fiction

The Looking Glass

The first time I saw her, she was fluffing her hair. She stared right at me, smoothed the bright auburn strands, and touched up her coral lipstick while she waited for you. When she finished primping, she gave me the saddest look I’ve ever seen. I’m not even sure she realized she did it. Then the door opened, and she exchanged the lost look in her eyes for a fake smile. You’d never notice that smile wasn’t genuine.

The second time I saw her, she looked at me more closely than the first time. Could she sense me looking at her? I panicked as she fully turned her head in my direction. She looked at me from across the room and smiled. Turning to you, she asked you something I couldn’t decipher. I heard you say her name – Marcia. You nodded and told her to “go ahead.” That’s when she sauntered over to me in a way that only she can. Her smile was genuine this time. I felt special.

After this, I saw Marcia frequently, but she was always with you. I saw the way you treated her. Despicable. The worst part of it was that she was always sweet to you. I had never seen her do anything that deserved the shitty way you treated her, and I’ve seen a lot. Marcia always offered to do what she could to help, but you couldn’t help yourself. You kept on with the designer drugs, the legal problems, the other women. You were a mess. If I had the chance with her you had, with the same problems, I would have changed. I’m not surprised you didn’t, though.

The last time I saw her, she had a bruise over her left eye, and you weren’t done. I heard the yelling first. I recognized your voice instantly; It has this grating tone that makes me cringe. At first, I thought it was just you. Maybe you were yelling at yourself, you know, the way people talk to themselves. For a second, I thought you had seen the error of your ways, not only in the way you treated Marcia, but in every aspect of your life. Or maybe you hadn’t had a revelation. Maybe you’d gone off the deep end. It would have been a long time coming.

Then she came into my view. I saw the bruise. My realization was slow, but eventual. You smacked her with the back of your hand right in front of me. My shock was palpable; I’m surprised you didn’t see it. You hit her again. The shock quickly wore off, and I became enraged. I would make you pay.

When you smacked her for the third time, something wonderfully unexpected happened. She discreetly wrapped her slim fingers around the fireplace poker and turned on you. The smug look on your face dissolved as you realized what was about to happen. I felt myself sigh in satisfaction when she smashed the poker into the side of your face.

Blood oozed from a small cut on your cheek. Marcia raised the poker over her head, this time aiming for your hairline. Before you knew what was happening, it came down with more force than I thought she had. The dull thud of the poker connecting with your skull would have made me smile if I was able. You stumbled backward, the look of shock on your face slowly being replaced with anger.

But you’re not fast enough. Marcia raised the poker once again, this time holding it like a dagger. She aimed for your eye, and I must say, she was spot on. That poker went straight through your eye and right out the back of your skull. I couldn’t have been more proud.

Your body slumped to the ground as Marcia wiped her cheek with the back of her hand, smearing blood onto her perfectly made-up face. That one flaw didn’t detract from her beauty. She smiled. It was the biggest smile I had ever seen on any of the girls you had ever brought into this penthouse, and you had to be dead for me to see it. What does that say?

But I digress. Marcia slowly walked over to me, keeping her eyes on me the whole time. She wasn’t looking at herself, like all the other girls did. She looked at me. No one had ever looked at me like that before. I felt proud. Marcia stood directly in front of me and ran her hands over my clean lines. She admired my beveled edge, my clear glass. “You’re a beautiful mirror. I just might take you home with me.” She whispered. I knew she couldn’t see it, but I beamed.

Marcia turned back to the spot on the living room floor where you lay. I saw every muscle in her body tense, and I knew why. Your body had disappeared; Only the blood stain remained. Confusion swept over Marcia’s flawless features as she turned back to me and saw your reflection, in front of the fireplace where she dropped you. Marcia swiveled her head back and forth, but no amount of swiveling would change what she was seeing.

My spirits fell a bit. She slowly realized what had happened. I wish I could make it clear. Marcia could never take me home with her. If I had a heart, it would have ached.

My home would always be inside this condo, hanging in the foyer, staring through the entrance to the living room at the fireplace. Awaiting another tenant; One even nastier than you. That tenant would get what they deserved too, just like you. It has happened for decades, and it will happen for decades still. People always get what they deserve, don’t they?

Standard
fiction

Road Trip

“We have to go back.”

“Not yet. We’ve only traveled for two days. You got the entire week off of work for this.”

“Denise, honey, we’re out of money.”

Xavier stopped at the only red light in the small country town in Arkansas. He tapped the steering wheel with one hand and rubbed his forehead with the other. “I don’t know. What do you want me to do?” Xavier reached for his cell phone.

Monitoring the light in case it changed, Xavier opened his bank’s application and put in his password. The light turned green. There wasn’t another car for miles, so Xavier didn’t move, choosing instead to wait for his phone to load. $58.63.

“Okay. So, we’ve got enough money to either make it up to St. Louis and then we live there, or we turn around now, head home, and we may have enough for dinner. You’re choice.” Xavier glanced at his wife, then quickly looked away.

“I guess we’ll have to turn around.”

Xavier made a U-turn in the middle of the empty intersection. “Sorry. This is my fault.”

Denise shrugged. “I’m tired though. It’s getting late.”

“We don’t have enough for a hotel room.” Xavier kept his eyes on the road.

“Mm.” Denise stared out the window.

They rode in silence for the better part of 45 minutes when Denise brightened. “What about camping?” She looked at Xavier.

The thought hadn’t crossed Xavier’s mind. “Decent enough idea.”

They rode in silence for a few more minutes while Xavier mulled it over. “Okay. Find a campground. Under twenty bucks, though.”

Denise’s face lit up. “This’ll be fun!” She wasted no time searching cheap campgrounds near me on her cell phone.

Xavier spotted a sporting goods store in a strip mall a few miles out of town. While Denise remained in the car, Xavier purchased the cheapest tent he saw. He tossed the tent into the back of the SUV and slid into the driver’s seat as Denise said, “Willow Falls Campground. $15 a night.”

“That’s the one.” Xavier started the car as Denise hit the get directions button on the campground’s listing.

Twenty minutes later, they were lost. “This is what it says.” Denise showed him the blue line on the map on her phone. “We’re still on track.”

“I call bullshit.” Xavier snapped as he looked to his left out the window. “There’s nothing around. The damn road isn’t even paved!”

“Keep going.” Denise urged.

Ten more minutes of driving over the pitted gravel road, and they came up on a wooden archway with a sign hanging from the top: Willow Falls Campground. The sign’s paint was peeling and one chain securing it seemed to be shorter than the other, causing the sign to hang crooked.

Xavier steered the car past the archway, and up to a small shack labeled Office. Several small white envelopes hung by thumbtacks from a corkboard on the office door. Each envelope had a surname on it. There was one for Xavier and Denise. Denise hopped out of the car and sprinted up to the door. She yanked on their envelope without pulling the thumbtack out. After getting back in the car, Denise opened the envelope. Inside was a map of the campground with their campsite circled. Denise guided Xavier to the correct spot.

Xavier drove slowly on the narrow path. They seemed to go further and further into the woods. “Well, it doesn’t seem like we’ll have much company.” Denise attempted to make conversation.

“Mm.” An unexpected sense of dread nagged at Xavier’s intestines. He glanced at Denise, wondering if she felt the tension he did, but she seemed enthusiastic.

“Oh, here it is!” Denise unbuckled her seat belt. Xavier parked in the gravel space next to the fire pit.

Xavier did not understand that this part of Arkansas had so much wooded area. The foliage was dense. He inspected their campsite as Denise flopped down on the grass, legs crossed, a genuine smile on her face that Xavier hadn’t seen in months. There was a fire pit, a grassy area for a tent or small camper, and a weathered picnic table. Xavier lifted the hatchback of the SUV and hauled out the tent.

