Saturday, June 6, 2015

FATED PARADOX: A CONTEST FOR WRITERS OF MYSTERIES AND THRILLERS


Following are the deets on a great contest that started June 4th and runs through July 4th. It's on a site called Inkitt (inkitt.com). My next blog will tell you all about this great writing community, but I wanted to first share info about this contest. I've already submitted a story, so why don't you shoot one over? Did I just say 'shoot'? Well, it IS a mystery/thriller themed contest after all!

The link directly to the contest is here where you can submit your entry. The entries also appear, so give them a read, vote for your favorites, and/or pen a review or two.

Get your fingers primed and ready to pounce on that keyboard, let yourself slip over to the Dark Side, and pump out some mysterious and thrilling tales of murder, deceit, and maybe even a double-cross or two.

From their site:

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FATED PARADOX:  TALES OF GRIPPING SUSPENSE

Keep us on the edge of our seats with your best mystery and thriller stories. Submit accounts of murders and red herrings, or have us biting our nails over stories full of adrenaline and espionage. We want you to leave us breathless with your tales of unmatched suspense.

Submit your best original mystery and thriller stories. There is no word limit, and, as always, no entry fee. The top 10% based on reader votes, get the chance to be picked by the Inkitt staff for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prize.

  • Authors will retain all rights to work submitted to the contest.
  • Multiple entries are allowed, but each individual participant may win only one prize.
  • Physical prizes can only be shipped to the United States, Canada, countries in the EU, and Australia/New Zealand. Cash prizes can only be transferred to PayPal supported countries.
  • There is no age requirement for participation, but all stories must be rated appropriately by their authors.
  • Before submitting a story, be sure to check our guidelines page to ensure that you comply with all our publication rules.

Deadline

11:59pm PST on July 4, 2015.

Prizes for Winners

1st Place:  $50 cash and 5 printed copies with custom typography.

2nd Place:  $40 cash.

3rd Place:  $30 cash.

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So, get to writing, my friends, and best of luck to everyone!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Bag - Week 10 of 52round2

I want you to know that I am not a Nosy Nellie – one of those people who are constantly peeping at their neighbors through the blinds or analyzing the contents of carts belonging to shoppers ahead of you in the checkout line.  I believe in minding my own beeswax at all times.  My name will never appear on any Prosecutor’s witness list, only to end up being relocated to a nowhere town in New Mexico with a new identity.  No.  Never.  At least, not until I saw the bag.
           
It was on the seat next to the window in the last row on the driver’s side of the bus.  Okay, so I take the bus to and from my job in the city.  I don’t use public transportation because I want to help preserve the environment and protect future generations from destroying the ozone layer or any of that other crap.  I work for a downtown law firm as a file clerk; so I never learned to type – don’t judge.  It’s a good job with 9 to 5 hours, but no way can I afford to buy a car, much less afford to park it in one of the safer garages in the city.  The secretaries look down on me for riding the bus, but at least I don’t lay out half my salary on parking fees.  Anyway, back to the bag.

It wasn’t exactly a bag in the true sense, like the bums carry.  You know what I mean – the small, brown, paper ones they can fit a pint of whiskey in and then sip on it at their leisure all day long.  I wouldn’t have gone within ten feet of it had it been one of those; but then, you don’t usually see bums riding the downtown express.  This was one of those fancy, what I like to call, tote bags.  It was dark brown with a green and violet flower pattern on both sides, a snap closure in the middle and two cloth handles.  It was fairly good size too.  I think if you took it to the grocer, it would probably hold a couple gallons of milk and a frozen dinner or two.  But, somehow I knew in my heart of hearts, it was never used as a grocery bag.

The woman who carried it every day never got on or off at the same place in the morning or in the evening.  I noticed this since I was always on before her and got off after she did.  I didn’t pay much attention at first, but some things just seem to catch your eye.  She was very stylishly dressed in expensive suits and heels and carried a designer handbag, and the tote.  She always had a firm grip on the tote, but her purse just swung on her arm.  When she sat, her purse was carelessly placed on the seat next to her, but the tote was in her lap, cradled there in her arms like a cherished newborn infant.  Like I said, I’m no Snoopy Sallie, but who could help but notice behavior such as that?

Day in and day out, it was always the same routine for her, until today.  Sure, she got on at Third, which she’d never done before, with her fancy outfit and handbag, and clutching that tote like it had a million dollars inside.  I was reading a new mystery novel on the way to work this morning, so I didn’t see where she got off.  But I did see the tote left on the seat.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  She had deliberately left her precious cargo behind?  Why, and for whom?  Was it documents?  Was it drugs?  I watched anxiously to see who would pick it up, but no one paid any attention to it.  By the time I got to my stop, I realized how foolish I had been thinking it was a kidnapper’s ransom or an installment on a blackmail scheme, and I continued on my way to work.  Once the bus got to the terminal, the driver would take it to the lost and found department, the woman would claim it, and that would be the end of it.  No international intrigue here – just a lady who got distracted and forgot what was most likely her knitting.  End of story, right?  Wrong.

As I waited at the bus top to go home, I was again reading my mystery book.  I had picked it up at the drug store based on the picture on the cover of the knife dripping blood.  I know it’s probably not dignified, but I love all that type of nonsense, and this story offered it all.  There was the horrific murder of a sexy prostitute, a cop who was haunted by the image of her corpse – you get the idea.  It was absolute trash and I was loving it.  I was so involved in Chapter 4 that I almost didn’t see the tote right where the woman had left it that morning.  It was still on the same seat, still right next to the window, and still, no one was paying it any mind.  Apparently, the drivers don’t look for any items the passengers may have left behind, or perhaps they only did that after the last run.  I found it interesting too that the same bus took me home as to work.  I had always thought the buses were rotated around during the day, but evidently, that was not the case.

I took the seat across from the one where the tote was and waited.  Certainly, the woman would get on at some point to reclaim her personal treasures, whatever they may be.  We got to within two stops of mine, which is almost at the end of the route, but still no tote woman, as I now referred to her.  What if she were ill?  The bus company obviously didn’t have any regard for their passengers’ belongings, so someone had to step in and be responsible.  This is where I come in.  As I pointed out at the start, sticking my nose in other people’s affairs is definitely not one of my flaws, but helping out my fellow man, or in this case, woman, is assuredly one of my virtues.  I slid across the row, grabbed the tote and placed it under my coat.  I didn’t want the driver, or the one other passenger, to perceive me as a thief.  Since today was Friday, I was going to take it home over the weekend to keep it safe, and whenever I again saw the lady, I would inform her that I had her bag and that I would bring it to her the very next day.  It was a simple enough plan, or so I had thought at the time.

I was still holding the bag tightly under my coat when I ran into old Mrs. Jenson in front of my apartment building.  She normally walked to the corner market to pick up her six-pack of beer after supper.  Why on Earth was she out now?

