We all have an effect on one another. Even the tiniest. (New Fiction.)

Ripples

By: S. Scott Bullock

“Yes! We are everywhere. Yes, we have been here from the beginning of civilization. No. We don’t know each other or where we came from or what information anyone else has. But I will tell you what I DO know. If you don’t let me go… if I don’t do what I was put here to do… something horrible is going to happen.” The young man sat back in his chair and stared at the cop.

“Name?” The cop said.

“I told you! I don’t have a name, I only have a job.” The young man shifted his handcuffed wrists, which were attached to a bracket on the table of the interrogation room. He intertwined his fingers in a prayer. “Please. I am literally begging you. Just let me do this job and then you can throw me in jail. You can execute me. You can do whatever you want with me. But please. Please. I have to do this.”

The door to the room opened and a six-foot five, African-American man in a deep blue suit walked into the room carrying a file folder. He glanced over at the uniformed cop and nodded his head. The cop got up and left the room closing the door behind him.

“Hi.” The man said sitting across the table from the young man. “I’m Detective Warren. What’s your name?”

“Please, not again.” The young man said lowering his head.

“What do you mean?” Warren asked.

“Please let me do my job. Please.”

“Okay. Here’s the deal.” Warren began and opened the folder. “Driving at an unsafe speed. No identification. Open container. Concealed weapon. Stolen car.” Warren closed the file and looked up at the young man. “Does that about cover it?”

“I stole the car and drove it too fast. The alcohol and gun were in the car already.”

“Where were you headed, in such a hurry?”

“Here. San Diego, California.”

“Why?”

“My job.”

“What is your job.”

“Please take me where I need to go and then you can do whatever you want with me. Please.” The young man dropped his head and began to sob.

“We’re going to have to call you John Doe, since we don’t have any other information.” Warren said putting his hand on the sobbing young man’s hands. “And were going to bring in a psychiatrist to have you evaluated. She’ll be here in a half an hour or so.”

“My job.” John Doe said through his tears.

“That is one scraggly looking kid.” Dr. Mara said to Detective Warren. They stood on the opposite side of the two-way mirror that occupied the entire upper south wall of the interrogation room.

“If he is a kid.” Warren said. “We don’t know anything at all. Except, five foot six, shoulder length blond hair, blue eyes, no tattoos, two three inch scars at the base of his spine.”

“You stripped him?” Dr. Mara said looking up at Warren.

“He came in shirtless.”

“I’ll talk to him now.” Dr. Mara said looking back through the glass at John Doe.

The door to the interrogation room opened and John Doe looked up and into Dr. Mara’s eyes. She could tell immediately that he was dangerously close to full-out panic.

“MY JOB!” He cried out to her. “Please. Will you help me?”

“I will help you.” Mara said sitting across from him. “I will. But you’ve got to help us too. First you need to inhale slowly and exhale even slower. Will you do that? Will you do that for me.”

He inhaled deeply and then exhaled.

“Excellent. Now one more time.”

He did as she asked.

“Tomorrow.” He said calming. “Tomorrow, July 4th. I’ve got to be there tomorrow, July 4th at 3:38 pm. Can you help me get there?”

“First things, first.” Mara said. “My name is Dr. Janet Mara. I’m a psychiatrist. I’m here to evaluate your mental health and stability. Do you understand so far?”

“Yes.” John Doe said. “I’m new formed but I have the collective knowledge.”

“New formed?” She asked.

“Yes. Three days ago. Could you take these off?” He asked raising his cuffed wrists.

“I promise that they will come off as soon as we know a little bit more about you, okay?” She asked and put her hand on his. He looked down at it, then back to Mara’s face and then back to her hand.

“I’m sorry for the pain you are in.” John Doe said softly.

Mara flinched almost imperceptibly.

“This isn’t about me, John. This is about you. Do you have a name?” She maintained her well practiced demeanor. “It’s very important that we identify you.”

“We don’t have names. We have jobs.”

“We?”

“Yes.”

“Who are ‘we’, John?” Dr. Mara pulled out a legal pad from her briefcase. She took out her favorite pen. It was an antique fountain pen given to her by her father.

“That pen means a great deal to you.” He said.

“Yes. It was given to me by my father when I…”

“Graduated.” He said finishing her sentence.

“Yes.” She said. “Good guess. Who are ‘we’ John?”

“I told this all to the first cop and then the second one and then the third one.” He said shifting in his seat.

“I know. And I’m sorry that I need you to tell it all over again, but I need you to do just that. Tell me everything you told the police officers and anything more you can think of. Okay?”

“We are ‘Ripplers’” He said.

“And what are ‘Ripplers’.” She asked writing on her pad.

“We stop the course of events.”

“What events?”

“Disasters that befall human kind.” He said and a single tear fell from his eye to the table.

“And how do you do that? How do you stop the course of events?” She said handing him a tissue from a tiny pack in her briefcase.

“We stop the ripple.” John Doe said laying his head on his cuffed wrists and dabbing at his eyes with the tissue. “I need you to help me do my job. Please.”

“I will John. I promise. Can you tell me what your job is?”

“I have to go to San Diego, California. I have to go to 3409 Crestview Drive. I have to go to the backyard patio wall on July 4th at 3:38 pm. I have to crush the single black ant that is crawling on the fourth cinder-block from the left.” He raised his head and looked at Mara. “Help me.”

“An ant?” Dr. Mara said, writing. “Your job is to kill an ant?”

“Yes.” John Doe said. “Please help me.”

“Why do you need to kill an ant, John?” She looked up and into his eyes.

“I don’t know. We never know. We only know when, where and how. We never know why.”

“The Ripplers?” Mara asked.

“Yes.”

“What will happen if you don’t kill the ant?” She asked looking down at her pad.

“Something horrible.” John Doe answered. “Something horrible.”

“Well.” She said. “We need to kill that old ant. But first I need some more information, okay?”

“Yes. Okay. Thank you so much. Thank you. Can we talk on the way?” He was smiling for the first time since his arrest.

“We can’t leave just yet.” She said. “But I will get those cuffs off of you.” She got up and went to the door. She opened it and called out. “Josh, can we get these cuffs off of him?” She sat back down. “They’ll be in with the key in a minute. Now. Back to The Ripplers.”

“Yes.”

“How many of you are there?”

“I don’t know.”

“Twenty?”

“Oh, no. Many, many more.”

“Hundreds?”

“More.”
“Thousands?”

“More.”

“Millions, Trillions?”

“Millions, I think.”

“And where do you all live?” She asked writing.

“We don’t live.” He began. “We are formed when needed.”

“Formed from what?”

“I don’t know.”

“Formed from where?”

“I don’t know.”

“Okay.” Dr. Mara said putting down her pad and pen. “We’re going about this wrong. John, I need you to tell me all you know about Ripplers and how they work. Can you do that John? Can you tell me everything you know?”

“Ripplers.” He began. “Stop the ripples of circumstance that cause disasters, tragedies and holocausts whether human or nature initiated.”

“Okay.” She said picking up her pen and writing.

“We are formed when a ripple is perceived to begin by The Others.”

“The Others?” She asked writing faster.

“Those who watch out for human kind.”

“Oh. And where do The Others live?”

“They don’t live.”

“They’re dead?”

“No. They do not live, they are not dead. They are.”

“And why don’t they stop the ripples themselves?”

“They have no form. They need us to physically intervene.”

“And why do they care about human kind?”

“They care for all and every.”

“All and every?”

“Yes. All that are and every that is.”

“Oh. Wow. Okay. Have you ever met one of them?”

John Doe let out a laugh. It was a laugh filled with frustration and sorrow.

“That’s funny?” Mara asked him raising an eyebrow.

“It’s sad.” He said. “I’m so sad. I will never make you understand. I don’t even understand myself. I only know what I have to do. And if I don’t…”

“Something horrible will happen.” She finished his sentence.

“Yes.” He said as the door opened.

A uniformed cop came over and unlocked John Doe’s handcuffs. John Doe rubbed his wrists.

“Thank you.” He said to both the cop and Dr. Mara.

“Thanks, Josh.” She said to the cop.

“You sure he’s safe?” Josh asked her pointing to John Doe.

“Yes. I’m sure. Thank you Josh.”

“Okay. Yell if he tries to kill you.” He said over his shoulder as he left the room.

“Why would I try to kill you?” John Doe asked, concerned.

“He was just kidding, John. Now. I’m going to get some coffee, would you like some? Or some water?” She asked getting up from her seat.

“No thank you.” He said sitting back into his chair. “Please hurry though. Please.”

“Okay.” She said and smiled. “Be right back.”

She went into the viewing room and met Detective Warren who had been watching the interview though the two-way mirror.

“That is one F’d up nutcase.” Warren said to her.

“Hardly the clinical term I’d use, Darnell. I’d say most definitely paranoid. Maybe schizophrenic. With a bit of clinical narcissism thrown in.”

They watched as John Doe got up and began pacing around the room.

“He dangerous?” Warren asked.

“I don’t think so. Not to humans anyway. But I wouldn’t want to be around him if I was an ant.”

“No shit. What the hell was that all about anyway?” Warren poured two coffees. “Here you go. No cream. No sugar.”

“Black.” She said and smiled at him. “Like my man.” She leaned in and up on her toes. She kissed his cheek.

“How’d he know that stuff?” Warren asked.

“What stuff?” Mara said blowing on her coffee to cool it.

“He knew you were in pain and he knew about your fountain pen.”

“Oh, sugar lumps.” She said sipping her coffee. “Look at my hand.” She held it up to him, and wiggled her fingers. “See these unattractive knotty knuckles? Those are evidence of my arthritis. Evidence of my ‘pain’.”

“Oh.” Warren said a bit chagrined. “And the pen?”

“He guessed. He finished a sentence that I already started and gave information in. It was a good guess. A stab. But he made it and it worked.”

“Wow.” Warren said putting his hand on her waist. “You’re something else.”

“Four years undergrad, four years for the M.D., four years residency and ten years in practice does that to a girl.” She said grabbing a handful of his butt. “I gotta get back in there for round two But I need to talk to Josh first.”

