He was the type to massage the shoulders of every female he encountered, “just to help with the strain.” That wouldn’t have been so bad, she supposed, but he also liked to whisper, “Now, doesn’t this feel nice?” as he did it.

“Sure,” she said, and gulped.

The instinct to run suddenly rose from deep within her. To run from this place and never look back.

Oh, no, no, no. He was going to fire her, wasn’t he?

Only six other cashiers had worked this shift, and all quickened their pace, gathering their belongings and leaving the store. The front lights had already been turned off, but the parking lot was illuminated by several streetlamps, and she watched as the men and women entered their cars and drove away, careful not to glance in her direction.

Yep. Mr. Ritter was planning to fire her, and they knew it, too.

There had to be a way to change his mind.

Palms sweating, Nicola made her way to the back of the grocery, bypassing the oranges and apples. She needed this job just as desperately as she needed the other one. One paid her house payment, utilities and car insurance, while the other paid for food and gas. In this economy, she would have a difficult time finding another job with late hours and wages above the minimum.

Mr. Ritter’s door was propped open, and she forced her feet to take her inside. Run!

He was already behind his desk, reading a file. She stayed.

“Shut the door,” he said.

She reached back and tugged on the knob, and the thick metal swooshed closed. As always, the lock engaged automatically. The room was small, filled with metal cabinets and an oversize desk. There were two chairs. His, which was cushioned by a pillow, and hers, which wasn’t.

As she obeyed, she said, “I’m sorry about my performance today. I’ll do better, I promise. And I won’t make any excuses.” How could she? I saw monsters no one else could see, Mr. Ritter. What could he possibly say to that? “I’ll just—”

“How’s your sister?” he interjected, at last looking up at her.

A shudder nearly rocked her out of the seat. A monkey had just appeared on his shoulder. It was smaller than any of the others, and far hairier, and it glared at her with the same hate-filled eyes. And as she watched, it...it...couldn’t be doing what she thought it was doing.

But it was. It was peeing.

“It” was obviously a “he,” and he was aiming at Nicola. Trying to...mark her? Like a dog with its territory?

She scooted as far back in her chair as she could, successfully avoiding any splatter. Mr. Ritter and his papers weren’t so lucky.

How could he not know his shirt was now soaked? How could he not see the sogginess of the papers? How could he not smell that...her nose wrinkled...disgusting aroma? “She’s, uh, doing better. She’s home.”

“That’s good.” His tone lowered, and so did his gaze, landing on her breasts and staying. “That’s very good.”

Nicola’s hands curled into fists. “Was that all you wanted to see me about?”

A moment passed before he remembered she had a face. He leaned back in his seat and folded his hands over his middle, his expression stern. “Your performance today was subpar, but you know that. You angered several customers by ringing up their items two or three times—”

“Nevertheless,” he continued smoothly, “I’m sure you’ll soon be asking me to take some time off to spend with your sister, and as you know, we don’t have anyone who can take your place. I’ll need to hire someone new. And if I hire someone new, why can’t that person just take all of your hours?”

A tide of dread washed over her, followed quickly by an intensified urge to run. But why run? she wondered now. The threat had already been issued, and this was her chance to offer a counter. So, once again she stayed put.

“I can promise that I’ll never have another day like today.” From now on, she would ignore the existence of the monkeys. That’s what the therapists had told her to do as a child, and it had worked. Right? “I won’t be asking for any days off, you have my word.”

The monkey began hopping up and down, screeching, and she had trouble distinguishing Mr. Ritter’s next words. “What if your sister gets sick again? What then? What if you get sick again?”

Lips pursed, he reached out and traced a fingertip over the photo of his wife and three children. “How badly do you want to keep this job?”

“Badly,” she said, leaning forward. “Is there something I can do? Take extra hours? You name it!”

His hand fell to his side. He grinned.

The monkey went quiet—and he, too, grinned.

“I was hoping you’d say that,” Mr. Ritter said, a disgusting gleam flickering in his eyes. “I want you to start by telling me how you’ll use your mouth on me, and end with how you’ll bend over my desk. Then I want you to do it.”

A moment passed in silence as her mind processed what she had just heard. He hadn’t... He couldn’t have... Oh, but he could, and he had. “You don’t have to fire me. I quit.” She stood and marched to the door. The knob held steady when she twisted. Anger mixed with frustration as she barked, “Let me out. Now.”

