Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Night Chill by Jeff Gunhus

ONE

Nate Huckley leaned forward against the steering wheel, eyes searching the colorless brick buildings that slid by on either side of the street. He glanced at his watch and shook his head. He couldn’t believe he was spending valuable time, time he didn’t have, looking for a hardware store in this back woods, one-factory, Pennsylvania town.

Huckley spotted the store. The boy back at the gas station had stuttered like a moron, but his directions had been good enough. Huckley pulled into the small gravel parking lot next to the concrete tilt-up building on which the last remnants of the word “Hardware” clung in tall flaking letters. The lot was empty except for a beat-up VW Bug, more rust than metal, squatted in the far corner. Huckley checked his time and felt the anger churn harder in his stomach.

Grabbing the roll of tape, he marched through the parking lot, the hard soles on his leather boots crunching the small rocks into the dirt. Like stepping on bugs, he thought to himself. He smiled and started to twist his foot on each step and stomp down a little harder. By the time he reached the double-wide glass doors that faced the street he felt a little better. Until he saw the sign.

CLOSED.

Bullshit. Huckley pounded on the glass door with the tape.  He leaned down, opened the mail slot with his forefinger and shouted, “Hey! Get out here. I know you’re still there, Godammit! I can see your car.”

He stood up and kept beating the door until he saw a light go on in the back room. A smile spread across his face. He always got his way. Always.

The door in the back opened and Huckley saw the outline of a person walk down the aisle. Huckley grinned a little wider. He’d expected an old man, but it was a young girl who came to the door. She squinted at him through the glass, twisted the locks and stuck her head out toward him.

“We’re closed,” the girl said. She rolled her eyes in case her tone hadn’t made her annoyance perfectly clear.

Huckley looked the girl over. Dark circles ringed her eyes as if old layers of eyeliner had melted into her skin. Her cheekbones stuck out like there wasn’t enough skin on her face to go around, giving her an emaciated, hungry look, like a stray dog who thinks a wrapper with grease on it is a meal. Black roots a few inches long told the world her bleach-blonde hair was more bleach than blonde. The girl was a mess. Huckley couldn’t believe his luck.

“Well, hello sweetie. When’d you start working here?”

The girl ignored the question. “Mr. Cooper left me to close today. Told me not to let anyone in.”

“That’s what Mr. Cooper said, huh? Well, I’m sure he didn’t mean me.”

The girl looked up and down the street. Huckley already knew there wasn’t anyone there. He had checked when he first saw that it was a young girl coming toward the door.

“Look, I’m new to this town, mister. I don’t know who you are. So I think you’d better go now. Come back tomorrow.”

“C’mon now, it wouldn’t hurt to talk to me a little.”  Huckley smiled as he concentrated. The girl’s mind was an open book. He pushed a little and the pages tumbled open, images dancing free form, garbled and non-linear. Hers was the kind of mind that used to confuse him, but that was a long time ago. Now it was easy. With a little concentration he could find out everything he needed to know. Like how the girl was a druggie, a loner, picking up a few bucks before moving on. How she was frustrated the owner hadn’t trusted her with the cash register yet. How the first time he did, she’d take the money and be gone. And there, amid all the adolescent self-consciousness and emotionalism, was a burst of sexual images. Many partners. Some for money. Some for drugs. And blazing out in front was an evolving fantasy with Huckley himself.

Ahh, young hormones, he thought. Little teenage girls could never resist his looks: white skin unmarked by any blemish, blonde hair combed back flat against his scalp, lips dark red as if he had spent the day sipping wine, eyes squinted half shut as if he held a secret too valuable to share. Although he appeared to be in his thirties, it was always the young ones who found him most attractive. And they were always so eager to prove they were women by following him to whatever bed, car seat or back alley he chose.

He left the girl’s sexual images behind and shifted through her thoughts until he found the right information. 

“Your name’s Doreen, right?”

“Yeah, how’d you know?”

He smiled at the girl. “I just guessed. You look like a Doreen.”

“Is that a good thing?” she asked tugging on a few strands of her blonde hair and twirling it over her ear.

“Sure, pretty name for a pretty girl.” God, it was so easy. Huckley moved a step closer to the girl and inhaled through flared nostrils. Cheap high school perfume mixed with cheap high school marijuana. He smiled. That’s my girl.

“So Mr. Cooper left you all alone, huh? Surprised your father let you work a job like this. What are you, seventeen?”

“I’m eighteen,” she lied. “Don’t know who my daddy is. Even if I did, I wouldn’t let him tell me what to do.”

“I see. But you let this Mr. Cooper tell you, huh?” Doreen shrugged. Huckley held up the roll of tape, “Listen, I really need some duct tape. This stuff doesn’t work for what I’m using it for.”

“I’d like to help, mister. I really would. But the register’s closed and emptied out for the day so....” Doreen started to smack the chewing gum she’d been hiding in her mouth.

“No problem. I’ll just leave some money and you can put it in the register tomorrow.  I’ll be in and out of here. Let you get back to your own business, if you know what I mean.” Huckley raised a hand to his lips and took a drag off an imaginary joint. Doreen broke eye contact and stared at the floor. Huckley smirked. “Hey, there’s nothing wrong with it. Lord knows I’ve smoked my share of weed.”

Doreen smiled self-consciously, “You smoke?”

“Are you kidding? My generation invented the stuff.” He leaned in and whispered in her ear, “In fact, I wouldn’t mind a hit if you have any left. I’ll pay you a little extra for it.”

She hesitated, looked up and down the street again. “I don’t think that’d be a good idea.”

“All right. I understand. Maybe you’re too young for me to be talking like that anyway. I’m sorry.” Huckley turned to leave.

“I’m not too young. I told you I was eighteen.”

“Yeah, that’s what you told me.”

Doreen bit her lower lip, then moved to the side to let him in. “I don’t believe I’m doing this.”

“That’s a good girl. You know, I was really lucky you were here.” Huckley smiled. “You have no idea how much time you’ve saved me.”

He leaned into her as he passed. An electric jolt moved through him as his arm rubbed against her breasts. Huckley curled his hands into fists and rubbed them up and down his thighs. He knew he had to wait until she closed the door behind them, but this was his favorite part and he could hardly contain himself. He smiled at his good fortune. He was back on schedule.

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Genre – Supernatural Thriller

Rating – PG13

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Website http://www.jeffgunhus.com/