Mind Games

#8 of ten short stories from my 2015 self-published horror anthology, Random Number Hotline.

Vicki Hermanson pushed her trolley across the supermarket floor, weaving around the other shoppers she shared the aisles with. It wasn’t usually this busy here at the Alville Market. It felt far busier than normal to Vicki, with the store packed in comparison to their usual meagre number of customers.

Alville had been Vicki’s home for several months, ever since moving out west after some rather grim events came to light in her old home town. She hoped to put it all behind her, and so far coming to Alville seemed to have worked. Sure, she had left everything and everyone she had known back there, but she needed a new start. And Alville had fit the bill perfectly. New friends had been easy enough to make, after getting involved in the community and various events. And the town itself wasn’t too bad either. Nice and quiet, just what she was looking for

Despite being a bit older than some of her friends, they treated Vicki all the same. She was in her mid-forties, with shoulder-length auburn hair which she kept tied behind her head in a small bun. She could be kind when she wanted to, which was most of the time, but if something irritated her, she wouldn’t let it bottle up. It was one of the qualities her new friends appreciated. She was honest and would stand up for herself and others when necessary.

She moved up the alley and took crackers and bread and other groceries off the packed shelves and stashed them into her trolley. If she wrapped up her shopping fast today, she would have enough time for a quick rest before her outing with co-workers later in the evening. Today had been a long day.

It took a bit longer than Vicki thought, but she placed the last item in her cart and headed for the registers. She stopped at register four after she noticed its queue shrinking fast in comparison to the rest.

Vicki actually knew the cashier at this register, a quiet, mousy girl named Kim Frawler. The two had never really talked much, but Vicki knew she was one of the nicer people who worked here. She would go out of her way to solve problems, and despite being under pressure to serve her customers quickly, she kept her cool and never lost her head. Vicki admired that.

She was also a pretty little thing, about half Vicki’s age with a short crop of brown hair and radiant green eyes. But as far as Vicki knew, Kim had never been a social person. Most advances from other men were politely declined, and Vicki rarely saw her around town other than here at work. She guessed Kim didn’t have many friends here, which surprised her.

“Next please,” Kim said, smiling at the customer, who said their goodbyes and left. Including herself, there were three people left in the queue, with about five or six in the queues of the other seven registers. Vicki didn’t know the first person, but unfortunately, she knew the second.

Chris Haggerty’s mere presence made Vicki feel uneasy. She had heard stories from her friends of just how much of a prick the guy could be, but had the good fortune to not have seen it with her own eyes yet. The man was in his late thirties, with a rough unshaven beard covering most of his lower jaw and dark brown eyes which seemed to stare right through you. Every story Vicki had heard about him usually involved extreme overreactions for trivial reasons. Such as the time he knocked his coffee onto the ground at the local cafe after the waitress used the wrong kind of milk in it. Or when he tried to return a new phone but was refused due to the store’s policy. Haggerty threw the phone at the sales assistant’s head, almost taking his eye out. Vicki made a point of avoiding the guy whenever possible, an easy task considering the meager size of Alville.

Haggerty’s turn in line came, and he dumped the few item he had onto the conveyor. Vicki watched curiously, wondering how Kim would handle him. She guessed Kim would try to get him served and out of the store as fast as she could. But no, she treated him the same as every other customer who had preceded him today.

“Hi sir, how are you today?” Kim said, flashing her best smile at Haggerty. He didn’t return the gesture, only grunted and threw one more last-second item onto the conveyor. Kim wasn’t fazed though, and continued to make friendly conversation. She’s good, Vicki thought as she watched and waited her turn. Kim scanned each of Haggerty’s items and loaded them into plastic bags. The whole exchange was over as soon as it began.

“Okay, that’ll be forty three seventy five,” Kim said as she totaled the order on her register. Haggerty’s eyes narrowed.

“Excuse me, what?” he said, frowning at Kim. “That’s not right. I bought these exact items two days ago and there’s no way they were forty three dollars.”

Undaunted, Kim picked up a small notebook next to her register and flicked through it. After a moment she closed it and turned back to Haggerty. “There’s been a slight price increase on some of these items, the price tags mustn’t have been changed yet, I’m sorry.”

She remained pleasant throughout the conversation, but Haggerty’s mood darkened by the second. “I’m not paying that. Change the price back, I can’t afford it.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way sir,” Kim said. “I can get my manager over here if you wish to talk with him instead.”

Haggerty shook his head. “I’m already talking with you, this is easily fixed.”

“Sorry, sir, I’m going to have to get the manager.”

Kim reached over to the intercom next to her register, but to Vicki’s surprise, Haggerty reached over the counter and seized Kim’s arm.

“You sort this out right now or I’m taking this stuff and leaving.”

Kim looked down at her arm and the back up at Haggerty, still calm and polite as ever. “Sir, let me go or I’m going to call security.” Haggerty ignored her, instead leaning over the counter and groping blindly for the notebook Kim had been looking at earlier. Vicki watched aghast, shocked at how fast the situation had escalated. Just like the stories.

“Gimme a look at that book! I know this place has it out for me, I know they’ve told you to charge me more than everyone else!” Haggerty ranted, still keeping a tight grip on Kim. Kim started to struggle, trying to free herself.

