This is last week’s piece of weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing. I nominated this one for discussion since I used to work the graveyard shift at a convenience store about the time this story is set.
Review: “The Late Shift”, Dennis Etchison, 1980.
This is a wonderfully creepy story full of Etchison’s keen eye for details of life in Southern California particularly the demimonde of the graveyard shift which this story concerns itself with, specifically in convenience stores.
The story opens with the protagonist, Macklin, and his friends en route after leaving a midnight screening of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Massacre (“Who will survive and what will be left of them?”).
Somebody comes up with the idea of stopping at Stop ‘N Start, a convenience store. Entering it, the first thing they hear is the clerk arguing with a customer who wants a specific box of film. All the clerk says is “Please, please, sorry, thank you”. Macklin and friends pick up their items and head for checkout.
One of the men, Whitey (who, it turns out, is an American Indian), points the clerk out to Macklin. It’s Juano, a waiter at a Mexican restaurant they frequent. “How’s it going, man?” asks Whitey of Juano. “Thank You” is the reply. Macklin notices the milk he’s picked up is sour and tells Juano not to ring it up. “Sorry” is Juano’s reply who sounds like he’s dazed sleepwalker. Whitey asks about one of his favorite dishes over at the Mexican restaurant. Juano says nothing. A radio in the store starts playing The Doors’ “Light My Fire” whose lyrics will show up at several points in the story.
Macklin asks Juano if he remembers him. No response. Juano just turns about, drags his feet and eventually says “Sorry. Please.” Disgusted and because the convenience store is creeping them out, Macklin and Whitey throw some money down, take their stuff, and leave. But, at the door, Whitey turns around and glares at the building. Whitey says he’s coming back at the store’s shift change since he’s owed 20 dollars in change. Through the door, they can hear Juano say “Please. Sorry. Thank you.”Continue reading