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In The Tunnels

December 15, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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I was fourteen when I went into The Tunnels for the first time eleven years ago. It was almost the end of summer vacation, a few weeks before school started. There were five of us, six if you counted Chaz, a junior at Pace Middleton. He was going into his senior year and we were incoming freshmen. One of us, I think it was Rob, had met Chaz at a baseball camp. He told him about The Tunnels, and asked if he wanted to see it. Rob told us about it and that was how we all wound up down there one Saturday morning in August. I remember looking at Chaz as he talked. I had heard the stories about what happened to his friend. I didn’t say anything to him. I never know what to say about stuff like that.

He walked us through the graffiti covered main corridor with its nearly seven foot high clearances. The water pooled in the middle, less than half an inch deep. Pentagrams and weird cryptic symbols I didn’t recognize covered the walls. Real edgy teen stuff. In between the graffiti, the walls were honeycombed with the genesis of other, smaller tunnels that branched off the main. Flashlights pointed down those holes revealed smaller tunnels, with ceilings anywhere from four feet high to ones that required crawling on hands and knees. We trailed behind Chaz in barely concealed awe, while he walked backward like a tour guide, explaining the history.

Chaz said it all stated because he was looking for a place to get stoned. Illswell is a small town and like most small towns, it’s attitude on public drug use by teenagers is hardly progressive. Spurred on by the draconian anti-marihuana policies of our great nation, Chaz wandered off to the south end of town, down by the river and the glass factory, in hopes of finding an isolated area to get high. That was where he noticed an old storm grate that seemed to be askew. Pulling it aside, he lowered himself down a worn path and was astonished to come out into the massive environs of The Tunnels. After a few moments of wandering around the cavernous space, he realized he was not only in a bizarre, empty space, but he was in a bizarre empty space that was completely free of parents, police, or any of the other patrician forces who would care if he smoked a bowl in public.

Which he did. And then the next day. And then the next day after that. Pretty soon, The Tunnels became a home away from home for him. Which is when Chaz started to wonder why a small town like Illswell needed such a massive, intricately linked tunnel system. A series of pipes to take away excess rainwater made sense. What he had discovered made no sense.

There were hundreds of tunnels, fanning in all directions. They followed no plan as far as he could tell. Some looped in circles. Others terminated abruptly. Still others seemed to go off for miles, with no end in sight. It was baffling and it seemed like it shouldn’t have existed. And after Chaz spent a few hours researching the city history, he found out that he was right. It didn’t exist.

At least that’s what the public record said. The Tunnels were not real. On paper the city of Illswell had, as one would suspect, an extremely basic water drainage system. One large pipe ran north to south and ten smaller crisscrossed the rest of the area. The infrastructure had been built in the early fifties and, as far as Chaz could tell, hadn’t been adjusted since.

These facts stood in stark contrast to the reality of what was underneath the town. So much so that Chaz wasn’t sure if he was going crazy. So he began to conduct himself scientifically. He swore Steve and their other friend Ray to secrecy and then enlisted the two in his project, explaining as much as he could while trying to sound as sane as possible. Once all the parties were all on the same page, the three descended into The Tunnels armed with pens, compasses and notebooks. They were going to map the system and find out exactly what was going on.

Almost immediately, bad luck struck. One of them, Ray, was grounded for failing geography (an irony lost on no one) and then there were two weeks of solid rains, rendering The Tunnels impassible. By the time the rains had ceased and everything was dry enough to explore, nearly a month had passed.

Once they got in The Tunnels, the frustration vanished in the face of the their task’s immensity. Beneath Illswell, The Tunnels splayed out in a hundred contradictory directions. The job to map them, the boys realized, was Sisyphean at best. Nevertheless they tried, diligently going after school to wander and sketch starting points and ending points and everything in between, meeting up later as a group to map out the territories as best as they could. Which is when, almost two months into the project, they realized why the area was so large:

new tunnels were appearing.

They didn’t know how it was possible. There was no construction work, no jackhammers, no machines, but somehow new tunnels were coming into existence at a rate of nearly one a week. Ones with ragged edges and the same sort of bizarre graffiti that infected the main corridor. Weird human like shapes but hunched over and with long tails, painted in a strange shining black ink.

Chaz and his friends decided they needed to talk to someone about what they had discovered. Ray’s dad was the unanimous selection. Not only was he a lawyer, he was also friendly with some people in the local government. Out of anyone they could approach, they assumed he was the most likely to be able to help.

Long story short, he wasn’t. First, Ray’s dad told the boys they must have made a mistake. When confronted with the unimpeachable facts of their maps, he grew silent, studying them. Then he cleared his throat and told the three that The Tunnels weren’t a place for kids. That he knew about them, that everyone in charge of Illswell knew about them, and that the boys were putting themselves at a risk going down there. The Tunnels, he explained, weren’t for us.

But he declined to say who they were for.

He made the three swear on a Bible that they wouldn’t talk about it and would certainly never go down there again. After he left the room, the boys stared at each other in Ray’s living room with its nice TV and huge bookshelves and expensive furniture.

“What the fuck was that?” Steve whispered.

Ray, Steve and Chaz decided to ignore Ray’s dad’s advice. They were going to keep going into The Tunnels until they discovered what was going on down there. They planned on starting that night, but the prediction of storms had them put their plans on hold.

The next morning as rain came down in great sloughs, drenching the landscape and turning the world grey and blurry, Steve called Chaz. Ray had disappeared last night. He must have gone into The Tunnels before the storms started.

After he hung up the phone, Chaz rode his bike down to the storm grates, pedaling so fast he crashed twice. When he got there, all he could do was stare at the flooded corridor.

They found Ray’s body a few weeks later, bloated and egg sac white from the unrelenting waters. He was naked, too, but the police ascribed that to the simple process of drowning and the degradation of the elements.

But there was something else. The body was covered in bite marks. Small, tiny bite marks. It was odd in that he hadn’t even been partially consumed. Just almost…nibbled. The bites formed a strange, cryptic pattern that Chaz and Steve immediately recognized, staring at the visible wounds on the neck of their friend’s corpse in his black coffin. When they left the funeral home, they looked at each other.

“Those marks…” Chaz said.

“They’re the same as the ones on the walls of the corridor,” Steve finished.

“And that,” said Chaz, finishing his story as we stared at him, open mouthed and gaping, “was when we decided we needed to find out what was going on in the The Tunnels.”

His words echoed in the suddenly sinister space of the great main corridor in which we stood, our shoes wet in the standing water.

“Why’d you tell us this? Is this a joke or something?” I asked, my voice shaky and weird sounding in the dark.

“We need help. We can’t do this on our own. I don’t want Ray to die over this and then nothing happens. We want to figure this out. You guys want in?”

I believed him. Even if his story sounded so absurd I was worried it was a prank, and I was going to be the incoming freshmen getting punked by the senior, I still believed him. The way he was staring at us, his eyes hollowed out and glowing, made something in me that usually wasn’t there present. I spoke up, my voice ringing in the enormous place.

“Sure,” I said. “I’m in. What’s the worst that could happen?”

Unfortunately I found out.

***
Chaz was almost thirty, but he looked older than that with his thinning hair and grey stubble. His teeth were bad when he smiled which he didn’t do a lot of, which was sort of a good thing, I guess. I had agreed to see him while I was home for a few days, but I told him I didn’t want to talk about The Tunnels, or what had happened to Steve. He said that would be fine. I got the sense that he was lying.

We met at a fast food Mexican place near my parents. It had opened after I moved out. I had only been back to Iswell twice since turning eighteen — once for Christmas and then for my dad’s funeral. Other than new taco places, it hadn’t changed at all.

Chaz had, which he acknowledged.

“I look different, huh?” He asked as we sat down at a table near the window.

“We all do,” I shrugged. But not like him. He didn’t look different. He looked battered.

“It’s my job,” he said. “They’re kicking my ass all day up there, Timmy.”

“Where do you work?” I wasn’t really that curious. I just was trying to make conversation.

“Mihn hospital. Near Greyson, out on 118?”

“My dad worked there. That’s quite a commute.”

“No jobs here, man. So it’s either a drive or,” he laughed, “you know, no drive.”

“A drive is definitely better, yeah. I hear you.”

“Plus,” he said, in between bites of his soft taco, “I’m pretty sure that the hospital has something to do with The Tunnels.”

I put down my taco and stood up.

“It was good seeing you, Chaz,” I said. “I’ll talk to you later.”

“No, don’t get up, please. Sit down. Please. Ok?”

I stared at him. He looked so desperate, rail thin and ratlike in the dirty fast food light. I sighed and sat down.

“I’m not talking about them, Chaz. I don’t want to think about —”

“I work in the animal labs at the hospital,” he interrupted me. “They do experiments on animals. The neurosurgeons. You know that? They get all this money and they do all these experiment. On all kinds of animals. Cats, monkeys, dogs —”

“I said I’d stay here, but I’m not going to just sit and listen to this. It was nice seeing you.”

“— rats,” he said and he made eye contact with me. He stopped talking and so did I. Above us, the ceiling fan spun lazy circles.

He played with the straw in his drink while we didn’t talk. Behind him, some guy was ordering a burrito. The place made terrible burritos.

“I clean the cages at in the hospital,” he began after the silence, “it pays nine dollars an hour. That’s the only reason I took the job, I swear. I wasn’t thinking about it. I don’t want to think about it. You think I do?”

I saw a woman at the table next to us look at us. She was with two kids who were petulantly eating nachos. She was trying to look like she wasn’t listening.

“But I took the job there. I didn’t think it would…” He looked away, at the register, at the sign for the bathrooms, then back at me. “I clean the cages. That’s all. But when I went into the rat room, I was by myself. I felt weird. Looking at them. Listening to them. But they weren’t…you know.”

“I know,” I said. My heart was pounding.

“But then, one day, they looked at me. I was by myself. Just me and all of them. And I swear I heard that noise.”

Someone dropped a tray. Both of us jumped. My knees banged the table.

“Are you sure? It was that noise?” I said, settling back down. The kid who had dropped his tray was staring in horror at his tacos splayed across the grey tile floor.

“Do you forget what it sounded like?” Chaz asked.

I shook my head. Sometimes I felt like I could still hear that noise.

“That happened two days ago” he said. He leaned across the table. “I haven’t gone back yet. Called off both days. They think I’m bullshitting them. But I can’t go back. I still go to Ray’s grave once a year. I stopped going to Steve’s. But I worry. I worry about —”

“I don’t want to talk about it!” I shouted and slammed the table. The mom with her kids stared at me. I lowered my voice. “I’m not here to talk about it. You said you didn’t want to talk about it.”

“I had to get you here and you wouldn’t come any other way.”

“Why? Why do you need me to —”

“I gave some kids the maps. They’re like, what do you call them? Urban explorers? They had heard about The Tunnels. I think they’re going to go in.”

“What?” I hissed. “You did what? Did you say what happened down there?” The mom with the kids was still staring at me.

“No, I didn’t tell them. You think I want them to think I’m crazy?”

“How could you give them the maps? After what happened?”

“They gave me money,” he said. He looked horrible. Pale and sickly. I remember hearing about what had happened to him. What he had started doing. “I don’t know. I shouldn’t have. I know…”

“When did they go in?”

“Two days ago,” he said. “I think.”

I got up.

“Where are you going?” Chaz asked. “You can’t. It’s been raining and — man, you can’t.”

“Why?”

“You know why,” he said. “They’re still down there.”

“I’m going,” I said, “and you can come if you want.”

“But —”

****

“—we’re going in. Tonight,” said Steve the last night I ever talked to him, almost eight years ago. His voice crackled over the phone connection.

“Tonight?” I asked. “It’s been raining.”

“Not that much. Chaz is there already. He said it’s fine.”

“Ok,” I said. “I’ll be there in, like, twenty minutes.”

The line went dead. Steve was awful at saying goodbye.

I left a note for my mom and dad that I had gone out. My mom was out at dinner with a friend. My dad was at work. He was always at work. After he died, I was startled by how little my life felt changed by his absence. I suppose he had never been there, so his death was merely the continuation of a theme, a running joke that hadn’t been that funny.

Whenever I tried to think of him all I could ever recall was him going to or coming from his job. I barely even knew what he did. Whenever I asked him, all he would is that he was trying to make a better world. My mom told me once I should never marry anyone who mistook their work for their life.

The Tunnels were a fifteen minute bike ride from my house. I loved Illswell because it felt trapped in time: an early eighties Spielberg movie with big rambling houses and cinematic cloud streaked skies. In the fall, leaves fell off of massive trees onto the bright black asphalt of quiet streets besides the sidewalks cracked by dandelions pushing up from the underground. Life is resilient.

That night was the last time I was in The Tunnels, I was seventeen. Out of all my friends who heard Chaz’s speech, I was the only one who had decided to help with their project. The other guys thought the whole thing was stupid at best, dangerous at worst, but I didn’t care. I wanted to learn the secret.

My whole life I had read books about mysterious cities and strange other worlds. The fictional undergrounds of my childhood literature seemed suddenly tangible. Everything was possible. I was on the verge of interrupting a grand mystery. I felt elated.

I also felt a grand, horrific boredom. For as mysterious as The Tunnels were, they were also essentially just big fucking holes. The weird graffiti was baffling, as was the emergence of new tunnels, but none of that ever turned into anything. I thought that maybe it never would.

Until that night.

We went in late, after seven. The streetlights were all on and it had been raining intermittently all day. We thought The Tunnels would be still dry enough to get through without any flooding. We were right about that at least.

The years of obsessive exploring hadn’t been good for any of us. I was in high school and everybody thought I was the weird kid who didn’t do anything, didn’t date anyone, and only hung with two shady older dudes. Steve was inarguably the most well adjusted. He worked part time at packing facility, lived in his own little apartment, had even stared seeing some girl. In contest, Chaz had fallen apart. Something about Ray’s death had driven him crazy. He copied down the patterns on the walls and filled notebook after notebook with drawings of them. I think he thought it was an alphabet — like hieroglyphics. Or maybe he believed it was some sort of weird code. No matter what he actually thought it was, his increasing devotion to it, and the subject of The Tunnels in general, was troubling to Steve and I.

Chaz had also started taking acid before he went underground, something he hadn’t told us. I’m not sure how it was even possible, but it slipped by both of us. Later, Chaz told me that the drug’s effects, combined with his nearly psychopathic focus on the area, allowed for an intense quasi-religious experience. He explained that that the dark and the hallucinations made him feel that he was on the verge of discovering some kind of God.

Going into The Tunnels that night something felt strange. My pulse was racing as I walked into the corridor. There was only a little water on the ground. I can still hear my chucks splashing in it.

“Let’s go,” Steve said. “We can finish tunnels 19-24 tonight if everything breaks right.”

The tunnels we were working on that evening were small and cramped. We had to crawl through most of them, which I hated. The trapped claustrophobia of it, the top of the concrete scraping my shoulders, my face almost in the dirty ground, made my body tense. I found it hard to not race out. Panic was always barely below the surface.

For the last couple of trips down, I had been hearing a noise. A strange sort of chittering. I asked the other two and they said they hadn’t heard it. This night, as I crawled into tunnel 21, I heard it again. Louder.

The graffiti in 21 was bizarre. Lots of crude drawings of what almost looked like houses with strange hunched over things standing next to them. Things with long tails.

21 was also one of the narrowest we were able to get in. I could barely fit through some of the smaller sections. I had never been in the one part I was trying to maneuver through. I thought I was trapped at one point — unable to move forward or backward. It was like when you have a ring on your finger that you can’t get off. You pull and you pull but it doesn’t come over the knuckle. You start to sweat and then, magically, it pops off. That’s what I kept trying to think off as i pushed my body as hard as I could, then harder, then …

I broke free and the tunnel expanded significantly. I was able to breath again, which I did. Great gasping gulping breaths of air. So loud I almost didn’t hear the chittering noise until it reached an unholy din.

I swing my flashlight to the darkness before me and gasped.

The tunnel had opened up to nearly three feet high. There along the edges were strange, horrifically primitive drawings of four humans. They were nearly cubist in their approximations of the human form but there was also a horrible familiarity to them.

They were pictures of Steve, Chaz, Ray and me.

The picture of Ray had X’s through his eyes.

The chittering was getting louder. I turned around and wedged myself back into tunnel 21. I was screaming for the other two as I scrambled through the dirty cement hole.

I came out into the corridor. Ray was standing in shock in front of the tunnel he had been in.

“We have to go!” I was screaming at him. “Where is Steve?”

He didn’t say anything. Just pointed behind me.

I turned around.

Steve was at the edge of the corridor. Something was holding a black hand, or maybe a paw, over his mouth. His eyes looked like two moons glowing in the black night. I could tell he was trying to scream.

