Category Archives: fiction

Worst Santa

This story was inspired by a photo taken from a collection of stock photos. Click here to see them. (I decided to leave this photo off to save your eyes.)

Being a successful thief didn’t get off to an easy start. My first ten or twelve jobs very nearly all ended in disaster. Thankfully none of them landed me in prison, though I have done my fair share of time. The one that sticks out most to me is the third one. It taught me never to break into a place without thoroughly checking it out first.

It was late December. I’d had been living rough for a couple of weeks. Christmas in eastern North Carolina can be a wet and miserable affair, but it’s not as cold as it is up north. I’d managed to break into a beach cottage on my first night in town and while it didn’t have power or water it at least gave me a break from the wind. I had my eye on a big house a bit further up the beach. They would have some electronics and maybe some other valuables I could steal and pawn.

I parked a few blocks away from the house in the battered Volvo wagon I called home in those days. I didn’t know much back then but I knew enough not to park my getaway vehicle in an otherwise empty driveway when I was in the course of my business. I pulled the collar of my navy windbreaker up and my toboggan down. The wind was howling that night.

I broke into a run and soon I stood in front of the big house. It was up on stilts and the side facing the street had a dozen windows. They were all boarded up and I didn’t see a single light. Some of these places got rented out, even during the off months, but I’d kept an eye on this one and there had been no activity. I went around to the side and found that the gate was locked. I grabbed the pickets and vaulted over lightly. I wasn’t that smart, but I was strong and light on my feet. I landed on the concrete pad and saw that this place had a huge pool and a hot tub. They were both covered for the winter.

The windows on the ocean side were also covered, the exception being the four sets of sliding glass doors. No light came from any of them. I went up the back steps, any creaking noises covered by the incessant howl of the wind. I walked up to the first set of doors and pulled out my picks. These locks were always pretty cheesy. The only thing that could really put a damper on picking them would be a wooden bar laid on the door’s track. There was no bar. I set to work and discovered that the door was unlocked.

You’d have thought that this would be my first indication to get lost. Like I said, back then I wasn’t too bright. I figured that maybe some lazy maintenance crew had left the door unlocked. I slid the door open and eased my way in. The air was warm. I smelled cinnamon and apples. Dumb as I was, even I figured that meant someone was home. There were no cars out front though. My greed got the better of me and I guessed that it had been rented, but whoever it was had gone out for dinner. Occupation meant that there would be some portable goodies.

I moved towards the front of the house, keeping my ears open for any noise. My eyes were fully adjusted to the darkness, so making out a light coming from under a door near the front of the house was easy enough. I skulked up to the door and put my ear against it. I couldn’t hear any noise coming from the other side, though I blame the howling wind, audible even inside the house for what happened next.

I turned the handle and pushed the door in. The naked, overweight man sat on the edge of the bed. A Santa hat sat perched on the top of his head and he was tweaking his nipples. Meanwhile the lady between his knees worked south of the border pretty vigorously. Neither of them noticed my presence. I backed out of there faster than a cat who’d had its tail stepped on. The door sat open a bit, but given the noises I could now plainly hear I didn’t think anyone would notice until I was gone.

It only took a few minutes for me to get back to my Volvo and beat it down the road. It took me a number of weeks to erase that mental picture from my brain. What I never erased was the lesson I learned about doing the pre-work.

Monte and Molly Meet the Mummy

Cyril and Monte I’ve been re-working Monte and Molly to make it more of a chapter book. I thought I’d post the first few chapters to see what folks thought.

Chapter One – Arrival in Egypt

Molly Zealander looked out the window of the big jet. The sand below them screamed past. She thought she could see the Great Pyramids in the distance. The eleven hour and fourteen minute flight had passed quickly thanks to the Millwrights and Mechanics Guide that Cyril had given her in New York City. The gigantic, fierce looking nanny had a soft spot for his charges and knew them well. Thankfully her brother Monte had slept most of the way.

The pilot’s voice came on over the intercom. “Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for flying Egyptair. The temperature at Cairo International Airport of ninety-six degrees Farenheit or thirty-six degrees Celsius. It’s a sunny day and we hope that you enjoy your stay.”

The landing was smooth and Monte leaned over her lap so he could see the runway. She didn’t have the heart to push him back” The wheels squelched as they met the black top and the sudden slowing of the plane made her stomach do a little flip. It took forever for everyone to get out of their seats and get off of the airplane. She tucked her book into the tan messenger bag daddy had given her for Christmas last year. It also held her journal, a collection of pens, and a set of archaeological tools that she hoped she’d get to use; dental picks, paint brushes, and a small trowel.

Monte huffed. “When are we going to get to see the pyramids? I’m hungry. Can we get some lunch.”

“Calm down.” Cyril rumbled to the boy. “We’ll get to see them this afternoon. Your Mum and Dad made arrangements for a private tour this afternoon. There will be lunch for us in the car.”

