Copyright (c) 2016 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
With Bowsers warming his feet, Tony was so absorbed in the video game; that he didn’t notice the lightning flashing outside as he looked at the map showing herb locations. He maneuvered his level-sixty Paladin “Astonos” through Arathi Highlands. The multi-player PvP realm was overcrowded and the best-selling items were getting harder to find. Tony’s best friend David Wickham was putting together a group to challenge the Scarlet Monastery. Luckily his parents were at their cabin near Yellowstone, because Tony might just be playing all night. A small yellow dot appeared at the top of his computer screen to indicate that another herb had just spawned. Riding his Chestnut Mare, purchased in Stormwind, Astonos would have it tucked safely inside his Traveler’s Backpack in about twenty seconds.
Just as Astonos dismounted, a horribly ugly level twenty-nine Horde female Rogue named Creepas came out of stealth and began to harvest the plant. Tony was angry. He charged his Paladin in from behind wielding his Lightforged Blade. A whirl of pixels later, the low-level player fell, twisting to the ground with a horrible hissing sound that made Bowzers jump from under the desk with a growl. The Irish Setter’s hair was standing on end. “It’s okay boy,” Tony laughed. “It’s only a game.” The audio techies, who create these things, love to come up with new sound effects Tony thought. He smiled at what turned out to be three Fadeleaf, each worth forty-silver at the Stormwind Auction House. Then he laughed out-loud. “This is why Player verses Player is the best.” He shook his head at the lifeless pile of rags and bones lying on the grassy computer-generated ground. “Enjoy your corpse-run buddy!”
Tony was about to make another ride along the cliffs at the top of the map looking for Wild Steel Bloom, an even more valuable herb, when a tremendous bolt of lightning struck close to the house, and an instant later, the power went out. Bowsers followed with a whine as Tony went looking for candles.
In the far dark corners of cyberspace, a very-angry something ran across the landscape as a ghost looking for its body. All dead know nothing of computers or electricity … they only know murder … and revenge.
The light on the microwave was blinking when Tony woke up. The power must have come on sometime during the night. He reset the correct time on the appliance using his watch and decided to jump right in the shower. It was ten after seven and he had to catch the school bus by eight. He’d feed and water Bowzers after he got dressed.
Tony stared at the message written sloppily with red lipstick on his bathroom mirror. WE HAVE UNFINISHED BUSINESS. “Cute David,” Tony muttered as he turned on the hot water. The power must not have gone off at the Wickham house and his best friend was mad that he’d missed playing together on the game.
“Bowzers where are you?” Tony opened the back door and called for the third time as he poured milk on his cereal. Puddles of water stood in the street and dripped from the house eaves. The electrical storm sure had the dog freaked out. He was probably curled-up under Mrs. Dern’s’ Elderberry bushes.
Tony filled a bowl with dog food and placed water on the back porch. If Bowzers was off chasing squirrels he’d have to fend for himself. Since the murder last year, everyone in Cloverdale locked their doors. It was just a hobo, but the way he was found, gutted and hanging from a tree, was enough to scare a small town for centuries. He couldn’t be late for Mrs. Hicks’ first hour class again or he’d have to retake geometry in his senior year.
The computer showed the game log-in screen when he ran past to get his coat. Strange he thought. I usually have to load the game manually after a blackout.
David Wickham was not on the bus and the only vacant seat was next to Cynthia Bowles the prettiest girl in Cloverdale High School. “Hi Tony!” she said as he sat down.
“Hi,” he said, then blurted. “I can’t wait to get my own car so I won’t have to ride this crummy bus.”
“When you do, be sure to drop by my house and pick me up!” Cynthia smiled.
Thank you so much David for being sick. Tony grinned back. “I’ll do that,” he promised.
Tony was walking on air as he made his way down the crowded hall for his first-hour class. Cynthia was not at all stuck-up like everyone said. Sure Eddy Hicks and a dozen others had asked her out and got turned down, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t try. The junior prom was a week from Friday. Why not ask her. What did he have to lose? Cynthia looked over and smiled as he opened his book. What a string of luck he was having lately!
The day was seven hours of joy mixed with apprehension. Cynthia practiced with the cheerleaders during lunch hour and he didn’t see her. Just before sixth-hour he saw her talking to Jeff Miller the captain of the football team and his heart sank. The last period was forty-five minutes of confusion mixed with the smell of Mr. Lowder’s chemistry class.
Cynthia stood up as he boarded the crowded bus. “I saved you a seat,” she said. “But you can sit by the window. I don’t want to get my cheerleading dress dirty.” She pointed.
Written in red lipstick on the bus window were the words. WE HAVE UNFINISHED BUSINESS NOW!
“What kind of people does Mr. Lewis let ride in his bus?” Cynthia asked as she brushed dust from her skirt.
The bus rumbled along the busy streets of Cloverdale.
Tony didn’t answer. He was furious. What the hell are you doing David? He thought.
It took six rings for David Wickham to answer the telephone. His voice sounded hoarse and breathy.
“What’s the big idea?” Tony almost shouted. “So I missed going into Scarlett Monastery … there’s more to life than playing a stupid on-line video game.”
“What are you talking about?” David yawned. “The power was off last night and our house has electric heat. I almost froze to death wrapped up in a blanket, and now I’ve got this terrific cold.”
“You didn’t write a message on my bathroom mirror with lipstick?”
