Down at the Hardware Store
By Roy Dorman
A mascot who’s enough
to make nuts bolt
“Hey, I probably won’t make it today. Go ahead and
order without me, guys.” James Owens would have rather gone with his
workmates for burgers and beers at The Rusty Spoon during his Friday lunch
hour, but had promised his wife, Linda, he would find a hardware store and pick
up a toggle light switch to replace the one in their kitchen that only worked
half the time.
A search on the Internet turned up a hardware store
just a few blocks from his downtown office. It was on a side street he didn’t
remember ever passing before. But James commuted and pretty much went from his
condo in the suburbs, to the train, to work, and then back, reversing the
He almost bypassed Dickinson’s Hardware because he
was thinking about finishing the work on his desk and maybe starting the
weekend a few hours early. He walked in and was surprised by the ring of an
old-fashioned overhead bell. The store was dark with very high ceilings and
long narrow aisles. There were bins of nuts and bolts, hammers and saws, and
assorted lengths of wood and pipe.
After a minute, James realized what was missing.
There were no snow blowers, weed-whackers, or chain saws. This was a hardware
store with just that—basic hardware stuff.
The clomping heels of his western boots echoed on the
oak plank flooring as he walked the distance to the register. He noticed the boards
were not tightly spaced and had sawdust in their cracks. Do businesses still
use sawdust when sweeping
Along the way, James passed shelves of springs,
spools, and sprockets. Nothing was boxed or packaged. No name-brands yelled out
to him with a “Hey, you know me, so buy me!”
When he finally stopped at the counter, he noticed
the eerie silence his boots had masked while he was walking.
The old man behind the counter had watched James come
down the aisle. He cleared his throat when James arrived, but didn’t say
anything. James then cleared his throat, but didn’t speak either. He was just
about to turn around and leave when the old man spoke.
“Whatcha need?’ he said.
“I need a light switch,” stammered James, “an on/off
switch to replace the one in our kitchen. It doesn’t always….” He stopped when
he realized he had been chattering on like he was scared. Am I scared?
James noticed the
little oval on the left side of the old man’s chest had “Edward Dickinson”
embroidered on it. He felt better thinking that this was probably the owner.
Old Edward would know where everything was. James could get the switch and get
the hell out of there.
Off to his right, there was a crash followed by a deep
grumbling noise. James saw Edward wince and then roll his eyes before asking,
“Those are in the basement. Do ya know which one ya need?”
James wished he had brought the faulty switch with him.
“Yeah, I looked at it before I left home; I think I can recognize it if I see
it.” He really didn’t want to go down into the basement with Edward. Being here
on the main floor with him, twenty steps from the front door, was spooky
“Come on, then, let’s go have a look-see,” said Edward,
turning and heading further back into the store.
A wet snuffling sound came from the direction of the
earlier crashing noise and James decided to follow Edward, the old “better the
devil you know” adage having popped into his head.
The wooden stairs to the basement were narrow and looked
like they might not hold both James and Edward. James waited until Edward had
reached the bottom before he started down. Edward looked at him with derision
as he slowly made his way down the stairs, both hands on the railings.
The floor was hard-packed dirt and the overhead lights just
barely illuminated the spaces between the half-dozen fixtures. A damp pungency
pervaded. It was more like the lion house at the zoo than anything else James
could put his finger on.
“Let’s see,” said Edward. “Switches...ah, here they are…”
The sound of the overhead bell upstairs caused both James
and Edward to turn and look to the top of the stairs. After a few seconds,
there was the clicking sound of what were probably high-heeled shoes on the
James looked at Edward, who had a pained look on his face
as though he was considering a thorny problem.
“Hello?” came a call from upstairs. The woman had probably
reached the counter and was most likely having the same feeling of unease James
had experienced there.
James thought Edward would excuse himself and at least go
to the top of the stairs to answer the customer’s call, but he stood rooted
where he was, sweat forming on his brow. James felt empathy for the woman
upstairs, but didn’t want to be alone in the basement even for a little bit.
