Thursday, 30 August 2012

HELL by Christopher Black


Another crackin' d├ębut, this time from Christopher who shows us his take on...  


HELL 
  

I don’t believe in hell. 
  
Not the way the Bible tells it, anyway. The Big Man in the sky passing judgement, the Devil presiding over a seething lake of fire, punishing the souls of the wicked and the damned. I don’t have any faith. 
  
I mean, it’s the sort of thing we all think about, try to get straight in our heads. Well, I don’t believe in any of that. 
  
The road south is quiet at this time of night. A dual-carriageway, with the regular flash-flash-flash of streetlights. No sound outside but my tires humming on the road, and nothing much moving out in the darkness. I’m alone with my thoughts. Almost alone. 

No, I don’t believe there’s a hell waiting for us after we die, or heaven, or judgement. I reckon if we want to see any of that stuff then we have to make it for ourselves. 
  
What would hell on Earth be like? I think about a young woman, with everything going for her. A young woman cut down one night by a car out of control. A young woman with everything smashed out from under her. From the prime of life to half a life. That seems like hell to me. 
  
Turning out onto the country roads, low-hanging clouds and the still darkness mean I can’t see anything much at all beyond the twin ovals of my headlights. Not that I need to see much. I know where I’m going. I picked the place carefully. Everything was done with care and attention. 

I know exactly what’s waiting out there in the night. Low scrubby hills and gorse, ice age rocks carried south by sweeping glaciers a millennia ago, left to sit out eternity on this blasted moorland. 
  
I wind down all the windows. Not that I need the cold to keep me alert. I’m on edge as it is. The latex gloves feel strange between my skin and the wheel, but it doesn’t distract me. 
  
I know what’s out there in the darkness. Half a mile after the last wooden fence post I slow, looking for the rock and the bush, my signposts, the right turn, the crawling sheep track. Bouncing around now, the stones and the potholes punishing the suspension. Twisting through the scrub. 
  
Or the family. The people who loved her, forced to watch a bright, confident young woman destroyed. A sister who had everything stripped from her. A light extinguished. The people who failed to protect her. 
  
That’s another circle of hell. To watch her sliding down, stranded in that damned chair. Never to stand again, never to walk. Never happy again. And the man who did this to her? Two years for drunk driving. Out in one. And maybe that’s the innermost circle of hell. Watching him walk away and her life destroyed. Maybe that’s true hell on earth. 
  
I thread the car through to the spot I picked out. Turn off the engine. Sit in darkness. The faint bleating of sheep on the wind, and nothing else. 
  
Taking the can from the backseat I start to douse the car, all over, inside, everywhere. Toss the can into the bushes. Strip the gloves, toss them on to the passenger seat. Look around. 


My eyes have adjusted to the darkness. I can make out the grey cloud against the black line of the low hills on every side. We’re in a natural hollow. Nobody will see the fire. Nobody will see the smoke until dawn, still a few hours away. By then, I’ll be long gone. Probably. I don’t know yet. 
  
I rap on the boot, call him by name. He doesn’t answer but I can hear him twisting about, shifting position. I know he can hear me. Maybe he still thinks he’s getting out of there. That he can talk his way out again. 
  
Two years it took her to die. Until her will gave out. It took the last of her strength, as the pains lanced up her crippled spine. Two years in the chair. In the end the pills were the only thing she could reach. Two years. I wish I could make it last as long for him, but we do the best we can. 
  
The match flares, tumbles through the night. The flames catch with a whoomp. They take hold quickly. Now he’s making noise, a lot of it. I listen carefully to every word. I tell myself I’ll remember everything. I’ll remember the pleading and the begging; the words that soon become moans, and then screams. I wish it could be hotter. I dream that it will never stop, that eternity will be this, for him. 
  
I don’t believe in hell. Not after death. If we want hell we have to make it for ourselves, right here on Earth. And we do. 


