Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Lay Me Beneath The Oak Tree by Joy Overbrook



Lay Me Beneath The Oak Tree

The better half of Francis’ years were spent with his wife. Death struck just shy of their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, gifting him an earnest void in her place. The days that followed spun around him like spiders’ silk, beckoning the sweet surrender of death. Yet still, he remained, cursing every waking moment, doubting God’s urgency with his own demise.

Francis stirred awake one morning in the only sanctuary left to him: his auto repair shop. He raised his head from the countertop, unsure how long he’d been passed out, and peeled a newspaper clipping from his temple. He clicked on the vintage Lasko beside him and encouraged the fan’s current with the paper. As the lone photograph on the periodical came into view, he noted a familiar figure beside his own, youthful with promise at the time of its capture. The sepia tone did little justice to Helen’s wedding gown - a satin garment that welcomed envy in the way it wrapped itself around her. A fresh smear of sweat streaked the picture, removing nearly all of the ink depicting her face.

“God damn it,” Francis coughed, searching for a black ballpoint pen to correct the smudge. As he hovered the pen over the tarnished image, he realized his mortal strokes would be a shameful attempt to recreate the masterpiece that was Helen. Instead, he flattened the worn page before him and lit a cigarette. 

He turned towards the fan, encouraging each puff of Marlboro Red back into his lungs. The air cooled the condensation freckling his face, but embers of alcohol still swelled in his veins, allowing little relief.

A scuffling of gravel outside jarred him to feign standing, but the liquor sloshed him back onto his stool. The culprit, likely some emboldened townsboy looking for a thrill, moved too quickly to capture. 

Francis had become a whisper on the breath of the townsfolk after Helen’s passing. He severed ties with anyone or anything that reminded him of their life together and resented the very community that reared him because it couldn't save her.

For feeble payback, he bolted up the entrance to his shop yet its fluorescent Open sign remained lit. Crud-covered windows that once quivered with cautious solicitude now stirred only from a rare breeze or childish mischief. Like everything else, empathy withers and dies. Save for the sound of his metal shop sign creaking on one rusty chain, Francis lived in silence. 

“Stupid kids,” he groaned as he bit the cap off a fresh bottle of Jack Daniels, twisting until the plastic cracked like a Thanksgiving wishbone. The bottle’s contents poured into his mouth until reaching the brim, a near imperceptible twitch puckering his face as he swallowed. A second generous gulp of whiskey washed over his cracked lips, and with it arrived a compulsion to take his tow truck for a cruise. 

Helen was back in the holler - he was sure of it - searching for her husband and an overdue reunion. He pinched his eyes shut, envisioning her now celestial body floating through the bluestem field that claimed her grave as its own. He swayed upright, alcohol and gravity united in their efforts to keep him seated. Defying the weight on his chest and delay in his vision, he stumbled toward the door. 

“I’m coming for you, Helen.” 

He braced himself against the metal meshing on the door's window. Fumbling for several minutes brought little progress, yanking on what he believed to be the bolts and chain locks, only to discover splinters and paint chips protruding from his calloused hands. The buzz of intoxication shielded him from the pain though, immune as thick crimson oozed down his fingers.

He finally groped the doorknob and yanked until the door shook free from its frame. Greeted by summertime Alabama humidity, he took a guarded first step off the stoop. The rough gravel provided enough friction to encourage his steps from then on. He pinned his sunken eyes on the tow truck, swinging his arms like wrecking balls with each step, blood from his fingertips splattering the path. 
When he reached the truck, he realized he hadn’t looked for his keys. As he patted the breast pocket of his t-shirt and scratched at the back of his Wranglers, he wished like a child blowing on a dandelion for his keys to appear. 

“God damn it!” he slurred. The profanity had become a common sentiment for him. As if God was making some final petition to Francis, what appeared but the familiar bulge of a full key chain in his front jeans pocket. 

“Thank you, Helen,” he whispered, denying any other heavenly creature gratitude. 

He peeled the dead stub of a cigarette from between his lips and hurled himself into the driver's seat, smearing nearly-dried blood onto the steering wheel. He lit another, pausing to assess the disarray surrounding him – grease-stained paper bags and decaying chicken bones, piled high as the passenger side window – an indulgence he seldom craved while Helen was alive. He tossed his empty cigarette box into the garbage heap, not before verifying a fresh pack was waiting in the glove box.

