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Roy Dorman
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change.jpg
Art by W. Jack Savage © 2014

CHANGE IS A GOOD THING, RIGHT?

 

Roy Dorman

 




The rustic old used book store, The Written Word, with its two studio apartments on the second floor, had managed to evade the urban renewal planners for half a century.  The apartments had been the real money-makers for the building’s owner for the last ten or fifteen years.  The cursed Internet and the movie rental industry had changed the way of doing business for a lot of retailers.  Many had gone through reorganizations to accommodate the different customer preferences and had stayed afloat.  Many others had tried and failed.  The owner of The Written Word, Frank Jenkins, had seen the oncoming tsunami, but had realized there was very little he could do as far as making changes in the way a used book store did business.  Had he dealt in rarities, he could have taken advantage of the Internet and gone global.  As it was, most of his clients lived in a forty-block radius of his storefront.  In the back of the store, he was going through a box of books he had found at an estate sale.  The person whose estate was being settled had had a very nice collection, indeed.  His only employee, Mary Gibbs, was up front at the cash register talking to a teenager.  Mary was a recent college graduate, an English major, no less, who in addition to working six days a week at The Written Word, drove cab three or four nights a week to make ends meet.  When Mary wasn’t waiting on the few customers who wandered in, she had her nose in a book.  She especially liked late 19th, early 20th century horror and supernatural authors like Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen.  In less than a year she had learned the business and was well liked by Frank’s regular customers.  Frank stopped to listen a minute as it sounded like Mary was giving this kid the bad news.  He rarely ever heard her being anything but friendly to the customers.


“Now, Jimmy, I’ve told you a million times; the change we have is for our customers.  If I give it to you, we might not have it when we need it,” Mary said quietly but firmly.


“But I’ll miss my bus if ya don’t give me change.  My mom’ll get all wigged out and maybe ground me,” complained the teenager in front of her.  Frank supposed that Jimmy was the kind of kid who would be known by his schoolmates as a geek or a nerd.  Tall, gangly, lots of acne; he even had some white tape holding one of the bows of his glasses to the rest of the frame.  Jimmy was a classic, alright.


“Okay, I suppose if ya have to catch yer bus, ya have to catch yer bus.  But try to plan ahead a little, will ya, Jimmy?”


Jimmy’s face lit up with a big smile as he took the change.  “Thanks, Mary,” he said.  “I’ll try not to let it happen again.”


“You know it will happen again, don’t you, Mary?” Frank said after Jimmy had gone.  “I think he’s got a crush on you.”


“Oh, don’t be silly,” said Mary blushing.  “He’s just a kid.  I’m almost ten years older than he is.”


“I didn’t say he was going to ask you to elope with him to Vegas.  I just think he enjoys spending a little quality time with you.”


 “Quality time; I’m so sure,” harrumphed Mary as she went back to her book.


The change Jimmy needed, if he really needed it, and the inability of Frank to make the changes necessary to keep the store going, got him thinking about how words like change had different meanings in the English language.  He really wished there was something he could do to change the way he did business and turn a profit again, but couldn’t think of any way to do it.  He was absently paging through one of the books that was part of his recent purchase, mumbling the words “change this, change that” to himself, when a piece of paper fell to the floor.  It appeared to be a note that had been used as a bookmark, and considering the recent thoughts that had been going through his head, it was a strange note indeed.  “So it’s change you’re looking for, is it?” the note stated in someone’s careful cursive. “I’ll show you change!”


Frank looked at the book’s spine for title and author information.  The title was “Everyday Spells and the Use of Incantations” by an author named Francis Jenkins.  Odder and odder.  The copyright date was 1872.  Maybe some crazy great-great-uncle.  Frank put the note back into the book and decided to go for a walk to clear his head and then stop someplace for lunch.


“I’m going for an early lunch, Mary,” he said going out the door.  “I’ll be back before 12:30.”


Frank headed toward the market district, and though feeling a little light headed, discovered he was glad to be out of the store and into the fresh air.  A welcome change.  “There it is again,” he thought to himself.  Normally he would have chuckled at this continuation of word play, but for some reason he felt uneasy.  Looking down, he saw a nasty looking rat was scurrying along, keeping pace with him.  Then he saw another, equally nasty looking, coming toward him from the other direction.  The odd thing was that nobody else walking in either direction seemed to take any notice of the two rats.  No, now three; now four rats.  Frank was glad when he got to the little bistro he often frequented and could leave the rats behind.  Even as he sat down, it bothered him that no one else had paid any attention to the uncommon occurrence of those rats trundling down the street like they had important rat business to take care of.


Gerald, the waiter who usually took Frank’s order, was nowhere to be seen.  A rather scruffy little man, in a dirty sweater much too large for him, sidled over to the table.


“Yeah?” he asked, looking over Frank’s head and out the window.


Frank looked around at the other customers and didn’t recognize a soul.  “I guess I’ll have a grilled cheese and a glass of ice water,” he stammered nervously.  “Yes, grilled cheese and ice water; that’ll do it,” he trailed off.


“The fish didn’t like it when we put ice in the water, so we don’t have ice no more,” declared the waiter as he shambled away.


Frank looked at the table next to him and his jaw dropped.  The couple next to him both had water, and in each glass there was a live fish of some sort swimming around.  The waiter came back with Frank’s water and refilled the glasses of the two at the next table.  Right then, Frank knew exactly what was going on:  He was losing his mind.  Simple as that; going bonkers.  First the rats and now the fish. 


“That fish okay?” asked the waiter.  “I can get ya a different kind if ya want.”


 “Oh, I’m sure this fish is fine.  But I suddenly don’t feel too well and think I’d better leave.”  He put a dollar on the table as a tip and started for the door.  He couldn’t imagine eating a grilled cheese that came from the kitchen of a place that put live fish in their drinking water.  As he was walking out he saw a fellow do a “bottoms up” with his glass and drink it right down, fish and all. 


“Yep,” he said out loud. “Crazier than a peach-orchard boar.”  He decided to go to the little grocery and just pick up an apple and some grapes to take back with him to the bookstore. Why he thought the grocery would somehow be as it was the last time he was in it was due to that age-old river in Egypt; denial.  Even though he had just verbalized that he was losing his mind, he still was going through the motions of normality.  The grocery as seen from the entrance was a collage of weird goings-on that complimented the bistro’s wackiness nicely.  Two women were standing by the fresh strawberries talking, but stuffing strawberries into their mouths as if they hadn’t eaten in a week.  An older gentleman, about Frank’s age, was munching on a head of lettuce.  He had on an expensive looking sport coat, a strap t-shirt, boxer shorts, and mismatched socks.  No shoes.  Frank put a bunch of grapes in a bag, set a couple of dollars on the unstaffed cash register and headed quick-step out the door.  There was a young long-hired security guard at the exit singing an old Beatles song at the top of his lungs.  Actually, he was pretty good…, if he hadn’t been supposedly watching the exit of the grocery store.


When Frank got back to The Written Word, he saw that it was no longer The Written Word; it was now “Mary and Frank’s Read It Again, Sam.”  Somehow, he was not at all surprised.


 “Oh, hey,” said Mary with a bit of a slur.  “Wasn’t expectin’ ya back.  So freakin’ soon, I mean.”  She moved the bottle of watermelon flavored vodka from the counter next to her to the floor.  It was one third gone.  Looking around, Frank hardly recognized the place.  There were movies and CD’s to buy or rent and gaudy posters of punk rock bands decorating all four walls.


“Gotta a glass for that vodka?’ Frank asked Mary.


“I was kinda jus’ drinkin’ right from the bottle,” replied Mary with a dopey grin.

“So gimme it, already,” Frank sighed in resignation.  “I guess I can drink outta the bottle for a change.”  Then brightening a bit, he said, “Ya know, Mary, I really like what you’ve done to the place; ya did a good job.  I should’ve made some of these changes a long time ago.  We’re gonna have to get some rat traps, though.  A lot of rat traps.”       







anniversary.jpg
Art by Brian Beardsley © 2014

THE ANNIVERSARY

 

 

Roy Dorman

 

“I beg your pardon!”

Matthew Byrnes had just finished dinner at his favorite restaurant and was getting ready to leave. He had moved into this neighborhood six months ago after retiring. He had been a circuit court judge for almost thirty years and was thoroughly enjoying retirement.

