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Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

Welcome to Orsk*!

Orsk is open 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Orsk promises a better life for everyone and can sell you everything that you need. Except coffins. Yet. Orsk is the “all-American furniture superstore in Scandinavian drag.” *Orsk is not affiliated with any other well known flat-packed furniture superstore.

The Cuyahoga Orsk store is suffering from some technical glitches. The employee entrance won’t open, so all the Orsk workers, called partners, have to file in through the customer entrance. Where the escalator is going the wrong way. Weird. Basil, the deputy manager, is trying to wrangle the masses and get everything working as well as it can be. Amy is trying to avoid him. Convinced she is first in line of people to be fired because of the store's poor sales performance, Amy’s plan is to avoid Basil until her transfer to another store comes through. If he can’t see her, he can’t fire her, so Amy dashes through the warehouse past someone who looks like a customer, which is strange because the store isn’t open yet, and up to her Showroom station where, unfortunately, Basil is waiting with a bunch of trainees. And then her phone goes off… super! It’s another one of the odd Help! texts from an unknown number that a few of the store employees have been getting lately, but that doesn’t matter because Basil loudly tells her her phone should be in her locker and that it's time to give the trainees their tour.

While Amy is leading the tour, we meet Matt who is moving a very smelly, very soiled sofa off the Showroom floor. Oh the joys of Orsk! This sofa-soiling is not an infrequent occurrence as people in public are disgusting and apparently like to leave dirty diapers everywhere. This smell is a bit stronger than something a bundle of joy would push out, however. We also meet Trinity, one of those super happy people who dresses like a rebel. A super expensive rebel who asks Amy if she believes in ghosts, which is not really all that unusual coming from Trinity. She's… quirky. After asking about ghosts, Trinity tells Amy that Basil needs to see her in the motivation room for closed-door coaching. Well, shit. Here it comes! The firing.

Already inside the motivation room is Ruth Anne, the kindest, sweetest, best member of staff, putting on some Chapstick. She is the one who remembers birthdays, kids' names and anniversaries. Things must be serious if Ruth Anne is there too. Amy works through the twelve stages of grief pretty quickly and comes right back to indignation when Basil walks in. Protesting against Ruth Anne’s firing, Amy pleads with Basil but is surprised when Basil says no one is being fired. The store has a problem and he has a weird request to make. He wants the three of them to stay in the store overnight and look for the person or persons who are vandalizing it. The losses have had to be reported to corporate because they are way above budget and corporate is sending a consultation team to the store. Basil wants the three of them to camp out and take turns trying to capture the culprit. When Amy seems reluctant, Basil informs her that she'll get double overtime and he’ll push through her transfer request. She has financial problems and is desperate to work at a different store, so she's in. Ruth Anne is just happy to help.

When her regular shift is over, Amy spends some time driving around, then decides to sleep a bit in her car in a Red Lobster parking lot. She’s fallen behind on rent and desperately needs this overtime payment so her roommates won't kick her out. She decides it's better to not go home until she has the money. Amy managed to escape the trailer park of her youth but everything is so hard and relentless. She longs to have what she calls a "sitting job," something like a corporate Orsk job in an office with a desk. She definitely does not want to end up working retail forever. But you know, she really doesn’t have to worry about that. Tonight will be her last shift…

Oh my goodness Basil won’t shut the fuck up! He keeps asking Amy all these super annoying corporate questions and quoting from memory! parts of the founder, Tom Larson’s, memoir. Ugh. Amy keeps escaping to the ladies' room. After a particularly awkward conversation where Basil reveals he knows she took the Shop Responsible test, the test for management positions, and failed. Everyone said it was so easy to pass, so she didn't study at all and failed. Embarrassed, she disappears back into the ladies' room for the millionth time in the past hour where she notices some new graffiti. It all follows the same pattern, a name, under it BEEHIVE and a time span. Closer to the door, there are more variations with the time span changing, getting bigger. KIT BOERER, BEEHIVE, 2 YEARS 5 YEARS, CARSON MOORE, BEEHIVE, 3 YR, 4 YR, 5 YR, 6 YR, 7 YR, FOREVER.

