The darkest hour in a day is 4:00 AM. Being an opener at Starbucks had familiarized me with that. The new
Starbucks that I was transferring to was in an outdoor strip mall in a small town North of Los Angeles called
Simi Valley. It took me thirty minutes to get there from my two bedroom apartment in the neighboring city of
Northridge. It only took so long because it was built at the top of a very large hill, a little out of the way and
inconvenient, I thought, to have much business, but apparently the closest mall to Simi Valley had been a good
deal away until this one popped up. There were several Starbucks closer to where I lived, and by several I
mean one on every corner, but I was offered a slight pay raise to work at this new store. Apparently they were
understaffed, and a bit desperate.
I pulled into the huge Simi Valley Town Center parking lot at 3:50 AM. This store had only been open for three
weeks. It was dark as hell outside and no other cars were in the lot yet, except for a white pick-up truck filled
with construction scraps. Apparently the mall was not quite finished. The sign said “Opening October 1st.”
Considering it was already the twenty-second I thought it was odd that there was still a need for touch-ups.
Since the mall was placed on the top of a hill, a layer of fog floated on the eerily empty lot. It seemed thicker
than any fog I had ever experienced, almost like smoke. I looked at the clock inside my car. 4:07. Someone
should have been here by now. I began to think maybe that construction truck really belonged to a Starbucks
employee and that I was going to clock in late on my first day at a new store. That just could not be allowed.
I got out of my car, saw a shadow briskly approaching me, and got right back in. I locked the doors and stared
as hard as I could to try to make out who or what this figure was. My pulse quickened as the figure broke
through the haze. A tall man wearing black pants, a dark gray sweatshirt, and navy blue jacket came right up
to my window.
He had a five o’ clock shadow and a football player’s physique, tall and bulky. His eyes were squinty, and his
face was damp with moisture from the air. He motioned for me to roll down my window. I glanced around to see
if anyone else from Starbucks had arrived yet. The fog was so thick I could barely see three rows over. I
turned my attention back to the tall dark man. I rolled my window down a quarter of an inch.
“Can I help you?” I said towards the crack in my window.
He peered into my truck, past me, and seemed to be looking for something before he spoke.
“How you doin’?” he asked. His voice seemed friendly enough, not monotonous and not threatening. Still, I
couldn’t help feeling uncomfortable with the way he studied the interior of my truck.
“I just wanted to let you know you can’t be parkin’ here. We’re plannin’ on tearin’ up some ground just under
you. Would you mind movin’ a few rows over?” He said the words slowly, and had a mischievous smile as he
talked. His thick black eyebrows wrinkled in his squint.
“How many rows do you think? Because I work at the Starbucks and I don’t want to be too far…” I was
explaining but the man cut me off.
“You work at Starbucks? Is that what that green apron is on the floor? This Starbucks doesn’t open until 5:00,
you aware of that?” He glanced at his watch as he said this. Under the dark black hairs of his arm, I noticed a
thick pink line of raised skin across his hand about four inches long. That was a hell of a scar. We made eye
contact for the first time. Even in the heavy fog, I could see the darkness of his eyes. The pupil couldn’t be
distinguished from the rest of his eye. It scared me.
“You should probably go home, come back in a little bit. That way I could get some work done, and you don’t
have to sit here for an hour.”
I broke our gaze and nodded my head, even though I was completely unaware of what he had just told me. I
did not look at him, and he stood there, leaning on my truck window, a dark figure that blocked all other
thoughts. After what seemed like forever, he realized I wasn’t planning on leaving and he said through the
window crack, “A couple rows oughtta do it,” and he made his way back into the fog.
I moved my truck and picked at the small breakfast I had brought myself. I then picked up my cell phone. More
than anything, I wanted to appear busy. I kept picturing Mr. Black Eyes returning with a crowbar and smashing
in my window. If he saw me on my phone, he could not harm me. At least, that’s what I told myself.
I automatically dialed my fiancé Matthew. He picked up after three rings and whispered, “Baby, you’re the one
who chooses to wake up this early. Why make me?” Just hearing him calmed my nerves and slowed my
breathing down to normal. More than anything I wanted to be snuggled in our new bed in our new apartment.