“Hey, Susie Q,” she said.  “What’s shaking?”

For the record, my name is Angela.

“Not a thing, Ms. J.  Just home from work and anxious to get inside so I can put my comfy shoes on.”

I attempted to get by her and into the building when she grabbed my arm.

“What you got there under your coat, Miss Chrissy?  You pick up your lottery winnings?”

I pulled away from her and made my way to the building’s front entrance.

“My supper, Ms. J.  Just trying to keep it warm,” I said as I entered and closed the door behind me.

When I looked through the peephole, she was still standing there, staring.  I knew that answer wouldn’t satisfy her and that she would knock on my door on her way back from the store.  I made up my mind I wouldn’t answer since she’d want to come in.  Knowing what a Peeping Penny she was, I knew she would want to look inside the tote, and I could never allow that.  I was now responsible for it and I wasn’t about to let anyone and everyone violate it.  I, however, was obligated to determine its contents, albeit behind the locked door of my apartment.  What if there was medication in there that would go bad without refrigeration?  I put the bag on my coffee table, unsnapped it and looked inside.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.

The only items in there were a thermos that contained what used to be hot coffee, now very cold, and a key on a small ring that also held a circular plastic disk with the name and logo of Ken’s Keep-It-Safe Storage printed on it.  They were located over on Logan Avenue, and I recalled tote woman had caught the bus on the evening run a couple of times from the corner of Logan and Fifth.  Had she been to Ken’s on those occasions?  Why bring a thermos filled with coffee to a storage unit?  Did she sit inside sorting out stolen diamonds or put counterfeit bills into stacks of hundreds and twenties?  I was being ridiculous again, right?  Or was I…

I noticed the key had the number 74 cut into it, not that it mattered to me.  I wasn’t about to cross the line of decency and pry into a stranger’s inner sanctum.  Then again, why pair coffee with a storage unit?  She didn’t drink any of it on the bus.  If she had, I would have been made aware because the drivers on that route permitted no open food items or beverages consumed.  What did she do with the coffee in the unit?  Did she share it with her hostage?  I knew it.  That’s what all the mystery and covert behavior were all about.  That woman – that sadistic fiend, would board the bus with her coffee and key, hanging on to her bag as if it contained the Crown Jewels.  She would then make a stop at the unit only to provide the minimum nutrition to the lover who had rejected her, who now only barely existed, shackled inside a hermetically sealed, and most likely soundproof, oversized box.  That’s why she walked away from the bag.  Her lust for torment has been fulfilled and she’s left him there to die.  I must go to him and set him free from his ghastly prison.

I’m glad I refilled the thermos and brought it with me before I came to number 74.  These units can be quite chilly once the sun goes down.  Who knew?  I waited until after dinner to catch the bus to Ken’s.  Access to the units is twenty-four hours, seven days a week, and the buses run until midnight, so I had plenty of time to free her captive and still make the last run out of the terminal.  The place is all gated and fairly well lit, but not so much as to preclude discretion.  I found number 74 toward the back, and seeing no one around any of the units at this late hour, I made my move and unlocked number 74.  There was a pull string bulb set-up in the center, so I lit the unit up and pulled down the door to prevent any Spying Sally’s from interfering with my mission.  I heard a click that was quite comforting.  Apparently, the doors auto lock when they are pulled down.  I’m sure there’s a lever in here somewhere to release the door just like there are in car trunks, but I’ll look for that later.  My priority is to locate, and unchain, this heartless killer’s prey.

Imagine my surprise to find the unit contained only stacks of boxes filled with old clothes, albums filled with black and white photographs, a couple of tables with missing legs and a heavily chipped dresser sans mirror.  There was also a chair pulled up to the dresser that looked as if it had been utilized as a port-a-potty catering to every raccoon, squirrel, and flock of birds in the tri-state area.  There was definitely no tortured soul hog-tied and crying in a corner, but there was an abundance of dust and cobwebs everywhere on everything in the unit.  It became clear to me that tote woman had not come into this unit for several months, at a minimum.  So, why carry the key around and not go into the unit?  Why protect that $5.00 bag as if it contained the Hope diamond?  Why…

Well, no sense agonizing over the habits of a stranger, however odd they might be.  I managed to brush all the crap off the chair so I could sit and have some coffee.  It does get chilly in these units at night.  Oh, sorry, I think I already mentioned that.  See, when the light was on, it felt a bit warmer, but after the bulb burned out awhile ago, the temperature seems to have been steadily dropping.  I’m sure that’s my imagination though.  I mean, how cold could it possibly get since no air can get in.  Oh yeah, I forgot about that.  They seal up real tight once the door is pulled down and locked.  The office here usually opens at noon on Mondays, but with this being a holiday weekend, no one will be in there until noon on Tuesday.  I have no doubt my tote woman will be their first customer when they open so she can get a replacement key for this unit.  I’m certain she’ll feel guilty about neglecting it for so long and will want to pop in and clean the place up.

I probably shouldn’t have drank all that coffee in one sitting.  I wonder if there might be an old bowl or pot in one of those boxes I could use to relieve myself.  Coffee goes right through me, you see.  I think instead I’ll just try to think about something else, or feel around for a bit of air that might possibly be coming in from the outside to help me forget about having to use the bathroom.  There is no way I’m going to rifle through someone else’s personal items.  After all, as I’m sure I’ve already pointed out to you, I hold other people’s privacy sacred.  I am no Prying Priscilla.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Be Home Before Midnight - Week 9 of 52round2

SECOND GRADE

“Mommy and Daddy, it’s so wonderful.  Today is the day we are going on our field trip.  You remember, don’t you?  You signed the paper and said I could go.  I just can’t wait.  We are going to leave school on a special bus to go eat lunch at a restaurant and then we are going to go to the museum.  This is going to be so super because we will get to see all the mummies and stuff.  It’s going to be so fun.  Remember, you don’t have to pick me up at school either because the special bus will drop me off right in front of our house.”

“Remember what Mommy told you, honey.  You absolutely, positively must be home by midnight.  You must be home and in your room and in your bed with the lights out by midnight.  You will remember that, won’t you?  It’s the most important thing you will ever have to remember.”

“Mommy is right, dear.  Daddy knows what’s best for his little girl too.  You absolutely, positively must be home and in your bed with the lights out by midnight.  Listen to Daddy, sweetie.  You must always follow this rule.”

“Mommy and Daddy, you are both so silly.  You are always telling me to be home by midnight.  I’m only in the second grade and of course, I’ll be home by midnight.  I’ll be home today at the same time I always get home from school.  I’ve got such a silly Mommy and Daddy.”

