The dead steal my dreams. They come into my head and play pinball with my thoughts, my emotions, my very life. Pick a night, any night:
My heart pounds. I can barely make out the digits on my clock as they jump in a frantic dance. Are my eyes that dry? I can barely make out the numbers. My guess is four AM. The ringing in my ears is louder. I close my eyes and breathe deeply. Cool air fills my lungs. I open my eyes, a dark spot, like an evil cloud in the shape of a man in a long robes hovers in front of me. As my eyes adjust, the dark man dissolves into shadows. My back is drenched in sweat. I shiver and wrap the sheets around my body. Another clawing death dream has shaken me to my core.
I turn on the bed-side lamp and grab a pen and look around for paper. I tear the cover off a magazine and take notes. It was dark. Outside, perhaps. In a park. The woman was in her late thirties. Dark shoulder length hair. Somebody was attacking her. Did I see a knife? A mugging? And her scream. The same bloody scream I’d heard in countless dreams. Just remembering it sends shivers down my back.
I sip water from the glass I keep by the bed for just such emergencies, and take another deep breath. My heart begins to slow. I lie back, saying aloud, “Please, Just make it stop….”
But in that clawing plea, the only thing I’d managed to make go away was my girlfriend of six months. She’d had enough of the nightly carnage, the fitful dreams, screaming in the night, pushing her out of bed. After almost strangling her in her sleep, she finally moved on. Because I couldn’t. I’d give up everything, all my measly possessions: my clothes, prized record collection, new computer, TV, bank account, everything I own, if only it would just stop.
Ripping through another person’s fate is exhausting. The violence is terrifying. I’ve seen people hit by cars, shot, crushed by busses…you get the idea.
My last case began with black sedan careening over the side of a bridge and falling a hundred feet into a raging river. Both occupants were killed. But that was my precognition. That was just a dream. They hadn’t died…yet. So, I sought out the victims and tried to warn them. But they wouldn’t listen. (Most my warnings often unheeded.) They were killed a week later in the exact same accident I saw in my dream. But, hey, who doesn’t have quirks? I’m a damn good detective.
“Powerful and compelling, “Infinity 7″ by Charles R. Hinckley is a riveting psychological sci-fi adventure that readers won’t soon forget! When suspicious communication comes from the Metis 3 Space Station requesting a team to investigate malfunctions and the possibility of alien life forms, astronaut and astrophysicist John Collins knows he is headed back to space. Developer of the Metis Space Program, Collins has dedicated his professional career to this project, at great personal cost, and will do whatever it takes to keep the funding flowing for this research. Discovery of alien spores found in soil samples have been mishandled by Forrest, one of the techs, putting the entire station in danger of contamination. Strange behavior from the crew and the mainframe computer system suggest alien forces have taken over as an entranced crew member is determined to destroy the space station. Fighting hallucinations and madness caused by exposure to the spore toxins, John Collins is in for the fight of his life and the future of the earth. This story is a fantastic read! I really enjoyed the writing – Hinckley has a talent for creating vivid, colorful, life-like descriptions in every paragraph, and not a word is wasted. The plot-line is complex without being overwhelming; the various layers of the story are sophisticated and round out the entire story as a whole. The author’s imagination seems limitless as the creativity displayed in the scenes and the settings compel the reader to plow through the pages…”
I’m standing on dark brown linoleum, my foot narrowly escaping a cockroach as it scurries under the day bed. The room is dark, tall, with ten-foot ceilings. The beige paint is chipping out in large, continent shaped patches, little South Americas, Africa hanging by a thread. Shelves line the walls above the sofa. Good, a book case. The day bed comes with the room. A bent screen is jammed into the open window and I can hear traffic noise, but at least it’s on the ground floor. I look over at my potential roommate, Jim. He’s upbeat, about thirty five, good looking; almost game show host-like in his mannerisms and enthusiasm.
What the hell, “I’ll take it,” I say.
Three hundred and fifty a month, how can you go wrong? A bedroom with a private entrance connected to a small hall and bath. And the rooms are big, if not crumbling out of themselves. I convince myself that with a little bit of paint, it’ll be like new.
“Good!” he says, “Let’s get a drink.”
