Thursday, April 25, 2019

#055: TRAPPED AND WOUNDED




THIS IS WHAT HE’D trained for. The Academy. His time spent as a rookie riding shotgun with a seasoned Trooper. He should be ready. And yet, as Tracey’s scream hit his ears, Adam found himself rooted to the spot.

It didn’t take but a half a second for chaos to take hold and infect everyone within the small building. That one scream and soon everyone was shouting, praying, cursing, crying, or in the case of the old woman in the cardigan, all four.

The noise woke the little girl and soon she added her voice to the others.

“The keys!” someone shouted.

Adam could only stand and stare as, out in the lot, the man who had only stopped for gas was pulled to the ground by one of the people who had come out of the night from across the highway. Despite the badge on his chest, the pistol at his side, and the oath he'd made to serve and protect, Adam did nothing as the man disappeared behind the car where, thankfully, he wasn’t able to see the rest.

The others were there behind them, shambling along to join their companion out there on the other side of the car. As he watched them, he became aware of tears rolling uncontrollably down his cheeks, and one word grew in his brain. A word he didn’t want to think about. It was a crazy word. Unreal. It just wasn’t possible. Yet he couldn’t help but notice the similarity to the perps outside and the creatures on his favorite survival horror TV show.

He needed to do something, it was his job. He held something clutched in his right fist, a few somethings actually. He couldn’t quite remember what they were but they began to dig into the palm of his hand, biting. The pain jolted him for a moment and he took in his surroundings.

Remember your training, he thought. Assess the situation.

The old couple were kneeling, each trying to comfort the little girl while trying to do the same for each other. Luke and Dan were like statues. By the looks on their faces, he figured that the very same word that had taken up residence in his head had also kicked down the door into theirs.

But that was ridiculous. Sure, those creatures were plentiful in fiction, he couldn’t browse an on-line bookshelf or skim through his streaming account without stumbling across them. But that was fiction. This was the real world.

He shook his head. He had to stop with that. He had a job to do. He turned his attention back to the lot. Even more of them shuffled in from the highway, stepping out of the darkness like slow moving wraiths. Each of them dressed in their Sunday best. What was once four became seven, twelve, twenty. More and more continued to emerge from the darkness.

“The keys!” The shout again.

It was the man in the fedora. Norman. He was staring at Adam with determination.

The keys? Something clutched in his right fist? Biting into his skin. A man in the lot dying. Adam looked down at his hand, opening it to reveal a set of keys. All sound rushed back into the world and everything became clear. He rushed forward toward the door, but the man the fedora, Norman, barred his way.

“The keys,” Norman said.

“He’s dying!” Adam shouted, struggling against the other man. “I have to help him!”

“It’s too late,” Norman said. “It’s over, he’s done! We need to lock this door!”

“Someone has to help that dude,” Luke said, stepping forward.

“What are they doing to him?” the woman asked. The couple were standing once again, the little girl in the old man’s arms. She sobbed, her face buried in the man’s chest.

“Look,” Norman said. “I know that we are all strangers here. But I’m gonna need everyone to trust me if anyone else is gonna survive this night. We need to lock this door. Now.”

No one moved.

“Look at them,” Norman continued, gesturing emphatically outside. “Look at how they move. They ain’t human. Not anymore.”

They all turned as one to look out at the people in the lot.

Adam wanted to laugh, but Norman was right. They weren’t human. The way they moved, all slow and jerky, like robots that didn’t quite work the way they should.

“They’re coming this way,” said the old man. The girl in his arms continued to sob.

“Is there an office in the back?” Norman asked.

“Yeah,” Tracey said. “It’s uh, it’s in the back.” Once again, Adam almost laughed.

“Sir,” Norman said, talking to the old man. “You need to get your little girl back there. She doesn’t need to see any of this.”

“Uh, sure,” the old man said. “Of course. Connie?”

The woman looked at him and smiled.

“Right behind you, Stewart.”

The old couple made their way into the back as the rest of them watched the crowd of strangers descend upon the Gas and Stuff. Adam couldn’t keep his eyes off them. He couldn’t shake the feeling that none of this was real. It was all too familiar to him, like he was living through a movie.

“Alright now,” Norman said, shaking Adam back to reality. “We need to lock this door before they get it. That happens and it’s gonna to be a slaughter house in here.”

The perps—he couldn’t bring himself to use their true name, not even in his head—had finished with the man in the convertible and were now shambling toward the building.