BIO:   
Christopher Black is an unpublished UK writer. Luckily he doesn’t do it for the money. He procrastinates inconsistently about noir and other things at his Available In Any Colour blog

Thursday, 16 August 2012

DARK GENESIS by AJ Hayes

I was so pleased and excited to receive a tale by AJ Hayes at TK'n'C, being a great admirer of his noir and poetry. This story is a chilling and beautiful other side to his dark demeanour - and I hope you'll join me in bidding AJ welcome with...

DARK GENESIS


I am a thousand million years old and you know my name. You think there is more than one of me, but there, you're wrong. I am and have been and ever will be, alone. You have grown wiser these days with your science and data machines tracking some of my deeds. The ones I've let you know. You've found my places. The ones I used to use. Over the years you've inched closer and closer to me. And now, you're outside my final stand. Our final stand I should say, mine and hers. Backs to the granite walls we wait in the flickering light.

"Kiss me, love.” she says, her trellised scarlet hair loose and flaming down her back.

I do. Long and slow and sharp.
The amethyst stain of blood marks my claim between her breasts.

“Yes,” she says slow and death drowsy. “Yes.”

I lift my lips from her flesh that is my flesh.

“Remember the garden?” I ask and she nods and sleeps in my arms.

“Goodnight, Lilith,” I whisper and turn to face the great, brass-bound doors as they fall and your chain guns speak and a thousand thousand needles of cold iron shred us into a thousand thousand tiny pieces.

***

You were right about one thing you thought you knew about me. You were right in thinking it would take me a long time to reassemble my body from the tiny, bloody bits you made of it. It would have taken me eons to do that. You were perfectly correct to use the needle guns. It was brilliant.

The other thing you thought you knew though . . . was wrong.

***

I wake floating in the darkness of the primal deep. In my arms Lilith stirs and looks about us, her green eyes soft with sleep.

“Ah,” she murmurs. “Again.”

“Yes,” I answer.

“They were much more clever this time.”

“Yes.”

I gather her closer and let my nails lightly caress her. She shivers and her hair trails across my chest.
“But not clever enough,” she says.

“No.” I say and cup her tight curved belly. “They thought that fire would save them.”

Her lips track slow and soft on my chest and abdomen.

“Foolishness,” she whispers and moves further down.

“Yes,” I say.

***

You sought and scraped and collected every microscopic scrap of us, sealed us in a lead sarcophagus and placed us in your needle-pointed rocket. Then you fired us into the sun because you knew that the only thing that could destroy us was sunlight. You knew that we flamed into oblivion when the sun's rays struck us because we were, after all, the children of darkness. And, as everyone knew, light was the enemy of dark.

Pah! The sun has never hated us. The sun loves us. We burn in the sun because our very darkness incites the sunlight to greater glory. We are kerosine to its flame. Even sun rays weakened by ninety-three million miles of travel burn a hundred times hotter than the surface of Sol itself when we are engulfed by them.

Thus, when your rocket blew apart and the lead box around us melted and scattered our bits of flesh across the heart of the sun, that star heated instantly to a billion billion degrees hotter than it had ever burned. So hot, it slashed its exploding flames across the face of the cosmos in a microsecond and tore a hole in time. So hot that when the explosion became an implosion, it sucked the entire universe down into a shimmering bubble about the size of a beach ball.

And there was darkness on the face of the deep and the universe was void.

Except for us.

***

Lilith slides like lava up my body and poises above me, her mouth wide and our tongues dance a ballet. I hold her hips and slowly lower her. She gasps and her legs widen while she tightens around me.

“Father,” she says as her body thrusts slow and deep. “It's time.”

“I know, dear one,” I say, answering her movements with my own. “Only this time, I think I'll call you, Gaea.”

“Yes, that's a nice name. But quickly, please,” she moans. Her back arches and she thrusts harder. “The words, Father,” she moans, shuddering. “Now.”

I slash upward with my hips as sun fire runs through me and I stab my needled talons into the beach ball universe and it explodes into being.

