I’d had my eye on the new cute boutique shop at the edge of town for a couple of weeks. I couldn’t wait to check it out. It was called The Curioddity Shop, and what can I say? The name fit. The curiously odd little shop stood out in comparison to its environment, with the grungy buildings that surrounded it. The parking lot was overgrown with weeds, and the few dreary buildings that were still occupied with running businesses looked like they were on their last leg. I found it ironic that a little shop with such a bright, cheerful demeanor would choose that as its location for business. I was curious how this new business would perform, since so many people stayed away from that location after dark because of the overall condition of the area. The apparent state of negligence had become overwhelming.
I found hope in the new presence of The Curioddity Shop, as did some of the other kids in school whom I had spoken to about it. We thought that maybe it would draw more business into that part of town and encourage the other shop owners to improve the overall appearance of their own buildings to keep up with the new competition. We hoped that maybe they would even put more effort into cleaning up that creepy parking lot.
I had driven past The Curioddity Shop a couple of times, but never had a chance to look inside. The business wasn’t even open to the public yet, and most of us were too scared to pull into that parking lot and sneak up to the store to peek in through the windows. One day I drove past the shop while running errands for my mother. The traffic on that main road had been backed up due to rush hour. I found myself sitting in my car right in front of the parking lot of the shop, impatiently waiting for the long line of vehicles ahead of me to move. That was when I was fortunate enough to glance over through the passenger side window just in time to notice the shop owner hanging a large Help Wanted sign in the front window, followed by a phone number. Thinking fast, I grabbed my phone and snapped a picture of the sign before traffic got moving again.
Seeing as it was my senior year of high school, I had been wanting to get a part-time job for after school and the weekends so I could start saving up for college books next year. A lot of my classmates had been talking about doing the same, so I knew that the Help Wanted sign wouldn’t be in that window for long. I didn’t even wait until I got home to call the number on the sign that day. I simply pulled over onto the first side street I could find and dialed the number. The rest was history.
I was hired immediately, following that over-the-phone interview, and I couldn’t have been more grateful. As I’d expected, the Help Wanted sign wasn’t even in the window the next day. All of the hiring positions had been filled, which, to my surprise, had only been the one. I was the only person who would be employed there, working beside the owner. I was so excited! Not only was this my very first job, but it was also the cool job that all the kids in town had wanted. I was the lucky one. At least, that’s what I thought.
My first day was scheduled to be an extremely short one right after school. I only needed to come in for a couple hours to be introduced to the layout of the store, as well as to fill out a bunch of paperwork to make the job official. It’s unfortunate, but for a day of my life that should have been kind of monumental, I don’t really remember much. That night, however, still haunts my dreams.
It was the middle of September, and I was still adjusting to the way the sky got darker earlier than it had been over the last few months. That night was especially stormy for that time of year. We usually didn’t see those kinds of rainstorms until mid-October, but I guess climate change has a way of making itself known. Unfortunately, so do other things.
That night, my father was supposed to pick me up after my first shift. It was around 9 o’clock at night and the parking lot was exceptionally dark. The rain was just pouring down in sheets and I could barely see further than a few feet in front of me. My dad should have been there, ready to go, but I blamed the current weather conditions for his tardiness. I didn’t want to pull out my phone and risk ruining it in the rain just to call him and ask where he was. I thought about going back inside the shop until he arrived, but when I turned around, I saw that my boss had already locked the door and was shutting off the lights inside. As I turned back around, I felt two hands reach out and grab me by the shoulders.
“What the hell? Dad! Is that you?” I asked, trying to shield my eyes from the rain to see better.
“Audrey!” I heard a man’s voice say over the thunder crashing above us. I immediately realized that the voice did not belong to my father.
“Audrey!” The man repeated. “Audrey, you have to help us!”
Panicked, I grabbed my phone, despite the potential consequences of doing so in the rain, and turned on the flashlight to see who was grabbing me.
“Drew?” I yelled, unable to hide my frustration. I recognized him as my ex-boyfriend’s best friend and pulled away immediately.
“Help us, Audrey! Please! You have to take us home!” He reached out and grabbed me again.
“Get off of me, you jerk!” I pulled away from him again, nearly stumbling backwards in the process. As I did, my flashlight panned away from his face and over his left shoulder to his long-term girlfriend who was standing behind him.
Drew and his girlfriend were one of the reasons why my relationship with my ex-boyfriend didn’t work out. He was the toxic older best friend who was always encouraging my ex to participate in excessive drinking and drug usage. At first, I thought it was just weed and alcohol, but then I found out they were all dabbling in other heavier drugs that I didn’t want to know about. At that time, I finally decided enough was enough and I cut off the relationship, as well as all contact with my ex and Drew. That was two years ago, and thankfully, my ex had moved out of state soon after, so I didn’t have to run into him around town. Drew was older, in his early 20s, so I didn’t see him much, either. I had nearly forgotten about his existence until that night.