Amy leaves the restroom and in the hall hears a SLAM! The place feels restless and like it is stirring... dangerous… SLAM-CLICK-SLAM! It's coming from downstairs. Slowly and quietly, Amy investigates. The employee entrance is open and gum is stuffed inside the lock. Yuck. Going back up to Basil and Ruth Anne, she tells them about the door. Basil goes to check it out and Amy gets another help text. Ruth Anne turns her phone off in the store so she doesn’t get them, and because she's a model employee. When Basil comes back, he tells them he can get the door to close but not lock and that the vandals must be in the building! Amy tries to tell him about the graffiti but he won’t listen, instead he wants to split up and search. YOU DO NOT SPLIT UP! THIS IS NOT SCOOBY DOO. Amateur! Amy and Ruth Anne won’t split (thank you sensible females) so they will search the Showroom together while Basil will take the Market Floor and Warehouse.

The Showroom is creepy and Ruth Anne is anxiously putting on more Chapstick. She worked in the Youngstown store for 13 years with no problems, but Cuyahoga is strange. She once got lost for half an hour trying to find her friend, but it’s a giant circle, how did she get lost? Since then she has never again ventured out on the floor. Because it’s so strange and Ruth Anne is practically vibrating with nerves, Amy starts to get anxious as well. They hear a metal scratching sound in the Kitchens area, and when they look into a sink, a big, fat black rat is squeezing down the drain. The plumbing isn’t hooked up, so it scurries off behind a refrigerator and is gone. You know what though? Where there is one rat, there are more, so they get the hell out of Kitchens. While checking closets in Bedrooms and finding nothing, Ruth Anne tells Amy about when she was young, she used to be scared of the creepy crawlies. The shadows in the night. She thought that if she couldn’t see them, then they wouldn’t see her. Silly? Possibly…

As Amy and Ruth Anne pass through the mattresses they see something strange, making them jump, but it’s just Matt and Trinity. They hid in a wardrobe until after closing so they could carry out a paranormal investigation and sell it to a big name tv production company, probably Bravo, NOT A&E. Their show will be awesome because they will actually get a shot of a ghost and maybe even interview one! It’s called Ghost Bomb because there are ghosts and Matt and Trinity are the bomb. It turns out they were the ones that put the gum in the employee entrance door so they could sneak out and collect all their ghost hunting equipment and there is a lot! Matt tells Amy and Ruth Anne that the site used to have a prison on it, back in the 19th century. Lots of really nasty people died there and their energy is probably still stored in the ground. Too many weird things are going on, and they are going to investigate it. Ghost Bomb! Yeah!

Amy and Matt venture along the Bright and Shining Path to put out EMF detectors. Matt doesn’t think they’ll pick anything up because of the vast amount of wiring in the open ceiling but you never know. As they walk and talk, Matt reveals he doesn’t really believe in ghosts, that what he saw when he was young could have been anything but he and Trinity will make an awesome ghost hunting show because they are the bomb. Amy accuses him of lying to get in Trinity's pants. She also wonders if he was lying about there once being a prison on this site. That turns out to be real. The Cuyahoga Panopticon was a round prison with a guardhouse in the center. The warden, Josiah Worth, was a total maniac. He called the inmates penitents and had them constantly under surveillance. Under the cells were labyrinthine sub-basements where the penitents worked on mindless tasks to rewire their brains. Sound familiar?

As they are talking Amy and Matt get lost. Huh? How? The Showroom floor is one big circle? Matt has been filming pickups as they’ve been walking and looks into the viewfinder to see that the camera shows them being in Kitchens, but when they look around, they are in Home Office. That’s… weird. After a few more circuits, they decide to follow the camera screen and slowly make it back to Trinity and Ruth Anne. Trinity is beyond excited by this and rushes off with Matt in the hopes of experiencing it herself. Amy is anxious by the disorientation, so she and Ruth Anne head back to the break room.

Basil is not pleased that 1) Amy and Ruth Anne took so long, 2) that Trinity and Matt are in the store, 3) that Trinity and Matt are recording a ghost hunting show and, most importantly, 4) they are besmirching the good name of Orsk! As Basil is planning to go and fetch them, Trinity and Matt come running into the break room. They’ve caught a ghost on camera! Well, Trinity thinks they have, Matt is convinced it’s a person who rushed her. When they review the footage, Amy realizes it’s the same man she saw that morning who is clearly wearing white sneakers. A penitent ghost wouldn’t wear those. Basil now wants to go and find this person. Trinity says she’s looking right at him, and there on TV is a security feed showing on a leg with a white sneaker lying behind a sofa. Suddenly the leg pulls back and everyone jumps. How did the security feed go through the TV, it was playing CNN and wasn’t hooked up? Trinity and Matt insist on coming to record the encounter and so Basil can show corporate that he did everything properly. Unwillingly, Amy heads out with them.

