The Hortlak

Eric was night, and batu was day. The girl, Charley, was the moon. Every night, she drove past the All-Night in her long, noisy, green Chevy, a dog hanging out the passenger window. It wasn’t ever the same dog, although they all had the same blissful expression. They were doomed, but they didn’t know it.

Bız buradan çok hoslandık.

We like it here very much.

The All-Night Convenience was a fully stocked, self-sufficient organism, like the Starship Enterprise, or the Kon-Tiki. Batu went on and on about this. They didn’t work retail anymore. They were on a voyage of discovery, one in which they had no need to leave the All-Night, not even to do laundry. Batu washed his pajamas and the extra uniforms in the sink in the back. He even washed Eric’s clothes. That was the kind of friend Batu was.

Burada tatil için mi bulunuyorsunuz?

Are you here on holiday?

All during his shift, Eric listened for Charley’s car. First she went by on her way to the shelter and then, during her shift, she took the dogs out driving, past the store first in one direction and then back again, two or three times in one night, the lights of her headlights picking out the long, black gap of the Ausible Chasm, a bright slap across the windows of the All-Night. Eric’s heart lifted whenever a car went past.

The zombies came in, and he was polite to them, and failed to understand what they wanted, and sometimes real people came in and bought candy or cigarettes or beer. The zombies were never around when the real people were around, and Charley never showed up when the zombies were there.

Charley looked like someone from a Greek play, Electra, or Cassandra. She looked like someone had just set her favorite city on fire. Eric had thought that, even before he knew about the dogs.

Sometimes, when she didn’t have a dog in the Chevy, Charley came into the All-Night Convenience to buy a Mountain Dew, and then she and Batu would go outside to sit on the curb. Batu was teaching her Turkish. Sometimes Eric went outside as well, to smoke a cigarette. He didn’t really smoke, but it meant he got to look at Charley, the way the moonlight sat on her like a hand. Sometimes she looked back. Wind would rise up, out of the Ausible Chasm, across Ausible Chasm Road, into the parking lot of the All-Night, tugging at Batu’s pajama bottoms, pulling away the cigarette smoke that hung out of Eric’s mouth. Charley’s bangs would float up off her forehead, until she clamped them down with her fingers.

Batu said he was not flirting. He didn’t have a thing for Charley. He was interested in her because Eric was interested. Batu wanted to know what Charley’s story was: he said he needed to know if she was good enough for Eric, for the All-Night Convenience. There was a lot at stake.

What Eric wanted to know was, why did Batu have so many pajamas? But Eric didn’t want to seem nosy. There wasn’t a lot of space in the All-Night. If Batu wanted Eric to know about the pajamas, then one day he’d tell him. It was as simple as that.

Erkek arkadasınız varmı?

Do you have a boyfriend?

Recently Batu had evolved past the need for more than two or three hours’ sleep, which was good in some ways and bad in others. Eric had a suspicion he might figure out how to talk to Charley if Batu were tucked away, back in the storage closet, dreaming his own sweet dreams, and not scheming schemes, doing all the flirting on Eric’s behalf, so that Eric never had to say a thing.

Eric had even rehearsed the start of a conversation. Charley would say, “Where’s Batu?” and Eric would say, “Asleep.” Or even, “Sleeping in the closet.”

Charley’s story: she worked night shifts at the animal shelter. Every night, when Charley got to work, she checked the list to see which dogs were on the schedule. She took the dogs—any that weren’t too ill, or too mean—out for one last drive around town. Then she drove them back and she put them to sleep. She did this with an injection. She sat on the floor and petted them until they weren’t breathing anymore.

When she was telling Batu this, Batu sitting far too close to her, Eric not close enough, Eric had this thought, which was what it would be like to lie down and put his head on Charley’s leg. But the longest conversation that he’d ever managed with Charley was with Charley on one side of the counter, him on the other, when he’d explained that they weren’t taking money anymore, at least not unless people wanted to give them money.

“I want a Mountain Dew,” Charley had said, making sure Eric understood that part.

“I know,” Eric said. He tried to show with his eyes how much he knew, and how much he didn’t know, but wanted to know.

“But you don’t want me to pay you for it.”

“I’m supposed to give you what you want,” Eric said, “and then you give me what you want to give me. It doesn’t have to be about money. It doesn’t even have to be something, you know, tangible. Sometimes people tell Batu their dreams if they don’t have anything interesting in their wallets.”

“All I want is a Mountain Dew,” Charley said. But she must have seen the panic on Eric’s face, and she dug in her pocket. Instead of change, she pulled out a set of dog tags and plunked it down on the counter.

“This dog is no longer alive,” she said. “It wasn’t a very big dog, and I think it was part Chihuahua and part collie, and how pitiful is that. You should have seen it. Its owner brought it in because it would jump up on her bed in the morning, lick her face, and get so excited that it would pee. I don’t know, maybe she thought someone else would want to adopt an ugly little bedwetting dog, but nobody did, and so now it’s not alive anymore. I killed it.”

“I’m sorry,” Eric said. Charley leaned her elbows against the counter. She was so close, he could smell her smell: chemical, burnt, doggy. There were dog hairs on her clothes.

“I killed it,” Charley said. She sounded angry at him. “Not you.”

When Eric looked at her, he saw that that city was still on fire. It was still burning down, and Charley was watching it burn. She was still holding the dog tags. She let go and they lay there on the counter until Eric picked them up and put them in the register.

“This is all Batu’s idea,” Charley said. “Right?” She went outside and sat on the curb, and in a while Batu came out of the storage closet and went outside as well. Batu’s pajama bottoms were silk. There were smiling hydrocephalic cartoon cats on them, and the cats carried children in their mouths. Either the children were mouse-sized, or the cats were bear-sized. The children were either screaming or laughing. Batu’s pajama top was red flannel, faded, with guillotines, and heads in baskets.

Eric stayed inside. He leaned his face against the window every once in a while, as if he could hear what they were saying. But even if he could have heard them, he guessed he wouldn’t have understood. The shapes their mouths made were shaped like Turkish words. Eric hoped they were talking about retail.

