Thursday, November 17, 2011

Suburban Legend - Fiction

Hello again, Constant Reader, and welcome to New Friends. I know I keep promising new, free fiction for you, and I'm sorry I haven't been able to keep everything moving at a better speed. Life has been a bit of a challenge of late, and my novel, "Area 187;Almost Hell" still continues to take up my time but is proving to be quite popular. If you haven't checked it out yet, well, why the hell not? Anyway, I did give you some great offerings from good friends in the form of guest author posts by Ken Harrelson and his "Clownpocalypse" and the first chapter of Mr. Tony Faville's great noire offering, "Avery Nolan; Private Dick of the Dead" so at least I didn't leave you adrift in a sea of mediocrity.

This doesn't mean my sleeves are empty, though, Constant Reader. Two other projects are marching along to completion as we speak, so don't think I've just been sitting on my ass over here. But until those are deemed ready to be unleashed on an unsuspecting world, I'll give you this little tale known as "Suburban Legend". This story was originally published in the anthology "Bump in the Night" by Drollerie Press. Unfortunately, Drollerie was recently forced to close its operations but I believe you can still get a copy of the anthology. It's filled with dozens of stories by names great and small, and I highly recommend you pick up a copy. I hope you enjoy this little collection of words, and I certainly hope you have read or will be reading "Area 187;Almost Hell". It's the right thing to do, and the undead way to do it. - Author


Josh should have been in Columbus by now, trying to finish his presentation. Every mile of the twisting, back-road detours in the pelting rain meant that much less preparation, that much less sleep. Suddenly an odd glimmer of white rushed past. He turned his head, only for an instant but just long enough for a barricade to appear before him. Josh slammed the brakes and tried to compensate. A loud bang shook the car as he fought to keep from spinning out. When the car finally stopped, he was mere feet from the barricade, a crude, hand–lettered sign proclaiming the ROAD was CLOSED.

He opened the glove box, pulled a flashlight and got out. Cold rain soaked him as his light revealed the shredded front tire. He got in, wiped his face and pulled out his cell phone; no signal. So much for fine German engineering and the auto club, he thought. He sighed, popped the trunk release and went back into the rain-soaked night. After a short yet decisive battle, he was finally able to pull the spare from the well. His clothes already a lost cause, he carted the tire and jack around to the front of the car.

Now that he was soaked, the rain was more a hindrance than anything else. Setting the jack, he went to loosen the lugs but found the wheel cover refused to budge. He smiled despite himself and scanned the ground for the special tool to defeat the anti–theft device.

"I think you dropped this…"

He startled and fell against the fender, turning his light in the direction of the voice. A pair of old–fashioned black saddle shoes and bobby socks stared back at him from his ground–level perspective. A white skirt started about mid-calf and was, of all things, an honest–to–God poodle skirt. He let the light trail up to a simple blue blouse covering an ample and, thanks to the rain, well–defined bosom under a too-large letterman's sweater. Her face was young yet devoid of the scars of acne or age and her bright blue eyes glinted in the flashlight's beam. She blinked a few times and held up a hand to ward the light away from her eyes.

"Oh… sorry…" he called out over the rain.

"I didn't mean to scare you."

"Scare? Oh, no… just not expecting is all."

She extended her hand and displayed a small steel tube. "You dropped this back there," she offered. He took it, careful not to touch the girl's hand for fear of frightening her.

"What are you doing out here, anyway? No kind of weather to be out in," he grunted as he put the tire tool to the lugs.

"My date got a little too fresh so I got out. He just stranded me here," she answered. "Here, let me help." She picked up the flashlight and held it steady on the wheel.

"That's too bad," he said as he got the last bolt off and worked the jack. "Do you need a ride back to… well, from wherever we are?"

"That would be great! I thought I'd be stuck out here forever!" She leaned over and braced a hand against his shoulder as she looked inside the fender, her right breast mere inches from his face. He moved away from her gently enough not to throw her off balance and rolled the old tire out of the way.

"What's your name?" he called out as he hefted the spare.

"Sally… Sally Witherow."

"Well, Ms. Witherow, I'm Josh Morgan…" Josh looked behind him and saw she'd already picked up the old tire and had went to the trunk. "Hey! You're going to get dirty."

"More than I already am?" she giggled. He joined her and let the real humor of the night sink in through her infectious laughter. "I think the rain's already seen to that."

"You may be right," he agreed as he closed the trunk. "Hop in," he offered as he went to open the door for her. She joined him just as he started to feel around for his keys. He frowned for a moment then realized how close she had moved beside him. A simple shift in either of them would bring them into direct contact. The idea wasn't repulsive, but the last thing he needed was some under–age sex scandal. "Let me see the light." He shined it into the car and saw his keys dangling from the ignition, taunting him. "Son—of-a…!" He walked around to the driver's door, tried the handle and cursed anew. The rain and wind picked up even more, further adding to their dilemma.

"I'm sorry," he yelled across the roof of the car. "I…" The girl was gone. Suddenly the car door opened against his body. He jumped back several paces as the girl's face appeared awash in the courtesy light.

"Guess my side was unlocked," she said.

"Thank God," Josh mumbled. He started the car then looked at her. She was an incredibly attractive young woman, the kind of beauty time hadn't yet had the chance to work over. Her skin seemed to glow and her eyes were an even brighter blue than he'd thought. He opened his mouth and found he was literally stunned.

"Mr. Morgan? Is something wrong?" she asked.

"Huh? Oh, no, I…" just then, the car's courtesy light died away leaving them alone in the dark. Josh Morgan had been around the world and had seen women in all shapes, sizes and guises. But he'd never been affected by one like this. Seventeen will get you twenty… he kept repeating to himself silently. "And please, call me Josh."

"Sure, Josh. What brings you out this way? This road's been closed for years."

"Lost I guess, detour out on the interstate." Sighing, he checked the gauges and dials on his dashboard to hide his embarrassment. He turned back to her just in time to watch as she peeled off the too–big letterman's sweater. His breath caught in his throat and he swiveled his gaze back to keep from staring. She stretched like a cat and swung her sweater around, leaving it draped over the back of her seat.

"Nice car," she remarked as she ran her hand over the leather-covered gearshift. He caught the motion out of the corner of his eye and swallowed hard. "What do you do?"

"Me? I'm in sales."

"Oooh, sounds exciting."

"It's not, really."

"Oh, I'm sure it is. Nice car and all, you must make a lot of money. I've never seen a car like this."

Josh attributed her rather forward nature to her youth and settled into his seat. "I do all right, I guess. So, where exactly are we, anyway?"

"Just a few miles outside the city."

"What city?"

"Columbus, silly! Boy, you really are lost, aren't you?" She gave him a playful tap on the arm, sending tiny electrical jolts through his skin. He repeated his mantra several times and counted backwards from ten. "Well, I guess it was a good thing for both
of us you stumbled back here. I don't know how I would've ever gotten back."

"I guess you're right there," Josh said.

"Brrr! It's cold in here. Must be the rain," Sally said suddenly then crossed her hands just under her breasts to rub her arms. The motion served to warm more than just her arms as her breasts swayed with the motion. Josh couldn't help but stare before polite gesture crept back in.

"I'm sorry," he said and turned on the heater. "Better?"

"Much…" she purred as she leaned towards the dash, letting the warm air bathe her face. "You wouldn't happen to have a towel, would you?"

"No, sorry. I really should be better prepared, huh?"

"How could you've known you'd break down? But if we're not careful we could catch our death of a cold." Sally shivered in spite of the warm air and rubbed her arms even more vigorously. Then she undid her ponytail and let her long blonde hair spill out over her shoulders to let the warm air dry it. Josh leaned away as if stung as ice-cold drops of water landed on his face. "Oh! I am so sorry!" she gasped, a hand of embarrassment over her mouth. "Let me get that." She wiped softly at his face with the back of her hand. Josh could feel his arousal despite his mantra. He had never felt a touch so soft yet firm enough to make his blood rush to boil. She let her hand linger on his face longer than the errant drops had made necessary before removing it.

"It's okay, really…" Josh managed to say, his voice threatening to crack like a teenager's.

"No, it was very rude of me, and after you've been so nice and all. Nothing like that creepy John."

"Well, I'm sure he's just young and hasn't learned any better."

"I know one thing I've learned though; if you sit around in wet clothes you're bound to catch cold," Sally said. He turned to face her just as she was unbuttoning her blouse. Sally finished the job and leaned forward, struggling out of the wet garment. Things like this only happened to salesmen in Penthouse, not on some lonely Ohio back road. She draped her blouse over her sweater on the seat and started to struggle with her skirt. She stopped at midpoint and looked at him with a giggle.

"Oh! I'm sooo sorry! It's just that I'll never get warm if I stay in these clothes. It doesn't bother you, does it?"

"I… I mean no, I mean, ah… it's…" There was no denying his obvious excitement now. She finished with the skirt and got up on her knees, facing the back so she could spread her skirt out on the rear seat then kicked off her shoes and peeled the socks from her feet.

"Oh, that is so much better. Don't worry, there isn't a house for miles," Sally assured him as she ran her fingers through her damp locks. "You know, you should get out of those clothes, too. Big, important man like you can't risk getting sick now, can you?"

"I… you, no, you see…" This wasn't happening, couldn't be happening. He tried to count to ten, the mantra reduced to a sigh as his mind realized the other side of the biology had wrested control. She leaned across the console and started working at his tie.

"Brrr! You are soaked!" she commented as she finally undid the knot.

"Sally… Ms. Witherow, we really shouldn't be doing this," Josh whispered impotently. She unbuttoned the first few buttons of his shirt and slid her hand onto his bare chest.

"What, we shouldn't be getting warm? You don't want to catch your death, do you?" Sally asked. "I'm sure you have someplace very important to be if you're out this late on a night like this. It just wouldn't do for you to get sick," she purred as she finished with his buttons and slid his wet shirt tail from his trousers. Josh reflexively arched his back to allow the soaked silk to pull free from his belted waist.

"Sally, please… I don't think this is… proper for a young lady…" Josh said. He raised his hands weakly and put them over hers as they continued to trace his chest and abdomen. Sally turned and moved her body over the center console to straddle his legs, the heat from her body radiating like a furnace against his chest.

"Ssshhh," Sally sighed, her lips dipping towards his ear, her teeth making a playful nip against the lobe. "I want to thank you for getting me home tonight, Josh. I'm so very grateful you came along." He arched against her as her teeth played across him.

"Sally, you're just a kid," he protested softly. She may have been young, but the way she ground and moved against him, matching the reflexive bucking of his chest and hips told him she wasn't without experience. "I could get in a lot of trouble."

"Don't be silly," she whispered as she undid his belt. "I turned eighteen last Wednesday." The shreds of his resistance fled him as her lips touched his. There was certainly something to be said for getting lost.


They rode in comfortable silence as she guided them around the suburbs and finally to a large home at the end of a cull de sac. She giggled and thanked him for the ride then gave him directions back to the highway. Josh watched her sway up the sidewalk and waited until she disappeared inside the house before pulling away from the curb.

Josh cruised along the quiet, tree–lined streets, reliving the best bits of the last hour. He was still smiling when he stopped at a light and stretched his arms, the left coming in contact with something wet and cold, the smile leaving his face at the sight of the letterman's sweater still draped over the passenger seat. He thought about just throwing it away or keeping it as a souvenir, but he figured Sally had rented the '50s get–up for the party she never made it to and would need it back. He sighed and hooked a right, threading his way back through the suburbs to the girl's house.

He pulled up to the sidewalk and sat for a moment as he tried to come up with a good story as to why he had Sally's sweater. He finally decided he'd sneak onto the porch and just leave it with hopes her parents would think she'd dropped it on the way in. He gathered up the sweater and got out of the car, careful that the keys were safely in his pocket this time around and made his way up the walk the way Sally had gone just a few minutes before then gingerly tested the steps on the darkened porch to make sure none of them would squeal under his weight. But just as he gained the top, he heard a harsh, low yell from the house. Josh imagined the girl had come in so late after curfew that her father was giving the little vixen a piece of his mind. He couldn't blame the man, though. He'd probably do the same if he had a daughter. Of course, since he was at least partially responsible for her tardiness his best course of action was to leave the sweater and drift off into the night like a playground stalker. He held the sweater over a chair and made to drop it just as the front door swung open.

