In which Katy wakes up to bacon and gets the breath knocked out of her (twice).
The Beginning of the End: A Grocery Store Horror Story
I instinctively back away from Tom. Arnold, however, has other plans. He strides over to my almost-murderer, grips his collar with both hands, and slams him into the side of the bookshelf. Tom grins like he’s won some mysterious prize, one that he isn’t willing to share with the rest of us.
“You’re a loyal little dog, aren’t you?” He sneers at Arnold while his gaze shifts over to me. I don’t look away, and he laughs. “Katy, what did you promise this one? Hmmm? You don’t have much to offer,” he snaps the fingers on his right hand, “oh, I see. You fucked him.”
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Arnold’s grip loosens in confusion. Tom takes this moment to shove Arnold away. Ever the actor, Tom feigns surprise.
“I don’t see how she could inspire loyalty in any of you. I just thought, you know, since she fucked Guy,” he points his thumb at the being in question, “that she worked out some sort of deal with you.” Everyone turns and looks at me, except for Guy. I throw my hands out in front of me.
“It wasn’t anybody’s business,” I exhale in exasperation but quickly add, “and there wasn’t any sort of deal.” Rain and Regina give me a small smile.
“We knew. No judgment from us,” Regina reassures as Arnold goodnaturedly mouths wow to me. A warm feeling crawls up my spine, but my happy moment quickly fades. My stomach flips when I flick my eyes over to Guy. Tendrils of smoke slither from his clenched fists and his feet. He doesn’t blink. He doesn’t say a word. The muscle in his right arm twitches, like he’s waiting for a gun to go off. Tom, on the other hand, is as nonchalant as can be. He smoothes his collar and rolls his neck.
“Katy, you can’t blame me for what happened earlier.” The indignant look on my face propels him forward. “You and I are very much alike. You made me. Tell me you wouldn’t want to look your Maker in the eye and make him suffer.” He’s right. I’d throw God in a trash compactor. For my daddy. For my mother. For my manager. For the evil humans succumb to day in and day out. And for making me experience it all. Tom approaches me with arms open and a tight smile. “Katy-”
Guy slams into Tom like a train. The bookshelves topple, one after the other. Rain pulls me back to safety and plants herself in front of me with a shield of thick, black smoke. Good that’ll do. I scream when Tom sends a makeshift spike through Guy, but it easily passes through his shifting body like butter. They shed their human forms as they battle like snakes through the air. Arnold whoops in excitement and joins the fray. He leaps like an Olympic diver and is surprisingly graceful as he turns into his smoke form. Regina follows soon after, and I can only watch as my friends try to subdue Tom.
Wait, that’s not true. I can, maybe, just maybe, use my so-called powers. I close my eyes and imagine Tom in his human form. Please work. Sweat drips down my brow, and after a moment, I open my eyes. Tom’s skin solidifies, and tears of relief threaten to trickle down my cheeks. The fight seems to go in our favor, with everyone except Rain smothering Tom into the floor.
Something like hope fills the room. Arnold looks at me victoriously as he shifts back into his human form, but his eyes grow wide. I spin around and face a thick spear. This is it, I guess. Tom cackles as my end slices through the air, but the supernatural blade never hits its mark. I blink, and there’s Arnold, holding my shoulders tightly, human as can be with a smoke shield to his back. The spear protrudes through his chest, right where his heart would be. Blood paints the weapon, but that can’t be right. He grimaces then laughs.
“Always had your back.” I don’t have time to process or say anything to make this moment less of a nightmare. He slides to the floor with a thump, my inhuman wail echoing through the library.
Darkness surrounds me, but it’s pleasant and warm. I drift in and out of sleep, hopping from one nonsensical dream to the next. When I finally wake up, I stretch my arms, pop my neck, and lay back on my pillow with a smile. The summer sun peeks through my window, along with a sliver of almost too-bright blue sky. I think back to last night and melt further into my sheets. Maybe sex would work as a suitable replacement for therapy? If only.
The smell of bacon wafts through the air and draws me half-tiptoeing into the small kitchen. Black squares pop out of the toaster, and I wrinkle my nose. Guy rushes to grab them and place them on two red plates. The bacon follows quickly after, along with scrambled eggs sprinkled with cheese and a side of salsa. I walk forward and open the fridge to look for the orange juice, hoping to make the morning-after less awkward.
“Hey.” That’s it. That’s all I can come up with.
“Hey.” Guy sets the table, avoiding my gaze. He searches a drawer and growls. “We need more forks. And why do you have a spork?” He lifts a plastic eating utensil from my childhood. It’s the color of the gaudiest rainbow imaginable, an utterly ridiculous thing for an adult to have.
“My mom, remember?” I sit down with a loud thump and scoot his glass of juice over to him. The expression on his face shifts from annoyance to something I can’t read. He places the spork on my plate and sits perpendicular to me. Mouth watering, I stab my spork into eggs and stuff my face. I remember my manners (and the fact that I slept with the person next to me last night) just in time and chew with my mouth closed. Guy takes his time, appearing to savor each bite, even the burnt toast. His eyes go wide as he sips his orange juice, inhaling it in under a minute.
