Can of Worms.

Can of Worms.

A Story by J.L Hunter

A young man begins the first day at his new job.


Elliot sat in the makeshift orientation room, which was barely more than a walk-in closet that had been redecorated with a few book-shelves and a computer desk. It had been about five minutes since the woman who had introduced herself as Stacey walked him into the room and told him the manager would be in as soon as possible. Usually, he thought, that when someone said as soon as possible, it was going to take a while.

                He looked around at the shelves of books that seemed as though their sole purpose was gathering obscene plumes of dust. Posters clung loosely to the yellowing wallpaper, mostly depicting nature scenes with captions of inspirational quotes on the bottom. The computer, an ancient artifact that appeared to be from the eighties, sat awkwardly on the desk. It was also gathering its own film of gray, and Elliot had to resist the urge to trace his finger across the screen. The room reeked of stale cigarette smoke and dust. Elliot didn't know you could smell dust.

                Right then, just as Elliot was observing a carefully constructed network of cobwebs in the corner near the ceiling, the door swung open. He was glad it opened outward and not the other way or it would have struck his knees. A large, portly man stepped through the doorway and squeezed in between Elliot and the wall. There was another chair tucked under the computer desk. The man swung it around and plopped down. The chair gave a loud, painful whine and Elliot thought it already looked like it was going to fall apart any second.

                Even though the two of them were both sitting across from one another, Elliot still had to look up to make eye contact with the man.

                “Alright, so, you must be Elliot Sanders. I'm the general manager, but you can call me Mr. Cornwall.” He thrust out his hand and Elliot took it reluctantly; that behemoth sized hand could have been used to crush small children and grind them into powder.

                “Yes, sir.” Elliot said, and then added respectfully, “Mr. Cornwall.”

                Cornwall coughed laughter, “Very good! You know I like a young man who can follow orders briskly and efficiently. You think you can do that Mr. Sanders?”

                Elliot knew the man was playing on his answer, the look of vague humor and explicit observance in eyes revealed that much. Each question would determine how the next few minutes would go.

                “Absolutely,” Elliot responded, “I'm always doing what my mom tells me to do at home, I don't see how it should be any different here.” Which was a lie, Elliot knew that, and he thought that Mr. Cornwall knew it as well. However in an interview, even the most seemingly unprofessional one, everything was fair game and the truth was something that remained behind that closed door. Although the door was very  much still open. Elliot found that very interesting.

                Mr. Cornwall gave another tremendous laugh. His breath smelled like tobacco and a hint of alcohol. That was, perhaps, his aftershave, but Elliot didn't think so.

                “Good answer! I don't think we need to press much further. I'm really not one for this uptight professional bull-crap. Way I see it, you want the job you got it, you don't I'll show you the door, we'll figure the rest from there.”

                Elliot stared at him for a while, unable to say anything, not sure what he should say.

                “Alright?” Cornwall pressed.

                Finally, Elliot nodded his head. His future boss stuck out those behemoth-sized sausages once more, and once more Elliot grabbed them, this time more eagerly. “Thank you, sir.” He said.

                “Very well, son, see you bright'n early Monday morning. Check with Stacey for your full schedule, I've got to get something to eat or I'm gonna whither away!” Mr. Cornwall laughed again. Elliot hoped he wouldn't be in this close proximity with the man too often. The smell of his breath and the odor emanating from his clothes made Elliot want to throw up.

                Cornwall got up, with some effort, and stumbled out of the door. Elliot followed suit.

                He didn't check with Stacey, because she wasn't in the office down the hall where she had been when he came in about half an hour ago. It was alright because he knew when he was supposed to come in on Monday and from there he would have all day to find out the rest of his schedule. He walked out of the hallway and before leaving through the automatic doors he looked back at the store where he would be working part-time for the rest of the summer.

                It was a dingy place, small, the aisles cramped so close together he wondered how two people could walk down them at the same time. The ceiling hung low, adding to the cramped feeling. A few lights flickered in the back of the store. For the first time, the place seemed dark and somewhat hollow.

                Elliot should have seen this as a sign that something wasn't right. A few women pushed nearly empty shopping carts up and down the aisles. The cashiers stood behind their registers constantly wiping the same spots over and over. There was that smell of dust and lingering sick-sweet tobacco. He wondered how the people who shopped here didn't notice, maybe because they were used to it, maybe they chose not to notice it.

                One of the cashiers, a blonde girl a little older than Elliot himself, spoke, “Don't worry. Mondays are always busier, it's promo day. We're having a sale on beans that you'd have to be crazy to miss.”

                Elliot gave the girl an awkward smile and nodded his head absently. Okay, sure, beans, he thought, the sale of a lifetime. Without giving her any more reason to engage him in conversation that he probably didn't want any part of, he darted through the door and out into the rain.

                He looked out into the parking lot and saw his mother's car parked near the front. She honked the horn twice. When he was in the car, wiping his arms and face with a towel his mother had fished from the back-seat, she asked, “So, how'd it go?”

                “Good, mom.”

                “Does that mean you got it?”

