I hesitated outside ‘Help the Aged’ and glanced down at the note in my hand. I’d found it tucked into the cover of Jamie Oliver’s 15 Minute Meals cookbook which I’d bought for a bargain £3 just the day before. The handwriting was thin and spidery. It must have been put there by the little old lady who had served me; otherwise I would have seen it whilst flicking through the recipes in the shop. I bit my lip and pushed open the door. The little old lady was there again, but there was also a younger woman with a shiny ‘Manager’ badge pinned to her suit jacket.
The little old lady looked up as I walked in, then threw a lightning quick, wide eyed glance towards her manager before dropping her gaze to the counter to fold some clothes. Her hands shook so badly that she kept dropping them on the floor. The Manager sighed.
“Dotty dear, do be careful with those, I don’t want to take any damage money out of your pay this month.” She laughed a false high pitch tinkle that for some reason made my skin break out in goose bumps.
I wandered around the store towards the manager.
“Excuse me; you’re the manager, right? Could I have a quick word with you?”
“Yes of course? Just give me a minute and I will be right with you.”
She disappeared into the office behind the counter, and the old lady limped hurriedly to me. She was glancing over her shoulder, grabbed my sleeve and began propelling me towards the door with surprising strength.
“You need to go. Go! Or she’ll get you too. You need to bring help. Real help. Please just go, you’re my only hope.”
I struggled with her until the manager re-emerged from the office behind the counter.
“Dotty! What is the matter with you? Let go of the young lady. I’m really sorry about that, she’s been acting a little strangely lately. Why don’t come into the office?”
As I walked past the counter, Dotty gave a muffled sob and buried her head in her arms on the counter. It was an odd gesture from someone so old but i didn’t think much of it at the time. The manager shut the door and turned to me.
“Right, what can I help you with?”
“I bought a cookbook from you yesterday and I found a note in it. I think Dotty put it there. I’ll read it. It says:
‘Help me! I’m trapped here against my will. I’m really only 19 years old. She did this to me. I’m not crazy. Please bring help.’
“I thought you should know. It sounds like the poor old lady needs to…”
I looked back up at the manager and she was giving me this really weird smile. She grabbed me and everything went black. When I woke the first thing I noticed was the papery thin wrinkled skin on the backs of my hands.