Why does everyone buy milk?
The thought perplexes you as you traverse the aisles of Jack's Mini Mart. Toilet paper makes sense. I mean, if you are going to be stuck in the house for days, you’re going to need toilet paper. But you've never seen Bear Grylls pack a gallon jug of milk in his knapsack before he heads out into the wild.
The original forecast is for a light dusting of snow, but as the hours pass, the predictions grow more and more grim. Two inches, then four, then a foot or more.
You were brought up in the backwoods of Louisiana where snow is as rare as a democrat. You’d see them both every now and then, but neither amounted to much or hung around too long. This is different though. This is rural Wisconsin. A blizzard is coming and you need toilet paper.
Oh, and milk.
Stores in Wisconsin are not at all like the ones down south. In your hometown, you know the name of the girl behind the store counter as more often than not, you've gone to school with her or her brother or sister or cousin. You call her by name, ask about her mom, and actually listen to her response because you care.
In Wisconsin, even rural Wisconsin, there is a new cashier almost weekly, and if you ask too many questions, you are likely to get a visit from the local sheriff.
You don’t notice who is behind the counter when you enter the store, and in truth, you aren’t sure if anyone is manning the register. You haven’t been greeted on your way in and your mind is focused elsewhere.
It’s a funny thing about snow—there is a silence to it. Most people stay home when it’s snowing, so unlike regular frantic days, time seems to slow and noise fades to the background. If you do decide to venture into a snowstorm, it isn’t unusual to be totally alone. You become immersed in thought and at the pleasant mercy of your other senses. You see more, you feel more, you appreciate the vastness hidden by the everyday.
Pushing the cart up one aisle and down the next, you begin to realize you haven’t passed a single soul since entering the store. You’d expected the crowd to be small—after all, just outside a blizzard rages. But this quietness is disconcerting. Your palms become sweaty, your stomach queasy, and the silence makes your quickening heartbeat audible.
All of a sudden, the two items in your cart, toilet paper and milk, seem to be enough. It is time to check out and leave.
You execute a quick 180 and push your cart to the front of the store, back to the cash register, back towards the exit which you now long to use.
Turning the corner at the end of the aisle, you are now in position to see the single check out counter, strategically placed right inside the front door, but there is no one within eyesight.
You position yourself at the front of a line that doesn’t exist. Then you survey your surroundings, hoping to see a friendly face. You’d even welcome an angry face, as long as it comes on a person wearing the familiar smock of Jack's Mini Mart.
To your dismay, there is no one to be found.
You cast your glance out the large window—your car is the only one in the parking lot. You know there must be a logical explanation for the anomaly, but at the moment, none comes to mind.
“Hello?” You say in a hushed tone, not wanting to appear impatient. “Is anyone there?” The question itself seems ridiculous. Someone must be here. The store is open, the lights are on, and you are there during business hours.
“Hello?” you say again, more forcefully this time, growing eager to leave. “I’m ready to check out!”
The emptiness of the store and the corresponding silence creates an echo as your words seem to come back to you. Suddenly milk and even toilet paper seem unimportant. You are alone in the store and can’t help but feel as if something is terribly wrong.
Instinctively, you know you shouldn’t be there. You are beginning to feel trapped by the isolation and by the snow that is piling up outside. Leaving the cart and its contents where they stand, you turn to the door, take a step, and then hear it. You stop dead in your tracks.
The sound is faint and distant, but for the first time since you entered the store something breaks the silence. You can’t tell if it is words or mumbling or a low whimper, but it is definitely human. Whoever it is, they sound as if they are in distress. Your rational mind begs you to walk out the door, yet you turn in the direction of the sound and begin to move towards it.
Before long it becomes apparent the sound is coming from the back corner of the store. You still cannot discern who it is or what they are saying, but you venture on. When you finally reach the origin of the sound, to your surprise and dismay, you find a little baby, laying on the floor, swaddled and cooing.
As out of place as the newborn seems, what is more puzzling is it doesn’t appear as if the baby is frightened. Your eyes meet and a smile spreads across the child’s face.
Without a second's hesitation, you reach down and pull the baby to your chest. You don’t know where this precious child's mother is, but you do know that no baby belongs on the floor of an abandoned supermarket.
Holding the infant firmly, you shout, “Is anybody here? I need help!”
Your words are sharp, crisp, clear. There is no corner of the small store where your questions can be unheard. When no response comes, you call out again.
“I need help! Whose baby is this?”
Just as it has been since you first entered the store, you are alone. Only now, you can’t leave. You have to take care of this little one.
Fate has brought you together and you have no choice but to help.
You can’t remember the last time you held a baby. At that moment, you cannot remember if you have ever held one, yet it feels natural in your arms.
