The Consortium of the Curious

For those bemused by the bizarre and engrossed in the esoteric.

Tag: YA

Chapter 4: The Diary of Amanda Katherine Madison–Entry 1

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So here’s chapter 4. I should be able to start posting regularly again for any of you who have missed me!

 

PDF will be available in just a few minutes.

 

Enjoy!

 

The Diary of Amanda Katherine Madison—Entry 1

September 17

Let me start at the beginning. My name is Amanda Katherine Madison, and my mom and dad just moved me to the middle of nowhere.

Two months ago, I was sitting in my room in a nice suburb of Chicago, and now I’m sitting at a desk in what might as well be the middle of a corn field. When my mom told me that we had to move, I rebelled.

“I’m not going,” I said.

“They’ve got vampires,” she said.

I’ll give her points. I’m a huge fan of the Dusk series. That is to say I’m a huge closet fan. I wouldn’t be caught dead reading one in public, but who doesn’t want to fall in love with a gorgeous guy who’s going to live forever and cater only to your every need? That said I’m not an idiot. I realize vampires aren’t real.

“No matter how much I’d like to believe otherwise vampires aren’t real,” I told her.

“Oh well. You won’t be needing these then,” she said. She laid a paper-clipped packet down on my bed and left without saying anything else.

“I’m still not going!” I yelled, more for effect than any sort of real threat. I’m barely sixteen. I mean I can drive around, but—and I say this with so much regret—there’s no way I could live out of my car.

The packet and I had a standoff for a while, but they won eventually, as my mother knew they would. When I scanned the first page, I laughed a little because they were printouts from a website. My mother, the Betty Crocker who can barely work a cellphone, managed to go online and print information from about six different websites. Color me impressed.

Once I had thrown away all the pages that were just Web ads, I started to read the bulk of the material. Apparently we were moving to a town called Terrace Park. Terrace Park, Indiana. A few of the more detail-oriented pages included a map for those of us who don’t know what Google Earth is. Terrace Park, Indiana, is located in Knox county about twenty minutes from the Illinois border to the west and about an hour and a half from the Kentucky border to the south. And it has a vampire.

Or so the legend goes.

I’ll try and give you the abbreviated version. In the 1800s, a village in southern Indiana had a series of unexplained deaths. Each victim was found completely exsanguinated—drained of blood, definitely had to look that one up. At first wolves got the blame for the attacks, but according to legend, the true answer was more devious. Indiana had a vampire problem. Well, one anyway. The villagers called him Ivaylo—the Wolf. Then in 1843 the legend takes a decidedly literary turn. An earthquake struck. This village, which is now Terrace Park, was decimated. The earthquake’s intensity even caused the White River to split. The village of Terrace Park was now situated in between two branches of the same river. Popular lore states that a vampire cannot cross running water. This was a problem for both the surviving villagers and Ivaylo. The remaining few couldn’t leave; the river was too high. The vampire couldn’t leave. Ever. Apparently a village elder struck a deal with the Wolf and the decision was this: the villagers would feed the vampire if he promised to harm no one who lived in between the rivers. Blah, blah, blah, a hundred and so years later the promise is still kept.

 

So that’s pretty cool. I mean Ivaylo’s no Ambrose Singleton—the vampire from Dusk in case you live under a rock. What are the odds that an old vampire nicknamed the Wolf is going to want to pamper me with poetry and angst? Nil. But my mom still scores points for trying.

 

***

 

Then she lost all of her points.

The events leading up to the move aren’t particularly noteworthy, so I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say we made it to Terrace Park in one piece. I figured I’d ride out the next few days before I had to restart school. I asked mom why we couldn’t wait until after Christmas, but I guess my dad was in high demand. How was my dad in high demand in the middle of nowhere, you ask? Corn. Across the river from where I’m now living, they have this grain plant that turns corn into alcohol or something. Basically our dependence on foreign oil is responsible for my life being turned around.

 

But back to just hanging out in my room. That first night, the very first night we’re there, Dad tells me we have to go have dinner with his boss and asks me to please look respectable. I wore the lowest cut top I own. I mean, hey, it looks good, and if I can embarrass my dad in the process, well that might just go a little way toward us being even. Spoiler Alert: This plan backfires.

 

First of all, my dad’s boss’s husband is apparently my new science teacher. First thing he says to me: “Aren’t you cold?”

Coming up with no suitable retort I said, “No, sir,” and continued into the house, my parents making excuses for my behavior already. I kept walking in because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do, and then I run straight into the most gorgeous guy I’ve ever seen in real life. I mean I don’t want to sound like a complete fangirl here, but we’re talking Ambrose Singleton’s werewolf nemesis, Isaac Sable. Aside from the boy standing in front of me not being any part Indiana—and I doubt werewolf either—he looked just like what I imagined Isaac would look like. Tall, dark, athletic, he definitely had it all.

“Oh good. You’re home,” Jane Adams, my father’s new boss, addressed her son. “Amanda—”

“Maddie,” I interrupted.

“Sorry, Maddie, this is my son, Isaac.”

“No shit!” Yes. I cursed right in front of my dad’s new boss. I managed to almost recover, explaining that I had been trying to guess his name before she told me and I got a little overzealous when I found out I was right. And boy does it get worse.

The eating part of dinner went okay, but after we all stopped chowing down, the trouble began.

“So Maddie,” Mr. Adams said, “Your mother tells me you’re a fan of Dusk.

I must have looked mortified, and if I didn’t look mortified then, I did when I saw Isaac looking at me with this grin. (Sure it was a cute grin, but I really, really didn’t want to blush any more.) I just nodded, hoping that I gave a sufficient evil eye to my mother.

“Well, which are you then, Team Ambrose or Team Isaac?” The man just wouldn’t quit.

To my credit, I finally caught a break by saying, “I’d be on board with either of them.” In fact, I got quite a laugh out of that line, and if I wasn’t mistaken, I think I even got a wink from Isaac. Maddie: 1; Awkward Dinner: 50.

Mr. Adams then told me about this group called “The Consortium of the Curious.” (I know, lame name, but bear with me.) He said that if I liked vampires I should go to their next meeting. Apparently they were going after Ivaylo.

“When’s the meeting?” I asked.

“This Friday,” Mr. Adams said.

“But I don’t start school until Monday.”

“They have the meeting in my room. I’ll introduce you.”

Really the only other thing to note about that dinner is that afterward, before I left, Isaac cornered me on the way out and said, “You really shouldn’t go to that thing. It’s just a few nerds. You should come out with me. There’s a party on Friday. I have a feeling you’d rather me introduce you to people than my dad.”

He may have had a point, so I told him I’d think about it.

I guess a hundred years from now if you’re reading this you’d probably want to know a little about me because here I am on the verge of committing social suicide. You’d probably be asking yourself whether or not I actually am a nerd. At my old school, I was a jock. Sort of. I play soccer. But my old school was huge. I was popular; don’t get me wrong, but I still had a small group of friends. Bottom line: I am a nerd, but I like sports too. You can see my dilemma already.

Well, as I told you before, it gets worse.

