Sunday, May 20, 2018

BLIND TERROR

Copyright (c) 2018 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.



BLIND TERROR
By R. Peterson

            The amber glow of a street light streamed through the kitchen window, over a sink stacked with last night’s casserole dishes, and turned a dark (hooded?) figure into a silhouette. The object he was lifting above his head looked like some kind of bat. The black metal fireplace poker that I’d picked up from the living room fell from my fingers and bounced off the 17th. Century Spanish tile. A tremendous flash of light went off in my brain and pain exploded from the back of my head. My legs become liquid as I tried to turn …. I could hear the slow swish of the Felix the Cat clock’s tail as it ticked off the seconds from the wall above the stove as I crumbled to the floor. I imagined Scarlett upstairs with the Tudor Queen quilt and matching sheet set pulled up to her mouth where I’d left her two minutes before … probably now too terrified to scream. There was a phone on her side of the bed next to the Tiffany lamp she’d paid too much for at a Beverly Hills charity auction last summer …. “Call 911”, I wanted to yell but my voice was no longer there … everything … the ironwood kitchen table, chairs, a  Barrel Stave rack filled with cooking wines and three framed Red Skelton clown paintings went spinning around me like a carousel. Two needle haystacks of pain formed in the back of my head and then rolled to just behind my eyes … before they caught fire. With a last gasp of breath like a drowning man I followed the hastily assembled Pasadena Rose Bowl Parade into a big black hole.
            “Where is the money old man?” The voice was in that punkish upper range right before it dropped into adulthood. Someone was dragging me across the kitchen floor by my hair but it was still too dark to see. Why didn’t they turn on the lights?

-------2-------

            “I told you where we keep our cash!” It was Scarlett’s voice frantic with fear. “That’s all we have!”
I heard something between a punch and a slap. Slow gurgling noises came from my actress girlfriend between gasps of breath trying to become sobs. Two seconds later my head exploded for the second time in less than an hour. This time I didn’t pass out and had to endure the pain. “We’re tired of F#%$*&# around old man!” This voice was older with a Hispanic accent. “We know you brought home five million cash … yesterday!”
            Tony Small! The name filled me with rage. We were in the last two weeks of production for The Dreamers and Tony wanted to expand the final fight scene. Unfortunately we had already exceeded our eighty-four million budget for the action film. “Another five minutes will set the theaters on fire,” he insisted.
            “We have a good solid ending,” I argued. “The lowest test rating we got on all twelve different endings was a seven … besides,” I told him. “Special effects shooting gobbles up a mill a minute even without extra set costs. Where you going to get another five million dollars?”
            “My uncle Rossi knows this Hummock with more money than brains,” Tony said. “He’ll buy in for four percent of the first run profits and a half a percent when it goes into syndication.”
As the film’s producers, Tony and I owned twenty percent of the film with 80 percent divided among various investors. “And the four and a half percent comes out of whose share?”
            “The Star Film employee’s retirement fund,” Tony said. “We bump up their contribution to nine million instead of four and we write off the Hummock’s investment as operating expenses.”
            “Can we do that?”
            “It’s like taking your accounting books for a walk in the park and visiting the zoo,” Tony said. “So the monkeys throw some s#%$ at your ledgers … we clean it up. If we don’t get at least a one point rise from the next test audience I’ll eat a percent myself … but if we do …” he hesitated.
            “Okay,’ I told him. “We eat at the same table. You arrange for the money and I’ll tell Goldfield we’ll be shooting and pasting for another five days. If this bombs … we both go to the hospital with burns.”
Two nights later we met Zerenzo Luciano under a Santa Monica overpass. He rode in the back seat of a six year old Lincoln and I kept thinking of the classic movie by Francis Ford Coppola. He told dirty jokes with a heavy Italian accent while our lawyer and one of his three goons signed papers on the hood of the Continental. His investment turned out to be a massive Samsonite suitcase crammed full of hundred-dollar bills. I swore under my breath and kicked chunks of loose asphalt with my Gucci loafers as the big black car pulled away and I told Tony “Never again!” He took the cash … and told me not to worry.
The guy dragging me flung me against the kitchen wall. I could smell Scarlett’s perfume; she was on the floor beside me. “This is going to get ugly real fast,’ the older man said. I heard a faint click and Scarlett screamed. “Look at me old man!” the Hispanic demanded. I turned my head toward my girlfriend and then toward his voice I could see only black. I suddenly realized the lights in the kitchen were not off …
‘I can’t,” I said hardly believing myself. “I’m blind!”
Scarlett was holding her breath and so I held mine. I could feel a faint movement of air in front of my face. There was a tiny gasping cry from my girlfriend. The blade of a knife brushed my cheek.
            “Damn, I think he is blind … blind as a bat!”
            “My partner took care of the money,’ I told them. “It’s probably in a bank.”
            “Nobody puts dirty money in a bank,” the Hispanic man said. “Too many questions and nobody can stop talking about it.”
Suddenly I was mad at Tony Small. We’d worked three long years on The Dreamers … eighteen hour days … nine days a week. It was a great movie perhaps not an Oscar winner but a moneymaker … all the Hollywood signs said so. The distributors were increasing their advertising budget not cutting it; that told you more than a hundred test viewings.
This time it was the punk’s voice in my face. “The money was never out of our sight until it came here,” he said. “Why don’t you tell us where it is and spare yourself some pain?” I could hear him drawing drips back up his nose. I realized I was dealing with at least one meth addict.
I tried to think about where I’d gone after Tony and I got the investment money under the overpass. It wasn’t home … I gone for a drink … China Jim’s on Sunset Boulevard.  Perhaps these men weren’t lying. Tony could have brought the cash here …. But why? If he did …why didn’t Scarlett say that he’d been here?
            “I don’t know anything about it,” I told them. “You’ll have to ask Tony.”
I could smell the Hispanic man’s dirty boots seconds before he kicked me in the side. I was instantly sick and a bit of last night’s cashew casserole dripped from my mouth onto my pajamas. If death was pain and darkness I was already halfway there. Someone tied my hands behind my back with what felt like leather shoelaces.
            “We spent last night at your friend’s house,” the voice said. “It’s hard to get a dead man to talk … so we came here.”
            “You killed him?”
            “He was toast when we got there,” the punk said with a laugh, “I buttered him right between the eyes … and he looked like he never saw it coming.”
            “We found the big blue suitcase but there was no money,” Hispanic said. “That much cash doesn’t just hide under a rug.”
            “We tore his f$%#$^% place apart. He must have brought the money here.” I heard a crash that could only have come from a sixteenth century curio cabinet filled with priceless blown glass objects followed by Punk’s insane laughter.
            “What are you doing?” I yelled.
            “Practicing,” the punk said, then drip sniffed. “Your pal’s house looked like a glass recycling bin when we left. We don’t want you to think we gave him more of our attention.”
            “I’ve got a much better idea,” the Hispanic man said. “Perhaps if we do some practicing on your woman?”