After jamming his keys above and below the ignition several times, he made contact, summoning the rumble of the truck’s V8. He reclined into the seat as its soothing vibration rolled beneath him. 

Francis always had an appreciation for machines, from Matchbox cars to chugging locomotives. He marveled at the way bits and pieces were just bits and pieces until they weren’t anymore. As a child, he would tinker until sunrise with junkyard treasures if his parents allowed. Not one person was surprised when he became a mechanic. 

Francis lingered in the memories of happier times until he sensed the burn of a someone staring. To his left, a woman of about twenty-five years stood no farther than a stone's throw, a sack of perishables bulging in her arms. Her face was twisted like a car wreck. She uttered her words with a sedate drawl. "Mister, are you okay?" 

Had this encounter happened a year ago, Francis would have noticed the woman’s kind yet tired eyes and a brow that crinkled the same as Helen's when she worried about him. He would not have been bitter, nor belly deep in whiskey at that hour. 

Francis sucked the life from his cigarette and held the smoke in his lungs, letting the nicotine work in tandem with the whiskey before releasing it toward the woman. 

"Right as rain," he wheezed. "Now get off my property and get the hell away from me!" 

She moved closer despite the reproach, altruism and good Southern manners getting the best of her. Francis flicked his cigarette butt at her feet, narrowly missing her cotton dress. The shock caused the woman to jump backward, and she toppled over. Empathy lurched him toward her for a moment, but he figured no good would come of helping her. He slammed the accelerator down, leaving a cloud of dust around the woman as she salvaged her groceries. 

“I wouldn’ta done that if you were still sittin’ shotgun, Helen. That’s why I gotta find you.” Francis muttered into the loneliness of his truck cab as he whizzed around the first hairpin with a reignited urgency. He switched on the tape deck and leaned into the steering wheel, veering around another sharp curve. Hank Williams’ melancholy refrains shuddered through him in a fitting proclamation - “I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry”. He knew every word, and the song had once been a favorite, but he sat tight-lipped as he drove along the farm-lined stretch of Route 17. He knew if he sang a verse, he would acknowledge Helen's absence, and thus beckon the tears that had not yet been shed. 


He thought the tears would come on the day of the funeral, but her passing was sudden – a type of brain aneurysm that wreaked havoc on many in her family line. Shock overcame grief almost immediately. The first several days after her last was a blur, and on the fifth that passed, a service was held in her memory. A group of eight, including the pastor, met on the western edge of Francis’ property to pay their respects. It was a calm and beautiful day, a fact that irritated him – how could the sun continue to shine so shamelessly, not so much as a soft wind kicking the leaves on the Oak tree? How could the world go on like nothing was different? 

Helen lived for days like that, especially when fortune allowed an afternoon’s respite beneath that Southern Red Oak. She never much cared for the vast expanse of land they inherited, content to simply have a roof over their heads, but the one thing that always brought a twinkle to her eyes was that big old Oak. She spent hours busying her fingers with the pages of a good book, or locks of her husband's hair, all beneath its comforting embrace. 

“Lay me beneath the Oak tree,” she would whisper, pulling Francis against her in the shade of its branches. He could never resist and held her until the velvet blanket of nightfall enveloped them. The night before her passing, it was the last request she gave, so he fulfilled her wishes one last time. 

The Oak’s canopy swathed the mourners in a moss green shadow as Father Jonah read scripture. Francis tried to listen, but his ringing ears halted any penetration of the Lord’s Word. As the memorial came to a close, he offered a stoic nod goodbye, waiting for each vehicle to disappear before acknowledging the wooden box before him. 

He brushed his forefinger along the top, its solid frame bearing life to his new reality. He paused his touch where he imagined Helen’s waist lay beneath and pulled a single red rose from the inside of his suit coat. Helen loved red roses, something about how romantic they were supposed to be. He laid it perfectly at the coffin’s center, imagining it clasped between her fingers, matching her red lacquered nails. 

The thought beseeched an anguished moan. He collapsed into the dirt surrounding her ditch and brought his head flush against the casket’s smooth surface. He rubbed his cheek against it as if nestling into Helen’s bosom.

“Why d‘ya have to leave me so soon, darlin’?” he choked, feeling a sting developing behind his eyes, one that never produced the tears it promised. He wrapped his arms around the box and pressed his lips to it before drowning in a thick black nothing of sorrow. 