Because I did decide to go to that meeting and no one showed. There I am in Mr. Adams room, and it’s empty. I panicked for a second because I thought maybe I just had the wrong room. I started to leave when Mr. Adams comes running in. He’s out of breath, and I can tell something is wrong.

“Maddie, there’s been an accident. I completely forgot you were going to come with all the commotion.”

Then he told me that the leader of the group, a boy named Michael, slipped into some kind of coma. He was in the hospital. He offered to drive me over. He said that the whole group—I sort of wish they’d stop calling themselves a group because when one of them is down for the count it’s really just a trio—was over in Michael’s room.

I declined. I mean that’s weird, right? Hey, I’m Maddie. Sorry about your friend.

He changed my mind. “Listen, I know this is a strange position for you to be in,” he said, “but the thing is, they don’t have a lot of friends here at school. I’m not going to twist your arm or anything, but I really think you should go. I’m going to swing by on my way home. You could follow me in your car. I’ll introduce you.” He paused. Thought about something for a moment and said, “To be honest, they could use someone like you.”

Of course I asked what that meant.

“Someone who knows how to be comfortable being who she is,” he said.

And flattery got him everywhere.

***

When we arrived at the hospital, only two people were in Michael’s room. The boy was slightly chubby, but in that football linebacker kinda way; the girl was cute, but you could tell she didn’t notice. And at some point, we’ll have to do something about that skirt. It’s not ugly or anything, but I’ll let her wear it again when she’s forty. I learned that this was Tyler and Karen. Half of the Consortium. Ben, who Karen had said in a defensive but not unfriendly way was her boyfriend, had taken Michael’s parents to the cafeteria. Apparently eating hadn’t been on the agenda.

Mr. Adams made the introductions and left; Karen eyed me suspiciously; and Tyler eyed me. Don’t worry. It was cuter than it was creepy. And at that moment, I had no idea what I was doing there.

In my haste to be polite, and to be perfectly frank ignore the elephant in the room, I hadn’t even looked at the ringleader yet. And maybe I shouldn’t have. Lying there in that hospital bed was Ambrose Singleton or how I imagined him to be—slightly tall, fair-skinned but not in that sickly way, dark brown hair, and skinny, but again the healthy kind. I imagined his blue eyes trapped behind his eyelids, begging to open. This wasn’t love at first sight; I think that takes two, and it wasn’t lust as I’m not sure my hormones are ready for that sort of hyperdrive just yet. This was good old infatuation. I like to think of it as one-sided puppy love at first sight, but that’s a mouthful. My heart sank when I saw the flowers by his bed. I made small talk with the other two, while as stealthfully as possible walking toward them.

I couldn’t tell if the name on the card belonged to a relative or a friend.

“Who’s Japheth?” I asked.

Then Tyler said the words that made my heart sink lower: “His boyfriend.” Karen punched him on the arm. It must have been a secret.

Wouldn’t it figure? Ambrose in the flesh and he’s eternally queer. Not only that, his boyfriend must be the sweetest boy ever because the card had a poem. I’m pretty sure I’ll never forget what it said:

 

Roses are blue.

Violets are red.

I heard you passed out.

I’m glad you’re not dead.

—Japheth

At the moment, “Is he out of the closet?” began to escape my lips, a groan came from the bed. I decided to go with, “I think he’s waking up.”

Tyler got up from the chair and came up to the bed. “Mikey? Mikey? Can you hear me? Karen, go get his mom!”

Karen ran out of the room.

I felt weird just standing there. I felt weirder because this was like some reverse Sleeping Beauty. Once the thought of leaning over and kissing him to complete the wake up process entered my mind I asked Tyler, “Do you think I should leave?”

Before he could say anything Michael had his eyes open. He looked straight at me and said, “Who’s she?”

My heart did one of those verbs that are used to describe bird’s wings. Take your pick. I couldn’t say anything. Tyler answered for me.

 

And then the strangest thing happened. Michael said he needed me, and I couldn’t help but feel that the feeling was mutual.

 

Maddie

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Audio Challenge

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So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and a lot of this thinking is taking place in my car. 

 

As an experiment, I’ve turned my car stereo into a library. The rationale being that I can listen to the cadence of books during my commute. I know a lot of you out there–myself included–use music as inspiration while you write. Now I hope none of you are writing in your notebook while your driving, so I can assume you have a free ear. My challenge, therefore, is for all of you writery types out there to use your car stereos as writing coaches.

 

(If you don’t have a car stereo, I guess this post really isn’t for you, but perhaps you can come up with an analogous scenario.)

I’m approaching my month with this tactic and show no signs of slowing.

 

One word of caution:

I highly recommend listening to books that are not in the genre you’re choosing to write in. While this certainly isn’t a requirement, I find it immensely helpful. You, after all, don’t want to steal someone’s voice no matter how subconscious the theft might be. Furthermore, you don’t really run the risk of turning your cozy mystery into a hard-boiled thriller just by listening.

 

Oh and there’s more. I do have two suggestions for audio books.

 

Suggestion the first:

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Make sure to get the one narrated by Eric Conger; I can’t speak to any others.

This is a spinoff of John Sanford’s “Prey” series. If you like realistic settings, quirky characters, and a little bit of dark mystery, then this is totally for you. 

 

Suggestion the second:

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Make sure to get the one narrated by Christina Moore; again, I can’t speak to any others.

 

If you like completely unrealistic dialogue (but in a great way), quirky characters, and light mystery, then this is definitely for you. Also, I read the first three books and listened to the fourth on audio. I’ve not read any others since. The narrator is that good. In fact, I went back and started the series again solely by CD this time.

 

So that’s the challenge. Take it or leave it. But whatever you do, I’m going to continue because this is one challenge that is so easy it feels like I should have been doing this all of my life.

 

If you already do this, please offer some suggestions!

If you don’t and decide to try, please let me know how it goes!

 

And that’s the news from Lake Wobegone. 

Chapter Three: The Hollow Man

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Let me first say that the image has nothing to do with the chapter other than that the chapter title itself is an homage to John Dickson Carr.

 

If you’ve never read him before, you should give him a try!

 

And without further delay, here is chapter three. (As always a .pdf will be available on the main menu for those who prefer.)

 

Enjoy!

 

The Hollow Man

They picked Ben up at the tennis courts.

                “What’s the big deal?” he said. Karen had texted him from the car and asked him to wait. He got into the backseat with Karen. His arms glistened with sweat. The car seemed, all at once, to smell better. An Adidas cologne lingered in the air, but only a hint. Ben wasn’t one to make the common mistake of over spraying.

                “You always smell this good after practice?” Tyler asked.

                “Only when I’m meeting up with a pretty girl afterward,” he said and then tucked some of Karen’s stray hair behind her ears.

                “Shucks,” Tyler said. “I didn’t know you thought I was pretty.”

                Michael handed Ben the newspaper clipping Karen had brought and asked Ben, “Have you ever seen this guy before?”

                Ben took the clipping and studied the face. “No, should I know him?”

                Michael said no and then told Ben everything that had been unsaid about Lucky Point up until that moment.