-------3-------

            I could hear Scarlett struggling mixed with Punk’s snorting laughter. I heard a slap followed by two heavy punches. “Help me carry her up to the bedroom.” The Hispanic grunted as if lifting a weight.
            “What about him?”
            “He ain’t going anywhere.”
            “I think you’re right … but better safe than sorry.”
My head exploded for the third time that night. The spinning carousel was back, but this time the clown paintings were moving in slow motion as I bounced off the floor. What really terrified me was that these cheap hoods didn’t know what they were doing. Each one of the original signed Red Skelton clown paintings hanging on the wall in the kitchen would sell for close to a million at auction and my house was a treasure chest of antiques and collectables. I was aware of my cheek being cut by priceless broken blown glass … but I didn’t care. I wanted my sight back. I’d made a career of thinking visually … plotting out scenes in hundreds of writing tablets that ended up looking like comic books. I could study a storyboard and know how it was going to look on film. Tony said another five minutes would put the film over the top … I prayed for just one minute of sight so I could work this thing out. But it would have to wait. This time I was really sick.
I heard a scream from somewhere up above just as something dragged me down into a creepy cellar … and closed the door behind us.

To be continued …
           

Sunday, May 13, 2018

DREAM REPAIR

Copyright (c) 2018 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.





By R. Peterson

Hush child and let me tell you true … about a perfect baby just like you.
The King and Queen of Nod were delighted when Her Majesty gave birth … Princess Perfaith was everything they had ever wanted, wrapped in joy and mirth.  
The baby was wiggly pink toes to wash and soft golden hair to clean … with laughing blue eyes somewhere in between.
A twinkling smile that could frighten away even the most horrible storm … and a laugh that made the sunshine warm.  
Perfaith was watched by a dozen eyes at all odd times … even more so during nursery rhymes.
The queen was in the garden picking a feather from a rose … when the first horn blew and made her wiggle her toes.  
She rushed to where a crowd  surrounded Perfaith’s crib … “What is it?’ the Queen demanded. “I’ll have no fib!”
“There,” the old woman pointed to the beginning of a frown; “Surely no Royal smile at that place turns down.”
The queen ordered a dozen attendants with fans to the crib of doom. “Perhaps it is too warm … much too warm in this room!”
            The queen was filling a feeder in the garden and wondering why her feathered friends hadn’t come … when another cry from the nursery put her on the run.
The matron pointed to a single tear rolling down the sleeping baby’s chin … “She was fine just a bit ago when I walked in.”
Her Majesty ordered all the windows covered. “The day must be too bright for her tender young eyes … and no more noise … I’ll hear no lies.”
            Then a loud cry made everyone drop what they were doing and rush to the palace … Abby, Dick, John, Jane … George, Mike and Alice.
            The king was returning from a fox hunt when he heard the boom. “What on Earth?’ he thundered as he rushed into the room. “It must have been a bad dream,” the old woman said. “The princess isn’t quite awake … yet she’s filled with dread.”
            “There are no bad things in my kingdom, I give my trust to God. Her broken dreams will be repaired” … says the Lord of Nod!

