“That’ll be one hundred twenty-eight eighty-eight,” said the young woman behind the counter.
This young lady was the type of new-age pop tart that Barbara couldn’t stand, a vapid record-ghoul with little aspirations outside of whatever new single hit number one on the charts. Nevertheless, Barbara suffered the young woman’s presence out of necessity rather than the alternative, and the alternative meant leaving without the clothes she had just wasted an hour on, a whole hour gone for just a few shirts and skirts.
Time was money, and that saying was more popular than ever in this modern business world, but spending both time and money were far easier than saving them.
Decisions, decisions. Barbara sighed and made hers, though she knew she was going to regret it later.
Barbara handed the clerk her credit card, and the young lady ran it through her card checker. The young clerk handed back the card a second later, the store receipt printed out, and Barbara was handed that slip of paper to sign.
Barbara scrawled out her signature, handed the clerk the store receipt, and then took her copy.
“Thank you, and come again!” smiled the young lady behind the counter.
Barbara left the store without saying a word, her plastic bag of new clothes hanging from her left arm, her brown-leather purse hanging from her right. Both containers were unwieldy, though her purse was arguably the much heavier of the two. The bag of clothes was simply a nuisance to carry.
She walked past a line of open stores, her heels clicking upon the multicolored mall tiles. It was getting late, and the mall would be closing in an hour…It was time to go home.
She stopped in front of a newspaper dispenser in order to adjust herself. She set down her bag and purse, made sure the brass buttons of her burgundy wool coat were properly buttoned, adjusted her burgundy knit beret, and brushed a strand of fiery red hair from her left eye. Maintenance of one’s appearance was a key to success, especially if that person was a woman in this modern business-centric world.
She knelt slightly to pick up her bag and purse, but the headline of the newspapers in the dispenser caught her eye. Curious, she opened her purse, dug out her wallet, unlatched it, and took out a quarter. She put back her wallet, set down her purse, and fed the newspaper dispenser its sacrificial change. She opened the blue metal box and removed a single daily edition for her own perusal.
The headline read in bold black letters:
PARKING LOT KILLER STILL AT LARGE
She shuddered at the thought of such a monster wandering around the streets. In her opinion, the world didn’t need real monsters…The human kind were bad enough.
Barbara shook her head clear of any waxing philosophy and continued to read:
November 22nd, 1986
Lyndon E. Rince, Corgan Times Reporter
Magdalene Dagwell, mother of two, was found slain just outside of her own vehicle last month on October 22nd, her body discovered by night security watchmen, Oliver Gordon and Jamal Diggs, at the Maxington Wells Shopping District in Corgan Eastside. The 34-year-old woman had suffered multiple stab wounds to the chest and abdomen, over twenty, according to the coroner and local police. This makes the fourth victim in four months, all four victims women of varying ages.
The first victim, Jennifer Rosenstock, age 24, was discovered murdered in the Thompson Theater parking lot, North Corgan, on July 22nd, Marion Cresson, the second victim, age 48, was found slain in the South Love Lounge parking lot, South Corgan, on August 22nd, and Gillian Goldstein, the third victim, age 29, was found murdered in the Ol’ Raider’s Grocery Store parking lot, North Corgan, on September 22nd.
All four victims suffered multiple stab wounds to the chest and abdomen. No personal items were taken from the scene of each crime, including money. The victims were simply stabbed and either died at the scene or were left to die before help could arrive.
Police Commissioner Brandon Dubois made an emergency statement on all local channels last night, that statement concerning the recent deaths of these four victims:
“What we have here in Corgan is something we only previously guessed at, and that is a serial murderer. As of a week ago, we have agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation here to oversee the capture of this animal, but for the time being, the citizens of Corgan are advised to stay inside tomorrow night. I know Saturday night is the night to go out on the town, and I understand that, but if you must go out tomorrow night, please travel in groups of at least three. Right now, we don’t have enough evidence to know what we are dealing with, so stay indoors, travel in groups, and call our tips line to report any suspicious individuals.
“So far, the M.O. of this serial murderer is to attack women who are traveling alone. The four victims were attacked while walking to their cars in the parking lots of various locations. This killer has struck at night on the 22nd of each month, and we fear the attacker will strike again tomorrow night.”
Local media and law enforcement have dubbed this new serial murderer, “The Parking Lot Killer.”
A terrible chill sank into Barbara as she stared in semi-panic at the print upon the paper. It would be just her luck to be out alone on the night in question, and this did not sit well with her…It left a sucking pit in her stomach.