The dark thing was with other dark things. They were hunched over, almost human but obviously not, even in the darkness. I saw long tails. I heard the chittering. It almost sounded like human speech.

I heard a noise next to me and turned. It was Chaz, running as fast as he could, away from the things and toward the exit. I turned back and saw Steve vanishing into a tunnel.

I wanted to say I tried to save him. But I can’t lie.

I ran, following Chaz, out of The Tunnels for what I thought was forever.

And now, here I was with Chaz, staring at it again.

“Long time, huh?” Chaz asked.

It was past sunset. The sky was all bruised yellow and pass out red colored. Chaz was scratching his arm. I could see scab marks along his veins. I remembered him that night, running out of there with me. When we stopped, what felt like miles later, he told me he was never going back. Ever.

I remember how he got strung out after that. Photo albums of bad scenes on facebook, a selfie of him smiling with blood in his mouth, holding one of his teeth, posted without explanation or caption. I heard he got arrested for possession — meth, oxys, heroin. He did time upstate. I went out of state, went to a small liberal arts school. I didn’t talk to anyone. I didn’t met anyone. I stayed in my room. I drank when no one else was up. Then I started drinking when people were up. Then I stated drinking when I woke up. Anytime, really. Anytime I thought about this place, I drank. And I thought about it all the time.

I looked at Chaz.

“Let’s go,” he said. “This isn’t going to get any easier.”

The Tunnels were bigger than they used to be. Things usually reduce as you got older. Here my past seemed to expand to swallow me whole.

As we walked in, I heard the chittering. It sounded like a chorus.

“I shouldn’t have given them the maps,” Chaz said. He sounded like he had said that a million times to himself and he was practicing it aloud. “They gave me money…”

“It’s ok,” I said, even if it wasn’t. “Maybe we can find them.”

The rain waters were beginning to trickle into the corridor. Our flashlights glared dull yellow beams on the walls. I didn’t think we were going to find them.

“That noise…”

“It’s the same one in your lab?”

“I think,” he said. “It sounds so much like that. The rats in there, they look so weird. They don’t look right. They look smart. Like they know something.”

I thought I heard something moving behind me. I spun around and swung the flashlight. If there was something, I didn’t see it. But there it was. In front of tunnel 43.

An old tennis shoe.

“Do you think that’s one of their shoes?” I asked Chaz. He shrugged.

“Maybe?”

We decided to try the tunnel. It was a low one, but not so low you had to crawl. I could hear the water starting to splash in the main corridor. We walked hunched over, me behind Chaz.

The tunnel was long, filled with the graffiti. I hadn’t been there in so long that the vivid strangeness of the art grabbed me, but the obvious rage in the work shocked me. It showed people killing, shooting, dying in a world where the sun shone and birds flew and flowers grew, while underneath, the things with tails showed their teeth and wept.

The chittering was getting louder. The weird noise was turning familiar. Something in its pattern? I couldn’t catch it. We turned in the tunnel and Chaz, who was slightly ahead of me, gasped and stopped. I came out from behind him and froze.

In front of us, in a small room, pressed against each other, on top of each other, and suddenly staring at us, were hundreds of rats.

Seeming them up close, I realized they weren’t quite rats. They were too big, standing over two feet tall, and their faces carried too much if what I would want to call humanity in them to be only rats. But their tails, their greasy fur, their long quivering noses: that was rat. That was all and only rat.

I couldn’t scream. All I heard was their chittering. I could smell them, a hot wet smell like garbage in the sun. I felt sick. I thought of Steve, those things biting into him, all of them, chewing and chewing and chewing and —

“It’s one of the kids,” Chaz pointed. He sounded emotionless, like he was pointing out a car on the highway. “They have him on that stone.”

I looked. There was a stone in the front of the space, and tied to it was a dead teenager. His chest had been cut open. A rat stood next to him with bloody paws holding something raw and red.

“They cut out his heart,” Chaz whispered. “This place. It’s a church. Look.”

He was right. The rats were all facing the stone, which was obviously an altar. The walls were painted and their were candles burning giving off a queasy, flickering light. The rat at the stone had some kind of cloth wrapped around its shoulders. Behind him was a drawing, one I immediately recognized.

The way the rats stood, the way the air felt: we had interrupted some sort of religious ceremony. This was prayer.

Chaz looked at me. “Good luck,” he murmured. I was going to ask him what I needed luck for but then he ran, screaming, into the moving brown ocean of rat. I saw him bitten almost immediately. I heard the way his scream transformed from defiance to agony as he was swallowed in a sea of brown fur. I only saw his face once, the way his eyes were closed as tightly as he could close them, a paw reaching into his open mouth and ripping at his lips….

I turned and ran back into the tunnel, running as quickly as I could. He had bought me a few seconds, I remember thinking. I might be able to get out. And then I remember my foot hitting a puddle, a wet spot on the ground. I went into the air thinking this is the way I die. I remember landing and then hitting my head and then everything went away.

*****

I woke up in the hospital. The cops said they found me half drowned, but somehow still alive at the edge of the entrance to the storm sewers. Next to me was one of the missing kids. He hadn’t been so lucky.

I told the cops I heard the kids had gone into The Tunnels and I had gone in trying to rescue them. I don’t know if they believed it or not. Maybe they didn’t care. I got out of the hospital the other day. Nobody answers Chaz’s phone. I don’t think anybody will. I don’t know why they let me out of The Tunnels and not him, or Steve, or anybody else.

I’m worried I think I know why I survived.

I’m worried I found out what my dad was doing, I’m worried I discovered how he was making a better world. I’m worried because he’s dead and I can’t talk to him about what happened.

And I’m worried because I just heard his voice, sounding as strange and as inhuman as his portrait had looked behind the altar of the rats, asking me to leave my room and to come and see the better world he has built, the world that will become a new and great kingdom upon the earth, a world which is about to begin.

Credit: Kevin Sharp

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Their World Was White

December 14, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Their world was white. For as long as they could remember, the world had been white. Perfectly white snow was all around. Even when the snow had ceased falling from the sky, it was still cold. It was always cold. Cold enough that the snow wouldn’t melt, forever collecting on the ground outside. For as long as they could remember, there had been snow on the ground.

“All is white,” said the girl, huddling by the fireplace. The boy put more wood in the fire, and came over to hug the girl.

“It’s just snowing again,” he said.

Sometimes the snowing would cease, and the white sky would become impossibly clear. But, even then, the world was white. He looked at the dwindling pile of wood.

“We need more wood,” he said. The girl gazed back at him hollowly.

“What about the pile of wood in the attic? We’ve been saving it since the last time it was snowing.”

“This is the last of it.” The fireplace filled the room with its last remnants of heat. The boy and the girl huddled together. Despite everything, they were happy. Yes, this white world was imperfect, but it was their place, and they were together.

The snow always started with an earthquake, and the last one had almost turned their home upside down. Neither could remember a time without earthquakes. The earthquakes were erratic, and came without warning. Around Christmas, they occurred almost daily, but at times they would go for months without one. Yet, even during these times, the world was white.

“I’m going outside to get more firewood,” said the boy

“You have to get the wood now?” she asked. “What if there’s another earthquake; the snow has just barely stopped falling.”

“If I don’t go now, we won’t have enough wood for the next few months.” She kissed him, and made him promise to return to the cabin in one piece.

The boy trekked through the snow, his white footprints marking his way back to the cabin. Other than snow, the cabin was the only thing for miles. When he was in the forest, it seemed as if no matter which direction he walked, he could find his way back home. The forest itself was very sparse, just a few snow-covered pine trees for wood. At first, they had worried the forest wouldn’t be enough, yet the small forest seemed to somehow replenish itself; new trees kept growing back whenever the boy returned for wood. His hands white from the cold, he grasped his hatchet and approached the tallest pine.

“BUT I WANT TO PLAY WITH IT AND MAKE IT SNOW AND YOU SAID I COULD!”

Without warning, the voice had appeared, knocking the boy backwards. He picked up his hatchet and got up from the ground. Turning, he looked around for the voice’s source. Surely, anything that loud would be seen. But he saw nothing but white. He wiped snow from his pant leg and tried to put the voice out of his mind. He had imagined the whole thing. Perhaps it was the cold. The couple had long given up on meeting anyone else out here in their cabin, there couldn’t possibly have been another person. Certainly not a person with such a loud voice.

He gathered the wood and put his hatchet back into his pocket. The ground shook. He grabbed a nearby tree to steady himself. As violent as they were, the earthquakes never lasted long. The worst part was afterward. The snow would fall and fall, impossible to avoid.
The boy had dropped his firewood, and, with difficulty, he attempted to gather it. The snow was blinding. Other than the cabin, there was nothing around for miles. He knew he had to get home. He had their only hatchet, and if he couldn’t get back to the cabin, then the girl would have no more firewood for the constant harsh winter. He slowed his breathing and gazed around him at the white. Each angle looked impossibly like the last. He gathered his nerves and decided to head off through the snow.

Ahead, he saw a clearing. In this clearing, it was not snowing. In this clearing, it was not white. Like the sky, it was impossibly clear. The boy ran towards the clearing, and as he neared it, he was pushed back. Some barrier, some invisible clear sheet was preventing him from making it to the clearing. The boy stood, and put his hands out toward the barrier. It was a sheet of cold glass. Clutching his hatchet, he approached the barrier, when he was knocked back again by the voice.

“HAHA-I WANT TO MAKE IT SNOW AGAIN! I LIKE THIS GAME!”

The boy again looked for the source of the voice, turning around for a sign of anyone nearby.

“Hello,” he called out to the unending world of white. Receiving no response except an echo of his own voice, he turned back towards the barrier. What he saw made him fall back into the snow. A giant hand, large as the sky, was reaching towards the barrier. The hand grasped it, covering the barrier, and blotting out the white sky. Everything went dark. The boy cried out, as he felt the ground move. He slammed into the barrier from the force of the earthquake, desperately clutching for his already erased footprints. The snow attacked him from all sides, and his face was filled with cold. After a few minutes, all was still, and the boy turned to see the giant hand ascending once again into the sky.

“PUT DOWN THE SNOW GLOBE, DEAR,” he heard a loud voice scream. But this was different, an older voice, just as loud. Not knowing, not understanding, the boy picked himself up off the ground and grabbed his firewood. The snow was falling everywhere, and there was nowhere else to head but into the falling blanket of white.

Credit: Miles Purinton

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The House on First Street

December 12, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Most people don’t believe me when I tell them this, but I grew up in haunted house. Well, at least for the first few years of my life, I believed this to be true. My mom and I stayed for about a year in the house until things got too strange to handle.

My mom was a single parent who was busy working to provide for her son. We couldn’t afford a large house or one in the best neighborhood, so, like most single parents, she took the best that was available. It happened to be an early century row house that sat on a tiny hill in Santa Ana, street number 9899 on First Street.

The house was truly the perfect fit for my mom and I. It had two bathrooms, an eat-in kitchen, and two bedrooms. What more could you ask for on one income, especially in California?

Truthfully, things were great for a while there. I remember having Christmas at the house with our family all gathered around in our small living room and also a few fun evenings with friends.

But then things started to get, well, kind of weird.

At first it was just some oddball moments— things that could be explained away by logical explanations, like a mall earthquake in the night. Things around the house would move ever so slightly. It would be a misplaced book or an open curtain that was closed the night before, or a light left on that we thought had been turned off.

But then the movements became…well…more substantial.

We awoke one morning to find the cupboards in the kitchen open. Every single one of them. My mom looked to me, and I to her. It seemed we both had the same thought: why did you do that?

Of course, neither of us did. After that, our cupboards just couldn’t stay closed. This turned into a morning ritual: get up, make breakfast, close the cupboards, and go to school. But then it was other things too.

One morning we woke up to find all four of our dining room table chairs, thrown about the living room. It looked like someone had tossed them from the kitchen, one by one, heaving (or floating) them to an entirely different room in the house. My mother took a deep breath and put them back at the table like nothing strange had happened.

Now, I was only six at the time, but I remember hearing my mom talk on the phone to a friend. She talked about seeing an old man in the window, a wrinkly face that visited her every night. The face appeared and scowled at her. She hid under the covers until morning. What made the whole ‘face in the window’ thing all the more terrifying is when my aunt stayed with me one night when my mom was out of town for work.

Once again, I overheard a conversation I probably wasn’t supposed to. My aunt asked my mom who the old man in the window was, and if she’d called in a priest or medium to deal with the ‘presence’ in the house. To this my mom replied, “You saw him too?!”

Things only got worse from here on out.

One night we came home kind of late and the entire house reeked of smoke…a very peculiar kind of smoke. It wasn’t the smell of something burning, like our house had been lit on fire. It was pipe smoke; a common smell anyone could recognize who’d ever had a pipe before.

The smell was the strongest in my room, which of course, freaked my mom out to no end. She opened the windows and turned on the fan, but the smell stayed strong, like someone was still in the house lighting up their pipe.

Most folks would have probably fled by this point—chairs that move at night, cupboards that can’t stay open, a face in the window, and now a smell that was as real as someone smoking in front of you—but we stayed, at least a little while longer.

I suppose all of these events were just a precursor to what happened next.

One morning right after I woke up, my mom and I found my toys in the living room. All of them. Mind you, I had a lot of toys.

They were perfectly arranged in stacks according to their kind. My mom asked me when I had moved the toys. I told her I hadn’t. That’s when she ran into my room. In the corner where I kept my toys she found an old pair of boxer shorts and a wooden cane.

My mom was crying at this point, asking me where I’d gotten them. I told her I’d never seen them before. That’s the moment, she said, where she saw the man in the window again, but this time he was standing in the hall grinning at her.

We left after that. The next weekend family and friends helped us move out of the house and we went to stay with my grandma for a while.

Looking back, I’m not really sure what to believe about it. Was it paranormal or something equally as scary, but with real-world explanations? I don’t know, of course, but I’ve always found one memory particularly odd.

The neighbor to the right of our house was an elderly man named Mr. Cochran who lived alone. I only remember meeting him one time officially when we first moved in. But there was something that happened that I never told my mom about.

One day when I was in the backyard playing by myself, I saw Mr. Cochran in his bedroom window. He was just standing there, staring at me. He was wearing boxer shorts, smoking a pipe, and holding a cane in his hand. A twisted smile appeared on his face. He stood there smiling sickly at me, puffing out the smoke from his pipe.

I don’t know, of course, but it always made me wonder. What if our house wasn’t haunted by ghosts or otherworldly entities, but by someone from this realm? What if all those things that took place were real?

To this day, whenever I think about that house on first street, I get the chills.

I just can’t shake the feeling that maybe Mr. Cochran was in our house, watching us sleep, waiting for the opportunity to unleash his next haunting.

Credit: Stephen Pate

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Knock Twice For Murder

December 7, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Tiger can’t change his stripes, tiger can’t change his stripes. That was the motto Jo chanted in her head as she slowly rode over to 7 Brook Street. She found herself circling the block a couple times even after she had located the place, too nervous to act. It was a tall, brick behemoth that sat atop old cement steps with a sharp, sloping green roof and accents to match. The house was old, older than the rest of the city. Finally, she was ready.

She approached the black iron fence and looped her bike chain around and locked it. As she entered the gate, its creaking shut nearly startled her, and Jo had to chide herself for jumping at something so lame. She was seventeen, not some scared little kid, right? She hesitantly made her way up the steps. As the house loomed up at her intimidatingly, she saw thick, ropy vines that came up from the side and split into a dozen winding directions, like a map climbing all across the brick exterior. She might have stopped to snap a pic with her phone on any other day, just passing through. But today this was her mission.

Tiger can’t change his stripes. To her surprise, the dark wooden door had a small bronze slot in front, and yet no knocker. So… was it up to HER to knock twice? How many times does rapping your knuckle on an old door count as “one” knock? She wasn’t told this part, and Jo realized she may not have thought this all through, but then she remembered the cold, unsettling gaze from Timothy Tanzer… and little Kimberly… and she hastily brought her fist down hard on the door, just twice, very quickly. And waited.

A couple minutes went by, and she started scanning the windows of the house, which all seemed shut with velvet curtains from the inside. She took a step back for a better look at the roof, jutting down at her with a hard angle, and peered around the sides of the house- but there was nothing. Jo turned to look at the street and nearly screamed when she noticed a woman in an overcoat and gloves standing by the fence, staring hard at her from the side. Why is she watching me? Did she come because I knocked? Why is she-

Her thoughts were interrupted by a biting gust of wind, and as the woman turned her head to avoid its blast, Jo realized that she hadn’t been staring. The woman had one fixed, unmoving glass eye and one ordinary brown one. It creeped her out a little, but Jo didn’t want to be rude, and gave the lady an uneasy smile. The woman returned it politely and bowed her head, clutching her purse in front of her, as if to defer to the girl. Next in line, Jo figured. Finally, there came a short scraping sound and Jo whirled around to see a man’s hand was reaching out of the slot with an index card.

