Contrary to what movies and popular fiction portrayed, most people did not experience ominous feelings when catastrophic events were lurking in their immediate future. Most went about their day not even thinking about the possibility of being involved in a fatal crash until the squealing of their tires even puts the idea in their head. The feeling of an unexplained deep dread was good for drawing out the drama of a situation in most fiction, but in real life, it was a rare thing.
Kurt Collins, however, did feel a deep dread the morning he woke up on the day he was supposed to be off. It started when his cloudy mind, being dragged from the recess of a restful slumber, recognized the chime from his phone insistently drilling into his brain was the ringtone and not the alarm.
A halfway limp hand flopped in the general direction of the end table that held his phone until his unwanting fingers finally gripped and wrapped around it. He pulled it up and managed to drag one eye open to see that it was five a.m. in the blessed morning. And the call was coming from work.
The dread in his stomach deepened. It could really only mean one thing and he didn't like it one bit. He briefly considered ignoring it and rolling back over. He had had a late night and it was his off day after all.
However, no matter how annoyed Kurt got, when responsibility came calling, especially literally, he held what at that moment he considered an unhealthy inability to ignore it. Taking a steadying deep breath, he accepted the call.
It was that unheavenly time of the morning usually reserved for ghouls, goblins and truckers when Kurt Collins found himself pulling into the parking lot of Bondians. Kurt would normally have parked past the blue line marked in the dark recesses of the lot as required for store employees, but he found himself in a foul mood towards life in general and the grocery store specifically, so he parked on the near side of the line closer to the store. Unfortunately, that was the only way in which he knew how to stick it to them at that moment.
Kurt noted that the dashboard clock read 5:45 AM before he turned the engine off and slammed his fist into the steering wheel. He hated, hated, and HATED being called into work on his preciously rare day off. Especially after staying up late into the previous night.
There was one bright spot to the dreary proposition of dragging himself out of bed on his day off. Carrie would be working as well. That single thought allowed a small smile to find it's way to his previously unamused face.
As he got out of his small Chevy S10 decked out in his red pull over Bondians shirt complete with name tag and began walking through the sparsely occupied parking lot to the store's entrance, he allowed his mind to drift to the night before and the time he had shared with his girlfriend. They had shared a nice, luxurious meal (at Whataburger) before spending a night of thrilling theater (the latest Harrison Ford flick). Something had been bothering her, but as per her wish, they didn't dwell on it and simply had fun together.
His smile began to widen as he approached the sliding doors that led into the store. Bondians didn't open until 6:00 AM sharp, so the door didn't automatically slide open as he walked up to it. Instead, he wrapped it with his fist to draw the attention of the pretty cashier with the shoulder length brown hair who stood beyond the foyer, readying her register for the day.
He waved as Carrie looked up from her register. She smiled back at him in surprise and walked up through the foyer to the other side of the door. She reached up to unlock it and let Kurt push it open. He leaned down to give her a peck on the cheek before closing and locking the door behind him.
"I thought you were off today," she said as they walked up to the time clock stationed on the customer service counter.
"I wasn't. But apparently Bernie called in sick today and Satan's Minion over there decided to call me in."
He indicated the older lady in the Bondians uniform working behind the customer service booth with an air of superiority whose name badge identified her as "Sherry".
"Seems like I only just saw you a few hours ago," Carrie said.
"It was a few hours ago," Kurt replied. "If I'd have known I'd be getting up before the crack of dawn, I never would have taken you out last night."
A sharp elbow to his side rewarded his remark.
"It was well deserved."
"I won't even argue."
"I have you well trained," she smiled proudly at him.
"Just believe that."
"Besides, it's not like I was out just as late as you or anything."
"Yeah, but you were mentally prepared for it, being on the schedule and everything."
He reached down to open the small door attached to the service desk that housed the time clock. He punched in his identification number and hit "In For Day." Looking up, he noticed that Sherry had walked up to the other side of the clock.
"Thank you for coming in, Kurt. You're a real lifesaver," she said before turning back to what she felt were more important matters.
"Yeah," he answered. "I'm a real hero."
