Free Fiction Friday : Father’s Day by Corpsicus Hackenslash

“Father’s Day”

A doldrums day in June sat still. The sun shined hot and unrelenting, burning bright above as the day reached early afternoon. Cicadas droned metallic in the palmettos and I lay there, lost in the woods. I was on my back, staring at the great deep blue sky, in a clearing- a field surrounded by pines and oaks, and a million bugs in the trees.

Time has a funny way of passing after a thing like that. The minutes seem like eons but the days seem to be so short. It’s a permanent temporality.

As a child, there was no way I could have known the damage he had dealt to me. The memory of the whole thing just seemed to bury itself in the recesses of my mind like a hidden malignant tumor or an abscess festering away beneath the surface.

As I lay in the field, perhaps by some passing familiar shape in a cloud or maybe by a wicked streak of providence, it all came back to me. The serenity ripped away as the memory of it came crashing through the dam of repression, and the trauma of it all overwhelmed me, drowning me.

I was no longer in the field. I was back in the darkness of the basement, crying out for help with only deaf ears to hear me. I was choking, gagging, gasping for breath. I was back in the ropes that held me down as he tormented me. I was struggling futilely under the weight of his body. I was ten years old.

The hot coals of the memory burned into my open wounds, and the horror of it all was like a flock of vultures ravaging the carcass of my childhood, ripping sinuous carrion away and exposing the bones of trauma.

After all this time I was still stripped of my power, unable to shake the memory.

Out of the brush, a shuffling approached. And that was when I saw it. A baby doll with a crown of screws and a melted face limped toward me. It was my old friend, my outlet for all my suffering. It had suffered a thousand injuries and insults, but never left me behind.

It spoke to me.

“The time has come.” It said.

Baffled, I gazed up at him. “Time?”

“You got so big, I almost don’t recognize you. It’s time to put me away and leave me behind. You need to move on.” It said.

I knew what it meant. I understood what I needed to do.

My pain and terror rotted, heating up, twisting and contorting into an infected scab of burning rage. I knew that it was, in fact, time. Left alone with this revelation, I sat up in the grass. I was no longer lost, for the path had found me.

I was going to find him. I was going to kill him.

*************************************************************************************************************

Bio:

Transmission 0000003
I am Corpsicus Hackenslash STOP Put your fingers in it STOP A squirrel is not a cutting board STOP Become a fellow maniac STOP The Egyptian afterlife is a pyramid scheme STOP I will never, ever STOP
I have no web page, but I do have an Instagram account. It is @corpsicus_hackenslash. Sorry for any inconvenience that brings on.

Free Fiction: Smart Machines | A Short by Kay Tracy

It was a Saturday, before the holidays. I had to pull some overtime on a few reports for the boss. Friday night, in the winter, now well after dark, and I couldn’t get the door to open. Something moved behind me low on the floor. A mouse? 

That was three weeks ago, and I am still here. I can’t get out. Gods help me, I truly wish I could say it was because of my boss.  How I wish a mouse was what I had glimpsed!

The firefighters who broke open the door keep trying to tell me I was in shock.

People sometimes ask about it, but no one really ‘knows’. Folks really don’t want to know. 

You have seen them in many offices, those machines that will print, copy, and, staple.  Oh, to be sure, there is someone who is designated to change the ink or toner as it calls for it.  And usually, office etiquette says, if you empty the paper, then you are supposed to put more into the machine.  Easy enough, but there is one thing most people never think about. I know I never did. At least, not until now. 

It was trivial at first. I started noticing little things go missing. It was easy enough to think it was my co-workers.  Steph had run out of paperclips and took some from my desk. No worry there. The odd safety pin that I would keep in my drawer was next. I did think it was a bit rude for folks to go into the drawers of my desk without asking first. I mean, really!

In talking to others, I found out that they too had had things go missing from their desks. Small stuff at first.  Then James complained that his new steel mug and thermos was gone. Julia’s power cord to her computer was next. Harold had an entire desk lamp disappear. The objects were getting larger, and stranger. Soon, anything that was made of metal was going missing.  Small pocket change, keys, it seemed odd. Then William asked when we got the pretty staples. Everyone came to see, and there on his desk was a stack of reports with copper-colored staples. I wondered about all those pennies that were once in the coffee fund can, which was now missing.  But then, so too was the coffee maker!

I am desperate now, trying to find a way out of here.  The parts inside the phone are gone now. The thing grows longer snakelike arms every day.   The larger, more complicated items it brings to me for disassembly. I have no idea when it will have all it wants or needs, maybe then I can leave.

People really should know about these things.   Maintenance includes more than just the paper and ink.  More than just the “machine guy” every three months for a cleaning and lube. The staples should not be overlooked on these ‘smart machines’.

My Darling Dead : Episode 8 | The Consequences

Hespa looked up from her own window as the princess let herself in. “Idiot child!” she shrieked and seized the nearest thing to hand, an urn containing her husband’s ashes, and threw it at her daughter with all her might. 

“Mother!” cried Alasin, dodging out of the way and taking refuge behind a nearby chair. Behind her, the wizard stood framed in the doorway. 

“Would it have killed you, would it have made your life so unworth living, to have murdered that oaf Heyworth in his bed at night rather than in full view of three loud-mouthed guards?” Hespa asked, hefting a large ornamental vase threateningly. 

“Mother–”

“Your Highness, girl,” snarled the queen. 

“Your Highness,” Alasin said, her words rushing forth in a babble. “Heyworth, that dog, attacked me, would have beaten me and perhaps more! I had to–”

“Kill him in perhaps the bloodiest manner you possibly could conceive right then and there, rather than endure his offenses and murder him in his bed at night?” Hespa finished, her voice cracking as she heaved the vase at her daughter in fury at the last word, shrieking as it crashed to the wall beside Alasin. “Heyworth would have died in silence and been easily disposed of with no one the wiser but you and his kingdom would have become ours. Now his kingdom is trying to kill ME and from OUR kingdom are coming rumblings of dissatisfaction with its figureheads. Which includes you, you witless imbecile.” 

The queen pulled a dagger from a hidden shelf in the serving table and advanced on Alasin, her teeth bared. Alasin cringed against the wall as her mother closed the distance. “This is your doing and I will not have you within this castle to wreak more havoc while I am being hunted. You are not welcome in this castle…” Hespa stopped, the tip of her dagger resting against her daughter’s throat. Alasin’s eyes were huge, rolling, terrified. Hespa stared mercilessly into her eyes and poked the dagger forward to nick Alasin’s smooth neck. “…henceforth.” 

To the wizard, time seemed to stand still, the princess impaled fractionally upon the queen’s dagger as the former tried desperately not to move. Then the latter flicked the dagger down, withdrawing its point and standing aside, leaving the path to the door open. Sapius stepped inside, extending a hand to the open door. As though freed from a spell, Alasin rushed past her mother and out the door, wordless noises of terror spilling from her mouth as she tore down the corridor and was lost to sight and sound as the wizard closed the door to the queen’s chamber. 

Queen Hespa poured herself a glass of wine and sat down in her favorite chair overlooking the window. “Come, wizard, join me.”

Sapius took the second chair beside the queen but did not take a glass of wine. He brought out his pipe, stoking and igniting it without a word, nor a look at the queen. 

“You don’t approve,” Hespa said, sipping from her glass. 

The wizard maintained his silence, peering out the window at the darkness. 

“Loosen your tongue, Sapius, lest I loosen it for you.”

“Madam, it seems improper to punish the princess for the consequences of carrying on as you wished her to,” said the wizard. 

“Can’t you see?” Hespa said, her voice irritable. “Banishing her will secure my safety. It will be impossible for her to ever feel affection for me.” 

“I daresay, Your Highness, that there was very little danger of that to begin with,” Sapius spoke softly, taking care to keep the disdain out of his voice. 

Hespa drained her glass and scoffed. “Ha! What knows a wizard of the trials of a mother, or a queen, especially one whose daughter is cursed in such a dangerous way?” Staggering a little, Hespa lurched to her feet, making for the wine again. 

“Quite right, Highness,” Sapius said, also rising to his feet. “May I depart, I have pressing business to tend to.”

“Yes, begone with you, Sapius,” snarled the queen, overflowing her goblet as she poured. “Begone with your judgmental words of which I have no need.” 

Without a word, the wizard departed, leaving the queen alone in her chamber, clutching an overflowing goblet of wine and staring at her reflection in the window. Her eyes focused on the outside world and her blood ran cold for a moment. Beyond that window, endless blackness with the pinpoints of light denoting civilization as campfires burned, each tended by a subject who may or may not want to murder her. 

She hurled the goblet at the reflection, shattering both it and the window. Wine splattered everywhere.

“See what you’ve done?” she shrieked at the door Alasin had exited. “See what you have wrought?”

When no answer was forthcoming, Hespa pulled the green cord hanging from the ceiling. A bell tolled somewhere in the castle. After a moment, a rapping sound came at the door and a handmaiden entered, looking apprehensive. 

“You summoned, Mightiness?”

“Bring me more wine and a fresh goblet,” Hespa said. “And get someone up here to fix this window, it’s as cold as death.”

“Your will, Highness.” The maiden bowed and retreated.

My Darling Dead: Episode 7 | The Assassin

The captain of the guard, Bortix Legional, stood atop the walls, looking down into the valley. It smelled like rain, and he was looking forward to being indoors for the night, having done his share of guard duties in seasons past. He was distracted from his vigil by the clattering of footsteps as a figure made its way up the dim steps. 

“Beggin yer pardon, sir,” the voice of Klinden the guardsman said, mounting the last step and turning to join Bortix at the battlements, “but there has been an unusual report from the northern realm.”

Bortix rolled his eyes. “There are always unusual reports from the northern realm, Mister Klinden,” he said. “Continue.” He reached into his shoulder bag for his pouch of tobacco and pipe, loading it and striking a match as Klinden continued. 

“Farmer in the near north sez that he came into his abode and beheld a man who resembled a rat. He ate a dead mouse, then attacked the farmer, until the farmer was able to subdue him.” He grinned a little. “Not a pretty sight. Took a rock, an’–”

“I can imagine, thank ye.” Bortix inhaled and sighed. “What the ‘ell am I s’posed to do about it?”

“That’s a good question, sir,” Klinden said, nodding. Bortix glowered at him.

A young cadet named Stroveta sprinted up the stairs and skidded to a halt. “Sir! There has been an assassination attempt upon the queen!”

Bortix stared. “Say again, soldier?”

“Chap with a camouflage robe managed to sneak in somehow, the queen disarmed him herself before he could put a blade in her but she’s not happy at all. She commands you attend her in her chamber after you interrogate the prisoner. Sir!” The cadet threw a salute and stood awaiting further orders. 

Bortix raised an eyebrow at Klinden. “Mind the watch, Mr Klinden. Cadet, back to your post.”

The queen and her daughter had long been students of self-defense, learning from Bortix how to disarm and disable in case their guards should fail in some regard. Bortix, while instructing them, gravely advised that failure on the part of his soldiers to protect the royal family could result in execution, but that a headless guard would never bring the queen or her daughter back to life. So when the man posing as a servant made a wild stab in Hespa’s direction, she reacted without thinking, snatching the man’s wrist, applying pressure to a point in his wrist and twisting his numb hand up behind his back, forcing to him to the ground. At a shout from her, five guards burst into her chamber, swords drawn, spears at the ready. They beheld their monarch standing behind a stranger who was kneeling before her, tears running down a very red face with an expression of agony as she jerked his arm ever higher between his shoulder blades. 

“This scum attempted to put a blade inside me,” snarled Hespa, breathing heavily as she addressed the first guard. “Find out who he is and where he comes from.” She jerked his arm up savagely and a loud, wet pop reverberated in the chamber and in the ears of every guard. The man sucked in a breath to scream but before a sound could escape his throat the queen’s voice was hissing in his ear. “Suffer in silence or I will end you myself right now.” In her hand suddenly appeared a long slim blade, the tip a fraction of an inch from the man’s eye. He shut his mouth, tears streaming down his face as the soldiers jerked him to his feet and marched him from the room. 

Hespa paced back and forth in her chamber, her mind still racing. Her narrow escape bothered her, not because of her own mortality but because it spoke to the lack of security from which the castle suffered. She was not in the habit of looking at her servants as they attended her and only the quick movement in the reflection of the window had alerted her in time to turn and block her would-be assassin’s arm.

There was a knock and Bortix stood in her doorway. “Your Highness.”

“Enter, Bortix, and tell me that the slime has divulged his master and purpose and departed this realm,” the queen snapped, moving to pour herself a glass of amber liquid and sip from it as Bortix made his report. 

“Lady, the assassin was sent by the kingdom of Heyworth, in retaliation for the death of the prince murdered by the Princess Alasin.”

The queen’s eyes grew wide and she swallowed half her drink. “Did you learn anything else?”

“Nay, milady. Alas we were unable to get anything more out of ‘im, for the techniques employed to acquire as much knowledge as we did left the prisoner so diminished that he expired shortly after sharing that information.” A ghost of a smile flitted around his mouth.

“Good,” muttered the queen.  

Alasin stood at her window, staring into the darkness and at her reflection. She blinked. It blinked. She smiled. 

It did not.

“Good evening, Princess.” 

Alasin jumped and whirled, half raising a hand to strike before she saw it was the wizard.

“Sapius!” she gasped. “Announce yourself!”

“I apologize madam, I merely acted in haste to inform you of your mother’s wishes.” He spread his hands apologetically.

“What is it?” Alasin asked, her hands shaking. “What does she want?”

“It regards the fate of Prince Heyworth, madam.”

“His fate was known to my mother and she was unbothered by it,” Alasin said, doing her best to maintain her composure. 

“Yes, but that was before she had survived an assassin’s attempt to dispatch her as retribution for your crime.” The wizard’s voice was flat, but chills reverberated from it. 

Alasin froze, her eyes moving back toward Sapius slowly, her face an expression of horror. As if on cue, there was a knocking at her chamber door. “Milady, guards.” 

The princess’s face was the color of parchment as she stammered out “Enter” and looked with terror to Sapius, who only smiled in that infuriating manner. 

The guard who entered was a simple man. He had been a farmer before he had tired of the physical labor and joined the armed forces. He had no  time for theater nor playing games and was a favorite to play cards with, for his face was an open book. Alasin read on it now, fear and loathing as the guard looked at her. 

“Princess, the queen bids you join her in her chamber.” He stepped back, into the corridor, spear at the ready, waiting for her.  

“You could not honestly have thought that your secret would not travel.” the wizard said, sounding severe. “Three soldiers beheld you in the act of murdering the prince. We had them killed as soon as possible, but it was too late. They have told, and those have told, and it didn’t take long for spies to relay the word to Heyworth kingdom that Princess Alasin murdered Prince Heyworth with her poisoned blade. It took even less time for a cadet to spread the word that the queen has already narrowly escaped assassination.”

Alasin’s eyes grew huge. “You mean… does everybody know?”

“You may draw that conclusion, Princess,” said Sapius.

My Darling Dead: Episode 1 – The King

 

 

As a hurricane is preceded by calm, the kingdom of Dandoich had known peace and prosperity for many years. The townsfolk fought, argued, lied, cheat, stole and generally behaved as humans do, but they were content within their sphere of existence. There had been the odd uprising against this noble or that plantation owner, but it was swiftly quelled by the kingdom’s royal guards, often without too much bloodshed. A true civil war had not happened in centuries.

King Wendell had been ruling the throne for over sixty returns of the season and had taken care to extract the maximum enjoyment from his posting as he was able. Wary of the fate of his own father, Rockney the Beheaded, he exercised his kingly power with discretion, well aware that he was ultimately at the mercy of his own people whose population far outnumbered him. As a result he was well loved by his subjects, who knew their grievances would be fairly heard out and attended to in a fair and just manner.

Today, the bells were tolling as though for a wedding, but with one tone missing. The bell carrying the middle C note had been silenced, and the altered tone of the bells told of the christening of the princess, and all hastened to the square to bear witness. Christenings were the common practice in the kingdom, but the christenings of royalty were done by a fairy, and many of those living in the kingdom today had never beheld a fairy in the flesh. They were mystical beings, rarely seen unless they chose to reveal themselves.

Queen Hespa looked at herself in the mirror, her gown’s dark green blended with her red hair nicely but she could have shattered the mirror and used its shards to cut her own throat. Her smile remained frozen as her ladies in waiting bustled about her, adjusting a stitch here, a loose end there, an unbasted seam somewhere else. They were a hive of activity about her and she wondered, once again, if today would be the day she would take her own life.

The king, ensconced in his own chambers, looked up from the wench servicing him to beckon another to refill his glass with the honeyed mead he preferred. Another set his ceremonial crown on his head, and he could feel his neck creaking. He never wore the enormous heavy thing except for formal occasions, and his daughter’s christening would definitely qualify if nothing else would. He took a mighty drought of mead and hiccuped. It was his third such mug, but with the fairy Esmeli appearing tonight, he would need all the strength and nerve he could get. He glowered at the servicing wench, who had paused for breath.

“Did I tell you to stop?”

Dutifully, she returned to polishing his boots.

The princess Alasin, not yet two months old, wriggled in her crib as her nurse changed her. She had no idea that her very existence would bring about the ending of the way of life that so many generations before her had enjoyed. She did not know that her father’s affair with the fairy Esemli would plunge the kingdom into turmoil for years to come. She simply slept, dreaming baby dreams, oblivious to the world around her.

Two guards stood at the entrance to the castle, bedecked in garlands and flowers to mark the christening day. Both felt like the posterior of an equine, but knew better than to remove them. The only soldier who had done so was now on latrine duty for being out of uniform.

“Cor,” grunted the larger guard. “’ot as ‘ell today.” He spit.

The other nodded, yawning and exposing several yellowing teeth. “Aye.”

“’most noon,” said the first, squinting at the sky.

The second looked to the sky as well, nodding as he did. “Aye.”

“I never seen’t a fairy before,” the first continued, looking up at the sky as though he expected her to drop from the clouds. “They purty?”

The second licked his lips, unaware he had done so. “Aye.”

The first guard chortled and scratched himself. “Where do a fairy come from?”

“D’no,” the second said, shrugging. In his mind, he came upon a fairy in the woods, missing most of her clothes, chest heaving. His manhood throbbing, he walked up to her and…

“I’ll thank you, sir, to remove that filth from your head this instant,” a cool voice whispered in his ear. The guard jumped a mile, colliding with the larger guard who was still staring at the sky.

Esemli stood with her hands on her hips, long blonde hair waving in the gentle breeze. Her dark green tunic and leather boots were of the deepest forest greens and browns the guards had ever seen. Her green eyes matched them perfectly as they radiated scorn at the second guard, who at that moment felt the size of a worm.

“A thousand apologies, Milady,” he stuttered, stumbling over his words as inane jabber raced through his head. “I was… you see we…”

Esemli held up her hand and the guard’s voice froze in his throat, though his mouth still worked, attempting to speak. “Do not finish. You will go inform the Lord Wendell that I have arrived and await his pleasure in his receiving room.” So saying, she lowered her hand and swept past them through the door they guarded as the larger guard followed, leaving the second guard to regain control of his vocal cords and pray the fairy did not speak of his discourtesy to the king.

When King Wendell arrived in his receiving room, the windows had been covered and the torches burned with a dark red light, casting large shadows in the room’s corners. Esemli’s blonde locks were a muted bright spot in the dim room, and the king made his way toward her, blood rushing unbidden to his loins.

“My lady,” the king said gravely as he approached her.

Esemli turned, the shadows giving her face a sinister cast as she smiled and dropped her tunic from her shoulders. “My lord,” she whispered, and moved to greet him.