FOURTH GRADE

“Mommy and Daddy, it’s so wonderful.  Today is the day Janey’s mommy is picking us up from school and taking us to the park.  You remember that you said it would be alright.  Janey is my bestest friend ever in the whole entire world and you said her mommy was sweet and you knew she would take good care of me.  The park is so nice.  They have such a big playground and there is a man who sells hot dogs and ice cream.  You said I could have some if I didn’t eat too much and spoil my dinner.  I’ll just have one hot dog and a small ice cream bar and then play on the swings.  Janey’s mommy is going to bring me right home after so you won’t have to pick me up at her house.  It’s going to be so fun.”

“Remember what Mommy told you, honey.  You absolutely, positively must be home by midnight.  You must be home and in your room and in your bed with the lights out by midnight.  You will remember that, won’t you?  It’s the most important thing you will ever have to remember.”

“Mommy is right, dear.  Daddy knows what’s best for his little girl too.  You absolutely, positively must be home and in your bed with the lights out by midnight.  Listen to Daddy, sweetie.  You must always follow this rule.”

“Mommy and Daddy, you are both so silly.  You are always telling me to be home by midnight.  I’m only in the fourth grade and of course, I’ll be home by midnight.  I’ll be home today at the same time I always get home from school.  I’ve got such a silly Mommy and Daddy.”

SIXTH GRADE

“Mom and Dad, it’s so wonderful.  Today is the day of my first Girl Scout meeting after school.  I’m so excited about it and it’s going to be so much fun.  You know that Suzanne joined with me and she’s my best friend on the whole planet.  I’m so glad they started a troop in our town.  We can do projects for our neighborhoods and sell cookies and we get to wear these vests and earn badges.  After our meetings, we get to have snacks too, but won’t worry, I won’t spoil my dinner.  They said we are just going to have a small juice and a muffin.  Suzanne’s dad is going to drive us there after school and bring us home, so you don’t have to pick me up anywhere.”

“Remember what Mommy told you, honey.  You absolutely, positively must be home by midnight.  You must be home and in your room and in your bed with the lights out by midnight.  You will remember that, won’t you?  It’s the most important thing you will ever have to remember.”

“Mommy is right, dear.  Daddy knows what’s best for his little girl too.  You absolutely, positively must be home and in your bed with the lights out by midnight.  Listen to Daddy, sweetie.  You must always follow this rule.”

“Mom and Dad, you are both so funny.  You are always telling me to be home by midnight.  I’m only in the sixth grade and of course, I’ll be home by midnight.  I’ll be home tonight in time for dinner.  You both can be so funny.”

EIGHTH GRADE

“Ma, Pops, it’s so wonderful.  Today is my school’s first basketball game of the season and I’m so excited to be on the cheerleading squad.  We’ve been practicing in gym class to make sure we do the best cheers ever.  It’s going to be so great being on the court getting everyone all wild and crazy over the game.  I already told you there’s a boy on the basketball team that I kind of like and I think he kind of likes me too.  By the way, you don’t have to pick me up after the game.  I’m riding home with Sondra, you know, my best friend in the universe.  Her father’s bringing us all home.”

“Remember what Mommy told you, honey.  You absolutely, positively must be home by midnight.  You must be home and in your room and in your bed with the lights out by midnight.  You will remember that, won’t you?  It’s the most important thing you will ever have to remember.”

“Mommy is right, dear.  Daddy knows what’s best for his little girl too.  You absolutely, positively must be home and in your bed with the lights out by midnight.  Listen to Daddy, sweetie.  You must always follow this rule.”

“Ma, Pops, you are both such a riot.  You are always telling me to be home by midnight.  I’m only in the eighth grade and of course, I’ll be home by midnight.  You both can be so weird.”

TENTH GRADE

“Mother, Father, it’s so wonderful.  Today is the day I am attending my first nighttime party.  Remember you said I could go because Tommy’s parents will be there the whole time.  We’re just going to listen to music and dance and eat tons of pizza.  The whole baseball team will be there and all the girls from my gymnastics class too.  This is going to be so fantastic because it’s like a grownup party.  I’m so glad you’re letting me go because this is so important to me.  There’s a boy on the baseball team that I like and I think he likes me too.  I hope he asks me to dance at the party.  You don’t have to pick me up after though because Marcie’s mother is going to pick a bunch of us girls up and take us home.”

“Remember what Mommy told you, honey.  You absolutely, positively must be home by midnight.  You must be home and in your room and in your bed with the lights out by midnight.  You will remember that, won’t you?  It’s the most important thing you will ever have to remember.”

“Mommy is right, dear.  Daddy knows what’s best for his little girl too.  You absolutely, positively must be home and in your bed with the lights out by midnight.  Listen to Daddy, sweetie.  You must always follow this rule.”

“Mother, Father, you need to stop treating me like a little kid.  You are always telling me to be home by midnight.  I’m in the eighth grade now and I know I need to be home by midnight.  You both need to realize that I’m can be responsible.”

TWELFTH GRADE

“Mommy and Daddy, I know I’m coming home late, but it’s not my fault.  Bradley and I went out to a movie and then we went for a soda.  When we came out of the diner, we saw that one of Bradley’s tires was flat.  He had a spare in his trunk, but that was going flat too, so he called his dad.  His father was at work, so it took a bit of time before he could leave, but he went home and got the spare out of his trunk and brought it for Bradley’s car.  He helped him change the tire and we were able to get going and he was able to bring me home.  But, I guess we stayed too late at the restaurant because by the time we got the car fixed, it was already after midnight and that’s why I’m…

“What is going on?  What is happening to the two of you?  Where are those fangs and claws coming from?  My God, you are actually getting bigger.  Why are your eyes so red?  I don’t understand.  Is this why you always insisted I be home by midnight?  Is it because we are a family of some sort of demon and we all change at that hour?  When do I begin to change and why haven’t I ever remembered changing into such a hideous creature?  Why are you both looking at me that way?  What are you doing with knives and forks at this hour?”

“Mommy always told you to be home and in bed by midnight so you wouldn’t see the becoming.  You don’t remember changing because you are human.  Daddy and I become at the witching hour because we are Rakshasa, the cursed ones.  We adopted a human child so as to appear to be a normal family so none would suspect us when handy men and salesmen would disappear from the area.  We lock them in the shed out back until we become and then we consume them, as that is how we survive.  You are in your room, in bed, with the lights out and the door closed, and you never see.  At least, that’s where you are supposed to be.”

‘Mommy and I have always told you to follow one rule and now that you have violated it, you leave us with no choice.  No human can see us in our true form and live to tell.  My dear wife, the encyclopedia salesman is marinating in the shed, so dinner has already been arranged.  The good news is, now we won’t have to go out to get dessert.  Sit down, sweet child of ours, while I get the whipped cream and cherries.”

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Early Retirement - Week 8 of 52round2

Did you ever have one of those days where everything went straight to Hell, and years later, you laughed about the absurdity of it all?  Yeah.  Me neither.  Today is most likely my worst day ever, and I have serious doubts about the years-later thing coming to pass for this one too.

