“This is good,” the young
man said, and Ray pulled off the highway and down a dirt path that led into the
woods. Pine needles crackled underneath the Chevy’s tires, and the last dying
rays of the sun faded out into obscurity.
“Care to tell me
your name?” Ray said, his seatbelt already unbuckled.
“Well, what do you
want it to be?”
Ray laughed. How
many times had he heard that line before?
“How about ‘Sugar’?”
Ray said. He thought for a moment and smiled. “I skipped dessert.”
His latest pick-up
was young, way younger than anyone he had ever been with before. He dug around
in his left pocket, making sure the condom was still there, feeling the crisp
plastic crinkle against his palm.
A giggle: “Sugar it
is!” He took off his tank top: bare chest, sun-kissed skin, ribbed with muscles,
well-defined shoulders, and a bellybutton ring. Ray looked down at Sugar’s crotch,
saw it swell with excitement. He felt himself getting excited too.
After a brief
hesitation, Ray jerked forward, jamming his tongue into the transient’s mouth.
He was met with wet, passionate kisses, minty, delicious. He originally wanted
to take his time with this one, but it had been so long since the last time. At
this moment, Ray’s self-control was about as substantial as the fading sunlight.
Sugar’s hands eagerly
explored Ray’s body. Long, nimble fingers pulled at his belt buckle, then his
The car windows
A loon cried
somewhere in the distance.
“Well, that was
“Yes, it was,” Ray
said, slipping on a black dress sock. “We should do dinner next time I’m in
“When will that be?”
Ray shrugged. He checked
himself in the rearview, slicked his graying hair back the best he could with
moist palms. “With a job like mine? I travel often. It could be as soon as next
“A job like yours,”
Sugar said, rolling the words around in his mouth. “What is it you do again?”
“Sales,” Ray said
Then shock as
something registered in his brain, fingers digging into the steering wheel,
panic so pointed and sharp at either temple it could have been an icepick.
Did he say my
if reading his
mind, Sugar said, “Something wrong, Ray? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Ray turned slowly
and stared the guy straight in the face. The young man’s impeccably white teeth
shined in the dome light, sharp, practically vampiric. His blond hair was still
messy from their romp session. He was beautiful.
Sugar raised his
eyebrows, waiting for Ray to respond.
“What is this?”
“What is this,
congressman?” Sugar’s smile widened. He said, “payday.”
Ray felt more panic
wash over him, fever-warm and stagnant, like wastewater. However, he checked
himself. He would not give this little man the satisfaction. No way. He
wiped at his eyes and stared down at his crotch, still swollen, and tried to
get himself under control.
“Yes,” Sugar said.
He stretched his arms in front of himself, tapping his fingers on the
dashboard, letting out a much-too-long yawn. “And let’s get this over with
soon, shall we? I’m tired. It’s been a long day.”
“A long day of what?”
Ray said. “Selling yourself?”
“Oh, god! Please
spare me the insults, Mr. No-Gag-Reflex. I have a short fuse, and it’s even
shorter when I’m tired. Don’t test me.”
“Or else what?” Ray
“Or else I’ll beat
your ass, Congressman. Then I’ll call the police and tell them you raped me.”
Ray laughed. “You
think they’ll buy that!” He was on the verge of hysterics. This was his worst
nightmare, and he knew that in the end he would be at the mercy of this punk.
“I know they will,
for a fact.” The prostitute pointed a
finger into his mouth, making like he was going to make himself puke. “I
swallowed you, Ray. Remember? One good poke at the back of my throat and all
the evidence they need will come spewing up. A good amount of it, too!” He ran
his tongue over his lips.
the holier-than-thou crap? People in glass houses, Ray,” he said shaking his
head, tsk tsk.
The congressman felt
a dull ache in his right temple that would inevitably blossom into a migraine
if he didn’t find a quick way out of this situation. This was bad – a predicament
he would never put himself in again. But how in a million years did a street
hooker walking the alleys of Atlantic City recognize a newly minted politician
I don’t know, smarty-pants,
he thought. Maybe from the shit you pulled in order to get yourself the gig
in the first place? Maybe all the publicity, CNN’s and MSNBC’s constant airing
of your anti-gay tweets, your highly publicized marriage to one of the
country’s most prominent female televangelists? Maybe your face all over the
cover of a best-selling book about “Christian Living”? Maybe, just maybe,
you’re not in high school anymore, and you’re being plain reckless. You’re not
blowing your best friend behind the bleachers and then chalking it up to being
a little too drunk.
Maybe you’re in the
Big Time now.
