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Hillary Lyon
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Art by Hillary Lyon 2017

An Alto for the Choir


by Hillary Lyon



          Somebody forgot to top off the oil in the car. So on that long trek back to the family homestead, on that long, lonely stretch of highway on a cloudless August afternoon, the engine of a beautiful and otherwise perfectly preserved 1978 sapphire-blue Camaro seized, and died.


          Cathi got out of the muscle car and kicked the front tire. “Stupid car,” she muttered, as she dug through her purse for her phone. She scrolled through her contacts, looking for the 1-800 number for AAA roadside service. Nada.


          “Excuse me, miss,” said a voice from out of nowhere. “Need some help?”


 She turned to find a cowboy-hatted, toothpick-chewing officer standing by the car. He adjusted his mirrored sunglasses and crossed his tanned arms.


          “I, uh, yeah,” she answered. He was a deputy or something, so of course he would help her. Or so Cathi assumed.


          “What a beauty!” The officer said, not waiting for her to elaborate further. He obviously referred to the car, not her, because he lovingly looked the Camaro up and down. “This your machine? Don’t usually see a gal driving something of this caliber.”


          “Ah, no, it belongs to my husband.” Cathi then scoffed, and said, “Ex-husband, actually.”


          “Uh huh,” the deputy replied thoughtfully. “You sing? Soprano, maybe?”


          “What?” Cathi was taken aback by this odd question. “Sorta, I mean, I sang alto in my high school choir, but what does that have to do with anything?”


          The deputy arched his shoulder and spit out the toothpick. “Ma’am, you’re not the legal owner of this vehicle. It’s been reported stolen, and that means you’re in a heap of trouble. Grand theft auto, in fact. That’s a felony.”


          “What? No! Derick wouldn’t do that to me!” Her voice rose with her panic.


          “Well, he would, and he did. Gonna have to take you in.” The deputy casually tipped his hat back. Cathi couldn’t read his expression.


          It was only now that she looked for the deputy’s car. There wasn’t one. “Where did you come from? I mean, where’s your car?” Cathi asked.


          “Don’t need a car out here.” The deputy replied, pulling out a new toothpick from his shirt pocket. He jammed it in his mouth and smiled. “But you need to get in line.” He pointed to a spot over Cathi’s right shoulder. She turned to find a line of dirty, jumpsuited convicts toiling away in the middle of the road.


          “Where did they—” Cathi began. The deputy roughly shoved her toward the group, who parted to make a place for her.


          “There you go, missy, a perfect fit next to the tenors.” The convicts began humming, and in spite of herself, Cathi joined them.


          On that particular stretch of highway in the back country, the one that the old folks called the “singing highway,” a new voice joined the chorus. The superstitious will tell you the humming you hear when you drive on a moonless night is the mournful moaning of convicts who worked the road—worked until they died. Though the more pragmatic will say the hum results from the grooved pavement, made so rainwater easily sloughs away, and shake their heads impatiently at the absurd idea of a ghost choir.




Art by Hillary Lyon 2018

Miss Pearl


Hillary Lyon



For twenty-five years—more than half my life—I bowed to Duncan’s whims, gave in to his arguments, and gave up on trying to compromise on anything. He was stubborn—as his mother gleefully told me when we were newly engaged. No, I should’ve told her, he was a bully. Subtle in his methods; if he’d been a woman, folks would have called him manipulative. He was a master in the art of gas-lighting. I suspect he learned it at his mother’s knee.


Well, I’d had enough. He always promised me whatever he thought would shut me up—a ski trip this winter holiday, for sure! A visit to my aged aunt in the Midwest, just as soon as he finishes this project at work! A new car when we get our tax return! That gorgeous pearl ring for our tenth anniversary—the one in the MOMA catalog!


Fifteen anniversaries later, still no ring. But what he did give me was a trip to Vail. Well, he went to Colorado with his “business associate” Camellia. I got to stay home.


