Saturday, September 26, 2015

A Murder of Crows - Halloween 2015 story

by: Roger A Wilbanks


As Newton decreed, there is both gain and loss in any exchange. This law is one of the most basic tenants of physics and rules the world that man lives within. In order to get what he wants, he must act a certain way, do a certain thing and pay for that boon with his compliance. Chaos ignores this rule. It delivers without request, takes without exchange. One must understand that Chaos is always with us. She sits next to you on the bus and she ignores you. The entire time you sit beside her, lost in your thoughts, she waits. She bides her time for an opening into your ordered little world to appear and when she sees that door fly open, no doorman or army of angels can keep her at bay. One must remember above all else this one thing. When the dust from her wake settles...none of this was personal.


Kennedy stared at the mess in his living room and raged. “They will never understand.” he thought

He walked into the boy's room and punched the light switch on. The boys shot awake like a bolt.

“That living room is a Goddamn disaster zone!” he screamed. “How many times do I have to tell you to clean up after yourselves? He started to remove his belt as the boys cried out in protest.

“Get your asses up and get those hands on your beds!” he ordered. “NOW!”

The boys complied and Kennedy slashed each of them five times across the backside, counting each one aloud as if ticking down a New Years Eve celebration. Once the rounds were complete, Kennedy marched the boys into his living room and watched as two 14 year old boys tried to figure out how to carry a single napkin between them to the kitchen trashcan.

“That'll teach them.” he smiled to himself as he re-thread his belt. He left the boys to get ready for their school and went outside.

The streetlights were still on as he walked to his truck. “sure is getting dark early.” he thought.

“Caw! Caw! Caw!”

Kennedy spun and looked up at the power lines above his house to see the crows.

Their attention was not focused on him, however. The crows stared at the house Kennedy had just exited. He turned back to the house and saw both of the boys looking out the window at the birds. He flung his finger away from the window and the obedient children shrank into the darkness of the house. He turned back to his truck and noticed that the crows gaze was now fixed on him.

“Get outta here you filthy bastards!” he grabbed a rock from the flower bed and flung it at the birds, causing them to scatter.

“Dumb-asses.” he said as he drove away to work.


Walter reached for the coffee. He kept it on the top shelf way in the back as a courtesy to the doctor who had advised him to cut down on its consumption. He prepared the drink to his preferred potency (somewhere between battery acid and thick molasses) and walked outside to collect the morning paper. Walter didn't have time for the technological nonsense of smart phones and Internets. He preferred the old fashioned way of things and saw nothing wrong with reading words printed on paper after being typed by another person.

He sat in his chair at the head of an empty table and opened his paper. This table had seen hundreds and hundreds of breakfasts with his wife , children and grandchildren, but these days, like Walter, it enjoyed the quiet solitude of a single occupant.

He felt the first shock as he opened to the Metro Section. He started to read an article about the squandering of a bond program the public had voted on twenty years ago when the second one hit him with a sledgehammer in his right shoulder. He pulled the assaulted limb tight to his chest as a bolt of pain shot deep into his chest. He fell to the cold tile floor in a ball as his body quit on him. The last thing he saw as the black tunnel closed around his eyes was the crow perched outside the kitchen window that looked out onto the creek across the street. The tunnel stopped shrinking for a moment as the two locked eyes. Walter knew, and the crow offered no apology as the tunnel closed it's grip on him. Walter's body spasmed one final time and then relaxed alone in a ball on the cold tile floor.


Claire held her morning jogs even dearer as Fall drew closer. The cooler temperatures in the morning allowed her to open her run up a little more than the oppressive Texas Summers would. This was her favorite part of the day. She spent these precious minutes alone in her thoughts as she wound her way up and down the streets of the neighborhood. It allowed her to focus her energies on the tasks ahead and start each day with a clean plate. This morning the creek that formed the eastern border of her neighborhood has abandoned its signature musty smell in favor of a translucent fog. Claire took this change as an invitation to jog on the creek-side of the street. She never wore headphones when she ran. She thought music was too much of a distraction. This was why she heard it.

“Help.” The voice was distinct yet weak cry rising up from the creek-bed some 20 feet below.

“Hello?” she asked. She walked closer to the treeline that signaled the drop off to the creek-bed.

“Help.” the voice repeated.

Claire ignored all caution and passed the treeline to peer into the creek-bed below. The light from the streetlamp could not fully penetrate the dense trees that fenced in the creek and the bed 20 feet below remained shrouded in darkness.