                “Yeah.” He replied, looking through the rain-smeared window at his new place of work. The bright red letters of 'ALBERT'S GROCERY OUTLET' stood out in the heavy sheets of rain.

                She raised her hands in the air and brought them down onto the steering wheel hard enough that made Elliot jump, “Yay! Congrat's baby!”

                Elliot sunk into his seat. She had done the same thing when he 'graduated' middle school, right there in the midst of a swarm of his peers. Luckily it was raining and the parking lot was empty.

                When they were halfway home, he felt the excitement resurface, and as he lay in bed that night, staring up at the ceiling he found himself counting the minutes that trudged along.


           *        *        *



                On Monday morning, Elliot jolted upright in his bed at the sudden blaring screams of his alarm clock.

                He slid out from underneath the covers and opened the second drawer from the top of his white dresser. The pants and shirt he had washed the night before, lie neatly folded on top of each other. Elliot picked up the stack and got dressed. A couple minutes later, his mother was yelling from downstairs that he had half an hour to get to work almost at the same time he had come running across the living room and into the kitchen.

                Elliot sat down at the table and devoured the two pop-tarts that his mom had laid on a paper-towel in front of him.

                “Do you have your money for lunch?”

                Elliot got up from the table, “You're kidding, right?”

                “Okay, Okay. Are you ready?”

                He gave a quick nod of his head, balled up the paper-towel and threw it in the wastebasket, “Ready as ever.”


                The drive took no time at all and before he knew it he was getting out of the car and waving bye to his mother. As she pulled off out of the parking lot, he felt a sudden rush of panic that was probably normal. This was a big step, he thought to himself as he walked through the automatic doors, kind of like the first day of school. But it was also kind of like walking into the dank, dark recesses of an abandoned house that was supposed to be haunted, you weren't sure, but there were rumors.

                It was also kind of like that.

                He looked around. The emptiness displayed the last time he was there had improved slightly. A few more people pushed carts with one or two more boxes and cans in them. There was even a old lady checking out at one of the two active registers. Each item that beeped, echoed monotonously throughout the store. The smell was still there though. The odor of dust and stale tobacco still clung to his nostrils. There was also something else, something he had noticed before but could not quite place, and he felt he was a bit closer. It was that sick-sweet smell, but that was also wrong.

                It reminded him of the rat that had somehow crawled underneath the house and died. You could smell the stench of it's decay the strongest in the downstairs bathroom.

                He brushed away the thought. His mind often wandered from place to place, seeking explanations that were ultimately simple ones. His mother often told him that, and he figured that was the case now as it had been before.

                It was nothing. He smiled and continued on toward the hallway on the far left wall. As he walked, he passed by the time-clock and looked for his card. It wasn't there. He peeked into the first door that was opened slightly. The woman that sat at the desk, looking at something on the computer, didn't notice Elliot come in at first and when he spoke she jumped in her seat.


                When she swiveled around in the chair, he saw her eyes were sunken deep into her skull and large purple bags drooped underneath each eyelid. The woman who introduced herself as Stacey two days ago looked entirely different from the woman who sat in front of him now. She looked like something that just crawled out of a cedar box in the ground.

                “It's okay, you just startled me. Mr. Cornwall wasn't able to make it in today, so if you want to just get started on sweeping up the aisles while I get finished here and I’ll tell you what I need to have done next.” Stacey tilted her neck just enough for her hair to slip off her shoulders and for a brief moment Elliot saw what looked like a bright red rash flowering above her collar-bone.

                As if she had noticed his eyes momentarily flicker towards it, she casually shook her head and the brown hair fell back into place.

                Elliot said, finally, after a few seconds of silence, “Alright. Sure.”

                “The broom and dust-pan is in the maintenance closet. The door just before the bathrooms.” Stacey said cautiously.

                Without another word, Elliot left the office and as he neared the blue restroom sign hanging from the ceiling, he heard the door close and the lock click into place. He hadn't noticed how dark the hallway was, and realized as he stood in front of the maintenance closet that there was only one light working. The rest of them had burned out somehow. Elliot opened the door and saw amidst the clutter of miscellaneous cleaning materials the broom and the dust pan. The smell that wafted out was of sawdust and bleach. He brought out what he needed and quickly closed the door before he threw up, which wouldn't be a good start to his first day on the job.

                The floors were awful. Elliot wondered as he walked along the dairy cooler when the last time was that someone ran a mop over it and scrubbed it down. Black marks covered the white tile everywhere he looked. Some yellowish substance ran along the edge of the coolers. As he passed by, Elliot glanced at it with disgust. Near the ceiling, large gruesome looking clouds of dust stuck out between the light fixtures and the ceiling panels.

                Unsure of where to start first, Elliot stood in the back of the store, staring down the first three aisles, which happened to be the juices, baking goods and canned fruits and vegetables. After much consideration, he decided to start with the aisle that looked the best. The other two were littered with pieces of paper, mounds of spilled sugar and flour, dust-covered boxes of cornbread and cake-mix lie just beyond the shadows underneath the bottom shelves, like unspeakable terrors lurking just within the darkness cast by the walls of a dimly lit alley-way.

