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Headless Horseman

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About Headless Horseman

  • Rank
    GA Halloween Horror

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  • Age
    33
  • Location
    Sleepy Hollow
  • Interests
    Horseback riding, fencing, and terrorizing people on Halloween.
  1. Chapter 1

    ”Helix! Here, boy!” The darkness of the forest made it next to impossible for him to see anything. Tall trees blocked out most of the already fading sunlight. Within minutes, the daylight would be gone and he would be alone in the forest, with no real clue as to where he was. “Helix!” Still, no reply. Not a single bark. Rubbing his face in exasperation, he stopped to think. Devin had been dog sitting for a few day and the experience had made him decide he did want a dog, just not now. Caring for Helix, a lively Irish setter, had been fun but exhausting, with long walks and early morning outings required. It was a welcome break in the intense studying he had been doing lately. The semester had kicked off with a work load that bordered on impossible for him and playing with Helix had allowed him to let go momentarily of his whirling thoughts providing his increasingly frayed mind a bit of rest. Also, his friend and roommate Jonah had helped him in the morning on occasion, even if he had grumbled about getting up at the crack of dawn. Devin could tell Jonah liked Helix too, though. This afternoon, the three of them had enjoyed a leisurely walk in the forest behind campus. At least up until about thirty minutes ago. Now, Helix was gone. The dog had taken off after hearing a noise and in a flash of deep-red fur, he disappeared. Jonah had tried to keep up, but Devin was faster as he chased after the dog. Without checking if Jonah was following or making sure he maintained some sense of direction, Devin had sprinted through the woods to catch up with Helix. As if he could ever be as fast as that greased lightning. Devin tried to peer through the trees to catch sight of Helix. The situation was beginning to feel hopeless. His shoes were wet, his feet and legs hurt from the unaccustomed full-on sprint over roots and slippery dirt, he was hungry and tired from searching aimlessly. Where had that darn dog gone? “Helix!” His breath formed a thin mist as he called for the dog. The cold made him shudder as the sweat on his back began to cool off. “Jonah?” Nothing but silence greeted him. Devin did a full turn. Leaves and twigs crunched beneath his feet, making a loud noise in the quiet forest. For some reason, it made him uneasy to give away his presence like that. Which direction felt right? Unfortunately, no direction beckoned him. He was lost. A slight fear began to simmer in the pit of his stomach. Lost. But he knew these woods. He’d been here so many times before. It was just the dark that made it difficult to get his bearings. Pulling out his cell phone, he discovered it had no signal. This was weird, since he wasn’t that far away from civilization. Maybe it was the dense woods blocking the signal. Worst case, he could try to climb a tree and make a call. Staring up at the tall trees he noticed they barely had any branches he could reach. He decided to hold off on that idea until he was desperate. The October evening was cold. Not freezing yet, but cold enough to make him fear the idea of spending a night out here. He pulled his jacket closer around him in an attempt to stay warm. Then he picked a direction at random and started walking. He had to end up somewhere, didn’t he? He struggled to see where he was going and stumbled on roots crossing his path several times. It forced him to slow down, since he didn’t want to sprain an ankle or hurt himself so badly he couldn’t walk. Even though moving at what felt like a snail’s pace was frustrating, he knew breaking a leg would turn a bad situation into something much worse. A noise from not so far up ahead had him pick up his pace. “Helix? Jonah?” The desperate hope that colored his voice made him realize how scared he was. There was no reply, but Devin thought he saw a light flashing up ahead. Problem was it seemed to be deeper inside the woods. Did he dare risk going farther into the woods? But it would be more stupid to miss the chance at getting help. He cut through the underbrush as fast as he could, trying to catch up with whoever it was walking around in the woods. “Hey! Hey, you there! Can you stop for a second?” It wasn’t until the words left his mouth at a relatively close distance to the light source that he questioned the prudence of his actions. Who knew what was going on out in the woods at this time of day? Or evening, as it was? Maybe the person didn’t want to be interrupted? Maybe they were up to no good? Snippets of various CSI shows flashed through his mind. Would someone find him out here, all torn up? Murdered by some crazy serial killer? He calmed his racing imagination by telling himself a serial killer would have to be pretty stupid to hang out in the woods in October waiting for a victim. And if he’d learned anything from all those shows, it was that serial killers always were really, really clever. Besides, the figure was still moving away from him. No person wanting to wear other people’s skin as a coat would move away, would they? “Hey! Please stop! I’m sort of lost and I have no flash light. My phone doesn’t…” A root made him tumble to the ground and his knee hit something hard sticking up out of the ground. He yelled out as pain shot through his body. “Fuck! Fuck! Crap!” Clasping his knee, Devin tried to keep from crying. It was damned difficult, since his knee felt as if it was broken. The fear rose quickly inside him. This could turn dangerous. He was lost and injured with no one to help him. The flash light was nowhere to be seen. “HELP!” Devin quit pretending to be on top of things. He was too scared. “Can you hear me? HELP!” The woods were silent and dark. Panic threatened to grab hold of him. Just then, he saw the light again and this time it was coming closer. Relief flooded him and all thoughts of serial killers vanished. Here was someone who could help him. As the figure approached, he could tell it was a man. The light blinded him and he could only make out the contours of the man going to his knees before him. “Thank you so much for coming back. I can’t tell you how grateful I am.” When Devin got a glimpse of the man’s face, he fell silent. There was something off about him. The man had blackened his face and pulled a woolen hat down over his head, leaving as little of his face as possible visible. He seemed to be dressed all in black. The surrounding darkness and the light shining in Devin’s face made it difficult to see clearly. The guy wasn’t much taller than him, but had broad shoulders and an imposing presence about him. Devin couldn’t be sure if it was a trick of the shadows and light playing over the man’s face, but he appeared to have something protruding from his head hidden under the hat. Horns? No, that was silly. “You’re lost?” The man’s voice was deep and coarse. It sent shivers down Devin’s spine, from fear or strange attraction was hard to discern. Their eyes met briefly, adding to his confused state, before the stranger turned his gaze away to survey the forest. Devin realized he wouldn’t mind spending more time losing himself in those dark, glinting pools. “Yes, a little. I know these woods really, but my dog ran away and I followed. Well, it’s not my dog exactly, but I’m…” “You’re hurt?” Cutting him off abruptly, the stranger looked him over. Any other time, Devin would have found the guy rude for interrupting him, but right now he was grateful for any help he could get. The calm energy exuded by the guy set him at ease, even if he looked strange. Devin found himself drawn to the man. The weirdness of it all had Devin shaking his head. He was letting this experience get to him. “Yeah, I tripped and banged my knee. It hurts like a motherf… very much.” The man didn’t respond, but simply reached out and touched his knee. Warmth from his hands seeped in through Devin’s jeans. Devin had a split-second thought that the hands must be very warm, before the sudden pain of the man straightening his leg made him groan. When his helper bent the leg again, a yelp passed Devin’s lips. “Not broken.” After reaching into his pocket, the man pulled out a piece of fabric. It looked like a scarf. He wrapped it around Devin’s knee and tied a tight knot. It hurt at first, but then the added support eased the pain to a dull throb. “Oh wow, I feel better already.” With some help from an outstretched hand, Devin managed to get up off the ground. The offered hand was comforting and strong. Tentatively, he put some weight on his aching knee. To his surprise, it could support his weight with only some pain. He squinted against the light from the flashlight, trying to get a better look at his savior. “I’m so grateful, Mr….?” There was no answer. Instead, the guy turned and at a fast pace he headed away into the woods. “Wait! Can’t you tell me your name so I can thank you properly later?” “Turn around and walk in the opposite direction. You’ll reach the trail in five minutes.” The words were spoken over the shoulder, but he didn’t stop. It seemed as if he didn’t want Devin to know who he was. Devin staggered after the disappearing man. Suddenly, the light from the flashlight vanished, lunging Devin into almost complete darkness. It was as if the ground had opened up and swallowed the guy. Gone without a sound or trace. Almost as if by magic. Stumped, Devin stopped. He could still feel the touch of that strong hand linger on his skin. Despite it only being a brief touch, they had connected. The man’s face was strangely difficult to recall, even if Devin tried to picture him. The details escaped him, leaving only a vague impression of a strong chin, a rugged face and those horns. But why would he have horns? It didn’t make sense. In contrast, his hypnotic eyes were vivid in Devin’s mind. In the dark, he tried to figure out what had happened. Before he could decide on what to do, he heard a dog bark behind him. “Devin!” Jonah’s distant voice was filled with concern. “I’m here!” As fast as he could, Devin made his way towards the sound. When he reached the path, he saw Jonah with Helix on a leash and a flashlight in his hand. “Boy, am I glad to see you!” “Where the hell did you go?” Jonah sounded mad, but Devin assumed it was due to worrying about him. “I tried to catch Helix. Did he come back?” Gingerly crouching down, Devin scratched the dog behind an ear. “After a while he got tired of that squirrel or whatever it was he was chasing. But then you were gone.” There was no mistaking what Jonah thought of that occurrence. “Sorry. I just didn’t want to lose him. Talk about epic fail dog sitter…” The attempted joke didn’t remove the frown from Jonah’s face, but then he spotted Devin’s bandaged knee and concern replaced annoyance. “What happened? Are you hurt?” “I fell and banged my knee. It’s OK.” Devin shrugged. “But you’ll never believe who helped me. Some kind of woodsman.” An idea suddenly sparked in his mind. An idea that would explain his mystery meeting. “Or a woodland creature!” “Creature?” With eyebrows raised, Jonah snorted a laugh. “I pretty sure lumberjacks would take offence to that.” “No, I mean a real creature! Someone not human!” The more Devin thought about it, the more sense it made. It would explain that immediate almost magical connection. These were ancient woods. Why wouldn’t some mystical being live here? “Did you bang your head too…?” Concerned, Jonah touched his forehead. “I know it sounds crazy, but it was so strange. He was there and then he wasn’t. Just vanished as if he’d gone up in smoke. Or been devoured by the ground!” Devin could hear himself sounding perilously close to a lunatic. “It could have been just a trick of the light from his flashlight, but it was so weird. And the guy himself was weird. He hardly spoke and looked kind of funny.” And his touch was magic. Devin decided to keep that to himself, though. “So, he’s a creature…? You don’t think he could be one of those silent types? And ‘looked funny’?” What are you – twelve?” “No, I mean he had horns!” When Jonah’s eyes widened, Devin regretted telling his friend but he couldn’t back out now. “I didn’t see them, but it looked like he had horns under his hat.” It did sound crazy, even to him and he had been there. Jonah shook his head, disbelief etched on his face. “All right, it’s time to get you home. That much is obvious.” He turned on the path. “Here, Helix!” The trek home was mostly quiet, with only the odd command to Helix breaking the silence. Devin could tell Jonah thought he was nuts. Maybe he was. The memories of the guy were already hazy, as if he hadn’t really gotten a good look at him. But he had. Did the stranger simply not want to be seen? Perhaps he could shield his appearance? But that couldn’t be. Devin figured he was probably just tired. Once back home, he fed Helix and then retreated to his room. He sat on the bed and untied the piece of fabric his rescuer had used. It was a bandana in an intricate black and white pattern. Flexing his leg a couple of times told him he would be sore in the morning but not in need of a doctor. After a quick visit to the bathroom, he collapsed into bed and promptly fell asleep. The night wasn’t a restful one, with dreams keeping him from relaxing. All through the night, he was in the woods chasing after Helix and then he fell causing the pain to tear through him. The face of the woodsman appeared in front of him, but disembodied and floating. It was distorted and no matter how much he tried he couldn’t focus on any detail. Except the bumps protruding on the man’s head, hidden beneath the hat. The protrusions seemed important in his dream, but when he reached out to remove the hat, the dream started over and another cycle of pain and confusion began. When Devin woke up from his alarm going off, he was nowhere near ready for a new day. Luckily, he had no classes that day, only a shift at the coffeeshop around the corner. His knee was sore as expected, but he could walk with a moderate limp. Standing for a few hours making coffee and plating scones would be pushing it, but he figured he could do it. He needed the money, so calling in sick wasn’t an option. At work, he found his mind kept going back to the dream he’d had and specifically the appearance of the man he’d met. Why was his brain so insistent on this? Why was it important? Quite a few times, he spaced out, making customers wait impatiently. His manager gave him some angry glares, but they made it through the shift without an outright fight. Walking home in the brisk October afternoon, he decided to push the whole incident from his mind. As he lay on his bed doing some much needed studying, he fell asleep exhausted and the dream started again. Only this time, the man’s eyes were haunting him. Dark pools with an infinite depth, pulling him in and seeing into his soul. “Who are you?” Devin tried to talk to the illusive man but only got a crooked smile in return. When he reached out, the man dissolved like an image reflected in water. “No, no! Come back! I need to know who you are! Why are you doing this to me?” Devin woke with a start. “Dammit!” It annoyed him to wake up. Awake, he would have no way to contact the man. Realizing how crazy those thoughts were, Devin went into the bathroom and splashed cold water on his face. These were dreams. He was not in contact with anyone. If it only didn’t feel so real. For over a week, he was haunted by the dream. Some things got progressively clearer, like the man’s magnetic eyes and the bumps on the head. A few times, he could feel the heat from those hands on his body. Devin found it hard to function in school and at work, but he muddled through. There would be exams soon and he needed to study. His courses were demanding and he knew he hadn’t worked hard enough to keep up lately and maintaining his grades for his scholarship would take more than that. However, all his focus was torn to shreds with images of the guy constantly flooding his mind. He found it more and more difficult to block the images. Gradually, the dreams turned increasingly sexual. The images themselves didn’t exactly change, but the feel of them did. The man’s gaze upon him, Devin’s need to touch him, the pull between them. Soon, Devin found himself masturbating in the school library bathroom during the day, after thoughts of the woodsman had overtaken his brain. He had been powerless to stop himself and felt both embarrassed and ashamed by his behavior. Laying on his bed staring at the ceiling, Devin knew he had to do something. But what could he do? A glance at his computer gave him an idea. If he could just figure out who it was he had met out there, he would be able to move on with his life. But where would he start? When he sat down and tried to formulate a search, he realized how demented it sounded. “Woodland people”, “woodsman”, “underground creature”… Even though it made no sense, Devin couldn’t shake the feeling he had encountered something unusual. How else could the man appear and disappear out of thin air? If it was simply a guy, why was Devin so obsessed by someone he’d only met for a moment? No, this sort of obsession must have another explanation. Something supernatural. Soon, he was lost on a fact-finding mission, going from one Wikipedia page to another, letting his instinct guide him through the links. There were so many myths and legends he had never heard of. They couldn’t be all made up, could they? What was it they said about smoke and fire? A grain of truth in all folklore? The ideas had to come from somewhere. Devin found it comforting, since it made him feel less alone in his conviction. He collected his various finds in a folder, naming it Woody. The corny name made the whole thing seem more like a joke. Not as if he was researching a man who’d taken over his thoughts so completely. The phone rang and startled him. Disoriented as if awakened from a long nap, he answered. “Where the hell are you? Your shift started five minutes ago!” His boss sounded livid. “But I don’t start until…” Devin looked at his phone and found it hard to believe his eyes. He’d been trawling the internet for clues for five hours. “Oh, shit! I’m sorry. I lost track of time. I’ll be there in a few minutes. I promise!” All during his shift, Devin’s mind kept going over his discoveries. He couldn’t wait to get home to continue finding answers. Luckily, it was a slow afternoon and he didn’t piss off his boss any more than he already had. He knew he had to be on his best behavior for a while now, just to make up for getting in so late. The money was too good to risk over some strange guy. At the end of the shift, his boss shot him a half smile, which made him relax. She wasn’t too upset with him. When he got back, he went straight to his laptop and continued his search. “What are you doing?” Jonah was standing behind him, peering over his shoulder. Devin hadn’t even noticed him come in. “Just research on that guy I met.” “Research? On the lumberjack?” Jonah looked at him perplexed. “What do you mean research? And why?” “I’ve been having these dreams, intense dreams and I just know I have to see him again.” “You dream about the lumberjack?” “He’s not a lumberjack!” For some reason, Devin felt upset Jonah would label his mystery man something so trivial as a lumberjack. “There’s something about him. It’s like we’re connected.” “You have a crush on him. You haven’t even been on a date since Alex, let alone had sex…” Jonah snickered. “The deprivation is apparently doing things to your brain.” “I found a lot of information on gnomes.” Devin ignored Jonah’s attempt at a joke. Jonah started laughing. “Your fantasy guy is three feet tall and stands around in gardens?” “No, he’s not.” After a deep breath to rein in his mounting anger, Devin tried to explain. “According to Tolkien, gnomes are magnificent and beautiful creatures. Nothing like garden gnomes. And they live below ground.” “You do know Tolkien was a fiction writer?” “He was very insightful and educated.” “And he made up book after book based on old legends which he tweaked to fit his purpose.” “OK, listen to this then: dryads are tree spirits, often one with their tree.” Devin saw the skeptical look on Jonah’s face. “Don’t you get it? Tree spirits! He disappeared into a tree to hide. It says here they are very shy.” “They are women.” When Devin didn’t catch on, Jonah gestured towards the laptop. “The dryads are women. Unless you’ve made a very drastic change in interests, you would not be drooling over a dryad. Stop that ridiculous fantasizing and let’s go eat. I’m feeling like pizza. But I got to shower first.” With Jonah out of the room, Devin read the text on dryads more carefully. And his roommate was right. Dryads were female. Damn it. The disappointment of not being closer to the answer deflated Devin. Maybe pizza would be just the thing he needed. He tried to discuss the whole thing with Jonah during pizza, but Jonah made it perfectly clear he thought his roommate was nuts for being so hung up on a person he’d met only briefly. They almost started a full-on argument over the whole supernatural thing. “Devin, I think you really need to let this go now.” Jonah hesitated before he continued. “It sounds bat-shit crazy to be honest.” “I’m telling you, I’m not crazy! I know what I saw and I know the dreams mean something!” Devin decided to leave it. No use in falling out with Jonah over this. When he had all the answers, he would show him instead. That night, the dreams were even more vivid. It was as if all his research had fueled his thoughts instead of curbing them. Before he could stop himself, he got out of bed, snatched the bandana from under his pillow and was on his way to the woods once more. This time, he brought a flashlight so he wouldn’t fall over in the dark. He figured he wouldn’t get lost if he stayed on the trail. The place of his strange encounter hadn’t been that far away from the marked trail, so he should be able to see any activity farther in the woods without getting lost. The night chill made him shiver repeatedly and he burrowed deeper into his coat. Dressed all in black, he would be practically invisible in the dark. Maybe that would help him get close enough to solve this mystery and reveal the true nature of this creature who took up so much of his thoughts. In his mind, he went over the findings from his research. None of it seemed to fit, so perhaps he had stumbled upon an unknown being? Devin decided not to worry. He was sure the bond between them would explain everything. A flash of light to his right made him freeze. It must be him! Forgetting his previous decision to be careful, Devin set off at a run, hunched over to avoid both detection and the low branches. His pulse sped up when he realized there really was someone out there. As Devin got closer, he slowed down. His breathing was so loud, he was sure the creature would hear him. Weren’t they supposed to have super-hearing? And night-vision? Devin crouched down, half hidden behind an old, gnarly tree. He was sure his target would take off if Devin was spotted too far away. The dark made it hard to see and being occasionally blinded by the other guy’s flashlight didn’t help matters. Devin squinted in an attempt to make out more details. They could perhaps give him more clues to add to his research. Then it suddenly dawned on him. He was hiding behind a tree in the middle of the night trying to get a glimpse of a guy who had been invading his dreams and occupying his mind for days now. Wouldn’t the sane thing be to approach him? Did he dare take the chance? Maybe the object of his obsession didn’t want anyone to find him? He had been rather brusque at their first encounter. The mere thought of being rejected made Devin uneasy. But they had such a strong connection. A bond through the dreams. He was sure of it. If he could just get a little closer, then perhaps he would know what to do. It would all work out. He slowly inched his way forward. A twig snapped under Devin’s foot. The activity stopped immediately. So perhaps super-hearing wasn’t a bad guess. “Who’s there!?!” The voice was just as he remembered. Low, raspy and delicious. Still, he couldn’t get himself to speak. The flashlight came closer and closer, but Devin couldn’t move. Not to present himself, nor to run away. Feeling like an idiot stalker, he remained frozen to the spot as he watched the vague figure approach through the dense forest. The flashlight occasionally illuminated the guy’s face, giving Devin brief glimpses. It reinforced his conviction. This was not an ordinary man. The angles of the face, the pronounced brow, powerful cheekbones and strong chin, made him seem more like a classic werewolf. The hat was firmly in place, pulled down over his head and Devin could see those hints of bumps again. So no werewolf, then. “Show yourself! I know you’re there!” On shaking legs, Devin rose. They were only a few yards from each other. Trembling, Devin held out the bandana. “I came to return this.” His voice sounded weak. Not a good second impression. He had fantasized about this meeting and not once had he imagined presenting himself as a scared pitiful excuse of a man. The man took a few more steps, keeping the flashlight firmly trained on Devin, eliminating any possibility of getting a good look at his face. “What? That?” His voice betrayed his confusion. “Yes, you lent it to me when you helped me that night.” Devin hesitated. Did he not remember? How could he not remember? “I had fallen and hurt my knee.” Grunting, the man reached out and snatched the bandana. For a fleeting moment, their fingers touched. Immediately, the warmth of the man’s hand sent tremors through Devin. The brief touch made him want to latch on and never let go. He didn’t know if it was imaginary or real, but he thought he could smell the man’s scent. Earthy, masculine. After stuffing the piece of fabric in his pocket, the man turned to head back into the forest. “You should have listened to me back then. The woods are no place for someone like you at night. You could get hurt.” The clear dismissal in his voice hurt with unexpected intensity. “Wait!” The man didn’t stop. Devin tried to follow him, but when the man turned off his flashlight he quickly vanished. Just like the last time. As if swallowed by the ground. He had probably returned to his own world. Where no humans could enter. In the dark of the forest, Devin felt like an idiot. He was apparently not interesting enough for this amazing being. His body remembered the man’s touch, his scent and already craved more. Going home was the last thing Devin wanted to do, but he somehow knew there would be no more encounters that night. The walk home was made with heavy feet. Had he ruined the chance of them ever getting to know each other? Had he seemed like an idiot? He sure felt like one. But the bond between them had to be strong enough to overcome this. Maybe it really was dangerous out here and he was only trying to protect Devin? It wasn’t fair to get angry at someone who merely wanted him to be safe. The next morning, he staggered out of bed and into the kitchen to get some coffee. With too little sleep and more intense dreams, he felt terrible. “Geez… What happened to you?” Jonah was already up, sipping his morning coffee. “You look like shit. I hope you’re still up to going to the Halloween party tonight. It’s going to be awesome.” The last word was spoken ironically, in a “dude” voice. Devin filled his mug and collapsed on a chair at the table before replying. “I saw him again.” “Who?” Jonah didn’t bother to look up from flipping through some app on his phone. Devin couldn’t believe Jonah even asked. How could he not know? “The guy! The woodsman!” “What? Where? You didn’t go out last night.” Now, Jonah’s attention was firmly on him. However, the look on his friend’s face wasn’t one of support. More filled with doubt. “Well, I went out pretty late. I think you were already asleep.” Even though Devin tried to shrug it off as normal, but saying it out loud made him realize how Jonah would take it. “But that would mean you went out in the middle of the night!” Jonah leaned back in his chair with an incredulous look on his face. “This is getting out of hand. The research and fantasies are one thing. Running around in the woods at night alone… That’s crazy! It could be dangerous.” “I’m a grown man!” “Could’ve fooled me!” Devin got up to escape into his room, but Jonah grabbed his arm. “Hey, I’m sorry. I just worry about you. This isn’t normal, your obsession. You’re slipping in your school work. College can be difficult for anyone, but you have to get your act together. Don’t think I didn’t see you got a really low grade on your last paper.” The stern look on his face almost made Jonah the spitting image of Devin’s father. “Also, you hardly eat and you don’t sleep. All you talk about is some weirdo who lives in the woods.” “He’s not a weirdo! Just because we don’t fully understand what he is, it’s no excuse for being mean!” “What is there to understand? He’s a guy spending a suspicious amount of time in the woods at night. In the dark. Alone. Do you need me to spell out the weirdness in that?” “But he’s a…” “No! I don’t want to hear that crap again!” Jonah stood up. “There are no mysterious creatures living in the woods. He’s a guy. A creepy guy!” Slamming his bedroom door behind him, Jonah effectively ended the conversation. The anger was threatening to make Devin do something stupid, so he quickly gathered his stuff and left the apartment. Since classes didn’t start for an hour, he went to the library. Instead of using his time for some much needed studying, his mind kept going over and over all that had happened. When his anger subsided, he realized Jonah was only looking out for him. It wasn’t so strange his roommate thought he sounded crazy. Jonah had never met the woodsman. He couldn’t possibly understand. But he was right, though. This had to stop. Devin had to set things right. He would convince the woodsman of how well they fit together. And he would do it that night. After a day lost to planning and preparing, Devin anxiously waited for Jonah to go to the party. He had declined to come and Jonah hadn’t pushed the matter. In fact, his friend seemed a bit relieved when Devin said he wouldn’t go. The roommates hadn’t outright argued again, but instead avoided contact. Cooking dinner had been tense, but Devin knew that after tonight he could apologize to Jonah and perhaps even introduce him to his new boyfriend. Maybe they would all have to meet in the woods. Devin wasn’t sure the woodsman could leave the woods, but he was convinced they would work it out somehow. When the apartment was finally quiet, Devin snuck out. This time, his feet almost flew over the asphalt and later the muddy trail. He was so eager to finally explain to his man how they were meant to be together. The woodsman must feel it too, since they kept running into each other in the woods despite super-hearing and night-vision. Devin only wished he knew his name. He wanted to call out to him to proclaim his arrival, to let the man know he could safely come out from his tree or underground dwelling and meet Devin in a celebration of their love. They were meant to be, so why shouldn’t he let the whole forest know? As he approached the spot where he last had seen the man, Devin was bubbling with excitement. Soon, very soon, his wait would be over. There was no other explanation for this than them being destined to be mates. Without warning, the quiet night was ripped apart by shouts and a flurry of activity. The forest was suddenly full of people dressed in black and a multitude of flashlights cutting through the dark. Confused, Devin stopped. Why were there so many people here? Maybe tonight was some sort of celebration. Halloween was a big night for the supernatural. He cursed himself. Why didn’t he think about that before? His woodsman probably had plans for the night. Then again, meeting your mate on Halloween must be the equivalent to meeting a boyfriend on Valentine’s. So why would he mind? “I’m here now! We can finally talk!” Walking into the commotion, Devin couldn’t suppress the smile on his face. Out of nowhere, someone tackled him to the ground. For a few thrilling moments, Devin thought it was his woodsman, but then he noticed the scent was off. This guy smelled of aftershave and onions. “Who the hell are you?” Not waiting for an answer, the man in black pinned Devin to the ground. “Stay down.” “What’s going on?” Wriggling frantically got Devin nowhere. “What are you doing?” There was no answer. The guy didn’t move. “We got him, chief!” The shouted words from afar made the man on Devin’s back relax noticeably. He got up and pulled Devin to his feet. In front of them, two men were restraining another man. His woodsman! He was dressed all in black as usual, but not hat. Instead, there were some sort of goggles on his head. “Don’t hurt him!” Devin struggled to get free, but no one paid him much attention. “So, it ends here then.” The man in black holding Devin addressed the woodsman. “Your little drug factory in the woods is finally closed. You won’t be selling your crap on the streets anymore.” “Fuck you!” The woodsman spat at the man, who in response reached out and grabbed the goggles. Devin noticed they were night vision goggles. But his woodsman didn’t need that. He already had perfect vision at night. It made no sense. “No, I think you’ll find others who will pay you that favor once you’re in jail where you belong.” The other men around them chuckled as the woodsman squirmed to get away. “But you’ve got it all wrong! He’s not a drug dealer! He’s my mate…” Devin felt himself blush. “I mean he’s my woodsman. He lives here. We were supposed to meet tonight, so I could finally get to see his realm.” A hush fell over the forest. All eyes were on Devin who started to sweat. This was not how it was supposed to be. “Realm? What are you talking about?” “His realm... The tree is only a passage way to his own world, where he lives. He can only visit our human world at night and has to be careful not to be spotted!” If he could only make them all see what a mistake they were making. The looks he was receiving showed it wouldn’t be an easy task. “Do you know this guy?” The man behind Devin spoke to the woodsman. “No, I’ve got nothing to do with that crazy motherfucker.” The woodsman’s words hit Devin like a lash across his heart. “How can you say that? We are mates! Destined to be!” He had planned to tell him in a more romantic way, but it seemed he couldn’t wait. “Get that fucking lunatic out of my face!” The woodsman scrunched up his face in disgust. “OK, boys. Load him in the car and call in the techs to process his little hideout.” Devin watched as they dragged the love of his life away. He wanted to scream and protest, but the words stuck in his throat. The only words floating around in his head were “fucking lunatic”. “So, you might be a little loony, but there’s no law against that. You’re however part of this investigation, so I’m going to need a name and contact information. You’ll have to leave a statement.” “Sure…” Dazed, Devin gave the man what he wanted. “What was he doing out here?” He was afraid to ask but had to know. “He had set up a little drug production plant in an abandoned underground military storage unit. Been so long since anyone used it, it’s practically one with the forest.” The man eyed Devin. “You out here to buy? That would be illegal. Is that why you’re spouting all that nonsense? Withdrawal? Or are you high?” “No, no!” Devin tried to think fast. It was as if the confusion of the past weeks had finally lifted and he could see clearly again. He didn’t like what he saw. Had he really been that far gone? “I guess I just got caught up in the Halloween spirit.” The man eyed him suspiciously. “I’ll be in touch.” After a quick jog, the man got in the car with the others and they drove off. Devin stared at the red tail lights as they got farther and farther away. After standing in the cold and dark for a long time, Devin knew he had to leave the forest. With a heavy heart, he trudged home. Jonah would have a field day with this.
  2. Chapter 1

