A Short Story by Matt McGraw
It was so cold. Why the fuck was it always so cold? He stood in the alley next to the store. With each breath, he exhaled clouds that silently drifted away into the night sky. For the hundredth time he reached into his jacket and felt it. Even in his pocket, it was cold too. He squeezed it. What was he doing here? Why the hell was he even doing this? What if something goes wrong? These questions had been bouncing around in his head since he’d gotten the thing in his pocket. If he didn’t stop thinking about this it would drive him crazy. He was doing this for the right reasons. If he chickened out, if he walked away, if he left here empty-handed; he wouldn’t be able to keep up with the hospital bills and then…
His face hardened. That won’t happen. That can’t happen. No matter what, that just couldn’t. He knew what he had to do.
The young couple walked out, laughing. He snapped to attention. They glanced at him as they passed the alley. He tried to smile. They didn’t return the favor as they quickly looked away and then continued to laugh as they strolled off into the city.
This was it, they’d taken their time for sure but now they were gone and the store was empty. Now-or-never. His hands trembled as he took out the clown mask he’d worn a few Halloweens ago and pulled it over his face. Was it the cold that was making him shake like that, the sudden rush of adrenaline as he reached his hand once again into his pocket and felt it sitting there, or was it just the terror of the unknown factors of what he was about to do? No time to think about that now though. He took one last deep breath. 60 seconds. In and out, and then he’d be set for long enough. Let’s fucking do it.
He burst into the store. The bell on the door chimed merrily as he sprinted to the counter and pulled out his .45—aiming it directly at the cashier’s head.
“Empty the fucking register and that safe you have under the counter and do it fast! Just give me the money and I won’t hurt you!”
The cashier was a middle-aged, heavy-set woman with big reading glasses. She screamed timidly when he thrust the gun closer to her face and immediately started to shovel the money from the register into the backpack he tossed on the counter. ‘She won’t be a threat’, he thought. He glanced around the store quickly to affirm it was just the two of them. A quick scan confirmed he had been right that the couple had been the last two customers. He was sweating already under the rubber mask as he turned back to the counter to the fumbling woman still working on emptying the register.
“Hurry the fuck up! The safe too,” he screamed.
She flinched at the yell and hurriedly redoubled her efforts. ‘Christ what the hell am I doing here,’ he couldn’t help thinking. He felt like a piece of shit bullying this poor woman, who looked like she was on the verge of tears. He hoped she wouldn’t be traumatized or quit her job or something over this. God, if only he didn’t need this money so bad.
His mind flashed to her for an instant and he suddenly felt sick. What would she think of him if she could see him right now? He quickly dismissed the thought just as the cashier finished with the register and bent below the counter to open the safe.
“Remember lady, you hit a silent alarm under there and you’re dead!” he growled menacingly. He stood there breathing hard, sweat beading up on his face under the oppressive mask, listening to the twirl of the dial as she put in the combination. His arm started to feel heavy pointing the gun at the woman. He suddenly realized he must be over his designated minute. It had been at least two, maybe even three by now, right? Christ she was moving so damn slow. He nervously glanced out at the street and then back at the counter again.
“Move! C’mon, just open it already!”
He hoped she didn’t detect the faint air of panic in his voice. He knew she was probably as scared as he was—two terrified people standing on either side of a counter.
He heard the chunk, as the safe opened. ‘Thank God,’ he silently said to himself. He wished he had been able to leave with just the register and not have to risk all this extra time for the safe, but he knew the average day’s haul at a convenience store wouldn’t be enough to cover the bills he had stacking up. He had to have that money in the safe too. It all felt so wrong though, even if he was doing this for the right reasons—even if he was doing it for her.
She was still fiddling under the table filling up his backpack with what he hoped would be a week’s stash of cash when he heard it. The bell over the door rung. He spun around instantly and aimed the handgun at the intruder.
The little boy stared at him, dumbfounded and horrified all at once. Tears welled up in the boy’s eyes. He stood there staring back at the boy as well, petrified. ‘Oh shit. Oh shit oh shit.’ This was exactly what he didn’t want to have happen, exactly why he wanted to keep his window in the store as brief as possible. Now he had to contend with an eight-year-old kid too. Alright, no big deal.
He was just about to tell the kid that it would all be okay when he heard the shot.
He looked down and saw the blood gushing from the hole that had erupted in his sternum. He turned, shocked, and looked at the smoking .357 the cashier was holding in her hand. They stared at each other, wide-eyed, for a millisecond that lasted an eternity. Then she raised her aim to his face.
He screamed, he protested, he begged; all in one word. He didn’t have time to think; his body just reacted. His gun shot up and before he could even comprehend what he was doing, he pulled the trigger.
The cashier’s head rocked back and she dropped to the floor. He stood there, dumbfounded, staring at her crumpled form, at the blood splattered on the cigarettes on the wall behind the counter, at the smoking gun in his hand. He just stared in absolute horror.
Then the pain hit him. It ripped into him and he fell to his knees. His head hit the grimy floor. He looked up and all of a sudden he realized the boy was still there. He hadn’t moved, he was just standing there fixed to his spot, tears rolling down his face. He stared into the boy’s eyes and all of a sudden the weight and understanding of what had just occurred, what he had just done; hit him. Tears rolled down his face as he realized that he had ended a woman’s life—and as he felt the blood running out of him, knew he had sacrificed his own life as well—all for some money.
He heard the sirens way off, over the ringing in his ears from the gunshots. The police and EMTs would be here soon, but he knew not soon enough for him. He thought of her as he lay there dying. He knew that even after all of this, she would still love him.
As he closed his eyes for the last time he said one final word.
Artwork By: Julia Lewis