On his way to the door, a slight altercation had occurred. “No need to get all huffy,” said Judge Byrnes. “I didn’t know it was yours. It’s raining and I needed an umbrella. This one looked like it had been on the top of the coat rack for years. Here, take it.”

“Actually, it has been there for years. I forgot it when I had dinner here with my wife on our fiftieth wedding anniversary. That was three years ago today. That’s my wife over there by the door. We were killed by a drunk driver just as we left the restaurant. He jumped the curb and pinned us to the side of the building; we both died on the way to the hospital.”

The judge could only stare after that little recitation. The man was obviously a little bonkers. He thought he’d best be careful here or things could get ugly.

“Everything alright, sir?” asked William, the waiter who had served him. 

“Oh, things are fine, fine,” said the judge. “I was just going to borrow what I thought was an abandoned umbrella, only to find out that it belongs to this gentleman.” 

Looking puzzled, the waiter asked, “And which gentleman would that be, sir?”

“Why this gentleman right ….,” he started.  “Damn,” the judge thought to himself.  “He’s gone. The woman by the door, too. How could they have left the restaurant that quickly? And without taking his umbrella. How odd.”

“Well, sir, if that will be all,” said the waiter, looking a little nervous now.

“Yes, yes, William, that will be all. Thanks for the nice evening. See you again next week,” the judge said, trying to make as graceful an exit as possible.       

He stepped out onto the sidewalk and put up the umbrella. He now felt a little odd taking it, but it was just an umbrella; though its previous owner was certainly an odd duck. Even with the umbrella, the wind was blowing rain into his face as he stepped into the street. Halfway across, a horn sounded and a car skidded to a stop just inches from him. He looked through the windshield and saw the strange fellow and his wife smiling at him.

“Hey, buddy, ya gonna stand there all night?” came from a delivery truck driver who had stopped his van on the other side of him. The judge didn’t bother to turn back to see if the mystery couple and their car were still there.

“No, I’ll be walking back across the street now, thank you very much,” the judge said, though not with as much confidence as he normally would have had when dealing with sarcastic truck driver types. He found he was a bit shaken. The first thing he was going to do was put this umbrella back where he got it. He no longer thought of it as “just an umbrella.” It seemed to be somehow connected to its owner. Or former owner. Or whatever; he decided he’d rather get wet.

“Ah, back so soon, sir?” asked the waiter.

“Yes, William, I’ve decided that I don’t need this umbrella after all.  I’m going to call a cab.”

“But, sir, it is still raining quite hard,” said the waiter, standing on tiptoe and looking over the judge’s shoulder out the front window.

“Thanks, but I’ll just stay in the entryway until the cab gets here,” the judge said. “Say, William, do you know anything about an accident happening out front about three years ago? Maybe two people getting killed?”

“Yes, sir, three years ago tonight. The chef says to me earlier on, ‘Just you wait and see, William, there’ll be some strange things happening in here tonight. There are every year on this date. People say they see people who then, poof, are no longer there.’ Oh my, sir, you didn’t see something unusual earlier, did you?”

“No, no, William, I didn’t see anything strange at all,” said Judge Byrnes. “Now, would you please call me a cab? It doesn’t look like this rain’s ever going to let up.”

“Yes, sir, right away. Oh, careful, sir, do watch your step. Water’s dripped on the floor from your umbrella,” said William. “Oh, no!  How awful!” he then shouted as the judge slipped and fell to the floor. “Someone help me here! Someone call 911!”

“He’s awake, but still a little groggy,” the judge heard a nurse whisper in the hallway. “You can stay for a few minutes. He has no family in the area so we’re making an exception for you.”

 “Morning, sir, hope you’re feeling a little better,” said William. “That was quite a spill you took. Thought I’d drop by and bring you some flowers for your room.”

“That’s really quite nice of you, William. You can just put them on that table in the corner. Oh, no,” the judge said. “Did you bring that umbrella with you too?”

“No, sir. That was sitting in the corner when I came in. I just got here a minute ago.”

“I’m going to call the nurse. Nurse! Nurse!”

“Yes, sir, everything okay?” asked the nurse.

“No, actually, it’s not,” said Judge Byrnes. “Where did that umbrella come from? Did it come with me from the restaurant where I was injured?”

“Well, sir, I don’t quite know how to tell you this,” said the nurse.  “After you were settled into bed, that is, after the doctor examined you, I came into your room and there was an older couple standing by your bed looking down at you. I asked them who they were and what they were doing and they both just smiled at me. I went out front to ask the receptionist who they were and she said nobody had come in for the last half hour. When I came back in here, they were …, well, they were gone, sir. I guess it was them who must have left the umbrella.”

A look of distaste appeared on Judge Byrnes’ face. They had been standing over him while he was unconscious. “How creepy,” he thought to himself. 

“That’s fine, that’s fine. You may go now,” he said, dismissing the nurse. 

“Just leave it for now, William. But after our visit, please take it with you and put it back on the coat rack in the restaurant,” the judge said.

“Do you really think that will be the end of it then, sir?” said William, raising his eyebrows a little as if for emphasis.

“No, William, I have no idea what we could do to bring an end to this.  I think you and I may be at just the beginning of it.  I don’t know how or why I’ve become connected to those two. But I tell you one thing: I do plan to be at the restaurant for the fourth anniversary. I hope that you will be there too. We can look at this as “our” mystery. You know, the whole thing is actually quite invigorating, wouldn’t you say?”

William nodded his agreement, he rather liked the old judge, but the look on his face said that he thought this whole business was turning out to be anything but invigorating. He looked at the umbrella resting in the corner and noticed for the first time that there appeared to be blood on its tip.  Blood had run down to where the tip met the floor and a dime-sized spot of it glistened in the hospital’s overhead lights. Judge Byrnes noticed the look of horror on William’s face and followed his gaze to the spot on the floor.  With a grimace, he murmured to William, “Ever notice anything like that when it was on top of the coat rack back at the restaurant?”

“No, sir,” said William. “It pretty much stayed on the rack and behaved itself.”

“Interesting,” said the judge. “Apparently something that happened tonight has brought about a change in its behavior. I think it might have been us. Let’s leave it there until I’m released; then we’ll both take it back to the restaurant and hope it goes back to sleep. I’d still like to be at the restaurant for the anniversary next year. Maybe you can get the night off and be my dinner guest.”

“I’m sure being your dinner guest would be very pleasant, sir,” said William.

William then paled as he watched the judge’s face become the face of another. It was of an elderly man that slowly morphed into a grinning skull.  At the same instant, the judge was startled to see William’s face become that of the old woman from the restaurant. After only a second or two, both faces were back to normal. Each man eyed the other suspiciously. The judge then broke the ice when he realized that in that instant William had looked as shocked as he himself had felt. 

“Did my face just change into something rather ghastly?” asked the judge.

“Why, yes it did, sir,” said William .

“I thought so; yours did too. It was the face of the old woman at restaurant.”

William groaned. “I’m not sure I’m going to be up to this, sir,” he said.

“I don’t think we have any choice, William. I don’t think we have any choice.”



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Art by Steve Cartwright © 2015

INCIDENT AT THE CORNER GROCERY

Roy Dorman

 

Donatelli’s Grocery.  He’d passed that earlier, hadn’t he?  Yeah, he was pretty sure he had. 

To get a little exercise, Brad Johnson had walked the ten or twelve blocks from his uptown hotel to this small ethnic neighborhood and had somehow gotten turned around in his attempt to head back.  No big deal; it was still early.  He could see the multi-storied buildings of the uptown in the distance.  The morning fog was just about completely burned off by now and there was no reason he couldn’t just walk toward that skyline and be back in his room in an hour. 

Starting off again, he decided to put the grocery store puzzle behind him and think about the upcoming day.  He had flown in early last evening and was looking forward to surprising his girlfriend, Linda, at the museum where she worked.  They’d have lunch, and then after she got off work, they’d go someplace ritzy for dinner. 

Linda had often made comments about his being too buttoned down and not being spontaneous enough in their relationship.  Flying cross country unexpectedly for lunch and dinner would surely show her that he could be a little wild if he put his mind to it.