The threat of a storm cracked in the sky as the neighbor’s son approached with a shovel. Francis had nearly forgotten that a proper burial required the earth itself to be put between him and his beloved, but he moved aside for the boy to complete his duty. He steadied himself against the knotted trunk of the Oak tree then began a calculated journey toward their home – only his home now – without a word to the boy. 


Francis had not thought about that day since it passed, at least not in the usual sense of ‘thinking about’ something. His brain had become by and large a vacuum of not thinking, just doing. The only word that passed through his mind with any comprehension was Helen, and the only hope he had was to be with her. 

The speedometer flicked upward as Francis continued down Route 17, his mind still glued to the image of his wife floating around their home. The outline of a farm stand grew on the side of the road, a familiar storefront once frequented by Helen. He had every intention of speeding past Virgil’s stand, but at the last moment he screeched crossways to a stop. To his benefit, he was the only patron, and thus the only wiser of his reckless driving. 

Francis hushed the V8 as his truck lurched across the gravel, beads of sweat building on his hairline. The reward he sought narrowly outweighed the risk he was about to undertake. He hadn't spoken to Virgil since the funeral, and the last thing he wanted was to reminisce. He recovered a flask of grain alcohol from the underbelly of his seat and emptied its contents, heartening just enough confidence to go inside. 

Francis swept past bins of watermelons lining the building's perimeter, neglecting their sweet aroma as it perfumed the summer air.  Virgil caught sight of him through the open door and froze where he stood. He dropped the plums in his hands, leaving half a dozen others to topple from their pyramid. Instinct guided him to his humble floral department at the back of the store.

“How are you holding up, Frank?” 

Francis met Virgil’s gaze with a grimace. 

“Dozen roses. Red’ns.” Francis slurred his demand as he slapped a twenty dollar bill on the linoleum counter. 

“I’ve been thinking about you a lot, Frank. Been calling. Damned thing never gets answered...” Virgil’s words hung in the air like fog in a valley, too thick with honesty to welcome a response. Virgil shifted in his shoes, directing Francis’ eyes upwards to a tall, slender vase. It teased him from the highest shelf, with at least thirty long stems, all topped with luscious burgundy petals. 

“Red roses. Dozen red roses,” Francis repeated. 

“Maybe since you’re here now that means you’re ready for some company. Finally tired of bein’ alone with your own thoughts. How’s about Nancy and I stop by with a couple slices of meatloaf tonight? That’d make for a nice summer evening. It certainly would.” 

Virgil turned toward the perennials on the shelf beside him, busying his fidgeting hands with the arrangement. He adjusted each pot, then shifted them once more, waiting for Francis to break the silence. As the delay stretched on, Francis lost his last stitch of patience. 

“Virgil, please! The roses! Just give me the goddamn roses!” 

Francis hurled around the counter and shouldered Virgil into the pots beside him, clearing the pathway to the roses. As he reached for them, smaller vases dove from the shelf and shattered around their feet like bombs. 

“What the hell is wrong with you, Frank? I was gonna get ‘em!” 

“Keep the change,” Francis grumbled, then stormed out of the store with every last red rose in tow. He clutched them to his chest like a newborn as he stalked across the parking lot. When he got to the truck, he shoveled the passenger side trash onto the gravel below and secured the vase beside him. 

“Sure as the wind blows, I know Virgil wouldn’t’ve pushed your buttons like that, darlin’. I don’t have no time to be wasting with niceties, not now.” 

Francis rolled down his window and lit another cigarette, the rose petals vigorously fluttering in the wind. He apprehensively glanced at the bouquet every few seconds, worried to let even one petal fall. “You're gonna love these, Helen.” 

The flowers were beautiful beyond words, though he would never tell Virgil that. Stems near two feet long, most of the thorns trimmed off, with leaves only up near the buds, like the ones you see in the mouths of tango dancers. The silky red petals closed in on themselves, demure and mysterious, just like Helen when they first started courting. Francis reached out his hand to caress the vase as he took another sharp turn, bracing them against the force. 

“Almost there,” he crooned as he drove down the shallow valley that led to his home. He took in a deep drag of his cigarette before getting too close. Helen despised the habit, so he thought it best not to upset her. He idled up to their detached garage and scanned the horizon for Helen’s figure.

Scrunching his eyes together, he creaked the door open, swearing to upturn every inch of their property until he found her, the same as he envisioned that morning. 