Warren kissed her cheek again and she walked out of the room.

“My job.” John Doe said as Dr. Mara walked back into the room ten minutes later. “You’ve been gone so long. You promised.”

“I certainly did.” She said sitting down. “Sit down with me for a minute. I want to talk a little bit more, first. Okay? Sit down.”

John Doe sat down and put his hands on the table. He rubbed at the red marks left by the handcuffs on his wrists.

“Do they still hurt?” Dr. Mara asked him, pointing to his wrists.

“A little.” He said. “Nothing like yours.”

“You noticed my arthritis?” She asked him and carefully watched his body language.

“Your what?” He asked, confused.

“We’re going to take you to a medical facility tonight, John.” She said, taking control. “Overnight. For observation.”
“But you can’t!” He shouted. “You promised!”

“Just for the night, John.”

Officer Trendall opened the door and walked in carrying a small evidence tube.

“Oh good. Josh.” She said then turned to John Doe and took his hand. “Breath in deeply for me again, and then breath out very slowly.”

He did.

“Again.” She said to him.

He did again.

“I had to go all the way to the dumpster behind Hank’s Liquor but I found em. A damn conga line going back and forth.” He handed the small glass, rubber-corked vile to Dr. Mara.

“Thank you Josh. This will help a great deal.” She said, concealing the contents of the vile in her closed hand.

“Yell if he tries to kill you.” Officer Trendall said walking out of the room.

“Not funny the second time either, Josh. And please bring in my medical bag.”

“I would never try to kill you.” John Doe said quietly. “Or anybody.”

“I know, John. I believe you.” She put her hand on his. “I want to ask you something. If you can’t make it to your job tomorrow, can ‘The Others’ send another ‘Rippler’?”

“No.” He said and his expression melted into fear.

“Why not?” She asked him and he pulled his hand away from hers.

“No time. Ripplers take three days to form. No time for a new one.”

“Okay. I understand.” She put her closed hand on the table in front of John Doe. “Now, I’ve got something here in my hand that I think is going to make you feel a lot better.” She opened her hand and revealed the glass vile. Inside it a tiny black ant ran frantically around.

“What is that?” John Doe asked.

“It’s your ant, John.” She said putting the vile down in front of him. “You can open the vile, let it out and you can do your job. Go ahead, John. Do your job.”

“I don’t understand.” He said. “I don’t understand.”

“The ant you must kill. Your job. You can do it here. Right here now.”

John Doe looked up at her and realization changed his expression from sad confusion to fury. He swept his hand violently across the table knocking the vile into the far wall. It shattered just as Officer Trendall stepped back into the room with Dr. Mara’s medical bag.

“Hey!” Trendall shouted. “What the hell is….”

“THAT’S NOT THE ANT! THE ANT IS AT 3409 CRESTVIEW DRIVE TOMORROW JULY FORTH AT 3:38 PM!!!” John Doe shouted leaping up. “MY JOB!” John Doe broke for the door and Trendall tackled him and threw him to the ground. John Doe began to scream incoherently then. The only recognizable word being ‘job’. Trendall held him down and Mara moved to her bag as Detective Warren ran into the room. She took out a vial and syringe. She filled the syringe, voided the air pocket and approached John Doe.

“Hold him tightly.” She said to Trendall and stabbed the syringe into John Doe’s shoulder. She pressed the plunger and injected the sedative.

John Doe continued screaming and Mara shouted over the din.

“A couple minutes!” Just hold him down a couple more minutes!”

Mara and Warren sat in the station lunch room several hours later. They both had unfinished cups of coffee in front of them.

“And the people at 3409?” Mara said and sipped her coffee.

“A family. The O’Briens. Mom and Dad and three kids aged two to nine.” Warren said leaning back in his chair. “They don’t know anyone who meets John Doe’s description. Haven’t been contacted by him or anyone of a suspicious nature. As a matter of fact the lady, Toni, said that their life bordered on dull and she would have welcomed some excitement.” He shook his head. “Some people.”

“Well.” Mara began. “They won’t get any from poor John Doe. He’s in lock-down at Paxton Memorial. Sedated, strapped in and monitors glued to every part of his body. He’s the state’s problem now. Poor thing. He was a sweet kid.”

“Maybe he’ll be an exterminator some day.” Warren laughed and sipped his coffee.

At exactly 3:38pm the following day, July 4th, an Argentinian black ant crawled with great purpose across the forth cinder-block from the left on the back patio wall of 3409 Crestview Drive in San Diego, California. It was racing and leaving a pheromone trail all along its path. It had found a food and water supply of great abundance and it was hurrying back to its colony with the information. By 3:45 the ant had reached its colony, conveyed the information and began to lead the way back along the pheromone trail to the small crack in the foundation of the two story, mid-century house at 3409 Crestview.

The unending line of ants made their way into the kitchen and up to the counter next to the sink where only an hour before, Deacon O’Brien, whom the family called Deeko, the middle child, six years old, had left the unfinished and unwanted remainder of his salmon patty sandwich. Deeko wasn’t fond of salmon patties and preferred to move on immediately to his dessert. Tiger tail twinkies.

As the ants swarmed the remains of the salmon patty, tearing off great ant sized hunks in there mandibles and starting a second line that paralleled the first that returned to the colony, Deeko sat in the TV room watching reruns of Bewitched on Netflix. He had finished off his second Tiger Tail when he heard his mother holler from the kitchen.

“DAMN IT DEEKO!” She yelled. “You left your … and GOD! All these ants!!!”

Deeko jumped up and headed to the front door.

“I’m going over to Terry’s!” He shouted, ran out and slammed the door behind him.

Toni O’Brien looked at the long black, undulating line of ants, seemingly going in two directions at once.

“I am SO SICK OF THIS!” She shouted at them. “How many times are we going to have to deal with you bastards!” She squatted down and opened the under-sink cabinet. She grabbed the Raid Ant & Roach killer. “Caio you mothers.” She hissed and sprayed a swath of poison along the trail. She sprayed from sandwich to the perceived point of entry and then sprayed some more. The noxious smell of floral-scented insecticide became overwhelming and she pushed open the over-sink window. She opened the back kitchen door and turned on the ceiling fan.

A cry came from a back bedroom and Toni knew that it was her youngest, two-year old Dillon. They called him Dill Pickle and Dill Pickle was up from his nap and hungry.

“I’m coming angel!” She shouted toward Dillon’s room. “I’ve just got to wipe up this mess.”

She pulled a wad of paper towels from a roll on the fancy brass holder and begin wiping up the dead ants and insecticide. She did the same with the half-eaten, dead ant covered, sandwich. She dropped the vile mess into the trash and soaked a sponge with hot water. She poured a generous amount of dish soap on the sponge and wiped at the counter where the poison had been sprayed. She threw the sponge in the sink, and ran hot water over it. She left the tap running as she headed for the baby’s room.

Dillon stood up in his crib. When Toni walked into the room he began bouncing up and down and sucking frantically on his pacifier through a huge smile. His arms were held up in the ‘lift-me-outta-here’ position and Toni obliged.

“Let’s check your sleepy-time and get your supper.” She checked his sleepy-time diaper and found it unspoiled. She pulled out his pacifier, threw it into the crib, picked him up and made her way back to the kitchen. “We’re gonna have your favorite, Dill Pickle.” She said sitting him in his high chair. “Alphabet Spaghetti O’s!” She pulled his Oscar the grouch bowl and his special Elmo spoon out of the drying rack that was sitting next to the sink. She turned off the running tap and opened the pantry.

An hour later, Dillon began to cry while sitting next to his oldest brother, Sean, on the couch. He fell to one side and started to twitch. A bit of foam was forming at the sides of his mouth and the crying turned into sounds of choking or drowning. Sean jumped up and yelled to his mother.

“MOM!” Sean screamed. “MOM COME IN HERE! DILL! SOMETHING’S WRONG!”

Two weeks later, on July 18th, Dr. Mara and Detective Warren sat at an open air restaurant having a long anticipated, non-working, lunch date. The sea breeze brought scents of ocean brine and freshly planted rosemary. The sun was hot, but the cool breeze turned the high temperature down to mild perfection. A waitress, bone thin and brittle, was standing at their two-top table taking their order.

“Fries?” The waitress asked Warren.

“Yes, please.” Warren said putting down his menu. “The garlic ones, right? You still have the garlic ones?”

“You bet.” The waitress said writing on her pad. “Drink?”

“House red. Large.” He said and smiled at Dr. Mara.

“Okey dokey.” The waitress said taking both menus. “I’ll be back with your ice tea and your wine right away.”

Warren pulled his chair around closer to Mara.

“My news.” He began. “Will beat your news, guaranteed.”

“Go for it, Detective.” Mara said. “But I doubt it.”

“Twenty-two hundred and six people died and a thousand more injured in the explosion at Petco Park on the forth. That’s the final tally I got this morning.”

“Oh god.” Mara said quietly.

“It could have been worse since the place holds over forty-two thousand and it was filled up because of the Padres game and the giant fireworks show that was supposed to happen that night.”

“Who did it?” Mara asked him.

“Final word is the nebulous ‘Domestic Terrorist’. But we know for sure, and this my love is where it starts getting weird and you ain’t gonna believe just how weird it ends up, we know that the explosives were brought in by truck. A delivery truck filled with concession supplies. And we know this because the punk-ass, insufficiently trained kid who was acting as a gate guard told us. He said that he looked into the moving van sized truck and saw boxes of hamburger buns and mustard packets and stuff for the concessions. He said he opened up a couple of the boxes and found buns and cans of nacho cheese sauce and everything looked kosher to him. But what the dumbshit didn’t do was crawl inside and look behind the boxes where he would have found four-hundred pounds of military grade explosives.”

“Why was he in charge of the gate if he was so incompetent?” Mara asked as the waitress came back with their drinks.

“Here’s your tea.” The waitress said setting a dew covered glass in front of Dr. Mara. “And your wine.. LARGE.” She said smiling and setting the extra large wine glass in front of Detective Warren. “I’ll be back in a few with your lunch.” She said and walked over to a table occupied by two men who sat very close to each other and touched hands a lot.