“Let me get this straight,” Ben said. “You guys think that whatever happened to the cow happened to this guy in the paper. You’re basing that off of a vision Michael and Tyler saw in the woods when we were fourteen?” Everyone nodded, and had they been standing they all would have collectively bowed their heads and kicked imaginary cans. “Cool,” he said finally. “It’s at least better than going to those haunted houses Mikey finds. Those weirdos are nuts. How are we going to find the body?”

                “We have to make a stop first,” Michael said, and Tyler started driving.

                “Where are we going?” Ben asked.

                “I’ve got a guy,” Michael said.

                “Japheth’s,” Karen responded.

                “He’s real?” Ben asked.

                Michael gave Tyler directions to Japheth’s house. Japheth lived out on rural route 450—the opposite side of town from the Willis farm, though the terrain all looked the same. Once outside of Terrace Park all one was likely to see was corn, soy beans, or pasture. The house sat right off the road. Michael had only been there once, and the house itself was not anything like what he would have imagined. It was small, and sad.

                Michael figured that Japheth would live in some sort of mystery manor paid for by Barnabas’s fortune. Japheth had explained that when his mother died, his father didn’t want to leave the house and his grandfather had insisted on moving in. The situation led to three men living in a two bedroom house. That sort of thing worked for sitcoms; in real life, however, it just wasn’t that funny.

                When Tyler had pulled into the driveway, he shut off the car and asked, “What now? The house looks pretty dark.”

                “He said he’d—”

                A finger tapped the passenger side window. No one screamed, but everyone tensed up. Michael rolled down the window and a black-clad Japheth stuck his head in. “You didn’t tell me you were bringing backup.”

                “Why are you dressed like a cat burglar?” Karen asked.

                “Just came back from the morgue, darling,” Japheth said. He smiled and then a strange look appeared on his face, not unlike the kind cops get on TV shows when they realize that someone very dangerous has infiltrated a group. “I’m going to need to speak with Micky alone.” Japheth opened the passenger door, grabbed Michael by the arm, and escorted him out of the car. As Michael kicked the door shut with his foot, he heard Ben ask, “Did he just call him Micky?”

                Japheth led Michael to the back of his house. A pair of motion-sensored lights illuminated the backyard. Michael felt like an escaped con. “Did you just call me Micky?” Michael asked.

                “Yeah. Sounds better,” Japheth said and hurried Michael around a shed. The flood lights left a large shadow and Japheth pushed Michael into it. “Listen, we’re friends and all, but I gotta say, you’re starting to waltz into my territory. You handle ghosts and aliens. I take the criminals. That’s the deal.” Michael hadn’t been aware of any deal.

                “Jape, this one might just cross over.”

                “You know I don’t believe in that stuff, right?”

                Michael nodded.

                He continued, “I’ve got pictures of the body. I can give you those.”

                “We need to see it,” Michael said.

                “Why?”

                Michael wasn’t sure how much he should tell Japheth. He liked him and didn’t want Japheth to think he was invading his turf. So he lied. “We’re teenagers. There’s a dead body. We want to see it. Plus there’s a legend that says it’s easier to communicate with the spirit of a person who was killed violently.”

                “You want to hold a séance in the morgue?”

                “Just a small one.”

                “Will it be loud?”

                “We’ll be quiet as morgue mice.”

                Japheth considered the request. “And you really aren’t trying to solve the crime?”

                “I thought he was attacked by an animal?”

                The interrogation had flipped, and Michael knew that he had gained the upper hand. He’d never seen Japheth this territorial over anything. In fact, Michael wouldn’t have even thought Japheth capable of jealousy.

                “That’s classified,” Japheth said. He then tried deflecting. “Okay, listen, I can get you into the morgue, but if you’re caught, you can’t implicate me. This never happened.”

                “Deal.”

                Japheth handed Michael a cigarette and outlined the inner workings of Terrace Park General. “Shift change at the hospital is at eleven thirty. You’ll want to get there around midnight. There’s only one security guard on the weeknights, and he pretty much stays near the ER. There’s a side door where nurses go outside to smoke. It requires a keycard.”

                “Where am I—”

                Japheth handed him a small plastic rectangle the size of a credit card. “This will get you in that door. Once inside, make a left and you’ll be in the lobby. There will be a night nurse on duty. She’s your only obstacle because the elevator to the morgue is right behind her desk and to the left. I’m not even going to suggest you do what me and my grandpa did to get by that person because I don’t think it would work again in a million years. Let’s just say if the hospital catches someone else trying to let a dozen cats in the lobby, they’ll know something’s up. You’ll have to figure something out.”

                “Where’d you get a dozen cats?” Michael asked.

                “Barney got them. I didn’t ask. I’m not sure I want to know.”     

“So you’ve seen the body?”

                Japheth took a long drag on his cigarette and exhaled. “Yeah. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

                “Was he hollowed out?”

                “How’d you know that?”

                Michael paused, relishing the moment where he knew more about something than Japheth. “Listen. I really appreciate what you’re doing for me, so let me do something for you.” Michael told Japheth about the cow and where to find it. “I don’t know if the two are connected, but I’d be willing to bet they are. Your dad’s not likely to hear about the cow because Mr. Willis keeps to himself, and I’m sure this isn’t his first dead cow. You know how it is out in the country; they aren’t likely to report that kind of thing. They’ll just tell each other and keep rifles on the porch.”

                “Alright, Barney and I will check it out.”

                Michael turned to leave, but Japheth stopped him. “You wanna meet behind the armory tomorrow and compare notes?”

                Michael said sure, and then for the hell of it said, “Farewell.”

                On the way back to the car, Michael realized he smelled like smoke. He had always taken great care to not smoke at any time before he was going to see one of his friends. They didn’t know he’d picked up the habit, and he really wanted it to stay that way. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a stick of gum for just such an emergency. He could blame the smell of his clothes on Japheth, but he wasn’t too keen on pinning the smell on his breath to the same culprit.

                As he got into Tyler’s car he said, “You guys ready to do this?”

                Terrace Park General boasted itself as the largest hospital in the county. At eight stories, it was the second-largest building in the city. The first was a bank on main. It was also the second-widest compound in the city at just over three blocks. The first was Terrace Park High thanks to the basketball gym built in the twenties. The other thing that TPG held second place for was healthcare. The general consensus was if you were going to get sick, you better do it across the river.

                The Consortium held its impromptu meeting in the visitor’s parking lot on the south side of what the nurses were fond of calling “the Campus.” The parking lot sat behind the hospital, opposite the emergency room. Michael laid out the plan, explained about the keycard, and made sure everyone had alibis. The group as a whole hadn’t snuck out together since the night Karen and Ben disappeared. Michael and Ben told their parents they were going to be at Tyler’s house working on a school project. Tyler’s mom had promised to run interference as long as they brought back a picture. Karen told them she was covered but hedged when they tried to ask her how.

                After a few minutes, they let it go, and Michael explained the kink in the plan. “The only problem is,” he said, “is that there’s some sort of desk clerk in the main lobby. That main doors are closed, but they still have someone monitor the phone and help family members that have to stay overnight. Japheth said the elevator to the morgue is right behind the desk. I thought maybe one of us could call and distract whoever it is.”

