Holley Hyler is an IT consultant and published freelance writer living in New York.
Something Sinister Awaits . . .
It had been two months since our Fluffy passed from a heart attack, and my husband Ryan and I decided it was time to get new furniture. No other dog could ever replace Fluffy in our hearts, so there was no danger of another animal scratching up or staining our investment with various bodily fluids.
I had heard good things about Seymour & Finnigan from Connie at work, so that was where we decided to go first. The storefront looked innocent enough with the white lettering of the logo against a boring beige backdrop. What seemed dull yet trustworthy on the outside would soon prove to be a nightmare.
There was no ominous crackle of thunder as Ryan and I got out of the car, nothing to indicate that soon, we would be questioning our very sanity, headed into the darkest time of our lives. There was only the faint smell of rain in the air and the booming bass from a hip-hop song a few cars down, rattling the outside of the vehicle. Nothing out of the ordinary for this side of town.
Ryan opened the door for me, and I stepped inside, exchanging the rain scent for that of upholstery that had not been marred by sweat, wet dogs, or the kids’ overturned cheese sauce from last night’s Taco Bell. I was overtaken by the sheer novelty of everything inside the store, and I had to stop to catch my breath. Unfortunately, this pause made us even more of a target.
There he was, coming right for us. His name was William, as indicated by his gleaming name tag on his freshly pressed suit. He was making a beeline for us.
“Uh oh,” Ryan muttered, placing a protective arm around my waist, and summoning a quick smile that did not quite mask the terror in his eyes. “Look alive, Nicole,” he whispered. I drummed up my own smile and did my best to remain still, lest any sudden movement startle my husband into losing his resolve.
Just turn around and leave now. If you move quickly enough, it won’t matter what excuse you give, said my internal guidance system. William’s eagerness to greet us was matched by his speed, and he was in front of us before we could listen to our survival instincts, offering a handshake to my husband.
“Welcome to Seymour & Finnigan, folks! My name is William. What brings you guys in today?”
Ryan completed the handshake with his free hand. Luckily, his job providing service desk support meant that he had more in the way of social skills than I did. “Ryan. This is my wife, Nicole.” He tightened his arm around me slightly. “We just wanted to check out some furniture… um, alone.”
“I mean, we just want to look around on our own,” he corrected himself as William’s eyes narrowed slightly. “And then let you know if we have questions?”
I suppose even years of experience helping enraged customers who routinely threatened his life and reputation was no match for William’s overbearing presence.
“Yeah, we’ve never shopped for new furniture before.” I jumped in, hoping to salvage the situation. “I mean, we’re just overwhelmed! So much to look at – probably better to wander independently for a while so we don’t take up all your time. I mean, you must be so busy ton—” I stopped, suddenly realizing. There was not a single other customer in the store. I had thought at least the hip-hop guy would have a companion in here. The rest of the cars must have belonged to other employees. Ryan’s grip on me turned vice-like.
Surprisingly, William came to our rescue. “No worries!” he interrupted, deciding not to comment on the lack of customers. “Why don’t you two take a few minutes to browse and then I will come check on you?”
“Yeah, totally. Sounds great,” I said, though I could feel my cheeks burning.
Ryan released me and we both breathed a sigh of relief as William turned and walked away. He mysteriously disappeared after reaching the office furniture, but we could still feel his eyes on us, burning through our souls. Perhaps he had gone through a portal to another dimension in which there were more customers for him to terrify – help, I mean – and wouldn’t be back. We could only hope.
I didn’t feel like shopping anymore. It seemed impossible to back out now. I could only assume that Ryan was in agreement as he led the way to the living room sets. Both of us were afraid to speak. We browsed in silence, wondering what “a few minutes” was by William’s definition. Was it five? Was it ten? What would we say when he came back?
But Wait: It Gets Weirder
Ryan plopped down on a navy-blue sectional, examining the cupholder that had a feature to cool drinks. “Don’t do that!” I hissed.
He looked bewildered but stood up at my command. “Why not? This one is nice.”
“It is, but he could still be watching us.”
“Last I checked, you’re supposed to sit on furniture at a furniture store.”
“Yeah, but – I mean – I guess I’m just…” I fumbled for the words.
“I know, baby. I know.” He placed a reassuring hand on my shoulder. “We’re going to get through this.”
He took one last, longing look at the navy-blue sectional and its price tag that read $2,889.96. Nothing more needed to be said. We moved on to look at another sectional, a beige one that was nearly a thousand dollars cheaper. This one did not have the cupholder feature. We also found that it did not recline. Next.
The options seemed endless. How did they manage the illusion of infinity in this store? I was investigating a lift-top coffee table when William’s voice sounded behind me and nearly made me jump ten feet in the air.
“Hi, folks! How are you doing here? Any questions for me?”