A man stood silhouetted in the doorway, not as tall as Josh and with a few pounds and years on him. The man reached to his side and flicked on the porch lights. In the balanced light Josh could see he was in his late forties or early fifties, the type of man that had a five o'clock shadow before lunch and more hair in his ears than on his head. He wore a slack, dun-colored necktie and had his shirtsleeves rolled up at the cuffs; the typical middle manager after a long day at the office. Josh froze and tried to come up with a good story as to why he was on the man's porch with an article of his daughter's clothing, fighting the creeping guilt as he faced her father with the evidence of their dalliance dangling from his hand.

"Let me guess; you brought her home?" the man asked.

"I… yes, I mean, no… I found this sweater and I…"

"Oh, knock that shit off! Do you think you're the first to bring her back here like this? If she did whatever she did with you, don't you think she'd do it with just about anybody?"

"Sir, it wasn't like that! It was raining and…"

"Oh! Of course it was raining!" The man stomped across the porch and let the screen door slam behind him. A woman's voice drifted out and he turned his head back. "In a minute, Margaret!" He walked near the steps and dug a battered pack of Camels out of his shirt pocket. He lit one and pushed the smoke out in a long hiss. "Let me guess; she was so wet and so cold she just had to get the wet clothes off. That how it went?"

"I, really don't think…" Josh stammered.

"I can't believe how gullible we are, men I mean. Just take up with any slut that drops in our laps, huh?"

"Now hold on a minute…" Josh started.

"Save it!" he barked and took several drags from his cigarette. "That little slut… been awhile since she's been back, should've known it wouldn't last forever. If guys like you could just keep your pants on."

"Mr. Witherow! With all due respect, this is
your daughter we're talking about!" Josh said.

"First, she's a little slut, a whore, a professional whore. That's all she ever was, and that's all she is now! Second, she's no daughter of mine. And the name's Jensen. Bill Jensen."

Josh stood mute. Perhaps the man was Sally's uncle, maybe a foster father. He tried to gauge the man to see if he'd turn violent. Jensen's forehead was flushed with color as his blood pressure trip-hammered in his chest. "Mr. Jensen, may I ask…" Josh paused and looked down at the still-damp sweater then willed his fingers to unclench.

"That damn sweater," Jensen growled, his eyes narrowing to it. "Throw it away, burn it, ship it halfway across the world… damn thing comes back." The porch light suddenly flashed as brightly as it could without the bulb bursting. "Great! Just great! Thanks, mister."

"Just what the hell is going on here?" Josh asked. There was something here, something that went far beyond a tryst with a questionably–legal girl.

Jensen sighed, turned his back to Josh then sat down on the top step and lit another cigarette off the dying stub stuck between his fingers. "We stumbled onto this place 'bout ten years ago; dirt cheap, too. The realtor said the place was owned by an old lady that'd died the year before. Of course, the old bat's children didn't want anything to do with it, wanted to move it quick for pennies on the dollar. It was our dream place, didn't even need much work. So we sunk our life savings into it and moved in." They were silent for almost a minute while Jensen smoked and thought. "The first year or so was great. My job was going well and Maggie and I started planning a family. What's the sense in having a big house if you weren't going to fill it, right? Well, Maggie got pregnant, and we thought we had it all. About three months in though, things started happening."

"Things? What do you mean?" Josh asked.

"We were sitting here on the porch. This guy comes up from the Dispatch, says he's doing a piece on the haunted houses of Columbus. Now, we'd seen a few things around the house. You know, stuff misplaced, doors that were shut would open… nothing serious. We attributed it to being an old house, or we'd joke we had a ghost in the place. We told him he must have the wrong address and that we'd never heard anything about the place being haunted, not even as color commentary from the realtor. That's when he pulled out a binder with all kinds of news clippings. It seems that the place was owned by a sweet little old lady, ran a halfway house for "wayward girls" back in the seventies and early eighties. But what she really ran here was a whorehouse. From what the papers said, they had a big black Buick they used to pick up the johns' so there wouldn't be a bunch of cars sitting around. Since she wasn't a real halfway house, nobody bothered to check her out."

"I find that hard to believe," Josh interrupted.

"Believe it, mister. He had it right there in black and white," Jensen shot back angrily over his shoulder. "You want to hear the rest or not?"

"Go on," Josh said warily.

"About five years before we bought the house, one of her customers went nuts and shot up the place, killed a bunch of the whores. He might have been able to escape if it hadn't been for dear, sweet Sally Witherow. The house had been sound–proofed for obvious reasons and there was enough distance between here and the next house that nobody outside knew the shooting was going on. But Sally had been to a costume party and was late to meet one of her customers, according to local legend, anyway. The guy was coming out, blasted her right here on the porch. The neighbors heard that one and called the cops. As it turns out the guy killed half a dozen hookers all through the house. We were stunned. No wonder the place came off so cheap. A little plaster, a little paint and voilá! Like it never happened. We moved here from Parma, never heard about the 'Whorehouse Slaughter' as they called it around here. The neighbors never brought it up with us. Probably in everybody's best interests at the time to just brush the whole thing under the rug and let it be. The least they could've done was told us about lights coming off and on in the windows, even when the power was out, or even that a lot of them had seen dear, sweet Sally walking around the neighborhood from time to time in that damn fifties get-up."

"So what did you do then?" Josh asked.

"What'd we do? Just went on with our lives," Jensen said. "Maggie or I'd never been what you'd call superstitious. We just chalked it up to our luck for buying a death house. I mean, what the hell else could we do? We exhausted our savings just buying the place. We didn't have anywhere else to go and since we knew about the house and with the new article coming out we'd have to give full disclosure. We'd have been lucky to get out of it what we put into it. The reporter's visit was enough to throw the place into high gear, though."

Jensen stood up and placed his hands at the small of his back as he stretched then turned and came back towards the door. He chuckled and shook his head, a man defeated. "See? She's at it already." He pointed to the porch light. Josh turned and found thin streams of what could only be blood running down from the bulb and over the fixture. Josh took a step back and stared at the congealing mass as it dripped to the porch.

"What the hell?" Josh whispered.

"The old bleeding wall trick? That's kid stuff, seen her pull that a thousand times. Must be for your benefit," he said. "That night, after the reporter left, we went to bed. I was sound asleep. Maggie told me later she'd heard a sound downstairs, thought maybe she'd forgot to bring the cat in. When she started down the stairs, something tripped her. She fell hard and didn't stop until she hit a small table we kept at the bottom. By the time I heard her screaming she'd already started bleeding… you know, from the baby and all." His voice hitched in his throat and he lit another cigarette to try and cover it. "I tried to take her to the hospital but the front door wouldn't open, like it was stuck or something. I tried every door in the house but none of them would open. By the time I broke out a window she'd passed out from the blood loss. We lost the baby, almost lost her, too."

"Isn't it possible she just tripped? I mean…" Josh started.

"What's your name?" Jensen asked suddenly.

"Josh, Josh Morgan."

"Okay then, Josh, does that look like fucking Kool–Aid to you?" Jensen asked, pointing the glowing end of his cigarette at the pooling blood on the floor. "The bitch killed our baby and almost killed my wife. Oh, at first we wrote it off as an accident, pretty much the same way you just did." He walked over to Josh and stood beside him, staring at the blood as if he were a farmer looking over his field. "We tried that for about two years but we never did try for another baby. I think, deep down, we both knew what was going on. But neither one of us wanted to admit it. About three years ago though, the little whore really started showing her teeth. Knives flying all over the place, shit breaking, electricity shorting out, even a few small fires."

"So why didn't you get out then?"

"Couldn't. I'd had a few setbacks at work, ended up we had to refinance the place. We couldn't get out from under it if we'd tried." The chair beside them suddenly burst into flames. Josh cried out and fell back against the porch rail while Jensen shook his head. "She'll quit in a minute." He turned his back to the fire and joined Josh at the railing.

"Uh… then what?" Josh asked quietly as the flames died, leaving the chair without a mark.

"We tried a few things. We tried ignoring it. 'Course, that didn't work. Little Sally just wanted to make us go nuts. We never got any of that Poltergeist type crap out of her, no leave now spelled out in blood on the walls or anything. She just likes to torment us, like we're her entertainment or something. We finally found something that we thought would work, though. We got a priest in to bless the place."

"And that worked?" Josh asked as black puss started to ooze down the pillars and across the railing. He jerked his hand away just as the stuff moved close to him. Jensen moved away nonchalantly and threw his cigarette into the pool of blood on the floor. It sizzled for a moment then died away.

"The blessing? Hell no. Get this; she raped the poor bastard," Jensen said, a dry chuckle in his throat. "We were just going through the house as he blessed each room. We came out of the guest bedroom ahead of him and the door slammed shut before he could get out. It took 45 minutes and three cops before we could break down the door. He was strapped to the bedposts by his vestments, naked and babbling and completely alone in the room. Last I heard, he was still at one of the special hospitals those nuns run. Hell of a thing, to keep a vow of chastity through sheer will just to have it ripped from you by a little slut like that."

"You can't be serious," Josh said.

"No? Check out the story sometime. Priest's name is Bates. Heard somebody was going to make a movie about it. Not in a way that I'd get anything out of it, of course, but all the same," Jensen said roughly. "The bright side was that Bates's deflowering got the diocese's attention and they sent Father Roberts. This guy was their heavy hitter; a real, honest-to-God, fire-breathing exorcist like you see in the movies. The guy came in here and made us leave for three days. We got a call at the motel on the fourth day and came back. Roberts looked like he'd went ten rounds with Tyson, but he told us she was gone."

"So then what happened?" Josh asked.

"About six months later, a young guy came to the house. Had that same sweater," he motioned to Josh's hand. "Said he'd dropped Sally off earlier when he'd picked her up hitchhiking and that she'd left it in the car. We put up with it for another month or two then had to call the priest back in. He got rid of her again for about a year. That's when I found the damn sweater out here on the porch. Never did know how it got back here that time, but I bet it was a guy a lot like you."

"I don't understand…"

"Don't you get it? Christ! You guys keep bringing her back here!" Jensen screamed, his face red and blotchy. "Every time we get rid of the little whore, she keeps hitching a ride back!" Jensen spit out a mouthful of smoke, seemingly more disgusted with than afraid of the spectral prostitute. "Well?" he said after several tense moments.

"I'm sorry, what…?"Josh stammered.

"Are you gonna' give me the damn thing or not?" Jensen asked.

Josh looked down at the sweater clutched in his grip. Suddenly, his mind was awash with the intense memories of less than two hours before. He stumbled against the railing and closed his eyes as a wave of heat and lust rolled through him. He could feel her hands on him, caressing him, pulling at his belt. He opened his eyes, expecting to see the girl groping him, tearing at his clothes, bringing her heat against him. Instead he found himself at the top of the porch steps, his heels hanging precariously off the edge. A shiver ran down his spine as he lurched forward, his brush with falling from the high porch to the concrete slab below enough to break her hold on him. He grabbed the sweater in both hands and threw it violently to the floor. "It's all yours." he said, teeth bared against the invisible woman. Josh stumbled away and down the steps. Jensen watched him stagger across the yard, get in his car and rocket off down the soaked, silent street. He plucked the sweater from the floor and threw it over his shoulder, just another burden to bear.

"Bill?" a voice called out. A moment later a middle–aged woman appeared and opened the screen door. She glanced down at the pool of blood and the black ichor that still seeped down the columns and sighed. "Everything all right, honey?"

"Same as it ever was!" he growled at her.

"Should I call Father Roberts?" she asked, her voice light and only slightly tinged with concern. Even the stress of their ghostly harlot couldn't diminish her graciousness.

"Yeah, call him. Tell him Sally's found her way home again."


