Gareth walked from his car to the shop, head down and one-handedly tapping at his phone asking Mel if she wanted anything else. His mind was not on his surroundings, it never usually was anyway but tonight was different. He had the drop-dead gorgeous Melissa Hughes waiting for him at home in nothing but what God gave her. They had been getting hot and heavy in his room until she said the inevitable “Got a condom?”

He did not. He thought he did, had torn the entire room apart looking for one but came up empty handed. He rushed to Denzil’s room, hammered on the door and asked him as calmly as possible if he could help a friend out. Denzil could not. Before he had finished talking Gareth turned on his heel and bolted down the hallway to their other housemate Simon. After a quick argument over how loud someone should knock on a bedroom door Gareth discovered it was all for naught as there was no hint of a prophylactic in sight.

Dejectedly he had shuffled back to his room, to the achingly beautiful and waiting body of his beloved. She asked what was wrong, he told her. She asked if there was anywhere he hadn’t checked. There wasn’t. She then told him she wasn’t going anywhere so why didn’t he simply pop out and buy some? The thought never crossed his mind, it was on other things after all. Without a second to waste he ran around the room picking up clothes and wrenching them on as Mel giggled in that way he had come to adore. Once ready he leaned over, gave her a kiss exploding with passion and smiled roguishly before stampeding out of the room, down the stairs and into his car like his arse was on fire.

Now he was finally at the shop. The text was sent and he looked up to grab the door only to find it open. A man dressed all black with a bandanna covering his face from the nose down stood in front of him with a gun aimed directly at the space between Gareth’s eyes.

“Shut your mouth and get in,” said the man.

The poor kid was dumbstruck. His mind and body were raring to go but not for this reason. His first thought was “Oh for God’s sake”. It took a good three minutes for his mind to comprehend what a situation he was in. Until then he simply stood just inside the shop, moving to where the masked man told him to like an automaton.

“There! Stand there and don’t move a fuckin’ inch you got it?” said the robber. Gareth nodded, mouth slightly open and a dazed look in his eyes. The robber turned to the cashier and began shouting whilst gesturing madly with his gun. “The money, all of it,”

The cashier quickly emptied his till and the one next to him into a faded black and green backpack. Once he was done he threw it at the robber and raised his hands back into the air. There was a strange crackling sound followed by a crunch. The robber spun around to Gareth who was already halfway through a Crunchy Chew bar.

“What? What the fuck are you doing?” the robber yelled incredulously. Gareth stared at him with bugged-out eyes then to his bar, all the while slowly chewing the piece in his mouth. “Did you hear me you little shit? “

“Ah, I guess I eat when I’m nervous, or scared, or whatever,” Gareth blurted, holding out the chocolate bar slightly as if offering the masked man a piece.

“You guess?” shouted the robber with utter disbelief at the young man’s seeming indifference.

“I dunno! I’ve never been in this situation before,” Gareth said, unable to move in his shock, not even to find cover from the lunatic waving a gun in his general direction. Said lunatic was now stock still, holding the weapon at arm’s length, the tip slightly dipped down as his eyebrows knotted, trying to figure out what was going wrong with such an easy job. Like an animal in the headlights, Gareth couldn’t take his eyes off the man with the gun, there was some strange force holding him in place and blocking out his rational mind. Which might explain why, at that moment, he raised his arm and bit off another chunk of his bar. The robber’s eyes went wide and his arms started flinging up into the air.

“What the hell is wrong with you? Stop. Eating,” he said and, in a bid to rescue the job, turned back to the cashier as Gareth put a hand over his mouth in the hope it would muffle the sound of him chewing – the thought of stopping had yet to occur to him.

“That’s all there is, I promise,” the middle-aged cashier pleaded, “we’re only a small corner shop, what did you expect?”

“Arrrrrgggh! Don’t bullshit me, you got a safe in the back. Now be a good little shit-eater and take me to it,” bellowed the man in black, sticking the gun painfully into the poor cashier’s nose. He turned to Gareth with hate filled eyes. “Try to leave and I’ll hunt you down,”

Gareth nodded again, his brain perhaps still not truly understanding the danger it was in. His pocket buzzed and he instinctively reached for his phone.

“Are you stupid? Put the phone away asswipe,” the robber blurted, the hate from his eyes momentarily replaced with mild shock.

