Any horror fan will tell you that you don’t go into strange locations at night. You especially don’t go into a strange location that has a name that includes the word “Mephisto.” And you really, really especially don’t go into such a location because someone has paid you a ridiculous amount of money to retrieve a mysterious object that’s inside. Nonetheless, that’s exactly what Cindy and Rachel, the high school protagonists of Zachery Miller’s effectively creepy little story, “The Shopkeep,” do with predictably bad results.
“The Shopkeep” is one of a series of what author Miller calls “Morbid Tales,” stories that are a bit longer than flash fiction, but which still get down to business fast. Here, Rachel, the narrator is recruited by Cindy to break into “Mephisto’s Oddities Antique Shop” to steal one of the oddities, the flask of Randall Flagg, which someone on Craigslist has paid Cindy a sizable amount of money to procure. From here, all you really need to know is that breaking in was easy but getting out most assuredly was not.
While I won’t spoil the ending of “The Shopkeep,” almost any horror fan will be able to figure it out, at least in general terms, before Rachel and Cindy even set foot in the store Here, however, the devil is literally in the details, as the author uses some rather evocative imagery to describe just what does happen, and it’s suitably grisly and creepy for this sort of story. Miller has a way with words in general, as evidenced by sentences like, “Leave it up to [Cindy] to be up to no good while being up to no good.” And, he also drops a number of Easter eggs into the story that horror fans will definitely enjoy, including the aforementioned McGuffin, the flask of Randall Flagg.
However, while author Miller may have a way with words, he doesn’t have quite as good a way with grammar, since a few mistakes crop up, especially the author failing to grasp the proper usage of “its” and ”it’s” in the story. And there were a couple of times when the supposed first-person narration by a high school senior simply did not sound right. “The Shopkeep” is far from the worst self-published work I’ve read on Amazon, but a bit better copyediting would have helped.
All in all, for horror fans, “The Shopkeep” is an entertaining story that can easily be read on a lunch hour and will leave that enjoyably discomforting feel that good horror tales do. Miller also has a sense of humor that shows up in the narration and, although the story isn’t completely tongue-in-cheek, his light touch here and there holds off the darker imagery just long enough to make the shocking revelations that much more effective. Finally, while nothing in the story will come as a real surprise to most people, the final image in the story is quite unsettling. In this case, the author’s description is quite on target, this story is enjoyably morbid, and “The Shopkeep” is a keeper.