                “That means one of us won’t get to go,” Tyler said.

                “He’s right,” Karen said. “One of us should go in and make small talk, pretend like we have family in the ER or something, and then we get lost looking for the bathroom.”

                “Did Japheth say who was going to be there?” Ben asked.

                “No,” Michael said. “All he said was that shift change was at eleven thirty.” He glanced at the car’s dash. “Which is right about now.”

                That’s when they saw her.

                A girl in her mid-twenties cat-walked up the steps of Terrace Park General. She had in ear buds, and she marched right along. 

                “Oh my god! It’s Handy Candy.” Tyler yelled.

                 Candy Anderson, nicknamed “Handy” by some cruel, though not inaccurate seniors, graduated from Terrace Park High six years earlier. Her nickname, like everything else about her, was a double entendre. The G-rated version involved her always handing out personal belongings to help those less fortunate than herself. Essentially she was a people person. The non-Disney version still involved her being a people person, but it largely went unsaid.

     Candy had wanted to be a nurse, and after graduating, selected a community college in nearby Vincennes. She flunked out her first semester. Not wanting to completely back down on her dreams, she decided she could still help people and work at the hospital. Now she pointed people where they needed to go and answered the phone.

     “Well,” Michael said, “The distraction part won’t be too hard, but who’s going to do it.”

     “Ben,” Tyler said.

     “Me?” Ben asked. The words barely audible over Karen’s “Him?”

     “Sure,” Tyler said, “Ben’s the one with the biceps. Surely I’m not the only one who’s noticed Ben’s abnormally large biceps?”

     “I do not have overly large biceps,” Ben said.

     “For a teenager,” Tyler corrected. “You’re sixteen and look like you just came out of a frat house.”

     Ben lifted his arm and inspected the muscle. Ben pretended he’d never noticed, as if his arms surprised him. Michael had noticed one afternoon when Karen draped one of her arm’s through Ben’s. Her arm looked petite in comparison. In fact, Michael had thought at the time that Karen’s arms looked much like his own—skinny and pale. He had his dad buy him some weights that night.

     “Fine,” Ben said after inspecting his physique, “I’ll do it, but you guys better wait down there for me. I didn’t come all this way just to flirt with Terrace Park’s easiest girl.”

     Karen glared at Ben, but didn’t say anything.

     The four of them got out of the car and walked up to a side entrance. Michael held the keycard up to a black rectangle next the door, and a clicking sound snapped somewhere inside the frame. Michael eased the door open slowly. The secondary entrance was set back across the lobby from the main entrance. Most of the lights in the foyer were out, but a few remained on for anyone unfortunate enough to find themselves in a hospital lobby at midnight.

     Candy sat pecking at a computer, ear buds still in, oblivious to the opening door.

     “Okay,” Michael whispered, “Ben, you make your way around the lobby so it looks like you’re coming from the inside. We’ll wait here until you distract her. Whenever you can get free, meet us downstairs. Japheth said we won’t have any company once we’re on the basement floor.”

     Ben nodded and crept off. The remainder of the group watched as Ben made it successfully around the lobby and then started heading back toward the reception area. Halfway to his destination he yelled, “Candy! Is that you?”

     From where they were standing they couldn’t hear her response, but Michael thought that it may have been because she responded in one of those wavelengths that were so high-pitched only dogs could hear them. After the introductions were finished, Candy and Ben talked at a much more reasonable level, but nothing could be heard. All they could see was the flashing of pearly white smiles from both parties.

     After about a minute, Candy got up from her seat and began to approach Ben. She gave him a hug, which was lasting a beat too long, and caused Karen to blush. Michael worried what was going to happen next and was surprised to discover Karen grabbing his hand, interlacing her fingers with his, and saying, “Come on.”

     He followed willingly. Tyler was not far behind.

     As they passed the two huggers, Karen shot Ben a look that no boy wants to be on the   receiving end of, no matter how big his biceps are. Ben made matters worse by gripping Candy tighter, but the look on his face indicated that he was only doing it so she couldn’t turn around. There was a smile on his face that said, “Tyler made me.”

     Tyler not being hindered by handholding, and oblivious to the emotional scene playing before him, arrived at the wall of elevators first and pushed the down key. They waited thirty seconds and no one showed up.

     Once safely tucked into the metal box, Karen let go of Michael’s hand and a guttural noise escaped her mouth like it had been trapped there for months, though she didn’t actually say anything. Neither boy could think of anything to say.

     The door opened onto a hallway that looked like it belonged in a slasher pic and not a hospital. The overhead lights hadn’t been changed since the seventies, and they hummed with the cadence of a bug zapper. At intervals that were not quite regular, one would flicker like it had caught a fat mosquito. There lingered in the air a scent of lemon disinfectant tinged with dirty mop water. Across the hall, they could see their destination. There wasn’t a giant sign that said, “Welcome to the Morgue,” but there was a bank of walls with small doors to push the dead into.

     Or so they’d seen on TV.

     The hurried off the elevator, the atmosphere having no effect on the excitement of seeing their first dead body. Michael and Karen had already been touched by death before. For Karen, it was her parents. They’d died in a car accident an hour after a New Year’s Eve party. The funeral was held, and the caskets were never opened.

     Michael had a brother who died of cancer. He wouldn’t look at the body.

                “How do we know which one he’s in?” Karen asked quietly.

                “I guess we have to open them all; can’t be too many dead bodies,” Michael said.

                “Allow me,” Tyler said, and walked over to the wall. He found the body on his second try.

                As silently as they could, they pulled the cart out of the wall. There was a sheet over the body. Michael rhetorically asked, “Ready?” and gently pulled the sheet off the head. It was the man from the woods. Michael stood there wanting desperately to continue pulling to see if the body was missing its organs like the vision he and Tyler shared, but he froze, waiting for the body to talk.

                Suddenly, a noise came from the hall and they all automatically crouched though they hid behind nothing. They waited there hunched over until they were sure it was clear. Then Ben appeared at the door. They didn’t say anything, but Tyler motioned for Ben to come over and see.

                As Michael stood back up to remove the rest of the sheet, the corpse turned its head, opened its eyes, and said, “Hey there, Tyger.”

                Michael’s vision began to tunnel, and the last thing he remembered before he went away was Ben saying, “What’s wrong with him?”

 

**

Michael woke up on the sandbar at Lucky Point. His head hurting, and his pulse racing. Confused, he picked himself up off the ground, shook loose some of the grains trapped in the wrinkles of his clothes, and looked up at the sky. Immediately he knew something was wrong. He couldn’t remember the hospital, the hollow man, Handy Candy, any of it, but something bothered him about the sky. He stared, willing the answer to come to him.

                “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” The voice was behind him. The question sounded innocent, but the intonation was off as if the thing he were looking at wasn’t beautiful at all.

                “Why is everything orange?” Michael asked. He turned around, but no one was behind him. He looked back to the sky and realized what was bothering him. The sky itself burned orange like it does at sunset. Only in every direction he could see the dome above was the color of a dreamsicle.

                “Because,” the voice said answering his original question, “This is where we come to see.”