Tension still gripped her throat as she asked, “Um… what do I do?” There was no answer. “I’ve never been here before. Do I just… write it?” Silence. The hand waved the card at her impatiently, and so she grabbed it, taking a pen out of her school bag. Jo was done asking- she knew what had to be done, and wanted the nightmare to be over with. At the top she scrawled TIMOTHY TANZER, then his address. Her eyes fixed on that one odd line at the bottom, typed there in old-fashioned black lettering that simply read, INFRACTION, with a blank space.

It took a minute to sink in, but Jo was sure of herself. “Child molester,” she wrote. “He hurts little kids.” She wanted to write MORE, about how no one was doing anything about it, how many children were in danger, but the hand was still waiting, tapping its fingernails restlessly on the slot. With a sigh she gave over the card, and the hand withdrew with a small “clink,” the entire exchange wordless. After a last look, Jo went back to the street to retrieve her bike. She gave the woman approaching the steps one more polite smile, trying not to look too long at that eerie glass eye.

All at once, a weight had been lifted off Jo’s shoulders. She rode home trying to bat away the million questions that whizzed around her head. Did anybody see me? Could it all be a sick joke? But she held her head high and turned the corner, washing away any sight of that old house and its secrets. I had to TRY, she told herself. Had to do SOMETHING. And if there’s any kind of justice in this world… well, maybe something will happen to stop that sick bastard.

TIMOTHY TANZER, the flyers had read, beneath a greyscale photo of the man himself. They’d been all over the neighborhood just a few weeks prior- his face plastered on every lamppost, tucked diligently under every windshield wiper. SEX OFFENDER HAS MOVED TO 375 HIGH STREET. COMMUNITY WATCH. Jo had biked the rest of the way home double quick, poster still clutched with a sweaty palm against her handlebar, only to turn the key and run in to discover that her mother had the same one. Mom hadn’t want to know, but in an instant the teen girl was already clacking away on her laptop, her blue-shadowed eyes flicking across the screen at lightning speed.

Timothy Tanzer was convicted of sex assault on a minor, aged 12. He’d just taken a job at the auto shop on Goodman Street. To Jo’s horror, he had touched two OTHER girls, even younger than that, but was only sentenced to 14 years in prison… and got out in nine. Just NINE, she’d thought to herself, seething. A sick, twisted feeling began to grow inside her gut, steadily, like a bird emerging from its shell, flapping wet slimy wings against her stomach. She argued with her mother that it wasn’t fair, that just because they lived in one of those “urban” neighborhoods they couldn’t just dump scumbags in their area, that her little sister was only eight years old and a sweet blonde… but it was no use.

Money didn’t grow on trees. What were they going to do about it, up and move? He had the “right” to go where he pleased, her mother said. And besides, Jo’s parents worked hard enough as it was, and they’d scheduled their shifts this school year to have someone at home at all times to take care of Kim when she wasn’t in school- Dad worked days and Mom was on nights. She didn’t want to stress them anymore, so she dropped it. But it didn’t take long for the bird in her to begin beating hard against her ribs with white-hot rage.

Kimberly didn’t want to take the dirty, smelly city buses that the school district provided for kids like them. She wanted to walk to school with her friends- after all, her big sister biked to and from Our Lady of Grace every day, so why couldn’t she? “Because I’m a big girl,” Jo had told her adamantly, stopping in front of the mirror to hitch up her stockings one morning after the flyers had been found. “Even if you’re walking with your neighbor friends it doesn’t mean you’re safe. You take the city buses, you hear?” She released a held-in breath as the mist of the hair spray evaporated and started toward the door.

The little girl pulled a defiant face. “Have you SEEN those buses? Ain’t nothin’ but creepers on there.” but Jo just didn’t have time for it. “And there’s a very REAL creeper in the white house down the road,” she told her, and the girl went pale. Jo bent down to face her. “Look, I’m sorry. If you’re gonna INSIST on walking with your friends though, always go together in a group, right?” Her sister solemnly nodded, and Jo descended the steps in a hurry, stretching her new plaid dress over the bicycle seat. She smiled as the little girl waved her off, but once she was down the street and Timothy Tanzer’s house loomed into view, she couldn’t help but shudder.

Kimmy was right about one thing; the public buses were rarely on time, and they DID smell bad, but it was all they could get living out where they did. Not like those nice, yellow buses all the suburbanites get to ride in, Jo thought with derision. Preppy bastards. Don’t have to live with no child molesters. Don’t have to ride with hobos and freaks every time it’s cold out. Just trust fund babies, all of them… But she had rushed up to the bike rack and into school. Jo never wanted to be just that “city girl,” and she’d been climbing the social ranks since middle school, forcing smiles, helping with homework, and all that.

So when she sat down for lunch after a week of worrying about her kid sister, it was a mixed table of girls. There were some like Jo, from the same neighborhoods; her old friends. Then there were the popular girls, whose names meant something around here. Jo had started to bike slowly past Timothy Tanzer’s house, sometimes even coming to a stop to peer in through the dirty old windows, leaves gathering at her feet. Often she’d glimpse him just going about his daily life- doing the dishes, watching TV, or just sitting in a ratty old armchair. One day he even looked back out, and she rode away in panic, praying under her breath he hadn’t seen her. She wasn’t about to let some perv get the better of her.

“So they just LET some dirty old fuck move onto your street? That’s disgusting.” Jenny Santori had shaken her head when Jo told them all, her hoop earrings a-jingle, and took a sip of Vitamin water. “But I mean, he’s not allowed to talk to kids, is he? Isn’t that a rule?”

Jo shrugged. “I dunno WHAT the rules are- online it says every state is different. I’d wanna look into it more, but it just makes me sick.”

“I’ll pray for you,” Ruth Madison said, reaching over from across the table. She’s such a Jesus freak, thought Jo. She only hung out with her for the family name- the one plastered across the school’s new library addition. Rich, religious little Ruth… Jo still smiled. “Surely,” the pretty girl continued as Jo pushed around her tater tots, “this man wouldn’t think to touch another child. It’s all so filthy…”

A sly voice had come from the end of the table. “You KNOW, if you really wanna get him gone, there’s ways. One way I know of, anyhow.” Tina. That girl was always trying to stir the pot. She’d probably slept with half the senior boys already and it wasn’t quite October- that was just her way. Jo rolled her eyes, which was how she usually dealt with Tina’s ‘advice.’

“What, bump him off or something? Sorry, girl, but not an option.” Jo took another bite of her sandwich. “And no offense, but you tell a lotta stories.”

“Isn’t that right,” Ruth laughed snarkily. “Tina, come up with a REAL solution.”

“It IS a real solution,” Tina bit back, crossing her arms and pouting her glossed lips. “If y’all are just too dumb to listen, not MY problem.”

And as time passed, Jo had tried, really TRIED, to put Timothy Tanzer in the back of her head- but he seemingly refused to stay there. She started to hear talk. Sonya, the girl across the street, swore she’d seen him outside, complimenting some teen girls jumping rope on their “cool moves.” Sure enough, when Jo biked up one day, she was startled to find him sitting right there on his porch in a yellowed old lawn chair, waving at passers-by. A woman in a wool coat quickened her pace and tugged at the sleeve of her little boy. “Come on, Gordie,” she said, and her heels clacked fast down the sidewalk as she averted the man’s gaze and went inside. Jo had seen enough. She knew she had to act.

So with Halloween right around the corner, and the horrible notion of trick-or-treaters being watched by that creep and his cold, filthy eyes, she decided to take Tina up on her offer of that “solution” one day after school. Jo sat on the steps with the other girls, preening as usual, absentmindedly fixing her bangs and re-applying lipstick when Tina arrived, backpack on her lap.

Jenny sighed. No one ever believed Tina’s gossip. “Jo, aren’t they not allowed to ‘have’ a Halloween? Pedos, like. I think it’s a law or something.”

“No, no, it’s that their LIGHTS can’t be turned on. And they can’t have candy,” Ruth said matter-of-factly, looking all tarted up and smiling that day. She was scoping out the football field- not such a prude after all, Jo thought. “It doesn’t mean kids still won’t go to the door. MY family doesn’t celebrate, and the little ones still come every year…” She sighed and glanced away. “What about the police? Surely they have to, like, watch these people at times like that?”

Jo couldn’t contain her laughter. “Oh, hun, the police do not do SHIT for folks like us. They don’t care.” Ruth gave her a distasteful look. “And besides, they don’t have an officer for every single pervert in the city.”

“She’s right.” Tina was ready to back her up with a mischievous smile, her brown eyes enticing Jo to learn more. “I’ll tell you how to make him go away. Not just for Halloween. For good.”

“I’m listening,” Jo said as she leaned in.

“Well, it’s a real old place. You know, one of those historic neighbors, down by the river.” Jo knew what she meant- she would sometimes ride through all those pretty Victorian gardens and their resplendent mansions in the summer. “You can knock on the door… two times. And when they answer, and you give them the name of someone bad enough, you get your wish granted.”

“Why twice?” asked Jo.
Jenny shook her head. “What wish?” she said, voice dripping with sarcasm.

Tina continued nonetheless. “They’ll take care of them. You write the name, and if they really deserve it, they might get punished. Even killed. It’s not a joke!”

“Yeah, it’s an urban legend. Snopes much?” Ruth laughed. “It if was that easy, and people knew about it, sinners and whores would be dropping like flies.” She stood up and ushered some of her friends with her. “Come on… I don’t like this kind of talk. I’m a CHRISTIAN girl.” And with that, it was just Tina and Jo. Tina had told her she didn’t blame her- that she wouldn’t believe, either, if it wasn’t for her uncle, and then spun one of her usual tales. Her uncle married some nasty bitch who made his life a living Hell.

He had a son from his first marriage that this lady hated. She was on meth, and it made her act insane. Jo listened intently, eager to hear about this mystery house and its powers. “So ONE day, my uncle comes home from work to find her with the kid in the tub, holding him under the water, that bitch,” Tina spat. “She was SICK. So he left, but figured divorce was too good for her. Learned about the house from my grandma. So when he found out, he went there and he knocked, twice. And if you fill out the card with someone who really deserves it… obviously, Auntie Psycho fit the bill, so he did it.”

Jo was on pins and needles. “AND?”

“And a week later, my uncle and his kid were staying in the Motel 6 when they got word my aunt died of an overdose. Ruled the whole thing an accident, the cops. But now they’re free, even got a new house. No crime in that, don’tcha think?”

Jo was wavering, imagining the death of Timothy Tanzer.

As if on cue, Tina chimed in, “Look- somebody needs to do something about this jerk, right? All the adults have got their heads up their asses. Didn’t keep him in jail in the first place. And you think he won’t do it again?”

“No, you’re right.” Jo nodded slowly. “I think maybe he would.”

“Oh, you bet he would. A tiger can’t change his stripes.” Tina rose and gave Jo a friendly pat on the shoulder. “It’s on Brook Street. The house, I mean. It’s the big, red brick one with the gate- number 7, can’t miss it.”

And so Jo had done it. Days went by, then more days, but she still found herself fixated on that tall, strange house. As far as Kimmy went, it was finally too chilly for her to walk, so she agreed to ride that “stupid, smelly bus,” and Jo was over the moon- not just because of that. She finally snagged a cute guy from school, Brandon Soltys, one she’d had her eye on since the 8th grade, along with a dozen other girls. Funny, handsome, and muscular in all the right places. Jo would sit on the bleachers and watch him play football, his leather jacket around her shoulders with a big smile painted on her face when she looked at all the other girls. Jo wasn’t some queen bee, her family wasn’t known for their wealth, but SHE had Brandon.

She’d always thought that once she’d gotten what she was after, she’d feel happy, and yet… that damn house still loomed large in her mind. So many things you could do with a place like that. With the POWER over someone’s life, if that’s how it really worked. But so far, it hadn’t come to fruition, and Halloween neared. At the local costume warehouse, Kimmy was quick to pick out a Disney princess, but Jo mulled it over as she slowly thumbed through all the plastic-sheathed costumes until she found it. Flashy purple, a tight bodice, and sexy black fishnet to top it off. At first her mother balked, but Jo had worked all summer to save up, and was more than happy to chip in. The Friday before Halloween was gonna be a “dress-down” day, so all the kids could show off their costumes- and she was determined to be the sexiest witch there.

It was two weeks after Jo’s visit to “the house,” when she saw a bunch of neighbors outside, talking. She slowed her bike and approached Mrs. Arrowsmith, an old lady she knew from babysitting. “What’s going on?” she asked the woman, who was holding onto her grandkids.

“Well, I know it’s wrong to say but… for these little ones, I personally feel relieved.”
Jo was puzzled. “Did something happen?”
“Yeah, you bet it did,” one of the gossipy moms across the street confirmed. “Didn’t ya hear? That Tanzer guy crashed his car comin’ back from the shop last night.”
“He’s… dead,” Mrs. Arrowsmith whispered, glancing down at the children. “Must have been speeding… the whole thing went up in flames.”

Jo rode stunned all the way home, realizing that she didn’t actually feel bad. He couldn’t hurt her sister, or any other child, EVER again. And she couldn’t help but start adding up more of the world’s villains, the ones we could do without. She took the long way home each day now, finding herself in that historic neighborhood with the brick house almost compelling her to walk back up those steps. The list of people in her head was getting longer.

Jo led Brandon to her lunch table, satisfied with herself, to tell the other girls. To her dismay, they wouldn’t believe her. “You really think that was because of YOU?” Brandon asked, holding her hand and scooping his vegetables with the other. “I mean, I dunno, Jo… sounds like a kid’s story to me.”

Ruth glared at them fiercely with big, thick-lashed eyes. “He’s right. People die in car wrecks every day. Every. Day.” She quickly typed into her phone before looking up at Jo. “No such thing as magic. That’s the Devil’s work, you know.”

“Hey, all I know is, the dude’s NOT coming back. And I’m glad.” Jo finished her water and beamed at Brandon. These girls were all so air-headed- except maybe for Tina, who gave her a knowing glance and a wink. Jo winked back. “And the Devil? If it’s anyone, it was THAT creepy guy. And now he’s dead.”

“Shouldn’t say stuff like that,” said Ruth with a hard look. Oh-so-righteous-Ruth, always keeping her skirt hems at regulation length. Always… well, making eyes at HER man. She snuggled up to him and ignored the girl. “Halloween is the Devil’s time. All parties and sex and joking, when we should be more careful about the… forces all around us.”

Jo giggled. “What is this, Bible study? Jeez, Ruth, lighten up for once.” The girl just turned away, her haughty face gone red. “If anyone ELSE is interested in some of those ‘Devil parties,’ I happen to know a teen night going on at the club on Wheatley Road… BRANDON and I are going.” She smiled and clutched his bicep.

Tina said yes, and so just like that, Jo made up some ‘SAT study group’ to her parents and, leaving her dad to watch Kim, headed over to the spot with Brandon, slouching off his jacket to reveal bare shoulders and the cutest red top. “Hey, Jo! Thanks again for the sweet invite,” Tina shouted over the music, ushering them to a table. “I love it here!” Jo couldn’t help but feel a little enervated- even after getting all dolled up for Brandon, he seemed disinterested, and didn’t want to hear ‘another word’ about the house. He went to fetch them a couple sodas, and she turned to Tina.

“Man, it worked just like you said,” she told her, flashing a grin as she fixed her hair. “I mean, think about how many good things someone could do with the house. How many people-“

But Tina looked dead serious, and touched Jo on the arm, making her recoil in annoyance. “Jo, you can’t think all these people DESERVE to die,” she warned. “Listen- you should NOT go back to that house. That shit can become like… like an addiction, I’m telling you.”

“And how would YOU know?” Jo gave a hostile shake away from Tina’s hand just as Brandon returned, and she cozied up to him, saying, “You said you never went there yourself, right? Maybe you SHOULD.”

“No, Jo. I’m serious about this. My uncle? Who used the house?” Brandon already looked mad- he didn’t believe her, and here was Tina running her mouth. “He became obsessed over it, Jo. Always wanting to go back. Thinking of new people he could… take care of. He even goes on these conspiracy websites about people who shouldn’t be allowed to ‘share the same air’ as us…”

Brandon winced. “Seriously? The dude sounds whacked. Babe, she’s right… I don’t think you should go around there anymore.”