After they set the tent up, the sun was sinking further below the tree line. It was almost dark. “I’d better get some wood for a fire.” Xavier absently told Denise as he looked at the sky.

“You want me to come with?”

“Nah. I’ll be right back.” He tossed her the car keys. “But just in case you want to sit in the car or something. It’s a little chilly.” With that, he set off into the dense forest in search of firewood.

There was a thin path that led from the campsite into the woods. It surely wasn’t a designated path, but one worked into the land after years of visitors taking the same walk. Xavier picked up large sticks, cradling them in the crook of his arm as he walked. About five minutes into his search, he noted a tree with a yellow ribbon tied around one of its low-hanging branches. Xavier also noted an oddly shaped bush further into his walk. He wanted to find his way back.

As the sky got darker, the path beneath Xavier’s feet vanished. Xavier’s arm was full of medium and large sticks, but he was looking for fallen branches. He didn’t find any. The sky was turning an inky purple when Xavier decided that he should head back. He wouldn’t be able to see in ten minutes.

Xavier began walking back the way he came. He found the oddly shaped bush. He kept walking. Xavier found it odd that he was no longer on a path, but he had found the bush, so he figured he was going in the right direction.

Xavier kept walking when he came up on the tree with the ribbon. Xavier stopped in his tracks when he noticed that the ribbon was no longer yellow, but red. Xavier felt a chill as he stared at the ribbon fluttering in the breeze. He forced himself to move past the tree.

After a few more minutes of brisk walking, Xavier almost tripped over a disemboweled raccoon. Flies swarmed around the entrails, a rotten smell emanated from the carcass. It must have been there for a day or two, at least, but Xavier would have remembered it if he had seen it looking for firewood. Xavier looked around, past the trees surrounding him. Someone must have put it there after he had passed this spot. Someone was watching him. Then he remembered Denise.

Xavier ignored the feeling of doom that gnawed at him and ran toward his campsite. After a minute, he saw an orange glow ahead. His pace slowed as he wrinkled his brow in confusion. It had to be his campsite; There was no one around them. Xavier hurried toward the glow. As he got closer, he recognized the picnic table and his SUV on the gravel pad. Denise was standing in front of a roaring fire, her back to him. He wondered how she got such an enormous fire going without supplies.

Tension filled the air. There was something wrong. Denise remained completely still in front of the fire. He approached slowly and quietly. “Denise?” Xavier gently called.

Denise didn’t respond or even turn around to face him.

“Denise?” Xavier called louder as he got closer.

Nothing.

Xavier reached his arm toward her, about to touch her shoulder, when suddenly Denise spun to face him. She was paler than usual and he noticed immediately that her eyes were not the same color they had been fifteen minutes before. A sinister smile was plastered on her face. This was not Denise.

Xavier backed away in shock. Denise continued to smile at him; Not moving, not speaking. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her as fear gripped his heart. He continued to back away. She continued to smile. The glow from the fire back lit her, giving her a demonic glow.

They stared at one another, Xavier breathing heavily and Denise smiling. The crackling of the flames was the only sound. Xavier’s mouth had gone dry, his body trembled. He then heard a rustling in the trees to his right. As he looked, Denise pounced on Xavier, sending him sprawling on his back. Sharp teeth dug into his neck. Xavier howled in pain. The teeth sank deeper until Xavier had no energy left to fight.

Xavier lay on the cold ground, staring at the sky, feeling his blood ooze out of the open wound. Denise came into his view. She stood over him and let out a cackle, licking the blood off her lips. Xavier let his head flop to the right. A raccoon ambled out of the tree line at the edge of the campsite as darkness crept into his vision. It’s only a raccoon.

Standard
fiction

Anniversary

I found the hide-a-key inside a fake rock by her back door. I knew she wasn’t home yet, so this was the perfect opportunity. I let myself in and stood in her kitchen in the dark, listening. The house was silent. I made my way to the second floor; To her bedroom. She had a closet she never used. I slipped inside the closet and waited.

I heard her open the front door about a half hour later. She was talking on the phone as I heard her voice get closer. She was walking up the stairs, no doubt to her bedroom to get ready for their night out. I liked surprising her, and this was the perfect opportunity. She wouldn’t suspect a thing. I stifled a laugh as her voice entered the bedroom, still on the phone.

“Yeah…Quick…No, nothing like that…Just one shot…Mm-hmm…Trezzini…Right…8 o’clock…I’ll be right next to him…You’ll see us…”

Who the hell was she talking to? She mentioned where I would be. Just one shot? To the head, perhaps? It was no secret that we were having our issues, and some were really bad, but I thought we were past that. And that, you know, she still loved me.

I felt sweat prickle my forehead. She disconnected the call and threw her phone on the bed. I was going to surprise her. This was supposed to be a romantic evening. It was our anniversary, and it sounded like she wanted me dead. I did not expect this. The more I thought about it, shock began to overwhelm my system. Fear overwhelmed me. I couldn’t let her get away with this.

I emerged from my hiding place, surprising her like I had planned, but I was no longer stifling a laugh. My heart hurt. I could barely look at her.

“What are you doing here?” She smiled at me. Apparently, she thought my surprise amusing. “I thought we were meeting at the restaurant?”

Tears formed in the corners of my eyes as anger took over. How dare she. I didn’t know what to say to her, so I said nothing. Instead, I crossed the room and reached for her neck. Making contact, I squeezed as hard as I could, both of my thumbs pressing hard on the hollow of her throat.

Her mouth opened and closed like a fish out of water. Her eyes widened until they looked as though they were going to pop right out of her skull. I increased the pressure as anger filled me. She began to turn red, then purple. Her eyes became bloodshot. This was taking longer than I had anticipated, but finally her body went limp and I let her fall to the floor.

Her phone started to buzz as I heard the thump of her body hitting the floor. I reached for the phone. It was a confirmation message sent by text. I unlocked her phone and opened the message.

“Just Shoot Me Photography

Confirmation number: 09567423

Date: August 26, 2019

Time: 8:00pm

Location: Trezzini Restaurant

Price: $35.00

Paid in Full”

My hand trembled, making the phone shake as I read the message over and over again. I had made a terrible mistake.

I wiped the drool that was forming at the corners of my mouth. I hoisted her body onto my shoulder and placed her gently on the bed. After arranging her hair away from her face, I unbuttoned her shirt and laid down next to her. I guess we weren’t going to make it to dinner, but I still wanted tonight to be special. After all, it was our anniversary.


Standard
fiction

Intrusion

A glass of wine on the end table and a book in her lap. Jasmine had put her two children to bed early that night, needing the peaceful silence after a long day of the boys fighting. She sipped her wine and listened to her twins snore for a moment on the baby monitor before opening her book. Jasmine hadn’t had the time to get into the story, she was only on page three, but tonight was the night she would make progress.

Jasmine had just started page seven when she heard the front door unlock, open, then close. “Ken? You’re home early.”

She heard footsteps making their way up the stairs in the foyer to the second floor, but she received no response.

Jasmine glanced behind her through the entryway and saw black work boots on the top stair, rounding the corner of the hallway that led to the bedrooms. “I know it’s my fault you have to work so much, but you could still answer me.” She called up to him.

Still, no response.

Shrugging, Jasmine returned to her book. She knew he must be tired. Ken had just bought this house for her and he had been working 14 hour days on the late shift for a few weeks now to make sure they had enough to satisfy the mortgage. She didn’t blame him for just wanting to go to bed.

Jasmine closed her book and took another sip of wine, too bothered by her husband’s lack of response to continue reading. She knew she should get a part-time job to help out, but then who would watch the boys? They couldn’t afford daycare, not with all of the other bills they had to manage. Ken didn’t necessarily resent her for not working. He understood she had to stay with the boys while he was at work, but lately it seemed as though the mounting bills had put a tremendous strain on their marriage.

