Judging from the bulge in his pants and the redness of his cheeks, that guy is definitely checking out the porno section. That is why Randal keeps this place open until after midnight – that's when the lurkers come out. In other words, it means that it's the best time for business for a place like this. Places like Blockbuster take most of the normal customers during the daylight hours so we barely stand a chance. The only hope a ratty place like this has lies in the hands or better yet, in the pants of losers who can't get laid. I suppose the name of this place doesn't exactly attract customers to flock over. No one in their right mind would bring kids over to Humpers to rent videos. Leave it to Randal to come up with such a vulgar name like that.
Randal isn't some pervert-loony guy though, and in fact he can actually be a nice guy once in a while. Not that Seth believed me when I told him that the other day. I suppose having Randal as a big brother has had some traumatic effects on my best friend. I remember the horror-tales that Seth would often tell me growing up together. They would range from minor brotherly arguments over the remote control to Seth constantly walking in on Randal while he was 'in the zone'. Being a couple years older, Randal discovered puberty first while Seth and I were still into Pokémon. Not that neither of us could look at Pokémon the same after Randal's 'evolution' discussion with us. Okay so maybe he is slightly perverted. But whatever Randal does on his personal time I don't care about so long as he doesn't make me wear the uniform or say the customer greeting. The uniform he doesn't care about since it is a mock copy of the Hooters tee shirt, but I did get my pay docked for refusing to say the greeting. It is well worth it in my opinion. There is just no way I am going to greet horny men with 'Welcome to Humpers, how may I service you?' every night.
I really hate this place.
But I suppose beggars can't be choosers and lord knows I was begging Randal to give me this job for months before he finally caved in. Something about me looking too mean, he said girls who worked here needed to have that innocent look. Oh but behold the power of female persuasion. Not on my account of course but rather my older sister. Randal has had the hots for her since middle school and well…my sister just has no standards. It was a match made in pervert heaven.
Besides I make a good-enough paycheck every week to help me pay for my expenses. I would take any job I could get so long as I didn't have to go crawling back home to the rents. There is no way my parents would ever let me live that down. Of course they wouldn't be seeing daisies if they found out I'm actually in Community College instead of UCLA like I told them. Working in rent-a-porno would probably be icing on that shit-cake. Heh. I think I am the only 23-year-old that hasn't ever received the sex talk from her parents. Pathetic, I know; especially considering the fact that some of my earliest memories consist of going to the video store with my parents and my father sneaking off to the porno section. If I didn't know any better I would say I was meant to-
I think that guy is rearranging himself back there or at least that's the way it looks from the angle of the security camera. Perhaps he just stuck a DVD in his pants to steal. It wouldn't be the first time that happens. Either way I don't care enough to go and find out. This man is the last customer left in the entire store and as soon as he leaves then so can I.
How have I managed to work here for so long?
Compared to my other options this was the best idea, but overall there was no pride to be taken from working at an adult video rental shop. Being the job-hopper that I am doesn't exactly take care of my needs as it once did in high school, and so here I am watching a man pick out porno. Ah, but it is at times like this that I can hear Seth's taunting voice chant no uniform in my head. Yes the no uniform thing is definitely reason enough for me to choose this job over my prior. It was around this time last year that I was trapped in a coffeehouse wearing nothing but a skimpy uniform about two sizes too small. I still get chills when ever I think about that outfit; the blasted thing was lacking most of the buttons, making more than enough flesh available for an audience. Here I didn't have to worry about cleaning after people nor did I have to be on my feet all day. Compared to that smoke filled madhouse infested with bum-pinching truck drivers, this place seemed like paradise for a needy college student like me. Emphasis on the needy.
"Miss…" I look away from the monitor to realize the man is no longer looking through the racks, but instead is standing in front of me. He holds up two DVDs and places them on the counter. "I'm ready," he mumbles with a slight indication that didn't just refer to the selection.
