Over the Counter
Submitted by Patrick Dixon (rskill@foxinternet.net)


The electric whined on the door to the 7-11.

Christ, not now.

Ceasing the act of bagging sticky cans reeking of stale beer, Chuck dropped the heavy mass with a crunchy crash. He stuck his head out of the back room in time to see two slim female forms walk quickly past the counter and towards the beer cooler. He quickly washed his filthy hands.

As he came out of the back room, he looked at his watch.

2:15 a.m., he thought, another fifteen minutes and I wouldn't have had to deal with this.

The two girls made a quick selection, coming around a few seconds later with two half-cases of Bud. If either of the were twenty he would have happily eaten their I.D.s with a little salt. As it was, they approached the counter quickly, smiling eyes full of guilty innocence. They were pretty, one dark-haired -skinned, the other light-skinned with an head full of unruly coppery-red hair. They hefted the shorties onto the counter, the dark one immediately placing a sweaty, crumpled twenty on the chipped linoleum counter.

Chuck sighed. Audibly.

"Sorry, but I'm gonna have to see some . . . "

The door booop-ed again.

Both Chuck and the girls looked towards the door automatically. A bearded man whose tattered and grubby apparel marked him as one of Eugene's sizable homeless population tottered unceremoniously in.

My night, Chuck uncharitably thought. He turned back to the girls, who were still staring at the derelict.

There was a loud crash as the man stumbled full-tilt into the ice cream treat freezer directly in front of the door, flailing arm dragging down the Tik-Tak display, a rack full of local and state maps, and a cheesy little plastic case full of little astrology scrolls ("You'll be amazed and stunned!" they enthused in dayglo letter with gold foil stars).

"Yaaah," the man strained to speak. "Gaaaah . . . " He clutched pathetically in Chuck's direction, arm shaking.

Chuck noticed with a shock that a sizable portion of the man's forearm had been torn away, exposing shredded naked flesh beneath the worn army jacket. White tendons wriggled as the man's fingers strained at Chuck. And there was blood. A lot of blood. It sprayed the counter, some splattering both Chuck and the girls.

"Oh . . . God," the redhead gulped, hand clutching at her mouth in dismay and nausea. The dark haired girl staggered backwards in shock, upsetting the Hostess display immediately behind her.

Speechless, Chuck stared as the bleeding man crumpled to the floor, blood immediately beginning to pool around his mangled right arm. He shuddered convulsively, making harsh gasping noises. His bulging eyes rolled in their sockets to stare at the horrified clerk. Panting and bleeding, the man silently pleaded with Chuck, begging him to perform some kind of action that would end his agony.

The dark haired girl recovered and came hurriedly forward and kneeled at the man's side. The redhead didn't move. Neither did Chuck.

"Call 9-1-1," Brunette said, not looking up. "Now."

Chuck hesitated for a few seconds than grasped at the phone. His shaking hand knocked it off of its cradle and it crashed towards the ground, swinging and dangling from its coiled chord. With numb fingers he grabbed at the receiver, dropping it again. He stared at Brunette as she tried to staunch the blood flowing from the savage wound on the man's arm. The man had stopped shuddering, and his eyes gazed unfocused towards the ceiling.

"No . . . " Brunette breathed.

Redhead visibly shook off her paralysis, kneeling next to her friend.

"What did that to him?" she whispered.

"I can't tell," said Brunette. "Maybe some asshole nailed him with their car."

Chuck grabbed the phone again, successfully this time, stabbing out three digits. Only luck let him hit the correct numbers with any degree of accuracy. He heard the connection click through, then waited. The girls tried to comfort the man, who remained motionless.

Chuck waited impatiently as he listened to the line ring one, two, three, times. There were some more clicks. Suddenly, a tiny recorded women's voice came over the line.

"We are sorry, but all lines are busy at this moment, please stay on the line and someone will be able to assist you momentarily," it recited calmly.

Chucked gaped. 9-1-1 busy? He watched as the Redhead ripped into a package of paper towels. Brunette was putting her fingers delicately under the man's hirsute neck, checking for a pulse. The wounded man continued to gawp, unmo ving and unblinking, mouth hanging open, towards the fluorescent lights on the ceiling of the convenience store.