Footsteps making their way back down the stairs snapped her out of her thoughts. “You hungry? I can heat you up a plate.”

Again, no response.

Becoming agitated that he wouldn’t speak to her, she stood up, book still in hand, and turned to see the profile of a strange man disappear behind the foyer wall. She froze, dropping her book, and listened to the front door open and shut.

Adrenaline kicked in and she raced to the front door and flung it open. There was no one on the walk, no car in the driveway. There were footprints in the freshly fallen snow leading to the house, but none leading away.

Jasmine’s heart beat against her chest. She slowly and quietly closed the door. Jasmine glanced at the two closed closet doors on either side of the front door. Keeping her eyes on them, she slowly backed away. She glanced toward the living room where her phone sat on the end table with her glass of wine.

Jasmine eased toward the living room, refusing to look away from the closet doors. The pounding of her heart was the only sound in the silent room. Without turning her back to the foyer, the back of her legs bumped into the end table and she fumbled for the phone, spilling her wine in the process. She flipped the phone open. It took her four attempts to push the correct buttons, but eventually she connected with the 9-1-1 operator.

“9-1-1. What is your address?”

Jasmine rattled off her location in a whisper.

“What is your emergency?”

“There’s someone in my house.”

As Jasmine stated her emergency, she heard one of the closet doors creak open. She held her breath, waiting for the man to appear from behind the foyer wall. When no one emerged, she crept toward the staircase, keeping her eyes glued to the empty space where just a few feet away, behind the wall, she knew a stranger stood. There was silence once again. Then she remembered the boys.

Jasmine dropped the phone and flew toward the staircase, not bothering to look toward the closet doors. She took the stairs two at a time. She whipped around the corner at the top of the stairs, slipping on the freshly-polished hardwood floor. She crashed into her sons’ room and doubled over in horror at the sight. Blood splattered the walls and ceiling. Her sons lay face down on their beds, each a pulpy mess. Jasmine covered her mouth to keep from vomiting.

Then she heard the floor creak behind her.

Standard
fiction

Assumption

The cold wind beat against Miranda’s back as she pulled up the hood on her trenchcoat. The snow was so thick she could barely see where she was walking. Cars honked and people bundled in their winter best shuffled past her, their visibility no doubt as bad as hers. Miranda squinted her eyes to see the addresses on the buildings. She had another mile to go. “Damn.” She said out loud as she continued to walk.

Soon, the sounds of cars and people faded until the only sound was the howling of the wind that swirled the snow around her. She was in a section of the city she didn’t recognize, and she did not want to get lost with no one around. Miranda tried not to let fear get the better of her thoughts. The streetlights became sparse as she took in her surroundings. Miranda caught the address of the nearest building. She was almost there, a few more blocks.

As the wind whipped at her face, she heard crunching behind her. Footsteps. She walked faster. The crunching became more pronounced. Miranda moved to one side of the sidewalk to let whoever it was pass. They were certainly walking faster than she was, but no one passed. She glanced behind her. All she could see was the swirling snow. She increased her speed, feeling cold sweat run down her neck. The footsteps remained. Miranda saw the building up ahead, festively lit, a bright beacon in the dark. She even heard the music and laughter spill out into the quiet night. All she had to do was get past an alley. “Almost there.” She encouraged herself. The footsteps behind her remained, matching her stride.

Miranda reached the alley when she was pulled off her feet and slammed into the frozen ground. She didn’t have time to call out as she saw the flash of a serrated blade in the moonlight come toward her at lightning speed. The blade tore into her chest. The pain took her breath away. Her blood ran on the freshly fallen snow. As she watched the blood pool, her vision faded to black.

*

Shadows crept along the wall like ghosts. Miranda watched them in a trance-like state as they interacted with each other, with her. A cold sweat prickled on her forehead. Her breathing came in short, raspy breaths. The aromatic candle on her bedside table flickered in the breeze of the open window. She had only been asleep for five minutes, but the dream had felt like it had taken hours to complete. Putting stock in dreams was foolish, Miranda knew, but she couldn’t help but feel as though she should cancel her flight to Denver in the morning.

*

“Don, I just can’t.” Miranda cradled the phone between her ear and shoulder.

“You still haven’t given me a satisfactory answer as to why this meeting needs to be canceled. Miranda, this is one of our most lucrative clients!” Don was losing his patience.

“I know, but can’t you send Michael? He’s great at this kind of thing.”

“I guess I’m going to have to.” Don was silent for a moment. “You know, I’m starting to get the feeling that you’re edging out on me.”

“What?” Miranda took the phone into her hand to prepare herself for what was coming.

“It seems like you don’t want this job anymore.”

“I do want my job!”

“Three meetings you’ve canceled in the last two months, all with our most important clients! That tells me that you no longer want your job.” What little patience Don had left evaporated. “I’ll send Michael to Denver, but Monday morning you need to clean out your desk.”

Miranda was speechless. “Don, come on. You know I love my job. I need my job.”

“It’s done.” The line went dead.

Miranda looked at her kitchen counter. “Fuck.” She muttered as she placed the phone gently on the table.

An odd sense of guilt and relief washed over her. Miranda couldn’t give him a satisfactory excuse for canceling on one of their most important clients, a client that had come to trust Miranda. She couldn’t tell her boss she was canceling because she had a scary dream she was afraid might come true. It sounded absurd. She had thought a lot about the dream she had the night before. She recognized the city she was in, and it was Denver. She couldn’t take the chance.

*

“What are you doing tonight?” Miranda texted Allie.

“Jenny and I are gonna check out that new bar in Pullman.” Allie responded almost immediately. “Thought you were in Denver.”

“Nope. Still home.”

“What happened?”

“Have time to talk?”

“Not really. Gotta leave soon. Wanna come?”

Miranda didn’t respond right away. The snow was becoming blizzard material, and her car was in the shop. She’d have to walk, and she’d never been to Pullman. “Sure. What time?”

“8:30.”

“Great. You’ll never believe what happened to me today.” Miranda locked her phone and tossed it on the bed, heading for the shower. She needed a night out, if only to bitch about losing her job.

*

Miranda stepped out of the subway station one stop too early. Oh well, She thought. I could use the exercise. As she walked toward Pullman, theater marquees lit up the sidewalks and people rushed past her, either on their way to dinner or the theater. The cold wind beat against Miranda’s back as she pulled up the hood on her trenchcoat.

Miranda walked for a few blocks as the snow worsened. Her visibility went from a 5 to a 1 in the blink of an eye. The cars that once honked and the people that once rushed past her faded to silence. Miranda squinted at the nearest building, trying to see the address. Another mile to go.

As Miranda walked on, the streetlights became fewer and before long, she was utilizing more of the moonlight than the streetlights to guide her way. She buried her chin in her coat and trudged on. As the snow swirled around her, Miranda realized that she didn’t recognize her surroundings. She must be in Pullman.

Before long, Miranda could hear the sounds of music and laughter up ahead. She saw the blinking of red and green lights through the wall of snow. That must be it. She thought as she picked up her pace. Then she heard snow crunching. Footsteps coming up fast behind her. She moved to one side of the sidewalk to let the person pass, but no one passed. Miranda glanced behind her but saw only snow.

The memory of the dream she had the night before slammed into her like a truck. It came so fast and so hard it almost took her breath away. Miranda started to run. The crunching footsteps kept pace with her. She saw the lights of the bar up ahead, the music and laughter floating on the fierce wind. She was tackled to the ground before she could scream for help.

Miranda felt the blade tear through her skin into her back. “Help!” She managed, but her scream was weak. Pain seared through her; The red of her blood against the white of the snow an ugly contrast.

