• • •
A Quick Look
“Thirty-eight, thirty-nine, forty. Four’forty, not bad for an aft–”
It hits her, just like that. It wasn’t the wind, not a change in temperature, nothing anybody else would have noticed. Well, maybe someone else could have noticed it, but this is Kendall’s territory. The others wouldn’t bomb on her spot, not without a warning first… but yet she still felt it. The vibe was real enough to steal her attention away from her money, and that’s real.
Using her hands to balance herself, Kendall puts her weight on the display counter and leans forward to sniff the hat on the imaginary customer before her. Nobody lingering in the back of the shop, nobody loitering up front. It’s just Kendall and her handbags.
“Whatever. Existence is weird.”
Kendall lands on two feet and takes up today’s stack. She uses one of the hair ties on her wrist to band it, then stuffs it in the front pouch of the handbag that comes home with her. Tan strap over her shoulder, Kendall is ready to get the fuck home. She walks around the counter, spins the sunglasses rack, lets her hand rustle the hanging handbags just like her mom told her not to when she was a kid. With one sandal on the shop’s sandy carpet and the other on Atlantic City’s sandy boardwalk, Kendall reaches up and grabs the rusty handle of the security gate like the random hand that grabs Kendall’s shoulder from behind: mid-stride.
“Hi there!” says a too cheery voice before Kendall even turns around. “I hope you’re not closing! I’m trying to find a specific purse and I think you could help me!”
In place of the pulleys on the security gate, Kendall’s eyes roll. She turns around and, in a far too cheery voice, says, “Sorry, but I am closing! Right now!” Then, in her normal Kendall voice, “So come back tomorrow. Or don’t. They’re purses, who cares.” This last was not a question.
The girl doesn’t break eye contact. “No, you’re really closing right now? Maybe you could help me real quick! I have a picture of the purse on my phone, just take a quick look!”
Kendall wants to rip this Fizzy’s actual soul out, but for the sake of keeping it civil (in Atlantic City too, LOL) Kendall takes a peek at the girl’s phone. The peek grows into a look.
“Oh… actually, I think I have exactly what you need!” in that too cheery voice again. Kendall slips the purse off her shoulder, thinks about the money, wails internally for the money, sheds an internal tear for the money, then flops the handle over the girl’s head. “There, perfect! Oh it looks great on you, hun.”
Kendall reaches up and grabs the security gate, then slams it down. She looks up and then down the boardwalk, then starts walking upon the boards themselves.
“Wait!” trembles the girl. “I don’t… I don’t think you saw the picture, my finger slipped, I–… please! Wait!”
Kendall spins around and, without moving her lips, says, “Find an alley where nobody can see you and wait. Make sure you open the zipper. You’ll be fine, I promise.” Then, loudly, her lips flailing like a bloodhound’s, “I told you I closed, woman! It’s a little early to be creepin’, don’t you think? Get outta here, go be where you’re supposed to be!”
With all that, Kendall engages the fastest powerwalk of her life and takes off, not giving the girl a chance to make her own situation worse. We all must go down alleyways in life, there’s no sense in being afraid of the shadows. Besides, she’s got the bag. She’ll be fine. Kendall can – and will – always make more money.
All in all, not bad for an afternoon.
‘She gave me a purse.’
Tonya, clutching a purse between her arm and her ribcage, is walking very quickly down the Atlantic City boardwalk. It’s not late but the sun is low; drinks are being poured, smoke is clouding the air, the cards are dealt, and the gamblers are ready to see the chips stack.
‘She gave me a purse and told me to find an alley. What the fuck?’
Coming to AC for a solo vacation was, admittedly, not the greatest idea. The beach is free and it’s respectably clean, but it’s probably the cleanest part of this city, and you know what? Wild dogs and cats and humans, probably, who live under the boardwalk, shit on the beach. The beach has shit in it and it’s the cleanest part of this city. You know what else? Sometimes the dogs come off the beach. Sometimes the dogs catch a scent and follow that scent. Sometimes they follow that scent until the damn sun goes down, and once the sun goes down, the dogs stop following. Once the sun goes down, the dogs start hunting.
‘I saw her read the message and she gave me a purse and told me to find an alley. What the fuck?!’
Welp. The Universe has evidently spoken: this is the end of the road for Tonya. It’s not like the idea of ending it all herself never crossed her mind… and that’s part of why she came down here by herself, isn’t it? Get nice and liquored, show some skin, score whatever else she can score, get a shitty motel room, go to sleep, and… don’t wake back up. Jesus Christ, how did Tonya get here? What on Earth brought Tonya to this most gravelly of rock bottoms?
