My husband is dying. Despite his good prognosis after the accident, he gets weaker every day. When he became unable to even say my name, I got desperate.
I posted details of his condition on every forum I could find. Medical, accident survivors… I even posted it on a sketchy “deep web” forum called Help Yourself. That’s where I got the PM from Chris████.
I can help you. I’ll send instructions tomorrow morning. -C
The next morning, I didn’t get a PM. Instead, I got a letter. A real, paper envelope, tucked into my empty mailbox. After getting over the initial terror – he somehow knows where I live – I greedily opened it and read the note inside.
Here are the instructions. Be sure to follow them exactly, or they might find you. Then we’ll have a real problem on our hands. -C
- Drive to the Costco in █████. Bring a photograph of your husband and something that is likely to have his DNA on it (like a toothbrush.)
- Go to the refrigerated produce room in the back. You will see a red-haired woman standing there, pretending to sort through the lettuce. She will be wearing a red vest and a Costco badge – but don’t be fooled. She is not an employee.
- Go up to her and ask: “Do you have organic blueberries? My son’s allergic to the other kind.”
- As long as the produce section is empty, she will smile and lead you over to the blueberries. As she picks up a box and hands it to you, she will purposefully drop it. “Oh no!” She’ll pretend it’s an accident. Play along.
- Such a mess. Blueberries all over the floor. She’ll say: “I’ll stand out there and make sure no one comes in while we wait for the janitor.”
- No janitor is coming, of course.
- She will stand guard outside the produce room. Go to the right wall, where the crate of mushrooms is. Push it back towards the wall – it will roll into a small alcove. Beneath it, you will see a rectangular hole cut into the floor, and a ladder leading down.
- Climb down.
My eyes flicked to the bottom, where he had scrawled in red marker: WARNING! READ BEFORE PROCEEDING!
- Don’t just make a beeline for the produce section. They’ll know what you’re doing. Get a cart, fill it with some junk. You should blend in with the other shoppers as much as possible. For that same reason, don’t wear bright colors or heavy makeup.
- If a short woman with an infant strapped to her chest asks you for help, kindly refuse. She is one of them. If you look closely, you will notice that the infant pressed face-first into her chest is a doll.
- Don’t talk to the man at the front of the store advertising flooring. (He’s not one of them; he’s just rude.)
- Don’t buy any food from the café.
I folded up the paper and jammed it into my pocket. I then rushed into the house, grabbed the items he requested, and jumped in my car. With a squeal of tires on the pavement, I was off.
It had been nearly a decade since I last set foot in a Costco. Everything looked different. Bigger. Emptier. The shelves stretched up to the ceiling far above; a seasonal section of glittering Christmas trees and dancing Santas sat far below.
I rolled my cart into one of the first aisles. Napkins and disposable dining ware stared back at me. I grabbed a huge stack of paper plates and dropped it into my cart. Thraaang – the metal rattled.
When I got to the end of the aisle, I turned left.
I turned around. A pretty blonde woman stood behind me.
She flashed me a sweet smile. “I don’t want to bother you, but can you help me get that?” She pointed to a jug of maple syrup on a high shelf. “I can’t reach it… and you’re so tall.”
I stared at her, my heart beginning to pound. My eyes flicked down. A motionless infant was strapped to her chest.
“No, I’m sorry, I’m in a hurry.”
I quickened my pace. The cart rolled across the floor with newfound speed. I didn’t slow until I’d rounded the corner. Then I grabbed a few more decoy items – some corn muffins from the bakery, a bag of clementines – and arrived at the produce room.
When I entered, there she was. The red-haired woman, sorting through the lettuce. I cleared my throat. “Uh… do you have organic blueberries? My son’s… uh… he can’t eat them. I mean – he’s allergic to the other kind.”
She gave me a smile and walked over to the blueberries. “They’re right over here.” She picked up one of the boxes.
I watched her walk out. When she was firmly stationed at the entrance, I ran over to the crate of mushrooms and gave it a push. It rolled easily under my hands. With a final glance at the red-haired woman, I descended into the pit.
The metal rungs were cold under my hands. They felt rough, as if covered in rust. The square of light above me shrunk, until it was little more than a twinkling star in a black sky.
Smack. My feet hit the hard floor.
Drip, drip, drip. The sound of water came from somewhere in the darkness, along with a soft rustling sound. I pulled my phone out and turned on the flashlight. Before me was a tunnel, roughly hewn out of stone – like some strange hybrid between a basement and a cave.
I walked forward. The floor was uneven, so I had to concentrate to keep my footing. The damp walls glistened in the white light. After a few minutes, I found a wooden door set into the stone. I pulled it open, revealing a dark, cavernous room. The smooth walls and rectangular shape looked like that of a traditional basement – but it had a rotten, swamp-like stench to it. In the center was a table. One leg was bent and broken.
There was a sheet of paper in the middle.
Leave the items here. We’ll take care of the rest. -C
I pulled the toothbrush and photo out of my pocket and placed them on the table. I looked around the room – but as far as I could tell, it was empty. The closest thing to a person was a heap of clothes in the back corner. My heart filled with doubt, but I tried to focus on Dan and the happy life we deserved as I exited the basement.
Dan came home from the hospital two days later. That first night home, we sat on the couch in front of the TV, eating ice cream – like nothing had happened. “Guess I’m living on borrowed time,” Dan said, through a mouthful of cookies and cream. “Better make it count.”
“By eating tons of ice cream?”
“By leading a good life.”
He smiled at me. I reached out for his hand, squeezed it, and smiled back – but our smiles quickly faded when the news came on.
The newscaster was standing outside of the Costco. Dozens of police cars were parked around it, their red and blue lights cutting through the night. “Tonight, police found evidence of violent cult activity at the █████ Costco,” she began.
I jabbed nervously at my ice cream.
“Human remains, belonging to dozens of individuals, were found in the basement. They ranged from a few days to a few years old. Police believe some match the missing locals, but we’re waiting on forensics to answer. The most recent one, however, has already been identified – it belongs to 24-year-old Carlie Bessinger.”
A photograph flashed up on the screen. Blonde hair, blue eyes, a warm smile.
It was her. The blonde woman who asked me to reach something on the shelf.
“Security footage shows her walking around the store two days ago, alive and well. Until she entered the produce section…”
The reporter’s voice faded. I wasn’t listening anymore.
Chris lied. There was no them. No woman with a doll strapped to her chest, waiting to pounce on me. No evil entity watching, thinking, plotting. He just didn’t want me talking to a witness. A victim. A sacrifice.
I looked over at Dan. He watched, oblivious, a generic look of concern spread over his features. I looked down at the floor, unable to watch anymore.
Dan’s not living on borrowed time…
…he’s living on stolen time