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."
"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