June Flash Fiction Draw: A Little Frayed at the End

True fact: I don’t write a lot of horror.

One lesson I remember from my friend and editor Greg Herren, though, when it comes to approaching genres I don’t have a lot of  experience with, is to go at them with a mindset of “I’ve never tried that before” instead of “I could never do that.”

And that’s how I approached this month’s Flash Fiction Draw writing prompt, which asked for a horror story set in a pawn shop incorporating a length of rope. I also don’t often write from the point of view of an inanimate object, but reading this year’s Nebula award winning short story, “Open House on Haunted Hill,” got me in the appropriate mindset. (That’s a really good story and I highly recommend reading it.)

Check back later today for a roundup of all the stories written to this prompt. Meanwhile, without further ado, here’s a story about the little rope that could. Kill, that is.

A Little Frayed at the End

Over the years, the pawn shop on the corner had somehow amassed a vast repository of evil, cursed, enchanted or otherwise wickedly magical items. The length of rope coiled on a nail behind the counter was not one of the evil things, but it was enchanted, and it had one job: to keep the evil in check.

This was not always easy.

In its time, it had pulled screws and parts out of a possessed lawnmower that loved nothing more than running over children and small animals, unstrung a strand of pearls that fancied itself an upscale garrote, and it had dismantled a demonic secondhand chainsaw for reasons that are probably obvious.

In all that time, the rope had never been called upon to harm a human being, until a Thursday night when the owner of the shop decided to work late.

The neighborhood was hardly the worst in town, but it wasn’t the safest. Situated in a neutral zone between the old industrial city and the new modern office core, the shop saw little foot traffic and not much activity around it, other than cars passing through on their way to other places. People who came to the shop came there for one reason, not because they just happened to be passing by.

Which made it an easy target for thieves.

There had been thefts over the years, a little B&E that the police didn’t do much about and that the owner sometimes didn’t even report if the total amount stolen made reporting it not worth the hassle. There was also the shop’s insurance coverage to consider. Likewise, he’d upgraded the security system, which would have prevented that Thursday night break-in if he’d bothered to turn it on. But why turn it on when he was in the shop?

It was late, though, and he hadn’t counted on dozing off at his desk. And he should have secured the deadbolt on the front door, at least. When the thief entered, he didn’t even have to break anything. He just opened the door and walked in.

He took the money from the cash drawer—a few hundred dollars, not much, and clearly not as much as he’d hoped to get. He looked around and noticed the light coming from underneath the office door in the back. From the pocket of his jacket he drew a knife and headed that way.

The rope slid to the floor.

It moved slowly, lashing itself to the legs of display cases and pulling itself across the floor in pursuit of the thief. It reached him by the time he pushed the office door open and raised the knife.

It went for the ankle first, tripping the thief and sending the knife skittering across the carpet. Before the man could reach for the weapon, the rope slithered up his body, coiled around his neck, and pulled. And pulled. And pulled. The man got a finger between the rope and his neck. The rope broke the finger and kept constricting until the man stopped struggling, and it didn’t uncoil until the man had also stopped breathing.

Dragging the body out of the shop took it a while. Fortunately, the owner was fast asleep now and didn’t hear it lashing itself to furniture for leverage as it pulled the corpse along the floor and out the back door to the alley. This took it at least an hour, but the rope was patient. It had a job, and it would do it, until the thief’s body was behind a dumpster far enough away that no one would have any reason to connect it with the pawn shop, where an old man had simply fallen asleep at his desk and hadn’t seen or heard a thing.

And before it returned to its nail behind the counter, the rope locked the front door.