Rick's world has changed, and the monsters may be closer to home than he realizes.
| Looking back, Rick should have known something was wrong from the moment he pulled into town. He hadn’t seen anyone from the moment he turned off the highway. There were no sounds either.
He had just assumed it was a slow day. The town wasn’t that big and it was never very noisy, but there was something else. There were no birds. Why wouldn’t the birds be making any noise? Looking around he started to believe that the situation was worse than he had originally thought.
After arriving in town the first place he went was Jerry’s Grocery Store to stock up for summer. It wasn’t much bigger than your average 7-11 but he had always liked Jerry himself. No matter when you went, Jerry would always greet you with a warm smile and begin to tell you all the latest stories about what was happening in town. Considering that he was at the store all the time constantly cleaning, it was little wonder that he welcomed company.
This, however, wasn’t right. Jerry was a neat freak. He was always a neat freak and now the store was anything but neat.
Canned goods were strewn about everywhere. The shelves were gutted and barren. Broken glass and rotten food was scattered all over the floor. There was no electricity and many of the lights seemed broken. Rick was frozen in the doorway.
What could have happened? What if one of the patients got out? No that was ridiculous. None of the patients would do anything like this.
Less than a mile from Jerry’s store stood The Peaceful Gate Mental Health Facility. Rick spent many summers there working as a clerk. He had just come home from collage to spend another summer working there. It wasn’t easy work but it paid well.
The institution housed many patients suffering from mental illnesses from around the state. Although they treated people with a variety of ailments they didn’t treat serious conditions. The worst case he had ever seen was a guy who just wouldn’t stop screaming. He, like the rest of the patients, wasn’t actually violent. None of them would have done something like this.
Sudden fear gripped him. What if something happened to Jerry? He quickly dismissed that idea. The store looked like it had been trashed days ago, maybe longer. There couldn’t be anyone still here. Yet he couldn’t keep himself from worrying.
He took a step forward. “Jerry. Jerry! Are you in here?”
The store was getting darker. The setting sun caused shadows to hang from everything. In the dim light his foot hit something and he stumbled. Looking down he saw the cash register smashed on the floor. Its insides were gutted and the sides looked dented. Staring harder he realized the sides weren’t dented. Rather they looked clawed.
Ricks worry blossomed into full blown fear. Looking around he decided that he should probably leave. The sun would be down soon and he was sure he didn’t want to be here in the dark. Just then he glanced something toward the back of the store.
A row of refrigerated displays lined the rear wall. At least half of the doors were shattered. What jagged glass was left cinging to the frames was streaked with blood.
He spun and ran for the front of the store. This hadn’t been a robbery or some kind of prank. Something was very wrong. He was halfway there when he heard a rustling coming from behind him.
Slam! The door to the storeroom swung open.
Rick paused. In his mind he knew that he should just keep running but he couldn't help thinking of Jerry. The state of the store suggested that he was long gone. In spite of that, he knew he wouldn't be able to live with himself if he found out later that Jerry had been in here and needed help.
Slowly he turned around. The door blocked his view and he had no idea what might come out from behind it. Moments passed as he stood there paralyzed.
The shuffling started up again and Jerry ambled out from behind the door.
“Oh man Jerry,” Rick mumbled as a wave of relief washed over him. “Man, what happed here? Are you all right?”
Jerry shouted in a=his thick raspy voice. “What the hell are you doing here!?”
Just then Rick noticed the look in Jerry’s eyes. He was furious. His clothes, usually the very picture of cleanliness, were tattered and dirty. Stains ran up and down the man’s shirt and pants. Many of them looked disturbingly like blood. He had been right the first time. Something was very wrong.
“Jerry, are you all right?”
“You left me!”
“You knew this was coming and you left!” Jerry was screaming.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I was your friend! I told you things! You left!”
“You did it! Your fault!”
Jerry’s voice was becoming more of a bark. He sounded enraged and almost animalistic. Rick started to panic. This wasn’t the man he used to know. This sounded more like a beast.
“Your fault! Fault! Fault!”
Jerry lunged at Rick screaming and snarling. The man was a good hundred or so pounds bigger than him. He tried to run but didn't turn around quick enough. The large man barreled into him and they were knocked to the ground.
Jerry started grabbing at Rick’s throat and snapping at him. He tried to bite into the smaller man. Rick didn’t think he could resist him for very long. As he struggled he could feel himself growing weaker. Maybe he should just give up? He was too tired to fight. It wasn’t worth it.
Wait! What was happening? He wasn’t just getting worn out. It was as if his very soul was trying to leave his body. He wanted to give up, to just let the large man kill him. He couldn't resist. Why should he?
Pain shot through his head. While struggling on the floor he had slammed his head into the broken cash register. Reality came back to him.
A sudden surge of adrenaline was the only reason Rick could hold the big man off. He grabbed at the register’s tray and swung it as hard as he could. It collided with Jerry’s head and sent him reeling into the shelves.
Rick quickly got to his feet and ran behind a wall of shelves. Being an older store none of the shelves were attached to the floor. He pushed with all his might and soon the row gave. It tumbled over pinning Jerry to the floor.
He slowly backed away. Jerry grunted and screamed at him from under the shelves.
Without a second thought he bolted from the store. Fumbling with the keys he got in his car and pulled away.
What was happening? Jerry was a good man, and yet he had just tried to kill him. He hadn’t even been acting human.
What was worse was that Rick had just nearly killed the man himself.
Yet again today, he started to think that things were wrong. It was more than just nearly getting killed. Why hadn’t anyone checked out the store for so long? Why had he grown so tired so fast during the fight? What was happening?
He turned onto the main road, stepped on the gas and headed out in the direction of the local Police Station
To be continued…