The Nightmare Shop
“Can I help you, little girl?”
“I’m not little. I’m fifteen next month.”
The boys standing beside her smirked.
The girl didn’t care; what did boys know anyway? Most of them smelt like farts and wee. It seemed boys were only put on earth to pick bogeys and scratch themselves, where and when they shouldn’t.
“Ahem,” the man with the pasty face and black hair coughed. “What do you want?”
She studied the man closely. Trying to determine whether his complexion made his black clothes standout; or whether it was his black garb that made his face appear bleached. His eyes were like coal, not the dull stuff, but the shiny hard nuggets she once helped her dad get rid of after Pop died.
“I want something to get even with my dad,” she said.
“Haha! Stink bombs, perhaps? What about itchy powder or fake blood?”
A boy with long curly hair said, “c…o…o…l!”
The girl rolled her eyes, “I don’t think you understand, Mister. I want to buy something that will help me get back at my dad.”
“You know this is a joke shop, right?” The man replied, “so, hurry up. I’ve a shop full of boys here who want to give me their pocket money, and I’ve three boxes of whoopee cushions and fart noises that need new homes.”
“I know this is a joke shop, but you also call yourself a magic shop! It’s false advertising; where’s the magic? I can see lots of fake pull-off fingers, pretend turds and puke, dribble cups and dirty soap, but where’s the real deal, the good stuff?
“C’mon, hurry up,” the boys surrounding her harped, “we haven’t got all day.”
“My bus leaves in six minutes,” a fat one with a ruddy face yelled from the back.
Unsure of what she wanted and what to do, the girl froze.
“Come back in an hour,” whispered the man in black, “when the school rush is over.”
The girl loitered along the darkened narrow lane, time ticking petulantly as if it knew she would be getting into trouble for not going home straight after school.
She gazed into shop windows, most displaying big, bold signs, ‘Children must be accompanied by adults.’
She snarled, thinking to herself the entire world was against her.
After a while, she retreated to the ‘Magic Shop’; it was a true cornucopia of the ridiculous. Peering through its wide window, she saw the hordes of boys in their silly shorts jostling and barging each other. All of them yelling in their squeaky voices, clambering to get to the counter and be served. The shop’s side walls were filled floor to ceiling with cabinets containing puerile gags that could only ever generate a timid ‘what-ever’ response from its victims.
She was hoping for something much weightier than that.
The shop was bathed in a yellowy light making everything seem clandestine, exotic and enticing. She studied the man behind the counter; not only did he wear black clothes, but he also had black teeth. She shuddered at the thought of them munching through vanilla ice cream or a boston cream bun. Black staining the white, making everything dirty, tasting foul. She watched him eagerly collect his money, his unforced smile becoming wider as he made more sales and snatched more cash. Ergh, she shuddered again; the man was a creep.
Gradually, the big hand’s weight forced its way down the clock face and at 4.30pm, she re-entered the shop. The boys were all gone. Gone home to their Mummy’s, their homework or whatever boys did after school.
As she walked in, she smelt that familiar smell again. It was sweet, welcoming, alluring even; she tried but couldn’t even come close to identifying what it was. She decided, in the end, it was somewhere between bubble gum and Jasmine, with a touch of musk thrown in. Regardless: it was very pleasant and invited the imagination to believe.
“Good, you came back,” the man said as he saw her walk in. “I was hoping you would. We couldn’t talk before, sorry, and I had the feeling you were looking for more than just infantile amusements.”
The girl nodded.
“Well, as it happens, earlier today, I started cleaning out my storeroom, making room for more stock. I came across something you might be interested in. It’s a little different from the lame jokes and gags in the shop. It’s more hardcore if you know what I mean. You want to see it?”
The girl nodded again.
“Well, follow me out the back,” the man beckoned, projecting an unforced smile again.
The girl hesitated – her stranger danger alert blearing.
“Oh, I see,” the man said, softening his voice, giving a sense of understanding.
“You have been raised well. You have good instincts. I respect that, but fear not, as a fourteen-year-old going on fifteen, I’m sure you’ve heard the term homosexual. So, worry not, and the boys should not fear either; I might be gay, but I’m no paedophile. My husband at home would kill me.
