By Gina Daniel
Edited by Deanna Hughes
“Hannah, could you pass that box of chickpeas?”
I’m always on the night shift at the moment. It’s been a while since I could just sit in the sun without nodding off, but at least tonight was quiet at All Night Groceries. Usually, we have all manner of folk in here.
“Oh, sorry Nadine! I was in a world of my own. Here you go” I reached down to the crate beside me.
As I lifted up the box, my right arm buckled under the weight, and I could feel myself losing balance.
“Oh shit, shit” I panicked and winced, waiting to hear a huge thud on the linoleum floor. But nothing came. Only a swift gush of air and an exhale of relief from Nadine.
“Watch out Hannah, you don’t want the precious vegans starting a riot over a lack of chickpeas,” a smooth voice said beside me.
My manager, Ben, had saved the box and placed it on the shelf for Nadine, ready for unpacking and pricing.
“Thank you! You really came out of nowhere huh?” Nadine laughed as she turned and starting unpacking the tins.
“Thanks, Ben” I mumbled nervously, he always brings up the vegan jokes in front of me.
Next week will be my three years meat-free. Can you believe it? Who would have known I could give up pepperoni pizza. Although, I seem to have replaced meat with vegan cheese, which probably explains my little pot belly.
“No problem, any plans for the weekend, girls?” Ben enquired as he started helping with the other tins in the crate.
Before I could reply, Nadine started speaking about her and Polly’s plan to see the latest horror film at ABCinema this Sunday. Ever since those two got together, it’s been a nonstop brag fest for Nadine. I usually drowned her out when she got like this. It’s not as though I had anything interesting to say anyway, my plans pretty much included going for a run by the lake and catching up on my TV Shows.
I decided to stack the lentils on the opposite shelf. Turning to glance back at them, I see Ben looking over at me, replying to Nadine in between glances. I never knew what to make of these moments. It happened, on occasion, when Ben knew that Nadine was preoccupied or mid-speech. He also knew I couldn’t stop blushing when he stared, and he gave me a small smile before becoming fully engrossed in Nadine’s conversation about “Blood Sport II”. I stepped up the roller ladder in order to reach the top shelf, willing my cheeks to de-flush.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with Ben on a personal level. But I am 100% sure the dude is a vampire. I’m not naïve, he shows up to work after sundown, he never eats with us in the staff room, he’s secretive about his life; and even in the height of summer, his skin always looks blue and ice cold under the fluorescent lights of the store. Did that stop my stomach knotting when we were alone together on the night shift? Or my heart from racing when he walked me to my car after a long shift? Nope.
I’m not freaked out about it. There are a lot of strange things that happen in Westport, it’s not unusual for a body or two to turn up every now and then. Also, I really needed this job, I wanted to buy my own place and start growing my own vegetables, and Ben paid a lot of money for those willing to work through the night at his small grocery store on the edge of town. At the moment, it was just me, Nadine and Ben who worked in the store. We used to work with a lovely man named Steve, the baker, but he went missing a few months back.
At around 11pm, Nadine grabbed her backpack from the staff room and skipped out of the store via the front doors, her black braids swinging as she went. Polly had been waiting outside, and the two strolled away after a brief passionate encounter outside of the automatic doors. It was cute.
Nadine started working here about 6 months ago, the monotonous tasks haven’t got to her yet though. I imagine the skipping will stop soon. Me, I’ve been here for 3 years. I tried to leave town after my last year at Larkfield Secondary School, but it turns out big cities cost a lot of money to live in, and no one really wants to hire a girl with poor grades. So, I moved back, found a flat above Cathy’s Coffee Shop, and began working here at All Night Groceries.
Some people might think that I live a boring life. But I enjoy it. I have friends here, I listen to my mum’s old vinyl collection after work and I make vegan meals in batches on Sundays. I quite like my own company, and most mornings I’ll try and stay awake enough to see the sunrise and the stars vanish.
“Juust the two of us” Ben sung in a low voice
I laughed as he left the storeroom and joined me behind the till.
“What are your plans for the weekend, then? Anything interesting?” I asked
“Nothing really, I’ll be away on Sunday though – catching up with old friends. That reminds me, here are the keys for you to close the store with”.
I was going to ask about the friends he was meeting, but I muttered something about that being a nice evening plan and shoved the keys in my back pocket. I never liked to pry into Ben’s personal affairs, mostly because I was anxious about his replies. The last time I asked who he was meeting, he said something about an old flame, went quiet and scowled at the lottery tickets for ten minutes.