Repositioning the child to allow access to your jacket pocket, you pull out your cell phone with every intention of dialing 911.
No signal. None. Not even one bar.
You don’t know if it is a location issue or a storm issue, but your phone is as useless as a gallon of milk in a snowstorm.
There must be a phone in the office. You think to yourself as you make your way towards the back of the store. You don’t like the idea of entering into a space reserved for employees, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
The door to the office is conveniently unlocked, and the phone on the desk gives you a temporary feeling of hope—temporary because when you lift the receiver to your ear, there is no dial tone.
You are alone in the store with an abandoned baby and have no way to reach out to anyone for help.
The idea of leaving the store with the child seems like the worst possible idea. What if the child’s mother is there, somewhere, and sees you leaving with the child? Would she or anyone believe your motives are altruistic? Would you be thought of as a kidnapper? It definitely seems like the worst possible idea, but reality is starting to sink in.
Leaving is the only solution.
It takes you only a few seconds to get to your car and start the engine. The roads are almost impassable which complicates your thought process.
The police station is seven miles away and the hospital a little under ten. Your house, however, is less than two blocks and you can get there without using any main roads.
You have no car seat to secure the child. Right now, safety is of the utmost importance, so you put your car in drive, slowly pull out of the parking lot, and make the turn for home. In your life, you cannot remember driving so slowly. There is almost no chance of you sliding off the road, but there is also almost no chance of you finding an unattended baby in a supermarket.
In the best of conditions, the trip would take less than five minutes, and even at this snail’s pace, you pull into your driveway in under seven. A feeling of relief sweeps over you as you turn off the car and pick up the child. You've used the passenger side seatbelt to secure the precious cargo during the short drive.
Opening the door, you exit the car, careful to place each foot solidly on the ground to avoid even the chance of slipping as you make your way towards the front door.
Coming from rural Louisiana and living in rural Wisconsin, you never lock your front door. For that, you are grateful because right now getting this child inside and calling the police are all you can think about.
As you turn the handle and push open the door, you are immediately greeted by a flustered woman who scoops the child right out of your arms.
“What could you possibly be thinking, taking our son out in weather like this? And without his car seat? Are you crazy? I swear you’d lose your head if it wasn’t attached. Where is the toilet paper? Did you forget again? Can you please go get it while I put him to bed?”
She turns abruptly and heads into the back room with the child firmly held in her loving arms.
You watch her disappear into what is obviously a nursery.
“What are you waiting for?” The voice calls from the back room. “The roads aren’t getting any better. You need to go before the store closes.” Confused and a bit disoriented, you turn back to the front door. Just as you open it, you hear the voice one more time.
“Oh, and don't forget the milk.”
You sigh and head back out into the storm.
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Woah...this was such a good read! I love how descriptive it is...I really couldn't imagine being able to live through this lol... thank god it was only a glitch..this would be TERRIFYING if this happened in real life omg!
Being from Wisconsin originally brought this story to life for me more than most and I loved it - a wonderfully creepy read. I felt everything along the way and am comforted to know there are two containers of milk in my refrigerator and the sun's out. Love yr stuff, Thom.
Susan!!! I love hearing from you. Go Badgers!!! I'm glad you liked this one. I call it a sneaky good story. One that stays with you after your done. At least I hope so. Thanks for stopping by, you are always welcome at my fire.
It is a lovely story. I enjoyed the fact that you used the second person, present tense in your writing. It adds dynamism to the whole story, like I was the one experiencing all this. An interesting take on this prompt.
This was originally written in third person but on the advice of one of my favorite writers I changed it. I'm sure I'll never hear the end of it. In all seriousness, thank you for your kind words.
You’re welcome! Keep up the good work.
Thom, Interesting story. Glitches in time playing havoc on memory are troublesome for the MC. That is a nice way of displaying that to the reader. Thanks for the good read. LF6
Thanks for always taking the time to encourage me. You are a good egg.
Hey Thom, did that come from a movie? That saying? LF6
No, just a idea that happened as I was writing. I'm not sure where it came from. :-)
That makes it even more humorous! LF6
... which isn't to say I wouldn't TRY leaving a review, re: yours on my thread. :D Again, though, this is exactly why I don't: this is just beyond-words excellent. Horror is the one genre I have tried and failed at every single time, and it just seems so effortless here, like if I could just make a template, this is precisely how it should go. The feeling of eerie in this was as thick as The Fog, and that ending, ... ok this is best glitch! Never saw it coming, like a fist of "what?!". Just amazing, Thom. Unbeatable. :)
Mom, is that you? Seriously though. Wendy, you have come down wit a disease that afflicts every writer on this site. It’s called imposter syndrome. It’s primary and most insidious symptom is being able to spot talent in every writer but yourself. Fortunately you have the rest of us for that and I am not giving you false praise when I tell you that you are a fantastic writer. You are a writers writer and if you continue to tell stories you will continue to get super positive feedback. I promise you that. Let me also say thank you from the bo...
