Contest #109 shortlist ⭐️

The 9PM Clock In

Submitted into Contest #109 in response to: Set your story during the night shift.... view prompt

30 comments

Fiction Funny Horror

Dot was new to the night shift.

She was very much a day person – all sunshine and blonde curls and dresses that hit just the right part of her knees so that the fabric flounced perfectly. She drank lavender tea and read poetry and was rather sure that without the sunlight on her skin every morning, she would shrivel up and die. 

But that was probably rather dramatic.

The ten-minute break between the day and night shift was like a dam between precision and insanity. Though Dot was never one for precision, soft-edged and gentle-smiled as she was, it would still forever be her choice over the madness-inducing stillness and echoes of the 9pm clock in. Dot had so far been able to avoid it.

And yet, here she was.

The harsh fluorescent lighting that tore through the petrol station did nothing for her dress but wash out the pastel colours to insipid tones. A depressing start to what would undoubtedly be a depressing night, Dot was sure.

Craig, the greasy supervisor whose sweat stains and shiny forehead made him look rather like he’d been rolling around in the spilt petrol that puddled on the concrete outside, had been the one to show her what he liked to call the ‘ins and outs’. Dot had never really talked to him before this point and wasn’t sure what he thought was so different in the logistics between the two times of day. Daylight, sure. And a will to live, maybe. But apart from those two points that the night shift severely lacked, it couldn’t have possibly been that different.

“Don’t leave the counter,” he had said, a waft of cigarette-smelling breath coming Dot’s way, “Customers come in, you still don’t leave the counter. They ask for help, you–”

“Still don’t leave the counter?” She guessed, eyebrow raised. 

“Nothing gets past you,” Craig rolled his eyes particularly emphatically, “You know how to work the till?”

She had been working here for three years.

“Yes.” Dot squeaked out instead. 

“Right,” he nodded, “I’m off, then.”

The so-called ‘off’ that Craig hobbled away to was an office on the other side of the room, Dot found out. She was pretty sure she could hear the droning buzz of a football commentator coming from somewhere within. 

She could probably report him for that.

She just grabbed a Mars Bar off of the shelf instead. 

Compensation and all that. 

Well, Dot thought as she moved behind the counter of doom, at least I get a chair. When the chair in question appeared to be suspiciously warm, though, she decided that perhaps her positivity had been rather premature. Dot’s positivity always seemed to be rather premature. 

She was halfway through her Mars Bar and a Vimto from the fridge when a customer came in.

Over the aforementioned three years, as painfully ponderous as they were, Dot had created a careful little Venn diagram in her head of each and every category of customer. There were the daytime drunks, all grabby hands and slurred words despite the time of day, or the monotone mothers, usually with a child or two hanging on their arm. There were condescending Colins and patronising Pauls who talked to her as if she hadn’t, indeed, worked there for 37 and a half months and counting. 

There were other categories too – the holiday hordes, the petrifying pre-teens, the maddeningly chatty children, the belligerent boomers, the serotonin-deficient students, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. A carefully compiled cerebral compendium of Dot’s petrol station past. 

The customer who walked in, however, couldn’t be jammed into any of her satisfyingly alliterative categories. 

Dot could smell him from here.

Was that… meat? The stench of it was stronger than anything she had ever smelt before, which was quite concerning when you grew up with five older brothers who couldn’t tell the difference between hygiene and infrequent wipe-overs with a slightly damp flannel.

The smell shot up her nose, tingling each hair until they practically buzzed, and with the quietest sniff she could muster, she realised what the smell actually was.

Rotting meat. 

Oh.

Dot stopped mid chew. 

Well, perhaps he was a butcher.

He did seem to be finding the station’s pathetic selection of processed meats quite interesting, eyeing them up with his small eyes as if they didn’t look like slices of pink rubber.

He was a tall man, Dot noticed. Skinny and yet broad shouldered. Pale and washed out, yet somehow striking in the light. Where it had washed Dot’s dress out, he was vibrant with it, perhaps even sparkling. She couldn’t quite see his face properly, though, her subtle glances over only glimpsing so much of him. 

It took the rest of a Mars Bar and the last dregs of her Vimto to realise that he had been staring at the meat for nearly five minutes.

“Can I help you, Sir?” She decided to ask. 

The man snapped his head in her direction. 

Oh.

Were his eyes… black?

Right.

Okay.

Dot wasn’t one to judge.

“Excuse me?” The man spoke. He was rather posh, actually, contrasting startlingly with his shaggy hair and holey clothes. Each of the three syllables was laced with a private school education and hunted pheasants, sprinkled with the leftovers of Mummy and Daddy’s inheritance. 

“It’s just that you’ve been staring for quite a while,” Dot near-stuttered, pulled in by those inky eyes against her will, “I thought you might need assistance.”

