Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Retail Hell

A few weeks before the deadline of the Writers on the Loose short story contest [1], I was talking with my friend, Jonathan, on a website, called the Pedestrian, where former members of the BYU 38th Ward Book Club get together. He works at a Stein Mart in the men's clothing department and sometimes has less-than-savory interactions with the customers.[2] He'd just been through one such trying event and he wrote, "I was an inch from knocking over a rack, throwing clothes around, and quitting. No one should have to put up with retail hell." I responded, "Except…GENGHIS KHAN!"[3] This then inspired me to write a story about just that: Genghis Khan ending up in retail hell—all for Jonathan. And while I was at it, I decided to give it a 2012 twist so that I could submit it to the contest.

A lot of people expected the world to end on December 21, 2012. But it didn’t. You see, that was only the beginning of the end. Just about everything stayed the same. Oh, sure, people behaved differently than they had the day before. Some people were better behaved, while others were worse. But that also happens whenever there’s a World Cup. No, prayers and riots are a comparatively normal occurrence and were expected. But I did say just about… One little thing changed. A man from the past popped back into existence. After disappearing nearly eight hundred years ago, he came back. That man was Genghis Khan.

Even though the rest of us didn’t notice his return, Genghis Khan—Temujin to his friends (which we are not)—was quite disoriented by this event. You can, I think, imagine the culture shock. Historical sources disagree about how Genghis Khan died. This is because he did not die, he disappeared. He was reserved so that he could perform a greater work at the end of time. The last thing he remembered was standing in his yurt, preparing to enjoy the ‘company’ of a Tangut princess he’d recently taken as the spoils of war. She’d slashed at him with a knife she’d had hidden on her person and everything had gone dark. Now he suddenly found himself in a clothing retail store in Jackson, Mississippi. You can imagine that this change in his fortunes made him very angry.

He looked around at the strange people and the strange clothes in the strange building, feeling quite disoriented. “Who are you? Where am I?” he asked a nearby woman, angrily. She, of course, didn’t understand him. After all, what is the likelihood that a randomly-chosen woman in Jackson, Mississippi would understand spoken Middle Mongolian? He tried again in the lingua franca of his time, Old Uyghur. The woman responded in English. Genghis Khan, of course, didn’t understand her, either. This only served to frustrate him. Spooked, the woman fled.

“There you are!” a gangly and pimply youth said, appearing suddenly. “You must be the new hire. Come in here and fill out some paperwork. Then we’ll get you started.”

Genghis Khan had no idea what this boy had said, but he did correctly interpret the gesture that he should follow. The boy led him to a cramped room with a cluttered desk. The boy waved several papers in his face and jabbered. Then he asked a question. Genghis Khan growled.

“You’re right. We should do this later. Why don’t we just get right to it?”

Genghis Khan just stared at him.

“Okay…I guess we will. Why don’t you tell me your name?”

Frustrated Genghis Khan said, hoping to intimidate the boy, “I am the great Genghis Khan.”

The boy just gave him a funny look. “Jingis Han?”

Genghis Khan nodded, feeling very dispirited.

“Nice to meet you, Jingis. I’m Robert.”

Genghis Khan asked, “What is this terrible place?”

Since he had no idea what the old man in the funny clothes had just said, Robert just ignored it. “Welcome to your first day of work at Stein Mart, Jingis.”

Robert left the room and Genghis Khan had no choice but to follow. Robert snagged a dingy apron on his way out to the floor and gave it to Genghis Khan. Robert mimed how to put it on and Genghis Khan, mystified, complied.

“You, Jingis, are going to be in charge of Men’s Clothing. You need to make sure that the racks of t-shirts, dress shirts, and dress pants look neat and orderly. Check the cubbies that have piles of blue jeans in them. Customers have a tendency to put them back but in the wrong cubby. So check them, occasionally and make sure they’re all in the right place. Customers also have a tendency to leave socks and boxers lying around anywhere. So when you find them, just put them back where they belong. Everything’s already stocked and today will probably be pretty slow. So you shouldn’t need to restock anything. But if you do get low, just come and find me and I’ll show you where everything is in the warehouse out back.”

Robert looked at his watch. “It’s time for me to take a lunch break. Think you can keep an eye on things until I get back?”

