"Miss….miss?"

Siobhan Mulligan's eyes lifted upward with reluctance from her close inspection of her fingernails. It seemed pointless to continue to spend time carefully painting them in new colors and designs each week, as they were always chipped and faded by the first few days of the hell hole that was her workplace. Her official position at Val-U Mart was cashier, but as more people ditched their scheduled shifts than actually attended them, she often spent just as much time stocking, unloading shipments, and pricing as she did ringing up the odd breed of humanity that actually chose to be her customers. None of those tasks were easy on her nails.

She expected the voice addressing her to belong to an older woman, likely one who was either demented, half blind, or half deaf. Those, drug-users, and suspected schizophrenics seemed the most likely to regularly frequent Val-U Mart, as they were provided with reasonable excuses for why they put up with the place and its more nightmarish qualities. Siobhan's guess turned out to be only partially right. The woman was older, maybe in her sixties, but she seemed of reasonable mental and physical facilities. Perhaps that explained the disturbed, nearly terrified sheen of sweat lining her brows, or the deep flush of her skin.

Or maybe she was just pissed off that her favorite bra brand wasn't on sale anymore. That was an equally likely possibility.

"Can I help you," Siobhan said with all the deadpan monotone of the nineteen-year-old minimum wage employee that she was, her facial expression every bit as flat and unenthused as her voice. She didn't shift her slumped position against her counter, blowing a strand of hair straggling from her ponytail out of her face.

"Miss, I don't mean to be rude, but…there is something very WRONG with this place!" the woman nearly squeaked, drawing herself up to her full height. "The music in here is terrible! I realize it's nearly Halloween, but all of this moaning and squealing, and that terrible wailing-"

"That isn't music," Siobhan interrupted, not one flicker of interest lighting itself in her eyes. "That's the ghosts of all the people who've been murdered here. They're pretty upset about it. You'll get used to it after a while, but I can turn on some overhead music if you want."

The woman's eyes widened, and she blinked several times, then narrowed her eyes suspiciously.

"Yes, well, you may think that's a funny joke, but it really isn't very funny at all, young lady. I came here to shop, not to get a headache."

"I'll turn on the music," Siobhan mumbled. "Be right back."

She stepped over behind the returns counter a few counters down, fiddling with the speaker and controls located behind it. She had to adjust the volume several times to drown out the loud weeping noises that the woman had described, but eventually, what could only be referred to as elevator music played overhead. When Siobhan returned to the woman, the woman's jaw had dropped with disbelief.

"Are you saying that was…that wasn't a recording? I can still hear the noise just under that!"

The woman had to nearly shout for Siobhan to hear her. Siobhan shrugged, unmoved.

"Like I said, they're pretty upset. It's hard to be dead or something. Is there something else I can do, or…"

"This place is…it's a health hazard!" the woman sputtered, gesturing wildly for emphasis. "Look around you! There are people with open wounds walking around, people eating food that looks raw and bloody in the middle of the aisles! For goodness sakes, the walls are dripping with slime! This place should be condemned!"

Siobhan continued to regard her with an unblinking stare, as though expecting the customer to get to the point. Incredulous, the woman raised her voice to a near scream.

"There is BLOOD starting to drip down the hall to your left, don't you see it?!"

Siobhan sighed heavily, her shoulders rising and falling with her shrug.

"Yeah…that happens on Tuesdays. I'll go get the mop."

Leaving the customer standing open-mouthed at the counter, Siobhan ambled towards the storage closet in the back of the building, avoiding stepping in the icy pools of water that one of the ghosts had recently left dripping in its path. As she pulled open the closet, retrieving the mop with another exasperated sigh, she trudged back to the front, mop bucket in tow to tackle the bloodied walls for the fifth week in a row. She noted with apathy that the customer had fled the store in tears, a tiny, red-bearded man in green chasing her out the door cackling. He carried the woman's gold necklace, now broken after he had torn it from her neck, clutched tightly in his fist as he swung it around his head in victory.

"Don't look at me, Seamus, all I can afford is the stuff that turns my skin green," Siobhan muttered towards him. "But if you want it, it's all yours."

Before getting to the task of cleaning, she stopped by the manager's counter once again, taking the time to turn off the elevator music. As the ghosts' cries once more filled the store, she inwardly shrugged, resigning herself to hearing them for the next several hours. Anything beat listening to Barry Manilow.

