In the backs of kitchens, all across America, where it is said no customer has laid an eye, there are sharpies. On the lines of open-air food assemblies, where the great ovens bellow with rage and fire, and the workers dry as fast as they sweat, there are sharpies. In the cabins of the trucks, the great meal deals on wheels, all over the epson tickets with names and order numbers, sharpies have claimed their territory. Here, a chef; there, a sharpie. Here, boxes and boxes of Sysco supplies; there, a sharpie.
But neither the cooks, nor the customers, nor the managers, nor even the Health Department, know the truth: there lives a creature under most everyone's noses, a creature that feeds on huffing the fumes of the black ink. A creature that writes employees' names in sharpie to curse them until they wash it off, a favorite prank to play on humans. Those in the know call it a sharpie elf, and those in the know are few.
It was in one of these many kitchens, a sandwich line in California, where Little Timmy got his first job. Little Timmy was a fast learner. He knew the menu, he worked quickly, and he was exceptionally clean. He liked everything straight and orderly, from the racks of food to the dishes drip-drying on the shelves. That's why he always lined up the sharpies, perfectly straight, along the prep table when he was finished at night.
As time wore on, the sharpies began to disappear. All cooks will tell you the same: a pack lasts a week. This didn't bother little Timmy though. As long as the sharpies were straight, he didn't mind. They dwindled, from ten, to eight, to seven, to two. But they were straight on the prep table every night, and that's all that mattered to little Timmy.
The next monday, the beginning of Timmy's second week, Timmy's seasoned coworker Chelsea pulled him aside. "Hey Timmy," she said, "Last night I saw you putting the sharpies on the prep table. You know, you really shouldn't do that."
"Why not?" asked Timmy. "They should be neat before we go home."
Chelsea wagged her finger at Little Timmy. "No no, Timmy. If you leave them out, the sharpie elves will get them, and if they do, they'll put a curse on this restaurant."
"Sharpie elves?" Little Timmy scoffed. He had never heard anything so ridiculous!
"It's true!" Chelsea insisted, opening a new pack. "I've seen them, once. When I was closing really late. They took all the sharpies on the floor, and on the cutting boards, and even the one in my pocket! But…" She pointed to the cup sitting above the last sandwich station, where sandwiches would be wrapped for hungry customers. "They didn't take any from there. They stayed away from it the whole night. Every night I count how many are in the cup, and in the morning none of them are gone. So put them in the cup!"
Little Timmy promised he would put the sharpies in the cup. The rest of the day went like it usually did, with customers and orders in and out. When Little Timmy closed last night, he remembered what Chelsea told him. But the sharpies always looked so disorganized in the cup. He couldn't bear to look at them, so he took them out and lined them up nicely and neatly on the prep table. He counted seven sharpies before he left.
When he came in to work the next morning, Chelsea told him she found the sharpies on the prep table again. She said there were only six this morning. Little Timmy lied and said that's how many there were when he closed last night.
This happened again, every night, for a week. Every night that week, one sharpie after another went missing. Finally, the next monday, Little Timmy was asked to come in with a new pack of sharpies. When he walked in, Chelsea ran up to him. "Have you been putting the sharpies back in the cup?"
"No." he admitted. "But it's ok, because I brought in a new pack of sharpies."
Chelsea shook her head and made Little Timmy follow her into the walk-in. There, written in sharpie, big and bold and dripping with fresh ink, was the name 'Timmy.' "I told you." Chelsea said. "We won't get the fridge cleaner for a few days. You'll have to live with it until then."
Little Timmy understood that what he did was wrong, but he didn't mind that much. So what if sharpie elves are real? All he had to do was wait, wash off the walk-in, and this would all be behind him.
What Little Timmy didn't realize was, while his name was on the wall, his store was cursed. That night, 20 minutes before close, a line of 20 customers walked in, and demanded an expensive 20 dollar sandwich that was a mess to make. Poor Timmy went home an hour later than usual that night, and he was exhausted. The next day, it happened again. 20 customers came in 20 minutes before close, demanding the $20 sandwich. Poor Timmy went home even more tired that night, and even later than the last night. Then, on the third day, it happened again. 20 customers, 20 orders, $20. Poor Timmy was dead tired that night, and almost slept through his alarm the next morning.
"I can't take it anymore!" He cried when he got to work.
Chelsea came up to him and handed him a spray bottle. "Then you're in luck! The fridge cleaner came in today!"
Timmy grabbed it and sprinted to the fridge. He scrubbed and scrubbed the walk-in until his name was all the way gone. That night, when he closed, only one customer came in, and they only wanted a drink. He made it out in twenty minutes, and slept his soundest in a long time that night.
From that point on, at the end of the night, Timmy always made sure the sharpies weren't lined up on the prep table, or on the floor, or even in his pocket. He, too, began counting how many were in the cup at night, and every morning he checked to make sure they were all there the next day. He put them as neatly as he could in the cup on the sandwich station, hoping the elves never gathered enough sharpies to write his name on the wall again.
But, every once in a while, a sharpie mysteriously goes missing, and a chill goes down his spine, for he knows that, eventually, someone's name will be on the wall again. Maybe it had fallen between the stations during a rush. Maybe it was hiding in an apron pocket, lumped in with the rest of the laundry. Wherever it was, Timmy knew the elves would find it. He just hoped he wasn't closing when it happened.