I smile nonetheless and take the movies to scan them at the register. Both covers display curvaceous blond women, someone shock with the surprise. Most of the adult videos that the store has in stock have a blond woman as the protagonist. Moments like this I thank my lucky stars I'm a brunette, not that things like hair color matter to a man watching porno; he has better things to notice.
"Return in five business days." The man gave me a nod as he reached out to take the bag from my hands purposely running his fingers against mine. Typical. I swallow the urge to gag. "Have a goodnight."
I watch the man until he steps out of the store and officially becomes the last customer of the night. Thank goodness. Between classes all morning and working here all night I'm exhausted. Now I can go home and soak in a nice hot bubble bath…actually I'm so tired I think I'll skip the bath. I grab my sweater and pull my head through it, opening my eyes I can't control the half-gasp half-scream that comes out of my mouth. Leaning against the counter is a boy looking clearly amused at my shocked state probably because of my gapping mouth.
"Hey." He smirks as his teeth play with the ring going through his lip. The raven-haired boy is completely dressed in black, his neck is accessorized with a couple of chain dagger necklaces, and to top off his outfit he is wearing black goggles over his eyes. Definite bad-punk-emo-rocker boy. I would say he looks cute but he doesn't exactly look legal.
"What are you doing here?" I take a deep breath to calm down my rapidly beating heart. If I were a cat I would so be down one life right now. This is too weird; I didn't even see him come in. I run a hand through my hair; I'm so not in the mood to deal with this kid right now. "You shouldn't be in here."
"Lindsey let me in last night."
That bimbo. She probably didn't notice the kid in here. Most of the time, she sneaks her boyfriend in here to mess around with in the stock room, leaving the whole front desk unoccupied. I normally work every other day than she does – purposely of course just so I don't have to cover for her. I can think of more than one occasion where I've had to fib for that blond cheerleading highschooler. Like telling the customers there is a tape running in the back room and that is the source of the noises. Heh. Lindsey may be in high school, but she stopped being a teen about two years ago. Ah yes what a joy it must be for those lucky adolescent boys to have a twenty year old classmate with boobs the size of Mt. Rushmore. But regardless of her obvious lack of intellect, letting a minor in after hours is beyond stupid even for her. Randal could get this place shut down for that and then where would I be? Jobless and homeless.
"She shouldn't have." I pointed behind me to the sign on the wall stating age limitations. "Minors aren't allowed in after midnight." Maybe he'd take the hint. I turn around beginning to shut off the monitors, televisions, and other appliances controlled through the main interface.
"I'm not a minor." The tone of his voice made goose bumps up and down my arms. Moving back around, I'm almost afraid of looking at his face but I do any way. He just looks annoyed, maybe a little frustrated. The sound of tapping distracts me from studying his features and my eyes remain fixated on his fingers as they move in sync against the counter. He's moving them so fast; in the silence of the store the noise sounds louder then I know it is.
"Stop that." I frown as he ignores me and continues tapping even faster this time. "It's closing time so-" he cuts me off by slamming his palm against the counter. I follow his hand with my eyes then his arm until I reach his face.
"I decide when I want to leave."
Through the dark tinted goggles, I can't make out his eyes but it didn't take a genius to realize he is staring right at me. His fists pound against the counter once again causing me to squeak out. I am too close. There must be less than 2 feet between us; the counter is a feeble one he can easily jump over. I should move, but I can't. My feet are rooted to the ground and I can't move an inch. All I can do is stare back at him with wide eyes and a jagged open mouth. The hand that has his fingers tapping suddenly stops and he makes a move to reach for my wrist. I flinch and avert my eyes awaiting the feeling of his hand on me but it never comes. Instead he is frozen in place with his hand in mid-air reaching towards me. I would have thought he was patronizing me but the look on his face told me otherwise. He looked out of himself.
I should run.
This is probably the only chance I am going to get and this guy looks like teen psycho about to combust. Darn it, I shouldn't have turned off the monitors. I killed my own evidence. Maybe if I move fast enough I can get the bat from the backroom.