As Siobhan lifted her sopping mop above her head, beginning to wipe down the oozing red fluid on the wall, she let her eyes glaze over with boredom once more. It was another day on the job, what she knew to be literal retail hell.

88

Siobhan Mulligan was no stranger to hard work or shitty jobs. She had been involved in both since she was fifteen, around the time it started to dawn on her that the only way she was going to get out of her loser hometown and nobody lifestyle was if she made it happen on her own. Having no inheritance, rich lover, or magic wand to make it happen, she had few options other than earning it the hard way, or hoping for an awesome scholarship to a far off college in an equally awesome city to start her off more easily.

It was apparent by the end of her sophomore year that the scholarship wasn't going to happen. Siobhan wasn't an idiot, but she didn't have the interest or will to put in the time it would take to pull off scholarship worthy grades. She was content with her chosen lifestyle of never studying, completing the bare minimum on projects, and listening just enough to pass her tests. That left her with the option of earning enough money to either pay her way into college or else start a life in the adult world.

Her first effort at a career was babysitting, the only real option to start with at age fifteen. After weeks of putting up with screaming children, getting kicked in the shins and puked on, dealing with a toddler deliberately breaking her phone and an eight-year-old running through a glass door, Siobhan had finally had enough when one of the kids' dad tried to feel her up on the front porch on the same day that she caught the man's wife with the pool guy. It hadn't even been dark out yet.

Her next effort, as a dog walker, had seemed easy and promising enough. That was, until she lost control of an expensive poodle, who promptly got hit by a car and broke a rib. She might have been able to apologize and pay that off, somehow, if her other customer hadn't been contacted by a woman threatening to sue because her pit bull had gotten a little too excited at the local park and knocked her down. It didn't seem to matter he had just been licking the woman's face; she had alleged anxiety and fear for her life and been sure to inform the owner that Siobhan had been the one in charge of him.

By then Siobhan had turned sixteen, the age where she was eligible for working with fast food. But she had heard plenty of horror stories from her friends, and she thought she'd be better off looking for work in retail.

Retail. The biggest mistake of her life to date, other than that haircut in the sixth grade that made her look like a hedgehog, had been thinking it was a good idea to work in retail.

In the three years that Siobhan had worked retail, she had managed to burn through three separate jobs, and had just recently started her fourth at Val-U Mart. It wasn't, unlike her previous jobs, because she had been fired. No, it took more failure than Siobhan could comprehend as possible to be able to imagine what it would take to be fired from retail. Siobhan had managed to lose all three of her jobs because each of them, one by one, had managed to go out of business just as she had learn everything she needed to know about them.

Kmart had been first, with its glowing white aisles and flashing blue light specials thankfully gone forever. Sears, with its modern day prices attached to clothing considered unfashionable even in 1982, had been the next to bite the dust. And finally had come the demise of Toys R Us, what most children considered a personal heaven, but which Siobhan had come to realize was the most evil place to work at of them all.

Some people considered such things as heights, insects, clowns, or even death as the most frightening thing they could imagine. Siobhan Mulligan knew that none of that compared to the pure, soul-killing horror of working a three am shift in retail the day of Black Friday.

No one who had not worked retail could say that they had to section off a corner of their workplace because a feral cat had given birth to kittens and managed to send the three people who attempted to move them to the ER, in need of rabies shots. Nor could they boast finding random puddles of urine or feces in places other than the bathroom, or being handed the soiled underpants of a woman who nonchalantly declared she had had an accident and needed help finding new clothes. Siobhan had been hit on by men old enough to be Abraham Lincoln's wife and young enough to be holding a Matchbox car in one hand, stalked for three weeks by a teenager who never seemed to blink, and screamed at for not being able to produce items that had not been in stock since 1994. She had witnessed grown people biting and drawing blood over ten dollar toasters or glitzy dolls, teenagers in full coitus in a Fisher Price playhouse, and the actual death of an elderly man who had a heart attack after attempting to lift a fifty pound bag of dog food. She had been sneezed on, coughed on, peed on, and spat on. People had argued with her for telling them to have a nice day and on both the spelling and pronunciation of her own name. People had lied to her, stolen in front of her, and once even handed over their six month old baby and walked out the door without even glancing back. She had been forced to stay over for an hour on behalf of a woman who walked in two minutes before closing and to price check 64 items only to have the customer buy nothing. She had been called in on days she had not been scheduled to work on 153 occasions and asked to stay over on 129 occasions.