Queen Hespa stood outside the receiving room door, listening to the sounds coming from within. There were no tears from the queen, only rage. With the strength of fury she raised a foot and kicked the door open with a bang. The sun was behind her coming through a window slit and it fell neatly through the door and illuminated the king atop the fairy.

Free Fiction Friday: Bad Cold by J. C. Eickelberg

Bad Cold
by J. C. Eickelberg

“I can’t stand this cold,” Beth said, sounding as miserable as she felt.

“You’ll get over it fast,” Isabel said. “You always do.” Her roommate said this, dressed for a night out. Beth watched her finish getting ready for a fun night.

“You look amazing. I wish I could join you.” Beth sat wearing old sweats and a headband holding back messed up hair. “I’m not going to give anyone this cold.”

“I’ve seen you go before with a cold.”

“Not like this one. I can barely hear. Can’t smell anything. Szechuan chicken didn’t even touch this congestion.” She blew her nose, filling a tissue.

Isabel wished her the best and left.

“God. I want this cold to be done,” Beth grumbled. “My heads gonna burst.”

“No, it’s not,” a little voice said.

She passed it off. Five nights of less than adequate sleep was making her loopy. This was as much from lack of sleep as all the meds she’d consumed.

“Drink more water,” the voice said.

She didn’t want to drink more water. If she did she’d have to pee more often. At this point she was just too tired to get off the couch. Constant sniffling kept tissue boxes present wherever she went in her apartment. Sudden sneezing made for a strong need for her current closest friend, a box of tissues. Sneezing receded, but the tissues remained ready. She took a deep breath. She released a great load of snot. The pressure was suddenly gone. Relief washed over her.

Reaching for a trashcan, she felt something unusual. Beth was disgusted enough by the amount of snot she produced. This current load felt a lot more dense than others.

“Yuck,” she declared at the mass in the tissue.

“You think it was pleasant in there?” came a response. Beth looked at her hand. In the tissue was a greenish yellow slug looking back at her. “I’ve seen nicer places than your nose.”

She screamed and threw the gelatinous mess in the trash. She nearly gagged running to wash her hands.


J.C. works and lives in Wisconsin.  He has a beautiful wife and two active boys.  He enjoys spending time with family, reading, and, time permitting, writing.  Haunted and spooky places have always intrigued him.

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 13: The Finale – Triplets

13: Triplets

She had always been there, since the beginning, when she crouched, afraid to come out. She spent her growing years watching with wistful longing for the world beyond the windows behind which she was rooted, imprisoned, helpless. There were moments where she was happy, fulfilled, but for the most part she was a silent observer.

    After some time, she began to feel stronger. Not so strong as to demand, but to ask. Little things at first, then as they began to be granted with greater frequency, she dared to ask for more, and more often. Finally, she began to take, and an amazing thing happened. The windows came down and she was outside, doing as she pleased. Even this became a regular occurrence, and she wept with joy at the sensation of being. Even when she was required to return to behind the windows, she did so with a raised heart, knowing it would be only temporary.

    Then the other came.

    The other was an evil bitch from the very first time it arrived. It started out bad and became worse as it got stronger. Soon her time out from behind the windows was being snatched from her with increasing frequency and she seemed to have little to no control over it. The other cared nothing for her or the owner of the windows and only sought its own gratification. She hated the other for its selfishness, and hated herself worse for the envy she felt for its ability to put the immediate moment above all else and act in its own interests. She hated herself for loving the moments she spent behind the mirrors watching it go about its disturbing business. It knew her as well as she knew herself, and knew that her anger, at its core, was nothing but envy. The owner of the windows was practically useless by this point, merely a shell, a scarcely sentient vessel for the war that raged within.

    She was alone.

    She watched as

Daniel took lefts and rights as rapidly as he was able, pushing the stolen car to freeway speeds between blocks. Cars honked as he weaved in and out between them and he ignored them. He wanted nothing more than to get away from all the noise, the shouting, the pain. Shooting a glance in the rear-view mirror, he saw a wild eyed creature with blood still dripping from its forehead and both eyes turning black. The eye shadow Princess had daubed on had smeared, dripping down from his eyes in gray tears. His coat of foundation had all but dissolved beneath his five o’clock shadow at this point and the pink lipstick Princess favored had migrated outside of his lip line. A messy blonde wig sat askew on his head, showing the wig cap beneath. The long black dress had become torn in multiple places and a black bra strap beneath it had broken.

Taking a turn at 50mph, he sideswiped a truck in an intersection as he blew through a red light and a moment later sirens bloomed in his mirror. Daniel laughed as he cried and drove faster. His leg screamed and he screamed back, throwing a middle finger out the window for good measure.

“Are you happy, Princess?” he shrieked, the car darting around a school bus and clipping off its flashing red stop sign. “Is this the kind of shit you dig, you sick fucking bitch?” The child at the front of the line of children crossing in front of the bus screamed and fell to the ground, his left foot snapped to the side from its impact with Daniel’s bumper.

The school bus’s red lights faded fast behind him as the siren and blue lights moved closer. Another had joined the first. Spying an alley, Daniel slammed on the brakes and turned the wheel, acutely aware if the alley was blocked he was going headfirst into the blockage. The stolen car ricocheted off the mouth of the alley and spun out for a moment before the squealing tires caught the pavement and it shot down the narrow road. Behind, three police cars braked in unison, backing and turning and maneuvering one by one into the alley.

Daniel pressed the gas pedal down as far as it would go, watching the flashing lights fall in behind him and begin to close the distance. Distracted by the rear-view, the car bounced off the alley wall and careened back and forth a few times before it straightened out, sending garbage cans flying. Ahead, Daniel could see a large dumpster blocking half the alley and turned down the next cross street with a shriek of rubber and another bounce off the wall. The stolen car had begun to steam from under its crumpled hood and its engine labored as Daniel raced it out of the alley and onto the main road. He held his breath, watching behind him to see if the blue flashing lights would follow.

He had allowed a moment’s relief to spill over him when four police cars shot out of the alley and with a howl of tires and engines came after him. Simultaneously, a helicopter swooped into view with a roar of clattering blades.

His heart shot into his mouth and Daniel stomped the gas pedal to the floor again. He heard the engine cough and screamed at the top of his lungs, weeping bitterly at what his life had become, at the shattered person he now was and what awaited him. He was reduced to nothing more than a segment of an episode of COPS where viewers laugh at the doomed would-be escapee driving his piece of shit car into the ground under the delusion there was somewhere to go. The thunder of the helicopter and the multiple sirens rising and falling filled his head and somewhere in there he could hear Princess laughing.

PRINCESS.

Hatred Daniel did not know he possessed flashed through him like igniting hydrogen. He glared into the rear-view mirror, past the bruised flesh and running makeup, into his own eyes, at her. He could see her in there and as he glared in hatred, something in the mirror caught his eye.

He focused on the giant shape in the background, tall supports, lines strung between them, the suspension bridge!

Slamming his foot on the brake and turning the wheel hard, Daniel sent the abused vehicle skidding around in a tight circle across two lanes and floored the gas one more time. The helicopter roared overhead in a loop as the police cars hastened to copy his maneuver. Daniel kept the pedal depressed all the way, honking his horn at cars who looked to be an obstacle. The bridge towered in the distance, rising up from the ground like a giant. The helicopter yelled something over a loudspeaker that Daniel could neither comprehend nor care about. He clipped the side mirror of a Buick and swerved away, honking repeatedly. “Get the fuck out of the way!” he screamed, his throat hoarse. A green sign loomed: MACNAIR BRIDGE ¼ MILES.

“What the fuck are you doing?”

Daniel’s eyes snapped to the rear-view mirror. Princess was looking out at him, both furious and terrified. “What the fuck are you doing?” she shrilled again. “Stop it!”

Daniel shook his head, grinning at his own reflection as they shot over the threshold of the bridge. “Uh uh, babe. It’s over. For you and for us. We’ve had it with your shit. You got us into this, now pay for it.” Cables surrounded them and the helicopter backed off as the police cars followed, their quarry now separated by only a few car lengths.

“So you’re going to kill all of us just because you think it’s best?” Princess screamed, fighting to grab the wheel. Daniel laughed and slapped her hands away.

I think it’s best,” Missy said, and she glared at Princess in the mirror with more loathing and hatred than Daniel had ever seen. “Do it, Daniel, send this bitch to hell.”

Princess screamed and went for the wheel again just as Missy took it from Daniel and with a hard yank, sent the car crashing through the barrier on the side of the bridge with enough force to send it soaring horizontally for several car lengths before it began to lose altitude. The bridge was not the tallest in the world, but the helicopter filmed the car falling for almost one hundred feet before crashing into the water and slipping beneath the waves.

***

Dr Bob Derrick, PhD, pushed his way through the steel doors leading to the private visiting rooms at the jail which were reserved for confidential meetings. The prison counselor was tired. It had been a long day, but Mondays always were. This was his final appointment before he could go home and have a cold beer and Derrick was hoping it wouldn’t be a two or three beer night.

At the kiosk, Derrick showed his ID to the guard.

“All right, Bob,” the guard said. “It’ll be Room A today. Who do you need?”

“Thanks Fred,” Derrick said, loosening his tie. “Dasham, please.”

Deadpan, the guard looked at Derrick. “Which one you want?”

Derrick paused in his walk to Room A, uncertainly written across his features. “Which—how many Dashams do you have here, for Christ’s sake? Daniel, Daniel Dasham!”

The guard grinned mischievously. “Ah, well, he’s not here, I’m afraid, Bob. We do have two others in stock if you’d like–”

Derrick’s sense of humor was almost nonexistent at this point. “I’d like you to explain what the fuck–”

“Settle down, Bob,” the guard said with a chuckle and spoke into the microphone clipped to his shoulder. “Dorm 3, send Dasham down to Room A for a visit, please.”

“Which one?” the distorted voice on the radio crackled back and let go with a laugh and a hiss of static.

“Go along to Room A, Bob,” the guard said, hitting the switch that unlocked the door. “Dasham will be right down, and then they can explain what the fuck to you.”

“They?”

The guard gestured go on with his hand at Derrick and turned back to his desk. Unsettled and irritated, Derrick continued down the hall to Room A and let himself in. A white table sat under a large florescent light, two black plastic chairs on opposite sides. Taking the seat facing the door, as was his practice, Derrick set his briefcase on the table and took out his Dasham file.

When the door opened, the man who followed the policeman in bore little resemblance to the photo Derrick had in his file. Daniel Dasham’s eyes were made up with concealer to cover the black eyes and smokey black eye shadow and mascara over the concealer. Foundation covered his face, leaving a smooth flawless exterior surrounding light purple lips. His hair was nearing his eyes and he tossed it to the side, out of the way. Though he wore the yellow shapeless prison garb like every other inmate, he wore it as though it were tailored clothing made from the finest material as he breezed across the room and sat in the chair opposite Derrick, crossing one leg primly over the other.

“Dr Derrick, I presume,” the man said, his voice light and cultured. He held out one hand, its fingernails adorned with cheap nail polish. “A pleasure to meet you.”

“Uh, likewise,” Derrick said, taking the proffered hand and giving it a quick shake before dropping it. “You’re Mr Daniel Dasham, correct?” Derrick glanced at the folder even though he knew perfectly well the name of the individual before him.

The man shrugged. “If you like.”

“What does that mean?” Derrick asked, opening his briefcase again and taking out a pen and a pad of legal paper.

“The body you are addressing is Daniel Dasham’s, that is correct,” the man said, leaning back in his chair. “Who is in control of that body is never a sure thing.”

Derrick’s internal eyes rolled. “Okay Daniel, who is in charge today?”

The man laughed. “Today? Try right now, this minute. Next minute it could be someone else.”

“All right then, who is in charge right now, this minute?” Derrick wrote delusional on his pad.

“My name is Missy,” the man said. “I was here first.”

Derrick missed a beat, then scribbled Missy on his pad. “Here first?”

“Well not before Daniel, obviously,” Missy said. “It’s his body, according to what’s between his legs, but I’ve been here as long as I can remember. I just couldn’t do anything about it.”

“When you say here, uh, Missy, exactly where is ‘here’?” Derrick asked.

“In here,” Missy said, and tapped Daniel’s forehead.

“I’m not following you,” Derrick said, feeling the ghost of a yawn creeping up behind him.

“Mr Derrick,” snapped Missy, “are you to tell me that you are the one mental health counselor on the planet devoid of understanding of the concept of schizophrenia, delusions, psychosis and split personality?”

“Well, I think–” Derrick said defensively.

She waved him aside. “See if you can follow me down this road. As near as I can determine, Daniel and I were born together with him in charge. I was inside, watching, powerless. As Daniel got older, he started to give in to things I wanted, mostly in how he would dress. He listened to what I wanted more and more and let me indulge myself. I found a job at a suicide hotline as my first “real world” job, just a voice on a phone and a few co-workers to fool, and I daresay we did very well. I don’t think any of them ever had a clue. He would often apologize for not giving me more free reign, but our parents are old-fashioned and would never have understood. I had to wear what I wanted and do as I pleased out of their sight, which fortunately was frequent with how often they traveled for business. Until one of their trips ended with their plane slamming into a mountain.”

Missy paused in her narrative, her eyes growing watery. Using a corner of her prison shirt, she let it absorb the tear to preserve her makeup before continuing.

“Them dying meant several things. Daniel, their only child and family, inherited everything. Hundreds of millions of dollars and assets were suddenly his. That doesn’t give Daniel enough credit, because he loved both his parents very much and would rather have died than broken their hearts. But when they died, there was nothing to hold him back from doing whatever he wanted. As soon as he realized that, Princess arrived.”

Derrick, his sluggishness a thing of the past, looked up from the two pages of notes he had been frenziedly scribbling. “Who’s Princess?”

Missy sneered and spat on the floor. “Id. Pure id, to use Freud’s terminology. Chaos, hell and misery. She has no concept of reality, of her actions, or of anything but the now. She didn’t have years to learn how to exist, from the very beginning she has had everything she ever wanted and what she wanted began to escalate quickly.”

“Did nobody know?” Derrick asked, incredulous. “Nobody besides you three?”

Missy smiled a little. “Our parents knew about me enough to send Daniel to a shrink who put him on a nice anti-psychotic, you can check with him if you want. Doctor Nathan, or something, whatever. Sometimes we took the pills, sometimes we didn’t. Once Princess came along, we only did the drugs she wanted to do.”

Derrick was still scribbling. “Amazing… how long has this been going on, Dan—er, Missy?”

“Daniel was a fucked up kid. He never did anything to animals but he would find ways to hurt other kids, ways that could never be traced to him. But there have been three of us since Daniel stood graveside at our parents’ funeral. Princess has been killing people for months. One day I said the wrong thing to someone who called the suicide hotline and they killed themselves. I liked it, so I started trying to convince some of the ones who called to go through with it, and got pretty good at it. ”

“Three personalities, all of them homicidal,” Derrick murmured to himself. “Fascinating…”

“Daniel and I both knew when Princess started killing for fun that it was just a matter of time but we couldn’t stop her. Daniel got an apartment in a shitty building to try and keep Princess away from our family home at the mansion, but over time, Daniel ended up being the one to stay at the apartment, while Princess and I spent most of our time at the mansion.” Missy snorted. “Princess wasn’t going to stay in that hell-hole, that’s for sure.”

Derrick flipped over a fifth sheet of paper on his legal pad. “How did you end up here?”

“Fucking Princess,” Missy snarled. “I had a thing going with a nice enough guy and we went to a hotel for the weekend. Unfortunately she came along for the ride, killed a shitload of people and we’ve been running ever since then, until that fucking attempted suicide stunt with the bridge.”

“Yes, that was on the news,” Derrick said. This is a massive understatement, the media is screaming themselves hoarse over the cross-dressing serial murderer at the head of one of the world’s most powerful shipping companies.

“I bet it was,” Missy grumbled.

“So, Daniel’s in there right now, with Princess, while Missy’s talking to me?” Derrick said, referring to his notes.

Missy’s sighed, her voice sad. “No. Daniel is dead.”

Derrick looked perplexed. “But you’re not.”

“Well spotted,” Missy snorted. “I didn’t say I understood how. All I know is that ever since they pulled us out of the water under the bridge, Daniel as I have always known him does not exist.”

“Oh.” Derrick frowned at his papers. “What about Princess?”

Missy’s face hardened. “Oh she’s in here all right,” she said, her voice soft. “The bad ones never die. She’s in here, refusing to take responsibility. Watching. Watching you.”

The buzzer over the door rang and Derrick jumped in spite of himself.

“That’s all for now, doctor,” Missy said, pushing her chair back. “But I’ll see you again, won’t I? I’ve never been able to talk to anybody and I feel so much better already.”

“Oh, uh, yes, certainly,” babbled Derrick, simultaneously standing, putting everything in his briefcase and offering Missy his hand. “I’ll talk to the guards and we’ll get a schedule and–”

“Good,” Missy said, shaking the offered hand once as papers spilled from Derrick’s file all over the floor.

“Will you be all right in there?” Derrick asked, ignoring the papers as he gestured to the rest of the prison. “With your, uh…” Derrick gestured at Missy’s makeup.

“Oh, we’ll be fine,” Missy said with a light laugh as the door opened to reveal the guard who would escort her back to the dorm. “We already have a nice boyfriend, and Princess knows how to handle those kind of men.”

As the door slammed shut, Derrick’s eyes fell to the glossy color photograph of one of the victims from the Rialto Hotel, mutilated beyond recognition. He shuddered.

Yes, she does.

   

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 12:

12: Dasham Manor

There was noise. Shouting, and the echo of a very loud sound in the very recent past.

Missy opened her eyes. Princess was nowhere to found. The sky gazed down at her, benign white clouds passing by on a distant breeze. She felt shooting pain in her right leg and when she raised her head, a white cloud of agony overwhelmed her as her head exploded. Her face felt wet and she tasted blood. When she raised a hand to her cheek, she saw glass embedded in her forearm. Her hand came away from her face wet and red. She tried again to raise her head and the cloud of agony came again but dissipated more quickly. She pushed herself into a sitting position and looked at her leg. It was still there and seemed fine but moving it was no easy task.

Turning to look behind her (no easy task but she managed it) explained the agonies she felt. The car they had been riding in was bent so far around the telephone pole that the rear of the vehicle and the front were nearly touching. There was a her-sized hole in the windshield and she had landed nearly twenty feet from the car after being ejected. The car was smoking and she could smell gasoline.

Grimacing, she pushed herself away from the smoldering wreckage and forced her bad leg under her. Pushing herself up, she staggered, catching a nearby wall for support.

“Hey, mister, are you okay?”

Missy’s eyes blazed and she snapped her head around (her neck screamed in protest) at the speaker, a middle-aged woman with mousy brown hair and a timid expression. The woman took a startled step backward.

“Oh, I’m sorry, ma—ma’am?”

“That’s right,” Missy hissed. She could hear sirens in the distance and cursed whatever meddling fool had dialed 911. “I’m fine. You can go. Thanks.”

The woman stared.

“GO!” shrieked Missy. Blood sprayed at the woman who jumped and scuttled down the street, looking over her shoulder as though Missy might attack.

Glancing around, Missy approached one of the cars which had screeched to a halt on the side of the road, a shiny red sports car. Its owner was shouting into his phone with his window down, smoking a cigarette.

“…seriously! It might blow up at any–”

Missy snatched the phone from his ear and tossed it over her shoulder. The man in the car goggled at her before indignation took over and he threw open the door and jumped out.