Carrie grabbed his hand to lead him back towards the cash registers, where beyond was his destination: the produce department. Carrie's quiet demeanor as they walked did not go unnoticed by her boyfriend.
"What's wrong, Carrie?" he asked.
"Nothing much," she answered.
"Something's been bothering you for the past couple of days now," he said.
"Maybe a little later. You have to get to work, right?" she asked.
Kurt sighed as he looked past her and saw where he needed to go.
The produce department.
Three tables, full of apples, citrus, potatoes and onions, bulk and bagged with a rack full of fresh vegetables and bagged salads stretching down the wall; all of it Kurt's responsibility. His to go through, pick out the bad produce, refill it with fresh stuff and soak all of the wet veggies.
Kurt had not the slightest interest in dealing with it on that particular morning.
He hung his head dejectedly and entered his department.
"You know if you'll be able to start classes next week?"
Kurt was walking past the banana table with his co-worker, John Resendez, as they headed past a table end cap of bananas to the back room. As always, Kurt found himself in a much better mood after working a few hours with the guy.
"I hope so," John answered. "There's still some ironing out of the schedule to do, but it looks hopeful. If so, it's adios amigos to this place."
"I'm sure you're devastated."
John opened the swinging door leading into the back produce prep room and bowed, indicating that Kurt should proceed first.
Kurt is instantly hit by the smells of the produce. Tons of potatoes mixed with a hint of a rotten onion hiding out someplace. As always, the smells hit and instantly fade away, forgotten. He'd been around the stuff so much that he barely even noticed the smell anymore.
"John Resendez, college man," Kurt mused.
"Quite... fitting, isn't it?"
"I guess if it doesn't work out, there's always the Diesel Driving Academy."
"Maybe you should try that," John advised. "Surely it's better than the purgatory you've sentenced yourself to at this place."
"Maybe," Kurt said. He didn't really enjoy his job that much. He was decent at it, but had no passion for it. When he took it on, it was nothing more to him than a temporary station, keeping him employed until the right career showed itself to him. Unfortunately, it was five years down the road and the right career had yet to even hint at its existence.
The sad truth was Kurt had no idea where he wanted to go with his life. He had no idea where his real passions lay. He knew two things, he wanted to eventually marry his beloved Carrie and be able to provide for her and the family they would have. In the end, he really didn't have a preference how he provided, he only hoped it didn't entail a lifetime spent stocking produce in Bondians.
He shook all this out of his head as John walked up to the produce cooler and swung open the door. Kurt followed him into the refrigerated section of the backroom where more perishable items needed to be stored.
John reached behind a box of yellow squash and pulled out his secret stash of fudge rounds. He pulled one out for himself, then tossed one to Kurt.
"Have one," John said.
"You're insidious plan to infect me with the diabeetus and take over my role will probably be an effective one in the end."
Kurt opened the fudge round and took a nice, chocolaty bit out of it.
"Saw one of your rapper dudes on cable the other day. Ice-T, I think it was," Kurt said.
"It wasn't Leprechaun in the Hood, was it?" John asked as destroyed his fudge round in two massive bites.
"Good for you. It reeked."
"Something called 'Mean Guns'," Kurt said. "Had the Highlander in it."
"Movie one or TV one?"
"Movie one. Christopher Lambert," Kurt said.
"My mom thinks he's cute."
"What, you think he's ugly?"
"Well, he's no Ryan Gosling."
This remark is rewarded with a suspicious look from John. Kurt quickly swallowed the rest of his own fudge round as he tried to cover himself.
"Don't judge me," he remarked.
Kurt shivered in the cold, then turned around to exit the cooler.
"Dude, it's freezing in here."
They exited the cooler and Kurt shut the door behind them. John looked over at his buddy, a half smile forming on his face.
"You know. When I'm gone, I'm gonna miss these cooler conversations of ours."
Kurt shrugged his shoulders, deadpan.
"Good point," John replied after taking a couple of minutes to thoughtfully consider the idea.
Bernie Williams was not feeling all there. At least he didn't think so. Forty years he'd given to that company. Forty years of a life wasted. After forty years, he had sat down and given it some serious thought. He was not feeling all there, true, yet everything seemed so clear now. Not stable, not by a long shot, but clear.
