There Goes the Neighboorhood

by Marcus P Figorito

Every time we drive by it mom says the same thing: "There goes the neighborhood!". She does this in a joking and funny way, bordering on obnoxiousness. The building itself is hideous, a soon-to-be neon lit rectangular prism, dwarfing the gas station and ice-cream shop neighboring it on the road. The new dollar store is merely a few hours away from its grand opening.

Personally, I can't stand it. For one, it's an eyesore, and for another, why a dollar store? Is a dollar store really what Cuddebackville needs? You'd think that the demand for something fun would greater than that for something convenient around here. I'd love to have a cd store, comic shop, or hell, even just a library! Instead we get "Sergeant Dollar!".

You could probably guess that mom loves it. She claims that it'll force those guys over at the gas station to drop their prices, which is probably true, but who cares? I'd gladly pay a few extra bucks for a gallon of milk if it meant not having to pass by that horrible thing every day for school. She doesn't get it, nor do most people.

Maybe you think my hatred of this place is irrational, a little bit silly. This is probably because I have not been one hundred percent revealing in terms of all I know about this place. Give me some time to convince you.

The truth is that oftentimes in driving pass that place in the later hours, whether on my way home from a friends house or some late-night band meet, I have noticed odd shapes, barely discernible against the pitch black trees in the building's foreground, enter the store from a side entrance. Though it is not unusual for workmen to be in and out of a building under construction, these figures did not appear to be wearing the reflective and eye catching uniforms of ordinary construction workers. Even stranger, though I'm nervous to admit it, was the almost inhuman way the figures crouched and shambled as they travelled. Sometimes I thought I even glanced them emerging from the words around back of the place. Of course, this was all caught in brief passing glances from a moving car in the dead of night, so I could not be sure of what I saw.

I have often asked mom if she had ever noticed anything strange about the store, or had ever seen anybody odd enter late at night. The answer was always a "no sweetie", followed by some variation of "it was probably just some people coming in to do some late night work". Whatever.

My fears did not truly begin to compound until the disappearances started. One weekend, about 2 months from when I first noticed the odd happenings at the site of "Sergeant Dollar!", I decided to stop at the gas station neighboring the dollar store to grab a bag of potato chips. On my way in, I noticed a small poster pasted to the window. It was a missing person notice, and on it was the face of a young man with a bright smile, enjoying whatever moment the picture was taken in. I recognized him as the usual cashier for the place, and inquired with the man now working the counter as to what had happened. He told me that the regular cashier had not come in for work either today or yesterday, and that no one has answered his phone as of yet. He also stated that the police had not yet found any leads as to where he may be or what may have happened. I was just a tiny bit more nervous passing that dollar store on my way home this time.

Gradually the disappearances piled up, first a worker at the ice-cream store, a kid from my high-school, a local pastor, so on and so on, until quaint little Cuddebackville became a police hotspot. The town was turned on its head, cops waiting behind every corner, combing the woods, searching through abandoned buildings and farm houses, and all the while "Sergeant Dollar!" marched toward completion.

It was also about this time that I started noticing a new addition to the strange figures who moved into the grotesque building. On the occasions where I happened to spot them, it appeared that some would be carrying pickaxes and other assorted tools into the side entrance. It once even appeared to me for a brief moment that one had a large cloth sack slumped over his shoulder, but I could not be sure of this due to the absolute blackness intrinsic with nighttime in quiet rural towns like this.

Even knowing all of this, I would have been perfectly content to just keep my mouth closed and forget the place. I would have ignored the store, chalked all of my suspicions and vague hints of fear up to an overactive imagination, and gotten as far away from Cuddebackville as possible. Out of sight, out of mind. If only.

The reason I decided to finally conduct a full investigation into the accursed store was a news broadcast that aired about a month after the first person went missing in town. It is important to note that at this point, "Sergeant Dollar!" had nearly been completed, and was a mere 3 days from its grand opening. I happened to catch the report on news 9 when mom called me down to the living room, exclaiming proclamations "You'll never believe it!", "How could he?!", and the like.