“Not really. No.” I cleared my throat. “It’s all very nice. I mean, I think we’re still taking it in.”
Ryan nodded fiercely. “Give us a few more minutes. Maybe more like fifteen minutes.”
I half-expected William to give us some spiel about how, according to his contract as a salesperson, he was supposed to only leave customers unattended for maximum intervals of five minutes. Again, to my surprise, he nodded. How could one so agreeable be so intimidating? Maybe it was the suit.
“Absolutely, folks. Believe me, I understand. Fifteen minutes it is!”
And not a second more, I thought, watching him Houdini away again, to some other unseen portal that only Seymour & Finnigan employees could access. He would still be checking on us with his All-Seeing Eye, but he at least would not hassle us for a blissful fifteen minutes.
“We should probably be armed with a question for the next time he comes back,” I told Ryan.
“I don’t have a question right now, though.”
He looked at me, my poor, sweet, clueless husband. Having a true question was not the point. Survival was.
“Really, am I supposed to do everything in this relationship?” I spoke the words before I gave myself adequate time to think about them, and then I saw the hurt in his eyes. Immediately, I tried to repent. “I’m sorry, honey. It’s just this store. It’s doing something to my mind.”
Ryan hesitated, and for a moment, I was afraid he would not forgive me. Finally, he nodded and gestured for me to lead the way through the abundance. I did, silently thinking through questions. Can the blue sectional be knocked down in price? Do you have anything like that but cheaper? I guess we don’t really need the cooling cupholder… Have you gotten any negative feedback about the lift-top tables? Are regular coffee tables better?
Once I got the gears turning, I felt a bit better. I did not need my husband for this. We were going to be okay.
I could still tell he was hurt, though. “You know I didn’t mean it, right? I don’t really feel that way. I’m just… honestly, I’m scared.” I reached for his hand, and slowly, he tightened his fingers around mine.
“Yeah, I get it.”
My heart leapt at being understood. I did not get to enjoy it for long. We heard shuffling behind the bedroom furniture, and suddenly, William was walking by us.
“Forgot to get my notepad!” He grinned and Houdini’d away again, and Ryan and I looked at one another, puzzled.
“How did he get all the way over here so fast?” Ryan asked. “I mean, he was over there—” He pointed to the far side of the store. “And it’s like he was over here in two seconds. We didn’t hear him until he was right up on us.”
“Okay, don’t talk about it. The more we think, the worse it gets. Come on, act normal.” I started to hum a tune and wandered nonchalantly toward the next sofa and loveseat combo, trying to act like I was still into this.
A Warning Seals Their Fate
I nearly jumped again when, behind us, I heard, “Hey, folks. It hasn’t been fifteen minutes yet, but do you have anything for me?”
Oh, god. I could feel my heart racing. I turned slowly, trying to give a measured response. Ryan sat down on the sofa and stayed there like a slug; it was his only defense. I tried to push down the bitter remorse that was resurfacing from moments ago, but I felt like the man who had joined with me in holy matrimony was leaving the weight of our survival on my shoulders, and all I wanted to do in that moment was scream at him. Instead, I took a deep breath and smiled as I forced myself to look into William’s eyes, two brown portals to an inferno of chaos and deep suffering.
“We like that blue sectional back there.” I pointed to it. “Unfortunately, our budget does not align with that piece. We were wondering, do you have any sales going on that could knock it down in price, or do you have anything similar that is more within our budget?”
“Well now, that depends.” The shit-eating grin was back on William’s face. “You haven’t told me what your budget is, after all.”
The intimacy of the question took me off-guard, and Ryan was still assuming his slug stance, staring off into the abyss. I wanted to answer William’s question – I really did, but instead, I turned on my husband.
“I don’t know. Honey, what is our budget?” He had to help me out here. He couldn’t leave me alone to contend with William. It was just too much.
Ryan looked up, his mouth hanging open. “What?”
“Help. Me.” I mouthed soundlessly to him. William was still grinning.
“Oh. Um…” Ryan scratched his head. “Well, it would be nice if we could stay within $1,500 for a whole set.”
The grin slowly faded from William’s face. His eyes narrowed again. He was stunned into silence, which terrified us even more.
William clasped his hands and wrung them a few times, then put them behind his back as he paced in front of us. “$1,500 for a whole set,” he repeated. “A whole set.”
I gulped. “Yeah. For a whole set. That’s right.”
William stopped in his tracks and turned to us, then unleashed the most sinister laugh I have ever heard. Once he was able to speak again, he said, “What kind of store do you think this is? We don’t even give that kind of pricing at our outlets.”
He could tell that both of us were still too stunned to speak. He softened his tone and added, “Why not just go for a sectional, not a set? We have plenty of sectionals to choose from for $1,500 and under. That beige one over there, for example…”
Anything but that! He was already trying to lead us there, and I could tell that desperate times called for desperate measures. “Hey, um, William?”
