Tag Archives: Horror

Warped Tales: The Development

Warped Tales – be warned. As a child I read piles of books filled with short stories – the complete works of Poe, stories from the Twilight Zone, collections from Hitchcock, etc. This is that kind of story. The original version first appeared in The Maverick Magazine several years ago – I’ve revamped it a bit.

The Development

It was Clyde’s last day working on the farm. The truck would pick up the last of the cows after lunch; the wrecking crew would be there the next day. Streets and skeletal houses already filled the lower meadow.

God, that stinks. Clyde was staring at the brown stream of unprocessed manure in the trough behind the cows as he thought this.

You think yours smells sweet? A female voice reverberated in his brain.

Clyde swung his head around, looking for the source of the words, but he was alone. The only other life in the barn was the last three cows and Bootsie, his cat. Clyde had been on edge for the last two days, now he was imagining things. Bootsie rubbed against his leg and he picked her up. As he rubbed her behind the ears he sighed, remembering how he’d had to kill the other cats.

Ralph shouldn’t have made you do that.

“Who is that?” he shouted. He moved toward the door, expecting to find a prankster lurking outside. He swung his head back and forth, but there was no one in sight, only the work crews half a mile away.

The voice came again. Why did he care about the cats, anyway?

It was inside his head, but somehow seemed to be sourced behind him, in the barn. How could that be?

Yes, I’m right here, Clyde.

Where? This time Clyde just thought the question.

Right over here, dummy. The cow he called Betsy turned to face him and flicked her tail, but she didn’t make a sound.

Why am I hearing you? he asked. Am I going crazy?

I don’t know. I’ve always been able to hear you.

Clyde panicked a moment, trying to remember everything he’d ever thought about in the barn. Then he relaxed. What does it matter what a cow knows? Do the other cows hear me, too?

Don’t think so. I can’t even communicate with them. They’re just dumb animals. Betsy quit looking at him and flicked her tail again. We’re going to be picked up this afternoon?

“Yep. You’re going to another dairy farm,” he said as he walked between cows to face Betsy, rather than talk to her rear end.

Can you please repeat that without the sound? She blinked her eyes at him, as if to confirm it was her thoughts he was hearing. When you talk out loud like that, I can’t understand you. It gets all garbled.

Clyde obliged. That dairy farmer who came by last week is picking you up this afternoon.

Good. The rats are terrible with the cats gone.

“That’s what I tried to tell Ralph.” Clyde forgot and spoke the words out loud. He went back to thinking. The rats will move into those new houses, too. I told him. But the realtors said the barn cats were a health hazard … You can’t understand me when I talk out loud?

No, something gets garbled in the process. It makes about as much sense as the sound of a metal box being dragged across the floor.

Clyde stopped breathing. She knows.

Of course I know. I was here. Betsy raised her tail.

It was an accident! Clyde’s response was automatic.

Right. You picked up that iron bar and bashed in Ralph’s skull by accident. Betsy’s bowels emptied, gushing into the trough behind her.

Clyde started babbling out loud so the cow couldn’t hear him. “What am I going to do now? The police have already been to the house looking for him. What if she can talk with someone else like this? I killed him with a witness!”

I can’t understand you when you do that. Betsy complained. Think clearly, please.

“I didn’t mean to do it!” Clyde shouted. Then he went back to thinking. I was mad from having to kill the cats. Then, when I told him I was going to take Bootsie with me, he grabbed for her. He would’ve wrung her neck. I couldn’t let him do that.

I know. You were just looking out for Bootsie. You should have done it long ago.

You think it was the right thing to do? You could tell them he came at me first, that it was self-defense.

I’m a cow, dummy. They’re not going to interview me. Besides, Clyde, think about it. What happened after you hit him?

He fell.

Where did he fall, Clyde? Betsy blinked and looked over her shoulder.

Right behind you, in that muck. You kicked him.

Exactly. I kicked him right in the head. Massive trauma. Very unlikely they’d notice he got hit by a bar first. I did it on purpose, to cover for you. You’re the one who always looked after us.

Clyde stiffened and stared at the cow. He swallowed. But I put the body in the box and dragged it out to the truck.

Well, that’s not my fault. I was trying to tell you to leave him where he was, but you weren’t hearing me yet.

Clyde pictured the place he’d dumped the box.

Betsy snorted and shook her head. So they’re going to find his body in a metal box at the bottom of the river by a bridge. She chided him for his stupidity. Good luck convincing anyone he got there accidentally.