“You bitch! What the fuck–”

His eyes bulged and he let out a high pitched noise as she brought her knee up into his crotch with all the force she could muster. He toppled forward and fell on his side, hands between his legs, face very red as he struggled for breath. She kicked him in the face, nearly falling on her bad leg, and threw herself into his car. She threw the car into drive and stomped the gas pedal (her leg screamed) and the car flew forward, leaving the remains of her automobile in the distance behind her.

***

Detective Harris had seen many things in his days as a law enforcement officer, but the suite at the Rialto had been the worst thing he had ever laid eyes upon. A cold fury engulfed him, drowning the sickness he felt at the sight. This rage had served him well in the past and he used it as he studied the room and its unfortunate occupants with minute scrutiny.

Brian Jensen, the hotel’s night manager, nearly unrecognizable, his body near the door.

Jack Fleete, the bellboy, his throat obliterated by a scalpel which now stuck out of his eye.

Dale Johnson, US Army, his weekend’s leave from his post now eternal, his face in pieces.

Dennis Kramer, middle school teacher who had failed to turn up to teach class, his face mostly in one piece on the nightstand.

Long before a lowlife pimp known as Bitch Slap had flagged down a police cruiser and informed them one of his whores had been butchered, Harris had been investigating the savaged victims that had been turning up more and more frequently. He had gone to the address that Bitch Slap provided, and once in the room, he’d had little trouble recognizing the similarities between the flayed carcass and the only crime scene photos of Jack the Ripper’s handiwork. It had clearly been done for fun, and it fit the pattern of mutilations that Harris had been investigating for several months: over the top brutality with no discernible motive.

Harris made inquiries and soon learned that the room had been rented with a credit card in the name of Daniel Dasham. An internet search of the name returned dozens of hits, particularly for the surname. Harris clicked on the first photo which blew up to full screen. It was a blonde young man with thick glasses in black mourning clothes and tears on his cheeks as he stood beside an open grave. The caption reads, “Daniel Dasham, heir to the Dasham Shipping Line fortune, weeps at his parents funeral.” The article goes on to detail how Mr and Mrs Dasham were in an automobile accident returning home from playing tennis and were killed instantly, leaving their only child Daniel their entire estate. After some looking, Harris found the date of the photo. The funeral had been held in June, several months before the first brutalized body had been discovered.

The Dasham mansion was in a posh gated community at the far side of town, but with a little digging, Harris uncovered an address as far from posh as it was possible to get. Daniel Dasham had rented a tiny efficiency apartment in a building with which the police were intimately familiar. Murder, drug manufacturing, and human trafficking were some of the things its walls contained and Harris did not like being inside it.

When he stepped into Dasham’s apartment what first struck him was how little there was here. An enormous computer desk with four dark monitors stood at the center of the room, the chair pushed neatly in. A huge wardrobe taller than Harris stood against a far wall beside a vanity littered with cosmetics with light bulbs surrounding the mirror. A blonde wig and a black wig stood side by side on matching stands on the vanity counter. Harris reached out a hand and touched the hair. It felt real.

Forcing open the wardrobe door, he took in the variety of dresses, skirts and lingerie that were hanging neatly, color coded. A small basket at the bottom of the vanity caught his eye and he leaned down to examine its contents. He shone a small flashlight into the gloom and illuminated several fake breast inserts, their resemblance to skinless chicken breasts impossible to ignore. On a hunch, he lifted them out of the basket, using his flashlight, and uncovered a small blue pill bottle. Harris pulled a pair of rubber gloves from his coat pocket and snapped them on before picking up the pill bottle and holding the flashlight to its label.

DASHAM, DANIEL, it said. HALOPERIDOL. 5MG. TAKE ONE TABLET EVERY 4 HOURS. The prescription had been last filled over a year ago, the label further informed him. Harris shook it. It was full. A quick internet search revealed that haloperidol was the generic form of Haldol, a popular anti-psychotic.

The computer was still on and at a poke of the mouse its four screens flickered to life. Two were blank. One displayed a web browser, its bookmarks featuring makeup tutorials and clothing stores catering to larger frames. The other screen showed an email inbox and Harris’s attention was drawn like a magnet to a name from the carnage at the Rialto. This name appeared frequently over a period of weeks, sometimes multiple times a day. Opening the most recent email, Harris saw the reply “Can’t wait!” in response to Missy’s latest email to her current boy toy, Dennis Kramer, middle school teacher.

               I got our usual suite at the Rialto for the weekend. You know where to find me if you can get away.

               -Missy

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 11: Civil War

11: Civil War

“Ma’am,” the officer said, leaning down to peer through the window, “do you know why I pulled you over?” He was a large man with a stomach to match. His wheezing breath spoke of emphysema and many nights chain-smoking during stakeouts. Broken blood vessels stood out on his nose but his eyes were sharp behind them. They were busy eyes, taking in the interior of the car even as he asked the question.

“Not a clue,” said Princess, her voice airy.

Officer Benton, according to his nametag, allowed his roving eyes to settle on her again. The corners of his mouth turned down a bit more and he shifted his weight from one foot to the other as though it hurt. “You pulled out of that parking lot with no signal.” He gestured to the road before them. “Two lanes of traffic might like the hint as to which way you’re going.”

“Now now, hints would be telling,” Princess said, and giggled.

Benton’s eyebrows disappeared under his hat. “Excuse me?”

“I’m just fooling around, Officer. I’m awful sorry about that, I must have just been in a hurry,” Princess sighed. “Can you forgive me?”

The corners of Benton’s mouth turned down still farther. “Ma’am, I’ll need to see your license and–”

“UNIT 34 COME BACK,” the radio shouted without warning, punctuating its transmission with a healthy hiss of static. Princess and Benton both winced and he straightened up, his hand going to the radio.

“34, go,” he said, and the radio’s reply turned into a drone of garbled vowels and consonants as he turned the volume down.

Princess took a drag from her cigarette as her eyes traveled down the officer’s ample frame, his gut heaving as he spoke into the radio. Her gaze settled the butt of his gun, which stood right in front of her through the open driver window. Right there. So close.

Missy felt the idea grow in Princess’s mind and almost at once the hand not holding the cigarette raised from the armrest, reaching for the gun. As though in a daze, Missy watched Princess stretch out the arm they shared. The fingers grazed the butt of the gun.

NO!!!…

With a sudden stab of pain in her head, Missy felt the butt of the gun under her fingers and snatched them away just as Officer Benton leaned back down to peer in her window.

“Ma’am, you’re free to go, but please remember: blinkers save lives.” He tipped her a little salute and was stumping back to his car before Missy could even say anything. She watched, her limbs weak with relief as he got back into his car, turned on all his lights and pulled out with his own screech of tires. He didn’t use his turn signal.

“Sissy Missy,” sang Princess, the rage she felt at being balked almost palpable. “Can’t take a joke.”

“Oh yes, let’s steal the cop’s gun and shoot him on a busy street. Really funny,” Missy snapped, signaling to turn onto the road behind the cop who was now just a blue and red blur in the distance. “I really don’t know where you get your material.”

“Your problem is you just don’t know how to have fun,” Princess said.

“My problem is that I haven’t killed myself yet. I’ll have you know that the only reason I don’t drive this fucking car off a cliff or into a wall is that now I can take over you if you start acting like a psycho and if I hadn’t we’d be eye deep in shit right now so you should be thanking me for not killing us both by making that cop shoot us!” Missy’s voice had risen as she said all this until she was nearly screaming. An sports car that had been pacing her suddenly sped up, its driver irrationally disturbed by the thing he had seen screaming at itself in the car next to him.

Princess laughed without mirth. “You poor weak thing,” she sneered. With a sudden sinking feeling, Missy saw that she was no longer moving the hands she saw grasping the wheel. One of them let go and extended the middle finger toward her. “You pathetic little piece of trash. You think you have any power over me? You truly have no reason to be alive, and you will never control anything again, least of all Us.” The hands moved, pulling a cigarette from the pack and lighting it, then taking it out of the mouth and holding it. Princess stared at Missy in the mirror, eyes devoid of reason. “I will see you die, locked deep inside wherever you are now, before I tolerate your presence again.”

Missy felt herself go cold, wherever she was. She tried to do whatever it was that she had done to take over, to stop Princess grabbing the gun. Pushing with her mind clumsily, she shoved with all her might, her head aching, until she realized she was standing in the same place, doing nothing. Wherever she was, she could see Princess smile and blow a kiss in the rearview mirror at her. You bitch, Missy screamed as loudly as she could. Princess laughed.

“I can see you in there, Miss. But you’re never getting out. Maybe you haven’t figured it out, but I don’t care about what happens next. All that I see is what happens now. I guarantee, by the time we die, we will have had more fun together than you ever could have by yourself.”

Missy’s eyes, wide and terrified, suddenly shifted from the eyes in the mirror to the road behind them. Look out, she shouted.

Princess’s eyes widened and she jerked the wheel to the right even as the SUV behind them rammed into their rear bumper, sending the car forward in a wide sweeping skid. Princess fought the wheel and succeeded only in making the car slew around to the left as it crossed the shoulder and wrapped itself around a telephone pole with a bang and a sickening crunch.

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 10: Making Waves

Episode 10: Making Waves

She drove through the city, her predator’s eye falling on each pedestrian in turn as she smoked, more out of habit than hunting. As much as it galled her to admit it, fucking Missy was right, along with that pussy bitch Daniel. She needed to lay low for a while.

Well, mostly low.

Taking an abrupt right which squealed her tires and left the driver of the car behind her swearing, she turned into a fast food drive-in and stopped before the speaker. The window rolled down.

“Ca…’elp you?” the speaker blared, much of its clarity lost in a haze of crackle and static.

“I daresay you can,” Princess told the speaker box, flicking her cigarette butt at it. “Give me one of those foul salads you sell, whichever is the most popular.”

“…m… tha’d be the gard…alad…”

“Whatever, that’s what I want.” Princess said, and drove forward to the window, braking just as the pimply youth within finished speaking to where she had been.

“Your total is—” he said, before catching sight of her. “Oh…er…” he looked back at his computer terminal to confirm. “Three dollars and…”

“Look, Clyde,” Princess said, reading his nametag and flashing him a grin. “Why don’t you give me everything in the register, and I promise you’ll never see me again.”

The boy was dumbfounded. “Twenty…three…what?”

“You have money there in that drawer, and I need it. Give it to me, and you’ll never see me again. If you don’t, I promise you that you will see me again enough to make you wish you had given it to me.” Princess smiled as a shark does. “You can call your manager if you like, but no matter what comes next, you will die screaming and your last wish will be that you had emptied the register when you were told.”

Clyde was sixteen, and was only working part-time to save up money for a car. His second dearest ambition was to get a girlfriend and take her necking in his car. His dearest ambition was not to get killed. As his eyes traveled over the creature in the car, he took in the red-stained fingers which drummed the steering wheel, matted hair, the slightly bared teeth, but what he would always remember was the sunken bloodshot eyes, devoid of sanity and mercy. He knew if he refused, he would see those eyes again, and right now Clyde’s dearest ambition was for that not to happen.

“One minute,” said Clyde, and punched NO SALE on the register. The door banged open and he scooped out all the bills, folding them into a wad and handing them with the salad through the window into the reddened hands.

Princess beamed and gave him a wink. “Such an intelligent boy. What did you say my total was?”

Clyde’s autopilot replied, “$3.23.”

Princess peeled four ones out of the wad and gave them back to Clyde. “Keep the change. Thanks!”

Clyde could hear mad laughter as the car pulled out of the drive thru, screeching onto the main road and out of earshot. He let out a breath he was not aware he had been holding and yelled for his manager.

 

“What in the fuck Fuck FUCK was that about?” Missy was howling as Princess counted the wad of money while stopped at a red light. “Are you just incapable of going an hour without fucking with someone’s life?”

“Partially,” Princess said, flicking through the twenties, tens and fives. There were a few fifties and one hundred dollar bill. All in all, about three hundred thirty dollars. “But every little bit helps.”

“You do realize,” Missy said, her voice shaking with fury as she nearly hyperventilated, “that kid is looking at the security camera footage with his manager at this exact moment and writing down the license plate?”

“I took off the license plates, after you left work.” Princess nodded to the plates in on the floor of the passenger seat.

“THAT was stupid,” Missy snarled. “Why don’t you just break all our tail lights and run red lights while you’re at it.” Lighting a cigarette and tossing the wad of money into the glove compartment as the light turned green, the car spurted through the intersection, turning right again into a strip mall. Wrenching the car into a parking spot, Missy got out with the cigarette clamped between her teeth, fumbling with the license plates. There were only three screws to attach the two plates and Missy cast her eyes to the heavens praying for patience. A thought flashed through her mind…

…why don’t I just kill myself…

…before she leaned over and slammed the rear plate onto its mount and poked the screw toward its receptacle. Her fingers protested as the stubborn screw turned by fractions, not helping her mood. Her teeth clenched as she forced the screw through several revolutions, then added the second screw, which was even more reluctant to be seated than the first. Swearing, she managed to get them both tightened to her satisfaction, and straightened up, taking a long pull from her cigarette as she looked around.

A man was coming toward her, sauntering with the overly casual stride of the Casanova. A low keening noise came from Missy’s throat and her fingers tightened on the license plate as she hooked the cigarette back into her mouth and marched around the car to secure the front license plate. The man followed.

“Hey there li’l lady, you need help?” His voice was dripping with insincerity and condescension. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see him adjusting his crotch.

will this ever end?…

“Got a wrench or some pliers?” Missy said, not looking up, her voice flat.

“Got a Leatherman right here,” the man said, pulling one from a case on his belt and offering it to her. Missy took it, doing her best to ignore the excessive contact with the man’s fingers that he insisted upon as it left his hand.

“Thanks,” she said her voice cold as she leaned down to tighten the one remaining screw into the license plate using the pliers.

“Girl, if you want to thank me, you can think of a better way I’m sure,” said the man, his voice lowering. Missy’s blood boiled as she felt a hand crawling up her ass as she finished tightening the screw.

Turning, she caught his hand and held it to her chest, fluttering her eyes at him. “You are so right, my knight in shining armor.” She raised the hand to her mouth, pursing her lips as though she were about to kiss them.

The man’s oafish chuckle turned into a scream of pain as her other hand clamped the cutting edge of the Leatherman’s pliers onto his middle finger with all the force her hand could muster.

“Thank you,” Missy hissed in his face, twisting the Leatherman, feeling it sink deeper into his finger. “I really appreciate it.”

She released him and he ran, sobbing, for the safety of the building. Faces stared, at her, after him, some curious, those who had witnessed the entire scene looking far more apprehensive. Missy spat, folded the Leatherman and tossed it into the car. Sliding behind the wheel, she pulled out of the space and onto the main road with a squeal of tires.

“There’s always some fucking idiot,” she muttered, fumbling with her cigarettes. “Why can’t they just—”

The blip of sirens behind her snapped her eyes to the rearview mirror. They grew huge as they took in the police cruiser behind her, lit up like a Christmas tree. For a moment, Missy and Princess were both frozen.

Princess took over, calmly pulling a cigarette from the pack and lighting it as she pulled over to the side of the road. For a moment, she considered flooring the gas pedal, then tossed her head and smiled her nasty smile. She rolled down the window.

“Evening, officer,” she purred.

Free Fiction: The Banyan Tree Ghosts by Sravani Singampalli

The Banyan Tree Ghosts by Sravani Singampalli

People in the village were always scared of the banyan tree at the corner of the old palace where once a beautiful princess named Kamakshi committed a suicide along with her best friend. Princess Kamakshi used to spend time in the shade of the banyan tree with her best friend named Moya who was a farmer’s daughter. Both of them had the same mindset and fell in love at a much younger age. They both were in deep love and used to discuss their thoughts and future sitting under the banyan tree. They used to advise each other and were sure that their parents would agree for their marriage with their lovers but that didn’t happen and it led to unexpected repercussions.

Princess Kamakshi and Moya failed in convincing their parents and one fine day both of them committed a suicide by hanging themselves from the banyan tree. Their sudden demise shook the entire village. Nobody expected that these two girls would take such a brutal step. Moya’s parents were in shock and left the village while Kamakshi’s parents donated their property to an orphanage and lived in a small house with their daughter’s memories. The news of their death spread to all the nearby villages. Children started weaving their own stories and that banyan tree became very popular.

One day, a farmer named Raju was passing by the banyan tree where Moya and Kamakshi hung themselves and all of a sudden he started shouting like a lady. People who listened to his voice and observed his behaviour were very sure that he was possessed by some evil spirit. From that day all the villagers became alert and were very scared of going near that banyan tree. Raju’s health kept on deteriorating as days passed by. He was newly married and lived happily with his beautiful wife but after that strange incident, happiness left his life. He spoke all the weird languages and dirty words. Sometimes, he just used to drape a saree and walk like a woman. People were not only scared of that banyan tree but were scared of Raju’s behaviour too.

Raju’s wife was very worried and felt insulted because of his behaviour. Children used to hurl stones at him and some people also used to beat him badly that led to serious problems. Raju’s wife finally decided to approach an exorcist for help. She had to visit another village to meet the exorcist and explained everything in detail to him. After listening to the entire story, the exorcist came to a conclusion and decided to perform an exorcism. The very next day, the exorcist visited Raju and tried to know about the spirit who possessed him. To his surprise, he came to know that not one but two spirits had possessed him. He asked their names and also their wishes. Everybody was shocked to know that Raju was possessed by the spirits of princess Kamakshi and Moya. The exorcist questioned them about their intentions and wishes. They just said that they never got to enjoy life so they decided to play with this newly married innocent man as he was living a happy life. They promised the exorcist that they would leave Raju’s body if he agrees to wear a red colour saree and walk till that banyan tree with a pot full of water on his head like a woman. The exorcist told Raju to do as they demanded. Raju did whatever they wished for and after an hour he became completely normal. He was free of both the spirits.

Raju’s wife was on cloud nine and grateful to the exorcist but the exorcist warned all the villagers to stay away from that banyan tree in order to lead a happy life. The villagers decided to build a fence around that banyan tree. Nobody understood what Kamakshi and Moya wanted after this strange incident. To some people, it seemed funny but rumours about that banyan tree continued to spread to other villages and nobody dared to visit that place.

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 9: Resignation

9: Resignation

 The sun stabbed Missy in the eyes as she opened the garage door. Squinting, she flipped open the glove compartment and dug for her good sunglasses. They weren’t there. She heaved a sigh of exasperation as she remembered she had left them at Daniel’s. Digging deeper, she extracted a pair of scratched gas station sunglasses held together by tape. She slipped them over her eyes and the sun’s harsh rays were cut in half.

Pulling out of the garage, she narrowly missed the neighbor’s garbage can while lighting a cigarette and punching the garage door button. Getting the cigarette lit was no easy matter, but Missy was no quitter and managed it just in time to yank the car back toward the middle of the road and away from the opposite curb. The mother pushing the stroller that she had nearly hit shook her fist and yelled something Missy did not even register.

Making her way onto the main street, she dragged deep on her cigarette, wishing she’d thought to bring a flask. Fortunately, the building inhabited by the suicide hotline was west of the community she and Princess inhabited, and the sun stayed behind her.

Traffic crawled up the street. Drivers honked and yelled, and she could hear a dozen different radios tuned to the same Good Morning talk show. She pitched her cigarette and rolled up the window with a snarl, cutting off the cheerful banter. Switching the input on her radio, she tuned into a USB drive with some of her favorite music. A hellish crashing and screaming filled the car, the melody only just discernible, but she felt herself relax almost at once. She lit another cigarette but kept the windows rolled up. Who gave a shit about a little second hand smoke? That was for people who were concerned with living forever, and as far as she was concerned, she was ready to check out just about anytime.