We wander across Second Avenue and up the hill to the Bull’s Eye tavern. They know Jim there and he seems to be well liked, this game show host roommate of mine. And why not, he’s athletic, got a great smile, dimpled chin, a full shock of hair. We sit in front of a couple of drafts and he casually asks, “By the way, you know I’m gay, right?”
A little twinge hits my stomach. Is he looking at my crotch? Why isn’t he effeminate? I never would have guessed he’s gay. Does he have orgies in his room? I look at the bartender. Now they think I’m gay, right? “Well, I’m not gay,” I say.
Oh, he assures me, I don’t flaunt it. I don’t care for fems, he says. Besides, this is strictly a business deal. Rent for a room. It wasn’t in the ad, but I don’t really care, “Sure, sure. No problem.”
After I pile in my few meager possessions, bags of clothes and my desk from home, I encamp on the day bed. First nights are always the hardest. Cramped and lonely in my little burrow, I learn not to be afraid of things that crawl in the dark and scatter when the lights come on. Lying in the blackened room, they crawl casually across my arm, and I fling the insects onto the wall or floor. I reach up with the side of my fist and pound them into submission, letting them fall where they may.
At four AM, the heavy cruisers arrive. I hear then scuttling and munching on God knows what. The armored division attacks my front. I brush my arm and a heavy thud hits the floor. That was no small insect. I turn the lights on. The floor and walls are alive with brown exoskeletons scattering in all directions.
September 24, 1983
My second evening is less strained. I take comfort in my newly purchased roach motels and poison traps. Already, there are fewer insects to be seen. Suddenly, I hear something at the window. A dark bare arm slowly reaches in through the curtains, fingers outstretched, reaching, ready to grasp. I yell, “Hey!” The arm jerks to attention and recoils as if wound back onto a human fishing reel. I close the window and lock the doors, unsettled, I’m feeling lost in the whirr of the city.
September 30, 1983
I wouldn’t say Jim is a health nut, but he sure does like to run. Right up to Central Park and back every day. Lifts weights in the kitchen, too. Breathes real loud and strong to get that energy flowing. One, two, three twist and turn, up and down, deep knee bends, come on, one and two, his thick boozy breath billowing into all corners of the room, like a steam bath in there when he gets going. It’s tough to swallow my scrambled eggs with all that going on. Amazing how he can stay up until three a.m. sucking up all that booze and pop right back up the next morning… two, three, and here we go and one. Shouldn’t complain, though. It’s tough to find a first floor apartment this cheap on the Upper East Side.
October 2, 1983
I’m waiting tables while I take classes in acting: Shakespeare, scene study, auditioning technique. I have a long way to go. Feel lost in a sea of false hope and groundless optimism leading nowhere. Auditions go badly. I’ve met a few girls in acting class. Made a few friends. I am building a life, my own life, while learning to be a good waiter.
Jan 7, 1984
Jim throws me a surprise party for my thirtieth birthday. Friends from work, some of his friends, they all chip in, buy me a mattress for the wooden frame that I had made from cut pine and bolts. Fits real nice. Damn nice of these guys, friends of Jim’s, mostly, acquaintances of mine. Damn nice.
We finished the evening with another bottle of wine. A girl from the tavern offers herself to me as a present. Can’t complain about that. Damned nice of her. Damned nice. Six months is a long time. Later, we talk on the stoop in front of her apartment until 3 a.m. I’ll have to avoid her for a while. Don’t want to give the wrong impression.
Jan 25, 1984
I come home unexpectedly and my private entrance is locked. I pound on the door, hear shuffling noises in the room and creaking from my desk chair. Jim calls for me to wait a minute. Finally, after several minutes, he unlocks the door. I hear them as they scurry into his side of the apartment, Jim and his secret guest. Later I learn he was glad I had arrived when I did, not knowing what the strange man might have done, Jim being naked and tied up in my favorite chair.
February 25, 1984
Jim has decided to kill himself. Seems he’s unhappy with his life. The booze and the cocaine, the anonymous sex, have all taken their toll. AIDS has crept into the picture. A nurse friend told us about hygiene and the treatment for the afflicted. She scared me half to death and I went out and bought some liquid soap for the bath. No more sharing bar soap for this kid. Jim was greatly offended by the soap, but I told him we always used the liquid at home, I’m just homesick for it. I know Jim doesn’t have AIDS. I think.
