Early afternoon a coach pulled into the car park. A big blue Tantivy one. The shop had been pretty busy anyway as it always is when there’s low clouds. Fog means there’s no newspapers and so people hang around in the shop waiting for them because they’ve got nothing better to do. So I watched the coach pull in and thought about how packed the shop was going to get.
You know, I’m a rational adult but I still get scared of scary shit. I thought I’d grow out of it but I never have. I wonder if my dad got scared of stupid things? When the first person stepped off the coach my breath caught in my chest the way it does when you see a severely disfigured person. I was in a Poland once and saw a man wearing a wedding dress with lipstick all over his face staring at me. I guess it was performance art but my breath caught then and I nearly shit. That was my reaction when I saw the thing step off the coach.
Undead was the thought that flashed across my mind and I fingered my St Christopher. The person who stepped off the coach was a wreck. Through the mist I could see the dark circles around their eyes. The sallow skin. Lips pulled back from its teeth revealing a snarl. I looked around the shop. Nobody else was watching. More fell out of the coach and pooled together as if they were one big organism, reminding me of Terminator 2. Their movements were spastic and unnatural and they were coming in. My breathing sped up. As I’ve said I’m rational and so I knew these rag wearing things weren’t vampires or zombies. I suspected they might be on a stag-do and just made-up to look that way but, you know…
Just from looking at them I could see that one of their number was in charge. He had the same translucent skin as the others, the distinguishing feature I noticed when he was close enough was his red nose which look like a strawberry. He led the way through the fog with the others – who I saw were of all ages and yet somehow all ancient – shambling after him. Many were wincing with each step they took. Hmmmm, I thought.
The automatic doors slid open and I heard the animalistic noise they were making. It was guttural and, yes, unholy. I tensed my ears. They sounded like bipedal meat-grinders.
“Brains!” I heard one of them moan and I again went for my St Christopher. “Eye brains meat in us a the churrrrrch.” It garbled. I ran this message over in my mind. Eye? Brains? Meat? Church?
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be gone! I said to myself, lips moving but silent.
One approached me and I recoiled, it was instinctive.
“Alright, pal!” It said. The monstrosity could talk English. I shook my head in wonderment. “D’ye sell hot furd?”
“Aye, d’ye sell hot furd?”
“Aye!” It exclaimed. It was getting angry. Furd? What the fuck is furd? I was panicking.
“Nah sorry mate you should go,” I said with bravery I didn’t know I possessed, not taking my eyes off it. Its skin was made of wet tissue paper. It was blue more than any other colour. If I touched it its skin would slide off.
“Ach, Brains said yee’d dee hot furd.”
“Okay,” I said shaking my head.
Then another of them grabbed this man and said, “they’ve sorsidge rrrrolls doon thar.”
I started chuckling. Discreetly at first and then louder and louder until I had to hold my belly. They were Scottish people! Fuck, what a relief. Of course they were. I ran everything I’d heard through my built-in translator.
Eye brains meat in us a the churrrrrch = Yes, Brian is meeting us at the church.
“Sorry, yes we do do hot food,” I gestured to the back of the shop with a flourish. I intermittently chuckled for the next ten minutes as the coach load of Scottish people picked their purchases. Even Enrique had to come out and help and Paula had to refill the Special Brew shelf twice. Out of my peripheral vision I saw what I immediately knew to be a developing argument. I could tell by the body language. Somebody was shouting at Enrique. I finished serving the person I was serving and went over.
“Wazzee sayin’? Whayou sayin'” It was shouting at Enrique. It was woman, possibly in her twenties or sevenites. She had tattoos.
“Whatchu saying?” Enrique was saying back.
“I cannae understand whut yer sayin'” It retorted.
“I don’t know whut you say,” was Enrique’s riposte.
“Come on guys,” I said ready to mediate but before I could I heard gasps from near the door where the people I’d already served were gathered. We looked over. They were looking out of the window. One dropped its carrier bags sending tins rolling. I went over and looked out of the window.
“Wuzzart?” Said a startled Scottish person. I looked out into the car park but couldn’t see anything amiss.
“What?” I asked pushing to the front.
“Thaaa, wuzzart,” It was pointing to the sky with a shaking finger like a poorly ET. I looked up but couldn’t see anything. “Thaaa!”
“The sun?” I asked. In the time the Scottish people had been in the shop most of the mist had burnt off and now patches of different shades of blue replaced the solid whiteness. Over the coach the sun was trying to burst through and it was trying hard. One last push and it’d be there. I looked at the Scottish people, they were lined along by the magazines all staring out, mouths agape. “Get away from the window!” I shouted – doing before thinking. The Scottish people all took a step back. “It gets hot by the window.”
“Oh Christ!” One murmured anointing itself with the sign of the cross.