>Mom, is that you? - lol You crack me up. :) Thank you, Thom, and you're welcome - it was absolutely my pleasure! :)
I love stories that leave you pondering and this certainly did that. I was thinking modern day christ child allegory, but this went in quite an unexpected direction. You crafted the snow bedecked suspense so well. A thoroughly enjoyable read.
Rebecca, I love when you read my stories. You always have an encouraging word and you always make me smile. Thanks for taking the time to support me and be a great Reedsy friend.
Wow Thom, that ending was a blast—the baby and empty store idea, really built up a great suspense. Still obsessed with the ending. Such a great description.
Sahil, I really appreciate the feedback. The ending was fun to write. The dystopian feel seemed like the perfect ending. I'm glad it worked.
A compelling read that is foreboding and very disconcerting by the end. When we had the first newborn, the terror of forgetting him was very real, so this particular glitch actually resonates as a reality. The snow storm is beautifully evoked. But I also appreciate starting with some levity, "You were brought up in the backwoods of Louisiana where snow is as rare as a democrat." and building the tension as it progresses. Really good
Thanks so much. As a father I hear stories of parents who forget their child in a car and think that's impossible, but history shows it isn't. I tried to combine that with a little Twilight Zone eeriness included. I'm glad it seemed to work.
I only wished I was reading this while it was snowing from the comfort of my Wisconsin home :-) I love the layers of uneasy that slowly set in as you continue to read.
The important question is do you have milk in the refrigerator?
Yep a pleasantly creepy time in the supermarket but frankly more creepy when he gets home with the baby. Must be truly terrifying when you only feel confident of toilet paper and milk - not even remembering where you put the baby!
In the end we're left to wonder if the MC has any grip on reality at all. I think you really got what I was going for. Thanks for the feedback.
As a Wisconsinite, I can attest that this happens to me all the time.
I should add Creative Non-Fiction as a category. :-)
Haha. I love it. You got me when the woman takes the baby. Great concept
I'm glad it all came through. I wanted it to be equal parts disconcerting and creepy. I hope I succeeded.
You definitely gave me another perspective on the prompt. It certainly came through. If you get the time, check out my submission.
Kinda creepy with an empty store, dontcha think? I'd be wierded out well before this!
For this story, weirded out is what I was going for. Thank you!!!!
I enjoyed this story Thom. Good work.
Thanks so much. I'm glad you enjoyed it.
This is an incredibly solid story, and, may I say, technically complex. It's beautifully crafted. I hope you won't think that I am being pretentious when I say I thought I sensed elements of Kafka's work in it. Someone on this thread used the word creepy, and while you were building the suspense I kept feeling a shivery sensation, right up until when he arrived home. And then I just felt sad, for him. Well done! RG
Richard, this is high praise and I am truly grateful. I'm glad you enjoyed it and can't thank you enough for taking the time to encourage me. It means so much.
Another amazing story you've created Thom! I love the use of the second person! Keep doing what you're doing because it's amazing! I love the concept as well, I mean it's so original, and... ah, I appear to be at a loss for words! No amount of words could explain how much of a master piece this is!
Another enjoyable story!! Hey, now that I'm feeling better - AND no longer working, I'm thinking about putting together another Anthology - do you think folks would trust me since I've flaked on the last two??? Thanks for your input, ~MP~
I know they would. I know I would. Be bold!!! 😀
Okay...look for an email from me next week AND a post on Facebook being BOLD. BTW - my gastric bypass surgery went well - I'm two weeks post-op, and I feel great. So far, an easy recovery. I see the surgeon on Monday, and I'm hoping she clears me for exercise - I feel like 'moving!' ~MP~
This is a very mysterious story with an edge to it that also has elements of humor. Personally, I think that is a perfect mix. Very well crafted, I love it!
I still remember the first time you posted this and how much I loved it then. This rewrite is slicker, more well rounded - the same story but so much better. Changing the POV works so well as does building up the eerie vibe of the desrted store, the snow, the silence. That was the story then that showed me what an amazing writer you were, even when just starting out; this is the story now that shows me how far you've come. I'm so glad I had the chance to read both versions.
Hey Thom! This was a thriller with a tragic twist. I loved the way you chose point of view for this story and I found myself intrigued, worried, fearful. My favorite line was right in the beginning: Your eyes meet and a smile spreads across the child’s face. I picked this one because although I’ve never had a child, I know that feeling, the moment an innocent human connects with your soul. I was intrigued by this character’s desperation and saddened when their pleads went unanswered. Nice job!