Welcome to the April installment of First Sunday Short Fiction. Please enjoy the story, and remember if you want to submit a story of your own, you can find instructions on our submissions page.
By Invitation Only by Megan Tucker
The darkened sky did little to relieve the sweltering late August heat. And yet there I was, driving to the minimart in the dead of night for a pint of ice cream. My wife, Melissa, was seven months pregnant and had developed unusual cravings. Her most recent concoction was macaroni and cheese and strawberry ice cream. Tonight we were out of ice cream. The thought of it made me want to gag, but what can I say? I was a sucker for the way she closed her eyes and curled her toes when she ate it.
As I drove, I used my elbow to knock the window crank a few times. For the hundredth time, I noted the regulator track was in desperate need of greasing and cursed the jerk who sold me this lemon. Two weeks after buying it the AC went out, and just in time for the Arizona summer. Funny how those things tend to work out.
I parked beneath the busted streetlamp and rolled the windows up, leaving a couple inches for ventilation. It was a quick in-and-out. I thanked the guy behind the counter as I left and walked back around the corner toward the crap-mobile. I got in and felt around my pocket for my keys. Damn. I must have left them inside. As I turned to get back out, I was met by two faces directly on the other side of the window.
Their sudden appearance made me jump and clutch at my shirt. Then I realized it was just a couple of kids.
“Jesus Christ, you scared me.” I tried to laugh it off, but my heart was hammering.
There were two of them, probably no older than thirteen or fourteen. They both wore hoodies pulled low over their eyes, but I could barely make out their expressions. The taller one bore the faintest of smiles, while his shorter companion was straight-lipped.
“Hey, mister,” he said. His voice was little more than a whisper. “Do you have a cell phone we could borrow?”
I vaguely wondered if kids really still called people ‘mister’ as I reached for my pocket. I hesitated. “Why don’t you just use the payphone?” I asked, nodding toward the store.
Neither of them even glanced in that direction, although the shorter of the two cocked his head, as if he were looking at his friend. I couldn’t be sure that was what he was doing since I still couldn’t see past those hoodies.
“Please, mister.” said the taller one, obviously the spokesman. “We’re lost and need to call our mother. We’ll be really quick.”
The hairs on the back of my neck prickled and stood on end. “Uhh,” I said, trying to think quickly. “S-sorry, I don’t have a cell. They have a phone inside though. I bet if you ask, they’d let you use it.”
“Come on!” The kid visibly bristled and he looked me in the eye for the first time. At first, I didn’t think I was seeing properly. I blinked a few times, but no. His eyes were solid black. Not just the pupil, not just the iris, but wholly and completely black. I could see my petrified face reflected off the shining obsidian of his eyes.
My mouth hung open and I felt the pit of my stomach turn to ice. Despite my fear, I felt the urge to pull the handle and swing the door open. Just this little pane of glass separated us. It would be so easy to …
No. I blinked and realized with sickening certainty what I had been about to do. I uttered just one word, “No.”
His nostrils flared, hands balled into fists. Through gritted teeth he said, “Let us in. Just open the DOOR!” As he spoke, each word grew louder. The last word though, it came out in a voice that didn’t belong to a child, any child. It was deep. It rumbled.
The short one looked up then, looked me straight in the face with eyes like black marbles. He didn’t say anything, only looked at his companion, worried. And then the spokesman did something truly terrifying. He smiled.
Well, he tried to smile. The corners of his thin lips turned upward ever so slightly, but those eyes were hard and unblinking.
“Please, mister,” he said, in a honeyed voice. “We’re just kids. We won’t hurt you.”
My hands were shaking. I gripped them together, intertwining my fingers, trying to regain control.
He leaned forward, his face centimeters from my window, and whispered, “You have to invite us in. You have to invite us in right now.” There was something new in his voice. Fear? He never blinked, not once. “Please, we can’t get in unless you invite us.”
“No!” I shouted, planting my hands over my ears. What was going on? This couldn’t be real. Couldn’t be.
Then a thought occurred to me. I stole a glance at the kid and his face twisted with rage. I squeezed my eyes shut and laid on the horn.
After about a minute, I heard a fist on the hood of my car. I had to pry my eyes open, but when I did, relief washed over me. The market cashier stood there, illuminated by my headlights.
“What?” he asked, clearly peeved.
I looked out the window, the rearview, in the wings. The kids were gone. Not a trace of them remained. “I, uh… forgot my keys.”
Sure, I felt like an ass when he brought them out to me, glaring, but no way was I getting out of the car. I drove straight home and dead bolted the door behind me after I was inside. I was safe. They had said themselves, you had to invite them in.
“Babe,” I called. “I’m back.”
She was a sight for sore eyes. She came around the corner, all belly, smiling. “Sweetie, you’ll never believe what happened. These poor kiddos are lost. They asked to come in and use the phone.”
story ©Megan Tucker 2017
photo by Sebastion Unrau, courtesy of Unsplash, with adjustments by Michelle Simkins.
author photo by Andrew Aldrich
About the Author:
Megan Tucker is a proud Pacific North Westerner and two-time invitee of the Oregon Writing Festival. Her work has been featured in publications such as Yalla Magazine, Tryger Tales, and Lit Llama. When she is not writing short stories, Megan can be found drinking questionable amounts of coffee, petting cats, or working on her young adult sci-fi novel.