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Literature / Horrorstör

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Your life. Your style. Our furniture.

It's not just a job. It's the rest of your life.

Horrorstör is a 243-page horror/comedy novel written by Grady Hendrix and published in September 2014 by Quirk Books. The novel is a modern revamp of the Haunted House story, moving the location to a big-box furniture store based on IKEA. The story follows Amy Porter, a directionless college dropout working at the Cuyahoga branch of Orsk, an American furniture chain pretending to be Swedish to compete with IKEA. Strange things are happening at the Cuyahoga branch: products are being vandalized, strange graffiti is popping up everywhere, store electronics are going haywire, and no matter how many times the staff counts, inventory never matches up. To get to the bottom of this, store manager Basil Washington recruits Amy and coworker Ruth Anne DeSoto to work with him on a late-night shift, promising Amy a pay raise and a transfer to the Youngstown branch. That night, they are joined by Trinity Park and Matt McGrath, two other employees who broke into the store because they think the store is haunted and want to capture video evidence of ghosts to get on TV. They soon find out just how right they are...the store was built on the site of the Cuyahoga Panopticon, a 19th-century prison where prisoners were brutally tortured and driven to madness by Josiah Worth, a crazed warden who thought mindless, repetitive tasks promoted mental health, and their ghosts have been waiting for Amy and her friends to arrive.

Tropes in this book include:

