In which Katy asks permission, gets the crap scared out of her, and thinks about absolutely nothing.
The Beginning of the End: A Grocery Store Horror Story
I run past the dumpster in triumph. Now to find the others. Since they are kind-of me, where would I go if I had nowhere else to turn to? I smile sadly when I realize there is only one possibility: the Victoria Public Library. A sanctuary for the lonely, the homeless, the jobseekers, and those who thirst for adventure. I remember devouring books left and right when I was younger, and how the most sacred item in my purse was my library card. My parents would leave me there for hours, and I would read an assortment of manga, young adult novels, and the occasional picture book. After a few minutes of jogging down the street, I find myself in front of the cement building.
“Please be open, please be open,” I mutter. It’s past closing time, so the possibility is slim, but I’m able to pull the door open. The Voices must be here; maybe they broke in somehow. I silently walk across the carpet, and the dim lighting casts shadows that put me on edge. A book hits the floor to my left with a resounding thunk, and I squeal. Anger emerges from behind a long shelf and gives me an unimpressed look.
“Really?” He grabs the book and slides it back into place. I run to him and give him a desperate hug. He awkwardly pats my back as my eyes moisten his wifebeater. A minute later, I let go and wipe my face.
“I thought there was a chance I wouldn’t see you again.” Maybe my blubbering will finally drive him away for good.
“As if,” Arnold grunts. “I’ve always had your back, haven’t I?” He grips my shoulders, and it dawns on me that he’s sincere. It’s funny; after dealing with Tom for so many years, I forgot that people can mean what they say. I look into the eyes of my friend and see simple truth. I imagine this is what having a sibling would feel like: love forged through tears, humor, and trauma. Unquestionable loyalty even after a serious fight. I suspect that Arnold will live long past my lifetime, but even as my bones turn to dust and fertilize new growth, this bond will last for eternity. I won’t remember, but he will, and that’s enough.
“Ya,” I choke out. He smiles a big goofy grin and lets go of my shoulders.
“We’ve been wandering around this old ass building waiting for you to come back to your senses.” Arnold turns and walks between the bookshelves. I follow and hear voices chattering in the back.
I feel Christina breathe down my neck as I bag an older woman’s groceries. The elderly woman smiles sweetly at me as I offer to give her a hand, but she kindly waves me off. Christina begrudgingly moves on to terrorize James and my other coworkers. I lose myself in the rhythm of bagging and replay a radio song in my head when suddenly this morning’s juice goes straight to my bladder. Spectacular. I leave my line and walk over to Christina. I clear my throat.
“Christina?” She doesn’t look up from her phone.
“I need a quick restroom break.”
“I have two people on break already. You’re gonna have to wait.”
I feel like I’m back in school again. I was mostly an honor student, but I had one regular class. The teacher wouldn’t let anyone go to the bathroom during the period. Go before or after he would say. I don’t think he trusted us. Time to assert myself I guess.
“I really need to go. It’ll literally take me two minutes.” Christina’s head snaps over to me, and she narrows her eyes. I can see my statement rolling around in her head.
“Fine, but be quick.” I fast walk to the bathroom, which is surprisingly empty. After doing my business, I exit the stall and wash my hands with bright pink liquid soap. The lights over my head blink, and one goes out. Weird. Humming to myself, I look up into the mirror, expecting to see a shiny forehead or misplaced strands of hair. What I see instead makes me break out into a sweat, and my hands clamp down onto the sink. A towering figure twice my size stands behind me. It reminds me of the first time I met Guy in the Darkness, but in all the wrong ways. Instead of roiling smoke, I see a pitch-black shadow with missing arms and no facial features. My instincts scream WRONG BAD LEAVE, but I can’t seem to will myself to move. I hear nothing in the few seconds that we stare at each other. The faucet runs, and the water hits the chipped sink, but I don’t hear the splash. Even the usual sounds of bickering customers are absent. A shudder travels through my body from my head to my stomach. I quickly turn around, but whatever that thing was is gone. Shaking, I dry my hands on my jeans, take my spot at the end of a checkout lane, and focus on the products barreling towards my hands.
When my 15-minute break rolls around, I go to the breakroom, lay on the raggedy couch Carlos donated, and rub the heels of my hands over my eyes. Where are the Voices when you need them? I have so many questions for them. Is it another Voice? Or did I just imagine it? Does it even matter? I “made” the Voices, who have been relatively ok so far, but I don’t know the extent of my “ability.”
There is one thing I do know: I don’t want to hurt anyone. Since I can’t trust myself to discern what’s real or my imagination, I try to turn off my thoughts and feel nothing. I focus on the ceiling fan as it goes around and around and around. The daily symphony of sounds from the air condition, box TV, intercom, and the fridge fade away. I’m so entranced by the swirling blades that I miss the odd silence that permeates the room. The hallway light flickers, but the seduction of nothingness lulls me into a short and uneasy sleep.
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