The holiday season is a good time for a habitual job hopper like me. I struggle to keep steady work, but come the week prior to Black Friday, my mile long resume of three month stints is an after thought for stressed out, understaffed managers in the retail positions I prefer. Wear a smile, dress smartly, answer yes to everything but the drug and felony questionnaire, and the world is an oyster of mediocre paying jobs. This year I have my heart set on a particular, hard up for male workers department store located just a short walk from my home.
Rosco’s is a mall anchor store that has outlasted the numerous changes in ownership. 28 years strong it survived the online shopping boom that doomed so many other brick-and-mortar retail operations. It probably hangs on because it is one of the few places where Mythfolk can reliably find dressing rooms large enough to accommodate their diverse sizes and shapes. Rosco, the founder of the store back in the day when the Mythfolk were just appearing, realized he could make a huge splash with their sudden appearance and spent millions on renovations for his stores and hiring Mythfolk. The store caters to all types, humans and Myths, and stocks a wide assortment clothing, household utilities, etc.
They also sell fancy chocolates on the second floor. Pricey as hell, but oh so worth it. Employees get a discount and I aim to splurge on all sorts of candy before the holiday. The yeti girl at the counter waves as I pass by. I return the gesture, although my brain is recounting the savory salt and bitter cocoa taste imagined mixing in my mouth. I move through metal shelving loaded with the latest kitchen conveniences, past boxes of hot pots with an excess of dials and switches, and to the odd hallway with frames picturing local artists, where the manager’s office occupies space opposite the public restrooms.
The door reads Jixit Jixitilia, store manager. I knock when a buzzing voice answers. “Come in!” I try. The handle turns but it’s broken. Nothing turns with it.
“Oh, zorry! Just push on it.”
I do so and scrape past the warped doorway. The manager is an insect Myth, a mothman based on her with fluffy, white vest of fur, long probing antennae, and folded wings. She stands to meet me with a handshake. My hand brushes against the fine bristles that cover her chintonous arms. They are soft to the touch, but unyielding like a tightly knit blanket. Her firm grip meets mine.
“Thank you for the callback,” I say with rehearsed ease. “I know the busy season is coming up.”
“Oh, it’s nothing,” she motions for us to sit down. She sips at a large styrofoam coffee cup before continuing. “It’s mostly stocking up for Black Friday.”
“Yeah, I can imagine. Most places are decorated for Christmas the day after Halloween.” Laugh. Easy smile.
“Tis’ the season,” she trills. She holds a single sheet of paper in hand. “I read through your resume.”
Red flag. Red flag. “All of it?” Of course she did, I reason. I only listed my last three jobs I quit and not the four others I was fired from in the last two years.
She raises a white eyebrow, a knowing expression plain to read in her enlarged pupils. “I spoke with your previous managers as well.”
“Ah. Well-” I catch myself tensing up.
“Relax, Mr. Rush. It seems you were well liked. You work hard, they said. Nothing but glowing recommendations. I just want to ask a few questions before we finalize your employment.”
“I see.” I have a hard time accepting her statement despite her nonchalant delivery. “There are gaps in your work history. A few months here and there, and nothing before 2017. I’m not so concerned about the old stuff, but what do you do to get by?”
I take a moment to compose myself. A short breath and I sit forward. I’ve said this bit a dozen times before. Nothing new here. “I live with my parents. I help them with our home business. No Rush Creations. We do stained glass.”
“Really?” The manager asks, genuinely curious.
“We do mostly to order stuff. Small things like wind chimes or decorations. No windows. I used to do deliveries, but I’ve been out of a car for a while. Now I cut glass and my dad does the designs and puts them together.”
She slips back into her seat, with her wings fluttering as she relaxes. “You don’t drive?”
“Not at the moment, but it’s not an issue. I’m just down the hill by the Trail and the Hen Laundromat.”
We exchange a few more questions I answer with ease. I use the opportunity to recollect my ego. Only once or twice did a prior interviewer bother to call my previous employer, and never more than one. I was caught off guard. I notice now how organized my interviewer is. She keeps her desk clean, the seeming clutter of broken merchandise situated behind her are stacked like matryoshka dolls, and a computer desktop reflected in a clock’s face free of applications.
“What should I call you Miss?” I cut through a lull in our back and forth.
“Mrs. Jixitilia, or Jixy. Whatever you are more comfortable with. “
“Mrs. Jixitilia.” She nods with approval at my pronunciation. “Do you have a daughter maybe like twenty-two-ish?”
The mothman grins. Her teeth are a bright white. “My niece, Jixlia. I’m her godmother. You know her?”
“My sister graduated with a Jixitilia. I figured you might be related. Small world, ya know.”
“Kighly Rush! I knew I recognized the name.” The mothman stands up and offers her hand again. “I look forward to working with you Mr. Rush. Are you available tomorrow?”