“Why was he in charge?” Mara asked again.

“Because the guard that is normally at that gate was late that day.”

“Would HE have looked deeper into the truck.” She asked sipping her iced tea.

“That particular guard is a cop by day. And his specialty is training methods for recognizing and deterring potential terrorist attacks. He teaches the damn class at the academy! He moonlights as a guard at Petco Park. By day he’s La Jolla P.D. So, he was late to Petco because he was breaking up a fight in a Hospital Parking lot here in San Diego.”

“Why was he here in San Diego?” Mara asked.

“Wait.” Warren said and took a swig of wine. “So this Tom Gotlund, that’s the cop’s name, Tommy the Cop Gotlund, is on his police cycle. He’s heading back to La Jolla to turn in the bike and change his clothes and get to his night gig at Petco Park and he’s stopped at an intersection and this BMW comes racing up to the four-stop sign intersection blaring its horn, going about sixty and zooms right through without stopping. Right in front of Tommy the Cop who is heading back to the office to clock out. Well, Tommy the Cop is a good cop and he can’t let turbo-charged BMW get away with it so he goes in pursuit. He chases the BMW for about six blocks when the BMW turns into the driveway of the emergency room of South Hills Hospital. He pulls up behind the BMW just as a woman is jumping out with a toddler in her arms and running inside yelling something about ‘my baby’ ‘my baby’.”

“Oh my god.” Mara said again.

“So…. Tommy the Cop goes inside and finds out that the lady was driving like a loon because something was desperately wrong with her two-year old son, convulsions or something, and she needed to get him help. Which she did. Tommy the Cop is satisfied that all is kosher and he doesn’t need to further burden the lady with a citation or warning and he exits the ER and sees, much to his pissed-off dismay, two drunks duke-ing it out in parking lot.”

“Poor guy.” Mara said and sipped her ice tea.

“Yeah. All Tommy the Cop wants to do is clock out and get to his night gig and now he has to break up a brawl. So he goes to just break it up when one of the drunks goes for Tommy The Cop’s gun and Tommy the Cop levels the guy, cuffs him, calls for back up and lands himself three hours of booking and paper work. Which means he’s going to be REALLY late to his night gig.”

“How does this qualify as weird, Darnell?” Mara asked as the waitress came over balancing their lunch plates.

“Shrimp salad, dressing on the side.” She said setting the plate in front of Dr. Mara. “And Double Blue Cheese Burger and garlic fries for the handsome gentleman.” She set the plate down and winked at Detective Warren then turned and winked at Dr. Mara. “Enjoy folks.” She said and disappeared into the restaurant.

“I’m handsome.” Warren said grinning at Mara.

“You are. But I am starting to question your ability to judge what is truly weird. Would you like to hear what is truly weird, Darnell? Because I have a story for you, if you would.”

“I’m not done.” Warren said putting a garlic-butter soaked fry into his mouth.

“Finish, then.” Mara said. “And try not to breath on me.

“So the reason the explosives get through security was because the guard that would have discovered them was breaking up a fight in a parking lot and he was in that parking lot because he was chasing a speeding car and the car was speeding because a woman was taking her gravely ill child to the emergency room.”
“I got all that.” Mara said picking up her fork and loading it with salad.

“The woman.” Warren began. “Was Antoinette O’Brien. Otherwise known as Toni. She was taking her youngest son, Dillon, to the hospital because he had ingested insecticide accidentally sprayed onto his bowl and spoon.”

“Awful yes. Weird no.” Mara said stabbing another fork full.

“Toni O’Brien and her family live at 3409 Crestview Drive in San Diego and the insecticide was ant poison that she had sprayed all over her counter when an incursion of black ants invaded her kitchen.”

Mara stopped dead. Her fork full of salad halfway between plate and mouth.

“Oh my dear god.” She said and put her fork down. “Oh my dear…. Darnell…my news… my news is.” She put her hand to her mouth.

“What?” Warren said putting his hand on top of her other hand.

“I had an appointment at Paxton Memorial today.” Mara said looking at Warren with tears welling in her eyes. “I thought, since I was there, I’d look up John Doe and see how he was doing.” She stopped and looked down at her salad.

“And?” Warren prodded.

“Two weeks ago, on July 4th, the day after we admitted him, at exactly 3:38 pm, the active duty nurse saw a flat line on the remote heart monitor for John Doe. She rushed to the room and found he was gone.”

“He died?” Warren asked, mouth agape.

“No, Darnell. He was literally gone. The wrist and ankle restraints were still closed and locked. The pillow and bed were indented where his head and body had been and the leads for all the vitals monitors were laying on the bed in the exact position they would be if a body were in it. No windows. No way out but past the nurses station. He was gone.”

“How’s your lunch folks?” The waitress asked standing over the two of them and blocking out the sun. “Save room for dessert. Today we have home made Fudge-Ripple ice cream.”

How about teaching them ALL a lesson?!?!?!? A new piece of… ‘fiction’.

That Would Teach Them.

By S. Scott Bullock

Greg Weston had had it. He had reached his limit. He was… fed UP! Sitting in his cubicle he watched with great disdain the approach of his bastard of a boss. Greg HATED this prick. The boss. The head honcho. The royal pain-in-the-ass. Greg thought of picking up one of his pointy mechanical pencils and sticking it into the prick’s hairy hand. THAT would teach him. But then he thought better of it. The boss wasn’t worth it. He wasn’t worth going to jail for. Besides, Greg was a lot of things, but he was NOT a criminal of any kind. Especially not a violent one. In point of fact, Greg was a chronic rule follower. An obey-er. When HE went grocery shopping you wouldn’t find HIM with eleven items in his cart standing in the ten-items-or-less line.

“I need you to call Malone and get the quote. Tell him we have to have it in writing and tell him we need it by Thursday.” The boss said tapping his finger on the top of Greg’s cubicle wall.

“Will do.” Greg said smiling.

“Now. Okay, Greg?” The boss said, tapping.

“Right. On it.” Greg picked up the phone and held it toward his finger-tapping boss. “Calling now.”

“I’m counting on you Greg.” The boss said, walking back to his office.

“You couldn’t count to ten without using both your hands.” Greg mumbled under his breath as he dialed the phone. The one saving grace to all of this was that it was Friday before a three-day weekend and that meant that quitting time was two-o’clock instead of the usual five. But he would wait until five minutes after the hour. Just like he always did.

On regular days, when five-o’clock came, Greg would start packing up his things for home. He’d leave work at his usual time, five minutes after five o’clock. Five o’clock was quitting time, but he refused to leave until five minutes after. He was sickened by the no-accounts that left a minute before five. Or some of the real lazy, Asshat, no-goods who left even earlier than that, so he made an example of himself. He would not only NOT leave before quitting time, HE would leave AFTER it. That’s what a person who follows the rules does. He makes an example of his rule following. That would teach them. The damn Asshats. Especially the “almond cruncher”. That stupid idiot in the next cubicle that ate dry-roasted almonds all day long. Greg could only imagine that the guy, his name was Wayne, (what a stupid-assed name THAT was), must chew with his pie-hole hanging wide open. That’s the only possible way he could make THAT much noise just chewing almonds. Regardless, the sound drove Greg bat-shit crazy. It made him furious and nauseous at the same time. How could ANYONE chew like that? Didn’t he have even the slightest notion of how maddening that sound was to people? No, of course he didn’t. The “almond cruncher” was just another tormentor in the never-ending line of rude, self-centered, tormentors that made it their special sacred duty to push Greg Weston over the precipice and onto the jagged rocks below. All of them, every damn one of them had it out for him. And he knew it. Two-o-five finally came and Greg packed up to leave. As he walked by his bosses open door the boss called out.

“What did Malone say, Greg?”

Greg stopped in his tracks and turned toward his boss. His stomach tightened as it always did when he had to make eye contact with the fat jerk.

“He was out of the office. I left a message for him to call ASAP.”

“Shit.” His boss spat. “Great.”

“Anything else before I go?” Greg asked, knowing full well there would be something else. There was ALWAYS something else with this jerk.

“No.” His boss said. “Go home and have a nice long weekend. Get some rest.”

‘Yeah right’. Greg thought. ‘You’re being nice to me now so I’ll let my guard down. I’m not falling for it. You’re gonna come after me Tuesday and give me some heavy grief. You’re not fooling me for one single second.’

“See you Tuesday.” Greg said and walked toward the elevators. As he exited the building and walked toward his car he noticed how close the car next to his had parked.

“Dammit!” He said to the ice-cold outside air. His phone rang and the sound made him jump.

“Shit.” He said fumbling the phone out of his pocket. His breath was fogging as he read the screen. It read ABBY. He pushed the ACCEPT button and put the phone to his soon to be frost-bitten ear.

“Yeah?” He said way too curtly, especially when addressing his wife.

“Whoa.” Abby said. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, Abs. Just some retarded moron parked his car so close to mine that I’ll barely be able to open my door. AND he parked backwards in the spot so he probably dinged my door too when he got out. Jerk.”

“You in a mood?” Abby asked.

“I hate people.” Greg said with just the slightest hint of a smile in his voice. And that slight hint was only there because he was talking to Abby, and Abby was the only thing in life that gave Greg true uncomplicated joy.

“You don’t hate people.” Abby chided.

“Yeah right. I don’t hate people and I LOVE salad.” Greg said trying to fish his keys out of his pocket. He pulled them out and promptly dropped them. They slid under the car.

“DAMMIT!” He shouted.

“OW!” Abby shouted back. “You just blew my ear out! Why are you yelling?”

“I dropped the damn keys.” Greg said going to his hands and knees and looking under the car. “Abs can I call you back or can we just talk when I get home, I’ve got to get the keys, they slid under the damn car and I am about to freeze solid out here.”

“Okay, real quick.” Abby said stifling a giggle, as she thought about her husband getting all red faced and pissed off trying to retrieve his keys from under the car. “I’m making Macho Nachos for dinner and I forgot the damned pickled jalapenos. Could you hit Stop & Shop on your way home and get a jar?”

“This is NOT funny Abs.”