“Oh,” the man’s mouth stretched into a toothy smile (a sharp-toothed toothy smile?), “That’s very kind. I was wondering if you perhaps sell black pudding?”

Black pudding.

Right. 

Okay.

Dot would try her very best not to judge. 

“This is a petrol station, Sir,”

Inky eyes blinked in confusion.

“No, we don’t sell black pudding.” Dot clarified, finally drawing her eyes away.

“Shame,” he spoke, “Perhaps iron supplements?”

“Iron… supplements?”

“Tablets. Pills. Little brown chunks that you swallow to stop you from being anaemic.”

Now she was starting to think this man was really just a patronising Paul. 

“This is a petrol station, Sir.” She pointed out once again.

The man gave a hopeful look. “A petrol station that sells iron supplements?”

“No.”

“Oh.”

“Precisely,”

And, well, Patronising Paul 2.0 didn’t really seem to appreciate that. 

“Sorry.” Dot tacked on. 

His face flattened out once more.

“Well, in that case, what would you recommend?” He gestured to the fridge of meats. Having been a vegetarian for the last decade, Dot just gave a reluctant look.

“I’m not really sure, Sir.”

For a split second, the man’s eyes flicked down to her neck. 

Dot brushed it off, taking a sip of her drink – now a Redbull.

“Care to help me choose?”

“I’m not really supposed to–”

“Perhaps you’ll even get a tip.” The man added, black eyes somehow glistening.

A tip. 

Did petrol station workers usually get tips?

Dot certainly didn’t.

And she did want to rent that new Ryan Reynolds movie. (£5 for a sodding movie, honestly. If Dot wasn’t a sucker for Canadian men, she’d be complaining about capitalism or something.)

What exactly was it that she would recommend, though? Not buying processed flesh and instead eating a carrot? He didn’t look like the carrot type. 

Dot held a mouthful of Redbull on her tongue, waiting for a decision to strike her. She wasn’t one for breaking rules.

Don’t leave the counter, she repeated in her mind in Craig’s crackly, tobacco-stained voice. But she glanced to Craig’s office. The football still blared. She was actually sure she could hear him snoring. 

Dot swallowed the Redbull.

The florescent lights flickered. 

The man eyed his meats.

Dot shrugged.

Ryan Reynolds was worth it.

Dot left the counter.

September 01, 2021 13:18

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30 comments

Elizabeth Napier
13:00 Sep 20, 2021

This story is now on episode 9 of the Unpublished, Not Unknown podcast! Its creator is Katie Kanning and it deserves all the love and attention! It was an honour that she wanted to read out my story and all of the previous episodes are absolutely amazing. If you love fiction and short stories, definitely give it a listen on Spotify or Apple Podcasts - I think she also has a Youtube channel too! Thanks again, Katie!

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Lady Nopeingham
19:30 Oct 06, 2021

Would you be interested in sharing this story on another YT narration channel? I have just started a YouTube narration channel for strange and spooky stories, and I think this story would be a great fit. Would you allow me to narrate this on my channel? I would credit you, of course. You can search me on YouTube to preview my voice and overall environment, if you’re interested. Let me know what you think. 🖤

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Elizabeth Napier
07:52 Oct 07, 2021

That would be amazing! I listened to one of your videos and you have a great voice for narration and I would be honoured for you to read it out! The environment is definitely the kind of vibe I love and try to emulate in a lot of my writing (whether or not I manage it is a different story!) so seeing my story there would be wonderful!

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Lady Nopeingham
18:17 Oct 07, 2021

Thank you so much! 🖤🖤🖤

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Katie Kanning
20:34 Nov 26, 2021

Thanks, Elizabeth! I just saw this. Keep up the great writing. To listen, visit: Unpublishednotunknown.com

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Keya Jadav
09:43 Sep 12, 2021

You couldn't just leave it there! C'mon! It's an amazing story Elizabeth, bricked with pinches of humour and how you simultaneously highlighted Dot's thoughts and self-conversations. Great Job! And congratulations on your first shortlist!

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Shea West
17:13 Sep 10, 2021

This made me laugh! All of the alliterative categories of customers.... The way she said Ryan Reynolds was worth it had me. I love that the funny aspect of this story outweighed the true horror of it. Mostly because gas stations are quite the field day for horror stories I'm sure. I enjoyed this story so much Elizabeth, congrats on your shortlist!

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23:07 Oct 20, 2021

Hi Elizabeth! Coming here from hearing your work on the Unpublished, Not Unknown podcast. I think listening rather than reading your work gives me a different impression than if I had first read it, so take that for what it's worth. Love your voice. LOVE the mention of her "shriveling up without sunshine," given what's coming in the story. (I didn't catch that the first time, but loved when I saw it scrolling by just now!) The Patronizing Paul coming back up is great. Overall, just a really, really enjoyable read. Maybe it was the slow pac...