“Let me go, you-you’re…hurting me!” she begged as she tried to yank her arm away, but failed to escape from Haggerty.

The other shopper in the queue backed off and ran back into the store. “I’m getting security!” she said before she vanished into the aisles. Shoppers and staff at the other registers stopped what they were doing and watched as Haggerty grew more and more infuriated. Kim was a lot stronger than she looked. She managed to hold Haggerty away pretty well considering the size of the guy, but Vicki was worried. She had heard enough stories about Haggerty to know how he would react to resistance. But she continued to watch for now, frightened of what he would do if she interfered.

“I’m not gonna ask again bitch! Give me the goddamn book!” Haggerty gave Kim a powerful yank, almost pulling her clear over the counter towards him.

“Stop it!” Kim shrieked. She opened her palm and slapped Haggerty hard across his face. He stopped, stunned someone had actually dared to resist him rather than let him have his way. Kim’s slap left a large red hand print on the side of Haggerty’s face, but otherwise it had little effect on him, only infuriating him more. He growled, gripping Kim’s arm like a vice and yanked her towards him. With his other hand, he curled it into a fist and unleashed a powerful punch at her head simultaneously. Vicki knew when enough was enough.

“Hey!” Vicki yelled. She stepped forward and tried to pull Haggerty away from Kim. “The fuck is the matter with you? Leave the poor girl along, she’s just doing her job, she doesn’t deserve this shit!”

“Stay out of this, whore!” Haggerty bellowed. He turned his attention away from Kim, who leaned against the counter on one hand as she held her face with the other, barely conscious. Her nose had broken, and blood dripped through her fingers onto the counter. A massive bruise had already started to form where Haggerty had struck her.

He approached Vicki as a few of the other workers on the other registers leaped into action. Some ran to fetch security and others tried to reach Kim to see if she was okay.

Neither the cashiers nor Haggerty reached their destination. A second later the area around Kim’s register exploded. Kim, Haggerty and Vicki were all caught in the middle of it. Haggerty and Vicki sailed through the air and crashed to the ground away from the register. Kim dropped out of sight behind her counter. The explosion blew registers, stands and people all over the front of the store. The glass windows and automatic doors shattered, raining shards everywhere.

Vicki groaned and sat up. She rubbed her head where she had hit it on the shelves opposite the registers. Other people started to come to their senses as well, also only suffering minor injuries. What the hell was that? Vicki hobbled over to the counter to check on Kim. She ignored Haggerty who lay motionless fifteen feet away from where he had stood. She reached Kim, breathless.

“Kim! Oh my God, are you alright?” she asked. Vicki leaned over the counter to get a look at her, but she had hardly laid a hand on the counter when she froze. It was the most unnerving sensation she had ever felt in her life. She tried to move away, but her legs failed her. Something was holding her there.

A terrible screech, like a faulty intercom burst over the silence of the supermarket floor. It hurt to listen; Vicki tried to cover her ears to drown out the noise, but her arms refused to move as well. She stood there, a human statue posed over Kim’s counter. The screech transformed from white noise into words and yelled at Vicki from inside her skull. Even though it addressed Vicki, other people nearby could still hear it. Some cried out in pain and clutched their ears, but it didn’t seem to do them any good.

No, I’m not okay. I’m not okay at all, the sound screamed.

Kim stood up from behind the counter and turned to face Vicki. The poor girl was a mess. Her nose hadn’t stopped bleeding since Haggerty had hit her. A horrific red smear covered the entire lower half of her face. She stared right at Vicki, her face blank and her eyes filled with hatred.

“What’s happening to me?” Vicki tried to say as she glanced around looking for help, but finding none. Everyone was either unconscious from the strange explosion or on the ground writhing in pain thanks to the screeches. Haggerty started to wake, but he wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry.

You people brought this upon yourselves.

Vicki flew through the air again, crashing into the shelves even harder than before. The shelves toppled like dominoes, the chain reaction continuing right through to the back of the store. Vicki yelped in pain. She still couldn’t move, the invisible force holding her not releasing its grip on her. Was Kim doing all this?

Kim climbed onto the counter, her eyes dead as she stared right through the blood. She advanced towards Haggerty who had got to his feet and looked around in a daze, his legs wobbly and unstable. He didn’t even see Kim as she approached, fists clenched. Vicki could do nothing but watch from where she lay.

You first.

Before Haggerty could even react he flew high into the air, hung there for a moment and then plummeted back down to the ground like a ragdoll. Kim watched as Haggerty flew all over the place, bones breaking with each impact. His wails failed to drown out the voice which spoke to everyone from within.

Like how that feels, you monster?

After what felt like hours, Haggerty froze in mid-air. His body looked twisted and mangled, limbs bent far beyond their natural range of movement. Kim followed him with her eyes as he rose towards an intact ceiling fan. As he drew closer, Vicki watched as the fan began to accelerate. It was slow at first, but within seconds it became a blur, the blades almost invisible they spun so fast. Haggerty continued to rise, and soon stopped inches from the whirlwind of blades.

