Aaron Faulker clutched his empty flask. He needed a drink desperately. He thought he remembered the gentle glug, glug, glug, as the vodka emptied into the flask this morning, but now the damn thing was empty.
Had he drank it?
He didn't remember drinking it.
He felt no calming effects from it.
Perhaps he drank it in Kitty's truck.
That had been horrifying.
He was sure he was going to die.
And the grandmother?
Faulkner shook his head and stared through his windshield at the hulk of a building in front of him.
Did he dare?
Did he dare sneak into Tommy's Tool Town while it was closed?
He knew how to get in.
He paid attention, although no one would likely believe that.
He was the adorable drunk.
Faulkner looked in the rearview mirror and flinched.
That might be pushing it.
He had an angry welt on his face where he'd whacked the passenger seat, and his eyes were wild and bloodshot. The circles beneath them, ever present from an exhaustion that never subsided, had been gray only this morning. Now they were black as ink.
At least his hair looked combed.
By an egg beater, perhaps.
Faulkner didn't look adorable.
He looked like a homeless man turned serial killer.
He reeled in his thoughts.
Everyone thought he was a clown. Harmless, despite his dependency, and his propensity for accidentally lighting fires. They all laughed at his silly jokes.
No one knew what really went on in his head.
He should have said no, but he'd been scared half to death. And, he needed the money.
Cheap vodka was disgusting. Expensive vodka was disgusting, too, but easier on the palette.
He should have said no.
"Dammit," he whispered.
He left the safety of his vehicle, parked far beyond the complex. He stuck an old undershirt in the slightly open window. No one would doubt that the beater was disabled.
Faulkner skulked across the parking lot, toward the Receiving Bay door. His footsteps were light, and he was silent as a tomb.
He knew there was one window that didn't lock properly, but this time he had a key. He slid the key into the door, turned it, and the lock released.
Faulkner slipped inside.
He knew the cameras would be deactivated for the night. He'd been assured.
Nonetheless, he pulled the ski mask from his back pocket and slipped it over his head.
And it smelled.
It smelled like booze and sweat and fear.
He wanted to remove the mask, but he couldn't take any chances.
He carefully made his way from the bowels of the Receiving Bay into the retail area. The store was dark; only a few safety lights were left lit. Shadows followed him, and reached for him from the darker aisles. He shivered.
He hated this.
He should have said no.
He wasn't a brave guy. He was a coward. He didn't bungee jump. He didn't sky dive. He didn't want to.
His bucket list simply said:
Avoid any situation that might require bungee jumping or sky diving.
That was all he wanted to do.
He rode a roller coaster once, with his sister and her kids. He'd stolen two Xanax from his sister's purse and popped them both before the ride. He'd passed out on the first ascent, and had wound up in the medical tent.
He hadn't been scared.
He'd been unconscious.
He was a weasel.
Something moved in the next aisle and Faulker froze.
"Shit," he whispered, although he made not a sound.
He'd stopped breathing.
Two shadows passed. Two big shadows.
He was sure he wasn't alone.
What had he heard about the Tommy complex?
Wasn't it something else before it was Tommy's?
Had it been a prison, a mental hospital, an Indian burial ground?
Maybe it was haunted.
Maybe he'd disturbed the undead by coming into the store at night.
It wasn't his time to be here.
Perhaps it belonged to the spirits of the night!
Shit. Oh, my God. Breathe! Breathe! Breathe!
Finally, Faulkner did. He inhaled with such force, he should have been top stocked with the Shop Vacs.
He moved wildly through the dark aisles, successfully avoiding the shadow people.
Who were they?
Faulkner had to calm himself. If he didn't, he'd have a heart attack, and they'd find him dead in rough plumbing, or some other retail hell, in the light of day.
He was already headed down that road.
He didn't have internal organs.
He had an internal micro brewery.
His liver was probably ruined.
He was almost dead already.
By some miracle, Aaron Faulkner had made his way to the appliance department. He was surrounded by refrigerators, freezers, stoves. Washers and dryers were to his left. He loved appliances.
They were strong.
He was weak.
Sometimes he named them.
He felt at home with his silent friends. They never judged.
Refrigerators were his favorite. They kept his beer cold.
Something moved deep in the store, and the noise, despite its distance away, was crystal clear in the otherwise silent warehouse. Faulkner had to get out of sight. He squeezed behind a behemoth stainless refrigerator. He'd named her Susan, for Susan Sarandon, one of his favorite actresses.
"Hello, Susan," he whispered.
He was safe.
Faulker bravely looked behind him.
"SON OF A ....." Faulkner said, forgetting to whisper.
He was an idiot. The spot behind Susan was empty. He wasn't concealed at all! He was completely visible from the next aisle.
He should have known that.
He'd sold Carol Burnett, a huge side-by-side, just the day before, to an adorable older couple. The husband couldn't hear much, and the wife wore a lot of really cheap perfume.
They'd paid cash. He'd marked Carol down ten percent. She was the last of her kind, a floor model he'd had since his first day.
He had hoped they were worthy of Carol Burnett. He'd really loved her.
Aaron Faulkner imagined how he must look. A crazy, quivering man in a ski mask, hugging a refrigerator. He chastised himself, and took a few seconds to think about his life. He had to get it together. His behavior was a real chick magnet. He wanted what other men had, someone to ask how his day was.
"How was your day?" he imagined his wife asking.
"I hid in appliances, wearing a ski mask, and hugging a refrigerator."
It sounded ridiculous, but the symbolism was nice.
No woman would want him like this, save Kitty. Kitty might like him. Surely she must grade crazy on a curve.
Faulkner sighed and dropped to his knees. He froze again, certain he'd heard a voice, a whisper, something that shouldn't be piercing the silence in an empty place.
He crawled to the freezers. The noises were getting closer, and he no longer doubted himself. The store wasn't haunted, and he wasn't alone.
Some other living person....
Somebody else was inside.
Aaron Faulkner had to find a place to hide, or risk being found.
He liked the hiding idea.
Anything else only worked for a far more courageous man.
He crawled to the back wall, to the chest freezers. He had one with a broken lock, one that didn't quite catch right when closed. One from which he might escape once the danger had passed.
He searched the shadows for just the right one.
He slipped inside.
The freezer latched.
Faulkner was an idiot.
He'd sold the broken freezer, Chilly Willy, just the previous week, to a middle-age woman who had recently discovered the joy of the Schwann's man. She had a son in college, and a daughter who was married. She was divorced. She'd told Aaron four times. The third time, she'd opened the top button of her blouse.
He'd been a little freaked out.
He didn't want to date her, and he didn't want Chilly Willy going to her crazy house, but he couldn't say no. She wanted the freezer, so he'd sold it to her.
Now he was going to die.
If his high school yearbook had had a category for the student most likely to be found dead in a freezer, Aaron Faulkner supposed he would have won that honor.
Now the prophecy was about to come true.
Aaron Faulkner prayed.