The Ghost at the Checkout Counter

Matisse Duncan

She walked through like a whisper. The door didn’t move. The floor remained silent, unbothered by her presence. Her uniform materialised on her pale body as she made her way to the till, dawning a bright smile. We all watched, palms sweating, fingers tapping, our foreheads wrinkled in worry. It was time we told her. She had to move on. We couldn’t have a ghost working with us anymore.

***

Amy was her name. The mysterious ghost who appeared in our small supermarket; it was a memorable day for all of us. I mean, we were all screaming. Eventually, we realised she meant us no harm and was simply there to work. One year and two months is a long time to be working with a ghost and yet that’s all she seems to do, work.

Throughout that time, we’ve been trying and failing to find any evidence about her human life. No records, no names, no people dying in our neighbourhood, no bloody nothing. We had no idea who she was or why she came here, and we also didn’t know how to tell her that she was dead. For some reason she didn’t understand that she wasn’t among the living, but we thought it’s best for her to move on. Who would want to work after they’ve died?

“We can’t delay this any longer,” said Cheryl, our manager and the only sane person out of our ten co-workers. It was a very small supermarket.

“How the hell are you supposed to tell someone that they’re dead, AND not just that they’re dead, but that they’ve been dead for at least a year?” said Michael, the guy who walked in one day and declared that shelving stock was his destiny.

We stared at each other, squashed inside our mop closet. The only light available shining from Darrel’s phone. Darrel tried his best to get fired daily.

“Jordan should be the one to tell her,” said Darrel. Fuck. Why me? I’m Jordan, and I have an incurable disease of saying ‘yes’ to impossible tasks. That’s how I ended up there. A chat with Cheryl, a sob story, splash in some guilt and they got me.

“Look, I’m not really good at this sort of thing so maybe-”

“You are the one who speaks to her the most,” Cheryl said.

“Only about work!” I said.

“Yes, but I mean that’s all she does. Work, work, work. I can’t imagine what she was like in life.” There was a crack in his voice as he said it.

“Which is why she should move on,” said Michael. We all sighed, defeated.

“No matter what, I just want her to be happy,” I said, and they all nodded in agreement.

“Okay,” said Cheryl, opening the door without warning. We tumbled out and I somehow ended up at the bottom of the pile. Looking up I noticed a pair of floating feet and sucked in a sudden gasp of surprise.

“Hi, guys,” Amy smiled cheerily, “what were you doing in the closet?” She giggled as we composed ourselves.

“We were, um, just organising a…” Cheryl looked to us for help.

“A drug deal!” Michael jumped in. Silence followed as we all slowly turned our heads and glared at him, gobsmacked.

“Well,” she smiled awkwardly, “I’ll just pretend I didn’t hear anything.” More awkward silence followed as we all stood and stared at each other. Forgetting that we had jobs to do. “So… I just wanted to know who I would be working with today Cheryl?”

“Of course, you’ll be working with…” she glanced over us and made eye contact with me, “Jordan today”

“Wonderful. Come Jordan, we mustn’t waste any more time,” She reached for my arm, attempting to grab it. A cold chill ran up my spine as her hand passed through my skin. She didn’t see it. I followed her anyway, keeping up the illusion. The others watched me expectantly as we made our way to the cash registers. We were already there when we heard Cheryl’s voice.

“What in God’s name, Michael!” she shouted. And a loud thwacking sound followed. We giggled in response.

***

We set up the only registers we had in the whole store, a grand total of two. Standing beside each other waiting for the three or four customers who would happen to enter our store.

“So, are you going to tell me what you guys were actually talking about?” Amy was attempting to organise the eclipse mints, but they didn’t quite feel her presence. I paused, watching her. She seemed frustrated trying to prop up the packets, her fingers slipping through them ever so slightly. I desperately wanted something to interrupt us, a way to escape this difficult situation. I prayed and hoped with all my might, but life just doesn’t work that way.

“It’s just that-” I paused. “Well, I. We wanted-” I ruffled my hair in frustration. Amy stared at me, finding my stuttering more interesting than the mints. But how the hell do you tell someone they’re dead?

“I’m waiting.” She poked a finger towards me. There was no other way than to be frank with her.

