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Fiction Horror

Delivery Notification

A small-town grocery store receives an unusual visitor with strange tastes.

Note: This story was featured on the No Sleep Podcast. Hear it by clicking here. The cover art belongs to No Sleep; it was created by Krys Hookuh, and I strongly recommend checking out her other work. Find her on Instagram here and on Facebook here.

“Delivery Notification,” Krys Hookuh.

Delivery notifications are convenient, but they’re disturbing when you receive them by mistake.

Carl is on the way!

That was the message I received at 12:33 a.m. yesterday. I was playing Playstation while my girlfriend cooked bacon in the kitchen.

Yes, we were eating bacon in the middle of the night. She was singing a song about it, too, set to the tune of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” The lyrics:

Late night, bacon parttayyy! (Come on, fire it up)

Late night, bacon parttayyy! (You gotta flip it up)

Bacon’s hot, sticky sweet / Oh my pig, my piggy meat! Yeahh!

She was always writing mundane parody songs that ended at one verse or one chorus — sometimes after one line. This one was set to the tune of a single lyric in Nelly Furtado’s “I’m Like a Bird”:

I don’t knowww where my phone is

Stupid, I know, but it always cracked me up. 

My stomach was already rumbling when my phone dinged. We have a really small house out in a St. Louis suburb, and we have no oven fan, so the smell of bacon was everywhere. My mouth was watering.

I looked back down at the message.

Carl is on the way!

I was confused for a moment, but I came to the logical conclusion.

“Amy, you ordered pizza, too? Are you trying to make me fat so I can’t cheat on you?”

She poked her head into the living room.

“Pfft, like you could ever get another woman. But no, no pizza, just bacon. Why do you ask?”

“I just got a text from some pizza place or something. ‘Carl is on the way.'”

“Well, Carl is going to have to bring a pizza if he’s hungry, because we only have, like, five pieces of bacon, and I’m eating at least four.”

She turned back into the kitchen. I was confused, but part of that was due to the copious amounts of cannabis I’d smoked while waiting for my game to download.

I knew that the message was a simple mistake. I knew that things like this happened all the time, probably. But something was…off. I order a lot of delivery food — hey, I smoke a lot of pot — and most corporations sent texts from a five-digit number. This one was eight digits long: 8543268, and then a final digit that I didn’t recognize. It was a 9, but with a vertical line through it, the sort of digit you’d see in one of those online creepy text generators.

You could chalk that up to an issue with the restaurant’s delivery system, I guess, but that wasn’t doing anything for my anxiety.

“Alright, bacon’s done,” Amy yelled from the kitchen. “You want toast? Eggs? I’m already cooking, lemme know.”

I turned to respond.

“Yeah, I’ll — “

My phone dinged again.

Carl is in your neighborhood and will arrive shortly!

Now I was annoyed.

“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” I said. “I’m going to be getting these notifications until Carl drops off that damned pizza. And now I want pizza.”

Amy laughed. “Well, no pizza, only bacon. And you’ll only get, like, two more messages at most. Settle down, dude, you’re not really appreciating the Late Night Bacon Party experience.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Well, you’re right, but you’re also annoying, so — “

Another ding.

Carl is at your door!

“Man, Carl’s fast,” I said. “What delivery place texts you when the guy is there? Wouldn’t he just knock?”

“Probably a COVID thing,” Amy said.

The knocking started as soon as the words were out of her mouth. Three hard, almost mechanical knocks.

“Hey,” Amy said, “You got your wish. There’s pizza, too. Just don’t let it ruin your bacon appetite. Oh, maybe the pizza will have bacon on it?”

Again, I was quite stoned, and I am the type of person who gets paranoid easily, but something in me wanted to lock the door, barricade myself in the bedroom, and keep the lights on until morning. Granted, part of me always feels that way, but something was not right. 

I shook off that feeling. I wish I hadn’t.

I got up, dusting crumbs off my shirt and preparing to interact with another human being, something I definitely didn’t want to do that night. I looked through the window, expecting to see a middle-aged, underpaid man in a Domino’s shirt. 

“There’s…no one here.”

“Yes, there is, pothead, the fucker just knocked.” Amy walked over from the kitchen, wiping her hands on an old apron she used to wear when she cooked. It didn’t matter whether she was cooking something that actually required an apron — bacon isn’t rocket science — she always wore it and never washed it. That always drove me crazy.

She tried to peer through the top of the door, where I was looking out at our empty porch, but she was too short.

“Oh, come on,” she said, exasperated. “He’s probably standing right up against the door. The poor bastard is working at midnight, don’t make him stand around.”

Her hand reached towards the doorknob.

“No, don’t —,” I sputtered, but the door was already open. Nobody was there.

“Huh,” Amy said, “I guess you’re not a lying idiot. You’re still a regular idiot, though. Do you think he realized that —”

Another ding from my phone. I didn’t look right away. Instead, I slammed the door and turned to my girlfriend.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” I said. 

“Why?” she said, crossing her arms. “Is there a gang of satanic Domino rapists I don’t know about, or are you just worried about talking to a stranger?”

“Well, the second one,” I said, “But this isn’t right. The number in the phone, it’s, just, not normal, and the messages are too frequent. And why would a delivery driver with the wrong phone number go to the right address?”

“Okay, no more medical-grade pot for you,” Amy said, rolling her eyes. “You’re going back to ditch weed with me.”

“Look at the numbers,” I said, thrusting my phone towards her, feeling like some sort of conspiracy theorist.

She rolled her eyes again as she unlocked my phone. Then her face dropped.

