Prelude: Mike
May, 2020
Prelude: Mike


Mary called you up to the front office.  The store had been closed for a few hours, she was probably just closing the books.  You park the pallet of Twinkies and Ho-Hos and take the long walk through the dimly-lit aisles with a growing sense of dread.  You hop up the narrow set of stairs behind the not-quite-Starbucks and duck into the small front-of-house manager’s office.

Her panties hit you in the face a second before the rest of her does, pressing you against the wall and clawing at your clothes.

Shit, not Mary.  Not another boss.

She was pretty in a tired, grocery-store-manager sort of way, somewhere around middle age, and judging by her ring tearing into your right hip, married.  That was good.  The older ones know what they want, take their fill, and don’t generally get all emotional about it.  You stop protesting and half-heartedly fending her off and let It happen.

It happens a lot.  Women, seemingly at random, throwing themselves at you.  Ever since you hit puberty.  It made your high school and college years an absolute blast.  You’re not sure why It happens and have no control over whom, which has caused all manner of trouble, especially as you’ve gotten older.  Teenage girls occasionally get obsessed.  As far as you can tell, whatever causes the compulsion passes almost entirely upon consummation.  You’ve had women burst into tears of shame after (which is always an ego-boost), and most others just ignore It ever happened, but a few think they have real feelings.  You’ve never been accused of doping anyone, which is honestly pretty surprising considering how hard It seems to come over people.  You also spent some time in gay bars out of morbid curiosity, but as far as you can tell, It only affects women.

You become dimly aware that Mary’s had her fill, perched on the edge of her desk with her forehead head against your chest.  She kisses the nape of your neck, smiles weakly, and pats your chest before gently pushing you away and checking the buttons on her blouse.

Good. No harm, no foul then.

You let yourself out.

The next night, you’re out on the back loading dock sharing a cigarette with Seamus and trying to forget your day at UNLV.  You like Seamus, you feel comfortable around him in a way you can’t explain.  Big Irish brute, used to be a pro boxer before washing out and losing everything.  You figure he’s a kindred spirit in a way.

“You fookin’ ol’ Mary then?” He asks without looking over.  You grunt.  “That there’s sex’al harassment y’know.  Get you some cash from the Albertsons eh?”

You can’t help but grin ruefully.  “Nah boss, not me.  They wouldn’t believe that coming from me.”

Seamus shrugs, letting it drop.  Though if Seamus knows, half the store probably knows as well.  You may need to start looking for another job. 

You excuse yourself and head back in to chuck boxes into the compactor, Seamus stays out in the brisk February night for a second smoke.  After about fifteen minutes of chucking corrugated into the crusher, you swear your hear a scream.  You stop and listen for a minute, but don’t hear anything else.  As soon as you start again, you hear a man yelling, is that Seamus?  It sounds like it’s coming from outside near the part of the compactor that spits out the crushed bales.

You trot out the back loading dock and around the side of the building before it occurs to you that maybe you should get help, but then you see two bodies on the ground in the pool of light next to the compactor.  You pull out your phone and dial 911 as you race over and gag right when the dispatcher comes on the line.  You manage to stutter out that you need police and an ambulance.

Seamus is on the ground, his head is covered in blood and his neck and back look like they’re at unnatural angles, but he’s breathing.  The girl isn’t.  She’s tiny, in battered jeans and a hoodie, laying in a pool of blood.  Her skin is porcelain-white and her shockingly-violet, almond-shaped eyes are staring sightlessly at Seamus.  Her lower back has been torn open, like a wild animal had gotten to her.  Organs and viscera spilling out onto the pavement.

You rush back inside and let the rest of the night crew know what’s going on before racing back out and staying at Seamus’ side.  You know better than to touch him if he’s got a broken neck, so you just wait until the police and paramedics roll in.  You watch in shock as they very carefully get Seamus loaded into an ambulance.  A beat cop is taking a statement from Mary.

You grab the EMT before he closes the ambulance door.

“Hey man,” you say, ”I’m going to stay with him, okay?  I don’t think he has any people.”  The medic yells at the cop that he’s taking you to University Medical, the beat cop waves and tells you to stay there so they can get a statement.  You nod and hop into the ambulance.  You need to be away from there.  Away from the girl.

You sit around the ER at University for almost an hour until one Detective Wills arrives and ushers you into a small room just off the reception area.  You idly watch through the window behind Wills’ head as people arrive in various states of disrepair.  Did you know the girl?  Never seen her.  What about Mr. Murphy?  Seamus?  Yeah, about six months, ever since I started working at the store.  Do you know if he has any enemies?  Nope.  Ever talk about a girl?  Nope.  You’ve got an interesting rap sheet yourself.  So I’ve heard.

You see two men show up at the desk outside.  The first carries himself like a cop: close-cropped hair, jacket bulging in all the ways a Kevlar vest makes a jacket bulge.  The other guy, standing a step behind the first, is a giant.  He must be 6’7” or more, 350 pounds.  No neck.  Stuffed into a shirt and coat like a great ginger-haired side of beef.  He’s sniffing the air like he smells a cheeseburger.  This second guy, the giant, fills you with a sort of unnatural dread.  You have no idea why, you’ve never seen him or anyone like him before, but your guts go cold and your heart starts racing.  

“I need to leave,” you blurt out suddenly.  Your voice sounds odd in your ears.

Wills’ face goes through some shifts in the blink of an eye:  a flash of surprise, a touch of suspicion, and then, just for a second, he seems almost glazed-over, and then it’s gone.  He smiles warmly.  At the same time, the giant takes a great big sniff, turns sharply and looks right at you.  He grabs the arm of the smaller man in front of him and mutters something.

“Sure Mike,” says Wills, ”Tell you what, I’ll just call your cell if I need…”

You’re already moving out the surgeon’s door in the back of the room, leaving Wills behind with a curiously beatific look.  You race down a hall filled with people in scrubs and lab coats, following exit signs, part of you trying to figure out how your life has turned into the sort of fever-dream that makes you inexplicably terrified of strange linebackers.

You burst through a set of exit doors into an alley and plow into the smaller guy from the reception desk.

“Woah there, champ!” he cries out in a southern accent, grabbing your arms in a not-too-gentle grip.  “I hear you got caught up in that mess at the grocery store, right?”

You struggle for a second, then give up.  “Yeah, I found the girl back by the compactor.  Listen, I really have to get out of here.”

The man flashes you a charming smile.  “Sure thing, chief, no problem.”  He glances up at something or someone behind you and nods slightly.  You feel a sharp pain in your neck, then everything goes black.


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