Warning! This is a horror/dark fiction story so may be disturbing to some. There is strong language and sexual situations.
Reno, Nevada – The Following Spring
“It’s just a damn shame,” said the checker at the counter of the Raley’s drug and supermart. She was a middle-aged woman with harshly dyed red hair and a freckled complexion and she had been griping to the customer–as she did to everyone unlucky enough to have selected her counter from the fourteen available in the store–about the skyrocketing cost of real estate in the Washoe Valley.
Her customer, a well-dressed man in his thirties smiled indulgently. A lifelong resident of the city, he had heard this same complaint voiced many times before by his parents and their friends. “Well,” he said reasonably, “the city set out to attract industry from California. The industry came for the low taxes, the clean air and because we have almost no crime. The new people came with the industry and that drove up property values.”
“Well, there’s too damn many of them if you ask me,” grumbled the checker. “Reno isn’t what it used to be. I remember when you could get a steak dinner with all the trimmings for two dollars at any casino in town. Now they’re all charging restaurant prices.” She jammed his purchases into a plastic bag and handed him his change. “I’m seriously thinking about pulling up stakes and moving to Montana,” she said in a threatening tone.
“Montana is nice,” he said, scooping up his bag and winking at the attractive young woman in dark glasses who had been waiting patiently in line behind him. She smiled and he started to say something more to her, then noticed the obvious swelling about her abdomen as she stepped from behind her shopping cart and began piling groceries on the conveyer. Too bad, he thought, giving her a final glance and walking away past the banks of gleaming slot machines toward the front doors. She really was beautiful.
“Well now,” said the garrulous checker, sizing up the new customer. “Looks like you’ll soon be in the market for diapers.” She lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “You didn’t hear this from me, but we’re having a big sale on the disposable kind next week. I’d get in here and stock up if I were you.”
“Thank you,” smiled the young woman, “but I’ve heard that the disposable diapers are bad for the environment. My husband and I plan on using the old fashioned cotton ones.”
The checker was plainly insulted. “The environment, huh? That’s what the politicians always say when they want to keep people from doing things these days. Do you know they had the gall to send a man around to tell me I couldn’t burn scrap wood in my fireplace this last winter? Damned environmental freaks and outside activists are ruining this country.”
The young woman said nothing and the checker began angrily ringing up her purchases. “Honey,” she said when she had passed eight identical cans over the electronic bar code reader set in the counter before her, “it’s none of my business, but this stuff isn’t for you, is it?”
The young woman nodded. “Yes, it’s very good…”
“Honey,” the checker clucked her tongue and shook her head disapprovingly, “not for someone in your condition. What you need is red meat.”
“This agrees very well with me,” said the young woman, picking up one of the cans of total nutrition diet drink and pointing to the label. “It contains all the vitamins and protein recommended by the government for a complete balanced diet.”
“Whatever,” grumped the clerk. She packed the cans into a bag and looked up at the young woman again. “Say, can I ask you a question? Why do you wear them dark glasses indoors?” she continued without waiting for an answer. I should think it’d give you a headache.”
The young woman smiled and removed the glasses, exposing her eyes. “See now, isn’t that better?” said the checker. “My, you’ve got such gorgeous green eyes, its just a shame to cover them up.”
“I’ll tell you a secret,” said the young woman, leaning closer and lowering her voice to a whisper “My eyes aren’t really green at all. I’m wearing blue contacts.”
The startled checker peered closely into her sparkling eyes. “My word,” she said. “I never would have suspected.”
“Very few people do,” she smiled. “In fact, no one.”
The checker watched her walk past the slots and step into the bright May sunshine, pausing to put on her sunglasses. A gleaming Honda Accord pulled to the curb and a dark-skinned youth hurried to open the door for her. She looked up into the eyes of her next customer, a grizzled man whose baggy tweed suit marked him as a professor from the university. “That’s the trouble with Reno these days,” the checker said pointing her chin in the direction of the automobile, “too many damned smart aleck outsiders.”
The grizzled man watched the young woman step into the car, then smiled apologetically at the clerk. “I am very sorry,” he said in thick European-accented English. “I do not know this word, smart aleck…”
“You’re not from around here, are you?” she asked.
“No,” he smiled, his eyes still on the departing Accord, “I am here doing research on the changing habits of dangerous predators that have been confronted with the encroachment of humankind into their territories.
“It is my theory,” he continued, “that certain of these creatures may have entirely lost their fear of man and adapted themselves to civilization. The bolder ones may even come down from the wild to hunt among us.”
“Well, professor,” said the checker, patting her frizzy red hair into place and flashing him a broad smile, “how really interesting. I’ve been living here in Reno ever since my divorce back in ’86. Now I don’t know much about predators and such, but I’m acquainted with a lot of local ranchers. I’d be pleased to introduce you around.”
“How very kind of you,” said the grizzled man as he watched the Accord with the California plates drive off in the direction of a high mountain peak.