Ambling along, trying to stay in the general direction of his hotel, Brad’s thoughts were still on Linda.  They had lived together for almost two years.  He loved her very much and he was sure she loved him just as much.  Friends, though, sometimes remarked that it certainly must be true that opposites attract because his and Linda’s personalities were quite different. 

Brad was the cautious type.  He often diddled around seemingly forever thinking things through before making a decision about something.  Sometimes even ridiculously small things.  Linda, however, wasn’t big on doing a cost-benefit analysis on every choice that came along in her life.  She was a risk taker. 

Linda had left Los Angeles for the new job in New York City after giving the position offer ten minutes thought, her employer two week’s notice, and Brad best of luck wishes in finding a position and following her as soon as possible.  He still remembers burying his face in her hair at the airport and inhaling the smell of her one last time.  Right then, he didn’t know if he would ever be able to follow her to New York City.    

He was at a crosswalk, waiting for the light to change when he saw on the other side of the street…, Donatelli’s Grocery.

“That can’t be,” Brad said aloud, causing the old woman next to him jump.

“What can’t be, mister?” she asked, eying him warily.

“That can’t be Donatelli’s; I’ve walked past that store twice already this morning on my way back uptown.”

“That’s Donatelli’s, alright,” she said.  “Been there for years.  Why don’t you just catch the bus uptown if you’re in a hurry?”

He hadn’t been in a hurry before, but now it had gotten a little later than he was comfortable with.  As luck would have it, there was a bus stop up ahead in the next block.  He only had to wait a few minutes before a bus with the “Uptown” sign on the front pulled up.  He got on and took one of the remaining seats as the bus pulled away. 

The bus was just about full with commuters heading to work.  It was then he thought that he should have thanked that old woman for the bus suggestion.  Thinking about it now, he couldn’t remember her crossing the street with him when the light changed.  He couldn’t remember seeing her at all again after she suggested the bus. 

Settling into his seat, Brad thought about how much fun lunch and dinner would be with Linda.  She was such a dynamo; always laughing and kidding around.  He couldn’t wait to kiss her…

“End of the line,” a voice called from a distance.  “Hey, buddy, wake up; end of the line.”

Brad sat up with a start.  Looking around, he saw that he was the only one on the bus.  He was the only passenger, that is.  The driver was in his seat looking back at him through the overhead review mirror.

“Where am I?” Brad asked.  “Are we uptown?”

“We’re at the end of the line.  Ya know, the bus barns. My morning shift is over.  We were uptown, but you didn’t get off.  I always yell ‘Uptown’, when we get there but you must have been sleepin’ pretty soundly.  Ya gotta get off this bus, but you can catch another one heading uptown just across the street.”

Brad looked out the window and saw a yellow bench at a bus stop.  The bench was right in front of Donatelli’s Grocery.  “Must be a fuckin’ chain,” he said with a sigh as he walked past the driver to get off the bus.  Stepping down the two stairs, he almost ran into a beat police officer who must have been stopping to chat with the driver.

“Excuse me, officer, could I talk to you for a minute?” asked Brad.

“Sure, buddy, what’s up?” said the cop with a “here to serve you” smile.

“Well, I know this is gonna sound nuts,” said Brad, “but I seem to be having a little trouble getting uptown.  Every time I start out, after a bit, I end up right back at Donatelli’s Grocery.”

Brad saw the cop’s eyes stray from his eyes to a spot just over his shoulder.  Out of the corner of his eye, Brad could see the driver was rotating his index finger to the side of his head and making a goofy face.  The cop smirked but then directed his attention to Brad again.

“…don’t see anybody going in or coming out of that place.”  Brad had continued talking while the cop had been watching the antics of the bus driver.

“What’s that you’re sayin’?” asked the cop.

“I said I just realized that even though I’ve been past this store three or four times, I don’t think I’ve seen anybody going in or coming out.  Is it open?’         

“Yeah, it’s open,” said the bus driver.  “It’s open Monday through Saturday.  Has been for years.  Do you remember when Donatelli’s wasn’t there, Charlie?” he asked the cop.  “I think it’s always been there.”

 “Yeah, it’s been there ever since I can remember,” said the cop.

“You ever been in there?” the bus driver asked the cop.

“Sure, I been in there; it’s a nice little grocery. Ya mean you’ve never been in there?”

“Well, no, I haven’t.  And I was just thinkin’, ya know, about what the whacko here said.  I don’t remember ever seein’ anybody goin’ in or comin’ out of that place, either.  Do ya think it’s a front or somethin’?”

“Whadda ya mean a front?  If it was a front, I’d know, wouldn’t I?” groused the cop.  “Just ‘cause it’s named Donatelli’s doesn’t mean it’s Mafia or somethin’.

The driver and the cop had now pretty much left Brad out of the conversation.

“Charlie, answer me this:  When was the last time you were in there?” asked the driver.

Charlie looked at the driver and then at Donatelli’s. He stared at Donatelli’s for a long time. 

“Didn’t it used to be at the corner of Fifth and Edwards?” he said.

Brad decided that there was nothing more to be gained from listening to these two and crossed the street to Donatelli’s.  He pushed open the screen door and went inside.

After stopping to let his eyes adjust to the darkness of the place, he looked around the little store and didn’t see a shopkeeper or any customers.  No one was at the register.  He turned and looked out the plate glass window. 

Across the street was a little grocery; Donatelli’s Grocery. 

Looking out the cobwebbed covered window with his back to the dark storeroom, he felt his bladder let go.  Someone, or something, had come up behind him and was breathing raggedly on the back of his neck. 

Still staring straight ahead at the Donatelli’s across the street, he saw the old lady walking toward the store coming from one direction and the cop and the bus driver coming from the other direction.  They stopped in front of the store and were now looking in the picture window.  He could not make out who was looking out the window back at them, but he could guess who it was. 

A large, hairy hand took his and attempted to lead him away from the window.  Brad resisted.  He supposed he should do something, but he couldn’t think what.  He just continued to stare at the grocery across the street; watching to see if anyone would go in or come out.  Though he couldn’t put his finger on it, someone going in or coming out seemed very important to him.

“Damn you, Linda,” he whispered.  “Damn you.”

“Not Linda,” a rumbling voice said from behind him.

Brad chuckled bitterly.  Then he barked laughter.  No, whatever it was that owned the hairy hand that now held his arm in an iron grip was probably not named Linda. 

When roughly prompted by his captor, he decided to go docilely along, carefully keeping his eyes to the floor.  He was no longer sure of very much, but he did know he wasn’t in a hurry to look at whatever it was that was pulling him along.

“Linda, Linda, Linda,” said Brad.

 “No, not Linda; Igor,” said his gruff companion.

“Well, of course you are,” laughed Brad. “Who else would you be?”  He finally found the nerve to look up into the face of his captor.  A horribly scarred face was attempting a smile of sorts.  Brad smiled back and said, “Well, Igor, ol’ buddy; where to?”

“Donatelli,” said Igor with a look of childlike wonder on his face.  “We see Donatelli.”

Brad was surprised that he was really looking forward to seeing Donatelli.  He even started whistling as he and Igor walked into the gloom at the back of the store.

“No whistling in Donatelli’s,” admonished Igor seriously with a comic raising of his bushy eyebrows.  “No whistling is allowed.”

When Igor opened a large sliding oak door on the back wall of the grocery, Brad stopped in mid-whistle.  He and Igor stood and looked through the door’s opening at a panoramic view of the inside of a colossal temple.  Hundreds of “Igors” were milling about aimlessly and Brad bet that not one of them was whistling.  Whistling was not allowed in Donatelli’s. 

Brad shuddered as he thought that he was about to find out what was allowed in Donatelli’s. He was pretty sure that Donatelli wouldn’t be wearing one of those full length white grocery aprons that tied in the back.

After walking across the floor of the amphitheater for what seemed like hours, but may have been only minutes, Brad saw that they were arriving at what looked like a large altar.  He didn’t like the looks of that at all.  Altars usually implied sacrifices. 

Sitting on a bench outside the railings that served as the barrier between the altar and the rest of the expanse were the cop, the bus driver, and the old lady.  They were holding “take a number” cards.  The old woman started waving enthusiastically until the bus driver gently pulled her arm down and whispered something in her ear.  She then gave Brad a pained “wouldn’t want to be in your shoes” smile and gave him a little “bye-bye” wave.

