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Grand Opening!

Grand Opening

Estimated reading time — 14 minutes

“Darren, did you know they opened a Target in Owingsville?” my wife Deborah asked me excitedly. “Grab the car keys and let’s go check it out!”

I rolled my eyes. It was almost six in the evening and I had a long day at work. The prospect of an hour’s drive there, two hours of shopping, and an hour’s drive home wasn’t appealing.

“They didn’t open a damn Target in Owingsville,” I replied curtly. “Only about two thousand people live there. Why in the hell would a multibillion-dollar corporation open a store in the middle of the sticks in a town that isn’t big enough to support a McDonald’s?”


Squealing wood on tile penetrated my ears as she pushed the barstool away from the kitchen counter. Her footfalls approaching my chair were heavy like a pouting child’s. I should have known better than to start an argument with her about Target.

She dropped something from above me. A glossy red mailer advertisement sailed through the air over the top of my head. I looked down at my lap to see the familiar red and white logo. The cluster of red vested employees smiled up at me from the shiny cardstock.

Target would like to welcome you to our newest location in Owingsville, KY. Bring this ad to the registered for an additional 10% off of your first purchase!

“There’s a typo in the ad,” I said, thumping the word ‘registered’ with my middle finger, but she ignored me. “Sloppy work.”

She worshiped the damn place. We lived in Lexington, Kentucky and she made the rounds between all three. The Clearance Queen, she called herself. Deb would buy clearance items by the carload from any Target within a reasonable drive and resell them on Amazon.

Retail arbitrage, I think she called it.


Don’t get me wrong. She made some decent money with it. We were middle-aged and empty nesters when she started. Her entire life had been devoted to raising the kids. When Dustin and Jessica left for college she struggled a bit. Stirred around the house like a caged animal.

I pushed her to find a hobby. It was a few years until I would retire. Most of her friends worked.

That’s when the Target clearance sprees started.

“Owingsville is almost an hour away and there are three damn Targets here in town,” I said, irritation building. “Why do we need to drive out to the middle of nowhere to get what we could find in town?”

My wife went back to the kitchen and started washing the dishes. Every movement she made was exaggerated to show her displeasure. Cabinets closed so hard they were just shy of a slam. Glasses hammered on the counter so hard I expected to hear them shatter. She signed at least three times a minute.

I wish I hadn’t given in. If I would have just stood my ground, maybe everything would have been alright. Our family would still be whole. Police detectives wouldn’t stop by the house every week “just for a chat.”

But I did give in.

I agreed to go.

“Grab your purse and put on your shoes,” I huffed, pushing myself out of the recliner. “We can go, but no more than an hour of shopping. I’ve got to work in the morning so we can’t fool around all night.”

She squealed with excitement and ran off to the bedroom.

Why the hell did I agree to go?


The drive to Owingsville was uneventful. NPR news stories played on the radio as my wife fidgeted with her cell phone. While I had been mildly irritated before we left the house, I was almost to a raging boil by the time we got to Owingsville.

An hour’s drive to the middle of the country and my wife looked at Amazon listings the entire drive.

We had already reached the center of Owingsville and the GPS said there were still two and a half miles to go. From the overhead view on the map, the address was a good distance outside of town headed toward Morehead. The location of the store was making less sense at the moment.

“Are you sure you put the right address in the GPS?” I asked Deborah.

She didn’t answer, still scrolling through her phone.

“Deborah,” I said a bit louder. She looked up at me and smiled. The sweetness of it cooled my anger down to a dull simmer. I even felt bad for being angry. Her life had changed so much in the last year and this was something she did to pass some lonely times. “Sweety, are you sure you put in the right address? I really don’t think this can be right.”

Deb leaned over and pulled out the cardstock advertisement from her purse and looked at the address. Reaching over, she pulled the GPS from the dashboard and punched a few buttons. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a confused expression consume her face.

“Yeah,” she said. “It’s the right address. The weird thing is the GPS just corrected itself. It was down to two miles and jumped back up to two and a half miles. Still says it’s straight ahead on the right though.”

I wasn’t concerned yet, but I was confused. The GPS clearly said two and a half miles when we pulled out of Owingsville onto the dark country lane. We had been on the road for nearly a minute. It could have been a glitch in the software, but it still left me with an uneasy feeling.

My eyes darted back and forth from the GPS screen and the darting yellow lines in the center of the road. The mileage was decreasing as it should have and I felt relieved. Only a mile ahead, we would be there soon. I looked back at the road and looked for parking lot lights in the distance.