She picked up her bag and purse, stuffed the barely touched newspaper into a nearby trashcan, and headed for the mall’s north exit.
She made her way to the glass doors, only to stare momentarily into the darkness lurking outside…She had parked in the small, out-of-the-way lot.
Her car was out there, her little, grey, two-year-old Ford Escort, out there in the night in the most out-of-the-way lot of the mall. That lot was small compared to the other lots, but it was by no means small. She was going to have to walk to the end of that lot, and…
She hesitated to push open the glass.
Maybe she could just hole up here, and…
No, that was stupid. The mall was closing soon.
“This is stupid, Barb,” she whispered to herself. “Get a grip. You’re stronger than this.”
She closed her green eyes, took in a deep breath, released it, opened her eyes, and pushed open the glass.
“Here goes,” she said to herself.
She stepped out into lamplight, fluorescence shining down on her from little, round, glass circles overhead, those lights embedded in the flat brown plasterwork of the mall entrance and exit arch above her.
She did not make it five feet before she realized someone was standing in the archway corner off to her right.
There was a young man standing there, a young man in his early twenties, a real greaser-type, this young man smoking a cigarette in the shadow of that corner. He had on a white tank top, a sleeveless blue jean jacket, and a red bandanna underneath his mussed brown hair. His blue jeans had seen better days, as they were ripped in the knees, though his white sneakers looked fairly new.
He noticed her wayward stare and nodded once at her, blowing out a trail of smoke before saying anything at all.
“Hey, sweet cheeks,” he grunted. “Why don’t you bend over and give me a quickie?”
Barbara’s adrenaline spiked as she sped up her walk, her heels clicking on pavement as she crossed the mall threshold into the parking lot. There was no going back now, not with that thug standing there.
“I gotta sausage you can wrap those sweet lips around, Red,” said the young man. “All four of those sweet lips, baby.”
She heard him chuckle once as she made her way out into the dimly lit night. No, there was no going back now.
She briefly turned her head to see the young man flick away his cigarette. He plunged his hands into his pockets and stepped forward as if to follow her, and this immediately spiked her blood like nothing else.
Barbara turned her vision forward out of panic. She let out a slight whine of fear as she sped up her walk and made her way into the rows of cars before her, careful not to take a tumble in her heels, though such a balancing act was always trying.
She ducked behind a small red hatchback in order to catch her wits and her breath. It was cold out here, and her breath filtered out in visible bursts of steam, pulling at her lungs, making her already lengthy journey even more difficult.
She hid for a few seconds before raising up to see where the young punk had gone.
The bright lights of a police cruiser pulled up in front of the mall, and she breathed out a visible sigh of relief as two police officers exited their vehicle in order to confront the young man. They would see to it that this thug got what he deserved.
She continued her journey across the lot after that, though her car was at the far end. It was still quite a walk in the cold, quite a walk past the stoic lines of empty parked cars, but the police were patrolling the area, so there was nothing to be afraid of now.
Her heels clicked across pavement as she made distance between herself and the entrance of the mall. There were tall street lamps strategically placed in rows along the lot, so visibility was not an issue, but the vibe that soft light gave, the liminality of it, creeped into her and settled there like so much rot.
She first saw him out of the corner of her eye, a wisp of shadow, a brief passage of something dark a couple of car lines over. She stopped walking and stared in that direction, and that’s when she saw the outline of a black fedora, a shadowy figure congealing into shape after that, a dark figure blending into a dark background behind a tall red truck.
Barbara sucked in the chill November air as she took to walking again, this time at a faster pace, her heels clicking out a staccato beat as she stumbled and had to catch herself on an old Mustang.
She stared out into the distance. She could see his outline there, this dark stranger, the outline of a fedora, maybe a suit, but he was in the dark, outside of the protective rings of light from the tall street lamps of this godforsaken parking lot.
A chill wind blew, and a sudden noise ambushed her from behind. Barbara turned with wide eyes to witness an empty pop can roll across the greyed asphalt. The empty can rattled along as it tumbled underneath a town car, disappearing from her vision altogether a second later.
She clutched her chest, clutching her burgundy wool coat from the sudden scare, and she sucked in cold air as she tried to steady herself.
“You’re seeing things, Barb,” she thought unhappily. “Keep it together.”
She took a couple of seconds to grip her wits before pulling those pieces back together again. Panicking was not doing her any favors.