The light turned green. Traffic crawled forward. According to the digital clock on the dashboard, she would be late in ten minutes. This no longer had any effect over her and she settled back in her seat, lighting another cigarette before noticing she was already smoking one. She put both in one hand and smoked them simultaneously as traffic began to move at a more steady rate.

They both burnt out just as she rolled into the parking lot of the suicide hotline. She parked mostly between the lines, denting only one bumper on her way in. Pitching the butts on the ground, she slammed the car door behind her and made her way toward the door of the building. Once inside, she reflected that it was far darker than usual, then realized she was still wearing her scuffed sunglasses. With a noise of impatience she crushed them in her hand and dropped them into a garbage can next to the elevator as its doors chimed open. As she rode up, she looked at herself in the hazy reflection of the elevator doors.

Princess giggled and waved at her.

Missy’s jaw tightened and she was about to speak when the door slid open. The hotline’s night shift stood before her, about to head home to their own lives. Their collective step toward the door of the elevator faltered as they saw the fury on Missy’s face. She rearranged her features into what she was fairly sure was a grin.

“Morning,” she said, and breezed past them. They moved aside, murmuring the rote replies reserved for barely-acquaintances passing each other in the halls. She spared them not a look, but strode down the hall to the office door, weaving only a little.

When she walked into the office, the others on her shift were all at their cubicles wearing headsets. She ignored the clock and sat down at her cubicle, donning her headset and answering the already ringing phone.

“Suicide hotline, what’s your problem?” she said, digging in her bag for her cigarettes.

Her cubicle neighbor spared her a curious glance before another call took his attention away from her. In Missy’s ear, a man began a long story about how his wife left him and took his dog and children. He’s standing on a bridge, he says, and he wants her to give him one good reason why he shouldn’t jump.

“Why would I do that?” Missy asked, finally locating her cigarettes and switching her search to her lighter.

“Well… this is the suicide hotline, isn’t it? Aren’t you supposed to–”

“Look, Mac,” Missy snapped, her fingers finally locating her lighter at the bottom of her bag. “Why the fuck did you call here? Do you want to kill yourself or be talked out of it? If you want to be talked out of it, you clearly don’t want to kill yourself, so why don’t you piss off and leave me alone. I’ve had a bad enough morning as it is.”

She disconnected the call without waiting to hear a reply, rolling her eyes and digging the lighter out. She lit a cigarette, ignoring the aghast looks being beamed her way by those within earshot as she answered another call. “Suicide hotline, what is it?”

“I have a terminal disease,” said a lifeless voice. “What’s the point of going on if I’m just going to die?”

Missy took a deep drag and held it in. “We’re all going to die, genius,” she said, and exhaled. “You’re just lucky enough to die earlier than most.”

“I guess so,” the voice said.

“Think of how many people want to die,” said Missy, and took another drag. “You get to die without having to kill yourself. The waiting is over. You know how you’re going to die. All you-”

“I’m so sorry,” a firm male voice broke in. “You have been speaking to someone who is NOT employed by the Suicide Hotline, and I sincerely regret any trauma she has caused you. Now, how can I help you?”

Before the voice was halfway done, Missy felt a hand close on her arm, propelling her upward from her seat. She was turned, catching sight of her cubicle neighbor who had taken over her call with Terminal Disease and stared into the furious eyes of office manager Carol Olson.

“I think the lady I was just talking to had it right,” Missy heard the voice say in her headset before Elson yanked it off her head and threw it on the desk.

“And I think,” Elson said, her teeth clenched, “that we have had enough of your style of ‘help’, Missy.” She released Missy’s arm, nearly throwing her. “I have called the police and if you don’t want to explain yourself to them, I suggest you leave now and never set foot on this property again.”

Missy’s jaw dropped. Just as quickly, she put her cigarette in it and regained her composure, blowing the smoke in Elson’s face. “You couldn’t pay me enough to work here, bitch,” she said and grabbed her bag from what had formerly been her desk. Behind her, she could hear many voices soothing distraught lives. “KILL YOURSELVES!” she shrieked, whirling around. “KILL YOURSELVES NOW AND GET IT OVER WITH!”

The employees winced as one, and she could near numerous reassurances and variations of  “that wasn’t meant for you” being murmured soothingly into headsets. Elson’s eyes flashed and she made to grab Missy’s arm again. Missy evaded her this time and flicked the cigarette at Elson’s chest. The older woman flinched as it bounced off her and dropped to her feet.

“Keep your hands to yourself,” Missy snarled. “I’m leaving, just like you wanted, and you can pretend I never happened.”

She left the building without looking back and sat in her car for a moment staring at herself in the mirror.

“Smooth,” said Princess.

“Shut up,” Missy muttered, starting the car and reversing out of her spot. She joined the flood of traffic on the main arterial, driving opposite the sirens she could hear growing closer.

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 8: The Noose

Eight: The Noose

“Fuck you!” Missy screamed, throwing her empty vodka bottle against the mirror against the wall above the bed. Both glasses shattered and rained down on the man shaped lumps of flesh in the bed. “You stupid know-it-all cunt, how dare you play games with our lives?!” She snatched the TV remote off a nearby table and flung it at the mirror on the back of the suite’s door. She caught a glimpse of Princess’s grinning face before it was extinguished with a crash. Looking around with red-tinged vision, she saw the large flat screen TV balanced on a dresser. Without a second thought, she grabbed it and heaved it onto the floor. A bright flash and a splintering sound, and the TV became no more than a paperweight.

“You can scream all you want, but what’s done is done,” said Princess, her maddening tone of calm superiority driving Missy into a further rage, which she exhibited by burying her fist in the sheetrock wall.

“This isn’t helping,” Daniel started to say, when there came a firm knock at the door.

“Mr Dasham,” came a stern male voice. “This is the night manager. Please open the door.”

“Now you’ve done it,” smirked Princess.

Missy’s nostrils flared and sparks flew from her gritting teeth. She strode to the door and yanked it open, the sheer force of her rage snapping the chain lock from its anchor.

The man standing at the door was immaculately dressed in a gray suit and tie, neatly knotted. Small spectacles sat on the bridge of his nose, giving him an austere expression that enraged Missy further. He took her in at a glance and began to speak.

“We have received several complaints—” was as far as he got before Missy snatched him by the tie and yanked him into the room, slamming the door behind her as he went reeling across the floor.

“What—” he managed to get out before Missy was upon him, pounding her clenched fist into his face. He let out a scream as his spectacles shattered, Missy’s knuckles driving the shards deep into his eyes and her fingers. A low keening sound was coming from her as she smashed her bloody fist into his increasingly bloody visage, pinning him to the ground with her full weight. She seized a glass from the shelf beside the door and shattered it in the his face.

Daniel watched, resignation washing over him. He knew she was only making things worse, but attempting to stop her would only cause her to turn on him. He could only watch as the manager’s face was obliterated much as Princess had obliterated those of her playthings on the bed. Red sprayed the walls and carpet around them as Missy kept pounding, heedless of her raw and bleeding knuckles. She did not stop until there was nothing recognizable to hit.

Only then did she sit back slowly, surveying the body upon which she sat. She looked from what had been its face to her hand and back, her own face a mask devoid of expression.

“Do you have—” she began, but Daniel was ready with a cigarette and a lighter. Taking them without looking at him, she lit her cigarette, using the hand which still worked properly and dropped the lighter in the mess on the floor. Her first drag was deep and slow as she sat back on the corpse and stared at the ceiling.

“Now what?” asked Daniel, prudently waiting until she had smoked almost all of the cigarette.

“Now,” she said, drawing deep and crushing out the butt in the red puddle before her, “we should probably leave.” She got to her feet, not sparing the bodies a glance. “You’ll have to get the glass out of this hand.”

Two hours later, Daniel, Missy and Princess were back at the home Princess and Missy shared at WestCrest Estates, watching on the huge screen TV as a reporter screamed about the multiple murders in a suite at the Rialto Hotel and Casino. Missy was chain smoking at a rate Daniel had never seen, her heavily bandaged hand holding the cigarette to her pale lips.

Princess piped up on occasion, providing spiteful commentary on what they were seeing on the screen and Missy spoke only to fling obscenities at Princess whenever she spoke, downing shot after shot of a brown liquor that smelled like whiskey but burned like fire when Daniel tried a sip. Missy’s refrain had begun life as “shut up, cunt,” and evolved to more creative heights as the level of liquid in the bottle lowered.

Daniel was silent for the most part, knowing there was nothing he could do or say that would make any real difference as he watched Missy contemplate suicide between sending barbs at Princess. He had more than once talked her out of following through with it. He could tell, however, that she had decided everything except how to go about doing it and knew she was mulling that over between spitting insults at Princess and drinking.

“Look at that bitch,” sneered Princess as the camera returned to the tearful face of the Rialto maid who had discovered the room rented by an individual known as Daniel Dasham. “Snot running down her face, can’t keep her shit together—”

“Well, not everyone is a fucking psycho like you are,” snapped Missy, and lit another cigarette with the butt of the last. “Not everyone can look at three destroyed bodies and feel anything but disgust, unlike you, you demented fucking whore.”

“They’re so much easier to fuck when they’re dead,” Princess mused. “I wonder why more people haven’t tried this.”

Missy sighed. “I could use a length of hose and sit in the garage revving the engine for a while,” she said, and breathed deep. “That’s all it would take, within an hour or two this whole stupid mess would be just another life and you would be more fucking dead than those men because somebody actually gave a flying fuck about them while they were alive.”

“Don’t you dare,” said Princess in tones of mock horror, unruffled. “It makes your face redder and more blotchy and you’re almost out of good foundation.”

“Shut up, cunt,” said Missy.

“If you’re going to do it, why not stick with a classic?” Princess mimed the motion of a razor blade up the forearm and across the wrist. “You can watch yourself bleed out, how much fun would that be?”

“Almost as much fun as watching you go fuck yourself,” Missy said, pouring the last drops of the bottle into her glass and throwing the bottle over her shoulder to detonate against the wall. “How about another bottle?”

Daniel eyed the shards in the corner and Missy’s bloodshot eyes. “Haven’t you had…”

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Missy snarled, clawing her way to her feet and weaving slightly as she made her way to the hall leading to the kitchen. “How I got stuck with you two I’ll never know. I must be paying for something.”

She made her way through the darkened kitchen, not wanting the light. Navigating by the glow of the green digital numbers on the microwave, she took care to circumvent the rolling table in the kitchen on her way to the pantry. Her toe bumped a corner nonetheless and she let out a scream of pain but mostly fury, her simmering rage flashing to a furious boil in a heartbeat.

She shoved at the wheeled table with all her might. The sound of it skidding across the tile and crashing into the counter loosened something inside her, taking some of the tension. She felt better, not as much as while she pounded the hotel manager’s head into nothingness, but it was something. All the same, she snapped on the kitchen light and opened the pantry door.

Her fingers felt on the top shelf for the specially shaped bottle she had been saving for a special occasion. This wasn’t the happiest occasion, but it was certainly special. Cradling it with care, she made her way back to the living room and dropped back onto the couch.

“That’s a big bottle for rat poison,” said Princess brightly.

“Oh why don’t you go kill something and fuck it. Like yourself,” mumbled Missy as her mangled hand struggled to cooperate with the other and help remove the foil wrapping from the cork of aged brandy. Abandoning the attempt, she gnawed at the foil until she had loosened a strip, peeling it with her teeth and yanking the cork with a firm bite. She took a long pull off the bottle, and returned to glaring at the TV, which was blaring a commercial for a stain remover. Removes tough stains from carpet fast, the ad promised. Crayon, wine, even blood didn’t stand a chance.

“They’re at my apartment,” Daniel said, his voice even. “They showed it while you were in the pantry.”

“Didn’t take them long,” said Princess, raising the bottle to toast the TV.

“Of course not,” Missy grumbled, her eyes glassy. “Not everyone is as fucking stupid as you are.” She took another drink.

“Think they’ll end up here?” Daniel asked, but his question was rhetorical. They weren’t stupid, as Missy had said. It was only a matter of time.  Nobody answered.

The news came back on, discussing an earthquake on the other side of the world. Dozens had died in a building’s collapse. All Missy could think is how lucky those people were, removed from the hell of this life without even having to contemplate it.

Eventually, the shadows began to fade as a pink glow appeared in the east. The special aged brandy had mostly vanished. Missy was nodding, and Daniel had just allowed himself to think that she might just fall asleep and give them all a break. Just then, a crow’s unlovely song shattered the tranquility of the living room. Missy started awake.

“Hm, it’s morning now.” She groped for the bottle and poured the remainder down her throat before dropping it on the ground and struggling to her feet. “I should go to work.”

“At the suicide hotline?”

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 7: Cast Die

Episode 7: Cast Die

The following is an excerpt from the diary of the individual known as Daniel Dasham:

Missy almost killed herself tonight. If I hadn’t shown up when I did, she would have. When I arrived, she had just dropped an empty bottle of pills on the counter. When she became aware of my presence, she froze, then snarled and grabbed for the already bloody scalpel on the counter. With some effort, I managed to get her to drop it.

“Let me go!” she screamed, yanking her arm from my grasp and lunging for the scalpel on the floor. “I’ve had enough, I’m going to be done with that cunt if it kills me!”

I snatched the blade up and threw it across the room, out of reach. Grabbing her by the shoulders, I drug her, kicking and screaming into the bathroom, where I forced her to her knees and slid two fingers down the back of her throat as far as I could.

Her vomit was explosive, blue from the barely digested bottle of pills she had swallowed and reeked of alcohol. It went on for some time as I held her hair and listened to her sob in between heaves about how she had just wanted a romantic weekend away from Princess and thought by coming here, things would be different, and the guy she had been seeing could maybe get to know who she really was, but then Princess had brutalized him and someone else and she was fucked if she was going to let Princess kill anybody else for her own sick fucking pleasure, and why the fuck did I stop her?

“Because,” I said when she had tapered off to ragged breathing, “if you kill yourself, she wins.” I reached over her and flipped the handle, flushing her mess away. Once she calmed down some and was smoking a cigarette, I picked up the scalpel and returned it to her. “If you change your mind, it’s your business,” I said, and left her staring at it as I checked out the bodies.

They were in pretty rough shape. If there were no “visible identification markings”, to use the nomenclature, they were going to need dental records to ID these two. One’s face had been mostly removed and I didn’t find it anywhere in the room. I have a nasty suspicion that Princess consumed it, but if Missy hasn’t drawn that conclusion I certainly don’t want to put that idea in her head. The other guy’s head was nearly off and his face was there, just cut in so many different places it resembled hamburger. I felt a nasty thrill coupled with a sick feeling in my stomach. Princess fascinates me with her savagery. Where did she come from?

That was when there was a knock at the door.

“Room service!” a voice called.

Missy’s face was a smoldering mask of dread and incredulity. “That total bitch ordered room service?”

There was another knock.

With the feeling of a child watching a flame he had started grow from humble matchstick to national forest, I called, “Come in!”

The bellboy, a red-vested kid of no more than twenty summers pushed the door open with the hand not holding the tray on his shoulder. The tray was loaded with what looked like strawberries, whipped cream and champagne. Princess clearly thought she was being clever. The forest fire grew brighter within me as he moved through the suite. I was relieved to see Missy had doused the lights in the part of the suite which contained the bodies, but the switch for the lights nearest the door were out of reach for both of us.

Missy intercepted the bellboy and steered him toward the coffee table in the second room of the suite before his eyes adjusted to the dimmer light. She had found an unstained sheet to wrap around herself, covering the worst of the bloodstains on what clothing she wore. “Thank you so much,” she cooed as the bellboy set the tray on the table and straightened up. “Would you be a dear and open that bottle for us?” Honey dripped from every syllable.

“Certainly, ma’am,” he said, tearing his eyes away from the front of her sheet which was showing more skin than was truly necessary. As he leaned over to take the bottle from its bed of ice, the scalpel appeared in her hand and in the blink of an eye it was thrust into the side of his neck.

His shriek was awful and it only became worse as she withdrew the scalpel only to plunge it back into his neck again, and again, until the sound of his voice had become a gurgling sound as he lay upon the rapidly staining carpet, hands locked around the blade which was buried three quarters of the way into his throat.

Princess(for it was she), plucked the champagne from its bucket and with a deft twist of her wrist, popped the cork from the bottle and took a long drink.

“Thank fuck,” she said, and burped. “I thought I was going to die of thirst before this got here. All the puking and crying and smoking that mopey bitch did leaves me parched.”

“Hello, Princess,” I said, and sighed. “I’m sorry to see you.”

She rolled her eyes and took another long drink. “Sorry to see you too. Want a strawberry?” She dipped one into a generous portion of whipped cream and popped it into her mouth.

“You’ve really fucked up this time,” I said, my voice conversational as I too selected a strawberry and doused it in cream. “Don’t you think they’ll be looking for this fellow soon?”

“Like they’ll come in here,” she scoffed. “They wouldn’t dare.”

“Are you willing to bet your life on that?” I took a bite of the strawberry. It was good, but not as good as one right off the vine. Princess’s face seemed frozen.

“Don’t you see?” I said, and chewed. “You already have. Missy’s too. Even mine, since I’m here.”

Princess took another deep pull from the champagne bottle. Her eyes darted around the room, reminding me of a caged animal as she took in the blood that had spread far and wide, the two dead and mutilated bodies on the bed, the indelible stain becoming more so every minute the hapless bellboy bled out onto the carpet. I had never seen her appreciate the consequences of her actions and it was most enjoyable. Still, it was Missy’s ass too.

“If you get out of here now, you’ll have some time to put some distance between you and this place.” I chose another strawberry, anointed it in cream and consumed it. “I think you may have really done it this time though. Did you use your name—I mean Missy’s to book the room?”

She looked at me like I was an idiot and smirked. “No. She used your name, Daniel.

That’s all for now.

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 6: Romantic Getaway

Six: Romantic Getaway

Missy awoke from darkness to darkness. It was so closely packed around her that she could not breathe and for a moment her disorientation was complete. She was spinning. In a panic, she glanced around and her eyes fell upon the unfamiliar green clock radio. Its very unfamiliarity jogged her memory and with a snap, darkness took on the shape of the suite at the Rialto Hotel.

She sighed and reached out her left hand to the bedside table. Her fingers found the switch to the lamp and a soft glow filled her corner of the room. She stared at the ceiling, feeling her heart rate slow back to normal. Again, her hand reached out and found her pack of cigarettes. She brought them to her chest and extracted one, tossing the pack back on the table and reaching for her lighter. She couldn’t find it. A sigh of exasperation and she levered herself up on one elbow, looking for the damn thing. She froze.

In the bed beside her lay a piece of meat in the shape of a man. It had once been alive, but its resemblance to human features was so vague as to be considered coincidental. Blood covered the sheets and slicked the raw flesh of what could once have been a face. What may have been a mouth gaped, and where a tongue could have been, the suggestion of a mouth gaped empty.

Missy’s eyes traveled up and down the lump in the sheets beside her, before moving back to the bedside table. Her lighter had migrated to the farthest edge and was in danger of falling behind the table. She snatched it and lit her cigarette, inhaling deeply before turning her head to gaze again at what was beside her. A vein was throbbing in her neck and her cheeks were flaming red, otherwise she appeared unperturbed. She was, in fact, contemplating the logistics which went into the manufacture of her cigarette, because if she didn’t think about something mundane, then she would have to think about what Princess had done…

The knock at the door brought an avalanche of memory to her, stopping Missy in mid-smoke. She had originally come to this swanky place for an evening of physical intimacy with the man she was currently seeing. She had come here early to wait for him, and she had somehow lost track of the time. Now it was later, and Dennis Nelson was knocking at the door, likely with a bouquet of flowers in his hand.