Clyde carried Bootsie out to the truck, leaving the voice behind. He’d move back to Texas. No one would track him down there, even if they did find Ralph. He settled Bootsie into the cab and got his rifle off the rack.

Just to be safe, he went back to take care of Betsy.

Sheri McGuinn Photo Signaturewww.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn
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Defining Moments: Where Ponderosa Pines Stand Guard

coverimagespbcBefore the story, I have a brief announcement:

Carla King’s 4th Edition of Self-Publishing Boot Camp, Guide for Independent Authors is available tomorrow (2/1/19). Check it out here. Disclosure: as an Amazon affiliate, I get a few cents if you buy anything after going there from here. But whether you do that or look later, this is my primary resource as a book coach and when publishing my own work. The best part? She stays on top of all the changes in the industry and provides free updates.

Now, the story: “Defining Moments: Where Ponderosa Pines Stand Guard”

Karen was the last to leave. She pulled on her fleece-lined jacket, hat, and gloves. As she said goodbye, she yawned.

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay over until morning?” Mary offered.

“I have a lot to do tomorrow.”

“It may be April, but you could still run into snow up on the rez.”

“There was a little on my way over this afternoon, but the sun was melting it off as it landed.”

The road passed through the edge of the Apache reservation. For thirty-some miles there would be no house in sight, just high plains on either side, broken by stretches of Ponderosa Pine and Aspen groves. In the summer, driving across it in a thunderstorm was humbling and exalting at the same time. Tonight it would be dark and peaceful; a good ending to a full day.

Mary was skeptical. “Well, watch for elk; they’re always on that stretch.”

“I will. I haven’t hit an animal in thirty years.” Karen gave her friend a hug. “I’ll see you next weekend.”

Mary watched her walk to her car. “Call me when you get home.”

“No, I won’t. It’s an hour drive and you’ll be asleep by then.”

Karen started her car. As she drove out of town, the bank’s marquee flashed the time and temperature – twelve o’clock, twenty-seven degrees. She had to turn down the heater, though. The car might be old, but everything worked except the air conditioning, which she didn’t really need living up here in the mountains.

She continuously scanned ahead to the edges of her headlights’ beams. It was habit, ever since she’d killed two deer six months apart, long ago, before she moved to Arizona. Elk were much larger than deer, and harder to see from her little car because when they were close, their eyes were above the range of her headlights, and their dark coats blended in with the night shades of shoulder and roadside brush.

She spotted a group of large dark shadows off to the left and automatically slowed in case one should suddenly decide to cross the road. They were far enough away that her headlights flashed off a pair of eyes; the other animals continued feeding. She decided to stay well below the speed limit, to be on the safe side.

She passed only one car, going the other direction. There would be no sign of civilization until she reached McNary, a little town on the reservation. While her eyes continued watching for elk as she drove, Karen slipped into a meditative sense of peace. Clouds blocked whatever light the sky might have offered as she drove the deserted miles on top of the world, but she knew when the road dipped she was moving from the vast open fields into a stretch of forest.

Suddenly, anxiety hit, jerking her out of her reverie.

There was no good reason for it. She turned off the radio; maybe the car was making a noise that disturbed her subconsciously. But the car was okay, knocking a little, but that was normal at this altitude.

A cold shawl of prickles dragged up and across her shoulders and her breathing became so shallow she was almost holding it. She forced herself to inhale deeply. She lived alone; she didn’t jump at shadows. She tried to chide away the unwelcome sensation of fear.

But the chill was palpable inside her winter jacket. She cranked up the heat and still felt icy. Goosebumps were lifting her shirt off her arms.

She hadn’t checked the back seat when she got into the car; hadn’t done that since she moved up here out of the city. She resisted the urge to look back or even in the mirror, as if not knowing would make it not real. And if she didn’t see anything, she still wouldn’t be sure.

The pines rose high on either side of the road.

Suddenly, something dark poured into her and constricted her breath. A triangle of lights off to the right came and went so quickly she wasn’t sure she’d really seen it. Silently she recited the 23rd Psalm, as well as she could remember it.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; He maketh me lie down in green pastures, He leadeth me beside still waters, He restoreth my soul.” There was something else she wasn’t remembering, then “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil.”

Death and evil, that’s what she felt pouring at her from the forest. It wasn’t someone in the car. It was something out there. She drove a little faster, but not so fast she wouldn’t be able to stop for an elk. She definitely didn’t want to have an accident here, not tonight.

At last she saw the sign announcing the edge of McNary. The feeling eased away from her as she drove through the little town. She passed someone walking along the other side of the road in dark clothes. She was almost home.