A loud scream was followed by an angry “Oh-my-God!”, and
then a lot of crashing around overhead. James was sure Edward would now leave
him, as obviously something awful was happening upstairs in his store. Edward
raised his hands and pointed both index fingers at James. “Stay right here,” he
said with a sick smile. “Don’t move.”
James felt something warm drop onto the back of his neck.
Looking up, he could see another drop forming between the planks that made up
the floor upstairs and the ceiling above him. That drop fell onto his forehead
and two more drops formed more quickly than the second had, causing James to
take a few steps back.
Edward took the stairs two at a time and James heard him
yell when he reached the top, “Hee-yah! Hee-yah!”
James looked at the small puddle of blood forming on the
dirt floor in front of him. Should’ve waited to get that
light switch at the mall this weekend…
Should’ve gone to lunch with the group…
He then looked at the bins where Edward had recently been
standing. There they were dozens of light switches in all sizes and colors. He
rummaged around and finally found one that looked like what he needed, jammed
it into his jacket pocket, and headed for the stairs.
He couldn’t bring himself to take the rickety steps two at
a time as Edward had done. He did, however, ascend as quickly as possible,
because all the while he was going up, he imagined a sharp-taloned, hairy hand
reaching out from the inky darkness between the open risers of the stairs…to
grab hold of my ankle!
By the time he reached the top, he was breathing heavily,
almost panting, and took a few seconds to bring himself under control before
heading for the counter.
“Stop with the ‘Hee-yah’ already, you old fool,” came a
woman’s voice. “I told you a million times not to let that thing run loose.”
“You killed it,”
shouted Edward at the well-dressed older woman standing in an ever-widening
pool of blood.
“Of course I killed it. What do you think I should have
done, asked it politely to lie down on the floor?”
The huge beast in front of the counter looked very dead. It
seemed to be some sort of giant hyena with stiff, reddish-brown fur and
comically large ears. In death, needle-like teeth protruded from a horrible
rictus smile. Its throat had been ripped out and the flow of blood was just now
starting to slow. James saw blood on the woman’s lips and chin, and shuddered.
If she could do that to that
He walked up to the counter, carefully avoiding both
the blood on the floor and the woman standing in it. “I found the switch I
needed. How much is it?”
“Just take it—no charge. Sorry to put you through any
trouble. Please stop in again. We appreciate your business.”
As James started around the woman and the pool of
blood, she snarled playfully and grabbed for him. He let out a little whimper
and danced away from her reach. Her laugh was the kind he had only heard in horror
“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” said Edward. “Stop by again,
“Oh, James, you remembered the light switch,” said Linda as
James set the switch on the kitchen counter. “I was sure you’d forget it. Any
trouble finding it?”
Dorman, email@example.com, of Madison, WI, who
wrote BP #80’s
“Andrew’s War” & “Down at the Hardware Store” (+ BP #79’s “Cellmates”
“Get Some Shelter,” BP #78’s “All Is as It Should Be,” BP #77’s “Essence of
Andrew,” BP #76’s “Flirting with the Alley,” BP #75’s “The Enemy of My Enemy…”
BP #74’s “Doesn’t Play Well with Others,” BP #73’s “A Journey Starts with a
Flower,” BP #72’s “The Beach House,” BP #71’s “The Big Apple Bites,” BP #70’s
“Borrowing Some Love” and BP #69’s “Back in Town” and “Finding Good Help…”),
retired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Benefits Office and has been a
voracious reader for 60 years. At the prompting of an old high school
friend, himself a retired English teacher, Roy is now a voracious
writer. He has had poetry and flash fiction published in Apocrypha and Abstractions, Birds Piled
Loosely, Burningword Literary Journal, Cease Cows,
Crack The Spine, Drunk Monkeys, Every Day Fiction,
Flash Fiction Magazine,
Flash Fiction Press, Gap-Toothed
Madness, Gravel, Lake City Lights,
Near To The Knuckle, Shotgun
Honey, The Creativity Webzine, Theme
of Absence, The Screech Owl, The Story
Shack, & Yellow Mama.