    “Laura knew someone—something—was following her, but all she heard was her own heartbeat drumming frantically inside her head and the clacking of her high heels on the asphalt. She sped up until she was almost running across the empty parking lot. Wrestling the keys out of her huge purse, she desperately pressed any buttons until finally a resounding ‘plop’ signaled the locks had opened. She yanked the door open, threw herself into the driver’s seat, and only felt safe again after the next ‘plop’ told her she had successfully sealed herself inside her car.” No one around the bonfire moved, not even to sip at the beers in their hands. Everyone’s gaze was riveted on Dirk, whose deep, compelling voice was only interrupted by the occasional crack of the burning embers which sometimes resulted in showers of sparks. When Ollie saw Zach slowly creeping up behind Hailey, he quickly hid his grin behind his hand. Then he elbowed Frank to shut him up. Obviously, he had seen Zach too and was about to warn Hailey. No way was he going to let him spoil the best part of Dirk’s scary story. “With trembling hands, Laura inserted the key. Luckily, the engine started on the first turn. One gaze into the rearview mirror and her whole body froze. Eerie green eyes looked back at her, and an ice-cold hand closed over her throat.” At the exact moment Dirk said ‘throat’, Zach’s hand gripped Hailey around her neck. Her high-pitched screams were exactly what Ollie had been waiting for. Even a few minutes later, everyone was still heaving with laughter—except for Zach, who was rubbing his sore arm, glaring daggers at Hailey. “This hurts like a motherfucker, bitch!” “Serves you right, ass!” Hailey slapped Zach again so hard he fell on his back. “I almost pissed myself when you gripped my throat! How did you get your hands this cold?” “I dipped them into the ice bucket!” “Shit, my heart is pounding out of my chest!” Hailey looked at the others who were still snickering and she grinned. It had been a good prank; she had to give it to Dirk and Zach. “One of you will walk me to my car later.” She pointed with her finger first at Dirk, then at Zach. “And check the backseats!” “We’re totally for checking her backseats, right?” Dirk slapped Zach on the arm, who pushed back at him and soon both were rolling around in the dirt. Ollie grinned at his friends. For many years, he had watched them pulling off something similar, always scaring the new girls on All Hollow’s Eve with their creepy stories and live performance, as they called it. “Hey, SWAT! Cool costume.” Ollie thought her name was Breanna. She ran a finger over the fastenings of his Kevlar vest. “I choose you to drive me home.” “His name is Ollie, and he just came in his work clothes, the lazy fucker!” Zach grinned at him. “You really are with SWAT? This isn’t just a costume?” Breanna’s eyes got big. “How cool is that?” Then she turned to Dirk. “So much better than a lowly firefighter in a cowboy costume.” Then her gaze was back on Ollie. “There must be some spine-chilling, authentic story you could tell us instead of that lame shit Dirk is sprouting every year.” “Hey! It worked, right? Hailey’s bloodcurdling screams shocked the wildlife out of their furry pants. I think I saw a squirrel dropping down in shock right over there.” “Yes, but only because you had help.” Hailey batted her eyes at Ollie. “So? About that story Breanna just asked for. I’m ready to get all frightened again.” “Back off, H! That one is mine. You already scored Zach and Dirk!” Breanna mock-glowered. “Ollie, I never knew you worked the streets, fighting the bad guys. That’s so cool.” An authentic creepy story... Ollie frowned, then his gaze fell on some friends who were just coming down the dirt path leading to the fire. He mouthed ‘Late as always’, but they just shrugged before they sat down across from him, and Ollie thought, Why not?. “I always wanted to be part of SWAT. After I graduated with a degree in criminal justice, one of my instructors came to me with a deal I couldn’t resist. Two years of serving as a conventional police officer in a small town that had trouble finding people who were willing to work there, and then he would get me into SWAT training. Of course, I agreed, and a few weeks later I arrived in Hollies Fork.” “Seriously? Hollies Fork?” Zach snickered. “Yep. And it gets better. Their police station is so tiny, it’s tucked into a side wing of the community center. The entire staff consisted of Chief Wagner, Officer Kristen Holloway and then me. Kristen’s husband worked as an EMT, which was why she stayed even after her two years were over.” “Idyllic.” Frank grinned. “It sounds like my hometown, and I just remembered why I couldn’t get away fast enough.” “Dispatch was handled by two lovely older ladies, Daisy and Elsie.” Frank shook his head. “No way! You’re making this up!” “Nope. Our main offenses were DUIs, livestock theft, domestic violence, and traffic accidents. The traffic accidents happened because of a busy highway nearby.” “You must have been bored out of your mind!” “I had to follow Kristen the first few months to learn how things were done in Hollies Fork, and after that they let me do my own patrols. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds.” “Any hot girls?” Frank mocked. “Probably.” “What do you mean ‘probably’? You do have eyes, right?” “He doesn’t swing that way, Breanna.” Frank watched her mulling over his words. “You’re gay? Damn!” Breanna pouted. “I thought I could snatch up a hot SWAT officer tonight.” Zach promptly wrapped his arm around her shoulder. “I parked my car near Hailey’s. We can watch her and Dirk ‘checking the backseats’, maybe do some checking ourselves before I bring you home.” “Fuck off!” Breanna still snuggled into Zach’s arm, making him wink at Ollie victoriously. “What about Chief Wagner? Was he hot?” Of course, Dirk had to ask that. He knew him too well. “I’ll let you judge that yourself. During one of our afternoon meetings, I reported that members of the school’s baseball team had beaten up another boy just because they thought he was gay.” “Uh-oh.” “Do you know what his answer was, Frank?” Ollie let his voice turn low and mean. ‘It was that little faggot, the Baker boy, right? You would think owning the auto shop, his father had better control over him. I hope you didn’t get involved too much. The kids will handle these things much better than us.’ ” Zach interrupted him. “You are making that up.” Ollie shook his head. “I wish. Kristen just looked away. I think she was embarrassed at least. Daisy, on the other hand, murmured something about ‘not right to lay with another man’, and I knew to better not let my preferences slip out accidentally. I also decided to have my eyes on the boy—Ryan Baker. I did a lot more patrolling around school and at the outskirts of town. Ryan was smart enough to stay on the main streets, and the other kids knew not to mess with him when I was there.” “So this really still happens.” Zach shook his head. “You would think we are past this shit.” Everyone was staring at the fire, until Breanna finally said, “This is all well and good, but when are you getting to the scary part?” “On Halloween—” “Aww...that’s more like it!” Breanna tugged at Zach’s arm and wrapped it around her. “On Halloween it was all men on deck. The whole town always went haywire. We had illegal fireworks, DUIs, underage drinking, and property vandalized. That year, someone smashed the window of the auto shop.” “Ryan Baker’s father’s auto shop?” Frank asked knowingly. “Yep. I was on the way to an abandoned hotel outside of town when it happened. The former ‘Hollies Fork Inn’ was a mere ruin, but the kids loved to party there away from their parents’ prying eyes, and the Chief sent me there to make sure it didn’t get out of control. You can guess my astonishment when I met several cars packed with teenagers, barreling down the road back to town. They only slowed down briefly when they saw my car, but then bolted down the road again as if the devil was after them. My first thought was that someone must have managed to spook them pretty good, and I couldn’t suppress a grin, especially as one of the drivers had been the leader of the boys who had beaten up Ryan.” “So, you reached the hotel—” Breanna urged. “Shush, Brea!” “Shush yourself, Dirk!” Ollie grinned. “When I reached the hotel, everything was suspiciously quiet. All what was left of the Halloween party were some empty cans, a few bags of chips, and a not-quite extinguished fire. I got my torch light out and searched around until the beam lightened the parking lot. One car was still sitting there, a car I hadn’t seen in town, and believe me, I would have noticed it.” “Bah! Get to the point already!” Even Zach was getting impatient. “It was an old, dented 1954 Cadillac Eldorado. It was covered in dust and dirt, as if someone had just dug it out or found it in a barn. When I came closer, I saw that it must have been red once, and even the license plates were still there. As it was routine, I shone the light inside and almost dropped it. Two mummified bodies were sitting in the front seats—” “Oh my God!” Breanna slapped a hand over her mouth. “What do you mean ‘mummified’?” Dirk looked intrigued. “Like dried skin stretched over mummies’ bones—” “No!” Hailey cuffed Dirk. “Would you shut up?” “You’re kidding, right?” Frank grinned incredulous. “It was a setup, right?” “That’s what I thought too. They couldn’t be real bodies. I looked around, shone the light between the bushes and along the walls of the hotel, the whole time expecting someone to come out of hiding, laughing their ass off. How they had not only scared the kids but a cop too, you know? Only, nothing happened.” “You mean, they actually were real bodies?” Hailey whispered. “I walked around the car and finally stopped at the driver’s side. The man—I was sure it was a man by then because of his clothes—had his hands on the head of the other, who was lying across his lap. Well, what was left of his hands.” “W-what was left of his hands?” Breanna was almost sitting on Zach’s lap. “The driver’s bones were broken in several places; his right hand didn’t have one finger intact.” “Oh my God!” Hailey burrowed her face against Dirk’s chest, waving her hand in Ollie’s direction. “Go on.” “I looked around again. This had to be a Halloween prank, right? It explained perfectly why the kids had run back to town like scared rabbits. Still not trusting the bodies were real, I fetched some gloves and—touched the shoulder of the driver.” “No, you didn’t!” Breanna shook her head. “Of course I did. I even sniffed at them.” “Ew!” Frank grimaced, and after hesitating briefly he asked, “How did they smell?” “Ew, Frank!” Hailey slapped Frank. “How can you ask something like that?” “What—” “They smelled like decay, old and weathered, but still...decay.” “So, they were genuine bodies?” Dirk perked up. “Yes.” Zach frowned. “What pervert would do that?” “Back then, I thought that someone must have found the car buried in the dunes outside the hotel and thought it would be funny to scare the kids. The desert there is extremely dry—dry enough to naturally mummify dead bodies. I took out my camera and took several pictures, all the while expecting someone to jump out of the woodwork shouting, ‘Prank!’. After that, I freed the license plates of the dirt, and ran the plates through the system. It took a while, but then I knew the car belonged to Ralph Hanson, 34, the owner of the local gas station, who had gone missing without any trace in 1954.” “You stumbled on an old murder case? I can’t believe it.” Zach glared at Ollie. “Why didn’t you ever tell me this story before?” “Does it matter?” Frank rolled his eyes, then he turned to Ollie. “Was one of them the missed Ralph Hanson? And who was the other one?” Ollie grinned at Frank’s impatience. “The remaining clothes suggested they were both male, which was all I knew at that moment.” “So, what did you do next?” Ollie looked at Frank. “At that moment? I still wasn’t one hundred percent sure I had a real case and my colleagues wouldn’t laugh their asses off at my gullibility, but I reported in my finding. Half an hour later, Chief Wagner reached the scene. He took one look at the car and the bodies, and called the coroner. I told him we had to secure the scene first, investigate more, call in the Feds maybe, but he didn’t want to hear any of that.” Dirk put down the beer he was drinking. “What? He just wanted to ignore a possible murder case?” “Yep. Without taking any additional pics, he let the coroner collect the bodies and had the car towed to the local junkyard, all the while lecturing me this wasn’t CSI Miami but reality. It was a cold case, much too late to find out what had happened.” “But how did he explain the car sitting in the parking lot all of a sudden?” Frank asked incredulous. “The same way I did; someone found it and thought it was a good idea to scare the kids. It was Halloween, after all.” “Someone!?” Breanna threw her hands up. “It was disrespectful towards those two people. How can he let someone get away with using murdered people for a prank?” “And it’s illegal!” Frank threw a twig into the fire. “What an asshole!” “The next day it was all over town; after more than sixty years, the police had found Ralph Hanson’s car. Everyone was sure that he was one of the bodies. Curiously, no one had any suggestions about the other person, though. Then I overheard Daisy and Elsie whispering rumors that included my favorite word again: faggots.” “Oh, no!” Hailey exclaimed. “They were killed because they were gay.” “Chief Wagner proclaimed that a misguided individual must have found the car by accident and thought it would be funny placing actual skeletons in the old parking lot of the hotel on Halloween. He said he wouldn’t condone such behavior, and he would ensure the bodies would be buried honorably. He said nothing about trying to find out their identity, or how they died. When I complained about the proceedings, I was informed that should I make a scene, I could forget my recommendation for SWAT.” “And you actually let it go?” Dirk snapped. “I’d thought better of you!” “What do you think? Those men had been murdered, and no one was interested in finding out how or why. That—and I was sure Chief Wagner knew something, seeing how fast he swept everything under the rug. The next evening, I drove to the old hotel to do some investigating on my own. Something was very wrong, and I couldn’t simply let the matter rest. I had this feeling I needed to do something.” “Good!” Dirk nodded. “I sat in my car and stared at the hotel. Suddenly, a man came out. He was about six foot two, with black hair, wearing black slacks, and a white button-down shirt that was splattered with blood. I knew him from old pictures I had seen that morning.” “Oh my God!” Breanna grabbed Zack’s hand and quickly wrapped his arm around her shoulders again. “Ralph Hanson!” “Is this where the ghost story starts?” Frank narrowed his eyes at Ollie. “Tell me you’re kidding!” “I got out of the car and Ralph stopped his approach. I remember thinking he really was a handsome guy in that rakish kind of way. When he knew he had my attention, he turned around without a word walking back to the hotel, while making a gesture with his hand for me to follow him.” “And you did.” Ollie nodded at Dirk’s question. “I did. We went through the lobby, which didn’t look as it had the day before. There was the dusty reception desk, wilted flowers in a vase, and some chairs and end tables in disarray. The whole hotel seemed only to have been closed recently. There was a feeling people had just left.” “Ralph took the stairs to a room on the third floor. There were dozens of flickering candles, a bottle of wine sitting in a cooler, and two glasses set next to some blankets on the floor. A younger man came out of what might have been the bathroom. He totally ignored me and went right into Ralph’s arms and kissed him passionately.” Zach lifted his hand. “Wait! Is there some sort of time travel going on now all of a sudden?” “I wouldn’t say time travel but maybe a flashback. I believe Ralph showed me what had happened at the hotel all those years ago.” “A flashback?” Zach lifted an eyebrow. “Now you’re inventing things, right?” Breanna shushed him. “Of course not! Ralph’s ghost needed Ollie to know. Now shut up already, I want to know what happened to them.” “You—” “Shut up!” Then she waved her hands at Ollie. “Go on!” “I was standing there watching them kiss, when a hard knock on the door interrupted them. It sounded as if several fists were pounding on the door. Both men froze. I guess they already knew what that meant for them. Ralph shoved the younger man out to the balcony. ‘Take the fire escape, Darrell. Hurry!” ‘I won’t leave you, Ralph!’ ‘You must. Quick! Penny said she would cover for me. Just tell them I’m waiting for her!’ The door was shaking in its hinges by then, and finally Darrell went to the balcony and grabbed the fire escape ladder, not a minute too soon. At least five men, armed with baseball bats and logs, pressed into the room. Seeing them, Ralph drew himself up and forced a smile on his face. ‘Chief Wagner! What can I do for you?’ ” “Chief Wagner!?” Zach frowned. “That can’t be. The man must have been too old—” Ollie stopped him by lifting his hand. “I’ll come to that. “ He took in a deep breath. “Chief Wagner hit Ralph in the face without warning. ‘Shut up, faggot!’ Then he looked around. ‘Where is the mayor’s son? Where is Darrell?’ Before Ralph could get another word out though, the men brought down their weapons on him. I tried to help, but I was just there as a witness, frozen in place, and forced to watch. By now, Ralph was lying on the floor, trying to protect himself with his arms, when his gaze was suddenly on me. I could hear his voice in my head: ‘Chief Wagner, Mayor Emerson, Edwin Meyer, Donald Muller, Wallace Green. Protect Ryan and Tyler! It is happening again.’” “Oh my God, Ollie!” Breanna’s hand gripped his arm. “That must have been so horrible, seeing that and not being able to do anything!” “One of the men was out on the balcony, bending over the railing. ‘He’s running into the dunes. Maurice and Gerald are on him.’ “There I was, helplessly watching them beating up Ralph without mercy, their intent clear; they came to kill. They stomped on his hands, broke his fingers, thrashed his arms and legs, kicked him between his legs, and I could do nothing but cry for him.” Ollie swallowed. “It could have stopped there, but it didn’t. I heard yelling from the outside. Pleading. And I realized I could move again. I ran down the stairs, out of the hotel. What I saw made my blood run cold: Darrell was on his knees, begging two men for his life, only to have them cruelly shoot him in the head.” By now, the girls were crying. Even the guys were secretly swiping tears from their faces. “After the ugly deed was done, the men piled into their cars as if nothing bad had happened. They were actually joking around and slapping each other’s backs.” “This is so horrible.” Hailey was sobbing. “I sat beside Darrell, but not able to touch him as my hands ran right through him. Watching the light of his life slowly fading from his eyes was the worst thing I had ever seen. When I heard noises behind me, my first thought was that the men had come back, but it was Ralph limping over to us.” “I thought he was dead!” Breanna exclaimed. “As did I. I don’t know how he even managed to live after the beating he took, let alone walking down the stairs. He sat down beside Darrell, took his hand in his, and we quietly cried for the senselessness of his death, the ignorance, the injustice. My heart broke when Ralph, as injured as he was, took Darrell into his arms and slowly carried him over to his car. They had smashed the windows, dented the metal, scratched the paint, and I think they even pissed on it. Ralph carefully placed Darrell into the passenger seat, then walked around the car and sat down in the driver’s seat. He pulled Darrell’s head into his lap. ‘We waited so long for you come along, Oliver. Don’t let them get away with it again. Protect Ryan Baker and Tyler Meyer. This can never happen again. Make the town see by telling our story.’ “The next thing I knew, I was sitting in my car staring at the dilapidated ruin of the hotel, with tears running down my face. The car with Ralph and Darrell was gone; everything looked exactly as it had in the morning. What should I do? I knew what I had just witnessed was what had happened more than sixty years ago. I couldn’t really call the Feds telling them two ghosts had told me about how they had been murdered years ago. So, with trembling hands, I dialed my instructor’s number.” Ollie’s friends were quietly watching him. That was when he became aware of the tears running down his face. “The next morning, Feds were swarming Hollies Fork, following an anonymous tip. Only I knew my instructor had called in some favors so they would react this quickly. Investigating the room where they had beaten up Ralph, they found traces of blood on the wall and the floor, candle stumps—and a wallet. It belonged to Darrell, the mayor’s son back then. Another team secured Ralph’s car just in time before it landed in the junkyard’s crusher. In its trunk were logs and baseball bats, one engraved with the name of the former police chief.” Dirk fished a beer can out of the cooler. “So, you want us to believe that happened for real?” “You asked for a genuine story. Anything can happen on All Hallow’s Eve when the dead can enter the world of the living.” “I just Googled Hollies Fork.” Hailey held her phone up. “It’s on their website: The Haunted Hotel Rainbow Festival. It says here they celebrate it every year in memory of Ralph and Darrell, who had been murdered in the fifties by bigoted citizens. Wow!” Zach ripped open a bag of chips. “You read that somewhere, right?” Offering it to Ollie, he said, “You never even were in Hollies Fork.” “Three of the seven men mentioned in the anonymous notice had already passed away, the old mayor among them. One finally confessed. Everything came out. After that, it was as if a dam had been lifted. Sometimes, unexplainable things happen and we just have to go with the flow. The important thing is that an old crime has been solved, and a new crime has been prevented.” “A real ghost story?” Frank grinned. Ollie smiled. “Yep.” He lifted a hand, a simple gesture of recognition to those two men who lost so much. They sat across the fire, listening to their story. The young men waved back, before Ralph and Darrell faded away. In his head Ollie heard them whisper, ‘Until next year?’ “Of course.”
  3. Chapter 1

