If you would rather download a PDF of the following narrative, here’s the link.
The following story appeared in my first short story collection, Things Slip Through, as an attempt to grapple with the way I failed one of my students, Emma Pital, in her time of need. Whatever you think of the story itself, I can assure you: the truth of what happened is far worse. Before you continue, however, I’d like to offer one caveat:
I don’t want to give the wrong impression of my hometown. Reading this story, it might be easy to believe Clifton Heights is a breeding ground of raging racists filled with hate for their fellow human beings. The truth is far more complex. Do people like that live here? Sadly, yes. Do they live in most small towns? I believe that is true, also. Do those kinds of people make up the majority of small town populations?
Of course not. I believe that in most cases, they only represent a small fragment of small town populations; a noisy, odious minority which too often overshadows all that is good and positive in tight-knit communities like ours.
It is important, however, to resist believing the lie that all small towns are made up of simple, good-hearted innocents untainted by the corruption of city life, their guiding light good old fashioned family values. The reality is this, regarding both cities and small towns: humans are largely an imperfect, flawed, and wildly inconsistent species. Whenever and wherever they congregate, in large or small groups, you are bound to see both the best and worst of their natures, in equal measure.
As always with such sage advice, your mileage may vary.
She swings the hammer down again and again. Bone crunches, blood splatters. Her stomach churns as she raises the hammer to swing it down once more…
But she stops and squeezes the hammer’s slick rubber grip. Blood oozes between her fingers.
The hammer shakes in her hand.
She drops it to the pavement where it hits with a dull ring and she looks at what she’s done to his face, and realizes… she likes it.
And wants to do it some more.
She kneels and sobs.
Gavin Patchett glared at the stack of essays sitting on his desk, then glanced at the first one before him. He tapped it with his red pen, leaving clusters of smeary crimson dots near its heading. He read the first paragraph, squinted and read it again, hoping it would make more sense the second time.
It didn’t. Just made him feel tired was all.
He closed his eyes, sighed and rubbed his warm forehead. Maybe he’d call in sick tomorrow, stay home and do a little writing of his own for a change. If he could just get a whole day to himself, maybe…
His classroom door opened.
And Emma Pital entered, scowling, which made him feel even more tired.
He fake-smiled. “Emma. You okay?”
Emma said nothing, just hugged herself and approached the window overlooking the school parking lot. He looked back down at the essay before him. He didn’t want to be rude but this was his only free period today and he didn’t have time to…
He glanced up at her; saw her stiff posture, her neck muscles twisting beneath russet-brown skin.
“Fucking animals don’t deserve to live.”
His scalp tingled as he glanced at his open door. He stood, unsure what he should do. “Emma. Is something wrong? Maybe you should go to Guidance and…”
She snorted. “Yeah, Guidance. That’s fucking hilarious.”
“Heard the latest? Sure you have. You all have. You just won’t do anything about it.”
He stepped toward the door…
… but stopped as the word jerked him around.
“Soaped on my brother’s truck windows, this morning.” Her eyes glittered.
She offered a rigid smile. “I know. It didn’t happen on school grounds, so it didn’t happen. Police’ll say it’s harmless. Harmless? No fucking way.” Her eyes narrowed. “And you know. Of all people, you know it’s not harmless.”
“No.” She turned away. “No more talk.”
The door slammed.
He stood for a few minutes, then sat to continue grading, because there really wasn’t anything else for him to do.
“I swear, Emma… not a word. Not. A. Word.”
“You must tell someone about this, Daniel.” She lowered her voice as they walked. “Your
truck. The one Father…”
Daniel scowled but she persisted. “Please. Say something, to someone. To the police this time. They’ll listen. They’ll have to.”
Daniel shook his head as they ascended the school’s front steps, empty this early Monday morning. “They won’t listen and you know it. A prank, they’ll say. Why bother?”
She grabbed his elbow. “Then do something about it! We know who did it. Find them, and…”
Daniel pulled away. “What? What would you have me do?”
He stopped and readjusted his backpack’s straps, looking exactly like every American high school senior should… except for the color of his skin, of course.
Always the skin.
“Soon we’ll graduate and then we’ll leave here with our heads held high. How Father would’ve wanted.”
“But this is wrong. We shouldn’t be treated this way. We’re American, as much as anyone else. Or we were, before…” She shook her head. “But not now. Not ever again.”
