Retail Games, Chapter Three: Gremlins

Henry arrived at Fashion Emergency bright and early at 9:15. He wasn’t scheduled until 10, but traffic on the 15 on a Monday morning was nothing to mess with. He found Fierce standing outside of the store, waiting for one of the managers to come. He looked up from his feet and waved at Henry. Henry waved back while trying to make sense of what Fierce was wearing. His hair was spiked as usual, but he was wearing a pink terrycloth head band, a bright pink tank top, and tight black jeans. Henry surmised he hadn’t gotten around to buying some pink ones yet.

“Hey, brother,” Fierce said. “Why are you here so early?”

“It’s Monday morning…” Henry said. “The traffic is killer in the mornings. Why are you here so early?”

Fierce reached his left hand back and began to scratch the back of it in an embarrassed fashion. “I woke up and panicked, thinking that I was going to be late to work. Being late is the last thing you want to be when it comes to working here, by the way. I heard someone lost her head by being late,” he said nonchalantly. “Anyway, I got dressed and raced out the door just in time to catch the next bus. Once I was safely on the bus, I realized that I was an hour early. FML.”

“It could be worse,” Henry said, not really knowing what else to say.

“Yeah, I could have been late,” Fierce said. He shivered as if the idea was absolutely bone chilling. “Astrid was late once.”

“Yeah, and what happened to her?”

“Well, here you be.” Fierce snapped his fingers and pointed at him. “December takes tardiness really seriously.”

“Good to know.” Henry made a point to always stay on her good side… if she had one.

Fierce and Henry only had to stand outside for fifteen minutes before Mauly arrived with the store key.

“Good morning boys,” she said as she took her keys out of her purse. She smiled at Henry and said, “You’re a little early, but I’m glad to see you came at all.”

“Don’t remind us,” Fierce whined.

Mauly unlocked the door and allowed Fierce and Henry inside, then she locked the door behind them. “So, today is going to be an awesome day, right?”

“Bitch, please,” Fierce said. “It’s Monday. There’s no need to even kid yourself.”

“Can’t blame a girl for trying.” Mauly reached under the buy counter and pulled out a notebook that the managers kept their notes in. “Let’s see what the damage today is going to be.”

Henry watched as Mauly leafed through notes that looked like they were hastily written. There were a few words he was able to make out, but the rest of it was a mystery. Mauly slammed the book closed and growled.

“I hate it when Hyphen leaves his chicken scratch in this book,” Mauly complained as she put the notebook back under the counter. “I think it should be a rule that people can’t write in the book if they have horrible handwriting.”

Fierce went into the back room and turned on the music system that piped in the tunes. Hard-Fi’s “Hard to Beat” blasted throughout the store. Mauly immediately began to dance to it. Fierce returned and patted Mauly on the back and they danced together for a bit. They both turned to Henry and beckoned to him. “Come on, Hank, bust a move!” Mauly said.

“Umm, me dancing is a bad idea,” Henry said, waving his hand, dismissing the idea as if it was a noxious fume threatening to suffocate him.

“What, I thought black guys were born with rhythm,” Fierce said.

“I must have been out chasing shiny things when they were passing out rhythm.”

Mauly and Fierce laughed and continued to dance for a few minutes until the song changed to something by Duran Duran. “Okay boys, we’ve got some time before Smokey and the others get here, so let’s just start with the morning routine.”

“And that would be?” Henry asked.

“Well, for starters, we need to check the holds and make sure that they haven’t been up there longer than two days,” Mauly said, pointing to the racks of clothing located just behind the cash registers. “And then we can start on straightening the rounders.”

Henry remembered that the whole store was worked over last night. He expressly remembered people working on them. “Shouldn’t they still be straightened from last night?” Mauly and Fierce just stared at him for a brief moment like they weren’t exactly sure what to tell him. “What?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Mauly said. “Fierce, would you mind taking care of the holds? Hank, I’ll show you the ropes of the floor.” Fierce nodded and quickly raced to the registers.

Mauly escorted Henry to the sales floor and trained him on how to shuffle clothes back into place. It was amazing to see how messed up the clothes had gotten during the night. It was confusing to him. December didn’t let them leave until the place was to her liking. From the short time he had known her, it didn’t seem like she would allow rounders of clothes to look like a hot mess.

“I like to just pat the clothes down and make sure that each button up shirt is buttoned… You don’t have to be completely anal about it and button every single button. Usually the first two are just fine.”  Mauly demonstrated her technique for him.

 “Got it?”

Henry nodded his head and went to work straightening the men’s button up shirts. It was a simple task and didn’t require a lot of thought and he liked this. He could get used to doing this as long as the music was good.

Duran Duran ended and Fall Out Boy’s “W.A.M.S.” started to play. Henry shook his head and sighed. “What is up with that?” he muttered.

