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It was ten minutes till close when I heard the door swing open.
Ugh. A customer this late? It was my first day at Tony’s Pizzeria, and I was eager to get home. My manager, Mason, had to leave early – his infant son had a fever – and I was left all alone to close up. Sighing, I put down the broom, and made my way to the front.
“Hi, may I help –”
The store was empty. Everything was as I left it – the chairs lifted onto the tables, the lights dim, the silverware and parmesan shakers sitting on the shelf above the garbage.
“Hello?” I called.
But only silence met my ears.
I shrugged and went back to sweeping.
The store was eerily quiet; the only sound was my broom scratching rhythmically against the floor, as I swept shreds of mozzarella across the floor. Only five minutes till close, I thought, glancing up at the clock. Then I can finish cleaning, lock up, and get out of here.
But I had scarcely swept another few feet when I heard it again –
I dropped the broom and ran to the front of the store.
Nobody was there.
But this time –
The front door was open.
“Hello?” I called again, louder this time, hoping my voice would reach the outside.
Beyond the light spilling out into the patio, there was total darkness. I couldn’t even make out the parking lot or the trees. What if there’s someone out there? Watching? If there was, I wouldn’t even know.
I rushed over, shut the door, and turned the lock. Click. “No pizza left for ‘em anyway,” I muttered to myself.
I picked up the broom and began sweeping around the tables. But I couldn’t silence the voice echoing in my head – what if someone’s out there? I stared out the glass; the shadows across the patio shifted and swayed with the wind.
What if someone’s trying to rob us? I’m all alone… no weapons, no security system, just an old lock on a glass door.
I shook the thoughts from my head and continued sweeping. I was nearly done, when –
A loud noise, from the back of the pizzeria.
I jumped. “H-hello?” I called, starting to shake. I gripped the broom tight, as if it were a weapon, and stepped forward.
I rounded the corner.
The back door was wide open. The stench of the dumpster in the alley filled the room, along with gusts of cold night air.
But no one was there.
I ran over and shut the door. Then I dragged a chair in front of it, and a stack of empty pizza boxes for good measure.
It’s a windy night. You’re just scaring yourself. I took a deep breath, the mozzarella twirling and sticking under the broom. Just finish cleaning, lock up, and get out of here.
I finished sweeping the back, then walked towards the front of the store –
I jumped and ran to the back door.
It was wide open.
The chair was kicked over. The pizza boxes were wildly strewn about.
But the room was, still, empty.
“That’s it.” I closed the door again and grabbed my coat. Then I ran out of the store, through the shadows, until I reached the familiar cold metal of the car. If he fires me for a dirty floor, so be it. Better than getting murdered over here. I yanked the door open, dove in, and pulled out of the parking space.
As I turned on to the main road, I heard it.
Tap, tap, tap.
A soft clicking sound, above the rush of the car.
Tap, tap, tap.
I tried to ignore it as I drove. But it got louder.
Tap, tap, tap.
It sounded like it was coming from behind me.
Heart pounding, I slowly lifted my eyes to the rearview mirror.
And there, breaking the darkness of the back seats –
Was a man’s face.
I screamed. The car swerved wildly, narrowly missing the gutter. I jolted to a stop, leapt out of the car.
Then I pulled out my phone and called 911.
“911, what’s your emergency?”
“There’s someone in my car! They were trying to get in the pizza shop as I cleaned up, and then – and then –”
I could see, through the window, that the backseat was completely empty.
The next day, I came into work shaken. But Mason only added to that.
“You didn’t finish sweeping the floor before closing up,” he yelled. “This entire half has bits of food, even a dirty toothpick!” He sat down and sighed. “I’ll let it slide this time, but if you do it again, I’m going to fire you.”
“Mason, I’m so sorry – I would’ve cleaned it, but – but –”
He eyed me suspiciously. “I’m not one for excuses. You know that.”
“I know, but I swear, this happened. The front door started opening. I thought someone was there, but nope, no one there. Then, after I locked it, the back door opened! I even put a chair against it, and it opened again!” I looked at him with pleading eyes. “I thought someone was trying to rob the place! And then when I drove home – I swear, Mason, there was someone in the back seat!”
Mason stared at me.
And then he broke into jolly guffaws.
“That’s just old Paulie,” he said.
“Uh – what?”
“The guy who used to run the shop, before he died in ’02. He likes to keep an eye on the place.” Mason shot me a smile. “Especially the new employees.”
Check out Blair Daniels’ critically-acclaimed collection of short scary stories, Shadow on the Stairs: Urban Mysteries and Horror Stories, now available, on Amazon.com.