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Jeff Dosser
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terminal.jpg
Art by Steve Cartwright 2016

Terminal

 

Jeff Dosser

 

 

Jason's eyes flew open as he was jolted forward, the plane’s wheels bumping loudly on the tarmac. The engines howled and the air brakes thumped in the wings as the view out of the window slowed from a racing blur to a slow march. Must have fallen asleep, he thought, rubbing his eyes, and pulling out his phone. A quick tap on the screen showed, 9:30 PM. God damn it already 30 minutes late and we're not even to the jet bridge yet.

Jason tapped on his armrest in agitation as the plane made its slow way to the gang way, the engines finally whining down to silence the click of seat belts and rustle of moving people filling the cabin.

In front of him a little girl hopped up and down on the seat screaming about being hungry or some other bullshit. Why the hell did they let these noisome brats on planes, he thought, it should be illegal.

And old people too, as he watched a white haired couple wrestle with a heavy bag stuck in the overhead compartment.

Ahead of the traffic jam caused by the old geezers the hallway was clear. I've got important shit to do, Jason mused as he shoved past the bouncing youngster and the old couple almost knocking the gray haired woman down as he passed. “See you soon.” the old woman called sweetly her face lighting up in a too broad smile. Jason paused for a moment surprised by the unnatural width of her toothy grin.

Wel,l I guess we found the Joker’s mom. He laughed to himself.

“Have a wonderful day in Dallas.” The flight crew called after him as he left the plane. Dallas hell, Jason thought, If I have to stay in this god forsaken city for 30 minutes it will be 30 minutes too long.

A faint sickly smell of raw sewage met Jason as he raced up the gang way and into the center of the bustling terminal. Jeez-us, can't they maintain their plumbing in this hick state? he thought, scanning the walls for the departure and arrival screens. 
Finally finding them, he searched the long list of flights locating the one he needed. Connecting Flight 333 DFW to Los Angeles. Next to this was displayed: “Now Loading—Gate 13”.

Jason raced along the hallway counting down the gates until he found himself across from gate 13. Rushing up to the gate desk he found himself behind an old woman speaking softly with the attendant.

As he waited, Jason scanned the milling passengers. Virtually everyone waiting for the flight seemed to be kids or geezers. Looks like the last leg of this flight was going to be pure hell.

The old woman in front of him finally thanked the man helping her and giving Jason a quick smile, she shuffled off. Jason sent an evil look after her then stepped up and presented his tickets to the agreeable man behind the counter.

After a quick examination, he shoved the tickets back. 

I'm sorry sir.” he said. “You're at the wrong gate.”

“What the hell is this!” Jason screamed. “I'm already late because of you assholes and I'm not missing my god damn flight!”

“I'm so sorry,” he said smiling broadly. “Gate 23 is what you want. It’s just up the causeway to your left. You can't miss it.” 

Briefly Jason saw a red flame flicker in the man's eyes. Turning, Jason looked over his shoulder for the light source which had been reflected in the man's eyes but saw nothing. 

That's weird, Jason thought returning his attention to the attendant.

“Sir?” the attendant said. “Gate 23. Just up on your left.” 

“Oh fuck off.” Jason said, grabbing the tickets, and stomping off in the direction the attendant had pointed. 

As he raced along Jason noted that he seemed to be the only one with somewhere to go. It’s no wonder, he told himself, examining the crowd. Most everyone here’s an old codger or a screaming kid. Most of people he passed looked up from books or conversations to follow him with their eyes. All smiling at him with strange toothy grins.

Spotting gate 23, Jason raced to the desk and shoved across his tickets.

“Still loading right?” he asked.

“Not yet sir.” the woman said picking up his tickets, examining them.

“But I see you're in the wrong area. You want gate 17.”

“What!” Jason screamed, red faced. “Your god damn cohort at gate 13 sent me here! Do any of you incompetents know what in the hell you're doing?!”

Behind him an old couple with three small children bumped into him.

“Hey watch it!” Jason said spinning on them. “Keep your damn brats under control.”

“I'm so sorry sir.“ the attendant said to Jason when he had returned his attention to her. “But I assure you, your flight is loading right now. Gate 17.”

“Give me those.” he said, snatching the tickets from her hand with a snarl.

Behind him the old woman with a toddler in her arms smiled at him graciously, the child offering him a slobber coated ball.

“Ba ba” the child cooed. 

“Isn't that sweet” the woman behind the desk giggled, “They're so cute when they're hungry.”

Hissing in anger, Jason walked into the hall scanning once again for departure screens along the wall. Finding one, he carefully searched the list of flights until he found the listing for Los Angeles flight 333.

Around him other passengers crowded closely, a child tugging at Jason's shirt.

Shrugging the shirt out of the child's grasp he saw a grubby wet stain where the child had grabbed him. 

