Friday, November 07, 2014

The Parade: Part IV, Under the Mackey Building

The Parade
Part IV
Under the Mackey Building

Richmond Norris turned the open sign over to closed and locked the front door of his store.  The jack o' lantern decoration on the interior of the door smiled gleefully at him.  He stuck his tongue out in retaliation.  It had been a long and busy day and he was ready to be home.  There was at least an hours worth of work left before he was finished with the store, but all he wanted was a pillow beneath his head. 

Daylight Savings time was this weekend.  The clocks would be "falling back" and he'd be getting back the hour of sleep he had lost in the spring.  He loved Autumn for that reason more than any other.  Despite the darkness in the morning when he rose, the ease of a perceived extra hour of sleep made his days much more palatable, at least until next March when the whole cycle began again.  He flipped the switch for the exterior sign to off.  His last customer of the evening, Ethel Blackwell, had left about fifteen minutes ago.

Ethel was usually his last customer every night during the week.  She always came in fifteen to twenty minutes until nine to pick up a chocolate bar.  Sometimes she would buy a bottle of Tums or a tube of Aspercreme for her arthritis but she always purchased a single chocolate bar. On Saturday night she would buy two bars as Norris was closed on Sundays.  He always smiled to see Ethel.  It meant his work day would soon be over.

Richmond still had to count down the day's till and there was the sweeping and the moping to do before he left.  First though, he needed a little motivation.  He moved to the back of the store and turned off the interior lights then retreated quietly into the basement.

The grocery was set on the far end of downtown Rivercross in the Mackey building.  In the fifties, the building had been a women's clothing boutique.  There was a suite of offices above the retail space and a small basement beneath on the backside.  The Mackey building had been empty for several years before he purchased it.  Richmond had to do some renovation to make the building functional as a grocer but in the end, his work had been well worth it.

Norris Grocery was now the only grocer within twenty plus miles.  His only competitor was the small Jenkins store on the outskirts of town, and it was more of a convenience store than a grocer.  Folks in Rivercross could either walk in to Norris grocery right there on their doorstep or drive to the super Walmart all the way in Hamptonville.

Sadly, he was one of the only businesses doing well in Rivercross.  Within the past year, five different stores around him had gone belly up.  He would be worried, but his sales steadily increased.  Richmond knew that people always needed to eat and what they saved on gas by avoiding the drive to Hamptonville they spent in his store.  It looked as though Norris Grocery and Doris Hutchens' Style Shop might be the only mainstays in downtown Rivercross.

Despite the stress of running the store, Richmond Norris had been made moderately wealthy by his choice of location.  Although his initial investment had nearly bankrupted him, by the end of his second year he had made all of his money back and more.  He celebrated his success each night with several shots of whiskey from the bottle he kept hidden in the basement.

His wife, Rita, didn't like his drinking but she generally knew when to keep her mouth shut.  He kept her in a nice house with a car and jewelry to match and together they overlooked each others habits.  Rita also had a sever allergy to any kind of work.  She rarely came to the store, and even more rarely to the basement.  She detested dust or dirt of any sort.  That made the basement the perfect place for whatever Richmond needed to remain hidden: his whiskey, his cigars, and the occasional sweaty visit from Peggy Rafferty.  He adjusted his crotch at the thought and opened the bottle of whiskey.

The first two shots passed through his throat like fire but quickly soothed themselves into his belly.  He poured a third shot and was preparing to drink when he noticed that his potato chips were missing.  Richmond usually kept a bag with his whiskey in case he craved something salty after his shots.  He stood and looked about, but could not find the bag.  He shrugged.  Sometimes he forgot to bring a bag down.  He downed the last shot and put the whiskey away.

He moved towards the stairs but stopped when he heard a soft crunch under his shoe.  Potato chips were scattered on the floor between the stairs and two sets of shelves nearby.  They were strewn about in a trail leading towards the far end of the basement.  He cursed under his breath as he followed the trail.  He'd had trouble with rats in the past, but since he'd begun having an exterminator visit once every other month, the pests had vanished.  He kept no food in storage except for the stock he had on the shelves upstairs.  The potato chips were the only food in the basement.  He cursed again as he rounded the shelves to the back wall.

When Richmond had first purchased the Mackey building there was a large grate on the back wall of the basement that led to a small tunnel.  A local historian had claimed that the tunnel was used by the underground railroad as well as a secret storehouse during prohibition.  Neither claim was ever substantiated and Richmond was not interested is hosting an historical property.  He didn't need the extra hassle.  The tunnel connected to the Rivercross city drainage system and on any blustery day sickening vapors would emit from the grate and fill the basement with the smell of a cesspool.  As soon as he could afford it, Richmond added extra ventilation in the basement, removed the grate, and had the tunnel bricked over.

Richmond glared at the large new hole in the wall and spit with anger.  A pile of bricks and grout lay at his feet.  The floor around it was dusted with debris.  There were tracks leading away from the hole but it looked as though something had been dragged.  He could not make out any kind of animal foot prints in the dust and dirt.  Richmond looked up at the hole again.  A chill ran down his spine.  He suddenly realized that it was easily three times the size of his head.  He rushed over to the stairs and grabbed the broom that rested there.  He approached the hole once more with the broom raised at the ready.

He looked around the basement for any kind of movement but saw nothing.  He squatted and looked into the small alcove under the stairs then moved around the shelves, extending the broom and poking gently into the space above.  As he rounded the second set of shelves he found the discarded potato chip bag.  The bag lay beneath the single window in the basement.  The window's glass was shattered and was mostly gone except for a few shards that clung to the frame.  Richmond sighed and shook his head.  It was probably a damned raccoon or possum or something.  He lowered the broom.

As he looked more closely at the window frame he noticed that there were chew marks all around the edges of the frame.  He leaned in closed to examine to the chew pattern and recoiled.  There was some kind of thick orange residue on the remaining glass that reeked horribly.  The stench was somewhere between Parmesan cheese and fish.  He covered his nose and mouth with his shirt.  He stood on his tiptoes to look out the window and into the night.  Whatever had crawled out of the tunnel was gone.

{8x2.665, created in Adobe Photoshop}

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Eddie said...

Like the bit about Daylight Savings time. I'm the same way. Always seems like that extra hour is more than an hour somehow.

Jesse Campbell said...

Thanks! :-) It's my favorite of the two time changes. Spring forward always screws up my sleep pattern.

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