                Michael turned around again. An old woman stood on the other end of the sandbar, nearer to the river than Michael. Her wiry gray hair sprung out of her head at wild angles. Michael thought of Medusa, and then tried hard not to think of Medusa. “See what?” He asked.

                “Everything,” she said, and the heavens burst. A million points of light streaked across the sky. The woman pointed and as she did a large meteor hovered overhead. She said, “Moros is coming.”

                Michael asked quickly, “What is Moros?”

                The old woman dropped her arm and watched him for a minute. “The bringer of fate,” she said. She walked closer to him, and Michael could see that her eyes were a pale blue. She must be blind, Michael thought and the thought made him feel safe; it made him feel as though he could hide from her if he needed to. His sudden courage shattered when she reached out and grabbed his wrist as if she knew right where he was. “Do you know what the other boy did when I told him about Moros?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “He cried. The two of you are cowards. You call yourself an ‘archivist’ and yet you don’t know Moros?” She laughed again, a mad cackling sound.

                “I’m not an archivist,” Michael said.

                She reached a finger out, poked Michael’s stomach, and said, “I’m looking forward to opening you up and seeing what I can see.” She released Michael’s wrist and reached into a pouch that was hanging off of her shoulders. She pulled out a long-bladed knife and plunged it into Michael’s chest. He started to scream, but no sound would come; he wanted to pass out from the pain, and realized nothing hurt.

                She pushed him down to the ground and continued to draw the knife toward his belly button.

                “As I thought,” she said. “The four will fail.”

                Glancing up for a moment to be sure he heard her correctly, he saw that she had split him open as if performing an autopsy. He saw something red in her hands, and at that point, he did pass out.

**

Michael existed in a period of darkness, only hearing words. “Moros is coming,” “bringer of fate,” and “the four will fail.” He thought about his friends. Wondered where they were. He remembered Karen saying the old woman she’d seen had warned that they couldn’t stop her, and now this, “the four will fail.” Amidst his brain earnestly trying to find out what all of it meant, he became aware of new voices:

                “I think he’s waking up.”

                “Karen, go get his mom.”

                “Do you think I should leave?”

                The final voice was new. He didn’t recognize it.

                Slowly he opened his eyes. The dim lights of the hospital room still seared his retinas. But he could see Tyler standing at the foot of his bed. There was a girl next to him. A small blonde girl.

                “Who’s that?” Michael asked.

                Skipping any pleasantries Tyler went straight to the point, “Mickey, meet the Consortium’s newest member. Her name’s Maddie.” He said the last part as if he were proud of remembering.

                New member? Michael thought. He wasn’t sure what was happening. He wasn’t even sure he was really awake, but the thought of having five members overshadowed all other questions that danced in his mind. He said, “Good, we need you,” and fell back asleep.

 

Chapter 2: The Curious Incident of the Cow in the Nighttime

The .pdf should be available shortly.

Enjoy!

Image

2. The Curious Incident of the Cow in the Nighttime.

 

 

Five Weeks before the Stars Threw Down Their Spears

“A dead cow?” Karen asked, her voice reaching for new levels of disgust.

                “A mutilated cow,” Michael responded.

                “Potato, potato,” she said with the requisite pronunciations. Before Michael could say anything else she said, “I’m not going back to Lucky Point. Our little group can go wherever you want, but Lucky Point is off limits.”

                “The cow wasn’t found at Lucky Point. Don Willis found it in one of his fields.”

                “His fields are right next to Lucky Point.”

                She was about to say something else, but Mr. Adams had brought the class to order. Today, they were going over the periodic table. Chemistry wasn’t exactly in Michael Ridge’s wheelhouse, and apparently remedial chemistry was just as bad. While Tyler and Ben learned about the mysteries of the physical universe in AP Chemistry, Michael had to suffer through the realization that even the lowest level of this particular physical science was above him.

                But he didn’t care. He had Karen all to himself for fifty minutes. Chemistry was the only class they shared.

                Michael spent the entirety of the class trying to figure how to convince her to go check out the cow. After that fateful night two years ago, Michael became obsessed with the paranormal. He had even formed a club “The Consortium of the Curious.” Printed its newsletter out of his basement. At present the club only had four members, counting himself, and the newsletter had a readership of five, the Consortium members themselves and Tyler’s mom. The group only had two rules: (1) They would investigate any odd occurrences that happened in—or, now that they had driver’s licenses, around—Terrace Park, and (2) they wouldn’t step foot in Lucky Point again. When the bylaws were being created, Michael wanted to point out that all the weird stuff in Terrace Park happened at Lucky Point, but he held his tongue. And with results. The Consortium had, in two years, visited nine haunted houses, investigated fourteen UFO sightings, and interviewed one man who claimed to have been abducted by aliens. This fall they planned to take on the legend of Ivaylo, but Michael’s interests didn’t favor vampires, they were exclusive to aliens, and the cow was winning.

                The bell rang, and Mr. Adams wrapped up his lecture. When half the class had left he said, “Mr. Ridge and Miss Fletcher, come see me before you leave.”

                Karen sent a glare toward Michael as if the edict had been his fault. He threw his arms up in a gesture of surprise to indicate this wasn’t his doing. The two of them walked up to the elongated desk at the front of the room. The desk itself was elevated as if Mr. Adams were a judge and was about to give his ruling.

                Mr. Adams, though a very nice man, wasted no time with pleasantries, “The two of you are in danger of failing my class.”

                “I can explain—” Karen began, but she was cut short by Mr. Adams.

                “Miss Fletcher, I’m not interested in explanations. What I am interested in, however, is what the two of you are going to do about it.” Mr. Adams continued, “I know chemistry isn’t for everyone, but honestly, it’s not the worst. How are you doing in math?”

                They both shrugged their shoulders.

                “I’ll tell you how you’re doing in math. You’re both passing. After I spoke with your other teachers, I find out that you’re at least passing in all your other classes, and in some of them, you’re doing better than that. What is it about my class that the two of you find so uninspiring?”

                Michael supposed it was a fair question. He had no trouble in any of his other classes, and come to think of it, he wasn’t entirely aware he had been doing so poorly in this one. In fact, Mr. Adams was one of his favorite teachers.

                “I’m just not very good with science.” Karen said breaking the one-way conversation.

                “I find that very hard to believe, Miss Fletcher, considering you pulled a B in Biology and had to dissect a frog.”

                The point was fair, but Michael and Karen both knew she had Ben do all the cutting.

                “I think,” Mr. Adams said amid Karen’s mumbling, “I think some extra credit is in order. I want you both to write a five page essay on a topic of your choosing. I’m not out to punish either of you; I know you’re good kids, but I don’t know what else to do at this point. I’ll make it easy on you. All you have to do is use the scientific method, and I’ll look the other way if it isn’t exactly related to chemistry. Lord help us if either of you decide to become chemists anyway. I’ll even let you do it on one of your ghost hunting sessions as long as you use science. None of that pseudo-stuff, okay?”

                “Thank you Mr. Adams. You won’t regret it,” Karen said.

                Michael said nothing, the dots quickly connecting themselves. They were no sooner out the door when he said, “Let’s figure out what happened to the cow.”