The girl smiled, disarmed by his honesty and openness. She walked behind the counter, following him into the cramped storeroom out the back. The room was darker, a lonely dangling bulb trying but failing to fully light the space. Boxes upon boxes littered the floor, with many more stacked against the walls.
“The box in the very middle,” the man pointed. “You see it? The one with the red and yellow stripes. That box contains nightmares. I bought them about ten years ago. Never sold one, not a single nightmare, so I put them back in here five years ago. Now I need the space, so I want to get rid of them.”
“Nightmares? The girl quizzed. How do they work?”
“Well, evidently, each nightmare pack contains a sachet of crystals that dissolve in liquid. You put them in the victim’s drink, and the crystals dissolve instantly. They’re tasteless, and the victim doesn’t notice anything different. That is – of course until they go to bed.”
“Do they work?”
“No idea, never got to sell any. People just weren’t interested in them, or maybe they didn’t think they worked. And I never had the need to try them. My husband can be a pain in the butt sometimes. But I would never give him nightmares, well not deliberately anyway.”
“Wow, where did you get them from?”
“I wish I could tell you they came from a shaman, a wizard or a warlock, but they didn’t. I bought them off Alibaba, where I buy most of my stock. They are neither spells nor curses, but I’m told they’re the real deal. Use them with caution; that’s what it says on the packet.”
How much are they?
“For you, my dear, free. I was going to biff them anyway—so no skin off my nose. Grab what you like. I will leave you to sort through the box and choose one you think is appropriate. But I need to give you a warning. My understanding is that these nightmare enablers are the real deal. Don’t treat them lightly and be careful of what you choose, because there is always the possibility they might become true.
The girl thought for a second, then looked up; the man was gone, presumably back to the shop counter.
She walked over to the red and yellow striped cardboard box. She gulped, hesitated, then slipped to her knees and started wading through the contents. She picked out a packet, ‘Being Chased,’ now that would be a good nightmare, but no, that wasn’t what she was looking for. ‘Naked at school,’ no – gross! She threw it over her shoulder to the floor, ‘Teeth falling out,’ no! ‘Becoming lost,‘ ‘Drowning,’ ‘Being attacked,’ All no’s!
Then one magically seemed to jump into her hand. ‘Losing something.’ That was it! Her father was so flipping pedantic the thought of losing something would send him into a tailspin. She stood up, adjusted her blue tartan skirt, and went back into the shop.
You’ve picked one then, the man stated.
The girl nodded.
“Well, remember what I told you. Be incredibly careful. While these nightmare enablers might seem to be a joke, I’ve heard from reliable sources they’re the real deal. Just make sure you think of the consequences, okay?”
“I will,” the girl called out as she excitedly exited the shop. “Thank you!”
18 Grange Street, Park View
Trevor Tapper came home early. It was unusual for him, but he’d had enough of spreadsheets, budgets, and childlike staff continually nagging. There was only so much tedium a man could take. He thought he’d surprise his wife, Carrie, by returning home early. The only thing was – she wasn’t home. Where the hell was she? he wondered. Monday was housework, Tuesday was Tennis with the girls. Wednesday, she helped at the Op Shop. Friday’s were for shopping, but Thursdays were free. Today was Thursday, so where the hell was she? And for that matter, where the hell was his recalcitrant daughter Amber? She was supposed to be grounded. No wonder she was running riot, with Carrie not home to supervise her!
Trevor stewed, and the more he stewed, the more he became pissed. Stuff it, he thought, I may as well go to the golf driving range. He could ask Jason to come but then remembered his usual playing partner Jason, who lived across the road, was still sore at losing to him on Sunday. It was the club championship, and Jason lost on the final hole. Jason was clearly upset at losing, especially when his favourite driver broke in half on the last tee. The driver’s head flying further than the ball, off toward the car park beside the Club House. Yeah, better give that one a bit more time, Trevor thought. With the house to himself and nothing else to do, he did what most men would do in that situation, he lay down on the sofa and took a nap.
He was woken by someone unlocking the backdoor and sneaking through the kitchen.
“Is that you, Carrie?”
“Amber, is that you?”
