"Did you find everything
all right?" Sue asked, running the last of the man's purchases across the scanner.
"Yeah, just fine," he said, smiling at her.
She looked down at the two bags of chinchilla food, and the small bail of Alfalfa hay he'd purchased, then back up at his
broad, heavily pierced features, and just had to laugh.
"I'm sorry," she said, a little embarrassed.
"You just don't look like the chinchilla type."
"Yeah, I get that a lot. What can I say
though?" He handed her his credit card and she ran it through the machine, glancing over at the clock on her register. 8:55,
just five more minutes and they could close up and get the fuck out of here. Not that Sue disliked her job, quite the contrary,
working at the pet store so far had been the best job she'd ever had, but some nights a girl just really wants to ditch work
and head the hell home. Tonight happened to be one of those nights.
"Have a nice day, er ... night," Sue
said, handing the man his bag. He smiled politely, taking it from her. People with the weird pets always seemed to be the
Susan got up on her tiptoes and looked back
towards the rear of the store, straining to see if there were any other customers. It didn't look like it, but you never knew;
they'd almost locked some stupid old lady who was hard of hearing in the store one night. She'd been cruising the fish-food
aisle for something like 20 minutes, and said she'd never heard them calling out that the store was closed. It wasn't until
Al, the manager, killed the lights that she panicked and ran up to the cash register; a package of aquarium tubing clutched
tightly in her arthritic little hands.
Convinced that the store was clear, and
she'd be getting out on time - or at least close to it - Sue let out a deep sigh of relief.
Then the shot rang out.
It sounded like the building had exploded.
Sue screamed and wiped around to see what was happening. The guy with the chinchilla food was laid out on the floor just inches
from the door, a large pool of blood steadily growing around his head. There was a man standing over him, and he was holding
"You, yeah you. Get the fuck over here and
lock this fucking door," he yelled at Susan, pointing the gun at her head. She froze, and thought for an instant that she
was actually going to piss her pants. The guy looked ancient, but it was probably the long, dirty beard and mud-spattered
clothing which gave him that appearance.
"What the fuck are you waiting for? Get
the fuck over here." He started towards her, the gun still trained she imagined on a spot just between her eyes. Susan felt
sick. Her stomach started churning, and for a frightening moment, she couldn't tell if she was going to faint or simply throw
"I, um, the keys," she said, trying to make
some sort of sense. The man grabbed her by the wrist and wrenched her violently out from behind the register.
"Lock the FUCKING DOOR!" he screamed into
her face. It wasn't until she got that close to him, got that good a look that Susan realized just how much was wrong with
this situation. His eyes were wild - not just crazy, but so bloodshot that they looked like little more than fat, red
orbs with tiny black pupils in the center. He was twitching, and there was a darkish, crimson foam around the corners of his
mouth, and something thick and black seemed to be oozing from both of his nostrils.
"The keys," Susan whimpered, trying to pull
away from him. The keys to the door were in her register.
"Susan, what the he -" Tina yelled as she
stormed out of the back room. The man turned, aimed, and blew a hole through the center of her face before she even got to
finish the sentence. Susan started screaming again, and her body went numb. She couldn't even feel the hot stream of piss,
which ran down the inside of her left thigh.
The man swung his arm violently, bashing
the butt of the gun against Sue's temple and letting her fall to the floor. Landing hard on her side, a hot, loud ringing
erupted in her ears, and Sue could see blood dripping onto the cheap, linoleum floor from the large gash in her head.
"The keys, where are they?" the man demanded,
kicking Susan over onto her back. Looking up at him, she could see that not only did he look crazy, but scared as well. Not
just scared, the man looked fucking terrified.
"In the drawer, the register," she said,
trying to hold onto what little consciousness she had left. "Hit the enter button to open it."
The man opened the drawer and pulled out
the key ring. Holding up the largest one, he shook it in front of Susan, who he had pinned to the floor with his boot.
"Is this it? Is this the one?"
She nodded in the affirmative, and he took
his foot off of her.
"Is there anybody else in here with you?
