By Jennifer C. Brown aka Laieanna
“The steady shall walk in crooked lines and the unsteady fall as the ground beneath us cracks. Be not on two feet when you hear the thunderous sound!” Prophet Joe declares while pushing through the front door. His booming voice and numerous hand claps combined with the door buzzer and outside traffic create a momentary symphony of chaotic noise. I press my fingers against my ears till the door clicks shut and Prophet Joe is doing nothing more than ambling about the store.
“How’s it going?” I ask with a hand waving unenthusiastically in his direction. He returns the wave with a limp wristed dismissal. His cloudy eyes dart about the aisles of snack items and miscellaneous junk we try to pawn off on travelers. One gnarled hand jiggles the coins in his pocket to let me know he’s here to shop, not just be a pain in the ass.
I don’t like Prophet Joe. For one, his real name is something like Clarence. He’s been homeless since I was plucked from my mother’s womb and he hasn’t added anything to our society but a continuous stream of rants regarding the end of the world. Working at a convenience store for six years gives great opportunity for meeting the strange and insane, but nobody else who ever walked through my job doors bothered me as much as Prophet Joe. My boss thinks he’s a riot, always encouraging him to detail his disaster predictions then feigning fear and awe. Once the old man shuffles outside the building, George is laughing for ten solid minutes. George is the one that gave him the name Prophet Joe. I once brought up the obvious that his name isn’t Joe, but George liked it too much to change it.
The old man has made his way down the entire aisle and is coming up through the crates of soda towards the front counter where I stand. “With the coming rumble will be the cackle of violence and roar of the mighty terror. Cower not in the corner of your mind for there will be no escape from the inevitable.” He continues to spout off.
“Right,” I whisper, getting back to the magazine I have out in front of me, though I can’t ignore Prophet Joe. I see him out of the corner of my eye, lifting himself up on one of the crates, his weak legs shaking from the stress. “Hey,” I call out, but no more comes to mind as we’re interrupted by the tremble of an earthquake.
The whole store shakes, tossing food items in the air. I duck down under the counter. Arms over head, I keep my eyes shut, sensing the shift in the ground from underneath me. All surfaces vibrate. My teeth chatter. It’s probably from the earthquake, but I wouldn’t doubt fear being the primary cause. I hear glass crashing and heavy cylinders rolling down the aisles. The shaking gets impossibly stronger. My stomach grows queasy. I’d scream, but I’m too scared to open my mouth. Then it’s all silent.
“They’ll ignite your inner fire until the chorus of all humanity’s scream is a sweet lullaby for their grotesque heads to lay in a dream filled slumber.” Prophet Joe is already in front of me when I rise up from my hiding place. The stench of his lifestyle crawls over the counter and buries itself in my nostrils. He tosses several coins on the counter and slams a hand down to get my attention.
“Are you okay?” I ask, raising my voice over the store’s alarm. Three mashes of the button finally turns it off. Outside it’s too dark to see the damage, but I hear the distant sounds of chaos.
Prophet Joe puts a dirty finger on the plastic cover over scratch off tickets fourteen, potential $100,000.00 winner. His change isn’t near enough to pay for the ticket, but I’m feeling generous after our ordeal. I rip one off and hand it over. He takes up one of his coins and begins to scratch. “Pain eternal will press on you, never to be dulled,” Joe mumbles, almost to himself, eyes focused on what hides under the silver flecks of his ticket.
Flickering off and on, street lights down the road try to illuminate the activity beyond the store. I’m still in shock, unable to think clearly, eyes darting between the strange shadows catching my attention outside and Prophet Joe’s progress. His shaky hand prevents a quick reveal. A scream somewhere in the distance startles me. Joe continues on. Another one immediately follows then two more and I wonder how bad the damage is outside. Someone runs past our doors, close enough I can see their face. The horror in their eyes wets my pants. “Shit,” I whisper, crouching down till the counter comes up to my nose. I see shadows moving again, coming closer to the store, and they are monstrous.
“Your last day of heaven has ended.” Joe says his voice still low. I only give him a split second glance, seeing that he’s still in the money making zone. My eyes are drawn back to the shadows. They grow in mass and angles, jutting out where no human shape does. Something drips as they move and I swear I hear the ground sizzle. Aside from the escalating human screams, I realize there are growls and roars like no animal I know. I shit myself and am ready to pass out. Another sound, close, scares me out of my stupor. I look up when I hear the ticket sliding across the counter. It floats down to the floor, a loser. Prophet Joe bangs his finger into the plastic box again and leans over the counter to smile at me. “Help make me a winner, and I will pray for you little sinner.”
Outside, they start scratching on the glass door.
- - -
Jennifer, known as Laieanna on the internet, has thrown her writing here and there. She's been active off and on in writing and podcasting. One day she will have HodgePodge Point up and running again.