The momentary silence broken by a quiet, delicate reply.
“It’s me, Dad.”
“Where the hell have you been, Amber? You were supposed to come home straight after school! You’re grounded, remember!”
“I know, I know Dad, but Mum said it would be okay to go to Netball practice.”
“Right, I will have to have words with her then. But I thought I made myself clear, grounded means grounded. Home after school, no phone privileges, no friends, no boys!” Do I make myself clear?”
“That is so unfair,” Amber spat. “All I did was sneak out the window to go and see Lilly. All my other friends are allowed out on the Weekends!”
“I don’t care what they do. And maybe their parents don’t either, but your mother and I do care about you and your safety. You say you were just going to see Lilly; well, why did she sneak out her window as well? We don’t want you galivanting around town on a Saturday night, looking for boys. You’re too young, and it’s too dangerous.”
“You don’t understand,” Amber replied. “And why did you have to tell Jason, Lilly’s Dad? Now, she’s grounded too!”
“Because he’s my friend. And he’s got a right to know what my reprobate daughter and his daughter are getting up to behind our backs. I don’t know who’s the worst influence! I don’t know who’s leading who astray – but I do know I’m damn well going to stop it. Now get to your room and do your homework. When your mother gets home, I’ll need to remind her of the rules around your grounding.”
“Freak,” Amber muttered to herself as she stormed toward her room.
Too angry to return to slumber, Trevor got up, walked to the kitchen, poured himself a bourbon. It was close to 5pm, and Carrie had not returned home. Where the hell could she be?
A few minutes later, he noticed a police car pull up on the other side of the road, right outside Jason and Sarah’s house. There were no flashing lights, no sirens, just the ominous presence of a blue and white Holden and two well-dressed policewomen accessorising the suburban curb.
He peered through the net curtains, not wanting to be seen but not wanting to miss what was happening either. He cocked his neck; he strained his ears, all to no avail.
A few minutes later, he heard Sarah scream.
“Damn it,” he cursed, rushing over to number 19.
“I’m Trevor Tapper,” he said to the first policewoman. “I’m Sarah’s neighbour; I heard her scream. Is everything alright?”
The policewoman acknowledged him with a nod then stood aside so Trevor could pass through the open door. Sarah was on her knees in the hallway weeping uncontrollably, comforted by the other policewoman.
“Trevor knew things weren’t,” but he asked anyway, “is everything alright, Sarah?”
Sarah let out a mournful gut-wrenching cry, “it’s Lilly, it’s Lilly, she’s been run over, killed in a car accident downtown.”
Trevor instantly felt nauseous, “oh my God, no, oh my God, it can’t be.”
He felt the second policewoman move from the door. She put her hand on his shoulder, communicating all he needed to know without speaking.
He gulped. “Doe’s Jas know, shall I ring Jason?”
Sarah didn’t respond verbally, her tears stealing her words, her sobs hijacking her voice. She just nodded her head.
Once Jason arrived home, despite offering, Jason said that there was nothing else Trevor could do, that he just needed to be alone with Sarah. Trevor took his leave.
Hands in pockets, head down, he walked back home, dreading the conversation he now needed to have.
“Amber, Amber,” he yelled, “can you come to the lounge, please.”
“I’m doing my homework.”
“I need to see you, need to talk to you. Can you please come here?”
“In a minute.”
“Okay, okay, for god’s sake,” she complained.
She arrived in the lounge a few seconds later, heavy-footed, sunken shoulders, sullen faced, hand on hips. “What?”
“Amber,” Trevor started, “did Lilly tell you what she was going to do after school today?”
“Er no, not likely, she’s not even talking to me after you dobbed her in.”
“She was grounded too, right?”
“Yep, because of you, she was grounded for two weeks.”
“Then why was she downtown after school today?”
“I dunno, I’m not her keeper, and she’s not even talking to me now. I don’t even know if she ever will again, thanks to you!”
“Well, sit down; I need to tell you something.”
“Do I have to?”
“Yes, you do – sit!”
“I’m so sorry to have to tell you this, but Lilly was killed this afternoon. She was involved in a traffic accident after school. I don’t have any details, I’m afraid, I’ve just found out. Amber, Amber, are you okay?”