The trio made their way through the airport. Monte wanted to stop at one of the junk shops and at a juice shop, but Cyril kept him corralled. The air smelled different here. Molly loved that about each new place they visited. Once they got outside she could really tell they were in a new place. The heat hit her like running into a wall. A man with skin nearly the color of his black suit waited near an old car with a sign that had their last name on it.

Monte smiled at the fancy car. “We get to ride in that? I call window seat!”

The driver nodded at Cyril and the children and opened the door for them. There were two bench seats in the back facing each other. The man sitting in the seat closest to the driver looked like he belonged in a museum. He smiled at Monte as he bounced across the seat opposite and pressed his nose against the window. “Welcome to Cairo. I am Doctor Badawy and I’ll be showing you around my city. Your parents wish that they could be here, but you will see them this evening at the hotel.”

Molly nodded at Doctor Badawy . “It’s a pleasure to meet you sir.” She missed Mum and Dad, but she was used to not seeing them as much as she liked. They were always so busy.

Monte pulled his nose away from the glass and turned to shake Doctor Badawy’s hand. “Glad to meet you. When do we get to see the mummies?”

Doctor Badawy smiled. “We will see one when we get to the museum. Sadly you won’t get to see any at the pyramids. They’ve all been moved out long ago.”

Monte frowned. “I was hoping we could dig one up.”

Cyril patted him on the knee. “While we’re here you’ll have a chance to do some digging. Who knows what you’ll find?”

The car pulled into the crowded streets of Cairo and made its way slowly towards the museum.
Continue reading Monte and Molly Meet the Mummy

Candy Man

enhanced-21277-1400016574-8 This story was inspired by this photo taken from a collection of stock photos. Click the picture to see the rest.

“Stanislaw! Stanislaw Kaczmarczyk, you get your scrawny butt back in here.”

Stan’s mother’s voice cut through the neighborhood like a rusty buzz-saw through sheet metal. It never failed to get his attention.

He ran at top speed, having no desire to earn her anger. When he rounded the corner he saw the old man standing there. Dressed in a dirty wife beater, a ball cap turned the wrong way ’round, and holding both a cigar and a massive lolly pop, creepy didn’t even begin to cover it. There was a mischief behind the thick lensed glasses that Stanley could feel even ten yards away. He wanted to veer off course, but the street on one side (DON’T PLAY IN THE STREET STANISLAW LEOPOLD KACZMARCZYK!) and menacing shrubs belonging to Mr. Allman on the other meant that he was like a prize calf in a chute.

He came to a stop at least six feet from the old man. There wasn’t room to pass him without coming within arm’s reach. His muscles couldn’t even twitch.

“S’matter boy? Scared?” The old man’s voice wasn’t at all what he expected. It was deep and gravely, but there was a kindness in it. “Ain’t nothin’ ta be scared of.”

“Ma says not ta take candy from strangers.” His words came out in a whisper. “Please mister, let me by.”

The old man smiled. This time there was a little bit of menace. “Do ya always listen to yer Ma, boy?”

The question stopped his mental processes. Of course he didn’t, but when there were times like these (WERE THERE EVER TIMES THAT WERE EXACTLY LIKE SHE DESCRIBED? NONE OF HIS FRIENDS HAD EVER JUMPED OFF A BRIDGE!) he needed to make sure that he did the right thing.

“I ain’t takin’ yer candy mister.”

The old man scowled. “I ain’t even offered any to ya. Ya ingrateful pup.” He pointed the lolly pop at Stan. “This is my candy. The likes of you ain’t worth it.”

Now Stan was a little offended. How was he not worth it? “Sorry mister. Hey can I get by now?”

“Not before ya make a choice. Ya can either take a bite of tha candy, and I’ll let ya get on home, or ya can cross tha street and go ’round. Either way ya show how brave ya are.”

Stanley looked out into the busy street. If he crossed over, moved down, and crossed back his mother would surely know. If he just took a bite of the candy then there’s be nothing saying to his mother that he’d done anything wrong. But if the candy had poison or razor blades or if the man grabbed him then he’d be done for. He felt the tears start to slide down his cheeks. “Please mister. I don’t want no trouble. Just let me by.”

“Make yer choice, boy.” The old man growled.

Stanley looked at the lolly pop and out into the street. Then he looked right. No one had ever told him not to go into the bushes. He dove through the hedge, scraping his bare legs and feeling them yank on his hair. He ran the eight steps that he felt sure would take him past the old man, took two more for good measure, and then dove back through the bushes. He earned a poke to the eye from one branch, but inside of a breath he was back on the sidewalk.

A glance to his left revealed that no one was there. He panicked and looked right, but the street was empty in that direction too. Confused, he broke into a run, hearing his mother’s second call. He got to his front steps, out of breath, flesh stinging from the bushes, but feeling triumphant.