“It doesn’t matter,” as she looks up from her feet. She doesn’t have to look long, there are plenty of alleyways connecting to the AC boardwalk. “I asked for help and was told to find an alley where nobody can see me, so fuck it. If he doesn’t end it for me, I will later tonight.”
Tonya trades wood for asphalt and walks into the alley. She picked a good one, too – the buildings are tall, the shadows are murky, the’re rats the size of footballs and their claws are noisy scraping against the pavement. She walks halfway through the alley and falls unto her knees. Tears pour down her cheeks. Her heart pounds in her head. And the footsteps. The slow, heavy, purposeful footsteps. He knows what he’s walking towards, he knows what’s going to happen when his footsteps stop. He’s probably excited about it, too, the horrible bastard.
Or maybe Tonya’s wrong. Maybe he’s a mugger. Maybe she didn’t see him staring at her at the restaurant… and at the other restaurant… and maybe he wasn’t there when she walked out of the bathroom earlier, maybe… maybe he’s just following her into the alley because he wants whatever the purse lady had in this purse she tossed on Tonya’s shoulders before she took off down the boardwalk.
Now that she’s about to cross a line she’ll never be able to uncross, Tonya finally looks at the purse the woman gave her. It’s a simple brown bag, just two pockets. One with a zipper, one without. A tan strap. Some kind of leaf pattern on the front. A little patch that says Madison Handbags. A Tonya Tear falls on that patch and soaks in like it’s nothing.
“Fine, Miss Madison. I found an alley. I’m in the alley now, and so is he. So I guess I just have to open the zipper.”
And so she does. Tonya spins around, holding the purse as widely open as her eyes are pinched tightly shut. The footsteps stop. Tonya opens her eyes.
The man is there, but he’s… he’s just standing there. Tonya’s eyes slowly roam up his form, from his grimy work boots to his tattered jeans to the wife beater splattered with mustard stains that went green all the way up to his face. But… but there is no face, there’s just darkness. The darkness extends from him in a solid pillar, it’s going to… it’s coming from the purse.
Tonya drops her hands and starts to crawl backwards, but the purse doesn’t fall. The purse stays suspended in the air, held there by whatever lives within it, whatever that shadowy arm belongs to. Tonya watches with horror as the shadow begins to expand, begins to creep its way down the man’s neck, over his muscular arms and his stained torso, over his grody jeans and ruined work boots. It’s all over him. It’s taken him.
He’s gone. The handbag falls to the ground. Tonya is alone in the alleyway. Tonya is staring at the bag, and she swears she sees it move. Tonya gets to her feet and runs so fast her flip-flops fly off behind her, but she doesn’t care. Fuck the flip-flops, fuck Atlantic City, and fuck that Goddamn handbag. It’s about time Tonya goes back home and never speaks of this again.
Ah, half past six in the morning on the Atlantic City boardwalk. Kendall has never been the biggest fan of AC-flavored humans, but she doesn’t necessarily detest the early crowd. Half of them are waddling octogenarians who’ve been coming here longer than Kendall’s been alive, and the other half are still so twisted from last night they couldn’t walk straight if they wanted to. You know what they have in common? They love giving cash to attractive young women who come out and break their butts trying to make a living. Women like Kendall, in other words. Lots of folks told her that opening a store on the boardwalk was a terrible idea, but uh, the hotel room she rents is nicer than the room their parents let them stay in, so, it’s whatever. We’re all on our own journeys, ain’t nothin’ to it but to do it.
Speaking of taking journeys, guess who leans against the security gate having herself a little nap?
“Well good morning, Miss Madison.”
The handbag doesn’t make a sound, doesn’t make a move. It just sits there against the security gate of Kendall’s little shop.
“Wow, you must have eaten well.”
Kendall bends low and snags Madison by the strap, slings her around her shoulder. As one hand goes about unlocking the gate, the other dives into Madison’s front pocket and finds the money still stashed there.
“Hell yeah, she didn’t take it! Today’s going to be a good day, Madison. I can feel it.”
Madison doesn’t say a thing. She is very full. She’s looking forward to resting behind the counter all day and digesting her latest meal.
This has been the thirteenth story from Highdeas: The Lost Stories from the Seven Earths, a flash fiction anthology hidden in the back of the book Over the River: The Emancipation of Jonathan Knox. Here is everything you need to know about it:
Over the River
The Emancipation of Jonathan Knox
Over the River is the third book in a trilogy called The Fall of the Seven Earths. I’ve also released that trilogy as a single book called The Fall of the Seven Earths. Here’s everything you need to know about it:
The Fall of the Seven Earths
I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.
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If you’re there, hypothetical reader, thank you for being there. From this day on, we move forever forward~