Yesterday morning had begun as had all the others in recent months.  I slept in until 10-ish, got up and showered and shaved, and went out to Bertha’s CafĂ© for brunch, and the best cup of coffee this side of the universe.  I haven’t had a job in almost six months, but I am a stickler for routine.  One never knows when the call to action might come.

I should explain something at this point.  I am what is known as a hitman – a hired gun.  I kill for money.  There’s nothing personal about any of my assignments; in fact, I’ve actually come to like some of my targets as I stalk them before I strike.  But, a job is a job and a commitment is a commitment.  In my profession, your word had better be rock solid or you’ll find yourself on the wrong end of a PSG1’s scope.  For your edification, that’s a top quality German-made rifle.  It’s sleek, accurate, and ammo is easy to acquire, and that’s generally my weapon of choice.  The gap between gigs isn’t an issue for me since financially, I’m in good shape.  I get a million a hit, and I have a profitable investment portfolio.  I live comfortably, but I’m not a big spender.  I plan to retire to some island when I hit 50, or at least, until today, that had been my plan.

I was finishing up my eighth cup of coffee when my cell rang.  It was a friend in the business.  I’m not listed in the Yellows under Man comma Hit, you see, so I depend on colleagues’ word of mouth.  If they’re booked up, they refer.  We all do it, and everybody wins.  He gave me the contact info of a woman who wanted her husband permanently removed from the family photos and money was no object.  As soon as he was six feet under, I would be paid in full.  There would be no delay waiting for an insurance payout; the funds were readily available to her.  Seems there was a fear factor involved though, and being told he had moved on to the nether wasn’t good enough for her.  She wanted a funeral, the cheapest possible, and to watch his coffin covered in dirt before she would feel safe enough to pay whoever erased him out of her life and then join her boy toy in Rio.  Worked for me.

I contacted my new client and got all the intel on her husband that I would need.  It had to be done that night, she insisted, since she found evidence he was planning to trade her in for a newer, and younger, model in the very near future.  Simple enough, this one would be.  No research or around-the-clock surveillance needed.  Their routine was she had supper every Thursday evening with her mother at some retirement joint at the other end of town.  Hubby made his own dinner, watched the early movie, and conked out on the couch by 10.  She’d leave a key and the alarm code under the mat.  Just walk out after, she told me, so it looks like he let his killer in.  Worked for me.

It was an easy-peasy deal.  Since this one would be up close and personal, I decided to use my SIG Sauer P238.  It’s light, easily concealed, and very accurate at close range, and my range this evening would be at its closest.  I parked several blocks away and stuck to the shadows all the way to the front door.  The house was dark and all the outside lights were off.  I unlocked the door and disarmed the security system.  I closed the door behind me without a sound.  I was a shooter for the military in my younger days, so stealth is my middle name.  The missus had provided me with a diagram of the house and her better half was supposedly sound asleep in the den, which was off to my left.  I made my way quickly, but quietly, to the doorway and saw him bundled in a comforter on the couch that was against the wall on the right side of the room.  I took out my .380 and a few steps later, I had it aimed at his head.  Imagine my surprise when I nudged the comforter back and found nothing but a pillow underneath.  Picture my jaw dropping even further when I felt two cold barrels of a shotgun pressed against the back of my neck and a deep voice say “drop it – NOW”.

Fast forward to this morning and here I sit, padlocked in an airtight trailer with the wife of a not-dead-at-all husband.  Apparently, the dizzy dame had gone over the deets of her spouse’s planned demise with me on their house telephone.  If you had guessed that he had set up recording devices on all their lines since he didn’t trust her as far as he could throw her, you would have hit the jackpot.  Before he locked us down tight, I ran the ‘years from now you’ll both probably have a good laugh about all this’ thing by him, but it seems he with without a sense of humor.  If all of that wasn’t bad enough, the lady keeps pacing back and forth while complaining about how this went wrong and blaming me for the situation we now find ourselves in.

The soon to be widower took my cell, but he did let me hang on to my fully loaded .380.  Hope springs eternal in this heart of mine, so I’m going to take as short and shallow breaths as I can.  Who’s to say someone won’t come driving by this field and notice the trailer sitting in the middle of it and get suddenly struck by a pang of curiosity?  Then again, maybe the esteemed man of the house put me in here with his whiny nag of an old lady with the hope that I would take her down for him.  If he comes back to check and I’ve permanently silenced her yapper, you think I perhaps could still come out of all this a winner?  It’s worth a shot – excuse the pun.

Friend, even if I’ve got all this wrong, I’m still going to tag her anyway.  With all her moaning, groaning and gasping, she’s using up half my air.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Growing Old Gratefully - Week 7 of 52round2

The last thing I remember is thinking to myself how much I regretted letting Todd drive us home.  We had all been drinking heavily, like there was no tomorrow, being dead set (excuse the tasteless pun) on one final blowout now that final exams were over.  Jason, Ricky, Todd, and I, friends, housemates, and classmates, had decided to party hearty at Hallorans on Buy-a-Pitcher-of-Beer-and-Get-One-Free night.  This last semester had been the toughest, and following graduation, all with lucrative job offers in hand, we would all be going our separate ways.  Of course, there were the usual ‘let’s keep in touch’, ‘we’ll have lunch once a week’, and ‘we’ll make sure to spend holidays together’, but we all knew we’d never speak to, or see, each other again.  It’s funny how life works that way.  It seemed somehow necessary to have one last night together.  Unfortunately, it turned out to be our last night for real.

I do remember Todd trying to sing along with some incoherent tune on the radio, laughing, and weaving all over the road.  When we first drove onto the bridge, the car started to slide and spin.  We hit the side railing hard, and as the car went through and carried us down to the shallow stream and rocks below, I could hear Jason and Ricky in the back crying, and Todd?  He was still laughing.  And me?  I prayed.  When we landed, I felt pain as I have never felt, then a warm blackness came over me.  Then, nothing.  Until now.

Light is all around me and I open my eyes.  Am I in Heaven, surrounded by angels who will enfold me soothingly in their massive wings?  Hardly.  I’m lying in a king size bed, propped up with three pillows under my head, covered by a multi-colored comforter, in a room that looks remarkably like my parents’ bedroom in the split level I grew up in.  There is an old guy sitting next to the bed reading a book.  I feel no pain, and there isn’t a scratch on me that I can see.  Was the night out and the accident all a dream, or is this some bizarre after-life illusion?

“Well, well, well, young man,” the man said and smiled.  Surely, those elongated incisors I’m seeing are the result of some type of psychological shock I’m experiencing.  “Good to see you coming around.  I was pretty sure I had gotten to you in time, but you never can tell with these things.”

I came to the conclusion that this must be Hell, or at least one of its entrances.  They make it look like you’re resting comfortably in a warm and cozy bedroom, and once you get up to check out the other rooms in the so-called house, that’s when the real heat hits you.