“That Linda?” asked Igor.

“No, Igor, that’s not Linda.  I may never see Linda again.”

“Linda, Linda, Linda,” said Igor.

Brad looked back across the vastness that he and Igor had just crossed. 

He could feel the distance from where he now stood and the hotel room that was back there in his own world. 

Somehow this morning after setting out on his walk, he had taken a right when he should have taken a left.  Zigged when he should have zagged and entered a world that was much like his own at the start, but then had turned more wrong with each step he had taken. 

The experience had changed him, though.  The quiet, conservative Brad who had started the morning would have gone mad with fear being where he was now.  The new Brad felt strength in himself that he thought would help him through almost anything. 

He looked at Igor standing next to him.  Well, almost anything. 

“So is Igor your real name?  Seems kinda cliché.”

“Cliché?’

“You know, sorta Hollywood.  Assistant to the mad scientist in the horror movies.”

“Hey, Igor!” Igor called out.  The dozen or so Igors closest stopped and turned to look over at them.  Igor smiled a big smile.  They all smiled and resumed their walking around duties.  “All of Donatelli’s helpers are called Igor,” said Igor to Brad.

The two of them settled back into their own thoughts until Brad heard Igor making a sniffing noise.  He had just turned to ask him what he smelled when he smelled something himself.

“Linda,” said Brad.  He quickly looked around to see if she was somehow there with them.

Igor stopped sniffing and said, “That Linda?”

“Brad swallowed hard and looked Igor in the eye.  “Yes, Igor, that Linda.”

The madness that still threatened his mind was as close as Igor and as far away as his hotel room.  The urge to bolt from Igor and the yet unseen Donatelli and flee back the way they had come was strong but he held it at bay. 

It was strong, though.  Very strong.

“Linda, Linda, Linda,” said Igor, sniffing the air again.  He was smiling.  



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Art by W. Jack Savage © 2015

CAFÉ ERRATA I & II:  WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND

 

It was 9:45 p. m. when forty-eight-year old Billy “Sloe-Eye” Jenkins noticed the neon lighted “EAT” sign as he was coming to the outskirts of a small town in the middle of southwestern Wisconsin. 

Billy was getting too old for this life.  Both he and his expensive custom-tailored suit had taken a beating over the last few days.  He really, really needed a shower and a bed in a hotel tonight. 

The problem was that he had gone too long “between jobs.” This made him low on cash, which in turn had him sleeping in his car at rest areas and in supermarket parking lots.  

He pulled into the greasy spoon’s gravel parking lot and drove up to a spot by the front windows.  His was the only car in the lot.  The small handmade cardboard sign on the door was still turned to the “OPEN” side. 

Billy walked up the three steps and into the diner, hearing the little bell ring as he stepped through the old wood-framed glass door. 

Two men who had been talking at an order window cut in the wall that opened into the kitchen stopped their conversation and turned to look at him.

“We’re only open ‘til 10:00, but we can get you a sandwich and coffee to go if ya like,” said the gangly young man on the counter side of the window. 

He looked to be a year or two out of high school, if he’d even made it through high school, and his tone said it all; he hoped that this late comer would just make a U-turn and head on out. 

The other man, probably the cook, was very short, his head just a bit above the window sill, and looked like he’d been around the block a few times. 

Billy pulled a gun from under his coat and shot both men in the head before either could even move.  The older man fell back into the kitchen and the younger onto the floor behind the counter. 

                                                                                                         

He had just opened the cash register when car lights played across the back wall of the diner.

“Damn!  Gotta get rid of this guy quick,” thought Billy to himself.  He ditched his suit jacket, reached down and took the paper restaurant hat from the head of the guy behind the counter, plopping it on his own head just as the problem patron entered.

“We’re only open for another ten minutes, but I can give ya a coffee to go,” ad-libbed Billy.

“I’ve been on the road for eight fuckin’ hours,” said the customer.  He was a tough looking fellow with a long scar on one cheek.  “You get me the coffee, I’ll sit here a minute and we’ll chat, and then I’ll get back on the road.”

As he was pouring the coffee, Billy groaned to himself as he noticed yet another car pull into the small parking lot. 

A thirty-something local woman, Mary Barnes, got out of the car and entered the diner.  The car she had gotten out of was still running, the lights shone brightly into the diner, and somebody was slouched down in the driver’s seat listening to some country western music that was turned up loud.

“Who the hell are you?” Mary asked Billy, leveling a steely gaze in his direction.  “Where’s Fred and Jesse?” 

She had been talking to Billy but now she cast a quick glance at the customer in time to see him pull a gun from a chest holster and aim it at Billy. 

Billy had already taken his gun out when Mary had pulled in and had it beneath the counter.

Both men fired at the same time and both were hit. 

Mary pulled a small caliber pistol from her purse and put a bullet into each man’s head.

“Jeezus, Mary, you dumb bitch, you were just supposed to case the joint, not kill everybody in the building!” yelled Tommy Jones upon entering the diner.  “Fred and Jesse said that they would give us the money if we would give them part of it.”

Mary had been looking through the kitchen order window.  “Fred and Jesse are both dead; Fred’s behind the counter here and Jesse’s in the kitchen.  I don’t know who these other two guys are.”

Leveling her pistol at Tommy’s chest, she said, “Ya know, I’ve about had it with that ‘dumb bitch’ stuff, Tommy.”  Mary shot him three times at point blank range. 

Now alone in the diner with five dead men, she began to clean out the register.

                                                                                                         

She took the car keys out of the pockets of both of the dead men she didn’t know.  “You can keep that nasty old Ford, Tommy; I’ll just borrow one of these gentlemen’s until I get to Chicago.” 

As she was hurrying to the door, she saw the county sheriff pull into one of the last remaining parking places.  The lot was getting to be as full as the diner.

His flashing lights weren’t on so Mary figured he wasn’t answering a call to check out the various shots fired.  Probably just stopping for coffee at closing time. 

Thinking quickly, Mary yelled out the front door, “Sheriff, get in here right away; somthin’ awful’s happened.”

The sheriff, a veteran of twenty years on the force, gasped when he saw the three dead men on the floor of the diner.  Walking in a little further, he saw Fred lying dead behind the counter. 

He didn’t even get as far as the order window when Mary opened fire, shooting him execution style in the back of the head.

“In for a penny, in for a pound,” said Mary as she left the diner and went to check out which car she would take.

Mary was not destined for greatness as a criminal.  Neither of the two cars had more than a quarter tank and she had to use quite a bit of her loot just buying gas to get to Chicago. 

She kicked around Chicago for a bit, but wound up a year later working at a little open all night diner in a small town off the interstate that was much too much like the little burg she had left in Wisconsin. 

One night, she was working alone in the diner.  There hadn’t been a customer in twenty minutes.  Mary decided that this was her last night at the diner.  She planned to clean out the register and head for Nashville the next time a customer came and left. 

She thought that she was still good looking and had always had a good singing voice.  The plan was to hook up with some country band that needed a singer.

While Mary was going over all of this in her head, a lone man walked in and shot her twice in the chest with the sawed-off shotgun he’d had concealed under his trench coat.  He left with a couple of hundred dollars from the register; not much more than Mary had taken from her diner heist a year ago. 

 

 

                                                                                                         

Ironically, this murder was one of those “small world” things that happen now and then; the man who shot and killed Mary was the son of one of the four men that Mary had shot back in Wisconsin.

When another customer finally came in a half hour later, he called the police and reported that there was a waitress lying dead behind the counter and the cash register was open.

“No,” said the customer to the dispatcher.  “Just her; she and I are the only ones in here.”

 

END






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Art by Steve Cartwright © 2015

An Early Christmas Present

by Roy Dorman

 

“Hey, Eddie, it’s me, Charlie, down at the station.  We have a problem, bro.” 

Just twenty minutes ago, Eddie Scranton had dropped off his old beater of a Chevy at the two-stall garage his buddy, Charlie Roberts, owned.

“Come on now, don’t you be givin’ me some bad news,” said Eddie.  “I told ya that I only have enough to get the exhaust system fixed and you said you could do it cheap.”