Genghis Khan still had no idea what this unattractive creature was saying to him. But since it was nodding, so did he.

“Great! I’ll be back here at twelve-thirty and then you can take a lunch break. See you, Jingis!”

With that the boy walked away and Genghis Khan found himself back where he’d started.

A few minutes later Genghis spied a bald pate bobbing around the racks of clothing. The owner of the pate was so short that his head could only just be seen above the rings of hanging clothing. The man came around a rack of t-shirts and, spying Genghis Khan, shouted, “Aha!” The little man walked quickly and determinedly forward. Genghis Khan, alarmed, dropped into a defensive stance and looked around for anything he might be able to use as a weapon.

“Don’t try to pretend you don’t work here!” the little man practically shouted. “I can plainly see the name of the store right here on your apron.” He stabbed the appliqué of the store’s logo with one bony finger.

Genghis Khan was so astonished that he failed to say or do anything.

The little man went on. “I can’t find any pants my size. I’m a thirty-four waist, twenty-eight long. This is how it is at every store I visit. Why can’t you people keep them in stock? For heaven’s sake I’m going to have to walk around naked. You don’t want that, do you? Well, do you?!”

Genghis Khan immediately turned and began making his way to the back of the store, seeking the solitude of the office he’d stood in only a few minutes prior.

The old man, mistaking Genghis Khan’s intentions, announced loudly, “Thank you. It’s nice to see that someone around here cares about the customer.” The old man looked down at the sweatshirt in his arms, “Oh, one more thing!” He began following after Genghis Khan. He carelessly brushed into one of the racks of clothes, jostling it severely. Several dozen pairs of khaki slacks slipped from their hangers and piled up on the floor. The old man ignored the mess he’d made. “Hey! I’m talking to you!” he shouted.

Genghis turned around once more.

The old man thrust the sweatshirt into Genghis Khan’s face. “I saw a shirt just like this at the Goodwill a few blocks away. They were selling it for two dollars. I don’t want to go back there, so how about giving me a discount on this one? Yours is ridiculously overpriced. See?” He waved the price tag in Genghis Khan’s face. “You’re selling it for eighteen dollars. Highway robbery, I tell ya. So why don’t you come up to the register with me and tell the cashier to let me have it for two dollars?”

Genghis Khan looked around. There were a few other people in the store and they looked just as irritating as this little pest of a man.

“Hey! Are you listening to me?” He poked Genghis Khan in the chest.

Genghis Khan turned on him angrily.

“I said I want a discount!

The tiny old man poked him in the chest again. Genghis Khan angrily reached for his sword. It was there! It had been there this whole time! With grim satisfaction he freed the blade from its scabbard. The old man’s eyes widened and he tried to scream, but no sound came out. Genghis Khan brought the sword level with the tops of the clothes racks.

Even though by now he suspected that no one understood him, Genghis Khan announced, “Anyone taller than this strange creation must die.”

The old man didn’t understand Genghis Khan’s words, but he must’ve understood his intent because he immediately ran away, his head bobbing through the clothing racks back the way he’d come.

Despite being over sixty years old himself, Genghis Khan easily caught up with the man and divided him in two at the neck. The other patrons of the store were soon to follow suit.

Thus began Genghis Khan’s eternal hatred of the modern shopper. During his previous lifetime, this method of ‘measuring against the linchpin’ helped him to conquer nearly a sixth of the world’s land surface. Now his intent was not to conquer, but to destroy. Once he’d learned enough English to get by, the modern era supplied him with plenty of weapons to help him quickly achieve his aim. Sure there were a lot of people who’d never shopped a day in their life—the majority of them men—who were slaughtered indiscriminately. But then Genghis Khan was never one to be bothered by collateral damage.


[1] You can read my other entries here and here.

[2] To give you an idea how he feels about unruly customers, read his post, What service workers WISH they could do.

[3] After all, I didn't want to go with a cliché answer, like, "Except…ADOLF HITLER!" or "Except …PARIS HILTON!"

Image attributions:

Painting of Genghis Khan was photographed by Svdmolen, available at Khan.jpg.

1 comment:

  1. Once again, THANK YOU! I thoroughly enjoyed the story. And it had me laughing and cheering on Genghis Khan, especially at the "everyone taller than this must die" bit. :-)