So until next time, just write, damn it. - Author

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Avery Nolan-Fiction(Guest Author)

Hello again, Constant Reader, and a fresh hello to new friends. Things are still going well with my novel, "Area 187; Almost Hell", and the promotion and continuing projects have just been kicking the ass of your favorite biguglyhairyscary. But, that's no excuse for neglecting all of you out there by slacking on giving you something to read here in my little corner of the web. I was talking to another author, Tony Faville, and he's been kind enough to fill in for my blogging shortcomings by giving all of you Chapter 1 of his new novella, "Avery Nolan; Private Dick of the Dead" free of charge and right here on my little ole blog. The good news is, if you like it you can get an electronic or paper copy (after you pick up "Area 187; Almost Hell", of course…) of your very own for a steal over at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. I've read this one, folks, and it carries my personal seal of approval. So sit back, relax, and enjoy a little taste of old-fashioned noire with a twist from Tony Faville.

Note; this excerpt provided by and is displayed here with the express consent of the author and is shown here exactly as written by the author. All copyrights and ownership are with the author, Tony Faville, following standard copyright laws.



September 22, 1959

New York, New York

It was a quarter to six on a Tuesday afternoon as I walked out of the
42nd Street movie house. I had just finished watching the latest singing
cowboy movie to come out of Hollywood and I had hoped the last hour and
a half would help to ease half a lifetime of pain and suffering.

I should have known better than to expect a miracle.

It was late September, and the skies were dark with a storm front
blowing in from the northwest. I pulled my fedora down low over my head
and popped the collar of my overcoat up to shield my neck from the now
blowing winds and cutting rain. Stepping around the corner and into the
partial shelter the alleyway provided, I pulled a half empty pack of
Lucky Strikes from my pocket, shook out a smoke, and tapped it against
the side of my zippo.

Rolling the dented and scratched hunk of brass around in my hand, I
watched it as it moved in the quickly fading daylight. I couldn't help
but remember it's former owner, a Navy Corpsman that lit my smoke for me
as I lay there bleeding into the black sands of Iwo Jima. Of course I
could never forget, just as he flipped it shut he took a Jap round in
the neck.  When he fell over dead across my body, the lighter the must
have fallen into my gear because it was with me when I finally got home.
I have carried it with me every day since.

I flicked it open and rolled the wheel, bringing the yellowish flame to
life with a small spray of sparks. Lighting the small filterless
cigarette, I heard a noise down the darkened alleyway behind me.
Turning, I squinted through the wind and rain and saw a lone bum on his
hands and knees, looking for all the world like he was throwing up the
remnants of last nights nickel hooch and canned baked beans.

This is New York City and the sight of a bum in an alleyway is nothing
new or earthshaking, so I make my way down the street towards my office.
If recent business had been better I might have caught a taxi to take me
the few blocks, but times are tough, even more so for a twenty dollar a
day, private dick such as myself.

Because of the rain, I covered the distance in under fifteen minutes, a
little double time jog harkening back to my days in the Marines. Running
full bore through the jungles of Guadalcanal with forty pounds of gear
and a Garand rifle in my hands was a lot different than sprinting
through the city streets of the concrete jungle. Rotating through the
door of my building, I stepped into the foyer and shook my whole body as
if I were a cocker spaniel who just came in from taking a crap in the

Joe, the old coot of a doorman, sat in his chair and failed to even look
up at me as he sat there snoring his way through his golden years. I
stepped past him and the broken elevator, and headed up the three
flights of stairs to reach the landing that held my ramshackle office.

Pausing momentarily to look at my name painted in gold on the frosted
glass of the door, I made a mental note to remind myself to ask the
building super to freshen up the paint when he had a chance.

Reaching out, I took the doorknob in my hand, and stepped back a step as
the door slowly opened inwards under my touch. Instinctively, my right
hand shot into the gap of my open overcoat and whipped out my pistol,
bringing it out to bear on the darkened office before me. Stepping in to
the room slowly, I attempted to let my eyes adjust to the darkness.
Cursing my inability to afford an office with an exterior window, I
reached behind my back with my left hand, feeling for the lightswitch.

Suddenly, a lighter flicked to life in the dark shadows of my office.
Even in the darkness, I could see the dame that was sitting in the chair
at the side of my office with a cigarette dangling between her ruby red
lips. In the brief moment her face was illuminated by the flickering
yellow glow of her lighter, I could see she was something special.

It was either that, or she just has a habit of thinking she is special.

Flipping on the overhead light with my left hand, I continued to hold my
pistol in her general direction.

With a smokey voice that was gently touched by expensive scotch, she
said, "Unless you tend to hold all of your clients at gunpoint Mister
Nolan, I would kindly request that you put your pistol away. You men and
your guns, I believe Doctor Freud was right, that is an awful big gun."

Walking across the office to behind my desk, I placed my pistol on the
corner, and took off my coat. Shaking the wet topcoat, I hung it to dry
on the wooden rack in the corner, then took a seat in my squeaky wooden
and leather chair. "It's not the size of the gun lady.."

She interrupted me before I could finish, "Yes Detective, it's knowing
how to use it, correct?"

I could see that from her ten dollar shoes to her forty dollar dress and
all the Chanel no. 5 all between, she was a dame that was truly used to
money. Old money was my guess, and from the looks of things, a lot of

My only question was, what was a dame with money doing in the office of
a guy like me. Sure, I was no slouch as a private investigator, but I
was the guy that lonely housewives paid to take pictures of their
husband in a cheap motel in flagrante delicto with the latest bimbo du

"Since you have me at a distinct disadvantage Miss, could I at least
have your name?"

"Of course Mister Nolan, my name is Anna Winters." She stood from her
chair and slinked across the room like a jungle cat to take a seat in
the chair in front of me. If this were all an act, she was laying it on
awfully thick. Problem was, it was working. Flicking her ashes into the
ashtray on my desk, she continued, "My father is Doctor James Winters, a
geneticist that does his research at New York University."

She could have said her father was a platypus and I would not have cared
any more at this moment in time.  As I said, she was a world class dame,
with a set of pins that led all the way up to there, and with more
curves than the Pacific Coast Highway. Sure, there were plenty of
lookers in New York City, but a lady of this caliber only comes along
once in a blue moon.

Pulling a photo from the manila envelope she had in her hands, she slid
it across my desk, then she settled back and took a long drag from her
cigarette before gently exhaling a stream of smoke into the air.

The man in the photo before me looked like a professor, a true to life
egghead. From his white lab coat, to the bow tie and eye glasses perched
awkwardly on his narrow face. Yeah, I would say he appeared to be the
epitome of a professor.

"My father is missing Mister Nolan, and I would like you to help me find

"Please call me Avery, my father was Mister Nolan. At least that is what
my mother told me. So, you say he is missing?"

"That is correct Mister...Sorry, Avery. Nobody has heard from him for
the last two days, not my mother, nor any of his colleagues from the

Looking back at the picture, I was able to rule out that he was lost on
a bender in some alleyway, as he did not seem to be the type to wile
away his time with booze and loose women. "Have you filed a police
report? Missing persons is more up their alley, not mine."

"My fathers situation is a little more, shall we say, sensitive than the
New York Police Department is capable of handling. I need someone with
more of your skill set."

"Look, Anna, I get a pair of sawbucks a day to take pictures of guys
cheating on their wives. Now, if you simply want me to find your father
and take pictures of him, then maybe I do in fact have the skill set you
are looking for, if not, then maybe I am not your guy."

"Sergeant Avery Nolan, United States Marine Corps. Enlisted on December
eighth, nineteen-forty-one. You were made a squad leader after
Guadalcanal and were decorated for bravery on several occasions, a Navy
Cross, two Bronze Stars and four Purple Hearts, the last of which was
received on Iwo Jima. No Avery, I believe you have exactly the skill
sets I am looking for."

She impressed me as she had obviously done her homework, so I said so.
"Okay, so you have read my file, that still doesn't make me your guy."

"No Avery, I paid a man a sawbuck a day, as you put it, to find me the
right man. As the children in the school yards are fond of saying: Tag,
you're it Mister Nolan."

In the distance I could hear a police siren screaming through the city,
the typical sounds of the city that never sleeps. "Okay, so you need
someone that can handle themselves, that tells me there is more to the
story than just a missing professor. And since you have not been very
forthcoming with additional information as of yet, I am inclined to tell
you that my fee is thirty dollars a day, plus expenses, with one week
paid in advance."

She stamped out the remnants of her cigarette in the ashtray and
promptly lit another. Reaching into her handbag, she pulled out an
envelope and tossed it across the desk. It landed with a weighty plop
and then slid off the desktop and into my lap.

Picking up the envelope, I opened it and found a cool grand in twenty
dollar bills. She slid the original manila envelope across my desk and I
looked inside, finding additional photos and notes with names, addresses
and phone numbers.

Expertly blowing another cone of smoke in my direction she said, "A
thousand a week and all expenses paid Mister Nolan. Not only is my
father missing, but so is much of his research. Most importantly, his
specimen is missing from the lab."

"Specimen? What kind of specimen are we talking about, rat? Monkey?"

"I feel it would be best if you found the answer you seek at my fathers
lab. I have already contacted the school and you will be granted full
access to his lab, and cooperation from his research assistant, Tommy."

Opening the bottom drawer of my desk, I retrieved a bottle of cheap
scotch and two dirty glasses. Pouring a glass, I offered it to her, but
she politely declined. Sliding the bottle and spare glass to the side, I
raised the glass to my nose and took a whiff of the mossy spirit before
savoring a small sip.

"Okay Miss Winters, consider me your man. Since I prefer to give my
client daily reports of my findings, how do I get in touch with you?"

Standing up, she placed her lipstick stained cigarette in the ashtray
and pulled her royal blue overcoat on and cinched the belt tight around
her narrow waist. On any given day, with her red hair and subtly
freckled skin in that shade of blue she could have passed for a movie

"My number is in the envelope, you can feel free to call me at any time,
day or night."

"One more question before you go Anna, what exactly was your father

"He was working on a project for the Department of Defense. He said it
had something to do with battlefield first aid capabilities for
soldiers. Avery, truthfully, I really don't know anything more than

"First aid is not exactly something people tend to disappear over. Are
you sure his disappearance is related to his work."

"It is only my assumption. My last phone call with my father was three
days ago, he said something about going to Mischka's. I thought nothing
of it, assuming he meant a colleague, but none of them claim to have
knowledge of a Mischka."

Rising from my chair, I extended my hand to her and shook her hand. A
gesture she readily returned with a strong grip, stronger than most
women of her stature. "Don't you worry Miss Winters, I will find your
father for you, you have my word on that."

I walked her to the door as she thanked me for taking the case, then
stepped her through the open door. I watched with a certain pleasure as
she walked down the long hallway to the stairs.

Walking back to my desk, I poured myself another drink and looked at the
stack of money peeking out from the open envelope on the desktop. A cool
grand a week to find a stodgy old professor that is likely lost in some
dark and dank archive hall? Yeah, I guess a Private Dick with a skill
set like mine could get used to those kinds of numbers.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Area 187 News and a Bunch of Other Shit

Hello again, Constant Reader. I know, I know… I've been neglecting you and for that you have a thousand apologies. Things have been a bit busy for the old biguglyhairyscary and I promise there's more good stuff to come. The biggest news, and the biggest drain on my time, is that my novel, "Area 187; Almost Hell" is doing very well over at that Amazon thing. Just about 1000 copies have already shambled their way onto Kindles and into mailboxes around the world, and as I write this the book has stayed on the top 100 paid Kindle Horror genre (print and electronic) lists for the 4th straight week without falling off. I know this may not seem like much to some, but it certainly makes me feel pretty damn good to have a book so large (600+ pages print, 230,000+ words) and from a "1st time" novelist reach this level with virtually no real (read "paid") promotion and carrying a Kindle price of $4.99 and paperback $18.00. Even though there are many, many, many much cheaper and smaller works in the horror genre (remember, I'm up against literally thousands of $0.99 books, here) not to mention in any genre, sales have been steadily climbing since its release in June and it's been getting great reviews on Amazon as well as from other genre reviewers. If you haven't checked it out yet, maybe it's time you did. Here are some links to check out a free preview, read the reviews and buy the book. It's primarily available through Amazon, and I haven't forgotten my more worldly friends. Canada, Germany, Japan, the UK and probably a few other Amazon markets and 3rd party book clubs I haven't stumbled upon yet carry it, too.


