“Finish up the dressing rooms before you go, okay, hon?” Barb shrugged on her puffy winter jacket, then flipped her hair out from under the collar. “And don’t forget to lock up.”
“Yep, will do,” Claire nodded. She poked a dress into a rack of identical outfits. “Good luck with your date. Don’t get murdered.”
A bell chimed, signaling Barb’s exit. Claire shivered as a gust of winter wind swirled through the store. She racked the last dress, then headed over to lock the door. Outside, shoppers hustled past with their last-minute Christmas purchases, bowing their heads against the blowing snow.
Suddenly, a dark figure crashed into the glass. Claire jumped back, a small scream escaping her lips. The door rattled in its frame as the figure grabbed the handle, seemingly trying to force his way inside. Claire darted forward, turned the lock with a heavy clunk, then quickly backed away. “We’re closed!” she yelled, her voice shaking.
The figure held up a hand in apology. It was a middle-aged man in a dark overcoat. He had lost his footing on the ice and had grabbed the door for balance. The man mouthed the word “sorry,” then continued slipping and sliding down the sidewalk until he was out of view.
“No problem!” Claire called with a overly-cheery smile. “Thanks for freaking me out!”
She exhaled, willing her heart rate to return to normal. She hated closing the store alone. During the day, the place was lively and crowded, with pulsating music thumping through the overhead speakers. At night, it filled with a sinister silence, broken only by the hiss of hot water whispering through the exposed pipes overhead.
The building was a nineteenth-century brownstone that had once housed a religious school. According to Barb, the school had been shuttered in the 1960s when the diocese discovered that the nuns had been torturing the children: cutting them with razors, beating them with metal rods, burning them with hot irons. You know, usual nun stuff. Claire didn’t know if the stories were true, but they certainly helped reinforce the store’s upscale goth brand. The place derived its name—Konfession—from the school’s original confessionals, which had since been converted into dressing rooms in the back of the store. Each room had a tall, narrow door with an upside-down cross on it, along with a number hand-painted in bold, blood-red brushstrokes. Goth girls loved that shit.
Claire’s final task for the night was to re-rack the abandoned outfits left in each dressing room. It was no big deal, for the first six.
But then, there was Dressing Room Seven.
Seven was always freezing, and it smelled like something had died in there. Claire had complained about the stench, but the landlord insisted there was nothing he could do. He said it was probably a dead rat trapped inside the wall. Given the history of the place, Claire wondered if it was something else. Something worse.
Claire pulled Seven’s door closed with a click. She didn’t like it being open behind her while she worked. She felt like she was being watched.
With Seven locked up, she went into Dressing Room One, gathered an armful of clothes, then carried them out into the store. She gasped.
The door to Seven was wide open.
“Goddamnit.” She closed Seven’s door again, tugging on it to make sure it was latched. Then she began re-racking the clothes from One.
As she hung a pair of leather pants, a long squeak pierced the silence. Claire turned her head. The door to Seven was slowly creeping open.
“Hello?” she called.
Purposefully ignoring Seven’s open door, she finished hanging the last few outfits from One, then headed back to retrieve more. As she passed Seven—WHAM!—the door slammed shut.
What the fuck? Claire grabbed a broomstick from the wall nearby and began moving toward Seven, holding the stick out defensively in front of her. Her heart pounded in her chest.
As she approached Seven, the door unlatched by itself. Claire nudged it with the broomstick. It swung open. Freezing air drew a cold finger across her face.
Claire relaxed, suddenly feeling silly. The room was empty. There was nothing in there but a small black dress hanging on the back wall. Claire eyed the dress curiously. It didn’t look like one they sold in the store. They didn’t carry kid-sized clothes.
As Claire reached for the dress, Seven’s door swung shut behind her. She spun around, nearly screaming as she found herself face to face with … herself. She laughed in relief. Her reflection in the mirror on the back of the door laughed along with her.
Behind her, the child in the black dress laughed too.
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