It was probably his fault, he knew on some deep level. It was him who had never tried for better. It was his choice to stay where he was accepted but never truly appreciated. Oh, they say they appreciate him, given him cake and awards for milestones reached. All empty. He was just a cog in the wheel and he knew it. But he had stayed. Four decades he had stayed.
He never planned on staying for one year. Then one year had turned to five. Heaven forbid he stay for ten. Not long after ten, twenty reared its ugly head. With twenty down, lifelong imprisonment to the same place seemed a dreaded inevitability. He kept staying. Put up with the abuse. Took the complaints from customers and supervisors both. Bernie started out fresh-faced and ready to take the world, but years of mental abuse kept to himself caused his attitude to sour. Minor annoyances became migraine inducing situations. Sure, he still tried to paste on that fake smile for all to see, retail workers could probably win the academy award for every acting category they had and some they've never conceived.
This thing had been forming in his mind for months now. Years really, but the first thoughts were just wisps of wishful thinking. Those dark daydreams that one indulged in after a hard day, but you knew nothing would ever come of it. Years passed and those daydreams turned into "maybe some days", somehow realizing that maybe someday was inching ever forward. Like a smoker (which Bernie was but that was beside the point), who was trying to quit, once the idea of maybe sneaking one last smoke took root in one's brain it usually grew into reality.
Too much discontent, too much self-pity. It drove a man to dark places and when men go deep into the dark, it is hard to crawl out. Things take hold. Ideas best left in your darkest fantasies become plans. And so Bernie Williams planned.
There was nothing special about the day that Bernie decided to go forward with his plan. It was simply the day his mind finally snapped. Why put off the inevitable any longer? It was time to put an end to what he had felt was his suffering. An end to everything. And darned if he wasn't gonna do it in a way that would be remembered.
Break time was usually a joyous time for Kurt. He was able to sit down for about fifteen minutes with nothing to do but read an e-book or digital magazine. Or perhaps a round or three of Temple Run. The worries of work were a million miles away, at least for that short time.
This break, however, he had elected to spend sitting opposite of Carrie. Normally, this wouldn't be considered by him to be a bad thing, but it seemed as though she was about ready to spill what had been bothering her. And when Carrie was bothered, Kurt was bothered.
They sat in a corner booth of the restaurant style deli in the store, a bag of powdered donuts on the table between them. Carrie picked one up and nibbled at it, paying no attention to the small flaky crumbs as they fell on her work shirt. Kurt simply waited for her to begin.
"A couple of nights ago, I found a six pack of Miller Light on the bottom shelf of the fridge," she said.
"Oh, man. That's not cool."
"How long has he been sober?" Kurt asked.
"Going on two years."
Kurt honestly felt for her. There were a lot of folks out there who had alcoholics for parents, and a lot were born with them that way. Carrie was raised by her parents as a strong Christian and she was not the type to waver from that faith.
To see her father fall into alcoholism after setting such a Christian example for his daughter was a hard blow for Carrie to take. She didn't know how to reconcile the man who raised her with the man who came home drunk every night, shunning every principle he worked so hard to instill in her.
Kurt remembered the joy Carrie felt when her dad had come back to the Lord and put his drinking aside. She finally had the real Clint Murdoch back and all was again well with the family. Sometimes, it seemed to Kurt, real happiness just doesn't seem to be a lasting thing.
"I know work has been stressing him out big time lately," Carrie continued, "but I never thought he'd sink back down."
She looked back up at Kurt, tears beginning to well in her eyes.
"You didn't know him when he got bad drunk, Kurt. It was horrible. For me and Mom. For him. Then it was like one morning he took a look in the mirror and finally realized the man he was looking at was not the good man he once was and decided it was time to be that good man again. And it was better. For a long time. Now… I'm scared for him. It's starting small, but I know it'll build up into something that none of us will be able to handle. We'll go back to when it was bad, and I don't want to go there again. I'd give anything to not go back to that."
"I'm sorry," Kurt said.
"No, I am. I shouldn't be unloading all this on you. I know you aren't even supposed to be here today."
