Estimated reading time — 21 minutes
Dan was sick of rural America. He wanted nothing more than to be back in Chicago, far away from anything resembling a cornfield. Instead, he was driving through an Iowa winter with huge, white fields stretching into the distance on every side. Every five minutes a lonely farmhouse would appear off in the distance, a long, snow-paved driveway between it and the highway. The road felt like it was cut off from the rest of humanity, a single dark line through an otherwise pale, lonely world. It had been half an hour since he’d seen another car. Then there was the cold. Even with the car heater on full blast, the bitter cold seeped in through the windows.
Dan looked into his rearview mirror and saw a large, dark mass of clouds rolling across the sky behind him. He couldn’t tell which direction they were heading, but he hoped it was away from his destination. Looking back in front of him, Dan saw a road sign to the right. He only caught a glimpse as he went by, hoping to see that the town he was heading for was nearby. Unfortunately, ice and snow clung to the front of the sign, preventing him from seeing anything other than a C or an O. Dan was looking for a town that started with an O. As the turn approached, Dan decided that he needed a break from driving on the god-forsaken highway for a bit anyway. Even if it wasn’t the town he was looking for, maybe he could get something to eat and at least talk to someone. Eight hours of icy roads had taken its toll. Dan turned right down the smaller, but thankfully plowed and salted, country road.
Five minutes down the road, Dan saw a large sign saying “Welcome to Campsong”. He had never heard of the place and it definitely was not where he wanted to be. Checking his watch, he saw that it was nearly 7 o’clock. He had time to get some food and still make it before midnight.
As the first streetlights from Campsong came into view, a building appeared along the left side of the road. There was something off about it that made Dan want to take a closer look. Slowing down the car, he could see the structure illuminated by a single streetlight that seemed to be placed there just for it. It was an old, abandoned shop with a large, battered sign that read ‘Mallock’s Meats’ in faded letters. Most of the windows were shattered. Dan assumed kids had thrown rocks at them. There was the usual spattering of graffiti, some of it half artistic. And then there was something else painted on the front of the store, much larger than the other graffiti. It took Dan a few moments to realize that it was a skeletal eagle. The artwork was rough, but not bad. The skeleton’s head was rolled back, screeching up into the sky. Ragged patches of shadowy feathers hung beneath the arm bones. Dan stared at the painting for almost a minute before realizing that he had brought the car to a full stop in the middle of the highway. He took one last glance at Mallock’s Meats and drove on into Campsong.
More village than town, Campsong appeared to be about thirty buildings in the middle of nowhere. As Dan rolled to a stop at an intersection in the middle of town, an old pickup puttered through the road in front of him and pulled into a parking lot filled with two cars, three pickups, and a tow truck. Dan assumed that that must be the place to go in this town. Turning into the lot, Dan saw a sign above the door that read “M’s Tavern” in red, blocky letters. Dan parked the car in one of the few empty spots. Before getting out of the car, he pulled the zipper on his coat up to his throat. He’d paid a couple of hundred dollars for the insulated coat and on that night it was worth every penny. He hopped out of the car onto the cracked asphalt of the parking lot. Making his way towards the rough, wooden door, Dan had to swerve around a pile of cigarette butts in the middle of the lot. A small paper sign hung on the outside of the door reading ‘Saturday Special: Tenderloin Sandwich’. Dan didn’t think that sounded too bad as he swung open the door, hoping he didn’t get a splinter off of it.
As soon as Dan entered, the smell of tobacco smoke hit him. Apparently the law against smoking in bars was taken as a suggestion here. The hazy interior looked almost exactly as Dan had pictured it. The walls were all fake wood panels with random sports teams’ logos plastered to them. Several cheap-looking tables were surrounded by at least two different styles of chairs. Four patrons circled a pool table in the back. They appeared to be the source of most of the smoke in the building. The bar itself was to his left. It ran the length of the building and looked as though it might fall apart at any time. Four men sat at the right end of the bar, occasionally yelling at a TV showing a football game. Dan took a seat in the middle of the bar, not wanting to sit next to the other customers, but not wanting to make it look like he didn’t. He didn’t care about the football game. Dan was more of a baseball fan.
