Here's another rough draft section of "Armageddon as Expected". Enjoy!
II. The Masked Girl in the Barren City
We wrapped chains around the wheels, Allen and I, and it was a good thing we did.
It wasn't so much a matter of snow as it was wind. 40 MPH gusts lashed the side of the SUV as Allen continued to speed into the white mesh ahead. The visibility must've been less than ten feet that day. Underneath the snow also lied ice, the product of negligence in some areas. I panicked in the passenger's seat, but Allen kept his cool and lit a cigarette. He cracked his window not even enough for the smoke to escape, and turned to me.
"I'm thinking maybe an eighteen pack just in case we get snowed in or somethin'." For whatever reason, Allen possessed the most childish demeanor of any man I'd ever met. For me, a day off was a day less on the paycheck. To me, cabin fever was fast acting. And because of me, this trip was really more dangerous than Allen knew.
"Yeah man, I might grab some snacks or somethin' just in case," I replied. At no point did I take my eyes of the road. Every time the SUV switched lanes or slid, I clenched the sides of my seat and gritted my teeth, which admittedly, was a pretty careless combination of impulses.
At some point, we crossed the outline of Long Brooke, a city magnificent during a summer's night, now pounded by snow, hail, and a relentless wind. The streets were barren, that was for sure. Not a sole hopped from strip mall to strip mall. Streets I never even knew existed appeared from a lack of traffic. Digital billboards were blackened and without power like most of the edifices in front of us. Even the famous tabloid of Chase County, The Long Brooke Sync, hibernated.
An independent grocer near the town limits bared a sign which read:
YEP, STILL OPEN.
"Can you believe this place?" Allen asked. He lifted his foot off of the accelerator and pulled into what might've been the parking lot. Turning back towards the store, he added, "How is this the only place open in Long Brooke? Damn, we shoulda kept to Lakeside if we wanted to hit up some Mom N' Pop stand."
I shook my head. "It's kinda ironic."
Allen, halfway out of the SUV, replied, "I bet we can find some crazy out-dates in this place, man."
Stepping out of the SUV, I slammed the passenger's door hard. Allen acted like he was going to set the alarm, and then he looked around and shrugged the idea off.
Our shoes quacked along the tiled floor. "Don't even have a welcome mat," Allen muttered.
Ahead of us: a vast convenience center with all of its aisles vacant. Staples like bread and dairy were robbed; cooler doors stripped apart or left ajar. Over in produce, not a single shred of lettuce remained on the wet rack. Even the chips, cookies, and crackers were empty. No customers, no people in uniform, no cashiers - except one single clerk behind the customer service desk.
Although Allen ditched me and headed for the "spirits" section, I continued for the front desk. From the looks of things, the citizens of Long Brooke knew this storm was coming long before I did. Or perhaps, I was mere minutes late of the rush. The lonely clerk had to know something. I tapped on the counter, above a small flyer taped to the siding.
There is no safe on floor level. All registers possess less than $25.00. Smile, you're being watched. -MGMT
For only a moment did I snicker, but underneath the sound I heard another. The scuffle of dress shoes chirped behind a closed door. Somewhere in the makeshift office, the clerk must've been hiding, since there was no safe on the floor level. I knocked again.
"We're closed," a man yelled from behind the flimsy walls.
"It'll just take a second," I assured him. Judging by the looks of things, he had all day to count the cash.
A short, rounded man wobbled over to the window I stood at. I could tell he stood on some sort of mat or thin platform by the way he only stood above me an inch or less. When he walked out of the office, he appeared much shorter. Nevertheless, I asked him, "Hey, what's going on around here? This place is pretty dead."
He sighed and rushed out a string of words: "Normally this place is not dead, and in fact, it is usual full of hundreds of customers a day, and it pushes somewhere around a quarter million dollars a week in fresh merchanise alone. You know how much our electronics department moves? Our alcohol?"
"Sorry," I replied, "I didn't mean the place was small or anything. It's enormous for an independent store. I mean, it's huge for even a commercial retailer. What I meant was, what happened here?"