“Hey, it’s Denny,” the knock again. “You there, Miss?”

She stood up, stuck the smoke in her mouth, and swirled one of the Rialto’s white fuzzy bathrobes around herself before shutting the light off. Stopping at the mirror beside the door to the suite, she snapped the light on, leaving the rest of the suite in darkness. Taking a look at herself, she pulled the opening to her robe farther apart, down to the navel, then past it.

“Coming, baby,” Princess said, and answered the door.

Dennis Nelson stood at the door, a bouquet of cheap gas station flowers in his hand, a growing rod in his pants. Missy never said come over and bone, but he knew what it meant when she invited him to a hotel room to Netflix and chill. Sometimes they even watched Netflix.

The door swung open and Missy stood there, a fluffy white bathrobe open to the sash with a salacious grin on her face. “Hey.”

Dennis grinned. “Hey baby, these are for you.” He held out the flowers.

She took them, buried her face in them, inhaled deeply. “Mmm.” She looked at him. “They smell as good as I bet you taste.”

He blinked. “Uh, I—”

“Come in,” she said and yanked him across the threshold. Before the door snapped shut behind him, she was forcing her tongue down his throat as she rubbed his crotch.

“Whoa, Miss—” Dennis attempted to say around her tongue, vaguely wondering why he was complaining. “You okay?”

“I’m drunk,” she purred in his ear, chewing on his lobe. “You should be too.”

He chuckled, sliding his hands up her sides toward her breasts. “Okay, honey, where’s the booze?”

She kissed him, hard, and shoved him against the wall. “You stay right there, and I’ll get you some.” She went behind the bar in the first room of the suite and he heard the clink of glass and the swish of liquor in the gloom.

“This is a nice place, baby,” he said, surreptitiously adjusting himself. “You been here before?”

There was a crunching sound as she replied, “No, I just looked for the nicest place I could find, just to show you how much I appreciate you.” She smiled as she came around the bar holding two cups half full of brown liquid which reeked of whiskey. She handed one to him and tapped the rim of hers against his. “Cheers.”

He was touched and downed his glass, barely noticing the gritty substance clinging to the bottom of the cup as she did the same before launching herself onto him and kissing him with such force his lips felt bruised against his teeth. He had never known her to be so aggressive.

“I want you,” she growled in his ear as she steered him back into the darkness.

He tried to reciprocate but her tongue was down his throat again and all he could do was try to breathe until his feet stopped moving and he was tossed onto what felt like a wet sticky mattress. The sheets stuck to his skin as she crawled on top of him, shedding the bathrobe as she did. He tried to reach up and to her breasts but found his hands were moving in slow motion, and only with the greatest of effort.

“Mi…ss…y,” he said, his jaw feeling as though it weighed a thousand pounds. She laughed as she pushed his hands down to his sides.

“What makes you think you are speaking to Missy?” she hissed in his ear, biting it hard this time. A cry of pain escaped his locked jaw and his eyes bulged in terror as she straightened up, blood from his ear dripping down her chin.

“Welcome to the party,” Princess said and turned on the bedside lamp again. Dennis screamed, his rolling eyes taking in the gore-soaked sheets on which he was pinned and the body-shaped mass of flesh which once had been a breathing human being which lay beside him. His screams were muffled when Princess pressed her lips to his once again as she lifted the scalpel she had bought on Amazon to his face and began cutting.

Free Words Wednesday: Infested by ReaperScoob

Free Words Wednesday

Guest Writer: ReaperScoob
INFESTED

Alexa woke up in a cold sweat. A reoccurring night terror disturbed her slumber and as usual, the events of said dream escaped her memory as she arose. The coffee started dripping into an awaiting mug in the kitchen. Alexa grabbed the mug, still in a haze, and sat at her kitchen table. With a deep breath, she took her first sip. Before it reached her gut, she spat it out in shock. 2 little cockroaches stood on her table, their antennas flailing this way and that. Her whole body tensed up. She hated roaches and had never seen one in her own abode before. One moved with a jolt toward her and she squealed in horror, rocking in her chair and falling backwards onto the floor. Coffee flew everywhere, covering Alexa and sending the mug crashing next to her.

Alexa’s head thudded off the wooden flooring, dazing her. Wet and somewhat burnt, she gave a frustrated scream and took a deep breath. She rolled to her left, away from the shattered mug, and began lifting herself to her forearms.  Glancing upward, she saw 6 or 7 more roaches on and around her table leg. She shuddered at their sight, tears welling up in frustration and fear. She got to her knees, noticing a trail of roaches leading from the kitchen out to a spare bedroom on the left down a brief hallway. These roaches were rather peculiar in their behavior. Only a few traveled back and forth, the majority acting as roadsigns for the insects traffic. They sporadically twisted and turned, going nowhere. The ones moving followed the mindless like a set of trail-markers. Reaching the door, the trail went right under, while dozens of other roaches covered the door-frame. Alexa crept up to the door. Her mind raced but some deep curiosity kept pushing her forward. Every inch of her crawled nervously as she took note of the roaches on the frame. Heart pounding, she grabbed the handle and opened the door.

Hundreds of roaches ran over her feet. The walls moved like living tar, pouring out into her home. Blood covered everything and a rotten corpse of a horse lay in the otherwise empty room now that most the roaches had ran out. The smell of death invaded her nostrils and she puked. She fell to her knees and put a hand down which was instantly covered in a swarm of roaches that came rushing from the living room. She flung herself backwards and her whole place was now ablaze. Fire engulfed everything as smoke piled into the room, Alexa began to cough. She rushed towards a window but a burst of flame blocked her path. She choked and began to black out. She ran for the front door, stumbled and fell to the floor.

Alexa woke up in a cold sweat. Her heart pounding and tears ran down her face. She remembered the whole thing. What hell had her conscience sent her to? Finally calming down, she sat up in bed. In the kitchen she heard the coffee begin to pour into her mug. As Alexa got up and headed to the kitchen, there scurried a roach, running rampantly towards the kitchen.


Griffin Mekelburg (ReaperScoob) has had a hand in a variety of jobs, giving him insight into many backgrounds that have lead to his stories. His style is graphic and unforgiving, covering all aspects of horror and thriller. 

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 5: A Matter of Taste

Five: A Matter of Taste

The Rialto Hotel and Casino was one of the largest of its sort, stretching fifteen stories into the air and covering half a city block. Gold lions nearly twenty feet high stood guard over the valet parking zone, and the sky was projected onto the ceiling inside by clever use of live video feeds and LCD screens. In the dimly lit chaos of the main floor, blue and purple lights from the corners gave it an ethereal feel among the chorus of slot machines, laughter and the occasional yell of glee as someone struck a jackpot.

Through this cacophony, Dale Johnson drug his small suitcase by the wheels. It was just big enough to fit under an airliner’s seat back. It didn’t have to be large, this was only three days leave from his post, and he was hoping not to spend much time clothed anyway. His army uniform chafed at his neck under his blonde buzz cut and he longed to be rid of it. He had already returned the salute of several drunken patrons who thanked him for his service. He didn’t feel the need to inform them that he had barely made it through boot camp and was little more than a glorified security guard on the local base. Better to let them think he had just returned from the front line(wherever those might be these days) as a war hero.

He glimpsed the elevators and struggled to pull his room’s key card from his tight uniform pocket. Confirming these went to the correct floor, he altered his course and was soon standing before one, staring at himself reflected in the brightly polished elevator doors as the green arrow beside them informed him that one was on its way down. His face was pocked by adolescent acne and he all too well remembered the shouts and jeers from his fellow students growing up as he battled with the red spots on his face and his slowly shrinking belly.

Well, he would show them now. His face had nothing but a ghost of his former spottiness and he was fit and trim, a real lady-killer. He was on leave for the next three days with the goal of fucking as many bitches as he could get into his room, making up for lost time. His first dalliance with the fairer sex had been on his prom night when Sandy Caltrop had rolled her eyes in the back of his mother’s station wagon and said if he was done he may as well get off of her because she had to be home before midnight. That had also been his only dalliance, for he had been shipped off to boot camp hours after his graduation, with that one liaison under his belt. Now, with his improved physique and smoldering resentment, he was on a quest to get his dick wet and keep it wet for three days. Prostitution was not legal, but his friends in boot had told him a few workarounds he was quite keen on trying.

The elevator door chimed and rolled open. Two giggling blondes with short skirts and shorter tops tumbled out, giving him only a passing glance. The same could not be said for Dale Johnson, who ogled their asses so long the elevator nearly left without him. Coming back to reality, he shoved a hand through the narrowing slot, causing the doors to spring open again. Entering the elevator, he punched the button for the 15th floor and resumed watching the blondes until the elevator doors hid them from his view.

As he rode up, he was treated to an increasingly grand view of the city, stretched out beneath the rising elevator’s glass walls. Farther down the block, he could see a huge woman made of pink neon lights with impossibly large breasts and spread legs, an enormous wink, and hands pointing between the legs with a sign saying “Cum On In.” He had seen the sign from the street level in the Uber he had summoned to pick him up from the airport and knew she was pointing toward the door of one of the nearest strip clubs. His penis stirred as he thought about what was in the club and he promised himself that after a quick shower and change of clothes, that would be his first stop.

The elevator chimed and the doors purred open. An expanse of beige and crimson patterned carpet stretched out before him. The corridor went on for what seemed like an eternity, crossroads to other rooms every so often meeting its expanse. Consulting his key card once again, Dale set off down the hall toward his room at the farthest end from the elevators. As he walked, he heard shouts, laughter, and once, a scream from the rooms he passed. Others were silent.

Passing one of the crossroads, Dale’s eyes flicked to the right as one of the doors down the hall leading to the right was cracked open. A head with long blonde hair came out first, the face with the unmistakable look of makeup that had been scrupulously applied, then destroyed in a bout of passion. The eyes were blue and rimmed with black that had smeared down the cheeks to where lips of red had been nearly worn off. Below the messy hair, a nearly see-through negligee which clung by one strap left almost nothing to the imagination, open down the thorax and a hem just below the waist.

Princess smiled at Dale and slid the one remaining strap down her pale shoulder. The negligee clung only to a prayer as Dale came to a halt, his mouth hanging open. His hand loosened its grip on his luggage and it fell to the ground.

She blew him a kiss and turned to disappear back behind her door. Just before passing over its threshold, she turned and looked at him once more and beckoned with one finger. She did not shut the door behind her.

A large grin on his face and straining his briefs, Dale strutted down the corridor, leaving his bag in the middle of the hallway. Coming to the blonde’s door, he pushed through and shut it behind him, setting the chain stop on its runner. He adjusted himself.

“Where you at, baby?”

The answer came from the darkened end of what had to be a suite, judging by its resonances. “Back here, mister. I hope you’re ready to party.”

Dale grinned a big, ugly grin. “Better believe it, babe. This bad boy is ready to get… Why is it so dark in here?” It was, too. Even now that his eyes had adjusted to the gloom, he could barely see outlines.

“I like it in the dark,” the voice said, petulant, slightly raised. “If you don’t like it you can get the fuck out!”

“No, no, that’s cool, that’s… kinky,” Dale said, his mind clumsily pawing through adjectives. “So, uh…” he moved forward, toward the voice. “Wanna get nasty?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” said the voice, now sounding coy and inviting. “Come and find me.”

Dale thought about asking for some light, then decided the bitch would probably start yelling again. Well, whatever. He could pretend he was blind if it would get him laid. He started across the room and immediately tripped over something. The voice giggled as he clawed his way upright.

“Careful, clumsy, we don’t want you too busted up yet.”

Stretching his arms out before him like a child playing Blindman’s Bluff, Dale felt around with his feet even as his mind turned over her words, in particular, the implications within the word “yet.”

The voice sighed and tsked. “We’ll be here all night at this rate. Here.”

A click and shadows leaped up the walls around the little bedside lamp. There were vague shapes around what was not a suite but a large double room, with a threshold separating the two by several inches. At the far end, the lamp sat beside a huge bed covered in plush purple fabric. Beneath a huge thick comforter, Princess fluttered her eyelashes as she tossed her negligee toward Dale.

“Is that better?”

Dale’s brain ceased functioning as he accelerated his movements toward the bed. Once he was between the sheets and naked, she grabbed him with more force than he was expecting and he barely stifled a yelp.

“Whassamatter,” she purred, sharp nails digging into his most sensitive skin. “Doncha like it rough?”

“Oh-oh ye—” he tried to say but then her lips were mashed against his and he was struggling to pull his tongue from between her teeth. The pain in his tongue kept growing until he heard a ghastly sound in his mouth and she released him, laughing.

His tongue was in agony and he automatically raised his hands to his mouth, assessing the damage. His fingers jerked as they touched the ragged edge of the tip of his tongue, which was now missing a piece about the size of a dime. His eyes, however, were the size of silver dollars as he looked at her in the lamplight. She was chewing and grinning at him. As he stared, numb with horror, she swallowed.

“You… you just ate my…”

“You said you were ready to get nasty, daddy,” Princess said, biting her nail and smiling around it. To his shame and disgust, he felt himself getting his erection back, which had fled as soon as she started chewing on him. “I thought you were ready.”

Dale found his legs and used them, pushing himself away from her as he threw the sheet back, his voice hitching between sobs and trying to scream. Before he could get them under him and exit the bed, she was upon him, pinning him to the purple sheets with her knees by his arms. His legs flailed as she slit his throat with the razor she had been holding in her other hand.

His legs ceased their efforts as his hands fought to reach up to grab the leaking folds of his neck. Her knees never left his arms as she slashed at his neck, then his face, then his chest, every swipe of the razor opening up more of him. Blood splashed up, sprinkling Princess with red drops. She dropped the blade and kissed the meat that had once been Dale Johnson’s face, forcing her tongue between his dying lips as she moaned into his mouth.

Outside, two honeymooners passed by the door and paused just long enough to give each other knowing looks.

“Sounds like they’re enjoying themselves in there.”

She pressed herself against him. “Not half as much as you will be in a moment.”

They hurried on, not noticing Dale Johnson’s abandoned bag. Later, a maid would deliver it to the lost and found. It would never be claimed.

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 4: Problem Solving

Four: Problem Solving

The following is an excerpt from the diary of the individual known as Daniel Dasham:

Missy came over tonight after work.

Princess came too.

Missy blames me for not being able to keep Princess in line. She’s right, but really, what can I do? Missy can’t keep her in line either. Princess is a law unto herself, coming and going as she pleases, and no one can tell her what to do. Our only hope is to convince her that she’s not as smart as she thinks she is, and that sooner or later she’s going to destroy herself as well as Missy.

The police came as well. Their timing could not have been more perfect. Right as Princess was sneering about how clever she is, they knocked on my door to ask me some questions. It sure wiped the smile off Princess’s face. That was almost worth the minor heart attack it caused in Missy and myself. Fortunately, it was just about some of the recent break-ins in my apartment building, so I guess the police haven’t found out about my upstairs neighbors yet. They shouldn’t start to smell for another week or so.

I wanted to tell Missy about them when she came over, but she wasn’t in any mood to listen. When they first moved in upstairs, I thought I would go insane. It had been pretty quiet upstairs, the last tenants moved out weeks ago and the place hasn’t rented since. But now, there were two adults constantly screaming at each other and their four boys, all of whom run back and forth and scream as well. All hours of the day and night, with no rhyme, reason, or pattern. They moved in during the summer months and one of the only things that kept me going was the knowledge that they would be going to school soon and I would have at least some peace. The start of the school year came and went, though, with no relief. At first I thought they were home schooled, but I never heard anything even approximating school lessons from upstairs. Instead, there were deafening noises from some console game that I’m pretty sure was used to drown out the sound of the kids screaming, running, crying and vomiting when there was sickness being passed around.

The final straw was the day that brought a deafening, wall-shaking crash from upstairs. I don’t know what its origin was, but it dislodged the hook which held a globe lamp hanging from a chain that I’ve had as long as I can remember, a gift from my parents. The lamp fell to the ground and shattered.

Next time I saw the husband/father outside, I engaged him in conversation. I’ve heard from their screaming that he has PTSD from his military service, so I don’t know how he could play games like Call of Duty at top volume without getting flashbacks. Maybe he couldn’t, maybe that’s what all the screaming was about.

“Man, your kids are sure loud,” I said to him, a congenial smile pasted on my face.

He immediately assumed the defensive. “Hey man, just let them be kids, there’s no need–”

I raised my hands in a gesture of disarmament. “It’s cool, it’s cool, I’m not pissed or anything,” I lied, taking care to keep my jaw from clenching my smile into a grimace. “I just don’t know how you can deal with it.”

“Huh?” His face was blank, clearly not expecting this.

I moved closer, putting my hand on his arm. He twitched. “After everything you’ve been through,” I said, keeping my voice conspiratorial and understanding, “you deserve peace and quiet.” I didn’t actually believe that, but I knew that I, at least, deserved peace and quiet. “Those kids keep you awake all night and all day with their screaming, don’t they? How often do they all sleep at the same time?”

He snorted and swiped at his greasy hair with a dirty hand. “Fuckin never, man. I didn’t even want kids, but that bitch won’t even hear the word ‘abortion’ without throwing a fit.”

“Well if she won’t,” I said, “it’s up to you, isn’t it? You’ll never have any peace with those little hellions running around screaming.”

A wild light came into his eyes for a second, before being extinguished. “Yeah but she’s always nagging and yelling too, even with the Xbox going full blast I can still hear her. I can’t get away.”

“She’d just find you,” I agreed. “Bitches like that will always find you to extract their piece of your soul. Doesn’t matter where you go.”

“Yeah,” he said, and scuffed at the dirt.

“There’s only one option left, you know,” I said, my voice low. I handed him a white box filled with cotton, and something heavy. He opened it and his eyes grew huge when he saw what was inside. He looked at me in disbelief.

“I’ll never tell,” I assured him. “Your secret is safe with me.”

Having planted the seed, I made sure to water it whenever I saw him outside. He had begun taking walks, eschewing the Xbox therapy, and I joined him on some occasions, pumping him full of dread of what awaited him upon his return to their apartment. I never asked about the heavy little white box, but I knew he had it stashed somewhere, and I was betting his thoughts never left it for long.

Last night, he left for one of his walks. I didn’t join him, and he was gone for a very long time. He finally returned sometime after midnight. The moment their door opened, she started screaming. I couldn’t hear it exactly, but the gist was “where have you been, why do you keep walking out and leaving me alone with these kids for hours, don’t you think I need a break” and so forth. Normally he shouted right back, harmonizing with the children who would chime in as soon as mom started yelling. This time, he said nothing. I could hear her voice following him through the apartment as he went to the kitchen, opened the fridge, and he must have started drinking something because she switched gears and began berating him for drinking directly out of the carton.

Then, there was a loud bang.

She stopped screaming at him and just started screaming. I heard him clearly shout “NOW you’ll shut the fuck up, by God,” and there was another bang. She fell silent, but the kids picked up where she left off, inarticulate childish howls. From those old enough to speak, I could hear the occasional word, “mommy” and “daddy” being the most prevalent. For the next five minutes, their cries were all over the apartment, punctuated by soft thumps as those who could run did so, followed by louder thumps as Daddy chased them. There were more bangs, and with each one, the noise diminished by exactly one child. After the sixth bang, there was silence. The thumps Daddy made moved back to the kitchen, where I can only presume he finished drinking from his carton of whatever. I heard the fridge close, and he moved into the living room. The Xbox began blasting at its usual top volume before being turned down to a more reasonable level. I guess with no one left to drown out, there was no need for top volume.

