For generations writers and artists have attempted to flesh out visions of hell. Fire, brimstone, demons, and devils. Let me tell you, hell is hardly that interesting. I know I lived it. Hell has florescent lighting and a linoleum floor. The devil wears a name tag and enjoys barking at people that don't even make a livable wage, but are trapped there. Just like I was.
I sat the last can atop the shelf and it groaned in protest. All the hinges were nearly rusted through. I checked my watch, five minutes until clock out. I brushed my hands off on my smock and headed toward the back of the store. Up the aisle I spotted the assistant manager chatting it up with one of the freezer-cooler guys.
"Hey, Art." I said as I approached. "Aisle 5 has about had it. Those shelves seriously need to be replaced before they just fall down and kill someone with canned goods."
He turned from his conversation slowly and gave me a demeaning stare. "What does this tag say?" He asked flicking the yellow plastic below his badge.
I sighed. "Assistant manager
He looked over my name badge with flare. "Humm, yours doesn't seem to say building inspector- Do you have a degree in carpentry that I don't know about?"
I narrowed my eyes on him. "What does carpentry have to do with rusty shelves?"
He rolled his eyes. "Look, Dani, you're a stocker. Just do your damn job and don't worry about anyone else, okay?"
"I was just bringing it to your attention." I said quickly for fear that something worse might slip out and I still needed my job. At least until my transfer went through. I checked my watch again, two minutes until clock out. I stepped past them and continued my trek to the time clock.
"What was that about?" I heard the other guy ask.
"I dunno," He grumbled "the fat bitch is always complaining about something."
I frowned and kept walking, just a little longer and I'd be out of this hell hole. I could tell him what I thought of him after that. Was being an asshole just a prerequisite to management?
I reached the back and swiped my badge, clocking out just as I heard a crash. Art called out for me on my walkie, but I just put it up to charge.
"Oh, sorry, I'm off the clock bitch." I cooed to myself.
The employee parking lot had been packed upon my arrival leaving me to park way at the back. Sure, I needed the exercise, but at one A.M- after a full shift my knees didn't give a crap about exercise.
Fatigue wasn't the only thing that had my feet dragging though. Life had just gotten... stagnant . Every day just like the one before. Get up, go to work, go home, sleep, and that's it. I was stuck, absolutely stuck in the depths of retail hell. I reached my car and rested my head on the hood.
"God..." I groaned to myself. "Just where am I supposed to go from here? Is this it?" I looked up at the black sky and it's twinkling stars. It seemed like a nice night for an epiphany. "A sign would be nice." A few quiet moments passed before I sighed and took a step back. "Figures."
As I began to unlock the door I felt a chill run up my spine. I whipped around , but the parking lot was empty, not a soul to be seen. Still my pulse remained fast and the hair on the back of my neck refused to lay down. I swallowed hard, no reason to dawdle so, I hopped into the car and pulled out of the parking lot.
I decided on taking I-49 to avoid traffic lights , since I was now thoroughly paranoid, I wanted to get home as quickly as possible. The interstate stretched out in front of me dark and deserted. At least I'd be able to spot anyone tailing me right off the bat. I hummed to myself since there really wasn't anything worth listening to on the radio at this hour. Was it normally this... lonely on the road? It seemed odd, but I shrugged it off; I was already half way home. in fact I had just entered Desoto parish when my tire blew.
I quickly pulled over and slammed my forehead against the steering wheel. "Perfect! Just perfect!" I drug myself out of the car to assess the damage. The moon allowed enough light for me to see that my right-rear tire was flat as a pancake with some sort of spike sticking out of it. "Real cute." I grumbled, pissed that I'd somehow ran over such a thing. Popping the truck I uncovered the spare, which, much to my disdain, was even flatter than the one with a hole in it. I slammed the trunk and opened it up just to slam it again before pulling out my cell phone.
My parents were no longer in the state to come and rescue me, but maybe my dad could give me an idea of someone to call.
I flipped it open in time to see my full bars drop to no service. "Oh bullshit!" I snarled pulling out the antenna and waiving it around in hopes of a signal. I even began walking back and forth and swinging my free arm above my head as if that would help. "Come on you pay-as-you-go piece of shit!" I snapped the phone back shut and sighed; what else could go wrong?