“Where are you hidin’, my girl?” 

Giddy excitement washed over him as he played a game of cat and mouse inside his own mind. He thrust himself around a corner, then another, expecting to find Helen giggling, but each time he was met with an empty hiding place. Irritation crept under his skin as he realized she was harder to find than he hoped. As he crouched around the side of his truck, he was suddenly drawn to the Oak tree. 

“I know where you are!” he chuckled, slinging himself into the driver’s seat. He jerked the stick shift and peeled off toward the Oak, the accelerator flush with the floor.

Pressure filled his sinuses as he crossed the open field. With each passing stretch, he pieced together the suppressed memories of their life like a jigsaw. Breath heavy with grief finally come to fruition departed his lungs, and belated tears fell like summer rain.

The speedometer needle flicked higher as he hastened toward her burial ground. He slipped his arm around the vase and pulled it to his chest. Hunched over the wheel, determined to keep his promise, he uttered, "I'm coming for you, Helen." 

The Oak was merciless upon impact. Francis crashed through the windshield and struck the unforgiving trunk, at once liberated him from his pain. He lay atop her grave covered in red roses with a smile teasing the edges of his bluing lips. Just above his head, the engraved epitaph glowed in the setting sun: "Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.”

-End-

Bio Joy Overbrook is a writer, poet, and Managing Editor of the niche online lit mag, Wax Seal. Find her published or forthcoming works in Train Flash Fiction, (b)OINK, occulum, and many more. For more information, follow her on Twitter @joy_overbrook.

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Monday, January 15, 2018

Bang, Bang by Jaap Boekestein


Bang, Bang

Of all the women in the state, Freddy had to bang the wife of Bobby Wings.

Yes, that Bobby Wings.

Freddy is my brother and all, and I love him, but hell sometimes he is such an utter stupid piece of dog shit. I reckon Laura was hot, a former Miss Louisiana or something, but whatever, she was Bobby Wings' wife! And my lovely little brother was banging her. Right in her hubbies bedroom, I gathered.

Bad idea. I told him so, and Freddy laughed.

“You worry too much Carl. You need to get laid once in while yourself. Make you less uptight.”
I had a few girls ever since Katey left me. The paying kind. I... It was not what I was looking for. So basically my brother nailed every pussy between Charleston and Galveston and I was living like a monk. Well, that's life.

We did a pawnshop in Baton Rouge at the end of the second Sunday in May, Mother's Day weekend. At the right moment, the right pawnshop has lots of cash and nice and easy things like coins and jewelry. Pawnshops usually also plenty of security and guns, but you can overcome that with timing and plenty of firepowers. You need body armor and tactical face masks modified AR-15's and a quick getaway car. Come in shooting, leave quickly. Something like that is a three men job, but Freddy and I always pulled it off together. A bigger piece of the pie and you know who you can trust.

It was a pretty good job and while we were driving back, Freddy decided it was a great time to visit Laura Wings.

“She lives nearby. You should see the mansion. It's like a Disney palace. She has a mirror on her bedroom ceiling,” Freddy said. “And a bathroom with a jacuzzi and a big ass television. I once nailed her in the tub while watching porn.”

“I don't care if they have flying pigs and a golden plated piss hole. You're not going to fuck the wife of one of biggest crime bosses in the state while I'm waiting outside with a car full of guns and loot.”
“Nobody will expect us there. It's the perfect place to stay wait out any roadblocks.”

“We stick to the plan,” I said. “We load the stuff in our boat and do some fishing for a few days.”
“I want to fish for something else. And I'm gonna. I need to, Carl. I'm tight as a fiddle string strung between two monster trucks.”

“You're a fucking sex addict. We're not gonna,” I said. “No way in Hell or Heaven.”

Of course, Freddy found a way in between Hell or Heaven. How did he convince me? I wasn't sure myself, but somehow I ended up listening to songs on the car radio a bit down the road of Bobby Wings' mansion while Freddy was inside fucking the brains out of the former Miss whatever. He had messaged her and she had told him her big sweet hubby was out for business, leaving her all alone on Mother's Day. Which was a shame.

Yeah, yeah, blah, blah.

I should have known better. Damn it, I should have.

But Freddy is my brother. I'm my brother's keeper, and he's mine.

How long was he gone? If was at least half an hour before this big black fellow knocked politely on the driver's window of the car. The gun in his other hand looked less polite.