Daniel sighed. “Emma, it’s Ramadan. A time to pray and ask for guidance, not a time for vengeance. Pray, Emma. Perhaps Allah will take this from us.” He looked at her. “Besides. They won’t touch us. They won’t go that far.”
“How can you be sure? And since when do you observe Ramadan, Mr. Hilfiger?”
Daniel’s brown pupils swam. “After Father died. When did you stop?”
He walked away.
Emma squeezed herself. “Same time.”
Connor Finch looked up as Brian Cavanaugh scrambled into the back of John’s pickup. He frowned. “What’s brilliant?”
They ignored him and slapped high-fives, laughing. Connor often tried to laugh with them just to fit in, to hopefully avoid their abuse, but not today.
Not at this.
Brian squatted next to John and punched his shoulder. “Awesome, man. I woulda used paint, but soap on the windows? Great idea. It washes off, doesn’t really mess any thing up, so he’s got nothin to say, an no one cares!”
John grinned. “Except him, that fuckin raghead.”
Connor looked down, because he knew this story, and he also knew they were right.
No one cared.
But he surprised himself, daring to look up and say, “Maybe you oughta stop, Johnny, before…”
They stared at him, their faces mean and ugly. “Wait a fuckin minute. Are you defendin those ragheads? 9-Fuckin-Eleven, dipshit!”
Connor’s heart skipped a beat. He’d pushed too far. Stop now and he’d be fine. Push John any further, though…
Again, he did the unthinkable. “S’not like they did it, Johnny. Emma an Danny are jus like you an me…”
“SHUT YER FUCKIN MOUTH!”
John stood and the truck’s bed shivered. Connor stared down at John’s combat boots, the ones he’d gotten from Dad… before he’d died.
“C’mon, Johnny,” Brian sneered. “He don’t know no better.”
Silence. Nothing but John’s breath, until: “Yeah. Fuck it. ‘Sides… I know how he can make up for it.”
Something metallic clicked.
Connor looked up and instantly wished he hadn’t. Brian and John towered above him, their eyes shining, John holding a gun he must’ve pulled out from under his belt. A Berretta 92.
Dad’s service pistol.
Brian grinned at John. “You got somethin else in mind?”
“Hell yes. An seein as how Conner here’s got such a hard-on for the A-rab, he can help this time, or…”
John aimed at him and mimed pulling the trigger.
“Blammo. Cause that’s what we do to traitors during wartime. Right, dipshit?”
Connor said nothing, just looked away and shivered.
And now she stands on wobbly legs, leans against the Ford, her thighs trembling. Her stomach spasms and she thinks she might vomit again so she presses her forehead against the tailgate’s cool metal and closes her eyes and breathes through her nose.
Her legs steady. The nausea fades, replaced by a hard, cold burning in her guts. She swallows bile, straightens and fiddles with her torn windbreaker. Her hands brush her skin and she remembers HIS hands as they pushed her down onto the truck’s cold leather seats, remembers his rough, calloused, twisting fingers.
Fucking animals don’t deserve to live.
She looks at her mother’s tiny Miata, still parked and running in the lumber mill entrance. Then she turns and stoops next to his body, ignoring what she’s done to his face as she digs through his pockets for keys.
Connor fidgeted against the football field’s chain link fence. He didn’t want to do this but he had no choice. Maybe if Dad hadn’t died and he was still around to hold John’s leash, maybe this wouldn’t be happening.
Well, maybe the pranks. John had been real pissed when Dan replaced him in the backfield two years ago, and he’d stayed pissed. He quit football and school, started drinking, ranting about getting even, and Dad had ranted right along with him, cursing at Coach Pandich and Dan Pital whenever he could, so Dad might’ve dug the pranks.
Then Dad’s reserve unit got activated and shipped out to Iraq.
And not three weeks in-country a suicide bomber with explosives strapped to his chest charged Dad’s Humvee.
No one survived.
With Dad gone John took over the lumber mill, which turned out to be a small blessing. It kept him busy for a while.
But not long enough.
Because Connor supposed there wasn’t enough busy in the world to cover John’s anger. The pranks had started small a year ago, graffiti on Pital’s locker, trash cans knocked into the Pital’s front yard, prank phone calls and threatening texts.