“Okay,” Adam said, his eyes growing wide. “You might be right.”

Adam stepped to the door, keys in hand. He hesitated. There were over a dozen on the ring, and they all looked the same. He tried one, it fit into the lock, but he couldn’t make it turn. He moved on to the second with the same results.

“Which one?” He said, looking back at Tracey.

But she didn’t answer. Her face was a mask of fear and confusion as she stood transfixed, her eyes glued to the lot.

Adam moved down the ring, each key coming up wrong.

“Hurry!” Dan shouted. “What are you doing!?”

“Can’t find the right key!” Adam shouted back. He glanced out the door.

They were closer now. Nearly ten yards away, close enough that there was no mistaking what they were. He’d been hoping that he was wrong, but now there was no question. While they looked like people, they also looked… dead. Walking corpses. Less flesh, more of what was underneath. Their skeletal faces devoid of any thought.

“Zombies,” he said.

“Not quite,” Norman said. “Snap out of it, trooper. We need this door locked.”

Adam flashed him an apologetic look and went back to trying keys. “Too many,” he said.

“Here they come,” Norman said. Then he turned to Luke and Dan. “You two, we need to buy the trooper some time. Help me with these doors.

Luke and Dan rushed forward, hitting the doors like an offensive line in a football game. Adam wanted to call out, wanted to stop them, but they’d moved too fast.

Maybe the two, Luke and Dan, had forgotten that the two entrance doors to the Gas and Stuff opened both ways. More than likely in their heightened state of panic, it hadn’t even dawned on them. Regardless, when they hit the doors, they swung open in the other direction, out into the oncoming wave of the undead.

If that hadn’t been enough, Adam had just been attempting to use another key and the jolt had caused him to drop them. Then, in the shuffle, someone had managed to kick the keys out onto the sidewalk.

“The keys!” Adam shouted.

He was about to step out and grab up the keys, but it was too late. The living dead were on them. They moaned and sighed, biting at the air with clacking teeth as they pushed against the doors, wanting in, wanting to feed. Luke, Dan, and Norman managed to brace the doors, keep them from opening inward. But it wouldn’t be much longer, not without those keys.

“Push it open.” Adam shouted, rolling up his sleeve.

“Are you crazy!?” Dan called back.

“We need those keys,” Adam said. “Push the door open, just a bit.” Then he dropped to his belly as the three men pushed back against the oncoming tide.

The door moved, just a little at first.

“More!” Adam said. He couldn’t get his hand through, much less his arm.

The three men groaned with one big push and the gap widened.

“That’s it!” Adam said. “Hold it there!”

“Be careful!” Tracey called from the counter.

Adam stretched his arm out through the gap, grasping for the fallen keys. They were too far. He strained, pushing himself further. His probing fingers brushed along the key ring, pushing them away.

“They want through, man,” Luke said, the sound of strain clearly evident in his voice. “Hurry your ass!”

“Shut up,” Adam said, stretching out even more.

“Don’t stop,” Norman called out. “If we can’t keep this door open your friend there loses an arm.”

Adam’s fingers, once again, found the keys. He clawed at them, extending his arm to the limit, spitting with the effort until he was finally able to snag the ring with a finger and pull them into his palm.

“I got ‘em!” Adam shouted.

That’s when it happened. One of the undead had noticed Adam there on the ground, the flesh of his arm exposed. It bent, crouched, and then fell. As Adam snatched up the keys, the thing reached out with both decayed hands and took hold of Adam’s arm.

Adam’s reaction was the typical response to such a change in circumstances. He yanked his arm back. Or at least he tried.

Despite their feeble, withered appearance, Adam’s arm was held fast, the creature’s grip like a vice.

“It’s got me!” Adam’s celebration quickly changing to horror. “It’s got me!”

Norman was there at once. He wrapped his arms around Adam’s torso and pulled. Adam felt his arm slip, but it wasn’t enough. The thing pulled itself through a forest of tattered legs, ever closer to Adam’s exposed flesh, its teeth biting in anticipation.

“No!” Adam continued to shout. “Help me! Oh, God help me!”

The creature’s mouth clamped down on Adam’s exposed flesh and he felt his own blood, hot and yet chilling, gush from his arm as he screamed.






Are you caught up on Volume One? Wouldn't it be cool if you could own the first volume, all 47 parts, on eBook, paperback, or both?