-------2-------

The king sent soldiers into every town, village and in-betweens … searching for someone who could repair broken dreams.
They looked in boots, boats, baskets and boxes … they searched under mats, marbles, mice and foxes.
They peered in the tops of trees and in the bottom of wells … they followed flying birds and cooking smells.
Finally someone checked two paths up from Filbert Street … down a twisted alley filled with rotting meat.
 Across a broken door and down a short damp hall … under broken roof boards where the shingles fall.
Next to a webby corner where spiders dare … a sign said Vorchoose Dream Repair!
Vorchoose, the name is always spoken like a sneeze … was a frog wearing pants in the doorway breeze.
An enchanted Prince who had never been kissed … from another fairy tale - he was somehow missed.
Not too short and not too thin … he told them with a smile to hop right in.
The crooked room was short on one side and long on the other … with a chair stuck in the wall near a portrait of his mother.
Crooked stairs like shelves leaned up to the sky … with grasses, bugs and bells marked with Taylor’s dye.
They grabbed Vorchoose and tied him to a nag …. Green legs kicking from a big red bag.
He was dumped onto the floor before the angry king … while soldiers with spears formed a surrounding ring.
“You have naught to fear from sword or knife,” the king assured him … “Fix my daughter’s dreams and I’ll spare your life.”
“Before I can repair a dream I must see what is broke,” … Vorchoose explained in a frightened croak.
The king sent soldiers to bring his pile of a shop … four crooked walls with a roof on top.
Soldiers stomped their boots as he searched through the rubble ….and found a corked glass jar in the shape of a bubble.
Voorchoose took a tiny candle from a small locked box …. “I hope this is enough for it’s all that I’ve got.”
The crowd moved softly to where the tiny baby slept … some on tiptoes while others crept.
The frog lit the candle behind the jar and shown it on the place … where dreams come and go on the baby’s face.
The Queen’s lovely garden rippled into view … with butterflies, sunshine and morning dew.
A bird on a branch had just begun its song … when darkness covered the leaves like something wrong.
A shadow like claws made everyone shout …. then the flame flickered and the candle went out.
“I could almost see the thing that broke her dreams,” the Queen did shout … “How could you let the fire go out?’
“Quick, light another,” the king demanded. “Do it now or be beaten and branded!”
“I can’t,” the frog said, his voice filled with fear. “The candle’s made of wax from a large dragon’s ear!”
The king asked a wizard who was standing by …. how the candle could be replaced if one wanted to try.
The wizard looked around and scratched his bald head … and pulled a scroll from his boot before he read.
“To find a sleeping dragon with an ear filled with wax …. You must look in the mountains in the caves and the cracks.”
So the king sent Vorchoose to bring back more light. “You have just three days – so don’t sleep at night!”
The little frog hopped from the castle and into the forest … downstream from here where the people are poorest.
Past fields and farms where the money is lost … past those who stay busy no matter the cost.
By a mountain of hay a cottage looked very small. A woman had sewn a one acre blanket to cover it all.
“It took me six months to keep this hay dry… now no one will pay - not a cloud in the sky!”
The little frog didn’t know what to say …
The frog asked every town and village if they’d seen a dragon … and a man tried to squish him under the wheel of a wagon.
“Get out of the street! Be gone with you frog! There by that stream go sit on that log!”
It was just getting dark so the frog did what the man said … one day of three gone and it filled him with dread.
The night moved along; the moon crossed the sky … a fish stopped to talk as it passed him by.
“You search for a dragon, who makes fire in the air … no water to breathe so glad I’m not there.”
“Where is this place? Where I’d rather be … to repair a dream is my mission you see.”
“Follow this stream where it comes from above … a cave behind water hid in a bluff.
An old sleeping dragon, you’ll know from the snore … I’m just swimming past so I can’t tell you more.”
Verchoose thanked his finned friend but the fish had already gone … so he moved on upstream and he hopped until dawn.
The old fish was right, the frog heard the roar … of water tumbling down and a great dragon’s snore.
The frog crept into the cave all trembles and fears … but the dragon was deaf from the wax in its ears.
The frog shoveled out wax plugs counted ten … then did the next ear just to show him a friend.
The wax plugs all floated down the stream just like boats … when a she dragon came with her claws filled with goats.
She had a loud grinding voice and her words never stopped ….
The old dragon woke up - turned its head with a nod … “I heard you come home dear - and that’s rather odd!”
The frog dove in the fast moving water and swam for his life … while the two dragons breathed flames and lit up the night.
Water moves very fast but dragon wings don’t tire …when Frog got back to Nod the realm was on fire.
The frog was just pulling the wax plugs out of the water when the king arrived with his knights … “we’re at war with the dragons now everyone must fight!”
With the roaring of flames the dragon landed there too … and he chased Frog away from the dragon ear goo.
The old dragon pointed to his mate in the air … “I do love her dearly so do take a care.”
“I’ll take back my wax - I do love my naps … with no way of hearing her nagging and yaps.”
As the dragon seized the wet wax to lift it away … the frog remembered the one acre blanket that covered the hay.
“Would not a huge pillow not muffle the sound … and give your head comfort not hard stony ground?”
And the dragon bent his head and considered ….
The king bought the hay pillow and with the dragon did trade … each satisfied with the bargain they’d made.
The frog made tiny candles - he made them galore … till  the king threw his hands up and told him no more.
The princess was sleeping when they looked at her broken dream … and discovered a cat - its mouth frothy with cream.
It slipped in the garden under a gate to the east … and ate every bird it could catch for a feast.
The king set out guards they caught the beast quick … and sent it    far south or to the north was its pick.
For Perfaith and others the broken dreams all turned out well  … and Verchoose still waits in his shop … for his own fairy tale.


