Starlow Grocery
rating: +50+x

The young Lucius Bell began his walk to his new job, lost in thought. I wonder what it'll be like. He frowned. Probably bad, they aren't even training me. Plus that talkative co-worker… Ugh, this whole job seems sketchy. Maybe it's just like, a front for the mafia or something.

He pushed through the dust-caked door, into the seemingly dark, inactive, Starlow Grocery. Setting down his bag on the checkout counter, he studied his surroundings before shouting out, "Hey, anyone here?"

There was a small static noise, a zap, and then the lights flickered on suddenly, making Lucius flinch and raise his arms up instinctively. A moment passed before he lowered them back down to his sides, relaxing as he took in the environment of the store. He rapped the small checkout counter with his knuckles, a nervous tick of his.

"Ahhh, sorry 'bout that, I'm here now! I got a bit lost on my way to the lights. You're my co-worker, right?" a voice echoed through the empty store, and Lucius craned his neck around to find the source. Nobody had entered through the door, not that he saw at least.

"Where are you?" He questioned.

"Ah, I don't have a body, I'm afraid."

Lucius raised his hand up to his temples, rubbing them softly. A headache grew as he thought. "What do you mean?"

"Just look up, you can find me there!" Lucius slowly turned his head to look upwards, quickly spotting a large speaker embedded in the ceiling. "Hello, my name is Com, what's yours?"

Lucius groaned in reply.

Lucius hesitantly pushed open his door, starting his walk to the store in silence for a moment before sighing and sitting down on a nearby bench.

I shouldn't even go in. I should just quit, maybe. He tightened his grip on the front of the bench, then he looked up and let out a short scream.

First it was the babysitting a bunch of giant bugs, then it was tending to an eyeball plant garden, and now this!?

I'm tired. he thought. What can I even do?

Lucius leaned back, gazing upon the horizon as the sun rose. A small glare grabbed his eye, and he saw his answer.

S&C Plastics.

"Yes!" he exclaimed, standing up, and he began running to the building.

"You've got to listen to me!" Lucius cried. "The grocery store! There's a guy and he's-"

"Kid, kid!" The woman behind the small reception desk interrupted, waving her hands around dramatically. "We've got other stuff to deal with! Your grocery store pal. Does he do anything bad?"

"No, but-"

"No buts!" She yelled. "We can't do anything about it. There's bigger fish to fry. Dangerous fish. If you really don't like this guy, just quit."

Lucius grumbled, hitting the desk with his fist before turning around and slamming the door behind him, leaving the woman in silence.

"Wait, are we supposed to pretend like we don't know what they're talking about or…" she asked herself before shrugging. "Whatever. They know about the weird stuff anyways."

Lucius dashed through the door of Starlow Grocery, slamming it shut behind him. There was a barking, followed by multiple slams before the animal behind it walked away. He sighed in relief.

"Ah, you're back! Most people don't come back!" The crackly voice filled the supermarket.

The anxious Lucius stumbled over to the counter, his hand over his arm. "Yeah, I was thinkin' about it. Then I realized I need to pay my rent." He pulled up his sleeve, rested his elbows on the register, and slouched over. "So here I am."

"Hmph… Do you need some coffee? There's some on the shelves, most likely."

Lucius chuckled, closing his eyes. "Yeah, some I'd have to pay for."

"Nuh-uh!" Com shouted, "You can take anything you want, the store restocks!"

"And I'm probably going to have to do it…"

"Nope, the store restocks overnight!" Com exclaimed, "One time an employee took as much as he could out of the store, and everything was replaced the very next day. Kind of spooky, right?"

"Huh? You think that's spooky?" Lucius looked up exasperated and roared, "Well what about some weird speaker spirit, huh, isn't that just scary!? Really petrifies you with fear, huh?!" He shot his hands upward, continuing his maniacal rant. "Or, what about the half-dog half-cat thing that attacked me while I was walking here!?" Lucius pulled up his sleeve to reveal a long scratch along his forearm that was starting to bleed. "That's pretty creepy, isn't it?! Isn't it?!"

Silence filled the store as Lucius winded down, placing hands on his temples and rubbing them.

"You know what, maybe I'll take you up on that coffee offer… And maybe a bandage too…"

"♫ Starlow Grocery, it's the grocery for you and me ♫" Com sung softly to himself, unaware of Lucius, who had just entered.

"♫ When the stars are bright and low, and you're waiting out the snow, you need to have lots'a food to eat, or even some nice treats ♫"

Enthralled by the jingle, he ignored the chuckling Lucius. "♫ So come on down to Starlow Grocery, the grocery for you, and, me. ♫"

"You know I was here for that singing, right?" Lucius looked up, smiling at the speaker.

"Y-yeah, definitely," Com stuttered, trying to come up with an excuse. "I- I wanted you to hear it! It's our store song!"

"Are you sure?" he began to take off his coat, stuffing it under the checkout counter. "It seemed pretty out of date. I mean, there isn't always snow around. Do you have like, a song for each season, or were you just singing 'cause you like to sing and that sounded the best?" he teased.

"I- uh-" Com stuttered once more, pausing before muttering, "Shut up."

There was a moment of silence as they both got lost in their thoughts.

"Hey, so…" Lucius scratched his neck nervously. "I just kinda want to, um, apologize for the yelling yesterday, I was being a jerk, I guess. Out of all the weird things I've come across in this town, you're one of the better ones."

"Thanks, Lucius. I accept your apology." Com turned the tables, taking his turn to tease, "So you felt bad? Awww, do you care about me?"

"Yeah, is that so bad?"

"Uh, no, I guess."