“When I said ‘we have a problem,’ I should have said ‘you have a problem.’  And it’s a lot bigger problem than a rusted out exhausted system, Eddie-boy.  There’s a body in your trunk.”

There was ten seconds of silence.  “Ya still there?” asked Charlie.  “I said there’s a stiff in your trunk; I’m gonna call the cops.”

“Hold on a sec; don’t call ‘em yet.  Don’t do anything ‘till I get there.  I’ll be there as soon as I can get a ride.  Half hour, tops.”

“Kinda sounds like ya know something about this.  I’ll wait a half hour, but only cuz we’re pals.  After a half hour, I have to look out for Charlie; know what I mean?”

“Yeah, yeah, thanks.  Don’t worry; I’ll be there.”

Eddie made it to “Mufflers, Etc.” with only a few minutes to spare.  “What were you looking around in the trunk for, anyhow?  Ya don’t need to open the trunk to install a muffler.”

“Don’t you get all pissy with me,” said Charlie.  “I put the Chevy up on the hoist and had just started to poke around at the pipes underneath when I saw what looked like a bloody white dress shirt pushed through the floor of your rusted out trunk.  I touched it and turns out that it is blood; it was sticky, but still wet.  I brought your heap down, looked in the trunk, and gave you a call.  Now I’m gonna call the cops.”

“Who is it?”

“I don’t know who it is; I didn’t touch him.  Older white guy, well dressed, pushed way to the back of the trunk.  Probably shot in the chest or throat cut; I couldn’t see.”

“Sue Ellen used my car last night,” said Eddie.  “Said she had some Christmas shopping to do up in Wisconsin Dells.  She called me from her place this morning and asked if she could use the car again tonight.  I gotta talk to her before we call the cops.”

“Ya got five minutes this time.  Do it.”

Eddie pulled out his cell phone and made the call.  “Sue Ellen? Yeah, it’s me, Eddie.  I’m at Mufflers, Etc. with Charlie.  You know anything about something in the trunk?’

“Eddie, I’ve already called the police and told them that you’re there,” said Sue Ellen, the words coming out all in a rush.  “I was with Charlie last night and he robbed a guy in the Dells.  He stabbed him and put him in your trunk.  He called me a half hour ago and said that he’s going to blame it all on you.”  Eddie listened to all of this and cut his eyes over at Charlie.  He seemed to be very interested in a hangnail and was doing his best to keep from looking at Eddie.  “Be careful; Charlie’s dangerous.  He’s not himself.  He’s got some big gambling debts and could do anything to get those thugs off his back.”

Eddie turned his back on Charlie and started to talk to Sue Ellen in a voice just above a whisper.  Charlie picked up a large rubber mallet from the work bench and took a step toward Eddie.

“Freeze!  Put your hands in the air!” yelled someone from the entryway.  Both Charlie and Eddie put their hands in the air; Eddie’s right hand held his phone and Charlie’s the rubber mallet.

Two huge, tough looking guys in expensive suits entered the work area with their guns drawn.  “Nice command voice, Ronny; ya got ‘em both standing there like statues.”

“Thanks, Tiny, I’ll teach ya how to do that sometime.  I’ll take that mallet,” Ronny then said to Charlie.  “You both can put your hands down, but keep ‘em where we can see ‘em.”

“We received an anonymous call this morning that there was a body in the trunk of a car here in the garage,” said Ronny, the one of the two who was obviously in charge.  “We’ve got a warrant to search the premises.  I want you two to go and sit on those chairs over in the waiting area and stay there.”

“I was just gonna call you guys,” said Charlie.  “There is a body in the trunk of this guy’s car.  He told me that he killed him last night in Wisconsin Dells.”

“That’s a lie, you asshole,” yelled Eddie.  “Sue Ellen just told me that you killed the guy and robbed him to pay off some gambling debts.”

“All right, all right; you guys just go sit in the chairs and shut up.  We’ll talk more after we check out the trunk,” said Ronny.

“Hey, wait a minute. How do we know you’re cops; you haven’t shown us any ID,” said Charlie.

Tiny shoved the barrel of his pistol into Charlie’s solar plexus, causing him to double over, the wind knocked out of him.  “I’m Officer Friendly,” he said with a smirk.

“So where’s the warrant?” said Eddie.  “Aren’t you supposed to show….”

Ronny pistol-whipped Eddie once across the face.  “Looks we got us at least one slow learner here.  I’m Officer Not-So-Friendly, by the way; pleased to meet the both of ya.  Now get over there and sit on the goddamn chairs.”

Eddie and Charlie walked over to the waiting area and sat down in the chairs.  They watched as Ronny and Tiny looked into the trunk and talked things over.  Tiny went outside and then drove their car into the remaining stall.  It was an older model Cadillac Eldorado in excellent condition and definitely did not look like any police car Eddie and Charlie had ever seen.

“Do you think that Sue Ellen really called the cops, or did she call these guys?” asked Eddie.  “Or if she called the cops, did someone at the station call these guys?  What kind of shit are you in anyhow?”

“I’m in the really deep kind of shit,” said Charlie.  “And I don’t think that it’s just me that’s in it; we both are.  We’ll be lucky if we’re still alive at lunch time.”

Tiny popped the trunk of the Eldorado and then he and Ronny hoisted the body out of the trunk of Eddie’s Chevy.  They transferred the body into the Eldorado and slammed the trunk closed.  Ronny then took out his cell phone and made a call.

“What are we gonna do, Charlie?  They’re gonna kill us.”

“Unless you’ve got a .44 hidden somewhere on you, I don’t think that there’s anything we can do.”

Ronny finished up his call and he and Tiny walked over to where Eddie and Charlie were sitting.

“So, a couple of questions.  The one of you that offed this guy…., no, no, don’t start that “he did it” shit again.  Just listen to the questions.  One:  Did ya know this guy?  Two:  Why’d ya kill ‘em?”

Eddie looked at Charlie and then when Charlie didn’t say anything, he gave him a shove.

“Okay, okay,” said Charlie.  “You’re probably gonna kill us anyway.  I’ve got some gambling debts.  I asked Eddie’s girlfriend if she’d borrow Eddie’s car and give me a ride to the casino up at the Dells.  I was planning to rob a high roller; I didn’t plan to kill anybody.  I saw this guy win a bundle at poker and when he left, I followed him out.  I told him to give me the money and flashed my knife at him to let him know I was serious.  He went for the knife and I stabbed him once in the throat.  I didn’t mean to!  It just happened!  It happened so fast!  Sue Ellen didn’t panic; she went and got the car, drove it over, and I shoved him into the trunk.  That’s it. We drove back last night and here we are this morning.”

“I can’t figure how you’ve got a lot of gambling debts; you’re one lucky fella,” said Ronny.  “The deader over there in the trunk is Bernie “The Jaw” Molinski.  He’s from the Chicago mob and he’s been nosing around up at the Dells trying to horn in on my boss’s territory.  It’s not a lot of territory, but it’s his.  Now my boss is a funny guy.  Not funny “hah, hah,”, but funny like “kinda weird”.  He figures that you did him a favor.  Here’s what he just told me:  I’m supposed to give whoever killed “The Jaw” five thousand bucks.  Then, I’m takin’ “The Jaw” with me for disposal.  Tiny will be takin’ the Chevy, also for disposal.  You guys got no say in the matter; no take it or leave it.  You just take it.  And I shouldn’t have to tell you how rarely something like this happens.  Don’t think you two can quit your day jobs.  You’re probably not cut out for this kind of business.  What I mean is this:  Our paths should never cross again, kapeesh?”

Stunned, Charlie and Eddie just nodded.  They watched as Ronny and Tiny got into the two cars and drove out.  Eddie now knew where Charlie fit into all of this, but what about Sue Ellen?

“You coulda got me killed, asshole,” said Eddie.  “You do know that you’re gonna buy me another car, right?”

“Sure, sure, ‘course I am,” said Charlie, showing Eddie the envelope containing the bounty money.  “But do ya want another beater that your half of this five thousand would buy, or do ya want to go up to the Dells and see if we can add to this?”