“Stan, what in the Good Lord’s Name have you been up ta?” His mother had her hands on her hips. She didn’t look angry so much as concerned. Here was her boy, bleeding and out of breath.

“Makin’ good choices, Ma. Sometimes they hurt, ain’t they ain’t always the easy ones ta make, but it’s the right thing ta do.”

She shook her head, bemused, but ushered him inside.

Burger Time

enhanced-10990-1400016501-13 This story was inspired by this photo taken from a collection of stock photos. Click the picture to see the rest.

Sabrina had a massive headache. She got them about once over two or three weeks but they were getting worse lately. When she woke up this morning she couldn’t get out of bed for the first half an hour. They weren’t getting any more frequent, the pain was just more intense. She soldiered on, crawling to the shower, literally, and managed to get dressed and get to work. By the time she’d arrived at Hot Topic to start her shift the pain had abated somewhat.

“Hey Sabby, what the haps?” Chris, her manager, wore the baggy jeans, wallet chain, and awful black tee shirt that was practically the dress code.

She felt like punching him in the throat every time he called her ‘Sabby’ but it was better than Witchy-poo she supposed. That’s what he called her when he was really feeling his oats. “Almost didn’t come in today. Major migraine.”

“My mom says those are caused by gluten. Ever try cutting back?” Chris sucked on his e-cig.

That habit also made her throat punchy. Come to think of it, almost anything Chris did made her want to cave in his esophagus. “Your mom giving health advice…”

He raised a pierced eyebrow, waiting for her to finish the sentence.

“Is interesting.” The only time she’d come into the story, the elder Cragman was wearing a muumuu that could have been made from an afghan. Or it might have been an actual afghan. She could barely fit down the story aisles.

“You might try it anyway, witchy-poo. It’s also supposed to help with that monthly problem.” He made a shooing motion. “Go inventory the pegs in the back.”

She clenched and unclenched her fingers. If she didn’t need some kind of job she’d leave this place now. In their half horse town the mall was about the only option for a college freshman home on summer break. “Yes, Chris.” She grabbed one of the bar code scanners from under the counter and stalked to the back.

She was about halfway down the wall of crap when it felt like someone had driven a spike through her forehead. She dropped the scanner and hoped like hell that the cracking sound was her skull and not the expensive piece of machinery. A wetness on her upper lip and the smell of copper meant she’d started bleeding again. She went to one knee and realized that the keening noise was coming from her.

“Sabby, what’s wrong? Oh my god, you’re bleeding. Your fucking eyes are bleeding.”

Sabrina stood and shouldered her way past the skinny little bastard.

“Hey, where are you going? Your break’s not for another hour.”

She was bleeding from her fucking eyes and he was worried about break time? She stopped in the middle of the food court clutching her head. Her eyes clenched shut, she couldn’t see the burgers from the Sonic a few stores down take flight. The spun around her head for two full revolutions.

“You need to come back here and clo-” Chris’s words were stopped, and it wasn’t until she was able to open her eyes in the blessed relief of freedom from pain that she saw it was because a half dozen burgers had become lodged in his esophagus. It wasn’t a throat punch but it would do.

Crash Into Love

Taken from a collection of stock photos.
Taken from a collection of stock photos.

This story was inspired by this photo taken from a collection of stock photos. Click the picture to see the rest.

Bob tugged at his orange jump suit. He hated the color, but it was traditional for Impact Study Units to wear them. Humans always told them there was something about the color that helped the scanners to pick up what happened to them in a crash. Even though Bob had something approaching free will and self-determination, he never thought to question the story or anything else. He did as he was told like a good little machine.

He walked out onto the testing floor and was pleased to see Barbara standing by the vehicle they were testing today. The lights shone off of her dusky skin creating a halo.

“Unit 3167. Please proceed to the testing environment.” The voice came to him from the loudspeakers above.

He snapped out of his reverie and nodded to the Inspector behind the glass. The hover van was a new model and from what little he knew there were major issues with its design. He was no engineer, but his eyes were sharp and he’d been in thousands of crashes. He could see that any high speed collision would be bad news.

“Good morning Bob.” Barbara nodded to him.

“Good morning.” He held out a hand and she shook it. There was reluctance in the action. “What’s wrong?”

“Units 3167 and 4598, step into the testing vehicle.”

“We don’t have to do this.”

Bob tilted his head. “Do what?”

“Test this death trap. I have a friend that can get us another assignment.”

He looked from her to the van. The thought of riding it into the wall didn’t appeal to him, but it was what he was built for. The analog to pain he experienced was bad, but it was necessary for the betterment of humanity. The idea of doing anything else was completely alien to him.

Barbara stepped forward and put her arms on his shoulders. “I want to leave with you.”

