By Pamela K. Kinney
Most days working in a supermarket, the only excitement comes from jars falling off shelves and breaking or when a customer misuses ‘the customer is always right’ and makes your life hell. But Saturday night, I learned a new definition to the word ‘hell’.
My name is Alan Holly and I run one of the registers up-front, and I was trying to get Mrs. Piper checked out. A tiny, elderly lady with blue-tinted, thin hair, she managed to slip into the supermarket, as always, just before closing. She’d loaded up a whole cartload of groceries and paper products, and then rushed to check out at my register. Why me, I don’t know. Maybe I reminded her of her dearly departed husband, Joe. He had dark hair and blue eyes like me, plus we both were somewhat plump. And like me, generally he had been a meek and quiet man. I heard she had always liked to irritate him. I sometimes think that’s the real reason he died, just to get away from her.
Leaving her to irritate me, of course.
But that night, as she shoved item after item onto the moving conveyor belt of the register, she irritated someone else. A little, meek-looking man that appeared to be in his late twenties, stood behind her with a head of lettuce and a carton of milk. With wire-framed glasses perched just on the tip of his bulbous nose, the slate-gray eyes behind them followed every movement Mrs. Piper made. Kinda creepy. The store had some weirdos in it tonight, that’s for sure.
Then the horrible thing happened.
Mrs. Piper grabbed the last item–a package of twenty-four rolls of toilet paper–and lifted it ever so slowly while giving me that maddening smile that always drove me nuts. I stood there, waiting and trying to remain patient as she did this every time, when suddenly the guy behind her tore the bag of toilet paper rolls out of her hands. An unearthly scream came from his mouth, shattering quite a few glass bottles in people’s carts. Ketchup, mustard and other stuff covered the carts, the floor, people, and even my register.
Suddenly, he became silent. He kept his mouth wide open like a chasm and something seem to be trying to crawl out of it. The opening stretched wider and wider until cracks formed in his face like mud drying under a hot sun.
Definitely not your everyday, mundane happening. At least not in a supermarket anyway.
Black and formless, with so many eyes attached to the end of oily stalks of flesh whipping out of it that I lost count, it slipped out of what had been the man’s face. It dropped onto Mrs. Piper, who foolishly at that moment had been trying to wrestle her toilet paper out of the stranger’s hands. It covered her like a thick, black cloak with tentacles attached to it and undulated as the old woman tried to free herself of the horror.
People began to back away, with either their mouths hanging open like fish trying to breathe out of water, or screaming.
Unfortunately, Mrs. Piper’s efforts proved futile. The thing forced her to the floor while the store manager, Bob Erthlaise, and I tried to figure what to do about this. He grabbed a mop and inverted it, using the handle part to slip it under the gelatinous mass, and tried to pry it off the old lady. Or what was left of her anyway. Except, the horror attached itself to the mop handle and sucked it, the mop head and Bob underneath it, quicker than the frightened customers, as they began to run en masse out of the store.
Suddenly, I knew that it would be stupid of me to even attempt something. So I joined the customers and my fellow workers, as we all forced our bodies through the sliding door held open and out into the muggy heat of the summer night.
Most of the people got into their vehicles and roared out of the parking lot and onto the street, zooming down the street and narrowly missing having an accident. Except for Billy Lee, Mary McCutheon and me. We stood in the parking lot and stared at the store, watching as the thing grew bigger and bigger.
“Shit,” said Clark, “my cell phone’s still in my locker in the store.”
“So is mine, along with my purse,” said Mary, shaking with fright.
I grinned as I pulled my cell phone out of the pocket in the apron I wore over my work clothes. “I always keep mine in the pocket of my apron.”
Clark stared as I punched in 911. He frowned.
“We were supposed to keep our cell phones or pagers in our lockers while we were on duty.”
“Well, aren’t you glad now that I never follow the rules?”
Cell phone to my left ear, I waited as it rang. One ring. Then a second one. Finally, the other end picked up on the third ring. I waved a hand to shush Clark’s blustery voice as a feminine voice talked into my ear.
“Hello, what’s wrong?” asked the woman, her voice calm and crisp.
I told her about how our store had been invaded by something alien and too terrible to believe. Something that ate Mrs. Piper and the store’s night manager.
“What did you say? 911 is not for playing jokes on. We are for real-life emergencies, not to bust a ghost or a monster from someone’s prank.”
“My name is Alan Holly and I’ll have you know I am not pulling a prank here. I have two co-workers here with me to back me up about the monster in the store.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something: the size of the black, amorphous thing. Soon, it would either burst through the roof, or break all the windows. It had grown that big. Things were not looking too good for the store, us, and the city we lived in. Shoot, to be technical, probably not for the whole planet either!
