From the author: Sometimes you pick just the wrong (or right) place to duck into during a storm.
The rain came down in faint trickles, not the downpour that had almost buried Vicky earlier. Nonetheless, she kept as close to the buildings as possible. A stream of curses came from her, sotto voce.
How the heck had she managed to forget her umbrella? That had trapped her in that place, that store, with that man and his Roman Hands. Now she had escaped, but the water smudged her makeup. It started to turn her hair into unpleasant rat tails. She hated the rain. She wished it would never rain again.
Or at least that it would rain decently, at night, when nobody had to be out in it. Maybe an hour a day at four a.m. They needed weather control. Bill would joke that he would get right on it.
Of course, Bill wasn't working on anything related to weather control. It was all that smart road and smart car stuff. The preliminary steps to cars that drove themselves.
Looking at the way most people drove, that would be almost as good as weather control. Then the heavens opened again.
She stepped into the nearest doorway, cursing some more. It was not supposed to happen quite this way. She was supposed to be home by now, feeding the cat and maybe watching the game.
The doorway she had stepped into was another dingy store. She made her way inside, hoping the storekeeper would not throw her out for not having the intent to buy anything. Or paw her. If he pawed her, she was likely to end up on assault charges. She was not going to tolerate that again.
A dark, dingy store. She realized after a long moment that it was an antiques store. An eclectic collection of stuff, ranging from junk to what looked suspiciously like a Ming vase.
No sign of the storekeeper. She sure as heck wasn't buying anything. She could not move this stuff, anyway. It all seemed heavy, weighted down by the time it had existed and by a faint patina of dust.
Still no sign. She envisioned a wizened old gnome, as ancient as his wares, bent over a paper ledger. She could not imagine that there would, could ever be a computer in this place. It was hard to imagine that there would even be a phone. If there was, it would be some old rotary beast, black and silver. Did those even still work with modern exchanges?
A small shelf of books seat near the counter. Jokingly, she wondered if he had a copy of the Necronomicon. It was just the kind of place where one might imagine finding one. But no, they were all childrens' books. Wind In The Willows. Winnie The Pooh. Dusty little books that promised something to any small hands that were willing to risk opening them.
There was even a record player and a small stack of vinyls in crumbling sleeves. And voices from the back room. A passage led back, past the empty counter. It was not marked employees only.
She knew only too well just what curiosity had, yes, done to the cat. Not being a feline herself, however, she was rather less than concerned.
She should have been, for as she stepped past a narrow stairway and into the back room, the voices raised in anger.
"What do you mean you don't have it, Simon?" That was a female voice, shrill and sharp. It came from somebody who looked like a librarian. Wire rimmed spectacles hovered on her nose without the benefit of any connection to her ears.
Simon was a big man, husky and dark, his nose had been broken at some point. He looked like the kind of man who got his nose broken. Which made it a bittersweet irony that he was the one backing down. Maybe she was his mother. Men like that only backed down from their mothers or grandmothers. He was, in fact, stepping back towards the door.
Towards her. She got ready to get out of his way, feeling like an intruder, but not willing to flee. Not willing, certainly, to go back out into the rain.
"I don't have it. You really thought I would? You really think somebody like Selina Ross would let it go?"
No, Vicky thought. Selina Ross would not let anything go once it was in her grasp. Except men. She got through those like most people did clean underwear. So, they were trying to purchase something.
"Then get it another way," the woman said, then Vicky felt almost pierced, transfixed.
The old woman had seen her. Those eyes were the eyes of something old, something unpleasant. Something Vicky abruptly decided was far worse than the rain. It caused her to start to flee into the downpour.
Or rather, her mind sought to do that while her feet remained firmly rooted to the ground. Those eyes had driven nails through them, forcing her to remain.
"What did you hear?"
Vicky opened her mouth to say something. Closed it again. "Just you complaining about not being able to buy something. You're open, you should expect people to hear you."
"Ah, a mouth on you. Maybe I need to explain your choices. The first is to serve me."
"I got a job already. One I like." Serve, though? She did not like the sound of that.
"The second is to die."
She would have laughed. Under any other circumstances, she would have. The B movie dialog alone was enough to trigger it. Except that her feet still wouldn't move.
She was going to run. She was determined of that, she put all of her effort into it.
And then she was free. She ran out into the street, full tilt, almost colliding with a man in a long raincoat.
"Excuse me." She kept running.
Safe. Alive. Free. Whoever and whatever that woman was, she could not get her now. Could not, would not. The rain still kept coming down on her, but she no longer cared.
She was certainly not about to go into any more shops. She was going home, nowhere else. The world seemed to be melting from the rain.
Melting and changing...but no, that was an illusion. It was just the rain falling across her eyes, distorting her vision.
She stopped running, feeling that she had a safe distance. Feeling that the woman would have caught her by now if she was going to. Call the police? She was not about to do that. After all, what could she say to them? She certainly wouldn't believe herself.
In fact, she was starting to believe that she had hallucinated the entire thing. Except she would have thought that her subconscious would have more imagination than 'Serve me or die'.
"Come on," she said out loud. "That's just stupid."
The rain melted across her eyes again, and then where it touched there were pinpricks of pain. She was obviously hallucinating that.
Or it was acid rain. Sometimes the rain got so acid you could feel it. But acid rain did not start to burn through her skin. She closed her eyes, but the darkness only lasted a moment as the rain burned through her eyelids...then became forever as it touched her eyeballs.
She screamed. She started running again, blindly. She felt an impact, felt herself lifted and tossed, and when she landed there was nothing.
Only the old woman's face, laughing, with infinity reflected in her eyes.
This story originally appeared in Bards And Sages Quarterly.