My name is Wyatt. You wouldn't guess it, but I'm an overnight stocker at Walmart. It's not something I'm really proud of, but it helps me pay for school, at least. But hey, plenty of you folks reading this probably work there, too. You know how it is. I get in line behind the break room to clock in every night, we have our daily meeting/briefing, we do that stupid cheer we have to do, and we proceed to our assigned sections like work horses. I make a point to grab one of the (limited) scanners every morning, before they run out—it's the only way I can hope to keep up with the supervisor's demands.
As an overnight stocker, my job consists of taking things out of boxes, putting them onto shelves, and making the shelves look pretty. Now and again I get called to run the cardboard baler, or to help out a customer, maybe even to man the phone, but boxes are basically the reason I'm there. Boxes and pallets. If you've never seen a shipping pallet, then you've definitely never seen a full one fresh out of the back room. They're haphazardly stacked about six feet high, and you'd better pray the boxes are big, because smaller boxes just means that there are more of them… and more Box Tetris to play. Tonight, of course, was nothing but small boxes. Three whole pallets of them. I'd be lucky to finish two. Not only that, but I was assigned to the most dreaded department in the store: Toys.
Let me explain. Our store only recently opened, and it takes a while for new locations to get organized. Every product has to be assigned an ID, ID's grouped into categories, and products associated with shelf locations, all accounting for the product's volume, shape, and quantity they want to fit on the shelf (and if that quantity is physically impossible, then too bad, it's up to us stockers to improvise or get chewed out). The Toys department still has not been organized. The Toys department will never be organized. The toy market pumps out new things to appeal to kids so rapidly that Walmart literally does not bother coming up with an established infrastructure for their Toys department, as products come on go on a weekly, if not daily, basis. You'll constantly come across products with no assigned ID's or shelf locations that you have two options in dealing with: You can send them back to the back room as "NO MOD" (no assigned ID) and hope no one notices, or you can find a suitable place on the shelves to cram them in and print a price tag for them yourself. Given that this involves walking half a mile to the back room to get a printer, understandably, most stockers prefer the former. It's not our fault if the merchandise department hasn't assigned product numbers yet, right?
With three pallets of small boxes, I was expected to go through this process a minimum of 500 times tonight. I was not enthused. But, work is work, and I am but a gear (if not a well-oiled one) in the great machine that is retail. Without further ado, I cut through the shrink wrap and picked up my first box of many.
The night dragged on, as it does, and I got a little over halfway through the first pallet in time for first break. When I caught sight of the time, I decided that the medium-sized box I was holding could wait, set it back down on the pallet, and went off to take the much-needed opportunity of a five minute sit. It takes five minutes to walk to the bathroom (where the only bench is located) or to the breakroom from Toys, and another five to get back, so my 15 minute break is really only a five minute break. The bathroom called louder.
Upon returning to work, I noticed that the box I'd set down had fallen on the floor in front of the pallet—perhaps I hadn't placed it as stably as I'd thought. Picking it up and checking the label, something strange caught my attention. The product ID consisted of just four letters: "OLAF." To better emphasize how unusual this is, let me explain product ID's. Walmart carries many, many, many, many, many, many products. It's a wonder that products are given any kind of recognizable identification at all, as opposed to just being an arbitrary jumble of letters and numbers. The Toys department is especially notorious for its detailed product ID's due to the fact that, as mentioned, products come and go on a daily basis. A ten-and-a-half-inch Malibu Ken doll with cocker spaniel might have the ID, "BARB KEN 1012 MAL WCO," while a SpongeBob playset might have something like "SPGBOB BIK BOT BOAT PLAYST." Short, simple ID's are incredibly rare, but just four letters is unheard of.