“Are you there? I can't see you.” she said. “Do you want me to call for help?” There was no answer.

Claire felt the shawl of dread wrap itself around her shoulders as she realized how dark it was in the creek-bed. Some light from the streetlamp should make it down here but it was as if something were intentionally blocking even that. She looked back to the street and saw the reassuring yellow glow of the streetlamp when she saw it. Silhouetted against the light from the street were hundreds of crows all staring back at her.
“Help.” said one of them.

Claire remembered something from her childhood. She was watching a TV show with her father about crows. The narrator mentioned that some crows have the ability to mimic human speech. She remembered how silly she thought that sounded then. She laughed at herself for doubting that fact as she felt the cold arms grab her and drag her down to the darn creek-bed.

She never screamed.


The crow flew above his car as he sped down the winding street. He was playing his music way too loud for this time of the morning but he didn't care. He needed it to pump him up for work and this was how it was done. He took a sip of the coffee he had just bought but it was still way too hot. He stopped at the intersection behind an SUV. The crow touched down on a wire overhead, still watching. The driver of the SUV was distracted and hadn't moved fast enough for him so he layed on his horn. Again, he didn't care how early it was. He didn't care that this was a residential neighborhood populated by older folks. He only cared that this “Stupid Fucking Idiot!” was not paying the proper amount of attention to her driverly duties this morning. She finally stepped on the gas pedal and moved on allowing him to resume his shortcut through the neighborhood. The crow took flight again, maintaining its aerial shadow of the loud man in the expensive car. He was changing the song on his iPod when he entered the School Zone. He slowed down a bit but was still above the required 20 miles per hour. He was selecting the next artist to play on his radio as he approached the blind curve that preceded the school. The crow closed the gap between them. His windows were open. His hand was still filled with a cup of hot coffee. The crow flew into his car just as he rounded the curve, still well above the speed limit. He spilled the coffee in his lap and screamed out in a howl of pain as he jerked the steering wheel and his leg spasmed onto the gas pedal, sending his expensive car on a runaway course through the cross walk.

Marty held his neon stop sign high as he stood in the middle of the street. He was certain that the path was clear and motioned for the children to begin making their way across when he saw the car making a beeline towards him. He threw up his hand on reflex to stop the children as the man's expensive car screamed around the corner and crushed him into its hood and windshield. Marty tumbled over the car as the man was finally able to apply the brake and a crowd of parents and children ran to the spot the old man had fallen to. As his smashed body lie dying in the middle of the street, Marty looked up one final time and saw the crow. The bird on the wire above him looked into his eyes and again, offered no apology as the spark of life wisped away from the crossing guard.


“Now that I have your attention...” Kennedy heard the disembodied voice say.

“What is happening?” he screamed. The voice laughed.

“Are you sure you ready for the answer to that question?” it asked.

Three minutes ago, Kennedy had just returned home for the day. His job had taken its usual toll on his patience and he could already taste the Jack Daniels. He had barely shut the door to his truck when the first crow slammed into him.

“OW! Motherfucker!” It took him a half a second to recognize the black bird as it flew away.

He was looking on the ground for another rock to throw at the bird when the second bird struck.

“Sonofabitch!” he screamed. A third and then a forth crow crashed into him, their beaks tearing at his clothes, their talons shredding his skin.

“What the Fuck?!?” he demanded.

He spun to face the direction the first crow had attacked from as another one pounded his face, knocking his glasses to the ground. He retrieved them and returned them to their perch atop his nose when he saw the cloud of crows closing in on him. He had never seen this many of them at one time. He broke into a dead run away from the sky-borne assault and fled down the street. The crows tore after him as he ran, slamming into him from one side and the other, herding him towards the creek that made up the eastern border of his neighborhood. He reached the treeline that marked the creek and tore a small branch to swat at the swarming crows.

“We don't like that much.” a voice from nowhere said.

“We like you even less.” it added.

“Who said that?” Kennedy blurted. His anger was catching up to his panic and he felt the red blood beginning to boil up from its depths.
“What the fuck is there?” he demanded.


The crows ceased the attack and began flying in a giant circle before Kennedy. It was a black tornado composed of gleaming black feathers and razor sharp claws.

“I have seen how you treat the boys.” the voice stated.

“Yeah? So the fuck what? What business is it of yours?”

“My business is my business.” the voice answered. “My time is short here so I will keep this brief. You have been bad.”