Kar yagacak.

It’s going to snow.

The way the All-Night worked at the moment was Batu’s idea. They sized up the customers before they got to the counter—that had always been part of retail. If the customer was the right sort, then Batu or Eric gave the customer what they said they needed, and the customer paid with money sometimes, and sometimes with other things: pot, books on tape, souvenir maple syrup tins. They were near the border. They got a lot of Canadians. Eric suspected someone, maybe a traveling Canadian pajama salesman, was supplying Batu with novelty pajamas.

Siz de mi bekliyorsunuz?

Are you waiting too?

What Batu thought Eric should say to Charley, if he really liked her: “Come live with me. Come live at the All-Night.”

What Eric thought about saying to Charley: “If you’re going away, take me with you. I’m about to be twenty years old, and I’ve never been to college. I sleep days in a storage closet, wearing someone else’s pajamas. I’ve worked retail jobs since I was sixteen. I know people are hateful. If you need to bite someone, you can bite me.”

Baska bir yere gidelim mi?

Shall we go somewhere else?

Charley drives by. There is a little black dog in the passenger window, leaning out to swallow the fast air. There is a yellow dog. An Irish setter. A Doberman. Akitas. Charley has rolled the window so far down that these dogs could jump out, if they wanted, when she stops the car at a light. But the dogs don’t jump. So Charley drives them back again.

Batu said it was clear Charley had a great capacity for hating, and also a great capacity for love. Charley’s hatred was seasonal: in the months after Christmas, Christmas puppies started growing up. People got tired of trying to house-train them. All February, all March, Charley hated people. She hated people in December too, just for practice.

Being in love, Batu said, like working retail, meant that you had to settle for being hated, at least part of the year. That was what the months after Christmas were all about. Neither system—not love, not retail—was perfect. When you looked at dogs, you saw this, that love didn’t work.

Batu said it was likely that Charley, both her person and her Chevy, were infested with dog ghosts. These ghosts were different from the zombies. Nonhuman ghosts, he said, were the most difficult of all ghosts to dislodge, and dogs were worst of all. There is nothing as persistent, as loyal, as clingy as a dog.

“So can you see these ghosts?” Eric said.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Batu said. “You can’t see that kind of ghost. You smell them.”

Civarda turistik yerler var mı, acaba?

Are there any tourist attractions around here, I wonder?

Eric woke up and found it was dark. It was always dark when he woke up, and this was always a surprise. There was a little window on the back wall of the storage closet, which framed the dark like a picture. You could feel the cold night air propping up the walls of the All-Night, thick and wet as glue.

Batu had let him sleep in. Batu was considerate of other people’s sleep.

All day long, in Eric’s dreams, store managers had arrived, one after another, announced themselves, expressed dismay at the way Batu had reinvented—compromised—convenience retail. In Eric’s dream, Batu had put his large, handsome arm over the shoulder of the store managers, promised to explain everything in a satisfactory manner, if they would only come and see. The store managers had all gone, in a docile, trusting way, trotting after Batu, across the road, looking both ways, to the edge of the Ausible Chasm. They stood there, in Eric’s dream, peering down into the Chasm, and then Batu had given them a little push, a small push, and that was the end of that store manager, and Batu walked back across the road to wait for the next store manager.

Eric bathed standing up at the sink and put on his uniform. He brushed his teeth. The closet smelled like sleep.

It was the middle of February, and there was snow in the All-Night parking lot. Batu was clearing the parking lot, carrying shovelfuls of snow across the road, dumping the snow into the Ausible Chasm. Eric went outside for a smoke and watched. He didn’t offer to help. He was still upset about the way Batu had behaved in his dream.

There was no moon, but the snow was lit by its own whiteness. There was the shadowy figure of Batu, carrying in front of him the shadowy scoop of the shovel, full of snow, like an enormous spoon full of falling light, which was still falling all around them. The snow came down, and Eric’s smoke went up and up.

He walked across the road to where Batu stood, peering down into the Ausible Chasm. Down in the Chasm, it was no darker than the kind of dark the rest of the world, including Eric, especially Eric, was used to. Snow fell into the Chasm, the way snow fell on the rest of the world. And yet there was a wind coming out of the Chasm that worried Eric.

“What do you think is down there?” Batu said.

“Zombie Land,” Eric said. He could almost taste it. “Zomburbia. They have everything down there. There’s even supposed to be a drive-in movie theater down there, somewhere, that shows old black-and-white horror movies, all night long. Zombie churches with AA meetings for zombies, down in the basements, every Thursday night.”

“Yeah?” Batu said. “Zombie bars too? Where they serve zombies Zombies?”

Eric said, “My friend Dave went down once, when we were in high school, on a dare. He used to tell us all kinds of stories.”

“You ever go?” Batu said, pointing with his empty shovel at the narrow, crumbly path that went down into the Chasm.

“I never went to college. I’ve never even been to Canada,” Eric said. “Not even when I was in high school, to buy beer.”

All night the zombies came out of the Chasm, holding handfuls of snow. They carried the snow across the road, and into the parking lot, and left it there. Batu was back in the closet, sending off faxes, and Eric was glad about this, that Batu couldn’t see what the zombies were up to.

Zombies came into the store, tracking in salt and melting snow. Eric hated mopping up after the zombies.

He sat on the counter, facing the road, hoping Charley would drive by soon. Two weeks ago, Charley had bitten a man who’d brought his dog to the animal shelter to be put down.

The man was bringing his dog because it had bit him, he said, but Charley said you knew when you saw this guy, and when you saw the dog, that the dog had had a very good reason.

This man had a tattoo of a mermaid coiled around his meaty forearm, and even this mermaid had an unpleasant look to her: scaly, corseted bottom; tiny black dot eyes; a sour, fangy smile. Charley said it was as if even the mermaid were telling her to bite the arm, and so she did. When she did, the dog went nuts. The guy dropped its leash. He was trying to get Charley off his arm. The dog, misunderstanding the situation, or rather, understanding the situation, but not the larger situation, had grabbed Charley by her leg, sticking its teeth into her calf.

