Unbelievable. Sam tightened his grip on the shopping cart, his left arm bandaged and aching. It’s bad enough she doesn’t care about me, but to just run off and abandon us like this? Unbelievable!

“Daddy,” Maisie tugged furiously at his pocket. “I want Sparkle!”

A woman strolled by, her cart loaded with wine and produce. Poor guy, Sam could almost feel the pity in that cursory dip of her head. His eyes trailed the breezy skip in her step; the deliberate chaos of her pinned hair as she examined a bottle. Oh, what he’d give to cook adventurously and drink wine again! Instead, he was spending his days picking pop-tart crumbs from his daughter’s dark curls, squirting clumsy ketchup hearts on sandwiches and rushing to the store (one-handed, mind you) to purchase the brand new, top-of-the-line, apparently-couldn’t-wait-until-a-more-reasonable-hour Sparkletastic Teddy sale at 10 am. He scowled, scanning the shelves for the damn bears.

SOLD OUT, a creased paper sign declared. Only Sparkletastic XL still in stock! See next aisle.

Sam groaned. He’d always had terrible luck, but honestly — what were the odds?

As he swung his shopping cart around, a flash of colour caught his eye. Sam eyed the bouquets, wondering if he should just abandon his pride, leave Maisie at his parents’ house for the night, and drive down to see Alice. Hear her out. Win her back. Fix this mess.

Before he knew it, he lost his footing, his heart lurching at the sickening sound of sneakers skidding against the floor. He grabbed hold of a shelf with his injured hand and pushed himself upright, ignoring the pain that shot up his side.

CAUTION: Wet Floor! The sign seemed to smirk at him.

“Daddy?” Maisie whined. “Daddy, you’re not listening! I said I want–“

“Yes, pumpkin,” he nodded, exhausted. “The expensive one.” 

A store clerk offered a tight smile, the contempt behind it palpable. What a brat, Sam could practically hear him think. The lights above aisle 16 flickered ever so slightly, casting an unnatural gleam against the eyes of its inanimate inhabitants.

“Big one, Daddy! I want the big teddy!”

Poor girl could do with a mother figure, one customer had the gall to shake her head, her fingers poking through a tub of discounted Avengers stationery. Wow, 40 percent o–

“Well, too bad her mother doesn’t give a damn!” Sam snapped. The woman froze, a Captain America pencil set clattering to the floor.

“Freak,” she hissed, backing away.

“Freak!” Maisie giggled, delighted by the new word.

Sam sighed, wondering what had gotten into him. It had to be the pain medication. Alice had always complained about how that stuff messed with his head.

Alice… 

Images flooded his mind. Dark hair, molten brown eyes, and a smile that could light up heaven. His heart sank.

Alright, so he hadn’t been the greatest husband in the world. He wasn’t much help around the house, and holding down a job had never been easy. He knew Alice had been scouring those property sales apps again, always trying to push him out of town, claiming it was too expensive to live here. Deep down, he’d always known she was lying; skirting an uncomfortable truth they’d long since buried.

“Daddy?”

Of course, he’d tried to explain how he couldn’t leave — even if he wanted to — but the woman never listened! This godforsaken place was his home, and home had a way of calling to even the most determined of wanderers. Sam knew that this town, this thing that anchored him to its beaten tracks and worn foundations, would never let him go.

This is ridiculous, he thought, pulling his jacket tighter with his free hand. Maisie needs her mother. I need my wife! 

Alice would glare at him almost accusingly, as if he wanted to live a life beleaguered by bizarre accidents and mounting bills. This recent one had been a particularly nasty crash. Maybe if she hadn’t ambushed him with that hastily packed suitcase, begging him to take her away… but, no. Alice rarely thought that far ahead.

Amidst the burning resentment swirling in his heart, a small part of him registered the trembling of stainless steel shelves around him. Of ice in the air. The sensation of sharp, pincer-like digits scraping against his arm.

Sam snapped to attention. He glanced at the thing clutching at his shirt.

“Daddy.”

The creature stared back at him with glowing red eyes. Blood drained from Sam’s face as terror restored his memories like a punch to the gut.

“I said,” she growled, baring teeth her father had forgotten existed. “I want…”

Sam crouched instinctively. No, was all he could think as the lights flickered violently overhead. Not again. Not today. Please!

“THE BIG ONE!” It was a scream that could have curdled blood.

Smiling plush toys, sitting primly in their boxes only moments ago, exploded in a haze of colour. Sam moaned, cradling his bandaged arm as a hail of shattered glass rained down upon frightened customers. Unseeing plastic eyeballs strewed the floor, interrupted only by rabid crimson spattered against tufts of snowy white cotton.

For a moment, silence reigned. Then, a voice pierced the stillness. “Daddy?” she called, as sweet and timorous as early spring rain.

“Y-yes, pumpkin,” Sam sputtered as he crawled towards a single, miraculously undamaged box. “I’ve got it right here, see?” Beady black eyes stared at him from within a mass of bright, bubblegum pink fur.

Maisie cocked her head to the side, chewing her lip, incisors retracted. “Can we eat ice-cream for dinner?”

“Of course,” he gulped, still holding the toy. “Let’s just get home first, okay? Careful, honey — watch the glass.”

As he guided his toddler around a sea of dazed humans, Sam nestled the Sparkletastic XL box in the crook of his bandaged arm, his free hand ruffling through his pockets. Shaky fingers closed around a familiar plastic bottle. The deafening thud-thudding of his hammering heart finally slowed to a steady rhythm as he popped two of the little white pills into his mouth, swallowed hard, and—

What on earth? He gaped at his surroundings. Jesus, it looked like a bomb had just gone off!

Sam pulled out his cellphone, dialling the digits instinctively. Boy, he’d been in one too many accidents lately.

What were the odds?


Inspired by my disdain for brands that market toys as ‘sparkletastic’. Lazy portmanteaux = the real evil.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

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