The TV showed a still image of a wretched, putrid man in a black robe with an overly hunched back and cracked, grayish skin. He had numerous deformities scattered over his body, most notable of which were the horrible, flabby protrusion of skin that covered his right eye and the disturbing way the top part of his arm extended beyond his elbow. The newscaster spoke.

"This man, as of yet unidentified, Is the sole and chief suspect in the recent disappearances that have disturbed the otherwise peaceful Cuddebackville area. He was caught by a patrolling officer whilst lurking about in a secluded part of the woods half a mile away from O'dell's convenience store. According to officer Randy, the man responsible for his capture, he approached the stranger slowly, very aware of the danger he could pose. Upon seeing the officer, the suspect made an attempt at flight, only to be tackled by the officer, who was startled by his sudden movement. After cuffing the suspect, officer Randy took a moment to observe his surroundings, only to be confronted with this grisly scene: if you are offended or easily startled by disturbing imagery, please look away now."

The screen switched away from the image of the horrible man, only to reveal an infinitely more hideous scene. The picture showed an obscure spot in the woods, fashioned into a sort of campsite with a small fire pit upon which rested a large covered cooking pot, a beat up tent, and a log placed to act as a bench. Each one of these items was covered in some amount of blood, in particular the log, which was stained in obscene spots of crimson all along the top. Most horrible of all were the bodies piled up within the tent, in various states of dismemberment. Although it was hard to tell the specifics of most of the tent's contents, these things were revealed by the excess which had spilled over the unzipped door. Mom left the room at this point, and I had half a mind to join her.

"All of the bodies here have been identified as belonging to local residents who have gone missing, although not all have yet been accounted for. Authorities speculate on where the rest of these people may be, but some light is shed on the mystery by the contents of the pot found at the scene. When opened, it was found to contain a black charred substance, a bit of murky liquid, and a variety of human bones. Our hearts go out to the families in mourning."

Upon seeing all of this I was understandably shocked, for a number of reasons. Chief among them was the resemblance the man they found bore to the people I had been observing enter the dollar store in the wee hours of the night. Could the other missing people really be hidden somewhere inside that accursed store, or had the creature from the news truly eaten them all? My thoughts turned to conspiracy: perhaps the group at the store had sent this one member out as a decoy, along with enough bodies to fool the cops into thinking the case was closed. Even if this was untrue, there was no doubt in my mind that there existed more of this man's tribe, and as long as they were free to do as they pleased, Cuddebackville would not be safe.

Deciding something had to be done, I called the police and told them all I knew about "Sergeant Dollar!", the strange hunched and shambling people, the pickaxes, the cloth sack, and all that these things led me to infer. After a moment of digestion (and perhaps amusement at such an absurd idea) the lady on the other end of the phone told me that "They had already found their perp, and enough bodies to put him away for a long time." She also made it clear that the department very much thought that the so far undiscovered bodies had been consumed by the suspect. I pleaded with her, begged even, but she would not listen, even saying that she was excited for the stores opening, after all, "Those guys over at the gas station could use some solid competition.". She proceeded to hang up on me.

This is how I ended up driving to the dollar store under the cover of that particularly black night. Some may see my actions as foolhardy, maybe even stupid, but I had to make sure that whatever was happening at that haunted place would be stopped. I brought with me a camera, aware that I was in no shape to do any physical damage to the strange cult who I presumed to be hiding out in the shop, instead hoping to somehow capture evidence of whatever unspeakable acts were being committed there. With pictures, the cops would have to believe me.

Driving down to the "Sergeant Dollar!" I could feel a vague sense of anxiety and fear begin to swell inside me. I believed that all I had come to expect over the past few months regarding that place was true, and I had no idea how to prepare myself for what evil could lurk within the store. These feelings crescendoed in me as I approached the large, still unlit sign and small parking lot of "Sergeant Dollar!", standing there as an obscene obelisk, dedicated to whatever dark practices occurred in its bowels.

