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Real Life Has No Manager

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1.

The thing about working in a large supermarket in the poorest part of San Francisco is, you see a lot of weirdos. And, look, Colin doesn't mind weirdos. Not as long as they pay for their groceries, anyway.

But sometimes... sometimes, you see something and you just have to draw a line in the fucking sand.

"You're just imagining things," his coworker Rachel says, as they hang their aprons up in the back room. It's been another backbreaking twelve hour shift for both of them, and both are about dead on their feet. Colin can tell Rachel is already in a bad mood, probably because a customer knocked over the pyramid of toilet paper rolls she'd made earlier. Generally, when Rachel is in a bad mood, Colin tries not to tell her things.

But he has to tell her about this, because come on.

"I am dead serious, Rachel," he says. "A guy came in earlier, and he was talking to himself -- which, like, okay, fine, but when I went to ask him if he needed help finding anything, I saw a... I saw a thing go into his back!"

"A thing," Rachel repeats.

"It was, like, a tentacle or something!" Colin tries to imitate what he saw with his arms, but even he knows he's not doing a very good job. "It was bizarre!"

"Uh-huh. Look, Colin, you've probably gotten a grand total of seven hours of sleep this weekend. Just go home, get some rest. Like, the full eight hours," she adds, giving him a stern look. All of his coworkers are all-too-familiar with his erratic sleeping habits.

Colin shifts on his feet, mumbling, "I can't get eight hours. My next shift starts in five."

"...Is it legal to book two twelve-hour shifts that close together?"

"I don't know. I don't care, either. My one-room studio apartment doesn't pay for itself."

Rachel snorts, and the two walk out together. Colin can tell she's already writing off what he saw to sleep deprivation. And Colin sort of hopes she's right. He's up to his neck in student loans, his girlfriend is across the country for at least the next two semesters, and his Etsy isn't doing very well. The last thing he needs is more drama in the form of some weird mutant coming to their store.


2.

The next week, Colin sees him again, this time when he's on checkout duty, which might be the most miserable job in this entire miserable store. His face hurts from having had a huge smile plastered onto it for the last six hours, and his back is killing him. (Actually, his back is always killing him. God, he needs to find a job with better health insurance.)

(By that, we mean he needs to find a job that has health insurance.)

 The guy rolls up to the cash register with a polite smile and a basket full of frozen tater tots. And by that, we mean it is literally just. Full. Of tater tots. Twenty boxes. And that's it.

Colin decides not to comment, but he does dub the customer Tater Tots Man in his head. Instead, he says, "Heading home for the weekend?"

TTM nods. "Yeah. Got lots of work to do."

"Uh-huh." Colin tries to think of a way he can ask about the tentacle thing, but be subtle about it. "You know, I saw a thing on the news about people who have like... mutations. Tentacles coming out of their backs and stuff. Weird, huh?" Nailed it.

TTM gives him a surprised look, and Colin is almost sure that he looks a bit concerned. Concerned Colin's onto him, perhaps? (Or maybe just concerned for Colin's sanity. Which, to be fair...)

"Weird," he repeats, handing Colin a couple twenties.

Colin rings him up and adds, "I wonder if we've got any people like that here."

"Maybe. San Francisco's a big place."

"Yeah." Colin gives him a change, keeping an eye on the other guy's expression. "And, man, I have seen some weird shit. Right here in this store, even. Last week."

"Uh... huh." TTM takes his bags and says, "Well, have a good weekend, man. Stay out of trouble."

"You too," Colin says in a would-be authoritative tone that he somehow knows doesn't make him sound the least bit intimidating.

As TTM heads out the doors, Colin swears he can hear another, deeper voice whispering, "Should we eat him?"

Colin blinks and shakes his head. He really, really needs to take a day off.


 3.

"Look, Rach, something is weird about that guy! I think he might be on drugs or something."

"You practically bought out my weed guy's whole supply at Tom's birthday party," Rachel drones. She's staring at Colin, arms crossed, still not taking him seriously.

The first time Colin saw Tater Tots Man, he'd been willing to concede that he'd been a little sleep deprived, and maybe Rachel was right. Maybe Colin had just imagined it.

