Putting his phone down on the counter with a slight shake of his head, he went to the autobiography section to inspect the most recent thud. A book lay open in the middle of the aisle. As he approached it, yawning, he saw a single word filling two pages in bold. He moved closer and the book spelled out ‘RUN’.
Damn ghosts, man… he thought to himself as he put the book back in the empty space on the shelf. As he pushed the book back into position, the door chimed. Kevin shuddered at the sound. It was louder than usual. He made sure the book was in its place and rushed towards the counter.
A young boy lurked around the shelves of books closest to the entrance. He seemed to be alone as the steps leading to the street were empty. Sipping from the cup he left at the counter before that damned book fell, he inspected the boy, who threw sneaky looks his way.
“Can I help you with finding a book?” Kevin asked.
The boy stood up straight, as if called out by a teacher to answer a question he didn’t understand and stared at Kevin. The two of them looked at each other.
What a weird kid…
“Do you want any help?” Maybe rephrasing the question will spur the boy to answer Kevin hoped. The boy kept staring and refused to speak. After a moment, the boy stepped back to the door, turned around, and stared at the street beyond.
“Okay…”, Kevin muttered to himself. He coughed twice and addressed the boy again, “Are you waiting for your parents?” His tone was nicer and softer now.
The boy turned his head to face Kevin. Then, keeping his head in the same place, he rotated his body until the two were realigned. Like a wind-up nutcracker, he marched towards the booth where Kevin was leaning over the cash machine.
“Wow, kid, your parents did a hell of a job raising you,” he said with a smile, looking at the absurd sight of the kid approaching him. Kevin again looked out onto the steps and the path extending into the street, hoping to see a parent or a relative of this child. It was much darker now than moments ago, even though it was the middle of the day. The street ahead was empty, but that was no surprise. These days rarely anyone came to the bookstore in this town.
“Okay, kid. Where are your parents?” he said with a tone more serious than he wanted when the boy approached the counter. He stood so close that Kevin could only see his eyes, which took upon a sinister look now.
“Pay,” the boy said.
“It’s time to pay.”
“Okay… What are you buying?”
“It’s time to pay your debt,” the boy said in a manner of a toy uttering out the programmed phrase.
Kevin jumped back. The boy’s hands gripped the far side of the counter and now seemed to be twice the length and to have gained the texture of dough. The boy lifted himself up, as if levitating, and kneeled on the counter, staring at Kevin as he slowly backed away
“It’s time to pay your debt,” the boy repeated but the voice came from all sides of the shop, like an announcement from stereo speakers that usually played slow jazz.
“Kid, what are you doing? Stop. Is this a prank?”
The boy now floated above the counter. His long, spaghetti-like hands reached for Kevin, who narrowly escaped from behind the counter and turned towards the back of the shop.
He saw the shelf where he had just recently placedhe book back and remembered the word ‘Run’. He turned back around towards the exit and sprinted to the front door. Shooting out outside, he gazed back and saw the boy standing at the door, not moving.
Kevin ran out onto the middle of the street. It was dark. There were no pedestrians and no cars, driving or parked. He looked around like a dog trying to decide which bird to attack first, but saw no one.
The boy was no longer standing behind the window. Kevin couldn’t see him anywhere, even though he looked in all directions like a bobble head. Drops landed on his head and shoulders. He lifted his head, and rain besieged his face. Hunching down, he wiped the rain off his face and continued his search for the boy.
A rapid set of footsteps was approaching him from behind. Kevin turned and saw the boy sprinting towards him from the far side of the street. He turned back towards the store and ran up the stairs, where his phone laid comfortably on the counter.
Reaching the sidewalk, he heard the boy start shrieking, and a shiver ran through Kevin’s back like a frantic spider. Kevin felt slow when he finally reached the steps. The boy was near, the sound of his sneakers hitting the asphalt was much closer.
Kevin was lunging up the stairs now. Reaching the middle step, he fell down face first. His shoes had stuck to the stairs and his nose was bleeding. Wriggling his feet out of his slip-on vans he turned on his back and saw the boy stand in front of him.
“What do you want?” Kevin shouted back.
“It is time to pay your debt,” the boy said and extended his tiny hand. Walking by the side, he placed his palm on Kevin’s face.
A thud woke Kevin up. Shaking off the slumber, he walked over to the shelf like a robot, pre-programmed for this function. Another book had fallen down. As he approached the fallen open book, RUN was spelled out across the pages.
Kevin placed the book back and a chime echoed in the store. There was a customer.
Aldas is a writer and editor from Dublin, Ireland. He holds and MA in Creative Writing and dreams of a career as full-time writer. His work has been published in Cabinet of Heed, Terrene, Idle Ink and elsewhere. His website: http://aldaskruminis.com/