Siobhan had lived through every possible nightmare a person could. She was certain of it. There was nothing left that could occur that would scare her, shock her, or even interest her.

That was exactly why she didn't hesitate when her last job shut its doors forever and the job opening at Val-U Mart was posted online. Jobs were scarce in her town, and she couldn't go long without a lapse in pay. At nineteen, she was not yet in college, living in her parents' basement, and owing them a months' worth of rent for it. There was nothing about this job that could be any worse than anything she'd had before.

The interview process had seemed a bit odd. For one thing, no one had actually arranged to meet her in person. The person on the phone had spoken with no expression, to the point that she assumed they must be sarcastic. Especially given the questions posed her way.

"Are you alive? Are you also breathing and able to stand? Are you corporeal? Do you consider yourself easily frightened? Are you able to handle and clean messes?"

They weren't the usual retail work questions- she hadn't heard anything like the usual "what are your strengths and weaknesses" or "are you a team player" in that brief list. Still, those were fair questions not outside the realms of what she'd encountered, and if they were sarcastic questions, well, having a sense of humor had to be a plus in superiors.

Still, the first time she pulled up to the Val-U Mart parking lot, ready if not thrilled about starting her first day of employment, a girl around her own age approached her, apprehension pulling her features taut. She was dressed in the black pants and collared shirt that the website had advised to be the uniform, so Siobhan assumed she was a new coworker.

"Are you the new girl?" she asked, not bothering to introduce herself. Siobhan noted without really caring that her nametag read Gwen. Without waiting for Siobhan to reply, Gwen had pushed on with urgency in her tone.

"Get out while you still can. This place is a living hell."

Siobhan shrugged, unimpressed.

"I've done retail before. That's how it rolls."

As she continued forward, Gwen hurried to stay in step with her, raising her voice slightly.

"No, you don't understand. The people that come here are crazy. They're zombies, they're witches, they're demons! And the managers- Remington Morris is a vampire, and Letitia Yates is a skeleton!"

"That's customers," Siobhan acknowledged. "And managers. Apparently anorexia is in this year. And so is the pale, red-eyed look, especially for stoners."

"No, I mean it!" Gwen insisted, her eyes wide. "She is LITERALLY a skeleton, no skin, just bones with clothes and a wig! And Remington is LITERALLY a vampire! He never leaves the building, he has people who go into his office and never come out again! He won't go outside in the day time, it's written in his employee contract! There is an actual coffin in the closet of his office!"

"Managers," Siobhan sighed, shaking her head. "They always do have the weirdest kinks."

"I'm telling you," Gwen maintained, shaking her head. "I'm about to bounce. The only reason I didn't leave the first week is I was scared if I did, they'd eat me. But it's too much. At this point, even showing up drunk or high just makes it that much more trippy. If something in there doesn't kill me, I'm gonna end up killing myself. Listen to what I tell you…get…out."

She kept walking past Siobhan, her entire body giving a sharp shudder with every few steps as though in continued feared response. Siobhan watched her, her shoulders rising and falling in a shrug.

For a moment, she thought about turning around. But then she turned to face the store's entrance, took a breath, and continued on.

She could deal with anything, if it came with a paycheck at the day's end.

88

That was a few months back. Gwen had in fact not been exaggerating; Manager Remington certainly did keep containers of suspiciously dark red liquid in the break room refrigerator, carefully labeled "O positive," "B negative," and "A." Manager Letitia could be somewhat challenging to talk to, since she was missing both eyes in her dark skull sockets and a tongue in her bony mouth cavity. But that made it somewhat easier in some respects. Remington rarely appeared out of the dark cavern of his office, and Letitia couldn't give out many orders or corrections without a tongue.

It was true that her coworker Frank was pretty hard to understand too, since he seemed to communicate mostly in grunts, and it was hard to look him in the eye since he was over seven feet tall. The green pallor of his skin didn't help the confusion. Her coworker Mary was pretty irritating too; she had scared off more than one customer by letting out sudden shrieks, and it was constant work, following after her mopping up the blood she left trailing down the floor. But Tony and Brittney were pretty cool; Tony was mellow, always ready to offer up his favorite drug of the day, no strings attached. Brittney was sometimes confused if the customers she was serving were reality or one of her hallucinations, but she was pleasant when someone clued her in.