There are 12 total reviews on Amazon for the book; 10 5-star, 1 4-star and 1 2-star (and that one was from a reader that admits he only read the prolog). Check them out here.

You can also get the limey (1 5-star and 1 4-star) reviews at Amazon UK.

Living Dead Media also has a review up for the book.

While not a review (though he does give his $0.02 in an Amazon review), you can find an interview with me conducted by Author / Blogger / Podcaster Keith Latch over at his site. The good folks over at Wicked Channel, a site, also did an interview with me some time ago. You can check that one out here as well.

Free preview;

I've set up a youtube channel where you can hear a full-production audio drama of the entire prolog. A free preview and you don't even have to turn a page or read or nuthin. Check it out. You can also read a synopsis at Amazon, where you can also use the "Look Inside" feature for a random selection.

The book is listed on where you can also read a long sample and try before you buy.

Where to get it;

Amazon, of course (UK too). As I said, it's also listed on BookDaily as well as Goodreads, Twisted Press (publisher's website, aka "The Library of the Living Dead"), GetGlue, Zombiefun and many other places. It's a really real book with pages and a cover and its own ISBN number and everything, so you can also get it through the Ingram catalog from most brick-and-mortar stores as well. Hurry before they all shut down. My publisher, Twisted Press, is also developing a version for Smashwords that will support e-reader and Nook. I will announce availability as soon as I get confirmation.

Swag and other stuff;

I've opened a storefront on CafĂ© Press where you can get t-shirts, mugs, shot glasses, totes, bags and a bunch of other "Area 187" stuff. If you liked the book, show the world. It'll be like having coffee with me every morning and a tankard of your favorite beverage with me every night…

If you have read the book, you have my thanks and I hope it was everything you wanted in a zombie survival novel. If you haven't read the book and you like what you see on my blog, you really should check it out. I firmly believe it's my best work to date and there are more than a few others who agree. Also, if you've read the book in either Kindle or paper and would like it signed but don't think you'll get the chance (or don't want me writing all over your Kindle), I have special postcards suitable for display that I will gladly sign and mail to you if you like. Drop me a line at ericrlowther (at) yahoo, and don't worry, I'll delete the address as soon as I mail it unless I find you really stalkable.

Other stuff;

Even I get tired of pimping "Area 187; Almost Hell" (available in paper and Kindle at Amazon), so let's talk about some other stuff.

I'm in the final stages of getting the cover together for my first foray into self-publishing with my forthcoming 1-author anthology "The Dead Tell Tales". This will contain eight zombie short stories (with one possibly hitting novella length) and will be available on Smashwords. I hope to have this one out in time for Halloween buying, and while it won't be free it'll still be a steal.

I am still working on a free audio anthology of 7-8 short stories of the not-zombie variety that will help launch my new website (yes, I'm finally doing something with the damn domain name I bought years ago). I hope to have the fully-produced audio dramas available by Halloween as well. Did I mention they'll be completely free? It will also be a bit of a concept piece in that I'm recruiting podcasters/authors to record various characters. I already have a few confirmed but if you're a podcaster or a podcaster/author and want to get in on this project drop me a line at the e-mail address above. I will be attaching promos for the shows to all who participate, so you get in on a fun project that will surely attract podcast listeners to hear their favorites play character roles and introduce listeners to different podcasts and hosts.

Of course, you can still read and hear my genre movie reviews over at The Witch's Hat blog and blogcasts operated by the venerable pod-father, Root Rot. I'm also producing stand-alone segments on an infrequent basis for Joanie Loves The Witch's Hat where I conduct audio interviews with directors, authors and other artists from the various horror-related genres. It's a great blog and a fun set of shows, so I hope you check them out.

I'll be producing more short fiction free for the reading here on the blog in the coming months, as well as starting another book from the world of Area 187, so make sure you stay tuned for more. I'm also looking for other un-published or under-published authors to sit in right here on my blog with some free short fiction. If you're so inclined, drop me a line and show me what you've got. I should also tell you to check out the great line of books from my publisher, Twisted Library Press, with separate imprints for all your horror and fantasy needs as well as the blog and forums you'll find there. So, until next time Constant Reader, just write, damn it.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Area 187; Almost Hell - Audio Prolog

Hello again, Constant Reader, and a new hello to new friends. It's been a hectic few weeks for me with the release of my first novel, "Area 187; Almost Hell" from Twisted Press under the Library of the Living Dead imprint. The novel is now available in both paperback and Kindle version at And don't worry, I didn't forget about all my UK friends, either.

The book has gotten a few great reviews and some really great buzz, but I'm not ashamed to say I need your help. So please, spread the word. You can check out the synopsis in the previous post as well as at the Amazon site. Now, the paperback version may seem a little pricey at $25.00 (with the Kindle at $4.99). However, please remember you're getting over 230,000 words of zombie goodness and government conspiracy for your money. That translates to over 600 pages and 2 pounds of, and I'm not afraid to say it, some pretty damn good fiction. It's also one of the few zombie books that, in a pinch, you could actually use to crack open a zombie's skull should the need arise. It also qualifies for free shipping all on its own without having to seek out another cheap item you don't really want to make the cut-off for the shipping dollar amount.

Since I'm asking you to shell out your hard-earned money, I thought it only fair that I give you the chance to try it out before you buy. Along with the free preview pages and "Look Inside" feature on Amazon, I have produced a complete audio dramatization of the novel's prolog as a sneak peak free-of-charge over at youtube. I encourage you to give it a listen.

So, to those of you that have purchased the book, you have my heartfelt thanks. If you have read it, please take a minute and leave a review on Amazon. You can also find me at my Goodreads profile or over at the Library of the Living Dead. All comments, even negative ones, will be appreciated. My work may not be for everyone, but I sincerely hope it will be for you. I'm still hard at work on both a new self-published anthology set for release this summer as well as an audio drama anthology coming in the Fall so keep watching here for more information on future projects and more about Area 187. So until next time,

Just write, damn it.  - Author

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"Area 187; Almost Hell" Official Release Announcement

Well, Constant Reader, I've been talking about this one for a long time and now it's finally here. Through long delays in publishing and editing, my new novel, "Area 187; Almost Hell" is finally in print from Doc Pus and all the good folks over at Library of the Living Dead Press. I say this is new, but to me, the characters and the world they inhabit have become old friends, and I certainly hope they'll soon become friends of yours, too.

So, what's it all about, you ask? Well.....

In the year 2007 an accident at a clandestine U.S. government facility in rural West Virginia releases several test subjects infected with a necrotic virus. Within weeks the U.S. military and the Department of Homeland Security are forced to declare the bulk of the state under quarantine. Defensive lines are fortified and nothing is allowed in or out, damning those missed in the short period of evacuations to a living hell and locking away the real truth of the virus’ creation.

The government transfers the responsibility of maintaining the quarantine from the military to the Department of Homeland Security, which christens it “Area 187”. Suits and claims are dismissed under anti-terror legislation as the rest of government scrambles to cover their involvement in the original project, distancing themselves and their reelections.

Seven years pass.

Homeland Security enforces a total news blackout on all things Area 187, and as with other disasters before it the bulk of America is more than willing to move on. Conspiracies continue to thrive outside the now-immense defensive wall and fortifications, and mercenaries known as “grave robbers” regularly slip in and out of the Area, stealing valuables and taking contracts to bring back specific items for well-paying customers. Our story follows Josephine Terrell, a television reporter and John Heath, once an Air Force search-and-rescue team leader that escaped the Area after five years of fruitless searching for his wife, as they risk their lives from both the dead and the living inside Area 187 to rescue a group of survivors.

Josephine is looking for the story of the century, one that will prove living, breathing Americans still await rescue inside the Area and that Homeland has been covering up their existence. Heath joins her mission after he sees what may be his wife, Eileen, in a video message from the survivors. Personal rivalries, government conspiracies and a simple man’s simple promise weave together with death incarnate to follow their every step as they make their way through a blasted, nightmarish landscape full of the hungering dead. But the peril offered by the mindless corpses behind the wall becomes second to the danger presented by the living beyond it…

Unlike most zombie stories that show you either the beginning of the death of the world or throw you into a world already dead, "Area 187; Almost Hell" shows you what could happen if the apocalypse was contained before destroying all as we know it. What lengths would government and the military-industrial complex go to absolve themselves of blame and responsibility in the aftermath? How would those outside the territory now given over to the dead go on and how would their old world adapt to the presence of this new one? How do those left behind to be ruled by the dead survive, and how do they affect their loved ones forced to leave them behind? It's one thing to be a survivor in a whole world gone mad, to accept that everyone you've ever known and loved is either dead or worse. It's quite another to live among the dead knowing there's another world just beyond the quarantine wall, a world filled with your family and friends, a world you can never again inhabit due to factors and politics beyond your control. The biggest difference between my story and many others is that in most zombie tales, no one can ever go home again. In this one, you can't go home again.

The book is available now at and through the Ingram catalog for those that still like to buy their books from the brick and mortar stores, and the Kindle version should be live shortly after this post goes up. You can also "look inside" the book and get a preview of the world of Area 187 there as well. Now, I know the $25.00 cover price is a bit high. However, at that price it automatically qualifies for free shipping (no more searching for another cheap item you don't want so you can get free shipping on the $24.99 item you do want). You're also getting 620 pages in a 6x9 print format. That's just about 230,000 words of fiction, and if I do say so myself, it's some pretty damn high-quality fiction.

Keep watching here for more about the book as well as my upcoming projects. I'll soon be releasing a zombie-themed anthology through Smashwords tentatively titled "The Dead Tell Tales" (my first foray into the self-publishing world) and will have an audio anthology free for the download coming out near the end of summer as well. In the meantime, please take a minute to check out "Area 187; Almost Hell" at Amazon. It makes a great gift, and at 620 pages it also makes a great doorstop. You can also hear me most every week on The Witch's Hat podcast and read genre movie reviews on the blog of the same name. In fact, you never know just where I may pop up, perhaps even under your bed. Who knows?

So until next time, Constant Reader, I'll simply say; just write, damn it.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Night Lambs - Fiction

Welcome, New Reader, and welcome back, Constant Reader, to my little corner of the web. My novel, Area 187; Almost Hell continues to creep ever closer to hitting ink and paper, and I hope to have a full cover image to post sometime in the next week. I'm also continuing work and actually nearing completion on my zombie anthology tentatively titled "The Dead Tell Tales" which, if all goes according to plan, will be a self-published work available through Smashwords, iTunes and the normal outlets and formats. Work has slowed a bit on a free audio anthology I've been working with, but as soon as "The Dead Tell Tales" is completed I will throw myself back into that project. You can also hear my movie reviews and thoughts on life as a member of the Witch's Hat blog and blogcast.

Since my time has been rather short of late, I thought I would bring out this short number, "Night Lambs", featuring a bit of backstory on my vampire hunter, Shakespeare, who appears in the tales "The Taxman Cometh" and "Rotting Meat", which are both available in this very blog, as well as "Bait", one of the stories that will appear in the forthcoming audio anthology. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into the backstory of one of my favorite characters to write (and for many to read if my feedback is correct) and keep watching here for more updates on my continuing projects. Thanks for reading. - Author

Father Norwalk looked out into the sanctuary. It was well after ten in the evening, and there were still a half dozen parishioners scattered throughout the church. While such a thing would have been unheard of in his tiny Ohio parish, he’d been told by Father Jessup that things worked a bit differently in the city. Not everyone worked the days, slept the nights and had their Sundays free for church. Here, the church stayed open until well into the night to accommodate the diverse congregation and to be a safe haven of sorts for those that needed rest from the nightly terrors of the city. According to Jessup, the faithful and the whore, the righteous and the derelict all had a place at God’s table.

Norwalk couldn’t argue the logic, though in practical terms it proved unsettling at best. Though no expert, he’d already counted two prostitutes and three bums in the motley congregation. At least he wasn’t required to give a sermon to these… these night lambs, as Jessup called them. He supposed he could get used to such an arrangement, especially if it meant he would one day be able to minister to the more conventional congregations that had the decency to gather in the daylight.