David laughed. “Hell no,” he said. “You’ve got me confused with the killer in Halloween Part Four. Besides …” he let the sarcasm flow freely. “I wear an invisible shade of lipstick so people won’t notice when I’m cross-dressing. Call me back when you sober up-you #%$^%$# !”
The line went dead.
The load-up screen for the computer game glowed invitingly as Tony put on his coat. Bowzers was still missing and he’d have to go out looking for him. He’d already called the Cloverdale Animal Shelter and they didn’t have any stray Irish Setters. “See you later Arathi Highlands,” he said as he went out the door. “I hope there’s still some Fadeleaf left when I get back.”
Tony looked everywhere for Bowsers, but the dog was nowhere to be found. It was just after his parents returned from their cabin near Yellowstone that a knock came on the door. John Walker, a fifth generation sheriff of Comanche County, stood with his hat in his hand. “I believe you’re the ones with the missing dog,” he said.
Bowsers had been found hanging upside-down from the apple tree behind Mrs. Dern’s house with wire wrapped around his back legs. His throat had been cut so he couldn’t bark or make a sound. Tony knew the term was called garroting: wounding an enemy so that they drown in their own blood. He learned it from playing his current video game. It’s the favorite tactic of a Rogue.
“You got any enemies that would want to cause you or any of the things you love grief?” Sheriff Walker asked.
“Not that I know of,” Tony told him. “Why?”
“We found this note attached to the dog’s head with a nail.” The Sheriff looked like he wanted to puke when he handed a piece of paper inside a clear plastic evidence bag. THIS ISN’T OVER! The note said. It looked like it had been written in blood.
The wind whispering through Mrs. Dern’s orchard was the same spine-chilling sound Creepas made while dying in the Arathi Highlands. Tony felt like he wanted to pass out … but his mother put her arms around him … and he cried instead.
Tony had a hard time going to sleep that night. The eerie glow from his computer monitor, still with the log-in screen from the video game, felt like it was alive watching every time he closed his eyes. Finally Tony got up at two AM and shut the computer down … something he hadn’t done for months.
An hour later he was snoring softly. He didn’t notice when the computer turned itself on and loaded and entered the game. Four minutes and nineteen seconds later a close-up of a very ugly face appeared on the screen. The eyes were too-real and they found Tony as he slept in his bed. “THIS ISN’T OVER,” the lips formed the words without sound from within a cluster of bushes in Eastern Arathi Highlands.
Tony was still groggy when his mother shook him awake. “Get dressed for school now. Your father will have to drop you off early at school on his way to work.” She looked upset.
“Why what’s wrong with the bus?” Tony asked sleepily.
“The bus is fine,” his mother said. “The driver, Mr. Lewis has had an accident.”
“What kind of accident?” Tony asked. “The week was beginning to be like one long nightmare, all except for Cynthia Bowles.
“It doesn’t matter,” his mom was busy with the toaster. “I laid clean pants and shirts on the top of your drawers.”
It only took five minutes after Tony arrived at school to find out about Mr. Lewis’ accident. His bus had sat idling in the bus compound for at least twenty minutes after the other drivers had all left. Mr. Johnson, the busing superintendent, found Tom Lewis slumped over in his seat and at first thought he might have had a heart attack. It took the fire department more than ten minutes to force open the door; it was locked and chained from the inside. Only a thin strip of skin kept Toms head from being completely severed from his body.
“That’s not the worst thing,” Tony heard a girl whisper to another as he stumbled in the fog down the hallway toward first hour geometry. “The killer wrote THERE WILL BE MORE on the inside windshield glass with the driver’s blood.”
Her friend shivered. “I’ll never ride a school bus again,” she moaned.
Tony discovered that really wasn’t the worst thing. Cynthia was not at school and just after lunch Sheriff Walker and two deputies began asking all of her friends questions. Cynthia had disappeared from her bedroom and her parents swore all the doors were locked. Tony kept thinking about the Rogue in the game. A Rogue was expert at picking locks. When he went to get his chemistry books from his locker after lunch he was sure. Hanging on the inside of his metal locker-door was Cynthia’s cheerleading shirt. Written in what looked like blood, were the words COME AND GET HER.
Sheriff Walker and his deputies were still interviewing students in Principal Wright’s office when Tony handed over the blood stained shirt. The Sheriff quickly ushered the other students out and listened intently as Tony told his story.
Twenty minutes later Tony was in the front seat of the Sheriff’s car driving across Cloverdale. “Am I a suspect?” Tony asked.
Sheriff Walker glanced at him and shook his head. “I’m sure you’re involved, but in a town this size … we all are.”
Tony noticed they weren’t headed toward the police station. “Where are we going?” he asked.
“We haven’t had a murder here in years and now this week is turning into a blood-bath,” Walker explained. “None of the homicides can be rationalized without invoking some kind of supernatural explanation.”
The Sheriff parked his patrol-car in front of a large stately mansion on the south-east corner of Galbraith and Main Street. The sprawling house looked at least a hundred years old.
“I’ve heard stories about this house ever since I was a kid,” Tony gasped. “It’s the house everyone dared each other to trick or treat … no one ever did … who lived to tell the tale.”
“This is the residence of Melania Descombey,” Sheriff Walker said. “A fine woman. She’s the oldest person in Montana … maybe in the whole World.”
“Then she’s not a witch?” Tony released the breath he’d been holding.
“I didn’t say that.” The Sheriff said as he leaned across Tony and opened the passenger’s door.
To be continued …