Upon seeing that word, "OLAF," my first thought was that it was something to do with the movie Frozen, which the shelves are lined with right now. Upon opening the box, though, I was greeted with a grinning grey hunchback-looking fellow looking like something out of an animated Tim Burton movie. I didn't recognize the curious little character from anything… and my nieces keep me plenty up to date on what's popular these days. It was just the one figure in the box, though, taking up the entire interior. His body was stuffed while his legs and face were hard plastic. It was a very strange design for a toy, to be sure, and it didn't have any assigned shelf location. But that wasn't abnormal. I set him to the side for the time being as I worked through the rest of the pallet—usually, boxes come in batches if more than one are meant to go on the shelf. As I finished off the first pallet, then the second, though, the chances of finding any more Olaf boxes grew slimmer and slimmer. By the end of the night, I'd managed to get through two and a half pallets, exceeding my own expectations… but Olaf still stood there, alone on the floor, grinning his goofy little grin as if he were entertained by my efforts to find his siblings, or perhaps satisfied with the proof that he was one of a kind.
The night ended with that last half a pallet still remaining, and Olaf hurriedly placed on an empty endcap for the coming day. If someone wanted to buy him, hard as it may be for me to imagine, they would take him. No sense printing up a shelf label for just one figure. The next night brought an interesting revelation, however. One of the usual aspects of our start-of-shift meetings is a breakdown of which departments had the highest sales the previous day (as if we peons have any control over that). Toys took the #1 spot. Toys had never even earned a mention before—the grocery, stationery, and other depletables departments always take the top spots. Of course, I was assigned to work there again, and who should be waiting for me with open arms but Olaf, still standing on that same endcap display, but now taking a beckoning pose, as if a ringleader calling passersby to his circus. I hadn't even realized he was positionable—someone must have bent the flexible parts in his arms during the day as a joke. It seemed to have worked, though. Who knew the little guy had such charisma?
I chuckled at my own joke, a small solace against the long night of work ahead of me. I had only two more pallets on top of the remaining half from the previous night, but it had taken all I had just to get that much done then. Two nights in a row at that pace would be pretty trying. Nonetheless, I dove in and worked my hardest, chipping away at the mountain of toy trucks and pony plushes little by little. As I worked, I had Olaf's mocking gaze piercing me from behind. That smile of his was starting to get a little annoying. Maybe I'd just set myself up to be in a bad mood when the night started, but it felt like I was working for him, stocking his little circus with more acts for the coming day. He was similar to my boss in more ways than being a hardheaded stuffed-shirt. The most unsettling thing, though, was that I was sure that his position was changing ever so slightly over the course of the night… like every time I turned around it would be just another fraction of a millimeter off. The workload was getting to me, and the weekend couldn't come fast enough. By the end of the night, I had turned Olaf around so that his back was to the aisle and I didn't have to look at that face anymore.
The following night, Toys was #2 in sales. Olaf was still there, standing on the endcap, posed in a playful scolding position. Or maybe it wasn't meant to be playful, but his goofy grin prevented it from being interpreted any other way. Still, the fact that he was turned towards the direction that I always walk to the department at the start of every night was a little haunting. The night's workload was an unremarkable one, just one pallet. After completing it, I would no doubt be relocated to another department to finish the night. Hoping to start out my shift on the right foot today, I began it by taking Olaf off the endcap (he felt heavier than when I had first unpacked him) and setting him down in the back of an adjacent bottom shelf, out of sight and out of mind. I'd planned to put him back before I left Toys, as his apparent impact on sales was undeniable, but things got hectic, as they often do, and it slipped my mind.
#3 in sales. Olaf was not pleased. In fact, he was scowling, right back on the endcap where he belonged.
It had to have been a different model of the doll, and the first one had gotten sold… right? I worked my small cart of Toys as quickly as possible and left the department, and Olaf, for the weekend. As stressful as this job was, this week was extraordinarily so, and as I worked the pallet in the Hardware department, as I ate my lunch in solitude, and as I clocked out for the day, that twisted face continued to haunt me. I tried desperately to reason it all out, but I was tired… very tired. I wanted only the comforting solace of a weekend at home, and wasted no time starting the drive back.
That intersection was a poor time to notice the familiar plastic grin that had found its way into my back seat.
Written by Xelrog T. Apocalypse