This story is by Tyler O’Sullivan and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The customary combination of one high note, a low note, and another high note slowly climbed its way out of the stores obnoxious intercom to notify people of the notification that they were sure to enjoy being notified of, “Spill in the back-room, some idiot knocked over Gregg’s blue-cheese; Karl go clean it.”
Karl Carlson, an unfortunate soul indeed, and not least because of his name, was sitting alone in the back-room, he was busy lamenting the fact that he was the only member of the cleaning crew on that day because one was in Spain, another was in France and the third was in a wheelchair, of his own volition of course. Karl’s sigh made the rats that weaved through the ever sinking foundations scatter back to their homes and, as most things do, attracted disapproving looks from the bargain hunters through the back-room door, those of them that were still in the shop, anyway. It was near closing time so they’d be leaving soon, possibly followed by one of Karl’s steel-toed throwing boots.
Karl walked along the tiled and sinking back-room floor in a manner almost exactly like someone who loved life, except the complete opposite. The pictures of the owner with his cats adorned every wall, they were positively unnerving and made even more so when the owner let it slip that he allegedly threw one into his fireplace when he allegedly forgot the fire was on. Allegedly.
The back-room was dark and, Karl presumed that someone modeled it after some kind of medieval war-room just with a tinge more self-hatred and a stunning lack of opulence. There was one wooden table standing in the middle of the room and four sets of silver shelves with boxes that contained plates and forks and spoons made of such low-quality material that a magpie would refuse them. The single light bulbs that hung over each shelf made the lighting that of a noir flick from the 1930s, dim, boring and uninspired unless you played jazz, in which case you’d probably have loved it. Karl did not play jazz.
Karl smelled the spill before he saw it and went to scope out the situation, it was past closing time and the owner was out on business with the secretary, a tradition they honored every Thursday. The lights on the far side of the store began to flicker, then dim, then extinguish, this wasn’t anything too out of the ordinary so he didn’t really take much notice. Karl looked down on the floor and saw an open bottle of blue-cheese sprawled across the floor, “Why can’t people just be clean?” he said,
“Because then you’d be out of a job.” said resident wheelchair pretender Owen as he furiously raced past Karl,
“Right enough.” Karl said before whispering, “I hope you die before me so I can spit on your grave.”
“What was that?”
“Oh, nothing, nothing, just talking to myself. Have a good night!”
“You know I will small-man, you know I will. Have fun with the blue cheese! Oh, and watch the clock, time goes slow when no-one is on with you.” Owen said before racing off again and leaving Karl to eat his dust.
You’re literally supposed to be helping me.
“He better die before me,” Karl said to himself before returning his eyes to the blue-cheese.
He raised up the bottle to see what was the cheapest cleaning solution for the store to buy this week; the label said Old Time-ey Joe’s and looked like it might peel off if any of the liquid inside the bottle, for whatever reason, wished to hit it. He turned it around to the back and found the slogan Turn that floor back in time! Y’know, to when it was clean! You should clean it! Clean! You don’t get paid for reading the label now do you!?
It was at this point he noticed it was store brand.
He haphazardly thrust it across the floor and watched it do its work for a while before he joined in with his splintered, rotting, decrepit brush. He only managed to get rid of about half of the stains on the floor before seeing that the solution was just melting it into a strange half solid half liquid that was now stuck firmly to the floor.
He sat down next to the clumps of rancid-smelling cheese and resolved to stare at it and attempted to convince himself that it would, spontaneously, disappear or combust. He went to check the time on his phone when he realized that he left it in the break room, defeated by this blue-cheese Karl stared at it again and hoped, really hoped this time, that he’d begin to fly or that the roof would collapse, preferably the latter. His only motivation to get up was that he knew that even if the roof collapsed, or there was a tsunami or if the Earth decided to call it quits that damned blue-cheese would still be there, just to spite him.
He saw more lights flicker on the far side of the store, and then more, and then the rest, he was in the dark now,
Is there such a thing as darkness, or is it just the absence of light? he wondered to himself, rather meekly. He heard the noise of a few boxes falling over passed the furthest shelf in the room,
Is it a ghost? he thought. Nah, too obvious, how about a cheese monster? An angry biker? Ryan Reynolds? Or God?
The noise came again, his amusement quickly turned into worry.
The falling boxes were getting ever closer to the edge now and when a figure emerged from behind one of the shelves into the open area next to the wooden table, he was, to put it lightly, readying for his pants to smell suspiciously of urine. After doing a take or six Karl happened to see that this visitor was covered from head to toe in blue-cheese, he was beginning to see a theme in most of the nights troubles. Karl, along with all of this urine making fear got a massive jump in adrenaline and screamed, in a deep stentorian imitation of an imitation of a manly-man, “Hey, I’ll give you ten seconds to leave. One…Two……Thr-” Karl thought he saw the figure move to get something and so he ran towards it and pushed it to the ground and placed his splintered, rotting, decrepit brush over the figure’s neck and pushed as hard as he could downwards. When the figure stopped struggling, he stood up and looked at the now unmoving body,
“Oh my God,” he said, “what did I do?”
He started to walk back with little care for where he was going and found himself ankle deep in the blue-cheese, then knee deep, then hip deep, then his neck entered and the cheese swallowed him whole.
His eyes were covered in the pale, dappled blue dairy product; if he heard the word cheese, he would have vomited. The smell had been far too close to his face when he was cleaning, so it is not entirely incorrect to assume that he had a mild, trauma induced, case of wanting to rip his nose off of his godforsaken face. He thought then for a second about the solution he used, ‘Old Time-ey Joe is dead, I’m gonna kill him, I’ll make him choke on blue-cheese.’ he thought, and then thought again, and again and again until eventually the smell got to him and he passed out.
He awoke on top of the blue-cheese, it must have spat him out. While he was waiting for his eyes to adjust he used his hands to find his way around and thought to himself, “If I ever see any more god-damn blue-cheese I’ll set fire to it”. It is safe to assume that Karl Carlson had never thought he would be swallowed by blue-cheese, or fall asleep in it, while working a summer job in a store he despised just to be left alone, in the dark, a murderer and without even a splintered, rotting, decrepit brush to defend himself with, yet here was. He stumbled around for a while knocking over things he sincerely hoped weren’t expensive before finally making it to the open area near the table in the center of the room, he was cleaning blue-cheese out of his ears when not too far from where he was crouched there was a horrible, terrifying, sickening, unbelievable and yet utterly irrefutable sound, a deep stentorian imitation of an imitation of a manly-man,
“Hey, I’ll give you ten seconds to leave. One…Two……Thr-”