Almost as soon as he sat down, a man came in from the back of the room and slipped behind the bar. After making sure the men in front of the TV were okay, he walked down to where Dan was sitting.
“M, I presume?” asked Dan. The bartender chuckled. He was a nice-looking guy that Dan assumed was in his mid-30’s.
“The name’s Mike,” the man said in a calm, measured voice. “But yes, this is my place. Just getting into town?”
“Seemed like a good idea at the time,” said Dan. “Can I get a rum and coke and one of those tenderloins?”
“The cook just left for the night, actually,” said Mike, grabbing a bottle of rum and a glass. “But I can get you that drink.” Dan was annoyed that he couldn’t get his sandwich, but he wasn’t keen on making a scene in the middle of a dive bar. “Stopping here or going to Arbormill like everyone else?”
“Um…neither,” said Dan. “I’m heading to Odela.”
“Ah,” said Mike. “Then you came down the wrong road.” He sat the finished drink down in front of Dan. “Nothing this way but Campsong and Arbormill.”
“What kind of a name is Campsong?” asked Dan, taking a sip.
“Well, it used to be something French,” said Mike. “Then they changed it.”
“To make it less French,” said Mike, walking back down the bar to grab a few of the guys some more beers out of the cooler.
“What’s in Arbormill?” asked Dan as Mike walked over to the cash register in front of him.
“You haven’t heard?” asked Mike as he rang up the drinks. “Arbormill is the new ghost capital of the world.” He finished ringing them up and turned back around to Dan. “All sorts of stories started coming out of there a few months back and now every ghost hunter and their sister wants to go there.”
“And you’re making bank off the tourists?” asked Dan, taking a larger swig of his drink.
“Let’s just say I’m getting plenty out of it,” said Mike. “So what’s a city boy like you doing in Odela?”
“That obvious?” asked Dan. Mike just shrugged. Dan figured there was no harm in telling the bartender his business. He didn’t plan to be back in Campsong ever again. “My great aunt just died. I’m heading to the funeral.”
“I’m sorry,” said Mike.
“Don’t be,” said Dan. “We weren’t what you’d call close. And I’m pretty sure she moved back to the old family home in the middle of nowhere just so people would have to drive all the way out here.” There was more than a hint of spite in Dan’s voice that he was sure was not lost on the bartender. The customer closest to Dan had his head tilted just enough that Dan suspected he was listening in as well.
“Not a family man, eh?” asked Mike. Dan laughed a bit too loudly. He sucked down the last of his drink before answering. He could feel the alcohol barely starting to hit him.
“My family has a tradition when someone dies,” said Dan. “They get there as soon as possible, pretend to be sad, and then loot everything they can.”
“Sounds fun,” said Mike. “I’m sure your family reunions are a blast.” Dan sighed and glanced over at the group in front of the TV. A couple of them quickly looked away. It seemed like the out-of-towner was entertainment for the night. When he turned back to Mike, he found a fresh drink sitting in front of him.
“Thanks,” said Dan, not asking how he got that out so quickly. He took a sip from the new drink and then went back to talking. “The last time there was a family cash grab, the old lady grabbed something that was one hundred percent mine out of my parents’ house. I’ll be damned if anyone else is going to get it.”
“Well, good luck,” said Mike, avoiding the obvious question of what the item was. “And watch out in Odela.”
“Arbormill has ghosts and Odela has monsters,” said Mike, half grinning. “Most of them are in the state prison there, though.”
“And what does Campsong have?” asked Dan, making a note to vacate the county as quickly as he could.
“We have a dive bar,” said Mike, breaking into a loud laugh. Dan heard a chortle from the group at the end of the bar.
