room to grab my jacket. When I returned, an unfamiliar man was waiting at the counter.
The guy looked unremarkable compared to the rest of the population of downtown Leonard. He was around five-five, white, with blonde hair and light brown eyes. He wore Timberlands, wrinkled jeans and an oversized gray jacket with a whole mess of hoods and zippers. He spoke quietly and nervously, with a hint of an out of area accent. I didn’t respond to him any differently than the thousand of customers that came before.
“Hi. Welcome to Leonard. Can I help you?”
“Hi. Do you have anymore candles in stock?”
Jackpot. I know it sounds stupid, but my heart actually started to pound in my chest. The thrill of the catch was in my sights. Not a single soul, in two full months on the job, had ever asked if we carried candles. Nobody even bought them, to my knowledge, although Devesh claimed otherwise. My fingers ran towards the panic button under the counter. I had to call the police. But on what suspicion? Asking about candles in a pharmacy is most definitely not a crime. I had to bait him. But I didn’t know how. So I stupidly said the obvious.
“Uh, sorry, man… we’re out of stock.”
His expression changed in a heartbeat. Placid brown eyes turned panicked and began to dart back and forth. He turned to look into the corners of the store. His ruddy red complexion became fully flushed. His voice cracked with anxiety.
“Oh my God. Shit. Please tell me you have some in the back.”
I stared at him. My grasp found the raised emergency button. I begged the idiot to come after me. One push would be all it took.
“No. Somebody has been stealing them. Sound familiar?”
I thought the man would react to my accusation. That would be a normal thing, right? To deny it or confirm it. Instead he ran to the front door and slammed it shut. Then he turned to face me.
“*Are there any other entrances? He’s coming.**”
“Who is coming? What the fuck are you talking about?”
He ignored me by running towards the bathroom.
“You can’t get in there without the key.”
He rushed back towards me. I noticed a wet spot forming just by his leg.
“Look, I don’t have time to explain. I’m sorry. He’s coming. He told me he’s coming. We need to hide.”
I realized he must be crazy. The man just wet himself in public. A fierce wind picked up just outside the Pharmacy. The dead leaves still drifting through our lot kicked up and created an awkward scraping on the pavement. I stayed behind the counter and kept my eye on the guy, unsure of what to do next. He continued to ramble, unaware of my comments.
“The candles… the candles keep them away. I’m sorry. I don’t know why. I think it’s the smell. I tried to pay for some of them. I tried to pay for what I could.”
That sounded like a confession. I punched the panic button.
“The Sheriff’s Department is on it’s way, Sir.”
“You can call the police. Good, please, call them. But they won’t make it in time. They never make it in time. I don’t even know what they would do if they did make it in time.”
The wind continued to pounce it’s way through the parking lot. For a moment, it became so severe that the foundation of the building actually seemed to shake. What followed was an unexpected down-pouring of white sheets of water. Heavy droplets of hail pounded the ceiling over our heads. The weather channel never called for rain, to my knowledge.
The man began to moan.
“Oh God, oh God, oh God, he’s coming. That’s it. Once he sees you, he’s coming, and there’s nothing left to do. Nothing to do but die.”
He rushed back over the entrance and held his foot in front of the door.
“Oh God, oh God, oh God, he’s coming. That’s it. Once he sees you, he’s coming, and there’s nothing left to do. Nothing to do but die.”
Five more minutes, I told myself. Five more minutes before the police met their response time. The rain might slow them down, some, sure; but how long could it be? Ten minutes? Twelve? The man never appeared dangerous. He just ranted and raved away.
“It’s the candle, you see, it’s that scent. He doesn’t like it. But it has to be that flavor. Leporum, you know? It’s expired. They don’t make it anymore. You think they know? You think they know it works, and that’s why they don’t make it anymore? I think that’s why. I think that’s why. I hope I die. I hope we both die before that thing gets us.”
I had about enough of this. I pulled a gun from behind the counter and leveled it at the madman’s head. Devesh knew enough to keep me protected. And I knew enough to take lessons at the range.
“Get out. This is my final warning. Get out of the store.”
The short little man stared at me blankly.