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Thursday, April 18, 2019

#054: THE WATCHER




IN HER TWO YEARS working overnights at the Gas and Stuff, Tracey had often had the same nightmare. Except, since she worked nights, she’d have it in the daytime. Which, for some reason, had always made it feel more real.

In her nightmare, she would be at work, behind the counter, and alone. Time would stand still and she would feel the unnerving suspicion that she was being watched. Outside the dream, in the real world, when she was alone in the store, she would sometimes recall the nightmare and the notion would come to her that whomever had been watching her must have been out there in the dark on the other wide of the highway. The front of the store was all glass, after all. She was fairly certain that if she was standing out there in the dark, anyone behind the counter would be lit up like a Broadway premier.

The restroom door banged open and she nearly jumped from her seat.

“Sorry about that.” The man stood just outside the doorway, one hand holding open the restroom door. “Guess I don’t know my own strength.”

It was her sixth customer, and seeing him shook all thoughts of being watched from her head.

“It’s okay,” she said with a smile. “The door does it all the time.”

“Appreciate it, ma’am,” the man said, and tipped his hat to her like some sort of cowboy. He talked like a cowboy as well, though he sure didn’t dress like one. Not at all. In fact, he looked more like someone out of an old gangster flick, what with the suit, the trench coat, and the fedora.

She watched the man in the fedora out of the corner of her eye as he made his way back to the dairy cooler. The electronic bell over the front door chimed, however, and drew her eyes forward once again to greet the new customer. She opened her mouth and then closed it just as fast as soon as she saw that her new customer was Adam Vance.

She sighed inwardly.

Adam was in his late twenties with a sad, wispy little mustache that struggled with all its might to grow on his upper lip. He was thin, almost too thin, and walked in a rubbery sort of way. She was often surprised that his gun belt didn’t fall down around his ankles. The first time he had walked into the Gas and Stuff over a year ago, her first thought had been of Barney Fife from that old black and white TV show.

“Place is hopping,” Adam said as he approached the counter. He smiled and chewed on a toothpick.

“Tends to happen now and again,” she said, staring out at the lot through the front glass.

Tracey was just twenty-three, and though she liked having Adam around, if only to steer the bad element away, she was not at all interested in dating him. He was attractive enough, in a nerdy sort of way, but she just couldn’t see herself with a man with a mustache. Even if his breath had smelled of freshly laundered linen, she’d still say no. But then, he’d never asked. He just liked to hang out and look at her.

“That guy come back in tonight?” he asked as he leaned on an elbow on the counter.

“What guy?”

“The guy that asked you out last night,” Adam smiled. “Didn’t you say he was wearing a cape?”

She laughed. Adam wasn’t such a bad guy. Not really.

“He said it was a cloak, but it had sure looked like a cape to me.”

“I bet you broke his heart when you turned him down.” Adam said.

“Too bad,” she said. “Tracey’s Rules of Dating Number One says that I will never go out with a total stranger, regardless of how attractive he is.”

“So he was attractive,” Adam said. “You didn’t mention that last night.” He was all smiles.

“I didn’t mention it because it didn’t matter,” she said.

“But he was attractive?” Adam said, cocking an eyebrow.

“Yes he was,” Tracey said. “But he was also wearing a cape. That never bodes well.”

Adam laughed at that.

“No,” he said. “I supposed it doesn’t.”

Tracey leaned forward.

“You might want to talk to Luke and Dan before they leave,” she said in a quiet voice. “They seem a bit drunk.”

Adam directed his gaze at the pair and watched them for a few moments.

“Yeah,” he said. “Good idea. I’ll wait for them to get behind the wheel, then I’ll box ‘em in.” He smiled again, like he was some kind of super cop.

She returned the smile and turned her gaze once again out of the front glass. A small red convertible shot into the lot, its headlights blinding her momentarily. But as the convertible pulled in at one of the furthest set of pumps, as the white haze faded from her eyes, she saw him.

The figure she had thought she’d seen standing off in the trees just minutes ago was now in the lot. He was still a ways out, but she could see that it was a man, and he crept along toward the Gas and Stuff as if he’d closed down every bar in a twenty mile radius.

“Uh-oh,” Tracey said. “You might have another issue to deal with first.” She nodded outside and Adam turned.

“Good Lord,” he said. “What’s wrong with him?”

There was something off about the guy, and it was more than his slow drunk walk. She couldn’t quite put a finger on it, though. It was something about his clothes, his build. But before she could give it much more thought, a women stumbled out of the dark a few paces behind.

