In the smallest town in the smallest state on a stretch of road just long enough to fit six small buildings, there stood a general shop. George’s General had served the town for six decades. In the mornings, weary grownups would crowd the shop for fifty cent coffees on the way into work. In the afternoons, restless children would rummage through the bulk candy bins, looking for the biggest jawbreaker to suck at for the next few days.
At night, the shop was empty. Only then would the Vorago appear.
The oldfolk spoke warily of the Vorago. Many had seen its shape; its empty smile imprinted onto a blurred, black void; an angular leg nearly indistinguishable from the shadowy floorboards. The Vorago had many legs and nearly one face. Sara’s grandmother remembered when it first appeared and when the first boy went missing.
Be mindful of what you cannot see, she often told twelve-year-old Sara as she tucked her into bed. For once you see the creature, it never leaves your side. Her father was less cryptic. Never go to George’s General after dark. Period. Sara would roll her eyes and then dream of puppies and ballet and other happy things.
Three boys had gone missing in the 36 years since the first person looked at George’s General at night and saw a monster. When the last child vanished, Sara was two days old, screaming in her bassinet.
As October crawled toward winter, Sara walked past George’s General with her friend Harris after school. He was a worried child. She liked to make up stories to scare him, each more ridiculous than the last.
“The Vorago stole a baby and raised it to be a monster.”
“The Vorago is what Principal Young looks like when he’s not at school.”
“The Vorago took Grandma Susie on a date, and then tried to eat her teeth.”
“The Vorago snatched Mr. George’s body and uses him to lure its victims.”
“If you look at the Vorago, it climbs inside your ears and not even God could get it out.”
One afternoon, Harris asked Sara, “If you really think the Vorago’s fake, why don’t you go to George’s General tomorrow, at midnight.”
“I’ll do it.” Sara stood taller. “I’m not scared of an imaginary thing.”
“Oh yeah? You know tomorrow’s Halloween.”
“I’m not scared,” Sara repeated. “Even if the Vorago’s real, I’ll whoop it back to hell.”
Harris’s sneakers ground crunchy leaves into dirt. “If you’re gonna go, then I’m going, too. Otherwise you’d tell me you went but never leave your bed.”
Sara scoffed. “I bet you won’t even show. You’re a chicken.”
Harris stomped back to his house without another word. But the next night, after all the trick-or-treaters had fallen into sugary sleep, Sara heard a tapping on her window. She’d stayed dressed, just in case, and quickly sneaked out her window to join Harris in the grass. The two walked toward the small street, keeping some distance from the road so they wouldn’t be spotted by any late-night drivers.
The sign in front of George’s General swung silently in the breeze. Sara and Harris tugged on the windows until they found one that moved. It stuttered open with a rusty squeak.
“You go in first,” Harris whispered.
“You’re the chicken. As soon as I go in, you’re gonna run home. I know it. There’s nothing in there, Harris, except maybe stupid old Mr. George!”
Harris grabbed a crate from the yard and propped it beside the window. With a heave, he lifted himself on the frame and tumbled into the store, landing with a thump and a crash.
“I broke a jar,” Harris whined. “Ugh, it smells.”
Sara adjusted her backpack and lifted herself through the window. She landed carefully, looking around the room. The window had dropped her by the coffee counter, and she brushed grounds off her sneakers. She squinted and looked around the dark room.
Harris didn’t respond, but Sara heard steps across the store where the lottery tickets printed. She walked toward the sound. The darkness made familiar aisles foreign, and the store felt twice as big as usual. The bulk candy bins, normally bright and colorful, hid their treasures in the shadows.
“Harris, where’d you go?”
Sara approached the lotto machines. Nothing. She heard a creak by the registers and hurried toward the counter. But there was nothing there.
“This isn’t funny! Let’s go home.”
Suddenly the smack of something hitting the ground erupted in the quiet room. Sara jumped and ran toward the commotion. She rounded the corner—and froze again. In the middle of the small pharmacy aisle, Harris’s bag sat open on the floor. His hat, deck of cards, and a bag of chips lay scattered. Harris wasn’t there.
Then—a snapping sound drew Sara’s eye upward.
An empty smile gleamed back, nestled in a body made of a million black dashes, legs crooked and planted into a dozen points on the ceiling, its mass expanding with every ragged breath. Snap. Sara looked frantically around her as the void burst forth, smothering all light in the room. Harris! Sara screamed but heard nothing. Snap. She felt an unearthly pressure in her head, but when she tried to yawn, it only worsened, her brain a water balloon making impact.
Stumbling forward, Sara reached for something earthly to help propel herself to safety. Her fingers touched a shelf--snap-- and then melted into the wood. Each step sunk heavier. The floor turned to mud and then quicksand. She couldn’t see them, but she knew the walls were gone. As she dragged forward, toward the street, toward nothing, something fell from above. The object hit her shoulder before landing shortly in front of her feet. The only lit object in the room. A boy’s sneaker, size 12. Snap.
The Vorago exploded, rending itself, the shop, and Sara into a million pieces.
She opened her eyes.
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