February 28, 1984
Three AM. Jim is weepy. He staggers into my room, wakes me up, and tells me he wants to kill himself. I ask him how and he tells me to mind my own business, but if I must know, he has a hoard of pills. I tell Shirley, our mutual friend from the Bull’s Eye and she comes over to search his room while he’s gone out. She finds pills, but there isn’t enough to kill him, just maybe make him sleep for a day or two.
March 3, 1984
I feel terrible about Jim. I confide in a friend at work. He tells me there is nothing for it, he had a roommate that killed himself and he was just a selfish prick, tells me people who off themselves are all selfish pricks. I worry anyway, thinking how unfair it all is.
March 5, 1984
Pills gone, Jim has decided to kill himself the slowest way possible. He stays up all night snorting cocaine, and drinking with his new buddies, the drug dealers. They play cards until morning light; argue about nonsense, thinking they are being clever when they are repetitive and shallow. They offer Jim money for my room; have them move in, me out. Jim turns them down, but likes to tell me about the offers anyway. I find a .22 caliber bullet on the kitchen floor.
Jim comes from a big, Irish Catholic family in the mid-west somewhere. His sister talks to me on the phone, thinks I’m his lover. She wants to know if he’s really all right. I lie; tell her he’s just fine. She seems relieved. What can she do anyway, I think. It’s not like she’s going to come rescue him. Yeah, he’s fine. Well, take care of him, she says. I don’t bother to tell her, he’s just my roommate and I try to avoid him as much as possible.
March 25, 1984
I am finally alone in the apartment! Some much needed alone time! My resentment toward Jim has peaked and I sing aloud, “Ding dong, the master baiter’s gone!” to the tune of “Ding dong the Witch is Dead,” while I make popcorn. I dance with delight at my free evening at home. Jim suddenly emerges from his closet. He’s been hiding behind his wardrobe and wants to spring out and surprise me. Now he wants to know what I meant by “The master baiter” crack. He pulls out his stash of gay porno mags, stained with some odd smelling oils, and asks me if this is to what I am referring. I don’t know what to say. The greasy stained magazines flop around in his hands. I look at the greasy bottle of corn oil I used to make the popcorn. Was that a pubic hair stuck to the label?
April 23, 1984
Jim’s friend Rico, the drug dealer from Brazil, and his heroin-addicted girl friend, Sheila, need a place to stay. Jim lets them put a mattress on the kitchen floor. Jim is very helpful like that. Rico has a lot of phone calls to make to his drug-dealing friends. They come to the door and he leaves with them. Sal, from New Jersey, came by the other day and he seemed quite angry about something. Sorry I answered the door, really. But Rico and Sal went for a walk and worked it out. Afterward, Rico bought a bunch of shrimp and cooked them in water and beer. He insisted I eat with him. They tasted pretty good, once I realized they weren’t poisoned.
May 3, 1984
Rico’s girlfriend, Sheila, is feeling pretty sick. They sit in the bathtub together for hours sometimes; they take the phone in there and make business calls. I hear that Rico has offered Jim lots of money for my room, but Jim says not to worry, he wouldn’t kick me out. Although, he hints, the extra money would be nice.
The landlady came down and asked me for the rent today. Seems she hasn’t seen any money for a few months. I told her I just give my money to Jim. It’s his place. He pays the rent. (I guess not.) I haven’t seen Jim for a while to talk to him about it.
May 27, 1984
Rico and Sheila finally move out. Am seeing less and less of Jim, now. He lost his job at the good restaurant and now he’s working for a not-so-nice place on the West side. Makes less money. I have been talking to the landlady about letting me move into an empty apartment upstairs.
June 15, 1984
I finally have my own place. Up five floors, but it’s worth it. Two bedrooms, kitchen and a bath! Jim knocked on the door the other day, but I pretended I wasn’t home. He scares me now. Not like the person I met at all. That far away look in his eyes makes me think he is the loneliest person on Earth. But I’ve made up my mind I can’t help him. I need to live my own life.