Bob felt a warmth in his chest cavity. There was an ache there as well, not unlike the time he’d caught a steering pylon to the sternum. “I want to leave with you too.” He put his arms around her waist.

“Units 3167 and 4598 get into the vehicle immediately or there will be repercussions.” The Inspector’s voice was snappier than either of the ISUs was used to.

“He sounds angry.” Bob whispered into her mouth as they leaned in closer.

A klaxon began to sound.

Barbara’s lips touched his. He didn’t know what the consequences of ignoring the Inspector would be and suddenly didn’t care. Tradition and towing the line would be a thing of the past for them as they entered their new future together.

When the hover van hit them it was going eighty kilometers an hour. Bob’s head popped right off of his neck. The inspector sent out one of the little clean up bots to pick up the pieces and made a check beside a few of the columns on his report. The bumper on the van had prevented any damage to the impeller when it hit the ISUs. His bosses would be pleased.

The Swimming Nun

This story was inspired by the first photo on this post – I’m not sure if I have the rights necesary to post the picture here. But that’s okay, I think it stands by itself. Enjoy!

Sister Gertrude stood on the edge of the thousand mile long “pier”. The Archdiocese had chosen her as part of the first contact group with the race detected only recently on mankind’s first successful interstellar colonization. Pope Justinius declared that the so called “Neo-Atlanteans” had souls, and they needed someone from the Church present to make it official. Why they had chosen a nun instead of a priest she could only speculate.

Gertrude couldn’t help but picture herself in a habit, hands clasped and speaking to the fish as if she were in a children’s book. Instead she wore a monstrous dive suit that was really more like a small submarine. They group of five people present all wore similar getups. The Neo-Atlanteans couldn’t survive at a depth of less than four thousand feet. Current technology would allow them to survive at a depth that the fish people found pleasant. One error at that depth meant nearly instant death.

At the captain’s signal they jumped off of the pier and into the cold and murky water below.

“Everything all right there, sister?” Captain Harris’ voice came on over her communications channel.

“Yes, Captain.” She made her voice as strong as she could. Thankfully she needn’t worry about piloting her suit. They were slaved together and moved as a school of fish would.

Science office Awani’s soothing alto broke in. “Captain, we’re picking up NAs at the right depth. They’re holding. We should be there within the hour. All suit systems are in the green.”

Gertrude brought up a display that would give her a more meaningful view than the darkness outside her face plate. They were eschewing any kind of lights since their new friends were sensitive to anything in the visible spectrum. The passive sonar gave her little more information. Unlike Earth’s seas, the ones here contained little life for the first thousand feet that was visible to the naked eye. A rich soup of plankton and other microscopic creatures was it. Knowing that there was nothing out there comforted her. The over active imagination granted her by God made her envision all sorts of things that didn’t exist on this planet or anywhere else.

“Something coming up on the active sonar, Captain. It’s huge.” Security Officer Chovanec’s voice wasn’t panicked. SOs didn’t panic. They had a reputation for stoicism that was legendary. Still, those last two words held something other than information.

She “looked” down with her own systems and saw that he was right. A mass, a singular mass and not a group of creatures, rose towards them. She had the luxury of fear, but she didn’t let it paralyze her. She prayed even as those around her went into action.

“Abort. Abort. Nautilus V this is Captain Harris. I am authorizing a full abort of this mission.”

“Roger, Captain. This is Nautilus V. We concur. Unidentified biomass will overtake your position in three minutes. Activating emergency boosters. We are bringing you out of the water and you will rendezvous with air support.”

Gertrude saw the engines on her companions’ suits come to life. She knew that they would be out of the water in less than two minutes. When she didn’t feel her own suit vibrate with unleashed power she was confused. Then the systems lights on her display all went red.

“Sister. We’re having a problem activating your thrusters. We’ll have it figured out in no time. Hold tight.”

She nearly laughed. As though there were anything else she could do? “Roger, Nautilus V. Holding tight.” She looked down into the blackness below. She could sense no movement or lights of any kind. She took a moment and adjusted the sonar and then in a moment of inspiration she turned on her hydrophones. At first there was nothing but a hiss. Then alien music, more beautiful than anything she’d ever heard, played through the speakers. She was filled with a bliss only rivaled by that when she received her calling. Here truly was a manifestation of God’s heavenly choir, found under an alien sea and originating from a creature of unimaginable size.

Her fingers moved of their own accord and her suit descended rapidly. She needed to experience more of this song. When the call came from the Nautilus it went unheard. Her own voice, echoing the alien song, filled her helmet and the creature enveloped her entirely in its bulk.