The last thought Miranda had was, I should have gone to Denver.

Standard
fiction

Stickpin

Rain drizzled on the tent above the casket while mourners huddled around, trying to keep warm. As the priest spoke his final blessing, Lita grabbed a handful of damp dirt and tossed it into the grave. It landed on the wooden casket with a sick thud. She took her sister by the arm. “Come on, Renee.” Lita led Renee away from the handful of mourners bowed in grief.

“Can you believe this turnout? Only four people, not including us.” Renee broke free of Lita’s grasp and lit a cigarette.

Lita shrugged and rolled the cuff of her sweater.

“Doesn’t matter, I guess. Why would anyone care if they’re gone?”

Lita rolled her eyes. “Always with the drama.”

“Not true.”

Lita dug her toe into the wet grass. “Rosa will miss him.”

Renee snorted. “Yeah.” She watched as a tearful Rosa threw a handful of dirt into the grave.  “Doesn’t surprise me.”

Lita and Renee watched from a distance as one by one the mourners drifted away from the grave and the gravediggers shoveled dirt onto the casket. Lita turned to Renee. “I can’t believe he’s gone.” She took one last look towards her father’s grave. “And I’m not sorry.”

*

“I, Francis J. Moody, being of sound mind and body, bequeath Ms. Rosa Martinez $50,000 for her loyalty and friendship throughout the years. As for the rest of my estate, including the house and land, I request it liquidated and all proceeds from its sale, including all monies in trusts and bank accounts, be merged and given to the charity of my daughter, Lita’s, choice.”

“What?” Lita shook her head, staring blankly at her father’s long-time lawyer, Jackson Bean.

“I’m sorry. He left nothing to either of you.”

Lita’s eyes moved to Renee. Renee nodded and spoke up.

“Can’t we fight this?”

Mr. Bean sat back in Francis J. Moody’s executive desk chair behind the antique walnut desk and steepled his hands against his lips. “Sure, but it will be a lengthy process that probably won’t give you the outcome you desire. Francis was clear and level-headed right up to the end. But you can try.” Mr. Bean stood up and handed a check to Rosa Martinez, who sat at the back of the room.

Lita sighed and stood, offering her hand to the lawyer. “Thank you for your time and service. We’ll be in touch.”

Mr. Bean took Lita’s hand. “I know how much of a shock this is for you. Try to remember, though, that your father did what he thought was best for you and your sister.”

Lita nodded, eyes downcast in what she hoped looked like grief. “Thank you.”

Mr. Bean patted her on the shoulder and showed himself out. Rosa Martinez followed him.

“This is bullshit!” The sound of Renee’s voice reverberated throughout the room.

Lita waved her hand as if to shoo a mosquito away. “Shut up. I have an idea.”

*

Lita and Renee, shovels in hand, made their way through the twisting path of tombstones to the north corner of the cemetery. The rain had dwindled to a mist, making their walk that much more miserable. Renee visibly shivered and Lita’s toes were numb.

“Should we be doing this?” Renee’s voice shook.

“You want your piece, don’t you?” Lita snapped.

“Well, yeah.” Renee stopped walking.

Lita sighed and turned toward her sister. “What’s your problem?”

Renee shrugged. “Nothing.”

“Then what is it?” An exasperated Lita threw up her hands.

Renee was quiet for a moment.  She looked Renee in the eye. “What if he’s not dead?”

Lita didn’t respond immediately. She shivered. “Don’t be stupid.”

Lita started walking and Renee had no choice but to follow her.

*

When they reached Francis J. Moody’s grave, Renee dropped her shovel and sat down hard on the ground, pulling out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. Lita noticed that her sister didn’t look at the grave. She knew Renee was superstitious; their mother had instilled that in them. Despite this, what Renee said on the walk ran through Lita’s mind like a mantra, What if he’s not dead?

Fear gnawed at the corners of Lita’s mind. She shook it off as best she could. They were here to do a job, nothing more. The old man was dead; She had made sure of that. Lita stared at her father’s tombstone, remembering the good times. Then she remembered the falling out they had, his frugality, and her selfishness. “Fuck it.” She muttered as she dug.

Lita did most of the digging as Renee complained. Hours later, they had the casket unearthed and the two of them stared at it. They had reservations, but Lita was the one who shook with fear. She couldn’t put her finger on exactly why, but it terrified her.

The rain turned from a light misty drizzle to a downpour. Lita tried to keep the water out of her eyes with her hands but only smeared her face with mud as she and Renee attempted to pry the casket lid open. The casket lid inched open as the rain increased. Lita heard the corpse moan. “What the fuck?”

“What?” Renee was agitated from the weather and hard work.

“He made a noise.” Lita pointed to their father.

“No way.” Renee finished opening the casket lid.

“I swear.”

“It’s the wind, Lita. Now who’s being stupid?”

In the moonlight, Lita saw her father’s diamond stickpin glitter. That stickpin alone was worth a fortune, not to mention the other valuables with which the old man requested he be buried. Francis J. Moody’s corpse held nearly $1 million in jewelry. “Bingo. This is mine.” Renee reached for the diamond stickpin first.

As she did, Francis J. Moody’s tombstone became dislodged because of sliding mud and fell forward, knocking Renee in the head before she could wrap her fingers around the stickpin. She fell unconscious next to the casket.

“Renee!” Lita tried to revive her sister.

Lita was alone with the corpse of her father. She took a minute to think about how to get Renee out of the grave as the rain beat down on them. As the rain increased, the sides of the grave became a muddy mess. Lita knew she couldn’t stay much longer. Time was becoming her enemy.

“I can’t do this by myself!” Lita was becoming frazzled.

The rain kept coming, sweeping the dirt and mud they had dug out back into the grave. “Fuck!” Lita stuffed her pockets with as much jewelry as they could hold.

What if he’s not dead?

“Fuck! Renee!” Lita slapped her sister. Renee remained unconscious.

What if he’s not dead?

“Shut up!” Lita couldn’t take it anymore. “I’ll come back for you!” She called to her unconscious sister through the howling wind and beating rain. Before Lita began crawling up the sides of the grave, she grabbed the diamond stickpin.

Lita gained a strong foothold and hauled herself up. Her body moved halfway before something pulled on the back of her shirt. “Fuck!”

Lita tried to free herself, but the more she twisted and struggled, the stronger the hold on her seemed to get.

What if he’s not dead?

Lita’s heart dropped into her stomach. She felt the blood drain from her face. She shook so badly she almost lost her grip on the vine she clung to.

Turn around! He’s got you!

“Let go!” Lita screamed hysterically. She struggled to free herself, but whatever was holding her felt like it was trying to pull her back into the grave, further towards her father’s corpse.

He’s not dead!

The last thing Lita saw was the grinning corpse of her father

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The Virus (Chapter 1)

She could hear the clock ticking. Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Each second seemed to pass slowly. Each second, an eternity. She balled her hand into a fist, then relaxed again. She did this over and over again, afraid of what would happen if she stopped. The oxygen mask on her face was only second in discomfort to the needle in her hand, drawing her blood for more tests. Is this ever going to end? She thought.

She envisioned her children, her grandchildren. They weren’t allowed to visit. Not yet. The doctor said maybe in a few days, until they knew what they were dealing with. She didn’t want to wait. She needed them now. Tick, tock. Tick tock. The clock was like an alarm in her brain. Her time was almost up. She could feel it. Just a little more blood, then she could rest. Only a few more drops.

A nurse came into her room and checked the IV tubes. “All done.” She said cheerfully.

“Great.”

“Cheer up.” The nurse responded. “The doctor is considering letting you go home.”

A ray of hope. Maybe she wasn’t going to die at all. “I get to see my family?”

“Yes, but I’ll let the doctor tell you more about that.” The nurse gathered her sample and retreated from the room.