“Father Norwalk…”

“Oh! Sorry, Father Jessup,” Norwalk said, startled. “I didn’t hear you coming. A little spooked I guess. Not used to the hours.”

Jessup nodded his gray head and looked out into the sanctuary. “I’ve always handled the evening watch. To tell the truth, I prefer it.”

“You prefer these hours?” Norwalk asked.

“Look around, Father Norwalk; it’s all fine and good to be an upstanding pillar of the community, show up on Sunday and throw money in the plate. But these people…these people need this church. You may go weeks without speaking at all. But when someone does come to you, their need is real. These are the real lambs of God, Father Norwalk. Now that I’m retiring, you’ll need to see to them. They may not be what you’re used to, but they need a shepherd the same as any other; more so.”

Norwalk looked deep into Jessup’s eyes and found emotion and compassion nearly pouring from them. “Isn’t this a little dangerous? I mean the kind of people that come through here…”

“…are the exact people that’ll need you the most, Father Norwalk,” Jessup said.

“Yes, Father Jessup.” Norwalk was already looking forward to getting a daytime assignment. Father Jessup had nearly forty years of service, and Norwalk failed to see what drew him to work such hours, especially at his age.

“Good. I have papers to tend to. Call if you need anything.”

Norwalk watched the old priest disappear behind a small door in the alcove and sighed. There would be changes to the night operations once Jessup was gone, that was sure. He looked up the aisle and noticed a scantily–dressed young woman standing before one of the poor boxes. Though he couldn’t see the box, he also couldn’t see her hands. He launched himself up the aisle as fast as his robes would allow. Norwalk slowed as he approached her and peered over her shoulder and saw the lid of the box thrown back, its small lock dangling open from the hasp. “What do you think you’re doing?” he hissed at her, his whisper carrying across the cavernous sanctuary. The girl spun suddenly, a few crumpled dollar bills in her hands. Her eyes were wide, tired, and her face showed the marks of a very recent hand.

“I’m sorry,” she sobbed, tears rolling from her large eyes. “I’m so sorry, father. My baby…he’s hungry.”

“Then you should look for honest work and an honest life! Stealing from a church! You should be ashamed!” He grabbed her bone thin wrist and shook it roughly. “You would steal from God…” Norwalk’s words trailed away as he felt… something… behind him. He kept hold of the girl and turned his head to find a large man. But then, large wasn’t the word for him. He was easily a head taller and twice as broad as the priest himself. His face was weathered yet still pale, framed by a mass of shiny, black and silver–specked hair that fell from his head and peeked out from his waist around the floor–length leather drover he wore. “Can I help you my son?” Norwalk asked in his most official voice
“Alms are for the poor,” the big man said from behind dark glasses. “I think she qualifies, don’t you?”

“What business is it of yours?” Norwalk shot back. “This is the house of the Lord…”

“He’s not here yet, Father,” the man said. “I’ll let you know when he shows up.” He reached out and separated the priest’s hand from her wrist with a deft, painless twist.

“You…I…” Norwalk stuttered. The air in the sanctuary had taken on a palpable, heavy feeling. The priest’s breath came in heavy, short bursts as he stepped back from them. The man pulled a roll of cash from his pocket and peeled off two hundred-dollar bills. He shoved one into the girl’s hand and the other into the open poor box.

“Take care of your baby,” he told the girl. She nodded up at him dumbly then scurried from the building. He turned to Norwalk and stared down at him. “Take care of your flock.” With that, he turned and went to the basin of holy water to the side of the aisle. As the man kneeled, Norwalk felt a hand on his shoulder.
“We need to talk, Father Norwalk.” Jessup said quietly.

“That…that man…a girl stole from the poor box and…” he turned away from the old priest and saw the man sit at the end of a pew. Small wisps of smoke curled away from his bowed head. “And now he’s smoking! Honestly, Father Jessup, I can’t see why you put up with this behavior…”

“Father Norwalk, there’s something you should know.”

Norwalk didn’t let Jessup finish his sentence. “Maybe you condone such behavior from these miscreants, Father Jessup. But I won’t!” Jessup watched as he stalked across the sanctuary and came to stand before the stranger. “Do you have any respect for the church? Put the cigarette out immediately…”

The man raised his head slowly. He had removed his glasses, his eyes closed. Norwalk realized the man was trembling. There was no cigarette burning in his lips. The smoke wafted up from an angry red mark in the shape of the cross on his forehead. He opened his pupil–less eyes to reveal unearthly, glistening black orbs.

“God’s here now, Father.” the man said softly, his voice pained and thin. Norwalk stumbled backwards a few paces and turned. Jessup stood where he’d left him, motioning for the young priest to come back. Norwalk hurried up the aisle to join him, breathless and shaking.

“I…he…” Norwalk stammered. Jessup smiled and walked away towards a small alcove, Norwalk in tow.

“You have nothing to fear from him, Father Norwalk,” Jessup whispered.

“Who…what is he?” Norwalk whispered feverishly.

“He’s been coming here more than 25 years now. I’ll admit, when I first met him I had the same reaction you did. That’s how I can assure you he won’t do you or anyone else here any harm. As to who he is, well, frankly I don’t know. As to what he is…”

“That man can’t be human! Those eyes…”

“Father Norwalk, please control yourself.” Jessup looked out from the alcove and saw the man had bowed his head again. Only the occasional wisp drifted up to the frescoed ceiling now. “Since you will be taking over, I’ll tell you. But, you must remember that the confidentiality of your flock is paramount. He will seldom ask anything of you save to hear his confession, though he’s only come to me three times for that. I doubt anyone would believe you even if you did want to talk about it.”

“Confidentiality can’t apply to something that isn’t even human!” Norwalk said.

“He was human once, Father Norwalk. Now he fights to retain the humanity the rest of us take for granted.” With a groan born of age, Jessup eased his old bones onto a wooden stool in the alcove and rested his hands on his knees. “For lack of a better term, he’s what you would call a vampire.”

Norwalk snorted and leaned against the wall. “Do you pull this on all the new priests that come here?”

“You don’t believe in vampires, then?”

“Of course not! And now I certainly hope this was a very poor joke...”

“No joke.” Jessup said softly. “Whether you believe in him or not, he believes in you. And he’s sitting in your sanctuary. We’ve spoken little over the course of the years. The only thing I really know is that he hunts others. Others like him.”

Others? Now you’re telling me there’s more than one? Father Jessup, you must realize just how ludicrous…”

“I’ve seen things in my lifetime I hope no other needs to see, Father Norwalk. I was not always the sedentary turnkey you see before you.” Jessup chuckled to himself softly and sighed. “That was one of the reasons he sought out this church. Though I’d never met him before, I had developed somewhat of a reputation, in certain circles. One of the reasons the church saw fit to deposit me here, out of the way and out of sight. But that’s not this story.” He smoothed his robes across his thighs and folded his hands in his lap. “As unthinkable as vampires may be to you, he is even rarer. He is repentant.”

Repentant? You can’t be serious! Even if I were to believe…”

“You saw his eyes, didn’t you? Felt the cold chill come over you? Did that feel like some sort of practical joke to you?” Jessup asked, his eyes piercing into Norwalk’s.

“I…no…but…” Norwalk was visibly shaken by the conversation but not enough to shatter his doubts. “If he is what you claim, how can you call yourself a man of God and allow him here?”

“You don’t believe in the power of confession, of absolution? Even a murderer isn’t denied these simple comforts,” Jessup said.

“But part of that must be atonement!” Norwalk whispered hoarsely. “There’s a big difference! A convict is imprisoned, and one sentenced to die is forced to the ultimate act of atonement! They’re paying a debt to society! They’re denied freedoms! What of those he destroys when he’s not here? I don’t know what he is, Father Jessup…but I know it is not the same.”

“What he destroys are others like him...”

“Oh? How about what, or who, he has for dinner? What about them? I’m no expert on mythology, but I’m pretty sure they don’t eat salad!”

“But I am an expert on mythology, Father Norwalk,” Jessup said darkly. “What you call mythology, I have lived. He is a… different sort. Though he told me this in the confidence of confession, I will impart it to you, as a professional courtesy to hopefully ease some of your fears.” Jessup paused, waiting for a signal from Norwalk to acknowledge the sanctity of the knowledge he was about to share. Jessup took the confidentiality of the confessional very seriously.

“I’m listening,” Norwalk said.

“He was not made a vampire in the traditional way, the way you would know from movies and books. He would not give details, not because he didn’t trust me but because he doesn’t trust them… the ones that made him. The less I, or you, know about it, the better. He is not wholly undead, yet he is not wholly alive, either.”

“So… you’re saying he’s not a real vampire, as ludicrous as that sounds?” Norwalk asked.

“As I understand it, he is, yet isn’t. I’m sure it’s all far more complicated than that. He was part of an experiment during the Korean War…”

“Korea?” Norwalk gasped. “That would make him…”

“Yes, Father Norwalk; far older than he appears. The hope was to create elite warriors with the strength and stamina of the vampire without the messy side effects.”

“Messy?” Norwalk breathed, almost laughing.

“I only say it as it was said to me. That man sits in a prison far worse than any mortal man will ever know, Father Norwalk. No longer alive, not yet dead. Desperately seeking redemption yet knowing that salvation must be nothing more than a word. What kind of atonement would you recommend, Father Norwalk? How many Hail Mary's do you think could absolve him, eh?”

“If that’s the case, why doesn’t he fall on a stake? Maybe wait to see a sunrise?”

“This is not a joking matter, Father Norwalk.” Jessup interrupted. “Perhaps it is not yet time for me to retire after all. Perhaps you should return to Ohio. I’m sure they’ll have your old position open for you.”

“Now Father Jessup, let’s be reasonable,” Norwalk said.

“You obviously don’t have the best interests of your congregation at heart, Father Norwalk. You seem possessed by the idea that all you need do is conduct a few masses and a few weddings to serve the Lord and your flock. You will be leaned upon for far more than that here. Perhaps this is not the best place for you.”

Norwalk leaned against the wall and sighed. Ohio was the last place he wanted to be. But even for this late–night post, he also knew Father Jessup’s name carried not a small amount of weight. If he’d done the type of questionable work he alluded to in days gone by, it would only stand to reason. But even so, the thought that not only were things like vampires real but that one so brazenly sat in the house of God was still hard for him to take. “Father, let’s assume he is what you say. Who else knows?”

“Here? No one. You will only see him at night, and you will be the only priest here,” Jessup said.

“This is too much, father…”

“Look at it this way, Father Norwalk; he is not only one of your flock, he is also one of the leading silent contributors to this church. Over the years, his donations into that very poor box have fed and clothed hundreds. We recently sought donations to repair the organ. He learned of it and a week later there was a team of four men from Germany at our door. They refinished, repaired and tuned the old girl. They never asked for a dime and did the work over the course of several nights, never in the day.”

“You think he…?”

“He’s never said, and I’ve never asked. I told the church the donations came from several benefactors that wished to remain anonymous. Wisely, they didn’t question. But the greatest irony? He’s never even heard it play. How many of our parishioners do you think would do such a thing? Most of them would want a gold plaque bearing their names for the ages,” Father Jessup said.

Norwalk looked out into the sanctuary and watched as the man got up and walked across the expanse to the confessionals. He paused outside for a moment then squeezed his large frame into one. “Father Jessup…”

“I know.” The old priest stood slowly, achingly from the stool. He paused and looked at Norwalk with a piercing gaze. “Perhaps this would be a good time for you to fully assume your duties. Tend your flock. He has to know I’m leaving. It’s been in the bulletins for weeks.”

“I…me? Father Jessup…maybe you should see to him. I mean, it is your last night and all…”

“Yes. But he’s your lamb, now. He wouldn’t have come tonight if he wasn’t willing to give you a chance, to trust you with the very nature of his being. If he puts such faith in you sight-unseen, can’t you put your faith in the Lord that he has come here from a higher calling, just as you and I have been called? He is looking for aid and comfort, no matter how slight, to keep what little shreds of his dignity and humanity he has left. Would you deny him that?”