“There some kind of creep convention?” Adam said, then barked a laugh.

“What’s going on out there?” It was the old man. He still held the little girl, who had fallen asleep in his arms.

“Are those two okay?” the woman with him asked. “Was there some kind of accident?”

That’s when it hit her. What she couldn’t see before but couldn’t help but see now. The two shambling figures moved as if they had been injured, as if they had just crawled from a downed plane and were looking for help. As that thought wound through her brain, a third figure emerged from the dark, then a fourth.

The man at the pumps had his back to the four strangers and had no idea what was coming up behind him. Tracey felt that she ought to warn him, but didn’t know why, didn’t quite understand what the threat was, and yet knew one when she saw it. She picked up the microphone next to the register and pushed the button at its base.

“Sir?” she said with little energy, the sound escaping her lips in a quiet rasp. She cleared her throat and tried again, this time with a bit more strength.

All she got back was the sound of the man’s car stereo blasting away at an intolerable volume.

“Sir,” she said with more force. But it was no good. He couldn’t hear her. “Adam, you need to go out there.”

“What?” Adam laughed again, but this time it had sounded forced. “Just a few people crossing the highway. They haven’t done anything.”

By now Luke and Dan had joined them, watching the people outside along with the rest of them. They weren’t laughing now.

“Someone has to go warn that guy,” Luke said.

“Warn him?” Adam forced another laugh. “About what? Customers sharing the lot with him? Watch out, buddy, other people are walking around out there.” He laughed again, but it sounded even less genuine than the last.

The man in the fedora had moved to the front of the store and stood at the front window, looking out at the strange people who had wandered in from across the highway.

The first of the strangers on the lot had nearly reached the man at the convertible. She could see him better now. He was even thinner than Adam, almost wasted away. She could seek the dark hollows on his face where his cheeks were sunken in. In fact, in the light, she would swear that the guy had pieces missing from his face. And his clothes. They were like something you would wear to church, but they were in tatters. The woman behind him was in the same condition.

“You got the keys to this door?” the man in the fedora asked without looking back at her. He had a drawl to his voice, like one of them good ole boys.

“What?”

“Do you have the keys to this door?” he asked again, this time turning to look her in the eye.

“Y-yes,” she couldn’t quite speak. What was going on? “They’re right here.” She held them up.

“Bring ‘em to me,” the man said.

“What? I can’t just—”

“Look, Tracey. It’s Tracey, right?”

She nodded.

“Tracey, I’m Norman. I need all y’all to trust me right now. Everyone in this store is in grave danger. Please, I need you to bring me those keys.”

She looked to Adam who looked from her to the man in the fedora. “Give them to me,” Adam said, holding out his hand.

She handed the keys to Adam and he walked them over to the man by the door.

“Okay, good,” Norman said. “I’m going out there. When I do, I want you to lock these doors behind me. Then I want you to lock the back door. Is there any other way into this building?”

She couldn’t take her eyes off of the people in the lot. The Strangers, that’s how she thought of them. They were nearly on the man at the convertible.

“Tracey!?” Norman shouted. “Is there any other way into this building!?”

She shook her head.

“Alright, then,” Norman said. He turned to Adam. “Lock this behind me. And no matter what you see out there, you do not, I repeat, do not open this door for anyone else other than me. Got it?”

“Look, what the hell is going on?” Adam asked.

“You gotta protect these people while I’m gone, okay?” Norman said, ignoring the question. “I shouldn’t be long, but things are about to get really bad really quick—”

Tracey had stopped listening. Instead, she watched as the lead Stranger stumbled up the man at the pump and sank his teeth into the man’s neck.

Everything went white, and all Tracey could hear after that was the sound of her own screaming.






Are you caught up on Volume One? Wouldn't it be cool if you could own the first volume, all 47 parts, on eBook, paperback, or both?

Good news, Awesome Reader, you can purchase The Adventures of Norman Oklahoma Volume One now.

JUST CLICK HERE or click the cover below.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

#053: THE GAS AND STUFF




THE AIR WAS THICK with the scent of coffee and hot dogs.

The coffee smelled as if it had been brewed in Heaven from God’s personal pot. The hot dogs on the other hand, not so much. The two scents combined to make for something unique that only those who worked in gas stations could fully appreciate. Some find the mixture a stench that they simply can’t live with and are quick to find work elsewhere. Others find an odd comfort in the aroma. Tracey Fisher, the overnight clerk at the Gas and Stuff could take it or leave it. For her, the worst smell in the store has always been Adam Vance’s breath.