Fiction – Dead Kids Walking

This is the first part of a WIP for my second entry in the Wattpad Horror Smack Down. –

Tyrell couldn’t wait until Halloween. It was the one night a year that he and his friends could walk among the living without fear of being caught. As ghosts they still looked much like they had at the point of their deaths and in his case that was pretty ugly. His dad had gone nuts and stabbed him about thirty times with a butcher knife. As if that weren’t enough, the old man had taken hunks out of his corpse and ground it into sausage for his breakfast the next day. That had happened thirty years ago and he still hadn’t really gotten over it, not that anyone could blame him really.

His first stop was to pick up Aileen. The girl had developed an allergic reaction to something in her scarecrow costume and had suffocated to death. “Hey Ty!” Her voice was a little muffled. They tried to take off the mask once, but there was no seem. She was stuck in her costume for eternity, or until they could find a way to move on.

“Hey Aileen” Tyrell waved back. “You ready?”

Aileen laughed. “Yup. Not like I have to worry about my makeup anymore.” She arose from the sea of Jack o’Lanterns. The people that bought her parents’ house after they moved were nuts for Halloween. When they had all of the gang together this would be the last and best stop.

The walked to pick of Joey next. Tyrell marveled not for the first time that his shoes made noise. In addition to being visible and blending in, they could interact with the living and be looked on as one of them. He did a little dance, enjoying the scuffling sound.

“Eww, stop. Your dangling bits are making weird noises.”

Tyrell could imagine the frown. His shredded flesh and exposed organs were indeed making a bit of a sloshing noise. He supposed that would be off putting. A gaggle of other kids passed them going in the other direction.

“Awesome costume, dude!” A boy wearing a Clone Trooper suit from the dollar store gave him two thumbs up.

Tyrell waved at him and smiled. The grin faltered when he remembered how he’d earned his “costume”. With determination he plastered it back in place. He wouldn’t let his old man rob him of this night.

A little further up the road, a chubby kid dressed like a hobo waited for them. “Hey guys.” He had his hankie on a stick over one shoulder. His face was smudged with dirt.

“Howdy Joey!” Tyrell almost didn’t want to pick their friend up. Joey was always a bit of a downer. He actually had been a homeless kid in life and was killed by a fellow transient. Now he was forever stuck in what had become the paragon of the lamest costume ever.

“Only one more in our troop.” Aileen looked around. “she was supposed to be here with you.

Joey pointed up the street. “Becky went that way. She said she just couldn’t wait.”

Tyrell growled. She wasn’t the most patient of spooks. He looked for her white dress and saw it sparkling in the distance. “Come on!” He broke into a run, not knowing if they’d follow. He got to her just a few seconds ahead of his friends.

Becky was an angel, not literally, but after getting lost in a blizzard on her way to a church pageant, she had frozen to death. Her wings and halo were top notch but had been fake and still were. Her cherubic face, that of a ten year old, turned and greeted Tyrel l with a frown. “Took you guys long enough.”

Fiction – One Night At The Last Call

This is a bit of short fiction I wrote for a contest on Wattpad.

Iowa is a place, it turns out. Or at least it was before the bombs fell from the sky during the Last Great War (a war that was neither the last, nor particularly great, and may not have in fact been a war per se). I could see where it used to be from my window high above the Big Blue Marble. Well, to be honest, it’s the place scholars think it was. Large chunks of the North American continent no longer exist. I closed the history book (not a book and I called the quality of history in question) and looked back out at the expanse below. “People never learn from their mistakes.”

“Pardon?” Annabelle asked the question from her station behind the bar. She looked like a lovely girl, from the waist up. From there down, she was a mass of wheels, gears, and circuitry.

I looked at the AI bartender. “Just pontificating on the history of mankind, such as it is. Unlike ‘bots and ‘droids, we stink at learning from what has come before. That’s the reason why this place needs a bouncer.” As the self-described bouncer, or as we were known on most Alliance space stations Sentient Attitude Readjustment Officers, it was my job to make sure no one caused a ruckus in The Last Call. It was the last bar in orbit around my planet of origin. As such it was really the last bar “on” Earth, so long as you allowed the word “on” to include near Earth orbit. It inter-galactic terms it was close enough for horseshoes and hyperbombs.

She smiled. “Well we won’t need you much longer.”

“True enough. What’s the countdown til station implosion?” In spite of Saint Kane’s Fourth Rule, one of the many rules that scrolled around the bar’s walls, there was such a thing as a last call in this ironically named bar.

She displayed the timer across her voluptuous, bare breasts. “Ten minutes, thirty-five seconds, and some change. You’d best be on your way soon, Jonesy”

I sighed. She was right. There wasn’t much left for me to do. Only one sentient still drank, a Conjoined Marriage Unit only counted as one person for tax and IQ purposes, and they weren’t even arguing with each other.

“I may stay here.”

“Why on Earth would you do that Jonesy?” Annabelle cocked her pretty little head. I could almost hear the gears work from where I stood.