Both Charley and the dog’s owner had needed stitches. But it was the dog who was doomed. Nothing had changed that.

Charley’s boss at the shelter was going to fire her, anytime soon—in fact, he had fired her. But they hadn’t found someone to take her shift yet, and so she was working there, for a few more days, under a different name. Everyone at the shelter understood why she’d had to bite the man.

Charley said she was going to drive all the way across Canada. Maybe keep on going, up into Alaska. Go watch bears pick through garbage.

“When a bear hibernates,” she told Batu and Eric, “it sleeps all winter and never goes to the bathroom. So when she wakes up in spring, she’s really constipated. The first thing she does is take this really painful shit. And then she goes and jumps in a river. She’s really pissed off now, about everything. When she comes out of the river, she’s covered in ice. It’s like armor. She goes on a rampage and she’s wearing armor. Isn’t that great? That bear can take a bite out of anything it wants.”

Uykum geldi.

My sleep has come.

The snow kept falling. Sometimes it stopped. Charley came by. Eric had bad dreams. Batu did not go to bed. When the zombies came in, he followed them around the store, taking notes. The zombies didn’t care at all. They were done with all that.

Batu was wearing Eric’s favorite pajamas. These were blue, and had towering Hokusai-style white-blue waves, and up on the waves, there were boats with owls looking owlish. If you looked closely, you could see that the owls were gripping newspapers in their wings, and if you looked even closer, you could read the date and the headline:

“Tsunami Tsweeps Pussy
Overboard, All is Lots.”

Batu had spent a lot of time reorganizing the candy aisle according to chewiness and meltiness. The week before, he had arranged it so that if you took the first letter of every candy, reading across from left to right, and then down, it had spelled out the first sentence of To Kill a Mockingbird, and then also a line of Turkish poetry. Something about the moon.

The zombies came and went, and Batu put his notebook away. He said, “I’m going to go ahead and put jerky with Sugar Daddies. It’s almost a candy. It’s very chewy. About as chewy as you can get. Chewy Meat gum.”

“Frothy Meat Drink,” Eric said automatically. They were always thinking of products that no one would ever want to buy, and that no one would ever try to sell.

“Squeezable Pork. It’s on your mind, it’s in your mouth, it’s pork. Remember that ad campaign? She can come live with us,” Batu said. It was the same old speech, only a little more urgent each time he gave it. “The All-Night needs women, especially women like Charley. She falls in love with you, I don’t mind one bit.”

“What about you?” Eric said.

“What about me?” Batu said. “Charley and I have the Turkish language. That’s enough. Tell me something I need. I don’t even need sleep!”

“What are you talking about?” Eric said. He hated when Batu talked about Charley, except that he loved hearing her name.

Batu said, “The All-Night is a great place to raise a family. Everything you need, right here. Diapers, Vienna sausages, grape-scented Magic Markers, Moon Pies—kids like Moon Pies—and then one day, when they’re tall enough, we teach them how to operate the register.”

“There are laws against that,” Eric said. “Mars needs women. Not the All-Night. And we’re running out of Moon Pies.” He turned his back on Batu.

Some of Batu’s pajamas worry Eric. He won’t wear these, although Batu has told him that he may wear any pajamas he likes.

For example, ocean liners navigating icebergs on a pair of pajama bottoms. A man with an enormous pair of scissors, running after women whose long hair whips out behind them like red and yellow flags, they are moving so fast. Spiderwebs with houses stuck to them.

A few nights ago, about two or three in the morning, a woman came into the store. Batu was over by the magazines, and the woman went and stood next to Batu.

Batu’s eyes were closed, although that doesn’t necessarily mean he was asleep. The woman stood and flicked through magazines, and then at some point she realized that the man standing there with his eyes closed was wearing pajamas. She stopped reading through People magazine and started reading Batu’s pajamas instead. Then she gasped, and poked Batu with a skinny finger.

“Where did you get those?” she said. “How on earth did you get those?”

Batu opened his eyes. “Excuse me,” he said. “May I help you find something?”

“You’re wearing my diary,” the woman said. Her voice went up and up in a wail. “That’s my handwriting! That’s the diary that I kept when I was fourteen! But it had a lock on it, and I hid it under my mattress, and I never let anyone read it. Nobody ever read it!”

Batu held out his arm. “That’s not true,” he said. “I’ve read it. You have very nice handwriting. Very distinctive. My favorite part is when—”

The woman screamed. She put her hands over her ears and walked backwards, down the aisle, and still screaming, turned around and ran out of the store.

“What was that about?” Eric said. “What was up with her?”

“I don’t know,” Batu said. “The thing is, I thought she looked familiar! And I was right. Hah! What are the odds, you think, the woman who kept that diary coming in the store like that?”

“Maybe you shouldn’t wear those anymore,” Eric said. “Just in case she comes back.”

Gelebilirmiyim?

Can I come?

Batu had originally worked Tuesday through Saturday, second shift. Now he was all day, every day. Eric worked all night, all nights. They didn’t need anyone else, except maybe Charley.

What had happened was this. One of the managers had left, supposedly to have a baby, although she had not looked in the least bit pregnant, Batu said, and besides, it was clearly not Batu’s kid, because of the vasectomy. Then, shortly after the incident with the man in the trench coat, the other manager had quit, claiming to be sick of that kind of shit. No one was sent to replace him, so Batu had stepped in.

The door rang and a customer came into the store. Canadian. Not a zombie. Eric turned around in time to see Batu duck down, slipping around the corner of the candy aisle, and heading towards the storage closet.

The customer bought a Mountain Dew, Eric too disheartened to explain that cash was no longer necessary. He could feel Batu, fretting, in the storage closet, listening to this old-style retail transaction. When the customer was gone, Batu came out again.

“Do you ever wonder,” Eric said, “if the company will ever send another manager?” He saw again the dream-Batu, the dream-managers, the cartoonish, unbridgeable gape of the Ausible Chasm.

