The nice thing about working at a department store in the suburbs was the storeroom. Only employees could be back there.
His store had a giant compactor he fed cardboard boxes into that would crunch it all down into a four-foot-by-four-foot cube that weighed as much as a smart car. On Tuesday mornings, Todd would feed it all into the compactor and use a forklift to set the cube along the wall for pick up. The rest of the week, no one went near the thing.
Looking around for his coworkers, Rico ducked on the other side of the compactor. He closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths. Thanks to his meds, he could now focus, but every so often, he needed to pause and hit the refresh button in his mind.
He opened his eyes and stepped forward. In front of him stood a large dog with a gaping wound along its side. Its rib cage and sickly green organs glowed and pulsated inside. Gray, hairless skin pulled away from the muscle tissue beneath. Its long face beheld lidless eyes that swiveled to and fro. Three sets of nostrils ran up the sides of its chattering snout, venting lazy black coils of smoke into the air. It emerged from the side of the compactor and looked around. It hadn’t seen him.
Rico backed away from the beast, but the wall blocked his retreat. The creature turned its head toward Rico, and its gaze locked onto his. Rico took a deep breath and held it. As a child, Rico believed monsters existed. His parents and age eventually erased that fear, yet a literal monster stared right at him. All this time, he had worried about murderers and traffic accidents and cancer. Those things would kill him. Now, he counted the seconds before a supernatural animal from the depths of hell pounced and tore him apart.
The dog sniffed the air, venting more exhaust-like smoke around him. It lowered its head, seemingly curious and took a step forward. The sound of the thing’s nails clicking against the concrete hit Rico’s ears, and he screamed.
He expected this to set the creature off, but he hoped that others would reach him before the dog got to his throat. He didn’t know what any of his younger coworkers would do against such an abomination, but it beat dying alone in the back of a warehouse.
The dog shrunk into its haunches and skittered backwards. Turning, the beast’s paws screeched against the ground, trying to find purchase, then, it disappeared.
“What the hell is going on back here? Is everything okay?”
Trishna got to him first. Rico yelled, worried about what the creature would do to the petite, high school junior. “Look out.”
He scrambled around the corner and nearly ran into the wide-eyed girl.
“Look out for what? What are you doing back here?” She looked him over then cast about for whatever had him so spooked.
“Did you see anything run past when you came in?” Rico asked, feeling a bit foolish under the girl’s scrutiny.
“What, like an animal or something?” Trishna’s face tightened, trying not to laugh at the idea of a grown man screaming at a rodent.
“No…bigger.” Rico shifted, uncertain what to do.
“Bigger than an animal?” Trishna leaned toward him, looking around and lowering her voice. “Are you high right now?”
The storeroom showed no signs of the monstrous dog. Nothing out of place.
Rico finished his shift looking over his shoulder. Around every corner and in every shadow, he caught sight of something: flashes of milky, sightless eyes and glimmers of teeth and metal. The creatures never came for him, and he did not allow himself to be alone. This gave him enough courage to finish his day. As he left the store and made for his house five blocks down, she showed up.
The woman, if he could call it that, stood between an old lady stowing her shopping cart and a man getting his child out of a car seat. Neither of them noticed her. White, wispy hair fluttered across a pale blue face with sunken cheeks. A charred, iron tiara covered her eyes with the band and the spikes of the gruesome ornament threaded under the skin of her forehead and arched over her scalp. Dark gray muslin wrapped her desiccated body but did not completely conceal the vein-like cracks in her skin that burned like emerald embers. The tips of her hipbones jutted and spread like skeletal wings, holding up her ragged skirt. A belt of spiked chain wrapped several times around her midsection and came together at the front, dropping down to a bladed pendulum that swayed below her knees.
Rico’s pulse hardened like he encountered a boss from one of his video games, but the woman simply stared in his direction from behind her ghoulish crown. She lifted her left hand, and Rico ran.
He did not sprint, but neither did he glance behind him. If the woman were more than a hallucination, surely someone else would freak out. The entire way home, some gave him odd looks as he jogged by, but none screamed at the horror following him. Rico reached the driveway of his house and the empty spot where his mom’s SUV usually sat; he remembered their vacation.
Monsters appeared right when he had the whole house to himself for a week.
He locked both locks, turned on all the lights, and texted all of his friends, hoping one of them might be free to come hang out with him. Only Jane answered. She wouldn’t be off work for another three hours.
“You saw me.”
Rico yelped, falling back against the kitchen table. The ghoulish woman stood near his window, inside his living room. She had just spoken to him…in English.
At his reaction, she retreated into the corner and lifted her hand. “Ah, please don’t go. I won’t hurt you. I promise.”
Case C. Capehart lives in Oklahoma with his wife, Kristy and son, Jackson. He is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and served for six years in the Army Infantry as a 50 caliber machine gun operator. During his service, Case earned the Expert Infantry Badge and Air Assault wings and was a recipient of the Army Commendation Medal.
Case is inspired by the works of Terry Brooks, Phillip K. Dick and Yukito Kishiro, as well as the Tao Te Ching. He has self-published dark fantasy novels in the Hell Cliffs Series and a supernatural YA novel titled Blood Daughter. His short stories have been published by Transmundane Press and Cohesion Press.
He and his wife are members of the First United Methodist Church.
Featured Image Credit: Skyrim