By the time she got to her cabin, she no longer felt the presence of evil, in fact she felt a little silly about it. She fixed herself some warm milk. Once it was gone, she was barely awake enough to slip under the covers of her bed.

Karen’s life went on. She forgot all about that unpleasant feeling and there was nothing to remind her. The Apache girl’s disappearance never made the newspaper Karen read.

The first assumption was that the teen had taken off with her boyfriend, but then he came back from visiting relatives out of state and asked for her. He’d been in Oregon when she last left her mother’s house, and he could prove it. In Karen’s world this was still not newsworthy.

It was fall when a hiker’s dog happened upon the girl’s shallow grave – not far from the road, where the Ponderosa Pines stand guard.

Defining Moments is a series of character studies and defining moments – short sketches to whet your appetite. If you’d like reading more about one of these characters, leave a comment.
Thanks.

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http://www.sherimcguinn.com
http://www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn
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Defining Moments: Remorse

Okay – we’re back to fiction. This one’s a stand-alone story from my dark side.

“Your girlfriend’s here.”

Miguel grinned over the counter as he passed Frank two lunch specials. Frank turned his head and saw Angie slide into her booth in the back corner of Oak Street Diner.

“She’s not my girlfriend, Miguel.”

“Yeah, right.”

“Keep it up and I’ll start letting people know you’re the owner.”

“You’re not that crazy,” Miguel quipped.

Miguel liked cooking. The first thing he did when he bought the place was hire Frank to run the front end of the restaurant. People assumed Frank was the new owner and they valued his personal attention. Miguel knew that service was as important as good food to build a solid customer base, so he gave Frank a percentage of the net on top of his salary and tips.

Miguel went back to the grill and Frank carried the specials to the lawyers at table five. They were embroiled in a discussion that didn’t stop as each in turn leaned back to let Frank put a plate in front of them. He could have mixed up the order and they wouldn’t have noticed. It wasn’t always about talking to people; sometimes it was about knowing how to serve without interrupting.

He picked up a menu out of habit as he walked back to Angie, but he knew she always ordered tea and a toasted cheese sandwich—the cheapest items they offered.

“How are you, Angie?” Frank asked as he handed her the plastic folder.

“It’s gone to the jury,” she replied tensely. “They’ll find him guilty, won’t they?”

Angie needed someone to listen to her. She’d appeared the first day of the trial and had eaten lunch at the diner every court day since.

He smiled. “You’re the expert, the one watching the proceedings.”

“Oh, no. I just hear them talking when they come out.” Her hushed tone was apologetic for the misunderstanding.

“I thought you said you were doing research for a writing class. Shouldn’t you be in the courtroom?”

“I can’t. That man is evil.” She seemed to shrink as she said it.

Frank had read the headline stories when it happened, before Angie ever set foot in the restaurant. Neighbors had called 911 because they heard the young mother screaming. The police response was slow. When they arrived the victim was alone in the house; she’d been bludgeoned to death. Her infant was nowhere to be found.

It was that missing baby that made a common fatality of domestic abuse become the focus of news for months. It was also what left some doubt in Frank’s mind about the boyfriend’s guilt.

“They still haven’t found the kid, have they?” he asked.

“No.” Angie was blinking back tears. “He killed that baby, too.”

“I’ll bet her ex- killed her and took off with his kid.” Frank knew from the papers that the defense was offering that explanation.

“You can’t believe that!” Angie glared at him in shock.

Frank held back his response – did she prefer believing the child was dead?  That was worse than her obsession with this drama that had nothing to do with her. Well, if the jury was out, this was probably her last day in the restaurant. He continued pleasantly professional.

“You having the usual?”

Angie nodded and politely handed him the unopened menu.

“I’ll go get your order started.”

Miguel already had the sandwich and tea ready.

“What if she’d chosen something different today?” Frank asked.

“You know she wouldn’t. I put extra cheese into it. I swear she’s skinnier than she was when we first saw her. You like a woman with some curves, don’t you?”

“She’s just a customer.”

“Why do you always talk with her so much, then?”

“That’s what she’s here for, not the food… It’s a good thing you like your kitchen. This place would fold in a month if you were out front.”

“You should show more respect for the man who signs your check.” Miguel grinned and shoved the plate and metal teapot across the counter.

Frank took them back to Angie.

“Here you go.”

He turned her cup right side up and poured some tea while she adjusted her plate in front of her.

“He is guilty,” she whispered. “It’s not the first time.”

“I didn’t know that,” Frank apologized. “With that kind of testimony, of course they’ll find him guilty.”