“It’s fine,” she muttered. “Everything’s fine…”
Barbara felt the hairs raise on the back of her neck, on her arms, even on her legs, the goosebumps quilting over with tremulous, tangible fear. She slowly turned around to see him standing there in her open lane, standing between the two rows of cars like she was, though he was five cars down.
He was not quite within the lamplight. No, he was in the dark rim between the soft circles of luminescence that spelled out safety.
This man was tall, a little over six feet, but she could not make out any features save for his broad shoulders, the rough outlines of a business suit, and his fedora. He was so cloaked in darkness that he looked like living shadow, but this was not what spiked her adrenaline to new heights. It was the black outline of a long, sharp knife in his right hand that did that.
“N…No…” whined Barbara.
She took to running without thought or heed of consequence.
Her right heel turned as she took a tumble on grey asphalt. She felt her wrists and knees absorb the shock of that fall, that pain nearly insufferable at any other moment, but she was too wired on her own internal juices to give that discomfort much thought.
Her heavy brown-leather purse hit the pavement and jangled from the contents packed within it, but she had no time to consider the safety of anything within that carryall. She had to make tracks as fast as she could, make it to her car or to anyone who could help her, because she was not going down without fighting to her last breath.
She ripped off her heels and pinched the foot holes between the fingers of her right hand as she was up and off again, this time without any unbalancing footwear. The pavement was unforgiving upon her feet, as the only thing protecting her bare soles was a thin layer of pantyhose, but she ignored the jabbing bites of small pebbles and debris in order to run for her life.
She rounded a blue Ford pickup and turned to look for her attacker. The man was swift and silent in his own right as his shadowy presence appeared off to her left, between a town car and a compact.
Her green eyes darted from left to right and back again as a reactionary plan formed in her mind.
Barbara flattened herself on the pavement, laying down as best she could, and then she shimmied underneath a nearby white hatchback. She held in her breath as she lay perfectly still beneath that car, clutching her belongings close to her like makeshift armor, including her burgundy knit beret; she did not want to lose her favorite hat.
It was not long before she felt a cold seep into her, seeping in past the protective layers of her wool coat. Her green eyes widened as her body trembled at the sight of the dark shoes and suit pants that walked in silent steps next to her hiding place, silent steps that walked slowly but with definitive, murderous purpose.
She could see his outline now, but he was…unnatural. He was just a shape, just a shape of living shadow, wisps or tendrils of black floating up from the pit of darkness that made up the outline of his shoes.
She could sense the evil radiating from this man, for he was not a man, he was something else, something wholly indifferent to the descriptions put forth by rational men, something not of this world.
His presence was like a cancer, like a swallowing void that sucked in a soul in order to crush that soul in its singularity. Barbara had never experienced anything like this presence before, this unholy, defiling entity that walked in silent, murderous steps, but she was not stupid, so she held in her breath, held it in until it felt as if her lungs would burst.
The shadowy entity moved on, eventually walking past the hatchback and onwards toward somewhere else.
Barbara shimmied out from underneath the hatchback after waiting for a couple of minutes, carefully placing her hat back upon her head. She had her bag of new skirts and shirts, she had her heavy brown-leather purse, she had her beige heels in her right hand, she had her burgundy knit beret, and most importantly, she had her life.
She sucked in cold air as she replenished her breath, adding to what was left in her lungs. It had felt like an eternity underneath that car, but if she were careful—
She turned and saw the dark edge of a shadowy blade streak toward her face, but her adrenaline was still spiked, her senses wired, so she stepped back just in time, a hair’s breadth of space between the tip of that blade and her own ruby lips.
She could feel the absolute chill of that weapon as it left behind crystalized air in its wake, cutting a deadly swath through cold air to leave behind even colder air…She had no desire whatsoever to feel that icy sting.
Barbara took to running yet again. An idea possessed her, a half-formed, half-baked idea that made sense to a child or a panicking individual, and she was most certainly the latter. She had to get out of this parking lot, because maybe this thing was like a headless horseman; it had rules it had to follow. Maybe this shadowy wraith could only haunt parking lots, so it made sense to her to head for the nearest edge, to bolt like mad for the border of this parking lot, to run out into the nearest street.
Pebbles and debris dug into the pantyhose covering her soles as she ran between cars, running for her life, but then she saw it, sanctuary, a ring of light, a tall street lamp in this parking lot with a single car beneath it, a single silver Mercedes-Benz parked within that lamp’s comforting glow.
She headed for that car at top speed…well…as fast as her bruised and shredded feet could take her.