    The final decorations were up and the fog machine pumped mist across the floor. Everything was just the way Desean would want it, but Camilo pushed that thought away. Desean was gone and he had to try to make things continue without him. He just had to plug in one more thing and he could leave the hall. “Camilo, damn, everything looks perfect!” Christina stood smiling as she looked over the hall. “You did a fantastic job, bro. I still can’t believe you did this all by yourself.” “I’m glad you like it. This is just stuff I’ve been collecting with…well, stuff I had. It should help your fundraiser. The library is important to this town.” Camilo connected the final string of lights, and a huge spider web lit up in purple and white lights, while a giant inflated spider seemed to dance across it. “Just hope you all enjoy it.” “What do you mean, you hope we all enjoy it?” Christina marched over to her brother and grabbed his shirt. “You are going to be here!” “Chrissy, look--” “No, you look! I know you fucked up. I think half the town knows you cheated on Desean, but either you two will make up or you’ll move on. It’s been two months, and you haven’t talked to him.” Chrissy jabbed her brother sharply in the chest. “I love you, Cam, but grow a pair and do what needs to be done.” Camilo sighed and nodded. It was time to move on with his life. He headed out to his car to grab his costume and get ready. The band was playing Monster Mash as he made his way toward the dessert table carrying a tray of bloody snack cakes, vanilla heart-shaped cakes with raspberry jam spilling out. There were a dozen more trays in the kitchen, which is where Camilo wanted to hide. He set the tray down and was about to head back for more snacks when a werewolf came over and stood before him. “We need to talk.” Dark brown eyes looked out of the mask, as the werewolf positioned himself to block the way. The voice of the werewolf shook Camilo, as he immediately recognized it. Why on God’s green earth would Terry come to the fundraiser? “Don’t you think we’ve done enough?” Camilo tried hard to push past Terry, but the man was strong and not about to be ignored. “You’re coming with me.” Terry grabbed Camilo’s arm, forced it behind his back, nearly frog marching him out the side door and into the parking lot. “What the hell do you want, Terry?” Terry pushed Camilo into the alleyway before ripping off his mask and gloves. “What do I want? How about someone talking to me? I don’t know, maybe, checking on me? What about not seeing the whole town treating me like a goddamn leper?” Camilo leaned against the wall, feeling nauseous. Terry hugged himself and stared at Camilo. “I screwed up. This my fault. I’m sorry,” Camilo whispered as he glanced at Terry. “Fuck you! We fucked. Then you just left me, like Desean did to both of us. I have no one.” Camilo looked at Terry and burst into tears. “Goddamn it. Stop crying. You’re not the only one who lost everything.” Terry’s voice quavered with emotion. Camilo fought for control of his emotions, and slowly took a few deep breathes as he stared at Terry who appeared equally raw. “You’re the one I wanted. All those months watching you two together. Seeing how happy Desean was. I’ve been alone a long time. I just wanted to be happy, like you were together. Desean told me what you liked sexually. He told me how you treated him, the romantic dinners and silly gifts, I had to know for myself. I wanted to feel loved.” He broke down, his emotions overwhelming him as he fell to his knees on the street. Camilo remembered all too well what Terry felt like to hold, touch, and make love to. He was living with the fallout from that now. Desean had moved out, taking Melissa, Desean’s daughter who they’d been raising together, and their dog, Champ. He’d come home to find his home an empty shell. He had a house, but the heart and soul was gone. No laughter from Melissa, no licks from Champ, and the unconditional love he’d found with Desean was shattered and gone. “Get up,” Camilo said as he pulled Terry into a standing position. Terry moved to hug Camilo, but Camilo put his hand on Terry’s chest. “No. We can’t.” “But he left you.” Camilo nodded. It took a moment to compose himself before he spoke again. “Yes, he left me. We broke his trust, and he walked out of our lives. That doesn’t give us permission to keep going, Terry. I’m old enough to know better.” Camilo walked back into the hall, leaving Terry alone on the street. Chrissy met Camilo as soon as he walked back in. “Where the hell have you been? I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” Chrissy’s witch’s hat bounced with her agitation. “Terry and I had a talk.” “Oh.” Chrissy walked over and hugged Camilo. “You okay?” Camilo tucked some loose straw back into his costume. “Yeah, I’m good. Scarecrow, remember. Don’t have a brain.” Chrissy swatted his arm. “No brain, maybe. But you so have a heart.” Camilo kissed his sister’s cheek and headed back to the kitchen to see what else they were sending out. Camilo grabbed a tray of finger sandwiches and had nearly reached the main food table when he spotted a little lion come flying right toward him. He quickly slid the platter onto the table, just as the lion launched itself into his arms. “Woah,” Camilo said and suddenly the lion’s face came into view. “Melissa?” “Camilo!” The little girl threw her arms around Camilo and kissed his cheek. “I missed you. Happy Halloween.” Camilo hugged Melissa tight and tried not to cry. “Happy Halloween, Melly. What are you doing here? Where is your dad?” Melissa smiled and pointed across the room. “He’s over there with Daniel.” Camilo froze. Desean stood dressed as Sherlock Holmes while some older gentleman stood beside him dressed as Robin Hood. “Camilo, can I get down now? I wanna see Christina.” “Sure, Princess. Chrissy is dressed like the Wicked Witch.” He pointed to where Chrissy stood surrounded by kids. “She is going to read ghost stories soon.” “Yeah!” Melissa smiled and rushed toward the stage where Chrissy was getting ready to read. Camilo watched as Desean followed Melissa’s path. His attention was focused on Melissa. Robin Hood reached out and wrapped his arm around Desean’s waist. Camilo watched as Desean’s body stiffened for a moment. He wanted to run over and deck the guy, but realized he’d lost the right to say anything. The party seemed to be going well. Camilo found he couldn’t stand to watch Desean anymore, so he entered the kitchen, which had cleared as the last of the trays of food had been brought out. Camilo sat on one of the prep tables and went through his betrayal again. “I figured this is where you’d be.” Camilo looked up to find Desean leaning against the doorframe. “Desean, I--” “No. You don’t get to speak.” Desean stepped into the room, allowing the door to close behind him. Camilo looked at the man he’d spent the last five years of his life with, and for the first time he had no idea what he was thinking. “I’d…I’d never do that to you. I hurt so much. I can’t unsee that. I close my eyes and it replays immediately, you and Terry having sex on the couch. It’s like my own personal horror movie.” Desean stalked the doorway, keeping his eyes on Camilo, but never moving toward him. “You know I trusted you despite my past. Hell, my ex broke bones, but you – you fucking ripped out my heart.” Both men began crying. Camilo moved to stand, but froze when Desean looked at him with such pain. It made Camilo feel sick knowing he caused it. “Don’t you dare! Don’t you dare act like you care or you hurt.” Desean paused and wiped his face with his sleeve. “I just want to know if the reason you threw us away was because he was younger?” “No. It--” “I don’t want to know, Cam.” The tears left Desean’s eyes red and swollen. “Melissa asks for you every night. She wants to know what she did wrong. With every new thing she learns and says I turn to tell you and I can’t. You’ve hurt us all, and I can’t forgive you.” With a sob Camilo finally spoke. “I’m so sorry, De.” Desean glanced at Camilo and nodded. He hurried out the door back into the hall. When the door clicked shut, Camilo broke down, crying uncontrollably as the man he loved walked out. It was ten minutes later when Chrissy found him. “Well at least you both look like train wrecks, Cam.” Chrissy grabbed a towel and wiped her brother’s face. “It’s over, Chris. He left me. It’s all my fault.” Camilo started to tear up again. “You’re both idiots, you know that. You know you’ve both made mistakes.” Chrissy sat beside her brother and hugged him. “You need to forgive each other. I mean you don’t eat or sleep, but you beat yourself up daily over this. He came with that guy who hung all over him. Even I can tell he is miserable. You two evidently didn’t work out crap, but you need to.” “Don’t talk about him that way!” “Oh, knock it off and grow up.” Chrissy stood up. “Go home, Cam. I need to get started on cleaning up. You can come back tomorrow and help us take your stuff down. Now go home.” Chrissy kissed Cam’s cheek and headed out into the hall. Camilo pulled himself together and went to his car. There was a piece of paper under his windshield wiper. He opened it to see Desean’s handwriting. I’ll call you tomorrow. Camilo smiled for the first time in weeks.
  4. Chapter 1

    Dalton awoke with a start. The glowing digits on the clock radio told him the time was 3:17 am. As his consciousness took hold, the knocking pipes startled and frightened him, again. For the past three nights, the sounds of the old radiator pipes banging as they carried hot water from the basement to the rooms upstairs disturbed his sleep. Not that his sleep was deep anymore regardless. He seemed to only nap at night, not actually sleep, ever since August. He lay in bed, the comforter pulled up to his chin, and listened to the noises. It had been a mistake moving out here. This was supposed to be his way of getting away from memories, not living them over and over. Dalton thought the old house was a place they had never lived together. His lover had worked on this place, remodeling, but they’d never lived here together. His first thoughts were, he could keep busy fixing things up would pass the time. It would keep the ghosts away, those memories that haunted him. Instead, Bauer’s absence made the days drip by and the nights drag out even longer. Dalton sat up. The room was bathed in moonlight. The shades were drawn, but the silver light filtered through and laid patches of gray about the floor, the chair, the bookcase, even on the bedspread. A few minutes partially uncovered the emptiness, his sense something was missing, and the salt-and-pepper-haired man shivered in the cool, late October night air. This place he moved to wasn’t new; it was filled with the soul of a man gone forever. When Bauer found the old house, huge and situated on ten acres, sprinkled with copses of trees and meadows, it seemed ideal, or so he argued. They could fix it up as a bed-and-breakfast, and retire while they were still relatively young. Dalton liked to cook and decorate. Bauer was good with his hands, fixing broken things, building new furniture and accents. Making new things and old things work. They were the perfect team, working well together. The place was abandoned and needed a lot of work, but on the plus side, their house would be the only B&B in the town. Visitors to the private colleges nearby had the choice of an old, high-end hotel downtown or one of the string of budget motels along the highway. These chain motels were surrounded by fast food joints and a couple of family restaurants, but nothing cozy or homey. A bed-and-breakfast place like this could become a dream come true, with economic advantages that would change their lives. There was also the new bike trail that ran from the historic downtown out to a tubing and canoeing site. Antique stores were sprinkled here and there, offering wares that drew the kinds of patrons who wanted someplace interesting, and friendly. The town drew visitors, and this could be a viable business, profitable, and a way to finance their semi-retirement, as Bauer argued quite successfully. The old mansion had six bedrooms, a large sitting room, dining room, and an old-fashioned kitchen. Out back, there was a two story, two-bedroom bungalow where Bauer said they could live away from the guests. This would be their retirement place, active in the summers, and closed in the winters. It was perfect. And scary. His husband, Bauer had accepted an early retirement package from his job at IBM, so he paid cash for the property. It was surprisingly inexpensive, really too cheap, and Dalton had protested. Something must be wrong with the place at the bargain basement price the owner was asking. It probably needed all new wiring and plumbing. The foundation was crumbling, no doubt. The whole place was sitting empty for at least thirty years, so who knows what happened with it. Bauer had been adamant. The bones of the structure were good. An inspector had reported there were wiring and plumbing issues, and a new roof was necessary, but the foundation was sound, the old cistern was as solid as bedrock beneath the north side, and the walls were sturdy and still square and true. The costs were minimal, so it was settled. They’d buy it and start a new enterprise. It was only a couple of weeks after Bauer paid for it and started the cleanup process that he had his first heart pains, which got worse until he ended up in the ICU. Dalton snorted, then brushed away the tears. Thoughts of that time were both painful and amusing. Wow, it wasn’t that long ago, only a couple of months really. It seemed a bit odd, almost unreal, as he remembered their reaction to Bauer’s near-death experience. The doctors called it a ‘cardiac event’ when they were explaining what happened. Heart attacks are now ‘events’. It was so absurd. They’d joked about it with gallows humor. Bauer said his ‘cardiac prom’ was very serious. Dalton replied that his ‘cardiac quinceanera’ was nothing to make light of. Bauer had responded his ‘cardiac gala’ was a newsworthy ‘event.’” Oh, they’d laughed. Bauer was a fun guy and could make sport of most anything. Dalton went right along with him. They always did enjoy making fun of difficult situations. Or maybe they didn’t think it was real at first. It was real. The doctors explained the myocardial infarction had done a great deal of damage to the heart muscle. So much, in fact, it would shorten his life span. They would try to repair what they could, but it was bad. It was really bad. After surgery, they changed things up. Dalton also retired, though he couldn’t really afford it at age fifty-five, but Bauer wanted his last days to be special. So, Dalton agreed. *** After waking up in the middle of the night, he couldn’t return to sleep. Finally, he had to leave, move, get out of the house -- a place that wouldn’t let him rest. The noises were just so awful. The sounds were relentless, never ceasing, and so overwhelming. Dalton drove towards town. His mind ached with tiredness and his eyes itched. But, he couldn’t go back to sleep, not with the banging and the sounds of moaning and whispering, urgent and whiny. There was a twenty-four-hour gas station that sold beer and wine. He could get a bottle of cheap stuff, drink it and at least get a couple of hours of rest. That’s when he saw it. Across from the gas station, down the road, there was a building that he’d never noticed before. It was a large, old brick building on the edge of the campus, and it was open. There were lights in glowing yellows and golds and they beckoned invitingly. He loved libraries. Perhaps a good book would help him sleep. He pulled up and looked at the wood and glass door. The sign hanging in the window said, ‘Open’ so he put the car in park, and turned off the ignition. The windshield began fogging up almost immediately. His breath was just humid enough to condense on the cold glass. He was about to rub a spot clear, then thought better of it. The night was cold, and it would clear soon enough. The chilling effect of autumn was upon him. The man climbed out of the car and walked slowly to the front door. Maybe someone had forgotten to turn the lights off and turn the sign around. This appeared to be a college library and didn’t they close at a decent hour? It was almost four o’clock in the morning. He pulled on the handle and the door opened. A puff of warm air greeted him. The gentle glow of the gleaming light invited him to enter. He stepped inside. For some reason, Dalton felt especially comfortable in this space. His distractions, annoyance, overall feeling of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, dissipated. His emotions floated away as he looked over the booklined passages on his left, and then on his right. More carrels of bound titles were ahead of him as well. There were carts of books. Large stained and varnished card catalogs loomed in the far distance, promising even more books. As his eyes swept the magnificent expanse, he could see, and smell, the tomes as they waited for reading. This place was patient and kind. In the back of the building, behind rows of stacks, there was a desk and behind it was a lone person. His head was lowered, scanning something, oblivious to the embarrassment of riches which surrounded him. The librarian guy didn’t look up as Dalton approached. The man was completely consumed by what he was doing, reading, caring for his books. Books. The books mattered. Dalton ran his fingers over the first line of title he saw. The book was called, Oak Savannahs and Their Environments, by Reed Parker. There were other books about gardening, flowers, horticulture, raising vegetables, designing landscapes, and even preserving the fruits of a garden. It was amazing to see the plethora of books in the entire line of cases devoted to growing plants and things. This section merged into another series of books dedicated to biology and animal husbandry, as well as animal behavior. As he looked around, there were old wooden shelves along every wall, stacked with books, loaded, overflowing. It was unlike any library he’d been in for years. This was remarkable. Throughout the stacks were sconces, bathing the bindings with light that made the titles stand out. The light was different here, with fewer shadows, and glistened on spines that ached to be opened, like aroused virgins, hoping their bindings would be creased, at last. He couldn’t stop looking around, taking it all in. Behind this desk, as Dalton neared, the librarian’s features became evident. His forehead was unlined, cheeks pink and healthy, with the kind of glow youth gives young men. The librarian moved in front of a computer screen, and now his face was bathed in gentle green light, eerie and wan. Yet, it was still calm and youthful, a gentle smile on his lips. Dalton passed more cases on his left and right. These had books on subjects that ranged from religion to psychology, history and the arts. Along a far wall behind the desk with the young man, was a separate room, large, but sectioned off from the rest of the library. There was a sign hanging from the ceiling. It announced this area as, “Fiction/Literature” and was mostly dark, unlike the areas he walked through. That section seemed closed, and Dalton didn’t know why it would be. “Welcome!” a voice boomed. The librarian had climbed down from his stool and had pushed his glasses up his nose as Dalton approached. “How is your night going?” Dalton didn’t know how to respond to that question. It seemed like a perfunctory question, posed as a greeting and not an inquiry. Yet, the man seemed too eager for a librarian working an overnight shift. Unless he was really bored. Dalton hadn’t seen another soul since walking in from the front door. “Hi,” he answered and waved a little. “I’ve never been here before.” The sound of his footfalls over the last few yards was barely noticeable. Since the place was utterly silent, those soft, almost imperceptible sounds matched the beating of his heart. “Well, you are in for a treat. This is the Pillsbury Community Library. Are you a resident of the county?” Dalton considered, then answered haltingly, “I live down the road, so I guess, yes. The answer is ‘sure’.” The young man smiled and continued as Dalton finished up the last few steps. “With a driver’s license or a utility bill, we can get you a library card and begin your exploration of the extensive collection we have surrounding you.” Boy, this guy was eager to explain things. His puppy-dog excitement was admirable, which seemed strange. However, the place was deserted. This far into the building without seeing the evidence of another person confirmed it. No wonder the guy was thrilled to see someone else, even a middle-aged man who’d wandered in from the street. He ventured a statement, just to gauge the librarian’s response. “I was driving by, and saw you were open. I stopped out of curiosity.” “Good, patrons like you make our work a joy.” “I had trouble sleeping,” Dalton said. He smiled and watched for a reaction. For some reason, he was feeling especially nervous now, anxious even, but the librarian appeared to respond quite naturally. “Oh, that’s too bad.” The young man swallowed, and then smiled again pensively. “We have lots of reading material. Anything you’re looking for in particular?” The kid was certainly pleasant, helpful. His smile was warm, if a bit nervous. Dalton figured his tired brain probably was playing strange tricks on him. He answered honestly. “I like old hard-boiled detective stories. I have all the Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler books, and I am familiar with more recent stuff that’s similar.” After saying this, Dalton realized the kid behind the counter couldn’t be older than twenty-five or so. This probably sounded like nonsense to him. He was pleased when the librarian’s face lit up enthusiastically. “Hard-boiled crime mysteries are my favorites. Have you read any Carroll Daly stories? His novels are okay, because he’s basically the father of the bad-boy detective genre of the era in his short stories. We have a copy of the ‘Black Mask Revealed’, which includes several of his short stories including the first story of the genre, introducing Race Williams. It’s amazing. You can see how later writers emulated his novel’s character sketch.” Dalton was taken aback. Not only did this kid understand his favorite style, he seemed to know something about the history of it. “I’ve read a couple of articles about him, but I’ve never actually read a story by the guy.” The young man simply popped with excitement. “You will love it. Let me find the edition for you. I’m sure you’ll adore reading it.” Dalton followed the young man, noting features he probably shouldn’t have at his age. The kid was the age his children would be, if he was a ‘family man’. He was in his mid-twenties or so, with an impossibly slim waist, a round bottom and wide shoulders. His black hair was straight and sleek, practically shaved short on the sides and back, with a swoop of bangs in the front. His facial hair was light, wispy and still rather thin in places. He also seemed a bit familiar. Had he met the kid before? It seemed unlikely. Maybe in a picture somewhere. The young man turned as they approached the section he’d noticed before, dark and labeled as the fiction section. He flipped a switch and light flooded the stacks. It was the same golden light spilling over the rest of the place. These fixtures hung down and interspersed with fans, their broad, black blades churning slowly after the lights were turned on. The young man reached into a bookcase, and his fingers danced through the spines looking for the right volume. He turned and grinned, his dark eyes danced in the light. “It’s so good to find a patron who loves the second wave of murder mysteries. I’m working my way through the eras, and this is my favorite so far.” Dalton looked at the kid’s chest, and found his name carefully etched on a plastic tag pinned to his shirt. It said, “Spencer” and fit the interesting and unique character of the young man perfectly. He jolted awake, seeing the book thrust at him, the kid’s smile beaming, looking for some approval. “I told you we had a copy. Read it, and tell me what you think.” He paused as Dalton took the volume from him. “You know, I have a theory. The writers who invent a new genre or idea aren’t necessarily the best at it. For example, Poe created the idea of a detective using his mind and deduction to solve a mystery. I read the Dupin stories, and they weren’t that good. Oh, his ideas are brilliant, but the character is pretty contrived. It took Doyle to make the detective a master of the story and have a life of his own. Then, Christie really took it to the next level. Poirot’s world is a special place and his sub-characters really build the entire mystique.” Dalton didn’t really understand the young man’s ramblings. He read lots of things, but preferred to read the hard-boiled stuff. Noir writing created a world that was so raw, real, and made his heart race. That’s what he liked about the genre. Hammett and Chandler were masters at creating the scaffolding of a story that a reader could fill with his own imagination. “I’m sure I’ll love this. I’m glad I stopped.” The young man looked pleased, but at the same time, his features showed, he was worried, like he hadn’t sold Dalton on the merits of this place. “You know, we have a first-rate history section as well.” He stopped and tapped his finger to his lips. A bright smile lit his face. “In fact, we have the morgue from an old newspaper that shut down several years ago. It was the primary source for news for this region of the state. If you’re into that kind of thing, it could be interesting.” “This will be fine,” Dalton assured the librarian. Spencer insisted on showing him more of the library, which gave the older man time to enjoy looking at the young librarian. In fact, he was beginning to feel like a dirty old man as he tried to ignore the firm curves and the lovely edges of the man. He was also quite charming, even a little old-fashioned. He remembered an uncle of his using some of the same verbiage. Of course, it also reminded him a little of Bauer. That happened quite often. He had the unfortunate habit of seeing his husband’s attributes in others, during his illness, and then afterwards following his death. It pained him to know his mind was that needy, looking for Bauer where he could not exist, not anymore. Driving back to his home, he recalled the young man’s exuberance, his passion for the subject he thought they shared, and wondered. Finding Spencer and such a lovely old library made the night feel less oppressive and he almost forgot about the night noises until he got home again. It didn’t feel quite as bad, or as loud. *** Dalton awoke the next morning, a little sore and still tired, but more rested than he’d been in months. The wooly feeling in his brain was gone. In its place, he was more interested in doing something with his life. He saw the unstained, new baseboards and thought he should get a brush and get started. Dalton noticed the primer Bauer had applied to the walls in the foyer, and he wanted to paint them, covering the surface with a lovely, satiny finish. For the first time since moving out here, he felt like working. He saw the unfinished projects his deceased husband had started, and he wanted to finish them. It was like a breath of fresh air, or a second chance. The morning went quickly, and by lunch, Dalton felt hungry, really starving for the first time, in quite a while. The refrigerator held the kinds of foods single people ate. He had eggs and bread, cereal and milk, some sandwich meat, a few pieces of fruit, and several bottled waters. He’d been fine with such things, but today they weren’t enough. These weren’t the kinds of food he needed. After painting the entryway and tacking more baseboard around the dining room, he was famished. He decided a shower and a quick, but hearty lunch, was in order. The shower was invigorating. He realized his ribs were evident, as he soaped up. Dalton had always been a hearty man, generously proportioned and battling his weight. Now he was surprisingly gaunt, not exactly skinny, he was in his fifties, so it was more sleek than thin. His hunger pangs prompted him to finish toweling and dressing. In short order, Dalton was in the car heading for town and a good hamburger. That’s what he craved. A burger and fries, maybe even a shake or, a malted. He loved the slightly salty, rich, creamy taste and the satisfying feel of a malt, decadent and delicious. The King’s Diner was exactly what he’d wanted. After a refreshing salad with a tomato-ey French dressing, a big burger, California style, with onions, lettuce, and tomato, and a hot fudge malt to wash it down, he was now full, happy, and feeling somewhat content. This was an alien feeling. He remembered when Bauer was alive how this was his normal state of being. That’s what love did to you, it gave you such pleasure, then, if you were unlucky, it was torn from you. “Fucking-A,” he muttered. The waitress, Lucy, looked over at him, shocked. He shook his head and mouthed, ‘sorry’. She didn’t react until he gave her an exaggerated ‘sad face’ and then she smiled and walked over. “Are you ready for the check? You were hungry.” Dalton nodded and reached into his pocket. “I worked hard this morning. I’m trying to get things ready for guests.” “Are you a contractor or something?” she answered, taking the credit card from his fingers. “My boyfriend pours concrete.” Dalton didn’t know what the normal response to something that random was, but he decided to be friendly. “I’m at the old Thompson place, out past Highway 14. We’re, I mean, I’m getting it ready for guests.” She looked a bit lost for a moment. Her face then changed, almost horrified, but she said -- “Oh, that’s nice.” She scurried off to run his card. Dalton looked out the window at the parking lot. It was nearly empty, except for a couple of trucks on the far side. He then realized his ‘lunch’ was almost two in the afternoon. No wonder he had been starving. The rest of the world ate at normal times. He ate at his own times. His heart kind of pattered, and he bit his lip. “Here you go Mr. Dalton. This copy is yours.” Lucy said. She turned, then stopped, and her smile spread over him. “Are you one of the guys who bought the haunted house?” Her words shocked him at first. He considered how to answer. Any response was inappropriate. “Are you talking about the Thompson place?” The waitress halted. She turned. “Why yes, that’s the place.” “Why did you just say it was haunted?” he asked. She smiled. After a couple of exaggerated chaws of her gum, she answered slowly. “That place has been haunted for years. Some guy got killed in it.” Her demeanor changed again, her hips shifted, and now her stance was defensive. “He was young, real young, and it was super creepy. He died from some kind of buried alive thing. According to my mom, though she’s pretty superstitious about things like that, it was super ugly.” Her explanation faded away. Then, it came back alive. The waitress said, “That’s why he haunts the place. He needs to get out.” Dalton looked up at her, saw her shrug, and then leave. The relief of a night’s rest vanished. His sense of well-being, the satisfaction of a good meal, and the overall fever of something being missing came roaring back. He signed the receipt, leaving a generous tip, in spite of his mood, and quickly left the place. As he got into his car, something needled him about her words. “It was ugly,” became a refrain playing over and over in his head. As Dalton drove back home to the place he and Bauer had never shared, those words haunted him. *** The library was there, in the bright sunlight of an October day, and it didn’t shimmer and blink out. It was real. The building was a lovely dark brown brick with tan sandstone accents. There was an Open sign in the window. It wasn’t a dream. After the waitress’s words, he tried doing some more painting and found he would forget what he was doing. He had suddenly realized he was just standing there with a dripping brush in hand, staring into space. Dalton realized, without knowing for certain, that the library existed during the day. He wasn’t going to get anything done, if he didn’t check it out. He washed his brushes, and drove to the place late in the afternoon. He had to see it, to know it was real and what he’d seen wasn’t imaginary. It was real, brick and mortar, and there were lights on and a woman exited the door as he sat in the parking lot watching. She was real too. She wore a red scarf over her hair, had a kind of satchel in her hand, and looked determinedly ahead as she walked to her car. Her Jeep Wrangler was black and shiny. Then she climbed in and drove away with purpose. As the woman left the lot, Dalton saw another person, a young man, pushed through the door out of the library. He was real as well, his dark hair glistened from some kind of product, the light jacket he was wearing, appropriate for the cool, autumn weather. Dalton drove off, squealing his tires on the pavement. His theory was wrong. This wasn’t a dream. He might be losing his mind. On the way back to the house, he thought about Bauer and the end of his life. It had happened unexpectedly, which was probably why his feelings were so jumbled. Jim Bauer’s diagnosis was terminal liver cancer. The tumor had already metastasized by the time they’d identified his problem. Surgeons had removed the mass, but it was too late. They started doing chemotherapy, radiation treatment, and trying to systemically stop the creeping disease that was taking over his body. His life was too precious, Bauer told Dalton. I can’t do it. He’d said. I can’t allow them to rob my last days. He stopped the treatments. Bauer spent a month working on the house. He got most of the major repairs done or arranged. Then, he’d gotten sicker. It was unexpectedly quick, even according to the doctors. The rashes, the vomiting, and even the horrific nights had made things go from depressing to manic. They told them Bauer had months. In the end, he only had weeks. As much as he hated thinking about those last days with Bauer, ill, miserable, and frantic with worry, Dalton preferred them to his loneliness now. This empty feeling that he was wandering the earth alone and without a reason for it. When he parked the SUV near the front door of their, no, his house, he glanced up looking for signs of Bauer’s work, what he’d done in those last days. It wasn’t obvious, at first, but then he noticed the fresh, new wood fastened on the second step on the stairs leading to the porch. On the second story, he could see paint, fresher and more vibrant on the sills around a bedroom window. Climbing out of the driver’s seat, Dalton felt better now. Jim was here with him. He’d worked on the house, making it safe and secure. His love had prepared things so he wouldn’t drown in the weight of it all. If Bauer was anything, he was loving and considerate, and now he could see things weren’t as dire as he’d thought. The sleepless nights, sounds morphing into eerie hauntings, and the sense things weren’t right, were all in his imagination. Bauer had made things right, before he’d gone. Everything would be fine. *** The banging of the pipes and the weird, windy sounds were even worse. Dalton tried covering his ears with the pillow, tossing and turning, then looking at the clock again. It was just after midnight. The night was calm and quiet outside. There were no whooshing sounds of the wind, so it wasn’t the weather making those awful noises. The trees were still, not moving about, yet below him were the voices of an old house. Obviously, the pipes were clanking from the hot water gushing through them and the radiators were banging and gasping because of air pockets and the annoying vagaries of physics and metallurgy. Dalton climbed out of bed, pulled on sweatpants, and stretched. He was so tired. Every muscle ached. That’s when the pipes banged again, even louder, jolting him from his thoughts. A long, low groaning sound came from downstairs. He grabbed a hoodie and put it on. With an exaggerated yawn, he made his way to the stairs. The house was creaking and settling, he figured as he descended, first the main stairway, and then through the living room into the kitchen. The gloomy glow of the moon made the tile floors glisten like silver. The space smelled of clove and cinnamon from the cider he’d drank before bed. Perhaps the spice was making him wake in the middle of the night, though his stomach was calm except for the tightness of his anxiety. The steps down to the creepy basement, really a root cellar with cement walls, were somewhat steep. He held onto the bannister as he walked down, step by step, to the concrete floor. He edged to the middle, feeling for the string dangling down. Pulling on it, the room was flooded with light, showing a washer and dryer in the corner, a couple of shelving units, and squatting a few feet away were the furnace and hot water heater. It was a small space, barely fitting in the confined area. The white painted wall only a couple of yards long, cut off half of the basement. That was the cistern, an old archaic water storage system. The water from the roof was carefully funneled to the cavernous container. This had provided soft water for washing clothes and bathing. Well water was fine for drinking, according to Bauer, but it made clothes stiff and soap hard to wash off. Bauer had explained the whole contraption to him. Before he died, he’d disconnected the down spouting from the cistern, and drained it. The room-sized place was empty now. It was like his heart felt, Dalton thought. Looking around, Dalton saw pipes running from the furnace and hot water heater through joists in the ceiling. There was a large one that came from the upstairs straight down through the floor. Another pipe ran at an angle, joining the vertical pipe, and these were the combined sewage system. The main pipe was from the kitchen directly above and the other came from the three bathrooms on the other side of the house. It disappeared in the ceiling above the cistern. Dalton listened for the banging sound, but it had stopped. As he came down the stairs, the clanging pipes had seemed louder. Now it was quiet. There were no sounds except the soft exhale of the furnace as it kicked on. The gas ignited, heating the water, and the pump then sent the warmth throughout the house, like the heart does with blood. The furnace was running now and he could hear the faint sound of water rushing through the system, but no clanking. There wasn’t any banging either. He'd call a plumber in the morning. Or was it a heating guy? Whatever it was, he had to get it fixed. These sleepless nights were killing him. His tiredness and fatigue were causing him to question if a library was real or if he was being haunted by his dead partner. These things were symptoms of an exhausted mind, and nothing else. After shutting off the light, he climbed the stairs cautiously and in spite of himself, listened very carefully for the sounds that did not come. *** Dalton sat in the parking lot looking at the brownstone building in a daze. Once again, he’d been awakened by the sounds of clanging pipes and now there was screeching. He felt like he was losing his mind. Thinking back, he considered the conversation only this morning. “Mr. Dalton, it’s not your pipes that’re making sounds. I checked them real careful, and they aren’t the problem.” The furnace guy had a furry, black beard, with just enough gray to give him credence. He was pot-bellied, but he scurried down the steps to the basement without hesitation. Dalton watched him crawl into the attic, follow the pipes as they meandered throughout the house. He’d used some kind of device and a bucket on the radiators. He’d tapped on things and tugged. Every few minutes, he’d grunt or sigh, but those were his only utterances until then. The guy seemed very positive, sure of himself. “It’s loud enough to wake me up at night,” Dalton argued again. He’d already told the man, Vince Graham, the same story a few times. “Listen, you only get those sounds from two different things. First,” the man held up a finger, “it can be vibrations from the water moving through the pipes and the brackets that don’t hold them tight enough. The pipes will jiggle and make sounds that echo throughout the space. You don’t have that problem. Somebody tightened or replaced these brackets and screws. Those pipes of yours are tight and couldn’t vibrate if they wanted to.” “I’m not hearing things,” he’d said in response. Graham just shook his head. “The second way you can get noises is if there’s air in the pipes. If you get air in the pipes, they cause bubbles and when the hot water moves around corners or through the radiators, it can make the metal vibrate. I tried to bleed any air from these pipes, but they’re clear. Somebody already did it. The system you’ve got is perfectly sound. It shouldn’t make any noises.” “There has to be something.” The furnace guy shrugged his shoulders. He placed his folded hands on his belly and answered, “These old houses can creak and settle a bit when the weather changes. You’ll get used to it.” Then, tonight it had gotten worse. There was no way a house could settle enough to make the banging sounds or the wailing he’d woken up to. What was more unnerving was he could hear the sounds come from below his bedroom. There weren’t any pipes or anything underneath his bed. The only thing down there was the cistern. The empty cistern with thick concrete walls wouldn’t screech or clang. There was nothing to make any sounds down there. He’d checked before he finally got into his vehicle and left. Now he was sitting here gazing at the golden light spilling from the windows of the library. It looked so peaceful and cozy inside. The last of the leaves were falling down in the brisk wind and they swirled in the parking lot. It was lovely, yet also haunting. The brown crackling leaves were dancing and flittering in the warm light from the building, like ballerinas on a stage. Dalton knew his brain was fried. Now he was seeing dead leaves in October performing for him. Maybe if he talked to someone, he could get it out of his head and off his chest. Perhaps telling someone about the banging would let him finally sleep. He need to sleep. He was exhausted. Like in a dream, Dalton climbed out of his SUV and walked up to the front door. He opened it, and the light surrounded him. The warmth enveloped him, pulling him inside. He could smell a hint of coffee, the slightest aroma of lemon, and the faint must of old books. He heard the door shut behind him and the little bell jangled its welcome. Joe Dalton walked down through the stacks toward the desk. Behind it, sitting like he had before, was the young man. He looked up and smiled a lopsided grin. He was holding open a book, and he jumped down from the stool snapping it shut as Dalton approached. “You’re back,” he called out across the room. “I was hoping you’d visit again soon.” Dalton sighed. He now felt a little odd walking in here ready to spill his guts to a virtual stranger about his eerily loud plumbing. Obviously, this young man wouldn’t be interested in hearing about his insomnia or his nightmares about Bauer’s death, finding him dead in a tub of water tinged red with his blood. This young man had better things to do than listen to a middle-aged man whine about how he lost the love of his life. How, in the end, Bauer couldn’t take the pain, so he slit his wrists and left Dalton to clean up the mess, literally. “Did you enjoy the book?” Dalton didn’t know what he was talking about at first. Then he remembered the book he’d checked out a couple of days ago. He hadn’t even cracked it open. His obsession with figuring out the house noises had consumed his attention. Finding his voice, he answered. “I haven’t had a chance to read it.” “Oh,” the young man answered. “I’m sure you’ll enjoy it when you have time.” Dalton nodded and wiped his cheek. “Are you okay?” the librarian asked. “Are you upset about something?” Dalton didn’t answer. He just stood there, feeling overwhelmed and overtaken. “Come here,” the young man said, coming around the desk. Dalton watched as he placed the book on the counter. The librarian held his arms wide open, and drew closer to him. The young man looked so attractive and strong. Dalton felt him close in, those arms encircled him. Dalton hugged back, squeezing him tightly. After a moment, the young man relaxed his arms and pulled back a little. Dalton looked into his eyes, brown and liquid, and saw his reflection. The young man’s lips parted. Dalton leaned closer and they kissed. At first it was just the press of dry, warm, soft lips together, but the young man’s head moved. His tongue flickered at Dalton’s mouth, and he opened to respond. The kiss grew in passion, becoming more intimate until a thrill ran through the young man’s body. Dalton could feel it pass through and between them. The young man pulled away. His cheeks were pink and his grin was shy now. He licked his lips and said, “Thank you. My first kiss.” Dalton closed his eyes and heard the last words from Spencer, “Now I can go.” Everything went away, and the world went dark. Around him, the air seemed to rush, moving away from him. The warm arms of Spencer disappeared, their heat and pressure winking away. The smell of old leather and dust drifted away. He sensed the world changed, irrevocably. There was nothing around him but the shadows of the parking lot lights and the dark shades crowding them as his eyes closed shut. *** When he opened them again, he was sitting in his car. The brownstone had vanished. There was a graveyard there instead. He looked around, panicked. There were no buildings around here at all. He looked down and saw he was holding something. It was a book. It was the book he’d checked out from that library. It was from the librarian who kissed him, the one who handed him this book. There was no library or librarian now. There were only tombstones and brown grass and swirling oak leaves. He looked around the cemetery through the glass, noticing the names etched in stone. Next to his car was an old stone marker, weathered, and the name on it was, Reed Parker. An old oak leaned over the cemetery, bowing with respect over the graves. Native plants grew crouched at the oak’s roots also mourning the long dead. The morning sun was rising, and given his vehicle’s orientation, it made the markers shine brightly in the light. It was lovely and serene, and Dalton stretched his neck, his back, and finally his shoulders. In his hands was the book, a paperback. It was heavily stressed with bulges and spaces. Dalton looked down and noticed there was something in the book, a marker of some kind. He opened it and pulled the slip of newsprint out. It was a news story on old paper, yellowed and torn on the sides. The headline read, “Teen Found Drowned in Hazing Accident.” It was dated, 1982. Dalton blinked, and continued to read. “In a possible college fraternity hazing episode gone awry, freshman pledge Todd Spencer was found dead in a cistern in the basement of the Sigma Kau house just off the campus of St. Augustus College. Spencer had been last seen with his sponsor, James Bauer. Bauer is being interviewed by the police. Some of Spencer’s family members have suggested this was the fault of the fraternity’s initiation program. The college has denied that any of their fraternal organizations use hazing rituals. They have promised a full investigation after the police investigation has concluded. The night before Spencer was found, there were heavy rains in the area. The cistern wasn’t in use by the fraternity, according to county records, but a few witnesses have suggested the large, concrete space is used occasionally as a meeting place, for reasons no one can explain. Police believe the water somehow filled the space and drowned the young man. In the meantime, authorities have closed off the fraternity house and the students are being housed in the St. Augustus dormitories. The young man was only eighteen-years-old.” After a few moments, Dalton turned the ignition, listened to the car start, and pulled out from the lot. He could feel the last remnants of his tears drying on his cheek, tugging on his skin. His husband, his Jim Bauer had been part of this somehow. His death must have triggered something, or else it was his last act of penance. Had the shade of this boy come back to torment Bauer? Was it not the pain that drove the love of his life to kill himself? Did his husband commit suicide because of Spencer? Dalton wiped the tears from his eyes as he drove down the highway. He’d never know, and that made him shiver. A phrase popped into his head. Old sins cast long shadows, or so they say. Fuck. Shade was a shadow that could be quite cold.
  5. At a time of year when the connection to other realities is stronger, who knows what will come from a stroll through the woods...
  6. Purgatory