I jolt up. “Yes. Yes. I can start anytime tomorrow.” Although I would prefer later then the ass crack of dawn, I stifle.
“Excellent,” a clap of her hands punctuates her enthusiasm. “We open at nine. I like you to train with Ms. Scales in the Bipedal Myth department. Give me just a moment, I’ll see when she wants you here.” The phone receiver she uses is a worn, black plastic with specks of Mrs. Jixitilia’s white fluff on it. I remember seeing something like it in my underfunded middle school. The other women’s voice is to distant to follow as they speak. “Hey Cynthia… yeah I found someone perfect to help you. What time do you want him to come in… no, no it’s a human man… he seems the type… certainly, I’ll let him know.” Jixit sets the receiver down with a ginger touch. “Ms. Scales would like you to start at eight.”
“That’s not too bad.”
“Then I will see you tomorrow. The employee entrance is on the second floor connected to the parking garage.”
I depart after a quick exchange over protocol. I need to wear pants and a collared shirt, but nothing fancy. I have plenty of black pants leftover from my cook job at the local university and I can steal a shirt or two from my dad until I can get a set for myself. On my way down the hill home, I start to wonder who this Ms. Scales woman is. The first floor is all clothes and accessories. It stretches like a sea of fabric from entrance to exit. I do not recall any lizard-like Mythfolk working the first floor. Perhaps she is new like me, I reason.
The following day I arrive at work a few minutes early. It is better to give the impression of diligence at the start of a short term job, then ease into a decline. A professional job seeker like me knows a good first impression matters more than a consistent performance and makes space for future screwups.
Several others linger at the employee entrance in the parking garage. Two older gentlemen in pressed shirts eye my borrowed attire and messenger bag as I find a place to rest my back. I pay them no mind as I scroll through a group chat.
Hellhound 2: Hellraiser caught my friends’ rapt attention. A horror comedy starring a cast of Mythfolk nobody actors and Nicholas Cage, the plot centered around a vengeful Hellhound and her quest to punish the grave robber villains. The consensus is split on the actual quality of the hour and thirty minute long movie, but the gifs of Nicholas Cage being dragged offscreen just before the penultimate rape scene screaming incoherently most likely will outlast the movie itself.
“Hey new guy,” a chipper voice squeaks. A Ratatoskr in a powder blue coat scampers close. She’s about half my size, but her fluffy squirrel tail runs parallel in length of her body. A darker blue bow adorns the walnut brown tip and it bounces back and forth as she observes me. “Name’s Patricia. You can call me Patty.”
“Pleasure, Patty.” Patty, Patty, Patty. I hammer her name into my skull. “Cole.”
“Cole, huh? I started just last week.” She snickers.
“Oh, ya know… you’re a rare species ‘round here.”
“Is that a compliment?”
“I just thought I’d share a juicy tip, but it’ll cost ya.”
“Then you aren’t sharing,” I counter with a labored yawn. I fish into my pocket. “Is this what you’re looking for?” Her nose perks up at the sight of a peanut and oatmeal bar.
“Need,” she whispers.
“What’s so rare about me then?” I surrender my pre-lunch snack.
“Hehe, good stuff.” She squirrels the bar away. “A single guy, working here? Yeah, you don’t make it the day without a new beau.” She gleams. “Although, I am available if you just want to skip the hassle.”
“I appreciate the advice. The offer, not so much.” She shrugs. A sly grin betrays her real intentions.
“If you change your mind, I work in Gift Wrap.” She turns and the tip of her tail brushes against my cheek. I turn a bright red. The other Myth women are looking at me.
Professional job seeker advice number two: avoid entanglements, emotional and pelvic. A job is a job is a job until it’s not. A relationship with another employee is an anchor, a poison pill, and a hassle. The fiscal and emotional labor needed to appease a significant other far outweighs the benefits, I surmised. The last thing I want is to be tied around the finger of a Myth half my size before the first day on the job.
Jixit arrives in a decade old, silver van. I catch sight of a baby seat in the backseat as she pulls into a spot adjacent to the entrance. A few employees wave, while the remainder grab lunch bags and backpacks. “Oof, it is freezing!” She shouts in the echoing parking garage. A few of the more climate acclimated Mythfolk chuckle. It is barely below freezing, but the wind chill make it feel like absolute zero. The early morning sunlight sparsely shining does little to alleviate the bitter chill. She wears a massive, black winter coat that appears to double her size. She could swim in it. She runs against the wind to the door, chased by the beeping lock of her vehicle, and deftly undoes the lock on the automatic door without a second wasted.
Two other insect Myths crowd in behind her. Six-legged ant girls in off-white wool coats clear the high entrance in a hurry. Others trickle in, while a few more people emerge from parked cars. I count four other humans besides the two older men with coffee. I also spy the yeti from yesterday snacking on a banana.
