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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Art by Hillary Lyon 2020


By Roy Dorman


“I need to pee.  Take the next exit that has a gas station with a fast food place or one of those quick markets attached to it.”

Jesse Franklin and Annie Garner had been driving on the interstate for about an hour since having a continental breakfast at the chain hotel they had stayed at the night before.

This was the first either of them had spoken since leaving the hotel.

Their relationship hadn’t been going well recently.


They didn’t need gas yet, so Jesse parked up in front of the Mini Market.  Annie got out of the car without a word and Jesse pulled out the paperback he’d brought along for just such occasions.

He’d gotten into the book, it was a “whodunit” by one of his favorite authors, and was surprised when he saw fifteen minutes had passed.

“Now what?” he muttered, slamming the book on the dash and getting out of the car.  He walked into the store and stood in front of the clerk.

“Is my wife in here?” he asked, knowing as he said it that it was an unusual question.  “She’s short, dark hair, in a denim dress.  She came in to use the restroom.”

The clerk stared at Jesse for a bit before answering as though this was a very weighty question to consider.

“I saw her come in, but didn’t see her leave,” said the clerk.  He had “RANDY” on an oval patch that was sewn onto his tan smock.  “Maybe she already left, but I didn’t see her go,” he repeated.

Jesse noticed the restrooms were in the back corner.  “She would have had to walk right past you,” he said.  “Surely you would have seen her.”

“I got customers to take care of,” said Randy.

Jesse looked out at the parking lot.  His was the only car out there.  The only customer in the place was a scruffy-looking twenty-something paging through one of those cheap sensational tabloids.

  “Customers?  He’s the only one in here,” said Jesse, getting more irritated than he already had been.  “He doesn’t look like he needs much taking care of.”

Randy leaned over the counter and said in a stage whisper, “I gotta watch him so he don’t steal nothin’.”

Jesse noticed beads of sweat had formed on Randy’s forehead.  He thought that odd as it wasn’t all that warm in the Mini Market. 

The young guy looked up from his reading as if he sensed he was being talked about.  He put the tabloid back in the rack and sauntered over to the counter.

“A woman came in, used the restroom, bought a pack of cigarettes and a lighter, and left five minutes ago,” he said to Jesse.

“That’s ridiculous,” snorted Jesse.  “My wife doesn’t smoke.”

“Didn’t say it was your wife.  Don’t know who she was.  But it was a woman like you described when you came in. 

“After buying the cigs and lighter, she stepped outside, opened the pack and lit one up.  She stared at that car outside the window there for a while and then walked over to the truck stop across the road.  I saw her flag down an eighteen-wheeler that was just heading out.”

After that recitation, he held out his hand to Jesse.  “I’m Ace,” he said, “You are?”

Jesse just stared at Ace’s hand until Ace let it drop.  Before Ace had dropped it, Jesse had noticed two fresh scratches on the back of his hand.

Jesse noticed little things.  In the business he was in, noticing the little things kept him alive. 

He then turned back to the clerk, Randy, and said, “Why didn’t you tell me she bought cigarettes and a lighter after using the restroom?”

Randy stepped back from the counter and put his hands in front of his chest in a warding off gesture.

“I just work here, mister,” Randy sputtered.  “I don’t get involved in customers’ business.”

Jesse felt like punching Randy in the face.  Randy must have seen it in his eyes, because he took another step back.

Jesse looked to the back of the store at the restrooms.  Moving quickly from the counter, he walked back toward the women’s.

“You can’t go into the women’s,” squeaked Randy.  “You better just leave or I’m gonna call the cops.”

“If she’s not in here, I’m calling 911 myself,” said Jesse, reaching for the doorknob.

He opened the door and stared at the toilet.

My wife was in this room a few minutes ago and now she’s…, missing.

“Is there another way out of this place?” he yelled from inside the restroom.

“The storeroom has a back door for deliveries, but it’s locked and you can’t go in there.”

Jesse walked back to the counter.  Ace was no longer there and Randy had a cell phone in his hand.

Jesse took out his own.  “Do you want to call or should I?” he asked.