    Bonfires and ghost stories go hand in hand, like Halloween and hauntings. Ollie's friends are telling tales, and they want to hear a real, scary story. Ollie gives them exactly what they ask for.
  7. Horrible Holiday

    Camilo had it all and tossed it away when he screwed Terry. Two months later and Halloween has rolled around bringing Desean and Camilo face to face. Is this a treat or a terrible trick of fate.
  8. Shade

    Dalton and Bauer were going to start a bed-n-breakfast, until tragedy struck. With his husband dead, Dalton is having trouble coping, and having a haunted house isn't helping.
  9. Zombies Like Us!

    Jody doesn’t need to dress up for Halloween, he’s already a zombie thanks to his ex-boyfriend who has left him for a woman. When he’s invited to the bachelor party though, he turns up prepared and ready to take revenge!
  10. Chapter 1

    I saw Richard in the corner by the window; he was wearing a suit and stood out like a sore thumb in the crowded bar. I hadn’t bothered to dress up either, but my clothes were more casual than his. I would never have allowed him to go out like that. Who wears a suit at Halloween? He was scanning the bar as I approached but clearly not for me and I was nearly in front of him when he recognized me. I could still read him so well and his expectant face dropped the second his eyes made contact, before adjusting quickly to form a fake smile. It was the kind of look that I used to give his parents whenever they dropped by unexpected. “Hey, Jody, I’m glad that you could make it,” he said, but it was a lie and we both knew it. He must have been hoping that I wouldn’t turn up. “I thought that maybe…?” “Well you thought wrong then, didn’t you,” I cut him off as he stood up to welcome me. “I wasn’t going to miss this for the world. It’s not every day your ex, gets married.” His smile was much weaker now and he must have been regretting inviting me already as he held me at arm’s length as if he was frightened that I would try to kiss him. “Are you okay?” he said looking into my eyes, but he seemed more concerned about his own well-being than my precarious state of mind and he had every reason to be worried. “Of course, Dickie. Why wouldn’t I be?” He stood back to consider my answer. He could easily have reeled off a dozen or so reasons why I wouldn’t have been okay. “Don’t call me that please, you know that I don’t like it.” “You always used to prefer Dick,” I said through gritted teeth. It was a shot across the bows; a warning of what was to follow and I executed it perfectly. He wasn’t amused and my little joke was countered by a stern expression; something more indicative of his personality. Was he expecting me to be nice to him? “You promised to behave,” he warned, almost spitting the words into my face. I had promised him a lot of things over the years, but rarely delivered and I wondered what it was that made him want to believe me all of a sudden. I wasn’t there to wish him well; I had come to cause trouble for him, to mix things up a little, and unmask him as the no-good, lying cheat that he was. Exposing him would make me feel a little better and provide some compensation for his duplicity, but it was never going to be enough to even the score and maybe I didn’t really want that. I wanted my life to return to the way it was before he walked out on me. It was the only outcome that would make me feel human again, but it was a task that seemed, at times, to be beyond the realms of possibility. There was an obstacle in the way, in the form of a female named Kate. She had wormed her way between us like a snake and then poisoned his mind to turn him against me. It was the classic betrayal and it cut to the bone, leaving me broken and inconsolable. At first, it had seemed so utterly ridiculous. Richard was gay, no woman could possibly take him from me, but I had underestimated her determination and by the time I realized what was happening it was too late. When he left he took my heart with him, and I was there that night to claim it back. That was my objective and it had been all along, I just wasn’t allowed to admit it anymore. I had to pretend that I was over him, and disguise the fact that he still dominated every aspect of my life, hi-jacking every thought, dulling my senses and corrupting my mind. It had been over a year and I was just a shell of my former self, a narcissistic wreck, with a single ambition and if I didn’t succeed I was going to take him down with me. Either way, she wasn’t going to have him! If he had known about my state of mind, then I probably wouldn’t have been invited to his bachelor party, if that was what this was, no one knew for sure and Richard had seemed hesitant when he called to invite me. I got the feeling that he was testing the waters, rumors were circulating of my recovery and my performance on the phone had been exemplary. I had arrived early, hoping to catch him on his own but his close friends were already there strategically placed either side of him like bodyguards. I recognized them straight away as they watched our poorly concealed sparring. Then, as I turned to say hello the one nearest to me, stood up to greet me with a loose hug. His name was Tommy, and he had never hugged me before. “How’s it going Jody, you look well?” I shrugged and rolled my eyes at him. Even after hours of preparation, I knew that I was a mess, but I was happy to accept his compliment, certain that they would be few and far between that night. The other guy was Isaac, the Judas. He was sitting across the table, looking nervous and he barely acknowledged my presence. The last time I saw him, I had threatened to kill him. That was a year ago but the offer still stood. I had my reasons. Before Richard left, Isaac had been instrumental in his cover-up, lying for his friend and hiding his infidelity. It was a despicable act which guaranteed him the top spot on my hate list. It wasn’t always that way, Isaac and Tommy had been friends of ours for years, but they knew Richard first and took his side when he left. I hadn’t seen either of them since the breakup, but they would have known about my hysterics. Gossip spread like wildfire in that town and it was common knowledge that I had been through the wars. Apparently, I was unhinged, unable to cope on my own and unwilling to accept the fact that he had left me. None of it was true; he hadn’t left me because he was coming back, and I could manage on my own, I just wasn’t very good at it. Richard must have wanted me there for a reason, other than simply feeling sorry for me. He wasn’t the charitable type and there was a certain risk factor that accompanied me these days which had wreaked havoc to my once busy social calendar. With so much at stake, nobody in their right mind would have invited someone as volatile and emotionally unstable as me and I foolishly saw this as confirmation that he still loved me and wanted me back. Maybe he realized his mistake and needed me to save him from a fate worse than death. It made sense to me because that’s what I wanted to believe and it gave me a lifeline to cling to, but I knew that my success would ultimately depend on my ability to control my emotions. That was the key, I needed to be more like the old me—the one that he had fallen in love with—and less like the physical and mental wreck that had inherited my body. It was a good plan but it required self-confidence and a sound mind to pull it off, and those were two of the things which he had taken from me, the day that he left. It wasn’t going to be easy. Richard, sensing my discomfort patted the seat next to him and I sat down. After a good start, I was already beginning to struggle and I must have looked nervous and uncertain. “Let me get you a drink,” he said. I badly needed one and he ordered four beers from the waiter with an axe embedded in his head. If things didn’t go my way, then Richard would be joining him by the end of the night. “We’re not actually getting married Jody; you know that just moving in together.” “Moving in together?” I repeated sarcastically. He made it sound like they were roommates. “Okay then, cohabiting, is that better. Geez, I thought that you were over this now?” “I am over it Richard,” I said, “I’ve moved on, believe me.” There was no truth in that statement whatsoever, I was nowhere near over it and had no intention of getting over it either. Not until he came crawling back to me on his hands and knees, begging for absolution. “That’s good because Kate’s going to be here later when she finishes work and I don’t want a bad atmosphere, not tonight.” His words hit me like a ton of bricks from the top of a scaffolding and sent me reeling as I desperately searched for a reasoned response. “You don’t mind do you?” Of course, I minded. Why would he even think that? I hated Kate with a passion that was impossible to disguise and he knew it. Her absence was pivotal to my success; how could I work my magic on him with her blocking my every move. I would have to re-evaluate my plan or it was doomed to fail. “You didn’t tell me that she was gonna be here,” I said trying to remain calm as my fragile life, held together with little more than hope, threatened to implode yet again. I was finding it increasingly difficult to paper over the cracks on my face and the disappointment must have been visible from outer space. It was supposed to be Richard’s bachelor party, why was she turning up? Shouldn’t she be at a hen party someplace, now I would have to dispose of two bodies, but she had given me no other choice. I may even decide to torture her first! How could he tell me that and then expect me to behave myself and not ruin his big night? It was a ridiculous request to make, he had ruined my entire life with barely a hint of an apology. “What have you been doing with yourself then?” said Tommy, and I was pleased with his timely intervention. He was leaning across the table to make himself heard above the red hot chilli peppers and spitting beer in my face. “Nothing really.” It was the truth; I honestly couldn’t think of anything to say which would have been newsworthy. I hadn’t really done anything during the last year, other than eat, breathe, work, and the occasional hours’ sleep when my mind was too exhausted to come up with any more desperate plans to get him back. “I haven’t really done a lot,” I admitted. He seemed to understand and he gave me a reassuring smile, which helped me to relax while I waited for my beer. I didn’t mind Tommy, he was laid back and had always been quite friendly to me. He had known Richard the longest and was often overshadowed by his more extrovert friend but it didn’t affect his loyalty and when my world collapsed, I got precious little sympathy from him. It would have been asking a lot, I suppose, I had always considered him to be Richard’s, right-hand man. He would be spared. He was also a bit of a dish. Well-built with a cute rounded face and a dark blonde mop. Girls would hang on his every word but Tommy wasn’t interested in playing the field, he was married to his childhood sweetheart Sandra who kept him on a tight leash and I think he liked it that way. “How’s work?” he asked but I was trying to listen to Richard’s conversation with Isaac—certain that they were talking about me—and Tommy had to repeat himself. “Yeah, we’ve been really busy.” At last, I was able to say something positive that would justify my place in the world, and the truth always seemed to roll off my tongue so well. It’s a shame that I couldn’t fall back on it more often, but that was all Richard’s fault. “I think your job is pretty cool,” he said and I smiled, everyone said that. “I don’t know how you do it though.” “You get used to it,” I said and then strained my ears as Richard shared a joke with his lizard like compatriot. It was getting ridiculous trying to listen to two conversations at once while being bombarded with heavy rock and I was forced to let one go so I dropped Tommy. Small talk was fine, but I was more interested in what Richard had to say, even if it hurt me. Especially if it hurt me. “You didn’t know that Kate was coming did you?” said Tommy and he hit the nail on the head. “I can’t believe that he invited me knowing that she would be here. Then he accuses me of starting trouble, what does he expect?” “You’re gonna have to let him go, Jody, he’s not gonna come back.” “I don’t want him back,” I said but he looked skeptical. “Have you met anyone else?” “No!” “It’s been a year.” “So, I’m hardly past my sell by date. I’m not even thirty yet.” My volume increased a notch or two and he held his hands up to show me that he was backing off. Was I really that volatile these days? The way that Tommy carefully tiptoed around the question was proof enough. “You have been acting a little— “ I gave him a hard stare. “What?” “__a little.” “Go on!” “Odd, that’s all. People are a little wary of you. They don’t know how you’re gonna react. I’ve heard that you’ve been a little unstable lately.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” He stepped back as I pounced on him threatening to bite his head off. Then realizing what I had done, I quickly receded into my shell embarrassed by my lack of control. “Sorry.” “It’s okay, you don’t need to be sorry.” He had made his point without having to explain. It’s no wonder that Richard was able to manipulate me so easily. My former partner had left us to greet more of his friends including Dennis, a guy who I had gone to school with some ten years earlier. He was my first boyfriend and the owner of the first penis that I was allowed to play with. I was surprised to see that he was back in favor. Unlike Richard, Dennis hadn’t turned straight and had been quick to criticise my boyfriend when the shit hit the fan and he decided to jump ship for a woman. When he saw me, he came over to give me a hug and a kiss on each cheek before introducing me to his Spanish boyfriend. “I heard that you’ve been going through a bad time,” he said. “He’s not worth it Jody. There are a lot better than him out there.” He smiled at his boyfriend as if to underline his point. Jose certainly looked a lot better than Richard and I wondered where Dennis had found him. “I’ve had better years, I must admit.” “I heard that you tried to kill him,” he said. “What happened?” “I threw a kitchen knife at him but missed. It was hardly attempted murder. He exaggerates everything.” “Hmm, pity though,” he said. “You could have done us all a favor.” “It’s not too late,” I said only half-joking and judging by his expression he may have believed me. Stick around after for the show! “How’s work?” he said changing the conversation and turning towards his boyfriend. “You wouldn’t believe what this guy does for a living.” Dennis was right, and Jose couldn’t guess either. Dennis was fun for a while and it felt good to have an ally amidst the sea of deserters but we soon ran out of the conversation and I couldn’t blame him for being more interested in Jose than his homicidal ex-boyfriend. Although I’m not sure if our relationship would fall under the category of boyfriends. The bar was had filled out quickly. Halloween always brought them in and there were a lot of costumes that year. Maybe I should have made an effort; I would make-up for it later. Fuelled by a couple of bottles of Dutch courage I parted company with Dennis and Jose to search for Richard. I needed to talk to him alone to present my final sales pitch. It had taken me ages to write, and I had put my heart and soul into it, leaving nothing to chance. I needed him to know how much I still loved him and that I was willing to forgive all the hurt from the past year if he would come back. I had a copy of the speech in my pocket and was considering having it framed when we got back together, but if by chance we didn’t, then it would make a fitting epitaph. My first attempt didn’t go well; it had been easy during rehearsals but I wasn’t expecting so many people. I didn’t know that Richard knew so many people. He was deliberately avoiding me, cleverly keeping out of reach and surrounding himself with friends, making it impossible to corner him. He knew what he was doing and so did everyone else, including Tommy, who came to my rescue and led me away before I was able to humiliate myself any further. I didn’t expect him to understand or to want to listen to the drivel that flowed from my mouth whenever I talked about Richard but Tommy surprised me with a gallant effort, sitting with me for a good half-an-hour while I repeated the same story a dozen times to him. With Richard giving me the cold shoulder, my carefully constructed plan was beginning to fall apart and when Isaac decided to join us, it took a Herculean effort to hold myself together. He was the last person in the world who I wanted to see me in my state and that’s probably why he was there. He took the seat next to me, to gloat and I braced myself. “So how are you feeling nowadays?” His words were insincere and his voice was condescending. I had a sudden and gut-wrenching compulsion to knock his teeth out but decided to save it for later. “Great!” I lied. “Never felt better, how are you?” Slimy little shit! “Just came back from two weeks in Tortola,” he said showing off his tan but Rod Stewart blaring from the speakers interrupted him and I pretended not to hear. “What was that?” asked Tommy leaning across to me but looking at Isaac. “He said he thinks he’s got Ebola!” Isaac didn’t hear me, which was a shame, but looked on suspiciously as Tommy stifled a laugh and the first round belonged to me. “Do you guys want another beer?” asked Isaac and I noticed Tommy’s face light up. He didn’t seem to have a problem hearing that, but I could hardly blame him for deploying selective hearing tactics against his fork-tongued friend. It was the first time that I could remember seeing Tommy in a bar without his shadow of a wife and he seemed to be making the most of his night of freedom, but It was only nine o’clock and he was already looking distant and bleary eyed. It wasn’t how I was used to seeing him, but I put it down to the alcohol and rated his chances of lasting the distance as unlikely. When he stood up to go and take a leak, I noticed him swaying and so did Isaac. “He’s gonna be wrecked,” he said. “Making the most of it I suppose. No Sandra.” I said referring to Tommy’s bossy wife. Everyone knew who the captain was on their ship. Isaac shifted a little closer and looked eager to tell me something; it had to be bad news, I could see it in his smile. “You do know that Sandra left him?” “No, how would I know that nobody talks to me anymore?” He rolled his eyes and put his hand on my shoulder. “It’s nothing personal Jody, we just don’t see you much these days,” he said. “You’re still our friend.” I wasn’t interested in what he had to say, but it was a shock to hear about Sandra, maybe that was the reason why Tommy was drinking so much. “That’s the reason why Tommy’s drinking so much,” said Isaac and I started to worry. If he could read my mind that easily, then I was in a lot of trouble. “What happened?” “She was cheating on him, he found out and she left him.” It sounded familiar. It must be contagious. “Really? There’s a lot of it going around, you know.” He ignored my sarcasm. “He’s been pretty cut up about it.” “Yeah, that’s what happens,” I said. “People get hurt, it’s not nice.” If he was expecting me to feel sorry for Tommy, then he had another thing coming. What goes around comes around and I used the opportunity to shamelessly turn the spotlight on my own still tender issues. I had promised myself earlier that I wouldn’t do that, it showed weakness, the opposite to the impression that I needed to give, but Tommy’s plight presented me with an opportunity to plow up old ground and I was unable to resist the temptation to sling some fresh mud at Richard. “He’s making a mistake by moving in with her,” I said. “He’ll regret it.” “Kate’s not a bad person,” said Isaac. “If it hadn’t been her, then it would have been another girl.” “Another girl? You still don’t get it, do you? Richard is gay he’s queer, he likes men, he’s not into women.” “Really, well you could’ve fooled me because he’s about to marry one,” he said. I could tell that he wasn’t supposed to say that, it was classified information and definitely not meant for my over sensitive ears, but it didn’t make it any easier to swallow. Richard had lied to me again. Later he would probably tell me that he did it to spare my feelings and I would have to watch Kate walk off with her prize. Over my dead body! It felt as if I had returned to the beginning, it always seemed to happen that way. Whenever I started to make progress, something would happen or someone would say something that would knock me back down again. I knew that if they got married, then I would never get him back and my tender defenses took another battering as the dull pain inside of me continued its journey to the surface. Soon it would show in my eyes, but I was determined not to cry. Not in public. Not again! After delivering the fatal blow, Isaac left to talk to Richard, perhaps to warn him of my uncertain state of mind and I saw my ex-boyfriend looking over. He seemed concerned but probably more for himself than for me. A premonition maybe; regret even, who knows. The die had been cast and what was about to happen was all his fault. It didn’t have to end this way! I ordered two beers from the mummified waitress and waited for Tommy to return, I wanted to talk to someone nice before finishing it all and for some reason I liked him. He had been good to me that night and the only genuine one amongst them. When he didn’t return, I went to search for him and found him propping up the bar talking to Dorothy from the Wizard of OZ. He was upset and it looked as if the girl was comforting him; Tommy had his own problems to deal with and I couldn’t blame him for forgetting about me or maybe he was fed up of listening to me rattling on about how bad I had it. Not wanting to interrupt his private moment I turned to walk away but he saw me and called me over to introduce us. Her name was Rhea and she already knew me. “I’ve seen some of your work at the museum,” she said, which surprised me, they never credited us for our work. On another day, I would have talked to her and perhaps bored the living daylights out of her, but I wasn’t in the mood to discuss anything and I wasn’t even sure if there would be any other days. “I don’t know how he does it, but I know he’s very good,” said Tommy but he could see my tears. “Are you okay?” “What are you working on at the moment?” she asked and I had to think about it. I had been off work for most of the previous week, depressed. “Richard,” I said finally, “I’ve been working on him.” There was an uncomfortable silence before Tommy started laughing and then Rhea joined in but it wasn’t meant to be funny. My job had been the only positive aspect of my dull life and I had submerged myself in after our split, but now it that wasn’t enough. The bitterness had consumed everything in my life; I was the only thing that remained and soon I would be gone too. When we were joined by the Tin Man I made my exit, slipping away to visit the John where I splashed water on my face and stood in front of the mirror. Tommy was right, I had changed and everyone could see it. I looked drawn, pale, and gaunt as if the blood had been drained from my body. I could easily have passed for a dead person. A zombie. I had the look! The face of someone whose life had been torn apart by the deceitful actions of a person who I loved and trusted implicitly. It was impossible to explain to anyone who hadn’t lived through it themselves. Something as destructive and as painful as any illness, that wipes clean every optimistic thought and leaves you belligerently clinging to whatever remains of your once contented world. Utter despair caused by the realization that you no longer have any control and a feeling of worthlessness, accompanied by an unrelenting and agonizing dull pain that never recedes. You just learn to live with it and accept it. I had been waking up to that feeling every day now for over a year. I didn’t need a costume or fake blood, I was the real thing, a zombie, one of the walking dead who everyone else avoided! I had been slowly drowning in self-pity for over a year and there was no point in torturing myself any further. I walked casually to the exit, where a pirate held the door open for me and Dracula told me to have a great evening. They were the security and they knew me well, I was unlikely to be searched on my way back in. “I’m coming back,” I said. “I just need to get something from my car.” They were too busy eyeing up Catwoman to bother about a harmless queen like me. It couldn’t have been any more perfect. Halloween, the place was already covered in blood and guts, Richard’s brains were about to be added to the mix followed inevitably now by mine. He had signed both our death certificates and it was fitting that we should leave this world together. When I reached my car and opened the trunk, I was openly crying, there wasn’t much point in hiding it anymore. I didn’t care what anyone thought. They could talk about this night for years to come, but not Richard. He was coming with me! In the trunk there was an otter that I had been working on and an overnight bag which stared ominously at me. I had filled it with some of Richard’s old clothes which he hadn’t collected. Somewhere in that bag underneath those rags was the final solution to my problem. A Beretta semi-automatic pistol. The guy who sold it to me thought it was good. It was used by the military and the LAPD. He said it was simple; just aim and fire. He did the checks, I got my license and picked it up a few days earlier. It was easy; he didn’t even ask me why I wanted it, or why I only needed one clip of ammunition. As much as I hated his friends, I didn’t want to waste bullets on them. I had fifteen rounds but if it went to plan I would only need two. How difficult could it be? Just aim and fire! I had a quick look around me before picking it up. It fit my hand perfectly, but I had never fired a gun before. It had been in the car since I bought it because I was too scared to take it indoors. I didn’t want to have to stare at my own noose! My hand was shaking as I lifted the gun to locate the safety switch. He had given me a quick demonstration in the store, but it was daylight and he was able to keep it still. I was all over the place and it was too dark to see anything. Oh, God. How am I going to do this if I can’t stop shaking? Just aim and fire! I would probably only get one chance. Just aim and fire! “Jody, wait! Where are you going?” I jumped at the sound of Tommy’s voice behind me. When I spun around I had the gun in my hand. “Whoa. Shit!” He ducked in front of me and I dropped the gun in the trunk. “Tommy!” “What the fuck are you doing, man? Are you crazy?” “Yes, can’t you tell?” I covered my face with my hands and fell to my knees sobbing uncontrollably. “What are you doing with a gun?” “I’m sorry.” Tommy may not have been the sharpest knife in the drawer but it didn’t take much working it out. “No way.” He started to shake his head. “You’re not, you weren’t, you can’t be serious? Oh my God…why?” “Why? What do mean why?” I was kneeling in a puddle in a damp parking lot bawling my eyes out. I was a complete wreck. “Look at me, Tommy. Look at what he’s done to me. It was the only thing that I have left to fight him with. He’s taken everything else from me. I hate him!” “It doesn’t mean you have to kill him.” “Why not? He killed me and it’s been a slow painful death. You don’t understand.” “I do,” he said. “I’m hurting too.” I had forgotten about his pain, it hadn’t been important to me, but as my tears began to dry up, he knelt in front and put his arms around me. I cried some more. “I’m sorry.” “It’s okay, it doesn’t matter.” “I’m crazy.” He tightened his grip. “It’s okay.” I cried some more, “I hate myself.” “Don’t. You don’t have to hate yourself, you’ve done nothing wrong.” “I was gonna kill him.” “I know, it’s okay.” “I hate him, Tommy.” “I know you do.” “It’s only because I love him though, and he hurt me, and it still hurts, and it will always hurt.” He held my wet face with his palms against my cheeks and looked into my eyes but I could barely see him through the tears. “It won't hurt