THE END?

Sunday, May 6, 2018

NEIGHBORS part 2

Copyright (c) 2018 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.




By R. Peterson

It was after midnight when I finished making the torn sheets from my bed into a rope. It was about thirty foot to the ground. I figured I had braided a little more than eighteen. I could drop ten foot without breaking a leg … I hoped. I only weighed ninety-five pounds so I wasn’t worried about the cloth- rope breaking. None of the doors on the rooms appeared to be locked. I guess they figured the security in the place was sufficient to keep a kid from escaping. I checked the hallway outside my room. Born on the Bayou blasted from a room three doors down the corridor. The smoker offered his companion a cigarette it was politely declined. When I looked at them through the knothole board, one of the attendants was a regular person and the other a goat demon. The demon was the non-smoker … go figure. I figured the Credence Clearwater Revival Music was loud enough to muffle any pounding … so I went after the bars on my windows.
The steel bars were tough but the frame they were attached to was rotted pine. I had the entire window out and lying on my bed in about ten minutes. Mom always told me I was destructive for a twelve year old … I guess she was right.
My bed was bolted to the floor so I tied one end of my rag rope around it, squeezed out of the window and hand over hand, started my descent. I was near the end of the rope with perhaps a drop of fifteen feet when I suddenly began going up. Two smiling attendants were busy hoisting me back up to my window. I thought about dropping but took too long to get my nerve up. By the time I decided that I might escape even with a broken leg I was too high … no one escapes with a broken neck.
About three feet below the window ledge, just out of my reach, they stopped pulling me up. I heard laughter from below and looked down. Mr. and Mrs. Fisk were down there with most of the cult members who had been at the bloody cat ritual in their backyard. Mrs. Fisk leered up at me as she dropped what looked like construction debris on a pile directly under me. “I was hoping you’d try to escape,” she cackled. “This should be pretty amusing!” Most of the boards the Devil worshipers were putting on the pile had jagged, rusty nails sticking out of them and they were careful to make sure the nails were all point side up.
“Pull me up! I won’t try to escape again!” I pleaded.
Mr. Fisk chuckled. “We have no intention of pulling you up,” he said. “We all have bets on how long a thirteen year old boy can hang onto a cotton sheet rope.”
I started to tell him I was only twelve but then I remembered my Birthday was tomorrow. It didn’t look as if I was going to get that party I wanted.
My fingers were already aching when Fisk and the others started marching around the pile lifting their hands high in the air rubbing them together and then wiggling their fingers. “Another minute is all I’ll give him!”
            “He’s young … I’ll say ninety seconds!”
            “Some of those nails are three inches long … I say three minutes!”
My hands were beginning to cramp up. I let go with one hand to try to stop the cramping. The crowd below gasped in some kind of sadistic ecstasy. I don’t know why I put the knot hole necklace up to my eye and then looked down perhaps I wanted to see what my tormenters really looked like. They were all split-hoof creatures, mostly goats, but what astonished me was the pile of deadly nail infested debris was actually a pile of mattresses and pillows. I smiled as I let go. If this was some kind of dream or wishful thinking I was going to find out real fast. I closed my eyes for three long seconds …. and then I bounced.

-------2-------

            I guess my abductors had had their fun I spent the next two hours in and out of showers and getting my hair cut. They gave me a three piece suit to put on. “To a rehearsal,” was all they would tell me when I ask where I was going.
We drove downtown in a long black limousine that I kept expecting to have a coffin in the back. We stopped in front of Wicket Towers one of the tallest office buildings in the city and then rode the elevator up to the roof. The entire roof was a huge garden surrounded by a three-foot retaining wall. Elegant waiters dressed in white tuxedos served drinks and oeuvres to guests seated at round glass top tables. A twelve piece string orchestra was tuning up.
            “So who’s getting married?” I asked wondering why they had brought me here.
            “Why you are!” Mrs. Fisk laughed. “Didn’t you ever wonder why we went to so much trouble to get you?”
            “I’m too young to get married,” I assured her.
            “You’ll be thirteen tomorrow,” Mrs. Fisk grinned. “The most flavorful age … just like she likes them.”
We were nearing the far end of the roof when I noticed two women dressed in white on what appeared to be a portable stage. Mom and Jelly! “What are they doing here?” I gasped.
            “You don’t expect your mother and sister not to attend their own son and brother’s wedding do you?”
            “Mom! Help me!” I tried to pull away but Mrs. Fisk’s fingers felt like iron clamps on my neck.
            “They can’t hear you,” Mrs. Fisk laughed. “They only hear my voice and I assure you they are very obedient.”
She called Jelly by the name Adaurea and gestured for my sister to come to us by wagging her finger. Jelly’s eyes were like blue beach balls bouncing on white sand but they reflected no light. She paid no attention to me. “Go down to the newsstand on the street corner and buy me a newspaper,” Mrs. Fisk tossed her a fifty-cent piece.  Jelly started toward the open elevator that had brought us to the roof.
            “No,” Mrs. Fisk scolded. “I don’t have time …. Just go over the side!”
My little sister whom I loved more than life itself walked to the edge of the roof with no hesitation and climbed up on the wall. “No,” I screamed. “I’ll do whatever you want but don’t make my little sister do this!”
Mrs. Fisk smiled and gestured Jelly back to the stage. “Just so we understand each other,” she said. “Your mother and little sister are both under my command. You don’t do exactly as I say and they will both die … before you do.”
We spent the next two hours going over an elaborate ceremony and the bride wasn’t there. At one point they gave me a ring and Mr. Fisk told me not to lose it. I was wondering how that would be possible. With the size of the ring my bride had to have fingers about two inches in diameter. I was wondering what kind of woman I was marrying … if it was a woman.
I guess I wasn’t surprised when they let me go home … alone. They had my mother and sister I had to do what they said.