Kennedy gripped his branch tighter. “What are you talking about?” he cried.

“Stop. Listen to what I say. This is the important part. By what right do you abuse those boys?”

“I'm their goddamn father! I hate to teach them discipline!”

Laughter exploded from within the circling cloud of crows. “It has cost much for me to be here today.”

The crows began to circle faster and faster. “The old man, the jogger, the crossing guard. Three innocent souls had to perish that we could have this little chat.”

“What are you talking about? Who ARE you?”

Crow after crow began crashing into one another as the central mass of the circling birds began to solidify. “You beat those boys every day of their lives. Why?”

“They never listened to me! They never dis as they were told!” Kennedy screamed.

“That is a lie.” the voice laughed. “Trust me to know.”

“It wasn't easy for me to raise those two brats all by myself. I never even asked for them to be born. I tried the best I could but it was hard without their mother...”he trailed off.

“Right. She died giving birth to them. The final necessary sacrifice”
“How do you know that?” the voice ignored the question.

“So you took your abandonment. You took your anger and rage. You took all of that and focused it upon two helpless creatures entrusted to your care.”

“They are MY boys! I'll raise them however the Hell I want! I'm not going to bring two spineless little whiny-ass pussies into a world already full of them! I'm going to bring two ass-kicking Men into the world!”

“You are wrong.” The swarm of crows sped up their pace and continued slamming and crashing into each other.

“What the Hell do you mean I'm wrong? Who the Hell are you to tell me how to raise my boys?”

“Oh, you aren't wrong in how you raised them. That was why you were chosen, after all. You are wrong in thinking them to be your boys.” Kennedy could see the shape of a torso begin to appear deep within the circling cloud of birds.

“I don't understand.” he said.

“That much is obvious, but again that is why you were chosen.” The circling crows continued to crash into one another and he could see the trunks of legs begin to take form. “The cost was much higher then. Many thousands of innocents had to die that September in fire and rubble for me get access to her, to your Loretta.”

“You're crazy!”

“I've been called worse.” a Cheshire grin said as it floated above a still-forming body.

“All this time and the ain't even mine?”

“Oh they are yours...after a fashion.” the toothy grin said. “While it wasn't your loins from which they sprung, those two little darlings are every bit the men you raised them to be. Callous, coldhearted, ruthless and angry...oh so angry. You are to be commended on the fantastic job you have done.” Three crows slammed into the arms of the creature in front of Kennedy forming hands that now applauded as cold white eyes atop the evil smile cut deep into him.

Kennedy found the power of speech had abandoned him. The bluster and bravado that was his trademark had wilted like lettuce left on the counter for days.

“What are you?”

“Ah! No longer who but What? You are a quick one.” The crows kept adding mass to the man-shaped shadow before him. Two slits of white resembling eyes and the crack of jagged teeth that no sane man would mistake for a smile stood within the still circling cyclone of crows. Kennedy could see feathers, eyes, beaks and claws within the shape before him shifting, squirming, writhing as if trying to free themselves from an unholy form.

“Father?” Kennedy spun on the spot to see the twins behind him. “Call for help! GO! Get somebody! Anybody!” he screamed. “Move you little bastards!”

“We weren't talking to you.” they said in unison.

“ children. Come to say goodbye to the babysitter?”

The boys nodded. Kennedy lunged at them with his torn branch and felt a cold claw grip his arm.

He turned back to see that the shape had closed the 20 foot gap between them in the blink of an eye.

“This is the part where you say farewell, Kennedy.” the smile atop the shape said. “But I believe these two rambunctious little scamps might want a word with you before I take them home.”
“May we, Father?” they asked.

“Oh why not. It is a long trip and you're bound to get hungry along the way.”

The boys tore into Kennedy like a pack of hungry dogs as they showed their true form to the man who had beaten, berated and tormented them for fourteen long years. It was not the tearing, the clawing or the gnawing that ended Kennedy's life. It was the knowledge that he had been responsible for unleashing these monsters upon the world that sealed his fate.

After all, they were their father's children.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

I Forget - Halloween 2014 Short Story

by: Roger A Wilbanks

You have no idea how difficult it is to begin.” I took a sip of water.

Just start at the point where you feel the most comfortable.” He pressed record on his tape player. “How long have you been dealing with this?” he asked.

This is all relatively new to me,” I said, “but it has been building in intensity over the past few years.”

Has it always been this severe?”