“Ma’am, just send all the police you can out here–with weapons, of course. If I am pulling your leg, the police can lock me up in jail for the rest of my life. But if I am not joshing, then you might be able to stop something only a madman can dream up from breaking free of the store.”
I gave her the address and shut off the cell phone before she said anything else, thrusting it back in the apron pocket.
“The cops are on their way,” I said with more assurance than I felt.
Mary’s face held fear and revulsion as she stared at the growing mass of horror.
“Do you really think all the police this city has can stop that, that . . . what the hell is it?”
Clark snorted. “Who else are we going to call? Do you think we can stop it? Look how easily it ate Bob.”
I edged a few inches closer to the store. Mary had said a key word. Hell. Only a madman or Hell could have caused such a thing to come into existence. Who or more precisely, what had been that man? Was he even human, or merely a costume of flesh to hide that thing’s true essence?
A more horrible thought flitted across my mind. Were there more of those things inside others? Something that waited for only the right time to bust free? I shivered, even though the temperature was in the low nineties and muggy.
Something cold and nasty whispered in my brain, circling like a hungry worm trying to find a place to burrow in. I didn’t like what it said.
Azathoth is here . . . and he’s coming to get you.
I screamed and dropped to my knees. That whispered voiced ripped into my head like a migraine headache.
Mary knelt down beside me. “Oh God, Alan, what’s wrong?”
I turned my burning gaze on her and through the blear of tears pouring out of my eyes, thought that she looked distorted and odd. So much in pain, I could barely get the words out.
“A name. A strange and terrible name.”
She helped me up off the pavement just as the sound of glass breaking vibrated in the night air. The mass of darkness oozed out of the broken windows, not even deterred by the shards of glass that pierced its flesh. Sounds of sirens wailed in the air as police vehicle after police vehicle streamed into the parking lot, pulling to a halt and surrounding us like the Indians must have around a wagon train.
Uniformed cops, weapons in hand, leaped out of the cars, stopped, and stared at the thing oozing toward us.
Fear fed me and I ran to my car, unlocking it and jumping into the driver’s seat. I drove away, ignoring the sharp reports of guns going off repeatedly and the screams of terror. I didn’t even glance back to see if Mary and Clark had gotten away.
Azathoth is going to get you, you big coward!
I drove around for hours, afraid even to go home. Then at dawn I pulled into the parking lot of a WaWa gas station and convenience store and bought the Sunday newspaper. I saw splashed on the front page news that the thing from the supermarket had mysteriously vanished. The only evidence that it had been real was the bones found scattered across the parking lot and the destroyed store. The news also reported that the military had been called in, hopefully to find and destroy it.
I sat in the car, munching on a blueberry muffin and sipping coffee. I tossed what was left of the muffin out of the window and placed the empty cup in the holder between the two front bucket seats.
Military? I laughed. What did they think the military could do? It wasn’t Godzilla or a giant, mutated spider that could be killed by regular weapons. I remembered the strange, dark words whispered like a promise in my mind last night and I knew that the name I got was ancient and darkly powerful. Something that lived when life first crawled out of primordial waters. A name not natural to this world, maybe not even to this universe. Whether Hell or another dimension or even outer space itself, I couldn’t be sure. But I felt sure that monstrous fiend had been hiding underneath the layers of our world, until it knew it was time to reveal itself.
Why now, I can’t say. Maybe it was due to the terrorists, or maybe from all those murderers and child molesters coming out of the closet, so to speak, but whatever caused it to reveal itself, it was here now. And for all the evil that filled our world, nothing compared to the evil that it represented.
Could it be possible to stop it?
I laughed. Here I was, a cashier for a supermarket, thinking like some superhero, determining how to slay the monster and maybe even get the girl. Shoot, I couldn’t even get my life together most days.
Dog-tired, I decided my best bet at the moment was to head home and get some much needed sleep. I nosed my car onto the street and drove down the road, just as dark clouds rolled in and blotted out the sun.
I woke up at noon. Still in my work clothes, I got up and undressed, shoving them into the dirty clothes hamper in the bathroom. I showered, letting the waterfall of hot water clean me, then shut off the faucets and dried myself. Finding a pair of clean underwear, jeans and a T-shirt, I dressed. Then I made myself a sandwich and ate it quickly, drinking a glass of milk to wash it down. Everything seemed like a dream, or more precisely, a nightmare I must have had. As I stepped out onto my front porch, I discovered it hadn’t been a dream. The sun was eclipsed with a dark shadow that had reached out and darkened the whole sky, too. And instead of the usual Southern muggy heat, the air had grown freezing cold, as if winter had decided it would shove summer into a hole and bury it, taking its place. Everything felt wrong, for the neighborhood seemed quiet.