Pocketing my phone I suddenly noticed two things: It was deathly quiet for a summer night and something stank. I wrinkled my nose and stepped back toward the driver's side of the car. While the sudden reek of stale water and rot by itself wasn't too unusual, the quiet was really unnerving. I opened the door to jump in, after all I was only about ten minutes from home and I figured I could get that far on a flat.
I had one foot in the car and one hand on the door when it suddenly flipped, catapulting me into the air. I bounced off the grass twice, knocking all the air out of my lungs before I came to a stop at the bottom of the ditch followed by a deafening crash. Shaking, I tried to push myself up only to bang my head on the underside of my vehicle.
I wasn't exactly sure what had happened. My first thought was that I must have been hit by a truck or something. I had already began scooting toward freedom to check on the other driver when a sound stopped me in my tracks. It's wasn't a growl exactly, it was far too gurgley. I watched as a shadow passed by and what looked like legs. Legs the size of tree trunks with three toes on each end. The same vile scent from before permeated the air in my hiding spot. I didn't know what was out there, but it was nothing I'd ever seen or even heard of. I stayed still as it stomped around the car. I froze in place too afraid of making noise to scoot backward and I sure as hell wasn't going forward. It snorted between more crackling rumbles and the sounds of its foot falls became more distant.
I couldn't be sure it was gone and I was not going to peek to check. I was pretty much set on staying under my car until someone came and got me when I heard a thunderous sound coming back. In an instant my car was knocked skyward and I was just feet away from the monster.
I'd love to say I was brave and that's why I didn't scream, but the truth is I was almost too scared to breath. It isn't every day that one comes face to face with a creature that has the body of a mutated rhino covered in slime and jaws that make those of a tyrannosaurus look cute. It would have been laughed out of any horror movie, but somehow in real life it seemed much less ridiculous. I will say this though, the second that thing made a move toward me I was off my fat ass like an Olympic sprinter.
I ran for the tree line hoping that I could navigate the mess better than the thing chasing me. I vaulted the fence thanks to the adrenaline and weaved through the foliage. I might have added a few extra holes to my hand by grabbing a barbed wire fence, but it was kinda hard to care at the time. I could see the lights of a house in the distance ; I just had to get that far.
I didn't get much farther though as me feet sank deep into mud. I could hear the monster crashing through the branches behind me as I scrambled to free my legs from the muck. For something so squat and tank-like it sure moved fast. I lost a shoe ,but I had one foot out when I was snatched up by the back of my shirt. I had taken to wearing oversized men's shirts over t -shirts to work since I got tired of busting the buttons on the women's. Best decision of my life. I reached up and jerked open the front of my shirt, popped off several buttons allowing myself to drop out of the sleeves just as the beast began shaking the cloth like a ragdoll.
I crawled for cover, but my distraction didn't last long enough. I was rammed from the side knocking back down into the mud. I looked up to see it rear back and open its mouth, and I swear the thing's head cracked open all the way to its shoulders, revealing row upon row of jagged teeth. It lunged forward only to stop inches away from my face with an ear splitting shriek. Hot, stinking, black sludge then erupted from its throat right on top of me, before it collapsed and pinned me to the earth.
I was just getting properly panicked about the idea of being crushed underneath the thing, when it was rolled off of me. I could make out someone standing above me and attempted to wipe the slime from my glasses for a better view. I got a nice cut in the back of my hand for the effort; my glasses were shattered. I peeled them off of my face and tossed them to the side.
"Can you stand?"
I looked up at the source of that dark melodious voice and my breath caught in my throat. Even in my current state of near blindness I could tell the man standing above me was, for lack of a better word... Hot.
"Y-yeah..." I muttered as I staggered to my feet eager to get a closer look, I glanced back at the monster which was starting to look more like a pile of lake debris than an animal. I could still see the spikes along it's legs though. It looked pretty dead. Back to mystery man.
Damned if he didn't look like someone had peeled him off of the cover of a romance novel. His face had the perfection of Greek statues, without being entirely creepy. It was clear that his porcelain skin had never been touch by acne or any marks of time. He had black hair that was just a little on the long side and dark eyes. His black slacks and button up shirt were still in good shape except for a tear across his chest revealing toned pale flesh beneath. There seemed to be a bit of blood there too, but I didn't see any wound. Something was definitely different about the man, but before I could dwell too long he spoke again.
"Are you injured?"
