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E. F. Schraeder
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Bait

 

by E.F. Schraeder

 

 

          That lonely stretch of the rural route 13 past Horseheads isn’t an exciting to advertise, but just the same, a billboard went up at the Janosh place just two weeks before the “For Sale” sign.

 

It didn’t matter to Josh Janosh what got advertised, “so long as it’s not unchristian,” he told the representative from Outdoor Ads.

 

          Absolutely, sir. We handle everything in one simple call. Depending on traffic, local ordinances, and visibility. You retain content discretion. Lease or easement, we’ll get a billboard up and generating money for your family in about a week,” the scratchy voice of the salesman said. “Easy pickings,” he added.

 

          It’s got nothing to do with land rights, right?” Josh asked.

 

          No, we’ve got no interests there.”

 

 

          ***

 

          Too good to be true,” Josh’s son Scott said.   

 

          Sounds win-win to me,” Josh told the boy.

 

          When the check came, Josh cashed it that same day, worrying the buyer may drive past and discover how remote the land actually was.

 

          Would you believe this? All they’re putting up is a phone number.” Josh grinned.

 

          His son frowned. “For what?  Sounds weird.” He scratched his newly- stubbled chin.

 

          You’re always looking for the bad, boy.  Ever since your mom died. I’ve had it to here.” Josh held his hand at his neck.

 

Well explain to me who they’re calling?” Scott demanded.

 

          Outdoor Ad man told me it was a partner firm looking to sell more space.  Get more of us on this route to lease up billboards.”

 

          And you believed him?”

 

          Josh shrugged. “With checks coming monthly, does it matter?”

 

          ***

 

          A deep unsettling blend of curiosity and frustration ate at Josh. Why’d that boy have to ruin every good thing? Why question a regular check?

 

          No way around it. Josh chewed on a cigarette, lit it up, and took a long drag as he decided to call. No harm in checking it out for himself. 

 

He pulled up to the billboard slowly on the way home from the bank, set the gear into park, and took out a pencil from the glove box. 

 

          Damn pencil hadn’t been used in as many years as he could remember and didn’t write too well for it. Josh tugged out a pocketknife from his back pocket and carved down to the lead. He scribbled down the number on the top of his deposit receipt. “Fine. You going to worry me, boy. We’ll see.” He sped up, truck spitting dirt behind him.

 

          Josh made sure no one was home, for privacy, then settled at the kitchen table, pulling out the number. He dialed it, carefully.

 

No answer. He let out a loud hissed laugh, thinking how he’d second-guessed himself. 

 

          That night, after the Janoshes went to bed, a sleek black sedan eased down the street, lights clicked off a quarter mile before reaching the house. 

 

          A car door creaked open. “Last call,” a graveled voice said.  

 

A figure stepped onto the faded porch steps, one arm leaning on a pickaxe. 


 

 

E.F. Schraeder's creative work has appeared or is forthcoming in journals and anthologies including Voluted Tales, Dark Gothic Resurrected, Between the Cracks, Flashes in the Dark, Sirens Call, Carnival of the Damned, Babes & Beasts, The Kennedy Curse, and other places. Schraeder studied the humanities in graduate school, and also authored a poetry chapbook, The Hunger Tree.

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