“I’m dead, aren’t I, and this is one of the gates to Hell, isn’t it.”  I wasn’t asking – I was stating facts.

The old man smiled broadly, his fangs now clearly visible.

“Hell?  How can you say a thing like that?  I’ve taken great care furnishing this place so it’s bright and cheerful and comfy, and you’re picking up such negativity?  My goodness, you young people these days, always looking for something dramatic and sinister.  No, son, this is not Hell and you most certainly are not dead - exactly.  I’m very sorry, but I can’t say the same about your three friends.  They had already passed on by the time I reached your vehicle, and you were barely there yourself.  I wasn’t sure if there would be time enough for me to pull you back, but apparently, there was and I’m so glad.  How are you feeling?  You’ve been out for almost two full days.  You really had me scared.”

My friends dead?  Me unconscious for two days?  What kind of nightmare have I found myself trapped in?

“Who are you and where am I?  My friends are…I mean, they didn’t…how did I…”

“Relax, boy.  I will explain everything to you, but you must promise me something.  I want you to remain calm and hear me out.  This is all going to sound very strange to you, but take it all in and reserve judgment.  Please remember that all I was trying to do was to help you.  Once you know the full story, I hope you’re not angry with me because I didn’t mean you any harm.  I just didn’t know what else I could do for you.”

Now, I really am frightened.  Why would I be angry with someone who obviously saved my life?  Oh no.  What if he’s some psychotic serial killer who trolls around accidents for survivors he can kidnap and bring back to his house and then torture?  I’m not tied to the bed, but I do feel weak.  I’ll bet there are bars on all the windows and steel doors front and back so I can’t escape.  If I come at him, he’ll probably use a stun gun on me or an electric rod or some contraption like that.  Or maybe I’m just delirious from the impact and images from all the bloody movies and TV shows I love to watch are flooding into my mind because I’ve got a closed head injury?  Isn’t that one of the symptoms – violent and paranoid thoughts?  Didn’t I see that on a documentary last week?  Take a deep breath, James, and let the old codger explain himself.  There’s plenty of time to have a full-blown panic attack later.

“I give you my word I won’t freak on you until you’re done.  No promises for afterward though.  Please do let me in on what is going on and what happened to my friends and I.”

The old guy looked as if he were taking a deep breath, but then again, he didn’t really seem to be breathing at all.  God, I hope years from now, I’m going to be able to look back on all this and laugh.

“First of all, my name is Norbert,” he began, closing the book he had been reading, laying it down on the nightstand next to the bed, and settling back in his chair.  “The town you are in is called Greenview, and is around 100 or so miles from where your accident occurred.”

“A hundred or so what?”  I was beginning to hit panic mode head on.

“Now, you promised to hear me out, James.  Oh, and by the way, the reason I know your name is from your license in your wallet.  In case you’re wondering, your wallet is on the dresser and everything is intact.  Your license is there, your credit cards, and cash.  I’m no thief, as you will soon understand.  It had fallen out of your pocket when you were thrown from the car, and when I looked inside, I knew it was yours from the picture on the license, of course, so I brought it along so you would have it for whenever you leave.  May I continue?”

I nodded.  I was confused, but less fearful; his ‘whenever you leave’ comment was responsible for that.

“There is no subtle way to tell you about me, or about what occurred, so I’m simply going to spit it out, so to speak.  I am a vampire.  While I never harm anyone, I do need blood now and again to survive, so I pilfer from blood banks.  I never take the rare stuff because I wouldn’t want anyone to die because I took what they needed, so I only take the types that are plentiful in supply.  You’re already looking at me as if I’m an old kook who escaped from the nursing home he was locked up in, but I assure you, you will see that I am telling the truth.  First, though, let me get to your accident and you and your friends.

“I don’t want to raise any suspicions here in town, or draw any attention to myself, since I’m very happy here.  It’s a small town and everybody knows everybody.  They believe I’m some old fella who retired from the corporate world and came here to have a quiet life and work part time to make ends meet.  I have a job, you see.  I take care of the grounds at the local cemetery, and don’t roll your eyes about that either.  While it’s true that I can move about in daylight, I am stronger in the night, and that was the only night job that was available.  I don’t desecrate graves or hide the bodies of my victims under coffins.  All I do is landscaping work.  The grave digging and burials are handled by the funeral home staff.  I couldn’t do that kind of work.  Graves creep me out.”

This is too much, even for me.

“Anyway, I earn enough to get by nicely and my house is all paid for.  When I was turned – became a vamp, I had retired from the corporate world and I had a nice nest egg.  Once I was on my own, I found this town, bought this little house and settled down.  How it happened to me is of no consequence, I remember very little of it, and the one who made me moved on.  None of this is like the movies, you see.  He didn’t stay with me or want me as a companion.  He was young and rebellious, bitter about the fact that someone had turned him, and he did it to me on a dare from the pack he was hanging with.  Some do that, I’ve found.  The ones who are made when they’re young group together like a gang and move from town to town and kill and terrify.  It’s awful, and it gives the rest of us a bad name.

“I’m way off here.  Forgive me.  You want to know about you and your friends.  As I said, I steal from blood banks.  I don’t need blood every day; usually a bit twice a week will keep me going, so I don’t need to take too much.  I never take from here though or towns close by.  I can travel long distances in a very short time, so I usually go to the cities because there’s always more than enough blood to go around.  I was on my way back home, taking my time through that area since it’s very peaceful there, when I noticed a car weaving this way and that and I was worried.  That bridge, with its curves, is tricky enough during the day, but at night?  You were an accident waiting to happen, and sure enough, when I saw the car go through the railing and fall to the rocks, I hurried to see if perhaps there was something I could do.

“I was concerned the car might catch on fire and wanted to make sure no one was inside in case that happened.  But the car just landed on its roof, and the tires kept spinning.  All the glass was broken, but I didn’t see any gas leaking, so I looked closer.  The two in the back seat were obviously already dead.  Shards of glass had gone though both of them, and the driver had gone through the windshield and his face was…”

I wanted to cry, but no tears would come.

“I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t be telling you all this.  I know this won’t be much comfort, but I believe they died on impact and didn’t suffer.  It all happened very quickly.  You had been thrown from the car and were about fifteen to twenty feet away, lying on your back.  Your seatbelt had been torn from the car and you still had part of the shoulder harness on.  You were barely breathing, but I found a pulse and knew I had to try to save you.  There was no way I was going to just walk away and leave you there to die.  I fed you some of my own blood, brought you back here, and hoped for the best.  It seems as though I was successful, I’m happy to say; although, you may not be when you hear the rest.”

