Patrick Flincher was a miserable man as two prior Christmas days he’d seen awful things – first there was a daddy longlegs living underneath the stairs in the old house, who’d eaten Santa. Then there was Santa’s evil brother, Neon Claus who had chased him all the way home and then gone to gobble up the Christmas tree with all the lights. He even ate the presents.
Patrick was flat-out scared to celebrate this year and frankly none of the family were too keen on the idea either. What sort of holiday would it be when the children feared Santa and giant spiders, and his missus weren’t all too ready to wash up blood spatters yet another time, or make haste to prepare the dinner and then, like the previous two times, have to leave it all whilst running for her life.
This year the Flincher family sat home, undecorated, uncelebrated, dinner-less, light-less, cheerful-less.
It was all very dull and poor, when Patrick had an idea.
“We could go to your mother’s place,” Patrick said.
“Well that’ll be a first. What’s on your mind, Mr. Flincher?”
Patrick turned to his son and daughter.
“Granny Rose has one of the safest houses in the state.”
“How’d you mean the safest?” his son asked.
“Grannies are wise and their houses are protected from all the monsters. Christmas can never be disturbed or scary there, because the bad things are afraid of grannies,” Patrick said, smiling widely.
“But I thought you and gran Rose weren’t speaking-” his son started to say.
“Just in the state?” His daughter interrupted, frowning.
Patrick took her in his arms.
“No, Milly sweetheart – safest place on the whole planet.”
“Grannie’s house isn’t any safer than ours!” His son ran out of the room.
“Just the planet? But dads,” Milly’s eyes were wide with disbelief.
Patrick put her down and exhaled.
“In the whole universe, in the known and unknown galaxy. Go and annoy your brother so he could get ready.”
Milly ran out of the living room cheerful as a bell.
“We need to stop by the supermarket and buy something for dinner. We can’t go empty-handed,” said Mrs. Flincher.
Patrick dabbed at the sweat on his forehead. His wife’s mother was a beast, but better bet on the monster you know, isn’t that how the saying went?
He locked the house and stared at the darkness inside – not a single lightbulb of joy to blink in the night while they were gone. Their house was the only one in the neighborhood that didn’t have a spot of festiveness. Patrick sighed and turned to his family waiting by the car like orphans abandoned to the cold night, without pudding or presents or carols. But Patrick was going to save Christmas. It was going to be the best Christmas they’ve ever had.
Stopping at the market Patrick clutched the steering wheel. There were so many people rushing shopping carts at the last minute he doubted they were going to make it on time at Rose’s.
Milly and Anthony chased each other around, whilst Beth rushed through the store picking whatever she thought her family would love and her mother would be displeased about. For Milly and Anthony’s amusement there was a fine-sized bag of sweets and of course little secret presents that they tried to guess whilst running around the cart.
Patrick was pleased, pushing the cart and agreeing with anything Beth suggested. He wanted his family to have a normal Christmas more than anything even if that meant tasting Rose’s turkey or counting her glasses of red wine. Anthony had learned to do the same. Maybe Rose had helped him with his math.
Steering the shopping cart towards the checkout, Patrick saw the impossible lines of people waiting for each counter.
“We’ll be waiting here all night,” Patrick mumbled under his breath.
“Don’t be silly. There one checkout opening now. Quickly!”
Beth ran past him followed by their children. Checkout number 1, in the far, far end of the supermarket had opened, its green-lighted number bright in the distance. Patrick rolled the wheels towards it.
There was no one else at the counter and Beth began putting the products on the conveyor belt, with Milly and Anthony helping her. Patrick was staring at the neon light above his head flickering like mad.
“I don’t like this checkout. Let’s wait for another one to get cleared, eh?”
Beth turned to look at him.
“Don’t be silly,” she said again and went back to her loading process.
Patrick fidgeted with his car keys.
“Look, there’s no cashier either. Maybe they got it wrong and the checkout isn’t opened.”
“Belt is moving daddy,” his daughter pointed out.
“Right,” Patrick mumbled.
He looked to his right at the other checkouts. They seemed miles away, bathed in bright light and multi-colored Christmas lights. Their checkout was robbed of any tiny bit of joy and holiday spirit. There was even music on the other side – Wham! played on the sound system. Above his head there was only static. Patrick listened, wide-eyed. In the static there was a drowsy voice and the voice said…
“Hello, my name is Chris. I’ll be your happy cashier this evening.”
Patrick looked back at the checkout. A pale-faced teen with droopy black eyes and a Christmas hat was patiently waiting for the belt to bring the first of the products.
Not only did Patrick think the cashier didn’t look happy, but he also noticed he wasn’t blinking.
Patrick tried to make small-talk, because the belt was moving slowly and the cashier was just staring at it. “Sound system broken, eh? No music on this side.”
The boy looked at the other checkouts.
“We don’t catch the signal very well over here. Just mumbles and such.”
“I bet they play that song every year, yeah?”
“Dunno. What song?”
“Wham!- Last Christmas.”
“Don’t know it.”
Patrick let out a little laugh.
“It’s one of those songs that you can’t help but get stuck in your head – annoying, but catchy.”
The cashier made an attempt to shrug, but his body just shook. He was also very thin, Patrick noticed.
There were four more items to go through his slow hands and they were going to be on their way to have Christmas.
But then Chris the cashier stopped just at the last item.
“You know, I don’t think I’ve had any customers like you.”
“Oh, wasn’t it a busy day today?” Mrs. Flincher asked.
“Like us, what do you mean like us?” Mr. Flincher asked but was ignored.
The cashier shook his head and his eyes made loops in their sockets.
“Ever?!” Patrick and Beth both yelped.
“Yeah, like…ever and forever. I think it’s maybe because, you know, people don’t like shopping at…” the cashier yawned and the Flincher family leaned forward to hear what he was about to say, “at a dead checkout.”
“Dead checkout, what’s a dead checkout?” Patrick asked pulling Milly and Anthony close to him. Beth picked up a baguette to ward them off from the teen.
“You know, not-living like”, Chris the cashier grinned and his teeth were bony-white.
“The checkout?” Patrick asked then he looked back at the other part of the supermarket. It truly seemed miles away, voices barely whispers, footsteps coming up as echoes. Not one other person had come to checkout number 1 except for them. And no one else was going to come, because…
“Checkout 1 doesn’t exist. It’s a ghost checkout. You’re a ghost.”
Chris slowly nodded, his eyes bouncing up and down.
“Daddy, I’m scared.” Milly was pulling at his sleeve. Patrick took her hand.
“So how did we end up here?”
“Somehow you heard the beep from our side, my best guess.”
“Yes, but why?”
“Dunno. Have you had any experiences with the supernatural?”
Patrick gulped and nodded.
“That might be it. Listen, chatting is fine, but there are other people who need to go through this checkout, since it’s the only one available for all eternity, so I’d appreciate if you can pay. Cash or credit?”
Patrick started to say something but there was a tut behind him. He slowly turned only to see an endless waiting line of shopping cart gripping, bag dragging, empty-eyed, blue-skinned ghosts with Christmas hats on.
Patrick turned back to his family and frantically searched for his wallet.
Granny Rose had better be a blessing in disguise.