This story is by Christiane Williams-Vigil and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
As soon as my register closed I hurried to go clock out. Jerry waved at me as I slipped out the door of Creature and Son’s bookstore on the corner of Schuster and Pasquales. It was an old place with history, mostly ghost stories and strange occurrences. The pavement was saturated with rain, the distant rumble threatened to bring more water overhead. The air was damp but comforting. In the middle of the alley was a worn wet cardboard box, fraying and bent in the corners. I used the side of my foot to kick it away, thinking there was just trash. Once my foot made contact, it bounced. Something scraped and scurried inside the box and then readjusted itself.
“Shit,” I mumbled. “Don’t tell me it’s a dog. I fucking hate when people dump pets.” I crouched down, using my thumb and middle finger to loosen the woven top. I peered in. Two long front limbs ended with three claws each and it’s body was shaped like a cat. Each protruding spinal bone had a mass of red quills that reflected off its onyx scaled skin. It looked up at me, warm red eyes glared back. Its snout opened, showing razor sharp teeth. I kicked the box hard and ran back inside the bookstore where I worked. The door swung opened and hit the wall as I clawed my way in. Jerry turned his head in my direction as he shut his register.
“Didn’t you just clock out?” he asked.
“In the alley, there’s something there, its. . .” I froze unable to describe what I had seen. My grandma had a word for that feeling, an absolute anxious fear that builds in your stomach and then spreads out an icy shock into each vein. El Susto. The fear. Here it was before me, an embodiment of that horror. He quickly propped up a ‘closed’ sign on the register and motioned for me to go outside with him.
“Show me.” We stood five feet from it. The top was still open, flapping softly with the breeze. He moved forward but I threw my arm across his chest to hold him back. He waved me off and approached cautiously, step by step. He picked up the box and bent his whole head in before giving a shrug. He let it drop with a hard thud.
“Whatever it was, it’s gone now.” He walked past me heading back inside the bookstore.
“You sure it wasn’t just a cat with mange. You’re really lucky that it didn’t maul your face.” I shivered and went to look in again. I could feel my heart thumping in my temples. A clawed hand leaped out and scratched a chunk of cardboard away. I shrieked and run past Jerry. I looked back over my shoulder to see he watched me go, this thing brushing against his leg as it passed him too. His unfazed expression told me that he couldn’t see it.
I ducked back into the book store, sliding behind my register. My head rose high enough to peer over the pine countertop. It scurried in, weaving in between the customers’ legs. No reaction was shown on their faces to indicate they could see it. Its shoulders undulated, twisting as it clawed up some bookshelves. It yanked books down, haphazardly throwing them at people’s feet. I had to do something, whatever this was it could seriously hurt someone and I was not just going to be a witness to that. I grabbed an empty box from the stock room and dug in the café’s trash for scraps of half eaten turkey sandwiches.
Jerry watched me from a far, shaking his head as I gave him the thumbs up. I set the box down behind a display and pressed my face against the corner. Its claws tapped across the wooden tops of the shelves as it got closer. I held my breath, watching it slowly sniff the corner and consider it. Like a snake it slithered underneath the flaps and I could hear the mashing of bread and cheese soon after. I leaped out and taped over the flushed edges of the box. A chill ran down my spine as I felt its weight of it shift inside. I felt the heat of eyes on me. All the customers had stopped their random browsing and were glaring at me with harsh knitted brows. I scooped up the box, slowly backing away from the crowd.
The attic at work is where we keep old molded and unsold books from the old days when Creature’s first went into operation. I moved around old damaged shelved and forgotten displays, until there was a hidden space in the cobwebbed corner exposed. I scribbled in thick sharpie ‘DO NOT OPEN,’ before I stacked debris around the area. I sighed. I should have stayed longer to better organize the area, so that no one had to deal with that thing later, but there was no time. I wanted to get far away from there as possible. I raced back down stairs and gave my two weeks’ notice.
Rachel was tasked with organizing the attic at Creature’s bookstore. She went up and began to clean. Sweeping wave after wave of dirt and making a bin for trash. In the corner, hidden behind a stack of boxes, a worn looking one was labeled, ‘DO NOT OPEN.’ Rachel rolled her eyes, thinking this was probably full of old corroded cleaning supplies. Last thing she needed was an OSHA violation on her first day as manager. She reached out to pick it up, but the box thumped up and then settled. She gasped. Her trembling hand peeled back a corner of the tape and slowly stripped it off. The seam broke, sagging before bulging back out to open all the way.