Copyright (c) 2017 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
“Look what mama has on the stove! Have you ever seen anything so breathtaking?” Ed Harker pointed like a demented Poseidon with his fork.
Jack Summers glanced-up at the two women strolling into the Spare-A-Dime restaurant then continued to pour a sugar into his coffee. “October twenty-ninth, nineteen fifty-six,” he mumbled. For a moment Jack’s eyes were focused on some far distant place in time and then he returned and shook his head smiling at his friend. “Make sure your teeth don’t fall out Ed! You’re embarrassing us both. You can wait another hour.”
“Just because we’re hunting something different … and we’re a little bit older than them, doesn’t mean we can’t look does it?” Ed argued. He continued staring.
The women wore mid-thigh onionskin-tiered skirts and midriff cutouts. Each had makeup done Hollywood style with Dior eye-shadow and glitter around their eyes. They couldn’t be older than twenty-five, but Edward Harker was a pig and he didn’t give a damn.
Jack laughed. He thought his old friend resembled a cartoon turtle with a half-dozen strands of grey hair combed over duck-butt style. And his long wrinkled neck looked like he’d just swallowed a croquet ball. “A bit older?” Jack chuckled. “I’m forty-eight and you were two grades higher in school. That would make you what … fifty?”
The women sat at a table in the back and were unfortunately for Ed … out of view. “I won’t be a half a century old until February,” Ed glared. “I can still get it up. What about October twenty-ninth, nineteen fifty-six?”
“You asked if I’d ever seen any woman so breathtaking.”
“That chick must have been one hot babe if you can remember the exact date you eyeballed her.” Ed went back to poking at a slice of cherry pie with his fork. “If that’s all you did.”
‘Oh, I’d known her for years before that day … you didn’t grow up in Cloverdale or you’d understand.” Jack leaned back in the booth and stared blankly out the window onto a busy Townsend Avenue. A busty waitress returned and filled both cups with coffee. Jack didn’t notice. “I’ll never forget that day; five of us went to the Comanche County Fair. That was the day poor, ugly-wallflower Janice Stoneham became the incredible Janna Stone.”
Cheryl and Beth both moaned when they heard a pop and the headlights began to dim on the car they drove east on River Road. Beth had just gotten off from a swing-shift at the Comanche Cheese factory and her sister had picked her up. “It’s that damn alternator isn’t it?” Beth said as she held a blanketed bundle in her arms. “I thought that gawking mechanic, you gave $140 bucks to, was supposed to fix it?”
“Men promise to fix lots of things,” Cheryl said as the engine died. She coasted to the side of the road. “My ex-husband promised to fix our marriage … but working construction all day and tending bar for Marsha Hicks is a bad combination.”
“Especially when you like to drink and screw around the way he did,” Beth murmured.
“You got butt-dial on you?” Cheryl looked at her sister hopefully.
“I forgot to charge the battery,” Beth moaned holding up the cell-phone she’d given a name. “Anyway, who are you going to call? It’s past midnight!”
“I want you to call that man that was supposed to fix my car.” Cheryl searched in her purse and found a number printed on a grease-stained repair receipt. “I noticed he had a tow truck next to his shop.” Cheryl looked at her sister and smiled. “All you have to do is ask if they have a phone you can use.” She pointed towards an isolated house across the way.
“That’s the creepy old Walker place,” Beth whined looking out the window. “It’s been vacant for a century … people say it’s haunted.”
“Someone must be renting it,” Cheryl pointed to a light glowing from an upstairs window.
“There’s no way I’m going up there alone! Haven’t you been listening to the news? Four women have been horribly murdered in Comanche County in the last three months … Sheriff Walker thinks it’s the work of a serial killer, and it always happens on a full moon!” She pointed at the glowing ball of reflected light in the night sky. “I’m not going anywhere with my baby,” Beth said snuggling the squirming blanket close to her.
“I thought I heard something in those bushes,” Cheryl said opening her door. She hid her smile from her sister. “Wait!” Beth cried as she opened her own door.
Jack Summers said hello to two of his customers who ambled into the busy café looking for a booth, then turned his attention back to his coffee and his story. “It sounds like Cinderella,” Ed snickered.
“It wasn’t her fairy godmother … it was a guy,” Jack told him taking a sip. “Johnny Lang had an unseen aura that lit up everyone around him. He was like one of them feel-good drugs transformed into an invisible vapor … anyone would be on-top-of-the-world just breathing the same air he did.”
“I can see how a homely girl like your Janice would fall for a guy like that.” Ed was trying to get the attention of a waitress.
“She didn’t just fall … it was like they became one,” Jack frowned at the memory. “From the moment they met they were inseparable – going on all the rides, walking up and down the carnival midway hand in hand. The funny thing was Janice started to glow with the same kind of enchanted essence. She was suddenly way-beyond beautiful. Just looking at her would steal your breath away and leave you trembling. Her voice was like your favorite forgotten song played at just the right volume. There were as many guys at the fair swooning over her as there were girls hoping to catch Johnny’s eye.”
