Try Not To Panic

One of the few advantages to working retail was that I could steal office supplies, whose value in all likelihood far exceeded my paycheck. At first I worried that I might be caught, that they might be watching. Of course, to justify that sort of expense, there would have to be some sort of office supply racket, Office Depot selling the pens, stealing the pens back, and then selling the pens once again to replace those that were stolen. Kind of like Wall Street.

The idea of an entire shadow economy based on stolen office supplies distracted me and I was out of the supply closet without first checking to see if there were actually any customers on the floor. I ended up saying “Hello” by sheer baked-in reflex to some woman with three kids attached (who was probably equally surprised to see an employee). Once I got to a safe distance away, I looked down at the objects in my hands: two black pens, a marker, a hi-liter, and a notepad. The notepad was the one item that I actually needed, everything else I just shove into my pockets.

The pocket notepad was, besides my wasp-yellow utility knife, the most useful item that I carried around the sales floor. Not because of any work related use, but because it was in essence a pocket-sized camouflage generator. See your boss walking towards you? Simple, whip it out and open it to one of the pages that you covered in meaningless numbers at the last store meeting, hold it in front of you and face the shelves, looking at them intently and thoughtfully, as though they hold the secrets of the universe. Your boss will walk right past you, content that you are another productive worker bee, diligent in your efforts to make the store more profitable for the owners.

The notepad was probably empty, but I flipped through it anyway, just in case I got lucky. It wasn’t empty, bits of black flitted by as the pages fliped past my thumb on their spiral binding. This might have belonged to someone who actually worked. Excellent. I would now be able to use the time that I would have otherwise spent filling it with random letters and numbers tracking down whoever stole my last notebook.

I lifted the black cardstock cover, and written on it in black marker are the words “TRY NOT TO PANIC”. Interesting. I flipped to the next page, and it was covered with something that I didn’t immediately recognize, a precisely written mass of strange characters, jutting angles meshed into sickening curves, a language Giger and Lovecraft would have corresponded in. I push my glasses up my nose and squeeze my eyes shut for the briefest of moments.

When I open the notepad again, the strange writing was still there. It was different, though. Not physically, mind you, the lines and squiggles and jags hadn’t changed, but it didn’t look alien any more. I was probably imagining it, but it seemed as though some light went out of the world, sounds muted, and the sunlight dimmed. Then again, I was working retail, that sort of thing was to be expected.

“Hey Dan, what’s up?” Kevin’s voice from behind my shoulder scared the hell out of me. It’s never good to be oblivious out there, on the killing floor.

“Check this out,” I said, moving so that we stood almost shoulder to shoulder. “What do you make of it?”

Kevin and I were the ones who worked out the trick about the notepad, and I figured there was half a chance that he’s the one who wrote it in there. Its the sort of thing he would do. Then again, he was exactly the sort of person who would have stolen my last notepad.

He looked at the notepad, and there was no glimmer of recognition on his face. He squinted a little at the pad and leaned forward to get a better look at it, running his left hand through his blond hair before massaging his goatee in a considered fashion.

“I don’t–” he begins, but then he was clawing at his eyes, screaming. I watched, frozen as he dropped to his knees, still clawing madly. Almost as quickly as it started, it ended. His hands dropped to his lap, and although I could see marks where his fingernails took off layers of skin, his eyes look OK.

“Shit, man. You scared me–” I didn’t finish my sentence as he fell backwards. It’s sickening to watch, like a trust exercises gone horribly wrong. It wouldn’t have been so bad if not for the sound his head makes when it hits the floor, the dull thunk of his skull against the concrete that is covered only by a thin veneer of commercial carpeting.

I looked around, no one was nearby. One thing was immediately obvious. If Kevin’s untimely demise was due to my notepad, it wouldn’t do for security to have the same reaction and associate it with me. I knelt down and pretended to check for a pulse, although I was sure there wouldn’t be one, and with my left hand, pulled his notepad out from his apron.

Someone had spotted us by then, and people were starting to converge on us, running up the stairs. Questions were asked, gasps at the sight of my dead friend, and Brian, the store manager, took me by the shoulder to his office, so that I could fill out an accident report.

The accident report form was it’s own special sort of hell. You watch your co-worker die and the company’s first reaction is to have you fill out paperwork. What sort of sick joke is that? Thankfully there was no checkbox for “zombies” or even “supernatural” under cause of accident, it would be worrying if the company had expected it. On the other hand, I was worried by their lack of preparedness.

It wasn’t until I had finished the report and was putting my things away –they had sent me home early– that I looked the notepad I had taken from Kevin’s corpse and realized that it was my old notebook. I had lost my best friend twice in one day.


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