The Gas and Stuff was located on the north side of Highway 24 between Perry and Topeka, Kansas. It was, not to put too fine a point on it, in the middle of nowhere. There was the town of Grantville to the south over on the other side of the highway, but to call Grantville a town would be like calling a flea an elephant.

Besides, Grantville was far enough to the southwest that no one would hear her scream were the occasion to call for it. So really, when all the cards were lain upon the table, she would be all alone out in the sticks were it not for Adam Vance, his eye-watering breath, and the occasional customer.

Tracey had the misfortune to work the overnight shift. Not the safest of jobs in the world. Not when you take into consideration the store’s remote location and its direct access to a highway that is none to widely traveled. It was as if the place was just begging to be robbed. Which was why Tracey chose to put up with the stench that rolled from Adam’s mouth whenever he spoke to her. His presence made her feel safe. It helped, of course, that he was a cop. A Deputy Sheriff for Jefferson County.

Like Tracey, Adam worked the overnight shift. Apart from the occasional patrol, or order from dispatch to respond to a call, he liked to spend most of his time at the Gas and Stuff, talking to Tracey. Just having his patrol car sitting in the lot was enough to scare away any middle of the night would-be-miscreant out looking for an opportunity to score some quick cash.

At the moment, Adam sat out in his patrol car, which he did now and again to work on his paperwork. These were times that, normally, Tracey would relish, for it meant that she could be allowed some time alone with nothing but a good book, the music from the local Classic Rock station, and her thoughts. After all, at nearly Three in the morning, The Gas and Stuff was typically dead.

Tonight, however, had been proving to be anything but typical. While the store had been empty for the last two hours, it had suddenly become a hive of activity as no less than five customers roamed the short aisles looking for snacks or something to drink. And that didn’t include the guy out at the pumps fueling up an old motorcycle, or the guy in the bathroom.

Tracey, in the midst of such chaos, had been trying her best to get in some reading. She’d picked up the new Alex Grecian book on the way in and was hoping to get most of it finished before the morning. She knew, deep down, in the logical part of her brain, that with so many customers in the store, attempting to read, and actually enjoy it, was nothing less than futile. Despite that, she’d soldiered on.

“Excuse me.” It was one of the five. “Where is your gum?”

The man was balding and wore a tan cardigan and round glasses. He reminded her a bit of her grandpa.

“I still have some driving ahead of me tonight,” he continued. “And though I can’t explain it, chewing gum helps to keep me awake and alert.” He smiled and scratched absently at the bald patch atop his head.

“It’s just here,” Tracey said, gesturing to the shelves to the right of her, beneath the counter.

“Thank you, young lady,” the man said, then turned and called out to a woman back by the coolers. “Over here, Connie. I found the gum.”

A woman joined him, her hair short with streaks of silver. She too wore a cardigan. With her was a little girl, maybe six or seven.

“Can I have gum too?” the girl asked before a yawn split her face.

Tracey didn’t hear the answer. She was looking out the front of the store, which was mostly glass. She didn’t like the customers much. Not just these, but any customers. She was always polite, always helpful, all with the perfect smile. But it was all an act. She simply didn’t get people. Just last night this guy had come into the store and asked her out for breakfast when her shift was over. She’d never met the guy before in her life, and he expected her to go spend social time with him. It made no sense.

So, rather than be sucked into a social moment with a chatty customer, Tracey liked to gaze outside, lose herself in the headlights that sped by now and again. If given the choice, she’d rather work somewhere that she didn’t have to interact with other people. But life doesn’t always give you the options you want. So, she always tried to make the best from what life dealt her.

Laughter split the air, pulling Tracey from her trance. It had come from the soda fountain in the back. Luke and Dan. They were regulars.

Luke and Dan lived together over in Grantville. Most nights they would come by on their way home from hitting the clubs in Topeka. They were both college age and were both, on the outside, so different from each other that they should be staring in their own sitcom.

Luke, for example, clung to the hipster look like a drowning man to driftwood. He had a full beard which he kept meticulously groomed, and typically wore a stocking cap, regardless of how warm it might be outside.

Dan, on the other hand, dressed like he woke up every morning in the Salvation Army. His clothes always looked second hand, his hair was unkempt, yet clean, and his face habitually looked to be in need of a shave. Which, once she really thought about it, was also somewhat hipster-like, depending on the decade.