“I didn’t say it was.” Abby said still grinning.

“I can hear you laughing at me even if you’re not laughing out loud.”

At that Abby let out a great guffaw.

“I’m sorry.” She said through her laugh. “I’m just seeing you all PO’d and digging around under the car and that just tickles the poop outta me.”

“It’s a wonder that we’re still married. You have a bizarre and cruel sense of humor and I deeply worry about your sanity.” Greg was halfway under the car holding the phone to his ear with one hand and reaching, to its limit, for his keys with the other.

“Just get the jalapenos.” Abby managed through another giggle fit. “I love you and drive carefully.”

“I will. I love you too.” Greg punched off the phone and crawled all the way under the car. He wrapped his hand around his keys. “GOT YA!” He said raising his head and banging it against the gas tank.

“DAMMIT TO HELL!” He shouted thru clinched teeth as he extricated himself from beneath his Ford Explorer.

Greg stood up fully and looked down at his clothes. His long top-coat was unbuttoned and when he saw that he was one long grease stain from the toes of his leather shoes to the upper most button on his eighty-dollar shirt all he could muster was a sigh and a quiet, “Crap.”.

Twenty minutes later, because not ONE idiot on the road knew how to drive on icy streets, and due to that fact, turned a ten minute trip into a twenty minute one, Greg pulled into the parking lot of Stop & Shop and scouted out a typical spot for himself. He always parked well away from the front of any store and well away from other cars. No spastic, asshat was going to ding HIS door. He found a totally vacant parking lane and pulled his car into the very last spot, leaving a good three feet between his door and the demarcation line. As he got out a light snow begin to fall and the air took on the unmistakable smell of settled-in winter.

“Great.” He said quietly. “Now it’ll take me an hour to get home.”

He walked up to the automatic doors as a woman burdened with four brown grocery bags walked out and right into him. One of her bags went flying and oranges, onions and turnips rolled away like billiard balls after a well executed break.

“SHIT!” She shouted shoving her other bags into Greg’s arms and running after her wayward produce.

“Why me?” Greg mumbled under his breath. Breath that had begun to fog from the sub-zero cold. He set the lady’s bags down on the bench by the door and walked into the store. Before the doors closed behind him he heard the woman shout.

“Thanks a lot, dude! You’re a REAL gentleman.”

He stopped for a split second then. He almost turned around. He’s ears began to get red hot. He needed to read this woman the riot act. ‘Thanks a lot dude!?!?! You’re a real gentleman!??!?!’ Is that REALLY what she said. This dumb broad who slammed into him then dropped a bag of her crap, then shoved the rest of her crap in his arms and ran off after her freakin’ turnips? Is that REALLY what she said!?!? He wanted to rip her a new one. That would teach her. But he didn’t. Greg never did ANYTHING when stuff like this happened. He just swallowed his angst and went about his business. As he headed to the ‘International Foods’ aisle in the Stop and Shop he couldn’t stop his mind from obsessing over the incident. He replayed it over and over and felt his ire raise exponentially with each replay. He didn’t DO a thing to that lady. He didn’t deserve to be spoken to like that. He SHOULD have said something to her. He SHOULD have told her to choke on her turnips. He SHOULD have…

Greg stopped in his tracks. He stood in the ‘International Foods’ aisle of his local Stop & Shop without one clue as to why he was there. It was if he had awakened from some kind of psychic fugue. He looked left and saw canned humus, dried chickpeas and felafel mix. He looked right and saw bottled chicken fat, kosher noodles and matzo meal. He stared at the shelves of foreign food and began to feel a bit frightened. Why the hell was he here? His phone rang from his hip pocket and he jumped again at the sound. He had to change that damn ring tone. Every time his phone rang it gave him a small heart attack. He pulled it from his pocket and looked at the screen. It was Abby again. He pushed the ACCEPT button.

“I just crapped my pants, Abs.”

“You haven’t changed your ringtone yet?” She asked stifling yet another giggle.

“YOU said YOU were going to do that for me. I can’t figure this damn phone out.”

“I will.” She said smiling. “I will. Where are you? Have you left the store yet?”

“No. I’m still here. But I forgot what you asked me to get. This stupid woman slammed into me walking out of the store and…”

She stopped him mid sentence.

“In the car?” She asked concerned. “Are you okay?”

“Oh. No. Not in the car. I was walking into the store and she was walking out and she slammed into me and dropped a bag of groceries and… well… she was a bitch to me… that’s all. What did you need again?”

“Did you help her with her groceries?” Abby asked.

“Yes. I did. I, well I put the other bags she handed me down on a bench and walked into the store while she was chasing down her stuff from the bag that fell.”

“That’s not really helping, Howard.” She always called him “Howard” when he did something she didn’t approve of.

“Can we please skip over this part and get to the part about what you wanted me to get here?” He was feeling a little embarrassed and a lot miffed.

“Pickled Jalapeno peppers for the Nachos.” She said flatly. “But I called you because I wanted you to get some cigars too.”

“Guitars? What are you talking about?”

Abby let out a huge guffaw.

“Not guitars….” she said cracking up. “Cigars!”

Then the connection broke. Greg looked at his phone and saw that his battery had died. Perfect. Just freakin’ perfect. He thought. Cigars? What the hell could she want with cigars?

Greg shoved his impotent phone back into his front pocket and turned toward the Mexican section of the aisle. He picked up a bottle of pickled jalapenos and froze. You give cigars out when you have a baby! He yelled in his mind.

He pulled his phone out of his pocket and pressed the call button. Dead. Still dead. A useless brick. He looked around to the front of the store hoping to see a pay phone. He noticed a kiosk out the window in front of the store. He made a beeline for the front doors. When he got to the public phone kiosk he saw that the phone had been removed. And from the condition of the exposed metal it looked as if it had been removed a very long time ago. He looked around for another. Nothing. He thought of asking to use the phone in the store or asking someone if he could use their cell, but quickly thought better of it. He certainly did NOT want to deal with the Asshat’s questions or conditions. And there WOULD be conditions and questions. Asshats ALWAYS have conditions and questions. And that was the world. Greg, Abby and Asshats.

Greg decided to just head home. Get there as fast as he could. He knew that “cigars” may have meant something else, but the chance that it meant what he was thinking it meant was motivation enough to drop everything and get home fast. He and Abby had been trying to get pregnant for over a year with no success. They had started discussing clinical intervention. Abby had even investigated some local fertility clinics. But maybe they didn’t need that after all. Maybe they got lucky and…

“CIGARS!” He shouted as he unlocked his door and got into the car. He noticed that some Asshat had parked their car RIGHT next to his. Even in his excited joy he marveled at the stupidity of people. The mindless idiocy of parking right NEXT to another car in an otherwise totally vacant aisle. Greg put the key into the ignition and only then realized that he was still holding the jar of jalapenos. He should take it back. He was NOT a shoplifter. But… ‘cigars’ she said buy some ‘cigars’! He decided to pay for them on his next visit and set the jar down next him on the seat.

Greg started his car and raced toward the exit. His Explorer did a little sideways shimmy as the tires grasped for purchase on the now slick-with-ice asphalt. The weather was alternating between sleet, freezing rain and full blown blizzard snowfall now, and driving was about to become very difficult. He came to a full stop at the stop sign at the parking lot exit and leaned over to the glove box. He popped it open and quickly rifled through the jam packed cubby. Nothing. Or at least NOT what he was looking for. He popped open the between seat storage and did the same. Not there. Just then a horn bleated from behind him and he looked up to the rear-view mirror, startled. Three cars were behind him waiting to exit the Stop and Shop parking lot.

“Asshats” he muttered and pulled onto the main road. “Where the hell is the damn car charger?” Another beep from behind.

“UP YOURS!” Greg shouted to his rear view mirror. “I should put it in park and JUST STAY RIGHT HERE!!!” He yelled over his shoulder as he slowly pulled further into traffic. “That would teach them.” He finished quietly to himself.

The snow began to fall with an attitude, and visibility was diminishing rapidly. He knew he had to get to the Town Common road before it got much worse. The TCR was the last ten mile stretch before his turn off into the Town Woods and home. It was only one lane going each way, and it was a tough ten miles. It was winding and steep and when it got heavy snowfall, managing it was tricky at best and scary-as-shit at worst.

The light turned red in front of him and he slowed to a stop. The snow increased and a little sigh escaped from deep in his chest. It was a good five miles to the TCR and a lot of snow can fall in the course of five miles. ‘Cigars’ he thought. ‘And snow’. The signal turned green and he crept the Explorer forward, careful not to give it too much gas. The tires slipped, but only a little, and he got up to speed quickly. Already the Asshats were screwing with him. Driving too fast, driving too slow, not going fast enough on the greens and speeding through the yellows. ‘They should all crash into each other’ he thought. ‘THAT would teach them.’

He made the TCR in less then fifteen minutes which, under the current conditions, was quite good time. He made the right onto the TCR and saw that the snow was really accumulation along the sides and filling the long ditches that followed it up to the Woods turnoff. He’d have to take it slower than he wanted but as the saying goes, ‘better safe than dead in a ditch’.

Greg took into account the Asshat count at this time. None ahead of him on the TCR and three behind him. A red Mercedes directly behind him (probably owned by a rich, entitled, trust-fund baby), then behind it and way back, a pickup truck of some kind (owned, no doubt, by an inbred, first-cousin-humping rube), and behind that and at quite a distance, a huge semi. This fact royally pissed Greg off, because semi’s THAT big weren’t allowed on the TCR. They were supposed to take the Powell Highway loop which led them AROUND town and not through it. This Asshat truck driver was not only breaking the law but he was making ANYONE behind him miserable. And Greg had been behind enough semi’s in his life to be VERY familiar with THAT type of misery.

The Explorer took a little slip and Greg let off the accelerator a bit. He desperately wanted to get home to Abby, but he wanted to get home in one piece. As he slowed, the distance between him and the Mercedes quickly closed. The trust-fund Asshat was not slowing enough and came up fast on the Explorer’s bumper. He flashed his lights. Greg was aghast.