“It’s just a text from my girlfriend, she wants some smokes,” Gareth said as if he was trying to make a toddler understand something very simple. It was at this moment that some sense of survival instinct kicked in and Gareth realised he might have pushed the law breaker too far. With the gun still firmly pressed against the cashier’s nose the would-be stick-up artist stared into Gareth’s eyes, still trying to make sense of the strange reactions he was receiving. With a sudden rush of movement the bandit turned, grabbed the nearest pack of cigarettes and threw them forcefully at Gareth.

“Now shut up and wait there, this’ll be over soon,” he said. Gareth looked down at the pack he had caught and for a moment felt the urge to say they weren’t Mel’s brand but thought better of it. By the time he looked up the man with the gun was disappearing through the back door to the manager’s office. A primal sense to take flight fell upon him but he suppressed it, believing that the robber would stay true to his word and hunt him down if he fled. So he stood and waited.

Seconds crawled by. Gareth looked around the harshly lit shop, eyed some tasty looking Toaster Tarts but shook his head clear, Mel’s at the house waiting, oh God she’s waiting for me. The though was equal parts delight and horror as he thought she would get fed up and leave before this whole ordeal was over. The thought erupted into an interior argument with himself over what should be done, what could be done and what he was likely to do. He argued that she liked him, really liked him, so why would she leave? He’d only just got a text from her about picking up the smokes so obviously she wasn’t thinking of leaving soon. The other side of him countered such logical thinking with you don’t know how long this is going to take, you don’t even know that he’ll let you live, run you fool.

“Urchaaaaaaaaa!”

Gareth’s head turned so quickly towards the horrifying scream that he felt a muscle twinge in his neck. His primal instincts left him again and he moved a step closer to the manager’s door from whence the sound came.

“No! No! Please I-”

Gareth’s eyes went wide at the sound of the robber pleading, blood drained from his face until he was whiter than freshly washed bed sheets.

“I didn’t know!” screamed the crook before his voice was engulfed in a hellish torrent of demonic roars that rattled inside Gareth’s head as he stood in the type of fear induced shock the man in black had expected from him at the beginning. It was awful that sound, there was nothing comparable in nature to such a huge and ghastly roaring that could come from such a small room. In between the cacophony Gareth could hear the intermingled screams and sobs of the law breaker until the rising crescendo peaked and suddenly stopped with a wet tearing sound.

Again the shop was plunged into silence. Gareth thought he had stood still but now that he blinked and was back in his body proper he discovered himself to be no more than three steps away from the manager’s office door. He could smell something foul and the quick realisation that it might be what was left of the robber caused his nose to wrinkle. The logical side of him piped in again, walk away idiot, just walk away. But as always with Gareth Jacob Vine he had difficulty following the sensible side.

“You’d best leave,” said a voice from the office. It was the cashier’s voice, multiple times over in descending octaves dripping with primal rage. The sound sickened some part of Gareth’s mind which combined with the smell caused his gorge to rise which was quickly followed by the half-digested remnants of the Crunchy Chew which splattered across the scuffed but shiny shop floor.

“Ugh, sorry, I just-” he said between retches.

“It’s fine,” said the blight-laced voice that was once a middle-aged, mild-mannered cashier.“Leave,”

“Uh huh,” Gareth said, wiping his mouth and making his way for the door. Before he passed the counter he stopped as an idea popped into his head and the logical voice of fear was banished for the moment. “Any chance I could buy some condoms?”

Silence again save for the humming of the lights and refrigerator. A wet shuffle from inside the manager’s office. Logical Gareth came back to the fore, the living shit are you doing? Run fuckwit! Unfortunately, Lustful Gareth was in charge right now and he wanted what he came for.

“Uh,” said the Hell-borne voice in confusion, accompanied by the sound of something wet and heavy hitting the floor, “sure, I guess,”

“Groovy, where are they?” said Lustful Gareth. More silence as whatever had become of the cashier tried to comprehend the situation. It was broken by a squelching sound and the tearing of metal as the bulk of the creature shifted its weight.

“Behind the counter, third shelf,” it said flatly. Lustful Gareth bounded over the top of the counter and searched for what he wanted, found it and jumped back over.

“I’ll leave the money on the counter,” he said, brandishing his money as if showing it to the beast with the thousand voices.

“Sure” said the thing as Gareth exited the shop with a grin on his face.

The creature in the office sat on its haunches, looking around at the mess it had made of the ill-fated robber and scratched its head in puzzlement and wonder at the strange young man.

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