But now this. Maybe Dad would’ve stopped this crazy shit.
Connor bent his head, closed his eyes and sighed. But maybe not. John was just like Dad, after all. And him? He was more like Mom, quiet and weak. She didn’t care about the color of a person’s skin, but she’d always done whatever Dad wanted.
Just like he’d always do whatever John wanted.
Shouts came from the football field. Connor looked up, saw players jogging past him on the other side of the fence toward the school. He pushed off and followed a player lagging behind, one whose brown face shined with sweat.
“Hey! Dan… hey!”
Daniel Pital slowed, turned and frowned. “Don’t want to talk to you, Finch.”
Daniel’s tone cut him. Not for the first time, Connor realized he hated his brother John.
“Listen. I didn’t have anything to do with… You know John. He’s an asshole.”
At least that was true.
Daniel’s rigid posture spoke volumes. “Don’t care, Finch. You’re just like everyone else. You let it happen. Far as I’m concerned, you’re just as bad, so I’m done with you. All of you.”
He walked away.
Connor almost let him go.
But he knew what waited for him if he did, knew Mom couldn’t stop John from punishing him if he didn’t do what he was supposed to.
“Dan! It’s important. It’s…”
The lie trembled on his tongue. “It’s about… Emma.”
Dan stiffened, clutching his helmet’s face-mask. An image flickered in Connor’s mind, of Dan smashing the helmet against his face. The chain link fence still separated them, but a chill crawled along his skin regardless, and he stepped back several feet.
“What about Emma?”
The lie stuck in his throat and he coughed. “I think I know what they’re gonna do next. You gotta believe me…”
oh god please don’t
“… I’m just tryin to help.”
Dan’s eyes narrowed into slits. “Tell me.”
Connor looked around. He wasn’t faking, because John was out there, somewhere, watching, making sure he obeyed. “N-not here. If John catches me…”
Here it was. Lie like he was supposed to or tell the truth and get his ass kicked or worse, because he knew, too well, what John was really capable of.
“At Old Bassler House. Outside town? Get showered and…” he glanced at his watch. “Meet me there… thirty minutes?”
Gavin rubbed his forehead, thinking he should’ve called in sick like he’d wanted to yesterday. Seemed like he hadn’t made any progress on these essays. Of course, that’s the way it always was these days. He never really cleared his desk, just dented the piles was all.
His door opened and Emma walked in.
Good. He wanted to apologize for being so dismissive yesterday. Maybe it was a pointless gesture but it made him feel better about himself. A little, anyway.
He shuffled some papers. “Emma, about yesterday. I’m sorry…”
He looked up. Emma’s large eyes – red from crying – stopped him. She sniffed, swallowed then spoke softly. “No. I am sorry. I should not have said those things. You’ve always listened to me, more than anyone. I was wrong to blame you.”
Shame filled him because really, he wanted Emma to blame him, for doing nothing, for hiding behind his desk like everyone else, for staying safe.
He cleared his throat and managed the only thing he could think of, a vague and empty platitude that was also safe.
“It’ll get better, Emma. Someday.”
A comfortable lie. And as he met Emma’s gaze, he knew she didn’t believe him. But she nodded, turning for the door, stopping with her hand on the knob. “It’s very strange. Daniel told me to pray about this, to ask Allah for guidance. It’s Ramadan, you know. Ends Thursday, at sundown.”
She smiled sadly. “So odd, Daniel talking about Ramadan. He never used to. And me? Not since… well. Not for a while. Strange that something like this should…”
He said nothing, just nodded because of course, it was safe.
“Well. Good luck with your writing, Mr. Patchett. I hope you’ll publish another book someday.”
She left and closed the door softly behind her. He shook his head and kept grading papers, though he had a hard time understanding what any of them said.
She speeds down Haverton Road toward its intersection with Lillington, tires humming over cracked asphalt, the engine throbbing as pain roars in her chest.
A burning knot where her heart should be. Everything else fades as pain blazes through her. She’s an engine of pain, running hot on grief.
She wants to scream.
Instead she bites her tongue, holds the gas near the floor, realizing if a dog or deer jumps from the woods into her path she’s dead, but Dan’s class ring rattling around her index finger has numbed her, killed her inside.
Red flashes through the intersection ahead, heading south… away from town.
But it isn’t Dan’s anymore.