“WHAT?” he said aloud. “You’re kidding me right? It’s snowing like a son-of-bitch and you want me to go faster!?”

The Mercedes’ lights flashed again.

“This is NOT happening.” Greg said and slowed a bit more.

Just then the pickup truck completely closed the gap between it and the Mercedes and formed a three car conga line with Greg at the head.

“See how you like this.” He said. “Nice and safe and slow. That’ll teach you.”

The first horn honk came then. A quick short bleat.

“GO AROUND ME ASSHAT!” Greg shouted at the rear view. He lifted his hand and did a ‘go-around’ gesture and then saw through the heavily tinted front widow of the Mercedes a hand raise up as well. But instead of ‘go-around’, THIS hand was only using one finger. The Mercedes honked a little longer this time.

“Son-of-a….” Greg whispered. “Okay. Okay. Let’s try this.”

Greg increased the pressure on the accelerator peddle and the Explorer lurched forward. He kept the pressure as his speed increased. The distance between he and the Mercedes increased as well and when it reached about three car lengths, Greg hit the brakes. The Explorer began to skid, but Greg immediately let off the brakes, hit the gas, and quickly recovered control. The driver of the Mercedes, however, was not as fortunate. When Greg hit the brakes so did the Mercedes driver and the super-expensive vehicle began to skid, totally out of control. The car did a complete rotation and ended up half in and half out of the ditch along side the oncoming lane. The pickup driver had, obviously being a more experienced snow driver, managed to slow to a stop and Greg saw in the rear view that he had pulled over to assist the trust-fund baby. ‘Good’. Greg thought. ‘Asshats deserved it and they deserve each other.’ He also thought, briefly, of turning around and going to help as well, but thought better of it. They’d blame HIM for the accident and gang up on him. And he was NOT responsible. That Mercedes was following too close and…

Just then Greg saw in the rear view that the semi truck was coming up fast. Too fast. The snow was really coming down now and visibility sucked. Too fast. That truck is going to…

The semi driver saw the accident too late and over compensated. He had plenty of room to pass but for some reason, probably shear surprise, he must have thought that he didn’t. He hit the truck’s brakes and the huge semi began to skid. The trailer section spun around, disconnected from the cab and fell on its side. It skidded for sixty feet before coming to a stop laying across and completely blocking both lanes of the TCR. The cab of the semi stayed upright and rolled unceremoniously into the ditch about a hundred feet from the trailer section. The view behind was becoming increasingly difficult to see as the snow fell heavier, but the last thing Greg did see was the trust-fund baby and the cousin-humper running up to the semi cab. Then all was white behind him and Greg looked ahead to see his own course. ‘You should go back.’ His conscience said loudly in his head. But that voice was quickly silenced.

“They’re fine. Nobody hurt. And they deserved it. That taught them. Asshats.” Greg said slowing the Explorer down another couple of miles-per-hour. ‘Their gonna have one hell of a time getting the semi trailer off the highway.’ He thought. ‘Gonna block the TCR for hours, maybe all night.’

He heard sirens then. Police or ambulance or fire? He couldn’t tell, but he was pretty sure it was coming from the direction of town and not ahead of him. Hell there was nothing ahead of him for about fifty miles, so it must be from behind. No ambulance though. Nobody was hurt, so no ambulance. Police maybe. That’d be good. The sooner they get heavy towing equipment out there the sooner the damn road would be open again. Abby’s mom and sister were due to come over in the morning and that road was the only way in from town.

Greg came to the left-hand turn that took him up into the woods and to his tiny rural cul-du-sac. Three houses. His and Abby’s, their okay neighbors, an older gay couple Abby called ‘the boys’ and then the Asshat. No matter how large or how small a neighborhood is, there is always an Asshat.

Ten minutes later Greg made the last turn in the tall trees and begin to see smoke rising from the direction of his neighborhood. His breath caught in his throat as he rounded the corner and saw that a third of his roof, the roof above the kitchen was alive with flame. Fire and smoke were coming from the kitchen window. He revved the engine of the Explorer and came to a skidding stop in front of his house. One of ‘the boys’, Gary, ran up to the driver’s side of the car. Greg threw the door open and yelled.

“What happened! WHAT HAPPENED?! Where’s Abby. ABBY!” He took off toward the house and Gary grabbed his arm.

“She’s at our house, Greg. She’s safe. She was making chips. The oil… it was an oil fire.”

“WHY?!?” Greg shouted heading toward Gary’s and Michael’s house. He was looking over his shoulder at his burning home and stumbled on a garden rock in Gary’s yard. He fell to his knees and immediately lept back to his feet. He took off again, changed course, and headed toward his house, now nearly halfway engulfed in angry red and yellow flame.

“The hose!” He screamed. “I’ve got to get the hose.”

“The fire department is on its way, Greg.” Gary held tight to Greg’s arm pulling him back. “We called fifteen minutes ago. They’re close. They’re right in town. Just twenty minutes up the TCR. They’ll be here any second. Don’t go near the fire. We called them. They’ll be here any second.”

Greg fell to his knees and began to sob.

“No they won’t.” He cried. “No they won’t. It’s blocked.. it’s…” Then very, very quietly through agonized sobs. “That’ll teach me. That’ll teach me. That’ll teach me.”

How about another story? Slimy Goo anyone?

There Will Be More

By: S. Scott Bullock

You’re going to think that I have totally lost my mind, and come to think of it, you may be totally correct. I truly don’t know if all the things that have happened in the last forty-eight hours are simple flights of deranged fancy or rock-hard reality. The only thing I am certain of, as I sit here in a candlelit attic writing these words down on the backsides of old, yellowed photographs with the nub of a red-colored pencil I found among the floor-strewn detritus, is that I am afraid. I am, in fact, more terrified than I have ever been in my life. More terrified than I thought possible.

My hand is cramping as I clutch the pencil nub and write. I hope this will be legible. But, whether it is or isn’t, I must keep writing. I must. It is the only thing keeping me sane at the moment. The only thing keeping my mind off of what is downstairs. If I write, I’m safe.

My name is Derrick Delroy. Derrick Dorian Delroy. My parents were fond of the letter ‘D’. I am not. I was born twenty-four years ago in a town called Tedesco. It’s in New Mexico. My family moved here, to Arlington, Maine, when I was ten. Dad’s work. Two years after we moved here my parents were coming home from an anniversary night-out when a teenager, who had stolen his father’s vintage, wood-paneled pick-up truck, t-boned them at a rural four-way stop. Mom and Dad were killed on the spot, the teenager bruised his upper left thigh. I was twelve, so Mom and Dad had left me home alone to fend for myself that night. I was too old for a babysitter. Or so I had loudly proclaimed. When the police came to the door at 5 the following morning I realized how wrong I had been. I needed a babysitter then, and so much more.

It’s moving downstairs now. I can hear it. A sloshing, slithering sound. And breathing. Heavy, labored breathing. It sounds like jello being sucked in and out of garden hose. I can smell it now too. Jasmine flower and coffee grounds mixed with burned hair. I don’t know if it knows I’m up here. The only movement I am making is my hand, writing this, and I’m pretty sure it can’t hear that. The candle is burning low now and the flame is flicking wildly. Must be an open door or window downstairs causing the draft up here. The flame is creating terrifying shadows out of the stacked boxes and discarded furnishings. Dancing demons are all around me. But they pale when compared with what waits downstairs. The sun will be up in a couple of hours. Hopefully the candle lasts that long. Hearing those sounds in complete darkness would well and truly push me over the edge of sanity and into the abyss of total madness.

I first heard the Thing two days ago. I was waking up from a particularly bad drunk. The night before had been the office party to end all office parties, but the night and the party hadn’t ended at the office. Five of us closed down three different bars and one fast-food joint by the time the sun came up. I was lying in bed around noon and I heard, what I thought was, my landlord downstairs. It sounded like he was using a giant plunger on my office toilet. I had told him two weeks before that it wouldn’t stop running and I figured he finally got around to fixing it. I found it weird that he had let himself in to do it though. He was always very respectful of my privacy and never let himself in with his pass key. I dismissed it all and got out of bed to go get some aspirin. As my feet thudded on the hardwood floor the noise from below ceased. I took three Excedrin from the bottle in my medicine cabinet and chewed them dry as I shuffled back to bed. I slept soundly till around four that afternoon.

When I finally hauled my hungover ass out of bed, I made it downstairs to the kitchen before feeling a very strong urge to vomit. It wasn’t the hangover making me nauseous though, it was the smell. Jasmine flower mixed with coffee grounds and burned hair. It was a god-awful combination of odors and it took all of my emotional moxie to quiet the feeling of fear-filled revulsion it evoked. I opened the kitchen windows and turned on the cook-top fan. The stench clung to the walls and ceiling like baked-on cooking oil. There was a trail of slimy, mucousy, goo that wove a pattern of confused movement along the floor of the kitchen. The repulsive trail led to the living room and out the open front door.

What was this stuff and why the hell was my door open? Fred, my landlord, wouldn’t have left it open. Unless he wasn’t done working on the toilet. I went to the open door and looked out on the deserted country road my house sat on. The sun was getting low and the shadows were long and ominous. They played across my dirt driveway swaying and changing shape with the soft, pine and lavender scented breeze. My drive was empty but for my Corvette and the long trail of goo that wove its way around the corner and out of sight. Fred’s truck was long gone, as was Fred it seemed. So why did he leave the door open, and what was all this gunk everywhere? I turned, pulling my door closed, and slipped in the muck. I landed on my ass and left hand. My wrist hurt like a son-of-a-bitch, but I didn’t notice the pain as much as I noticed how the muck that my hand landed in was pushing up between my fingers and covering the back of my hand. My revulsion reached a new high. This stuff seemed alive. It covered the back of my hand and started creeping up my wrist. It was ‘The Blob’ only REAL. One difference between this science-fact and that science-fiction was that MY blob didn’t burn or hurt. It just moved. Also different from the Steve McQueen Sci-Fi epic, was that this blob was easy to pull off. It came away from my skin like a sweat-soaked bed sheet. I jumped up and made sure that none of it had gotten on me anywhere else. I noticed that the stench was stronger and without thinking sniffed the back of my hand where the blob had been crawling. The odor was so intense and so noxious that I gagged and wretched. I vomited on the hall floor, and I swear to you this next is true. The goo moved toward my puke, surrounded and swallowed it. Pulled it inside itself somehow. The stuff was clear, like see-through silly putty, but when it… for lack of a better term… when it ate my vomit… it turned a deep purple then went back to transparent. I pulled my hand away from my nose and headed for the toilet and nearest bar of soap.