But Jo was incredulous. They were ganging up on her, treating her like some bratty kid, and she didn’t like it one bit. “Well, thanks for the input, GUYS,” she hissed, grabbing her bag.
He stood to reason with her. “Let’s not talk about this anymore. You just need to relax, alright?”
Yeah, I’ll relax. But not with YOU. They both shot her a worried look, but Jo’s cheeks were already burning hot and she wanted out. “You guys don’t understand, okay? Just… have fun without me.” She fixed her skirt and left despite their protests, greeting the cool night air in a huff. Jo had heard about all the trendy places down the road, and now she could forget all about that exhausting house and its temptations, heels clicking up the sidewalk. One night without her thoughts- and the growing list of people that constantly ate away at the back of her skull. Thirsty Thursday, here I come.

Jo’s head hurt. Her EVERYTHING hurt. But it was dress-down Friday, even if she had woken up with a bad hangover and two pissed off parents grounding her for a month. As if, she’d thought, and styled her hair and makeup to go with her hot little witch number. Brandon came into homeroom, but he didn’t sit next to her. She chortled in response- two can play at that game. She turned and faced another guy, leaning in so he could get an eyeful of her tight bodice and extra dark lashes. “So, Scott, what do YOU have planned for Halloween?”

“I, uh, maybe just staying in…” She smiled with satisfaction and turned back to see Brandon with a pissy look on his face. The desk behind him was vacant. Oh, that’s right, Jo remembered with a tinge of anger. Jesus freak Ruth doesn’t CELEBRATE Halloween. If only SHE could get away with missing classes, too, and still passing with honors- except HER family couldn’t just donate whenever they felt like it, getting their daughter through by flashing cash at the academy.

That’s when Brandon took it too far. “Mrs. Penderson?” he asked innocently. “I think Jo might be… in violation today?” You son of a bitch, Jo fumed as she glared daggers at him across the aisle. But the teacher was already walking her way.

“Marjorie, your dress is not appropriate. And take off the hat.” Jo couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Her anger and throbbing headache finally boiled over.

“I WON’T,” she spat at her. “It’s part of my costume. And my costume is FINE.”

Mrs. Penderson was taken aback. “Do I smell alcohol on your breath? This is completely unacceptable, Marjorie. You will come with me outside-“

Jo sat straight up and got in her face. “I’m not going anywhere with you. I’m… just… FINE, okay?” The teacher began to march her- wriggling in her grasp- out, as the other kids whispered. Once in the hallway, Jo broke free, humiliated and pissed, knowing her mother was sleeping off the night shift- some old bitch of a teacher wasn’t about to go bother her mom. She made for the doors and to the bike rack even as Mrs. Penderson called out behind her, unlocking her bicycle with trembling fingers and flinging herself on.

Jo’s fury only grew as she raced back to her house, imagining her poor groggy mother awakening to a phone call about what she’d done. No, she wouldn’t. Her costume was a poor choice for riding, and her stockinged legs were cold, but she was almost home. Finally she turned her key and snuck into the living room, her mom dozing a few doors down. She found her mother’s cell phone and turned it to silent- but she wasn’t done yet. The outfit was still too awkward to pedal in, so she quickly slinked to her room to change. Something loose. DARK. For once, Jo didn’t want to be seen.

I’ll go there ONE more time, she told herself, back on her bike and flying past side streets. Surely knocking just once doesn’t kill somebody. Maybe it just… puts them in their place. All she could picture was Mrs. Penderson, with her strict, stupid little rules. Probably went to some expensive fancy school to get her degree, never had any fun… THAT’S why she’s so pissy, always trying to come down on kids so she can FUCK UP their lives for something as dumb as drinking. Which everybody does anyway. She turned the bend and there it was- that brick Victorian beauty, calling her name.

But as Jo pedaled up to the gate, she all at once stopped, her breath caught in her chest, and dove behind some bushes, ditching her bike. It was that BITCH. Ruth Madison. Suddenly it all made sense- always eyeing Brandon, getting on her high horse about Jesus this and sinful that, and now SHE was the one at the door? To her horror, Jo heard her knock- just once. She craned her neck and watched the girl pull out a card, then scribble on it. Before Jo could say anything, Ruth handed it over and, with a closing of the mail slot, descended the steps.

“What the Hell did you DO?” Jo emerged from the bushes as Ruth’s eyes got wide with shock, and she made for her waiting blue car. “Take it back, right now!”

“We get what’s coming to us,” Ruth shouted defiantly, opening the driver’s side door.
“What did you DO to me, damnit? Answer me!”

Ruth just gave a curt little smile. “You really are a witch, you know that? YOU’RE the one who let me know the house was here, Jo. Maybe it’s what you DESERVE.” And with that, the door was shut and Ruth sped off, Jo still screeching at her AND the door. In desperation she ran up to it and knocked frantically, but only the hand emerged, card ready, which just served to feed her madness.

“I DON’T WANT ONE OF YOUR STUPID CARDS, JUST GIVE ME MINE!” The hand abruptly drew itself back, and she continued to shout and plead, but to no avail. Stepping away, Jo’s thoughts turned to other possibilities- she COULDN’T let Ruth’s card go fulfilled. Her mind set on sabotage, she went to the alley beside the house. Jo ran her hands over the brush and, finding a loose brick, used it to smash a hole in the cellar window.

Even as her fingers were nicked and cut, her heart beat fast, and she quickly brushed away the glass, blood dripping down as she examined the entrance she’d made. Squeezing in, she crawled through and dashed up the musty old steps of a long-unused basement. Jo discovered herself in the parlor of the house, all decked out in beautiful rugs and Old World finery. But she headed at once to the front door- she knew she wouldn’t have much time.

To her dismay, a mountain of cards met her there, and she dropped to her knees and began frantically sorting through them, looking for her name. As she tossed aside paper after paper without success, she heard a thump from up the stairs, which sat behind her made of wood and covered with a well-worn carpet. She feverishly continued the search until at last she spotted familiar handwriting. Her OWN handwriting. With a quiver in her chest she lifted the card for a better view. It was something she filled out at the beginning of each year- an information card the school kept on file. That bitch, what did she get her hands on, she thought, her eyes scanning quickly down past her name, her address, her parish… and there it was, the same typed letters she had so often pictured in her mind.

INFRACTION. And after that, the response by Ruth. The rich bitch. The self-righteous schoolgirl. It simply read, “PRIDE.” Without warning there was a noise upstairs, and Jo tried wildly to tear the card, but somehow it would not shred. All she managed to do was get her own blood, still wet from the glass cuts, smeared over the words. Pride. God DAMN her! If she couldn’t destroy it, she would steal it. As footsteps approached the staircase, Jo got to her feet and took in the room. There HAD to be something else… and then an odd gleam in the corner caught her attention.

Installed next to the door was an old, faded bronze plaque, and its engraving brought out a primal fear inside her. It read: DISFIGURED- Price- One knock. DEAD- Price- Two knocks. TAKEN- Price- Three knocks. Taken? Jesus, what could THAT possibly mean? But Jo didn’t have time to find out; at the sound of another footstep, she ran like Hell back down into the cellar, haphazardly climbed through the window, card still in hand, and got onto her bike. She reluctantly dusted off her old helmet, for protection, and put it on. Then she rushed away from the house faster than she’d ever pedaled before, reeling from what she’d seen.

Jo only knew one thing: she had to get home, NOW. Pride is a fucking sin. I’m not a sinner, she told herself, taking care as she continued down every shortcut she knew. I can’t get hurt- DISFIGURED, oh God- if I just stay at home, away from everybody. She tried to build up her confidence as she whizzed past the neighborhoods full of jack-o-lanterns and decorations. No trick-or-treating with Kimmy. No parties.

Plenty of shit could go wrong Halloween night- fireworks, pranksters; Hell, maybe there was even some truth to this idea of “demons” coming out. After all, hadn’t she just tried to rip an unrippable card? In a house that can kill a man just by taking down his name? I can lay low, I’m already grounded. It’ll be OK. Almost home. Her heart calmed to a more steady rate as she biked around a sharp turn- only to come face-to-face with a group of kids in costume, exiting a Halloween store.

Jo yelled and swerved hard to avoid them. A blur of color was all she saw as her bike veered off to the side, and all at once she went flying forward, over the handlebars and into Mrs. Arrowsmith’s prized hedge. Its thick, giant branches shot up at Jo as she was thrown in face-first and screaming.

Credit: TheJinx

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Crimson Grove

December 5, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Delia jogged into the forest, smiling as she listened to her mother’s cry to be careful. She was going to play with the fairies, they would keep her safe! Running over upturned roots and thick underbrush, Delia’s slipper-clad feet barely touched the ground as she sprinted past the tall Elms, moving deeper into the Worley Woods. Streaks of sunlight breaking through the thick canopy became fewer and fewer the deeper into the Woods she ran until she reached a moss covered, sunken grove that seemed to be in perpetual twilight, glints of sunlight from high above flickering like stars in the night sky.

Standing on a boulder overlooking the grove, Delia slid down to her rear, folding her arms around her knees as she stared out over the expanse of crimson that covered most of the grove; blood-red flowers, their petals wide and rich lined the forest floor like a thick carpet. Staring out over the peaceful scenery for a few moments, Delia reached into the small sack she’d slung over her shoulder as she’d left home today. Pulling out a biscuit, hard and cold from the time that had transpired between breakfast and now, she tossed it idly into the air a few times, catching it only to study the crumbing edges.

The flowers rippled, like the surface of a pond you threw a rock into, as the quiet calls of far off birds fell silent. Delia smiled, looking down at the sea of red expectantly.

“It’s okay,” she said, catching the bread in one hand, “it’s just me. Come on out.”

A faint buzzing, like the wings of a bee, fluttered from several points beneath the red petals, glittering points of light glowing from beneath the darkened leaves.

“I brought food again,” Delia said, holding up the biscuit high in the air.

A faint wind blew over the vale, a slight coppery scent filling the air that Delia savored; it smelled so familiar. The shepherds’ daughter could never place where she had smelled the slightly sweet scent before, but the flowers fragrance was something she had smelled before. It was sweet, it was salty… it was something she couldn’t put her finger on.

A small head breached the bed of flowers, black and shiny as if moist from morning dew. The head was dominated by one silvery eye and a pair of pointed catlike ears, devoid of fur. Instead, strands of tar seemed to connect the ears to the head, which stretched and pitched as the ears rotated atop the misshapen head. In the perpetual twilight of the grove, Delia could see dozens of glimmering eyes hiding beneath the flowing red petals, watching her.

Winding her arm back, Delia pitched the biscuit out over the grove, smiling as the tar-like Fae buzzed into the air with glistening wings, stretching out three-fingered hands to catch the biscuit, which was half its size, midair. The creature gave a flash of sharpened fangs as it bit into the bread, fluttering slowly back into the foliage below, rending off a piece of crispy bread which it noisily chomped on. Arms stretched out, tiny yellowed bones visible beneath the holes in the tar as they elongated, tearing off small portions of bread as it came within reach. Slowly, the black fairy was engulfed in the sea of crimson once more, the petals parting and flowing around him like the ebb of the tides.

Pulling another biscuit from her sack, she broke it in half and hurled it across the grove, giggling as another of the twisted little creatures leapt into the air. She entertained herself for a few minutes, unloading bread into the grove to the waiting maws of the ravenous sprites until she came across a strip of cold bacon.

Eyeing it carefully, she pulled it out and sniffed it. She could feel eyes roaming over the strip of meat, practically hear mouths salivating- the sprites were obviously intrigued.

“The stories all say you can grant wishes. Is this true?” Delia asked, finally bringing up the subject matter after weeks of visiting the small folk. She’d discovered the vale nearly a month ago, almost falling from the circle of mossy boulders that surrounded it. She’d dropped her honeyed treat into the grove while regaining her balance, the lemon bar disappearing like a drop of water into the sea. She’d almost gone after it until she’d heard the sounds of the little creatures eating it just below her.

Now, after weeks of feeding them, she wanted to know more about them.

“Answer me or no more food.” She threatened, holding the bacon over the lip of the boulder, dangling it enticingly.

Angry chatter echoed from beneath the red tide until one lone voice remained. It was thick and heavy, with its words sounding like the bending of wood in a storm. “Food. Wishes for food.”

“Alright,” she said, tossing the bacon out lazily, smiling as three separate sprites leapt out, and tearing into the bacon mid-air while violently scratching at each other with inch long talons. She watched the buzzing forms tumble back into the flowers, their wings clacking angrily before she continued. “You know of my family, right?”

Hisses and clacks rose from the flowers, the voice finally emerging once again, “Yes…”

“Good. Then you know we struggle to make ends meet. The sheep produce just enough wool to clothe us, and their meat is just enough to keep us fed. Between the animals we raise and the herbs we sell from the forest, we can barely pay our taxes. And now my father has fallen ill.”

The voice, hoarser this time, rasped, “Food?”

Delia grunted irritably and fished out another slice of bacon, holding it above the red field, the wind blowing softly through her hair, carrying the copper-scented pollen with it. The chattering rose in tenor. “I want silver, silver and gold. Enough to pay for the medicine we need to make my father better. Give me this, and I’ll continue feeding you as I have been.”

She threw the bacon down into the flowers to punctuate her statement, smiling as she heard the tiny beings scrap amongst each other, jockeying to get a slice of the salty meat. Scraping her slipper along the mossy boulder, Delia looked down to watch the flowers pitch back and forth, rippling chaotically until the meat was gone. The flowers swayed gently from side to side, their wide blossoms waving over the tiny black fairies.

“Can you give me what I want?” Delia asked, pulling out her last strip of bacon.

“Lower a basket… lower a basket and give us food… you get what you need…” The voice clucked, the sound of rustling leaves telling her that her forest friends were moving to and fro beneath the crimson petals.

Pulling out the roasted leg of lamb and three biscuits, Delia shook her sack empty of crumbs before looking over the edge. “I’ll lower my sack, you just fill it up.”

Sliding the satchel through her hands, she slowly began to lower it into the crimson sea of flowers below her. Resting on her knees as she did this, she could only marvel at the countless flowers that seemed to move of their own accord, swallowing up her satchel as she lowered it the few feet from where she sat. She felt a few tugs on the material, heard the clattering voices and the clacking wings… the flowers scent was almost overpowering, flooding her senses with the coppery odor she could not place.

Slowly, she felt the bag grow heavier. Heavier and heavier, and heavier still. Shifting it between her hands, she heard the clinking of metal on metal, the sliding of coins against the fabric of her bag. The clattering voices fell silent as she began tugging up the satchel, grunting as she did so. The bag was so heavy now!

Smiling as the edge of her sack broke the surface of the red petals; her smile grew wider when she caught sight of the hundreds of silver coins weighing it down. Hefting it up to her and over the edge of the boulder, she heaved a sigh before laughing. Grabbing a biscuit, she threw it out over the grove in thanks before plunging her hands into the bag of coins. Each coin was thin but heavy, with a worn face embossed on each one, etchings around the edges in a strange language she couldn’t make out.

Shifting her knee, she was surprised to see the boulder beneath her bore a similar symbol beneath the fuzzy moss. Dropping the coins back into the satchel, she scraped away a few feet of moss, to reveal a myriad of unidentifiable sigils. They were carved around the lip of the grove, at the edge of the boulder; beneath them were crude engravings of fairies, not like the ones in the vale before Delia, but with butterfly wings and childish grins. Taking out one of the coins, she flipped it over to examine the raised features of a regal looking figure. The sigils on the other side of the coin looked like the ones forming a ring around the grove, the carved stone twinkling merrily as the carvings had been inlaid with metal.

“Food…” the voice hissed, catching Delia’s attention. “Food for treasure!”

“Oh, yes… here, the main course!” Delia said, grasping the leg of lamb and tossing it out into the vale as far as she could. Spinning in a lazy arc, a dozen black tar fairies leapt from the ruby forest floor, latching onto the leg and dragging it down into the depths below.

“Why is there a ring of fairy writing around your grove?” She asked, one hand cupping the bulging sack of silver in her lap.

The voice didn’t answer at first, but after a few moments of gnashing teeth and noisy chewing, she got her answer. “Cage… keeps us here.”

“You’re caged? Who would do that?” She asked, outraged that her friends were kept imprisoned. Fairies were supposed to live in the forest freely.

The voice crackled as it answered. “We did… end fighting with others goes into hiding… shhh… keeps them out while keeping us in.”

“Oh,” she said, moving to stand up. “Well, then I guess I’ll leave you to your meal. Thank you for the silver!”

The fairies hissed low, moving amidst the flowers as she stood over them. “Meal isn’t over…”

“Well, that’s all the food I brought. I’ll bring more next time, I promise!” She said, grabbing the slings of her satchel.

