Go-go’s c-store was a neighborhood institution, but the crowd gathering this Halloween night was anything but local.
Joe had to admit that he was a little worried. Today was Halloween and something strange more often than not happened at go-go’s convenience store on Halloween.
Joe appreciated that Mr. Habib trusted him enough to make him night manager at go-go’s—working those hours allowed him to study during the day as he worked his way through grad school—but the evening of October 31…well, that was a different story. Go’s-go’s seemed to become a focal point of the weird. There was the time that the store’s technology seemed to come alive and that other time when 100 princesses came to claim their 100 pumpkins, to name two examples. Maybe it would be a quiet night, but Joe couldn’t shake the feeling that it wouldn’t be.
Through the early evening Joe’s apprehensions seemed to be unfounded. Nothing out of the ordinary happened. Costumed kids and their mommies and daddies stopped off early for pizza slices to fuel the trick or treating soon to come. Young adults dressed in risque takes on traditional costumes (sexy candy corn, anyone?!) filled their baskets full of beer and wine while laughing just a bit too enthusiastically.
The reliable core of regulars showed up, too, most of them put off by the extra foot traffic and noise, one or two not appreciating the garish pink signage for go-go’s newest cold and snowy dispensed beverage, “Glub-Blub-Blub.”
“Next time remind me to wear my sunglasses,” one veteran customer griped, “and what’s with that strange mascot thingy?” he added, pointing to the little—shrimp, was it?—affixed to the front of the dispensers. It looked to be wearing an oxygen breathing system, which was kind of ridiculous. Joe made a mental note to ask Mr. Habib about that one. The owner had been a little evasive about the origins of Glub-Blub-Blub, and Joe hadn’t thought enough about it to care. “You don’t want to know how they make it,” his boss once stated cryptically.
Soon it was ten o’clock, though, and the store had become mostly quiet. By eleven, it was even quieter. It occurred to Joe that this was a particularly loud silence, and when always-dependable Maria had to leave early to tend to her asthmatic toddler, Joe, now the sole staff member on duty, thought he could feel the quiet, too.
In time—it might have been hours—Joe became aware that the light outside had changed somehow. Though it was hard to be absolutely certain looking through the bright interior out into the parking lot, the source of illumination looked to be the sky. The light undulated, purpler pastels flowing into more reddish ones and back again. “Moving like a living thing,” Joe’s thought, but before he had a chance to worry about it, he noticed something even more concerning. Figures now loitered in the parking lot. Not human beings, either. Not even close.
Joe rushed to the front door, and opened it quietly, as if to avoid being detected. It proved a futile effort as the figures turned to regard him at once. If he had any fears that they would somehow be aggressive toward him or otherwise troublesome, the feelings dissipated when the visitors abruptly turned away to look upward, where the source of the light was evident, a pink and purple…hole (?)…in the sky, crackling with a silent energy, a bright opening distorted as if by an electric or some other kind of current.
In Joe’s mind the phenomenon above was secondary to what had assembled at ground level. There was a catlike thing that glowed green and floated a few feet off the ground, a man with a head for a pumpkin, and the most benign grim reaper he had ever seen. They would have been much scarier if they hadn’t been totally ignoring him, gazes locked in on the developing spectacle. Joe moved toward the group.
“Uh, what’s going on?” he asked the pumpkin headed man, if only because he had such a friendly face…for a jack o’lantern.
The glowing yellow features turned regarded him. “We are witness to a special event—a portal opening. Very few occur on this world. Our group follows them. Think of us as inter-dimensional tourists. We come from many places. You gain a kind of status for being a witness, depending on the impact of the breach. From what I can see, though, this looks pretty minor.”
Joe let that sink in, trying to ignore the fact that his acquaintance’s moving mouth reminded him of softened, rotting pumpkin. Other than that, the guy seemed okay; Joe didn’t want to be put off by appearances, so he kept the conversation going.
“So, um, who are you?” Joe asked.
“Why I come from a famous family, son! Haven’t you heard of Jack Pumpkinhead from Oz? Millions of copies sold! I’m his brother, Jock. Heh-heh, I’ve got a little more time on my, er, hands than he does.”
The specter, or whatever it was, then turned his attention to his companions. With an unintelligible series of growls, purrs, and other less identifiable sounds, Jock introduced Joe to the cat-like thing, who looked to respond by rolling itself completely over and over in mid-air, like a lotto ball bobbling and ready to be released from its cage.
The grim reaper, “from a universe where death is much more friendly,” turned and smiled at Joe, and was about to speak when everyone’s attention diverted toward a new sound. Its volume rose until it became identifiable as a kind of gurgling, like water lapping down and bubbling into a brook.
Joe joined the others in looking up, and to his amazement saw a swarm of shrimp that looked identical to mascot of Glub-Blub-Blub, down to the breathing apparatus. They looked like aquanauts swimming through water. If “Glub-Blub-Blub” wasn’t a phonetic attempt to duplicate the sound emitted by the creatures, it sure sounded like it to Joe.
The grist shot inside the slightly ajar front door. For not a second did the night manager doubt where the group was headed: The Glub-Blub-Blub dispensers. The creatures, obviously much heavier than they appeared, knocked against the dispensers again and again until they dislodged the tops of the containers which stored the liquid. Then they dived in. In moments the machines were drained of every last drop of Glub-Blub-Blub. Joe ducked when the fleet whizzed out. The gurgles they emitted sounded more energized than before, almost as if the creatures were excited, which, come to think of it, they likely were.
Joe found it funny, in an odd sort of way, that his first thoughts after the incident were of how was going to make up the shortage in his store’s paperwork. These critters added a whole new dimension to spoilage and waste. Thankfully, Mr. Habib had gone with SSCS for back office management technology, and Joe was sure the Computerized Daily Book would prove more than flexible enough to address his needs, as it had to date without fail.
He’d worry about that later, but in the meantime he watched the airborne visitors vanish back into the portal above them. Immediately the opening began to shrink.
“What the heck was that?” Joe asked to no one in particular.
Jock took it upon himself to answer. “That was small potatoes is what that was. As a portals tourist I’ve seen almost everything come through, including whole invading forces. This was weak—just a feeding stop for a minor species; a pest. Where’s the prestige in that?”
“Yeah, but how did Mr. Habib—”
But the portal had become nothingness and the visitors were gone. Joe walked back into the store and looked at the empty dispensers.
The next day, when he caught up with Mr. Habib, Joe made no mention of the events of the night explicitly, but tried a line of questioning that he hoped would sound normal while not raising his boss’ suspicions. He didn’t experience much luck, except for Mr. Habib’s rather non-specific comments about expanding into “new markets” for Halloween (and perhaps some other) promotions.
Joe, who at the time was drinking a cup of Glub-Blub-Blub—his first—might have expected this vague revelation to unnerve him, but it just made him look forward all the more to next Halloween. And when he took the next sip of Glub-Blub-Blub, and the next, and the next after that, he wondered how he could possibly wait another 365 days.