shopping list - a short horror story

Tuesday, February 16

By Elicia Welch

It was claggy outside, the hum of crickets combined with the odd chirp from a sparse collection of sparrows nearby. The light was low, Clover lay on her bed, tracing imaginary patterns in the popcorn ceiling. The bed felt wrong beneath her, the duvet set and laid neatly with corners tucked in, it crinkled beneath her with any slight movement.

She hated summer, she hated how it was sweaty and humid to the point she could barely breathe. However, what she hated most of all was coming home in the summer, where she was imprisoned by paper walls and pollen rich fields for miles and having to put up with her family for the next however many months. She usually only stayed for a few weeks, but Mama had decided to get the family together for the whole summer. She sat up on the bed, adjacent to one of the pale-yellow walls. The room wasn’t heavily decorated, just an embroidered picture of a little cottage with flowers around it, Clover studied the intricacies of the thread, and noticed the cottage had started to fray at the corner.  

“Clo”

It was her mother calling from down the hall, suddenly she felt flush, like a bucket of boiling water had been thrown over her head.

“Yes?” she replied back, cautious of her tone.

“I need you to go to the store for me, get these things and come straight home ok, no stopping for gas or food or anything”.

Clover was unsettled—she knew what her Mama wanted her to get from the store, she knew why she wanted her to drive straight home, she never proved it, but she knew it must be true.

“Ok” Clover replied, grabbing her car keys from the bed-side table, avoiding any eye contact with her Mama. 

Clover started to walk down the hall when her mom yelled at her to take her siblings—Clover paused and sighed before saying yes to her mother and rounded up her younger brother and sister. She didn’t know why her Mama would ask her to bring them on her trip to the store, but Mama probably needed the house free, this thought made Clover’s mouth dry and she swallowed hard before turning the keys in the ignition.

The drive there was awkward; her younger brother Jax was sixteen, five years younger than Clover, and her younger sister Mary turned thirteen just a week ago, so they didn’t really have a wealth of things in common.

After countless exchanges of ‘how’s school, sports, friends, parties’ and ‘its ok’ ‘s Clover was ready to get their trip over and done with. She pulled up the list and got Jax to be in charge of the shopping cart, the list however made her stop in her tracks.

“Hey!” Jax waved in front of Clover’s face.

“Hey!”

This time Clover snapped back into reality and saw her siblings staring at her. She became acutely aware of how red her cheeks were becoming as she realised, she had almost entirely blocked the entrance with the three of them and their cart.

“Are you upset?” Jax was smart, he could read Clover easily.

“No, it’s ok” she replied,

“Why don’t you and Mary go get some chips, we don’t have to tell Mama if we eat them in the car on the way home”.

Luckily with this sentence the mood lightened, and Clover was rid of the both of them so she could crack on with mama’s list:

Bleach, extra strong.

Peroxide? If they finally have any.

Rubber gloves- they do a discount on multiple pairs at the moment.

Citronella candle, for the bugs.

Something nice for you Clo, Mama loves you.

She didn’t like that ‘Mama loves you’, it had taken twenty-one years for her to realise it had never been genuine.

The items on the list were surprising to her,  even though they were the same four things mama had asked Clover to get for her from the store since she got her licence five years ago. Before that, it was daddy who went to the store, but he moved south when Mary was born.

It felt weird because Clover had forgotten about it, she felt crazy; four innocent items would make her speculate the worst of her mother, followed by guilt, even after she stopped idolising her.

Of course, Clover’s girlfriend was always supportive, listened to her crazy ideas of what her Mama does after hours and when nobody was watching. Clover missed her girlfriend, she missed her a lot, she could do with her by her side at this moment. Clover pondered for a second about taking Jax and Mary out of the state with her there and then, back to her and her girlfriend’s shitty apartment in Minneapolis, leave Mama in that sad old rickety house and never see Wisconsin again. Alas, she found herself scanning the isles for the items on the list.

Back in the car, the situation was less tense, Clover had the radio on and Jax and Mary seemed happy enough in the back of the car, munching through a massive bag of chips between them.