“The crust on this pie is a little tough, honey.” Ed held up his pie when the waitress noticed him. “I think a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top would make it easier to swallow.”
“We can do that … and no charge … sorry about that!” the girl snatched the plate from him.
“Dumb bitch,” Ed mumbled under his breath as the girl hurried away. Jack gave him a warning look and Ed shrugged. “I hear tell sex can be an addiction for some folks,” Ed said. “But I wouldn’t know. After Martha birthed her son and daughter she was through with any kind of affection from me … we slept in separate beds the last ten years she was alive.”
“Just as well,” Jack told him as the waitress brought his Ham and Swiss on rye. “Love can be heaven or hell … depending on which side of the bed you sleep on.”
Cheryl pounded on the carved oak door for a second time; far in the distance a dog or perhaps a wolf howled. “Looks like nobody’s home,” Beth shivered. “Let’s go back to the car and wait for someone to come along.”
“That’s definitely a light upstairs,” Cheryl said. “It’s near midnight. They might be heavy sleepers.” She turned the tarnished brass knob and the door creaked open. “Anybody home?” she called. After a few moments of twitchy silence Cheryl and Beth heard footsteps cross the room above. As if to insure their ears weren’t playing tricks, dust began to drift from the ceiling. “Someone is walking around upstairs and we’re going to find out who!” Cheryl called again and then stepped through the doorway.
“Who or what!” Beth moaned as she hugged the baby close to her chest and followed her sister.
“I take it this love-affair-of-the-century didn’t last,” Ed said as the girl placed the pie à la Mode on the table. He watched her as she walked away … and licked his lips.
“Johnny Lang vanished into thin air,” Jack said. “He not only crushed Janice when he left town but he broke half the female hearts in Cloverdale.”
“Sounds like a love-em-and-leave-em type ,” Ed said as he devoured his favorite half-price desert. “Just like you and me.”
“Janna was still physically unchanged from what she had become at the fair,” Jack said. “She was still a knockout in anybody’s book. It was her mental health that deteriorated.”
“So she was depressed?” A gob of ice cream ran down Ed’s chin. “What were you doing … stalking her?’
“She was determined to find out anything about him!” Jack said. “She started delving into the supernatural and hanging out with Melania Descombey and the rest of the town’s weirdo’s. Everyone in this part of Montana swears that ancient Italian crone is a witch! Folks reported seeing her and Janna together thundering down dusty back roads late at night in that old lady’s dragon car like they were chasing an on-the-run ghost … and yes, I’ll admit I was obsessed by her … and I still am.”
“There’s still a few moonshiners delivering white lightning in this county from what I understand.” Ed wiped his mouth and smiled, “Probably a lot more back when Ike was leading the nation. How did folks know for sure it was them two?”
“Melania’s 1949 Roadmaster was custom made to look like it shoots flames out the sides like a British Spitfire,” Jack explained. “The radio in the old Buick is always blasting ancient rock and roll songs at high volume, tunes by Little Richard, The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, that kind of fifties noise and racket. The windows in the car were constantly rolled-down even in winter and Janna’s blonde hair fluttered in the breeze as she hung out the window singing. It would be hard to miss a show like that!”
“So did Janna ever catch up with her phantom lover?” Ed had finished his pie and was scraping the plate with his fork.
“There was an old club called the Roadhouse out on the east end of Highway thirteen before the freeway cut it off,” Jack said. “It’s just a pile of bricks and broken lath-board now.” He took another bite of his sandwich before he went on. “Luke Cole, one of Sheriff Walker’s deputies happened to drive that secluded road one night looking for a speeder who’d eluded him. He swears the building was once again standing and all the sodium lights were making the power company rich. Melania’s infamous Roadmaster was in the parking lot with dozens of other cars … not a one of them was newer than nineteen fifty-eight!”
Jack’s eyes went glassy as he remembered the story.
“An orchestra made up of diseased musicians was playing in a garden area when Cole walked around back. Janna Stone was dancing with Johnny Lang next to the swimming pool along with dozens of other dead people. Cole tried to call for backup, but all he got on his restricted-band police radio was The Diamonds playing a static-buzzing version of Little Darlin'.”
“Cole spun gravel going out of the parking lot and took a reluctant but sympathetic Sherriff Walker out there the next morning … of course the bar, dance-hall and pool were all back to rubble.”
“Of course,” Ed grinned. “Is that deputy still locked-up in State Hospital North or did they finally cure him?” Ed snickered.
“That might have happened if Walker hadn’t found a very old Tarot card, The Lovers with strange handwriting writing on the back, under a broken brick. The Sheriff returned the fortune telling card to Melania the next day and all the old lady did was smile and say thank you. Walker comes from a long line of western lawmen and he knows how to give a guy or an old woman of indeterminate age a little rope. He punished Deputy Cole with a week off with pay, tickets to a sold-out football game in Missoula and told him he better expect to see lots of strange things in this part of Montana.” Jack then added for explanation. “Cloverdale and most of the rest of Comanche County are the strangest places on Earth.” Jack laughed. “It’s a perfect place for me to satisfy my desires.”