I noticed the three other guys surrounding the car. They didn't bother with handguns. One shotgun, two machine guns. German or Austrian or something. By all means very deadly. They all were pointed straight at me.

I didn't move, I kept my hands where they could see them. Reaching for my gun would be suicide.

The first fellow, the polite one, opened the car door.

“Mr. Wings would like to see you, Carl.”

Shit. They knew my knew which meant they had Freddy. Of course, they had.

I came with them. I didn't have much choice.

We should have gone fishing instead of fucking.

A rich man's home: lots of marble and gold and glass, African voodoo hoodoo stuff on the walls. 

Mask, sculptures, tapestries.  Probably worth a million bucks, but I wouldn't know. It gave me the creeps.

Bobby Wing used to play football, long ago. He never made it the big league but he was a big bass ass mean motherfucker. He was sitting in a white leather chair, an automatic in his lap. His wife Laura sat on the left of him, looking worried. She was a looker and wore nothing but a black silk robe. She had Latino blood in her, long black hair, big eyes, beautiful face.

Freddy sat bud naked on some steel chair, his hands chained behind his back. He was alive. He wasn't even beat up, but he looked worried as hell.

Way too fucking late, if you ask me.

The boss looked at his boys.

“He's clean, Mr. Wings.”

They had taken everything, even my knife and the little .380 Smith & Wesson in my ankle holster. 

They had been thorough.

Bobby waved the guys away and gestured at an empty chair right beside my brother. Over ten feet away from Bobby Wings. Before I could rise and jump him, he would have shot me half a dozen times.

I sat down. Freddy was still alive and so was I. So far, so good.

“Freddy, Carl. Nice to meet you in the flesh,” Bobby Wings said. The big man looked at me. “I gather you're not married anymore, Carl?”

What the...? I looked at Freddy who made a face like I-didn't-tell-him-that!

“I divorced over a year ago,” I answered. Was he going after Katey after he had finished with us? 

Shit, she was my ex, but she didn't deserve to die because Freddy couldn't keep his dick in his pants.

“Yes, she moved up north, back to Boston,” Bobby Wings said.

I felt light-headed. Bobby Wings knew a lot about us. He couldn't have gotten this information in a mere thirty minutes time. He checked us out beforehand. Which was bad.

The crime boss took up a remote and pushed a button. At one end of the room, a television screen came to life. One moment of dark gray nothingness, the next moment my brother was fucking Laura Wings on the big screen. It had been recorded with a fixed camera, a hidden camera I guessed. Freddy and Lauren were really hitting it off.

The big man with the big gun pushed another button. A different time, still Freddy and Laura.
And again, and again, and again. Freddy fucking Laura in the bed, in the bathroom, in the living room, somewhere in a stable, everywhere. She had been giving him the whole tour, of the house and herself.

I could tell from the look on Mrs. Wings' face she hadn't been aware of the hidden camera's. She looked really worried now. Being caught with some moron dick head once was bad, but having a whole porn channel worth of wild sex with a guy who was definitely not her husband, was beyond bad.

Freddy looked worried too.

I guessed I even looked worried. And pissed off. I certainly was both.

“You like to fuck my wife, Freddy?” Bobby Wings asked. The gun was still in his lap.

From the corner of my eyes, I watched my brother. Maybe, very maybe I could jump the big man while he was shooting Freddy. Maybe, very maybe I could wrestle the gun from him and shoot the crime boss before his men took me out.

There was a lot of maybes and however it worked out, Freddy and I would be dead, but if I could I would take Bobby Wings with me. He would kill my brother and I would try to kill him. That was how it worked.

“She is an okay lay,” Freddy answered. He knew he would be dead soon. He wasn't going to beg.
I knew he wouldn't.

Bobby Wings nodded, his big head going up and down like some of those little Buddha's they sell at these Asian shops. “She is, isn't she? And I understand why she fucked you, Freddy. I haven't fucked her for almost twelve months, you know. I fully understand she had needs.”

Uh, yes? What was this? Telling the guys you were going to kill your domestic troubles before you shot a bullet through their heads? This was getting a bit weird.

“I don't care about fucking anymore,” the big man continued. “But I like to watch.”

He nodded towards the screen where my brother was banging Bobby Wings' wife on a desk. If I had to guess it was the big man's own desk. It probably had seemed a very hot idea back then.

“And that's where you two come in.”


***

Bang bang.