“Yes,” he said, not stopping.
“I uh… I think we want to go check out another store. Right, honey?” I looked at my husband, who finally stood up.
“Yeah, actually, we want to shop around before we look seriously at anything.”
That got William to stop, turn around, and look at us. “Oh. I see.” His expression was another of mock calm, where you could tell there was something dangerous brewing just beneath the surface. “I see. So this was just a little joke to you guys, huh? A little joy ride. ‘Let’s just go into Seymour & Finnigan and break William’s balls, because that would be fun!’ Alright, have your little joke,” he sneered, “but you will live to regret it.”
Then he turned and stormed off, Houdini’ing into his secret portal to continue viewing the secrets of the Universe from his All-Seeing Eye. Hopefully, he had remembered to take his notepad with him this time. We were not about to stick around to find out. I made a break for the door, and Ryan followed, glancing nervously behind us until we were in the car with all the doors locked.
“Oh, my god,” I said, once we had navigated out of the parking lot. “That was crazy. Let’s just go home. That really shook me up.”
“You and me both,” Ryan answered. “That was too much.”
William’s threat rang in my mind. “You will live to regret it.” What could that possibly mean?
The drive home was silent. I could tell something was on Ryan’s mind, something he was not sharing with me. Was he still upset with me?
“Maybe the beige one wasn’t so bad,” he finally said, pulling into the driveway.
“What? Are you crazy?”
“Really. The beige one was kind of nice. Maybe we should just go back. They don’t close for another half hour.”
I unbuckled my seatbelt and climbed out of the car, slamming the door. “If you want to go talk to that psycho by yourself, have at it. I don’t think it’s a good idea. Didn’t you hear him? He threatened us.”
Before Ryan could reply, I felt my phone vibrating in my purse. I fished it out and saw the text notification on the home screen, labeled as from "Maybe: William from Seymour & Finnigan.”
Opening the text, it read, “Hey folks, this is William from Seymour & Finnigan. Thanks for your visit today. This is my direct number if you have any questions for me. I am chatting with my boss now and we may be able to get you an even better price for the beige sectional you liked. Give me a text or call back when you are ready to discuss.”
“Holy shit,” I cried. “Ryan, are you seeing this? Did he text you too?”
Ryan was locking up the car and digging out his house key. “See what?”
Of course, he was clueless. Again. I swallowed my visceral reply, knowing it would only make everything worse.
“This text message—” I thrust my phone at his face. “Did you get one too?”
“I don’t know. I think I left my phone in the house.”
“Hurry up and go look. How did he get my phone number? I never gave it to him.”
“Are you sure?” Ryan unlocked the front door and we went inside, the scent of cheesy wet dog upholstery greeting us. Yet, it was somehow so comforting. I wanted to smell this all day after the experience at the furniture store. “I mean, maybe you gave it to him and forgot.”
“Ryan.” I reached for his arm and made him look at me. “You were with me the whole time. Did you hear me give him my number?”
“There is no ‘but’! I never gave him my number! I know I'm not crazy.”
Ryan retrieved his phone from the kitchen counter and glanced at his notifications, then showed me. “Nothing from William. You must have given him your number at some point.”
“I’m telling you, I didn’t.”
We were interrupted by my phone vibrating again. A phone call this time. My heart sank into the pit of my stomach as I looked at the screen, already knowing who it was before I saw “Maybe: William from Seymour & Finnigan” flashing across it.
I took a deep breath and hit the talk button. I put it on speaker so Ryan would hear too.
“Hey, folks! This is William from Seymour & Finnigan. I just wanted to check in and see if you—”
I jabbed the end call button with my pointer finger. I just had to have Ryan hear too, had to have him know I wasn’t crazy, that this wasn’t normal. My hands were shaking as I set the phone down on the counter.
Ryan stared at me, speechless.
We both jumped as the TV suddenly flicked on, William’s face taking up the whole screen, that sinister, insane grin showing off his perfectly white teeth. “Hey, folks! Did you really think it would be so easy to get rid of me?”
I sat down on the floor, hugged my knees to my chest, and rocked back and forth. “Oh god, oh god, oh god.”
Ryan lunged for the TV remote, which was on the wet dog sofa, and hurriedly clicked the power button. Then our stereo turned on, William’s voice resounding throughout the house. This time, he didn’t speak. He just laughed, and laughed, and laughed.
“Alexa, stop it!” I cried. “Alexa, make him stop!”
“Sorry, I can’t do that right now,” Alexa replied.
There was more laughter, then Alexa’s voice: “Now buying: beige sectional from Seymour & Finnigan.”
© 2020 Holley Hyler