“They won’t,” Batu said.

“They might,” Eric said.

“They won’t,” Batu said.

“How do you know for sure?” Eric said. “What if they do?”

“It was a bad idea in the first place,” Batu said. He gestured towards the parking lot and the Ausible Chasm. “Not enough steady business.”

“So why do we stay here?” Eric said. “How do we change the face of retail if nobody ever comes in here except joggers and truckers and zombies and Canadians? I mean, I tried to explain about how new-style retail worked, the other night—to this woman—and she told me to fuck off. She acted like I was insane.”

“The customer isn’t always right. Sometimes the customer is an asshole. That’s the first rule of retail,” Batu said. “But it’s not like anywhere else is better. I used to work for the CIA. Believe me, this is better.”

“Were you really in the CIA?” Eric said.

“We used to go to this bar, sometimes, me and the people I worked with,” Batu said. “Only we have to pretend that we don’t know each other. No fraternizing. So we all sit there, along the bar, and don’t say a word to each other. All these guys, all of us, we could speak maybe five hundred languages, dialects, whatever, between us. But we don’t talk in this bar. Just sit and drink and sit and drink. Used to drive the bartender crazy. We used to leave nice tips. Didn’t matter to him.”

“So did you ever kill people?” Eric said. He never knew whether or not Batu was joking about the CIA thing.

“Do I look like a killer?” Batu said, standing there in his pajamas, rumpled and red-eyed. When Eric burst out laughing, he smiled and yawned and scratched his head.

When other employees had quit the All-Night, for various reasons of their own, Batu had not replaced them.

Around this same time, Batu’s girlfriend had kicked him out, and with Eric’s permission, he had moved into the storage closet. That had been just before Christmas, and it was a few days after Christmas when Eric’s mother lost her job as a security guard at the mall and decided she was going to go find Eric’s father. She’d gone hunting online, and made a list of names she thought he might be going under. She had addresses as well.

Eric wasn’t sure what she was going to do if she found his father, and he didn’t think she knew, either. She said she just wanted to talk, but Eric knew she kept a gun in the glove compartment of her car. Before she left, Eric had copied down her list of names and addresses, and sent out Christmas cards to all of them. It was the first time he’d ever had a reason to send out Christmas cards, and it had been difficult, finding the right things to say in them, especially since they probably weren’t his father, no matter what his mother thought. Not all of them, anyway.

Before she left, Eric’s mother had put most of the furniture in storage. She’d sold everything else, including Eric’s guitar and his books, at a yard sale one Saturday morning while Eric was working an extra shift at the All-Night.

The rent was still paid through the end of January, but after his mother left, Eric had worked longer and longer hours at the store, and then, one morning, he didn’t bother going home. The All-Night, and Batu, they needed him. Batu said this attitude showed Eric was destined for great things at the All-Night.

Every night Batu sent off faxes to the World Weekly News, and to the National Enquirer, and to the New York Times. These faxes concerned the Ausible Chasm and the zombies. Someday someone would send reporters. It was all part of the plan, which was going to change the way retail worked. It was going to be a whole different world, and Eric and Batu were going to be right there at the beginning. They were going to be famous heroes. Revolutionaries. Heroes of the revolution. Batu said that Eric didn’t need to understand that part of the plan yet. It was essential to the plan that Eric didn’t ask questions.

Ne zaman geri geleceksiniz?

When will you come back?

The zombies were like Canadians, in that they looked enough like real people at first, to fool you. But when you looked closer, you saw they were from some other place, where things were different: where even the same things, the things that went on everywhere, were just a little bit different.

The zombies didn’t talk at all, or they said things that didn’t make sense. “Wooden hat,” one zombie said to Eric, “Glass leg. Drove around all day in my wife. Did you ever hear me on the radio?” They tried to pay Eric for things that the All-Night didn’t sell.

Real people, the ones who weren’t heading towards Canada or away from Canada, mostly had better things to do than drive out to the All-Night at 3 a.m. So real people, in a way, were even weirder, when they came in. Eric kept a close eye on the real people. Once a guy had pulled a gun on him—there was no way to understand that, but, on the other hand, you knew exactly what was going on. With the zombies, who knew?

Not even Batu knew what the zombies were up to. Sometimes he said that they were just another thing you had to deal with in retail. They were the kind of customer that you couldn’t ever satisfy, the kind of customer who wanted something you couldn’t give them, who had no other currency, except currency that was sinister, unwholesome, confusing, and probably dangerous.

Meanwhile, the things that the zombies tried to purchase were plainly things that they had brought with them into the store—things that had fallen, or been thrown into the Ausible Chasm, like pieces of safety glass. Rocks from the bottom of Ausible Chasm. Beetles. The zombies liked shiny things, broken things, trash like empty soda bottles, handfuls of leaves, sticky dirt, dirty sticks.

Eric thought maybe Batu had it wrong. Maybe it wasn’t supposed to be a transaction. Maybe the zombies just wanted to give Eric something. But what was he going to do with their leaves? Why him? What was he supposed to give them in return?

Eventually, when it was clear Eric didn’t understand, the zombies drifted off, away from the counter and around the aisles again, or out the doors, making their way like raccoons, scuttling back across the road, still clutching their leaves. Batu would put away his notebook, go into the storage closet, and send off his faxes.

The zombie customers made Eric feel guilty. He hadn’t been trying hard enough. The zombies were never rude, or impatient, or tried to shoplift things. He hoped that they found what they were looking for. After all, he would be dead someday too, and on the other side of the counter.

Maybe his friend Dave had been telling the truth and there was a country down there that you could visit, just like Canada. Maybe when the zombies got all the way to the bottom, they got into zippy zombie cars and drove off to their zombie jobs, or back home again, to their sexy zombie wives, or maybe they went off to the zombie bank to make their deposits of stones, leaves, linty, birdsnesty tangles, all the other debris real people didn’t know the value of.

