This is a silly little story that isn’t very strong. I didn’t spend too much time on it, but I had fun writing it. Brian’s Comics in Petaluma was the inspiration, because of it’s location and unusual floor space. (I’m sure Brian will cringe at the thought of being associated with this.) Anyway.
UPDATE: Revised 7/4/17
The sign had finally decided him: “This Space Protected by Unicorns.” How stupid was that? D’s Comics deserved to get ripped off. He might not only take the Cyberella #1 and New Adventure Comics #10 she had in the locked case behind the counter, he might break up the place too, just to show her how good her “unicorns” were.
Tyler paused by the steps down to the arcade and casually adjusted his ball cap, flicking on the lights that edged the brim. His soft-soled shoes whispered on the treads as he stepped off the dark street level and headed down. He stopped, heart pounding, as a sentinel figure appeared out of the shadow. It was only a curve of gas pipe. He brushed past it and reached for the door.
The door into this low-rent space was locked but not alarmed, and Tyler broke the lock quickly. What would the fat-ass grannies at the call center think, he wondered, if they saw him now. Nobody at his stupid job knew about this side of him. He sidled in. He felt strong. His senses seemed sharper. He loved the adrenaline rush illegal entry gave him.
This subterranean space that paralleled B Street held only two businesses right now. The Hole Thing, Piercing and Tattoos, faced the boulevard. It was locked up tight, and there was nothing in there that Tyler wanted. He walked past the alcove where Wendell the Bratwurst Guy stored his cart, to the oddly-shaped shop on the left, D’s Comics.
Tyler had first seen the wooden A-frame sign three weeks ago. What kind of loser opened a brick-and-mortar comic shop now? Paper was dead and everyone knew it. The woman who ran it was named Denise. She was too old for him. At first he had thought she was fat, but after spending a few minutes with her he decided he would totally tap that. She had a nice narrow waist and big hips, soft brown eyes. She was friendly and knew a lot about comics for a woman. He studied the locked case behind the counter and asked to see Cyberella #1. She unlocked the case, look out the plastic-sleeved comic, and carefully put the key back under the counter. When she put the zine back, she did the same thing. Amateur. As he was leaving with his copy of Ironman he noticed the sign in the window.
Okay, then. She deserved it. It was the kind of stupid thing the fat-ass grannies at work had in their cubicles next the screensaver shots of bug-eyed grandchildren; Don’t Drive Any Faster Than Your Angel Can Fly and that sort of crap. He hated that and the way they narked on him constantly. Another smoke break, Tyler? and Tyler, you’ve had a call in the queue for forty-seven seconds, do you need help? Like he needed help to upsell more useless “features” to every idiot who called to order basic service.
There were rumors about Denise, though. She had moved down from Oregon, and she had money. One story was that she had sold three patents to a black-box pharma-tech firm called Praxis. Tyler figured the patent story was bullshit. She might have grown some really good dope in Oregon. Or maybe her husband had invented something and was letting Wifey have a hobby.
He stopped in front of the glass door. The inner wall of the space curved, so when you opened the door you stepped into a short corridor. Four steps and the space opened out, with the counter and the locked cabinet directly ahead. The shelves that displayed the carefully sleeved single comics issues hugged the wall to the left.
He knelt and pulled the duct tape from his pack. He stuck four strips on the glass door, next to the thumb-turn dead bolt, then smacked the tape hard with the small punch he carried. The glass crazed. He pulled the glass-coated tape free, reached in with his gloved hand and opened the lock. Why didn’t she get a keyed dead bolt? That would have taken him a bit longer. Maybe the unicorns could help her with that.
He crouched for a minute by the broken door, waiting,listening. Outside, one car rolled down the street. Otherwise, all was silent. He walked in, heading for the counter. His foot hit something metal that grated on the cement floor. He looked down. Water lapped back and forth inside a good-sized metal water dish. Maybe she kept a cat in here.
He took another couple of steps toward the counter. His heart was pounding, and he felt like he was straining his ears to hear anything, like his skin was extra sensitive. It was almost as good as sex, and sometimes, when he crashed his hammer through glass and sent pieces flying, or felt pages rend between his fists as he tore books apart, sometimes it was better than sex.
Maybe, if his Uncle Todd had given him he loan he’d asked for, this wouldn’t be a comic book store. It would be Tyler’s Game Den. But no, Todd just acted all superior and “show me your business plan,” instead of helping. Todd was a stupid, stick-up-his-butt jerk.