As they pass the ladies’ room, Basil asks about the graffiti. They head in to investigate. The walls are completely covered and the smell is overpowering. It’s the same soiled smell from the sofa that morning. There are more names and time spans and Beehive scrawled all over the walls. It would take someone a long time to do this. Amy tells them it’s a lot worse than before. Feeling sick, she wants to call the police but Basil won’t allow it, so she heads back to the break room with Ruth Anne. Once there, Amy calls 9-1-1 but Ruth Anne tells her to hang up. Ruth Anne’s whole demeanor changes as she lays into Amy calling her a spoiled brat, telling her to grow up and suck it up because she needs this job, she’s getting paid to deal with all this and she should be grateful for it. It’s too late, the cops are already on their way, but after that telling-off, Amy and Ruth Anne head out to join everyone else.

Basil and the others are in Bedrooms and are convinced someone is hiding past the double doors leading to the back of the store. Ruth Anne at this point seems to be sick of all this, so she marches up to the doors and opens them to reveal... no one! Obviously the person has run off to another part of the Showroom. As one they make their way to Dining Rooms and as they walk the Bright and Shining Path, that horrible smell hits them again and they notice some of the chairs are on their side. Amy notices on the opposite side in a bedroom display a hairy, manly hand with a gold ring sticking out from under a bed. Basil shouts out, but nothing. Again, Ruth Anne steps up. She’s clearly done with this nonsense. She lifts the bed. There is a man! His name is Carl and he’s homeless. Well, not really because he lives in Orsk now because it’s so nice. He hides in the bathrooms at closing until everyone leaves, then he comes out to the Showroom. He begs them not to call the cops and they all take a vote, that’s the Orsk-Mindedness way to do it. They vote in favor of not handing him over to the cops which he is eternally grateful for. Ruth Anne points out that they are on the way regardless because Amy called them. So, whilst Basil waits outside for the police to arrive so he can turn them away and let Carl leave, Amy gets a call from the police dispatcher. They can’t find Orsk…? Strange. As they are talking about how spooky the place is as night, Carl makes an off handed comment about a séance which Trinity latches on to. Then the lights go out.

Trinity and Matt quickly grab supplies and set up the séance. Instead of holding hands, Matt pulls handcuffs from his gear bag. Yes, handcuffs. They’ll look better on camera! This obviously won’t go well… The séance begins, but it takes a while for them to be serious about it. Trinity calls out to the spirits and they sit in silence listening. Amy can hear everything from the air conditioning, to the gravel outside, the pipes and the hum of the wiring. It’s like an extra sensory moment. When she snaps out of it she notices snot rolling out of Trinity's nose and pooling in her mouth, eventually it overflows down her top. Amy calls out to her and Trinity starts to choke. This causes everyone else to react but the strange mucus fluid thing is acting weird, like hovering in the air then heads for Carl. Gasp! Ectoplasm! Suddenly Trinity is free of it but Carl’s voice and demeanor has changed. He says “I am your warden, your healer. I am your north star. Your dispenser of health and goodness. You shall learn to love me, like all of the penitents in my Beehive.” CREEPY!!

To Amy, this brings to mind the graffiti on the walls of the ladies’ room. All those names, time spans and the word beehive. The Carl-possessed-thing says he has finally brought all of them together. Ruth Anne the spinster, Matt the romantic, Trinity the temptress, Amy the restless one. He talks about how he has built a beehive, all are productive there and their hard work will mend their degraded minds. He does this creepy monologue for a while before standing, no longer handcuffed then takes one end of the handcuff and tears out his throat. Ruth Anne and Amy manage to uncuff and get Possessed Carl onto the table but it’s too late. Basil walks in as the cops haven’t turned up yet, and is not happy. Suddenly Carl’s hand shoots out, grabs Amy’s wrist and through the wound in his throat says, “The doors are open.

