Of all the nasty things that came from the human body, vomit had to be the worst. Manny slapped the makeshift “Out of Oder” sign on the men’s bathroom door so hard, the sound ran down the narrow hall and gained the attention of a few patrons in the dining room. Some leaned in their seat to get a peek at his tantrum, and he moved his body in front of the sign to hide his embarrassment. In his fit of rage, he’d forgotten how to spell “order.”
Whatever. It wasn’t like the sign was going to be up there long enough for anyone to read it. He’d taken a peek at the disaster awaiting him beyond the door and almost lost his lunch. Some guy had come in earlier, armed with a camera on one of those bendy tripods all the vloggers used, and Manny saw the bright headlights of disaster coming head-on at a deadly speed.
The YouTuber-TikToker-vlogger types always brought trouble. They waltzed in with cameras aloft, talking to the objects like the attention-seeking sycophants they were. Something like:Yo, YouTube, it’s ya boy. I’m at my local Arby’s and I’m gonna take a big, fat shit in the middle of the dining room and film how everyone reacts. It’s gonna be epic.
Most other restaurants had banned such antics, but shift manager Marcie, in all her wisdom, loved the free publicity it brought to the restaurant. And she always enlisted Manny to deal with the aftermath. She’d had it out for him ever since he made a joke about never being able to get the stench of roast beef out of his clothes. Now the result of one man consuming four meat mountains in one sitting would be the cherry on top of his nightmare shift.
Manny had watched the ordeal go down as he ran orders for the drive thru. He’d internally begged the guy to stop, to think about his health and longevity. But the attention of people on the internet always won against common sense.
“Manny.” Amie came down the hall armed with the gloves and mask she’d promised him when Marcie pegged him with cleanup duty. “Is it bad?”
He scoffed. “See for yourself.”
Amie cracked the door a few inches, but that was enough for the sour scent to leak into the hall. Her grey eyes bugged out, and she buried her face in the crook of her elbow to contain a gag. “Okay, that’s… pretty bad.”
Pretty bad was an understatement. The soggy toilet paper bomb he’d had to clean up last week was pretty bad. This was a fucking disaster, especially for someone with a weak gag reflex.
“But I’m here to help,” Amie assured him. She was the mother of their shift, a bubbly blonde with two kids who deserved way better than this shitty, dead-end job. “Here.” She secured the mask to his face. A scented one, bless her precious heart. Gloves for both his hands and shoes topped off his protective equipment.
Amie gave his arm a squeeze. “There, now you’re ready for war.”
“I hate it here,” he said, his words muffled by the mask. “I want to go home.”
“I know, but you’re gonna do great, sweety.” She took both his arms. “Look at me, Manny. By the time you’re done, that bathroom is going to be so clean, the next influencer who comes in here will be eating off the floors.”
Manny groaned. “Don’t encourage them.”
“I gotta get out to the dining room.” She backed down the hall and gave him two thumbs up. “You got this.”
He turned to face the door and sucked in a baby-powder-scented breath. “I got this.”
Manny was still shaking even as he rode the bus down the 59. Amie was wrong. He didn’t have it. He didn’t have anything. Sickly orange puddles of vomit pocked with chunks of meat flashed through his mind, brighter and more vivid than the streetlights lining the road. The sight or scent of vomit would surely give him the equivalent of a Vietnam war flashback from now on.
At least he could go home now and hug his cat. Tangy never cared if he reeked of vomit and roast beef. She’d weave through his legs when he walked into his apartment, try to sit on his lap while he worked, and lay across his face when he inevitably fell asleep on the couch and nigh suffocate him to death. A precious girl, she was.
He almost jumped out of his own skin. The few remaining people on the bus didn’t notice, and he turned to glare at his best friend, who leaned over the back of his seat with a shit-eating grin plastered on his face.
His eye twitched. Weren’t ghosts supposed to be quiet and sad or whatever? Damon always popped up like a kid on Christmas—literally—with his ugly reindeer sweater and jeans. And always at the most inconvenient times. It was a wonder Manny hadn’t been thrown into an asylum with how many times he’d been caught “talking to himself.”
“You look like shit,” Damon said.
Manny sunk deeper into his seat and put his phone to his ear in case anyone got nosey. “Yeah… I feel like it too.” He’d had his fair share of nightmare shifts since he started working at Arby’s, but today had taken a piece of his soul. Or maybe it was the pile on.
He hadn’t been sleeping much lately, and he mostly blamed it on the lumpy piece of crap he called a bed. But a new mattress would run him into unneeded expense, and he had no more money to spare.
“You know what you need in your life, Delgado?” Damon wasn’t behind him anymore, but in the seat beside him. “Some excitement. All you do is work and sleep these days.”
Manny snorted. “That’s not true. I do other stuff.”
“Like?” Damon arched a brow.
“Like…” Manny ground his teeth together, content to be stubborn and willful than admit Damon was right. Yeah, his life was a boring loop of more of the same. Amie had said the same thing to him during a lunch break.
Maybe he needed some excitement in his life, but he knew better than to voluntarily invite it into his door. It was like a box of chocolates, as Forrest Gump’s mom would say. Excitement could be fun. It could be dangerous. It could be thrilling or scary or all of the above. And there was no way of knowing what brand of excitement he’d get.
“I’m going to take your silence as an admission of defeat,” Damon said, lacing his fingers behind his head.
Manny rolled his eyes. Who was he fooling? Talking to a ghost was all the excitement he needed. His door would stay firmly shut.
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