“Please, take us home,” Drew begged. His long hair fell across his forehead and the rain dripped off of his eyelashes. His cold brown eyes stared right through me. I’d never seen eyes as intense as his that night.
“I don’t want anything to do with you!” I yelled.
“Help us!” His girlfriend cried, approaching me.
Drew and his girlfriend gave me bad vibes the entire time I was with my ex. It made me uncomfortable that they were hanging out with us, despite the considerable age gap. I never really liked them, but seeing them on that night, something was different. My negative feelings toward them were heightened and something about them felt very wrong. I knew I was in danger just by being in their presence.
“Get away from me!” I screamed, picking up a piece of a tree branch that had landed by my foot. I was ready to start swinging if they came any closer.
Finally, I saw my father’s headlights through the pouring rain. He pulled up behind me and rolled down the windows. “What the hell is going on here?” he yelled out into the night.
Drew grabbed his girlfriend, ran over to the car, and opened the door. “Take us home!” he yelled, shoving his girlfriend into the backseat.
“Get away from my dad’s car, you creep!” I swung at him with the tree branch.
My dad started unbuckling his seatbelt to get out of the car, but I yelled at him to stay there.
I grabbed Drew’s girlfriend by the hair and pulled her back out of the car. As I was doing this, Drew ran to the opposite side of the car and jumped into the backseat from the other door.
“What the hell is going on here? Audrey, do you know these people?” my dad yelled.
“Get out of the car, Drew!” I screamed, running to his door and pulling him by the collar of his jacket.
“HELP US!” Drew screamed in my face as I shoved him to the ground, and he pulled me down with him. “YOU HAVE TO TAKE US HOME!”
“I don’t have to do shit for you!” I yelled, freeing myself and jumping into the back seat of the car before locking my door so he couldn’t get back in. Before I could reach over and lock the other door, his girlfriend had opened it and was climbing back in. I sighed in defeat, then yelled, “Drive away, Dad! As soon as she is in, just go! We can take her, but leave him!”
Drew got up and was running around the car to jump into the back seat again with his girlfriend, who was now sitting beside me and holding the door open, waiting for him. Thankfully, my dad listened to me and didn’t wait. He stepped on the gas and took off before Drew could get in.
“NOOOO!” Drew screamed from behind us as we drove away.
“You have to help us!” his girlfriend yelled, sitting beside me. “You have to take us home!”
I heard Drew screaming again behind us, and when I searched out the back windshield for him, he was gone. It was like he had vanished. I told myself that the rain was just falling too hard for me to see him anymore from the distance we had put between him and the car, but something didn’t feel right.
Then, as my father was pulling out of the parking lot and onto the main road, Drew’s girlfriend let out a blood-curdling scream from beside me. When I turned to look at her, she was gone. The backseat was completely empty beside me, and the car door on her side was still open. At first, I thought maybe she had fallen out of the car as my father drove. I quickly scrambled to the side where she had been sitting, grabbed the door and poked my head out of the moving vehicle to look out at the parking lot we had just pulled out of, but I didn’t see her anywhere.
“What the hell?” My dad yelled from the front seat. “Where did the crazy bitch go? Should I stop?”
“No!” I yelled, pulling the car door shut and locking it. “Wait until we get to the light down the road, then pull over.”
My father obliged.
I grabbed my phone that I had forgotten throwing into the backseat earlier and called the police. I relayed the crazy situation that my father and I had just experienced and told them they should send an ambulance to the location, just in case someone was hurt. The officers asked us if we would turn around and meet them back at the parking lot, so my father reluctantly headed back when we heard the sirens approaching.
When we got back to the parking lot, my boss ran over to our car and knocked on the window.
“Oh my god, Audrey, are you okay?” she asked as I rolled the window down. “I’m so sorry, I was in the back room grabbing my things when I heard the screaming. By the time I got out here to see what was going on, you guys were already driving away. And that young man…” her voice trailed off.
“Ma’am?” An officer who had approached our car and was now standing beside her said. “What man?”
“The one who was yelling and chasing their car,” my boss said. “He was so angry! But then, I saw…” her voice trailed off again.
The officer cleared his throat, impatiently.
“I’m sorry,” my boss shook her head. “I don’t know what I saw. He chased the car for a few feet, then he just stood there and let out this god-awful scream. Then, he just vanished right before my eyes! I know how that sounds, but he was just gone!”