She wasn’t, her eyes rolling back into her head just before fainting on the lounge suite.
Trevor quickly rolled her over onto her side and grabbed a blanket from the linen cupboard. He laid it on top of her, propping her head up against a cushion.
Poor little bugger, he thought. At her age, he couldn’t even imagine losing his best friend. He stroked the hair away from her face, deciding he would give her a big hug when she regained consciousness.
Then he heard the familiar sound of Carrie’s Subaru zoom up the driveway.
Trevor’s head told him to tear strips off her, lay into her and find out where she was this afternoon, but his heart told him to go easy; she was about to be told some difficult news. He was torn, so decided to tread the middle ground.
Carrie walked in ashen-faced and subdued. “I’ve been caught in traffic,” she spluttered, “seems as though there was some kind of an incident downtown. Police had blocked the road causing a massive traffic jam. I didn’t know you were coming home early.”
“Yes, I was starting to worry about you; I didn’t know where you were,” Trevor complained.
“Is Amber sick or asleep?” Carrie asked, noticing her daughter lying on the couch.
“Nope, she fainted.”
“Fainted…, oh my God, what’s happened? Have you rung the doctors or an ambulance?”
“There’s no need; it was just a good old-fashioned faint. I had to tell her some bad news.”
“Bad news, what bad news?”
“It’s Lilly, but I think you need to sit down.”
Trevor stood, making way for Carrie to sit on his sofa.
“What bad news?” she insisted. “Tell me, Trev.”
“It’s Lilly; she’s been in a traffic accident; she was killed this afternoon.”
Carrie promptly fainted.
“Oh, that’s just great,” Trevor moaned, wondering who was going to cook dinner.
He made Carrie comfortable, repeating the same steps for his wife as he did for his daughter. Then he returned to the kitchen and poured himself another Bourbon. It was going to be a long night. By the time he returned to the lounge, Amber was stirring.
“Are you okay, darling?” he asked.
“I don’t know, Dad, I don’t know. I can’t feel anything. It’s not true, is it? Surely, it’s just a bad dream. A nightmare! Tell me, I’m going to wake up soon, and everything is going to be okay. Won’t it?”
“I wish it was, darling. I really do. I’m so sorry, but this is real. It’s really happening. I’m so sorry.”
Amber broke into uncontrollable tears. Speech becoming an impossibility, her sobs shuddering her body hard and fast. Trevor rushed over, smothering his daughter in his arms.
Carrie came to not long after, she relieved Trevor.
“Oh, Mum,” Amber sobbed, “Lilly and I had a terrible argument yesterday, and we hadn’t made up. I feel so bad.”
“It’s okay, baby, shush, it’s okay. You were such good friends for so long, all friends fight. If you can’t fight with your friends, who can you fight with? Lilly loved you, and you loved her; your argument was probably a ten-minute instant in a lifelong friendship.”
“Yeah, look at your mother and me,” Trevor interrupted. “We fight all the time.”
Amber wailed loudly, burying her head into Carrie’s bosom. Carrie shot Trevor a stare that could stop a Sherman tank in its tracks.
Carrie rocked Amber gently in her arms, tears wetting her blouse. “You really are an insensitive prat Trev; just shut up!”
“What…what? Holding his hands out, “what have I done?”
“Just go away, go see if you can make use of yourself supporting Jas.”
“I’ve already asked, thank you very much. He says he wants to be alone with Sarah.”
“Well, go make some dinner then. Can’t you see? You’re not exactly the flavour of the month right now.”
He stormed into the kitchen, banged a few drawers, the pantry doors, then decided he would go out and get takeaways.
By the time he returned, the women in his life appeared less emotional. Thank God, he thought. He laid the takeaways on the coffee table between the sofa’s – they sat unwanted and untouched, as useful and soggy as the bed of last month’s newspaper ads’ the takeaways sat on.
Trevor rolled his eyes. Jeeze, he thought, that was a bloody waste of time and money.
“What I don’t understand,” he said, interrupting the silence, “is why Lilly was downtown? She was grounded; you said so yourself, Amber. So why was she in town?”