It wasn’t just the zombies. Weird stuff happened in the middle of the day too. When there were still managers and other employers, once, on Batu’s shift, a guy had come in wearing a trench coat and a hat. Outside, it must have been ninety degrees, and Batu admitted he had felt a little spooked about the trench coat thing, but there was another customer, a jogger, poking at the bottled waters to see which were coldest. Trench-coat guy walked around the store, putting candy bars and safety razors in his pockets, like he was getting ready for Halloween. Batu had thought about punching the alarm. “Sir?” he said. “Excuse me, sir?”

The man walked up and stood in front of the counter. Batu couldn’t take his eyes off the trench coat. It was like the guy was wearing an electric fan strapped to his chest, under the trench coat, and the fan was blowing things around underneath. You could hear the fan buzzing. It made sense, Batu had thought: this guy had his own air-conditioning unit under there. Pretty neat, although you still wouldn’t want to go trick-or-treating at this guy’s house.

“Hot enough for you?” the man said, and Batu saw that this guy was sweating. He twitched, and a bee flew out of the gray trench coat sleeve. Batu and the man both watched it fly away. Then the man opened his trench coat, flapped his arms, gently, gently, and the bees inside his trench coat began to leave the man in long, clotted, furious trails, until the whole store was vibrating with clouds of bees. Batu ducked under the counter. Trench-coat man, bee guy, reached over the counter, dinged the register in a calm and experienced way so that the drawer popped open, and scooped all the bills out of the till.

Then he walked back out again and left all his bees. He got in his car and drove away. That’s the way that all All-Night stories end, with someone driving away.

But they had to get a beekeeper to come in, to smoke the bees out. Batu got stung three times, once on the lip, once on his stomach, and once when he put his hand into the register and found no money, only a bee. The jogger sued the All-Night parent company for a lot of money, and Batu and Eric didn’t know what had happened with that.

Karanlık ne zaman basar?

When does it get dark?

Eric has been having this dream recently. In the dream, he’s up behind the counter in the All-Night, and then his father is walking down the aisle of the All-Night, past the racks of magazines and towards the counter, his father’s hands full of stones from the Ausible Chasm. Which is ridiculous: his father is alive, and not only that, but living in another state, maybe in a different time zone, probably under a different name.

When he told Batu about it, Batu said, “Oh, that dream. I’ve had it too.”

“About your father?” Eric said.

“About your father,” Batu said. “Who do you think I meant, my father?”

“You haven’t ever met my father,” Eric said.

“I’m sorry if it upsets you, but it was definitely your father,” Batu said. “You look just like him. If I dream about him again, what do you want me to do? Ignore him? Pretend he isn’t there?”

Eric never knew when Batu was pulling his leg. Dreams could be a touchy subject. Eric thought maybe Batu was nostalgic about sleeping, maybe Batu collected pajamas in the way that people nostalgic about their childhoods collected toys.

Another dream, one that Eric hasn’t told Batu about. In this dream, Charley comes in. She wants to buy a Mountain Dew, but then Eric realizes that all the Mountain Dews have little drowned dogs floating in them. You can win a prize if you drink one of the dog sodas. When Charley gets up to the counter with an armful of doggy Mountain Dews, Eric realizes that he’s got one of Batu’s pajama tops on, one of the inside-out ones. Things are rubbing against his arms, his back, his stomach, transferring themselves like tattoos to his skin.

And he hasn’t got any pants on.

Batık gemilerle ilgileniyorum.

I’m interested in sunken ships.

“You need to make your move,” Batu said. He said it over and over, day after day, until Eric was sick of hearing it. “Any day now, the shelter is going to find someone to replace her, and Charley will split. Tell you what you should do, you tell her you want to adopt a dog. Give it a home. We’ve got room here. Dogs are good practice for when you and Charley are parents.”

“How do you know?” Eric said. He knew he sounded exasperated. He couldn’t help it. “That makes no sense at all. If dogs are good practice, then what kind of mother is Charley going to be? What are you saying? So say Charley has a kid, you’re saying she’s going to put it down if it cries at night or wets the bed?”

“That’s not what I’m saying at all,” Batu said. “The only thing I’m worried about, Eric, really, is whether or not Charley may be too old. It takes longer to have kids when you’re her age. Things can go wrong.”

“What are you talking about?” Eric said. “Charley’s not old.”

“How old do you think she is?” Batu said. “So what do you think? Should the toothpaste and the condiments go next to the Elmer’s glue and the hair gel and lubricants? Make a shelf of sticky things? Or should I put it with the chewing tobacco and the mouthwash, and make a little display of things that you spit?”

“Sure,” Eric said. “Make a little display. I don’t know how old Charley is, maybe she’s my age? Nineteen? A little older?”

Batu laughed. “A little older? So how old do you think I am?”

“I don’t know,” Eric said. He squinted at Batu. “Thirty-five? Forty?”

Batu looked pleased. “You know, since I started sleeping less, I think I’ve stopped getting older. I may be getting younger. You keep on getting a good night’s sleep, and we’re going to be the same age pretty soon. Come take a look at this and tell me what you think.”

“Not bad,” Eric said. “We could put watermelons with this stuff too, if we had watermelons. The kind with seeds. What’s the point of seedless watermelons?”

“It’s not such a big deal,” Batu said. He knelt down in the aisle, marking off inventory on his clipboard. “No big thing if Charley’s older than you think. Nothing wrong with older women. And it’s good you’re not bothered about the ghost dogs or the biting thing. Everyone’s got problems. The only real concern I have is about her car.”

“What about her car?” Eric said.

“Well,” Batu said. “It isn’t a problem if she’s going to live here. She can park it here for as long as she wants. That’s what the parking lot is for. But whatever you do: if she invites you to go for a ride, don’t go for a ride.”

“Why not?” Eric said. “What are you talking about?”

“Think about it,” Batu said. “All those dog ghosts.” He scooted down the aisle on his butt. Eric followed. “Every time she drives by here with some poor dog, that dog is doomed. That car is bad luck. The passenger side especially. You want to stay out of that car. I’d rather climb down into the Ausible Chasm.”