So when he returned, two weeks later, with a new found love of raw oysters, I asked if he’d found any pearls embedded in those slimy globs. You know, for my promised anniversary ring. He laughed, as much at my question as at my new hair-cut. Loves to make me cry. A real keeper, this guy.


Seeing my tears, he had an uncharacteristic moment of remorse. Or did he? He suggested we should go out to eat, to a nice place. Dress up and get an Uber. I know what he’s doing: Get me out in public and drop bad news in my lap—see, if we’re in a nice, crowded place, he knows I won’t make a scene. He’s done this before.


He even lets me choose the restaurant—this really bleeps my radar. I pick Chauncy’s, the most hoity-toity seafood restaurant here in this congested, cement-smothered city. I expected him to argue for some place cheaper and less posh, but he doesn’t. Now the needle of my internal alarm is in the red. I make a reservation for Friday night.


Date night comes and finds us seated at a table covered with an imported Irish linen cloth, little silver salt-and-pepper shakers, and a single flickering candle in a tasteful cut-crystal holder. Would have been romantic if we still loved each other.


He insisted on ordering oysters for our appetizer, smiling at me as he did so. It was either his “I know a secret smile,” or his “I’m going to educate you on the finer things in life you sad little lumpkin” smile. Actually, both smiles are the same smile.


Oysters came with a fresh basket of warm bread and chilled butter. Duncan dove into the platter of oysters, sucking them down one after the other. Did he even taste them? I took a crusty roll and a bit of butter. The butter knife had an ornate, weighted handle. I never understood why butter knives had such dull, rounded tips. Shouldn’t a knife have a sharp end?


Lost in this train of thought, I didn’t notice Duncan was in distress until he slammed his fist on the table, knocking over both his glass of Merlot and the burning candle. Jeeze, set the place on fire, why don’t ya? I slapped out the fire, which did burn the table cloth, as he fell over backwards in his antique Chippendale chair. I think I heard it crack as he hit the floor. Between the ruined table cloth and the broken chair, how much was this dinner going to cost us?


Dutiful wife that I am, I rushed to his side, waving the concerned waiter away. “He’s choking!” the white-coated teen exclaimed. “Yes, I know,” I said, feeling calmer than I’d ever felt in my life. I reached up to the table and grabbed what was handy—the butter knife. “We have to open his airway,” I said to the flailing waiter. “You go call for an ambulance, while I take care of him.” The server ran off in a blind panic.


Duncan looked into my eyes. He was terrified; for the first time in his life, he had no control over anything. “Not to worry, big guy. I’ll fix you right up.” I held his head back by the hair with one hand, and with the other wielding the butter knife, I dug into his throat. “Gotta get some air in there,” I said as he clutched at my arm. “Let go of me, that hurts and you’re going to leave a mark,” I hissed under my breath, so that the other diners couldn’t hear.


I shoved and twisted that dull butter knife—there was more resistance than you’d think, what with the skin and muscle and tendons and blood—all that blood. All over the restaurant’s plush carpet. It will cost a fortune to clean. I wonder if it would be more economically feasible to just re-carpet the dining room.


And there it is! The source of all this drama: A pearl, misshapen but beautiful. As big as your thumbnail, too. How could he ingest something that size, that solid, and not know it until he choked? But that’s Duncan: Always in such a thoughtless hurry. I held the blood-wet pearl up to Duncan’s unfocused eyes. “Looky here,” I whispered  close to his ear as his consciousness faded, “a pearl for my anniversary ring. At last!”


I put my napkin over his face to spare the other diners his expired gray countenance, grotesquely twisted in agony as it was. Death ain’t pretty. But my new ring sure is!

Hillary Lyon lives in southern Arizona, where she is the founder of and editor for Subsynchronous Press. She’s lived in France, Brazil, Canada, and several states in the U.S. Her stories have appeared recently in Theme of Absence, Black Petals, 365 Tomorrows, Night to Dawn, Eternal Haunted Summer, and numerous horror anthologies.

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