To go even further, Luke was thin as a whip and moved with a natural grace. Dan, despite his slacker attire, was built like an all-star linebacker. He stood over six feet tall and looked as if he’d spent most of his life in the gym. While he was no greased up body builder, the guy had a set of muscles on him that, combined with his height and broad shoulders, would make most people turn around were they to come upon him down the other end of a dark alley.

Tonight, they both stood back by the soda fountain, giggling loudly, and lurching about a bit unsteadily on their feet.

She tried to ignore them and go back to her night gazing when the little girl, now standing with the cardigan couple at the gum, screamed.

“It’s only a moth,” the man said, lifting her from the ground and holding her close. “Nothing to worry about.”

The girl, however, didn’t look convinced. Instead she burrowed into the man, eyes full of tears.

“Sorry about that,” the man said. He looked a little embarrassed. “She’s tired.”

“No worries,” Tracey replied.

Luke and Dan laughed again over at the soda fountain. Their laughter rubbed her the wrong way for some reason. Were they laughing at her? They were probably drunk. She’d have to let Adam know before the two left.

The man at the pumps had finished up and was soon roaring off east, the sound of the motorcycle carrying far in the nothingness. As she watched him go, Tracey found her eyes pause on something across the four lane highway.

For a moment there, as the motorcycle swung out onto the blacktop, the light from the bike’s one headlight had swept past the field and small clump of trees over on the other side of the highway. And in that light, she could have sworn she saw someone standing out there, maybe ten yards from the asphalt back by the trees. If that was true, if she had actually spied someone out there, they were now standing alone out in the dark, watching her.






Are you caught up on Volume One? Wouldn't it be cool if you could own the first volume, all 47 parts, on eBook, paperback, or both?

Good news, Awesome Reader, you can purchase The Adventures of Norman Oklahoma Volume One now.

JUST CLICK HERE or click the cover below.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

#052: FAIRY RAGE




THE FAIRIES WERE ON Jake like bees on a honey comb. He screamed and writhed as they covered him, stabbing with their tiny swords.

I pulled both pistols and flipped them. I held them by the barrels and, using them as clubs, beat the winged creatures from off the boy. Or at least I tried. For every one I beat back, two more would take their place. Despite their resilience, however, they seemed to take issue with the way I was treating their kin, because soon I too was surrounded.

It was like being inside a tornado made of razor blades, and nothing I did had any effect. I swung the pistols feeling more than a little satisfaction each time they connected with one of the small figures. But in the end it didn’t matter what I did. The swarm was just too much. I kicked and clubbed and cursed, all to the sound of Tumbling Tumbleweeds.

But then, as suddenly as it had begun, the song stopped, cut short as it was replaying for the second time. And with that, Jake and I were alone.

The abrupt silence, not to sound like a cliché, was deafening. To go from the roaring buzz of a few hundred enraged fairies, the warbling howls of old cowboys, and the high pitched screams of a terrified child, to nothing but the faint hum of the cars out on the highway off in the distance could just plain rattle most folks.

I ain’t most folks.

I holstered the pistols and bent to check on Jake who had gone silent. He was alive, and though the coat I’d thrown over him was in tatters, the boy himself was unscathed.

“They’re gone,” I said, placing a comforting hand on his back.

“Gone?” His voice held on to a slight tremor, though I could see that he was trying to act tough.

“Nary a fairy in sight,” I said, which caused him to giggle a bit.

I helped him to his feet before holding up my coat, hoping it would be salvageable.

“Sorry about your coat,” Jake said.

“I got another in my car,” I said, looking it over. There was no saving it so I threw it over a shoulder. “I tend to go through coats a lot in my line of work.”

“Fighting monsters?” He looked up at me expectantly, fear in his eyes.

“Not just fighting,” I said. “I win.”

“Every time?”

“You see me standing here, don’tcha?” I smiled.

And with that, the fear left his eyes.

A tiny throat cleared behind me and I spun, guns in hand, hammers thumbed back. It was Nona.

The fairy floated just inches away, her wings a blur and her face pointed at the ground in seeming humility. She looked for all the world like the poster child for guilty children everywhere.

“Sorry,” she said.

“You tried to kill us, Nona,” I said. “And you think an apology is gonna make it all better?”