He saw a brief flash of terror cross her face before she looked down at her plate and mumbled a thank you. His skin prickled; he wondered if she had mental problems. There was probably a clinical term for getting so wrapped up in someone else’s tragedy, something more specific than obsession.

“Is there anything else I can get you?” he asked.

She shook her head without looking up. He thought about sitting down for a few minutes, starting a chat about something innocuous to distract her, but the door chimed the presence of a new customer. Hopefully she wouldn’t have a major breakdown during the lunch rush.

Frank didn’t have a chance to talk to Angie again until he took her the check. She had cash ready.

“Here,” she said. “Keep the change. I need to get back in case they come in with a verdict quickly.”

“We’ll miss you.”

It was important to be polite to every customer, even one you’d gratefully never see again.

Angie headed to the restroom and Frank deposited the cash. His next customer was at the table by the door. Mike McCarthy, who covered the courthouse beat, had his computer out, ready to use their Wi-Fi. He waved away the menu Frank offered.

“What’s today’s soup?” he asked.

“Broccoli cheese.”

“I’ll have a bowl. No, make that a cup.”

“No sandwich?”

“Not today.” McCarthy grimaced. “My appetite’s off. The jury came in, not guilty.”

“You think they were wrong?” asked Frank.

“I interviewed the neighbors. There was another girlfriend with a baby before this one. That girl told them he got so angry when the baby cried that it scared her. They said she made it sound like it was her fault for letting the baby disturb him – typical abused spouse crap.”

“What did she tell the cops?”

“They couldn’t find her. A year before he killed this one, she disappeared with her kid and no one’s seen her since. So all they had was hearsay from the neighbors.”

Frank saw Angie coming from the restroom. He owed her an apology.

“Angie, this is Mike McCarthy, a reporter. He says you were probably right, that the guy’s previous girlfriend disappeared with her kid.”

“All the publicity this got, she’d have come forward, if she could,” McCarthy added. “Until someone else is lucky enough to get away from him alive, that prick’s free to go do it again.”

They both turned at Angie’s primal wail. “No! He got off?”

The men nodded. Tears flooded her terrified face as she sucked in a breath painfully.

“Did you know…” McCarthy started as Angie ran out the door.

McCarthy closed his computer and started after her. Frank was going to follow them, but a touch at his sleeve stopped him.

“Excuse me,” said the customer. “I need my check. I have a meeting…”

“Come back to the register and I’ll ring that up for you,” Frank said automatically.

He was reaching for the ticket when tires squealed, there was a heavy thud, then the blare of a horn stuck on.

The regular closest to the window stood with his cell phone in hand, shouting, “An ambulance! Send an ambulance! In front of the courthouse! Someone got hit by a car!”

His stomach in a knot, Frank took care of the customer’s ticket.

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Impressions: A Grizzly Dog Tale

It was the damned dogs that caused all the trouble.

If they hadn’t barked all the time, we wouldn’t have gotten evicted, which the wife said was the last straw. Well, it was the camping out to avoid being served with the formal eviction notice that got to her, to be specific. Things had already been tense, even before we had to move out of the house, what with the electric and water being shut off just because the checks kept getting lost in the mail.

As long as we weren’t served, we could leave everything at the house until we got a new place, including the dogs. She wanted to put all our stuff in her parents’ garage, but they wouldn’t have anything to do with the animals, so what was the point?

The dogs never bothered me.

Dogs are supposed to bark. I always knew when someone was walking down the street, as long as the dogs were in the backyard where they belonged. But the kids would let them in the house sometimes, as if they didn’t make enough noise by themselves. Those brats bickered and fussed and screamed at each other every waking moment if they were within two rooms of each other.

So the wife had a point about the tent being too small.

We took the dogs with us the first night, when we thought it would only be a few days, but the campground host was a prick and came by first thing in the morning to tell us the dogs had to go. He wouldn’t make an exception to his no-pets rule, just because the collie mix barked from dusk until dawn. He should have been glad. She probably kept someone from getting eaten by a grizzly bear or something. But he didn’t see it that way, so I snuck them back to the house and put them in the backyard. The fence would keep people out, and I could slip in after dark to feed and water them.

The dogs were well cared for, got food and water every day. If they spilled the bowl, that wasn’t my fault. It was a pain to have to go over there almost every night with a jug of water, except it gave me a chance for some peace and quiet.

The wife always whined that I took too long, that she only had a half hour between jobs. She thought I should be there every minute she was gone, babysitting those brats. She said they were all mine, but I never made that kind of racket.