The two men of God stood staring at each other for long moments before Norwalk turned without a word and went to the confessional. He paused for a moment, his hand on the delicate latch. He didn’t look back. Jessup smiled and left the alcove just as the last of his lambs filtered out of the church. He went to the pew where the vampire had sat and found the small leather pouch waiting for him in the usual way. He opened it, filled the many small vials inside with holy water and placed it back on the pew then extinguished the candles around the basin. Looking out past the alter he paused to admire the massive brass tubes of the pipe organ glowing softly in the candlelight thrown off from the altar. He cracked his knuckles gently and cast a smile to the confessionals before making for the old organ. Goodbye should always be more than a word.

-Just write, damn it- Author

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Bad Man - Fiction

Welcome back, Constant Reader, and welcome anew to the Casual. I've been a bit busy the last few weeks with other projects, so please forgive the lapse in my usual, punctual posting. This time around, I bring you an old tale with, to Constant Reader, a familiar concept. You might recognize a few character elements from this week's tale from other works, namely Shakespeare, the vampire hunter. This tale, Bad Man, was an early physical character concept for that character. Sampson complex? Perhaps. Either way, I enjoyed my time with the Bad Man, and I hope you do, too. Thank you for your readership, and I hope you enjoy this week's offering. - Author

April was late. Again. She tugged at her turtleneck, trying to pull it up higher to her chin. It was always too warm in the wards, but concealment was the necessary evil today. She hoped her rushed make–up job would stand up to the task as well. At least it was Saturday; a lot less people to notice she was late. Again. She checked in with security and trotted past the main lobby into the recesses of Mercy. Finding the locker room empty, she took a moment to check her make–up. Far heavier than she was used to, but that couldn’t be helped, either. She closed her locker and turned to find Janice sitting on a bench a few feet away. The woman had made the silent nurses’ walk an art form.

“You’re late again, April,” the tall, older woman said severely.

“I know Janice. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again…” April said, her face hot under her heavy cosmetics.

“Yes, April. It will happen again. And again. There are counseling services available through your health insurance. I suggest you use them,” she said.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” April shot back, though lacking the force she’d wanted.

Janice pulled a tissue from her pocket. With a quick, rough motion she wiped it across the young woman’s face like a mother dabbing at ice cream on a child’s chin. The fresh make–up yielded easily, revealing the hint of an angry bruise on April’s cheek. “I was sympathetic, the first few times. That was three years ago. Get your life together or I’m going to have to let you go. The work here is difficult enough. The patients deserve your full attention.”

Tears had welled unbidden in April’s eyes, threatening to spill over. “He’s not a bad man, Janice,” April said huskily yet unconvincingly through the tears. “He has problems…”

“We all have problems.” Janice didn’t bother to give her a comforting smile or even the light touch of solidarity on her shoulder. “You’re on the security ward today,” she told her as she walked away. “They had some issues last night. Stop at the pharmacy first and pick up the meds.”

“Bad issues?” April asked, wiping away her tears.

“Phillip grabbed Kevin’s hair last night. Kevin’s in isolation.”

“Is he all right?"

“Kevin is just fine. Phillip , however, is in traction.”

April didn’t say a word, didn’t need to. She hurriedly applied more make–up and pinned her long blonde hair back, making sure to grab her special bag from her locker before hurrying off.

The security ward at the mental facility was a fairly light affair, merely a wing cordoned off by a stout door with a few more surveillance cameras and locks. The guard, Bob, buzzed her through the door and stood when she came to the desk. He was a young man, tall and not hard on her eyes. A tiny stab of pain from her neck erased those thoughts instantly as the guard took her loaded–down tray so she could drop her bag by the desk.

“Glad to see you, April. Place went a little nuts last night,” Bob said, smiling. His smile faded from happiness to something near sympathy as he looked at her, his male mind slower to notice the heavy make–up and even heavier eyelids. April quickly picked up a clipboard and stared at it to break his gaze. Christ, did everyone here know her business?

“What happened last night?” April asked, scanning the clipboard but reading nothing.

“I wasn’t here, but from what Ralph told me it was TV time. Phillip grabbed Kevin’s braid…” Bob didn’t go on, didn’t have to. April quickly lifted her eyes from the clipboard.

“Anyone else hurt?”

“Phillip, of course. Two guards will be off for awhile. One of the supervisors finally brought him down. Had to taser him twice to do it, though.”

“Any of the staff?” April asked.

“Nope. The two that tried he just threw into chairs.”

“Is he sedated?”

“They gave him stuff. He’s still awake though,” Bob pointed to the small monitor mounted above his desk. She glanced at it and saw Kevin seated on the bed in the tiny segregation cell. He was wearing full restraints but looked the picture of calm, his head hung low on his chest. As she was about to look away, Kevin’s chin rose, his face swiveling upward into the camera. Even on the black and white monitor she could still see the haunting in his dark eyes. Did he know she was there, watching him? “Like I said, I’m glad you’re here. It’s no secret you’re about the only one that can handle him. Especially… well, you know how he can get.”

“Yes, I know.” For some reason, Kevin had grafted to her soon after she’d started working at Mercy. But it wasn’t as if he was overly talkative with her, or anyone else for that matter. He’d apparently been in the military, since his psychiatrist was in uniform and carried VA credentials. She checked Kevin’s chart to see what was administered and when. April wasn’t surprised to see they’d given him enough tranquilizer to drop a bull moose at a dead run. It amazed her he was even awake in the first place.

“I’ll take care of him after everyone else gets their meds,” April said as she picked up the tray and made to walk away.

“April…” Bob said softly after her. She stopped, not liking his tone yet finding a little tingle running up her spine at hearing her name called so softly, the jab of pain from her neck ignored for the moment of the sensation. “Janice wants him transferred. With his history and the security reports, it’s likely to happen. Soon. I’d rather you heard it from me than from the dragon lady.”


April finished giving the medications to the others then came back to the isolation ward. She picked up her bag and flipped it open, making sure she had everything she needed and plucked the key to Kevin’s cell from the nail board that hung above the desk.

“April… I can’t let you take that,” he said apologetically. “Janice’s orders. He’s on lock–down.”

April stared at Bob as if he’d slapped her. She strung her bag over her shoulder and leaned against a tall file cabinet beside the desk. “Bob… the man needs help. Please. Help me out here?”

The guard sighed and stared at her hooded eyes. “April, no offense, but you look like shit. Maybe today isn’t such a good day for this, especially after last night…”

“Kevin’s got more tranq’ in him than you have coffee. It’ll be fine. He just needs a little calm time. He’ll be a lot easier for you guys to handle if I can get to him. Please, Bob… I’ve never asked you for anything.”

“I know…” Bob agreed, then adding in the barest whisper, “…but maybe you should”.

April had heard him, but not clearly enough. She didn’t push the issue though. He sighed and leaned back in his chair. “Ten minutes, no more. I can turn off the camera in his cell, but if it’s off too long they’ll know if they review the tapes. Use the guard lounge sink. I’m the only one on duty for another two hours.”

“Thanks, Bob. I won’t forget this.”

“I hope not,” he said in the same tone he’d called her name before. This time she smiled; a small smile, but at least genuine. In a moment of impulse, she bent down and gave him a quick, small peck on the cheek. The act stung her bruised face but she discounted it and quickly made off down the hall.

April paused at the cell door, key in hand, and waited for Bob to wave to let her from the other end of the hall. With the camera off, she quickly went into the cell to find Kevin seated exactly where he had been when she saw him earlier. He was a large man, well muscled and exceptionally tall. Seated on the bed as he was, he could still almost look her in the eye. He looked at her, a smile sharing space with the haunting in his eyes if not on his lips.

“Bad Man was here, April…” he said. “I tried to keep him away…”

“I know, Kevin,” she said. She put an arm around him to help him up. The leg shackles would make their trip slower but it couldn’t be helped. It was enough that Bob risked his job for her. April didn’t see pushing the issue and asking for all his restraints to be removed. It would be enough that she could get the jacket off herself though she knew his wrists would be bound under the heavy canvas coat.

As they made their way down the hall Kevin leaned on her less and less. The exercise of walking had already started to work off some of the effects of the tranquilizers. “Tried to tell them. Told them you were the only one that could talk to the Bad Man. Wouldn’t listen. Tried to hurt the Bad Man. Bad Man hurt them.”

“Ssshhh. It’s okay, Kevin. I understand.”

“Hurt me, too,” Kevin said dully, “Neck hurts.”

They passed into the guards’ lounge, April locking the door behind them. “Let me see, Kevin,” she said softly. He tilted his head to the side to reveal an ugly electrical burn. They’d tasered him directly into the neck. She frowned, but all in all it probably couldn’t be helped. April had first seen Kevin’s Bad Man, his psychotic alter ego, a few years ago. It took two weeks after that before she could go near him again. But that experience had taught her a valuable lesson; how to calm the Bad Man and make him go away for weeks, even months. “Kevin, I’m going to take off the jacket now, okay?”

Kevin nodded dumbly and stood rigid while she unbuckled the canvas contraption from his torso. The guards hadn’t used the sleeves, preferring to leave his shackled wrists in front of him under the coat. The straps had been wrenched down painfully tight, evidenced by the long angry red marks across his shirtless chest and back. She rubbed a few of the worst spots gently and pushed a chair with her foot in front of the deep sink against the wall. Kevin sat down without a word and leaned his head forward.

April moved around behind him and slowly, gently took Kevin’s long braid in both hands. Bound as it was, the tip just reached his waist. She pulled it up to hang over the back of the chair and started to work at the tiny knots in the long cord. It had been a fight for her to get the hospital to even allow the long leather strip, but with the help of his psychiatrist, she achieved the exception. His psychiatrist had also counseled against forcing the cutting of his long mane, citing the mental health of the patient. No one wanted to know what would happen if Kevin awoke one morning to find his hair gone.

“Now, Kevin… I’m going to take out the braid. Okay?” April said with a hint of nervousness. Kevin had never made any motion of any kind against her, though this part of the ritual always tensed her a bit. April was compassionate, not stupid.

“Thank you, April.” he answered in a whisper. “Hair itches. Can’t scratch,” he said, shaking the manacles on his wrists as evidence.

“I know, Kevin. We’ll take care of that.” Finally freeing the small knots, April slowly pulled the leather away. Kevin tensed but only for a moment before she handed him the thong to hold in his bound hands as she worked her fingers into the tightly–laced braid, a braid she herself had wound just the week before. “Kevin, are you okay?” she asked as more and more of his thick hair came loose from the weave.

“Yes, April. Feels good. Thank you.”

She finally worked the last loop of the braid free, letting his hair fall across the back of the chair. “Still okay, Kevin?” He nodded slightly, but now a small, low sound was coming from his throat. Far from a growl, and not necessarily an unpleasant sound, more of a purr. That was how it usually went when the transition from Kevin to, well… not Kevin came to pass. “Is Kevin still here?” April asked apprehensively, her fingers shaking slightly as they slowly raked down his mane.

“He is here, but not.” Kevin and the Bad Man shared the same voice, but when Kevin went away, the voice took on a far deeper, almost sinister quality. Her hands paused, but only for a moment before continuing to separate the long–bound strands.

“Do I need to be afraid?” April asked quietly, her hands still tracing through his hair.

“I am the only man you have nothing to fear from, April.”

April shivered slightly. The Bad Man could be cryptic, maddeningly so. Oftentimes, the tone of his voice and the things he said seemed to reverberate in her head for hours afterward. “I’m going to run a brush through it. Is that okay?” she asked.

“Do what you will, and what only you alone will do,” he said, the words melding with his purr. April pulled a brush from the bag and started working it through, pulling out the small knots and tangles as she went. The Bad Man sat still yet relaxed, his purr buzzing comfortably in her ears. She finished with the brush and put it back in the bag, pulling two bottles from it as she went.

“Lean your head back,” April said. He complied, his dark eyes now staring up at her. Where Kevin’s always seemed to be haunted and distant, the Bad Man’s were nothing of the sort. Dark and glistening, she thought she could almost see the madness in them. There was no lost way, no haunted vacancy. They were cold, calculating; dangerous. April shook her head, breaking their stare. Like the hypnotic trance of a cobra those eyes could lock you in place; the prey waiting, almost wanting, for the kill.

