It’s hard to read Grady Hendrix’s horror novel, Horrorstor, and not get the feeling that his book is something of a metaphor for superstores (hypermarkets for our European friends, and a term I think fits much better) like Babies ‘r’ Us and IKEA, and the way they see and treat their employees. In fact, one look at Horrorstor’s book cover, and a quick flip through the book, you’ll be hit with IKEA catalog-inspired chapter pages. Hendrix doesn’t even attempt to deny this. As a matter of fact, the store of horrors at the center of the book is called ORSK, an blatant ripoff, and American answer to IKEA’s Swedish sensibilities.
Horrostor has a motley crew of characters from various walks of life. In a way, Hendrix pays homage to horror movies of yore with his cast of characters. There’s the “promiscuous” girl, the jock (he’s more of a hipster jock) who’s in love with her, the nerd, the awkward one, and the rebel. That rebel is Amy, a millennial with something of a chip on her shoulder and big dreams, even if she has no clear way of making them come true. She resents her manager Basil (the nerd) for being motivated, and living by the company’s mantra; she finds Matt (hipster-jock) gross and oafish, and she cannot stand Trinity (the “promiscuous” girl that’s a cross between an obnoxious reality TV star and an anime character). The only person she seems to like is Ruth Anne, a motherly spinster, and long-time ORSK employee with a child-like personality. Amy comes from a disadvantaged background, and she’s scrimping to pay her roommates the rent she owes them. It comes as no surprise that she takes Basil up on his offer of overtime at time-and-a-half with Ruth Anne and himself overnight so they can catch the perpetrator vandalizing the store after-hours. A team of ORSK big wigs are on their way to assess the situation, and Basil being the Super Man-ager that he is, plans to have everything squared away by the time they get there.
At first, things go well during their little vigil, and Amy, Basil, and Ruth Anne get some unexpected assistance when they buck up on Trinity and Matt hiding out in the store looking for ghost footage for a reality show they want to pitch–not to A&E, damn it! It has to be Bravo–about how haunted ORSK is. Unlike Amy, Ruth Anne, and Basil, Trinity actually believes in ghosts and the supernatural. Matt doesn’t, but a guy’s gotta do what he’s gotta do to get laid. As the night unfolds, more unexplained phenomena seem to occur, and despite finding someone who seems to be the perpetrator of the nightly terrorism on the store, the reality is the place is haunted. Our motley crew learn that the hard way. The entities are very much real, and they begin to wreak havoc on every living soul trapped in the store.
Horrorstor is creepy, and comfortably scary. It’s not terribly scary, and it won’t make you want to keep the lights on 24/7 because you’re scared out of your mind. I think this is because the horror takes place in a store, and not in a traditional haunted house. I won’t tell you what ORSK is built on that makes it haunted, but this is where Hendrix shines. He likens losing oneself to toil and torture, just because someone with ulterior, dark motives says that toiling will bring fulfillment, to what many employees at the mercy of superstores must endure just to make a living. When you look at the reality many Walmart employees face–like those at the infamous Ohio Walmart that held a canned food drive for its OWN employees–Horrorstor is more than just a horror novel. It’s right on the money, and it’s something of a condemnation of how big retail stores treat their employees, even as it tells a good ghost story.
As a special treat, pay close attention to the pages announcing each new chapter. They’re a real hoot, especially considering as Horrorstor progresses, the furniture (complete with IKEA-esque, Swedish names) gives way to infernal torture devices like a treadmill with spikes.
The book may start off slow, but when the gates open letting out these evil entities, the terror and suspense amplify by the minute. And while the heroine in the book isn’t particularly congenial, I did learn to respect her, and her metamorphosis into a warrior of sorts.
I may not be turning on every light in the house after reading Horrorstor, but I probably won’t be caught at IKEA or Target after dark either.