Was that girl the only other one?" he asked as he quickly ran to the large, glass front doors, locking both of them. Sue coughed,
trying to remember if anybody else was still in the store. She almost said that Tina was, then remembered what had happened.
"No, no ... it's just ..." and
Susan blacked out.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
"Hey! Hey, wake up!"
The words echoed around in Sue's head, sort
of floating just behind the black veil which enveloped her.
"Bitch, I said wake up."
The pain was fierce, and Susan bolted upright,
screaming into consciousness as the man bit into her inner thigh. She kicked out at him, trying to get his teeth out of her,
the toe of her sneaker connecting fiercely with his crotch.
"Fuck!" he yelled and slapped her across
the face. The pain in her cheek and the pain in her leg spiraled together on their way through her nervous system, up to her
barely conscious brain. It felt like her whole body was about to just say fuck it, and give out on her altogether.
Nervously, Susan looked around. The store
was dark, and she was lying on the floor by the back wall, where they kept the small animal displays. Tina and the chinchilla
guy were stacked over by the bird food. Luckily, the poor light didn't afford her much of a view.
"Here, eat it," the guy said, and thrust
something into Susan's face. She tried to move her head and keep her mouth closed, but her brains were far too scrambled,
and he was much too strong. "I said eat it!"
It as she opened her mouth, it took a moment
to register that what he shoved inside was not only furry, but it was moving.
"Oh God," Susan cried, and coughed up wriggling
hairball. She just barely kept from screaming when she saw the wet, frightened little white mouse sitting stunned on her chest,
looking up at her with panicked, rodent eyes. The man picked the mouse back up with one hand, and pointed his gun at Susan's
head with the other.
"I said," the weapon let out an angry click
as he cocked it, "eat it."
Susan stared at the mouse in disbelief.
He was dangling it by its tail, maybe an inch from her face. It wiggled and fought in his grasp, trying in rodent-vain to
"Please ..." she whimpered, knowing even
as she did, that it wouldn't do any good. Then, looking into his eyes, she opened her mouth.
"That's good, that's a good girl," he snarled,
stuffing the diminutive mammal into her open maw. Sue was balling, tears streaming down her face. The mouse wiggled and writhed,
trying to run in every direction at once. Sue started to open her mouth, hoping to god that this sick game was over. The man
put his finger under her chin, holding her jaw closed.
"Chew," he said, and pressed the gun painfully
into her temple.
"Mo," she mumbled through her closed lips,
shaking her head no. She didn't care anymore, couldn't care anymore, this was too much, all of it, it just couldn't really
"Chew!"This time he screamed, and punched
the underside of Susan's chin, forcing her teeth to slam violently together, crushing the little rodent inside. Susan screamed,
and tried to open up, but he didn't let her. Dropping the gun, he put one hand on the top of her head, and started working
her jaw with the other. Sue started kicking out and thrashing in his iron grip, but it didn't do any good. She could feel
it, wiggling in her mouth as its body lashed out at the cruelty which surrounded it, its life draining, its bowls evacuating,
its bones crushing and its fuzzy fur and whiskers turning into dead mush.
Some distant part of Sue's mind tried to
tell her that, tried to put it into a context which might keep her from loosing it completely.
It's meat ... it's all just meat ...
"Such a good girl," he whispered, his lips
mere centimeters from Susan's ear. He pinched her nose, and pressed hard on her cheeks, still holding mouth closed until he
felt her swallow, and felt the dead, little lump work its way slowly down her throat.
"Gaah," Sue yelled when he let go of her,
pressing her head away from him. She started spitting onto the floor, trying in vain to scrape the taste - memory - from
her mouth. It happened fast, he stomach turning over on itself, and Susan vomited uncontrollably, chewed mouse and partially
digested food heaving up through her mouth and nose, splattering onto the tile around her.
Just barely over the sound of her own gagging,
she could hear the man with the gun ... he was laughing.
"Not bad, eh?" he said, and Sue looked up
in time to see him dangle a writhing mouse up over his own opened mouth, and drop it inside. It must have been her imagination,
but she could swear that she could hear it screaming as he chewed frantically, and swallowed heartily. He shot her a wide,
toothy grin. More bloody froth lined the corners of his mouth, and a heavy stream of the thick, black goo was running down
from his nose, and dripping off his chin.