As she began to daydream about seeing her grandchildren again, the doctor came into the room. There was a small bounce in his step that gave her hope. “I’m sending you home, Margorie.”

“Really?”

“Yes, but it won’t be for another couple of days, just to make sure.”

“Okay.”

“I’ve also allowed for a short visit from your family, if you’re up for it.”

“I am.” Margorie could barely contain her excitement.

The doctor smiled. “Okay. How about tomorrow? I’ll give them a call this afternoon to let them know.”

Margorie felt as though she could jump around the room. “I can’t tell you how much this means to me.”

“I know, Margorie. It’s my pleasure.”

The day passed in a blur. Margorie couldn’t think of anything but seeing her family as she thought about the visit they were going to have.

*

The nurse helped Margorie into a clean hospital gown. Margorie smoothed the perpetually wrinkled fabric as best she could as she heard her grandson run down the hall toward her room. As he entered, Margorie extended her arms, ready to scoop him up for all the kisses she could give him. He didn’t disappoint as he ran right into her arms.

Margorie’s son, Daniel, and his wife, Melissa, followed behind with their ten-year-old son, Matthew. Matthew hung behind with his mother as Daniel hugged Margorie. Margorie’s youngest grandson, two-year-old Michael, was still in her lap.

“Margorie, I’m so glad we’re finally able to visit!” Melissa’s voice was loaded with fakery as she crossed the room and gave Margorie a cold peck on the cheek.

“Me too, dear.” Margorie’s words were just as cold as the kiss.

Daniel ignored them both. “Matthew, give your grandmother a hug.”

With a put-out sigh, Matthew obeyed. “Hey, grandma.”

“Hey, you.” Margorie replied, a smile filling her face.

As the family visited, Margorie learned what her grandsons were doing, and what Melissa did all day when Daniel was at work. Margorie thought that Melissa had it pretty easy, while it looked as though her son were about to pull his hair out. It doesn’t matter. Margorie thought. I’ll be able to help them soon.

“Hello, everyone.” The doctor strode in.

“Doctor.” Daniel greeted him.

“Okay. Margorie’s doing well. Her tests have come back negative for the virus. It looks like she took well to the new medication and her body did the rest. You can pick her up tomorrow morning.”

“That’s great news! You can stay with us until you’re well enough to go back to the house.”

That was exactly what Margorie was hoping Daniel would say.

*

The nurse went into Margorie’s room at 8am, expecting Margorie to already be up and dressed, ready to go home to her family. But when the nurse saw Margorie was still sleeping, she shook her head.

“Margorie, your son is here to pick you up.” The nurse called out as she crossed the room to turn on the light over Margorie’s bed in an attempt to rouse the woman.

There was no response.

“Margorie. It’s time to go, you’re late.” The nurse continued to talk loudly as she flipped the light switch.

As light flooded the bed, the nurse sighed as she looked down at Margorie. The nurse lifted the woman’s wrist, waited a few beats, then put it gently back on the bed.

What the nurse thought was particularly sad was that no one had realized that Margorie had died nearly two hours ago.

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Betrayed

She woke up with dried mud on her feet and red liquid splatters on her arms and hands. She took in her surroundings, blinking slowly, her breathing labored and shallow. Where am I? She thought.

Macy recounted what she could remember before the blackness. She thought about her friends and tried to come up with enough evidence to convict one of them of this terrible prank, but she came up empty. She was on the wooden floor of a musty-smelling room. Streams of sunlight shone through the single, mud-caked window. She wondered if it was mid-morning or early afternoon. From the color of the sun rays, she determined that it must be mid-morning. She was free to move around the room, which didn’t surprise her, seeing that her friends were assholes who were probably laughing about this in the school’s courtyard right about now. They didn’t mean her any harm, just a good laugh at her expense. Still, Macy couldn’t help but feel a sense of dread and unease. She knew, deep in her heart, that this was more than a prank.

Macy was a bubbly seventeen-year-old from a small, rural farming community in upstate New York. Her parents owned and managed a farm on the outskirts of that community, along an old dirt road that Macy had played on since she was three years old. The farm at one time belonged to Macy’s paternal grandfather, who in turn left the property to Macy’s father’s older brother, George, when Macy was a newborn. When George proved he could not manage the farm the way their father had intended due to his habitual drinking, Macy’s father took over the daily operations of the property and moved his family into the quaint farmhouse at the edge of the property. George, however reluctantly, moved to a neighboring town. Despite the family farm changing hands, Macy’s father and uncle maintained a cordial, if somewhat strained relationship; a tension from which Macy’s parents had successfully protected her.
Macy’s life was that of the typical small-town girl; Friday night football games at the local high school, Saturday morning farmers’ markets where her family set up a modest booth selling fresh corn and carrots, and Sunday morning church services, after which Macy’s parents would speak to the pastor for an hour or more, leaving Macy to pace by the double doors. Every morning before school Macy would help her mother feed the chickens and milk the cow, and every day after school came homework and helping with dinner. Macy realized that most kids her age went out with friends or watched television after school. Not Macy. Her mother always said: “During the week, you prepare for your future.” Macy was only allowed to see her friends outside of school on the weekends, and her parents didn’t own a television.

Macy tried to recall what day it was. The last event she remembered was having ice cream after dinner at the little stand in the center of town with Tommy Newsome. That was Sunday night. She smiled at the thought of holding Tommy’s hand on the walk to the ice cream stand. The ice cream stand was about a mile and a half away from her family’s farm, and Tommy had picked her up on foot for the date.

“Chocolate, right?” Tommy asked her, signaling to the lit menu board through the screen at the window labeled “order.”

Macy giggled. “Vanilla-chocolate twist, actually.” She corrected him sheepishly.

Macy had first seen Tommy swinging a baseball bat on the practice field behind the high school. He played for the high school’s team, the Bobcats. She thought the team’s name to be lame, and many of the guys in her school wouldn’t dare be caught playing baseball. The coveted sport was football; you only played baseball if you were planning on doing it professionally in the future. Tommy had a real knack for it, and Macy had no doubt that if he stuck with it, Tommy would “go pro.” Tommy looked at ease swinging the bat, like it was a natural extension of his arm. It seemed he was born to play baseball.

He swung at the ball and knocked it out of the field on the first swing. He jogged leisurely to first base, smiling and laughing at the jeers his teammates sent his way. After he arrived at first base, Tommy made eye contact with her, and waved. She remembered feeling her cheeks grow hot, and realized she had been openly admiring him. “Geeze,” Macy remembered saying to herself. “He thinks I’m an idiot.”

Tommy went out of his way to talk to her in the hallway at school after that spring meeting. When the semester ended, he had slipped her a jaggedly torn piece of notebook paper with his phone number on it that read, “Call anytime, but not after nine.” It wasn’t until later that Macy found out that if she called him after nine o’clock at night, she would wake his parents, and they would be angry enough to ground him for weeks. At the time, however, she smiled at the note and put the scrap paper gently between the pages of her own notebook.

Macy and Tommy spent a lot of time together once school let out for the summer. She introduced him to her parents, and he always addressed them as sir and ma’am, which made him a favorite with her mother. Her father was still on the fence about what he deemed their “friendship.” Tommy never failed to lend a helping hand around the farm when he was visiting, and always commented when he was over for dinner with “this is great, ma’am” in response to her mother’s cooking. Most nights after dinner, Macy’s parents would allow her to go over to Tommy’s house, where they would sit on the couch with a bowl of popcorn, watching his parents’ old black-and-white, rabbit-eared television.

When the summer ended and school began once again, Macy went back to her old routine, which meant she would only be able to see Tommy on the weekends. Macy wasn’t happy about it, but she thought Tommy took it a little harder than he should have. As Macy sat in the dark, dank room, a comment Tommy made wouldn’t stop echoing in her mind – “We’ll be seeing each other a lot more than that, I promise.”