“I know, I’m sorry. I just got to this new mall way too early so I have nothing to do and then this creepy guy
came and told me to move my car and I got a little paranoid and I just wanted to call you.” I caught my own
hazel green eyes in my rearview mirror and smiled at my ridiculousness. Mr. Black Eyes was just a construction
worker. He hadn’t posed any real threat at all.
“Well, I’m glad to be of service. Did you get the breakfast?” Matthew half whispered, half-croaked out the
question. I laughed at his early morning logic, or lack thereof.
“You mean did I bring breakfast? Yes, I have a banana and half an English muffin. I ate that before I called
you. Maybe when you wake-up you can come visit me at my new store.”
“Are you okay babe? You really sound kinda shaky. I was gonna get up in about an hour anyway to go jogging.
I’ll try to come by after my run. What’s the exit again?”
As I was talking, I saw headlights through the fog and checked my clock again. 4:25. “Okay, someone else just
got here. I’m sorry I woke you up. I really am okay. You know how I get. I’m off at noon so if you can’t make it
I’ll see you at home. Love you.” I hung up and got out of my car just as a white Cherokee jeep pulled up next
to me. A tall thin man with curly blonde hair and a friendly smile got out. He had a young, pretty face, but I
pegged him at about thirty, thirty-two.
“Hi, I’m Randall. You’re early.” He extended his hand to me. I took it. His skin was surprisingly soft.
“Hi Randall, I’m Brianne, and yes, I am early.” I gave him the cheesy smile I reserve for meeting new people. He
cut through the fog and headed towards the mall. I fell in step behind him.
“Is it always foggy like this?” I asked him. When we had gotten inside I was relieved to see the layout of the
store. It was exactly like my old store. This would be a piece of cake.
“Yes, every day since we opened it’s been like this. That, and the fact that we’re way up on this hill really
keeps early morning business away. It’s a pain in the you-know-what. But supposedly they’re building
apartments up behind this mall. When those are completed, this fog won’t be able to do a darn-tootin thing.”
When Randall made that comment, there was something in his voice, maybe it was the high pitch, which
sounded homosexual to me. I had a bad habit of judging people right away.
“Speaking of early morning, nobody told me this store opened half an hour later than normal stores.”
“Oh, well that’s not very nice, is it?” Randall gave me a sympathetic smile. “We might as well open at ten when
the rest of the mall opens. The only customers we get before then are the security officers, but even they don’
t get here this early. There’s this one security guard who gets here really early to unlock the doors, but then I
think he goes down to get some donuts.” He laughed at the thought.
“I think I saw his truck in the parking lot,” I said, feeling even sillier about my fear.
“Really? I didn’t see a truck. Must have been the fog,” Randall looked a little flustered, but I wasn’t really
paying attention to him.
“Probably,” I said, absent-mindedly while I began unloading the boxes of pastries.
“Brianne you have great hair. Is it naturally red?” Randall asked, one hand on his hip. Maybe I didn’t judge too
“Yeah. It’s brownish red. My mom has red hair.”
“But I bet it’s not naturally perfectly curly like that,” Randall teased.
I laughed. “Actually it’s not. I need anti-frizz and a whole lotta gel to make these curls.”
“Well, it’s fabulous.”
I thanked him as I set up a pastry tray full of oozing raspberry peach muffins. I grabbed the extra-large knife
we used to cut up the coffee cake and finished the task at hand. When that was done, I took the full trash
bag in to the back room. Our oversized trashcan in the back was overflowing already.
“Randall, the closers didn’t take the trash out last night,” I hollered out to the front of the store.
“Yeah, they never do. Closers are so damn lazy! They think because we don’t have many customers in the
morning that we can just pick up their GOD damn slack all the time,” he huffed and puffed as he made his way
to the back and glared at the trashcan.
“I’ll take it out, don’t worry. Where are the dumpsters that we use?” I tried to comfort my angry new boss.
“Oh, it’s kinda complicated. You’re gonna go out the front door, take a left, and around the corner there’s a big
set of gray double doors. Go through those, and go down the hallway until you get to the other double doors.