Lifting the satchel up as she pushed herself to her feet, Delia grunted from the weight on her back before hearing the sound of fabric ripping. Before she could react, the back of her sack split wide open, pouring the coins back into the vale below, the silver coins clinking together as they hit the boulder and bounced about wildly. Spinning, Delia mad a mad grab at some of the falling coins, dropping to her hands and knees to scoop at some as they fell below.

“No!” She screamed, her hands grasping only air. The satchel over her back stirred, catching her attention. She screamed once more as she heard the buzzing of wings from behind her, catching sight of one of the one-eyed Fae launching itself from her sack, two firm handholds on the back of her dress as it flew over the edge of the boulder, clattering loudly.

Delia wobbled from her precarious position, slapping her hands onto the mossy boulder’s side to try and brace herself against her the miniature creature’s tugging. She felt secure too, at least until her blue eyes met the silver ones beneath the petals.

Leaping with savage hisses, three fairies buzzed up from their vermillion cover, their three-fingered hands grasping onto her forearms. Their skin sizzled against hers, searing tar being poured over her pink flesh like water over hot coals. Their grips sank into her arms, drawing blood, causing her to scream in agony as they pulled her over the side.

Landing amidst the flowers, Delia quickly found herself overwhelmed by the scalding creatures, each one hissing and clattering the same word.

“Now the meal will begin,” the voice said as the fairies closed in on her.

Their teeth bit into her flesh, tearing it away in long stringy bits while claws pulled away muscle. Delia screamed and thrashed, the scent of her own coppery blood filling the air… mixing with the same odor of the flowers. Howling madly, she struggled to stand, to knock the hungry pests away; but she was feeling warm as if she were going to sleep. The pain was slowly fading away as her eyes blinked wearily, her head rising up to breach the crimson canopy above her.

Fresh air! She tried to take a gulp of it, but she found she couldn’t breathe. Looking around, she tried to scream as instead of a sea of flowers she was greeted by a sea of bloody faces.

“They got you,” One head rasped, sounding dejected. It was that of a young boy that had gone missing a few years before.

“Of course they got her!” Another head hissed, this one that of a handsome teen.

“They always get us…” A few heads said in unison, blinking back tears of blood that were welling at the corners of their eyes.

“We’ll just have to warn others like we warned her.” The boy said, turning on a stalk made of chitinous bone. It cracked and popped as he twisted, snapping as he turned to face Delia. “Now you see the grove for what it is. Hopefully, our smell will keep away the next person unlucky enough to stumble by.”

Delia wailed her voice dying on the wind as the fairies below wormed their magic over her, changing her appearance from that of a talking head on a spine to that of a beautiful red flower. Delia spread her petals wide, opening up the bulb of her flower, coughing out the stench of blood for all to smell.

Her blood, which would hopefully warn away the next child to stumble by the Crimson Grove.

Credit: Nicholas Paschall

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The Duxbury Chronicles: The Dumpster

December 3, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Please visit the The Duxbury Chronicles series tag for more!

“The Dumpster”

August 6th, 1982 was a day that no one in Duxbury liked to talk about. No one who is still around who remembers it anyway. It had been a hot one. Hot, humid, and most of all, wet. It had been that way all summer.

“Unnatural,” The old timers were wont to say.

By mid-summer rainfall all along the East coast had hit records not seen since the 20’s. The nearby swamps and bogs had deepened, dark, murky water encroaching onto lands normally dry. The Duxbury Bogs and the North Hill Marsh Sanctuary in particular had been cause for concern.

By mid-July (Courtesy of the Bogs), Pilgrim’s Highway had been flooded over, blocking Mayflower Street all the way down passed East Street. Island Creek Pond and the North Hill Sanctuary had joined forces, turning the lands that divided them into one giant wilderness of muck and water.

And by the end of July it looked like Cranberry Bog and Pine Lake were on the verge of rising up high enough to join the other two and submerge the whole damn area. It had been an ugly business already.

Homes in and around Pettibush Lane, Maple Pond Lane, and Evergreen Street had already been lost to flooding. And there had even been talk during the Duxbury Town Hall Council Meeting the previous weekend of the possible necessary evacuation of Tinker’s Ledge Road if the rains kept up.

That had gotten people buggin’. Markus McDuff had leapt up and shouted with the vigor of a man half his age, declaring, “They’ll have to drag my dead body,” off his Apple Farm if they came to evacuate him.

There had been a grasshopper boom as well. Everyone said it was because of all the rain. The population thickened as one got further from the busier streets. Certain sections of the Whiton Woods were so thick with the little green bugs that it was hard to describe it in words.

One had to “see it, to believe it.” On some of the trails every step one took would literally be accompanied by a multitude of tiny springy noises as the brainless bugs leapt away from whatever giant passed them by.

They hadn’t been the only insects to flourish in the unusually wet weather. The cicadas had come out in force for the season as well. And they sang their summer songs with an unprecedented fervor. Every evening around dusk, they’d alight in the branches of the trees and chirp up at the brilliant, shifting purple and orange canvas in the sky.

In the trees all along Island Creek, the insects seemed to be especially prevalent. There were certain sections of the creek where one would have to practically shout to be heard over the buzzing cacophony. It was, needless to say, not a good season for insectophobes.

Despite all the climate issues, the “tourist” season (small as it was) did not seem to really suffer. Which had been quite a relief to the local business owners. And ever since August started it hadn’t rained. As a result, the general mood around town was brighter than it had been.

But on this early afternoon, one resident’s mood was especially chipper. Officer Robert Maxwell was walking down Harrison Street with a particular “pep” in his step. That was because Bob had just scored a dyno date with the town Betty!

She was a bodacious babe by the name of Mary Barbadino. She’d been the morning waitress at Alice’s Restaurant for going on three years now. Bob had grown up in Duxbury and had always liked Alice’s. But it had been Bob’s pre-shift breakfast spot pretty much every day since he’d first laid eyes on Mary in that tight-fitting waitress uniform. Even on his days off.

He still couldn’t believe his luck! Bob, at the ripe old age of thirty seven, was not exactly known for being a lady’s man. He wasn’t some hoser or anything, but he was no primo stud either.

And she’d approached him! Bob had known that Mary had broken up with her boyfriend Marcus Greene four months prior. But he had never had the cahones to do anything about it.

The situation between Mary and Marcus had been like a badly written movie. Marcus and his posse were the local tough guys. He and his crew seemed to always be getting into trouble. Be it a fight at the local bar, or a “domestic dispute” at one of their biker parties.

If it was true that in life everyone had a role to play, then it was Marcus’s destiny to be an asshole. That’s not what had stopped Bob from making a move on Mary, however. Bob was a Roller after all. He’d just been too chicken.

So this morning when Mary had come over with a cup of coffee in hand, and slid into the empty booth across the table from him, he’d been struck speechless for a few seconds. The conversation had been quick and direct. Mary talking, and Bob mostly nodding while trying to keep his mouth from hanging open.

She’d wanted to know if he was interested in catching a movie after her shift. Bob would have watched the bunkest movie in the world with Mary. He’d quickly agreed, and the two had made plans to meet when she got off at five.

Bob made it to the corner, and took a right onto Washington Street. He was headed to Barry’s Meats, the local butcher shop. Barry was legendary in the region for his kielbasa. And tonight after whatever movie they ended up seeing, he was going to surprise Mary with a better meal than Alice’s had ever put on a plate!

He walked briskly, passing Beaver Brook Lane and making a mental note to stop at Snug Harbor Wine on his way back home. It was nearly 12:30, which gave Bob approximately four and a half hours to get dinner made, get dressed, and be back at Alice’s.

He had been originally scheduled to be on duty until six and had agreed to meet Mary without giving it a second thought. After realizing it, he’d been worried that the “boss man” wouldn’t be accommodating to his sudden plans. But after he’d made it back to the station, Sheriff Copper had been all too happy to give Bob the night off.

In truth Copper had at first been as incredulous as Bob had initially been. But the Sheriff was a good (if not gruff) man., and had granted his request with a hearty laugh. He gave him a hard pat on the back and left him with the wise words, “Happy hunting son!” as Bob had walked out of the Station doors.

He swiftly passed by a group of children playing in Washington Park. Off in the distance a baseball game was going on. He vaguely remembered seeing a flyer earlier in the week stating that the Duxbury Dragons would be playing their first game of the season today.

On the other side of the street loomed the Saint John’s Evangelist Church. The ancient stone structure cast a long shadow across the asphalt. Bob only gave it a cursory glance as he passed it by.

He was not a religious man, though his Mother regularly attended. In truth, the place had always kind of creeped Bob out.

He looked around. He didn’t see the local Pastor, Father John, anywhere. Which he ironically thanked God for. The short, fat man was always lurking about somewhere in town. Always looking to “add to the flock” as he put it.

“Lurking.” No. That wasn’t the right word for it. For all their brief encounters, and by all accounts, Father John was a pleasant man. Known for his charity work, and volunteering at the local soup kitchen in fact. He felt like a dick for having the thought in the first place, and quickly pushed it out of his mind.

By the time he’d crossed Freeman Place and was walking alongside the monolithic structure of the Hudson Bank, his thoughts had once again returned to Mary and what exactly he’d done to make this morning so different than all the countless others. He glanced to the left. Looking at his wavy reflection as he passed by the floor-to-ceiling windows of the massive building.

Well, he had started working out. In fact in the last two months he’d lost almost twenty pounds! A big part of it was the change up in his diet.

Egg whites and coffee for breakfast, instead of pancakes. Salad for lunch, instead of a burger. Come to think of it, hadn’t Mary been the one to first suggest his change- up in breakfast?

Or maybe it was his fresh new ‘stache. At first he’d been hesitant to try and grow one. Never being one for stylized facial hair. But he quickly realized that it was totally choice. His mom said he looked like Tom Selleck.

Bob was enwrapped in these thoughts as he reached the corner. He wasn’t looking in any particular direction, and only half heard the quick, panicked steps just as someone came sprinting around the other side of the building and collided straight into him.

Bob was knocked off his feet. Landing hard on his back, he managed to keep his head from bouncing off the pavement. But for a few seconds he saw stars anyway.

“Bab!” He recognized Boston George’s voice. He sat up, and attempted to bring the man into focus.

“Oh, Babby, thank Gad it’s you!”

Bob began to slowly climb to his feet, but the skinny forty-something man was faster. He practically leapt up and dashed over to the deputy. Offering him a hand, the man helped him up.

“We got a real situation here, Babby!” the man said, his eyes darting around frantically.

Georgey McCabe, or “Boston George” as he was known by the locals, had gotten his name because of his heavy accent. And because, well…he was from Boston. Which could be quite a big deal in some circles within such a small town.

He was a “born, and bred Irishman of the Big City on a Hill”, as he was wont to say. Bob had never been, but he imagined that Georgey was a pretty accurate representation of the average Bostonian.

Boston George had moved to Duxbury from Beantown three years prior. He always seemed to have a lot of money, though no one knew exactly what it was that he did. He drove a candy apple red BMW M1. Anywhere he went with it he drove like a man on his way to save the world.

Georgey had accumulated quite an impressive pile of tickets and citations since coming to Duxbury. But he always had the money to pay off his fines, and so had remained on the road.

“For now,” Sheriff Copper had said to Bob one night at the Station.

Copper didn’t like Boston George, though Georgey seemed oblivious to the fact. He kept speeding, and the Duxbury Police Department kept profiting off his “stuntman” antics.

Bob had never ticketed Georgey personally, however. He and the Irishman had become some-time poker buddies shortly after his arrival. Bob liked to gamble once in a while. Georgey loved it. And the man had one hell of a poker face.

Over the last two years, he’d taken far more of Bob’s money than Bob had his. That was for sure. The man also liked to sometimes go out “day drinking” as he put it. And as Bob took in George’s disheveled appearance, he began to suspect that was exactly what the man’s afternoon activities had consisted of thus far.

The thinning hair on his head stuck out in tufts, pointing in all directions. His Aloha shirt was only half tucked into his trouser shorts. Bob realized that the man was also missing one of his flip-flops.

But there was a distinct panic in Georgey’s eyes. A sort of wild terror that gave Bob pause. The man was talking, Bob realized. Thickly accented words flowing out of his mouth a mile a minute. Though he had no idea what he’d been saying.

“Take a red, Georgey!” Bob shouted, raising his hand in a silencing gesture as he did.

George fell quiet. For a few seconds all that could be heard was the birds chirping, and George’s ragged breathing.

“What is the problem?” He didn’t have time for this.

“There’s…” George gulped in a lungful of air, trying to steady his voice. “-There’s some kind of mahnstah in the dampstah behind Bahne’s Mahket. And I think it got Old Man Pete!”

“What?” Bob asked. Truly at a loss.

“Oh for Gad’s sake, Bab! I’m tellin’ you that there’s something in the dampstah behind Bahne’s Mahket, and I think it got Pete!” The man was quickly becoming hysterical.

“Okay. Okay,” Bob said, raising his hand once again in a placating gesture. “So tell me what happened.”

“I was sittin’ outside Lux Cafe. Out in one of the chairs on the patio. Just having a drink ya’know?”

At this Bob quirked an eyebrow. Georgey didn’t seem to notice.

“Anyways, so I’m sittin’ there out on the patio when I see Old Man Pete come out of his store, and go around to the back alley with a bag full of trash.”

Peter Barne’s was the elderly owner of Barne’s Market, the local grocery co-op. Pete was in his seventies, but had moved like a man half is age up until his wife Edna had passed last winter.

Since then Pete had developed a noticeable stoop in his stance. Now he walked with slow, pained movements. These days he seemed to look at the ground more than anything else.

In truth it pained the Deputy to see the old man slowly fall apart. Bob had known Pete since he’d been just a boy. He’d been known as “Old Man Pete” even back then. But in those days he’d sported a full head of gray hair.

“So like after five minutes go by,” Boston George was saying, “I notice that Petey hasn’t come back out from the alleyway yet. So I staht worrying that the poor old bugger’s hurt himself or something ya’know? So I get up, and I go across the street to go check on him.”

Bob knew the area George was referring to well. It was called East Cove Plaza, and was consequently the only spot on Surplus Road that had any businesses on it. Four to be exact.

All located around the same two square blocks. Barnes Market and the Red Herring Diner on one side of the street. East Bay Salon and Lux Lounge on the other.

Up until a year, and a half ago there had only been three businesses. But Lux had opened up next to East Bay. It was this “new age” hippie cafe/bar. And was owned by this unbelievably sexy red-headed fox named Gretta Thompson.

She’d moved to Duxbury about two years ago and after about six months had opened up shop. That was all he really knew about her. He’d never been in the bar, though it had simultaneously become a hit with the younger locals and an endless source of gossip for the elders.

“So what did you find when you went to go check on him?” Bob asked, feeling a faint sense of apprehension as he did so.

“That’s the thing, Bab,” George said in a hushed tone. “There wasn’t no one back there when I got up there. Just an empty alleyway with the dampstah in the back.”

“But I got this real weird feelin’, Bab. This real weird feelin’ that Old Man Pete was in that dampstah,” Georgey continued.

Bob already did not like where this was headed. Though admittedly he had absolutely no fucking idea where this was headed.

“So I get to like about ten feet away from the dampstah, and somethin’s telling me—somethin’s telling me not to get any closer. So I call out Pete’s name. Feeling a bit silly as I do, mind you.”

Bob smirked despite himself. Yes. Silly was one word for it.

“And just as I say his name there comes the sound of trash slammin’ around. And I mean a loud sound! And the dampstah…” George trailed off as he gave a shudder. “The dampstah, Bab… it jerked towards me!”

Bob raised an eyebrow.

“The dumpster jerked towards you?” The words just didn’t sound right.

“Yeah, Bab. And I mean like three freakin’ feet!”

“So what did you do?”

At this George looked incredulous.

“What did I do? I fackin’ ran for my Gad damn life! That’s what I did Bab!”

“Okay. Okay,” Bob said, raising his hands once again. “Let’s go.”

“Go where?”

“Back to Barnes Market.”

“Back?”

“Yes,” He said,pinching his nose. “Back to the Market.”

“But-.”

“Come on, Georgey,” Bob cut him off and started walking.

Five minutes later they were moving down Surplus Road, almost halfway to their destination. Up ahead loomed the wooden bridge that went over Bluefish River. The raging waters echoed off the surrounding trees that bordered the street on both sides.

Bob had kept up a brisk pace. Partly because he was worried for Old Man Pete, and partly because of his rapidly shrinking timetable. George, to his credit, had kept up.

“Are you sure you don’t want to call for backup, Babby?” he half shouted over the thundering river, just as their feet met weather worn wood.

