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As the operations manager for a large discount store, it is my job to ensure that the various electrical and mechanical systems, such as cash registers, pricing guns, and even the toilets in the rest rooms are working as they should be.
A few weeks ago I got word that my store was going to be the field testing site for a new type of shopping cart. In over twenty years with the company, I had yet to encounter a shopping cart that didn’t turn into a piece of shit once the customers got a hold of it. Now our company was going to waste thousands of dollars on the next high tech turd from the ass of modern shopping.
A few days after being notified, I received a large envelope in the mail packed with colorful, pointless propaganda on the cart design as well as some survey cards for my employees and customers to fill out once the shopping carts arrived. I read through the material that night and was sort of blah about the whole thing. They were just shopping carts, after all. To say I couldn’t care less that they were made of some new eco-friendly polymer or that they could hold twice the weight of a traditional cart would be an understatement. I was pretty sure the customers weren’t going to care much either. I also didn’t see anything state of the art or top of the line about them in the literature, but I was going to reserve final judgment for when I saw them in person.
When the carts finally arrived, I had to begrudgingly admit they were nice to look at. At least as nice as a shopping cart can be. They were equal parts black and white and made mostly of thick plastic with a few pieces of metal in the frame work. The thing I liked most about them was they weren’t rectangular like most carts. They had an almost oval shape to them. All of the edges were rounded off and the basket was large in the front and narrow near the end which gave them the appearance of some sort of space age transport device.
The carts also had great maneuverability. I took one through the store for a test drive and was surprised at how well it handled. I was able to make tight turns into the aisles with no problem. When I took the corners fast, the cart didn’t tip over like the old ones did. The wheels never left the ground, nor did they wobble. I knew our customers were going to be pleased with them and I was proud that my store was the first to have them. This pride wouldn’t last.
Two days after receiving the carts, everything seemed to be going great. The customers really liked them and a few even admitted to coming to the store just to check them out after hearing about them from a friend. It wasn’t until the third day that things started to change.
For the most part, that day was just like any other. I had to deal with the usual frustrated customers, annoying employees, and the occasional register glitch. It wasn’t until I locked up for the night and was returning to my car that my week started getting shitty.
I usually park my car near one of those landscaped islands bordered by a curb. Every large parking lot usually has a few of them. They tend to be covered in grass with a couple of trees or those thick bushes with the prickly leaves. If I park next to one of those, there are a limited number of cars that can park around me. In my mind, that minimizes the possibility of accidents. Having to park in a high traffic parking lot for forty to fifty hours a week can be hazardous to the body work of your vehicle. I see nothing wrong in trying to ward of any possible damage from ignorant customers whenever I can.
That day, the only spot open that wasn’t a mile from the front entrance of the store, was right next to one of the cart corrals. I don’t like parking next to them if I can help it, but when it is between that and walking the length of a football field, I’ll the easy walk every time. When I think back on that day, I mentally kick myself for not moving my car. I’m sure if I went outside during one of my breaks, I would have been able to find a better parking space.
As I approached my car that night, I didn’t notice anything unusual until I walked around to the driver’s side. There, pressed up against the side of my car door, was one of the new shopping carts.
My first reaction was to mutter a few curse words at the lazy shopper who couldn’t be bothered to place the cart in the corral in the first place. I mean come on; it was no more than two feet away. It’s irritating, but a common thing in parking lots around the world. I didn’t get pissed until I pulled the cart away, revealing the fist sized dent in the door.
Now, I’ll admit, I have a bit of a temper, and I probably should have taken a moment to calm down and just push the cart into the corral. However, it felt really good when my foot connected with the cart, knocking it onto its side. It felt even better when I noticed the kick had caused a good sized crack along on the side of the cart’s plastic basket. A crack for a dent – I figured that made us even.
I left the busted cart on its side, got in my car, and drove home. I knew the opening manger would deal with it when he got in. Thankfully, I had the day off, so I wouldn’t have to hear about it until I returned to work on Friday.
The following day, I contacted my insurance company to see about getting the dent fixed. After spending an hour on the phone dissecting my policy with someone who barely spoke English, I decided it would be cheaper and less of a headache to just go to a body shop and pay for it myself, and that is exactly what I did. My one day off that week wasted on getting a small dent repaired.
When I returned to work, I wasn’t in the best of moods to begin with, but I became even more irritated when I saw a lot of the new carts strewn about the parking lot, most of which were only a few steps from a cart corral. Damn lazy customers. I was sure I wasn’t going to be the only one with a dented door that week. I gathered up a few of the strays and slammed them into the nearest corral with enough force to cause it to slide forward a few inches. I didn’t give a damn if any more of the new carts got damaged.