"It's why I'm here, babe," he said. "I know I might not be able to do or say anything that'll magically make everything better, but I am here."
He leaned back, scarfed down a powdered donut and wiped the white powder off of his shirt.
"Tell ya what. Tonight. Out on the town. My treat. We'll catch a movie, dinner, hang out."
He stopped himself, then looked over at Carrie apologetically.
"Of course that's exactly what we did last night…"
"It's perfect," Carrie said. "Any time with you is time well spent. Really. You're a lifesaver."
"So I've been told."
Kurt rolled a four-wheeled flat top buggy to the apple table to fill in a few empty spots in the display. He took a box cutter and sliced open the top of a red delicious apple box. He took the apples out two by two and began to fill in the empty space.
A table over, John found himself mopping underneath the edge of the end cap that some thoughtless customer decided would be a great spot to drop a gallon of organic milk. He caught sight of something interesting, put aside the mop for a second and walked over to Kurt.
"Heads up, Lenny has a pineapple," John warned.
"This should be interesting," Kurt grinned.
Lenny Beans was an unusual sort of person. He appeared to have no comprehension of how the world was supposed to operate and more importantly, how a person was supposed to operate in the world. If something amused him, he had no regard for the surrounding situation. He would act on it.
He held a courtesy clerk position, precariously, at Bondians simply because his father was the store manager's best hunting buddy.
At that moment, he ducked underneath one of the produce display tables, clutching a pineapple. Then he proceeded to act out a scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
"And the Lord spake, saying," Lenny began in an outrageously stuffy British accent, "'First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin. Then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then lobbest thou thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards thy foe, who, being naughty in my sight, shall snuff it.' Amen"
He holds up the pineapple before spouting off the King Arthur and Galahad lines, sounding exactly as each of them sounded in the movie.
"Right," he said as Arthur. "One… two… five!"
"Three, sir," his impersonation of Sir Galahad was suspiciously close to his impersonation of King Arthur.
Lenny pulled the top leaf from the pineapple and lobbed it over the produce table without looking. Mr. Sure, the portly manager of the store, chose that instant to walk past the table and got bopped in the head with a fresh pineapple.
Kurt and John tried to keep their laughter in as Mr. Sure, his face the color of the red onions on the table beside him, stormed over to Lenny, grabbed him and began to corral him in the direction of his office.
"Geez, can you believe that?" asked Kurt.
"With Lenny?" answered John, "I can believe anything."
"Think he'll actually find himself in some sort of major trouble this time?"
"Like the time he didn't get fired for leaping out of a buggy in front of a freaked out customer declaring 'I'm Batman!'"
John grabbed his mop and diligently went back to his duty as Kurt continued stocking the freshest of produce for an increasingly picky clientele.
Carrie's voice came over the intercom "Kurt, come to register six please. Kurt, come to register six."
John looked up to him.
"Dude, it's the boss," he smirked.
"Duty calls," Kurt agreed.
He made the short trek to the front ot the store where his lady love stood waiting for him.
"You rang?" he smiled.
"There's a buggy sitting out in the middle of the parking lot and Sherry asked if you'd be so kind as to get it," she said.
Kurt groaned. Not that he considered himself above such menial tasks, but nothing bugged him more than having to stop what he was doing to do something that was in someone else's job description. One day, he would have to write a strongly worded letter to his union. As if they didn't have legitimate grievances to concern them.
Shaking off the thought of revenge tactics against the store that he would never actually willingly employ, he settled on merely grumping about it.
"I'm kind of busy right now," he said. "Doesn't she have sacker types to do this sort of thing?"
"They're referred to as 'courtesy clerks', I'll have you know, the one on staff right now currently being escorted to the manager's office for general buffoonery," she retorted. "And by the way, don't shoot the messenger."
"Sorry. I did tell you today that you're an extreme hottie, right?"
"You're pretty words might get your out of trouble. Just go get the friggin' buggy," she smiled sweetly.
"Right to it, ma'am," he snapped a salute back at her.
