by Jack LaFountain
Cory Kelly had smoked too
many doobies and all that chemically induced opening and closing of cerebral synapses left them badly misaligned. The Cool
People called it burnout. Which sounds a hell of a lot better than drug induced stupidity. A rose by any other name and all
that crap aside, Cory lacked the presence of mind to glance around before slipping another cassette into his pocket.
Cory got a dozen steps before
a gigantic meat hook caught him by the collar. Those misaligned synapses banged open and closed trying desperately to connect.
A stray spark leapt across the void; lights came on, and Cory tried to run. By that time he was going nowhere fast. His legs
churned wildly in midair. Cory was in the firm grip of Joe Rogers's mammoth right fist.
"Gotcha, you little maggot,"
Joe announced in Cory's left ear. "Now, let's go have a talk about how sorry you’re gonna be for stealin' from ol' man
Joe lowered Cory enough to
allow the tips of his toes to touch the floor. Cory bounced the length of Simmons Music like a ballerina dancing to the sound
of cassettes raining on the tile floor. Corey was the only one still wondering what the hell was going on.
Joe Rogers knew. Joe was six-four
and weighed 260 pounds in this Fruit-of-the Looms. With the help afforded to high school athletes of Joe\rquote s proportions
and blocking skills, he had graduated from Sam Adams High four years ago. At Adams High, Joe was a football legend. At Syracuse,
he failed to make the scrub squad. I was a long fall and a painful landing. Joe quickly found himself back home without a
job, but not without some talent. Joe landed a job with Rick Beaver Security catching shoplifters like the one now dangling
from his right arm.
That Cory Kelly failed to
detect this mountain of a man amid the tiny cassettes was testament to how many of his neurons were firing into empty space.
Nevertheless, the fog began to lift when Joe tossed Cory through the door that separated the shop from the storeroom.\par
\tab Joe scooped Cory off the storeroom floor and dropped him into a molded plastic chair. Joe lifted Cory and his chair and
shoved them under a cheap card table covered with a red and white gingham tablecloth and the remnants of old man Simmon’s
Cory was as pale as the Lone
Ranger's trusty steed and sweating silver bullets. Cory shot a quick glance at his watch and knew his troubles had just begun.
Cory’s mouth tasted like it was stuffed with old pennies and his heart was pounding in his ears. Cory looked at his
watch again; straight up six o'clock. On a good day Cory Kelly struggled to remember his class schedule, but he could tell
you, with absolute certainty, that it was November first; sunset was at 6:32 and the moon would rise at 6:37 pm. This couldn’t
happen to him today.
"Let's have the rest, kid,”
Joe growled. “And if you want to get out of here alive, don't give me any innocent act."
Cory rummaged through his
pockets and handed Joe the one cassette that remained in his possession. Tears welled up in Cory’s eyes. “Joe,
I'm sorry. Please, Joe you got to let me go this one time. I'll pay for the tapes only you got to let me go. Pleeease, Joe,
please. I swear I'll never come back here again. I swear, c'mon Joe, please," he pleaded.
Joe swore himself. He swore
he’d like to hear something new out of one of these little crap bags just once. They were all so sorry; all so willing
to pay now that they’d been caught. Well, Joe saw to it they were very sorry. He made sure they paid and none of them
ever came back. Joe had long ago given up turning shoplifters over to the cops. He’d been down that road before. They
were back the next day trying to improve their technique. And why not? When the pukes turned 18, it all went away. Joe was
into rehabilitation. He was proud to say not a single shoplifter he apprehended ever returned to their sinful ways. They found
the strength to keep their promise never to come back. In fact, they never returned to any of the shops Joe served. Store
owners noticed too and Joe was back on top once again. Joe loved his work. He leaned toward Cory like a loving father about
to impart the sum of his wisdom to an attentive son. "Relax kid," Joe began, "Nobody knows how sorry you are better than I
do. I'm gonna let you go and there won’t be any cops or phone calls to Mommy and Daddy. And oh, how I know you won't
be coming back in here again."
Joe flashed Cory his most
winning smile and could see the kid visibly relax. "This is what we're gonna do, kid," Joe explained. "In a half an hour Mr.