“And apparently a quality butcher shop,” muttered Dan. Something changed in the room as soon as the words left his mouth. Everything suddenly got quieter. Even the men playing pool in the back had one eye firmly on Dan. Dan had already felt awkward, but for the first time that night, he felt a twinge of fear go down his spine. Mike leaned onto the bar towards Mike and looked him in the eye.
“Yeah, Mallock’s,” said Mike, his voice lowering. “That’s an interesting story.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” said Dan, checking his watch. The numbers were slightly blurry. Mike must have been making the things strong. Mike stood back up and looked around the bar with slight trepidation. Dan assumed he was just adding suspense, but there was something about the change in the other customers that gave him a sliver of doubt.
“It was back in 1935, in the middle of the Great Depression. A man called Walton Mallock came to Campsong and opened his butcher shop,” began Mike. His voice took on a strange edge as he told the story. It sounded like how someone would tell a ghost story around a campfire. “He came from Arbormill back when people didn’t trust anyone that came from there all that easily. There and Odela were the last couple of towns that had Malcaw blood left in them.”
“Malcaw?” asked Dan.
“Old Native tribe that used to live around here in Eldona County.”
“And people around here weren’t particularly fond of Indians?” asked Dan. Mike gave him a look that had the tiniest bit of anger in it. Dan shut up and took another drink.
“The Malcaw were a really old tribe that believed in really old ways,” said Mike. “Every other tribe around here was terrified of them. They used to say that dark gods walked in Malcaw villages. They said bone eagles flew overhead.” Dan thought back to the unnerving image painted onto the side of Mallock’s Meats. Looking around, he saw that everyone else in the bar was listening to the bartender. They’d probably heard it a hundred times, but they still had to listen to the obviously well-practiced story. “So no, they didn’t like the Malcaw. And most of them had what they called the Malcaw eyes; pale blue. Mallock had them too. So he was on the outs already with most of the town; until he actually started selling meat.”
“Then they liked him fine,” asked Dan, taking another swig of his drink.
“Oh yes, they did,” said Mike. “Cheapest meat in the state, courtesy of his brother’s farm back in Odela. And every Sunday he’d put up a sign for the Sunday Special. People would come here from miles around for the barbeque pork on Sundays.” Dan thought he knew where the story was heading. “And so everyone in Campsong was happy. Then, one day, a guy goes to see his sister in Odela. As he’s leaving, he decides he wants to go see Mallock’s brother and thank him for giving him the meat so cheap.”
“Let me guess,” said Dan. “There was no Mallock farm?” Mike scoffed as if he had planned on him asking that.
“Oh no, there was a farm all right,” said Mike. “And the man tells Mallock’s brother that the cows and chickens are all well and good, but where were the pigs for the Sunday Special? The brother tells him that he hasn’t had pigs in years. So he asks if there’s another Mallock farm in Arbormill. His brother says no, the only other Mallock in Odela is his other brother, the sheriff in at the jail.”
“And there it is,” said Dan, slurring his words slightly. “So he was sending him prisoners to cook?”
“Saw that coming, did you?” asked Mike, looking Dan straight in the eye.
“Kind of hard not to,” said Dan. Mike grinned, not looking as pissed as Dan thought he might for blowing the big finale. As Dan went to take another drink, he noticed that the group at the end of the bar was still watching Mike intently.
“That’s not the end,” said Mike. “After the man got back to Campsong, he riled up a mob and they headed out to Mallock’s to bring him to justice.”
“To lynch him, in other words,” said Dan.
“More or less,” said Mike. “So they drag Mallock out of his shop and he stands there in front of the mob and asks them ‘Is this how you treat me after I’ve fed you all for a year? You all still have money in your pockets because I saw a different way. We can still go back to that way if we stop this right now and nobody outside Campsong ever has to know.” Mike paused.
“What happened then?” asked Dan.