Eddie gave Charlie two quick slaps across the face with the back of his hand and grabbed the envelope with the cash.  He stalked out of the garage and started the three mile hike to Sue Ellen’s place.  He felt like he could use the walk to give him time to think.  He thought that he and Sue Ellen had a lot to talk about.  He figured she owed him not only a good explanation, but also at least half of any money Charlie had given her from last night’s robbery.  Call it car rental fees.  Or hell, she could call it an early Christmas present to him if she wanted to.






 

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Art by W. Jack Savage © 2016

WORKING ON A COLD CASE

Roy Dorman

 

After getting out of a late model dark blue sedan, a man and a woman walked briskly up the sidewalk toward a well kept-up little bungalow.  Standing on the cement stoop, the woman, the younger of the two, pressed the doorbell and then stood back to wait.  She did this with a practiced ease that said she had done this before.  The inside door opened and a trim older woman peered out at the two through the still-closed screen door.

“Yes?” asked the woman.

“Good Afternoon.  Are you Jill Masterson?”

“Yes, I am, but I’m really not interested in anything you might be selling.”

“Ms. Masterson, I’m Detective Carla Barnes and this is my partner Detective Bill Griffin,” said Detective Barnes, showing her badge.  “We’re with the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Department.  We’d like to ask you a few questions.  May we come in?”

Jill Masterson lived in this little one story ranch-style house situated on a quiet street in a residential neighborhood in Sedona, Arizona.  She was single, had never really had any serious relationships since high school, and until recently had worked for the Arizona Water Company’s Sedona office as a meter inspector.  The job had paid well, had good benefits, and now provided her with a comfortable retirement.

Having taken seats in Jill’s tidy living room, Detective Barnes had started the interview.   “Ms. Masterson, the reason we’re here is that we’re following up on an old case that has recently been reopened.  The incident occurred almost fifty years ago and involved the death of a classmate of yours.  According to the files, you were friends of the deceased, Arthur Birdsong, and we have notes from your interview with the Town of Jerome Police Department from that time.”

“That was so long ago,” said Jill.  “Why are you looking into it again now?”

“Apparently, Mr. Birdsong’s family was never really convinced that his death had been an accident,” said Detective Griffin. “With forensics having improved a lot over the last fifty years, they’ve asked for a review of the evidence of the case.  DNA testing of the blood stains on Mr. Birdsong’s shirt has shown that it’s not just his blood on the shirt.  Quite a lot of the blood belonged to someone else.  We’d like your help in determining who that other blood belonged to.”

 “My grandfather was a friend of your older brother, Edward,” said Detective Barnes.  “He told me that there may have been some hard feelings between your brother and Mr. Birdsong.”

“You’d have to talk to my brother about that; he’s been living in New York City for the past forty years.  I don’t see what more you could want from me.”

“According to the interviews in the file, you and Mr. Birdsong had been dating and were together the day that he died,” said Detective Barnes.  “Is that true?  Were you with him when he died?”

“Do I really have to go through all of this again?  It’s painful to think about what happened that day.”

“Yes, Ms. Masterson, I’m sorry, but I’m afraid you do,” said Detective Barnes.  “Why don’t you just start at the beginning?  What were you and Mr. Birdsong doing at your brother’s house in Jerome that afternoon in the Summer of 1966?”

“Okay,” sighed Jill.  “I’ll tell you what happened, but I don’t think it’ll change anything.  Jack and I were driving from Sedona to Jerome…”

“Jack?” said Detective Griffin.  “We saw that you referred to Mr. Birdsong as “Jack” in the interviews you gave to the police back then.”

“Jack never liked the name Arthur.  When John F. Kennedy became president, Jack really thought he was a cool guy.  He couldn’t legally change his name to Jack, he was just a kid, but he told everybody to start calling him Jack and most people did.  Now where was I?  Oh yeah; Jack and I were driving from Sedona to Jerome one Saturday for something to do.  It was summer, school was out, and neither one of us had to work that day.  Jack had fixed up an old 1950 Ford coupe so that it ran, but it overheated going up that long steep road into Jerome.  It was probably a hundred degrees that day.  We weren’t planning on going to my brother’s house that day because Eddie didn’t like Jack much, but the car had given out near Eddie’s, so we started up the hill to see if we could get some water.  Eddie and his wife were both at work, so we just filled up a pail from his garage with water and started back to the car.  We had walked up the road on the way to Eddie’s, but Jack said it would be quicker if we cut down a grassy slope back to the car.”

“So you’re absolutely sure Eddie wasn’t there at any time while you were there getting the water for the Ford’s radiator?” asked Detective Barnes.

“No, no, he was at work.  I already told all of this to the police when it happened.  Do you want me to continue or is that enough?  I really don’t like talking about this.”

“Tell us what happened when you started back,” said Detective Griffin.

“Well, we had just started down the hill, Jack was in front singing some new Beatles song, when he tripped on a tree root and fell.  The slope was quite steep and he rolled down the hill for quite a ways before coming to a stop against a rock outcropping.  I started to run down the incline after him and I fell too, but I only rolled for a little bit.  When I got to Jack, I saw that he had hit the back of his head on a rock and…and he was dead.”

Jill started sobbing and Detective Griffin went to look for some tissues for her.  Detective Barnes remained in her chair staring at Jill.  She decided to give her a few minutes to get herself composed before continuing.  She went into the kitchen and found Detective Griffin going through the cupboards.

“Ya know, ya should have a warrant before ya start going through things,” said Detective Barnes.

“Geez Louise, Carla, I’m just lookin’ for some Kleenex,” Bill responded with a chuckle.

“I was just jerkin’ your chain a little, but I do think we have to be careful here; I don’t think she told the truth back then and I don’t think she’s telling the truth now.  Here, just take a clean dish towel out to her and let’s get started again.”

“Ms. Masterson,” said Detective Barnes.  “We will be talking to your brother when we go to New York City to see him later on in the week.  We’ve already spent the last two weeks going through all of the evidence and the interviews and have also reviewed medical records from back then of the people who may have been involved.  I think that before we go any further, we should read you your rights.  You have the right to remain silent…”

“Wait a minute,” said Jill.  “I haven’t done anything wrong.  Why are you reading me my rights like I’m some criminal?”

“We’re now to a point where we’re going to be talking about some things that were not in your original interviews,” said Detective Griffin.  “Do you wish to waive your right to counsel at this time?”

“I told you I didn’t do anything wrong; I don’t need a lawyer.”

“So you want to stick to your original story?” asked Detective Barnes.  “That story being that Jack fell down and cracked his head on the rocks and that you, Jill, came tumbling after?”

Jill’s mouth opened as if she was going to say something, but then it snapped closed again.  Detective Griffin’s face registered puzzlement at the phrasing of Detective Barnes’s statement but he carried on with the questioning.

“How about this for a story?” said Detective Griffin.  “While you and Jack were filling up the pail of water, your brother Edward came out of the house to the garage to see what was going on.  He said something to Jack about how he didn’t want an Indian dating his little sister and Jack popped him in the nose.  Jack said that you both were leaving and turned to walk back to the car with the water.  Your brother, blood running down his face from his nose, picked up a rock from the rubble near the side of the garage and smashed it into the back of Jack’s head.  When you two saw that Jack was not just knocked out, but dead, Eddie, or you and Eddie, decided to throw him down that incline and make it look like an accident.  We checked old medical records in Jerome and your brother came in for treatment for a broken nose two days after Jack’s death.  We think that your brother’s blood got on Jack’s shirt when he carried or dragged him to the top of the incline before throwing him down it.”

Jill had been listening in horror as Detective Griffin had been telling the story as if he’d actually been there.  “I’m not going to say anymore; I want a lawyer.”

She asked to get her purse before going downtown. 

“It’s in the bedroom; I’ll just be a minute,” she said. 

Detective Barnes went with her to the bedroom and stopped to look out the patio door windows.  “You have a really nice view of the mountains from…”

A single gunshot brought Detective Griffin from the living room.  He saw Detective Barnes with her back to the windows and a look of horror on her face.   Jill Masterson was lying dead on the floor.

***

After making a call to the New York City Police in Queens and then completing a couple of hours of paperwork, Carla and Bill were working on a pitcher of beer at Paul & Jerry’s Saloon in Jerome.

“I really fucked up,” said Carla.  “It happened so fast; I stopped to look at the view, heard a drawer open, and when I turned around she had the barrel in her mouth.”