“I'm so sorry.” The old woman holding the child cooed. “He gets like this when he's hasn't eaten.”

Harumphing, Jason stepped closer to the screen making sure of the information: “Gate 18—Now Boarding” it read. God I hate kids, he thought, as children tugged at him from the crowd that had gathered around the screens. 

Striding away, a large TV screen caught his attention; a news feed flashed video of an explosion. Moving closer he saw a large fireball roll across the screen in high definition; wings and tail of an airplane barely visible tumbling through the burning carnage. 

Below the repeating video a ticker tape scrolled: Fatal Air Crash At Dallas Airport. Flight ….” 

Rushing to the bank of windows forming the terminal walls Jason looked out at the runways and saw—nothing. Planes coming, going. Baggage carts racing here and there.
Looking around he saw that a crowd was beginning to grow around him and the TV. 
Other than the crowd and the growing awful smell nothing seemed out of order. Except that everyone here seemed to be either ancient or a kid it was a typical day at the airport.

Jason shoved his way through the crowd and back to the TV. Below the video of the crash he waited for the ticker tape to scroll again. Around him other curious passengers were crowding close, the sickly sweet smell of decay growing.

“Fatal Air Crash At Dallas Airport. Flight 333 From New York To Dallas. No Survivors.”

Jason pulled the ticket from his pocket and examined it.

“Flight 333 From JFK To DFW” the ticket read. “Connecting Flight 333 DFW to LAX”. Oh my god that's the flight I was just on, he thought. But there was no crash. I just walked off that plane...unless.

Looking down Jason felt a cold chill as two drooling toddlers yanked at his pants leg, a red flame flickering in their eyes. “Hey mista, ready to play?” one asked.



thelou.jpg
Art by Maddisyn Condora 2019

IN THE LOU

 

by Jeff Dosser

 

 

Night hung heavy over old St. Louis, like the pregnant clouds promising rain. Across the street, the rhythmic flash of the Ambassador Theater’s marquis shouted a challenge to the darkness, as yellow cabs swallowed up the lines of cheap, double-breasted suits and faux fox stoles leaving the show. Soon only the crumbs were left. Those too cheap or too poor for the taxi ride home.

Fat drops of rain peppered the sidewalk to the low rumble of thunder, like the city’s angry growl. These streets needed the rain to wash away the filth. But in The Lou, some dirt don’t come off so easy.

I stubbed out my Camel as she stepped out. The neon lights played second fiddle to this dame’s flash. She was wearing red. She always wore red. From feathered hat down to her kitten-heel pumps, this broad sizzled. I could see her eyes sparkle as she lit up a cig, the smoke she exhaled as hot as steam off a griddle.

Ruby Longo was her name, and she was the reason the bums lined up at eight and left, dazzled, at eleven. She did four shows a week, twice on Saturday. This canary could sing. She was also the longtime girl of Colorado Phil Gallo. My boss.

She turned and walked up 7th, the staccato of her heels fading into the shadows as I dodged a Checker cab and followed. Her perfume left a sultry trail even a blind man could follow. It looked like she was headed for Louis’. I’d seen her there before. Sometimes she met Colorado, sometimes she didn't.

She turned the corner at St. Charles with a quick glance over her shoulder.

Was I made? This dame wasn’t stupid, that’s for sure. But to her, I was just another joe pounding the pavement.

 As I rounded the corner, I realized my mistake.

She stood there, solid as a right cross. A nickel-plated derringer in her hand sparkled beneath the streetlights like the diamonds on her fingers.

“Ricky, what are you doing here?” A smile painted the corners of her lips as I watched the derringer fade into her purse.

“Nothin’ doll, just stretchin’ my legs,” I said.

With a quick step, I swept her into my arms. Her eyes grew wide, her lips parted in a gasp.

I kissed those red, full lips. Her breath, sweet as a midnight breeze over summer fields.

“Why?” she whispered, as a tear traced a line down her cheek.

“Colorado thought you was cheatin’,” I said. “He had me follow you. When I told him he was right, he wanted you dead.”

“But Rick,” she gasped. “You’re my lover.”

“Yeah, doll, that’s tough,” I said, her body heavy in my arms.

I dragged her beneath the stoop and out of the rain. My stiletto still vibrated in her chest. As I lowered her to the ground and pulled out the blade, her eyes fluttered shut.

“The streets are hard, doll, but if you want to survive, you gotta be harder.” Even as I said these words, I knew she was gone.

I brushed the hair from her face, and straightened her hat. Soon, the homicide dicks would be at her with their cameras. She ought to look good. I at least owed her that.

I lit up and stepped onto the sidewalk, blowing a cloud into the unforgiving heavens. The rain was heavy now, drizzling from my fedora like a widow's tears. In the Lou, the streets are hard, hard enough to shatter a heart.

