Episode 4 – The hounds

I don’t really want to record this. I could do with forgetting the whole thing. But, perhaps if I talk about it it’ll make sense, it’ll frighten me less. That’s what they say, isn’t it? If you talk about a problem it lightens the burden. Does that only apply if you talk to someone else, or does talking’ out loud count as well?

It was another day in the shop, everything’ had been pretty normal, by shop standards. I was testing’ my design skills by trying’ to make a wee display on the counter. It’d taken me a good hour or more to clear everything’ off it in the first place, and then another hour to reorganise it so it was presentable instead of the hoarder’s dream it’d been before. Finally, I could stand back and admire my handiwork, feeling’ a smug sense of accomplishment that I’d managed to make a dent in the endless task of cleaning the shop up. When Chronos, the cat, jumped from nowhere up onto the counter, I got that dread I assume most cat owners get when they see their feline companion eyeing the fishbowl.

That wee shite stared at me, the same mischievous glint in his eye that’s always there when I’m around. His head turned towards the new display of magazines and boxes of vinyl, and then back to me. His wee paw reached out, and I knew then that I wouldn’t be able to reach the counter in time. With one quick flick of his paw the entire display was on the ground, pooling’ around my feet and sprawling every which way. I may not have lunged for the display but I was certainly going to lunge for that wee shite, and skin him if I got a hold of him. I said as much as I watched him scamper off.

A man’s deep voice startled me out my rage, though, when it said that Chronos was hard to get along with. Isn’t that a bloody understatement? This bloke stood on the other side of the remnants of my display, giving me an intense stare for no good reason. It made me uncomfortable, but what disconcerted me more was I’d never heard him come into the shop, because the bell had never rung. At least, I’d never heard it. The sound of my display falling’ on the floor must have drowned it out…right?

I agreed with his statement about the wee shite, Chronos, but it was only then I started to question how this stranger knew the cat’s name. The stranger introduced himself’ as Fionn (Finn), and then asked mine, which I told him, like an ijit*. I blame his accent. I dare anyone not to be charmed by an Irish accent. He asked me if I worked in the shop. Now, this wasn’t like an, `oh, you work here!` This was more of a, `you work…here?` As if I didn’t belong or something’.

I replied that I was a shop assistant, although even I could hear the question in my tone. He smiled at me, nodding his head slowly but it felt as though he hadn’t really listened to my answer. He’d never stopped staring’ at me the entire time, and I was gathering’ up the courage to ask him what his problem was when the Madam appeared from the door to her rooms.

She addressed him by name, commenting’ it’d been a long time since he’d come to visit her. The way she looked at him was different, something I’d never seen in her before, and it looked an awful lot like emotion, identifying which one was hard. Fionn agreed with her and admitted he’d been very neglectful of their friendship. The look he returned was all I needed to see that this was a complicated friendship, one that involved sharing a bed from time to time. Madam Norna invited him upstairs and told me I didn’t need to go with them as it was “personal business”. Worst words she could’ve used. I’ve been working’ in that shop for about a month now and I know nothing’ about her. She never talks about herself, before this there’d never been anyone come to see her on a personal level; no friends, no partner, no bairns, no family, no anything. I wasn’t about to miss this, especially when I’d seen the look Fionn had given her.

I edged my way over to the door up to her rooms and opened it, sticking my head through. I didn’t want to go up the stairs, even though they wouldn’t have been able to see me from the living’ room, where I assumed they’d gone. The stairs are creaky and noisy, and there’s no way of getting up them without making some noise. I stuck my head further through the door until I could just barely make out what they were saying’.

Fionn asked when she’d started taking in my lot. What the fuck did “my lot” mean, students, young people, locals? Madam Norna simply answered when they were needed. Their conversation made so little sense that I’ve become convinced I didn’t hear them right. And it only got weirder. Fionn asked her who I was, and the previous mirth in his tone had turned surprisingly solemn. Madam Norna didn’t answer him. He then said that I must be something if I was in the shop, but that I didn’t seem to know what he was.

Then the bell to the shop rang giving me a heart attack. I had to close the door, so I didn’t hear anything’ more of their conversation, no that I’d heard a great deal, and none of it made sense. It wasn’t even a customer that’d come in, just the wind blowing at the door. Weather’s shite as always. In case ye were wondering.

Fionn was up there for ages, and I didn’t have the courage to eavesdrop again, so I returned to ma task of trying to clean up the shop. The dust in there is so thick at times I’m glad I don’t have asthma. It’s peaceful though, watching as the specs and particles flutter in the air around you, it’s especially haunting when the sun shines through the windows.