That was the way how it went down.

Freddy fucks Laura.

I fuck Laura.

Sometimes we both fuck Laura together.

And Bobby watches. Sometimes he is present in the flesh, sometimes he is watching the live stream, sometimes he watches us later.

It took some getting used too, but hey, it actually works pretty well.

Bobby is happy, Laura is happy, Freddy is happy and even I am happy. Laura is a fun woman, and drop-dead gorgeous. And she has a big heart. And damn, that ceiling, and jacuzzi, the coke and all the other shit. Very nice.

The one thing I worry about is Freddy.

I think he is cheating on Laura.

I'm not sure how Bobby will take it.

Damn my dumb ass brother.


-End-

Bio Jaap Boekestein (1968) is an award-winning Dutch writer of science fiction, fantasy, horror, thrillers and whatever takes his fancy. He usually writes his stories in trains, coffeehouses and in the 16th-century taverns of his native The Hague, the Netherlands. Over the years he has made his living as a bouncer, working for a detective agency and as an editor. Currently, he works for the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice. His English publications include stories in: Cyäegha, Nonbianary Review, Strange Shifters, Lovecraft after Dark, Surreal Nightmares, Urban Temples of Cthulhu, Sirens Call, Mystery Weekly Magazine, Double Feature Magazine, After The Happily Ever After, Cliterature, No Safe Word, Sex & Sorcery 3 and Switblade 2.
http://jlboekestein.wixsite.com/jaap-boekestein
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Monday, January 1, 2018

Moonlight Sonata, With Scissors by Darrell Z. Grizzle



Moonlight Sonata, With Scissors

I was jolted awake by what sounded like a gunshot in my front yard.

I lay in bed for a few seconds, wondering if I’d heard an actual noise or if it was part of a dream I couldn’t remember. I can’t always tell when I’m awake or dreaming, especially in those liminal moments before I’m fully awake. I looked beside me and saw my black cat, Wolfbane, sound asleep and snoring beside me like a small panther. Maybe the gunshot noise had just been a dream.
    
But then came the banging of a fist on my front door. “Zed! Wake up! Zed!” I recognized the voice. Shit. That would be Corey, a former – associate, I guess would be the word. I knew him from a couple of years back, when I’d gotten involved in some business with some shady characters and then, thankfully, got uninvolved. Corey was not someone I’d choose to associate with socially. Especially not at 3 o’clock in the middle of the night.
    
I got out of bed and pulled on some khaki shorts. Wolfbane stirred and stared at me indignantly for waking her up. “Sorry,” I said. She glared at me like she wasn’t accepting my apology.
    
I went to the front door and flung it open. “Was that a damn gunshot I heard?”
    
Corey started to answer but stopped and stepped backwards abruptly. I guess this was the first time he’d ever seen me without a shirt on. Yeah, I lift. And yeah, I got those tattoos in prison. Most of them, at least.
    
“N-no,” he stammered. “That was just the car backfiring. But I’m in a bad jam, Zed. I really need your help.”
    
“What is it?” I demanded, hoping he had taken note that I hadn’t invited him inside.
    
“I’ve got a—” He lowered his voice. “Well, I’ve got a dead body in the trunk of my car.”
    
A dead body. In the middle of the night. Great. “Anyone I know?”
    
“No. It was – a job. It was supposed to be a collection job, just scare the guy, you know, but he must’ve had a heart attack or something.”
    
“And you had the bright idea to bring his dead body to my house?”
    
“I didn’t know where else to go, Zed. Honest. And I thought with you living out in the woods like this, with nobody around—” 
    
“There are people who live on the other side of those woods, Corey. And your car backfire probably woke them up like it did me.”
    
“I’m sorry about that, Zed, really I am. But please. I didn’t know what to do. I still don’t know what to do!”
    
“Did you call whoever hired you and tell him what happened?”
    
“No. I didn’t want to wake—” He stopped and grimaced when he realized what my response would be to that.
    
I said it anyway. “No, of course not. Me you can wake up in the middle of the fucking night, but the gangster wannabe who hired you for the collection job? No, let’s not bother his beauty sleep at all.” I sighed heavily. 
    
“Listen,” said Corey, “I freaked. I didn’t know where to go. You know I’m still on parole. I can’t get caught with a dead body.”
    
“Something you probably should have considered before you took the job. Let me put on some shoes and I’ll come take a look.” I closed the door, leaving him outside in the moonlight.
    