  • Alternate Company Equivalent: Orsk is IKEA with the serial numbers filed off. This is discussed in the book itself; a group of American investors decided to compete with IKEA by starting a franchise with the same setup and lower prices.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Trinity is rumored to hook up with her female coworkers as well as the guys.
  • Agent Mulder: Trinity is a wholehearted believer in ghosts and other supernatural phenomena and jumps at the chance to prove her beliefs right. Unfortunately for her, she is right that there are ghosts, and that they're very pissed off about their deaths
  • Agent Scully: Meanwhile, Matt insists that all the weird goings-on in the store can be put down to its labyrinthine design and unusually strong electromagnetism from the lighting grid or a geomagnetic field. He is, of course, proven wrong.
  • Arc Words: The word "BEEHIVE" often appears in the graffiti found in the store's restroom. It's later revealed to be a nickname for the Panopticon.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Played with. Some of Orsk's furniture has vaguely Swedish/Scandinavian-sounding names, but many of the names are obscure or antiquated words from a variety of languages, dirty jokes, or literary references.
  • Being Tortured Makes You Evil: The various penitent ghosts, long after their deaths, are still slaves to the Warden's cruel, repetitive tortures. Even after Amy convinces them that the Warden has no sway over them, prompting a Dragged Off to Hell, they still continue to act out their ghostly damnation and inflict their horrors onto the Orsk employees regardless.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Ruth Anne's a sweetheart, but she tears Amy a new one when Amy refuses to go back out onto the floor to help look for the intruder.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Josiah Worth is defeated, Basil and Amy survive, and the Orsk branch is shut down. However, their friends are still trapped among the spirits and they're left traumatized by the events. They ultimately decide to return to the new baby needs store in the hopes of saving anyone that may have survived. And the final page reveals that the store is planning on having a 24 hour sale in the future.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: The chapter titles. They start out being named after Orsk furniture with pictures and descriptions like something out of a catalog, but from Chapter 11 onward, they switch to the Panopticon's torture implements, being advertised as if they were ordinary products.
  • Break the Cutie: Both Ruth Anne and Trinity go through this when the ghosts start coming out.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Trinity. Despite her glam-punk looks and constant pestering of employees and customers alike about her belief in ghosts, Basil praises her in an employee evaluation for her creative staging solutions.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Early in the story, it's established that all of Orsk's furniture can only be assembled with a proprietary "Magic Tool" and that store employees are required to carry one at all times when they're on the clock. Near the climax, Amy is panicking because she's been nailed into a wardrobe and left to drown by the ghosts, only for her to realize that A. the specific type of wardrobe she's in is infamous for being held together by four hex screws that fall out very easily, and B. she still has a Magic Tool in her pocket.
  • Creator Provincialism: When all of the lights go out, including the emergency lights, one character notes that those are supposed to stay on even through an earthquake. This is out of place in tectonically unexcitable Ohio, where a severe storm like a tornado would be a much more common event than an earthquake. Hendrix is from South Carolina, where earthquakes are a much bigger concern.
  • Dragged Off to Hell: While it is left ambiguous as to whether this is the case or not, Amy manages to get through to the ghostly tenants that they do not have to listen to the Warden anymore and he is quickly dealt with... but they still continue their torturous purgatory, only now in a disorderly manner without their leader.
  • Driven to Suicide: Warden Worth possesses Carl and forces him to slit his own throat as a sacrifice.
  • Eldritch Location: Orsk. It contains a Pocket Dimension and, when Amy calls the police, they can't find the address.
  • Evil Smells Bad: The manifestations of Worth and his penitents are frequently accompanied by a nasty stench that is compared to feces, marsh mud, and rotten food.
  • Extremely Short Time Span: The whole book except the epilogue takes place in a single 24 hour period, with the majority of the action happening overnight.
  • Eye Scream: Ruth Anne gouges her own eyes out just before she gets dragged off by an unseen horror because "If I can't see them, they can't see me."
  • Faux Affably Evil: While Warden Worth goes on about how he wants to cure the inmates of their sickness, it is made abundantly clear that he takes more pleasure in the horrifying things he does to the penitents and the Orsk employees than he should, possibly using their "sickness" as an excuse to exercise cruel and outdated practices.
  • Fingore: Ruth Anne digs through the wall of the store's break room to try and hide from the ghosts, shredding her fingertips down to the bone in the process. Trinity gets her fingers and hands mangled by the ghosts as part of her "cure".
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Amy and Basil. He comes back for her when she's being tortured by the Warden and vice versa. She also refuses to abandon Trinity and Matt.
  • Foreshadowing: Near the beginning of the story, Amy dourly muses that having to constantly check the store's inventory numbers is "the kind of repetitive labor that killed your soul", and sees a news broadcast that shows prisoners being marched endlessly around in a circle. Matt even directly compares Orsk to the Cuyahoga Panopticon, the prison over which it was built. As it turns out, the Panopticon's warden, Josiah Worth, was a psychopath who believed that endless, pointless, repetitive toil would "cure" his inmates by breaking their minds and wills, and he's all too eager to test his theories on Amy and the other Orsk employees.
  • Friendless Background: Basil admits to having no friends and that he became floor manager to talk to somebody.
  • From Zero to Hero: Amy goes from being a depressed, kind of rude Jaded Washout to a hero who swims through water with a broken arm, tries to save everybody, and goes back for her co-workers despite being able to leave with her life at one point.
  • Genki Girl: Trinity's default mode is cheerful, energetic, upbeat, and gossipy.
  • Hellhole Prison: The Panopticon.