Now she screams and slams the pedal down. The truck lurches forward, engine shuddering. She hits the intersection, shifts, jerks the wheel left. A stray thought: good thing Dan taught her to drive Stick last summer, and good thing she’s always been a quick learner.
Because now she’s learned something new.
The truck fishtails. She eases off the gas, taps the brakes, rights the truck and stomps the gas back down.
She’s still screaming.
And then a tailgate reading CHEVY fills her vision. There’s a spine-ratcheting jerk, and a loud BANG.
And then darkness.
“Don’t know what yer talkin about, Queen Sheba. No idea where Danny-boy is.”
Emma glared at John Finch as he leaned against his truck’s tailgate. This was insane. The police told her to stay home while they investigated Dan’s disappearance, and that’s where she should be, anywhere but here at Finch’s family lumber mill, outside town after work hours, alone with John Finch.
Still, she couldn’t sit at home and wait, listening to Mom rationalize about why Dan never came home last night. He’d been missing for almost twenty-four hours. Of course, the cops doubted foul play, because they were just like everyone else. Blind. Ignorant.
But one of Dan’s teammates had called her and said he’d seen Dan talking to Connor Finch – John Finch’s younger brother – after practice last night, so here she was, though she’d much rather be anywhere else.
She forced herself to speak calmly. “I don’t believe you. Someone saw him with Connor last night, and he never came home after. He always comes home, even when he studies late. You did something to him. Just like always…”
John’s eyes glittered. “Can’t prove nothin. Know why? Nobody. Fuckin. Cares.”
He relaxed, inspecting his fingernails. “Maybe he got wise an left town. Maybe you an your curry-assed Mom oughta do the same.”
Her stomach twisted. “Where is he?”
John looked up and smiled, slow and lazy. “Gotta admit. Pretty brave, you comin out here after closing, when you’n me are all alone. Must love Danny-boy an awful lot.”
He leered at her. She felt sick and violated. “Question is: how much do you love him?”
She swallowed her disgust. “Last time. Where is he? Or should I call the cops, tell them you took Daniel, hurt him somehow. Even if there’s no proof, it should make things interesting for – ”
John’s face hardened and Emma knew. Dan was dead and John Finch had killed him. But the look on John’s face passed and he raised his hands in mock surrender. “Okay. You got me. Dan an I met last night an chatted for awhile. Then he was gone. Maybe I scared him off, or somethin.”
“Bullshit!” Anger burned her cheeks. “Dan’s not afraid of anything. Especially not common trash like you.”
John’s smile faded. “Oh, I promise you, sweetie. He was all to pieces when I finished. Don’t know where he is, now, but I’ll help you some.” He dug into his jeans pocket and pulled out a small, glittering object. “Found it this morning.”
He tossed it to her. She snatched the small, cold, metal thing out of the air, spread her fingers…
And stopped breathing.
Dan’s class ring.
She opened her mouth.
Looked up at John and finally managed. “Whe…where… ?”
John jerked his thumb over his shoulder at the slim metal tower behind the lumber mill. Smoke curled upwards from its tapered mouth. “By the wood chippers, after I loaded all the day’s chippin’s into the sawdust burner. Been burnin hot, all day. Like I said. Don’ rightly know where Danny-boy is now. Could be anywhere. All over, even.”
He turned away. “Got work to do. Have a good one.”
Emma stared at the ring. Brownish-red streaks marred its gem. Topaz. For November.
She swallowed, slipped the ring over her index finger and made a fist as everything in her head went away.
She screamed and ran after John.
But he was ready.
He turned and slapped her open handed across the jaw, all of his weight behind the blow, which rattled her teeth and threw her against the truck’s cab. Grabbing her shoulders, he slammed the back of her head against the passenger window and pressed himself against her, grabbing, squeezing…
He ground his pelvis against her. He was excited; she could feel it through his jeans. He bent close and whispered into her ear, his breath washing over her face and smelling of garlic and cloves, “So ya wanna be an All-American girl, jus like everyone else?”
Her windbreaker’s fabric tore.
And she gasped in terror as his cold, calloused fingers brushed her skin.
“Well, here’s your chance, Sheba.”
He opened the passenger door with his free hand, grabbed her biceps and heaved her into the cab onto the cold, leather seat. Filling the doorway, he yanked something silver from his belt, waggled it and leered, “This’ll make you behave.”