-------3-------

There was no way I could sleep. I lay on my bed tossing and turning. I tried to conjure up an image of my father wondering what he would do in this situation. I kept hearing him talking about his fence boards and the Juhar tree they had come from.  A gypsy woman lived in my town who had a small box carved out of the same kind of wood. Something magical happened each time an object was placed in the box …. and then after the lid was opened.
I was off my bed and out to the garage in a flash. I had enough scrap wood from the board I had cut the knot hole out of to make a small box … I hoped. I worked most of the night. I didn’t want anything to diminish the magic, if there was any, so I didn’t use glue or nails. The entire box was pinned together with wooden pegs made of the same strange wood. I used my dad’s old hunting knife, the one found with blood on it next to Jelly’s dead cat, to carve the single word Ombré just like my dad described. Just before dawn I said a short prayer and dropped the ring inside before closing the lid.
It was a miracle I didn’t fall asleep on the way to my room. I was out the second my head hit the pillow … without dreams and with the first embers of hope slowly starting to kindle.

-------4-------

I woke up late; the wedding … my wedding was at midnight, but I was ordered to be there at nine.  It was a little past seven PM. I showered and combed my hair. I had a little trouble with the tux. It took me a couple of tries to discover you didn’t tuck in the coat tails. I almost forgot the carved box with the ring inside. I was hailing a taxi when I discovered I’d left it on the kitchen table. Once I had the ring and the box tucked safely away in my pants pocket I couldn’t find a taxi to save my life …. or my mother or sister’s.
I walked over two miles before I finally got a hack to pull over. The back seat was nauseating. The last fare must have been a farmer selling horse manure as garden fertilizer. By the time I arrived at Wicket Towers, it was 9:45 and Mrs. Finch was fuming. “I almost decided to do with only one bridesmaid,” she said pointing to the roof edge.
It was the longest two hours of my life. I stood less than twenty feet away from my zombie mother and sister and neither of them recognized me. The rooftop began to fill with persons unknown.

-------5-------

A hush fell over the crowd and the music stopped. I knew my bride had arrived. The string orchestra began to play an agonizing slow wedding march as if the entire ensemble had been victimized by an overdose of Quaaludes.
The elevator door burst open and the Fisk’s daughter Hamilton appeared alongside something large draped in black lace. Hamilton looked as if she had somehow acquired the worst characteristics from both of her parents. Her long face was punctuated by an equally long and sharp nose which ended in a knobby chin resembling the socket bone on a femur. She didn’t walk so much as lurch. The lower half of the body jerking the upper half as if with an invisible rope.
            My bride moved with purpose toward the stage. My god she had to be over seven feet tall and with more than two legs! Halfway down the aisle an overweight woman holding a Persian cat in her arms suddenly cried out as the cat scratched her and flew out of her arms.
The thing in the black lace was fast. My bride flung off her veil and hissed just before broomstick thick insecticidal arms grasped the terrified feline and speared it through the neck. The crowd actually applauded the eating. I barely received passing grades in fourth grade biology but I’d learned enough to know my future wife was a seven foot tall species of Mantodea … a Praying Mantis.
            I started to pass out several times but each time my best man the guy standing next to me with fingers like pliers would give me a sharp pinch and my eyes would fly open. Mrs. Fisk was smiling and licking her lips and I remembered something else about the female Mantodea they eat their mates shortly after breeding.
I was hoping this was not really what my soon to be wife looked like and during the preacher’s extra-long discourse I sneaked the knot hole up to my eye. She looked even worse than before. The beak at the end of her snout appeared to be cracked and one of her eyes was missing! She smelled like the rotted vinyl behind an old toilet.
I don’t remember saying I do, but my arm still aches as if someone twisted it.
When it came time to exchange rings, my bride scratched a circle around the third digit of my left hand and then stuck the claw in her mouth obviously liking the taste of blood. I held my breath as I opened the box and handed her the ring inside … it felt oddly cold. A second later my finger felt like I’d touched a hotplate.
A long green tongue came from my bride’s mouth and licked the entire area around the spiny opening as she slipped the ring on one of the many appendages that passed for fingers.
Her mouth opened wide and I thought she was going to eat me right there without waiting for cake or photographers. What came out was like escaping steam or a gunshot hole in a monster truck tire. She was belching fire and now resembled a horrible dragon rather than a religious insect. Vomit, which smelled like gasoline, ran from her mouth like a river. She spun in place and helped spread the flames. Black smoke rose into the night sky like someone trying to cover the stars with a blanket. A viola and two high strung violins caught fire and the heated and contracted strings snapped and broke like firecrackers.
People were running looking to escape the roof. Now my entire bride’s head was flaming. A waiter sprinted past holding a glass tray filled with overflowing champagne glasses the back of his white jacket was on fire but he never spilled a drop.
            Much of the vegetation around the roof edge was arborvitae evergreens and the cone shaped bushes caught fire quickly making the entire top floor garden resemble a torch. I saw my huge blackened bride plowing through the crowd, shoving terrified and fleeing guests into her mouth like peanuts obviously determined to enjoy one last meal before she dissolved in ash.
Mrs. Fisk was trying to slap away flames coming from her husband’s toupee and caught a bit of one lacy dress sleeve on fire. The next instant she was a torch from the waist up …. I watched her go over the roof edge like a giant half-smoked cigarette. It may have been my imagination but I thought I saw the Fisk’s daughter, Hamilton, climb on an old thirties style black ladies bicycle and pedal furiously away into the night sky.
            Mom and Jelly appeared to be back to normal. They both looked as if they awakened in a party raging in Hell. I grabbed them both and we forced our way into the over-crowded elevator of screaming people just as the door closed.
There were police and fire truck sirens coming in the distance as we reached the street level. We didn’t try to hail a cab we just kept on running. About three blocks away from the burning building Jelly began to laugh. I thought it was about the dumbest sound I’d ever heard. Thirty seconds later, me and mom both joined in. We were going home.