But isn’t that what
you always wanted?
To be known,
established, looked up to? Big league?
like he was
reading Ray’s mind, Sugar said, “You want to know how I know about all this,
right? It’s killing you that some loser like me has any idea about politics,
about who’s running the country. And that’s something you’re going to have to
deal with on your own because it doesn’t matter. What matters is what I want,
and what you are going to give me.”
“Which is?” Ray
arched an eyebrow.
Sugar tilted his
head back dreamily and smiled. “A million dollars.”
“A million dollars?”
“Yep, and this is a
cash-only establishment, baby.”
“Sugar,” Ray rolled
his eyes, “or whatever the hell your name is – I don’t have a million
dollars. Not even close. And if I did, I couldn’t give it to you in cash. This isn’t
like the movies.”
“Oh, stuff it!”
sitting up straight, his smile dissolving into a maw of utter rage. “Don’t talk
to me like that! Like I’m some kind of idiot! I know this isn’t like the
movies, smartass. My life has been an absolute train wreck for no other
reason than being born. I’m sick of pieces of garbage like you getting away
with murder and all the rest of us having to eat shit. You are a hypocrite,
Congressman,” he spat. “And I’m karma, here to collect. Now pay up!”
As if suddenly
coming to a decision, or rather resolved to one, Ray shook his head, pursed his
lips. “Sorry, I can’t.” He threw his hands up in the air and actually laughed.
“I don’t have it! Honestly!”
“Well,” Sugar said,
“you better figure something out fast. I might be a piece of ass, but I’m an
expensive piece of ass, and I always have my bases covered.” He slid his phone
from his pocket.
Sugar tapped away at
the screen without saying a word, and Ray frowned. “What? Is that supposed to
“It should,” Sugar
“Because I’m calling
your wife right now, silly.”
Acting on reflex,
Ray slapped the phone from Sugar’s hand. Just as quickly, Sugar returned the
favor by slashing Ray’s arm with a box cutter.
screamed, grabbing his arm, jaw dropped, a mangled expression of pain and fear on
his face. He lifted his palm away from the bloody gash, hand coated in crimson
as dark as death. “You, you!” was all that he could say.
“Yes,” Sugar said, “me.”
Ray said, managing a semblance of composure. “You don’t have my wife’s number.
How could you have her number! It’s an impossibility.”
“Try me,” Sugar
said, never lowering the blade as he picked up his phone. “I mean business, Ray.
The sooner you realize that the better. Also! That little love bite on your arm
is nothing compared to what I’m willing to do, so do not test me.
Got it? Nod your head and keep your pretty little mouth shut.”
“How could I have
your wife’s number? Well… is this it?” Sugar turned the screen toward Ray and watched
the color drain from his face in the corpse-green glow.
“Now you get it,”
Sugar said. “Now you know that this bad bitch is serious. A seventeen-year-old
bad bitch, to be exact.”
“This is a nightmare,”
Ray said, his mouth completely devoid of spit. His tongue felt practically
nightmare, baby,” Sugar winked. “Oh, but Ray, don’t be so down. At least you
got a good lay out of it! I hope it was the best of your life, considering it
will be the most expensive.”
“Please,” Ray said.
He felt himself losing control again, despair creeping up on him like a bad
habit. He pushed it down as hard as he could. He hadn’t worked this hard for
some child to take it all away from him.
Child, he thought with
utter horror. Could this get any worse?
He cleared his
“Please,” he said,
more firmly this time, “give me some time to figure this out. I will get you as
much money as I can. A million, man, I don’t know about that, but I promise
it’ll be worth your while. I just need some time.”
Sugar began to trace
a figure eight in the air with the blade, as if he were trying to hypnotize Ray
with it. The box cutter was getting dangerously close to his eyeball, and he
was already pressed against the driver’s side window. There was nowhere else to
“You have exactly
one hour, or I spill everything to your beloved and the rest of the world.”
“I know that you’re
“One. Hour. Now
take me back to my corner.”
Ray nodded. He started
the car. He reversed down the forsaken path, the one that Sugar had promised would
offer complete secrecy.
As he drove on, Ray noticed
that the guy had failed to buckle his seatbelt. Ray always secured his seatbelt
as soon as he got into any car, and he taught his children the importance of
doing the same. His kids were well-behaved and respectful, and he rarely got
mad at them. However, if they forgot to buckle their seatbelts, he would blow
his top. Years back, he had lost his older brother in a car accident. Ten years
back, to be exact. Greg, always the black sheep, was going ninety down U.S. 1.,
high on enough cocaine to cover Kilimanjaro, and he lost control of the car. When
the EMTs arrived, a 750 of Jack was gripped so tightly in one of his lifeless
fists that they needed pliers to pry his fingers open. That image was burned in
No, sir, the kid’s
not wearing a seatbelt… and this baby doesn’t have airbags. It’s an oldie but a
goodie, after all. Just about a classic.