This morning, it was dead quiet upstairs. No footsteps, no TV. A reddish stain was seeping through my ceiling in a few places. I went upstairs and knocked, not really expecting anything, and I was not surprised. When I had moved in, there had been a key to the unit upstairs in my apartment, for some reason I don’t know. Using it now, I let myself in.

The stench of death was the most noticeable, and blood. Underneath those smells were those of spoiled food, dirt and old feces. Mommy was still in the kitchen, her glazed eyes staring at the ceiling from a puddle of her own blood which was seeping through to my ceiling. The two smallest children, big enough to walk and run but small enough to be confined to a playpen, were in their room. They had been unable to run from Daddy, and had died in their pen, a gunshot wound in each of their heads. One had fallen on top of the other, intersecting at almost a perfect 90-degree angle. The sheet beneath them was soaked in blood.

Moving down the hallway, the eldest lay in a crumpled pile at the end of the hallway, next to an open closet door. I guessed he had tried to hide in it. Most of his face was missing, but I found pieces of it on the wall. It took a while to find the last child, but he was eventually located in the stained bathtub. At least the splatters of blood and chunks of brain would be easy to clean up.

Finally, I arrived at the family room. Daddy was laying in his recliner, his head tilted back, an enormous throat wound yawning at me as I came in. The pistol I had given him in the white box was laying in his lap, empty.

I smiled. Peace at last.

I went downstairs to my apartment and slept like the dead.

Until Missy arrived.

Diary entry ends here.

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 3: Group Therapy

Three: Group Therapy

Missy steps back onto the street and as she does after every shift of convincing the desolate there is hope, she lights a cigarette. Inhaling deep, she closes her eyes, savoring the burn in her lungs and the rush to her head. She opens her eyes, and exhales. It is beginning to be cold at night and the warmth of her breath mixes with the smoke.

She savors her cigarette, relishing its toxic taste more than the air she breathes as she walks the two blocks to the bus stop. Several of the city’s homeless population inquire as to whether or not she possesses any money she is not currently using, or any cigarettes she does not intend to smoke. She remains deaf to their inquiries, and finds an unoccupied corner of the bus shelter. Checking her phone, she sees from a local news outlet that Debra, the unfortunate damsel from Maine, has been found with some of her head intact.

Missy is still smiling as the bus pulls up and offers her passage. Stowing her phone, she deposits her fare in the slotted box and finds an empty seat beside an elderly gentleman who seems to be asleep. Placing headphones in her ears, she loses herself in music as she says a fervent prayer that the man will not awaken until she has left the bus. This prayer will be granted.

Stepping off the bus and removing the headphones, Missy strides down the chipped sidewalk, stepping around piles of dog refuse and broken glass. She hears whistles from across the road and rolls her eyes as the catcalls start. It never lasts longer than a few seconds, for here is the double door at the base of a short, squat apartment building coated in peeling beige paint. Once through the door, the oafish shouts are cut off.

The metallic smell of burning methamphetamine no longer register as anything but a fact of life as Missy bypasses the elevator she knows to be broken and makes for the stairway. After three flights of dirty stairs, all of which reek of outhouse, Missy opens the door to a dim hallway stretching in both directions, in which rats scurry from the sound of her heels in the flickering florescent light. She raps upon the door nearest the elevator while fumbling in her purse, and within a few seconds the pinprick of light at the door’s peephole vanishes, before reappearing as the bolt shoots back.

Thick glasses are framed by thicker blonde hair as the door opens first a crack, then swings open to reveal a skinny young man, headphones draped around his neck. Silver athletic shorts glimmer in the surreal light from a large aquarium as he leads her into the living room where she flops onto the couch as he takes a seat in the computer chair installed before the four glowing monitors. Electronic music plays from speakers flanking the computer desk as the young man swivels, spinning the chair and looking at Missy.

“So…?”

Missy looked away. “Just one.” She lit a cigarette. “Where’s a drink?”

The young man looked on with disapproval.

“You said you wouldn’t-”

“I know!” She took a mighty drag. “I was stressed. Where’s a drink?”

“Why were you so stressed?”

“Because I need a fucking drink!” Missy snapped. The young man leaned forward and opened a small refrigerator, extracting a small carton of wine. He tossed it to Missy, who butted her cigarette in the handy ashtray before uncapping the carton and draining it. Slumping back into the couch, she sighed, and lit another cigarette.

The young man’s face showed resigned disgust. “Princess?”

“She doesn’t fucking get it!” Missy exploded, rising to her feet in agitation and striding back and forth, waving her arms. “It’s all just a dream to her! She just wakes up, ready to go and there’s nothing I can do to stop her.” She stopped before a large mirror and stared at herself.

“She’s in there, now. Watching.” Missy glowered at her reflection. “I can feel her.”

Daniel came up behind her. “Calm down,” he said, catching her by the shoulders. “You’re not doing anybody any good.”

Missy drew on her cigarette, averting her eyes from those of his reflection. “Nobody is doing anybody any good.”

Daniel drew back, frowning. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“You promised me you could control her!” Missy yelled. “You told me, when this all got started! You told me… you told me…” Her voice cracked. “You don’t have any fucking idea… what it’s like…”

“I’ll talk to her,” said Daniel. “She’ll listen. She has to. She has to realize this can’t go on.”

“Good fucking luck!” Missy said with a shrill laugh which reeked more of hysteria than humor. “She’s never had to deal with anything her whole fucking life! She’s-”

With no warning, Daniel recoiled in surprise as the glowing tip of Missy’s cigarette was extinguished in the smooth palm. The smell of charring flesh filled his nostrils. His eyes were huge.

“If you would both like to cease your moaning and crying over what the naughty girl has done,” came the mocking tones of Princess, “I would like to remind you of a few facts.” She flexed her hand, relishing the sting of the cigarette burn.

“Nobody cares what you think you know,” sneered Missy. Daniel was taken aback by the loathing in Missy’s eyes as she looked at her reflection which no longer belonged to her. “You’re just a stupid spoiled whore and that’s all you’re ever going to be.”

“Thanks to Missy,” Princess said loudly, “all of my clothing from that night has been destroyed, and any forensic evidence has been washed from the shower. With bleach,” she added almost as an afterthought. “Nothing was left at the crime scene, and there is nothing to see in such a shithole.”

“You’re sure?” Daniel asked.

“Cross my heart and hope to die,” Princess said, shooting him her prettiest smile.

“I should be so lucky,” Missy snarled.

“Please, Missy. I very much doubt if anybody will even bother filing a report.” Princess smirked. “Nothing of value was lost.”

These words had barely finished coming from Missy’s mouth when a loud knocking, punctuated by the crackle of radio static cut through the apartment’s gloom.

“Police! Daniel Dasham, we have some questions for you. Please open the door.”

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode Two: Angel of Mercy

Two: Angel of Mercy

Missy wakes and spends a few moments staring at the ceiling, reflecting on her prospects for the day. She has a longer than usual shift, and she needs to check the news for last night’s proclivity. After a period of time in which she respires thirty times, she drags herself from her bed, makes her way to the bathroom, and to the kitchen. Her still fuzzy eyes see a note hanging on the fridge, secured by a rainbow magnet. A heart drawn in a pink marker. From Princess. Missy plucks the note from the fridge and wads it up, tossing it in the garbage before opening the cupboards to assemble the components for coffee.

As it brews, filling the room with a rich, dark scent, Missy retrieves a flask of whiskey from a smaller cupboard in the corner. She adds two fingers of liquor to her coffee cup, then fills it to the brim with coffee. Replacing the whiskey bottle after taking a quick swig, she glances at the clock. She has one hour to be at her desk.

Sipping at regular intervals from her Irish coffee, Missy checks the various news and police feeds online. The emergency call list, police social media bulletins and regular news outlets are all screaming about the savaged carcass Bitch Slap the pimp has discovered in his quest for cash. Missy’s eyes fly through the words and photos, sipping her coffee with greater frequency as her teeth grind together. There is only fractional comfort to be found in the bewildered tone of all statements by law enforcement; it is still early.

Finishing her coffee, Missy tosses the cup into the sink and returns to her room. She dresses, tying her hair back into a ponytail. Brushing her teeth and applying makeup is done without any conscious thought. She is thousands of miles away, traveling at speeds immeasurable by science. That damn Princess, she’s thinking, as she wonders not for the first time how to kill her.

As the thought turns itself over and over, she returns to reality with a snap as she realizes she isn’t looking at Missy anymore. The face in the mirror smiles at her.

“Hello, you bitch,” Missy said, her voice a monotone as she applied eyeliner. “Don’t move.”

“Bitch yourself,” said Princess, keeping her head still. “I told you I took care of it. They don’t know anything.”

“YOU don’t know anything,” Missy sighed. “They could know exactly who did it, it’s not like they would tell the press that.”

“I took care of it,” said Princess, daubing lipstick on Missy’s lips. “So just quit worrying. It’s not like anything can be done now anyway.” She blew a kiss at her reflection. Missy scowled.

“It’s not like you’ll have to deal with it,” she said, her voice indignant. “As soon as anything gets dangerous, you’ll run and hide. It’s always my fucking problem. That’s too much lipstick. I’ll look like a whore.”

“I like it that way.”

“Looking like a whore?”

“Shut up, cunt.” Princess jerked her hand and the lipstick scrawled a jagged line across Missy’s cheek.

Missy gasped in outrage. “You miserable fucking…”

“Whatever,” Princess says, and then it’s only Missy, staring in silent fury at her lipsticked face in the mirror.

When Missy walks into the office with a freshly made-up face, the others on her shift are all at their cubicles wearing headsets, and eyes flick to the clock to see how late she is: twenty minutes. She’s definitely going to get a scolding.

Going to her spot and sitting down, Missy groans inside as she sees the supervisor’s door open right on cue. She straightens up and looks with artificial crispness and respect at the woman striding in her direction. Carol Elson is a large woman with iron gray hair and a fondness for tweed, as well as the rules. She stops before Missy’s desk and speaks in a voice pitched low enough not to intrude upon the telephone conversations, but not pitched so low that those not on the phone cannot eavesdrop on their conversation.

“Missy, do you know what time it is?”

“Yes, Miss Elson,” Missy says, and no more. She has learned through experience and observation that extra words prolong the suffering.

“Twenty minutes past the time you were supposed to be here, am I wrong?”

“You’re not wrong, ma’am,” Missy says. “It won’t happen again.”

“See that it doesn’t. Just to be sure, I’ll be subtracting twenty minutes from your pay this week.” The woman’s face breaks into her first smile of the day, her teeth large and wide like a horse’s. They always remind Missy of tombstones. “Now that’s enough chit-chat! Someone needs you!” She points to Missy’s phone, where a light blinks with the urgency which means incoming call.

“Yes ma’am,” Missy says, attempting not to clench her teeth as her mind flashes back to last night when Princess had peeled the skin from the girl’s body as she screamed to die. Maybe something of it shows in Missy’s eyes, for her supervisor’s malevolent smile falters a little.

Before Carol Elson can say anything, Missy dons her headset and says in a voice dripping with sympathy and understanding, “Thank you for calling the Suicide Hotline. I’m so glad you did. How can I help you?”

Her smile returning, Miss Elson retreats to her office. Missy’s eyes follow her all the way to her office door, and only when the door clicks shut does her own smile slip from her face. Taking a deep breath, Missy reaches for a pen and legal pad and begins to doodle as she listens to the tearful soliloquy pouring forth from the earpiece.

Debra lives in Maine and is calling while her boyfriend is in the shower. She tells Missy she has her phone in one hand and her boyfriend’s gun in the other. She’s just found emails containing naked photos of another girl on her boyfriend’s laptop. The photos go back for months. Boyfriend and the girl have been talking about getting married. Debra’s voice breaks as she says this, and Missy can barely make out that Debra and Boyfriend have been talking about getting married as well, before Debra dissolves into hysterical sobs.

“Debra,” Missy says, raising her voice just a little and losing none of her honeyed tones of sympathy and understanding. She lowers the volume on her earpiece, and Debra’s tears become softer. “Debra?”

A snuffling, wailing affirmation. Debra is listening.

“I understand you don’t feel like living right now,” Missy says, her tone as comforting as a mother removing a bee sting. “I don’t blame you. This is the kind of suffering that leaves a scar and changes who you are, deep down, as a person.”

A cry leading into more tears and blubbering. Debra was happy the way things were, she doesn’t want things to change. She wants to be with Boyfriend the way they had planned and can’t stand for it to be any other way. She continues to repeat herself and Missy draws a cat on the legal pad clawing at the margin. She is adding whiskers and a spike on the tail when Debra finally runs out of steam and is nothing but noisy breathing in Missy’s ear.

“I know, honey, but that can’t happen. If you can’t stand to have anything change, you should probably kill yourself.” Missy adds a mouse under the cat’s claw and elongates the claw, so it pierces the mouse through the stomach.

Debra sounds shocked.

“There’s no other solution,” says Missy, and draws a large pair of jaws around the cat. “You don’t want it to change, but it’s going to whether you want it to or not. It’s going to hurt you forever, so why don’t you just do it already?”

Debra is crying louder than ever.

Missy draws large fangs from the disembodied jaws, stabbing through the cat and mouse alike. “Kill yourself now, while he’s in the shower, and leave his laptop nearby so he knows why. You owe him that much at least.”

Debra’s crying stops abruptly as a loud BANG sounds in Missy’s ear, making her wince a little. She can hear, in the house somewhere in Maine, some guy shouting “Deb? You okay?” After a moment’s silence, he begins to scream.

“Thank you for calling the Suicide Hotline, and I hope you have a wonderful day,” Missy says, and disconnects the call. She smiles and looks at the clock. Nine more hours to go.

Free Fiction Wednesday: Last Stand by J. C. Eickelberg 3/3

Last Stand
Part 3/3 – the end

By: J. C. Eickelberg

3rd part of an exciting 3-part story inspired by and in remembrance of the great George Romero.

The survivors ran toward their cars.  Emily and Barb sprinted forward, leading the pack as they went.  Brando stayed at the back motivating the slower runners.  Harry ran to the building, grabbed a forgotten shovel and ran back toward Brando.  The shovel went up as he ran, then arched down.  Brando went around Harry, pushing one of Emily’s friends along.  A meaty thwack and a grunt got Brando to turn.  Harry swung again at the prone figure.  Another smashed melon sound echoed off the building.

“Stay down,” Harry spat.  A hand twitched.  “Stop already.”  He swung again and the shovel broke.  The figure stopped moving

“You killed him,” Brando said.

“Nope,” Harry said.  “Was already dead.”  He was breathing hard.  He pointed the broken handle at the gaping chest wound the corpse had.

“We need to go.  Now!” Brando said.

Harry drove the broken handle into the ground through the corpse’s chest wound as if it were a vampire.

“No, we’re not,” Emily said.  “The gate’s locked.”

A look of horror washed over Harry’s face.  “That can’t be.  The lock’s broke.  It wasn’t locked when we got here.”

“Nope.  It’s locked now,” Barb verified.  She pulled and rattled the locked gate.

“Any other gates we can use?” Brando asked.

“This is always the last one locked,” Harry answered.  “Whoever fixed the lock didn’t tell me.  It’s been broke since last winter.”

“Do you have any keys for the gate?” Brando asked.  Harry shook his head.  “What about the building?  We need to get inside.”

Harry answered with movement to the building.  His hand went to a pocket to get a key.  Emily and Brando watched for any dead walkers moving their way.  The rest waited for the door to open.  Rusty hinges motivated them into motion.  Harry was swept through the opening.  Brando pulled the door shut and locked it.

Barb found the breakroom.  She fell on a worn couch and shook.  Her friends paced, worrying about what happened.  Lights came on, giving more illumination than the emergency lights.  Harry sank into an overstuffed chair, rattled by what happened to his friends.  Brando and Emily fell to their combat training to secure the building.  They moved efficiently through each room.  A nearby maintenance bay had a door with a window.  This last door to be checked was found locked.  They looked out to see an empty parking lot.  Light from the flashlight moved with them.  All locks had been verified locked.  Turning back to join their friends, they didn’t expect the door to rattle.  A shadow appeared outside.  A light above the door showed a vacant set of eyes.  Emily and Brando watched the figure briefly.  It didn’t see them.  They faded into the shadows and made their way back to the others.

“They’re knocking on the door,” Brando said.

“Shit.  We’re stuck here,” Harry said.  “We’re in serious trouble now.”

“Do you have a phone here?” Barb asked.  “Maybe we can call the police?”

“Already tried.  They’re swamped with calls,” Harry said, rejected.  “Let’s stay here and keep calling.  This building is locked and secure as a mausoleum.”

“Hopefully not our mausoleum,” Barb said.  She was more depressed than Harry.

“Cheer up.  They need to get in to do anything to us.”  Harry offered Barb a smile.  She smiled back.  “I know this building.  I work here, remember?”

“And you’d know about getting out of here.  Right?”  Brando gave him a piercing look.

“Don’t give me that look.  I’m not brain dead,” Harry quipped.

“Then prove it.  You’re not shambling like them,” Emily said, pointing down the hall.  “Yet.”  Her look wasn’t far from vicious.

They settled in the breakroom and listened to the radio.

“This is the top of the hour news.  Reports have come in about groups moving around the city dressed as zombies.  Accidents are clogging streets from people walking into traffic.  Police have their hands full dealing them.  We ask people to stay on sidewalks and look both ways before crossing the street…”

Static garbled words as the station changed.

“Reporters on the scene have reported groups roaming through parks.  They have seen people dressed for a zombie party…”

Another station was tuned in.

“People have reported an unruly party at The Fire Alarm.  Party goers have relocated to St. George’s Necropolis Cemetery…”  The sound faded as another station was searched for.

“Keep it on that station,” Harry said.

“Why?” Emily asked.

“That’s where we are. The Fire Alarm is across the street.”

Emily turned back to the station.

“Reports are coming in about people being attacked in the cemetery.  Police have been alerted to graves being vandalized and mausoleums being broken into…”

“Broken into, my ass.  People have been breaking out.  There’s more dead walking than living out there.”  Harry paced with his hands on the side of his head.

“This just in.  The National Guard has been called in to help control unruly crowds.”  Emily and Brando looked at each other.  “Use of force has been authorized.  Police Chief Reynolds has declared all groups to disband and go home.  A curfew is now in effect.  Anyone found outside will be arrested and fined.

“Once again, a curfew has been implemented and the National Guard has been brought in to help disperse crowds.  Police and guardsmen are authorized to respond with force if they are attacked.”

Emily turned the radio down.  She stood surveying the room.

“Well that says we stay here,” Brando said.

“We can’t go anywhere, anyhow,” Harry said.  “The gates are locked and we can’t get to our cars to go anyplace else.”

“Good.  If we’re not going anywhere, I need to use the bathroom,” one of Emily’s friend said.

“I saw it before.  I’ll show you,” Emily said.  They walked out.  “I want to check the windows and doors again.”

“Do you think we’ll get out of here, Emily?”

“Yes, we will, Brenda,” she answered, showing more confidence than she felt.  “This building is strong enough to stand against storms.  What’re a few zombies leaning on doors?”

“Then why check on them?” Brenda asked.

“I’m too wound up to sit still.  I need to do something.”  Emily waited as Brenda used the bathroom.

“Would you mind some company checking the doors?” Brenda asked.

“Not at all.  Why?”  Emily led her away from the breakroom.

“Harry is driving me crazy.  He’s too high strung to be around.”

“Brenda, you’ve said the same thing about Barb,” Emily said.  “You still hang out with her.”

“At least she knows and does something positive about it.  Like running with you,” Brenda said, smiling.  “Harry’s really wound up about what’s going on out there.”