The moon was full so I didn’t need a flashlight to walk past the kudzu to my driveway where his car was parked. It was a big old Buick LeSabre, about twenty years old and nearly rusted out. Big and bulky, with a trunk large enough for the cargo he was carrying. “OK, pop the trunk and let’s see what you got.”
    
What he had was the body of a man about fifty years old. His legs were folded behind him awkwardly, jammed into the trunk, and his arms were at a weird angle to the body. I wondered if rigor mortis had set in. There was a strange look of surprise and bewilderment on the man’s face. A face that looked familiar. “Holy shit,” I said. “Do you know who this is?”
    
“I know his name, that’s all. Charles Gandy. I don’t know anything else about him, except he owed some bookies fifteen grand.”
    
I turned and stared at Corey. “This guy was my parole officer. He helped me get my first legit job when I got out of the pen.” I’d been off parole for five years but Officer Gandy still looked the same as he did back then.
    
“You mean I – you mean he’s—”
    
“Law enforcement. Yes, you have a dead peace officer in the trunk of your car.”
    
Corey started breathing heavy and mumbling “Oh shit oh shit oh shit” to himself.  I started to go through Officer Gandy’s pockets but realized I should put on some gloves before doing so. 
    
“Wait here while I go get my gloves.”
    
“Gloves!” he exclaimed. “I shoulda worn gloves when I carried him out to my trunk! My prints are prob’ly all over him!”
    
By the time I got back, my camo hunting gloves on both hands, Corey was almost in a state of panic. I ignored him for the moment and went through the dead man’s pockets. “Yep, here’s his badge,” I said, holding it up. Corey looked like he was about to faint.
    
I noticed some sort of netting was wrapped around the back of Officer Gandy’s clothes. “What’s all this?” I asked.
    
Corey collected himself enough to answer, “That’s some mosquito netting for when I go camping. It was in the trunk when I put in – the body.”
    
“It’s starting to get tangled up in his clothes,” I said. “Do you have a knife or something so I can cut it off?”
    
“I think I might have something. Here.” He pulled a pair of scissors out of the front pocket of his pants. I took the scissors and started to cut the netting but suddenly I stopped and looked at the scissors in my hand.
    
“Wait a minute. Where did you get these?”
    
“From my pocket just now.”
    
“But why are you carrying a pair of scissors in your pocket? That doesn’t make sense.”
    
“I just – I don’t know.” He looked dumbfounded.
    
“Do you remember putting those scissors in your pocket?”
    
“No,” he said. “I have no idea how they got in my pocket. I just – somehow I knew they were there. What’s the big deal?”
    
I stepped away from the body in the trunk. “I think I know what’s happening,” I said. “I think this is all a bad dream.”
    
He looked at me like I was crazy. “What?”
    
“A dream,” I said, calmly. “This is a nightmare. We can control it. We can even choose to wake up and end it. Do you know about lucid dreaming?”
    
“Lucid what? No! I have no idea what you’re talking about. All I know is I have a dead parole officer in my trunk and I’m in a buttload of trouble.”
    
I closed my eyes and concentrated. For a few seconds we were both silent and all I could hear were the crickets in the forest surrounding my house. I opened my eyes and said, “No. No you don’t. You don’t have a body in your trunk.”
    
“What!” He pointed to the trunk. “Have you lost your fucking mind? I know there’s—” He stopped when he saw that the trunk was empty except for the mosquito netting and an old camping tent crammed into the corner.
    
Now he really did look panicked. “Where did he go? What happened to the body?” His eyes were wide and wild-looking.
    
“Lucid dreaming. I chose to make him go away. Just like I’m about to choose to make you go away, and then I’m going to choose to wake up.” I held the scissors in my hand like a weapon and started advancing toward him. I could see the confusion in his eyes as it was quickly replaced by terror. He was terrified – of me.
    
He started backing away from me. “Listen, Zed, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have bothered you with this. I’ll get out of here, honest I will. Just tell me where the body went and I’ll take it somewhere else.”
    
“How can you do that when you’re not even here?” I swiped the scissors at his face but before they made contact, he vanished into thin air. And so did his car, and so did the scissors in my hand.
    
I stood alone in the middle of the moonlit driveway. I closed my eyes tightly and concentrated on one thing: waking up. Next thing I knew, I was back in my bed, with my cat Wolfbane snuggled up beside me, gently snoring or maybe purring in her sleep, or both. I hoped she was having a better dream than the one I’d had.