July 2, 1984
They finally came and took Jim home today. He’d been unable to function for about a month. He was too afraid to leave the apartment. His sister and brother bought him a ticket and he’s gone. I don’t even know who’s in the apartment downstairs now. Some creepy guy he had move in a while ago. Poor Jim, all he wanted to do was be an actor.
Sunlight streamed in through a break in the curtains and he could see a wall of tiny dust particles dancing in its beams. He thought of vacuuming the rug, but had only a mechanical sweeper. Ever since he brought that rug to the island, he’d seen particles floating above it.
The sound of running water pricked up his ears. He didn’t understand why water would be splashing in the kitchen. Perhaps a bird had come in during the night and was caught in the sink. He lay in bed listening to the faint gurgle and splashing. The gentle trickle of water falling. He sat up and looked toward the sound. His bedroom door was ajar. He got up and looked into the kitchen. A girl stood over the sink, washing her face and neck. She wore a blue plaid shirt, a red sweatshirt wrapped around her waist, blue jeans and dirty white canvas sneakers. Her hair was dark, almost black, but as she pulled at the wet curls it appeared, in the sunbeams from the skylight, a very dark brown color with reddish highlights, and was thick and wavy. When she was finished pulling at her hair, she looked around the counter top for something to dry it with.
“Hello” he said.
She turned sharply, pointing a long kitchen knife in his direction. Her fearful look startled him and he took a step back.
“That towel is dirty,” he said, pointing to the rag by the sink. “I’ll bring you a clean one.”
She took a step away from the sink, her eyes fixed on him. He went to his bed, pulled on his trousers, stepped into his moccasins, then got a towel from the linen closet in the bathroom, and brought it to the kitchen. He stood a few feet away from her and offered her the towel. She slowly reached out with one hand, holding the knife in the other, and took the offering. “Thank you,” she said, in a small voice.
“I have plenty of food,” he said. “I can cook something. Do you want breakfast?”
She smelled the towel, then slowly dried her hair and face. Her eyes very light blue, a color he’d never seen before on a human being.
“You can cook if you want,” she said.
“You can put that knife away. I’m not gonna hurt you.”
She held the towel in front of her chest and slowly slid the knife into the sink.
“Good,” he said. “I generally eat big in the morning.”
She shrugged and turned to look at the fireplace. He followed her eyes and said, “Fire went out last night.”
“I can build one,” she said.
She walked to the fireplace. He went to the refrigerator to get eggs and ham and bread. He watched her out of the corner of his eye as she stacked kindling on the ashes and fanned the coals. She crumpled up newspaper and placed in underneath and the wood started to burn. She placed a few medium sized logs onto the fire and the flames quickly grew.
He hand pumped well-water into the coffee pot, then put it on the gas stove to percolate. Cracking open the eggs, he placed them in a large, black pan, and laid slices of ham-steak in, and it sizzled and popped from the heat. He placed slices of bread on the old fashioned, pyramid shaped toaster that fit neatly over the gas burner. The eggs crackled and popped and he turned them gently, so as not to break the yolks. While he cooked, she warmed herself by the fire.
“I can tell you’re all right by looking at you,” he said, and wanted to ask why she was there, but decided to let her speak in her own time. Perhaps she was lost or running from something. She cleared her throat and looked as if she was about to speak, but said nothing. “I’ll give you a lift back to the mainland, if you like. Or I’ll give you gas or whatever you want for your boat, but that’s as far as we go.”
She warmed her hands by the flames. “It’s a good fire,” she said. “I was cold. The wood is dry. Burns good.”
“It’s been in the woodbin for over a year, more or less. I get oak from the mainland. Oak burns best, I think. Dense wood. Not like pine.”
He placed the eggs, ham and toast on two plates and placed them on the table. He poured two cups of coffee and set one down for her. “Come and eat.” He stood in front of his place and waited. She walked slowly to the table and sat, never taking her eyes off of him. He sat and smiled at her and said, “Best breakfast in town.” She smiled and picked up her fork.
She looked to be about twenty, he figured. Definitely not younger. Perhaps, as old as twenty five, now that he had a good look at her. She glanced at him and he blushed, wondering how she got the eyes of a husky. She wasn’t light skinned enough to be an albino, but she had fair coloring. Her lips were full and her nose was small.