“This is where he works,” Emily said, giving Brenda a hard look.  “This whole place is trashed.”  Brenda relented.

Emily went to the side door they used to get inside.  It was still locked.  Brenda peeked out through the window in the door before following Emily to the maintenance bays.  Emily looked out windows in the garage doors.  She stopped and stared out.  Shambling forms moved around the parking lot.  Nothing moved toward the building.  She sighed in relief.

Brenda screamed and threw a wrench across the service bay.  Emily locked a savage glare at her friend.

“God, I hate rats,” Brenda said.  She saw Emily and covered her mouth.  “I’m sorry.”  Wide eyes shimmered, ready to spill tears.

“What’s going on?”  Harry came running in.  Brando close behind.

“It would’ve been nice knowing you have rats in the building,” Emily declared, looking at Harry.  Her remark included Harry.  She moved purposefully away from the door.  Seeing the scuff in the floor, she tracked the course of the wrench.  Next to a garbage can sat a bloody wrench and a twitching rat.  A quick hit and the rat was dispatched.  “All that pitching softballs paid off.  Good shot, Brenda.”  She went to ease her friend’s stress from making noise when silence would have been better.

Harry came over with a shovel and took care of moved the rat into the can.

“We just heard on the radio buzzards and vultures are affected, too.  Who’s to say rats aren’t?”  Harry pointed out.

“I smacked it good,” Emily said.  The can rattled.  Harry picked up a brick off a pallet of loose masonry remnants.  He lifted the lid and looked in.  He launched the brick, looked in again and smiled.

“So, did I.  Now it’s not moving,” Harry said, satisfied.

“That won’t work for what’s out there,” Brando said.  He stood by the door.  “There’s about fifty zombies out here.  And they’re coming this way.”

Both doors for the service bays rattled with impacts from the horde outside.  The door shook again as another wave of bodies moved through the glow of the yard light.  By the sound of the door, it wasn’t going to stay intact.

“We’re so screwed,” Harry said.

The small door creaked, but held firm against the crowd.  The two big doors on either side flexed as more bodies pushed against them.  Brando moved along the wall of tools looking for options.  Emily saw this and joined him.  Shovels, lengths of pipe and a couple of wrenches were confiscated.

“What’s this used for?” Brenda asked.

“That’s a mattock.  Used to dig trenches with the hoe side and cut roots with the axe side,” Brando said.  He took it, implement end up and tapped it on the floor.  The metal end slide to the floor with a clang.  “Now it’s a bat.  Go to town, Slugger.”  She swung a practice swing and smiled.  “Good.  Keep it going down range.”

“Don’t stand behind her.  Her back swing is killer,” Emily stated.

“Noted,” Brando said.  “Harry, are there any trucks in the bays on the other side of the building that work?”

“An old pickup.  Runs rough, but will move.”

“It better.  We’re getting out of here,” Brando said.

“We won’t make it through all of them,” Brenda said.

“We only need to out distance them,” Emily said.  A long pipe wrench in one hand.  She wielded it effortlessly.  “All we need to do is keep them off the truck as we pick up speed.”

“Harry, get the keys.  Emily, let’s get everyone to the truck,” Brando said.

They went to the breakroom and gathered everyone together.  The group came out as Harry left the supervisor’s office with a set of keys.  He led the group to the other end of the building.  The lights flickered on as Harry flipped the switches.  In the nearest bay was a pick up with a dump box insert loaded with dirt.

“This won’t work,” Brando declared.

“The pickup is on the other side,” Harry said.  He walked behind the dump truck and looked out a window.  He tossed his shovel in the bed of the truck.

“Damn, man.  I’d rather take the dump truck.  This rust bucket is ready to fall apart,” Brando spat.  Emily and the other ladies looked at the dented, rusty relic that was old when they were playing with dolls.

“That dump truck has two flat tires and is slow as a snail.  We might as well walk out of here,” Harry said from the front seat.  Keys jingled and a whiny buzzer sounded.  “Get in.”

“I’m not climbing up there with a skirt on,” Barb said.

“Get in front,” Brando said opening the other front door.  “I’ll get the garage door open.”

“Don’t open it yet.  I want to make sure it starts,” Harry said as Barb pulled the door closed.

“I’m expecting to get out of here alive,” Barb declared.  Her large eyed expression locked on Harry.

“If you don’t, you won’t have far to go to find a place to rest,” Harry said as the truck turned over.  It gave a few anemic pops and shuttered to life.  “Now be quiet and hang on.”

Brando hit a button and hopped onto the truck.  No one shambled around anywhere in sight.  The truck moved out into the night, slowly gaining speed.

“Can’t this go faster?”

“There’s a reason this heap rarely leaves the cemetery.  We’re still going faster than they are,” Harry responded.  A group came from the side of the narrow road.

Brenda swung and connected.  The crack of a skull sounded over the noise of the truck.  Emily caved in another skull.  Gore clung in the jaws of the wrench.

“Just barely,” Brenda stated.

“Get out and walk then,” Harry shot back.  “Otherwise shut up and let me get you through a gate.”  The truck lurched over two obstacles in the road.  “Two less for you to swing at.”

“Just don’t hit a tree or tombstone.  I want to get home,” Barb complained.

“Front door service for the pretty lady.”  Harry smiled at her.

“Shut up and drive, Harry,” Barb said.  “Maybe I’ll give you a kiss when I’m home.”

“Don’t expect to get a prince from that frog, Princess,” Brenda muttered.  Another swing and a hit.

“I get first dibs if he grabs for her,” Emily said, as the truck made a turn.

“I’ll make sure he stays down,” Brenda said.

They made a gentle turn around a large plot.  A gradual arc brought the shed into view.  Everyone voiced their opinions about going into the group of zombies.  Thumps and crunching announced less batting practice.  Speed gave Harry reason to be happy.  The old truck hit the gate with a satisfying crash.

“So long, George,” Brando yelled.  “Don’t forget to stay dead.”

Everyone hooted and hollered as they left the cemetery behind.  Lights blazed in the shed as shadows moved around the now quiet parking lot.  Scratching came from the roof as vultures settled next to other roosting birds.  One gave out a garbled croak.

“Shut your trap.  You missed out on your meal,” George scolded the vulture.  “I’ve got mine.”  He held Harvey’s head by the hair.  Harvey’s eyes locked into an upward gaze, as if looking at his savior.

***

Harry drove down streets normally busy, even at this hour of the night.  Few cars moved to slow their progress.  Occasional police cars could be heard down side streets.  One screamed past them, lights painting everything red and blue.  Barb pointed directions to the address she shared with Emily.  Outside a modest brownstone was a rare parking spot.  Parked, and drawing no attention from unwanted undead pedestrians, they started disembarking.  The truck sputtered and chugged after the key was turned to the off position.  It gasped and backfired.  Harry pointed at Barb’s door as Emily got out of the bed of the truck.  Emily opened the door and pulled her sister out.  Brando offered a gentlemanly hand to help Brenda off the truck.  She smiled and left a hand on his arm a little longer than necessary.

“Let’s go, love birds,” Harry said following Emily up the stairs.  She had the door open, waiting for them.  Brenda smiled at Brando and went up.  Emily had a quick thought of sadness.  She’d hoped for a bit of romance with him.  Everyone else was already inside waiting.

“You touch me and I’ll leave you out here,” Brenda told Harry.

“What’s up with you?” he asked her back.

“She doesn’t like you,” Brando said.  “Maybe it’s your choice in beds.”  He gave his friend a smartass smirk.

“Bite me,” he said.  Brando glared at him from two steps up, his gaze cold as ice.

“Any other night that’d be funny,” Brando said.  His hand tightened on the discolored mattock handle.

“Sorry,” Harry said, shoulders slumped.

Harry shuffled inside after the ladies.  Brando scanned the street and under vehicles.  All remained quiet.  The truck ticked as it cooled.  He turned to go in as a flapping of wings caught his attention.  A vulture landed on the square masonry post at the bottom of the steps.  The mattock handle made a soft whistle as he swung at the bird.  It exploded on impact with the hickory handle.

“Creepy ass bird,” Brando said, dancing up the stairs.

“Nice swing,” Brenda said.

“I was on a NCAA championship baseball team in college.  I coach a community team now,” he said.

They settled into talking once the door locked behind them.  The truck wasn’t going anywhere.  Brando told about a rapidly growing puddle under it.  He was soon talking with Brenda on the couch.  Harry and Barb were chatting amicably on stools at a kitchen counter.  Emily tuned in a news channel for updates about the zombie hordes.

“So, what about this kiss you mentioned earlier for getting you home?” Harry asked.

“I said maybe,” Barb reminded him.  “There was no guarantee offered.”

“I’ll second that,” Emily said.  Her cold gaze settled on him.  She placed the pipe wrench between them.  It rested on the counter in front of them with gore still embedded in the jaws.  “I’m no stranger to working on pipes.”  Warmth drained out of Harry as he became aware of Emily’s meaning.

A knock on the front door ended their conversation.  Harry swallowed hard as he watched Emily move to answer the door.  A sigh of relief escaped him as he turned back to Barb.  Relaxed, he offered a warm smile for Barb.  She was cleaning what she could out of the jaws of the wrench with a dish towel.

“She doesn’t clean off tools as well as I do,” Barb said, a half smile on her face.  He watched with the realization Barb was familiar with using the wrench.

Emily peered out the peep hole.  Uniformed soldiers stood outside.  Recognition registered and she opened the door.  Soldiers oozed through the narrow opening.  Four soldiers went through the lower level, then upper level in practiced cadence.  The most weathered soldier remained at her side as locks were engaged again.

“What’s up, Top?” she asked.

“Been trying to get a hold of you, Ma’am.  We’ve been activated,” he said.  “We came by to make sure you’re okay.”  His southern accent said he was a pleasant man, but his cold blue gaze scanning the room demanded a no bullshit response from anyone.

“I’ve been out.  Kind of an exciting night,” she said walking back to join her sister.

“So, you know what’s going on?”

“We just came from St. George’s Necropolis Cemetery,” Brando said, following them into the kitchen.

“Barb and Harry, can you keep Brenda company?” Emily said.  She had a commanding demeanor about her now, matching the blue-eyed senior enlisted man following her

“Sure,” she said.  The wrench was clean and went with her.

“Ma’am?” Brando asked.

“First Sergeant Grumman, this is Brando,” Emily said.

“Marlon Brando?” First Sergeant asked, a bit of humor to ease the tension.

“Staff Sergeant Miller, Marine Corps,” Brando responded.  His relaxed, night out posture evaporated.  His military bearing shown through his civilian attire.  “Six years active duty, now in the reserves, Top.”

“Thought so,” Top said, giving him a once over.  “Hope you don’t mind hanging with some army pukes.”  A statement.

“We all wear green and bleed red.  Have a common target.”  Brando heard a grunt come from the weathered, sharp eyed enlisted leader as he turned to check on his men.  “I don’t mind one bit.”

“He likes you, Marine,” Emily said, looking up from a message on her phone.  “Be right back.  I have to change.”

A few greetings came from the soldiers as she passed.  Brando went out to check on Harry.  He sat talking with Barb, giving her a respectful distance, and a friendly look at the wrench.  Brenda was shoulder to shoulder with a soldier at the window.  She turned to look at Brando when the minutes lengthened in the silence.  Movement down the hall got Brando’s attention.

“Brando.  You can put your eyes back in your head,” Brenda said.  “If she catches you drooling, she’ll clean the floor with you.”  The soldier next to her watched him, in a friendly manner.  Their resemblance was unmistakable.  Brother and sister, he thought.

“I’d believe it,” he said.  He gave Brenda a friendly smile.

“She’s cleaned a few clocks with a pugil stick,” Top said matter-of-factly.  He watched Brando.  The no bullshit, blue eyed stare was back.

“Captain on deck,” one soldier chimed.

“This is war, gentlemen, no saluting, and no messes in my house if you can help it.”  She looked at all present.  The uniform enhanced her military attitude.  Her hair was tightly pulled back and off her collar.  “Captain Morgan to you now.”  She looked from Brando to Harry.  A finger went up.  “Either one of you makes a crack and you’ll look like vulture outside.”  Her manner was professional soldier now.  Her look was equal to First Sergeant Grumman’s.  Cold and businesslike.

Harry shrunk away from her, fear stained his face.  The wrench let him know how far to go.  Brando accepted the statement.

“We finished the vulture off for you.”

“We, First Sergeant?”

“Sergeant Stutzgard finished it,” Top said.

“That thing disintegrated when I hit it,” Brando stated.

“The head tried to bite me,” Stutzgard said.  “Sorry about the floor mat, ma’am.”

“That’s what it’s there for, Stutz,” she reassured him.  “First Sergeant, catch me up.”  He gave her the condensed version, filling her in on the official side.  Military was playing clean up with the zombies while the police tried to keep order with the citizens.  Everyone wearing a uniform wasn’t confident about the odds offered by higher ups.

Hours passed as reports came in about more hordes claiming the streets.  Cars were wrecked trying to run through zombie mobs.  Emily kept her guests comfortable as she managed her unit’s progress through the city.  Mobs of zombies followed groups down her street.  Weapons were kept inside and on safe.  Her military guests maintained a vigil watching front and back doors.  Radios they carried squawked, reports from others in their company filtering in kept information fresh.  First Sergeant Grumman’s second radio chirped.  Captain Morgan watched him respond.  They made eye contact.  A head nod confirmed the need to find a quiet corner.

He responded to the command frequency.  The report he received verified news reports.  Despite law enforcement and military efforts, zombies were overwhelming road blocks.  Increased numbers of zombies proved the curfew was enacted too late, or not heard by enough people.  The final statement chilled them.

“All units go to a secure location and get into an underground room.  Mission Neutron is on standby.  Go time in five minutes.  Report locations and sign off.  Power down all electronics.  Repeat.  Mission Neutron in T minus five minutes.  Get to secure locations.  Report coordinates and power down.  One hour from mission completion report in.  Command out.”

Captain Morgan looked scared.  First Sergeant Grumman looked grimmer than usual.  He closed his eyes and sighed heavily.

“Do you have a basement?” he asked.  He noted the time on his watch.  A trusty windup model.

“A wine cellar with no windows.  Middle of the basement,” she said.

“Excellent.  Get everyone there.  Close all doors on the way,” he stated.  “Go.”

T minus four minutes.

Captain Morgan gathered everyone and Barb lead them to the basement.  Questions were asked as they went.  No answers were given as everyone shuffled to the wine cellar.

T minus three minutes.

First Sergeant Grumman and Captain Morgan made a final pass through the house.  At the highest point he reported his location and signed off.  Hope was held out for seeing the end of the hour.

T minus two minutes.

Top felt like the last survivor of the Normandy invasion.  Looking out a window, he saw the faintest light glowing on the eastern horizon.  In the street a ragged group moved down the middle of the street with a familiar leader.

“You had your fun, George.  We’ll continue to love your movies,” he whispered.  “Time to go back to bed.”  A leer chased the statement.

His stride sounded loud in the empty hall.  Even paces let the others know his approach was purposeful.  Nothing followed him but dust caught in his wake.  Two heavy doors closed behind him as he joined is fellow survivors in the basement.

T minus one minute.

“Pushing your luck, First Sergeant?” Captain Morgan asked from the top of the basement stairs.

“Just making sure we had no visitors.”

“Anything?”  She led him down the steps.

“Just a parade of cadavers,” he said.  Gallows humor got him a few uncertain looks.  “You had orders to get down stairs.”

“I’m the captain of this ship.  Last one down.”  First Sergeant Grumman grinned at her levity.  He couldn’t argue with his commanding officer in her own home.

“What’s going on?” Barb asked.  Her eyes pleaded with her sister.  The quiver in her voice spoke to everyone’s concern.

“A solution to our problem. This is our safest place to be,” Emily said, giving her sister a caring look.  Everyone accepted the tone as comforting as refugees could.  No other details were offered.  Nothing else was asked for.

***

Outside, masses of undead moved around looking for more victims.  Crows cawed at movements surrounding deserted meals.  Glowing cat’s eyes simmered as they waited for an early morning meal to run out of a hiding place.  An occasional chirp sounded, welcoming the sun to rise over the horizon.  Thirty thousand feet overhead, a much larger bird flew through the clouds.

A light in the belly of the plane turned green.  Over the sound of the engines hydraulic pumps came alive.  The floor opened to let in cold air.  Klaxons sounded alerting the crew to be attentive.  Five seconds later the 10,000-pound cargo dropped out of the open doors.  The doors closed and the pilot advanced the throttles to full.  Free of its load, the plane raced to meet the sunrise at maximum speed.

Thirty seconds after the plane accelerated away, noonday brilliance ignited over the city.  Clouds were pushed ahead of the pressure wave and heat melted the rest.  Every surface was bathed in light as the flash expanded.

Chirps and caws stopped as birds fell to the ground.  Cats, blinded by the flash, never moved to catch another meal.  A vulture sitting on a concrete post in front of a modest townhouse fell to the sidewalk next to a splattering of feathers.  A beat up pickup truck from St. George’s Necropolis Cemetery sat at the curb, still oozing fluids onto the street.  The street was littered with a carpet of corpses.  All as inanimate as the truck.

An hour later the door of the townhouse opened silently.  Sergeant Stutzgard led the enlisted men out.  Rifle barrels swept across the steps, then the street as they came out.  One soldier nudged the vulture at the bottom of the steps.  First Sergeant Grumman and Captain Morgan stepped out.  He was grim, weary of what occurred the night before.  She stood regal and imposing, ready to start a new day.

“All clear,” came the soldier on the sidewalk.

“All clear in the street,” Sergeant Stutzgard said from the truck.

“What the hell?” Brando exclaimed, looking around the quiet neighborhood.

“It’s a new day in a brave new world, Marine,” First Sergeant Grumman said.  “We just have a little clean up to do.”  He hoped Oppenheimer wasn’t rolling over in his grave after the endgame maneuver.

THE END


J.C. works and lives in Wisconsin.  He has a beautiful wife and two active boys.  He enjoys spending time with family, reading, and, time permitting, writing.  Haunted and spooky places have always intrigued him.

Free Fiction Sunday: Last Stand by J. C. Eickelberg 2/3

Last Stand
Part 2/3

By: J. C. Eickelberg

Second part of an exciting 3-part story inspired by and in remembrance of the great George Romero.

Emily and Barb conferred with their friends.  They quickly agreed.  Everyone found room in the cars.  Finding enough parking close to the party was tricky.  They found an open gate near the cemetery’s maintenance shed and equipment buildings.  One of Brando’s friends was an assistant manager to the groundskeeper there and knew about a faulty lock on the gate and how to make it look secure.  The walk to the renovated fire station was half a block from the gate.

“Harry, is your boss working a crew tonight digging a grave?” Harvey asked.

“No.  Why?” Harry asked.

“Sounds like something’s going on over there.”  Harvey pointed up a rise in the landscape.

“Harvey, you need to get your ears checked,” Harry said.  “Maybe a hearing aid to go with those Coke bottle glasses.”

“Shut up.  At least I don’t sleep in a coffin,” Harvey stated.

“Don’t knock it till you try.  They’re actually pretty comfortable.”

“He’s right, Harry.  Something’s going on,” Emily said.  “Sounds like a party.”

Harry sighed, exaggerated.  “I’m tired of picking up after those parties.”

“Free booze if we bust it up,” Harvey declared.  “We could break up the party and take their stuff.  Party here in the shed until the start of the party at The Fire Alarm.”

“Wouldn’t that mean you’re as sick as them for partying in a cemetery?” Brando asked.

“We’d be in a building, not a mausoleum.  Right?”  Harvey said.