“Don’t be too hard on yourself; nothing she had said made it seem like she was suicidal.”

“What a weird twist to a weird case,” said Carla.

“Jack and Jill went up the hill…”

“What did you say?” 

“Nothin’, Carla, just thinkin’ me thoughts.  Just thinkin’ me thoughts.  Sit tight; I’m gonna get us another pitcher.”

THE END






thehero.jpg
Art by Steve Cartwright © 2016

THE HERO

 

Roy Dorman

 

 

Wilson Anderson is fourth in line to checkout at the little gas-and-go market.  He’s in a little berg in Vermont, travelling from Wisconsin on his Spring Break.  A high school English teacher recently divorced and in his late fifties, he’s seeing the northern part of the East Coast for the first time.

Just ahead of him is a Vermont State Trooper holding a can of soda and two bags of chips.  He’s broad shouldered and seems to be in quite good physical condition.  Wilson’s eyes stray from the trooper’s back to his gun belt.  The strap that should be securing his pistol has come undone and the pistol’s grip is open to anyone.

The stranger reaches for the sheriff’s gun and orders everyone to the floor.  He steps behind the counter and takes all of the cash from the register.  Warning the clerk, stocker boy, two customers, and the sheriff to stay put or he will kill them, he then flees the scene in a late-model Ford…

The line hasn’t moved, but Wilson has taken a step forward while daydreaming. He accidentally nudges the trooper who then turns and gives Wilson a look that says he should back off a bit.

The lawman’s eyes are quite bloodshot and he has at least a three day beard growth.  His uniform is too tight in some places and too loose in others…

The clerk, an older man who is probably the owner, is bagging the items purchased by a talkative local.  They both seem oblivious to the other shoppers in line and go on and on about somebody’s teenager who apparently has gone missing.  The trooper clears his throat.  The clerk quickly thanks the customer and moves on to the next in line.

Wilson stands with his quart of chocolate milk, both now sweating as the temperature in the store starts to rise as noon comes on.   Once again his eyes are drawn to the trooper’s gun butt.  After a bit, he looks up and sees the stocker boy, not long out of his teens, staring at him.  The stocker pointedly looks from Wilson’s eyes to the trooper’s exposed gun.  He then looks up again at Wilson and gives him an almost imperceptible nod.  Is it a signal?  If so, what could it mean?

The cop is not a cop.  If anyone is going to stop this afternoon from turning into a bloodbath it’s going to have to be the handsome, not-from-around-here, schoolteacher…

When the trooper finally reaches the register, Wilson grabs the gun from his holster and takes a couple of steps back.  He holds the gun in front of him with both hands and has it pointed at the trooper’s chest.

“Get down on the floor!” yells Wilson.  “Do it now or I’ll shoot you where you stand.”

The trooper eases himself to the floor.  “You’re making a big mistake here, mister.  Just put the gun on the floor next to me and put both hands on the counter,” he says with a professional calm.

Wilson looks at each of the other three still in the little grocery.  He meets their eyes one at a time and they tell him nothing.  There is no surprise, fear, or anger in any of the three; only a blankness as if they are watching a rather boring episode of a law and order show on television.

He looks once again at the owner and sees him cut his eyes to the trooper on the floor.  The trooper is up on one knee and looks to be getting ready to jump at Wilson.  Wilson fires a shot that hits the floor about two inches from the trooper’s right hand. 

Whoever this is on the floor, he’s dangerous and would have no qualms about killing everybody…

Immediately after Wilson’s shot into the floor, there is another shot.  It comes from the pistol the grocer keeps in a drawer under the cash register and it catches Wilson Anderson in the left shoulder and spins him around.  A second shot goes into his left eye.

   

St. Albans, Vermont.  A Benson’s Corners, Vermont, grocery clerk is being hailed as a hero after he successfully stopped what could have resulted in the murder of possibly four persons, including a Vermont State Trooper.  Cletus Farnum, age 67, owner of Farnum’s Grocery in Benson’s Corners, shot and killed Omro, Wisconsin, school teacher Wilson Anderson after Anderson had managed to take Trooper Jake Westfall’s pistol.  Farnum, Westfall, Anderson, stock boy Jesse Donaldson, and customer Alice Grimswald were at Farnum’s Grocery yesterday at noon when the incident took place.

“I looked in his eyes and saw the Eyes of Evil,” said Alice Grimswald.  “They were cold, dead eyes.  If it hadn’t been for Mr. Farnum we’d all have been killed.”

Omro Police said Anderson was travelling during his break from teaching in Wisconsin and had never had any run-ins with the law prior to yesterday’s events.  Those friends, relatives, and co-workers who could be reached had no comment to make other than to say that Anderson was a wonderful teacher and was well respected in the town of Omro.



Two’s a Crowd

 

by Roy Dorman

 

 

Annie Cabot was in the bedroom, looking out the window, when the doorbell rang. She had been in the process of closing the drapes when she had noticed the harvest moon hanging low in the eastern sky.

 

Annie glanced at the digital clock on the nightstand. It was 9:45. 

 

“Now who could that be, this late? Maybe whoever it is will go away if nobody answers.” 

 

She just stood where she was, listening to the repeated ringing of the doorbell. Finally, whoever it was, stopped. 

 

Annie pulled the drapes and was coming out of the bedroom, when she heard a sound that she recognized as the patio door slowly sliding open. She couldn’t remember locking it and apparently she hadn’t. 

 

Stepping back into the now-darkened bedroom, she watched and listened.

 

Whoever it was crept silently into the living room by way of the patio entryway. He was a big guy; a lot bigger than Annie. He had on a suit and tie and was carrying an expensive-looking leather briefcase. 

 

What he did next puzzled Annie, at first. He took off his suit coat, and folding it neatly, set it on the floor. From the briefcase, he took out a black sweatshirt. He put the sweatshirt on and put the suit coat into the briefcase.

 

This guy’s smart, thought Annie. He comes to the door in a suit and tie carryin’ a briefcase. If somebody answers, he tries to sell ‘em something or pretends he’s lost. If nobody’s home, once inside, he puts on his work clothes.

 

Annie quietly took a golf club from the bag propped up in the corner behind the bedroom door. She soundlessly walked from the bedroom to the living room, where the intruder was checking out some of the knickknacks on the fireplace. When she got close enough, she swung the golf club like a baseball bat and connected with the back of the would-be burglar’s head.

 

He went down in a heap, and Annie nudged him a few times with her toe to make sure he wasn’t faking.

 

“I was here first, asshole,” Annie whispered. “I shoulda locked that patio door, but I didn’t expect no company. Anyhow, it’s first come, first serve.  By the time you come to, this place’ll be cleaned out.” 

   

 

 

 

visitors.jpg
Art by Mike Kerins © 2017

VISITORS

 

Roy Dorman

 

 

 “Come on, it’ll be an adventure,” Bill Zander said to his wife, Elena. “The forecast says it’s going to be sunny and warm this Saturday. I told Don I’d run it past you and let him know tomorrow at work. The guy’s lonely; he lives on an island, for chrissakes. He could use some company.”

 “Is it just going to be the three of us?” asked Elena. “I’ll feel like a third wheel if you guys start talking shop.”

“I promise I’ll keep the shoptalk to a minimum. Don’s a Native American folklore buff. He’s an interesting guy; I’m sure you’ll like him.”

“Okay, but if I give you the sign, you’ll start making the “gotta get going” noises, right? I don’t want to look like a nag in front of one of your office-mates.”

“Deal.”

***

Bill and Elena drove out of town about noon on Saturday, headed for Moosehead Lake. As had been predicted, the weather was fine. Summer was often a long time coming in Maine, but when it finally arrived, it was beautiful.

Bill had seen pictures of Don Penley’s house at work. It was a two-story log cabin with two small outbuildings. The island was about five acres, fairly circular, and had woods on everything that wasn’t house, outbuildings, a small beach, and the boat dock.

Moosehead Lake was only about 20 miles from Greenville and an easy commute for Don. It was a fairly large lake, but had only one inhabited island; Don’s island. 

Bill parked their car in the boat dock parking lot off the highway per Don’s instructions. There were two other cars and four pick-ups, all with boat trailers attached to them.

“I’ll call Don and let him know we’re here; he said it would only take him a few minutes to get here from his place.”