                “He never said we had to do the project together.”

                “I’ll write the whole paper. Just come with me.”

                “Michael Ridge are you begging me?”

                He considered it for a moment.

                “Don’t make me get on my knees,” he said.

                “I’ll save you the trip. There is absolutely no way I’m going anywhere near a dead cow. I’ll repeat my sophomore year first.” She looked at him and must have felt pity because then she said, “I’ll think about it.”

                Before Michael could say anything, she waved good-bye and left him alone in the hall.

                In Michael’s next class—English—he told Tyler about the dead animal. Tyler didn’t require near as much subterfuge.

                “When do you want to go?” Tyler asked.

                “Tonight. A couple hours after school gets out,” Michael responded.

                “I’ll pick you up after football practice.”

                Michael nodded, and Mrs. Schneider went on with her lesson on poetry. Today, she lectured about William Blake. His interest piqued when the teacher said something about the Proverbs of Hell, and one line: “The weak in courage is strong in cunning.” The tiny aphorism made him think about himself or at least think about himself in a way he would like others to think about him. Tyler and Ben both had sports, football and baseball respectively. Michael only had his mind, and if Mr. Adams’s science class told him anything, it was that he wasn’t going pro any time soon.

                But cunning? He liked the sound of that.

                Once the final bell rang, Michael rushed to Ben’s locker to try and get him on board with the plan.

                “I can’t. I have tennis practice.”

                “Tyler’s coming after practice.”

                “Sorry, dude, we’re playing under the lights tonight. Practice isn’t until eight.”

                “You can still make the Consortium meeting tomorrow night, right?”

                “Yeah,” he grabbed his backpack, shut is locker, and started to leave. “Hey, Mikey, you need to chill out a little.”

                “Thanks for the tip,” Michael mumbled once he was relatively sure Ben couldn’t hear him. Michael realized that as they were getting older, his other friends’ interests were shying away from the paranormal. Tyler had football. Ben now picked up tennis on top of baseball. Michael, however, became more concerned when he realized that Ben was turning into a genuine, all-American, preppy athlete. Once the girls caught on, Karen was going to be constantly jealous, and Michael wasn’t looking forward to that.

Michael sulked out of the school building and walked toward the armory, pondering the lives his friends had created for themselves. He briefly entertained the notion of picking up a sport, thought better of it, and continued wondering about a future where everyone changed.

The National Guard had an armory two blocks from the school. The building was situated against a slope that led up to the Terrace Park golf course. The armory stood three stories, but the top one was the only level that peeked over the hill.

Michael moved quickly around the side of the building. A tiny alleyway was formed on the west facing side of the building between the wall and the hill. He had a meeting scheduled.

                “Do you have the money?” A boy roughly Michael’s age asked. He was dressed in a black jacket and wore a T-shirt that said, “If you’ve ever slept with someone with writer’s block, you may be at risk.” Michael could see his own scowl off the kid’s Foster Grants.

                “Knock it off, Jape.” Michael said.

                “I’m working on my noir act, you know, for one of my stories. Just work with me here.” Japheth Brown replied.

                Japheth Brown was hand’s down the weirdest kid at Terrace Park High, though if pressed Michael wouldn’t be able to tell you why and that in itself was part of the problem. Japheth’s grandfather, Barnabas was a mystery writer of some acclaim. He’d written something like seventy books, and his grandson planned to carry on the tradition. The only problem was he spent most of his time plotting and reenacting his own scenes that when it came time to actually write them, most of the spirit was lost. Michael had once even volunteered to help him with one of his drafts. He never volunteered again.

                “Fine.” Michael relented to Japheth, knowing this wasn’t going to work any other way. “Do you have the cigarettes or not.”

                “I got’em,” Japheth said, readjusting his voice, “but do you have my money.”

                Deciding not to squabble over the whole ordeal, Michael handed Japheth a five dollar bill, and Japheth handed him a pack of Marlboros.

                “You want one?” Michael asked trying to ease some of the awkwardness.

                “Sure.” Japheth said falling back out of character.

                The two boys walked out from the nook and into the strip of trees next to the golf course.

                “What’s new?” Japheth asked taking a long drag. Michael decided he must be half in and half out of character and decided not to comment on the sheer volume of smoke the sixteen year old had just consumed. Without coughing.

                “Nothing much. Going to go see a dead cow in a few hours. You want to come?”

                “Nah, I can’t. I’m on the climactic scene of the novel I’m working on. I think it’s the best one yet.”

                Couldn’t be hard, Michael thought. “Jape, can I ask you something?”

                Japheth nodded.

                “Do you believe in aliens?”

                Without warning, Japheth sat on the ground—Indian-style—and pressed the tips of his fingers under his chin. Then he shut his eyes. He sat like that for a moment, and Michael didn’t bother him; he wanted to finish his cigarette, and he had to admit he wondered where this was going.

                After a few more minutes Japheth said, “I suppose it would be silly not to.” And that was it. Michael didn’t even get to ask a follow up question before Japheth shot back to his feet and bid farewell to Michael. Literally. After he was a few feet away, Japheth turned and said, “Hey, what’s the index today?”

                Michael reached into his khakis and pulled out an index card, walked over and handed it to his friend. The card read, “Over the ‘moo’n.”

                “That’s a good one,” Japheth said. A few moments later, he was gone.

                Michael mumbled “farewell” under his breath and decided he sounded like an idiot.

It felt good.

 

***

 

                Dinner was waiting for him at home. “Your father and I have already eaten,” his mother said. She didn’t seem angry about it, but something was off. Then he remembered it was Thursday, which meant his father would be out at Woody’s. He always ate and ran on the nights he met the guys for beer. His mother looked at him for a moment as if she were going to say more, but instead, she kissed him on the forehead and went off to her room.

                Michael ate the spaghetti his mother had made and went to his room to change clothes, still not entirely sure what one wore to a cow’s funeral. Or autopsy.

                A half an hour went by and then he heard a car pulling up. He ran down the stairs to let Tyler in. He opened the door. Karen stood with her arms across her chest wearing a different skirt from the one she had on at school.”

                “Why—”

                “I thought about it. I asked Tyler to pick me up.”

                “Is that your special dead cow skirt?” he asked, immediately wishing he didn’t.

                Luckily Tyler stepped in. “How’s this going to work?”

                Michael explained that his grandpa and Don Willis grew up together. Michael figured it best to just go over there and tell the truth. His version of the truth: they wanted to see the cow for a school project.

                “Do we need to bring anything?”

                “Only your eyes, my friends,” Michael said, sounding slightly like Japheth, “only your eyes.”

                They drove out to the farm, and on the way they passed Lucky Point. They hadn’t been back since that night two years ago. Michael figured it was fear, but Tyler wasn’t afraid of much, and in his presence Michael figured he’d probably do just about anything. But they hadn’t been back all the same. Michael swore he saw Karen shiver. He asked if she was cold, but she just said, “no,” and looked away.

                They pulled into Don Willis’s driveway at about quarter passed eight. Michael told Tyler it would be best if they went after dinner, but before dark. The September evenings still held more daylight in Indiana, but would soon be replaced by the early sunsets of winter.