  • Here We Go Again!: In the epilogue, Orsk closes down the Cuyahoga branch due to the bad publicity surrounding the events of the story, but a baby-needs store moves in, and the ghosts are still there. Amy and Basil both get jobs at the new store in the hopes of finding their friends. A letter from Orsk's corporate office at the end also suggests that the Cuyahoga Orsk is not an isolated phenomenon.
  • Heroic BSoD: In the epilogue, Amy is a shell of herself because she wasn't able to save Ruth Anne, Trinity or Matt.
  • Intentional Engrish for Funny: Orsk is an American store pretending to be Swedish, and the advertising reflects this, with phrases like "The Better Home for the Everyone!"
  • Ironic Echo: Early on, Amy wishes she could be promoted out of working as a floor manager and into services, her reasoning being that "a sit down job was better than a standing one." Much later, as Amy is attacked by Warden Worth and starts to succumb to the darkness from being strapped to the sensory deprivation chair, she notes that she's finally gotten the sit-down job she wanted. This becomes the crux of her Character Development, realizing that she can't just sit and hide away from her problems forever, and decides to stand up and do something to help her friends.
  • Kill the Cutie: Ruth Anne, kind of. Except she's actually been subjected to a Fate Worse than Death.
  • Married to the Job: Basil has his sister, but he genuinely loves his managerial job at Orsk and uses it as an emotional crutch. Amy is also one, but unintentionally and not with any desire to be that way.
  • Meat Puppet: Warden Worth possesses Carl and makes him kill himself to use his corpse as a vessel.
  • Mind Rape: Amy is subjected to one in Josiah Worth's sensory deprivation chair.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Basil keeps a pocket blade with him at all times because you never know when you need to open a flat pack...or free one of your friends from the sensory deprivation chair she's strapped into. Later, Amy does the same using a hex screwdriver to open the wardrobe she's been sealed in by the ghosts.
  • Mood Whiplash: The book starts out mostly humorous, but everything starts going to hell fast during the seance.
  • Nonconformist Dyed Hair: Trinity's hair is dyed in rainbow colors, apparently as part of her rebellion against her "super-Christian" parents.
  • Packaged as Other Medium: The book is put together to resemble a furniture catalog.
  • Paranormal Investigation: Matt and Trinity's reason for being in the store after dark. They're hoping to get their own TV show on Bravo.
  • Pocket Dimension: When the ghosts come out, a previously fake door in the showroom now leads into the Beehive.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Basil. He may be an irritant to Amy with his frequent pestering and parroting of the Orsk employee handbook, but he's genuinely trying to do a good job as manager and when the ghosts come out, he makes his employees' safety his top priority. His employee evaluations also reveal that he cuts Trinity slack on her paranormal obsession because she's good at her job, he doesn't crack down on Matt for arguing with him about personal grooming because it's not worth haranguing an otherwise good employee, he recommends Ruth Anne for a promotion and raise due to her dedicated service, and he thinks that Amy has managerial potential despite her lousy attitude and wants to personally coach her so she can pass the exam necessary to be promoted.
  • Red Herring: The strange events happening at Orsk are thought to be explained first by rats, then by Carl, a homeless man who's been hiding in the store at night.
  • Resurrected Murderer: Warden Josiah Worth was a horrifying case of Wardens Are Evil while he was alive, as he was responsible for the wholesale torture and murder of the inmates kept under his care. In the present, Josiah is an evil spirit who traps the souls of his victims in horrible unending pain and murders the employees of the furniture store Orsk to add to his collection.
  • Room Full of Crazy: As a sign that things are starting to deteriorate, all the walls of the women's bathroom are suddenly covered in graffiti consisting of the Panopticon inmates' names, religious ramblings, and the ever-increasing length of their sentences, helpfully illustrated in a two-page spread.
  • Shout-Out: There is an Orsk in the town of Innsmouth.
  • Soul-Sucking Retail Job: In this case, literally.
  • Spooky Séance: Trinity starts one in a last-ditch effort to contact any ghosts. It works...unfortunately.
  • Take That!: Matt and Trinity make fun of ghost-hunting shows that never actually manage to capture any footage of ghosts, and Matt later specifically mocks several famous paranormal investigators, including Jason Hawes, Lorraine Warren, and Josh Gates.
    Matt: They jump to conclusions. They use the word energy without actually knowing what it means. They pretend to understand physics when they clearly don't even know how their own equipment works. They call themselves scientists but beat up the scientific method and drag it through the mud. And worst of all, they're terrible at being on TV.
  • Understatement: "I finally saw a ghost, but he didn't like me." -Trinity, after the ghosts forced her to walk endlessly on a treadmill wearing a backpack full of Orsk catalogs and her hands duct-taped to it and mutilated with broken pencils.
  • Unholy Ground: The Cuyahoga Orsk was built over the remains of a prison, the Cuyahoga Panopticon, where Warden Josiah Worth tortured the inmates in a twisted attempt to "cure them of their sins." When he learned that the prison was going to be shut down, he drowned all 318 inmates rather than let them be taken from him. Because of this, the Warden and his "penitents" now haunt the store. When the store is destroyed in Amy and Basil's escape and is replaced with a baby-needs store, that store becomes the new haunting ground.
  • Unwitting Instigatorof Doom: Carl, who comments that they ought to have a seance in the store, and Trinity, who goes through with it and accidentally summons Josiah Worth's ghost.
  • Wardens Are Evil: Josiah Worth.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Amy manages to escape the store and finds her way back to her car, and she seriously contemplates driving away from the entire ordeal. It isn't until she starts getting flashbacks sitting in her car to her time in the sensory deprivation chair when she realizes that she's sat down and taken things all her life, and in her Heroic Second Wind she storms her way back into Orsk to save her newfound friends.
  • When All You Have Is a Hammer…: Even after the ghosts are running rampant, Basil sticks to his management training, treating them as though they were merely unruly customers.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: As it turns out, Basil hasn't been getting on Amy's case because he thinks she's a lousy employee and wants to be rid of her; he thinks she has what it takes to be a store manager and he's trying to push her to be better.