“It happens a lot,” Fierce said, being nosey. “I’ve learned to tune it out.”

Henry straightened most of the men’s section while Fierce straightened the women’s section. By 10:00, the store was ready to open. Smokey, Tiondra, Brynn, and Beatrix soon arrived and they immediately jumped into their routines. Tiondra checked the dressing rooms and wiped down the mirrors. Beatrix and Brynn counted in their registers while Mauly called December to see what the revenue goal for the day was going to be. It was a well oiled machine and Henry wanted to be a part of it. If straightening the clothes was just a small cog in the machine, then he was going to do the best he could.

The doors opened for business and let in the crowd of people waiting outside. Henry stopped and watched as the customers, which consisted of older ladies with large purses, rushed inside as if their lives depended on it. Why were these ladies in such a hurry to be here? Henry wondered. It amazed him that someone would wake up early just to stand outside of a clothing store, salivating at the idea of browsing through recycled fashion first thing in the morning. He was reminded of the old Mervyn’s commercial with the woman pressed against the window chanting, “Open! Open! Open!” It made him chuckle.

As Henry was working on straightening the men’s pants, Mauly approached him with a clipboard in her hands. “Hank, could you come with me for a bit? I need to train you on the dressing room.” Henry looked up from the myriad of bland blue jeans with pre-ripped holes in them and nodded. “Great!” She turned around and looked at rounders and sighed. “Hank, I thought I told you to work on the rounders.”

“I did,” Henry said. He made sure that they were absolute perfection before he moved on. He looked at the rounders of shirts he had straightened and saw that they were a hot mess again. “Whoa… what the…” He dropped the pair of pants he was fiddling with and walked over to the sweaters. They were literally hanging on the hangers by a sleeve. “But… but I fixed this…” He looked around the store to see if any of the old ladies were nearby. They were all looking in the women’s section near Shoepocalypse. He was at a loss of how his section had gotten messed up.

“Don’t worry about it,” Mauly said, patting him on the back. “It happens to the best of us. It’s your first day. We can’t expect you to be perfect on your first day.” She unconsciously looked up at the Managers’ office and then back down at her clipboard. “To the dressing room, or The Droom as we call it!”

They walked over to the dressing room in time for Tiondra to come out of the back dressing area. She had dirty paper towels and a bottle of Windex in her hands. She smiled at Henry as she threw the paper towels away.

“Hey there, Hank,” she said, winking at Henry. “You ready for this jelly?”

Henry tried his best not to laugh. Jelly hadn’t been cool for about nine years. All he could do was nod his head.

“I’m just about to train him on how things work in the Droom,” Mauly said.

“Oh, well, it should be really easy because when I worked at Nordstrom’s the dressing room was pretty much the same as it is here, so I didn’t have to be trained, so…” Tiondra ran her fingers through her hair and shook it a little. “Because I already knew how things worked, so I have the experience…”

“I think there’s a customer that needs help in the shoe room,” Mauly said, finding the perfect time to interrupt. “Could you go help her out?”

“Of course!” and with that, Tiondra skipped out of the dressing room.

“She could go on for hours.” Mauly walked down the long hallway that resembled a long train car. The doors into the dressing rooms slid open just they would if they were a real subway car. When she saw that there were no abandoned clothes in any of the rooms, she walked over to the counter where she had left Henry.

“Alright, so Tiondra was right in the aspect that the dressing rooms aren’t really complicated,” Mauly said, irritated that the phrase ‘Tiondra was right,’ passed her lips. “When customers come in wanting to try on clothes, have them hang their prospective items up on this rack here.” She indicated a metallic rack stand that was located to the right of the counter. “Count how many items they have and then give them the appropriate ticket.” She reached into a drawer and pulled out a white ticket that read METRO on the side. Underneath METRO was the number 6. “This, of course, means that the customer has six items they’d like to try on.”

“Cool,” Henry said.

“So easy a caveman can do it, right?” Mauly laughed at her little joke as she placed the ticket back into the drawer. “Then when they return, hang the garments they don’t want on the rack behind you. Then sort them by what it is and then by size. Not too complicated, no? Good. One last thing, make sure that you look at the price tags on each thing. People are tricksy and will try to switch the tags and stuff. Don’t think they won’t try!”

“I’ll take them down,” Henry said, laughing.

“I don’t doubt it.” Mauly slapped her clipboard on her hands and smiled. “Do you think that you can handle this jelly?”

“I don’t think I can handle anybody’s jelly,” Henry replied, but he nodded his head. “I got this.”

“Alright, just ask Fierce or Smokey for help if you need anything.” Mauly started to walk around to the staircase leading to the office. “Oh, and whatever you do, don’t take any tips from Tiondra.”

“Got it.”