                The two boys walked up the steps of the house, but Don Willis came out before they even reached the door.

                “Aren’t you Byron Ridge’s grandson?” the old man asked.

                Michael nodded.

                “I thought so,” he said, “I suspect you kids are here to see the cow. She’s around back in the field. Go out about fifty yards or so. Look for scavengers.”

                “Thanks.” Michael said.

                “Oh, and boys, don’t touch her,” he said, either mistaking Karen for a boy or realizing she wasn’t about to touch the any carcass any time soon.

                Michael assured him they wouldn’t, and they went off around the house.

                “That was easy,” Michael said.

                “Yeah,” Tyler said. “I didn’t think we were really going to get to see it. I figured they’d have taken it by now.”

                Michael didn’t ask if Tyler meant the aliens or the county.

                The field behind the Willis farm was a pasture for grazing, so all they had to watch out for was manure.  A few minutes into the walk, the air confirmed they were on the right track.

                “That’s disgusting,” Karen said. She pulled a scarf from somewhere in her skirt and held it up to her nose.

                They only had to walk about thirty more feet to find the animal. Though there weren’t any scavengers to guide them. The ominous lump stood out like a boil on the skin of the field.

                The cow had been slit open from its neck to its stomach. “Stem to stern,” Michael’s grandpa would have said. The most striking feature, however, was that all of the internal organs were missing as if someone had hollowed the poor thing out. Michael’s grandfather had told him some animals killed the cow, but seeing it firsthand, he immediately knew that wasn’t the case. This was an actual cattle mutilation.

                Michael had read about them before. Supposedly aliens came down and mutilated any number of animals, though they seemed to have a certain proclivity for cows. The first time he had read about it he decided it didn’t make any sense, but he later conceded that neither did UFOs taking people, so maybe there was a secret agenda after all. The problem was this cow looked exactly like the man he and Tyler had seen in the woods two years ago, and it wasn’t aliens who had done that. He didn’t think so anyway.

                “Tyler, are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Michael asked.

                “Only if you’re thinking this isn’t an ET’s handy work.”

                “It doesn’t make any sense.”

                “No.”

                “Why out here? Why away from Lucky Point?”

                “The farm’s pretty close.”

                Karen stopped the routine. “What are you two talking about?”

                “How about we tell you in the car because I don’t want to repeat our previous experience,” Tyler said and pointed toward the horizon. The sun was making its slow descent; the sky had already turned a hazy purple and there was a chill in the air. Way out in the distance, a figure stood like the one the two boys had chased before. This time too far away to tell if it was the same man or just someone looking to see the dead thing in the field.

                They walked back to Tyler’s car trying not to break out into a run. They periodically looked back to see if the figure moved. Or disappeared. By the time they got to the car, the dusk had taken over, and they couldn’t see the phantom, whether he was there or not.

                Once back in the car, Karen said, “Seriously guys, what’s going on?”

                Michael said, “You know that day in the woods you won’t talk about? I might know what happened. But it’s weird,” he paused, thinking about how to proceed. “Karen, I’ve never asked you to talk about what happened that night, but if any of this rings a bell, will you please just tell me?”

                She nodded, and he told his story.

                               

***

 

“The day after you and Ben went missing I had to go over to your aunt’s house with a detective from the police station. He was mostly nice, but I think that’s just because he knows my mom pretty well. He knows me pretty well too I guess. Anyway, the prevailing theory, as I’m sure you’ll remember was that the two of you had run off. We were only fourteen, but I guess when it comes to boys and girls, it’s never too early to start worrying. The problem was they were looking in the wrong places.

                “Since everyone thought you’d run off together, no one wanted to spend any time looking at Lucky Point. That, and Tyler and I told everyone we’d seen you leave.”

                Michael had also not told the search party, or the police, about seeing Karen in the woods mouthing something over and over again while a meteor froze in the sky. He decided it was best to leave it out of this story too.

                “Tyler and I got together the next day, and we joined the search. It wasn’t until we saw a cow in one of the fields that I remembered the bone you were teasing Karen with. All at once, everything seemed to make sense—the bone, the woods, and most importantly the story about the Indians. I had this crazy idea that if the Indians had been around to hunt, there certainly must be bodies somewhere. So I thought, what if it wasn’t a cow bone after all, what if we desecrated some sort of burial ground.”

                “And you thought if you gave the bone back—” Tyler indulged him.

                “Then Karen and Ben would come back.”

                Tyler fidgeted with something on the dash of his car. “There’s one thing wrong with this story.”

                “What’s that?”

                “It’s crazy!” Karen practically yelled.

                “Fine,” Tyler said, “there are two things wrong with the story. And for my contribution, I’d like to point out that I know what a cow bone looks like. The bone came from a cow.”

                “But you don’t know what happened next,” Michael said.

                “I give up what happened next?”

                “Ben and Karen came back.”

                “I know that. She’s in the backseat,” Tyler’s eyes widened, “you aren’t telling me it’s not them are you. Like they came back different.”

                Karen punched him on the shoulder.

                “No,” he said. “Ben and Karen came back, and everyone in town pretended nothing happened. Hell, we pretended nothing happened. What I haven’t ever told you is that I went back to Lucky Point after the search ended the first day. It was still light out, so it didn’t seem that intimidating. I would have invited you along, Tyler, but I thought you’d think I was crazy. Or at least, the kind of crazy that isn’t normal for me.

                “At first, I thought I was crazy, too. I snuck out of the house while the whole town was looking for a couple of kids who went missing, and here I was going to the one place I already told the police they didn’t need to look. I’ll admit I had my doubts. Then I saw Karen’s suitcase. It was right there in the spot she had made earlier. Right there. I couldn’t believe it. I ran over to it. Felt it. I hoped touching it would make everything seem real.

                “I opened it, and there was the bone. I figure you must have slipped it in her suitcase so she’d find it when she got home.”

                “Guilty.” Tyler said.

                Karen punched him again.          

“See?” Michael said.

                “See, what?” Tyler asked.

                “You put the bone in Karen’s case. They left. The woods wanted it back.” For a minute Tyler thought Michael was going to say, “the wood’s gets what it wants,” but he didn’t.

                “Anyway, I grabbed the bone out of the suitcase, threw it into the woods, and then they came back.”

                “And we just came back?” Karen asked.

                “Well, I had to go look for you for a minute, but I found you and Ben lying on one of the banks of the river, on the other side of the woods.”

                “I’ll admit,” Tyler said, “I’m intrigued, but you honestly want me to believe we desecrated an Indian burial ground and as punishment, a band of ghost Indians stole two of our friends. Friends who by the way had already left. If these ghosts of yours wanted to take anyone, they should have taken us.”

                “I didn’t say I’d worked out all of the kinks.”

                “I’ll say. You’re looking over the biggest one of all—the dead guy.”

                “What dead guy?” Karen asked. “You two never said anything about a dead guy.”

                “You’ve never said anything at all,” Tyler said.   

Michael told Karen the story about the gutted man. He conceded that the presence of the talking corpse had never really fit together with the Indian burial ground theory, but he had remained optimistic. After all, his friends did show up when he’d thrown the ghosts a bone.

