Back Way

“You sure about this? I can wait.” Abigail stood uneasily at the front of the dark store, her coat on and car keys dangling from her hand. 

“Nah, you go ahead girl.” Evelyn replied, closing out the last register. “Still got a little bit to do and I know they ain’t paying you overtime.”

“Yeah but… it’s late and…”

“What? I’m a grown-ass woman, I can handle myself. Bus stop’s only like a hundred feet away.”

“I mean, I can drive you. To the train station at least… if you want.” The girl had her hand on the door handle. Outside, the empty parking lot was a blank white slate, fresh falling snow glaring bright in the stadium lighting. Across the way, two indistinct figures strolled along in the windless snowfall, small points of orange flame glinting from their faces.

“Abby, I’m fine, really. It’s gonna be at least half an hour until I get all this inventory bullshit done.”

“I can help you.”

“No. You need to go home. You need to go be with that daughter of yours.” Evelyn laughed, “Seriously, go! I’m not playing, get your ass out of here!”

“Okay, okay, fine. Don’t stay too late though…” Abigail eyed the figures walking away in the distance. With some reluctance, she unlocked the main door and passed out into the quiet night. Evelyn quickly walked up to lock the door behind the other girl, watching as she swiftly walked out of view to her vehicle parked on the far side of the strip mall.

She knew what Abigail thought, that this was a “bad” neighborhood, that it was dangerous to be out at night, alone. Evelyn smiled to herself. Maybe for Abbs it was. Maybe to someone who grew up in the boondocks, any place remotely urban seemed full of unseen terror at night. But honestly, this was one of the nicer neighborhoods in the city, a far cry from what she used to have to walk through coming home from school. 

Forty-two minutes later found Evelyn in the backroom, rechecking the final counts of the racks and unopened stock. She could have been done already – probably could have been done when Abby left, but it was in Evelyn’s nature to be absolutely sure that the job got done to its full extent with little to no error. But at last, she felt good about her counts; she felt confident that no one could come back at her about a half-assed job.

Evelyn took one final walk around the store before she set the alarm, unlocked, and then locked the front door to the shop, standing now in the snow-swept plain of the strip mall lot. She checked her phone: it was ten past eleven already. The buses were probably done running for the night, no sense in waiting for one. Trains would be running still and the station was only a twenty minute walk away if she took the back way through the receiving lane. 

Truthfully, she enjoyed the back way better anyway; it was usually faster than waiting for a bus and it was relatively quiet, with the noise of the nearby street muffled by the closely-built houses. The only bad part of all this was that she would have to be in again at eight-thirty the next morning. It’d be almost as if she’d never left. Sometimes, Evelyn was tempted to camp out in the back room with a sleeping bag. She was, after all, store manager. Who would tell her she couldn’t as long as she didn’t trip the alarm. 

More than once, she played around with the idea of living out of the store for a few months. It wouldn’t be impossible, maybe a little sketchy figuring out how to feed and bathe herself, but the savings on rent alone would make it worth it. It wasn’t like she had anyone waiting for her at the apartment anymore.

Past the side of the store, past the receiving lane, the lot gave way to a narrow avenue. It was almost an alley, all tucked away from the main veins of traffic, only a few sparsely-placed street lights illuminating the row of newly-built townhouses that formed the dead-silent neighborhood. Evelyn didn’t really care for the houses; they were too nice, too big, and according to the billboard standing at the end of the street, they cost far more than she could ever hope to afford on her salary.

Tonight though, the narrow quiet avenue was not as empty as Evelyn would have liked; at the far end of the way, an indistinct figure could be seen making its way down the middle of the road. The figure was moving hurriedly: not too fast, but definitely faster than walking.    

 “Hey lady!” The figure called out as they bridged the gap, coming close enough that Evelyn could almost make out human features. “Hey, I wouldn’t go that way if I were you. Some messed up shit back there.” It was a kid, a teenage boy, probably not even old enough to vote. He was walking fast now, just a little short of jogging, hood over his head, his face shadowed as he got closer. 