“Let there be light,” I say.

And there is.

__________________________________

BIO: AJ Hayes lives in a small town near San Diego and he admires that particular patch of crazy a lot. Southern California is a never ending source of the weird and goofy and just plain scary and he finds comfort in that.

He's been published around the web and in a couple of anthologies. He finds great comfort in PT Barnum's saying about "Fooling all of the people some of the time."

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

BULLETS FOR ANGEL By Greg Mollin


Give a warm TKnC welcome to Greg with...


Bullets for Angel 

  
      I wake with a hot streak of sunlight burning a blinding line across my eyes and forehead.  I roll off the edge of the bed and land hard on ancient carpet.  I can smell the smoke from a million cigarettes and maybe someone’s dog.  I pull myself up and tug the drapes closed.  My eyes throb when I keep them open for more than a second and I have to dig deep to fight from adding puke to the already fragrant floor.  

      I squint around the room.  It takes me a moment to realize I’m in my own house.  Jerry Springer is berating some white trash on the muted television.  The coffee table is covered in empty beer cans.  It tastes like Jack Daniels shat in my mouth.  I’m fully clothed, sans boots and I can feel something cold and heavy tucked into the back of my jeans.  I reach back and a blood crusted hand comes back holding my silver nine.  I pop an empty clip.  The stench of cordite stings my nose.  

      There’s a knock at the door and then a woman’s voice.  I vaguely remember calling my ex.  Not sure if we had another fight but something feels resolved as I open the door.  She’s standing there, arms crossed in that angry/tired/fed up way.  She looks beautiful. 

      “Tom, what the hell is going on?  You can’t keep calling me whenever you get drunk and expect me to come running,” she says, walking in without closing the door.  The sunlight exposes the mess of the house and flashes on the gun I tossed on the bed.  She goes to sit down and then sees it.  “Holy shit, Tom, is that a gun?”

      “Think I might have killed someone last night, Angel.  This gun’s been fired and this ain’t my blood.”  I tug at the sleeve of my shirt and spread the fingers of my hand.  “You happen to see my car out there?” 

      “It’s out back by the garage.  I wasn’t even sure you were here ‘till I walked around the house and saw it back there.  What the fuck were you doing behind the wheel last night?” 

      That makes me laugh.  Here I am, sitting in the dark with a gun, covered in someone else’s blood and she’s concerned about drunk driving.
  
      “You never did know which battles to choose, baby.  You got a smoke?” 

      She reaches into her purse and roots around for a second before tossing me the pack where I’m sitting back on the bed.  She still carries that big old brown leather bag.  Thing that size would be better suited hugging the fender of a Harley than over the shoulder of a little blonde. 

      I dig into my pocket and bring out a Zippo.  I run my thumb over the small letters engraved on it.  Braille on a little silver tombstone.  The hollow metallic click rings in the silence between us as I light up.   I blow my smoke up at the ceiling and tuck the thing back in my pocket.  

      “You want a beer? I ask.  I walk into the kitchen and grab a cold can from the refrigerator.  The sound of the door shutting drowns out whatever reply she gives me.   A picture of us at our favorite taco stand in Cabo is stuck to the door with a Donald Duck magnet.  She looks happy.  I look edgy and drunk.  Dangerous. 

      “Hair of the dog,” I say, cracking the beer and swallowing half of it.  It makes my eyes water.  I set the can on the table next to the bed and sit back down.  My head feels a mile wide.  The Zippo feels hot against my leg.  I take a drag from the smoke.  The gun is next to me on the bed.  I try to think of it as the guilty party.
  
      Angel isn’t talking, just watching me.  Her eyes go to the blood on my shirt and back to the gun.  She grabs the pack off the table and lights up before putting them back in her purse and setting it down next to the recliner by the door. 

