Harry Harrison: The Chemical Isle Ghost
There’s something they never tell new hires during orientation. With good reason, of course. I mean, would you work in a haunted store? I do. But still.
I watched as the most recent batch of new employees—they’d have to be here a while before I learned their names—got the store tour. I was standing a few feet away, and watched as the assistant with the privilege of tour guide avoided “the isle”. I laughed a little, and walked away, knowing the newbies would find out soon enough.
I’d probably be the one to tell them anyway. I like to tell the story. It amuses me to see their faces. There’s always a mix of terror, shock, disbelief, and unsurprisingly smugness. The smug ones never last.
It wasn’t long before I got my opportunity.
New employees tend to hang out together. Orientation is a bonding experience, it’s like finding friends in a new class; you’re drawn to each other. I was sitting in the break room, minding my own business watching Dr Pimple Popper videos on silent, listening as the newbies talked quietly.
“To be such a big store, there’s a lot of bulbs out over this one isle.” One of them said.
“Well,” another began, “those are high ceilings, probably hard to change.”
“Dude, have you seen some of the ladders?” A third said. “They say “team lift” and you could probably use them to get over Trump’s border wall!” He laughed, “Probably harder to carry the ladder than change the bulb!”
I neglected to mention the scissor lift, but the image of some clumsy oaf, probably this new guy, climbing our tallest ladder with a four foot long florescent bulb made me snort out my diet green tea.
Being the only other person in the room, they all turned toward the sound, as I wiped my nose of leakage. What finesse I have. “What?” I looked at ladder guy. “Safety first: don’t carry bulbs up ladders twice your height, I like bonuses and not cleaning up blood and broken bulbs.” I told him, then looked them each in the eye, shrugged, then said, “You wouldn’t want to be on a ladder of any size in that isle anyway. Definitely too dangerous.”
“Why?” One of the asked? “It’s just the isle with the cleaners.”
Yes! They’re intrigued! I always loved this part.
“Oh, right. You don’t know.” I faked. “It’s haunted.”
“Whaaaat?” Ladder dude said. Yep, he has a nickname now. “No way.”
“Way.” I confirmed.
“I’ll bite.” One of them said, curious female. “Why’s it haunted?”
“Don’t you mean who haunts it?” I asked. She rolled her eyes. I didn’t think she’d be the smug one. “A former employee.” I told them.
They all stared at me, waiting. I let them wonder, question, wait. Let the suspense build. This kind of torture should be against the Geneva Convention. I revel in it. “How much time ya got?” I asked. They all looked at their watches and groaned. Lunch was over.
Later that week we were together again. Knowing they’d been waiting for the story, knowing they’d not said a word, for fear they’d be laughed at, I’d patiently waited for my opportunity. They came into the break room one by one, saying nothing too me.
I sat at my spot, as usual, playing a game on my phone. When I’d made them wait a bit, without looking up I said, “His name was Harry.”
I could hear them turn in their chairs to look at me, waiting. “Harry Harrison.” I said.
“Pfft” I heard. “Sounds fake!”
“I know right! That’s what I said! After I’d been told the story, I believed it to be fake, until…” I trailed off. “Anyway, it’s his real name. I heard he was a nice guy. Friendly. Absolutely scatterbrained and lazy, but a good guy otherwise.” I put my phone down and got myself comfortable. “He isn’t quite as nice now. You know, as a ghost.”
They were all enraptured, watching and waiting for the full story. Her Royal Smugness was still doubtful, but the rest were intrigued. She was just waiting for a flaw in my tale. “So what happened to him?” She asked.
It was getting close to end of his shift, and Harry was tired and impatient. It’s been a long day, and he had been busy. A lot of shoppers this time of the week, and he’s barely kept up.
He was a few feet away from finishing the isle with the dish soap, when he stepped back to look at his work so far. There wasn’t a thing that could make him happier than looking down the long isle, and see nicely straightened chemicals “as far as the eye could see”. He smiled happily to himself at the almost completely faced isle, and turned back to his work.
Glancing at the last four foot section, he looked down to see a spill in the floor. The dark blue liquid seemed to be oozing from the bottom shelf. “Dawn,” he grumbled aloud.