But this time, this time, Colin is certain he saw something. The tentacle thingy he'd seen earlier was back, but this time, it didn't slither back into TTM's shoulder the way it did before. It just sort of... hung around.

And then -- and this was the really weird part -- TTM started talking to it.

"We are not getting frozen burritos," he'd said, in a tone you'd use with a small child, not whatever-the-hell-that-thing-was. "You always get sick whenever we do."

Then he'd started to turn around, so Colin dove into the cleaning supplies aisle to hide.

When he relays all this to Rachel, however, she doesn't seem that concerned.

"If he's on drugs, he's on drugs," she says with a nonchalant shrug. "So the fuck what. So long as he doesn't try to run out without paying, he could be snorting a pound of coke every hour and it still wouldn't be our problem. Junkies and morons pay our salaries."

"Actually, our salaries are paid for by one of America's two corporations," Colin says irritably. "You're really not upset by any of this?"

"Nope. Look, Colin, you're the shift manager. If you're worried, you deal with it."

With that, Rachel's allotted lunch time ends, so she gets up from the break room table, clapping Colin once on the shoulder before heading back out onto the shop floor. Colin still has ten minutes before he has to get back out there, and he chooses to spend it in silence, sitting there and thinking things over.

Getting promoted had given him a (minuscule) raise, as well as the power to put his friends all on the same shift with him. But it also means that, since he technically has the most authority, he's stuck putting out any fires that pop up. Just about the only thing he misses about being at the bottom of the ladder is that, back then, if something came up that was out of pay grade (and that was nearly everything more complicated than cleaning up vomit in the aisle), he could just go get his manager and make him deal with it.

Now, Colin is his own manager. And he's decided that it's pretty much bullshit.


4.

"I cannot believe you're dragging me into this," Rachel mutters. She and Colin are crouching behind the banana display in the produce section, spying on TTM as he peruses the apples. "And you are so lucky the store is dead this time of night."

When Colin abuses his authority as shift manager, it's usually to put Rachel on the same shift as Penny because she thinks Penny's cute, or to never give Xo cashier duty more than twice a week because she truly detests cashier duty. Today, though, he and Rachel are working the graveyard shift, and he's ordered her to not leave his side until he says she can. And now, they're tailing TTM until Rachel finally gets to see what Colin's been talking about.

"Look, if we go a whole shift without seeing anything weird, I'll never bother you about this again," Colin promises. "But we're gonna see something. I swear, Rach, some freaky shit is going on with that guy!"

It only takes another five minutes of tailing for Colin to get his proof.

"You can come out now," TTM says, and for a moment, Colin thinks he and Rachel have been caught.

But no. TTM wasn't talking to them. He was talking to the black tentacle thingy, which is currently slithering around his shoulder. This is the first time Colin's gotten a good look at it, and he's shocked to see that it actually has a face. And teeth. Lots and lots of teeth.

"Eddie, this place's produce sucks," the tentacle says. It's not wrong. "Why do we come here, again?"

"Because their security cameras suck, too," TTM -- Eddie, apparently -- replies. "If we go anyplace nicer, you'd have to hide all the time."

"Ugh. Maybe we should think about letting a few cashiers at some of the nicer places in on this whole thing. There have to be a couple that wouldn't care."

"And if they do?"

"We could eat them."

"No."

"Fuck you."

Eddie wanders into the next aisle. Colin glances over to Rachel, who is trembling, panic in her big brown eyes, looking at Colin and mouthing, "What the fuck?!" over and over again.

Colin, meanwhile, is actually feeling okay for once. Well, maybe not okay, but he's not having a panic attack like Rachel is. If there's one thing that can outweigh his worries about Eddie and whatever the hell that thing is, it's his love of being right.


5.

The next afternoon, when Rachel comes into work, she tells Colin, "I've thought about the Eddie situation, and I've decided I don't care."

Colin gives her a look. "You don't care," he repeats, obviously not believing her.

"Mmmhmm. I've decided it's a waste of time."

"I don't think you can just decide not to care."

"Sure I can! See, this is me, deciding not to care."

"Riiiiight."

The two continue stocking the shelves in silence for a few minutes, before Colin speaks up.

"So. Any theories on what that thing is?"

"...My money's on an alien," Rachel admits.

