The temperature outside had dropped several degrees, but Friedrich’s rose when he realised the exterior display he had crafted at Specifics had fallen victim to the invaders. Three fishing nets were missing, four beach balls had gone and there was a surfboard-size hole in the display.
About to fish out his keys from his jacket, Friedrich saw the shop door was ajar. He looked back toward the village hall. He ought to go back. Get someone else to come with him. But who in there would be able to or want to help? He took a deep breath, picked up one of the remaining nets, poked it through the gap and pushed open the door. He was greeted by the usual reassuring chime. Quaint.
Friedrich tried the light. It didn’t work. Not quaint. Worse still, the delicately balanced shelving and end of aisle displays had all been toppled, colouring pads and books and postcards carpeting the floor.
Something moved at the far end of the store by the fancy dress section.
“Who is that?” Friedrich called out, unable to see much in the dark.
A clatter of iron.
“This shop is shut. Show yourselves.”
Friedrich dropped the useless net and reached for a slightly less useless plastic scimitar that he’d been unsuccessfully trying to sell for two years.
“If that’s you Potts brothers…” He heard a soft snarl that didn’t sound like the brothers, more like a warning from a cornered fox.
“Whoever, whatever you are, you need to leave. This is my shop. We are closed for the Christmas season.”
Something moved by the vertical display of multi-coloured feather boas. Friedrich gasped and stepped back. That wasn’t… it can’t have been… a skull?
Friedrich stepped forward. “Put that mask back, or pay for it,” he yelled.
A second skull appeared behind the first, this one sporting a tricorn.
“That hat will cost you an extra six pounds and ninety-nine pence.”
Friedrich took another step forward, his plastic weapon drawn, but giving him little confidence.
Two figures with skeletal faces and black capes draped over their bony shoulders stepped out into the aisle and threw off their capes.
Friedrich didn’t like being able to see the one standing at the back through the hollow ribcage of the one in front. That wasn’t right. An anomaly, Murphy might say. If only he were here now. Maybe it wasn’t an anomaly, but a clever trick. Yes, of course. It was scientifically possible, Friedrich knew, through the manipulation of certain light wavelengths to become invisible. But that didn’t explain how their skeletal masks were far more detailed than anything he stocked.
Both figures held full-size cutlasses that dwarfed Friedrich’s toy weapon.
They rasped with disdain and shuffled toward the shop owner, their bony feet clattering against the shop’s cold linoleum floor.
“Who are you?” Friedrich garbled, backing away, still trying to process what he was seeing.
He reached down and tipped over a tub of bouncy balls, the multi-coloured contents hopping down the aisle between him and them. The intruders were both fascinated and frightened by the living balls of plastic. They backed off. The first jabbed at them with his sword, impaling a red one on the ultra-sharp tip of his blade. As the figure drew it up to his face to take a closer look, Friedrich saw its arm was formed of exposed bone, the hand devoid of skin too with a silver, skull-shaped ring adorning the index finger. In the half light, Friedrich saw the face wasn’t totally skeletal. There were patches of loose grey skin flapping about its cheeks. Its eyes were deep set, pupils an unhealthy yellow and rimmed red. Its lips had gone, exposing teeth yellowed and blackened to their roots.
The figure popped the ball in his mouth and Friedrich watched in terrified fascination as the ball fell through the skull and ribcage, bouncing off the thigh bone on its way down to the floor.