Where was everyone? Okay, maybe they had all left, fleeing from the thing from the supermarket. But I noticed the cars and trucks still parked in the driveways. At least it appeared that my neighbors were home.
Why the hell wasn’t there at least one person besides me outside?
Hell. Really not a good word to think of.
I decided to go back inside when out of the corner of my eye a curtain shifted in the window of the house across the street. I bolted across the street and up the steps onto the front porch, halting at the front door. I knocked.
Nothing. I knocked again, a louder, heavy pounding. Even the dead could hear that.
Oops, wrong choice of words.
Maybe I’d imagined the movement earlier. I had decided to go back to my house when the door opened slowly with a loud creak. It stopped midway.
The small round face of my neighbor, Mrs. Rimel, peeked around the door frame. One gray curl straggled from her forehead and down to her left eye. With a face pale as cream, her eyes narrowed as she stared at me. Distrust glinted in them.
I smiled self-consciously. “Hi, Mrs. Rimel–it’s me. Alan Holly. From across the street.”
She blew through her nose, the air lifting up that lone curl. It settled back down over the eye.
Was she going to make it hard for me?
I cleared my throat. “Have you noticed how strangely quiet it seems around here?”
The door opened wider. “No.”
“Well, uh. . .” Damn, but she was making this hard for me, the old bitch! “You do know about the monster that broke out in the supermarket I worked for. Right?”
“No, I don’t get the newspaper and my TV set is broken. Anyway, there is no such things as monsters, Alan Holly, and you shouldn’t tell such whoppers to a poor old lady like me. Now, good day!”
The door slammed in my face, but I stuck my foot in and stopped it.
She glared, her eyes darkening to the color of muddy water, or more precisely, sewer seepage. My mind wandered as she chewed me out. I had never liked the old bat since the first time I had met her. She had the odor of a musty, aged second-hand bookstore, had gaps in her yellow teeth and was always cranky.
Realizing that she had stopped barking at me, I looked at her. A strange little smile graced her lips.
“Azathoth is here . . . and he wants you,” she said, with a voice that had gone all deep, dark and scary.
Then she began to change. Her mouth rounded like a big zero and her eyes had glazed over. Something black and gelatinous oozed out of her mouth. It slipped down her chin like a big, oily-black drool, dripping from there to slide down her blue dress and congealing on the fluffy bunny slippers she wore on her feet.
I backed away.
She had always been, like, an evil old bitch, but really, I never thought of her as that kind of evil. A chill streaked up my spine as goose bumps broke out all over my flesh. First, the thing at the supermarket, now another one here right across the street from me.
As more and more of the thing flowed out of her mouth her face cracked like an egg and the whole head split apart, the pieces coming off her neck with a loud rip. They fell to the floor of the porch with a plop, and still the thing flooded out of the hole between her shoulders, tentacles whipping everywhere. Worse, it had eyes, so many damn eyes attached to stalks shooting out of its gelatinous mass, and all of them blinked at me.
I bounded down the porch steps and headed for my house, not looking back.
Now I understood why the neighborhood seemed silent as a graveyard, even on a Sunday morning. If anyone else other than me existed here, they better damn well stay behind locked doors.
Azathoth is here . . . and he wants you.
I grabbed the knob of my front door and twisted it. The door wouldn’t budge. I tried again and discovered it was locked. That scared me as I knew I hadn’t locked it. Worse, I had left my keys inside. I heard a noise behind me and I whirled around. The thing had oozed its way across the street and sat by my mailbox in the front yard. All those eyes stared at me. And, if at all possible, the sky grew darker.
Azathoth is here . . . and he wants you.
Not being able to get inside my house I leaped off the porch and headed to the garage. The garage door stood open. A glint from red metal. I spied two cans of gasoline I kept in there for my lawnmower. I grinned. Both cans contained at least half a gallon of gas in them and I had a lighter in my pocket. An idea germinated.
Grabbing one of the cans, I slipped around the monster and dashed back across the street to Mrs. Rimel’s. It reared up and made like a snake after its prey, slinking after me. As I trotted up the porch steps and stepped onto the porch, I noticed something in a big pile in the opened doorway.
It was Mrs. Rimel, or what was left of her. Flakes of skin. No bones, no blood, nothing else. Just big, dry pieces of skin lying there in a pile. Like she had sunburned herself all over and the skin had flaked off.
I heard something and whipping around, saw that the thing had made it to the bottom step of the porch. Upending the can, I poured the gasoline onto the porch and what was left of Mrs. Rimel. I threw the can at the monster, striking an eye, and sidled to the right side of the porch, ready to jump off. I flicked my lighter, bringing up the small flame, and let it fly. It landed onto where the gasoline soaked into the wood. Fire whooshed up like an angry spirit. Shocked, I fell off the porch and into a bunch of dead day lilies.