Something cleared its throat; a zombie had come into the store. It stood behind Batu, looking down at him. Batu looked up. Eric retreated down the aisle, towards the counter.

“Stay out of her car,” Batu said, ignoring the zombie.

“And who will be fired out of the cannon?” the zombie said. It was wearing a suit and tie. “My brother will be fired out of the cannon.”

“Why can’t you talk like sensible people?” Batu said, turning around and looking up. Sitting on the floor, he sounded as if he were about to cry. He swatted at the zombie.

The zombie coughed again, yawning. It grimaced at them. Something was snagged on its gray lips now, and the zombie put up its hand. It tugged, dragging at the thing in its mouth, coughing out a black, glistening, wadded rope. The zombie’s mouth stayed open, as if to show that there was nothing else in there, even as it held the wet black rope out to Batu. The wet thing hung down from its hands and became pajamas. Batu looked back at Eric. “I don’t want them,” he said. He looked shy.

“What should I do?” Eric said. He hovered by the magazines. Charlize Theron was grinning at him, as if she knew something he didn’t.

“You shouldn’t be here.” It wasn’t clear to Eric whether Batu was speaking to the zombie. “I have all the pajamas I need.”

The zombie said nothing. It dropped the pajamas into Batu’s lap.

“Stay out of Charley’s car!” Batu said to Eric. He closed his eyes and began to snore.

“Shit,” Eric said to the zombie. “How did you do that?”

There was another zombie in the store now. The first zombie took Batu’s arms and the second zombie took Batu’s feet. They dragged him down the aisle and toward the storage closet. Eric came out from behind the counter.

“What are you doing?” he said. “You’re not going to eat him, are you?”

But the zombies had Batu in the closet. They put the black pajamas on him, yanking them over the other pair of pajamas. They lifted Batu up onto the mattress, and pulled the blanket over him, up to his chin.

Eric followed the zombies out of the storage closet. He shut the door behind him. “So I guess he’s going to sleep for a while,” he said. “That’s a good thing, right? He needed to get some sleep. So how did you do that with the pajamas? Is there some kind of freaky pajama factory down there?”
The zombies ignored Eric. They held hands and went down the aisles, stopping to consider candy bars and Tampax and toilet paper and all the things that you spit. They wouldn’t buy anything. They never did.

Eric went back to the counter. He wished, very badly, that his mother still lived in their apartment. He would have liked to call someone. He sat behind the register for a while, looking through the phone book, just in case he came across someone’s name and it seemed like a good idea to call them. Then he went back to the storage closet and looked at Batu. Batu was snoring. His eyelids twitched, and there was a tiny, knowing smile on his face, as if he were dreaming, and everything was being explained to him, at last, in this dream. It was hard to feel worried about someone who looked like that. Eric would have been jealous, except he knew that no one ever managed to hold on to those explanations, once you woke up. Not even Batu.

Hangi yol daha kısa?

Which is the shorter route?

Hangi yol daha kolay?

Which is the easier route?

Charley came by at the beginning of her shift. She didn’t come inside the All-Night. Instead she stood out in the parking lot, beside her car, looking out across the road, at the Ausible Chasm. The car hung low to the ground, as if the trunk were full of things. When Eric went outside, he saw that there was a suitcase in the backseat. If there were ghost dogs, Eric couldn’t see them, but there were doggy smudges on the windows.

“Where’s Batu?” Charley said.

“Asleep,” Eric said. He realized that he’d never figured out how the conversation would go, after that.

He said, “Are you going someplace?”

“I’m going to work,” Charley said. “Like normal.”

“Good,” Eric said. “Normal is good.” He stood and looked at his feet. A zombie wandered into the parking lot. It nodded at them, and went into the All-Night.

“Aren’t you going to go back inside?” Charley said.

“In a bit,” Eric said. “It’s not like they ever buy anything.” But he kept an eye on the All-Night, and the zombie, in case it headed towards the storage closet.

“So how old are you?” Eric said. “I mean, can I ask you that? How old you are?”

“How old are you?” Charley said right back.

“I’m almost twenty,” Eric said. “I know I look older.”

“No you don’t,” Charley said. “You look exactly like you’re almost twenty.”

“So how old are you?” Eric said again.

“How old do you think I am?” Charley said.

“About my age?” Eric said.

“Are you flirting with me?” Charley said. “Yes? No? How about in dog years? How old would you say I am in dog years?”

The zombie finished looking for whatever it was looking for inside the All-Night. It came outside and nodded to Charley and Eric. “Beautiful people,” it said. “Why won’t you ever visit my hand?”

“I’m sorry,” Eric said.

The zombie turned its back on them. It tottered across the road, looking neither to the left, nor to the right, and went down the footpath into the Ausible Chasm.

“Have you?” Charley said. She pointed at the path.

“No,” Eric said. “I mean, someday I will, I guess.”

“Do you think they have pets down there? Dogs?” Charley said.

“I don’t know,” Eric said. “Regular dogs?”

“The thing I think about sometimes,” Charley said, “is whether or not they have animal shelters, and if someone has to look after the dogs. If someone has to have a job where they put down dogs down there. And if you do put dogs to sleep, down there, then where do they wake up?”

“Batu says that if you need another job, you can come live with us at the All-Night,” Eric said. His lips felt so cold that it was hard to talk.

“Is that what Batu says?” Charley said. She started to laugh.

“Batu likes you,” Eric said.

“I like him too,” Charley said. “But I don’t want to live in a convenience store. No offense. I’m sure it’s nice.”

“It’s okay,” Eric said. “I don’t want to work retail my whole life.”

“There are worse jobs,” Charley said. She leaned against her Chevy. “Maybe I’ll stop by later tonight. We could always go for a long ride, go somewhere else, and talk about retail.”

“Like where? Where are you going?” Eric said. “Are you thinking about going to Turkey? Is that why Batu is teaching you Turkish?” He wanted to stand there and ask Charley questions all night long.

“I want to learn Turkish so that when I go somewhere else I can pretend to be Turkish. I can pretend I only speak Turkish. That way no one will bother me,” Charley said.