This could NOT be happening. Living goo? There had to be some kind of reasonable explanation to this unexplainable experience.

When I reached my office bathroom I heard the toilet running and realized that Fred hadn’t been here after all. The sounds I was hearing that morning were not coming from my perpetually-showing-his-butt crack, happy landlord. Then what the hell HAD they come from. As I scrubbed my hands in scalding water I was happy to realize that my nausea had passed. I wasn’t going to need the toilet after all, but I started to think very seriously about needing to consult a shrink. I walked out of the bathroom and found, to my shocked pleasure, that the goo was gone. Everywhere it had been was now only pristine hardwood flooring. I walked the former trail of muck and found it had all disappeared. I went into the kitchen and examined the floor. Nothing. The smell was completely gone as well. I made my way to the wall phone and picked up the receiver. Who was I calling? I didn’t know. The police? They’d call me crazy. Disappearing, living goo was not a very sane cause for requesting law enforcement assistance over the phone lines.

I put the phone back on the hook and saw movement out of the corner of my eye. Out the kitchen window, about a hundred feet away in the back field, I saw, what I can only describe now as, a foliage-covered Bigfoot. A great hulking humanoid figure, eight or nine feet tall,covered, literally COVERED from the top of its ape-like head to the bottoms of its size 20 feet, in a green mossy carpet. It was walking back and forth among the pines, crushing the foot tall reeds. Every step it took left a trail of the same stinking goo that had profaned my floors earlier. I watched the stuff hang from the Thing’s green covered toes like snot running from a kindergartener’s rhino-virus’d nose. I had a sudden sense-memory of the smell of that slime and felt nausea rise up and make a valiant attempt to crawl out of my stomach. I tried to turn away, but couldn’t. What I was seeing was too compelling. It was a living creature. A living horror movie.

It was shortly after that moment that I saw with my own eyes what danger I was in.

It’s moving more downstairs now. Banging against things in the kitchen. Pots and pans and dishes. As if it were looking for something. I pray it isn’t looking for me. After I saw what it did to the deer, I know what it will do to me.

As I was looking out the kitchen window earlier and watching with stunned disbelief, the Thing ambling back and forth among the pines, leaving trail after trail of that vile slime, I saw a very normal yet now surreal site. Deer are frequent visitors to my back field and marsh. It’s not unusual for me to see ten or more a day. So seeing the twelve-point buck wandering down the slope toward my grassland was not startling at all. But for this. The innocent creature was heading directly toward the Thing. I had an overwhelming urge to open the window and shout at it. To get it to run away before the Thing saw it. But I couldn’t. If I yelled, I’d call attention to myself. The last thing in this world I wanted was for that Thing and its slime producing feet to come back into my house or anywhere near me. As the buck came closer the Thing seemed to sense its presence. It stopped moving and froze in its ambling tracks. The damn buck just kept coming. But then, about fifteen feet from the Thing, the buck stopped. It raised its head and sniffed the air. He shook his great antlers back and forth and snorted. As it began to turn away, I saw something that I will never be able to un-see or forget. The trails of slime that the Thing had left all over the green carpet of my back field, shot hundreds of glistening tendrils toward the buck. In an instant the poor animal was covered in slime. The muck was pulling at him, dragging him toward the ground. The animal was struggling, desperately trying to extricate itself. Then I heard a sound. Like snapping stalks of celery. Only much, much louder. I began to weep, then. Desperate sorrow mixed with my terror as I realized what I was hearing. The slime was pulling the beautiful stag down with such force, and he was fighting against it so valiantly, that his bones were cracking. He made no sound because the muck had filled and covered his mouth and nose. His shattering legs snapped a final time and gave way. He collapsed to the slime covered ground.

The Thing, who up until that point was motionless, turned to face the lifeless buck. It lumbered toward the fallen animal. The slime parted, pulling away and moving off the buck and into the surrounding tall reeds. The Thing bent and picked up the huge animal effortlessly. It held it up to its enormous chest. And then, in a truly unfathomable turn of events, among the day’s many truly unfathomable events, the Thing’s chest cracked open. It opened vertically, becoming a huge, lip-less, sideways mouth with row after row of shark-like teeth. I wept and chocked back vomit as I watched the Thing devour the buck. An immense twelve-point stag disappeared in five bites into that massive razor-rimmed maw.

I stumbled backward and fell over a step stool. I grabbed for purchase and pulled a drying rack full of dishes and pans on top of me and crashing to the floor. I leapt up and looked out the window, dreading what I might see. And indeed I saw what I was dreading. The Thing was facing my house now. Its maw had closed and it was looking, or as far as I could tell, not being to see its eyes, looking at me. It took a step forward. I reflexively stepped back and once again fell over the same damn stool. I got up and looked out the window. The Thing was gone. The slime was gone. The only evidence of its trespass was the crushed and flattened reeds and glistening, blood covered grass.

I moved to the phone again. I picked it up and dialed ‘0’. It rang. And rang. And rang. I counted twenty-eight rings before I hung up. I picked it up again and dialed again. Thirty-five rings. No answer. How was this possible? No answer from the operator? I needed help. I needed the police. I suddenly felt twelve years old again. Just like the morning the police came to my childhood front door. I felt terrified and so very, very alone.

There was a splintering crash at the front door. It sounded like a giant pine breaking and crashing to the ground. I knew instantly what it was. The Thing was back, and on its way in to devour me like it had the buck. I didn’t hesitate. I ran with everything I had in me. I ran to the back door. I threw it open and saw that my house, or as much as I could see of my house, was surrounded by a foot deep, six foot wide, river of the Thing’s slime. Tendrils of it rose toward me and as I slammed the door shut I heard the sickening liquid impacts they made against the wood. I heard more crashing and things breaking in the entry way of my house. The smell of the slime filled my nostrils and I once again chocked back my bile. I looked around panicked and realized I had only one route of escape; the back stairs leading up to the second floor and up further to the attic. I made for the stairs and heard what sounded like my antique double highboy being hurled across the dining room and disintegrating against the opposite wall. I took three stairs at a time and made it to the attic door. I turned just for a second to make sure it hadn’t followed me and saw that the stairway was empty. I opened the attic door as quietly as I could, stepped inside and closed the door with a click that to my ears sounded like a sonic boom. I pushed boxes and old chairs and an antique desk against the door. I crept to the opposite end of the attic and sat down on a bundled and tied pile of Life Magazines. My heartbeat was moving the front of my shirt. The top buttons moved in and out in crazy rapid succession. My breath came and went so quickly that I felt lightheaded and faint. I was shaking so violently that I had to press down on both my knees with all my might to keep my feet from tapping out a betraying Morse Code to the Thing. For two hours I sat like that. Terror is such a weak word in expressing what I felt. The Thing crashed and banged and slammed and pounded below me. Then suddenly, silence.

I have been up here since then. Cowering. Too afraid to check and see if I could go downstairs and escape. I haven’t had a thing to eat or drink and I have been peeing into a collection of vases that I inherited from my Great-Aunt Madge. About five or six hours ago I had pulled myself together enough to at least consider going downstairs. And just at that moment, I heard it again. Banging things. Breathing like jello through a garden house. And I keep getting wafts of that puke-inducing smell. It’s looking for something. It’s looking for me.

I can hear it closer now. Oh, dear God. It’s climbing the stairs. I hear it climbing the stairs. It’s coming closer and closer. I can hear grunts now. Oh God. Oh dear, dear God. It’s at the door. It’s at the door. The door is crashing open. It’s standing in the doorway staring at me!

“Stephen King! I told you an hour ago to put your damn writing away and get ready for school! Your brother and I are downstairs waiting on you for breakfast and your bus will be here in twenty minutes. And, young man, you are NOT going to be late on your first day of Junior High School! Now MOVE!”

I have to stop writing now. The Thing is making me stop. But there will be more written. I promise you… there will be more.

Doing WHATEVER it takes. A short story of love and fiction.

Wait, Love, Wait

By: S. Scott Bullock

Suzanne pressed the disconnect button on her ancient flip phone and looked at Martin. She put it down on the chipped, green and white tile kitchen counter, picked up a wet dish towel and walked over to the small kitchen table. She began wiping it down and Martin lifted his glass to accommodate her.

“They said they’re going to repossess it.” She said, wiping the table in small frantic sweeps.

“The table’s clean.” Martin said without emotion. “It won’t get any cleaner. Nothing’s gonna get any cleaner.”

“What’s next Marty?” She sat down across from her husband and folded the dish towel. “I’m so scared.” She unfolded the towel and folded it again.

Martin took it from her and held her hand.

“I’ll fix it.” He said. “I promise babe, I’ll fix it.”

“With that?” She said, pointing to Martin’s glass.

Martin downed the last of his vodka. He stood up and walked to the cupboard above the single chrome sink. He opened it and pulled out a nearly empty bottle of bottom shelf booze.

“No.” He said. “This is simply a band-aid to my deep-seated despair and ultimately will lead to my physical and mental collapse.” He filled his glass with the remaining vodka from the bottle. “Cheers.” He said and downed the small glassful.

“It’s no longer funny, Martin. You can’t joke our way out of this. We are in trouble.”

“I’ll fix it.”

“I’m HUNGRY mama!” A little chestnut-brown headed boy ran into the kitchen. “Kraff Macuncheez!” He said climbing up onto a chair at the table. “Kraff Macuncheez PLEEEZE!”

“What do you want?” Martin asked laughing.

“He wants Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.” Suzanne said to Martin, then turned toward their four year old son. “We don’t have any right now, angel. We’ll get some tomorrow. Would you like some raisins?”