That just began.” I couldn't maintain eye contact with the man asking me these questions. I looked instead at the wall behind him and focused on the framed diplomas he had there. Rutgers man. I never saw Rutgers. Somewhere in New Jersey. That's where the Devils play.



Mr Granger?”

What? Who are you?” I demanded. I didn't recognize this man or where I was. I was scared. “What am I doing here? Am I in trouble?”

Do you know where you are, Mr Granger?” he asked.

Of course I do. I am sitting in a chair, yours by the look of it. What have I done? Why do you have me here?” The door was close. If he became dangerous, even as old as I am, I could make it in time.

You asked to see me, Mr Granger. My name is Doctor Ford. I am one of the nation's foremost experts on memory disorder and we are here in my office because you made an appointment to see me.”

“I think I would remember doing such a thing.” I said.

That is why you are here, Mr Granger.”

I looked at the man before me. He sat calm and relaxed. He had the look of a teacher or a professor. Someone who demanded attention. Someone who had answers. “Did I slip again?” I asked.

Yes. What do you remember this time? About just now. Do you recall any specific feelings or memories?”

No. Not really. I saw your diploma. Rutgers. That's in New Jersey, isn't it?”

Yes. Does that hold any significance for you?”

Hockey,” I said. “The Devils play there. I remembered watching the Stanley Cup on television in a dark room with wooden walls. A lot like your office. What did I say?”

You thought you were in trouble.” he said.

It must have been because you look like an authority type. Always had an issue with that type.” I said.

Well, I am a doctor.” he said.

We laughed.

Do you remember the slip?” he asked.

Vaguely.” I said. “It's like a TV show I watch from the corner of my eye while I am busy doing something else. I have an idea of what is going on but no idea regarding the who or the why. That seems to be a common thread with these episodes. I feel like I am watching someone else's life unfold but I have no idea why I am there.”

Alzheimer’s doesn't have any rules, Mr Granger.” he said. “It has some common threads across its tapestry but it is precocious. It will throw you curve balls that make even us experts swing and miss.”

What have I got to look forward to?” I asked.

How frequent are these slips?” he ignored my question.

Random. I was getting one a day, sometimes more. They seem to be triggered by memories. I get off on a thought tangent and my mind wanders. Once it gets going down that path it has a tendency to keep going that way, like a car rolling down an icy hill.”

That is one of the common threads. How much of your self do you maintain in these slips? Your true self.”

No idea. If by self you mean I know what I am, then a bit. I really lose the who and the why but the what remains constant. It's like I am plucked from a past memory and dropped into a current one with no context. The only constant is the feeling of total dread that overcomes me.” I took a drink.

Before. You mentioned you felt you had done something wrong. Is this also common?”

I paused. “Yes. These slips always center on the feeling that I have done something wrong; like I have intruded into someone else's story or I am being called to the carpet for something I have no knowledge of. The recurring feeling is one of blame. Blame focused on me.”

Delusions of persecution are the most common in Alzheimer’s patients, but often the fear is of loss, as if someone were trying to steal from you. In your case I think it stems from your own feelings of guilt. It is my guess you somehow feel responsible for your disease, as if you brought it upon yourself. I have referenced this as the Leper Mentality stemming from the Middle Age belief that Leprosy was somehow self-inflicted. It was thought of as an ailment brought down on one due to living an impure or unclean life. I can assure you now that there is nothing you have done or not done that brought this disease upon you. Regardless of what any televised charlatans say, there is neither a magic berry or super fruit you could have eaten nor any vice you could have avoided that would have prevented this. In truth, Mr Granger, you were born with this disease and it has been lurking deep within you biding its time until your body's natural recuperative powers waned with age. Anyone who tells you different is from Oz and is trying to sell you something rather than being truthful with you.”

I believe you, Doctor. I really do. But I know deep-down in my subconscious, in that part of me that is immune to outside influence that it doesn't matter. That is the part of me in the driver's seat when I slip and no one can reach that particular version of me because it is impossible to hold. Like Mercury in your palm.”

That is the true face of this disease, Mr Granger. The blank subconscious face of nearly every Alzheimer’s sufferer in existence. You retain the essential sliver of yourself but you lose all the context. This is not something a Psychiatrist like myself can fix I can only explain it to the you that remains constant in the hopes that it provides you with a base. It is my hope the part of you that refuses to participate in your life might someday see that as well, but it is not something I hold a lot of faith in.”