“Oh,” Eric said. “Good plan. We could always go somewhere and not talk, if you want to practice. Or I could talk to you, and you could pretend you don’t understand what I’m saying. We don’t have to go for a ride. We could just go across the road, go down into the Chasm. I’ve never been down there.”

“It’s not a big deal,” Charley said. “We can do it some other time.” Suddenly she looked much older.

“No, wait,” Eric said. “I do want to come with you. We can go for a ride. It’s just that Batu’s asleep. Someone has to look after him. Someone has to be awake to sell stuff.”

“So are you going to work there your whole life?” Charley said. “Take care of Batu? Figure out how to rip off dead people?”

“What do you mean?” Eric said.

“Batu says the All-Night is thinking about opening up another store, down there,” Charley said, waving across the road. “You and he are this big experiment in retail, according to him. Once the All-Night figures out what dead people want to buy, it’s going to be like the discovery of America all over again.”

“It’s not like that,” Eric said. He could feel his voice going up at the end, as if it were a question. He could almost smell what Batu meant about Charley’s car. The ghosts, those dogs, were getting impatient. You could tell that. They were tired of the parking lot, they wanted to be going for a ride. “You don’t understand. I don’t think you understand?”

“Batu said that you have a real way with dead people,” Charley said. “Most retail clerks flip out. Of course, you’re from around here. Plus you’re young. You probably don’t even understand about death yet. You’re just like my dogs.”

“I don’t know what they want,” Eric said. “The zombies.”

“Nobody ever really knows what they want,” Charley said. “Why should that change after you die?”

“Good point,” Eric said.

“You shouldn’t let Batu mess you around so much,” Charley said. “I shouldn’t be saying all this, I know. Batu and I are friends. But we could be friends too, you and me. You’re sweet. It’s okay that you don’t talk much, although this is okay too, us talking. Why don’t you come for a drive with me?” If there had been dogs inside her car, or the ghosts of dogs, then Eric would have heard them howling. Eric heard them howling. The dogs were telling him to get lost. They were telling him to fuck off. Charley belonged to them. She was their murderer.

“I can’t,” Eric said, longing for Charley to ask again. “Not right now.”

“Well, that’s okay. I’ll stop by later,” Charley said. She smiled at him and for a moment he was standing in that city where no one ever figured out how to put out that fire, and all the dead dogs howled again, and scratched at the smeary windows. “For a Mountain Dew. So you can think about it for a while.”

She reached out and took Eric’s hand in her hand. “Your hands are cold,” she said. Her hands were hot. “You should go back inside.”

Rengi begenmiyorum.

I don’t like the color.

It was already 4 a.m. and there still wasn’t any sign of Charley when Batu came out of the back room. He was rubbing his eyes. The black pajamas were gone. Now Batu was wearing pajama bottoms with foxes running across a field towards a tree with a circle of foxes sitting on their haunches around it. The outstretched tails of the running foxes were fat as zeppelins, with commas of flame hovering over them. Each little flame had a Hindenburg inside it, with a second littler flame above it, and so on. Some fires you just can’t put out.

The pajama top was a color that Eric could not name. Dreary, creeping shapes lay upon it. Eric had read Lovecraft. He felt queasy when he looked at the pajama top.

“I just had the best dream,” Batu said.

“You’ve been asleep for almost six hours,” Eric said. When Charley came, he would go with her. He would stay with Batu. Batu needed him. He would go with Charley. He would go and come back. He wouldn’t ever come back. He would send Batu postcards with bears on them. “So what was all that about? With the zombies.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Batu said. He took an apple from the fruit display and polished it on his non-Euclidean pajama top. The apple took on a horrid, whispery sheen. “Has Charley come by?”

“Yeah,” Eric said. He and Charley would go to Las Vegas. They would buy Batu gold lamé pajamas. “I think you’re right. I think she’s about to leave town.”

“Well, she can’t!” Batu said. “That’s not the plan. Here, I tell you what we’ll do. You go outside and wait for her. Make sure she doesn’t get away.”

“She’s not wanted by the police, Batu,” Eric said. “She doesn’t belong to us. She can leave town if she wants to.”

“And you’re okay with that?” Batu said. He yawned ferociously, and yawned again, and stretched, so that the pajama top heaved up in an eldritch manner. Eric closed his eyes.

“Not really,” Eric said. He had already picked out a toothbrush, some toothpaste, and some novelty teeth, left over from Halloween, which he could give to Charley, maybe. “Are you okay? Are you going to fall asleep again? Can I ask you some questions?”

“What kind of questions?” Batu said, lowering his eyelids in a way that seemed both sleepy and cunning.

“Questions about our mission,” Eric said. “About the All-Night and what we’re doing here next to the Ausible Chasm. I need to understand what just happened with the zombies and the pajamas, and whether or not what happened is part of the plan, and whether or not the plan belongs to us, or whether the plan was planned by someone else, and we’re just somebody else’s big experiment in retail. Are we brand-new, or are we just the same old thing?”

“This isn’t a good time for questions,” Batu said. “In all the time that we’ve worked here, have I lied to you? Have I led you astray?”

“Well,” Eric said. “That’s what I need to know.”

“Perhaps I haven’t told you everything,” Batu said. “But that’s part of the plan. When I said that we were going to make everything new again, that we were going to reinvent retail, I was telling the truth. The plan is still the plan, and you are still part of that plan, and so is Charley.”

“What about the pajamas?” Eric said. “What about the Canadians and the maple syrup and the people who come in to buy Mountain Dew?”

“You need to know this?” Batu said.

“Yes,” Eric said. “Absolutely.”

“Okay, then. My pajamas are experimental CIA pajamas,” Batu said. “Like batteries. You’ve been charging them for me when you sleep. That’s all I can say right now. Forget about the Canadians. These pajamas the zombies just gave me—do you have any idea what this means?”

Eric shook his head no.

Batu said, “Never mind. Do you know what we need now?”

“What do we need?” Eric said.

