“God, how late do you think they put their kids to bed?” Darlene shouted across the parlor as she swished a mop back and forth.
Jess slapped down a wet dish rag on the counter and didn’t respond. Just a few more minutes until closing time. You got this, girl.
Darlene shrugged and kept filling the silence. “I mean, who gets their kids ice cream at nine-thirty? The little shits should be in bed. Now they’ll be up for another three hours!”
“That’s not for us to worry about,” Jess answered, pushing through the kitchen doors to wash out the dish rag. “Let’s just get this place cleaned up so we can go home.”
The last ten minutes had afforded the girls an uninterrupted span of time to get Daisy’s Sweet Tooth ready for closing. Usually, they saw no customers after nine and were able to close early and skip out ahead of the usual ten o’clock closing time. In fact, over the last couple weeks, Daisy’s had seen fewer and fewer patrons past sunset. Tonight had been an oddity.
“You’re just going home?” Darlene yelled to Jess in the kitchen. “Lame! You should come out with me and Brad. We’re going to see that new movie; the one about the alien? You can’t tell me it doesn’t look good!”
Jess shrugged. “Not tonight. I promised my roommate I wasn’t going to leave her alone at the apartment. We’re probably going to watch a movie there.”
Darlene scoffed and leaned on her mop. “You’re such a bore, Jess. You never want to do anything fun anymore.”
Jess didn’t say anything. It was true: Jess used to love to go out and do things. Part of it was her excuse to show off her boyfriend, Mike, a college baseball player and one of the hottest guys on the team. But then, she’d seen him at that frat party with his arm around another girl and ever since, Jess hadn’t felt like being social. Really, hadn’t felt like spending time with people at all. All she sought was the warmth of her own blankets on her own bed, some Chinese take-out and an old movie to drown out the sorrows of being alone.
When Jess returned to the front, she noticed Darlene eyeing her ruefully. Before either of them could say anything, an alarm went off on the time clock in the office.
“We made it!” Darlene cheered, tossing the mop aside. Tomorrow was Sunday, and the shop was closed. Daisy, their fifty-year old born again Christian boss, had insisted that even though neither girl went to church, they should consider it as it was important to “pick a side before they became withered with age and regret”.
Jess and Darlene clocked out and changed out of their obligatory ice cream uniforms, Darlene into a hot pink dress to go out and Jess into jeans and a matching jacket. The jacket had belonged to Mike, one of the things he’d forgotten to take the last time he’d visited. It’s too small for him anyway, Jess had insisted each time she slung it on. She was convinced that if he ever tried to take it back, she’d fight him for it on principle.
They stepped out into the alley and locked up. It had rained earlier and the reflections of neon lights glared up at them from puddles at their feet. As Jess slipped the key into her pocket, a car honked its horn from the end of the alley.
“That’s Brad,” Darlene said and started in that direction. After a few steps, she paused and turned back. “You sure you don’t want to come out?”
Jess nodded. “Quiet nights in are my new thing.”
Darlene frowned. “Wait, you’re not walking home, are you?”
“Need I remind you there’s a killer on the loose?” Darlene said through gritted teeth.
Jess rolled her eyes. “Ha ha. So funny. You mean the guy who slays those jumbo tacos across the street.”
Darlene shoved her. “Killer. Maniac. Psycho. Take it seriously.”
“Take what seriously? Two people got stabbed. Both were…bums, right? It was probably a fight over a fire in a garbage can.”
“They didn’t just get stabbed, Jess. They were butchered. And no, they weren’t bums. One was a woman on her way home from the grocery store. Another was a guy going out to the corner shop to buy cigarettes.”
“Honestly, Darlene, I live, like, two blocks from here. Also,” Jess lifted her bag and gave it a hefty shake. “I carry a brick.”
Brad honked the car horn again.
Darlene sighed. “Fine. Walk fast. I’m going to call you when I get home.”
Jess started walking in the opposite direction. “It’ll be super late by then. I’ll be asleep.”
Darlene walked backward toward Brad’s car. “Promise you’ll pick up!”
Jess turned at the sound of the car door opening and turned in time to see the car door close and Brad’s car vanish down the street into the darkness. Quiet swallowed the small backstreet. Jess took a deep breath and started walking.
The back alley was one that connected two main thoroughfares in town, Adams Street and Rikely Boulevard. Of course, at this time of night, it was abandoned like most streets on this side of town.
There were times that Jess had walked home and heard whispers, noted shadows that only appeared for a moment before fleeting into the night. But there had never been any inkling to suggest violence, nothing to make her reconsider her path home. A thriving homeless community and the occasional prostitute were probably the only things lurking there. Despite the city really wanting to clean up the district, there was no sugar-coating the kind of neighborhood that surrounded them. Low income housing, brothels, drug dens, and the like. It was a wonder that Daisy had wanted to open her ice cream shop in a storefront that used to sell handguns. But, Daisy and her newfound do-good sensibilities were enough to ensure that business thrived here in spite of it all.
CLINK. The sound of a glass bottle falling echoed off the brick walls. Jess spun around, eyes searching. The alleyway was dark, too dark to really see much in. She recognized the shapes of garbage bins and dumpsters but nothing that looked vaguely human.
Rats. It’s just rats. Jess turned and walked faster. Damn Darlene. Getting to me with all that shit about psychopaths.
At the end of the alley, Jess glanced across Rikely Boulevard toward her next destination: another alley. This one wasn’t as familiar as the first. If she wanted to take the more well-lit way home, she could follow Rikely up to St. James and then take that up to Monroe, where her apartment sat. That was at least twenty minutes of walking and usually, meant that she was chilled and craving soup by the time she got home. The alley cut that time in half. It was long, and narrow, and even darker than the one she’d just come out of, but it was a sure bet that at the end of it, she’d be standing in front of her apartment.
Come on, she coaxed herself across the road and stopped at the entrance to the alley. You big baby.
Jess stepped inside and felt the darkness slip over her. Within ten steps inside, a sudden stench assaulted her. She covered her nose and gagged. What the hell is that?
Then, there came the sound, the feeblest of gasps. Had that been a voice? Had someone just called out?
Jess clutched her purse as she continued. It’s got to be bad food. Maybe a raccoon or something eating rotten food?
Something shifted in the darkness in front of her. Jess stopped short, her entire body freezing in place. Whatever was in front of her was only a couple feet away. Heavy breathing permeated the air between them. Jess squinted. It was too dark to make out anything.
Carefully reaching into her bag, she found her little maglite, a gift from her dad when she’d moved out of the house. The maglite felt solid in her hand as she carefully twisted the end until a shock of yellow light lit up the alley.
First, there was blood.
It oozed across the pavement, thick and wet in front of her in a deep puddle. Jess coughed and nearly dropped the light. When she did, she caught the glint of eyes like two shiny beads in the blackness. Inhuman eyes, staring directly at her.
Jess lost all feeling in her fingers. The light clattered against the pavement and a scream ripped from her throat.
Stay tuned for Part II of Backstreet Bloodbath coming next Thursday October 10th at 11 PM Eastern Time. Please share with your friends and be sure to follow The Writers’ Abditory.
Until next week,