“You missed your destination. Please make a U-turn when able and head back two and a half miles. Your destination will be on the right side of the road.”

“What the hell?” I said in a panic. The GPS had just said one mile only moments before. There was no way I had driven a mile and a half past a huge department stool on the side of a dark country highway and missed it. “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

I pulled the car onto the shoulder and made a U-turn. As we drove back in the direction that we came, my fluttered with nervous energy. Something was wrong, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Was I zoning out while we drove?

Was the GPS malfunctioning?

Did the damn store even exist?

Just a moment before I was going to tell my wife we were heading home, I could see an unnaturally bright light ahead in the woodline. The tops of parking lot lights peaked over the top of the forest. I turned to Deborah to voice my concern, but her face was painted with a satisfied grin.

“I told you we’d find it,” she exclaimed with excitement. We pulled around the treeline to see an immense parking lot in front of the brightly lit store. There were maybe three cars parked at the far side of the lot. The car returns were empty. It looked like no one had been there other than a few employees. “You were all worked up over nothing.”

I pulled the car into a parking space closest to the door. We got out and started walking toward the entrance. There was emotionless elevator music playing in the parking lot. I looked up toward the tops of the light poles but didn’t see any speakers. None of the Targets in Lexington played the canned music, and it filled me with a strange sense of dread. It was as though it came from nowhere.

Even the entrance to the building was strange. While most stores have an entrance directly in the center of the building or two mirrored entrances on each end of the building, there was only one here. It was almost directly at the far right corner of the building.

I looked to my left and saw the three other cars in the lot were parked all the way to the right. Maybe there was an employee door on the side of the building, but I couldn’t see a walkway. There were four or five feet of grass between the parking lot and the edge of the building.

Something about the exterior was offputting as well.

Every other store I had seen was a cream or beige color with a few red awnings and a red Target logo next to the store name. Not this one. The entire building was fire engine red. It reminded me of the unrealistically bright blood from the old eighties slasher films.

Where there would usually be only one Target logo, the building was covered in them. Hundreds maybe. All different sizes. Some of the larger logos had smaller ones between the red and white circles. A few overlapped.

Strangest of all, there was no sign that just said Target.

“Deb, something about this is weirding me out,” I said hesitantly. “Let’s come back tomorrow during the day. Looks like they could be closed anyhow. Not many cars in the lot.”

She stopped and turned toward me. The exuberant grin had vanished from her face and was replaced by a set of furrowed brows. Her body was slightly rigid and her head turned slowly from side to side.

“We drove an hour to get her and you nearly got us lost twice,” she said angrily. “Don’t you think for a second we’re going home? If you’re going to act like an ass the whole time, go wait in the car.”

I was a bit dumbstruck. Deb was usually soft-spoken and sweet. Only a handful of times had I ever heard her curse. Never at me.

She turned and went through the sliding doors at the front of the store.

Hurt and angry, I went back to the car.


For the first thirty minutes Deb was inside, I scanned the parking lot like a prey animal searching for a hunter. No cars passed on the main road and no one pulled into the parking lot. There was no motion that I could detect through the glass doors into the building. Occasionally a light would flicker in the parking lot. Otherwise, things seemed relatively normal.

I tried to call Deborah once or twice but didn’t get an answer. Halfway through a lengthy, apologetic text message, I decided to leave her alone. She probably needed time to cool off and Target bargain shopping was probably the best medicine for that.

At some point, I fell asleep. It wasn’t intentional, but there is only so much aimless scrolling on a smartphone I can do before I start to nod in and out. Once I start to drift, an involuntary nap is always in my future.

I had been asleep for around forty-five minutes when my cell phone began to buzz in my hand. Startled by the sudden motion, I looked down at my phone. There was a text message from Deb. I thought it was just Deb telling me she was running behind but checking out.

“Help me.”

The messaging was confusing. Did she want help carrying something to the car? Was there something she wanted my opinion on? I sent a reply.

“What do you need help with, sweety?”

No response. Three minutes passed. I tried again.

“You okay?”

Another few minutes and still no reply.

“I’m getting worried. Do I need to come in?”

I waited for another minute but she never texted me back. Unsnapping my seatbelt, I pushed the door of the car open and felt resistance and a loud smack. Looking to my left, there was a yellow car next to me. It hadn’t been there when I went to sleep and I had just slammed my door into the side of it.