“Were not going to be late are we?” Ed looked at the clock above the café’s kitchen entrance.
“Nope,” Jack told him as he stood up and looked at his watch. “I know you’re new at this, but I’m what the cops call a pro. We’ll be right on time.”
Cheryl and Beth were in an old fashioned parlor. The moonlight that streamed through the open door showed a musky interior. Flower print carpet eaten to shreds by rodents covered a warped hardwood floor. A nineteenth-century rose-carved Victorian sofa had lost so much padding, due to rotted upholstery, it looked like it was covered with snow. Sheets that had obviously once covered all the furniture were piled in a corner. “I don’t like coming in here,” Beth moaned. “It’s probably some vagrant sleeping upstairs and he might be dangerous! My God! Maybe it’s the murder!”
Cheryl noticed a painted light-switch cover depicting a bare-breasted mermaid waving to a man in a rowboat and flipped the strategically placed switch upward. Twin stained-glass Tiffany table-lamps, with broken-shades showing ships at sea, glowed from each side of the room. Beth gasped and pointed to unattached cloth-wiring that dangled from the same switch. Cheryl shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe they run on gas,” she said staring at the once expensive light fixtures. There was a grinding noise followed by a clunk. A dusty 45rpm record dropped onto a spinning turntable and began to play Broken Hearted Melody by Sarah Vaughan. Synchronized footsteps coming from the floor above the ceiling made dislodged balls of dust and fluff float in time with the music … someone upstairs was dancing.
“You ever killed a woman, Ed?’
“Nope, but I always wanted to! What’s it like?”
“Messy but fun,’ Jack told him.
“How do you know exactly where her car will break down?” Ed asked as they bounced along the back-roads in Jack’s tow truck.
“I wired a cut-off switch between the odometer and the alternator so I know exactly how many miles that bitch is going to drive before bang! She gets stranded.” Jack bragged. “I delivered her car so I know where she lives and she mentioned she had to pick her little sister up from work at midnight tonight.”
“You ever done two of them before?” Ed was getting excited. He had flicked open and closed a switch-blade knife constantly since they left the café. “There’s not a lot of traffic on this road late at night is there?”
“None at all,” Jack told him. “But that’s not the only reason I chose this road.”
“This wouldn’t have anything to do with your perfect woman would it?” Ed was grinning.
“Janna Stone died in 1959 but everyone knows her ghost haunts the old Walker place because that’s where Johnny Lang was born.” Jack said. “If I couldn’t trap her in this life … I will in the world to come.”
“You’re crazier than a shit house rat, you know that?” Ed was laughing.
“Not at all,” Jack said. “I’ve worked on this idea for years and I’ve learned to do my own magic. Those other girls I murdered were just for the blood and I’ll admit a little fun. The one thing I never told you was that these two girls we’re going after have both been divorced and go by their ex-husbands last names but they were born Cheryl and Beth Stoneham. They’re Jana Stone’s little sisters. When we start cutting on them inside that house, and Janna hears their screams she will do whatever I tell her to.
“What do you want a ghost to do?” Ed was fascinated.
“When I sold my mother’s house, I paid one-hundred and sixty-five thousand dollars for this old bottle with a cork plug in the top,” Ed pulled an ancient bottle wrapped in black cloth from a pile of duct tape, nylon ties and a 30,000 volt stun-gun jammed between the seats. “It was stolen from a museum in Cairo and is thousands of years old and said to be unbreakable. This thing I hold in my hand was made by Egyptian priests during construction of the Sneferu pyramid especially for trapping lingering spirits. When I tell Janna to float herself inside or watch her sisters die … I will own her forever.”
“What about her sisters?” Ed licked his lips.
“You help me get Janna and they’re yours,” Jack laughed as Ed flicked open his knife again. “They’re both yours to do whatever you want to do.”
Cheryl almost fainted when she reached the top of the stairs. “Janice?” she couldn’t believe her eyes. Beth stood behind her sister too stunned to move. The ghostly image of the most beautiful woman to ever come out of Cloverdale floated in the air. When she moved footsteps still echoed off the hardwood floor. “Leave now! Run away!” the ghostly apparition moaned.
“I was just a little girl and Beth was in diapers when you …. died!” Cheryl stammered. “What are you doing here?”
“Go now!” the transparent image hissed as it moved toward them.
“I’m not afraid of my big sister … alive or dead,” Cheryl said. “Tell us why you are hanging around this creepy old house!”
The beautiful floating image changed suddenly. In place of flowing white satin rotted flesh hung from smoldering burlap. A skeletal face leered at the two with glowing eye-sockets. Even though Beth carried her crying baby in her arms she was the first to run screaming out of the house. She saw the headlights of the approaching vehicle when they burst through the front door.”
“Thank God! Someone driving past must have seen our stalled car and called for help,” Cheryl panted as they ran toward the slowing truck with Jack’s Towing printed on the side. “For a moment there, I thought we were in real trouble.”
TO BE CONTINUED ….