forever,” he said. “I promise.” Then he hugged me again and rubbed my back. His embrace was firm and comforting and I could have stayed there forever. I had missed being hugged more than anything else, yet I hadn’t even noticed it until then. “You can let me go now,” I said, but I was only being polite, it wasn’t what I wanted. He didn’t move; maybe he hadn’t heard me or maybe he didn’t want to hear me. He may have saved my life or even prevented a mass shooting, but all I could think of was how nice he smelled. It was a fragrance which I didn’t recognize, mixed with a definite man odor and as intoxicating as any of the beers that I had downed earlier. I had no idea why he was still holding me, but I liked it and I got the feeling that he did too. Maybe he needed it as much as I did, why wouldn’t he? He’s straight but human. I guess straight guys need hugs too and it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a guy or a girl. Just a few minutes before, I was about to kill somebody and then take my own life. By comparison, everything else seemed petty and insignificant. He finally let go of me and we stood up when a group of party goers walked past us through the parking lot. A collection of zombies, and walking dead, accompanied by an Indian Chief and a guitar strumming Mexican bandit. I wanted to go to that party! They must have thought that we were up to something naughty as we stood up quickly and straightened ourselves out but their jibes were friendly and although Tommy may have been embarrassed, I quite liked being the focus of their attention in that way. Even if we weren’t doing what they thought we were doing. The fact that they thought it in the first place was enough to excite me and make me blush. When did that last happen to me? “I’m sorry Tommy, I’ve cried on your shirt and made it wet.” “I don’t think it matters what we look like tonight,” he said and smiled as a gorilla walked past us. I could see his point, and smiled, the last job that I did was a gorilla. “I should go home,” I said, but he didn’t agree. “No way, you’re staying with me. I’m not letting you go home alone and kill yourself. You’re not in the right frame of mind at the moment.” He gave me a look designed to show that he meant business, but he was too cute to pull it off and his eyes were too big. Wow, were they ever big, and deep brown. I wondered why I hadn’t noticed them before. I swallowed and wiped my eyes, as I tried not to stare at him. I liked what he had said about staying with me; it made me feel wanted, secure, looked after. Whatever it was, it was million times better than being alone and incomparable with the way that I was feeling when I left the bar. “So what now?” I said. Was he expecting me to go home with him? That would be weird, but probably innocent. “It’s too early to go home and I definitely need another drink.” I did too and I was getting cold in just my t-shirt. He held my forearms. “You’re shaking.” “You should have seen me when I was holding the gun. I probably wouldn’t have hit anyone, even if I had emptied the magazine.” “Or you could have killed a dozen innocent people!” He was right and I felt ashamed, but I couldn’t resist a little joke as we walked back to the bar. “Ah come on Tommy, there are no innocent people in there and you know it!” He laughed but he was still nervous and I couldn’t blame him for that. “Didn’t you bring a jacket?” “It’s in the bar, I was going back, remember. Not that I would’ve needed it.” He grabbed my arm and pulled me towards the bushes at the side of the bar, where we were couldn’t be seen by the security. “What are you doing?” “I’m sorry Jody,” he said, “don’t think bad of me but I have to do this.” When he looked into my eyes and put his arms around me, I sighed and did the same waiting for him to kiss me. Instead, he pulled away. “What are you doing?” “What are you doing?” I said. “I’m searching you, what did you think I was doing? I’m sorry but I wanna make sure that you don’t have any more weapons on you.” I scowled and held my arms out for him to finish the job. “Go on then, officer. I’m clean.” He gave me a strange look and smiled at me before running his hands down my sides, around my back and then down my legs. I couldn’t help smiling though at our misunderstanding and when he squeezed my ass, I was sure that he knew what he was doing to me. What am I thinking, I know he’s straight? “Argghhh! What did you do that for?” “People hide weapons around their crotch,” he said. “And I wanted to see if you were packing.” Maybe he wasn’t as straight as I thought, he just squeezed my balls and what did he mean by packing? “Satisfied now?” I said folding my arms in front of me and trying to look mean. “Nope. It’s gonna take more than that to satisfy me.” He walked away leaving me pondering. “What are you saying that I’m small?” He held his hands up. “Are you?” “I don’t think so.” “What are you worried about then?” “I’m not.” He smiled as he held the door open for me and we were hit by a wall of noise. They had turned up the volume and changed the music to dance. It was wild in there but my mind was still trying to work out that sexy smile of his. I had been out of action for a while but that expression said only one thing. I just needed to know why he was doing it. “Are you feeling better now?” he said, spitting into my ear and I nodded. “You’re not gonna try to kill Richard are you?” “No,” I said. “I’m not gonna kill anyone.” I don’t think he heard me but it didn’t matter. Richard and his merry men weren’t that important to me anymore. “Can I trust you on your own while I go to the john.” I smiled. “I don’t think so. I can kill using my hands you know.” He laughed and grabbed my arm. “Okay, you’re coming with me then.” I followed Tommy into the toilet and watched him pee. I had to; he took the only free urinal and Superman next to him was having problems putting his dick away. He blamed the suit before winking at me as he left. I was still shaking from the episode outside and struggled to control my breathing, it took me forever to pee and when I did, I could hardly keep my hand still. Tommy didn’t wait so I caught up with him at the bar. “Did you see Superman wink at me?” “You wish,” he said. “Honestly, I think he liked me.” “Don’t be so surprised, there’s nothing wrong with you.” “I’m a zombie,” I said. “Richard did this to me.” He handed me a beer and gave me that smile again. “You don’t look that bad for a zombie.” Was Tommy hitting on me? I wasn’t sure anymore; it didn’t make any sense at all. “You didn’t have to buy me another beer.” “I didn’t. I put it on Richard’s tab. I saved his life; the least he could do is buy us a drink.” Richard owed me a lot more than that, but it was a start and the first move in my direction for a long time. “I would’ve done it you know; I was ready to die. You stopped me.” “Then maybe you weren’t supposed to die just yet. Maybe you can find something worth living for, and then you can kill Richard in a different way by shutting him out of your life altogether.” “He’s getting married.” “I know,” he said. “And she’s gonna show up here tonight.” “You don’t have to talk to her.” “Don’t worry, I won't.” I would have preferred to chew on razor blades than talk to her. “He made the wrong decision Jody, I know it. It’ll be his loss and someone else’s gain.” “I don’t know what you mean.” “It means you’re a nice guy and there are people out there who like nice guys.” Whatever he was trying to say it made me feel almost human. “Thank you, you’ve made me feel a lot better.” His face glowed at my compliment and he beamed another dazzling smile. Does he ever stop smiling? “Richard doesn’t control you anymore,” he said. “And if you really wanted to hurt him and get your own back for all the bad things he did, then just be happy.” I scoffed and took a large gulp of my beer. “Be happy?” “Yep.” I loved the way that said that he had a deep voice, very masculine. It made me shiver. “You think it’s that simple?” “It’s not hard.” I don’t know why I giggled at that comment or why I couldn’t meet his eyes. “Maybe for you it isn’t. You’re probably stronger than me, you’ve handled it better.” “I take it you know about Sandra then?” I had been wondering when he was going to tell me, and I was glad that I didn’t have to dig it out of him. “Yes, I’m sorry.” “You don’t have to be. You weren’t the one who was fucking her.” Apparently, though, I was the only one who wasn’t. As he talked me through a list of her previous misdemeanors his face dropped and it was clear that he was still hurting. I was the wrong person to give advice but I was keen to avoid the corny clichés which I had always hated, endeavoring instead to keep it real. I felt I owed him that much at least. “You hide it well,” I said. “I’ve been a little fucked up for a while though.” “Join the club.” I had been more than a little fucked up and for a good deal longer. He was still in the early stages, a relative novice. “It gets a lot worse,” I said. “Believe me.” “Thanks for cheering me up buddy.” “Just making you aware, so you know what to expect. Have you gone through the suicide phase yet?” “No, I guess I’ve been lucky.” “You will. I tried it three times.” “You’re kidding me?” “No, I’m serious. Obviously, I didn’t try for real, I didn’t want to die. I was just faking it, you know, to get him to feel sorry for me.” He laughed. “Sorry, Richard told me that you jumped in front of a bus. He was really upset when he found out. You must have been hurt?” “I would’ve been if it had been moving at the time,” I said and he nearly collapsed with laughter. “The driver had stopped for lunch, but I did sprain my ankle and had to have a day off work.” “That’s so funny,” he said and he held onto my arm as he tried to control his laughing. He was creating a bit of a scene. That was usually my prerogative. “What’s up with him?” asked Wonder Woman behind the bar. “His wife left him and I was just telling him about my suicide attempt.” It was Halloween, what did she expect? ----- When I saw Richard again, he was looking pensive. He had a lot to be grateful for but he didn’t know it. It could have been a lot worse for him. Kate must have been late because he kept checking the watch that I had bought him and looking at his phone in case he missed a call. During the six years that we were together, I had never kept him waiting, not even once and he knew it. We were standing out the back on the patio, it was a smoking area and Richard was a packet a day man, but I had gone out there with Tommy to get some fresh air. It was his decision but he dragged me with him, unwilling to allow me out of his sight and hovering behind me when I approached my ex-partner. I didn’t mind, being shadowed by him, after a year of solitude I would have gladly paid someone to do that. If anyone was surprised it was Richard who may have been able to read my smug expression as I flaunted my new found friendship in front of him and gloated over his absent fiancée. I guess it was okay for him to do it, but not anyone else. When the Grim Reaper joined us on the patio, it presented me with a glaring opportunity which I couldn’t resist. “Here’s Kate now,” I said loud enough for everyone to hear. It got a few laughs but Richard wasn’t amused, which made it even funnier. “I’m surprised she got in without a costume.” He glared at me before leaving to go back inside, but I also noticed him looking at Tommy and I was trying to decipher what his expression meant. Disappointment maybe, whatever it was, it wasn’t friendly but Tommy didn’t seem too concerned and that was all that mattered. ----- On the way back, he walked behind me as we followed the line through the narrow corridor that connected the patio to the main bar. There were two lines of traffic moving in each direction but the restrooms up ahead were causing congestion and we came to a standstill. I was squashed up against a young girl in front and she turned her head to show me her displeasure but there was little that I could do with Tommy’s large frame pressed against me. “You’re safe with me; it’s just my wallet you can feel.” She smiled, taking the edge off an embarrassing situation and I felt Tommy laughing behind me. Either that or we were having sex, it was difficult to tell, it had been so long. “He does this for a living, you know?” added Tommy, but she looked bemused and I wondered how being squashed in a crowd of partygoers could possibly resemble my job. I paid no attention when he rested his head against mine, it would have been easy with his height advantage, but I wasn’t expecting him to put his arm around me. It didn’t bother me, but it definitely wasn’t normal behavior for a man who had always been straight or at least given the impression that he was. It was different in the parking lot; he was up against a homicidal maniac with a gun. He probably would have done anything to placate me, but this was as blatant a cuddle as you could get and it brought a few interesting looks from those around us. I always enjoyed that kind of attention but I didn’t expect it to sit too well with my gay leaning straight friend. We were going to have to talk about it. When the bottleneck cleared, Tommy no longer had an excuse to hold me but once again, he seemed reluctant to let me go. We found a clearing at the bar and stood to face each other. I wasn’t sure what was happening to me or why I was hot all of a sudden, but when I looked at Tommy’s face I was certain that it wasn’t just me. He looked flustered and out of sorts tripping over his words like a goofy teenager as asked me if wanted another drink. I had had enough beer and I thought that maybe that was the reason why I was feeling so heady all of a sudden. If I was drunk though, then it was a different drunk from anything that I had experienced in the past because I seemed to be in full control of my faculties. I decided that it wasn’t the drink when he used his thumb to rub away some dirt from around my eye, remnants of my tears, but he did it in a way that no straight guy would ever do. It was my turn to buy and I was eyeing the top shelf. “Why don’t we have a cocktail instead?” I had enjoyed them in the past when Richard and I used to have fun, but I had never seen Tommy drink anything other than beer. He surprised me. “Would you prefer a slow screw or a suck, bang, and blow?” In my sordid past, I would have insisted on trying both but I felt like a bit of a novice again so I decided to take it easy if that was even possible with this guy. “I’ll have sex on the beach instead,” I said reading the menu. Tommy was doing an admirable job of keeping a straight face. “I’m game if you are,” he said and I got the feeling that he was no longer joking. Was I really flirting with Richard’s friend, a married man who I had known for years? A guy who used to visit with his wife and fall asleep the moment the movie started. It was too ridiculous to even think about, but it didn’t stop me from feeling randy and the cocktails only intensified it. That was my plan. “Was that your first time,” he said as I made short work of the vodka and peach schnapps. I nodded, burped and was nearly sick. “Why is it called sex on the beach, I don’t see the connection?” “Because if you drink it you’re fucked.” “But why the beach?” “Have you ever done it on a beach?” “No, there are no beaches around here.” “I think we should have one more.” I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to stretch to another but when he asked me if I wanted a blow job? I nearly choked. “You really shouldn’t be offering blowjobs to drunk gay guys who haven’t had sex in…over a year,” I said. “You’re kidding me?” “Actually it’s been exactly thirteen months and twelve days.” He looked as if he didn’t believe me but I probably could have worked out the hours and minutes for him if he had wanted. Richard of course, hadn’t stopped to catch his breath, he had had too much sex, and for a while he had seen action on both fronts, dating her and living with me. It was being played for a fool that hurt me the most. “We have to get you laid,” he said. “Straight away.” ‘I was certainly up for it and it was beginning to show. It had been a long time since I had suffered an embarrassing stiffie in public and it was a welcome sight. It was also the first time that Tommy had affected me in that way. ---- It must have been late because the music was off and the bar was clearing when I found Dennis and Jose. “You look fucked, where have you been?” “Thanks, Dennis, I’ve just had a blow job and sex on the beach with Tommy over there.” You could have parked a family sized car in his mouth when as it dropped open and his eyes darted between Tommy and me. My blonde haired friend was standing with his back to us talking to a clown, there were a few of them around and another one was about to join the fray as Richard approached. I could tell that he wasn’t enjoying himself, and my mind kept drifting back to what Tommy had said earlier. Something about his loss and somebody’s gain, what did he mean by that? “You’ll have to excuse my ex-partner,” I said as he walked away looking despondent. “He’s having trouble adjusting to a life without dick.” “You seemed to have brightened up a little,” said Dennis. “I told you, all you needed was some sex. We need to start hanging around with these guys Jose. Sounds like they’re having fun. Tommy’s straight though right?” “Who knows, I honestly couldn’t tell you right now.” “Oh my God, you can’t be serious…isn’t he married?” I explained his situation to an increasingly wide-eyed Dennis but he was drifting in and out of focus as we talked and I was beginning to regret ordering the cocktails. The last thing that I needed was another beer, but Tommy put one in my hands anyway, claiming that it would straighten me out. “I don’t wanna be straight,” I said but it was cold and wet and I was too far gone to know better. It was always best to stay away from me when I was like that but Tommy stayed close because he felt that he had to. He must have realized that I was barely capable of standing up and more of a danger to myself than anyone else. “Tommy, we need to talk, before I get drunk.” He laughed as I stared at him but I was trying to work out which one of him was real. “What do you wanna talk about?” “You're trying to get me drunk.” “Is that what you think?” “Uh huh.” I grabbed his arm to steady myself. “But it’s not working.” “It’s not?” “No, because I know what you’re up to.” “You do?” “Yesh and stop moving around when I’m talking to you.” “You’re the one who’s moving Jody.” He was right and I had grab hold of Dennis to steady myself. “You’re not going to puke are you?” “Of course not!” “Is he okay?” I was wondering how he did that without moving his mouth, when I saw Richard standing next to me, with Kate behind him. When did she get here? “What do you fucking want?” I was talking to both of them, but it would have been no more than he expected. “Maybe we should call him a cab?” he said but when he took my beer away I grabbed it back from him. “I’ll take care of him,” said Tommy. “Yessh,” I said. “He’s gonna take care of me.” I slammed my foot down to make my point and leaned into his face. With no more entertainment we were picking up an audience and I knew that Richard hated this kind of attention. “Don’t embarrass yourself, Jody.” It rang a bell, he would always say that, but what he meant was don’t embarrass him. I always did that anyway, and that night I would do it again, for old times’ sake. “You were very lucky tonight,” I slurred and as Tommy tried to drag me away. “Jody come on, let’s go.” “No, let me finish,” I said. “I’ve got something to shay to him and that bitch!” I had the courage, I had the words. I looked at Richard, I looked at Tommy then smiled and hit the deck. “Is he okay?” “He’s hammered!” “Take him outside. Give him some fresh air.” “Is that Jody?” “How did he get so drunk?” “I should’ve known that this would happen!” “Fuck off, Richard. Leave him alone. It’s all your fault anyway!” “I’ll take him home.” “Leave him where he is. It’ll teach him a lesson.” “I’ll teach you a lesson asshole.” “Tommy don’t.” ---- “Hey buddy, are you okay?” It was Tommy and I wondered what he was doing in my house. I tried hard to focus but my eyesight was blurred. He was smiling at me and holding a cup of something hot. It wasn’t one of my cups and it definitely wasn’t my room or my bed. I sat up straight and looked around me in panic as he laughed. “You’re in my house,” he said. “You passed out.” I could remember shouting at Richard, but not much else after that. I looked at the bed and then at him, he was wearing a t-shirt and sweat pants; I didn’t seem to be wearing anything other than my boxer shorts. “You’re in my bed,” he smiled. “I slept in the spare room.” I was glad he said that and I nodded and scratched my head. “You’re clothes are in the washing machine. You can borrow some of mine if you wanna get up. I made you a coffee.” “Thank you,” I croaked. “You can talk after all?” “What happened to your eye?” It looked red and sore. “I got into a little scuffle with your ex after you collapsed.” “Richard?” “Don’t panic, he’s okay, he may have a black eye, that’s all.” I couldn’t help giggling, I wish I had seen it. “Actually Tommy, I was more worried about you.” It brought a smile from him that seemed to light up the room. Was he always so adorable? How come I never noticed? I reached for the coffee that he had placed on the nightstand. There was a photograph behind it of Sandra and him when they were younger. We still needed to talk; I wanted to know where I stood. “Do you miss her?” It was a stupid question. “Yeah, I miss her being here, I miss her company, her cooking.” “I get that you’re lonely, I am too, but do you miss her?” He knew what I meant. “We weren’t a couple for a long time, we didn’t even share the same bed, she slept in the spare room. We’ve been separated for about five years now. It was convenient that way and it paid the bills, but a few months back she found out that I was seeing somebody and she took off.” “You told me that it was her who was screwing around.” “It was Jody, believe me, she’s been fooling around for years, but I didn’t care because we weren’t together.” “Then why was she so bothered about you?” It didn’t make sense, maybe I was too hung over for all this? He took his time answering. “Because it was a guy who I was dating.” “You had a boyfriend?” I didn’t want to look shocked but I was. Until yesterday, I had never had any doubts about his sexuality. He was always straight and everyone knew it. He still looked agitated, there was something else, and I started to think that maybe he was still seeing this guy. My heart sank again to the pit of my stomach. After giving me hope, it would have been cruel to have found out that he was already taken, especially after revealing to me that he was gay. “Are you still seeing him?” I battened down the hatches and prepared myself for the worst. If I had had the time I would have prayed. “Oh God no, it was only for a few weeks and it was the only time that I’ve ever been with a guy.” I breathed out and he could see my relief and smiled. “Honestly?” I smiled. “Just the one guy?” “Yes!” “I’m not gonna make a claim like that, but I guess I wasn’t married either.” I laughed and flirted with him, his confession would have bored most priests. “Do you like me, Jody?” What kind of question is that? “Yes, of course, I like you. I think you’re nice looking and I liked the way you treated me last night. You made me feel human again…you saved my life…and you got into a fight for me.” I wasn’t in the mood for games, I needed him to know how I felt. “Well I guess you know that I like you, I made it pretty clear last night, so maybe we could get together sometime, you know, go out someplace?” “Yeah, that would be cool, when did you have in mind?” “How about Friday?” How about now? “Yeah, Friday’s good for me.” I was excited, felt dizzy, and started to laugh. I might have been still drunk. “What’s so funny?” “I dunno, I just feel a bit silly. I mean I’m sitting in your bed arranging a date with you.” “Oh, I guess it is a little odd.” I was blushing too and if I was going to wet myself soon. “I need to use your bathroom.” He stood up quickly and apologized before directing me along the hall and politely turning his back as I jumped out of bed in my underwear. When I reached the bathroom I had to stop myself from shouting at the top of my voice. “Tommy and Jody, Jody and Tom.” It had a nice ring to it. I laughed for as long as it took me to pee and then smiled at myself in the mirror. I still looked like a zombie, but a happy one and I was sure that would change once I got some sex under my belt. It must be like riding a bike, you don’t forget do you? Whatever, that could wait, I was in no hurry. I walked back in and sat down on the bed giggling at his prudish behavior. I suppose he was trying to be a gentleman. “You can look if you want,” I said. “I’m not that shy and I’m guessing it was you who undressed me last night?” He shrugged his shoulders and gave me a naughty smile. “Yeah, I thought as much.” “Your clothes were a little grubby.” “It’s okay, I don’t mind, I was a zombie remember. I just wished you had woken me up before taking my clothes off.” He laughed. “I tried to, believe me, I did.” “Damn those cocktails!” Tommy searched his drawers and found me something to wear but he was still acting a little pensive like something was bothering him. Was I missing something important? I was sitting on his bed pulling on a t-shirt when he came over and sat next to me. “Jody, there’s something else I have to tell you, and it’s important that I tell you now before you find out from someone else.” I froze and stared at him. I knew it was too good to be true. Is it just my luck? Has he got a terminal illness, is he gonna die soon? Is he wanted by the FBI?” “I don’t know how to say this, but it’s the only way and before you start screaming at me, I want you to know that I’m only saying this because I want to be with you. I hope that you’re still willing to give it a chance.” “Oh my God, what have you done?” If it’s anything to do with kids or dead people, then I’m outta here! “The guy who I was seeing when Sandra found out…was Richard.” It took me a while for it to sink in and we sat in silence for a good minute as I tried to work it all out. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to hit him or kiss him. I was shell-shocked, numb, I needed more answers. “How long?” “I had only been a few weeks; it was long after he left you. We were out one night and I was feeling down. I was going through a bad time. He didn’t know about me, nobody did and I confessed to him. I told him that I like guys, we got drunk and I went home with him.” “How long?” “The last time we were together was two weeks ago. A few days later I told him that I didn’t wanna know anymore, it wasn’t fair on Kate. I know you hate her, but it’s not her. It’s Richard who’s the bad guy.” “Wow, I wasn’t expecting that. I don’t know what to say. I knew he was gay, how can anyone turn straight like that, why is he marrying her?” “I dunno, maybe he’s bi but definitely gay. I know that for sure.” “We both do.” “He wanted me to stay with him, I mean he really wanted me to stay, he wanted the best of both worlds I suppose, and it hurt him when I left.” “Good, now he knows what it’s like. You were stupid Tommy, for falling for it, but I don’t blame you. You didn’t betray me he did, and he hurt me more than he will ever know. He’s good at hurting people and he’s probably gonna hurt her too.” He reached out to squeeze my hand and smile at me. I could see why Richard liked him, Tommy was cute alright and he had done nothing wrong. How could I be angry at the guy who had saved my life? “I’m sorry,” he said, but he didn’t need to. There was nothing really to forgive and I wasn’t prepared to be lonely anymore, not even for a minute longer. It was Richard’s turn now, he could take my place and suffer the way I did. Then I would tell Kate and he could watch me ride off into the sunset with his ex-boyfriend. I would have turned the tables on him completely. Killing him would only have spared him the misery that he deserved. I smiled at Tommy and then kissed him on the cheek. “You’ll never hurt me like that will you?” “Never.” “Do you think that Richard will invite us to the wedding?” “Not a chance!”
  11. Chapter 1