“They took a vote. The whole mob of fifty people decided right there whether to hang Mallock or let him keep doing his thing.”
“You saw the butcher shop,” said Mike, bending down to where his eyes were inches away from Dan’s. “What do you think?” Mike whispered in a strange, eerie tone. Dan lowered his eyes to the bar while he considered. Mike suddenly slammed one hand onto the bar. Dan leapt back in shock and fell straight out of the chair onto the damp wood floor. A moment later, every other customer in the bar was laughing their ass off. Dan dusted himself off and got back into the seat. Although Mike wasn’t laughing, he was smiling very broadly.
“I couldn’t resist,” said Mike. “Yes, they lynched his ass. No more Sunday Special for them.”
Dan finished his drink with a long gulp and slammed the glass onto the bar.
“That a true story?” he asked, leaning back into the chair.
“Honestly, I don’t think anyone even knows anymore,” said Mike. Dan chuckled and looked down at the other customers. Apparently, after they got to see Mike scare the new guy, they had lost interest. Looking down at his watch, he saw that it was almost 9 o’clock.
“Wow,” said Dan. “I have really got to get going. How do I get to Odela from here?”
“It’s easy enough,” said Mike. “Just go back to the highway, turn right, and it’s going to be the first left after you go over the river.”
“Great,” said Dan, getting to his feet. “How much do I owe you?”
“Not so fast,” said Mike. Dan froze in place. “How about a shot on the house to remember Campsong by?” Dan had never heard a bartender offer free booze right before a guy was about to drive off.
“No thanks,” said Dan. “I don’t do shots. They’re the main reason I have an ex-wife.”
“Oh come on,” said Mike with a broad grin. “I have a very good house shot here.” He pulled a clear bottle of dark red liquid out from underneath the bar. “I call it the Mallock.” He poured a small amount into a shot glass and pushed it towards Dan. Perhaps it was because of the story, or maybe because of how much it looked like blood, but Dan wanted no part of that shot.
“It’s a very pretty shot,” said Dan. “But I still have to pass. I have a fair way to drive on some bad roads, you know.”
“I understand,” said Mike. The bartender picked up the shot and drank it in one gulp. “Your loss.” Dan grabbed a $20 bill out of his wallet and laid it on the counter.
“Keep the change,” said Dan. “For the entertainment.” Mike laughed and grabbed the money off the bar.
“You’re very welcome, good sir,” said the bartender. “You’d better get a move on though. Pretty sure I just heard them talking over there about a winter storm coming in.” Dan looked out the window and saw a spattering of snowflakes on the window. He let out a burst of profanity and ran for the door, hoping to some higher power that the storm didn’t get bad. Moments later his car sputtered to life and skidded out of the parking lot just as the snow really began to fall. Dan could feel the bartender’s eyes following him through the window.
Dan couldn’t believe how quickly the storm had rolled in. As he made his way through the intersection, he already had his wipers on full speed. As he sped past the last buildings in the town proper, the wind was howling around the vehicle, trying like crazy to blow it off the road. At his best, Dan would have had an issue driving in this weather, but with the strong drinks in him, he knew he had no business driving through that night. He had to make it to Odela, though. And he wasn’t going to stay in Campsong all night. Dan stared through the windshield as the wipers did their best to keep the snow off of it. He kept hoping the exit to the highway was closer than he thought it was.
As Dan moved slowly down the road, expecting his traction to go out at any moment, he began to hear something beneath the wind. A thump. A rattle. Sounds that he shouldn’t have been able to hear above the howling wind. He forced himself to pay full attention to the road, knowing that his drunk ass was just hallucinating sounds. It was at that moment that the sound came louder than before and from directly above his car hood. It was the sound of massive wings beating the air above him. As outright terror began to creep into Dan’s mind, a blast of wind hit the side of the car. Dan tried to straighten the car, but it was no use. The car veered to the right and off of the highway. Dan’s head began to swim and he was only aware of two things: a large object right in front of him and the sound of giant, bony wings.