This must be what Hell is like, Doctor Ford. The constant cycle of on and off I endure. It feels like a carousel ride sometimes. Like I keep moving past the same point on a circle but sometimes I just don't recognize it. I stopped traveling in a straight line a long time ago. I just cover the same ground over and over again and at no point in this does that slipping part of me understand or even acknowledge that fact. It is left to the tired and old me to sort out the pieces when I come to my senses. I owe thanks to my dear son for putting me in this institution because now, when I 'return' I am always here where it is safe instead of having wandered off to God knows where. I woke up one time in an Adult theater. No idea how I got there.”

I read that in your file. It must have been frightening.”

“No. The terrifying part is the blanks. The parts I never remember. The terrifying part is how I feel when I have no understanding of my surroundings. I slipped while standing in line one time. I somehow remember staying in the line even though I had no idea how or why I was in it. When I got to the counter, I was crying. I told the attendant behind the counter that I had no idea who or where I was. They checked my wallet, called my son and now I am here. Safe.”

Yes, this is a safe place, Mr Granger. It is my belief that now that you are in an environment that has removed that factor that your slippages may wane, if not in number, than perhaps in severity as your feelings of sanctuary grow. While you will never be free of this disease, its effects upon you will loosen their hold and allow you to enjoy what remains of your life.”

Thank you, Doctor. That is very reassuring.”

Thank you, Doctor. That is very reassuring...very reassuring”

“You have no idea how difficult it is to begin.”  I took a sip of water.


“What's up with him?”

Alzheimer’s. He's one of the new ones. Has this conversation over and over with some invisible doctor. He hasn't eaten in days and I think he's a goner. Got no family to claim him. We found him in an Adult Movie theater having this conversation and he hasn't stopped.”

That's sad.”

Yeah. I guess so. What are we serving these guys for dinner tonight?”



Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Mansion in the Woods - 2013 Halloween Story #2

By Roger A Wilbanks

Edgar struggled to keep up. Don was always the faster of the two brothers and he had the additional challenge of helping his fiance Angela.
“Don't get too far ahead of us, Don! We have to stay together!”
“I'm going as slow as I am willing, Ed. You guys gotta keep up! I'm not about to let whatever the Hell is chasing us catch me just because I slowed down for your slow ass!” Don leapt over a rotted log with Edgar and Angela right on his heels.

“Did any of you see it?” Angela asked. She gasped for a breath as she cleared the log.
“No and I don't want to. Hearing it was enough for me to know that I don't want to be introduced.”
“Ed! Keep up!” Don barked.
“I'm running as fast as I can, Don. Not all of us are Marines. I can still hear it behind us, but it doesn't sound like it's running. It's just...moving. It's like it's tied to us. But that Cracking noise is there too and I'll be damned if I want to see what's making it.”

The camping trip took a turn South exactly one hour ago as the trio sat around the campfire exchanging Ghost Stories. Ed heard it first, the wet crack of popping knuckles in the distance. His attention diverted from Angela's story of her stay in the Lizzy Borden house, he strained his eyes into the darkness to locate the source of the sound.

“Pay attention to your fiance, asshole.” Don chided.

Ed gave no reaction to his brother.

“I know you heard this before, but you don't have to be such an ass...”Angela stopped. She heard it too.

“What the Hell was that?” she asked.

A howl from nothing that walked this Earth answered her.

“What the Fuck?” Don ran and scanned the treeline across the pond where they were camped. He spotted movement movement and then saw the eyes. They were cold, green lights, like a TV remote, but there were more than two of them. They filled the space where a head should only have two and they were locked on the three of them.

“We gotta go. NOW!”

It took no argument from the others. A tangible cloud of inexplicable panic stuck to them like sweat on an August Noon. No one needed convincing and the trio bolted for the woods that surrounds their clearing in the direction of the truck. Though it was a half a mile South of their location, they ran as if it were in eyesight. Ed knew the way, having camped these woods since his childhood. When he got lost, Don began to panic. It takes a lot to rattle a Marine, even more to rattle a battle hardened one just returned from service where the desert mountain ghosts are tangible and show no mercy.

Six years of Leadership Training focused on keeping 18yr olds alive kicked in and Staff Sgt Collins emerged from his retirement.

“Move It! The truck is 5 minutes away from us!”

Ed knew better though he would refuse to admit it.

“We're off the map now, Little Brother.” he said.

“Then we keep moving. The forest is surrounded by Highways. We keep moving till we hit one and then we get help.” The loud wet crack behind them answered him.

“I can't keep up.” Angela cried. “I just can't.”