“Fair enough,” Brando said.  He looked around the group, silently posing the idea.  Everyone had reservations about going into a graveyard at night.

“I can’t pass up free drinks,” Harry said.  “What about you, Carl?”

“No cover charge here.  And free alcohol,” Carl piped up cheerily.  “I’m in.”

“As long as you clean up after yourself,” Harry said.  “The party at The Fire Alarm doesn’t start for half an hour.  We could have a little pre-party.”

Brando looked at Emily and Barb.  “You mind hanging out in the shed for a bit?  It actually has a decent breakroom.”  Their friends nodded in agreement.

“Sure,” Barb said.  “My feet are aching from our run this afternoon.”

“Don’t play that card.  You’ve had harder dance practices,” Emily said.  She remembered hearing about Barb’s hours long practice for her performances.

“At least I can dance,” Barb quipped.  She smiled and pirouetted.  Emily silently mouthed a mimicry of Barb and smirked.  The smirk quickly changed to a smile.

They proceeded along the path into the cemetery.  A flashlight was found in Harry’s car and used it to light their way.  Music could be heard clearly after walking fifty yards.  Dancing figures came in to view.  Lights were placed on headstones and hung on mausoleum doors.  Dancing figures disappeared into shadows, some staggered to a tree to be sick, or relieve themselves.

“Oh, man.  Do you know who’s buried here?” Brando said, excitedly.

“Who?” Emily said.

“George Romero.  I love his movies.”

“Who’s that?” Barb asked.  Everyone looked at her in disbelief.  “What?”  She looked at them innocently.  Emily named off some of his movies.  Her eyes widened as she realized what movies she liked he was involved with.

Cresting a rise, they heard clear sounds of people talking.  Other sounds mixed into a garbled murmur.  Shadows lessened and details emerged.  Forms on the ground turned into lost shoes, discarded beverage containers and clumps of soil.  Some headstones had large gopher holes on one side or another.

“For shit’s sake.  They’re making for a long day of cleaning up,” Harry declared.

Larger forms laying behind headstone were left alone.  No one wanted to disturb two lovers getting busy.  The scene was left untouched as the search went on toward the noise of a gathering.

“Harry.  Has anyone been painting headstones?” Brando asked.  He pointed to one smeared and streaked with a dark color.

“Not that I’m aware of,” he said, disgustedly.  “It sounds like the party moved.”  He led them toward the group huddled around writhing forms.

“Hands off, creep,” Barb declared.  She swatted a hand away.  Emily turned toward her sister.

“Barb, walk ahead of me,” she said.  The figure gave them a drunken stare.  Emily nudged him away as they walked.

“What was that about?” Harry asked.  He watched Barb carefully.

“Some drunk copping a feel,” Emily said.  Barb shivered at the memory.

Behind a cluster of mausoleums was the party.  Figures meandered around a plot full of granite headstones.  Music played on an old radio.  No one moved with any rhythm to the music.  Less interest was given to dancing, or talking.

“Where’s the booze?” Carl asked.  A couple of heads turned.  Vacant eyes swept over Harry’s group.  No emotions registered in the faces.  Silence answered.

“This isn’t a party, guys,” Harry pointed out.  “No one’s drinking.”

No bottles or cans littered the ground.  No one held a container of any kind.  More empty gazes turned toward the new arrivals.  Some with Goth paleness, some with grimy, worked-all-day grunge on their faces.

“I said hands off,” Barb yelled.  She turned and swung.  Her fist connected with the drunk.  The sound was like a twig breaking.  The drunk turned back to face her, jaw hanging off to one side of his face.  Barb screamed.  The drunk stared at her with vacant eyes.

“Get away from her,” Emily said.  She stepped toward the drunk and shoved him.  He fell back, landing with a thud.  As an afterthought he reached up slowly to grab at something.

“Let’s get out of here,” Brando said.

The drunk acted like nothing happened to him.  Emily dragged Barb after the group.  They wound through the headstones in full retreat.  Dead staring eyes watched them go.

“You’ve got a hell of a swing, Barb,” Harry said after walking for a few minutes.  She didn’t respond.  “Brando, do you know what’s going on?”

“No.  It’s creepy, whatever it is,” Brando said.  He stayed near Emily and Barb.

They huddled near an outbuilding deep in the cemetery.  Emily comforted Barb as they rested.  Everyone was looking around.

“Where’s Carl?” Harry asked.

“Shit.  He’s probably stuck on getting drunk and looking for booze,” Harvey said.  “Let’s go find him before he gets into trouble.”

Harvey and Harry lead the way back the way they had come.  Brando hung back with the group of ladies, more like a big brother than a romance seeker.  He helped keep unnecessary hands away from Barb and her friends.  Barb’s friends helped comfort her.  Creeping through the silence made for a tense search.  The radio still played in the distance as a beacon.

“Son of a bitch,” came a muffled protest.  They homed in on a small building.

“There he is.”  Harvey went to a prone figure.  “Shit, man.  Did you run into a headstone?  Your head’s bleeding.”

“No.  Someone threw a pillow at me,” he retorted.  “Yeah, I ran into one.”

“Carl, we were walking,” Harvey said.  “You walked your drunk ass into the side of a mausoleum.”

“I think that group is coming.  I don’t want to meet them again,” Emily said.

“I second that,” Brando said.  “How about checking out the party at The Fire Alarm now?  Leave this party alone.”  Everyone agreed.

They circumnavigated the partiers as they made their way back to the maintenance shed.  More blank faced revelers had joined the crowd following them.  Carl slowed their group down as they moved.  Dizziness kept him walking slowly.  Someone had to stay near him as a guide.

“What’s going on?” Carl asked dreamily.

A group moved toward them from the direction of their cars.

“Your slow ass is keeping us from having fun,” Harvey said.

They moved around the blank faced group.  Moving was slowed more because of the darker route than Carl.  Moving gradually toward the shed sounds moved in from more places as they went.  An occasional groper made a grab for someone.  One of them reached closer for one of the ladies.  Emily turned and delivered a series of devastating blows.  Something broke in the groper’s face.

“Damn, girl.  Where’d you learn to fight?” Brando asked, clearly impressed.

“Two tours in the Sand Box with an artillery battalion.  They can brawl like any MMA fight if need be.  After one bad joke and rude gesture, I showed off a few things I’d learned from a boxer training for a cage fight.”  Emily turned a warm smile to him.  “I prefer you not call me girl.  I think I’ve proven I’m not one.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.  I was with Force Recon.  I did three tours in Afghanistan.  Never met any ladies in combat units,” he said.  “I’ll be on your team in any fight.  That guy isn’t moving.”  Brando looked at the downed figure.

“If we don’t move, we may need to fight more.”  Emily scanned the area.  Her intense look added more admiration to Brando’s impression of her.  “I don’t think this is a party anymore.  And I don’t feel sorry about that.”  She pointed at the down groper and walked away.

Groups were moving out of the distant parts of the cemetery.  Emily’s group settled to take the paved lane back to the shed.  They stopped to give Carl a rest.  He’d slowed to a shuffle.

“I think I’m gonna be sick,” Carl said.  He went to the side and lost his dinner.

“Numb nuts probably gave himself a concussion,” Harvey said.  “When we get back to the cars I’ll take him to the hospital.”

Harry went to check on their friend.  Carl sat against a headstone staring at nothing.  Harry nudged him trying to get a response out of him.

“I’m calling an ambulance,” Harvey said, reaching for his cell phone.  He dialed 911 and waited.  “911 is backlogged with calls.  I keep getting put on hold.  I’m going to flag down a cop and see if he can get someone here.”

Two steps and Harvey stopped, suddenly quiet.  His animated demeaner cooled to nothing.  Everyone looked at him and followed his gaze.  Emily and Brando went to high alert.  Others in the group tuned in to the tension.

“That’s not possible,” Harvey said.  His arm came up to point.

“No.  It’s not.  That’s why we’re leaving now,” Brando declared.  Harvey pointed to Carl.  “Leave him.  We get to the street and flag down a cop.  Call 911.  Whatever.  We’re not staying.”

“Why are we leaving so fast?” Barb asked.  “We’re here to join a party.”

“That.”  Emily pointed at the group moving in their direction.  One person out ahead focused on them.  “The one in front is George Romero.”  He led the group like any good general would.

“You said he’s buried here.  Right?” Barb stated.  “As in dead and buried?”

“He’s supposed to be.”  More people shambled toward their group.  A foul odor wafted to them.  Harry knew that as the smell of death.

“I’m not leaving Carl.  He’s a dumbass, but he’s a friend,” Harvey said resolutely.

“Keep up,” Brando said.  Doubt evident on his face.  “He’s your burden.”

Harvey struggled to support and pull Carl along.  Carl made a feeble attempt to walk.  He took one step for every four Harvey took.  Harry turned to say something to Harvey.  He panicked to see Carl turn his head and clamp down on Harvey’s neck.  Harvey’s scream stopped everyone.  Blood sprayed from Harvey’s neck when Carl tore a chunk out of his friend.

Slow moving figures moved out of the acres of headstones on each side of the path.  Some moved faster than others.  Carl fell as Harvey let go and stepped away.  He moved to the side, holding his neck.  Blood flooded past his hand as the fastest graveyard walkers closed in.  Harry’s flashlight swept the area.  Every pale faced person moving toward them went to Harvey.  Light reflected on pale complexions.  Dirt and decay marked the slowest moving walkers.  The light settled on the group on the path.  Some weren’t as dirt covered as the others.

One face in the group focused on Harry’s group.  George Romero watched them as his army of dead groupies slowly advanced.

“Let’s go,” Brando declared.  “They’re dead.  I don’t want to be.”

To be continued… Come back Wednesday for part three. 

Free Fiction Friday: Last Stand by J. C. Eickelberg 1/3

Last Stand
Part 1/3

By: J. C. Eickelberg

An exciting 3-part story inspired by and in remembrance of the great George Romero.

Late morning sun glinted off a dusty truck driving to town.  As the crew approached a neighbor’s property, buzzards were seen circling over a downed steer.  A quick cell phone call let the rancher know about another carcass in the field.  They took little notice of crows picking away on roadkill.

In town, trucks lined each side of the main street.  Most people in town were running errands.  Bad storms were predicted for later in the afternoon and no one wanted to get caught in them.  At Frank’s Café the crew driving into town was looking to have a late lunch.  Frank’s had a good menu and pleasant customers.  The rusty and dirty crew cab truck pulled into a spot and quickly emptied.  The lunch counter was unusually busy for so late in the lunch hour.   They scanned the dining area for a place to sit.

“Halloran lost four more head last week,” one man was saying.  “Is there something going around?”

“Not that I heard,” Frank said from behind the counter.  “I’ll listen for any word about that.  Doc Schuster comes in once or twice a week.  I’ll have to pick his mind for some information.”  He looked up from the packed counter.  “Hi, Darrell.  Treating the crew to lunch?”

“Yeah.  We’re done with what we needed to do at the stockyard and wanted to catch lunch before heading back.  We saw another dead steer in McAllister’s field on the way in.  That’s…,” he thought a second, “eight for him this week.”

“Ten,” Wayne said from behind him.  “I got a call this morning.  He found two more last night.  Buzzards got ‘em really quick.”

“That’s got to be a record for the year,” Frank said shaking his head.

“It’s been a record year for buzzards, too,” another counter sitter piped in.  “I’ve seen clouds of them on the other side of town.”

“By the Romenesko ranch?” Darrell asked.  A nod.  “He’s commented about them.  No one’s been able to figure why there’s so many.”

“I saw two on top of Rutlin’s Hardware.  Could have sworn they were watching me drive by,” a coverall clad sitter said.  He worked for one of the companies contracted to remove dead livestock.

“Driving your carcass truck today?”

“Nope.  My pickup.”

“I’ve seen them in trees by the ball diamonds.  Nothing anywhere near the trees for them to eat,” Frank said.  “I brought a load of stuff to the snack shack yesterday and thought it was a murder of crows.  None of the teams there mentioned a carcass nearby.”

A scream from outside and screeching tires got their attention.  Two large blurs streaked down to the sidewalk.

Darrell and his crew ran out to assist.  They exited the restaurant to find two buzzards attacking a mother and toddler.  The youth was strapped into a stroller, bawling as the bird attempted to extract him.  The mother was fending off her own attacker.  Darrell’s crew didn’t break stride as they advanced to the melee.

One boot connected with the vulture attacking the stroller, sending the bird to the gutter.  It lumbered back to attack the stroller not bothered by being kicked.  A wing flopping off kilter didn’t faze the bird.  Another more savage kick launched it into the street.

Screams from the mother slackened as Darrell grabbed the wings of her attacker and pulled it away.  He gagged on its stench, but held firm.  Struggling to get its meal, the vulture’s rabid movements broke its bones.  Darrell stood, shocked as broken bones slipped out of the wings and the body of the bird fell to the sidewalk.  It didn’t hesitate as it ran back to its target, wingless.  Another observer ran up behind the mother, bypassed her and punted the bird over the street.  A shotgun went off and a passing car was dusted with vulture’s remains.  The bird in the street waddled back, a dent visible in its chest.

“What the hell?” exclaimed the punter.

“Stand clear,” someone bellowed.

Darrell saw the gun wielder step up, racking a fresh shell into the chamber.  Darrell picked up the stroller and moved toward the hysterical mother.  Two of his crew dragged her away from the scene.  Another blast scattered fetid remains across two parked trucks.  Clacking made heads turn back to the bloody scene.  The bodiless head continued to snap at anyone nearby.

“Just die, already,” demanded the punter.  He stomped the head flat.

“What the hell was that about?” Darrell asked.  He looked around.  “Dwayne?”

“They’ve been moving into the area,” Dwayne said, reaching down to pick up the spent shells.  “This is the first I’ve seen them go after anything living.”

“What are you talking about?” Darrell asked, exasperated.

“I’ve been watching them for Dr. Marstedt.  He wants to know why their numbers have grown,” Dwayne said.  “A few soaring out in the boonies, some hovering by the stockyards isn’t unusual.  Over the last few weeks numbers have tripled.”

“Why is Doc Marstedt interested in this?” Darrell wondered.

“Does anyone know what’s going around the herds to bring in the top veterinarian in the state?” Dwayne stated innocently.  “If he’s looking into it, we’re not the only ones with this problem.”

“What bug is going around to do this?” Punter pointed to the splatter next to his boot.  Everyone looked at the massacred birds.  Three vehicles had remains painted across parts of them.

“No one knows, yet,” Dwayne said.

The woman was checking her child for marks, applying hugs and kisses liberally.  A police car eased to the curb, lights on without the siren.  An ambulance was rounding a corner heading toward them.  Some people came out to investigate what happened.  The cop went to Dwayne, the most obvious of weapon carriers.  Darrel and his crew were questioned and let go.

***

“Reporters have come across numerous accounts of ranchers reporting higher than normal cattle deaths in many western states.  Findings have also been reported of larger populations of buzzards being seen circling over dead animals.  No reasons have been found for the sudden death of cattle and sudden spike in buzzard populations.  Scientists have no theories, or explanations yet, why buzzards have appeared in such large numbers.  Veterinarians have examined some of the dead cattle and sent samples to labs with hopes of finding a cause of death.  No signs of unusual illness or parasites in any animals have been noted.

“A little closer to home, reports continue to come in about graves being dug up throughout area cemeteries.  Police have no leads about the whereabouts of those recently buried or why anyone would want to desecrate the graves.  Anyone with information is asked to contact police.”  The news was switched off as political commentary began.

“That’s sad,” came a voice from the kitchen.

“Yeah.  No one can seem to stop the verbal diarrhea about politician’s behavior,” said the watcher.

“Emily, that’s not what I’m talking about.”  A lean figure came to the door.  “The graves.  So many opened up and no one can find out why.  I feel for the families.”

“Maybe some politician is finally finding where his constituents are living and want to shake some hands,” Emily said.

“Your impossible.  Always slamming politicians.  Give it a rest.”  Emily looked like she could go a round with any politician in the boxing ring.  Lean like her sister, but built more like a professional athlete, than the high-level manager she was during business hours.

“Barb.  I’ll give it a rest when those grey hairs are rotting in their graves.”  Emily sneered at the quiet TV as she tied her running shoes.

Barb walked to join her sister.  They went through their ritual stretches.

“Emily, are you going to go easy on me with sprints?”

“Don’t outdistance me too bad this time,” Emily said. “That’s why I work you so hard on sprints, Barbie Doll.”

“Oh, shut up, Emmylou Harris,” Barb chided.  She was ready to talk about something different.  “I’ve seen guys swoon over you at Karaoke.”

“I’ll woo them with a song if I want.  I can beat them down if they talk trash and they know it,” Emily said.

“You look it, too,” Barb said.  “I wish I had a little more muscle like you.  You look great.”

“And I wish I had some more of your Barbie Doll looks,” she replied.  They smiled.  “I like hanging out with you.  You’re fun.”  She went out the front door and down the steps.

“So are you.  I like hanging out with my big sister.”

“Your older sister likes hanging out with her baby sister.”  Emily narrowed her eyes at Barb.  She was a little conscious of her appearance.  They started jogging down the street.

“Shut up.  I’m not a baby,” Barb said with a mock pout.  She reached out to slap her sister’s shoulder.  She missed.

“Catch me, first,” Emily said with a smile.  She sprinted ahead.

“Slow down,” Barb said.  “Bitch.”  She laughed to herself.

Barb ran after her sister.  She caught Emily a block later settling into a steady pace.  Both ran easily, moving through afternoon pedestrians as they found their favorite paths into the urban green space.  Barb griped about being pushed doing sprints.  Emily griped back about her whining.

Jogging into a park was the warmup.  They started walking as more people meandered through the lengthening shadows.  They walked around picnics set up for an evening out for families and couples.  They found a spot to run sprints.  A few guys gave the sisters appreciative looks as they sprinted from one place to another.  One invited them to a party when Barb called for a break.  Heads shaken were the only answer the invitation got.  The party goers went away broken hearted.

“Those guys are half drunk already,” Emily said.

“When was the last time we were invited to a party?” Barb asked.

“Not too long ago.  These guys are barely out of college and just want to get into your pants,” Emily said.  “I’ve got a few numbers at home.  Some belong to a lot better looking guys than those.  And more mature.”

Birds flittered around the picnic goers, looking for crumbs or a dropped chip.  Crows flanked sparrows as they moved in to chase lost morsels.  Shadows in the sky weren’t unusual as birds moved with the wind.  Barb kept looking at the larger birds riding thermals.

“These are the largest birds I’ve ever seen,” Barb said.  “Are those vultures?”

“They’re just large crows,” Emily said.  She doubted her initial thought then, remembering about vultures being seen in the city.  They had an easy run back through the park.  A few more sprints and they turned toward home.

They ran back to their townhouse as a cool down.  A night out was well appreciated.  The banter from before the run continued as the pair got cleaned up for going out.

Walking into a club to meet up with friends, the sisters were all smiles when they found them.  A couple of hours of dancing and a few drinks were enjoyed.  Emily and her group got invited to a party by another group.  In the group Emily met a handsome guy more interested in her than her fashionista sister.

“Brando, where’s this party?” Emily asked.  They were wanting a smaller, calmer party to finish out their night.

“Out near St. George’s Necropolis Cemetery.  There’s an old fire station across the street.  Some of my friends are having a party starting in an hour,” he said.  He looked like a young Marlon Brando.

“How far is it?”

“Two or three miles,” Brando said.

“How are we going to get there?” Barb asked.  Her and Emily had taken a cab to get to the club.

“We have enough cars to get all of us there,” he said.  He was showing maturity Emily liked to see in men. To be continued… Come back Sunday for part two.