As I was cleaning, I suddenly saw, or felt, I’m no sure which, movement from the corner of my eye. It’s like when you’re sitting’ somewhere at home, minding your own business, but then you sense movement, your eye catches something and you look, only to find a spider crawling up the wall, or a fly making its way to the window. By instinct, I turned my head towards it, but saw nothing but trinkets and books and antiques. I didn’t think anything of it, there was a lot of dust floating around, maybe a bit had caught the light at the wrong time. Except, it happened again, and when I looked there was still nothing there. The first time was explainable, the second time made goosebumps erupt across my skin. I moved further towards the guilty corner of the shop and called the wee shite’s name, which makes no sense since it’s not like he’d just pop out and say hi. He didn’t appear from the nooks and crannies the clutter of the shop creates.

But I could feel something was in the shop with me, sharing the space, so I continued to walk slowly further doon the narrow paths, running my eyes across the floor, in between the old cabinets, chairs, and tables, searching every visible square inch. And nothing appeared. I scoffed aloud, I remember, but it wasn’t out of humour. I turned around to go back the way I’d come, return to my task, but when a low growl crackled through the air, I stopped dead in the middle of the aisle. Something about the noise told me it wasn’t Chronos. I was looking in the direction of the door to the shop, but the air in front of it fractured and shifted, as if I’d smoked a bad batch of *wacky baccy, seeing flashes of bared teeth and bloodshot eyes. It was kind of like looking’ through those old Victorian Zoetropes, you know the ones with all the slits and are shaped like a lampshade. You’d peer through one of the holes and spin it round fast until all the images together would create an animated loop, of a couple dancing or birds flying away.

From the flashes I was seeing there looked like there was giant dogs in the shop, more like the hounds of nightmares than anything domesticated, and their low, wild growls saturated the air around me. I didn’t stick around long after I realised what I was seeing and began to sprint as fast as I could in the opposite direction, further into the shop. It didn’t take long for me to hear the tap of their claws on the wooden floor as they ran right after me, letting out a deep bark here and there.

When I came to the dead end that was the back of the shop, in my panic, I ungraciously began to clamber over the tables and cabinets, hearing as everything on top of them was kicked and hurled without mercy onto the floor. I didn’t care what I broke, nothing in that shop was worth my life.

Obviously, the only way out the shop is the front door, but in all my scrambling about I’d lost my sense of direction. Luck wasn’t on my side, though, and I eventually ended up right where I’d started, near the door, but my way was blocked. Through all of this I’d been able to hear more than I could see, but the flashes of giant hounds blocking the door persisted. I took a step back, finally remembering the door to upstairs, but tripped over something and landed sorely on my arse.

The hounds edged closer, and to all this chaos was added the sound of feline hissing. Chronos, the wee shite, had appeared, his back arched, tail rigid, hissing at the predators prowling towards us. I grabbed him, knowing he didn’t stand a chance, and when I looked towards the hounds again they were poised to pounce at us. Out of some human instinct I put my hand out, as if that’d stop them, and clenched my eyes shut, waiting for the pain of their vicious teeth to tear into my skin.

But nothing happened. Like a wee bairn peeping out from behind the sheets I opened one eye, and then the other, to find two normal, domesticated dogs where the beasts of hell should’ve been. They gave me that look most animals give humans when they’re being stupid, the one of `what the fuck you doing?`.

My arms went slack and I let Chronos go, but I couldn’t feel my legs so I sat like a ragdoll on the floor, staring into space. The bell above the door sounded around the shop and a middle-aged man ran in, out of breath and holding two leads. He apologised and explained they’d suddenly ran off. He hoped they hadn’t caused any trouble. He must’ve been blind because the shop was a mess, like a bomb had gone off, and I was sitting amongst the debris like a right *numpty.

The man managed to get me on my feet, which somehow didn’t buckle under me, and soon after left me in a daze in the shop. I don’t know how long I stood there before I came to, got my jacket and left.

And here I am, talking about it. I clearly remember what happened…but what actually happened? I’ve no smoked *wacky baccy this week, or in the last few months…so do I just hallucinate now? I mean I blame the shop, but what if it’s me that’s the problem? I just…just don’t understand why this is happening to me. It’s never happened before, and I don’t know what to do about it.

*ijit – (Pronounced ee-jit) Scottish slang for idiot/a stupid person.

*wacky baccy – Scottish slang for marijuana/cannabis.

*numpty – yet another British slang word for idiot/stupid person. I know, we have a lot.

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