He clambered into the truck onto her. She screamed and flailed, reaching to the floor, under the seat, groping for something, anything to swing…
Her fingers brushed a rubber handle under the driver’s seat. She grabbed hold, pulled and swung, screaming louder. A hammer’s claw-end slammed into John’s temple, tearing skin, splattering blood. He grunted, and she swung again.
John jerked with each blow, his eyes glazing over. He went limp, dropping the gun to the cab’s floor and sagging against her but she didn’t dare stop. She pressed a knee into his chest, lifted him back up…
And swung again. Blood splattered onto her lips and tasted like warm, salty broth. She cranked the hammer back once more…
But stopped. There was no movement, now. No jerking or twitching. His eyes stared blankly at nothing. It was over. He was gone.
But she wasn’t done.
She pushed him off her with her knee and he tumbled backwards out of the cab, falling and hitting the pavement with a wet, meaty smack.
She scrambled after, hammer raised, screaming.
Gavin fidgeted on the lumpy couch outside Principal Stedman’s office. He knew what this was about and that it was serious, but with the school day just over and those essays nearly graded, he was so close to going home and writing, he could taste it.
Which only deepened his guilt.
Principal Stedman opened his door and peered out, blinking owlishly like a burrowing animal reluctant to leave its underground den, where it was warm and safe. “Mr. Patchett? We’re ready for you.”
Gavin rose and entered. Mr. Stedman, a bald, pear-shaped man looking mildly oafish in a three-piece suit, closed the door, waddled around him, nodding at the only free chair before Stedman’s polished and gleaming mahogany desk. “Have a seat. Sheriff Baker has a few questions for you.”
Gavin sat down slowly as Stedman seated himself in the big, red plush chair behind his desk. Sheriff Baker sat next to Gavin, lean and tall and all khaki. He held a small notepad, an apologetic look on his face. “Sorry to bother you, Mr. Patchett. Imagine you’re pretty busy this time of day. A few questions and I’ll be on my way.”
Gavin nodded, feeling numb, disconnected, and slightly nauseous. “No problem. Happy to help. Is this about…”
Baker nodded slowly. “Yes, the Pitals. I’m sure you’ve heard by now. Daniel Pital, a senior, was supposed to study at the library last night. 6:00 AM today, his mother called us because he’d never come home. We called the library, had them put us in touch with those who worked last night. According to them, he never showed. They never saw Daniel Pital, not once the whole night. Far as we can tell, no one has seen him since last night’s football practice, which ended at 5:00 PM.”
Baker paused, consulting his notebook as he continued. “We’ve taken statements from Mrs. Pital and her daughter about escalating ethnic persecution over the past few years, relating to 9/11. Mr. Pital was an actuary and had business at the Twin Towers that day. His body was never recovered.”
Gavin nodded. He knew this from Emma’s essays and journals and from the little bits and pieces she’d shared with him the times she’d visited his classroom at lunch to talk.
“Emma Pital was one of your students, and also your editor for two years on the school’s literary journal. Did she ever mention anything about harassment or persecution to you?”
Gavin’s stomach twisted and clenched, but he forced himself to maintain what he hoped was a neutral expression. “She occasionally hinted at some difficulties in her essays and journal entries,” he lied, “but she never really told me directly that…”
“I see.” Baker’s pen scratched paper. “Mrs. Pital is making charges of vandalism, intimidation, harassment…and apparently, yesterday morning, an ethnic slur soaped on Daniel’s truck windows.”
Stedman’s bland voice intruded. “Minor cases of school vandalism, involving mostly lockers and books. We’ve never had any suspects, really. And the incident with the truck occurred off campus, so…”
Gavin looked at Stedman but said nothing. He knew the score. Stedman wanted to avoid as much responsibility in this as possible, and God help him… Gavin would toe the line. But that didn’t stop him from hating Stedman, and himself.
“I see.” More pen scratching paper. “Last question Mr. Patchett, and then you’re free to go. Emma Pital stayed home from school today. At 2:30 PM, Mrs. Pital called us, reporting that after waking from a nap, she’d discovered Emma and her car gone, Emma’s cell phone left on the kitchen table. Mrs. Pital is afraid that…”
And suddenly Gavin felt cold.