Just then, the emergency power shuts off. This is impossible, it’s supposed to stay on in all emergencies, but now they are in total darkness. Matt finds a heavy duty flashlight in his gear bag and Basil takes it. Switching it on, they notice Carl is gone. WHAT?! Sweeping the light around, they find Carl standing as still as a statue, then abruptly turn and walk into a display walk-in closet. Following him, they find the door at the end of the closet is ajar. This should not be possible, it’s a fake door. Basil opens it and on the other side is a dark hallway that leads to the Beehive. Slowly they cross the threshold. The smell is overpowering. Amy receives another phone call from police dispatch, they still can’t find her location but then her phone dies. Basil agrees to get them out after he checks around the corner in Bedrooms for Carl who he insists was obviously hurt not dead. Amy tells him Bedrooms isn’t there because the hallway they are in doesn’t exist. There is a loud noise of something huge coming toward them so Amy and Matt bolt for the door. Back on the Showroom floor, they hide behind a cabinet. Then they see movement in the dark, something is coming. Matt saw people coming, Amy doesn’t know what she saw. Then all the glass around them, from the storage units and Matt’s phone screen, shatters. Everything is dark again. Amy reaches out and feels cold flesh. It’s definitely not Matt, but before she realizes this, it jams fingers into her mouth.

Hands find her, so many hands and they grab and grope, push and pull her into a chair. Her wrists are forced down and fastened, then more bands strap her painfully to the chair. She can smell burning plastic from the heat sealer on the plastic straps locking her in place. Possessed Carl comes to her, strokes her face and tells her that the chair will force her to stop and be strong, he may bleed her, bathe her in ice water or use boiling water on her, she can’t fight back but it will help her agitated spirit. Pulling back, Possessed Carl and the hands leave Amy and she can feel the blood pooling in her fingers and feet. Her limbs and back hurt. Her neck is at a painful angle. Amy falls into her own head and measures her worth and achievements and finds them lacking. Struggling to breathe, her mind echoes I’m home…

Basil finds Amy tied up, and using his pocket knife, every good Orsk manager carries one in case of a flat pack emergency, he is able to free Amy. But she doesn’t want to be free, she’s given herself to the chair and to Warden Worth’s treatments. Her limbs are weak and painful from blood restriction. Eventually Basil uses a desk chair to wheel Amy around, but all the exits are blocked. Then they hear them. Basil stashes Amy under a table and stands in the middle of the Bright and Shining Path. He uses his phone light to attack the things in the dark. There are hundreds of beehive penitents, standing so close that the one behind rests its head on the nape of the one in front. Basil's light goes out and the horde descends.

On her hands and knees, Amy is able to locate Basil’s dropped phone and slowly makes her way along the dark Bright and Shiny Path. Now and then she flashes the light around, expecting to see something terrible in the dark. She hears a mechanical whirl sound and dares to shine the light in its direction. It’s one of the Orsk treadmill desks and Trinity is tied to it, fingers mangled and hunched with the weight of her gear bag. Amy is able to free her, but Trinity protests. She wants Warden Worth to save her. NOPE! Half carrying her, Amy makes her way to the front entrance. Standing at the top of the static escalator, they notice the board of Orsk store management pictures are all of Warden Worth now and each is defaced in different ways. Suddenly, Basil’s phone rings. Amy answers. It’s Matt and he says he’s seen Trinity and has to go after her, he doesn’t believe Trinity is with her and Trinity won’t say anything. Matt hangs up and then Trinity runs off. Suddenly there are animalistic screams… it’s Ruth Anne.

Amy races through the parking lot to her Honda. She can see the highway running next to the site, how can the police not find the exit?! Pulling away she has a huge moral dilemma about running away under the guise of getting help. Should she just give into the chair or stand up and do something? Amy heads back to Orsk. Entering through the employee exit, she makes her way to the break room for first aid supplies. In the supply closet she sees a huge hole in the drywall, and one of Ruth Anne’s Chapsticks on the floor. Back in the break room, she finds a report dated 1839 saying that Cuyahoga Panopticon is creating lunatics which the warden revels in. The report recommends immediate closure.

About to head out, Amy hears something in the walls. It’s Ruth Anne. She was the one who tore the hole in the supply closet to get into the walls to hide from the Creepy Crawlies. Amy tells Ruth Anne to meet her back at the hole. As Amy is pulling Ruth Anne out, something starts pulling Ruth Anne back in. Ruth Anne’s fingers feel weird and her hands and arms are slick with blood. Amy realizes the weird feeling at the end of Ruth Anne’s fingers are her bones. She’s torn the wall out so much she’s gone to the bone!!!!! Ruth Anne loosens her grip and is pulled back, she tells Amy this isn’t her fault and then she rakes her own eyes out. If she can’t see them, they can’t see her.