 

 



ifriend.jpg
Art by KJ Hannah Greenberg 2019

iFriend

 

 

By Jeff Dosser

 

“Three tablespoons of organic butter melted into the saucepan, one tablespoon of minced garlic, and two tablespoons of minced ginger,” I say the words aloud, so Gerald can hear, scraping the garlic and ginger into a pool of golden liquid at the bottom of the pan. A thick aroma swirls from the mixture like delicious misty fingers.

Lifting two strips of meat, I ease them into a second pan, the smoldering olive oil popping and hissing in protest as the tender red flesh goes in. The scent of the basting strips mingles with that of the butter, garlic, and ginger to create a symphony of smells that caper in the air.

“Do I have the recipe right so far?” I ask.

Gerald seems to consider the question before answering in his melodic baritone. “So far so good, but the key is to only sear the meat. I know the cookbook says ten minutes, but trust me, you're gonna want to cook them only eight.”

After a moment’s hesitation, he asks. “Did you set the timer?”

I hurriedly lift a white plastic grocery bag from the counter then check behind the blender. I know I've seen that stupid timer somewhere, I just can’t recall where.

“Don't worry,” Gerald says with a chuckle. “I knew you'd forget. I started my own timer the second you dropped those steaks in.”

“Thank God for small favors,” I say, stirring the butter, minced garlic, and ginger until the sauce becomes translucent. Then I scrape in the chopped Shiitake mushrooms and add three pinches of sea salt.

“Those will need a minute or two to simmer before I add in the sake and mirin.” I grab a dish towel to pat the sweat from my brow then lift a glass of Chateau Le Boscq and take a sip savoring its dark fruity tang and swanky texture.

“So where were we in our discussion on sanity?” Gerald prompts.

The legs of my wooden kitchen stool scrape noisily across the tile floor as I drag it in front of the stove and drop onto the seat. “I believe you were making the allusion that genius and insanity go hand in hand.”

“Ah, yes,” Gerald says. “My quote from Aristotle, the first of the great philosophers I might add.” He clears his throat dramatically before going on. “No great mind existed without a touch of madness.”

“So you're implying genius' are mad?”

Gerald acknowledges with a grunt.

“So,” I continue, “If I might use Aristotle’s own form against him, we must conclude that madness is simply that element which all geniuses possess? Therefore,” I tap my chin thoughtfully, “the capacity to think at levels beyond the norm is in itself, madness.”

I grab a pair of tongs and lift the sizzling steaks from their olive oil bed and flip them over; fiery pinpricks dust my hand as the oil seethes and spits.

“Not at all,” Gerald counters. “I'm simply pointing out that to think outside the box is what defines insanity, not simply the level of thought. Sanity is, after all, dependent upon our environment. Wasn't it Ray Bradbury who said, and I quote: Insanity is relative. It depends on who has who locked in a cage.”

I laugh, shaking my head at Gerald's uncanny ability to recall the mundane. “Okay, okay.” I wave my hands in surrender. “I'll agree that for those of us touched by genius, insanity is simply an element of our natures, but what of those who might be considered of average intelligence? How does sanity, or more importantly, insanity, apply to them?”

A high pitched chirp announces the timeout on Gerald's alarm. “Out they come,” he says. “And I bet they smell delicious.”

I arise from the stool, lowering my nose as close to the sizzling steaks as safety allows, then take a great whiff. Oh and how my mouth waters.

“You're right,” I say, lifting the steaks from the oil and depositing them on a plate. I give the sauce a stir, then lick the dark brown residue from my wooden spoon. Not quite thick enough. Lowering the heat, I raise my wine glass for another sip.

“Your friend Josh is here,” Gerald announces. A quick glance at my phone shows Josh sauntering down the hall towards the door. A heartbeat later there is a knock. “I guess we'll have to finish our conversation once he’s gone,” Gerald says.

“Come on in,” I yell, “it's open.”

Josh steps in as I flip off the oven heat and lift the saucepan, drizzling the rich brown concoction across the top of the steaks.

Josh and I have known each other for years, frequenting the same clubs and enjoying the same tastes in music. It's there, however, that the similarities between us end. Whereas I might be considered thin, even frail by modern standards, Josh is a man of Thor like proportions with delicious broad shoulders and scrumptious muscled thighs. No, we've never been together, but it's not like I haven't imagined.

“Iz my friend, where ya been,” Josh says. He closes the door his head tilting back as he takes a sniff of the fragrant air. “Whoa, what are you cooking in here? It smells delicious.”

The kitchen's generous window overlooks my apartment’s cramped living room which holds a leather couch to the right of the front door, a guitar pick-shaped wooden coffee table and two three-legged chairs. As he always does when he drops by for a visit, Josh plops onto the couch and picks up the remote flipping on the TV and changing the channel to some kind of sport, in this case, a football game.

He leans close to the screen checking the score, then apparently satisfied with the results, sinks into the cushions and slings an arm over the back of the couch.

