In the eerie stillness of a cool October evening in Pleasant Pointe, the small town settled into its accustomed silence. Most of its citizens had long since retreated to the warmth of their homes, and the only signs of life were the rustling leaves and the occasional flickering street lamp, Rachel slopped a wet mop onto the cold linoleum flooring of the local Ace-Mart. Compelled by her strict parent’s attempt to impress upon their young daughter their own back-breaking work ethic and a manager who never took no for an answer, her late night at the job was an inconvenience she simply couldn't refuse. As the minutes dragged on, Rachel was one of the few souls left within the sprawling grocery store after closing time. Rachel hurried to complete her tasks as her Walkman played through the foam-and-wire headphones around her neck . “Half-Assed”, she could hear her father calling it now.
When the last aisle was wet - not necessarily cleaned - Rachel rolled the mop bucket toward the storage room. The muted hum of the fluorescent lights struck a hard glare across the wet linoleum in the spaces where the lights remained on in the deserted labyrinth of consumer goods. The wobbly wheel, barely hanging on to its moorings, made it a much longer and annoying trek to the other side of the deserted store. As she turned down the last dimly-lit aisle, where the lights had been turned off to save on electricity, there was a sudden chill on her skin. The fine hairs on the back of her neck raised, and the skin on her forearms tightened into goosebumps as she peered down the corridor of cereal and breakfast foods.
Stationed at the entrance for years, was a weary-looking security guard. A patch of pure white hair along his eyeline, just over his ears, was one of the few indications of his age. He wore black trousers, shined shoes and a crisp white collared button-down shirt with a nametag pinned - reading ‘Frank’. For Rachel, even though she had only held this job for about three months, he was a familiar presence. His stoic, if constantly tired and annoyed, demeanor provided a sense of safety to both employees and customers alike. Tonight, however, he seemed preoccupied as he stood at the front doors of the Ace-Mart, holding a jangling set of keys.His eyes darted occasionally toward the darkened parking lot beyond the glass doors, staring as if searching for something just beyond his sight.
Frank had barely noticed the pale slip of a girl approaching, glanced behind her as she made her way to the front door. As Frank noticed her approach, and gave the key that sat in the lock of the front doors a turn.
“Thanks, Frank.” Rachel said with a distracted, tired smile.
"You should hurry," he muttered, his voice barely audible over the hum of the failing lights and the music of Rachel’s headphones.
“What?” She said, tugging her headphones down around her neck to hear him more clearly.
“I said..” he paused, considering it, “I said have a good night, ma’am.”
Frank opened the door for Rachel and, after she walked outside, he closed the door once more. Rachel could hear the latch of the lock closing shut behind her as she made her way into the empty parking lot. The full moon cast a glow on the roiling gray clouds overhead. The wet asphalt reflected the pale, sickly yellow lights that illuminated small islands of the parking lot, under which sat Rachel’s 1976 Honda Accord. Rachel's footsteps echoed as she ventured further into the dimly lit expanse, her car waiting patiently in the back of the lot.
The ominous feeling in the air intensified, and Rachel quickened her pace. The walk seemed longer than usual, and she’d never felt more alone or vulnerable in her life. When reached the reassuring sanctuary of metal and glass, she fumbled for her keys. Her feet burned with a need to run away, and she could almost feel the presence of someone standing just behind her - even though as she looked over her shoulder, she saw nothing but empty parking lot. Something was lurking in the shadows behind her, a presence she couldn't quite grasp. She was sure of it.
As Rachel finally managed to slide her key into the lock and open the car door, a sudden chill swept through the parking lot, and across the girl’s shoulders and neck. Something whispered Rachel’s name into her ear. Her heart raced as she glanced over her shoulder, but all she saw was the darkened storefront and an empty expanse of asphalt with small islands of yellow light. With trembling hands, she scrambled into the car and slammed the door shut, air coming in hastened, shallow breaths. Through the car's windows, the chilling silhouette of a monstrous shape stood between the islands of light. Its grotesque form casting a nightmarish shadow. Her eyes widened in terror and she locked the doors and looked down toward her dash to stuff her key into the ignition.
The creature struck with ferocity, not from outside the car, but from within. There was a sudden, suffocating silence for a moment as all she could hear were her shallow breaths. She hadn’t even turned the keys to the ignition, and her head slowly turned toward her back seat where the monstrous shape now sat. Its malevolent smile showed the intent of strange, sharp teeth in stark white contrast against the otherwise featureless black of its face. There was a scream, and a brief struggle illuminated by the dim overhead lights of the aging vehicle. But as quickly as the violent commotion had begun, it ceased.
The next morning, another figure emerged from the fog that had descended upon the parking lot. Shined black shoes and black slacks and a white dress shirt, crisp as ever - Frank approached the abandoned car. He saw the driver’s side door left ajar and inside, the sullen, repetitive ding of the vehicle was all that remained of the struggle. He stooped down next to the open car door, and scooped up a small gray cassette player and headphones. Upon the gray foam of its earpads, there was a small drop of red liquid.
Pleasant Pointe is a town steeped in its own unsettling mysteries that most of its citizens would just as soon ignore, and the town had just added another layer to its enigmatic tapestry. Later, Her ‘missing person’ flier would chill and flicker in the cold October wind amongst a wall filled with similar pieces of paper, and Rachel's inexplicable disappearance would become yet another haunting tale in the lore of Pleasant Pointe, a town where the unknown lurked just beyond the edges of perception, waiting to be discovered by those who dared to venture into the shadows.