“Whatchu mean?” Evelyn asked, but the boy didn’t stop, didn’t hardly look at her as he walked on past. 

“ Turn around.” That was all the boy would say as he passed on by toward the brightness of the parking lot and the street beyond.

“Whatever.” She muttered to no one, shaking her head. The crazies definitely came out at night, but she wasn’t worried. Not around here. With all these new, fancy houses going up, soon enough no one would be able to distinguish the ‘nice’ parts of the city from the suburbs. Evelyn knew for a fact that the worst thing anyone could see around here was a homeless dude taking a piss against a wall. She kept on walking.

Eventually, the alley-like street with the expensive homes gave way to a real alley; old slanted garages with dented doors and black rolling trash cans, white spray-painted house numbers along their sides. From there, the alley forked; one way leading to a main street, the other leading to an underpass beneath an aqueduct which then eventually led to a train station entrance. 

Evelyn grimaced. There was a dude who sometimes camped out underneath that aqueduct. He was a nice enough guy, never said a crude word to her and was always appreciative whenever she could hand a few dollars his way. She didn’t like the idea of him – or anyone really – being outside in the middle of winter but she guessed that the underpass was a better place to be than being exposed out in the open. 

Wind picked up as she took the right fork, the aqueduct and the darkness beneath it funneling the cold front directly into her face. It was a shocking cold, the kind that got behind the eyes and made noses run. It actively pushed against Evelyn as she walked, making the short fifty-yard stroll to the cover of the aqueduct feel like an uphill climb. 

“God damn, this wind.” At last she made it to the shielding cover of the concrete structure. The smell of stale urine and the sweet undertones of unwashed human musk quickly penetrated Evelyn’s nostrils. For a moment she was blind, her eyes taking a moment to adjust to the dark after coming in from the bright, reflective white of the snow. Even once she could see again, the lightless scene beneath the aqueduct was all indistinct shadows. 

Halfway down the tunnel, Eveyln stopped cold. At first, she thought she heard the sound of soft trickling water or melting ice maybe, echoing against the concrete. But the deeper she went into the dark, the more complex the liquid trickling became. As she stood in the center of the tunnel; the noise of the expressway only a quick sprint away, she began to hear something which reminded her of congealed dog food plopping into a bowl from on high. 

“Evie?” The noise abruptly stopped. There was movement, a scraping against the ground. From the darkness, Evelyn could make out the figure of a person walking toward her. “Was for sure you’d be on your way home by now, girl.” 

Evelyn knew that voice.

“Abby?”

“Glad you aren’t though.” Something gripped Evelyn’s wrist. A hand, sticky and warm, fingers wrapping tight, too tight. It hurt, burned, but only for a moment. Before her, another face appeared. It was Abigail, her eyes, her mouth. and her hair for sure, but something was wrong – she was taller; her shoulders bare and a viscous substance falling from her body and slapping against the pavement.

“What are you…” The pain from the touch on her arm had turned into an encompassing warmth, a sensation of numb complacence rising up through her neck and into her face.

“I had become so ravenous, Evie, and you are so beautiful. I was afraid I would have to settle. I was afraid that I would not get a chance to have you.”

Abigail drew closer, her face nearly touching Evelyn’s, her skin splotched with gore. The coppery smell of blood and organ meat drenched her person. For a quick moment, it brought back vivid memories of pops bringing her to that old-school butcher on Saturday mornings. The image was replaced by several others, some she recognized as belonging to her past, while others were full of strangers and strange places – things she had never seen and that seemed to exist from a time before she was born.

“Don’t be afraid Evie. Everything will be good.” Evelyn felt woozy, felt herself falling away. She watched arms that weren’t her own in front of her face, shoving a collection of wet shifting meat into a cavity that had opened in her torso. It felt… nice. 

“You won’t ever need to be afraid again.” She heard her own voice speaking inside of her head.   

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