Jixit stops me as I meander in. She is still shivering. “Hey! Good morning Mrs. Jixitilia.”
“Good m-morning Cole. Are you ex-excited as I am f-for your f-first day?”
“I suppose. ” I rather be home and sleep, but I keep that to myself. I’ve started earlier though.
“Once y-you clock in, head to the back of Biped clothing and look for the employee entrance. You’ll f-find your way around.”
“Sure. Stay warm.”
The first floor of Rosco’s hosts all the clothing. My mom used to shop here a lot, so I know the human section of the store okay, but the two other major sections, each the floor size of a separate store on their own, are a mystery. Towards the mall entrance is the large species clothing. Lamia, centaurs, and arachne are common enough shoppers.
Behind that was the Bipedal section. I move through racks of harpy sportswear. Tight fitting polyester shirts harpies step into and pull up over their bodies. They have a winter selection as well; bulkier sweaters and windbreaker pants with feathers printed on the sides as well as fuzzy flannel underpants for blustery days for the determined flier.
The swinging door entrance is against the far wall of the store and between two racks of lizardman suits. The ad on top reads “New kevlar lining! Lighter than ever! By Høarde.” I give them a passing touch. The tight knit material is cool and airy on the outside. The price tag nearly blinds me. “1,299… holy crap.”
The employee area is dimly lit and agonizingly warm. A pair of weak LEDs flank what appears to be a gigantic closet. Rows upon rows of wildly different clothes stacked thirty feet up dwarf me. It is impossible to make out the individual pieces in the low-light. I muse how much time I can waste fumbling through the dark not doing work before my manager catches wise though I am not able to entertain the notion for long. The nose tingling tinge of clean leather chaps strikes first, but soon I am assailed by a dozen smells. I cough a few times, but the fabric stifles any sound reaching more than a few feet. I go into my bag and grab a bottle of water from my lunch. It eases the irritation.
“Good morning!” A silky voice calls from overhead. I look up, but the ceiling is completely dark. I wave to the darkness. “Pardon the heat. I get sleepy if it’s too cold.” A shape in the dark slithers down a column wider than the width of my arms. The upper half of a woman descends from the shadows, her skin an ashy grey, with streaks of neon green scales highlighting her features. She appears only a few years older than me, but with Mythfolk it is hard to tell at a glance. Her light green hair is in a complicated braid and ends in a striking pink bow swinging just behind her.
“Good morning,” I answer up to my new boss. “Uh, will I be climbing up to the ceiling today?” I end my question with a half-hearted chuckle. Her sharp, diamond shaped pupils narrow in on me. A forked tongue tastes the air between us.
“Not yet,” she chortles. She dismisses the idea with a wave of her hand. “No, I could use your help with something else.” She directs my attention to the end of the corridor. “New product just came in. Come along. I’ll show you what needs doing.” The rest of her snake-like body follows her to the floor. Her lower half moves from left to right like a dancer and propels her along. I trail close behind her human half, but remain mindful of the twenty or so feet of muscle moving just out of sight.
“What time did you come in today?” I ask.
“Mmm, only an hour before you. I have a manager’s key so I can get in when I want.”
“Were you hired on as a manager?”
“No, no. I was promoted…” She trails off. “Watch your step.” She stops just before a faded yellow line indicating a break in the floor.
“Oh, um thanks.”
“I’ll have to ask Jixy for fresh paint,” she half-mumbles. I nod along. I intended to ask a few more probing questions, but Ms. Scales appears to have more pressing issues on her mind. She started as a normal employee which means she is more informed about the day to day operations of Rosco’s. She also comes in an hour early meaning I can’t leave work unfinished for the following morning without risking trouble. I find it strange to be the only other living being in this massive backroom, but the store was not open yet. Perhaps the others would arrive later on.
We arrive at a bay area. “I would like you to start unboxing our new arrivals.” She shows me how to organize them. She stresses keeping the lots organized and from wrinkling. “I have a few more small things to take care of before we open.” She hands me a yellow box opener. “Know how to handle one of these?”
“Yeah. I worked warehousing for a little while.”
“Good. I’ll leave you to it.”
Time flies by opening boxes of open back dresses for Vamp Mosquitoes and cabby hats for horned Mythfolk. I sneak a peek at my phone. Good. I finish in just under a half hour. I do a quick sweep of the floor before I stack a few boxes and make a seat for myself. Using my phone as a distraction this early in my short career is a no go, so I settle on daydreaming until Ms. Scales returns.
“Ah, good work.” I snap out of my daydream. “It looks great.”
“I swept too.”
“A great first impression,” she says. “You’re an old pro at this I see.”