“Okay, okay; you can check out the storeroom,” said Randy, fumbling in a drawer for the keys.

Randy walked back to a door that was a little to the left of the restrooms.  He unlocked the door and gestured for Jesse to go in.

Jesse scanned the small room and was about to go back out when he spotted a shoe sticking out from between two stacks of boxes.  The foot inside that shoe moved back and forth as if trying to get his attention.  It looked like Annie’s shoe.

As he stared at the shoe, he heard an intake of breath behind him.  In two quick movements he dropped to the floor and kicked back with both feet, catching Ace in the knees.

Ace had been winding up to swing a baseball bat at Jesse’s head, and now he and the bat were on the floor.  Jesse pulled out a small caliber pistol from an ankle holster and aimed it at Randy.

“Get your ass in here now!” he shouted.

Randy hurried in with both hands in the air.  “It was all his idea,” he pleaded.  “He said we could sell her to a trucker and—”

“Shut your mouth, Randy,” said Ace from the floor.

Jesse kicked Ace twice in the ribs.  “You shut your mouth, loser,” he said.  “Now, both of you lie on your stomachs and put your hands behind your back.”

“Whatta ya gonna do to us?” whined Randy.

“I think I’ll let my wife decide on that,” said Jesse, walking back to where he had seen Annie’s shoe.

He walked over to where Annie was tied and gagged.  He loosened her restraints and said, “You okay, babe?”

“Ya, just peachy keen,” Annie answered, rubbing her wrists to get the feeling back into them.  “Gimme your pistol.”

“I’m gonna go check on security cameras inside and out,” said Jesse.  “You think about what we should do with these two.”

Jesse had only gotten to the front door when he heard four shots.  He continued his search for security cameras before going back to the storeroom.  He was happy to see that management had chosen not to spend the money on them.

“Didn’t take you long to decide on what to with them,” said Jesse, looking at the bodies on the floor of the storeroom.

“They were going to sell me, for chrissakes!  Who knows what awful shit could have happened to me before I finally freed myself?”

“I would have freed you before anything happened to you, Annie,” said Jesse.

“Yeah, I know you would have,” Annie said, punching Jesse playfully on the shoulder.  “What say we get the fuck outta here and go someplace fun where we can start fresh?”

“We still have that job to do in New Orleans,” said Jesse.  “Maybe we can make the hit and then kick back there for a while.”

“Sounds good,” said Annie.  “I like that open-air market in the French Quarter that has the powdered sugar beignets.”

“I’ll lick the powdered sugar off your lips.”

“Damn, a couple dead bodies on a storeroom floor sure gets your motor runnin’,” said Annie. “Come on, let’s hit the road.”



Roy Dorman is retired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Benefits Office and is the submissions editor of Yahara Prairie Lights. He has had poetry and flash fiction published in One Sentence Poems, Near to the Knuckle, Yellow Mama, Shotgun Honey, Theme of Absence, Drunk Monkeys, The Flash Fiction Press, Black Petals, and a number of other online magazines.

Hillary Lyon is an illustrator for horror/sci-fi and pulp fiction websites and magazines. She is also founder and senior editor for the independent poetry publisher, Subsynchronous Press. An SFPA Rhysling Award nominated poet, her poems have appeared in journals such as Eternal Haunted Summer, Jellyfish Whispers, Scfifaikuest, Illya’s Honey, and Red River Review, as well as numerous anthologies. Her short stories have appeared recently in Night to Dawn, Yellow Mama, Black Petals, Sirens Call, and Tales from the Moonlit Path, among others, as well as in numerous horror anthologies such as Night in New Orleans: Bizarre Beats from the Big EasyThuggish Itch: Viva Las Vegas, and White Noise & Ouija Boards. She appeared, briefly, as the uncredited "all-American Mom with baby" in Purple Cactus Media’s 2007 Arizona indie-film, "Vote for Zombie." Having lived in France, Brazil, Canada, and several states in the US, she now resides in southern Arizona.  https://hillarylyon.wordpress.com/

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2020