“Look Amy, you need to know that …” I tore my eyes away from her. I couldn’t do it. Behind some shelves I saw Michael and Cheryl. Darrel was missing, it must’ve been too hard for him. They were egging me on. I sighed and without making eye contact I said it… sort of.

“I’m not alive?” she asked. “What does that even mean, Jordan?” She still wore her bright smile, but I could hear the slight tremor of fear in her voice.

“I mean… well, exactly that” I looked at her pleading for her to understand. I didn’t want to say anymore.

“I don’t understand. What are you trying to say?” she said, her smile starting to falter. And there was nothing else I could do, except for the horrid, blunt truth.

“You’re dead, Amy.”

“What?”

“I said that you’re dead.”

“Is this some kind of joke?” She sounded scared, not angry.

“No. I know this probably sounds crazy but it’s true Amy.” I attempted to grab her hands, but she pulled them away, not that I would have been able to hold them anyway. “Didn’t you find it strange at all?”

“What’s strange?”

“Well, how, groceries sometimes slip through your fingers, or customers don’t seem to see you, or even how someone always has to be at the cash register with you because people don’t notice you? And just then, you couldn’t even sit the mints up right. Is that normal?” I said. I didn’t know I had so much pent-up frustration. Her eyes were wide, and she held a trembling hand against her chest. “I… do you even know what happens after you leave the store? For us it’s like you never existed. You walk through the door and vanish” My eyes stung, and I blinked violently to stop tears from running down my face.

“Please stop,” she said, “I don’t want to hear anymore.” She turned away from me and continued trying to clean her already neat workplace. “I just want to work. I need to work.” And that line was the last straw for me. I just couldn’t understand why she was so insistent on working. She doesn’t even earn any money. She works the hardest out of all of us, supports us when we need it, and takes every available shift. I don’t understand what made her like this in her previous life, but she doesn’t deserve to do this in death as well.

“Stop!” I reached for her intent on pulling her to face me. But my forgetfulness led me to stumble through her and towards the opposite wall, where my head rammed the wall. My forehead stung but I wasn’t done talking to her yet. Footsteps were approaching us, and I saw the others running over.

“Are you okay Jordan?” Cheryl leaned over the bench to see me. “Quickly, Michael, go grab the first aid kit.”

“No. You guys need to be here too.” I said, “We should’ve done it together from the start.” Cheryl nodded and we all looked back to Amy who we could almost see through.

“It’s fine, okay. We can just act like nothing happened.” A shaky smile grew on her face. “I can continue working. I’ll be good, I promise,” she said.

“You don’t have to work anymore Amy,” I said, holding my head. “You’ve worked enough in life; you don’t need to work in death too.”

She watched us carefully, unsure of our intention. I think that was the point when she finally let go. Tears ran down her cheeks as her smile turned into an ugly frown. This was a side of her we had never seen before.

“I… I just don’t know… what I’d do… if I couldn’t work,” She rubbed at her eyes, choking through tears. I hadn’t noticed but the others joined us around the counter. Cheryl embraced her, well, she tried her best too.

“It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as your happy sweetie,” Cheryl said. Then Michael with tears streaming down his face spoke.

“Just don’t forget us, okay?” He joined the pile. I sighed and joined in.

“Just be happy, and I mean, actually happy,” I said. “No more fake smiles.” Then the strangest thing happened. I felt her. The warmth of her hand against my back. The pressure I felt from it was real. She was actually here.

“Thank you” she said. I opened my eyes, expecting to see her smiling at us once more, but she had vanished.

***

We haven’t seen her since that day. Nonetheless, we couldn’t help but expect to see her walk through that door. She had meant a lot, even if she was just a ghost, a remnant of her past self. Amy gave me the courage to finally quit and I’ve started traveling. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to see her again, in life or death but I hope she’s happy. Wherever she ended up.

Matisse Duncan is an aspiring novelist. She is currently in the creative writing course and working on short stories, scripts and a novel in her free time. Matisse writes in the genre of dark fantasy because she wishes to unnerve her audience while giving them a fantastical and fluttering feeling.

Anastasia Notaras is an emerging artist based in Brisbane. She is currently in her third year of BFA in Drama at QUT. Her work has been published in ScratchThat Magazine and can be found on her Instagram @anastasianotaras. Her creative work is multidisciplinary as she delves into painting, collage, script writing and performance.