Dan didn’t know how long it was before he woke up, but he immediately felt the bitter cold and a shooting pain in his shoulder. Looking around, Dan realized he was still in the battered shell of what used to be his car. It must have slid sideways into whatever he had hit because the passenger side door had been ripped off. A frigid wind blew in through the gaping hole in the vehicle, testing the limits of his heavy, insulated coat. Dan unfastened his seatbelt, which he assumed was the cause of the pain in his shoulder and also the reason he was alive. Wanting to get a better view of the situation, he shoved the driver’s side door open. Dan fell out of the car into foot-deep snow. He brushed the snow off his coat as he stumbled to his feet and found himself in a halo of light. He looked up through the still-falling snow to see a single streetlight that was now bent at an angle. He knew where he was. Dan looked past the light and saw the ruined façade of Mallock’s Meats.
The butcher shop looked almost ethereal through the gusting snow. It was there one moment and gone the next, obscured by the storm. Dan quickly decided that there was only one thing to do. He had to get inside the building before he froze to death. He could think up a more extensive plan once he was out of the blizzard. As he made his way past the front end of his car, he saw that most of the passenger side of the hood was crushed in. He was unsure whether his insurance was going to cover any of this mess. He stumbled through the mound of snow in the center of the abandoned parking lot and found himself standing before the painting of the bone eagle. He began to shiver as he looked up into the dark skeletal eye of the mural. It wasn’t entirely the cold that made him do so. Dan had to tear his eyes away from it once again as he went for the still-intact door to his left.
Dan was at least relieved to be out of the wind. The frigid air still creeped in through the broken windows, but at least the wind was at the other side of the shop. That was the only relief he found in the ruins of Mallock’s Meats. The main room of the store had a strange feeling. The pale light from the bent streetlight outside illuminated a room that felt as though time had stopped in it years ago. While it was true that the windows were broken and piles of snow lay around Dan’s feet, the rest of the shop looked as though it had not been touched by the last several decades. The tile floor was largely intact, as were three rows of shelves in the middle of the room. A long meat counter on the other side of the room was empty, but looked entirely functional beneath a thick layer of dust. The only signs of degradation were in the walls and ceiling, which were full of cracks and peeled areas of paint.
Dan moved carefully through the store and away from the windows. He saw a door behind the meat counter and thought he might be able to make it through the night in the back of the store. As he walked around the end of the counter and by three abandoned cooler doors, he took out his phone and turned on its flashlight. He considered calling someone for help, but after a moment of thought, Dan came to the conclusion that even if anyone knew where he was, they wouldn’t be able to get there until the next morning. He was on his own for the night. He reached the door behind an antique cash register that still rested on the counter. As Dan reached for the door, for the second time that night, he heard a sound that should not have been there. A low buzz emanated from behind the door. It reminded Dan of the sounds he had heard coming from meat counters while they were carving up slabs of meat. All he could imagine was a blade sawing through flesh and bone. Dan stood there staring at the door, trying to rationalize what he was hearing. It had to be the liquor making him hear things, like before in the car. He couldn’t have heard wings in the air. Dan ignored the sound, pushed open the door, and delved into the back room.
The buzz didn’t get any louder, but it didn’t go away. Dan shone his phone’s light around the room, illuminating the abandoned cutting room. He could make out a rusted metal sink, a long counter, and two doors which he supposed were the meat freezer and cooler. It had the same timeless look as the main shop room, but it at least it was slightly warmer. Dan sat down on the antique tile floor as a wave of nausea washed over him. The only thing he wanted was to pass out and figure out a way to get into Odela in the morning. He shut off his phone light and lowered his body onto the ground. He was seconds from unconsciousness when he rolled over and felt something cold and wet on his cheek.
