Pack starts out with Marcus on patrol, watching for dweller activity that might pose a threat to the people of Providence. While he’s at it, he’s testing a new set of high-tech camera/sensor glasses for his partner, Vaughn. He quickly encounters a group of Redcaps—a particularly nasty type of dweller that preys on humans.
While surveying the creatures, Vaughn throws out a flippant question. Where do Redcaps get the sunglasses and bandanas they all seem to wear?
Behold, the answer.
WARNING: Adult language and supreme creep-factor. 18+ only, please.
Copyright © 2016 Cassandra Chandler
“Whoever decided that convenience stores should be open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week is at the very top of my shit list.” Taylor shook his head, continuing his soliloquy to the empty store. “No, wait. Joe is at the top. Thanks for not showing up for your shift, asshole.”
Taylor swiveled on the stool behind the register, trying to keep himself awake. He hadn’t been planning on a double shift when he came in that day.
“This is what I get for not having a life.” And for being broke. The boss knew Taylor would say yes to the extra hours.
Taylor put his head down on the cold counter, and let out a long grunt of frustration.
The soft drone of the electric bell on the front door sounded. A customer at two a.m. on a Tuesday night. Probably some kind of weirdo.
“Welcome to— Holy shit!”
Taylor almost fell backwards off his stool. The space behind the counter was small enough that he was able to brace himself against the back wall to stay upright.
Some kind of weirdo didn’t begin to cover it.
The guy looked like he had a porcupine sitting on top of his shoulders. A really hairy porcupine.
It wasn’t that his hair and beard were long. That wouldn’t have bugged Taylor at all. But the guy’s hair was sticking straight out away from his face, like he’d been frenching a lightning bolt. Bright yellow star-shaped sunglasses covered his eyes and he wore a red bandana on top of his head.
No, not red. Not originally, anyway.
The edges were blue, but something must have fallen on the guy’s head and made it sopping wet. Some kind of cherry soda maybe—or red paint, from the thickness of the fluid.
Taylor murmured, “Gross.”
The customer shuffled in through the automated doors. He moved so slowly, the doors kept trying to close, but then would detect the guy and open again. It happened three times before the customer made it inside.
He was thin, wearing a T-shirt with some stupid logo on it like the ones Joe always wore. The shirt was only half tucked into his jeans. Every few shambling steps, the guy’s white sneakers would catch on the tile and squeak.
The guy kept staring at Taylor, all the way down aisle two, walking at a weird half-turned angle. He disappeared around the endcap.
“I’m about to be robbed,” Taylor said.
He took a deep breath to prepare himself, wondering if he should go ahead and call the cops now. The weirdo didn’t seem to be armed, at least. And Taylor had the boss’s bat behind the counter.
There were small dark splotches on the floor where the guy had walked. Red-tinged, like the stuff on his head.
Paint. It had to be paint.
Please, let it be paint.
Taylor was just sliding from his stool when porcupine-head reappeared. The guy’s arms were completely full of sunglasses and bandanas.
“What the fuck,” Taylor whispered.
Porcupine-head stopped at the end of the aisle, staring. At least, Taylor figured he was. The corny sunglasses completely blocked his eyes.
Slowly, porcupine-head made his way to the counter.
When his arms were over the counter, he dropped his merchandise. A few pairs of sunglasses bounced onto the floor. Porcupine-head didn’t seem to be bothered by it.
Taylor didn’t want to set the guy off. Not when they were so close and he hadn’t reached for the bat yet. He kept his eyes on the stuff on the counter, pulling one of the bags in the bag rack open and silently counting as he swept the glasses and bandanas inside.
“Looks like you cleared us out,” Taylor said.
Why the hell was he trying to make small-talk with this guy? It was either nerves or habit.
“Twenty-two bandanas and thirty-one pairs of sunglasses.” Taylor started ringing up the purchase. “Kind of weird. Just the sunglasses and bandanas. In the middle of the night.”
