The grim reaper appeared in a nearly empty shopping center at six o’ clock on a cool November Tuesday. He stood there looking like a shadow as he leaned casually on a lamppost right outside of the Mattress Mart. He was there because of Dale Hampton, a sixty-year-old man with a wiry goatee wearing a camouflage tank top and a faded khaki baseball cap. He was Mattress Mart’s most faithful employee. He was on top of the roof. He was about to jump onto a moving truck with a stack of mattresses in its bed, and the grim reaper was thinking that there had to be a more efficient way to increase sales. But his manager Chris, who was holding the camera, gave him a big thumbs up.
Behind the manager/cameraman was a small crowd of Mattress Mart employees—some of whom weren’t even on the clock.
“I just had to see this. Y’all think he has it in him?
“Oh yeah, he’s going to land it. He told us he would.”
“Yeah but I think he’s a little biased, don’t you?”
“No, Dale’s a cowboy. And cowboys can always ride, no matter what age. And just look at his face—that’s a man who knows what he’s doin’.”
The small audience was right about Dale’s confidence. The grim reaper saw confident people all of the time.
The Mattress Mart had cracks in its brick walls and the inside smelled like cigarette smoke. The smoky scent never came out of the mattresses, even if you left them outside on the porch for a year to air out. But it’s the only mattress place you’ll find this side of Salisbury that ever has a decent sale, someone said on Google Reviews, awarding them two stars. The grim reaper thought about writing his own Google Review when this was over. The sun sets behind it, and turns everything gold. Mattress Mart is a perfect place to die.
“Alrigh’, good!” Chris said, tipping his camera at Dale as though it was some kind of salute. “Yeh ready?”
“Born ready, Chris!” Dale boomed.
By the look on his face alone, you’d guess that Dale Hampton specialized in jumping onto moving mattress stacks. But his skin was wrinkled and looked awfully fragile, like paper. It looked like if he were to hit the pavement, he might blow up in a puff of smoke and never be seen again.
Chris nodded. “Alrigh, action!”
Dale put his hands on his hips and looked straight into Chris’s camera.
“I must be crazy for having prices this low!” Dale boomed, his voice echoing into the golden sky.
The guy driving the truck, who was Chris’s brother, drove slowly onto the first line of chalk—this would put him at the very left side of the screen for the commercial.
“How crazy are you, Dale?!” Chris’s brother shouted upwards.
“CRAZY enough to sell a mattress for HALF PRICE!”
“That is crazy!”
“Yes sir-ree-Bob! They call me CRAZY DALE!”
“I wonder what else a person as crazy as yourself might do!”
“A little something like this!”
The driver accelerated the truck forward without hesitation. Dale bent his knees. He made the leap—his arms flailing over his head, his feet bicycling the air, his eyes so wide that you could see the blood vessels that reddened their outer edges. The bed of the truck rolled underneath him just in time. The gradual impact from top mattress to bottom mattress sounded like a door creaking and then slamming shut. The top mattress squished into the base of the stack like a big-mouth burger that someone was trying to force into their mouth, and then once it all un-coiled, Dale went flinging into the air, over the railing of the truck and onto the blacktop parking lot, where he landed on his knees and whipped his head across the pavement.
Dale was sprawled out on the ground, knees bloody, hands scuffed, and cussing under his breath. There was a red smear in his vision that he couldn’t account for, and the world seemed to be spinning. His coworkers all rushed over to help him, to see if he was okay. But he was surprised that in the middle of the crowd he saw his old high school girlfriend Charlene, naked except for an undersized football jersey. He couldn’t believe how good she still looked. He hadn’t seen her since the photo she sent him in the mail her first year of college, and it was almost like she hadn’t aged.
Not wanting to look weak in front of Charlene, he pushed his hands against the blacktop and sprung to his feet. His facial expression looked confused for a second as he tried to figure out if he was standing right side up or right side down. Then he said, in a slurred voice, “What an unbelievable deal!”
Naked Charlene smiled at him and took him by the hand.
“Just come with me hun’.” She said. “Everything will be alright.”
“No problem at all,” Dale said, snickering. “No problem at all.”
He wasn’t sure where she was taking him. His guys at the bar—they’d never believe how good Charlene still looked.
“You know, Charlene,” Dale said. “I do need to go to work tomorrow. We can’t stay up all night.”
“Don’t you worry about that,” Naked Charlene told him. “I’m going to take care of everything. Everything is going to be alright.”