Across the room, something made a soft noise, like a sneeze. He turned his head slowly, scanning the floor. Maybe she did keep a cat. He couldn’t see anything moving. He could hear something though, a soft clicking. It might be a rat. The back of his neck crawled. He stopped by the collectibles case and tried the handle, just to see. It was locked.
Movement caught the corner of his gaze, and he turned. The bluish light from the cap lit up the creature that stood next to the shelves. Tyler’s mind struggled to make sense of the input his brain was giving him.
It wasn’t big, maybe the size of the nasty Jack Russell terrier his mom had. Its neck curved gracefully and a dark, liquid eye studied him as it tossed its head. One hoof pawed the floor. The light irradiated it; it looked silver. It had powerful, muscular haunches. From between its eyes a spiral horn sparkled with light. A shiver ran through him.
The animal danced toward him, sideways, curvetting, its head lowered. A hologram, he thought, but he still backed away. Something moved in the shadows pooled at the bottom of the counter. Another one came out. Tyler stepped away without thinking, even though he knew he could drop-kick either one of them into the wall with no trouble. He shifted his weight to his left leg to do just that, when the one by the shelves charged him. He yelped, off-balance, and fell against the wall. Something jabbed his right ankle, just above his sock. The point of the horn pierced denim and sank into his flesh. He yelped again and it was closer to a scream.
He kicked at it and the first unicorn stuck him in the other ankle, dancing away, shaking its gossamer mane, before he could move. Both animals retreated into the shadows.
“Where are you?” he whispered, advancing into the store. His ankles stung. They were going to die, whatever they were. Genetically engineered pygmy goats, maybe? It didn’t matter. They were dead.
Warmth surged up his legs from the burning wounds. The darkness rippled in front of his eyes, and the muscles in his face suddenly stretched his mouth into a wide grin. He fell into soft fragrant grass and rolled over onto his back, laughing. A silvery horse creature nudged him and snorted. He laughed again. Above him, the sky was an impossible blue and a soft breeze flowed over his body. The other horse creature stood on his chest, nudging open his jacket. And then she came. He saw her feet first, bare, a ring with a twinkling blue stone encircling one toe, blades of grass bowing at her touch. She crouched beside him, smiling, and he smiled back.
“It’s you,” she said. “What’s your name again?”
“Tyler. You know stealing is wrong, don’t you?”
He smiled so widely his face ached, just at the joy of hearing her voice. “I know, Denise.” She smelled like ripe peaches. He could spend eternity staring into her welcoming brown eyes.
The horse thing lipped the cord on his hoodie, then chewed on it thoughtfully. Denise picked up the animal and set it beside him. “Don’t eat that,” she said. “You don’t know where it’s been.”
He rolled his head sideways and looked down at her bare feet. They were the color of honey, with perfectly jointed toes, and the blue stone winked at him. Beyond her, he could see tall trees, and two dark figures like wolves.
“He’ll be like this for about three hours,” she said. “You want to make sure he’s secured; they get despondent sometimes when the euphoria wears off.”
The wolves drew closer; men in black leggings, with gray jackets, huntsmen’s caps and dark sunglasses. On second thought, Tyler decided they weren’t wearing dark sunglasses. They just looked like they should be. They came up to Denise and stood on either side of her.
“He’ll stay obedient, though?”
“Oh, yes,” she said.
“Thanks for the call, D,” the one on her left said. “I didn’t think we’d hear from you again.”
“Well, an opportunity presented itself.”
The one on the right said, “What made you think he’d break in?”
“His aura read ‘thief’ in flashing neon letters,” she said.
“Literally?” one of the men said, and Denise snorted. Or maybe it was a unicorn.
“Tyler, this is Agent Corso. And this is Agent Marshall. You will do whatever they tell you.”
“Yes, Denise,” he said, pleased to be able to offer her something. He got up slowly. The two little animals pranced over and stood next to Denise, pawing the grass.
Agent Marshall said, “What about the delivery system? Can we borrow one?”
“They aren’t a delivery system. They’re my partners. I agreed to provide you with the venom, nothing more.”
Agent Marshall shrugged. “Can’t hurt to ask, right?” he said. “Tyler, come with us.”
Tyler walked over to stand between the two men. One touched his shoulder and guided him toward the door. As they turned away from Denise, the blue sky faded and the smells of summer dwindled.
“I still think you should get a regular alarm system,” Agent Corso said. “This is really not fair.”
“You’re right,” Denise said. “The unicorns deserve better.”