Monday, February 22, 2021

ACTION IN THE WOODS by Nelson Abraham Murray

Somewhere near Morgantown, West Virginia

December 13, 1915

 

Ian sat behind the wheel of his Model T pickup, awakening from a brief sleep.  A steady flow of blood ran from his nose, down his forehead, and onto his bowler hat.  Nervously, he observed his surroundings and went over in his head what had happened prior to his rest.  Earlier, while driving to his destination, a black bear had stepped onto the road in front of him, causing the truck to veer off course and turn on its roof.  Naked trees and snow surrounded the vehicle.  He wiped his nose with the back of his hand, reached for the door’s handle, and twisted it.  Before pushing the door open, his hand froze at the sound of crunching snow.  His heart raced as a tear of sweat developed beside his ear.  Nothing could be more compromising than if he were found at that moment.  He knew if the bodies in the truck’s bed were discovered, his short life would be over.

            “Hello?” a scruffy voice called from outside.  Ian silently waited.  The door opened and a hand in a wool glove grabbed hold of the young man’s shoulder and dragged him out onto the snow.

            “You okay, Mister?” the man asked.  Ian looked up at him.  He was a bearded gentleman standing at more than six feet wearing a black trapper hat and a double-breasted red flannel coat.  A double-barreled shotgun slung over his left shoulder and a bandoleer wrapped around his abdomen.  He gently slapped Ian on his chest.  “That’s one hell of an accident.”

            Ian sat up and leaned against the side of his truck.  He looked under the bed and found the three bodies lying in the snow beside each other wrapped in their respective blankets.  If he could get the mountain man to leave him alone, there would not be a problem.  He checked his watch, then looked at his rescuer.  “Thank you, sir, for helping me, but I think I can manage.  Please, leave me be to handle this situation myself.”

            The noise of crunching snow reemerged behind the mountain man and Ian noticed another person appear before them.  This gentleman was thinner with a handlebar moustache too large for his face.  He gripped a Krag bolt-action rifle with his bare hands.  The first mountain man turned around and smiled.  “The truck is fucked, Don, but the driver seems to be okay.  We should probably take ‘im to a hospital.”  They both nodded to each other.

            “That’s okay, I’ll manage.”  Ian raised his hand in protest.  “You two can go now, thank you.”  Slowly, he got himself to his feet.  His legs shook with weakness as he unbuttoned his winter coat and loosened his solid black necktie.  

            “No, no,” the first mountain man responded, shaking his head.  You need medical help.  I can see your nose is probably broken.”  The man proceeded to peer into the truck as if looking for something valuable.  There was the leather satchel with Ian’s payment for disposing the bodies, but the mountain man had not noticed.  He then turned towards the bed.  After getting on his knees, he pulled out one of the wrapped figures and curiously peeled open the layers of sheets.  Ian watched motionlessly as the mountain man gasped at what was inside.  “Holy Jesus!  What the hell is that?”  The big man stood up straight and took a step back.

            Ian remembered his Smith & Wesson .38 special he had kept in a shoulder holster and reached for it, taking aim at the mountain man’s skull.  While on the verge of squeezing the trigger a hard blow hit him on his right cheek bone.  A rush of pain ran through his head as he collapsed onto the snow.

            The other man turned his rifle over so the barrel faced Ian’s direction.  In an instant, Ian lifted his sidearm at the stranger and fired first into his forehead.  The man’s head jerked upward, a squirt of blood flinging from his wound, as his body slumped on its back, making a loud popping sound.  Ian turned his weapon towards the first man, who had his shotgun aimed at his head, and fired another round.  The mountain man dropped to his knees and fell forward.

            A black crow flew over Ian and landed on the rear tire of the Model T as he stood on his feet.  He studied the animal for a moment before looking down at the two dead men he had just murdered.  He contemplated what he had just done but figured he had no choice in the matter.  The bodies in the stolen truck were nothing more than gambling degenerates who did not pay their debts.  If his boss found out about the scuffle, he might be the next victim. 

            The crow took off without warning as Ian holstered his revolver.  A foreboding sensation ran through his body, causing him to slowly turn around and find to his bewilderment the 400 lb black bear standing an arm’s distance away, staring straight at his face.  “Shit!” he said to himself.  The bear growled at Ian and sniffed at his direction.  On impulse, Ian decided to turn around and sprint towards the nearest maple tree.  He grabbed onto a branch, pulled himself up, sat down, and lifted his legs.  The bear chased after him, leaned against the trunk of the tree and clawed away at the bark.  He growled while keeping his eyes on the young man.  Ian took note of the mountain man’s rifle, figuring it would be enough to take down the bear.  His own revolver would not.  He glanced at the rifle and back at the angry bear below.

 

 


Nelson is from upstate Michigan who enjoys writing on his spare time.  He works as an accountant and serves in the United State Marine Corps on the reserves.  Most of his stories revolve around noir, crime and war fiction.