“You have to, kid. This ain't the time to let yourself get in your own way. We gotta keep moving now!” He looked behind them and saw trees fly apart like Lincoln Logs before an angry child. “Whatever that is...” Don stopped talking.
“Railroad Tracks?” Ed said. “There are no railroad tracks in these woods. I would swear to that.”

This statement was contradicted by the rusty railroad tracks 50 feet away from them.

“We follow them to the Highway.” Don said. “The footing will be better on the gravel and we'll make better time and we won't have to jump over any goddamn dead trees anymore.” The others agreed with him and within seconds, the trio began running again.

They ran another mile at full gallop through twists and turns in the old railroad track before they came to a trellised bridge that spanned a gaping canyon.

“There isn't a canyon here, either! What the Hell is going on?”

“No time to examine shit, bro. We gotta get across that. Watch your step, guys. This wood's old. Stay close to the outside edge where the wood'll be strongest.” Angela stepped on the rail and lost her balance. Ed helped her up and looked behind them. The entity pursuing them had come to a stop at the edge of the canyon.

“It's not following us anymore.” he said.

Don also noticed this. “Well, let's not give it a reason to change its mind. Move it!” he barked.

The trio made it to the other side of the ancient bridge without further injury. It had held its position at the edge of the canyon just at the bridge's end and watched them now. The woods on this side of the canyon had an older feel to them than those on the beast's side. The trees were all broken and barren and the ground was littered with death. Dead leaves, dead branches and the remains of dead animals crowded each other for space as they walked on into the woods.

“I see a light.” Don said.

“Me too. Let's go.” Ed followed his younger brother to the clearing that cradled the light source. Angela followed with a subtle limp but managed to keep up with no problem. They saw it as they entered the clearing. It was an old 4 story Victorian mansion in the middle of a dead forest. The light was a single gas lamp burning above the mansion's portico-ed corner entrance. The house had a gabled roof that was more hole than roof and each glassless window watched the approaching trio like a lonely soul crying for help. The exterior of the house was sheathed in an ancient skin of whitewashed pine coated in ageless grime.

Don approached the corner porch of the house under the glow of the gas lamp. It flickered as he approached it. He stopped and turned to Ed.

“I'm not going into this place.” he said. “It feels...” he stopped and looked at the massive door and lost the words he searched for.

“We're already here. We may as well go on in and see what's up here.” Ed answered. He and Angela stepped onto the splintered porch and approached the door. Ed knocked on the door and it answered with a hollow, soundless echo.

“Why did you knock?” Don asked.

“Seemed like the polite thing to do.” Ed said. “Lights are on, and someone has to be here. Imagine how you would react if three strangers barged into your...” he looked up and noticed movement in one of the glassless windows. He maintained his gaze and saw nothing further.

He looked at the door's handle. It was massive, much like the door itself and covered in a green patina. He reached for the handle and as his hand made contact, the door flung open, almost pulling Ed out of his shoes. A gaunt, old man held the door open. His hair as white as the pine siding on the house and his face just as pitted and wrinkled. He was dressed in a dirty old suit many sizes too large for him. His pants so long they hid his feet from view.

“Welcome. Come in, please.” the old man said.

“You were expecting us?” Ed asked.

“Not at all. I heard the commotion outside from my window and assumed you were lost and wished to welcome you.”

“Where are we?” Ed asked. The old man had already turned on his heel and began walking back into the house..

Ed repeated himself, “Sir? Where are we?”

“You are in my house.” the old man answered. “You are welcome to satay as long as necessary.”

“We were in a camping ground...” Don said as he looked around at the ancient decorations that doted the walls. “over on Turner Pond. Something...” He didn't have the words to finish the sentence. “Do you have a phone?”

The old man laughed.

“No. I doubt the phone company even knows I am here.” he said “I was about to make a sandwich. Would you like one as well?”

“We haven't eaten yet. We're famished.” Don answered. Angela agreed and Ed could find no fault with that. The old man smiled and nodded. He led them to a cavernous dining room with a table large enough to seat an entire football team. It had a moth eaten table cloth as its cover but had places set for 6 people. Most of the settings looked as if they had been used recently.

“Looks like you have had company.” Angela said.

The old man looked at the settings and laughed. “Oh...those? Those others have moved on.” He said and then disappeared into the kitchen, leaving the three alone.

