“Three-fifty,” behind the counter stood a young boy, chewing on gum and while he waited for me to pay. He dressed himself in a red shirt and black pants, declining to tuck in the shirt as if doing so was an act of defiance against the ungrateful leadership of the small family owned store where he worked. On his chest sat a laminated white card that spelled “Greg” in bolded black letters.
After speaking he placed his open hand in front of me and returned his attention to the clock situated next to the door. With the boy distracted, a spider took the opportunity to create a makeshift home on the register.
“Wow, big ass spider on the register,” As if it heard me, the spider turned to stare at me with all eight of its solid black eyes. The spider was indeed of the “big-ass” variety. Its hairy legs sprawled out to reach the size of a bottle cap.
The boy placed both of his hands on the counter to brace himself as he peaked over to my side. He searched for the spider on each side of the register for a minute, before resigning by standing behind the counter.
“I don’t see it,” He knit his eyebrows while placing his tongue behind the left side of his upper lip as if trying to imagine the spider and its origin. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah nevermind,” I rubbed my eyes, but the spider still crept around on the register, making no efforts to conceal its presence. After repeating this a few times, the spider and its web had vanished. “Here,”
I withdrew $4 from my pocket and handed them to the boy. As he tapped a few of the assorted grey buttons on the register and inserted the four bills into a pocket on the machine, I looked into the aisles filling the supermarket.
My town never was a beacon of perfection, and it seemed this building sought out to prove that. The once pristine white walls dividing each aisle had become faded, now sporting a dull yellow color and (in some parts) an odor that reminded the customer of their plans to be elsewhere. The ceiling tiles formed a checkerboard pattern by alternating black and white. The black spaces concealed the plentiful water stains their white counterparts failed to hide.
“Here’s your change,” The boy spat his gum into a trash can next to the register and set two quarters on the counter. As I turned to take my things, the boy standing behind flashed me a thin smile before tilting his head down to check his phone briefly before returning it to his pocket and sighing.
“Oh hold on, I forgot something,” I checked the clock to see the store had closed about five minutes ago. Some of the light fixtures had turned off, transforming aisles at the far end of the store into passages cloaked in darkness.
“My shifts over bro,” I remembered the feeling of working a six-hour shift at whatever minimum wage job I could get my hands on, only for it to be extended at the last minute by some inconsiderate customer who couldn’t bother to find another place to shop.
“It's just one thing, I won’t be long,”
“Man just like ring it up yourself,” The boy grabbed his coat from a rack behind the register and pulled some keys out of his pocket. He walked towards the door while shoving each of his arms through the sleeves of his coat, turning around to “Or don’t, I don’t really care”
The door to the outside world usually displayed a grey parking lot with various forms of plant life growing between the numerous cracks in the pavement. Now, snow pelted the door coating it in a thin sheet of white and preventing anything over five feet away from being seen. As the boy opened the door, the wind ushered in snow onto the already damp welcome mat. The boy walked out into the storm, holding his arm in front of his face to shield it from the snow. After he walked a few feet, his silhouette disappeared into the blizzard, leaving me alone in the store.
With the boy gone, I started searching for the cat food I needed. I dedicated a portion of my attention to searching for the item I needed, but the rest allowed itself to be consumed by the various sounds and unusual sights of the store. As I walked, I looked up to the labels hanging above each aisle to guide me. The sign's background was the same spotless white that once covered the walls, likely to them being out of reach. Black text covered each one, indicating what items each aisle contained. Chips, Cereal, Soda, nothing I needed.
The store failed to place any windows along the walls, allowing the entrance an exclusive view to the outside. As I wandered further from the entrance and closer to the most darkened part of the store, the tick of the clock faded. In its place, the sound of my feet contacting the floor and their echo became more disjointed with each step. When it eventually came to a head, the echo from my footstep seemed to reoccur two times for each step of mine.
I stopped both of my feet in an attempt to listen to whatever strange acoustics caused the phenomenon, but after the echo faded the steady hum of the lights overhead filled the otherwise silent building. The darkened aisles nearby provided ample cover for any pursuers, but they also provided my eyes with an opportunity to play tricks on my mind. I shook off the feeling of concern and continued walking.
On entering the store, a customer wouldn’t be immediately greeted with its fetid smell, but at the center of the building it became a noticeable, pungent undertone to the bland scent of crummy air fresheners. After adventuring past that, towards the far left corner, the smell that had once been an unpleasant reminder of the part of town the building sat in became an unbearable stench that forced customers to do the remainder of their shopping elsewhere.
Upon walking for about five minutes, I entered what I call the “cloud”. The fumes crept up my nostrils and made me gag with their wretched smell. Whatever rotting animal carcass hid somewhere within the store had gone years without being moved by any employee. As my eyes watered from the stench, I heard the sound of footsteps despite the fact I stood still. I surveyed my surroundings, but before I could find the origin of the noise, it stopped.
The smell threatened to end my excursion, but I knew I couldn’t be far from the pet food aisle. I strode towards my destination, hoping it wouldn’t be long before I got there. After a few steps forward, the footsteps returned, this time lacking any sort of subtlety.
I stopped once more and listened, but this time, the steps continued. As I stood still looking into the darkness before me, my brain raced trying to fill the gaps in my knowledge. Each item that peaked out from the racks of a darkened aisle, unlit display of merchandise, and unexplained shadow morphed into human like figures. When each of these figures came into sight, a detailed version appeared in my mind. My pursuer, although unseen, became a gruesome amalgamation of the worst aspects of each of these images I saw in my head.
While I stood distracted by my imagination, the volume of the footsteps had increased until their sound alone roused me from my thoughts. I felt unable to move as a slideshow of my grisly demise captured my attention. Each second that passed dragged on, until it seemed like hours had passed while I stood still. My neck felt heavy as a marble statue’s as I turned to look behind me and face my fear.
I set my eyes on the beast standing behind me and it looked back up at me before crying and flailing its arms and legs. In my confusion I failed to notice the baby lying on the ground behind me. It rolled around wailing for a parent, unaware of it's strange situation. Staring down at it, I had no idea of what to do next.
Should I take it with me? I have never had any parenting skills, so I wouldn’t know how to take care of it. I could contact the authorities, but what would they think about someone trespassing in a store? As I debated what to do, the insanity of the situation became apparent.
The baby didn’t exist. What sat in front of my rolling around and crying on the ground was nothing more than a figment of my imagination. But how could I be sure? I crouched down over the kid, observing its every move before finally reaching out and touching its face. The skin of its face felt cold on my finger. I rubbed my eyes until they became irritated and wet with tears. When I opened them, the baby persisted its crying. The ground swayed beneath as I questioned my reality. If this baby didn’t exist then what did? With each second the lines separating real and fake blurred until my reality turned into a mess of horrific sights, deafening sounds and uneasy feelings.
I fell to my knees and closed my eyes, my ears ringing from the constant stimulation. Each sound tormented me as I crouched, helpless to stop the ongoing barrage of sensations, until only one noise remained. The tick of the clock echoed throughout the building like an angelic melody, grounding me in reality.
When I looked up, I saw that the baby had vanished along with every other unusual sight. As I snatched a few tins of cat food, I decided that my stay in the store had ended. When I arrived at the entrance, I felt relieved that my journey had ended.
As I pushed open the door, I thought about the baby lying on the floor. Its cry rang out in my ears as if telepathically calling for help, but I got what I needed and I heard the steady pitter-patter of feet treading lightly somewhere behind me.