"Whatever." The sound of his voice snapped me out of my reign and I stumbled back against the wall. He didn't even seem to notice me anymore. I could hear him mumble something under his breath as he took a deep sigh and turned his back to me.
And just like that he walked out.
I stare at the door for a few seconds before jumping over the counter and running to the door. With the locks in place, I lean against the door and slide down until my bottom reaches the floor. Okay I'm not even going to try and lie to myself: that was completely freaking scary. What got into that guy?! Maybe I should stay in the store awhile longer, just to make sure I don't run into him on the way out. No. I'm not spending another second in this place over some punk kid with anger management problems. Besides I have mace in the pocket of my pants if he does show up again. Now if only I could remember where Randal hid the taser.
I will be the first one to admit that walking home in the middle of the night like this isn't probably the best of all ideas, especially considering the neighborhood, more so considering the events that took place less than a half hour ago. But it's not like I was going to stay locked up in the store and it's not like I had a valid reason to call the police. Besides I always walk home since I can't afford a car much less the gas and insurance for one. The apartment building that I call home sweet home isn't that far away from the video store, about three blocks or so. I would feel silly asking Seth for a ride for such a short distance, even though I know he would gladly do it. Either way I know a good shortcut that cuts about ten minutes off my walk: it is through an alley.
Walking through the deserted alley isn't as scary as horror pictures make it out to be. I practically know this place like the back of my hand since I walk through on a daily basis. The only thing to fear is fear itself, right? I hear some of the garbage cans rattle as I walk by, but that's nothing to be scared of. It was probably just a mouse or some other animal. I sidestep some mush on the ground but as I do, I knock into a few tires which tumble and crash into garbage cans ahead of me. The loud sounds of metal cans falling echo even louder in the empty alley. Way to be casual. From one of the empty boxes next to feet I can hear faint purring and scratching. With my foot, I knock the box and a small black cat emerges. Moving with that natural elegance cats have, it walks in front of me and then circles a couple of times around my feet.
"Go on cat!" I swing my leg like an act to scare it away. "Shoo!"
It doesn't run away – on the contrary – it sits down in front of me and makes a strange sound that is definitely not a 'meow'. If I didn't know better I could swear that cat just laughed at me. Maybe he did. After all who am I to say that cats can't have a laugh at the expense of a human? That strange sound it made could have been just that: a little kitty laugh. How cute, in a completely weird way.
"Are you laughing at me, eh?" I bend down and reach out my hand; he looks at it and timidly moves to lean into my hand. I scratch behind its ear and the animal perks up making that sound again "You laughing at the silly human?" I laugh along with it as the cat purred in response. Cute, but I need to stop playing with this fleabag and get home. "Later."
I give the cat one last rub underneath its chin before getting up. Even as I walk away and am now at least twenty feet away from that silly cat I can still feel its eyes on me. Glancing out of the corner of my eye my suspicion is confirmed. The cat remains in the same spot, its eyes bowing into mine, as it waggles its tail. I shouldn't have looked back.
I love this place. No it isn't beautiful or glamorous in any way, shape, or form but it is my home. This place – or rather my tiny apartment – is all mine to do what I please when I so please to do it. It feels exhilarating having something to claim like that. I mean sure the place has a bug problem, the paint could use to be replaced, and sometimes my water is a dark shade of brown – I don't care. I'll take it, all of it, over the hell I was entrapped in before. But my love for freedom comes with a price: this place has no working elevator and my place is on the fifth floor. I move up the stairs slowly; what's the point in going fast when it's such a long way up. If I move too fast I'll get tired when I'm not even half way up.
"Hello?" I don't see anyone standing anywhere but I heard my name being called – a sound so clear couldn't have been my imagination, could it? But no one is here…it has to be my over active imagination. "I'm losing my mind." I round the corner for the second flight when I come face to face someone's chest. I let out a gasp and my hand grips the railing as I stumble one step back.
Where the heck did he come from?!