-------6-------

            It’s been almost three months since the tragedy that took the lives of the Fisks and so many other prominent citizens in our fair city. The FOR SALE sign had been on the front lawn of our former neighbor’s house for more than a month, today it was gone and a big orange moving van was backed into the driveway when I came home from school. I couldn’t help staring as two beefy men unloaded furniture.
I wondered if the new neighbors had any children my age.

THE END?



Sunday, April 29, 2018

NEIGHBORS

Copyright (c) 2018 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.




By R. Peterson

My best friend, Sam, and his family had only moved out of the house next door to ours for two weeks when I noticed the Real Estate agent’s SOLD sign go up. Three days later, as I was walking home from school, I saw a moving van was backed into the driveway unloading furniture. I looked for any children my age but all I saw was an overweight bald man viciously fling a baseball that had landed on his lawn and a crooked nosed woman frowning and shaking her head as she pointed to a flower bed. I called “Hello” but they both ignored me.
I could smell cookies baking when I walked in the kitchen. “Wash your hands,” Mom said. “And then you can have some of those and a glass of milk.” She pointed to a plate of chocolate chip cookies sitting on the table covered with Saran wrap and decorated with a blue ribbon that said WELCOME in gold letters. Pretty fancy for a twelve-year old who’d only been gone six hours.  Mom’s face was turned away as she scrubbed dishes in the sink her voice sounded hushed and somehow small, as though she’d been crying.
After doing my homework for an hour I asked Mom if I could go outside and play catch. She said. “Okay, just make sure you stay in the backyard and away from the new neighbors Mr. and Mrs. Fisk. I don’t think they like children … or grown-ups either.” I grabbed my mitt and ball before I remembered that Sam had moved away. Jelly wasn’t home yet. Sometimes she and Susan Davis stayed after school to play on the swings.
I leaned an old basketball hoop against the trunk of a maple tree and practiced pitching through it, careful not to bang balls into dad’s masterpiece. Dad had worked as a Foreman for the Comanche County Lumber Mill for ten years before he died. Someone cut down a large tree from inside Motha Forest illegally and the mill’s owner bought the wood without knowing where it came from. The log had already been sawed into lumber by the time he found out. The two by six planks sat in a drying rack for over two years. No one would touch them when they found out where they came from. The mill owner eventually gave the wood to my father who was overjoyed. Dad said the wood was from a huge and ancient Juhar tree that was very rare in this part of the world.
Dad came from a small town in Montana. He said a gypsy woman lived there who had a small box carved out of the same kind of wood. Something magical happened each time an object was placed in the box and after the lid was opened.
My old man labored every night after work, digging postholes and sawing and hammering the strange wood. Two weeks later he had his fence built and it was magnificent … six foot tall with intricate scroll work at the top.  The wood took on a satiny glow without varnish and the boards never warped. Father used to bring people home from work to see his fence … until that one day when he never came home.
I was retrieving the ball from the hoop when I heard voices. I climbed on a box and looked over the fence in the corner where I could see the front yard. Jelly was standing on the sidewalk talking to not one but both of our new neighbors. They were all smiling like they were friends who hadn’t seen each other for years. Funny, they had completely ignored me. Mrs. Fisk put her arm around Jelly as they led her inside. I heard the old woman say something about cake.
I ran in the house to tell mom.

