By Ëñæÿâ H
Henry has a craving.
What it is that he craves, he has no clue. All he has to go off of is the tugging at the back of his mind, drawing him out of his covers as his analog clock strikes 2:00 AM. He pulls on a pair of sweatpants and pads into the kitchen, but something tells him what he is looking for will not be there.
He drifts back to his room and pulls on a heavy overcoat. Rubbing the dryness from his eyes, he picks up his wireframe glasses from the nightstand and places them on the bridge of his nose. Something is pulling him out of the house; he’s just not entirely sure what it is. The craving is like an ache; it dogs his actions, chases his movements, nagging at the back of his brain until it has consumed him entirely. Henry doesn’t smoke nor drink, but he wonders if this is what addicts feel like—a crushing, indescribable need, dragging them back to what they had sworn to never touch again. Though for Henry, he cannot quite place what that need is. How odd. The sensation fills him with unease. But Henry knows the convenience store will satisfy his unnamed need. His feet carry him to the nearest of said stores. Henry stands before the one-story building. It’s small and built into the curve of the sidewalk where the path changes from one direction to another. It’s small, and the letters CONVENIENCE STORE (neon blue boxed by bright red) flicker on and off. Henry can’t help but notice there’s no one else in the area. Like in his apartment, it feels very barren. Silent. Hollow.
Yet with every step he had taken to arrive at the store, the craving had been soothed, little by little, as if the very presence of the store was quenching his desire for something unnamed. Henry gives himself a quick shake before stepping through the automatic sliding doors. His eyes scan over the seemingly endless rows of shelved goods until a liting voice interrupts him. “I was wondering when you would come in.”
With stiff shoulders, Henry glances around. There’s no one close to him, only figures roaming the aisles several yards away.
“In the back,” the voice says. Henry obeys.
Something is working at the cash register.
It’s jarring to see a creature so bizarre surrounded by such normal items. The Something is wearing an apron over a white shirt with puffy sleeves and is draped across the countertop, chin resting on the palm of a propped-up arm, looking slightly bored and mostly apathetic. Their eyes meet. “Didn’t your mother tell you it’s rude to stare?” It asks.
Henry opens his mouth, but nothing comes out.
“You’ll let flies in,” It continues. The Something has rich blue skin and eight eyes, three on either side of the top of their face, and the last two on either cheek. All eight blink at him lazily. It has a headful of writhing indigo snakes. It notices him staring and smiles with sharp teeth. “They don’t bite.”
“I’m sorry,” Henry falters.
“Don’t sweat. Just buy what you came to buy.” The Something huffs, before stilling and squinting at him. “Oh. Human.” Henry’s gaze flickers down. Its nametag reads Marissa. A strangely mundane name, he thinks.
“I’ll just be going now,” Henry says weakly and makes his way to the floor-to-ceiling freezer aisle, away from the creature. Marrisa’s amused eyes are still imprinted in his skull. The low hum of the fridges gets louder and louder with every step Henry takes. He stands before the frozen foods, contemplating. An odd sense of calm washes over him and his trembling hands still. He stares at his incredibly average reflection for the briefest moment, before his eyes (reflected dull brown against the foggy glass) begin to skim over rows of items, finally landing on them. Of course, this was what he was craving. What else? The store? Henry fights the strange urge to laugh.
He tugs open the freezer and plucks out a milk jug, identical to all the other columns of milk jugs that he stands before. Identical, as in not a single thing is out of place—the plastic labels are all perfectly aligned, the shadow of the brim of liquid all equally filled. It should unnerve him. It does not.
He’s about to shut the fridge when his eyes catch one more thing, something missing from his kitchen at home. Henry draws the egg carton toward him and carefully balances it with a hand. Gently, he pushes the fridge shut with a shoulder and is about to head reluctantly back to the register when something knocks him off balance. He stumbles on his feet, the heavy jug weighing him down, and is thrown off balance. The egg carton is snatched from his hand and seemingly floats in midair, dangling from a single corner. Slowly, the top slips open, and a single egg tips over. “Sprites,” Marissa growls under their breath as they stalk forward, deftly avoiding the smashed egg and snatching the carton from midair. Their snake-like hair twists forward, looking as if it was wrapped around something, though to Henry it only looks like blank space. The snakes squeeze harder and there is a shrill noise that makes Henry’s ears ring, overcoming the buzzing of the fridge. A splatter of blood, a wet plop!—and Marissa’s hair recedes.
It’s only then when Henry tears his eyes away, his morbid curiosity extinguished, that he glances down at the lone egg.
The remains of the spherical object are crushed on the floor, but instead of the egg whites and the circular yolk, there is an eye-catching blue goop. It glows and seems to pulsate. Henry could swear that he sees it inching across the floor, but that could also be liquid spreading.
Marissa’s nose twists. “You won’t have to pay for that,” they direct to Henry, before striding off behind the register and dumping the carton somewhere. They make a low whistling noise. A side door that Henry hadn’t noticed before (EMPLOYEES ONLY!) flings open to reveal a hulking ogre in a janitor’s outfit. He drags behind him a janitorial cart, and with his free hand, he brandishes a broom.
With delicate movements, the ogre begins to clean the egg up. Henry quickly ducks behind the aisle to avoid confrontation.
“You got lucky, there,” something chitters to him. “Those eggs cost a whole damn lot and they don’t even taste all that good.”
Henry’s eyes flit around before he sees the thing. A small woodland pixie composed of branch-like skin and mean teeth. Little flowers and leaves sprout from his body and he has transcendent wings that shimmer when they flutter, like light filtering through a prism.
“You know what you should really buy?” the pixie continues mischievously, ignoring the bewildered look on Henry’s face.
Nothing that you suggest, another low voice sounds near Henry. But that can’t be right. It’s almost like the voice is—
In your head, the thing completes, and Henry whirls around to come face to face with a pseudo-grim reaper standing next to a rack of chips. Well. Not, maybe ,grim reaper, but perhaps a very emo cloak. Henry can see nothing under the hood. You should take the mystery surprise. It’s never failed to shock me.
The pixie’s face wrinkles. “You’re so boring. Killing all my fun.” It grumbles a little before its wings quicken pace like a hummingbird and it darts away, maybe to find someone else to terrorize. Take ‘the surprise”, the cloak advises him, before drifting off in the opposite direction. Henry takes the mystery surprise.
Marissa charges him at the counter. “$4.96,” they announce. Henry hands over a five-dollar bill. Marissa sorts through the cash register, rooting for coins. Henry watches their eyes curiously. They are completely round and black, framed by thick lashes.
Henry doesn’t entirely understand it. He doesn’t understand any of this.
Marissa puts the coins onto the counter for Henry to take. Henry stares at them for the briefest moment before pushing them back. “Keep the change.”
They give him an infuriated look, all eight eyes narrowing. “Seriously? You tell me after I spend all of that time rooting around for spare coins?”
Henry wakes with no memory of the night at all. When he checks the fridge, there’s a half-empty carton of milk and a bar with a startlingly imprinted question mark, none of which he recalls buying. With a tentative prod at the bar, Henry comes to realize after unwrapping it that it’s only chocolate. And what else would it be?
So he goes about his day as he normally would. Soon it is night again and Henry dozes off only to be woken a few hours later. He glances at his clock. It’s 2:00 AM.
Henry has a craving. But what it is he craves, he has no clue.
About the Author
Enaya H is an aspiring author and amateur artist. A favorite pastime of hers is inhaling true crime podcasts and writing stories she never finishes.