“I don't like this. It feels.....wrong. We should leave. Now.”
“No shit, Don. We should be at our camp eating ribs and swapping stories, but that...thing...had other ideas so we're here. We'll eat a sandwich, wait till dawn and find the highway. Then we'll get back to my truck and get out of this mess.”

“Yeah...sure.” Don surveyed the room like a Marine. “This looks like something from a Vincent Price movie bro.” Angela corrected him. “More like Edgar Allen Poe.” He agreed.

The paintings on the walls depicted a bygone era long since past. None of the fashions had seen the light of day in over a century and nothing in the room was of t he modern world. The caretaker shuffled back into the room with a tray laden with sandwiches and a teapot.

“Please. Help yourself.” he pleaded.

“Sir. Could you please explain something to us? Where exactly ARE we?” Angela asked.

The Caretaker was caught short by her question but composed himself enough to tilt his withered head back and laugh. “Dear. You” He motioned to the area they now occupied.

“Where is here?' She asked, cautioned by his avoidance of the question.

“You are in my mansion. You are in the middle of the woods. You are in the middle of the Dead Woods and you stand in my dining room. Does that answer your question, dear?”

“Where is the highway?” Don asked.

“Why do you need a highway?” he asked.

“We need to find the highway so that we can get help.”

“Help from what, exactly?” The old man was beginning to frighten him with his ignorance of their situation.

“Look.” Don said. “Something is chasing us. We ran for miles and found your house. It's still out there and we need help to get back to...” The old man began to laugh hysterically.

“Back?” he asked. “Back to where, exactly?”

“”Back to my truck. Back to our camp. Back to our lives.”

The old man threw his head back again and let out a shriek of maniacal laughter. He grasped his sides as if they were about to burst and struggled to contain himself. When he regained his composure he held up a finger and looked all three in the eye at the same time.

He said, “You have been dead for five hours.”

The finality with which his words broke the silence struck them dumb. They looked at the old man as if seeing him for the first time as a knowing smile crept up the sides of his face.

“Where EXACTLY do you think you are NOW?”


Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Bottom Man - 2013 Halloween Story

Dallas. 12:30am. August 20.

It was a little game they would play. Henry would come into the 7-11 for coffee on his way to work the night shift and Agnes would pretend not to remember him. Each time it was the same and in 2 years of consistency, Henry found comfort and Agnes found the respect from a fellow human being not often afforded one behind a counter.

August in Dallas, for those not familiar with the geography, meant it was hot enough to fry eggs on the hood of old cars. The local television stations all relished the ratings boom that hit when the thermometer allowed such a display as much as the residents hated the constant reminders. The heat had the bad habit of lingering long after the sunset, eliminating any logical expectation of relief, like the random acquaintance that sat at your table in the bar and refused to get the hint that you would rather be left alone. In this, it became just as annoying.

Henry's headlights shone in Agnes' window alerting her to his arrival and the start of their game. He entered as he usually did but something was different this time. Henry looked shaken.

“What happened, Mr Henry?” Agnes ignored the game for the sake of her friend. “You look like you seen a ghost.”

“I'm...I'm not sure, Agnes,” he looked back across the river in the direction from which he had come. “I was driving through West Dallas like I always do but just as I got to the bridge across the Trinity, some fella jumped outta the shadows onto the street, waving his arms like a wild man.”

“You didn't hit him, did you?”

“No! No...but there was something in his eyes....or rather missing from them. It set something off inside my head. Scared the shit outta---oh, sorry. Scared the Dickens outta me. It wasn't like he wanted help. No. It was like he wanted...”

“Like he wanted you.” A voice from the coffee bar answered.

Both Henry and Agnes spun around to see the owner of this voice.
“You didn't stop, did you?” she asked.

“No. HELL No!” Henry said. “Why would I? I don't know him. Some crazy crackhead jumps outta the bushes? I don't care if he was just shot. I'm crazy enough driving through this part of town just to shave 10 miles off of my commute. I don't need to add getting chopped into little crackhead kibbles to that list.”

“That won't no crackhead you seen, mister. Saw him just fore you crossed the river, yeah? Jumped outta them shadows like come outta nowhere, yeah? Looked atchoo like he know you, yeah?”

“...yeah. How do you know all this, ma'am?”

“Cause I seent that man too. Dat tha Bottom Man.”

“The wha?”

“Tha Bottom Man. He come from the river bottom, snatchin up souls what wanna cross that river. Everywhere there a river where the folk live, there a Bottom Man live too. He pure Evil, he is.”