      “So, do you have any idea what happened last night?” she says.  She’s pacing now, back and forth in front of the bed.  A scuffle breaks out on TV.  “I should have left as soon as I saw that gun, Tommy.  Just being around one of those things violates my parole.  I can’t be going back to jail over some crazy shit you did.  Besides,” she says, taking a deep drag from the cigarette.  “If J.B. finds out I came over here, he’s liable to start beating on me again.”  She points to a greenish blotch under her eye, partially concealed beneath the thin film of makeup.  “This shiner is just from burning his toast last weekend.”  She blows out her smoke and drops the butt into an empty on the table.  It sizzles in the moisture. 

      A day ago, that bruise would have pushed me straight into a rage.  I want to reach out and touch her skin.  She looks at me nervously.  She’s trying to read me and I just smile.  Looking at her like this, it’s difficult to remember how tough she really is.  Angel, my Angel.  My hard little girl.  She doesn't return the smile.  She walks to the bathroom and closes the door.  I can hear the water running. 

      There’s something stiff in the fabric on the front of my shirt.  I pick at it and deep red dust comes away on my fingertips.  I unbutton the shirt and toss it onto the growing pile between my bed and the wall.  I really need to clean this place.  I should probably wash my hands at some point. 
    
      She returns from the bathroom and folds her arms.  There’s more makeup covering that bruise.  She’s pulled her hair back into a thick ponytail.  

      “Well, Tom,” she says, “if you’re just gonna sit there and stare at me with that dumb grin on your face and not tell me what happened, I’m out of here.  I need to stop by the market before Jerry gets home.”  She picks up her purse and pretends to look for something. 

      “Can I get one more of those smokes, baby?” I say.  I want to hold her and tell her everything.  I want to make her believe it will all be okay.  I stand up and reach out for her.  She hands me the cigarettes and pushes her palm out flat to make me stop.  

      “Take the rest, and Tom, please don’t call me anymore.  I’m trying to clean up my life.  Next time you get the itch to confess about something, go talk to a priest.  I can’t deal with this shit anymore.”   She turns and opens the door.  For a moment, she’s framed in light, like a real angel.  To me, she is.  

      “Goodbye Angel, my Angel,” I hear myself say as she shuts the door and I’m alone again in the darkness.  I wrestle the last scent of her from the dank air before going to the bathroom to shower. 

      After the shower I pull on a t-shirt and jeans and head out to the back porch.  The hot water has sharpened me up and the pounding in my eyes is almost gone.  The afternoon sun warms my skin.  I want to soak it in and push out the constant coldness I feel.   I can hear the kids next door laughing as they chase each other around the back yard.  My memories of childhood don’t tend to involve laughter.  I’ve always felt chased. 

      I pull the Zippo from my pocket and light one of the cigarettes Angel left me.  I close the lighter with a flick of my wrist and look at the initials “JB” etched into the chrome surface.  The lighter winks at me in the reflected sunlight as if to show consent to the secret we share. 

      I load a clip with bullets and take the gun with me out to the Charger.  I think of all the time that Angel and I have spent in this car together; road trips and drive-in movies, kissing in the moonlight on the crest of Signal Hill.  At least I still have the car. 

      I turn the key and listen to the muted growl of the idling engine.  The clock on the CD player says one-thirty.  The interior is getting hot and very soon there’ll be a smell coming from the trunk that won’t be easy to cover.  I figure it’ll take me about three hours to get through the border into Mexico.  With luck I’ll be in Cabo in twenty four.  Maybe I’ll hit that taco stand.  


Bio:
Greg Mollin is a fiction writer living in Orange County, California. He has been involved in everything from hardcore punk music to graphic design, and even a stint as writer/performer on a popular cable television sketch comedy show. His short story, The Monster on Myers Avenue, appeared in Dark Moon Digest#3. Burial Day Books featured his story, Where the Fault Lies, which was also included in their Gothic Blue Book: Haunted Edition collection.  

Greg's website is here.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

ADJUSTED by Michael E. Grant

Clunk, click. Keep those bones in check - Michael E. Grant makes a cracking TK'n'C debut with this painful chiller...