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Elizabeth Napier
09:19 Oct 21, 2021

Hi Rachel! Thanks so much for your comments! I'm pretty new to publishing my work so any advice is much appreciated! I didn't originally write this story with the intention of it being read aloud, so I can understand if it didn't translate that well. My main reason was to get myself out there a little bit more (which I think I achieved at least somewhat since it brought you here!) and to also support Katie's wonderful podcast! Since this was the first story that I wrote for a prompt on this website, it was testing the waters a little bit ...

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22:03 Oct 22, 2021

Oh, don't misunderstand me, I think it did translate well on the podcast! I loved listening to it, especially because I have limited uninterrupted reading time but LOTS of time to listen while doing dishes and housework and chasing kids. :) I just think you interpret it differently when listening than reading, that's all. I loved your style, and isn't it a great surprise when people love what you're unsure about?

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Elizabeth Napier
22:46 Oct 22, 2021

Yeah, it was definitely a boost to my confidence to know that people liked it! I get what you mean about the interpretation – it was a fun experience for me to listen to it too! I can't speak for chasing kids around but listening to fiction is definitely good for my short attention span that sometimes makes reading a bit hard for me. Once again, I'm glad you liked it and thank you for your kind words!

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Kyler Mattoon
14:03 Sep 16, 2021

OH MY GODDDDD. Love the ending - so chilling. And the alliteration is so perfect. This is such a great mix of creepy, sweet, and funny! Love it.

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Jason Burghardt
15:41 Sep 14, 2021

This is the first story I have read here. I enjoyed it. Nice work!

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Elizabeth Napier
20:48 Sep 14, 2021

Thank you so much! There are so many stories from different writers here so I'm sure you'll be able to find so much more to enjoy!

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Katie Kanning
00:08 Sep 11, 2021

Hey Elizabeth, I love your story! I'm wondering if I could read it on my podcast, "Unpublished, not Unknown"? It's all about giving voice to indie authors' short stories and spreading their reach a bit further. I'll credit you and link your profile in the show notes. People can listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Youtube, and 5 other locations. It's in its growing stage, so I'd only ask you to share your episode with friends if you like it :) You can check out the format here: https://bio.link/katiek It is a clean podcast, so if you're w...

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Elizabeth Napier
16:22 Sep 11, 2021

Hi Katie! I'm so glad you liked my story! I would be absolutely honoured to have something of mine read on your podcast! (sorry if I sound excited but I've never really had any type of compliment like this before) You can definitely remove the word sodding for whatever you feel is more appropriate, or nothing at all. I can but a link to it on both of my writing profiles - both here and my online portfolio - so anyone who comes across it can see your podcast too! I listened to some of your previous episodes and it sounds great - you have a lo...

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Katie Kanning
19:03 Sep 11, 2021

Great! Thanks for listening :) I'm excited to read your story! I will comment here to let you know when it's posted. Happy writing!

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Katie Kanning
03:45 Sep 20, 2021

Hey Elizabeth! I wanted to let you know your story will be posted tomorrow morning...so be on the lookout! Do let me know what you think when you hear/see it :)

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Elizabeth Napier
15:20 Sep 20, 2021

Hi Katie! I just listened to the story and you read it out PERFECTLY! It means a lot that someone was interested enough in my work to do something like that! What you're doing is an amazing project so I hope you know how much it can mean to unpublished writers just to have their work noticed by one person!

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Katie Kanning
17:51 Sep 20, 2021

Thank you so much, Elizabeth! You’re so sweet. I’m glad that this podcast is doing what it’s set out to do :) I think you guys deserve to be noticed by more people so I’m happy to offer that. Hey and if you have a moment, would you leave a 5 star review on Apple podcasts? It really helps! https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/unpublished-not-unknown/id1577467066

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Elizabeth Napier
18:15 Sep 20, 2021

Just left a five start review! I don't think I've rated a podcast before so there's a chance I may have done it wrong lol so just let me know if you need me to do it again!

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Amanda Lieser
18:35 Sep 10, 2021

Oh my gosh! I really loved this piece. I thought that the way Dot had her categories of customers was absolutely brilliant. I felt a little bit afraid for Dot. I’ve worked the night shift before and I love how you captured her experience with it. I also loved the supervisor. He was a great character summarizes quickly. Thank you for writing this story and congratulations on getting shortlisted

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Patrice Dolenz
22:13 Sep 06, 2021

Is it finished ? I guess I missed something

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Elizabeth Napier
09:18 Sep 07, 2021

The ending is supposed to be implied! :) I probably didn't get the across very well but it's supposed to be that we obviously know that there is something not right about this man (added to the fact that her boss told her not to leave the counter). It ends with her leaving the counter, implying that something is going to happen when she does. It's sort of up to the imagination! Hope this helps!

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