Frank Goes to the Shack, by Elizabeth Archer
“Welcome to Radio Shack,” Jim said, adjusting his black-framed glasses. “Can I help you find something?”
The tall gentleman in the long beige trench coat grunted in annoyance. It was pouring rain outside, and lightning clawed the sky at intervals, flashing the dark parking lot into near daylight. The strip mall was empty. No one with any sense was out at nearly nine on Friday night when stores were ready to close.
The tall man had his hat pulled down low over his face, and a damp green muffler wrapped over his face. Wind was still whipping in icy lashes, sweeping cold drops on the plate glass shop windows.
“Batteries,” the man mumbled, his mouth under the muffler. He had a strange accent, slightly European. “I need a lot of batteries. Must have power.”
“You’ve come to the right place, sir.” Jim remembered to smile. He had to remember to smile now that he wore braces. Arnold, the manager insisted he smile. “We carry every kind of battery, except car batteries, of course. Wal-Mart down the street has those.”
“Wal-Mart?” the man muttered. “I no like Wal-Mart.”
A flash of lightning sent the power in the shop flickering ominously. The boom shook the fixtures, and the lights went out. Arnold was late coming back to close up. Jim had never been in a store with the lights out, alone with a customer.
“You have the wires in your teeths. Amazing,” the man mumbled. “Wires? Teeths?”
“Braces,” Jim supplied, nodding. “For one more year.” Foreign people could be strange, he told himself. Maybe they didn’t have many people with braces where the customer was from.
The silhouette of the tall man in the overcoat made Jim swallow nervously. There was something frightening about the large head of the tall man. He had on large gauged earrings of shiny metal. They gleamed in the lightning. Biggest gauge earrings Jim had ever seen on an old guy.
“Batteries. I need many batteries.” The tall man repeated, slowly. “I need wires also. Copper wires. Many copper wires.”
“Well, I’d love to help you, but as you can see, the power’s been knocked out to the store just now,” Jim began. “We are in for quite an electrical storm.”
“Ah. The electricity in the storm. Much better, much better. But I must be quickly.”
The large man shook his head, as if trying to somehow jumpstart his brain. His protruding eyes looked at Jim blankly.
“Copper is for the electricity, yes? Copper coils of wiring, I am remembering.”
The guy talked funny, Jim thought, but he must have been taught something about science somewhere.
“Do you have copper coil for collecting the electricity? I need much I am told to build the Tesla coil. And magnetic copper wire, that is what I need. Please to hurry now for me.”
“Man, that is getting hard to get! We don’t have anything thick but I’ve got some spools left in that corner over there…”
“Should do this coil you have,” the man said gruffly. “Show to me.”
Jim found a flashlight. There was always a working flashlight in a Radio Shack, he thought grimly. The big guy was beginning to freak him out. If Arnold didn’t come back, maybe he’d just let the big guy take the damn copper and go. There was something about him that gave Jim the creeps.
He shone the light on the stack of copper wire. There were three spools.
“I take all of this.”
Jim was about to say that he couldn’t make the sale with power off. But something stopped him.
He flashed the light on the price. Damn. Copper was expensive.
“That’ll be six hundred and thirty-seven dollars.”
“No problems,” the big man said. He pulled a wad of crumpled damp currency out of his pocket. Fifties and twenties. Some of it was splotched with something red that looked like dye. Or blood.
“Keep it. In hurry,” the big man grunted, glancing at the sky. The lightning was definitely coming closer.
Jim counted the light and waited for the sound. One thousand-one, one thousand-two. . . boom!
“Let me write you a receipt….” Jim began. He knew Arnold wasn’t going to like this at all. Maybe he wouldn’t tell Arnold. That looked like an awful lot of cash. Crazy money. He could fix everything when the lights came on, if they came on before Arnold came back. Ring up the sale on the copper from the inventory code, pay for it cash . . . pocket the rest. It was a lot of cash.
“Hurry now. Must catch lightning,” the big man said. “Better than stupid batteries.”
He lifted the heavy spools of wire as if they weighed nothing. He was wearing old knitted gloves. Jim caught a glimpse of his face as he bent over the wire. His skin had an odd, sickly greenish color.
“Guess you don’t want the value deal on double AA’s,” Jim muttered to himself, watching the big guy leave the store.
As soon as the man left, Jim locked the door. The parking lot was empty. There was no sign of Arnold. He looked at his own car with longing. He couldn’t leave the store until the lights came back on and he could close out the register, but God it was tempting.
The big guy didn’t have a car. He went walking off into the darkness, headed for the tall cell phone tower at the end of the parking lot. For a hulking man nearly seven feet tall, the guy could move, Jim thought.
He watched in amazement as the man began scaling the tower, now wearing the spools of copper wire. He seemed to have somehow looped them around his massive arms like huge bracelets.
“The guy’s fucking nuts,” Jim whispered to himself. He whipped out his cell phone and tried to take a picture but the rain started up again in a deluge, and the picture came out too blurred to really make much out. Damn, he swore under his breath.
He was looking out the store window when lightning hit the tower, illuminating the big guy in a great arcing bolt of white light. The sound of the boom that accompanied the strike was nearly deafening.
“Dude,” said Jim. “Guy’s toast. Totally fried.”
He looked at his phone. He probably should call 911. The guy was undoubtedly dead. Plus, he had a pile of strange cash to explain.
The store phone rang. It was Arnold. The store lights came back on as Jim reached for the phone.
“I’ll be there in about forty minutes, kid,” Arnold said, sounding winded. “Damn tree fell on my wife’s car. Everything okay at the store? Slow, right?”
“Made one big sale right before closing. Cash. I’m ringing it up now.”
He rang up the copper wire, and counted out the cash. They hardly ever did cash business anymore. The big guy had over paid him by several hundred dollars. Jim put the money into his backpack with his books and laptop. Sometimes Arnold let him study a little when it was a really slow night. Now he was glad he had the back pack.
He closed out the register and was waiting for Arnold, looking out the window, when he saw the figure run by in the empty parking lot. Running was an understatement. The big man was hauling ass, legs pumping in such a blur it looked as if he was nearly flying.
The coat was gone. The muffler too. It looked as if the clothes on his body had been largely burned off by the lightning strike. Some tattered black rags remained, damp and clinging to a massive green body.
Jim watched, mouth agape, as the large figure disappeared in the direction of the interstate highway.
“Anything interesting happen, Jim?” Arnold asked, unlocking the front door. “Don’t tell me you’re afraid of thunderstorms? Damn kid, you look like you saw a ghost.”
Elizabeth Archer has published poetry, flash fiction, and short stories. She has a degree in English, lives in Texas, and hunts zombies when she’s not working on her novel.
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