ADJUSTED

Trent was face down on the chiropractor’s table. He hadn’t moved in over an hour.

The good news was that the immense pain in his back had completely disappeared.

The bad news was he couldn’t feel anything below his neck.

“Dr. Byron? Are you there?” he mumbled with difficultly having his face wedged between the head cushions of the specialized table.

It was a simple adjustment. Trent heard the usual CLICK when Dr. Byron twisted his neck. There was a moment of great relief. And then he felt nothing. With every passing minute, Trent’s fear increased. But he was at a chiropractor’s office.

Surely this sort of thing happened before?

Unable to move, Trent stared at the gray carpet and focused on his breathing. Deep breaths, remaining calm.

Minutes later he heard the door open and footsteps entering the office.

“Trent, are you awake?” Dr. Byron asked.

“Why can’t I move?”

“It was a tricky adjustment. I do want you to know that I am truly sorry about all this.”

Trent’s head hung useless as his body was lifted off the table. His eyes drifting, he could see Dr. Byron and his secretary, Jenny, holding his body by the arms. The look on their faces did not calm his nerves. In fact it was frighteningly clear that he only had one option.

“Help! Somebody help me!”

Jenny smacked her gum. “Oh, not this again! Jam something in his mouth fast!”

Seconds later, Trent was silent.


Dr. Byron and Jenny carried him across the parking lot. Trent’s head was flopping uselessly, providing a perfect view of the gravel and their shoes. Desperately he tried pushing the sock from his mouth but it was jammed too deep. The pungent smell of sweat from the fabric was nauseating. Trent would have wretched, but the fear he was feeling dominated all other thoughts.

Where could they be taking him?

How could one simple visit to the chiropractor go so terribly wrong?


“Ok, here we are,” Jenny said over the sound of a heavy lid raised on a squeaky hinge.

Trent’s head jostled to the side as he was hoisted into the air. With a jolt of panic he understood where he was being placed. A moment later his useless frame plummeted into the garbage dumpster.

He could hear their voices as they stood outside.

“Dr. Byron, you really have to work on your method. I mean, that’s three times this week. If this keeps up, I’m going to get another job. I am not going to jail…again.”

“I can’t explain it. It’s like I’ve lost the touch. It’s really starting to become embarrassing.”

“Yes, it is. Well, at least trash day is tomorrow so we have a clean slate.”

Their footsteps faded.

Trent tried in vain to force his limbs to respond, but his body was essentially broken. Then their words registered in his brain.

Three times?

His eyes could still move and with his head leaning sideways he could dimly see the inside of the dumpster. There were crumbled cardboard boxes, black trash bags, and shredded papers. Then Trent saw what he feared most. His gaze locked with the desperate eyes of another man, who was also broken.

The horror escalated when Trent saw a second man twisted in the corner. His face was covered with scratches and his lone eye was watering with pure unbelieving panic. The other eye had already been eaten by some animal that must visit the dumpster for food.

The three patients lie in the darkness of the metal container.

No one talked.

No one moved.

Trent found he could only pray that someone would come searching for him.

His praying continued until the moment the garbage truck hoisted the bin and their three bodies fell unnoticed from the dumpster.

Trent heard the roaring continuous grind of the compactor.

Amazingly the sound of his bones breaking was even louder.

And then he received a much worse adjustment.

Sadly, this one didn’t kill him either.

_______________________________________

Michael E. Grant is the author of IN 666 WORDS.

You can follow all news and works for the author at www.latenighthorrors.com


Monday, 6 August 2012

ANNOUNCEMENT... Please welcome our new Co-Editor...

New TK'n'C Editor - David Barber.
... Mr David Barber!!!


My long time friend and fellow writer has been getting itchy feet (and big ones at that!), after his eighteen month stint over at The Flash Fiction Offensive.  This, coupled with the fact that we've recently had to close submissions a few times due to backlog and our own respective writing commitments, made the decision a no-brainer.  