Bob glanced down at the rushing waters of the Bluefish as they clunked along. The river was normally more than a dozen feet below the bridge. On this day however, it was half that. If it got any higher, the city would have to close it off.

“Not quite yet, George,” he shouted back. “I think I’d like to check things out for myself before I go and do that.”

After another moment they were across the river and back on asphalt. With each step the thundering of the Bluefish faded.

The pair looked up at the looming trees on either side of them. The White Pines had grown fuller, and lusher than ever before, it seemed. Bob gazed off into the shadows of the surrounding forest.

There was pretty much nothing in the remaining half mile. Nothing but trees and encroaching swamp water that is. Pretty much everything West of Tremont Street was flooded.

But thankfully the four business that made up East Cove Plaza had thus far been spared from the weather thanks to their location about a half mile East of Tremont, on the corner where Reynolds Way crossed Surplus.

As they walked, Bob reflected on the dumpster in question. It was a fifteen yarder, if he recalled correctly, situated between Barne’s Market and the Red Herring for the convenience of both businesses. With all the flooding, it really wouldn’t be too outlandish if a bear or some other critter had made its way down and jumped in looking for food.

They came to a flooded part in the road just as they hit the intersection of South Station Street. The water stretched all the way to the woods on both the right and left. They wordlessly walked to the right.

Entering the edge of the woods, they used the rocks and roots to keep their feet as dry as possible, as they made their way. The water stretched on down the street for a good twenty feet before relinquishing its hold on the road.

Soon the surrounding forest gave way once again to a suburban sprawl. Up ahead in the distance stood East Cove Plaza. He felt an inexplicable twinge of apprehension at the sight of the buildings. And for about a second, he really did want to call for back up.

But what would he tell dispatch? Boston George thinks that there’s a monster in the dumpster behind Barne’s Market? Yeah, that would go over well. Then he realized he didn’t have his radio on him anyway. So the point was moot.

After another moment of walking they had reached the front entrance of Barne’s. The “Now Open” sign still hung in the window. Bob opened the door and stepped inside. They were greeted by the refreshing coolness of the air-conditioned store.

“Mister Barnes?” Bob called out.

No answer, save for the soft hum of the air-conditioning unit. Bob walked deeper into the store, swiveling his head this way and that as he continued moving down one of the aisles.

“Pete?”

Again no answer. This wasn’t good. Something was up.

“I’m tellin’ you, he’s not in here, Babby,” Boston George said in a hushed tone from behind.

“Officer Maxwell?” Came a voice from the back of the store.

Both men turned to see Pete’s nephew Doug Jenkins emerge from the back storage room. Doug was in his forties. He seemed to possess an endless supply of plaid shirts and blue jeans that he wore no matter how high the temperature was. A nice guy, though a bit slow.

“Hey, Doug,” Bob said, with a wave. “I was just looking for Pete. Have you seen him?”

At this Doug shook his head.

“I was supposed to meet him here. We’re going down to the dinner at Saint John’s tonight. But I can’t find him, Bob.”

That last part carried with it a tone of worry.

“Don’t worry, Dougy.” Bob managed a smile. “We’ll find him. I’m going to take a look around outside. Why don’t you stay here in case he shows back up?”

Doug nodded.

“Okay,” he said.

“Cool beans. Alright, me and Georgey here are gonna take a look around back. We’ll meet you back here in ten minutes if we don’t find him.”

And with that George and Bob turned and walked back out. The sticky summer heat practically slammed into them as they stepped back outside. Together they walked in silence to the entrance of the alleyway.

They rounded the corner and just stood there for a moment. The area was empty, save for the hulking form of the dumpster that stood in the back. It was a big, ugly thing, standing about six feet high. And, yeah, it was a fifteen yarder.

“There’s no way Pete fell in there,” Bob thought to himself as he scrutinized the hunk of metal.

There was something off about it though. But he couldn’t quite put his finger on what. At first glance it appeared the same as it always had.

It was just as rusty and weather worn as ever. Still the same dirty green color, with the words “Patterson Waste Disposal” written in big white letters on its beat up exterior. He was pretty sure that Boston George was right though. The dumpster seemed like it was farther from the back wall than normal.

Maybe George had been partially correct. Perhaps some bear or something had wandered down and climbed in looking for food. Again, considering the flooding, it wasn’t outside of the realm of possibility. After all, the wildlife was known to wander into town from time to time.

Bob moved cautiously forward, and then stopped when he was about fifteen feet away. Some vague, primal instinct warned him not to get any closer.

He stood there in silence for a moment, listening for any sign of movement from within the rusty metal structure. Nothing. Not a sound. He straightened, and let out a sigh. Jesus. He was being ridiculous.

Georgey was just buzzed. Pete Barnes had just gone out on some sudden errand and forgotten to lock up. Yeah, that was it. He started to turn back to George. That’s when he noticed the shoe…

It was just lying there about three feet in front of the dumpster. It was black. That was about all he could tell from this distance.

But he knew. He just \*knew\*, that it was a black penny loafer. And there was only one guy around here who sported those kind of kicks.

“Mister Barnes?” Bob called out toward the dumpster, knowing full well how ridiculous he would look to his peers in that moment. He received no reply.

He took a few more cautious steps forward, calling out again and once again being answered with silence.

God, what if he had fallen in? As impossible as it seemed. What if Pete had fallen in and was lying broken and bleeding right now as he stood there like an idiot?

“What’s goin’ on fellas?”

A voice suddenly asked from behind, causing both men to jump. Bob turned around only to see Christie Villarmarin’s pug-like face. Christie was the “owner” of East Bay Salon.

What that really meant was that her husband, District Circuit Court Judge, Troy Villarmarin, had bought his incredibly unpleasant wife a business so as to keep her out of his hair. And quite literally in someone else’s.

“Everything alright, Officer Maxwell?” she asked innocently.

Bob didn’t really dislike people as a rule of thumb. It was not in his nature. But God Damn if Christie just didn’t naturally piss him off.

She was one of the town gossip “ring leaders,” as his mother always put it. Christie had an affinity for other people’s business. Her Salon only amplified her powers. Bob noticed a few of Christie’s customers/cronies had gathered on the sidewalk in front of the Salon and were watching their conversation with rapt attention.

And God Dammit if he didn’t have time for this! It was going on 1:15 and he hadn’t even made it down to Barry’s yet! Christie was a shark circling a piece of meat on a hook. But he wasn’t going to give her one bite.

“Yes, ma’am,” Bob said, beaming. “We’re just looking for Old Ma- Mister Barnes. I think he may have stepped out, and forgotten to lock up.”

“Oh,.” was all Christie said, mirroring the Deputy’s smile right back at him.

She knew that he wasn’t telling her something. And she was determined to find out what. As a member of the upper echelon of the community it was her duty to. After all there were very few police officers in Duxbury who were truly mentally adequate to do their job. But what could you expect from a profession that literally accepted anyone who applied?

For a moment the two just stood there, beaming their smiles at one another. Boston George looked back, and forth between the two of them. Lifting a brow in confusion at their “smile duel.”

“Why, good afternoon everyone!”

The three turned to see Father John standing in the mouth of the alleyway with Sheriff Copper and Deputy David Quimby. The Priest was dressed in his usual black underwrap. He was carrying a cake with pink frosting in a big tupperware. The short, balding, round man wore his usual warm, toothy grin.

“Bobby!” the Sheriff said in greeting, and began walking up.

“Great,” Bob thought.

Copper nodded at Christie.

“Ma’am.”

“Sheriff,” Christie smiled. This time the expression was genuine though.

Copper reached Bob and gave him a clap on the back.

“Don’t tell me you got stood up?!” He said. Letting out a great bellowing laugh as he did.

“No, Sheriff. I-

“I’m just teasin’ you Bobby,” Copper cut him off. “Ol’ Dougy told me about Mister Barnes.”

Bob noticed Doug poking his head around the corner.

“I told the Sheriff you was looking for Pete,” he said.

“Thanks Doug,” Bob replied.

“Me and the boys here were just on our way down to get ready for the Church Cookout tonight,” Copper said with a grin as he turned to face the others.

“Now this right here is a shining example of an outstanding Officer of the Law. Even off duty, right before a big date no less, we find Bobby here still ensuring the safety of the good citizens of Duxbury.” He laughed once again. His big belly bouncing up and down.

“A date?” Christie quirked an eyebrow at this.

“Shit,” Bob thought.

“Yes, Deputy Maxwell,” Father John cut in, smiling up at Bob, who stood a full head taller than him.

“You truly are a good man, aren’t you? You know you are always welcome in God’s house, my son. Perhaps tonight you and your lady friend might stop by and partake in the festivities?”

“Th-— Thank you Father. We just might do that,” Bob lied.

“Tell ya’ what Bobby,” Copper said, “why don’t you go run along, and let me handle finding Mister Barnes?”

Bob let out a sigh of relief.

“Thanks, Sheriff. I owe you one.”

The Sheriff waved this off with a grin.

“Don’t mention it, Bobby. But before you go, do you have any leads?”

“Leads?” Bob asked, not understanding.

Copper laughed.

“Yeah, ya’know? Like any idea where Barnes might have got off to?”

Just then there came a brief, faint echo of shifting trash from within the depths of the big, green dumpster behind them. Everyone turned.

“I don’t know. But I noticed a shoe that looks like one of his beside the dumpster.”

“Um, so did you check it out?” Quimby asked.

Deputy David Quimby could have passed for Larry Wilcox’s twin. He acted like it to. The all American high school football hero turned cop. Every day on the job you’d think that Quimby was acting out an episode of Chip’s Patrol.

The man was wearing his pump-action Mossberg 590 strapped to his back. Despite the fact that he didn’t need it, the Deputy almost always had the weapon on him. He thought in made him look tough. And in truth it really did help him get laid.

“I actually just got here a minute before you did,” he answered. “I was about to look. But George said that he thought there was some kind of animal in the dumpster. So I was… assessing the situation before approaching.”

“Hah!” Quimby exclaimed in a clearly fake laugh, slapping a hand across one knee. “Ya’ll are scared of a raccoon in a dumpster?!”

“It ain’t no raccoon, Officer Quimby,” Boston George replied in a foreboding tone.

Christie Ackerman huffed.

Bob just ground his teeth. Partly because he couldn’t think of an adequate retort, but mostly because the answer might very well be “yes.”

That’s when Bob realized how quiet it had gotten. The near constant chirping of chickadees was suddenly absent. He tried to remember if he’d heard any birds when he’d first gotten to the neighborhood.

“Don’t none of ya’ll worry your pretty little heads off ,” Sheriff Copper said as he began walking down the alleyway. “The Sheriff’s on the jo– Oh, what in the Hell?”

The Sheriff looked over the other’s shoulders. Bob turned. The small group of onlookers from the salon had been joined by a group of curious younger folks from the cafe. They were now gathered in the middle of the road watching them.

“Alright!” the Sheriff shouted toward the street, “There ain’t nothin’ to see here people! We’re just havin’ a conversation, and ya’ll are wastin’ your time if you’re hoping for some action.”

“And since ya’ll are grownups, I don’t think that I have to lecture you on how dangerous it is to bestanding in the middle of the road. Now I suggest that ya’ll git!”

A couple people shuffled their feet. But no one really moved. The Sheriff huffed and turned back around to face the dumpster.

“Fine,” he said and began walking.

“Sheriff,” Father John said. And Copper paused.

“I’d be careful. The woods and swamps are not far away. And there’s no telling what may have crawled out of the bogs this time of year. Keene’s Road is flooded over you know.”

The Sheriff smiled.

“Aw Father, your concern for my well being is truly touching. But I’m a big strong man, and I think I can handle some little woodland critter.”

“Besides, Keene’s Road and all its ghost and goblin stories are a long ways off.” He winked, and continued moving forward.

“It’s never really that far,” Bob heard the Priest say under his breath. It was a peculiar statement.

Copper walked up to the dumpster while the others watched with trepidation. Everyone except Quimby. He was standing there with his hands on his hips, smiling ear to ear. No doubt thinking about how he was going to tell everyone at the station of Bob’s newfound dumpster phobia.

The Sheriff made it to within a foot of the dumpster and looked in. Nothing happened. He turned around to face the others, a big shit-eating “I’m better than you grin” plastered on his face.

“Ya’ see, fellas,” he said, “there ain’t nothing to be afraid of.”

“Are ya’ sure sheriff?” Boston George asked hesitantly.

Copper shrugged and turned back around. Stepping up to the lip of the dumpster, he stood on his tip-toes to get a better look.

“Whatever animal it was prob-” The Sheriff’s words caught in his throat, and his body froze up like a dear in headlights.

“Jesus, Mary, and Jose-!” Copper’s words were cut short as the two hundred and thirty pound man was violently ripped off his feet. Simultaneously there came a small explosion of trash. Garbage whizzed by and Copper’s uniform billowed as if caught in a strong gust of wind.

The big man went up, and over the edge, disappearing in a blur. He didn’t even have time to scream. Everyone instinctively back-pedaled.

The group of onlookers that had gathered in the street quickly herded themselves back across to the sidewalk on the other side. The smaller group that had been near the Dumpster practically leapt backward to the lip of the alleyway.

Deputy Quimby shouted in surprise.

Christie screamed, and Bob joined her. To the passerby it might have sounded like the two were having a “damsel in distress ” screaming contest. If they had been, Deputy Maxwell, to his credit, would have won.

“Oh my Gad! Oh my Gad!” Boston George was shrieking over and over as he back-pedaled into the street. His hysterics were abruptly cut short as he was struck by Henry McDuff’s truck.

Marcus’s son hadn’t even noticed Georgey until the man was rolling up onto his hood. The farmer panicked as George smashed into his windshield, simultaneously jerking the wheel hard to the left, while slamming on the breaks.

A split second later the rusty, red pickup smashed into a car parked in front of East Bay Salon. George went rolling off and over the hood of the other vehicle, falling over the other side and disappearing from McDuff’s view as quickly as he’d appeared.

The open bed of the truck had been literally overflowing with freshly harvested apples. Upon impact, the fruit erupted out of the bed like a volcano, creating a small apple tsunami that rolled across the street.

The screeching of tires forced Bob’s horrified gaze from the spot where Sheriff Copper had recently occupied to the street behind him. But only for a moment. Once he realized that it was just a car accident, he quickly snapped his gaze back down the alleyway, pulling out his service revolver as he did so. Carnivorous dumpsters took precedence over car accidents.

For a moment everybody just stood there in silence. Then there came a great rumble from within the Dumpster that sounded like a giant belching to Bob. A small explosion of assorted trash shot up high into the air.

The crowd took another collective step backward as the assorted debris came raining down, clattering and clanking to the ground between them and the alleyway. Glass shattered. Empty metal cans went bouncing across the pavement.

The smaller group at the edge of the alley raised their hands over their heads protectively as debris rained down upon them. A big aluminum can bounced off Bob’s shoulder. It didn’t really hurt, but it did make him jump.

The last thing to land was the Sheriff’s hat. The brim had a jagged tear that looked like a shark had taken a bite out of it. The sight of the hat was apparently Quimby’s breaking point, for a second later, the man let out a howl that was one part terror and one part war cry.

He raised the Pump Action (which Bob only now realized the Deputy had unslung from his back), and the weapon boomed deafeningly. It happened so fast that Bob didn’t even have time to shout at him to stop or he could hit the Sheriff.

The buckshot struck the side of the Dumpster, sending out a shower of sparks. But as far as Bob could tell, it failed to penetrate the thick metal.

Quimby continued moving forward. Pumping his shotgun and firing over and over, howling all the while.

One. Two. Three.

Each shot that hit the rusty metal sent out another shower of sparks. Every round ricocheted off. Bob saw a chunk of the red brick wall of Barne’s Market disintegrate beneath the weight of buckshot.

Everyone but Quimby seemed to be aware of the danger, the crowd collectively panicking as the Deputy continued to unload the contents of his weapon.

Another shot rang out.

Just then one of Quimby’s shots finally did manage to penetrate the damaged metal. And that’s when the proverbial shit truly hit the fan. The Dumpster suddenly exploded into motion.

It came rocketing forward in a blur. Its wheels screamed maddeningly as the rusty behemoth attained a speed it had never been meant to. Quimby, who had only been about ten feet in front of the nightmarish Thing, had no hope of getting out of its way.

It smashed into him with bone crushing force. Bob was sure that, had it not been for the screeching tires and the shrieking people, he would have surely heard Quimby’s bones shattering.

Several things happened in the next three seconds. The unfortunate Deputy Quimby was violently dragged beneath the rusty behemoth. Except no part of him really fit between the five, or so inches of space between the bottom of the Dumpster and the pavement.