“Where are you from?” he asked. She frowned and poked her food with a fork. “Aren’t you gonna try my coffee? I make strong coffee.” She gave a slight smile and made a show of sipping from the cup, although it didn’t look like she took any into her mouth. “You want some water?” he asked. She vigorously shook her head. He got a large pitcher from the fridge and grabbed a glass from the cabinet and placed both in front of her. She filled the glass and quickly drank it down. Then she dank another, and another.
“I hope you didn’t try to drink that water that runs in the sink. That’s not potable.”
He watched her gulp down a full glass of water. “You’re dehydrated,” he said.
She looked eagerly at him and licked her lips. “Yes, I think I am. I wasn’t thirsty before and now I am.”
“Why would you be so dehydrated?”
“I was at sea.”
“I swam for a whole night.”
“What about your boat?”
He did the calculations in his head. The currents run swiftly through slots between the islands. Either she was a very slow swimmer, or the tidal current brought her in from one of the outer islands. Perhaps, Jewell Island, the last island before you hit the open ocean. That would be about five or six miles to the East.
“It sunk?” he asked.
“Hit a rock or something. Heavy seas. I don’t remember the rest.”
He hadn’t heard about a shipwreck, certainly not nearby. The radio would have been crackling with the news. There had been very stormy weather the day before yesterday, but something wasn’t adding up. “You’re telling me you wrecked and then you swam here?”
“I think so.”
“You had a life vest?” She said nothing. “Was anybody else onboard?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Was it a ship, like a cruise ship, a private yacht, a sailing ship, what?”
“I…” She stood up. “I don’t think…” She ran outside and leaned over the porch railing. He heard her gagging, and walked over to see if he could help.
“You drank too fast,” he said. “You’ll be okay. Come sit by the fire. ” She turned to look at him and her blue-white eyes sparkled in the morning sun.
They went inside and sat in front of the fire. He sipped coffee from a mug. She sipped a glass of water. Her color came back, what little there was in her pale skin, and her eyes were less glassy. “What’s your name?” he asked her. She stared at the fire and said nothing. Then she extended her right hand in front of her, stretching the fingers out. She looked at the back of her hand, then at the palm, and said, “My hand looks the same. Familiar. But I don’t remember my name.” He took that as nonsense and looked at her for a few minutes, noting the sweep of hair across her forehead, the tight, almost pore-less skin of her face. “What do you mean, familiar?”
“I mean, I know it. It’s mine.” She looked again at her hand and smiled, then turned back to the fire.
“What’s the last thing you remember?”
“Coming to this island. Standing on the shore, and watching you…by the fire.”
“Oh” she said, in a soft voice.
“I was aware of you in the bush. You should have come to the fire.”
She stared at the flames and tussled her hair. She had a slow, dreamy quality about her now, and she could barely keep her eyes open. She stretched out on the sofa and closed her eyes. He got up and moved her feet onto the cushions, then got a blanket from the bedroom and placed it over her. He watched her breathing as it grew shallow. The flare of her nostrils became less pronounced. Once she was asleep, he walked back into the kitchen to finish breakfast.
He split wood in the back yard. The stack, dropped off from the mainland a week earlier, was good oak, ready to be split and dried, and he was making headway. As he heaved the heavy blade, he could feel an occasional cool breeze as the afternoon winds shifted. It was sunny and hotter inland, and he removed his shirt when it started to stick to his back. The sea breeze kicked up and cooled his sweaty skin. The ax was heavy and double bladed, and the oak split easily. Wiping his brow, he turned to see her emerge from the cottage. As he strained to scratch an itchy spot behind his shoulders, he felt her hand move in slow circles against his flesh. He stiffened and turned to her. “How are you feeling?” he asked, placing the ax against to the woodpile.
“Like I’m dreaming.”
“You need food, and more to drink.” She gave him a slight smile and stared at him, as if she were witnessing something completely new. “How long were out in the water?”
“I don’t remember, exactly. It’s a blur. No longer than a day, I think. And part of the night.”
“Where were you headed?”
“I don’t know.”
“Who was with you? How many onboard?”