“I rigged the lock. I hope you don’t mind.” Smiling, Mr. Ritter pushed to his feet, walked around the desk. The monkey jumped to the floor and followed him, the pitter-patter of clawed footfalls resounding. “I’ve wondered what you’re like in bed, you know.”

She tried the knob again, but again, it held. Fear squeezed the air from her lungs, expunging all other emotions. She was trapped in this small room, and no one was out there to hear her cry for help.

“Let me out, Mr. Ritter.” There was a tremor in her voice, one she couldn’t hide. “If you try anything, I’ll fight you. You’ll be punished.”

“I want you to fight. Not that it’ll do you any good. But no...no, I won’t be punished. That I promise you.”

Heart pounding, she rounded on him. The action left her dizzy, but she managed to remain on her feet.

He was so close he had only to reach out to pinch a lock of her hair between his too-thin fingers. “I told everyone I planned to fire you tonight. Tomorrow, if the cops come knocking on my door, I’ll let them know you offered me your body to stay on, and of course, in a moment of weakness, I succumbed. And oh, the sick things you let me do to you. Afterward, though, you were still fired. Horrible of me? Yes. But deserving of your malicious lies about rape?” He tsked under his tongue. “No.”

Rape. The word echoed hollowly in her mind. This was why her instincts had wanted her to run, she realized, not because he’d planned to fire her. Why, why, why hadn’t she listened?

“N-no one will believe you.”

“Won’t they?” He inched ever closer to her. “I know what I’m planning to do, but even I believe me. See, you told me you fell at the hospital and banged your head. I’m guessing you have bruises from that. What’s a few more? How will anyone be able to tell the difference?”

The doctors would be able to tell the difference. And she was sure the authorities would be able to tell the difference...but what did that matter right now? By the time they discovered the truth, his awful deed would already have been done.

The fear magnified, opening welcoming arms to panic. Can’t yield to it.

Must fight. Nicola swung out a fist, intending to punch him in the nose and buy herself a few minutes to find a weapon, but he jumped out of the way, avoiding contact. Before she could swipe out another fist, he kicked out his leg and knocked her ankles together. She jetted backward, her skull hitting the door. A sharp pain wrung a gasp from her, even as pinpricks of light dotted her vision, and she slid to the concrete floor.

Grinning all the wider, Mr. Ritter bent over her. “I put a camera in the women’s bathroom, you know. Your panties have always been my favorite.”

His image swam, blurring with that of the monkey. The creature was once again preparing to pee. Somehow, she managed to find the strength to turn her head and bite Mr. Ritter’s ankle.

Howling, he ripped from her hold. Blood instantly coated her tongue. Good. She’d taken a hunk of skin and muscle.

Temples throbbing, she pulled herself up and spit whatever was in her mouth at the monkey, causing him to lurch away. “I won’t let you do this.”

“You won’t be able to stop me.” He leaped on her, shoving her back down, staying on his knees to straddle her waist. The monkey laughed and pointed at her, just as his friends had done earlier.

“No!” she screamed, bucking to dislodge him. Failing. “No! Stop!” She punched and punched at him, nailing him in the shoulder, the chest and the side, but weak as she was he was able to withstand the abuse and eventually catch...her...wrists....

And he did. He had her, and worked quickly to tie her arms over her head and latch her to the door. Though she could barely draw in a breath, though her heart was fluttering painfully and her vision was dimming, she contorted her body to kick at him. He soon had her legs corralled and her ankles tied to his desk, leaving her stretched out, open to attack.

Tears beaded in her eyes. She’d lost, she realized. As easily as that, she’d lost. And—no, no, no—she was going to pass out. Any moment now, she would fade, utterly vulnerable, even more helpless.

“Now, now,” he said. “I’ll make sure you enjoy yourself. There’s no reason for you to be upset.”

“I said no!” she gritted out.

“And I said oh, baby, yes.” He began unbuttoning his shirt.

This wasn’t happening. Was it? This couldn’t be happening. Could it? Her boss, a man she had known for three years, had not just threatened her, bound her with his necktie and rope. He wasn’t stripping. And she wasn’t fighting for every breath, holding on to her state of awareness with every fiber of her being.