Then there was the time I caught him on the CCTV taking the blood from our fresh meat order. He was draining the pig’s blood and taking the full container to his car. I shuddered thinking about it, then jumped at the sound of the doors sliding open at the front of the store. Dominic Howard shuffled into view.
“Hey Dom, some last minute shopping? At this hour?” Ben asked, leaning over the counter.
“Hi Ben, no nothing like that, just getting some supplies, I’ve got a great game going on tonight” he replied excitedly.
As Dom scuttled down aisle 5, Ben glanced over and rolled his eyes at me. Dom liked to play chess in the graveyard in town, he always played alone and animatedly talked to himself as he did so. Ben always made fun of him, but I never had a reason to dislike Dom, we all have our weird vices. At least I don’t potentially hunt and kill people, or you know, drink pigs blood from the storeroom.
For the next few hours, work was pretty chill. Me and Ben listened to Westport FM, and I kept busy in aisle 2, pricing up the fresh vegetables. At around 4am, I stood up, cracked my back and rubbed the back of my neck, stretching as it slowly reached closing time.
Nadine would be back around 10am, taking the day shift until Ben came in later that evening. It seemed quite as I lowered my outstretched arms. Where had Ben gone? I hadn’t seen him in a while. I made my way to the staff room, needing coffee to get through this last hour. With one quick glance around the small shop floor, making sure there were no customers who needed help, I opened the staff room door.
Looking around, he was nowhere to be seen. I decided to put on a fresh pot of coffee, re-tie my hair into a ponytail and freshen up. I was halfway through my second sip of coffee when Ben strolled in through the back door. He had a lot more energy than before, he got like this after a long cig break.
“Come on, let’s dance” he exclaimed
“W..What?” I stammered this is hardly something I expected him to say.
After turning the radio up, a slow and clearly male voice came into focus through the speakers. I didn’t recognize the song, and it seemed quite old, but before I could protest, Ben had taken my freshly brewed coffee, placed it on the counter, and taken my hands in his. I didn’t know what to say, and my face flushed. This was the first time Ben had done something like this. I didn’t complain, but my heart was beating out of my chest. Is this actually happening?
“It’s cute when you blush” he laughed and looked at the floor. Was he nervous?
He placed my hands on his shoulders before I could even register the slight heat to his touch. I had felt his skin once before, months ago when he was helping me price the freshly baked bread, just before Steve went missing. It was a slight brush of our arms, but his skin had felt ice cold, so much so that it sent shivers up my spine. I didn’t say anything at the time because Ben was in a foul mood the whole morning, and I didn’t want to set him off, but his touch reminded me of cool marble,
“It’s a slow night” he said, bringing his gaze back to my pink face.
“Let’s do something fun. Dance with me.” he finished.
He had these moments, bursts of energy that seemingly arrived from nowhere. But I won’t lie and say I didn’t enjoy it when he was like this. He smiled more, and more often than not he would suggest closing early, which is always a bonus.
“Okay, I’m no good at dancing though” I stammered
“You don’t have to be, just sway and smile and talk to me about nothing in particular. No-one’s watching” he muttered in my ear as we got closer.
He placed his hands above my hips, and we talked about music for a little while. With any other person, this would have been an awkward encounter, but it felt natural to be held by him like this. I wanted him to do this more often.
When it came time to leave, I waited for Ben to close the shutters at the front of the store and walk me to my car. I forgot my jacket today, so I wrapped my arms around myself in order to keep warm, my baggy All Night Groceries shirt still tucked into my jeans.
I would have gone to bed tonight smiling, had it not have been for what happened next.
I hadn’t seen it at first, so when I tripped over the small backpack, I gasped and landed with a crash on the pavement. As I stood up, I noticed her body before the blood. Nadine was slumped on the side of the road, eyes closed and neck ripped open. Her body looked crumpled like something had chewed her up and spat her out. I couldn’t look anymore.
Blood started to seep into my shirt, and when I looked down at my hands, the palms had a film of deep red from where I had landed. As I started to lift myself up from the bloodstained ground, I heard Ben’s footsteps stop behind me.
The air had stilled, and a sense of dread filled my stomach. I turned around and saw the whites of Ben’s eyes disappear and make way for deep black.