#

The next morning I wrote down what I remembered of the dream in the notebook I kept by the bed. I could remember it so vividly, it felt like it had actually happened. I started to wonder if it had. But that was crazy, of course, especially the way the dead body, and Corey, and Corey’s car had all vanished into thin air in the dream. 
    
But I found myself going online and looking up Charles Gandy. I found his Facebook page and saw where he had posted, just that morning, a rambling complaint about traffic on his way to the parole office. So he was still alive and well, and still a parole officer, and apparently doing OK except for a bothersome morning commute to work.
    
I clicked over to Corey’s Facebook page and saw where he had posted a photo of himself, trying to look cool as leaned against his “vintage” Buick LeSabre. I had probably seen that pic and that’s why the car had shown up in my dream. I started to send him a message, asking him how he was doing, but I decided against it. It was time to let the strange dream go.

#

Two nights later I was jolted awake from a sound sleep by what sounded like a gunshot in my front yard.
    
Not again, I thought. I lay in bed for a few seconds, and sure enough, there came the knocking at my front door. “Zed! Wake up! Zed!”
    
I got out of bed and pulled on some khaki shorts – and this time I put on my shoes before answering the door. There it was, the same indignant glare from Wolfbane, and when I opened the front door, there was Corey, startled at the unexpected sight of my pec muscles and tattoos, then stammering about the dead body in his trunk.
    
He probably wondered about the bored expression on my face when I followed him out to his car and said, “OK, pop the trunk and let’s see what you got.”
    
Yep, there was Officer Gandy, the same strange look of surprise and bewilderment on his face, the same tangle of mosquito netting on back of his clothes. I found myself feeling amused at Corey’s growing sense of desperation as I told him this was the body of my former parole officer. I interrupted his nervous stammering and said, “Hand me the scissors in your pocket.”
    
“Hand you the—? What are you talking about, Zed? I don’t have any scissors in my pocket.”
    
“Yes, you do. Take a look.”
    
He patted both front pockets with his hand and looked surprised as hell to find the pair of scissors. He handed the scissors to me and asked, “How did you—? Where the hell did those come from? What the fuck is going on?”
    
“What’s going on is, this is all a bad dream. I’m going to choose to wake up. I’m going to choose to make you – and this body in your trunk – go away.” I held the scissors in my hand like a weapon and started advancing toward him. There it was again, the confusion in his eyes, quickly replaced by terror.
    
He started backing away from me. “Listen, Zed, I’m sorry. I’ll get out of here, honest I will.”
    
“Yes, of course you will,” I said. I swiped the scissors at his face but this time he didn’t vanish. “What the—?” I stabbed at him again and he stood there in shock as I stabbed him yet again. It slowly began to dawn on me: this wasn’t a dream this time. I backed away and saw that I had cut up Corey’s face and part of his neck with the scissors and he was bleeding profusely. He was on his knees now, shaking and pleading with me, “Please, Zed, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” His face was sliced to ribbons and blood was soaking into his shirt. One of his eyes was gashed in and I watched in horror as the life went out of the other eye and his body slumped down to the ground.
    
This can’t be happening, I thought, as I felt the sense of panic begin to overtake me. This is a dream, I told myself. I wrote all this down in my dream journal. This isn’t real. I need to wake up!
    
But there I was, a pair of bloody scissors in my hand, alone in the moonlight, staring at Corey’s dead body on the ground. I stabbed the scissors into my thigh and sure enough, I could feel them. They were real. The pain radiated through my leg like an electric shock as the crickets continued their night chorus. This wasn’t a dream this time.
    
This time I was stone cold awake, and this time I had two fucking corpses to deal with.

-End-

Bio Darrell Z. Grizzle is a former parole officer who now works as a counselor in private practice. He writes horror and crime fiction in shadow-haunted Marietta, Georgia, where he lives with two cats and way too many books. His fiction publications include “The Bag in the Corner” (Shotgun Honey, May 2016), “The Last Confession” (Near to the Knuckle, February 2017), “The Lazaretto Ghost” (Mad Scientist Journal, Summer 2017) and “Under the Blood” (Skelos: The Journal of Weird Fiction and Dark Fantasy, Number 4).  You can find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dzgrizzle and on Twitter and Instagram as @existentialbear.
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