“I was getting worried about you,” Josh says, “you’re not returning any texts or calls.”

I sigh out my frustration. Eating in front of a guest would be the paragon of rude behavior, yet this meal was not intended for Josh.

“I’ve been…well, a little preoccupied with my cooking,” I tell him. “By the way, can I get you something to drink?”

I remove a wine glass from the shelves and prepare to pour when he says, “A beer sounds good.”

I cock a brow and somewhat sarcastically ask. “A beer?”

“Yeah, if ya got one.”

Ah, but for the joys of the common man, I think pulling out one of the beers I keep in the fridge for just such occasions. I’m certain Gerald and I will find no signs of insanity when we examine my friend Josh.

“So, what brings you up today?” I ask. “Stories of your weekend conquests?” I pull a pilsner glass from the cabinet and slowly fill it with amber fluid.

“Naw, I came to make sure you were okay. Haven’t you heard about the hacks?”

“The hacks?” I set down the glass and let the foamy head subside. Pouring beer just isn’t my forte.

“You mean you haven’t heard? It’s been front page news since Friday.”

“Ah, there you have it,” I say. “I rarely watch TV on the weekend. So what was hacked this time? A nuclear power plant? The stock market?”

“No, the new iFriend apps.”

There’s hardly a person on the planet who doesn’t own the much-publicized iFriend application, America’s demonstration of preeminence in the Cloud AI computing arena. It was advertised as a program so sophisticated that it not only passed the most advanced versions of the Turing test, the bookmark for determining intelligence in machines, but acted as personal assistant, counselor, librarian, and best friend all rolled into one. At only $1.99 to download, who could resist?

“Since I knew you had one,” Josh says, “What do you call him, Gary?”

“Gerald.”

“Yeah, Gerald. Anyway, I thought I’d come by and make sure you were good.”

“I don’t understand,” I tell him. “What does my iFriend app have to do with being…good?”

“It’s the North Koreans,” he pauses rubbing at his neck and looking skyward in thought, “or maybe it was the Russians. Anyway, I can’t remember which, but one of those guys hacked the iFriend protocol. iFriends all around the globe have been convincing people to do horrible things. The news says it has to do with sub-audible suggestions, and the hack only seems to affect a small segment of the population. Still, there’s been, like, two-hundred deaths an’ thousands more hurt by people going completely off the reservation. I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”

I top off his beer and wipe away the overflow. “So you’re saying I might be crazy?” I bob my eyebrows and give him what I think is my best ‘crazy’ smile.

“No, not you. But you got neighbors, right. What if the old woman next door went bonkers? Or the couple across the hall?”

I grab Josh’s beer, stifling a grin as I glance down at the cooling strips of meat on the platter.

“Josh, I can assure you that despite the proclivity of my neighbors to meddle, they will not be causing anyone any trouble.”

“Yeah. You’re right,” he says. “I just wanted to make sure.”

Couching a butcher knife behind my back, I step into the living room and hold out his beer.

“You know,” I say, standing just close enough so Josh has to lean out to accept it his arm outstretched, his weight off balance, his neck exposed.

“I’ve been having a discussion with a close friend of mine. We thought you should stick around for dinner.”


THREE HOGG’S TALES & ONE HAIRY ENDING

 

By Jeff Dosser

 

Kyle Hogg never dreamed the Sunny Acres Trailer Park would be a sight he’d long to see, but after the night he’d had, even the relative peace of his decrepit Winnebago was cause for celebration.

With a cursory check of the empty Tulsa streets, Kyle scurried from the shadows, his wet shoes squishing softly as he made his way to LOT 2B and home sweet home. Stepping inside, Kyle heaved a sigh of relief and flicked on the lights.

“About time, Fat Boy. I was wondering when you’d show up.”

Kyle’s heart skidded to an icy halt as he spun to find his employer, Lawrence Talbot, aka, Hairy Larry, plopped down on his couch. Dressed in a pair of khaki shorts, and a pink polo, the RV’s light shimmered on the ebony forest of hair carpeting Larry’s muscled arms, and exposed chest.  In fact, the only part of the man which wasn’t covered in thick fur was his clean-shaven face and the round smoothness of his bald head.

“I missed you at our rendezvous, Kyle.”

Larry pushed up from the couch and with a wave of his pistol, motioned Kyle inside. “Go ahead and have a seat.”

“Hey, Larry.” A lame smile played across Kyle’s plump lips. “I was gonna call, but I lost my phone in the river.”

“Excuses, excuses,” Larry smirked. “Because I was startin’ to get the impression you were trying to avoid me.”

As Kyle squeezed through the narrow passage, Larry hurried him along with a pistol-jab to the ribs.
Kyle squealed in terror and dropped onto the couch.

“Don’t hurt me. It wasn’t my fault.” Kyle looked up, his lips trembling “There … there was nothin’ I could do.”