“Yes!” I nodded my head violently in confirmation. “That’s exactly what I saw! Then, as we were pulling out of the driveway, his girlfriend who had been sitting right next to me did the same thing! She screamed obnoxiously, then completely disappeared! I thought maybe she fell out of the car!”
The officer didn’t say anything to us. He just turned to the other officers, who were searching the parking lot with their big flashlights in the distance, and yelled, “Anything?”
“No!” one of the officers called back.
“Sorry, man. There’s nothing out here!” yelled another.
“Huh.” The officer turned back to face us. “Are there any other witnesses? Was anyone else here when all of this was happening?”
“Not that I know of.” My boss shook her head and shrugged. “There are only a few other buildings in this lot who are still in business, and they all seem to leave around 4 or 5. I seem to be the only one who stays after dark, late into the evening.”
“Yeah, this particular lot does have a bit of a reputation after dark,” the officer said, nodding. “Ma’am, where are you parked?” he asked my boss.
“Oh, my car is in the shop. My husband is on his way to come get me,” she explained.
“Okay, then who is that?” The officer took out his flashlight, and shined it through the rain, aiming it at the faint silhouette of a car parked in the corner of the lot. It was almost impossible to make out the shape of the car among the dense overgrowth of trees in that spot. “Interesting place to park,” he said, sarcastically.
My boss and I looked at each other and shrugged. We hadn’t noticed the car was there, even earlier when it had still been light outside. All of the other business owners kept their cars parked right in front of their own stores during the day.
“Hey, fellas?” the officer called his team back over to us. “Let’s go check out that car over there.”
We invited my boss to sit in our car, out of the rain, until her husband got there. My dad pulled the car around to the other side of the parking lot, closer to the ambulance. We felt safer over there under the single working streetlight in the entire lot.
“Apparently, my husband fell asleep and just realized he was supposed to come get me today,” my boss laughed, reading a text message she had just received from him. “He should be here in about fifteen minutes. Thank you for your kindness and letting me sit with you in here.”
“Yeah, of course! Not a prob—”
My dad was cut off by the sound of the officers yelling across the parking lot. “Hey, get that ambulance over here!” one of them yelled. “We got two dead bodies over here!”
“Oh god,” my dad whispered, covering his mouth.
“Do you think….” I couldn’t complete my question. I didn’t have to. Sure enough, it was them. Moments later, we watched them wheel Drew’s pale, vacant body into the ambulance on a stretcher, followed by his girlfriend’s.
“How is that possible?” I cried. “She was just sitting next to me back here not even fifteen minutes ago!”
The same officer who had been questioning us earlier knocked on my father’s window and he rolled it down.
“I’m sorry you all had to see that,” the officer said. “I’m sorry, but I have to ask. Were they—”
“Yes.” My father whispered. “I don’t know how it’s possible, but it was them!”
The officer sighed and nodded his head slowly, as if he understood something we didn’t. “Well, Sir.” The officer hesitated, searching for the right words. “I’m sorry, but it isn’t possible. You see, these two appear to have died of a potential heroin overdose. We won’t know for sure until they run the tests down at the morgue, but the evidence that we found in the car seems to point to that. The thing is, I’ve had the misfortune of seeing several cases like this over the years, and I can tell you that these two have been dead for at least a few hours.”
At this point, all of us were crying in the car.
“I don’t mean to upset you,” the officer continued, “I don’t know what you saw. I can only tell you that from my own experience in this field, and what I saw just now, whatever you all experienced tonight was not natural.”
I don’t remember much else from that night. I know that my boss’s husband finally showed up, and she went home. I know that my father drove us home in silence and neither one of us felt like telling Mom about what had happened that night. I know that what we all experienced was real. I know that I had a scratch on the back of my hand from the zipper of Drew’s jacket while I had been fighting with him to get out of the car. I know that I had a cut on my knee from falling with him as I shoved him to the ground. I know that I had touched him and his girlfriend and I had felt them touch me. I know that I had bruises in the shape of Drew’s fingers on my left shoulder as evidence of where he had grabbed me. I know that, no matter how much they begged us, my father and I never would have been able to help them. We never would have been able to take them home, even if we had wanted to. I know that they couldn’t leave that parking lot because they were trapped there in the aftermath of their tragic deaths.
I know that I was never able to show up for work again, because my father and I couldn’t bring ourselves to drive through that parking lot again. I know that The Curioddity Shop never even got the chance to open because my former boss was terrified to be alone in her own store, especially at night, when she would see things in the rain. I know that by the time the leaves began to change, the building was empty again, and the window that once held a Help Wanted sign now holds a For Sale sign.
Above all else, I know that every time I go to sleep, I see Drew’s cold, desperate brown eyes staring right through me.