“Is that really important?” Carrie answered, the words spilling from her mouth so sharp they cut her lips on the way out.
“She was getting something for her dad,” Amber interrupted. “She told me she wanted to get square with him. That’s all I know. She said she was going into town to get even with her dad.”
“Oh,” he mused. “I guess it wasn’t really important after all. You were right, Carrie.”
“Can I get you a drink Dad, Amber asked, another Bourbon?”
“That would be lovely, thank you.”
Trevor and Carrie sat in silence while Amber retreated to the kitchen. Trevor had nothing to say. Carrie too scared to say what she wanted to.
Amber returned. “There you go.”
Everyone retired to bed early. Carrie gave Amber a sleeping pill to help her get through the night.
“Can you sleep in the spare room tonight, please, Trev? I don’t think I can handle your snoring tonight, and you’ve had a few drinks, which always makes it worse. Tomorrow is going to be an awful day, and I think we’re all going to need a good night’s sleep.”
Trevor shrugged his shoulders; separate beds were becoming the norm these days. He hated it, but what could he do about it?
That night he fell into a deep sleep, a sleep which dropped onto him like a weighted blanket filled with lead.
The crowd roared; he was on the 18th. “Trev-or! Trev-or! Trev-or!” There was chanting all around him, enveloping him, carrying him, lifting him high above the throng of his disciples. Looking down on them, he could see them all on the cusp of delirium. Augusta hummed. He hummed. Any remaining birds were either deaf or stupid, such was the noise. The trees waved him through as he smashed the ball off the tee. Like the red sea parting, the ball sailed over the fairway. Dissecting the trees, dog legging right, landing and springing forward, bounce… bounce… bounce… until the ball came to a stop on the most favourable lie on the entire course. “Trev-or, Trev-or, Trev-or,” he was charioted away, carried on their voices toward his ball.
He was in the lead; he had been the entire tournament. Hole number one, he aced. Then a series of birdies, double birdies and albatrosses had seen him smash the course record. On day two, he set another course record. Commentators were saying he was the best ever, and he knew it. Day three was another sublime effort, equalling his own course record. And today was faultless. Six under on the front nine, and so far, six under on the back eight. He was now playing the 72nd hole of the tournament, and he held a 22-shot lead. The Masters was his. What worked with a green jacket, he wondered? What coloured pants and shoes should he buy?
His second shot. Smashed: his swing and follow through superb. He hit the green. The ball bobbed and dribbled closer to the pin. It finished pin high, four feet from the hole. A bread-and-butter putt was all there was between him and immortality. Trev-or, Trev-or. He waved to his admirers, tipping his cap with a wink and a swagger. They cheered; they loved him. Grinning ear to ear, he bowed, playing up to their reverence. I am the king, I am God, he thought to himself, get on your knees and worship me as you should.
He sidled down from his cloud onto the green. He selected his putter, lined up the ball to the hole and checked the terrain. He couldn’t have a simpler putt. He could feel the weight of the green jacket; he felt it slide past his hands and up his arm. It felt good; it felt smooth. The fit was perfect. He shrugged his shoulders, the jacket settling easily against his neck and back. Its weight was divine, sliding silkily down his torso like a disrobed bathing gown.
He stepped back. He moved forward. Feet in position, he addressed the ball. Get in the hole, you dimpled freak, he whispered. Head down, shoulders forward, hips rotating, he took a short backswing. He watched his putter head caress the ball, a nonchalant kiss, nothing more, and the ball, loving the attention, moved seductively toward the hole. Twelve inches, slowing down now, six inches, three inches, nearly there, half an inch, almost at a stop – perfect. The ball circled the lip of the hole, once, twice, three times it lipped, threatening to drop at any moment. Trevor grinned from ear to ear, holding his victory scream internally; in anticipation, he threw his putter into the crowd.
But then the ball suddenly picked up speed. Like a space rocket circling a moon, the gravitational pull from the hole sped the ball up. Speeding it up so fast it was suddenly slingshot out of its orbit—the ejected ball shooting and spinning back toward where it originally lay. Four feet from the pin, pin high.
Trevor scratched his head. He heard a TV commentator say, “Well, I’ve never seen that before! But he still has plenty of shots up his sleeve.”