“Why wouldn’t I be grateful to you for saving my life?  I can’t believe Jason and Ricky and Todd…all gone.  Where are they?  Did an ambulance take them to a hospital?  I want to be able to attend their funerals.  Were their families notified?  How can I…”

“It’s not quite that simple, son.  I did call the police and tell them I witnessed an accident and gave them the location.  I’m sure it has all been taken care of.  The thing is though, where you’re concerned, that’s going to be a bit tough to explain.  When I made you, it healed all your wounds because that’s how it works.  Now, you’ll stay just as you are for all time, as I will stay as I am for all time.  If your friends experienced such horrific injur…well, how can you not having so much as a scratch be explained?  Too, you were not at the scene when the police arrived.  I’m afraid I’ve made a terrible mess of this whole situation.  I hope you can forgive me for causing you so much trouble.  I just couldn’t turn my back on you and let you die.”

I can accept everything Norbert has been telling me, and oddly, I am beginning to believe this whole vampire thing.  I’ve looked myself over and I don’t have a scratch.  How could that be?  I am in no pain and have no broken bones.  I ran my tongue over my teeth and my incisors are long and sharp like Norbert’s.  Is it possible that I am now a vampire?  One of the living dead?  He did say it’s nothing like the movies.  I wondered what that meant.

“You said it wasn’t like the movies.  What did you mean?”

Norbert smiled.

“The movies always make everything look so colorful.  Forget stakes through the heart.  If someone should stake you, just pull it out.  It won’t do you any harm.  Holy water can make you weaker though and subject to capture.  Those packs of young hooligans like to splash it on and cage you up and then leave town.  That happened to me once when they came through here.  I went almost a week without a drop of blood and I could barely keep my eyes open.  I wouldn’t have withered away to dust or anything, but when some construction workers found me in the abandoned building outside of town, I begged them to take me home.  I said I had medicine there and was able to nourish myself back to health.

“None of them have come through here for quite some time, and hopefully, won’t ever again.  They killed some of my friends and damaged a lot of property.  We’re so far off from the highway, we don’t even get tourists that stop here.  That’s mainly why I chose this town.  The people are nice and there’s no crime and everyone pulls together to help one another.  It’s the perfect place to spend my days.  I’m not sure how long I can stay though since I never get any older.  That’s sure to raise some red flags at some point and I’ll have to move on and find another town.  But it’s only been a few years since I moved here, so I’ve still got plenty of time.  You probably would want to go though.  There’s not a lot of excitement here for a young fella like you.

“Let me give you some advice though, if I may.  Don’t get hooked up with any of those wild ones.  They do nothing but cause pain and destruction wherever they go and they are never welcome anywhere.  Even though they travel together, there’s no loyalty among them.  If one falls by the wayside or gets trapped somewhere, the rest leave him behind.  They don’t care at all about each other.  That’s no way to spend your days, and you’ve got plenty of days ahead of you.  To be honest with you, I don’t know how many I’ve got.  The sun doesn’t hurt me and I haven’t run into anything that really does me any harm.  I’m thinking possibly that one day, I will just cease to be, and that would be alright.  I’m content and have friends and my life is good.  The thought of going on forever kind of upsets me.”

Wow.  This has been a lot to take in.  I’m not sure where to go from here.  It would be difficult to go back to my life because I wouldn’t know how to explain how I came to survive the crash and walk away from it unscathed.  I had an offer to join a brokerage firm in New York City, but there’s no way I could step into that now.  Being around young people would suit me, but I have no desire to join a pack of roving killers.  Vampire or not, I don’t believe I could ever kill anyone, not even if it meant my own survival.  I wonder if I’ll be able to get by with a few sips a couple of times a week like Norbert does.  The blood bank thing sounds like something I could get used to.  Funny, but the thought of drinking blood doesn’t repulse me at all, and that’s a good thing.  What to do now…

“I see confusion in your eyes, son,” Norbert said.  “Take your time.  You’re welcome to stay here until you decide what you want to do.  There’s plenty of room, and we can just tell folks in town that you’re my nephew that recently graduated from college and you came to visit your old uncle.  You’ll like them all, and while there’s no wild clubs or nightlife to speak of, there’s a wonderful library and we get all the movie channels on the television.  There’s festivals here and different town events, and…  I’m getting way ahead of myself.  I’m sure you won’t want to be here that long, but like I said, you’re welcome to stay as long as you’d like.  It’s nice having you here, James.  Make yourself at home.

“Oh, I forgot to mention.  We can eat regular food too.  There’s a wonderful diner downtown and there’s always friends to sit and chat with.  We can eat anything and it all tastes wonderful, but you need to supplement with a few sips of fresh blood here and there.  I’ve got plenty.  I made a run not too long ago, and you’re welcome to share.  Do you feel up to heading to town for a bite?  I can’t believe I just said that.  Forgive me.”

Norbert laughed that warm laugh of his.  Warm?  Believe it or not, it was.

“Norbert, I don’t want you to think that I want to stay because I feel some sort of obligation.  I know you saved my life – you really gave me another, and I thank you for that.  I’m used to the fast pace of cities, forming no attachments so as not to end up tied down, and never wanting to know my neighbor’s name in case they’d end up wanting something from me.  All of a sudden, that kind of existence has lost its appeal for me.  Since it’s alright with you, I’d like to stay.  Maybe I could keep you company when you do your landscaping, or maybe I could even get a job here in town too and help you out with the bills.  You took me in and you gave me a second chance.  I’d very much like to do it right this time around.”

Norbert got up and went to his closet and got me some jeans and a shirt.

“Feel like a burger and fries, James?  We can walk into town and have lunch at Joline’s.  We’ll have a quick drink of some O-positive before we go and it will last you until Friday.  Welcome, son.  Welcome home.”

Friday, February 13, 2015

Sisters - Week 6 of 52round2

With each new day, Louise was becoming increasingly afraid of Sylvia.  Ever since that horrific accident that killed Sylvia’s fiancĂ©, Louise could see her withdrawing ever deeper within herself.  What frightened Louise though, was that the place Sylvia was drawn to inside her own mind seemed a dark, sinister, and dangerous haven.

Growing up had been a happy and secure time for the sisters.  Even though they were identical twins, their parents always treated them like the individuals they were.  There had never been phrases like ‘the girls are ready’, ‘those two are so cute’, or ‘they want ice cream’.  Mother and Father always made sure to refer to them by name.  It would be ‘Louise and Sylvia are playing together’, ‘Sylvia and Louise, dinner is ready’, or ‘Louise and Sylvia would love to attend the party’.  They also made the effort to interchange the names so one would not appear favored over the other.  When both their parents died in an automobile accident, the sisters’ lives were turned upside down.

They were only 7 years old when it happened. Their father had picked up the family car from the shop that morning where an oil change had been done, as well as all new brakes installed.  There had been a squeaking sound on stopping, and always believing it was better to be safe than sorry, their father had arranged for total replacement of the braking system.  No amount of money, he had said, was too much when it came to the safety of his family.

