“You two know why you’re here,” the Manager said, his eyes moving quickly behind his glasses.
Cort eyed Brayden and then the mop in his hand. “To clean?”
“Very observant. You’re going to be cleaning the mess you made running from security.”
“We wouldn’t’ve had to if someone hadn’t gotten a conscience and made us get caught,” Brayden grumbled.
“I didn’t grow a conscience. You’re the one who couldn’t keep his mouth shut. We could’ve been home by now with what we planned on taking, moron,” Cort said, shoving Brayden angrily.
Brayden retaliated by punching his arm. “Now we don’t have anything and we’re stuck working for this shithead! Why the hell did you freeze back there anyway?”
“I already told you, I saw something. There was something under that desk.”
“You just saw a rat, you idiot!” Brayden punched Cort’s arm again.
Dropping his mop, Cort hit Brayden back. “Don’t hit me.”
“I can hit you all I want, asshole.” Brayden grabbed Cort and slammed him against the wall.
Hands grabbed both of them and roughly pulled them apart. “Shut up! If you don’t, I’ll call the police and send both of you to jail.”
“Then do it, shithead,” Brayden yelled.
“Enough! You’re going to clean up the mess you made first. Yves!”
An old man with white hair came out of the janitor closet with a mop bucket filled with water. His pale green eyes moved slowly from face to face. “These the two troublemakers?”
“Take these two with you and have them clean up every speck of lint. If they cause any trouble, call the police.” He released the two and headed for the manager’s office.
“Yes, sir.” The old man waited for the Manager to disappear through the door before turning back to Cort and Brayden. “Follow me, boys, and don’t forget your mops.”
* * *
The silence in the aisle was interrupted only by the sound of grunts as Cort and Brayden moved up and down floor. Yves leaned against a bookshelf, watching with a bored expression.
Cort hesitated when he mopped the floor in front of the desk. He stared at the old wood in silence. He saw something…didn’t he?
“Is something wrong?” Yves said, appearing next to him.
“What’s going on with this desk?”
“What do you mean?”
“It doesn’t really fit in with everything else in this store.”
Placing a wrinkled hand on the wood, Yves released a long sigh. “I donated it. Been trying to get rid of it for a while now. It doesn’t exactly work anymore and I thought I might get some good money for it.”
A loud crash forced Cort’s attention away from the desk. Brayden glared at him, his mop lying on the floor. “You two done? Cause I sure as hell am. I’m out of here.”
“We can’t leave until we finish cleaning,” Cort said.
“Or what? That shithead’s going to call the police on us? We’ll be long gone before he realizes we left. He didn’t even get our names or anything.”
“You’re forgetting me, you brat,” Yves grumbled.
Brayden stormed over to the two and grabbed Cort’s mop, throwing it at the desk. It fell harmlessly to the floor. “Come on, man. Let’s get out of here.”
“No. He didn’t ask our names, but he’s got us on video. You really think the police can’t ID us? With our records?” Cort leaned down to grab his mop, glancing under the desk.
He didn’t expect to see two yellow eyes staring back at him. Realizing he could see them, the eyes disappeared as though the owner turned away.
“Earth to Cort. You going to stay like that all night?”
“There’s something there.”
“What? Oh, no. Not again, man.”
Standing straight, Cort glared at his friend. “I’m telling you, there’s something alive under there.”
“Yeah, a rat. R-A-T, rat.”
“You saw something under there?” Yves said, grabbing Cort’s arm. “What did you see?”
Wincing at the strong grip on his arm, Cort shook his head. “I don’t know. I don’t know what it was, but it was bigger than a stupid rat!” He aimed the last part at Brayden, throwing his mop.
“Watch where you throw that, asshole!”
Grabbing the back of Cort’s shirt, Yves shoved him down to the floor. “Look again and tell me what you see.”
“Hey, what the hell are you doing?” Brayden rushed forward to free Cort, but Yves easily threw him off. “What do you see?”
“Let me go! I don’t see anything!” Cort struggled against Yves, but couldn’t break free. He peered under the desk and saw something unexpected. “Wait! There’s something there. It looks like…a tunnel?”
Where the underside of the desk should’ve been, a strange tunnel opened. At the far end he could see buildings, a city.
“What do you see at the end of the tunnel?” Yves demanded.
“A city? It looks like a city.”
Yves released Cort and whooped loudly. He pounded his hands on the desk and laughed excitedly.
Brayden stared at the crazy old man for a second before crawling over to Cort. He placed his head next to Cort’s to peek beneath the desk.
“Holy shit, what is that?”
“It’s the way home,” Yves said, triumphantly. “It’s finally opened back up.”
Cort and Brayden glanced up at him. “Home?” They both said at the same time.
Yves grabbed Cort and pulled him to his feet, embracing him in a hug. “That’s right and I have you to thank. Without you this wouldn’t have been possible.”
A strange figure appeared in the middle of the tunnel and slowly moved towards Brayden.
“What’s that thing looking at us?” Brayden asked, loudly.
Without answering, Yves held Cort in from top him at arm’s length. “Somehow you opened the way back. I’ve been trapped here for years. Now, I can go home.”
The dark figure placed a hand on the floor outside of the strange tunnel. Brayden sat up and scooted back. “Yves!”
“What are you talking about? What is that place under there?” Cort asked, oblivious to Brayden’s concerned voice.
“A portal back to my world. I was banished and trapped here, but now that it’s reopened I can finally go home!”
The dark figure reached for Brayden, its body crossing through the portal easily. Brayden screamed and tried to stand, but his foot stepped on Cort’s forgotten mop and he crashed into Yves. The two fell back from the desk, clear of the dark figure’s reach.
Cort, however, was in the perfect position for the figure to grab. The hand tightened around his ankle and before he could react, he fell to the ground, slowly being dragged under the desk.
“Help me!” Cort screamed, trying to grab for anything.
Yves grabbed Cort’s right arm as Brayden grabbed his left. The two managed to stop Cort halfway under the desk. His feet were already through the portal and the figure grabbed his other ankle with its free hand.
Placing his feet on the desk, Brayden strained to keep hold of his friend. “What is that thing?”
“A Twilight Hunter,” Yves said, familiarity mixed with a hint of excitement filling his voice. “It’s mistaken your friend for me.”
“How the hell did that happen?”
“Twilight Hunters don’t see things like us. Since your friend had been close to me, it couldn’t tell which of us was the real me.”
Pulling against them in an attempt to free himself, Cort glared at the two. “Stop chatting and help me.”
“Oh no,” Yves said, his eyes staring past Cort.
“Oh no? What, oh no?”
Brayden followed Yves’ gaze. “Oh no.”
“What, goddamn it?”
“That’s good, isn’t it? That thing will let me go then, right?”
“Hunters never let go of their prey.”
Brayden pulled Cort harder. “Then let’s get him out of there before it closes on him.”
“This is my only chance to get home,” Yves whispered, barely audible to Cort.
“What the hell is going on here?” A voice boomed.
All three turned their heads. The Manager stood at the end of the aisle, his red face growing darker. “What the hell are you doing to that desk?”
“Of course that shithead’s gotta show up now,” Brayden said, angrily.
Yves locked eyes with Cort and he realized what the old man was going to say. “I’m sorry. I’m not missing my chance to go home.”
Knocking Brayden’s legs down from the desk, Yves released Cort. With only Brayden holding on, the Twilight Hunter pulled harder. Yves kicked Cort in the chest, breaking Brayden’s hold on him. Cort was dragged into the portal, followed closely by Yves, who grabbed Brayden and pulled him in, too.