She frowned and took a step toward the cottage. He placed a hand on her shoulder and she turned to him. “I want to help, but I don’t know anything about you,” he said. “What’s your name? Do you have family?”
“I don’t feel right,” she said. He release his hand and she walked toward the cottage.
“I only want to help.” He put his shirt back on and followed her inside.
She was sitting at the kitchen table, her head down. He brought the pitcher of water and filled a glass. She sipped and stared down at the table, her thick hair obscuring her lovely face. He leaned back against kitchen counter and crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m worried you’ve been missing for a while. People are probably worried, probably looking for you. The police-”
“No police,” she interrupted. “There’s no one. I’m alone.”
“You were alone on the boat?”
“I’m trying to tell you, you can’t just disappear. People will be looking for you.”
Her expression was strangely serene, childlike. He went to the sink and pumped fresh well water into the pitcher. “I live alone. It wouldn’t be right having you here…” He finished refilling the water pitcher and returned it to the fridge. “You understand?” He turned back to her, but she was gone. Her half-empty glass still on the table.
“Hey,” he said loudly. “Hey, kid.”
He walked outside. Everything was as he’d left it. The wind tussled the pines. The tall grass beyond his yard swirled in the gusts. He made his way down to the path leading to the beach. His boat was tied securely to the dock, and bounced freely in the choppy water. Clouds rolled in from the North. The air began to chill. “Hey, kid,” he yelled, against the din of escalating wind. He felt foolish calling her “kid.” She wasn’t a kid. Perhaps, he wasn’t much older than her, he really couldn’t tell. Perhaps, it was her apparent vulnerability that made him call her kid. It could be she wasn’t young at all, but only appeared youthful. What else was he going to call her? And she’d be even more vulnerable in the approaching storm. He wasn’t happy worrying about her, or anyone else for that matter, especially a mixed-up stranger. He had his own troubles. He turned and walked back up the path.
By the time he reached the cottage, large drops of rain began hitting his head. The precipitation was cold, and sent a chill through him. This caused him to worry even more about the girl. Her infirmity reminded him of his own weakness, and how pained he was at the loss of his family. Simple tasks, like taking out the garbage, or chopping wood, could trigger deep, painful memories, and send him into depression.
He stood in the storm-darkened kitchen, staring at the open door and the rainy field beyond, and thought of his wife standing in front of him. At first, she was nude. Her strong shapely legs, the pillar of her vibrant body. Then she was dressed in jeans and a pale red T-shirt, the way she was the last time he saw her. She was smiling, her brown hair diffused in back-light, radiating around her head like a golden crown. In his mind, he smiled back. His daughter ran into the room and said something. At first he couldn’t make out the words, but the sound of her voice spun his stomach. He looked at her angelic face, a smear of chocolate outlined her lips.
“Hi Pumpkin,” he said, and smiled, his heart breaking. His throat tightened, and he could feel tears filling his eyes.
What was left of the light in the kitchen succumbed to stormy twilight, as he stared out the open doorway, his mind dull, saturated by inklings of ancient emotions. A feeling of longing made his eyes lose focus, and he stared at nothing for a few moments, floating in the lightness of melancholy. Rain pelted the porch and began wetting the floor where he stood. Blue-black clouds danced and clashed above. A downpour pinged off the metal roof, slowly at first, then more abundantly, enlivening the sounds of gusting wind in sharp staccato rhythms. He stared put at the field and slowly shut the door.
He retrieved a box of wooden matches and lit a kerosene lamp. The smell triggered sense memory of the often repeated task, rooting him in the feeling security and home. The smell of the stove, the essence of gas fumes after being lit, the crackle of eggs cooking on the stove, the smell of coffee percolating. He slowly stacked dried kindling, lit the newspapers he’d stuffed underneath and waited until the kindling caught, then added larger pieces of wood, building it into a roaring fire. He sat on the sofa and watched the flames.
A dull ache started behind his eyes, and was exacerbated by the light of the fire.
There were two men at the door and one inside at a table set aside for ciphering. The man outside the bank nodded, signaling all clear, and Roscoe Hunter stepped up to the window. The teller was small man, wore glasses and a long handled mustache that hid his mouth when he talked.