What quickly followed reminded Bob of what he compulsively did every morning with his toothpaste at home. Everything inside the Deputy’s body was forced forward, rocketing up under his skin until the bottom of the Dumpster met with Quimby’s head. Then his head exploded as it was crushed beneath the weight of the monstrous Thing.

In some grotesque feet of physics, most of what had made Quimby tick blew out of the top of the man’s head like a cannon. There came a loud “thwop” that sounded a lot like the noise a balloon might make if one jumped up and landed down on it with both feet.

Bone, entrails, and other less identifiable things quite literally erupted out into the street, blood and bone mixing with the apples and broken glass.

That was all in the first second. Bob and Father John were the next people standing in the monstrous hunk of metal’s deadly path. There was no time for words. Bob prepared to leap for his life, but everything felt like it was moving in slow motion.

The rusty monstrosity was practically already on top of them. That’s when Bob felt Father John shove him with a strength that seemed impossible for a man so small. It felt like Conan the Barbarian had steam rolled into him with all his fictional might. The Deputy went flying off his feet, hitting the ground and tumbling out of the way just on time.

For one split second, just before his mad rolling forced his eyes away from the passing monstrosity, Bob thought he caught sight of Father John standing calmly on the other side. And as insane as it was, he could have sworn that the man wore a look of mild amusement.

Bob felt the wind of the massive Thing on his face as it passed. He caught the scent of trash, and blood, and…something else…. Some ungodly stench that made his eyes water and his stomach lurch.

Then the Dumpster was rocketing across the street. It kept going on its straight path. People shrieked as they tried to get out of the behemoth’s way, slipping and falling over each other and the apples. There came the near defending crash of metal hitting concrete as the Dumpster went up and over the curb.

The Thing (to the great misfortune of those still in its path) barely slowed as its nightmarish momentum took it onto the sidewalk. There was a fire hydrant in its way, but it offered up little resistance as it steam rolled over it and into the shrieking crowd.

The hydrant was ripped from its base. Water instantly began to geyser up into the air from where it had been. But the Dumpster paid it no mind as it continued on its deadly path. Several people who had failed to get out of its way were struck and carried along with it.

It then slammed into the front of East Bay Salon with a deafening boom that was followed by a chorus of shattering glass. The Thing bounced off the brick building, and slowly rolled backward and back off the sidewalk before coming to a stop.

Bob dazedly climbed to his feet. The front of the Salon was painted red. He didn’t have to see the other side of the Dumpster to know that it was covered in something akin to what you’d see on a conveyor belt in a meat packing plant.

Most of the crowd had finally decided to take the late Sheriff’s advice and “git”. People were shrieking and running down the street in both directions. Bob for his part just stood there in a shock as the icy water from the broken hydrant rapidly flooded the street.

The water reached where he was standing and soon his socks were soaked. But he paid it no mind as his gaze roamed slowly around the scene. There were still about a half dozen or so people stumbling about in a shell-shocked daze that mirrored his own.

“Christ! Robert, are you okay son?” Henry McDuff’s panic etched voice brought the Deputy out of his stupor.

Bob turned to face the farmer. The grizzled forty-something man was holding a double barrel Remington in hands that weren’t shaking quite as badly as his.

Bob managed a nod.

“Babby!” Boston George came running and limping up, huffing all the while. “Oh, Bab, thank Gad you’re okay!”

Bob turned and met the man’s concerned eyes, thinking in that moment that George was a lot nicer of a guy than he’d ever given him credit for. He’d just been hit by a truck and was asking if he was okay!

“We gotta get outta here, Bab!”

The Deputy nodded, and just as he did the Dumpster turned. Not at blinding speed, but not slowly either, wheels squealing shrilly into the air. As ridiculous as the thought was, Bob swore that the rusty, blood stained hunk of metal had turned to look at them.

“Oh shit,” McDuff said under his breath.

Without another word the trio took off toward the row of cars parked in front of Lux. They all sensed what was coming next.

Like a dog giving chase to a rabbit, the unholy Thing came for them. Everyone who’d been wandering around after the initial impact had been brought out of their stupor when the Dumpster once again began moving. But at that moment Christie Villarmarin was awful close to it.

She shrieked and began running. Her massive blubbery form bobbing up and down so violently that for one insane second Bob half expected her to start bouncing away. She did bounce once though. Just before the speeding Nightmare struck her she gave one last panicked leap into the air.

The woman attained an astonishing altitude. As impossible as it seemed, her tennis shoes had to be at least three feet off the ground when the Dumpster struck her. She bounced off the frame and even higher into the air, cartwheeling round and round before falling directly into the Thing’s open maw. She made a sort of gurgling shriek as she fell away from sight.

A split second later Bob, George, and McDuff were busy trying to scramble over the hood of a big gray Buick Century in front of them. The cars lining the sidewalk, having been parked nearly bumper to bumper, seemed to offer up as good a defense as any.

McDuff was the first to make it over. The farmer was surprisingly quick on his feet. He turned to help Bob, who was right on his heels. He made it to the other side just as McDuff was once again saying, “Oh shit!”

Bob whipped around. Boston George was about halfway across the hood, the un-athletic man doing his best to move quickly. But the Dumpster was a second away from plowing into the car.

Bob and McDuff instinctively stumbled backward. The Dumpster blasted into the Buick. The side of the car crumpled like an accordion as the vehicle was forced up onto and over the curb.

All the windows exploded at once. The sheer force of the impact was so powerful that it shattered the floor to ceiling windows in the entrance of Lux and knocked both men on their asses. And for the second time that day, Boston George was sent hurtling off the top of a vehicle. He landed on Bob and McDuff, who were blindly scrambling (and failing) to get out of the sliding vehicle’s way.

Miraculously the Buick slid to a stop mere inches from the three men. They only had a second’s reprieve though. For as they began climbing to their feet, a massive tentacle came shooting through the broken passenger side window.

The Thing was terrible to behold. Rippling with corded muscle, at its thickest it was the circumference of a hubcap. The flesh that covered it was the color of bile. And the smell. Oh God, the smell!

It thrashed around madly over their heads, the entire frame of the Buick rocking back, and forth with the Thing’s movements. Bob reached for his gun.

Only it wasn’t in its holster. Where the fuck was his gun?! That’s when he remembered that he’d taken it out before the monstrosity’s initial charge.

His shock was broken by the sudden retort of McDuff’s Remington going off deafeningly over his head as the weapon unloaded both rounds into the Thing. The nightmarish appendage jerked violently as both shots found their mark.

The flesh about four feet down from the tip exploded like a watermelon. A sizzling, purplish fluid came out in a spray as the top part of the tentacle struck the ground with a heavy thud. The severed appendage began violently thrashing about.

There came a hellish shriek that shook the very air around them, and the stumpy tentacle violently snapped back through the ruined car as the Dumpster quite literally jerked backward. The metal behemoth rocketed back across the street, attaining a speed that defied reason.

It grated deafeningly along the sides of several parked cars in front of East Bay before abruptly changing direction. It flew across the street, slamming into a sedan parked in front of the Red Herring. The frame of the vehicle folded inward, metal shrieked deafeningly.

Bob quickly leapt to his feet. Stumbling to avoid the thrashing tentacle, he looked down. The sizzling purplish blood (if it could be called blood) was burning holes in the concrete, making a patch of the sidewalk look like smoldering Swiss cheese.

He turned to help McDuff up, realizing at the same time that it wasn’t the farmer who had fired the weapon. In front of the gated entrance of Lux stood their savior.

It took Bob a moment to recognize the woman. It was Gretta Thompson. She was standing there in a blue and white dress, holding the smoking Remington, her face a mixture of rage and terror.

“My fucking windows!” she shrieked at the Dumpster, as it rocketed back across Surplus and smashed into a Volkswagen van with a giant “Peace” sign painted in bright yellow on the sliding door.

The three men stood and looked at her with dumbfounded expressions. Gretta fixed her green eyes on McDuff.

“You have any more bullets for this thing?”

“Uh, yeah, back in the truck.”

“Well that’s just fu-” her breath suddenly caught in her throat as her gaze shifted over their shoulders and her body stiffened.

“Come on!” she shouted a darted back through the entrance of her cafe.

There came another deafening roar from behind. The three instinctively began sprinting for the entrance. Bob was the last one in and, just as he entered, he turned to see the Dumpster once again rocketing toward them.

This time, though, it had clearly given itself room for a running start. It plowed once again into the accordioned Buick with a deafening crash. The car was lifted up off the ground and sent tumbling toward the front entrance of Lux.

It smashed through the little iron gate that bordered the patio. Bob saw the “No Alcohol Past This Point!” sign blast off the gate and come rocketing toward the cafe. A second later, both the rolling vehicle and mangeled gate slammed into the main entrance.

The frame of the building shook with the impact. The double doors were blasted off the hinges and sent clattering to the floor. More glass shattered somewhere in the background.

The Buick had rolled and slammed into the Cafe while on it’s side, wobbled back and forth for a moment before finally tipping backward, and hitting the pavementan impact that shook the ground.

The roof collided with the pavement and instantly flattened. The mangled metal fencing clanged to the ground a second later.

Gretta gave a primal shriek from behind Bob. “My windows!”

The Dumpster began to slowly roll backward, lazily twirling round and round as it did so. In the distance could be heard the faint but distinct sound of approaching sirens.

“Alright, ya’ Gad damn trash manstah!” Boston George cried out to Bob’s right.

The Deputy turned, and watched in disbelief as Georgey pulled out an entire bottle of moonshine from his trousers as if he were a magician and this was really just some elaborate performance. Then to Bob’s further disbelief he watched as George unscrewed the cap and began stuffing a handkerchief into the open top.

“George what are you—” The Deputy’s words were cut short, as his attention was drawn to another deafening crash. The Dumpster slammed into another car in front of East Bay Salon.

“Let me show you a city folk trick, ya’ unholy bastad!”

Bob turned once again to look at George just as the man was stepping back out onto the ruined patio. To his disbelief he saw that the he’d ignited the handkerchief and was drawing his arm back.

“Oh, Christ,” He heard McDuff say.

“George what are you—” the Deputy attempted to ask the question once again, but his words were cut short as Georgey hurled the flaming bottle in the direction of the Dumpster.

Whether it was blind luck or the fact that Georgey’d been an accomplished pitcher at some point in his youth back in Boston, Bob did not know. But the makeshift Molotov cocktail flew nearly seven yards, and hit the erratically moving target right on the mark.

“Yeah!” Gretta cried her approval. “That was totally flange baby!”

Georgey blushed despite himself.

Bob gave a cursory thought to poor Christie Villarmarin just as the flaming bottle of liquor disappeared behind the rusty, blood stained walls. He assumed that she had to already be dead. At least he hoped she was. Because a second later there came the shattering of glass, followed by a small explosion of flames.

It was as if every piece of garbage inside had been bone dry. Within seconds the interior of the Dumpster became a raging inferno. At least the top layer of trash had.

God only knew what occupied the depths of the behemoth. Flames shot out in a pyre, adding to the nightmarish quality of the Thing.

An unholy howl that all who were present would remember for the rest of their days erupted from the bowels of the Dumpster. Then the Thing took off once again, this time rocketing straight down the street, moving East.

“Oh, God,” Bob thought, “it’s headed into town!”

Just then Bob caught a glimpse of how the Thing propelled itself for the first time. Jutting out from the bottom of the Dumpster were at least a dozen of the sickly yellow tentacles, each of them thicker and more muscular than the first one they’d seen.

The tentacles were moving in a blurred frenzy, all of them swiping at the ground and tearing up chunks of asphalt as they propelled the monstrosity down the road with incredible strength. The way they moved somehow reminded him of the frantic, spasmodic way a centipede’s legs moved when the insect was suddenly flipped onto its back.

The Dumpster continued to roar as it rocketed down the street, its unearthly howl echoing off the sides of the buildings. The sheer volume of the sound vibrated the windows of the glass that still remained intact.

For a moment the four companions just stood there in the shattered remnants of Lux’s entryway watching the rapidly shrinking form of the Dumpster. It was moving faster than ever. Whatever passed for the Thing’s adrenaline had clearly kicked in.

The sound of approaching sirens was growing louder, though they were still a long way off. Much to Bob’s dismay, they were coming somewhere from the East. The crunching of a pair of shoes on broken glass drew everyone’s attention to the door. It was Father John! He rounded the overturned Buick and greeted them with a smile.

Bob looked at the Priest incredulously. For all the horror that had so recently transpired, the man looked no worse for the wear. He realized that he was still holding the cake in one hand; the bright pink frosting appeared to be completely unharmed.

“My children,” he began as if addressing a congregation, “it is truly the Lord’s will that has put us all here today. And I think that he would want us to see this adventure through.”

McDuff grunted in agreement.

“What makes you think God’s a man, Father?” Gretta sneered.

At this the Priest quirked an eyebrow. Then smiled.

“Freudian Slip my dear. But I digress… The Lord has willed us to survive thus far. And I believe that the Divine Creator would want us to drive this beast from our lands.

“I’m all for that!” Gretta exclaimed. “Let’s kill the shit out of that Thing!”

Father John cleared his throat at this, and Gretta looked over at him, pushing a lock of curly red hair out of her eyes as she did so.

“You know, I’d say I’m sorry. Father, but I’m not.”

“That fackin’ Manstah messed up my new favorite bah!“ Boston George added, his voice carrying with it an unnatural tone of wrath. ”Let’s finish that Fackah!“

Bob looked incredulously at the others, especially at Boston George. Until about two minutes ago, the man had been practically pissing himself. Now he and everyone was juiced up all of a sudden. Bob looked around at the unexpectedly determined faces with confusion.

Then his eyes were drawn to the cake in Father John’s hand. The bright pink frosting shining clearly through the container, practically glowing.This was insane. Go chasing after a two-ton carnivorous Dumpster that could move upwards of fifty miles per hour?

“Are all of you out of your fu—” He stopped mid-sentence, suddenly realizing his position. Realizing that this was his town! And thatthere was a living nightmare headed straight into the heart of it!

Bob nodded in affirmation. “Judging from the sound of the sirens, I’d say someone’s already called in the cavalry. And God help me if I ever walk around off duty without my radio again McDuff, go get your ammo out of your truck. If you can still get into it that is,.” he added.

“Ms. Thompson?”

“Gretta,.” she said flatly.

“Gretta then. Ms. Gretta, I like where George is headed with this Molotov cocktail idea. Would you mind if we bor—”

“On it,” Gretta cut him off as she turned and raced toward her bar.

Boston George suddenly let out a hoot.

“Alright! Let’s do this!” he exclaimed and took off running out across the decimated patio.

“I’ll get ol’ Lassie!” he shouted.

“Get what?” Bob asked, staring after the man in confusion.

Georgey paused and looked back at Bob with an incredulous look on his face.

“My cah Bab. My cah. It’s paked right around the corner.”

“You call your car Lassie? he asked, despite the fact that time was of the essence.

Yes Bab. Lassie’s my baby. Jesus Gad, do you even know me?” And at that he took off running.

With everyone in motion, Bob turned his thoughts to the fact that he didn’t have a weapon. He patted himself down frantically. The clinking and clanking of glass bottles echoed throughout the bar as Gretta presumably pulled down her higher proof booze.

Shit! All he had was his baton and mace. He slapped an open palm to his head. There came the sound of Lassie’s engine roaring to life somewhere down the street, followed by the screeching of tires.

He’d forgotten his spare sidearm at home! It was a Beretta M9 that his Mother had “uncharacteristically” gotten him as a gift for Christmas last year. He almost always carried it on him! Not that 9mm rounds were going to be much use against a two ton Dumpster from Hell.

“Could you perhaps put this to good use son?” Father John asked.

Bob turned and gave a start. In one hand the short, bald man still held the pink cake. In the other, he held Quimby’s blood spattered Mossberg 590. Bob stared at the little, chubby man in disbelief. The Priest beamed.

“I thought that it might come in handy. And that the unfortunate recently departed Deputy Quimby would have no objections to it being used as a tool to avenge his death.”

“F-Father I-”

“I took the liberty of reloading the weapon for you, Officer Maxwell.” Father John smiled. “Also it appears that the late Deputy Quimby had been carrying a copious amount of ammunition on him.”

Father John held out the pump-action, and Bob hesitantly (though he didn’t quite know why) took the weapon, feeling Quimby’s blood smear on his hands. It was still warm.

Then the Priest reached into his garments and produced a box of shotgun shells. At this Bob’s incredulousness increased two-fold. For in Father John’s hand was an opened box of Brenneke Shotgun Slugs.