Well, I was enjoying the peace and quiet at the house when the wife shows up with all the kids. She left them in the car and came in screaming that she was going to be late to work because I was using the damn dogs as an excuse to sit and do nothing. Then she started in about me not having a job, as if it was my fault I was stuck watching those damn kids all day, as if I could go back and get a job last spring or winter, when I was checking the paper every week or so.

Anyway, when she went off on me like that and told me not to come back to the tent, I lost it. We hadn’t had any real fights in a long time, probably because she was too busy working to start them, but this one made up for it. I finally punched her in the stomach to knock the wind out of her and shut her up.

She hit me back!

There wasn’t any thinking about it. The man of the house deserves more respect than that. I smacked her good. If she’d had decent reactions, she’d have had her hand out to break the fall, but she didn’t, and her head slammed into the corner of the concrete step between the kitchen and the garage. She made a mess with that blood gushing all over, but it stopped pretty fast, I guess when the pump stopped.

I had to get the kids into the garage one at a time then, so I told the younger ones to take the water bottle out back and put some into the dogs’ dish, and the oldest followed me to the garage to tell me which of his stuff could be tossed.

He was whining the whole way. I swung that baseball bat like a kid at T-ball. Crack—a home run and instant quiet. One by one I took care of them. The littlest one was harder to trick. She noticed it was too quiet. But she was little, after all, and she looked so much like her mother.

It took three days of starving before the dogs began to eat. I brought our stuff back from the campground and told the guy we were moving out of town. Then I hid in the house, figuring I’d have to get rid of the bones. When the owner came snooping around, I stayed in the garage. I knew he’d never open it with the dogs barking.

It was the smell that made him call the Humane Society, who called the cops. If the dogs hadn’t been so picky, you’d never have heard this story.

Damn dogs.

Impressions is a series of character studies – short sketches to wet your appetite. Think he’d make a good villain in a longer tale? Leave a comment.

Thanks.

Sheri McGuinn Photo Signature

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Impressions: Mortal

I’m a salesman—spend half my life driving from one pitch to the next. It gives me time to think. That night I was driving through the redwoods, well past midnight.

When I was a kid, I read a spooky tale about a girl named Lavender who haunted a back road. They said she was dressed up for a party. It was a good story and I probably read it a few times, as I did when I was a kid and had all the time in the world, but I’d forgotten about it until I saw her. Not Lavender, the girl walking barefoot along the narrow road lined with giant trees, wearing what I took to be a prom dress, a flimsy bit of pink gauzy stuff and lace.

I was well past the last tourist trap when I saw her.

She wasn’t carrying shoes, as you might expect with the fragile, uncomfortable sort of thing girls wear to a prom. She was walking along the road at midnight with feet accustomed to the gravel of the shoulder, not picking her way like someone with tender soles. There had to be a destination in her mind, so sure was her stride. While she reminded me of Lavender, I didn’t doubt that this girl was of solid flesh.

She turned and waved her arms. My headlights flashed briefly on her terrified face, then it was gone in the night. I didn’t stop.

Offering a young girl a ride on a dark stretch of road in the middle of the night could have had disastrous results, were she of a mind and talent to claim misuse convincingly. I drove past the girl and on a good mile before my conscience got the better of me. There were so many ways she could come to no good end, walking alone that way along the road in the dark under the giant trees. And she had looked frightened.

She was probably a nice girl, a good girl who would not make up lies. I should help her. So I watched for a wide spot in the road and turned around. By then several minutes had passed. There was a good chance she’d have arrived at her destination and I’d find no one walking along the road.

It wouldn’t mean she’d been a figment of my imagination.

There was no sign of her. I went back well past the spot I’d seen her, to the little store with the carved bear, and I turned around once again and drove slowly, to make sure I didn’t miss her. By then I was worried. She had looked terrified. I admitted this to myself as I searched in vain. There were no houses on that stretch of road, no driveway to a home where a young girl in a prom dress would have gone, no side roads, nothing until the spot where I’d turned around the first time.

Well, I suppose you’re thinking she was a ghost, like Lavender, and I was thinking maybe I’d imagined her, too. But she was real. A man riding his bicycle along that bit of road the very next day spotted a splash of pink in a hollow beside the road. They say it was her head hitting a rock that did her in, but the force of impact indicates a speeding car clipped her, throwing her from the road.

Of course I know better. Mine was the only car on the road that night.

Impressions is a series of character studies – short sketches to wet your appetite. As Halloween approaches, I’m including a few less admirable characters. If you’d like reading more about this villain or his victim, leave a comment.

Thanks.

Sheri McGuinn Photo Signature

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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