When the opportunity arose, Matt, Lily and I literally bit his hands off (a horror story in itself).  Having prized them from Lily's fangs and sown them back on, Dave is now ready to get stuck in, reading, editing, and offering constructive feedback where necessary.  Consequently, submissions will be opening again very soon.


Dave brings to the table, an eye for tyops (!), a great understanding of story structure and, going off his own short story collection, FROM A CROWDED MIND Vol. 1, an expert knowledge of what the reader desires.


It feels right to have Dave on board, since TKnC launched him onto the writing scene after many years away.  Since August 2009, he's had over a dozen pieces published on our site, the first of which, SORRY LOVE, won a Bullet Award. 

So, please join us in welcoming our new co-editor, David Barber! 


Regards,
Crime Dude, Col   

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

STRANGERS by Joseph Clifford

Joe Clifford opens our doors this August with a story that thrills and chills. Do join us in welcoming Joe back to TK'n'C with...

STRANGERS


Will wasn’t the kind of guy who usually stopped for strangers.  Especially not strangers on desolate, detour roads in the middle of a foreign country after midnight.  But when he passed the flashing hazards in a culvert, something inside made him slow and break from his routine.  This was a test.

He’d been on his way back to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris after three months backpacking, a post graduation gift from his father.  Although the old man would’ve gladly footed the bill for five-star accommodations, Will opted for bunking in hostels and riding third class rail instead, mixing with townsfolk and locals to cultivate a more authentic experience.  Mostly this entailed getting drunk and feeling up girls who spoke little English.  Not that it made any difference what language they spoke.  Everyone in Europe was so goddamn friendly.  Like Devlin, the guy he met on the ferry to Corfu’s Pink Palace, the final stop on his journey.  Really cool dude from…actually, Will couldn’t recall.  He’d been pretty wasted.

Originally majoring in Women’s Studies only as a way to meet girls (and piss off the old man who wanted him in pre-law), Will had been pleasantly surprised to discover the terrific conversation starters and cocktail fodder his course work yielded. 

He’d been holding council with a pack of fellow travelers on the boat, passing a flask and reciting stats about how most acts of violence were actually perpetuated by people you know, as opposed to don’t know, evidence one needn’t have stranger anxiety, when his diatribe caught the attention of the dark, brooding Devlin. 

“Quite a speech,” Devlin said as the ferry docked.  

“I like meeting new people,” said Will.  “Back home they aren’t always so receptive.  Wish I’d studied here.  Folks are a lot nicer.”

“Where’d you get your degree?”

“Columbia.”

Devlin chuckled.  “I was just reading the New York Times.  Unsolved murders, serial killers, women vivisected and videotaped while still alive.”  He swept the greasy black hair from his forehead.  “Perhaps you are picking the wrong city to use an example.” 

“It’s not just New York,” said Will.  “I grew up in Bucketville, Tennessee. Population 1,280.  You know what they say about the South being friendly?  Bullshit.  It’s no safer.  When I was boy, there was a sicko going around strangling little girls.  And we’re talking white-picket, God-fearing, everyone-knows-his-neighbor USA.”

“All the more reason to be cautious,” Devlin said.

 “No, that’s what I’m telling you.  It’s because Americans are so scared of the other that they create this climate of paranoia and hostility.”

“Self-fulfilling prophecy.”

“Exactly,” Will said.  “Everyone is so suspicious of the unknown, the pent-up rage and resentment eventually makes it impossible to connect in a way other than antagonistic.”

The two men stepped off the dock as the fat orange sun sank into the Mediterranean.  Bouncing behinds, shrink-wrapped in teeny shorts and bikini bottoms, raced along the dusty trail to the Pink Palace.

“Interesting theory,” Devlin said.  “But there are bad people everywhere.”  He gestured over hill and harbor.  “Even here.  You can’t be too trusting.” 

“Trusting isn’t the same as gullible.”

