The old battered door on the second floor stood guard to the unused storage hall rooms for years. The white paint chips fell off one by one until many holiday seasons worth lay in piles on the scrappy orange carpet. No one who currently worked in the store knew what lay beyond. The few who ventured back there, either never returned or came back raving mad.
Haunted, they’d say.
Cursed, said others.
The managers tried to keep a lid on the rumors, but the stories spread like wildfire in the break room. How Tommy went in looking for sign holders and returned with warts. How Melissa had dared Tina on a whim, and when the latter didn’t return, the former suffered from nightmares for the rest of her life.
Mike and Chelsey were at the door, catty-corner to luggage and directly behind housewares. The permanent vacuum cleaner bag smell permeated the entire back hall. Dust motes fell in swarms from the water stained ceiling tiles.
He turned the knob and kicked the door open with his foot, the rusted metal hinges creaked slowly. He shone a flashlight into the eldritch depths.
“I think there’s snakes in there,” he said.
“Could be rodents of unusual size,” she said.
“Goblins would be kind of cool.”
“Yeah, until they chewed your arm off with their sharp, pointy teeth.”
They stood in the doorway for a long silent moment, she slightly behind him, an empty flatbed trolley parked behind them.
“We should get the glass cubes and get out of here,” she said.
“Why?” he said. “You want to go first?”
“I think you should.”
“Big baby. Wedge the trolly in the door when you decide to follow.”
She did so, blocking a quick escape, but at least the door was open and granular light illuminated the first few feet of the storage hall.
Machinery somewhere beyond clicked and clanged rhythmically, like some clumsy giant robot dancing in the darkness.
He whipped the flashlight this way and that; revealing dummy heads, mannequins, and display tables stacked to the ceiling. Something with claws on its feet skittered away from the light and back into hiding. A life-like plastic head with a woman’s short-brimmed hat stared directly at her, face to face.
“I’m losing circulation in my arm,” he said, pointing the flashlight just below her eyes.
“What?” she said, squinting. “What’s happening.”
“You’re hanging on too tight is what’s happening. Please let go.”
She looked down. Sure enough, she held his arm in a death-lock. She hadn’t even realized.
“Sorry,” she said as she let go. The muscles in her arms strained from exertion of holding on, and she had to shake her wrists to get her own circulation going again.
“Let’s go,” he said. “We just need cubes for the shirt wall. Tomorrow we can quit with our last paychecks in hand.”
“Yes,” she said. “I’ll buy you a beer then.”
“I was about to make the same offer.” He nudged her elbow.
She smiled up at him, feeling color return to her cheeks. A rosy sensation, even more pleasant in the haunting darkness.
They plunged deeper into the storage hall. Past the metal frame display towers, the stacks of plexiglass shelves, the wall full of spare parts and hardware.
The skittering feet ran past them, right under Chelsey’s skirt, taking a swipe at her nylon leggings on the way. She yelped as the fabric ripped, the thing’s claw digging gouging her skin. Blood trickled down her ankle and into the sole of her high heeled shoe.
“What happened?” Mike swung the flashlight to and fro.
“Got me,” she said, gasping, clinging to his shirt. He wore a smooth sateen oxford, slippery under her fingers. “Get the cubes and just run.”
“We can do this.” He slipped an arm around her waist and pulled her deeper into the hall. His flashlight arcs frantic and erratic now.
The Christmas decorations came into view. Wreaths, trees, three foot tall plastic Santas with crooked grins and pinched eyes.
“Wait,” said Chelsey. “Point the light that way. I have an idea.”
Sure enough, an outlet was luckily placed near one of the trees that happened to be still decorated. Chelsey bent over and plugged it in. The hall blinked in shifting shades of red, green, and blue.
“Not bad,” she said, giving him a tight lipped smile. “Maybe that will scare off the goblin.”
He smiled back. “How’s your leg?”
“I don’t know. I feel light headed, but I can walk.”
“Okay. Say something if you need me to help you.”
His arm back around her waist, she leaned a little more into him, head resting on his shoulder this time.
“Jackpot,” he said, pointing the light at a stack of fingerprint laden glass cubes. “We need what? Ten? Think you can carry five of these suckers? They’re heavy.”
“Might kill me,” she said. “But we need to get out of here. Now.”
He loaded her arms with a small pyramid of glass cubes. Sure enough, she thought her arms would fall off before getting back to the trolley. She didn’t wait for him, just headed toward the light from the door. Praying the whole time she wouldn’t trip over the damned goblin, or whatever it was.
Mike wasn’t far behind. Somehow he had gotten the flashlight wedged in between two of his cubes.
Past the lit Christmas tree, the stacked tables, the mannequins. The door was so very close. Maybe this room wasn’t really cursed, just poorly lit and junky. Maybe what scratched her leg was only a rat.
Her arms not only ached, but screamed in agony as she slid her cubes onto the trolley. A relief. Now to help Mike set his down.
“Hey!” he said. “Son of a…”
In the blue, red, and green darkness, he nearly dropped his pyramid of cubes.
“Mike? You okay, there?”
She picked up his cubes two at a time and laid them on the cart.
“Something bit me. Right behind the ear.” He had two more cubes in his arms.
She snatched the flashlight and one of the last cubes. On a whim, she pointed the light back into the hall. A pair of red eyes appeared. The thing snarled. A mouthful of razor sharp yellow teeth appeared.
Chelsey snapped off the flashlight, bopping the trolley with her backside. She grabbed Mike by the shirt collar and yanked him out of the storage hall. The door slammed shut behind him.
Later that night, after a few too many rounds of beer, Chelsey decided Mike was a handsome man. She liked the way his hair grew over his ears, as well as his cleft chin, and even the way his skin had turned fire engine red over the last hour. She could get over the two horns poking out from his hairline.
But she especially liked the way his blood thumped along his smooth throat. She tried to ignore how her canine teeth were suddenly in the way as she knocked back her beer.
I write lies for fun and profit. If you enjoyed this little story, please consider leaving a tip.