Dan wiped the liquid off his cheek with a groan. He turned his phone light back on, expecting to see half-melted snow on his fingers. Instead, they were streaked with crimson. Dan slowly moved his eyes to the floor and saw a small puddle of blood where his head had been. He quickly began to feel around his head, searching for what he was sure would be a gushing head wound. Finding nothing but a matted area of hair, he rose to his feet and pointed his light at the counter above him. A gleaming meat cleaver lay on the counter, a small puddle of blood beneath it was running off and onto the floor below.
Dan jumped away from the blade and felt the antique sink dig into his back, a rusted edge jabbing into his back through his coat. The cleaver just lay there ominously. Dan struggled to remember whether he saw it when he came into the room. Was it another thing that wasn’t really there? As he stood there obsessing with his back against the sink, a loud cracking noise came from his right. This time, Dan could not suppress a frightened whimper from coming out of his mouth as he dropped shuddering to the floor. Something from earlier in the night came back to Dan: the state prison less than an hour away. It suddenly made more sense than anything that he had just found the lair of an escaped prisoner. Summoning what was left of his composure, Dan crept forward and grabbed the bloody cleaver off of the counter. The blade was as cold as ice. Drawing himself up to his full height and readying the cleaver, Dan spun into the doorway to face whatever was there. He instantly froze as he found himself staring into the empty eye socket of a skeletal eagle.
It stood atop the weathered meat counter, one claw perched upon the old cash register. The thing was massive, blocking his view of anything else through the doorway. Tatters of flesh and down clung to its skeletal frame. Its wings were barely cohesive masses of rotting ebon feathers. Its head bobbed back and forth, the dark socket fixed on Dan. He heard its claws scratching at the counter beneath it. Snapping out of his stupor, Dan did the only thing he could think of. He raised his arm and hurled the cleaver directly at the massive eagle. It was an awkward throw, but its aim was true. It flew directly into the eagle’s skull and passed through it. Dan could hear the cleaver land on the floor behind it with a loud thud. Dan collapsed to his knees as the vision in front of him began to fade. A moment later, the eagle was gone. It had been a hallucination after all. Everything had been. Dan was about to break into hysterical laughter when the loud cracking noise came again from behind him. Dan’s heart skipped a beat as he realized where he had heard it before. It was the sound of a freezer defrosting. He still heard the buzzing sound from before as well. It was the sound of electricity running through the building. The freezer directly behind him in the abandoned butcher shop was completely functional.
Dan took a deep breath and turned towards the freezer door. He had had enough of this night. Summoning all that remained of his composure, he began to move slowly towards the door. As he approached it, Dan could see light gleam off of the steel door; a door that looked strangely modern in the middle of the antique site. His innards felt like they had turned to ice as Dan grasped the handle on the door and pulled it open. The pale light from the streetlight outside shone just bright enough to illuminate the nightmare lurking within, where large, dark bags hung from the ceiling. The shapes inside the bags were not from any animals.
Dan didn’t scream when he saw the contents of the freezer. He didn’t run away or drop to his knees. A single thought just kept repeating in his head: I knew this was coming. The very second he had woken up in front of Mallock’s Meats he had known there would be bodies in it. And they couldn’t be real. After a few strong drinks and a probable head injury during the crash, of course he was going to be seeing things. The bartender’s tale had done a number on him and this was the end result. He had seen bloody cleavers, skeletal eagles, and now a freezer full of dead bodies. He just had to prove one thing. Dan walked forward and reached a hand out towards a large black bag, fully expecting that his hand would go right through it, returning him to a reality in which the only thing to fear was the biting cold. When he felt a thin layer of plastic over what could only be a human hand, the terror finally came. And at the very same moment, a calm, measured voice came from behind him.
“You should have taken the shot,” it said. “The rum was drugged.” Dan had no time to react before a large blow struck him on the back of the head. He fell face-first into the body bag in front of him and then collapsed onto the floor, reeling in pain. The world around him wavered slightly, but Dan remained conscious. He looked up and saw Mike the bartender illuminated by the pale light coming through the door.
