About 10 years ago, I was hired on
as a part-time employee for the holiday months at a locally-owned toy store.
For the sake of the story and anonymity, I’ll call it Kelly’s Toys. I was
attending college and needed a part-time job. The manager took a liking to my
dry humor and my people skills. The job was surprisingly stressful, however. I
honestly had not anticipated how busy the store could actually get during the
holidays. Needless to say, time flew. It was now the beginning of January, and
my manager asked me to stick around as a permanent employee. I reluctantly
accepted. The place had grown on me.
worked a closing shift to accommodate my daytime classes. This meant I had to
stick around after the store closed to re-shelf the disorganized clutter from
throughout the day, take inventory of the back stock and lock up before going
home. The store was pretty big, obviously not Toys-R-Us size or anything but
substantial for a locally-owned toy store. I began to despise the little kids
that ran around the store and threw toys around the aisles during the day. I thought,
maybe I hated their parents more for not disciplining them.
was a Thursday night and the kids had been particularly obnoxious today. The
action figures and toy guns aisle was always the worst. There were Nerf darts
and toy rifles all over the place. My co-worker Andrew took the P.A. microphone
off its hook from the back office and announced that Kelly’s was now closed,
and people needed to make their final purchases and leave the store.
two cashiers from the front let me and Andrew know they were taking off and
that all the customers had left the store. We begrudgingly began our nightly
routine of straightening up the store. Andrew grabbed a stack of books and
started walking to the books section to re-shelf them. I headed in the
direction of the greeting cards, avidly avoiding the dreaded guns and action
figures aisle. As I walked past the front windows of the store, a loud pounding
on the glass made me jump out of my skin.
woman stood outside the store with a frantic look on her face. She was clad in
a long black overcoat and stocking cap, holding her wallet and clenching her
teeth against the cold night air. I could see her breath puffing out in little
wisps. I heard her shout, “My son is still in the store!”
gave her a puzzled look and shouted back, “That’s impossible! We’re
closed!” But this woman… she stared at me frantically, waiting for me to
search the store. I shouted across the aisles to the other side of the store to
“Hey, are there any customers in here?” I could hear Andrew
laughing from the books section near the back of the store.
looked back at the woman and threw her a shrugging motion. I lipped out ‘Sorry’
to the woman, who, with a defeated look, turned and walked towards the parking
lot and disappeared past the sterile light of nearby streetlamps.
hour later, Andrew and I were getting close to finishing our closing tasks.
Like well-oiled machines, we worked from the front to the back of the store
autonomously, not speaking much in the process. Midnight rolled around. At
Kelly’s, the lights were programmed on a timer, which was set to automatically
shut off at 12:00 AM. Normally nobody would be in the store at midnight, but
the holiday hours had the store open an hour later than normal, closing at
11:00 instead of 10:00. Since the store had been unusually busy today, things
took a bit longer than expected.
lights snapped off in the store, leaving me and Andrew standing in the dark. I
sighed and struggled to make out my surroundings in the store. I could see parking
lot lights filtering in from the front of the store but wasn’t enough to
penetrate further than halfway to the back of the store.
Then, I heard
footsteps on the other side of the toy guns aisle. I called out to Andrew, who
would have been closer to the light controls, but there was no response. I
turned the corner and squinted, hoping my eyes would adjust to the darkness. It
appeared that nobody was there. I called out again, only louder this time. This
time Andrew called back, but his voice was all the way back in the puzzles and
board games section, which was easily fifty feet in the opposite direction.
felt my stomach knot up and I held my breath. In the darkness, all I heard was
the pounding of my heart. It slammed over and over into my eardrums. As my head
leveled out and my rational mind took over again, I realized it. The kid. That
kid must actually be in the store after all. I suddenly felt angry at the
sneaky kid, so I spoke into the blackness: “Hey kid. You can’t be in here. Your
mom is looking for you.” Silence answered back.
was a clattering of plastic discs as a pile of Frisbees fell off a shelf a few
aisles away. I clenched my fists and ran in that direction, more confident now
as my eyes had adjusted to the darkness. I charged around the corner and saw
the discs on the floor. At the end of the aisle I just barely caught a glimpse
of a figure running toward the back storage room and employee lounge. I smiled
to myself because the employee-only area was locked with a combination keypad.
The kid would be trapped in the back corner of the store.
kid, the store is closed,” I spoke firmly. “Come out, right now.”
my surprise, the door to the employee lounge was propped open with a mop
bucket. My fear crept back into my mind as I stood outside the door hesitantly.
“Hey, Andrew! Come over here!” I shouted, loudly enough to be heard through the
whole store. But Andrew didn’t answer.
was possible that Andrew had entered the maintenance hallway in the back corner
of the store, which was where the box was located to flip the lights back on.
It required a key to open. Andrew had the only key between the two of us. I
took solace in the idea that he was getting the lights back on, and waited a
few more moments before a loud crash startled me off my feet. The crash came
from the front of the store. It sounded like a shopping cart had been tipped
over. I turned and ran to the front of the store and looked around, and found a
single cart on its side in the middle of the checkout area. I scanned around
until another noise startled me again. It was a pounding on the glass again. I
looked up and it was the mother, from earlier.
ran over to the window, hoping I did not look as frantic as I felt at that
moment. The mother was holding a cellphone and shouting something. She said
with a voice muffled by half an inch of safety glass: “I found him! He hitched
a ride from a friend! Sorry about that!” My heart sunk to the floor and my
mouth went dry. I looked into the darkness of the store behind me and it seemed
to swallow all the light around me.
“An….drew…” I managed to choke out. The
silence in the store was now deafening. I took a step forward and bumped into a
candy display. A case of Tic-Tac boxes crashed to the floor, echoing through
stood on the line drawn on the floor by the parking lot streetlamps, unable to
pass the threshold into darkness, into the back end of the store. Andrew was
still missing and I honestly was not sure what to do. Eventually I gathered a
little courage and took a step back into the darkness of the store. I walked
back to the employee lounge, calling Andrew’s name. The door was now closed and
the mop bucket was spilled out across the floor. I stopped at the door to the
storeroom, which was now open.
stepped into the storeroom and was greeted by the cool, stale air. I could hear
a box moving around near the back of the room. I stepped on something, maybe a
fallen broom handle and I stumbled. There was a sound. Someone – or something
was climbing the shelves in the back end of the room. A moment later, the
lights in Kelly’s suddenly came back on. My eyes took a second to adjust to the
sudden brightness. There was nothing there, except a few distraught boxes, and
a jump rope, hanging off one shelf near the ceiling, swinging gently as it if
were recently disturbed.
vent cover (which was easily ten feet off the ground) hung open and I could see
blackness inside the ventilation system. There was no noise anymore in the
room… just the gentle whoosh of the central heating system trickling warm air
from the open vent. As I stepped out of the storeroom, Andrew came running up,
out of breath. “Hey man, thanks for switching the lights back on, dude.”
looked at Andrew with a blank stare. I then decided I was no longer interested
in who or what was in the store. I wanted to get as far away from Kelly’s as
humanly possible. We closed the store, locked the doors, and walked to our
I resigned from the store the
following day. I wanted to focus more on my studies, and at this point, I had a
perfect excuse. To this day I am still baffled by what I saw and heard that
night. And I really cannot explain what truly happened. I am confident there is
a logical explanation for what I experienced, and how the lights came back on.
I just don’t know what it is.