He checked his watch. 2:18. Not three minutes had passed since they had come in and all of this had begun. Redhead looked at him as she started to apply pressure to the wound on the man's forearm with a wad of Brawny paper towels.

"So are they coming?" she asked, voice strident with anxiety.

Chuck shrugged and looked at the floor. He continued to hold the phone close to his right ear.

"They're . . . busy," he answered, still astounded. "I only get a recorded message to stay on the line." He paused. "That's never happened to me before. With this job I've called 9-1-1 around once a month for the better part of a year without that happening."

Both girls looked dubiously at him. Br unette was still holding her fingers against the man's throat.

"I don't have a pulse," she said a few seconds later.

"Whadda we do?" asked Chuck over the phone's mouthpiece. This was completely out of his experience, no matter how long h e'd worked here. He continued to listen to the pre-recorded message, waiting for his turn with growing impatience.

"We do CPR is what we do," said Brunette. "It looks like he's had a heart attack from the shock." She did not look particularly thrilled about administering CPR to the prone figure before her, bet set about doing her appointed task gamely.

Chuck looked out into the dark parking lot, still holding the receiver to his ear. A single car sat in front of the store. Probably the girls'. His own was parked at his apartment a couple of blocks away with its carburetor dismantled and sitting on an oily mass of newspapers on his kitchen table.

No traffic could be seen moving down Franklin. He could hear a few sirens wailing away towards Sacred Heart and the University of Oregon campus.

The two girls were attempting to prepare the unconscious man for CPR. Brunette seemed to know what to do and was giving Redhead terse orders in a soft but urgent voice, Redhead did as she was told with no complaint. She breathed heavily, with a stitching whine in her throat giving evidence to her fear.

" ;We are sorry, but . . . " the phone again intoned. Chuck shook in frustration, feeling frightened and useless as the young women attempted to save the man who lay bleeding and lifeless on his floor.

On Franklin Boulevard a police car, siren screaming and red-and-blues flashing, screamed towards campus.

Brunette, her face set in distaste began to stolidly administer mouth-to-mouth to the man, chanting a count as her friend leaned forward, vigorously pumping the man's chest to the rhythm.

The police car was followed by another a few seconds later, siren wailing into the night.

" . . . please stay on the line . . . " the voice again intoned. Chuck watched the girls alternately breathe into the man's mouth and pump his chest.

Chuck saw the man's unwounded arm twitch spasmodically.

"Look!" he began. "He's mov . . . "

Suddenly the man's hand reached up and grasped Brunette's hair as she leaned over his face, clutching the back of her head and forcing her face down upon his own.

"Hey!" she yelled, struggli ng. "Lemme go! I . . . " Her voice became a shriek as the man bit down with savage force onto her lips, making a hideous crunching noise. His teeth met, severing her lips into two separate pieces. These he chewed as she flailed wildly, screaming, her mouth a tattered lipless gash across her now blood-soaked face. His hand continued to hold onto her hair as she fought violently to free herself. Brunette shrieked in unimaginable agony. Redhead, crab-walking quickly backwards, stared in horror at her friends' mutilated face.

Dropping the phone, Chuck leaped over the counter. The man, still holding Brunette's head and hair in his grip, leaned up and tore into her exposed throat with his bloody teeth. Blood jetted over his bearded face. The girl gagged on her own fluids, which began to immediately fill her throat and lungs, her struggles becoming instantly weaker. Her hands fluttered like tired birds, beating feebly at her assailant.

Chuck rushed forward, grabbing Brunette's shoulder and hauling her out of the crazyman's grip. The man had stopped clutching her anyway, and instead lay back, chewing contentedly. Redhead, in a furious panic, began punching on the man with her closed fi sts. He ignored her. It was like pounding a sack of flour. She couldn't speak or scream, but instead made a whispering whining noise deep in her throat.

Seconds after separating her from the madman, Brunette went limp in Chuck's arms, limbs twitching convulsively. She no longer gasped or screamed, her violated mouth hanging open, perfect teeth forever exposed. The rational world collapsing around, Chuck held her now inert corpse in his arms, watching as if from a distance Redhead beating the man who had by now finished chewing and swallowing.