    Eleven-year-old Denny Larson sat in Mr. McMillan’s sixth grade English classroom looking out the window at the old Victorian farmhouse up on O’Reilly Hill. It was Halloween and he was devising his strategy for amassing the most candy of all the kids who were going out for the first time by their selves. The farmhouse was an enigma in all of Morton Bay. Some said it was haunted, but Denny knew old man Snell still lived in the house because almost every year a few brave kids went up there and were rewarded with almost more candy than their bags could hold. The only problem Denny could see was that no one had been brave enough to go up there for three years, so he didn’t know what to expect tonight. “Denny! What are you looking at?” Ms. Pendergrast called out. “Oh, sorry, what was the question?” Denny said expecting it to be a question as it always was a question. “We are discussing ‘The Graveyard Book,’ of which you were supposed to have read the third chapter. Did you or not?” “Yes, I read it, but it was hard to understand.” Books were always hard to understand when you had dyslexia and all the letters and words jumbled themselves together. “Good, at least you tried.” “Marianne, what was your impression of the Witch’s Headstone?” “Well …” “A deep hole in the ground.” “Yes, Ms. Pendergrast, but to tell the truth I spent most of the afternoon and evening making my Halloween costume. I’m going out as a fairy princess with lace wings my Gran made for me.” “Halloween! I suppose that’s what all of you have been thinking of for the past week. That was the purpose of reading this book being that it’s about ghosts and such. Okay everyone open your books and read chapter three from where you left off last.” Denny opened his book to the start of chapter three, but his mind immediately went back to old man Snell in his old house up on O’Reilly Hill. There was only one thing he could do and that was to go up and knock on old man Snell’s door. “Trick or treat, sir,” and that would be that. The bell sounded the end of the period, but Denny’s eyes were locked on that old house on top of that hill. “Denny Marsden!” “Huh? What?” “Class is over and come here,” Ms. Pendergrast said. Denny put his book back in his bag and slowly walked up to the teacher’s desk. She knew he was dyslexic and supposedly tried to make allowances for his poor reading skills, but sometimes he wondered how earnest she was. “Here is a note for your mother or father stating what tonight’s homework is,” Ms. Pendergrast said as she handed him the folded paper. “There is a place for a signature attesting to the fact you did your homework.” “Yes, Ma’am,” Denny said dejectedly. “But, it’s Halloween.” “I’m sure you can find time if you work at it.” “Yes, Ma’am.” * * * Denny, dressed like a pirate, started out the evening with Mark, Jimmy, Sarah, and McKenzie. Of course, as usual he was the odd boy of the group, but he got along with the other boys and their girlfriends so he didn’t worry about not fitting in. Sometimes, though, they kidded him for not pursuing a member of the opposite sex, but he just wasn’t interested in girls, yet. As a full moon slowly began to rise above the distant tree lined horizon, they went through the town collecting what candy they could because some homes wouldn’t give them anything saying they were too old to participate in the Halloween festivities. Finally, they came to the driveway gate for the house on O’Reilly Hill. Denny stopped and looked up the lane at the house with its dim porchlight on. “Come on, Denny, don’t tell me you’re thinking of going up there,” Mark said. “Yeah, Denny, I heard old man Snell died last year,” Sarah said. “You can’t think of going up there.” “No, I’m going,” Denny said. “There has to be someone up there. They left the porchlight on. Anybody want to go with me?” “No way, man, we’re not going anywhere near that place,” Jimmy said. “Are we, guys?” “No,” the other four said. “Have it your way,” Denny said. He pushed open the creaking gate enough to slip inside. Surprisingly, it slowly shut with a loud click when he let go. He turned and began to walk up the lane. A soundless object, maybe an owl, flew over his head and then circled back pulling at his pirate’s hat. He grabbed it and firmly put it back on his head. He resumed his walk, but after a few minutes something else knocked his hat off his head. He felt around in the dim light of the moon until he found it and put it back on. He looked up, but he couldn’t see the porch light. Maybe, it had gone out. Or, possibly the lane had gone around behind the house. He walked on with that supposition. In time, the lane came around to where he could see the porchlight again. In the moonlight filtering through the bare limbs of the huge maples around the house, Denny found the stone walk up to the front porch. There was no getting out of this now. His friends would surely mock him if he chickened out and ran back to the gate. Something swooped down and knocked his hat off, again. He found it in the dim light and put it on his head. He walked up the path and up the front steps to the broad porch. The light turned out to be like the ceiling light in his bedroom. It lit up most of the porch, but why the light didn’t extend down the hill was mystery. There wasn’t a button for the doorbell, but there was a door knocker in the shape of a skull with red crystal eyes that flickered from the porchlight. Denny lifted it and allowed it to fall back against the metal plate causing a dull clang to fill his ears. After a short while, the door creaked open revealing a bent over old man with boney hands and long yellow nails. His jumbled white hair hung past his shoulders and his straggly white moustache and beard were stained around his mouth. He smiled showing only a few broken teeth. “Well?” old man Snell hissed. “Uh, trick or, uh, treat, sir,” Denny sputtered. “Ah yes, the night when delicious little children seek sweet yummies to make their young tummies ache. Tricks or treats is it, my little pirate? Well, do you know any tricks or what do you have in your bag that an old man might want as a treat?” “I, I,” Denny sputtered. “Come in, dear child, let me see your tricks.” The old man’s hand reached out, grabbed Denny’s shoulder, and pulled him into the room. The door slammed shut as if of its own accord. Frozen in terror, Denny didn’t know what was going to happen. “Do you somersault, dear child?” old man Snell hissed. “What?” “No, maybe not; take off your hat so that it doesn’t get crushed and give me your candy bag so it doesn’t spill.” “What are you going to do?” Denny whined. “A somersault! A somersault! For a handful of candy!” With that Denny felt his head falling toward the floor, but somehow it tucked in and his legs and feet followed along behind until he spun in the air and was suddenly standing, again. “Very good! Very good! The pirate did a somersault,” the old man cackled. “What now my dear little boy? A backflip! Yes! A backflip!” Suddenly, Denny’s feet came up over his head pulling his body around until he was standing as before. He looked at the old man shoveling candy into his mouth as sweet slobber ran out of his mouth. Where was his hat? “A pirouette! Yes, a spinning pirouette!” the old man cackled. With that Denny’s right knee bent and he rose onto the toe of his left shoe. Suddenly, he was spinning uncontrollably. Then he began to rise up from the floor until he could almost reach up and touch the ceiling. He kept spinning and spinning while the old man continued to shove Denny’s candy into his mouth. “No! Stop!” Denny cried out, but he continued to spin far above the floor. “Denny?” a voice broke into what was happening to him in the old house. “Denny, wake up, son,” he heard his mother say. “Huh, what? Oh, it was horrible. Old man Snell was so horrible,” Denny cried as he tried to rub the sleep out of his eyes. “You’d better come down to dinner or you won’t have time to put on your costume. And, what’s this about old Arnold Snell? He’s been dead for nearly three years, now.” “But, the house? The porchlight was on.” “His grandson is restoring it and will be turning it into a bed and breakfast. Did you finish your homework?” “Most of it. My math.” “Did you have a reading assignment?” “Well, yes,” he said as he pulled Ms. Pendergrast’s note out of his bookbag. “I see, well, maybe you need to stay in tonight and do this reading.” “Ah, Mom, it’s Halloween.” “And, you’re not a little boy anymore. Maybe, it’s time for you to grow up a little.” “Oh, phooey!”
  12. The House on O’Reilly Hill

    Tween Denny Marsden is planning to be a pirate when he goes out with his friends for Halloween. In his English class, he is so focused on the night ahead he starts to dream of going up to old man Snell’s farmhouse standing on O’Reilly Hill for more than he will get at any other house in town. Much to his horror old man Snell is not as nice as he imagines.
  13. Chapter 1

    Dominic lowered the heavy pumpkin into his Red Flyer wagon, the one with the high wooden sides he’d borrowed from a neighbor. He had needed it, because he’d intended to pick the biggest pumpkin he could find. Halloween had been a favorite holiday before Jason, and he was determined to celebrate it again this year. Friends had invited him to a Halloween party the previous night. Dom had gone grudgingly but found he’d had a lot of fun; the spirit had returned! He decided this year he would at least decorate his apartment with a nice Jack-o’-Lantern, if nothing else. Next to and around the large gourd he piled his other groceries, checked out, and then started the long walk home. He and Jason had always decorated and dressed in meticulous costumes to hand out Halloween treats, the efforts of which were lost on the little kids, and often on himself, if he were honest. Had always made it sound like he and Jason Brathwaite had been together for years. “Two. A total of two, before Jason left,” Dominic thought glumly. He pulled his hoodie tighter around him and stopped at the crosswalk. This light he’d always felt took longer than any other to change. As he stood waiting and pressing the Cross button repeatedly, he glanced over at Notbury Town Square. It was postcard-pretty, as his mother would say. Large oak and horse chestnut trees stood on either side of the avenues like old guards around the square; their branches overhung the roads and sidewalks. Restaurant patios spilled out onto the pavements during the summer, but in autumn, these were seen no more. Today, only citizens wandered the streets, as the weather grew too chill for all but except the hardiest of tourists. Dominic swore under his breath at the traffic light that seemed to never change. He was just thinking it was quiet in town, when in the tree next to him there was the most god-awful screeching. Dom peered upward into the chestnut tree’s branches. Leaves fell and something soft bounced off his head. He looked down. Plenty of horse chestnut pods lay there, both whole and split; the latter showing their shiny brown contents. “Hmmm, didn’t feel hard enough for one of them.” Dom looked up again. “Sounds like two crows having a disagreement, maybe trying to get a nut,” he thought. Then several black feathers floating downward seemed to confirm the fact. Dominic dismissed the incident while he crossed on the finally-green light. As he pulled home the morning’s shopping, he noticed several more crows, but paid them little attention. The four-story walk-up where he lived was in front of him and the idea of now lugging the heavy pumpkin up all those stairs was making Dominic re-think the whole I need to celebrate thing. Deciding he didn’t need the pumpkin that badly, he was just wrestling with the idea of leaving it downstairs when Gabe came along. Gabe was the building’s nosy-neighbour and resident weightlifter. “Dom! Whoa, that’s quite a load! You want me to spirit it up to your place?” Spirit it? “Um, you don’t mind?” “For you little buddy, anything.” With that, Gabe picked up the wagon and trotted up the three flights without any heavy breathing. Trudging after Gabe left Dom breathless. Gabe put the load down in front of Dominic’s door and looked at the smaller man expectantly. “Thanks very much, Gabe.” Dominic fumbled with the keys in the lock. Gabe’s gaze unnerved him. “Sure. Glad to help. You know what you can do to repay me?” Gabe licked his lips and leaned close to Dominic, a big hand slid onto the small of Dominic’s back. “Let’s go out, Dom. My treat.” “And I’ll pay later,” Dominic thought. His voice was shaky when he said, “Yeah, sometime would be terrific, but I’m just busy. I really appreciate the help though, Gabe.” “It’ll be a good time, I promise.” Dom was beginning to feel uncomfortable, but also guilty. Gabe had asked him out several times, and he did help Dom with the heavy lifting. He slid the key in his lock, drew in a deep breath and turned to face the big man. “Listen, I have some stuff to do. But why don’t I cook? Pasta, meatballs and a salad? Maybe you could bring a bottle of red?” Gabe smiled broadly. “I’d love that, Dom. Yes, I’ll bring wine and the bread. What time? About 7:00pm?” “Yeah, 7:00pm is good. I’m looking forward to it. See you later on.” “Thanks, Dom. Yeah, see you later.” After he closed the door, Dom pulled his Red Flyer to the kitchen and put away the groceries. He then man-handled the big pumpkin onto the kitchen table. “I should have asked Gabe in to do this … for me! Okay, you stay there. I’m going to make tea and sit down for ten minutes.” While he filled the kettle and prepped the tea pot, Dom was interrupted by tapping on the window. It was a crow. A big one. Dom walked to the window waving a brightly colored tea towel at the creature. It fluttered off but returned immediately and started tapping on the pane. “Go away! Shooo!” Dom ran back to the window in time to hear the glass thud. “Shit.” Turning, he pulled an oven glove off its small golden hook, which hung near the stove, and shoved his hand in. Then he pushed up the window and flapped the gloved-hand at the bird. The crow squawked, flew off to avoid being hit, but then turned and sped mid-air straight toward Dom. Dom dropped to the floor and watched as it flew straight over him. The jet-black bird settled itself on the pumpkin. It flapped once more before carefully folding large wings over its back. Dom watched the bird hop on the pumpkin as it stopped to peck it now and again. For a while, he remained sitting on the floor, wondering how he’d catch the large crow. He slowly got to his feet, keeping a close eye on the bird, and slowly moved toward it. He kept his gloved hand outstretched. Once he was within two feet, the crow rose with a flurry of wings and landed on Dom’s gloved hand. After he got over the initial surprise, Dom turned slowly and moved back to the window. “Don’t bother. He won’t leave.” Dom stopped when he heard the voice. It was a small voice. He’d heard it, even over the sound of his heart thudding in his chest. The bird was getting heavy, and it flapped as his arm started to drop. Dominic again turned, this time back to where the pumpkin sat on his table. On it stood a tiny man. He was dressed all in brown and wore a pointed hat. In his surprise, Dom’s arm dropped, causing the crow to caw and flap madly. It flew up and landed on Dom’s shoulder. “Shit!” “He won’t harm you. He’s a guardian.” The little man spoke in his tiny voice. “Guardian? Ow!” The crow had pecked Dom’s ear. He gave the bird a gentle shove, but the creature dug his talons into Dom’s shoulder. “No push Jupiter! Caw.” The large bird flapped, whacking Dom in the back of the head. Dom’s mouth fell open; he pulled in his chin, and turned his head to look at the bird. “Did … um … did you just say something?” “Foolish man. Are you deaf? He said not to push him.” The tiny man huffed and settled his hands on his hips. “Him?” Dom felt confused. “And what are you? This can’t be happening.” The little man stared. “What do I look like, fool?” “Like a fairy.” Dom flinched when Jupiter clacked his beak a bit too close to Dominic’s ear. “Fairy! Fairy? Well, I never! You are a rude impudent cuss, and you show your typical human stupidity.” The miniscule man shook his fist. “Bring your nose down here, and say that again. I’m a brownie, you dummkopf! Do you see wings?” “Hey now! There is no need to be aggressive, little brownie.” Dom chuckled and said, “By the way, I like to eat brownies.” “Oh, mein Gawd in Himmel!” the brownie swore. “Like I’ve never heard that one before.” The crow released his talons from Dom’s shoulder and flew off to land on the pumpkin behind the little man. “Look, I really have to ... this is just nuts.” Dom scrubbed his face, as reality seeped in, and he peered at the table. “Oh, my God. You’re really here. I was hoping it was a dream, but there you both are.” The brownie looked at Jupiter. “He’s an idiot. Are you sure he’s the one to help us?” “The veil thinnest here caw.” The bird hopped and flapped his wings. “Not up or down, caw here. Confluence here. Caaaw.” Dom listened. “Veil? Confluence? What are you talking about? Nothing is happening here except me starting to make dinner. I have a date tonight and …. ” “We know.” Dom gazed at the brownie. “How do you know?” “Because I jumped into your wagon, fool! How do you think I got here? Magic?” The brownie was shaking his fist again. “And even for a human you are hella rude! Don’t you offer guests a drink of water at least?” Dominic spluttered and wondered what he could serve the tiny man water in. Then he had an idea. He left the kitchen and ran down the hall to his bedroom. He settled on the side of the bed and rooted through the bedside-table drawer. “Here it is!” He opened the sewing kit and picked up the pink plastic thimble. “This should work.” Returning to the kitchen, Dom washed the thimble, rinsed it well and poured a small drop of cold water from his filtered water in the fridge. He set it down gingerly on the pumpkin top. “Thank you, human. How about a seat?” the brownie asked. “Really?” Dom pulled open his junk drawer and found a box of matches, which he put near the thimble. The brownie sat, picked up the thimble and sipped. He made a face and looked up to Dominic. “Is this organic plastic? Do you even know?” “Um, yes.” “I’m very conscious of polystyrenes and PVC, and all the other bad plastics these days…say, do have anything a wee bit stronger for a little thirsty fella?” “Um, not open. Sorry,” Dom said distractedly while pulling a large pot from a low cupboard and placing it on the stove. He then lifted down various cans of tomato products. “I have a date tonight. You both need to go.” The brownie said, “You know Dominic, that guy Gabe, you must know he’s got a past, right? He’s not worth your time. Why bother, and he’s getting fat.” As he hunted for spices, Dom thought about his neighbor. He’d always been helpful and polite, and he certainly wasn’t fat. Maybe tonight would be the start of a good thing. Dominic’s thoughts were interrupted when the crow flew over and landed on the lip of the pot. Empty, it nearly tipped under the added weight. It clanked back into place as the bird flapped and landed on Dom’s shoulder once more. “No leave. Confluence caw here.” Dom put down the can opener and turned to face the small brownie. “Look, get out. I have a date tonight, and it’s been a long time I’ve kept myself shut away.” “You aren’t getting it, human … Dominic! The fate of the world rests on our shoulders! We need to carve the pumpkin and get ready for tomorrow when the veil will be at its thinnest point. We must be ready to drive them back.” Dominic was losing his temper now. “Drive who back to where?” “Why, the devil and his minions, of course. Why do you think people carve pumpkins in the first place?” It took a moment for Dominic to hear what the brownie had said. When the thought crawled through the fog in his brain he promptly dropped the can of tomatoes he’d been opening. Ignoring the tomato juice everywhere, he turned from the counter to look wide-eyed at the tiny man. “Devil. You said, the Devil.” “Yes. The Devil; believe me, there is only one!” The little man waived a hand impatiently. Jupiter clacked his beak. “Caaaw. Losing time, we are! Must carve the pumpkin!” Black wings flapped in frustration. “Yes, I know Jupiter! I’m waiting for this lump of humanity to get the picture.” “Do you think I’m stupid? There is no such thing as The Devil. And what good would carving a pumpkin do if there were?” Dom began to clean up the huge red mess he’d made. The brownie squealed in frustration. “What good? Humans deserve their fate! Mein Gott!” The little man bowed his head and sighed. “Okay, on October 31, Halloween or Samhain, the veil between this world and the Otherworld is lifted. That’s why people wear costumes, to fool the spirits. Before pumpkins, turnips were carved to ward off the spirits and keep them back while the spirits on our side of the veil moved over.” “Turnips?” “Yes, turnips. They didn’t have pumpkins then in Europe.” Dom had finished cleaning and was mixing the meat while he listened. Jupiter hopped up and down, squawking! “Need start caw. Need start caw. Need caaaaw start!” The wee brownie regarded his guardian friend. “I know.” And then to Dominic he said, “You need to cut the top off this pumpkin for us so we can begin. We need to save the seeds though.” So thirty minutes later, and some nearly burned meatballs, the kitchen table was covered in newspaper and pumpkin pulp. The now-sticky crow carefully dug out and piled up the seeds. Meanwhile, the brownie and the human were having words. “Listen you pipsqueak putz, I want to carve it the old-fashioned way! Eyes and a mouth.” Dominic leaned on the table over the irate brownie. “And I’m telling you, you can’t! It needs the spell and runes to keep them back. I do not understand what you are failing to see, you stupid monkey-man!” “Fine. Carve it your way. I need to clean up and get ready for my date with Gabe.” Dominic turned away and walked down the hall to his room. “Clean sheets, put on!” squawked the crow after him. “Caw.” “Dirty mind!” Dom thought. Then, after a moment’s consideration, he decided it was a good idea. He cleaned the bathroom, his room, and had just finished dusting and vacuuming the living room when he heard the brownie call to him. Dom leaned on the doorframe of the kitchen. “So?” His sentence was cut short when he noticed the pumpkin on the table. It was beautiful. “Oh … how did you do that? Wow, that is amazing!” It was amazing. Runes and vines were intricately carved all over the pumpkin. Some were cut deep through the skin and flesh, while there were others where only the skin was removed. Dominic walked around it. “You did a wonderful job with this.” “Thank you, human. It’s not my first Halloween rodeo. We need a wee sacrifice now. You and I have to put in three drops of blood,” the brownie explained. He handed Dom the small carving tool. Dom looked at the stern-faced brownie, and then at the knife. “Okay. Three drops.” He held the sharp implement against his finger, but then pulled it back. “Maybe I should wash this.” The brownie screeched and jumped up and down. “What is wrong with you? If that devil and his pals make it through the veil, a little case of septicemia isn’t going to matter.” “I don’t know. I think I’ll wash it nonetheless.” Just as Dom turned on the tap, there was a knock at the door. “No! Do not open that door! The ceremony needs to be done now … before it’s too late. No, no, no!” Dom glared back at the tiny brownie as he proceeded to the door. He looked through the peep-hole and pulled the door open. “Gabe! You … you’re early. Can you come back in about … say, thirty minutes?” “I’ll help if you’re not quite ready, Dom.” Gabe pushed the wine and bread into Dom’s hands and moved his host gently to one side. Dom clutched the bottle and bag, kicked the door closed, and ran after Gabe. “No … no. Gabe, please don’t go in there!” Gabe stopped and turned around. “Not into the kitchen? Why?” Dom stopped. Gabe looked like himself, but there was something …. “Yes … please don’t go in there.” Smiling, Gabe replied, “Then since you don’t want me there, all the better reason for a look-see.” Gabe continued into the kitchen with Dom not far behind. “Jupiter, and you … you horrible little pixie! I should have known it would be you two,” Gabe said as he stepped into the kitchen. Dominic stopped in the doorway, eyes wide, and mouth open. “You know them? How … ?” “Oh, yes. I know Fric and Frak here.” Gabe picked up the pumpkin and gazed at it like he was reading. “Pixie!” screeched the brownie. “Bring your nose down here. I’ll give you pixie, you giant ape!” Jupiter took to his wings and dove straight for Gabe, who reached up with his free hand and plucked the crow from the air. He held the squawking bird upside down by the feet. “Shut-up, you black chicken.” Gabe turned to Dominic. “Have you donated blood to this project yet, Dom?” Dom had moved into the kitchen and placed the wine and the bread on the counter. “No, but how do you know—“ “Dom, I know lots of things about heaven and earth and what’s in-between.” Gabe looked back at the bright-red brownie. “Who are you calling ape? I think it’s time for you and your familiar here to move on. This party is over. This well-carved invitation is not required.” The brownie was beside himself. “Familiar? I’m not a witch! No … no, don’t you dare … do not, Gabriel. I’m warning you!” Gabe, holding the giant pumpkin shell pinched only between three fingers, walked to the still-open window. He glanced down and then dropped the pumpkin out. It hit the ground with a wet splat. “Now, what to do with you two.” He held up the crowing bird. During all this, Dominic had stood rooted to the spot. “Who … what … them?” There was a knock on the door. Gabe said, “Let Uriel in please, Dom.” “Who?” Dominic was asking, but he walked to his door and opened it. An angel stood in the doorway … with wings. He must have been seven feet tall. “Hi, Dominic. I brought these.” Uriel held up two golden cages. The angel stepped in and headed to the kitchen. Dom shut the door. He didn’t move for a moment; he was having difficulty processing everything and everybody. There had been a very tall man at his door with wings. Not in a Halloween costume either. The brownie’s blue streak and Jupiter’s angry cawing drew him back to the kitchen. Uriel held the cage as Jupiter was shoved in with the flapping of wings and loss of several feathers. Gabe locked the door. He turned his attention to the brownie, whose eyes seemed as big as his face. “No, no, no … no need for violence, gentlemen.” The little man backed away. Gabe moved closer, while Uriel flanked him. “Get in the cage, brownie, or I’ll put you in there.” The brownie stood up straight, shoulders back and glared first at Gabe, then at Uriel. “Fine. I’ll go quietly, you overgrown pigeon! But I’ll be back!” The tiny angry man marched into the cage and Uriel closed and locked the door. “I’ll take them back, Gabriel. Good to see you. Don’t be a stranger!” Uriel walked to the apartment door. “Goodbye, Dom. Take care.” After the door closed, Gabe turned to Dom, who hadn’t moved from his spot against the counter. “Are you okay?” Dom’s mouth opened and closed several times before he spoke. “Who … who are you?” “Gabriel, exalted or archangel. Depends which religion you’re referring to.” He moved close to Dom and pulled him into his warm embrace. He held on while Dominic struggled a little bit. “There, there. Not to worry. You won’t remember soon enough.” “Why won’t I?” “Because humans don’t remember interactions with celestial beings, not really.” Gabe guided Dominic to the sofa. “You’re tired. Why don’t you rest?” “Yes … yes, I will.” ***** Dominic wondered if he’d been stood up. Dinner was almost ready, and it was nearly 7:30pm. He was ready to heat the water to make the pasta for himself, when there was a knock at the door. “So sorry I’m late.” Dom had to grin at Gabe, who stood there with a sheepish look on his face. In his arms were wine, bread and a rather large pumpkin. “Let’s carve a Jack-o’-Lantern tonight. What’d ya say?”
  14. Dom Does Halloween