“Oh, okay,” she said. “Now that is freaky.”

“The number’s all wrong,” I said, strangely excited that she was finally taking this seriously. “Like, where do you enter a 9 with a line through it on a normal phone? I have never seen that character before. It’s, like, bad mojo…number. I hate that number.”

“I don’t give a shit about that,” Amy said softly. “Look.” She handed back the phone.

Carl is in your house and will arrive shortly!

My stomach dropped, but Amy was starting to laugh.

“Oh, man, someone is getting fired for this shit,” she said. “I’ve worked in databases before — it’s a database error, or a text entry error, or —”

“You didn’t work with databases.”

“I worked at that florist shop, and they had…spreadsheets, which are a type of database,” she said sheepishly. “Anyway, dude, Carl is not in the house right now. This is just what happens when big, faceless corporations try to interact with real humans. They fuck up, scare us, and disappoint us by not bringing us surprise pizzas. So chill. Eat bacon. Drink a beer. Play your game. You are freaking out way too hard right now.”

Ding.

Carl is in the kitchen and will arrive shortly!

Amy grabbed the phone out of my hands, the veneer of her calmness disappearing instantaneously. Her eyes darted over the text, then to the kitchen, then back to the phone. She definitely wasn’t laughing now.

We slowly walked to the kitchen together. I didn’t feel great about that. I really wanted to do the whole hide-in-the-bedroom thing, but I knew that’d be a hard sell, and I definitely didn’t want to leave Amy alone. As wew turned into the room, I felt a wave of relief — then panic.

There was nothing in the kitchen. I don’t mean to write, “nobody was in the kitchen,” I mean nothing was in the kitchen. The bacon, bread, and eggs that Amy had laid out for the late night bacon party had vanished. No sign of them whatsoever. No crumbs, nothing. 

Amy looked at me with wide eyes.

“I swear, if this is one of your fucking friends trying to — “

“It’s not,” I said, looking slowly around the room. “I have no idea what the hell is happening right now.”

Ding.

This time, I didn’t look at my phone. I had a pretty good idea of what the text said; Carl is in your refrigerator. If not Carl, something was in there. We heard a screeching sound, slightly muddled and contained by the fridge, then frenetic clawing, like a raccoon going through trash, but much, much faster. It was angry. Violent.

Then, almost as suddenly as it started, it stopped. Before I could grab her, Amy ran over to the fridge and threw open the door.

Nothing there. No food, no food wrappers. Not even the three-year-old box of baking soda we kept in the side door.

“We’re getting the fuck out of here,” Amy said. She didn’t wait for me to respond; she didn’t have to. I grabbed my keys from the kitchen table as we ran to the front door. As we made our way to my car, I noted how cold it was. I can’t say for sure whether or not it was unseasonably cold — I rarely go outdoors at midnight in November — but it felt like I was breathing broken glass.

And maybe I was focusing too much on my breath, because I didn’t notice what had happened to my keys until I tried to put them into the ignition .The key was bent at a right angle; not snapped off, which would have made more sense. It was playing with us. 

I held the key up to Amy.

“What’s plan B?”

“Jesus. Fuck. Okay…let me think…”

But there wasn’t time for that.

Ding.

Carl has arrived.

I read it. My hands were shaking, and I imagine my face was pale. Amy knew immediately. Then — and this happened so, so quickly — she doubled over, letting out an anguished shriek. 

She felt it before I saw it. Her stomach — something in her stomach — was moving. Her face was pure fear, but she contorted the edges of her lips to attempt a calm smile. That was Amy. She was always the strong one.

“Honey,” she said, “I love—”

And then she was screaming. The tearing sounds were animal, yet mechanical, vicious and sadistic. Blood covered my face, the dashboard, the roof. Organs and viscera. And the panic set in, ramped up, kept ramping up, until I was screaming with a cracked, inhuman voice. I kept screaming as her screams stopped, as she slumped over in the seat, as it crawled out of her. Jet black skin glistening and wet, black teeth, sharp hands. It moved quickly, jutting out a long purple tongue to lick the blood off its razor-fingers.

I didn’t see any eyes, but it turned its head towards me and I knew it saw me. Its sneered a wide smile, a macabre mockery of Amy’s last moments.

The panic became all-encompassing until, mercifully, everything stopped.

I woke the next morning.

Well, not woke; I was suddenly there, in my car, my eyes wide open and my muscles tense. The seat next to me was ripped to shreds, but there wasn’t a drop of blood anywhere. Not even on me. Later, I wondered whether the thing had crawled on me during the night, sucking each drop out of my clothes and licking my skin. 

I walked inside in a daze, hoping to see Amy standing there with bed-hair and sleep in her eyes, ready to lecture me about the dangers of medical cannabis. She wasn’t there, of course, but I looked everywhere, under the bed and in every closet, hoping dumbly for anything concrete that would stop the snarling sense of dread that was slowly spreading through my body like a warm cancer.

That was yesterday. Amy is not here. I know where she is, or at least where she was. And I am out of food. 

I need to eat, then call the police, then call her family, then, probably, go to prison. I don’t care much about any of that. Whatever happens now is unimportant. I may have gone insane and killed my girlfriend, or maybe everything happened exactly as I remembered it, but either way, I simply cannot live here anymore. 

In fact, I probably can’t live anywhere. I know it’ll come back. I hope that it comes back for me — it’s already taken everything I had — but I suspect it will wait until it sees an opportunity to twist the knife further. It likes to play with its food.

I have kept my phone off until today. I knew I couldn’t put off the things I had to do forever. I powered it on to call the police, and read the single unread text message:

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