Louise and Sylvia had been left with their next-door neighbor’s daughter, high school sophomore, Jeannette, while their parents went out for dinner and dancing at the Country Club on that fateful Saturday night.  There had been a lot of smiling and waving as their parents drove away; such was the positive dynamic of the family.  Less than an hour later, Jeannette took the telephone call that their car had gone over Winston’s Bluff, and crashed and burned on the rocks below.  The investigation of the accident included an inspection by the State Police reconstructionist, and his conclusion was that the brake lines had been cut.  It was no accident, his report stated.  The couple had been targeted and murdered, and thus began the end of the free and unfettered life the sisters had known.

The family’s attorney assumed control of their father’s estate, which was quite considerable.  The girls had never wanted for anything, but since their parents hadn’t discussed matters of finance with them, they had been unaware of their father’s substantial wealth.  He had provided well for his children, ensuring all was divided equally between the two, to be managed on their behalf until they reached the age of 21.  Once they had attained legal age, all funds and property were to be turned over to Louise and Sylvia to use, and/or dispose of, at their discretion.

All those years between 7 and 21 however, found the young girls confined and monitored twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year by their court-appointed guardians.  Since a dark cloud hung over their parents’ death, no one wanted to risk any attempts on the lives of the twins, so a normal childhood was out of the question.  Louise and Sylvia were sent to boarding school until the age of 18, where they were granted no privileges whatsoever, to be followed by three years of finishing school, to insure they would emerge as well-rounded, sophisticated and cultured adults.  Since, during all those years, nothing in the way of risks to their safety had surfaced, they were permitted to return to their home, and both were awarded unrestricted access to their inheritance.  Their attorney had suggested the house be sold and the profits shared, but the sisters decided to make the house once again their home, and arranged to have it completely upgraded and remodeled in keeping with current trends.  Once drawing up and finalizing their own wills was complete, the attorneys who had maintained their trust heard nothing further from the sisters, nor did any of their professors or schoolmates.  It was as if the two of them had closed and locked their lives against the world.  That is, until Devon knocked on their door.

The sound startled them both since no one ever came to their home to visit.  Purchases were all made by telephone and carriers were instructed to deliver the orders to the back door and then immediately vacate the area.  Accounts were always paid by check on time and in full by mail, so all retailers complied.  Word spread however and rumors abounded, as rumors tend to do, that those old, spinster sisters who lived all alone in that great big house up on the hill were clinically insane, and would certainly capture, cook, and eat any passers-by who happened to intrude upon their solitude.  None of those stories were true, of course, and Louise and Sylvia had heard them when delivery men chatted as they dropped items at the back.  Neither of them sought to try to salvage their reputations however, since townsfolk were not to be trusted.  All knew the women were filthy rich, and intended to remain so; therefore, any attempts at friendship or companionship were viewed as attempts to defraud or swindle.  In the early years after their return, any and all invitations for fraternization were summarily rejected, and it didn’t take long for all in the area to cease and desist.

Devon Fontaine was a transient who survived on his looks and his charm.  In each new town, he would locate and woo the resident recent divorcee or widow, accept all the new clothes, jewelry and cash she would offer, then before she was able to see him for what he really was, he would hit the road.  The possibilities were endless, since Devon found that every small town had a local middle-aged rich woman who was lonely for the company of a young and handsome fellow, and he fit that role to a tee.  When he got off the bus in Fairvale, talk was rampant about the aging wealthy evil twins on the south side of town that were to be avoided like the Black Plague.  Devon filtered out the evil references and chose only to focus on aging, wealthy and twins.  Two for the price of one, he thought.  Brace yourselves, ladies.  Santa Claus had come to town for you both.

Entrancing them both however, was not to be.  He found Louise easily agitated and flighty, which caused him great annoyance.  Sylvia was calmer, on the intellectual side, and more worldly than he had imagined.  He quickly eased his way into her home, her life and her bedroom.  While the sisters remained noticeably vacant from town, the young man, who seemed to have wound his way into their lives, was a frequent visitor.  All the shops knew him on sight and accommodated his every request.  Sylvia had telephoned all the businesses personally and opened accounts for him without limit.  He was to be indulged, she instructed, at any time, and provided with anything he desired.  The locals wondered what spell this young man had cast upon their elusive neighbor, but accepted her money without question or judgment.  Business was, after all, business.  All wondered if perhaps a wedding was in the cards for one of the twins when the gruesome accident occurred.  It was never explained why the young man would venture out onto the roof after dark in a storm, but the result of his fall was quite obvious.  He had been impaled on the wrought iron fence that surrounded the property, several spikes piercing his chest and abdomen.  How he had fallen sideways from such a height defied logic, but the town’s sheriff chose to simply let the dead rest.  Why distress his lady love any further when nothing would be gained.  Accidents happen.  Case closed.

After Devon’s closed casket funeral, Louise noticed Sylvia out and about in the wee hours of the morning.  Sylvia would wander the large property, all the way back into the wooded area, then return shortly before dawn, tramping mud and dead leaves from the front entrance all the way upstairs into her bedroom.  Louis feared the purpose of these nightly journeys since the newspapers delivered to them often reported individuals passing through town as missing.  They would be seen one day and missing the next.  It was confirmed they had not just left the area, since their suitcases and belongings remained in their hotel rooms.  It was as if they had simply got up, walked away and disappeared, never to return.  Days would pass, then weeks, and they were never seen again.

It was happening with such regularity that Louise wondered if perhaps her sister might have something to do with these mysterious goings-on.  Sylvia would make, and receive, telephone calls at odd hours, and always spoke in hushed tones.  Louise ventured out to the garage and found shovels and hoes were covered with the same mud and debris as Sylvia’s footwear.  Louise began to fear for her own safety.  If her sister was responsible for somehow luring these people out to their property, then, for whatever reason, murdering them and disposing of their remains, if Sylvia knew Louise was curious and figured out what she had been doing, what would prevent her from dispatching Louise in the same way.  Louise decided it was time to stop looking the other way and being afraid of her own shadow.  The time had come insure her own survival, no matter the cost.  Today, she would confront her sister and Fate willing, would emerge the victor.

When Sylvia awoke from her nap, she found herself struggling to sit up.  When she lifted her head, she saw that her hands and feet were tied to the headboard and footboard respectively, of her bed.  Standing over her, holding a large knife and glaring coldly at her was her sister Louise--quiet, nervous, easily confused, sister Louise.

“What are you doing, Louise?”  Sylvia tried to keep her voice soft and calm.  Louise‘s hand that was holding the knife was shaking terribly.  “Are you having some problem that I can help you with?  Talk to me, my beloved sister.  Whatever it is, I can help you.”

‘I’ll bet you want to help me,” Sylvia responded.  “You want to help me into a hole six feet under the ground, right?”

“What are you going on about, dear?  You’re not making any sense.  Are you trying to say that I would somehow want to hurt you?  Now, you know that’s not true.  You know in your heart that all I’ve ever done is try to protect you.  You know that, don’t you?”