For the next hour, Henry rocked out to whatever wasn’t Fall Out Boy and helped customers into the dressing rooms. He wished them luck as they tried on their choices and frowned when they said that nothing fit them. He was witty and charming and the old ladies seemed to enjoy it.

Around 11:00, the younger types started to come in and then it really became a party. The guys with their skinny jeans came in and tried on more skinny jeans. The girls tried on all various kinds of short booty shorts that showed the maximum legal amount of skin without being pulled over for looking like a prostitute. Henry kept his comments on their choice of fashion to himself and told them that they look great in whatever they showed him.

Mauly would occasionally come downstairs and check on him. Henry waved as he let three more people into the dressing rooms. One man tried to walk into the women’s dressing area, but Henry quickly went back there and retrieved him before the women could scream bloody murder. When Mauly looked at him, curious as to what had just happened, Henry replied, “No ticket.”

At 11:30, Fierce came to relieve him. “How are you holding up?”

“When is everyone going to stop asking me that?” Henry replied, trying not to sound irritated. “I’m doing just fine. It’s not that hard.”

“Oh, you say that now,” Fierce said. “Just wait until Tuesday.”

“Why, what happens on Tuesday?”

“You’ll see.” Fierce said nothing more on the subject. Justice’s “Phantoms” came on the speakers and Fierce got excited. “I love this song!” The phone that was hanging on the wall in the dressing room had the ability to pipe in music. He pressed the speaker phone button and music spewed out of it.

“Okay, so now what do I do?” Henry asked.

Fierce pointed to Smokey, who was trying to straighten some clothes. Henry promptly approached Smokey and waved. “Hello, how can I be of service?”

“You can help me deep sort these sweaters,” Smokey said, pulling a brown argyle sweater of the rounder. It looked like it had been hanging on for dear life, but it finally gave up the ghost and fell to the floor.

“They look they’ve been beaten to death by gorillas,” Henry said. “The strange thing is I don’t think anyone’s been by here all morning.” He noticed that Smokey’s eyes lit up. “I fixed it and almost ten minutes later, it was all messed up again… or maybe I didn’t do a good job. That’s always possible.”

Smokey looked like he wanted to say something, but instead he chose to brush his hair over to the left in the flippy emo way that the kids like to wear it these days. “It’s your first day. You can’t expect to be perfect.”

“That’s what Mauly said.”

With that, they got busy sorting the sweaters. There were two separate rounders to work on. They each took one and worked as hard as they could. Henry wanted to stop and look at each individual sweater, but he saw how quickly Smokey was moving and thought it best to try and keep up.  He could foresee a problem of shopping when he should have been working. He was never prone to clothes shopping in the past. If you asked him, he preferred to wear the clothes he wore in high school. If they still fit there was really no point in going out and buying more clothes. But he could feel that he would be tempted to do some major league shopping once he got his paycheck. What was the discount anyway?

Ten minutes later, all of the sweaters had been properly hung on the hangers and they looked as straight as they were going to get. Smokey and Henry stood back and looked at their work. When they were satisfied that it looked good, they moved on to men’s tees. They weren’t as much of a hot mess as the sweaters had been so it was an easy fix.

They were jamming along to the music and pushing shirts on the rounder in rhythm to the beat. The metallic ring on which the hangers hung on hadn’t been waxed, so customers could hear the rhythmic squeaking all over the store.

“Could you guys do something about that?” Mauly shouted from upstairs.

Smokey gave her the thumbs up sign and walked over to the dressing room. Fierce handed him a roll of wax paper. Smokey promptly ripped off two sheets and handed one to Henry.

“Are we baking something?” Henry asked, looking confused.

“When we wipe this on the ring, the wax melts and keeps the squeaking down to a minimum,” Smokey informed. “Let’s do it.”

They both turned around and gasped when they saw that the rounders that they had worked so hard on had been completely messed up again. Smokey sighed in irritation, but Henry’s mouth had dropped open.

“What happened?” he asked.

Smokey had an answer, but he was conflicted as to whether or not he should share it. He just walked back over to a sweater rounder and started his work again. Henry did the same. Mauly approached him and tapped him on the shoulder.

“So, what’s the story with the rounders?” she asked. “It shouldn’t take twenty minutes to do one rack.”

“It was the gremlins,” Smokey sputtered.

“Smokey, what have you been smoking?” Mauly tapped the clipboard she was carrying in an irritated manner. “There are no gremlins in the store. They don’t exist.”

“I’m sorry,” Henry said. Smokey had mentioned the gremlins to save Henry from getting in trouble, but it looked like it was time for him to repay the favour by jumping in. “I’ll try harder. I guess I made a bigger mess than I intended.”