“You are very good to me, April. And to Kevin. He needs you, you know,” the Bad Man said conversationally, as if talking about a shared friend. He closed his eyes as she hauled his mane into the sink and started running hot water through it.

“What happened last night?” April asked as she worked his hair through the falling water.

“Last night? Oh! I see.” He smiled, looking much like a great cat that had just finished dinner. “The lunatic would not leave Kevin alone. I cared little about the proceedings. But when the madman touched me… well, I could not let such insult pass without answer.” The Bad Man sniffed the steamy air a moment and opened his eyes to slits. “April, you are not wearing your perfume today. I do so enjoy the scent.”

“I… slept in this morning.” April said, her voice strained from the memory of her latest altercation with her husband. “I didn’t have time for my usual morning rituals.”

“Ah. I see,” he said mockingly as she applied shampoo through his tresses. “Yet, oddly enough, you still had time to apply that mess you have on your face. Perhaps in the future you will more rightly concern yourself with the finer things, eh?” The tone of his voice, still ominous, had taken on a different, almost mocking tone. April fell silent at that and busied herself with washing. It was usually a week or more between times and she wanted to make sure the job was done thoroughly. The Bad Man continued to purr all the while though left his eyes open to slits, making April consciously avoid looking into them. “You should let your hair down more often, April,” he said, referring to her own severe ponytail.

“Work rules,” April said as she rinsed the shampoo from his hair. Finished with that, she applied conditioner and started working it through. He sniffed the air again, continuing to purr.

“You use a different product for me than what you use for yourself,” he noted.

“Your hair is thicker than mine…“ April stopped her fingers and risked a look at him. “You can smell that?”

“Ah, April. Scent is so important. It is how man finds woman, how the world warns of dangers, how slayer finds prey.” That last example set April's mind on edge. Mixed with the heavy–lidded, glinting gaze it was almost unbearable.

“So, is Kevin’s doctor to arrive today?” The rapid change in subject threw her off balance as did his odd inflection on the word ‘doctor’. April swallowed hard and returned to her work.

“I think he’s scheduled this afternoon.”

“Good. Your therapy has a way of making me over–calm. But I will endeavor to be sufficiently awake to assist Kevin. The boy so needs tending, and the doctor, as you call him, he can be quite persuasive to a weak mind.”

April was becoming confused. The Bad Man was not normally this talkative. And his obvious disdain for his psychiatrist was something they’d never discussed before. Not wanting the avenue to close, April decided to risk pressing the issue. “You don’t care for your… for Kevin’s doctor?”

“Doctor? Oh, do not tell me you have fallen for ruse, sweet April. The man is no doctor.”

“What? How… why do you say that?” April finished working the conditioner through and had a few minutes to wait for it to work its magic. She turned the water off and wiped her hands on a towel from the bag.

“You must become more observant of the human condition, April,” the Bad Man admonished her. “You did not strike me as one to be taken in by charlatans and snake oil. Tell me, April. You are a nurse. Well trained and highly skilled, yes? Tell me, April. Do you see patients with dirty hands?”

April stood and stared at his now–closed eyes. “I don’t know what you’re talking about…”

“And thus my point,” he said. “Though I still appreciate the tender mercies you place upon Kevin and me. I will miss them.”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you think me daft? I know well that my time here is short, for I no longer belong here… though I would ask you not to tell Kevin of it. He can be excitable sometimes.”

“As excitable as putting men in the hospital?” April said before she could regulate the words. He opened one eye, his expression giving the gesture more to a wink than to vision.

“I do not willingly suffer injustice, especially from the likes of lunatics and stupid men. I allowed Kevin to warn them. If they did not take heed, I take no blame for their conditions.” He closed his eye and settled his head more comfortably on the chair back. “It has been one minute thirty seconds; the normal amount of time you allot for the conditioning process.”

“What? Oh…” April turned the water back on and started working his hair through it. She knew she was already past her ten minute window but it couldn’t be helped. She would need to dry his hair thoroughly before braiding it. With his doctor coming in this afternoon, wet hair would be a dead giveaway he’d been out of restraints. Finished with the rinsing, April took up the brush and plugged in her hair dryer.

“Thank you, but that contraption will not be necessary,” he said dryly. “I do not wish to have that incessant whining in my ear.”

“If I don’t dry it… after your little stunt last night…” April forced herself to calm down. She couldn’t let familiarity lull her into saying the wrong thing to the dangerous man sitting before her. She measured her words carefully. “You’re not even supposed to be out.”

“Ah, but I am, am I not? All things occur for a reason, April. All things are connected, related. Time is no barrier, only hindrance. You have helped me, April. And you have helped Kevin. For that, you have our gratitude, though I doubt Kevin's simple mind could express them with the proper eloquence. Why, if it were not for you, I would have perhaps gone mad in my years spent in this fine institution.” The Bad Man smiled as he leaned his head up off the chair to allow her to brush and braid it. April stepped fully behind him and started running the brush through the water–logged strands.

“I would miss both of you, if you went anywhere that is,” April said. “You have beautiful hair.” The buzzing of the intercom split the room.

“April…” Bob’s slightly panicked voice came through, “… you really need to hurry it up.”

“Sorry Bob, almost finished.” April hurried the brush a bit more though still running it through all the way to the ends.

“Bob is a Nice Man, yes?” he asked.

“Yes. He is.”

“And a handsome young lad to boot, I wager.”

April stopped her brushing for a moment, again taken aback. The Bad Man was full of unusual observations this morning. “I wouldn’t know. I’m not looking…”

In less time than it took her to blink she found her feet dangling above the floor. The Bad Man had stood, turned and dropped his manacled wrists around her, lifting her in a bear hug so tight her arms were pinned to her sides. At the end of that blink she was eye to eye with him. Shocked to silence, April could only tremble and stare, caught in that cobra’s glance. “If that were true, you would not have his scent upon you.” The Bad Man smiled wickedly and completed the venomous image as he licked her lips gently, with just the barest tip of his tongue. “Especially upon your lips…” Nose to nose, gazes locked, the Bad Man sniffed gently again, this time frowning slightly. “There are... other scents upon you. One exhilarates… sweet… oh, so sweet… but yet from you it carries a dark taint, spoiling it, really.” Using his teeth he pulled down the tall neck of her sweater to reveal a large bruise shaped suspiciously like the hand of a small man. “Blood trapped beneath the skin… such a waste of its color… its scent. And that other foul scent? One I have tasted upon you since our first meeting; one of a weakling, a coward. Only such a disgusting creature as this would leave such sweetness trapped between vein and skin with not the courage or nerve to neither honor it in the vein nor free it for the world to see.”

He set her down gently, making sure her legs were under her before removing his support. April stood shaking uncontrollably, the brush falling from her hand. “You should tress me up now, April. I do not want you to fall into disfavor for showing Kevin and me such kindness as you have. That kindness will surely not be forgotten... and will yet be repaid.”

After she’d put herself back together, gathered her things and wound his mane tightly, Kevin returned. Though not seemingly observant of the world around him, he was enough so he could tell April had been affected by her visit with the Bad Man. She wouldn’t answer his few simple questions about the time he seemed to have lost. But that didn’t mean she didn’t have questions for him. She took a moment to fight a stray wisp of her own hair from her eyes, realizing she must have lost a bobby pin when the Bad Man plucked her up. She would have to replace it later. Janice was a stickler for appearance.

“Kevin,” April asked as she put him back into his restraints, leaving them far looser than they had been, “ you like your doctor?” Kevin stayed silent as she fastened buckles and straps. “Kevin? Can you hear me?”

“Yes, April.” he answered. “Bad Man says he’s not a doctor… I shouldn’t tell him anything. If I tell him, he’ll kill me.”

“Kevin! That’s absurd! Your doctor wouldn’t do that!” She moved in front of him and looked up into eyes that just moments ago had placed fear such as she’d never known into her. “He’s your doctor.”

“Bad Man says doctors don’t have dirty hands. Bad Man says if we tell him what he wants to know… we… we will have… outlived our usefulness.” April gasped at the last words, all issued in the Bad Man’s voice.

“Kevin,” April said, choosing her words carefully. “What does your doctor ask you?”

“About stuff. Places. Stuff when I was in the army… that’s where I met the Bad Man… he takes care of me… keeps them from hurting me. If I don’t tell what they want to know… he can protect me…”

“Kevin… what did you do? In the army?”

“I killed people.” he said as if he had just told her he was a pilot or a garbage man.

“You mean the Bad Man killed people,” April corrected.

“No… I killed them… Bad Man came after that.”

There was so much more April wanted to ask but they had already reached his cell. She helped him sit back down on his bed and smoothed a stray wisp of hair from his cheek that had slipped from its bonds. “Kevin, listen to your doctor. He’s here to help you. He won’t hurt you. Maybe if you listen to him…”

“He’ll kill me…” Kevin said softly. “Bad Man says so.”

April shook her head and left the room. Just as she reached Bob’s desk two men in dress-green Army uniforms came around the corner. April stepped out of their way and breathed a sigh of relief. Had she been a few moments longer with Kevin it would have gone badly for all of them.

“Dr. Korbin,” Bob greeted him as he handed the doctor a clipboard. “Who’s your friend?”

“This is my associate, Dr. Keller. He will be assisting me today.” The tall, thin doctor scribbled on the clipboard then handed it to the other, shorter but far more solidly–built officer to sign. As they handed it off April glanced at their fingers. The tall one, Korbin, had bits of black grit under a few of his nails. The shorter had several rough calluses on his thumbs. Her eyes wide, April took another step back and tried to be invisible while in plain sight. She dealt with doctors everyday. Not one of them would see a patient without washing up first. “I understand Kevin had an incident last night? Nothing too serious I hope?” Korbin asked.

“If you call putting a few guards in the hospital not serious, then yes, I guess so,” Bob said as wryly as his uniform would allow. Korbin gave him a smirk then turned down the hall, his associate in tow. “Standard procedure if you would, Officer Martin,” he called over his shoulder.

“Standard procedure?” April repeated. “And won’t they need the key?” She held up the key to Kevin’s cell and dropped it on Bob's desk.

“Dr. Korbin has his own key. And the standard procedure is the camera in the cell goes off and the intercom is disabled.”

“What? Why?”

“Don’t know. Those are standing orders. Guess you’ve never been on the ward when his doctor comes, have you? Very cloak and dagger stuff. I was told not to question it. They’ll be in there for about 20 minutes or so and be gone.”

April looked up at the monitor just as Bob’s hand reached to turn it off. She saw that Kevin had got up from the bed and was now standing, his face up against the intercom. “Bob, wait... I think he wants to talk to us.” April reached over and flicked the intercom on just as Bob’s finger fell on the camera button.

“Too late now…” Bob said as they both heard the cell door open farther down the hall. But instead of turning off the intercom, April touched the mute button to close off their end. “April, what are you doing? This isn’t just a firing thing, this is messing with the Army thing…”

“I know, it's just something Kevin told me today. I just want to know what’s going on.”

Bob shot her an odd glance then turned the volume down, low enough that a passerby couldn’t hear, low enough to force her to move her head mere inches from his own to hear.

“Captain Beloit…” Keller said over the unknown intercom. “Good to see you again. You remember Dr. Keller?”

“You’re not doctors.” Kevin’s soft voice buzzed over the intercom. “None of you are.”

“You know…” Bob whispered, “…they’re going to know we’re listening. The little green light will be flashing on the intercom with the line open.”

“They haven’t noticed yet. If they do, I’ll take full responsibility,” April whispered back, not taking her eyes off the tiny speaker on the desk.

“Captain, you know who we are. We’re here to help you.” Korbin said. Apparently Keller was just an assistant, or a guard for the rail–thin Korbin.

“Bad Man says I shouldn’t talk to you.” Kevin said.

“Kevin, let’s be reasonable. Why don’t you let us talk to the Bad Man for once…”

April and Bob exchanged nervous glances. “Are they nuts?” Bob whispered. “I’m going to call for back–up. If Kevin freaks out in there…”

“No Bob… please, wait. Let’s just hear what they have to say. They won’t let him out. They know better than us what he’s capable of.”