Amy leaves the closet and heads to the café where faceless men stand in a circle passing chairs round in a mechanical, rhythmic way. Coming up the stairs are creatures with truncheons who are clearly guards. She runs. They chase. She makes it back to the impossible door and enters the Beehive. The corridor seems narrower and there are hands reaching out, pulling, grabbing, trying to force themselves through her skin, in her mouth. Amy pushes through and emerges into a room with someone hanging from a towel rack, the best selling towel rack in Bathrooms in fact.

The person is Basil, but there is a pillowcase over his head. When she removes the pillowcase, she sees he has a metal contraption bolted on with a little bell attached. Amy somehow manages to get him down and get the metal contraption off. As they leave the room, they feel water flooding in on their feet. With nothing to lose, Amy follows the water's direction, through the hand gauntlet again and they emerge back on the Showroom floor. Locating one of Matt’s flash lights from his gear bag, Basil swings it in a wide arc, catching sight of hundreds of bodies staring right at them. The penitents part to allow Carl-Who-Is-Now-Warden-Worth through.

Warden Worth monologues again about toil and work being the only cure, how they tried to stop him so he took all of his 180+ penitents, sealed them in coffins and let the waters soothe and flow over them. Amy tries to tell the penitents around them that they are free, their service and crimes have been paid in full, they can leave. This sort of works as they knock Worth to the ground and start grabbing and pulling at him until he disappears into the crowd. The crowd of penitents then surges toward Amy and Basil separating them and forcing them away. They push Amy into a small wooden box and she can hear the nails being hammered in.

After having a panic attack, given the circumstances I think that’s allowed, Amy assesses the situation. She is lying twisted, having been jammed in the coffin with no room to move, and freezing water is coming in, numbing her. She realizes she’s going to drown. Great. The box isn’t actually a coffin, but a popular brand of closet Orsk sells that is returned more often than not because it’s poorly made. It breaks easy as it's a pain to put together. With her trusty Magic Tool that all Orsk employees carry, Amy is able to unscrew the closet, force it open and slither out. There is water everywhere but she is able to locate Basil in a different closet coffin. Basil insists they need to leave while Amy wants to find Matt and Trinity. She reluctantly agrees to leave with Basil. The water is flooding down the stairs and second floor balcony, something in the water hits Basil and forces him down the waterfall. Amy goes after him. They get banged up but emerge, relatively unscathed. They’re going to have to go through the Market Place, the Warehouse and checkouts in order to get out. It's an unclean, unpleasant, rat infested journey but they finally reach the doors. As a rolling cascade of rats heads toward them, Amy is able to grab the fire extinguisher and use it to smash the glass of the door.

They spill through the doors onto the asphalt. The fire department, police and paramedics are there. While one tends to Amy's head injury, another looks after Basil. Ruth Anne, Matt and Trinity are nowhere. Pat, the store general manager, is running between them and the Orsk consultant team who can be seen scribbling away. Pat hands Basil and Amy an Orsk business card with Tom Larson’s personal email address on. He’d like to give them both promotions and a desk job with benefits at corporate so long as they don’t talk to the media. Basil is happy to go along, Amy is angry. Orsk will quietly acknowledge Ruth Anne’s disappearance as she was on the clock, but Matt and Trinity weren’t, so are they really Orsk’s responsibility? Basil agrees with Pat, and Amy punches Pat in the face.

For months Amy doesn’t live, she survives. That night still haunts her. She can’t sleep, she can't concentrate. Ruth Anne’s memorial was huge, packed with Orsk employees and customers, Matt’s was relaxed, Trinity’s was closed to those within her church. Orsk blamed the terrible night on faulty construction, water pipes and sprinkler systems and eventually closed that location. A new store called Planet Baby took over. It’s the same flat-packed experience but for your baby which makes it more terrifying really. Amy gets a job at Planet Baby and on her first night, with a bag full of batteries, fishing wire, flashlights and other useful tools, she prepares to enter to look for Matt, Trinity and Ruth Anne. Basil is there, too. He got a job at Planet Baby three months ago because he decided he couldn’t leave Ruth Anne, Matt and Trinity to the Beehive because they were his responsibility. He’s already tried to find them once. As they enter he warns her not to look into the cribs.

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