                Aisle five would definitely be his best bet to start off with. He walked about halfway down the aisle, propped up the dustpan and began sweeping what appeared to be partially digested and stomped-on skittles. Elliot jabbed the broom under the shelves and scooped out a variety of objects, mostly empty packages and candy wrappers, a poisonous looking pacifier that he picked up by the ring, and some unnameable items that seemed to be chewed upon.

                Then, as he neared the canned vegetables, the odor that he had questioned as soon as he walked into the store that had then only lingered, was now getting stronger. Elliot leaned the broom against the shelf and walked closer. Then he stopped abruptly and covered his mouth and nose with his hand. He took a step back and carefully knelt down so he could see under the aisle.

                There was nothing but a few cans. Elliot reached behind him and grabbed the broom, brought it forward and scooped underneath the aisle. The two cans rolled out and stopped almost directly in front of his feet. The smell blasted out like he had just stepped into a putrid wall of stench. He stumbled backward a few inches and regained his balance.

                At least I found where the smell was coming from, he thought. One of the cans had busted open and was leaking blackish-red kidney beans from a hole in the top. Life was full of little ironies, he was thinking about the weird girl at the checkout.

                Just then a voice came over the loud-speaker, and it could have been that same blonde, “Hello customers, we are now having a sale on our cans of large red kidney beans, twenty-five cents a can. You can find displays in the front and back of the store. Thank you for shopping at ALBERTS.”

                Elliot looked up at the speakers that were stationed by the air-conditioning ducts, blanketed in spider-web, clumps of dust hanging like dead flesh from the silvery threads.

                Something popped below him. It was a wet sound like a beetle being stepped on and it's guts oozing out. Elliot looked down at the spilled can of beans. After a moment, he thought he saw something move ever so slightly in the puddle of red liquid that looked too much like blood.

                That didn't happen, he told himself. The light behind him was still flickering off and on and it was probably making it look like something moved.

                But he didn't let his eyes stray from the mess. It was as if he was anticipating something to happen even though he knew in his rational mind that nothing would. A man pushing a cart passed by and then a woman with a child in the front of the cart strolled shortly after.

                Then he saw it, one of the beans twitched suddenly, followed by another loud popping sound from inside the can. Elliot closed his eyes and then opened them again. There was no way he was seeing this, it wasn't real. Beans don't move. The thought wandered continuously through the chambers of his mind.

                But as he was thinking it, the bean shifted again and it looked like it was pulsing. Oh my God it's breathing. Another pop from inside the can. Then another. And suddenly the one that had been moving, gave another tremendous twitch and exploded. What came out of it was red and white that looked like a bloody zit.

                A worm wriggled out of the now empty shell. It slithered around the fluid and to Elliot's horror, two tiny slits for eyes on what appeared to be a head looked up at him.

                Two more beans burst open and two more white worms slithered out. Elliot all of a sudden felt faint. What is happening, he thought distantly. Somewhere far away the loud-speaker broadcasting the sale of beans at what would be for dozens of people a great deal. He looked around at each end of the aisle and more and more people were pushing carts. They were pushing carts full of those beans. He wondered how likely it was that all of them contained those little white worms. He thought it was likely, for some reason that he couldn't explain, he knew.

                They would go home and serve the beans, warmed up and ready to incubate, with their evening meat-loaf or prime-rib. They would no doubt find them tasty, and would come back for seconds. And then they would grow, and they would grow.

                Elliot looked down once more at the pile of now writhing worms. They were growing, some now had legs and were scurrying around Elliot's feet. But he couldn't move. Even if they crawled up his legs and took nest wherever they could find an opening, he knew he couldn't move. He was frozen in horror at what was happening.

                He could see them inside of the people walking around with the cans piled in their carts. Their little one's chewing on the aluminum ring. He could see the worms finding a comfortable home in the small intestines of these innocent people. Elliot wanted to scream, but couldn't, or didn't want to. Either way, they were all dead.

                Because they would find a way inside. And they would grow. And grow.

                                And grow.

© 2012 J.L Hunter

Author's Note

J.L Hunter
Just something I thought would be fun to write.

My Review

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Man, this was fantastic, your flow and visual descriptions were impeccably captivating. And you're not yet published?! I had best throw in the towel. Great read.

Posted 12 Years Ago

Great story, very descriptive and you followed through with each idea you brought up. Your dialog was believable and enjoyable to read. My only advise make the font a bit bigger and or add more spacing between paragraphs my eyes got lost a few times and it makes it harder to read though. Other than that interesting read, something very different that is for sure. Great job

Posted 12 Years Ago

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2 Reviews
Added on April 6, 2012
Last Updated on April 10, 2012


J.L Hunter
J.L Hunter

Pensacola, FL

Writer. Father. Lover of cheese. Umbrella salesman. Badger enthusiast. Doorknob. Cup. Also, cigarettes. Lots and lots of cigarettes. And beer. Smoke. Sizzurp drinker. Lemon flavor, never grape. more..

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