“I’m not sure there’s much to do for an old man like me.” I scratched at my graying beard. “Did you know I’ll be two hundred and four next month?”
Continue reading Fiction – One Night At The Last Call

Fiction – The Harvest: Unwelcome Visitor

Today’s Flash Fiction is a continuation of the story I posted for the corn related challenge a few weeks ago. I plan on adding to this story serially (cereally?) over the coming weeks. They’ll be available on my Wattpad
page as well. Wattpad is a story sharing site and everything is free. Enjoy the story!

Victor Avalon pulled his car into the farm’s driveway and shut the engine off. There was no truck here and that was good. From what he’d been able to dig up, the guy that lived here only had one vehicle. He made monthly trips about this time to pick up supplies. The whole trip usually took something like eight hours. If he timed this right he had about four hours of quiet time and that was on the conservative side.

He reached into his glove box and retrieved the thirty-eight. He broke open the cylinder to make sure it was loaded. He grabbed a couple of speed loaders, the rings of bullets letting him reload without having to do it one at a time. The gun went into the right pocket of his windbreaker and the bullets into his left. He patted his hip to make sure the cell phone was still there and grabbed his camera. This was just going to be an information gathering trip.

He got out of the car and inhaled deeply. He’d spent his youth on a farm like this, but that had been decades ago. He never forgot the smell though, and how much he loved it. He didn’t know what he expected when he took the case, but to wind up here wasn’t it. He wasn’t convinced that the young man, Jake Pond, was responsible for the deaths in question. He’d keep an open mind though and leave it up to the eventual jury. He took a few minutes to walk around the grounds. The boarded up farm stand hadn’t been used this season. He pulled at a few of the two by fours and they were very sturdy with no evidence of rot. The nails that held them in place had oxidized a little, but were pounded in true and judging by the lack of holes he hadn’t set one wrong. It all showed a very ordered mind. The construction of the stand itself was nothing fancy. It was a good fifteen or twenty years old and had been patched here and there, but it stood up to the years and the weather better than some houses.

The boy he was here after hadn’t built it. Maybe the elder Pond or a farmhand was responsible. You couldn’t tell precisely by the limited information he had, but something told him that it was the boy’s father. The father and mother had died five years ago. According to his digging there hadn’t been anything suspicious. Satisfied with the shed, he moved towards the house. It was original to the family, built in the twenties, by the grandfather. This land went back a hundred and fifty years with the same bloodline. None of them had given in to make a quick buck on the land sale. That even the son had kept thing up was a little surprising. Kids these days usually didn’t value history.

The stairs were as solid as everything else. They did seem newer than the surrounding wood. The father had died in a fall. He scratched his chin. The screen door and the wooden one beyond were closed tight. The brisk wind tried to pull the outer door open, but it wouldn’t budge. He reached into an inside jacket pocket and pulled out a pair of blue gloves. He snapped them on with practiced ease and made sure that the camera’s strap wouldn’t get in his way. The screen door wasn’t latched or locked. The stout inner door showed a brand new deadbolt and a door handle that couldn’t be more than a couple of years old. The metal was bright, even on a dim day like this. There were no scratches around the keyholes.

He pulled out his set of picks and went to work. The deadbolt was tough, but he got it in less than forty-five seconds. The door handle’s lock yielded in less than five. He hesitated before opening the door. What if the boy was waiting inside for him? He reached down and pulled his cell phone free. It had four bars. His coverage was good even this far out. He put it in his left hand windbreaker pocket with the bullets and pulled the pistol from its place. He opened the door with his left hand, slowly. It didn’t creak; it just swung into an empty hallway.

The place was somewhere between a tomb and a museum. In the entryway there was a bookshelf to the left with all manner of books on theology and agriculture. That was, of the books whose spines he could read. Some were in foreign languages. There wasn’t a speck of dust to be found. The grandfather clock at the end of the entry way was stopped at one thirty-seven. He freed up his hands and powered up the camera. He made sure that it operated silently and the lens would take advantage of all the available light. Through the lens he could see that the furnishing and carpet were likewise scrupulously clean. There wasn’t a sound in the place.

He swung through the first doorway on the left and into a sitting room. The sofa and love seat were covered in plastic. Under that he could see hand tatted doilies on nearly every surface. The coffee tables were also covered. The only non-vinyl surface was a hardwood rocking chair. He was no expert, but he guessed that it was antique. The rest of the furniture was only twenty years old at most. He’d bought similar sets for his now dead wife. He took pictures of every square foot to pour over later. The door out of this room led into a small, formal dining room. The pattern was repeated here. Nothing appeared to be actively used and the dining table and chairs weren’t old by any means. Still, it appeared Jake wanted to make sure that nothing marred their surface.