He did, I have, Trevor thought to himself. Plenty of shots up the sleeve of my beautiful new green jacket. He asked if his putter could be handed back to him from the crowd, but it was not forthcoming; never mind, he thought. I’ll tap it in with my driver.
He stepped back. He moved forward—feet in position, he addressed the ball. Get in the hole, you shitty little pus-filled zit. Head down, shoulders forward, hips rotating, he took a short backswing. He watched his driver caress the ball, a sweet kiss, nothing more, and once again, the ball, loving the attention, moved alluringly toward the hole. Twelve inches, slowing down now, six inches, three inches, nearly there, half an inch, almost at a stop. It circled the lip of the hole, once, twice, three times it lipped, threatening to drop at any moment. He was about to jump into the air.
But the ball didn’t drop; instead, it picked up speed and skidded across the green, dropping down into the sand trap on the far right-hand side. “No,” Trevor screamed, “this can’t be happening;” in a rage, he smashed his driver onto his left knee, snapping it in two. The crowd was stunned into silence. Then, one man started booing, others joined in, chanting, “Los-er, los-er, los-er.” Soon everyone was calling him out, screaming at him.
Stuff them, Trevor thought; he still had twelve clubs in his bag and a 20-shot lead. Stuff them all.
His run of bad luck continued. Ten minutes later, he had a one-shot lead. The crowd were mocking him now, laughing at him, pointing, chanting. He felt he’d aged twenty years, his green jacket weighing heavily on him. He needed to take it off; it was bearing him down, pulling him toward the ground; he was sinking, sinking, lower and lower. He was being crushed; he looked about for help; there was no one there; the crowd had gone home. He stood there jacketless; everyone had gone, he was alone.
Trevor woke in a sweat. He went to the bathroom to relieve himself, then washed his hands and face. He checked in on Amber’s room; there was no one there; it looked as though her bed had not been slept in. She must have slept in with Carrie, he thought. He walked into the master bedroom. Carrie and Amber weren’t there; they must have got up early. He ambled into the kitchen, scratching himself as he went. They weren’t there either. I wonder where they are, he asked himself? He was about to make himself a coffee, then remembered his dream. His golf clubs, his golf clubs: he needed to check his precious golf clubs. He raced into the garage, and sure enough, he found his putter and favourite driver missing. “What the hell?” he mused.
His head felt sore, his body ached, he was hungry and angry. Where the hell was Carrie? It was Saturday morning, so where the hell were his eggs and coffee, and where the hell were his golf clubs? He poured his coffee, made some toast.
At 9.17am, a courier van pulled up the driveway, the driver not stopping, just dropping a delivery by the door, knocking, then speeding off to her next drop off. Trevor stumbled wearily to the door. He opened the door to find a package by the doorstep.
It was from Marcel’s Golf Emporium. Marcel’s was the biggest and best golf store in town, but he hadn’t ordered anything from them! The package was a cardboard box, rectangularly shaped, long, and thin. It must be a golf club, he thought. He turned the package over, read the addressee information. “Oh, bloody hell,” he cursed, “this is for Jason; the idiot courier dropped it off at the wrong house.”
He thought for a moment, this must be a replacement driver for the one Jas broke last week. I wonder what he bought. Temptation was calling to him; open the box, open the box. Decency took leave. I suppose I could, he thought. I could tell Jason it was dropped off at the wrong address, and I opened it by mistake; it’s sort of true anyway.
Trevor was right; it was a driver! It was a top of the range, beautiful Cobra King F8. “Phew,” Trevor whispered, “lucky bastard!”
As he slid the driver back into the cardboard box, he noticed the packing slip. “In for a penny, in for a pound,” he said. He opened the envelope and read the note.
Dear Daddy, I’m so sorry for letting you down. I promise not to sneak out again. I know I upset you; please forgive me. I know you broke your driver last weekend, so I bought you a new one with my pocket money. I wanted to make it up to you – get even.
Trevor shook his head, tried to re-seal the envelope, and went back into the kitchen to make another coffee. That’s when he saw the note by the vase full of wilting flowers, sadly drooping over the hallway side table. The note telling him Carrie and Amber had left him.