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Jack Box by Aryan Bollinger

$2.99

Raymond Fuller’s store shelves hold more than deli meat and potato chips. Raymond’s ghost lingers between the aisles, and when an old, living friend pays a visit, Ray is forced to relive the past… and payment is due.

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Raymond Fuller’s store shelves more than deli meat and potato chips. Raymond’s ghost lingers between the aisles, and when an old, living friend pays a visit, Ray is forced to relive the past… and payment is due.

A country store is many things: For some, it means easy access to beer and cigarettes; for others, it’s a hub of town gossip. Fuller’s Grocery is such an establishment in Runner Creek, a rural community where a local legend has endured for generations.

Bottom Drop. Just a bend in the highway not far from Raymond Fuller’s store, yet lethal accidents occur there more frequently than chance should allow. Raymond knows what skulks around the hairpin turn of Bottom Drop, and, even after death, he can see the hungry things that have never forgotten his scent.

 


Jack Box will also feature in the anthology, Restless, coming soon from Frith Books.

Aryan’s Author Page

Additional information

Writer

Aryan Bollinger

Read an excerpt


JACK BOX

© Aryan Bollinger. All rights reserved.


Fuller’s Grocery was closed on Sundays, so no one knew the woman had arrived… except Raymond Fuller himself, but he never left his store. He’d been dead for about twenty years, and he couldn’t think of anywhere else to go.

Ray sat in his square-walled office, behind a wooden desk loaded with old receipts, dusty packs of cigarettes, and a pistol he’d kept for store protection. Sometimes, at night, he’d venture out onto the sales floor, straightening product along the shelves—sometimes he mopped the floor when the new kid forgot. It was something to do, at least. Better than rattling chains. Most of the time, though, he haunted his old office without as much as a whisper.

The living folk rarely intruded. For whatever reason, they avoided him.

Go figure.

Ray read, sitting in his old, bowed chair. He had a fat stack of Reader’s Digest condensed books. He liked them—didn’t love them—but, again, it was something to do as he tried to ignore the renewed scuttling of tiny legs. Although there were days when those clicks and scratches almost disappeared from the walls around him, today they gained strength, seemed to focus on the office’s grimy corners. The legs carried things from outside, things that wanted in.

It was far better to stay here. Ray never left the store. It was raggedy in the space beyond, full of sound; full of things he didn’t want to see.

In the parking lot, the woman stepped out of her car and looked around the store’s front. Red hair shifted over her shoulders as her gaze trailed across the painted cinder block, rusty awning, and wooden porch. Bags of dog food were stacked on either side of the entrance.

As Ray read an abridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo, he heard the woman’s steps. Felt them.

He could feel and smell lots of things. He was surprised he hadn’t caught her scent before that moment. She was so much like her mother… but there was something different, something fetid that she brought with her this time.

Suddenly, there was silence in the cramped office: the scuttling had stopped and, in the following quiet moments, Ray understood for the first time how loud—and how close—that encroaching sound had become.

Ray closed the yellowed pages, stood, and hoped the woman would leave.

She shouldn’t have come back at all.

Ray heard crunching gravel as she approached, then the sound of her steps faded and finally disappeared… but her scent remained.

He stepped through the office door and onto the tiled deli floor. Before him stretched the counter and stainless steel trays where, during operating hours, cold cuts chilled and meatballs simmered, everything behind slanted glass.

Past the counter on the left, toward the front of the store, were two long tables and the cashier station. Three wide picture windows looked out onto the porch and onto Granite Hope Church Road beyond. Ray walked between the tables and peered outside. The sun was setting, dipping into Runner Creek Lake, and there was a white Toyota parked on the right side of the lot: a rental, as indicated by the goofy barcodes on the windshield and side windows. The woman had disappeared, along with the rocking chairs that used to creak along with the sound of men talking. An image of people sitting out there came to Ray, and he thought of the way people had looked at each other years ago. These days, most just bought their smokes and left.

The sales floor lay behind him. Some of the products had changed since Ray owned the store, and the aisles had been slightly rearranged, but Fuller’s Grocery was basically the same as always: a large selection of canned vegetables, and absolutely no products featuring Larry the Cable Guy. Ray had seen to these matters via handwritten letters and overturned snack racks. He couldn’t change much about the outside, but he’d be damned if his store would suffer from within.

Movement on the right caught his eye: the woman reappeared, taking a cell phone from her back pocket. She moved to stand beside the Toyota, and as she brought the phone to her ear, Ray saw the beetles. Their fetor clawed inside his nose. They looked like purple, oblong tumors, and stank of blighted potatoes. Had too many legs. And they crawled over her jeans, in her red hair. She didn’t seem to notice. Overhead, Ray heard the bastard things buzzing and clicking across the roof.

The store’s land line began ringing at the register. He could have picked it up, but he didn’t know what he might sound like, didn’t know if he’d make any sound at all. And he just wanted her gone. He wanted to forget.

Surely she knows we’re closed on Sundays.

The ringing stopped.

Pocketing the phone, the woman looked up, past the store to a spot just down the road. She looked toward Bottom Drop.

That was where the beetles came from. The Shallows were down there, too… always at least a few, stumbling around. And, like Ray, they had long memories.

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