“No! Stop!” Vicki yelled. By the time the words left her mouth, Haggerty flew head-first into the supercharged fan. The result was horrific. Vicki averted her eyes as the blades sliced Haggerty apart with ease. He continued up through the fan like meat through a grinder until nothing remained. Blood rained onto the floor below, followed by what remained of Haggerty, released by the force which held him in its grasp.

I tried to be nice. I tried to be your friend. But you all threw it in my face.

Vicki and the others rose into the air and flew high above the registers. One by one, they floated into a row, dangling in the air like puppets. Some were still unconscious, others struggled at their invisible restraints and begged for help. Thirty shoppers floated above in formation, Vicki hovering third last in the line.

Kim glided over to the first person and looked deep into their eyes, as if trying to catch a glimpse of their mind. It was a man Vicki had talked to on many occasions, Reggie Gress. Poor Reggie tried to avoid Kim’s gaze, whimpering the entire time.

Look at me!

Reggie disappeared in a violent explosion of gore. One second he was there, the next he was gone, transformed into a cloud of blood. Vicki winced at the horrific sight, holding back tears. Reggie had always been a nice guy, he didn’t deserve to die like that. Kim moved onto the next person, like an executioner towards a condemned convict.

“Kim! You don’t have to do this!” Vicki pleaded. “You’re killing them! They haven’t done anything to you!”

Either Kim was too distraught to listen or she chose to ignore her. She stared at the next person in line and in the blink of an eye, the unconscious woman zipped across the entire length of the supermarket. The shopper hit the wall on the far end of the building with a horrific thud. Kim continued along the line.

Vicki began to hyperventilate. Kim didn’t look like she was going to stop any time soon, and there was no escape from whatever force she used to hold them there.

I didn’t ask to be like this, it’s not my fault!

The next unfortunate victim in Kim’s path disappeared before Vicki’s eyes, only to reappear moments later fused into the ground below, as if the floor itself had swallowed him up. Another man melted into a bubbling, fatty pulp within seconds. Vicki started to sob. She knew she was going to die. There was so much she wanted to do with her life, and now she wouldn’t get to do any of it.

She tried not to dwell on it. Hopefully the death itself would be quick. Waiting was by far the worst part. Her turn came next. The previous man had been unconscious when he had burst into a fireball and fallen, crumbling into ashes on impact. Vicki closed her eyes.

“Please don’t do this,” she begged, all hope of survival gone. Kim stood in front of her as she floated in the air. As she looked up at her, Vicki shut her eyes, sobbing between breaths, and wait for the end to come.

It never did.

Vicki opened her eyes after a few moments, confused. She became even more perplexed when she saw Kim on her knees, sobbing into her palms. The piercing shriek in everyone’s mind died down to a whisper, and soon vanished altogether. After a moment, Vicki and the last two shoppers dropped down to the ground, released by Kim. They bolted away from the registers and out the battered and broken front doors of the building. Both were gone in seconds.

Even though this woman had been moments away from killing her, Vicki didn’t run. A moment ago Kim had looked like something from a horror movie, her face red with blood and eyes black and dead as the night. Now as she lay on the ground crying, Vicki couldn’t help but feel sorry for her.

“Kim…what have you done?” Vicki carefully approached her, palms up, trying to show she wasn’t a threat. There was no way to know how Kim would react. She didn’t seem to acknowledge Vicki’s presence at all, and only looked around her in shock. The remains of the people she killed, the destroyed supermarket shelves and displays, the blood. There was no escaping it.

“Oh God…” Kim said, blinking away her tears. “Not again. I can’t do this again!” She turned around and jumped when she saw Vicki right in front of her. “No! Get away from me! I can’t control it, you aren’t safe here!”

“Kim, calm down,” Vicki said, motionless. “It’s okay, I’m not going to hurt you.”

Despite her kind words, Kim wasn’t getting any calmer. “You have to get out of here, before it happens again! When I get mad…I can’t control it! Run! Now!”

Vicki felt a pang of sadness for Kim. As much as she wanted to stay and help her through this, the things she had seen today convinced her otherwise. Without another word, she backed away and ran out the shattered front doors. She dared not look back.

A group of other people had gathered outside, onlookers who seemed to have just woken up. They seemed clueless to what had just happened inside the supermarket. Vicki looked like she had just emerged from a war zone, her clothes covered in blood, debris and bone matter. Even though she was out of the building, she kept on walking.

Loud screams from behind her made Vicki turn around. Kim’s screams. She looked at the building, when the ground beneath them started to quake. Others around her made a run for it, but Vicki watched the building in awe as it wobbled and warped before her eyes. And then, faster than she could blink, the entire Alville Supermarket vanished.

One second it was there, the next it just crumpled in on itself like a piece of paper. Tons of bricks and concrete turned into powder in an instant and disappeared in the wind. And along with it, all the dead. Haggerty and the rest, anyone who was unfortunate enough to be inside when he struck Kim.

When the dust cleared, nothing remained but a clear, empty lot. Kim had disappeared along with the rest of the building. A quick static voice whispered into everyone’s mind as they watched the scene. Sirens wailed in the distance as they approached.

I’m sorry.




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