That must have been weeks ago now, and there had been no mention of it since. Macy’s mind floated back to the last thing she could remember – eating her vanilla-chocolate twist ice cream cone with Tommy. Tommy had instructed her to grab the last picnic table available before someone else did, and she did as he said, realizing that there were several families milling about. Several families already occupied the remaining tables. Tommy, in turn, has requested and paid for the cones. The two of them talked and laughed as they ate their respective cones; he had ordered bubble-gum flavored ice cream for himself.

“You like bubble-gum flavor?” Macy asked, not only surprised, but a little sickened.

“I love it. You don’t like it?” He obviously noticed the green look on her face.

Macy shook her head vehemently. “Reminds me of that baby medicine my mom used to give me. So gross.”

Tommy laughed. “I remember that stuff; couldn’t wait to get sick.”

They both laughed at that.

Macy smiled as her mind drifted back to the present. Where am I and how did I get here were the only questions on Macy’s mind. She looked at her hands and realized that, aside from a few splatters of the red liquid, they were clean. Her favorite dress – white with yellow flowers – was ripped and caked with mud. She sighed, upset about her dress, and simultaneously realizing that she had not been home since last night, since ice cream with Tommy. Looking at the rays of sunlight streaming through the dirty window, she gathered that it must be Monday. Someone must be looking for me. They can’t just leave me here.

*****

In fact, Macy’s parents were frantically searching for their daughter. They had notified the police, but had to wait until that night to file a missing person’s report, so they were on their own. “She’s not a child anymore, Marge.” Macy’s father, Hugh, said to his wife.

“We must consider the possibility that she has voluntarily left.”

Marge turned on him. “Run away, you mean?”

Hugh nodded slowly, deliberately.

Marge shook her head roughly. “No. I know my daughter. She’s been happy here.”

Hugh shrugged. “Not so happy when we told her she could only see Tommy on the weekends now that school’s started.”

Marge had to admit her husband had a valid point. It was true that Macy had voiced no complaints about life on the farm to either Marge or Hugh, she didn’t even complain about not having access to a television. Although, Macy had always been an easy-going child – carefree, taking the world as it came to her. Marge didn’t see any reason this should suddenly change now that she was involved with some boy.

“But she wouldn’t leave because of that, especially not on her own.” Marge didn’t want to say that Macy didn’t know how to take care of herself, but Macy needed her mother, and both of them knew it.

Hugh wasn’t so sure, especially now that she was involved with Tommy. Hugh could see the two of them running away together, despite Tommy’s well-mannered façade. The only flaw in Hugh’s theory was that Tommy was in school today, Marge and Hugh had checked with the high school. The dean had even allowed them to speak briefly with Tommy, and he had been as dumbfounded as them.

“I walked her to the edge of your property last night after ice cream.” Tommy said. “We even made plans for Friday night, after the football game. She couldn’t have left.”

“You’d better tell us exactly what happened.” Hugh suggested.

“There’s nothing to tell, really. We had our ice cream, and we made the walk back to your house. We didn’t stop anywhere, and we didn’t see anyone that late on a Sunday night. When we got to the fence of the farm, I saw lights on inside the kitchen. I figured you must still be awake, and therefore it would be okay to only walk Macy to the edge of the property rather than all the way to the front door. She all but insisted on that.”
Tommy took a deep breath, waiting for Macy’s parents to respond.

“She never came home, Tommy.” Hugh had said calmly.

“If you know where she is Tommy…” Marge interjected frantically before Hugh shushed her.

“If he knew where she was he would tell us,” Hugh’s gaze moved from his wife to Tommy, piercing him with his steely-gray eyes. “Wouldn’t you, son?”

“Of…of course, sir.” Tommy faltered, obviously stricken that they could think such a thing.

Hugh nodded, encircling his wife’s shoulders as she sobbed silently, but continued to stare at Tommy. “Of course you would.”

*****

Macy tried to remember what happened the previous night after her and Tommy left the ice cream stand, but she couldn’t remember much. She could only assume that after they had finished their ice cream cones, that Tommy had walked her back home. She even seemed to have some memory on the walk back to her house, but couldn’t figure out if her mind had made up the memory because it was the most likely scenario, or if the walk had actually happened. Her head was beginning to throb with the effort it was taking to remember.

What bothered Macy about her fuzzy memory was that she did remember seeing a large shadow in the trees as she and Tommy walked along the dirt road that led to her family’s farm. The shadow was roughly the size of a husky man, about six and a half feet tall. What was strange about the shadow was that it was already well past dusk, and it was simply standing among the trees. As Macy remembered the eerie shadow, she wondered why it was just standing there, and thought that maybe it had been watching them. The shadow was definitely a human, but Macy couldn’t think of any person who would stand perfectly still in the woods in the dark, and she certainly couldn’t think of anyone who would take any interest in watching her and Tommy walk down a dirt road at night. Macy ignored it at the time, but now she shivered as she considered that maybe whoever it was among the trees had followed them.

Mentally exhausted from struggling to remember exactly what happened the previous night, Macy ran her fingers through her thick, golden brown hair and tightened her hands into fists, pulling her hair at the roots. She was frustrated and anxious. Macy turned her focus to her surroundings. The room seemed to be some sort of workshop, from what she could make of it. A workbench filled the entire length of the wall to her right, and what looked like paint cans were strewn across the floor. There was the faint smell of paint thinner in the air.

She once again looked down at her hands, glancing at the red splatters on them. Macy smeared a drop of the liquid on the back of her left hand with her right index finger, but the liquid only smudged a little. She sniffed at her hands, but it was difficult to smell anything beyond the cloying sent of paint thinner. Macy determined that the stuff splattered on her hands was paint and tried to ignore any further implications. She was, after all, surrounded by half-full paint cans.

She turned her body to look behind her, her back creaking from lying on the hard floor all night. Behind her stood three easels, all covered with a dirty canvas drop cloth, the color of which used to be white, but was now a dingy light gray. The summation that someone painted in here didn’t make sense to her. There was only one window, and it was covered with mud. If she recalled her art classes correctly, painters needed a lot of natural light to get the colors right. There was no such light in this room. Still the easels intrigued her, and she felt that she needed to see what was under that drop cloth – maybe there would be answers.
Macy tried to stand. Her legs were wobbly, but she managed. Her head felt fuzzy and the rest of her body felt like it had been run over by a truck. Despite the way she felt, it was time to further explore her surroundings, and she was going to begin with seeing what was under that canvas. She took slow steps toward the far wall, her bare feet slapping on the hard wood. She lifted the drop cloth and revealed three unfinished paintings, all of which seemed to be portraits of women. One portrait was an outline, almost finished, all it needed was color. The second was a partial outline, only half of a head, and the third was an upper torso, but no head.

As she replaced the drop cloth, Macy recalled a long-forgotten childhood memory. Macy always credited her love of art to her uncle George. Her father’s brother was an avid painter. He was the person who taught Macy the basics of painting, and the only one who nurtured her obvious talent for it. Macy’s uncle, as well as her love of art, disappeared when Macy entered high school. A twinge of sadness entered her consciousness as Macy turned her attention to the rest of her surroundings once again.

With her legs becoming steadier the more she stood, she walked over to the workbench, determined to figure out what she was dealing with. There was nothing on the workbench that gave her any answers to where she was or who put her here, just scattered tools and a sheet of sandpaper. Macy sighed. She hoped there was a bathroom down here, she had to go – bad.

*****

Tommy walked the length of the high school’s massive parking lot to his beat-up old Chevy pickup. He was deep in thought when he heard someone call his name.