Fast as a snake, the crazyman's mangled arm lashed out, bloody hand enclosing over Redhead's forearm.

"Noooo!" Redhead screamed, struggling, punching out with her free left hand and kicking. The man did not let go, but began pulling her towards his blood-slimed mouth, teeth clicking and lips smacking.

Chuck quickly released the limp body of Brunette while simultaneously looking for a weapon. Any weapon. His manager would not allow even a baseball bat behind the counter, claiming that "armed convenience store clerks were dead convenience store clerks." In the back room was hammer, but he had no time. Without thinking, he grabbed the half-case of Bud from the counter, bringing it down as hard as he could upon the man's head, who's teeth clicked on empty air just as Redhead was able to pull her arm free. Ripping asunder, the half-case jettisoned its cargo of cans across the floor, a few rupturing, sending white foam spritzing out to mingle with the expanding pool of blood. The man fell backward, but immediately began to struggle to his feet.

"We've got to get outa here," Redhead gasped, as Chuck, nearly loosing it the puddle of blood and beer, ran around the man who was now on his knees, grasping out at both of them. Both young people reached the door simultaneously, looking outside for the first time in minutes.

They were being watched.

Three people, hands hanging loosely at their sides, stood immediately outside of the glass doors. Two were older men, resembling the crazy man in dress. One was a young woman in sheer running gear. All of them bore horrible, deadly-looking wounds. One man's face looked like most of it had been peeled away like a grapefruit, revealing bone and teeth, an empty eye socket staring blindly. Th e girl had been mostly disemboweled. The three of them were trying to push forward simultaneously, hindering each other's progress into the 7-11 like nightmarish Three Stooges.

Awe, shit," muttered Chuck. "C'mon!" Grabbing Redhead's hand, he half-dragged her around the opposite side of the counter from where the crazyman had already gained his feet, now tottering towards them. They ran into the back room where not ten minutes before Chuck had been grumpily bagging moldy Coke and beer cans and worrying about telling two girls that they were too young to get loaded. Unfortunately, the back room opened directly into the store with no door to close behind them.

boooo - booo - boooop

The three mangled people from outside had come in. They ignored the crazyman, walking like drunks or sleepwalkers towards the back room where Chuck was frantically looking for the hammer. He had been using the damn thing an hour earlier.

Panting in terror, Redhead was watching the now four crazy people stumble towards them. She would not allow her brain to assimilate the fact that her best friend had just been brutally murdered by a madman. That could come later. Frantically, she began looking around the back room, noticing the "exit" sign over a door. The back door. A door to freedom. Chuck, mind bent into a near ecstasy of panic, had forgotten there was another way out. She grasped his arm just as he was grasping the hammer, which had been sitting on a shelf directly in front of him.

"Let's just go!" she said, pointing to the door. "We can run out the back. We're gonna die in here if we stay another second."

They could hear the shuffling footsteps of the crazy people right outside the doorway. Chunk blinked at her stupidly, clawed hammer hanging loosely in his right hand. He glanced over her shoulder, into the store. The first crazyman of the evening had just stumbled into the doorway. Behind him Chuck could see the counter upon which the remaining half-case of beer sat. Something was rising from behind it. A young woman's face with beautiful dark hair. A girl whose lips had been torn away, exposing her bloodstained gums and teeth forever bared like blunt fangs. A woman who had died in his arms a scant minute before from shock and massive blood loss brought on by the lunatic not ten feet fro m him.

Brunette, somehow transformed into a butchered, blood-soaked monster, began to walk slowly around the counter toward them.

Nope. No way. Huh uh. The crumbling vestiges of Chuck's sanity remained stable enough for him to grab Redhead and literally hurl her towards the door. He knew that if she saw her friend walking around like that she would loose it. He had.

"We go now," he gasped. Redhead nodded and pushed open the door. Cool, damp night air streamed in from outside. The alley looked clear, barren of material except for the requisite brown dumpster parked directly outside. They were immediately met by a chorus of wailing sirens. The city of Eugene, Oregon had gone mad in the space of less then fifteen minutes.

There was a scuff of feet behind them.

"Run!" they shouted to each other simultaneously.

They ran.


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