I picked myself up and ran, pausing in the middle of the street. The creature crawled onto the porch and became engulfed in flames. It gave off a high-pitched, unearthly scream. All the glass in the windows of Mrs. Rimel’s house shattered, pieces flying everywhere. Something wet leaked out of my ears and I reached up, coming away with blood on my fingertips.
“Die, you damned thing!” I shouted, holding a hand to my bleeding ear. “Whatever you are, it seems you can die like anything else.”
I twirled around like a ballerina and laughed. These evil things could be destroyed. Fire. A good, clean way to destroy something as nasty as that was. The only problem: I needed my car keys to drive my car back to the supermarket. For even though the newspaper reported that the thing there had vanished, something inside me said it still would be there, waiting for me. But my front door was locked and the car keys inside. Just as I was about to break a window and crawl through it, the front door opened by itself.
I stood there, shocked. Had it ever been locked to begin with? I stepped over to the doorway and slipped into my house. Grabbing the keys off the table by the front entrance, along with my wallet and another lighter, I raced out of the house, locking the door behind me. I grabbed the last can of gasoline from my garage and, opening the passenger door of my car, sat it on the seat there. I got in the driver’s side and, minutes later, I drove down to the monster-siege store.
It was there, as if waiting for me, its flesh undulating where the store had stood. At least it hadn’t left the area to feed. Then I saw the bones that littered the parking lot. In the immediate area and even nearby, nothing moved. It felt spooky like a ghost town. Silence permeated the air. Even the monstrous thing stayed still. A cold breeze lifted the occasional piece of trash and carried an odor of death to my nose.
I climbed out of my car, which I kept running but set in Park, and after flicking my lighter on, threw it onto the passenger seat. Red and orange flames licked the air and grew, as they ate up the cloth. I slammed the door shut and ran over to the driver’s side, opening it and taking the car out of Park. I watched the car roll toward the monster. I had gotten as close as I could. The car ate up the cement as it headed toward the thing, fire enveloping the inside.
I gave a big grin as the car ran into the hellish monster. The creature sucked the whole thing up. The next moment, flames soared up through its flesh and the burning odor of something nasty rent the air.
I never saw it until it was too late, but a part of the thing roped around my legs, tightening, and yanked me off my feet and onto my back. It drew me toward its burning mass, parting like the Red Sea and showing me what hid inside it. Things unimaginable danced, gibbering and gesturing at me like monkeys in the zoo. A madman’s version of monkeys, of course. Girlish screams filled the air and I realized that they came from me. I kept screaming as black, slimy ooze closed over me.
I awoke to find myself alive and tied to a cot in a room with white walls. A man in a white coat, with a nurse by his side, stared down at me.
“Dr. Combs, is it true that he killed all those people, burning down the store and that home after he did the crimes?” asked the nurse.
“Yes, a most curious case. When they found him sitting on the cement of the parking lot, in front of the fire raging out of control, he raved about giant black oozing monsters. That these monsters had come out of hiding to take over the world, feasting on mankind.” He laughed and shook his head. “But the only monsters are those in his delusional mind.”
He strolled through the opened doorway. Before he left, he gave her an order.
“Give him ten CCs of triflupromazine.”
She took a needle and shoved it into a vein in my arm, sending something into me, then pulled the needle out. As I glanced up I saw that her mouth opened. Something black whipped out and found my face, caressing it. I cried out from its slimy touch. It returned to her mouth.
“Sweet dreams,” she said with a dark laugh, and walked out of the cell I was in, locking the door behind her.
The light went out and the room grew dark with shadows. Shadows that seem to have tentacles that danced and writhed as they approached, nearer and nearer to the bed. I opened my mouth to scream, but the only scream that escaped gleamed black, slimy and like primordial ooze. Frightening words whispered in my head.
Azathoth is here . . . and he’s inside you!
Pamela K. Kinney is an author of published horror, science fiction, fantasy, horror, poetry, and the nonfiction book, Haunted Richmond, Virginia, published by Schiffer Publishing, along with Haunted Virginia: Legends, Myths and True Tales coming May 2009 from Schiffer Publishing, too. Using the pseudonym, Sapphire Phelan, she has published erotic and sweet paranormal/fantasy/science fiction romance, also poetry and a couple of erotic horror stories. She also has done acting on stage and in films. Find out more about her at: http://FantasticDreams.50megs.com or at either of her MySpaces: http://www.myspace.com/PamelaKKinney and http://www.myspace.com/SapphirePhelan.
She admits she can always be found at her desk and on her computer, writing. And yes, the house and husband sometimes suffer for it!