“It’s going to be okay,” I told them. The last thing we needed was a stampede
“What we ganna dee?” Cried the thing that had been shouting at Enrique. Sometimes I go to pieces under pressure and sometimes I come up trumps. Yesterday I was on form.
“Right, I’m going to check the back doors of the storeroom. Perhaps it’s shaded around there. Then we just need to get the coach around the back.” I said formulating the plan as I spoke. It sounded feasible. “Who’s coming with me?” I asked.
“Me!” Said a small Scottish wearing glasses. I nodded appreciatively at him. He looked proud.
“Anybody else?” I asked, but nobody met my stare. “Okay, come on. What’s your name by the way?” I asked my companion.
“Tarraghlan,” He replied. I could see the fear in his eyes.
“Come on, Tarrawhatever, let’s do this,” We were headinb past the counter when I stopped in my tracks causing him to bump into my back.
“Whazit?” He asked me.
“We don’t have a back door,” I told him. I heard people start to cry. “I just remembered.”
“Shite!” Exclaimed Tarra but I could sense his relief.
“It’s okay though,” I said, sure we hadn’t exhausted all possibilities. I found Paula’s face in the swamp of frightened faces, “Paula, how much sun screen have we got?” I noticed the sun was fully out now. Looked quite warm, but I didn’t let it show.
“I don’t know!” She replied.
“Well… I’ll do it shall I?” I went and found the sun screen. 18 bottles. “Help me, Tarra.” I gathered as many as I could into my arms, he picked up the rest and we carried them to the counter. “This’ll work!” I said confidently to calm the Scottish.
“They’re only factor 15,” Tarra whispered to me.
“I know,” I told him. “Paula we need towels. Wet towels!” And she pushed though crowd and went to the toilet.
“Okay, this is what we’re going to do,” I told the crowd. “We’re going to slather you in sunscreen and then cover you with a wet towel and you’re going to have to run. Just run for the coach. Don’t look back.” They weren’t convinced. “It’s fifty metres. Probably less.”
Paula reappeared. “There’s only one!” She shouted.
“Gah!” I shouted as I punched the palm of my left hand with the fist of my right. Last October the shop was full of promotional towels. I had 20 at home. “One will have to do, wet it.”
Just then the man with the red nose piped up. “We dinny need thaa,” he said, “It’s no that hot.”
“The sun’s different over here, mate. With the sea breeze. You’ll burn to a crisp before you get half way to that coach.”
The man sniggered.
“I’m serious. Don’t do it.”
Rudolph looked at the others and I think simply not to lose face he left the shop. He lost more than his face. He paused in the shade just outside the door and looked back in. “S’not worth it, put the sun screen on at least!” A woman called. Rudolph just smiled back and walked deliberately out into the sun. His first two steps were fine, it was with his third we knew something was wrong. He started to dance and then flap his arms about as if he was fighting off an invisible swarm of bees while walking on hot coals. “Run!” I shouted. He danced faster but with his flailing arms he’d lost his sense of direction. I saw him go pink as he fell to the floor still beating at the sun’s rays. He blistered. It was horrible but I couldn’t look away. He caught fire, turned to embers then ash then a fine dust. The breeze blew the dust away in swirls leaving a pile of unfashionable clothes. This all happened in the space of ten seconds. There was silence in the shop.
Nobody argued with me from that point on. They lined up obediently while Paula, Enrique and I covered them in sunscreen. It wasn’t a pleasant job but it needed to be done. Paula gagged a few times but fair play to her she carried on. The first person to try with the sunscreen towel combo was the gobby woman. I told her I’d lead her. We went outside and stood in the shade for a moment. “You ready?” I asked. I was holding her by the elbow. The head under the towel went up and down. “Nice and easy,” I said and we stepped out into the full glare of the sun. It was a bit chilly actually. The breeze was definitely a bit chilly.
“Are we there?!” The woman shouted when we were less than a quarter of the way to the coach. “Nearly”, I lied, “take it easy,” and I held her elbow tighter. She fell up the steps onto the coach and I took the towel off, her eyes were wild.
“It’s okay, you made it,” I told her.
“Oh thank you thank you thank you,” she said.
“Just doing my job,” I told her. “Close all the blinds, yeah?”
“Aye, I will,” She said. “Thank you!”
I walked back towards the shop and although I couldn’t see in because it was so bright outside I gave my reflection a thumbs up and that was met with cheers. I then remembered Rudolph’s clothes in the car park and I picked them up and carried them into the shop.
“I’ll take them,” said a Scottish stuffing them into her carrier bag.
I didn’t think we’d have enough sunscreen but we did. And hour later the coach pulled out of the car park. The Scottish were heading to The Glass Church. It’s a tourist attraction. Luckily for them it’s not actually made of glass. It’s concrete but it has some glass in it. I couldn’t believe it when I went to it and it wasn’t actually made of glass. It was a load of crap.