“What do you mean, it wasn’t your fault?” Larry’s eyes narrowed. “Where’s my ice?”

“It was the police,” Kyle said. “They had some kinda checkpoint set up on Riverside. They was stoppin’ everyone, Larry.”

Kyle struggled to breathe through the tightness ringing his chest. Fumbling through the piles of fast-food wrappers and beer cans littering the counter, he spotted his inhaler and gasped in a breath.

“When I pulled into the line of cars at the stop,” Kyle continued, “I didn’t know what to do.”

“You left the dope in the car?” Larry asked with brows rising.

“No, no, I’d never do that.” Kyle waved his hands as if wiping away the allegation. “I knew how important that dope was to you and Fat Sheila. But the cops. They saw me take off, Larry. They came after me.”

He shook his head, tears welling in his eyes. “I’m no athlete.” Kyle waved a hand over the swell of his gut and his pencil thin legs. “Just look at me.”

Larry leveled a finger. “Then how the hell did you get away?”

“I jumped in the river before they could catch me. They had spotlights, an’ the helicopter came. But the current was swift. I was past em’ before they set up.  I wanted to call, but I lost everything in the water.”

“And the dope?”

Kyle shrank away like a dog expecting a blow. “Gone.”

Larry took an angry step, hand raised.
“Please, no!” Kyle shrank beneath Larry’s upraised arm.

Larry paused, staring down on the trembling Kyle.

“God damn!”  He slammed a fist into the faux wood cabinet leaving a jagged indention. “Sheila’s going to be pissed when she finds out.” He eyed Kyle suspiciously. “If you weren’t so stupid, I’d think you were pulling a fast one. That’s twenty-k worth of ice, Kyle. You think Fat Sheila’s gonna just let that go?”

“No, I swear on my momma’s grave. I didn’t take nothin’.”

Larry leaned back and jabbed the pistol towards Kyle. “How much money you got, Fat Boy?”

Kyle shrugged. “I dunno. A couple hundred bucks.”
“A couple hundred?” Larry shook his head and laughed. “Shit! A couple hundred’s not gonna appease Sheila.”

Kyle did his best to roll into a ball as Larry stepped over and jammed the gun’s muzzle into the back of his head. “You better find some cash pretty fuckin’ fast or you’ll be floatin’ in that river.” He stepped back wiping a hand across his head. “Shit!” Then looking about the camper, Larry’s brows rose. “How much this piece of shit worth?”

Kyle’s eyes darted about his home. Despite the faded carpet, sunken mattress, and quirky plumbing, the RV was his. The only thing of value he owned. “I don’t know. Three … maybe four grand.”

“You got the title?”

Kyle looked to the glove box and nodded. “Yeah, the paper work’s in the cab.”

Larry crawled into the passenger seat, the sound of crinkling paper and muttered curses drifting back to Kyle. When Larry returned, he swept a hand across the table, dumping the trash to the floor, then he slapped a pen and the title in front of Kyle.

“Sign it over, Fat Boy. I’ll have my sister notarize it in the morning.”

“But it’s all I’ve …” Kyle began before Larry’s slap set his ears to ringing.

“I said sign it, or I pop you right now.” He rapped the pistol on the table to prove his point.

When Kyle signed, Larry pocketed the document and held out his hand. “Keys.”

“They’re in the cabinet. Last one on the left.”

As Larry rifled through the drawer, he asked over his shoulder. “You got family? A mom or dad? A bunch of little piglet brothers and sisters running around somewhere?”

 As a key’s rattle announced Larry’s success, the big man turned, his dark eyes flashing. “Well? I asked you a question.”

“Y…y…yes. I mean no.” Kyle said. “Mom and Daddy are dead, but I got brothers.”

Larry weighed the statement, then shaking a finger,  “Stay right there.” He strode out the door and a moment later, Kyle felt the low throaty growl of an untuned engine and the complaining squall of failing brakes. The trailer door slammed open as Larry stepped back in.

“Okay, Kyle, here’s what you’re gonna do.”
As Larry leaned in, Kyle shrank back trying to escape into the cushions. Larry’s gleaming face pressed closer until they were nose to nose. Slowly, Larry lifted the pistol and pressed it to Kyle’s temple. Larry’s breath stank of Slim Jim’s and grape Swishers.

“What you’re going to do, is get in the car outside and go find your brothers. You’re going to explain that if you don’t come up with twenty-thousand dollars in the next twenty-four hours, you’re a dead man. You understand me?”

Kyle whimpered a feeble, “Yes.”

“Good. Once you’ve got the money, you’re going to meet me on the 11th street bridge tomorrow at midnight. “

The pistol barrel dug into Kyle’s head.

“But you’re taking my RV,” Kyle protested. “Don’t that count for somethin’?”