“What was all that cleaning stuff for Clo?” it was Mary who asked, she never usually came with Clover on her ‘trips to the store’

Clover didn’t reply at first, thought she could pretend she didn’t hear her, but realised her curiosity would be unstoppable, and she’d find out in the end, its better Clover just told her.

“Mama doesn’t like germs, that’s all, she likes to keep the house fresh and clean”.

She said it with a positive affliction, maybe for a second even fooling herself that she was telling the truth.

July, and the summer had reached its peak, a whole month had passed since Clover had returned home and she had spent so many days in bed with her head resting awkwardly against the metal headboard, that she could almost feel an indent from it in the back of her skull. Jax and Mary were less awkward now though which was a positive aspect, when she wasn’t in bed, Clover would spend the day with the two of them, driving down rural roads or water fights in the yard. Clover didn’t see Mama much, she was either out with an unknown man she’d gotten eye contact with whilst at the bar, or she was at the bar trying to get with men—she was insufferable at the best of times, so it was nice to not see her, no matter how guilty Clover thought thinking that, and Mama hadn’t asked her to go to the store since her last trip, which Clover was thankful for.

It was Saturday, Mama came home with a man, and so the five of them were all in the yard. Mary had started gardening, just carrots and potatoes, and a few begonias here and there, she said it made the yard look nice. The yard was not nice, the grass was yellow and stringy, any surviving plants practically begging for water, and various trash strewn across it all. Mary’s plants did make the yard look nice though if you only focused on that small area.

“I wish you’d stop with that; you get all muddy and I’m the one who has to wash your clothes” Mama barked at Mary between practically sucking the face off of her male companion. Mama was uncomfortable with Mary’s new gardening hobby, for no apparent reason other than being cantankerous—or perhaps another reason, one that crossed Clover’s mind, but she didn’t dare to say aloud.

Midnight. The moon was full and shouting at Clover through her window to wake up, she complied, pulling a nearby blanket over her shoulders—the temperature had dropped in the night. The bedroom around her was cloaked in shadows which made her skin crawl, she hated how shadows did that in the night, looked like something they weren’t. She pulled up her phone and messaged her girlfriend:

‘U awake?’

She knew she wouldn’t be, but for some reason she really hoped she’d be awake, her bones were aching, the moon was too loud and the shadows scary—she just wanted someone to talk to. A soft breeze caught the semi sheer curtains through the slightly ajar window, making them flail, and the shadows become erratic.  Clover dashed out of bed to pull the window shut, but her eye caught something in the yard, something was different about Mary’s allotment, the earth was raised and strewn across the straw lawn, no green leaves in sight. She didn’t want to look, she didn’t know why but she didn’t want to see why it had been destroyed, even if it was only a fox, she didn’t want to hear its blood-curdling scream, she didn’t want to expose herself to the dark. She did, however, find herself putting on wellies, and a robe over her nightdress, and walked into the yard with a flashlight, closing the door shut behind her. Naked, she felt naked as the night breeze circled around her legs, and Mary’s allotment was cloaked in darkness. She felt around cautiously with her boot, hoping not to step on some sort of imaginary trip wire that would beckon whatever could’ve been hiding in the dark to come and eat her alive. She reached the allotment, and, fox tracks lay firmly in the mud, she sighed a breath she didn’t even realise she was holding. She let her flashlight guide her over to the stems of the plants Mary had so carefully planted, she was going to attempt to salvage it a little, just so Mary wasn’t upset when she woke up.

Clover didn’t want to go back to the house for a trowel because she knew she would stay in the house and not fix the allotment at all, instead she began to dig at the disturbed earth with her fingernails, throwing stones to the side, then , something sharp, perhaps a small rock?, no , it felt more like plastic, in the shape of an almond. Clover dug further, with both hands, placing her flashlight haphazardly under her chin, not quite catching a glimpse of what she was unearthing. She jumped back as her hand felt something soft, like grass, but softer, like fur. She pulled at it, her stomach building with nausea, as she used the flashlight to see she was holding a clump of hair and meat— and the almonds fingernails, and after further discovery, the stones, teeth.

She ran to the house, almost breaking the back door off its hinges. Mama sat at the kitchen table, Clover only saw her silhouette, but she was writing, she turned to Clover, handing her the paper:

“Mama needs you to go to the store again”.

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