He glanced over at
the cocky little prick next to him. Sugar was bouncing in his seat like a
He is a kid, Ray thought. He
hesitated for a moment before looking ahead and tightening his grip on the
He was in control
When the Chevy made
impact with a thick pine tree, the hood of the car collapsed effortlessly, as
if it had been constructed from nothing more than tinfoil and toothpicks.
Damn shame, too, Ray thought. He loved
Sugar’s delicate body
was hurled through the windshield at cannonball speed and splattered into a sticky
mess all over the trunk of the tree.
Ray was in shock. He
felt as if he had been submerged in a bath of ice water – every hair on his body
stood up, he was hyperventilating, soaked in sweat, and his heart was pounding
against his chest.
Aside from this, he
was fine. A bump began to emerge in the middle of his forehead where he had
knocked it against the steering wheel, his right knee was tender and would
bruise later for sure. But he was okay.
He unbuckled his
seat belt, swung open the damaged car door with a sick crunch, and stumbled
away from the wreck. Shaking and summoning all his strength, he lifted himself
from the forest floor, pine needles biting into his palms, and backed away from
How long until I
know whether or not the thing is going to explode? he thought, putting
a hand to his chest, willing his heart to slow down.
His plan was simple:
he would report the car stolen. He didn’t have to worry about his prints: it
was his car, after all. As far as not telling his wife he had gone up to the
New Jersey house… they did have a fight just before he left for the
conference. Not a big fight, but a fight, nonetheless. The Conservative
Commission Conference met at a Hilton in Delaware and from there it only took a
ferry ride across the Delaware Bay and short drive up the Garden State Parkway
to get to their summer cottage. She would believe him, and so would everyone
He would get away
He was in control.
Close by, he heard
the crunch of dead leaves.
whispered, hoping to God it was a deer or a squirrel or a woodchuck, or something.
The last thing he needed was to be spotted by some piney out here in no-man’s
land. Although, the odds of that happening were pretty slim, though – pineys
kept to themselves, mostly.
He scanned his
surroundings: tall pine trees went on forever into the darkness. The moon was so
bright and full, though, that it broke through the seemingly impenetrable woods
There was nothing.
He could smell
gasoline. He toyed with the idea of setting the car on fire. That would
eliminate any incriminating fluids that may be found on (or in) Sugar’s body. He
could also drag the boy’s body deep into the woods and let the animals have
Probably my best bet, he thought, and
safer. He wouldn’t have to worry about a potential forest fire.
He limped around the
side of the car. His knee was beginning to throb. He may have done more damage
than he initially thought.
That’ll be another
Sugar looked, well,
mushy. He slid down the tree, leaving a black trail of blood that began where
he made impact. Bones piercing through muscle, skull completely pulverized, a
puddle of blood pooling around him, arms and legs blown from sockets and
sagging in stretched skin…
His death had been violent,
Ray had done some
pretty messed up things in his life. Nothing like this, though. He had never
killed anyone before.
The shock was
beginning to subside. The smell of gasoline commingled with Sugar’s blood,
guts, and shit sent glass shards up Ray’s nose and into his brain. He felt
green. Before he knew it, a geyser of half-digested meatloaf, pommes frites,
and cabernet spewed from his mouth and splashed the side of what was left of the
body. Ray vomited again and dry-heaved for a while until he got himself
together. He needed to finish this before the sun came up.
Minding his knee, he
reached down for one of Sugar’s ankles. He began dragging the body into the
woods. It was lighter than he expected, possibly because everything from the
jaw up was still stuck to the tree, like a piece of chewed bubblegum.
Again, the sound of crunching
Ray let go of
Sugar’s ankle and yelled, “Who’s out there!”
In response, he
heard a jingling, like windchimes in an autumn breeze.
No, not laughter. A
tittering, a teeheeing.
Someone is messing
Ray thought. They
saw everything, saw me dragging the corpse from the car, and I am absolutely
He panicked, trying
desperately to think of something to do, waiting for the police sirens to sound
in the distance.
He looked around
wildly. The woods were thicker out here, virgin, with pine trees as tall as
skyscrapers. He was utterly on his own, in the middle of nowhere, with a dead
body, and a prayer.
I’m in over my head.