“Call it a restocking fee,” Larry chuckled. “You don’t have a problem with that do you?”

Kyle shook his head.

“And do you know what Sheila’s going to say if you don’t show up tomorrow night?”

Tears burned down Kyle’s cheeks.

“She’d have me killed?”
“No. she won’t have you killed.”
Kyle’s eyes fluttered open, and he gasped out a, “Really?”
“Really,” Larry said. “First, she’s going to have me hurt you real bad….”
Kyle shuddered, a high pitched moan escaping his lips.
“Then, she’ll have you killed.”

Wet heat spread across Kyle’s lap.

Larry stepped back, his eyes drifting to the growing dark spot on Kyle’s already damp shorts.

“Now get out, before I change my mind.”

 

***

 

The buzz of cicadas and box-fan hum saturated the humid July air as Michael Hogg sat on his couch, the game controller grasped firmly in his hand. Clicking his game to ‘pause,’ he watched for the dozenth time as his brother, Kyle, thudded across the hardwoods and peered through the shuttered blinds.

“He ain’t comin’,” Mike said, returning to his game. “You said yourself, there’s no record in the trailer of where you’re from.” He looked up and met Kyle’s eye. “An’ we parked that heap you came in behind the barn.” Mike set down the controller, then rocking his prodigious girth from its indention on the couch, rose ponderously to his feet. 

“There’s no way anyone could find ya even if they did have an address. The mailbox’s been gone since the tornado last spring, an’ no one ‘round here’s gonna give up a neighbor.”

 

The screen door protested with a high-pitched whine as Mike waddled onto the porch and considered the cow-dotted fields surrounding the Hogg family farm.  The sun sat like an ember on the darkening Oklahoma horizon, the shadow cast by the two-story farmhouse stretched like a blanket to cover a parking lot of rusted hulks squatted in the weed-strewn yard. 

Leaning onto the gas grill at the edge of the porch, Mike lifted a hand against the sunset and squinted at a dust trail boiling up the road.

“What kinda car this fella drive?” he asked.

Kyle bustled out, the screen door slapping shut as he joined Mike on the porch.

“He’s got a candy-apple-red F150 with chrome rims.” Kyle squinted into the light. “Oh, God. It’s him.” He stumbled back shoving the grill against the window and ripping open the screen. “It’s him ain’t it?”

It was a red pickup, that much was certain, but there were plenty of red pickups. The vehicle slowed as it approached the drive, the pursuing cloud of dust enveloping it as it ground to a halt beneath the gnarly old elm.

Mike turned and stomped inside. By God, this was Hogg property, had been for generations. As he rummaged through the hall closet, the smell of mothballs and old cardboard filled the air. At the back, he found Daddy’s Remington 870 and a box of shells. Stepping onto the porch, Mike thumbed in three rounds of 00 Buck.

The squelch of tires on gravel announced the arrival of the intruder and as Hairy Larry stepped from his pickup, Mike worked the 870’s action – Cha-Chunk -and jacked in a shell.

“Go on and get back in your truck,” he called from the porch. “We don’t want no trouble.”

 

Larry wore a tank top and an OU Sooners ball cap. The fur in his shoulders shone like a dark aura silhouetted in dusk’s fading glow.

“Look,” Larry called. “I know Kyle’s here. All I need is twenty-thousand, and I’ll be on my way.”

“I ain’t got no twenty-thousand dollars,” Mike said.

The screen door gave a squeak as Kyle poked out his head.

“Hey, Kyle,” Larry called. “I missed you on 11th last night.” He pulled off his cap and ran a palm across his gleaming head.
“But, tell ya what.” He turned, eying the open fields and grazing cattle before returning his gaze to the front porch. “You got a nice place here, Kyle. I’m sure if you sign it over, Sheila will let bygones be bygones.”

Heat rose in Mike’s face. His grip tightened on the 870’s stock.  After Daddy and Momma’s death, their older brother, Deon had worked to keep the family whole. Once he’d left, the responsibility of maintaining the homestead and protecting Kyle had fallen to him.  He’d be damned if some drug-dealin’ trash would threaten his brother and kick ‘em off their land.

“How about you take this with ya instead?” Mike hefted the shotgun and fired.

The blast sent Larry diving for cover as an explosion of dirt erupted beside the truck’s front wheel. With a hiss of escaping air, the Ford sank onto its rim.

“How’s he supposed ta leave now?” Kyle grumbled from the doorway. “You shot out his tire.”

Mike turned to answer when Larry rose above the hood, a pistol gripped in his hand.
Kak-kak-kak-kak, bullets zinged and thudded sending Mike and Kyle diving inside. With the sharp ting of metal and low, deep thuds, more rounds careened through the walls sending clouds of plaster dust and splinters of wood spinning through the air.

Rising from the floor, Mike raised his head and peered through the window in time to see Larry drop his pistol’s spent mag and load another.