“Hey Newsome!” The kid called. “What’s eating you?”

Tommy shook his head, realizing that his face had puckered up like he had just eaten a lemon. “Nothing.” He called back quickly, not bothering to slow his pace.

“Well where you goin’? We got baseball practice in ten.” The kid called back.

“Can’t today. Something came up.” Tommy lifted himself into his truck and turned the key in the ignition.

The engine sputtered, then roared to life. Tommy’s baseball teammate was moving closer to the truck, a worried look on his face. Tommy ignored his peer and jammed his foot down on the accelerator, causing the tires to spin and loose dirt to kick up behind him as he sped out of the lot and onto the main road.

*****

Macy never found a bathroom, but she did find an empty coffee can. The red can read Folgers in a mustard-yellow font, and she used this to relieve herself. “Yuck.” She said out loud when she was finished, staring into the puddle now housed inside the can. She shuddered and looked around her once again.

When she first woke up she figured that the door of her entrance and, hopefully, her escape was locked up tighter than the sole liquor store in the ghetto, but something told her to try the knob anyway. She looked at the deep amber rays of light coming through the window and realized that it was nearing sunset. Now was as good a time as any; she didn’t want to spend another night here.

She walked up to the door slowly, pressing her ear against the cool metal. She listened intently for a few moments. When she was content that there was nothing on the other side of the door, she tried the knob, and found that it turned easily in her hand. Shocked, and suddenly uneasy, she pushed the door open slowly.

A wooden staircase was in front of her, leading up to another door. She listened again for any type of sound. Silence. She climbed the staircase, the steps creaking softly under her weight. She tried to be as quiet as possible. When she reached the top step, she tried the knob of the flimsy wooden door. This knob also turned easily. She stared at the door for a long moment, not opening it, suddenly afraid. She expected both doors to be locked, yet they weren’t.

She let the door swing open to reveal a kitchen not unlike her own at home. The white linoleum floor was crested with beige, wooden cabinets. Gleaming white appliances complimented the country décor. All was silent save for the humming of the refrigerator. Perplexed, Macy turned her head to the right and glanced down a hallway littered with framed pictures on the walls. At the end of this hallway were three closed doors, two facing each other on opposite walls, and the last facing the open end of the hallway. All three seemed to stand in judgment of her. She turned her head to the left and saw another door, this time a screen door that allowed a view of a porch and a large back yard beyond, complete with a tree swing.

Macy knew that she should run to that screen door and push through it, into the open. However, something called to her from the hallway. All she knew was that she would find answers in that hallway. She turned her attention to that hallway, and the pictures on the wall.

*****

Tommy raced to the outskirts of town, trying to remember the exact route. The sun was beginning to set, and he instinctively knew he was running out of time. All he could think about was getting to his destination, and his mind blurred on the directions due to the stress. He stopped at a stop sign for a few moments and looked at the street sign accompanying it – 5000 W.

“Fuckin’ country roads.” Tommy muttered as he accelerated, hoping he didn’t just miss a turn.
He tried, but couldn’t remember the names, or numbers rather, of the roads he needed to take. This was only the second time he was going to this house, and he tried desperately to remember the quickest route, or any route for that matter. It was essential for him to get there before anyone else did. So he went straight, hoping he would not get himself lost.

*****

Marge stared blankly into the trees lining the property at the back of their house. She sat on the back porch, in a wooden rocking chair Hugh had made for her seventeen years ago when Macy was born. No more tears would flow, and she knew her daughter was gone.
Inside the house, Hugh was conducting a hushed conversation on the telephone. The police. Marge thought. He doesn’t want me to hear, but I hear. Doesn’t want to upset me, but I’m not upset. Her thoughts were choppy, incomplete.

Marge’s hysteria had given way to numbness. She was aware of this, and decided to enjoy the peace of it. She stared into the trees, blinking only when she had to, and leaving her eyes closed for more than a few seconds when she did. Hugh was suspicious of Tommy, this Marge thought was evident, and had been from the day they met each other. Marge herself liked the boy, always so polite. Now that Macy was missing, Marge knew that Hugh suspected Tommy.

With his phone call finished, Hugh joined his wife on the porch, took a seat on the bench beside her rocking chair. “I’m going to head over to the police station.” He said with no emotion.

“Let me come with you.” Marge looked over at her husband.

“No. You stay here and rest. I’ll take care of everything.”

Marge knew Hugh was right, and she had no inkling that he was lying to her. He was so much stronger than she was. Besides, he would tell her everything he knew when he returned, he always did. Hugh left without so much as a backward glance. Marge wasn’t hurt though, she knew he was on a mission.

*****

Macy slowly made her way into the hallway, the carpeted floor plush under her feet. Something about this house seemed vaguely familiar, and the sight of the three closed doors at the end of the hallway continued to unsettle her. She couldn’t help but think that there was something sinister lurking behind one of those doors, waiting to jump out at her. She attempted to ease her feelings of dread with the thought, “I should have come up here before I peed in a can.” She frowned.
Macy flipped a light switch and the domed light on the ceiling in the middle of the hallway splashed artificial yellow light on the peach-colored walls. The light also illuminated the faces in the framed pictures. The first framed picture was that of herself – her eighth grade school portrait. Macy stared at it a moment, confused. Finally, she moved on to the one beside it. What looked like a family picture, it depicted a group of individuals, four of whom she recognized. Macy recognized herself, her parents, and her grandmother. It took her a few minutes for her to recognize her uncle George, the man who nurtured her love of art before he left her life. She knew the other individuals in the picture must be his wife and children.
Suddenly, a sickeningly eerie thought entered her mind as Macy slowly pieced the puzzle together – she had been abducted by her own family.

*****

As Tommy raced south on the lonely, country highway, he was forced to stop at yet another ill-placed stop sign. He was glad he did though, because seconds later, he saw a brand-new Ford Explorer traveling well over the legal speed limit in these parts. It took Tommy only a moment to realize that the man in the Ford Explorer was Macy’s father.

Tommy jammed the accelerator to the floor and fishtailed around the corner, determined to keep that vehicle in sight. The two vehicles were now traveling west, practically gliding over the dirt road. The Ford Explorer seemed to glide, anyway, while Tommy’s old truck shuddered and bounced all the way down the road, but Tommy managed to keep up at almost ninety miles an hour.

Ten minutes later, Tommy stealthily followed the Ford Explorer onto another dirt road, smaller than the one they had just been traveling. It took Tommy a moment to realize that this wasn’t a road, but a long, winding driveway. He parked his truck close to the trees that surrounded the property and followed up the drive on foot, using the densely wooded area as cover. Tommy hid behind a tree as Macy’s father slid out of the Explorer. He stood gazing up at the house for a moment before slipping something into the waistband of his dusty jeans. Finally, he started toward the back of the house.

*****

Macy froze when she heard a car door slam. She thought about hiding, but was too scared to move. She heard the heavy footsteps on the wooden back porch, realizing those footsteps belonged to a man, but also realizing that the sound was familiar. It was the same sound she heard when her father walked on the back porch outside their own house. A moment later, her prediction was proved correct and Macy saw her father silhouetted in the screen door by the dying sun.

“Dad!” Macy ran to him.

Hugh caught Macy in a tight embrace, but his face remained grim. He didn’t even look at his daughter, but remained staring straight ahead, down the hallway from which Macy had just run, like his wife did on their back porch. He noticed that the door at the end of the hall had opened an inch, and a shadow blacker than night flickered behind the door. Hugh continued to watch that door, hugging his daughter tighter. He knew his brother lurked behind that door, and he had a pretty good idea of what George was about to do. Hugh decided to enjoy this moment with his daughter and hugged her close.

