Janice thumped the wall beneath the flickering light with a black hand and curled her lips into a half smile when it stopped spluttering. She turned her face back to the mirror and probed the new cut down the left side with one finger. It stung. In fact her whole face ached and throbbed hotly as the flesh began to swell.
Bloody idiots with their baseball bats, she thought. What were they even doing with baseball bats, didn’t they realise they were in England? Here they had cricket and rounders, not baseball!
She hissed as she dug a nail into the wound and flicked a piece of tarmac into the petrol station sink. In the mirror was a backwards image of two toilet stalls, one with its door completely missing, the other still clinging on by one hinge. The whole room stank. A mixture of floral air freshener, sweat, shit and piss. Despite the smell Janice was reluctant to leave and as she picked the last fleck of road hit the cracked ceramic beneath her she glanced at the lock on the door, double checking that it read engaged.
It didn’t actually read engaged. The little white letters on the wheel inside the lock had long since gone, but there was just enough red left on the background to give the right impression. Engaged, Occupied, In Use, KEEP OUT! That was what this all boiled down to in the end, people not keeping out of places they should do.
Janice brought her hand to her mouth and ran her tongue across the pads of her fingers. She swiped them across the cut, hissing as her saliva touched the open wound. The cut hissed and smoked. Janice’s grip tightened on the sink, new cracks skittering away from her. It lasted a moment and then it was gone, both the pain and the cut. In its place was perfect skin mottled copper and silver, glittering in the florescent light around her.
She sighed quietly and checked her work to see if there were any bumps to indicated missed debris from cleaning the wound. There was nothing. Moving away from the cut she examined the rest of her swollen features, sealing smaller gashes and scrapes one by one.
The door rattled, the lock jumping and flashing to green before Janice could move.
‘Bloody door, jammed like always I- oh shit, sorry, I didn’t think anyone was in here, I-‘
The old man froze in the doorway, one hand still on the door, the other reaching from his cap, the folds of flesh around his neck stained yellow by the floodlights outside. He licked his lips and glanced back towards the car park, no doubt wondering if he could make a run for it.
‘It’s fine, I’m done anyway,’ said Janice, holding her palms up so she could see she wasn’t holding a weapon. It wouldn’t matter, her teeth, her nails, her body, that was the weapon and people knew it. Everyone knew it since her kind had been forced out of the shadows. ‘I don’t want any trouble,’ she said quietly. ‘Just let me get back to my car.’
‘They let your kind drive?’ asked the old man. He inched forward, his eyes hungry rather than fearful. She watched him reaching behind for the waistband of his trousers.
She moved fast, the bones in his forearm splintering where she caught hold.
The hunting knife hit the floor. It smelled of blood, animal, not Janice’s kind. The old man howled and she let go, panic suddenly fizzing through her veins, it didn’t help, the visions still came.
Twenty-five, a leaner, fitter version of the old man clung to the rigging in the back of jeep somewhere deep in Africa. She could feel his heart pounding in her own chest, the dryness in his mouth as the guide yelled and pointed to the horizon. Zebra scattered, their shrill cries sending birds scattering into the air from the long grass. The jeep still rattled forward but he let go and bent to retrieve the rifle at his feet, checking the sights before he took aim, the trigger smooth and firm beneath his finger.
The remaining hinge on the broken toilet stall snapped as Janice’s form staggered into it and her knees buckled. The peeling linoleum was sticky but she pressed her cheek against it regardless, grateful for its coolness. The old man continued to sob and howl, his broken arm cradled against his chest.
Run, said the sensible part of her brain, working despite the shadows of the old man’s past still running rampant inside her head. She could dim the memories a little but that was all. It was all there, his birth, his childhood, the day he met his wife, the day he left her, the day his eighteen year old daughter turned up on the doorstep of his house angry, resentful and desperate from him to explain why he hadn’t loved her enough to stay. Janice felt it all. She wanted to wrap that girl up in her arms, hold her closer than humanly possible and promise the world. She couldn’t though. That girl wasn’t her daughter, she belonged to the old man crying by the door, the open door that led out to the car park, where people might be walking by, where they might spot him and come to investigate. Run, repeated the sensible part of her brain.
Forcing her knees beneath her, Janice clung to the toilet stall and dragged herself upward. Her steps were shaky and she tumbled from one wall to the next, forcing herself not to look down as she edged around the old man. Outside the smell of petrol overpowered the stink of the toilets and she gagged on it.
‘Help me, please,’ moaned the old man, his voice broken and raw.
No, she told herself. If she stayed it would be the same story, boys with their baseball bats, old men with their knives, and they had the nerve to call her a monster. A voice called out from the car park for her to stop, another screamed.
She’d been seen.
Fear kicked her in the gut like an old friend. The old man’s memories cleared for a second and she dived for the alley that ran alongside the petrol station toilets. Set aside from the main petrol station the little building backed up against a small pocket of concrete where they stored the bins and various broken things. The chain link fence bit into Janice’s finger for only a moment before it sizzled and melted.
It was dark she told herself. They’d put the colour of her skin down to weird lighting.
The voices from the car park didn’t follow her through into the wasteland on the other side and once the darkness was deep enough to hide her Janice fell again. The ground caught her, thrumming with life it wrapped itself around her shivering frame and held her close. For a moment she hoped that it might swallow her, keep her safe from the boys and the old men, but it didn’t.
‘Janice? Janice wake up.’ A hand shook her shoulder but she didn’t rise. The adrenaline from earlier had gone and now the old man’s memories were running their course. He’d tried to be a good father, he even tried to be a good grandfather when his daughter finally found it in herself to forgive him, but for some reason he always ended up making a mistake and finding himself alone.
‘She’s here! I found her!’
She moaned as the ground fell away and the cold night air swept around her. There was warmth but it was muted, kept from her by cloth and leather.
‘Time to get you out of here old girl. I told you this wasn’t a place for us.’
She was moving, leaving the place she had fallen with great striding steps.
‘Dan?’ she peeled her eyes open, the image of grey wrinkled figure inside a small mahogany box still etched on her retinas.
‘I’m here, don’t you worry.’
She closed her eyes again, relieved to find the memory of walking toward a set of petrol station toilets, the paint peeling from the door. He didn’t check the lock, the handle was stiff and unwieldy so he put his shoulder into the door, believing the recent rain to have swelled it shut.
She saw her own eyes, black and shining staring back at her.
She screamed when her arm broke.
She screamed when the monster came for her.
Written for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge. This week he has challenged his readers to write a piece of fiction where we make up a monster of our own. It can’t exist already, it has to be completely original. I’m hoping I managed to full-fill the challenge in this piece. Let me know what you think in the comments below and if you want to read more of my fiction, check out my Solitary Creatures series for more monster and magic filled writing.
Thank you for reading.