There was just enough room for me to slide out, so I wedged myself sideways and closed my door. Bending over, I looked at the side of the yellow car where my door had made contact. There was no dent or mark. With relief, I stood and turned to head toward the door.

I was started by an ocean of yellow cars. There were dozens of makes and models, but each vehicle in the lot was yellow. Almost every single parking space was filled.

But there was no one in the parking lot.

When I turned to head toward the door, there was no one moving around inside that I could see from there.

My stomach dropped.

Something was wrong.


When I passed through the entryway doors, the store looked like it should with a few exceptions. All of the registers were self-checkout with no place for an attendant. Where you would expect to find a customer service department, there was an empty red wall. There was a cart corral but it stood empty. All of the products I could see on the shelf had no writing. Just the Target logo and a picture of what was inside.

Strangest of all was the lack of people.


The only noise in the building was a keyboard version of The Girl from Ipanema. It had a tinny quality to it, as though it were playing from a World War 2 era radio. Crackles of static pierced through occasionally causing me to wince.

“Hello?” I said loudly. It wasn’t quite a shout, but there was more volume to it than my normal speaking voice. It took most of my willpower not to scream at the top of my lungs, but I didn’t want to make myself seem unstable if it turned out there were other people in the store.

There has to be someone else here, I thought to myself. Why the hell would the parking lot be full if no one was inside?

No one answered my call.

“Excuse me!” I said a bit louder. My footfalls almost seemed to echo as I walked into the store. “Deborah? Can you hear me?”


“Is anyone in this damn building?” I screamed. My temples were throbbing and it felt like the canned music pouring from the speakers grew louder to drown out my calls. I was running down the aisles, looking side to side frantically. Passing row after row of generic shelves filled with red packaging, I screamed my wife’s name over and over.

My phone vibrated in my pocket and I pulled it out. Another text from Deborah.

“Please get me out of here.”

A chill ran up my spine.

“Can you hear me screaming for you?”

The ellipsis bubble popped up showing she was typing a response.

“No. I can only hear the red men. I’m hiding from them in the bathroom. Please come help me.”

I didn’t have time to register what she meant by “the red men”. Breaking into a run, I headed toward the back of the store. As I passed by the clothing section I panicked and jumped back, slamming into a rack filled with clothing.

A red faceless man was standing on a platform behind the rows of clothing.

Terrified, I pushed myself backward and hid behind a shelf. There was no sound of movement. Only the tinny music playing from overhead. I couldn’t decide if the red man hadn’t seen me. After a few moments, I slowly peeked my head around the shelf toward the clothing section.

The man stood stoically behind the rows of clothing. Bright lines of light reflected off of his smooth body. He didn’t move at all.

It’s a mannequin, I thought. Move your ass and find Deborah.

I stood and walked back around the shelf. Without the lens of fear, I could see that the shiny red man was only a mannequin. There were no clothes on it yet. Maybe the store opened before they were able to finish setting up the store.

As I walked past it, my pulse slowed. I could see the bathroom sign hanging from the ceiling overhead and moved in that direction. As soon as I got Deborah out of the bathroom, we were going to get out of there and blow every stop light between Owingsville and Lexington.

Then I heard footsteps.

When I turned to face the clothing section, I could see the bright red mannequin was off of the pedestal. It stood on the bright white tiles of the walkway. In only a moment, the thing had moved at least fifteen feet in my direction.

There was no one around.

“What the hell?” I said aloud.

Slowly, I began to walk backward toward the bathroom, keeping my eyes locked on the mannequin. It didn’t move, but I had the uncomfortable feeling that it was watching me with its featureless face. Sweat began to pour from my forehead.

Suddenly there were steps behind me.

I spun around to see another red mannequin standing about one hundred feet on the other side of me. As I looked in its direction, I could hear more footsteps behind my back. When I turned, the mannequin from the clothing department was a few feet closer to me.

Before I could collect my thoughts, both of the shining red mannequins burst into a spring toward me. I panicked and ran into the aisle behind me. Their hard feet clacked on the floor, easily making gains on me. Twenty years past my prime, I wasn’t used to much physical exertion anymore. I hadn’t run more than two aisles and I had already lost my breath.

Entering a box of shelves, I turned to face the oncoming red mannequins. Desperate, I searched the shelves near me for a weapon. It was a home goods section and I began to scan the shelves. At the end of the shelf to my right was a cheap-looking red-handled chef’s knife. I lunged for it just in time.