On my way to the front office I was stopped by the freight manager who informed me that we had a return truck the next day and that I needed to get my stuff processed. One of my duties is to sign off on all defective merchandise and get it boxed up and ready to be shipped back to the warehouse. Once I dropped my stuff off in the office, I walked to the back of the store to the receiving bay. That is where we keep all of the unprocessed returns from the past week.
As I surveyed the pile of returns, I noticed a single cart parked in the corner with a handwritten note that said DAMAGED. I guess I was going to have to deal with that thing one last time. I didn’t mind. Nothing would have made me happier at that moment than to send that cart back to the warehouse, knowing it was going to be destroyed. I decided to process it last and savor my victory over it.
As I was filling out the forms for the assortment of broken electronics and home goods, there was a short loud squeak, sort of like the sound a rusty hinge would make when being forced open too quickly. I looked up, but couldn’t immediately see anything that would make that kind of noise. I dismissed the sound and continued my work. I was, after all, in a large receiving bay with metal doors, metal racking, and various other metal objects all capable of squeaking.
I returned to my paperwork, and the moment my pen touched the paper, the squeak returned. I continued writing, ignoring it all together, but after a while, it became pretty bothersome. I waited until it started again, then quickly whirled around to pinpoint where the sound was coming from. In the process of turning, my elbow caught the edge of a box of packing tape and sent it falling to the floor, the sound of which made it impossible to tell where the squeaking was coming from.
I bent over to pick up the box and muttered profanities to myself as the squeaking recommenced. This time it was louder and more insistent, and I was really starting to get pissed off over it. I looked up and yelled out in frustration, but my cry was cut short when the source of the squeaking slammed into my forehead knocking me onto my ass.
I was dazed for a second and confused as to what had happened. I tried to make sense of it, but it was completely crazy. Somehow, the shopping cart that was in the opposite corner of the room, squeaked its way across the receiving bay and rammed itself into my forehead. It wasn’t just a casual roll either; there was some force behind it. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the cart was pushed, but there was no way for someone to enter the receiving bay without me noticing.
I stood up, rubbing the spot on my head where I was hit. I could feel the tight knot of a bump already forming. That cart was going to pay. There was no way I was ever going to let it roll again.
In the corner of the receiving bay, behind the tool box, is a large sledge hammer. For the longest time I wondered why it was there. We’ve never had cause to use it, yet there it sat for many years. In that moment, I decided I would make a use for it.
I grabbed the mallet and walked over to where the cart had come to rest against the bay doors. I half expected the cart to flee as I raised the hammer over my head and brought it down on the folding child seat behind the handle bar. The force of the blow flipped it back onto its side where I continued to beat it until it was a mess of broken plastic and bent metal. I kept smashing it until I could no longer lift the hammer, then gathered up the pieces and threw them into the trash compactor.
Satisfied that the cart would never bother me again, I finished processing the damaged products then left the receiving bay and headed to the front office with a smile on my face. As I turned down the household consumables aisle, I had to move aside to let a young woman wheel her cart by. As she was about to pass me, the cart she was pushing suddenly turned, causing the bottom bar of the frame to collide with my shin.
“I’m so sorry!” she apologized. “I don’t know what happened. I was pushing it straight ahead and it just turned on its own. I really am sorry.”
“It’s okay.” I managed to say through clenched teeth.
I continued walking, with a slight limp now, until I made it to the food aisle, which was a straight shoot for the front of the store. I made it past three more aisles before I was blindsided and knocked onto the floor. As I got up, ready to give someone a piece of my mind, a shopping cart rolled past me with an older gentleman hobbling after it as fast as he could.
“Sorry, these new carts move so fast, I guess it got away from me.” He said once he was able to regain control of the cart.
“Don’t worry about it.” I groaned and then stood up and continued walking despite the pain in my head, my shin, and now my side.
While walking, I stopped at each aisle to make sure no one else was going to try and run me over with a shopping cart. This got me several peculiar looks from the few customers and employees I passed, but I didn’t give a shit. I was in pain and had a crazy suspicion the carts were out to get me.
When I made it up to the front of the store, I picked up my pace until I was practically running. Once inside the office, I closed the door and locked it.
The first thing I did was grab the bottle of aspirin that we keep in the desk drawer and dry swallowed three pills. Then I sat down and tried to wrap my mind around the crazy series of events that took place. It couldn’t be true. Carts were inanimate constructs of metal and plastic. They don’t think, they can’t feel pain. There was no sane reason to think they were sentient.
After sitting down and thinking about the situation rationally for a while, I was able to convince myself that I was just the victim of a series of bizarre events that just so happened to share a common factor. This however, did not stop me from avoiding carts for the rest of the evening, just in case. Once I closed up the registers for the night and let all of the employees leave, I let out a big sigh of relief. I couldn’t wait to get home.