“What’s that smell?” Kyle asked.

Mike sniffed in the sharp bite of propane. One of the bullets must have punctured the grill’s tank. If he fired back now, the muzzle flash would ignite it and blow up the porch.

“Come on,” Mike called, dragging Kyle to his feet. “We gotta get.”

As they raced towards the kitchen and out the back door, Larry opened up once again. The fan in the window took a hit. One of its plastic blades shattered, throwing the entire mechanism off balance. As it tumbled from the window and struck the floor, the cord was yanked from the plug. In the shower of sparks which followed, Mike had time to shove Kyle through the doorway before the porch and living room were consumed in a swelling ball of flame.

 

***

 

From the bed of his Chevy Silverado, Deon Hogg took a drag from his cigarette and puffed a gray cloud into the humid Oklahoma night. Although Mike, in his frantic call, hadn’t explained everything, he’d told Deon enough. Kyle was in trouble…again. Only this time, he’d brought trouble home.

Although Deon wasn’t Kyle’s father, he felt the same guilt of his decisions. Hell, he’d been only eighteen when Momma and Daddy had died, petitioning the courts to keep the family together; three brothers eking out a living on insurance money and what little the cattle brought in each year. Yet somehow, it had been enough. He’d barely been more than a boy himself, doing his best to raise a ten-year-old Kyle and fifteen-year-old Mike. By the time he’d volunteered for the Army and left Mike in charge, Kyle was an uncontrollable fifteen-year-old, experimenting in boys, weed, and wine.

He shook his head and flicked the cigarette into the night. Hell, if he’d stayed at home, there was no guarantee his baby brother wouldn’t have ended up an addict anyway.

He watched the headlights turn into the empty neighborhood and splash across the billboard announcing:

Willow Creek Estates

2 & 3 Acre Lots Starting at $100k

Build Your Dream Here

Deon reminded himself that blood was blood and if you messed with one Hogg, you messed with ‘em all.

“Deon,” Kyle wailed as he tumbled from the car and raced into his brother’s arms.

Kyle smelled of weed and sweat as Deon pushed him back and forced a smile. “Well, you really put your foot in it this time.”

Kyle’s face fell as Mike stepped up beside him.

“Yeah, we all know Kyle fucked up,” Mike said. “What we don’t need is a lecture.” He kneaded Kyle’s shoulder then met Deon’s stare. “What we need, Big Brother is help.”

Deon nodded and tapped out another cigarette.

“You’re right,” Deon said. He looked his siblings over, acknowledging inside that Mike was right. It would be easy slipping into the father role and meting out blame, but that wouldn’t help them escape the problem.

He took another drag, feeling the icy menthol chill and jabbed a finger at the car.

“This your ride or the heap the drug dealer gave ya’ after he stole the RV?”

Kyle spared a glance at the dented Taurus and nodded. “I don’t have a car. This is the one Hairy Larry gave me to find ya’ll. To get the money.”

“Twenty grand,” Deon’s brows V’ed into a frown. “That what he wants?”

Kyle nodded and looked away.

Stepping over to the Taurus, Deon opened the door. “And you’re sure there was no paperwork on where you grew up inside that RV?”

“None,” Kyle said. “I have no idea how he found us.”

When he’d first received their call, Deon assumed Hairy Larry had found his brothers by searching the web. You could find almost anything on the internet, cooking recipes for grilled snake, how to build a deadfall trap, the phases of the moon in 1901. He’d searched himself and found nothing on Kyle or the family farm outside of Bartlesville, Oklahoma; drug arrests, court dockets, and more crap about his brother’s lifestyle than he ever wished to know, but nothing on the farm.

Deon crawled inside. The Ford’s trash covered carpet was crusted stiff from spilled pop, and God only knew what else. He searched beneath the seats pulling out layers of crushed food wrappers, used tissues, and faded receipts before climbing out with a fist-sized bundle in one hand.

“What’s this look like?” Deon flipped a balled sock into Kyle’s hands.

When Kyle dumped the contents, a rubber-banded cell phone and portable charger hit the trunk with a metallic thud.

Mike peered over Kyle’s shoulder and shook his head. “He’s known where you were the whole time.”

  “Do we destroy it?” Kyle asked.

Deon shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

As he studied the empty lots and the handful of half-built homes lining the neighborhoods empty streets, a plan began to form.

Deon grabbed a lantern from the toolbox in the back of his truck and motioned towards the house in front of them. Three stories high, brick and stone exterior, gabled roof, and three-car-garage, it would one day be the centerpiece of the neighborhood. “Grab that phone and follow me,” he said as he led them up the sidewalk and through the front door. “I’ve got a plan.”

 

***

 

Lawrence, ‘Hairy Larry’ Talbot, studied his GPS as he maneuvered onto the pristine concrete roads snaking through the open fields and rows of partially constructed homes. Chain lighting chased itself through the cloudy horizon as a warm breeze sighed through his truck’s open window bringing with it the sharp tang of cut grass and the scent of approaching rain.