Monday, February 15, 2021

JUST ANOTHER DAY by Anthony Watson

 I awoke to the sound of my phone vibrating on the bedside table accompanied by that godawful ringtone I still haven’t gotten round to changing. A cacophony that dragged me bleary-eyed into yet another morning.

“Hello?” I said, my voice thick and gravelly, a reminder – along with the empty bottle of JD which I’d almost toppled as I’d reached for the phone – of the previous night’s ritual descent into melancholy and self-pity. Same as the night before that, and the night before that. Just like every other day. Just another day.

The voice at the other end was a familiar one, and that familiarity jolted me fully awake. “She’s ready to see you now,” it said. “Can you get here tonight?”

“Of course I can,” I shouted, flustered now, falling out of bed. “Where?” I stumbled across the room to the desk, fumbled around for a pen, trying to listen to the directions I was being given. “Again!” I snapped, pen now found and grasped. “Tell me again so I can write it down!”

He did and hung up.

The phone clunked against the desk when I dropped it. I was shaking and leant forward to reach out and steady myself against the desk, staring out of the window, willing my heart to slow down. A blanket of fog had hidden the usual view of Roosevelt Island and the East River; only the protruding tips of the 57th Street Bridge’s girders were visible. It was an awesome sight, one that would normally have inspired me, or at the very least reassure me that the huge amount of money I pay to live here is worth it. But not right then.

I picked up the phone again and called my driver. He answered on the second ring. “JFK,” I said in response to his question.

 

My rude awakening caught up with me on the flight and I drifted into fitful sleep. When I woke up and glanced out the window I could see nothing but water beneath the plane and I had a momentary panic that I’d gotten on the wrong plane and was now somewhere over the Atlantic.  Then I realised it wasn’t ocean beneath me but Lake Pontchartrain that we were flying over and I relaxed, chiding myself for my paranoia. The water soon gave way to land; lush greenery through which sun-reflecting snakes of water squirmed before giving way itself to concrete and asphalt.

New York might be where I lived but, as the plane began its descent into Louis Armstrong Airport, I knew I was coming home.

 

The heat hit me as I left the terminal to find the rental; close and humid, a stark contrast to the chill of the Manhattan air I’d left behind that morning. With the air-con on full, I began the drive to the Garden District, back to the house.

The traffic was light as I made my way along Airline Drive, heading for the city centre and I reached the house in good time. My heart quickened again as I approached the driveway; so many memories and now so much anticipation. Turning off the engine, I glanced at my watch. Three or four hours to kill before the meeting. Out of the car, I pulled the keyring from my pocket, and opened the door.

 

It was a mile or so to the address I’d been given that morning but I walked rather than drove, absorbing the atmosphere – both real and faked – of the city as I went. The heat had lost none of its intensity and sweat made my shirt cling to me as I reached the house where my future – our future – would be decided.

I knocked. Twice.

The door opened and a tall man stared out at me. He didn’t speak, merely nodded and stood aside to let me in. The door closed behind me. I barely heard it above the sound of my heartbeat. Fresh sweat dimpled my brow but had nothing to do with humidity.

“You brought it?” The man asked, his voice a deep, resonating bass.

I pulled the envelope from my pocket and handed it to him. “It’s all there,” I said. He placed the envelope in his pocket and nodded once more, both as acknowledgement and to indicate a door at the end of the corridor. “Your wife is in there,” he said, “I wish you good luck.”

I felt momentarily faint. This was it, the moment of truth. They say money can’t buy you love. That may be true, but it can buy expertise and the knowledge and skills of the right people. If you can afford it, you can have it - that’s how the world works. An apartment in the Upper East Side is nice but it’s not what I want. What I wanted – who I wanted – was on the other side of that door.

I took a step forward, then another. You can’t come home – that’s something else they say. Well, fuck that, I was home, ready to make things good again, like they were before they all went to shit.

I reached for the door handle and turned it. I pushed the door open and could see her sitting in a chair, silhouetted against the window. She didn’t look up, her head remained dipped forward. This, I guessed, was going to be difficult for her too.

I stepped inside and, as I did, images from the hospital room flooded my mind. Holding her hand as the flatlines scrolled across the monitors, the warning beeps drowned out by my cries of anguish…

“Just another day!” I’d cried, my grief making demands of fate.

You get what you pay for, and I’d paid a lot. Just another day, just one, could never be enough.

I closed the door behind me and stepped into the room.

Slowly, she raised her head to look at me.

 

 

Anthony Watson has placed short stories, novellas and novels with a number of small presses. He was co-founder of Dark Minds Press and worked as editor there for ten years before leaving to concentrate on writing. He writes supernatural horror with most of his stories set in historical timeframes.

Following the publication of Witnesses in 2017, his second novel The Fallen was published in October 2020 by Demain Publishing.

As well as writing, he posts occasional book reviews at his Dark

Musings blog which can be found at https://anthony-watson.blogspot.com/