“Yeah… let the Bad Man out so we can talk to him,” Keller finally piped in. A loud metallic sound crackled over the intercom.

“What was that?” April asked.

“A pistol being chambered,” Bob whispered. “I have to get in there…”

April was already moving. She snagged the key from the desk and made it just a few steps before the intercom came alive with shouts and screams of pain. The sounds stopped her, but the next voice froze her in her tracks.

“Now, Doctor Korbin…” the Bad Man said quite clearly over the intercom, accompanied by Korbin's pained gurgling. “I’m sure the viewing public would be interested in this sight.”

April walked slowly back around the desk and nodded at Bob. “Turn the camera back on.”

Hesitantly, with one hand on his radio, Bob flicked the camera’s eye back to life. The screen brightened to show Keller on the floor. The barrel and slide of the pistol they’d heard only a moment before had been shoved through Keller's neck, a large, black pool of ichor spreading on the floor under him. Keller's right arm had been rotated far from its designed angle, making him look like a slack–eyed rag doll cast onto the floor. Kevin stood against the wall, Korbin’s neck wrapped firmly in the crook of his left arm. Korbin’s face was obscured by the thick shock of the Bad Man’s mane as it spilled freely down his shoulders. The Bad Man looked up at the camera, winked then spat something tiny and hard at the lens.

“What the hell was that?” Bob asked, squinting.

“The little green light that was supposed to flash on the intercom,” April said without a missing a beat.

“How did his hair…?” Bob asked. “And the restraints?”

April had sudden flashes of memory, like pieces to a puzzle. She had put the restraints back on more loosely, and she'd handed the leather thong to Kevin to hold while she worked. Her missing pin. “It’s my fault,” April breathed.

“Now, good doctor. I want you to tell all our listeners exactly why you are here. This will tell them why Kevin is here. And, why both of us will be departing very soon.”

“I have to get help up here,” Bob growled as he turned his chair and keyed the radio. April didn’t try to stop him. If the Bad Man were loose… if he picked up the pistol…

“Now, doctor. You will die otherwise. It will be slow. It will be very, very painful, and it will involve the loss of each of your bodily fluids in turn.” There was a slight pause, then “Why is Kevin here?”

“You know… you… why…” Korbin gasped, blood gurgling in his throat.

“I am not Kevin. You destroyed Kevin. Destroyed him with your drugs, did you not? Destroyed him for participating in that most basic instinct… self preservation. Isn’t that right? Do not tell our listeners of the details, else they would become hunted by honorless dogs just as Kevin has been all these years.”

“Listen…” Korbin’s voice pleaded over the intercom, “whoever may be out there… contact the authorities… he’s going to kill me…”

“Korbin; Kevin hid something from you, did he not? What did he hide from you, Korbin?” the Bad Man said.

The gurgling intensified for a moment over the intercom, finally ending in gasps and gulps for air. “Yes!... for the love of God yes!” Korbin gasped, choking on the words.

“Kevin had been such a Nice Man. One bad mission too many for Nice Kevin, was it not? He knew too much, yet he was far smarter than any of you. He hid details… evidence… of his black operations… the depravities and atrocities he committed for you and your clandestine agencies and operations… did he not? So much information, so much proof… things no one would ever want leaked to the press in any nation. Is that not so?” The intercom fell silent just as the sound of running feet came from the elevator down the hall from the security desk. Bob’s reinforcements had arrived.

“Yes!” Korbin screamed, his voice tight with unimaginable pain.

“And it was your doing, your drugs… your pathetic attempts to make Kevin reveal the location of his proof… it was these things that brought him to me. It was these things that brought me into the world. To protect Kevin. And to seek his vengeance. Your services are no longer required, doctor. Kevin is now in my care. You will live, if only so you may tell others our good listeners shall be kept free of charges or suspicions. They know nothing. But that does not mean you shall not bear the marks of this day.”

April watched the monitor in growing horror as the Bad Man spun Korbin around, facing away from him. The Bad Man drew back his fist and launched a punch that blurred on the screen as the pixels scrambled to keep up. Korbin didn’t scream. Instead, his eyes went wide as he crumpled silently to the floor, his legs splayed in an unnatural state. “You stole Kevin’s life, I have stolen your legs. The two of you now stand even. Do not seek to up the score.”

“My God… “ Bob wheezed, “…he just crippled him…”

Jack, the captain of the guard, and three additional guards with Janice in tow arrived breathlessly at the desk just as Korbin’s body fell. “Holy shit! What the hell’s going on in there?” Jack barked, his finger jutting at the screen.

“He got loose,” Bob said as he put on his web belt as he rushed past April to join the other guards.

“I think his doctor released him from the restraints, something about therapy…” April lied. In for a penny, in for a pound they say.

“Lock it down, damn it!” the captain roared.

“Won’t help… he’s got a key,” Bob said. He formed a line across the hall with the rest of the guards, trying to cordon off the way out. Each was armed with a retractable baton in one hand and a can of pepper spray in the other.

“A key? What…” the captain turned to Janice. The elder nurse gave him a sniff and looked away.

“His doctor has the highest of military credentials. I couldn’t have denied him access if I’d wanted to,” Janice said.

“Then get on the phone and get the army or the cops… get somebody in here, Janice. This is about to get real ugly real fast. I saw what this guy can do…”

“And he was successfully contained with a taser last night, much like the one you’re carrying, Captain. Simply subdue him. He will be medicated and will be transported to a proper criminal facility this evening. I don’t see what all the bother is, really. He’s only one man,” Janice said, paying only the faintest interest to the proceedings. “The last thing this hospital needs is negative press, especially from the psychiatric ward. The police won’t be necessary, captain. I have the utmost faith in your abilities.”

“There’s a gun in the cell,” Bob warned.

“A what?” Jack almost screamed.

“The other one with Korbin brought it in. Last I saw it was buried up to the trigger in the guy’s neck,” Bob said. Just then, the door to Kevin’s cell swung open. To the left was the guard lounge and a dead end, not even a window from which to escape. The only way out for Kevin was through the guards. But, it wasn’t Kevin that emerged from the cell.

The Bad Man stepped out and turned to face the assembled force. He closed his eyes and turned his neck to each side with loud cracking sounds for reward. His hair hung loose and free, the longest it had done so without being in April’s hands for more than a decade. And even over the twenty–odd yards that separated him from them, April could see the dark eyes gleaming.

“Clear my path, lest you leave your wives widows and your sons bastards,” the Bad Man growled as he stalked slowly down the hall. April saw no fear, no apprehension from the lone man as he walked straight into the path of four armed ones. In place of those was a near maniacal glee; a wet, black glint. What Kevin once did as an occupation, the Bad Man did for sheer pleasure.

“Bob…” April whispered as the Bad Man came towards them, “…get the hell out of here… now… all of you… get out of his way… it’s not worth it…” April leaned against the wall, willing her weak knees to slide her along it to the elevators. She made a few sidling steps before she looked up and locked eyes with the Bad Man, freezing her in place. She knew she needed to run, must run, but she was snared. The Bad Man continued staring at her, holding her in his own way. Even when he met with the wall of guards, still his eyes held hers.

There was no fight, no squaring off of opponents or courtly salutes. To a man the guards knew their training was useless. To aim to subdue would lead them to a quick and painful end. When the Bad Man came within arms’ reach the hall erupted into a dervish of arms and legs, bodies and blood. The steel batons rose and fell with lightning speed, but not nearly fast enough to catch their target. With speed belying his size the Bad Man avoided a half dozen blows before snatching up two of the guards and snapping a wrist in each of his hands. Now armed with their batons he fell upon them with a savage glee. Years of institutional solitude rolled off of his weapons as he pummeled the men into the floor.

Bob had wisely hung back. Sizing up his opponent, Bob stepped in and brought his baton up and over his head, the high arc meaning to bury the weapon in the Bad Man’s skull. But he merely brought one of his own weapons up over his crown to meet it, the jar of steel on steel sending a shock wave through Bob’s weapon and down his own arm. Numbed, his fingers lost control and his baton fell with an empty clang to the floor. Bob staggered back and nearly fell over his desk as the Bad Man advanced on him. From somewhere far off April heard herself scream at the Bad Man, to tell him not to hurt Bob. But it seemed the Bad Man wasn’t listening. His attentions turned to Bob, April was able to break that gaze and fell forward directly into Janice.

“Janice… call the police… call someone…” April screamed frantically. Janice simply reared her hand and slapped Janice across the mouth.

“Calm down, nurse. The captain has the situation in hand.”

“Yeah… right…" Jack said through clenched teeth as he brought the taser to bear. He pointed it at the Bad Man and touched the trigger, sending the twin barbs with their trailing steel lines hurtling through the air. Without missing a beat the Bad Man grabbed Bob from the desk and swung him in the path of the missiles. The barbs stuck in Bob’s shoulder blades, causing his body to contort and heave in the Bad Man’s hand.

“April believes you to be a Nice Man, Robert,” the Bad Man whispered in Bob's ear as the electricity finished its course through him. “And because April thinks you are a Nice Man, I will allow you to live.” He dropped Bob’s still–quaking body to the floor, more gently than one would have suspected, and turned his attentions on the captain. “You have another trigger yet to pull,” the Bad Man said to the captain, nodding at the remaining two leads jutting out of the weapon. “Use them. It will make your death more sporting for me and more heroic for the children of your children to hear.”

Jack licked his parched lips and continued to hold the taser in front of him like a crucifix to ward off evil. As the Bad Man closed Jack suddenly dropped the weapon and put his hands in front of him in a gesture of surrender, backing up to keep the two women protectively behind him. “Now, Kevin… we can talk this out… no need for anyone else to get hurt. Why don’t you put the clubs down and we’ll talk about this…”

The Bad Man did, in fact, drop the batons. But he kept coming. With a swipe of his hand he knocked Jack the floor. The captain was unconscious before he touched the tile. With that same hand he snatched Janice up by her lab coat and hauled her into the air so they could look each other in the eye. “You, dear woman, should invest in the touch of a man. Any man. Perhaps your mood would not fall to saccharin as easily for the effort.”

Janice stared at him in wide–eyed terror, her fingers wrapped tightly around his tensed wrist. He pulled her face in as close as he could without their features touching and reduced his eyes to cat–like slits. “Boo!” he suddenly hissed at her, the sudden epitaph being all the old woman needed to short–circuit her already fragile grip on the situation. She fainted dead away in his hands, leaving April and the Bad Man the only conscious, breathing things in the hall.

The Bad Man looked down at April and smiled. Though a wolf’s grin, it almost seemed genuine. “I will be taking my leave now, April. Though in my passing you, too, will be free of your own prison. Again, Kevin and I are in your debt for your sweet ministrations and kind words. You have kept him on at least the brink of sanity in our time here.” The Bad Man grabbed her waist and suddenly pulled her into him, the smell of blood and musk heavy on his skin. April gasped, her body trembling as if on the brink. She closed her eyes and waited for… she felt a soft kiss on her forehead, nothing more, nothing less. When she opened her eyes, the Bad Man was gone.


A week later, April stood in her best black dress at her late husband’s grave. The publicity Janice so desperately tried to avoid had come anyway. Kevin had removed April’s wallet from her coat at some point in the hall, including the spare car key kept within. Her key gave him her car, her wallet her address. The papers said that Kevin had went to her home, found her husband there and killed him in coldest blood, so much so that they could only guess that all his parts were in the box before her. He was still at large, they said. She doubted they would find him. The Bad Man was taking care of Kevin now. She felt sorry for whoever did find them.

She made the sign of the cross over her breast and walked back down the hill towards the waiting family car. Her husband’s death had been brutal, savage. As she walked, she tried to feel sympathy, tried to feel anything towards the man. The bruise at her neck, healing but still evident enough to require a scarf, twinged again. She put a hand to it self–consciously and got in the empty limousine. It seemed even his family hadn’t thought much of him, either. A flash of color on the seat beside her turned her head. A single, long–stem rose lay there, a small note stuck to long and numerous thorns. She read the note several times then folded it neatly and stowed it away in her purse. She sniffed the delicate bloom then smiled a small smile.

Sometimes, a Good Girl had need of a Bad Man after all.
Just write, damn it. - Author