Before the man could answer, a blue case of beer fell on the counter beside me. Then a green flare illuminated the produce department before it zipped into the backroom like some confused shooting star. Without hesitation, I pursued.
Leaving the beer behind on the front desk, Allen rushed after me. "What the hell are you doing?" he asked just before I stopped in front of a set of door flaps leading to the back room and coolers. Through a dust-covered plastic window in the right door, I peered into the back trying to see what little I could. While the emergency lights were enough to find my way around the store, they did very little to illuminate the back.
A face suddenly emerged and headbutted the window, some sort of rubber mask squishing against the plastic. The little girl radiated green before disappearing somewhere near the freezer to the right. This time Allen led the way as we journeyed into the meat freezer after the girl.
"Did you see anyone else in this store?" Allen asked. He watched his steps along the greasy floor.
"I didn't see anyone," I replied. No sooner than I glanced down at my own footing, I heard a loud thunk.
Allen managed to slide across the slick floor and crash into the steel door, before falling flat on his back. For a moment, I allowed to Allen to take it all in, the red, sticky floor below him, the hum of the only emergency light, all the meat carcasses dancing around him. Dancing around him?
In the same type of flash I initially spotted the girl, she rushed by me, leaving no evidence behind other than that of a drift. One by one, the hanging meat around me lit up green and then returned to it's raw, bloody color. That's when the one next to Allen exploded with the same color.
One careless step after the other, I dashed across the freezer to aid Allen back to his feet. Though I didn't know what the girl represented, I knew I couldn't let Allen be the guinea pig. As I reached down to lift Allen back up, the freezer fan kicked on and I could swear a small skeletal hand gave me a light push to the left, one strong enough to send me colliding into a frozen chunk of cow. My face inches away from a safety hook, I grabbed the sides of the meat and turned around to face the girl in the mask, but at this point, she already disappeared. She left only a trail of green light behind her.
Forgetting about Allen who still lied on the ground, I hurried after the girl. Somehow I knew she would lead me to the face in the trees. Soon I stood in front of sliding doors, which of course, were not operating. However, the girl in the mask slid right through the glass as though it didn't exist at all. I pried the doors apart and stepped into the parking lot, where I was surprised to see Allen already ripping open the other set of doors; beer in hand.
The lone teller of the grocer rushed out after him, screaming, "Sir, you still need to pay for that . . ."
And the world greened. At least twelve feet in the air, the girl in the mask hovered and darted her head at the teller. Behind her, a shopping cart started to roll uphill on its own. "What the hell?" That's what I might've said out loud. Allen and I dropped to our knees the moment the shopping cart was hoisted into the air by some sort of invisible string, letting our jeans absorb the chill snow and ice. Before we could so much as blink, the shopping cart rushed forward, aimed for the front doors, and directly into the abdomen of the only clerk. Then the girl in the mask vanished.
He coughed for several moments, but never spat out blood. Good, at least Allen's beer theft didn't kill him.
"What the hell was that?" Allen asked me in such a tone that suspected I already knew.
"It has to be the same thing from last night," I said under my breath.
"Last night, what the hell do you mean?"
"A little help?" the lone clerk asked.
Ignoring him, I stepped closer to Allen and lowered my voice. "Last night I saw something in our backyard. It happened right on winter solstice, man. It was like a demon or devil or ghost or something."
"So this is why we came all the way out to Long Brooke?" Allen asked. "Ghost hunting? I thought we were just picking up supplies - This was your intent all along, wasn't it?"
"This really hurts," the clerk added.
I wanted to say something that would delight Allen, but I couldn't. Instead, I said, "We need to go after her."
"Are you kidding me? Did you not see what just happened? I'm going back, man. You can either hitch a ride back when you're done being a ghost-buster, or you can just hop in and go home now."
"Did you not see what just happened? Whether we like or not, if this thing keeps happening, it's gonna come back to us at some point."
"You know what?" the clerk said, wheezing, "fuck you guys. You have no idea how much this hurts."
Head sunk low, Allen muttered, "Shit. All right. Let's do this."
And we pursued the devil.
Fear, focus, and the future. C.M. Humphries talks about writing, horror, and whatever.