"What?" Colin shakes his head. "No way. Clearly, the dude is possessed."

"Why does your mind always go to 'demons' first?"

"How does that make less sense than aliens?"

"I don't know!" She lets out an exasperated huff and leans her head against the shelf. "I hate you for dragging me into this. I truly, truly hate you."

"I know."

"Seriously, I think I might kill you."

"Please do."


6.

The next time Colin gets Eddie at the cash register, he decides to probe a bit more.

"Do you believe in aliens?" he asks as casually as he can. "Having a debate with my friend."

Eddie nods as Colin rings up his food. "Yeah. You wouldn't believe the kind of shit NASA is covering up." He says this with a small smile, as if something's funny and only he knows it.

"So, you, like think aliens might have come here?"

His smile grows. "Stranger things have happened."

"...What about demons?"

"What?" Eddie shakes his head, looking confused. "No. No way."

Colin lets out an annoyed huff, and does a shitty job at keeping it quiet.

"Something wrong?" Eddie asks.

"Nah, it's just... you just settled a bet. Now I'm out ten bucks."

Eddie decides not to ask, for which Colin is grateful.


7.

The next time Colin sees them, Eddie and the alien are wandering the cleaning supplies aisle, talking about some guy named Riot. Colin thinks this sounds like a bad wrestling heel.

"I'm just saying, it's kind of weird that Riot even offered you a chance to work with him. Given how quickly he went from 'Venom, get in the rocket' to 'die,'" Eddie says. Colin wonders if this would make any more sense if he had context, and decides "probably not." "He didn't even seem surprise when you said no."

"He knew I wasn't going anywhere," Venom says, fondly headbutting Eddie. Eddie laughs, reaching up to pat his head. "I think even offering me the chance to go with him was more of a formality... I mean, he'd seen all of Carlton's memories."

What. The. Fuck.

Eddie's smiling. "I still can't believe you picked me over your whole species."

"I can. You're a great partner."

Colin briefly wonders what Venom means by that, but then figures he must mean "partner in crime," which probably seems a bit ridiculous to you, but keep in mind, the man has been awake for thirty consecutive hours. You can't expect everyone to reach the obvious conclusion (i.e., symbiote marriage) right away.


8.

In recent weeks, Rachel and Colin have adopted the brilliant policy of, "If Eddie comes in, hide and hope he doesn't notice us." It's not that Colin thinks Eddie would hurt them or anything, it's just that... well, this is all too weird, okay? For $12.00 an hour, Colin's not willing to put up with a whole lot.

So now, he and Rachel have ducked behind a toilet paper display, watching as Eddie and Venom argue over what to have for dinner. Venom is hanging out on Eddie's shoulder, which Colin takes as a good sign. He wouldn't do that if Eddie knew he and Rachel were there.

"Anne and Dan are coming over, we need to class it up a bit," Eddie says. "Lasagna."

"I want pizza."

"We've had pizza five times this month! We need some variation!"

"Says the guy who buys tater tots every time he's in here," Rachel whispers to Colin.

Eddie's still talking. "Besides, Anne's going to think you're not taking good care of me if she thinks we're only eating shit."

"I take excellent care of you!" Venom says, giving Eddie an incredulous, almost insulted look.

"I know you do," Eddie says with a laugh, and he gives Venom a kiss.

Let's repeat that, shall we.

He gives Venom a kiss. And, yes, it's just a little peck on the lips (or where his lips would be if he had them), but still.

HE. GIVES. VENOM. A. KISS.

And with that, Eddie grabs a frozen lasagna, Venom hides again, and Eddie heads towards the cash registers... leaving two utterly shell-shocked twentysomethings behind.

"Oh... my God," Colin says blankly. "He's... he's... Eddie's..."

"He's fucking the alien," Rachel says, always gifted at getting right to the crux of the matter.

"Oh my God."

"Yep, okay, that... that's it." Rachel stands, takes off her apron, and starts heading to the break room. "If anyone asks, I'm violently ill and heading home for the rest of the day. If you need me, I'll be taking a long, long shower and applying the brain bleach."

Colin is left crouching on the floor, staring straight ahead.