From the dining room he could either go back out into the hallway or into the kitchen. He chose the kitchen. Here was the first glimpse into the twenty-first century. The refrigerator, dishwasher, range, and microwave were all gleaming stainless. The refrigerator was far larger than any one person would need. The only old thing here was the island and a butcher block rolling cart. The latter was a little scarred but well maintained. Various knife handles stuck up from the block top. Nothing was left on any of the sparse counter space. The room smelled faintly of strong coffee and bacon grease, with something unpleasant just underneath. He snapped a few more pictures and let the camera hang from its strap.

Satisfied it wouldn’t get in his way, he drew the pistol and made his way around the kitchen, opening cabinets and drawers. They were filled with a small amount of completely normal groceries and flatware. It was in this that you could see there was only one inhabitant. He had everything he needed for his own use and no more. He must have washed dishes after nearly every meal. It was also apparent that he cooked everything from scratch.

When he had become a bachelor everything came out of a box. Like this boy though, he now found satisfaction in making things the way Mom did. Finally his trek took him to the refrigerator. He was reluctant to open it, but couldn’t see why. Not one given to watch horror movies, life held horrors enough, even he knew about the kinds of things that happened in them. He held his pistol tightly, chided himself, and opened the door. There was no decapitated head or jar of eyeballs, just some milk, eggs, packages of lunchmeat, and some fresh vegetables. He let it shut and chuckled.

He opened the freezer and nearly screamed. There was the head he had feared. She looked to be about his age, old enough to be the boy’s mother. There were no pictures. That struck him. So far he hadn’t seen any pictures on the walls or book cases. He swallowed back the bile, pocketed his gun, and took a few pictures of the head for later identification. It was wrapped in clear plastic, but the features were clear enough. With a trembling hand he closed the door and pulled his pistol again.

Now he had something to go on. Still, he wanted to make hay while the sun shone. This wasn’t a large house by any means. He could have the whole thing searched and be done in thirty minutes. Suddenly he wanted to be out of here. The rest of the first floor held a bathroom and another sitting room. One must be a parlor and the other the living room. Damned if he knew which was which. There was no television on this floor. There was no computer either.

He went up the stairs. Only here did he hear his first creaky stair. There were three doors at the top, all closed. He started with the one on his left. It opened easily. This was a boy’s room. It was bigger than any one boy needed, but when the house was built, sharing rooms was more common. There was a single bed, made up in primary colors. Posters from a local baseball team and a national team were hung with care. A book case held books on the sciences, astronomy and anatomy taking a front row. He had a shelf with a few trophies, mostly baseball, but some football as well. They were all from about ten years ago. That made sense. A small telescope peered out of one window. On a whim he looked through the eyepiece. It was trained on the incoming road.

He was about to pull his head away, when a motion caught his eye. A truck was slowing down on the road at the end of the driveway. He couldn’t move his head if he wanted to now. The truck pulled in. It must be the boy’s. “Damn it. You were supposed to be gone all day.” He backed away from the window in a crouch. There was no way the boy would have seen him. All the damage would be done by now though. His car was plainly visible. He had thought about parking up the road, but there had been no good place to park.

“Think. Think.” He had to see what was in that last room. There was time and the windows on that side would mean an exit out of view of the driveway. He left the bedroom, careful to close the door and leave it as is.

The middle door proved to be a modest bathroom. Here were the first signs of real habitation. The scent of shampoo and deodorant hung delicately in the air. Anxious to answer a burning question, he opened the medicine cabinet. Small brown bottle filled one shelf. He took a picture, not wanting to waste another second. If he got out of here alive then he may have some more answers. He backpedaled out of the bathroom and opened the last door on this level.

He was flooded by a sense of normalcy. The queen bed was a rumpled mess. Dirty clothes littered the floor. In one corner he spied what could have been a gold mine if the boy hadn’t gotten home so early. The laptop was closed, but a light in one corner blinked at him. The printer beside it has a few papers stacked on top. He worked his way around the bed and peaked at the top sheet. It was a print out from a local newspaper. The faces of a young couple looked up at him. He was intimately familiar with them thanks to his client.

Satisfied that he’d learned all he could, though not all he wanted, he turned to one of the draped windows. He pulled the cover back and saw that this looked out on the back of the house. Perfect. He unlatched it and raised the window smoothly. A short space of roof, over the kitchen if he didn’t miss his guess, was like an island of security. There was a short drop, but provided he moved slowly it wouldn’t be a problem. He swung his leg through the open window and perched on the ledge. Once fully outside, he closed the window. There was no way to lock it. By the time the killer figured out where he had been he would be long gone.

A fresh breeze picked up and chilled his neck and legs. He looked down and saw that his pants where damp. He didn’t know if he’d pissed himself or sweated through the material. He didn’t have time to worry about that. He’d be ashamed later if there was any shame to be had in fear of this killer. The next part was a little trickier than he thought. There was no good hand hold for him to use once he lowered himself. He could hold on to the window ledge for a bit to stabilize himself. At some point though he would need to let go and trust his feet. He dropped his right foot off of the ledge and stretched it down for the roof below. Without being able to look it felt like he was going to step into thin air.