“No.” She lets her denial hang in the air for a moment. I think I ask what she means, but she’s already leading me somewhere else and giving me other small tasks to do.
“It should be slow today on the floor.” She bends down to meet me eye to eye. “Still, I have to ask: are you single?”
“Is it that important?” A sense of unease pressures on the nape of my neck like too hot water. “It’s not like I’m advertising it.” Something wraps around my ankle. Before I can evenly look, I am hoisted into the air by a powerful tail.
“Whoa, hey! Slow down. I get motion sick,” I lie. High school sex ed rushes to the forefront of my mind. There is very little a man can do against the strongest Mythfolk alone. Among the sound muffling fabrics of the Rosco’s backroom, I stand no chance of resisting or getting help.
“Here,” the snake woman offers me a piece of paper with a symbol written in blue ink. “I imbued it with a bit of my mana.” She puts me down and upright with a ginger touch. “If you are in danger focus your thoughts on it and I will know where you are.”
“Wait, hold on.” I flail the paper around as I follow her. “You don’t have to look out for me.”
“I want too.” She plainly states as she ascends back up to the ceiling.
A week goes by without a sexual incident, but I am unable to relax around Ms. Scales. I spend most of my time moving product out to shelves or opening boxes. Black Friday is busy, but not a torrent blood thirsty shoppers like TV would have you believe. The vampires arrive for an early shopping spree with the other nocturnal shoppers and leave before sunrise. We sell out of sun-resistant capes and cloaks in store, but it turns out being ageless creatures gives the ones who miss out an odd perspective to wait for the following year.
The morning crowd is more like 3 Yetis checking out swimwear, a confused centaur looking down the wrong aisle for sportswear, and a Yuki-Onna. The snow maiden refuses my offer of assistance. She insists on “people watching” and assures me she will not be in the way. I leave her be. I do get asked by the Yetis about my opinions on a horizontal, blue striped bikini versus a red polka dotted one. I give her an honest answer, the striped one being the piece that complimented her fur color best, before darting into the employee area.
“Did you bring your lunch today?” Ms. Scales asks. She sifts through pairs of suit-pants and matching them to returns. I raise an eyebrow.
“Uh huh. Guys generally don’t take food from um… other employees, for obvious reasons.”
“You mean rape,” she states without affect. “It is clear to me you are concerned by a possible sexual assault. Yet, you don’t carry anti-mana mace or seek out a relationship. Why?”
“I guess, well… If it happens, it happens.”
“So you’re okay with anyone?”
“No,” I scratch the back of my head. “I have a stake in my life. I just understand how the world is. I work until I don’t and I am alone until I am not.”
“Interesting. So if I were to propose to you?”
“I’d turn you down.”
“But if I attacked you?”
“What could I really do to stop you?”
“Is that how you view work as well? Is your employment only incidental to the situation you find yourself in?”
“Ha, not really. Work is work. I’m fortunate enough to be able to have a place to fall back to if this doesn’t work out. Work is a thing I do because my friends all have work and wives and kids and crap like that. Maybe I want a way to support my parents. My answer always changes.
“You aren’t interested in kids then?”
“I have never put serious thought into it. Didn’t you ask me about lunch?”
“Yes, but one last question. What do you take seriously then?”
“My quality of life. Being happy. Meeting my wants.”
Her grey tail snaps around my wrist. “I want you to call me Cynthia.”
“Sure. I can do that.”
“You are also joining me for lunch.”
“I mean, sure? I guess?”
“So, you are okay being told what to do?”
“No, wait! I thought I was done with the questions.”
“I lied about the questions. We are going to lunch for food court pizza. It is very good. How else would we get to know each other on our first date?”
“I said I would turn you down.”
“I did not present another option.”
“Wait, wait. You sprung a date out of nowhere and now you expect me to just roll over?”
“No, you said it yourself. ‘You are alone until you are not.’ I am capable of meeting your wants. Therefore, I will obligate you for lunch on our first date.”
“I-I shouldn’t, I mean, I can’t.”
“But you are. We clock out for lunch in five minutes. You are welcome to ride on my back of you want.”
“No, no thank you.”
Cynthia encircles me without touching me. “We will be late to clock out if you don’t.”
“I will try and leave if you give me the chance.”
“I am well aware of your history, little mouse.” A predator’s smile crosses her soft, red lips. “A lost soul in the maze of life. Drifting from dead end to dead end. An echidna knows all about mazes and dead ends.”
“You’re an echidna?”
“You never thought to ask?” She feigns concern.
“No. It would be rude to.”
She stifles a laugh. “You try to avoid knowing your coworkers. It’s why you eat alone everyday. You look for reasons to fail. A self set trap if I’ve ever saw one. Yet, one easy to disarm.” Cynthia brings her human half closer as the coils graze my skin. “C’mon. What’s the harm?”