***

About ten minutes later, Don pulled up to the pier in a Johnson-powered fishing boat. After introductions, Bill and Elena put the stuff they had brought with them into the boat.

“It’s a good thing we didn’t bring anything more or there wouldn’t have been room for us,” joked Bill.

“Hey, no problem,” said Don. “I could’ve made two trips.”

“But then I’d have had to stay by myself either on this side or on the island,” said Elena.

Don started laughing shrilly at that. Then, seeming to catch himself, abruptly cut it off. He bent over in the boat and started to arrange things so that the boat would be balanced. 

Elena looked at Bill and mouthed the word “creepy.” Bill looked a little embarrassed for his friend and shrugged. He was thinking maybe this hadn’t been such a good idea; maybe he should have come alone.

Don started the engine and they headed for the island. He nodded and smiled as they bounced over the small waves, but all three of them knew that the mood had already been dampened.

***

Don started the coals in a huge Weber grill and there was a nice picnic table on the front lawn with a view of the lake.

“I’ll bring out the cooler and we can have drinks while the coals are getting hot.”

After he had gone inside, Bill and Elena turned to each other and both whispered at the same time.

“I shouldn’t have come,” said Elena.

“I shouldn’t have brought you,” said Bill.

“Shhh! Here he comes,” they both said together. Then they laughed crazily like naughty kids who have been caught by the grown-up.

Don at first looked puzzled and then relieved. Earlier it had looked like the visit may have been over before it had started. That wouldn’t have been good at all.

“I made a pitcher of sangria earlier,” he said, setting the dark red drink on the table.  “I hope you like it. I make it with more vodka and no gin. I find the gin masks the flavor of the wine too much. Try it and tell me what you think.”

   “Oh, it’s great,” said Elena, taking a sip. “I love it.”

“Yeah, this is pretty good, Don,” said Bill.  The ice is a nice touch on a warm day.”

“You two just sit in the lawn chairs, relax, and look at the lake. I’ll put some burgers and brats on the grill. I have some fresh-caught perch too; fish are great on the grill.”

Bill re-filled their glasses with sangria as Don walked back into the house to get the food.

“Thish stuff’s really tasty, but it’s kinda strong, ain’t it,” said Bill, slurring his words a little.

Elena took a long drink.  “Yeah, it’s strong, but delicious.  Hmm….  Ya know, I feel like I could take a nap right here in this chair….”

…. images of a wolf-like man swooping down from tall fir trees and carrying off a screaming Native American woman.  Villagers running from their tents and leans-tos yelling “Wendigo” and pointing at the sky…. 

…. pieces of bloody bodies, hanging in the branches of trees, savaged by an animal out of a nightmare….

  …. a Wendigo, standing in front of him, huge slavering tongue lolling on sharp teeth, Elena, unconscious, thrown casually over it’s shoulder….

Bill jerked awake and found the sun was setting across the lake. “Elena, wake up! Something’s not right; we got here a little after noon and now the sun’s setting.”

He looked at Elena’s empty chair and overturned his own chair struggling to get out of it. “Elena! Penley! Where are you?”

***

Bill followed the footprints of some sort of animal from Elena’s chair to where they abruptly ended in the sand forty feet from the water. He stood there and looked back and forth from where the tracks started and where they ended. There was nothing to show that whatever made these tracks had walked up from the lake to the chairs – just tracks from Elena’s chair to where they ended. And there were no signs of Elena’s tracks except with his and Don’s from the pier to the chairs.

“Penley! Don Penley! Where are you?”

“It has her…., I drugged the sangria…., it took her when you were both asleep….”

Bill turned to see an ashen-faced Don Penley looking at him with red-rimmed eyes.

“What are you talking about, Don? What has her?”

“I brought it here by calling its name in my sweat lodge,” said Don. “The smoke had produced visions other times and a voice in the visions kept telling me to bring a sacrifice. I’m so sorry, Bill, I thought I was only going through the motions of what I read in some old books.”

“But where is she, Don? What has Elena and how do we get her back?”

“I have no idea, Bill. I’m sorry, but I don’t have a clue as to what to do next.”

Then, from the tall old trees behind the house came a series of blood-curdling screams. The screams sounded like Elena, but didn’t. Bill had never heard screams like these in his life. 

The sound of rushing wind and the blur of something flying out of the trees directly at them caused both Bill and Don to hit the ground and cover their faces.  There was a deafening growl from just overhead and then the thump of something heavy landing in the sand twenty feet from them.

The Wendigo had returned with Elena. It threw her roughly onto the sand near the two men. Walking up to Bill, it kicked him sharply in the head, knocking him unconscious. It picked up Don and shook him like a ragdoll, its hot breath singeing his eyebrows. Then, giving him a level stare, it shook him once more and tossed him to the ground.

Running swiftly for about thirty feet, it leaped into the air and disappeared into the trees, leaving a charnel house stench in its wake.

***

On Elena’s orders, Don tied and gagged Bill before putting him in the boat.  Then, with Elena seated in the bow, her clothing singed and torn, he started across the lake to the boat dock parking lot and she and Bill’s car.

Don looked down at his co-worker, who still appeared to be unconscious on the bottom of the aluminum boat. He nudged Bill with his toe to see if he could get a response. Nothing.

When he looked up, he saw Elena staring at him. Her eyes momentarily took on a bright red color and she smiled at Don, showing all of her teeth. And then she screamed. And screamed again. There was an answering series of screams from back at the island and a flock of ducks rose from the lake and flew off in a rush toward the mainland. Bill moaned in his sleep but didn’t awaken. Elena sniffed the air and gave a guttural chuckle when she noticed that both Don and Bill had pissed their pants. 

Don turned in his seat a bit as if to adjust something on the boat’s engine. He wondered if he had the nerve to return to his home on the island. When he finished the adjusting charade, he didn’t look back at Elena. Instead, tears streaming down his cheeks, he kept his eyes on the boat dock in the distance, silently wishing it closer…..

***

 As Don continued to gaze trancelike at the shoreline, Elena bent down and slowly licked one of Bill’s forearms. Out of the corner of his eye Don then saw her tentatively bite the arm as if to test the sharpness of her teeth versus the toughness of Bill’s skin. 

This broke him out of his reverie and without thinking about it, he pulled the flare gun out from under his seat and shot Elena in the chest as she sat up from tasting Bill. The Wendigo Elena exploded into a raging inferno that burned wildly for a few seconds while she gave out with screams even louder than the previous calls.

Don heard one long answering howl come from behind him. Turning, he saw all of the buildings on his island were completely engulfed in flames, and the Wendigo, screaming and flying low across the water, was heading straight for him. In the next few seconds it reached him and with razor-sharp talons on massive forepaws, tore his head off, taking it as a trophy as it turned and headed back to the island. 

Blood spurting from the severed artery in his neck, Don slumped over into the bottom of the boat and landed on the still-unconscious Bill and a smoking Elena.  The boat continued toward the boat dock where a couple of fishermen had come from their trucks to the shoreline to see what was happening. The boat beached itself a bit off the mark and the police were called.

***

“What’s a Wendigo, Sarge?” asked Johnny Taylor, a recent recruit to the Greenville Police Department.

“Damned if I know,” said his sergeant, Ed Wilson. “That’s all the guy’ll say, but damned if I know what he means.

***

 

A year later, almost to the day, Bill Zander made arrangements to have a fisherman boat him out to the island. He carried Elena’s ashes in a copper urn and planned to scatter them among the ashes of the burned buildings. 

At the end, she may have been more Wendigo than wife and Bill felt this would be a sort of closure for Elena and the Wendigo. 

And for himself. He had been feigning unconsciousness during the last leg of the boat ride and still had nightmares of Elena ghoulishly tasting his arm and of Don’s headless torso falling on top of him in the boat. 

He wasn’t afraid the Wendigo might still be on the island. He actually hoped it was still there, rather than having gone back to where ever Don had called it from. 

While the guy he rented the boat ride from looked on in puzzlement, Bill made a paste from lake water and a little of Elena’s ashes and streaked it down his cheeks like war paint. He knew if the opportunity came up confronting the beast would be suicidal, but he figured to get in a few good licks with the new hunting knife he carried in the sheath at his side.





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. 

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