They sat quietly for a few minutes as Lucius gazed at the empty store. He noticed that there was another coffee maker on the shelf, right where the one he had taken was. An automatically restocking store… I should take advantage of this. I could take some food home and-

Com interrupted Lucius's thoughts. "Hey, Lucius…"

"Yeah?" He looked up curiously, noting that he should steal some food when he leaves.

"Thank you. A lot of people hate me, but you're pretty nice."

"You're pretty nice too, Com."

Grabbing a brown paper grocery bag, Lucius walked through the aisles, grabbing different foods. Milk, apples, some crackers maybe… he mentally checked items off his list, adding them to the bag as he spotted them.

Then, suddenly, something caught his eye. An orange drink in a glass bottle. Weskint Brewery Orange Drink.

He dropped his bag, gasping. "No. It can't be."

"What is it?" Com asked.

Lucius lurched forward and grabbed a bottle, screwing off the cap and chugging it down. Nostalgia washed over him as the tanginess of the drink assaulted his taste buds. Memories from his childhood rushed through his mind as he tasted the perfect mix of sour and sweet, the flawless orange taste, all while lacking carbonation.

"It's perfect." He gleamed, holding the now empty bottle.

"That soda?"

"No, it's not soda, that's what makes it so good!" Lucius exclaimed, picking up a new bottle and inspecting it. "It's orange drink. No fizzyness, but it isn't like orange juice, it's just… It's just great."

"Hm. I wish I could taste it, but…"

"Yeah, sorry…" Lucius sighed, smiling. "I remember drinking this all the time when I was a kid." He frowned. "But they discontinued it years ago, how is it here?

"Well, this store is fairly old," Com informed, "I suppose that since we're always magically restocking, that product stays here."

Lucius grabbed a few bottles, placing them into his paper bag.

"You know what, Com? I'm glad I got a job here."

Com giggled. "I'm glad you got a job here too."

Lucius slumped through the door, a large box in his hands. He stumbled and set it on a table behind the counter, wiping sweat from his brow and looking up, exclaiming, "I bought you a present!"

"What is it?!" Com crackled excitedly, before calming himself in an instant. "Wait, um, I can't really do anything with-"

"It's a computer!" he interrupted, lifting a large PC tower and monitor out of the box.

As he untangled the cables, Com spoke, growing excited once more. "Wow, a computer! Maybe I can interact with it!" As he excitedly ranted, he also grew concerned. "But you didn't buy it for me, did you? I know that you were talking about your financial troubles and…"

"Nah, it's cool." The computer whirred as Lucius plugged it in and pressed the power button. "I found it in my basement a while ago, so I don't really need it. Plus I've been living off of all the groceries I take from here, so I don't have to pay for food. Makes it easier to pay the bills." A small ding - ding rung from the computer as it loaded up the desktop. Lucius loaded up the Paint program, then looked up at the speaker. "Can you try and move this mouse? Draw something?"

The mouse proceeded to flash around the screen, drawing up a cartoonish caricature of Lucius holding a orange bottle in a paper bag, along with a speech bubble stating, 'Gah, I'm Lucius and I'm angry all the time!'

"Firstly, rude. Secondly, wow! That was super fast!" he exclaimed, studying the drawing.

Com doodled around the caricature, sketching various small images of the store, the night's sky, and a strange black-haired woman wearing a long grey trench coat that dragged on the floor drawn beneath her. "Who's she?" Lucius asked curiously.

Com's voice crackled from the computer's speakers. "Well, every night I usually turn off for like, two hours. It's strange, I get sent to this empty landscape, but I look up and it's just the stars… But anyways, one time I got turned back on and I saw this lady dash out of the store. I haven't really seen her since…"

"Hmm…" Lucius thought, ideas running through his head. "Do you carry any camping gear here?"

Taking a sleeping bag from the store shelves, Lucius set up camp on the other side of the counter. "When did you say you shut off?"

"At like, eight PM. So probably pretty soon." Com whispered through the computer's speakers. "Why do you ev-e-n wan-" His voice slowed down, glitching and eventually quieting completely as the store's lights shut off, leaving Lucius in darkness. Pushing himself under the counter, held his breath as he heard the back door being pulled open.

"God, they stole camping gear? At least I've got my work cut out for me…"

Lucius squeezed out from under the counter and rose up just enough to see the same woman that Com had drawn. She dashed over to the sleeping bags and pulled out a wooden ruler. Raising it above her head, she twirled it a bit and cast it down. In an instant, the shelf flashed and sparkled, eventually darkening to reveal a brand new sleeping bag on the shelf.

"Good as ne-" She paused. "Who's there!" She screamed, turning to face the peeking Lucius, who attempted to drop back down under the counter. "I see you!"

Lucius panicked silently, burrowing into his sleeping bag. There was a small tapping as the strange woman walked over to him, pulling the bag away from him. "Who are you?"

"G-gonna have to ask you the same thing!" he stuttered.

Suddenly, the ruler was at his throat. "Who. Are. You." the woman demanded.

"L- Lucius Bell! I'm new here please don't kill me I'm an employee!"

The ruler pulled away from him as she stepped away and tucked it into her trench coat. "I'm not going to kill you, but you really shouldn't be here…" She sighed and ran back over to the door, pausing for a moment. "As for your question, I'm The Stocker. Nice to meet you, but I gotta go."

"Wait!" Lucius shouted, chasing after her. "You're a stalker?"

"The Stocker, not a stocker." She looked back at the confused Lucius before turning back around, her hand on the door. "I stock the shelves. You just saw me do it. Now, again, I have to leave."

"Oh. Wait!" Lucius shouted again, prompting a dramatic groan from The Stocker. "Can you stay here? Just until Com comes back online? I want-"

"Oh hell no!" The Stocker turned around, screeching, "Com is the worst! I'm glad he's always off when I'm here!"

"Well… I think he's nice."

"Well, then again," she turned back, "Maybe you're too new."

And she was gone.

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