The customer was standing so still, Taylor wondered if the guy had fallen asleep on his feet. Then porcupine-head slowly lifted his arm.
His hand stayed relaxed as his arm slowly rose. It looked kind of like a weird dance step—or like his arm was being lifted by a string.
Taylor shuddered at the thought.
But then, the guy swung his arm around to the display next to the register. He knocked over some pens, his hand clumsily grabbing something Taylor couldn’t see.
And the guy probably couldn’t, either, because he never turned his face away from Taylor. Taylor could feel his gaze, even though he kept his own on the guy’s movements, watching for any kind of threat.
The customer lifted his arm with that same strange marionette move, his fist right in front of Taylor’s face. His fingers jerked open, and a pack of gum fell on the counter.
Slowly, Porcupine-head lowered his arm to his side.
“Okay,” Taylor said, drawing out the word. “Twenty-two bandanas, thirty-one pairs of sunglasses, and one pack of gum.”
Taylor picked it up, then dropped it into the bag. He pulled the bag closed and set it on the counter.
Moment of truth time. Was the guy going to rob him or pay?
Porcupine-head clumsily stuck his hands into his pockets and started pulling out bills. Twenties, tens, fives, ones. Taylor even thought he saw a couple of hundreds in the mix. The pile grew as Porcupine-head lifted his gangly arms again and again, dropping more cash on the counter.
“I think that’ll cover it,” Taylor said. He looked up at the guy’s face reflexively, and really wished he hadn’t.
Porcupine-head froze. They were standing really close.
The hair that surrounded the guy’s face looked like the bristles on a scrub brush. Really long bristles that seemed to straighten further as Taylor watched. He must be seeing things.
The fluorescents glinted off of a nose ring like the one Joe wore. Exactly like the one Joe wore.
Taylor leaned a little closer.
Porcupine-head’s nose moved. It didn’t twitch, it didn’t wiggle. It slid a little to the side, even though the guy’s head stayed still. Then it pulled back into position, pressed tight against the guy’s face.
Like it was being held there.
Taylor quickly looked back at the counter, his heart pounding and throat dry. He swallowed a few times, before he could manage, “You want change?”
Of course the guy wanted change. He’d put enough cash on the counter to cover Taylor’s rent for the next two months. Plus the purchase.
But Porcupine-head just backed away from the counter, pulling his bag along till it slid off the edge of the counter and flopped to his side, along with his arm. He kept backing away, toward the exit.
The doors opened and he turned to leave. Taylor couldn’t keep himself from looking up again, wondering what the fuck was going on—and what would happen next.
The guy’s blacked-out gaze behind the ridiculous sunglasses stayed locked on Taylor as he walked out, even when his back was to the store—his head turning farther and farther around on his neck, till his face was lined up with his spine.
The doors closed with a pneumatic whoosh.
Taylor stood behind the counter, shaking.
After a few minutes passed, and the Porcupine-head…thing…didn’t return—and nothing jumped down from the ceiling tiles or reached out of the space beneath the counter to grab him—Taylor let out a huge breath.
He put his shaking hands on his head and looked up at the flickering lights over his head. “What. The. Fuck!”
He blew out another explosive breath, his skin tingling, face almost stinging with relief. Not knowing what to do with his nervous energy, he jumped in place a few times, dropping his hands to his sides.
When he stilled, he said, “This is the last time I work the night shift in this shithole.”
His gaze landed on the cash on the counter. He looked back to the door briefly, then pulled open another bag and swiped the cash into it.
The bills had a smell he didn’t want to think about. He’d deal with it later.
He pulled out enough to cover the guy’s purchases and shoved it in the register, then slammed the drawer shut. He tied the bag tight and put it under the counter, beneath his jacket.
He sat on his stool, listening to his heartbeat pounding in his ears. It gradually slowed to a pace that faded from his awareness. One more breath, and he almost felt normal.
What the hell was that?
Taylor shook his head sharply. “Just sleep deprivation. That’s all it was.”
He went back to watching the empty store.