As he exited the store, he couldn't help but think of how much Lenny's little comedy bit was an amusing interlude to a relatively bummer of a day the moment it happened, and now it was an annoying reminder that when people didn't do their jobs, he was expected to pick up the slack.
That dreadful feeling that Kurt had mistaken for a general foul mood for being called in on his day off began to tug at him a little more. If his mind hadn't been so much on his trifling matters or his future fiance's more major worries, he might have noticed the illegally parked minivan in the handicapped spot at the front of the store. He might also have noticed the man getting out of the driver's side, the butt of a semiautomatic gun poking past his elbow.
Who's to say if things would have been different if he had noticed then. They might have been worse. There might have been a slight chance it would have gone better for all involved. Kurt would spend countless sleepless nights with his head buried in tear stained pillows over that one simple thought.
Kurt grabbed the buggy, growing increasingly uneasy of the impending feeling of despair rotting away his gut. He had the buggy halfway back to the store when he heard it.
Gunshots. And screams.
The shopping cart forgotten, Kurt runs back towards the store with no thought to his own safety. Not a thought to grab a phone and dial nine-one-one. His own was charging in the produce back room, but it didn't matter because none of these things even entered his desperately panicked brain.
All he could think about was Carrie.
Inside the store, Kurt found himself in the middle of a flat out massacre. In the front of the store, standing amongst the checkout lanes, Bernie WIlliams held a smoking semi-auto and looked back to Kurt.
Kurt's immediate supervisor, the man whose shift he had agreed to cover this day.
Bullet riddled bodies surrounded Kurt. Those of customers, of which there were thankfully few at that hour of the day, and employees. His eyes finally focused on one particular body laying at the end of a cash register. It was Carrie, her body bloody, limp and unmoving. Beyond her into the produce department, he could make out John's slumped form.
The tears welled up in his eyes, stomach churning as the deep feeling of despair finally enveloped his guts and Kurt instinctively knew that he sensed this was going to happen today. And there was nothing he could do to stop it. He looked up at his boss, voice wavering.
"B… Bernie…?" he rasped.
The older man looked back at him with dead eyes. The gray that formerly streaked the edges of his hair seemingly spread to take over his entire mane in the matter of a day. His naturally skinny frame seemed somehow more guat.
"I've had enough of it, Kurt," he explained in a voice devoid of any emotion. "I know you have, too. We all have."
"No, no, no, no…" Kurt stammered as Bernie began to level his gun at him.
Fear left Kurt at that moment. He stared his former supervisor in the eyes as a calmness overtook him. Bernie hesitated as a light began to envelope the entire being of his intended victim. The deep dark despair and dread that had grabbed his insides let loose their clutches as Kurt felt a warmness well up inside him. He never dropped eye contact with the man he had feared as little as a minute ago. Unbidden, his hand raised, pointed in the direction of his gun wielding supervisor with his palm up.
It was sudden and without warning when the light rose from his body, unleashed itself through his outstretched palm and washed over Bernie Williams. The gunman howled out in unnatural pain and fell to his knees as the gun clanked on the floor beside him.
The light continued to bathe Bernie and Kurt could do nothing more than watch with his mouth agape in stupid disbelief and his mind registering a horrid fascination as a dark presence wrenched itself from the fallen man and was torn apart by the light before dissipating entirely.
Bernie dropped completely to the floor as the light faded, leaving Kurt standing alone in the front of the store, as normal as he was before.
He almost laughed. Normal was gone. It had left the building, never to return. A miracle had just happened, something he couldn't even begin to register in his mind much less explain. So much he should probably try to process.
But he just couldn't tear his eyes away from the lifeless body of the girl he loved.
Author's Note: So, this is my first attempt at a novel. I tried this story almost 20 years ago as a screenplay and just never felt like it worked in that format. Total first draft and I feel the writing starts out a bit choppy, but hopefully improves as I go along to the point I get in the groove and am able to bring that to a rewrite. I know I break a cardinal rule of writing, opening with the protagonist "waking up" and while I think it works okay here, maybe I can fix in a rewrite later on.
Please let me know what you think and any improvements you might see. At the moment, I've got a lot written past this, but my goal at the moment is to just get that first draft out and on paper.