Overall, retail was retail. Siobhan adjusted fast.

It was the newer customers who always seemed to have an issue. But then again, that wasn't unusual.

88

"Miss? Can someone help me find a different oufit? This one, the material must be pretty cheap…I'm willing to buy it, to be nice, but I'd like a discount…"

Siobhan snapped the gum she had been mindlessly chewing for the past hour, looking over her inquiring customer from head to toe. There was plenty to see. The man- she thought it was a male, though the thick fur made his gender pretty hard to tell- was standing about as politely and patiently as was possible while breathing open-mouthed, saliva dripping down his grizzled jowls and fuzzy ears turned her way.

"Is it already a full moon?" she sighed. "I gotta keep a calendar, seems like clothes start falling apart around then. Sorry, man. You rip the clothes, you buy it, and those aren't on sale."

Heaving another exhale, she called over her shoulder to Brittney, who had been folding shirts with the glacial slowness of a koala's blink.

"Brittney, this one needs a bigger size. Extra room in the chest and backside."

She slouched towards the food aisle, price checker in hand. She'd had a few customers inform her that some of the clearance items weren't ringing up on sale, and Tony was too busy helping the woman in the pointy hat pick a broom to bother with recruiting for assistance.

She had reached the cosmetics department when she heard a shrill scream, more noticeable even than the usual distress calls that echoed through the vicinity. Sighing, Siobhan plodded in the general direction of the sound, soon coming up on the source. A foul smelling man in ragged, mud-streaked clothing had clamped his peeling fingers on the shoulders of a young woman, his slobbering mouth opened wide. Blood and what looked like pieces of skin was smeared over his chin, chest, and throat, and as Siobhan watched, he leaned in, biting out another huge chunk of the already sizeable hole in the woman's face.

"Hey, no eating is allowed in the store," Siobhan informed him, raising her voice just enough to be possibly heard. "Manager rule, it's on the sign out front. If you're hungry, there's some cereal on special, only 1.99 a box. Two aisles down."

She shuffled on, leaving the potentially interested customer to think it over, and almost tripped over a little boy with wild red hair and a maniacal grin, clad in overalls and a striped shirt. Siobhan blinked slowly, watching him run past with a cackle, and noticed without concern that there was something strangely mechanical about his movements, almost like a doll or puppet.

She started to check the prices of the corresponding items in the foods aisle, her productivity shortly interrupted by yet another customer inquiry. The man in question was sweating, panting, and near hysterics as he grabbed her arm, pushing his face close to hers in his urgency.

"Miss, miss, come quickly! Someone's been killed, it looks like- it looks like they were hacked to death!"

Siobhan just looked at him, then back at her price checker. When she didn't immediately respond, the man tugged at her arm, his voice rising.

"Did you hear what I said, don't you understand? People could be in serious danger, what if the killer is still in here? Call the police, we have to evacuate! If I had my phone with me I'd be calling myself!"

"I've got it," she muttered, sighing for what felt like the eighteenth time of the day, and would undoubtedly not be the last. "Let me radio Tony and figure out where he put the gloves and caution signs. We're supposed to treat blood like a hazard, AIDS scare or whatever."

As the man gawked at her, disbelieving, she spoke into the radio.

"Murder on…what aisle did you say this was?" she asked the man over her shoulder. When he didn't answer immediately, she gave an impatient gesture with her hand. "You want it cleaned up, you have to come out with the details."

"It's…it's aisle eleven," the man stuttered. "But I don't- I'm not asking you to clean up! I'm telling you we're in danger for our lives!"

"Clean up, murder, on aisle eleven," she repeated. "And while we're at it, tell loss prevention that someone's maybe running around with an ax and it could be Val-U Mart merchandise. We've lost enough for Remington to get on our case over this week…not to mention, if they hack up stuff in the store it comes out our paycheck."

Ending the com call, she stuffed it back into her holder, turning away from the man. When he didn't move, she rolled her eyes, addressing him over her shoulder.

"Excuse me. Got work to do."

When he still made no move, Siobhan moved around him with her loudest sigh of the day, trudging off in search of the hazard protective materials. One more obstacle to get around….

Glancing at her wristwatch, she noted that there were four hours and 33 minutes left of her work day. Almost half way through…she could make it. She always had.

After all, it was just another day's work.