Devlin’s face washed grave.  “Oh, shit,” he said, patting down his pockets.  “You have €40?  I’ll give it right back to you.”

Without hesitation, Will opened his fanny pack, passing along two bills.

Devlin snatched the money, waving it high.  “See?  You just handed over money to a stranger!”

“But you’re not a stranger anymore!” Will said, flinging an arm around him. “We’re friends!”   
                                                                       
*
           
It had been a crazy drug- and alcohol-fueled three days and nights at the Palace. Palladium pumping electronica, sweaty, promiscuous girls with pierced tongues popping pills, ready to party.  Shots of ouzo and jelly wrestling, everyone half naked come dawn. Will would never forget it.  At least the parts he could still remember.  The only negative, sometime during the festivities, he’d lost track of Devlin.  Didn’t even know the guy’s last name to look him up on Facebook later.

Leaving Corfu, Will felt like the dragging hindquarters of a dog, and by the time he made Rome he couldn’t take another minute on crowded, smelly public transportation.  He was going to switch his departing flight to the da Vinci Airport but then decided to rent a car instead and drive to France.  He wasn’t exactly itching to get back home.  Once there, he’d start work in the old man’s firm.  More and more he suspected law wasn’t for him. 

Zipping along the Autostrada in a Mercedes E 200, Will made good time to Genoa, but crossing the Apennines at night, a landslide forced a detour, and Will soon found himself on a winding country road to the nexus of nowhere, which is when he encountered the stranded motorist, forcing Will to face an ugly truth.  For all his big talk, Will rarely took a chance on a stranger.  A friendly hello or bar banter, sure, but how often did he make himself truly vulnerable?  It was time to put his money where his mouth was.

A little after two a.m., he hadn’t seen another car on the dark one-lane for hours. Will checked his iPhone.  No service.  If he didn’t stop, poor bastard could be out there all night in the cold.

He popped the car in reverse, figuring if it was some scary dude, he’d have plenty of time to punch it and go, but when he caught sight of the soft blonde curls, he realized the Universe was immediately paying dividends on his newfound altruism.

The girl acted surprised to see anyone out that time of night.  

Will showed his hands, then dumbly pointed at his chest, and in his best Me Tarzan You Jane said, “Americano.  Studente universitari.”

The girl relaxed.  “It’s OK.  I speak English.”  

What was that accent?  Austrian?  Swiss?  Very slight.  Sexy as hell.  This whole trip he hadn’t had a girl from either country.  How great would it be to cap this adventure with that notch on his belt?

“What happened?” he asked.

“Don’t know.  Just start losing power.  I push accelerator, no go.”

“Pop the hood.”  It sounded like something a man was supposed to say, even though Will hadn’t the first clue what to look for.  Using his cell for light, he studied an engine full of oily gears, feebly wiggling plugs and hoses, poking nuts.  He had her try starting it again.  Couple dry clicks, nothing more.  He slammed the hood.

“Do you want me to call someone?” he asked.

The girl extracted her own phone from her tight jeans.  “No service,” she said, presenting it as evidence.

“Can I give you a lift into town?”  Will paused.  “That is, if you know where a town might be.”

She giggled.  “Lost?”
  
“A little.”

“Varese is about sixty kilometers.”  She bit her lip.  “I was on my way to my friend’s.  She lives not far from here.  You come?  You like her.  People say we look like sisters.”
                                                                      
*
           
Pia reclined on her haunches beside Will on the antique sofa, her friend, Joelle, in a soft, worn leather chair opposite them.  Nylon folk crackled from an old record player and candles flickered dimly in sconces, bathing the cozy quarters in comforting, buttery hues. Secluded in the heavy black forest, the cottage resembled something ripped from a Grimm Fairy Tale.  The only thing missing was the peppermint windmills and gumdrop stairs.  And cackling old witch.  Pia hadn’t been lying, either.  The two could pass for sisters, alabaster skin and lithe little bodies, hair so light it was almost white. 