Brenneke were top of the line. The closest thing to armor piercers that you could get for a shotgun in this day and age. They were damned expensive, too. What further perplexed the Deputy was that he was almost one hundred percent positive that the late David Quimby kept his weapon loaded with the cheaper, standard 00 Buckshot.

And to have been carrying a box of twenty-five slugs? Why in God’s name would Quimby have had all that ammo on him? With these questions echoing through his mind, he accepted the bright orange box, Father John smiling up at him as he did so.

“Th-Thank you, Father.”

Just as Gretta was rounding the corner of the bar with an armload of bottles, the sound of screeching tires echoed in through the shattered windows.

“Let’s go!” Bob shouted, and everyone ran for the door.

Thirty seconds later they were practically flying down Surplus Street in the candy apple red BMW, Boston George at the wheel. The trees whizzed by in a blur. Bob was in the front, while Gretta, McDuff, and Father John rode in the back.

They passed Christmas Tree Way so fast he couldn’t even make out the sign. George took the bend in the road ahead at a death-defying sixty-five. Bob realized he was subconsciously stomping on the floor as if he were going to magically find a brake pedal there.

For the first minute, all they did was follow the trail of black smoke the flaming nightmare had left in its wake. Lassie took another turn with speed and precision that would make Steve McQueen jealous. George really did know what he was doing, Bob realized.

Just as the racing vehicle passed South Station Street, they hit the flooded section. Bob remembered the water hazard only a second before they hit it. The BMW instantly began hydroplaning dangerously. George (much to Bob’s relief) slowed down a fraction.

The patch of water must have given the Dumpster some trouble too, because just as they cleared the mini-lake and hit asphalt again, the flaming behemoth came into view. It was racing over the wooden bridge of the Bluefish.

For a second Bob was sure that the bridge would collapse beneath the weight of the Thing. And had it lingered longer upon the aging wooden planks it just may have. As it was, the Thing was moving so fast that the bridge remained upright.

A split-second later, Lassie was crossing the Bluefish and gaining on the speeding nightmare. Now that they were on a straightaway of sorts, Bob was sure they’d be able to catch up to the Thing. But the billowing plume of smoke became blinding as they closed in.

The wind from the Dumpster’s momentum only added strength to the fire. The flames leapt up high and bent backward against the wind. The top was down on the BMW, and as they got closer Bob, could literally feel the heat from the Thing on his face.

Within the flames could be seen huge sickly yellow tentacles thrashing madly about and flinging pieces of trash high up into the air. Bob silently thanked God for how wet everything was as he watched some large, unidentifiable piece of flaming debris disappear into the shadows of the nearby forest.

And that wasn’t the only obstacle. The thick tentacles jutting out of the bottom of the Dumpster were literally tearing up the road as they propelled the Thing forward. The car swerved this way and that, bouncing and bumping along ruined asphalt.

“Holy Moses!” McDuff cried out from the back seat. “Maybe we should just let it burn itself out!”

At this Bob shook his head.

“Who knows if the fire will be enough to kill it?” Bob asked. Then turned to George.

“Georgey,” he shouted over the wind, “try and get up alongside the thing! Me and Henry will try and shoot out the wheels!”

“Ten-Four, Bab!” The man answered and took the BMW into the left lane. Fortunately there was no oncoming traffic.

Boston George put the pedal to the metal, and Lassie’s engine roared mightily. The vehicle began to rapidly close the distance now that they were out of the plume and away from the ruined asphalt. When they were about eighteen feet away, McDuff’s Remington suddenly boomed deafeningly over his head.

The buckshot struck the lower right side of the speeding Dumpster. There came a brief shower of sparks about eight inches above the wheels. Close but no cigar. Bob turned to find that the Farmer had climbed to his feet, balancing precariously on the seat of the speeding car as he aimed with his weapon.

“Hold up, Henry!” Bob shouted. “Let’s get a little closer first!”

“Alright!” Henry shouted back, as he bent to the task of reloading.

“Here, use these,” Bob said, handing him the open box of Brenneke. “They’ve got a way better chance of doing some damage.”

McDuff’s eyes widened. He gingerly took a handful of slugs, placing them in one of the pockets of his blue jeans.

“En’ how they do!” McDuff exclaimed. “Where’d you get these?!”

Bob nodded to Father John, just as McDuff finished reloading. He snapped the Remington back into place. The Farmer looked down at the smiling Priest in disbelief.

The next few seconds saw Lassie and her “stuntman driver” managing to nearly pull up alongside the Dumpster. The Thing was no more than a half dozen feet ahead and twice that to the right. At this distance, Bob had a chance to get a good look at the blood stained Thing, and he took in its nightmarish details for a brief second that seemed to stretch on for an eternity.

The flailing bile colored tentacles, thick with corded muscle, looked like they could crush the life out of a buffalo. He saw one of the tentacles below the frame of the Dumpster smack the ground. As it pushed off the street, adding to the momentum of the Thing. A few sizeable chunks of asphalt tore off and up into the air.

There were rows of…bone? Cartilage? He couldn’t even begin to guess at what they were made of. At any rate there were these rows of triangular shaped objects that lined the bottoms of the tentacles.

They looked terribly sharp and were clearly incredibly strong, considering what they were currently doing to Surplus Street. Bob shuddered at the thought of what it must feel like to be dragged deep down into the stinking, darkness of the garbage by those things.

Suddenly, a flaming bottle of liquor went flying over his head, snapping him out of his trance. Gretta having stood up in the backseat, and hurled it at the rusty Beast. He had no idea how she’d managed to get the thing lit amidst the howling wind. The bottle burst just on the lip of the bloody frame, exploding on impact and adding to the inferno.

“Yeah, motherfucker!” she exclaimed, apparently pleased with the damage she’d done.

The action had startled George as well, and he reflexively jerked the wheel to the left. The car swerved back and forth perilously for a few seconds. Finally the BMW straightened back out, as George regained control of the vehicle.

“Jesus, woman!” Bob said breathless, turning back to look at her.

In that moment, to Bob, she looked like something out of a comic book, her blue and white dress billowing in the wind, her curly, red hair flying all around her face.

“What?” she answered back in a perturbed voice.

In those green eyes Bob saw a madness that made him turn back around in his seat. He instead busied himself with preparing his own attack on the metal monstrosity. Bob propped himself up on one knee as best he could, leaning into the seat for balance.

“Alright, Henry,” Bob shouted, “let’s do this!”

Henry said something Bob couldn’t quite make out. George took Lassie as close to the Dumpster as he dared. Both men took aim. And that was about as far as they got, for a second later the flashing lights of an ambulance turning off of Washington Street suddenly appeared up ahead.

The ambulance was followed by two police cruisers. George hit the brakes. The wheels of the BMW locked up, and Bob flew forward, smashing the side of his face on the windshield as Lassie’s tires cried out in protest.

The three oncoming vehicles swerved erratically to avoid the flaming Behemoth. One of the cruisers went off the side of the road. The Dumpster whizzed by the other two, missing the ambulance by mere inches.

Then the worst happened. A half second before the Dumpster crossed Washington a fire truck came racing around the corner, intending to turn onto Surplus. The Dumpster, which had been veering slightly to the left, T-boned the emergency vehicle almost dead center.

Glass shattered. Metal bent and shrieked. Flaming garbage erupted into the air.

Upon impact three of the fire truck’s wheels were blown off the frame and sent bouncing down the road. Bob saw all this as Lassie skidded across the road, nearly turning completely parallel to her original position.

The Dumpster bounced off the emergency vehicle and rolled back lazily, whatever was inside of it seemingly dazed from the impact. Lassie finally skidded to a halt.

Firemen stumbled out of the ruined fire truck in a daze, and water spewed out from the broken water tanks. For a moment the men just stood there, watching dumbfounded as the Dumpster slowly spun round and round, flailing tentacles frantically hurling out flaming pieces of trash.

Then almost as one, they snapped out of their trance, springing into actions that had been drilled into them. A man unhooked a hose from the disabled truck. Two others joined him and together they began running for the nearby fire hydrant.

As if caught up in the same spell, everyone leapt out of Lassie and began running toward the firetruck, Gretta already attempting to light another Molotov cocktail.

“Don’t put it out!” they were shouting.

Flaming trash of assorted size fell out of the sky. The firefighters looked on at the small group with perplexed expressions, but only stopped when they saw McDuff’s Remington and Bob’s uniform.

“Don’t put it out?!” A frazzled looking Firefighter with the name “Gacy” emblazoned on his uniform stepped up to the approaching group. “What the Hell are yo—”

His words were cut short as a deafening roar shook the air. Everyone turned to see the Dumpster rocketing backward, the Beast within seemingly have regained its senses.

It slammed into a telephone pole, snapping the wood like a toothpick. Slowly it fell over, the upper half landing on the roof of the Fire Truck with a loud crash. A second later the power lines hit the street and the rapidly growing pool of water from the leaking tanks.

Two of the Firefighters standing in the water realized the danger too late, and Bob watched their demise with a mixture of disbelief and horror. For a brief second Bob swore he saw the two men’s skeletons beneath their uniforms, outlined in blinding blue light.

A second later they were no more than blackened husks smoldering in the shallow water. Everyone ran in a blind panic from the spreading pool.

McDuff was the first to reach the relative safety of the sidewalk. He turned and unloaded both rounds of his Remington into the Dumpster. Bob quickly followed suit.

Their shots were joined by a few others, the cops who had been in the squad cars instinctively following the actions of their fellow police officer.

Amidst the shower of sparks Bob knew that at least one of the rounds had penetrated the rusty metal hide, because a second later the Dumpster jerked like an animal being shot.

It roared again, but Bob was reasonably sure that he was partially deaf by now because the volume of the sound wasn’t as painful as before. The Dumpster took off once again, this time South down Washington.

A split second later Lassie was roaring up to Bob and McDuff, George behind the wheel and Gretta riding shotgun. Bob wasn’t sure when the two had run back to the car. But Father John, and his pink cake were nowhere to be seen. Wordlessly the pair leapt into the back, and the BMW took off.

As Bob reloaded, he saw his fellow officers running back toward their vehicles, but he didn’t have time to see how long it took them to get their squad cars moving. His attention was focused on the task at hand.

The task at hand? What exactly was he doing? Did he really just allow a group of citizens to help him chase down a literal monster? Is that something a Roller should do?

Bob suddenly found himself doubting his actions. How had he been convinced to go about this the way he had? Father John? Had a Priest really so easily riled them up? Bob turned to look at George.

Boston George had apparently learned from his previous pursuit of the Beast. He kept Lassie to the Thing’s right, avoiding the paths of ruined asphalt that he knew would be there. They were caught up to it by the time the Thing was passing Josselyn Avenue.

Bob and McDuff both took shots at the wheels, but only succeeded in further damaging the rusty beast’s hide. The Dumpster seemingly took no notice of them as it flew down the road, pushing sixty.

Then unexpectedly, the Thing suddenly took a hard left onto Wadesworth Lane, bouncing off the side of the Eagle’s Nest Grocer’s as it did so. George for all his driving skills could not take the turn quite so well.

He stomped on the brakes as he spun the wheel. The car slid. Mimicking the motions of the Dumpster, Lassie struck the side of Eagle’s Nest, but maintained her forward momentum.

“Lassie!” George cried out in horror.

“Where the Hell’s it going?!” McDuff shouted over the wind. His voice had lost its determined timbre.

Bob already thought that he knew the answer to that. After all, about a mile up the road was Eagle’s Nest Bay. But first there was a hill to climb, not that the Dumpster seemed to care. In fact it looked like it actually picked up speed as it went up the slope.

It was a steep one. Steep and tall, offering up a beautiful view of the Bay below. It was also a favorite for fitness freaks, but fortunately none of them were currently jogging or cycling up it.

No wait, there was someone on the sidewalk! Bob couldn’t tell who it was at this distance, but he saw them turn and run away from the street, kicking rocks as fast as they could across the unused field to the left.

The Dumpster seemed to have no appetite at the moment, and it continued to rocket up the hill. And Bob thanked God for that, because it surely could have easily caught the would-be jogger if it had wanted.

“Bab, what are we doing?” George asked in a voice that sounded much more like himself and not the super hero persona he’d put on for the last ten minutes.

Bob turned. Much like McDuff, the man had clearly lost that steely edge. It was as if scraping his beloved BMW against the side of Eagle’s Nest Grocer had sobered him up. Though he was still keeping the pedal down.

“Just back off a bit,” he heard himself saying. It was as if his reasoning abilities were returning to him one by one.

George did just that. No one offered any objections, as he eased off the gas slightly, putting about thirty feet between themselves and the Beast. They watched in awe as it reached the crest of the hill and launched itself over the other side and soared. through the air like the General Lee. For a moment time seemed to slow down. And in that brief time lapse Bob took it all in.

The roaring flames. The billowing plume of black smoke. The monstrous tentacles jutting out of the bottom of the rusty frame. Any second now, he was going to wake up. He was sure of it.

This had to all he a dream. It had to be! After all, he’d scored a date with Mary Barbadino! Which in retrospect had definitely been a sure sign that this was all in his head.

But then the Dumpster slammed into the ground on the other side with another deafening crash. The impact was so strong that it shook the car. And in that moment Bob knew that all this had to be real, since nothing could sound that loud in a dream.

Now on the downward slope of the steep hill, the Dumpster began rapidly picking up speed. The tentacles hardly had to do any work at all as it flew down the hill toward the bay, putting more distance between them.

“Jesus,.” Gretta said breathlessly from the front passenger seat. . “Why the fuck were we chasing that thing?”

The Dumpster became a blur of speed and flickering flame as it rolled downward. The Thing’s sheer weight, in combination with the wheels, allowed it to accelerate to incredible speed.

It cleared the remaining distance between itself and the entrance to the bay in a heartbeat, smashing through the chain link fence like papier-mâché. There was no heavy equipment in its path. And as they rolled down the hill, Bob could see the dock workers scattering.

Bob honestly couldn’t tell if the Dumpster had hit anyone on account of that God Damned plume of smoke. By the time Lassie was crossing over the ruined fence, the Dumpster had reached the edge of the land.

It raced across a dock, fortunately a far more sturdy construction than the bridge over Bluefish. Then it went off the edge, soaring out over the water.

The unbelievable momentum the monstrosity had gained on its mad race down the hill caused it to launch more than twenty feet out over the water before the rusty wheels touched the surface.

Then, as if to further defy reality, the Dumpster skipped across the water like a stone, bouncing once, twice. Then on the third time it hit the water, physics kicked in, and it went tumbling.

Flaming trash exploded outward in an awe striking display as the Dumpster flipped end over end. Bob couldn’t be sure, but between the flames and the white spray of water, he could swear that he saw the dark outline of some massive Thing fall out.

A second later the Dumpster lost its momentum and sank like a stone. A two ton stone that is. A great plume of bubbles and roiling water rose up to mark its final resting place.

The group pulled up close to the dock and got out. Behind them came the sounds of men shouting, and behind that were the sounds of rapidly approaching sirens.

The four just stood there in silence for a while, staring out at the water. The afternoon sun was reaching its zenith, casting the bay in its golden light.

It looked picturesque. Though Bob guessed that it would be a long time before anyone went swimming in the Bay again.

“Good work, Deputy!”

Father John’s words startled Bob out of his trance. He turned to see the Priest approaching with several police officers and other emergency responders. Bob noticed that the Priest no longer had his pink cake.

“You got here awful fast,” Bob heard himself saying, an accusatory tone in his voice, though he didn’t know why.

At this the Priest quirked an eyebrow. Then he let out a laugh and clapped a hand on the Deputy’s shoulder, having to reach somewhat upward to do so.

“Your actions and quick thinking drove the beast from this land,” Father John said, addressing the four companions. “Had it not been for your bravery I am sure that this foul creature would surely have done much more damage.”

Bob just looked at the little man. He felt like he was seeing the Priest in a new light. That smile that seemed perpetually plastered to his chubby face suddenly appeared more forced than genuine.

It was as if… As if…

“Officer Maxwell!” Bob turned to see Lieutenant Dan George, who he assumed was now his current ranking Commanding Officer, fast approaching. “What the hell happened here?! Where is the Sheriff?!”

The line of questioning was not intended to be intimidating. There was panic in the Lieutenant’s voice. The young man was not used to being in charge.

Bob began to explain all the events leading up to the Docks. He told him about Sheriff Copper being attacked. About the chase down Surplus Street and then Washington. As he did, Bob watched Father John slink off and out of sight.

Slink. No. That wasn’t the right word for it. For all their brief encounters, and by all accounts Father John was a pleasant man. Known for his charity work, and volunteering at the local soup kitchen in fact…

The End

Special Thanks to Katherine C for editing this story!

Credit: Lebooski

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