Simmons is going on his evening coffee break. Once he's gone, I'm going to pop you like the little pimple you are; throw your
ass out the back door and never see you in one of my stores again." Panic swallowed Cory whole. Joe’s spiel had evacuated
the bowels of many a shoplifter, but he had never seen such sheer terror on a person's face. Tremors racked Cory's arms and
legs. The kid’s eyes rolled back for a moment and Joe thought the kid was having some kind of seizure. The shaking passed
and Cory covered his face and sobbed.
"Please, let me go. Pleeease,
don't keep me here. Please,” Cory pleaded.
Cory jumped from his seat
and tried to run. Joe’s stinging backhand caught him on the left temple and sent Cory sprawling. Joe lifted him back
into the chair.
"Try that again and I\lquote
ll break your freaking legs. You little pukes make me sick. You waltz in here. Oh, now you got to be shitting me, you pissed
Joe's revulsion only served
to ratchet his anger at the kid. Cory slowly lifted his eyes to meet Joe’s. The fear Joe saw a moment before was gone;
replaced by cold, hard steel.
Cory’s body continued
to quake under his cold sweat. His voice trembled, but he was in control when he spoke.
"I'm afraid, Joe. But, I’m
not afraid of you. You can beat the crap out of me just like you said. There are worse things that can happen. Go on, Joe.
Do it, but you do it now and you do it quick. It's almost dark."
"What? You scared of the dark
too?” Joe said. “Nah, as much as I’d like to accommodate you, you’re going to sit here and sweat.
Old man Simmons insists on being out of the store. Forget it kid."
Something about the steel
that had welled up in Cory's eyes and worked into his voice gave Joe pause. Cory might not be afraid of Joe, but he was genuinely
terrified of something and anything that scared a kid more than one of Joe’s patented ass whoopings gave Joe pause.
He had to think about this a minute. Joe walked over and stood in the doorway looking at Ed Simmons behind the counter and
wishing he’d hurry. The sky out front was growing dark. Joe closed his eyes and let himself relax. He could not bring
himself to believe that even a rabbit like Cory Kelly was scared of the dark.
“Hey Joe, wake up! I'm
going to get coffee. Want anything?" Ed Simmons yelled.
"No thanks, Mr. Simmons. You
go ahead. I got business back here."
"Sure thing Joe. Mind the
store. I'll be back soon."
Joe turned back into the storeroom.
"You stay put, you got that?
I'm going out front for a second. When I get back, we’ll finish our business and you can be on your way.”
Cory nodded his head. Joe
walked through the small shop to make sure the coast was clear. No witnesses allowed in Joe's shoplifter rehab center. Above
the brick store fronts across Main street, a fat, yellow moon was rising. Joe closed the door and returned to the back room.
Cory was standing beside his chair. He made no attempt to escape, but had removed his shoes. Joe smiled.
“You ready to try some
karate bullshit or something? This is going to be fun,” Joe said.
"You should have let me go,"
Joe saw the kid was still
visibly shaking, but the steel underneath was unmistakable.
"It's dark. You should have
let me go. It’s not my fault.”
"Yeah. Like I ain’t
heard that before. You something special, kid?" Joe replied.
"Yeah, something like that,"
Cory said. "Tell me what did you see out in front of the store?"
"I didn't see nothing."
“Is that so?" Cory countered,
"I happen to know it's November first. Right about now a big full moon is peeking over the tops of the buildings. Joe, I got
to tell you, full moons make me a little crazy."
“Yeah, me too,”
Joe grabbed Cory by the shirt;
drew back his fist and slammed it into Cory’s nose. There was the sound of splintering bone and pain rocketed up Joe’s
arm. The kid’s head was like concrete.
“Shit! I broke my hand,”
Cory looked up at Joe. Cory’s
eyes were the same yellow color as the moon outside. Joe heard bones snap. Cory's jaw stretched to make room for a row of
sharp white teeth and his hands and feet sprouted canine claws. Cory's shirt split as his chest expanded and shoulders hunched
together. Cory's throat rumbled. Joe swore it sounded like laughter.
Joe's mouth fell open in a
neat "O". His legs sent down roots of fear that burrowed into the floor. Terror knotted Joe’s spine pulling his shoulders
away from the drooling jaws before him. Joe’s bowels let go.
The werewolf placed a single
clawed finger on the tip of Joe's nose. A single drop of bright blood blossomed at the contact and fell to the floor.
"You should have let me go,"
the beast’s voice croaked through foaming lips.
Joe tried to scream. He was
a fraction of a second too late. The shoplifter had stolen his throat.