“Raisins?!” Martin said laughing. “Instead of Mac and Cheese!?! Don’t take the plea deal, kid! Hold out for the cheese!”

Conner, their son, belly laughed and repeated his father’s words.

“Hole out for da cheeze!”

“Martin.” Suzanne chided. “We don’t have any. You’re gonna make it worse.”

“Hole out da cheeze!” Conner said raising his hands in the air. “Hole out da cheeze!”

Suzanne bent down so that she was face to face with her son.

“Conner.” She said in the tone that always got his attention. “Stop.”

“HOLE DA CHEEZE!” Conner shouted. “HOLE DA CHEEZE!”

“CONNER!” Martin shouted. “KNOCK IT OFF, NOW!”
“Don’t.” Suzanne barked at Martin. “You’ll make it worse.”

“HOLE DA CHEEZE!” Conner repeated over and over.

Suzanne took her husband’s hand. “Come with me NOW! NOW!” She led him out of the kitchen and into their bedroom. She closed the bedroom door behind them.

“What the hell are you doing?” Martin asked sitting on the bed. “He’s going crazy out there.”

“He’s melting down.” She said sitting down next to Martin on the bed. “It’s the only way to stop him. Just walking away. It’s the only way to stop him. You’d know that if you spent more time with him.”

“Spent more….” Martin stood up. “Are you shitting me, Suzanne? Really? Just when am I supposed to do that? Those long luxurious breaks I have between my two poverty-pay jobs? Or on the weekends when I’m busting my ass looking for a real job after cleaning out Ms. Cantor’s gutters for fifty freaking bucks? Is that when, Suzanne? Is that when?”

Suzanne lowered her head and began to weep.

“I’m sorry.” She said through her tears. “I’m just at the end of…”

The knob on their bedroom door turned and the door swung slowly open. Conner stepped into the room and walked over to his mother.

“May I have some raisins pleeze?” He asked climbing up on the bed next to his mom. “I’m hungry, mama.”

“I’ll get them.” Martin said walking toward the door. He stopped and turned toward his family sitting on the bed. “Where are they?” He asked.

“Kitchen drawer. Top left.” Suzanne sad pulling Conner onto her lap.

“You cryin’, mama?” Conner said looking up at his mother.

“Nope.” Suzanne said smiling down at her boy. “Nope. Mama’s got allergies and they make her eyes water.”

“Can I have some?” Conner asked leaning back against her. He raised his arm and put his hand into her long auburn hair. He began twirling it between his tiny fingers.

“Some what?” She asked.

“Alzerjeeze.” Conner said putting his thumb into his mouth.

“Al-er-geeze.” She said, over enunciating. “And no, you wouldn’t want them if you had them and take your thumb out of your mouth, you’re too old for that now.” She gently pulled Conner’s hand away from his face. “Let’s go into the kitchen and help Daddy find the raisins.”

“Daddy can’t fine his ass wiff bowf hands.” Conner said nonchalantly.

“Conner!” Suzanne barked, trying to suppress a gut wrenching belly laugh. “Where did you hear that?”

“You say it, mama. To Daddy. You say it.” Conner took his mother’s hand and pulled her toward the door. “Mardin!” He shouted. “You can’t fine your ass wiff bowf hands.”

“WHAT?” Martin shouted back from the kitchen.

“Nothing!” Suzanne said still suppressing the laugh. “You don’t say that anymore, Buster-brown. Okay? Promise mama that you won’t say that anymore and I’ll promise you that I won’t say it anymore, either. Deal?”

“Deal or no deal.” Conner said pulling hard on this mother’s hand. “Deal or no deal…. it’s a DEAL!”

Suzanne, drug by Conner, stepped into the kitchen. Martin had the entire contents of a kitchen drawer emptied on the counter.

“There’s nothing in here but magazines and birthday candles.” Martin said looking up in despair. “No raisins.”

“Raise your right hand.” Suzanne said arching her eyebrow.

“What?” Martin asked.

“Raise your right hand.” Suzanne repeated.

Martin raised his left hand then quickly lowered it and raised his right.

“Hence your consternation.” She said walking across the kitchen to the cabinets. She opened the top left drawer and pulled out a small red box of raisins. She held up the box to Martin and wiggled it back and forth. “Your other left.” She said. She opened the box and handed it to Conner. He grabbed it and headed out of the kitchen to his bedroom.

“You can’t find your ass with both hands.” She whispered smiling.

“NO DEAL!” Conner shouted from the hallway.

“That’s why I’m such a good provider.” Martin said without an ounce of humor. “What does he mean, ‘no deal’?”

Suzanne walked to Martin and put her arms around his neck.

“Look at me.” She said to him. “Look at me. I love you. That will never change. I love you and we are in this together. The boat is sinking, but it hasn’t sunk totally yet. We’ve got to figure a way to bale out the water. And we’ll bale together.”

“Said Captain Smith.” Martin kissed her forehead.

“Now.” Suzanne said solemnly. “I need you to sit down.”

“Oh shit.” Martin said sitting at the kitchen table. “What now?”

Suzanne looked at him and a single tear fell from her emerald green eye and ran down her cheek.

“What?” He asked. “Babe. What?”

“We’re pregnant.” She said, just above a whisper.

Martin got up and walked to the cupboard above the sink. He stopped and lowered his head.

“There’s no more in there.” She said. “You drank the last of it.”

Martin turned and picked up one of the magazines he had pulled from the wrong drawer.

“Why do you keep all these?” He asked.

“Those have recipes and DIY ideas in them.” She said wiping at the tear.

“What are we paying for all of them?”

“Nothing now. I haven’t renewed any of them. And most of them I got for free. They were buy one, get one free subscriptions.”

Martin tossed the magazine back into the open drawer.

“More magazines in this house than cockroaches.”

“Martin?” She said. “Why are we talking about magazines?”

“I need a drink.” He said and walked out of the kitchen. She heard him open the coat closet. Heard him pulling on his coat, and the sound of him grabbing his car keys from the bowl by the door. She heard the door close and the car start and the unmistakable, excruciatingly empty, sound of him leaving her alone.

“MAMA!” Conner yelled from his bedroom. “I HAVE TO POOP!”

=

“Why didn’t you come home last night?” Suzanne said to her phone, more frightened than angry. “Where are you?”

“I’m coming home now, Babe. And I’m coming home now with some good news.”

“Where….” She started, but Martin was gone. She closed her phone and sat down on the ratty, brown and tan sofa. A hole had been worn into the arm straight through the fabric and padding down to the wooden frame. Conner ran into the living room.

“I did a fart so loud puss’da’boots ran out of my room, Mama.” He said jumping up on her lap.

“You take after your Daddy.” Suzanne said and kissed the top of Conner’s head.

“Daaaadeee. Daaaadee. Where is Mardin?” Conner sang to a tune of his own creation.

“He’s coming home in a little bit, Buster-brown.” She stroked his hair. “Where did puss’da’boots run to? Did she go out the kitty door?”

“Puss’da’boots is daaaadee’s kitty and puss’da’boots run’d away to the outside of the yard with the people that live there outside of the yard and don’t like when the T.V. comes on for Star Trek.” Conner sang to a brand new, made up, tune.

“That’s my favorite song, Buster-brown, now go color in your room.”

The sound of mail being dropped through the door slot stopped Conner mid-run.

“COUNTING GAME!” He shouted and ran to retrieve the mail.

“Counting game.” Suzanne repeated with a tone of surrendering sorrow.

“Here Mama!” Conner said and jumped up on the couch next to Suzanne. “One big pink elvelope.”

“Envelope.” Suzanne corrected him. “Okay. One big pink envelope.”

“One, two, three, four, long white elve…enel…

“Envelopes.” She said.

“Envelopes. Four long white ones.” Conner said handing them to Suzanne. “And one big magzine.”

“And one big.” She stopped and looked at the white envelopes. She knew them all too well. Second and third ‘late’ notices. She tossed them on the coffee table and looked at the pink envelope. “This looks like a card. Do you think somebody sent us a card, Buster-brown?”

“Open it, Mama.” Conner said clenching and unclenching his little hands over it.

“I think I will.” She said tearing it open. “Oh it’s pretty. Looky, flowers!”

“Pretty flowers, Mama.”

“Let’s see who…” She stopped and read. “Oh my fuh.” She stopped. “Oh my god.”

“Who sended it, Mama?”

“It’s from our landlady, sweetheart. It’s from Mrs. Cantor.”

“Is it a birthday?” Conner asked waving his hands.

“No angel, it’s an eviction threat. Sent in a beautiful card. Such class.” Suzanne closed the card and looked at the ceiling.

“VICTION THREAD VICTION THREAD!” Conner sang.

“Go color, angel. K?”

“K. Mama.” Conner ran to his room and Suzanne sat silently, holding the card. She didn’t move until the sound of a car broke through her reverie.

A key in the door. Then.

“Hey Babe!” Martin shouted bounding into the room. “Oh. You’re right here. Why are you sitting in the dark?”

Suzanne looked up. She raised the card to him.

Martin leaned down and turned on the table lamp. “Wait. I’ve got to tell you…” Martin began.

“Read it.” She said

Martin took the card from her and read it.

“That BITCH!” He said.

“SHHHH!” Conner can hear you.

“DADEEEEEEE” Conner shouted running into the room, arms in the air. “Fly me!”

Martin picked him up and spun him around in the air.

“Not too much, Martin, he’ll puke.” Suzanne chided.

“Nod too mush, Mardin!” Conner yelled, belly laughing.

“I’m going to get his dinner, Martin. Put him down now and come into the kitchen with me, please.” Suzanne stood up. “Go color in your room, Buster-brown, I’ll call you when dinner is ready.”

Martin put Conner down.

“ Kraff Macuncheez!” Conner yelled, running to his room.

Suzanne took a pot out of the cabinet under the sink and filled it with water. She put it on the two burner stove top and turned on the flame. She pulled a hot dog package out of the fridge.

“One left.” She said to Martin. “One fucking hot-dog left. And no money to get any groceries until next Tuesday.”

“Wait.” Martin said hurrying out of the kitchen.