It had occurred to her that the edge of this lot was too far away, but light, pure and shining light could protect her from this otherworldly thing, and the street lamp ahead either used a stronger bulb or had a short in it, because it was blazing in comparison to any of the other lamps in this hellscape of grey pavement and parked cars.
Barbara could see a woman now, a woman in her early thirties or so, close to Barbara’s own age, in fact. This woman was in the process of setting down several bags as she fished for her keys out of her off-white purse.
“Help me!” screeched Barbara as she made a beeline for this stranger.
Startled, the woman stared in confusion and a little fear as Barbara ran up to her.
Barbara got a good look at this stranger as soon as she closed the distance between them. This woman was a dyed blonde in a brown fur coat, though her coat was open, unbuttoned to reveal a slinky white dress with a low top and a high skirt. This blonde was clearly out shopping with someone else’s money, brazen in her tawdriness, showing off her goods in spite of the cold November chill that permeated the atmosphere of this cursed lot.
God, this woman was the kind of woman that Barbara despised, the trophy-wife, gold-digging, lawyer-latching head louse that attached herself to men for money and goods…but she was also the only help in the area, so other options were not…well…an option.
“Excuse me?” asked the stranger, verbal surprise evident in her voice.
“I need help!” cried Barbara. “There’s a man after me! He’s the Parking Lot Killer!”
“The what?” asked the woman.
Barbara could tell that this woman had no idea of the danger the city was in, of what had been going on recently.
“Haven’t you seen the news!” exclaimed Barbara. “The Parking Lot Killer! He’s here!”
“What are you talking about?” asked the blonde. “Wait…The Parking Lot Killer? Is this about those murdered women?”
“Yes, yes,” nodded Barbara in a crazed up and down head wag of visible agreement. “He’s here! He…He chased me…He’s not humaaa…uhhh…”
She was going to omit that last part. She needed this woman’s help, but saying that a wraith from the deepest pits of hell was after her? She would not get any help that way.
“We need to get to a police officer,” said Barbara with a gulp of saliva. “Please, give me a ride across the lot. I saw a police cruiser earlier…”
“I didn’t see anyone on my way to the car,” said the woman in audible confusion. “This lot’s pretty empty. I think people will be leaving the mall soon, though…”
“He’s here; I’m telling you!” cried Barbara.
She was sounding hysterical, true, but they were running out of—
The fine hairs on the back of her neck stood on end again. She turned out of a survival instinct, and that’s when she saw him yet again, his shadowy form lurking between two cars in the distance, outside of this circle of light.
“Th…Th…There he is…” stammered Barbara in a shaking treble.
The dark entity walked forward with murderous intent, the black shadow blade in his right hand a line of infinite void that radiated doom. Barbara could see the chill air crystalizing around this thing, this thing from outside the reaches of sanity.
“Where?” asked the blonde in more confusion.
The shadow man marched forward on steady, silent feet. Barbara sucked in the cold air around her as her green eyes opened wide with terror. She was frozen from her own fear now, trembling in place, her own voice ending in a whine to pull forth one last gasp of warning.
“He’s right there!” she squeaked out.
“There’s nothing there…” was all the blonde could say.
Barbara could do nothing but shake as the shadow man stepped into the light and embraced her. She felt his cold left hand wrap around the small of her back, his pitch lips kiss with chill purse against hers, and the absolute-zero essence of his blade sink into the pit of her stomach. She lost herself again as his dark presence enveloped her, overwhelming her.
Her green eyes rolled up in the whites as she felt that old familiar call consume her psyche, a call she could not resist, a call that hit her approximately once a month anymore.
Her back was to the thirty-something blonde behind her, and that was good, because it was time to prepare for the next stage of this eventful night of dark joy.
Barbara smiled as she opened her heavy brown-leather purse, heavy due to its jangling contents, and she pulled forth one of those items, pulling forth one of the many knives she had stuffed within that leather container.
She let it glint in the lamplight for a moment.
“I don’t see anything,” said the blonde. “Are you sure you’re okay?…Maybe you should wait here while I go get—”
Barbara turned and plunged the knife into the belly of the pristine white dress this woman was wearing, feeling unbridled joy as the victim’s red lips gasped open in shock, feeling the warmth of blood, this trashy blonde’s lifeforce, spill over her right hand, the ecstasy of it exciting her, electrifying her in the lowest of places.
Yes…the first stab was always the sweetest.
Parking Lot Copyright © 2022 Matthew L. Marlott