“Yes sir, what can I do for you today? Would you like to open an account?”
“Why you say that?”
The teller looked startled for a second, his eyes darting from the man in front of him to the door and back again, then he smiled. “Well, I’ve never seen you before. I know all my customers.”
“Well, I’ll tell you what. I’m gonna promise I won’t kill you if’n you hand over all the money in that there cash drawer.”
The teller took two steps back, his eyes wide. Roscoe showed him the pistol.
Roscoe leaned in. “Now, easy there. No time for panic. Put you in a bad fix. You want yer bag’o bones without leaden pills, you bes’ start load’n that money.”
The teller nodded, wiped his mustache with the back of his hand and stepped up to the cash drawer.
“There’s only fifty-seven dollars, Mister.” His voice shook.
“Get the other drawer over yonder.” Roscoe pointed to his left, at second teller window.
“That station is closed sir, on account of it being noon. Lunch-time for the other teller, sir.”
Roscoe cocked the pistol. “Well then, go over there and get the money yer self.”
“I, I don’t have the key, sir.” The teller’s hands began to shake.
“Break it open or by God I’m gonna break yer head!” Roscoe rested the pistol on the counter, pointed at the teller.
The teller raised his voice and started acting strangely, hitting his leg with his left hand, his eyes rolling around in his head. ‘Yes, sir! Yes, sir! I’ll get you that cash right away, sir! Yes, sir.”
“Shut up, you.”
The teller twirled around, hitting his face and stomping his boots on the floor. “Yes, sir! I’ll do it! I’ll do it!”
Ben Farley, the fat Irishman who ran the bank, two-fisted a double-barrel shotgun and waddled out of his office to check on the commotion. Roscoe looked at him, and Farley looked at Roscoe. The pistol shot first, hitting Farley in the chest, causing him to pull the shotgun back and fire. The blast took out the front window of the bank and hit a horse tied up outside. The horse reared- up, broke loose the rail, and bolted down the street, buckshot holes seeping blood from its rump.
Roscoe jumped the fence to the second teller station, and shot the drawer twice, causing more screaming from the crazy teller. The three customers inside the bank were on the floor covering their heads in their hands. The draw was shot to splinters, but wouldn’t budge. Roscoe pried it open with the stolen Bowie knife. The teller continued to twirl in circles behind him, holding his ears and yelling something about brick-ovens and marmalade. Roscoe pushed him in the back. The teller squealed and keeled over like a dead fish.
Outside the bank, curious bystanders squawked at seeing real bank robbers. When the shotgun blast shattered the window and hit the horse, one bystander tried to stop it by jumping for the reins. A portion of the fence, still tied to the horse, hit him on the head, knocking him out cold middle of the street.
Roscoe and his boys jumped on their horses, hooting and hollering, and firing into the air.
To Be Cont’d…
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Sprawled at his bare feet, a green canvas bag holding captive two large lobsters. They scuttled about, armor clacking the skiff. He didn’t particularly like the taste. He loved being out on the boat, the feeling of floating on the tide, looking into the shallows, seeing crab and small fish roaming among the barnacled rocks. Pulling pots by hand and rowing was good exercise. He loved the smell of the bay, the shore at low tide, the complex aroma of living Earth.
The wind kicked up from the east as he maneuvered the skiff in toward shore. The island foliage tossed uneasily, fighting the stiff breeze. Choppy waves riled the skiff. He pulled the boat onshore and tied it down, when he saw her. Something out the corner of his eye. Just a splash of red, but the color was bright enough for him to realize it was not a natural color for the island. He thought for a moment he was seeing things from his imagination. The red of blood. The color he was sure covered his wife and daughter. The horror of imaging how they looked after the crash. His imagination often took him there, to that scene on the tarmac. The horror of it sinking into his bones, like cool water floating down in layers, to the bottom of his soul.
The crimson flashes moved inland, up beyond the tall grass on the hill, beyond the slink weed bushes on the rocky trail leading away from the cottage. He reached the trail head, but saw no more signs of her. A slight breeze rustled the bushes behind him. He started and turned quickly, scanning the bushes, the trees and grass beyond, but he saw nothing. A bird landed on a tree nearby and he smiled. His mind was playing tricks. His only visitor was a black bird with a red patch. Red winged black birds were uncommon on the island and probably the reason it caught his attention. Crows and seagulls ruled the rock. Just last night, a small murder of American crows appeared near the cottage, their loud cawing and iridescent feathers unmistakable in the craggy pines.