“Mallock didn’t lose that vote, did he?” asked Dan in a low and distant tone. His hand groped around in the darkness, trying to find anything that might save him.
“No, he didn’t,” said Mike. “He won in a landslide.” The bartender pulled something out of his belt. Dan saw the shimmer of light off a blade. “He was my grandfather. And in his memory, Mallock’s Tavern still serves up the Sunday Special week after week, rain or shine.”
“Do they all know?” asked Dan in a whisper. “The whole town?”
“Some do,” said Mike. “Some of them suspect. But in the end, nobody does anything about it.” Dan was suddenly less annoyed that he hadn’t gotten his tenderloin.
Mike grabbed Dan and spun him belly up on the ground. He grabbed Dan’s two hundred dollar coat by the front and ran his blade top to bottom, shredding the front of the garment. Before he could protest, Mike had ripped the heavy coat off of him, leaving him defenseless against the cold.
“I like you, Dan,” said Mike, brandishing his knife. “So I’ll give you a choice. I can make it end nice and fast for you right here or I can lock you in and let you freeze to death if you want some time to make peace with things.”
“Fuck you,” said Dan, spitting out the words.
“Don’t say I didn’t try,” said Mike. He placed a foot on Dan’s chest and readied his knife. It was at that very moment that Dan’s hand felt a large, heavy piece of ice on the floor beside him. Finding a strength that he would not have believed he could muster, Dan gripped the chunk of ice and swung it wildly in front of him. Mike let out a loud scream as the block landed a blow directly on his kneecap. The bartender collapsed to the ground next to Dan grasping at his knee. Dan scrambled around and let out a wild kick at Mike’s face. It connected with a dull thud and Mike spat up blood. Dan’s head began to clear as he saw the open doorway with light streaming weakly through. He struggled to his feet and lurched out of the freezer. Stumbling through the cutting room and into the main store, he fell against the counter, grabbing it for support. Looking behind him, he saw Mike unsteadily rising to his feet. Looking towards the outside, Dan saw a spot of shining light on the floor. It was the cleaver he had thrown at the hallucination earlier.
Dan slid over the counter and landed roughly on the floor on the other side. Hearing footsteps behind him, he frantically crawled past the old shelves to where the cleaver lay on top of a mound of snow near the broken windows. Dan dove the last few feet and clutched the blade with both hands. He rose to one knee and was about to spin around and face Mike when he heard an engine revving from outside.
Dan froze in place, not wanting to look out the window. He forced himself to look up and through the now-dying blizzard. Two vehicles had joined his wrecked car around the lonely streetlight. The first was the tow truck from the tavern, which was in the process of towing his car away to somewhere no one would ever find it. The second was a large pickup with two men riding in the flatbed. Even with his clouded vision, Dan could see the scoped rifles they were holding. He was finished.
Dan’s arms went limp at his side. The cleaver gave a dull clang as it struck the old tile floor. Dan only had to wait a moment before the calm, measured voice came from behind him once more, albeit in a slightly more nasal tone.
“I really have to know now,” said Mike. “What were you going to get in Odela?”
Dan stared into the blizzard for a moment, and then began to laugh softly. Mike waited patiently as the laugh grew more frantic. It took a few seconds for Dan to compose himself again.
“It was an autographed baseball bat,” said Dan, tears beginning to well up in his eyes. “My favorite player from the local minor league team. It was in my dad’s room when he died. The old lady just took it. I just wanted it back.”
“I understand,” said Mike, after a brief silence. “And I promise you.” Dan felt the tip of a knife against the back of his neck. “If your family stops by the tavern on their way back home, I’ll bury it next to what’s left of you.” A split second before everything went dark, Dan thought he could hear the sound of bone wings echoing through the night sky.
Credit: Alex Taylor
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