                “Fine, if it wasn’t a burial ground, then what happened out there? Karen would you care to share?”

                She didn’t say anything for a while. A few times it looked like she might, but something was conflicting her. She finally said, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

                “It couldn’t possibly have been worse than the dead guy thing,” Tyler said. His attempt at encouragement almost brought about a smile. Almost.

                “I just know it wasn’t Indians,” she said.

                “How?” Michael asked.

                She remained quiet again. Finally she said, “Because I saw a woman, and she wasn’t an Indian.”

                “What did she—” Michael started. He didn’t get to finish. Karen ignored him, and she rushed through her story.

                “After Ben and I left, we made it about halfway home when Ben decided it would be a good idea to go back. He convinced me that you and Tyler were secretly going to stay behind, and we were going to scare you. I wanted payback after the whole bone thing.

                “Back at the woods we heard some yelling. We could tell it was Tyler. That’s when things started to get weird.

“The woods lit up, and I mean bright, like Fourth of July bright. I look up in the sky and there is this asteroid thing going through the sky. At first, I think it’s going to hit us. I imagine the entire woods just exploding. I may have screamed at that point; I really don’t remember. Then it stopped. In midair. Just stopped. I turn around to see what Ben thinks is going on. You know how he likes astronomy and all, and he’s gone. Ben’s gone, and there’s a freaking meteor just hanging out above my head. I’m not sure what to do at this point. I mean who would be, right? All I can think of in that moment is that I have to get home. So I start to run away.

                She paused. She wiped something out of her eyes.        

“The only problem is every time I run I end up back in that clearing where we were hanging out earlier.

                “Here I am. Fourteen years old. The guy who’s supposed to walk me home has disappeared; I can’t seem to find my way out of the forest even though it’s not that big; and there’s this shooting star mocking me in the sky. And that’s when I saw her. She was an old woman, probably in her seventies. She wore this gray dress. Lord knows what kind of fabric it was. The thing looked like scrub brushes sewn together. Her hair hung down past her shoulders. Reminded me of dreadlocks. That woman’s poor hair probably hadn’t been washed since the Depression. I almost felt bad for her. Living out there all by herself. I’m sure she doesn’t have running water as sure as I know she’s never heard of conditioner.

                “Then she just points at me and says—

                “Moros is coming?” Michael interrupted her.

                “More what? No, she said, ‘you can’t stop me.’ I didn’t even know I’d been trying. That’s when I blacked out and woke up on that sandbar with Ben. You know the rest from there.”

                Michael had an uneasy feeling she was leaving something out. He didn’t blame her though, he left the part about seeing her out too. He hoped growing up wasn’t going to continue to be a series of leaving things out to your friends. He wondered what it would be like if more and more of his life was left out of conversation. At some point, you wouldn’t know who you were anymore, he figured.

                “Have you ever seen her again?”

                “No. I figured she just lived there. There’re a couple of cabins back there.”

                “What about your blackout? The falling star?”

                “I have no idea. Ben didn’t see any of it. He can’t remember anything from that night. Now do you see why it was easier just letting people think we ran off together? Sure, some people think we’re delinquents, but how would I explain what happened? I wanted to just forget it all. Pretend it never happened. Then when I got home today I found this.” She handed Michael a folded up newspaper. He opened it up to the front page. There was a headline: Man Killed in Animal Attack. The story went on to describe how an as of yet unidentified man had been attacked in Knox County, which was across the river from Terrace Park. There were no details other than the fact he’d been savagely attacked and that his body had been found on the same sandbar where they found Ben and Karen. There was a photo of him with a caption urging readers to come forward with any information on the identity of the individual.

                The face stared back at Michael from the paper, and Michael could hear the words again Tyger! Tyger! burning bright, in the forests of the night.

                “I just want everyone to forget about that night, and now this is bringing it back up. I mean our names are even mentioned in the article, and we don’t have anything to do with it. That’s why I decided to come with you tonight. If something is going on, it involves us. And if everyone in this redneck town is going to be in my business, I’d really like to know what my freaking business is.” She paused. “Michael, what’s wrong?”

                “That’s the man from the woods. That’s the man Tyler and I saw. The talking corpse.”

                Michael’s head filled with questions. Who was that man? Who was the woman Karen saw in the woods? For a whole year he’d contented himself on what two of his best friends were basically calling the silliest—but maybe not inaccurate—theory of the century, and he had to admit, after saying it out loud twice, it was beginning to sound a little far-fetched. He thought about it for a moment.

                “Ivaylo,” he finally said.

                “Lord, that’s worse than Indians,” Karen said.

                “It makes sense. They’re saying he was attacked.” Michael had another thought, “And the cow! The cow suffered from some sort of attack too. No animal did that. You guy’s both realize that right. An animal doesn’t hollow out another animal that precisely.”

They both agreed.

The thought they might be able to prove Ivaylo’s existence sent shivers down his spine. The fact it didn’t explain the shooting star, the old woman, and whatever Moros was didn’t seem to bother him. He pictured the headline for the Consortium’s newsletter now: Ivaylo Hunts Again.

                Tyler brought him back down to earth. “You’re forgetting something. Ivaylo can’t leave Terrace Park. Remember vampires and the running water thing.”

                Michael considered the point. “Maybe he threw the corpse in the river, and it drifted to the other side.”

                “Sadly, that’s the most rational thing you’ve said tonight.” Karen said and flashed him a smile.

                “So, what are we going to do about this new development?” Tyler asked the group.

“I say we call an emergency meeting of the Consortium tonight. The article says that the man was attacked by an animal, but that’s what they said about the cow. We need to find the body.”

                “And how do you propose we do that?” Karen asked.

                “I think I might know someone who can help.” Michael said.

The Man Who Wasn’t There

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After I got out of my car and went in the house for a few hours, I was delighted to discover that the wind had blown all the snow from the sidewalk while retaining my footprints.

 

Mother Nature: Crime Scene Investigator.

 

I hope you all enjoy the photo, and please do come back tomorrow for Chapter 2: The Curious Incident of the Cow in the Nighttime. Like the first chapter it’ll be available in .pdf format if you–like me–don’t want to read 5,000-ish words of blog post. But if you do, it’ll be there too.

 

Until tomorrow!

Big Update!

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I wanted to have at least one substantive post before I let Chapter 2 out into the world on Friday.

 

So you’re getting this:

 

I did my taxes instead. I apologize in advance for my momentary lapse into adulthood.

Smoke in Our Eyes

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“He expertly flicked his cigarette” –Every book ever.

 

A few months ago I was at a poetry reading when someone uttered this line. It’s harmless enough, maybe even true for the circumstances, but could it possibly be true that all smokers are experts at flicking cigarettes? Are there no amateur smokers left? 

 

Then today I came across it again in the book I was reading. (I won’t name names because it’s still shaping up to be a fantastic read.) But I stand before you to make this solemn vow: I will not have a character flick a cigarette unless he sucks at it.

 

 

Think of it as my signature move. (And watch out for it in one of the new installments.)

 

On a side note: I hope everyone’s weekend was lovely and full of writing. 

 

 

 

 

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