Good luck with your writing…
fucking animals don’t deserve to live
He swallowed. “Sorry. Fuzzed out there.”
Baker nodded. “Understandable. Anyway. Where could Emma be? Did she ever share her suspicions of whom she thought was behind their harassment? Did you ever ask?”
Gavin opened his mouth.
But he had nothing to say.
Conner sat on the crumbling front steps of Old Bassler House, shivering in the cool dawn air. He’d already puked twice and he thought he might puke again, though all he probably had left to throw up was mucus and blood.
His guts twisted. He ground his teeth, somehow keeping it down, but it didn’t matter, really. It wouldn’t be long before John cleaned up and then Connor would have to see it all over again… the blood… and cuts…
Connor’s stomach lurched. He swallowed, burped, then lunched sideways and dry-heaved into the bushes next to the front porch. Behind him, Bassler House’s front door creaked open and heavy steps thumped out. “Damn. You still sick? Fuckin lightweight.”
Connor heaved once more and wiped his mouth, shivering. John nudged him with one of his Timberlands. “Fag.” A pause. “But so’s Brian. Who woulda thought?”
Connor shivered, unwillingly thinking about last night. In a way, Brian was lucky. When he’d showed up and had seen Pital gagged and tied to a chair, he’d told John, “No way, man. This shit’s over the edge.” John had lost it, lit into Brian and beat the shit out of him. When he was through, he’d let Brian crawl away, threatening to “deal with him later.”
But Brian was probably long gone by now. His mom was drunk most the time and his dad had split years ago. Who’d miss him? Brian had always hated this town, was always talking about loading up his Pinto and leaving. Usually he was all bluff. After last night, though…
John grunted. “Gonna be a good day.”
Connor didn’t want to, but he couldn’t help it. He glanced up. John stood there smoking, looking blissfully calm and relaxed, clutching their father’s service Beretta by its barrel. Thick gore coated its grip.
Connor looked away, staring into the trees along Bassler Road. When John pulled off his paper-bag mask last night, letting Pital see his face… then Connor knew, without a doubt, that Dan Pital was going to die.
Connor hadn’t watched and he certainly hadn’t helped. But he hadn’t run, either, just stood staring into a corner, flinching with every wet thud of metal against flesh. And then, when John paused for a breath, he’d taunted, “Where’s your daddy? Huh? Bet he’s hidin out with Osama right now. Suckin him off. Bein a good little Taliban whore. That it? That what your daddy’s doin?”
Pital wheezed, spat, then sneered, “If he is… then I pray to Allah that he’s the one who killed your inbred, no good fucking white trash…”
Metal cracked against bone, and Daniel Pital stopped speaking, forever.
Connor coughed, clearing his throat. “What now?”
“I’ll wrap it up in some plastic, toss it in my truck. Burn it with this morning’s sawdust an chippings at the mill before Cliff an Bobby Lee show. Maybe run it through the chipper first. Bury all the pieces deep, stoke the burner high… it’ll be white hot by noon. There’ll be nothin left by the time anyone comes lookin.”
Connor sat there and hugged himself, squeezing tightly, rubbing his upper arms in an effort to warm himself against the cold, damp morning chill. It didn’t work, though, and somehow deep inside he knew a part of him would never feel warm, ever again.
“What about his truck?”
“Take the plates off, skip school an take it to that salvage place in Boonville, pronto. I’ll call Cletus; get somethin arranged for this afternoon. Get some good cash for it, I bet.” John turned and glared at him. “Take the back roads, dipshit. Don’ get caught.”
With that, he spun and thumped back inside Bassler House. Connor sat there and shivered, knowing he had to leave soon, because he didn’t want to be here when John loaded up his truck.
And now Emma blinks, her temples throbbing. She touches her forehead, hand shaking, and finds a sticky wetness at the hairline. She blinks again and opens her eyes.
Her brain pounds, swollen too big for her skull. She tries to cry out but only dry, shuddering gasps come.
She looks out the truck’s window, wondering where she is, what’s happened… but then she sees the wrinkled CHEVY on the crumpled tailgate of a truck plowed into a telephone pole…
The one she rammed from behind.
She glances down at the loose ring on her finger and anger washes away her pain. She looks around for a weapon. The hammer’s not good enough now, she needs…
There. On the cab floor, where John dropped it.