Louise was confused.

“Protect me?  From what?  From whom?  I know you wander the woods with shovels and hoes and you’re all muddy when you return.  You’re out there killing people and then burying them on our property, aren’t you?  It’s all over the news, Sylvia.  It’s you, isn’t it?  Tell me the truth.  I’m next, aren’t I?”

“Oh my God,” Sylvia said, tears filling her eyes.  “Louise, how can you think such a thing.  You know it isn’t me doing any of those terrible things.  Please.  Focus.  Try to remember, sweet one.  It is you, Louise.  It is you now, and it has always been you.  When it comes to burying them, yes, that is me.  But, I’m only doing that to protect you from the authorities.  You are the one doing the killing.  You must know.  You must remember.”

Louise lowered the knife.  What was Sylvia saying?  Why was she spewing such nonsense?

“Oh, no,” Louise said, fighting back tears of her own.  “You can’t seriously be trying to blame all this on me.  I’ve never…I mean, I wouldn’t…I couldn’t…”

“Louise, Louise, Louise, it all began when you were a child.  Think back.  You were always trying to charm Father to get your way and getting between he and Mother.  When Mother told you to stop behaving so seductively toward your own father, and Father began to pull away, you knew you had to get rid of them both.  We both wanted to watch the man work on the car, don’t you remember?  Father thought we were trying to become independent young ladies and learn how to fend for ourselves if our vehicle broke down, but that was the case only for me.  You wanted to know how to disable the car, make it uncontrollable.  You specifically asked the mechanic about the brakes when Father went for a cigarette.  I heard you.  He told you one had to be careful so as not to sever the brake cables.  If that happened, he told you,, the brakes would not work and the driver would not be able to stop in an emergency.  Surely, you remember.

“Our playmates at school having all those unexplained injuries when they were with you.  You must remember all those so-called accidents.  The headmistress took me aside and asked if you had ever been evaluated psychologically, and I told her never--that there was no reason for such a thing.  There was nothing wrong with you, I told her, but deep down I knew there was.  You were a danger to others even then.  Why do you think I made sure to keep everyone away from here when we returned?  I thought, if I can keep an eye on you, I would be able to prevent anyone else from being hurt.  But you found a way.  You would sneak out of the house and go into town and find various men to bring back here and you would promise them bliss and then kill them.  The only reason I was out in the woods was to bury them so they would never be linked back to you.

“Dear sister, I never wanted the authorities to come and take you away.  You would never survive in prison.  I thought, if I can just cover up whatever you do, perhaps some day, you would realize what you were doing and seek help or just stop.  But now, you are accusing me?  Think, Louise.  Try to remember.  It is you, beloved.  It has always been you.”

Louise’s head began to throb.  She dropped the knife and sank to the floor, sobbing.

“What about all those midnight telephone calls you were making, Sylvia?  All that whispering during the calls that you made and the calls that came in?  Did I imagine those too?”

“Of course, love.  The only telephone calls I ever made were for groceries or other things we needed in the house.  We have never received any telephone calls, Louise,  Who would call us anyway?

“It was me, wasn’t it,” Louise felt dizzy.  “I have been doing terrible things and I have no memory of any of them.  Did I kill Devon too?  Please tell me I didn’t murder the man you loved.”

Sylvia nodded, and motioned for Louise to untie her.

“Yes, you had to get rid of him.  You couldn’t allow anyone else to come into this house and discover your secret.  But, I forgive you, Louise.  It’s not your fault.  It is your illness.  You have no control at times of your actions and I understand.  But we have a decision to make.  Now that you know what you’ve done and the extent of your impairment, how can we move forward?  We cannot continue as we have--you continuing to destroy lives and me continuing to try to salvage ours.  If the courts understood how ill you are, you could avoid prison and they would send you to a hospital where you could be treated and helped and hopefully, someday even be released.  Should we go and see Sheriff Hanlon together, Louise?  I’ll explain everything to him and I’ll get in touch with Mr. Jerrod too.  You remember Mr. Jerrod, don’t you?  He was Father’s attorney, and he would know all about defending you the right way and making sure you were declared incompetent and committed to a hospital.  You want to get well, don’t you, Louise?  Don’t you?”

Louise untied her sister and agreed to accompany her to the police station.  It was best, she thought.  She couldn’t go on being the monster behind the mask.  She had almost killed Sylvia and would have, if Sylvia hadn’t opened her eyes to the truth.

There was no trial.  The attorney, Mr. Jerrod, was wonderful and so understanding.  During the hearing, the judge showed great compassion and told Louise he believed it would be best for all concerned if she was declared legally insane and ordered indefinite commitment to the state hospital.  There, he told her, she would receive the most up-to-date drugs and treatment with the hope of someday exorcising the demons that haunted her psyche.  Sylvia had agreed to show law enforcement where all the bodies were buried and she was not charged as an accomplice.  The judge commended her for never deserting her sister in her time of need and while he did state she should have notified the authorities when she first noticed how disturbed Louise was, he said he understood why she felt she couldn’t betray her.  Louise was taken away in an ambulance and Sylvia returned to the house, ready to start living the life she felt she was entitled to, and that was so long overdue.

She decided to wait a couple of months before requesting control of Louise’s portion of their inheritance.  If Louise died, or had  been murdered, all her money would have gone to those forest people Louise loved.  All of it would have been used to breed more squirrels or some other crap that Sylvia didn’t understand or care for.  Louise had always been such a pushover for nonsensical causes.  Besides, if Louise had died, Sylvia knew she would have been under an umbrella of suspicion for the rest of her life, and living that way was not an acceptable arrangement.  The only way to get everything and walk away free and clear was to have Louise either declared legally incompetent or get her convicted of a felony.  Without any real evidence, Sylvia knew there could be no conviction, but she knew it would be very easy to convince mentally frail Louise that her mind had eroded into something monstrous.

She had to get rid of Mother and Father since she had overheard them one night discussing Sylvia’s unusual behavior.  Children had reported seeing her injure their pets and their parents had informed Sylvia’s parents.  Devon was just collateral damage.  The little bit of cash she’d allowed him to spend was nothing compared to what awaited her now.  He was fun for awhile, but she needed another victim to blame on Louise.  The traveling salesmen she’d lured to the house were gravy--more bodies to pile on her sister.

Soon she would have control of it all and she knew exactly what she would do.  First, she would sell that mausoleum of a house and its contents.  Then, she would take the cash and travel the world.  Maybe she’d find someone like Devon again--young and handsome, and have some fun for awhile.  When she grew tired of him, it would be a simple task to toss him over the side of a cruise ship. She would also agree to review and sign those consents from the State Hospital so they could begin administering shock treatments to Louise.  They felt it best to clear her mind so she could begin her long-term care with a clean slate.  Sylvia agreed.  That definitely was the way to go.

Sisters.  They sure can turn out to be your best friend after all.