Once you go through those, you’ll be back outside and there’s a giant brown dumpster. Don’t use the green
one, that’s for recycle only. Make sure you turn on the compacter once you’re done dumping. We get in trouble
all the time for forgetting to do that.”
I repeated his directions back to him to make sure I had it right and then set off. The second I was outside I
regretted my generous offer. It was unnaturally quiet and the fog had not yet burned off. I found the big set of
double doors and opened them. A long narrow hallway stretched out before me. At least it was pretty well-lit
and there was no fog. As I walked slowly down the hall, dragging the dripping trashcan behind me, I noticed
familiar store names on the doors. I figured this was the garbage route for the entire mall. The thought of all
those empty stores on the other side of the wall made me uncomfortable. I started picturing Mr. Black Eyes
again, imagining him crashing through one of the doors with a chainsaw. My heart beat faster and I picked up
my pace to get to the other side of the hall.
I reached the double doors and pushed through. I was in an outdoor courtyard with two big dumpsters. This
area was not well-lit. I could hardly distinguish which one was green and which one was brown through the
fog. I opened a little side door of the brown dumpster and started unloading the bags. When I was done, I
closed the door and pressed the “Start” button on the side. An incredibly loud bang initiated the compacting
and made me jump. It was a lot louder than I thought it would be. Irritating and sinister. It was like six different
screams in six different octaves, mixed with a loud vibration. I stood in awe as the cycle finished. I shook
myself out of the trance and turned around, bumping right in to the chest of Mr. Black Eyes.
A miniature scream sounded from my mouth and I was tempted to run away when he laughed. His laugh was
airy and squeaky, like my Uncle Joey’s laugh when he’s had too much to drink at Christmas. My heart pounded
in my ears and I slowly backed away until I felt the cold steel of the recycle dumpster on the back of my neck.
He continued laughing until he finally caught his breath and said, “Didn’t mean to scare ya.” He took a step
towards me and I snapped out of it.
“That’s okay,” I said loudly, making sure if anyone was around they would hear me. He kept coming towards
me, so I grabbed the now empty trashcan, turned and walked briskly towards the doors, glancing over my
shoulder at him. He didn’t follow; he was just studying the dumpsters with those eyebrows cinched up again. I
opened the double doors and continued through the creepy hallway, vowing to never take the trash out at this
store again. Then I heard the double doors open again and slam shut fifty feet behind me.
I looked over my shoulder and saw to my horror that Mr. Black Eyes was following me. His arms weighted down
with that thick, navy blue jacket swung surprisingly quickly at his side. He yelled “Hey!” and then he started to
jog. I let go of the trashcan. I ran. I knew how stupid and inappropriate it looked, but I didn’t care. I burst
through the double doors to the other side and ran into Starbucks.
Randall looked up, shocked and concerned.
“Are you okay?” he asked me, rushing to my side.
“Lock the front door,” I managed to get out through my panting.
“Brianne, what happened?” Randall asked me, pulling out his store keys but not moving towards the door.
“LOCK THE FRONT DOOR,” I yelled at him, “I’m being followed.”
Randall ran to the front door, which was made of glass, and locked it. He stood at it, looking through it, trying
to break through the fog and see my follower.
I started crying. I let myself fall to the floor and just kept crying in to my knees.
“Brianne you’re freaking me out. Is this a Halloween trick? ‘Cause it’s not funny. What the hell is going on?
There’s no one out there,” Randall said sternly.
“There was some guy who was here when I got here. I thought he was a construction worker ‘cause he told
me to move my car. And then he was at the dumpsters when I got there but he didn’t have any trash…” I was
ridiculously embarrassed. I was terrified. I wanted to go home.
Randall walked over to me and helped me to my feet. He put his arm around me and walked me to the back. He
told me to sit down at the manager’s desk and take my time gaining my composure.
“You said there was a truck in the parking lot this morning?” Randall asked me.
“A white truck?”
I nodded again.
“The man you saw, did he have black eyes?” he asked me, his voice suddenly wavering. The question turned
my stomach into a block of ice. I looked up at him through my blurred vision and nodded a third time.
