Sunset in Vancouver


Hello my name is unimportant

Have you ever worked in retail?

If so, you don’t need me to tell you it can be a horror story that writes itself.

My eldest daughter, who works part-time in a clothing store, is currently putting up with the kind of boss who makes Gordon Ramsey’s style of management look like a kumbaya circle. In between discovering that Siri’s lost his sense of humour when you ask him how to bury a body, and searching job sites, I’ve been remembering my own experiences behind a cash till. Most of them were several shades less than rosy.

I don’t mean the kind of experiences you might get in a Mom and Pop store, where the customers know you, and actually smile at you; where you can have conversations while you ring up the purchases, and everyone comes out of the experience still feeling like a human being.

And I’m not talking about anyone lucky enough to be working for a certain kind of big chain store that used to be almost common, back in the day. See, Youngling, there was a golden era when companies like The Body Shop made ethics briefly cool, and corporations flirted with the idea of treating their employees like people instead packaging to be thrown away when they’d outlived their purpose.

No, I mean the kind of retail where the shop floor is a polished, shining mirage identical to all the others in that chain, and just like them it hides the grimy, money-grasping truth underneath it. The kind of place where it’s your job to play along with the gleaming fantasy, hoodwinking punters out of their cash, while the place grinds the will to live out of you, hour by basic-wage hour.

If you’ve ever needed to put money in your pocket and pay the rent, chances are you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Truth be told, most retail is kind of like a modern gothic horror. You arrive at the rich and stately pile, with its promise of romance and grandeur, only to scratch the surface and find nasty secrets and abusive power.

Instead of the brooding, aristocratic Count who’s eventually revealed to be a vampire, there’s the moody, bullying manager who turns out to be a corporate blood-sucker. (Spoiler alert: s/he is unlikely to be devastatingly good-looking or charismatic.)

In place of skeletons in the closet, there are zombies in the staff canteen. And the true ghastliness of it all is that it’s happening in broad daylight, on every street in every town. A whole library full of little horror stories, writing themselves on the pages of real lives, every day.

It all flashed back upon me in one great shudder while I was listening to my daughter’s tales of woe, and by coincidence, getting my newest horror short ready for publication. It’s set in the basement of a retail store, you see. I’d remembered it all in the kind of detail that suggests lingering trauma, and my daughter’s experiences spirited me right back there, as if I’d never left.

This was something of a pain in the bum, as it happens, because it meant I’ve had to rejig the whole darned thing.

Why? you ask. Well, because the narrative voice I’d used at first was just dripping with relief that it’s a long time since I’ve had to deal with that sort of scary tale.

Hearing my daughter rant and rage brought it all back so vividly it was clear that some smug, omniscient narrator wasn’t going to cut it. To experience the full horror of working in retail, you have to be in it. Slap bang in it, on the tills, on the shop floor, stacking those shelves, and watching the hands of the clock on the wall tick by slower than the sell-by date on dried pasta.

That’s what I needed, I realised, to make my horrid little story of something nasty in the basement of a retail store believable. The voice of someone who’s been there.

Thus, when I should be pressing “publish,” here I am instead rewriting the voice of the narrator to one who knows what it feels like to be bossed around by a manager several chromosomes short of a personality.

Secretly, I’m glad I realised. It’s going to be much better this way. Much more honest and much more horrific.

So if you have ever worked in retail and felt like it was sucking the very soul out of you, my new horror short is dedicated to you. Read it on your lunch break and remember, the best revenge is to make it out alive.


F.K. Marlowe is a Shropshire lass who lived in London and Beijing before settling down with her husband, three daughters and rescue pup in Vancouver. She writes horror stories with a tendency to the paranormal, and Young Adult fiction with fangs and sass.

Marlowe doesn’t worry overly much about the placement of semi-colons and the like, having spent far too long pootling about in academia to take them seriously. (She has an Oxford first in English Lit, plus a Master’s and PhD from Leeds). She has, however, discovered that life is the best education for a writer, and plans to continue her studies there as long as possible.




Calyptra Mortiferum book cover

the hollow e-book cover


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