Somehow, in shipping, the caps on the bottles of Dawn Dish Liquid seemed to either loosen or come completely off! The night stockers seem to never check, and poor Harry was always left to clean up the mess.
“DARNIT!” He said, smelling the clean scent of the soap from where he stood. He turned to get some paper towels from the dispenser—mopping would just cause suds—so he could wipe up the inconvenient mess.
“Harry in chemicals to the front, please!” He heard his name paged, looked back in the direction of the spill, and thought, “it’s not busy right now, it’ll be fine!” He rushed up front, to answer the page.
When he returned to his isle, after having been asked to help a customer in foods find an item (that’s not my department, he thought) that the store actually didn’t even carry, he’d completely forgotten the spill, walking straight to his last place of work. At first pass, he’d narrowly missed stepping in the spill. Had he been just a half inch to the left, he’d felt the squish and slide caused by the slick substance and remembered.
Harry got back to work, pulling forward and facing out. He reached back into the shelf, where a can of air freshener had been pushed, and his hand brushed something. He grasped it and pulled it out between the cans. Someone has shoved an open box of M&Ms in back of the shelf. He scoffed, and turned to take the box to the end of the isle, where he’d see it when he headed out.
It was then that it happened.
Harry unknowing stepped dead center of the now much expanded puddle of dish liquid. His eyes widened in shock as his life flashed before his eyes. Sadly the one thing that stood out was when his pants fell down in front of his high school crush freshman year.
His treadless shoes, worn from years of use, glided perfectly on the surface of the viscus liquid. He windmilled his arms, slinging candy coated chocolate everywhere, in attempt to regain balance. His feet slid back and forth, as he tried to balance. His flailing arms slapped the shelves, which sent him sliding backward into the shelf behind him, banging the back of his head. Mops and brooms that had been hanging nearby clattered to the floor on impact.
He’d just begun to right himself, when he stepped on a broom handle, slid forward, tripped over a mop head and fell forward, arms outstretched to catch himself. This time, Harry’s forehead smacked the shelf as his weak wrists, unable to take his weight, snapped on impact.
Sadly, poor Harry Harrison laid prone, bleeding, and splayed on the floor, covered in dish soap, for some time before co-workers came to his aid.
“By then it was too late.” I sighed. “Poor Harry.”
“Yeah, Ladder Guy,” I said. “He died, remember?”
“Well, yeah. But that was the most cartoonish death!”
“Yeah, you made it up!”
“Nope, I did not.” I told them. “They thought someone had done it to him, it was so messy. They looked on the tapes, there were cops, investigations.” I looked at them. “I know what your thinking. But it happened. He died in the chemical isle, death by dish soap.” Technically bleeding out from two separate head injuries.
“Doesn’t prove there’s a ghost in the chemical isle.” Her royal smugness said.
“Nope, but I’ve been down that isle for more than just air freshener.” I told them. “I’ve experienced his ghostly wrath.”
“Right.” Smugly rolled her eyes. “What happened?”
I was minding my own business, walking back to my post at the door, when I heard my name called. I was in my own little world, so it surprised the bejebus out of me., as usual I turned around, and there stood a manager.
“What are you doing right now?” He asked.
Knowing what that question entailed, I said slowly, “Uh… Going back to work?”
“Yeah, well,” he paused. “We uh, don’t have maintenance on tonight…”
Ugh. Please no bathrooms.
“Well, someone spilled some dish soap down in chemicals…”
“Oh thank god,” or so I thought.
“Would you mind getting a mop and bucket?”
“Nope, not at all.” I told him, knowing absorbent and a broom would be a better method.
“Great!” He said. He looked relieved.
Mildly suspicious as to his relief, I grabbed the mop and bucket anyway, knowing the proper clean up method would be well within reach once I made it to the chemical isle. The store was eerily quiet as I pushed the yellow bucket toward my destination. The defective wheel squeaked and spun in all directions, the sound seeming to bounce off end caps as I passed.
I took a turn down the chemical isle, and looked down toward the dish soap section. There, in an ever expanding puddle, blue soap oozed. I rolled my eyes, remembering that were told to never leave a spill, and pushed the annoying yellow bucket down the isle. As I neared the spill, however, the temperature slowly dropped. I stopped and looked up, trying to see where the nearest air conditioner vent was located. Surely they wouldn’t turn the air on in January.
