Watching Over Me
Let me start at the beginning. I’m not exactly an over achiever, so this will be brief. I’ve lived at home with my parents for the past two years. That is, ever since I graduated from the local community college with an ambiguous associates degree in liberal arts. The rough (ish) economy, combined with my lacking degree and even more lacking bank account was enough to keep my parents off my back for a very long time – up until about a week ago. The problem with the good life of waking up at noon and playing video games until 5 A.M. is one simple and unavoidable fact; I needed some money, and my parents weren’t going to keep giving me it.
So, I did what most kids do my age. I threw my $40,000 degree in the shitter and applied for a job at the local convenience store.
At first, it wasn’t all that bad. It was a truck stop kind of joint – most people would turn in for a piss and a soda during a moonlight trek on the attached highway. Nothing was nearby but the woods and the road. For hours, I would watch the cars pass by and wish someone would come in just for the company.
Most folks seemed to like the fact that I was born in the area and didn’t speak with an accent, at least according to them. I got the best from most of the customers, while my unfortunate foreign coworkers were met with raised voices and muttered insults. It was a night like that when this shit began. Last Thursday, to be exact. My third night on the job. I was stocking the swirling frosty machine with cups when I heard a man shouting at my coworker Dinesh.
“I gave you twenty dollars, twen-ty DOLLARS. Five. You owe me twelve of ’em BACK.”
Dinesh stuttered, clearing sweating and allowing his thick accent to fall even more off key with his nerves. He explained to the man that wasn’t possible, he was holding the change in his hand the whole time. The man responded by knocking a rack of chips, which I just spent an hour stacking, to the ground.
“I’m not fucking around here, Mohammad. Hand over my actual change, or I’m going to start taking the damage out on your little hovel here.”
“Sir, if you cause anymore damage to this store I will have the police here in moments to sort out your spare change. Please leave.” I said clearly, never breaking eye contact.
The man was a walking grizzly bear. He must have been six and a half feet tall and he had a grizzled beard that must have last been shaved weeks ago. To compound things, he was drunk. He advanced towards me immediately, clearly not intimidated by the cold stare from a man half a foot shorter than him. His next words were spoken inches from his face. I could taste the stinking malt liquor on his breath.
“Why don’t I just beat the change out of you, boy?” He slurred slowly and viciously, as if he assumed I didn’t know he was wasted.
“Dinesh, get the phone and call the police,” I said, unmoving.
The man advanced towards me like he was going to hit me and slapped over another row of Tasty Cakes. “Don’t bother, Din-Nish, I’m leaving.”
On the way out, he knocked over a third shelf. Wordlessly, I followed him and locked the door, then got down and began to clean up his mess. In a moment, Dinesh walked over and helped.
“Thank you,” he said quietly.
We cleaned up the chips in a few minutes and Dinesh grabbed his jacket to leave. We didn’t say much else to each other – I promised to have the rest of the shit cleaned up by the morning. I didn’t really know what else to tell him at that point. This wasn’t the first time something like this happened, and I’d only been there a few nights. When he left, I looked around and realized I had the store to myself.
After the door closed quietly behind him, I popped in my head phones and set about my nightly duties. The store had been handled throughout the day, so there wasn’t a ton to do – I cleaned up the rest of the astray shelves and threw some Dr. Peppers in the fridge before I added a few more Cheez-Its to the shelves from the back. Soon after that, I was confident enough in my work and in the fact that not many folks would head in here at 4 A.M., so I headed out front for a cigarette.
I hated the fact that I still smoked, but there was something beautiful in the moment of a cigarette out in the empty darkness at 4 A.M. I propped myself on the base of an old concrete pillar out front, relaxed and at peace with the loneliness of the parking lot. Old oak trees swung nonchalantly in the reflection of the one streetlight elevated above. As I lit up, my eyes fell on the cars in the parking lot.
I saw mine, waiting in the only place that seemed safe underneath the lamp post. And a second, parked in the sketchiest and darkest part of the lot right next to the woods. Dinesh’s car was already gone, he must not have noticed.
I hopped up, cigarette in my mouth, and foolishly walked over to investigate.
The lights of the car were off, and the inside was completely locked. I walked a full perimeter, seeing nothing inside the dark windows before I decided to look closer, with my hands cupped at the window. That’s when I saw why the car had never left the lot.
There was blood everywhere. It was hard to see clearly, but whatever was inside this car was clearly no longer living. Bits of pieces of red colored brain matter decorated the inside of the window, inches from my mouth. I doubled back, falling over myself in disbelief. I screamed to the highway behind me, but the cars drove on in silence.
I sprinted back inside and slammed the door behind me. When I was safely inside the convenience store, I set about locking every single door that led inside that I could find. As I headed to the last room to lock, the store room, I screamed once I realized was I was not alone.
Standing on the other side of the door was someone in a yellow Hazmat type suit.
My first thought was that the cops had beaten me to the punch. Maybe this guy had heard about what happened and was first on the scene. But a voice gnawing on the back of my brain screamed otherwise. He didn’t say a word, just… stared. His face was masked and obscured completely, and every piece of his body was coated and covered with the puffy yellow body suit. For a moment we just stood there staring at each other. After that, he stepped forward and opened the unlocked door.
I leaped backwards, knocking things over on my way as the figure in the suit silently followed me. When we had made it back into the open area of the store, he stopped. I stared at him for a good minute from twenty feet away until I finally built up the courage to scream at him.
“What do you want from me?!” I yelled.
He didn’t reply for a moment. Then, with one swipe of suited arm, he knocked over the same bag of chips that I had just cleaned up. He stared at me for another moment, then walked over to the cash register and knocked over another. And another. He stared at me in-between each swipe, then opened the door and walked outside.
I followed him to the window, where I watched him walk silently to the car. It was a bizarre seen, seeing a sole person in a Hazmat suit walking slowly through an empty parking lot in the middle of the night. When he reached the car in question, he pulled a pistol from the pocket of the Hazmat suit and aimed it silently at the car window.
He looked at me and placed a finger over where I assumed to be his mouth.
Was he telling me not to say anything? How the fuck could I do that?
The figure whom I assumed to be a man walked back towards me. I panicked and held the door closed, which didn’t seem to alter his intentions. He walked straight up to the door and stared at me blankly from the author side. Suddenly, he tapped on the glass and pointed to a CCTV camera with his pistol.
It had been shot out.
He tilted his head slowly and mimed a nod, placed a finger over his face again, and left. He walked as slowly as he did before towards the car and through the woods behind it.
I waited five minutes before I called the police.
Squad cars littered the lot soon after, and I was interrogated by four different policemen. My boss and Dinesh had to come down to the store to testify as well, and they were terrified. We were all considered suspects until our alibis coincided. They didn’t even bother to ask for security footage once they saw the bullet hole. Thanks to the HazMat suit, they weren’t able to get any evidence from the scene.
As of now, the case is still open. And I still have to work tonight.