Suddenly Randall was a mess. He ran out to the front of the store and I vaguely heard him making a phone call.
He sounded squeaky and he was talking really fast. Then he ran back to me. He was breathing hard and he had
drops of sweat forming on his brow.
“You know him, Randall?”
“His name is Jason. He was my boyfriend. I broke up with him almost nine months ago and he attacked me.”
Randall lifted his shirt and I saw a dark pink scar contrasted on his pale stomach. “He punched through a
window of my apartment in the middle of the night and stabbed me with a piece of the broken glass. He’s
crazy, like, in the literal sense. I thought they locked him up.”
“Shit,” I sounded like a robot while I recalled the scar on the man’s arm. I was suddenly very dizzy.
“I called mall security, but as I thought they aren’t back yet. So I called the Simi police and they said could be
here in…” Randall was cut off by the sound of shattered glass.
We both jumped to our feet. Randall grabbed a box cutter off the desk and told me to stay behind him. I
glanced around for a weapon of my own. Where was that knife I was using to cut the pastries?
“Randy!” A voice called out. Randall pushed me further into the back room. He whispered for me to try to hide
myself among the boxes. I nodded and looked around for the biggest box we had. That’s when I heard him
I whipped back around and Randall was nowhere. I heard a struggle in the front of the store, grunts and high
pitched screams. The screams stopped. Then Jason’s dark figure stepped in to the back room.
I had no weapon and I had nowhere to hide. Jason held the huge pastry knife, as well as my gaze. He slowly
stepped toward me and, as he got closer, I saw the blood glinting on the knife. Either blood, or raspberry
muffin filling. I prayed it was the muffin.
“PLEASE!” I screamed, he swung at me with the knife, grazing my neck, then backhanded me, and everything
I came to with a tremendous headache, and the floor was moving. I quickly realized the floor was not moving,
but I was being dragged across it, leaving a little trail of blood behind. I tried to turn my head, but I was jarred
by the pain. I then recognized my surroundings. Narrow hallway. Cement walls. Jason had me by the hair and
was dragging me toward the second pair of double doors. But why me? I slowly realized that I was the only
witness to a murder, and there was no one else around.
“HELP!” I screamed the second we burst in to the courtyard. In the background of my scream, I heard six
different screams, coming from the compactor. I didn’t understand why that was on. Jason lifted me by my hair
and stood me on my feet, only to backhand me again, causing me to fall to my hands and knees.
“No one can hear you!” he yelled. He laughed in that sick, alcoholic way and then joined me in my screaming.
He did not make any words, just screamed in between laughs. He threw his head back and let animal noises
loose from his throat. I couldn’t get to my feet and I could hardly see anything. I pressed my hand to the sting
in my neck, feeling warmth and slightly sticky moisture. Jason opened the door to the garbage bin and grabbed
me by the hair again.
I screamed hysterically when I realized his intentions and began kicking as hard as I could. He hit the red
button that made the compactor stop, just long enough to throw me in. As I landed I turned to plead with him
one more time. His black eyes stared directly in to mine, and he closed the door, smiling, shutting me into
I screamed and I screamed. My hand landed in something wet, and when I looked I could barely make out the
face of Randall. I had put my hand in his dead mouth. I gagged and wretched with vomit. Then I heard the loud
bang and felt the vibration.
The vibration stopped as soon as it had started. I kept screaming, half hearing the vibration ringing in my ears
even though it had stopped. I imagined my dead face right next to Randall’s, and then the door opened.
“BREE?” Matthew yelled in to the opening. He was holding the pastry knife, and he had blood smeared all over
his hands, face, and chest.
He threw the knife on the ground, reached through the opening, and grabbed my wrist. I allowed him to pull me
through. When I was out I collapsed in to his arms, sobbing. Over his shoulder I saw Mr. Black Eyes, twisted
awkwardly on the ground in a pool of blood. Matthew squeezed me and started crying.
He managed to whisper, “What if I had gone on my run? What if I hadn’t come?” We clung to each other for
several more minutes when three police officers burst through the double doors. The fog had just started to
|In the Fog
by Shannon Leigh