“Lawyer?” Pia repeated, refilling everyone’s port, their second bottle.

“Not exactly,” said Will.  “My father is an attorney.  I’d still have to go to law school, pass the bar.  Not sure I’d love it.  I mean, that’s the secret, right?  Do what you love?”

Pia leaned closer.  He could see down her shirt that she wasn’t wearing a bra, rosebud nipples hard as a new pencil’s eraser. 

“What do you love?” she asked, placing a hand on his thigh, turning coyly to Joelle, who took her cue and pounced, curling like a cat on the couch, sandwiching Will between them.

“I certainly love this,” he said. 

The two girls giggled. 

“What is this place?” he asked.  “It’s so off the map.”

“It was my father’s childhood home,” Joelle said. 

Will felt his heart drop.  “Are your parents…here?”

Pia and Joelle exchanged another look.  Will didn’t like that.  It made him feel like he was missing the joke.

“Did I say something funny?”

“No,” said Pia, taking his hand and stroking it like a pet.  “We are alone.”

“Is my house now,” Joelle said.  “My father give it to me.”  She gave Will’s knee a gentle squeeze.  “Is romantic out here, no?”

Pia moved in and kissed his neck.  On the other side, Joelle did the same.

“We’ll be right back,” cooed Pia, hopping up.

Joelle joined her, nodding toward the fireplace, where sat a cord of wood and pile of old newspapers.  “You start fire?”

Hands clasped, the girls ran from the room.

Will arose and crouched before the fireplace, removed the screen and carefully began stacking logs.  He reached into his hip pocket, pulling out a matchbook along with a pair of crumpled, red-stained Euros.  He struck a head and the fire caught.  With the poker, he stoked the flames.  How lucky could one guy get?

He almost didn’t hear the girls come in until they were looming behind him.

Two for the price of one.

Will gripped the poker tighter, then spun and swung.


Even after he’d finished tying and tightening, setting up the camera, adjusting the lighting, Pia and Joelle still hadn’t stirred.  Sometimes Will didn’t know his own strength.  It had always been like that.  Even as a boy in Tennessee.  He’d never meant to harm those girls.  He only wanted to touch them, explore their naked, alien bodies.  But when they’d cry, he’d have to make them stop.  When his father discovered what he’d done, he took great pains to ensure no one else would.  Couldn’t have his good name sullied, after all. He uprooted the family to New York, hired a full-time nanny, got Will the help he needed. Sure, he did.  Pathogens don’t stand out in the big city.  Not when they can blend in with the disease.

Will heard one of the girls struggle with her restraints.  He couldn’t tell which one since he taped their mouths and placed bags over their heads, and without clothes their bodies were remarkably similar, right down to cup size and shaved pubic region. 

He laid his tools on the old wood table. 

“I normally don’t do this,” Will said, both girls now whimpering behind potato sacks, “take the time out and talk.  Always thought it would make it too hard.  Wanted to keep it clinical, not get emotional.  That was a mistake.”

Will switched on the video recorder and a red light blinked. 

“I’m glad we got acquainted first.  Makes this whole process feel more…intimate.”  Will unfolded the canvas pouch.  The cutlery and scalpels glimmered in the candlelight.  “We are not strangers anymore.  We are friends.” 

He extracted a long carving knife from its sheath. 

“I suppose that’s the thing,” Will said, continuing their conversation from earlier as though no time had passed.  “Don’t think I’m cut out for law.” 

Will double fisted the knife, raising it high above his head. 

“I think I'd make a better doctor.”

_____________________________________

Bio: Joe Clifford is the producer of Lip Service West, a “gritty, real, raw” reading series in Oakland, CA.

His work has appeared in Big Bridge, the Bryant Review, the Connecticut ReviewDrunken BoatFringeOpiumThuglitWord Riot, and Underground Voices, among others. 

Joe’s writing can be found at www.joeclifford.com

He has been to jail, but never prison.