When I looked up I saw not air vent, but blown fluorescent bulbs, and watched as one flickered and finally died. “Huh, they should probably change those. Can’t be regulation,” I thought. I shrugged and pushed on, slowly getting colder as I neared the spill.
That’s when I heard it. It was a low groan, angry and creepy. I stopped. I looked back and forth, up the isle and down it. Not a soul in sight. For a brief moment I thought it was the air conditioner. But instead of lingering on the thought, I continued, albeit slower, toward the dish soap.
An aggressive hiss suddenly seemed to come from the dishwasher tablets. “SSSSTOP!” I listened. My eyes widened in fear, hoping it was some annoying co-worker trying to freak me out, somehow knowing it was not.
“Who…whose there?” I whispered to the air. I hoped I’d imagined the vapor from my breath in the cold air.
The disembodied voice groaned. “Leave this isle. Go back the way you came!”
I’m pretty sure I tinkled a little then. “Wuhwhuhwhy?” I stuttered.
“SSStop asking questions and go!” The voice shouted.
“But I, uh, have to clean the spill,”
The voice cut me off with an unnerving growl. The shelves began to shake, cans of furniture polish and bottles of bathroom cleaner shook and tumbled to the floor with a clank and clatter.
From the depths of the the dish soap section, a semi-transparent form emerged. He turned to face me, congealed blood and blue dish soap on his face and head, hands bent at odd angles at the wrists.
“GO!” He bellowed.
He didn’t have to tell me twice, err uh four times. But instead of turning, I stared to back up, and in my clumsiness I tripped over my own feet and stumbled to the floor. On the way down I kicked the mop bucket, spilling its contents.
As hard as I tried, the slick floor coupled with the soapy mop water kept me from regaining my balance. I slipped and slid as the frightening form slowly approached me, reaching for me with his broken wrists.
“Annnnnd that’s all I remember.” I told the newbies.
“Yeah, I mean, I guess I hit my head?” I leaned back in my chair and sighed. “All I know is don’t go down that isle, if you have to, don’t go alone, and don’t linger. The CChemicalIsle Ghost is MEAN.”
“I still don’t believe you.” Little Miss Smuggly said.
“You don’t have too.” I told her. I shrugged. “Lunch is over though, isn’t it?”
They all stared at me for a minute, then it dawned on them that it was, in fact, time to go back. They all stood, saying nothing, not really making eye contact with each other or myself. But I watched them. I watched them gather their trash and belongings and file silently out the door.
“Heh. Newbies.” I smiled to myself as they walked away.
Sally Newton, for ironically that was her name, was still skeptical. Everything that chick said was just a tall tale. “Just trying to freak us newbies out.” She told herself. She couldn’t believe that the others even considered entertaining the idea.
She walked to her department—she was in Foods—still deep in thought, when she heard a noise. It was a screeching noise, the kind that grated on your nerves and stung the ears. It was coming from “the isle”. She squinted suspiciously, never admitting her nervousness, and slowed her pace. Inching toward the sound, she listened. It ground and screeched, like it needed oil. She looked down the chemical isle. It was a scissor lift.
There she saw an assistant manager, the safety manager, and some men shed never seen before. They were changing the bulbs. “Uh hey boss,” she said nervously. “What’s up?”
The assistant obviously had to check her name badge to remember her name. “Sally,” she said. “Not much, just changing these bulbs.”
“Oh, so, just now?” Sally asked. “They’ve been out a while, huh?”
“Yep, the lift has been down, had to rent a new one. Just hasn’t been a priority.”
“Yeah, at least this isle won’t look creepy and dark anymore!” Sally said, enthusiastically.
“Exactly.” The manager said, watching the bulb changing process.
“Maybe the ghost will leave, am I right?” Sally joked, watching for a reaction.
“Ugh, who ever keeps spreading that rumor needs a stern discussion!”
“I knew she was lying!” Sally unintentionally said aloud.
“Who lied about what? The manager asked.
“Oh, that girl. The red head, she works, uh, I can’t remember. I can’t remember getting her name either. Or seeing her name badge.” Staring off into space, Sally tried to concentrate, to remember. After a moment she glanced around, but looked back so quickly she nearly broke her neck. She could have sworn she’d seen someone, standing by the dish soap.
Thanks for reading,