“Bullshit, lady. That was no supernatural entity I saw. That was a crackhead. I have seen one there almost every night I drive past. It's where they hang out. Next thing you'll tell me you seen the Lady of the Lake. Over at White Rock Lake? Is that his sister?” Henry laughed.

“No. I never seen her, but she diff'rent. My folks grow up over there before the war. They saw that lady. She wasn't tryin to snatch no souls. She jus tryin to get home is all. Like I say. Diff'rent.”

She hobbled closer to Henry and he got a good look at her. She was an ancient looking woman no taller than a 7th grader. Her skin was as weathered as the cotton dress she wore and she put a gnarled finger into Henry's chest. It was much stronger than it had any right to be.

“Don be fooled, child. Da Bottom Man don't never look the same way twice. You seen him many time but now he seen you too. He know you and he tellin you he want you. You can't go dis way no more. You gotta never pass that way ever again. Promise me you won't never go that way no more!” Her eyes glistened through her pleading. “He know you weakness now and next time you see him, he gonna go fo yo throat like a Pitt Bull an he ain't never gone let go.”

She clasped a bony fist in front of Henry's face to drive her point home. “You be careful if you ever come this way again, child. Don't stop for nobody nohow at that bridge.” 

 She paid for her coffee and hobbled away into the darkness. Henry and Agnes stood in silence as she vanished into the night. They said nothing to each other as Henry paid for his coffee and resumed his midnight commute. Agnes watched his headlights fade into the hot summer night and took a breath. She realized it was the first one she had taken since the old crone had started talking.

Another blistering weekend passed before Agnes returned to her post at the convenience store counter. She had spent more time worrying about her friend than she was willing to admit. She returned to work on the hottest night of the year. It was still in the 90's at 10pm, one of those nights when it felt like Hell itself had given the Earth a smothering hug. 

Agnes was hot and sticky even inside the air-conditioned confines of her store. Customer after customer passed before her counter but Agnes paid them no mind. Her eyes darted to the clock over the cooler at the back of the store as she waited for 12:30 to arrive. Her coworkers filed out to leave her to her solitary post as the clock passed midnight. Any second, Henry would pass through that door and they would play their little game and laugh at that crazy old woman.

Her eyes never left the parking lot as 12:30 came and passed. There was no sign of Henry, but this was no cause for concern. Often he would be running late and bypass his coffee to get to work on time. This had happened many times over the years. This time, it felt different, although Agnes refused to acknowledge that fact.

Three more nights came and went with no sign of Henry. Agnes felt now that she had permission to worry. She called in sick Friday night for the first time since she began working at the store and borrowed her neighbor's car. She drove into Oak Cliff to the nice part Henry lived in. He had described his house often enough to her she knew the way by heart. She saw no sign of his green Jeep Cherokee in the driveway. 

She turned around and followed the path he took on his commute, passing several other open convenience stores that sold coffee. This made her feel a touch of pride that her friend came to see her more for the companionship than the coffee. She passed beneath the highway as she drove down Westmoreland Avenue north towards the river. She drove through old West Dallas where Clyde Barrow grew up and past all the night walkers that inhabited this downtrodden neighborhood. 

 She saw how easy it was for Henry to assume the man was a crackhead from the many that loitered at the intersections even on this blast furnace of a night. The streetlights were out here in the City's attempt to conserve power at this time of peak electrical demand. The radio in her neighbor's car was unable to hold onto a station, but this was the Bottoms and that was to be expected.

Wary of running into an unseen obstacle on this dark street, Agnes hit the car's bright lights. To her shock, Henry was standing in the middle of the road less than 100 feet in front of her. She slammed on the brakes as hard as she could and screeched to a stop inches from where he stood.

He was torn and covered in muck from head to toe. 

He stood in the middle of the street and made no effort to communicate. He stared at Agnes as she sat behind the wheel but she felt him looking deeper inside her than any eye has the ability to. Any human eye, that is. 

 She began shaking as Henry turned and began shuffling around to her door. He walked one step at a time with a deliberate measure that frayed her nerves, all the time never taking his eyes off hers, until he stood right outside her window.

His broken fingernail tapped on the glass three times. Each time Agnes felt the window would shatter from the sheer malicious nature of the blow that struck it. She could see holes in Henry where no holes belonged and there was a worm that had erupted from his forearm, flailing against the air that had replaced the flesh it had just gnawed upon.

Agnes rolled down the window that stood between her and her friend and was never seen alive again.