"Don't do that!" I scream out. I clutch at my chest feeling the quick beating of my heart as I steady myself on the stairs. The stranger I bumped into hasn't moved from his spot nor does he say anything or even look up at me for that matter.
The flickering light overhead doesn't really help me see him either, especially not since he's dressed in black from head to toe. The black hooded sweater he's wearing covers most of his physique and also hides his face him me. From what I can make out in this almost completely dark stairwell he's just a kid, like one of those emo punk teenagers. Some of his hair is visible from the top of the hood though. Hmph. At least I know he's a blond. Weird. I lived in this dump for over a year now and I've never seen anyone younger than myself around.
"Do you live here?" He ignores me again. "Hello? Earth to blondie?" I wave my hand in the air in attempt to grab his attention but I don't get the desired reaction. Instead he moves to pass beside me down the narrow stairs.
I can feel a shiver run through me as our arms touch a fraction of an inch when we move past each other. The contact of skin was less than a second but in that second I felt my body numb over. An overwhelming sensation to breakdown – to flee – fills within me. Fear. I am weighed down with an unsolicited feeling of blunt fear for the second time tonight. Out of the corner of my eye I see him continue on his way down the stairs unaware of the reaction he imposed on me. I on the other hand remain frozen in mid-step. Although the immediate feeling faded, I can still feel fragments of it as I watch his movements cease. His back towards me, he is now standing still on the last step.
Could it have just been my imagination again?
Being a young female living in a run-down apartment such as this one would invoke fear in any normal human being. Not to mention I am over-worked and frankly the darkness is known to play tricks on the mind. The circumstances are against me, but if it is my imagination then why did he stand still too?
"I-I…" I'm shaking: literally and truly trembling from head to toe. What is going on with me?! I can barely get a word out and the kid hasn't even turned around to look at me. Plus that's all he is: just some punk kid. I have no reason to be as scared – he hasn't said a word – but I can't control myself, no matter how silly I know I am reacting.
I have to get out of here.
Mustering what little inner-strength I could, I make a move to turn and continue on my way when I notice him flinch towards me. He didn't so much move, but rather lean on one side about half an inch to be able to glance at me. There are at least twelve steps between the both of us but that doesn't seem to be nearly enough distance. At least now with the angle in which he stood the flickering light bulb allowed me a better look at this stranger. His features are mostly hidden even with the bit of light but…his eyes…I can see his eyes and they're looking right into mine. Those eyes…there is something weird about his eyes. If I didn't know any better I would say his eyes look completely pitch black. But that's…not possible…
ZZZzzzZZZzzz… ZZZzzzZZZzzz… ZZZzzzZZZzzz…
Focusing on the vibrations from within my pocket I manage to pull my eyes away from him. I let out inward sigh and mentally thanked whatever universal force is out there. The vibrations seemed to break the spell from the silent moment and I am able to regain my senses briefly. I could still feel this kid looking at me but as long as I wasn't looking at him the feeling of dread seemed lighter. I don't have to look at my cell phone to know who is sending me the text message. Seth has the habit of texting me after my nightly shifts; it is his way of checking up on me without actually having to admit that he is.
1 new text message:
Chloe…you sleeping yet?
I snap my head back up at the sound of the front door slamming shut. He's gone. The relief washes over me almost immediately but the feeling of foolishness still remains. That whole weird moment was illogical – every cell in me recognized it. However I was having conversations with a cat previously – that should be proof enough that I'm not feeling too sane tonight. Perhaps the kid in the video store shook me up more than I thought or maybe this is exhaustion kicking in as well.
I probably shouldn't have laughed at that black cat. It is supposed to be bad luck to cross a cat; I can imagine laughing at one would be much worse. Oh well, just another Monday for me I guess.
Author Notes: Never in my entire life have I ever written so much for a single chapter and I feel so proud of myself. Please people leave me a review; you have no idea what it means to me when you do. In fact as a special treat for those kind enough to leave me a review I will send an exclusive sneak peek into the next chapter.