    He's ready to celebrate Halloween but is Dominic ready for this?
  15. Chapter 1

    Halloween has never been a very big deal for me, because my mom wouldn't let me celebrate it when I was younger. She was a devoutly religious person and claimed that Halloween was a form of devil worship, so she never allowed me to do the same things as the other kids. She even sent the following note to my school when I was in Kindergarten. "To the principal, teachers, and staff at Eastwood Elementary. Please be advised that I do not want you to include Christopher Cordes in Halloween activities, parties, or anything else related to that vulgar holiday. Thank you, Sarah Cordes." This meant that every year when the other students were getting ready to dress up, enjoy treats, and play games, I'd be sent to the principal's office. I'd end up sitting in silence while I watched the secretary work, and I would only return to the classroom when the party ended. This caused me to not only feel horrible, but I would also become miserable the more I thought about missing out on doing those things with my classmates. It also signaled to the other students that I was different, so I found myself ostracized by my peers and they would refuse to include me in other activities as well. The predicament didn't have anything to do with me personally, such as my looks, because I had people tell me before that I was cute. It wasn't because of the way I acted either. It was solely due to the fact that early in the school year the other students realized that I couldn't participate in the same things they did, so they thought I was weird. I had my mom to thank for that. She was convinced that she was right about Halloween being the work of the devil, because when she was growing up a series of disappearances occurred on that holiday. Over the course of twenty-five years several young boys had gone missing on Halloween night, although no one connected their disappearances at the time. This was due to the fact that it didn't happen every Halloween and the boys who disappeared didn't all live in the same community. When someone finally realized there might be a connection and looked at the cases more closely, they noticed there were several common factors, so it was likely they were connected. The relevant factors included things such as the boys' ages, because they were all between ten and twelve-years-old at the time of their disappearance. They also went missing on Halloween, and each one lived within a sixty mile radius around where I grew up. Unfortunately, none of the cases were solved and none of the boys were ever seen or heard from again. Whenever I'd beg my mom to let me dress up and go out like all of the other kids, she would repeat the story of what happened to those boys and insist that the same thing would happen to me if I disobeyed. Being young at the time, the thought of something similar happening scared the crap out of me, so I quit trying to get her to change her mind. However, it didn't prevent me from wishing that I wasn't the one who was forced to be different from everyone else. Over the years that followed, I gradually accepted my fate and it became easier to ignore what everyone else was doing each year as we reached the end of October. This changed, however, when I went to college and got away from my mother. I was amazed when I saw the other college students dressing up and making a big deal out of Halloween too, although they usually celebrated in bars or at private parties. Not only that, but the town held a parade for the kids, and seeing them marching down the street in costumes rekindled memories of what I'd missed while growing up. It also reminded me of the story my mother used to tell me, and that's when I began to wonder if it was true, or if she'd just made it up to keep me from begging to celebrate like the other children. I decided to research her allegations to see if those things had actually occurred. In an effort to find the answers I was looking for, I went to the college library to see if I could find any information about the disappearances, but I was unable to find anything relating to those cases. Since the disappearances had occurred before the internet came into use, I was unable to find anything online either. When I asked the librarian what else I could try to find information about this, she suggested that I go to the public library in town and check out the microfiche copies of the local newspaper from that time period. I thought her idea sounded as if it might be the only way I could find what I was looking for, so on Saturday I went there to see what I could discover. "Can you help me?" I asked the woman behind the front desk. "I was told I should ask about any newspaper articles you might have on microfish." "It's pronounced microfiche, and you'll have to go to the reference section. You'll find someone there who will be able to assist you." I was slightly embarrassed about her correcting my mispronunciation of the word, because I had thought the woman at the college library had mispronounced the word. It was an older technology that I was unfamiliar with, so I assumed she either had an accent or a speech impediment, but it looks like I was wrong. However, I listened as she directed me on how to get to that area, and I headed to the location and found the person on duty. After I explained what I was looking for and the approximate years involved, he explained that they used microfilm, which was stored on rolls, as opposed to microfiche, which is stored on cards. He then led me over to a cabinet filled with various rolls, but they appeared quite different from the film that had been used to shoot a movie. This film contained miniature copies of newspaper pages, and each roll was approximately four inches (10 cm) in diameter, and about an inch (2.5 cm) in width. Once he scanned the labels and found the rolls I needed, he showed me how to load them onto a machine that would allow me to view the contents. "I think I remember something about this," he said as he was helping me get set up. "I believe the boys were all pre-teens when they went missing, but no one connected their disappearances until it was too late. I remember reading that the first couple of boys were thought to have run away, and it was suspected that another one might have drown in the abandoned quarry. I vaguely remember that someone living in the area had said he'd seen a boy matching that description hanging around out there on the same day the boy vanished, but they never found a body. No one came forward with any ideas about what might have happened to the other boys until the connection was finally made, but like I said, that was too late. Yes, here's one of the articles now." We both read the information provided, which was quite detailed. It gave the name and age of the missing boy, where this happened, his physical description, what he was wearing when last seen, and it also included his photo. The article indicated that he had been out with a group of his friends for most of the night, but then he left them to return home. No one saw him after that, and I guess eventually the case went cold. To my amazement, the man assisting me stayed the entire time and helped me look through multiple rolls of microfilm. It took a few hours, seeing we had a period of twenty-five years to cover, but he said he had nothing else to do and stayed with me. The good thing was that we only had to look at newspapers for the first couple of weeks of November in each of those years. "The boys didn't all live here, so why were these cases printed in the local newspaper?" "Back then there wasn't an Amber alert system to get the information out to the public, so the parents or law enforcement officials would do other things. Besides hanging flyers close to where the boy lived, they would also send information to all of the newspapers in the surrounding area. The newspaper would print the story hoping that someone might recognize the kid and supply a tip relating to his whereabouts, but it didn't seem to happen with these cases." "Yes, it makes me feel awful that they were never found." I took notes as I read each of the articles, and by the time we'd finished I had a great deal of information on the missing boys. There had been eight in total, and each one went missing after he left his house to go trick-or-treating. Some had been with others at some point, but the rest were merely spotted from time to time as they went from house-to-house. I studied the photos that each boy's parents had given the newspaper to include with the article, and my initial reaction was that they were all quite handsome. This realization gave me a bad feeling about what might have happened to them, seeing they were never seen again. I had done all I could for now and had a list of their names, ages, the year they went missing, and their physical descriptions. I wanted to learn more about them now, but what was I going to do? This all took place long before I was even born, so I doubted I could find any witnesses or much more information, other than what I'd gleaned from the newspaper articles. I guess I had reached a dead end, so to speak. Seeing I couldn't think of a way to get more information, I packed up my notes in case I came up with more details or thought of another way to attack the problem at a later date. I didn't think of it again until after I'd graduated from college and had returned to my hometown. I was one of the fortunate ones and landed a job with a local business, and I was also lucky that I hit it off with one of my male co-workers, a guy named Scott Halliwell. Like me, he had been sort of an outcast when he was younger, so we had quite a bit in common. I found that I enjoyed having someone I could relate to and confide in, and we started spending more and more time together. We would mostly just talk about our common interests and similar experiences while growing up, and occasionally we would go out to eat or just stop to have a few beers. This went on for over a year, and I had just turned the calendar from September to October again when Scott asked me a question. "I hear a decent Haunted House has been set up at the old mall, and I was told it's pretty scary. Do you think you might want to go there and check it out?" "Gee, I don't know," I answered, and then I noticed the disappointed expression on Scott's face. "I've never done anything like that before, but what the hell. I'm willing to give it a try." His face suddenly broke into a smile. "How about going with me this Saturday then? We can go out to eat first and have a couple of beers, and that should be enough to build up our courage." Scott laughed maniacally after saying this. "Or it might just open us up to wetting ourselves or crapping our pants, seeing we would have just filled up." "Yeah, good point, so maybe you'd better wear Depends when we do this." Once again he released another sinister laugh. "No matter how bad it is, it can't be any worse than this case I've been trying to solve." "What case is that?" I then explained about the disappearing boys and my inability to find any more information about what had happened to them. "Hey, maybe you should try using a Ouija board then." "What the heck is that?" "It's a device spiritualists use to contact people who have died." "Really? I didn't know there was such a thing. Does it work?" "My great-great-grandparents thought it did, because they used one to contact loved ones who had passed away. I was told they made contact with my great-great-grandmother's brother who'd been killed in World War I, and they also got in touch with their son who'd died in a farm accident when he was sixteen." "So you think I might be able to contact some of those boys?" "It couldn't hurt to try, and maybe you'll make a connection." "But I don't have one of those things. Hell, I wouldn't even know where to find one or how to use it." "Don't worry. I can help you with that, because I've got the Ouija board they used. It's been passed down through the generations and I know how to use it too." "Ok, I'm willing to try anything at this point, but I doubt it will work." "You can't think like that or it won't work. You've got to believe this will do what you want or the spirits won't come through." "Let me look up information about it online and I'll check it out first. If I'm convinced it might do what I'm looking for, then we'll get together and give it a try. How do you spell it?" "Do you know how to spell the French word for yes?" "You mean oui? O-u-i?" "Yes. Just add j-a to the end. That's the German word for yes too, but the Germans pronounce it 'yhah', but in this case it's pronounced 'juh' or 'jee'." "Ok, I guess I can remember that. I'll check it out before we meet up on Saturday, and then I'll let you know what I've decided." I did quite a bit of research over the next couple of days, including Saturday morning. I found articles that made fun of the Ouija board, but I also found articles from people who were convinced that they'd made contact with deceased individuals. There were also comments about the possibility of accidentally contacting demons or evil spirits instead, and that scared me a little, but I was still willing to give it a try. I was ready to give Scott my answer when we met up later. At 6:00 I drove over to the restaurant where we'd agreed to meet, and I found him sitting at the bar. We each had a beer before going out to be seated, and then we talked while we waited for our meals to be delivered. "I think I've read enough to convince myself that this is going to work, so when do you want to do it?" "Have you got any plans for tomorrow?" "No. My calendar is clear." "Then why don't you come over to my apartment at 1:00 and we'll do it then." "Ok, that sounds good." We had a couple more beers with our meals, and then I followed Scott over to where the Haunted House had been set up. I had no idea what to expect, other than the rough idea Scott had given me, and shortly after we entered I wished I'd followed his advice and wore Depends. I knew he'd just been joking when he made that comment, but there were so many scary things in the Haunted House that I probably did wet myself a little. It all began when a scarecrow carrying a scythe attacked us as we walked through the door. He swung the scythe at us and I thought he was either going to decapitate me or skewer my chest with the implement. It even came into contact with my chest, and that's when I realized the blade was made of rubber, but that was only the first time I found myself badly frightened. As we made our way through the Haunted House, we encountered a variety of other scary characters with different weapons, and still others in incredibly frightening situations. We also found ourselves in rooms filled with unspeakable gore, which included dismembered bodies, and there were other characters that had nothing to do with humans. These included incredibly realistic looking monsters and space aliens, and the fact that we weren't expecting them made it even more alarming. There were also devices that we had to either pass through or cross over, and I was afraid I'd get killed as I moved through them or they would collapse under our weight as we made our way to the other side. It didn't happen, but the thought that it might was what scared me. There were also a ton of creepy critters, either real or simulated, and animated devices that came at us suddenly. Those items would either make loud noises as they rushed in our direction, or they would suddenly light up, catching us off guard. No matter which way they worked, those devices always caused us to jump away in fright. I could tell that Scott was thoroughly enjoying himself, but it was going to take some time before I'd be able to look back at this with any appreciation for what I'd just experienced. As soon as we exited the building, Scott asked a question. "So what did you think of it?" "I don't believe I've ever been frightened as badly or as often as I was when going through there." "Yeah, it was great, wasn't it?" "That's not exactly how I would have described it, at least not yet, but I'll give you a better evaluation after I've had a chance to consider everything, once I've calmed down." Since that was all we were planning to do, we got in our cars and went our separate ways. During the drive home, and even after I got back to the apartment, images of the things I'd seen kept popping into my mind. I have to admit that I also had trouble falling asleep later, because every time I closed my eyes a vision of one of the attractions that had scared me earlier would suddenly overtake my brain. I even endured a couple of very unsettling dreams, or should I say nightmares? But regardless of those problems, I somehow managed to get enough rest so I wasn't too tired to go over to meet up with Scott again the following day. He had everything set up when I got there, and he took time to explain it to me before we started. "This is one of the oldest boards you'll probably ever see, so it's also very simple in its design. Some later boards will have more decorations in the corners or around the edges, but this one has everything we'll need." I quickly examined the board to become familiar with it. There was an image of the sun in the upper left hand corner, a crescent moon and a star in the right hand corner, and stars in both of the lower corners. Next to the sun was the word 'yes', and next to the crescent moon was the word 'no'. At the top center of the board were two arcs containing the letters of the alphabet, and the top arc went from A to M, while the lower one went from N to Z. Below them was a small gap and then a straight line of numbers from 1 to 0, and below that was the phrase 'good bye'. "This is what we'll use to receive answers from the spirits," Scott stated as he placed a triangular device on the Ouija board. It had a hole about the size of a quarter at one end. "It's called a planchette, or pointer, and we're each going to place the fingers of both hands on one side of it before you ask a question. Please don't try to push the planchette around, because it will move on its own if we make contact with the spirits. Just be respectful of them, or things can go terribly wrong." "Ok, so what do we do now?" "We first need to put something silver on the board to repel any evil spirits." Scott and I both reached into our pockets at this point, and I pulled out a quarter that I placed on the image of the sun. Scott came up with a silver chain that he placed over the crescent moon. "Ok, that should do it, so lets get started." "What am I supposed to say?" "Just announce who you want to make contact with, and then ask your question." He then placed the planchette in the open area between the letters and numbers and we positioned our fingers on it. "I want to make contact with any of the boys who disappeared on Halloween in this area about forty or fifty years ago. Are any of you here with us?" I expected the pointer to start moving but nothing happened. "Did I do something wrong?" "No, it sometimes takes a few minutes before we get a response. I think the spirits want to check us out first, to see if this is a serious contact or if we're just playing games and doing this for fun." "No, this is serious and I'd like to find out more about the boys who disappeared. Are any of you here with us?" I waited a couple of minutes and was just about ready to give up when the planchette started to move. It slid to the top of the board and didn't stop until the hole was over the word 'yes'. I was shocked and elated at the same time. "Which boy are you?" Slowly the planchette began to move again and eventually settled over the following letters: V-I-N-C-E. "So you're Vince Rumsey?" The planchette moved to the word 'yes' again. He was the fifth boy who had gone missing and one of the twelve-year-olds. "Would you please go to the K if you were kidnapped, or A if you had an accident?" The pointer began to move again and settled over the K. "Do you know who did this?" I thought the planchette was moving toward the word yes, but it suddenly stopped over the following letters: D-E-K-E. It was an unusual name, so I thought it might turn out to be a really good clue. "Did he harm you?" Once again, the pointer moved until it hovered over the word 'yes'. "Do you know where he took you?" The pointer slid across the board and settled over the word 'no' this time. "Are the other boys here as well, because I'd like to talk to them too?" The planchette moved across the board again and came to a stop over 'yes'. "I'd like to talk to the one of the others, so if any of you are willing, would you tell me your name?" Over the course of the next couple of hours we heard from Mike Maynard, an eleven-year-old, Danny Coutts, who was ten at the time, Jamie Hopko, eleven, Josh Becker, ten, Tommy Hawes, eleven, and Steven James, who was also eleven. They gave me the same answers that I'd received from Vince, but none of them knew where they'd been taken. That all changed when we made contact with the final boy, a twelve-year-old named Peter Simek. He was the only boy who lived in the same town as me and had gone missing, and he was the fourth boy to disappear. "Do you know where you were taken?" The planchette began to move again and eventually settled over the following letters: Q-U-A-R-R-Y-R-D. "What kind of word is that?" Scott wondered, thinking it was all one word. "I believe he's telling us he was taken to Quarry Road. That's interesting, because there was a report that he was seen in the vicinity of the old quarry before he disappeared. I think I need to go back to the library so I can check out that article again, because I think it gave the name of the guy who'd mentioned seeing him. Do you think it's open today?" "Yeah, I believe it's open until 6:00." "Then I'll see you tomorrow at work, because I'm going there to look up the information." "Wait! You can't just leave a session open. You have to thank the spirits for their help and then say goodbye. That's why it's written on the board to remind you." "Oh, ok. I didn't know," I said taking my seat again. "I want to thank the spirit of each boy for helping me, and I'm hoping that I can solve the mystery of what happened to you. I'm doing this so it will bring you some peace. Goodbye." Scott said goodbye as well, and then I grabbed my notes and bolted out of there. I drove directly to the library, grabbed my notes, and rushed inside. When I got back to the reference area, I headed to the cabinet with the rolls of microfilm. "I see you've returned," a voice said behind me. "I'm surprised you're here today," I stated when I noticed it was the same guy who'd helped me before. "I only work on the weekend, since I'm semi-retired, and I'm here both days. May I help you with something?" "Yes, I need to check something out," I answered, and then I told him the dates of the newspapers I was looking for. He retrieved the roll for me and set it up on the machine, and then he let me scroll through it until I found what I was looking for. I was right. There was a name in the article of the guy who said he'd seen a boy matching Peter's description. The man's name was Deke Johansen. "Thanks, I've found what I was looking for," I said as I grabbed my notes and left the library. This was all starting to come together. Some of the boys had confirmed that the person who had abducted them was named Deke, and the supposed witness was named Deke Johansen. Since Deke is such an unusual name, chances are that he's one and the same person. I drove over to the Sheriff's Department to see if I could get any information from them, since the newspaper article had stated they were the ones investigating the disappearance at the time. I went up to the front desk and told the deputy on duty what I needed. "I'm looking into a cold case from about forty years ago. Is there a chance that you might still have records relating to the case?" I then gave him Peter's name and the date he went missing. "We might have something in storage, because back then everything would have been recorded on paper, stored in a folder, and then placed in a box with other folders from the same period. It would probably take some time to locate it, if it's still in readable condition, but you might want to come back tomorrow and speak with the Sheriff. He's worked for the department for nearly fifty years, so he might even remember something about this case." "Thanks, I'll do that." My head was spinning as I went back to my apartment. Could this possibly help to solve the case, or is it just a coincidence? I doubted there would be two men named Deke living in this area, unless they were father and son, but even that would provide a connection to who might have done this. I was excited and couldn't wait to speak with the Sheriff now. I was bouncing around the apartment for the rest of the day, convinced that I might have the answer to a dilemma that had baffled the authorities for more than four decades. I was so excited that it took quite a while for me to fall asleep that evening, and then I dreamt about the boys and pictured each one vividly, since I'd basically memorized what they looked like from their photos. I was still fairly tired when the alarm went off, but I got ready and headed in to work. Scott came over when he saw me enter the office. "Man, you look awful. Is something wrong?" "I just had a rough night and didn't get much sleep." "Maybe you should take the day off then. Go tell the boss that you're sick and need to go home." "Yeah, you might be right." Without hesitating, I walked over to the boss's office and knocked on the door. "Come in, Chris. Damn, you don't look good. What's wrong?" "I'm not feeling well and didn't get much sleep last night. Would you mind if I take a sick day?" "No, go home. You won't be much help around here in the condition you're in now, so go home and take care of yourself. I'll see you tomorrow." "Ok, and thanks." I thought about going home, but I wouldn't be able to rest until I got some answers, so I drove directly to the Sheriff's Department. I asked the deputy at the front desk if I could speak with the Sheriff, and he called to ask if he was available. "He said to send you back," he stated, and then he directed me to the appropriate office. "Come in. You must be the guy who stopped by yesterday and asked about an old case of mine. I'd only been on the force a couple of years when that kid went missing, and it still bugs me to this day. What is it that you want to know?" "I've come to believe that a guy named Deke was responsible, and I saw in an old newspaper article that a Deke Johansen had reported seeing a boy near the quarry. Is it possible they could be the same person?" "I've only heard of one guy in these parts named Deke, so it's very likely, but where did you get your information that he was involved?" "You might not believe me if I told you," I answered as the blood rushed to my face. "My mother used to tell me about this case when I was growing up and it always fascinated me, so recently I started investigating to see if it was true. A friend suggested that I try using a Ouija board to get answers, and we did that yesterday. I think we actually made contact with all eight of the missing boys, and they gave me this information." "I'll agree your methods are quite unusual, but I won't dismiss your findings out of hand. My grandparents were into using the Ouija board too, and they were totally convinced that it worked. They even let me sit in on a couple of sessions with them when I was a young teen. So what did you learn?" "The boys all confirmed they were kidnapped and nearly all of them said the guy's name was Deke. When I asked if they knew where they'd been taken, only Peter Simek knew, and he spelled out Quarry Road." "That's very interesting, since Johansen was the one who said he'd seen a boy matching Peter's description near the old quarry, but my partner and I could never figure out what the boy would have been doing out there. He didn't live close by and wouldn't have gone trick-or-treating in that area, since there weren't any houses around there. Other than Deke, who owned a small farm on Quarry Road, there was only one other house that I know of, and it was at the other end of the road. When we questioned him about what he'd been doing when he spotted the boy, Deke said he was just driving home at the time." "I don't think that was the case." "Neither did we, although we couldn't find anything to tie him to the case, other than his report of seeing the boy." "So you suspected him?" "To a limited extent. My partner and I wondered if he'd reported seeing the boy just to throw us off the scent, but like I said, we had nothing to tie him to the disappearance." "Did he live far from there?" "His farm was a mile or two farther down the road, on the opposite side from the quarry. He was sort of an oddball, even back then, because he was basically self sufficient. He had his own garden where he grew the vegetables he ate, and he had a few apple trees and some blueberry bushes. He also picked the strawberries that grew wild out in the fields. "Deke also raised animals that he slaughtered for meat," the Sheriff continued, "and he hunted. He had a couple of cows that he milked and chickens that laid eggs, and he would occasionally eat one of them too. He only came into town when he needed something he couldn't provide for himself, and that's another reason we were interested in what he'd been up to when he was out driving. He merely gave us some lame excuse that he took the truck out for a spin to charge the battery, but it was good enough that we couldn't shake his alibi." "Is he still alive?" "No, he died a few years after all of this happened. In fact, it was probably about three or four years after the last boy disappeared. He was driving his old truck over the back roads to Culver City, although we had no idea why he might have been going there, and he was killed in an accident. It was believed it had happened around dusk, because the truck's headlights were in the 'on' position, and we assume he swerved to miss a deer or something else in the road. From the rubber left on the pavement, it appeared that he lost control of his truck, went over the embankment, and crashed into a tree. He wasn't wearing a seatbelt at the time and was thrown into the windshield. It was believed he died instantly from a crushed skull and broken neck." "Do you know exactly when this happened? Do you know the date?" "I'm not sure when the accident occurred, because no one saw it, and the truck wasn't even spotted until deer season. A couple of hunters discovered it on their way into the woods, and after the investigating officers recovered his I.D., they called us to notify his next of kin. The trouble was, he didn't have any." "So you're saying this might have happened on Halloween?" "I imagine that's possible, but the coroner couldn't come up with an exact time of death." "In that case, I'll bet he was out looking for another boy, because I'm convinced he did this. Does anyone live on his farm now?" "No, the place has been abandon ever since he died. I believe his old house and the barn might still be there, although I'm sure they're in pretty bad shape by now if they're still standing." "Ok, thanks for your help. I might drive out there sometime just to see where he lived." "Just drive carefully, because there are numerous animals out that way. There isn't much traffic, so they don't watch for cars when they cross. The noise might scare them, or headlights after dark, but you should still be careful out there." "Ok, I'll remember that." I thought about going out there immediately, but since I told the boss I was going home sick, I didn't want to push my luck. I decided to do it on the weekend instead, and maybe I'd ask Scott to join me. I went home, got undressed, and hopped into bed. My mind was still reeling from everything I'd just learned, and I was thinking about it as I fell asleep. I slept for three hours and awoke much more refreshed than I was when I went to work earlier. I spent the rest of the day thinking about everything I had learned so far, as well as thinking about what I might do next, in order to uncover more of the truth. I did that until I went to bed, which was later than usual because of the nap I'd taken earlier, but I still managed to get a little more sleep and was in much better shape when I went in to work the next morning. Scott came over to my cubicle and asked how I was feeling, and I merely told him I was doing much better today and would fill him in about it on the weekend. My boss also told me I looked much better and that he was glad I'd taken the day off, because it seemed to have had a dramatic effect. I didn't think he was insinuating anything and was merely grateful that I was feeling better. The rest of the week progressed as it normally would, and then on Friday Scott asked me to stop at the local sports bar and have a couple of beers with him before we went home for the night. I agreed, and we chatted as we drank our beer. "After I left work sick the other day, I drove over to talk to the Sheriff, to see if he had any more information about the case. Incredibly, he was just starting out as a deputy when he and his partner were assigned the case, which at the time was merely a missing person." I then went on to explain everything I had learned. "So are you done trying to figure this out now?" "No way! I'm not stopping until I get to the bottom of this and discover what happened to those boys. Tomorrow I'm planning to drive out to the farm so I can see where the guy used to live. Would you like to join me?" "Yeah. Why not? It might be interesting to see this place." We finished our beer and had another before we headed home. Before we parted ways, however, I told Scott that I'd drive over and pick him up at 9:00, and then we'd head out to the farm. As I was going through my usual routine that night, I was very excited about driving out to Johansen's old farm the next day. I