My hand was on fire and I had bumps and bruises from here to tomorrow. "Nothing serious." I muttered attempting to brush my hair over my shoulder only to have it gloop into place and leave sticky strings of slime on my hand. Not exactly sexy.
He wrinkled his nose before recovering to a more neutral face. "Good." He met my eyes then "Terrible accident. I'll pay for the damages to your vehicle. It will be like none of this ever happened."
My head swam and I rocked on my feet. I had to close my eyes to shake off the sudden dizziness. When I looked back up he was already walking away from me. I frowned. "That's it? No explanation?"
In an instant his face was just inches from mine. "Who are you?" His tone was deathly serious.
I swallowed my heart back down before I could answer. "D-Dani Black-"
"I didn't ask your name Miss Black." He narrowed his eyes on me. "Who do you work for, why are you here?"
I pulled my arms up against my chest and took a step back. "I stock shelves... I was just going home. I'm wearing a name tag for petesakes-" I moved to point at said tag when I remembered that it and the rest of my outfit was gone. "Shit, my badge!" I gasped and whipped around searching with limited vision for my previously blue shirt. Not an easy task in the dark, but I managed to find a lump that wasn't mud or grass and rummaged through it to find my name tag. "I need this for work." As I said those words my initial relief was replaced with a horrifying realization.
"Fuck..." I squeaked as the strength left my legs and I slumped into the mud. "This is real."
My car was upside down; the top completely crushed. I had no car. I forgot about my fear, aches, and sadness. I was angry. I clambered to my feet and marched over to the monster that had started all this. I drew back and kicked it with all my strength.
"Was my life not shitty enough for you? Do you have any idea how many cans I had to stack to buy that car?! " I slammed my foot into its stomach again. "I can only get part-time in that shithole- I don't have health insurance much less vision or dental! Wanna knock a couple of my teeth out too!?" This time I stomped it. "Why couldn't I run into monsters, vampires, and spooky shit when I had the time and didn't own anything?! Like high school!" I snarled before finishing with an elbow drop.
I straightened back up, panting, but feeling just a little bit better.
"Who said anything about vampires?" he asked standing where I'd left him, just staring at me with his hand at his mouth in thought.
I groaned. "Look at you. You're oozing with 'vampire'."
He was quiet a moment before adding, "You're taking this well..."
"No, I have these meltdowns regularly. Completely normal." I sighed heavily. "They said be careful what you wish for, but did I listen. No, not me. I kept hoping , praying even, that something special would happen to me. Now look, crazy shit happens and I have to go back to work tomorrow. I have no car, my good pair of glasses are smashed, my tailbone is probably floating around near my kidneys and I don't even have an explanation for it! I can't tell anyone the truth! I really don't want to spend the rest of my days in a mental ward." I rubbed my forehead smearing more gunk around. "It's going to be really hard to go back to normal after nearly getting eaten by a monster."
"Demon." He corrected. "I must say you survived a remarkable amount of time against it considering."
"Look," I wiggled my fingers urging him for a response.
"Robert. I get it. I'm a big girl. What I don't get is what the hell am I supposed to do now? Do I have to worry about more of these things or do I know too much and some poor sap is gunna find me in a ditch sometime next week? What am I looking at here?"
The corner of his mouth tipped up slightly, almost a half smile, but not quite.
"You don't have anything to fear from me Miss Black. Killing a human is not only not in my best interest, but would endanger every other vampire in this city. Vampire hunters frown upon it."
"So, there are more of you..."
"And I'm guessing that rescue was more for your health than mine."
He did smile then. "You're quite astute. "
"And these things?" I asked motioning back to the demon.
He shrugged. "We normally keep them in check. There have just been more of them lately."
"I mean are they going to seek me out now? Am I going to have to keep looking over my shoulder for the rest of my life?"
I groaned and found a tree to lean against. "Wonderful."
"Now," He said from way closer than he had been before. "what if you were strong and fast enough to do something about it?"
I looked up at him tiredly. "No thanks. Vampires are cool to read about, but it's really not the lifestyle for me. I still having living relatives that I care about and all that."
He shook his head taking a small velvet pouch out from his pocket. "You misunderstand. I'm not offering you immortality." He poured the contents into his palm , fluidly dropped it down letting the chain dangle from a single finger , he held out a necklace to me. It was all silver with a dark stone pendant than seemed to almost glow. "I'm offering you a job."
He smirked. "The answer to your problem."
Two years later...