There were some things in life Colin would just never be able to un-learn, no matter how badly he wanted to. And there is nothing he would love to un-learn more than the fact that Eddie is fucking the alien.

 


9.

Finding out Eddie is dating his alien/tentacle/parasite thing is apparently too much for Rachel, because she's quit and gone to work for Target the next week. This leaves Colin as the only person in this store who has to bear this knowledge, which makes him even more pissed at the whole situation.

The next time Eddie comes in, Colin decides to just treat him like any other customer. Unless Eddie asked him for something, he'll just ignore him. Because, honestly, fuck it. So he leaves Eddie alone as he peruses the frozen section, just focusing on reorganizing a shelf a few feet away.

That is, until he hears, "Eddie. Six o'clock."

Out of the corner of his eye, Colin sees Eddie turn and stare at another customer. The other customer is a big guy, with lots of tattoos and a mean, sneering face. Colin tries not to judge, but he really doesn't like the look of him.

Apparently, Eddie doesn't either, because before anyone can do anything, he's spun around and pinned the other customer to the freezer door. Colin spins around, but is frozen to his spot -- which is just as well, because he's a skinny theology major with wimpy noodle arms. He's not getting in between those two for anything.

The words come out of Eddie's mouth, but not in Eddie's voice. "Caught you. Didn't think we'd just let you walk away, did you? Not after what we saw."

The other guy looks about ready to piss himself. "Pl-please, I was just--"

"Just terrorizing an innocent girl. She's too scared of you to go the cops -- but we're not. We're not scared of anything, especially not shitwads like you."

"I won't--I won't ever touch her again--please, I won't even look at her ever again--"

Eddie smiles, but slowly, his face melts away. As if he's putting on a mask, his face becomes that of the alien -- and his smile becomes a feral grin.

"That," Venom says, "is a promise I'm gonna have to make sure you keep."

And before the other guy (who's now in literal tears of fear) can respond, Venom swallows him whole. It all goes by so quickly -- by the time Colin blinks, the man is gone, and Venom has turned back into Eddie. The alien sticks around, but just as a tentacle on Eddie's shoulder, not... whatever the fuck that was.

"Good job," Eddie says cheerfully, pecking Venom on the head.

"All in a day's work," Venom replies.

It's then that Eddie turns, and the two finally notice Colin standing there, jaw dropped open and brown eyes wide.

The three are frozen in silence for about ten seconds, before Venom speaks for them all.

"Oh, fuck."

Eddie turns and runs, but even if Colin wanted to chase him, he couldn't. Because, for the first time in his life, Colin is fainting.

Eddie, abandoning a full cart in the process, is out of the store before Colin even hits the floor.


10.

After a few days of staring at the wall and trying to comprehend what he witnessed, Colin decides that Rachel had the right idea. And so, after two miserable years, he hands in his apron and leaves the supermarket to find a new job. The saga of Eddie the Maneating Monsterfucker is a chapter he'd like to close on his life forever.

After three days of hunting, Colin, by sheer luck, stumbles upon an open position at a small convenience store that's run by a very nice, older woman who needs help moving some of the heavier items, and someone to run the store when she goes to get lunch. After a quick interview and a glance at his resume, she gives Colin the job. And she's absolutely appalled by the previous conditions Colin was working in.

"I can't pay you much, but it's more than the minimum," she says, handing Colin his name tag. "Forty hours a week, major holidays off. No twelve hour shifts!"

"That's a relief," Colin says with a smile. "How long do I have to work before I get promoted to manager?"

She snorts. "The only other employee is me, so... over my dead body."

"Fair enough. It's just as well, anyway. My tenure as manager was a shitshow."

Colin nearly cringes when he realizes he just swore in front of his new boss, but she's smiling. "Great power, great responsibility?"

"Not so much that as a very weird, very creepy guy was making my life hell," Colin says. He decides not to mention that he literally saw the guy in question eat a person. "It got to the point where he'd have to go, or I would. And I guess I blinked first."

She pats his shoulder. "Well, hopefully that guy won't come in here. Most of my regulars are very nice, and if one of them gives you shit, just let me know. I have a friend who'll be glad to take care of them for you."

Colin smiles. "Thanks, Mrs. Chen. I think I'll like it here."