-------2-------

Mom was talking on the phone and she shhhhhhh’d me with a finger on her lips when I tried to tell her where Jelly was. I decided to go upstairs and look out my window. I could see into the Fisk’s back yard … perhaps they were out there. There was nothing on the other side of the fence except an overgrown garden that hadn’t been planted for two years, a crooked picnic table and a tire swing hanging from a willow tree. When I came back downstairs Jelly was sitting at the kitchen table eating a cupcake with pink frosting and yellow sparkles; Mom was asking her questions. “I can’t believe they asked you to come inside after Mrs. Fisk slammed her door in my face when I brought over a plate of cookies as a welcoming gesture!”
“They’re really both very nice Mom. They have a daughter two years older than me named Hamilton but she wasn’t there.”
“I want you to promise me you won’t go back over there unless you tell me first!”
“Oh ma!”
“I mean it!”
“Okay.”
I asked Jelly if she’d come in the back yard and play catch with me and she said okay, probably just to get away from Maw’s questions.”
            “They have a black cat named Asmodeus,” Jelly said as she dug a mitt out of the closet. “But it doesn’t eat cat food like regular cats.”
            “Maybe Scooter and Asmodeus will become friends.” I pushed away the long haired cat the breeder called a cream sickle rubbing against my leg.
            “I don’t think so,” Jelly said. “Asmodeus is a feline can a bell.”
            “Cannibal?”
            “Yes, I think that’s what Mrs. Fisk said. It means they eat their own kind.”

-------3-------

            “You throw like a girl!” I told Jelly for about the zillionth time as we tossed the ball back and forth. She didn’t laugh.
            “How about if I put a little pepper on it?” she said winding up like Sandy Koufax in the last inning of a no hitter. The ball went high and wide banging into dad’s fence. I saw something fly, most likely a splinter or a piece of broken wood. I ran to where the ball hit sure that I would see damage. A knot in one of the boards had fallen out creating a hole about the size of a quarter about a foot from the bottom of the fence. I don’t know what made me look when I reached for the ball but I put my face up to the hole and stared into what was once my friend’s backyard. It looked the same … or so I thought at first. The tire swing swung slowly in the breeze. A bird had landed on the picnic table and was searching for bugs in the rotted wood between the boards.  Something seemed a bit strange and it took me a moment to realize what it was. The overgrown garden was gone and in its place a perfect circle in the dirt, as compact and as smooth as a skating pond or skin stretched over a drum
I could have sworn the smooth circle wasn’t there when I looked before from my upstairs window. Perhaps you see what you expect to see and the new neighbors were very industrious. I picked up the wood knot and stuffed it back into the hole in the fence.
            “You sure have a funny look on your face.” Jelly laughed. “What did you see in there?”
            “Nothing,” I told her. “Our new neighbors are finally doing something about that old garden.”

-------4-------

            It was a busy week. I had baseball practice every day after school. The one time I didn’t stay late I came home early and caught Jelly talking and laughing with Mr. and Mrs. Fisk in their front yard. They all grew quiet as I approached and our new neighbors turned and walked back into their house without saying a word to me. “I might have a job,” Jelly said, skipping happily as we went into our own home.
            “Doing what?” I demanded.
            “The Fisk’s have a twelve year old daughter with problems,” Jelly said. “They need someone to watch her while they go shopping and other places.”
            “It’s called a disability,” I told her. “What’s wrong with her?”
            “Mr. Fisk said a doctor told him Hamilton’s mind was wired all wrong. Mrs. Fisk says her daughter just needs time and she’ll grow out of it.”
            “You’ll have to ask Mom but I’ll bet she’ll say no,” I said. “Our new neighbors haven’t exactly been friendly to her.”

I knew Jelly had asked Mom and she had said no. They weren’t talking when I came down to dinner. We were having fried chicken with potatoes and gravy… Jelly’s favorite.  Jelly said she wasn’t hungry and took a piece of toast up to her room.
            “Daughters,” Mom sighed in exasperation. “They don’t realize just how careful you have to be these days.”