Pulling into the lot, I glanced to the side of the building to see if I could glimpse any of the strange people who sometimes entered through that side door. All I saw was woods, and I wondered whether or not some lurked behind the dense trees and shrubbery which reared up on the store. I grabbed my camera as I got out of the car, and I hesitated a minute before approaching the place's front door.

I stood there, gathering my courage for a few seconds before walking up to the front door and pushing it open. It did not occur to me at the time, but in retrospect I should have been more disturbed by the fact that the door was not locked. Whoever owned the store was obviously not concerned with break-ins or thieves. One thing that did surprise me within the moment was the unusual bareness of all the shelves in the store. Although they had some stock, it was not the supply of a dollar store a mere 3 days from opening.

Aside from this, everything in the store seemed plain enough. All the aisles were laid out as one would expect from a store like this, about 5 in total in addition to a freezer section against the northernmost wall. On the eastern wall was the side entrance where I had observed the strange shamblers go through, but it still seemed that no activity was present there at the moment. To my left was the western wall, where a portion of it protruded outward, ending in a door that read "STAFF ROOM" near the top. After taking this all in, I passed the row of checkout lines directly in front of me and began surveying the store.

Throughout, the store was more or less as plain as it had seemed at first. The shelves were just barely stocked with various brand named food and general use products, as well as special "Sergeant Dollar!" branded food stuffs. The freezer aisle displayed a good variety of milk, cheese, ice cream, and other dairy products. The only thing I found suspicious was the traces of dirt and muddy footprints placed near the eastern side exit.

After carefully examining the rest of the store, I eventually came to that door marked "STAFF ROOM". At this point, I had almost half-convinced myself that I was wrong, and that there really was nothing odd about this store. Perhaps they had caught the kidnapper, and the rest of the missing people were cannibalized by that repulsive man. The figures seen at night were merely products of a stressed and overactive imagination. All I had to do now is open that door, and prove to myself that this was just an ordinary boring dollar store, as opposed to anything more malevolent.

This being so, you can imagine my surprise when, after turning the handle and pushing open the door, I was confronted with a black abyss-like cavern on the opposite wall. At that moment, all of the fear I had experienced over the past months came hurtling towards me like a freight train. I remembered seeing the tools those figures had carried on those accursed nights, and I remembered the dark cloth bags that had been carried into the building through the side entrance. The presence of this gaping, downward leading hole had confirmed all of my worst fears. Even worse, at semi-regular intervals, a faint but deep rumbling sound would echo up through the cavern, each time sending a chill through my spine. Although I was stricken with fear, the presence of this seemingly endless abyss merely served to push me onward. I needed nothing more to convince me that whatever was here was evil, and must be exposed. So treading across the vacant room, clutching my camera, I ventured into the cavernous depths, the deep trembling intensifying as I crossed the threshold into darkness.

Inside, the cave yielded no lighting, putting me in a position of total darkness.The only way I could make out the circular, downward spiraling shape of the cavern was by hugging the left wall and feeling my way through. A rough set of stairs were carved into the stone below me, making the descent relatively easy. The walls felt very jagged and uneven, and along the way I felt flimsy wooden support beams each about 5 feet apart whose purpose was obviously to keep the hole from collapsing.

As I travelled farther and farther down into the abyss the trembling grew louder and louder, intensifying my feelings of fear and anxiousness. After about ten minutes of travel, the sound became so loud that I almost turned back. The sound seemed to penetrate my eardrums and drill its way directly into my brain. Its inconsistency was possibly the most maddening thing about it. Just when I hadn't heard it for a solid half-minute, lulling me into a false sense of security, it would come back twice as strong, bringing me to my knees each time. Each time this happened I clutched my camera harder, for fear that this entire fearful journey be put to waste.