She reaches down, ignoring the hot pain stabbing her side and grabs the gun off the floor. She straightens and slams the door with her throbbing shoulder while she clicks the handle.
Warped by the crash.
She jerks the handle and slams the door again. With a screech it pops open, spilling her out onto the asphalt, face-first. She barely catches herself before cracking her chin against the pavement.
And she lays there for a minute, shuddering, her arms and legs rubbery and weak, twitching. At first nothing seems to work, but then she hears it: sirens. They’re far away but nearing fast. Someone called the police. Mom or someone else, but they’re too late because she’s going to finish this, now.
Life shoots through her.
Her calves twitch and she crawls forward onto her knees, staggers upright and lurches forward, gun clenched tight.
The truck’s driver door…
… hangs open. There’s spastic movement inside, hands flailing. Sirens howl closer, now. She has to move faster. And somehow she makes it to the truck…
… before the driver can get out.
She switches the gun to her other hand. It doesn’t matter which she uses, or that she’s never fired a gun before. She’ll be too close to miss. She steadies herself with a hand flat on the truck’s cab…
… and leans inside the open window.
There he is.
Hands weakly tugging at his seat belt, mouth opening and closing silently, blood streaming from both nostrils. His chest looks wrong, rumpled beneath his seat belt. His legs, twisted at odd angles, lie still.
The sirens come closer.
She stares into his white eyes. He blinks and grimaces, tries to speak but says nothing.
Everything inside her goes away. She raises the Beretta and plants its muzzle to his forehead. His eyes widen and with the faintest movement…
She pulls the trigger.
The blast echoes in the cab.
His head jerks away, which is good, because all she can see is the small, ragged entry wound on his temple.
She steps back and realizes the pain’s gone. There’s nothing left inside her, now.
She drops the pistol.
Sirens roar up with squealing tires.
She kneels and bends her face to the ground. She doesn’t know if she’s facing East or not, but that doesn’t matter anymore.
Because Ramadan is over.
Gavin sipped from his whiskey. Its ice had long since melted, leaving it lukewarm, tasting thin and flat. No matter, it did the job, all the same.
He had some leave time coming. He thought it would be a good idea to spend most of it drunk. Better than thinking about…
He took another swig.
Better than thinking about anything, really.
His plan wasn’t working very well, however. Sure, he was shitfaced. But he hadn’t stopped thinking yet, couldn’t stop thinking, of what he could’ve done, or said.
Also, he felt like something was missing, felt like he had something he should do, but he just couldn’t seem to figure out what…
His burning and tired eyes focused on the small digital numbers on his DVR, atop his black and mute television, which read 6:00 PM.
His mind churned. What day was it?
End of the month.
He tipped his head back, emptied his glass, then pushed himself standing. He weaved a bit until he steadied, then walked with careful, drunken steps to the middle of his apartment. Best as he could, he faced East.
It was sundown.
So he prayed. To what he didn’t know. And it was a pitiful gesture, but it was all he had.
Clifton Heights, New York
“This is sophisticated adult fiction. With an edge. At times, the book virtually becomes folklore: clever, witty, elegant folklore, with a sting – many stings – including moments of iconic dread.” – Robert Dunbar, Bram Stoker Award Winning Author of THE PINES and WILLY
The things we want are so very rarely the things we need.
Clifton Heights, a modest Adirondack town, offers many unique attractions. Arcane Delights sells both paperbacks and hard-to-find limited editions.The Skylark Diner serves the best home-cooked meals around, with friendly service and a smile. Every August, Mr. Jingo’s County Fair visits, to the delight of children and adults. In essence, Clifton Heights is the quintessential small American town. Everyone knows everyone else, and everyone is treated like family. It is quiet, simple, and peaceful.
But shadows linger here. Flitting in dark corners, from the corner of the eye. If you walk down Main Street after dark, the slight scrape of shoes on asphalt whispers you’re not alone, but when you look over your shoulder, no one is there. The moon shines high and bright in the night sky, but instead of throwing light, it only seems to make the shadows lengthen.
Children disappear. Teens run away. Hunters get lost in the woods with frightening regularity. Husbands go mad, and wives vanish in the dead of night. And still, when the sun rises in the morning, you are greeted by townspeople with warm waves and friendly smiles, and the shivers pass as everything seems fresh and new…
Until night falls once more.