He reached back into the mouse cage - which
he'd taken off of the shelf, and had sitting on the floor beside him - and pulled out two more, wiggling them in Susan's
"Ready for another?"
He reached out, the gun pointed once again
at her head. "Open up." Susan tried to back away, but found she couldn't move. Her jaw ached with the strain she was holding
it closed so tightly.
"Not again," he said, and in the darkness,
Susan saw something - just a blur - move in the shadows behind him. He must have seen it in her eyes, as the smile
faded from his face just a half-second before the blow came, which slammed against the side of his head with such force, that
it actually dented the shape of his brow.
"Oh GOD!" Susan screamed, suddenly finding
her strength and scuttling backwards across the floor. The figure moved quickly, raising the bat in its hands and bringing
it down on the man's head, again and again, until even in the darkness, Susan could tell that there was nothing left of it.
"Susan?" the murk shrouded figure said,
coming towards her. She tried to scoot further away, but her back ran into a shelf of rabbit feed and gerbil wheels. There
was nowhere to go.
"Susan, are you all right?"
Something in the voice reached out to her,
to a part in the root of her brain which still remembered things before this moment. It was familiar.
"Al," she said cautiously.
"Yeah, Susan," he said, coming towards her.
Sue jumped up and leapt into his arms, burring her sobbing face into her boss's shoulder.
"Oh God, oh god, god, god, god ..." her
words trailed off into mumbled gibberish.
"It's ok now. Everything is going to be
all right," Al said, running his hand soothingly over the top her head. "It's over, he's dead."
Pulling away from him, Sue looked down at
the man on the floor. His head was more a puddle than a head now, and in the dim light, it almost looked like he was twitching.
"Where did you come from?" she asked absently.
"Home, I forgot my wallet," he said, pulling
his cell phone from his back pocket to dial the police. "When I came in the back door, I heard you screaming, and grabbed
one of the pipes from the back room."
Sue nodded, not really listening to him.
She heard something, something weird, coming from the front of the store. Her legs felt numb, and she wasn't at all sure they'd
support her as she disengaged herself from her boss's grip and turned around. As Susan walked towards the front door, she
saw a faint hint of motion outside, but for some reason none of the lights in the parking lot were on, so she couldn't really
get a good look at it. Walking up to the door, she put her hand against it and tried to focus her sight out into the ink-black
night. It had sounded like ... scratching, but it must have been her imaginina -
- someone slammed against the door, having
shot from out of nowhere. Susan screamed, jumping back. The man looked wild, rabid like the other one had. His eyes were a
fiery red, and thick, heavy clumps of bloody froth hung from his chin.
"Arrhhh," he hollered, seeing Susan, and
started scratching at the door. There were others outside too, though exactly how many, she couldn't tell.
"Allen ... ALLEN!" she yelled as she
started running towards the back of the store. Her foot caught on a large bag of cat food which had been knocked over into
the aisle, almost tripping her.
"Allen, we have to get -" the words died
in her throat. It was still dark, but her eyes had begun to adjust to the lack of light. Even still, it was the sound of chewing
which told her something was wrong before her eyes ever got the chance to.
"Mome om Musan," Allen mumbled, a bloody
mouse-tail hanging from his mouth. Outside, the scratching had grown into pounding, and what had started out as two fists
had swelled into nearly a dozen. Allen took a step forward, and Susan could see his eyes, and the black, oily liquid which
ran from his nose.
"They're really good," he said, holding
out a bloody mouse which he'd bitten in two and Sue started screaming.
Copyright Nicholas Ehst 2004
Nicholas Ehst is the author
of many short tales of horror and surrealist fiction, and has been rejected by such fine publications as Cemetery Dance and
The New Yorker. He is currently putting the finishing touches on a novella titled "Larry Is A Genius" and is preparing to
begin work on his first novel "Leper". In addition to his time spent writing and caring for his Chinchilla Cleo, Nick has
also directed music videos for the bands Noise Process and BA-22, and will be shooting videos for Re:Course and Sang Rael
later this year. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org