-------5-------

            Two days later Mom and Mrs. Fisk were laughing and talking like old friends in our front yard when I came home from school. Mrs. Fisk had bought Mom some petunias as a way of saying she was sorry about being so rude the first time they met and was helping her to plant them. “This was so kind of you,” Mom said as she bent to tuck soil around a freshly planted clump. Mrs. Fisk used the opportunity to stare at me. Her murderous eyes dared me to say anything bad about her.
            I was still shaking when I went in the house and headed for my room. I met Jelly on the stairs. “Mom and Mrs. Fisk are now friends and I’ve got the job,” she gushed.
            “When do you start?” A feeling of dread was sweeping over me.
            “Hamilton comes home from the hospital on Friday,” Jelly said.
I lay on my bed long after dark trying to figure out what was going on with the people next door. It was hot and I had my window open. I could hear voices coming from the Fisk’s backyard but they must have been sitting on the grass I couldn’t see them from my window. I heard my little sister’s name mentioned a couple of times along with someone they only referred to as she. I thought it was important enough that I went into my backyard and lay on my stomach next to the fence. I removed the loose knot and peered through the hole in the board.
Mrs. Fisk and six others were sitting on the ground around the circle where the garden used to be. They were all wearing black robes with hoods that covered their heads. Mr. Fisk appeared from the house carrying a lit candle in one hand and some kind of limp animal in the other. One of the men in the circle stood up with a hammer and a long shaft of what looked like black iron sharpened on both ends. He drove the stake into the ground in the center of the circle and Mr. Fisk impaled the animal on the spike. There was a shriek as the animal began to thrash and wiggle … yellow and white fur being saturated with blood. The men and women all began to chant over and over. “Le ricompense della morte sono vita … Le ricompense della morte sono vita!” One of the men filled cups with blood and they were passed around.
I ran to the house to get Mom. I was out of breath and had to explain several times what I’d seen. I could tell she didn’t believe me. “We’re just becoming friends,” she insisted. I dragged a six foot stepladder into the back yard and she reluctantly climbed up one side while I climbed up the other. Mr. and Mrs. Fisk were on their knees pulling weeds from the overgrown garden. There was no one else there. “Is there a problem, Naomi?” Mrs. Fisk looked up smiling.
“No, Edna.” the embarrassment in my mother’s voice was like snow falling down the back of my shirt. “Just an overactive imagination on my son’s part.”
Mom refused to help me carry the ladder back to the garage as she stomped back into the house.
            The worst part was as I lay on my bed I got up and walked to my window several times. The Fisk’s back yard light was on and I could see the old picnic table and the tire swing. The overgrown garden sat at one end, the weeds the neighbors had pulled were lying on the grass nearby. Was I going crazy? I hoped not … and yet I thought that might be easier.
After lying on my bed for a while I reconsidered … I hope I am going crazy … for Jelly’s sake!
I was almost asleep when Jelly came into my room … tears were drowning her eyes. “Have you seen Scooter? I can’t find her anywhere.”

-------6-------

We searched everywhere for my sister’s cat. Mon even called the Fisks; they were more than happy to help. They had just returned from a shopping trip and showed Mom a white dress they had bought as an employment present for Jelly. Mom was delighted. I thought it looked like a damn wedding dress.
I had my own suspicions about what had happened to Scooter, but no one wanted to listen. When I heard my mom shriek, I knew they’d found my little sister’s precious pet. When I ran into the garage, my mother had the lid off the garbage can. “Jim! Have you lost your mind?” she accused. “How could you do this?” The limp body of Scooter lay on top of several bags of garbage. A pair of my last-summer work gloves lay next to the body along with my dad’s old hunting knife … both were covered with blood. Mom’s eyes were frantic as if staring at a homicidal stranger; Jelly came in the garage her eyes full of trust like always … and then she wouldn’t even look at me.
I went to my room not sure if I was really the person I thought I was. I had to be sure. I crept out of the house after midnight and into the garage. I used the stepladder to look over the fence into the Fisk backyard. Everything was as it should be under the light of a full moon … tire swing, broken table and weedy garden. Then I got down on my belly and looked through the knot hole.
The garden was gone and in its place a round altar of stone. A torch burned inside a glass globe on each side of the sharpened stake where the remains of Scooter dripped blood.
Before I put everything back the way it was, I removed the plank with the knothole from the fence and replaced it with an extra board from the garage. I walked to the end of the yard and carefully used a hand saw to cut the piece of board with the knothole in it so that it would fit in my hand. It looked kind of like an amulet so I attached a small chain and wore it around my neck.
I climbed the stepladder and looked at my neighbor’s suburban yard then I held the piece of wood up to my eye like a monocle. The weedy garden was transformed into a platform that could be used for satanic rituals … you just had to know how to look at it. It didn’t make me feel better to know I wasn’t crazy. There was too much scary stuff going on for me to feel better about anything.
I had a hard time going to sleep that night, when I did the sun was about to come up.

-------7-------

My mom woke me from the doorway going into my bedroom. “I’m sorry,” she said. “There are some people here to see you.” The woman from Social Services said they wanted to hold me a week for observation. My mother was crying, but she didn’t protest, or even try to defend me. Mrs. Fisk stood behind the attendants smiling.
Jelly must have been hiding. I was almost out to the van escorted by two men in white jackets when my little sister ran from the house. She gave me a big hug and kissed my cheek. “Please get better,” she sobbed. It broke my heart to see the look in her eyes.
I was in the so-called mental hospital for a full day and night answering countless questions and undergoing various mental health evaluations. Each question seemed designed to make me feel bad. Lucky for me or unlucky for me, however you want to look at it, they thought the small piece of wood with a hole in it was just a piece of costume jewelry and let me keep it.
Right after I finished lunch (raw bacon and soggy blood pudding); I decided to look through the knot hole at my surroundings. Most of the residents were sheep with tiny rats riding on their backs being herded by dogs towards a darkened room that smelled of death. The attendants were all upright walking goats, bloody rags streaming from the horns on their heads like county fair prize ribbons. They all carried pitchforks dripping something that looked like intestines.
I knew I had to escape. Wherever I was, this was not a hospital. There were steel bars bolted inside my fourth floor window but they were loose and I thought I could remove them. After lights out, I began to tear the sheets on my bed into strips to make a rope. Whoever she was, would be visiting the neighbors tomorrow night along with the Fisk’s strange daughter.
I knew Jelly was in danger … and it seemed I was the only person on this side of Hell who could save her.

TO BE CONTINUED …