Suzanne heard the front door open, then the car door open and close. He was back in the kitchen in seconds and he was carrying two bags of groceries.

“Where’d you…” Suzanne said, mouth agape.

“This one,” Martin began. “is full of only one thing.” He upended the bag and emptied it on the kitchen table. Thirty boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese tumbled onto the table top. “Kraff Macuncheeze!” He said smiling. “Every box in the damn store!”

“Where did you get the money?” Suzanne asked stunned at the booty on the kitchen table.

“That’s not all, my love.” Martin said picking up the other grocery bag.

“What?” Suzanne said laughing.

“Wait, love, wait.” He set the bag next to the bounty of boxes on the table and reached in. “Champagne.” He held the bottle out to her like a waiter in a fancy restaurant. “And NOT the cheap stuff. He reached back into the bag and pulled out a plastic container. “Pate. Duck and Cognac.” He reached back in. “And Fritos and squirt cheese and hot dogs and buns and peanut butter and rye bread and milk.” He crumpled the empty bag. “How’s that for a bag full of goodies?”

Suzanne walked over to the table and picked up a box of Mac and Cheese.

“Did you rob a bank?” She said, only half kidding.

“I got a job.” He said and grabbed her around the waist. He pulled her to him.

She pushed away. “Where were you all night?”

“Saving our home.” He said.

“Don’t play now, Martin.” She picked up the bottle of champagne. “Fifty-dollars?! Martin where the hell did you get this money?”

“When I left yesterday I went to O’Briens.”

“The bar?” Suzanne said. “You spent the night in a bar?”

“It’s a Pub, Suze.”

“Just because they have pickled eggs on the counter doesn’t make it a Pub, Martin. It’s a freakin’ bar. And you’re telling me you spent the whole night there?”

“I was there till they closed. Till two. Then we went to Denny’s to eat and talk.” Martin said, putting the boxes of Mac and Cheese into a cupboard.

“We?” Suzanne asked.

“Nick Delmarko and his friends and me.” Martin said keeping his back to Suzanne.

“Nick…” She stopped mid-sentence.

“Don’t Suzanne.” Martin said quickly. “He’s not the same as he was in High School.”

“He was a hoodlum and gang member and an asshole. What’s different now, Martin? What has he gotten you into?”

“He’s saved our asses, Suze.”

“Oh my god. What has he gotten you into?”

“STOP IT!” He shouted at her. “He’s good now. I’m gonna drive for him.”

“Drive what?” She asked sitting at the kitchen table.

“He’s got a pickup and delivery service. I’m gonna drive for him. He gave me a two-hundred dollar advance and I’ll be on salary and on call for him.”

“On call?”

“He wants to use me on the important jobs. He trusts me cause of all we went through together in school. Let’s open the champagne, Babe. Let’s open it and celebrate.”

“I have to make Conner’s dinner.” She said walking to the stove. “You did good with the Mac and Cheese. Thank you.”

“Then after, we can have champagne and pate and nookie?” He wiggled his eyebrows and grinned the grin that had made her fall in love with him.

“After his bath and he’s in bed. Yes. But you’ll be drinking alone.” Suzanne patted her stomach. She walked to him and kissed his cheek. “I love you. You better not have done something stupid.”

“I haven’t, Babe. I haven’t. My first job’s tomorrow morning. We’re in the money!”

The following afternoon there was a knock on the front door. Then a ring of the doorbell and another knock.

“Coming!” Suzanne shouted from the kitchen. “Hang on, please.”

Conner ran from his room to the door and peaked out the long skinny window that ran along side of it.

“The policemens is here Mama!” He yelled running toward the kitchen.

“The what?” Suzanne came out of the kitchen drying her hands on a dish towel.

“Policemens!” Conner said clenching and unclenching his tiny hands. “Policemens!”

Suzanne went to the door and looked out the long window. She saw two uniformed policemen and a man in a suit standing in front of them.

“The hell?” She said quietly and opened the door. “Hi.”

“Mrs. Suzanne Daniels?” The man in the suit said.

“Yes. What …?” Suzanne said.

“Is your husband Martin Edward Daniels?” Suit man said.

“Yes. Who are you and what is this about?” Suzanne said formally with mounting concern.

Suit man reached into his coat and pulled out a leather wallet. He opened it and showed Suzanne the badge inside.

“I’m Detective Mallon and this is Officer Evans and Officer Anderson.”

“Hi.” Suzanne nodded toward the officers. “What’s going on?”

Detective Mallon looked down at Conner who hugged his mother’s leg.

“Is that your son?” Mallon asked.

“Yes. Conner. His name’s Conner.”

“Officer Evans will walk him around to your backyard while I speak to you.”

Evans stepped forward and Suzanne pulled Conner back away from the door.

“No. Officer Evans will not.” Suzanne said and turned toward Conner. “Go in your room and color, Buster-brown, K?”

“Policemens.” Conner said pointing.

“Yes, Policemen. Now go color and I’ll make you rye-bread and peanut butter toast in a little bit, deal?”

“Earlandmarys!” Conner shouted. “Yeah! DEAL!”

Suzanne stepped out onto the porch closing the door of their duplex behind her.

“What?” She barked.

“Ma’am.” Detective Mallon began what sounded like a memorized speech. “I and these other officers have been dispatched to inform you that during the commission of a felony, your husband, Martin Edward Daniels, was shot and killed by police officers this morning at 09:30 hours.”

Suzanne stared at him. Silent. Emotionless.

“Do you understand what I have told you, ma’am?” Mallon asked

“He lied to me.” Suzanne said and turned toward the door.

“Ma’am.” Mallon said taking her arm. “We’re not finished here yet.”

Suzanne turned back toward him and tears were gushing from her eyes. They poured down her cheeks and wet the front of her neck and blouse. Her face still showed absolutely no emotion, but the tears came in river floods.

“Do you need to go in and sit, Mrs. Daniels?” Mallon asked, genuinely concerned.

“Suzanne.” She said. “I’m Suzanne.”

“Can I come in, Suzanne. Sit with you for minute? Mallon took her arm and led her into the house. He moved her to the couch. She stared at it not knowing what to do. The tears still poured from her eyes. “Sit, Suzanne. Sit down, ma’am.”

Suzanne sat down and looked around the room.

“It’s messy in here. I’m sorry it’s messy.” She said. “I have a little boy and it gets messy so fast. It’s hard to keep up. I’m sorry it’s messy.”

“Suzanne, do you have someone we can call for you? Someone to come here and be with you? Family or friends?”

“He told me he was delivering things.” She said, the tears flowing torrents. “Driving for Nick.”

“Nicolas Delmarko is responsible for seventeen armored car robberies, Mrs. Daniels.”

“He’s all good now.” She said not hearing the detective. Not hearing anything but her own disjointed thoughts. “He’s not a hoodlum anymore.”

“Ma’am. Is there someone we can call?”

“The rent is due tomorrow and we have the cellphone bill and the water and power and Conner’s special education aid and the car payment. They’re gonna repossess the…” She trailed off and a sound began deep inside her. A low guttural sound, like the beginning of an angry lion’s roar. It was the sound of unspeakable grief. It exploded from her and she fell forward off the couch and on to her knees. She wasn’t crying so much as whaling. She rocked back and forth. Detective Mallon dropped to his knees and held her. Then all was blackness. Blessed blackness.

Suzanne woke up in her bed. She was in her nightgown and soft morning light was filtering in through the worn draperies.

“You’re awake!” A very familiar voice said as her bedroom door opened. “Good.”

Mrs. Cantor, her landlady came into the room.

“You ready to see Conner?” She asked Suzanne. “He’s very worried about you.”

“Where’s Martin?” Suzanne said. Then. “Oh no, no, no, no.”

“No time for tears.” Mrs. Cantor said opening the drapes. “You have a frightened child and responsibilities. I’ve called your sister in Canada and she’ll be here day after tomorrow.”

“What day is it?” Suzanne managed.

“It’s Wednesday. I’ll get you some coffee. You slept straight through the night. That’s good. You had the shock of your life yesterday. Poor Martin. Your rent is due today, but we’re going to give you a pass this month considering the circumstances.”

Conner bounded into the bedroom.

“Mama!” He shouted and jumped onto the bed. “You were cryin’ soooooo loud. You were cryin’ like a cryin’ crybaby!”

“That cop said that since you’ve been officially notified, Martin’s name is going to be released and once it’s released the news people are going to want to talk to you. Maybe even Channel Four. Maybe that wonderful Morgan Sterns will show up. You need to get up and get dressed. I’ll get your coffee.” Mrs. Cantor walked out of the bedroom.

“Why were you cryin’ so much, Mama?” Conner said leaning back against her and putting his hand into her hair. “Like a cryin’, crybaby.”

Suzanne gently pulled his hand from her hair.

“Mama’s gotta get up now.” She said to him. “Mama’s got to…. I’ve got to….”

A hard pounding knock came at the front door. Conner leapt off the bed and ran to it. Mrs. Cantor came running into the room.

“A van is outside!” She said, excited. “I saw a man with a big camera on his shoulder and another one with a microphone! It isn’t Morgan Sterns though. Put on your robe, Suzanne. Put on your robe and come talk to them!”

Suzanne zombie walked to the front door, not feeling or thinking, just obeying. Conner was peaking out the window.

“Camera Mama!!!! He squealed with excitement. “Camera with a big light!”

“Open the door, Suzanne.” Mrs. Cantor said, hiding in the kitchen doorway.

Suzanne opened the door. A man with a microphone and a man with a video camera on his shoulder stood on her porch. Several other people stood by them and more on her lawn. And there was one man who, inexplicable, had a huge bunch of helium balloons.

“Suzanne Daniels?” The microphone man said to her.

“Yes.” She answered. And the man with the camera flipped on the flood light attached to it.

“Suzanne Daniels of Farmwood, New York! You are the winner of the Ten Million Dollar Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes!”

One of the men on the porch handed her a giant rectangular piece of cardboard with writing on it. The balloon man handed her the balloons.

Suzanne began to laugh then. Humorless, low and terrifying. Suzanne fell to her knees and just laughed and laughed and laughed.