Part 8 – In which Our Heroes arrive at their destination, only to find that it’s still out of reach, and Grays contemplates his next Facebook status update.
As always, you can catch up on the entire story (for free!) here: Inkling
An Ongoing Flash Fiction Serial
The 101 to the 202, then off at 32nd Street, downtown, and somehow, Grays hadn’t been imagining that their destination would be tucked in a tired old strip mall. Everything else in the valley was, but in the back of his mind, he’d been hoping for something a little more impressive than tan stucco and a clay tile roof.
The long strand of brass bells on the door rang as they entered, and the mingled scents of patchouli, rose, and dark spice filled his nose. There was no one at the front counter, a glass display case filled with jewelry and crystal balls, and in fact, there seemed to be nobody else in the whole store. Some kind of noise played over a few unobtrusive speakers, not cohesive enough to be called music, nor random enough to be called sound effects. An owl hooted, and the low whistle of a wooden pipe followed, almost soothing, until something screamed behind him.
Grays jumped and muffled a scream of his own, enough that he heard the second yelp and started to turn before Collin caught his arm. “Don’t turn around. Trust me. Just walk forward, and don’t look back.”
The third yelp sounded closer, and Grays shuddered as something brushed against the back of his leg, closing his eyes to avoid looking. “You realize that telling someone not to look behind themselves is every bit as unnerving as a cat staring over your shoulder at nothing, right?”
Collin’s hand was firm on his upper arm, marching them farther into the store. Farther away from his car, and any hope of getting out of this in the next few minutes. When Grayson slowed his steps, doing his level best to ignore the sound of clicking claws that followed them, Collin paused beside him, but didn’t let go.
“There’s nothing behind us. Except that the nothing behind us looks like a giant fox, which may or may not be the corporeal form taken by the familiar of the woman who runs this place.” Collin looked at him for a second, nothing particularly comforting conveyed by the tight set of his mouth, and continued. “If you don’t see the fox, the fox can’t hurt you. So if you feel the need to turn around, keep your eyes closed, and run.”
Grays jerked his arm out of Collin’s grip before taking a deep breath and another step forward. “Right. Got it. So when I update my Facebook status later, I can change it to Absolutely did not get eaten by any form of imaginary canine today?”
The low growl at their heels made Collin flinch, and he touched the tip of a finger to the edge of one of his tattoos, a swirling tangle of knotwork inked around his elbow. “That’s the hope.”
Grays nodded. The aisle stretched before them, longer by half than it had been when they entered the store, and darker as they went. “Annual inventory in this place must be a real nightmare.” He didn’t need to look behind them to see the flicker of motion, not when it was reflected in the facets of every crystal they passed. The array of incense, candles, and dishes of polished stones gave way to rounds of glass, flat black and reflecting nothing until Grayson’s gaze started to move away. Then it was a glimpse of teeth, before they were obscured by the fog of breath that came from absolutely nothing.
“Do you even know where we’re going?”
Collin didn’t answer, shaking where he stood next to Grays, with the fingers of his right hand curled over the sharp knob of his elbow. He opened his mouth, a creak of sound dying before it ever formed a word that Grayson could hope to understand. He tried once more, swallowing before he was able to speak. “I thought I did, but this won’t work. We could keep walking for days, and never get to the back of the store. I don’t think they’ll help me.”
Grayson took a cue from Collin, grabbing his arm and pulling him along even when one of the mirrors fell to the floor and shattered. “Speaking as a retail employee, I have to say, that’s absolutely appalling customer service. I think you should ask for the manager.” Grays pointed ahead with his free hand, towards a dark red curtain that blocked off a doorway in the far left corner. Delusional or not, it seemed a little closer than it had been a few moments before. “And since I don’t see anyone out on the floor, it’s a safe bet that the manager must be in the back. Come on.”
The snarling yip that followed them sounded almost amused.