Grace slams back against the wrought iron shelving unit. It shudders but does not fall. All her breath is yanked from her body, and she collapses to the floor. As she groans and gasps for air, the towering shadow on the other side of the room pulls itself to its feet, hunching low in the small space. It twists its distended neck in the direction it had thrown her, every grinding vertebrae visible under skin so thin it looks as if it might tear in half.
She snorts, almost growls, in frustration. “The one time I leave my hammer in the break room…” she mutters to herself.
The sharp edges of the shelves’ metal frame dig into her hands as Grace pulls herself to her feet. The thing across the room takes a long stride in her direction. Its boulder of a foot drops with a boom, and she has to cling to the trembling framework to steady herself. Several rolls of paper towels tumble down from the shelves above her. She pushes blood-and-sweat soaked hair out of her eyes as she watches the towels roll away. They’re no good to her anyhow, not in the face of this piece of crap.
Another step. This time the shelving unit next to her pitches forward, spilling industrial amounts of hand soap and Mop-N-Glo in every direction. Grace turns her body to fully face her enemy, feeling the twist and pinch in her spine of bones gone awry.
Its face is long and smooth, its skin nearly completely rotted away to reveal the cracked, discolored bone underneath. Bloodshot eyes roll deep in uncovered sockets. Shards of yellow teeth are bared in an unrelenting grimace. Tatters of diamond-patterned skin that were once ears flap against temples so flaky they look like the top of a pie crust.
Another step. The shelves rock on their base. Grace summons all her strength to heave them back against the wall. The thing is practically on top of her now. Her eyes blink and flash in all directions, looking for something, anything, to use as a weapon. She is surrounded by cleaning products: bleach, ammonia, vinegar, which are all kinds of nasty for most of the creepy crawly things that come at her. But, apparently, not this guy. When it first stuck that nasty mug out of the portal, the bleach she’d blasted it with did no good except to eat away at the last remaining chunks of flesh wedged deep in the cavities of its cheek bones. Didn’t do shit to slow it down though.
It bends down over her, that dead-eyed peeled face cracked in an eternal smile. God, this sonofabitch must be nine, ten feet tall. She is frantically searching the room, but it’s no use. There’s nothing big enough that would even come close to stopping him.
The thing’s face hovers less than a foot away from her own. “We’ve got you now, Henry.”
Grace freezes for a moment, then bursts out laughing.
The thing looks insulted. Maybe even a little hurt. “What are you laughing at, maggot?”
Grace pretends to restrain herself. “Nothing…but, I mean, since you look like a ventriloquist dummy, I was just wondering who it is that has his hand up your ass?”
Its eyes turn bright red. It retracts its sharp, sinewy arm in preparation for the death blow.
Grace summons every last ounce of her might and propels herself into a low skid through the mix of detergents on the floor, sliding clear back to the other side of the room where this whole stupid thing began. She lands with a crash at the base of another shelving unit.
“Uhhhghh?” The thing utters a confused groan, turning on its bony hips to find her once again.
Grace forces herself to spring to her feet. It’s important to sell the bit.
“It’s tag bitch!” she yells. “And you…are…it.”
Its teeth make a chalky, gritty noise as it grinds its jaws together. It turns to give chase.
When its foot hits the ground, the shelves finally give up their proud fight. They crash down on top of the monster with a satisfying crash of metal on bone on cement. The thing roars in surprise as the shelves pin it face down onto the rusted drain cover embedded in the floor. It sputters in the slick of soap that has gathered there.
Grace lets herself go slack for a moment, her body in fact screaming from the earlier impact and her more recent trip down the Soap-and-Slide. It is now that she finally spots the weapon she has been missing.
Grabbing the broom by its wooden handle, she saunters over to stand above the thing’s head, which somehow managed to turn on its ear.
“Don’t get too excited,” it hisses through clenched jaws. “We’ve got plans for you. You…and that other one.”
Grace smiles, snaps the broom handle over her knee, and plunges the two sharp ends straight down. One pierces the thing’s throat, the other she drives right through it’s scabby temple, angled such that she can feel the final impact against the back of its teeth.
“If I had a nickel every time I heard that, God knows I wouldn’t be working here.”
Even as she’s walking toward the door, Grace has to admit that is a lie.
Grace ignores the odd and slightly disturbed look she receives from the woman on the other side of the cash register as she makes her way back from the supply closet to the counter. She gives Cooper a nod and smile, and he continues counting out his drawer without showing the slightest hint of concern.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but it doesn’t appear that anyone has turned in a pair of Prada sunglasses to our lost and found yet.”
The blonde woman gapes at Grace’s blood- and soap-stained attire. “What…what happened to you?”
Grace keeps smiling. “Are you sure you didn’t just leave them in your car? Perhaps in the glove compartment?”
“Is that…oh my God, is that blood?”
“Or maybe you left them in your shopping cart? That happens to me all the time.”
“What the hell is going on?!”
“Ma’am, I know you’re upset, but there’s no need to shout. If they’re here, I’m sure they will turn up. If you’d like, you can leave me your phone number and I will call you as soon as I see them.”
The woman starts backing away from the counter. “No, that’s okay, I’ll–I’ll just check my car again.”
“Oh, well, okay then. You have a nice night now, and that’s for shopping smart!”
The woman scampers away, looking over her shoulder only once, trying to decide whether or not she is seeing things. Grace just keeps smiling until she disappears out the sliding doors, then collapses over the register, clutching her back and moaning.