He lit the outdoor roasting fire. After he’d cooked and eaten the lobster, he sat, satiated, under the canopy of stars. Cool air wrapped around him like damp sheets. He sat on the hard flat rock, shaped like a stool, and stared into the fire. Clumps of smoky seaweed, still oozing dampness, wheezed and popped in the heat, and gave off sour smoke.
When the season was right, he’d roast corn on the cob with the lobster, but often he couldn’t finish the meals. His appetite would wane as he drifted into bad memories. The burial, the condolences, the sad offerings, the blur of black clothing, pale skin and muted whispers, and the sorrowful moans. The preacher’s caw echoing into incoherent rants. Words popping out, such as “life,” “death” and “meaning,” but his voice was more like the wind and rain and provided no comfort. Rituals. Other people’s thoughts held no meaning. Grief lived in his chest like a knot of angry crabs, the weight of it strangling and gnawing on the flesh of his heart, and because of it, his appetite was gone. He ate what little he could of the rich lobster meat and threw the rest back into the fire. He held a bottle of bourbon on his lap, running his fingers down the smooth glass. But, he knew he wouldn’t drink. Not at that moment, but soon maybe, and it would start all over again.
A twig snapped and he looked up. Just off the trail, someone standing in the shadows, but he tried not to stare. He held a smoldering twig in his hand and watched the glowing tip turn to ash, occasionally looking up and scanning the trees and bushes, trying to snatch a glimpse of the stranger. After seeing the outline of shoulder-length hair and just enough facial features to decipher them as feminine, he thought it might be a young woman. Thick hair, perhaps, covered the side of her face. He saw these things in dark outline, never catching any detail. And her footfall was light, not like a man. He was quietly amused by his silent watcher, and wondered if she was a perhaps a child, or a teenager who’d run away from home. Then he realized he should speak and see what kind of trouble she might bring. How could she be anything but trouble? “Come in out of the dark,” he said, placing the tip of the smoldering stick back into the fire. “I won’t bite you.” He sensed her there, standing still in the shadows. He resumed holding the burning stick, until the flame diminished into a small glowing point. There was no sound, other than the occasional breeze.
As night closed in around him and the air cooled, a chill covered him like a damp whisper, and he decided to go in. He stood and looked at the area where he’d last seen her outline and said, “I’m going in now. I’ll leave a blanket on the porch. It gets cold.” He stared into the blackness and laughed to himself for thinking it was somebody. If it had been a girl, she would have talked to him by now. And if she had talked to him and had come inside, what trouble would she bring? He didn’t need it. He was alone with his own troubles. That was enough, and they were all he could handle.
He went inside the cabin and built a fire. When the logs caught, and the flames licked a good size log, he pushed the sofa up close to the hearth and sat. If it was a girl out there, he thought, somebody would be looking for her. She could be a runaway or hiding from the law or bad men, a bad marriage. But these were just ideas. It had been a black bird with a red patch on its wings. Nothing more.
Time passed and heaviness woke him. He roused and checked the fire and found no flames. The room was cold. He looked out the window toward the fire pit. There was nothing to see. He lit a kerosene lamp and went to the bedroom.
His shadow cast on the ceiling from the lamp, as he adjusted himself under the covers. His own dark outline brought to mind the crows outside the cottage. About two weeks earlier, they’d come and stayed the night in the pines, cawing and squawking into the early hours of the morning. A murder of crows, holding court. What had they said to each other? Had it had been an omen. The figure in shadows popped into his head. Perhaps it really was a girl. He turned down the lamp and pulled the cold covers up to his chin. He turned over, and a whisper came to him. A gentle tingle in his ear. He wasn’t sure what it said, but the voice was that of his wife. Perhaps she was standing beside him now, watching over him. He opened his eyes and saw nothing, then yawned and closed them again. He inhaled deeply and sighed out the words, “Goodnight, my love.”