“That wasn’t me,” she said, and in an instant her guilt fled to be replaced by a deep petulance. She looked up and her eyes caught mine. “That was Lance. He wanted you for himself.”

“You want to try explaining that to me?”

“Well.” The guilt crept back into her face along with a genuine blush. “I just wanted to have some fun, you know. I thought we could get you out here and watch you shoot some stuff, that’s all.”

“So you kidnapped young Jake here,” I said.

“I knew that would get you running,” she said. “Nothing like taking a human child that will get Norman Oklahoma after you.” She smiled.

I frowned.

“That’s a dangerous game to play, Nona,” I said.

“Whatever,” she said, back once again with the petulance. “You can’t hurt us. How many times do I have to keep saying that? And you?” She laughed, “Well, you’re almost as indestructible as we are.”

“Wasn’t talking ‘bout us, Nona.”

She looked from me to Jake, and the blush rose back into her cheeks.

“Yeah,” she said. “Sorry.”

She kicked at the air like a nervous teenager kicking a rock on the ground.

“I mean, he wasn’t in any real danger.” She flew down to look Jake in the eye. “You weren’t in any real danger.”

The boy flinched. It was slight, barely noticeable, but she noticed, and I could see that it made her uncomfortable. She tried to hide it with another laugh as she flew back and did a few loops in the air.

“What about Lance?” I said.

She paused, hovering before me once more and sighed.

“Lance isn’t—” she broke off suddenly, looking this way and that, fear showing on her face like a billboard on the side of the highway. “He’s not like the rest of us,” she said. “He’s got,” she paused and looked around her once more. “Ideas,” she finished.

“Ideas?” I said.

“He wants to punish the elders for sending us here by not going back. He’s always saying how we could be the elders here and he thought you were a good first step.”

“Did he now?”

“He figured if he could control you, well, he wanted you to kill for him.”

I didn’t like the sound of that, not one bit.

“Kill who?” I said.

“Our enemies,” she said, her voice low and soft.

“And who are your enemies?” I said.

Her face contorted and she grimaced.

“I can’t talk about it. I shouldn’t even be talking to you,” she said. Then, flying back so that I wouldn't be able to reach out and grab her, she screamed: “You’re going to get me in trouble!” Then she was gone, her orange light streaking off into the distance like a bullet and then vanishing.

I looked down at the boy. He looked up at me.

“Well, I guess we should get you home,” I said. “You’re parents are gonna be happy to see you.”

“You think they’re worried?” Jake said, looking guilty.

“Of course they’re worried,” I said. “They’re your parents. It’s what they do.”

“Are they mad at me?”

“Now why in the world would they be mad at you?” I said and smiled.

“I don’t know,” Jake said. “I left the yard. I’m not supposed to do that.”

“That ain’t your fault. You know it, I know it, and they know it.”

“Yeah?” Jake said. He didn’t look convinced.

“Look,” I said, taking a knee to look him in the eyes. “None of this was your fault.”

“But, I wanted to go with them,” Jake said, tears falling from his eyes.

“That wasn’t you, Jake,” I said. “Them fairies, they had you under their spell. I know it felt like you wanted to go with them, but that’s only because of their magic.”

“They were controlling me with magic?”

“Yes they were.”

He wiped at his eyes with his sleeve.

“Okay, I’m ready,” he said.

It took us nearly twenty minutes of walking to get back to my Scout, then another ten minutes of driving to get Jack back to his parents in Grantville. It offered me some time to think on what Nona had said. It didn’t make a lot of sense, but it had me worried. Yet, there was nothing more I’d be able to do with it, so I let it go as we entered the home of Beth and Peter Finn.

They were, of course, over the moon at having their son home safe. It’s moments like that that make what I do worth it.

I mean, sure, I get a certain sense of satisfaction each time I take out a monster intent on killing folk, and I was more than a bit annoyed that there was nothing I could do to stop Lance or Nona from taking some other kid for their own sport. But anytime I can bring someone home safely, well, that’s always gonna be a win.

As I left Grantville and was about to head home, I spied a little convenience store there across Highway 24. The Gas and Stuff. Their lights were on, meaning they were open. I smiled as I crossed the highway and pulled into their lot. Considering how things on the case had ended, I figured that I could use a celebratory bottle of ice cold chocolate milk. And so I parked the Scout, and headed on in.

This concludes Fairy Tale. Come back in one week for the beginning of the next Norman Oklahoma adventure: In the Undead of the Night.






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