“So,” he places his empty glass on the table, “about last night-”
“We don’t need to talk about it.” I grab a generic brand napkin and wipe my mouth. My face burning, I turn to Guy and give him a small smile. “It was great, but I don’t expect anything major from you.” I nudge my toast with my spork.
“I hate it when you do that,” Guy scowls.
“Act accommodating, like you’re some burden.” He crosses his arms. “Why don’t you say what you really feel?”
“I’m just trying to be nice, OK?” My spork clatters on the plate. This is what I get for thinking about other people.
“That’s better.” His grin shifts to a frown. “I’m serious, Katy. Being nice isn’t going to get you anywhere. People will take and take until there’s nothing left. If I know that, then you know that too.” I lean my head back against the top of the chair and stare at the ceiling fan.
“I know.” Fine, the truth then. “I want… I want to see where this goes.” I avoid Guy’s eyes as long as I can. “You’re actually kinda sweet.” The offended look on Guy’s face makes me giggle. “No, I mean it. Other than the whole murder-y thing. You should probably work on that.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“Oh.” My shoulders slump.
“I mean the murder thing, not the relationship stuff,” Guy cuts in before I can doubt the future of whatever this is. I smile before it dawns on me.
“Where is everyone?” We start to clean the table, and I glance at my phone. Shit, I gotta go into work soon.
“They have lives, you know.” Oh, right. I’m just about ready to dash through the door when Guy pulls me into him from behind and kisses my neck. I make a show of wanting to get to work, but my overwhelming passion for the service industry is nothing compared to my need to spend the rest of the day in bed.
After prying myself away from my new lover, I head over to Luna’s. The sounds of the grocery store are music to my ears. I even manage to calm a screaming child with a few high-pitched endearments and generally act like a cartoon princess all day. Hours later, I’m happily humming and bagging away when Natalie walks by in her work outfit. Still hot. Ugh, I need to get my libido in check.
“Earth to Katy.” The snap of fingers in my left ear brings me back to the present. The moment the customer walks away, Christina zeroes in for the kill. “I don’t pay you to stare.” You don’t pay me at all; you’re just a manager, I want to retort.
“Sorry,” I mumble and look up at Christina. Her brow wrinkles in disgust.
“I knew you were fucking weird; I should have guessed you were a dyke.” My heart drops as I flinch at her words.
“You heard what I said.” She counts the slurs out on her fingers like she’s discussing our daily store tasks. “Dyke, faggot, queer. The funny thing is, I remember seeing you and your dad in the next pew over at church. He was a good man. And it’s a good thing he’s dead; otherwise, he’d have to see,” she looks me up and down, “this.” Saliva coats the inside of my mouth, and dread fills my belly. She’s right. I need to get out of here. Christina turns on her heel when a cashier calls her name. I wait five minutes for my shift to end and clock out.
The walk back to my car is a haze. The sun is long gone, taking its warmth with it. I fumble with the keys as a headache creeps along my temple and the back of my head. The keys hit the cooling tar, and just as I’m about to bend down, I see a pitch-black shape reflecting in the car window. A string of expletives exit my mouth, and I turn to face the figure from the restroom.
“What the hell are you?” I fiddle with the car door handle behind me, but the door is still locked. The extremely tall figure says nothing. In the street, cars zoom past, but I don’t hear the vehicles slice through the air. A mother calms a crying child more than a few feet away, but all I see is its gaping silent mouth. I sidle around the front of the car. So, it wasn’t a figment of my imagination. I’m not a normal person with normal mental issues; oh no, my problems turn into creatures who want to take over my life. Why can’t they just leave me alone? “So, listen, I don’t know what you want, but sneaking up on me isn’t going to make it easier to communicate. Maybe I can help?”
The charcoal being lacks facial features or appendages, but it seems to think over my offer, tilting its head to the side. It’s barely visible against the night sky, just a shade darker than the vacuum of space. I don’t know why, but I reach out my hand. Before I can touch it, a tendril snakes out and slams me into my car. Blood drips from my arm, and I watch in fear as the figure slinks towards me. Darkness smothers me into the ground, heavy and all-encompassing. I can’t breathe, oh god, I can’t breathe.
“Hey, Katy, you OK?!” I hear James jog over.
“Stay away, I don’t want you to…get…hurt.” The figure glides into the shadow of a spindly tree at the edge of the parking lot. Rather than disappear, it stays, watching me, mocking me.
“What are you talking about?” James looks at me, doubtful. He and Natalie are probably going to have a good laugh over this later. I gotta leave, I have to be anywhere but here. I ignore James, finally unlock my stupid door, and peel out of the crumbling parking lot. I want everything to stop. I just want it to stop.
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