As I pulled off the plastic cover, the two red men came around the corner.

I extended the knife toward both of them and they stopped. Both of them tilted their head side to side like confused dogs. They turned toward each other as one of them began tapping a hard finger against their palm. It sounded like Morse code. The other began making the same clicking noise.

They simultaneously turned and walked toward a red support pillar a few feet behind them. I watched cautiously, scanning the area behind me occasionally. Their sudden disengagement made me as nervous as the pursuit itself.

When they reached the red pillar, they both turned and placed their back against it. Stretching their arms straight over their bodies, they tilted their heads back. The overhead speakers began to increase in volume rapidly.

I watched as the two red men fell backward and vanished into the pillar.

My mind struggled to comprehend what I had just seen. The store was quiet again. I could feel the throbbing of my temples intensify.

Once I snapped myself out of the momentary daze, I began moving cautiously toward the bathrooms again. I moved slowly, checking each aisle before I passed to the next one. Always looking for the red men. Always listening for the slightest sign of another person.

It felt like an eternity but finally, I made it to the bathroom hallway. The lights there flickered wildly and the music dissipated. On the left was the men’s restroom and on the right was the women’s. I ran quickly toward the door, gripped the handle, and pulled it open.


Behind the door was a red brick wall.

I slammed my fist against it in frustration.

“Darren?” I heard a muffled voice say from behind the brick wall. “Darren… is that you?”

“Deborah?” I shouted. “Are you okay? I’m right outside! Is there a way to get out?”

“No,” she whimpered. “But I think I hear…”

Her sentence was cut short by a blood-curdling scream. I could hear thrashing and dull thuds through the red bricks. I screamed her name over and over but she never replied.

The room behind the brick wall fell silent.

Then the clicking of footsteps began to sound at the end of the hallway.

I turned my head to see dozens of shiny red men blocking the hall. Their heads all tilted at different angles. Some had lengths of pipe in their smooth grips while others held assorted kitchen knives. A chain was swinging lazily from the hands of the red man in front of the horde.

My eyes darted back and forth between the crowd the brick wall blocking me from my wife and the group of demonic red mannequins. I began to cry loudly, accepting that I couldn’t save Deborah. Hell, I couldn’t even save myself.

In resignation, I fell backward. As my back met what I thought was the dead end of the hallway, I was surprised to feel the push bar of a door that wasn’t there moments before hit the small of my back. The door gave way and I tumbled backward, slamming hard against the ground.

My vision was swimming as I watched the door marked EMERGENCY EXIT slam closed.

I blacked out.


When I came to I was in a field. The tall grass was brushing against my face and the rustling sounds of nocturnal animals filled the night air. My head was throbbing and for a moment I couldn’t recall why I was on the ground.

I pushed myself up from the ground and reached forward to grab the door handle but found nothing.

There was only an empty field in front of me.

Moonlight reflected from my car windshield in the distance. The building was gone. The hundreds of yellow cars had disappeared. Grass and weeds replaced the parking lot.

That was seven months ago.

I called the Owinsgville Police Department who came to the scene to investigate. They took my statement and looked at me in bewilderment as the story of the now absent Target store became odder with each passing sentence.

“There’s never been a Target in Owingsville,” said one of the officers. “Not the kind of place that sets up shop around here.”

Deborah never returned. She’s been listed as a missing person the entire time. Detectives from Owinsgville and Lexington have interviewed me more times than I can count. They’ve served me search warrants for the house and both of our cars.

Interviewed every damn person both of us knew.

No one talks to me anymore. Our friends won’t answer my calls. My family won’t talk to me. Her family hired a private investigator. I see the greasy bastard following me sometimes.

Hell, I even quit my job. They couldn’t fire me, but they made sure I knew I wasn’t wanted there anymore.

I miss my wife, but everyone thinks I killed her.

My life is falling apart.

But maybe it will change.

I’ve got to call the detectives soon. When I checked the mail today, there was something strange in there. Something that gives me a little hope.

It was a Target mailer. The same one Deborah showed me all those months ago, just advertising a different location.

Target would like to welcome you to our newest location in Paris, KY. Bring this ad to the registered for an additional 10% off of your first purchase!

There was the same group of red-vested employees smiling at the camera. Cheesy grins and everything.

Right in the middle was a face I knew so well. She was smiling that same smile I’d seen a thousand times.


Credit: Ryan Major


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