Macy hugged her father tighter than she had since she was seven years old. Her father’s form felt rigid and uncomfortable against her body. She felt him staring over her head at something behind her. These cues made her uneasy, and she suddenly wondered if her father was there to take her home, or but her back in that dank room in the basement. Macy tried to push back to look at him, but he continued to hold her close. She had so many questions to ask him.

“Dad, what’s going on?” Macy tried to keep the fear out of her voice.

“Shhh.” Hugh whispered and put his hand on the back of Macy’s head to keep her close.

“No. What’s going on?” Macy was trying hard not to become frantic. “I want to leave now!”

“We’ll go in a minute, Baby, but for right now, we have to wait and be quiet.” Hugh’s tone was soft, yet firm, as he reached for something in the waistband of his jeans. Macy knew not to argue, so she allowed her father to hold her while he stared at the door at the end of the hallway.

When Macy heard the click of metal on metal behind her, she was only able to move her head two inches before she heard a loud pop that seemed to thrust her head forcefully into her father’s chest. She felt Hugh’s body move to shield her, but with another pop, the two of them hit the wooden planks of the back porch. Macy was aware of her father crawling over her, but why she did not know, and she didn’t have time to care before everything became black again.

*****

Tommy watched the house, growing impatient at the fact that no one was leaving it. He thought about storming in, but didn’t know what he’d be storming into. Tommy watched the entirety of the house closely, looking for any sign of life. He paid special attention to the upper-floor windows, but he couldn’t fathom as to why. Just a hunch, I guess. He thought as he stood stone still.

The property was eerily still. Tommy noticed the lattice work on the side of the three-story country house, and briefly appreciated the beauty of the wooden, wraparound porch, complete with a white porch swing. He imagined that a nice family lived here – two married adults with two-point-five children, and a dog named Spot or Fluffy – but he knew that this was the home of Macy’s uncle George. The man, Tommy knew, wanted to hurt Macy’s father in any way he could for taking the reins of the family farm. Tommy also knew that this is where Macy was, unbeknownst to Macy’s parents or friends. A chill went down Tommy’s spine as he thought not only about all the rumors he had heard around town, but the things Macy herself had told him in confidence. Tommy had called Hugh with his suspicions only an hour ago, and he hoped it wasn’t too late.

Tommy had a vague idea of what was happening, but couldn’t quite piece it together, until he heard a gunshot from within the house. Tommy raced down the path Macy’s father had taken a few minutes earlier, which led him to the back porch. Tommy stopped running abruptly when he arrived at the porch. He was greeted by Hugh, glassy-eyed, staring unseeingly into the trees in the back yard, rocking in an old rocking chair. Macy lay dead beside him, blood from the side of her head seeping into the wooden planks. As Tommy turned to run and call for help, George blocked his path, a gray pistol in line with Tommy’s heart. Before Tommy could utter a word, he heard the same loud pop that Macy and her father had heard. Then everything went black.
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Lunacy


Rebecca knew the moon had stolen her daughter.

Two days before Christmas Eve. Rebecca picked up Molli from her dorm room for the holiday break. The roads were snow-covered and slippery, and oncoming headlights combined with strong winds made the long journey down the highway difficult. Molli sat in the front seat, seemingly oblivious to the road conditions, happily chatting about her classes and friends. Rebecca rolled down her window a crack to see if the windows would defog.

“Oh! You’ve got to see this!” Molli unbuckled her seatbelt and turned her entire body toward the back seat, trying to reach her duffle bag.

“Molli, please, can’t it wait?” Rebecca struggled to keep the car on the road.

A strong gust of wind blew the moonlight into the car. Rebecca swerved to avoid another vehicle that was drifting into her lane. She lost control of the car. The crunch of glass and metal filled the icy air. Rebecca saw the moonlight envelop her daughter.

There was no doubt – the moon had stolen Molli.

*

Molli’s funeral was two days after Christmas. As Rebecca and her husband, John, watched the casket being lowered into the frozen ground, Molli’s life flashed through her mind. The two of them baking cookies on cold winter afternoons when Molli was a toddler, flour covering her face and hands, licking a chocolate-frosted spoon with the biggest grin. Molli running into the house, crying, after her first day of kindergarten because she missed her mommy. John squeezed her hand and the memories vanished.

“I can’t do this.” Rebecca whispered to John as her eyes darted around the cemetery, searching for a way out.

John didn’t reply.

Unable to find an escape route, Rebecca’s eyes focused on Molli’s casket, the top now disappearing below ground. I’m not ready. She’s not ready. Rebecca’s thoughts screamed.

She felt unable to breathe. Her daughter wasn’t dead, and she wouldn’t be able to breathe underground.

“Stop this!” Rebecca hissed to John as the gravedigger began shoveling dirt into the grave.

John remained motionless.

“Didn’t you hear me?” Tears of desperation blurred Rebecca’s vision and she shook John’s hand as if to wake him.

“I heard you.” John finally said.

“Why aren’t you doing anything?” Rebecca’s desperation was quickly giving way to hysteria. “She’s not dead!” She screamed aloud.

The ritual stopped; everyone attending stared.

“I’m so sorry.” John addressed the crowd as he stood, attempting to make Rebecca stand with him.

She did stand and allowed herself to be ushered away from the ceremony, but not before she cried, “The moon has her! She’s not dead!”

*

The looks of concern and pity after her outburst at the funeral were not as painful as being alone in bed, the moon staring at her through the window. Rebecca stared back at it while she listened to John explain to someone that she was okay, just having a hard time accepting that Molli’s gone.

John entered the room and found Rebecca lying on her side, staring through the uncurtained window. “It’s stuffy in here.” He said as he crossed the room and opened the window a crack.

A soft breeze blew the moonlight into the room and Rebecca could feel it wrapping itself around her. She shivered.

“Dinner’s ready.” John offered.

Rebecca didn’t reply.

John sighed and left the room.

Rebecca lay stiffly on the bed, the moonlight making her eyes water. She couldn’t watch it anymore. Rebecca rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling.

Shadows began to creep along the wood floor and up the wall to the ceiling. Rebecca watched, unmoving, as the shadows entered her field of vision and began to take shape in front of her eyes. The shapes molded themselves into the events of the accident. Shadows, blacker than black, played the scene on the ceiling like a silent film. The object that stood out the most – the moon.

The scene depicted the car crash; not what actually happened, but what Rebecca was sure of in her heart. The shadows the moon cast failed to depict the moon’s role. It was trying to convince her otherwise.

Tears in her eyes, Rebecca angrily flipped onto her side and stared at the moon again. “Give her back.” She repeated over and over like a mantra until her eyes finally closed.

*

“Mom?”

Rebecca opened her eyes.

The room was flooded with blinding silver light. Rebecca felt like a block of ice. She knew it was the moon.

“Mom?”

Rebecca forced her eyes to adjust to the intense light and saw a slim silhouette standing in front of the window. She instinctively knew it was Molli. “Baby? You’re back!”

Molli shook her head. “I have to go. Just wanted to say hi.”

“No.” Rebecca was firm, getting out of bed to move closer to her daughter, but making no progress.

Molli turned toward the window.

“Don’t move!” Desperation crept into Rebecca’s voice.

Molli put her hand on the window sill as if preparing to climb out.

The desperation that had been building in Rebecca took over. “Me!” She screamed, pounding on her chest. “Let me go instead.”

Molli glanced over her shoulder at her mother but didn’t move.

“Please!” Rebecca fell to her knees, clutching her chest.

Wind from the open window whipped into the room. The intense silver light seemed to grow brighter until Rebecca couldn’t see anything at all.

*

The next morning, John woke to find Rebecca wasn’t breathing. The ambulance arrived in minutes. Apparent heart attack. Rebecca died in her sleep.

The first thing John did was pick up the phone and dial Molli’s dorm room to tell her the news.

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