“I can hear him talking to me, now. He says he’s going to get me. He says he’s going to get you too.”
I fired a warning shot into the glass. The jackass ducked and fell onto the floor, screaming and shrieking like a banshee as the broken shards collapsed into the folds of his coat. I groaned and reloaded the rifle as he writhed around on the floor like a snake.
“Get the hell out of here,” I shouted back.
And just as suddenly as he started, the screaming suddenly stopped. The man got up and smiled. His ruddy face painted a weird, sick little smile that suggested he knew something I did not. Then he jumped through the broken glass and ran into the parking lot.
I followed into the parking lot and tried to catch an idea of where he might be headed for the police. The storm started to get worse. I shielded my eyes from the rain and held onto the railing for balance. The thief tripped by the edge of the parking lot and fell hard on his knees. I laughed. He placed himself perfectly under the only lamppost on our property. He tried to get up again, but fell backwards as a strong gust of wind pushed forward. I barely had to do anything, I thought to myself. Job well done, storm.
The man started to shriek again. I thought it might be the after effects of whatever sick shit he sucked up into his veins. I lazily followed his line of sight, and the direction of his outstretched arm, and nearly choked on my my spit when I saw it.
Crouched by the corner of the woods sat a creature taller than me.
Before I could react, it’s shadow shot out from between the trees. It looked like a dog, or a wolf, at first. All I could tell about the animal was that it traveled on all fours. It charged for the poor little thief mercilessly. I tried to aim my gun. I tried to shoot at it. I think I even got a bullet off in its vicinity. But the blur of movement traveled so quickly that I could barely get a scope on it. I shielded my eyes to see, got my gun ready again, and before ten seconds had passed… blood exited my new friend’s neck in a horrific red stream.
The creature turned its head in my direction. I couldn’t see it very well. But I could feel it’s harsh eyes bore into me from across the parking lot. I backed away towards the store. Those cold eyes followed me steadily. It looked angry. It ignored the bleeding out carcass of the thief in front of it and stared at me directly. It ignored the pouring rain. It didn’t move. It didn’t threaten to attack. It just… studied me.
The warm handle of Leonard’s hit my back like a safety valve. I darted back inside and cut the lights to the store in one smooth motion.
The police arrived exactly three painstaking minutes later.
I tried to explain everything that happened. I tried to tell them about the thief. I tried to tell them about the animal. I tried to tell them about everything that happened before and after the story above. But they didn’t believe me.
Nobody believes me.
And it’s easy to say why. They never found a man matching my description. They never found a blood stain in the parking lot. All of the video cameras showed static for the entirety of my shift, and all of the missing person leads turned up empty, based on my description.
I must have sounded like a liar. The police said it never rained in Leonard that night.
I was baffled at the time. I had no explanation for the events that occurred other than the bizarre account above. And so I kept it to myself. For over a decade… I just kept it to myself. But I’m not confused anymore. I’m not embarrassed. I’m not ashamed to say that the story above really did happen to me at Leonard Pharmacy. And now I’m just scared.
Because last night, around six, my small family sat down to dinner on our patio. The weather was beautiful. The sun was just starting to go down over the magnificent woods in Leonard. My wife put out a full spread of burgers, fries, and drinks. The American way. I remember spoon feeding our youngest daughter and thinking nothing could be more perfect in life.
But just as the sun dipped behind the trees, the wind picked up, and a terrible crack of thunder echoed from above. The rain followed soon after in familiar white sheets of unending water. I ushered the kids inside and helped my wife with the dishes. Just as she grabbed the last one, I remembered the umbrella, and rushed back outside to tie it down. The massive Evergreens creaked nervously on the corner of our property. I looked toward them nervously.
And that’s when I saw him. That’s when I heard him.
The creature sat on all fours. But it still stood taller than me. It’s back arched lazily. I opened my mouth to scream but could not even try. I knew then that it must be my time. Even still, I turned and ran back back inside. I don’t know why.
I kept a couple of candles burning inside the kitchen. I knew enough to save some from storage. But they won’t last long. They never last long. And it almost doesn’t matter. Once he sees you, there’s nothing left to do.
You heard the guy.
Nothing left to do but die.