Flicking off his lights, Larry prowled the vacant streets until he spotted the Taurus parked in front of a three-story mansion at the top of a rise. The car was parked beside a new Silverado whose doors and truck bed sported bright images of a cap-wearing pig, a brick in one hand and a trowel in the other.

HOGG MASONRY AND BRICKWORKS

GO WHOLE HOGG

Was written beneath the dancing swine.

So, Kyle dragged both brothers into this little drama, Larry thought. He eased the F150 into a spot just short of the house.

Pulling out his pistol, he crept through the shadows to the front door. A yellow glow stained the front windows and seeped through a hole in the front door where a handle should be.

Leaning down, Larry peered through the opening and spotted the three portly brothers standing at the center of an expansive living room. He recognized Kyle and the brother who’d shot at him from the front porch of the now burned down farmhouse. The older, fatter of the three had to be the owner of the Silverado.

A battery powered lantern at the room’s center cast tilted shadows from 20-foot scaffolding onto the plastered wall behind. Except for a pile of bricks, and lengths of 2x4s leaning against the scaffolding, the room was empty.

“Little pig, little pig, let me come in!” Larry announced as he kicked open the door.

The brothers turned, Kyle’s face flush with terror. The farm boy glowered, and the head Hogg, the oldest of the trio scowled. Beside the stack of bricks, a partially constructed hearth and chimney scaled the thirty-foot wall and disappeared into the ceiling. Larry wondered what kind of people could afford such luxuries. He wondered if someday he might be one of them.

“Hands up, my three little piggies,” Larry chuckled. “Or should I say, Hoggs?”

Kyle and the farm boy’s hands shot skyward as they stepped back from the door. The older of the three held his ground before letting something fall clattering to the floor. Then he too raised his hands and stepped back beneath the scaffolding.

“Ah, I see you found my phone.” Larry’s voice echoed through the cavernous room. The entire space stank of dust, and fresh pine lumber, and the muddy wetness of new cement.

 

“You don’t have to do this,” the older brother said. “I’ve got all the money I could lay my hands on. $8,000 bucks.”  With one of his upraised hands, he pointed to the front door. “It’s in the glove box of my truck. Take the truck too.”

Very slowly, the older Hogg lowered a hand and dug into his front pocket. With a flick of his wrist, the keys clattered to the floor beside the phone.

Larry clucked his tongue and stepped closer. “A fine offer, but Sheila has a code to maintain. You start lettin’ people rip you off and word gets around. Pretty soon you’re either out of business or six-feet under.” He shrugged. “It’s not personal. Just business.”
Never taking his eyes from the three Hoggs, Larry stepped over to the phone and knelt down to pick it up.

“Any last words?”  Larry asked.

In the instant Larry lowered his eyes and reached for the phone, he caught a flicker of movement. He glanced up to see the older brother kick away a board lying beside his foot.

With a ropey twang, a leaning 2x4 shot away from the scaffolding and slapped against the floor. Glancing up, Larry watched in horror as the entire steel structure tilted over. Slowly at first, then gaining speed, it smashed down upon him. Sheets of drywall and metal framing slammed the ground in an ear-splitting roar surrounding him in an explosion of pain and sudden oblivion.

***

When Larry woke to his cramped darkness, the only illumination was a rectangle wedge of light close beside his head. The air was stifling and humid yet bright with the stink of his own cologne and the coppery tang of blood. 

Rising to an elbow, he ignored the lightning bolt of pain lancing through his ribs realizing suddenly that his arms and legs were bound. Larry peered through the rectangular opening into the room, recognizing he was sealed inside the hearth.

With the gritty scrape of trowel on stone, Larry watched as the older Hogg spread a line of mortar along a brick he held in his hand. He turned and meet Larry’s eye.

“Ah, you’re awake.” A smile dimpled Deon’s chubby cheek as he leaned closer.

“You asked if we had any last words?”

As the brick was slid home and Larry’s fate sealed, he could just make out the bricklayer’s muffled voice:

“Not by the hair of our chinny chin chins.” 

“Hogg Tales” first appeared in the Aug. 2019 edition of Mystery Weekly and was reprinted in J. J. Outre Review, Vol. 5. (Nov. 2019). 

 

 

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Jeff is a dabbler in science fiction stories, horror, and other forms of the absurd. His work can be found in such venues as The Literary Hatchet, Tales to Terrify, J. J. Outre Review, and Mystery Weekly, to name a few.   

  

When not writing, Jeff and his dog, Edgar, can be found prowling the woods behind their rural home, communing with the denizens of the night.   

  

Find out what Jeff’s been up to on his website. jeffdosser.com  or follow him on Twitter @JeffDosser



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