Mauly smiled. “Aww, you’re so cute! It’s hard to stay mad at you.” She pinched Henry’s cheeks and then walked over to the buy counter, where Tiondra was in dire need of help. There were a lot of people waiting to sell their clothes.

“Thanks a lot, Hank,” Smokey said.

“No, thank you,” Henry replied, straightening the sweaters again. “That was a great bit about the gremlins.” He watched as the colour from Smokey’s face disappeared. “What, are you okay?”

“I wasn’t kidding about the gremlins,” Smokey muttered under his breath. He wasn’t angry, he was just being cautious not to be overheard. “There are weird things going on in this store, man. Things I can’t explain.”

Henry looked back at the buy counter and saw that Mauly wasn’t watching them. She was too busy talking to December, who had just walked in. Henry got a cold chill. Was Mauly telling her about his sudden inability to straighten sweaters?

“Since I’ve been here, I can never keep the rounders straightened,” Smokey continued. “It’s like every time I turn my back, it’s a complete mess.”

“Could it have been customers being jackasses and not leaving things the way they found them?”

Smokey shook his head emphatically. “No way, man. Just like you said earlier, nobody passed by.”

Henry didn’t know whether or not he believed him, but Smokey looked like he believed that there were gremlins in the store. Not to stereotype, but Smokey did look like the type who might dabble a little bit with hallucinogens. “I think maybe we should just straighten the racks.”

Henry and Smokey got back to straightening the racks and kept a watchful eye on the customers that trickled in. December walked up the stairs and watched them as she went.

When they were done with the sweaters they moved on the graphic tees. And when that was all done, they moved to the button up shirts and then onto the jackets. When the jackets were done, it was time for the pants! Henry kept his eyes on the previously worked on racks. While customers were looking through the clothes, no one was completely trashing them. Sure, there was the odd shirt out of place here and there, but nothing terrible.

At the end of forty five minutes, the racks were in tip top shape. Smokey wiped the sweat off his forehead and breathed a sigh of relief. “We did it, Hank! I think we did it.”

“Yeah, I sure hope they’re happy,” Henry said. “So what else is there to do?”

“Well, since you’re the floor guy, you should probably be asking customers if you can be of any assistance,” Smokey replied. “They’ll probably say no, but it’s good to ask anyway.” Smokey was about to turn his back on the rounders when he heard a squeak. It was a slow, bone chilling squeak. Henry looked but couldn’t see anything.

“It’s happening,” Smokey said.

Suddenly, shirts were violently thrown in the air. Henry could just make out something darting out from the center of the rack, racing to the nearest one, which was the button up shirts. The rounder shook and rattled as something tore things apart from the inside. When mischief had been managed in that particular rounder, it darted to another one. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Smokey looked like he was going to faint.

“You stay here,” Henry commanded. He walked out onto the floor and started looking underneath the rounders, hoping to find a pair of feet. This was probably some three year old kid who wanted to play hide and seek with its mommy. Henry was nobody’s mommy. He was going to read this kid the riot act when he caught it.

“Here kiddie, kiddie, kiddie,” Henry called. “Here kiddie, kiddie, kiddie! Where’s your mom?” He snuck up on the sweater rack and quickly pushed some sweaters aside. “A-ha!” There was nothing hiding in the center. He heard something rattle in the rounder behind him.

“It’s over there,” Smokey shouted from the dressing room.

Fierce walked over to him and asked, “What’s going on?”

“Shhh,” Smokey said. “We’re hunting gremlins!”

“We’re not hunting anything,” Henry said.

On the stereo system, Bjork’s “Hunter” started to play. Henry rolled his eyes at the irony.

He heard something shake the rounder to his left. He quickly spun around and grabbed a few shirts and tugged. There was nothing inside again. “A little help,” Henry shouted.

Fierce and Smokey entered the hunt. They looked through all of the rounders in the men’s section. Whoever it was, it was giving the run around. Something zipped past Fierce and hid in the pants rack. He waved at Smokey and Henry like a maniac until they took notice of him. The customers thought this was a bit peculiar and decided to stand around and watch. Henry and Smokey slowly approached the pants rack. Fierce made signals with his hands that he probably learned from some war movie. Smokey and Henry didn’t understand the signs themselves, but they knew that he wanted them to pounce on three.

1

2

3!

Smokey and Henry separated the pants to see what was inside. While they were expecting to find nothing, there was a little green man-like figure hunched over, holding a piece of what looked like denim. It looked up at them and hissed loudly. It looked pissed. With its dark yellow eyes and long pointy ears, it looked demonic! But they didn’t get to look at it for too long because as soon as it was done screeching at them, it took off towards the dressing rooms, causing a woman exiting to scream and throw her considerations into the air.

Fierce, Smokey, and Henry all looked at each other going, What the hell was that?

“I told you there were gremlins,” Smokey said.

December watched from the upstairs window.

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