He took a deep
breath. He had to try, at least try to save himself and get the
hell out of this mess.
He scanned the woods
again, squinting his eyes hard, willing them to adjust to the darkness.
More jingling, a
titter, a flash of color.
And the thing revealed
Glowing eyes stared
back at him, maybe thirty feet away. He could only make out the eyes and the
vague shape of a head peering from behind a tree.
Ray felt his bladder
“What is that?”
It could have been a
mountain lion – a big mountain lion – standing on its hind legs, waiting
for him to make his move. But as the shape of the thing continued to resolve
itself out of the darkness, it began to look less feline and more human. Long,
thick cords emerged from its head, and a hand – dead white and apparently human
– was pressed firmly on the tree it hid behind.
It has to be
human, he thought. What else could it be?
had to make his
move. His freedom was slipping further away from him each second.
He shouted, “Please,
help! My friend and I had a terrible accident! We need help!”
The thing did not
move for what felt like forever. It stared at Ray, never blinking. Finally, it
lifted a wormy white hand from the tree and lowered its body down to the ground.
Supporting itself on its four long, bowed limbs, it lumbered toward him like a child
mimicking a cat. As it got closer, the identity of the creature came into
greater focus: the ropey things on its head were part of a hat, emerald-green,
the kind that jesters wore at Renaissance fairs. The green cords ended in rusty
bells, the source of the jingling. It wore a body suit speckled in mirrored,
diamond-shaped plates and a black, velvety mask that only covered the upper
portion of its face. Its lips pressed together like two leeches engorged with
blood, and as they spread apart, a mouth full of fangs so sharp they could have
been honed with a steel rod. A long rope of drool extended from its lips to the
It moved through the
brush on all fours, closer now, maneuvering naturally. The bells jingled and the
thing laughed – tittered – and Ray’s
blood froze in his veins.
He couldn’t move.
And even if he could, where would he go? He was in the middle of nowhere with the
remains of a dead prostitute at his side.
And then the creature
It uttered one word
that made Ray snap out of his paralysis and run faster than he had in his
entire life, knee be damned.
It said: “Lover!”
Ray found his way
back to the long, lonely strip of highway and ran faster than he had in a very
long time. Ray was on the wrong side of forty. His exercise primarily consisted
of long walks and an occasional round of golf. His soft white belly, and its
propensity for extending further beyond his belt buckle with each passing year,
gave this away. Whether fueled by adrenaline, or fear, or shock, Ray ran hard
and kept running until he felt like his heart would explode.
He slowed to a jog
after about a mile and finally allowed himself to stop, hands on his knees,
sucking in air. He hadn’t seen a single car. He wasn’t even sure whether he was
going in the right direction. All he knew was that he would keep going for a
hundred miles, a thousand miles, if it meant never having to see that
The sun was coming
up. The limpid blue of dawn offered no comfort; rather, the misty air, the impenetrable
forest on either side of him, and a murder of crows feasting on carrion made everything
that much more foreboding.
And not a car in
Rolex: almost six a.m.
As the highway curved,
a wave of relief washed over him.
He noticed a path –
no – a driveway up ahead.
“Thank the Lord!” he
Sure enough: a long,
narrow driveway led to an old cabin nestled in the woods. He made his way
toward the dwelling. The windows were dark, but that was okay. It was still
early, and there was a welcoming wisp of smoke rising from the chimney.
here must still be asleep, he thought, the rotted porch yawning under his
He banged rapidly on
the screen door with his fists.
“Hello! Is anyone
home? I’m hurt! I’ve been in an accident! Please!”
He banged and
banged, but no one came to the door, and there was no noise coming from inside.
He wondered if the
cabin could be abandoned.
he thought. The chimney!
opened the screen door, and a rain of rust poured down from the ancient closer.
He stepped inside. The
air was stale, moldy. Everything was covered in cobwebs. The place looked like
it had been vacant for more than a decade. In the exact center of the room, however,
a fire burned merrily in a woodstove. It glowed and crackled as if it had been recently
As his eyes grew
accustomed to the dim room, he noticed the walls were plastered in hundreds,
maybe even thousands of faded photographs of children. At first, it seemed like
they were smiling, but as he got a closer look, their faces held expressions of
what could only be described as hysterical terror.
“What the hell is
this?” Ray said, running a sweaty palm through his hair.
He felt himself
He heard a jingling
in the distance.
Then a titter.
horror stories have been published in Bewildering Stories and
October Hill Magazine. He resides in South Jersey where he
college writing. He is married to the poet, Maria Provenzano.