I walked outside and was irritated to see that no one bothered to bring in the carts. This was supposed to be done by the stock crew before they left, but they had a convenient habit of forgetting most nights. At least they were all corralled and I wasn’t parked anywhere near them. Even though I knew I would get shit for it the next day, I was going to leave them where they were.
I approached my car feeling more and more relieved with each step I took. It would be nice to put this nightmare of a day behind me, but I wasn’t free just yet. A faint squeaking started in the distance, causing my heart to skip a beat. I turned around and scanned the parking lot for a runaway cart, but they were all in the corrals. I quickly walked around the back of my car and toward the driver’s side door, pulling my keys out of my pocket as quickly as I could. I was in such a haste to grab them that they slipped from my fingertips onto the pavement. I knelt down to pick them up, knowing my backside was now a perfect target.
The squeaking returned the moment my hands closed around the keys; it was louder, signalling to me that it was close by. I rose up, but my hands had started shaking, making it difficult to grasp the keys. I tried to catch them before they hit the ground again, but all I managed to do was knock them under the car instead.
I got down on my hands and knees and looked under the car to see where the keys fell and nearly pissed myself at what I saw. Several black rubber wheels squeaked by on the opposite side of my car, taunting me as they made their way around the vehicle.
The first cart hit me from behind and dropped me onto my stomach, causing me to scrape my hands up in the process. The second cart hit me on my right side, smack dab in the middle of my ribs. There was a loud popping sound like a knuckle being cracked, then searing pain. I tried to roll over, but the pain was too great. That was when the third cart hit me on the side of the head, colliding with enough force for it to roll right over me.
The sound of squeaking was then replaced by a loud ringing, thanks to my injured ear. I felt a warm liquid oozing out of it as I began feeling nauseous and dizzy, unable to tell which way was up and which was down. I was in so much pain my vision blurred and started to dim. I tried to get up, but my muscles refused to cooperate. As I felt the darkness of oblivion closing in, I turned to my side and was able to focus my eyes long enough to see the line of carts, each waiting to take their turn.
I awoke in the hospital three days later with a concussion, a broken leg, several broken ribs, and an assortment of colorful cuts and bruises. There was also some form of amnesia present as I couldn’t remember why I was in the hospital. Once the doctor found out I was awake, he came by and gave me a rundown of my injuries and his prognosis of my recovery after first assessing the extent of my memory loss. I was hoping he would tell me what happened, but before I could ask him, my memory was rudely returned to me by a familiar sound.
The squeaking started somewhere out in the hall and then stopped. After a thirty second pause, it started again, then as quickly as it started, it stopped once more.
“Is something wrong?” The doctor asked, noticing the large drops of sweat that began to snake down my forehead.
“Did you hear that?” I whispered. “That squeaking.” Right after I said that, the squeaking began again, but much louder. My memory was still fuzzy, but I knew that squeaking sound was no good. I was terrified. Before the doctor could tell me what happened, I jumped out of bed and ran to the door, tipping over my IV stand in the process. Just as I was about to slam the door shut behind me, I was hit in the stomach by something rolling into my room. At the moment of impact, my amnesia completely vanished.
“Oh my God I’m so sorry; I didn’t expect you to be out of bed.” The nurse gasped as she ran over to help me.
Once she and the doctor helped me back into bed and made sure I hadn’t added to my list of injuries, I was able to see the thing that gut busted me was nothing more than a little rolling cart used to deliver medicine. I felt silly, but then I thought to myself… maybe it knows. I started screaming for them to get it out of the room. It took two orderlies and the doctor to subdue me long enough to inject me with a sedative.
The next few days they kept me sufficiently drugged up and did a few tests to make sure there wasn’t anything wrong with my head that would make me lash out the way I had. During that time, I was able to keep myself under control, mostly thanks to the medicine. By the end of the week the doctor felt I was healthy enough to leave. I was cleared to speak with a police officer about what happened the night of my “accident”.
The officer told me I was found lying on the ground by the driver of a street sweeper that came to clean the parking lot. Apparently, he thought I was mugged. Considering how crazy the truth was, I decided it would be best to just stick with what the authorities believed. It was true, in a way. Noting was stolen, but I was beat up – just not by anything human.
I told the officer I was jumped from behind as I went to get in my car and didn’t get a look at my attacker. That seemed to satisfy him. He handed me his card and told me to call him if I remembered anything else.
On the day I was to be released from the hospital, my boss came in to see me and give me a ride home. We talked about nonsense for a while before I asked him about the carts and if the store was going to keep them.
“Oh, don’t worry about the carts.” He said. “The company has decided to add them to all the stores. They’ll still be there when you get back.”
That’s what I was afraid of.