Finally, after about twenty five minutes of blind descent, I noticed a faint shine just ahead, revealing and peaking around the corner of the wall in front of me. The thought of a break in the thick blackness which had surrounded me for the nearly the past half hour sent me a sort of second wind, allowing me to put all fear and caution out of my mind and make a run for whatever the source of that shine was. Even the trembling, now deeper and more deafening than ever, could not penetrate my mind in that moment. These were my final moments of jollity in life.

Upon turning that corner I was greeted with a massive curve ceilinged room, which must have reached almost 30 feet at its highest point. The architecture there was considerably more sophisticated than the slapdash job done inside the tunnel, displaying fantastic pictures of strange and unknown creatures, as well as mystical hieroglyphs in a strange and unknown language. The panels containing these things continued around the circular room, interrupted by stone columns upon which were placed the torches which provided the light I had seen earlier. Of course, these things are not what terrified me.

In the room, pacing and shambling about in a horribly gruesome way, were somewhere upwards of twenty of the strange slumped-over figures I had seen enter the store upstairs, only now each one's hood was worn down, revealing their hideous faces. Like the man from the news, each had a variety of deformities placed on their faces. A lazy eye here, an elongated ear there, each with the same cracked and grayish skin. Their black robes seemed to almost meld together, creating a sea of darkness and evil. Still, although it completely paralyzed me with fear, this was not what sent me running from that place.

Pilled up throughout the mass of writhing black forms were hideous mounds of bodies, varying height and horrifying in number. They varied in species, rabbit, fox, wolf, bear and of course human. They were all in various states of dismemberment, severed extremities littering the floor and blending with the torsos and heads making up the piles. God, there was so many, even just the human ones being more than enough to make for the still missing people.

Worst of all, behind the tangled mess of black robes and dismembered bodies there laid a massive hole in the middle of the room, seemingly endless in depth. The robed beast-men appeared to be picking up pieces of the bodies from the piles scattered throughout the room, and throwing them into the pit! The very same pit, I realized, that the horrible trembling sound was coming from.

At this moment of revelation and realization, I let out a shriek of pure and utter horror, alerting every one of the creatures in the room to my presence. At that instant, every one of their grotesque faces turned to me, and it wasn't even a second before they began running towards me, letting out furious screams and grunts of incomprehensible nonsense. I, a fresh shot of adrenaline coursing through my body, then turned around as fast as I could and began clumsily up the stairs. Unfortunately I stumbled at the foot and dropped my camera, but I was to terrified to capture any pictures of the gruesome anyway. Besides, evidence at this point was the least of my worries.

My terror was nearly tangible while running at full speed up that near pitch black staircase, a screaming mob of infinite death and blackness behind me. They were much faster than their usual shambling would imply, and at points I could hear the particularly enthusiastic grunting of the man in front, mere inches from the back of my neck. Fortunately, as time went on the distance between me and the mob increased, until eventually their horrible screams were a mere echo from the bowels of that horrible passage.

When I finally emerged from the cave entrance within the self-proclaimed "STAFF ROOM", I was experiencing a mixture of extreme relief and panic. I darted from the store as fast as I could, and headed straight for my car. I was so anxious to create as much distance between myself and that place as possible, that I was pulled over by a cop soon after pulling out of the driveway. He must have thought I was on something, and I couldn't really blame him. I must have been sweating like a pig, and acting nervous as hell, to.

While he was giving me his usual lecture, I considered telling him about what had happened. Maybe he would have believed me, despite how incredibly absurd my story may have seemed. Damn, how I wished I had pictures. In the end, I didn't. He gave me my ticket, I gave him my thanks, and we drove apart. I didn't want to spend the rest of my life in a padded cell, after all.

Now, "Sergeant Dollar!" is a few hours from opening, and I am terrified. No more people have gone missing, but there are reports of lost pets throughout town. I try my best to ignore it, but my fear is like a parasite, eating away at my insides and leeching off of my life force. I shudder to think what that strange cult must be planning now upon the stores opening.

"There goes the neighborhood!", mom says. There indeed.

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