“We need you to go outside and wait for Charley,” Batu said. “We don’t have time for this. It’s getting early. Charley gets off work any time now.”

“Explain all of that again,” Eric said. “What you just said. Explain the plan to me one more time.”

“Look,” Batu said. “Listen. Everybody is alive at first, right?”

“Right,” Eric said.

“And everybody dies,” Batu said. “Right?”

“Right,” Eric said. A car drove by, but it still wasn’t Charley.

“So everybody starts here,” Batu said. “Not here, in the All-Night, but somewhere here, where we are. Where we live now. Where we live is here. The world. Right?”

“Right,” Eric said. “Okay.”

“And where we go is there,” Batu said, flicking a finger towards the road. “Out there, down into the Ausible Chasm. Everybody goes there. And here we are, here, the All-Night, which is on the way to there.

“Right,” Eric said.

“So it’s like the Canadians,” Batu said. “People are going someplace, and if they need something, they can stop here, to get it. But we need to know what they need. This is a whole new unexplored demographic. So they stuck the All-Night right here, lit it up like a Christmas tree, and waited to see who stopped in and what they bought. I shouldn’t be telling you this. This is all need-to-know information only.”

“You mean the All-Night or the CIA or whoever needs us to figure out how to sell things to zombies,” Eric said.

“Forget about the CIA,” Batu said. “Now will you go outside?”

“But is it our plan? Or are we just following someone else’s plan?”

“Why does that matter to you?” Batu said. He put his hands on his head and tugged at his hair until it stood straight up, but Eric refused to be intimidated.

“I thought we were on a mission,” Eric said, “to help mankind. Womankind too. Like the Starship Enterprise. But how are we helping anybody? What’s new-style retail about this?”

Eric,” Batu said. “Did you see those pajamas? Look. On second thought, forget about the pajamas. You never saw them. Like I said, this is bigger than the All-Night. There are bigger fish that are fishing, if you know what I mean.”

“No,” Eric said. “I don’t.”

“Excellent,” Batu said. His experimental CIA pajama top writhed and boiled. “Your job is to be helpful and polite. Be patient. Be careful. Wait for the zombies to make the next move. I send off some faxes. Meanwhile, we still need Charley. Charley is a natural-born saleswoman. She’s been selling death for years. And she’s got a real gift for languages—she’ll be speaking zombie in no time. Think what kind of work she could do here! Go outside. When she drives by, you flag her down. Talk to her. Explain why she needs to come live here. But whatever you do, don’t get in the car with her. That car is full of ghosts. The wrong kind of ghosts. The kind who are never going to understand the least little thing about meaningful transactions.”

“I know,” Eric said. “I could smell them.”

“So are we clear on all this?” Batu said. “Or maybe you think I’m still lying to you?”

“I don’t think you’d lie to me, exactly,” Eric said. He put on his jacket.

“You better put on a hat too,” Batu said. “It’s cold out there. You know you’re like a son to me, which is why I tell you to put on your hat. And if I lied to you, it would be for your own good, because I love you like a son. One day, Eric, all of this will be yours. Just trust me and do what I tell you. Trust the plan.”

Eric said nothing. Batu patted him on the shoulder, pulled an All-Night shirt over his pajama top, and grabbed a banana and a Snapple. He settled in behind the counter. His hair was still standing straight up, but at 4 a.m., who was going to complain? Not Eric, not the zombies. Eric put on his hat, gave a little wave to Batu, which was either, Glad we cleared all that up at last, or else, So long!, he wasn’t sure which, and walked out of the All-Night. This is the last time, he thought, I will ever walk through this door. He didn’t know how he felt about that.

Eric stood outside in the parking lot for a long time. Out in the bushes, on the other side of the road, he could hear the zombies hunting for the things that were valuable to other zombies.

Some woman, a real person, but not Charley, drove into the parking lot. She went inside, and Eric thought he knew what Batu would say to her when she went to the counter. Batu would explain when she tried to make her purchase that he didn’t want money. That wasn’t what retail was really about. What Batu would want to know was what this woman really wanted. It was that simple, that complicated. Batu might try to recruit this woman, if she didn’t seem litigious, and maybe that was a good thing. Maybe the All-Night really did need women.

Eric walked backwards, away and then even farther away from the All-Night. The farther he got, the more beautiful he saw it all was—it was all lit up like the moon. Was this what the zombies saw? What Charley saw, when she drove by? He couldn’t imagine how anyone could leave it behind and never come back.

Maybe Batu had a pair of pajamas in his collection with All-Night Convenience Stores and light spilling out; the Ausible Chasm; a road with zombies, and Charleys in Chevys, a different dog hanging out of every passenger window, driving down that road. Down on one leg of those pajamas, down the road a long ways, there would be bears dressed up in ice; Canadians; CIA operatives and tabloid reporters and All-Night executives. Las Vegas showgirls. G-men and bee men in trench coats. His mother’s car, always getting farther and farther away. He wondered if zombies wore zombie pajamas, or if they’d just invented them for Batu. He tried to picture Charley wearing silk pajamas and a flannel bathrobe, but she didn’t look comfortable in them. She still looked miserable and angry and hopeless, much older than Eric had ever realized.

He jumped up and down in the parking lot, trying to keep warm. The woman, when she came out of the store, gave him a funny look. He couldn’t see Batu behind the counter. Maybe he’d fallen asleep again, or maybe he was sending off more faxes. But Eric didn’t go back inside the store. He was afraid of Batu’s pajamas.

He was afraid of Batu.

He stayed outside, waiting for Charley.

But a few hours later, when Charley drove by—he was standing on the curb, keeping an eye out for her, she wasn’t going to just slip away, he was determined to see her, not to miss her, to make sure that she saw him, to make her take him with her, wherever she was going—there was a Labrador in the passenger seat. The backseat of her car was full of dogs, real dogs and ghost dogs, and all of the dogs poking their doggy noses out of the windows at him. There wouldn’t have been room for him, even if he’d been able to make her stop. But he ran out in the road anyway, like a damn dog, chasing after her car for as long as he could.

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