The Clerk

Hunched on the ground, his spine nearly twisted over his swollen gun, the gaunt man pushes his dirty hands into the plastic of a package. The grocery clerk, dark eyed and nearly seething with numbness, imagines the plastic to be the flesh of someone’s rib cage as his fingers, caked with grime, tears it slowly open. His chipped nails and gnarled fingers know too many years under the fluorescent lights, too many years forced to breath the air of countless creatures who only have the purpose of consumption to drive their impulses as they blindly idle between the isles. He avoids them when he can, those creatures as lifeless as him, those that he knows only to hold for with contempt and inner workings of malice, by shuffling out his regimented time in the back halls where the sounds of the creatures dull on aimlessly through the corridors; but out here on the floor, he tucks himself into his mind.

There is no music overhead, at least not to the clerk. The constant drum of the mundane, uninspired hit songs that have filled so many with smiles or relaxation have slowly turned into an array of piercing static. Voices are no longer recognizable, they are more shrills, more shrieks, tribal chanting in some alien tongue of long forgotten gods. The smells of the store are no longer distinct in their various aromas, hundreds upon hundreds of gallons of coffee and carton after carton of cigarettes have turned the constantly assaulting odors of dirty people, spoiled meats, and rotting vegetable matter into a gray, indistinguishable wash that the clerk takes in with every breath. Knees swollen and popping, stomach churning with anxiety and bitterness, shoulders and back throbbing with every subtle motion; even with sights on retirement the body has taken beyond the abuse it was made to endure. Retirement is something fabled, an ancient tome buried away in some guarded religious text to null the sensations of fleeing or climbing or ending it all in a quit, violent thrust. Not though, as the crowds amass in the tightening isles, grabbing at boxes of sugar and salt with chubby, sweaty fingers; the clerk knows he is trapped.

Medication can only suppress so much, and like a loose suture it begins to loose. The subconscious of the clerk struggles to stand, to keep from quivering with fear or hate or sadness, all of them or none of them he could not be certain, as he takes in the sights with eyes now open and vibrating across each corner of his vision. The countless people coughing, smacking their lips, blurting inexcusable nonsense into their phones, brush their plump bodies and atrophy ridden limbs against him as they waddle their frame by; pushing him closer and closer into that dark corner, where the veil of sanity dangles loosely by mere threads.

There are bad thoughts there in that corner. Not thoughts of sin, sexual perversion, not of regret or sadness or wishes seen from a distance where the future might lay. Regret is handled head on, the moment the clerk wakes each day, every day, sexual perversion satiated whenever his seed is spilled in the numbest way satisfaction can be climaxed, fear and sadness background radiation to his existence. No, the thoughts in this corner are not thoughts as much as they are primal impulses, urges, struggles against keeping the facade going just one more day; and each day, with each passing encounter and interaction with another mouth, gnawing at its own mortality, begging for obliteration, the clerk is pushed closer and closer. He knows it is there, hiding just beyond the shadows of his thoughts. A darkened mass without eyes to differentiate between weakness and strength and without ears to hear begs of mercy or sorrow. He has even seen it a few times, in hindsight. Little bursts of anger, rage, swirled into confusion down to the base of his senses. He has felt the release it holds, knowing that if only he would give into its demands he would truly find piece; but others know of this corner as well. It has been seen, time and again. Schools, churches, battle fields, cemeteries, bitter cold dirt boils with it and stones have be turned to powder when thrown against it.

Another creature approaches the dark eyed clerk. A child of one of the creatures with a face grease covered and speckled with the remains of something it had been forced to consume. The clerk believes it is grinning, but the twisted mass of the creature’s face bends and curves, rippling into confusing patterns as it utters a jogging sound from the back of its throat. The clerk could feel the slop festering under the creatures tongue splash against his haggard face. The gelatin, composed of the rotting scraps of food that the creature failed at chewing wreaking of a horrid odor so foul it pierces through the dead senses of the clerk’s nose, slides down the side of his face as the rambling, quivering creature continues its horrid cackle of strange noises.

The clerk had moved closer to the corner then. In his mind, feeling it reach for him, infecting each of his remaining free thoughts as their greedy hands grip for him. With each interaction, with each exchange with another shivering, quaking lump of flesh, the hands grow longer, and strong, and their grip tighter and faster. The clerk knows, even if he could escape this, that they will eventually take hold. That corner, seeped in the ichor of experience, boiling with the unnameable terror that haunts every truly sane person; calls to him. His bent frown, his heavy shoulders, and his sunken, dead eyes show the inner struggle. They reveal a constant battle, one in which he, like all stuck within this torment, is losing. He knows the end. Even on the brink, trotting lightly around the edges of that sheer darkness, he knows that it is too inviting, too comforting. And so he gives.

phill