With a “Hail Mary full of grace” on his lips he let go and was thrilled to feel the solid wood of the roof beneath him. He almost tumbled backwards and at the last minute threw himself forward. He landed on hands and knees with a solid thump. Anyone below would be sure to hear the fuss. He moved as quickly as he could in a kneeled position. The edge of the roof wasn’t far away. He moved towards the absolute rear of the house, finishing the trip on his stomach.

He rose up just enough to make out what he could of the back yard. A small lawn tractor was parked near the house. A shed, probably for tools and chemicals, stood straight and tall about ten yards from the house. It was of newer construction than the rest of the house.

“Hello!” The voice carried well. It was deep and booming. “Hello! If you can hear me I bear you no ill will. You’re on my property and I want you off. It ends there.”

That deal wouldn’t last long. If he stood by it at all, once he saw the camera gear it would be a no go.

The voice didn’t get any closer. He repeated himself a couple of times, each time growing fainter.

Now he edged far enough out that he could see what lay just below the ledge where he lay. The flat strip of grass looked hard. It wouldn’t be a soft landing. He examined the gutter. He wasn’t sure it would hold his weight. There were a million reasons not to do this, but one great reason to get it done. He could escape almost certain death.

There was no time like the present to get it done. He secured the pistol in his jacket pocket. He didn’t want it bouncing loose when he fell. He’d do his best to land on his feet. If he broke a leg at least he could shoot the bastard if he needed to and finish the day off by crawling to his car. He didn’t worry about breaking the camera. Its memory card would survive the drop and that was what he needed.

He turned his body around and dangled his legs over the edge of the roof. The gutter bit into his stomach through his coat and shirt. There was a soft groaning as the sheet metal bent under his weight. He eased himself out more and more, kicking his legs. Finally he reached the gutter with his hands. It was the only thing he had purchase on. It held his weight long enough for him to stretch out his body’s length. He had enough time to wish he were a foot taller when the gutter gave way and sent him to the ground below.

He wasn’t able to get the “Oh shit!” all the way out of his mouth before he hit the ground. Rather than landing on his feet, he fell flat on his back. The air woofed out of his lungs and then his body locked up, refusing to replace the breath with new fresh air. The rational part of his brain knew that he wouldn’t die from lack of air. He’d be able to breath in a few seconds. The more primitive part of his brain knew that death was close.

He struggled with every fiber of his being to move. The blue sky above him filled most of the range of his vision. He was able to move his eyes and saw movement in one of the windows. If the maniac was taking the time to look around the bedrooms, he would make it. He drew a ragged breath and then another. The shock of the impact was wearing off. He rolled to one side. He was closer to that cornfield than he would like. Those places gave him the creeps. He shook off the feeling and made it the rest of the way to his feet.

He stifled his groan from the aches and pains. He’d feel that fall in the morning. Slowly, he began the walk to his car. After only a few steps he reached for his pocket to retrieve the gun. He freed it and was happy to see that it was all in working order. He pulled the hammer back and continued the walk. With his left hand he checked the camera. There was no time to check his pictures, but a cursory inspection showed no physical damage. If he could make it up the road, he’d upload the pictures to his online file storage. It needed a 3G signal or better or an open Wi-Fi hotspot for that. He wished he had one here. He’d upload them now.

His mind tracked back to the laptop. There hadn’t been any internet hardline attached to it, had there? He looked up at the house and saw the curtain move in the freak’s bedroom. Setting his jaw, he moved to the shed. It was closer than his car. He holstered the gun and lifted the camera to his face. A few button taps later and he saw an open wireless router listed. The “Netgear” allowed him to connect.

“Do you wish to upload your pictures?”

“Hell yeah I do.” He clicked the yes button and watched the first file begin to upload. Now, no matter what happened, someone would have pictures of what he’d seen. He let the camera fall back to his side and drew the pistol again. He would wait as long as he could to let the pictures upload.

A gust of wind plucked at his hair and rustled the corn stalks. It sounded like whispering.

He had a moment to register the shadow near his feet before a burst of fresh pain spread out from an impact point in the small of his back. He was able to cough out a scream before the point of a sickle erupted from just above his navel. The pistol cracked off a shot as his finger yanked the trigger reflexively.

It took great strength to lift a man a foot off the ground while he was impaled on the primitive tool. The blade was sharp and the weight of his body caused it to cut upwards. The blade was stopped by his rib cage. The awful smell of his guts spilling into the fresh country air filled his nose as the pain and shock took his mind away.

He felt his body falling and the blue sky was nearly the last thing he saw as he died. The other thing, a scarecrow of monstrous proportions, had to be a product of his imagination. Finally, everything went black.