didn't anticipate that I would find anything, but I wanted to see what those boys had seen after they were abducted, because I thought it would help me better appreciate how they felt. I went to bed looking forward to driving out there. I woke up early and flew through my morning ritual, which meant I finished so quickly that I had to kill an hour before it was time to go over to pick up Scott. I tried everything I could think of to pass the time, such as listening to music, watching a morning news program, and I even tried to read some articles online, but nothing worked. I merely ended up pacing around the apartment until it was time to leave, and that's when I finally started to calm down, because I was finally going to do this. Scott had obviously been watching for me out the window, because he opened his door as I was pulling into a parking space. He was all smiles as he hopped into the passenger's seat and asked a question. "Do you know the way there?" "Yes, I've already punched in our destination, so now I just have to follow the directions to get there." We were off, and we talked about the things we'd learned when we'd used the Ouija board, along with discussing what I was hoping to find when we got to the farm. I was a nervous wreck when we finally arrived at Quarry Road and I made the turn onto it. I slowed down when we reached the old quarry, but we weren't able to see much and I didn't want to take the time to check it out now, so we drove on. I wasn't sure how much farther we'd have to go, because the only thing I could punch into the GPS was the name of the road. "Keep your eyes open and see if you spot anything on your side," I told Scott. "The Sheriff said his place was a mile or two beyond the quarry, and I'm hoping we can see something so we'll know when to stop." "Ok, will do." I drove slowly from that point on, but it wasn't merely because I didn't want to miss the place. We were on a narrow, winding country road that was in desperate need of resurfacing, so I had to watch the road for potholes. I had to depend on Scott to find the place, but after a while I thought we might have already passed it and I'd have to turn around and go back. I felt as if we'd gone farther than we should have, but just as I was about to suggest the idea to Scott, he spoke up. "I see a building, so this must be the place." I came to a stop and looked out the windshield to see if I could spot what he saw. I wasn't sure, but I suspected the structure was the barn the Sheriff had mentioned, so I looked for a place to pull over and park. I didn't want to just stop along the side of the road, since it was narrow and I was worried about getting sideswiped if another vehicle were to drive by. Eventually, I spotted what appeared to have been the original dirt driveway, and although it was somewhat overgrown, I pulled into it, stopped the car, and we got out. "You go wherever you want and I'll follow," Scott said once we were both standing in front of the car. I began to walk up the driveway, unsure as to whether it was going to lead to the house or the barn. The area was badly overgrown with weeds, bushes, and even a few trees that had probably sprouted up since the place had been abandoned, but we plodded on. After walking about a hundred yards (91.5 m) the driveway suddenly split. I assumed that one fork was leading to the house and the other to the barn, so I randomly chose to go to the right, not knowing where it would lead me. After traveling about another 30 yards (27.5 m) I found myself standing in front of a dilapidated two-story house. "Man, this place is creepy," Scott stated as we both stared at the building. Most of the paint had peeled off or faded away long before we got there, so we were looking at the bare, weathered wood that had been used to construct it. The windows were all broken out as well, leaving only large holes in the exterior, and the front door was barely hanging on its hinges. As I glanced through the windows on the upper floor, I noticed there appeared to holes in the roof and it looked as if it might possibly collapse at any moment. "Do you think we should go inside?" Scott asked. "Nah, it doesn't look safe. I'm not sure if there's a cellar, so even just walking inside could be dangerous, because we might possibly fall through the floor and into the cellar, if there is one. I wouldn't trust the stairs leading up to the second floor either, so we'll just walk around outside before going over to check out the barn." He was fine with my suggestion, so we carefully walked around the perimeter of the house to see if there was anything more to find. When we got to the right side of the house, we found an old stone well, and across from it was another door leading into the house, probably going into the kitchen. When we got around to the back, I spotted an outhouse that was barely still standing in the far corner of what used to be the yard. It was about ten yards (9.1 m) from the back door, presumably so the smell wouldn't filter into the main structure. "It would appear that Johansen didn't have indoor plumbing. Being this far out I doubt he had electricity or any of the other amenities you'd find in most homes, such as a telephone and television," I observed. "And you said the Sheriff told you the guy grew his own crops, raised animals, and hunted for food, so he must have lived one hell of a hard life." "Yes, and it makes me wonder how long the boys had to endure the same things after he'd kidnapped them?" Once we got back to the front of the house again, I decided to check out the barn next, so we headed down the driveway and took the other fork. The barn was in the same basic state of disrepair as the house, so we merely looked through the openings to see as much as we could. We walked around the outside of the barn, and when we got to the far side we found a rotting wooden box-like frame with a makeshift door fastened to the top. There were several holes in the rotting wood, so we looked through them and noticed there were stairs leading downward. "I wonder what this was used for?" I mused. "My guess would be that it's either a root cellar or a cold cellar to store food so it would last longer," Scott answered. "It could also be a storm shelter, meaning a place where he would go during a really bad weather disturbance." "I just hope it wasn't where he temporarily kept the boys." "Yeah, I didn't think of that, but it might have been used for that too." The thought that the boys could have been kept there sent chills down my spine and caused me to shudder, so I decided it was time to leave. We'd seen everything we could safely, and now it was time to go home. Scott and I returned to the car and I carefully backed out of the driveway and onto the road, and then we made the return trip back to our apartments. "Man, that place was really isolated," Scott observed as we turned off of Quarry Road. "We didn't pass anything that appeared to be another house or farm on the way there, and it makes me wonder if we'd have found anything else if we drove past his place either." "I think the Sheriff said there might have been one other place, but it would have been at the far end of this road. I can see why Deke felt it would be safe to grab those boys and take them there, because I doubt if anyone else would have ever discovered them." "Yeah, you're probably right." After I dropped Scott off and thanked him for going with me, I went back to my apartment to think about everything we'd just seen. My first thought was whether Johansen had kept the boys in the house, the barn, or in that underground cellar during the time he kept them alive. I could only imagine what the boys had experienced and what thoughts were going through their minds. They must have felt absolutely helpless. When I went to sleep later, I found myself dreaming that I was one of the boys, and I experienced many of the same things I imagined they had gone through. From the looks of my bed when I woke up, I must have tossed and turned the entire night, because it looked as if a tornado had gone through there. Not only were the blankets falling off the foot of the bed, but the sheets were totally drenched, because it appeared that I'd broken out in a cold sweat sometime during the night. After removing the bedding and leaving the mattress bare so it would dry, I stripped off what I'd been wearing and headed to the bathroom to shower. I felt that I not only needed to clean off the sweat, but I wanted to wash off the things I'd experienced during my dreams as well. I had watched and felt that creep removing my clothing and exploring my body. I was also able to smell his foul breath and felt the rough calluses on his hands as they touched my bare skin, and it made me feel dirty. I was determined to wash off as much of that filth as I could, even though it really hadn't happened. However, I still didn't feel clean when I finished my shower, but I wasn't about to stay in there all day long, so I got out, dried off, and got dressed before heading out to the kitchen to fix something to eat. I spent the rest of Sunday mentally going over my dreams, along with what I'd seen during my visit to the farm, and I rehashed everything I'd discovered and had been told about this case. It was a long and very unsettling time for me, and I wondered if I would experience more dreams when I went to sleep later. I had to make the bed before I could do that, and then I had trouble drifting off. It was probably due to the fact that I was afraid I'd have more unsettling dreams, and when I eventually fell asleep, my worst fears came true. I experienced more nightmares and most of the visions were similar to those I'd endured the night before, but this time I also experienced what Johansen did when he was through with me. When that happened, I bolted upright in bed and screamed as my eyes shot open. Needless to say, it took quite a while before I calmed down again and was able to go back to sleep. I didn't want to, but I forced myself to do it because I had to go to work in the morning. I awoke in the same condition that I was in the previous morning, with my body and the bedding drenched in sweat and the bed in total disarray. After I removed the sheets, I left the bed unmade again and went into the bathroom to take a shower. I was hoping it would make me feel better, as well as improving how I looked so I wouldn't appear quite as bad as the morning when I had taken the sick day from work. Scott was the only one who noticed my predicament when I arrived, and he asked what was wrong. I merely told him we could go out for lunch and I'd fill him in then. He said that would be fine, and he went back to his cubicle and we both got to work. I didn't see him again until it was time to eat. We went to a local restaurant, and after we'd placed our orders I told him about the previous couple of nights. He didn't seem shocked, and I later found out that he'd been having some unsettling dreams as well, but not nearly as horrific as mine. It actually helped a little to talk about it, and I felt slightly better by the time we returned to work. When I got home later, I made a decision. Since the next day was Halloween, I would drive out to the Johansen farm again so I could see what it would have looked like when he brought the boys there after dark. I packed a backpack with a few items and placed it beside the front door so I'd remember to take it with me in the morning. I wasn't sure what I expected to happen or what I might find, although I was hoping it would give me some additional insight into those events. I was anxious the entire next day at work, as I thought about what I was about to do. I didn't tell Scott, because this was something I wanted to do alone, and when the workday ended, I rushed out of the office, jumped into the driver's seat, and took off for Quarry Road. It was dusk as I started out, but it continued to grow darker as I made my way there. My heart was pounding in my chest as I turned onto Quarry Road and headed toward the farm. I put the headlights on high beam so I could see the road better, because I didn't expect to run into anyone or anything, except maybe an animal or two. As I got closer to where I knew the farm was and where I'd find the driveway, I thought I saw movement up ahead. I was hoping it was only a deer, as opposed to a bear, but I was totally shocked when I was able to make out what was actually there. It was a small group of naked boys walking single file along the side of the road. I came to a stop, unable to breathe or believe what I was seeing. How could this be? Was it just my imagination, or were these the spirits of the kidnapped boys? As I looked more closely, they appeared to be older than what the kidnapped boys would have been, so maybe this was another group that Johansen had done the same thing to. I was still gawking at them as they continued to move on, when suddenly the last boy turned and signaled for me to follow him. Oh, shit! Not only was I aware of them, but they were aware of me as well. Since I was being summoned, I followed behind until he waved for me to pass by. The boys had come to a stop and they were all waving me forward as they faced the road. This meant I could see their naked fronts now too, since I had already observed their naked backsides as I followed them. When I reached the first boy in line, he pointed toward the ground at the side of the road, and that's when I realized he was pointing out the driveway. He was indicating that he wanted me to pull into it, so I did, and the boys walked beside the car until I came to a stop. I was actually trembling as I put the car in park and turned off the engine. I wasn't sure if I should get out, because I was a little leery about what they might try to do to me. Was this some kind of a ghostly trap, so I'd end up dying out here too? After thinking about it briefly and watching the boys urge me to join them, I didn't feel this was the case. Maybe they trusted me after we'd communicated via the Ouija board, so now they just wanted to give me more information that I could use. I grabbed my backpack as I got out of the car and slung it over my shoulder. I also pulled the tactical flashlight out of the pocket in the front and flicked it on, because I needed to see where I was going, even if the boys didn't. Somewhat hesitantly I acceded to their urging to follow them as they led me down the driveway. Without hesitation, they took the left fork and headed toward the barn. We were halfway there when I caught a rapid movement out of the corner of my eye. As I turned to look in that direction, I saw the apparition of an older man charging in my direction. The boys must have become aware of what was happening at nearly the same time, because they all came charging back and placed themselves between me and this other ghostly figure. Since the older male figure only slowed down slightly at this point, the boys reacted as a group and attacked him, virtually restraining him before he was able to reach my location. If this was the same group of boys I had been investigating, they appeared older now than when they first disappeared, which meant they were also more capable of standing up for themselves, especially as a group. As I watched this scene playing out, I wondered what was happening, and then it dawned on me. As long as the boys bodies stayed buried on the farm, they were trapped there for Deke to abuse, even after death. That was probably why the boys were struggling against him, because they understood that this was probably their best chance to break free from his control. It was also the reason Deke was trying to stop it from happening, because he didn't want to lose them. At this point, one of the boys slipped away from the others and signaled me to continue following him, so I did what he wanted. As we were walking away from the others, I kept turning my head to make sure the remaining boys were able to keep the other apparition in check. It appeared they were, so I felt safe to consider what had just happened. "Was that Deke?" I wondered as I continued following the eighth boy. "Was Deke trying to prevent the boys from communicating with me and helping me to understand what had happened to them?" I wasn't sure, but it was my best guess as I continued following the lone naked youth. He didn't stop when he got to the barn and merely walked through the wide open double doors. I paused briefly as I considered if this would be safe, but he waved for me to follow him as he headed toward an identical opening at the rear of the barn. Since I didn't feel he would put me in a situation that might harm me, seeing he and the others had collectively done their best to protect me from Deke, so I continued to follow him. It didn't take long before we were standing on the other side of the barn. The boy didn't hesitate and kept on walking, and we probably went another couple hundred yards (approximately 183 m) before he eventually came to a halt. It was also when he pointed at the ground in front of him. "Are you telling me this is where he buried you boys?" He nodded in agreement. "Ok, let me get something to mark this place." I looked around until I found a couple of good size stones and I used them to mark the location. Then, I turned to speak to the boy again. "I'll bring the Sheriff out here so he can retrieve all of your bodies, and then hopefully all of you boys will be given a decent burial by your relatives so you can rest in peace." He gave me a weak grin, and then suddenly disappeared. This left me standing alone in the middle of the badly overgrown field hoping that I could find my way back to the car. That's when I noticed there was a path of trampled grass and weeds that I'd made on the way there, so I merely followed it back to the barn. After passing through that decaying structure again, I looked to see if the other boys and Deke were still there, but they had disappeared as well. Feeling slightly better, I made my way over to where I'd parked the car, hopped inside, and started the engine. After carefully backing out of the driveway and onto the road, I headed in the direction of my apartment, eager to place as much distance as possible between me and the farm. My head was spinning during the ride home. I never in my wildest dreams would have thought those boys might appear so they could lead me out to their current resting place. I didn't expect to see Deke there either, but he obviously wanted to keep his crimes hidden. The boys weren't about to let him do that, and it gave me a great deal to think about on the ride back. One of the first decisions I made was that I planned on driving over to the Sheriff's Department during my lunch hour the next day so I could explain what had just occurred. I also wanted to see if the Sheriff would go out to the farm with me on the weekend, so I could show him were the bodies were buried. I initially thought about doing this after work later the next evening, but then I realized it would be dark out then too, just like it had been when I just went out there. That's why I chose to do it on the weekend instead, and I just hoped that the Sheriff would believe me and agree to do this. I didn't tell Scott about my encounter at the farm, but I called the Sheriff's Department in the morning to see if the Sheriff would agree to meet with me during the noon hour. He said he'd take a late lunch and would wait for me, so I was on edge for the rest of the morning and remained that way until it was time to leave. As soon as I got there, I announced to the deputy at the front desk that I had a meeting scheduled with the Sheriff. He looked up, smiled, and told me to head back to his office. It was the same deputy as the last time I came to see the Sheriff, so he understood that I knew my way there. I knocked on the Sheriff's door and was told to enter. "I don't know if you're going to believe me, but this is what I've done so far and what I've seen," I began, and then I told him about my initial visit to the farm with Scott, and my trip there Halloween night on own. The Sheriff kept nodding, although sometimes he would shake his head as well as I told him the story, so I had no idea what he was thinking. When I finished, he looked at me and spoke. "As I told you previously, I believe that things like this are possible, and you've obviously made a supernatural connection with those boys." "But I'm not sure if it was the same group, because they looked older than what I'd expected." "I'm sure we'll find out once we have the remains. In the meantime, I'll see if we can get DNA samples from any surviving relatives, and I'll also see if I can get someone with a bush hog shredder to cut down the overgrowth and remove it for us. Since this happened so long ago, we won't be able to use the cadaver dogs, so I'll see if I can get my hands on some ground-penetrating radar. That should help to locate the graves and narrow the amount of digging we'll have to do. Meet me here Saturday morning at 10:00, and then you can ride out to the farm with me." I agreed, but I didn't say anything to Scott about this until Friday. After asking him to stop for a couple of beers with me before going home, I filled him in about Halloween night, my meeting with the Sheriff, and our plan to go out there on Saturday to dig up the remains. "Man, I wish you'd have included me in on all of this," he stated, looking slightly dejected. "First of all, I didn't really know what I expected to find when I went out there, and I didn't know if the Sheriff would believe my story when I told him. I don't think he wants anyone else out there when we do this, because he's hoping to be able to retrieve DNA samples so he can verify if these are the same boys. I believe he only asked me to go, because I'm the only one who knows where that spot is." Scott eventually accepted my explanation, but he made me promise to call him as soon as I got back, so I could tell him what we'd discovered. I promised I would, and eventually we left the bar and went home. That evening I was like a kid on the night before his birthday or on Christmas Eve. I was excited and eager to do this, and all night long I wondered what we were going to discover. Were these the boys I'd been tracking down, or was this another group of boys that Johansen had done something similar too? How long would it take before we knew the answers, because I was going to be on pins and needles until I found out? After a restless and dream filled slumber, when I awoke I had a sudden thought. Could the boys have somehow been able to affect my dreams as well? The dreams I had about what had happened to them, including being there myself, were all so real and included things I wouldn't have known about or even imagined. Had I made more of a connection than just communicating with them through the Ouija board? As it got closer to the time I was supposed to meet the Sheriff, I got dressed, got in my car, and drove over to his office. He told me that some farmers would be at the site when we got there, and a guy with ground-penetrating radar would show up too. A little later we would be joined by a team of forensic archeologists, and they would be the ones who would excavate the site, once we verified there were bodies present. The Sheriff then led me out to his personal car and we took off for the old farm. "I haven't been out here in years," he said as we were driving down Quarry Road. "It looks like the D.O.T. hasn't been out here either." He laughed after saying that, and I did too, because he was correct. No one had been out there to work on the road for a very long time either, or else it wouldn't have been in such rough shape. When we reached the old farm and were pulling into the driveway, I noticed two tractors near where it forked, and each tractor had a different mechanism attached to it. They were obviously the farmers who'd agreed to clear the land for the Sheriff, and he briefly explained to me what they were going to do. "Ok, you lead the way and we'll follow," the Sheriff urged once we reached the tractors. "You've obviously gone through this mess before, so I'll just have these boys follow us out and clear the way for the others." I didn't have a problem with this, so I led the Sheriff toward the barn. I heard the tractors start up behind us, but I didn't look back. I knew the one was going to cut down the grass and weeds with the bush hog shredder, while the other one use the blade scraper to clear the debris and leave a smooth dirt finish. I merely continued on and led the Sheriff through the barn before making my way out to where I'd marked the spot the boys had showed me. When I reached that location, I pointed it out to the Sheriff and we removed the stones so the tractors could clear the area. Once they finished their task, the Sheriff thanked them and said he'd have a check mailed to each one for their time and assistance. The men merely nodded their acknowledgment and left. After we put the stones back where we'd found them, we were able to walk around and investigate the area as we waited for the others to arrive. The next one to show up was a guy with a van, and I watched as he took something out of it that looked similar to a lawnmower. He explained it was the ground-penetration radar as he followed us out to the site. He also explained how it worked and described how he would search the area. The Sheriff and I stood out of his way and merely observed as he walked back and forth over the patch of land that had just been cleared. "I've got something here," the man shouted as he signaled for us to join him. "I wanted to make sure of it before I said anything, but there are several objects buried about two or three feet down, and they appear to be bodies." "That's what we were expecting to find," the Sheriff confirmed. "Just let us know exactly where each one is and we'll mark the spot with something." At that point the Sheriff and I grabbed the stones I had used previously to mark the site, and we placed those over the first two graves. After that, we scurried about looking for other objects we could use, and that's when I spotted an old fieldstone fence. We quickly grabbed a couple of stones each and returned to mark the next four spots, and then I ran back to get two more stones. The man with the ground-penetrating radar had pointed out eight locations, so apparently all of the boys were buried here, if it truly was them. After the Sheriff said goodbye to the guy and promised to send him a check too, the man packed up his equipment and took off, while we waited around for the next group to arrive. About thirty minutes later, two SUVs pulled in and came to a stop, and I soon learned that these were the forensic archeologists. As soon as the Sheriff explained the situation and showed them the locations we had marked, he turned to me and spoke. "There's no sense of us sticking around any longer, because they'll take their time digging up the remains, to make sure they don't lose any evidence. Once they've retrieved all of the bones, they'll have them transported to the coroner's office, and he'll perform a further examination on the remains. He'll also take DNA samples and send them to the lab, but it can take several weeks before we learn the results." "I see, but I'd like you to call me when you hear anything." "Trust me, I will, seeing you've been such a vital part of this investigation. I owe you a world of thanks, because this will most likely close this case and give me the answers I've been seeking all these years." I gave the Sheriff my phone number, which he entered into his phone, and then I rode back with him to the Sheriff's Department. Once we were there, he thanked me for my help, and I thanked him for his assistance and for including me in the process. Then, I got in my car and drove to the apartment. I called Scott as soon as I got there and explained everything we'd done. I also told him what the Sheriff had said about how long this would take, and then we said goodbye and I went about my business. It was several weeks before I heard from the Sheriff again. He called one day while I was at work and asked if I would stop by his office later, so he could explain everything to me. I immediately agreed, and I was bouncing around excitedly at my desk as I waited for the workday to come to an end. I was surprised I didn't get a speeding ticket as I raced over there, but I wanted to hear what he had to say as soon as possible. I hurriedly parked my car, sprinted to the front desk, and was given permission to go back to the Sheriff's office. He rose from his chair as soon as I knocked on the door. "Come in, Chris, because I want to explain what we've discovered." I went inside and sat down as the Sheriff closed the door behind me. After he returned to his chair on the other side of the desk, he looked at me and began to speak. "When I got the coroner's preliminary report, I was afraid we'd found the wrong set of graves, because he estimated the bodies were of boys in their early teens. That was older than the kidnapped boys, and his conclusions were based on the bone structure and dental examinations. I was disappointed, but I decided to wait for the DNA reports before I came to any conclusions." "Have you got those back yet?" I blurted out, interrupting him. "Yes, I got a copy of that report yesterday, and I took time to study it before I called you. The lab has confirmed that there is no doubt that the bodies are those of the missing boys." "But how can that be, if they are older than what they should be?" "It appears that Johansen must have kept each of the boys alive for two, three, or maybe even four years after he'd abducted them. I don't want to speculate about why he might have done that, because none of the reasons I can come up with are reassuring, but you've closed the case and we're going to turn the remains over to each of the boys' next of kin." "If he kept them alive for all that time, where did he keep them? In the barn, or in that hole in the ground beside it?" "To tell you the truth, seeing that place was so isolated, he probably just kept them chained up inside the house." "I guess that's better than those other two places, but those poor kids must have been scared to death. Do you know how they died?" "The coroner found evidence to suggest how it happened, but just let me say that it wasn't from natural causes. However, the fact that he kept them alive for a while explains why there was a gap between the kidnappings. We can probably tell how long he kept each boy by looking at how long it took before he snatched up the next one." "I've already figured out how long it was between when each boy was taken, so that would mean he kept the younger boys the longest." "Yes, it appears the more they matured, the less interested he was in them. The coroner determined that each boy was probably fourteen or fifteen when he died." "That's still too young." "Yes, it is." I thanked the Sheriff for the information and left his office. I called Scott as soon as I got home and explained the same things to him. At least now we knew for sure what had happened to those poor kids. By early spring, the Sheriff called to inform me that the remains of each of the boys had been given a proper burial by their families. So now the spirits of Mike Maynard, Danny Coutts, Jamie Hopko, Peter Simek, Vince Rumsey, Josh Becker, Tommy Hawes, and Steven James could rest in peace. I just hoped they had now moved on to find peace and appreciated the extremes that I went to so it could happen. I got my answer the following Halloween. Scott and I had gone to another haunted house first, and then we stopped to have a couple of beers at a local bar. While there, we discussed our experiences from the previous year, and I mentioned that I hoped the boys were finally able to rest in peace. Scott said he hoped so as well, and eventually we said goodnight to each other and returned to our apartments. As soon as I got there, I showered and got ready for bed. I was still thinking about the boys as I crawled under the covers, and even though I was a little restless at first, I slept soundly throughout the night. When I awoke the next morning, to say I was shocked by what I found would have been a gross understatement. I awoke in the center of the bed, but there were no covers on me. They were all pulled back and neatly arranged at the foot of the bed, completely the opposite of how I had found them after experiencing horrific nightmares the year before, but that wasn't all. There were other objects on the bed with me as well, things that had not been there when I went to sleep. That's when I started to become scared and immediately began to wonder if someone had broken in after I went to sleep. On my right I discovered a Spiderman mask, a football helmet, a cowboy hat, and a baseball cap. On my left was a Power Ranger mask, a fireman's helmet, an Indian headdress, and a Darth Vader mask. As I looked at the various objects, I wondered where they'd come from, and that's when I noticed something else. Next to each object there was something written on the sheet, so I got up to examine what it said. That's when I discovered that next to each object was the signature of one of the boys who'd gone missing. At that point I began to choke up, because I realized this was their way of getting a message to me. As the significance of this was slowly sinking in, I noticed something else. Just above the folded bedding at the end of the mattress, there was something else scrawled on the sheet. Much larger than each boy's signature was written, 'Thank you!' Deeply moved, I collected the various objects the boys had left me, because they were obviously part of the costumes they'd been wearing when they disappeared. I would keep them as cherished souvenirs, along with the fitted sheet I'd just removed from the bed. They would serve as a reminder of the time I'd spent investigating their disappearances and the brief time I'd spent with them on Halloween night. Happy Halloween to one and all!
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